The Swelling of Jordan

refugee marchThis month-long road trip around Europe to do recordings, visit friends and work with refugees has been great. But also at times it’s pushed me near to my personal frontiers of endurance and strength. It’s reminded me of what the prophet Jeremiah spoke to Israel long ago, “If you have run with the footman and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace in which you trust they have wearied you, what will you do in the swelling of Jordan?” (Jeremiah 12:5)

For a few days last week I was at a refugee camp of about 1000 people, serving lunch there. My fellow food servers were from Tikrit and Kirkuk in Iraq, Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, Khan Yunis refugee camp in Gaza. We had a pretty good conversation about life and God when we had lunch together afterwards. I gave out Gospels of Luke in Arabic to the ones of them who hung around and with whom I had deep conversations.

One of my goals in being at the camp has been to do as I did on the Macedonian/Serbian border 3 weeks earlier, to mix and mingle there and to find ways to pass out Gospels of Luke in Arabic to these ones.refugees at tables After serving lunch a few days ago, I was later sitting at a dining table, talking to some Syrian refugees. One young man told me he’d graduated with a law degree from a university in Damascus and he asked how it could or would work out to use this in Germany. I told him I didn’t really know but it would take time and patience for him to be able to do that here. The young lawyer told me that his brother had been shot dead by ISIS troops and that he himself had been shot twice but survived.

Sometimes when there are 5 or 6 Arab men you’re talking to, it’s not perhaps the easiest and best time to pull out Gospels of Luke and give them out. On the other hand, maybe your confidence would run that way and you’d have the faith for that. My experience is that when there’s a group like that, they react differently than when you’re in a one-on-one conversation with someone. So as much as I wanted to turn things more towards the spiritual, it just didn’t work out. But I determined to remember their faces and see if I could find some of them later when they were not all together.

And I was feeling tired, really tired. So often “the spirit of a man will sustain his infirmities” (Proverbs 18:14) and the Lord just keeps you going by the Spirit long after the flesh would like to stop. On the other hand, it can happen that you just run out of steam and the Lord in His wisdom pulls things back a little as you really are at the end of your resources. For me, the days and weeks of living out of a backpack and moving from place to place a lot during winter in Europe have been catching up with me a little. And I just could really feel it yesterday that I needed to pull back a bit and “quit while you’re ahead”, as they say in some places.

Gosple of Luke

The Gospel of Luke in Arabic

But also I wanted to do a little more to get out the Gospels of Luke I’d brought. Then, as I got ready to go, I saw one of the Syrian men who’d been sitting at the table with me earlier. He was an older guy and spoke no English. But he was sitting by himself now and he just kept looking at me. So I took that as sign from the Lord and went over and gave him a Gospel of Luke. He took it in his hand, looked up at me with a deep look and then put it in his pocket. I felt better.

And again, literally going towards the door leading out of the camp, I saw another Syrian man who’d sat at the table with me. I was able to give a Gospel of Luke in Arabic to him also. And again I felt better. I was pretty exhausted as I walked back to my place here. But like Solomon said, “The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul”. (Proverbs 13:19)

This morning I feel better physically. And I was thinking about that verse, “the swelling of Jordan”. That’s how it is now, the swelling not only of Jordan but much of the Middle East, fleeing the terrorist insanity of their lands, looking for refuge here. And like the verse says, “what will you do in the swelling of Jordan?”

Angela MerkelI’ve been really surprised by the response of the Germans, both their Prime Minister (I wrote about her in “Merkel’s Call”) and the people themselves. Even with all these refugees who’ve come here, they took in 1.1 million last year, they say the number of those who’ve volunteered to help in Germany is more than equal to the need. I’ve had to “eat crow” a bit with some of my thoughts about Germans that I’ve said in the past. They’ve shown a Godly civilization and compassion that in some ways astounds me in this day and age.

As weakened and fragile as Christianity and humanity have seemed to be in our times, some at least are responding with vigor and empathy to this great event and opportunity now happening. Hopefully it won’t only be with food and blankets but also with the saving truth of Jesus Christ and God’s Word which is the only thing that can really reach down and bring a new, transformed life to all those in direst need.

