Lies, confusion and the truth

believe me 2 flatDon’t you just hate it when someone lies to you? It’s one thing when you catch it right away but even worse when they’ve lied to you for a while and you finally find out. I always figure the Lord gives us a measure of discernment and often we’ll detect a lie immediately. But not always.

Years ago in Scandinavia I’d begun meeting together with (what I thought was) a young man, perhaps around 20. “He” seemed interesting in the things of the Lord and we met together a few times before I didn’t see them anymore. Later I found that this was actually a young woman who’d probably had a great time deceiving me into thinking she was a male. I have to admit this somewhat stunned me that I’d been tricked like that and also that someone would be so deceptive.

really true flatI’ve had one other experience like that in another part of the world. A young man befriended me and my Christian friends and began to come regularly to our classes. He came from a wealthy, prominent family in the capital and seemed to have it all when it came to the physical. He helped us in our work with the poor and in many ways began to work besides us for months. But somehow this dear man seemed to find joy in telling stories of his past accomplishments that just were not true. He was pretty good at it and because of his background, none of us thought to just really dig into it and find that he was lying.

It was really pitiful because this young man had many good qualities and there was no need for him to try to pull the wool over our eyes with tall tales. But he did. At length it was all found out and he was embarrassed, ashamed and left our company. It was again kind of startling to me that someone would tell lies for so long to people who had sincerely become his friends and who really loved him. Also he had been through many Bible lessons and prayers and had been treated as someone who wanted to pursue a path of Christian discipleship.

King David desire truth flatAs I’ve written elsewhere, truth has always been important to me. King David in Psalm 51, said to God, “Behold, you desire truth in the inward parts, in the hidden parts you shall make me to know wisdom.” (Psalm 51:6)  It’s almost like an unspoken given among Christians that we speak the truth with each other. We may not tell everything of our lives to every person. But at least we realize that truth is the true coinage of the realm of Heaven and that lies, deception and confusion should have no part in our lives.

I was thinking about this tonight in relation to being back here in America and (seemingly at least) how very hard it is to find the real truth here on so many things. Of course we who have the Lord have the truth of His Word and through prayer we can access Him and “the Spirit of Truth” (John 16:13), as Jesus called the Holy Spirit. But once you’re anywhere outside the realm of heavenly things, knowing what the truth is here is not easy. The Bible says, “God is not the author of confusion” (I Corinthians 14:33). But here there’s a tremendous degree of confusion and deception as so many news outlets compete to tell you their brand of facts and truth.

It really seems like a great confusion has settled upon this nation, so much so that most people no longer even try to dig down to find the unbiased reality and veracity on any subject. It’s just seems too difficult. So most choose some source to get their information from, often knowing that what they’re being told is almost always seriously tainted with a bias from some special interest group, trying to influence and control the population through their particular narrative.

I met a friend yesterday, a former missionary, who now really rails against the government here and how “they” are out to get us and to enslave us all. Fear of powerful unknown interests who control and orchestrate virtually everything from behind the scenes is a viewpoint held by many millions here, including many sincere Christians. But in talking with this friend, almost immediately there were some things he’d say about current world conditions or this country that I knew to be just plainly not true from a facts-based assessment. But I didn’t engage him on it as I knew he would just get mad at me for not agreeing with this point of view he felt so strongly about.

no truth flatFriends, I don’t have a really great “happy ending” to this article. We who believe in God and the Bible know where to get our eternal truths and verities from: His unfailing Word. But when it comes to the truth as to what’s happening in our world or our nation …well it reminds me of what Jesus said, “If the light that be in you be darkness, how great is that darkness.” (Matthew 6:23) We seem to be the most informed and knowledge-saturated people on earth. But so much of what we are “fed” through the media and on line is just as insidious as the worst junk food bought at the sleaziest restaurant.

I’ll try to end this with at least some ideas and hope. Get your information from more than one source. If you know your main news source is predominately “left wing” or “right wing”, try to find what the more reputable sources of the other viewpoint are saying, just in order to try to find objective facts that your favorite sources aren’t telling you. I even access the “main stream media” which is so often so reviled. The reason I do is simply because they have some reputation to uphold and they’re held accountable in ways that many fly-by-night, shoe-string budget alternative information sources never are.

