“He has made my chain heavy.”

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:31) But there can be times where it’s like what Jeremiah said, “He has made my chain heavy.” (Lamentations 3:7) Is there a contradiction? Not really. For those who are following the Lord, not just only believing in Him, there are certainly times when we can clearly see and experience what Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

Let’s sadly face it: in this day and age, the vast majority of Christians are not really following the Lord, as He said there. They may be believers; they may be saved and will be in heaven.  But at best, they “follow afar off” (Matthew 26:58). On the other hand, for those who really have committed to a life of Christian service, who are determined and in the practice of following both the admonitions of God’s Word, as well as and equally following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, taking up our cross daily can definitely be what God calls for. And at times it can even be like a heavy chain.

But, almost strangely, there’s an incredible, utterly unearthly freedom in following the Lord to that degree. That may seem like a huge paradox. How could there be freedom in carrying a cross and being chained? I could use a military analogy or talk about James Bond or Jason Bourne. But to use something less sinister, think of successful sports stars or concert pianists for example. Those folks often go all over the world, they are famous, well paid and have the adulation of the multitude.

But what level of commitment is required of them? How many hours of practice, of sacrifice and denial were necessary for that goal scorer to get to the place where he could play at that level? Or that pianist to play that solo so amazingly. For those very few who are endeavoring to follow the Lord the way He wants and needs us to, there’s both this incredible freedom of experience but at the same time an incredible confinement (if that’s the right word) that is done by the Holy Spirit to keep us on the track and direction for Him. The apostle Paul certainly knew of this. He said once, “Necessity is laid upon me, yeah, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” (I Corinthians 9:16)

And if we follow that path, to attain God’s goals, He sometimes just waves the rules. In Acts 10, Peter was led of the Spirit to eat unclean meats, or at least it seemed so at the beginning of his experience. But it was a picture of what was about to happen, that the Spirit led him out of his Jewish training and restrictions into a new age of the gospel of Christ being open to the gentiles. I wrote about that here.

It seems Peter just barely obeyed because the leading of the Lord appeared so contrary to what he had thought was the will of God. Actually at first Peter just said no to God. Nevertheless he did obey, almost like with a chain about his neck since the Spirit was so clear and definite in what God’s will was right then. But he obeyed.

That’s the kind of following Jesus that changes the world. And it wasn’t just for 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is just as alive today; the needs are just as great, the freedom just as magnificent and breathtaking but also the cross and the chain just as real and necessary as it was in Biblical times.

When I came to the Lord when I was 21, the type of Christianity I was born into was a radical discipleship Christianity. It was about soul winning and forsaking all to go into all the world to follow Him to the ends of the earth for the Kingdom of God. Eighteen months after I got saved I was across the Atlantic and out personal witnessing in places like Hyde Park in London or Vondel Park in Amsterdam. In some ways it was tough but also it was often extremely exhilarating. Thankfully some decades later now that life of Christian discipleship is still what I’ve been allowed by God to experience.

If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free in deed.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Brethren, you’ve been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.There’s been amazing liberty, incredible experience and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But if I ever use that liberty for “an occasion to the flesh”, the Lord may just lift off his blessing.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been having a life of thumb screws and aestheticism. He’s often given me many happy times, even in the physical side of this life. He’s very often “cast our lines in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6) But His cause and instant obedience to the leading of His will has always had to be preeminent and paramount.

It’s a wonderful life, almost charmed. But you have to accept that cross and that chain as part of the bargain and contract.

“Let not your heart be troubled”

Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1) You mean it’s up to us to keep a calm heart? We have some control and responsibility over the state of our heart? Yep. That might be a surprise to some. Because it seems that often people think that our thoughts and emotions are our masters, that we are in thrall to every whim that pops into our minds.

But we aren’t. Jesus was very clear about that and the Bible is full of examples where we are responsible for and even to rule over not only our emotions, but even conditions and circumstances around us, as strange as that may seem. So you don’t have to get mad. You don’t have to be swallowed up in despair, even though things may seem and even are very bleak and rough at the moment. This is another place where the miracle-working power of God commands us to do what seems to be the humanly impossible: to look at disaster or extreme despair in the face and to see “things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17).

