Conquering

ConqueringThat word probably leaves a funny taste in the mouth for most of us 21st century folks.  “Conquering” sounds like the war-mongering, triumphalist people we just don’t like or want to be. We’re mostly the peace loving, “can’t-we-get-along” types. But that’s where those of us who believe in God would do well to remember that we need to not look to our personal preferences or the currently most accepted view of “right and wrong”.

As much as we peace-loving people would like it if the whole world was just like us, reality has a way of jumping up and biting us in the butt from time to time. Like King David said, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalms 120:7). The same King David prayed to God, “Scatter the people that delight in war.” (Psalm 68:30) It’s a sad, reluctant realization that war is an integral part of the reality we now live in. In the golden age of peace that will come with the return of Jesus, “They shall beat their sword into plow shares. Neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isiah 2:4) But we’re not there yet; far from it.

We desire peace, long for it and don’t naturally incline to war (many of us anyway). But we can’t get away from the Scriptural injunction that is part of the definition of the times and age we live in, that we should “war a good warfare” (I Timothy 1:18). Paul said, “No man that wars, entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who has called him to be a soldier.” (II Timothy 2:4)

Persecution picture-flattenedReluctantly, we have to admit that we’re called to be soldiers. We may be peacemakers and that’s our desire. But we face an Enemy who wants to defeat us. And we face continually our Enemy’s forces and loyalists who defy and mock our Commander and who want to destroy our faith.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t that way? Yes, it would be nice. But we can’t just sit around and “imagine”.  We have to be realists. Our dear Lord Jesus is the future ruler of this earth, physically. He told us “I will come again.” (John 14:3). Daniel told us in that most simple first chapter of his prophecies that Jesus’ Kingdom to come will “break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” and nations of this earth that His Kingdom will replace at His coming. (Daniel 2:44)

We must conclude that to conquer is part of the calling we have when He told us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) If we are to “win souls” (Proverbs 11:30), who are we to win them from? The answer is clear: they’re to be won from the powers of Darkness that rule this earth right now. Paul said that God, “has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Collossians 1:13)

Jesus conquered. Maybe He used me or you as his tool or instrument to help “win a soul” for Him. The forces of darkness were defeated. A battle took place. If you’ve ever been involved in personal witnessing and winning souls, you know how totally real that can be. It’s often an incredible fight and you can sometimes almost literally know, see and contend with dark forces that hold people in a grip of unbelief and pride, restraining them from reaching out to receive the new life Christ offers. And, lest there be any room for misunderstanding, how do we conquer? How do we win? Through love, like our Commander did.

jesus on horseRevelation chapter 6 talks about a rider with a crown on a white horse who “goes forth conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2)  In our times, modern church scholars have somehow attributed this figure to be a picture of the Satanic Antichrist of the endtime. But from the Early Church up till modern times, this figure on the white horse in Revelation 6 was always considered to be Jesus of Nazareth. The forces of God from the first century till now have followed Him into all nations, winning through His leadership the lost souls of this earth, gathering them into His eternal fold and contending with the devil and the forces of darkness who now hold sway over the nations.

We’re to be conquerors with Him. He defeated death on the cross of Calvary. He is the risen Savoir, the mighty Conqueror who now leads the forces of His saved ones, through the Holy Spirit, in this time of battle for the hearts and souls of the people of the earth. We’ve already passed the point in time which He spoke of when He said “This gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14) That’s already happened over the last 100 to 150 years.

Soon the crowned Rider on the white horse that we see at the beginning of the Christian era in Revelation 6 will become the visible Lord from heaven in Revelation 19, leading the forces of heaven in a reconquering of the earth as He retakes this world from the clutches of the Devil and we experience the first days of His Kingdom come on earth.

