Grudges

Do you have a grudge? Against someone, something, even against God? Universities don’t have classes on Grudges 101. Politics won’t solve this. It’s another one of those hideous, hellish, often fatal proclivities of human beings worldwide: to be naturally inclined to harbor and hold grudges. A grudge is the opposite of forgiveness and it’s a deadly sin. It’s even more deadly than many since it’s so often accepted and seen to be “just a part of life” by the vast majority of people everywhere.

The exact definition of “grudge” is: “a persistent feeling of ill will or resentment resulting from a past insult or injury.” Sound familiar? Well, it’s one of the most persistent, common maladies of our human condition and it’s damaging in the extreme. You can be a kid and have a grudge against your parents. You can have a grudge against anybody and anything: the way you are made, the family you were born into, mistreatment by your boss, your girlfriend, your teacher or God Himself.

Why is it so bad? Almost invariable it can quickly become the main thing in your heart, what so many of your thoughts revolve around and settle back to. The words of your mouth are tinged with hate and bitterness because of that grudge you’ve allowed to spring up in your heart.

“Mark, give us a break! You’re always saying stuff like this, always hard on people! You expect too much, Mark! Look, friend, the world is full of a– h—s. And I’m not going to let anybody treat me like they do. If I don’t do it to them first, they’ll do it to me! That’s just the way things are, Mark. Get a life!”

Is it safe to say that the majority of the world thinks like that? Probably. So what’s wrong with me? Why don’t I just accept that we live in a jungle where it’s “kill or be killed” and reacting to wrongs by accepting a hateful grudge to take over my soul and mind is just how things work in this world. “Get over it!”, like people say nowadays.

If there was no God, no Satan, no afterlife and no Savior, the man Christ Jesus, then that would I suppose be the only choice we have. But it isn’t. There is a God, there is an afterlife, and there is a judgment both in this world and the world to come for our words and deeds. Keep-your-heartAnd there is a Savior, the Man who went about everywhere doing good, Jesus of Nazareth. And one of the most important lessons He and the other men of God have taught us over the centuries was summed up well by King Solomon when he said, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) I wrote a blog article on that verse, “Keep your heart.

Think about it, how many murders are the result of what started out as a grudge? It’s likely the first murder was a result of jealousy and an accompanying grudge. Here’s what the Bible says about Cain killing Abel. “Not as Cain, who was of that evil one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous.” (I John 3:12)

It doesn’t take much sense, if you have an inkling of the Spirit of God, to know that grudges are not the plant that the Lord wants us to let grow in our hearts. This is one of the worst of the “thorns that spring up” that Jesus talked about in Luke 8:7. It’s not just some little thing. It’s not something we can’t control. It’s not something that we need to understand and accept. Grudges bring virtually immediate darkness to your soul and heart. The fruits of the Spirit of God in our lives are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.” (Galatians 5:22 & 23) But a grudge slays all of those very quickly.

“But, Mark, let me interrupt you again. Isn’t this just a case of mental health? Our modern world has moved on from these ancient, primative notions of “sin” and “the heart”. Don’t people just need our sympathy as well as mental health care to solve these things?”

No, it’s not a “mental health” issue. Science, in its place, is a great blessing. But when it tries to explain away the fallen nature of man and sanitize sin into something a doctor should treat, it then fulfills the words spoken about the future endtime to come that mankind would be “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth”. (II Timothy 3:7) Or, more bluntly, Paul said in another place, “because they received not the love of the truth, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” (II Thessalonians 2:10 & 11) Sadly how prevalent we see this happening more and more in our times as people let science supposedly explain away sin and so many other things that are to be spiritually discenred.

A grudge and bitterness walk hand in hand. Something has happened, someone did something that you don’t understand, that went against you and hurt your life and heart. And if we then don’t desperately pray and throw our will, mind and thoughts onto the side of the Lord, then we’ll not be able to forgive those who’ve wronged us or be able to “Commit your way unto the Lord, trust also in Him.” (Psalm 37:5)

Is there any hope? Like all sin, yes, there is hope. First, you have to recognize it and often that’s not even very easy since it seems to be so justifiable. God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry?” To which Jonah snapped back to God, “I do well to be angry!” (Jonah 4: 4 & 9) So again, it comes back to being able to discern your own heart first. God’s Spirit is always faithful to convict us and bring the conviction that something is wrong inside us, even if it’s true that someone has wronged us, that our reaction is not right and the best.

But if we can recognize and accept the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we go to the next step which is, “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)

That’s the process by which we’re delivered from grudges. Confess it and pray strongly to be delivered from the deadly sin of grudges which will, and perhaps already has, snuffed out your spiritual life and brought you to utter darkness, though you are still alive.

Recognize it. Hate it. Resist it. Confess it to God and others if needed. And claim deliverance from this sin which is often unto death. God help us all.

