Does God use organizations? Or individuals?

Ever wondered how God works best, with a group of organized individuals? Or with individuals alone? It does kind of mater. Should we endeavor to find a group of like-minded folks who share the same vision, goals and understanding of the Lord as we have? Or should we concentrate on our personal relationship with the Lord and just follow as best we can the Word and the directing of God’s Spirit?

Of course the best way to find the answer to this is to look to God’s Word. But the answer that comes back may not be conclusively for one side or the other. If you were to say that God blesses and usually wants us to work within some larger organized structure, you could use the example of Israel of old and how He raised them up and blessed them as a nation for centuries. It was their unity, their cohesion and their subjection to His laws and prophets that made them what they were. Or in some cases what they were not. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper.” (II Chronicles 20:20)

But there were times when this wasn’t the way the Lord blessed or delivered His people. The Lord raised up the shepherd boy David, virtually a child, to deliver Israel from Goliath and the Philistines in his day. Before that, Saul’s son Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few” (I Samuel 14:6) and then he and his armor bearer routed the Philistines and turned the tide of battle when the larger army and forces of Israel were bottled up and tied down.

“Mark, you’re wrong. God prefers organizations and the safety of the flock.”

Yeah, sometimes He does work that way. But equally, some have traded their insecure liberty in following God individually for safety and security but ultimately bondage in Christian organizations that stopped truly follow God generations ago.

It looks like you can’t make a really solid case that God only works one of these ways or the other. But what about in Christian times? Was the Early Church a highly organized, structured, top-down outfit, demanding subjugation and dominion over all the multitudes who came to Christ in the first century?

Well, back at the time of the Early Church, they did have some organization and they did try to shepherd and feed the tremendous wave of people who kept coming to the Lord from all over the known world of that time. But it was centuries before there was the kind of stultifying, soul-quenching “organization” that the Catholic Church, as well as the various Orthodox churches, came to be by the time of the so-called Dark Ages.

Maybe it’s just because there are so many kinds of people. Some, perhaps the majority, are more followers than they are pioneers and spirit-led disciples who can really forge ahead on their own. Admittedly, not everyone is going to turn out like the Apostle Paul or some of the famous missionaries and pioneers of history who just couldn’t be tied down in some daily routine that was supposed to be the fulfillment of their obligations to the Lord’s call to discipleship.

But maybe we should note that the Lord did call individuals to personal discipleship and to even leave behind their present life to be “fishers of men”. (Matthew 4:19) He said we should pray to the Father that He would “send forth laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Is that best done on a huge scale with much leadership attention to detail, where the laborers need to constantly be checking back with headquarters far away to make sure every move they make is ok with the council of the elders? Or is it best portrayed by Spirit-filled and called individuals who go out, even “not knowing whether they went”? (Hebrews 11:8) I suggest, and I’ve experienced, that this second mode seems to work better, even though it’s rarer and some folks just think it’s almost dangerous.

“How can we just let these individuals out there to roam around, saying whatever they will and with no accountability to anyone?!”

But if you look at the record of God’s Word, as well as Jewish and Christian history, some of the greatest things God ever did, some of the greatest works He ever started were where there was no controlling head but God , no organization but that supplied by the Holy Spirit, no directors or direction except His Word and the leading voice and presence of the Lord.

Sometimes, alone and outnumbered, people of God have had to utterly depend on Him for support, direction, inspiration and just the whole caboodle. But the Lord came through wonderfully time and again. Isn’t that what happened with Noah? With Abraham? With the Apostle Paul and the pioneers of the Early Church? In some situations that might seem weak and unorganized by man, God had some of His mightiest works done through His frail but yielded individuals. I might add that ones like Saint Patrick and many of the highly effective early Celtic Christian apostles were like this. Could we add ones like Dr. Livingstone and Florence Nightingale to this list?

And is there a reason I’m even writing this? Perhaps because in my own life I’ve come to feel that at times when I had no one but God to lean on and direct me, that at those times some of the most amazing things happen. So if you’re feeling quenched and subdued in some kind of Christian organization that is supplying your need for fellowship but is slowly sapping your faith, fire and initiative, perhaps you might find greater blessings in simply doing and living the truth you know in your heart that you realize your religious organization is just not following. Perhaps you need to follow God into greater fruitfulness, greater faith and a closer relationship to Him as you follow and obey the Lord, where so often modern Christian organizations just won’t be taking or directing you.

In Indonesia, after 10 years

I’ve been in Jakarta for over a week now, where I lived between 2003 and 2008. Those 5 years and this country had a huge impact on my life. Now I’m again with my friends from those times as I do recordings in Indonesian of the prophecies of Daniel video series which actually was started in Jakarta back in 2006.

