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.

The Third Man

Harry LimeI rarely write things that are just personal, just something about my life. Tonight, late, I was on YouTube and just taking the liberty to listen to a couple of old songs from my early youth, not something I do very often at all.

So I’ll share something personal with you. Some of the more formative years of my life were spent in Vienna, Austria. Vienna just sort of sat well with me. It got to me. It rang my bell. That was about as close to east Europe as one could get back then and not be behind “the Iron Curtain.” It was very much like a central European city, not really like West Europe at all. When I first got there, I saw old women walking around with very bowed legs. I found this was the result of them living through World War II there where the hunger and rickets was so bad that they had developed bowed legs from a lack of nutrition.

prater 2And I don’t know when the movie, “The Third Man” was first happening in my life. But that movie, and particularly the music to it, just got through to me in a very deep way. It still does and I was listening to it tonight. This movie is just so uncool by modern standards it’s beyond a joke. But it’s maybe like some extremely classic car from way back that doesn’t have all the gadgets and technology that ones do now. But it has a sense of style and intrigue that is just overwhelming.

Let me place right here the link to the theme music of “The Third Man”. This song came out around 1950 (1950!). I mean, it’s like a paraphrase of what Nathaniel said in the book of John, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) The same can be said of 1950, “Can any good thing come out of 1950?!” They didn’t even have televisions back then! Maybe this music won’t get to you but it sure does to me, even now.

The director of “The Third Man”, Carol Reed heard Anton Karas playing the zither in a wine stuba, a neighborhood wine house in Vienna at the time he was making a movie of Graham Greene‘s post World War II book. There’s so very much history in all this which is now only distant water under the bridge and the long forgotten past. But Reed was haunted by this local nobody troubadour and his strange instrument he played for pocket change to Viennese provincials, sitting outside in the evenings in the post war city.

vienna nightThe movie itself is one of the most unusual and best I’ve ever seen. Black and white, no sex, virtually no violence, no real special effects and almost one of those old square screens. But the narrative, the filming, the setting and the acting just keep you hanging on the edge of your seat for the full show. Or at least it did me for me the several times I’ve seen it.

But I’ve always sort of wondered what it is since it could hardly be more basic and non-techno. The instrument, the zither, has some comparisons I guess to a guitar. But the way Anton Karas plays it is just so that he gets all over it and brings out so much that I’m sure some music aficionado could explain much better than me.

Heading out into the neighborhood, looking for adventure

I’ve wondered why that music has such an effect on me. Perhaps I heard it on the radio sometime when I was a little boy and it stuck with me, even though I don’t specifically remember it. Maybe there’s just something intrinsic and indigenous about it that’s the essence of that part of the world which the Lord called me to serve Him in for many years.

The whole thing together just really works. If you’ve never heard that music or seen that movie, I suggest you do some time. It’s like checking out a Dusenberg sedan or something else like that from a bygone era, seemingly put to shame by the marvels we experience nowadays. But every so often we find something from days of yore that still hold us in wonder and the spell they spun for their times still works well today. Try it. You might like it.

Does God have a sense of humor?

mount of transfiguration flatSo Peter, James and John walked into a bar…   No, wait, change that. Peter, James and John were on the mount of transfiguration. There was Jesus and it says “His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2) It says that the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah, speaking with Jesus as He was transformed like that. It’s even recorded to some degree what Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about.

Can you relate to any of this? Can you see yourself one afternoon experiencing something like that? How would you react? What would you say? Do you thing you could do the subject justice and rise to the occasion? Well, dear impulsive, impetuous Peter the fisherman, just as human as any of us, tried to do what he could. It is recorded that during this utterly unearthly scene, transfigurationpretty much evidently unique in Jesus’ ministry, that our dear Peter just had to blurt out his analysis on the whole event and chime in with his council to Jesus as He glistened there in ethereal heavenly glory before them.

