Fighting the fight of faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cast your bread upon the waters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To whom shall we go?

find Christians flatGod “sets the solitary in families”. (Psalm 68:6) But often for those who long for the higher road in this life of Christian discipleship, it can be a lonely trek. It breaks my heart at times when I hear of ones who truly seek to not only be a Christian but to also take up their cross, as Jesus said, and follow Him. How can someone do that today? Where is anyone or any group of people truly following the original commandments of Jesus and the pattern of the book of Acts, who daily, whole heartedly are laying down their lives to be, in this hour of world history, all that the first Christians and disciples were?

Can it be done today? Is anyone really doing it in our times? With the Early Church in the book of Acts, it was just a monumental indigenous groundswell of the Spirit of God and “multitudes were added to the church, both of men and women”. They worked together, taught one another, encouraged one another and had a strong bond that developed into a whole society of saved souls, delivered from the power of darkens and translated into a whole new creation, a people of God made alive through Jesus which quickly spread across the world of those times.

Baptist churchIs it still the same today? Well, maybe somewhat. There still are Christians, there are churches you can go to, sweet people there and some of them will share with you the fundamentals of the faith. You can stand and sing with them on Sunday and imbibe the atmosphere of faith there. You can even go to their small groups or home churches where you usually can get to know individual Christians better and get a somewhat stronger feeding from the Word.

But I know for some people, perhaps many people, this really isn’t enough. Some at least just feel a God-given longing in their hearts for a much greater portion of the whole Christian experience. They may not even be able to express it but they have a yearning to be true disciples of Jesus, like so many were at the time of the early Church and the book of Acts.

freedom fellowship flatThey don’t want a once-a-week experience in church. They can just feel that it’s a distant echo of the original Kracatoan explosion of the Spirit that was the original wave of Christianity and all that was a part of what brought the truth of Jesus to our world. They want to live for the Lord as the first Christians did. God has put it in their hearts to be dissatisfied with a life of secularism and compromise with the world. They just know there’s a universe of joy, service, experience, purpose and fulfillment that is there, somewhere. But they can’t find it.

At least at times in my life I’ve been privileged to be around like-minded people who joyously took up the call of Christian discipleship and who at some times and in some places banded together in a similar fashion to the disciples of the Early Church. But many will say, “Well, that didn’t last. They didn’t all stay together like that or keep their fervor unto the end.” True, they didn’t. Still, it was a brilliant fire while it lasted and I feel at least that it was a more fruitful and fulfilling form of Christianity that I experienced in those times.

to whom flatIn a sense, there was something to join. There’s always a danger with that as it’s so easy for anything that becomes organized to fall prey to the world of things that can go wrong when people are organized in any way. But for people now, if someone feels a strong urging of the Lord to follow Him in full time Christian service, what are they going to do? “To whom shall we go?” as Peter once said (John 6:68).

He knew for sure that Jesus and the discipleship they had in Him was the only thing real that was around. But Jesus isn’t alive in the flesh with us on earth right now. And maybe you can find a good church. But almost certainly the Spirit will bear witness in your heart that what you find there is a sad far cry from the deeds, acts and words of the disciples in the Early church.

disciple in AfricaIs there a happy ending to this? I wish I knew a better one. Right now I don’t have any church, group or denomination that I can point you to which I know is fully, whole heartedly following the Lord like the Early Church did. I know a sweet couple in one foreign field or a tiny little association of a few families somewhere else. But it’s mostly a very scattered stand of rugged individuals who are trying to remain on the wall of His Will and service that I’m aware of.

So what can I offer you who want to truly serve the Lord? I can tell you that you can follow His Words as found in the Gospels and the New Testament. Jesus Christ is still “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Even if there’s no band of brothers who will take you in and show you how to do it, the Lord Himself sees your ardent desire to know Him, serve Him and lay down your life for Him in these times.

