“Is it not a little one?”

Lot had just been rescued and delivered from the fiery judgments of God which He had rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, his wife and two daughters had to be led by the hand out of Sodom, being warned by the angels to not even look back. Famously, Lot’s wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. That might be hard to believe but evidently Jesus Christ believed it. See Luke 17:32.

You might think all this would be an incredible shake-up for Lot. My gosh, that guy is going to walk the straight and narrow the rest of his life, no? Evidently not. And it’s a watershed moment in the history of sin when we read what happened next. Lot turned to the angels as they passed by another heathen town of wickedness and said to the angel, “Behold, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one. Oh, let me escape thither; is it not a little one? And my soul shall have rest.” (Genesis 19:20)

Folks, you can get the soul out of the worldly satanic system, whether it be Sodom of old or the satanic amalgam of metropolises that now dominate the earth. But just like with Lot, it’s not easy to get the satanic system out of the soul. God had “delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.” (II Peter 2:7) But was Lot all contrite and trembling before the Lord? Did Lot make a bee line to his Godly uncle Abraham and his family up in the hills and highlands of God, begging to be taken back in like a prequel to the Prodigal son?

Nope, Lot immediately tried to cut a deal with the angels, “reasoning” with them that another little Babylon-like city not far from Sodom would do just fine and he’d really like to get back to some system preserving compromises and worldliness, even after God had just destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah literally right before their eyes.

“Ah,” you say, “this happened 4000 years ago and things are different today.” Really? If you think that, I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s like Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) As difficult as it was to go through, I’m thankful that God made about as plain to me as He could just how hopelessly sinful and lost I was long ago. My own ignorance, my own willful darkness very nearly took my life except for the totally undeserved, almost strange mercy of God who brought light to my soul when I was writhing in the agonies of the afterlife without God.

“Oh, Mark! Why did God do that to you?! Why did He treat you like that? Why does a God of love send us to hell?!!” Sister or brother, you got it wrong there. God doesn’t send us to hell. We send ourselves to hell through our willful, stubborn ignorance and choosing the wrong path, away from the presence of God to live in the presence of our choices which we made against His truth and light.

He didn’t have to plead with the angels to let him go to a new manifestation of the worldly system of his day. Lot could have asked to have a place at his uncle Abraham’s table and to learn more fully of the ways of God as evidently Lot did believe in the Lord. But it’s just like how it is for millions and billions of people: sin does have dominion over them. And except for the mercy of God, sin will and does have dominion over every one of us. Lot was like the Prodigal Son but who never “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). And sadly there are a lot of those it seems.

In the last book in the Bible, we are told of “Babylon the Great”, pictured as a wretched prostitute which sits upon many nations and rules over the kings of the earth. And God says, “Come out of her, My people, that you partake not of her sins or receive of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) But God in a sense has been saying that for thousands of years. He even had the angels take Lot and his family out of the Babylon of his day by the hand. And in the last days before the setting up of God’s kingdom on earth, He is going to destroy the final Babylon the Great, this final Sodom and Gomorrah that has now spread across the earth. Whether or not any of His people will get the message and “come out of her” remains to be seen.

We need to acknowledge our sinful nature and ways every single day and pray desperately and sincerely that God will “withhold you from sinning against Me.” (Genesis 20:6) Because as sure as your garden will start turning up weeds if you don’t diligent tend it, your own human heart and nature will rise up against your Christian convictions and character if you don’t daily “keep your heart with all diligence.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Oh Mark, I’m not going to read your blog posts anymore! I’m going back to Joel Osteen and his lovely wife. They’re so sweet and positive, always encouraging and uplifting, not like you!” Friends, I’m all for being loving, positive and uplifting. But I’m just telling you from extremely hard experience that none of us had better ever get to the place where we forget how much we need the Lord , how much we should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!” (Romans 7:24)

Don’t be like Lot. If the Lord has delivered you from your Sodom and Gomorrah, don’t beg the angels to let you off at the next hellish place just down the road so you can continue in the compromised worldliness that is anathema to God’s highest and best in your life. Instead, be like Moses who “forsook Egypt” (Hebrews 11:27) because “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) What Egypt, Sodom or Babylon is God calling you out of?

Broken Branches

Everything means something, you know? I was out for a walk when I saw something and immediately I knew it was like a message or at least significant. Hanging from a small tree was a broken branch. It had somehow been almost totally torn away from the tree. It hung down and was evidently just barely still attached. But the thing I noticed was, the leaves and the branch itself was still very much alive and didn’t show any sign of dying, even though it was so damaged.

Lord forgive me, I should have taken a picture of it right away. Instead, my gardening instincts kicked in and I pulled it from the tree. But I’ll include a picture here to the left so you can see how far the branch had been torn and how little of it was still attached to the tree. Mostly you can see a black scar where it had somehow been torn away. But you can also see a smaller whitish place where it had still been attached. It had just been barely hanging on by that little white scar you see on the lower branch.

