Distracted

fight distractions flatI was trying to have my morning prayer time, something I often do by going out somewhere in nature.  But this morning, as has happened at other times, it was a real battle to focus on prayer and not to be distracted.

I’ve recently moved and now am able to go out in a secluded wooded area, away from the bustle of the city. You would think that would be a great place to pray and I suppose it is. So the problem isn’t with the surroundings, it’s me. I seem to get easily distracted. “Oh, look at that butterfly! Those trees need pruning. The clouds are nice today.” Just on and on it goes. Repeatedly I have to snap out of it and turn my attention back to why I came out there: to pray and “pour out my heart before Him.” (Psalm 62:8)

lead and guide me flatMaybe my problem is that things are more or less going OK right now, that I’m not face to face with some ominous crisis. That may be a part of it. Sometimes situations you’re facing can drive you to desperate prayer. But what about when you need to do today what you did yesterday and will be doing for probably a few more weeks and months? Well, we still need to pray. We still need to “in all our ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:6) We need to “commit our way unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.” (Psalm 37:5)

It’s just so easy to lapse into lethargy and it can often begin with our prayer life. Jesus said to His disciples at perhaps the most desperate hour of His life, “Can you not watch with me one hour?” (Matthew 26:40) But they were asleep in the garden of Gethsemane while it says of the Lord in prayer, “and being in an agony, He prayed more earnestly. And His sweat was it were great drops of blood, falling down to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)

Maybe we don’t “feel” like praying, maybe we’re tempted to think of it as drudgery or some kind of daily ritual we’re called to. But this can all be so much clearer if we shine the light of the Word on it. When I was going out to pray this morning, a verse came to me that I’d reviewed earlier. “Through desire, a man having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddeth with all wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:1) I’ve heard folks say that verse is talking about something bad, separation from God and going after evil wisdom. But it equally can be taken the other way.

watch and pray flatHaving a desire to get alone with the Lord and to connect with Him, we separate ourselves from the world around us and its distractions so that we can seek and intermeddle with the wisdom, love and Spirit of God. That was my verse I claimed as I went out to pray today. But it was a battle. Another verse that came to me was what the Lord told His disciples when He said to them, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

Temptation? You mean one of them had brought a bottle of whiskey or some other sin of the flesh? I don’t think so. I think the temptation was the same kind I was facing in our garden here this morning. Distractions, lethargy, fainting in our minds. “If you faint in the day of adversity, your strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10) And that “day of adversity” doesn’t only have to be when you’re faceing ISIS or your neighbor’s dog.

It’s a battle every day with our besetting sins, the “weights and sins that do so easily beset us.” (Hebrews 12:2) And one of those besetting sins is to just grow weary in well doing, to get our eyes off the Lord and the goal before us. “Where there is no vision, the people perish”, (Proverbs 29:12) and in some ways it takes vision to take prayer time.

For me that vision is strengthened and enhanced by quoting the Word of God I have memorized. Otherwise I will just stroll along, doing my own thing and thinking my own vain thoughts. King David said, “I hate vain thoughts, but your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Or it’s like Paul said, “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. ” (II Corinthians 10:5) That says a lot there, bringing every thought into captivity. Maybe that’s what that verse in the Old Testament meant when it said, “He did evil because he prepared not his heart to seek the Lord.” (II Chronicles 12:14) We have to not only get in prayer; we have to get in the Spirit.

dont have to pray flatIt can all seem tedious. The devil and our own carnal mind can tell us that this isn’t really so important. “What you’re doing today doesn’t really have to be prayed about. You can handle this on your own.” Boy, what a lie. The Lord said, “Without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)  Well, we can do a lot of wrong and useless things. But to do His Will, we need His strength and power.

So even if this day may look a lot like the one yesterday, it still needs to be hemmed in at the beginning and end with focused, undistracted prayer. Lord help me, I’m almost writing this to myself as much as I am to anyone else. These are things I need to really remember, do and hold on to. I hope it’s something that others may be facing and need help with as well.

