Hard Knocks Witnessing

you are wrong flatI’ve often mentioned the subject of witnessing and it’s certainly a huge subject. I’ve never yet been in a church that teaches personal witnessing to its people. But witnessing at times can be tough. Everyone probably knows that and it’s one reason so few people do it.

I was on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California decades ago, witnessing to young people when I was a young person myself. Then, off to my right and striding down the sidewalk in the early evening was someone decked out in a full Satan costume, red cape, horns, mask and all. As he walked by he was repeatedly saying in a deep voice, “I’ve come to see my kingdom”. This was many years ago and I’ve been told it’s much worse there now.

While witnessing is really like sowing seeds, it also can be like a battle. Some folks just have their standard lines they throw back at Christians since most Christians don’t know how to answer tough questions. I remember one that really stumped me when I was about a year old in the Lord. This guy in Los Angeles told me that Jesus never actually said that He was the Son of God. That really got me right then. I’d been studying the Word and had memorized a lot but I just couldn’t think of anything right then that absolutely proved the guy wrong.

But it really got me into the Word about it. Later I found what I figure was the best place where Jesus said He was the Son of God, John 10:36b, “…do you say of Him who was sanctified and sent into the world, ‘you blaspheme’, because I said I am the Son of God?

Actually, when you think about it, Jesus didn’t go around all the time telling everyone He was the Son of God. He called Himself “the Son of Man” over 70 times  but the specific places where He said He was the Son of God were rare. So that guy back then long ago sort of won the conversation I was having with him that day. But then I knew what to answer the next time someone pulled that one on me.

Weapons to Pakistan 1-flattenedMaybe that’s another thing about witnessing that most people just don’t want to experience. You just might meet your match, ha! The only thing is, it may be your match but not the Lord’s. Like anything, you have to hone your skills or, better yet, let the Lord teach you how to witness and share your faith. You may have your stumbles or bumps in the road but you keep taking it back to the Lord, learn your lessons, Weapons to Pakistan 2-flattenedand do better next time. A little like what happened to me years later in New Delhi, India when I was witnessing door to door there and a woman almost immediately, upon opening her door, yelled at me, “Why are you selling weapons to Pakistan!” I wrote about that experience here.

I was a smart-alecky 18 year old atheist in my first semester of university  when a young Christian student at the university was going door to door in the dormitory, witnessing for the Lord. I gleefully welcomed him in to have a talk, like a spider to a fly.

The thing is, I’d never before met a Christian like that. I tried all my old lines I usually used to mock Christians. I laughed long and heartily at him. He stood his ground with a friendly smile and just kept sharing his faith with me. I rejected the witness he shared with me but that experience changed my life.

Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” (John 15:22) Up till that time, I’d never really been witnessed to by a strong Christian. But after that event I was much more accountable and two weeks later, having rejected the messenger of God, the messenger of Satan was allowed by God to come to me in the form of a hippie on campus who sold me my first marijuana. For the next 2 years my life gradually went downhill till I very nearly died on drugs and went to hell, an event I told you about in “Lucifer and the White Moths”.

delivered your soul-1 flatBut it was the faithfulness of that young Christian student at my university to share God’s message with me, even though I rejected it, that was part of God’s plan in bringing me to Him. And I share this here to show how that, even if you have a “negative” witnessing experience, as that dear brother had with me that day back then, “nevertheless Christ is preached” (Philippians 1:18) and it was an integral part of God’s plan for my life. Even if someone gives you grief while you’re out witnessing, it is still your faithfulness that counts and you have “delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 3:19), as the Lord wants us to do.

Enemy at the Gate?

enemy at gate 2A movie I really enjoyed was “Enemy at the Gates”. One reason is that I lived over two years in Moscow and in the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine. Knowing that part of the world, the people, the history and their sufferings, made it all the more moving to me. The subject of the movie is the battle of Stalingrad and I have Russian friends from Stalingrad, now called Volgograd.

It’s based on a true story of one of the bloodiest, heart-wrenching battles of World War II. The movie shows that the Russians were so bad off that two soldiers were given one gun and a handful of bullets each, enemy at gate 3the idea being that when the first solder was shot, the second one was to pick up the gun and keep going. But the hero of the movie, played by Jude Law, grew up as a hunter with his grandfather and was a crack shot with a rifle. Lying motionless among his dead comrades in the battle of Stalingrad, Law uses his rifle skills to pick off Nazi officers at a distance during the battle. He actually gets pretty good at it.

