Normandy Landing

normandy landing

Today a friend and I drove to Arromanches on the Normandy coast of France to visit one of the main sites of the Allied landing in 1944 to liberate France and Europe from the Nazis. I don’t normally do much sightseeing; living people and eternal souls are more interesting to me than monuments and places of the past. But we ended up viewing a short film of clips at a World War II memorial there about the troops who’d come ashore just a few hundred meters from where we were watching the film.

I became quite emotional. There were so many close-ups of the soldiers and the people of those times some 72 years ago and it was so clear how very human they were, how the horrid events of those days had caught up and captured them all in a hideous grasp. After the movie clip was over, we went outside. And directly in front of us and below was the very panorama we’d seen so much of in the movie, the now quiet town of Arromanches where such a major event of World War II played out some 7 decades earlier.

For a while I could hardly talk. I thought about my life, how blessed it’s been in so many ways, how long I’ve lived already compared to so many of those very young men who died in the vicinity of where I was standing. I thought about the utter foolishness of the whole thing,me on normandy coast what a complete waste of so many millions of lives that World War II was, utterly pointless.

That war is at least one in which just about everybody agrees that the good guys won and the bad guys lost. Of course I’m not talking about the Germany or Japan of today. The people who perpetrated WW II are long gone and the peoples of those counties have turned and moved far away from the thinking of their forefathers who started that war.

But I thought of how each of us, either now or someday will have to answer, “What have I done with my life?” “Have I given anything or only taken?” French country laneAnd, in my walks down some of the country lanes here that I’ve taken in the last week, I was already thinking like that. Such an idyllic and beautiful place this is now but how very much bloodshed this area has seen over the centuries. I thought how blessed I am to have lived a life in which much of the world I’m from has not seen the toll of death in my lifetime that former generations saw.

atomic bomb drillWe were thinking we would. As a boy in school, we’d repeatedly have drills to prepare us for atomic war, crouching under our desks in elementary school to learn how to shield ourselves from atomic blasts and the heat that would come through the shattered windows of our school. In October of 1964, there was a weekend when it really did look like that would be it, full atomic war would break out because of the Cuban missile crisis. But God in His mercy kept that from happening.

So what have I done with my life? What have any of us done? No credit to myself, I can thankfully say that I’ve lived my adult life as a Christian missionary, endeavoring to bring the saving message of Jesus Christ to this often tattered and dazed world. I honestly can’t think of anything better I could have done. Politics isn’t going to save this world; commercialism certainly isn’t going to either. Or selfishness, culture or even science.

Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of offenses, for it must needs be that offences come. But woe to that man by whom the offence comes.” (Matthew 18:7) For those of us who know and love the Lord, we posses such truth and power to influence others for good. We can introduce others to the Man who “went about everywhere, doing good,” (Acts 10:38) Jesus of Nazareth. prince of peaceI’m convinced that the only real way to change the world is to change the heart of man, one person at a time. And that can only really happen with the power of God through Jesus, to change our darkened, war-filled heart to a heart of love, given by Him.

From where come wars and fightings among you? Do they not come from your lusts that war within you?” (James 4:1 & 2) In the end, the only way to prevent war is to have it overcome in our heart by the only One who can ultimately defeat the war that is in every heart. Who’s that One? Jesus Christ, “the Prince of peace”. (Isiah 9:6)

Budapest Stories

Hungarian JewsPresently I’m in Budapest, Hungary to do recordings of some of the prophecies of Daniel videos that I’ve done in English. Through the years, I’ve lived for perhaps a total of 5 years in this interesting central European capital and I consider this country to be one of my favorites that I’ve been in.

Tonight I met again the father of a dear Hungarian friend of mine here; it’s been nearly 20 years since I last met him. And I was thinking how much many of my friends back in the States would enjoy knowing this man. He is ethnically fully Jewish and was raised Jewish. But he’s been a Christian for years. He was born in central Budapest during some of the very worst of the early days of World War II.

planes over BudapestYears ago I knew his mother, my Hungarian friend’s grandmother. When I knew her, she was in her late 80’s and was still a clear-eyed active skier in the snows of wintertime here. Twice during World War II she was marched down to the Danube River that flows through Budapest to be shot because she was Jewish. Twice Allied bombers appeared over the city to bomb it and she escaped.

It’s hard to describe how these things affect me when I meet these people. It’s a strong feeling in me of respect and almost awe in what they’ve experienced, juxtaposed with the incredibly stable and safe life that I and so many have lived in my lifetime.

Then later this evening my friend who does the Hungarian voice-over for my videos was telling me about the circumstances under which his mom was born in Budapest in the last days of World War II. His grandmother had been sheltering with others in a downtown basement for weeks as battles raged house to house throughout the city between the occupying Germans and the Russians who were liberating Hungary.

