Grudges

Do you have a grudge? Against someone, something, even against God? Universities don’t have classes on Grudges 101. Politics won’t solve this. It’s another one of those hideous, hellish, often fatal proclivities of human beings worldwide: to be naturally inclined to harbor and hold grudges. A grudge is the opposite of forgiveness and it’s a deadly sin. It’s even more deadly than many since it’s so often accepted and seen to be “just a part of life” by the vast majority of people everywhere.

The exact definition of “grudge” is: “a persistent feeling of ill will or resentment resulting from a past insult or injury.” Sound familiar? Well, it’s one of the most persistent, common maladies of our human condition and it’s damaging in the extreme. You can be a kid and have a grudge against your parents. You can have a grudge against anybody and anything: the way you are made, the family you were born into, mistreatment by your boss, your girlfriend, your teacher or God Himself.

Why is it so bad? Almost invariable it can quickly become the main thing in your heart, what so many of your thoughts revolve around and settle back to. The words of your mouth are tinged with hate and bitterness because of that grudge you’ve allowed to spring up in your heart.

“Mark, give us a break! You’re always saying stuff like this, always hard on people! You expect too much, Mark! Look, friend, the world is full of a– h—s. And I’m not going to let anybody treat me like they do. If I don’t do it to them first, they’ll do it to me! That’s just the way things are, Mark. Get a life!”

Is it safe to say that the majority of the world thinks like that? Probably. So what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I just accept that we live in a jungle where it’s “kill or be killed” and reacting to wrongs by accepting a hateful grudge to take over my soul and mind is just how things work in this world. “Get over it!”, like people say nowadays.

If there was no God, no Satan, no afterlife and no Savior, the man Christ Jesus, then that would I suppose be the only choice we have. But it isn’t. There is a God, there is an afterlife, and there is a judgment both in this world and the world to come for our words and deeds. Keep-your-heartAnd there is a Savior, the Man who went about everywhere doing good, Jesus of Nazareth. And one of the most important lessons He and the other men of God have taught us over the centuries was summed up well by King Solomon when he said, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) I wrote a blog article on that verse, “Keep your heart.

Think about it, how many murders are the result of what started out as a grudge? It’s likely the first murder was a result of jealousy and an accompanying grudge. Here’s what the Bible says about Cain killing Abel. “Not as Cain, who was of that evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (I John 3:12)

It doesn’t take much sense, if you have an inkling of the Spirit of God, to know that grudges are not the plant that the Lord wants us to let grow in our hearts. This is one of the worst of the “thorns that spring up” that Jesus talked about in Luke 8:7. It’s not just some little thing. It’s not something we can’t control. It’s not something that we need to understand and accept. Grudges bring virtually immediate darkness to your soul and heart. The fruits of the Spirit of God in our lives are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” (Galatians 5:22 & 23) But a grudge slays all of those very quickly.

“But, Mark, let me interrupt you again. Isn’t this just a case of mental health? Our modern world has moved on from these ancient, primative notions of “sin” and “the heart”. Don’t people just need our sympathy as well as mental health care to solve these things?”

No, it’s not a “mental health” issue. Science, in its place, is a great blessing. But when it tries to explain away the fallen nature of man and sanitize sin into something a doctor should treat, it then fulfills the words spoken about the future endtime to come that mankind would be “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”. (II Timothy 3:7) Or, more bluntly, Paul said in another place, “because they received not the love of the truth, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” (II Thessalonians 2:10 & 11) Sadly how prevalent we see this happening more and more in our times as people let science supposedly explain away sin and so many other things that are to be spiritually discenred.

A grudge and bitterness walk hand in hand. Something has happened, someone did something that you don’t understand, that went against you and hurt your life and heart. And if we then don’t desperately pray and throw our will, mind and thoughts onto the side of the Lord, then we’ll not be able to forgive those who’ve wronged us or be able to “Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in Him.” (Psalm 37:5)

Is there any hope? Like all sin, yes, there is hope. First, you have to recognize it and often that’s not even very easy since it seems to be so justifiable. God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” To which Jonah snapped back to God, “I do well to be angry!” (Jonah 4: 4 & 9) So again, it comes back to being able to discern your own heart first. God’s Spirit is always faithful to convict us and bring the conviction that something is wrong inside us, even if it’s true that someone has wronged us, that our reaction is not right and the best.

But if we can recognize and accept the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we go to the next step which is, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

That’s the process by which we’re delivered from grudges. Confess it and pray strongly to be delivered from the deadly sin of grudges which will, and perhaps already has, snuffed out your spiritual life and brought you to utter darkness, though you are still alive.

