Dr. Kosmos

Dr Kosmos fixed flatI was thinking about an incredible incident that happened when I was in university but already on the path of faith in God and in Jesus, only just at the beginning. You may have read were I wrote about how I very nearly died on drugs and went to hell for my sins when I was in university. I wrote about that in “Lucifer and the White Moths.

You’d think an incident like that would be all that it would take to utterly get me turned around and straightened out once and for all. But it wasn’t. I had many rises and falls, many missteps and hesitations, even what could be called backslidings.first road picture-flattened I wrote about one of those in “Lights on the Road”, where I had a car mishap that should have surely taken my life when I was back in sin again. But the Lord saw fit to make things happen otherwise through the intervention of what certainly were angels who manifested themselves.

Tonight I was thinking back to those first weeks and how utterly astounded I was, flabbergasted, utterly mind-blown at the reality of the existence of the God of Abraham. It might be easy for you to think, “if that happened to me, I would so much straighten up and fly right”, as my dad  used to say. Maybe you would but I didn’t. It really took a lot to get me even to the point of receiving Jesus as my personal savior.

In the first days and weeks after I had the incredible breakthrough just before I was 21, I had a strong feeling in my heart that I should just leave everything behind and start traveling with a backpack as so many young people were doing then. I strongly felt that I should travel towards Houston, Texas and then on east towards Atlanta. I didn’t really know why but later I found that some of the Jesus People who led me to the Lord were in those areas at that time. But I didn’t know that.

Dr. Kosmos 2 fixed flatBut I did determine that this was what I should do and I began to make preparations. I had flunked out of university, mostly because of my fallen state through drugs, debauchery and a lack of vision for “useless and pointless knowledge”, as Bob Dylan had described higher education in one of his songs. I was on the right track at last, trying to move with a new impetus from the Spirit of God and a specific leading to travel, going out “not knowing whether I went” (Hebrews 11:8), rather like Abraham.

But then, the Devil entered the scene again. I got a letter from my university. (This is going to be hard to believe but it really happened.) In those days, if you flunked out of university, you were very likely to be drafted almost immediately to go fight in the war in Viet Nam which was raging at that time. And I’d flunked out so I would shortly be eligible to be drafted.

A letter arrived from my university. They told me they were going to give me another chance. I could come back for another semester and try one more time. Sounds good, no? Only, in my case, God had saved me from hell and He had greater plans for me than “finishing my education” at university. He had a whole new life ahead of me, from Him.

But here’s where it really gets good. I was reading this letter, telling me I could reapply to the university. And I was thinking, “I’ve already made a decision to just leave everything and go out traveling in the direction the Spirit of God is leading me, towards Houston and Atlanta. And now I get this letter. Hmm.”  But here it comes, wait for it….

Dr Kosmos 3 fixed flatThe letter from the university was signed by… Dr. Kosmos. Even with my extremely limited knowledge of spiritual things, I knew that “Cosmos” was the Greek word for “the world”. Like the verse that says, “Love not the world.” (I John 2:15) So I nearly dropped my teeth, as they say. I practically could smell the sulfur and see the horns peaking up behind the letter I had received. I’m sure there was a literal “Dr. Kosmos” who had sent me this letter from the university. But I was able to see by the Spirit that this was a message from Satan, luring me back into the world after I’d begun to be set free by God to follow Him.

Good for you Mark! You really recognized the enemy there! And you stood your ground and didn’t yield, right?

dont follow God flatNope, I was weak and fell for it. Even though by the Spirit I recognized this as an allurement of Satan to hinder me from following the Lord the way He was leading, I still didn’t have the faith and strength to go against this back then and I went back to university.

So you failed God! Again, Mark! And He sent you to Hell, right!? You failed Him over and over again, practically at every turn and here you did it again! He killed you that night as you rightly deserved, no?!

Not actually. Back at university in the fall of 1969 I experienced what I wrote about in “Terrorist Infiltrators”, getting to know some of the top revolutionaries in the USA back then, working on SDS demonstrationthe main underground newspaper in Texas at the time and being in the leadership of a major demonstration on my campus. At the end of that semester I was still alive. I had flunked out again, had stopped using heavy drugs, was still reading my Bible every day and praying all the time. Again the Lord led me to just leave it all behind, “forsake all”  (Matthew 19:29), and to journey in the direction He’d originally told me to go. That finally happened. And soon I met those Jesus People and came to the day where I received Jesus as my Savior, beginning this wonderful life I’ve had for so long.

