“No man knows the day and hour”

no man knows flatIf you are a student of the future events predicted in the Bible, you’ve almost certainly heard the verse quoted, “No man knows the day and the hour” (Matthew 24:36). My experience is that this is often brought up by folks who want to negate the revealed plan of the future that Bible prophecy presents. And I suppose a light reading of that verse could persuade some people to look at things that way. In other words, “No man knows the day and hour” so therefore “Forget about the whole thing! Don’t even try to understand it.” Or so they say.

why try flatBut I don’t think that’s the meaning or the intent the Lord had. For one, I certainly agree with the verse that, at that time and probably for now, no man knows the day and the hour of the Lord’s return. For one, back then, they didn’t need to know that because that wasn’t the main thing that was happening right then. Jesus Himself was the one Who said that no man knew the day and hour of His Return. He said this near the end of His ministry on earth, before His crucifixion. His return was still far off in the future. Also, if we just take literally what Jesus said, He said that no man knows the day and the hour of his coming. But that doesn’t mean that at some point in the future we won’t know perhaps the year, the month or even the week of His coming.

Revelation 11 3D-d for D9 blog postWhy do I say that? If you’re a student of prophecy, one of the most often-prophesied events in the Bible is the coming 3½ years of “Great Tribulation” that Jesus Himself spoke of. (Matthew 24:21). This three and a half year period is also mentioned in Daniel chapters 7 and 9 and extensively throughout Revelation. Over and over again we’re told about this period of “42 months”, “1260 days” and “time, times and half a time”.

Matthew 24 21-a for blog postThe Lord doesn’t waste His Words. This wasn’t put there for effect. While I believe that we won’t know the specific hour of the Lord’s coming, it is one of the clearest subjects of Bible prophecy that this period of 3½ years will come. Even the specific sign of the beginning of this 42 months is pointed out by Jesus Himself. In Matthew 24:15 and 21, He said, “When you see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the Holy Place….then will be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time…”. I’ve made a video specifically on this subject of the Great Tribulation that Jesus spoke of and which is revealed in Daniel. The video can be seen here.

At the time of Jesus, no man knew the day and the hour. But the people of the future will be able to have a pretty good idea of how much time there is left, those ones who will pass through the last years and months before the Lord’s return.

Why? Why would the Lord want anyone to know when He was coming back? I believe there are several reasons. For one, it’s going to be a time of tremendous hardship for believers and worshipers of the God of Abraham. But for those who know these verses in the Bible, it will be an anchor of their faith that it’s only for an appointed time, that it will have an end and that end will be the Lord’s coming.

few more months flatAlso it will be something that can be used as a witness to the waverers and the undecided. When the believers in God can tell the undecided what is going on, that it’s the time of the Antichrist and that all those things have been predicted for centuries, it will be a witness and testimony to millions. That’s why it says in Daniel 11:33 “And they that understand among the people shall instruct many”. This comes only two verses after the verse that Jesus Himself pointed to in Daniel when He was teaching about the time before His coming, Daniel 11:31.

The Pact flatYes, “No man knows the day and the hour”. No one knew it at the time Jesus said that and no one knows it right now. But I believe that there will be those of us in the last 3½ years before His return or even in the last 7 years before His return, who will have a pretty good idea of the year, the month and perhaps even the week of the Lord’s return. And it will be a tremendous help and blessing to know that as the believers at that time will face troubles unparalleled in history.

So if someone tells you “No man knows the day and the hour”, don’t let that rattle your faith. Know what the Word says and what is repeated again and again in Daniel and Revelation about the specifics of the Last Days. Then you’ll be strong, prepared and you can “instruct many”. (Daniel 11:33)

Freedom

freedom pictureI’ve had a conversation with a new friend and some of it has been about freedom. My gosh, what a subject.  Are you free? Free from what? How can we tell? How can we measure and quantify freedom? Everybody talks about it, most everybody wants it, a few people say they have it and some say that others don’t have it. But some people just really feel and know they aren’t free. They are bound. Sometimes they feel like a slave, either to some other person, to some system, to their families, their egos or whatever.

you shall know the truthBut Jesus talked a pretty good amount about freedom. In fact, He promised it. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed”. (John 8:36)  The university I went to has at the top of its main building, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Of course it was Jesus Who said that. But the university appropriated that Bible verse to apply it to the secular education received at the university.

