Bucharest Tragedy

nightclub fireI just got off the phone with a dear Christian sister here in Bucharest. She’s not only been the faithful Romanian translator of the videos I’ve been doing, she’s a real friend and someone I greatly respect. She called to tell me that her oldest son was at the club in Bucharest late last night where the fire happened that took the lives of 27 young people.

She told me that her son had phoned her to tell her that he was ok, that he had been in the club until 10 minutes before the fire broke out but that he’d wanted to leave as he didn’t like it. After the fire blazed and then was contained, he was back there at the scene to identify bodies, many of whom he knew. The son of my translator friend’s sister is a teenage musician here; he and his band were scheduled to play at that club last night but it didn’t work out.

My friend here, let’s call her “Patricia”, said it was a big Halloween party at the place and it was full of plastic decorations that burst into flames. 500 people were there and around 300 got out. Buch tragShe said it’s being said that a number of the ones who were injured are not expected to make it. Also, the song that the band was playing when the fire broke out is called “This Is The Day You Die”.

Needless to say, this is a tragedy and traumatizing on many levels. I couldn’t stop crying on this call from my friend as I know her and her kids very well, as do probably some of ones reading this blog. And since “Patricia’s” teen age son, let’s call him “Ernest”, may perhaps later read what I write here, I want to respect his privacy and to be circumspect in what I write.

But the thought that came to me is that, as they say, “God has no grandchildren.” It can’t be your parents’ faith and experiences that you build your life on. Each individual ends up having their own experiences that are the formative ones in their lives. That certainly is true with how I came to faith in God from an atheist background. It’s often the deepest, darkest, most overwhelming experiences of our lives that are the crucibles in which we are shaped and molded.

Death for a Christian should be a different experience from that of an unbeliever and we who are the people of faith should really view it differently. communion-fixedIt’s like what I wrote in “Tales from Trondheim”, about the young man in Norway who was getting Christian training with my wife and I who went to be with the Lord around 48 hours after he left us. It was very traumatizing for us, very sobering, but we had peace and joy to know that he went to be with the Lord.

I don’t know how it is for those young people who died here last night. This is a very Christian country in many ways and most of the ones I’ve met here have a deep reservoir of faith in God and in Christ. This country had a strong wave of Christian revival here during the 90’s, after the fall of Communism.

I guess it’s just hard to talk about right now. Emotions are raw and these are the children of people here in this city, some of whom were laid out of the sidewalks for identification as the hospitals were overwhelmed.

But I would like to ask you to please pray for my translator friend, “Patricia”, and perhaps especially for her 17 year old son, “Ernest”. There’s a lot I won’t share here about them as it’s their personal life and the things they’ve already gone through in the past which have bordered on the unique. And now this. Please pray for them that the foundation they both have in the Lord will sustain them through this time as never before and that this tragedy, this darkness, will be a time when the light of God’s truth and love will be more evident than ever before. Please pray for Bucharest and my friends here at this time. Thanks so much, Mark


Apparatchiks and Sycophants

Sycophant[I’ve worked on this post, off and on, for months. The things written here, to me, are heartfelt. Perhaps this can be seen as a warning, from experience, of two dreadful dangers that can lurk in the path of Christian discipleship.]

For most of us, there are some things that just “get our goat”, a wonderful English phrase for things that “get under your skin” and irritate you. In my experiences as a missionary, I think that those two non-English words there, “apparatchiks” and “sycophants” sum up what have “gotten my goat” at times.

First, an “apparatchik”. That’s a Russian word from Communist times for what we can call in English a bureaucrat or functionary, someone who just ends up working in some system. He virtually loses his or her identity to the particularly system and becomes a part of it. bureaucratOften, in his promotions within his organization, many pricks of his conscience have been silenced in order to help facilitate his rising position and prominence.

“Apparatchik”, a wonderful Russian word that brings to mind another word from that part of the world, “Byzantine”. The picture is of a turgid, sclerotic organization, endlessly slowed to an almost standstill, devoid of life and conscience. This is how so many organizations and, yes, even movements of God’s Spirit end up.

Mark, how can you say that?! Administrators and bureaucrats are needed in every organization, secular or spiritual! Records must be kept; Paul even said, “Let all things be done decently and in order!” (I Cor. 14:40)

matthew taxmanYou’re right. I’ve been thinking about Matthew, the Levite. With his background as a tax collector, do you think he may have become sickened by the humdrum drudgery of his job, just caught up in some lifeless system? Did he feel like a bureaucrat or an apparatchik? Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, when Jesus called him to be His disciple, he immediately went for it.

