Partitions

soul heart flat-2Sometimes just to have the vocabulary for a thing is a huge step forward. When I started working with computers years ago, I realized immediately that there was a vocabulary involved. And learning the basic vocabulary having to do with computers was pretty essential in learning to use them.

Somewhat similarly, when I was an atheist in university, I kept experiencing things that I had no way to describe and no vocabulary for. How can an atheist describe spiritual experiences? Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, when I finally came to believe in God and later in Jesus, that it all just flooded into me. Because I had already had things happening to me that I didn’t understand and couldn’t describe until I learned the vocabulary of the Bible that helped to understand those things.

why arent we flatIf you’re secular, basically “your mind” is about as far as the vocabulary goes. Maybe it’s different now but back when I went to university, they sure never ever talked to me about my “soul”, or my “spirit” or my “heart”. Can you imagine going to a university that offered “Soul 101” as a course? Yet the Bible talks about those things all the time. And understanding what they are and what the differences are between them is a mighty step forward in understanding what are the essences of the beings we are. But university sure isn’t going to teach you that. Maybe you’ll hear some rock song about how your girlfriend “broke your heart”. But what is a heart? Is that all just metaphorical or some ancient wives’ tales?

For me, it was an incredible breakthrough to have the vocabulary of the Bible to describe my existence and experiences. Jesus spoke in one place of our “soul” and “heart” and  “mind”. (Matthew 22:47). In another place He said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh…” (John 3:6) On the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:46) And Paul, writing to the Ephesians, said that we should put off “the old man” and put on “the new man” (Ephesians 4:22-24). These are all ancient Biblical terms but they brought light and clarity to my soul that I was utterly lacking before.

So many people bemoan their present state. “Oh, I’m so tired!” “Oh, I’m so afraid!”  But they don’t really know, evidently, God’s way of partitioning our beings. The Bible is full of expressions that use this viewpoint. “While our outward man perishes, our inward man is renewed day by day.” (II Corinthians 4:16) Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” The Bible says of the Word of God that it pierces, “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit… and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

There is ageless wisdom and understanding in the Bible that bring us to depths of understanding that university degrees never reach. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge. The Bible can help us to both treasure these things and to know how to apply them practically and daily in our lives.

Recently “my flesh” has been pushed. I’m pushing myself to get off to the next stage of my life. If I didn’t know better, I could say, “Oh, I’m really tired!” “Oh, this is so hard!” But I know that’s just the reaction of “my flesh”, according to how the Bible describes it. Because, truly, my spirit is fine and I’m excited about what’s going on and up ahead.

Admittedly, it’s a little hard on my flesh right now. But if I didn’t know God’s Word and how these things are described in the Bible, then I wouldn’t recognize the partition between “me” and “my flesh”. I’m not my flesh. It’s not the main thing, it’s not the real me. It’s part of me and part of my existence. But I am a soul, I have a spirit and a heart and a mind. So even if I have to push my flesh right now, if I still take care of it and don’t exceed the guidelines of the Lord, then this is generally what the Lord said, to “take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:24) and follow Him.

So many things flatI am benefiting so much at this time by being able to keep a Biblical view of things and what’s going on. I’m trying to go forward for Him. It involves some measure of personal and physical sacrifice and discomforted. But like Paul wrote, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) When we can take to ourselves these simple, basic principles from God’s Word, the terminology He uses to describe us, His creations, then it just helps overall to understand who and what we are, how our spiritual insides are constructed and how things work, what are our components and how we are partitioned.

Close Encounters and Pinnacle Experiences

Richard DreyfusMaybe you’ve heard the phrase, “pinnacle experiences”, those rare moments in life when you feel like you’re on some kind of spiritual mountain and see things that are almost eternal, truths you almost never realized before. For many people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience or perhaps a few times at most. You’re lifted above the mundane, the routine, the trivial, and you briefly glimpse eternal realities.

Moses on MountPerhaps not many in history more fully experienced that than Moses of the Old Testament. He literally was called up into a mountain to hear the very voice of God and to experience the very presence of God. We are told this went on for 40 days. Of course most of us have no way we can relate to that. But many of us have had “mountain peak” experiences, moments of clarity, purity, fullness of truth when we feel we see eternal things and understand things we almost never do.

And Moses was told, “See that you make all things according to how it was showed you on the mount” (Hebrews 8:5). And it’s still the same today. Those “mountain peaks” of truth the Lord lets us see glimpses of perhaps only a few times in our lives, those glimpses of how things can be, how things are in the hereafter through the Spirit of God, those are the ways of heaven that He wants us to emulate here on earth. I’ve had a few times like that and I’ve written about them in the category “Angels and Miracles“.

