Hearken and heed

world in darkness flatI heard about a man one time who had a good job at a law firm in a high-rise building in the USA. It was a beautiful day outside and he was admiring the view when God’s voice spoke to him, “See, the world lies in darkness”. He had a call of God in his life and he heard the Lord’s voice, impressing on him that, it might have been a beautiful day physically but spiritual darkness still reigned supreme on so many. And, as I heard it, this man took heed to God’s voice that day.

Recently I was reviewing some Bible verses I’ve memorized and I came upon a word that’s almost disappeared from modern English: heed. Maybe you’ve heard it used like, “You need to take heed to the warnings”. It means to listen to, consider or take note of. You won’t hear “heed” used on CNN, Fox News or BBC tonight.

hear O Israel fixed again flatIf you’re a student of the things of God, you’ll know how seriously He emphasizes the need for us to heed and hearken to Him. It virtually all starts with that. You can say it all starts with faith and belief; that’s certainly also true. But here’s an example of what I mean. Someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus said, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one God’.” (Mark 12:29) And He goes on in the next verses to say that we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts and our neighbor as our selves. That’s the part we remember. But it’s prefaced by “Hear, O Israel.

Even in many churches today the need to hear God and to hearken to Him is either not understood or at least not emphasized much. But the Bible says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart.” (Psalm 95:7 & 8) Job said nearly 4000 years ago, “For God speaks once, yea twice, but man does not perceive it.”(Job 33:14) And then he goes on to say how that God will end up giving us dreams in the night when He can’t get through to us any other way.

“Mark what do you mean by hearing from God? Do you think we should all go around like Elijah? Or Moses on Mount Sinai?”

Nope. The first and most important way to hear from God is through His written, revealed Word. If you never hear a voice, if you never have a dream, if you never have a vision, if you’ll just receive and obey what He’s given us through His Word, you’ll do great. Jesus said, “He that has My commandments and keeps them, he is it that loves Me. And he that loves Me will be loved of My Father and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21) Jesus promises that those who keep His commandments will be loved by Him and the Father and that They will manifest Themselves to us. What a promise. So the first way to “take heed and hearken” to God’s voice is to receive and obey what He’s already said in His revealed Word, the Bible.

my presence flatBut there’s more to it than that. Some people think the last time God spoke was to John on the Isle of Patmos in 90 AD. But the reality is that God is still alive, well and speaking to us today, or at least He wants to if He can get our ear. “You shall hear a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it’.” (Isiah 30:21) The whole idea of salvation is to restore us to personal, living, intimate fellowship with God so that not only “Christ shall live in your hearts by faith” (Ephesians 3:17) but the presence of God can communicate to us in all the fullness, strength and joy that is His will and our need and desire. God told Moses, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus  33:14)

But there is something we need to do. We need to “take heed.” We need to “hearken.” Probably that’s why it says “Be not as the horse or the mule which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.” (Psalm 32:9) We are commanded to hear from God, both from His written Word and from His living voice and not to be like dull animals, insensitive to the voice and impulses of our Master.

Why? Because He’s some cruel supernatural authoritarian who just won’t leave us alone to do our own thing? Nope, because He’s the very spirit of love that created all things and He has an indescribably better idea than we do of what will make us happy and how we can best spend our lives. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). And that’s true on so many levels and scales, not only deep theological truth but also for each of us personally in our day to day affairs, even “a very present help in the time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) God help us all to “incline our ear and come unto Him”. (Isiah 55:3) “Now therefore hearken unto Me, oh My children: for blessed are they that keep My ways.”  (Proverbs 8:32)

A Rabbit and the Lynch Mob

lynch mobA week ago was the day of the funeral of my mom, Virginia McMillion. I’d flown in from Europe the day before and it was just a rough time for me in every way. I’d not planned to speak at the funeral as I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. But that morning a couple of things came to mind that I felt would be good for folks to know about the heritage and upbringing both I and my parents had.

My dad, about 8 years old, 1929

My dad, about 8 years old

At the funeral I shared two stories of my parents’ upbringing that had a big impact on them and a big impact on me when I was told them as a child. First, about my dad. He went hunting with his dad when he was maybe 7 years old, around 1928. They came back with a rabbit he’d shot and showed it to his mom. Her only comment was something like, “Poor rabbit. Why did you shoot it? He never hurt anyone.” This of course made a huge impact on my dad and he never went hunting again. But in a broader sense, it was indicative of the traditions and life view of my dad’s mother and father and their families.

There was an underlying theme of kindness and even harmlessness that permeated the lives of those people. Trying to find something in the Bible that could describe this, the phrase “without guile” (John 1:47) came to mind. I’ve thought about how, if I’d tried to speak about this when I was young, I don’t think I could have verbalized it. But it continually touched me and impacted me at perhaps a subconscious level, strongly shaping my life. I wrote about my dad’s side of my family in “Texas People”.