It’s not that I’m against people with administrative gifts, just when their gifts and callings take the place of the greater administrative and organizational ability of the Holy Spirit which is never lifeless and stultifying. And, sad to say, I’ve known some gifted Christian friends who in some cases ended up spending years as not much more than apparatchiks, just “doing their job”, when the Holy Spirit was there to show them things that were amiss. But to speak up would cost them the position they had risen to. “Quench not the Spirit.” (I Thessalonians 5:17)

Sycophant shrunkThen there are the sycophants. This brings to mind a different set of organizations from an earlier time of “the Sun King”, Louis the XIV of France. He was the ultimate epitome of European royalty at the time of its zenith. Louis the XIV had his sycophants. This was an entire swarm of dithering dukes, marquis and lords of the realm whose whole existence was to please the king and to rise within the universe of the throne scene around this golden ruler, Louis the XIV, his court and the affairs of his heaven-like earthly palace, Versailles.

If there was a word to describe this kind of person in the Bible, it would be “man-pleasers.” (Ephesians 6:6) The Bible does not speak well of this. Sycophants lived (and live) for nothing else but to please their ruler. Their only function was within the realm of the court and the palace. The things of the common man disgusted them and they were far removed, above any of that.

There are still folks like that today. They live to please some individual who they think will be their path to glory and promotion. They have no higher motive or goal than to please their sovereign, whoever that may be. Again their conscience is long silenced, like the apparatchik, in order to submit their heart and lives to no other purpose but to please the leader of their organization, company or society, like the original sycophants did for Louis the XIV.

There are folks like that today. I’ve seen the end of some of these ones; a few even were dear friends who became apparatchiks or sycophants. It’s a very sad thing. Somehow they compromised their original Godly convictions and tender consciences in order to please what they thought were the best people they knew. These people were on the rise, they were the future, and they would rise with them.

If you are of the world, the world would love his own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19) “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed…” (Romans 12:2)

If anyone chooses to follow the path of an apparatchik or a sycophant, it invariably leads away from keeping Jesus Christ first and foremost in your mind and heart.

Some never really recover. They’re overwhelmed and disillusioned when it becomes clear that they let someone or something take the place that should have been only for Jesus Christ. In some cases, like Solomon said, “The man that wanders out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” (Proverbs 21:16) It’s a huge temptation for sincere followers of the Lord to yield to a job or relationship that they feel will lead to success and power. Not only governments and businesses but even denominations can be strewn with the lives of people like that.

“But Mark, isn’t there another side to all this? Isn’t there a time for loyalty to an organization or even a denomination, to stick with them through thick and thin? Aren’t there anointed men of God that many follow as their chosen Godly leadership?”

Yep, there may be a time for that; some would say even often there is. But it’s hugely important that individuals don’t turn off their consciences and their personal link with the Lord so that they just drift along with their organization, denomination or even Godly leadership. “Everyone of us shall give account of ourselves unto God” (Romans 14:12) and it can just happen, if you don’t stay in prayer, that you become some functionary apparatchik in some frozen organization, or a man-pleasing sycophant of some formerly anointed leader who is not following God as he did before.

my life over flatBut perhaps the worst thing is that inevitably, when the system or organization that the apparatchik let replace Jesus in their heart, or the individual that the sycophant let replace Jesus in their heart finally crumbles to dust and defeat, so very often the originally inspired Christian goes down with the ship they let replace the Lord in their lives. Their faith in Christ became inalterably intertwined with their new faith in their organization or superior. And when that was gone, they too fell away from the faith they once held so high.

Thankfully, I never was successful as an apparatchik or a sycophant.  Believe me, I tried; God forgive me. “Better it is to be with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:19) Big powers have come and gone but the little people live on. God’s eye is on the sparrow and “the meek shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5)

Thank God flatAre you a nobody? Truly, you should thank God for it. Have you been passed over by those who seem to be something and “great” in the eyes of this world? Don’t worry about it. “The first shall be last and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30) Are you a “little person”, with nothing but your relationship with the Lord? “Rejoice and be exceeding glad for great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12) “The high and lofty One dwells with those of a humble and contrite spirit.” (Isaiah 57:15)

[Thinking about it more today, perhaps it’s like a sequel to John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress“. There he saw “Christian” and the others. He doesn’t mention “Apparatchik” or “Sycophant” in his writings. But in my personal pilgrim’s progress, these two bogeymen of deceiving deathly darkness have been the downfall of more than just a few people I’ve loved. If this helps anyone to not fall into the snare of these two dangers, then this post will not have been in vain. God bless you.]


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

syria war mapThey say, “The fog of war”. “Truth is the first causality in any war” is another one like that. I’m not a professional political pundit. But I have kept up with the situation in the Middle East for several decades and I visited the border with Syria back in February. So I feel led to write something here about factors that most of you won’t be hearing about concerning all this. Nope, this won’t be conspiracy theory. I’m not going to bash Obama or Putin. But many people just don’t quite understand what’s going on with Syria and the war there. I’m not saying I have all the answers. But there are a few obvious things that most of you won’t find on the evening news or very many “alternative” or conspiracy theory sites.