Budapest batlesMy friend told me tonight that his grandmother had gone upstairs from the basement and lay down on the kitchen table to give birth to his mom in 1945. There were firefights on the grounds of the property and soldiers running and firing back and forth just outside when she gave birth. He said his newborn mother didn’t cry or make a noise when she was born. She was taken back down to the basement by her mom and spent the first two weeks of her life there.

shopping mallMany of us are concerned about our Wi-Fi connection, how our sports team is doing and if we’ll be able to take advantage of the upcoming sale at the shopping mall. We’ve seen nothing but relative stability and prosperity all our lives and it’s no wonder that almost all of us just really take it for granted that it will always be this way. So I often get really quiet and sober around people like I met tonight or when I hear stories from my friends about their parents who went through things like I heard today.

I know people in Holland who ate tulip bulbs to stay alive in World War II. Or a friend whose grandmother was being marched out of Warsaw, Poland by the Nazi’s when she asked permission of them to lay down in a haystack on the side of the road to give birth to my friend’s mother. It was granted. Or a friend in South Africa whose dad was on a prisoner train on the way to a German prison in World War II when he jumped off in the night into the snow and survived on turnips till he could get to safety. I could tell you more and it all affects me deeply.

“It can’t happen here!” they say. But of course it can. If you read history or get to know some of the people I’ve known, you realize how easily the world so many take as the only real world can actually crumble and be blown to dust, never to return again, in a matter of hours or days. So often we don’t realize how fragile and fleeting the things of this world are.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against wealth or prosperity. Moses of old said, “You shall remember the Lord your God, for He it is that gives you power to get wealth.” (Deut. 8:18) But then King David said of prosperity, “And in my prosperity I said, ‘I shall never be moved’. Lord, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong. You did withdraw your hand and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30:5 & 6)

rich man flatJesus told the story of the man who had much wealth laid up for many years and he was confident in his stability and prosperity. But then God spoke to him and said, “You fool, tonight your soul shall be required of you. Then whose shall those things be that you’ve lain up.” Jesus went on to say, “So is everyone who lays up treasure for themselves and is not rich towards God.” (Luke 12:20 & 21)

If you’ve ever had it all taken away from you, and I have a few times, you may begin to realize how fleeting and tenuous all our present prosperity and progress can turn out to be. Maybe it will continue for decades and generations to come. But more often than not, good times can vanish into the worst of barbarianism, no matter what country you’re in or society you are from. So many rant about the evils of government. But how many are truly trumpeting Jesus’ warning about “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13:22) which has extinguished the light of so many.

Solomon said, and he should know, “There is that makes himself rich, yet has nothing. And there is that makes himself poor, yet has great riches.” (Proverbs 13:7) It’s been a happy but sobering evening for me with these friends here and in this presently prospering place. But it’s been good to remember how it has been for even those here who are still with us and, except for the undeserved mercy of God, how it could be again. Anywhere.

They that will not work…

Grandma Helen flatI’m having an amazing time in South Africa, there’s a lot to tell you. This post will mainly be about a story I heard of an 80 year old woman who is poor herself but ministers to the poor in one of the “townships” here, as they are called. I think another word that fits for these areas is “shanty towns”. But they can be very huge.

me and JosefFirst I’ll tell you who told me this. I have a friend here, Josef from Austria, who lives in Johannesburg. He has a similar calling to the friend I told you about who holds HIV seminars in schools here. But Josef and his wife often are “up country”, actually spending a lot of time in neighboring Malawi where he has quite a work going in having seminars with local pastors there on basic subjects of Biblical faith and shepherding the flock of God.

When Josef told me about an octogenarian woman he helps in Johannesburg, I was amazed at her faith. Also I was amazed at her vision to not just minister physically to the desperately poor around her, but also to minster to them spiritually as well, sometimes even with a little bit of “tough love.” Maybe it’s like Jesus was. He certainly was kind, giving and sympathetic, more than any man. But also when it was the time for it, the Lord could be pretty frank and candid with people who needed to hear perhaps surprising truth.

townshipGrandma Helen has been living in squatter camps for the last 20 years but she’s also faithfully shared what little she had with those there, as well as sharing her faith in God. Josef said that he and his wife began helping Grandma Helen when she lost the little support she had. They started giving her gospel literature to share as well as of course food they’d received from businesses who donated it.

Josef encouraged Grandma Helen to use Christian literature in her caring and ministering to people. Before she passes out the food parcels, she has a short Bible study and prayer with ones who come for help. After that she passes out the food parcels and the gospel pamphlets with them. She and Josef wanted to teach the people in her area more about the things of God and one idea that came up was to have them memorize Bible verses when they received the food parcel.

But they learned that it was difficult for the people there to memorize Scripture, as it often is for most. So to make it easier for them and to be sure they were taking in the Word, Grandma Helen had them write out the Scripture verse and give it to her before they received a food pack. And if they hadn’t done so, they could do it when they got the food pack. As I’ve written about elsewhere, there’s just something powerful about memorizing Scripture. “Lay up His Word in your heart”, the Bible says. (Job 22:22)

Josef told Grandma Helen about the verse that says, “They that will not work should not eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10) and that we owed it to the Lord and the people they were giving the food to to teach them the principles of God. So besides some of the most basic tenets of Biblical faith, Grandma Helen also shared with those that came for food that “They that will not work should not eat.”