Maybe it’s like Pilate said to Jesus, “What is truth?”  (John 18:38) In this day and hour, finding credible sources of truth about our current world and its condition is often a real labor. But it’s worth the effort. Don’t settle for the “shock jocks” and the spin masters to be your info source. You could even ask the Lord to help you discern these things and to help you not settle for news and info that you feel may be much less than “24 carat gold”. May God bless you as you search through the confusion of these times to try to find accurate information on which to make the decisions needed in these perilous times. God bless you.

 

Pickpockets

PickpocketsI was at the Kiev train station two weeks ago, taking an early morning train back to eastern Ukraine. I hadn’t slept much the night before and I was in a bit of a rush to get to my place on the train before it left the station. There were a lot of people on the platform and at times things got rather packed in the crowd.

Suddenly I felt someone lightly pinch my arm. I looked and a young girl started speaking to me in Russian. I smiled and apologized that I didn’t speak her language and that (I thought) was the end of that. But I did think it was a little strange that she pinched my arm that way. Why didn’t she just tap me on the shoulder if she had a question? Anyway, it doesn’t matter (I thought).

kiev trainI was able to get onto my train wagon and was trying to get to my assigned seat but there still was quiet a crush in the isle. Somehow, I don’t know why, I got a “check” in my spirit, when the crowd was really packed, to reach back to my pocket to protect my wallet.

And as I reached back, there was already a hand in my back pocket, trying to pull out my wallet.  The hand quickly was withdrawn and it all became clear to me at that moment that the young girl was part of a pick pocketing team. I remembered that I’d barely seen another young girl with her when my arm had been pinched a few minutes earlier. It all happened in an instant and I didn’t want to try to take the time to yell or catch the pickpockets. They are usually very clever about what they do and know how to melt away into a crowd very quickly.

But as the train pulled out of the station I had time for the significance of it all to dawn on me. The Lord somehow had given me the presence of mind and the nudge of His Spirit to reach back with my painful arm to check my wallet just as the moment when I was being robbed. It would have been a real big setback for me as there were not only funds there but cards and documents having to do with travel that would have been a nightmare to replace. The Lord had protected me again in a supernatural and miraculous way.

A few weeks ago I wrote about “The Unguarded Moment”, when in a brief time of dullness and a lack of prayerfulness, I seriously injured my arm at a grocery store parking lot nearly a year ago. But my time in Kiev two weeks ago was a “guarded moment”. The dear loving Lord saw fit to protect me against very professional thieves who very nearly accomplished a major strike on my life when I was far from my home and base.

guardian-angelsSometimes it’s just God’s grace and we are swept along by His heavenly providence and protection. “The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7)  “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4)

I’ve thought some about why the Lord so miraculously protected me there at the train station in Kiev but allowed the serious injury at the parking lot in Texas last year. And I don’t have a really full and definitive answer about it. But a year ago in the parking lot, I was just “running on autopilot”, not really in prayer or even thinking very much. But in Kiev, I was praying as things were a little tense overall and I’ve had other times where I’ve known how crowds like that can be the lurking places of thieves. I think even that girl pinching my arm like that did something to alert me that there might be some funny business going on.

So it’s another of “God’s Little Miracles” which I have written about a few times elsewhere. What else can we say but to be abundantly thankful for a supernatural, miracle-working God Who’s promised to be with us unto the end of the world. I think this is especially true when we are going forward for the Lord, even in foreign lands to share His love and truth to those in need. “They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming His Word with signs following.” (Mark 16:20)

A Rabbit and the Lynch Mob

lynch mobA week ago was the day of the funeral of my mom, Virginia McMillion. I’d flown in from Europe the day before and it was just a rough time for me in every way. I’d not planned to speak at the funeral as I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. But that morning a couple of things came to mind that I felt would be good for folks to know about the heritage and upbringing both I and my parents had.