“Sharecroppers” picking cotton

“Sharecroppers” picking cotton

At the funeral I next told about a major event in the history of my mom’s family. They lived on northeast Texas countryside and her grandfather was a very wealthy landowner and cotton farmer over 100 years ago. He had many “sharecroppers” working on his land, both whites and African-Americans. It happened that a white man came to the house of a black man over some argument. A fight broke out and in defending himself, the black man killed the white man. The black man fled for protection to the house of my great-grandfather, Marshall Womack. Soon after that a crowd of white men on horseback came to my great-grandfather’s house, demanding that he turn the black man over to them.

If you’re from the US, you probably know what was going on with this. But for those who might not understand, this time 100 years ago was still totally dominated in the southern states of the USA by rampant, often violent, racism. The sudden hangings of black men without trail, “lynching”, was often the way things were handled in situations like this.

But my mother’s grandfather went out to meet the lynch mob in front of his house and told them he had no intention of handing over the black man to them. It ended up that the black man was taken to Paris, Texas to stand trial where he was convicted of manslaughter and served a few years in jail. But he wasn’t turned over to a racist mob that day and my great-grandfather stood up against the evil that was so rampant in those times about these things.

My great grandfather, Marshal Womack (1869-1964)

My great grandfather, Marshal Womack (1869-1964)

These stories of my family’s history made a huge impact on me when I was young. It made me realize that there are important things in life having to do with what we call morals, ethics and the things of the soul and heart which are supremely important. Solomon said, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) My dad’s side of the family was still fairly Christian but my mom’s side was not as much. But even without being overtly Christian, there was still a strong underlying sense of right and wrong and at times a willingness to stand up and against the tide, like in the case of the lynch mob at my great grandfather’s house.

Growing up, I just knew that in my family, we had a standard of right and wrong that would end up standing alone at times against what many others felt was acceptable and normal. Somehow I knew I was accountable to a very high standard of decency, because of the heritage of my upbringing.

Probably all of us have things like this from our youth, stories your parents told you that shaped your life. Maybe you said in your heart, “I want to be like that.” Or maybe you said in your heart that you didn’t. This is a major way our lives are shaped and how we come to decide who we are and what we want to be.

Long ago God told believers back then, “This Word which I command you this day shall be in your heart. And you shall  teach it diligently to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:6 & 7) We all have influence, for evil or for good. I’m so thankful to be from a family that taught me through their words and deeds to have a real love for mankind and for truth, justice and equality as well.

Back again in Ukraine

Ukraine mapFor the last week I’ve been back visiting where I lived in 2008 and 2009, in eastern Ukraine. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. This isn’t Monaco or Hawaii. But for me, it is now (and was 6 years ago) a very nice place to be, among friends who hold the same views and beliefs as I do and who’ve dedicated their lives to serving the Lord.

But it can be a tough place to be in some ways and it’s a challenge for me to write this blog post and to keep it upbeat and cheerful. Because this place can be “not for the fainthearted”. It’s not a matter of violence or crime, the statistics on that are probably pretty low. And it’s not the simmering border war with Russian separatists that is still happening about 200 miles (@320 kilometers) to the east or the Russian takeover of Crimea 200 miles to the south. At one point these things did look like they would spill far into the country but it no longer really looks like that.

No, the overarching narrative here that affects nearly every life is the extreme deprivation, resulting from years of severe economic hardship, already prevalent before the worldwide crash of 2008. And I’m at a juncture here because the Bible teaches us, “Whatsoever things are true, righteous, pure and lovely, if there is any virtue or praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) In brief, we should aim to stay positive. And at the same time, Solomon said, “Sorrow is better than laughter for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Eccles. 7:3)

So I’ll tell you the good news first. My friends here have continued to stay on the wall of Christian service during the 6 years since I left here. There are not a whole lot of them but they’ve worked tirelessly in this country, often focusing on what they can do in the vast numbers of orphanages and places for the mentally challenged. Someone has said, “A little bit of love can go a long, long way.” It sure needs to here and it does. Besides delivering physical aid to these places which just barely get by, a surprising ministry for my friends here has been what’s called clowning.

fixed-Dom Malutki 12“Clowning” might not sound like a great idea to some. You may think we have too many clowns around already when we look at the politicians and so many other sources of light, frivolous froth that seems so prevalent nowadays. But this is Ukraine, not the “rich-and-increased-with-goods” West. Here I find that the clowning my friends do in orphanages and detention homes is closer to being like what Solomon said about these things, “A merry heart does good like a medicine but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

patch AdamsIf this still seems strange to you, perhaps you’ve heard of the movie starring Robin Williams, “Patch Adams”, about the true story of a famous doctor who used clowning to cheer up his patients and how much this helped them. That’s what my friends do here and it’s been both successful, as well as much appreciated by the authorities in these parts. Of course my friends are dedicated Christians and are doing all this to bring light, love and joy to a part of the world that really does need it very much, increasingly so.

