Cast your bread upon the waters

give and it shall flatWhat do you think about when you think of the God of the Bible? Love? That sounds right. But how is love actually shown or seen? I think one of the clearest ways is in kindness and generosity. There’s just so much in the Bible about giving and sharing, from cover to cover.

Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over shall men give unto your bosom, for with the same measure that you met shall it be measured to you again.” (Luke 6:38) In another place He said, “He that has two coats let him give to him that has none.” (Luke 3:11) But that spirit He puts in our souls of concern, altruism and benevolence at times can be quenched if our hearts become hardened through selfishness or possibly the heartbreaks of life that make us feel it’s just not worth it.

why give flatWe’re tempted to just stop sharing, stop caring, and stop going the extra mile. We do it and then sometimes it seems it was all for nothing. The ones we tried to help were rude or unappreciative. Our labors truly did seem to be in vain and there’s just the huge sentiment to throw in the towel, close up shop on our lives and turn out the lights. “Why keep giving? No one else does. I’m just an idiot to naively give of my own to people who don’t appreciate it, while others laugh and snicker at my immature generosity.” You can hear some say that or it’s the cry of our broken, wounded hearts at times.

For me it comes down to this. I just go back to the most foundational experiences of my life and see again that the words of the Bible and the words of Jesus far transcend any “reasonable” rationalizations that contradict the truths of God and His Word. Loving, sharing, caring benevolence and generosity are some of the greatest hallmarks of God and Jesus and they should be some of the strongest abiding characteristics of the people of God.

good samaritan 1We can’t just pass by the poor man on the road to Jericho. We have to stop and render aid. We can’t selfishly hoard our blessings but we feel impelled by the Spirit of God to share with others. And the Bible is just full of this line of thinking. Here’s what Isaiah said. “And if you draw out your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall rise in obscurity and your darkness shall be as the noon day.” (Isaiah 58:10) In another place Solomon said, “The liberal soul shall be made fat and he that waters shall be watered also himself.” (Proverbs 11:25) And we can turn to more from Jesus, “Give to him that asks you and from him that would borrow from you, turn not away.” (Matthew 5:42)

Of course some may have choked or stumbled back there when I quoted Solomon where he talked about “the liberal soul.” For some Christians today, the word “liberal” is virtually synonymous with Satan. And that is a stark sign of the darkened times we live in that “liberal” has come to mean that. Because originally the word “liberal” meant generous and giving , as well as free from prejudice. (See II Corinthians 9:13) Nowadays it has been taken over by a political movement and twisted to mean something totally different. So much so that Christians now feel that in order to be “conservative”, they’re obliged to be stingy, hard-hearted, uncaring for those having rough times and just all that goes with the modern “conservative” agenda which often really does not have priorities parallel to the words of Jesus and the Bible.

In conclusion? “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) Satan and the vicissitudes of life work incessantly to harden your heart, to make you faint in your mind and throw in the towel when it comes to being loving, kind, generous and giving. Don’t let it happen.

To quote Solomon again, in the 11th chapter of Ecclesiastes, “Cast your bread upon the waters for you shall find it after many days. Give a portion to seven and also to eight for you know not what evil shall be upon the earth.” You may be “casting your bread upon the waters”. You may be giving and not really fully knowing where it’s going or what it’s being used for. But if you are doing it “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23) , in obedience to His commandments to be loving and to share, someday (in this life or the next) “you’ll find it after many days.”

morning grace flatThat’s what God does, He gives and shares and pours out constantly. “He sends His rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45) And He implores us to have a heart like His, to love and give as He has given to us. So watch out about times when you just feel it isn’t worth it or “wise” to be loving and giving. Thank God He hasn’t changed His mind about being loving and benevolent. Lord help us not to change our mind about it either.

To whom shall we go?

find Christians flatGod “sets the solitary in families”. (Psalm 68:6) But often for those who long for the higher road in this life of Christian discipleship, it can be a lonely trek. It breaks my heart at times when I hear of ones who truly seek to not only be a Christian but to also take up their cross, as Jesus said, and follow Him. How can someone do that today? Where is anyone or any group of people truly following the original commandments of Jesus and the pattern of the book of Acts, who daily, whole heartedly are laying down their lives to be, in this hour of world history, all that the first Christians and disciples were?

Can it be done today? Is anyone really doing it in our times? With the Early Church in the book of Acts, it was just a monumental indigenous groundswell of the Spirit of God and “multitudes were added to the church, both of men and women”. They worked together, taught one another, encouraged one another and had a strong bond that developed into a whole society of saved souls, delivered from the power of darkens and translated into a whole new creation, a people of God made alive through Jesus which quickly spread across the world of those times.