Why hasn’t America and the West solved the Syria crisis? How has this gotten so bad? Is it malfeasance on the part of the American government? If a Republican was President of the United States, would it all be totally solved by now? What’s holding things back? Let’s talk about that.

First, let me speak of the unspeakable, “our allies in the Middle East”. Most of the time, commentators don’t even touch on this. They work for news agencies or media outlets that have their internal rules about what can and cannot be said. And what few ever tell you is that the most major influence on Western strategy in the Middle East is the wellbeing of Saudi Arabia and Israel. That’s just reality and the way it is. And Saudi Arabia and Israel in these times have converging interests in their part of the world. They both want a continuation of the status quo. And anything that would threaten the status quo is seen as a threat to them.

Shiite crescentHow does that factor into the Syrian conflict? You may have heard of the Iran (Shiite)-Syria-Hezbollah crescent or axis. This is the coalition that has held together for years who are seen as the greatest threat to both Saudi Arabia and Israel. So, just viewing things as Machiavelli would have us to do, the fall of Assad in Syria would break the link in that axis or arc. So both the Saudis and Israel have been quietly making their views known and doing what they can do bring about the downfall of Assad, at virtually any cost.

Those two nations are the main allies of the West in the Middle East. So this is a major reason you hear so much about the need for Assad to be removed. Yes, they give you all that hoop-la about what a tyrant he is. But then they said worse about Sadam Husain and Muammar Gaddafi. You probably know how that turned out. Actually not too bad for the Saudis and Israel but not so good for many others.

The hands of the West are tied in many ways because of the need to curry favor with our allies in the Middle East. You hear a lot nowadays about how the US government has “thrown Israel under the bus” in recent times, diplomatically. This reminds me of a phrase I heard about the condition of Germany some years back when they were going through something of a recession. It was said, “Germany is not tightening its belt. It’s just not letting it out quite as fast.” That’s how the West’s policy is towards Israel and the Saudis right now. They aren’t cutting back, they’re just hesitating on signing our acquiescence on more blank sheets of paper on which our allies can fill in their instructions to us.

“Mark, you are so cynical! Don’t you believe our world leaders care about the suffering millions of refugees who need help and humanitarian relief?!”

Well, sadly, I don’t think those things really come to the top of the list for those who lead us. Maybe if millions were in the streets and there was a threat of revolution because of the inaction of governments, that might make them take notice, like in the days of the Viet Nam war. But that kind of thing doesn’t really happen anymore. And let’s also remember that another major factor in all this is that the American people have really soured on foreign military involvement after the wars in Iraq. That’s another reason why there is no mandate from the America people for involvement in Syria or anywhere else for that mater

Putin AssadThen, along comes Russia. Those are the bad guys, right? Everyone knows that, you see it on the news all the time. But, strangely, it might just be that Putin and his troops may be free to take action where the West just can’t. Assad, and his father before him, have been allies of Russia at least since the ‘70’s. Putin doesn’t have any of the restraints on him that I’ve mentioned here that the West does. He does have some restraints but they’re not as hindering as what holds back the West now. He’s going in there to shore up an ally, just the same we would expect the States to go in to protect Israel or Saudi Arabia if they needed it the way Assad does.

Russian tankAnd Putin just might pull it off. People have been saying for a long time that a strong, sustained ground attack against ISIS would do the trick. You hear countries like Turkey mentioned, that they could do it. But then the Turkish government has its own reasons for wanting the fall of Assad. You hear that Iranian forces could do it. And if a few of those got together, like Putin’s troops, what’s left of Assad’s and also Iran’s, then most commentators say that this would be what it would take to destroy ISIS.

Maybe that’s what’s developing. And maybe that’s why you hear a huge amount of squawking from the talking heads in the Western media about how bad this all is. Because it’s really not what the West or their allies in the Middle East want at all. They want the status quo. And they want the fall of Assad, at whatever cost, including a prolonged state of anarchy like what’s now going on in Iraq or Libya.

But for the most part, we plebeians at the bottom of the food chain are not told about these finer nuances of Middle Eastern circumstances. We will continue to be told that Russia and Assad are the bad guys and that our nations must do our part to liberate Syria from its tyrant, as we have done in Iraq, Libya and many other nations before that. Like the old song said, “It ain’t necessarily so.”


Now the end begins?

prophet of doomQuite a few aficionados of Bible prophecy are getting excited when they view current events in the Middle East. Most of them have believed that at some point in the future, Russia will come to play a very major role in the region. A dear friend sent me a letter and blog article about this. The article declares emphatically that the Russian buildup in Syria is a prelude and pretext for Russia to invade Israel, virtually at any time. My friend wanted to know what I thought about the article. Here are parts of what I wrote back to him.