If you get a letter from “Dr. Kosmos”, giving you “one more chance” to make it in this world’s systems of man, as opposed to God’s will for your life, maybe you can remember this story. “You shall worship the Lord you God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Luke 4:8) “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Proverbs 1:10)

God’s Many Ways

Thats in the Bible flatGod’s kind of funny sometimes. Just when you think you’ve got Him figured out and under control, He pops up with some new thing that lines up outside the box you had for Him. You’re reading your Bible and you come upon some verse or story and you slam on the breaks with a “What!? That’s in the Bible?!” Or you read the history of Christianity or even the history of the Jews in the Bible and you come upon things that seem to be way out of bounds at times.

Does God change? It says in the Bible, “I am the Lord, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6) But it sure seems to me He has a pretty wide array of ways and tools at His disposal. And of course this is only good.

For example, here’s an obscure verse that’s always interested me. “The Word of God was precious in those days, there was no open vision.” (I Samuel 3:1) This is right at the end of the period of the judges and right at the beginning of when Israel went into the period of their kings.period of judges and kings From what I get from that verse, during the period of the judges they were not having the kind of spiritual manifestations we associate with visions, dreams, prophecies and the like. And so the simple word of God was all the more precious then.

But in Samuel’s time and certainly with David and even Solomon after him, the Lord changed that. When you read I and II Samuel, as well as the Psalms, it seems they came into an abundant wealth of revealed spirituality that was a major change from the previous centuries.Elijah calling fire And you could say this went on for a good while. Even though northern Israel and southern Judah split into two kingdoms and often there were evil kings, still the Lord kept sending prophets in those times. We read about Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and many others.

But then what happened? They stopped. For 400 years. It is said in Jewish history that Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were all around at the same time, around 400 BC and even then it was known among the people that after them, the line of prophets would stop. That’s what it says in history, they knew back there at that time that they were the last prophets.

Why? Why did God do that? Maybe it’s like it says in the Psalms, “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.” (Psalm 55:19) Maybe God doesn’t like it when you think you have Him figured out. Like He said to Job, “Should it be according to your mind?” (Job 34:33)

Then along came Jesus. Talk about a change! But it was change with continuity, wasn’t it? The absolute basics didn’t change, to love God and love our neighbor. But as so many of the prophets had foreseen, God was going to “put the law in their heart”, (Jeremiah 31:33) with “a new spirit within them”. (Ezekiel 11:19) And it was to be “a light to the Gentiles, that you should be salvation unto the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

no new wine please-flattenedThat was about the biggest thing that broke the religious old bottles of Jewish Christians back then, that the God of Abraham was no longer just for the Jews but that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “What!? He loves the whole world? Whosoever believes in Him?” Even John 3:16 is a really radical verse when you see it in the context of its days. So in some ways, God is a moving God. He’s in some ways constantly changing and doing new things, effecting change in every sphere of His creation.

And when I say, “God’s Many Ways”, of course I’m not meaning many ways to God. I’m still a firm believer in what Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6) There’s only one way to God, “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5) But, boy, God Himself has a really huge repertoire of songs He can sing, instruments He can play, brushes in His box, and colors on His palette.

“The Venerable Bede”, northern England, 722 AD

“The Venerable Bede”, northern England, 722 AD

Here’s one that nearly stumbled me so I”ll share it, just to show God’s many ways. Relics. Have you ever heard of “relics”? Years ago I read a fantastic book, written in 722 AD, called “The Ecclesiastical History of England.” Written by “the Venerable Bede”, it’s the story of the Christianization of England up till that time. But I was choking and stumbling where there were repeated testimonies of relics being the instruments of major miracles back then. I figure that this guy, “the Venerable Bede”, was either lying or telling the truth. It didn’t seem like he was lying. So, if he was telling the truth and all these things happened like he said, then why and how did the Lord allow that to happened? Why did He work that way back then?