“So what!” you say. Well, like I said, everything means something or at least it can if you see with the eyes of the Spirit. Paul said, “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made…” (Romans 1:20) And maybe a way to understand this parable that appeared in front of me is to turn to what Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And He told us to abide in Him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine, no more can you except you abide in Me.” (John 15:5)

But, let’s face it, there are a lot of us around who are broken branches. Lots of folks are just barely hanging on, like that branch I saw yesterday. I don’t need to tell you, life at times can be rough. Those of us who’ve embraced the Lord and His path of discipleship have such an incredible account of grace and power to draw from as we go through life.

But, brother, there are storms, no? Like Job said, “The thing I greatly feared is come upon me”. (Job 3:25) And sometimes it gets worse than that. You just never imagined that what happened could happen. Surely the Lord wouldn’t let that happen. Surely that person, such a dear and trusted friend, wouldn’t turn on you or turn on the Lord’s Work.

Sometimes “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household”. (Matthew 10:36) And it can get to be where you, the branch, can very nearly be torn from the tree. Your faith and your commitment are struck at the very roots, it seems. Those you trusted and loved most in this world, even brethren in Christ, fall away or even worse. And it hits you deeply. You may even be like that branch I saw, almost torn away, hanging awkwardly, almost upside down.

But for this branch I saw yesterday, it somehow was still clinging to life. “Its leaf also shall not wither” (Psalm 1:3) and this broken branch still looked healthy, even though it was so broken and wounded. Maybe you’ve see trees like that. Sometimes they are totally uprooted and laying on their side. The storms of life have completely knocked them over. Sometimes for some it kills them. But you see others who go on to live hundreds of more years after some great calamity like that.

I could name names but I won’t. They might be reading this. But I know of some dear saints of God who’ve gone through some pretty horrific things, not at the hands of ISIS but in relationships and cooperation with other Christians where they feel they’ve been mistreated or abused and it has nearly taken their life, spiritually.

Or maybe it had nothing to do with another Christian. Maybe it was just the storms of life, the varmints and the lightning bolts, all that each person faces at one time or the other. Some have just wilted and died on the vine. But some I know are like that little branch I saw yesterday, still alive, still green and growing , even after such an event that nearly tore it from the tree.

It’s funny sometimes the things I see on my walks. I’ve written about things like the worm I saw on my walk in “Everything Means Something“. Or how the Lord was almost yelling at me when I saw those 5000 little apples I wrote about in “Bite Now, Chew Later“. We all need to hear from God and He seems to speak in different ways to different people.

So, the bottom line? Hold on. Don’t stop abiding in the vine. Otherwise you’ll be like the branch that Jesus spoke of, “If any man abide not in Me he is cast forth as a branch and is withered…” (John 15:6) Don’t let that happen to you. Even if you’ve been pretty severely ripped at your base, there’s still some of you attached to the Lord and the sap of His Spirit can and will still keep flowing into you, just as it was with that branch I saw. You may not be the way you were but you’re still alive and in Him. “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.”  (Hebrews 10:35)

Letting the Word be our prayer

You yourself can become your own worst distraction. You’re trying to go to the Lord in prayer and then suddenly you notice that your shoe lace is loose. Then there’s a beautiful bird that flies by. And then you’re a little hungry. “Oh, wait! I’m supposed to be praying!” Ever had that happen? Is there any solution or hope for this? One thing I turn to is to pray the Word.

Sometimes when I go to prayer, I just start quoting to myself Psalm 23 or, even better, Psalm 27. There’s an incredible power in the Word of God. It’s like changing channels inside your brain. When you quote the Word to the Lord, or to yourself, or even to the devil, there’s so much more power in it. God likes it and honors it when you bring His Word before Him , claiming it, clinging to it and letting it become your thoughts and your heart cry.

Of course there’s one hitch, isn’t it? You usually will have had to make an effort to commit portions of Scripture to memory beforehand. And I’m tempted to wax cynical or sarcastic here but I’ll just say it plainly: there are virtually no churches anywhere that do anything in the way of seriously admonishing their congregations to memorize the Word. So this integral part of our prayer life is left weak because so few know this principle of praying the Word. And so few really know the Word well enough to claim it and quote it in prayer.

Thoughts like this came to me some minutes ago as I walked back from my morning prayer time that I take in a clearing near where I live. Like everyone has experienced, I had been hit by distractions as I’d been praying and I needed to repeatedly “have rule over my own spirit” (Proverbs 25:28) and “bring every thought into subjection”. (II Corinthians 10:5) Thank God for His infinite mercy on us. Because, if we were required each day to pray earnest, distraction-free, focused and long prayers, I don’t think many would measure up to that. Therefor, often the Lord has to do things to break our hearts or make us in some way truly feel a strong need for the Lord. And in those times we can usually be a little more focused, a little deeper and more sober about our continuing need for Him.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing good, that’s for sure. Paul said, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) And this is as true when it comes to prayer as it is in everything else.

