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.

 

Partitions

soul heart flat-2Sometimes just to have the vocabulary for a thing is a huge step forward. When I started working with computers years ago, I realized immediately that there was a vocabulary involved. And learning the basic vocabulary having to do with computers was pretty essential in learning to use them.

Somewhat similarly, when I was an atheist in university, I kept experiencing things that I had no way to describe and no vocabulary for. How can an atheist describe spiritual experiences? Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, when I finally came to believe in God and later in Jesus, that it all just flooded into me. Because I had already had things happening to me that I didn’t understand and couldn’t describe until I learned the vocabulary of the Bible that helped to understand those things.

why arent we flatIf you’re secular, basically “your mind” is about as far as the vocabulary goes. Maybe it’s different now but back when I went to university, they sure never ever talked to me about my “soul”, or my “spirit” or my “heart”. Can you imagine going to a university that offered “Soul 101” as a course? Yet the Bible talks about those things all the time. And understanding what they are and what the differences are between them is a mighty step forward in understanding what are the essences of the beings we are. But university sure isn’t going to teach you that. Maybe you’ll hear some rock song about how your girlfriend “broke your heart”. But what is a heart? Is that all just metaphorical or some ancient wives’ tales?

For me, it was an incredible breakthrough to have the vocabulary of the Bible to describe my existence and experiences. Jesus spoke in one place of our “soul” and “heart” and  “mind”. (Matthew 22:47). In another place He said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh…” (John 3:6) On the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:46) And Paul, writing to the Ephesians, said that we should put off “the old man” and put on “the new man” (Ephesians 4:22-24). These are all ancient Biblical terms but they brought light and clarity to my soul that I was utterly lacking before.

So many people bemoan their present state. “Oh, I’m so tired!” “Oh, I’m so afraid!”  But they don’t really know, evidently, God’s way of partitioning our beings. The Bible is full of expressions that use this viewpoint. “While our outward man perishes, our inward man is renewed day by day.” (II Corinthians 4:16) Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” The Bible says of the Word of God that it pierces, “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit… and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

There is ageless wisdom and understanding in the Bible that bring us to depths of understanding that university degrees never reach. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge. The Bible can help us to both treasure these things and to know how to apply them practically and daily in our lives.

Recently “my flesh” has been pushed. I’m pushing myself to get off to the next stage of my life. If I didn’t know better, I could say, “Oh, I’m really tired!” “Oh, this is so hard!” But I know that’s just the reaction of “my flesh”, according to how the Bible describes it. Because, truly, my spirit is fine and I’m excited about what’s going on and up ahead.

Admittedly, it’s a little hard on my flesh right now. But if I didn’t know God’s Word and how these things are described in the Bible, then I wouldn’t recognize the partition between “me” and “my flesh”. I’m not my flesh. It’s not the main thing, it’s not the real me. It’s part of me and part of my existence. But I am a soul, I have a spirit and a heart and a mind. So even if I have to push my flesh right now, if I still take care of it and don’t exceed the guidelines of the Lord, then this is generally what the Lord said, to “take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:24) and follow Him.

So many things flatI am benefiting so much at this time by being able to keep a Biblical view of things and what’s going on. I’m trying to go forward for Him. It involves some measure of personal and physical sacrifice and discomforted. But like Paul wrote, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) When we can take to ourselves these simple, basic principles from God’s Word, the terminology He uses to describe us, His creations, then it just helps overall to understand who and what we are, how our spiritual insides are constructed and how things work, what are our components and how we are partitioned.

Strange, very strange. But true.

same day born flatAbout this time 15 years ago I moved back to Austin, Texas for a while. I wasn’t exactly backsliding but maybe I was “side-sliding”. I’d somewhat lost faith in myself as a Christian disciple. Frankly, it’s more difficult to have faith in yourself when it seems others don’t. I felt that my Christian service had plateau-ed for a long time. Anyway, that’s how it seemed to me and how I felt others saw me.

So I moved back to my home field, after living abroad for 27 years. I got a job, an apartment, bought a car and just starting being “normal”. But maybe a good verse that applies here is “Whether shall I go from Your Spirit or whether shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold You are there…” Beautiful, famous verses from Psalm 139. Perhaps I could apply the verse about the prodigal son who “took his journey into a far country and wasted his substance with riotous living.” (Luke 15:13) Maybe that doesn’t apply though. I think I was just discouraged about my life and needed a break.