Books and libraries have been written on this subject and I don’t have that much room here. But maybe the Lord was working with the faith that people had back then. So many had faith but they really didn’t have the knowledge of the Word that we have now. The Bible was all still in Latin or Greek and perhaps one in a thousand back then could even read. And besides, God had used this method of working at least a few times in the Bible.

II Kings 13:20 & 21 says a burial team in an emergency virtually threw a dead body onto the grave of Elisha. And when the dead man’s body touched the bones of Elisha, then he came back to life. Or in the New Testament they sent handkerchiefs from Paul to people and they got healed. So, what can you say? These things are in the Word. (Acts 19:12)

But it just shows the broadness and latitude of God at times to work in ways that we (should I say this?) don’t think He should. Ha! Lord help us. Like King David said, “Stand in awe and sin not.” (Psalm 4:4) He really is a mighty God. We don’t have Him completely figured out. We err when we limit Him and say what He can’t or won’t do. He doesn’t always fit into our religious framework. He’s downright unorthodox at times. Still, we love Him, right? Lead on, oh King Eternal.

1 AM in Sofia, Bulgaria

sofia night 1My bus was delayed on the border so I didn’t get into Sofia, Bulgaria till after midnight. I was expecting my friends to meet me at the bus station. But as I looked around the nearly empty station, I had a bad feeling about how I’d not really made sure to completely be definite that they’d meet me there. I tried to phone them from the station but my roaming service on my phone was not connecting so I couldn’t get through. Things were getting bleak pretty quickly and it didn’t immediately get better.

There were some ominous looking taxi drivers hanging around who wanted to drive me somewhere. But I didn’t know where that would be. I asked someone at a food stall that was still opened if they could phone my friends. But they didn’t speak English. I was rapidly realizing that I was in a real fix and a potential dangerous situation.

There were 3 young guys standing around at the food stand in the bus station. I say young; I guess they were around 19. They weren’t grown men but they weren’t really kids. They heard me speaking English and said they could phone my friends on their phone. They did but there was no answer. I noticed that they were friendly, willing to talk and be helpful. So I explained to them what had happened and took the step of faith to ask them if they knew of any hotels in the area. It was past 1 AM and it was looking like a hotel was about the only alternative as I was not getting through to my friends and it was getting real late.

The three young Bulgarians said they knew some hotels in the area and could take me there. Needless to say, I was sure sending up some prayers during all this. The thought did cross my mind several times that I probably looked pretty vulnerable to any late night denizens of the deep who were looking for some soft target and easy pickings.

As we went out to their car, I’ll admit I thought about how these guys could just drive me off somewhere to kill me and rob whatever I had with me. But I was checking in with the Lord and also trying to get the witness of the Spirit on the whole thing. And I was not getting any checks in the Spirit against the way things were going.

sofia nightWe starting driving around downtown Sofia and soon found a hotel that was nicer than I was figuring to stay in. Two of them went in to check the price and it sounded surprisingly low to me. But they wanted to see if they could find something for less. At length, after trying a few other places, I told them that the nice hotel they checked out would be fine. I was also telling them how much I appreciated their help, that I’d come to Bulgaria to speak in churches and that I prayed that God would bless them for their helping. They continued to just be kind hearted “good guys”, for lack of a better term.

I checked into the hotel with their help and was finally up in my room for the night when the phone there rang in my room. It was my friends in Sofia who I’d been trying to reach earlier that night from the station. They had gotten the call from the young men and phoned the number back. Those guys told my friend where I was so she got in contact with me.

End of story, I guess. But I can tell you I was mighty glad to be safely in a hotel at that hour of the night in a foreign city where I didn’t speak the language and knew hardly anyone. I was very aware that it all could have gone much worse. And it really stood out to me that those 3 young men were there at the bus station at that time and were able and willing to help me. I certainly saw it as the Lord’s love and hand, getting me through a potentially very dangerous situation.

It reminded me of the verse, “…underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27) I’d failed to be diligent in making sure of my contact and meeting with my friends in Sofia. But in spite of my failure, the Lord came to the rescue in bringing along those young men to help me. It reminded me of another time I wrote about in the blog post “God’s Little Miracles” where a similar but even more supernatural thing happened to me late one night in Austin, Texas.

