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.

Obi-Wan Kenobi In His Cave

Obi WanThere he is, Obi-Wan Kenobi in his cave. Remember him? When you first saw him there in that movie, what did you think? “Hmm. Old has-been. Failure, washed up, driven into the wilderness.”

But as we watched further, we found that he was an incredible guy. He had supernatural powers. He was extremely wise but also good. He was a survivor, a warrior, a master. Maybe he was in the wilderness but he still had some life in him, some purpose, fight and even destiny ahead of him.

But I think there are a lot of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s in caves nowadays. Maybe that’s not you but on the other hand, maybe you’re one of a few I know who are. Seasoned disciples of Jesus Christ, years of Christian service in faraway lands, crowns already laid up for them in heaven from just what they’ve done with their lives already. But some are now in “caves”, for one reason or the other.

“Oh, it’s all over!” “That was then!” “I’ve made mistakes!” or “Others damaged my life.” “So I’ve retired; the war is over! God can’t really use me anymore. And besides, there’s not really anything to do anymore. Those fields are now harvested so I’m back home now and just taking it easy till I die. That may be 20 or 30 years from now. But I’ve gone as far as I want to go.”

no discharge flatObi-Wan in the cave. But along comes a new day, a new generation, a new need for Jedi masters. I’m convinced that this is the situation for perhaps quite a few people. I believe it was Solomon who wrote “There is no discharge in this war.” (Ecclesiastes 8:8) Or, another way of looking at it is what Paul said, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29) When Obi-Wan Kenobi met Luke Skywalker, he seemed to come out of retirement. And from what I am seeing, there are a lot of Luke Skywalker Christians around nowadays who could really use some Obi-Wan Kenobi’s.

When you’ve had a call of God in your life, when God has gifted, called and trained you for His purpose, He doesn’t take that away. He needs every worker He can find. It’s another thing for those who “put their hand to the plow and look back”. (Luke 9:62) But even then some return to that plow and return to that field because they know it was “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

These thoughts came to me today on a phone call with some dear friends in Western Europe. They presently are very engaged in trying to do what they can to minister to the hundreds of thousands of refugees in their country. And you’d probably be surprised how well it’s going and how receptive and thankful they are finding these refugees to be. They themselves are not really physically young. But their spirits are just tingling with excitement and expectation at the amazing things that are happening where they are. They aren’t Obi-Wan Kenobi’s in caves. They are fully energized Jedi Masters for Jesus, if you know what I mean.

We talked about ones we know, folks who have incredible gifts, experiences and unquestionable callings as disciples and servants of the Lord, some of whom are not really active or engaged in the things of the Lord in the way they were before. But for many that we could think of, they seem to be like Obi-Wan Kenobi in his cave. Alone, away from the arena of Christian discipleship where they spent years. They are gifted, inspired, anointed people but many are hardly using their spiritual gifts at all anymore.

The story is told that Alexander the Great died of a broken heart because he thought there were no more worlds to conquer. Of course he’d gone so far to the east but towards the west, he had hardly ventured and it wasn’t too many more years before the Roman empire of the west conquered the Greeks.Esther flat When we think there are no more worlds to conquer, that’s not good. And when we lose the vision of God for our place and calling in this world, that’s not good.

Mordecai told Queen Esther, “You are come into the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Esther recognized the truth of this; she saw the reality of how important she was to His work. She seized her calling and crown and was the instrument God used for a mighty deliverance for her people at that time.

What can I say? God needs every one of us, but perhaps especially the ones who have served him for so many years, who ben & Luke skywalkerhave so much experience, so much they could teach and use and put to His service right now in the events we see unfolding here in Europe. Can you please pray with me that if there are any Christian “Obi-Wan Kenobi’s” who have retired to their caves, that they will hear the calling of God again and get back on the wall of His Will, to “die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31) in this incredible hour here in Europe when the need for experienced, grass roots Christian leadership in the field is very great. Thanks so much.

Bucharest Tragedy

nightclub fireI just got off the phone with a dear Christian sister here in Bucharest. She’s not only been the faithful Romanian translator of the videos I’ve been doing, she’s a real friend and someone I greatly respect. She called to tell me that her oldest son was at the club in Bucharest late last night where the fire happened that took the lives of 27 young people.

She told me that her son had phoned her to tell her that he was ok, that he had been in the club until 10 minutes before the fire broke out but that he’d wanted to leave as he didn’t like it. After the fire blazed and then was contained, he was back there at the scene to identify bodies, many of whom he knew. The son of my translator friend’s sister is a teenage musician here; he and his band were scheduled to play at that club last night but it didn’t work out.

My friend here, let’s call her “Patricia”, said it was a big Halloween party at the place and it was full of plastic decorations that burst into flames. 500 people were there and around 300 got out. Buch tragShe said it’s being said that a number of the ones who were injured are not expected to make it. Also, the song that the band was playing when the fire broke out is called “This Is The Day You Die”.

Needless to say, this is a tragedy and traumatizing on many levels. I couldn’t stop crying on this call from my friend as I know her and her kids very well, as do probably some of ones reading this blog. And since “Patricia’s” teen age son, let’s call him “Ernest”, may perhaps later read what I write here, I want to respect his privacy and to be circumspect in what I write.

