1 AM in Sofia, Bulgaria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Terrorist Infiltrators

[On November 14th I was going to publish this. But the sad events in Paris, France a few hours earlier were so vivid and visceral that it seemed to not be the best time. I’ve left it unchanged. It’s definitely a “minority report” but, I believe, very needed to challenge us to turn the evil tide of these times.]

migrant boatHave you seen all the articles and posts about the fear of terrorist infiltrators among all the refugees coming to Europe? You can’t really miss it. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that there are ones like that among all those coming to the West right now. I don’t doubt that at some point there will be attacks in the West, perpetrated by Islamic radicals.

But allow me to give you something even greater to fear and be shocked at. Where are the people of God who feel challenged by all this, to rise up as His true witnesses and to win as many of these people as they can to Him?

Most people love fear, rage and nationalism/racism far more than they love to be challenged to live their faith in God. Fear and hatred sell and are sadly popular. People need to be told who their enemies are, right? But this gets even more personal; bear with me.

It would not really be correct if I said, “I once was a terrorist”. me 72 fixed-ABut when I was going to university, I was getting real close to circles of people who would today be called that. It was the height of the anti-war movement in the late 60’s. I was in university but working as a writer and editor on the most well-known “underground newspaper” in the state of Texas. I helped write it, put it together with a group of about 10 people, drove a van across central Texas to get it printed and then sold it on the street.

“Mark, that’s so innocuous. Mark, Muslims HATE us and want to KILL us!”

At one point there was a major riot/demonstration at my university. Thousands of students stormed the main building. The police came, then the National Guard surrounded the campus and it was on all the national news services.demonstrators I was one of 6 people who were inside the main administrative building, negotiating with the president of the university.

During that fall, the organization “Students for a Democratic Society” held their nation conference just off our campus. I went to their meetings and to the private parties afterwards. I met the top leadership, some of whom were soon to end up on the FBI top 10 wanted list as leaders ofThe Weathermen. I was very drawn to these people as I was very grieved by the events of the times.

Back then two guys approached me who said they were soldiers at nearby Fort Hood, one of the main US Army staging posts for the Viet Nam war. They said they were part of the underground movement. “Give us the LSD and we’ll give you the machine guns”, they told me. Almost certainly they were undercover FBI guys. But that’s how my life was back then.

“What does this have to do with Islamic migrants and terrorism?”

This. I wasn’t into killing people or violence. I was just desperate for truth, justice and the triumph of good over evil. And through it all, the God of Abraham saw my heart and brought me first to Him, and then months later to His Son.

I believe and know with all my heart that within this multitude of people coming to Europe and the US from the Middle East, there are many, perhaps very many who are as desperate and heart-sick as I was in my youth. refugee in fieldAnd somebody witnessed to me back then. Somebody didn’t look at my longish hair and strange ways; they looked into my heart and saw a desperate, needy soul.

But my question is, will there be people in our times who can look past all the propaganda, hatred and fear about Muslims and see instead a multitude of people who God Himself has allowed to come to our lands?

Paul on the road to Damascus

I was virtually on the road to being a “terrorist” in my youth but God intervened and brought me to Him. Saul of Tarsus sure must have seemed like a terrorist to the early Christians. But God saw his heart, knocked him off his high horse and called him to be His servant. But there had to be Christians back then who could see the hand of God in this and who accepted Paul as their new brother, rather than the “terrorist” he had been.

Is it Scriptural to share our faith with terrorists? Is it in the Word? First, for those who keep up with these things, it’s common knowledge that Jesus Christ has been way out in front of all of us on this for years. 01For years, Muslims all over the Middle East have been having living, life-altering experiences with the Son of God. This is what I wrote about in “Suicide Bomber Sees the Light”.

And it was the same way at the time of the Early Church. Christ Himself was way out in front back then as well and dramatically appeared to one of the very worst “terrorists” of the Early Church. But then what happened? Let’s have a short Bible study on that and see if it applies to today.

Saul had been blinded by the Light of the Lord and had been led into Damascus where he was for the next 3 days. We pick up the story at Acts 9:10

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias. And the Lord to him said in a vision, “Ananias”. And he said, “Behold, I am here, Lord.

And the Lord said unto him, “Arise and go into the street which is called Straight and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus. For, behold, he is praying and has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”

Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Your name“. But the Lord said unto him, brother saul flatGo your way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.