horse wagonOK, that’s the good part; now let’s talk about the bad, ha! It’s the economics. And you could think, “Oh, Mark, at least it’s not violence, crime or diseases.” Hmm. Let me give you some statistics and you can see how this would work for you. You’re retired and draw a pension from your government? Millions here do and they receive… $45 a month. That’s $ 1.50 per day. An average wage in Guatemala is about twice that, I’m told. Are you going to buy medicine on $1.50 a day? No. You’re just barely going to avoid starvation if you somehow have some place you can grow some potatoes, have an apple tree and a few chickens you feed.

woman plowingYou’re a teacher in your prime, not retired? Let’s see. You’ll receive… about $55 a month. At 40 hours a week that would be about $.25 an hour for your efforts. Your tops in your field, medicine, and are #2 at a large city hospital? You’ll be getting less than $200 per month. So it’s all kind of indescribable. Almost like a sci-fi movie where all that you’ve taken for normal is deeply distorted so that things are surreal, Kafkaesque.

I could tell you much more but I won’t. It’s against this backdrop that my friends here work daily to try to bring hope, love, truth and a little happiness and joy amidst such grim deprivation. It moves me and affects me. Verses like “Unto whom much has been given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48) and “They that be strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” (Romans 15:1) have always under-girded my life as keystones of how I should respond to the gross darkness that is upon so much of our world. Being here has been a reminder of how much I and many of my friends have and how much we have to give (in so many ways) to help others.

 

Judging Others

Judging others flatI received a comment recently in response to what I wrote in the article “But Mark…” which was written about salvation but also about our rewards in heaven or lack of them. It was a pretty brisk letter I received, here are parts of it.

Hey Mark, you leaves me scratching my head in amazement!!! I agree that some who claim to be Christians don’t do as much as they could.  But to call people FAT & LAZY is such a sin in itself!!! Who told you that you will be the judge of people!? But you are calling people names & chasing them away!!! We’re supposed to encourage!! We don’t judge & call names!!!

You talk about people watching too much TV?? So now Mark gets to decide what is good & bad!! Does Mark decide who watches what & how long can we watch? It’s apparent Mark has a computer, a telephone, the internet & how far does that go? A fridge, a stove, a microwave, air conditioning???

Mark doesn’t volunteer at his church but he does tell us how to live!!! Please!!! Mark, you don’t make the rules, you don’t decide how much, how long when or where & how people do things!!!! So put down the ego & do GOOD WORKS !!!! Please don’t judge & don’t chase people!!!! Shepherd the sheep, spread the good word!!! It’s really not Mark’s rules!!! It’s the LORDS !!!! You see how I put my KINGS name in caps & not Mark’s !!! That’s because I follow & interpret the LORD’S word my own way!!! I decide how much my family watches TV, drives, cooks, shops or whatever!!!! NEVER Mark!!!!

That gave me a lot to think about. First I went back to the article to see if I really called people fat and lazy. The place where that’s found is where I’m having an imaginary person call me out for my teaching and they are saying to me, “So many Christians are just spiritually fat and lazy because of what you are teaching!

You told me the truth-a-flattenedI feel that if you read the text, I’m not speaking there but voicing what others have accused me of. Also it says “spiritually fat”. Of course, if you pause to think about it, millions today have become physically obese. I have to watch it about that myself. It’s another of the many “sins that so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1) that every child of God in the world has to fight and resist each day if they want to stay on the Lord’s path. So I don’t think I’m calling people names there and chasing people away, certainly not ones who read the article for what it says and not for some phrase that suddenly jumps out at them.

But in a deeper sense, this brother brings up the subject of judging others. As far as I know, I haven’t been laying down rules for people. But the question is there for all of us: are we to judge others? Is it permissible in any way to assess and counsel our brothers and sisters in Christ? Is this all supposed to be left to the Lord and we’re to remain aloof and unresponsive when we see others who are struggling with the weights and sins of this life?

Judge righteous Judgment-flattenedPerhaps this brother knows well the Lord’s famous admonition “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) It’s worthwhile to go on to the next thing the Lord said about this, “for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged.” It’s like the blog post I wrote “Judge Righteous Judgment” which was based on the place where Jesus said, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

So it’s not like we’re just to all be silent and passive when we see our brethren who’ve fallen prey to temptation or error. Here’s another place in the Bible that speaks of this. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

In many ways it’s like what the first murderer, Cain, said to God when He asked Cain where his brother, Abel, was. Cain said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) And of course the answer to that actually is yes. We are to “shepherd” each other, only “in a spirit of meekness”, as that verse above says.