Most everyone agrees that Ezekiel 38 and 39 sure look like potentially major Scripture on the endtime. From reading those chapters, it does sound like what’s been identified as the land area of Russia will “invaded Israel” or something similar to that in some future time. Only, no one really knows exactly where these verses in Ezekiel fit in the endtime picture.

Are they a part of the finally events of the 42 months of Antichrist rule during the Great Tribulation? (Revelation 13:5-7)The Pact flat Or are they events occurring before the signing of the Pact or Covenant and the Last 7 Years? (Daniel 9:27) Or does Ezekiel 38 & 39 cover material mentioned in Daniel 11:21 to 45? Some even cite Psalm 83 nowadays as being an endtime prophecy when it was actually a historical prayer written during the time when ancient Israel was at war with its neighbors.

It does seem very significant that Russia has gotten suddenly involved in the Syrian war and evidently they have the top hand in the Middle East now.  I wrote a blog post about all this with some factors having to do with the move by Russia which probably a lot of people don’t know or understand. You might find it interesting, especially since you served in that part of the world. It’s called “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

whites of thier eyes-flattenedBut I sadly feel another one I wrote summarizes the more sensationalist articles that come out on sites like “Before It’s News”, “Now the End Begins”  “Armageddon News” and others like this. What I wrote about this is called “The Whites of Their Eyes”.

When I hear about clear, unequivocal events happening in the news that we can directly connect with endtime prophecies, that’s when we can really place it in prophetic Scripture that is known to precede the Great Tribulation. Otherwise, it’s just very fertile ground for the many criers of “Wolf! Wolf!” with abundant speculations about prophetic fulfillments that so often just turn out to be duds. It kind of bugs me how many people are claiming Bible prophecy has been fulfilled every time a car bomb explodes.

But what could be something on the horizon that would clearly be an event predicted in Scripture? If and when I see the building of a third Jewish temple in Jerusalem and particularly the beginning of animal sacrifices there, then I think we’ll have some real specifics to take serious note of. Where we are at on the Trumpets and Seals of the book of Revelation, or the specifics of Ezekiel 38, can be rather hazy now.

Mosque of OmarAnd yet so very many commentators endlessly try to find where we are presently in those things. They usually end up in farfetched, emotional speculation that borders on confusion. Lots of heat but not much light. However, if there’s a third temple built in Jerusalem and then sacrifices start, that will be some concrete, Biblically predicted endtime events happening in real time. And of course even the subject of the third temple in Jerusalem is also now in the news every day, with present events on the Temple Mount and the whole thing.

It may be getting very near and I certainly am keeping up with it all. But I’m not ready to start hanging labels on things like, “That country is the bear or ram” and “That one is the goat”. Those verses in Daniel were fulfilled long ago and don’t apply to endtime prophetic events. In Daniel 8, the angel Gabriel specifically told the prophet Daniel what the goat was. “The rough goat is the kingdom of Greece.”  (Daniel 8:21) But still today, you’ve got oodles of experts telling us that the goat of Daniel 8 directly refers to some modern nation today. That is not teaching “sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)

I covered all that in my videos on the subject. Perhaps the best one on the final years of the endtime is the one about Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24, called “The Last 7 Years”.  But a lot of things are happening that quite possibly are major steps towards final endtime events and it really bears watching.

Studying current events in relation to Bible prophecy about the final days is a little like looking through a kaleidoscope. We look at God’s Word and then we look at current events and we can see a lot of similarities. But every time there’s some slight changing of events, like when a kaleidoscope is moved ever so slightly, then the whole picture changes. That’s what’s happening with Russia’s current move. I agree with so many others that the change in the picture we see now is another move towards the picture we are shown in Scripture of how it will be at the beginning of the most specific events that are predicted, preceding the return of Jesus. But being overly specific with dramatic proclamations of prophetic fulfillment when it really hasn’t happened yet is just not good Bible teaching, no matter how anxious anyone is to see prophecy fulfilled.

In summary, yes this big move by Russia does very much look like a foretold piece of the prophetic puzzle that we see in Bible prophecy. But I don’t think we should be standing by in expectation that Russia is about to invade Israel at any moment. That’s getting ahead of the music and jumping the gun. And web sites that continue to delude Christians in that way should be noted and held accountable for their sensationalism and lack of credibility.

Afterwards Build Your House

harvest fields flatIn my early years as a Christian, someone shared a Bible verse that has always stuck with me. “Prepare your work without and make it fit for yourself in the field, and afterwards build your house.” (Proverbs 24:27) This isn’t really an admonition to farmers and ranchers. Maybe if I bring in another verse that’s perhaps more familiar to you, the idea will be clearer. Jesus said, from the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

It’s easy to agree with this in principle but, for most of us, much more difficult to do. Because it goes against our human nature and it surely goes against “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2). Our unregenerate human nature says to seek first our own, whatever that may be. Food, clothes, money, reputation, everything. And every voice from “this present evil world” (Galatians 1:8) will chime in with harmony to this.

share flatBut God’s voice and His ways are contrary to this. Our self and our world says, “Hold on to what you’ve got. You deserve it; you’ve worked hard, now enjoy it.” But Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto, good measure, pressed down and shaken together shall men give to your bosom, for with the same measure that you give, it shall be given to you.” (Luke 6:38) And this admonition is all through the Bible, Old and New Testament.