And Ananias went his way and entered into the house. And putting his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto you in the way as you came has sent me, that you might receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales. And he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

We hear so much about Saul and his Damascus road experience. We are all thankful for Paul. But when Saul became Paul, God needed an Ananias. Today that should be you and me. How would it have gone if there had not been ones like Ananias and others who were willing to be led of the Lord to minister to this man who had been their feared, fearsome enemy until then? This can be one of Christianity’s finest hours if there are those who will see God’s hand and this opportunity from Him to share our faith with these ones.

Could there be danger? Yes. Will they all become Christians? No. But, I challenge you here: watch not only for some future terrorist attack from Muslims coming to Europe. Instead, watch to see to what degree Christians rise up to love, welcome and share their faith with these ones in this hour.

If the Christian response is anemic, halting and virtually non-existent, then that in the realms of heaven may be far bigger news and a greater disappointment than any terrorist incident. If God’s people are so defeated and uncaring that they don’t let Jesus in them be the Light, Love and Truth that so many of these poor souls coming to these lands so desperately need, then God help us all.

German Refugee Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fret Not

which voice flatMost of us, all of us actually, hear voices. Yes, we do. It’s those little “subconscious” things that bubble up inside of us, for better or for worse. And a large part of life comes down to discerning those voices and knowing which ones are the good ones we listen to and which are the ones we don’t. In fact, this is a major factor in determining who we are: which of those voices are what we determine to be our own and our best.

But it can be tough. Even as children we learn what worry is and how it’s not good. But what about legitimate concern? The Bible says, “The prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” (Proverbs 27:12) At times the best and wisest voice in our hearts is caution and that can often look pretty close to worry or fear. So it just not all real easy.

But there’s more. We’re not alone. It’s not just the little voices we hear inside of us, there are ones that sound and seem almost exactly the same. But they come from outside us, from the spiritual world, both good and evil.

UpAgainstTheWall_02-reworkedHow many people have had some little nudge, some little hunch that they should or shouldn’t do something, even though there’s no visible, reasonable reason to do it? I sure have, on numerous occasions. I wrote about one of those in “Up Against the Wall!” Following that hunch or nudge kept me out of 2 years of prison as a teenager when by most standards, that’s what I deserved. But that was the voice of God, His mercy intervening and speaking powerfully to my mind to do something immediately, something I had not planned to do.

And then there are the voices from the other side, the dark side, that push and prompt people to do evil things. I’m convinced that much of the horror we read about nowadays is originated in the spiritual nether world as evil spirits influence weakened minds and hearts to do their bidding.

fight backBut the good news is that we have choice. The old saying, “The devil made me do it”, is not fully correct. Because we can choose, we can fight back. We can do what it says in the Bible, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Jesus Himself certainly did that; you can read about it in Luke 4:1-13.

Often though, it isn’t Satan we are dealing with, it’s our own hearts and weakened consciences. The Bible says that “the flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17) and those little voices from both sides are so often there and conflict with each other in our minds, even without any influence from the dark side. I guess that’s why for me it was such a complete breakthrough to receive Jesus as my Savior in my heart and to be filed with the Holy Spirit. I truly became a “new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17). It’s actually somewhat comparable to what we see happening in our times when we have to format the hard drives on our computers and install a new operating system.

Did that mean that now everything was ok for me? No more little voices conflicting within me? No, I still had and have my basic human nature, personality, quirks and foibles. Only that with Jesus coming into my life, it was like the verse I’ve mentioned before that so sums up the difference, “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) I just had power to follow the right and the good that before I didn’t. Before, sin really did “have dominion over” me (Romans 6:14). But after receiving the Lord, I had Him in me to lead me and empower me to go in the direction of truth and light.

Is of the truth-a- flattenedAlso a major thing was that I found out what the real truth was when reading and understanding the Bible. But I still heard voices, like we all do. I still would be tempted to fear or fret. I still had really a lot to learn about which voices were ones of legitimate concern, not foolish fears, leading me away from the wrong direction. I had to learn, often from experiences, what the sound and nature of the voices were that came from God, calling me further up the mountain of His will and service. But just having the Bible that I began to memorize verses from was a major factor in helping me to recognize voices of truth and error within me.