God-is-chanceSome folks will say, “This is all chance.” That’s certainly how I used to look at it in the past. In fact, one time before I was a Christian I blurted out one day to my friends like it was a revelation, “God is chance!” And the Lord proceeded to get a good deal of mileage out of my saying that. I wrote about that in the blog post “God Is Chance.

I’m just really thankful that the Lord was there to rescue me that night in Sofia. It could seem like a little thing or a “coincidence” that those young men were there and helped. For me, I recognized that it was again the Lord’s mercy on my life. I’m so thankful for that.

 

They believed not for joy

cant believe it flatRecently something happened to me that was so amazing and, Lord help me, so unexpected that when it happened, I almost didn’t believe it. It did happen, no question about that. But I just was saying afterwards to myself, “Did that really happen?”

It’s like when the disciples saw Jesus after His resurrection and “they believed not for joy”. (Luke 24:41) It’s a funny experience, not normal at all. In Acts 12 is another example. Peter’s brother, James, had already been killed by Herod and Peter, the head of the church at that time, was kept in prison, evidently waiting execution from the way the narrative reads.Peter and angel flat “But prayer was made without ceasing of the church” (Acts 12:5). Then what happened? It says an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter in his prison cell, “smote him on his side” (Acts 12:7) and told him to get up quickly. The prison door opened and then the next ones until they were out on the street and the angel disappeared. Somewhere around here it says that Peter realized that it was real what was happening.this is real flat Evidently he just thought he was dreaming or that it was a vision he was seeing.

Sometimes the Lord really does “exceedingly above all can we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Yes, I know it doesn’t seem to just happen all the time, every day of our lives. But it does happen.

A man came to Jesus, asking him to heal his demonic son who had been in that condition a long time. Jesus said to the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.” “And straightway the father of the child cried out with tears, Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23 & 24) And the beautiful answer to all this is that the Lord did answer his prayer and healed his son. The Lord saw “the glass half full” and healed the child, even though the father confessed that he was struggling with belief about the whole thing.

I guess I think of myself as a person with faith in God and faith in Jesus. That’s what my life has been about. But every so often something happens or comes along that shakes our foundation to the core. It can be something “bad”; but equally it can be something “good”. Maybe it’s like what happened with one of my children when they were very little. One day one of them ran through the house almost screaming, “So happy! Can’t believe it!”

Or it’s like the story I heard which is supposed to be true about a prayer meeting years ago in Oklahoma. A Christian man there had been asking for prayer for his son for years because he was such a scoundrel and a fallen human being. Sure ‘nuf, at a prayer meeting one night the young man answered the alter call and turned his life over to the Lord.

Those there were eager to tell the father what had happened. But when the father was reached at the back of the meeting and told the news, he said something like this. not my son flatOh, no, that couldn’t be my son; you must be mistaken. There’s another young man in the community with a similar name. I’m sure it must be him.” The father had been praying all that time but when the answer came, he just refused to believe that his prayer had been heard. And it can be that way for any of us.

I’ve been reminded recently that He really can answer prayers like that, above all we ask or think. The Lord can come along with “new wine” that “breaks our bottles”, or new changes in our lives that are almost like entering into another life from the one we have been living.

Not only was I noticing my potential unbelief, I was also noticing one of my first reactions was to try to do things in the flesh and my own spirit to confirm and make sure that the act of God that He was doing was something I was going to take care of now. “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Sometimes the Lord just does something for His purpose and plan. And you just know it’s all Him, not something of yourself. It may be a long awaited answer to prayer but also it can just be what He was planning all along. And you’re humbled to know how little you had to do with it, besides just being what He wanted you to be and needed you to be.

mary and angelThink about young Mary the night the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Do you think she was all cool with that and it was like she was expecting it all along? I don’t think so. I’ll bet she was just at the very edge of reality with what was happening with her. But also she was His chosen vessel so the Lord gave her the grace for that event.

Or the centurion Cornelius in Acts 10 when the angel appeared to him after his years of faithfulness and told him to “send men to Joppa and call for one whose surname is Peter“. (Acts 10:5) The whole conversion of the Gentiles ensued from that event. Peter and CorneliusDo you think it was just another day at the office for Cornelius? I don’t think so. I’ll bet he was a pretty shook up guy. But he kept it together as this was the hour of his destiny and that of the Gentile world as well.