Another passage on this subject says, “The servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, in patience instructing those who oppose themselves, if God in fact will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth and that they may recover themselves from the snare of the devil.” (II Timothy 2:25)  It’s clear from Scripture that we’re to be involved in a humble, loving way in the lives of our brothers and sisters, not self-righteously, not setting ourselves up above others but taking the low seat and also trying to be a living example of any admonitions we have for others.

watching TVThere’s a lot more that could be said on this but I don’t want to make this too long. As far as television goes, I’ll admit that I feel it is the bane and “Waterloo” of very many people everywhere in these times. I recently wrote about this in “No wicked thing before my eyes”.

For myself, and perhaps others of you in a similar situation, it is a sobering thing to share lessons or even admonitions with others. Jesus did clearly say “With what judgment you judge you shall be judged.” James, the Lord’s brother said, “He will have judgment without mercy who has showed no mercy, and mercy rejoices against judgment.” (James 2:13)

But, as strange as it may seem, the Bible does clearly say we are to judge others. With wisdom, humility and the fear of the Lord , as we would be judged, with tenderness and with the full instruction of His eternal Word. Paul told the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?”   (I Corinthians 6:2 & 3)

It’s a fearful, sobering thing to in any way become a teacher or adviser of others when you are aiming to do that “as unto the Lord.” (Colosians 3:23) I’m thankful for this brother’s reminder of that and I pray I will have a clean heart and a right spirit in the things I do and the things I share with others on line.

Pain and suffering

I’ve had an interesting week. On Wednesday I had 5 hours of surgery on my right shoulder to repair a tendon I ruptured 8 months ago. I’d never had surgery before and almost never needed to go to a hospital til now. So it was all very new to me. I’ll pick up with what happened the next morning at the hospital, after the anesthesia wore off.

With my new shoulder sling

Basically I quickly began to experience pain like I’ve never had in my life. For 2 hours it got worse and worse to where I was moaning, crying and asking/begging the nurse to hurry up with boosting the dosage of pain killer. She was doing her job but she had others to attend to. Also I suspect it can get to be with nurses that they become desensitized to the suffering that patients experience after a while. But I was getting increasingly desperate and insistent.

We got to the point where I was asking/demanding that they either give me morphine or gas me out so I wouldn’t experience what was happening at that time. But around then the effects of what they’d been giving me the last two hours began  to work and the pain level came down from “10” to about “6.5”. I was able to bear that enough.

It had been pain that pushed me to get a better analysis of what had happened to my shoulder 8 months ago. I’d finally had an MRI done which the orthopedic surgeon used to show me where my muscle was detached from my bone by about 1 inch. That’s why it had been virtually impossible for me to sleep at night for months.

Back home that night, still taking the maximum allowed of pain killers and wearing the shoulder sling you  can see in the picture, I realized I’d have another night of no sleep until my fatigue got the better of my pain. All I could do was wait, pace the floor in my apartment and “draw nigh to God” (James 4:8). And in prayer I thought about a lot.

dad and sonI thought about how many people around the world are in pain all the time. The hungry, the sick, the dispossessed, the refugees, those with no hope. I thought about the Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds I’d talked with on the Macedonian border in December, or in refugee camps in Berlin in January. Women with children, young Syrian daddies who held their little son’s hand, all in the bitter cold of a Balkan winter. How was my pain compared to theirs?

Moscow beggarI thought of the year I lived in Moscow in the 90’s and the beggars I’d see there. Many were not alcoholics but former military officers or older women who looked to come from very distinguished backgrounds who stood with their hands out, a look of sadness on their faces that made me realize how great a personal loss so many had had with the collapse of Communism. Or the middle aged men I met in Aceh Province, Indonesia, after the tsunami disaster there in 2004. It was the men who survived. aceh survivorThey often were fishermen or truck drivers and were away from their families on the Sunday morning when 3 giant waves crashed into coastal communities for hundreds of miles. I remembered the many men I’d met who’d lost their wife and all their children and the utter sadness and profound despondency they had.

And I thought of my own United States of America and the social background I come from: middle aged to elderly, White and middle class. lost my jobWhile prosperity has increased over the last 20 years or so, the demographic I’m a part of has seen basically no gain in their standards of living and it’s been necessary to work all the more just to keep at the level they were decades ago. Alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide has steadily risen for the white middle class in the USA while in other industrialized Western nations, these things have all decreased. You don’t have to talk to refugees to find pain and suffering in our times.