From time to time I’ve mentioned in blog posts about when I was living here. But there’s something about talking about the past and reminiscing about the past which I’m not so into. Because I feel there’s a danger that any of us can so easily slip into living in the past and the highlights of those times so that we lose sight of all that’s still before us in God’s vision and future for us, if we’re willing to keep going forward for Him. There’s so much ahead of us in peaks we have yet to climb, if we keep the vision.

And so truly it has been said, “Without a vision the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) If we let our looking back to the past replace our following the vision that’s before us, it’s a great error. But it can be thrilling to look back, with some caution, to see the peaks and valleys we’ve already crossed, the victories that have already been won and all that the Lord has already done in our lives till now.

With that thought in mind, I’ll take the liberty to share a few links to blog articles I did several years ago when I first started doing these. As a few of you know, I was doing what I called “Fields” newsletter for a number of years before I had these web sites. In fact, one of the first blog articles I did was mostly taken from the first “Fields” newsletters I did. It briefly traces an outline of my life, going back a number of years and then explains why I was about to go abroad in Christian service again in 2003, to Indonesia. Here’s a link to that article.

During the time I was in Indonesia, I was often involved in projects with friends to help start schools, doing character building programs in schools and also in direct disaster relief. Perhaps the most intense few weeks of my adult life was spent in the Indonesian province of Aceh in the direct aftermath of the horrific tsunami that hit the region on December 26 of 2004. I went there immediately as an aid worker with a few friends but I also brought along my small video camera. Here’s a video on YouTube which I made while I was there.

My five years here was an interesting time with a lot of variety. At times I would be having Bible classes with young people who were from missionary families in Indonesia. But at other times I was able to do presentations in some local schools that we helped start of principles that are shared between Christianity and Islam. In the picture you can see me with a flash card I am holding of a picture of an angel and the title is something like “Angels watching over us”. One of the local students is translating my explanation of it all to the other students there. A blog post that I wrote about this experience with these young students is “East Meets West”.

This particular school was a start-up of a young Islamic man in one of the very poorest parts of Jakarta. First he had to persuade the parents to let the kids go to school since the kids could make $5 a day each from begging, far more than their parents could make at a job here. But it finally worked out and an extremely basic school got started on stilts over standing stagnate water, very close to an oil refiner on the coast of the city. A blog article about this little slum school is called “Far Country Photos from Jakarta”.

Student-in-Jakarta

And it was a thrill that some of my Christian friends back in the States contributed to this project at a particularly needy time which made it possible for us to hire 3 teachers to continue there when it was touch-and-go back then as to whether the school would continue. The amazing good news is that from those seemingly feeble, tenuous beginnings, the school (with help from my friends here) was able to build larger and better facilities.It  now has over 300 students who are being educated when, almost certainly, many of them would still be begging on the streets.

It’s been a good time to be back here again, to meet friends I worked with during that time and with whom I am still working with on things presently and happened soon. Some of this is like what they say about “happiness that money can’t buy”. There’s a deep gratitude in my heart to the Lord that He’s led my life in the way He has , to be able to not only be a child of the Lord but to serve Him and be a positive contribution to mankind and the world we live in. Thank the Lord!

Coming together

It’s been heartening to read about the outpouring of help from so many to the flooding disaster in Texas. Right now I’m in Indonesia, 12 time zones away from my base in Texas but I’ve very much kept up with events there. There’s just something Godly about genuine outgoing concern for others that’s expressed in sacrificial giving and breaking out of your routine in order to rescue others from the peril they’re in.

If there’s anything that Jesus is remembered for, even by unbelievers and those of other faiths, it’s that He was a caring, loving, sympathetic man. He took action. He went out of His way. Jesus got up from dinner with His friends to go help someone who’d come there to plead for His help. And when we do this, as individuals or in mass, we are “touched with the feeling of their infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15), like He was. And, doubtless, this is what God wants.

So I’ve been gladdened to read about the activities of so many now to try to do what they can to help make things better in south-east Texas after such “unprecedented”, almost Biblical floods. I’ve read that there’s been virtually no looting, so different from a similar hurricane disaster just to the east of Houston, Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005.

We aren’t supposed to be proud, there’s not a place in the Bible that promotes or condones pride in any way. But it is nice every so often to feel good about the people and place you come from. I wrote something about this a few years ago in “Texas People”. I’ve always known that, contrary to many popular stereotypes, there are some very kind, humble and godly people in Texas. So it’s been encouraging to see this being manifest right now in the aftermath of this tragedy.

