Hearing from God, like your life depended on it

danger is near flatLast month I was in a situation where it was desperately important that I heard from God right then. My friend and I were driving the next morning to visit a school in Reyhanli, Turkey, about 200 meters from the border with Syria. I wrote about this visit in my blog post “Visiting Syria part 1”.

But we were realistic enough to know that real danger was possible. We’d phoned ahead to several ones who knew the situation and were involved and they all said that it was safe to make the trip. But in the final analysis, as believers in God and in Jesus, the most important guidance and green light, or red, needed to come from Him.

So we really prayed. And for both of us we just kept getting the witness of the Spirit in our hearts and Bible verses that it was His Will that we go, verses like “When He puts forth His sheep, He goes before them”. (John 10:4) And “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

Reyhanli mapWe took these from the Lord and we made the trip. Of course we were aware that the radical religionists right across the border in Syria would gladly pay a very large bounty for someone to kidnap us and turn us over to them. So we were keeping a good watch out on our way there for any funny business. But it all went really well and there was miraculous protection and blessing.

It reminds me of another situation, almost exactly 10 years earlier, when I was in Jakarta, Indonesia, immediately after one of the worst natural disasters of the last hundred years when the Asia Tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean.

The city that suffered the worst was Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra. The friends who I was working with at the time in Jakarta knew immediately that some of us would have to go there to help. And I knew strongly in my heart that one of the first ones who needed to go was me.

me&AcehKids-2 cropped

Teaching kids at a refugee camp in Aceh, 2005

But this was again a place where very serious, life and death prayer was a necessity. Probably there was more danger in this recent trip to the Syrian border. But in going to Banda Aceh, we were going to be faced with over 150,000 dead who were still left to be found, bagged up and carried off to mass burial grounds.

The infrastructure of the city of 450,000 was virtually gone. The fact that it was one of the strictest Muslim parts of Indonesia didn’t seem to be as big a deal as just the overall danger of aftershocks, extreme living conditions and would we be able to live with the shock to our emotions that all the devastation had wrought? It was a time when we needed to be certain we were in the will of God; otherwise it would be extremely unwise to go there.

But also in that situation the Lord came through clearly and blessed our time there immensely. Here’s a newsletter I sent to friends while I was in Banda Aceh 10 years ago, called  “With Muslims in Tragedy“. God hears all our prayers, including the simple little ones that we often pray throughout the day. But at times we must be desperate and get answers from Him, sometimes as a matter of life and death.

which way-aI’m thinking about this a lot currently as I’m at something of a personal crossroads. I’m facing some decisions involved with possibly pulling up roots and going to a new country I’ve very seldom ever been in before, more or less starting out from scratch in what would be a major change of direction and a completely new chapter in my life.

common sense flatI really need to know what God’s will is. Like Paul said, “Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesian 5:17) Common sense doesn’t help a lot in these situations. Common sense would not have agreed with the trip to Reyhanli, Turkey or the time spent in Banda Aceh. But the life of faith and following the directions from God almost always goes contrary to common sense. “By faith Moses forsook Egypt”. (Hebrews 11:27) “Abraham went out not knowing whether he went”. (Hebrews 11:8)

For me it’s a time I need to know  that I’m on the right track, moving with the flow of His Spirit, having no will of my own and that my thoughts and leadings are of Him. Otherwise it could be a real disaster. Thanks for your prayers for me in these decisions at this time.

Why study the book of Daniel?

Daniel Night for blog post With the way the world is in these times, more and more people have at least some curiosity about Bible prophecy and the future it tells us of. But once you start searching around, you can really find some different, even opposing ideas about it all. So much of it can even engender fear or confusion.

Often folks just give up trying to grasp any constants or absolutes that can be found about the subject of Bible prophecy. Some have even said, “Hasn’t the book of Daniel already been fulfilled? Isn’t it only written for Jewish people?” That’s what some say.

Recently I was meeting with a group of people who are studying the subject of prophecy in the Bible. The main thing we were reading was from the book of Ezekiel. It’s  being taught in this group that Ezekiel chapter 38 is in the  process of being fulfilled right now in currents events playing out in the Middle East, as a precursor to the final events leading up to the coming of God’s kingdom on earth. Then I have other friends talk to me about verses in Isaiah which they say predict a soon coming atomic annihilation the city of Damascus, Syria. Others in recent times have come to see Psalm 83 (written by King David as a prayer against the nations he was battling with in 900 BC) as being a specific endtime prophecy which is about to be fulfilled in current events in the Middle East

Before I read Daniel flatSo, why am I doing a series on the book of Daniel? Shouldn’t we be studying Ezekiel or Isaiah? Or Psalm 83? Here’s why. If you’re looking for authority in the Bible, there’s no greater than Jesus Himself. Did He talk about the future, the time before His return and His coming Kingdom?  Absolutely. The two main chapters where He talked about this were Matthew 24 and Mark 13. He’s quoted as saying this in both chapters but I’ll quote from Matthew 24:15. “When you shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand).”