At times in our lives, God can do things with, for and through us that take us to the very edge of our belief and even abilities to believe. That’s how much He loves us and wants to do for us. That’s one of the reasons why we have “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (I Peter 1:8)

Does God have a sense of humor?

mount of transfiguration flatSo Peter, James and John walked into a bar…   No, wait, change that. Peter, James and John were on the mount of transfiguration. There was Jesus and it says “His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2) It says that the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah, speaking with Jesus as He was transformed like that. It’s even recorded to some degree what Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about.

Can you relate to any of this? Can you see yourself one afternoon experiencing something like that? How would you react? What would you say? Do you thing you could do the subject justice and rise to the occasion? Well, dear impulsive, impetuous Peter the fisherman, just as human as any of us, tried to do what he could. It is recorded that during this utterly unearthly scene, transfigurationpretty much evidently unique in Jesus’ ministry, that our dear Peter just had to blurt out his analysis on the whole event and chime in with his council to Jesus as He glistened there in ethereal heavenly glory before them.

Peter advised the Lord at this time, “Lord, it is good that we are here. And let us make three tabernacles, one for You one, for Moses and one for Elijah”. (Luke 9:33) And the Bible goes on to try to help us understand Peter’s dilemma at this moment, “for he knew not what to say.” (Mark 9:6) You can say that again. And what happened next? Get this. “And while they were yet speaking, a cloud overshadowed them and a Voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him.” (Luke 9: 34 &35)

I don’t know about you but I’ve almost never been able to read this without a wry smile. It’s like the very presence of God, the Father (the “Ancient of Days” of Daniel 7:13), came near to them and sweetly, to me almost humorously chided Peter, “Umm Peter, this is My Son. Hear Him.

Talk about tact. Talk about understatement. Maybe everyone didn’t chuckle but there has just got to be some humor into that. “Peter, shhssss. Just be quiet Peter. We don’t really need your suggestions right now.” But isn’t it just like almost any of us have done in some incredible moment when we don’t know what to do? So we pipe up with something that in retrospect was pretty much misplaced and virtually stupid, considering the circumstances? Could God, the Father, have been smiling and just shaking His head when He said that? I’ve always thought so.

running from Jazebel fixed-1Then there was Elijah. Having fled from Jezebel, defeated, discouraged, a shadow of the great man of God that he’d just been recently in slaying the 450 prophets of Baal, now having fled far into the wilderness of the south. Away from his place of service and seemingly almost ready to hang up his crown and calling of being a prophet, there we see him on the mount Horeb.The Bible says the Lord sent the wind, but He was not in it, then the fire and He was not in it and then a shaking and He was not in it. What a pregnant build-up to that moment when Elijah heard the still, small voice of God. And what did the Voice say? (Wait for it) “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9)

doing here flatCome on! That’s funny! God, the God of the universe, the Almighty, is asking this guy what he’s doing there?! He knows everything! He doesn’t need to ask anything! I just can never read this without feeling that there’s this kind, loving God of the universe having condescended to this poor, defeated servant of His and He’s striking up a conversation with him, saying, “Umm, why are you here, Elijah?

Don’t you just know that if you could see all this in real time, there would be a warm, wry smile on the face of God as He asked that? Maybe, probably even a smidgen, a sprinkle of humor on the whole thing? Gotta be.

The Bible warns of “foolish jesting” (Ephesians 5:4) but it also says “A merry heart does good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). keep laughing flatOne of the greatest helps I’ve ever had in my missionary service has been times when my friends and I just laughed at the impossibility of what we were trying to do and how it was utterly insane except within the will of God. My one year in Moscow in 1995 and 1996 was only sustained by just laughing with my friends at the extremes to which we were pushed physically to do what we felt we needed to do there and how no one in the world would do what we were doing, there’s not enough money to pay for it, unless you were doing it for God’s service.

So often we just kept laughing in the extremely difficult conditions we worked in. It was perhaps the toughest year of my adult life physically but also one I count as one of the most fruitful. And a sense of humor was a continual essential asset through it all.

I’m convinced God has some sense of humor. It doesn’t show up very much in the Bible and we know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). But also I’ve had times, even recently, where I just felt that the Lord can do some things that are just so amazing, “out there” and radically loving that the only reaction is to smile, laugh and feel that He’s just funny sometime. Or so it seems to me.