And that’s the funny thing about tragedies, isn’t it? King David of long ago once said, “And in my prosperity I said, ‘I shall never be moved’; Lord, by Your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong. You did hide Your face and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30: 6 & 7) It’s natural and human to like and want prosperity and certainly there’s quite a lot of prosperity in Texas, especially around the Houston area. And although it’s nominally a very Christian city and state, very many people have a real problem with materialism. Jesus once said, “Beware of covetousness for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” (Luke 12:15)

So as terrible and destructive as this disaster has been, there likely has been an almost unwanted silver lining for many. They’ve escaped with their lives. They’ve hopefully seen “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13:22). And in their dire straits and extreme dangers they’ve just been through, the real things of life have hopefully become clearer to them than they were when everything was just coasting along and they were “rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing”. (Revelation 3:17)

Chastening, judgment, loss, these are things that virtually no one wants to go through. But for those of us who know the Lord, we know from the Word that these things happen and that they can be for our good, often for our very good. And equally it puts the onus on those who have not been so affected, to see what kind of response it will illicit in them. Will they be like the Good Samaritan, stopping to help the stranger and truly loving their neighbor? Or will they be like the religious hypocrites, the Pharisees from Jerusalem who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10: 31 & 32) when they saw someone in need.

So it’s a time when God is really working in the lives of many millions. And from what I’ve read and heard, a lot of good has come of this disaster, as strange as it may seem. “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve even noticed that there seems to be (temporarily at least) much less hate-filled squawking from the extreme left and extreme right in the States. It’s hard to talk about “fake news” and “them” when the desperate realities of your fellow man are staring you right in the face and you have to make a decision what you’re going to do, even though that person in need might not be of your race or political party.

So, personally, I’m thanking God that I can see at least a little bit of real coming together. Of people forgetting their differences long enough to help those who may die without the immediate help of their neighbors, friends and countrymen. Love in action is what it’s really all about and the love of God moving in the hearts of people to love others and to manifest that love sacrificially is a wonderful, heartening sight. Praise God!

Getting around in Istanbul

I’m back in Istanbul again; it’s really an interesting place. I don’t come here as a tourist and the things I have come here for have been going very well. No need to get into details right now but in the next months there will be some exciting and encouraging news, Lord willing.

Being here has reminded me of what it says about Paul when he visited Athens. “Now while Paul waited for [his friends] at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” (Acts 17:16) Of course in our times folks are not “given to idolatry” in the same fashion people were 2,000 years ago. On the other hand, both in Gothenburg, Sweden where I was before this, and now here in Istanbul, it’s a weight on my heart how it seems so many people are just moving along with “the course of this world” (Ephsians 2:2) and so many are in spiritual darkness.

I got into a conversation with the manager of a restaurant I ate at. A young guy, like so many Turks with a very mixed background. Partly Iraqi Jewish, part Turkmen, part Bulgarian. He told me he really wants to move to Canada as he’s a movie maker and he finds the current situation here to be repressive and foreboding, as you may have read about in the news. I ended up sharing the story of my life with him, how I had a dramatic change from atheism to faith in the God of Abraham and His Son. He said he was into Sufism and the 13th century Persian mystic, Rumi, a popular direction that many young people in this part of the world have turned towards in recent times.

And I just wish I could reach more, to do more to come in contact with the very many people here who are searching and reaching out to find something beyond what is so heavy upon this part of the world now. I talked to a woman who is connected to a Christian book store here in Istanbul. You might be surprised to know there are over 40 churches in the city, not just ancient buildings but active congregations as well as Bible societies and similar things. She told me it was amazing how it was that people came to the small Bible bookshop.

Some ask how they got in there and what it was. They said they felt like something pushed them into the Bible bookshop and they wanted to know what it was about. So very few here have ever had any contact with a Christian and know next to nothing about Christianity.

The popular understanding is that Christians worship three gods, a strange mix up of what is called Trinitarianism. Other people have come into the Bible book shop and asked why they don’t turn the page on the large Bible that is open in the front display window of the shop. People on the street stop to read the text and now the bookshop has to keep turning the page daily since folks have asked them to do that.

This is just another example of how it is across the Islamic world. Strange as it may seem for some of us who’ve been so conditioned against people from this part of the world, there really are many who are “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” (Matthew 5:6)  But sadly, it may turn out to be as the prophet Amos wrote long ago, “Behold the days come says the Lord that I will send a famine in the land. Not a famine of bread of a thirst for water but of hearing the world of the Lord. And they shall wander from sea to sea, from the north, even to the east. They shall run to and fro to hear the word of the Lord and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst.” (Amos 8:11-13) There are a handful here and there who are trying to do what they can to reach the hungry and seeking here but “what are they among so many?”