I’ll be in prayer and then some idiotic thought tries to take over my mind’s eye. So I’ll quote to myself, “I hate vain thoughts but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or suddenly I’ll get a picture in my mind of some foolish worldly thing, it doesn’t matter what it is. So, hopefully, I will quote to myself, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes, I hate the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave unto me.” (Psalm 101:3) And if I’m fervent and focused enough, I’ll go on to quote “I have set the Lord always before my face, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8) Or, another one along the same line of keeping our eyes on Jesus, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Maybe you don’t have this kind of struggle. Maybe you glide effortlessly each day into long periods of rich, full, deep, intimate interaction with the Lord. I guess I’ve had some times like that over the years. But more often than not I’ve had to make some effort to get through or out of my carnal mind and “the affairs of this life” (IITim. 2:4). And praying the Word, just entering into the Word of God and letting it be my shield and the  words of my mouth in prayer has been a method that’s helped me get beyond the trivialities and physicality of this world that’s so often with us.

So I suggest you try it, if you’re having problems like this. Maybe what I wrote elsewhere about Memorizing God’s Word could be a help to you. And, admittedly I’ve written about this subject before in “Praying the Word”. Also I wrote about “Distractions”.

But I sort of think that this is a problem a lot of people have. “It’s all by grace” but at the same time, we often do have to make some real effort to leave the Egypt of ourselves and enter into the Promised Land of His Spirit in prayer , coming “boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16) If you are feeling weak and struggling in prayer, try stirring yourself up to stronger fervency by quoting the Word in prayer and claiming His promises. God bless you.

Sharing your faith and seeing miracles

Sharing our faith with those who don’t know the Lord is not only “the Great Commission”, it’s an incredible way to experience the thrills of heaven and be right immediately where miracles of God happen. It’s a crying shame that so few Christians regularly share their faith with others, or “witness”, as it is called. There are virtually no churches who teach their congregations that they should actively share their faith with others, much less teach them how to do so.

Most of us would like to see more miracles in our lives. We know the Lord is there and that He can do “exceeding abundantly, above all we ask or think.” (Ephesian 3:20) But how can we be part of that? I’ll tell you, if you take the step to launch out and share your faith, you’ll often see some truly amazing and supernatural things happen, things that are impossible without God.

I’m blessed to be part of a weekly Christian fellowship, folks who almost all are active daily witnessers here in Texas. Many of these have backgrounds similar to mine, a lifetime of Christian service which was mostly spent outside the USA. So mostly these friends are not beginners to witnessing. And with this example I’m going to share, some of you might feel these friends have a lot more holy boldness than you feel you have right now. Their method of witnessing is perhaps not what you feel you’re ready for. But they told us recently of an incredible experience that happened to them while they were out sharing their faith and I thought to pass it on to you.

These friends told us of an afternoon when they were witnessing in restaurants. [“Oh, Mark. I COULDN’T POSSIBLY do that! What would people think? I’d just be making a fool of myself!”] OK, like I said, this is not a beginner’s witnessing testimony and an example everyone would feel they can immediately emulate. But here’s what they said happened.

“We were in a restaurant and we approached a table where two women were talking intensely. We had some Christian material with us that we usually offer to people in order to start a conversation. So we offered the first lady something that highlighted a Bible verse, Isaiah 41:10. And just looking at it she started crying. At first we didn’t actually see that the woman had started crying and I offered the other woman material having to do with the serenity prayer. Then that woman started crying. And we couldn’t talk to them for a minute or two because they both were crying.”

“We apologized to them that we made them cry and the first woman said that it wasn’t really us, it was just that her grandson is in the hospital with cancer. And his name is Isaiah. And then it turns out that Isaiah’s little sister is named Serenity. These women had just come from the hospital where little Isaiah was  and after lunch they were going back. We were able to pray with them and they said they knew the Lord sent us to them right then to comfort them and to be like a sign to them. They said, ‘We know God sent you to us right now’.”

My freinds went on to tell me, “When you are out there, it really isn’t like hard work. So often people say, ‘When I met you, it’s like I feel I’ve met the Lord in you.’ Often there’s this incredible timing to things, even though we don’t know it ourselves. It’s like a flow to be in and we take on the mantle of the Lord. This is how He’s ordained it and when you make yourself available, then His miracle working power is done through you, right in front of you and you are as amazed as the others. A person said to us today, ‘How does this work? Does God know this and then He told the angels to send you to this restaurant so you can talk to me? It must be because it’s not an accident that you came to see me today.’”