We are sheep. And He has said He is our Shepherd. But we look forward to the Lion of Judah, the conquering King of Kings who will lead us as conquerors with Him in His soon return. In the meantime, we need to remember that we are, perhaps even reluctantly, called to be conquerors, fighters and triumphant (but still meek and humble) fighters with Him at this time. “The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalms 37:11)

Rampant, predatory males

There’s a lot in the news about predatory males and a culture of rape. Doubtless, this is real but it’s hardly even news until some big shot really gets caught with his pants down. ( 🙂 ) But, you’re right, it’s no laughing matter at all. Cyberspace is abuzz with discussions about what can be done and who is to blame. I read an article in the New York Times that actually it’s just all men who are to be blamed; all of them are like that.

Well, this can get pretty wild, discouraging and extreme real fast. Again, there’s no doubt that this is a problem, there’s no doubt that countless people have been more than just hurt. They’ve been damaged, they have been ravaged not just in their bodies but in their souls and virtually irreparably messed up. And, as some bring out, it’s not just men doing this to women. Men, some at least, sexually attack other men also.

“Oh Mark, nice people don’t talk about things like this! You shouldn’t even be writing about things like this!” Well, it’s very real, very timely and it’s like one of the many onslaughts of the devil that engulfs our present world. Calls are ringing out for change. Guilt is being liberally apportioned and abundant shaming of males is the order of the day.

But, honestly, do you think it will change anything? I sort of don’t think so. Greater hate and division in society will likely come of it but positive change? I don’t think so. But let’s look at two factors in this. First, the man who’s so much in the news now had the job of being virtually the high priest of Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5), as Revelation 17 and 18 say in the last book in the Bible. The modern American “entertainment industry” is the epicenter of satanic filth and immorality that was predicted in Revelation. It says there, “all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich through the abundance of her delicacies.” (Revelation 18:3)

American “entertainment” has permeated all nations with its evil, Godless, satanic “wine of the wrath of her fornication.” So it almost goes without saying that one of the men who was at the pinnacle of the entertainment industry would have the nature that this man has had, a heartless, marauding, animal-like sexual predator. The Bible talks about “men of the world, who have their portion in this life.” (Psalm 17:14) And there are plenty like that in every field.

Satan showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And Satan said to Jesus, ‘All this power I will give you for it is mine. If you will worship me, all shall be yours’”. (Luke 4: 5 & 6) Thankfully our dear Lord and King rebuked the devil at that offer. But there are plenty of folks around who’ve taken that offer with glee. The devil has given them all this world has to offer and they’ve served the pleasure of Satan in return. The “casting couch” has been a known part of the Hollywood path to stardom for many decades. Why anyone is surprised about any of this is itself a surprise.

But is there any solution? First you have to get to the root of the problem. And as I wrote in “What is Sin?“, basically no one will go there. Because the problem (I know some of you will hate it when I say this) is sin. It’s not males. It’s not sex. It’s sin in the heart. Without the regenerative salvation of Jesus Christ, coming into our hearts to save us from our sins and our powerful sinful nature, it can be said that any one of us are capable of almost any kind of horrendous sin. It’s like Tennessee Ernie Ford used to sing, “If the right one don’t get you, the left one will.” If your sex urge doesn’t get you, gluttony will. If gluttony doesn’t get you, violence will. If violence doesn’t get you, depression or drugs will. And on and on it goes.

Jesus said of the last days before His return, that  “men’s hearts failing them for fear” would be one of the signs of those times. But, more on our subject, He also said of the Last Days, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:12) Natural God-given human love between a man and woman is waning as demonic interactions abound. Or like Paul said about the Last Days that people would be “without natural affection”. (II Timothy 3:3) People need warm, loving, “natural affection”. They need love, even the Godly, wonderful love between a man and woman.

So, again, is there solution? Probably not one that most people will recognize and accept. The only way to empower men to bring their bodies and desires into subjection is through the power of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”  (Colossians 1:27) That’s the only thing that ever gave me the power over the sins that were destroying me. I hope you have that saving power through Jesus. Then you “can do all things through Christ which strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13), including becoming a loving, mature, carrying man who can truly find and love the woman of your dreams, who God prepared for you. That’s the only hope. Jesus saves.