Even if there’s nothing to join, you can still join yourself to His Words. He will see it, honor it and may even lead you to other likeminded Christian disciples, even though they be few and scattered in these times.

Keep the faith. Keep holding on to your crown, your vision and desire to live for Him in your generation. It’s still as true today as it was 2700 years ago, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are perfect.” (II Chronicles 16:9) Maybe you don’t think you have a perfect heart. But if your desire is to truly serve the Lord, He surely sees your heart and is fully able to bring you into contact with like-minded people who can help you on your quest. It’ll take a miracle, but that’s what He does. Keep the faith.

“Lift up now your eyes”

Lift up now your eyes flatGod sometimes tells people what to do, often in fact. And He’s still doing that today, although you don’t hear much about that in most churches. One of the most famous times this happened was when God spoke to Abraham, 4000 years ago. Did Abraham obey? Well, yes, mostly. But in this case, it seems there was a period of time before Abraham fully obeyed. There’s really a lot we can learn from this.

Now the Lord had said to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, and from your kindred and from your father’s house into a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1)  Like I said, in many ways Abram did obey. In the first leg of their journey, Abram’s dad and Abram and Lot, his nephew and their families, did move as far as Haran, nearly 600 miles up the Euphrates from Ur, where they started out. Pretty good, no? Only, the Lord had told Abram to separate from his kindred and his father’s house. Still, it was a big step in the right direction of full obedience.

Abraham leaving HaranThen, when Abram was 75 years old, he pulled up stakes again and headed south towards the land that God had been leading him to. But it says “and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4). So, he was still with his family who it turns out were not on the same page as Abraham when it came to the things of the Lord. But the Lord hadn’t given up on Abraham and was in the process of performing the work that He had started in him. (See Philippians 1:6)

We read that “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle.Abraham and Lot(Genesis 13:7) So Abraham, the man of God that he was, said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.” (Genesis 13:8) The result was that they decided to part ways and this is the place where Lot looked towards the lush valley of Sodom, near the Dead Sea, and decided to head down to the valley while Abram stayed in the high country.

But then what happened? What did God then do or was able to do then? Here’s what it says in Genesis 13:14 & 15. “And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, ‘Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever.’

God couldn’t and didn’t fully bless Abram till Abram fully obeyed God. “Lift up now your eyes.” Now that Abram had finally separated himself from his kindred and his father’s house, God was able to perform the fullness of what He had planned.

Roll ye away flatAnd the Bible is just completely full of other examples like this. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He told the ones present to “roll away the stone” (John 11:39) that was covering the place Lazarus was buried. In another place Jesus told someone to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (John 9:7) They did and they were healed. Jesus told the 10 lepers, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And, get this, “It came to pass that as they went they were healed.” (Luke 17:14)

Sometimes we have to do “the wenting”. We have to do the obeying. It seems like such a simple thing but it’s so utterly important. Jesus raised the dead but they were required to roll away the stone. Jesus healed the lepers but they had to have the faith and obedience to do what Jesus said and to go show themselves to the priest. It seems so simple but actually it’s huge.

So it behooves all of us to search our hearts and to even bring it to the Lord in prayer, “Am I failing to fully obey you in something?” And in our cases, it doesn’t even have to be some specific “personal voice of God” event in our lives. For those of our times, we have the whole Bible to look in to find God’s will for our lives. Are we walking according to the instruction Jesus gave His disciples? If we want His blessings and protection on our lives, are we following closely the instruction He gave in His Word, even what Jesus taught His disciples when He was here on earth?

I think that many of us may find that we’ve not been fully obeying the voice of God through His Word and that’s mostly likely why so many are not near the fullness of the blessings that God would bestow our lives. May the Lord mightily help us to have the vision to more strongly and fully follow the voice of God and the Word of God so that He can do with us what He knows is the very best for our lives.