It’s an amazing story but then another layer is added. A fledgling writer of propaganda for the Communists finds out about Jude Law’s beginnings of success. And it’s not just the battle in Stalingrad they’re losing; the whole Russian nation is utterly defeated and afraid spiritually at that time. They need heroes. They need to hear about a victory. So the writer begins to write up what the young sniper is doing to turn the battle at least somewhat towards the favor of Russia. And soon the nation is taking heart as they hear of a common soldier picking off the Nazi officers in the battle there.

trojan horseIt’s not meant to be a parable but today it became like a parable to me. “The enemy at the gate.” How many times have we heard something like that in reference to the current refugee crisis in Europe? “They are sent here to invade us, to defeat us! They are the very forces of Satan, every last one of them! It’s a Trojan Horse. We’re doomed; it’s the end of civilization! The enemy at the gate!

Pardon me but that’s a lot of hooey. It’s sensationalist propaganda from folks often not even from Europe who have a political agenda. I’ve written about this in “Merkel’s Call” and “Come, I Will Send You”. I will send you 1 flatBut right or wrong, many millions of people are very afraid, just as the Russians were over 70 years ago. Back then, just a tiny handful of sharp shooters had a major hand in turning a loosing battle into a victory, rather like the British aviators did in the Battle of Britain.

Is there any parallel to this today? Well, first, we aren’t talking about sharp shooters, airplane battles in the sky and killing people. And we’re not talking about Nazis battling Communists. crowd scene trainWe’re talking about millions of poor souls who’ve had it so bad in their home countries that they’ve risked their lives to cross land and sea, hoping to find refuge in Europe. What can any of us do? I’ve been with these people personally several times recently; here’s a post about when I was on the Macedonian border with them a few weeks ago, called “Encountering Refugees”.

In this case, I think what Angela Merkel has said is just incredible. She’s said her people should show kindness, hospitality and love to these refugees.refugees at tables And some are doing that, I met and worked with them last month; this is what I wrote about in “German Refugee Camp”.

How can those so many view as “enemies at the gate” be met today? By snipers? If you’re a Christian, what’s your greatest “weapon”? It’s love. Wouldn’t that shock and invigorate Christendom if a few brave souls plunged into the events of today and found that these “enemies”, many of them at least, turned out to be our friends? Turned out to want what we have? Not just the material wealth of the West but the truth that the West was founded on long ago? That the Love of God in Jesus was and is all that it’s said to be. That might alter the mood of whole nations to hear some good stories of the love of God and the love of our neighbors actually wining out over the hatred and fears we’ve been taught. That’s what I was personally seeing and experiencing last month at the refugee camp I was in in Germany.

“Mark, do you really believe that? Do you think love is going to win out in all this and that everyone will put down their antagonism and love one another? Come on; get real!”

Maybe not; maybe all of Europe is not going to come around to love and accept this flood of refugees. And probably not all of them are going to be humble and thankful for the help they are receiving.

But I know some will. Some will find that there are good and kind Europeans, even ones who come with the love they have from God. And there will be changes of minds and hearts; there will be miracles of love because that’s happening already. For some, this is their hour. How it all will play out, I don’t know. But if ever there was a time for Christians in Europe to show love to those who need it so much, now’s the time.

In Stalingrad, it only took a few. But it changed the course of history and invigorated the Russian nation. May God in heaven today find those in these times who will answer His call in this hour and turn this crisis into a mighty victory of His love and truth.

The Swelling of Jordan

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

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

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

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

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

Gosple of Luke

The Gospel of Luke in Arabic

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

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

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

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

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

1 AM in Sofia, Bulgaria

sofia night 1My bus was delayed on the border so I didn’t get into Sofia, Bulgaria till after midnight. I was expecting my friends to meet me at the bus station. But as I looked around the nearly empty station, I had a bad feeling about how I’d not really made sure to completely be definite that they’d meet me there. I tried to phone them from the station but my roaming service on my phone was not connecting so I couldn’t get through. Things were getting bleak pretty quickly and it didn’t immediately get better.

There were some ominous looking taxi drivers hanging around who wanted to drive me somewhere. But I didn’t know where that would be. I asked someone at a food stall that was still opened if they could phone my friends. But they didn’t speak English. I was rapidly realizing that I was in a real fix and a potential dangerous situation.

