Lies, confusion and the truth

believe me 2 flatDon’t you just hate it when someone lies to you? It’s one thing when you catch it right away but even worse when they’ve lied to you for a while and you finally find out. I always figure the Lord gives us a measure of discernment and often we’ll detect a lie immediately. But not always.

Years ago in Scandinavia I’d begun meeting together with (what I thought was) a young man, perhaps around 20. “He” seemed interesting in the things of the Lord and we met together a few times before I didn’t see them anymore. Later I found that this was actually a young woman who’d probably had a great time deceiving me into thinking she was a male. I have to admit this somewhat stunned me that I’d been tricked like that and also that someone would be so deceptive.

really true flatI’ve had one other experience like that in another part of the world. A young man befriended me and my Christian friends and began to come regularly to our classes. He came from a wealthy, prominent family in the capital and seemed to have it all when it came to the physical. He helped us in our work with the poor and in many ways began to work besides us for months. But somehow this dear man seemed to find joy in telling stories of his past accomplishments that just were not true. He was pretty good at it and because of his background, none of us thought to just really dig into it and find that he was lying.

It was really pitiful because this young man had many good qualities and there was no need for him to try to pull the wool over our eyes with tall tales. But he did. At length it was all found out and he was embarrassed, ashamed and left our company. It was again kind of startling to me that someone would tell lies for so long to people who had sincerely become his friends and who really loved him. Also he had been through many Bible lessons and prayers and had been treated as someone who wanted to pursue a path of Christian discipleship.

King David desire truth flatAs I’ve written elsewhere, truth has always been important to me. King David in Psalm 51, said to God, “Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts, in the hidden parts you shall make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)  It’s almost like an unspoken given among Christians that we speak the truth with each other. We may not tell everything of our lives to every person. But at least we realize that truth is the true coinage of the realm of Heaven and that lies, deception and confusion should have no part in our lives.

I was thinking about this tonight in relation to being back here in America and (seemingly at least) how very hard it is to find the real truth here on so many things. Of course we who have the Lord have the truth of His Word and through prayer we can access Him and “the Spirit of Truth” (John 16:13), as Jesus called the Holy Spirit. But once you’re anywhere outside the realm of heavenly things, knowing what the truth is here is not easy. The Bible says, “God is not the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 14:33). But here there’s a tremendous degree of confusion and deception as so many news outlets compete to tell you their brand of facts and truth.

It really seems like a great confusion has settled upon this nation, so much so that most people no longer even try to dig down to find the unbiased reality and veracity on any subject. It’s just seems too difficult. So most choose some source to get their information from, often knowing that what they’re being told is almost always seriously tainted with a bias from some special interest group, trying to influence and control the population through their particular narrative.

I met a friend yesterday, a former missionary, who now really rails against the government here and how “they” are out to get us and to enslave us all. Fear of powerful unknown interests who control and orchestrate virtually everything from behind the scenes is a viewpoint held by many millions here, including many sincere Christians. But in talking with this friend, almost immediately there were some things he’d say about current world conditions or this country that I knew to be just plainly not true from a facts-based assessment. But I didn’t engage him on it as I knew he would just get mad at me for not agreeing with this point of view he felt so strongly about.

no truth flatFriends, I don’t have a really great “happy ending” to this article. We who believe in God and the Bible know where to get our eternal truths and verities from: His unfailing Word. But when it comes to the truth as to what’s happening in our world or our nation …well it reminds me of what Jesus said, “If the light that be in you be darkness, how great is that darkness.” (Matthew 6:23) We seem to be the most informed and knowledge-saturated people on earth. But so much of what we are “fed” through the media and on line is just as insidious as the worst junk food bought at the sleaziest restaurant.

I’ll try to end this with at least some ideas and hope. Get your information from more than one source. If you know your main news source is predominately “left wing” or “right wing”, try to find what the more reputable sources of the other viewpoint are saying, just in order to try to find objective facts that your favorite sources aren’t telling you. I even access the “main stream media” which is so often so reviled. The reason I do is simply because they have some reputation to uphold and they’re held accountable in ways that many fly-by-night, shoe-string budget alternative information sources never are.