Matthew 24 15-d for blog post

Matthew 24:15

When asked about the future, Jesus didn’t refer to Ezekiel, or Isaiah, or any other book in the Bible. But He did refer specifically to the book of Daniel and even to a specific passage of Scripture in that book. Then He went on to say, Whoever reads, let him understand.” Jesus both emphases that book and made it unusually clear, highlighting the importance of understanding that particular passage.

Admittedly, that verse, Matthew 24:15, is not very easy to understand at first glance. That’s one of the reasons why, in my series on Daniel, I start with the first prophetic chapter in Daniel and then build on it. The series begins with Daniel chapter 2, then goes on to chapters 7 and 8, before we are really ready to look at this emphasized statement that Jesus made about certain passages in what turns out to be Daniel 9 and 11.

Then, if we look at what is considered the most specifically prophetic book in the New Testament, Revelation, it is full of material that refers back to characters and events  first introduced in Daniel’s visions and prophecies some 600 or more years earlier than the date of Revelation.

Daniel foundation flat-1It reminds me of what Paul said, “I as a wise master builder have laid the foundation and another builds thereupon. But let every man take heed how he builds thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid.” (I Corinthians 3:10) Paul was not speaking here about Bible prophecy and the book of Daniel. But what he said can very much apply to the foundation of endtime prophecy that the Lord revealed to Daniel and which Jesus pointed us toward. It just seems like so many today are busy building edifices of endtime prophetic interpretation on little, if any, solid foundation. Simply finding some passage in the Old Testament that seems conveniently to match some aspect of today’s world and then proclaiming that as our major insight into current events and the future is a pretty shaky way to portray the events of the future according to prophetic Scripture.

With so much being wondered about nowadays having to do with fulfilled prophecy and possible events to come, I’m convinced that an understanding of Daniel’s prophecies offers the best hope of establishing a foundation for understanding future certainties. And no, definitely it’s not all been fulfilled. Numerous things that are first clearly spoken of in Daniel, and further clarified in Revelation, just haven’t happened yet. And it seems Jesus Himself pointed us to this beginning point when He referred to specifics in Daniel yet to be fulfilled and said, “Whoever reads, let him understand.”

“Truth be known”

truth be known-1 flatMost of you who read these posts are native English speakers. But I’m aware that there’s a minority who are not. Having lived for years in foreign countries, I’ve come to where I can speak a simplified English and can at times look into phrases that native English speakers take for granted. One example could be when we say, “Truth be known…” and then go on to reveal something that might not otherwise be said.

Truth be known. That’s really the way things should be, isn’t it? Truth should be known. But is it always? I may have written how that, in my youth, I really wasn’t looking for God since I’d concluded that there was no such thing. “God, Jesus, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny”, that’s what I always said, with a grin and gusto. “Little did I know.” There’s another good phrase but I’ll stick with “truth be known” for now. But although I wasn’t looking for God, I really was looking for the truth.

Truth has virtually always occupied a major significance on my “operating system”, if you know what I mean. But I’ve also come to realize, often by sad and dramatic experience, that truth is not that big a thing for some people.

King David desire truth flatKing David said to God, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts…”. (Psalm 51:6) Or as Jesus said, “That on the good ground are they that in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it…”. (Luke 8:15)

Honesty. Truth. These are the attributes of the Godly, regardless of nation, culture or creed. We’re all tempted to lies and dishonesty; I certainly tried that for a while. But my conscience was screaming at me and struggling for supremacy in my soul.

Sadly and shockingly, I’ve met ones who’ve even seemed to come to the Lord and be taught by me who I found later were not really “dealing with a straight deck”, as they say in poker. They were not honest. And to my chagrin, some of these people played me for a fool and I didn’t catch on for a while.

Was I naive? Too trusting? Too unwilling to see what was going on? Probably so to some degree. But the people I’m thinking of are ones who evidently, I found later, had a history of that kind of behavior and were virtually compulsive liars. Pretty sad, no?

“So Mark, why didn’t you catch that sooner? Why didn’t you see right through them immediately, if you really have a link with the Lord?”

