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.

Does God use organizations? Or individuals?

Ever wondered how God works best, with a group of organized individuals? Or with individuals alone? It does kind of mater. Should we endeavor to find a group of like-minded folks who share the same vision, goals and understanding of the Lord as we have? Or should we concentrate on our personal relationship with the Lord and just follow as best we can the Word and the directing of God’s Spirit?

Of course the best way to find the answer to this is to look to God’s Word. But the answer that comes back may not be conclusively for one side or the other. If you were to say that God blesses and usually wants us to work within some larger organized structure, you could use the example of Israel of old and how He raised them up and blessed them as a nation for centuries. It was their unity, their cohesion and their subjection to His laws and prophets that made them what they were. Or in some cases what they were not. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper.” (II Chronicles 20:20)

But there were times when this wasn’t the way the Lord blessed or delivered His people. The Lord raised up the shepherd boy David, virtually a child, to deliver Israel from Goliath and the Philistines in his day. Before that, Saul’s son Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few” (I Samuel 14:6) and then he and his armor bearer routed the Philistines and turned the tide of battle when the larger army and forces of Israel were bottled up and tied down.

“Mark, you’re wrong. God prefers organizations and the safety of the flock.”

Yeah, sometimes He does work that way. But equally, some have traded their insecure liberty in following God individually for safety and security but ultimately bondage in Christian organizations that stopped truly follow God generations ago.

It looks like you can’t make a really solid case that God only works one of these ways or the other. But what about in Christian times? Was the Early Church a highly organized, structured, top-down outfit, demanding subjugation and dominion over all the multitudes who came to Christ in the first century?

Well, back at the time of the Early Church, they did have some organization and they did try to shepherd and feed the tremendous wave of people who kept coming to the Lord from all over the known world of that time. But it was centuries before there was the kind of stultifying, soul-quenching “organization” that the Catholic Church, as well as the various Orthodox churches, came to be by the time of the so-called Dark Ages.

Maybe it’s just because there are so many kinds of people. Some, perhaps the majority, are more followers than they are pioneers and spirit-led disciples who can really forge ahead on their own. Admittedly, not everyone is going to turn out like the Apostle Paul or some of the famous missionaries and pioneers of history who just couldn’t be tied down in some daily routine that was supposed to be the fulfillment of their obligations to the Lord’s call to discipleship.

But maybe we should note that the Lord did call individuals to personal discipleship and to even leave behind their present life to be “fishers of men”. (Matthew 4:19) He said we should pray to the Father that He would “send forth laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Is that best done on a huge scale with much leadership attention to detail, where the laborers need to constantly be checking back with headquarters far away to make sure every move they make is ok with the council of the elders? Or is it best portrayed by Spirit-filled and called individuals who go out, even “not knowing whether they went”? (Hebrews 11:8) I suggest, and I’ve experienced, that this second mode seems to work better, even though it’s rarer and some folks just think it’s almost dangerous.

“How can we just let these individuals out there to roam around, saying whatever they will and with no accountability to anyone?!”

But if you look at the record of God’s Word, as well as Jewish and Christian history, some of the greatest things God ever did, some of the greatest works He ever started were where there was no controlling head but God , no organization but that supplied by the Holy Spirit, no directors or direction except His Word and the leading voice and presence of the Lord.

Sometimes, alone and outnumbered, people of God have had to utterly depend on Him for support, direction, inspiration and just the whole caboodle. But the Lord came through wonderfully time and again. Isn’t that what happened with Noah? With Abraham? With the Apostle Paul and the pioneers of the Early Church? In some situations that might seem weak and unorganized by man, God had some of His mightiest works done through His frail but yielded individuals. I might add that ones like Saint Patrick and many of the highly effective early Celtic Christian apostles were like this. Could we add ones like Dr. Livingstone and Florence Nightingale to this list?