So I hesitate to say I became thankful for my suffering because you might ask, “Oh, would you like some more of it?” And I’d say no. But it was a reality check that I’ve had it pretty good in my life. I’ve had some very strong pain in an emotional sense from personal family-related things in my past. Also decades ago when I was getting close to becoming a Christian, the Lord allowed me to feel severe anguish and torment of soul that helped drive me to salvation. But plain, outright physical pain is not something I’ve experienced so much of.

Around 4 AM my fatigue finally got the best of my pain and I slept 2 hours, sitting upright on my sofa since lieing down was impossible. Now, a couple of days later, things are improving. The worst of the pain has abated and I’m able to sleep in my bed at night with a good deal fewer pain killers than before.

feeling pain flatThe Bible says “in everything give thanks” (I Thessalonians 5:18) and I can say, in some strange way, I’m thankful for this experience. It was a very good reminder of what hundreds of millions, if not billions of people experience every day. Even before I became a Christian, when I was growing up, I wanted to do something to make things better in this world. I’m so, so thankful that the Lord got a hold of me and brought me into a life of Christian discipleship.

Some of us are doing ok today. But if we have food in our stomach, a place to sleep, some friends and we’re pretty much staying above the waves and vicissitudes of this often dangerously raging world we live in, it’s good to remember those who aren’t doing so well and who could use some help.  I think that’s how Jesus taught us to look at these things.

 

News about Witnessing in Germany

German streetI received a thrilling testimony from a Christian sister around my age in Germany who’s been a faithful witness for many years. I’d like to share this with friends far and wide as it’s certainly not the kind of thing you’ll see on the evening news. But I really believe this is something that makes news in heaven.

This sister lives in a large industrial city in German which has very many Muslim refugees, as well as German citizens of Middle Eastern background. And on top of that, it’s one of the centers in Germany of the far right, anti-immigrant, nationalist movement. A few months ago I helped my friend to get a shipment of several hundred Gospels of Luke in Arabic which she would be able to use in the times she goes out witnessing in her city. Here’s part of a letter she wrote me yesterday.

passing litI was out witnessing after some time of not being able to go out much and at first it was such a battle; but that always happens. I’d copied some tracts to pass out and it had become late already. I was starting to get tired but was dissatisfied because I’d taken 10 Arabic Gospels of Luke with me, with the determination to give them out. But I was by that time just tired and wanting to go home.

I told myself, “OK, I’ll walk toward the train station and on the way pass out some more things.” I realized there where quite a few people also streaming toward the train station so I just asked Arabic-looking people if they spoke Arabic and offered them then the Gospels of Luke.

There were two families with little kids and each looked at me like they wanting to say, “Are you in your right senses? We are Muslims.”  sharing wordSo I told them that the Quran teaches we should read the “Injils”, the gospels about “Isa”, Jesus. They both reacted with an “Ohh”, realizing I might know more about the Quran than them, and took it, thanking me for it.

On the way I passed the big cinema and decided to see if there was an announcement about the new movie with Joseph Fiennes about the resurrection of Jesus. And there were 2 young girls sitting with Muslim head-scarfs on, around 15 or 16 years old.

I offered them Gospels of Luke too and at first they were a bit mixed up in surprise. Then the younger one started to get all excited and I heard the word “Injil” several times. Then the older one caught on and thanked me profusely, even kissing the booklet. That was my time to be startled.

Phew, what a great time I still had! One more guy took it because I said yes when he asked me if I’ve read the Quran. I have read only here and there a verse but that’s probably more than many Muslims ever have read, like most church people don’t read their Bible.

giving GoL flatIn all I was able to give out 8 Gospels of Luke in Arabic and a bunch of German and English tracts, thank you Jesus! I was all poured out when I arrived at the train station but very happy.

I am still praying for one or more Muslims to teach the Bible and who can help me better spread the Good News (my strength is so little for this great job) if you like to pray with me for this.

Much love, C.

Angela MerkelI don’t know about you but this just made my day. It’s exactly what I’ve written about in blog posts like “Merkel’s Call”, “Enemy at the Gate”, “They that be with us…” and several other similar posts about conditions presently in Germany and Europe. What this dear sister wrote about shows that it can be done. It would be great it if was some huge, mass movement that everyone can feel they are swept up in and feel a part of. But that may not happen. Meanwhile, it’s up to individuals to just share the love of God and the truth of God with the lost, like the people of faith have been doing since the days of the Early Church.

It may not seem like much. “What is this among so many?” (John 6:9) But it’s a start. And I know personally a number of other folks around Europe who are doing daily exactly what this dear sister in German wrote about.Go flatOne shall chase a thousand and two shall put ten thousand to flight.” (Joshua 23:10) May the Lord bless this dear German sister for her faithfulness to share God’s love and truth with the lost and may others catch the same vision and passion.