One night I was over at a Christian get-together here in Austin. I was in the library of this friend’s house, some guy I didn’t know was talking and I heard him say that he was born in 19–. [I’ll leave out some of the specifics; not good to share all that stuff in these computer times.] So just to make conversion I said,

“Interesting; I was also born in 19–.”

So this guy said,

“Yep, September -, 19—.”

So I said,

“Wow! Really? That’s the same day I was born! September -, 19–!”

One or two times in my life I’d met someone who was born on the same day as me. What a surprise! But then this fellow said next, just out of the blue,

“Yep ——— Hospital; ——, Texas. September —-, 19–.”

I was dumbfounded! I said,

I was born in ——– Hospital, —–, Texas. September —, 19–!”

By this time everyone was quiet and looking at us. And I was really checking this guy out. This all just came out of nowhere. But then next he said,

“Yep, my dad and uncle worked on the ———– newspaper in —–, Texas.”

And I said,

“But my dad worked on the ——– newspaper in ——, Texas!”

This really happened; I’ve got witnesses. This guy is a friend now and still around. So we were beyond astounded and could hardly believe what had happened. We told the rest of the ones there that night and everyone was shocked and surprised. But for me, I was perhaps more than that. I’ve seen the miraculous hand of God in my life and in the lives of others. I knew this wasn’t just a coincidence; this was another of “God’s little miracles”; maybe not even that little. But why?

Why did the Lord let that happen? This guy could have said he was born in 19–; I could have said “So was I.” And then he could have smiled and left the room! But he just kept coming up with more info, without any prompting from me at all! I didn’t do anything; he just kept revealing more of his life that corresponded exactly with mine.

I told my parents about this experience later and my mom remembered his mom being in the same room with her in the hospital. My dad remembered his dad and his uncle who worked on the newspaper with him. What kind of odds would Las Vegas bookies give for something like this happening? One in a million? Probably more than that.

But why did this happen? Was there some message? Some purpose beyond just the “X-files” strangeness of the whole thing? I thought and prayed about that. I just knew it was the hand of the Lord, manifesting Himself at a time when I was not really aiming to follow His highest and best.

At length, I came to feel that the Lord engineered the whole thing that night to show me that He was still around. He hadn’t given up on me, even if others had and perhaps I myself had. He was still the God of miracles; He could do mighty things to show that He was God, still leading, if I was willing to follow.“If we believe not, yet He remains faithful…”  (II Tim 2:13) “He that has begun a good work in you will perform it” (Philippians 1:6)

filming 2003

Filming, 2003

And from those somewhat sad, secular times of around 15 years ago came the beginnings of the video ministry I’ve been working on for the last years. So many friends in Austin who I had classes with back then on the book of Daniel (including ones who were there that night) said to me, “”You should video these”.

And so, at length, hearing this three or four times from various quarters, I began to have the vision to make into videos the prophecies of Daniel classes that I’d taught abroad for over 20 years. But it was the Lord showing me that He was still present in my life, still willing to do miracles and set up a situation with someone I was born in the same hospital with, that helped to renew my faith again in Him. And perhaps, even more, in the calling of God in my life.

The lesson? Maybe it’s simply what the Lord told us all in His Word, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) I will never flatI guess in a sense I’ve had many lives, many endings, followed by new beginnings. That night in 2000 was like the dawn of a new day when I experienced that the God of miracles was still around, still able to come through, even when I’d more or less given up on myself. So? Keep the faith.

Long time therefore…

west texasIt was late summer in dry, arid west Texas, just before I turned 22. I was standing on top of a hill, thinking about the last few months and the ones up ahead. It had turned out to be the best year of my life till then, the year I very nearly died in torment and went to hell. But instead I was miraculously saved by the undeserved mercy of God. That’s what I wrote about in “Lucifer and the White Moths“.

I’d been staying with some young people who had banded together to study God’s Word and prepare for a life of Christian service. But my time there had come to an end and I was soon to leave to go to California and begin a time of daily witnessing on the streets of Los Angeles.

