“When he came to himself…”

It says of the Prodigal son, “When he came to himself he said… ‘I will arise and go to my father and say unto him, ‘Father I have sinned against heaven and in your sight.’” (Luke 15:17).  I think that today those words have had more meaning for me than they’ve almost ever had. Because some dear folks I know told me of an astounding victory and breakthrough in the life of one of their children who’s suffered for years from what has seemed to be mental disorders.

My friends told me today that their adult child, who’s been diagnosed with what is called Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), came to their room today and asked if he could talk with them. That in itself was highly unusual. Basically he told them, weeping, that he didn’t want to be mad at them anymore. He didn’t want to stay alone in his room and to isolate himself the way he’s been doing for years.

The magnitude of this event is perhaps not easily seen unless you know how it’s been for this family for so long. Just last week this young man was emotional and accusing his parents again of all kinds of horrible things when the reality has been that they’ve gone to the nth degree and extra mile to try to help and be patient with his troubled mind and heart. And the parents, being former missionaries and still active Christians, have taken this all to the Lord countless times as well as going to a number of healthcare professionals about it and also help groups.

But in the end, it seems like the Lord just was somehow able to break through in this young man’s life, very similarly to how it was for the Prodigal son that Jesus told about in Luke 15. There, a young man from evidently a good upbringing decided to leave it all to pursue his own way. The end result was that his life was basically ruined and almost over as the result of his rebellion against his father.

But, “he came to himself”. What an incredible way to describe it. The Bible calls it repentance but even that has to be given by God in a sense, a realization in the deepest place in one’s heart of the huge error of your ways and a “metanoia”, a complete change of heart, mind and direction.

With this dear one, it seems like so much of the problem hasn’t actually been as much mental as it’s been a matter of an angry heart, unhappy about how life was going. In this case, where the parents have had very little communication with their son for years besides matters involving physical things, suddenly they’ve had intense, long and sincere talks that have ended in their son asking if he could hug his dad, something that was just unthinkable for years.

So for me I’m just blown away by all this as these friends have been worn down by the burden and grind that this has all been for a long time now. I and others are praying that this miracle will be every bit as much as it seems to be and that there’ll be a real consolidation of this marvelous breakthrough.

As someone has said, “When the heart’s right, all is right.” Many of the mannerisms that have been normal for so long evidently have virtually vanished overnight. This absolutely miraculous regeneration in this young man’s heart, to have the grace to see what part he has played in it all and to sincerely want to change and amend his ways, seems to be a mighty act of God’s grace and mercy on this dear family.

So I just wanted to let you know the good news, how that God and Jesus are still working deeply in the lives of people today , doing the humanly impossible, answering prayer and healing souls and hearts in our days and times, every bit as much as we’ve read about in His Word that was done in past. Oh, happy day!

 

Living by faith that God will supply all your needs

For those serving the Lord in mission work, you sometimes hear them speak of “living by faith.” This usually has an economic meaning. The Scriptural principle behind it is that if you’re “seeking first the Kingdom of God” as Jesus said, then “all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Another well known verse that’s claimed by those who live by faith is what Paul said, “But my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

As you might figure, it can be a controversial doctrine. Some would say, “But what if everyone did that?!” Others will quote Paul who said, “Those who shall not work shall not eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) And it should go without saying that “living by faith” and serving God, seeking first the Kingdom of God, in no way implies any lack of work. It’s just that it’s work like you see in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. Folks who take this direction have verses that become much more alive to them than when they didn’t live by faith before.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) Those living by faith and serving the Lord feel they’ve come to a full-time service for the Lord which has delivered them from daily serving mammon and the systems of this world.

Is all this mandatory? Will a person go to hell if they’re not living by faith, fully serving the Lord? No. But a deeper look at the New Testament does pretty clearly show that this was the nature of the lives of the early apostles and disciples of Jesus. Let’s face it; so much of our lives is described in what Jesus said,

Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment…  …If then God so clothes the grass, which is to day in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? And seek not you what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, neither be of a doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after and your Father knows that you have need of these things.” (Luke 12:22-30)

Such famous, familiar words from the Lord. But how much they’ve been glossed over and set aside by so many believers as having no real message, meaning or promise to us practically in the real world of this day.