Peter advised the Lord at this time, “Lord, it is good that we are here. And let us make three tabernacles, one for You one, for Moses and one for Elijah”. (Luke 9:33) And the Bible goes on to try to help us understand Peter’s dilemma at this moment, “for he knew not what to say.” (Mark 9:6) You can say that again. And what happened next? Get this. “And while they were yet speaking, a cloud overshadowed them and a Voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him.” (Luke 9: 34 &35)

I don’t know about you but I’ve almost never been able to read this without a wry smile. It’s like the very presence of God, the Father (the “Ancient of Days” of Daniel 7:13), came near to them and sweetly, to me almost humorously chided Peter, “Umm Peter, this is My Son. Hear Him.

Talk about tact. Talk about understatement. Maybe everyone didn’t chuckle but there has just got to be some humor into that. “Peter, shhssss. Just be quiet Peter. We don’t really need your suggestions right now.” But isn’t it just like almost any of us have done in some incredible moment when we don’t know what to do? So we pipe up with something that in retrospect was pretty much misplaced and virtually stupid, considering the circumstances? Could God, the Father, have been smiling and just shaking His head when He said that? I’ve always thought so.

running from Jazebel fixed-1Then there was Elijah. Having fled from Jezebel, defeated, discouraged, a shadow of the great man of God that he’d just been recently in slaying the 450 prophets of Baal, now having fled far into the wilderness of the south. Away from his place of service and seemingly almost ready to hang up his crown and calling of being a prophet, there we see him on the mount Horeb.The Bible says the Lord sent the wind, but He was not in it, then the fire and He was not in it and then a shaking and He was not in it. What a pregnant build-up to that moment when Elijah heard the still, small voice of God. And what did the Voice say? (Wait for it) “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9)

doing here flatCome on! That’s funny! God, the God of the universe, the Almighty, is asking this guy what he’s doing there?! He knows everything! He doesn’t need to ask anything! I just can never read this without feeling that there’s this kind, loving God of the universe having condescended to this poor, defeated servant of His and He’s striking up a conversation with him, saying, “Umm, why are you here, Elijah?

Don’t you just know that if you could see all this in real time, there would be a warm, wry smile on the face of God as He asked that? Maybe, probably even a smidgen, a sprinkle of humor on the whole thing? Gotta be.

The Bible warns of “foolish jesting” (Ephesians 5:4) but it also says “A merry heart does good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). keep laughing flatOne of the greatest helps I’ve ever had in my missionary service has been times when my friends and I just laughed at the impossibility of what we were trying to do and how it was utterly insane except within the will of God. My one year in Moscow in 1995 and 1996 was only sustained by just laughing with my friends at the extremes to which we were pushed physically to do what we felt we needed to do there and how no one in the world would do what we were doing, there’s not enough money to pay for it, unless you were doing it for God’s service.

So often we just kept laughing in the extremely difficult conditions we worked in. It was perhaps the toughest year of my adult life physically but also one I count as one of the most fruitful. And a sense of humor was a continual essential asset through it all.

I’m convinced God has some sense of humor. It doesn’t show up very much in the Bible and we know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). But also I’ve had times, even recently, where I just felt that the Lord can do some things that are just so amazing, “out there” and radically loving that the only reaction is to smile, laugh and feel that He’s just funny sometime. Or so it seems to me.

Apparatchiks and Sycophants

Sycophant[I’ve worked on this post, off and on, for months. The things written here, to me, are heartfelt. Perhaps this can be seen as a warning, from experience, of two dreadful dangers that can lurk in the path of Christian discipleship.]

For most of us, there are some things that just “get our goat”, a wonderful English phrase for things that “get under your skin” and irritate you. In my experiences as a missionary, I think that those two non-English words there, “apparatchiks” and “sycophants” sum up what have “gotten my goat” at times.

First, an “apparatchik”. That’s a Russian word from Communist times for what we can call in English a bureaucrat or functionary, someone who just ends up working in some system. He virtually loses his or her identity to the particularly system and becomes a part of it. bureaucratOften, in his promotions within his organization, many pricks of his conscience have been silenced in order to help facilitate his rising position and prominence.

“Apparatchik”, a wonderful Russian word that brings to mind another word from that part of the world, “Byzantine”. The picture is of a turgid, sclerotic organization, endlessly slowed to an almost standstill, devoid of life and conscience. This is how so many organizations and, yes, even movements of God’s Spirit end up.