Terrorist Infiltrators

[On November 14th I was going to publish this. But the sad events in Paris, France a few hours earlier were so vivid and visceral that it seemed to not be the best time. I’ve left it unchanged. It’s definitely a “minority report” but, I believe, very needed to challenge us to turn the evil tide of these times.]

migrant boatHave you seen all the articles and posts about the fear of terrorist infiltrators among all the refugees coming to Europe? You can’t really miss it. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that there are ones like that among all those coming to the West right now. I don’t doubt that at some point there will be attacks in the West, perpetrated by Islamic radicals.

But allow me to give you something even greater to fear and be shocked at. Where are the people of God who feel challenged by all this, to rise up as His true witnesses and to win as many of these people as they can to Him?

Most people love fear, rage and nationalism/racism far more than they love to be challenged to live their faith in God. Fear and hatred sell and are sadly popular. People need to be told who their enemies are, right? But this gets even more personal; bear with me.

It would not really be correct if I said, “I once was a terrorist”. me 72 fixed-ABut when I was going to university, I was getting real close to circles of people who would today be called that. It was the height of the anti-war movement in the late 60’s. I was in university but working as a writer and editor on the most well-known “underground newspaper” in the state of Texas. I helped write it, put it together with a group of about 10 people, drove a van across central Texas to get it printed and then sold it on the street.

“Mark, that’s so innocuous. Mark, Muslims HATE us and want to KILL us!”

At one point there was a major riot/demonstration at my university. Thousands of students stormed the main building. The police came, then the National Guard surrounded the campus and it was on all the national news services.demonstrators I was one of 6 people who were inside the main administrative building, negotiating with the president of the university.

During that fall, the organization “Students for a Democratic Society” held their nation conference just off our campus. I went to their meetings and to the private parties afterwards. I met the top leadership, some of whom were soon to end up on the FBI top 10 wanted list as leaders ofThe Weathermen. I was very drawn to these people as I was very grieved by the events of the times.

Back then two guys approached me who said they were soldiers at nearby Fort Hood, one of the main US Army staging posts for the Viet Nam war. They said they were part of the underground movement. “Give us the LSD and we’ll give you the machine guns”, they told me. Almost certainly they were undercover FBI guys. But that’s how my life was back then.

“What does this have to do with Islamic migrants and terrorism?”

This. I wasn’t into killing people or violence. I was just desperate for truth, justice and the triumph of good over evil. And through it all, the God of Abraham saw my heart and brought me first to Him, and then months later to His Son.

I believe and know with all my heart that within this multitude of people coming to Europe and the US from the Middle East, there are many, perhaps very many who are as desperate and heart-sick as I was in my youth. refugee in fieldAnd somebody witnessed to me back then. Somebody didn’t look at my longish hair and strange ways; they looked into my heart and saw a desperate, needy soul.

But my question is, will there be people in our times who can look past all the propaganda, hatred and fear about Muslims and see instead a multitude of people who God Himself has allowed to come to our lands?

Paul on the road to Damascus

I was virtually on the road to being a “terrorist” in my youth but God intervened and brought me to Him. Saul of Tarsus sure must have seemed like a terrorist to the early Christians. But God saw his heart, knocked him off his high horse and called him to be His servant. But there had to be Christians back then who could see the hand of God in this and who accepted Paul as their new brother, rather than the “terrorist” he had been.

Is it Scriptural to share our faith with terrorists? Is it in the Word? First, for those who keep up with these things, it’s common knowledge that Jesus Christ has been way out in front of all of us on this for years. 01For years, Muslims all over the Middle East have been having living, life-altering experiences with the Son of God. This is what I wrote about in “Suicide Bomber Sees the Light”.

And it was the same way at the time of the Early Church. Christ Himself was way out in front back then as well and dramatically appeared to one of the very worst “terrorists” of the Early Church. But then what happened? Let’s have a short Bible study on that and see if it applies to today.

