“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?

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.

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.

The Rapture

I will come again flatOne of the principle beliefs of Christians for 2000 years is that Jesus of Nazareth will return to this world to rule it as the Son of God and God-ordained King of Heaven. This is a clear and essential belief of Bible-based Christianity. In fact, Jesus spoke repeatedly about this and at least two whole chapters, Matthew 24 and Mark 13, are Jesus’ words to His disciples to describe this occasion of His coming and events immediately prior to that.

And the Bible even gets down to some fine details of His return, one of the most famous events being what’s been called “the rapture”. That word is not found in the Bible but it is described in detail by the Apostle Paul, perhaps most clearly in I Thessalonians 4, verses 16 and 17. Speaking of Christ’s return to this world, Paul says, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

the lords comingFor those who study this subject, a world of questions immediately arise when the Rapture is talked about. “When, where, who, how”? And on and on. But it’s good to pause to remember and establish that, if you’re a believer in the Word of God, at least we shouldn’t be asking “if” this is true or going to happen. It is. Jesus said in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you… (and)…I will come again…” John 14:1-3.

But with all the huge controversy and even confusion on this subject, it seems wise to try to proceed rather slowly and to find a path on it all by following the Scriptures. As Isaiah said, doctrine must be “line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10). For me, some of the most certain verses that we can be sure of as accompanying these ones about the Rapture in I Thessalonians are what Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 15.

The Corinthian church evidently had a question about what kind of body we will have in heaven. Here’s what Paul told them about this, very closely echoing what he told the Thessalonians, except in this case focusing more on what kind of body the believers will have in the hereafter. jesus and trumphetsPaul told them, “Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep [die] but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of the eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. And we shall be changed.”  (I Corinthians 15:51 & 52)

These verses are talking about the same event as the ones in I Thessalonians, only looking at a different aspect of that climatic event. You’ll note that in Thessalonians Paul spoke of the Lord’s return “with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God”. Here in I Corinthians he says, “In a moment, in a twinkling of the eye, at the last trump.” It’s curious and noteworthy that this seminal event in the history of mankind is almost invariable linked to something called “the sound of a trumpet”.

And when Jesus Himself spoke of this future moment, He too referred to a trumpet being sounded at the final moment of His return. This event is most clearly spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24:29-31. In Matthew 24:31 Jesus spoke of Himself,  “And He shall send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet. And He shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

There should be no doubt, from looking to Scripture, that the future event of the return of Jesus is spoken of with certainty and a surprising degree of detail. We do ourselves no service to, in any way, doubt or dispute that this will happen, if we truly look to God’s Word for our lives and the future to come.

But of course there are many, many questions about this future event. Can Jesus return at any moment? Are there any events prophesied in the Word which immediately precede His return? Some even wonder if there is any way this has already happened. Perhaps these questions could be looked at in another post.

But hopefully those of us who believe in Him and in God’s Word can at least agree on this: He said He would return to this earth and the Bible has a number of clear and unambiguous verses which state this and give us understanding of what is to come. Let us at least be of the same mind in agreement on these fundamentals of the subject of Christ’s second coming.

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.

Tie up in port?

launch out flatThere’s just something about going on the initiative to the attack that brings victory. This isn’t specifically a Christian teaching but actually it’s known and spoken of across many platforms and schools of thought. But certainly for the people of faith, you really have to keep wanting to make progress or you’re well on your way to becoming an “old bottle” (Luke 5:37), like Jesus talked about.

A lot of Christians think they should be conservative when actually they really should be progressive. OK, here in the States both of those terms are thickly slathered with extra added meaning. So let’s unpack that and break it down. What do you mean by conservative and progressive? If conservative means timid, supine, hesitant, hold-the-fort, old-fashioned and both critical and fearful of change, then I really don’t think true Christians should be conservative. If progressive means a desire to go further, to achieve enduring positive progress, to dream dreams that can become the Godly reality of tomorrow, then progressive sounds the best bet to me.