My dad, about 8 years old, 1929

My dad, about 8 years old

At the funeral I shared two stories of my parents’ upbringing that had a big impact on them and a big impact on me when I was told them as a child. First, about my dad. He went hunting with his dad when he was maybe 7 years old, around 1928. They came back with a rabbit he’d shot and showed it to his mom. Her only comment was something like, “Poor rabbit. Why did you shoot it? He never hurt anyone.” This of course made a huge impact on my dad and he never went hunting again. But in a broader sense, it was indicative of the traditions and life view of my dad’s mother and father and their families.

There was an underlying theme of kindness and even harmlessness that permeated the lives of those people. Trying to find something in the Bible that could describe this, the phrase “without guile” (John 1:47) came to mind. I’ve thought about how, if I’d tried to speak about this when I was young, I don’t think I could have verbalized it. But it continually touched me and impacted me at perhaps a subconscious level, strongly shaping my life. I wrote about my dad’s side of my family in “Texas People”.

“Sharecroppers” picking cotton

“Sharecroppers” picking cotton

At the funeral I next told about a major event in the history of my mom’s family. They lived on northeast Texas countryside and her grandfather was a very wealthy landowner and cotton farmer over 100 years ago. He had many “sharecroppers” working on his land, both whites and African-Americans. It happened that a white man came to the house of a black man over some argument. A fight broke out and in defending himself, the black man killed the white man. The black man fled for protection to the house of my great-grandfather, Marshall Womack. Soon after that a crowd of white men on horseback came to my great-grandfather’s house, demanding that he turn the black man over to them.

If you’re from the US, you probably know what was going on with this. But for those who might not understand, this time 100 years ago was still totally dominated in the southern states of the USA by rampant, often violent, racism. The sudden hangings of black men without trail, “lynching”, was often the way things were handled in situations like this.

But my mother’s grandfather went out to meet the lynch mob in front of his house and told them he had no intention of handing over the black man to them. It ended up that the black man was taken to Paris, Texas to stand trial where he was convicted of manslaughter and served a few years in jail. But he wasn’t turned over to a racist mob that day and my great-grandfather stood up against the evil that was so rampant in those times about these things.

My great grandfather, Marshal Womack (1869-1964)

My great grandfather, Marshal Womack (1869-1964)

These stories of my family’s history made a huge impact on me when I was young. It made me realize that there are important things in life having to do with what we call morals, ethics and the things of the soul and heart which are supremely important. Solomon said, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) My dad’s side of the family was still fairly Christian but my mom’s side was not as much. But even without being overtly Christian, there was still a strong underlying sense of right and wrong and at times a willingness to stand up and against the tide, like in the case of the lynch mob at my great grandfather’s house.

Growing up, I just knew that in my family, we had a standard of right and wrong that would end up standing alone at times against what many others felt was acceptable and normal. Somehow I knew I was accountable to a very high standard of decency, because of the heritage of my upbringing.

Probably all of us have things like this from our youth, stories your parents told you that shaped your life. Maybe you said in your heart, “I want to be like that.” Or maybe you said in your heart that you didn’t. This is a major way our lives are shaped and how we come to decide who we are and what we want to be.

Long ago God told believers back then, “This Word which I command you this day shall be in your heart. And you shall  teach it diligently to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:6 & 7) We all have influence, for evil or for good. I’m so thankful to be from a family that taught me through their words and deeds to have a real love for mankind and for truth, justice and equality as well.

Virginia McMillion (1921-2016)

My dad, with my mom, on his 92nd birthday, November, 2013

Four days ago I moved back here to Texas to attend the funeral of my dear mother, Virginia McMillion. I was in Ukraine when I heard from relatives here that she had taken a sudden turn for the worse. I made it back to my base in Romania, closed it and was able to fly here the day before her funeral.

So both physically and emotionally it’s been one of the more trying weeks of my life. You may know that my dad passed away at the age of 92 in 2014. Here’s an article I wrote about him and his life, “Bonner McMillion“. The picture you see there is of my mom and dad at my dad’s 92nd birthday in November of 2013. While the blog post about my dad is mainly about him, a lot there is a reflection of how my mother was as well.