Recognize it. Hate it. Resist it. Confess it to God and others if needed. And claim deliverance from this sin which is often unto death. God help us all.

Cardinals in the Winter

I was out for prayer this clear, cold winter morning when I noticed a lone Cardinal singing merrily away in a tree in our back lot. And the thought came to me, “That’s a lot like me and my friends.” It’s a wintery day but that Cardinal is not perturbed. It knows spring is coming, no matter how bleak and forlorn things are now.

Right now this world is in a deep winter. There’s death, sadness and depravity everywhere, almost lifeless. Yes, in the world now, like in our back lot, there’s still a little sprig of green here, an evergreen over there, even some helpless tiny flower can be seen, blooming out of season. But it’s winter. Like Paul said, “The whole creation groans in travail, waiting to be delivered.” (Romans 8) What is the deliverance? Just another spring coming in a few months?

For we who know the Lord and His promises, the true spring will be His return to our world to establish His millennial Kingdom. Then the world will know how it could have been and should have been all along. There will be peace on earth and Godly prosperity unlike anything any of us have hardly ever imagined, “above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), on the shores of eternity.

But for now, it’s like some of us are the cardinals in the winter. We just keep singing and providing the color in this presently lifeless world. Even with the deep red of the passion of God in our hearts, we keep singing and making melody when seemingly there’s not really anything to sing about. But we do it by faith. We know there’s a spring coming, the eternal everlasting spring of the Kingdom of God on earth that the Bible promises is God’s ultimate plan.

If you are a Catholic, “cardinals” will have an additional meaning to you. Some of the top leaders of the Catholic Church are the Cardinals. And they traditionally dress in red. The symbolism? The idea has been that they are of a consecration that they would be willing to be martyrs, and shed their red blood for the cause of Christ, like many of the Christians of the first centuries did.

Well, there are still martyrs today but in many cases for most of us, we have to say with Paul, “I die daily“. (I Corinthians 15:31) In some ways that’s the hardest kind, dying daily to your own will and the cares and pleasures of this life to be what He wants us to be, bringing color and joy to this world and heralding the coming of the King of Glory to bring back this earth to the eternal spring like it had at the beginning of creation.

Every so often the Lord just punches through with thoughts like this when I go out for my morning walks. I used to go to a park and sit on a bench near where my parents’ lived when I was taking care of them in their last years. I wrote about a few of those experiences on my morning walks in “Just  Did It“, “Everything Means Something” or even “Hawks and Doves”, things happening right in front of me that it was like the Lord was explaining to me the symbolism, as it happened.

And this was encouraging this morning, a little picture that fits for many of us. We are presently in winter. Yes, even winter has some beauties and pleasures to it. But it’s not spring. And we, God’s cardinals, are designed to keep singing, keep showing his passionate red against the drab dreariness of the world as it is now. And to keep singing the tunes and sounds of heaven because we are keeping the vision of the soon coming better world, where righteousness will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, and as the Lord says, “Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:9)

Thank God when He gives us little things like this. Paul said, “The invisible things of Him from the beginning of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” (Romans 1:20) And David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day it utters speech and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3) We all need this; we all need to see the meaning that’s so often right there around us.Where there is no vision the people perish”. (Proverbs 29:18) Those dear but few cardinals in our back lot this morning were a picture to me of how I and many others are now singing in spite of the winter of this world, keeping the faith that the ultimate spring of eternity on earth will yet come.

Should we forget the past?

Someone just told me I should write about forgetting the past. Should we? Especially the really sad, rough, ungodly things that others did to us? Let’s face it: it’s easier said than done. Of course forgiveness is the key but it may not be the only one. I guess some folks who don’t have the Lord can “forgive and forget” but I’m sure it’s much easier if we have His grace for it all.

You’d think that with the life I’ve had as a missionary, living for decades on foreign fields, working with dedicated Christians, that it must have just been one big bed of roses and strawberry fields forever. Sometimes it was like that. But there also were some shocking, heartbreaking, soul-stumbling events that transpired between Christian brethren that were just unspeakably pitiful and should have never happened. Talk about “deceiving the elect” (Matthew 24:24), sadly the elect of God can be deceived, tripped off and just led about by their carnal reasoning, selfish lusts and desires for dominion over others, except for the intervention of God. And sometimes it seems like that didn’t even help.

Israel of old was mightily blessed by God but ultimately defeated and destroyed by their enemies but not before they had already been defeated from within by their own sins. And so it can still happen just the same to believers in our times. I’ve been a victim of some things like that in the past and, Lord help and forgive me, I may have not done enough to intervene when I saw things that were wrong where I was.

