Acts Chapter 10 live class audio

Peter with CorneliusActs chapter 10 is one of the most incredible chapters in the book of Acts and even in the New Testament. But it’s very easy to not appreciate it at all. We mostly have no idea of the significance of the events in this chapter, the importance to the future of the world that was there. [We recently had a live class on Acts 10 and you can hear the edited version here.]

This chapter is where God made abundantly clear that His grace and salvation were for all people and His plan included all nations, not just Israel with whom He’d been working for centuries. But it took a tremendous act of the Holy Spirit to get this message and point across.

God worked with Jesus’ top disciple, Simon Peter. And He told Peter to do something, by direct revelation, that seemed to be utterly and totally opposite to all that Peter had thought was God’s Will according to Mosaic Law and customs. If ever there was a case of “New Wine” very nearly breaking what was not probably even an “Old Bottle”, it was with God’s message to Peter here in this chapter.

Peters visionIn a vision on a housetop Peter was shown a sheet full of animals which were unclean for Jews to eat, according to the Mosaic Law. But Peter heard the voice of God telling him to “Rise and eat.” (Acts 10:13) Peter argued with God that he’d never do something like that. But the Lord said, “What God has cleansed, don’t call unclean” (Acts 10:15). Immediately there was a knock on the gate of the house and 3 gentiles, Romans, were there to ask if Peter would come to a nearby city to speak to a Roman centurion and his family. The centurion had been visited by an angel and told to send people to this house in another city to fetch Peter and get him to come and speak. The Lord told Peter, “Go, doubting nothing.” (Acts 10:20)

So Peter was lead and directed miraculous, more or less against his own will, to journey across country to visit the house of a Roman centurion who’d been visited by an angel of God . Peter almost reluctantly obeyed the direct voice of God to go with these uncircumcised Gentiles and to even (“perish the thought!”) enter into their house. The centurion, Cornelius, had gathered together what was probably a pretty large number of people, simply to hear what Peter would say. But Peter at first didn’t even know for what cause he’d been sent for. At length, when it was clear to him that they just wanted to hear what he had to say, then Peter explained to them about Jesus.

Peter told Cornelius and his friends about Jesus (whom they certainly had heard about already as it was a very big deal and the story of Jesus had reached practically everyone) “who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed of the devil”. (Acts 10:38) And it sounds like, while Peter was still speaking, the Spirit of God came upon this large group of non-Jews and they experienced something very similar to what had happened to Peter and the disciples of Jesus on the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. Cornelius and his friends were suddenly and powerfully filled with the Holy Ghost.

For almost everyone reading this post, we are “Gentiles”. This is the chapter and this event is where the Lord revealed that His love and grace and even Spirit were for all peoples.

Most folks nowadays can tell you who Bill Gates is. A few could tell you who Nelson Mandela or even Mahatma Gandhi were. But how many can tell you the effect Acts chapter 10 had on the future of Christianity, even western Civilization and the overall civilizing effect on Mankind around the World?

The fall of Jerusalem 70, AD

The fall of Jerusalem 70, AD

Without Acts chapter 10, Christianity would have remained some kind of semi-orphaned offshoot and outcropping of Judaism, which might have perished altogether in 70 AD when the Roman legions of Titus destroyed Jerusalem and effectively ended the nation of Israel. Instead of this, Christianity continued to thrive and grow for the next decades and even centuries, eventually becoming the foundation and backbone of Roman society and organization by the 400’s AD.

Reading the book of Acts is a way to prepare for the future and the endtime since this was the best example of Christianity that there is. So we aren’t just looking at this as the past. We’re looking, or should be looking, to see the kind of Christianity that will be needed in the final end time, a radical discipleship Christianity.

I hope you’ll have time to listen to the live class we had on this chapter, to ponder the significance of it for yourself and also for the history of mankind. The full edited version of our class can be heard here.

“Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection” (Salvation part 4)

Cancel subscription2-flattenedAfter the recent post I did about salvation, I got a very touching letter from a fellow missionary who wrote and asked what my thoughts were about some of her kids who were brought up as Christians but are now vocally anti-God. Here’s part of what she wrote:

I will never doubt my salvation… but I have questions about some of our kids. Some of them turned away from their beliefs about 10 years ago. One of our sons keeps “preaching” that God does not exist. He’s very intellectual and each time faith or God is mentioned in our home, he’s totally “off” in his comments. I wonder sometimes if he ever was really saved. It’s my understanding that Faith is a free gift of God BUT IT HAS TO BE RECEIVED, NO? He does not force it on us. Our son said a few times that he does not need a God that saves and has no need of salvation. You can imagine that we pray for him a lot. Our kids prayed the salvation prayer when they were young and then they followed in our footsteps. But a few abandoned their faith as teenagers. What do you think? Thanks for taking time to answer.

Absalom

Absalom

This is a huge, deeply sensitive, somewhat complicated question that hits closer to home than I care to say in a public post like this. I said in another post that I felt there’s a Scriptural foundation to believe that King Saul was saved. He was a failure in life but I think he was saved. But another major character from the same time period was a horse of a different color.

King David’s son Absalom was undoubtedly brought up in a Godly home by at least a Godly father, we know that much. But Absalom as an adult led a nearly successful rebellion against his father that was as powerful as anything David ever faced. There’s nothing in Scripture to indicate in any way that Absalom had any fear of God or anything other than an evil, unregenerate heart. I would guess that Absalom didn’t go to heaven. But he was raised by his father David, who obviously loved him very much.

In the picture at the top of this article I posted the words to a famous song from The Doors, one of the top rock groups of the late 1960’s. Jim Morrison sings, “Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection. Send my credentials to the house of detention. I’ve got some friends down there.” It’s a barely cryptic prayer to renounce any place he may have in heaven and that he be enrolled in Hell, where he has friends, he says.

What would God do with someone like that? I don’t think there are very many like that. But there are some. A few may even come from Godly families. Perhaps the most famous Satanist of the last 100 years is Aleister Crowley. And yet Crowley grew up in a family who were Plymouth Brethren in England, one of  the most “on fire” and dedicated avant-garde groups of their day, comparable to the Jesus Movement of the 1970’s. Crowley has become the most recognized face of Satanism. And yet he was exposed to a tremendous amount of faith and truth from the Scriptures when he was young.

Absalom, Jim Morrison, Aleister Crowley. It seems, very sadly, that at least in some cases there are those who never really received and embraced the light, love and truth they were surrounded with when they were young.

Prodical sonI believe ones like this are not a large group. I believe a larger group are just “prodigal sons” (Luke 15:11-32) who’ve gone away from the Father’s house but sooner or later come back or will come back. I know several like that of my children’s generation. Sometimes it’s God’s gentleness, love and goodness that at length wins these ones back.The-devil-and-hopelessness

At other times, like with what happened to me, it takes the virtually literal flames of hell, the presence of Satan and the imminent judgement of God to shock and frighten some people to turn from their foolishness and rebellion. You can read about my experience with that here.

The goodness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). “Turn, oh you backslidden children, for I am married unto you, says the Lord. And I will take you one of a city and two of a family and will bring you to Zion”. (Jeremiah 3:14) “God has ways that His banished be not expelled from Him”. (II Samuel 14:14) “Whether shall I go from Your Spirit, or whether shall I flee from Your presence? …If I make my bed in hell, behold You are there” (Psalms 139:7 & 8).

But some will say, “Mark, they say they don’t believe in Jesus anymore!” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If they are His, He goes out to find the sheep that was lost. (Luke 15:6) It even says in one place, “If we believe not, yet He remains faithful;, He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:12). “We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (I Peter 1:5). “He that has begun a good work in you shall perform it to the end” (Philippians 1:6) . He is “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) .