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

 

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.

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 4) The Last Night

fellowship second photo A croppedThe last afternoon with my Christian friends at the east Europe get together was spent in a prayer meeting and heart sharing. I talked with them about things that I’ve needed to ask prayer for a long time. It was emotional for me. I said things I haven’t said to almost anyone for years. I was desperate for their prayers and for His grace. Perhaps it’s like the verse, “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”. (Galatians 6:2)

Later a young east European man came up to me and asked if we could talk. Actually I’d shared a room with him the night before in the inn/hotel where the fellowship was being held. But he’d come in late and we hadn’t talked. He was a friend of some missionaries who’d come there and they invited him.

life over flatHe told me that, when I’d shared my heart and asked for prayer earlier in the day, it very much troubled him. He’d fought back tears because he was going through exactly the same thing. Also, because I explaned some of my background, he said what he was going through right then was identical to a crisis I experienced around his age. He was very aware that we’d ended up in the same room together and that perhaps the most difficult experience in my life, years ago, was exactly what he was going through now.

He shared that his personal life had recently been more or less destroyed by events beyond his control. He was distraught, depressed and thinking thoughts of revenge, retribution and even violence.These are emotions that many people have felt at some of the worst times of their lives.

He had been brought up a Baptist but for one reason or the other, became dissatisfied and unfulfilled there. So he’d moved away from faith, applying God’s Word in his life or going to Him in prayer, at least for the most part.

So I shared one of the most poignant verses in the Bible for ones experiencing what he was right then. Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to them who the love the Lord, to them who are called according to His purpose.” For anyone going through the life-altering crisis this young man was going through, that verse is about as essential a truth as you can find in God’s Word. Another key Bible verse I shared with him is what Joseph said to his brothers who had virtually ended his life and sold him into slavery years before, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)

I survived flatThis young man agreed with me that in a real sense, his life was over, at least most of what his life had been for the last 10 years. He was faced with two choices. He could try to hold on to what was gone, to change things that really couldn’t be changed or to get revenge for how he was wronged. That path would lead nowhere. He might end up in jail, dead or just to live the rest of his life, never recovering from this trauma and injustice he was experiencing.

Or he could call out desperately to God, embrace the truths of God’s Word and experience the Love of God that He would have for him in giving him a completely new start in life. Only God could do. Drugs and counseling could not reach the deepest place in his heart and heal and renew the deep pain and injury he was experiencing.

He was like a ship that had been torpedoed, a computer whose hard drive had crashed. But I could tell him from my own experience that this was something he could survive. “With man, it is impossible. But not with God, for with God, all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)

Perhaps the best thing was that he was really listening. He began to have hope that he’d not had. Over the 2 hours we talked, his whole “countenance”, the look on his face gradually changed from sadness and anger to one with more hope and even a smile. He did have a foundation in God’s Word. He did know the principles of God’s dealings with man, even if he’d not been applying them in his life for a while.

maybe there is hope flat-1As we searched the Word together and talked into the evening, it was wonderful to see his mind come around towards the things of the Lord and to begin to have a vision where there had not been one, to have a healthy view of the future where there had only been hopelessness and temptations to violence.

It’s like the verse, “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”. (Romans 8:6) As we talked of the things of the Lord, the atmosphere just changed. The seed of God’s Word was falling on good ground. Or perhaps the Lord had to “break the rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29) and root out the weeds of his life so that He Himself could give this man a new start, on the ruins of his former life. This dramatic event could actually be a new beginning for a new life for him, better than he’d ever known before,

I told him it would take time, years probably for this all to fully be in his past. There would be temptations every day to look back to what he had, how he’d been wronged, how much it all hurt. But that if he truly held on to the Lord like he had never done before, this all could be the beginning of something better than he’d ever experienced before.

So it turned into a wonderful evening and a wonderful day. It was a blessing for me to able to share my experiences with this new friend and to be, in a sense, living proof that what sometimes looks like “the end” can turn out to be just “a bend in the road” , if we keep holding on to Him.

Days of Heaven

intimacy photo edited retouched sizedI heard someone say one time, “I couldn’t tell you about it when I didn’t have the victory.” So I don’t totally have the victory about this right now but I’ll give it a shot at telling you.