And yes, I certainly know that in the superheated socio-political atmosphere in America now, “conservative” and “progressive” are virtually fighting words. But what saith the Scriptures? Are Christians actually supposed to be ultra conservative and to abhor progress? As the Lord said, “I trow not.” (Luke 17:9) In fact I suggest that the propensity to think that we believers are supposed to be “conservative” rather than “progressive” is a serious impinging drag on millions of individuals as well as the body of Christ as a whole.

jesus on horseJesus told His followers to “Launch out into the deep”, (Luke 5:4) He didn’t tell them to tie up in port. Jesus “went a little further and fell on His face”. (Matthew 26:49) Solomon said “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might”. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) And Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) But sadly, the vast majority of Christians today, if they go to church at all, are being taught that God’s highest and best is to tip-toe through life, ever watchful of sin lurking at every corner which will suddenly jump out and devour the hapless, virtually defenseless sheep that they are.Conquering

What a travesty. Is that the picture of the Early Church? Is that how Christianity and the knowledge of salvation in Him spread throughout the earth? By holding the fort? This is what I wrote about in “Conquering”. Frankly, I believe with all my heart that modern Christianity needs a whole lot more progressives than it does conservatives, a whole lot more gas pedals and fewer brakes.

Where are the soul winners? Where, oh where, are the pastors, imploring and engaging their flocks in the business of personal evangelization? Where are the pastors and church leaders who are actively training their flock in the basics and essentials of salvation itself so that their congregation can turn around and personally win souls in the coming week?

How many people in your church can lead a soul to Jesus? Do they even know they should? Do they personally know the plan of salvation? Or do they think that’s just for the preacher or the Apostles of the Book of Acts? How many people in your church can quote John 3:16 and/or know how to find it in the Bible they carry with them at all times and share that verse with those looking for His truth?

you need Jesus flatIt was 17 year old and 18 year old “Jesus people” who knew their bibles well enough many years ago who showed me on the street the plan of salvation. Verse after verse, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8 & 9, John 1:12, Revelation 3:20 and others, showing it to me right out of the Bible, that convicted my heart and opened my eyes to the plan of salvation, that changed my life utterly and set me on the path of Christian service for decades now.

Do you know how to do that? If you’re a pastor or preacher, do the people of your congregation know how to share verses like that with ones they meet? We are to “be always ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within us.” (I Peter 3:15). But for so many, if they know they’re supposed to do that at all, it’s mostly some sweet little weak squeak rather than any kind of bold, Scripturally educated testifying and opening of the Word to those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Is your pastor or preacher teaching you and others how to witness and win souls? If not, I suggest you ask him why he isn’t.

While Christians are blindly drawn into political, secular, worldly hostilities, thinking that this is doing their “conservative” duty to God, the unsaved lost continue to go unreached. How it must break the heart of God that His people are so misled and distant from the original pattern of Christianity that we see in the book of Acts and the Early Church. The “great commission” (see Mark 16:15) was not to be fuddy-duddy, hold-the-fort, Sunday-go-to-meeting “conservatives”. Jesus still calls those who will to “launch out into the deep”, not to tie up in port, rot away and die. May God have mercy and help us all.

They began to make excuse

Jesus and excuses flatSometimes delayed obedience can become total disobedience if prolonged too long. And, let’s face it, obedience is really what the Lord wants and needs from us. And yet, doesn’t this fly in the face of we modern people?

Obedience? Who does He think He is?!” But when we pause to answer our own question, if we believe in and know the Lord, we know He has every right in the universe to call for our obedience, even though our stubborn, willful nature rebels against “anyone telling us what to do”, even God. It’s amazing how many times in the Bible Jesus called someone to follow Him and “they began to make excuse.” (Luke 14:18)

My experience is that it’s still very much that way today. Jesus is still calling people. The Lord still needs laborers, servants and disciples who will respond to His call and nudge on their hearts to serve Him. It doesn’t have to be some big, grandiose “CALLING”. Most of the time people who end with a calling like that were already faithful in the little things that the Lord told them to do. So He was able to end up giving them a more visible and larger scale calling.

were busy flatBut so many people, and I’m talking about believing Christians here, just are not really making themselves available for the Lord to use them when He needs them. The best ability is availability and so many just aren’t. They are “busy”. Whew! Can you imagine what would have happened when the Lord called Peter, James and John and they’d said something like, “Come back next week, Jesus! Can’t you see we’re busy on the fishing boat, helping our father?

By next week Jesus would have been long gone and would have found someone else more ready and willing to answer His call. So few have made it their habit to obey God in that split second of that golden opportunity when the Spirit is hot and heavy and God is convicting your heart and calling you to action.

It’s so easy to make logical, reasonable excuses why you can’t do what God is calling you to do, what His Spirit is urging you to do and needs you to do. And most people will accept your excuses and agree with you since, in excusing you, they’re excusing themselves. But, from reading the Scriptures, it seems to me that the Lord doesn’t always really look at it that way.