And there’s a question to be asked, “When is the past not the past?” When are the sins and cruelty of the past still affecting us today, especially in our memories that we carry or the things we’ve heard from others that happened? Are we doomed to carry with us these memories, even decades after some event happened?

Well, thank God there is hope. Thank God for Him, for His Son, Jesus and the unspeakably mighty power they have in our lives. For me, the mightiest force in the universe is the Word of God. I’ve experienced its healing and deliverance in situations where the circumstances were utterly hopeless. But the Bible says, “The Lord will deliver me from every evil work.” (II Timothy 4:18) And that’s the truth.

Maybe you were touched, affected, singed and even damaged by some evil work, some atrocity and it even was from some Christian. I’ve had that happen to me, actually a few times. It was wrong, it was mean, it was personal and it was intentional. So what do I do? What did I do?

The first thing was I had to keep my eyes on Jesus, “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith“. (Hebrews 12:2) I turned my attention to situations in the Bible where people of God in the past went through similar things. Of course the greatest injustice in history was the crucifixion of Jesus. A righteous and perfect Man condemned to a cruel death.

It’s good to remember that when we are mulling over the horrible things that have happened to us. Or like Joseph in Egypt, sold as a slave by his brothers but he found the grace of God to say to them, “You meant it for evil but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)

It’s like King David said in Psalm 77, he went over so many bad things that were happened so that it was nearly killing him. But then he said, “But I will remember the years of the right hand of the most high, I will remember…” (Psalm 77: 10 & 11) Actually he said “I will remember” 3 times in a row in that Psalm. Maybe that’s a key and answer. We have to just not let the horror, atrocities and injustice become our fixation. Because that will insure the final victory of those sins against you, that they will permanently defeat you.

We just can’t allow that. I just couldn’t allow those things to snuff out my life, no matter how bad it was. JobI even thought of the book of Job and how evidently righteous he had been and but then some really almost crazy things happened to virtually destroy him. As it turned out, Job actually did have a few things that the Lord was dealing with. And in my experience, during the very worst times that went on actually for close to 2 years, the Lord was dealing with me about a few things, as well as just breaking me and making me into a better vessel, like it says in Jeremiah 18

But, certainly, there comes a time where we can take to heart what Paul said in Philippines 3:13 and 14, “Forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth to the things before, I press towards the mark for the price of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Some things that we still don’t understand just have to be wrapped up in a bundle of faith and put away somewhere till the day that it’s explained to us by the Lord.

Ultimately, if we’re to stay alive for the Lord, we have to find and claim healing and forgiveness for whatever happened, whoever sinned against you. This is what I wrote about in “Ghost”.

Rehashing the past, if you feel you just have to, should be done in private with someone strong in the Lord. Otherwise it can easily be an avenue for the enemy to spew out on others all the old horrors you experienced from long ago. Lord help us all, as wounded as many of us are, to cast our cares on Him, to forgive those who’ve sinned against us and to keep our eyes on Jesus and the future He has for us all.

Christmas Miracle, 1875 and now

It was Christmas Eve, 1875. Ira D. Sankey, one of the most famous Christian singers of those times, was traveling by steamboat up the Delaware River. It was a calm, starlight evening and there were many passengers gathered on deck. Mr. Sankey was asked to sing. He stood leaning against one of the great funnels of the boat and his eyes were raised to heaven in quiet prayer.

It was his intention to sing a Christmas song but he was driven almost against his will to sing “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us”. There was a deep stillness. Words and melody, welling forth from the singer’s soul, floated out over the deck and the quiet river. Every heart was touched.

After the song ended, a man with a rough, weather beaten face came up to Mr. Sankey and said, “Did you ever serve in the Union army?” “Yes”, answered Mr. Sankey, “in the spring of 1860.” “Can you remember if you were doing guard duty on a bright, moonlight night in 1862?”   “Yes”, answered Mr. Sankey, very much surprised.

“So did I,” said the stranger, “but I was serving in the Confederate army. When I saw you standing at your post, I said to myself, ‘That fellow will never get away from here alive.’ I raised my musket and took aim. I was standing in the shadow, completely concealed while the full light of the moon was falling upon you.”

“At that instant, just as a moment ago, you raised you eyes to Heaven and began to sing. Music, especially song, has always had a wonderful power over me and I took my finger off the trigger. ‘Let him sing his song to the end,’ I said to myself. ‘I can shoot him afterwards. He’s my victim in all events and my bullet can’t miss him.’ But the song you sang then was the song you sang just now. I heard the words perfectly:

We are Thine, do Thou befriend us,

Be the guardian of our way.

When you had finished your song, it was impossible for me to take aim at you again. I thought, ‘The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty’ and my arm of its own accord dropped limp at my side.