I don’t remember exactly asking the Lord for a message right then, maybe I did. But something very simple came to me as I stood on that hill, a reference to a Bible verse I don’t remember reading before, Acts 14:3. I carried a small Bible with me so I looked it up. It said, “Long time therefore abode they speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony to the Word of His grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” I took it as a message of encouragement from the Lord that He had a plan for me. And I was especially drawn to the words “long time therefore…” My feeling was that the Lord was telling me I would have a long time of Christian service ahead of me.

thinking long life-flat-flatThinking back to that time and how my life has gone from then to now, I can feel that the verse I got that day has already been fulfilled in my life, for which I am so thankful. If I quit right now, that “long time” has already been a reality of decades of endeavoring to abide in His grace in many lands, during storms and calms, during fruitful times and dry years, but always with the knowledge that “He that began a good work in me would continue to perform it.” (Philippians 1:6)

Back then, that method of the Lord speaking to me that way, by just giving me a reference which would unlock a passage in Scripture that was specifically for me, was not something that happened all the time. But from time to time it did happen. This is what I wrote about in “Direct Revelations” where I mentioned a couple of other times when the Lord gave me Bible references like that in answer to prayer.

It’s encouraging to look back and reminisce about these things, to see how the Lord has fulfilled His promise and Word to me as He does to all of us. But I do feel there’s a potential danger in it. Because it’s just so easy to decide that you’ve gone as far as you want to go.

“Quit while you are ahead” is not a phrase found in the Bible.

But in the world, this is a common theme and very easy to fall into. So looking back and reminiscing about your life, while understandable and very human, is for me at least something I don’t like to spend much time doing. Because it just might influence me to not keep going forward.

under a treeThere’s that strange story in the Old Testament of the old prophet and the young prophet, one of the more “post graduate” lessons in the Bible. (see I Kings 13) God told the young prophet to go do something and then come right back to where he had been. And the young prophet obeyed, at least in some ways, and he even performed miracles. But then what happened? On the way home, he sat down under a tree. He didn’t keep obeying. He sat down. It’s all a really intriguing story; I’ll let you read the whole thing yourself. But the end of the matter was that the sitting under the tree, rather than finishing his task, ultimately led to the death of the young prophet.

path aheadSo our best bet is to keep our eyes on the Lord and to keep obeying and living for Him, even if you think you’ve already had a pretty good life and it’s time to just sit down, kick back, relax and retire from His service that He’s called you to. I’m thankful for the life the Lord has given me; it’s such a blessing to look back and see all the ways He’s fulfilled His Word and allowed me to be a part of His work and plan. But it’s even more thrilling to look ahead to all that may still lie ahead, greater victories to be won and greater experiences to have with Him as He continues to set the captives free and break the chains that enslave so many around the world in these threatening times.

Bapticostal?

Baptist churchI was in a conversation about denominations. So one guy said, “I’m Bapticostal.” Everyone laughed, me included. But I thought that, in a sense, that’s deep. And it turns out Bapticostal is a recognized term now; you can read about it in Wikipedia here.

Things just aren’t exactly the way it was decades ago when it comes to Christian denominations. When I was growing up, lines were pretty clearly drawn between various denominations and often there was a measure of animosity between them. It seems, in many ways, that has changed.

When the guy said he was Bapticostal, what he was meaning was that he was somewhere between traditional Southern Baptist beliefs and what’s known as Pentecostalism. In some respects at least I can see myself somewhere in that range. The church I’ve gone to here for the last 3 years calls itself “non denominational”. It seems most non-denominational churches in Texas have come out of the Southern Baptists but, for one reason or the other, they no longer want to retain the name of being Baptist. But much of their fundamental beliefs are founded in those of the Baptists.

For example, they believe in being saved, born again, and in eternal life through the saving work of Jesus on the Cross. They believe that the Bible is the Word of God and most every Sunday you’ll hear in both Baptist and non-denominational churches a sermon preached which is based around the Bible. Another thing both Baptists and most non-denominational churches believe is in sharing their faith with others, “witnessing” as it’s called.

Pentecostal churches usually are more or less in agreement with these things. But the Pentecostals lay a strong emphasis on the presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the believers. In fact, the reason it’s called Pentecostal is because of the place in the book of Acts where the presence of the Holy Spirit was first strongly manifested, in Acts chapter 2.