I’ve been here a few times in the past. I wrote about this in “Tea and the Endtime with the Kurds”, “Visiting Syria” and earlier this year in “Four months abroad”. And I personally am doing what I can to reach this part of the world and this country. But what I see that is really needed here is just basically witnessing Christians, ones who can share their faith with people here in a wise and loving way.

In many ways, it comes back to what the Lord said long ago and I feel it really fits here in this country and part of the world now. “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 said He 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) Please pray for that, for laborers in this harvest. And please pray that I will be able to be in contact with some of them as well. Thanks so much.

“He has made my chain heavy.”

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:31) But there can be times where it’s like what Jeremiah said, “He has made my chain heavy.” (Lamentations 3:7) Is there a contradiction? Not really. For those who are following the Lord, not just only believing in Him, there are certainly times when we can clearly see and experience what Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

Let’s sadly face it: in this day and age, the vast majority of Christians are not really following the Lord, as He said there. They may be believers; they may be saved and will be in heaven.  But at best, they “follow afar off” (Matthew 26:58). On the other hand, for those who really have committed to a life of Christian service, who are determined and in the practice of following both the admonitions of God’s Word, as well as and equally following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, taking up our cross daily can definitely be what God calls for. And at times it can even be like a heavy chain.

But, almost strangely, there’s an incredible, utterly unearthly freedom in following the Lord to that degree. That may seem like a huge paradox. How could there be freedom in carrying a cross and being chained? I could use a military analogy or talk about James Bond or Jason Bourne. But to use something less sinister, think of successful sports stars or concert pianists for example. Those folks often go all over the world, they are famous, well paid and have the adulation of the multitude.

But what level of commitment is required of them? How many hours of practice, of sacrifice and denial were necessary for that goal scorer to get to the place where he could play at that level? Or that pianist to play that solo so amazingly. For those very few who are endeavoring to follow the Lord the way He wants and needs us to, there’s both this incredible freedom of experience but at the same time an incredible confinement (if that’s the right word) that is done by the Holy Spirit to keep us on the track and direction for Him. The apostle Paul certainly knew of this. He said once, “Necessity is laid upon me, yeah, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” (I Corinthians 9:16)

And if we follow that path, to attain God’s goals, He sometimes just waves the rules. In Acts 10, Peter was led of the Spirit to eat unclean meats, or at least it seemed so at the beginning of his experience. But it was a picture of what was about to happen, that the Spirit led him out of his Jewish training and restrictions into a new age of the gospel of Christ being open to the gentiles. I wrote about that here.

It seems Peter just barely obeyed because the leading of the Lord appeared so contrary to what he had thought was the will of God. Actually at first Peter just said no to God. Nevertheless he did obey, almost like with a chain about his neck since the Spirit was so clear and definite in what God’s will was right then. But he obeyed.

That’s the kind of following Jesus that changes the world. And it wasn’t just for 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is just as alive today; the needs are just as great, the freedom just as magnificent and breathtaking but also the cross and the chain just as real and necessary as it was in Biblical times.

When I came to the Lord when I was 21, the type of Christianity I was born into was a radical discipleship Christianity. It was about soul winning and forsaking all to go into all the world to follow Him to the ends of the earth for the Kingdom of God. Eighteen months after I got saved I was across the Atlantic and out personal witnessing in places like Hyde Park in London or Vondel Park in Amsterdam. In some ways it was tough but also it was often extremely exhilarating. Thankfully some decades later now that life of Christian discipleship is still what I’ve been allowed by God to experience.

If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free in deed.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Brethren, you’ve been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.There’s been amazing liberty, incredible experience and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But if I ever use that liberty for “an occasion to the flesh”, the Lord may just lift off his blessing.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been having a life of thumb screws and aestheticism. He’s often given me many happy times, even in the physical side of this life. He’s very often “cast our lines in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6) But His cause and instant obedience to the leading of His will has always had to be preeminent and paramount.

It’s a wonderful life, almost charmed. But you have to accept that cross and that chain as part of the bargain and contract.

“Let not your heart be troubled”

Jesus told His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1) You mean it’s up to us to keep a calm heart? We have some control and responsibility over the state of our heart? Yep. That might be a surprise to some. Because it seems that often people think that our thoughts and emotions are our masters, that we are in thrall to every whim that pops into our minds.

But we aren’t. Jesus was very clear about that and the Bible is full of examples where we are responsible for and even to rule over not only our emotions, but even conditions and circumstances around us, as strange as that may seem. So you don’t have to get mad. You don’t have to be swallowed up in despair, even though things may seem and even are very bleak and rough at the moment. This is another place where the miracle-working power of God commands us to do what seems to be the humanly impossible: to look at disaster or extreme despair in the face and to see “things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17).

