Drawing circles

FriendlyI don’t know about you but some of the times I’ve felt the most hurt in my life have been when I’ve felt rejected and not welcomed in the fellowship of others. Conversely, some of the most encouraging and heartfelt moments have been when others opened their arms and lives to invite me and include me within their circle of fellowship.

It’s like something I heard one time that went something like, “He drew a circle that left me out. But love and I had a wit to win. I drew a circle that drew him in.” Maybe you could say I’m immature or there’s something that got mixed up early in my life that has made me that way. But that time when you feel rejected, not wanted, not included, ostracized from the ones you wish to be with, it can be an extremely disheartening time.

Thank God I found Him and Jesus so many years ago and of course They don’t do that to us. He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) On the other hand, like the Bible says of some people, “Your sins have separated you from your God.” (Isaiah 59:2) But that’s a different story. Because “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7) Nevertheless, loneliness, feeling left out and actually being left out are still at times very real realities for many people, even people of faith.

Love is flatSo for me, one of the very greatest manifestations of God is the true warmth, genuine loving inclusion and sincere human love that He can put in the hearts of His people. Sadly, it’s not always there but then sometimes it is. You can just feel it. They don’t only “love you” in an officially required Christian sense; they actually like you and want to hang around with you and include you in what they do. All the spirituality in the world won’t replace genuine Christian warmth and inclusiveness. And so often that manifestation of love is what people need and respond to more than anything else.

I love God’s Word, I’m keenly interested in Bible Prophecy, I believing in serving the Lord in this world. But some of the things I’ve treasured the most have been brethren who drew a circle that counted me in. You’d think that would be how it would be all the time but of course it’s just not, for some reason or the other.

People are busy. People are carrying their own burdens. I hate to say it but it can somehow even happen that some of us can not like others of us. Maybe it’s a personality thing, maybe there’s some little quirk we see in others, maybe we heard something through the grapevine about someone else that has turned us off to them. Lord help us.

freedom fellowship flatWhat everybody needs is love. Some people are surrounded by a big family and have lots of loved ones and relatives nearby. Others for one reason or the other are more or less on their own. But everybody needs to be loved and of course everyone needs to love. And you can just feel it, one way or the other. Being a Christian and being part of the flock of God should make it much more possible and likely that you are loved and can feel the warmth, inclusion and camaraderie that almost everyone needs.

I know this isn’t the kind of thing I usually write about but it’s still at the basis of the teachings of Jesus. “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” (John 15:12)  “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35) But Jesus spoke about the last days before His return saying, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold.”  (Matthew 24:12) Perhaps that’s referring to the times we now live in. Travel and knowledge have certainly increased, as the angel told Daniel would be one of the signs of the last days. (See Daniel 12:4) But the coldness, loneliness, exclusion and hard-heartedness of the endtime are also very prevalent in so many places.

friend no more flatSo for those who are active in trying to expose the New World Order and all the works of the enemy and darkness in these endtimes, it would also be good to remember that a loveless, friendless barrenness is also a manifestation of the endtimes. We need to do all we can to expose and counteract that, just as much if not more than all our exposé of false systems and governmental intrigues that take so much of our attention.

dont deserve this-flattenedMaybe it helps to talk about this. Maybe it helps to remember, in all our commitment to serve the Lord and to win others to Him that part of our greatest witness, as well as the greatest commandment, and our own greatest need often is to love and to be loved, to feel that a circle has been drawn that has included you. Or that you are drawing circles that include the ones on the outside looking in, the ones who don’t have others in their lives and may die today for lack of friends and fellowship. Let’s all be on guard against not opening our hearts and lives to those around us who may be perishing today for lack of love and friendship. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Black and White

High noonDon’t you just wish things were more black and white? When I was a kid, there were (what seemed to be) the really good guys and the really bad guys. Of course we were the good guys; there was no question about that 🙂 . But then things really began to blur, you know what I mean?

Nowadays, it’s really difficult, so it seems, to know who are the bad guys and the good guys or at times even to know good from bad, at least in some situations. Thank God I became a Christian or (as it should be said) that the Lord pulled me out of the pit I was in. But still, I think a lot of us feel it’s more difficult in these times to truly discern good from bad and even truth from the lies.

I mean, even in writing this, I keep adding “so it seems”, like I can’t hardly make a sentence without qualifying it and having some equivocation. I guess it’s good but sometimes you just yearn for black and white. [And for those folks who see a racist in every Christian nowadays, of course I’m not talking about “black and white” in that sense.] Personally, I’ve always been one who believes strongly that there really is such thing as the truth. I just didn’t think that everything is relative and it’s all just a mater of  each individual’s perspective.

