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.

 

“I have seen the affliction of My people. Come, I will send you.”

refugees 2If there is anything that should mark a person with faith in God, it should be love. “God is love.” (I John 4:8) and if you know and believe in God, that nature and essence of love should dwell in you too. It 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) And let’s face it, that scenario is playing out before our eyes this very day here in Europe as unprecedented waves of displaced migrants sojourn across mountains and borders in whatever way they can to reach what they hope will be safer lands than the ones they come from.

I will send you 1 flatOver 3000 years ago, God spoke to an 80 year old shepherd who’d lived in a desert for 40 years, “I have seen the affliction of My people. Come now, I will send you.” (Exodus 3:7 &10) God didn’t send angels to deliver His people from their severe affliction. He called one of us, a flesh and blood human to be His instrument. And that man responded to the call, howbeit with some questions, with some trepidation. But it resulted in the freeing of the Hebrews from their affliction, one of the mightiest works in history where God and man worked together to “set the captives free”. (Luke 4:18)

But sadly it’s perhaps more common in history what was said 1000 years later. Speaking to those who observed the desolation of Jerusalem by Babylon, Lamentations 1:12 says, “Is it nothing to all you who pass by?” Foreigners passed by the destruction of the Hebrews and it meant nothing to them. Rather like the Pharisees who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31 & 32) when they saw the beaten man on the road to Jericho. But the Good Samaritan stopped to help and he’s been remembered for his kind deed ever since.

good samaritan 1Are there any good Samaritans today? Or will the people of our generation just “pass by on the other side”? This is one of the things that drove me to visit the Syrian border that I wrote about a few months ago in “Visiting Syria”. Now I’ve moved back in Europe, for a number of reasons. But one of them is to try to do what I can in this historic and heartbreaking time.

Jesus said of one woman, “She has done what she could.” (Mark 14:8)  I can tell you with joy that I know already of some friends, people of faith, who are beginning to do what they can here in Europe. I have a friend in Sweden who’s taken the initiative to start passing out tracts to refugees who’ve come to that country. Another long time friend in Austria is now doing the same thing with her husband. Others I met recently from Berlin, as well as friends in Hungary, are stirred in their hearts to take action there at this time. We can’t just pass by the man on the road to Jericho. Paul said, “The love of Christ constrains us.” (II Corinthians 5:14)

But you can think or even say, like they did long ago to Jesus, “What are these among so many?”  (John 6:9) There was a multitude to be feed but they only had five loaves and two small fishes. So they said, “What are these among so many?” Well, in that case, the Lord multiplied those loaves and fishes and fed the multitude.

Conversation between 2 flatToday, what difference will it make if a few dear souls, scattered out around Europe, go out to visit refugee camps to help in what way they can and to also share the hope of the Gospel with those people? Well, it’s a start. They’ll help someone today if they do that. They won’t turn the tide and solve the problem. But they’ll help someone today. And they will be obeying God and His admonition and commandments that are the foundation of the Old and New Testament: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Mark 12:31)

And who knows? Maybe the efforts of those few will inspire others. Maybe they’ll be so blessed by God for doing what they can that others will catch the vision. Maybe they’ll start communicating among themselves, sharing how things have gone in their witnessing, what’s working in these situations and what isn’t. Maybe this is one of the most golden opportunities in our generation to share the love of God with folks we’d never be able to be in contact with any other way.

Esther flatSo I’ve been happy to hear from friends around Europe in this first month I’ve been back here that, for many, their hearts are being touched by God in this time. They feel, like it was said of Esther of old, “You are come into the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Ester 4:14)  This may be the time when the grace and calling they’ve had in their lives comes to the fore more than ever before, when they are the instruments of God’s peace to reach a people who could have never been reached any other way. At a gathering of east European Christians I was at last week, this was a subject that many felt strongly about.

For some, this may be their finest hour. But many are saying what a horrible time this is, what a danger, what a conspiracy, what a doom. But perhaps in God’s eyes, for some of His people, this is an opportunity that’s never happened before to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

What Jesus said 2000 years ago to the believers is still true, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) . But He has no hands but your hands, He has no voice but your voice, He has no feet but your feet in this day and age. Jesus said to His disciples during a very rough time when so many were leaving Him, “Will you also go away?” And Peter said, “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67 & 68)

Except perhaps today, these pitiful multitudes coming to Europe will say to the Christians here, “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” May the mighty God of Abraham stir up His saints to rise to this occasion and pour forth His love and truth to these multitudes, coming to the shores and lands of Europe.