Baptist churchIs it still the same today? Well, maybe somewhat. There still are Christians, there are churches you can go to, sweet people there and some of them will share with you the fundamentals of the faith. You can stand and sing with them on Sunday and imbibe the atmosphere of faith there. You can even go to their small groups or home churches where you usually can get to know individual Christians better and get a somewhat stronger feeding from the Word.

But I know for some people, perhaps many people, this really isn’t enough. Some at least just feel a God-given longing in their hearts for a much greater portion of the whole Christian experience. They may not even be able to express it but they have a yearning to be true disciples of Jesus, like so many were at the time of the early Church and the book of Acts.

freedom fellowship flatThey don’t want a once-a-week experience in church. They can just feel that it’s a distant echo of the original Kracatoan explosion of the Spirit that was the original wave of Christianity and all that was a part of what brought the truth of Jesus to our world. They want to live for the Lord as the first Christians did. God has put it in their hearts to be dissatisfied with a life of secularism and compromise with the world. They just know there’s a universe of joy, service, experience, purpose and fulfillment that is there, somewhere. But they can’t find it.

At least at times in my life I’ve been privileged to be around like-minded people who joyously took up the call of Christian discipleship and who at some times and in some places banded together in a similar fashion to the disciples of the Early Church. But many will say, “Well, that didn’t last. They didn’t all stay together like that or keep their fervor unto the end.” True, they didn’t. Still, it was a brilliant fire while it lasted and I feel at least that it was a more fruitful and fulfilling form of Christianity that I experienced in those times.

to whom flatIn a sense, there was something to join. There’s always a danger with that as it’s so easy for anything that becomes organized to fall prey to the world of things that can go wrong when people are organized in any way. But for people now, if someone feels a strong urging of the Lord to follow Him in full time Christian service, what are they going to do? “To whom shall we go?” as Peter once said (John 6:68).

He knew for sure that Jesus and the discipleship they had in Him was the only thing real that was around. But Jesus isn’t alive in the flesh with us on earth right now. And maybe you can find a good church. But almost certainly the Spirit will bear witness in your heart that what you find there is a sad far cry from the deeds, acts and words of the disciples in the Early church.

disciple in AfricaIs there a happy ending to this? I wish I knew a better one. Right now I don’t have any church, group or denomination that I can point you to which I know is fully, whole heartedly following the Lord like the Early Church did. I know a sweet couple in one foreign field or a tiny little association of a few families somewhere else. But it’s mostly a very scattered stand of rugged individuals who are trying to remain on the wall of His Will and service that I’m aware of.

So what can I offer you who want to truly serve the Lord? I can tell you that you can follow His Words as found in the Gospels and the New Testament. Jesus Christ is still “the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) Even if there’s no band of brothers who will take you in and show you how to do it, the Lord Himself sees your ardent desire to know Him, serve Him and lay down your life for Him in these times.

Even if there’s nothing to join, you can still join yourself to His Words. He will see it, honor it and may even lead you to other likeminded Christian disciples, even though they be few and scattered in these times.

Keep the faith. Keep holding on to your crown, your vision and desire to live for Him in your generation. It’s still as true today as it was 2700 years ago, “The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose hearts are perfect.” (II Chronicles 16:9) Maybe you don’t think you have a perfect heart. But if your desire is to truly serve the Lord, He surely sees your heart and is fully able to bring you into contact with like-minded people who can help you on your quest. It’ll take a miracle, but that’s what He does. Keep the faith.

The Rapture

I will come again flatOne of the principle beliefs of Christians for 2000 years is that Jesus of Nazareth will return to this world to rule it as the Son of God and God-ordained King of Heaven. This is a clear and essential belief of Bible-based Christianity. In fact, Jesus spoke repeatedly about this and at least two whole chapters, Matthew 24 and Mark 13, are Jesus’ words to His disciples to describe this occasion of His coming and events immediately prior to that.

And the Bible even gets down to some fine details of His return, one of the most famous events being what’s been called “the rapture”. That word is not found in the Bible but it is described in detail by the Apostle Paul, perhaps most clearly in I Thessalonians 4, verses 16 and 17. Speaking of Christ’s return to this world, Paul says, “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with Him in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

the lords comingFor those who study this subject, a world of questions immediately arise when the Rapture is talked about. “When, where, who, how”? And on and on. But it’s good to pause to remember and establish that, if you’re a believer in the Word of God, at least we shouldn’t be asking “if” this is true or going to happen. It is. Jesus said in John 14, “I go to prepare a place for you… (and)…I will come again…” John 14:1-3.

But with all the huge controversy and even confusion on this subject, it seems wise to try to proceed rather slowly and to find a path on it all by following the Scriptures. As Isaiah said, doctrine must be “line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10). For me, some of the most certain verses that we can be sure of as accompanying these ones about the Rapture in I Thessalonians are what Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 15.