Dreyfus in truckThere’s an old movie that has become very famous, ‘”Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. One of the main characters, Richard Dreyfus, has a “close encounter” with a UFO which comes to hover over his truck as he drives around to fix power lines one night. His life is utterly changed. It’s like some kind of message or imprint has been made on his soul. He just keeps duplicating “what he saw on the mount”, what he experienced in those few moments with the UFO. He isn’t really the same person he was before, because of the mountain peak experience he had with the UFO.

This to me has always been a parallel of how it is and can be with our experience with God. Many of us have had a moment in the stillness, in the presence of the supernatural Spirit of God. It could have been a dream, it could have been in prayer, it could have been in reading His Word when the affairs of this life drop behind you, you are away from secular things and on the mount with God, even if for a moment.

And I believe that the same way God told Moses to do all things according as it was shown him on the mount, He says the same to us today. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Sometimes there are moments when we “see God”. It doesn’t happen all the time but it does happen. And if we hold on to that, if we retain and treasure in our hearts those moments with Him on the mount that He gives us, then we can bring that essence down from the mount, as Moses did.

It says that Moses’s face shown and glowed so much when he came down from Mount Sinai that he had to put a veil or covering over his face because he glowed with the light of God right then. That’s for us too. If we remember our paths to the mountains that He has taken us to, then we can “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in the time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16)

Glow with GodThose mountain peaks don’t have to be once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Maybe they aren’t everyday things. But the influence, the change, the glory, the infusion of His mighty Love and Light can remain with us and we come back to this world as Moses did when he came down from the mount. We can “go about everywhere doing good” (Acts 10:38), as Jesus did. We can be “instruments of his peace”, that Saint Francis prayed he would be. We can bring that imprint of the mountain back to this dark, sad world and be the light He has called us to be.

See that you do all things according to how it was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5). May God help us to remember those mountain peaks of experience He gives us, to live in those moments, even if they’re now memories, and to let others see that heavenly realm in and through us. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were ignorant and unlearned men, they marveled and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Strange, very strange. But true.

same day born flatAbout this time 15 years ago I moved back to Austin, Texas for a while. I wasn’t exactly backsliding but maybe I was “side-sliding”. I’d somewhat lost faith in myself as a Christian disciple. Frankly, it’s more difficult to have faith in yourself when it seems others don’t. I felt that my Christian service had plateau-ed for a long time. Anyway, that’s how it seemed to me and how I felt others saw me.

So I moved back to my home field, after living abroad for 27 years. I got a job, an apartment, bought a car and just starting being “normal”. But maybe a good verse that applies here is “Whether shall I go from Your Spirit or whether shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold You are there…” Beautiful, famous verses from Psalm 139. Perhaps I could apply the verse about the prodigal son who “took his journey into a far country and wasted his substance with riotous living.” (Luke 15:13) Maybe that doesn’t apply though. I think I was just discouraged about my life and needed a break.

One night I was over at a Christian get-together here in Austin. I was in the library of this friend’s house, some guy I didn’t know was talking and I heard him say that he was born in 19–. [I’ll leave out some of the specifics; not good to share all that stuff in these computer times.] So just to make conversion I said,

“Interesting; I was also born in 19–.”

So this guy said,

“Yep, September -, 19—.”

So I said,

“Wow! Really? That’s the same day I was born! September -, 19–!”

One or two times in my life I’d met someone who was born on the same day as me. What a surprise! But then this fellow said next, just out of the blue,

“Yep ——— Hospital; ——, Texas. September —-, 19–.”

I was dumbfounded! I said,

I was born in ——– Hospital, —–, Texas. September —, 19–!”

By this time everyone was quiet and looking at us. And I was really checking this guy out. This all just came out of nowhere. But then next he said,

“Yep, my dad and uncle worked on the ———– newspaper in —–, Texas.”

And I said,

“But my dad worked on the ——– newspaper in ——, Texas!”

This really happened; I’ve got witnesses. This guy is a friend now and still around. So we were beyond astounded and could hardly believe what had happened. We told the rest of the ones there that night and everyone was shocked and surprised. But for me, I was perhaps more than that. I’ve seen the miraculous hand of God in my life and in the lives of others. I knew this wasn’t just a coincidence; this was another of “God’s little miracles”; maybe not even that little. But why?

Why did the Lord let that happen? This guy could have said he was born in 19–; I could have said “So was I.” And then he could have smiled and left the room! But he just kept coming up with more info, without any prompting from me at all! I didn’t do anything; he just kept revealing more of his life that corresponded exactly with mine.