Maybe you’re wondering if I’m a little off the beam and “out there” on this one. So perhaps an example of this in the Bible might help. In the Psalms, King David could get pretty down and desperate at times. Psalm 77 is an incredible example of his being in despair and at wits end. At first he says things like, “My sore ran in the night and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. You [God] hold mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (Psalm 77:2-4)

So what does David do, go jump off a bridge? Go “postal”? Nope. Here’s what he says later in the same psalm. And I said, ‘This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.’”  (Psalm 77:10-12)

David got a grip on himself, on his heart, and then made a strong, conscious effort to “let not his heart be troubled”. This is all similar to what I wrote about in the blog post ”Keep your heart”. And frankly, “with man it is impossible but not with God, for with God, nothing shall be impossible.”  (Matthew 19:26)

I suppose this is somewhat a sequel to what I wrote about having a troubled mind in “God has given… a sound mind.” Like Jesus said, “Why are you troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:28) But when you’re really down, discouraged, despondent and in the depths of despair, one of the last things you want to hear or do is to be counseled to “let not your heart be troubled”. Usually you have gone beyond hope. Things look utterly impossible. But then, God teaches us that “it takes an impossible situation for God to do a miracle”.

It looked really, really bad for King David there. But he’d grown in the Lord and in His wisdom enough to know that he could, by the power of God, turn away from his despair by making a conscious effort of his heart to, if nothing else, start remembering all that God had done in the past for him. He just kept saying to himself, “I will remember…” all the good things that God had done for him before that time. For us in these times, a similar thing to this would be to just quote comforting, strengthening Bible verses to ourselves in times of greatest difficulty.

This is one of the miracles and secrets of a Godly life, that you can and even must have dominion over your heart and mind. You don’t have to be a slave to your emotions or circumstances and conditions. In the case of Jesus and His disciples, He said that to them that they should not let their heart be troubled, just hours before He was to be captured and led away to His trial and crucifixion.

It’s almost unfathomable and incomprehensible the grace, depth and love that Jesus must have had to be counseling and consoling His disciples at a time when He certainly knew that His excruciating death was less than a day away. But He did that so that we could have “rule over our spirits” (Proverbs 25:28), so that we can have victory through Him over, not only outside enemies, but the enemies within own hearts: our fears, our prejudices, our foolishness, our weak human emotions.

Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1)  “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23) “I will remember the works of the Lord. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.” (Psalm 77:10-12) These are things we can and even must do in order to survive the terrors, traumas and vicissitudes of this present evil world. Granted, it can seem almost impossible. But then we know it really isn’t. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 

 

God has given …a sound mind

It seems like everywhere I go nowadays, I hear about people who are suffering from serious mental problems. Fears, confusion, syndromes, suicidal thoughts and just various forms of insanity or bleak mental instability. And these are folks across all spectrums and nationalities, Christian or otherwise. It really moves me because for a time, in my younger years, I certainly battled royally with what some call “mind battles”.

It’s serious stuff. If it doesn’t actually end up killing you, it can just snuff out your life as far as any joy, peace or enjoyment that should be ours. I feel I can really testify that this is a battle that is winnable as I’ve had a lot of those battles but have survived and even, I feel, been blessed and prospered in this life. And of course it’s all through the dear Lord Jesus. It wasn’t pills, therapy, scientists or yoga that got me through those terrible times. A Bible verse that has always meant so much to me on this subject is “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7)

I was going to say that perhaps the biggest thing that made the difference was when I found out that it wasn’t really my mind, it was my heart. But of course the really biggest thing was the work of God in my life, to show me His love when I was light years beyond any hope. First I found that there is a God, the true God of light and love, the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible. But then it was seven months later that I found that God was not alone up there in heaven. He has a Son who He sent to the earth to die for us, redeem us and “be a ransom for many”, (Matthew 20:28) as He said.

“Aw, Mark, darn. I thought you were going to tell us how to overcome mental problems and then you come along with all that Jesus and God stuff!”

Well, what should I say? This is what happened to me. This is how I found full deliverance and a joyous, meaningful life that’s now gone close to 50 years from the time I was so very far gone in confusion and depravity. So “all that Jesus stuff” may be, for some, too much a price to pay for having mental healing. But for those who will go that far, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Like I said earlier, it was just a huge awakening when it dawned on me that my mental struggles were a direct result of my unregenerate heart. I didn’t even know I had a heart! No classes about that at the big university I was going to! But through the tender and steady mercy of God, almost against my will, He led me through the deepest depths I’d come to into a place where the simple message of salvation through Christ was shared with me. So by “receiving Him” (John 1:12) I was able to have the first step along the path towards peace of mind, by having a born again heart.  Without that, there never could have been any recovery of my weakened, confused mind.

But once my heart and soul were saved, the Lord went to work on my mind. I’m so thankful that I was able to fall in with a band of young radical Christians back then, “Jesus freaks” as they were known in those days. Most of them had come from a similar background to me so they knew what I’d been through and what it took to start up the road to full recovery.