Maybe you’re wondering if I’m a little off the beam and “out there” on this one. So perhaps an example of this in the Bible might help. In the Psalms, King David could get pretty down and desperate at times. Psalm 77 is an incredible example of his being in despair and at wits end. At first he says things like, “My sore ran in the night and ceased not: my soul refused to be comforted. I remembered God and was troubled: I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. You [God] hold mine eyes waking: I am so troubled that I cannot speak.” (Psalm 77:2-4)

So what does David do, go jump off a bridge? Go “postal”? Nope. Here’s what he says later in the same psalm. And I said, ‘This is my infirmity: but I will remember the years of the right hand of the most High. I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember Your wonders of old. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.’”  (Psalm 77:10-12)

David got a grip on himself, on his heart, and then made a strong, conscious effort to “let not his heart be troubled”. This is all similar to what I wrote about in the blog post ”Keep your heart”. And frankly, “with man it is impossible but not with God, for with God, nothing shall be impossible.”  (Matthew 19:26)

I suppose this is somewhat a sequel to what I wrote about having a troubled mind in “God has given… a sound mind.” Like Jesus said, “Why are you troubled and why do thoughts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:28) But when you’re really down, discouraged, despondent and in the depths of despair, one of the last things you want to hear or do is to be counseled to “let not your heart be troubled”. Usually you have gone beyond hope. Things look utterly impossible. But then, God teaches us that “it takes an impossible situation for God to do a miracle”.

It looked really, really bad for King David there. But he’d grown in the Lord and in His wisdom enough to know that he could, by the power of God, turn away from his despair by making a conscious effort of his heart to, if nothing else, start remembering all that God had done in the past for him. He just kept saying to himself, “I will remember…” all the good things that God had done for him before that time. For us in these times, a similar thing to this would be to just quote comforting, strengthening Bible verses to ourselves in times of greatest difficulty.

This is one of the miracles and secrets of a Godly life, that you can and even must have dominion over your heart and mind. You don’t have to be a slave to your emotions or circumstances and conditions. In the case of Jesus and His disciples, He said that to them that they should not let their heart be troubled, just hours before He was to be captured and led away to His trial and crucifixion.

It’s almost unfathomable and incomprehensible the grace, depth and love that Jesus must have had to be counseling and consoling His disciples at a time when He certainly knew that His excruciating death was less than a day away. But He did that so that we could have “rule over our spirits” (Proverbs 25:28), so that we can have victory through Him over, not only outside enemies, but the enemies within own hearts: our fears, our prejudices, our foolishness, our weak human emotions.

Let not your heart be troubled.” (John 14:1)  “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.”  (Proverbs 4:23) “I will remember the works of the Lord. I will meditate also of all Your works and talk of Your doings.” (Psalm 77:10-12) These are things we can and even must do in order to survive the terrors, traumas and vicissitudes of this present evil world. Granted, it can seem almost impossible. But then we know it really isn’t. “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

 

 

God has given …a sound mind

It seems like everywhere I go nowadays, I hear about people who are suffering from serious mental problems. Fears, confusion, syndromes, suicidal thoughts and just various forms of insanity or bleak mental instability. And these are folks across all spectrums and nationalities, Christian or otherwise. It really moves me because for a time, in my younger years, I certainly battled royally with what some call “mind battles”.

It’s serious stuff. If it doesn’t actually end up killing you, it can just snuff out your life as far as any joy, peace or enjoyment that should be ours. I feel I can really testify that this is a battle that is winnable as I’ve had a lot of those battles but have survived and even, I feel, been blessed and prospered in this life. And of course it’s all through the dear Lord Jesus. It wasn’t pills, therapy, scientists or yoga that got me through those terrible times. A Bible verse that has always meant so much to me on this subject is “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7)

I was going to say that perhaps the biggest thing that made the difference was when I found out that it wasn’t really my mind, it was my heart. But of course the really biggest thing was the work of God in my life, to show me His love when I was light years beyond any hope. First I found that there is a God, the true God of light and love, the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible. But then it was seven months later that I found that God was not alone up there in heaven. He has a Son who He sent to the earth to die for us, redeem us and “be a ransom for many”, (Matthew 20:28) as He said.

“Aw, Mark, darn. I thought you were going to tell us how to overcome mental problems and then you come along with all that Jesus and God stuff!”