But when you’re “living by faith” on the mission field and all you have is the Lord (since you’ve gone into all the world and win souls), you very much see the promises and provision of God utterly come through for you, even in some of the strangest and most trying times. I wrote about one experience like that which my former wife and I had in Sweden when we first got married . You can read about that in “Foolhardy Faith”, an amazing time of miraculous provision, here.

“Well, Mark, that’s great but it’s not for me. And not for most of us, as you surely know. I need to have a normal job and a normal life like the rest of society. I’m a Christian, I go to church. But all this fanatical missionary stuff is just too far out.”

What I’ve found is that God has ways of sifting His people. He’s not trying to be mean to us. It’s just that we have more safety, security and even provision as well as meaning and happiness in serving Him, even full time, than we do in having a worldly job six days a week and then going to church on Sunday. Admitted, this is the way virtually all Christians live in these times.

Another simple thing Jesus said about this which is so often overlooked is “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust do corrupt and thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth or rust corrupt or thieves break through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20) Heard all that before? Certainly. But how many understand it or take it to heart and try to put it into practice.

To end with, here’s some good news. In the final days before the Lord’s return, we’re not really going to be able to serve Mammon the way most Christians do now. The Bible says that “no man will be able to buy or sell” (Revelation 13:17) unless they have the mark of the Beast of the final Anti-Christ government. The sifting will be pretty strong then.

Christians, if they want to remain Christians, will have to trust God then and probably even be serving the Lord much more than they do now. And their economics? God’s got that covered then, just as He already does now. Revelation 12:6 & 14 speaks of the believers of those times, “The woman [the believing body of Christ on earth, the bride of Christ] fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there [3 ½ years] from the face of the serpent.In the end, before the Lord’s return, there’ll be a sifted, separated, fruit-bearing body of believers throughout the earth, living by faith and trusting Him to supply all their needs.

Conquering

ConqueringThat word probably leaves a funny taste in the mouth for most of us 21st century folks.  “Conquering” sounds like the war-mongering, triumphalist people we just don’t like or want to be. We’re mostly the peace loving, “can’t-we-get-along” types. But that’s where those of us who believe in God would do well to remember that we need to not look to our personal preferences or the currently most accepted view of “right and wrong”.

As much as we peace-loving people would like it if the whole world was just like us, reality has a way of jumping up and biting us in the butt from time to time. Like King David said, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalms 120:7). The same King David prayed to God, “Scatter the people that delight in war.” (Psalm 68:30) It’s a sad, reluctant realization that war is an integral part of the reality we now live in. In the golden age of peace that will come with the return of Jesus, “They shall beat their sword into plow shares. Neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isiah 2:4) But we’re not there yet; far from it.

We desire peace, long for it and don’t naturally incline to war (many of us anyway). But we can’t get away from the Scriptural injunction that is part of the definition of the times and age we live in, that we should “war a good warfare” (I Timothy 1:18). Paul said, “No man that wars, entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who has called him to be a soldier.” (II Timothy 2:4)

Persecution picture-flattenedReluctantly, we have to admit that we’re called to be soldiers. We may be peacemakers and that’s our desire. But we face an Enemy who wants to defeat us. And we face continually our Enemy’s forces and loyalists who defy and mock our Commander and who want to destroy our faith.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t that way? Yes, it would be nice. But we can’t just sit around and “imagine”.  We have to be realists. Our dear Lord Jesus is the future ruler of this earth, physically. He told us “I will come again.” (John 14:3). Daniel told us in that most simple first chapter of his prophecies that Jesus’ Kingdom to come will “break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” and nations of this earth that His Kingdom will replace at His coming. (Daniel 2:44)

We must conclude that to conquer is part of the calling we have when He told us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) If we are to “win souls” (Proverbs 11:30), who are we to win them from? The answer is clear: they’re to be won from the powers of Darkness that rule this earth right now. Paul said that God, “has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Collossians 1:13)