And it’s still that way many years later. I’ve learned that I practically have to take a firm hand with certain aspects of my personality or nature, almost rebuking myself for giving ear to things I have learned are time wasters or weakeners of my soul and His will. And after a while, those fretful voices within me begin to not really be my own as they were and I more consistently “nip them in the bud”, as gardeners have to do with weeds.

Back in Bulgaria

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

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

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

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

me and vaska in church-2

From March, 2015

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

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

church crowd composite

from March, 2015

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

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

The-prophet-Daniel-and-Nebuchadnezzar

Daniel explains the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, from Daniel chapter 2

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

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

Christmas 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your friend in Him, Mark

Encountering Refugees

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

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

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

me at transit center

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

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

An Afghan man I talked with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Musings on our darkened times

times are rough flatI’ve just been thinking about things, about the big picture, where things are going, how things are going. And I mean this not only for myself but for our world as it is right now and the saints of God, the world-wide “body of Christ”, as it is called within Christian circles.

It’s just very easy to get discouraged with the way things are now, the killings, the hatred, the fear, the division, the extremism and the lowering of public discussions so often to raging ignorance, a fact-less truth-less cacophony of darkened confusion. “Truth is perished.” (Jeremiah 7:28) Indeed.

John KennedyCan any of us do anything?  I grew up wanting to be a politician. This was back when there still were some role model politicians around. I think my motive was not to accrue power but to try to help people and make a better world. But experiences on my campus at university and also working in the newsroom of a large city newspaper showed me that politics is not an avenue to get at the root of the problems of individuals or societies.

Then, as my life deteriorated rapidly, along came Jesus. Actually it was God that came along first but you know how it is, They work together. And things changed so immensely and utterly for me that it’s hard to know what to emphasis in it all. But one of the most important things was that I’d found the truth I was searching for. It was the full package, the whole download. My “hard drive” had been formatted and I had an utterly new “operating system”.

But I soon noticed and knew that I wasn’t the only one with some variation of this operating system. “Christianity”, in one form or other, had been around a long time and I grew up around folks who considered themselves Christians. [I’m building up to something here, sorry it’s taking me a while.]

While so much of the basics of my new found faith in God and in Jesus were the same as the Christians I’d grown up around, there were definitely some things that were different. If I was to boil it down to two things, I’d say it could be called “discipleship” and “witnessing”. Now decades later, I look at those two things as still defining difference-makers in my life and also what could be the defining difference makers in society today.

gun & Bible pictureChristianity in some ways has come a long way from when I was in university. But then, so has the world at large and the minions of Satan have not been on vacation either. And maybe this is where the rubber meets the road. What can we do? Should we really, like top Christians leaders in the USA have called for in the last few days, all become fully armed with handguns and lethal weapons as a response to the times we live in? Is that the message of Christ from the throne of God to His people on earth? I don’t think so.

“OK, Mark, what is the answer?”

Discipleship and witnessing.

“Mark, we already know that!”

Well, if every any group of people needs to double down on what they think they already know, it’s right now with Christians concerning their discipleship and witnessing. The somewhat good news is that a lot of Christians over the last years have realized more and more that their level of discipleship (what there is of it), is woefully lacking. As multitudes of people fall away, the believers that remain are coming to know they need a stronger brew of faith than the Lite-beer variety that’s been the staple and trademark of modern Christianity. There may be fewer Christians now than in times past. But a lot of the ones remaining are realizing that yesterday’s discipleship was a façade and they have to get much more serious about their life for the Lord. Some are.

But what about witnessing? I don’t have good news on this front. I’m sure there are some folks somewhere who are doing this. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, the basic aspect of Christian witnessing has been mostly expunged from modern Christian teaching. It’s not emphasized. It’s not taught. Rank and file Christians know little or nothing about witnessing and winning souls and they’re not taught to do so from the pulpit. “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:10) To say the least.

When some family from the Middle East moves into their neighborhood, what are most modern Christians encouraged to do from so many quarters? “LOCK AND LOAD!”  share me flatAnd some day those Christians are going to be at the judgment seat of Christ and He will not ask them if they locked and loaded their semi-automatic weapons when those foreign people came into their lives. He will ask them if they shared His love with them. That’s just how seriously messed up things are right now.