My mom was a very loving and kind matriarch of our family and she will be very much missed. While I was at ground zero of “the generation gap” as I grew up, in later years my relationship with my folks got better. They invited me to live with them in 2012 as my mom wasn’t able to take care of my dad who by then needed full time care. He passed away about 18 months after I moved into the house and I lived another 18 months with my mom, until August of last year when I moved to Romania.

It’s sometimes difficult to explain to others what someone has meant to you. In the matter of my parents and me, things are even more complicated by many layers of twisting and turnings in our lives, including some strong disagreements and differing views. But it’s been said that out of the twisting and suffering of the life of King David came forth the sweetness of the Psalms and that’s true in this case also.

The fact that I became a born again Christian and accepted the call of full time Christian service in my 20’s was very difficult for my parents to understand or accept. But tolerance and inclusion always played an integral part of their lives and they tried to be understanding. As the years went by, I myself became less adamant and blunt in expressing my faith while still retaining my beliefs and the path God set me on. By the time I was in my 60’s and my parents reached their 90’s, there was a much better relationship between us than there had been in earlier years.

There’s a lot I wish I could tell you about my parents and upbringing as I was very much prepared for a life of Christian service through my parents, even though they themselves were not overt Christian ministers themselves. It’s like the verses in James 2 where it is said, “I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18) Without going off the very deep end on that subject, I’ll just say that my parents very often showed a sample of kindness, love, self-sacrifice and empathy that never wavered in their lives. It was through my parents that I learned to care about people and the greater world we live in. That’s why I wanted to be a politician when I was still growing up, thinking somehow that I could make a better world that way. God saw it all and called me to serve Him but the principle of service and living for others was already there from what I’d learned from my parents.

When I was 1, with my parents and grandparents. Kinder people and perhaps better times

When I was 1, with my parents and grandparents. Kinder people and perhaps better times

I had an interesting experience the morning of my mom’s funeral. I was very jet lagged and had not planned to speak at the funeral as I figured it would just have been too much for me. But, surprisingly, some ideas did come to me of things I could share about what kind of family I come from and what kind of families my mother and father come from.  A while back I wrote about some of this in the blog post “Texas People”. And I’ll try to write up what I shared at the funereal as two stories of my parent’s upbringing came to mind which helped to show the heritage they came from which they passed on to me and my sisters.

I’m very much in a recovery mode right now, both physically and emotionally. It’s a major end of an era in my life and the life of my family. I’m so thankful that I have the Lord to hold on to during this time and I’ve been reminded that I still have the things He has done and continues to do in my life. But rebasing back to the States has been necessary and that also is a rather big and surprising turn of events which I’m still digesting as I get my bearings in this new situation. And thanks to the many of you who’ve prayed for me and sent words of love and encouragement during this time. I aim to continue to do what He has led me to do. But this has been a pretty big event and I’m looking to Him to keep me going and on the right course in the weeks and months to come. God bless you, love to you all, Mark

The unguarded moment

The-fight-of-faithFrom time to time as a kid I’d hear the phrase, “the bogey man will get you if you don’t watch out.” Of course, even as I child I knew there was no “bogey man.” Still, there’s kind of a flip side to this here. Because, in actuality, there are a lot of things that will “get you if you don’t watch out.”

Many Christians know what the Apostle Peter said, “Be sober, and be vigilant, for your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter 5:8) But sometimes we find in our lives is that the “evil spirit” we have the most problem with is often our own personal spirit, our own dull, rebellious, ornery nature. And sometimes this can even be true for the saved. Jesus’ disciples rejoiced that “even the devils are subject unto us through Your name”. (Luke 10:17) But our own selves are often the spirits we have the most trouble with. This is all related to how I incurred the shoulder injury 8 months ago that caused the need for the surgery I had a few days ago. I wrote about this experience recently in “Pain and suffering”.

It was nothing sinister I did and that’s all the more reason why it’s worth sharing this as I think a lot of us may be guilty of such things from time to time. What happened? You’re going to be disappointed. I was taking a heavy grocery bag out of a shopping cart when I took a bad angle on it and suddenly felt a big pain in my shoulder. I thought I’d strained a muscle, something most of us have done at some time. But this just never healed up. I was due to move to Europe in 6 weeks and I thought it would get better but it didn’t. Now it’s turned out to be the biggest injury I’ve ever had, at least in the way of pain, debilitation and time lost for the Lord’s service.