Jesus conquered. Maybe He used me or you as his tool or instrument to help “win a soul” for Him. The forces of darkness were defeated. A battle took place. If you’ve ever been involved in personal witnessing and winning souls, you know how totally real that can be. It’s often an incredible fight and you can sometimes almost literally know, see and contend with dark forces that hold people in a grip of unbelief and pride, restraining them from reaching out to receive the new life Christ offers. And, lest there be any room for misunderstanding, how do we conquer? How do we win? Through love, like our Commander did.

jesus on horseRevelation chapter 6 talks about a rider with a crown on a white horse who “goes forth conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2)  In our times, modern church scholars have somehow attributed this figure to be a picture of the Satanic Antichrist of the endtime. But from the Early Church up till modern times, this figure on the white horse in Revelation 6 was always considered to be Jesus of Nazareth. The forces of God from the first century till now have followed Him into all nations, winning through His leadership the lost souls of this earth, gathering them into His eternal fold and contending with the devil and the forces of darkness who now hold sway over the nations.

We’re to be conquerors with Him. He defeated death on the cross of Calvary. He is the risen Savoir, the mighty Conqueror who now leads the forces of His saved ones, through the Holy Spirit, in this time of battle for the hearts and souls of the people of the earth. We’ve already passed the point in time which He spoke of when He said “This gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14) That’s already happened over the last 100 to 150 years.

Soon the crowned Rider on the white horse that we see at the beginning of the Christian era in Revelation 6 will become the visible Lord from heaven in Revelation 19, leading the forces of heaven in a reconquering of the earth as He retakes this world from the clutches of the Devil and we experience the first days of His Kingdom come on earth.

We are sheep. And He has said He is our Shepherd. But we look forward to the Lion of Judah, the conquering King of Kings who will lead us as conquerors with Him in His soon return. In the meantime, we need to remember that we are, perhaps even reluctantly, called to be conquerors, fighters and triumphant (but still meek and humble) fighters with Him at this time. “The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalms 37:11)

Rampant, predatory males

There’s a lot in the news about predatory males and a culture of rape. Doubtless, this is real but it’s hardly even news until some big shot really gets caught with his pants down. ( 🙂 ) But, you’re right, it’s no laughing matter at all. Cyberspace is abuzz with discussions about what can be done and who is to blame. I read an article in the New York Times that actually it’s just all men who are to be blamed; all of them are like that.

Well, this can get pretty wild, discouraging and extreme real fast. Again, there’s no doubt that this is a problem, there’s no doubt that countless people have been more than just hurt. They’ve been damaged, they have been ravaged not just in their bodies but in their souls and virtually irreparably messed up. And, as some bring out, it’s not just men doing this to women. Men, some at least, sexually attack other men also.

“Oh Mark, nice people don’t talk about things like this! You shouldn’t even be writing about things like this!” Well, it’s very real, very timely and it’s like one of the many onslaughts of the devil that engulfs our present world. Calls are ringing out for change. Guilt is being liberally apportioned and abundant shaming of males is the order of the day.

But, honestly, do you think it will change anything? I sort of don’t think so. Greater hate and division in society will likely come of it but positive change? I don’t think so. But let’s look at two factors in this. First, the man who’s so much in the news now had the job of being virtually the high priest of Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5), as Revelation 17 and 18 say in the last book in the Bible. The modern American “entertainment industry” is the epicenter of satanic filth and immorality that was predicted in Revelation. It says there, “all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich through the abundance of her delicacies.” (Revelation 18:3)

American “entertainment” has permeated all nations with its evil, Godless, satanic “wine of the wrath of her fornication.” So it almost goes without saying that one of the men who was at the pinnacle of the entertainment industry would have the nature that this man has had, a heartless, marauding, animal-like sexual predator. The Bible talks about “men of the world, who have their portion in this life.” (Psalm 17:14) And there are plenty like that in every field.

Satan showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And Satan said to Jesus, ‘All this power I will give you for it is mine. If you will worship me, all shall be yours’”. (Luke 4: 5 & 6) Thankfully our dear Lord and King rebuked the devil at that offer. But there are plenty of folks around who’ve taken that offer with glee. The devil has given them all this world has to offer and they’ve served the pleasure of Satan in return. The “casting couch” has been a known part of the Hollywood path to stardom for many decades. Why anyone is surprised about any of this is itself a surprise.