I know some children of missionaries who departed from the faith for a while, really got down to business with God, came back and are now going strong for the Lord on distant mission fields. I know people in their thirties who are all out for the Lord on difficult fields while their former missionary parents have let their lamps burn so dim in their home countries that you’d hardly know they’re still Christians.

There are just so many different varieties of experiences in all this. Some do come back. Sometimes at the end of their lives. Some are going to go on to heaven with very little reward at all. But they’ll be there. One of the most amazing things I ever read was by a woman from over 100 years ago, Rebecca Springer. It was originally titled “Intra Muros” and you can find it on Amazon under the title “Within Heaven’s Gates”. She had a prolonged experience in heaven while she was very sick. In one experience there, she saw a mother reunited with her son in heaven. But, during their life on earth, the son had killed his mother. Yet he was in heaven.

It gets to be where some of this is just beyond our understanding at this time. I believe there are ones like Absalom who were brought up by Godly parents but it seems likely he went to hell because of his rejection of all the truth, righteousness and faith he was shown. Others are going to be there in heaven in “everlasting shame and contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Others are “prodigal sons” (Luke 15:11-32) who eventually come back. Others, many others, “follow afar off” (Luke 22:54). They retain some faith they were brought up with but keep their light “under a bushel” (Matthew 5:15) for much of their lives. And some do show their light and retain their faith but not at all in the manner of the discipleship they were brought up with.

Hurt so much-flattenedIt’s a very heartbreaking subject for the parents of these people. I know some moms who are so mistreated and verbally insulted to this day by their adult children who were brought up on the mission field with their humble Christian parents. It is a major cross these parents bear to endure the insults, taunts and humiliation their children pour out on them, even 20 years after their children left their faith and chose “the course of this world“. (Ephesians 2:2)

What can we say? What can we do? We can keep the faith; hold on to our crowns and pray for our loved ones who’ve turned away from their faith. It’s really not easy. It’s not a happy, pleasant subject. We don’t really know how this will turn out for each of our children. We do know that we serve a mighty, tremendously loving, tremendously able God who cares more about our kids that we do and is able to rescue all who will be rescued and in some cases even those who seem to not want to be rescued.

But we can’t be utterly sure that simply because they were born into a Christian home, that they themselves will be Christians and saved. God has no grandchildren.

Every one of us must give an account of himself unto God”. (Romans 14:12)

Lose salvation? (Salvation part 3)

Will I be saved flattened2Do I really want to write an article about this? Wouldn’t be safer to stick with simpler, less controversial subjects like the second coming of Jesus, abortion rights and if there’s apartheid in the Middle East? Nah, lest go for the big one here; let’s talk about losing your salvation.

First, a story to illustrate a point. The 30th President of the United States was Calvin Coolidge, affectionately know as “Silent Cal” because he so often said so little. Coming out of church one Sunday the President was surrounded by reporters, looking for a story. “Mr. President, what did the preacher preach about?!” they asked. “Sin”, replied the President in his typical fashion. Not satisfied, the reporters pressed Coolidge, “Well, what did he say about it?” “He was against it,” replied the President.

How do I feel about losing your salvation? I’m against it. In fact, (gulp), I’ll even say that I don’t think you can lose your salvation. And with that, I’m certain that there will be those who let the dogs out at that statement.  Because this subject really fires people up.

I feel that if you are saved, you can’t lose your salvation. I’ve never found an example in the Bible where it clearly states that someone has lost his salvation. Let’s take a few examples. King Saul at one point was really a man of God and even got prophecies from Him. When he was “little in his own sight” (I Samuel 15:17), God highly exalted him. But he ended up becoming one of the biggest failures in the Bible. “The spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him.” (I Samuel 16:14)

But did Saul go to hell? The night before Saul’s death on the battle field, he was so distraught that he turned to what must have been a witch or sorcerer in order to try to get back in contact with his old friend and mentor, Samuel. And the Bible says this even happened. But the news wasn’t good. Samuel told Saul, communicating to him from the spiritual world, “tomorrow shall you and your sons be with me”. (I Samuel 28:19) We certainly don’t think that Samuel was in hell. So if Saul was going to be with him the next day, then he would be with him in heaven, not hell. Con-tro-verse-ial!