Why did that happen? How can it be that, when the Lord has so protected me in numerous places around the world where legitimate danger was very real, I end up getting hurt pretty bad in a grocery store parking lot? There is an answer to this. It’s called “the unguarded moment”.

unguarded flatFor Christians, the Bible says “We are sealed by the Holy Ghost.” (Ephesians 1:14) “The angel of the Lord encamps about them that fear Him and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7) For those who are His, there’s a tremendous amount of protection and power that’s ours. But there are at least some conditions. “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” I wasn’t taking drugs or drunk when this accident happened. But I’ve realized that I was not sufficiently walking in the Spirit of God at the time like I should have been.

Jesus told His disciples, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) For many of us, we can think that this means, “Oh, if a drug dealer or a prostitute came up to you there in that parking lot, you wouldn’t be tempted by them!” That’s not what happened but still something very serious did happened. “The curse causeless shall not come” (Proverbs 26:2) so what was I doing, or not doing, that brought this on?

Basically I was dull in my spirit right then . I was “entangled with the affairs of this life” (II Timothy 2:4) to the degree that I missed whatever check the Holy Spirit could have given me right then that I was making a dangerous move with the heavy grocery sack. Even with my personal limited knowledge of weight lifting, I should have noticed that my angle was bad in lifting the bag. But I must have been dull at the time, my mind somewhere else and overall being in a false sense of security in familiar surroundings, doing something I’d done so many times before.

Stormy flatThere are always things which must be attended to; we live in a physical world and we can’t be drifting around on some spiritual cloud in perpetual trance-like mediation. But for those who are His, it just doesn’t pay to ever neglect our link with the Lord, even for a moment. We are to “pray without ceasing”. (I Thessalonians 5:17) This doesn’t mean being down on your knees, frantically calling out to God all the time but that we’re walking in an alert spirit, “in all our ways acknowledging Him” so that “He shall direct our path.” (Proverbs 3:6) “You shall hear a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21) Well, I didn’t hear His voice that day because I was inadvertently dwelling in my carnal mind and the affairs of this life so the Holy Spirit was less able to get through to me and I’ve suffered for it ever since.

Did the devil do it? No, it was my mistake. It’s so easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when we’re on familiar ground and doing things that are so commonplace to us. But that’s when we can suffer some of our worst mistakes, in those unguarded moments when we let down our shield and are dull to our surroundings. So, as it turns out, there certainly are some things that “will get you if you don’t watch out.” It reminds me of what Jesus said, “What I say unto you, I say unto all. Watch.” (Mark 13:37)

 

Pain and suffering

I’ve had an interesting week. On Wednesday I had 5 hours of surgery on my right shoulder to repair a tendon I ruptured 8 months ago. I’d never had surgery before and almost never needed to go to a hospital til now. So it was all very new to me. I’ll pick up with what happened the next morning at the hospital, after the anesthesia wore off.

With my new shoulder sling

Basically I quickly began to experience pain like I’ve never had in my life. For 2 hours it got worse and worse to where I was moaning, crying and asking/begging the nurse to hurry up with boosting the dosage of pain killer. She was doing her job but she had others to attend to. Also I suspect it can get to be with nurses that they become desensitized to the suffering that patients experience after a while. But I was getting increasingly desperate and insistent.

We got to the point where I was asking/demanding that they either give me morphine or gas me out so I wouldn’t experience what was happening at that time. But around then the effects of what they’d been giving me the last two hours began  to work and the pain level came down from “10” to about “6.5”. I was able to bear that enough.

It had been pain that pushed me to get a better analysis of what had happened to my shoulder 8 months ago. I’d finally had an MRI done which the orthopedic surgeon used to show me where my muscle was detached from my bone by about 1 inch. That’s why it had been virtually impossible for me to sleep at night for months.