Saul had been blinded by the Light of the Lord and had been led into Damascus where he was for the next 3 days. We pick up the story at Acts 9:10

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias. And the Lord to him said in a vision, “Ananias”. And he said, “Behold, I am here, Lord.

And the Lord said unto him, “Arise and go into the street which is called Straight and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus. For, behold, he is praying and has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”

Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Your name“. But the Lord said unto him, brother saul flatGo your way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.

And Ananias went his way and entered into the house. And putting his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto you in the way as you came has sent me, that you might receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales. And he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

We hear so much about Saul and his Damascus road experience. We are all thankful for Paul. But when Saul became Paul, God needed an Ananias. Today that should be you and me. How would it have gone if there had not been ones like Ananias and others who were willing to be led of the Lord to minister to this man who had been their feared, fearsome enemy until then? This can be one of Christianity’s finest hours if there are those who will see God’s hand and this opportunity from Him to share our faith with these ones.

Could there be danger? Yes. Will they all become Christians? No. But, I challenge you here: watch not only for some future terrorist attack from Muslims coming to Europe. Instead, watch to see to what degree Christians rise up to love, welcome and share their faith with these ones in this hour.

If the Christian response is anemic, halting and virtually non-existent, then that in the realms of heaven may be far bigger news and a greater disappointment than any terrorist incident. If God’s people are so defeated and uncaring that they don’t let Jesus in them be the Light, Love and Truth that so many of these poor souls coming to these lands so desperately need, then God help us all.

German Refugee Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encountering Refugees

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

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

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

me at transit center

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

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

An Afghan man I talked with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

They that be with us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Musings on our darkened times

times are rough flatI’ve just been thinking about things, about the big picture, where things are going, how things are going. And I mean this not only for myself but for our world as it is right now and the saints of God, the world-wide “body of Christ”, as it is called within Christian circles.

It’s just very easy to get discouraged with the way things are now, the killings, the hatred, the fear, the division, the extremism and the lowering of public discussions so often to raging ignorance, a fact-less truth-less cacophony of darkened confusion. “Truth is perished.” (Jeremiah 7:28) Indeed.

John KennedyCan any of us do anything?  I grew up wanting to be a politician. This was back when there still were some role model politicians around. I think my motive was not to accrue power but to try to help people and make a better world. But experiences on my campus at university and also working in the newsroom of a large city newspaper showed me that politics is not an avenue to get at the root of the problems of individuals or societies.

Then, as my life deteriorated rapidly, along came Jesus. Actually it was God that came along first but you know how it is, They work together. And things changed so immensely and utterly for me that it’s hard to know what to emphasis in it all. But one of the most important things was that I’d found the truth I was searching for. It was the full package, the whole download. My “hard drive” had been formatted and I had an utterly new “operating system”.

But I soon noticed and knew that I wasn’t the only one with some variation of this operating system. “Christianity”, in one form or other, had been around a long time and I grew up around folks who considered themselves Christians. [I’m building up to something here, sorry it’s taking me a while.]

While so much of the basics of my new found faith in God and in Jesus were the same as the Christians I’d grown up around, there were definitely some things that were different. If I was to boil it down to two things, I’d say it could be called “discipleship” and “witnessing”. Now decades later, I look at those two things as still defining difference-makers in my life and also what could be the defining difference makers in society today.

gun & Bible pictureChristianity in some ways has come a long way from when I was in university. But then, so has the world at large and the minions of Satan have not been on vacation either. And maybe this is where the rubber meets the road. What can we do? Should we really, like top Christians leaders in the USA have called for in the last few days, all become fully armed with handguns and lethal weapons as a response to the times we live in? Is that the message of Christ from the throne of God to His people on earth? I don’t think so.

“OK, Mark, what is the answer?”

Discipleship and witnessing.

“Mark, we already know that!”