For me, I’m thankful that the Christianity I originally was led to was a discipleship, Christian-service Christianity. I’d seen so much of the insipid once-a-week Christianity when I was growing up and it didn’t show anything to me of a true, powerful, righteous God. So for me Christianity and discipleship Christianity are not the same thing. Jesus said to them all, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it. But whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23 &24) Needless to say, this is ludicrous to the average worldling and even a lot of Christians secretly cringe at statements like this from Jesus.

It’s like what I wrote about a few years ago in “The Multitude and the Disciples”, not so many people really wanted to follow Jesus up the mountain to hear the greatest sermon ever preached. “Seeing the multitude, He went up into a mountain. And when He was set, His disciples came unto Him.” (Matthew 5: 1 & 2) It doesn’t say the multitude came to Him on the mountain; it says the disciples did. And it’s still the same today.

And for the disciples of Jesus, these verses I’ve mentioned are first grade principles on which we base our lives. We don’t build our house first; we take care of the fields. In this case, they are His fields. Peter and JesusJesus told Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter said yes three times. Each time Jesus answered with “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:16 &17) He didn’t tell him to go back to the fishing business. He didn’t tell him to go back to Capernaum and take care of his physical family. He told him to feed His sheep. And in Peter’s case, he seemed to do that and continue to do that the rest of his life until he ultimately died a martyr’s death for Jesus.

So Peter did what Jesus told His disciples to do, he “sought first the kingdom of God”. And it cost him. Continually and a lot. Just like it has for other disciples of the Lord for the last two thousand years. But it’s those folks, those few who have carried the banners of the Lord and the love and truth of God to the ends of the earth, generation after generation up to our times. And there are still folks like that today; not just Christians, not just believers, but disciples and followers of the teachings of Christ.

I hate to say it and this might offend some. But going to church once a week to hear the sermon will not necessarily be what it takes to be a disciple of the kind the early Christians were. You may get a little spiritual feeding, they’ll pray and sing and you may find the warmth of the Lord there.stands at the door flat But often it doesn’t go much further than that. In most churches, you won’t learn how to lead the unsaved to Christ. They figure that’s what the preacher is for. Just bring your friends to church and that’ll do it. So, sadly, many modern Christians are not equipped to really serve the Lord and to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8) which is one of the criteria of being a disciple, according to Jesus.

Hopefully some people are seeing this. They are seeing that their Christianity and religion has been pretty much “skimmed milk” and they are looking around to find the kind of discipleship they read about in the Bible.

As the darkness and foreboding of this world daily increases so rapidly, there’s no greater time when the light of the love of God is needed in each Christian to shine more brightly and vehemently than ever before. May God help each one of us to “prepare our work without and make it fit for ourselves in the field (the spiritual fields of sowing and reaping for Him) and afterwards build our houses”. God help us to seek first His kingdom now like never before. Let it not be said to our generation, as it was to God’s rebellious people of Jeremiah’s time, “The summer is past, the harvest is ended, and we are not saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20)

Acts 25 Live Class Audio

Paul and accussorsAs we’ve done at other times in our book of Acts classes, we started out by going over the last verse in the chapter before, chapter 24, and again zeroed in on where Paul “reasoned with him” (Acts 24:25). That’s actually a really good verse about sharing our faith with others. Paul didn’t start berating and condemning him but he “reasoned with him”. The full audio class on Acts 25 can be heard here.

And we got off into a rollicking discussion at the beginning about witnessing and someone mentioned “the Roman road”, a phrase used to describe the use of verses in the book of Romans which can be used to explain to people how the Bible says “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And subsequent verses show “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) These are verses that were shown to me on the day I received Jesus as my Savoir.

Even that phrase right there, “receiving Jesus”, is directly from Scripture, one of my favorite verses. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did, I received Jesus.

Well, this is quickly developing into a basic salvation class and a witnessing class but we all need plenty of those. Going along with John 1:12 that I just quoted is the super famous verse from Revelation 3:20, Jesus at doorBehold I stand at the door and knock” [this is Jesus speaking about His standing at the door of your heart.] If any man hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will sup with him and he with Me.” Simple salvation. And sometimes you have to “reason” with people, as Paul did here at the end of Acts 24

And we talked about how even the word “sin” and the concept of sin in our world today is virtually a lost word in almost every segment of society except perhaps some churches. We related that to how things are actually in our world today and how Jesus said, “If the light that be in you be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23). Regardless of the technical advancements we’ve experienced, if a society no longer retains the light of God’s Word, then there‘s an immense darkness upon it.