“So, Mark, what did those people do to you? Did they brainwash you, Mark?!”

That word has a real negative connotation and I suppose someone who was just against the work of God’s Spirit in transforming a person into “a new creation in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17) could chose that word. But for some people, like I was back then, I certainly needed a major resetting of my values, concepts, principles, morals, purpose, vision, goals and the way I ordered my life. So I joyously and eagerly got with the program of daily Bible study, learning the basics of what was written there. The Bible talks about “being renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). It talks about “the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus even said, “Now you are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.”  (John 15:3)

Like I wrote about in “Memorizing God’s Word”, a major part of this training and “rewiring” involved the daily memorization of specific Bible verses. “Oh, Mark! That’s so horrible! You just surrendered your mind!” Well, some people just come to the conclusion that they are their own worst enemy, that they really need help and they can get to where they’re so desperate, they even turn to God and the Bible, as despicable as that may seem to many. That’s what I had come to.

I can see that this subject won’t be exhausted in one blog post. Because it is a big subject and people are dying in their darkness and troubled minds daily for lack of the light of God. I hope to write more about mental problems and how the truth of God can solve them better than anything.

How to say no to Satan

If we’re honest, we know there’s a lot about us that isn’t as it should be or the way we want. Admittedly, it can get to be discouraging. And then, often, along comes the devil.

It may surprise you to know that the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself that’s horrible, not to mention all the lies. So it can happen like this. You’re already a little down and then the devil points out some weakness you have. The devil is “the accuser of the saints” (Revelation 12:10) but often it starts out with something that you even know is true or at least partly true.

So in your heart of hearts you know you have a problem with lying, or gluttony, or violence, or some form of sexual deviation, or something. And sometimes you’ve tried to resist it. It’s not really what you want to do or be most of the time. But then the enemy pulls out his big guns and best sales pitch. “Go ahead!” he says. “It’s there in your heart! It’s what you really are! You want it!” If you don’t watch out, it’ll almost make sense.

But…, but, my friends, this is where a knowledge of God and His ways is a matter of life and death. Here’s just one verse, a really good one, that can trounce all the drool of Satan. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you,” James 4:7. Folks, there is so much crucial veracity in those few words that I can’t do the subject justice.

Even if the devil has a point, even if you have a tendency or a proclivity to be a certain way, it does not mean you HAVE to be that way. Back years ago you’d hear people say, “The devil made me do it!Nowadays it’s more popular to say, “I was born this way!” I wrote a blog article about that one. Well, to hell with both of those ideas from hell. The devil can’t make you do ANYTHING unless you COOPERATE. And no matter how you were born, the grace of God brings salvation and freedom “from all sin” (I John 1:7). Jesus said to be “born again.” (John 3:3) That’s what happened to me and I was delivered from a whole host of sins, foolishness, iniquities and vanity that had virtually ended my life before I was even 21.

So the first step in these things is to resist the devil. Just know and understand that simply because you have a tendency to some form of sin or evil does NOT mean you have to actually do it. Someone said one time,temptations-and-doubtsYou can’t stop the birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.” That’s the truth, isn’t it? Well that’s how sin can be. Temptations can be like birds flying over your head. But you can keep shooing them away. You don’t have to let down your guard and let them settle and nest on your head. All of us know this. And it’s a real analogy to how sin is.

But Mark, I’m so weak! I have so little strength to resist!” OK, I know how that can be. For one, are you saved? If not, I can tell you, sin will “have dominion over you” (Romans 6:14), as it did for me. Here’s the truth that clinched it for me. “As many as received Him [Jesus], to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did. I received Jesus into my heart and I strongly experienced receiving inward, supernatural power against sin that I didn’t have before.

But Mark, I just hardly believe any of this. I have so little faith.” Virtually everyone starts out like that; you’re not alone in this. How can you increase your faith? Again we go back to the Word of God.The-Word-of-GodSo then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Romans 10:17) It’s the Words of God that will grow your faith. It IS possible. You CAN resist the devil. You don’t have to give into temptations or even the things you know are in your heart but you don’t want to participate in. Read the Bible. If you don’t know where to start, try the gospel of John.

Like I said, if you aren’t sure you’re a saved, born again child of God, start with that. Jesus died on the cross to take our sins, to free us from sin and to defeat the devil. If you have Jesus, then you have that power to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). So don’t give in to discouragement or some perverse form of fatalism that says you’re doomed to be some way you know is not right and not what you want to be.

