Brakes and Gas Pedals

Command Isreal flatGod told Moses, “Command the armies of Israel that they go forward.” (Exodus 14:15) That’s what we should be looking to do; we should be determined to go forward for the Lord. He said to go forward for Him and with Him, through the Holy Spirit. And they did. Jesus said, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) “Go therefore and teach all nations…” (Matthew 28:19) And gradually, through fits and starts, His earliest disciples did that. So going forward for Him and His cause should be our default position, our basic vision.

This is why, when I was writing “The Stand”, about the stand of faith, that I got a little concerned. Because perhaps the majority of Christians need more encouragement and admonition to use their “gas pedal” than to use their “brakes”. Using our brakes is certainly necessary and a matter of life and death at times. But maybe it’s like the little girl said about the purring cat, “Oh look, mommy! The kitty has gone to sleep and left its engine running!

We’re not supposed to go to sleep and leave our engine running. We’re not supposed to sit around with our foot on the brakes in some kind of defensive, “hold the fort” attitude. If there’s been a bane of organized Christianity in our times, it’s been this. And it’s now gotten to where virtually everyone thinks that this is Christianity. “Go to church on Sunday. Be good. Don’t be bad.”

Did Jesus say flatJesus didn’t tell His disciple, in the 40 days He was with them after His resurrection, “OK guys, this has been great! Now everyone go back to your old jobs, go back and join a good synagogue, blend into society. It’s all over! I’ve done what I came to do so you guys can relax. Enjoy life!” Umm, no.

Of course many churches do teach the Bible and even salvation, faith in God and in Jesus. But often at some point it just doesn’t go any further. How many churches really instill in each individual member that they can and should witness their faith and win souls? Paul said, “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel!” (I Corinthians 9:16) To which the standard reply is, “Oh, we can’t all be Paul!”  Or “Oh, I’m not a preacher! That’s what we pay Reverend Smith for.

Lord help us! Has human nature changed in the last 2000 years? Nope. “They all began to make excuse.” (Luke 14:18) Or as Solomon said, “There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the council of God stands assured.” (Proverbs 19:21)

Tell them I need them flatSo let’s answered a couple of those things that our hearts often throw at us. “Oh, we can’t all be Paul.” Right. But we can do what we can. And so often that’s a good deal more than we are doing. Maybe you can’t be a missionary right now. But you can witness to the circle of people you come in contact with. Virtually everyone can do that. This is the message the Lord gave me for the precious Christians I spoke with in Bulgaria back in March, that I wrote about in “God Needs You.

Hardly any church anywhere puts their membership under conviction to lead others to Christ. Virtually no church I know really instructs their members in how to personally witness and win souls.  That’s why I’m so glad I was born into a soul winning, discipleship Christianity. Because if the Devil can’t stop you from being a Christian, then he’ll try to stop you from being a disciple and  serving the Lord. He may not be able to stop you from having your engine running, but he’ll sure try to stop you from putting your foot on the gas. And I think that must sadden and perhaps even anger the Lord.

The only Christianity I’ve known has been one that endeavored to be based on the book of Acts and the Early Church. “They went forth and preached everywhere.” (Mark 16:20) “But Mark! I’m not a preacher! What do you want, Mark? For us all to go stand on some street corner and preach?!” Nope. But you could pass tracts to people you meet. You could be “always ready to give an answer of the hope within you.” (I Peter 3:15) You could be “instant in season and out of season.” (II Tim. 4:2)

Paul on the road to Damascus

Maybe it’s like something else Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (II Cor. 5:11) Paul really knew what it was like to be found utterly wanting and under the partially judgment of God. He was blinded for 3 days by the hand of God. He knew what it was like to be utterly blinded spiritually and even physically. Maybe that helped him have the compassion and drive that he had the rest of his life.

Many have been Christians all their lives. They’ve never really known what the horrendous torments of hell are like and so they don’t have the driving motivation to help those still in those straights.But one way or the other, each Christian needs to put their foot on the gas, not just the brakes.

We have the answer, we have the Lord, we have salvation and we are charged before the Lord to share that with others. “He that withholds it tends to poverty, but he that scatters abroad it increases.” (Proverbs 11:24) “He that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17) Step on the gas.

The day of small things

Day of Small things flatDuring my devotions this morning, I listened to a short talk given years ago about common place things. I was surprised how it spoke to me as, I have to admit, at times I can chafe at the work and ministry I have presently, Lord forgive me. But as this message brought out, it’s a sad condition of human nature that we all are tempted to bemoan our lot, no matter what it is and find it drudgery.

The teacher can grow weary in the well doing of training the precious ones they instruct. The mother can faint under the continuing housework and monotony of the care she shows to her family. The father can trudge back home after a day of work, feeling unappreciated and that his life is going nowhere. This mindset is there probably for ever person on earth.