I wondered about that. Well, for one, I think the Lord may have even been pulling a fast one on the folks who thought they were pulling a fast one on me. All the while, “Christ was preached”. Like Paul said about some folks who were preaching the gospel but with contention and not sincerely, “nevertheless, Christ is preached.” (Philippians 1:18) In this case, these were people were coming as His sheep but they were not “without guile”. (John 1:47) But all the while I was sharing the Word of God with them and dealing with them honestly.

What do you do in situations like that? You could get mad at them for their dishonesty and evidently trying to trick you. You could get mad at yourself for being somewhat deceived and made a fool of. I’ve definitely felt that in some cases.

word return void flatBut it does help to have a deeper, higher view of it all. In the times this happened to me (it hasn’t been often), it’s been where I was honest and up front with these people, sharing my faith with them and in some situations trying to strengthen and establish in the faith some who were posing as Christians.

Were they Christians? Deep question. I you feel that folks have to be perfect in spirit to receive the Lord and become a Christian, you might say no. I do know that they all received a strong witness. They said they were Christians. I was sharing the Word with them, praying with them and in some situations having classes with them. It’s good to remember that obscure verse, “God’s Word does not return void. It accomplishes His purpose.” (Isiah 55:11)

Everyone will be accountable for the truth they’ve been shown and seen. It seems like some folks would almost rather hold on to their abilities (if we can call it that) to trick and deceive people. On the other hand, many who’ve dabbled in deep dishonesty and deception have thrown off that temptation when confronted with the pure truth and light of the love of God and His Word.

But for us who know Him, it’s good to remember that “Truth” is right up there with “Love”, when we’re talking about the things of God. Many of us know that “God is love.” (I John 4:8) But equally, Jesus said “I am … the truth..” (John 14:6) “Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (John 18:37) We should extol, strive for and exalt truth in the same way and as much as we do love. Or so it seems to me.

Tales from Trondheim (part 2): “the day of small things”

tales from Tronhiem2-a-flatAs I wrote in the first post of this series, the time my former wife and I spent in Trondheim, Norway back in the mid 70’s was actually somewhat rough. It’s no reflection against Trondheim; it’s an interesting place with an interesting history. But for us, it was really kind of a “Gethsemane”, ha!

But besides the amazing experience we had with the young man who went to be with the Lord a few days after leaving our fellowship, another experience was very strong in our lives, one that mainly had to do with my former wife.

She was, and is, a gifted soul winner and personal witness. At this time she was well along with her pregnancy of our first son and so she was often staying back in our meager little flat during the day. But her zeal for souls was such that she somehow struck up a contact with a young little girl in our neighborhood.

This little girl was around 8 years old and had virtually no friends. Her mom was single and the little girl herself was not really “pretty” but was sort of plain and also overweight. So she ended up getting teased a lot by kids her age and it was really weighing heavily on this little girl’s life. Her mom was at work all day and this little girl was actually at a severe crisis point in her life.

tales from Tronhiem2-b flatWell, my former wife ended up praying with this precious little girl to receive Jesus and the new life in Him that He could give. She told me about it with joy when I came home from a day of witnessing and taking care of business things on the streets of Trondheim.

Some weeks later this little girl’s mother called on us. Basically she said, “I don’t know what you did but I want to thank you”. She went on to say that her little girl had become totally different from before, with more confidence and strength, able to stand up to her bullying friends and just had really become “a new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17). This of course brought us immense joy as we felt we hadn’t been seeing a lot of fruit in our efforts to evangelize Trondheim during that winter.

And it was a real eye-opener for me. At that time my focus was still on the hippy generation my former wife and I had come out of. But here was a little 8 year old who was in the biggest crisis of her life, her light almost snuffled out through bullying and just being alone so much. So salvation had come at the time she needed it most, even though she was younger than I figured folks needed salvation… a lesson I hope I never forget.

tales from Tronhiem2-c flatIt’s rather like the verse from Zachariah, “despise not the day of small things”. (Zechariah 4:10) That’s certainly how we looked at our time in Trondheim, as a day of small things. But looking back, the Lord was working and changing lives, even through us in those dry times.

Not long after that we journeyed south and ended up having our first son in Stockholm, Sweden in the spring of ‘75. But even in that difficult time, He still helped us to bear some fruit, to touch some lives and to help a few people.

And the amazing sequel to all this is that 25 years later I met, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, an American missionary and his Norwegian wife. He’d been led to the Lord in Trondheim by ones we’d left in charge of our fledgling efforts there back in the ’70’s. He had been a backpacking young American who was met and witnessed to by our friends in Trondheim and had receive the Lord right there on the street. He had gone on to marry a dear Norwegian sister in the Lord I also knew and had since moved to the interior of Brazil to serve the Lord there.