But is there any solution? First you have to get to the root of the problem. And as I wrote in “What is Sin?“, basically no one will go there. Because the problem (I know some of you will hate it when I say this) is sin. It’s not males. It’s not sex. It’s sin in the heart. Without the regenerative salvation of Jesus Christ, coming into our hearts to save us from our sins and our powerful sinful nature, it can be said that any one of us are capable of almost any kind of horrendous sin. It’s like Tennessee Ernie Ford used to sing, “If the right one don’t get you, the left one will.” If your sex urge doesn’t get you, gluttony will. If gluttony doesn’t get you, violence will. If violence doesn’t get you, depression or drugs will. And on and on it goes.

Jesus said of the last days before His return, that  “men’s hearts failing them for fear” would be one of the signs of those times. But, more on our subject, He also said of the Last Days, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:12) Natural God-given human love between a man and woman is waning as demonic interactions abound. Or like Paul said about the Last Days that people would be “without natural affection”. (II Timothy 3:3) People need warm, loving, “natural affection”. They need love, even the Godly, wonderful love between a man and woman.

So, again, is there solution? Probably not one that most people will recognize and accept. The only way to empower men to bring their bodies and desires into subjection is through the power of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”  (Colossians 1:27) That’s the only thing that ever gave me the power over the sins that were destroying me. I hope you have that saving power through Jesus. Then you “can do all things through Christ which strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13), including becoming a loving, mature, carrying man who can truly find and love the woman of your dreams, who God prepared for you. That’s the only hope. Jesus saves.

Sadness

Sadness is one of the greatest of sins. It turns us from the heavenly vision and contradicts the promises of God. Hardly anything so strips us from the power of God as does sadness. Yet it seems so reasonable, so “normal”, so acceptable. Maybe that’s why it so successfully defeats so many of the people of God.

I pray hard against sadness every day. The Bible talks about “the sins that do so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1); well sadness just wants to keep me as its friend forever, if I will. Maybe you had a friend when you were a kid, someone in your neighborhood you hung out with. Seemed like a nice guy and you had fun together. But as you got older, that fellow began to get worse and worse. Started fights, did petty crime at the shopping center and began to get into drinking, drugs and wild parties. That’s how sadness can be. It seems almost innocent at first. “Just feeling a little sad”, you say. But then if you stay in that state, along comes other similar feelings and it just gets worse and worse.

But for Christians, we are just not supposed to allow that, any more than we would the more well known and recognizable sins. This isn’t just about being cheerful and staying upbeat. This is about the fundamentals of obeying God and “walking in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Jesus said, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” (John 13:17) Back in the Old Testament, Nehemiah told the Jews who’d come back to rebuild Jerusalem, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10b).

But, boy, the devil tries to fight that. And of course it isn’t always even the devil that prompts you to be sad. Our own natural human nature is prone to all kinds of things that are just how things are in this world. But for a child of God, we are no longer under the control of this world and its darkened tendencies. Paul said that we are “set down in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)  If you’re a saved, born again Christian, then Christ dwells in your heart right now. You have heaven in your heart right now and the truths, influences, reality and essences of heaven are already very firmly the reality you live in. King David said to God in Psalm 16:10, “In Your presence is fullness of joy and at Your right hand are pleasures for ever more.” Not empty, hopeless sadness.

Senseless sadness is not part of the reality of heaven.God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17) We are to “rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” (I Peter 1:8) And yet, still, sadness is so often and so easily with us. If someone offered us drugs or wanted to get us to commit illicit sex, my how we’d stand up against that! But sadness? We can almost look at it like an old friend, if we don’t watch out. Like the famous song by Simon and Garfunkel with the opening words, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again…” Well, I’ll tell you, darkness better not be your friend.

OK, is there any balance due here? Sometimes we feel what the Bible calls “contrite”. (Psalm 51:17) We are sorry for our sins, for our foolishness and that brings us to what looks very much like sadness. But here’s a very significant verse about that which I hope you’ll take note of. II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of. But the sorrow of the world works death.” Such light from the Word of God there. Two kinds of sorrow and it could be said, two kinds of sadness. Is your sadness or sorrow one that works repentance in you to salvation? You are sad at your foolish mistakes and you, in your contrition and repentance, strive all the more to walk in the Spirit and to follow the Lord more closely?