Well, what should I say? This is what happened to me. This is how I found full deliverance and a joyous, meaningful life that’s now gone close to 50 years from the time I was so very far gone in confusion and depravity. So “all that Jesus stuff” may be, for some, too much a price to pay for having mental healing. But for those who will go that far, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Like I said earlier, it was just a huge awakening when it dawned on me that my mental struggles were a direct result of my unregenerate heart. I didn’t even know I had a heart! No classes about that at the big university I was going to! But through the tender and steady mercy of God, almost against my will, He led me through the deepest depths I’d come to into a place where the simple message of salvation through Christ was shared with me. So by “receiving Him” (John 1:12) I was able to have the first step along the path towards peace of mind, by having a born again heart.  Without that, there never could have been any recovery of my weakened, confused mind.

But once my heart and soul were saved, the Lord went to work on my mind. I’m so thankful that I was able to fall in with a band of young radical Christians back then, “Jesus freaks” as they were known in those days. Most of them had come from a similar background to me so they knew what I’d been through and what it took to start up the road to full recovery.

“So, Mark, what did those people do to you? Did they brainwash you, Mark?!”

That word has a real negative connotation and I suppose someone who was just against the work of God’s Spirit in transforming a person into “a new creation in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17) could chose that word. But for some people, like I was back then, I certainly needed a major resetting of my values, concepts, principles, morals, purpose, vision, goals and the way I ordered my life. So I joyously and eagerly got with the program of daily Bible study, learning the basics of what was written there. The Bible talks about “being renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). It talks about “the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus even said, “Now you are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.”  (John 15:3)

Like I wrote about in “Memorizing God’s Word”, a major part of this training and “rewiring” involved the daily memorization of specific Bible verses. “Oh, Mark! That’s so horrible! You just surrendered your mind!” Well, some people just come to the conclusion that they are their own worst enemy, that they really need help and they can get to where they’re so desperate, they even turn to God and the Bible, as despicable as that may seem to many. That’s what I had come to.

I can see that this subject won’t be exhausted in one blog post. Because it is a big subject and people are dying in their darkness and troubled minds daily for lack of the light of God. I hope to write more about mental problems and how the truth of God can solve them better than anything.

“Is it not a little one?”

Lot had just been rescued and delivered from the fiery judgments of God which He had rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot, his wife and two daughters had to be led by the hand out of Sodom, being warned by the angels to not even look back. Famously, Lot’s wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. That might be hard to believe but evidently Jesus Christ believed it. See Luke 17:32.

You might think all this would be an incredible shake-up for Lot. My gosh, that guy is going to walk the straight and narrow the rest of his life, no? Evidently not. And it’s a watershed moment in the history of sin when we read what happened next. Lot turned to the angels as they passed by another heathen town of wickedness and said to the angel, “Behold, this city is near to flee unto, and it is a little one. Oh, let me escape thither; is it not a little one? And my soul shall have rest.” (Genesis 19:20)

Folks, you can get the soul out of the worldly satanic system, whether it be Sodom of old or the satanic amalgam of metropolises that now dominate the earth. But just like with Lot, it’s not easy to get the satanic system out of the soul. God had “delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked.” (II Peter 2:7) But was Lot all contrite and trembling before the Lord? Did Lot make a bee line to his Godly uncle Abraham and his family up in the hills and highlands of God, begging to be taken back in like a prequel to the Prodigal son?

Nope, Lot immediately tried to cut a deal with the angels, “reasoning” with them that another little Babylon-like city not far from Sodom would do just fine and he’d really like to get back to some system preserving compromises and worldliness, even after God had just destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah literally right before their eyes.

“Ah,” you say, “this happened 4000 years ago and things are different today.” Really? If you think that, I’ve got some bad news for you. It’s like Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) As difficult as it was to go through, I’m thankful that God made about as plain to me as He could just how hopelessly sinful and lost I was long ago. My own ignorance, my own willful darkness very nearly took my life except for the totally undeserved, almost strange mercy of God who brought light to my soul when I was writhing in the agonies of the afterlife without God.

“Oh, Mark! Why did God do that to you?! Why did He treat you like that? Why does a God of love send us to hell?!!” Sister or brother, you got it wrong there. God doesn’t send us to hell. We send ourselves to hell through our willful, stubborn ignorance and choosing the wrong path, away from the presence of God to live in the presence of our choices which we made against His truth and light.

He didn’t have to plead with the angels to let him go to a new manifestation of the worldly system of his day. Lot could have asked to have a place at his uncle Abraham’s table and to learn more fully of the ways of God as evidently Lot did believe in the Lord. But it’s just like how it is for millions and billions of people: sin does have dominion over them. And except for the mercy of God, sin will and does have dominion over every one of us. Lot was like the Prodigal Son but who never “came to himself” (Luke 15:17). And sadly there are a lot of those it seems.