The Corinthian church evidently had a question about what kind of body we will have in heaven. Here’s what Paul told them about this, very closely echoing what he told the Thessalonians, except in this case focusing more on what kind of body the believers will have in the hereafter. jesus and trumphetsPaul told them, “Behold, I show you a mystery. We shall not all sleep [die] but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in a twinkling of the eye, at the last trump. For the trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised incorruptible. And we shall be changed.”  (I Corinthians 15:51 & 52)

These verses are talking about the same event as the ones in I Thessalonians, only looking at a different aspect of that climatic event. You’ll note that in Thessalonians Paul spoke of the Lord’s return “with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God”. Here in I Corinthians he says, “In a moment, in a twinkling of the eye, at the last trump.” It’s curious and noteworthy that this seminal event in the history of mankind is almost invariable linked to something called “the sound of a trumpet”.

And when Jesus Himself spoke of this future moment, He too referred to a trumpet being sounded at the final moment of His return. This event is most clearly spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 24:29-31. In Matthew 24:31 Jesus spoke of Himself,  “And He shall send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet. And He shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

There should be no doubt, from looking to Scripture, that the future event of the return of Jesus is spoken of with certainty and a surprising degree of detail. We do ourselves no service to, in any way, doubt or dispute that this will happen, if we truly look to God’s Word for our lives and the future to come.

But of course there are many, many questions about this future event. Can Jesus return at any moment? Are there any events prophesied in the Word which immediately precede His return? Some even wonder if there is any way this has already happened. Perhaps these questions could be looked at in another post.

But hopefully those of us who believe in Him and in God’s Word can at least agree on this: He said He would return to this earth and the Bible has a number of clear and unambiguous verses which state this and give us understanding of what is to come. Let us at least be of the same mind in agreement on these fundamentals of the subject of Christ’s second coming.

“Lift up now your eyes”

Lift up now your eyes flatGod sometimes tells people what to do, often in fact. And He’s still doing that today, although you don’t hear much about that in most churches. One of the most famous times this happened was when God spoke to Abraham, 4000 years ago. Did Abraham obey? Well, yes, mostly. But in this case, it seems there was a period of time before Abraham fully obeyed. There’s really a lot we can learn from this.

Now the Lord had said to Abram, ‘Get out of your country, and from your kindred and from your father’s house into a land that I will show you.’” (Genesis 12:1)  Like I said, in many ways Abram did obey. In the first leg of their journey, Abram’s dad and Abram and Lot, his nephew and their families, did move as far as Haran, nearly 600 miles up the Euphrates from Ur, where they started out. Pretty good, no? Only, the Lord had told Abram to separate from his kindred and his father’s house. Still, it was a big step in the right direction of full obedience.

Abraham leaving HaranThen, when Abram was 75 years old, he pulled up stakes again and headed south towards the land that God had been leading him to. But it says “and Lot went with him” (Genesis 12:4). So, he was still with his family who it turns out were not on the same page as Abraham when it came to the things of the Lord. But the Lord hadn’t given up on Abraham and was in the process of performing the work that He had started in him. (See Philippians 1:6)

We read that “There was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s cattle and the herdsmen of Lot’s cattle.Abraham and Lot(Genesis 13:7) So Abraham, the man of God that he was, said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between me and you and between my herdsmen and your herdsmen; for we are brethren.” (Genesis 13:8) The result was that they decided to part ways and this is the place where Lot looked towards the lush valley of Sodom, near the Dead Sea, and decided to head down to the valley while Abram stayed in the high country.

But then what happened? What did God then do or was able to do then? Here’s what it says in Genesis 13:14 & 15. “And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, ‘Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward. For all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever.’

God couldn’t and didn’t fully bless Abram till Abram fully obeyed God. “Lift up now your eyes.” Now that Abram had finally separated himself from his kindred and his father’s house, God was able to perform the fullness of what He had planned.

Roll ye away flatAnd the Bible is just completely full of other examples like this. Before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, He told the ones present to “roll away the stone” (John 11:39) that was covering the place Lazarus was buried. In another place Jesus told someone to “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (John 9:7) They did and they were healed. Jesus told the 10 lepers, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” And, get this, “It came to pass that as they went they were healed.” (Luke 17:14)

Sometimes we have to do “the wenting”. We have to do the obeying. It seems like such a simple thing but it’s so utterly important. Jesus raised the dead but they were required to roll away the stone. Jesus healed the lepers but they had to have the faith and obedience to do what Jesus said and to go show themselves to the priest. It seems so simple but actually it’s huge.

So it behooves all of us to search our hearts and to even bring it to the Lord in prayer, “Am I failing to fully obey you in something?” And in our cases, it doesn’t even have to be some specific “personal voice of God” event in our lives. For those of our times, we have the whole Bible to look in to find God’s will for our lives. Are we walking according to the instruction Jesus gave His disciples? If we want His blessings and protection on our lives, are we following closely the instruction He gave in His Word, even what Jesus taught His disciples when He was here on earth?