One hundredfold, now in this time

one hundredfold flatSometimes we think life is really rough and then the Lord comes along and just “blows our mind”, as people used to say. We’re grimly armed for battles and to survive the worst we think will come. And then, almost out of nowhere, the Lord “pours out a blessing that there isn’t room enough to hold it.” (Malachi 3:10)

“Oh, Mark, what are you talking about?! Life is very hard and rough and the Lord is there to comfort us and strengthen us as we wearily trudge along. Someday, when we get to heaven, then Mark, things will be nice and happy and heavenly.”

It’s sure easy to think that way and there are times when it is like that. But not all the time. And that kind of attitude can almost end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. For those of us who not only believe in Jesus and go to church once week but who’ve taken the challenge to “take up your cross and follow Me” (Luke 9:23), there are some amazing promises of blessings, in this lifetime. Actually, I’m presently experiencing some of the most amazing blessings of my entire life. At some point I’ll get more specific about this but it’s really been on the scale of “above all we can ask or think.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

And Jesus promised this to His followers and disciples. Here’s what He said, “And everyone that has forsaken house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My namesake shall receive one hundredfold now in this time, and in the world to come, eternal life.”  (Mark 10:30)

Did you get that? It’s not just all pie in the sky for us. Jesus promised that those who have forsaken all, those who are serving Him “here and now” won’t have to wait for the “there and then” before getting some measure of reward. He said they would receive 100 fold “now in this time”, and in the world to come eternal life.

“OK, Mark, I can see you’re really beginning to get tripped off now. You’re going down the road of the prosperity gospel preachers, promising abundant life and lots of material wealth to Christians.”

whoever forsakes flatNope, I don’t think I am. The verse I shared above made the stipulation that “forsaking all” was the prerequisite for the 100 fold blessings that the Lord said would be to His followers “now in this time”. And I can understand that for probably the vast majority of Christians, the very words “forsaking all” (Luke 14:33) are almost unknown to them. This is just another of the very many things that Jesus taught that never are almost ever mentioned in church.

But for those who are following Him, He did say that there would be persecution but at the same time, there would be this 100 fold blessing in this lifetime. It’s sort of sad in many ways. So many Christians today are not really “living Godly in Christ Jesus” and so they are not “suffering persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). Also, possibly because their pastors never taught them about this, they’re not even close to forsaking all and perhaps that may be why they’re not having the experience of really having the blessings of God mightily being poured out on them.

holy spirit which flatThere’s just something about obedience. “He gives the Holy Spirit to them that obey Him.” (Acts 5:32) Of course it’s not that most Christians are utterly disobedient. They do obey some. They worship, some read their Bibles, go to church and are walking according to the light they have since so many churches serve a rather thin gruel of spiritual feeding rather than the pure milk of the Word, much less anything approaching strong meat.

But I was just struck this morning by the significance of that verse above, Mark 10:30. Part of my original Christian experience involved a commitment to “forsake all” in order to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” (Mark 16:15) And it has at times been a rough and rugged, even lonely road. But it’s really not the full and complete picture if we allow ourselves to fixate on all the battles and little sufferings that can come along.

Because it’s really true what the Lord said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) I’ve had a very blessed life and the Lord’s promise of 100 fold in this lifetime is currently a theme playing out in my life so strongly that I’ve struggled at times to even believe what’s going on right now.

So don’t let them kid you. God doesn’t want you to endure years of depressing, fruitless emptiness. That’s not the picture. He is able to do “above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), in this lifetime.

Familiarity

Familiarity flatHere’s a question for you, “Is familiarity good or bad?” “Um, Mark, that’s a trick question, isn’t it?” You’re right, it is. Because it pretty much depends on how you define familiarity. It can be good when we are getting familiar with a situation or even with people we know so that we’re more at ease and able to function in a knowledgeable and capable way.