Cardinals in the Winter

I was out for prayer this clear, cold winter morning when I noticed a lone Cardinal singing merrily away in a tree in our back lot. And the thought came to me, “That’s a lot like me and my friends.” It’s a wintery day but that Cardinal is not perturbed. It knows spring is coming, no matter how bleak and forlorn things are now.

Right now this world is in a deep winter. There’s death, sadness and depravity everywhere, almost lifeless. Yes, in the world now, like in our back lot, there’s still a little sprig of green here, an evergreen over there, even some helpless tiny flower can be seen, blooming out of season. But it’s winter. Like Paul said, “The whole creation groans in travail, waiting to be delivered.” (Romans 8) What is the deliverance? Just another spring coming in a few months?

For we who know the Lord and His promises, the true spring will be His return to our world to establish His millennial Kingdom. Then the world will know how it could have been and should have been all along. There will be peace on earth and Godly prosperity unlike anything any of us have hardly ever imagined, “above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), on the shores of eternity.

But for now, it’s like some of us are the cardinals in the winter. We just keep singing and providing the color in this presently lifeless world. Even with the deep red of the passion of God in our hearts, we keep singing and making melody when seemingly there’s not really anything to sing about. But we do it by faith. We know there’s a spring coming, the eternal everlasting spring of the Kingdom of God on earth that the Bible promises is God’s ultimate plan.

If you are a Catholic, “cardinals” will have an additional meaning to you. Some of the top leaders of the Catholic Church are the Cardinals. And they traditionally dress in red. The symbolism? The idea has been that they are of a consecration that they would be willing to be martyrs, and shed their red blood for the cause of Christ, like many of the Christians of the first centuries did.

Well, there are still martyrs today but in many cases for most of us, we have to say with Paul, “I die daily“. (I Corinthians 15:31) In some ways that’s the hardest kind, dying daily to your own will and the cares and pleasures of this life to be what He wants us to be, bringing color and joy to this world and heralding the coming of the King of Glory to bring back this earth to the eternal spring like it had at the beginning of creation.

Every so often the Lord just punches through with thoughts like this when I go out for my morning walks. I used to go to a park and sit on a bench near where my parents’ lived when I was taking care of them in their last years. I wrote about a few of those experiences on my morning walks in “Just  Did It“, “Everything Means Something” or even “Hawks and Doves”, things happening right in front of me that it was like the Lord was explaining to me the symbolism, as it happened.

And this was encouraging this morning, a little picture that fits for many of us. We are presently in winter. Yes, even winter has some beauties and pleasures to it. But it’s not spring. And we, God’s cardinals, are designed to keep singing, keep showing his passionate red against the drab dreariness of the world as it is now. And to keep singing the tunes and sounds of heaven because we are keeping the vision of the soon coming better world, where righteousness will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, and as the Lord says, “Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:9)

Thank God when He gives us little things like this. Paul said, “The invisible things of Him from the beginning of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” (Romans 1:20) And David said, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows his handiwork. Day unto day it utters speech and night unto night shows knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.” (Psalm 19:1-3) We all need this; we all need to see the meaning that’s so often right there around us.Where there is no vision the people perish”. (Proverbs 29:18) Those dear but few cardinals in our back lot this morning were a picture to me of how I and many others are now singing in spite of the winter of this world, keeping the faith that the ultimate spring of eternity on earth will yet come.

On human love and affection

One of the things I’m most thankful for is how the Lord has helped me over the years to become a more well-rounded, healthy-hearted human being. Becoming the kind of “normal” that’s no longer normal has been a goal of mine. Being warm, free, real, genuine, “without guile”, things like these were what I would catch glimpses of in my grandparents’ generation. I knew I didn’t have it. I didn’t know the word “sin” but in truth sin was a big part of my heart and mind.

Since coming to Christ, I’m thankful for the depths of the spiritual experience I’ve had in Him. But perhaps more precious is to find that He’s made me, over many years, to just be simpler, to live from my heart and even to react in a kinder way when things happen. It’s hard to explain and I know it’s a direct act of God, as well as the results of cleaving to Him, His Word and ways for many years.

It seems to me that this is missing more and more in society today. The Bible talks about “natural affection” and that one of the signs of the final days is that people will be “without natural affection” (II Timothy 3:3). Does this mean that affection, actual touching, hugging and all that sort of thing is actually ok in the Lord? We aren’t supposed to be so “holy” that we’re really freaked out at the idea of giving someone a spontaneous hug? Isn’t a hug a prelude to sex? That’s what it seems to now be thought of. And it’s just pitiful.

Society has lost so much in so short a time but one thing that’s been lost is just our natural love and humanity, to be warm, real, unafraid and unsuspicious. I heard a sad joke one time, “You can tell when you’re in the third world. Children are respectful to their parents.” Well, there are a lot of things in the third world where those folks have more light and Godliness than some of the more “advanced” nations. I’ve been there, lived there for decades and I was there again recently. People greet one another with a touch and it’s not considered a sexual come-on. In some ways, believe it or not, there’s less fear and suspicion in many of those places. Often there’s a simple genuineness and Godliness still there that’s not been eroded by the kind of thing that passes for progress in our more advanced countries.