Yes, He is loving. Yes, He is gentle. But His goal in our lives is not for us to just be lulled to sleep in our comfortable Christianity but for us to follow Him. Where? Well, He told His disciples long ago that it would be “into all the world, to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) God’s Spirit doesn’t just sooth and comfort so we’re lulled and sedated. God’s Spirit equally calls us to action.

david and brothers flat 2It was God’s Spirit that spoke through young David to his brothers, “Is there not a cause?” David left his shepherding of sheep to go into armed battle against his people’s greatest enemy, Goliath of Gath. But for so many Christians, they’ve lost that vision, if they ever had it.

That’s why one of the greatest perils of Christianity is that it becomes “Churchianity”. It sooths, lulls, comforts, reassures and eases when it should perhaps take another look at the Scriptures to see how much Christ called individuals to sacrificial action in following Him.

“Well, Mark, don’t be so hard on people. It’s just our human nature to be that way. We’re not to judge, Mark. We’re all weak, nobody’s perfect. Etc. etc.”

Don’t you just know that’s what immediately comes to the mind of almost everyone if there’s any mention of the Lord’s call on our lives to obey and follow Him? And doesn’t that just sound so “right”, “modern” and even merciful and forgiving? But what says the Word of God?

If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall loose it. But whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24) “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loose his own soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore will be ashamed of Me and My Words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father, with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38)

From what I have seen, there are just a whole host of saved Christians around who are no longer serving the Lord or open to have the Holy Spirit move them to do something other than what they already have personally planned for themselves. They have reclused themselves with excuses. And if you even hint at the fact that they’re unyeilded and unmoved by the conviction of the Holy Ghost, they’ll be immediate and vehement in their justifications.

doing here flatWhat’s the solution? Often the Lord just has to move on, as Jesus did, to find those ready and willing to take up His call to serve Him. However, it seems sometimes like about what God told Elijah when the prophet told God he was the only one left in Israel serving Him. God replied that “there are 7000 who’ve not bowed the knee to Baal.”  (I Kings 19:18) Thinking about it though, if there were maybe 2,000,000 in Israel at the time, that would work out to about one person in 300 who was still on the Lord’s side.

Follow me smallSo from my experience, I can tell you that these verses here are as true today as they were when the Lord said them. “But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them. For they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is truly plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38)

 

They that walk in pride…

Nebuchadnezar for blog postNebuchadnezzar must have been an amazing person. It seems like the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel was basically written by him. It’s an incredible story of how this virtual “ruler of the world” at that time essential went crazy for 7 years but then came back to his senses through the allowance of God. But it all came down to what evidently was his besetting sin: pride. Perhaps the most stirring verse in the chapter ends with Nebuchadnezzar speaking about the God of Daniel and saying of Him, “…they that walk in pride He is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)

If you are familiar with the God of Abraham, then you’ll know that there just isn’t much of anything good that He’s said about pride. Someone challenged me one time to find even one verse in the entire Bible, Old Testament or New, that had anything good to say about pride. Think about that.

Here in America you see a lot of bumper stickers on the back of cars and a very popular one a few years ago simply said, “The power of pride”. I really thought about that. Being a Christian, and living in a traditionally Christian nation, “it gave me pause”, as they say. Because, pride is considered a sin. The power of pride-flattenedBut on bumper stickers all over America it was being extolled as a virtue. Something’s wrong with this picture. Did you ever see a bumper sticker that said, “The power of humility”? No? Me neither.

Well,” you say, why does it matter? Everyone’s proud. It feels good to be proud! If folks aren’t proud, they’ll get discouraged and feel bad about themselves.

Hmm. As often happens, it’s so easy to leave the Lord out of the picture. It’s one thing if agnostics and unbelievers do that. Certainly in a worldly sense, in the ways of this world as it is now, pride is king. But not if you believe in God. And that’s supposed to really make a difference.

But what about pride? Don’t we all need pride? If you don’t know the Lord, if you don’t have faith in God, probably all you have left is faith in yourself, or your country, or your job or car or… And you want to feel proud about them, right? But knowing the Lord and realizing there is a God has (or should have) an incredible transforming effect. It humbles you. But in a constructive and good way, not in a destructive, humiliating way. But in a way that sets things right and changes our hearts from being insecure, war-like, hardened animals into what God intended us to be: humble, loving, friendly, kind human beings.

But some would vehemently say,Oh, Mark! It’s not that easy! I know lots of people who believe in God and they are just as proud and cruel as can be!

New Humility picture-flattenedYou may be right. But for me personally, and many thousands of people I know or who I’ve read about, there was a unique transforming experience that came when I realized and accepted that the God of Abraham is real, cares about us and can change our pitiful nature, remaking it into something we ourselves could never be: warm, real, truthful, loving, humble human beings. It seems like that’s what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. And even king David.