I think that many of us may find that we’ve not been fully obeying the voice of God through His Word and that’s mostly likely why so many are not near the fullness of the blessings that God would bestow our lives. May the Lord mightily help us to have the vision to more strongly and fully follow the voice of God and the Word of God so that He can do with us what He knows is the very best for our lives.

Familiarity

Familiarity flatHere’s a question for you, “Is familiarity good or bad?” “Um, Mark, that’s a trick question, isn’t it?” You’re right, it is. Because it pretty much depends on how you define familiarity. It can be good when we are getting familiar with a situation or even with people we know so that we’re more at ease and able to function in a knowledgeable and capable way.

But there can certainly be a downside to familiarity. What can happen is that, as we get more familiar with a situation or especially with people we love, we can lose the original respect, esteem and even love we first had for them. So familiarity can be an avenue by which a lot of serious damage can be done to our relationships, often with the ones we should love the most.

get behind me flatI was trying to think of some examples of familiarity in the Bible. The actual word “familiarly” isn’t in the Bible. But I thought of at least two possible examples of where familiarity may have been creeping in. Jesus told His disciples that they would be going up to Jerusalem and that He would be crucified and would rise again the third day. Whereupon it says that His top disciple, Peter, began to rebuke the Lord and telling the Son of God that this was not going to happen. What did Jesus do? He sternly rebuked Peter, or actually the devil that was speaking through Peter at that moment saying, “Get behind me, Satan, for you savor not the things of God but the things that be of men.” (Mark 8:33)

Had Peter momentarily gotten a little familiar with the Lord? A little too buddy-buddy and feeling he needed to step in and correct the Lord when he may have thought that Jesus was being a little negative? We certainly know that Peter was not speaking by the Spirit right then and, as Jesus said, he was thinking in the ways of man and not in the ways of God.

Familiarity can be like that. It can just pop up so easily, like a perennial weed and the next thing you know you’re totally out of the Spirit, speaking in a Godless, worldly way to often the ones you’re closest to. What a device of the devil that is; something we all can run into almost any time, if we’re not on guard.

nathan and David flatAnother example that comes to mind is the prophet Nathan and King David. One time King David had been mulling over the idea of building a great temple for the God of Israel. So he asked his chief prophet, one of his top advisers, Nathan, what he thought of the idea. Nathan replied, “Go, do all that is in your heart for the Lord is with you.”  (II Samuel 7:3)

But that night, when alone with God, Nathan heard the Lord telling him the exact opposite of what he had told David earlier. Was Nathan being a little familiar with David, speaking “off the cuff”? Was Nathan being not really in the Spirit so that he actually gave council that was the opposite of the mind of God? Seems like it.

But like I said, there are aspects of familiarity can be good. It reminds me of the sweet song seen in the old movie, “The King and I”, where some of the words were, “Getting to know you, getting to feel free and easy.” Being comfortable and at ease with people can be a wonderful thing, as long as we can be aware of the potential pitfalls to it.

And actually it’s possible to get familiar with the things of the Lord, His Word or even the Lord Himself so that we just don’t want to read our Bible since we think we already know all it says. Or the Lord can become so sweet, close and trustworthy that we begin to not treat Him and our relationship with Him with the awe, respect and Godly fear that we should.

I guess all this can get you to the point where we’re like what Paul said one time, “Oh wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?!”  (Romans 7:24) You just wonder, “Yes, familiarity’s such a subtle, fatal trap. But what’s the solution?!”

Well for one, if you don’t recognize the problem, you won’t even know to search for a solution. Just being aware of the stark danger of familiarity is a start. But perhaps, like any really heinous, debilitating sin, if nothing else, we can confess it to God and others. A verse that pulled me though some of the worst times of my life is, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  (I John 1:9)

if we confess-flattenedWhat a promise. If we confess it, He’ll cleanse it. It also says to “confess and forsake” our sins (Proverbs 28:13). But at times they are so deep that it seems at first all we can do is to confess it and ask Him to work at the deepest level of our heart to cleanse us. That may be how it is for some people and familiarity, whether it’s with their mate, their family or with the Lord and His Word itself. It’s the beginning of the victory if you even can recognize the problem and then bring it to the Lord in prayer, confessing it and looking for His cleansing.

May we all be delivered from the clutches of familiarity which drags us out of His Spirit and back into our worldly, fleshly, unregenerate selves. “Be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:32 & 3)

They began to make excuse

Jesus and excuses flatSometimes delayed obedience can become total disobedience if prolonged too long. And, let’s face it, obedience is really what the Lord wants and needs from us. And yet, doesn’t this fly in the face of we modern people?