I don’t know, maybe some find the truth there. I’m afraid I found some knowledge there but knowledge is not really the same thing as truth. While I was acquiring knowledge at university, I was literally nearly dying for a lack of wisdom that comes from the truth that comes from God. And I certainly wasn’t free. I guess I could have thought I was, going to university, cool sports car, apartment, pretty good job, nice clothes. But inside I was like a person with a terminal disease in its last stages. I was sick and starved of the knowledge, wisdom, truth and freedom that come from God.

From the early 70's. London, England

But when I came to that point where I received Jesus and was born again, I truly in so many senses became “a new creature in Christ Jesus”. (II Corinthians 5:17) Was I free then? I sure was; but it was something so totally in the middle of my soul that it might not have been apparent right away. Or maybe it was. I’m sure my countenance was different, my words began to be different, my lifestyle changed and I just had a complete change in my heart and soul from the inside out.

For one, I was free from addiction to psychedelic drugs, something that had a grip on me till then. But it was much more than that; it really was like what Jesus meant when He said those words written in stone at the top of the building at my university, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”(John 8:32)the truth will make flat I began to have a freedom, a peace, a joy and even words that there may be no words for, maybe close to the word “ecstasy”. But I don’t find the word that fits, really. Simply put, it was a form of freedom and deliverance from the fear, confusion, bondage, lack of direction, just the overwhelming lack in every area that was the essence of my life before my coming to God.

You may say, “I don’t know. I went to church one time and those folks didn’t look free at all. It all seemed pretty formal, traditional and, frankly, dead.

The good news is that some churches are not like that anymore. They are drinking deeply of the things or God, or are trying to, and people pushing the envelope to find those spiritual realities that Jesus promised are ours in Him. For example, some people are singing songs together, powerfully and from their heart and they are being exhilarated with the freedom that comes sometimes through song. I personally have been in places where the songs even turned into dance and went on for hours. No, people were not jerking around like rodents; it was smooth and beautiful, heavenly and free like we’d been transported up from this world or the essences of heaven had come down to us. It was an indescribable experience.

Another form of freedom I’ve experienced was in the midst of one of the worst natural disasters on earth in our lifetime, when I was in refugee camps in Aceh province, Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami of 2004. It wasn’t some out-of-body experience but a very practical freedom of stability, sanity and focus in a time when most people were utterly stunned and overwhelmed in the aftermath of such devastation. There was an infusion of freedom and peace on me and my friends that made it so that we could minister for many hours each day, giving and pouring out in every way we could when almost all the local and state infrastructure had been destroyed and we were surrounded by devout Islamic people who couldn’t help wondering how in the world we got there and why we were there.

For a Christian, we’re not just given freedom like some lottery prize but as something useful and practical that brings us joy. But His freedom also strengthens us for the task at hand in this present world, of bringing people to God and His Son Jesus. And I’ll admit, it does seem like many Christians have not gone so far in experiencing the freedom we have in Jesus.

passing litMost churches are so “afraid of wild fire”, that they have little or no fire of the Spirit at all. Besides, only a few are beginning to tell the sheep in their congregations that actually they are responsible to not just “lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2), but to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8), to witness and win others personally to Him. So they need to experience the freedom we have in Him and then start using it to get going for God and others.

sharing wordWe’re free, free, free; free to do God’s will. Free to “follow the Lamb, whithersoever He leads“. (Revelation 14:4) And for those few who are beginning to awaken to the fact that the dear Lamb of God has work to do for each of us in this world, they are finding that His freedom will help so that we can do so much more, dream so much more and accomplish so much more than most of us ever did before when our life in the Lord consisted of Sunday church service and perhaps a little more.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”. (II Corinthians 3:17) “The creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”. (Romans 8:21) How many people of God have really experienced that “glorious liberty” personally in their lives? where the spiritHow many people are daily living in that glorious liberty to the full in the action-packed, thrilling, significant destinies His saved children can have right now in this world, if we seek first His kingdom. Oh, that the Lord would be able to help more of His people to drink more deeply of His freedom and the things of Him now in this lifetime. “Eye has not seen, neither has ear heard the things that belong to them that love Him. But God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit for the Spirit searches the deep things of God.” (I Corinthians 2: 9 & 10)

Processing and Refining

convicted flatI got an interesting response from someone regarding what I wrote about Convicted”. It was sincerely written, nothing sarcastic or combative to it. Her first sentence said, “Conviction, reprobate etc seem to come from a judgmental mentality. I think that was done away with, with the message of love and compassion.