“Since that time I have wandered about, far and wide. But when I just now saw you standing there praying as on that other occasion, I recognized you. Then my heart was wounded by your song. Now I ask you to help me find a cure for my sick soul.” Deeply moved, Mr. Sankey threw his arms about the man who in the days of the war had been his enemy. And that night the stranger found the Good Shepherd as his savior.

Well, Merry Christmas to you. I read this story this morning from “Streams in the Desert”, one of the books I read for my daily devotions. It really got through to me as not only a beautiful story but another striking miracle from the God of miracles and His Son, Jesus.

I guess I’m a person of my times and easily jaded by hype and razzle-dazzle. And I’ve heard the Christmas story so many times and seen it presented so many ways that I’m probably cloyed by it all, as probably many are. But this that I read just now, of an outstanding miracle happening at Christmas to two men, one of whom who went on to reach many thousands with his voice and music, was the jolt I needed to remind me again of the God of miracles.

Miracles have been a mainstay of my life in many ways. I’ve written about some of them and they continue to fascinate me. In this day of cynicism, postmodernism and demonic darkness, the good God is still doing miracles as much as ever, perhaps even increasing them.

So thank God for Christmas, a day in the year when we earthlings are almost forced and dragged, kicking and screaming, to remember the birth of, not only the greatest man that ever lived, but the eternal Son of God come down to earth as a poor helpless baby. Parents have to, often reluctantly, explain to their curious children what Christmas is all about. And in some fumbling way they’re almost forced to try to give a decent reason to their own kids why the whole world stops to remember the birth of a baby in Palestine two thousand years ago.

But that wasn’t God’s last miracle. Jesus’ life was more full of miracles by far than any other man that ever lived. And God is still doing miracles, at the time of Jesus, at the time of Ira Sankey and the Civil War and in our times as well. This is what I needed to hear today, not just something that happened 2000 years ago but that the miracle-working power of those times is just as alive today as it was then. That’s been my experience over and over, thank God, of a caring, loving Savior and Father, a “very present help in the time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

I hope you have a great Christmas and that we all keep in mind that it’s all still as real as it was in Bethlehem way back then. God’s not dead or even sick. He loves us and will protect and provide for us just as he did for dear Ira Sankey on Christmas Eve in 1875. God bless you, Merry Christmas.

Redeeming the time because the days are evil

What does the Bible mean, “Redeeming the time because the days are evil”? (Ephesians 5:16)  Actually there are so many deep truths in the Bible, often wrapped up in just a few brief words. This here is one of the really good examples of this.

It’s not even exclusively a Christian truth or teaching. You can be an atheist and still believe in the basics of diligence and making the most of your time. But when this thought is brought into a Christian context, as an injunction for Christian living, it takes on so much more meaning. Jesus said to His disciples, “I must work the works of Him that sent me while it is day. The night comes when no many can work.” (John 9:4)

One of the Devil’s greatest wiles is “Wait a while.” If the devil can’t defeat you any other way, he tries to get you to procrastinate and get busy with a little here and there. There’s even an obscure verse in the Old Testament that says just that. Someone was commanded to watch a prisoner but he escaped and the excuse was given, “While I was busy with a little here and there the man was gone.” (I Kings 20:40)

Oh, pitifully, sadly, how many of us may have to say the same to the Lord at the Judgment seat of Christ. We were “busy with a little here and there.” We didn’t redeem the time. Perhaps the most precious thing any one of us has, besides our souls, is our time. This was such an indelibly etched lesson on my soul during the times where I had life after death experiences which sadly were basically on the dark side. I had a foretaste of hell and one of the greatest impression was the time I’d wasted and frittered away, never to be recovered. I believe that was a foretaste of eternal hell and separation from God and the agony that can be felt of a wasted life, squandered in vanity.

The Lord so clearly commands us to “lay up treasure in heaven”. (Matthew 6:19) The Bible says, “He that sows sparingly shall reap also sparingly and he that sow bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” Yes, that doesn’t mean you have to be out passing out tracts on the streets or you’re not in God’s highest and best. But I think if we’re all honest, there are a lot of things that are pretty much worldly, mundane tasks that will flow into our lives like some infectious weeds on a lake so that nothing grows or even swims there anymore because of the weeds.

Jesus spoke of the seed sown on thorny ground that was chocked by “the cares and pleasures and riches of this life and brings no fruit to perfection.” (Luke 8:14) For so many, any thought of “redeeming the time” to “seek first His kingdom” gets further and further down their list every day. This is what I wrote about in “They Began to Make Excuse.” But it’s just not how things are suppose to be.