(I’d like to hear from Christians in Europe who’ve been moved by God to “do what you can”. Have you found some way to help and even to bring the truth of His love to these ones pouring into this part of the world? If so and you have time, please send me a note about it. Thanks.)

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 2)

sit down merged flatThis afternoon I was having a Bible class with around 10 young people between the ages of 7 and 17, children of some of the attendees at the Christian fellowship I’m at up in the mountains of Romania.

Teaching Daniel chapter 2 is one of my favorite things since it’s about the easiest chapter there is to introduce the phenomenon of Bible prophecy. It’s actually about someone who was probably not older than 14 at the time. So this adds to the interest in the chapter for younger people.

If you’re a teacher, there’s a lot you can do to dramatize this chapter. Daniel and his friends are taken captive and carried away from their home country. They are educated, probably “upper class” kids. They’d already had serious instruction in the things of the Lord and had taken it to heart.

Shadrach-Meshach-AbednegoBut then Daniel and his friends are put to the test and nearly executed. Daniel and the others got down to desperate prayer and the Lord answered in one of the most miraculous ways in the Bible. Like I told the kids in my class, “What if you were suddenly carried away to Moscow?! You have to appear before Vladimir Putin and his advisers in the Kremlin to tell him what he had dreamed!” It makes it more real like this.

Dan & Neb for D9 postA lot of drama helps if you’re teaching kids. There’s the strange statue and, even stranger, that stone that hit the statue on the feet. So I was the statue, one of the kids held a big basket which hit me (the statue) on my feet. I crumbled to dust in front of their eyes and the basket (the stone) became a great mountain. Lots of spectacle in that when you act it out .

Neb falls at feetThe result? King Nebuchadnezzar fell at the feet of Daniel in front of his whole court. So I fell at the feet of one of the kids there and we played like I was Vladimir Putin, speaking my broken Russian, falling at their feet in thankfulness and awe that they were able to reveal the secret. It helps to bring it all home to kids and to help them remember it and grasp the significance when you do this. Often times that’s what they remember the most

But also in the room was a friend of mine who is 20 who comes from a family of dedicated east European Christians. All through our class I’d been trying to bring it all back to their level and help them to see how this could have been them and what it would have been like to have been 14 year old Daniel. Then at the end of the class, my 20 year old friend shared her life story with the ones there who were actually the same age as her younger sisters and brothers. She told them something like this.

“In 7th grade, because of my Christian beliefs, I really didn’t have many friends in school. So I decided I wanted friends and for them to accept me. From then on I started going to parties without my parents knowing.

When I turned 15, I started a relationship with a boy who at first accepted my beliefs. But after a year he told me he had lied to make me like him. I continued to be with him another 2 years and through that time he and his friends told me that I lived in a fantasy world and that I’m trying to run away from reality. This affected my beliefs and caused me to doubt my faith in the Lord. Around the end of our relationship, we went for a summer vacation where we had a big fight and I ran out crying.

I ended up looking at the stars which often brought me peace. I decided to give the Lord “one last chance”. Inside me I had a battle and felt I was making a fool of myself. But I told the Lord my feelings and I told Him I wanted to see a shooting star from left to right if I was not supposed to be together with my boyfriend. Or right to left if he was the one for me. And I told him if nothing happens, then I will never believe in Him again.

sit down merged flatI waited for about 10 minutes but nothing happened. So I stood up to leave but then a very strong voice in my head told me, ‘Sit down. The answer is coming.’ 

When I sat down and looked up, an enormous shooting star went exactly from left to right the way I had asked. The Lord told me then that my future boyfriend would have the same beliefs that I have. This showed me that the Lord truly loves me and that He will never leave me or forsake me. This was about 2 years ago and now actually I do have a boyfriend who has the same beliefs as me and he has a strong relationship with the Lord.”

So for me this was a great way to end the class with these east European kids from missionary families, hearing from one from their generation who’s come to know the Lord personally and has their own experiences (some learned the hard way).

(In part three I’ll tell you about a young man I met for the first time here, one who’s overcome obstacles most of us never face, who is an incredible light for the Lord in a far off corner of eastern Europe.)

 

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 1)

fellowship first photo croppedAs many of you know, I moved back to eastern Europe a few weeks ago after living 6 years in Texas. It’s been a bit of a transition and it’s an ongoing process to let the Lord transform me back to how He wants me to be in this part of the world.

Right now I’m up in the mountains at an informal get together of a few dozen people who have similar backgrounds and Christian calling to me. It is very revitalizing to be in this atmosphere, it’s hard even to describe it. But there’s just something about being around fellow disciples and committed Christians, many of whom are like the Lord talked about ones who had “born the burden and heat of the day.” (Matthew 20:12) A number here have had lives of Christian service for decades. So being here is a lot like the verse, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)

One of the best things for me has just been the depth of communications and heart-to-heart contact that goes on here. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17) and sometimes that’s manifested in wonderfully deep, clear, heart-sharing with friends.