That’s an interesting way of looking at things and it’s a viewpoint that many now and over the centuries have had. Here’s more of what was written to me.

Spiritual growth can include the evolution of how we express ourselves, reaching inward with the intention of becoming closer to our soul’s essence, feeling that deep love that is the source of our existence and of creation, and then letting our light shine in word (vocabulary) and in deed. I think part of letting our light shine is connecting with our source of power individually through genuine prayer and faith, and letting that unique expression be our contribution to others with humility and compassion, which really is kindness. The world needs more kindness. Conviction comes from a place of strength, taking a stand from a place of deep faith and belief. Then we can use whatever words best communicate our faith and love. Isn’t that a universal way of sharing light with others, and the goal of openly practicing faith?

Obviously there’s a lot to agree with there. “The world needs more kindness”, I sure agree with that. I get the impression that this person is a gentle soul who wants to let her light shine, as she wrote, and to be a force for good in this world, working within the realm of faith and spirituality.

So it behooves me to respond to this one with respect and a prayer for wisdom in what to say. Paul said, “The servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach.” (II Timothy 2:24) I feel the Lord wants to slow me down on this and to help me choose what I say with prudence. It could be easy to do what some Christians find all too easy to do, to jump in with what they perceive as wrong in what someone has said. To this dear friend I would say (with a respect and a hope that what I say is easy to be accepted) that it’s not what you are saying that I’m hesitant about; it’s what is not being said.

The reason is that in the same way our food in these times can be refined and processed so that it’s separated from its original nutriments,white bread or whole grain flat things of the Spirit can be processed in such a way that there’s still some substance left there but essential ingredients have been removed. It’s actually expressed rather well by Paul the Apostle when he said that one of the conditions in the future would be that people would have “a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof.” (II Timothy 3:5)

This sadly is happening a lot in our times where there exists a spirituality that has a lot truth to it, even Christian truth to it, but at the same time it’s somehow been “processed” and “refined” to take away what seems unacceptable or improper. A case in point with this is what this dear one said in her first sentence “’Conviction’ and ‘reprobate’ etc seem to come from a judgmental mentality.” This is a rather clear example of where some feel the original message of God in the Bible needs to be processed or refined to remove things we find offensive in our times. Again, many millions of people look at things this way, both those professing to be Christians as well as many who hold the faiths of eastern religions.

For me, it’s kind of like a whole package, almost like when you install an operating system on your computer. I wrote about that in “Resetting to Factory Default“. It’s not just one file but hundreds of thousands and it all interacts together to make your computer works. I’m certainly not able to try to go “under the hood” and delete files I don’t like or which I think would make things go better.

In the same way, I don’t find it wise way to begin to remove basic pillars of God’s Word that are clearly there both in the New Testament and the Old. Many people want to get back to the original Godly food that can be grown naturally and contains the nutriments that are there for our good. In the same way, if the concept of “conviction“ and the many other explanations of our existence that Jesus taught us are repeatedly presented in God’s Word, I feel I need to take heed to these things and to be very cautious aboutkept back nothing flat any who would process and purify what they feel needs to be removed from God’s truth. It reminds me of how the original Christianity was founded in the early church. Paul said he had “kept back nothing that was profitable to you“, that he had not held back from sharing “all the council of God”. (Acts 20:20&27)

Some people have retained some of the essences of spirituality but have somehow removed the true center and source of it all, which is not our inner soul but God Himself and His Son Jesus. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:) I believe that. It has to come back to Him, His provision, His direction, His infusion of light, direction and strength. We are “not sufficient of ourselves, to think anything of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) Some inadvertently come to feel that every person on earth just needs to get in touch with their inner selves and things will be fine. I didn’t find that at all. I found I needed to have a regeneration of heart and spirit through the redeeming power of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

come not near flatIt’s a rather convicting thing to try to answer or respond to what this dear one wrote. It is true that judgmentalism and a “come not near to me, I am holier than thou” attitude (Isiah 65:5) has been prevalent in Christian circles towards those who may not fully agree with all aspects of it. A good deal more humility, gentleness, kindness and long suffering are sorely needed. But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The sometimes haughty judmentalism that can be found in some Christians does not negate the unquestionable sovereignty of God and of the judgment that exists already and the final one that is to come.