Or do you have “the sorrow of the world” which works death? That’s why when folks talk about the gift of discerning of spirits, I always figure the greatest discerning of spirits is to discern your own spirit. Jesus said to His disciples, “You know not what manner of spirit you are of.” (Luke 9:55) Well, sadness can be one of the most unhealthy and even contagious atmospheres that you can entertain. Like that old friend from childhood that you finally had to distance yourself from, sadness needs to be recognized for what it is and to be fought against as soon as it raises its deceitful head.

What do you do about Godless sadness? First, recognize that it’s not your friend. Not reasonable or acceptable or deserved or inevitable. It’s a subtle, dangerous enemy that needs to have the light of the Word of God and Spirit of God shined on it. Why are you sad? Did something happen? Someone said something that caused this? Even, did the Lord just point out something that you need to change in?

I wrote about that in “Conviction or Condemnation”. If the Lord is convicting you and you feel contrite, that’s where you may be feeling “Godly sorrow”. Or did the Devil try to bring you into condemnation? Was it just an old impulse that’s been a part of your nature all your life? Whatever its source and reason, Godless sadness is dangerous to your heart and is not in the least one of the fruits of the Spirit.

Sing a song, quote a verse or Psalm from the Bible, praise God with your voice or if nothing else, start thanking the Lord for all His goodness to you. Plainly put, the Bible says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) And, yes, sadness can often be straight from the devil.

Otherwise that seemingly innocent little sadness, if left to fester in your heart and mind, will take you down the path of hell and get you utterly defeated and out of the will of God. Don’t let it happen. Recognize it as soon as it raises its hellish head. Resist it, turn from it, go the other direction, stand on His promises and fight the good fight of faith. “Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Left or Right, Vertical or Horizontal?

Everywhere you look, it seems like the extremes are winning. I grew up in a political family and there was always talk of “the Left” and “the Right”. I learned early the basics of what this meant in America. It’s difficult to make short definitions but the Left seemed to be more for government having a helping hand in affairs of citizens. Government was seen as having a place in the solutions society needed. The Right was more for smaller government and it having less involvement in society. More should be left up to individuals and the work of market forces that worked in the economy.

“Verticals” and “horizontals” are not political terms but are understood within Christian circles. “Horizontals” are the ones who are more focused on our Christian responsibility to “love your neighbor”. “Horizontals” can often be found feeding the poor and doing things primarily in the physical to alleviate the plight of the less fortunate. “Verticals” on the other hand focus their attention more on their personal relationship with God and Jesus. Their emphasis is often on personal salvation, prayer, Bible reading, church attendance and the things related to our spiritual life with God, in the affairs of the heart and soul.

If you keep up with things at all, you’ll know that there are very strong forces at work in many countries now, pulling and pushing things towards the extremes in all of these areas. You hear of “center Right” politicians but also you hear of “far Right” or even “extreme Right” or “alt Right”. And it works the same for the terms of the Left. Similarly in the field of faith, some push more and more for a completely “horizontal” view of our responsibilities to the Lord, that overwhelmingly it should play out in our service to mankind. Yet others downplay that completely and, being “Verticals”, feel the only solution left is for utter repentance and commitment to God in every way among all citizens of a nation.

“OK, Mark. We more or less know all that. So what’s the solution? Things are getting worse and worse, more and more divided. What’s right?”

For me, I had to learn the hard way that politics and political solutions just don’t address the fundamental issues of humanity. I wrote about that in several places like, “Citizenship in Heaven” or “Consumer, Citizen or Disciple.” I planned a career in politics and public service but was appalled by the reality I found when I began to get close to it while I was in university. So for me, the question isn’t really “Left” or “Right” as neither one has enough truth and solutions to be worth consideration in the most fundamental issues of life.