I told my parents about this experience later and my mom remembered his mom being in the same room with her in the hospital. My dad remembered his dad and his uncle who worked on the newspaper with him. What kind of odds would Las Vegas bookies give for something like this happening? One in a million? Probably more than that.

But why did this happen? Was there some message? Some purpose beyond just the “X-files” strangeness of the whole thing? I thought and prayed about that. I just knew it was the hand of the Lord, manifesting Himself at a time when I was not really aiming to follow His highest and best. At length, I came to feel that the Lord engineered the whole thing that night to show me that He was still around. He hadn’t given up on me, even if others had and perhaps I myself had. He was still the God of miracles; He could do mighty things to show that He was God, still leading, if I was willing to follow.“If we believe not, yet He remains faithful…”  (II Tim 2:13) “He that has begun a good work in you will perform it” (Philippians 1:6)

filming 2003

Filming, 2003

And from those somewhat sad, secular times of around 15 years ago came the beginnings of the video ministry I’ve been working on for the last years. So many friends in Austin who I had classes with back then on the book of Daniel (including ones who were there that night) said to me, “”You should video these”.

And so, at length, hearing this three or four times from various quarters, I began to have the vision to make into videos the prophecies of Daniel classes that I’d taught abroad for over 20 years. But it was the Lord showing me that He was still present in my life, still willing to do miracles and set up a situation with someone I was born in the same hospital with, that helped to renew my faith again in Him. And perhaps, even more, in the calling of God in my life.

The lesson? Maybe it’s simply what the Lord told us all in His Word, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) I will never flatI guess in a sense I’ve had many lives, many endings, followed by new beginnings. That night in 2000 was like the dawn of a new day when I experienced that the God of miracles was still around, still able to come through, even when I’d more or less given up on myself. So? Keep the faith.

Long time therefore…

west texasIt was late summer in dry, arid west Texas, just before I turned 22. I was standing on top of a hill, thinking about the last few months and the ones up ahead. It had turned out to be the best year of my life till then, the year I very nearly died in torment and went to hell. But instead I was miraculously saved by the undeserved mercy of God. That’s what I wrote about in “Lucifer and the White Moths“.

I’d been staying with some young people who had banded together to study God’s Word and prepare for a life of Christian service. But my time there had come to an end and I was soon to leave to go to California and begin a time of daily witnessing on the streets of Los Angeles.

I don’t remember exactly asking the Lord for a message right then, maybe I did. But something very simple came to me as I stood on that hill, a reference to a Bible verse I don’t remember reading before, Acts 14:3. I carried a small Bible with me so I looked it up. It said, “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony to the Word of His grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” I took it as a message of encouragement from the Lord that He had a plan for me. And I was especially drawn to the words “long time therefore…” My feeling was that the Lord was telling me I would have a long time of Christian service ahead of me.

thinking long life-flat-flatThinking back to that time and how my life has gone from then to now, I can feel that the verse I got that day has already been fulfilled in my life, for which I am so thankful. If I quit right now, that “long time” has already been a reality of decades of endeavoring to abide in His grace in many lands, during storms and calms, during fruitful times and dry years, but always with the knowledge that “He that began a good work in me would continue to perform it.” (Philippians 1:6)

Back then, that method of the Lord speaking to me that way, by just giving me a reference which would unlock a passage in Scripture that was specifically for me, was not something that happened all the time. But from time to time it did happen. This is what I wrote about in “Direct Revelations” where I mentioned a couple of other times when the Lord gave me Bible references like that in answer to prayer.

It’s encouraging to look back and reminisce about these things, to see how the Lord has fulfilled His promise and Word to me as He does to all of us. But I do feel there’s a potential danger in it. Because it’s just so easy to decide that you’ve gone as far as you want to go.

“Quit while you are ahead” is not a phrase found in the Bible.

But in the world, this is a common theme and very easy to fall into. So looking back and reminiscing about your life, while understandable and very human, is for me at least something I don’t like to spend much time doing. Because it just might influence me to not keep going forward.

under a treeThere’s that strange story in the Old Testament of the old prophet and the young prophet, one of the more “post graduate” lessons in the Bible. (see I Kings 13) God told the young prophet to go do something and then come right back to where he had been. And the young prophet obeyed, at least in some ways, and he even performed miracles. But then what happened? On the way home, he sat down under a tree. He didn’t keep obeying. He sat down. It’s all a really intriguing story; I’ll let you read the whole thing yourself. But the end of the matter was that the sitting under the tree, rather than finishing his task, ultimately led to the death of the young prophet.

path aheadSo our best bet is to keep our eyes on the Lord and to keep obeying and living for Him, even if you think you’ve already had a pretty good life and it’s time to just sit down, kick back, relax and retire from His service that He’s called you to. I’m thankful for the life the Lord has given me; it’s such a blessing to look back and see all the ways He’s fulfilled His Word and allowed me to be a part of His work and plan. But it’s even more thrilling to look ahead to all that may still lie ahead, greater victories to be won and greater experiences to have with Him as He continues to set the captives free and break the chains that enslave so many around the world in these threatening times.