Call out to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Put your will, heart and mind on the Lord’s side. I know this works because this is what happened to me. If you keep up your resistance, the enemy HAS to flee. But also make sure you’re getting filled up with the things of the Lord and turning away from any activities or lifestyles that expose you to the dark side. The Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

Broken Branches

Everything means something, you know? I was out for a walk when I saw something and immediately I knew it was like a message or at least significant. Hanging from a small tree was a broken branch. It had somehow been almost totally torn away from the tree. It hung down and was evidently just barely still attached. But the thing I noticed was, the leaves and the branch itself was still very much alive and didn’t show any sign of dying, even though it was so damaged.

Lord forgive me, I should have taken a picture of it right away. Instead, my gardening instincts kicked in and I pulled it from the tree. But I’ll include a picture here to the left so you can see how far the branch had been torn and how little of it was still attached to the tree. Mostly you can see a black scar where it had somehow been torn away. But you can also see a smaller whitish place where it had still been attached. It had just been barely hanging on by that little white scar you see on the lower branch.

“So what!” you say. Well, like I said, everything means something or at least it can if you see with the eyes of the Spirit. Paul said, “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made…” (Romans 1:20) And maybe a way to understand this parable that appeared in front of me is to turn to what Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And He told us to abide in Him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine, no more can you except you abide in Me.” (John 15:5)

But, let’s face it, there are a lot of us around who are broken branches. Lots of folks are just barely hanging on, like that branch I saw yesterday. I don’t need to tell you, life at times can be rough. Those of us who’ve embraced the Lord and His path of discipleship have such an incredible account of grace and power to draw from as we go through life.

But, brother, there are storms, no? Like Job said, “The thing I greatly feared is come upon me”. (Job 3:25) And sometimes it gets worse than that. You just never imagined that what happened could happen. Surely the Lord wouldn’t let that happen. Surely that person, such a dear and trusted friend, wouldn’t turn on you or turn on the Lord’s Work.

Sometimes “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household”. (Matthew 10:36) And it can get to be where you, the branch, can very nearly be torn from the tree. Your faith and your commitment are struck at the very roots, it seems. Those you trusted and loved most in this world, even brethren in Christ, fall away or even worse. And it hits you deeply. You may even be like that branch I saw, almost torn away, hanging awkwardly, almost upside down.

But for this branch I saw yesterday, it somehow was still clinging to life. “Its leaf also shall not wither” (Psalm 1:3) and this broken branch still looked healthy, even though it was so broken and wounded. Maybe you’ve see trees like that. Sometimes they are totally uprooted and laying on their side. The storms of life have completely knocked them over. Sometimes for some it kills them. But you see others who go on to live hundreds of more years after some great calamity like that.

I could name names but I won’t. They might be reading this. But I know of some dear saints of God who’ve gone through some pretty horrific things, not at the hands of ISIS but in relationships and cooperation with other Christians where they feel they’ve been mistreated or abused and it has nearly taken their life, spiritually.

Or maybe it had nothing to do with another Christian. Maybe it was just the storms of life, the varmints and the lightning bolts, all that each person faces at one time or the other. Some have just wilted and died on the vine. But some I know are like that little branch I saw yesterday, still alive, still green and growing , even after such an event that nearly tore it from the tree.

It’s funny sometimes the things I see on my walks. I’ve written about things like the worm I saw on my walk in “Everything Means Something“. Or how the Lord was almost yelling at me when I saw those 5000 little apples I wrote about in “Bite Now, Chew Later“. We all need to hear from God and He seems to speak in different ways to different people.

So, the bottom line? Hold on. Don’t stop abiding in the vine. Otherwise you’ll be like the branch that Jesus spoke of, “If any man abide not in Me he is cast forth as a branch and is withered…” (John 15:6) Don’t let that happen to you. Even if you’ve been pretty severely ripped at your base, there’s still some of you attached to the Lord and the sap of His Spirit can and will still keep flowing into you, just as it was with that branch I saw. You may not be the way you were but you’re still alive and in Him. “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.”  (Hebrews 10:35)

Letting the Word be our prayer

You yourself can become your own worst distraction. You’re trying to go to the Lord in prayer and then suddenly you notice that your shoe lace is loose. Then there’s a beautiful bird that flies by. And then you’re a little hungry. “Oh, wait! I’m supposed to be praying!” Ever had that happen? Is there any solution or hope for this? One thing I turn to is to pray the Word.

Sometimes when I go to prayer, I just start quoting to myself Psalm 23 or, even better, Psalm 27. There’s an incredible power in the Word of God. It’s like changing channels inside your brain. When you quote the Word to the Lord, or to yourself, or even to the devil, there’s so much more power in it. God likes it and honors it when you bring His Word before Him , claiming it, clinging to it and letting it become your thoughts and your heart cry.