Mark, how can you say that?! Administrators and bureaucrats are needed in every organization, secular or spiritual! Records must be kept; Paul even said, “Let all things be done decently and in order!” (I Cor. 14:40)

matthew taxmanYou’re right. I’ve been thinking about Matthew, the Levite. With his background as a tax collector, do you think he may have become sickened by the humdrum drudgery of his job, just caught up in some lifeless system? Did he feel like a bureaucrat or an apparatchik? Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, when Jesus called him to be His disciple, he immediately went for it.

It’s not that I’m against people with administrative gifts, just when their gifts and callings take the place of the greater administrative and organizational ability of the Holy Spirit which is never lifeless and stultifying. And, sad to say, I’ve known some gifted Christian friends who in some cases ended up spending years as not much more than apparatchiks, just “doing their job”, when the Holy Spirit was there to show them things that were amiss. But to speak up would cost them the position they had risen to. “Quench not the Spirit.” (I Thessalonians 5:17)

Sycophant shrunkThen there are the sycophants. This brings to mind a different set of organizations from an earlier time of “the Sun King”, Louis the XIV of France. He was the ultimate epitome of European royalty at the time of its zenith. Louis the XIV had his sycophants. This was an entire swarm of dithering dukes, marquis and lords of the realm whose whole existence was to please the king and to rise within the universe of the throne scene around this golden ruler, Louis the XIV, his court and the affairs of his heaven-like earthly palace, Versailles.

If there was a word to describe this kind of person in the Bible, it would be “man-pleasers.” (Ephesians 6:6) The Bible does not speak well of this. Sycophants lived (and live) for nothing else but to please their ruler. Their only function was within the realm of the court and the palace. The things of the common man disgusted them and they were far removed, above any of that.

There are still folks like that today. They live to please some individual who they think will be their path to glory and promotion. They have no higher motive or goal than to please their sovereign, whoever that may be. Again their conscience is long silenced, like the apparatchik, in order to submit their heart and lives to no other purpose but to please the leader of their organization, company or society, like the original sycophants did for Louis the XIV.

There are folks like that today. I’ve seen the end of some of these ones; a few even were dear friends who became apparatchiks or sycophants. It’s a very sad thing. Somehow they compromised their original Godly convictions and tender consciences in order to please what they thought were the best people they knew. These people were on the rise, they were the future, and they would rise with them.

If you are of the world, the world would love his own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19) “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed…” (Romans 12:2)

If anyone chooses to follow the path of an apparatchik or a sycophant, it invariably leads away from keeping Jesus Christ first and foremost in your mind and heart.

Some never really recover. They’re overwhelmed and disillusioned when it becomes clear that they let someone or something take the place that should have been only for Jesus Christ. In some cases, like Solomon said, “The man that wanders out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” (Proverbs 21:16) It’s a huge temptation for sincere followers of the Lord to yield to a job or relationship that they feel will lead to success and power. Not only governments and businesses but even denominations can be strewn with the lives of people like that.

“But Mark, isn’t there another side to all this? Isn’t there a time for loyalty to an organization or even a denomination, to stick with them through thick and thin? Aren’t there anointed men of God that many follow as their chosen Godly leadership?”

Yep, there may be a time for that; some would say even often there is. But it’s hugely important that individuals don’t turn off their consciences and their personal link with the Lord so that they just drift along with their organization, denomination or even Godly leadership. “Everyone of us shall give account of ourselves unto God” (Romans 14:12) and it can just happen, if you don’t stay in prayer, that you become some functionary apparatchik in some frozen organization, or a man-pleasing sycophant of some formerly anointed leader who is not following God as he did before.

my life over flatBut perhaps the worst thing is that inevitably, when the system or organization that the apparatchik let replace Jesus in their heart, or the individual that the sycophant let replace Jesus in their heart finally crumbles to dust and defeat, so very often the originally inspired Christian goes down with the ship they let replace the Lord in their lives. Their faith in Christ became inalterably intertwined with their new faith in their organization or superior. And when that was gone, they too fell away from the faith they once held so high.