You could think, “Well, Mark’s just longing for the past like people do, always thinking the past is better.” Maybe, but I don’t know if that’s it. I do think it’s a God thing. And I’m not sure all Christians really catch it. It’s so easy now to be caught up in the latest wave of fear and alarm over the many examples of sexual predators and people going very far beyond the bounds of civilized decorum.

Another one of the signs of the end is that people will be “incontinent” (also II Tim. 3:3). In this case it means “without restraint”, unable or unwilling to restrain themselves from their emotions and lusts. Doubtless that is widespread currently. I wrote about this recently in “Rampant, predatory males“.

But I don’t hear much if any at all about how the middle has just been hallowed out in the way of what is still considered the proper, happy medium. We’re so afraid and affected by the extremes that the Godly middle of “natural affection” and healthy wholesomeness is now an endangered species.

We can’t do that. And if we do this, what would people think? And if I do that, she’ll suspect I really mean the other. So it’s safest just to do nothing. Just play it safe.” And slowly at first but more and more you find that “the love of many shall grow cold” (Matthew 24:12), as Jesus said would happen in the future to come.

The solution? Fight back. Keep loving your neighbor, ardently. Keep giving hugs. Keep being childlike, simple in your love, and “without guile” (John 1:47). Think a bit less about what the other person might think. Fear begets fear but also love begets love. Christian-loveOne person walking in love and, I might add, the freedom and childlike genuineness of the Spirit, will beget the same in others. It was actually the sincere, visible love that was manifested among Christians that had one of the greatest impacts on the ancient Roman world.

Right now it seems everyone is heading for the door. Not only “truth has perished” (Jeremiah 7:28); in our times, love has perished too. So while you’re all into fighting the Devil and spiritual warfare, don’t forget to “condescend to men of low estate” (Romans 12:16). Don’t let the present climate of fear, suspicion and extremism rob you of your crown of genuine Christian love which includes hugs, touches, “natural affection” and the type of behavior that used to be “normal”, rich and real, but is now virtually extinct.

Love! “Be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another…” (Ephesians 4:32) Don’t let this present climate of sexual stalking, followed by an excessive swing of the pendulum to extreme apprehension and prudery draw you into this current worldly maelstrom of post modern emotional deadness. “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1) “Whom the Son has made free shall be free in deed.” (John 8:36)

Does hypocrisy disprove Christianity?

It seems a day doesn’t go by that some famous Christian is not exposed as a hypocrite or even a felon.  Some writers have real joy as they go about to show some believer to actually be a scoundrel and fraud. And of course the implication is that their faith in God is all a sham, a lie, a falsehood. After all, if the Christian is actually guilty of wrong doing, that must be proof that his or her faith in God and in Jesus is actually the main thing wrong with them. Christianity is thus proven again to not be true, the reasoning goes.

But actually there’s a real breakdown in the logic on that one , even though it’s one of the best lines the godless world has to turn people away from God and Jesus. I should know because this illogic worked on me for years. As I wrote in “Raised Racist”, I was surrounded virtually on all sides by church-going Christians as I grew up. And my family were Unitarians, a denomination that (nominally at least) believes in God but not in Jesus as the Son of God. It came from the Deist movement of the 1700’s.

But it was explained to me, when I was growing up, that our family was actually a good deal better than the Christians around us. That was because we were not racists. Our family didn’t use “the N word” which was still utterly the norm amoung people in central Texas and the southern USA when I was growing up.

And so, since the Christians were hypocrites, saying they believed in God and in Jesus but actually being filled with hatred towards their fellow man, therefore we seemed to feel we had every reason to dismiss the claims of Christ because of the failures of His followers. Of course there were other things too. While I did meet some pretty sweet and sincere people who were Christians when I was growing up, especially my dad’s parents, still there were things that those folks could be accused of.

They were not intellectuals. They and most of their families never went to university. So we could look down our noses at them that they believed in God because they were sweet simpletons who, if they’d just had more education, would then know that God, Jesus and the Bible is all just a lie. That’s how I used to look at it and it seemed right to me. Christians were just hypocrites. Or, if we found some who were not, then they were just gullible people who didn’t know any better than to believe those ancient myths and fables. That was my faith; those were my foundations that I stood on when it came to religion and Christianity.

But like the Bible says, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” (I Corinthians 1:19) You’d think some honest university logician could break down this unsound reasoning in a minute. So a Christian is found to be a hypocrite, therefore Christianity is false? That’s not rational. If your math teacher is found to be a hypocrite, do you dismiss all the truth he taught you in the classroom? Of course not.