Actually, we had a little difficulty getting this class started because we just kept getting deeper on some of these first subjects. We even got into where there are things you can find on line that will tell us that the Apostle Paul led people away from God because Paul didn’t exalt and stay submitted to the Torah, the ancient laws given to Moses.

But did only Paul do that? What about when this all came up in Acts 15? The Apostle Peter settled the argument of that time when he said,Peter Acts 15Why do you tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? [He’s speaking here to his Jewish Christian brethren in Jerusalem about the Mosaic Law and he went on to say…] But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:10 & 11)

We talked about the importance of Paul and how it seems he had a better grasp and understanding of what Jesus did and had done, and the vast significance of it all. It’s been said that without Paul and his writings, quite possibly the early Christian movement would have ended up faltering, being absorbed back into Judaism and would have just been another branch of it, like the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. And someone in the class rightly mentioned that it all wasn’t really Paul but the power of the Holy Spirit which used Paul. Absolutely. But believe it or not, there are websites that say Paul was a false apostle that led away Christianity from the laws of Moses. Whew!

And then we finally got going into the chapter. The new governor, Festus, after two years, heard Paul again at the judgment seat. But something new happened. “Willing to please the Jews…” (Acts 25:9), Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to go back to Jerusalem and to be judged there by Festus. And undoubtedly Paul knew what would await him in Jerusalem or even along the road there, as 40 of his enemies had sworn to kill him a few years earlier.

So Paul told Festus, “I stand before Caesar’s judgment. To the Jews I have done nothing, as you know.” And then the big thing, Paul said, “I appeal to Caesar.” To which Festus said, “Have you appealed to Caesar? Unto Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25:12)

It’s amazing the twists and turns of all this. Some days later, the next level up in the hierarchy of the Romans, King Agrippa and his wife Bernice came to Caesarea and Felix explained Paul’s cause to them.  Paul in prison3And we could almost think like that Paul made a mistake or God made a mistake. Because Agrippa and Bernice wanted to let Paul go. But he’d already appealed to Caesar. However, like Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.

And the Lord had already told Paul back in chapter 23, “As you have witnessed for Me in Jerusalem, so shall you witness for Me in Rome.” So it was another rousing, at times debate-filled Bible class we had on the Book of Acts. The recording of the class can be heard here.

Loving God

morning sizedSo I woke up to a beautiful, golden, clear day this morning, and, as I often do, put on some devotional music to start the day. One of the first songs was simply about loving God, about how it takes time to do that, love Him every day.

And I thought about that, how simple that is, how almost trite it sounds, bland to the ears of most of us. And yet God told Moses, and Jesus repeated it, that this is actually the first of the commandments. Someone asked Jesus what was the first commandment and He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength. And the second is like unto it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is none other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

“Yeah, yeah, Mark; yeah, yeah! We all know that! We heard that in Sunday school or from our grandmother! But what about…”

Isn’t that the easy reaction? I was just thinking about how easy it is to get so focused on the needs, cares and horrors of this world and to think how essential it is to obey that second commandment, to love our neighbor as our selves. It is so vital, so missing and so desperately needed. But still, that’s the second commandment, not the first.

FriendlyLove never fails.” (I Corinthians 13:8)  “Love works no ill to his neighbor.” (Romans 13:10) “The greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13) All of these are rather often heard in some circles, circles I and many others travel in. And it’s all true; in our times the simple love of our fellow man is so very missing and desperately needed. Jesus even said of the times directly before His return, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold.” (Matthew 24:12) Sure does seem like now, doesn’t it?

But the idea that came to me this morning is how that it’s all too easy for any of us to put loving our neighbor above loving the Lord Himself. And maybe I should reference the story I told a while back about “Three Fingers” when it comes to what I’m writing about here. I feel convicted about this myself and see that I have at times been so moved with the needs of humanity in our generation that I may have gotten more caught up with the need to win the world to Him than I have with loving the Lord.

It’s like the thing Jesus said, “These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.” (Matthew 23:23b) We need to both love God and love our neighbor. Years ago I had some brief contact with the World Council of Churches and I learned the terminology that’s used to describe some denominations, “verticals” and “horizontals”. “Verticals” describes the congregations whose main focus is on the heavenlies, on the things of God and Jesus and our relationship with and worship of God. “Horizontals” focus more on the second commandment, our charge from Him to love our neighbor as ourselves. prayer first flatThese folks are the ones who are often out at the front in humanitarian aid relief and laying down their lives for the brethren or are zealously active in social issues of our day.

But of course, both of these should not work as alternatives but in tandem. And I think only God Himself can help us get the mix right. That’s why it’s such a help, such an essential to have the living presence of His Spirit alive and functioning in us daily. We can try to get it right in our feeble minds. But it all works so much better if His Spirit in us “leads us into all truth” (John 16:13), even personally and daily in letting us know when we need to “come apart for a while” (Mark 6:31) and just really focus on loving the Lord.