Thankfully, I never was successful as an apparatchik or a sycophant.  Believe me, I tried; God forgive me. “Better it is to be with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:19) Big powers have come and gone but the little people live on. God’s eye is on the sparrow and “the meek shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5)

Thank God flatAre you a nobody? Truly, you should thank God for it. Have you been passed over by those who seem to be something and “great” in the eyes of this world? Don’t worry about it. “The first shall be last and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30) Are you a “little person”, with nothing but your relationship with the Lord? “Rejoice and be exceeding glad for great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12) “The high and lofty One dwells with those of a humble and contrite spirit.” (Isaiah 57:15)

[Thinking about it more today, perhaps it’s like a sequel to John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress“. There he saw “Christian” and the others. He doesn’t mention “Apparatchik” or “Sycophant” in his writings. But in my personal pilgrim’s progress, these two bogeymen of deceiving deathly darkness have been the downfall of more than just a few people I’ve loved. If this helps anyone to not fall into the snare of these two dangers, then this post will not have been in vain. God bless you.]

 

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 4) The Last Night

fellowship second photo A croppedThe last afternoon with my Christian friends at the east Europe get together was spent in a prayer meeting and heart sharing. I talked with them about things that I’ve needed to ask prayer for a long time. It was emotional for me. I said things I haven’t said to almost anyone for years. I was desperate for their prayers and for His grace. Perhaps it’s like the verse, “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”. (Galatians 6:2)

Later a young east European man came up to me and asked if we could talk. Actually I’d shared a room with him the night before in the inn/hotel where the fellowship was being held. But he’d come in late and we hadn’t talked. He was a friend of some missionaries who’d come there and they invited him.

life over flatHe told me that, when I’d shared my heart and asked for prayer earlier in the day, it very much troubled him. He’d fought back tears because he was going through exactly the same thing. Also, because I explaned some of my background, he said what he was going through right then was identical to a crisis I experienced around his age. He was very aware that we’d ended up in the same room together and that perhaps the most difficult experience in my life, years ago, was exactly what he was going through now.

He shared that his personal life had recently been more or less destroyed by events beyond his control. He was distraught, depressed and thinking thoughts of revenge, retribution and even violence.These are emotions that many people have felt at some of the worst times of their lives.

He had been brought up a Baptist but for one reason or the other, became dissatisfied and unfulfilled there. So he’d moved away from faith, applying God’s Word in his life or going to Him in prayer, at least for the most part.

So I shared one of the most poignant verses in the Bible for ones experiencing what he was right then. Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to them who the love the Lord, to them who are called according to His purpose.” For anyone going through the life-altering crisis this young man was going through, that verse is about as essential a truth as you can find in God’s Word. Another key Bible verse I shared with him is what Joseph said to his brothers who had virtually ended his life and sold him into slavery years before, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)

I survived flatThis young man agreed with me that in a real sense, his life was over, at least most of what his life had been for the last 10 years. He was faced with two choices. He could try to hold on to what was gone, to change things that really couldn’t be changed or to get revenge for how he was wronged. That path would lead nowhere. He might end up in jail, dead or just to live the rest of his life, never recovering from this trauma and injustice he was experiencing.

Or he could call out desperately to God, embrace the truths of God’s Word and experience the Love of God that He would have for him in giving him a completely new start in life. Only God could do. Drugs and counseling could not reach the deepest place in his heart and heal and renew the deep pain and injury he was experiencing.

He was like a ship that had been torpedoed, a computer whose hard drive had crashed. But I could tell him from my own experience that this was something he could survive. “With man, it is impossible. But not with God, for with God, all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)

Perhaps the best thing was that he was really listening. He began to have hope that he’d not had. Over the 2 hours we talked, his whole “countenance”, the look on his face gradually changed from sadness and anger to one with more hope and even a smile. He did have a foundation in God’s Word. He did know the principles of God’s dealings with man, even if he’d not been applying them in his life for a while.

maybe there is hope flat-1As we searched the Word together and talked into the evening, it was wonderful to see his mind come around towards the things of the Lord and to begin to have a vision where there had not been one, to have a healthy view of the future where there had only been hopelessness and temptations to violence.