“Mark, these folks must really be saints. Probably no problems but just barely in this world they’re so spiritual.”

Well they just told me that not long ago, when their children were really not doing good, having troubles with growing up, that the only way they got through it was to go out daily and share their faith with others. Thinking about the needs of others and pouring out to others was a way to keep putting first the things of the Lord when their own situations were going over their head, even after they’d been doing everything they could for their kids.

They said “It just helped us to go out and talk to and help others as so many have so many problems and we were just there to be a blessing and help to others. One time we were driving down the street and I said, ‘I don’t even know how I can talk to people today, so many things and problems are going on.’ But then the first person we talked to said almost immediately, “Wow, I know God sent you to me today.”

One more thing they shared, I just can’t leave this out. They had been in Beirut, Lebanon during the time of the war when there were the militias and the Green Line. So they had witnessed to the Christian militias which often were teenagers. Late one afternoon they were coming back from downtown Beirut through the Muslim section and they were about to cross the Green Line to the Christian side of the city. But some Muslim militiamen came up to them and asked them what they were doing, pointing their Kalashnikovs at them. They were there to prevent people crossing back and forth.  Then out of a side street came the Christian militia they’d witnessed to and, pointing their guns at the Muslims, told the Muslims to let them pass over into the Christian section, that they were with them. But their witnessing to the Christian militias earlier was what keyed them to stand up for my missionary friends when they we were stopped by the opposing militias.

Whew. This is a lot better than sports bars, virtual reality or Netflix, no? I sure think so. Witnessing and sharing our faith is where it’s at.

Knowing

I know it is flatWords are kind of funny, kind of deep. You know what I mean? Take “knowing” for example. You can say you “believe” something but when you say you know something, it’s similar but also really different. And both of those words occupy a very prominent place in the Bible.

Probably the most famous verse in the Bible is John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” They say the whole message of the Bible is encapsulated in that verse. And the key and pith of it is in “believing” in Jesus. But that word, “believe”, in English, can at times come across as slightly weak. You can ask someone, “Are you going to the party?” And if they say, “I believe so”, you might come back with, “Well, are you sure?” And if they then say, “I think so,” you’d probably sense a lack of certainty in their voice. But if they say, “I know I will”, then that’s pretty much it. There’s certainty in knowing.

John writing in prison flatAnd the Bible teaches us not just to believe in Jesus and God but to know Them. And, yes, that is possible. Paul said, “I know whom I have believed…” (II Timothy 1:12) And John the beloved disciple said, “These things I have written to you that believe on the name of the son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life…”. (I John 5:13) There’s actually quite a lot about this in the Scriptures. Paul said, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings.” (Philippians 3:10)

Think about it. Jesus had certainty enough that God was going to raise Him from the dead that He allowed Himself to suffer the most horrible death known at that time, crucifixion. And, sure enough, “God raised Him from the dead.” (Acts 13:30) Maybe you don’t believe that. But 10 of the 12 original apostles of Jesus were certain enough about that resurrection that they all themselves suffered martyrdom. They didn’t just “believe”. They didn’t just “think”. They “knew” , they were certain enough about the truth they’d seen and heard from the Lord that they died for that truth and that Lord, knowing with certainty that eternal life was theirs.

And against the backdrop of the world we live in, that kind of certainty, that kind of knowing is rather rare. Of course, it can be said that people give their lives for causes all the time. Soldiers do it and many others give their lives in a lifetime of what sometimes turns out to be a very questionable goal or dream.

So, admittedly, there’s a lot of uncertainty in this world. I was thinking about an obscure verse this morning in Ecclesiastes which says of God “…also He has set the world in their heart so that no man can find out the work that God does from the beginning to the end.path ahead(Ecc. 3:11) That’s why we Christians say we have to take a lot of things “by faith”. Paul said, “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (II Corinthians 5:7) But with the heavenly vision we get from His Word, the eternal truths that are our foundation for this life we now live, we can see and find “the path of life” (Pslams 16:11) which often is radically different from “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) which is what the ungodly trudge along in.

But for those of us who know and believe in the Lord, there is so much more an element of certainty and knowing than in what the world has to offer. Jesus talked about building our house on the rock so that when the storms come, our house will stand. That’s all about knowing, about the kind of belief that has entered into rest. It’s a knowing kind of belief. This is what Solomon meant when he said, “Have not I written unto you excellent things in council and knowledge? That you may know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer the words of truth to them that send unto you.” (Proverbs 22:20 & 21)

Life can be really tough. We all make mistakes. We all have times where we really thought we were right about something and it turned out we were wrong. foggy flatOr there are times where we are just in confusion, not knowing exactly what is true of false. But for those of us who know and have the Lord, a good deal of the fogginess of this life is lessened if we truly know and have a living relationship with God and His Son Jesus, plus also that we deeply study and receive the truth of His written Word, the Bible.