There were 3 young guys standing around at the food stand in the bus station. I say young; I guess they were around 19. They weren’t grown men but they weren’t really kids. They heard me speaking English and said they could phone my friends on their phone. They did but there was no answer. I noticed that they were friendly, willing to talk and be helpful. So I explained to them what had happened and took the step of faith to ask them if they knew of any hotels in the area. It was past 1 AM and it was looking like a hotel was about the only alternative as I was not getting through to my friends and it was getting real late.

The three young Bulgarians said they knew some hotels in the area and could take me there. Needless to say, I was sure sending up some prayers during all this. The thought did cross my mind several times that I probably looked pretty vulnerable to any late night denizens of the deep who were looking for some soft target and easy pickings.

As we went out to their car, I’ll admit I thought about how these guys could just drive me off somewhere to kill me and rob whatever I had with me. But I was checking in with the Lord and also trying to get the witness of the Spirit on the whole thing. And I was not getting any checks in the Spirit against the way things were going.

sofia nightWe starting driving around downtown Sofia and soon found a hotel that was nicer than I was figuring to stay in. Two of them went in to check the price and it sounded surprisingly low to me. But they wanted to see if they could find something for less. At length, after trying a few other places, I told them that the nice hotel they checked out would be fine. I was also telling them how much I appreciated their help, that I’d come to Bulgaria to speak in churches and that I prayed that God would bless them for their helping. They continued to just be kind hearted “good guys”, for lack of a better term.

I checked into the hotel with their help and was finally up in my room for the night when the phone there rang in my room. It was my friends in Sofia who I’d been trying to reach earlier that night from the station. They had gotten the call from the young men and phoned the number back. Those guys told my friend where I was so she got in contact with me.

End of story, I guess. But I can tell you I was mighty glad to be safely in a hotel at that hour of the night in a foreign city where I didn’t speak the language and knew hardly anyone. I was very aware that it all could have gone much worse. And it really stood out to me that those 3 young men were there at the bus station at that time and were able and willing to help me. I certainly saw it as the Lord’s love and hand, getting me through a potentially very dangerous situation.

It reminded me of the verse, “…underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27) I’d failed to be diligent in making sure of my contact and meeting with my friends in Sofia. But in spite of my failure, the Lord came to the rescue in bringing along those young men to help me. It reminded me of another time I wrote about in the blog post “God’s Little Miracles” where a similar but even more supernatural thing happened to me late one night in Austin, Texas.

God-is-chanceSome folks will say, “This is all chance.” That’s certainly how I used to look at it in the past. In fact, one time before I was a Christian I blurted out one day to my friends like it was a revelation, “God is chance!” And the Lord proceeded to get a good deal of mileage out of my saying that. I wrote about that in the blog post “God Is Chance.

I’m just really thankful that the Lord was there to rescue me that night in Sofia. It could seem like a little thing or a “coincidence” that those young men were there and helped. For me, I recognized that it was again the Lord’s mercy on my life. I’m so thankful for that.

 

German Refugee Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

German Awakening

young christiansI’m in northern Germany and for the last few days I’ve been going to a church that’s primarily filled with young people. I had read about what’s called the German awakening and how that there’s been something like a “revival” among this present generation of young Germans. I was interested as I’ve lived off and on in Europe for many years and I think most people who know about things there would agree that “post Christian” is a pretty good label for modern northern and western Europe.

Last night I was several times sitting at tables where everyone but me was 18 to 25 years old and most of them have been Christians for 2 or 3 years. One young woman from southern Germany told me she’s been a Christian since August. I’m being kind of factual here but leaving out the emotions I was feeling from being with these ones. I guess I just never thought I’d see the day when something like this happened in these parts. I was amazed at them and told them so and they were amazed at me. I told them I’ve been a missionary basically all my adult life and have aimed to live the life, not just of a passive, rock-along Christian, but of a disciple. This resonated with them as they too don’t want a compromised, milk-and-water Christianity but a real strong dose. And they just kept asking questions. Even when things got quiet, nobody got up to leave. I could just feel them pulling on me and that I needed to keep sharing things with them.

Some of them witness. It seems to be natural and spontaneous for them, not necessarily something being pushed to do by others. I told them about my experiences with sharing my faith, how very much the Lord blesses it and will use anyone who steps out to serve Him this way.

passing tracts-2One woman told me of a moment when she was passing out tracts at a bus stop. And instead of encountering resistance, it was like everyone was taking the tracts enthusiastically and encouraging her to share them with their friends. Again, having lived off and on in these parts for decades, I was just flabbergasted to hear this. In the 90’s in east Europe this kind of thing happened, but in Germany? It’s new to me.