Back home that night, still taking the maximum allowed of pain killers and wearing the shoulder sling you  can see in the picture, I realized I’d have another night of no sleep until my fatigue got the better of my pain. All I could do was wait, pace the floor in my apartment and “draw nigh to God” (James 4:8). And in prayer I thought about a lot.

dad and sonI thought about how many people around the world are in pain all the time. The hungry, the sick, the dispossessed, the refugees, those with no hope. I thought about the Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds I’d talked with on the Macedonian border in December, or in refugee camps in Berlin in January. Women with children, young Syrian daddies who held their little son’s hand, all in the bitter cold of a Balkan winter. How was my pain compared to theirs?

Moscow beggarI thought of the year I lived in Moscow in the 90’s and the beggars I’d see there. Many were not alcoholics but former military officers or older women who looked to come from very distinguished backgrounds who stood with their hands out, a look of sadness on their faces that made me realize how great a personal loss so many had had with the collapse of Communism. Or the middle aged men I met in Aceh Province, Indonesia, after the tsunami disaster there in 2004. It was the men who survived. aceh survivorThey often were fishermen or truck drivers and were away from their families on the Sunday morning when 3 giant waves crashed into coastal communities for hundreds of miles. I remembered the many men I’d met who’d lost their wife and all their children and the utter sadness and profound despondency they had.

And I thought of my own United States of America and the social background I come from: middle aged to elderly, White and middle class. lost my jobWhile prosperity has increased over the last 20 years or so, the demographic I’m a part of has seen basically no gain in their standards of living and it’s been necessary to work all the more just to keep at the level they were decades ago. Alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide has steadily risen for the white middle class in the USA while in other industrialized Western nations, these things have all decreased. You don’t have to talk to refugees to find pain and suffering in our times.

So I hesitate to say I became thankful for my suffering because you might ask, “Oh, would you like some more of it?” And I’d say no. But it was a reality check that I’ve had it pretty good in my life. I’ve had some very strong pain in an emotional sense from personal family-related things in my past. Also decades ago when I was getting close to becoming a Christian, the Lord allowed me to feel severe anguish and torment of soul that helped drive me to salvation. But plain, outright physical pain is not something I’ve experienced so much of.

Around 4 AM my fatigue finally got the best of my pain and I slept 2 hours, sitting upright on my sofa since lieing down was impossible. Now, a couple of days later, things are improving. The worst of the pain has abated and I’m able to sleep in my bed at night with a good deal fewer pain killers than before.

feeling pain flatThe Bible says “in everything give thanks” (I Thessalonians 5:18) and I can say, in some strange way, I’m thankful for this experience. It was a very good reminder of what hundreds of millions, if not billions of people experience every day. Even before I became a Christian, when I was growing up, I wanted to do something to make things better in this world. I’m so, so thankful that the Lord got a hold of me and brought me into a life of Christian discipleship.

Some of us are doing ok today. But if we have food in our stomach, a place to sleep, some friends and we’re pretty much staying above the waves and vicissitudes of this often dangerously raging world we live in, it’s good to remember those who aren’t doing so well and who could use some help.  I think that’s how Jesus taught us to look at these things.

 

Dr. Kosmos

Dr Kosmos fixed flatI was thinking about an incredible incident that happened when I was in university but already on the path of faith in God and in Jesus, only just at the beginning. You may have read were I wrote about how I very nearly died on drugs and went to hell for my sins when I was in university. I wrote about that in “Lucifer and the White Moths.

You’d think an incident like that would be all that it would take to utterly get me turned around and straightened out once and for all. But it wasn’t. I had many rises and falls, many missteps and hesitations, even what could be called backslidings.first road picture-flattened I wrote about one of those in “Lights on the Road”, where I had a car mishap that should have surely taken my life when I was back in sin again. But the Lord saw fit to make things happen otherwise through the intervention of what certainly were angels who manifested themselves.

Tonight I was thinking back to those first weeks and how utterly astounded I was, flabbergasted, utterly mind-blown at the reality of the existence of the God of Abraham. It might be easy for you to think, “if that happened to me, I would so much straighten up and fly right”, as my dad  used to say. Maybe you would but I didn’t. It really took a lot to get me even to the point of receiving Jesus as my personal savior.