But also she knew that in these camps it’s often very difficult to get or hold a job. Basically almost all of them there are unemployed or under employed. So Grandma Helen suggested they could offer their services to others in their community by doing chores, running errands, helping the elderly and those generally worse off than them.

Helen weeding flatAt one point she had a younger man come by who asked for food and she helped him. Then on another day he came by when she was in the garden and she asked him to help with weeding. He said he was too busy. So next time he came around for a food pack, she told him, “Sorry, they that will not work should not eat.”

I don’t know about you but I find this an amazing and encouraging story. Godly principles completely transcend borders, time, social strata and just everything. Jesus told us, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) But often also the Spirit of God calls us to some action, not only as a test but also as a lesson that our soul needs to grow in and be fed spiritually in. Sometimes these things can seem like “hard sayings” but it’s actually just God’s wise and life-giving love which is actually more needed that simple food. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Or like wise Job said, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job 23:12) It’s a lesson everyone needs.

And please do say a word of prayer for dear Grandma Helen. Josef and his wife help her, as they do very many, but sometimes she has to get around in her wheel chair. Also her grandson reads the Bible to her because her eyes are failing. But she continues to minister to these people. Makes you feel that most of us have it pretty good.

Working in an HIV Seminar in South Africa

me in Durban classI’ve been in Durban, South Africa for over a week and it’s been wonderful. I never saw this coming, never foresaw a time I’d be in this part of the world but it has gone really well. I know several people here from my times in Europe. One dear friend is Andras Namenyi, a Hungarian who actually was my translator when I shared classes with young Christians in Budapest back in the late ‘90’s.

Andras has been in this part of the world for years and the Lord has given him an amazing ministry. It’s by no means the only thing he does. But his main outreach is to visit schools here to do a presentation on the subject of HIV prevention which has to do with being informed, being wise and simple abstinence.

I was astounded and floored to hear the statistics about HIV in this country. In this province, KwaZulu-Natal, out of a population of 11 million, 40% of the people are HIV positive. Think about that. Those are numbers like the worst of the Black Plague that hit Europe in the 1300’s. But it utterly underlines the importance of what my friend is doing in these seminars in the schools here.

Durban school crowd sceneI was with Andras for a seminar earlier this week and I’ll include pictures I took there. We were addressing 8th graders in a “colored” part of Durban. [“Mark! That’s racist!”] I’ve had to adjust to the English language that’s spoken here being slightly different from the USA. When I was a kid in Texas, “colored” was the word used at the time for those we now in the US call “African-American”. But here “colored” basically means “mixed race”.

We first talked to the principal; the seminar had all been arranged beforehand. The kids filed into the room with the guidance of their teachers, not really knowing what to expect. Andras has addressed around 90,000 students over the last years with this ministry.

3 colored pitchersAs the presentation started, Andras in his opening was switching back and forth between English and Zulu, the main language spoken in this province. The kids were of course laughing and impressed that he was comfortable with them that way. But probably they were also curious about the props he had set up for the presentation. Several kids behind him had been given various colored balloons. And on the table in front of him were 3 pitchers with distinctly colored liquids. By the way, this was all done in English as the school is a fully English speaking school, even though many there have another language as their first.

Basically the idea was to highlight the consequences of risky behavior. He told me later that almost certainly there were kids in the audience who were already HIV positive. Andras held up the first pitcher with red liquid and said this represented risky behavior, out partying, drinking, drugs and of course promiscuous sex. Then he held up the pitcher with green liquid. This represented someone “on the fence”, not really totally living a risky life but someone who was near the edge of it. Then he held up the pitcher with yellow liquid, representing morals and a moral life with vision, goals and a purpose.

pouring pitchersAfter that he poured some of the yellow liquid into the green and red pitchers. The red turned to a murky brown almost immediately but the green liquid began to turn yellow, representing a changed and more moral life. As Andras continued to speak on this subject, the liquids continued to change from their original colors and soon the green pitcher changed to yellow liquid. Eventually even the red liquid turned yellow.

It was all a huge object lessons in the visual realm for these few hundred 13 and 14 year olds of how morals and self-restraint could change a life and in this case even save their own physical life. Of course I’m only giving you the highlights here of the 45 minute talk. At the end, Andras explained to them how much we all need the saving power of Jesus to come into our hearts and give us the strength we need to essentially resist sin, which is what this is in many ways really all about. He led the kids in a prayer to receive the Lord and they all prayed.

watching intentlyIt even worked out that I was able to address the kids for a few minutes, telling them about my life and how it was changed through Jesus and the truth and power of God. Afterwards we were able to pass out gospels of John in Zulu to the students; these are booklets I helped to have shipped to Andras here in Africa about 18 months ago.

me and AndrasIt was an astounding afternoon, being involved in something so important, life changing and even very much life saving. For me, this is all better than any worldly or earthly riches: being a part of something that’s reaching into young lives who are so often right on the precipice of good or bad, sin or salvation and even life or death. It was another moment to confirm just how thankful I am for a life of Christian discipleship. I hope this testimony is a blessing to you of how people in our times can be used of the Lord to impact this world for Him and to let their light shine before men.