Of course there is nuance. Not only is the devil in the details, as they say, but God is often in the details too. But as far as I am concerned, there is truth. “God is not the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 14:33) and I’m happy to say that I do know and have experienced that God is not just some equation or frequency off in the universe someplace. God-is-chanceBut “He” (more equivocation there, did you notice?) is fully able and willing to intervene in the lives of individuals or societies, according to our prayers and needs or the lack of our prayers and our transgressions against Him.

first road picture-flattened“The Lord is known by the judgment which He executes” (Psalm 9:16) and a few times in my life I’ve really known the direct hand of God in His judgments on me. A couple of specific ones I’ve written about are “Lights On the Road” and “God is Chance”. In those times and many others, my darkness and lack of understanding was shocked by the direct hand of God intervening in my life. So I can’t help but believe there is a black and white, a right and wrong, a truth and a lie.

We’re told to realize and embrace the “black and white” in ourselves and of course that’s right to some degree. An obscure verse I memorized on that subject is Romans 8:20. “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly but by reason of Him who has subject the same in hope.We are subject to both vanity and hope, falsehood and truth, wrongdoing and virtue. But without the perspective and foundation that God gives us through faith, everything just increasingly blurs into equivalency and relativism. “Who are any of us to judge?” we are told.

Arise oh Lord flatSome folks even think they can quote Jesus on this. “Jesus said, ‘Judge not’”, they say. But He also said “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) I think King David of old expressed the cry of my heart at times when he prayed, “Arise, oh Lord, let not man prevail. Let the nations be judged in your sight. Put them in fear, oh Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men.” (Psalm 9:19 & 20)

Sometimes (and this may shock you) I think we just need the judgments of God. That might scare some people but King David said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous all together” (Psalm 19:9). If we can righteously judge… everything, starting with our own heart and motives, then everything else can begin to fall in place. But if we don’t know the way God looks at things, then everything can get overwhelmingly complicated and blurry so that most of us just give up in defeat.

pray for clarity flatSo, what’s the conclusion? Pray for God’s judgments?  (“Uh, Mark, I don’t think I can follow you on that one.”) Well then pray for clarity, pray for definiteness, pray for righteousness to prevail and justice and truth to triumph and rise to the top of things in our world right now. Without those graces that come from Him, greater and greater darkness will continue to prevail and grow. Confusion, fear, trepidation, and defeat of heart will become the greater and greater norm, both for individuals and many nations. We so much need the cleansing light and truth of the judgments of God on each of us individually and as well on this world we live in now.

The princess and the pea

princess and peaEver heard the story about the prince who was trying to find a wife? So the story goes, he made a stack of mattresses, 100 tall. Then he put a tiny pea underneath them at the bottom. Next he had a try out for his princess, bringing one candidate after the other to see how she liked the bed. All were thrilled by laying on it till one said she felt something under the mattress. That was the one the prince chose to be his princess, so they say.

Well, I’ll tell you, I really don’t think that prince was Jesus. Because the Lord’s princesses need to be able to take quite a lot more than a little pea under 100 mattresses. But it does seem that many today have the notion that a Christian life is similar like to sleeping on 100 mattresses and being upset by a pea. If you read your Bible, or even the history of people who’ve lived a life for the Lord, you’ll see that personal comfort was most often really pretty far down their list of needs or wants.

special forcesThink about it, what humans will do for people or organizations other than God and His Son, Jesus. We glorify the Special Forces of the military, how they endure incredible hardships and sacrifices to fight foreign wars. We hear of people in Asia dying from overwork, literally dying on the job because they work such long hours, just trying to make money. And rock stars and movie stars often sacrifice everything in the way of morals and their conscience, to “rise to the top” and be famous.

Of course if we turn to modern Christianity, it would be wrong to say that there are just no people like that today with vision and guts to live a life of sacrificial service for God and others. But for probably too many, the idea of really and truly “going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41), “laying down your life for the brethren” (I John 3:16), and going “out into the highways and hedges to compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23) is just nearly unthinkable.

That’s the only kind of Christianity I’ve ever known and I think the only kind that could have won me to Him: a strong Christianity similar like to the Early Church. Because I grew up surrounded by (I’m sorry to say) shallow, racist, self-righteous nominal Christians and I was deeply unimpressed. When I would engage them in a conversation about the things of God when I was a pre-teen or teenager, they would all wither at the first sign of any need to “contend for the faith.” (Jude 1:3)

passing tracts-2Thankfully I know that Christianity in our times is better about this in many ways compared to how it was where I was, growing up. The Christians who are still left in our times have found they have to do better at being able to defend and explain their faith or they’ll just be defeated and destroyed by the kind of person I used to be. I’m so thankful that, back then, I met some serious, committed, even radical young “Jesus People” Christians at a pivotal point in my life. And their lives, sample and knowledge of God’s Word won me to Him when no shallow Christianity had been able to do that till then.