But there can certainly be a downside to familiarity. What can happen is that, as we get more familiar with a situation or especially with people we love, we can lose the original respect, esteem and even love we first had for them. So familiarity can be an avenue by which a lot of serious damage can be done to our relationships, often with the ones we should love the most.

get behind me flatI was trying to think of some examples of familiarity in the Bible. The actual word “familiarly” isn’t in the Bible. But I thought of at least two possible examples of where familiarity may have been creeping in. Jesus told His disciples that they would be going up to Jerusalem and that He would be crucified and would rise again the third day. Whereupon it says that His top disciple, Peter, began to rebuke the Lord and telling the Son of God that this was not going to happen. What did Jesus do? He sternly rebuked Peter, or actually the devil that was speaking through Peter at that moment saying, “Get behind me, Satan, for you savor not the things of God but the things that be of men.” (Mark 8:33)

Had Peter momentarily gotten a little familiar with the Lord? A little too buddy-buddy and feeling he needed to step in and correct the Lord when he may have thought that Jesus was being a little negative? We certainly know that Peter was not speaking by the Spirit right then and, as Jesus said, he was thinking in the ways of man and not in the ways of God.

Familiarity can be like that. It can just pop up so easily, like a perennial weed and the next thing you know you’re totally out of the Spirit, speaking in a Godless, worldly way to often the ones you’re closest to. What a device of the devil that is; something we all can run into almost any time, if we’re not on guard.

nathan and David flatAnother example that comes to mind is the prophet Nathan and King David. One time King David had been mulling over the idea of building a great temple for the God of Israel. So he asked his chief prophet, one of his top advisers, Nathan, what he thought of the idea. Nathan replied, “Go, do all that is in your heart for the Lord is with you.”  (II Samuel 7:3)

But that night, when alone with God, Nathan heard the Lord telling him the exact opposite of what he had told David earlier. Was Nathan being a little familiar with David, speaking “off the cuff”? Was Nathan being not really in the Spirit so that he actually gave council that was the opposite of the mind of God? Seems like it.

But like I said, there are aspects of familiarity can be good. It reminds me of the sweet song seen in the old movie, “The King and I”, where some of the words were, “Getting to know you, getting to feel free and easy.” Being comfortable and at ease with people can be a wonderful thing, as long as we can be aware of the potential pitfalls to it.

And actually it’s possible to get familiar with the things of the Lord, His Word or even the Lord Himself so that we just don’t want to read our Bible since we think we already know all it says. Or the Lord can become so sweet, close and trustworthy that we begin to not treat Him and our relationship with Him with the awe, respect and Godly fear that we should.

I guess all this can get you to the point where we’re like what Paul said one time, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!”  (Romans 7:24) You just wonder, “Yes, familiarity’s such a subtle, fatal trap. But what’s the solution?!”

Well for one, if you don’t recognize the problem, you won’t even know to search for a solution. Just being aware of the stark danger of familiarity is a start. But perhaps, like any really heinous, debilitating sin, if nothing else, we can confess it to God and others. A verse that pulled me though some of the worst times of my life is, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9)

if we confess-flattenedWhat a promise. If we confess it, He’ll cleanse it. It also says to “confess and forsake” our sins (Proverbs 28:13). But at times they are so deep that it seems at first all we can do is to confess it and ask Him to work at the deepest level of our heart to cleanse us. That may be how it is for some people and familiarity, whether it’s with their mate, their family or with the Lord and His Word itself. It’s the beginning of the victory if you even can recognize the problem and then bring it to the Lord in prayer, confessing it and looking for His cleansing.

May we all be delivered from the clutches of familiarity which drags us out of His Spirit and back into our worldly, fleshly, unregenerate selves. “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:32 & 3)

Tie up in port?

launch out flatThere’s just something about going on the initiative to the attack that brings victory. This isn’t specifically a Christian teaching but actually it’s known and spoken of across many platforms and schools of thought. But certainly for the people of faith, you really have to keep wanting to make progress or you’re well on your way to becoming an “old bottle” (Luke 5:37), like Jesus talked about.