But there’s more. This is not for delicate ears but we can look in the New Testament and I Corinthians 5. Paul needed to try to deal with a rather detestable subject that had come up with the Corinthians, “that a man should have his father’s wife” (I Corinthians 5:1). Evidently that had happened in the church there. Did Paul say the man had lost his salvation? No. He said they should “deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (I Corinthians 5:5) Again the call is salvation, even for such a sin as that.

John336Several verses in the book of John or in I John also point this direction of “once saved, always saved”. John 3:36 says, “He that believes on the Son has everlasting life…” It doesn’t say they will have, they may have, they someday might have, it says they have, present tense. If you have eternal life, you can’t lose it, otherwise it wouldn’t be eternal. And in I John 5:13, it says, “These things have I written to you that believe on the name of the son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Certainty-and-peaceNot hope, not think, not wonder about. Know. That’s a strong word, much stronger than “believe” is in English nowadays. When you know something, it’s finished, it’s done, it’s certain. And that brings to mind two blog posts I’ve written which might be similar to this, one about “Certainty” and the other which is in many ways about Salvation, “The Seed and The Egg”.

Yes, I know there are a number of verses some people hold on to in their belief that someone can lose there salvation. I just feel there are far more verses that say you can’t lose it, if you have it. You may end up in heaven without much of any reward, you may have squandered your life and the grace of God that was shown you on earth in this life. You may have quite a lot of tears that will need to be wiped away in heaven, you may even be in “everlasting shame and contempt” (Daniel 12:2) on the other side for all that you could have done and said here on earth that you never did. But I don’t believe someone will lose their salvation. They’ll be there in heaven, but like the old farmers in the South used to say, “with a long row to hoe.”

“But Mark…!” (Salvation part 2)

must work hard-flattenedBut, Mark! Salvation couldn’t be that easy! Mark, there are millions of people who go to church and aren’t saved! The churches make it so easy for them and tell them they are saved so they just stop any desire for progress in their lives! They live their lives in sin and think it doesn’t matter because of what the churches teach, “once saved, always saved!”

Whew! What do you say to folks who say this? Are they totally wrong on all counts? You know they aren’t. But the solution isn’t to teach that we have to keep struggling throughout our lives to somehow, at the end, to have earned and won salvation. That just isn’t the teaching of the New Testament.

It does go against some element in our nature that salvation could just be a free gift. It just seems like a part of the natural world that we should have to do something to earn God’s grace. But a study of God’s Word in the New Testament shows that this is actually how it is. “It is a gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast” (Ephesians 2:8 & 9). This is a recurrent theme of the writings of the Apostle Paul in the New Testament.

“But Mark! If it’s free, then they won’t appreciate it. There will be no incentive to do good! What about all the admonitions to live a righteous life? What about the Ten Commandments? So many Christians are just spiritually fat and lazy because of what you are teaching!

rewards in heaven-flattenedHere’s a big factor in this. While salvation and eternal life are free gifts through the sacrifice of Jesus, our rewards and recompense in that eternal life to come are highly contingent on what we do with the salvation He’s given us. You talk about all those weak, lazy, often stunted Christians you may see in church?  I have friends who have told me that they think only 3% of the people that we go to church with are saved. And I go to a pretty strongly Bible-believing church.