Obedience? Who does He think He is?!” But when we pause to answer our own question, if we believe in and know the Lord, we know He has every right in the universe to call for our obedience, even though our stubborn, willful nature rebels against “anyone telling us what to do”, even God. It’s amazing how many times in the Bible Jesus called someone to follow Him and “they began to make excuse.” (Luke 14:18)

My experience is that it’s still very much that way today. Jesus is still calling people. The Lord still needs laborers, servants and disciples who will respond to His call and nudge on their hearts to serve Him. It doesn’t have to be some big, grandiose “CALLING”. Most of the time people who end with a calling like that were already faithful in the little things that the Lord told them to do. So He was able to end up giving them a more visible and larger scale calling.

were busy flatBut so many people, and I’m talking about believing Christians here, just are not really making themselves available for the Lord to use them when He needs them. The best ability is availability and so many just aren’t. They are “busy”. Whew! Can you imagine what would have happened when the Lord called Peter, James and John and they’d said something like, “Come back next week, Jesus! Can’t you see we’re busy on the fishing boat, helping our father?

By next week Jesus would have been long gone and would have found someone else more ready and willing to answer His call. So few have made it their habit to obey God in that split second of that golden opportunity when the Spirit is hot and heavy and God is convicting your heart and calling you to action.

It’s so easy to make logical, reasonable excuses why you can’t do what God is calling you to do, what His Spirit is urging you to do and needs you to do. And most people will accept your excuses and agree with you since, in excusing you, they’re excusing themselves. But, from reading the Scriptures, it seems to me that the Lord doesn’t always really look at it that way.

Yes, He is loving. Yes, He is gentle. But His goal in our lives is not for us to just be lulled to sleep in our comfortable Christianity but for us to follow Him. Where? Well, He told His disciples long ago that it would be “into all the world, to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) God’s Spirit doesn’t just sooth and comfort so we’re lulled and sedated. God’s Spirit equally calls us to action.

david and brothers flat 2It was God’s Spirit that spoke through young David to his brothers, “Is there not a cause?” David left his shepherding of sheep to go into armed battle against his people’s greatest enemy, Goliath of Gath. But for so many Christians, they’ve lost that vision, if they ever had it.

That’s why one of the greatest perils of Christianity is that it becomes “Churchianity”. It sooths, lulls, comforts, reassures and eases when it should perhaps take another look at the Scriptures to see how much Christ called individuals to sacrificial action in following Him.

“Well, Mark, don’t be so hard on people. It’s just our human nature to be that way. We’re not to judge, Mark. We’re all weak, nobody’s perfect. Etc. etc.”

Don’t you just know that’s what immediately comes to the mind of almost everyone if there’s any mention of the Lord’s call on our lives to obey and follow Him? And doesn’t that just sound so “right”, “modern” and even merciful and forgiving? But what says the Word of God?

If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall loose it. But whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24) “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loose his own soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore will be ashamed of Me and My Words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father, with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38)

From what I have seen, there are just a whole host of saved Christians around who are no longer serving the Lord or open to have the Holy Spirit move them to do something other than what they already have personally planned for themselves. They have reclused themselves with excuses. And if you even hint at the fact that they’re unyeilded and unmoved by the conviction of the Holy Ghost, they’ll be immediate and vehement in their justifications.

doing here flatWhat’s the solution? Often the Lord just has to move on, as Jesus did, to find those ready and willing to take up His call to serve Him. However, it seems sometimes like about what God told Elijah when the prophet told God he was the only one left in Israel serving Him. God replied that “there are 7000 who’ve not bowed the knee to Baal.”  (I Kings 19:18) Thinking about it though, if there were maybe 2,000,000 in Israel at the time, that would work out to about one person in 300 who was still on the Lord’s side.

Follow me smallSo from my experience, I can tell you that these verses here are as true today as they were when the Lord said them. “But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them. For they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is truly plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38)

 

Smart

smartSome people are just smart. They really are. You can feel it from the way they talk and communicate. Maybe they’ve been to school a lot or maybe they are self taught. But you just hear all that erudition, all that knowledge, all that evident enlightenment every time they speak.

But sometimes there’s a problem with that. Some very smart folks have a real hard time listening to or learning from others. They just don’t think they need to. Since they know they are smarter almost always than everyone else around them, they just inherently feel that they have little or nothing to gain from listening to the counsel or ideas of others. So, inadvertently, they actually become sort of dumb in a very important area of life.

The apostle Paul said, “Knowledge puffs up.” (I Corinthians 8:1) There’s just so much more to life than having a lot of knowledge and a sharp, clear mind. In fact, a sharp, clear, intelligent mind can really act as a hindrance to you and keep you from a whole bunch of things that are better than being real smart. Like friendship, for example.

yes I know flatHave you ever had a friend and anytime you say something to that person, they retort with something that makes you feel that they already total know what you are saying, a lot better than you do? So you come away feeling put down and belittled because your friend is just so smart and on top of it? That’s one of the ways that smart can actually be dumb.