 

“I have my doubts.”

I have my doubts flatYou hear folks say that sometimes, “I have my doubts.” And nobody says anything about it, it’s as normal as can be. But how about that? If you profess to believe in the God of three faiths, then you probably know that doubts, at least some kinds of doubts, are not just something to slough off as nothing, though mostly everyone does.

On the one hand, you’ve got “the father of faith”, the patriarch Abraham. What was the big deal about him? Well, for one, he kept hearing the voice of God telling him that he was going to have a big family when both he and his wife were like really getting up in years. And evidently the thing that pleased God about Abraham was his faith. Here are some especially poignant verses in the book of Romans that speak about the special faith of Abraham concerning this unusual promise God made to him which seemed to go unfulfilled for so long. Abraham for blog postHe (Abraham) staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in the faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:20-22)

Did Abraham have his doubts? I don’t remember reading about them, although his wife Sara did evidently laugh once when an angel was with them and told them about their future family. And let’s be honest, do you ever sort of secretly sympathize with them? After all, there are oodles of times in the Bible where God and/or His prophets have foretold some extremely outlandish, almost impossible-to-believe things. And you and I might feel that if we’d been there, we’d be pretty challenged indeed to believe what was said at the time.

In fact, do you ever feel that way about the book of Revelation? My gosh. “The stars fall from heaven” and “the heavens departed as a scroll” (Revelation 6:13 & 14). It says during the time of the trumpets, just before the return of Jesus that “hail and fire, mingled with blood” will be cast upon the earth. “And a third part of trees was burned up, and all green grass” (Revelation 8:7).  Whew. No wonder some of the big time preachers in the churches here are still telling the believers on Sunday morning that none of them will ever see any of the events spoken of in Revelation. According to the main line evangelical denominations of this day, they will all be wonderfully swept away at any moment and will experience nothing of the endtime tribulation that’s so spoken of in both Daniel and Revelation.

bundle of faith flatMaybe a thing to do with some of this is what I’ve heard before, to “wrap it up in a bundle of faith and put it away somewhere”. When the time comes, the Lord will take it, unwrap it and make it all clear and plain.

Some folks think they have to understand something to believe it. But that’s not true. It’s a real liberation to realize that even if you don’t understand something, that doesn’t have to mean you cave in to unbelief. You can still believe something, even if you don’t understand it.

But I’m going to confess that at times, when I just look at the prophecies of the future with my carnal mind and worldly reasoning, it does become easy to be tempted to doubt that the strange, mighty things of Revelation can actually happen. But that’s a precarious place to be, being tempted to doubt the stupendous things God has foretold us about the future.

Maybe it’s like the famous preacher from over 100 years ago said to the two ladies who asked him, “Dwight L. Moody, do you have dying faith?” To which he said, “No, I don’t.” When they gasped at his apparent unbelief, he went on to say, “I’m not dying yet.” That’s how things work.dying faith flatAs thy days, so shall thy strength be” . (Deuteronomy 33:25) I really don’t have to worry or even totally understand some of the most awesome, intriguing mysterious of the future that Revelation tells us about. I’m not there yet. God gives us what we need for today, not before.

I do study these things and even teach about it. But as I wrote about in “Daniel First”, I really believe it helps a lot to start with an understanding of the book of Daniel, which Jesus Himself pointed us to, before we try to comprehend the book of Revelation. But what do I do with the almost incredible things found in Revelation? One thing is to simply look back at the already fulfilled prophecies of the past, many of them just as seemingly incredible but nevertheless fulfilled by the Lord. So I have every reason to believe that the stupendous things of the future that we find in Revelation will be fulfilled just the same.