Well, if every any group of people needs to double down on what they think they already know, it’s right now with Christians concerning their discipleship and witnessing. The somewhat good news is that a lot of Christians over the last years have realized more and more that their level of discipleship (what there is of it), is woefully lacking. As multitudes of people fall away, the believers that remain are coming to know they need a stronger brew of faith than the Lite-beer variety that’s been the staple and trademark of modern Christianity. There may be fewer Christians now than in times past. But a lot of the ones remaining are realizing that yesterday’s discipleship was a façade and they have to get much more serious about their life for the Lord. Some are.

But what about witnessing? I don’t have good news on this front. I’m sure there are some folks somewhere who are doing this. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, the basic aspect of Christian witnessing has been mostly expunged from modern Christian teaching. It’s not emphasized. It’s not taught. Rank and file Christians know little or nothing about witnessing and winning souls and they’re not taught to do so from the pulpit. “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:10) To say the least.

When some family from the Middle East moves into their neighborhood, what are most modern Christians encouraged to do from so many quarters? “LOCK AND LOAD!”  share me flatAnd some day those Christians are going to be at the judgment seat of Christ and He will not ask them if they locked and loaded their semi-automatic weapons when those foreign people came into their lives. He will ask them if they shared His love with them. That’s just how seriously messed up things are right now.

So, pray for me. Pray that I’ll write more about witnessing. Witnessing’s been part of my heartbeat as a Christian since I was 21. It’s supposed to be for all Christians. It’s like if some major files were deleted from your operating system. The programming of your Christian experience is severely incomplete and you’re not equipped to run as a fully functional Christian. It’s that bad. And this affects not only your life; it affects how we, His people, can make a difference in this world as He called us and commanded us to do.

Battles or Harvests, Swords or Seeds?

swords or seeds flat-2So many of us know that we need to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12). We heed the admonition to “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11) and “war a good warfare” (I Tim. 1:18). But I know times when this analogy, that paradigm is not the best one.

I’ve written a lot recently about the current refugee crisis in Europe and the West. Many of you know that I spent years in Islamic countries and I don’t accept the hatred and fear of Muslims that’s so often heard in our times. And when I think about or write about my interaction with those people, I believe I’ve gotten a strong check from the Lord that the terms of “battle” are not the ones that should be used.

crusadorsWhy? If you know history, you’ll know that the interplay between Christianity and Islam has been fraught with conflict, almost always violent. When we in the West think of the Crusades, it brings thoughts of virtually ancient times and Catholic at that. We just don’t relate to it. But for Muslims, the history of the Crusades is almost like still a living memory. And all bad.

For me at least, and I think it’s true for many of us, I just need to draw back, way back from all this. I’m not an ethnic Christian, I’m a born again Christian. There should be no race, people or nationality that I think of as my enemy. I do want to have the attributes of a soldier of the Lord, that dedication, that sacrifice, that character. But when it comes to wining people to the Lord, approaching my interaction with lost souls is not best helped if I go at it with the mindset that I’m a solder going to defeat an enemy.

Jesus gave us a much better way of looking at this. He spoke of harvests, of sowers, reapers and vine-dressers. And I find that a much better mindset to approach all this with. Let me say it again, Muslims are not my enemy. They are individuals who need the love and truth of Jesus Christ , just as much as the Jews do or any other people on earth.

sowerJesus said something so rich and poignant in Luke 8:15. “That on the good ground are they which, in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it. And bring forth fruit unto life eternal.” That to me describes very many people who have been born into a Muslim culture and religion. Many people who minister to Muslims are finding very “good ground” among these people.

So what is needed? Sowers of the seed which “is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11).” That’s you and me. That’s our job, to be sowers. There’s no harvest without a sowing and sowers. While we hear of many Muslims coming to the Lord now, for the most part it’s more a time of planting, rather than harvesting just yet.

If you’re concerned about all that we’re told to be concerned about, and you want to know what you can do, I implore you to take on the mindset of a sower of the seeds of God. He wants His love and truth to be planted in fertile, tilled, broken ground. And many Muslims are that fertile broken ground right now.

As so often happens, we come back to the simple words of Jesus in the Gospels. multitudesThink about these verses again and keep in mind the plight and challenge of these millions of Muslims who God has allowed to come from their lands to ours.