Maybe it’s like Pilate said to Jesus, “What is truth?”  (John 18:38) In this day and hour, finding credible sources of truth about our current world and its condition is often a real labor. But it’s worth the effort. Don’t settle for the “shock jocks” and the spin masters to be your info source. You could even ask the Lord to help you discern these things and to help you not settle for news and info that you feel may be much less than “24 carat gold”. May God bless you as you search through the confusion of these times to try to find accurate information on which to make the decisions needed in these perilous times. God bless you.

 

“Let both grow to the harvest”

Let both grow flatSometimes you have to give things time. And that’s not easy to do. You just wish you could wake some people up and even shock them into realizing how things really are, how much God’s will and Word are the overarching realities of all we experience. But it just doesn’t seem to work, at least much of the time. We are to share the love and truth of the Lord with everyone. But often it seems to fall on “stony ground” (Luke 8:13). I’m sure that’s what folks thought who shared their faith with me.

“What a goat!”, they probably thought. Even “What a devil!” I was a real case. But often things just take time and that’s not easy for us.Judge nothing before its time” (I Corinthians 4:5), Paul said. Or as Bob Dylan sang years ago, “Don’t start talking while the wheel’s still in spin…”

Prodical sonIt takes time for some people, many people, to really realize how things are. Sometimes it takes a lifetime. And that’s difficult for us who pray for them, love them and watch as they seem to be wasting their life away. The prodigal son, at length, “came to himself” (Luke 15:17) and realized he was seriously on the wrong track. You get the feeling that this didn’t take many years to happen. But it saddens some of us when you see years go by with friends and loved ones living a life like the prodigal son but never really “coming to himself”, as Jesus called it.

Nevertheless, “Let both grow unto the harvest” (Matthew 13:30). That’s a fascinating verse. It’s from the parable of the wheat and the tares, about wheat and a type of poisonous weed, “tares”, that starts out looking very similar to wheat in its early stages. But, at length, wheat turns more or less white while full grown tares turns dark. Symbolic, no? So “at the harvest” it’s pretty easy to see what is the good, healthy wheat and what’s the poisonous weed, tares.

And that’s how life is too.  Sometimes on the short term there are “The pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25). But as Moses said, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). jerimiah questions flatOnly thing is, sometimes that doesn’t even seem to happen in this life. Ones in the Old Testament from Job to Jeremiah questioned the Lord about why He seemed at times to allow the sinful and Godless to live out their lives and not suffer for their evil. Jeremiah prayed, “Righteous are you, oh Lord; but let me speak to You of Your judgments…” (Jeremiah 12:1)

I guess it’s like Paul said, “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment and some men they follow after. Likewise the good works of some are manifest beforehand and they that be otherwise cannot be hid.” (I Timothy 5:24&25) That’s a New Testament way of saying that some folks don’t get their reward in this lifetime for the good and Godly lives they live here. But they will up there. Likewise some people who mock God and live selfish, hellish lives in this world seem to never really suffer for it here. But they will in the hereafter.

And since some reading this don’t really know what I’m talking about with “wheat and tares”, here’s what Jesus said about this in the Bible.

sowerAnother parable He put forth unto them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like to a man which sowed good seed in his field. But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? From where then does it have tares?’ He said unto them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said unto him, ‘Will you then that we go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, because while you gather up the tares, you may root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. And in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them. But gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13:24-30)

Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house. And His disciples came unto Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field”. He answered them, “He that sows the good seed is the Son of man. The field is the world and the good seed are the children of the kingdom. wheat & taresBut the tares are the children of the wicked one and the enemy that sowed them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth His angels and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend and them which do iniquity and shall cast them into a furnace of fire. There shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:36-43)

The good news is that, “He left not Himself without witness” (Acts 14:17). I’m convinced and have seen it in my own life that, “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11) God is not unfair, everyone has some kind of chance. Many have really a lot of changes, have seen a lot of truth and love from Him and they are very accountable. But often, it really takes the almost literal fires of hell experienced in this life for some people to say “uncle” to God.

That’s totally how it was for me; I was just a tough nut and resistant to the realities of the things of God. Back then you would have probably thought for sure that I was part of “the tares”.I choose Him flat But through God’s incredible, undeserved mercy, I somehow “came to myself” and joined the wheat. I personally was very nearly at “the harvest”. The Grim Reaper was before me, literally, and my life was hanging by the barest thread when I finally “figured it out” and turned to the God of Abraham.