And I told them about the many experiences I had when I was there age, witnessing on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, Piccadilly Circus in London or Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Often my friends and I would meet people who were planning to commit suicide that day. Or they were on their way to shoot someone who had tricked them in a drug deal. Or they’d just run away from home or gotten beaten up by a relative. And it’s not like things are better today than when I was their age. So I told them that God needed them to share their faith with the people of their generation, that God was doing something special in awakening the hearts of people here.

I asked one of them why she thought this was happening here now. She said that for her and her friends, things were just very fluid and unstable now. She said they don’t have the confidence in society and their country that former generations had and that many are looking for deeper answers and eternal truths. It sounded so much like what people said when I was their age and how things were in the tempestuous times I grew up in. So many back then came out of fully secular backgrounds into a strong faith in Jesus that totally changed their lives. That’s what I was seeing and hearing last night from the many I talked with.

Christian on guitarAnd it’s not easy to just walk away from this. I’m taking the little time I have here to talk to ones I know in the area. I hope to do whatever I can to encourage, inspire and instill in them the vision to make the very most of this unusually stirring of hearts in this part of the world to again look to God and Jesus as solution in this time of turmoil. It’s yet again another example of “the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few“. (Matthew 9:37)

The thing is, most of the folks I know are actually trained laborers for the Lord, not just nominal Christians. So I’ve been as importune as I feel I can be without overdoing it that they feed these young people coming to the Lord and to also spend time out witnessing and reaching the lost at this time. And the good news is that most of the ones I know here are totally on fire about what the Lord is doing now and are looking for where they can use their background to be fully involved in this formerly barren land that’s turning into a fruitful field.

Times like this don’t last forever and they don’t come along very often. Please pray with me that the laborers for the Lord in this part of the world will rise to the occasion and be what the Lord needs them to be in this springtime of the Spirit in Germany.

 

Back in Bulgaria

Bulg church Dec 2015I’ve been spending Christmas with the friends in southern Bulgaria that I visited for the first time back in March. I’ve been doing recordings in Bulgarian but also speaking in their church nearly every night. One of the “dilemmas” for me is knowing what to say.

I just don’t want to get up there and start blabbering away in my own thoughts. What would that help? So I usually have to get desperate in prayer beforehand to get some leading from the Lord as to what He’d want me to share. Tell them I need them flatI wrote about this happening back in March where I just didn’t want to speak without knowing it was what He wanted and they needed. I ended up on my knees, really asking the Lord what to share with them. And it was amazing; I went over to my computer and wrote down virtually a message from the Lord to share that evening. I wrote about this experience in “God Needs You”.

Bulg church-1 Dec 2015But that was then; this is now. Being back here again, I was again faced with this need to get my directions from the Lord in order to make the most of these opportunities. The first night I’d been praying about what to say but I felt I hadn’t really gotten anything from the Lord.

So I went downstairs before the meeting, not really expecting to say anything. But then I started talking to the 16 year old guy who is the Bulgarian voice for the videos and to his 12 year old sister. I was asking her about her life, what her hobbies are and things like that. At one point she said that she doesn’t run around very much but mostly enjoys doing her homework and then going to church here nearly every night. I thought that sounded pretty good and a lot better than most kids do nowadays.

me and vaska in church-2

From March, 2015

Then the church started filling up and lots of people were bringing their kids. And I felt then that the Lord was leading me to talk about children being a mission field in themselves. I told them how my grandmother had such an effect on me and that just pouring out the love of God and the truth of His Word to their kids and grandkids could be one of the greatest things they could do.

Most of the ones here are never going to go to some foreign field. But their kids and grandkids are some of the ones they can minister to. I never thought of that kind of thing to say and it’s not the what I usually share but that became my “message” last night.

church crowd composite

from March, 2015

Another night there was a large crowd as some ones from the surrounding villages came. Again I was sitting there, with them expecting me to speak in the next few minutes and I didn’t know what I was going to say. I’m not recommending this as the best way to go about things but the Lord can and does come through. He said, “it shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak for it is not you that speak but the Spirit of your Father that speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:19 &20) Boy, I’ve sure claimed that verse a lot. And He does it.