But God’s Word asks “who has despised the day of small things?” (Zach. 4:10) We are to be “content in whatsoever state we are in” (Philippians 4:11). “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Tim. 6:6) Of course, as I wrote about recently, I’m not advocated a resigned, fatalistic capitulation to whatever life seems to throw at you. That’s not according to God’s Word either. I’m talking about the kind of contentment we have and need to hold on to when we know we are in the will of God but we are tempted to “be weary in well doing.” (Galatians 6:9)

Condemnation-flattenedThe devil just loves to belittle us. If he can’t get you lifted up in pride, then he tries the other direction of belittling us, making us feel small, foolish and insignificant. It reminds me of what Solomon said, “He that justifies the wicked and he that condemns the just, even they both are an abomination unto the Lord.” (Proverbs 17:15) Perhaps more people have a problem with walking in pride but some have a real problem with condemnation. They perennially are under a cloud of condemnation, whether of their own making or the devil’s.  “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (I John 3:20)

What’s the solution to all this? “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) We’re to walk neither in pride nor condemnation. In fact, the less we have our eyes on ourselves, the better off we’ll be. I think it was the famous song writer Fanny Crosby who said, “There is joy in self-forgetfulness”. Boy, that’s the truth. Otherwise it can certainly happen to any and all of us that we “despise the day of small things”.

So many nowadays fully know of the humdrum drudgery, zombie treadmill and rat race that modern employment and making a living can be. It’s a sad day for a poor man. It seems most middle class people have to be going full speed and flat out just to stand still in so many modern economies.

happy peopleAt least for us Christians, those who are serving the Lord, we can have a glory in the things we do, if we are doing it for the Lord. “Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) You’re a school teacher? A busy mother? A businessman supporting your family? A missionary on some far flung field? Then if you have the Lord, you have that infinitely greater motivation that you’re doing what you are doing in service to Him. And you have His abundant grace for the job He’s given you.

For me, I can find it slightly tedious and monotonous to be spending many hours at my computer, mainly working on real minuscule details in getting out these foreign language videos of the series I’ve done on the prophecies of Daniel. It’s so much brain work, so many various facets that go into the final product that it’s almost numbing sometimes.

But for me, this is my “day of small things”. This is where things are for me right now and I just have to keep the vision. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18) and I have to continually remind myself that the seeming sacrifice in all this right now will be worth it when folks in these countries get to have these classes on Bible prophecy and the endtime that so few know anything about.

And I’m sure it’s that way for many now. I don’t know many people presently who are working together with other Christians in some great endeavor for the Lord, like it was here in east Europe in the 90’s. It seems like for many it’s a time of “every man to his tents” (II Sam. 20:1) , a time of abatement, loneliness and low tide spiritually, rather than the great united forces of the Lord, “knit together as one man” (Judges 20:11) that have been at other times

But we all can still be wary not to “despise the day of small things”. We can keep the vision for our callings during these times when life can seem tedious and hum-drum, when we can seem insignificant to ourselves, falsely thinking we are unknown, unappreciated and forgotten. We’re not. His eye is on the sparrow and He sees every sacrifice, ever deed we do as unto Him. “In due season you shall reap if you faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)

“…but now they are hid from your eyes.”

jesus weptThe Bible says of Jesus, “When He beheld Jerusalem, He wept over it saying, ‘If you had known, in this your day, the things that belong to your peace! But now are they hid from your eyes’”. (Luke 19:42) His entering Jerusalem right then was the very day when prophecy was being fulfilled, Zachariah 9:9, which said to Jerusalem that “…behold, your King comes to you: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” Jesus wept because the very Word of God was being fulfilled that day before them. But for so many, they just couldn’t or didn’t see it.

That’s kind of scary in some ways for me: Jesus wept because God worked right in front of people and they didn’t recognize it. On the other hand, He said one time to His disciples, “Blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear, for many prophets and kings have desired to see the things you see and have not seen them and to hear the things you hear and have not heard them.” (Luke 10:24)

How does this all work? Is it just random? God in heaven simply decides who can perceive His mighty works and who can’t? I was thinking about these things this morning while on a walk and pondering my recent trips around Europe. In several places in the last month I spent the day among Muslim refugees, helping them physically but also talking with them about the things of God. And I was just thinking this morning how thankful I am that the Lord has shown me that these people need His love and truth, not our Christian hatred. Because, let’s face it, it certainly seems that the vast majority of Christians evidently feel that our religious obligation before God is to be some of the most vehement voices of hate and fear when it comes to these people.

angry JesusAnd that just grieves me and perhaps it grieves the Lord too. You don’t often hear about Jesus being angry. But in one place it says of Him, “He looked about with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” (Mark 3:5) He was angry and grieved for their hardness of heart. And I’m figuring that a hardened, hateful heart in His people must grieve and even anger Him today just as much.