I personally think that percentage of saved folks at that church is a lot higher than that. But what are those folks doing with their lives? Are theylaying up treasures in heaven”? (Matthew 6:19) Or just accumulating things in this world? Are they really growing in the Lord? Are they really feeding His sheep? Are they withholding or scattering abroad? “He that withholds, it tends to poverty, but he that scatters abroad it increases.” (Proverbs 11:24) How much time do they spend watching worldly, sickening, foolish, Satanic TV every single day? How much time do they spend witnessing and winning souls, or sharing Bible classes with those who need it? How much are they really supporting missionaries abroad who are winning souls?

Treasures-on-earthLet’s face it, millions of Christians are “living in sin” every day! They think that “living in sin” refers to something sexual. So they may have real pure sexual lives and still be “wasting their substance in riotous living” (luke 15:13) by following “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) and not really a path of discipleship in the Lord.

These are all things that will be part of their reward, or lack thereof in the hereafter. I’ll tell you of a somewhat unknown but extremely significant verse, slightly controversial. In Daniel 12:2, it talks about the resurrection of the saints at the coming of the Lord. Here’s what it says, “…some raised to everlasting life, and some raised to shame, and everlasting contempt.

I believe some folks are going to be saved and go to heaven. But like it says about “He shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelatoin 21:4), some are going to have a lot of tears to wipe away when they see all they could have done in this world, but didn’t do, all the love they could have shown, all the witnessing they could have done to share their faith with others. But they didn’t. All the time they spent in frivolous worldly affairs to the neglect of God and His will and His sheep. Some are going to be in heaven but not much more than that. Very little if any reward.

So I personally believe that God “who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the acknowledging of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4)  is going to see and recognize faith in His son in many people. “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13) . But sadly, for very many people, very many, they are like folks who never grow in their lives beyond the mental age of perhaps 5 years old. They never grow up spiritual beyond early childhood. They remain children and sometimes little children in their spiritual lives for their entire Christian life. Because they were saved but that’s about as far as they went. This of course is heartbreaking. Some seem to almost never know there is anything else. Their churches and pastors don’t challenge them to discipleship but are content to just let their members drift along in the lowlands of spirituality.

There’s just a vast work to be done to mentor, disciple, teach and admonish the immense numbers of people who say they are Christians, believe they are Christians but so often don’t really know for sure as they just don’t know the Word. Many just are content to stay where they are. Some of these would make progress if they were shown how.

What about salvation?

Prodical son pictureYou can hardly think about or talk about a bigger subject than salvation. If there is anything at the heart of the New Testament, it would be the subject of salvation. And yet it is another of the almost endless things that believers disagree on. And I’ve found, since being back here in the States for the last 4 years or so, that it’s a very divisive issue among Christians here.

When the Jesus Movement folks witnessed to me back in the ‘70’s, they could tell I already believed in God because I hitchhiked across Texas to find them and I had a Bible with me. I believed in God, but I didn’t know who Jesus was. So they simply asked me, “Are you going to heaven?” I said, “Well, if my good is more than my bad, I will. But if my bad is more than my good, I won’t.

I was really surprised when they didn’t agree and promptly started sharing the plan of salvation with me, something I’d never heard of before. my gift-flattenedThey showed me Ephesians 2:8 & 9. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.” They said that salvation was a gift of God, not something that you could work for.

And of course they showed me the most important verse in the Bible, that sums up the whole thing, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” And there were other verses, these folks really knew the Word.

They showed me “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ” (Romans 6:23). One verse that really impacted me was John 1:12.As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.

So they told me that I needed to receive Jesus and they showed me Revelation 3:20, another classic clincher, door of your heartBehold I stand at the door and knock. If any man hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.” They strongly told me that Jesus was knocking at the door of my heart and wanted to come in, that I needed to receive Him. I did and it totally changed my life.

Does everyone have to have the exact same experience as me? Of course not. Many people are brought up in a Christian home and sometimes never remember a time when they didn’t believe in the Lord. But it’s one heck of a big subject as to whether or not some people are saved and if they are saved, if they can then loose their salvation. Some feel that there are millions of people who go to church and go through the motions but that they are not really saved. I’m sure that there are people who go to church who don’t really know what it’s about. I’ve met some who told me that this had happened to them. They said that, after 10 years or more of going to church, they actually got down to business with God and that’s when they got saved.