 

You you

You you pic flatHere’s a question for you: are things simple or complicated? If your answer is “Yes”, I think you’re right. Take something as simple as “Who are you?” Is there a simple answer to that? Of course, “I am me.” But then it gets complicated. And a lot of us can really get almost confused at times about this.

I thought about this around 2:30 AM today after waking up for the first time in South Africa. Jet lag often really hits me the most traveling east. And after two nights in a row of trying to sleep on a plane, I was very ready for 9 hours of deep sleep. But it was not to be. My body just didn’t cooperated tonight, as often happens at the beginning of a trip flying east from America.

So was “I” tired? Well, yes and no. “My flesh” was tired but actually my spirit was pretty keyed up. And I was thinking about how that works. One thing I can tell you, I never in any way would I have looked at things this way without having come to the Lord years ago.

Why are you flat“My flesh” and “my spirit”, what kind of talk is that? The answer is, truth be known, there’s you and then there’s You-you. You are a lot more than just you. Don’t believe me? Think about this. King David said in prayer, “Why are you cast down, oh my soul, why are you disquieted within me?”  (Psalm 42:11) Was David getting a little schizoid there? How about this: “My heart and my flesh faileth, but God is the strength of my life and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26). Or, one of my favorites , Solomon said “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)

So what’s with all this chopping yourself up into little pieces? Your heart, your flesh, your spirit, your mind, your soul, and all that? That’s what I mean, there’s a lot that goes into “You”, under the hood, as they say. There are actually a lot of moving parts and if I had to tell you which you You-you really is, I’m not sure I could tell you. Of course they are all part of you; for the most part they somewhat intermesh with each other and often can work pretty well together. But not always.

spirit willing flatOne of many examples of this can be found in what Jesus told His disciples on the night He was betrayed, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He said to His disciples who were nodding off to sleep, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation, the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) What an incredibly deep and wise, yet utterly simple way the Lord described that. And that verse could be seen to fit with how things are for me tonight or now close to dawn. My flesh is feeling tired right now. But my flesh is a segment of my “me” that currently is working in such a way that my spirit (which I think is closer to the real “me”) is having more dominance over my “me” right now than my flesh is. Got that?

And I’m just so thankful for the light of the truth of God’s Word that illuminates all these kinds of things and has been “a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105) for all my adult life. Of course our flesh, our body and all that it involves is definitely a part of “me” and you as well. But so many folks who don’t know the Lord (or don’t know Him and His Word the way they should) are often not able to make a difference between their flesh and their selves. Or perhaps more dangerously, they’re in the habit of being led about by their flesh more often than their spirit and/or the Spirit of the Lord.

“Oh, I’m tired.” “I can’t right now, I’m hungry.” And on and on it can go. Well, we do need to take care of the needs of the flesh; I’m not advocating some aesthetic appeal to self mortification. On the other hand, if you’re going to do anything for the Lord in this life or almost anything of value at all, you just can’t put “the flesh” first. And some folks have learned you can’t even put “me” first. Jesus surely knew that.

your will be done flatThat same night in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He told His disciples to watch and pray, He also prayed to His Father in heaven, “If You be willing, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not my will but Yours be done.” He knew He was just hours away from His passion, His suffering on the cross of Calvary and the enormity of what was just ahead moved Jesus to pray that prayer to His Father. But Jesus put his own self and even his will aside and stayed in obedience and submission to the will of God, even though basically so much of everything else within Him was moved with the emotions He had as a human of what was about to happen.

Maybe you know all of this already. But perhaps it’s a reminder of how “you” can function a lot better when you don’t let every little moving part of yourself claim to be supreme. “Oh, I’m in love!” “Oh, I’m hungry!” “Oh, I’m angry!” Could be. But if you let any of those things grab the reins of your soul and your life, they can really take you very quickly into some bad decisions if you don’t watch out.

Jesus said, “What shall it profit a man if he shall gain the whole world and loose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mark 8:36 & 37) I guess it all boils down to the fact that we are, were and will continue to be lost, hopeless nincompoops without, not only the salvation of the Lord, but His continual close guiding of our lives pretty much every moment of every day. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

“Neither have I desired the woeful day”

the woeful day flatThe prophet Jeremiah knew he would see the day when it was all going to happen. He wasn’t prophesying something for the centuries to come; he knew this was it. God was about to bring His powerful judgments on backslidden Israel. And Jeremiah suffered terribly for the message of judgment and doom he gave to the people of Israel. If anyone could have looked with glee at the day of God’s impending judgment and by-in-large destruction upon Israel, it was Jeremiah.

But did he? Jeremiah spoke in prayer to God, “Neither have I desired the woeful day.” (Jeremiah 17:16) Jeremiah had the maturity and Godliness to not wish for and look forward to the horrific judgement that was about to fall upon his people by their God. And, frankly, it should be the same for those of us today. But I wonder if it is?

