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.”

 

Now the end begins?

prophet of doomQuite a few aficionados of Bible prophecy are getting excited when they view current events in the Middle East. Most of them have believed that at some point in the future, Russia will come to play a very major role in the region. A dear friend sent me a letter and blog article about this. The article declares emphatically that the Russian buildup in Syria is a prelude and pretext for Russia to invade Israel, virtually at any time. My friend wanted to know what I thought about the article. Here are parts of what I wrote back to him.

Most everyone agrees that Ezekiel 38 and 39 sure look like potentially major Scripture on the endtime. From reading those chapters, it does sound like what’s been identified as the land area of Russia will “invaded Israel” or something similar to that in some future time. Only, no one really knows exactly where these verses in Ezekiel fit in the endtime picture.

Are they a part of the finally events of the 42 months of Antichrist rule during the Great Tribulation? (Revelation 13:5-7)The Pact flat Or are they events occurring before the signing of the Pact or Covenant and the Last 7 Years? (Daniel 9:27) Or does Ezekiel 38 & 39 cover material mentioned in Daniel 11:21 to 45? Some even cite Psalm 83 nowadays as being an endtime prophecy when it was actually a historical prayer written during the time when ancient Israel was at war with its neighbors.

It does seem very significant that Russia has gotten suddenly involved in the Syrian war and evidently they have the top hand in the Middle East now.  I wrote a blog post about all this with some factors having to do with the move by Russia which probably a lot of people don’t know or understand. You might find it interesting, especially since you served in that part of the world. It’s called “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

whites of thier eyes-flattenedBut I sadly feel another one I wrote summarizes the more sensationalist articles that come out on sites like “Before It’s News”, “Now the End Begins”  “Armageddon News” and others like this. What I wrote about this is called “The Whites of Their Eyes”.

When I hear about clear, unequivocal events happening in the news that we can directly connect with endtime prophecies, that’s when we can really place it in prophetic Scripture that is known to precede the Great Tribulation. Otherwise, it’s just very fertile ground for the many criers of “Wolf! Wolf!” with abundant speculations about prophetic fulfillments that so often just turn out to be duds. It kind of bugs me how many people are claiming Bible prophecy has been fulfilled every time a car bomb explodes.

But what could be something on the horizon that would clearly be an event predicted in Scripture? If and when I see the building of a third Jewish temple in Jerusalem and particularly the beginning of animal sacrifices there, then I think we’ll have some real specifics to take serious note of. Where we are at on the Trumpets and Seals of the book of Revelation, or the specifics of Ezekiel 38, can be rather hazy now.

Mosque of OmarAnd yet so very many commentators endlessly try to find where we are presently in those things. They usually end up in farfetched, emotional speculation that borders on confusion. Lots of heat but not much light. However, if there’s a third temple built in Jerusalem and then sacrifices start, that will be some concrete, Biblically predicted endtime events happening in real time. And of course even the subject of the third temple in Jerusalem is also now in the news every day, with present events on the Temple Mount and the whole thing.

It may be getting very near and I certainly am keeping up with it all. But I’m not ready to start hanging labels on things like, “That country is the bear or ram” and “That one is the goat”. Those verses in Daniel were fulfilled long ago and don’t apply to endtime prophetic events. In Daniel 8, the angel Gabriel specifically told the prophet Daniel what the goat was. “The rough goat is the kingdom of Greece.”  (Daniel 8:21) But still today, you’ve got oodles of experts telling us that the goat of Daniel 8 directly refers to some modern nation today. That is not teaching “sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)

I covered all that in my videos on the subject. Perhaps the best one on the final years of the endtime is the one about Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24, called “The Last 7 Years”.  But a lot of things are happening that quite possibly are major steps towards final endtime events and it really bears watching.

Studying current events in relation to Bible prophecy about the final days is a little like looking through a kaleidoscope. We look at God’s Word and then we look at current events and we can see a lot of similarities. But every time there’s some slight changing of events, like when a kaleidoscope is moved ever so slightly, then the whole picture changes. That’s what’s happening with Russia’s current move. I agree with so many others that the change in the picture we see now is another move towards the picture we are shown in Scripture of how it will be at the beginning of the most specific events that are predicted, preceding the return of Jesus. But being overly specific with dramatic proclamations of prophetic fulfillment when it really hasn’t happened yet is just not good Bible teaching, no matter how anxious anyone is to see prophecy fulfilled.