Peter and crowdIt says there, “When the day of Pentecost was fully come, the disciples were all together with one accord. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:1-4) I had a class with some friends about Acts chapter 2. Here is the audio  file, and here is the written blog post about  it.

raised handsSo a major difference between Baptists and Pentecostals is in the way they worship. In the nondenominational church I go to, we will all sing some songs together before the sermon. And at the end of a song, everyone will applaud, rather like at a sports event or music event. In Pentecostal churches, they don’t do that; they lift up their hands and praise the Lord.

This is like what Paul said, “I will that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without wrath and without doubting.” (I Thessalonians 2:8) It was very normal to worship this way in Old Testament times. The Psalms are full of things like “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” (Psalm 134:2)

I feel that the freedom and depth of worship that the Pentecostals have is what I need in order to have a closer relationship with the Lord. But I feel the emphasis on the Bible, on winning souls, missionary work and being firmly rooted in the historical body of Christ are all positive, needful things that I’ve found at the nondenominational church I’ve gone to.

But as the spiritual darkness quickly deepens in this country, many Christians are now realizing that rock-along Christianity will not survive the onslaughts it’s being challenged with. So there’s real hope that a vast number of Christians will see that it’s imperative to greatly raise the level of their discipleship if they’re to survive and help their children survive the new Dark Ages we now seem to be in.

But in another sense, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”, as someone once said.

freedom fellowship flatMost of my adult life has been spent on the foreign mission field as a full time disciple of the Lord. Much of the time I was working with dedicated brethren who lived and breathed daily the strongest essences of the things of the Lord that they could. Soulful daily devotions of united prayer, singing, Bible study, praise, and worship. And unusual level of honesty and camaraderie, working together daily to find ways to bring the love of God and salvation to the countries we lived in. It was a heady brew and finding a similar Christian atmosphere to that has been difficult.

 

 

Turning Points

Turning pointsI guess this is true for everyone. But I know it’s true for a person who’s endeavored to dedicate their life to the Lord. Sometimes you just can’t go on business as usual. You have to keep books with your soul and ask yourself, “Am I still doing what I know and believe is His highest and best?” Not what His best was last year, but is it still His best now?

God is a moving God, in a sense. He’s never static; He’s always going, moving and affecting change in every sphere of His creation. His Spirit is in the process of changing lives, changing hearts, changing situations. He’s never static, except for Himself. “I am the Lord, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6)

Keep climbing-flattenedBut, boy, He likes to get things moving and shake things up. One time God said to Moses, “Why are you crying to me? Command the armies of Israel that they go forward.” (Exodus 14:15) And He’s still saying that today, urging the forces of God to go forward in these times as well. Of course I’m not talking about physical armies of worldly nations. I’m talking about the called and faithful few who will follow the Lord and serve Him in these bedarkened times.

But you can’t go on last year’s battle plans. You can’t rest on your laurels or think you’ve arrived. Solomon said, “There’s no discharge in this war” (Ecclesiastes 8:8). Yes, it is a war we are in, not of carnal weapons and vain, worldly nationalism but for the eternal souls of men to be won to Him. Paul told Timonty that he should “war a good warfare” (I Timothy 1:18).

And when an army ceases to attack, it will be defeated. Because the enemy will launch a counterattack. Or even worse, and what more often happens to Christians, the army’s immobility and it lack of vision, faith and initiation will cause it to have a loss of faith in its own values, and to quit and give up without even loosing. In the cause of Christ, this is far more often the cause of defeat than the soldiers of the cross actually being defeated in battle. This is what I wrote about recently in “The Serpent and The Dragon.”

pillar of cloudBut sometimes we come to a turning point in our ministry. You can just feel it. It’s something that the people of God have experienced almost invariably throughout history. Just like the way God operated with Moses and God’s people in the wilderness, the cloud and pillar lifted from the camp of the saints and moved forward. God’s presence has moved again and it’s up to us as individuals to break camp and follow where He leads, if we still will.

Of course some don’t. They’ve gone as far as they want to go. They want to just stay where they’ve come to and settle down there, enjoy the fruits of their labors and just take it easy for a while. Or the opposition is too strong, the price to great and they “turn back in the day of battle.” (Psalm 78:9) turning backIt certainly seems to be a “reasonable” thing to do and who would blame you? “You deserve it”, like people say nowadays. But certainly the battle is not over; the war is not won.

Someone who has always been an inspiration me in the Bible was Caleb, the brother of Joshua. When it finally came time to conquer the land, Caleb by that time was fully 80 years old. It says of Caleb that he led his tribe and Calebpeople up into the mountains and hills to take his part of the land God had told them to take back then. At 80 years of age, he led his people into battle.