So, pray for me. Pray that I’ll write more about witnessing. Witnessing’s been part of my heartbeat as a Christian since I was 21. It’s supposed to be for all Christians. It’s like if some major files were deleted from your operating system. The programming of your Christian experience is severely incomplete and you’re not equipped to run as a fully functional Christian. It’s that bad. And this affects not only your life; it affects how we, His people, can make a difference in this world as He called us and commanded us to do.

The God of Abraham

In the videos I’ve done and in these posts, I’ve spoken of “the God of Abraham”. And some have questioned, “Why did you use that phrase? Why not just say God? Or Jehovah?

Abraham for blog post

Abraham, Sara and baby Isaac 2000 BC

I guess, if you want to talk about a huge subject, you can talk about God. Or the name of God. I choose “the God of Abraham” because for probably the majority of people on earth, when you use that phrase, they know What/Who you’re talking about.

I could have said, “the God of the Bible”. But even that can arouse hesitations and possibly opposition. I wanted to find a phrase that would be clear to as many people as possible and with as little religious “baggage” as possible.

You might be surprised how many people trace their faith back to Abraham, a man who lived 4000 years ago, who has been called “the father of Faith”. I won’t get into the specifics of Abraham but he isn’t someone who nowadays inspires much hatred toward him or what he did with his life. In the first video I did, An Introduction to Prophecy in History, there is a part about Abraham and how so much of what billions believe today originated with him. And he even received specific, time-related prophecies, just as Daniel did some 1400 years later.

Ancient of Days for blog post

“The Ancient of Days”, as described in Daniel 7: 9 & 10

To write about God is for me an awesome thing which I know is so full of controversy, unknowns and religious dogma that I don’t really do it very much. But it’s fascinating to look at the way God is portrayed, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Daniel 7 video  that i have done, there is one of the most unique visualizations of God in the whole Bible. There He is called The Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9 & 10).

And this is bound to raise the hackles of some but the Koran is also based on faith in the God of Abraham. (I can hear the temperatures rising in some right now as you read this.) So just to give some backup to this thought, I could tell you about a book I’m currently reading by a man who is an executive director of Christianity Today magazine, Timothy George. His book, “Is The Father of Jesus The God of Muhammad?” is excellent, deeply researched and would shock a lot of people with what is said there.

But, back to God. James, “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19), called God “the father of lights” (James 1:17). The book of Hebrews refers to God as “the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:19). In the book of John, Jesus said “God is a spirit” (John 4:24) and John the Beloved said “God is light” and “God is love” (I John 1:5 and 4:8).

For me, frankly and honestly, God is almost too big to comprehend or understand. That’s why I feel closer to, and think more about, Jesus. Jesus has been here; He walked the earth, was one of us, suffered our temptations and felt our aspirations. Paul says, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5)

But even that is loaded with controversy and, generally, the circle of people who believe in the God of Abraham throughout the world is larger than the circle of people who believe in Jesus. I personally had a 7 month period of time where I knew that God was real as He had radically intervened in my life and made Himself manifest in tangible, miraculous ways. I knew God was real. I also knew the devil was real as he also had manifested himself clearly to me and I wanted no part with him.

sacrifice chickens flatSo I feel a kindred spirit with the billions of people who believe in God, the God of Abraham,  because I was like that for a while.  At that time I read the Bible every day but I hardly got anything out of it. I was plowing through the Old Testament and it was clear as day to me that I needed to start some kind of animal sacrifice to please God since it was obvious that this was one of the main things. It was right there in the Bible, how could I argue with that? But all that time there was this big question, “Who was Jesus?”

you need Jesus flatI went to some local churches to try to find the answer. But nobody talked to me and I guess I was shy or scared. After 7 months I met some young, non-conformist Christians, “Jesus freaks”, who were just getting started at the time. They showed me from the Bible who Jesus was, as well as the plan of salvation. I accepted Jesus as my Savior and received Him into my heart, being born again and starting on this wonderful life I’ve had. I think the biggest single change in accepting Jesus into my heart was that the Bible which had before been so unclear and opaque suddenly became clear and open, flooding my heart with truth, wisdom, knowledge and all I’d longed for.

Becoming a Christian made my relationship with God vastly so much stronger and settled. But this has in no way made me feel antipathy for the countless number of folks worldwide who may not know Jesus, but who deeply believe in the God of Abraham. I can truly say that I often feel a real fondness for and empathy with them, no matter what their nationality, race or religion.