Is there any hope for a condition like this? Well, yes. Actually, all this is a little autobiographical here. Some people have said they think I’m smart but actually I came to learn that I’m really dumb. My smarts didn’t help me when the chips were down and the serious issues of life I was facing were not being figured out by my supposedly smart brain. So I learned by very hard experience that I wasn’t as smart as I might have thought and that there were worlds of things I was dumb as a rock about.chosen the foolish flat

Again quoting the apostle Paul, he had some very profound things to say to the erudite but babbling babes in Christ, the Corinthian church. He said to them, “You see your calling brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.” (I Corinthians 1:26 & 27) Speaking in another place of his own background of intelligence and the higher social standing he came from, Paul said, “Those things that were gain for me were loss for Christ.

In fact, great intelligence or other natural abilities at times can virtually be, in the Lord’s service, a handicap. When you are so smart, or rich, or beautiful, or handsome, or capable, you’re so much more prone to pride, self-righteousness and a cold independence that makes you difficult to be around or to work with others unless you personally are in charge and telling everyone what to do.

Well, thank God, “They that walk in pride He is able to abase.” (Daniel 4:37) talk went well flatFor any of us who may have natural talents or abilities in any area, it strongly behooves us to not get lifted up in pride about it so that our abilities actually become handicaps when it comes to our relationship with the Lord and others.

Of course it’s not hopeless. There are plenty of gifted, intelligent, beautiful folks around who have learned that the smartest thing to do is to know that they are nothing without the Lord and that they have to continually throw themselves on the mercies of God if they’re going to be a success in any way or get along with their friends and family. When you are going that direction, then you begin to become really smart in the things of the Lord, not just in your worldly intelligence and intellect.

If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know. But if any many loves God, the same is known of Him.” (I Corinthians 8:2&3) How often I have clung to those verses. The smartest thing you can do is to love God and others.Without me you can do nothing,” Jesus said (John 15:5). Nothing good, that’s for sure.

So, smart or dumb, we all need to cling to the Lord and ask Him for guidance, wisdom from above, and the blessed fruits of the Spirit which so far surpass our snappy intelligence. That’s what we really need, “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:17 & 18)

good people nice flatIt reminds me of what the little girl prayed one time, “Dear God, please make all the bad people good. And all the good people nice.” You may be good. Or smart. But without the Lord being able to be above and more than your intelligence or goodness, you may sadly often turn out to not be a very nice person. Lord help us all.

They that walk in pride…

Nebuchadnezar for blog postNebuchadnezzar must have been an amazing person. It seems like the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel was basically written by him. It’s an incredible story of how this virtual “ruler of the world” at that time essential went crazy for 7 years but then came back to his senses through the allowance of God. But it all came down to what evidently was his besetting sin: pride. Perhaps the most stirring verse in the chapter ends with Nebuchadnezzar speaking about the God of Daniel and saying of Him, “…they that walk in pride He is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)

If you are familiar with the God of Abraham, then you’ll know that there just isn’t much of anything good that He’s said about pride. Someone challenged me one time to find even one verse in the entire Bible, Old Testament or New, that had anything good to say about pride. Think about that.

Here in America you see a lot of bumper stickers on the back of cars and a very popular one a few years ago simply said, “The power of pride”. I really thought about that. Being a Christian, and living in a traditionally Christian nation, “it gave me pause”, as they say. Because, pride is considered a sin. The power of pride-flattenedBut on bumper stickers all over America it was being extolled as a virtue. Something’s wrong with this picture. Did you ever see a bumper sticker that said, “The power of humility”? No? Me neither.

Well,” you say, why does it matter? Everyone’s proud. It feels good to be proud! If folks aren’t proud, they’ll get discouraged and feel bad about themselves.

Hmm. As often happens, it’s so easy to leave the Lord out of the picture. It’s one thing if agnostics and unbelievers do that. Certainly in a worldly sense, in the ways of this world as it is now, pride is king. But not if you believe in God. And that’s supposed to really make a difference.

But what about pride? Don’t we all need pride? If you don’t know the Lord, if you don’t have faith in God, probably all you have left is faith in yourself, or your country, or your job or car or… And you want to feel proud about them, right? But knowing the Lord and realizing there is a God has (or should have) an incredible transforming effect. It humbles you. But in a constructive and good way, not in a destructive, humiliating way. But in a way that sets things right and changes our hearts from being insecure, war-like, hardened animals into what God intended us to be: humble, loving, friendly, kind human beings.