In the last book in the Bible, we are told of “Babylon the Great”, pictured as a wretched prostitute which sits upon many nations and rules over the kings of the earth. And God says, “Come out of her, My people, that you partake not of her sins or receive of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) But God in a sense has been saying that for thousands of years. He even had the angels take Lot and his family out of the Babylon of his day by the hand. And in the last days before the setting up of God’s kingdom on earth, He is going to destroy the final Babylon the Great, this final Sodom and Gomorrah that has now spread across the earth. Whether or not any of His people will get the message and “come out of her” remains to be seen.

We need to acknowledge our sinful nature and ways every single day and pray desperately and sincerely that God will “withhold you from sinning against Me.” (Genesis 20:6) Because as sure as your garden will start turning up weeds if you don’t diligent tend it, your own human heart and nature will rise up against your Christian convictions and character if you don’t daily “keep your heart with all diligence.” (Proverbs 4:23)

“Oh Mark, I’m not going to read your blog posts anymore! I’m going back to Joel Osteen and his lovely wife. They’re so sweet and positive, always encouraging and uplifting, not like you!” Friends, I’m all for being loving, positive and uplifting. But I’m just telling you from extremely hard experience that none of us had better ever get to the place where we forget how much we need the Lord , how much we should be able to say with the Apostle Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!” (Romans 7:24)

Don’t be like Lot. If the Lord has delivered you from your Sodom and Gomorrah, don’t beg the angels to let you off at the next hellish place just down the road so you can continue in the compromised worldliness that is anathema to God’s highest and best in your life. Instead, be like Moses who “forsook Egypt” (Hebrews 11:27) because “he had respect unto the recompense of the reward.” (Hebrews 11:26) What Egypt, Sodom or Babylon is God calling you out of?

Broken Branches

Everything means something, you know? I was out for a walk when I saw something and immediately I knew it was like a message or at least significant. Hanging from a small tree was a broken branch. It had somehow been almost totally torn away from the tree. It hung down and was evidently just barely still attached. But the thing I noticed was, the leaves and the branch itself was still very much alive and didn’t show any sign of dying, even though it was so damaged.

Lord forgive me, I should have taken a picture of it right away. Instead, my gardening instincts kicked in and I pulled it from the tree. But I’ll include a picture here to the left so you can see how far the branch had been torn and how little of it was still attached to the tree. Mostly you can see a black scar where it had somehow been torn away. But you can also see a smaller whitish place where it had still been attached. It had just been barely hanging on by that little white scar you see on the lower branch.

“So what!” you say. Well, like I said, everything means something or at least it can if you see with the eyes of the Spirit. Paul said, “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made…” (Romans 1:20) And maybe a way to understand this parable that appeared in front of me is to turn to what Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And He told us to abide in Him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine, no more can you except you abide in Me.” (John 15:5)

But, let’s face it, there are a lot of us around who are broken branches. Lots of folks are just barely hanging on, like that branch I saw yesterday. I don’t need to tell you, life at times can be rough. Those of us who’ve embraced the Lord and His path of discipleship have such an incredible account of grace and power to draw from as we go through life.

But, brother, there are storms, no? Like Job said, “The thing I greatly feared is come upon me”. (Job 3:25) And sometimes it gets worse than that. You just never imagined that what happened could happen. Surely the Lord wouldn’t let that happen. Surely that person, such a dear and trusted friend, wouldn’t turn on you or turn on the Lord’s Work.

Sometimes “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household”. (Matthew 10:36) And it can get to be where you, the branch, can very nearly be torn from the tree. Your faith and your commitment are struck at the very roots, it seems. Those you trusted and loved most in this world, even brethren in Christ, fall away or even worse. And it hits you deeply. You may even be like that branch I saw, almost torn away, hanging awkwardly, almost upside down.

But for this branch I saw yesterday, it somehow was still clinging to life. “Its leaf also shall not wither” (Psalm 1:3) and this broken branch still looked healthy, even though it was so broken and wounded. Maybe you’ve see trees like that. Sometimes they are totally uprooted and laying on their side. The storms of life have completely knocked them over. Sometimes for some it kills them. But you see others who go on to live hundreds of more years after some great calamity like that.

I could name names but I won’t. They might be reading this. But I know of some dear saints of God who’ve gone through some pretty horrific things, not at the hands of ISIS but in relationships and cooperation with other Christians where they feel they’ve been mistreated or abused and it has nearly taken their life, spiritually.