Bapticostal?

Baptist churchI was in a conversation about denominations. So one guy said, “I’m Bapticostal.” Everyone laughed, me included. But I thought that, in a sense, that’s deep. And it turns out Bapticostal is a recognized term now; you can read about it in Wikipedia here.

Things just aren’t exactly the way it was decades ago when it comes to Christian denominations. When I was growing up, lines were pretty clearly drawn between various denominations and often there was a measure of animosity between them. It seems, in many ways, that has changed.

When the guy said he was Bapticostal, what he was meaning was that he was somewhere between traditional Southern Baptist beliefs and what’s known as Pentecostalism. In some respects at least I can see myself somewhere in that range. The church I’ve gone to here for the last 3 years calls itself “non denominational”. It seems most non-denominational churches in Texas have come out of the Southern Baptists but, for one reason or the other, they no longer want to retain the name of being Baptist. But much of their fundamental beliefs are founded in those of the Baptists.

For example, they believe in being saved, born again, and in eternal life through the saving work of Jesus on the Cross. They believe that the Bible is the Word of God and most every Sunday you’ll hear in both Baptist and non-denominational churches a sermon preached which is based around the Bible. Another thing both Baptists and most non-denominational churches believe is in sharing their faith with others, “witnessing” as it’s called.

Pentecostal churches usually are more or less in agreement with these things. But the Pentecostals lay a strong emphasis on the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers. In fact, the reason it’s called Pentecostal is because of the place in the book of Acts where the presence of the Holy Spirit was first strongly manifested, in Acts chapter 2.

Peter and crowdIt says there, “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, the disciples were all together with one accord. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4) I had a class with some friends about Acts chapter 2. Here is the audio  file, and here is the written blog post about  it.

raised handsSo a major difference between Baptists and Pentecostals is in the way they worship. In the nondenominational church I go to, we will all sing some songs together before the sermon. And at the end of a song, everyone will applaud, rather like at a sports event or music event. In Pentecostal churches, they don’t do that; they lift up their hands and praise the Lord.

This is like what Paul said, “I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and without doubting.” (I Thessalonians 2:8) It was very normal to worship this way in Old Testament times. The Psalms are full of things like “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” (Psalm 134:2)

I feel that the freedom and depth of worship that the Pentecostals have is what I need in order to have a closer relationship with the Lord. But I feel the emphasis on the Bible, on winning souls, missionary work and being firmly rooted in the historical body of Christ are all positive, needful things that I’ve found at the nondenominational church I’ve gone to.

But as the spiritual darkness quickly deepens in this country, many Christians are now realizing that rock-along Christianity will not survive the onslaughts it’s being challenged with. So there’s real hope that a vast number of Christians will see that it’s imperative to greatly raise the level of their discipleship if they’re to survive and help their children survive the new Dark Ages we now seem to be in.

But in another sense, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, as someone once said.

freedom fellowship flatMost of my adult life has been spent on the foreign mission field as a full time disciple of the Lord. Much of the time I was working with dedicated brethren who lived and breathed daily the strongest essences of the things of the Lord that they could. Soulful daily devotions of united prayer, singing, Bible study, praise, and worship. And unusual level of honesty and camaraderie, working together daily to find ways to bring the love of God and salvation to the countries we lived in. It was a heady brew and finding a similar Christian atmosphere to that has been difficult.

 

 

Turning Points

Turning pointsI guess this is true for everyone. But I know it’s true for a person who’s endeavored to dedicate their life to the Lord. Sometimes you just can’t go on business as usual. You have to keep books with your soul and ask yourself, “Am I still doing what I know and believe is His highest and best?” Not what His best was last year, but is it still His best now?

God is a moving God, in a sense. He’s never static; He’s always going, moving and affecting change in every sphere of His creation. His Spirit is in the process of changing lives, changing hearts, changing situations. He’s never static, except for Himself. “I am the Lord, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6)

Keep climbing-flattenedBut, boy, He likes to get things moving and shake things up. One time God said to Moses, “Why are you crying to me? Command the armies of Israel that they go forward.” (Exodus 14:15) And He’s still saying that today, urging the forces of God to go forward in these times as well. Of course I’m not talking about physical armies of worldly nations. I’m talking about the called and faithful few who will follow the Lord and serve Him in these bedarkened times.