Turning Back

will you also flatThere is an incredible joy in becoming a Christian, I certainly experienced that and continue to experience it. But most of us know that there also can be some serious times of difficulty, challenges and even wrenching heartbreaks that come in our life along the road of faith. One of the heartbreaks that I’ve experienced a lot in recent years is seeing dear brethren in the Lord who’ve turned back from their convictions and life of faith they once held and are now no longer believers or who are overcome and defeated with “the affairs of this life.” (II Timothy 2:4)

It’s a bit of a delicate subject. Jesus said to the self-righteous religionists, “He that is without sin, cast the first stone.” (John 8:7) So definitely the idea here isn’t to cast stones and condemn those who, for whatever reason, have “cast away their confidence” (Hebrews 10:35) in the Lord, His Word and the life we’ve been given.

Demas has forsaken flatBut it is heartbreaking. It’s even discouraging to have contact with ones who once were not just believers but soul winners, disciple-makers and missionaries at the ends of the earth who now question the basic tenets of the Bible and have sunk back into the morass of humanity and the mire of the multitude. Paul said in one place, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (II Timothy 4:10) Or like it says in the Old Testament, “The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.” (Psalm 78:9)

It’s almost like being in one of those dreams where you see someone in mortal danger and you try to reach out to them or rescue them. But, in your dream, you can’t reach them or save them from their plight. I suppose it’s similar to what solders experience in the heat of war when a comrade falls at their side. Except this is not exactly the same because it may be closer to what the Bible says about being “wearied and faint in your mind.”  (Hebrews 12:3) Or even what happened with John the Baptist and Jesus.

are you he flatJohn the Baptist was the herald and forerunner of Jesus, preparing the way before Him. But something must have happened because he later sent his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you He that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3) It’s hard to read that any other way than that John had really fallen back from his faith in Jesus. So the Lord said to “go show John again those things which you see, the blind see, the lame walk, the dead are raised.” (Matthew 11:4 & 5) And then the clincher, “And blessed is he who is not offended in Me.” (Matthew 11:6)

Evidently something the Lord did or said must have offended John the Baptist. And in our times as well something can happen that offends us, something we never thought would happen.  “Surely the Lord wouldn’t let that happen!” But it did. And we are offended, stumbled and sometimes, if we don’t get back to standing on the Rock and trusting Him, it can take us all the way out of our realm of faith rewards in heaven-flattenedand land us in the outer darkness of unbelief. It happens to a lot of people, maybe you know some. That may be why the Lord said, “Hold fast to what you have that no man take your crown.” (Revelation 3:11)

Paul wrote a whole epistle which was around this theme, to the Galatians. “Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1) Some “false brethren” had come to the Galatians after Paul had left them and had sown major doubts and questions about the faith and freedom Paul told them they had in the Lord. Repeatedly in Galatians you can see Paul trying to restore these ones back to the foundation he’d laid for them which had been challenged and attacked by “brethren.”  “My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19)

I dont believe flatIt’s an ongoing occupational hazard of being a disciple of the Lord to have ones you love and who stood with you on the battlefronts of the Lord to somehow later turn back from their faith and convictions and to even be used of the enemy at times to try to sow doubt in your mind that has entered theirs.

And I can hear some say, “Well, they just got tired or discouraged”. There’s a difference between that and turning back on the Lord. I know a lot of people in their 60’s who can’t carry the physical load they once did but who still are keeping the faith. Some are even witnessing in parks and on the streets, doing what they can, even when their bodies can’t do as much as they did before.

Prodical sonIs there a happy ending to this? I don’t know. We can hope and pray that some of these will be like the prodigal son and return to the Father’s house and their original calling. But perhaps for all of us, it’s good to remember the admonition, “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.” (Hebrews 10:35) “Now the just shall live by faith, but if any man draws back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Hebrews 10:38)

We all need encouragement and the help and love from fellow brethren. It is a battle and the darkness deepens steeply in our times. My prayer and hope is that each person reading this will keep the faith and continue to be a helper of others in order that we continue to let our lights shine before men as we lift Him up and all will be drawn to the Lord.

Freedom

freedom pictureI’ve had a conversation with a new friend and some of it has been about freedom. My gosh, what a subject.  Are you free? Free from what? How can we tell? How can we measure and quantify freedom? Everybody talks about it, most everybody wants it, a few people say they have it and some say that others don’t have it. But some people just really feel and know they aren’t free. They are bound. Sometimes they feel like a slave, either to some other person, to some system, to their families, their egos or whatever.

you shall know the truthBut Jesus talked a pretty good amount about freedom. In fact, He promised it. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed”. (John 8:36)  The university I went to has at the top of its main building, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Of course it was Jesus Who said that. But the university appropriated that Bible verse to apply it to the secular education received at the university.