Praying the Word

neither know we flatThere are so many good things to do. But sometimes we just need to lay them down and pour out our hearts to the Lord. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) And as much as our own independent hearts would like to disagree with that, it’s totally the truth. Well, we might clarify His words there by saying “We can do nothing good and anything bad“, without Him.

And Jesus, rising up a great while before dawn, went out into a desert place and there prayed.” (Mark 1:35) For me, prayer is an absolute necessity. Of course we should be praying all the time, “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17), right? But there are certainly times when it’s got to be a whole lot more than our little prayers we pray as we go about our tasks of the day. There really have to be times when we “Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) God wants that and we need that in a more absolute way than most of us realize.

But, what do we say? How do we pray? In many ways, it should just be natural. Jesus said “The hour comes and now is that the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.” (John 4:23)

In the first weeks after I became a Christian, my friends encouraged me that, in prayer, I should tell God how much I loved Him. Well, I was so messed up back in those days and still coming out of so much darkness and heart sickness that I just told God I didn’t know how or if I loved Him.  I just knew that He was, that I believed in Him and was very thankful to be alive. I told Him I didn’t even know what love was so He would have to show me and teach me to love because I didn’t know it or see it in myself. Later I found a lot of comfort in the verse I Corinthians 8:3, “If any man loves God, the same is known of him.” I figured God knew I loved Him, even if I was finding difficulty expressing it. And I think, over the years, gradually the Lord has taught me about love and loving Him.

please hear me flatThere’s just so much to prayer, it’s hard to encapsulate it into a small post like this. But worshiping the Father “in spirit and in truth” is what Jesus said we should do. You “pour out your heart before Him” (Psalm 62:8), telling the Lord what’s at the bottom of your soul, even if you think it’s not perfect, eloquent or sufficient. Just that you’re bringing your innermost self before Him is a major right thing to do and He sees it and will bless it.

But for me, I’ve ended up finding that when I “pray the Word”, I feel my prayers go further and are stronger. What do I mean by that? Often in prayer I have to “prime the pump”. It’s a little like that strange verse, “He did evil because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord.” (II Chronicles 12:14) We have to not only get in prayer, it helps a lot if we get in the Spirit also. We have to move out of our carnal minds and worldly affairs and to come into the place in our hearts where it’s like what it says, “Who is this that engages his heart to come unto me?” (Jeremiah 30:21)

We have to engage our hearts to come to him. And for me, one of the ways to do this is to pray and quote the Word, the Bible. It gets me out of my carnality and into the Godly mindset of His promises. Peter said, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature”. (II Peter 1:4a) There’s a whole lot of truth right there in that verse.

So when we bring our thoughts and conscience into the realm of His promises, His Word, it engenders light and truth and the whole revitalizing “magic” (pardon the expression) that God’s Word can and does work in us. Jesus said “The words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) quicken me flatKing David certainly knew this principle when he said, “My soul cleaves to the dust, quicken me through Your Word.” (Psalm 119:25) Or it’s like Jeremiah prayed to the Lord, “Your words were found and I did eat them and Your Word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

So if you’re battling in prayer, weighted down by the affairs of this life, all too aware of your demanding nature, here are a few ideas. Sing a song to the Lord that’s meaningful to you. Then sing another one. And if you feel you’re not great at memorizing, try to just memorize the 23rd Psalm, the one that starts “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”. You could quote that in prayer.  Some people even raise their hands in prayer, you don’t have to but it can be good.

These things are like priming the pump. And what you may find is that it begins to get a little easier. Thank Him for all the good things that you have, even if you feel there are some things missing. You could even use the word “praise” in your prayers, like you find so often in the Psalms. “Let all the people praise You, then shall the earth yield its increase.” (Psalm 67:5 & 6)

For me, sometimes in prayer I just quote God’s Word like a stream flowing out of me. I claim God’s promises and I pray and quote the prayers I find in the Psalms which I’ve committed to memory. Sometimes I just get lifted out of my doldrums and almost get “lost in the Spirit”, delivered from my self-absorbed self  as I enter the realm of His presence through prayer and His Word.

I hope your prayer life is what He (and you) want it to be. We all need this so much. “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Hard Knocks Witnessing

you are wrong flatI’ve often mentioned the subject of witnessing and it’s certainly a huge subject. I’ve never yet been in a church that teaches personal witnessing to its people. But witnessing at times can be tough. Everyone probably knows that and it’s one reason so few people do it.

I was on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California decades ago, witnessing to young people when I was a young person myself. Then, off to my right and striding down the sidewalk in the early evening was someone decked out in a full Satan costume, red cape, horns, mask and all. As he walked by he was repeatedly saying in a deep voice, “I’ve come to see my kingdom”. This was many years ago and I’ve been told it’s much worse there now.