Of course there’s one hitch, isn’t it? You usually will have had to make an effort to commit portions of Scripture to memory beforehand. And I’m tempted to wax cynical or sarcastic here but I’ll just say it plainly: there are virtually no churches anywhere that do anything in the way of seriously admonishing their congregations to memorize the Word. So this integral part of our prayer life is left weak because so few know this principle of praying the Word. And so few really know the Word well enough to claim it and quote it in prayer.

Thoughts like this came to me some minutes ago as I walked back from my morning prayer time that I take in a clearing near where I live. Like everyone has experienced, I had been hit by distractions as I’d been praying and I needed to repeatedly “have rule over my own spirit” (Proverbs 25:28) and “bring every thought into subjection”. (II Corinthians 10:5) Thank God for His infinite mercy on us. Because, if we were required each day to pray earnest, distraction-free, focused and long prayers, I don’t think many would measure up to that. Therefor, often the Lord has to do things to break our hearts or make us in some way truly feel a strong need for the Lord. And in those times we can usually be a little more focused, a little deeper and more sober about our continuing need for Him.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing good, that’s for sure. Paul said, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) And this is as true when it comes to prayer as it is in everything else.

I’ll be in prayer and then some idiotic thought tries to take over my mind’s eye. So I’ll quote to myself, “I hate vain thoughts but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or suddenly I’ll get a picture in my mind of some foolish worldly thing, it doesn’t matter what it is. So, hopefully, I will quote to myself, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes, I hate the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave unto me.” (Psalm 101:3) And if I’m fervent and focused enough, I’ll go on to quote “I have set the Lord always before my face, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8) Or, another one along the same line of keeping our eyes on Jesus, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Maybe you don’t have this kind of struggle. Maybe you glide effortlessly each day into long periods of rich, full, deep, intimate interaction with the Lord. I guess I’ve had some times like that over the years. But more often than not I’ve had to make some effort to get through or out of my carnal mind and “the affairs of this life” (IITim. 2:4). And praying the Word, just entering into the Word of God and letting it be my shield and the  words of my mouth in prayer has been a method that’s helped me get beyond the trivialities and physicality of this world that’s so often with us.

So I suggest you try it, if you’re having problems like this. Maybe what I wrote elsewhere about Memorizing God’s Word could be a help to you. And, admittedly I’ve written about this subject before in “Praying the Word”. Also I wrote about “Distractions”.

But I sort of think that this is a problem a lot of people have. “It’s all by grace” but at the same time, we often do have to make some real effort to leave the Egypt of ourselves and enter into the Promised Land of His Spirit in prayer , coming “boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16) If you are feeling weak and struggling in prayer, try stirring yourself up to stronger fervency by quoting the Word in prayer and claiming His promises. God bless you.

Sharing your faith and seeing miracles

Sharing our faith with those who don’t know the Lord is not only “the Great Commission”, it’s an incredible way to experience the thrills of heaven and be right immediately where miracles of God happen. It’s a crying shame that so few Christians regularly share their faith with others, or “witness”, as it is called. There are virtually no churches who teach their congregations that they should actively share their faith with others, much less teach them how to do so.

Most of us would like to see more miracles in our lives. We know the Lord is there and that He can do “exceeding abundantly, above all we ask or think.” (Ephesian 3:20) But how can we be part of that? I’ll tell you, if you take the step to launch out and share your faith, you’ll often see some truly amazing and supernatural things happen, things that are impossible without God.

I’m blessed to be part of a weekly Christian fellowship, folks who almost all are active daily witnessers here in Texas. Many of these have backgrounds similar to mine, a lifetime of Christian service which was mostly spent outside the USA. So mostly these friends are not beginners to witnessing. And with this example I’m going to share, some of you might feel these friends have a lot more holy boldness than you feel you have right now. Their method of witnessing is perhaps not what you feel you’re ready for. But they told us recently of an incredible experience that happened to them while they were out sharing their faith and I thought to pass it on to you.

These friends told us of an afternoon when they were witnessing in restaurants. [“Oh, Mark. I COULDN’T POSSIBLY do that! What would people think? I’d just be making a fool of myself!”] OK, like I said, this is not a beginner’s witnessing testimony and an example everyone would feel they can immediately emulate. But here’s what they said happened.