My thinking on this continued, “How can any of us ‘see’? Are we all doomed to be spiritually blind like so many people of Jesus’ day?” And I’ll speak here to those of us who are already Christians. I think if there’s any secret to this, it’s in doing all we can to take on “the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16) which comes so much through reading His Word.

cleans my mind flatKing David said, “Your Word is a lamp into my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) The fact is that we need to continually let God’s Word wash us. And yes, that does sort of mean a Godly “brainwashing”. We need to be “renewed in the spirit of our minds.” (Ephesians 4:23) He must “sanctify and cleanse us through the washing of water by the Word.” (Ephesians 5:26) Jesus even prayed to the Father in Gethsemane for His disciples, “Sanctify them through Your truth; Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17)

And perhaps a caveat is needed here. Some, perhaps all of us need to pray the prayer of David, “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18) Because the sad fact is that folks can be reading the Bible and it still may not get though to them , perhaps because of  some religious rut they’ve been in for years. Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) God’s Word has incredible power to reach down to our hearts but still we need to pray for that and want it as well.

wolf sheep flatIf we let God’s Word be the eyes with which we see the world, even the current events and seeming dangers and threats we’re so told about, then He can give us a perspective that’s of Him, not of the world. But it’s something we have to want to do and decide to do. Because there are oodles of wolves in sheep’s clothing, determined to implant fear and hatred in your heart in the name of Christ.

Millions of Christians are already on the Enemy’s channel because they imbibe and espouse fear and hatred first and foremost. Jesus said, “The times come that whosoever kills you will think that they do God’s service.” (John 16:2) How many Christians today daydream about killing those they consider their enemies, rather than winning their souls to Christ? Very many; too many.

Jesus “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38) And He can still do the same in us today if we have eyes to see things the way He wants us to and the way His Word shows us. I think for many of the people of faith in our times, it’s like what Joshua said to Israel long ago, “Choose this day whom you shall serve.” (Joshua 24:15) I’m convinced that love is the will of God, not hatred and fear. My hope is that more of His people will turn from the prophets of Baal of our day, the false prophets of hatred and fear, and will choose instead to have the mind of Christ through God’s Word and win even our seeming enemies to Him.

 

German Refugee Camp

German Refugee CampI’ve been visiting a camp in Germany for refugees from the Middle East. There was a riot one evening in the camp that my friends work in daily. People from one nationality got very riled up against folks from another country in the camp. Chairs were thrown, furniture broken, water hoses pulled out of the wall and 200 people fled to the streets. Over 100 police were called in to quell the disturbance. It was a very big deal.

My friends the next morning got an emergency email about the situation in the camp. They wrote back that they weren’t afraid and that they were on the way there. It turns out that they’d already been scheduled to do a major performance and skit for the 1000 or so people in the camp the next day. It was to be based around the parable of the Sun and the Wind and how that love is more powerful than violence, an interesting theme indeed when contrasting Christianity and Islam. So, strange as it may seem, the uproar the night before made the setting perfect. The Lord had prepared hearts and allowed the riot to happen so they’d see their need all the more.

sun and wind“The sun and the wind” (Based on the fable by Aesop)

One day the sun and the wind quarreled about which was the stronger. The wind said, “I’ll prove I am. See that old man down there with a coat? I bet I can make him take his coat off quicker than you can.”

So the sun went behind a cloud and the wind blew until it was almost a tornado. But the harder it blew, the tighter the old man wrapped his coat about him.

Finally the wind calmed down and gave up; and then the sun came out from behind the cloud and smiled kindly on the old man. Presently, the man mopped his brow and pulled off his coat. The sun then told the wind that gentleness and friendliness were always stronger than fury and force.

german camp and guitarsMy friends came to the camp with their guitars. But some of the ones they planned to work with in the camp were terrified because of the events from the night before and didn’t want to do it. So they prayed with them against fear and at the same time prayed with several of them to receive the Lord. This helped and they were more relaxed.

Also some of the main workers at the camp talked with various factions there to try to restore calmness and cooperation between national groups. Each ethnic or national group, Syrians, Kurds, Afghans, Iraqis, etc, have their own group leaders and they talked to their people in their language. The German Christian woman who heads up the camp spoke to them about forgiveness and peace. She said if some were doing evil, it would not be accepted; that they are going to build up something there in peace.

My friends and their helpers started their performance with the song, “Love Can Build a Bridge”. But then while some were singing, a man from one nationality came up and insisted that he speak on stage. He wanted to apologize to the other nationality group that his people had gotten into the fight with the night before. He publicly asked them for forgiveness. Then he went out into the large crowd, shook hands and gave hugs to the ones his people had been fighting with. This man was actually one of the ones who were working with my friends and he played the role of “the Sun” in the skit.