So thats salvation-flattenedI think a lot of people just don’t really know what it’s all about and they really waver about their salvation. Some large denominations have become so wishy-washy about their teachings that they hardly even teach or preach salvation anymore. So one thing that all of us who know the Lord and know the Word can do for folks like that is to just go through the plan of salvation with them.

It’s not an emotion, it’s not a ceremony. It’s belief. A great verse about salvation is Romans 10:9 & 10. It’s a little complicated but it says it well. “If you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved. For with the heart man believes to righteousness. And with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

Do they believe that God raised Jesus from the dead? Do they say that? Then according to that verse they are saved. Paul said to his jailors, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house.” (Acts 16:31) So often with these things, the Bible time and time again boils it down to faith, belief. That’s the essence, the essential of Salvation. But many people don’t have the assurance of salvation because no one has ever really gotten down to business with them and showed them His plan from the Word. I think many people are saved through faith in Him. But they just don’t know it or are certain of it through the Word.

Whew, big subject. I think I may have to write some more on this. But this is a start.

Direct Revelations

Direct Revelations- flattenedIf you never hear a voice, if you never see a vision, if you never dream a dream, if you never see or perform a miracle, if you’ll just believe, obey and follow God’s written Word in the Bible, you can have a wonderful life in Him. On the other hand, God often wants to enrich our lives and provide more power from His Spirit to us by using these other means.

I’m thankful that in my life there’ve been a number of manifestations from Him by His Spirit that have completely been supernatural and unexplainable except through an acknowledgment that God is still  a God of miracles. I’ve written several blog posts about some of the “little miracles” that have happened in my life, such as “Lights on the Side of the Road”, “the Radio Miracle” and something that happened 18 months ago here in Austin called “God’s Little Miracles”. It’s so inspiring when these things happen and I’m glad I now have this avenue to share these experiences with others.

God is a supernatural God. He’s not a theorem, an equation or “Mother Earth”. He’s not something that theologians are supposed to dissect in post graduate work. He’s the divine Creator and Guiding Power of the Universe. When I was little, the way it was explained to me is that God is way up there and we are down here. So be good, do good and things will be ok. Don’t bother Him and He won’t bother you. Boy, that sure didn’t help or hold up when things got really tough in my life.

But even in many evangelical churches today, it’s not like they really teach that you can get answers from God or that you can even expect miracles. Here’s a verse that I’ve held on to and claimed in prayer many times, John 14:21. Jesus said, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself unto him.” I’ve called out to the Lord many times in prayer to manifest Himself to me. King David of old even prayed to God one time, “Show us a token for good.” (Psalm 86:17) Some might think that’s like “seeking after a sign” (Matthew 12:39), which Jesus chiding the Pharisees for. But the truth is that God loves to manifest Himself to us, if we’re walking in the truth of His Word and following the truth He’s shown us already.

I’ll share a couple of things here where the Lord just totally punched through with something outlandishly supernatural when I really needed it. When I was young in the Lord and had already moved to the mission field of western Europe in the early ’70’s, I ended up in a place where there was a spiritually collapsed situation involving a body of believers I was working with. What should have been a group knit together in His love had been taken over for a while by some cruel, hireling types who were mistreating His flock.Jerimiah 10-21-flattened

I was in prayer about this as it was very disheartening and suddenly, out of nowhere I got the Bible reference quickened to me, “Jeremiah 10:21”. I had no idea in the world what that verse said but I opened my Bible and read it. It says, “For the pastors have become brutish and have not sought the Lord. Therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flock shall be scattered.