I’ve believed since I was in my 20’s that some kind of judgment would be coming from God, not only on my country but on the countries of the North and West which were founded in a strong Christianity but have progressively fallen away from that, for decades and even centuries. At times over the years I’ve looked forward to the judgments of God being poured out on some societies and nations whose cup of iniquity must be truly full by now.

But also, in living in many lands, as well as reading history, I’ve come to see that it’s a very sobering thing to actually be where the judgments of God, the horrors of war or natural disasters are being experienced at the moment. In the 1300’s, a time when there was a falling away from the Godliness of earlier centuries, the Black Plague struck Europe and 1/3 to 1/2 of the population died.

That might be hard to comprehend but 11 years ago I worked as an aid worker and trauma counselor in a city that had just experienced that. An Indonesian city of 450,000 had lost one third of its population in one hour of gigantic tsunami waves.

body bagsWhat was it like? Every day we’d see many teams of young men who’d been given plastic bags, boots and gloves. Their assignment was to go into the large buildings downtown that were on their list to bring out the dead. All day they stacked bags, with bodies inside, out on the street in front of the buildings all over the city.

dumping bodiesAt 5 PM large trucks came by and they threw the bags up into the trucks which took them out to a huge mass grave near the airport. That particular mass grave ended up holding 55,000 bags. There were many teams like this; they started again the next day and this went on for 3 weeks. That’s the kind of reality that can come with the horrors of war, the judgments of God or even natural disasters. I spent 5 weeks there during that time, working daily in refugee camps and I never could have made it without the mighty grace of God sustaining me for what was needed to be done.

So I now say, like Jeremiah, “Neither have I desired the woeful day.” But sadly, it does seem like some believers in God here look forward to some kind of showdown with the government of the United States. Or they look forward to the fall of America. They talk about taking a militant stand against the government like it was the will of God to participate in armed conflict and that this would be the high calling of God for them and other Christians. Some really look forward to this, they “desire the woeful day.”

citizenship-in-heavenThis deeply saddens me. And I’m not just going on hearsay; I’ve been in Christian gatherings where the details and specifics of this have been discussed. I did express my sentiments that what was being talked about does not reflect Biblical Christianity and that I strongly believe that approach to be anathema to the high calling of God.

gun & Bible pictureSome think that in taking up weapons against the United States government they are defending themselves against the very forces of the Antichrist spoken of in Revelation and Daniel. This is the pitiful result of a politicized twisting of Scriptures to fit a secular political agenda and it’s amazing that so many Christians have bought in to this. I too believe in a final Antichrist and a final endtime government that he will head. But I don’t believe the present government of the United States is the final fulfillment of what Daniel and Revelation speak of.

Our job, the job of fervent and dedicated Christians of these times is to stand up as some of God’s greatest witnesses, to explain to people everywhere what is happening and what is to come.behold these Christians flat It’s not our job to overthrow our government, any more that it was the job of Peter, James and John to try to overthrow either the Roman empire of their day or the hellish Pharisaical religious system that held the Jews in its power. It was love, truth, light, miracles and the acts and witness of heaven that overthrew both the religious system of the Jews and ultimately even the secular system of the Romans. “Not by might or by power, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord.” (Zechariah 4:6)

If you’re being influenced to turn your attention and your hatred against our modern government and it’s failing political ploys, I sympathize with you. It’s pitiful how things are now. But our job is not to take up arms against the government or even to spend precious time fretting, fuming and hyperventilating about it all.

Our job is to give this tired old world the answer we know we have:stands at the door flat the Son of God and the judgments of God which will be poured out on this world, leading up to the worst time the world has ever known, just before the return of the Lord. If you have fallen prey to the haters, the “Christian militants” and to those who gleefully look forward to destructions to come, I suggest you powerfully pray and ask the Lord to cleanse your heart and to use you to His highest and best purpose. “Herein is my father glorified that ye bear much fruit, so shall you be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

I know God’s judgments will come on this world and nation, perhaps soon. But I don’t look forward to it. All the present conditions that so many hate in society today may someday be looked back on with longing for the relative stability of these times. The future soon to come may be unsolvable continuing chaos, leading to a hardcore martial law which will be embraced by multitudes in those times. Jeremiah prophesied of the deserved judgments of God that were imminent. But he didn’t desire the woeful day.

Walk in Newness of Life

which sins flatA few days ago I got a note from a dear Christian man in India. He wrote to ask me, “Pastor, Jesus has said, “All those who do not repent will perish”. So which are the sins we have to repent for? Should we repent for breaking the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament or should we repent of sins mentioned in the New Testament?” Doubtless it’s a sincere question he asked there, although it’s also one of those huge debate points that Christians have struggled with for centuries.