He’d told my friends days before that those people have no concept of forgiveness and love because it is not emphasized in the Koran. They can’t relate to it. So when my friends talk to them about forgiveness and love, they really listen and they don’t know what to say. It shakes there concept of things that Jesus came for love. They said they never heard that before, that Jesus came to bring God’s forgiveness to them.

german camp crowdThe skit started. One of my friends was “the Wind”, Mustafa was “the Sun” and there was another Muslim guy who took his jacket off. So afterwards my friend asked the hundreds watching the skit if they understood that the sun is more powerful than the storms and that love and forgiveness are more powerful that hate and violence. I should mention by the way that this friend of mine who was sharing this is actually from Asia and was raised a Buddhist. But he became a Christian in his 20’s and is one of the most vigorous, fruitful Christians I know anywhere.

He said that he wanted to pray with everyone so he knelt down on stage and asked others on stage to knell with him. He prayed for them and their countries, that God would stop the wars. He told them he was a Christian and that he wanted to build bridges of love and faith. He asked who wanted to pray and very many raised their hands. He prayed a prayer that they repeated, that God would stop the war, that they would have peace there in the camp and a better life. And that they would have Isa (Jesus) in their hearts as their friend.

The devil wrecked havoc there the night before because he was mad that the next day there would be such a victory. I was just so encouraged and inspired when I heard about all this. It’s not something the media will report but I think it was a very big thing in the Spirit that “the poor have the gospel preached unto them.” (Luke 7:22)

German Awakening

young christiansI’m in northern Germany and for the last few days I’ve been going to a church that’s primarily filled with young people. I had read about what’s called the German awakening and how that there’s been something like a “revival” among this present generation of young Germans. I was interested as I’ve lived off and on in Europe for many years and I think most people who know about things there would agree that “post Christian” is a pretty good label for modern northern and western Europe.

Last night I was several times sitting at tables where everyone but me was 18 to 25 years old and most of them have been Christians for 2 or 3 years. One young woman from southern Germany told me she’s been a Christian since August. I’m being kind of factual here but leaving out the emotions I was feeling from being with these ones. I guess I just never thought I’d see the day when something like this happened in these parts. I was amazed at them and told them so and they were amazed at me. I told them I’ve been a missionary basically all my adult life and have aimed to live the life, not just of a passive, rock-along Christian, but of a disciple. This resonated with them as they too don’t want a compromised, milk-and-water Christianity but a real strong dose. And they just kept asking questions. Even when things got quiet, nobody got up to leave. I could just feel them pulling on me and that I needed to keep sharing things with them.

Some of them witness. It seems to be natural and spontaneous for them, not necessarily something being pushed to do by others. I told them about my experiences with sharing my faith, how very much the Lord blesses it and will use anyone who steps out to serve Him this way.

passing tracts-2One woman told me of a moment when she was passing out tracts at a bus stop. And instead of encountering resistance, it was like everyone was taking the tracts enthusiastically and encouraging her to share them with their friends. Again, having lived off and on in these parts for decades, I was just flabbergasted to hear this. In the 90’s in east Europe this kind of thing happened, but in Germany? It’s new to me.

And I told them about the many experiences I had when I was there age, witnessing on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, Piccadilly Circus in London or Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Often my friends and I would meet people who were planning to commit suicide that day. Or they were on their way to shoot someone who had tricked them in a drug deal. Or they’d just run away from home or gotten beaten up by a relative. And it’s not like things are better today than when I was their age. So I told them that God needed them to share their faith with the people of their generation, that God was doing something special in awakening the hearts of people here.

I asked one of them why she thought this was happening here now. She said that for her and her friends, things were just very fluid and unstable now. She said they don’t have the confidence in society and their country that former generations had and that many are looking for deeper answers and eternal truths. It sounded so much like what people said when I was their age and how things were in the tempestuous times I grew up in. So many back then came out of fully secular backgrounds into a strong faith in Jesus that totally changed their lives. That’s what I was seeing and hearing last night from the many I talked with.

Christian on guitarAnd it’s not easy to just walk away from this. I’m taking the little time I have here to talk to ones I know in the area. I hope to do whatever I can to encourage, inspire and instill in them the vision to make the very most of this unusually stirring of hearts in this part of the world to again look to God and Jesus as solution in this time of turmoil. It’s yet again another example of “the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few“. (Matthew 9:37)

The thing is, most of the folks I know are actually trained laborers for the Lord, not just nominal Christians. So I’ve been as importune as I feel I can be without overdoing it that they feed these young people coming to the Lord and to also spend time out witnessing and reaching the lost at this time. And the good news is that most of the ones I know here are totally on fire about what the Lord is doing now and are looking for where they can use their background to be fully involved in this formerly barren land that’s turning into a fruitful field.