But, think about it, where are the real fighters for the Lord in our times? Where are the ones working 12 to 16 hours a day, on the home field or the foreign field, to bring the love and truth of God to the people of our times? People will do it for money, so many millions do. They’ll endure incredible hardships in the military and kill people in foreign countries, all with the idea that they’re defending their nation 10,000 kilometers away.

fight backBut where are the people who are not hung up on their comforts or the pea under the mattress but are like the people of the Bible or past centuries who took up their cross to really “forsake all” (Luke 14:33) and put their lives in His hands, put the Devil to rout and win the world for Him?

It’s ended up happening that I’ve done a lot of traveling in the last 20 months or so. And it looks like that that may continue for a while more. It’s all been for the Lord’s work but in my travels, I do look around. How are people doing? How is the body of Christ? Is it growing or diminishing? Bold or defeated? Promised_Land fixed flatMoving forward or sliding back into the morass of humanity and the mire of the multitude?

One of the more encouraging things I’ve seen is to have met some teenagers, some in South Africa and others in northern Germany, who give the impression of being very sold out and committed to the Lord. I feel I’ve seen in some of them the vision and commitment to Christian service that is essential to happen in every generation if the Lord is to continue to have, not just sheep, but shepherds, servants, true followers and disciples in each generation.

It’s a big subject and maybe there will be more the Lord lays on my heart about this. But if there is anyone out there, my age or one or even two generations younger, and you’re feeling the Lord’s service may be His will in your life, I can tell you plainly that I have utterly no regrets about living for Him as a missionary and disciple for closing on 50 years now. If you feel a call on your life to serve Him, I greatly, greatly encouraging to follow that calling.

 

Trembling at the Word

trimble at Word flatAs many know, there’s just a lot more going on in this world than meets the eye. Forces, influences, impressions, nudges, just a cloud of unseen pressures and powers have sway over us in ways we often don’t even realize. One of those that perhaps very many don’t even know about is what is called “the Word of God”. By this I mean the Bible and what’s written there. I was thinking about this today and how powerfully it has fundamentally altered my life for good. Falling in love with the Bible has been perhaps one of the greatest factors in the life I’ve lived now for many years.

But it saddens me how very many people don’t have any idea of the healing, thrilling, creative, almost unimaginable effect the Bible can have on any individual. And the Bible itself says this in so many places. King David said, “The entrance of thy Words gives life, it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130) But somehow it can happen that people can read the Bible and they just don’t get it. That actually happened to me at the very beginning of my journey of faith. I read through the whole Bible and just got virtually nothing from it. I wrote about this is in “Isn’t God Enough?

Im fine flatAnd I’ll admit, I don’t totally know how this works. In one place the Bible says, “The Word did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Hebrews 4:2) Maybe it’s like what Jesus said, “They that seek shall find.” (Matthew 7:8) Some people aren’t really seeking, they are satisfied with their life and the truths of the Bible just don’t appear to them as they’re not really looking for more or greater truth than they think they already have.

Martin LutherBut then some people are actually “born again” through the Word. The apostle Peter said, “being born again…by the Word of God which lives and abides forever.” (I Peter 1:23) If you know the life of Martin Luther, it was a conversion experience that happen to him while reading the Bible that was one of the most formative experiences in his life, specifically when the truth of Romans 1:17 dawned on him, “the just shall live by faith.

God told Isaiah one time, “But to this man will I look, even to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My Word.” (Isaiah 66:2) Why would God want someone who trembles at His Word? Because He’s as monster on some vast power trip? No. Because He knows that the very best for any person is to recognize the unfathomable riches of His truth and the eternal certainty of His guidance.

But some people just don’t get it very much. I was with someone like that recently. They have had a good amount of time around people who are deeply and passionately into the study and living of God’s Word. Their friends talk about it, read it and try to live it in their lives to the utmost. But this person just doesn’t at this time find a great deal of interest in these things. They are fairly satisfied with their life as it is, their surroundings, culture and this present world. So they, I guess, must be hesitant to have the Word have more sway and power in their lives. Perhaps they recognize there’s a beckoning in the Word of God to not only listen to it but to obey it and follow it out of one’s present attachments and loyalties into a fuller experience of the Lord and His eternal certainties and instruction.

they that are whole flatBut knowing this person has had me pondering how this all works. Somewhere there has to be a spark and part of that I think it realizing one’s own lack, our weakness, our… I’ll use the word “sins”, our darkness as compared to the light of God and His Word. Jesus said, “They that are whole need not a physician but they that are sick.” (Luke 5:31) If we feel sufficient and satisfied with ourselves and our life as it is, it makes it less likely that we’ll look for something like the touch of God and His truth to bring light into our darkness.