The classic retort to this irrationality is that people are “throwing the baby out with the bathwater”. It’s no secret that Christians have (sadly too often) fallen short of the extremely high standard we’re given from God and that these misdemeanors, faux pas and sometimes outright crimes and felonies have been exposed to the world. But this quid pro quo of therefore we must throw out the baby of Jesus Christ and Christianity in general because of the fouled “bathwater” of some Christians just doesn’t add up.

I don’t know of anything else in this world that can actually get to the depths of your heart and change it at its foundation the way Jesus Christ can and does. Other religions may try to tell you what is right and point you in the right direction. But Jesus offers us to come into our souls and lives, transforming us into new creatures and then gives us the power to live lives driven and inspired by the very power and truth of God Himself.

But we still have free will. We still have to choose to obey His Spirit within us each day. We are still tempted to “sin”, to selfishness, to do less than the best for Him. And that’s when hypocrisy so often comes in. But the world is always watching. The youth and the undecided and, sadly also, the accusers of our faith and the opposers of Christianity are waiting anxiously to detect any false step, any falsehood, any “leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1), as Jesus said. And so often they do find it.

But for me, what I found is that, as they say in Texas, “That dog won’t hunt.” I found that, even though some Christians are hypocrites, that doesn’t negate the fact that there is a God , the God of the Bible and that He did in fact send His only Son into the world to die for our sins. So I was distracted by the well known hypocrisy of the Christians and I didn’t see the much greater reality, the much more important thing that there is a God. The spiritual world is actually real, I have a soul and it’s going some place after I die.

So, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Don’t be tricked by the admitted actuality that some Christians are hypocrites and so throw out the divine baby, Jesus Christ, because of the dirty bathwater of imperfect modern Christianity. That reasoning is the downfall of millions upon millions of lost souls in our times. It’s been the ruin of many a poor boy and, God, I know I was one. Don’t let it happen to you.

“Mark, you said sadness is a sin?”

I recently started a blog post by saying that sadness is a sin. I got a couple of responses from two friends who disagreed with me. Actually most seemed to agree with the post but these two friends brought up some points. So perhaps others felt the same. For one, I hope that they didn’t only read the first line. Here’s the blog post I wrote on “Sadness.

I’ve thought about what I wrote and I do feel that I believe it to be true. As I wrote in the article, I fight and pray against sadness every day. I’ve had a very blessed life but there are also things that have happened, prayers that have not been answered up till now and just things that I won’t go into here.

Actually, sadness is sort of a big word, a little like “love”. You can love your car, your dog, your sports team, your country or perhaps your Lord and God. But in English it just all boils down to that simple little word, love. So often “love” needs to be understood within the context and sometimes explained. I think it’s the same with sadness.

I made it clear in the blog post I wrote that I was not just making some sweeping, blanket statement that all sadness is sin. That certainly cannot be supported by Scripture and it’s just not true. But I’ve found in these things that at times we press the limits of how much language can work for us. Have you ever tried to say something that there’s just not words for? Maybe with someone you love deeply, it seems that the language just isn’t full and complete enough to match what you’re trying to say?

So it is with sadness. I went on in the article to explain that senseless sadness, Godless sadness, destructive sadness, empty sadness are the things that often try to befriend us and become our constant companions. I’ve had several people write me to say that they had never had someone understand this the way they read it in the blog post and they were glad to have it explained.

Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of” (II Corinthians 7:10), and I brought up this side of things that “Godly sorrow” is similar to pointless sadness, only it’s not pointless. So, all in all, there are times where we just need to have a greater discerning of things, of what is facing us and what is trying to take root in our hearts. Is it from God and working a good work in us? Or not?

I just yesterday heard of an incredible story of some dears friends who had a loved one come to their room and breakdown in tears, apologizing for the extremely rough time they’d been going through because of the harshness and unloving attitude that this one had displayed towards them for a long time. There was real remorse, real sorry and sadness that there had been such divisions and acrimony for so long. So there was sadness, but it wasn’t pointless, empty, destructive sadness.

As Paul said of one situation he knew of with the Corinthians in II Corinthians 2 of someone who had a mighty repentance and change but also great sadness and remorse was also involved. He told the Corinthians they ought to “forgive and comfort him lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow”, going on to bring in what often happens in these things, “lest Satan get an advantage of us, for we are not ignorant of his devices.” (II Corinthians 2:7 & 11)

As Paul alludes to here, Satan just loves to pile on us when we are down and sadness is one of his favorite tools. Like I wrote about in “Conviction or Condemnation”, the devil will stop at nothing to destroy us and if he can’t get us lifted up in pride, then he tries to keep us in perpetual defeat through condemnation or maybe what could be called “condemnation-lite”, that pointless destructive sadness that we’re talking about.

So I will stick to my guns when saying that sadness is, or certainly can be, a sin. No, not every single time anyone is sad is that sin. But it’s probably good to really take a closer look at it to see what kind of sadness it is. Some of them really aren’t your friend or are good for you.

Left or Right, Vertical or Horizontal?