A lot of Christians think they should be conservative when actually they really should be progressive. OK, here in the States both of those terms are thickly slathered with extra added meaning. So let’s unpack that and break it down. What do you mean by conservative and progressive? If conservative means timid, supine, hesitant, hold-the-fort, old-fashioned and both critical and fearful of change, then I really don’t think true Christians should be conservative. If progressive means a desire to go further, to achieve enduring positive progress, to dream dreams that can become the Godly reality of tomorrow, then progressive sounds the best bet to me.

And yes, I certainly know that in the superheated socio-political atmosphere in America now, “conservative” and “progressive” are virtually fighting words. But what saith the Scriptures? Are Christians actually supposed to be ultra conservative and to abhor progress? As the Lord said, “I trow not.” (Luke 17:9) In fact I suggest that the propensity to think that we believers are supposed to be “conservative” rather than “progressive” is a serious impinging drag on millions of individuals as well as the body of Christ as a whole.

jesus on horseJesus told His followers to “Launch out into the deep”, (Luke 5:4) He didn’t tell them to tie up in port. Jesus “went a little further and fell on His face”. (Matthew 26:49) Solomon said “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might”. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) And Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) But sadly, the vast majority of Christians today, if they go to church at all, are being taught that God’s highest and best is to tip-toe through life, ever watchful of sin lurking at every corner which will suddenly jump out and devour the hapless, virtually defenseless sheep that they are.Conquering

What a travesty. Is that the picture of the Early Church? Is that how Christianity and the knowledge of salvation in Him spread throughout the earth? By holding the fort? This is what I wrote about in “Conquering”. Frankly, I believe with all my heart that modern Christianity needs a whole lot more progressives than it does conservatives, a whole lot more gas pedals and fewer brakes.

Where are the soul winners? Where, oh where, are the pastors, imploring and engaging their flocks in the business of personal evangelization? Where are the pastors and church leaders who are actively training their flock in the basics and essentials of salvation itself so that their congregation can turn around and personally win souls in the coming week?

How many people in your church can lead a soul to Jesus? Do they even know they should? Do they personally know the plan of salvation? Or do they think that’s just for the preacher or the Apostles of the Book of Acts? How many people in your church can quote John 3:16 and/or know how to find it in the Bible they carry with them at all times and share that verse with those looking for His truth?

you need Jesus flatIt was 17 year old and 18 year old “Jesus people” who knew their bibles well enough many years ago who showed me on the street the plan of salvation. Verse after verse, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8 & 9, John 1:12, Revelation 3:20 and others, showing it to me right out of the Bible, that convicted my heart and opened my eyes to the plan of salvation, that changed my life utterly and set me on the path of Christian service for decades now.

Do you know how to do that? If you’re a pastor or preacher, do the people of your congregation know how to share verses like that with ones they meet? We are to “be always ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within us.” (I Peter 3:15). But for so many, if they know they’re supposed to do that at all, it’s mostly some sweet little weak squeak rather than any kind of bold, Scripturally educated testifying and opening of the Word to those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Is your pastor or preacher teaching you and others how to witness and win souls? If not, I suggest you ask him why he isn’t.

While Christians are blindly drawn into political, secular, worldly hostilities, thinking that this is doing their “conservative” duty to God, the unsaved lost continue to go unreached. How it must break the heart of God that His people are so misled and distant from the original pattern of Christianity that we see in the book of Acts and the Early Church. The “great commission” (see Mark 16:15) was not to be fuddy-duddy, hold-the-fort, Sunday-go-to-meeting “conservatives”. Jesus still calls those who will to “launch out into the deep”, not to tie up in port, rot away and die. May God have mercy and help us all.

They began to make excuse

Jesus and excuses flatSometimes delayed obedience can become total disobedience if prolonged too long. And, let’s face it, obedience is really what the Lord wants and needs from us. And yet, doesn’t this fly in the face of we modern people?