Jesus said of one man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). There must be billions of people on earth who believe in the God of Abraham. Would to God that we could love each other more and see the good and faith in the Father that He must see in each of us who seek Him. As well, would to God that those of us who’ve come to know Jesus would share Him more with others

 

Acts 26 Live Class Audio

Appeal to ceasar flatAt the beginning of our live class on Acts 26, we were looking at the chapter before when Paul had to think and pray fast when he was asked if he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be judged there. Paul knew with virtual certainty that he’d be killed along the way if he went back to Jerusalem. So, to get out of that desperate situation, he said, “I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11), rather like ones nowadays can appeal to the highest presiding court. And since he was a Roman citizen, he had the right to appeal to Caesar in Rome.The live class audio on Acts 26 can be heard here.

And we talked about destiny and how some things just are evidently “ordained”. This was in relation to how the prophet Agabus had told Paul much earlier, in warning him not to go to Jerusalem, that he would be delivered to the gentiles.

So I told a testimony about a time years ago when I was in Romania and how destiny seemed to get involved in my life. I was single and was getting close to a Romanian Christian sister. I liked her, she liked me, everyone was telling me how great this was and things seemed to really be moving a direction.

Going to Russia flatBut then, when I checked in with the Lord about it, He kind of startlingly reminded me that He’d already told me a year or two before that I was going to go to Russia. I’ll admit this wasn’t what I wanted to hear from the Lord. At the time I had no “burden” for Russia, I didn’t see anything I could do there and there were other factors that made it so that I just really was peeved that the Lord was not going along with this really good thing that was happening right then in Romania.

But as it worked out, circumstances change and as I was leaving Romania unexpectedly, I had the first of two dreams in which the Romanian Christian sister I was close to had two sons who were not by me. Sure ‘nuf, not long after I left the country, she fell in love with a guy I knew there and… they had two sons! And around 2 years later circumstances changed again so that I was invited to Moscow. I spent one of the toughest years of my life in that city, but also one of the most fruitful. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18) Some things at least seem to be foreknown and planned by God.

Back to the book of Acts. We talked about how King Agrippa was much more knowledgeable of Jewish affairs, his wife being Jewish and he being brought up in Israel. And this is all like Jesus had said years earlier.

You shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak for it shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak, for it is not you that speak but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you.”(Matthew 10:18-20)

Here was a perfect example and fulfillment of those words of Jesus.

So Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself” (Acts 26:1). It was a private council, it sounds like his accusers from Jerusalem where not there. And Paul told Agrippa that his accusers actually knew him well, because he came from the Jewish Pharisee hierarchy. He went on to say, as he had said at other times, that he was being accused and judged “for the hope of the promise God made to our fathers.” (Acts 26:6)

And in verse 8 Paul asks Agrippa, “Why should it be thought an incredible thing to you that God should raise the dead?” (Acts 26:8) For the Greeks and Romans, raising the dead was a new and strange idea. But for Agrippa, who knew Jewish customs and history, he would know that this was found within the history of the Jews. Paul ends up giving his testimony to Agrippa so that it is much the same story as what we read in Acts 9 where Paul’s conversion is recorded

And this chapter actually includes the words Jesus spoke to Paul in his encounter on the road to Damascus years before. Here’s a famous ringing part of Jesus’ charge to Paul, what Paul was to do with his life from them on. Not disobedient flatJesus told Paul that He was sending him to the Gentiles, “…to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” (Acts 26:18) What a charge of God that man had on his life.

Then Paul next said, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”  (Acts 26:19) God help us all to be able to say that in our own hearts with a clean conscience.

much learning flatAnd it’s a fascinating sequence of events because, after Paul has shared these things that had happened to him, Festus, not Agrippa, blurts out. “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning has made you mad!”  (Acts 26:24) Those are some nice old English terms from the King James Bible. But in our times, he would have just said, “Paul, you’ve gone crazy!”

So it’s pretty amazing. Paul had boldness but he also had humility. When Festus said that, Paul didn’t back down but neither did he get provoked. He “stuck to his guns” but with humility. What a lesson for us all. It’s another great chapter from the book of Acts, full of the jewels found in His Word. The live class audio on Acts 26 can be heard here.