But while there’s life, there’s hope. If ever someone was “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18), it was me as a teenager. But the Lord somehow was able to bring me to a place where I was able to receive all the truth that I was looking for but in all the wrong places. Maybe it’s even like the story I heard, almost a parable of popcorn.

popcorn 1When you make popcorn, you put the oil in the pot and heat it up. Then when the time is right you pour in the popcorn and start shaking it over the fire. At first one or two corns pop. Then soon a lot of them do. At the last there’s still a few that pop kind of late. And yes, a few just don’t pop. Maybe it’s like that with life and with trying to bring people to the Lord. You just have to keep shaking them and keep them over the fire. Or perhaps that’s what the Lord does with us.

popcorn 2And many of us do eventually pop. Like a popcorn, we suddenly pop and turn inside out, from a hardened little corn to a big white popcorn, to realize the potential that was there all the time. It has to be the Lord. Thank God for His patience to keep shaking us and even keeping the fire under our lives to help us to end up being what He knows we are meant to be.

So I need to have patience with this friend and pray that they will eventually get the point and see the wonders and convicting truth of God’s Word so that they can get the breakthrough and deliverance from the somewhat hard shell of their life right now. With enough heat, oil and shaking, the Lord can find a way to crack some of the hardest shells and out pops a “new creature in Christ Jesus”.

“With what body do they come?”

Jesus and ThomasA friend wrote me to ask, “Why is a resurrection necessary if those who died in Christ have already gone to be with the Lord?” So I wrote back, “The best answer I know of is that God’s plan is that we have new bodies like the Lord had after His resurrection. That’s what I Corinthians 15 is about.”

That may raise some big questions for some people. “New bodies?” “Jesus’ body after His resurrection?” Well, it’s all in the Bible. Many people have heard of “doubting Thomas.” What was he doubting? He was doubting the resurrection of Jesus and that the other apostles had seen Jesus literally, up close and personal, after He’d been crucified and buried.

But then what happened? The Bible says a few days later Jesus again appeared to His disciples, this time when Thomas was there. So Jesus told Thomas to “Reach here your hand and thrust it into my side [the wound He’d received from the soldier while He was on the cross] and be not faithless but believing.” (John 20:27)

On another occasion around the same time after Jesus’ resurrection, He told His disciples when He was visiting them. “Touch me and see for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see Me have.” (Luke 24:39) I know this can severely strain the brains of unbelievers and even those who are weak in faith. But this is what the Bible says so it might be good to look a little more at what all this means and signifies.

For one, the Bible clearly teaches that we, the saved believers, will have a body like Jesus at His coming. In I Corinthians 15:51 and 52, Paul said, “Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep [meaning die here] but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of the eye, at the last trumpet.” This is the 7th trumpet, spoken of in other places as the sign or signal of the return of Jesus bodily to this earth. The verse goes on to say, “For the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

Jesus after resurrectionThis is one of the best verses that touches on this subject of the eternal bodies we’ll receive at the return of Jesus, at the end of this age and the beginning of the Millennium. Just to throw in one more verse on this, Paul wrote to the Philippians about Jesus who would “change our vile body that it may be fashioned like to His glorious body…” (Philippians 3:21).

But what kind of bodies will they be? Here’s what John wrote in his old age to the church at that time. “Beloved, now are we the sons of God and it does not yet appear what we shall be. But we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (I John 3:2) We shall be like Him; we’ll have a similar-like physical existence to that which Jesus now has.

And what did Jesus say about His body? “A spirit has not flesh and bones as you see me have.” So it sounds pretty much like the body we have now. We have flesh and bones. But what does it seem Jesus didn’t have? Blood. Because “the life of the flesh is in the blood” (Leviticus 17:11). And also sin is in the blood.

jesus eats fishSo Jesus was able “to eat and drink, after that He rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:41) He asked His disciples as He was with them after His resurrection, “Have you any meat? And they gave Him a piece of broiled fish and a honeycomb. And He took it and did eat before them.” (Luke 24:41-43) So it’s pretty clear that He wasn’t like some ethereal ghost or spirit but was a tangible living man, the Son of God, in His new body, like the one we will ultimately have.

But it must be that it will in some way really be sustained in a new way, utterly by the Spirit since it seems that blood may no longer be involved. He could appear and disappear, evidently pass through walls and finally ascend up into heaven. But He said of Himself that He still had flesh and bones and He could and did eat with them, even in this utterly new physical condition.

heaven on earthThis is fascinating for me. This is our ultimate destiny and destination, to still retain many of the attributes of the life we have now, but in a new, eternal, upgraded condition. We’ll be utterly changed but it won’t be all so different that we can’t understand it or work within it. The Corinthians had asked Paul about the resurrection and about “with what body do they come?” (I Corinthians 15:35), referring to the eternalized saints. I Corinthians 15 is a whole chapter on that subject. It’s just natural that we all are curious about some of these things and that we need and want some answers for it all to make sense. Wonderfully, it does. We’ve got a lot to look forward to.