Everywhere you look, it seems like the extremes are winning. I grew up in a political family and there was always talk of “the Left” and “the Right”. I learned early the basics of what this meant in America. It’s difficult to make short definitions but the Left seemed to be more for government having a helping hand in affairs of citizens. Government was seen as having a place in the solutions society needed. The Right was more for smaller government and it having less involvement in society. More should be left up to individuals and the work of market forces that worked in the economy.

“Verticals” and “horizontals” are not political terms but are understood within Christian circles. “Horizontals” are the ones who are more focused on our Christian responsibility to “love your neighbor”. “Horizontals” can often be found feeding the poor and doing things primarily in the physical to alleviate the plight of the less fortunate. “Verticals” on the other hand focus their attention more on their personal relationship with God and Jesus. Their emphasis is often on personal salvation, prayer, Bible reading, church attendance and the things related to our spiritual life with God, in the affairs of the heart and soul.

If you keep up with things at all, you’ll know that there are very strong forces at work in many countries now, pulling and pushing things towards the extremes in all of these areas. You hear of “center Right” politicians but also you hear of “far Right” or even “extreme Right” or “alt Right”. And it works the same for the terms of the Left. Similarly in the field of faith, some push more and more for a completely “horizontal” view of our responsibilities to the Lord, that overwhelmingly it should play out in our service to mankind. Yet others downplay that completely and, being “Verticals”, feel the only solution left is for utter repentance and commitment to God in every way among all citizens of a nation.

“OK, Mark. We more or less know all that. So what’s the solution? Things are getting worse and worse, more and more divided. What’s right?”

For me, I had to learn the hard way that politics and political solutions just don’t address the fundamental issues of humanity. I wrote about that in several places like, “Citizenship in Heaven” or “Consumer, Citizen or Disciple.” I planned a career in politics and public service but was appalled by the reality I found when I began to get close to it while I was in university. So for me, the question isn’t really “Left” or “Right” as neither one has enough truth and solutions to be worth consideration in the most fundamental issues of life.

But what about “Vertical” or “Horizontal”? Which one of those is right? Is the main thing to be of service and to show an example of God’s love to our fellow man, to be a “Horizontal? You can certainly see a lot of examples of that in the New Testament and there are plenty of verses pointing us that direction for sure. However, “Verticals” would ask, isn’t it all contingent on our relationship with the Lord and the grace and power we receive from Him, once we are born again and filled with His Spirit? Don’t we need to stay close to His Word and the nudging of His Spirit so we’ll know what to do in this world?

For me, I’m completely convinced that the only solution for individuals or mankind is a spiritual one, first and foremost. And within the opposites of Vertical and Horizontal, I guess something Jesus said somewhat boils it all down: “These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”(Matthew 23:23)  Simply put, a solid balance between “Horizontal” and “Vertical” is what I believe you find in the 4 gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t only “go about doing good”, (Acts 10:38) He “opened the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32) You could make a study of which He did more but I venture to say that the works of Jesus and the times He taught the Word would likely be pretty balanced

In the book of Acts, you don’t really see the early disciples of Christ doing humanitarian aid projects the way some of us do now. But you do see repeatedly their using the miracle-working power they’d received from Jesus to heal the sick. Acts 3:6 says, “Then Peter and John answered and said, ‘Silver and gold have we none, but such as we have we give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk.’” Jesus said of those who cloth the poor and visit prisons, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I want to base my life around the discipleship found in the earliest days of Christianity. It was neither primarily based on humanitarian aid or in a lofty, aloof, separatist spirituality similar like to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. So maybe some of these forces compelling us to extremes of Left or Right, Horizontal or Vertical are not directing us to God’s highest and best. Perhaps a healthy balance between dedicated Christian works in the horizontal and, vertically, a spiritual life of Christian salvation and power through the Spirit is closest to the bull’s-eye of God’s will in our times.

Broken Branches

Everything means something, you know? I was out for a walk when I saw something and immediately I knew it was like a message or at least significant. Hanging from a small tree was a broken branch. It had somehow been almost totally torn away from the tree. It hung down and was evidently just barely still attached. But the thing I noticed was, the leaves and the branch itself was still very much alive and didn’t show any sign of dying, even though it was so damaged.

Lord forgive me, I should have taken a picture of it right away. Instead, my gardening instincts kicked in and I pulled it from the tree. But I’ll include a picture here to the left so you can see how far the branch had been torn and how little of it was still attached to the tree. Mostly you can see a black scar where it had somehow been torn away. But you can also see a smaller whitish place where it had still been attached. It had just been barely hanging on by that little white scar you see on the lower branch.