So by the time I stood up to speak, I’d come to feel that I should just share my testimony and also some of the basics and fundamentals of our faith. I told them about what I wrote about in “Lucifer and the White Moths”, how I nearly died and was carried away by the devil except for the mercy of God. And I went on to share how I was witnessed to 7 months later by “Jesus people” who shared the salvation message with me. It was a good time to go over verses like Ephesians 2:8 & 9, Romans 6:23 and one of my favorites, John 1:12. We went on to talk about the need for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the importance of God’s Word, all just basic things that are often good to go over again in order to strengthen people in their faith.

The-prophet-Daniel-and-Nebuchadnezzar

Daniel explains the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, from Daniel chapter 2

Another night was really different. My friends and I went to a nearby, predominately Muslim village where there is a tiny church that actually meets in someone’s kitchen. I’d been there in March and it was great to see them again. But over half the ones there were 12 or younger and the rest were mommies or grandmas. Again, really looking to the Lord, He led me to tell them the story of Daniel from the Bible and how he told the king’s dream in Daniel 2. This is just what we had been working on earlier, doing the audio tract of the video that I’ve done on this chapter over into Bulgarian.

I really had to ham it up for the kids, in order to get their attention. We acted out the whole thing in an impromptu drama of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel in the king’s court and then the statue and the stone striking it. Even with all the effects, not all of the kids paid attention but the majority did, as well as the adults. So it was an inspiring evening where we all just got lost in the excitement and significance of God’s Word and how God can use even children and young teenagers who turn their lives over to the Lord. And I was thrilled that the Holy Spirit continues to provide the inspiration to feed His sheep in these unusual circumstances.

Christmas 2015

me & Bulgarian church Christmas 2015Hi and greetings to you all, Merry Christmas. Right now I’m with some dear friends in southern Bulgaria, up in the mountains at the little church I visited here back in March. I wrote several blog articles from here at that time, here’s the one that was the main article, explaining how I came upon these wonderful folks.

I was looking over past blog posts I’ve written at Christmas and it seems like for the last 3 years in a row I’ve written a Christmas message to friends this way and posted it on my sites. I guess for all of us it’s a time of reflection, of taking stock and looking at the larger picture of our lives and life itself. As much as we see the commercialization of Christmas and in places just the abolishment of its original meaning, still Christmas abides and remains an “institution” and ancient holiday that forces opposed to it can never seem to really get rid of.highrises

In the last week I have been on buses, first from Bucharest, Romania to Sofia, Bulgaria, then on to Skopje, Macedonia and then back here to southern Bulgaria. It’s so interesting to be driving past little houses on the countryside, massive collapsed Soviet area factories, virtual forests of cheap high-rise apartments for the proletariat of these countries, gypsiesgypsies riding along the road on their horse-drawn wagons and just all that goes on in this vast diverse world of ours.

At one point I just felt the sadness and emptiness that abides like a constant shadow over so many lives. But then I thought about the obscure verse from Job, “But there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Most High gives him understanding.” (Job 32:8)

Everybody is looking for some inspiration, not always from the best sources but from somewhere. We are not just flesh and blood, we are souls and spirits and we need something that satisfies these, not just our daily food. And of course, as trite and old fashion as it may sound, there is no greater inspiration that the dear Lord Jesus and the regeneration He can work in any life that He is allowed to come into.

thanks for grace flatThese were some of my thoughts on my bus travels in the last week. Sometimes our emotions and understanding are not able to be expressed as we would like. But for me, I’ve just been feeling very thankful (what’s the word that is several measures further up the scale than thankful?) for the life the Lord has given me and how things have gone in recent years. The Biblical explanation for it is “grace”. We’re not only saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8) but also “We have access by faith unto this grace” (Romans 5:2) when we “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) There’s even the song, Amazing Grace.

And that‘s how I’ve felt at times in this last year, really amazed by His grace and goodness in my life. As the old song goes, (not one of my favorites), “It was a very good year.” And I think a good part of it has been that long ago the Lord made it a part of my life that the principle of “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35) became a fundamental part of my operating system. The Lord said through Isaiah, “If you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the longing soul, then shall your light rise in obscurity and your darkness shall be as the noonday.” (Isiah 58:10) So I’ve ended up feeling like a very rich man but not in the way the worldly think of such things. I’ve just felt a sense of wealth from the riches in Christ that I have and the joy that He gives to any of us who go in the way of Christian service and love for our fellow human beings.

It’s been a very good year, And from what I can see at this time on my personal horizon, this coming year already has some very interesting and exciting possibilities in it. One of the senses of richness I’ve felt is the number of friends I’ve come in contact with, often through connecting on the internet. Many I have not ever actually met face to face but we’ve become friends though our contact on line and that has been really neat. So I wish you all, far and near, old and young, those I’ve known for decades and those I’ve never met in real time, a very happy Christmas and a Spirit-filled and led New Year to come.