Or maybe it had nothing to do with another Christian. Maybe it was just the storms of life, the varmints and the lightning bolts, all that each person faces at one time or the other. Some have just wilted and died on the vine. But some I know are like that little branch I saw yesterday, still alive, still green and growing , even after such an event that nearly tore it from the tree.

It’s funny sometimes the things I see on my walks. I’ve written about things like the worm I saw on my walk in “Everything Means Something“. Or how the Lord was almost yelling at me when I saw those 5000 little apples I wrote about in “Bite Now, Chew Later“. We all need to hear from God and He seems to speak in different ways to different people.

So, the bottom line? Hold on. Don’t stop abiding in the vine. Otherwise you’ll be like the branch that Jesus spoke of, “If any man abide not in Me he is cast forth as a branch and is withered…” (John 15:6) Don’t let that happen to you. Even if you’ve been pretty severely ripped at your base, there’s still some of you attached to the Lord and the sap of His Spirit can and will still keep flowing into you, just as it was with that branch I saw. You may not be the way you were but you’re still alive and in Him. “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.”  (Hebrews 10:35)

Letting the Word be our prayer

You yourself can become your own worst distraction. You’re trying to go to the Lord in prayer and then suddenly you notice that your shoe lace is loose. Then there’s a beautiful bird that flies by. And then you’re a little hungry. “Oh, wait! I’m supposed to be praying!” Ever had that happen? Is there any solution or hope for this? One thing I turn to is to pray the Word.

Sometimes when I go to prayer, I just start quoting to myself Psalm 23 or, even better, Psalm 27. There’s an incredible power in the Word of God. It’s like changing channels inside your brain. When you quote the Word to the Lord, or to yourself, or even to the devil, there’s so much more power in it. God likes it and honors it when you bring His Word before Him , claiming it, clinging to it and letting it become your thoughts and your heart cry.

Of course there’s one hitch, isn’t it? You usually will have had to make an effort to commit portions of Scripture to memory beforehand. And I’m tempted to wax cynical or sarcastic here but I’ll just say it plainly: there are virtually no churches anywhere that do anything in the way of seriously admonishing their congregations to memorize the Word. So this integral part of our prayer life is left weak because so few know this principle of praying the Word. And so few really know the Word well enough to claim it and quote it in prayer.

Thoughts like this came to me some minutes ago as I walked back from my morning prayer time that I take in a clearing near where I live. Like everyone has experienced, I had been hit by distractions as I’d been praying and I needed to repeatedly “have rule over my own spirit” (Proverbs 25:28) and “bring every thought into subjection”. (II Corinthians 10:5) Thank God for His infinite mercy on us. Because, if we were required each day to pray earnest, distraction-free, focused and long prayers, I don’t think many would measure up to that. Therefor, often the Lord has to do things to break our hearts or make us in some way truly feel a strong need for the Lord. And in those times we can usually be a little more focused, a little deeper and more sober about our continuing need for Him.

Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Nothing good, that’s for sure. Paul said, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) And this is as true when it comes to prayer as it is in everything else.

I’ll be in prayer and then some idiotic thought tries to take over my mind’s eye. So I’ll quote to myself, “I hate vain thoughts but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or suddenly I’ll get a picture in my mind of some foolish worldly thing, it doesn’t matter what it is. So, hopefully, I will quote to myself, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes, I hate the work of them that turn aside, it shall not cleave unto me.” (Psalm 101:3) And if I’m fervent and focused enough, I’ll go on to quote “I have set the Lord always before my face, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.” (Psalm 16:8) Or, another one along the same line of keeping our eyes on Jesus, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Maybe you don’t have this kind of struggle. Maybe you glide effortlessly each day into long periods of rich, full, deep, intimate interaction with the Lord. I guess I’ve had some times like that over the years. But more often than not I’ve had to make some effort to get through or out of my carnal mind and “the affairs of this life” (IITim. 2:4). And praying the Word, just entering into the Word of God and letting it be my shield and the  words of my mouth in prayer has been a method that’s helped me get beyond the trivialities and physicality of this world that’s so often with us.

So I suggest you try it, if you’re having problems like this. Maybe what I wrote elsewhere about Memorizing God’s Word could be a help to you. And, admittedly I’ve written about this subject before in “Praying the Word”. Also I wrote about “Distractions”.

But I sort of think that this is a problem a lot of people have. “It’s all by grace” but at the same time, we often do have to make some real effort to leave the Egypt of ourselves and enter into the Promised Land of His Spirit in prayer , coming “boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need”. (Hebrews 4:16) If you are feeling weak and struggling in prayer, try stirring yourself up to stronger fervency by quoting the Word in prayer and claiming His promises. God bless you.