And as much as I enjoy the study of these things, I do feel that my most important calling is that of a disciple, soul winner and a feeder of sheep, a teacher of babes. It can end up just being a trip off if you get so lost in the intricacies of the prophetic future and you abrogate your calling of full time Christian discipleship. Maybe this is what King David meant when he said “Lord, my heart is not haughty or my eyes lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great things or matters too high for me.” (Psalm 131:1)

truth and humility flatI do strongly believe that more people need to have a much better understanding of the events that we’re told about in Daniel and Revelation which have not yet happened. But I think any teacher who seriously makes an attempt to teach the book of Revelation to others must have the honesty, humility and candor to say at some points, “I don’t really know what this means here or at least I don’t understand it enough to be certain about it.”

Sometimes it’s the Lord’s wisdom for us to just stay simple, to admit it when we don’t exactly know what some things are and to not get spooked out about some seemingly foreboding future event foretold in God’s Word. Maybe that’s the correct time and place to apply what Jesus said, “Take no thought for the morrow for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34)

Convicted

convicted of fraud flatThe word “convicted” is not quite in the same category as some of the other words that have recently come to mind for me. “Worship”, “repentance”, “sin”, those words have little or no modern usage except for those who are Christian. But you do hear about “convicted”. The only problem is, it’s almost always something like “He was convicted of fraud and sent to prison.”

Again it’s a case of important words fading out of usage. Would it be right to say “convicted” is a really important word? In John 8 it says of some that they were “convicted by their own conscience”. (John 8:9) The Greek word used there in other places is translated as to correct, convince or reprove. Speaking of the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said that he would “reprove the world of sin…” (John 16:8)

so convicted flatAll this comes to mind when I was thinking about how sometimes friends of mine will say, “I really felt convicted about that.” But then, that’s not a normal thing to say, perhaps even within Christian circles. Maybe it should be. If we were more tender-hearted, especially in our relationship with the Lord, He could more easily convict us by the Holy Spirit to do things according to His leading.

One of the plagues upon the world now is that so many hearts and consciences are so hardened. And for some, they are proud of it, proud of their hardened hearts. But it says of Jesus, “He looked about with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” (Mark 3:5) angry JesusIt’s very difficult to get through to someone with a hardened heart, they don’t get convicted by their own conscience and they often mock when others try to reprove them or bring them to their senses. But being able to be convicted, being sensitive enough in your heart to have a strong sense of right and wrong, even of being able to feel it when the Lord is leading in some situation, this is how it’s supposed to be within societies and each individual.

Sadly, we’ve come to the place in time where even the principle, the word itself “to convict” has all but disappeared from our language except in criminal courts. It goes without saying that if more folks felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit, there’d be far fewer criminal convictions.

The word “reprobate” comes to mind, another virtually extinct word. It means a person who has gone so far away from the truth that they no longer even know the difference between right and wrong. This is written about in Romans chapter 1, “even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind.” (Romans 1:28) That’s where we are today in so many countries. The very words of God, not only the Word of God but the words of God, “convict”, “repentance”, “worship” “sin” and many others are hardily even in our vocabulary anymore. We have not liked to retain God in our knowledge. And the result? God has given such vast multitudes of people in many nations over to a reprobate mind. I wrote about our conscience in “What is a conscience?” But for multitudes, it’s like the Bible says, they’ve “had their conscience seared with a hot iron.” (I Timothy 4:2) They are “past feeling” (Ephesians 4:19). It’s as pretty bleak picture.

“Any solution?” you might ask. I guess, for those of us who know these things, who want to feel the conviction of the Holy Spirit and who don’t want to have our “hearts hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13), it behooves us to “let our lights shine before men” (Matthew 5:16) with all our hearts. Love is flatHopefully those who know the truth of these things will show in their words and deeds daily that society has lost so many integral parts of what God would have us to have. So much has been stripped away from the pattern God original gave to us all of how things should be, how we should follow His instructions and operating manual for mankind, the Bible.

Somehow society and the world sputters along but so many feel a sense of foreboding that something is deeply wrong. They are right; our world has gone far away from God’s Will, so much so that we don’t even have the vocabulary anymore to understand ourselves. It reminds me of the obscure verses in I John, “Let that therefore abide in you which you have heard from the beginning. If that which you have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, you also shall continue in the Son and in the Father.” (I John 2:24)

What is sin?

so what is sin flatYears ago a dear loved one asked me, “What is sin?” Unfortunately, the question was more of a challenge about if there was even such a thing as sin. And certainly, in our “modern world”, the idea of sin is ridiculed and usually rejected out of hand.