So the ways of the Lord can at times seem strange. But here were at least these three lives that were strongly changed for Him during those months we were there and immediately after, even though for ourselves it was some of the most difficult months of our lives.

It’s like that verse, “In due season we shall reap if we faint not.”(Galatians 6:9) I can tell you, it sure felt like we fainted a lot back then and we were claiming the verse “he will make a way of escape that you be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) But all the while He was still using us “in season and out of season” (II Timothy 4:2) and there was “fruit that remained” (John 15:16), even from that difficult time.

Somehow all these things were crossing my mind tonight. Maybe someone needs this, to know “your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58) and that He will always bring people into our lives who need Him and all that He has bestowed on us. God bless you.

 

Tales from Trondheim (Part 1)

trondhiemMy former wife is from Norway and when we’d been married less than a year, we were living in Trondheim, Norway. In the winter, the sun comes up at 10 in the morning and goes down at 2 in the afternoon, whereas down south in Oslo it comes up at 9 and goes down at 3.

trondhiem map-flatIt’s wonderful to be newly married and expecting your first child. We had a little base in Trondheim and were witnessing to people about the Lord, especially the young people. But frankly, it was a rather rough time for us both physically and even financially. On the other hand, there were also some amazing spiritual times there where the Lord was really working.

Some friends of ours in Oslo had led a young man to the Lord who came from a very rough “street culture” background. He’d been a drug addict but through salvation he’d become “a new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17). He was still a teenager, a big Norwegian guy. But he had a meek and changed spirit and we were glad to have him to come work with us in Trondheim as we tried to strengthen him in his new life for the Lord.

But a life of full time discipleship is not easy and we didn’t have it easy then. Not everyone is cut out for a Christian missionary lifestyle and it was becoming evident to us that, as sweet and transformed as our new friend was, he was having a very difficult time to “take up his cross daily”. (Luke 9:23)

At length my wife and I really prayed as we just felt this wasn’t working and the trajectory of this young man’s life was not moving towards full time Christian discipleship. But he was a nice guy, really saved and thankful for his salvation. At times back in those days, it was a temptation to look down on someone if they weren’t ready and able to serve the Lord full time. There had been many from those days who did become full time disciples and missionaries who went on for the next decades to serve the Lord at the ends of the earth. So we sometimes were tempted to look down on ones who didn’t make that standard, Lord forgives us.

communion-fixedBut in this case, after my former wife and I prayed together, the Lord led us to have personal communion with this dear young man, encouraging him that perhaps full time Christian discipleship was not what was for him. We had a sweet time of fellowship with him, encouraging him in the Lord and sending him back south to Oslo before the weekend.

Around Monday I made our regular call to friends in Oslo. They asked me, “Do you remember Bjørn?” I said, “Of course, he just left here a few days ago.” So they said, “Well he’s gone to be with the Lord”.

phone_call fixedI was really, really shocked. My friends went on to tell me that he’d gone down to Oslo and then on to Bergen on the Norwegian west coast. He stayed with his uncle’s family and the next day after he got there, didn’t come down to breakfast. They went up to see how he was and found him dead. Evidently the drugs that he’d been doing before he got saved caused an air bubble to enter into his blood stream and that night it had lodged in his brain, taking his life.

My former wife and I were in deep shock on so many levels. I was not yet 26 and my wife was 22. Death was not something we experienced much, especially with someone we’d just been very close to a few days before.

But we were so glad that the Lord had led us in prayer to be gentle with this young man, not to condemn him for his weaknesses but to have a time of communion with him, something very unusual for us at that time, and to send him on his way with love when we might have condemned him for his weaknesses.

We just felt very strongly that the Lord had taken him home to be with Him before he might be tempted to return to his former lifestyle that he’d been delivered from. He’d been saved from a very hellish existence on the streets of Oslo and the Lord saw fit to take him home to be with Him at that point, when he’d had a victorious life.

It was an exceedingly sobering experience to be so near to someone who was a few days away from their graduation to heaven. It helped us, during our time there, to keep the heavenly vision and to stay true to our callings at a time when in many ways we were “troubled on every side”. (II Corinthians 7:4)

And I just thought about all this tonight as one of the so many experiences I’ve had in a life as a missionary and disciple of the Lord. It was the direct leading of the Lord to have communion with this precious young man and to send him on his way with encouragement, rather than condemnation, that so touched us as the Lord’s mercy on us, that we somehow were able to show His mercy towards this young man, which we might not have done without prayer.

Our giants

One of the more interesting, and to me puzzling guys in the entire Bible is the patriarch Jacob. Probably some will chide me for saying so but he’s always seemed like almost an anti-hero among the pantheon of Biblical greats.