But you can’t go on last year’s battle plans. You can’t rest on your laurels or think you’ve arrived. Solomon said, “There’s no discharge in this war” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Yes, it is a war we are in, not of carnal weapons and vain, worldly nationalism but for the eternal souls of men to be won to Him. Paul told Timonty that he should “war a good warfare” (I Timothy 1:18).

And when an army ceases to attack, it will be defeated. Because the enemy will launch a counterattack. Or even worse, and what more often happens to Christians, the army’s immobility and it lack of vision, faith and initiation will cause it to have a loss of faith in its own values, and to quit and give up without even loosing. In the cause of Christ, this is far more often the cause of defeat than the soldiers of the cross actually being defeated in battle. This is what I wrote about recently in “The Serpent and The Dragon.”

pillar of cloudBut sometimes we come to a turning point in our ministry. You can just feel it. It’s something that the people of God have experienced almost invariably throughout history. Just like the way God operated with Moses and God’s people in the wilderness, the cloud and pillar lifted from the camp of the saints and moved forward. God’s presence has moved again and it’s up to us as individuals to break camp and follow where He leads, if we still will.

Of course some don’t. They’ve gone as far as they want to go. They want to just stay where they’ve come to and settle down there, enjoy the fruits of their labors and just take it easy for a while. Or the opposition is too strong, the price to great and they “turn back in the day of battle.” (Psalm 78:9) turning backIt certainly seems to be a “reasonable” thing to do and who would blame you? “You deserve it”, like people say nowadays. But certainly the battle is not over; the war is not won.

Someone who has always been an inspiration me in the Bible was Caleb, the brother of Joshua. When it finally came time to conquer the land, Caleb by that time was fully 80 years old. It says of Caleb that he led his tribe and Calebpeople up into the mountains and hills to take his part of the land God had told them to take back then. At 80 years of age, he led his people into battle.

I don’t know very many people who are 80. I’m not really close to that. So I figure I still have a ways to go for the Lord. I need to find out where He’s leading now and the road up ahead. For me, it’s looking like He’s leading me back to foreign lands, after being here in my home country for nearly 6 years. It would be so easy to just settle down here. I like where I am. I like the weather, I like the nature, it’s kind of nice here.

But for me, that just won’t work. I know I have a call of God in my life. I know that I would be miserable and out of God’s will, out of His protection, out of what my life has been about if I don’t keep following the Lord where He is leading me at this time.

For me, the question hasn’t been, “Why are you going?” It’s been, “Why should you stay?”

Every time I’ve put myself into His hands to follow where He leads, there’s been a blessing to it. Often there’s some sacrifice of some kind, often some uncertainty and sometimes even loneliness. But there have been tremendous blessings involved and I’ve been able to be a part of what the Lord is doing and to see His continual hand working in the lives of those who desire Him.

hand of God flatSo I’m right at the cusp of some really major moves and changes. It’s challenging, daunting and almost foreboding in some ways. But like someone said one time, “Put your hand into the hand of God, and He shall be more to thee than a light, and better than a known way.”

Freedom and Following

Promised_Land fixed flatSometimes there’s a real balance, or even tension, between freedom and just following orders. Neither one is absolutely the best and only way to do things in God’s work. Some folks work better under some conditions and some under others.

Warsaw Pact forces

Warsaw Pact forces

Before the fall of Communism I was living in Europe and read a fascinating article on why the West European and US forces of NATO would inevitably win any ground war with Communist East European and Russian Warsaw pact forces in any major battle. The article said it came down to one thing: the Warsaw pact forces were under orders that their moves were to come directly from their headquarters in Moscow. They had no freedom at the tactical level to make decisions within a battle. The NATO forces on the other hand were given authority to make battlefield decisions without needing to wait for clearance from NATO headquarters in some place far off from the battlefield.

This was fascinating for me. I saw an analogy in this of how things can work in Christian’s endeavors to go forward for the Lord. Some Christians, including some missionaries, are pretty much under orders to follow directions from their organization or their mission board which may be thousands of miles away.

The idea of they themselves being responsible to size up the situation and hear from our ultimate Headquarters in Heaven is not a concept that some would feel comfortable with. Missionaries on far off fields can be rendered immobile, like the Warsaw pact forces of old, in that they’re not encouraged to take initiative, hear from heaven themselves and follow our true leadership, Jesus Christ and the instructions of the Holy Spirit.

megachurchA few days ago I spoke with a very friendly and engaging Christian who is the head of the missionary department of a large, fruitful church here. I made a short presentation about my work in the past in order to see if this church could in any way help my soon coming departure to my mission field. And I should tell you that the whole time with this man was nothing but warm, friendly and sincere.