“So what!” you say. Well, like I said, everything means something or at least it can if you see with the eyes of the Spirit. Paul said, “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things which are made…” (Romans 1:20) And maybe a way to understand this parable that appeared in front of me is to turn to what Jesus said in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” And He told us to abide in Him. “As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abides in the vine, no more can you except you abide in Me.” (John 15:5)

But, let’s face it, there are a lot of us around who are broken branches. Lots of folks are just barely hanging on, like that branch I saw yesterday. I don’t need to tell you, life at times can be rough. Those of us who’ve embraced the Lord and His path of discipleship have such an incredible account of grace and power to draw from as we go through life.

But, brother, there are storms, no? Like Job said, “The thing I greatly feared is come upon me”. (Job 3:25) And sometimes it gets worse than that. You just never imagined that what happened could happen. Surely the Lord wouldn’t let that happen. Surely that person, such a dear and trusted friend, wouldn’t turn on you or turn on the Lord’s Work.

Sometimes “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household”. (Matthew 10:36) And it can get to be where you, the branch, can very nearly be torn from the tree. Your faith and your commitment are struck at the very roots, it seems. Those you trusted and loved most in this world, even brethren in Christ, fall away or even worse. And it hits you deeply. You may even be like that branch I saw, almost torn away, hanging awkwardly, almost upside down.

But for this branch I saw yesterday, it somehow was still clinging to life. “Its leaf also shall not wither” (Psalm 1:3) and this broken branch still looked healthy, even though it was so broken and wounded. Maybe you’ve see trees like that. Sometimes they are totally uprooted and laying on their side. The storms of life have completely knocked them over. Sometimes for some it kills them. But you see others who go on to live hundreds of more years after some great calamity like that.

I could name names but I won’t. They might be reading this. But I know of some dear saints of God who’ve gone through some pretty horrific things, not at the hands of ISIS but in relationships and cooperation with other Christians where they feel they’ve been mistreated or abused and it has nearly taken their life, spiritually.

Or maybe it had nothing to do with another Christian. Maybe it was just the storms of life, the varmints and the lightning bolts, all that each person faces at one time or the other. Some have just wilted and died on the vine. But some I know are like that little branch I saw yesterday, still alive, still green and growing , even after such an event that nearly tore it from the tree.

It’s funny sometimes the things I see on my walks. I’ve written about things like the worm I saw on my walk in “Everything Means Something“. Or how the Lord was almost yelling at me when I saw those 5000 little apples I wrote about in “Bite Now, Chew Later“. We all need to hear from God and He seems to speak in different ways to different people.

So, the bottom line? Hold on. Don’t stop abiding in the vine. Otherwise you’ll be like the branch that Jesus spoke of, “If any man abide not in Me he is cast forth as a branch and is withered…” (John 15:6) Don’t let that happen to you. Even if you’ve been pretty severely ripped at your base, there’s still some of you attached to the Lord and the sap of His Spirit can and will still keep flowing into you, just as it was with that branch I saw. You may not be the way you were but you’re still alive and in Him. “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.”  (Hebrews 10:35)

One hundredfold, now in this time

one hundredfold flatSometimes we think life is really rough and then the Lord comes along and just “blows our mind”, as people used to say. We’re grimly armed for battles and to survive the worst we think will come. And then, almost out of nowhere, the Lord “pours out a blessing that there isn’t room enough to hold it.” (Malachi 3:10)

“Oh, Mark, what are you talking about?! Life is very hard and rough and the Lord is there to comfort us and strengthen us as we wearily trudge along. Someday, when we get to heaven, then Mark, things will be nice and happy and heavenly.”

It’s sure easy to think that way and there are times when it is like that. But not all the time. And that kind of attitude can almost end up being a self-fulfilling prophecy. For those of us who not only believe in Jesus and go to church once week but who’ve taken the challenge to “take up your cross and follow Me” (Luke 9:23), there are some amazing promises of blessings, in this lifetime. Actually, I’m presently experiencing some of the most amazing blessings of my entire life. At some point I’ll get more specific about this but it’s really been on the scale of “above all we can ask or think.”  (Ephesians 3:20)

And Jesus promised this to His followers and disciples. Here’s what He said, “And everyone that has forsaken house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands for My namesake shall receive one hundredfold now in this time, and in the world to come, eternal life.”  (Mark 10:30)

Did you get that? It’s not just all pie in the sky for us. Jesus promised that those who have forsaken all, those who are serving Him “here and now” won’t have to wait for the “there and then” before getting some measure of reward. He said they would receive 100 fold “now in this time”, and in the world to come eternal life.

“OK, Mark, I can see you’re really beginning to get tripped off now. You’re going down the road of the prosperity gospel preachers, promising abundant life and lots of material wealth to Christians.”

whoever forsakes flatNope, I don’t think I am. The verse I shared above made the stipulation that “forsaking all” was the prerequisite for the 100 fold blessings that the Lord said would be to His followers “now in this time”. And I can understand that for probably the vast majority of Christians, the very words “forsaking all” (Luke 14:33) are almost unknown to them. This is just another of the very many things that Jesus taught that never are almost ever mentioned in church.