“We were in a restaurant and we approached a table where two women were talking intensely. We had some Christian material with us that we usually offer to people in order to start a conversation. So we offered the first lady something that highlighted a Bible verse, Isaiah 41:10. And just looking at it she started crying. At first we didn’t actually see that the woman had started crying and I offered the other woman material having to do with the serenity prayer. Then that woman started crying. And we couldn’t talk to them for a minute or two because they both were crying.”

“We apologized to them that we made them cry and the first woman said that it wasn’t really us, it was just that her grandson is in the hospital with cancer. And his name is Isaiah. And then it turns out that Isaiah’s little sister is named Serenity. These women had just come from the hospital where little Isaiah was  and after lunch they were going back. We were able to pray with them and they said they knew the Lord sent us to them right then to comfort them and to be like a sign to them. They said, ‘We know God sent you to us right now’.”

My freinds went on to tell me, “When you are out there, it really isn’t like hard work. So often people say, ‘When I met you, it’s like I feel I’ve met the Lord in you.’ Often there’s this incredible timing to things, even though we don’t know it ourselves. It’s like a flow to be in and we take on the mantle of the Lord. This is how He’s ordained it and when you make yourself available, then His miracle working power is done through you, right in front of you and you are as amazed as the others. A person said to us today, ‘How does this work? Does God know this and then He told the angels to send you to this restaurant so you can talk to me? It must be because it’s not an accident that you came to see me today.’”

“Mark, these folks must really be saints. Probably no problems but just barely in this world they’re so spiritual.”

Well they just told me that not long ago, when their children were really not doing good, having troubles with growing up, that the only way they got through it was to go out daily and share their faith with others. Thinking about the needs of others and pouring out to others was a way to keep putting first the things of the Lord when their own situations were going over their head, even after they’d been doing everything they could for their kids.

They said “It just helped us to go out and talk to and help others as so many have so many problems and we were just there to be a blessing and help to others. One time we were driving down the street and I said, ‘I don’t even know how I can talk to people today, so many things and problems are going on.’ But then the first person we talked to said almost immediately, “Wow, I know God sent you to me today.”

One more thing they shared, I just can’t leave this out. They had been in Beirut, Lebanon during the time of the war when there were the militias and the Green Line. So they had witnessed to the Christian militias which often were teenagers. Late one afternoon they were coming back from downtown Beirut through the Muslim section and they were about to cross the Green Line to the Christian side of the city. But some Muslim militiamen came up to them and asked them what they were doing, pointing their Kalashnikovs at them. They were there to prevent people crossing back and forth.  Then out of a side street came the Christian militia they’d witnessed to and, pointing their guns at the Muslims, told the Muslims to let them pass over into the Christian section, that they were with them. But their witnessing to the Christian militias earlier was what keyed them to stand up for my missionary friends when they we were stopped by the opposing militias.

Whew. This is a lot better than sports bars, virtual reality or Netflix, no? I sure think so. Witnessing and sharing our faith is where it’s at.

Knowing

I know it is flatWords are kind of funny, kind of deep. You know what I mean? Take “knowing” for example. You can say you “believe” something but when you say you know something, it’s similar but also really different. And both of those words occupy a very prominent place in the Bible.

Probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” They say the whole message of the Bible is encapsulated in that verse. And the key and pith of it is in “believing” in Jesus. But that word, “believe”, in English, can at times come across as slightly weak. You can ask someone, “Are you going to the party?” And if they say, “I believe so”, you might come back with, “Well, are you sure?” And if they then say, “I think so,” you’d probably sense a lack of certainty in their voice. But if they say, “I know I will”, then that’s pretty much it. There’s certainty in knowing.

John writing in prison flatAnd the Bible teaches us not just to believe in Jesus and God but to know Them. And, yes, that is possible. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed…” (II Timothy 1:12) And John the beloved disciple said, “These things I have written to you that believe on the name of the son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…”. (I John 5:13) There’s actually quite a lot about this in the Scriptures. Paul said, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)

Think about it. Jesus had certainty enough that God was going to raise Him from the dead that He allowed Himself to suffer the most horrible death known at that time, crucifixion. And, sure enough, “God raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 13:30) Maybe you don’t believe that. But 10 of the 12 original apostles of Jesus were certain enough about that resurrection that they all themselves suffered martyrdom. They didn’t just “believe”. They didn’t just “think”. They “knew” , they were certain enough about the truth they’d seen and heard from the Lord that they died for that truth and that Lord, knowing with certainty that eternal life was theirs.

And against the backdrop of the world we live in, that kind of certainty, that kind of knowing is rather rare. Of course, it can be said that people give their lives for causes all the time. Soldiers do it and many others give their lives in a lifetime of what sometimes turns out to be a very questionable goal or dream.