There are things about this church that have been eye-openers for. I’ve always been for “David” more than “Goliath”. I feel that God can be limited by large numbers and heavy logistics. But this mega-church in many ways is really rolling and getting things done that I wish at times my friends had been better at in some places.

But when I presented myself to this friendly head of the missionary branch of this church, he was totally encouraging about my missionary efforts. But he said they wouldn’t be able to help. He said they were legal required to give full account of where their funds went, who they went to and how it was all used. Those sent on mission were in close communication and coordination with the church. It did seem that there’s a good deal of supervision of the parameters of the missionaries by the ones who sent them abroad and who support them on the field.

on our field flatThis is all understandable and I don’t mean to fault it. But I did explain to my friend why I’ve felt it best to be a “live by faith” missionary, looking to God to “supply all my needs” (Philippians 4:19) as I “seek first His kingdom” (Matthew 6:33). My experience at times in the past has been that initiative is quenched and even fear is instilled when those on mission are not free to follow God and hear from him fresh every day as to what He would lead them to do. Instead there’s an apprehension against initiative and you come to simply wait for instructions and permission from headquarters which can easily be halfway around the world.

In the history of the Church, at times the most progress has been made with a minimum of organization and supervision. In those circumstance brave pioneers of the faith have forged forward and accomplished amazing feats for the Lord, simply by following the One who’s way out in front and knows what’s going to happen and is able to lead His servants moment by moment to victories in winning the world for Him.

Much of the time in the history of Christianity, His pioneers have gone further under their own steam than they ever would have under the control of some distant administrative board. Instead of a situation where everything is organized and controlled from the top down, some of the most fruitful endeavors in the history of the Church have happened when the only controlling power was God, the only central headquarter, His Spirit.

So I left my meeting slightly sad that my way of operation doesn’t fit with the way this large church supports missionaries. Happily I’ve found friends here who’ve gotten to know me personally and I’m communicating with these ones about helping towards my future plans for Him abroad.

onlyYouJesus flatBut I feel this insecure liberty of having no organization but His Spirit, no earthly commanders but only His heavenly leadership, no financial support but the faithfulness of His promises and a few good friends, this all can turn out to be His best, for me and for Him. The seeming safety of some agency which regularly supports me can also trim the wings of the Spirit and hinder or detour from the path of following Him first and foremost.

Honestly, it’s a bit of an uncertain stand, if I look at it with the eyes of this world. But in Him it’s steadfast. Thanks for your prayers for me and others like me to get our orders from heaven and our provison from Him and His as well.

 

Friendly

FriendlyOne of the things I like about living in Austin is that, so often, people here are simply friendly. The Bible says, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly, and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother”. (Proverbs 18:24) Friendliness and friendship are things that are easy to take for granted and not notice much. But for so many people, friendship is really important and often very lacking.

park bench 1-fixedToday I was out at my favorite bench where I often go to get away from things a little. And also to have a little prayer time. Some people walked by that I didn’t know and they smiled and we exchanged a few words. What’s so unusually about that? Well I can tell you that doesn’t happen just everywhere. Some places people don’t greet each other on the street and there’s just a good deal less open friendliness in some parts.

But friendship is actually a big deal. Jesus told His disciples, “I have not called you servants but friends” (John 15:15). The Lord wasn’t some austere, ascetic, hyper-spiritual  guru. Evidently Jesus was an exceptionally warm and kind man. And still He was the Son of God. So that whole thing of warmth, friendliness, being approachable, being “without guile” has always seemed to me to really be important.

I’m all for spirituality. “To be carnally minded is death but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” (Romans 8:6) But there’s a temptation there for some to get really “spiritual” and somehow this can turn into a lofty, cold aloofness or spiritual attainment. Inadvertently it can leave behind the simplicity of friendship, spontaneous kindness and inclusiveness.

made my day flatI heard someone say onetime about how they loved someone but they didn’t like them. And then I heard another man who said, “We not only loved you, we really liked you.” I  thought about that. Have you ever had someone who you felt “loved” you but they actually didn’t like you? It’s a funny feeling. It almost seemed like they were fulfilling some kind of religious obligation they felt to love you. But personally they didn’t like you. It’s uncomfortable to be in situations like that and it’s happened to me as a Christian.

Paul in the Bible was not only a towering spiritual presence, it seems like he was a genuinely warm and friendly person. He said to the Thessalonians, “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted to you not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because you were dear to us.” (I Thessalonians 2:8) Paul really liked them. It wasn’t just a religious duty that drove him.