Then, even if there is a lot of uncertainty around you, a lot you don’t understand, a lot you just don’t feel very smart about, you can still have a strong presence of truth and knowledge of the most important things in this life: eternal life through the mercies of God and Jesus and precious instruction in how to live daily in this world through His Word.

Fighting the fight of faith

determined to go forward full flatLet’s say you are determined to go forward for the Lord. Maybe you’re determined to share your faith more with others. Maybe you’re determined to get the victory over some “besetting sin” (Hebrews 12:1)  in your life, alcoholism, gluttony, lethargy, materialism or whatever. But you’ve set your face to go forward to greater obedience, to overcome and really gain ground in the Spirit for the Lord.

Well, I almost hate to tell you this (and you probably know it anyway) but it’s like this: if you do it the right way, the enemy will fight you. The hellish, fiendish “god of this world” (II Cor.4:4) doesn’t plan to give up territory he thinks is his and perhaps actually is his at this time. So you can expect that, one way or the other, the enemy will fight back and do all he can to thwart your plans, your dreams and your desires to go forward for the Lord.

you are a mess flatHow does he do that? He sends ISIS or some radical Muslim to destroy your life? Usually he’s more subtle than that. I think the vast majority of the time the enemy uses words and thoughts to deter us from our determination to more greatly obey the Lord. And folks, I’ve seen it happen recently and I’ve seen it happen when I was in my 20’s and every step in between.

The devil is the accuser of the saints. The Bible even talks about “false accusers in the last days” (II Tim. 3:3). And the pitiful thing is, the devil can tell you a lot of truth about yourself (or your friends, coworkers or loved ones) not to mention all the lies he tells. But whatever he can find in his dirty bag of tricks, his awful arsenal of evil, he’ll throw it your way. And, sadly, it’s not like it never works. Lies, fears, discouragement, the past, the future, confusion, division, discord, accusations, “revelations”, the list is almost endless of what starts coming at you when you are starting out to climb the mountain of God’s higher will and calling in your life.

turning backPaul the apostle said of the devil “we are not ignorant of his devices”. (II Corinthians 2:11) But it can be downright disheartening how many of the Lord’s sincere saints are sidetracked from the direction the Lord has led them when the enemy pulls out his big guns and starts shooting. And for the most part, it’s all in a battle of the mind. If the devil can persuade you to quit and give up, he doesn’t need to waste his time with any violent persecution of you. You’ve already been eliminated by being overcome by his confusion, fears, false narrative or whatever.

A real doozy is when the devil can pull up something that is actually true and use it against you. It may be something about your life, your weaknesses, your past, someone else’s past, some mistake you or someone else has made, things like that. And he just keeps playing that song and that “fact” in your head without ceasing, if you let him. After all, it is true, you can’t deny it.

I showed you flat-1But the deal is, there are other things that are much more important that are also true and are what the Lord wants you to focus on. It’s like the verse in the Bible, “this wisdom descends not from above but is earthly, sensual, devilish.” (James 3:15) But it is some form of wisdom, just that it’s not the wisdom from above. Some facts are like that: things that are true but if you focus on them, they’ll lead you right out of the will of God and the mindset He wants you to have. I’ve seen it happen, recently.

Paul said one time, “None of these things move me” (Acts 20:24). He said to the Galatians, “But though we or an angel of heaven preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)  Later on he said to the Galatians, “You did run well, who has bewitched you?” Galatians 3:1 & 5:7)

Often we learn these things through very hard experiences. We learn some of this when we have fallen for this type of device of the enemy, whatever it may be. “The fear of man brings a snare.” (Proverbs 29:25) We are afraid of what people will say and their opinions of us. Or our heart condemns us and tells us that God can’t use us. Or there’s some division that the enemy works among brethren to stop the progress of God’s troops.

But whatever it is, I can guarantee you that it will happen if you are truly going forward to win the battles of the Lord and regain ground from the enemy, in whatever form it may take. So just expect it, don’t fear it or let it frighten or deter you but be prepared, have on the armor of God, and trust that the victory that is needed has already been won for us on the cross when Christ there defeated the enemy of our souls. May He help all of us to be winners in the battles He is leading us into, not victims but victors. God bless you to be fighters for Him.

Cast your bread upon the waters

give and it shall flatWhat do you think about when you think of the God of the Bible? Love? That sounds right. But how is love actually shown or seen? I think one of the clearest ways is in kindness and generosity. There’s just so much in the Bible about giving and sharing, from cover to cover.

Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall men give unto your bosom, for with the same measure that you met shall it be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38) In another place He said, “He that has two coats let him give to him that has none.” (Luke 3:11) But that spirit He puts in our souls of concern, altruism and benevolence at times can be quenched if our hearts become hardened through selfishness or possibly the heartbreaks of life that make us feel it’s just not worth it.

why give flatWe’re tempted to just stop sharing, stop caring, and stop going the extra mile. We do it and then sometimes it seems it was all for nothing. The ones we tried to help were rude or unappreciative. Our labors truly did seem to be in vain and there’s just the huge sentiment to throw in the towel, close up shop on our lives and turn out the lights. “Why keep giving? No one else does. I’m just an idiot to naively give of my own to people who don’t appreciate it, while others laugh and snicker at my immature generosity.” You can hear some say that or it’s the cry of our broken, wounded hearts at times.

For me it comes down to this. I just go back to the most foundational experiences of my life and see again that the words of the Bible and the words of Jesus far transcend any “reasonable” rationalizations that contradict the truths of God and His Word. Loving, sharing, caring benevolence and generosity are some of the greatest hallmarks of God and Jesus and they should be some of the strongest abiding characteristics of the people of God.

good samaritan 1We can’t just pass by the poor man on the road to Jericho. We have to stop and render aid. We can’t selfishly hoard our blessings but we feel impelled by the Spirit of God to share with others. And the Bible is just full of this line of thinking. Here’s what Isaiah said. “And if you draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall rise in obscurity and your darkness shall be as the noon day.” (Isaiah 58:10) In another place Solomon said, “The liberal soul shall be made fat and he that waters shall be watered also himself.” (Proverbs 11:25) And we can turn to more from Jesus, “Give to him that asks you and from him that would borrow from you, turn not away.” (Matthew 5:42)

Of course some may have choked or stumbled back there when I quoted Solomon where he talked about “the liberal soul.” For some Christians today, the word “liberal” is virtually synonymous with Satan. And that is a stark sign of the darkened times we live in that “liberal” has come to mean that. Because originally the word “liberal” meant generous and giving , as well as free from prejudice. (See II Corinthians 9:13) Nowadays it has been taken over by a political movement and twisted to mean something totally different. So much so that Christians now feel that in order to be “conservative”, they’re obliged to be stingy, hard-hearted, uncaring for those having rough times and just all that goes with the modern “conservative” agenda which often really does not have priorities parallel to the words of Jesus and the Bible.

In conclusion? “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Satan and the vicissitudes of life work incessantly to harden your heart, to make you faint in your mind and throw in the towel when it comes to being loving, kind, generous and giving. Don’t let it happen.

To quote Solomon again, in the 11th chapter of Ecclesiastes, “Cast your bread upon the waters for you shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven and also to eight for you know not what evil shall be upon the earth.” You may be “casting your bread upon the waters”. You may be giving and not really fully knowing where it’s going or what it’s being used for. But if you are doing it “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) , in obedience to His commandments to be loving and to share, someday (in this life or the next) “you’ll find it after many days.”

morning grace flatThat’s what God does, He gives and shares and pours out constantly. “He sends His rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) And He implores us to have a heart like His, to love and give as He has given to us. So watch out about times when you just feel it isn’t worth it or “wise” to be loving and giving. Thank God He hasn’t changed His mind about being loving and benevolent. Lord help us not to change our mind about it either.

To whom shall we go?

find Christians flatGod “sets the solitary in families”. (Psalm 68:6) But often for those who long for the higher road in this life of Christian discipleship, it can be a lonely trek. It breaks my heart at times when I hear of ones who truly seek to not only be a Christian but to also take up their cross, as Jesus said, and follow Him. How can someone do that today? Where is anyone or any group of people truly following the original commandments of Jesus and the pattern of the book of Acts, who daily, whole heartedly are laying down their lives to be, in this hour of world history, all that the first Christians and disciples were?

Can it be done today? Is anyone really doing it in our times? With the Early Church in the book of Acts, it was just a monumental indigenous groundswell of the Spirit of God and “multitudes were added to the church, both of men and women”. They worked together, taught one another, encouraged one another and had a strong bond that developed into a whole society of saved souls, delivered from the power of darkens and translated into a whole new creation, a people of God made alive through Jesus which quickly spread across the world of those times.

Baptist churchIs it still the same today? Well, maybe somewhat. There still are Christians, there are churches you can go to, sweet people there and some of them will share with you the fundamentals of the faith. You can stand and sing with them on Sunday and imbibe the atmosphere of faith there. You can even go to their small groups or home churches where you usually can get to know individual Christians better and get a somewhat stronger feeding from the Word.