While witnessing is really like sowing seeds, it also can be like a battle. Some folks just have their standard lines they throw back at Christians since most Christians don’t know how to answer tough questions. I remember one that really stumped me when I was about a year old in the Lord. This guy in Los Angeles told me that Jesus never actually said that He was the Son of God. That really got me right then. I’d been studying the Word and had memorized a lot but I just couldn’t think of anything right then that absolutely proved the guy wrong.

But it really got me into the Word about it. Later I found what I figure was the best place where Jesus said He was the Son of God, John 10:36b, “…do you say of Him who was sanctified and sent into the world, ‘you blaspheme’, because I said I am the Son of God?

Actually, when you think about it, Jesus didn’t go around all the time telling everyone He was the Son of God. He called Himself “the Son of Man” over 70 times  but the specific places where He said He was the Son of God were rare. So that guy back then long ago sort of won the conversation I was having with him that day. But then I knew what to answer the next time someone pulled that one on me.

Weapons to Pakistan 1-flattenedMaybe that’s another thing about witnessing that most people just don’t want to experience. You just might meet your match, ha! The only thing is, it may be your match but not the Lord’s. Like anything, you have to hone your skills or, better yet, let the Lord teach you how to witness and share your faith. You may have your stumbles or bumps in the road but you keep taking it back to the Lord, learn your lessons, Weapons to Pakistan 2-flattenedand do better next time. A little like what happened to me years later in New Delhi, India when I was witnessing door to door there and a woman almost immediately, upon opening her door, yelled at me, “Why are you selling weapons to Pakistan!” I wrote about that experience here.

I was a smart-alecky 18 year old atheist in my first semester of university  when a young Christian student at the university was going door to door in the dormitory, witnessing for the Lord. I gleefully welcomed him in to have a talk, like a spider to a fly.

The thing is, I’d never before met a Christian like that. I tried all my old lines I usually used to mock Christians. I laughed long and heartily at him. He stood his ground with a friendly smile and just kept sharing his faith with me. I rejected the witness he shared with me but that experience changed my life.

Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” (John 15:22) Up till that time, I’d never really been witnessed to by a strong Christian. But after that event I was much more accountable and two weeks later, having rejected the messenger of God, the messenger of Satan was allowed by God to come to me in the form of a hippie on campus who sold me my first marijuana. For the next 2 years my life gradually went downhill till I very nearly died on drugs and went to hell, an event I told you about in “Lucifer and the White Moths”.

delivered your soul-1 flatBut it was the faithfulness of that young Christian student at my university to share God’s message with me, even though I rejected it, that was part of God’s plan in bringing me to Him. And I share this here to show how that, even if you have a “negative” witnessing experience, as that dear brother had with me that day back then, “nevertheless Christ is preached” (Philippians 1:18) and it was an integral part of God’s plan for my life. Even if someone gives you grief while you’re out witnessing, it is still your faithfulness that counts and you have “delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 3:19), as the Lord wants us to do.

Cartea lui Daniel Capitolul 2 (Romanian video)


Romanian
Aceasta este cea de-a doua înregistrare în limba română din seria profețiilor lui Daniel. Capitolul 2 al cărții profetului Daniel este considerat de către erudiții de seamă din aproape toate confesiunile drept perspectiva cea mai concisă și mai obiectivă din Biblie asupra istoriei și a viitorului lumii. Acest capitol este, din multe puncte de vedere, temelia de pe care putem înțelege atât multitudinea de profeții împlinite din trecut, cât și a celor care urmează încă să se împlinească în viitorul apropiat.

De multe ori am avut impresia că acest capitol a fost conceput de către Dumnezeu în mod intenționat ca un prim și ușor pas pe drumul profeției. Este ca o pregătire pentru capitolele mai avansate din domeniul profeției, ca, de exemplu, Daniel capitolul 7. De-abia din acel punct putem spune că am început cu adevărat să urcăm pe muntele profeției.

Versiunea în engleză a acestui capitol, intitulată “The Book of Daniel Chapter 2”, poate fi accesată aici. Prima înregistrare în limba română din această serie, “O încadrare a profeției în istorie”, poate fi vizionată aici. Sper că atât voi, cât și prietenii voștri să vă bucurați și să profitați de aceste înregistrări video pe tema profeției biblice.

English

This is the second video in Romanian of the Prophecies of Daniel series. Daniel Chapter 2 is considered by scholars of almost all faiths to be the briefest and most concise overall picture of the history and future of the world in the entire Bible. This chapter is in many ways the foundation on which we can understand fulfilled prophecies of the past, as well as see what still is to be fulfilled in times soon to come.

It has often seemed to me that this chapter was intentionally designed by God as an easy first step along the path of prophecy. It’s like a preparation for the more advanced prophecy chapters, such as Daniel chapter 7. That chapter is where we will begin to really climb up into the mountains of prophecy.