Sadness

Sadness is one of the greatest of sins. It turns us from the heavenly vision and contradicts the promises of God. Hardly anything so strips us from the power of God as does sadness. Yet it seems so reasonable, so “normal”, so acceptable. Maybe that’s why it so successfully defeats so many of the people of God.

I pray hard against sadness every day. The Bible talks about “the sins that do so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1); well sadness just wants to keep me as its friend forever, if I will. Maybe you had a friend when you were a kid, someone in your neighborhood you hung out with. Seemed like a nice guy and you had fun together. But as you got older, that fellow began to get worse and worse. Started fights, did petty crime at the shopping center and began to get into drinking, drugs and wild parties. That’s how sadness can be. It seems almost innocent at first. “Just feeling a little sad”, you say. But then if you stay in that state, along comes other similar feelings and it just gets worse and worse.

But for Christians, we are just not supposed to allow that, any more than we would the more well known and recognizable sins. This isn’t just about being cheerful and staying upbeat. This is about the fundamentals of obeying God and “walking in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Jesus said, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” (John 13:17) Back in the Old Testament, Nehemiah told the Jews who’d come back to rebuild Jerusalem, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10b).

But, boy, the devil tries to fight that. And of course it isn’t always even the devil that prompts you to be sad. Our own natural human nature is prone to all kinds of things that are just how things are in this world. But for a child of God, we are no longer under the control of this world and its darkened tendencies. Paul said that we are “set down in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)  If you’re a saved, born again Christian, then Christ dwells in your heart right now. You have heaven in your heart right now and the truths, influences, reality and essences of heaven are already very firmly the reality you live in. King David said to God in Psalm 16:10, “In Your presence is fullness of joy and at Your right hand are pleasures for ever more.” Not empty, hopeless sadness.

Senseless sadness is not part of the reality of heaven.God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17) We are to “rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” (I Peter 1:8) And yet, still, sadness is so often and so easily with us. If someone offered us drugs or wanted to get us to commit illicit sex, my how we’d stand up against that! But sadness? We can almost look at it like an old friend, if we don’t watch out. Like the famous song by Simon and Garfunkel with the opening words, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again…” Well, I’ll tell you, darkness better not be your friend.

OK, is there any balance due here? Sometimes we feel what the Bible calls “contrite”. (Psalm 51:17) We are sorry for our sins, for our foolishness and that brings us to what looks very much like sadness. But here’s a very significant verse about that which I hope you’ll take note of. II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of. But the sorrow of the world works death.” Such light from the Word of God there. Two kinds of sorrow and it could be said, two kinds of sadness. Is your sadness or sorrow one that works repentance in you to salvation? You are sad at your foolish mistakes and you, in your contrition and repentance, strive all the more to walk in the Spirit and to follow the Lord more closely?

Or do you have “the sorrow of the world” which works death? That’s why when folks talk about the gift of discerning of spirits, I always figure the greatest discerning of spirits is to discern your own spirit. Jesus said to His disciples, “You know not what manner of spirit you are of.” (Luke 9:55) Well, sadness can be one of the most unhealthy and even contagious atmospheres that you can entertain. Like that old friend from childhood that you finally had to distance yourself from, sadness needs to be recognized for what it is and to be fought against as soon as it raises its deceitful head.

What do you do about Godless sadness? First, recognize that it’s not your friend. Not reasonable or acceptable or deserved or inevitable. It’s a subtle, dangerous enemy that needs to have the light of the Word of God and Spirit of God shined on it. Why are you sad? Did something happen? Someone said something that caused this? Even, did the Lord just point out something that you need to change in?

I wrote about that in “Conviction or Condemnation”. If the Lord is convicting you and you feel contrite, that’s where you may be feeling “Godly sorrow”. Or did the Devil try to bring you into condemnation? Was it just an old impulse that’s been a part of your nature all your life? Whatever its source and reason, Godless sadness is dangerous to your heart and is not in the least one of the fruits of the Spirit.