I don’t know very many people who are 80. I’m not really close to that. So I figure I still have a ways to go for the Lord. I need to find out where He’s leading now and the road up ahead. For me, it’s looking like He’s leading me back to foreign lands, after being here in my home country for nearly 6 years. It would be so easy to just settle down here. I like where I am. I like the weather, I like the nature, it’s kind of nice here.

But for me, that just won’t work. I know I have a call of God in my life. I know that I would be miserable and out of God’s will, out of His protection, out of what my life has been about if I don’t keep following the Lord where He is leading me at this time.

For me, the question hasn’t been, “Why are you going?” It’s been, “Why should you stay?”

Every time I’ve put myself into His hands to follow where He leads, there’s been a blessing to it. Often there’s some sacrifice of some kind, often some uncertainty and sometimes even loneliness. But there have been tremendous blessings involved and I’ve been able to be a part of what the Lord is doing and to see His continual hand working in the lives of those who desire Him.

hand of God flatSo I’m right at the cusp of some really major moves and changes. It’s challenging, daunting and almost foreboding in some ways. But like someone said one time, “Put your hand into the hand of God, and He shall be more to thee than a light, and better than a known way.”

Freedom and Following

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

Warsaw Pact forces

Warsaw Pact forces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Forgive?

forgiveness flatA long time friend from Scandinavia wrote me: “Should we as Christians forgive those who’ve hurt us, even when they don’t care and would do it again? I’m familiar with the Scriptures and the standard answer. But is it supportable if you look deeper into the issue? God does not seem to forgive before there’s been an admission of guilt.

So I wrote him back: Hi and thanks for your note about forgiveness. It’s a huge and deep subject, like an 800 pound onion you just keep peeling back layers of. Like you said, you know the verses, even in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive… “ (Luke 11:4)

But then also, as you said, there are other verses like where Jesus said, “If your brother trespasses against you, rebuke him and if he repents, forgive him.” (Luke 17:3) It seems from that verse that there’s supposed to be a repentance involved.  It’s not meant that we can just sweetly let someone walk all over us while we just keep forgiving them and doing nothing. Like I said, it’s deep. Jesus said, “A strong man armed keeps his goods in peace.” (Luke 11:21)

And just on the human level, all those facets from the Word do come into play. I know that forgiveness in general is the first reaction we should have. Holding grudges and bitterness is very human but it’s not the Godly path.

forgive me-flatBut what happens if someone wants to take advantage of our conviction to forgive? They have no repentance at all or twinge of conscience and they briskly tell us that we should just forgive them as they continue doing real wrong. Well the Lord did say that “if they repent, forgive them.” It’s like another verse, “Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of.” (II Corinthians 7:10) If folks are genuinely sorry and ask for forgiveness, then of course we’re bound to forgive them; that’s clear.

But I do understand where you’re coming from. Some folks just have no twinge of conscience at all and then they can even have the gall and nerve to tell us that we should just forgive them. Often this just seems to be a ploy or device they try to use to try to get us to drop our guard so they can whack us again with their painful actions or words. What do we do then?

tar baby 1Well, for one, like I wrote in “The Tar Baby”, some things and even some people seem to be nothing but a kind of human “black hole” which just will suck the entire life out of us if we don’t watch out. At times like this, I feel this is where the verse applies, “Go from the presence of a foolish man when you don’t perceive in him the lips of knowledge.” (Proverbs 14:7) Sometime you just have to withdraw yourself from someone’s company or circle when they’re continually doing things that are wrong and hurtful to you and they have no intention of stopping it, repenting and asking for forgiveness.

And on a deeper level, here’s another reason why it’s still good to forgive and move on. Because if you don’t forgive, those folks will not only have messed up your past and present, they’ll have stolen your future too. If you don’t forgive and move on from that situation, you will quiet possibly keep mulling it over in your mind, rehearsing the injury and hurt you received. Then often the next thing that happens is that you’ll be bitter about it. And that way you have that poison working around in your system which can last for years and ruin your future because of the sins against you committed by someone in the past.