But for those who are following Him, He did say that there would be persecution but at the same time, there would be this 100 fold blessing in this lifetime. It’s sort of sad in many ways. So many Christians today are not really “living Godly in Christ Jesus” and so they are not “suffering persecution” (II Timothy 3:12). Also, possibly because their pastors never taught them about this, they’re not even close to forsaking all and perhaps that may be why they’re not having the experience of really having the blessings of God mightily being poured out on them.

holy spirit which flatThere’s just something about obedience. “He gives the Holy Spirit to them that obey Him.” (Acts 5:32) Of course it’s not that most Christians are utterly disobedient. They do obey some. They worship, some read their Bibles, go to church and are walking according to the light they have since so many churches serve a rather thin gruel of spiritual feeding rather than the pure milk of the Word, much less anything approaching strong meat.

But I was just struck this morning by the significance of that verse above, Mark 10:30. Part of my original Christian experience involved a commitment to “forsake all” in order to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” (Mark 16:15) And it has at times been a rough and rugged, even lonely road. But it’s really not the full and complete picture if we allow ourselves to fixate on all the battles and little sufferings that can come along.

Because it’s really true what the Lord said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10) I’ve had a very blessed life and the Lord’s promise of 100 fold in this lifetime is currently a theme playing out in my life so strongly that I’ve struggled at times to even believe what’s going on right now.

So don’t let them kid you. God doesn’t want you to endure years of depressing, fruitless emptiness. That’s not the picture. He is able to do “above all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), in this lifetime.

Tie up in port?

launch out flatThere’s just something about going on the initiative to the attack that brings victory. This isn’t specifically a Christian teaching but actually it’s known and spoken of across many platforms and schools of thought. But certainly for the people of faith, you really have to keep wanting to make progress or you’re well on your way to becoming an “old bottle” (Luke 5:37), like Jesus talked about.

A lot of Christians think they should be conservative when actually they really should be progressive. OK, here in the States both of those terms are thickly slathered with extra added meaning. So let’s unpack that and break it down. What do you mean by conservative and progressive? If conservative means timid, supine, hesitant, hold-the-fort, old-fashioned and both critical and fearful of change, then I really don’t think true Christians should be conservative. If progressive means a desire to go further, to achieve enduring positive progress, to dream dreams that can become the Godly reality of tomorrow, then progressive sounds the best bet to me.

And yes, I certainly know that in the superheated socio-political atmosphere in America now, “conservative” and “progressive” are virtually fighting words. But what saith the Scriptures? Are Christians actually supposed to be ultra conservative and to abhor progress? As the Lord said, “I trow not.” (Luke 17:9) In fact I suggest that the propensity to think that we believers are supposed to be “conservative” rather than “progressive” is a serious impinging drag on millions of individuals as well as the body of Christ as a whole.

jesus on horseJesus told His followers to “Launch out into the deep”, (Luke 5:4) He didn’t tell them to tie up in port. Jesus “went a little further and fell on His face”. (Matthew 26:49) Solomon said “Whatsoever your hand finds to do, do it with your might”. (Ecclesiastes 9:10) And Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and all your strength.” (Mark 12:30) But sadly, the vast majority of Christians today, if they go to church at all, are being taught that God’s highest and best is to tip-toe through life, ever watchful of sin lurking at every corner which will suddenly jump out and devour the hapless, virtually defenseless sheep that they are.Conquering

What a travesty. Is that the picture of the Early Church? Is that how Christianity and the knowledge of salvation in Him spread throughout the earth? By holding the fort? This is what I wrote about in “Conquering”. Frankly, I believe with all my heart that modern Christianity needs a whole lot more progressives than it does conservatives, a whole lot more gas pedals and fewer brakes.

Where are the soul winners? Where, oh where, are the pastors, imploring and engaging their flocks in the business of personal evangelization? Where are the pastors and church leaders who are actively training their flock in the basics and essentials of salvation itself so that their congregation can turn around and personally win souls in the coming week?

How many people in your church can lead a soul to Jesus? Do they even know they should? Do they personally know the plan of salvation? Or do they think that’s just for the preacher or the Apostles of the Book of Acts? How many people in your church can quote John 3:16 and/or know how to find it in the Bible they carry with them at all times and share that verse with those looking for His truth?

you need Jesus flatIt was 17 year old and 18 year old “Jesus people” who knew their bibles well enough many years ago who showed me on the street the plan of salvation. Verse after verse, John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8 & 9, John 1:12, Revelation 3:20 and others, showing it to me right out of the Bible, that convicted my heart and opened my eyes to the plan of salvation, that changed my life utterly and set me on the path of Christian service for decades now.

Do you know how to do that? If you’re a pastor or preacher, do the people of your congregation know how to share verses like that with ones they meet? We are to “be always ready to give an answer of the hope that lies within us.” (I Peter 3:15). But for so many, if they know they’re supposed to do that at all, it’s mostly some sweet little weak squeak rather than any kind of bold, Scripturally educated testifying and opening of the Word to those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Is your pastor or preacher teaching you and others how to witness and win souls? If not, I suggest you ask him why he isn’t.