I guess it can come down to a lack of vision. “Where there is no vision the people perish”, (Proverbs 29:18) and I think for so many, this is what happens. They don’t even begin to redeem the time because they have lost the vision of the Lord’s commandments and teaching and His call on their lives.

It just all goes together, doesn’t it? I’ve written about so many aspects of this and they all tie together. I wrote about “Keep Your Heart with all Diligence”. I wrote about “The  Heavenly Vision” and this is also part of it, “redeeming the time”. If we keep these things, they’re some of the key components in staying alive spiritually and pulsating for Him. We are to be “not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

But of course for Christians this isn’t just a matter of constant, feverish physical work. Redeeming the time can mean “continuing instant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).Redeeming-the-time It’s a manifestation of a God-given inner awakeness that is engendered by the Spirit of God, a godly urgency to make the most of the precious life we have and the moment in eternity we have in the world to live for him and bring others to Him.

There’s more than enough for us to do in  this world, harvests to reap, seeds to sow, sheep to feed, prayers to pray, friends who need love, to keep us alive and busy in Godly service for Him and others till He returns or we pass on to our reward. It’s imperative that we “redeem the time” and not be caught like the unwise virgins at the return of the bridegroom, our lights gone out and we be found wanting for lack of our love for Him and our vision of His calling and will.

On human love and affection

One of the things I’m most thankful for is how the Lord has helped me over the years to become a more well-rounded, healthy-hearted human being. Becoming the kind of “normal” that’s no longer normal has been a goal of mine. Being warm, free, real, genuine, “without guile”, things like these were what I would catch glimpses of in my grandparents’ generation. I knew I didn’t have it. I didn’t know the word “sin” but in truth sin was a big part of my heart and mind.

Since coming to Christ, I’m thankful for the depths of the spiritual experience I’ve had in Him. But perhaps more precious is to find that He’s made me, over many years, to just be simpler, to live from my heart and even to react in a kinder way when things happen. It’s hard to explain and I know it’s a direct act of God, as well as the results of cleaving to Him, His Word and ways for many years.

It seems to me that this is missing more and more in society today. The Bible talks about “natural affection” and that one of the signs of the final days is that people will be “without natural affection” (II Timothy 3:3). Does this mean that affection, actual touching, hugging and all that sort of thing is actually ok in the Lord? We aren’t supposed to be so “holy” that we’re really freaked out at the idea of giving someone a spontaneous hug? Isn’t a hug a prelude to sex? That’s what it seems to now be thought of. And it’s just pitiful.

Society has lost so much in so short a time but one thing that’s been lost is just our natural love and humanity, to be warm, real, unafraid and unsuspicious. I heard a sad joke one time, “You can tell when you’re in the third world. Children are respectful to their parents.” Well, there are a lot of things in the third world where those folks have more light and Godliness than some of the more “advanced” nations. I’ve been there, lived there for decades and I was there again recently. People greet one another with a touch and it’s not considered a sexual come-on. In some ways, believe it or not, there’s less fear and suspicion in many of those places. Often there’s a simple genuineness and Godliness still there that’s not been eroded by the kind of thing that passes for progress in our more advanced countries.

You could think, “Well, Mark’s just longing for the past like people do, always thinking the past is better.” Maybe, but I don’t know if that’s it. I do think it’s a God thing. And I’m not sure all Christians really catch it. It’s so easy now to be caught up in the latest wave of fear and alarm over the many examples of sexual predators and people going very far beyond the bounds of civilized decorum.

Another one of the signs of the end is that people will be “incontinent” (also II Tim. 3:3). In this case it means “without restraint”, unable or unwilling to restrain themselves from their emotions and lusts. Doubtless that is widespread currently. I wrote about this recently in “Rampant, predatory males“.

But I don’t hear much if any at all about how the middle has just been hallowed out in the way of what is still considered the proper, happy medium. We’re so afraid and affected by the extremes that the Godly middle of “natural affection” and healthy wholesomeness is now an endangered species.

We can’t do that. And if we do this, what would people think? And if I do that, she’ll suspect I really mean the other. So it’s safest just to do nothing. Just play it safe.” And slowly at first but more and more you find that “the love of many shall grow cold” (Matthew 24:12), as Jesus said would happen in the future to come.

The solution? Fight back. Keep loving your neighbor, ardently. Keep giving hugs. Keep being childlike, simple in your love, and “without guile” (John 1:47). Think a bit less about what the other person might think. Fear begets fear but also love begets love. Christian-loveOne person walking in love and, I might add, the freedom and childlike genuineness of the Spirit, will beget the same in others. It was actually the sincere, visible love that was manifested among Christians that had one of the greatest impacts on the ancient Roman world.