Times like this don’t last forever and they don’t come along very often. Please pray with me that the laborers for the Lord in this part of the world will rise to the occasion and be what the Lord needs them to be in this springtime of the Spirit in Germany.

 

Fret Not

which voice flatMost of us, all of us actually, hear voices. Yes, we do. It’s those little “subconscious” things that bubble up inside of us, for better or for worse. And a large part of life comes down to discerning those voices and knowing which ones are the good ones we listen to and which are the ones we don’t. In fact, this is a major factor in determining who we are: which of those voices are what we determine to be our own and our best.

But it can be tough. Even as children we learn what worry is and how it’s not good. But what about legitimate concern? The Bible says, “The prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” (Proverbs 27:12) At times the best and wisest voice in our hearts is caution and that can often look pretty close to worry or fear. So it just not all real easy.

But there’s more. We’re not alone. It’s not just the little voices we hear inside of us, there are ones that sound and seem almost exactly the same. But they come from outside us, from the spiritual world, both good and evil.

UpAgainstTheWall_02-reworkedHow many people have had some little nudge, some little hunch that they should or shouldn’t do something, even though there’s no visible, reasonable reason to do it? I sure have, on numerous occasions. I wrote about one of those in “Up Against the Wall!” Following that hunch or nudge kept me out of 2 years of prison as a teenager when by most standards, that’s what I deserved. But that was the voice of God, His mercy intervening and speaking powerfully to my mind to do something immediately, something I had not planned to do.

And then there are the voices from the other side, the dark side, that push and prompt people to do evil things. I’m convinced that much of the horror we read about nowadays is originated in the spiritual nether world as evil spirits influence weakened minds and hearts to do their bidding.

fight backBut the good news is that we have choice. The old saying, “The devil made me do it”, is not fully correct. Because we can choose, we can fight back. We can do what it says in the Bible, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Jesus Himself certainly did that; you can read about it in Luke 4:1-13.

Often though, it isn’t Satan we are dealing with, it’s our own hearts and weakened consciences. The Bible says that “the flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17) and those little voices from both sides are so often there and conflict with each other in our minds, even without any influence from the dark side. I guess that’s why for me it was such a complete breakthrough to receive Jesus as my Savior in my heart and to be filed with the Holy Spirit. I truly became a “new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17). It’s actually somewhat comparable to what we see happening in our times when we have to format the hard drives on our computers and install a new operating system.

Did that mean that now everything was ok for me? No more little voices conflicting within me? No, I still had and have my basic human nature, personality, quirks and foibles. Only that with Jesus coming into my life, it was like the verse I’ve mentioned before that so sums up the difference, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) I just had power to follow the right and the good that before I didn’t. Before, sin really did “have dominion over” me (Romans 6:14). But after receiving the Lord, I had Him in me to lead me and empower me to go in the direction of truth and light.

Is of the truth-a- flattenedAlso a major thing was that I found out what the real truth was when reading and understanding the Bible. But I still heard voices, like we all do. I still would be tempted to fear or fret. I still had really a lot to learn about which voices were ones of legitimate concern, not foolish fears, leading me away from the wrong direction. I had to learn, often from experiences, what the sound and nature of the voices were that came from God, calling me further up the mountain of His will and service. But just having the Bible that I began to memorize verses from was a major factor in helping me to recognize voices of truth and error within me.

And it’s still that way many years later. I’ve learned that I practically have to take a firm hand with certain aspects of my personality or nature, almost rebuking myself for giving ear to things I have learned are time wasters or weakeners of my soul and His will. And after a while, those fretful voices within me begin to not really be my own as they were and I more consistently “nip them in the bud”, as gardeners have to do with weeds.

Back in Bulgaria

Bulg church Dec 2015I’ve been spending Christmas with the friends in southern Bulgaria that I visited for the first time back in March. I’ve been doing recordings in Bulgarian but also speaking in their church nearly every night. One of the “dilemmas” for me is knowing what to say.

I just don’t want to get up there and start blabbering away in my own thoughts. What would that help? So I usually have to get desperate in prayer beforehand to get some leading from the Lord as to what He’d want me to share. Tell them I need them flatI wrote about this happening back in March where I just didn’t want to speak without knowing it was what He wanted and they needed. I ended up on my knees, really asking the Lord what to share with them. And it was amazing; I went over to my computer and wrote down virtually a message from the Lord to share that evening. I wrote about this experience in “God Needs You”.