But for many, it just seems to really take time. In a sense, so many are “resisting the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51) every day. And Solomon said, “He that is often reproved and hardens his neck shall suddenly be destroyed.” (Proverbs 29:1) It’s difficult to know of friends and loved ones who’ve seen and heard so much of the love of God and the truth of God who still walk their willful way. But, “Let both grow to the harvest.” “For we are like water spilled on the ground. Nevertheless the Lord devises ways that His banished be not expelled from Him.” (II Samuel 14:14)

“…and you are still?”

and you are still flatThis morning I found a verse that I’ve never noticed before but which really resonates for our times. It’s about “the promised land”. Specifically it refers to events from over 3000 years ago but its significance to us Christians today couldn’t be more important. No, this won’t be about Jewish settlements in the West Bank but about our own “Promised Land” of God’s will and destiny for His children which so many do not fully possess. From Judges 18:9 & 10. “Arise…for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good; and you are still? Be not slothful to go, and enter to possess the land: for God has given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of anything that is in the earth.

What really shocked me when I read this was realizing that this isn’t from the time of Joshua, the battle of Jericho and those events surrounding the original entrance of the Israelites into the land they’d been called to take. This verse is from hundreds of years later! They’d already entered the  land but only partially before running out of steam and settling down to enjoy what they had.

Come on flatAll of this of course is exceedingly rich in symbolism and meaning. They entered the promised land “by faith”, just as we are to receive and believe for all that God has given us through the mighty saving grace of our dear Lord Jesus. We have entered into the true “Promised Land” of eternal life and blessings through Him. But, but… like God’s people of old, so very many of us have not fully possessed the land.

Davids-Mighty-Men3Did you know that over 300 years after the Jews conquered the land, that what we now call Jerusalem was still inhabited by the Canaanites? David and his men climbed the mountains surrounding the city and routed the inhabitants, establishing Jerusalem as the new center and capital of ancient Israel. But that was centuries after the time of Joshua and the original conquering of the land.

They had to go further. David and his followers had to take the original commandments of God to a new level of obedience, hundreds of years after God had first spoken His Word on the mater. Why? Because our evil human nature of sloth,  disobedience, of being satisfied with a little, rather than all God has promised got the best of the people back then. So there were still giants in the land.

They had entered the promised land but they had not scaled the heights.

Solomon thinkingAnd of course we know that David not only scaled the heights and took the capital city physically, he did this spiritually as well. David probably went further than any other man in the Old Testament in really loving the Lord and, even as the sinner he was, in doing all he could to obey the Lord. It was David’s love for the Lord and obedience that catapulted Israel into the richest era in its history, not only physically in the coming kingdom of Solomon but spiritually in the lifetime of David and the treasures of spiritual riches he shared with his generation and all generations after that in the Psalms.

But what about us? How many Christians today will say with Caleb of old, “I’ll take the mountain”? In his 80’s Caleb, Joshua’s brother, led his tribe up the mountain to take the promised land. The question remains for so much of Christianity today, “…and you are still?

The truth is that the unconquered parts of the promised land came back to haunt and attack God’s partially obedient children of old. And it’s certainly still the same today. Christians who’ve gone as far as they want to go, who’ve settled down in the valleys of God’s Spirit, unwilling to drive out the darkened mountainous areas of their lives where God’s Spirit would lead them to victory, often find themselves to be in a weakened, defeated condition, not able to resist when the enemy launches a new attack. Because they themselves stopped attacking long ago. They didn’t really fully enter the promised land of God’s Spirit. They quit too soon, before the battle was fully won.

lethargy flatThe Bible says that “…in whatsoever state we are in to be content.” (Philipians 4:11) Well, I can tell you, there are certainly times to not be content. If “contentment” is actually self-satisfaction and lethargy when God is commanding and urging us on to greater obedience and greater spiritual victories, then “contentment” is not called for. Someone has wisely said, “Be content enough to be happy and discontent enough to want progress”

It comes back to discipleship and obedience. The Early Church was one of the best examples in history of about as close as we can find to ones who were really trying to obey fully. They claimed the spiritual promised land and prospered mightily in the first few generations of Christianity.

But today? So very many believers are “sitting at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). Maybe that’s why we’ll need to go through the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21) before the coming of the Lord. So often it takes suffering and tribulation to awaken His bride from her slumber. And we find this in His Word about the final days before His return, “…and some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them and to purge and to make them white, even unto the time of the end, for it is yet for a time appointed.” (Daniel 11:35)

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)