But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them. For the fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

This is a whole lot more fitting an analogy to use that anything having to do with warfare right now. In the Spirit, if you can see it, this can be an incredible springtime of sowing precious seeds in a fertile field of people eager to learn of Him.

He that goes forth, weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)

Obi-Wan Kenobi In His Cave

Obi WanThere he is, Obi-Wan Kenobi in his cave. Remember him? When you first saw him there in that movie, what did you think? “Hmm. Old has-been. Failure, washed up, driven into the wilderness.”

But as we watched further, we found that he was an incredible guy. He had supernatural powers. He was extremely wise but also good. He was a survivor, a warrior, a master. Maybe he was in the wilderness but he still had some life in him, some purpose, fight and even destiny ahead of him.

But I think there are a lot of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s in caves nowadays. Maybe that’s not you but on the other hand, maybe you’re one of a few I know who are. Seasoned disciples of Jesus Christ, years of Christian service in faraway lands, crowns already laid up for them in heaven from just what they’ve done with their lives already. But some are now in “caves”, for one reason or the other.

“Oh, it’s all over!” “That was then!” “I’ve made mistakes!” or “Others damaged my life.” “So I’ve retired; the war is over! God can’t really use me anymore. And besides, there’s not really anything to do anymore. Those fields are now harvested so I’m back home now and just taking it easy till I die. That may be 20 or 30 years from now. But I’ve gone as far as I want to go.”

no discharge flatObi-Wan in the cave. But along comes a new day, a new generation, a new need for Jedi masters. I’m convinced that this is the situation for perhaps quite a few people. I believe it was Solomon who wrote “There is no discharge in this war.” (Ecclesiastes 8:8) Or, another way of looking at it is what Paul said, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29) When Obi-Wan Kenobi met Luke Skywalker, he seemed to come out of retirement. And from what I am seeing, there are a lot of Luke Skywalker Christians around nowadays who could really use some Obi-Wan Kenobi’s.

When you’ve had a call of God in your life, when God has gifted, called and trained you for His purpose, He doesn’t take that away. He needs every worker He can find. It’s another thing for those who “put their hand to the plow and look back”. (Luke 9:62) But even then some return to that plow and return to that field because they know it was “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

These thoughts came to me today on a phone call with some dear friends in Western Europe. They presently are very engaged in trying to do what they can to minister to the hundreds of thousands of refugees in their country. And you’d probably be surprised how well it’s going and how receptive and thankful they are finding these refugees to be. They themselves are not really physically young. But their spirits are just tingling with excitement and expectation at the amazing things that are happening where they are. They aren’t Obi-Wan Kenobi’s in caves. They are fully energized Jedi Masters for Jesus, if you know what I mean.

We talked about ones we know, folks who have incredible gifts, experiences and unquestionable callings as disciples and servants of the Lord, some of whom are not really active or engaged in the things of the Lord in the way they were before. But for many that we could think of, they seem to be like Obi-Wan Kenobi in his cave. Alone, away from the arena of Christian discipleship where they spent years. They are gifted, inspired, anointed people but many are hardly using their spiritual gifts at all anymore.

The story is told that Alexander the Great died of a broken heart because he thought there were no more worlds to conquer. Of course he’d gone so far to the east but towards the west, he had hardly ventured and it wasn’t too many more years before the Roman empire of the west conquered the Greeks.Esther flat When we think there are no more worlds to conquer, that’s not good. And when we lose the vision of God for our place and calling in this world, that’s not good.

Mordecai told Queen Esther, “You are come into the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Esther recognized the truth of this; she saw the reality of how important she was to His work. She seized her calling and crown and was the instrument God used for a mighty deliverance for her people at that time.

What can I say? God needs every one of us, but perhaps especially the ones who have served him for so many years, who ben & Luke skywalkerhave so much experience, so much they could teach and use and put to His service right now in the events we see unfolding here in Europe. Can you please pray with me that if there are any Christian “Obi-Wan Kenobi’s” who have retired to their caves, that they will hear the calling of God again and get back on the wall of His Will, to “die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31) in this incredible hour here in Europe when the need for experienced, grass roots Christian leadership in the field is very great. Thanks so much.