Right now it seems everyone is heading for the door. Not only “truth has perished” (Jeremiah 7:28); in our times, love has perished too. So while you’re all into fighting the Devil and spiritual warfare, don’t forget to “condescend to men of low estate” (Romans 12:16). Don’t let the present climate of fear, suspicion and extremism rob you of your crown of genuine Christian love which includes hugs, touches, “natural affection” and the type of behavior that used to be “normal”, rich and real, but is now virtually extinct.

Love! “Be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another…” (Ephesians 4:32) Don’t let this present climate of sexual stalking, followed by an excessive swing of the pendulum to extreme apprehension and prudery draw you into this current worldly maelstrom of post modern emotional deadness. “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1) “Whom the Son has made free shall be free in deed.” (John 8:36)

Does hypocrisy disprove Christianity?

It seems a day doesn’t go by that some famous Christian is not exposed as a hypocrite or even a felon.  Some writers have real joy as they go about to show some believer to actually be a scoundrel and fraud. And of course the implication is that their faith in God is all a sham, a lie, a falsehood. After all, if the Christian is actually guilty of wrong doing, that must be proof that his or her faith in God and in Jesus is actually the main thing wrong with them. Christianity is thus proven again to not be true, the reasoning goes.

But actually there’s a real breakdown in the logic on that one , even though it’s one of the best lines the godless world has to turn people away from God and Jesus. I should know because this illogic worked on me for years. As I wrote in “Raised Racist”, I was surrounded virtually on all sides by church-going Christians as I grew up. And my family were Unitarians, a denomination that (nominally at least) believes in God but not in Jesus as the Son of God. It came from the Deist movement of the 1700’s.

But it was explained to me, when I was growing up, that our family was actually a good deal better than the Christians around us. That was because we were not racists. Our family didn’t use “the N word” which was still utterly the norm amoung people in central Texas and the southern USA when I was growing up.

And so, since the Christians were hypocrites, saying they believed in God and in Jesus but actually being filled with hatred towards their fellow man, therefore we seemed to feel we had every reason to dismiss the claims of Christ because of the failures of His followers. Of course there were other things too. While I did meet some pretty sweet and sincere people who were Christians when I was growing up, especially my dad’s parents, still there were things that those folks could be accused of.

They were not intellectuals. They and most of their families never went to university. So we could look down our noses at them that they believed in God because they were sweet simpletons who, if they’d just had more education, would then know that God, Jesus and the Bible is all just a lie. That’s how I used to look at it and it seemed right to me. Christians were just hypocrites. Or, if we found some who were not, then they were just gullible people who didn’t know any better than to believe those ancient myths and fables. That was my faith; those were my foundations that I stood on when it came to religion and Christianity.

But like the Bible says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” (I Corinthians 1:19) You’d think some honest university logician could break down this unsound reasoning in a minute. So a Christian is found to be a hypocrite, therefore Christianity is false? That’s not rational. If your math teacher is found to be a hypocrite, do you dismiss all the truth he taught you in the classroom? Of course not.

The classic retort to this irrationality is that people are “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. It’s no secret that Christians have (sadly too often) fallen short of the extremely high standard we’re given from God and that these misdemeanors, faux pas and sometimes outright crimes and felonies have been exposed to the world. But this quid pro quo of therefore we must throw out the baby of Jesus Christ and Christianity in general because of the fouled “bathwater” of some Christians just doesn’t add up.

I don’t know of anything else in this world that can actually get to the depths of your heart and change it at its foundation the way Jesus Christ can and does. Other religions may try to tell you what is right and point you in the right direction. But Jesus offers us to come into our souls and lives, transforming us into new creatures and then gives us the power to live lives driven and inspired by the very power and truth of God Himself.

But we still have free will. We still have to choose to obey His Spirit within us each day. We are still tempted to “sin”, to selfishness, to do less than the best for Him. And that’s when hypocrisy so often comes in. But the world is always watching. The youth and the undecided and, sadly also, the accusers of our faith and the opposers of Christianity are waiting anxiously to detect any false step, any falsehood, any “leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1), as Jesus said. And so often they do find it.

But for me, what I found is that, as they say in Texas, “That dog won’t hunt.” I found that, even though some Christians are hypocrites, that doesn’t negate the fact that there is a God , the God of the Bible and that He did in fact send His only Son into the world to die for our sins. So I was distracted by the well known hypocrisy of the Christians and I didn’t see the much greater reality, the much more important thing that there is a God. The spiritual world is actually real, I have a soul and it’s going some place after I die.

So, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t be tricked by the admitted actuality that some Christians are hypocrites and so throw out the divine baby, Jesus Christ, because of the dirty bathwater of imperfect modern Christianity. That reasoning is the downfall of millions upon millions of lost souls in our times. It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy and, God, I know I was one. Don’t let it happen to you.

“When he came to himself…”

It says of the Prodigal son, “When he came to himself he said… ‘I will arise and go to my father and say unto him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.’” (Luke 15:17).  I think that today those words have had more meaning for me than they’ve almost ever had. Because some dear folks I know told me of an astounding victory and breakthrough in the life of one of their children who’s suffered for years from what has seemed to be mental disorders.

My friends told me today that their adult child, who’s been diagnosed with what is called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), came to their room today and asked if he could talk with them. That in itself was highly unusual. Basically he told them, weeping, that he didn’t want to be mad at them anymore. He didn’t want to stay alone in his room and to isolate himself the way he’s been doing for years.

The magnitude of this event is perhaps not easily seen unless you know how it’s been for this family for so long. Just last week this young man was emotional and accusing his parents again of all kinds of horrible things when the reality has been that they’ve gone to the nth degree and extra mile to try to help and be patient with his troubled mind and heart. And the parents, being former missionaries and still active Christians, have taken this all to the Lord countless times as well as going to a number of healthcare professionals about it and also help groups.

But in the end, it seems like the Lord just was somehow able to break through in this young man’s life, very similarly to how it was for the Prodigal son that Jesus told about in Luke 15. There, a young man from evidently a good upbringing decided to leave it all to pursue his own way. The end result was that his life was basically ruined and almost over as the result of his rebellion against his father.

But, “he came to himself”. What an incredible way to describe it. The Bible calls it repentance but even that has to be given by God in a sense, a realization in the deepest place in one’s heart of the huge error of your ways and a “metanoia”, a complete change of heart, mind and direction.

With this dear one, it seems like so much of the problem hasn’t actually been as much mental as it’s been a matter of an angry heart, unhappy about how life was going. In this case, where the parents have had very little communication with their son for years besides matters involving physical things, suddenly they’ve had intense, long and sincere talks that have ended in their son asking if he could hug his dad, something that was just unthinkable for years.

So for me I’m just blown away by all this as these friends have been worn down by the burden and grind that this has all been for a long time now. I and others are praying that this miracle will be every bit as much as it seems to be and that there’ll be a real consolidation of this marvelous breakthrough.

As someone has said, “When the heart’s right, all is right.” Many of the mannerisms that have been normal for so long evidently have virtually vanished overnight. This absolutely miraculous regeneration in this young man’s heart, to have the grace to see what part he has played in it all and to sincerely want to change and amend his ways, seems to be a mighty act of God’s grace and mercy on this dear family.

So I just wanted to let you know the good news, how that God and Jesus are still working deeply in the lives of people today , doing the humanly impossible, answering prayer and healing souls and hearts in our days and times, every bit as much as we’ve read about in His Word that was done in past. Oh, happy day!

 

Living by faith that God will supply all your needs

For those serving the Lord in mission work, you sometimes hear them speak of “living by faith.” This usually has an economic meaning. The Scriptural principle behind it is that if you’re “seeking first the Kingdom of God” as Jesus said, then “all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Another well known verse that’s claimed by those who live by faith is what Paul said, “But my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

As you might figure, it can be a controversial doctrine. Some would say, “But what if everyone did that?!” Others will quote Paul who said, “Those who shall not work shall not eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) And it should go without saying that “living by faith” and serving God, seeking first the Kingdom of God, in no way implies any lack of work. It’s just that it’s work like you see in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. Folks who take this direction have verses that become much more alive to them than when they didn’t live by faith before.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) Those living by faith and serving the Lord feel they’ve come to a full-time service for the Lord which has delivered them from daily serving mammon and the systems of this world.

Is all this mandatory? Will a person go to hell if they’re not living by faith, fully serving the Lord? No. But a deeper look at the New Testament does pretty clearly show that this was the nature of the lives of the early apostles and disciples of Jesus. Let’s face it; so much of our lives is described in what Jesus said,

Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment…  …If then God so clothes the grass, which is to day in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? And seek not you what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, neither be of a doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after and your Father knows that you have need of these things.” (Luke 12:22-30)

Such famous, familiar words from the Lord. But how much they’ve been glossed over and set aside by so many believers as having no real message, meaning or promise to us practically in the real world of this day.

But when you’re “living by faith” on the mission field and all you have is the Lord (since you’ve gone into all the world and win souls), you very much see the promises and provision of God utterly come through for you, even in some of the strangest and most trying times. I wrote about one experience like that which my former wife and I had in Sweden when we first got married . You can read about that in “Foolhardy Faith”, an amazing time of miraculous provision, here.