Thimbles

thimblesYou don’t hear much about thimbles anymore. Possibly a lot of younger people don’t even know what one is. But thimbles came to mind tonight when I was thinking about how utterly vast is the Lord’s ocean of truth, revelation, beauty, His whole indescribable universe of the spiritual world He created and lives in, and our tiny capacity to receive and grasp any of it.

lightningOver the years, from time to time it’s happened that the Lord has brought light to my soul in one way or the other.  As wonderful as this world is, often we are just ensnared within the carnal and physical experiences we have, a kind of abiding darkness. But then at times we catch or are shown some brief glimpse of the eternity of the spiritual world that exists like a parallel universe to our own. I’ve heard someone say it’s like lightening lighting up a landscape on a dark night.

For me, those times when that happens are like if I could only just take a thimble worth of truth and light from His realm before my capacity to receive was reached. Just as if I ate one little cracker from the table of a great banquet and that was like all I could take. Still, it was incredibly satisfying and often those experiences have stayed within me as a tiny morsel of eternity. But I just couldn’t take very much in one helping. Funny how that is.

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to start teaching the book of Daniel again in a live class setting. For me, that’s something I always enjoy tremendously. And this time it’s happened that I went further than I have in the video series I’ve done on that book. I’ve actually gone over the last 3 chapters in Daniel in a live class with dear friends who’ve really hungered to know more about it all. Here’s a link to the audio recording of the Daniel 10 class that was done in September of 2016,

And it was an opportunity to look again at the life and even the personality and character of Daniel, the prophet. Hopefully I’ll be able to “crack the whip” on myself, so to speak, and to make videos of the last three chapters in Daniel, to finish off the series. Please do pray that can happen as Daniel 10 through 12 are so important; so much so that Jesus Himself pointed to a verse there and specifically said to His disciples. “Whoso reads, let him understand”. (Matthew 24:15)

art for verse 18 on D8 blog post clippedBut in going over these chapters, I was struck again but what must have been Daniel’s incredible capacity to receive, way way more than my little thimble’s worth. I won’t go into it all here but, when Daniel was well into his 80’s, he received what evidently was the last major revelation of his life. It didn’t happen though until one or more angels had to almost literally prop up Daniel like a scarecrow in order for him to be able to take the revelation they had for him.

But then he really came through. Daniel was somehow able to take what must have been a prolonged revelatory experience and to grasp, receive and (even more surprisingly in some ways) to remember all that was being shown him. Pretty big thimble, no? Well, it nearly killed him, it seems, but at the last he evidently really got into it. So much so that the angel finally had to tell Daniel that he was winding things up, telling him, “Go your way Daniel…” (Daniel 12:9) when the aged prophet just kept coming back with more questions about all he was being shown.

Well, thank God, even if we just can only take a thimble’s worth. Jesus said to His disciples, “Blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)  It’s pretty clear that God wants to talk to us. He has a lot for us and wants to get our attention so He can transmit His truth into our frail little receptacles, our feeble thimbles, as much as He can and as much as we can take. A thimble is better than nothing. And of course what we receive from Him is so soaked and running over in eternal vitality that it’s like an electric shock or some supercharged vitamin shot you can get from your doctor.

ocean sunsetHow’s your thimble? Been getting any sips from the ocean of His truth and love? “Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, ask and it shall be given unto you.” (Matthew 7:7) “Call unto me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you know not.” (Jeremiah 33:3) “Oh the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God.” (Romans 11:33)

 

Serving God or Mammon

God and Mammon flatOne of the more striking and perhaps perplexing things that Jesus said was this: “No man can serve two masters for he will either 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) Determining how that plays out in the life of each individual has been a huge question for Christians through the centuries.

Examples in the four Gospels are numerous. Jesus said to the fishermen Peter and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The Bible goes on to say, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:19 & 20)Follow me and I flat Matthew the tax collector is another example. “And as Jesus passed forth from there, he saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9)

Of course there are those who will rightly say that Jesus didn’t say that to everyone. But it might surprise you to see how many He did say that to. It is clear, though, that the concept of serving God, being a true follower and disciple is what the Bible has taught from beginning to end. God told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.” (Exodus 8:1)

But what does that mean? How can we serve God? Are we serving God as we go about our secular employment? The daily “affairs of this life”?  (II Tim 2:4) In the history of Christianity, there was a time when a very large number of people were in what was considered Christian service. The lived in monasteries, abbeys and various religious houses throughout Europe. It got to where these religious orders owned as much as 30% of the land of some nations. friarsThey accrued vast wealth in obligatory tithes and enforced offerings which all levels of society felt impelled to pay to these vast numbers who were ostensibly “serving God”.