Obedience? Who does He think He is?!” But when we pause to answer our own question, if we believe in and know the Lord, we know He has every right in the universe to call for our obedience, even though our stubborn, willful nature rebels against “anyone telling us what to do”, even God. It’s amazing how many times in the Bible Jesus called someone to follow Him and “they began to make excuse.” (Luke 14:18)

My experience is that it’s still very much that way today. Jesus is still calling people. The Lord still needs laborers, servants and disciples who will respond to His call and nudge on their hearts to serve Him. It doesn’t have to be some big, grandiose “CALLING”. Most of the time people who end with a calling like that were already faithful in the little things that the Lord told them to do. So He was able to end up giving them a more visible and larger scale calling.

were busy flatBut so many people, and I’m talking about believing Christians here, just are not really making themselves available for the Lord to use them when He needs them. The best ability is availability and so many just aren’t. They are “busy”. Whew! Can you imagine what would have happened when the Lord called Peter, James and John and they’d said something like, “Come back next week, Jesus! Can’t you see we’re busy on the fishing boat, helping our father?

By next week Jesus would have been long gone and would have found someone else more ready and willing to answer His call. So few have made it their habit to obey God in that split second of that golden opportunity when the Spirit is hot and heavy and God is convicting your heart and calling you to action.

It’s so easy to make logical, reasonable excuses why you can’t do what God is calling you to do, what His Spirit is urging you to do and needs you to do. And most people will accept your excuses and agree with you since, in excusing you, they’re excusing themselves. But, from reading the Scriptures, it seems to me that the Lord doesn’t always really look at it that way.

Yes, He is loving. Yes, He is gentle. But His goal in our lives is not for us to just be lulled to sleep in our comfortable Christianity but for us to follow Him. Where? Well, He told His disciples long ago that it would be “into all the world, to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) God’s Spirit doesn’t just sooth and comfort so we’re lulled and sedated. God’s Spirit equally calls us to action.

david and brothers flat 2It was God’s Spirit that spoke through young David to his brothers, “Is there not a cause?” David left his shepherding of sheep to go into armed battle against his people’s greatest enemy, Goliath of Gath. But for so many Christians, they’ve lost that vision, if they ever had it.

That’s why one of the greatest perils of Christianity is that it becomes “Churchianity”. It sooths, lulls, comforts, reassures and eases when it should perhaps take another look at the Scriptures to see how much Christ called individuals to sacrificial action in following Him.

“Well, Mark, don’t be so hard on people. It’s just our human nature to be that way. We’re not to judge, Mark. We’re all weak, nobody’s perfect. Etc. etc.”

Don’t you just know that’s what immediately comes to the mind of almost everyone if there’s any mention of the Lord’s call on our lives to obey and follow Him? And doesn’t that just sound so “right”, “modern” and even merciful and forgiving? But what says the Word of God?

If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall loose it. But whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24) “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loose his own soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore will be ashamed of Me and My Words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father, with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38)

From what I have seen, there are just a whole host of saved Christians around who are no longer serving the Lord or open to have the Holy Spirit move them to do something other than what they already have personally planned for themselves. They have reclused themselves with excuses. And if you even hint at the fact that they’re unyeilded and unmoved by the conviction of the Holy Ghost, they’ll be immediate and vehement in their justifications.

doing here flatWhat’s the solution? Often the Lord just has to move on, as Jesus did, to find those ready and willing to take up His call to serve Him. However, it seems sometimes like about what God told Elijah when the prophet told God he was the only one left in Israel serving Him. God replied that “there are 7000 who’ve not bowed the knee to Baal.”  (I Kings 19:18) Thinking about it though, if there were maybe 2,000,000 in Israel at the time, that would work out to about one person in 300 who was still on the Lord’s side.