For me, friends are important. I just hate to lose friends, for whatever reason. Sadly that kind of thing does happen. Solomon said, “A brother offended is harder to be won that a strong city, and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” (Proverbs 18:19)  Friendship is such a precious thing and I think therefor the devil just loves to throw a monkey wrench into the city of our fellowship and our friendships, sowing misunderstands, contention and just the division that is Satan’s specialty.

But friendship is of God; it’s important and very precious. It even says of Abraham, that he was “the friend of God” (James 2:23). Imagine that, to be God’s friend. That’s actually a good way to look at God. We need to fear, respect and reverence the Lord and treat him like the king He is. But also, for me at least, I often just need to talk to God as my best friend, someone I can be honest with and real.

I think that for many in this world, simple warmth, friendliness and friendship are getting harder and harder to find. Of course you can say that friendships like that can be sometimes shallow and trivial. Well, we need both kinds.friend no more flat We need just simple friendliness like I encountered in the park today. But we need the kind that Solomon spoke of, “the friend that sticks closer than a brother”. (Proverbs 18:24)

Maybe it’s because we live in the endtime. Jesus said of those times, before His return, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:12) It sure seems like that’s how it is in many places today, the love of many has grown cold. And friendliness also is just less present than in the past.

What to do? Be friendly, “show yourself friendly”, don’t drop or forget your friends who may need you more than you realize and be deeply hurt if you stop communicating with them. I heard someone say one time something so simple, but so true, “What everybody needs is love. If they don’t find it here, where are they going to find it?” And certainly the same can be said for friends and friendliness. It’s in decline. Lord help us to be warm, loving and friendly.

Forgive?

forgiveness flatA long time friend from Scandinavia wrote me: “Should we as Christians forgive those who’ve hurt us, even when they don’t care and would do it again? I’m familiar with the Scriptures and the standard answer. But is it supportable if you look deeper into the issue? God does not seem to forgive before there’s been an admission of guilt.

So I wrote him back: Hi and thanks for your note about forgiveness. It’s a huge and deep subject, like an 800 pound onion you just keep peeling back layers of. Like you said, you know the verses, even in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive… “ (Luke 11:4)

But then also, as you said, there are other verses like where Jesus said, “If your brother trespasses against you, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3) It seems from that verse that there’s supposed to be a repentance involved.  It’s not meant that we can just sweetly let someone walk all over us while we just keep forgiving them and doing nothing. Like I said, it’s deep. Jesus said, “A strong man armed keeps his goods in peace.” (Luke 11:21)

And just on the human level, all those facets from the Word do come into play. I know that forgiveness in general is the first reaction we should have. Holding grudges and bitterness is very human but it’s not the Godly path.

forgive me-flatBut what happens if someone wants to take advantage of our conviction to forgive? They have no repentance at all or twinge of conscience and they briskly tell us that we should just forgive them as they continue doing real wrong. Well the Lord did say that “if they repent, forgive them.” It’s like another verse, “Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of.” (II Corinthians 7:10) If folks are genuinely sorry and ask for forgiveness, then of course we’re bound to forgive them; that’s clear.

But I do understand where you’re coming from. Some folks just have no twinge of conscience at all and then they can even have the gall and nerve to tell us that we should just forgive them. Often this just seems to be a ploy or device they try to use to try to get us to drop our guard so they can whack us again with their painful actions or words. What do we do then?

tar baby 1Well, for one, like I wrote in “The Tar Baby”, some things and even some people seem to be nothing but a kind of human “black hole” which just will suck the entire life out of us if we don’t watch out. At times like this, I feel this is where the verse applies, “Go from the presence of a foolish man when you don’t perceive in him the lips of knowledge.” (Proverbs 14:7) Sometime you just have to withdraw yourself from someone’s company or circle when they’re continually doing things that are wrong and hurtful to you and they have no intention of stopping it, repenting and asking for forgiveness.

And on a deeper level, here’s another reason why it’s still good to forgive and move on. Because if you don’t forgive, those folks will not only have messed up your past and present, they’ll have stolen your future too. If you don’t forgive and move on from that situation, you will quiet possibly keep mulling it over in your mind, rehearsing the injury and hurt you received. Then often the next thing that happens is that you’ll be bitter about it. And that way you have that poison working around in your system which can last for years and ruin your future because of the sins against you committed by someone in the past.

Ghost characterSo even just for your own sakes, even if you feel they don’t deserve it and haven’t begun to repent at all, it’s still good to forgive and move on, just for your own sakes. I could add here that I wrote (what was for me) a pretty major and personal article on this subject some while back about how that, if you don’t forgive and you carry that unforgiveness with you into the afterlife, it could be pretty bad. The article was called “Ghosts”. It was kind of scary.