But what about “Vertical” or “Horizontal”? Which one of those is right? Is the main thing to be of service and to show an example of God’s love to our fellow man, to be a “Horizontal? You can certainly see a lot of examples of that in the New Testament and there are plenty of verses pointing us that direction for sure. However, “Verticals” would ask, isn’t it all contingent on our relationship with the Lord and the grace and power we receive from Him, once we are born again and filled with His Spirit? Don’t we need to stay close to His Word and the nudging of His Spirit so we’ll know what to do in this world?

For me, I’m completely convinced that the only solution for individuals or mankind is a spiritual one, first and foremost. And within the opposites of Vertical and Horizontal, I guess something Jesus said somewhat boils it all down: “These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”(Matthew 23:23)  Simply put, a solid balance between “Horizontal” and “Vertical” is what I believe you find in the 4 gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t only “go about doing good”, (Acts 10:38) He “opened the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32) You could make a study of which He did more but I venture to say that the works of Jesus and the times He taught the Word would likely be pretty balanced

In the book of Acts, you don’t really see the early disciples of Christ doing humanitarian aid projects the way some of us do now. But you do see repeatedly their using the miracle-working power they’d received from Jesus to heal the sick. Acts 3:6 says, “Then Peter and John answered and said, ‘Silver and gold have we none, but such as we have we give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk.’” Jesus said of those who cloth the poor and visit prisons, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I want to base my life around the discipleship found in the earliest days of Christianity. It was neither primarily based on humanitarian aid or in a lofty, aloof, separatist spirituality similar like to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. So maybe some of these forces compelling us to extremes of Left or Right, Horizontal or Vertical are not directing us to God’s highest and best. Perhaps a healthy balance between dedicated Christian works in the horizontal and, vertically, a spiritual life of Christian salvation and power through the Spirit is closest to the bull’s-eye of God’s will in our times.

Falls Road, Belfast

I’ve just visited Northern Ireland, where bloody sectarian strife distressed that nation from 1968 to 1988. Fault lines between Catholics and Protestants go back hundreds of years there, exacerbated by British rule over Ireland and just a history of deep discord between faiths and peoples. The good news is that the bombings and carnage that was so prevalent in Northern Ireland over the last decades has abated and the city lives in peace, if not true concord.

Belfast was the last destination on my recent trip abroad and I found it interesting to be going from Beirut, Lebanon to Belfast, Northern Ireland. If you’ve kept up with the news over the years, you’ll know that both places were almost constantly flashpoints between warring factions, and in both places “religion” was a major factor. I personally don’t consider myself religious; I think of myself as spiritual. But “religion” to me brings up thoughts of altars, robes, swinging incense, unintelligible chants and usually meaningless traditions.

I don’t think Jesus was religious. But then we have to admit that the factions in both Beirut and Belfast had what we can call religion in mind as they fought and bombed and plotted for years against citizens in other parts of their cities. Pitiful, isn’t it?

For me on this trip, I wasn’t in either place to see the sights or rehash history. People are the most important thing to me. How are the people of God? Solomon said to “be diligent to know the state of your flocks and look well to your herds.” (Proverbs 27:23) In this case, they aren’t your flock or mine but they are the Lord’s. And as Paul said to the elders of his day, we should “feed the church of God”, “over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers.” (Acts 20:28) And in these days, that  goes for all of us. Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go again and visit our brethren … and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36) There aren’t really a handful of Paul’s and Peters anymore but there are a lot of us who the Lord calls to be shepherds and feeders of the flock.

It was very encouraging to see how the people of God were doing in Belfast. I visited two churches and one prayer group while I was there and it was inspiring. One was Presbyterian and the other church was Baptist. In both places there was a real mix of age groups, not just “old people”, as I feared. And the conversation in both places was about reaching others for the Lord, bearing fruit and on-the-ground activity to bring the gospel to the people there.

I’ve written in a few places about conditions I’ve found in other places in my travels. I wrote in “German Awakening” about my visits to Germany and Christian churches I encountered there. In “A Flock of Whopping Cranes” I wrote about the church I attend in Texas and how it’s been heartening to see those of the younger generation who have been keeping the faith and not “casting away their confidence.” (Hebrews 10:35)

But I was pretty surprised, both in Beirut and Northern Ireland. Particularly in Northern Ireland there was an overall sense of the people there not having fallen away from the faith anywhere near as much as you can see in some other parts of Britain. And it was not like a “hold the fort” type of faith but a ground-gaining boldness in their faith that I found very heartening.