And some of them were. They, some of them, ministered to the poor and did other things such as offering prayers or works of righteousness. But it got to where it was increasingly obvious that so many were just living off the fat of the land, laying a heavy yoke of religious bondage and servitude on society while doing little or nothing to serve God or man.

Actually, the place I’m writing this in was once a rectory of a Catholic church in Normandy, France, built in 1760. But at the time of the French Revolution, this property was seized by the government from the church and turned over for secular uses. Caen house frontThis kind of thing had been going on in fits and starts since the 1500’s throughout Europe when kings and governments increasingly saw many if not most religious orders (those who said they were serving God) as being not much more than leeches on the body politic, neither truly serving God or rendering much of any service to mankind.

With Protestantism and the Reformation, the whole concept of serving God swung radically the other direction. Martin Luther said that one could faithfully and adequately serve God as a cook or plowman. And that to this day is the prevailing view of those whose roots are in Protestant Christianity.

But how about now? It’s pretty well known in modern Christian circles throughout the world that spiritual and moral darkness has precipitously increased in the lifetimes of many of us. It’s increasingly difficult to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (II Corinthians 6:14). Very many are forced to compromise and even renounce their Christian convictions in their workplace in order to conform to the mores of “post-Christian” society throughout the Western world. Or simply hold their job. Millions are finding they must put their children in Christian schools or home school them in order to preserve some atmosphere of Godliness that their children can be safe in.

And I feel this trend is only likely to increase and accelerate. I’m still of the opinion that what Jesus said is true when He told His disciples just before His crucifixion, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come again and receive you unto myself.” (John 14:2 & 3) That Jesus said He would return to this world at the end of this age is indisputable. Mark of the BeastAnd it says in the Bible that in the times just before His return, that a worldwide economic system will be in place so that “no man might buy or sell except for those who had a mark in their hand or forehead”. (Revelation 13:17) The choice between serving God or Mammon is already becoming increasingly stark. And in the future to come, believers worldwide will literally have to choose the satanic world government to come or to throw their trust utterly on the Lord and to serve Him only.

I feel there’s a strong stirring in the body of Christ worldwide. So many sense that modern Christianity is insufficient for present times and certainly so for times to come. One of the most glaring deficiencies is how individual Christians are not being challenged or prepared to truly serve God in the way Christ taught and the way the early Christians lived.

Daniel 11 32b for blog siteIf there is any happy ending to this post, it could be that I do feel the Bible indicates that in the prophetic endtime future, there will be a called out, vibrant, fruitful body of Christian believers who’ll stand up as some of God’s strongest witnesses in the world’s darkest time. “The people who do know their God shall be strong and do exploits. And they that understand among the people shall instruct many.” (Daniel 11:32&33)

 

They that will not work…

Grandma Helen flatI’m having an amazing time in South Africa, there’s a lot to tell you. This post will mainly be about a story I heard of an 80 year old woman who is poor herself but ministers to the poor in one of the “townships” here, as they are called. I think another word that fits for these areas is “shanty towns”. But they can be very huge.

me and JosefFirst I’ll tell you who told me this. I have a friend here, Josef from Austria, who lives in Johannesburg. He has a similar calling to the friend I told you about who holds HIV seminars in schools here. But Josef and his wife often are “up country”, actually spending a lot of time in neighboring Malawi where he has quite a work going in having seminars with local pastors there on basic subjects of Biblical faith and shepherding the flock of God.

When Josef told me about an octogenarian woman he helps in Johannesburg, I was amazed at her faith. Also I was amazed at her vision to not just minister physically to the desperately poor around her, but also to minster to them spiritually as well, sometimes even with a little bit of “tough love.” Maybe it’s like Jesus was. He certainly was kind, giving and sympathetic, more than any man. But also when it was the time for it, the Lord could be pretty frank and candid with people who needed to hear perhaps surprising truth.

townshipGrandma Helen has been living in squatter camps for the last 20 years but she’s also faithfully shared what little she had with those there, as well as sharing her faith in God. Josef said that he and his wife began helping Grandma Helen when she lost the little support she had. They started giving her gospel literature to share as well as of course food they’d received from businesses who donated it.

Josef encouraged Grandma Helen to use Christian literature in her caring and ministering to people. Before she passes out the food parcels, she has a short Bible study and prayer with ones who come for help. After that she passes out the food parcels and the gospel pamphlets with them. She and Josef wanted to teach the people in her area more about the things of God and one idea that came up was to have them memorize Bible verses when they received the food parcel.