In the first days and weeks after I had the incredible breakthrough just before I was 21, I had a strong feeling in my heart that I should just leave everything behind and start traveling with a backpack as so many young people were doing then. I strongly felt that I should travel towards Houston, Texas and then on east towards Atlanta. I didn’t really know why but later I found that some of the Jesus People who led me to the Lord were in those areas at that time. But I didn’t know that.

Dr. Kosmos 2 fixed flatBut I did determine that this was what I should do and I began to make preparations. I had flunked out of university, mostly because of my fallen state through drugs, debauchery and a lack of vision for “useless and pointless knowledge”, as Bob Dylan had described higher education in one of his songs. I was on the right track at last, trying to move with a new impetus from the Spirit of God and a specific leading to travel, going out “not knowing whether I went” (Hebrews 11:8), rather like Abraham.

But then, the Devil entered the scene again. I got a letter from my university. (This is going to be hard to believe but it really happened.) In those days, if you flunked out of university, you were very likely to be drafted almost immediately to go fight in the war in Viet Nam which was raging at that time. And I’d flunked out so I would shortly be eligible to be drafted.

A letter arrived from my university. They told me they were going to give me another chance. I could come back for another semester and try one more time. Sounds good, no? Only, in my case, God had saved me from hell and He had greater plans for me than “finishing my education” at university. He had a whole new life ahead of me, from Him.

But here’s where it really gets good. I was reading this letter, telling me I could reapply to the university. And I was thinking, “I’ve already made a decision to just leave everything and go out traveling in the direction the Spirit of God is leading me, towards Houston and Atlanta. And now I get this letter. Hmm.”  But here it comes, wait for it….

Dr Kosmos 3 fixed flatThe letter from the university was signed by… Dr. Kosmos. Even with my extremely limited knowledge of spiritual things, I knew that “Cosmos” was the Greek word for “the world”. Like the verse that says, “Love not the world.” (I John 2:15) So I nearly dropped my teeth, as they say. I practically could smell the sulfur and see the horns peaking up behind the letter I had received. I’m sure there was a literal “Dr. Kosmos” who had sent me this letter from the university. But I was able to see by the Spirit that this was a message from Satan, luring me back into the world after I’d begun to be set free by God to follow Him.

Good for you Mark! You really recognized the enemy there! And you stood your ground and didn’t yield, right?

dont follow God flatNope, I was weak and fell for it. Even though by the Spirit I recognized this as an allurement of Satan to hinder me from following the Lord the way He was leading, I still didn’t have the faith and strength to go against this back then and I went back to university.

So you failed God! Again, Mark! And He sent you to Hell, right!? You failed Him over and over again, practically at every turn and here you did it again! He killed you that night as you rightly deserved, no?!

Not actually. Back at university in the fall of 1969 I experienced what I wrote about in “Terrorist Infiltrators”, getting to know some of the top revolutionaries in the USA back then, working on SDS demonstrationthe main underground newspaper in Texas at the time and being in the leadership of a major demonstration on my campus. At the end of that semester I was still alive. I had flunked out again, had stopped using heavy drugs, was still reading my Bible every day and praying all the time. Again the Lord led me to just leave it all behind, “forsake all”  (Matthew 19:29), and to journey in the direction He’d originally told me to go. That finally happened. And soon I met those Jesus People and came to the day where I received Jesus as my Savior, beginning this wonderful life I’ve had for so long.

If you get a letter from “Dr. Kosmos”, giving you “one more chance” to make it in this world’s systems of man, as opposed to God’s will for your life, maybe you can remember this story. “You shall worship the Lord you God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Luke 4:8) “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Proverbs 1:10)

Hard Knocks Witnessing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zeal and Hard Sayings

ChurchillI was thinking about Winston Churchill, one of my heroes. A movie that made a huge impact on me was “The Gathering Storm” about Churchill in the 1930’s. He was already old and pretty much out of favor in Britain. In the British parliament he just kept up his “rant”, if you will, against the dangers of Germany and Hitler’s rise. But it wasn’t what people wanted to hear and he was pretty much “a voice in the wilderness” (John 1:23), going against the wind and the tide of the times. But he was right, very right. And ultimately, as that movie shows, the nation came to see that he’d been right all along in his warnings.