The honest truth is that “You can’t do the Master’s work without the Master’s power and to have it, you must spend time with the Master.” oil lampIt’s like an oil lamp. All our love for and activity for the lost and needy of the world must come from the oil and Spirit of God, not ourselves. Otherwise it will be like a wick burning without the oil. It gets consumed pretty fast and there’s a lot of smoke. But if we stay soaked in the oil of His Spirit, through truly loving Him, then there will be sufficient oil in our lamps to be the light to the World that He wants us to be.

Some people think that God is some kind of cruel monster, trying to chase us with a big stick. But actually He is Love and He’s trying to love us into heaven.Prodical son A beautiful picture of this is the story Jesus told of “the prodigal son” who had abandoned his father to go do his own thing in a far land. Jesus said that, at length, the son “came to himself” (Luke 15:17) and decided to return to his father’s house, in shame. And what did the father, who represents God, do? Jesus said, “But when the son was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20) What a tender picture of God’s love for all of us who’ve gone astray.

Joshua, the leader of God’s people after Moses, said to them, “Take good heed unto yourselves that you love the Lord your God.” (Joshua 23:11) It’s great to love others, it’s a commandment of God and His Spirit will put an incredible love in our hearts that He wants us and needs us to have. But it can be a temptation of the workers of the Lord to put our love for our neighbors above our love for Him.

Lord help us all. Because if we let the pendulum swing the other way so we spend all our time in worshiping Him to the neglect of His sheep, then that’s just another mistake of going off in the other direction. I know some people who’ve done that, who once were really active in winning the world for Jesus. But now they spend most of their time at home alone in personal worship and devotion.

Sometimes loving the Lord can just be loving His Word and taking time to really let it speak to you. Jeremiah said, “Your words were found, and I did eat them, and Your word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” (Jeremiah 15:16) Thankfully we can be sure that “He is love” (I John 4:8) and that “We love him because He first loved us” (I John 4:19). “If any many love God, the same is known of Him.” (I Corinthians 8:3)

run to GodBut in all our Christian service, our concern about the dire plight of the world at this time, the concern about the planet and God’s creation which seems to be suffering as well, it’s good to remember (pointing three fingers at myself at this time) that Jesus told us “without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Without our loving God and spending time with Him, our priorities will be mixed up. And that won’t be the way it should be, for Him or us or the needy of this world, or our dear planet itself.


Merkel’s Call

Angela MerkelAccording to my German friends, the Prime Minister of German, Angela Merkel, was asked the other day by reporters about what horrors would come from the influx of people from the Middle East into Germany and Europe. What I’ve been told is that the Prime Minister replied that the people of Germany should get out their Bibles and share their faith with the refugees coming to (at least nominally, somewhat) Christian Europe.

How can you respond to that? Stunned silence? Probably that was the response of a number of people there. But someone should have jumped up on a chair and yelled, “Give that woman a cigar!” putin and text flatMaybe you’re not from Europe and don’t have the perspective to realize how unusual that is, at least in my opinion, to be coming from the leader of the most powerful country in Western Europe.

Of course she’s totally right. I certainly think so. It’s kind of like stating the obvious. But it also sadly reminds me of a Bible verse I read shortly after I became a Christian that seemed to sum up what my life had been like for years before I had the stunning experiences that brought me out of my unbelief.

Psalm 10:4b says “God is not in all his thoughts.” That was how I was for years; any thought about God never entered my mind. And sadly it seems that for many west Europeans, they’ve been in that condition for decades. God has not been in all their thoughts. That’s why it’s been called “Post Christian Europe”.

So it’s against that backdrop that Angela Merkel has called for Christians to get out their Bibles in response to the challenge of Islam that’s come with the influx of refugees. But, here’s something else I didn’t know till yesterday. Angela Merkel, who’s originally from what was Communist East Germany, is the daughter of a Christian pastor. And if you’re the daughter of a Christian pastor during the time of Communism in East Germany, then your faith in God and in Christ was not something cheap or frivolous. It cost something to have faith in God in those times. And it especially cost something to be a pastor there.