But, is there such a thing as sin? Does sin exist? Is it a prevailing force on humanity and each individual? If so, then what is it? Can it be measured, quantified, observed, detected? Admittedly, in this day when the mind of man is supreme in so much of the world, to talk about sin seems antiquated and passé. There’s no app for that. No college course and, besides, it can be plain discouraging to even talk about sin. It sounds so religious, like something you heard your grandmother talk about one time.

But, what if? What if sin is actually real, “alive and well”, and is daily wrecking destruction across the planet and probably in your own life also? It’s insidious. A pervasive, all encompassing phenomenon that prevails in its destruction throughout the planet, yet remains for the most part undedicated and unrecognized.

report on sin flatWhat an enemy sin is and yet only a tiny few even know of its existence while it daily destroys lives, nations, families, dreams and innumerable souls. There will be no speech today at the UN about sin, no 30 minute special on CNN or BBC about sin. In fact, I challenge you to do a search of material found on any major news outlet to see if you can even find once in a day the word “sin”.

But why? Well, sin, like love, is one of those things you don’t pick up readings on with your Geiger counter or spectro-analysis. Sin works in the realm of the heart and soul. And the mind. But like they say about the devil, one of the devil’s main jobs is to convince you that he doesn’t exist. The same could be said of sin. One of the more cleaver deceptions of sin is to tell you that sin doesn’t exist.

I dont sin flatAnother loved one many years ago told me, “Mark, I don’t sin.” This was said very sincerely and I knew what they meant when they said it. To them, sin was robbing banks, murder, adultery, that kind of thing. And this person never was like that. But of course the reality is that sin is a whole lot more than that. That’s the kind of thing that some religious teaching will leave you with. Some religionists have conversations like, “Is it a sin to…” and then they bring up some things that are “classic” sins.

It’s like the story about the two little old ladies on the front row of the church and the reverend was preaching a hell-fire sermon. “IT’S A SIN TO DRINK WHISKEY!”, yelled the reverend. “Amen!”, affirmed the two little ladies. “IT’S A SIN TO RUN AROUND ON YOUR WIFE”, the reverend went on. “Amen!” shouted the little ladies. The preacher lowered his voice, looked down at the two ladies on the front row and said, “It’s a sin to dip snuff!” The two ladies gasped, looked at each other and one said, “He ‘dun stopped preaching and gone to talkin’!”

Sin is a lot bigger than the classic sins that most folks know not to partake of. The Bible says, “The thought of foolishness is sin.” (Proverbs 24:9) Every time you entertain foolish vain thoughts, that’s sin. Maybe that’s why King David said, “I hate vain thoughts, but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Folks, sin is so vast, so overwhelming, so pervasive and so intertwined with our very being that it’s the ultimate dominating conqueror of every individual ever born. It’s that bad. And I’m not exaggerating.

Well, volumes and encyclopedias probably have been written on the subject of sin and am I going to do the subject justice in one of these short blog posts? I guess, if you don’t acknowledge that there’s a problem, how will you search for a solution? And sin, as hated and vilified as the concept is in modern times, is as much a scourge of mankind as it has ever been. And my guess is that it will only get worse since virtually everyone is looking for solutions other than the ones God has given us to free us from sin.

How can we be free from sin? That’s what Jesus did. When He died on the cross and “God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 13:30), He not only defeated death, He gave us power through Himself to overcome sin. Do I understand it all perfectly? No. But I have experienced it. It is through Jesus, His act of atonement at His crucifixion that any person on earth can have power over sin in their lives.

for our sins flatNow the biggest challenge for all the intellectuals, like I sort of used to be, is that this doesn’t seem to “make sense.” I’ve told some people before, “You are 18 inches from heaven” and then indicated that I was talking about the distance between their head and their heart. At some point, especially for those with a lot of education and worldly wisdom, they just have to make the jump and “go with their gut”, in other words go with their heart. I know this because it’s what I had to do and it worked for me.