“Well, Mark, that’s great but it’s not for me. And not for most of us, as you surely know. I need to have a normal job and a normal life like the rest of society. I’m a Christian, I go to church. But all this fanatical missionary stuff is just too far out.”

What I’ve found is that God has ways of sifting His people. He’s not trying to be mean to us. It’s just that we have more safety, security and even provision as well as meaning and happiness in serving Him, even full time, than we do in having a worldly job six days a week and then going to church on Sunday. Admitted, this is the way virtually all Christians live in these times.

Another simple thing Jesus said about this which is so often overlooked is “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust do corrupt and thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth or rust corrupt or thieves break through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20) Heard all that before? Certainly. But how many understand it or take it to heart and try to put it into practice.

To end with, here’s some good news. In the final days before the Lord’s return, we’re not really going to be able to serve Mammon the way most Christians do now. The Bible says that “no man will be able to buy or sell” (Revelation 13:17) unless they have the mark of the Beast of the final Anti-Christ government. The sifting will be pretty strong then.

Christians, if they want to remain Christians, will have to trust God then and probably even be serving the Lord much more than they do now. And their economics? God’s got that covered then, just as He already does now. Revelation 12:6 & 14 speaks of the believers of those times, “The woman [the believing body of Christ on earth, the bride of Christ] fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there [3 ½ years] from the face of the serpent.In the end, before the Lord’s return, there’ll be a sifted, separated, fruit-bearing body of believers throughout the earth, living by faith and trusting Him to supply all their needs.

“Mark, you said sadness is a sin?”

I recently started a blog post by saying that sadness is a sin. I got a couple of responses from two friends who disagreed with me. Actually most seemed to agree with the post but these two friends brought up some points. So perhaps others felt the same. For one, I hope that they didn’t only read the first line. Here’s the blog post I wrote on “Sadness.

I’ve thought about what I wrote and I do feel that I believe it to be true. As I wrote in the article, I fight and pray against sadness every day. I’ve had a very blessed life but there are also things that have happened, prayers that have not been answered up till now and just things that I won’t go into here.

Actually, sadness is sort of a big word, a little like “love”. You can love your car, your dog, your sports team, your country or perhaps your Lord and God. But in English it just all boils down to that simple little word, love. So often “love” needs to be understood within the context and sometimes explained. I think it’s the same with sadness.

I made it clear in the blog post I wrote that I was not just making some sweeping, blanket statement that all sadness is sin. That certainly cannot be supported by Scripture and it’s just not true. But I’ve found in these things that at times we press the limits of how much language can work for us. Have you ever tried to say something that there’s just not words for? Maybe with someone you love deeply, it seems that the language just isn’t full and complete enough to match what you’re trying to say?

So it is with sadness. I went on in the article to explain that senseless sadness, Godless sadness, destructive sadness, empty sadness are the things that often try to befriend us and become our constant companions. I’ve had several people write me to say that they had never had someone understand this the way they read it in the blog post and they were glad to have it explained.

Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of” (II Corinthians 7:10), and I brought up this side of things that “Godly sorrow” is similar to pointless sadness, only it’s not pointless. So, all in all, there are times where we just need to have a greater discerning of things, of what is facing us and what is trying to take root in our hearts. Is it from God and working a good work in us? Or not?

I just yesterday heard of an incredible story of some dears friends who had a loved one come to their room and breakdown in tears, apologizing for the extremely rough time they’d been going through because of the harshness and unloving attitude that this one had displayed towards them for a long time. There was real remorse, real sorry and sadness that there had been such divisions and acrimony for so long. So there was sadness, but it wasn’t pointless, empty, destructive sadness.

As Paul said of one situation he knew of with the Corinthians in II Corinthians 2 of someone who had a mighty repentance and change but also great sadness and remorse was also involved. He told the Corinthians they ought to “forgive and comfort him lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow”, going on to bring in what often happens in these things, “lest Satan get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (II Corinthians 2:7 & 11)

As Paul alludes to here, Satan just loves to pile on us when we are down and sadness is one of his favorite tools. Like I wrote about in “Conviction or Condemnation”, the devil will stop at nothing to destroy us and if he can’t get us lifted up in pride, then he tries to keep us in perpetual defeat through condemnation or maybe what could be called “condemnation-lite”, that pointless destructive sadness that we’re talking about.

So I will stick to my guns when saying that sadness is, or certainly can be, a sin. No, not every single time anyone is sad is that sin. But it’s probably good to really take a closer look at it to see what kind of sadness it is. Some of them really aren’t your friend or are good for you.