I don’t know, maybe some find the truth there. I’m afraid I found some knowledge there but knowledge is not really the same thing as truth. While I was acquiring knowledge at university, I was literally nearly dying for a lack of wisdom that comes from the truth that comes from God. And I certainly wasn’t free. I guess I could have thought I was, going to university, cool sports car, apartment, pretty good job, nice clothes. But inside I was like a person with a terminal disease in its last stages. I was sick and starved of the knowledge, wisdom, truth and freedom that come from God.

From the early 70's. London, England

But when I came to that point where I received Jesus and was born again, I truly in so many senses became “a new creature in Christ Jesus”. (II Corinthians 5:17) Was I free then? I sure was; but it was something so totally in the middle of my soul that it might not have been apparent right away. Or maybe it was. I’m sure my countenance was different, my words began to be different, my lifestyle changed and I just had a complete change in my heart and soul from the inside out.

For one, I was free from addiction to psychedelic drugs, something that had a grip on me till then. But it was much more than that; it really was like what Jesus meant when He said those words written in stone at the top of the building at my university, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”(John 8:32)the truth will make flat I began to have a freedom, a peace, a joy and even words that there may be no words for, maybe close to the word “ecstasy”. But I don’t find the word that fits, really. Simply put, it was a form of freedom and deliverance from the fear, confusion, bondage, lack of direction, just the overwhelming lack in every area that was the essence of my life before my coming to God.

You may say, “I don’t know. I went to church one time and those folks didn’t look free at all. It all seemed pretty formal, traditional and, frankly, dead.

The good news is that some churches are not like that anymore. They are drinking deeply of the things or God, or are trying to, and people pushing the envelope to find those spiritual realities that Jesus promised are ours in Him. For example, some people are singing songs together, powerfully and from their heart and they are being exhilarated with the freedom that comes sometimes through song. I personally have been in places where the songs even turned into dance and went on for hours. No, people were not jerking around like rodents; it was smooth and beautiful, heavenly and free like we’d been transported up from this world or the essences of heaven had come down to us. It was an indescribable experience.

Another form of freedom I’ve experienced was in the midst of one of the worst natural disasters on earth in our lifetime, when I was in refugee camps in Aceh province, Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami of 2004. It wasn’t some out-of-body experience but a very practical freedom of stability, sanity and focus in a time when most people were utterly stunned and overwhelmed in the aftermath of such devastation. There was an infusion of freedom and peace on me and my friends that made it so that we could minister for many hours each day, giving and pouring out in every way we could when almost all the local and state infrastructure had been destroyed and we were surrounded by devout Islamic people who couldn’t help wondering how in the world we got there and why we were there.

For a Christian, we’re not just given freedom like some lottery prize but as something useful and practical that brings us joy. But His freedom also strengthens us for the task at hand in this present world, of bringing people to God and His Son Jesus. And I’ll admit, it does seem like many Christians have not gone so far in experiencing the freedom we have in Jesus.

passing litMost churches are so “afraid of wild fire”, that they have little or no fire of the Spirit at all. Besides, only a few are beginning to tell the sheep in their congregations that actually they are responsible to not just “lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2), but to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8), to witness and win others personally to Him. So they need to experience the freedom we have in Him and then start using it to get going for God and others.

sharing wordWe’re free, free, free; free to do God’s will. Free to “follow the Lamb, whithersoever He leads“. (Revelation 14:4) And for those few who are beginning to awaken to the fact that the dear Lamb of God has work to do for each of us in this world, they are finding that His freedom will help so that we can do so much more, dream so much more and accomplish so much more than most of us ever did before when our life in the Lord consisted of Sunday church service and perhaps a little more.