So I thought to share with you some about some folks I’ve met here, ones I never met before who’ve deeply impressed me with their Christian witness and the lives they’re living. I’ll leave out their names and some specifics as that’s probably for the best. But their lives are fascinating and resonate with how I feel we all can be, and should be, in the way the Lord can lead and use each of us.

One of the first I talked to was a man half my age. He grew up in a missionary family. But that of course doesn’t really count for all that much when one has to personally choose what they believe and want to do with their lives. Someone has said, “God has no grandchildren.” In this case, this dear brother, after a few years of “sowing his wild oats”, put his life firmly back in the Lord’s hands and has found a way to be a very effective witness in what I consider one of the more “post Christian” countries in all of Europe.

I feel that Western and Northern Europe is not a place in these times where sharing your faith and witnessing for the Lord is often met with receptivity. “Nah, that’s not for me” is a phrase often heard, or worse than that, if you speak up for the Lord there. But this dear brother is working and studying in a country I know pretty well, one that I don’t at all consider a receptive part of the world to the Gospel. From what he’s told me, he actually pretty bold about it.

He’s often worked as a waiter or other things like that so this brings him in contact with a lot of people. And he’s learned how to wisely and gracefully bring the Lord and the things of faith into conversations. But he also keeps in contact with people, drops by for a visit sometime, gives little gifts to ones he knows and overall cultivates his friendships. This has often brought comments like about how they don’t know anyone else like him who’s as friendly and concerned as he is. Rather like Solomon said, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly. And there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

fools for christBut another thing I noticed from what he said was how he just seems to have a lot of love for the Lord and others. So much so that he’s wiling at times to be “a fool for Christ” (I Corinthians 4:10), like Paul said. Most of us who witness for the Lord in any way know that we will get opposition from time to time and even have folks think we’re crazy or eccentric. But it was the same for Jesus, “When his friends heard of this, they went out to lay hold on him, for they said, ‘He is beside himself’.” (Mark 3:21)

So this was very inspiring to meet this new friend and to hear of someone regularly witnessing on his job and in university, standing up for Godly values and unafraid to call a spade a spade when confronted with the atheist/agnostic morals and ethics of modern Northern and Western Europe. I got the verse for him, “The  Lord didn’t leave Himself without witness” (Acts 14:17) in that He has strengthen and raised up this young man to be His light in what is often the atheist darkness that prevails in many parts of that area of the world.

(In part two, I’ll tell you about a Bible study I held with the young people at the fellowship and how afterwards a 20 year old friend of mine shared an amazing story that changed her life and faith in God.)

Freedom and Following

Promised_Land fixed flatSometimes there’s a real balance, or even tension, between freedom and just following orders. Neither one is absolutely the best and only way to do things in God’s work. Some folks work better under some conditions and some under others.

Warsaw Pact forces

Warsaw Pact forces

Before the fall of Communism I was living in Europe and read a fascinating article on why the West European and US forces of NATO would inevitably win any ground war with Communist East European and Russian Warsaw pact forces in any major battle. The article said it came down to one thing: the Warsaw pact forces were under orders that their moves were to come directly from their headquarters in Moscow. They had no freedom at the tactical level to make decisions within a battle. The NATO forces on the other hand were given authority to make battlefield decisions without needing to wait for clearance from NATO headquarters in some place far off from the battlefield.

This was fascinating for me. I saw an analogy in this of how things can work in Christian’s endeavors to go forward for the Lord. Some Christians, including some missionaries, are pretty much under orders to follow directions from their organization or their mission board which may be thousands of miles away.

The idea of they themselves being responsible to size up the situation and hear from our ultimate Headquarters in Heaven is not a concept that some would feel comfortable with. Missionaries on far off fields can be rendered immobile, like the Warsaw pact forces of old, in that they’re not encouraged to take initiative, hear from heaven themselves and follow our true leadership, Jesus Christ and the instructions of the Holy Spirit.

megachurchA few days ago I spoke with a very friendly and engaging Christian who is the head of the missionary department of a large, fruitful church here. I made a short presentation about my work in the past in order to see if this church could in any way help my soon coming departure to my mission field. And I should tell you that the whole time with this man was nothing but warm, friendly and sincere.

There are things about this church that have been eye-openers for. I’ve always been for “David” more than “Goliath”. I feel that God can be limited by large numbers and heavy logistics. But this mega-church in many ways is really rolling and getting things done that I wish at times my friends had been better at in some places.