But they learned that it was difficult for the people there to memorize Scripture, as it often is for most. So to make it easier for them and to be sure they were taking in the Word, Grandma Helen had them write out the Scripture verse and give it to her before they received a food pack. And if they hadn’t done so, they could do it when they got the food pack. As I’ve written about elsewhere, there’s just something powerful about memorizing Scripture. “Lay up His Word in your heart”, the Bible says. (Job 22:22)

Josef told Grandma Helen about the verse that says, “They that will not work should not eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10) and that we owed it to the Lord and the people they were giving the food to to teach them the principles of God. So besides some of the most basic tenets of Biblical faith, Grandma Helen also shared with those that came for food that “They that will not work should not eat.”

But also she knew that in these camps it’s often very difficult to get or hold a job. Basically almost all of them there are unemployed or under employed. So Grandma Helen suggested they could offer their services to others in their community by doing chores, running errands, helping the elderly and those generally worse off than them.

Helen weeding flatAt one point she had a younger man come by who asked for food and she helped him. Then on another day he came by when she was in the garden and she asked him to help with weeding. He said he was too busy. So next time he came around for a food pack, she told him, “Sorry, they that will not work should not eat.”

I don’t know about you but I find this an amazing and encouraging story. Godly principles completely transcend borders, time, social strata and just everything. Jesus told us, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) But often also the Spirit of God calls us to some action, not only as a test but also as a lesson that our soul needs to grow in and be fed spiritually in. Sometimes these things can seem like “hard sayings” but it’s actually just God’s wise and life-giving love which is actually more needed that simple food. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Or like wise Job said, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job 23:12) It’s a lesson everyone needs.

And please do say a word of prayer for dear Grandma Helen. Josef and his wife help her, as they do very many, but sometimes she has to get around in her wheel chair. Also her grandson reads the Bible to her because her eyes are failing. But she continues to minister to these people. Makes you feel that most of us have it pretty good.

Working in an HIV Seminar in South Africa

me in Durban classI’ve been in Durban, South Africa for over a week and it’s been wonderful. I never saw this coming, never foresaw a time I’d be in this part of the world but it has gone really well. I know several people here from my times in Europe. One dear friend is Andras Namenyi, a Hungarian who actually was my translator when I shared classes with young Christians in Budapest back in the late ‘90’s.

Andras has been in this part of the world for years and the Lord has given him an amazing ministry. It’s by no means the only thing he does. But his main outreach is to visit schools here to do a presentation on the subject of HIV prevention which has to do with being informed, being wise and simple abstinence.

I was astounded and floored to hear the statistics about HIV in this country. In this province, KwaZulu-Natal, out of a population of 11 million, 40% of the people are HIV positive. Think about that. Those are numbers like the worst of the Black Plague that hit Europe in the 1300’s. But it utterly underlines the importance of what my friend is doing in these seminars in the schools here.

Durban school crowd sceneI was with Andras for a seminar earlier this week and I’ll include pictures I took there. We were addressing 8th graders in a “colored” part of Durban. [“Mark! That’s racist!”] I’ve had to adjust to the English language that’s spoken here being slightly different from the USA. When I was a kid in Texas, “colored” was the word used at the time for those we now in the US call “African-American”. But here “colored” basically means “mixed race”.

We first talked to the principal; the seminar had all been arranged beforehand. The kids filed into the room with the guidance of their teachers, not really knowing what to expect. Andras has addressed around 90,000 students over the last years with this ministry.

3 colored pitchersAs the presentation started, Andras in his opening was switching back and forth between English and Zulu, the main language spoken in this province. The kids were of course laughing and impressed that he was comfortable with them that way. But probably they were also curious about the props he had set up for the presentation. Several kids behind him had been given various colored balloons. And on the table in front of him were 3 pitchers with distinctly colored liquids. By the way, this was all done in English as the school is a fully English speaking school, even though many there have another language as their first.

Basically the idea was to highlight the consequences of risky behavior. He told me later that almost certainly there were kids in the audience who were already HIV positive. Andras held up the first pitcher with red liquid and said this represented risky behavior, out partying, drinking, drugs and of course promiscuous sex. Then he held up the pitcher with green liquid. This represented someone “on the fence”, not really totally living a risky life but someone who was near the edge of it. Then he held up the pitcher with yellow liquid, representing morals and a moral life with vision, goals and a purpose.

pouring pitchersAfter that he poured some of the yellow liquid into the green and red pitchers. The red turned to a murky brown almost immediately but the green liquid began to turn yellow, representing a changed and more moral life. As Andras continued to speak on this subject, the liquids continued to change from their original colors and soon the green pitcher changed to yellow liquid. Eventually even the red liquid turned yellow.