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”. (II Corinthians 3:17) “The creature itself shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God”. (Romans 8:21) How many people of God have really experienced that “glorious liberty” personally in their lives? where the spiritHow many people are daily living in that glorious liberty to the full in the action-packed, thrilling, significant destinies His saved children can have right now in this world, if we seek first His kingdom. Oh, that the Lord would be able to help more of His people to drink more deeply of His freedom and the things of Him now in this lifetime. “Eye has not seen, neither has ear heard the things that belong to them that love Him. But God has revealed them unto us by His Spirit for the Spirit searches the deep things of God.” (I Corinthians 2: 9 & 10)

Processing and Refining

convicted flatI got an interesting response from someone regarding what I wrote about Convicted”. It was sincerely written, nothing sarcastic or combative to it. Her first sentence said, “Conviction, reprobate etc seem to come from a judgmental mentality. I think that was done away with, with the message of love and compassion.

That’s an interesting way of looking at things and it’s a viewpoint that many now and over the centuries have had. Here’s more of what was written to me.

Spiritual growth can include the evolution of how we express ourselves, reaching inward with the intention of becoming closer to our soul’s essence, feeling that deep love that is the source of our existence and of creation, and then letting our light shine in word (vocabulary) and in deed. I think part of letting our light shine is connecting with our source of power individually through genuine prayer and faith, and letting that unique expression be our contribution to others with humility and compassion, which really is kindness. The world needs more kindness. Conviction comes from a place of strength, taking a stand from a place of deep faith and belief. Then we can use whatever words best communicate our faith and love. Isn’t that a universal way of sharing light with others, and the goal of openly practicing faith?

Obviously there’s a lot to agree with there. “The world needs more kindness”, I sure agree with that. I get the impression that this person is a gentle soul who wants to let her light shine, as she wrote, and to be a force for good in this world, working within the realm of faith and spirituality.

So it behooves me to respond to this one with respect and a prayer for wisdom in what to say. Paul said, “The servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach.” (II Timothy 2:24) I feel the Lord wants to slow me down on this and to help me choose what I say with prudence. It could be easy to do what some Christians find all too easy to do, to jump in with what they perceive as wrong in what someone has said. To this dear friend I would say (with a respect and a hope that what I say is easy to be accepted) that it’s not what you are saying that I’m hesitant about; it’s what is not being said.

The reason is that in the same way our food in these times can be refined and processed so that it’s separated from its original nutriments,white bread or whole grain flat things of the Spirit can be processed in such a way that there’s still some substance left there but essential ingredients have been removed. It’s actually expressed rather well by Paul the Apostle when he said that one of the conditions in the future would be that people would have “a form of Godliness but deny the power thereof.” (II Timothy 3:5)

This sadly is happening a lot in our times where there exists a spirituality that has a lot truth to it, even Christian truth to it, but at the same time it’s somehow been “processed” and “refined” to take away what seems unacceptable or improper. A case in point with this is what this dear one said in her first sentence “’Conviction’ and ‘reprobate’ etc seem to come from a judgmental mentality.” This is a rather clear example of where some feel the original message of God in the Bible needs to be processed or refined to remove things we find offensive in our times. Again, many millions of people look at things this way, both those professing to be Christians as well as many who hold the faiths of eastern religions.

For me, it’s kind of like a whole package, almost like when you install an operating system on your computer. I wrote about that in “Resetting to Factory Default“. It’s not just one file but hundreds of thousands and it all interacts together to make your computer works. I’m certainly not able to try to go “under the hood” and delete files I don’t like or which I think would make things go better.

In the same way, I don’t find it wise way to begin to remove basic pillars of God’s Word that are clearly there both in the New Testament and the Old. Many people want to get back to the original Godly food that can be grown naturally and contains the nutriments that are there for our good. In the same way, if the concept of “conviction“ and the many other explanations of our existence that Jesus taught us are repeatedly presented in God’s Word, I feel I need to take heed to these things and to be very cautious aboutkept back nothing flat any who would process and purify what they feel needs to be removed from God’s truth. It reminds me of how the original Christianity was founded in the early church. Paul said he had “kept back nothing that was profitable to you“, that he had not held back from sharing “all the council of God”. (Acts 20:20&27)