While Christians are blindly drawn into political, secular, worldly hostilities, thinking that this is doing their “conservative” duty to God, the unsaved lost continue to go unreached. How it must break the heart of God that His people are so misled and distant from the original pattern of Christianity that we see in the book of Acts and the Early Church. The “great commission” (see Mark 16:15) was not to be fuddy-duddy, hold-the-fort, Sunday-go-to-meeting “conservatives”. Jesus still calls those who will to “launch out into the deep”, not to tie up in port, rot away and die. May God have mercy and help us all.

They began to make excuse

Jesus and excuses flatSometimes delayed obedience can become total disobedience if prolonged too long. And, let’s face it, obedience is really what the Lord wants and needs from us. And yet, doesn’t this fly in the face of we modern people?

Obedience? Who does He think He is?!” But when we pause to answer our own question, if we believe in and know the Lord, we know He has every right in the universe to call for our obedience, even though our stubborn, willful nature rebels against “anyone telling us what to do”, even God. It’s amazing how many times in the Bible Jesus called someone to follow Him and “they began to make excuse.” (Luke 14:18)

My experience is that it’s still very much that way today. Jesus is still calling people. The Lord still needs laborers, servants and disciples who will respond to His call and nudge on their hearts to serve Him. It doesn’t have to be some big, grandiose “CALLING”. Most of the time people who end with a calling like that were already faithful in the little things that the Lord told them to do. So He was able to end up giving them a more visible and larger scale calling.

were busy flatBut so many people, and I’m talking about believing Christians here, just are not really making themselves available for the Lord to use them when He needs them. The best ability is availability and so many just aren’t. They are “busy”. Whew! Can you imagine what would have happened when the Lord called Peter, James and John and they’d said something like, “Come back next week, Jesus! Can’t you see we’re busy on the fishing boat, helping our father?

By next week Jesus would have been long gone and would have found someone else more ready and willing to answer His call. So few have made it their habit to obey God in that split second of that golden opportunity when the Spirit is hot and heavy and God is convicting your heart and calling you to action.

It’s so easy to make logical, reasonable excuses why you can’t do what God is calling you to do, what His Spirit is urging you to do and needs you to do. And most people will accept your excuses and agree with you since, in excusing you, they’re excusing themselves. But, from reading the Scriptures, it seems to me that the Lord doesn’t always really look at it that way.

Yes, He is loving. Yes, He is gentle. But His goal in our lives is not for us to just be lulled to sleep in our comfortable Christianity but for us to follow Him. Where? Well, He told His disciples long ago that it would be “into all the world, to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) God’s Spirit doesn’t just sooth and comfort so we’re lulled and sedated. God’s Spirit equally calls us to action.

david and brothers flat 2It was God’s Spirit that spoke through young David to his brothers, “Is there not a cause?” David left his shepherding of sheep to go into armed battle against his people’s greatest enemy, Goliath of Gath. But for so many Christians, they’ve lost that vision, if they ever had it.

That’s why one of the greatest perils of Christianity is that it becomes “Churchianity”. It sooths, lulls, comforts, reassures and eases when it should perhaps take another look at the Scriptures to see how much Christ called individuals to sacrificial action in following Him.

“Well, Mark, don’t be so hard on people. It’s just our human nature to be that way. We’re not to judge, Mark. We’re all weak, nobody’s perfect. Etc. etc.”

Don’t you just know that’s what immediately comes to the mind of almost everyone if there’s any mention of the Lord’s call on our lives to obey and follow Him? And doesn’t that just sound so “right”, “modern” and even merciful and forgiving? But what says the Word of God?

If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall loose it. But whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23, 24) “For what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and loose his own soul. Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? Whosoever therefore will be ashamed of Me and My Words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the son of man be ashamed when He comes in the glory of the Father, with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:36-38)

From what I have seen, there are just a whole host of saved Christians around who are no longer serving the Lord or open to have the Holy Spirit move them to do something other than what they already have personally planned for themselves. They have reclused themselves with excuses. And if you even hint at the fact that they’re unyeilded and unmoved by the conviction of the Holy Ghost, they’ll be immediate and vehement in their justifications.

doing here flatWhat’s the solution? Often the Lord just has to move on, as Jesus did, to find those ready and willing to take up His call to serve Him. However, it seems sometimes like about what God told Elijah when the prophet told God he was the only one left in Israel serving Him. God replied that “there are 7000 who’ve not bowed the knee to Baal.”  (I Kings 19:18) Thinking about it though, if there were maybe 2,000,000 in Israel at the time, that would work out to about one person in 300 who was still on the Lord’s side.

Follow me smallSo from my experience, I can tell you that these verses here are as true today as they were when the Lord said them. “But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them. For they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is truly plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray you therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38)