Follow me smallSo from my experience, I can tell you that these verses here are as true today as they were when the Lord said them. “But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them. For they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is truly plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38)

 

Smart

smartSome people are just smart. They really are. You can feel it from the way they talk and communicate. Maybe they’ve been to school a lot or maybe they are self taught. But you just hear all that erudition, all that knowledge, all that evident enlightenment every time they speak.

But sometimes there’s a problem with that. Some very smart folks have a real hard time listening to or learning from others. They just don’t think they need to. Since they know they are smarter almost always than everyone else around them, they just inherently feel that they have little or nothing to gain from listening to the counsel or ideas of others. So, inadvertently, they actually become sort of dumb in a very important area of life.

The apostle Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up.” (I Corinthians 8:1) There’s just so much more to life than having a lot of knowledge and a sharp, clear mind. In fact, a sharp, clear, intelligent mind can really act as a hindrance to you and keep you from a whole bunch of things that are better than being real smart. Like friendship, for example.

yes I know flatHave you ever had a friend and anytime you say something to that person, they retort with something that makes you feel that they already total know what you are saying, a lot better than you do? So you come away feeling put down and belittled because your friend is just so smart and on top of it? That’s one of the ways that smart can actually be dumb.

Is there any hope for a condition like this? Well, yes. Actually, all this is a little autobiographical here. Some people have said they think I’m smart but actually I came to learn that I’m really dumb. My smarts didn’t help me when the chips were down and the serious issues of life I was facing were not being figured out by my supposedly smart brain. So I learned by very hard experience that I wasn’t as smart as I might have thought and that there were worlds of things I was dumb as a rock about.chosen the foolish flat

Again quoting the apostle Paul, he had some very profound things to say to the erudite but babbling babes in Christ, the Corinthian church. He said to them, “You see your calling brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” (I Corinthians 1:26 & 27) Speaking in another place of his own background of intelligence and the higher social standing he came from, Paul said, “Those things that were gain for me were loss for Christ.

In fact, great intelligence or other natural abilities at times can virtually be, in the Lord’s service, a handicap. When you are so smart, or rich, or beautiful, or handsome, or capable, you’re so much more prone to pride, self-righteousness and a cold independence that makes you difficult to be around or to work with others unless you personally are in charge and telling everyone what to do.

Well, thank God, “They that walk in pride He is able to abase.” (Daniel 4:37) talk went well flatFor any of us who may have natural talents or abilities in any area, it strongly behooves us to not get lifted up in pride about it so that our abilities actually become handicaps when it comes to our relationship with the Lord and others.

Of course it’s not hopeless. There are plenty of gifted, intelligent, beautiful folks around who have learned that the smartest thing to do is to know that they are nothing without the Lord and that they have to continually throw themselves on the mercies of God if they’re going to be a success in any way or get along with their friends and family. When you are going that direction, then you begin to become really smart in the things of the Lord, not just in your worldly intelligence and intellect.

If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any many loves God, the same is known of Him.” (I Corinthians 8:2&3) How often I have clung to those verses. The smartest thing you can do is to love God and others.Without me you can do nothing,” Jesus said (John 15:5). Nothing good, that’s for sure.

So, smart or dumb, we all need to cling to the Lord and ask Him for guidance, wisdom from above, and the blessed fruits of the Spirit which so far surpass our snappy intelligence. That’s what we really need, “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:17 & 18)

good people nice flatIt reminds me of what the little girl prayed one time, “Dear God, please make all the bad people good. And all the good people nice.” You may be good. Or smart. But without the Lord being able to be above and more than your intelligence or goodness, you may sadly often turn out to not be a very nice person. Lord help us all.

They that walk in pride…

Nebuchadnezar for blog postNebuchadnezzar must have been an amazing person. It seems like the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel was basically written by him. It’s an incredible story of how this virtual “ruler of the world” at that time essential went crazy for 7 years but then came back to his senses through the allowance of God. But it all came down to what evidently was his besetting sin: pride. Perhaps the most stirring verse in the chapter ends with Nebuchadnezzar speaking about the God of Daniel and saying of Him, “…they that walk in pride He is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)

If you are familiar with the God of Abraham, then you’ll know that there just isn’t much of anything good that He’s said about pride. Someone challenged me one time to find even one verse in the entire Bible, Old Testament or New, that had anything good to say about pride. Think about that.