Bucharest Tragedy

nightclub fireI just got off the phone with a dear Christian sister here in Bucharest. She’s not only been the faithful Romanian translator of the videos I’ve been doing, she’s a real friend and someone I greatly respect. She called to tell me that her oldest son was at the club in Bucharest late last night where the fire happened that took the lives of 27 young people.

She told me that her son had phoned her to tell her that he was ok, that he had been in the club until 10 minutes before the fire broke out but that he’d wanted to leave as he didn’t like it. After the fire blazed and then was contained, he was back there at the scene to identify bodies, many of whom he knew. The son of my translator friend’s sister is a teenage musician here; he and his band were scheduled to play at that club last night but it didn’t work out.

My friend here, let’s call her “Patricia”, said it was a big Halloween party at the place and it was full of plastic decorations that burst into flames. 500 people were there and around 300 got out. Buch tragShe said it’s being said that a number of the ones who were injured are not expected to make it. Also, the song that the band was playing when the fire broke out is called “This Is The Day You Die”.

Needless to say, this is a tragedy and traumatizing on many levels. I couldn’t stop crying on this call from my friend as I know her and her kids very well, as do probably some of ones reading this blog. And since “Patricia’s” teen age son, let’s call him “Ernest”, may perhaps later read what I write here, I want to respect his privacy and to be circumspect in what I write.

But the thought that came to me is that, as they say, “God has no grandchildren.” It can’t be your parents’ faith and experiences that you build your life on. Each individual ends up having their own experiences that are the formative ones in their lives. That certainly is true with how I came to faith in God from an atheist background. It’s often the deepest, darkest, most overwhelming experiences of our lives that are the crucibles in which we are shaped and molded.

Death for a Christian should be a different experience from that of an unbeliever and we who are the people of faith should really view it differently. communion-fixedIt’s like what I wrote in “Tales from Trondheim”, about the young man in Norway who was getting Christian training with my wife and I who went to be with the Lord around 48 hours after he left us. It was very traumatizing for us, very sobering, but we had peace and joy to know that he went to be with the Lord.

I don’t know how it is for those young people who died here last night. This is a very Christian country in many ways and most of the ones I’ve met here have a deep reservoir of faith in God and in Christ. This country had a strong wave of Christian revival here during the 90’s, after the fall of Communism.

I guess it’s just hard to talk about right now. Emotions are raw and these are the children of people here in this city, some of whom were laid out of the sidewalks for identification as the hospitals were overwhelmed.

But I would like to ask you to please pray for my translator friend, “Patricia”, and perhaps especially for her 17 year old son, “Ernest”. There’s a lot I won’t share here about them as it’s their personal life and the things they’ve already gone through in the past which have bordered on the unique. And now this. Please pray for them that the foundation they both have in the Lord will sustain them through this time as never before and that this tragedy, this darkness, will be a time when the light of God’s truth and love will be more evident than ever before. Please pray for Bucharest and my friends here at this time. Thanks so much, Mark

 

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

syria war mapThey say, “The fog of war”. “Truth is the first causality in any war” is another one like that. I’m not a professional political pundit. But I have kept up with the situation in the Middle East for several decades and I visited the border with Syria back in February. So I feel led to write something here about factors that most of you won’t be hearing about concerning all this. Nope, this won’t be conspiracy theory. I’m not going to bash Obama or Putin. But many people just don’t quite understand what’s going on with Syria and the war there. I’m not saying I have all the answers. But there are a few obvious things that most of you won’t find on the evening news or very many “alternative” or conspiracy theory sites.

Why hasn’t America and the West solved the Syria crisis? How has this gotten so bad? Is it malfeasance on the part of the American government? If a Republican was President of the United States, would it all be totally solved by now? What’s holding things back? Let’s talk about that.