Your friend in Him, Mark

Encountering Refugees

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

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

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

me at transit center

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

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

An Afghan man I talked with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Does God have a sense of humor?

mount of transfiguration flatSo Peter, James and John walked into a bar…   No, wait, change that. Peter, James and John were on the mount of transfiguration. There was Jesus and it says “His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2) It says that the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah, speaking with Jesus as He was transformed like that. It’s even recorded to some degree what Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about.

Can you relate to any of this? Can you see yourself one afternoon experiencing something like that? How would you react? What would you say? Do you thing you could do the subject justice and rise to the occasion? Well, dear impulsive, impetuous Peter the fisherman, just as human as any of us, tried to do what he could. It is recorded that during this utterly unearthly scene, transfigurationpretty much evidently unique in Jesus’ ministry, that our dear Peter just had to blurt out his analysis on the whole event and chime in with his council to Jesus as He glistened there in ethereal heavenly glory before them.

Peter advised the Lord at this time, “Lord, it is good that we are here. And let us make three tabernacles, one for You one, for Moses and one for Elijah”. (Luke 9:33) And the Bible goes on to try to help us understand Peter’s dilemma at this moment, “for he knew not what to say.” (Mark 9:6) You can say that again. And what happened next? Get this. “And while they were yet speaking, a cloud overshadowed them and a Voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him.” (Luke 9: 34 &35)

I don’t know about you but I’ve almost never been able to read this without a wry smile. It’s like the very presence of God, the Father (the “Ancient of Days” of Daniel 7:13), came near to them and sweetly, to me almost humorously chided Peter, “Umm Peter, this is My Son. Hear Him.

Talk about tact. Talk about understatement. Maybe everyone didn’t chuckle but there has just got to be some humor into that. “Peter, shhssss. Just be quiet Peter. We don’t really need your suggestions right now.” But isn’t it just like almost any of us have done in some incredible moment when we don’t know what to do? So we pipe up with something that in retrospect was pretty much misplaced and virtually stupid, considering the circumstances? Could God, the Father, have been smiling and just shaking His head when He said that? I’ve always thought so.

running from Jazebel fixed-1Then there was Elijah. Having fled from Jezebel, defeated, discouraged, a shadow of the great man of God that he’d just been recently in slaying the 450 prophets of Baal, now having fled far into the wilderness of the south. Away from his place of service and seemingly almost ready to hang up his crown and calling of being a prophet, there we see him on the mount Horeb.The Bible says the Lord sent the wind, but He was not in it, then the fire and He was not in it and then a shaking and He was not in it. What a pregnant build-up to that moment when Elijah heard the still, small voice of God. And what did the Voice say? (Wait for it) “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9)

doing here flatCome on! That’s funny! God, the God of the universe, the Almighty, is asking this guy what he’s doing there?! He knows everything! He doesn’t need to ask anything! I just can never read this without feeling that there’s this kind, loving God of the universe having condescended to this poor, defeated servant of His and He’s striking up a conversation with him, saying, “Umm, why are you here, Elijah?

Don’t you just know that if you could see all this in real time, there would be a warm, wry smile on the face of God as He asked that? Maybe, probably even a smidgen, a sprinkle of humor on the whole thing? Gotta be.

The Bible warns of “foolish jesting” (Ephesians 5:4) but it also says “A merry heart does good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). keep laughing flatOne of the greatest helps I’ve ever had in my missionary service has been times when my friends and I just laughed at the impossibility of what we were trying to do and how it was utterly insane except within the will of God. My one year in Moscow in 1995 and 1996 was only sustained by just laughing with my friends at the extremes to which we were pushed physically to do what we felt we needed to do there and how no one in the world would do what we were doing, there’s not enough money to pay for it, unless you were doing it for God’s service.

So often we just kept laughing in the extremely difficult conditions we worked in. It was perhaps the toughest year of my adult life physically but also one I count as one of the most fruitful. And a sense of humor was a continual essential asset through it all.

I’m convinced God has some sense of humor. It doesn’t show up very much in the Bible and we know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). But also I’ve had times, even recently, where I just felt that the Lord can do some things that are just so amazing, “out there” and radically loving that the only reaction is to smile, laugh and feel that He’s just funny sometime. Or so it seems to me.