So, admittedly, there’s a lot of uncertainty in this world. I was thinking about an obscure verse this morning in Ecclesiastes which says of God “…also He has set the world in their heart so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.path ahead(Ecc. 3:11) That’s why we Christians say we have to take a lot of things “by faith”. Paul said, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7) But with the heavenly vision we get from His Word, the eternal truths that are our foundation for this life we now live, we can see and find “the path of life” (Pslams 16:11) which often is radically different from “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) which is what the ungodly trudge along in.

But for those of us who know and believe in the Lord, there is so much more an element of certainty and knowing than in what the world has to offer. Jesus talked about building our house on the rock so that when the storms come, our house will stand. That’s all about knowing, about the kind of belief that has entered into rest. It’s a knowing kind of belief. This is what Solomon meant when he said, “Have not I written unto you excellent things in council and knowledge? That you may know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer the words of truth to them that send unto you.” (Proverbs 22:20 & 21)

Life can be really tough. We all make mistakes. We all have times where we really thought we were right about something and it turned out we were wrong. foggy flatOr there are times where we are just in confusion, not knowing exactly what is true of false. But for those of us who know and have the Lord, a good deal of the fogginess of this life is lessened if we truly know and have a living relationship with God and His Son Jesus, plus also that we deeply study and receive the truth of His written Word, the Bible.

Then, even if there is a lot of uncertainty around you, a lot you don’t understand, a lot you just don’t feel very smart about, you can still have a strong presence of truth and knowledge of the most important things in this life: eternal life through the mercies of God and Jesus and precious instruction in how to live daily in this world through His Word.

Fighting the fight of faith

determined to go forward full flatLet’s say you are determined to go forward for the Lord. Maybe you’re determined to share your faith more with others. Maybe you’re determined to get the victory over some “besetting sin” (Hebrews 12:1)  in your life, alcoholism, gluttony, lethargy, materialism or whatever. But you’ve set your face to go forward to greater obedience, to overcome and really gain ground in the Spirit for the Lord.

Well, I almost hate to tell you this (and you probably know it anyway) but it’s like this: if you do it the right way, the enemy will fight you. The hellish, fiendish “god of this world” (II Cor.4:4) doesn’t plan to give up territory he thinks is his and perhaps actually is his at this time. So you can expect that, one way or the other, the enemy will fight back and do all he can to thwart your plans, your dreams and your desires to go forward for the Lord.

you are a mess flatHow does he do that? He sends ISIS or some radical Muslim to destroy your life? Usually he’s more subtle than that. I think the vast majority of the time the enemy uses words and thoughts to deter us from our determination to more greatly obey the Lord. And folks, I’ve seen it happen recently and I’ve seen it happen when I was in my 20’s and every step in between.

The devil is the accuser of the saints. The Bible even talks about “false accusers in the last days” (II Tim. 3:3). And the pitiful thing is, the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself (or your friends, coworkers or loved ones) not to mention all the lies he tells. But whatever he can find in his dirty bag of tricks, his awful arsenal of evil, he’ll throw it your way. And, sadly, it’s not like it never works. Lies, fears, discouragement, the past, the future, confusion, division, discord, accusations, “revelations”, the list is almost endless of what starts coming at you when you are starting out to climb the mountain of God’s higher will and calling in your life.

turning backPaul the apostle said of the devil “we are not ignorant of his devices”. (II Corinthians 2:11) But it can be downright disheartening how many of the Lord’s sincere saints are sidetracked from the direction the Lord has led them when the enemy pulls out his big guns and starts shooting. And for the most part, it’s all in a battle of the mind. If the devil can persuade you to quit and give up, he doesn’t need to waste his time with any violent persecution of you. You’ve already been eliminated by being overcome by his confusion, fears, false narrative or whatever.

A real doozy is when the devil can pull up something that is actually true and use it against you. It may be something about your life, your weaknesses, your past, someone else’s past, some mistake you or someone else has made, things like that. And he just keeps playing that song and that “fact” in your head without ceasing, if you let him. After all, it is true, you can’t deny it.

I showed you flat-1But the deal is, there are other things that are much more important that are also true and are what the Lord wants you to focus on. It’s like the verse in the Bible, “this wisdom descends not from above but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (James 3:15) But it is some form of wisdom, just that it’s not the wisdom from above. Some facts are like that: things that are true but if you focus on them, they’ll lead you right out of the will of God and the mindset He wants you to have. I’ve seen it happen, recently.