Bulg church-1 Dec 2015But that was then; this is now. Being back here again, I was again faced with this need to get my directions from the Lord in order to make the most of these opportunities. The first night I’d been praying about what to say but I felt I hadn’t really gotten anything from the Lord.

So I went downstairs before the meeting, not really expecting to say anything. But then I started talking to the 16 year old guy who is the Bulgarian voice for the videos and to his 12 year old sister. I was asking her about her life, what her hobbies are and things like that. At one point she said that she doesn’t run around very much but mostly enjoys doing her homework and then going to church here nearly every night. I thought that sounded pretty good and a lot better than most kids do nowadays.

me and vaska in church-2

From March, 2015

Then the church started filling up and lots of people were bringing their kids. And I felt then that the Lord was leading me to talk about children being a mission field in themselves. I told them how my grandmother had such an effect on me and that just pouring out the love of God and the truth of His Word to their kids and grandkids could be one of the greatest things they could do.

Most of the ones here are never going to go to some foreign field. But their kids and grandkids are some of the ones they can minister to. I never thought of that kind of thing to say and it’s not the what I usually share but that became my “message” last night.

church crowd composite

from March, 2015

Another night there was a large crowd as some ones from the surrounding villages came. Again I was sitting there, with them expecting me to speak in the next few minutes and I didn’t know what I was going to say. I’m not recommending this as the best way to go about things but the Lord can and does come through. He said, “it shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak for it is not you that speak but the Spirit of your Father that speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:19 &20) Boy, I’ve sure claimed that verse a lot. And He does it.

So by the time I stood up to speak, I’d come to feel that I should just share my testimony and also some of the basics and fundamentals of our faith. I told them about what I wrote about in “Lucifer and the White Moths”, how I nearly died and was carried away by the devil except for the mercy of God. And I went on to share how I was witnessed to 7 months later by “Jesus people” who shared the salvation message with me. It was a good time to go over verses like Ephesians 2:8 & 9, Romans 6:23 and one of my favorites, John 1:12. We went on to talk about the need for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the importance of God’s Word, all just basic things that are often good to go over again in order to strengthen people in their faith.

The-prophet-Daniel-and-Nebuchadnezzar

Daniel explains the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, from Daniel chapter 2

Another night was really different. My friends and I went to a nearby, predominately Muslim village where there is a tiny church that actually meets in someone’s kitchen. I’d been there in March and it was great to see them again. But over half the ones there were 12 or younger and the rest were mommies or grandmas. Again, really looking to the Lord, He led me to tell them the story of Daniel from the Bible and how he told the king’s dream in Daniel 2. This is just what we had been working on earlier, doing the audio tract of the video that I’ve done on this chapter over into Bulgarian.

I really had to ham it up for the kids, in order to get their attention. We acted out the whole thing in an impromptu drama of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel in the king’s court and then the statue and the stone striking it. Even with all the effects, not all of the kids paid attention but the majority did, as well as the adults. So it was an inspiring evening where we all just got lost in the excitement and significance of God’s Word and how God can use even children and young teenagers who turn their lives over to the Lord. And I was thrilled that the Holy Spirit continues to provide the inspiration to feed His sheep in these unusual circumstances.

Christmas 2015

me & Bulgarian church Christmas 2015Hi and greetings to you all, Merry Christmas. Right now I’m with some dear friends in southern Bulgaria, up in the mountains at the little church I visited here back in March. I wrote several blog articles from here at that time, here’s the one that was the main article, explaining how I came upon these wonderful folks.

I was looking over past blog posts I’ve written at Christmas and it seems like for the last 3 years in a row I’ve written a Christmas message to friends this way and posted it on my sites. I guess for all of us it’s a time of reflection, of taking stock and looking at the larger picture of our lives and life itself. As much as we see the commercialization of Christmas and in places just the abolishment of its original meaning, still Christmas abides and remains an “institution” and ancient holiday that forces opposed to it can never seem to really get rid of.highrises

In the last week I have been on buses, first from Bucharest, Romania to Sofia, Bulgaria, then on to Skopje, Macedonia and then back here to southern Bulgaria. It’s so interesting to be driving past little houses on the countryside, massive collapsed Soviet area factories, virtual forests of cheap high-rise apartments for the proletariat of these countries, gypsiesgypsies riding along the road on their horse-drawn wagons and just all that goes on in this vast diverse world of ours.