But when I presented myself to this friendly head of the missionary branch of this church, he was totally encouraging about my missionary efforts. But he said they wouldn’t be able to help. He said they were legal required to give full account of where their funds went, who they went to and how it was all used. Those sent on mission were in close communication and coordination with the church. It did seem that there’s a good deal of supervision of the parameters of the missionaries by the ones who sent them abroad and who support them on the field.

on our field flatThis is all understandable and I don’t mean to fault it. But I did explain to my friend why I’ve felt it best to be a “live by faith” missionary, looking to God to “supply all my needs” (Philippians 4:19) as I “seek first His kingdom” (Matthew 6:33). My experience at times in the past has been that initiative is quenched and even fear is instilled when those on mission are not free to follow God and hear from him fresh every day as to what He would lead them to do. Instead there’s an apprehension against initiative and you come to simply wait for instructions and permission from headquarters which can easily be halfway around the world.

In the history of the Church, at times the most progress has been made with a minimum of organization and supervision. In those circumstance brave pioneers of the faith have forged forward and accomplished amazing feats for the Lord, simply by following the One who’s way out in front and knows what’s going to happen and is able to lead His servants moment by moment to victories in winning the world for Him.

Much of the time in the history of Christianity, His pioneers have gone further under their own steam than they ever would have under the control of some distant administrative board. Instead of a situation where everything is organized and controlled from the top down, some of the most fruitful endeavors in the history of the Church have happened when the only controlling power was God, the only central headquarter, His Spirit.

So I left my meeting slightly sad that my way of operation doesn’t fit with the way this large church supports missionaries. Happily I’ve found friends here who’ve gotten to know me personally and I’m communicating with these ones about helping towards my future plans for Him abroad.

onlyYouJesus flatBut I feel this insecure liberty of having no organization but His Spirit, no earthly commanders but only His heavenly leadership, no financial support but the faithfulness of His promises and a few good friends, this all can turn out to be His best, for me and for Him. The seeming safety of some agency which regularly supports me can also trim the wings of the Spirit and hinder or detour from the path of following Him first and foremost.

Honestly, it’s a bit of an uncertain stand, if I look at it with the eyes of this world. But in Him it’s steadfast. Thanks for your prayers for me and others like me to get our orders from heaven and our provison from Him and His as well.

 

When prophecy dawns on you

Prophecy fulfilled flatI had so many amazing experiences on my recent trip to southeastern Europe. One night the ones I was staying with had a Bible study for their close friends at their house. The idea was that since I was there and I’ve made a series of videos on the book of Daniel, that we could watch one of those with the visitors who often come there.

Most of the people in the room were a generation younger than me and the majority were not brought up in a Christian family. Several of them were brought up Muslims. Another was a young woman from Western Europe, from a traditional Catholic background, who’d come to do volunteer work in the country I was in. She’s been working with my friends who minister to needy people and she’s gradually gotten to know the things of the Lord and the Lord Himself in a stronger way over the last months.

Prophecy dawnsA-fixedWe watched what’s perhaps the simplest introduction to prophecy in the Bible: Daniel chapter 2. For many years and in many lands I’ve seen how Daniel 2 is the most understandable starting point for anyone who’s never had any idea about the phenomenon of Bible prophecy.

For me it was something of a reward in itself to just be there and watch the ones who were watching the video I’ve done on Daniel chapter 2. I therefore watched the viewers more than the video itself to try to gauge their reaction and interest in it all. The best part for me was at the end.

The young West European woman from the Catholic background was (… how shall I describe this…) well, she was trying to find what she wanted to say after the video. But for several of us, we could tell she’d been surprised and almost stunned by what she’d seen.

It certainly seemed that she’d perhaps become aware for the first time of the phenomenon of Bible prophecy, that God has in history used His prophets to give us definite signposts that will occur “up the road” of history. And for those of us who are now “in the future”, so to speak, we can look back and see that some key points in history were clearly foretold before they happened.

Stunned_Surprised-fixedWhen I personally first found out about this, I was in my early 20’s. And I too had the same experience of amazement, wonder, and almost unbelief that there was something like this that I’d never been told of before. For me back then, I was also mad because I’d gone many years to good schools and to university but nowhere had anyone ever told me anything about the truth of Bible prophecy. And in her words and expressions after the video that night, this young woman was evidently having the same experience of joy, mixed with amazement, and at the same time many questions. It’s just hard to believe that something like this exists.