Paul said one time, “None of these things move me” (Acts 20:24). He said to the Galatians, “But though we or an angel of heaven preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)  Later on he said to the Galatians, “You did run well, who has bewitched you?” Galatians 3:1 & 5:7)

Often we learn these things through very hard experiences. We learn some of this when we have fallen for this type of device of the enemy, whatever it may be. “The fear of man brings a snare.” (Proverbs 29:25) We are afraid of what people will say and their opinions of us. Or our heart condemns us and tells us that God can’t use us. Or there’s some division that the enemy works among brethren to stop the progress of God’s troops.

But whatever it is, I can guarantee you that it will happen if you are truly going forward to win the battles of the Lord and regain ground from the enemy, in whatever form it may take. So just expect it, don’t fear it or let it frighten or deter you but be prepared, have on the armor of God, and trust that the victory that is needed has already been won for us on the cross when Christ there defeated the enemy of our souls. May He help all of us to be winners in the battles He is leading us into, not victims but victors. God bless you to be fighters for Him.

Cast your bread upon the waters

give and it shall flatWhat do you think about when you think of the God of the Bible? Love? That sounds right. But how is love actually shown or seen? I think one of the clearest ways is in kindness and generosity. There’s just so much in the Bible about giving and sharing, from cover to cover.

Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall men give unto your bosom, for with the same measure that you met shall it be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38) In another place He said, “He that has two coats let him give to him that has none.” (Luke 3:11) But that spirit He puts in our souls of concern, altruism and benevolence at times can be quenched if our hearts become hardened through selfishness or possibly the heartbreaks of life that make us feel it’s just not worth it.

why give flatWe’re tempted to just stop sharing, stop caring, and stop going the extra mile. We do it and then sometimes it seems it was all for nothing. The ones we tried to help were rude or unappreciative. Our labors truly did seem to be in vain and there’s just the huge sentiment to throw in the towel, close up shop on our lives and turn out the lights. “Why keep giving? No one else does. I’m just an idiot to naively give of my own to people who don’t appreciate it, while others laugh and snicker at my immature generosity.” You can hear some say that or it’s the cry of our broken, wounded hearts at times.

For me it comes down to this. I just go back to the most foundational experiences of my life and see again that the words of the Bible and the words of Jesus far transcend any “reasonable” rationalizations that contradict the truths of God and His Word. Loving, sharing, caring benevolence and generosity are some of the greatest hallmarks of God and Jesus and they should be some of the strongest abiding characteristics of the people of God.

good samaritan 1We can’t just pass by the poor man on the road to Jericho. We have to stop and render aid. We can’t selfishly hoard our blessings but we feel impelled by the Spirit of God to share with others. And the Bible is just full of this line of thinking. Here’s what Isaiah said. “And if you draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall rise in obscurity and your darkness shall be as the noon day.” (Isaiah 58:10) In another place Solomon said, “The liberal soul shall be made fat and he that waters shall be watered also himself.” (Proverbs 11:25) And we can turn to more from Jesus, “Give to him that asks you and from him that would borrow from you, turn not away.” (Matthew 5:42)

Of course some may have choked or stumbled back there when I quoted Solomon where he talked about “the liberal soul.” For some Christians today, the word “liberal” is virtually synonymous with Satan. And that is a stark sign of the darkened times we live in that “liberal” has come to mean that. Because originally the word “liberal” meant generous and giving , as well as free from prejudice. (See II Corinthians 9:13) Nowadays it has been taken over by a political movement and twisted to mean something totally different. So much so that Christians now feel that in order to be “conservative”, they’re obliged to be stingy, hard-hearted, uncaring for those having rough times and just all that goes with the modern “conservative” agenda which often really does not have priorities parallel to the words of Jesus and the Bible.

In conclusion? “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Satan and the vicissitudes of life work incessantly to harden your heart, to make you faint in your mind and throw in the towel when it comes to being loving, kind, generous and giving. Don’t let it happen.

To quote Solomon again, in the 11th chapter of Ecclesiastes, “Cast your bread upon the waters for you shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven and also to eight for you know not what evil shall be upon the earth.” You may be “casting your bread upon the waters”. You may be giving and not really fully knowing where it’s going or what it’s being used for. But if you are doing it “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) , in obedience to His commandments to be loving and to share, someday (in this life or the next) “you’ll find it after many days.”

morning grace flatThat’s what God does, He gives and shares and pours out constantly. “He sends His rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) And He implores us to have a heart like His, to love and give as He has given to us. So watch out about times when you just feel it isn’t worth it or “wise” to be loving and giving. Thank God He hasn’t changed His mind about being loving and benevolent. Lord help us not to change our mind about it either.