But I know for some people, perhaps many people, this really isn’t enough. Some at least just feel a God-given longing in their hearts for a much greater portion of the whole Christian experience. They may not even be able to express it but they have a yearning to be true disciples of Jesus, like so many were at the time of the early Church and the book of Acts.

freedom fellowship flatThey don’t want a once-a-week experience in church. They can just feel that it’s a distant echo of the original Kracatoan explosion of the Spirit that was the original wave of Christianity and all that was a part of what brought the truth of Jesus to our world. They want to live for the Lord as the first Christians did. God has put it in their hearts to be dissatisfied with a life of secularism and compromise with the world. They just know there’s a universe of joy, service, experience, purpose and fulfillment that is there, somewhere. But they can’t find it.

At least at times in my life I’ve been privileged to be around like-minded people who joyously took up the call of Christian discipleship and who at some times and in some places banded together in a similar fashion to the disciples of the Early Church. But many will say, “Well, that didn’t last. They didn’t all stay together like that or keep their fervor unto the end.” True, they didn’t. Still, it was a brilliant fire while it lasted and I feel at least that it was a more fruitful and fulfilling form of Christianity that I experienced in those times.

to whom flatIn a sense, there was something to join. There’s always a danger with that as it’s so easy for anything that becomes organized to fall prey to the world of things that can go wrong when people are organized in any way. But for people now, if someone feels a strong urging of the Lord to follow Him in full time Christian service, what are they going to do? “To whom shall we go?” as Peter once said (John 6:68).

He knew for sure that Jesus and the discipleship they had in Him was the only thing real that was around. But Jesus isn’t alive in the flesh with us on earth right now. And maybe you can find a good church. But almost certainly the Spirit will bear witness in your heart that what you find there is a sad far cry from the deeds, acts and words of the disciples in the Early church.

disciple in AfricaIs there a happy ending to this? I wish I knew a better one. Right now I don’t have any church, group or denomination that I can point you to which I know is fully, whole heartedly following the Lord like the Early Church did. I know a sweet couple in one foreign field or a tiny little association of a few families somewhere else. But it’s mostly a very scattered stand of rugged individuals who are trying to remain on the wall of His Will and service that I’m aware of.

So what can I offer you who want to truly serve the Lord? I can tell you that you can follow His Words as found in the Gospels and the New Testament. Jesus Christ is still “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Even if there’s no band of brothers who will take you in and show you how to do it, the Lord Himself sees your ardent desire to know Him, serve Him and lay down your life for Him in these times.

Even if there’s nothing to join, you can still join yourself to His Words. He will see it, honor it and may even lead you to other likeminded Christian disciples, even though they be few and scattered in these times.

Keep the faith. Keep holding on to your crown, your vision and desire to live for Him in your generation. It’s still as true today as it was 2700 years ago, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are perfect.” (II Chronicles 16:9) Maybe you don’t think you have a perfect heart. But if your desire is to truly serve the Lord, He surely sees your heart and is fully able to bring you into contact with like-minded people who can help you on your quest. It’ll take a miracle, but that’s what He does. Keep the faith.

“Lift up now your eyes”

Lift up now your eyes flatGod sometimes tells people what to do, often in fact. And He’s still doing that today, although you don’t hear much about that in most churches. One of the most famous times this happened was when God spoke to Abraham, 4000 years ago. Did Abraham obey? Well, yes, mostly. But in this case, it seems there was a period of time before Abraham fully obeyed. There’s really a lot we can learn from this.

Now the Lord had said to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, and from your kindred and from your father’s house into a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1)  Like I said, in many ways Abram did obey. In the first leg of their journey, Abram’s dad and Abram and Lot, his nephew and their families, did move as far as Haran, nearly 600 miles up the Euphrates from Ur, where they started out. Pretty good, no? Only, the Lord had told Abram to separate from his kindred and his father’s house. Still, it was a big step in the right direction of full obedience.

Abraham leaving HaranThen, when Abram was 75 years old, he pulled up stakes again and headed south towards the land that God had been leading him to. But it says “and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4). So, he was still with his family who it turns out were not on the same page as Abraham when it came to the things of the Lord. But the Lord hadn’t given up on Abraham and was in the process of performing the work that He had started in him. (See Philippians 1:6)

We read that “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle.Abraham and Lot(Genesis 13:7) So Abraham, the man of God that he was, said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.” (Genesis 13:8) The result was that they decided to part ways and this is the place where Lot looked towards the lush valley of Sodom, near the Dead Sea, and decided to head down to the valley while Abram stayed in the high country.

But then what happened? What did God then do or was able to do then? Here’s what it says in Genesis 13:14 & 15. “And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, ‘Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever.’

God couldn’t and didn’t fully bless Abram till Abram fully obeyed God. “Lift up now your eyes.” Now that Abram had finally separated himself from his kindred and his father’s house, God was able to perform the fullness of what He had planned.