Jacob tricks Isaac, with Rebecca’s help

Jacob tricks Isaac, with Rebecca’s help

Jacob even means “deceiver”. He lied to his dad. He tricked his brother out of his inheritance. And he conspired with his mother to do these things. He ended up having to flee for his life and he never saw his beloved mother again. Did that really teach him a lesson and he was a changed man from then on? No, certainly not immediately it seems.

But then God had Jacob work under a more conniving and hard man than he himself was, his uncle Laban. It’s a long story but after some 21 years of work, growth and certainly some bitter lessons learned along the way, God spoke to Jacob, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you.” (Genesis 31:4?)

“Oh, great”, you could say, “He’s finally going to be able to go home.”

Jacob and Laban

Jacob and Laban

In Jacob’s case, it was a good deal more problematic than that. By this time Jacob was pretty much a rich man, with vast flocks and herds, wives and children, servants and helpers. And his twin brother, Esau, who he’d so blatantly and subtlety tricked out of his inheritance, was a fairly major local warlord. One way we know this is because, when Esau heard that Jacob was on his way back, he gathered 400 of his personal troops to go out with him to meet his brother.

For what purpose? To get revenge? To give him a big hug? It seems Jacob didn’t really know. But most likely his conscience was still eating away at him because of the scoundrel/crook/rogue-like nature that seemed to be a part of his personality. And this is where it gets really interesting.

Did Jacob boldly walk at the head of his tribe and go forward to meet his brother? No, he sent almost everyone else ahead of him: wives, children, flocks, etc. And then, the night before he was to meet Esau himself, it turns out that the Bible says Jacob “wrestled” with an angel. (Genesis 32:24 & 25)

What a scene, what drama, what pathos. God had evidently softened Jacob’s heart through the years at least somewhat. It wasn’t just him alone anymore. He had a large family who he evidently loved very dearly. And now the possibility was strong that he would get what in most ways he deserved: judgment and destruction of himself and his whole family for the perfidy he’d worked on his parents and brother many years before. He probably knew that if that happened, he would only be getting what justice would decree.

Jacob’s giants were not like David’s hundreds of years later. Jacob’s giants were his own sins and his own evil inclinations. Had he outgrown the sins of his youth? Or was now the time when they would finally catch up with him and it would mean the death of himself and all he loved?

For most of us, our biggest enemy is not someone else, or even the Devil. Our biggest enemy is ourselves. “The devils are subject to us“. (Luke 10:17) But it’s our own evil spirit, our own ornery will that seems to constantly rise up like an ogre to defy God and to lead us astray, even without the devil’s help.

jacob and angelBut Jacob knew the jig was up. We don’t have the entire dialog of that night and all the details. But it must have been one of the most intense battles any man ever fought, pleading with God through the angel as Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” (Genesis 32:26)

What kind of blessing did Jacob need? Well the next morning he would face his brother and 400 armed men. He needed God to have his brother’s heart touched so that he would receive him as his long lost brother rather than as the trickster and villain he’d actually been. If ever someone had to get their heart right with the Lord and probably really plead with God for the cleansing and remaking he so desperately needed, it must have been Jacob right then.

It sounds like it went on for hours, hours of desperate prayer, wrestling not only with the angel but also his own sins that so easily beset him. But at last, Jacob found grace in God’s sight. The angel even gave Jacob a new name at that time, “Israel”, meaning prince of God and man, perhaps signifying that he was “a new creature” (II Corinthians 5:17) in God’s eyes.

Jacob and esau meetAnd although we don’t know all the story of that momentous night, we do know that, almost surprisingly, the next day Esau didn’t go forward to kill Jacob. It says, “And Esau ran to meet Jacob, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.” (Genesis 33:4) A heartfelt embrace of brothers, much matured and changed through the years who were just glad to see each other again.

Would things have been different if Jacob had not been so desperate in prayer the night before? I’ve always really thought that. Because Jacob really got down to desperate prayer with God, perhaps one of the most desperate in the Bible, most likely God was able to change Esau’s heart also to have mercy rather than justifiable judgment against his brother. God saw that Jacob himself was utterly desperate for God’s mercy and help and the Lord did a major miracle.

What a story. Our biggest enemy is ourselves. Getting the victory over “the sins that so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1) is our greatest challenge. And, let’s face it: a lot of us don’t always win that battle. May God help us all to fight our “giants” that defy us and will defeat us except for our desperate prayers for the Lord to “deliver us from every evil work and preserve us unto His heavenly kingdom.” (II Timothy 4:18)