But some would vehemently say,Oh, Mark! It’s not that easy! I know lots of people who believe in God and they are just as proud and cruel as can be!

New Humility picture-flattenedYou may be right. But for me personally, and many thousands of people I know or who I’ve read about, there was a unique transforming experience that came when I realized and accepted that the God of Abraham is real, cares about us and can change our pitiful nature, remaking it into something we ourselves could never be: warm, real, truthful, loving, humble human beings. It seems like that’s what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. And even king David.

But you might say, Nah, I don’t believe that! Pride is good! Pride motivates me. I depend on it every day.

If you don’t believe in God (and that’s how I used to be) then I can understand that. It’s how most people are. But if you do know that God is real, let’s check out a few things it says in the Bible. The apostle Peter said, “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5). Solomon said, “Only by pride comes arguments” (Proverbs 13:10) and “Pride precedes destruction and an arrogant spirit appears before a fall ” (Proverbs 16:18).  And if you are a person that believes in the prophetic future revealed in Scripture, one of the greatest characteristics of the Satanic Antichrist to come seems to be his overweening pride.

little in your own sight flatMaybe it helps to use words like that, “arrogance” or “haughtiness”, rather than pride. Many people will agree that arrogance and haughtiness are not so good. However, they’re still comfortable with pride. But again, just see if you can find any place where pride pays when it comes to our relationship with God. Jesus said of Himself that He was “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:30) and it was said of Moses in the Old Testament that he was “the meekest of all men.” (Numbers 12:3).

All this works on a micro or macro level. If an individual or a nation cultivates a humble spirit before God and others, they just seem to draw down the blessings of God. The prophet Samuel told Israel’s first king, Saul, saul & Samuel 4 blog postWhen you were little in your own sight, God made you king over Israel.” (I Samuel 15:17) And there was a time in his early days when king Saul received the blessings of God. But when he became proud and depending on his own sense of righteousness, he lost his kingdom to a more humble man, King David.

So, it’s a choice, isn’t it? Pride? Or humility. If you believe in God, the answer could hardly be clearer and the warnings any more stark. It’s a little scary to be where the sin of pride is so clearly acclaimed. God helping me, I really feel I don’t want to have any part of that.

Drawing circles

FriendlyI don’t know about you but some of the times I’ve felt the most hurt in my life have been when I’ve felt rejected and not welcomed in the fellowship of others. Conversely, some of the most encouraging and heartfelt moments have been when others opened their arms and lives to invite me and include me within their circle of fellowship.

It’s like something I heard one time that went something like, “He drew a circle that left me out. But love and I had a wit to win. I drew a circle that drew him in.” Maybe you could say I’m immature or there’s something that got mixed up early in my life that has made me that way. But that time when you feel rejected, not wanted, not included, ostracized from the ones you wish to be with, it can be an extremely disheartening time.

Thank God I found Him and Jesus so many years ago and of course They don’t do that to us. He said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) On the other hand, like the Bible says of some people, “Your sins have separated you from your God.” (Isaiah 59:2) But that’s a different story. Because “If we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” (I John 1:7) Nevertheless, loneliness, feeling left out and actually being left out are still at times very real realities for many people, even people of faith.

Love is flatSo for me, one of the very greatest manifestations of God is the true warmth, genuine loving inclusion and sincere human love that He can put in the hearts of His people. Sadly, it’s not always there but then sometimes it is. You can just feel it. They don’t only “love you” in an officially required Christian sense; they actually like you and want to hang around with you and include you in what they do. All the spirituality in the world won’t replace genuine Christian warmth and inclusiveness. And so often that manifestation of love is what people need and respond to more than anything else.

I love God’s Word, I’m keenly interested in Bible Prophecy, I believing in serving the Lord in this world. But some of the things I’ve treasured the most have been brethren who drew a circle that counted me in. You’d think that would be how it would be all the time but of course it’s just not, for some reason or the other.

People are busy. People are carrying their own burdens. I hate to say it but it can somehow even happen that some of us can not like others of us. Maybe it’s a personality thing, maybe there’s some little quirk we see in others, maybe we heard something through the grapevine about someone else that has turned us off to them. Lord help us.

freedom fellowship flatWhat everybody needs is love. Some people are surrounded by a big family and have lots of loved ones and relatives nearby. Others for one reason or the other are more or less on their own. But everybody needs to be loved and of course everyone needs to love. And you can just feel it, one way or the other. Being a Christian and being part of the flock of God should make it much more possible and likely that you are loved and can feel the warmth, inclusion and camaraderie that almost everyone needs.