Roll ye away flatAnd the Bible is just completely full of other examples like this. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He told the ones present to “roll away the stone” (John 11:39) that was covering the place Lazarus was buried. In another place Jesus told someone to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (John 9:7) They did and they were healed. Jesus told the 10 lepers, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And, get this, “It came to pass that as they went they were healed.” (Luke 17:14)

Sometimes we have to do “the wenting”. We have to do the obeying. It seems like such a simple thing but it’s so utterly important. Jesus raised the dead but they were required to roll away the stone. Jesus healed the lepers but they had to have the faith and obedience to do what Jesus said and to go show themselves to the priest. It seems so simple but actually it’s huge.

So it behooves all of us to search our hearts and to even bring it to the Lord in prayer, “Am I failing to fully obey you in something?” And in our cases, it doesn’t even have to be some specific “personal voice of God” event in our lives. For those of our times, we have the whole Bible to look in to find God’s will for our lives. Are we walking according to the instruction Jesus gave His disciples? If we want His blessings and protection on our lives, are we following closely the instruction He gave in His Word, even what Jesus taught His disciples when He was here on earth?

I think that many of us may find that we’ve not been fully obeying the voice of God through His Word and that’s mostly likely why so many are not near the fullness of the blessings that God would bestow our lives. May the Lord mightily help us to have the vision to more strongly and fully follow the voice of God and the Word of God so that He can do with us what He knows is the very best for our lives.

One hundredfold, now in this time

one hundredfold flatSometimes we think life is really rough and then the Lord comes along and just “blows our mind”, as people used to say. We’re grimly armed for battles and to survive the worst we think will come. And then, almost out of nowhere, the Lord “pours out a blessing that there isn’t room enough to hold it.” (Malachi 3:10)

“Oh, Mark, what are you talking about?! Life is very hard and rough and the Lord is there to comfort us and strengthen us as we wearily trudge along. Someday, when we get to heaven, then Mark, things will be nice and happy and heavenly.”

It’s sure easy to think that way and there are times when it is like that. But not all the time. And that kind of attitude can almost end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. For those of us who not only believe in Jesus and go to church once week but who’ve taken the challenge to “take up your cross and follow Me” (Luke 9:23), there are some amazing promises of blessings, in this lifetime. Actually, I’m presently experiencing some of the most amazing blessings of my entire life. At some point I’ll get more specific about this but it’s really been on the scale of “above all we can ask or think.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

And Jesus promised this to His followers and disciples. Here’s what He said, “And everyone that has forsaken house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My namesake shall receive one hundredfold now in this time, and in the world to come, eternal life.”  (Mark 10:30)

Did you get that? It’s not just all pie in the sky for us. Jesus promised that those who have forsaken all, those who are serving Him “here and now” won’t have to wait for the “there and then” before getting some measure of reward. He said they would receive 100 fold “now in this time”, and in the world to come eternal life.

“OK, Mark, I can see you’re really beginning to get tripped off now. You’re going down the road of the prosperity gospel preachers, promising abundant life and lots of material wealth to Christians.”

whoever forsakes flatNope, I don’t think I am. The verse I shared above made the stipulation that “forsaking all” was the prerequisite for the 100 fold blessings that the Lord said would be to His followers “now in this time”. And I can understand that for probably the vast majority of Christians, the very words “forsaking all” (Luke 14:33) are almost unknown to them. This is just another of the very many things that Jesus taught that never are almost ever mentioned in church.

But for those who are following Him, He did say that there would be persecution but at the same time, there would be this 100 fold blessing in this lifetime. It’s sort of sad in many ways. So many Christians today are not really “living Godly in Christ Jesus” and so they are not “suffering persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). Also, possibly because their pastors never taught them about this, they’re not even close to forsaking all and perhaps that may be why they’re not having the experience of really having the blessings of God mightily being poured out on them.

holy spirit which flatThere’s just something about obedience. “He gives the Holy Spirit to them that obey Him.” (Acts 5:32) Of course it’s not that most Christians are utterly disobedient. They do obey some. They worship, some read their Bibles, go to church and are walking according to the light they have since so many churches serve a rather thin gruel of spiritual feeding rather than the pure milk of the Word, much less anything approaching strong meat.

But I was just struck this morning by the significance of that verse above, Mark 10:30. Part of my original Christian experience involved a commitment to “forsake all” in order to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” (Mark 16:15) And it has at times been a rough and rugged, even lonely road. But it’s really not the full and complete picture if we allow ourselves to fixate on all the battles and little sufferings that can come along.

Because it’s really true what the Lord said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) I’ve had a very blessed life and the Lord’s promise of 100 fold in this lifetime is currently a theme playing out in my life so strongly that I’ve struggled at times to even believe what’s going on right now.

So don’t let them kid you. God doesn’t want you to endure years of depressing, fruitless emptiness. That’s not the picture. He is able to do “above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), in this lifetime.