The English version of this video, “The Book of Daniel Chapter 2”, can be seen in here. The first Romanian video in this series, “O încadrare a profeției în istorie”, can be seen in here. I hope you and your friends will enjoy and benefit from these videos on Bible prophecy.

Zeal and Hard Sayings

ChurchillI was thinking about Winston Churchill, one of my heroes. A movie that made a huge impact on me was “The Gathering Storm” about Churchill in the 1930’s. He was already old and pretty much out of favor in Britain. In the British parliament he just kept up his “rant”, if you will, against the dangers of Germany and Hitler’s rise. But it wasn’t what people wanted to hear and he was pretty much “a voice in the wilderness” (John 1:23), going against the wind and the tide of the times. But he was right, very right. And ultimately, as that movie shows, the nation came to see that he’d been right all along in his warnings.

It can be a lonely job at times to tell truths that are unpopular and go against popular opinion. It can be tough to be tough. And sometimes, actually, it can be God’s will to be a little tough. Jesus was. Yes, He was, at least in some sense. You don’t usually hear about this from the pulpit but in John 6 Jesus gave His “cannibal speech”. Today we have sanitized the whole thing and understand it by the Spirit. But back then it was very, very rough.

hard saying flatSo rough that it says that some of His disciples said, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” (John 6:60) The Bible goes on to say, “From that time, many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.” (John 6:66) What happened? Well, Jesus told them, “Except you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.” (John 6:53)

That doesn’t bother you because you’ve had it explained to you and you know Jesus was not speaking of cannibalism. But the ones who heard Him say it that day really didn’t get it. And it gets worse. In Luke 14 “Great multitudes followed Him and He turned and said to them, ‘If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children, yeah and his own life also, He cannot be my disciple’.” (Luke 14:26)

So there you have it in the Gospels, cannibalism and hatred. Of course we now know and understand what we feel those things mean. But the point is, there are some relatively hard sayings in some places in Scripture, even in the four Gosples. And if we’re following the Lord and letting the Lord speak to us and through us, at times there are still hard sayings today.

Maybe it’s like the phrase people use nowadays, “tough love.” That’s how it can be. Solomon said, “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8) Let’s face it, most of us are not that wise and don’t love getting rebuked. Still Solomon was right; being shown a better way than your own can be tough but it also really helps.

I guess I’ve been a little concerned because I know that recently I’ve put some things in my posts that may have been “hard sayings” to some of my friends. I hesitate to apologize because I just know and feel that there has to be a time in each life where difficult things need to be said in order to make things better. It’s certainly not a matter of hate or, hopefully, of self-righteousness. It’s just that in order to help each other, we have to say things that are difficult, things that call us to a serious appraisal of ourselves and even to repentance for our slackness and an urging to great commitment to Him.

You told me the truth-a-flattenedThis can not only be difficult to receive, it can be difficult to share. But I’ve often been on the receiving end of some rather strong but Godly council from Christian brethren who were trying to help me see the error of my ways and the areas I needed to make Christian progress in. It was not easy to receive and sometimes it wasn’t even shared with me in all that sweet a lovey-dovey package. Nevertheless, the Lord’s truth was there and I needed “to see the lightning without feeling the bolt”, which was not always easy.

So when I share things in some of my posts that may come across as challenging or almost extreme to some, I hope I’m sharing these things in love, often as lessons I myself have experienced and gone through. Richard GereAgain, going back to movies many of us have seen to be an example of this, “An Officer and a Gentleman” is an incredible movie that shows these things so well. Staring Richard Gere and Louis Gossett, Jr., Gere is in basic training to be a navy pilot and Gossett is his hard-as-nails drill sergeant and instructor. It basically seems like Gossett hates Gere and is doing all he can to get him to fail. But the movie brings out that the drill sergeant has to be that way in order to get Gere to be a completely remolded man and to know if he will be of the meddle that can have what it takes to be at that level of the military.

And so it is with us. The Lord loves us but wants to make us into something useful and fruitful for Him. I’ve been through the fire, the flood, the anvil and the ice at times in my life. It was rough, sometimes really rough, but I’m still around and I’ve profited from those tough experiences. If you find things in my blog posts that push you, challenge you or make you feel uncomfortable, hopefully it will not be something you take personally. Instead you’ll see it as my trying to share what I’ve learned in my life with you and my trying to help all of us to go further up the mountain of His will, further along the road of the cross, further along the road of commitment and fruitfulness.

Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended in Me.” (Luke 7:23) My hope and prayer is that what I share in my posts, although they may be zealous, will be a blessing to you, even if some things are hard to receive or understand at times. God bless you, your friend, Mark