It was noticeable to most of us that this dear young woman had just had a very strong experience, “the eyes of her understanding being opened” (Ephesians 1:18), that she’d seen something she’d never seen before. She had questions but she almost didn’t know how to ask them. She thought she was understanding what she’d seen but she wanted to be sure she did. Perhaps for the rest of us, the best part was that we could tell that she’d just had a real experience with the light of God’s Word, kind of like when it says about the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection, “they believed not for joy” (Luke 24:41).

It’s experiences like this that turn us from everyday, bored, dull, worldly people into His turned-on, inspired, joy-filled Christians and even disciples. Sometimes it has very little to do with others. It’s just those moments when the Lord Himself somehow personally shines into our innermost heart and mind, revealing Himself to be the Savoir and King that He is.

For some of us, we’ve had experiences like that off and on for many years. We know the thrills and joys of that heavenly realm and the world to come. But for me that night it was especially encouraging. This young woman is still new to the things of the Lord, someone who’s still growing into the fullness of a Christian disciple. And that night she got a strong jolt from the Lord through His Word to see the world as He sees it and as He’s made it.

Bible studies flatAs the Bible says, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). Or as King David prayed, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your Word.” (Psalm 119:18) It was a joy that night to see this young woman beholding wonderful things from His Word.

Hearing from God, like your life depended on it

danger is near flatLast month I was in a situation where it was desperately important that I heard from God right then. My friend and I were driving the next morning to visit a school in Reyhanli, Turkey, about 200 meters from the border with Syria. I wrote about this visit in my blog post “Visiting Syria part 1”.

But we were realistic enough to know that real danger was possible. We’d phoned ahead to several ones who knew the situation and were involved and they all said that it was safe to make the trip. But in the final analysis, as believers in God and in Jesus, the most important guidance and green light, or red, needed to come from Him.

So we really prayed. And for both of us we just kept getting the witness of the Spirit in our hearts and Bible verses that it was His Will that we go, verses like “When He puts forth His sheep, He goes before them”. (John 10:4) And “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

Reyhanli mapWe took these from the Lord and we made the trip. Of course we were aware that the radical religionists right across the border in Syria would gladly pay a very large bounty for someone to kidnap us and turn us over to them. So we were keeping a good watch out on our way there for any funny business. But it all went really well and there was miraculous protection and blessing.

It reminds me of another situation, almost exactly 10 years earlier, when I was in Jakarta, Indonesia, immediately after one of the worst natural disasters of the last hundred years when the Asia Tsunami swept across the Indian Ocean.

The city that suffered the worst was Banda Aceh, the capital of Aceh province on the northern tip of Sumatra. The friends who I was working with at the time in Jakarta knew immediately that some of us would have to go there to help. And I knew strongly in my heart that one of the first ones who needed to go was me.

me&AcehKids-2 cropped

Teaching kids at a refugee camp in Aceh, 2005

But this was again a place where very serious, life and death prayer was a necessity. Probably there was more danger in this recent trip to the Syrian border. But in going to Banda Aceh, we were going to be faced with over 150,000 dead who were still left to be found, bagged up and carried off to mass burial grounds.

The infrastructure of the city of 450,000 was virtually gone. The fact that it was one of the strictest Muslim parts of Indonesia didn’t seem to be as big a deal as just the overall danger of aftershocks, extreme living conditions and would we be able to live with the shock to our emotions that all the devastation had wrought? It was a time when we needed to be certain we were in the will of God; otherwise it would be extremely unwise to go there.

But also in that situation the Lord came through clearly and blessed our time there immensely. Here’s a newsletter I sent to friends while I was in Banda Aceh 10 years ago, called  “With Muslims in Tragedy“. God hears all our prayers, including the simple little ones that we often pray throughout the day. But at times we must be desperate and get answers from Him, sometimes as a matter of life and death.

which way-aI’m thinking about this a lot currently as I’m at something of a personal crossroads. I’m facing some decisions involved with possibly pulling up roots and going to a new country I’ve very seldom ever been in before, more or less starting out from scratch in what would be a major change of direction and a completely new chapter in my life.

common sense flatI really need to know what God’s will is. Like Paul said, “Be not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesian 5:17) Common sense doesn’t help a lot in these situations. Common sense would not have agreed with the trip to Reyhanli, Turkey or the time spent in Banda Aceh. But the life of faith and following the directions from God almost always goes contrary to common sense. “By faith Moses forsook Egypt”. (Hebrews 11:27) “Abraham went out not knowing whether he went”. (Hebrews 11:8)

For me it’s a time I need to know  that I’m on the right track, moving with the flow of His Spirit, having no will of my own and that my thoughts and leadings are of Him. Otherwise it could be a real disaster. Thanks for your prayers for me in these decisions at this time.