Ghost characterSo even just for your own sakes, even if you feel they don’t deserve it and haven’t begun to repent at all, it’s still good to forgive and move on, just for your own sakes. I could add here that I wrote (what was for me) a pretty major and personal article on this subject some while back about how that, if you don’t forgive and you carry that unforgiveness with you into the afterlife, it could be pretty bad. The article was called “Ghosts”. It was kind of scary.

But you may say, “They don’t deserve forgiveness!”

Maybe not. But in the final analysis, God is the judge, not us. “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, I will repay” (Romans 12:19). If they deserve judgment, God has ways of seeing that this happens, either here or in the hereafter. “Be sure your sin will find you out.” (Number 32:23)

There’re easily another 20 pages that could be written here but perhaps this is a short synopsis. I’ve sure had some folks who have been mean and cruel to me and just plainly didn’t like me. But if I kept all those things in my heart, then that would crowd out the good things the Lord wants to be there so I can continue to live for Him and to go forward in His service. I just don’t want to let those past experiences define my life and thoughts for years to come; that would be a double dastardly deed and I don’t want to let that happen. I hope this is some help. Thanks for writing. Your friend in Him, Mark

 

“Justifying Yourself” (Racism part 3)

job justifies flatThere’s an incredible Bible verse from the book of Job, check this out. Job said, “If I justify myself, my own mouth shall condemn me. If I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse.” (Job 9:20) About 1800 years later Jesus told one man to love his neighbor. Here’s what it says was the man’s response. “But he, willing to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘Who is my neighbor?’” (Luke 10:29)

It’s just the hellish, inborn sinful nature of man to “justify himself” and struggle mightily to ever be able to admit guilt and confess sins. Adam did it. “It was the woman that You gave me!” Eve did it. “The serpent beguiled me!” King Saul did it. “The people made me do it!

And it’s probably worse today that it’s ever been. But right now it may be that the Lord is dealing with a lot of people here in America and perhaps around the world with racism, as a result of the mass murder of the 9 African-Americans in South Carolina recently.

If you’re already a Christian, then some of these concepts shouldn’t really be new to you. The Bible says, “He that covers his sins shall not prosper but he that confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13) There may be some right now who know in their hearts they’ve harbored racism and nurtured racism all their lives. They know it’s not of God; but it’s just something some hold on to, for whatever reason.

And here’s what can happen. “But Mark! What about the liberals, Mark! Look at the evil Muslims, Mark!” “I’m actually a really good person! I go to church! I…” This is just the nature of sin and it’s something we all do. We all want to turn the spotlight to someone or something else. We want to say how good we actually are. “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness.” (Proverbs 20:6) But what does the Bible say? “He that covers his sins shall not prosper but he that confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.”

Who I am flatBut some may say, and I’ll admit I’ve said this, “But I just can’t forsake it. It’s a part of me; it’s who I am and what I am, even if I know it’s wrong!” I even quoted a verse to justify myself, “Can a leopard change his spots?” (Jeremiah 13:23)

I’ve been there and been through that. There was a time in my life when the Lord exposed a deeply-rooted sin and I knew it was true. But I just honesty didn’t know how to get over it. It wasn’t like drinking, drugs or violence. It was a deeper thing and not something I could just stop doing physically or by an act of my will. So the Lord gave me this verse as a promise.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

When the Lord opened my eyes to that verse, it was like a new beginning in my life; it gave me hope when I had none. It was like a contract between me and God. In so many words God said to me through that verse, “If you confess it, I’ll cleanse it.” And that happened. I confessed my sin and the Lord did the work of cleansing me of it. It was a process but I’ve moved on from that very dark period in my life. And I should add that Proverbs 28:13 says, “…he that confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy.” You’ve got to not only confess it, you have to forsake it. You have to hate it and really turn away from it.

Juan Im sorry-flatAnd perhaps millions of people today need to do this. They don’t need to justify themselves.  They don’t need to tell everyone how wonderful the Confederate flag is. They don’t need to point fingers at all their old enemies on the Left or beyond our shores. Like another Bible verse that many of you know, “Judgment must being at the house of God” (I Peter 4:17). He will start with His own children before He deals with those not His. Jesus told us “to get the beam out” of our own eyes. (Matthew 7:5) And let’s face it, there are a lot of beams in the eyes of many Christians today. Racism and hatred may be near the top of the list for some.