Sing a song, quote a verse or Psalm from the Bible, praise God with your voice or if nothing else, start thanking the Lord for all His goodness to you. Plainly put, the Bible says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) And, yes, sadness can often be straight from the devil.

Otherwise that seemingly innocent little sadness, if left to fester in your heart and mind, will take you down the path of hell and get you utterly defeated and out of the will of God. Don’t let it happen. Recognize it as soon as it raises its hellish head. Resist it, turn from it, go the other direction, stand on His promises and fight the good fight of faith. “Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Left or Right, Vertical or Horizontal?

Everywhere you look, it seems like the extremes are winning. I grew up in a political family and there was always talk of “the Left” and “the Right”. I learned early the basics of what this meant in America. It’s difficult to make short definitions but the Left seemed to be more for government having a helping hand in affairs of citizens. Government was seen as having a place in the solutions society needed. The Right was more for smaller government and it having less involvement in society. More should be left up to individuals and the work of market forces that worked in the economy.

“Verticals” and “horizontals” are not political terms but are understood within Christian circles. “Horizontals” are the ones who are more focused on our Christian responsibility to “love your neighbor”. “Horizontals” can often be found feeding the poor and doing things primarily in the physical to alleviate the plight of the less fortunate. “Verticals” on the other hand focus their attention more on their personal relationship with God and Jesus. Their emphasis is often on personal salvation, prayer, Bible reading, church attendance and the things related to our spiritual life with God, in the affairs of the heart and soul.

If you keep up with things at all, you’ll know that there are very strong forces at work in many countries now, pulling and pushing things towards the extremes in all of these areas. You hear of “center Right” politicians but also you hear of “far Right” or even “extreme Right” or “alt Right”. And it works the same for the terms of the Left. Similarly in the field of faith, some push more and more for a completely “horizontal” view of our responsibilities to the Lord, that overwhelmingly it should play out in our service to mankind. Yet others downplay that completely and, being “Verticals”, feel the only solution left is for utter repentance and commitment to God in every way among all citizens of a nation.

“OK, Mark. We more or less know all that. So what’s the solution? Things are getting worse and worse, more and more divided. What’s right?”

For me, I had to learn the hard way that politics and political solutions just don’t address the fundamental issues of humanity. I wrote about that in several places like, “Citizenship in Heaven” or “Consumer, Citizen or Disciple.” I planned a career in politics and public service but was appalled by the reality I found when I began to get close to it while I was in university. So for me, the question isn’t really “Left” or “Right” as neither one has enough truth and solutions to be worth consideration in the most fundamental issues of life.

But what about “Vertical” or “Horizontal”? Which one of those is right? Is the main thing to be of service and to show an example of God’s love to our fellow man, to be a “Horizontal? You can certainly see a lot of examples of that in the New Testament and there are plenty of verses pointing us that direction for sure. However, “Verticals” would ask, isn’t it all contingent on our relationship with the Lord and the grace and power we receive from Him, once we are born again and filled with His Spirit? Don’t we need to stay close to His Word and the nudging of His Spirit so we’ll know what to do in this world?

For me, I’m completely convinced that the only solution for individuals or mankind is a spiritual one, first and foremost. And within the opposites of Vertical and Horizontal, I guess something Jesus said somewhat boils it all down: “These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”(Matthew 23:23)  Simply put, a solid balance between “Horizontal” and “Vertical” is what I believe you find in the 4 gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t only “go about doing good”, (Acts 10:38) He “opened the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32) You could make a study of which He did more but I venture to say that the works of Jesus and the times He taught the Word would likely be pretty balanced

In the book of Acts, you don’t really see the early disciples of Christ doing humanitarian aid projects the way some of us do now. But you do see repeatedly their using the miracle-working power they’d received from Jesus to heal the sick. Acts 3:6 says, “Then Peter and John answered and said, ‘Silver and gold have we none, but such as we have we give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk.’” Jesus said of those who cloth the poor and visit prisons, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I want to base my life around the discipleship found in the earliest days of Christianity. It was neither primarily based on humanitarian aid or in a lofty, aloof, separatist spirituality similar like to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. So maybe some of these forces compelling us to extremes of Left or Right, Horizontal or Vertical are not directing us to God’s highest and best. Perhaps a healthy balance between dedicated Christian works in the horizontal and, vertically, a spiritual life of Christian salvation and power through the Spirit is closest to the bull’s-eye of God’s will in our times.