It says in the Bible, “Now we know in part, but then shall we know as we are known.” (I Corinthians 13:12) And this is not only true of knowing the Lord that way in heaven to come. Up there we’re going to know each other that way too. And that will be a big part of heaven, a closeness there that we almost never have here with each other on earth.

But sometimes we do. Sometimes God allows and engineers situations so we’re led down a path where we are in the right place at the right time with someone with whom we experience a closeness, I’ll even use the word “intimacy”, if you understand that the way I mean, which is on a scale so advanced that it approaches that of heaven. That’s happened to me recently.

“Good for your Mark, I’m so happy for you!”

Umm, yeah; thanks. But this is like two things I’ve written about before, “Sweet Potatoes with Butter” and “Pinnacle Experiences.” In my case, the Lord has allowed me to have some time of communication with someone I’ve vaguely known at various times for years. I’ve always been struck by this person. They’ve always seemed so unusually angelic that it’s been difficult for me to be around them the few times that I have been.

What do you think of when you think of an angel? Beauty? Wisdom? Humility? You can trust them. They have a stability and a “health”, for the lack of a better term, that kind of leaves you in awe. What if you talked to that angel?

He didn’t look like this. But this is what he was.

Some have had experiences with angels a few brief times in our lives. But real angels are not usually there for hours. They don’t talk to you for hours. They’re heavenly beings from that other realm who God allows to sometimes cross our path or even appear and speak to us.

But perhaps you’ve had some kind of experience with a human being who somehow has such grace, wisdom and beauty that it just doesn’t seem real. Sometimes you just almost stare at that person in awe at their beauty and words, their gentle soul and obvious grace.

As you and they talk, it’s almost like being pulled out of this world and into the realms of heaven. You don’t want to do anything wrong because it’s almost like a charmed time you are in. But a good time, given by God, where the essences of heaven pour into you and you’re lifted out of the humdrum dreariness that so often you are in, seemingly for so long.

This is the type of experience we think of that men and women have who get married. But maybe even married couples don’t always have this or they don’t have it any more. But it doesn’t have to be limited to that. And for Christians, it can be just something that God allows, like finding an oasis in a vast desert you’ve have traveled alone in for so long. The only way to describe it is heavenly. Somehow this person is almost like a window into heaven or at least God is using them this way.

Richard DreyfusIt sounds great, no? This happened to me recently. But then… but then. We have to come down from our mountain. We enjoy those “sweet potatoes with butter” but then it’s over. You’ve been on a shining mountain, a true “Close Encounter“. But you have to come down.

I don’t know how it is for you. But for me, my life for a number of years has been one of single-minded purpose in daily laying down my life for Him and others. But that has almost always been in a type of loneliness I’ve grown used to and accepted as how it has to be and how things are in this world for me.

The wonderful thing is that we each have the Lord, at least the ones of us who know and believe in Him. “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest”. (Exodus 33:14) We have the light of His Word in our hearts, which we have laid up there through faithfully memorizing and retaining it. We have the presence of His Holy Spirit. These are things that abide with us and help us to navigate and exist in what is frankly an often dark and lonely world, full of shadows and vanity.

masks off flatOur daily contact with other human beings is so often shallow in the extreme compared to the deep and intimate contact we will have with each other in the hereafter. Our main need is His salvation and presence and we have that constantly and daily as we pray and lean on His Word. But daily heartfelt intimacy with other human beings can often be rather rare, even if you’re surrounded with people during you day.

why crying flatSo, like  I said at the  beginning of this, I’m not sure I can tell you about all this when I don’t have the victory. We who are saved have a victory. We have the Savoir who’s “delivered us from every evil work“. (II Timothy 4:18) But still for some, even of the saved, we live with a heaviness and a loneliness that’s seldom lifted expect for those rare times of “days of heaven”, in some cases with virtual angels who walk the earth, splendid creatures who exude a beauty and grace, love and humility, and a knowledge of how to live life that’s virtually breath-taking and blinding. But it shines brilliantly in our hearts and is a glimpse into the future and heaven to come.