Don’t justify yourself. “The jig is up”, as they say. Confess it, just like you would if it was adultery or some other sin that’s more censured in Christian circles today. Racial hatred has been a blight and a plague on the soul of Christians, especially those from the southern States, for centuries. And I know what I’m talking about because my family lived in Alabama and Mississippi before they migrated to Texas in the 1870’s.

you confessed flatHow can God bless hatred of our fellow man? “Ye were sometimes darkness but now are you light in the Lord; walk as children of light.” (Ephesians 5:8) The deliverance is there. But if you go with the prevailing tide of self righteously justifying yourself which is still so common, you’ll never get the deliverance you desperately need. “He that covers his sin shall not prosper.” (Proverbs 28:13)  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (I John 1:9)

We’ve all got something like this. I’ve sure had to do this many times. “The times of this ignorance God winked at but now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30) Get right with Him (and with others) today. You’ll be glad you did.

Raised Racist? (Part 2)

colored maid 1If anyone tries to tell you, “Oh, it really wasn’t so bad in the South”, I can tell you from experience, yes it was. Did any of my friends ever do anything violent towards blacks? No, but that wasn’t the kind of thing that was done. They were all from pretty good families, looking towards a future at some university and job. We didn’t know any African-Americans and would probably have felt uncomfortable around them. Heck, we were a little uncomfortable around Catholics! There were no Hispanics on our side of the city, no Vietnamese were really in the States yet, India might as well have been Mars and it was just a white, white world.

It’s not that racism filed our minds at all times; but it was just “par for the course”, as they say in golf. All my friends had “colored ladies” who came to their house each day to help their moms with the cooking, washing and ironing. Everyone’s mom, mine included, stayed home while the dads worked and the “maids” got on buses and went across to the white part of town to work.

A sign on buses

A sign on buses

They weren’t slaves at all but it was a totally segregated society. There were white schools and then there were “negro” schools. The facilities for African-Americans were supposed to be “separate but equal”. But of course, truly they were not. This was just the way it was and virtually no one said anything against it.

Blacks sat at the back.

Blacks sat at the back.

When you got on a city bus to take you across town, there was a little sign that said “coloreds to the rear”. African-Americans were required to sit in the back of the bus. If you were at the bus station or some other public place, there were not 2 public toilets but 4: “white men” and “colored men”, “white women” and “colored women”.

seperate water fountainsThey couldn’t eat in the restaurants that my family could. They couldn’t use the public restrooms I could or drink at the same water fountain. Need a sip of water? Make sure you go to the right water fountain, the one for whites, not “coloreds”. This was just life, a fully segregated life and this is what I grew up in, over 100 years after the Civil War was over.

I don’t know how my life as a missionary would have been if I’d been brought up as a racist. I’ve lived in many countries and a lot of them have not been “white folks”. But I was never taught to think and feel that way and I’m really glad for that. I’d already been taught to love my fellow human beings, even though I wasn’t raised a Christian.

no to racismAnd just in case any of you non-Americans out there are feeling a little smug right now, thinking how horrible these hate-filled Americans are, you might want to take a look around where you are. Yes, things have been bad here and in many ways still are. But I’ve seen some pretty bad cases of racism in my travels around Europe and also in other places. Some of you probably know what I mean.

I guess the only real solution in the long run is the love of God.

And salvation by Grace, I might add. It takes the love of God to really love people. And if you say you can do it without the love of God, ok, I’ll admit some people seem to be able to resist racism without the power of God. But then they often end up like I used to be when I was a kid. My family and I were self-righteousness because we weren’t racists when we had other problems and sins, lots of them. Just that for me, racism wasn’t one of the big problems I had.

finally freed flatI’ve just come to find out and experience that it takes a reborn heart through the love of God in Jesus to help us to love and be all that we need to be. If you’re a Christian but still think it’s OK to be a racist, (shall I be blunt here?) I strongly suggest you read God’s Word and let it change your heart. Here’s something from the laws of Moses, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.”  (Leviticus 19:17)

And on the other hand, if you’re smugly satisfied with yourself like I used to be because you think you’re better than some Christians because you’re not racist, that’s just another dead-end, going-nowhere viewpoint. There are a lot of other evils in the world besides racism and you too need the power and love of God to overcome your weaknesses and vices. And we’ve all got them. That’s what I found out by hard, bitter experience. Lord help us all, Amen? God deliver us from hatred and racism. And smug, self-righteous unbelief as well.