Sin is the greatest enemy of mankind and every individual. It’s running rampant in its destruction across our planet and actually it always has been. But there is an antidote, a solution, a champion and deliverer. And that’s Jesus. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just the truth. Give it a try.

Lies, confusion and the truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

“Let both grow to the harvest”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…and you are still?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back again in Ukraine

Ukraine mapFor the last week I’ve been back visiting where I lived in 2008 and 2009, in eastern Ukraine. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. This isn’t Monaco or Hawaii. But for me, it is now (and was 6 years ago) a very nice place to be, among friends who hold the same views and beliefs as I do and who’ve dedicated their lives to serving the Lord.

But it can be a tough place to be in some ways and it’s a challenge for me to write this blog post and to keep it upbeat and cheerful. Because this place can be “not for the fainthearted”. It’s not a matter of violence or crime, the statistics on that are probably pretty low. And it’s not the simmering border war with Russian separatists that is still happening about 200 miles (@320 kilometers) to the east or the Russian takeover of Crimea 200 miles to the south. At one point these things did look like they would spill far into the country but it no longer really looks like that.

No, the overarching narrative here that affects nearly every life is the extreme deprivation, resulting from years of severe economic hardship, already prevalent before the worldwide crash of 2008. And I’m at a juncture here because the Bible teaches us, “Whatsoever things are true, righteous, pure and lovely, if there is any virtue or praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) In brief, we should aim to stay positive. And at the same time, Solomon said, “Sorrow is better than laughter for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Eccles. 7:3)

So I’ll tell you the good news first. My friends here have continued to stay on the wall of Christian service during the 6 years since I left here. There are not a whole lot of them but they’ve worked tirelessly in this country, often focusing on what they can do in the vast numbers of orphanages and places for the mentally challenged. Someone has said, “A little bit of love can go a long, long way.” It sure needs to here and it does. Besides delivering physical aid to these places which just barely get by, a surprising ministry for my friends here has been what’s called clowning.

fixed-Dom Malutki 12“Clowning” might not sound like a great idea to some. You may think we have too many clowns around already when we look at the politicians and so many other sources of light, frivolous froth that seems so prevalent nowadays. But this is Ukraine, not the “rich-and-increased-with-goods” West. Here I find that the clowning my friends do in orphanages and detention homes is closer to being like what Solomon said about these things, “A merry heart does good like a medicine but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

patch AdamsIf this still seems strange to you, perhaps you’ve heard of the movie starring Robin Williams, “Patch Adams”, about the true story of a famous doctor who used clowning to cheer up his patients and how much this helped them. That’s what my friends do here and it’s been both successful, as well as much appreciated by the authorities in these parts. Of course my friends are dedicated Christians and are doing all this to bring light, love and joy to a part of the world that really does need it very much, increasingly so.

horse wagonOK, that’s the good part; now let’s talk about the bad, ha! It’s the economics. And you could think, “Oh, Mark, at least it’s not violence, crime or diseases.” Hmm. Let me give you some statistics and you can see how this would work for you. You’re retired and draw a pension from your government? Millions here do and they receive… $45 a month. That’s $ 1.50 per day. An average wage in Guatemala is about twice that, I’m told. Are you going to buy medicine on $1.50 a day? No. You’re just barely going to avoid starvation if you somehow have some place you can grow some potatoes, have an apple tree and a few chickens you feed.

woman plowingYou’re a teacher in your prime, not retired? Let’s see. You’ll receive… about $55 a month. At 40 hours a week that would be about $.25 an hour for your efforts. Your tops in your field, medicine, and are #2 at a large city hospital? You’ll be getting less than $200 per month. So it’s all kind of indescribable. Almost like a sci-fi movie where all that you’ve taken for normal is deeply distorted so that things are surreal, Kafkaesque.

I could tell you much more but I won’t. It’s against this backdrop that my friends here work daily to try to bring hope, love, truth and a little happiness and joy amidst such grim deprivation. It moves me and affects me. Verses like “Unto whom much has been given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48) and “They that be strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” (Romans 15:1) have always under-girded my life as keystones of how I should respond to the gross darkness that is upon so much of our world. Being here has been a reminder of how much I and many of my friends have and how much we have to give (in so many ways) to help others.