I know this isn’t the kind of thing I usually write about but it’s still at the basis of the teachings of Jesus. “This is my commandment, that you love one another.” (John 15:12)  “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love one for another.” (John 13:35) But Jesus spoke about the last days before His return saying, “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall grow cold.”  (Matthew 24:12) Perhaps that’s referring to the times we now live in. Travel and knowledge have certainly increased, as the angel told Daniel would be one of the signs of the last days. (See Daniel 12:4) But the coldness, loneliness, exclusion and hard-heartedness of the endtime are also very prevalent in so many places.

friend no more flatSo for those who are active in trying to expose the New World Order and all the works of the enemy and darkness in these endtimes, it would also be good to remember that a loveless, friendless barrenness is also a manifestation of the endtimes. We need to do all we can to expose and counteract that, just as much if not more than all our exposé of false systems and governmental intrigues that take so much of our attention.

dont deserve this-flattenedMaybe it helps to talk about this. Maybe it helps to remember, in all our commitment to serve the Lord and to win others to Him that part of our greatest witness, as well as the greatest commandment, and our own greatest need often is to love and to be loved, to feel that a circle has been drawn that has included you. Or that you are drawing circles that include the ones on the outside looking in, the ones who don’t have others in their lives and may die today for lack of friends and fellowship. Let’s all be on guard against not opening our hearts and lives to those around us who may be perishing today for lack of love and friendship. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Is God like Helium? Or Hydrogen?

colored ballonsI was talking with someone about the many crises the world is in now. We agreed on a lot about the dire straits that are these times and the likely increase in the dangers soon to come politically and environmentally. But as the conversation got gloomier and more forebodingly hopeless, I spoke up to say that I see a time when God Himself will have to step in to rescue humanity from taking things right over the precipice.

But the one I was speaking with said that, while they weren’t an atheist, they didn’t believe that God could or would do anything like that. God in their view is a rather distant, aloof, somewhat inert and unknowable entity, dwelling we know not where. I’ve been told it’s incorrect to say “He” about God in some parts of the world. So “It” is just not in the picture when it comes to things, people and problems on this earth. It’s just up to us. God doesn’t get involved. God doesn’t give a damn and couldn’t care less, I guess would be the view. Or perhaps His hands are tied.

I said that my personal experience had really been contrary to that. I’d held that view before and actually took it a step further to say, back in my teenage years, that there was undoubtedly no God at all. But life proved me wrong. It wasn’t something I learned in church or even from others since I was so sure I was right, god of the universeI wouldn’t begin to listen to anyone about this. However, as it turned out, I found that there is “Something”. And I found that it was the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham. Months later I found that Jesus was sent to earth by God to redeem us and save us, just as the Bible explains.

So my experience has shown me that God is not inert, untouchable and unknowable, unable to interact with this world. God’s not like Helium, He’s like Hydrogen. Those two invisible gases are right next to each other on the periodic table of the basic elements. Hydrogen is number 1 because it has one electron in its outer shell. But Helium has two electrons in its outer shell so it is complete and pretty much can’t and doesn’t interact with anything else.

h2oBut Hydrogen? It interacts with just about everything. Take water, if you will. What is water but a lonely Oxygen atom with 6 electrons in its outer shell and thus having room for two mates to drop by and join up? So along come two Hydrogen atoms to connect up with the oxygen and … voilà! You’ve got water! Hydrogen does that kind of thing a lot.

And so does God. He (It) is like it says about Jesus, “going about everywhere doing good.” (Acts 10:38) God is not not like Helium: static, inert, aloof and unmoved. He’s like Hydrogen, going everywhere there’s a place for Him and where He is received. He’s “a very present help in the time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

So this concept of God as a smug little selfish Helium atom, just sticking with His own and not reacting to the rest of us is not how things really are. Maybe Helium atoms are like the Simon and Garfunkel song that said, “I touch no one and no one touches me.” But not Hydrogen. And not God. The simplest of all elements, Hydrogen is just everywhere but always willing to get involved and join up to get things done and form molecules.

God in spaceAnd it’s been like that for a long time. God has had a plan all along and He’s been involved and active on this earth since way back when. It wasn’t only shown when finally He sent His own Son to be a manifestation of Himself to us here on earth. He’d already been speaking, acting, doing and intervening on the earth for thousands of years before that through the prophets and men of God whose lives He had touched.

So if you’ve somehow been caught up in this view that God (“if He is there at all” right?) is just sort of “the man in the moon”, a cold, distant and uncaring, inactive formula or equation out beyond the galaxies somewhere, then I’ve got news for you, if you will receive it. God’s not like Helium, He’s like Hydrogen.

God is present, interactive, interested, contactable and can change our lives, just like the Hydrogen changes the Oxygen when they hook up and become a whole new thing. And He’s not just a local phenomenon but He works on a global scale too. In fact He’s way out in front and knows what’s going to happen and is able to lead us and guide us and show us what to do, both individually and as societies and nations. Oh, that each of us, and this world we now live in, would open to Him to know Him better.