I was dumbfounded as that verse so encapsulated the situation I was in and also gave a promise that it would be resolved. And it was, by the hand of God. Within two months the “brutish pastors” had been exposed and the ones I was working with were able to find more loving and kind people to shepherd them. But the Lord had just quickened that verse to me out of nowhere, as a comfort and foretelling of what He was going to do.

Another time, even earlier in my Christian life, when I’d only come to the Lord a week or so earlier, I’d been invited to a Christian training camp for those preparing for the mission field and for discipleship. But this was in the States in early 1970 when there was still a very deep divide between the youth culture and the more conservative, establishment side of society. I was beginning to work with the Jesus Movement and at that time it was pretty youth oriented and even radical.

a sharp razor-flattenedI was told that I would need to cut my somewhat long hair before going to this training camp. It was off in a conservative, cowboy part of the States and it was literally dangerous to be in the area and look like a hippy. But the amazing thing was that the morning before I was told this, the Lord had quickened to me a verse, extremely obscure, Ezekiel 5:1. I’d only been a Christian a few days and I had no idea what that verse said.

But I found it in my Bible and here’s what it says. “Son of man, take a sharp knife, take a barber’s razor and cause it to pass upon your head.” So when a few hours later my friends told me I’d need to have a haircut, I told them that the Lord had already told me that was coming. I was just a babe in Christ and back then I may have figured this was just sort of normal.

It’s not like this kind of thing happens every day. Not at all. The Lord wants us to go by faith and to obey His Word in our daily lives. But also He wants us to know that He can and will do this kind of thing to lead us and guide us and show us what to do. Or sometimes just to rejoice our hearts and/or have a testimony of His love and power that we can share with others. So don’t knock direct revelations. They’re not mandatory. But they are there, they help and He may have one for you.

Acts Chapter 9 live class audio

We’ve continued our weekly classes on the book of Acts and the next one was Acts chapter 9. [You can listen to the full 35 minute class here.] There’s a famous phrase that is associated with this chapter, “a Damascus Road conversion”. Even in secular circles this is a common phrase and it relates to what happened to “Saul”, later called “Paul” in this chapter.

Paul on the road to Damascus

Saul confronted by the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus

On the road to Damascus from Jerusalem a young Jewish zealot was traveling in order to round up members of the growing movement of Christians who worshiped Jesus of Nazareth as the Jewish messiah. Saul was adamantly against these people, as was the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem who had sent him on his journey.

But at noon a light shined about Saul. He fell from donkey and heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4) And so, on the road to Damascus, this man who later became the Apostle Paul had one of the most dramatic turnarounds in history, which is why that phrase is still used today.

Sometimes God has to use drastic measures. God is love. He is gentle, longsuffering, patience and all that and more. But there comes a time when “His Spirit will not always strive with man”. (Genesis 6:3) When Paul saw the light on the road to Damascus, he ended up on the ground, as he spoke to the light, “Who are you Lord?” And the voice said, “I am Jesus who you persecute.” (Acts 9:5)

The Lord didn’t give Saul a big list of things to do. At first He just said to “go into the city and it will be told you what you must do“. (Acts 9:6) There’s just so much there about the basics of obedience to the leadings of God and how He will just lead us step by step most of the time.

In our class we talked about the importance of Paul to the progress of the spread of Christianity in the first century and discussed what might have happened and how things might have gone if he hadn’t hadn’t his conversion and then took up such an important place in the history of Christianity. Paul seemed to be the fire-starter, the catalyst, the pilot light on the stove that provoked even the original 12 disciples to go further and to do more than they were doing at the time.

So our class this week was on the events of Acts chapter 9. You can listen to the full 35 minute class here. I hope these are a blessing to you, Mark

“God’s a monster!” he said.

Recently a dear Asian friend who was a missionary for years in Vietnam sent me a letter she’d received from a friend of hers there. Her friend had been sent a blistering letter from someone she knew, disparaging God. The antagonist letter against God was like this:

God is a monster-flattened“First things first: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  Are we talking about the same “loving” God who tormented Job just to show off to some guy named Satan which He actually created Himself? The same God that demanded all first born babies to be killed in one country because He didn’t approve what one guy was thinking? That doesn’t sound like a loving dude to me, more like a blithering a##hole. What’s your take on this?”

