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.

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”.