But the thought that came to me is that, as they say, “God has no grandchildren.” It can’t be your parents’ faith and experiences that you build your life on. Each individual ends up having their own experiences that are the formative ones in their lives. That certainly is true with how I came to faith in God from an atheist background. It’s often the deepest, darkest, most overwhelming experiences of our lives that are the crucibles in which we are shaped and molded.

Death for a Christian should be a different experience from that of an unbeliever and we who are the people of faith should really view it differently. communion-fixedIt’s like what I wrote in “Tales from Trondheim”, about the young man in Norway who was getting Christian training with my wife and I who went to be with the Lord around 48 hours after he left us. It was very traumatizing for us, very sobering, but we had peace and joy to know that he went to be with the Lord.

I don’t know how it is for those young people who died here last night. This is a very Christian country in many ways and most of the ones I’ve met here have a deep reservoir of faith in God and in Christ. This country had a strong wave of Christian revival here during the 90’s, after the fall of Communism.

I guess it’s just hard to talk about right now. Emotions are raw and these are the children of people here in this city, some of whom were laid out of the sidewalks for identification as the hospitals were overwhelmed.

But I would like to ask you to please pray for my translator friend, “Patricia”, and perhaps especially for her 17 year old son, “Ernest”. There’s a lot I won’t share here about them as it’s their personal life and the things they’ve already gone through in the past which have bordered on the unique. And now this. Please pray for them that the foundation they both have in the Lord will sustain them through this time as never before and that this tragedy, this darkness, will be a time when the light of God’s truth and love will be more evident than ever before. Please pray for Bucharest and my friends here at this time. Thanks so much, Mark

 

Merkel’s Call

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Camp of the Saints (part 3) Sammy’s story

fellowship third photo croppedAnother fascinating person I met at this east European fellowship was a young man from these parts. Sharp looking guy, bright smile, but probably the first thing you’d notice is that he is around 4’ 8” tall (about 1.42 meters). I learned later that he was born partially blind and deaf.  But a hearing aid and an eye operation 5 years ago have made that side of his life better.

He shared his life story with all of us one night and it was touching and amazing. He wasn’t totally an orphan as he had his mom but Sammy was placed in an institution for special needs children when he was very young. He grew up there and, as you may know, this is not usually a happy, healthy place. And in parts of eastern Europe, these places are sad, gloomy places with often somewhat extremely poor conditions physically.

When he was 9, a young east European missionary woman came to his institution to do activities and have stories with the young people there. Sammy was especially drawn to her and they began a friendship that went on for years. She led him to Jesus and ministered to him spiritually as well as helping with his speech which had been slow since he didn’t hear well.dear Jesus flat From what I understand, Sammy was soon sharing the Bible stories he’d heard with other kids in the institution.

But then one day, unannounced, the missionary woman stopped coming to visit. She kept writing him regularly for the next years. But he never got the letters because of jealous people at the school who didn’t pass them on. Nine years later, when he was 18, his missionary friend came back. Of course this was a joyous time and also he found out she’d been writing him all that time.

Rom special needs schoolIn the past, the conditions in special needs schools and orphanages in this part of the world were very dire. But it’s getting better now.

During the years he was growing up and his missionary friend was not there, he had held on to his faith the best he could. But it wasn’t easy. He found some fellowship in local churches but this at times was a mixed blessing. For example he was told that his praying to Jesus would not do. He had to pray to “the Lord”. Things like that. I’m leaving out a lot of details in order to not make this long. But you get the picture that he had a very rough upbringing, both as a virtually orphan and also a special needs person.

I guess a verse that comes to mind for this dear brother is “that on the good ground are those who, in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit.” (Luke 8:15) I’ve been struck by how much he has “kept” the truth that’s come his way, even if it came sporadically and often tainted and faint through some of the channels and ways it came to him. But he “kept all these things and pondered them in his heart.” (Luke 2:19)

And now that he’s an adult, can you figure out what he has done with his life? “We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves are comforted with.” (II Corinthians 1:4) He was prayed for and loved and taught by a missionary when he was young and growing up.praying-1 Now as an adult he feels he wants to do the same thing. He’s recently graduated from university with a degree in special education. He’s seen that he has a place of service right where he grew up, with the same kind of people and situation he’s come from, ministering to the young people in his city who come from the same background he came from.

He’s been through it himself and survived so he can be an example to others of growing up to be something of value and victory. And through all this, it’s the light and love of the Lord that’s been the deciding factor time and time again. Plus the love of a local national missionary who never gave up on him. The kids he ministers to often want him to come home with them when they go home so that he can meet their parents.

When he was sharing his story that night, I got a verse for him or that fit for him. “The people which sat in darkness have seen a great light and to them who dwell in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.” (Mark 4:16, Isaiah 9:2) He’s become the Lord’s light to some people who really often dwell in severe darkness. Then later when he was sharing how he had struggled to speak properly when he was growing up because of his hearing problems, another verse popped into my mind for him. Paul said about himself when speaking to the Corinthians. “For his letters say they are weighty and heavy, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.” (II Corinthians 10:10) Dear Sammy has a somewhat weak physical presence. But his spirit and heart have become strong through the Lord and he’s a strong and bright witness and blessing in his part of the world.