First, let me speak of the unspeakable, “our allies in the Middle East”. Most of the time, commentators don’t even touch on this. They work for news agencies or media outlets that have their internal rules about what can and cannot be said. And what few ever tell you is that the most major influence on Western strategy in the Middle East is the wellbeing of Saudi Arabia and Israel. That’s just reality and the way it is. And Saudi Arabia and Israel in these times have converging interests in their part of the world. They both want a continuation of the status quo. And anything that would threaten the status quo is seen as a threat to them.

Shiite crescentHow does that factor into the Syrian conflict? You may have heard of the Iran (Shiite)-Syria-Hezbollah crescent or axis. This is the coalition that has held together for years who are seen as the greatest threat to both Saudi Arabia and Israel. So, just viewing things as Machiavelli would have us to do, the fall of Assad in Syria would break the link in that axis or arc. So both the Saudis and Israel have been quietly making their views known and doing what they can do bring about the downfall of Assad, at virtually any cost.

Those two nations are the main allies of the West in the Middle East. So this is a major reason you hear so much about the need for Assad to be removed. Yes, they give you all that hoop-la about what a tyrant he is. But then they said worse about Sadam Husain and Muammar Gaddafi. You probably know how that turned out. Actually not too bad for the Saudis and Israel but not so good for many others.

The hands of the West are tied in many ways because of the need to curry favor with our allies in the Middle East. You hear a lot nowadays about how the US government has “thrown Israel under the bus” in recent times, diplomatically. This reminds me of a phrase I heard about the condition of Germany some years back when they were going through something of a recession. It was said, “Germany is not tightening its belt. It’s just not letting it out quite as fast.” That’s how the West’s policy is towards Israel and the Saudis right now. They aren’t cutting back, they’re just hesitating on signing our acquiescence on more blank sheets of paper on which our allies can fill in their instructions to us.

“Mark, you are so cynical! Don’t you believe our world leaders care about the suffering millions of refugees who need help and humanitarian relief?!”

Well, sadly, I don’t think those things really come to the top of the list for those who lead us. Maybe if millions were in the streets and there was a threat of revolution because of the inaction of governments, that might make them take notice, like in the days of the Viet Nam war. But that kind of thing doesn’t really happen anymore. And let’s also remember that another major factor in all this is that the American people have really soured on foreign military involvement after the wars in Iraq. That’s another reason why there is no mandate from the America people for involvement in Syria or anywhere else for that mater

Putin AssadThen, along comes Russia. Those are the bad guys, right? Everyone knows that, you see it on the news all the time. But, strangely, it might just be that Putin and his troops may be free to take action where the West just can’t. Assad, and his father before him, have been allies of Russia at least since the ‘70’s. Putin doesn’t have any of the restraints on him that I’ve mentioned here that the West does. He does have some restraints but they’re not as hindering as what holds back the West now. He’s going in there to shore up an ally, just the same we would expect the States to go in to protect Israel or Saudi Arabia if they needed it the way Assad does.

Russian tankAnd Putin just might pull it off. People have been saying for a long time that a strong, sustained ground attack against ISIS would do the trick. You hear countries like Turkey mentioned, that they could do it. But then the Turkish government has its own reasons for wanting the fall of Assad. You hear that Iranian forces could do it. And if a few of those got together, like Putin’s troops, what’s left of Assad’s and also Iran’s, then most commentators say that this would be what it would take to destroy ISIS.

Maybe that’s what’s developing. And maybe that’s why you hear a huge amount of squawking from the talking heads in the Western media about how bad this all is. Because it’s really not what the West or their allies in the Middle East want at all. They want the status quo. And they want the fall of Assad, at whatever cost, including a prolonged state of anarchy like what’s now going on in Iraq or Libya.

But for the most part, we plebeians at the bottom of the food chain are not told about these finer nuances of Middle Eastern circumstances. We will continue to be told that Russia and Assad are the bad guys and that our nations must do our part to liberate Syria from its tyrant, as we have done in Iraq, Libya and many other nations before that. Like the old song said, “It ain’t necessarily so.”