In Beirut I heard of churches there that are in use for 16 to 18 hours a day, with one denomination after the other using the building to hold packed out services for both Lebanese citizens as well as Syrians and even Africans who’ve come there to work. And there’s just a lot of witnessing going on there with inspired individuals doing sometimes astounding things to reach a part of the world which is really reaching out to the Lord in their time of desperate need.

In future blog posts I can explain more about why I was in Belfast. It is all mission-related and some very important things were happening, both in Beirut and Belfast which should help further the Lord’s work in hopefully significant ways. But I’m glad to be back at my base in the States after this most recent 11 weeks abroad. Sometimes we have to not get so busy gaining territory for the Lord that we don’t securely consolidate the gains He’s giving us in His work. I have a lot to do in the next months to work on the many things that got started on this recent trip. I’ll be letting you know how that goes. God bless you, Mark

 

At the Green Line in Beirut

Yesterday I had lunch next to the Green Line in Beirut, Lebanon. The Green Line was the boundary that divided Beirut during the civil war here from 1975 to 1990 between Muslim, Christian and other factions. A large street was next to the outdoor restaurant and my friends said the French ambassador had been killed in the intersection in front of us during the civil war. There were still some pock marks in places on the buildings nearby from the street fighting that was so normal back then.

But I’m not here as a tourist. I won’t go into specifics of what I’m doing, some of you reading this already know but primarily it has to do with the Christian service that’s been a part of my life for decades. In the few days I am here I’ll be meeting old friends and making new ones in an effort to bring the love of God and the power and truth of God to this part of the world. Mostly I’m just listening, getting a clearer understanding of how things really are, what can be done, what the needs are as well as realistic possibilities. And in the months to come, Lord willing I’ll be sharing more about what has been going on while I am here and things that have been able to get started on this visit.

The last verse in the book of Mark says, “And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word with signs following.” (Mark 16:20) That might be a good explanation of something I’ve really notice since being in Beirut. I’ve very strongly noticed that phenomenon here of “the Lord working with them.” Things that I came here to do, which I had very few leads or ideas about, actually worked out really well and got taken care of in barely 24 hours. The answers and results were almost like falling on me. And I heard other people here use that phrase also, like the Lord was just dropping things on them.

I guess this whole part of the world here is just a very serious place. The Lord is really doing big-time miracles here, lives are being drastically altered, abject prayers are being answered and also people are suffering terribly and dying for their faith. Someone told me about a Muslim military commander in the war in Syria. Somehow he found a Christian tract in his language on the ground. He picked it up, read it and saw an address on it where he could order a Bible in his language. He did that and ended up having a strong salvation experience that empowered him to be a witness to those he was leading. Ultimately he paid with his life for his newfound faith. But then death by one means or the other is often known to be not far from so many in the Levant.

And there are many who come here to try to help in whatever way they can. Volunteers work in refugee camps in the region, some with over 100,000 people in them, doing shows for children, providing physical needs and at times just providing the education that school age children would be having if there was any normalcy in their lives. Groups from abroad channel finances to some individuals here who are deeply connected to the vast numbers of refugees and sufferers. These funds help to provide the barest of basic necessities for the essentials of life so that families don’t exist on the streets and so they can eat.

Others here and in the region are called to a different path and are actively straightforward in sharing their faith in God and the answers they’ve experienced from the Bible. I won’t go into details but things I’ve heard of people like this are very similar indeed to what you can read in the book of Acts. Some have survived repeated attempts on their lives here as they win people to the Lord and feed His sheep. Others who’ve come from abroad have actually died for their faith. But mostly this isn’t what happens as the Lord so closely and strongly leads His few bold soul winners in ways that they can reach effectively the people of this country and others in the region.

Well, this is just a little update, a few things I’ve seen or heard and a bit of news from this series of visits I’ve been making to places over the last 2 months. Once I’m back to my base, following up on the things that have gotten started on this trip will be the main thing I’ll be doing for the next months. There have been a lot of beginnings during the last two months which I’ll be telling you more about before long.

God bless you, your friend, Mark

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!