Here in America you see a lot of bumper stickers on the back of cars and a very popular one a few years ago simply said, “The power of pride”. I really thought about that. Being a Christian, and living in a traditionally Christian nation, “it gave me pause”, as they say. Because, pride is considered a sin. The power of pride-flattenedBut on bumper stickers all over America it was being extolled as a virtue. Something’s wrong with this picture. Did you ever see a bumper sticker that said, “The power of humility”? No? Me neither.

Well,” you say, why does it matter? Everyone’s proud. It feels good to be proud! If folks aren’t proud, they’ll get discouraged and feel bad about themselves.

Hmm. As often happens, it’s so easy to leave the Lord out of the picture. It’s one thing if agnostics and unbelievers do that. Certainly in a worldly sense, in the ways of this world as it is now, pride is king. But not if you believe in God. And that’s supposed to really make a difference.

But what about pride? Don’t we all need pride? If you don’t know the Lord, if you don’t have faith in God, probably all you have left is faith in yourself, or your country, or your job or car or… And you want to feel proud about them, right? But knowing the Lord and realizing there is a God has (or should have) an incredible transforming effect. It humbles you. But in a constructive and good way, not in a destructive, humiliating way. But in a way that sets things right and changes our hearts from being insecure, war-like, hardened animals into what God intended us to be: humble, loving, friendly, kind human beings.

But some would vehemently say,Oh, Mark! It’s not that easy! I know lots of people who believe in God and they are just as proud and cruel as can be!

New Humility picture-flattenedYou may be right. But for me personally, and many thousands of people I know or who I’ve read about, there was a unique transforming experience that came when I realized and accepted that the God of Abraham is real, cares about us and can change our pitiful nature, remaking it into something we ourselves could never be: warm, real, truthful, loving, humble human beings. It seems like that’s what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. And even king David.

But you might say, Nah, I don’t believe that! Pride is good! Pride motivates me. I depend on it every day.

If you don’t believe in God (and that’s how I used to be) then I can understand that. It’s how most people are. But if you do know that God is real, let’s check out a few things it says in the Bible. The apostle Peter said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5). Solomon said, “Only by pride comes arguments” (Proverbs 13:10) and “Pride precedes destruction and an arrogant spirit appears before a fall ” (Proverbs 16:18).  And if you are a person that believes in the prophetic future revealed in Scripture, one of the greatest characteristics of the Satanic Antichrist to come seems to be his overweening pride.

little in your own sight flatMaybe it helps to use words like that, “arrogance” or “haughtiness”, rather than pride. Many people will agree that arrogance and haughtiness are not so good. However, they’re still comfortable with pride. But again, just see if you can find any place where pride pays when it comes to our relationship with God. Jesus said of Himself that He was “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:30) and it was said of Moses in the Old Testament that he was “the meekest of all men.” (Numbers 12:3).

All this works on a micro or macro level. If an individual or a nation cultivates a humble spirit before God and others, they just seem to draw down the blessings of God. The prophet Samuel told Israel’s first king, Saul, saul & Samuel 4 blog postWhen you were little in your own sight, God made you king over Israel.” (I Samuel 15:17) And there was a time in his early days when king Saul received the blessings of God. But when he became proud and depending on his own sense of righteousness, he lost his kingdom to a more humble man, King David.

So, it’s a choice, isn’t it? Pride? Or humility. If you believe in God, the answer could hardly be clearer and the warnings any more stark. It’s a little scary to be where the sin of pride is so clearly acclaimed. God helping me, I really feel I don’t want to have any part of that.