It can be a lonely job at times to tell truths that are unpopular and go against popular opinion. It can be tough to be tough. And sometimes, actually, it can be God’s will to be a little tough. Jesus was. Yes, He was, at least in some sense. You don’t usually hear about this from the pulpit but in John 6 Jesus gave His “cannibal speech”. Today we have sanitized the whole thing and understand it by the Spirit. But back then it was very, very rough.

hard saying flatSo rough that it says that some of His disciples said, “This is a hard saying, who can hear it?” (John 6:60) The Bible goes on to say, “From that time, many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him.” (John 6:66) What happened? Well, Jesus told them, “Except you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.” (John 6:53)

That doesn’t bother you because you’ve had it explained to you and you know Jesus was not speaking of cannibalism. But the ones who heard Him say it that day really didn’t get it. And it gets worse. In Luke 14 “Great multitudes followed Him and He turned and said to them, ‘If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother and wife and children, yeah and his own life also, He cannot be my disciple’.” (Luke 14:26)

So there you have it in the Gospels, cannibalism and hatred. Of course we now know and understand what we feel those things mean. But the point is, there are some relatively hard sayings in some places in Scripture, even in the four Gosples. And if we’re following the Lord and letting the Lord speak to us and through us, at times there are still hard sayings today.

Maybe it’s like the phrase people use nowadays, “tough love.” That’s how it can be. Solomon said, “Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8) Let’s face it, most of us are not that wise and don’t love getting rebuked. Still Solomon was right; being shown a better way than your own can be tough but it also really helps.

I guess I’ve been a little concerned because I know that recently I’ve put some things in my posts that may have been “hard sayings” to some of my friends. I hesitate to apologize because I just know and feel that there has to be a time in each life where difficult things need to be said in order to make things better. It’s certainly not a matter of hate or, hopefully, of self-righteousness. It’s just that in order to help each other, we have to say things that are difficult, things that call us to a serious appraisal of ourselves and even to repentance for our slackness and an urging to great commitment to Him.

You told me the truth-a-flattenedThis can not only be difficult to receive, it can be difficult to share. But I’ve often been on the receiving end of some rather strong but Godly council from Christian brethren who were trying to help me see the error of my ways and the areas I needed to make Christian progress in. It was not easy to receive and sometimes it wasn’t even shared with me in all that sweet a lovey-dovey package. Nevertheless, the Lord’s truth was there and I needed “to see the lightning without feeling the bolt”, which was not always easy.

So when I share things in some of my posts that may come across as challenging or almost extreme to some, I hope I’m sharing these things in love, often as lessons I myself have experienced and gone through. Richard GereAgain, going back to movies many of us have seen to be an example of this, “An Officer and a Gentleman” is an incredible movie that shows these things so well. Staring Richard Gere and Louis Gossett, Jr., Gere is in basic training to be a navy pilot and Gossett is his hard-as-nails drill sergeant and instructor. It basically seems like Gossett hates Gere and is doing all he can to get him to fail. But the movie brings out that the drill sergeant has to be that way in order to get Gere to be a completely remolded man and to know if he will be of the meddle that can have what it takes to be at that level of the military.

And so it is with us. The Lord loves us but wants to make us into something useful and fruitful for Him. I’ve been through the fire, the flood, the anvil and the ice at times in my life. It was rough, sometimes really rough, but I’m still around and I’ve profited from those tough experiences. If you find things in my blog posts that push you, challenge you or make you feel uncomfortable, hopefully it will not be something you take personally. Instead you’ll see it as my trying to share what I’ve learned in my life with you and my trying to help all of us to go further up the mountain of His will, further along the road of the cross, further along the road of commitment and fruitfulness.

Jesus said, “Blessed is he who is not offended in Me.” (Luke 7:23) My hope and prayer is that what I share in my posts, although they may be zealous, will be a blessing to you, even if some things are hard to receive or understand at times. God bless you, your friend, Mark

Enemy at the Gate?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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