I don’t have the theological training of many years in a seminary. But I do have the experience of having “passed from death unto life” (John 5:24) through the Lord’s work of bringing me from entrenched atheism, through a series of spiritual breakings, to where I received Jesus as my Lord and savior. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) By His Grace, I did that. I received Jesus and His coming into my soul, heart and life gave me power to overcome the sins that had overcome me till that time. I was “born again” (John 3:3), a “new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17).

But how does this relate or connect to what this friend wrote and asked me about? At the beginning of my new life in the Lord, I was receiving a good amount of shepherding and spiritual feeding from some young Christians who’d also recently come to the Lord, as well asreview verses flat some others who’d been raised Christians. Daily I was immersed in the Word of God through Bible studies and memorizing verses and I truly was filled with immense joy at the new life I’d received and been born into.

As far as which sins I was thinking about and aware of, either the ones mentioned in the Old Testament or the ones in the New Testament, I think the best way to describe it is that I wasn’t thinking a whole lot about either. I was very aware of sin and how my sins before my salvation experience had nearly taken my life. But once I came to the Lord, it’s like the verse, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10b) Or like the verse where it says to “walk in newness of life”.  (Romans 6:4)

I wasn’t as focused on what I shouldn’t be doing and what I should be repenting of because I was much more aware of what the Lord was now showing me in His Word and all “do’s”, rather than the “don’ts”.

I was aware of the presence of the Lord through the Holy Ghost. I very much wanted to serve the Lord and obey His admonitions in the New Testament as well as the lessons and guidance found in the Old Testament. Maybe it’s like the verse “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations.” (Luke 24:47)

In my coming to Him, laying my all on the altar of His service and calling, I was not just repenting of individual specific nameable sins; I was repenting of being a hopeless lost rebellious sinner. And with that repentance, He granted “remission of sins”. I wasn’t thinking about my sins anymore because I had been “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His Dear Son.” (Colossians 1:13)

So in my case, I was almost totally focused on trying to live the admonitions Jesus gave to His disciples. He told them to “feed His sheep” (John 21:16). He told them to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). He told them to “go and teach all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)  And most of all He told them to “love God and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37-39)

God will reveal-flattenedThis subject in some ways reminds me of what I very seriously went through in the first year of my Christian experience. I was intensely concerned that I didn’t miss anything the Lord wanted to show me or wanted me to do. That’s of course a good thing to be concerned about. But it my case, it got to be so much that it was a hindrance to God’s will in my life and He had to show me His view on the matter. It really changed my life. I wrote about this in “God Will Reveal”.

God wanted me to get going in newness of life, under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit to be an ambassador for Him in this present evil world. If my focus had been on my still sinful “old man” instead of the “new man”, I would have been missing His highest and best.  This is what Paul said in Ephesians 4:22-24. “That you put off concerning the former life, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

As a saved child of God, my focus is on letting the Lord in me have His way in my life so that His Spirit can move me and guide me daily in service for Him. It’s like moving from a defensive warfare, constantly aware of our sins and which one is going to get us next, into an offensive warfare where we are alive and activated by Him to be positive witnesses for Him in this world.

Specifically, the guidelines of the Old Testament are very real and precious to me. But it’s clear from the New Testament that the binding nature of the Old Testament law is not operative for those who are saved in the Lord. “You are become dead to the law by the body of Christ”  (Romans 7:4), Acts 10 and 11 are also good chapters about that.

path aheadBut the main thing I feel that’s the answer to this friend’s question is that our awareness as born again believers shifts from a concentration on our sins to a concentration on the Lord Himself, His power, His Word, His will, His daily directions to us as we go forth with Him to win this world back to its rightful King. “You will hear a voice behind you saying ‘this is the way, walk ye in it”, when you turn to the right hand or the left.”  (Isaiah 30:21)

The Last shall be First

the first shall be last flatSometimes life is kind of funny, amazing and strange; you know what I mean? It’s like where Jesus said “Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Matthew 19:30) You think you’re on top and have arrived and then, oops! It all turns to ashes and it seems you’re left with nothing. Or maybe you think you see that in someone else’s life. “Boy, they’re ruined now. What a failure they are; I knew it all along.” It’s easy to think that about ourselves or others.

If I can get away with quoting a little Bob Dylan here in perhaps his most famous song, he sang “The slow one now will later be fast” and he went on to sing, “And don’t start talking while the wheel’s still in spin, for the times they are a changin’.” So often we think it’s “the end” (our end or someone else’s end) when it turns out to be just “a bend in the road.”

About 15 years ago I’d pretty much lost faith in myself and was at a real low point in my life. I felt like all I was good for was moving boxes, sweeping sidewalks and driving a truck. It’s sometimes hard to have faith in yourself or the Lord being able to use you when others see little or nothing in you or have much faith in you. That was part of it. But also my life in many ways just seemed to be losing its meaning and purpose. So I moved back to my home country after living many years abroad as a missionary. I got a secular job and began puttering around, just trying to get along.

same day born flatThen, during that time, happened one of the most unusual and bizarre things that ever happened to me in my life. It occurred in the middle of a Thursday night get together with some Christian friends I’d begun meeting with. I wrote about this in “Strange, Very Strange. But True.” A Las Vegas gambler would probably give odds on what happened there that night at something like around 10 million to one, if that.