In summary, yes this big move by Russia does very much look like a foretold piece of the prophetic puzzle that we see in Bible prophecy. But I don’t think we should be standing by in expectation that Russia is about to invade Israel at any moment. That’s getting ahead of the music and jumping the gun. And web sites that continue to delude Christians in that way should be noted and held accountable for their sensationalism and lack of credibility.

Merkel’s Call

Angela MerkelAccording to my German friends, the Prime Minister of German, Angela Merkel, was asked the other day by reporters about what horrors would come from the influx of people from the Middle East into Germany and Europe. What I’ve been told is that the Prime Minister replied that the people of Germany should get out their Bibles and share their faith with the refugees coming to (at least nominally, somewhat) Christian Europe.

How can you respond to that? Stunned silence? Probably that was the response of a number of people there. But someone should have jumped up on a chair and yelled, “Give that woman a cigar!” putin and text flatMaybe you’re not from Europe and don’t have the perspective to realize how unusual that is, at least in my opinion, to be coming from the leader of the most powerful country in Western Europe.

Of course she’s totally right. I certainly think so. It’s kind of like stating the obvious. But it also sadly reminds me of a Bible verse I read shortly after I became a Christian that seemed to sum up what my life had been like for years before I had the stunning experiences that brought me out of my unbelief.

Psalm 10:4b says “God is not in all his thoughts.” That was how I was for years; any thought about God never entered my mind. And sadly it seems that for many west Europeans, they’ve been in that condition for decades. God has not been in all their thoughts. That’s why it’s been called “Post Christian Europe”.

So it’s against that backdrop that Angela Merkel has called for Christians to get out their Bibles in response to the challenge of Islam that’s come with the influx of refugees. But, here’s something else I didn’t know till yesterday. Angela Merkel, who’s originally from what was Communist East Germany, is the daughter of a Christian pastor. And if you’re the daughter of a Christian pastor during the time of Communism in East Germany, then your faith in God and in Christ was not something cheap or frivolous. It cost something to have faith in God in those times. And it especially cost something to be a pastor there.

But of course the question is, will anyone respond to Merkel’s call? I’m sure some will. A few dozen, a few hundred even. Maybe more? Actually, you’d be surprised. God can do, and has done in the past, some real miracles with even a few dozen or a few hundred. not limited w text flatJonathan and his armor bearer took initiative against the greater Philistine forces and were the initiators of a great victory for the people of the God of Abraham. Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few.” (I Samuel 14:6)

But, honestly, I’d like to interject here that I don’t even like to begin to use any terminology on this subject that is infused with terms of battles and wars. The whole sad story of current events now with these poor people is so drenched in terms of conflict. Also history itself is packed with the terminology of the Crusades and all those wars so that it really colors the whole dialog on Christian-Muslim experience. As a Christian, I find that thinking of “fields”, of “sowing” and “seeds” is much closer to the words of Jesus than all our analogies of warfare and victory, even if we know we’re speaking spiritually.

lift up your eyes with text flatIt says of Jesus, “When He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them, for they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep, having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Then He turned to His disciples and said to them, “The harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore, that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37 & 38) At another time in another place, He said to His disciples, “Do you not say that in four months will be the harvest? I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.”  (John 4:35) And of course we all know that in those times, Jesus was not talking about wheat, barley and rye. He was talking about the harvest of souls that were fainting and scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. He was talking about a harvest of human souls that was already “white unto harvest”.

refugee in fieldIt may very well be, and I am convinced that it’s true, that this migration of people out of the Middle East into west Europe is an unprecedented opportunity. The Christians of Europe can get out their Bibles and their tracts, fill their hearts with the love of God and go out to meet these ones who have come here. One time Jesus said, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that My house may be full.” (Luke 14:23) And that’s literally where thousands of these people from the Middle East are now, in the highways, hedges and open fields of Europe as they trudge north to try to find peace.

Boy, that would be news, wouldn’t it? If bands of Christians rose to this occasion and “let their light shine before men“? (Matthew 5:16) Do you think God would be with Christians who went out to share His love with these ones? So the question seems to be, “Who will answer Merkel’s call?”