But you might say, Nah, I don’t believe that! Pride is good! Pride motivates me. I depend on it every day.

If you don’t believe in God (and that’s how I used to be) then I can understand that. It’s how most people are. But if you do know that God is real, let’s check out a few things it says in the Bible. The apostle Peter said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5). Solomon said, “Only by pride comes arguments” (Proverbs 13:10) and “Pride precedes destruction and an arrogant spirit appears before a fall ” (Proverbs 16:18).  And if you are a person that believes in the prophetic future revealed in Scripture, one of the greatest characteristics of the Satanic Antichrist to come seems to be his overweening pride.

little in your own sight flatMaybe it helps to use words like that, “arrogance” or “haughtiness”, rather than pride. Many people will agree that arrogance and haughtiness are not so good. However, they’re still comfortable with pride. But again, just see if you can find any place where pride pays when it comes to our relationship with God. Jesus said of Himself that He was “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:30) and it was said of Moses in the Old Testament that he was “the meekest of all men.” (Numbers 12:3).

All this works on a micro or macro level. If an individual or a nation cultivates a humble spirit before God and others, they just seem to draw down the blessings of God. The prophet Samuel told Israel’s first king, Saul, saul & Samuel 4 blog postWhen you were little in your own sight, God made you king over Israel.” (I Samuel 15:17) And there was a time in his early days when king Saul received the blessings of God. But when he became proud and depending on his own sense of righteousness, he lost his kingdom to a more humble man, King David.

So, it’s a choice, isn’t it? Pride? Or humility. If you believe in God, the answer could hardly be clearer and the warnings any more stark. It’s a little scary to be where the sin of pride is so clearly acclaimed. God helping me, I really feel I don’t want to have any part of that.

Drawing circles

FriendlyI don’t know about you but some of the times I’ve felt the most hurt in my life have been when I’ve felt rejected and not welcomed in the fellowship of others. Conversely, some of the most encouraging and heartfelt moments have been when others opened their arms and lives to invite me and include me within their circle of fellowship.

It’s like something I heard one time that went something like, “He drew a circle that left me out. But love and I had a wit to win. I drew a circle that drew him in.” Maybe you could say I’m immature or there’s something that got mixed up early in my life that has made me that way. But that time when you feel rejected, not wanted, not included, ostracized from the ones you wish to be with, it can be an extremely disheartening time.

Thank God I found Him and Jesus so many years ago and of course They don’t do that to us. He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) On the other hand, like the Bible says of some people, “Your sins have separated you from your God.” (Isaiah 59:2) But that’s a different story. Because “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7) Nevertheless, loneliness, feeling left out and actually being left out are still at times very real realities for many people, even people of faith.

Love is flatSo for me, one of the very greatest manifestations of God is the true warmth, genuine loving inclusion and sincere human love that He can put in the hearts of His people. Sadly, it’s not always there but then sometimes it is. You can just feel it. They don’t only “love you” in an officially required Christian sense; they actually like you and want to hang around with you and include you in what they do. All the spirituality in the world won’t replace genuine Christian warmth and inclusiveness. And so often that manifestation of love is what people need and respond to more than anything else.

I love God’s Word, I’m keenly interested in Bible Prophecy, I believing in serving the Lord in this world. But some of the things I’ve treasured the most have been brethren who drew a circle that counted me in. You’d think that would be how it would be all the time but of course it’s just not, for some reason or the other.

People are busy. People are carrying their own burdens. I hate to say it but it can somehow even happen that some of us can not like others of us. Maybe it’s a personality thing, maybe there’s some little quirk we see in others, maybe we heard something through the grapevine about someone else that has turned us off to them. Lord help us.

freedom fellowship flatWhat everybody needs is love. Some people are surrounded by a big family and have lots of loved ones and relatives nearby. Others for one reason or the other are more or less on their own. But everybody needs to be loved and of course everyone needs to love. And you can just feel it, one way or the other. Being a Christian and being part of the flock of God should make it much more possible and likely that you are loved and can feel the warmth, inclusion and camaraderie that almost everyone needs.