Falls Road, Belfast

I’ve just visited Northern Ireland, where bloody sectarian strife distressed that nation from 1968 to 1988. Fault lines between Catholics and Protestants go back hundreds of years there, exacerbated by British rule over Ireland and just a history of deep discord between faiths and peoples. The good news is that the bombings and carnage that was so prevalent in Northern Ireland over the last decades has abated and the city lives in peace, if not true concord.

Belfast was the last destination on my recent trip abroad and I found it interesting to be going from Beirut, Lebanon to Belfast, Northern Ireland. If you’ve kept up with the news over the years, you’ll know that both places were almost constantly flashpoints between warring factions, and in both places “religion” was a major factor. I personally don’t consider myself religious; I think of myself as spiritual. But “religion” to me brings up thoughts of altars, robes, swinging incense, unintelligible chants and usually meaningless traditions.

I don’t think Jesus was religious. But then we have to admit that the factions in both Beirut and Belfast had what we can call religion in mind as they fought and bombed and plotted for years against citizens in other parts of their cities. Pitiful, isn’t it?

For me on this trip, I wasn’t in either place to see the sights or rehash history. People are the most important thing to me. How are the people of God? Solomon said to “be diligent to know the state of your flocks and look well to your herds.” (Proverbs 27:23) In this case, they aren’t your flock or mine but they are the Lord’s. And as Paul said to the elders of his day, we should “feed the church of God”, “over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers.” (Acts 20:28) And in these days, that  goes for all of us. Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go again and visit our brethren … and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36) There aren’t really a handful of Paul’s and Peters anymore but there are a lot of us who the Lord calls to be shepherds and feeders of the flock.

It was very encouraging to see how the people of God were doing in Belfast. I visited two churches and one prayer group while I was there and it was inspiring. One was Presbyterian and the other church was Baptist. In both places there was a real mix of age groups, not just “old people”, as I feared. And the conversation in both places was about reaching others for the Lord, bearing fruit and on-the-ground activity to bring the gospel to the people there.

I’ve written in a few places about conditions I’ve found in other places in my travels. I wrote in “German Awakening” about my visits to Germany and Christian churches I encountered there. In “A Flock of Whopping Cranes” I wrote about the church I attend in Texas and how it’s been heartening to see those of the younger generation who have been keeping the faith and not “casting away their confidence.” (Hebrews 10:35)

But I was pretty surprised, both in Beirut and Northern Ireland. Particularly in Northern Ireland there was an overall sense of the people there not having fallen away from the faith anywhere near as much as you can see in some other parts of Britain. And it was not like a “hold the fort” type of faith but a ground-gaining boldness in their faith that I found very heartening.

In Beirut I heard of churches there that are in use for 16 to 18 hours a day, with one denomination after the other using the building to hold packed out services for both Lebanese citizens as well as Syrians and even Africans who’ve come there to work. And there’s just a lot of witnessing going on there with inspired individuals doing sometimes astounding things to reach a part of the world which is really reaching out to the Lord in their time of desperate need.

In future blog posts I can explain more about why I was in Belfast. It is all mission-related and some very important things were happening, both in Beirut and Belfast which should help further the Lord’s work in hopefully significant ways. But I’m glad to be back at my base in the States after this most recent 11 weeks abroad. Sometimes we have to not get so busy gaining territory for the Lord that we don’t securely consolidate the gains He’s giving us in His work. I have a lot to do in the next months to work on the many things that got started on this recent trip. I’ll be letting you know how that goes. God bless you, Mark