And is there a reason I’m even writing this? Perhaps because in my own life I’ve come to feel that at times when I had no one but God to lean on and direct me, that at those times some of the most amazing things happen. So if you’re feeling quenched and subdued in some kind of Christian organization that is supplying your need for fellowship but is slowly sapping your faith, fire and initiative, perhaps you might find greater blessings in simply doing and living the truth you know in your heart that you realize your religious organization is just not following. Perhaps you need to follow God into greater fruitfulness, greater faith and a closer relationship to Him as you follow and obey the Lord, where so often modern Christian organizations just won’t be taking or directing you.

Coming together

It’s been heartening to read about the outpouring of help from so many to the flooding disaster in Texas. Right now I’m in Indonesia, 12 time zones away from my base in Texas but I’ve very much kept up with events there. There’s just something Godly about genuine outgoing concern for others that’s expressed in sacrificial giving and breaking out of your routine in order to rescue others from the peril they’re in.

If there’s anything that Jesus is remembered for, even by unbelievers and those of other faiths, it’s that He was a caring, loving, sympathetic man. He took action. He went out of His way. Jesus got up from dinner with His friends to go help someone who’d come there to plead for His help. And when we do this, as individuals or in mass, we are “touched with the feeling of their infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15), like He was. And, doubtless, this is what God wants.

So I’ve been gladdened to read about the activities of so many now to try to do what they can to help make things better in south-east Texas after such “unprecedented”, almost Biblical floods. I’ve read that there’s been virtually no looting, so different from a similar hurricane disaster just to the east of Houston, Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005.

We aren’t supposed to be proud, there’s not a place in the Bible that promotes or condones pride in any way. But it is nice every so often to feel good about the people and place you come from. I wrote something about this a few years ago in “Texas People”. I’ve always known that, contrary to many popular stereotypes, there are some very kind, humble and godly people in Texas. So it’s been encouraging to see this being manifest right now in the aftermath of this tragedy.

And that’s the funny thing about tragedies, isn’t it? King David of long ago once said, “And in my prosperity I said, ‘I shall never be moved’; Lord, by Your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong. You did hide Your face and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30: 6 & 7) It’s natural and human to like and want prosperity and certainly there’s quite a lot of prosperity in Texas, especially around the Houston area. And although it’s nominally a very Christian city and state, very many people have a real problem with materialism. Jesus once said, “Beware of covetousness for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” (Luke 12:15)

So as terrible and destructive as this disaster has been, there likely has been an almost unwanted silver lining for many. They’ve escaped with their lives. They’ve hopefully seen “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13:22). And in their dire straits and extreme dangers they’ve just been through, the real things of life have hopefully become clearer to them than they were when everything was just coasting along and they were “rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing”. (Revelation 3:17)

Chastening, judgment, loss, these are things that virtually no one wants to go through. But for those of us who know the Lord, we know from the Word that these things happen and that they can be for our good, often for our very good. And equally it puts the onus on those who have not been so affected, to see what kind of response it will illicit in them. Will they be like the Good Samaritan, stopping to help the stranger and truly loving their neighbor? Or will they be like the religious hypocrites, the Pharisees from Jerusalem who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10: 31 & 32) when they saw someone in need.

So it’s a time when God is really working in the lives of many millions. And from what I’ve read and heard, a lot of good has come of this disaster, as strange as it may seem. “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve even noticed that there seems to be (temporarily at least) much less hate-filled squawking from the extreme left and extreme right in the States. It’s hard to talk about “fake news” and “them” when the desperate realities of your fellow man are staring you right in the face and you have to make a decision what you’re going to do, even though that person in need might not be of your race or political party.

So, personally, I’m thanking God that I can see at least a little bit of real coming together. Of people forgetting their differences long enough to help those who may die without the immediate help of their neighbors, friends and countrymen. Love in action is what it’s really all about and the love of God moving in the hearts of people to love others and to manifest that love sacrificially is a wonderful, heartening sight. Praise God!

“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)