But you may say, “They don’t deserve forgiveness!”

Maybe not. But in the final analysis, God is the judge, not us. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay” (Romans 12:19). If they deserve judgment, God has ways of seeing that this happens, either here or in the hereafter. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” (Number 32:23)

There’re easily another 20 pages that could be written here but perhaps this is a short synopsis. I’ve sure had some folks who have been mean and cruel to me and just plainly didn’t like me. But if I kept all those things in my heart, then that would crowd out the good things the Lord wants to be there so I can continue to live for Him and to go forward in His service. I just don’t want to let those past experiences define my life and thoughts for years to come; that would be a double dastardly deed and I don’t want to let that happen. I hope this is some help. Thanks for writing. Your friend in Him, Mark

 

The Serpent and the Dragon

The serpent said flatSo many Christians nowadays are talking about the Dragon, violent physical attacks of the Devil. But it seems the Serpent, with his lies, fears and confusion, is the one who’s really doing the most for the Evil Kingdom.

Doing great work flatThe book of Nehemiah shows how that works, perhaps more than any other in the Bible. During the entire time of Nehemiah, the Enemy never actually attacked God’s people openly and physically. It was all in words: lies, fears, distractions, threats and whatever else it took to persuade them to stop the work God had called them to.

But, thankfully, Nehemiah saw through it all and recognized the hand of his spiritual enemy in those things. “I am doing a great work and cannot come down“, he told his enemies. (Nehemiah 6:3) He and the people of God back then remained persistent and focused in the calling they were given and didn’t get persuaded or scared into coming down from the wall of God’s will and calling.

However, so often in history this hasn’t happened. You can find so many people today who are terrified of some foreign attack on these shores; they are electrified with the vision that “Sheriah law” will be established in the United States. Admittedly, I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point there is some outside attack from Islamic extremists or even extreme American nationalist here, however big or small that might be.

But most of the time, the Devil doesn’t need to send the Dragon if the Serpent will do. And the Serpent seems often to be far more effective, so that the Dragon isn’t necessary.

see it this way flatIf the Serpent can keep whispering in your ear his lies, his fears, his prejudices, lifting you up in pride, casting you down in hopelessness and fear, filling your mind with confusion and double-mindedness, then the victory is his. You may be a Christian. But you have become a completely defeated Christian, stopped in your tracks along the path of faith and rendered virtually worthless to the cause of Christ.

Of course he doesn’t only do this to Christians. The Deceiver is active across the land, propagating his bedarkened views which mostly are supposed to be “enlightened” and modern. Jesus said, “If the light that be in you be darkness, how great is that darkness.” (Matthew 6:23) That’s why the Devil is called “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). It even says that the Devil showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time” and then the Devil told Jesus “all this power I will give you, for it is mine.”(Luke 4:6) How often Christians forget this. They think they’re living in “a Christian nation”. It’s sad. But perhaps more are waking up a little as the darkness rapidly deepens.

“Mark, this sounds pretty hopeless. You’re really being Douglas Downer here.

My experience is that sometimes you have to be shocked enough to see the spiritual reality around you. And while I see some progress here in American Christianity, I see a lot of people who are still focused on their fears of violent, outside attacks on the USA, the work of the Dragon. But all the while the effects of the Serpent on them and the rest of the country progressively weaken millions from within.

Most students of history have seen that the decline and fall of great empires mostly happens from within, not without. And the same can be said of great people or people who had great possibilities. “It was not an enemy that had done this. But it was you, my familiar friend. The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart. His words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords.” (Psalm 55:21)

The-fight-of-faithSo it is with the workings of the Serpent, “the father of lies” (John 8:44). What’s the solution? Pray sincerely and desperately. Baptize yourself with God’s Word. Obey God’s Word first and foremost. Paul said to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11). But the only offensive weapon he listed was “the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17)

When Satan mightily came against Jesus in a prolonged temptation, Jesus didn’t quote Socrates, He didn’t pull out His pistol. He just quoted the Word of God to Satan. And after doing that a few times, “the devil departed from Him and angels came and ministered to Him.” (Matt. 4:11) Even Jesus Christ Himself knew the power of the written Word of God in battling and defeating the Devil.

How many know how to do that today? How many even know that the Serpent has beguiled them and rendered them useless and a reproach to Christ? ISIS didn’t do that. The government didn’t do that. Our foreign enemies didn’t do that. But millions of Christians struggle with the Serpent while they’re fixated on some distant Dragon. May God, and the dear Lord Jesus, have mercy on us all.