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.

The princess and the pea

princess and peaEver heard the story about the prince who was trying to find a wife? So the story goes, he made a stack of mattresses, 100 tall. Then he put a tiny pea underneath them at the bottom. Next he had a try out for his princess, bringing one candidate after the other to see how she liked the bed. All were thrilled by laying on it till one said she felt something under the mattress. That was the one the prince chose to be his princess, so they say.

Well, I’ll tell you, I really don’t think that prince was Jesus. Because the Lord’s princesses need to be able to take quite a lot more than a little pea under 100 mattresses. But it does seem that many today have the notion that a Christian life is similar like to sleeping on 100 mattresses and being upset by a pea. If you read your Bible, or even the history of people who’ve lived a life for the Lord, you’ll see that personal comfort was most often really pretty far down their list of needs or wants.

special forcesThink about it, what humans will do for people or organizations other than God and His Son, Jesus. We glorify the Special Forces of the military, how they endure incredible hardships and sacrifices to fight foreign wars. We hear of people in Asia dying from overwork, literally dying on the job because they work such long hours, just trying to make money. And rock stars and movie stars often sacrifice everything in the way of morals and their conscience, to “rise to the top” and be famous.

Of course if we turn to modern Christianity, it would be wrong to say that there are just no people like that today with vision and guts to live a life of sacrificial service for God and others. But for probably too many, the idea of really and truly “going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41), “laying down your life for the brethren” (I John 3:16), and going “out into the highways and hedges to compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23) is just nearly unthinkable.

That’s the only kind of Christianity I’ve ever known and I think the only kind that could have won me to Him: a strong Christianity similar like to the Early Church. Because I grew up surrounded by (I’m sorry to say) shallow, racist, self-righteous nominal Christians and I was deeply unimpressed. When I would engage them in a conversation about the things of God when I was a pre-teen or teenager, they would all wither at the first sign of any need to “contend for the faith.” (Jude 1:3)

passing tracts-2Thankfully I know that Christianity in our times is better about this in many ways compared to how it was where I was, growing up. The Christians who are still left in our times have found they have to do better at being able to defend and explain their faith or they’ll just be defeated and destroyed by the kind of person I used to be. I’m so thankful that, back then, I met some serious, committed, even radical young “Jesus People” Christians at a pivotal point in my life. And their lives, sample and knowledge of God’s Word won me to Him when no shallow Christianity had been able to do that till then.

But, think about it, where are the real fighters for the Lord in our times? Where are the ones working 12 to 16 hours a day, on the home field or the foreign field, to bring the love and truth of God to the people of our times? People will do it for money, so many millions do. They’ll endure incredible hardships in the military and kill people in foreign countries, all with the idea that they’re defending their nation 10,000 kilometers away.

fight backBut where are the people who are not hung up on their comforts or the pea under the mattress but are like the people of the Bible or past centuries who took up their cross to really “forsake all” (Luke 14:33) and put their lives in His hands, put the Devil to rout and win the world for Him?

It’s ended up happening that I’ve done a lot of traveling in the last 20 months or so. And it looks like that that may continue for a while more. It’s all been for the Lord’s work but in my travels, I do look around. How are people doing? How is the body of Christ? Is it growing or diminishing? Bold or defeated? Promised_Land fixed flatMoving forward or sliding back into the morass of humanity and the mire of the multitude?

One of the more encouraging things I’ve seen is to have met some teenagers, some in South Africa and others in northern Germany, who give the impression of being very sold out and committed to the Lord. I feel I’ve seen in some of them the vision and commitment to Christian service that is essential to happen in every generation if the Lord is to continue to have, not just sheep, but shepherds, servants, true followers and disciples in each generation.

It’s a big subject and maybe there will be more the Lord lays on my heart about this. But if there is anyone out there, my age or one or even two generations younger, and you’re feeling the Lord’s service may be His will in your life, I can tell you plainly that I have utterly no regrets about living for Him as a missionary and disciple for closing on 50 years now. If you feel a call on your life to serve Him, I greatly, greatly encouraging to follow that calling.

 

Is God like Helium? Or Hydrogen?

colored ballonsI was talking with someone about the many crises the world is in now. We agreed on a lot about the dire straits that are these times and the likely increase in the dangers soon to come politically and environmentally. But as the conversation got gloomier and more forebodingly hopeless, I spoke up to say that I see a time when God Himself will have to step in to rescue humanity from taking things right over the precipice.

But the one I was speaking with said that, while they weren’t an atheist, they didn’t believe that God could or would do anything like that. God in their view is a rather distant, aloof, somewhat inert and unknowable entity, dwelling we know not where. I’ve been told it’s incorrect to say “He” about God in some parts of the world. So “It” is just not in the picture when it comes to things, people and problems on this earth. It’s just up to us. God doesn’t get involved. God doesn’t give a damn and couldn’t care less, I guess would be the view. Or perhaps His hands are tied.

I said that my personal experience had really been contrary to that. I’d held that view before and actually took it a step further to say, back in my teenage years, that there was undoubtedly no God at all. But life proved me wrong. It wasn’t something I learned in church or even from others since I was so sure I was right, god of the universeI wouldn’t begin to listen to anyone about this. However, as it turned out, I found that there is “Something”. And I found that it was the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham. Months later I found that Jesus was sent to earth by God to redeem us and save us, just as the Bible explains.

So my experience has shown me that God is not inert, untouchable and unknowable, unable to interact with this world. God’s not like Helium, He’s like Hydrogen. Those two invisible gases are right next to each other on the periodic table of the basic elements. Hydrogen is number 1 because it has one electron in its outer shell. But Helium has two electrons in its outer shell so it is complete and pretty much can’t and doesn’t interact with anything else.

h2oBut Hydrogen? It interacts with just about everything. Take water, if you will. What is water but a lonely Oxygen atom with 6 electrons in its outer shell and thus having room for two mates to drop by and join up? So along come two Hydrogen atoms to connect up with the oxygen and … voilà! You’ve got water! Hydrogen does that kind of thing a lot.

And so does God. He (It) is like it says about Jesus, “going about everywhere doing good.” (Acts 10:38) God is not not like Helium: static, inert, aloof and unmoved. He’s like Hydrogen, going everywhere there’s a place for Him and where He is received. He’s “a very present help in the time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

So this concept of God as a smug little selfish Helium atom, just sticking with His own and not reacting to the rest of us is not how things really are. Maybe Helium atoms are like the Simon and Garfunkel song that said, “I touch no one and no one touches me.” But not Hydrogen. And not God. The simplest of all elements, Hydrogen is just everywhere but always willing to get involved and join up to get things done and form molecules.

God in spaceAnd it’s been like that for a long time. God has had a plan all along and He’s been involved and active on this earth since way back when. It wasn’t only shown when finally He sent His own Son to be a manifestation of Himself to us here on earth. He’d already been speaking, acting, doing and intervening on the earth for thousands of years before that through the prophets and men of God whose lives He had touched.

So if you’ve somehow been caught up in this view that God (“if He is there at all” right?) is just sort of “the man in the moon”, a cold, distant and uncaring, inactive formula or equation out beyond the galaxies somewhere, then I’ve got news for you, if you will receive it. God’s not like Helium, He’s like Hydrogen.

God is present, interactive, interested, contactable and can change our lives, just like the Hydrogen changes the Oxygen when they hook up and become a whole new thing. And He’s not just a local phenomenon but He works on a global scale too. In fact He’s way out in front and knows what’s going to happen and is able to lead us and guide us and show us what to do, both individually and as societies and nations. Oh, that each of us, and this world we now live in, would open to Him to know Him better.