Back then I didn’t even know why it happened but I guess I just felt that the Lord was ringing His bell in my life, letting me know He was still around and could do some impossible things when it fit His plan. And during that time was when the first beginnings of the video ministry with the Prophecies of Daniel started for me. I was sharing Bible classes with those folks and some others and a number of people told me, “You should video this.” So that time, when it really was like the end for me, was actually the beginning place of this video ministry which has been a real personal blessing and encouragement to me.

Im so great flatI was thinking this morning about how things like that work, how it seems at some points that some people are really way out in front, amazingly used of the Lord, full of the Holy Ghost and then some time later something seems to have happened. It’s like they’ve crashed, stumbled, fallen or laid down their crown. But sometimes it’s just that, like trees, we go through winters.

Even fruitful trees have times when they look dead. But they aren’t. However, for us humans, it can look like the end. King David knew about this. He said, “And in my prosperity I said ‘I shall never be moved.’ Lord, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong. You did withdraw your hand and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30:6 & 7)

In fact, because of his sins, God let David basically lose his kingdom and have to flee for his life with a small band of followers, being cursed by former friends along the road as he went. But David got his heart right with the Lord and kept holding on to his faith until the Lord restored him to his throne.

We all go through seasons, like the famous chapter in the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3, says and which was immortalized by the popular song by The Byrds from the 1960’s:

four seasonsThere are just these cycles of life: birth, life, death and resurrection which in some ways can happen more than a few times within our lives here on earth. I think the lesson for me this morning is that this has happened in my life a good number of times. But I also need to remember that this can and does happen in the lives of others, even ones I have (Lord help and forgive me) somewhat given up on.

Some folks seem to have fallen so far and stayed there so long but that really doesn’t have to be “the end”. God is still the God of miracles and He can still “deliver from the lowest hell.” (Psalm 86:13) Sometimes the Lord lets things or people and their hearts get to be really pretty bad so that they’ll see it themselves and come to where they feel a desperate need for God. That’s what happened to me.

The first shall be last and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30) It’s not the end, just a bend in the road. “He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20) and He delights in taking complete failures, twisted wasted lives and bringing them into His kingdom of light through His unimaginable, miraculous, loving touch. So, don’t give up on yourself or others. He hasn’t.

“Don’t ever ask again.”

Dont ever ask again-flattenedI was 20 years old, kneeling on the floor of my apartment in the dark at 3 AM, overwhelmed with emotion. As I wrote about in “The Radio Miracle, I’d just had a completely amazing answer to prayer, in response to my utter desperation to try to find out if God was really there. Out of nowhere my clock radio had come on and at that moment the song on the radio was saying,

“Lift up your fellow man, lend him a helping hand, Put a little love in your heart.”

Put-a-little-love-in-your-heartThe song instead could have been, “Sympathy For The Devil”, a hit song at that time. But it wasn’t. I really knew it was an answer from “outer space”, from another realm I hardly knew existed. It was an answer from God. So there on my knees I was saying, “Thank you God, thank you God.”

But then I heard a voice. Was it the voice of my mind or was it the voice of the devil?  I’d been on the devil’s frequency so long that it was almost like they’d intertwined. But clearly the thought was,devil

“That was just a coincidence. Your radio just happened to come on right then and it just happened that that song was on right then. Just happenstance.”

God pictureBut then, immediately there was another voice. I knew it wasn’t my voice or my thoughts. And that changed my life. The Voice said,

“Don’t ever ask again.” 

I wish I could let you hear how that voice sounded. Because those words themselves can sound hard or harsh. But they really, really weren’t. The voice was kind, warm, friendly and almost pleading. It was rather like I’d been in elementary school and had failed 1st grade twice.

It was like the voice of a kind, concerned father telling me that I really needed to get a grip and to get the victory in this, to get over the hump and to learn this lesson that was evidently so hard for me. What was the lesson? Unbelief.

I just over and over would default to doubt and not accept that the spiritual world was real, had worked in my life and made itself manifest on many occasions. I’d been in the grip of unbelief,UpAgainstTheWall_02-reworked even though God had really done a lot to show me that the world of His Spirit is real. If you want just one example of that among many, you can read about how God supernaturally warned me moments before the police raided my apartment about a year before what I’m talking about here. I wrote about that in “Up Against the Wall!

God was lovingly charging me and instructing me to not keep asking if it was all real. It was. And this was it; it was time to accept that His explanation for things, His way of seeing things, was the real one and the more powerful one, the truest explanation of the world I lived in. I was of course really shocked to hear those words. But also it sunk so deep in my heart that I really shouldn’t keep defaulting to my doubts which had been so entrenched in my heart for so many years.

The Bible talks about “besetting sins” (Hebrews 12:2). My besetting sin had been unbelief. And God wanted me to come to where I accepted what He’d been showing me and to repent of my doubting, to stop doubting and to come firmly down on the side of belief in Him and all that He has done and said.