It’s like the verse, “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”. (Romans 8:6) As we talked of the things of the Lord, the atmosphere just changed. The seed of God’s Word was falling on good ground. Or perhaps the Lord had to “break the rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29) and root out the weeds of his life so that He Himself could give this man a new start, on the ruins of his former life. This dramatic event could actually be a new beginning for a new life for him, better than he’d ever known before,

I told him it would take time, years probably for this all to fully be in his past. There would be temptations every day to look back to what he had, how he’d been wronged, how much it all hurt. But that if he truly held on to the Lord like he had never done before, this all could be the beginning of something better than he’d ever experienced before.

So it turned into a wonderful evening and a wonderful day. It was a blessing for me to able to share my experiences with this new friend and to be, in a sense, living proof that what sometimes looks like “the end” can turn out to be just “a bend in the road” , if we keep holding on to Him.

Days of Heaven

intimacy photo edited retouched sizedI heard someone say one time, “I couldn’t tell you about it when I didn’t have the victory.” So I don’t totally have the victory about this right now but I’ll give it a shot at telling you.

It says in the Bible, “Now we know in part, but then shall we know as we are known.” (I Corinthians 13:12) And this is not only true of knowing the Lord that way in heaven to come. Up there we’re going to know each other that way too. And that will be a big part of heaven, a closeness there that we almost never have here with each other on earth.

But sometimes we do. Sometimes God allows and engineers situations so we’re led down a path where we are in the right place at the right time with someone with whom we experience a closeness, I’ll even use the word “intimacy”, if you understand that the way I mean, which is on a scale so advanced that it approaches that of heaven. That’s happened to me recently.

“Good for your Mark, I’m so happy for you!”

Umm, yeah; thanks. But this is like two things I’ve written about before, “Sweet Potatoes with Butter” and “Pinnacle Experiences.” In my case, the Lord has allowed me to have some time of communication with someone I’ve vaguely known at various times for years. I’ve always been struck by this person. They’ve always seemed so unusually angelic that it’s been difficult for me to be around them the few times that I have been.

What do you think of when you think of an angel? Beauty? Wisdom? Humility? You can trust them. They have a stability and a “health”, for the lack of a better term, that kind of leaves you in awe. What if you talked to that angel?

He didn’t look like this. But this is what he was.

Some have had experiences with angels a few brief times in our lives. But real angels are not usually there for hours. They don’t talk to you for hours. They’re heavenly beings from that other realm who God allows to sometimes cross our path or even appear and speak to us.

But perhaps you’ve had some kind of experience with a human being who somehow has such grace, wisdom and beauty that it just doesn’t seem real. Sometimes you just almost stare at that person in awe at their beauty and words, their gentle soul and obvious grace.

As you and they talk, it’s almost like being pulled out of this world and into the realms of heaven. You don’t want to do anything wrong because it’s almost like a charmed time you are in. But a good time, given by God, where the essences of heaven pour into you and you’re lifted out of the humdrum dreariness that so often you are in, seemingly for so long.

This is the type of experience we think of that men and women have who get married. But maybe even married couples don’t always have this or they don’t have it any more. But it doesn’t have to be limited to that. And for Christians, it can be just something that God allows, like finding an oasis in a vast desert you’ve have traveled alone in for so long. The only way to describe it is heavenly. Somehow this person is almost like a window into heaven or at least God is using them this way.

Richard DreyfusIt sounds great, no? This happened to me recently. But then… but then. We have to come down from our mountain. We enjoy those “sweet potatoes with butter” but then it’s over. You’ve been on a shining mountain, a true “Close Encounter“. But you have to come down.

I don’t know how it is for you. But for me, my life for a number of years has been one of single-minded purpose in daily laying down my life for Him and others. But that has almost always been in a type of loneliness I’ve grown used to and accepted as how it has to be and how things are in this world for me.