At one point I just felt the sadness and emptiness that abides like a constant shadow over so many lives. But then I thought about the obscure verse from Job, “But there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Most High gives him understanding.” (Job 32:8)

Everybody is looking for some inspiration, not always from the best sources but from somewhere. We are not just flesh and blood, we are souls and spirits and we need something that satisfies these, not just our daily food. And of course, as trite and old fashion as it may sound, there is no greater inspiration that the dear Lord Jesus and the regeneration He can work in any life that He is allowed to come into.

thanks for grace flatThese were some of my thoughts on my bus travels in the last week. Sometimes our emotions and understanding are not able to be expressed as we would like. But for me, I’ve just been feeling very thankful (what’s the word that is several measures further up the scale than thankful?) for the life the Lord has given me and how things have gone in recent years. The Biblical explanation for it is “grace”. We’re not only saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8) but also “We have access by faith unto this grace” (Romans 5:2) when we “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) There’s even the song, Amazing Grace.

And that‘s how I’ve felt at times in this last year, really amazed by His grace and goodness in my life. As the old song goes, (not one of my favorites), “It was a very good year.” And I think a good part of it has been that long ago the Lord made it a part of my life that the principle of “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35) became a fundamental part of my operating system. The Lord said through Isaiah, “If you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the longing soul, then shall your light rise in obscurity and your darkness shall be as the noonday.” (Isiah 58:10) So I’ve ended up feeling like a very rich man but not in the way the worldly think of such things. I’ve just felt a sense of wealth from the riches in Christ that I have and the joy that He gives to any of us who go in the way of Christian service and love for our fellow human beings.

It’s been a very good year, And from what I can see at this time on my personal horizon, this coming year already has some very interesting and exciting possibilities in it. One of the senses of richness I’ve felt is the number of friends I’ve come in contact with, often through connecting on the internet. Many I have not ever actually met face to face but we’ve become friends though our contact on line and that has been really neat. So I wish you all, far and near, old and young, those I’ve known for decades and those I’ve never met in real time, a very happy Christmas and a Spirit-filled and led New Year to come.

Your friend in Him, Mark

Encountering Refugees

crowd scene trainYesterday I had one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in many years. I spent the day on the border between Macedonia and Serbia, working with friends who minister to many hundreds of refugees from the Middle East. They disembark at a train stop there before walking the two kilometers from Macedonia to Serbia where they’re able to take another train on north towards what they hope will be the safety and hospitality of Germany or other places in Western Europe.

dad and sonThis is a true phenomenon of our times, an exodus and migration unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. As you may know, I’ve written repeatedly about this and about these Islamic people. So to actually be in the midst of it all, to meet individuals who 10 days ago were in their home cities of Idleb or Damascus, Syria, or some who were from Afghanistan, was a remarkable experiences and very moving.

But even more, it was a thrill to be able to pass on to these dear ones some portions of the Bible in their language which they could take with them on their journey, to read, study and perhaps share with their friends and family. I was outside all day and it was below freezing the whole time. But I’ve seldom had a time in recent years when, at the end of the day, I felt happier and more fulfilled than yesterday.

me at transit center

The refugees walk up the path behind me 2 kilometers to Serbia.

The experience reminded me of when I was in Aceh province, Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami which happened 11 years ago this week. I wrote about that here. Back then, four of us were able to travel to that remote province a week after the tsunami and to work in refugee camps there. Yesterday I saw again many of the same NGO’s and UN agencies that I’d first met there. The  UNHCR has a major presence at this railroad siding where all these multitudes came to, the Mercy Corp has a presence, SOS Children, as well as of course the Macedonian government’s involvement.

An Afghan man I talked with

There’s a whole aspect in these situations that’s interesting from almost a secular, sociological view. How does this all get organized, who shows up to help, what are the folks like who come out  to stand in the freezing cold while they wait for the trains to pull in? Who cleans up the mess, what kind of security is needed, how dangerous is it, are the refugees thankful or belligerent?

And for ones like me and my friends, there’s an additional purpose and vision to it all. As I’ve written about, I feel this is an opportunity presented to us from God to share His truths with these ones. That can be controversial. But then the whole injunction from Jesus in the New Testament to share His love and truth “in all the world and to every creature”  (Mark 16:15) is bitterly opposed by millions of people. Nevertheless, we who believe in Him are called to actively share our faith and this was possible for me yesterday in wonderful ways.

I went there with friends who regularly go there and other places to minister to these people in ways they can. They and other groups who go there offer clothes, bread, hot soup and tea, directions, access to the internet, and overnight accommodations in temporary housing constructed there in some cases. And, yes, the refugees are thankful. I hope the pictures I took there yesterday will give you a firsthand impression of what it was like. The  expression on their faces really can tell you a lot as they leave the train and mill about on the sidings, trying to understand what was going on, what was available to them right then and what the next step would be.