Happily for me, that experience and those words changed my life. I made a real commitment right then to turn away from the reflex to doubt that had gripped me for so long. It was something I had to do. I had to resist those thoughts and recognize that it just wasn’t true. What was true was that there is a God, there is a spiritual world, and there is a devil. I had to adjust my life to these new realities that I’d discovered. It was a huge and total break with the life I’d had till that time.

As it says so clearly and so many times in the Bible, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him. For he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” (Hebrews 11:6) If you know much about God’s Word, you know how much importance He attaches to simply believing Him. All the way back 4000 years ago, “Abraham believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

“Good works” are important. Helping the poor, loving your neighbor, not being selfish. But the rock bottom essential in our spiritual lives comes down to belief in God, acknowledging that He is real, He is there, not just in our minds, not just as a concept but as a real Essence and Being, a Spirit that we can’t really understand and can’t see but whose spiritual world and working is all around us.

Thankfully I can say that I don’t think I’ve had that problem any more since that time. I haven’t battled doubt about the existence of God and the spiritual world. And that acceptance of faith and heeding His personal commandment to me to not doubt has been part of the foundation stone of the wonderful, incredible life of service for God that I’ve experienced since that time.

Distracted

fight distractions flatI was trying to have my morning prayer time, something I often do by going out somewhere in nature.  But this morning, as has happened at other times, it was a real battle to focus on prayer and not to be distracted.

I’ve recently moved and now am able to go out in a secluded wooded area, away from the bustle of the city. You would think that would be a great place to pray and I suppose it is. So the problem isn’t with the surroundings, it’s me. I seem to get easily distracted. “Oh, look at that butterfly! Those trees need pruning. The clouds are nice today.” Just on and on it goes. Repeatedly I have to snap out of it and turn my attention back to why I came out there: to pray and “pour out my heart before Him.” (Psalm 62:8)

lead and guide me flatMaybe my problem is that things are more or less going OK right now, that I’m not face to face with some ominous crisis. That may be a part of it. Sometimes situations you’re facing can drive you to desperate prayer. But what about when you need to do today what you did yesterday and will be doing for probably a few more weeks and months? Well, we still need to pray. We still need to “in all our ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:6) We need to “commit our way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:5)

It’s just so easy to lapse into lethargy and it can often begin with our prayer life. Jesus said to His disciples at perhaps the most desperate hour of His life, “Can you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) But they were asleep in the garden of Gethsemane while it says of the Lord in prayer, “and being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly. And His sweat was it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

Maybe we don’t “feel” like praying, maybe we’re tempted to think of it as drudgery or some kind of daily ritual we’re called to. But this can all be so much clearer if we shine the light of the Word on it. When I was going out to pray this morning, a verse came to me that I’d reviewed earlier. “Through desire, a man having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddeth with all wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1) I’ve heard folks say that verse is talking about something bad, separation from God and going after evil wisdom. But it equally can be taken the other way.

watch and pray flatHaving a desire to get alone with the Lord and to connect with Him, we separate ourselves from the world around us and its distractions so that we can seek and intermeddle with the wisdom, love and Spirit of God. That was my verse I claimed as I went out to pray today. But it was a battle. Another verse that came to me was what the Lord told His disciples when He said to them, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Temptation? You mean one of them had brought a bottle of whiskey or some other sin of the flesh? I don’t think so. I think the temptation was the same kind I was facing in our garden here this morning. Distractions, lethargy, fainting in our minds. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10) And that “day of adversity” doesn’t only have to be when you’re faceing ISIS or your neighbor’s dog.

It’s a battle every day with our besetting sins, the “weights and sins that do so easily beset us.” (Hebrews 12:2) And one of those besetting sins is to just grow weary in well doing, to get our eyes off the Lord and the goal before us. “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, (Proverbs 29:12) and in some ways it takes vision to take prayer time.

For me that vision is strengthened and enhanced by quoting the Word of God I have memorized. Otherwise I will just stroll along, doing my own thing and thinking my own vain thoughts. King David said, “I hate vain thoughts, but your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or it’s like Paul said, “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. ” (II Corinthians 10:5) That says a lot there, bringing every thought into captivity. Maybe that’s what that verse in the Old Testament meant when it said, “He did evil because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord.” (II Chronicles 12:14) We have to not only get in prayer; we have to get in the Spirit.

dont have to pray flatIt can all seem tedious. The devil and our own carnal mind can tell us that this isn’t really so important. “What you’re doing today doesn’t really have to be prayed about. You can handle this on your own.” Boy, what a lie. The Lord said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Well, we can do a lot of wrong and useless things. But to do His Will, we need His strength and power.

So even if this day may look a lot like the one yesterday, it still needs to be hemmed in at the beginning and end with focused, undistracted prayer. Lord help me, I’m almost writing this to myself as much as I am to anyone else. These are things I need to really remember, do and hold on to. I hope it’s something that others may be facing and need help with as well.