Some people have retained some of the essences of spirituality but have somehow removed the true center and source of it all, which is not our inner soul but God Himself and His Son Jesus. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:) I believe that. It has to come back to Him, His provision, His direction, His infusion of light, direction and strength. We are “not sufficient of ourselves, to think anything of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of Christ.” (II Corinthians 3:5) Some inadvertently come to feel that every person on earth just needs to get in touch with their inner selves and things will be fine. I didn’t find that at all. I found I needed to have a regeneration of heart and spirit through the redeeming power of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

come not near flatIt’s a rather convicting thing to try to answer or respond to what this dear one wrote. It is true that judgmentalism and a “come not near to me, I am holier than thou” attitude (Isiah 65:5) has been prevalent in Christian circles towards those who may not fully agree with all aspects of it. A good deal more humility, gentleness, kindness and long suffering are sorely needed. But I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The sometimes haughty judmentalism that can be found in some Christians does not negate the unquestionable sovereignty of God and of the judgment that exists already and the final one that is to come.

 

Left, Right and Center

David CameranAs probably everyone knows, the big news is that the British people have voted in a referendum to exit the European Union, “Brexit”, as it’s called. It’s a pretty big deal if you’re European and of course especially if you are British. The vote was followed last night almost like it was a general election and in some ways more than a general election since the British electorate was having a once-in-a-generation chance to express their views on such a major issue affecting the future of their nation. And they voted to leave Europe. It’s a big deal.

But the thing I’ve noticed today actually is how… I’ll use the term “freaked out” the main stream media is about this event. I have been keeping up with politics, news events and reporting since I was around 6 or 7 years old. I was brought up in a family of politically active journalists and newspaper people. And to me, the thing that probably most people aren’t aware of is how unhappy and evidently angry almost all the news agencies are that report in English about this British vote. I’ve seldom seen the media so incensed, emotional, negative and whining against the British electorate for voting the way they did. To me, it’s a real news item itself how the press is reacting, mostly really overreacting to what’s happened. Examples of this are everywhere but this is one small sample here. And here’s a lead editorial in the New York Times on the subject.

They just can’t understand it. “How could the Brits do such a thing? Don’t they know how much this is going to cost them? Don’t they appreciate all the progress their European integration has brought to Britain?” Evidently the common people have not looked at it that way, even though they’ve been having a solid barrage from every European institution you can think of which has been lambasting them with how important it is that they continue to keep to the path of greater and greater European integration and less and less of the sovereign independence New York timesand identity that has marked the Brits as who they are for the last 500 to 1000 years.

You get the impression the British have thought it through and are willing to take an economic hit if it means they feel they can have more say again in the direction of their country, as well as a feeling of dignity and identity that has been eroding day by day for decades.

“Mark, you don’t know what you are talking about! Go back to your Bible verses and your little platitudes!”

Well, maybe I relate a little to the Brits who voted to exit, just as I do with people across Europe who are wondering where things are going and how much say they have left in their nations and heritages that have roots so many hundreds of years deeper than we have here in the States.

Does that mean I am a neo-Nazi? That I have far right tendencies? For me, once I became a Christian and entered on the path of discipleship and a missionary life, the whole thing of worldly politics turned into a much smaller place in my life that it did before. This is what I wrote about in “Citizenship in Heaven”. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews. But now it my kingdom not from hence.” (John 18:36)

citizenship-in-heavenSo most of the time I just don’t get involved, especially not in political activism like I did before. But at the same time, I live in this world. The people I need to reach for the Lord go through these things and are affected by the twists and turns of politics. And this vote in Britain was a pretty big deal with ramification that may go a long way, for a long time.

All the main stream media, I mean everything I have seen, has really been castigating the Brits for the way they voted. Just everything you read says that the British people have made a very big, bad, stupid almost evil decision. There are even voices of foreboding that this portends to be an omen that a similar tide of discontent will sweep Donald Trump to power here in the States.

Donald TrumpBut I strongly, strongly doubt that. Maybe there are some vague similarities to conditions in Britain that brought on the “Leave” vote and conditions here in the States that have helped to make Donald Trump into the presumed Republican nominee for President in this fall’s election. But there’s a big, big difference between a long disgruntled majority of Brits voting to leave the European Union and an American election where a man like Donald Trump, now leader of a deeply fractured Republican party, would assume the mantle of the leader of the most powerful nation in the world.

But how much will the powers that be, including the main media in the West, make the Brits to suffer for their decision? It would be a great story in itself if someone dug into why the press is currently so freaked out and angry at the British people. There seem to be some folks who are really upset about this and they may be able to make some repercussions happen, as a warning to any other electorates in Europe who may be tempted to come to the same conclusions and actions as the British have. This all bears watching.