Tomorrow I will be back to “normal”. I hope I can do what I wrote about recently. I hope I can bring the pinnacle experience I’ve had with me back to my normal day-to-day world and share it with others. But right now I’m  a little afraid I’ll be remembering these days of heaven and, frankly, be missing them a lot. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9) I’ll be holding onto his Word and to Him. But also I’ll really be looking forward even more than before to the true heaven to come and the intimacy and beauty there that I’ve experienced a touch of here.

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 2)

sit down merged flatThis afternoon I was having a Bible class with around 10 young people between the ages of 7 and 17, children of some of the attendees at the Christian fellowship I’m at up in the mountains of Romania.

Teaching Daniel chapter 2 is one of my favorite things since it’s about the easiest chapter there is to introduce the phenomenon of Bible prophecy. It’s actually about someone who was probably not older than 14 at the time. So this adds to the interest in the chapter for younger people.

If you’re a teacher, there’s a lot you can do to dramatize this chapter. Daniel and his friends are taken captive and carried away from their home country. They are educated, probably “upper class” kids. They’d already had serious instruction in the things of the Lord and had taken it to heart.

Shadrach-Meshach-AbednegoBut then Daniel and his friends are put to the test and nearly executed. Daniel and the others got down to desperate prayer and the Lord answered in one of the most miraculous ways in the Bible. Like I told the kids in my class, “What if you were suddenly carried away to Moscow?! You have to appear before Vladimir Putin and his advisers in the Kremlin to tell him what he had dreamed!” It makes it more real like this.

Dan & Neb for D9 postA lot of drama helps if you’re teaching kids. There’s the strange statue and, even stranger, that stone that hit the statue on the feet. So I was the statue, one of the kids held a big basket which hit me (the statue) on my feet. I crumbled to dust in front of their eyes and the basket (the stone) became a great mountain. Lots of spectacle in that when you act it out .

Neb falls at feetThe result? King Nebuchadnezzar fell at the feet of Daniel in front of his whole court. So I fell at the feet of one of the kids there and we played like I was Vladimir Putin, speaking my broken Russian, falling at their feet in thankfulness and awe that they were able to reveal the secret. It helps to bring it all home to kids and to help them remember it and grasp the significance when you do this. Often times that’s what they remember the most

But also in the room was a friend of mine who is 20 who comes from a family of dedicated east European Christians. All through our class I’d been trying to bring it all back to their level and help them to see how this could have been them and what it would have been like to have been 14 year old Daniel. Then at the end of the class, my 20 year old friend shared her life story with the ones there who were actually the same age as her younger sisters and brothers. She told them something like this.

“In 7th grade, because of my Christian beliefs, I really didn’t have many friends in school. So I decided I wanted friends and for them to accept me. From then on I started going to parties without my parents knowing.

When I turned 15, I started a relationship with a boy who at first accepted my beliefs. But after a year he told me he had lied to make me like him. I continued to be with him another 2 years and through that time he and his friends told me that I lived in a fantasy world and that I’m trying to run away from reality. This affected my beliefs and caused me to doubt my faith in the Lord. Around the end of our relationship, we went for a summer vacation where we had a big fight and I ran out crying.

I ended up looking at the stars which often brought me peace. I decided to give the Lord “one last chance”. Inside me I had a battle and felt I was making a fool of myself. But I told the Lord my feelings and I told Him I wanted to see a shooting star from left to right if I was not supposed to be together with my boyfriend. Or right to left if he was the one for me. And I told him if nothing happens, then I will never believe in Him again.

sit down merged flatI waited for about 10 minutes but nothing happened. So I stood up to leave but then a very strong voice in my head told me, ‘Sit down. The answer is coming.’ 

When I sat down and looked up, an enormous shooting star went exactly from left to right the way I had asked. The Lord told me then that my future boyfriend would have the same beliefs that I have. This showed me that the Lord truly loves me and that He will never leave me or forsake me. This was about 2 years ago and now actually I do have a boyfriend who has the same beliefs as me and he has a strong relationship with the Lord.”

So for me this was a great way to end the class with these east European kids from missionary families, hearing from one from their generation who’s come to know the Lord personally and has their own experiences (some learned the hard way).

(In part three I’ll tell you about a young man I met for the first time here, one who’s overcome obstacles most of us never face, who is an incredible light for the Lord in a far off corner of eastern Europe.)