But of course the question is, will anyone respond to Merkel’s call? I’m sure some will. A few dozen, a few hundred even. Maybe more? Actually, you’d be surprised. God can do, and has done in the past, some real miracles with even a few dozen or a few hundred. not limited w text flatJonathan and his armor bearer took initiative against the greater Philistine forces and were the initiators of a great victory for the people of the God of Abraham. Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few.” (I Samuel 14:6)

But, honestly, I’d like to interject here that I don’t even like to begin to use any terminology on this subject that is infused with terms of battles and wars. The whole sad story of current events now with these poor people is so drenched in terms of conflict. Also history itself is packed with the terminology of the Crusades and all those wars so that it really colors the whole dialog on Christian-Muslim experience. As a Christian, I find that thinking of “fields”, of “sowing” and “seeds” is much closer to the words of Jesus than all our analogies of warfare and victory, even if we know we’re speaking spiritually.

lift up your eyes with text flatIt says of Jesus, “When He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them, for they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep, having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Then He turned to His disciples and said to them, “The harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore, that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37 & 38) At another time in another place, He said to His disciples, “Do you not say that in four months will be the harvest? I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.”  (John 4:35) And of course we all know that in those times, Jesus was not talking about wheat, barley and rye. He was talking about the harvest of souls that were fainting and scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. He was talking about a harvest of human souls that was already “white unto harvest”.

refugee in fieldIt may very well be, and I am convinced that it’s true, that this migration of people out of the Middle East into west Europe is an unprecedented opportunity. The Christians of Europe can get out their Bibles and their tracts, fill their hearts with the love of God and go out to meet these ones who have come here. One time Jesus said, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that My house may be full.” (Luke 14:23) And that’s literally where thousands of these people from the Middle East are now, in the highways, hedges and open fields of Europe as they trudge north to try to find peace.

Boy, that would be news, wouldn’t it? If bands of Christians rose to this occasion and “let their light shine before men“? (Matthew 5:16) Do you think God would be with Christians who went out to share His love with these ones? So the question seems to be, “Who will answer Merkel’s call?”

Broken pieces of the ship

paul in shipwreckThis morning I was reading something from “Streams in the Desert” by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman. It was talking about when Paul was shipwrecked on his way as a prisoner to Rome in Acts 27. The devotion was on the verse, Acts 27:44 “And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

How can you get anything significant out of that verse, right? Well, the devotion brought out that in this dire time in the great apostle Paul’s life, shipwrecked and at wit’s end, a great flaming angel did not appear upon the waters to raise Paul bodily above the rest. A chariot of fire with mighty thunderbolts did not come to his deliverance. And, by in large, that’s how God works most of the time.

God uses little things, broken things, seemingly trivial things. And with those He does His mighty works.

Paul in prison3Paul was destined to be in Rome, God had told him, “As you’ve witnessed for Me in Jerusalem, so must you also bear witness in Rome.” (Acts 23:11) Some things just seem to be destined and foreordained by God, if we continue to do our part. And even in this mighty storm that was upon Paul and the ones in that ship, even there God was in control. Like I wrote about recently when a tornado came over the house I was living in, “God has his way in the whirlwind and the storm.” (Nahum 1:7) But there’s even more significance to this seemingly insignificant verse. “broken pieces of the ship…” How poignant that is. Because so often that’s what each of us are in some points in our lives.

Our own ship has been broken and our life seems to be a ruins. Our family has been broken and seemingly destroyed. Our health is broken. Our church fellowship or denomination has been broken or shamed. And yet, God only uses broken things.

create in me flatGod told Saul, “When you were little in your own sight, I anointed you king over Israel”. (I Samuel 15:17) God wants and needs broken things, because that’s all He can work with. In perhaps one of the most important Psalms in the Bible, Psalm 51, King David in his desperate repentance and metanoia said to God, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, oh God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Brokenness. Nobody almost ever wants to be broken, to be defeated, to be embarrassed, to seemingly fail. But God gets some of his greatest victories out of seeming defeat. That broken vessel, the ship Paul was on, was lost. But he and all on board were saved because they kept listening to what Paul, God’s representative to them right then, told them to do in that dire crisis.

In the same way, if individuals or bodies of individuals keep listening to the Lord, keep our eyes on Him and our direct hotline of prayer to His Throne alive through direst times, He will not fail to keep, deliver and guide through anything. He loves to do the miracles, that’s the nature of God. And in our brokenness, whatever form that may take, He can do what He can’t do when we are so “together” and on top of things.

Gods judgements flatJesus even said, “Whosoever shall fall upon this stone shall be broken. But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44) God help us to fall on the Stone, Christ Jesus, in brokenness and dependence on Him. This is the safest state there is: utter dependence on the Lord. The proud, the haughty, the self sufficient who think they don’t need God or His ways and His love will sadly someday at length find the same Stone we are supposed to fall up will fall upon them when they see their lives were empty, meaningless and selfish. Although God’s wheels of justice sometimes seem to grind exceeding slow, they eventually grind exceeding fine.

God help us to have the vision of just being “broken pieces of the ship”. Broken things, little things, even despised things which God said He would use “to bring to naught things that are”. (I Corinthians 1:28)  “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, says the Lord.” (Isiah 58:10)

How inglorious to be floundering about helplessly and desperately on a plank in a stormy ocean, at wits end. But there the apostle Paul was and from there he was delivered by the One who always had “delivered him from every evil work”. (II Timothy 4:18) May God give us all the eyes He wants us to have to even be “broken pieces of the ship”, if so be the will of God.