“…and you are still?”

and you are still flatThis morning I found a verse that I’ve never noticed before but which really resonates for our times. It’s about “the promised land”. Specifically it refers to events from over 3000 years ago but its significance to us Christians today couldn’t be more important. No, this won’t be about Jewish settlements in the West Bank but about our own “Promised Land” of God’s will and destiny for His children which so many do not fully possess. From Judges 18:9 & 10. “Arise…for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good; and you are still? Be not slothful to go, and enter to possess the land: for God has given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of anything that is in the earth.

What really shocked me when I read this was realizing that this isn’t from the time of Joshua, the battle of Jericho and those events surrounding the original entrance of the Israelites into the land they’d been called to take. This verse is from hundreds of years later! They’d already entered the  land but only partially before running out of steam and settling down to enjoy what they had.

Come on flatAll of this of course is exceedingly rich in symbolism and meaning. They entered the promised land “by faith”, just as we are to receive and believe for all that God has given us through the mighty saving grace of our dear Lord Jesus. We have entered into the true “Promised Land” of eternal life and blessings through Him. But, but… like God’s people of old, so very many of us have not fully possessed the land.

Davids-Mighty-Men3Did you know that over 300 years after the Jews conquered the land, that what we now call Jerusalem was still inhabited by the Canaanites? David and his men climbed the mountains surrounding the city and routed the inhabitants, establishing Jerusalem as the new center and capital of ancient Israel. But that was centuries after the time of Joshua and the original conquering of the land.

They had to go further. David and his followers had to take the original commandments of God to a new level of obedience, hundreds of years after God had first spoken His Word on the mater. Why? Because our evil human nature of sloth,  disobedience, of being satisfied with a little, rather than all God has promised got the best of the people back then. So there were still giants in the land.

They had entered the promised land but they had not scaled the heights.

Solomon thinkingAnd of course we know that David not only scaled the heights and took the capital city physically, he did this spiritually as well. David probably went further than any other man in the Old Testament in really loving the Lord and, even as the sinner he was, in doing all he could to obey the Lord. It was David’s love for the Lord and obedience that catapulted Israel into the richest era in its history, not only physically in the coming kingdom of Solomon but spiritually in the lifetime of David and the treasures of spiritual riches he shared with his generation and all generations after that in the Psalms.

But what about us? How many Christians today will say with Caleb of old, “I’ll take the mountain”? In his 80’s Caleb, Joshua’s brother, led his tribe up the mountain to take the promised land. The question remains for so much of Christianity today, “…and you are still?

The truth is that the unconquered parts of the promised land came back to haunt and attack God’s partially obedient children of old. And it’s certainly still the same today. Christians who’ve gone as far as they want to go, who’ve settled down in the valleys of God’s Spirit, unwilling to drive out the darkened mountainous areas of their lives where God’s Spirit would lead them to victory, often find themselves to be in a weakened, defeated condition, not able to resist when the enemy launches a new attack. Because they themselves stopped attacking long ago. They didn’t really fully enter the promised land of God’s Spirit. They quit too soon, before the battle was fully won.

lethargy flatThe Bible says that “…in whatsoever state we are in to be content.” (Philipians 4:11) Well, I can tell you, there are certainly times to not be content. If “contentment” is actually self-satisfaction and lethargy when God is commanding and urging us on to greater obedience and greater spiritual victories, then “contentment” is not called for. Someone has wisely said, “Be content enough to be happy and discontent enough to want progress”

It comes back to discipleship and obedience. The Early Church was one of the best examples in history of about as close as we can find to ones who were really trying to obey fully. They claimed the spiritual promised land and prospered mightily in the first few generations of Christianity.

But today? So very many believers are “sitting at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). Maybe that’s why we’ll need to go through the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21) before the coming of the Lord. So often it takes suffering and tribulation to awaken His bride from her slumber. And we find this in His Word about the final days before His return, “…and some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them and to purge and to make them white, even unto the time of the end, for it is yet for a time appointed.” (Daniel 11:35)

Pickpockets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Virginia McMillion (1921-2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The unguarded moment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pain and suffering

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

With my new shoulder sling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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