I had brought with me copies of the Gospel of Luke in Arabic. It turned out that, after counseling with friends, I began to move about in the crowd, just engaging in conversations as best as I could. Many spoke English. I was glad to find how many of them were from Syria, I’d say that was the largest group. The second largest group was people from Afghanistan.

more women and childrenTrying to get my signals from the Lord, after talking a little with ones I would meet, I’d pull out a copy of the Gospel of Luke in Arabic and say that I had something I wanted to share with them. No one turned it down. Almost everyone immediately recognized what it was and began looking through the pages. With the Syrians, I told them that 6 months ago I was on their border, in the city of Reyhanli. I wrote about that experience in “Visiting Syria”. Some of them came from just across the border, some 30 kilometers from where I was in March.

One group of Syrians I talked with were Christians. They all had Christian names; perhaps there were 20 men, women and children traveling together. The man I first spoke to asked me, very humble and sincerely, why Americans didn’t like Syrians. I wasn’t stunned by the question but it was difficult.

little girl standingSo I told him that it was a combination of many things. For one, I told him, not all Americans are like that but some are. Partly it’s legitimate fear of the tiny minority of Middle Eastern people who’ve chosen to attack the West. But also, I told him that these fears were greatly enhanced by propaganda and media sensationalism, as well as nationalism and even racism.

All in all it was an amazing day to be one-on-one with these people and as well to be there as an ambassador of the Lord. To share His love and truth with some of the most needy, desperate people in the world at this time is about as good as it gets.

 

They that be with us…

Elisha 1Elisha and his helper were surrounded by the forces of the enemy. It could have hardly looked more dire. But then that crazy prophet told his helper to look up, that “They that be with us are more than they that be with them”. (II Kings 6:16)

“What are you talking about Elisha?! We’re surrounded by our enemies!”

Elisha 2But as the young man looked up, he caught sight of the spiritual realities around him and saw the host of heaven that were with him and Elisha at the moment. And as it turned out, he and Elisha were saved from that situation.

This morning, after hearing of the tragic mass shooting in Paris, France last night, I thought of this verse and these events recorded in the Bible. They that be with us are more than they that be with them. But it was with a different thought to it. I thought of the millions, tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of Christians in Europe and in the West right now, the multitude of people who to one degree or another think of themselves as Christians or believers in God.

fear them not-3- flattenedIf 5% of those people, or even better, 10% or 20% of those people determined in their hearts that they were going to not let fear conquer them but that they were going to turn from religious spectators to Christian disciples and activists, think of the multitude who would begin to get actively involved in reaching out to the multitude of souls recently come to the West from the Middle East.

Right now the people of the West are being inundated with fear. And they’re further immobilized by a lack of vision and initiative to know how to respond to this new development in these nations. But just think how it would be if there was a groundswell of individual Christian initiative to share the Love of Christ with these ones coming here. Just imagine how it would be if millions of somnolent Christians awoke and began to share their faith with those around them, Muslims or otherwise.

They are coming as refugees to Christian lands. Their own nations are so volatile and often collapsed that they travel overland to find some place to live. And yet we fear them? What a pitiful testimony of the spiritual condition of Western Christendom that so many are so weak, unprepared, untrained, un-envisioned to see this incredible hour of opportunity.

That’s what it is. I don’t know if this will happen. But I believe it could happen if someone will challenge the Christians of the West to fight back against… not the Muslims but their own fears and their often-weakened Christian condition that’s prevailed for so many decades in much of Europe. Just think how it would be if multitudes of Christians at the grass roots level across Europe said to themselves,

“OK, this is it. God needs me right now to actively live for Him like I never have before. I need to know what I can do. How can I get involved? How can I love these people with His love, to show them I care about them and that the things of Jesus are real and true?”

I’ve heard it said many times about Muslims, “They don’t want to know about Christianity. But often they do want to know about Jesus”. So how can the people of Jesus individually engage with individuals who’ve come here as refugees? This is where and how things can change, not with politics or police or governments but with the people of Christ being more alive than they have been in generations so that each one can do what they can.

And each one actually can do a lot. They first can determine to do so. They can pray heartily to God to lead them in their local situation to find out what they can do. They can work with others who are similarly minded.

Conversation between 2 flatTalk with refugees. Get to know individuals. Invite them to dinner or have dinner with them. Get over the stereotypes and get to know individuals. It will probably challenge your faith. They may have questions you don’t immediately have answers for. You may have to search the Scriptures or ask help of others.

But if this was happening on a grand scale across Europe and the West, I’m just convinced that the “polarity” of all this would change. God would just bless it. Lives would be drastically changed. This is the essence of how the world came to Christ in the first centuries. And if we even marginally made the same efforts again, then we would see results in the way of changed lives that would leave us speechless.

They that be with us are more than they that be with them. Doubtless the mighty God of Abraham is ready to help, aid, empower and bless those who stand up for Him in this hour of need. All He needs is us. Oh, pray that there will be ones who decide to do what they can to turn the tide in these amazing times. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:18)