I know this isn’t the kind of thing I usually write about but it’s still at the basis of the teachings of Jesus. “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” (John 15:12)  “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35) But Jesus spoke about the last days before His return saying, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold.”  (Matthew 24:12) Perhaps that’s referring to the times we now live in. Travel and knowledge have certainly increased, as the angel told Daniel would be one of the signs of the last days. (See Daniel 12:4) But the coldness, loneliness, exclusion and hard-heartedness of the endtime are also very prevalent in so many places.

friend no more flatSo for those who are active in trying to expose the New World Order and all the works of the enemy and darkness in these endtimes, it would also be good to remember that a loveless, friendless barrenness is also a manifestation of the endtimes. We need to do all we can to expose and counteract that, just as much if not more than all our exposé of false systems and governmental intrigues that take so much of our attention.

dont deserve this-flattenedMaybe it helps to talk about this. Maybe it helps to remember, in all our commitment to serve the Lord and to win others to Him that part of our greatest witness, as well as the greatest commandment, and our own greatest need often is to love and to be loved, to feel that a circle has been drawn that has included you. Or that you are drawing circles that include the ones on the outside looking in, the ones who don’t have others in their lives and may die today for lack of friends and fellowship. Let’s all be on guard against not opening our hearts and lives to those around us who may be perishing today for lack of love and friendship. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Black and White

High noonDon’t you just wish things were more black and white? When I was a kid, there were (what seemed to be) the really good guys and the really bad guys. Of course we were the good guys; there was no question about that 🙂 . But then things really began to blur, you know what I mean?

Nowadays, it’s really difficult, so it seems, to know who are the bad guys and the good guys or at times even to know good from bad, at least in some situations. Thank God I became a Christian or (as it should be said) that the Lord pulled me out of the pit I was in. But still, I think a lot of us feel it’s more difficult in these times to truly discern good from bad and even truth from the lies.

I mean, even in writing this, I keep adding “so it seems”, like I can’t hardly make a sentence without qualifying it and having some equivocation. I guess it’s good but sometimes you just yearn for black and white. [And for those folks who see a racist in every Christian nowadays, of course I’m not talking about “black and white” in that sense.] Personally, I’ve always been one who believes strongly that there really is such thing as the truth. I just didn’t think that everything is relative and it’s all just a mater of  each individual’s perspective.

Of course there is nuance. Not only is the devil in the details, as they say, but God is often in the details too. But as far as I am concerned, there is truth. “God is not the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 14:33) and I’m happy to say that I do know and have experienced that God is not just some equation or frequency off in the universe someplace. God-is-chanceBut “He” (more equivocation there, did you notice?) is fully able and willing to intervene in the lives of individuals or societies, according to our prayers and needs or the lack of our prayers and our transgressions against Him.

first road picture-flattened“The Lord is known by the judgment which He executes” (Psalm 9:16) and a few times in my life I’ve really known the direct hand of God in His judgments on me. A couple of specific ones I’ve written about are “Lights On the Road” and “God is Chance”. In those times and many others, my darkness and lack of understanding was shocked by the direct hand of God intervening in my life. So I can’t help but believe there is a black and white, a right and wrong, a truth and a lie.

We’re told to realize and embrace the “black and white” in ourselves and of course that’s right to some degree. An obscure verse I memorized on that subject is Romans 8:20. “For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly but by reason of Him who has subject the same in hope.We are subject to both vanity and hope, falsehood and truth, wrongdoing and virtue. But without the perspective and foundation that God gives us through faith, everything just increasingly blurs into equivalency and relativism. “Who are any of us to judge?” we are told.

Arise oh Lord flatSome folks even think they can quote Jesus on this. “Jesus said, ‘Judge not’”, they say. But He also said “Judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24) I think King David of old expressed the cry of my heart at times when he prayed, “Arise, oh Lord, let not man prevail. Let the nations be judged in your sight. Put them in fear, oh Lord, that the nations may know themselves to be but men.” (Psalm 9:19 & 20)

Sometimes (and this may shock you) I think we just need the judgments of God. That might scare some people but King David said, “The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous all together” (Psalm 19:9). If we can righteously judge… everything, starting with our own heart and motives, then everything else can begin to fall in place. But if we don’t know the way God looks at things, then everything can get overwhelmingly complicated and blurry so that most of us just give up in defeat.

pray for clarity flatSo, what’s the conclusion? Pray for God’s judgments?  (“Uh, Mark, I don’t think I can follow you on that one.”) Well then pray for clarity, pray for definiteness, pray for righteousness to prevail and justice and truth to triumph and rise to the top of things in our world right now. Without those graces that come from Him, greater and greater darkness will continue to prevail and grow. Confusion, fear, trepidation, and defeat of heart will become the greater and greater norm, both for individuals and many nations. We so much need the cleansing light and truth of the judgments of God on each of us individually and as well on this world we live in now.