It was all a huge object lessons in the visual realm for these few hundred 13 and 14 year olds of how morals and self-restraint could change a life and in this case even save their own physical life. Of course I’m only giving you the highlights here of the 45 minute talk. At the end, Andras explained to them how much we all need the saving power of Jesus to come into our hearts and give us the strength we need to essentially resist sin, which is what this is in many ways really all about. He led the kids in a prayer to receive the Lord and they all prayed.

watching intentlyIt even worked out that I was able to address the kids for a few minutes, telling them about my life and how it was changed through Jesus and the truth and power of God. Afterwards we were able to pass out gospels of John in Zulu to the students; these are booklets I helped to have shipped to Andras here in Africa about 18 months ago.

me and AndrasIt was an astounding afternoon, being involved in something so important, life changing and even very much life saving. For me, this is all better than any worldly or earthly riches: being a part of something that’s reaching into young lives who are so often right on the precipice of good or bad, sin or salvation and even life or death. It was another moment to confirm just how thankful I am for a life of Christian discipleship. I hope this testimony is a blessing to you of how people in our times can be used of the Lord to impact this world for Him and to let their light shine before men.

 

You you

You you pic flatHere’s a question for you: are things simple or complicated? If your answer is “Yes”, I think you’re right. Take something as simple as “Who are you?” Is there a simple answer to that? Of course, “I am me.” But then it gets complicated. And a lot of us can really get almost confused at times about this.

I thought about this around 2:30 AM today after waking up for the first time in South Africa. Jet lag often really hits me the most traveling east. And after two nights in a row of trying to sleep on a plane, I was very ready for 9 hours of deep sleep. But it was not to be. My body just didn’t cooperated tonight, as often happens at the beginning of a trip flying east from America.

So was “I” tired? Well, yes and no. “My flesh” was tired but actually my spirit was pretty keyed up. And I was thinking about how that works. One thing I can tell you, I never in any way would I have looked at things this way without having come to the Lord years ago.

Why are you flat“My flesh” and “my spirit”, what kind of talk is that? The answer is, truth be known, there’s you and then there’s You-you. You are a lot more than just you. Don’t believe me? Think about this. King David said in prayer, “Why are you cast down, oh my soul, why are you disquieted within me?”  (Psalm 42:11) Was David getting a little schizoid there? How about this: “My heart and my flesh faileth, but God is the strength of my life and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Or, one of my favorites , Solomon said “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

So what’s with all this chopping yourself up into little pieces? Your heart, your flesh, your spirit, your mind, your soul, and all that? That’s what I mean, there’s a lot that goes into “You”, under the hood, as they say. There are actually a lot of moving parts and if I had to tell you which you You-you really is, I’m not sure I could tell you. Of course they are all part of you; for the most part they somewhat intermesh with each other and often can work pretty well together. But not always.

spirit willing flatOne of many examples of this can be found in what Jesus told His disciples on the night He was betrayed, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said to His disciples who were nodding off to sleep, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation, the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) What an incredibly deep and wise, yet utterly simple way the Lord described that. And that verse could be seen to fit with how things are for me tonight or now close to dawn. My flesh is feeling tired right now. But my flesh is a segment of my “me” that currently is working in such a way that my spirit (which I think is closer to the real “me”) is having more dominance over my “me” right now than my flesh is. Got that?

And I’m just so thankful for the light of the truth of God’s Word that illuminates all these kinds of things and has been “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105) for all my adult life. Of course our flesh, our body and all that it involves is definitely a part of “me” and you as well. But so many folks who don’t know the Lord (or don’t know Him and His Word the way they should) are often not able to make a difference between their flesh and their selves. Or perhaps more dangerously, they’re in the habit of being led about by their flesh more often than their spirit and/or the Spirit of the Lord.

“Oh, I’m tired.” “I can’t right now, I’m hungry.” And on and on it can go. Well, we do need to take care of the needs of the flesh; I’m not advocating some aesthetic appeal to self mortification. On the other hand, if you’re going to do anything for the Lord in this life or almost anything of value at all, you just can’t put “the flesh” first. And some folks have learned you can’t even put “me” first. Jesus surely knew that.

your will be done flatThat same night in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He told His disciples to watch and pray, He also prayed to His Father in heaven, “If You be willing, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.” He knew He was just hours away from His passion, His suffering on the cross of Calvary and the enormity of what was just ahead moved Jesus to pray that prayer to His Father. But Jesus put his own self and even his will aside and stayed in obedience and submission to the will of God, even though basically so much of everything else within Him was moved with the emotions He had as a human of what was about to happen.

Maybe you know all of this already. But perhaps it’s a reminder of how “you” can function a lot better when you don’t let every little moving part of yourself claim to be supreme. “Oh, I’m in love!” “Oh, I’m hungry!” “Oh, I’m angry!” Could be. But if you let any of those things grab the reins of your soul and your life, they can really take you very quickly into some bad decisions if you don’t watch out.

Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and loose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36 & 37) I guess it all boils down to the fact that we are, were and will continue to be lost, hopeless nincompoops without, not only the salvation of the Lord, but His continual close guiding of our lives pretty much every moment of every day. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)