The wonderful thing is that we each have the Lord, at least the ones of us who know and believe in Him. “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest”. (Exodus 33:14) We have the light of His Word in our hearts, which we have laid up there through faithfully memorizing and retaining it. We have the presence of His Holy Spirit. These are things that abide with us and help us to navigate and exist in what is frankly an often dark and lonely world, full of shadows and vanity.

masks off flatOur daily contact with other human beings is so often shallow in the extreme compared to the deep and intimate contact we will have with each other in the hereafter. Our main need is His salvation and presence and we have that constantly and daily as we pray and lean on His Word. But daily heartfelt intimacy with other human beings can often be rather rare, even if you’re surrounded with people during you day.

why crying flatSo, like  I said at the  beginning of this, I’m not sure I can tell you about all this when I don’t have the victory. We who are saved have a victory. We have the Savoir who’s “delivered us from every evil work“. (II Timothy 4:18) But still for some, even of the saved, we live with a heaviness and a loneliness that’s seldom lifted expect for those rare times of “days of heaven”, in some cases with virtual angels who walk the earth, splendid creatures who exude a beauty and grace, love and humility, and a knowledge of how to live life that’s virtually breath-taking and blinding. But it shines brilliantly in our hearts and is a glimpse into the future and heaven to come.

Tomorrow I will be back to “normal”. I hope I can do what I wrote about recently. I hope I can bring the pinnacle experience I’ve had with me back to my normal day-to-day world and share it with others. But right now I’m  a little afraid I’ll be remembering these days of heaven and, frankly, be missing them a lot. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9) I’ll be holding onto his Word and to Him. But also I’ll really be looking forward even more than before to the true heaven to come and the intimacy and beauty there that I’ve experienced a touch of here.

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stand

they stoodSomeone said one time, “If your will power doesn’t work, try your “won’t” power.” Ha! But there’s a lot of truth in that. The Bible talks about the stand of faith. An obscure verse that highlights this principle is Judges 7:21, “And they stood, every man in his place, round about the camp, and all the host ran and cried and fled.” In this case, the forces of God didn’t attack. They just took the stand of faith.

I’ve definitely had times in my life when I just couldn’t seem to take any forward steps. And sometimes this went on a long time. But even if “my gas pedal” just didn’t seem to work, I still had “my brakes”. And I kept my foot on the brakes. I wasn’t going to go back, even if it seemed impossible to go forward. I think this can happen a lot of times to a lot of us. The Bible says, “Having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Wont go back flatBut sometimes the storms get so strong, we’re rendered so helpless that all we can do is just hang on. “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19) And at times all we can do is to take the stand of faith. Our “will” power is seemingly matched by the onslaughts of the enemy or the storms of life. But we still have our “won’t” power.

Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4) His Spirit in us will cause us to do the humanly impossible. We can choose, no matter what.

That’s one of the things I came away with from the utterly horrific times I went through in the last months and year or so before I came to a knowledge of God. “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) When I read that verse for the first time, I was just so very astounded. Because that was exactly what I had experienced, even without salvation earlier.

In my greatest, overwhelming inundations of fear, defeat and death, there was always some tiny sliver of light, some “way of escape”, no matter how faint. And through it all, I learned I had a soul. I learned the hard way. “The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15) and I don’t know if it could have been any harder, if I was to survive it. But it was because of my sins and my lack of knowledge of the will and existence of God. He brought me through it but not without the smell of smoke. It took months and years of the cleansing of the Word of God to, in a sense, “rewire me” and to be “renewed in the spirit of my mind.” (Ephesians 4:23)

I choose Him flatBack in those times, I had no idea really where “forward” was. But the forces of darkness and sin were so strong in my life that if I didn’t learn how to use my brakes, if I didn’t have forming in me the basics of recognizing evil and repentance of sin, then those things would have fully taken my life before I was 21. But I learned I could resist the enemy and the darkness. I learned I could choose and therefore I was responsible for my decisions. Often they were bad decisions but that’s how I learned, at length.

I didn’t have the power of God then because I wasn’t saved. “As many as received Him, to them He gave  power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That verse encapsulates my salvation experience. I received Him, Jesus. And He gave me the power I didn’t have to, not only resist the wrong, but to know what was right.

So don’t underestimate the stand of faith. Don’t underestimate your “won’t power”. Just make sure you are exercising it on the enemy and your sins; don’t use your “won’t power” against the Lord. “If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel… (things won’t go so well).”  (Isaiah 1:19)

PS  And when writing this, I got a little concerned. Because, as much as we all need to understand the stand of faith and how to apply our “brakes”, it’s perhaps equally or more important to know when to “step on the gas”. Faith in God is not just about standing and resisting the darkness; it’s perhaps even more about getting moving with, and for, God. More about that in the next post.