So my Asian friend was hoping I’d have some kind of answer to the letter. And when you’ve lived a life of Christian service, you end up hearing a lot of things, whether they are difficult questions or just things like this. So I wrote back to her:

For your good-two-flattenedIt’s a big subject and not a very original one since this kind of thing has been talked about and debated for centuries. As far as Job goes, it was very much an “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord” situation. (Romans 8:28) God certainly wasn’t “tormenting” Job to show off to the Devil! That’s a really dirty way to see God’s dealings with Job there.

The truth is that Job had some deep-rooted problems. He was “good” in many ways but also he was very aware of his goodness and boasted about it a lot. So God, in His love, was taking away nearly everything from Job. This (for one) ended up showing Job’s true, deep faith in God.

But at the last Job got to where he changed his views on what a great person he was. So it worked out to be something good in his life, making him a wiser, humbler man who loved the Lord even more and his story has been a witness to humanity for nearly 4000 years. “No chastening for the present seems joyous but grievous. Nevertheless afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to them which are exercised thereby”. (Hebrews 12:11)

You told me the truth-flattenedActually Hebrews chapter 12 is the classic chapter about God’s dealings with humanity and how that at times He chastens us. Jesus said something similar, “Every branch that bears fruit he purges it that it may bring forth more fruit.” (John 15:2) Anybody who has children usually knows that you can’t just let a child totally do their own thing without guidance and that usually means there has to be repercussions when a child does something they shouldn’t. This is just life and humanity and the world we live in. Even animals sometimes chasten their children in order to teach them and to protect them from danger.

It sounds like whoever wrote that note believes in God. They just don’t like Him. But if you’re going to blame God for those things he writes there, by the same token you have to also give Him credit for all the good and the beauty in this world.

Every sunset, every delicious fruit, every beautiful woman or handsome man, all the incredible beauty of this world that we experience every day was made by the same One that the person there is accusing of being bad.

All for you-flattenedGod is love but also He is a God of righteousness. This has to include not only reward for doing the wise, loving thing but also recompense for doing the cruel, hurtful thing. Some folks blame God for allowing Hitler. And then they accuse God for things like this person has said or written to your friend. For some people, when a cat catches a mouse or a sparrow eats a bug, they say, “Oh how cruel!”

Gods son dies-flattenedBut this is the world we live in, full of beauty but also at this time there are things like cruelty and even one species living off of another. But then, that’s what Jesus’ sample was to all of us. He said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And then that’s what he did, He laid down His life for us all. But He was perfect, sinless and God raised Him from the dead. That’s why Jesus is so special and unique.

Yes, there is cruelty in this world and at times God has had to use some drastic measures. For those who want to focus on the cats catching the mouse or some of the more drastic scenes in the Old Testament, then they can compose a patchwork of pieces that would seem to make God to look bad. But then they have to leave so very many pieces of the puzzle out in order to force those few pieces into the picture they have come up with.

God is love. God gave His only Son. It’s a beautiful world and we have a wonderful life. And it comes from Him. People who chose to look at God as a cruel tyrant are really missing the big picture. All we can do is to witness to them, try to share the love of God with them and by our samples show them God’s love through our lives.

Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it takes many years. Sometimes people change overnight. But their negativity and accusations against God really shouldn’t have much effect on our knowledge of God since we know so much through the Word and also in His daily dealings with us.

God bless you, I hope this helps and perhaps helps your friend also. Great hearing from you, lots of love from Mark

And maybe this will be a help to you or someone you know. This type of accusation and/or question has been around a long time. It’s part of our battle of faith to know how to “be always ready to give an answer to every one a reason of the hope that is within us.” (I Peter 3:15)