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.

 

Praying the Word

neither know we flatThere are so many good things to do. But sometimes we just need to lay them down and pour out our hearts to the Lord. Jesus said, “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) And as much as our own independent hearts would like to disagree with that, it’s totally the truth. Well, we might clarify His words there by saying “We can do nothing good and anything bad“, without Him.

And Jesus, rising up a great while before dawn, went out into a desert place and there prayed.” (Mark 1:35) For me, prayer is an absolute necessity. Of course we should be praying all the time, “pray without ceasing” (I Thes. 5:17), right? But there are certainly times when it’s got to be a whole lot more than our little prayers we pray as we go about our tasks of the day. There really have to be times when we “Come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) God wants that and we need that in a more absolute way than most of us realize.

But, what do we say? How do we pray? In many ways, it should just be natural. Jesus said “The hour comes and now is that the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship Him.” (John 4:23)

In the first weeks after I became a Christian, my friends encouraged me that, in prayer, I should tell God how much I loved Him. Well, I was so messed up back in those days and still coming out of so much darkness and heart sickness that I just told God I didn’t know how or if I loved Him.  I just knew that He was, that I believed in Him and was very thankful to be alive. I told Him I didn’t even know what love was so He would have to show me and teach me to love because I didn’t know it or see it in myself. Later I found a lot of comfort in the verse I Corinthians 8:3, “If any man loves God, the same is known of him.” I figured God knew I loved Him, even if I was finding difficulty expressing it. And I think, over the years, gradually the Lord has taught me about love and loving Him.

please hear me flatThere’s just so much to prayer, it’s hard to encapsulate it into a small post like this. But worshiping the Father “in spirit and in truth” is what Jesus said we should do. You “pour out your heart before Him” (Psalm 62:8), telling the Lord what’s at the bottom of your soul, even if you think it’s not perfect, eloquent or sufficient. Just that you’re bringing your innermost self before Him is a major right thing to do and He sees it and will bless it.

But for me, I’ve ended up finding that when I “pray the Word”, I feel my prayers go further and are stronger. What do I mean by that? Often in prayer I have to “prime the pump”. It’s a little like that strange verse, “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, it helps a lot if we get in the Spirit also. We have to move out of our carnal minds and worldly affairs and to come into the place in our hearts where it’s like what it says, “Who is this that engages his heart to come unto me?” (Jeremiah 30:21)

We have to engage our hearts to come to him. And for me, one of the ways to do this is to pray and quote the Word, the Bible. It gets me out of my carnality and into the Godly mindset of His promises. Peter said, “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, that by these we might be partakers of the divine nature”. (II Peter 1:4a) There’s a whole lot of truth right there in that verse.

So when we bring our thoughts and conscience into the realm of His promises, His Word, it engenders light and truth and the whole revitalizing “magic” (pardon the expression) that God’s Word can and does work in us. Jesus said “The words that I speak unto you they are spirit and they are life.” (John 6:63) quicken me flatKing David certainly knew this principle when he said, “My soul cleaves to the dust, quicken me through Your Word.” (Psalm 119:25) Or it’s like Jeremiah prayed to the Lord, “Your words were found and I did eat them and Your Word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

So if you’re battling in prayer, weighted down by the affairs of this life, all too aware of your demanding nature, here are a few ideas. Sing a song to the Lord that’s meaningful to you. Then sing another one. And if you feel you’re not great at memorizing, try to just memorize the 23rd Psalm, the one that starts “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”. You could quote that in prayer.  Some people even raise their hands in prayer, you don’t have to but it can be good.

These things are like priming the pump. And what you may find is that it begins to get a little easier. Thank Him for all the good things that you have, even if you feel there are some things missing. You could even use the word “praise” in your prayers, like you find so often in the Psalms. “Let all the people praise You, then shall the earth yield its increase.” (Psalm 67:5 & 6)

For me, sometimes in prayer I just quote God’s Word like a stream flowing out of me. I claim God’s promises and I pray and quote the prayers I find in the Psalms which I’ve committed to memory. Sometimes I just get lifted out of my doldrums and almost get “lost in the Spirit”, delivered from my self-absorbed self  as I enter the realm of His presence through prayer and His Word.

I hope your prayer life is what He (and you) want it to be. We all need this so much. “Without me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

No wicked thing before my eyes

watching TVThis morning I was reviewing some of the verses I’ve memorized over the years and I came again to one of those real jewels in God’s Word. King David said, “I will set no wicked thing before my eyes. I hate the work of them that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.” (Psalm 101:3)

Just, wow. Try applying that to our times. Think of the multitude of “wicked things” that vie to get the attention of our eyes. Of course for me and most people the first thing that comes to mind is television, followed hard by the internet and movies. “Wicked’ is not a common word in our times but most people know what it means. Downright dirty evil.

watching computerI virtually hate television. Not the physical appliance but the sludge that pours through it 99% of the time. The thing is, it’s very much like that verse from 3000 years ago says, “It shall not cleave unto me.” That means it won’t stick to you if you make a point not to let you eyes look at it. Because that’s what it does, it sticks to your heart and mind like some vile, filthy chewing gum. The things you see on TV and through the media, the words you hear, the whole universe of filth, vanity and froth that spews forth will cleave to your soul and utterly corrupt your heart and mind, all in the name of “entertainment” or even “education”.

Is it all really that bad? Is there anything on TV or the net worth watching? Yeah, I guess so. Of course it could be said that what I do with the web sites and videos I do is actually using the modern media which I seem to be virtually cursing here. So the point is that these things can be used to bring even Godly truth to those hungry for it. But it’s just that so very much garbage comes down the chute that you have to be fully on guard against and aware of the danger.

Some documentaries are good and informative. But then they are “brought to you by…” and you’ve got to sit through the commercials and soon your glued to the tube again. Of course now it’s not the tube anymore, it’s the internet. Or it’s not the internet, it’s your phone. But one way or the other, whether it’s hate speech, lewd music videos, divisive politics and assorted vanities, your life is consumed, 24/7, by things that are not of God. They’ve cleaved to you and you’ve become one with them. You speak of them, out of the abundance of the heart, (Luke 6:45) which has been filled with the things of this world.

woman_on_beast for blog postAnd yet (and this may shock some people) this was prophesied 2000 years ago as being a sign of the events prior to the return of Jesus. Speaking of “Babylon the Great” in Revelation 18, the angel told John the Divine “All nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication”. (Revelation 18:3) Strong language, no? But that seems to be how God sees it. While we, as the creations of God, are supposed to love Him and in a sense be married to Him as His bride, the vast majority of the earth has “gone a whoring with their own inventions” (Psalm 106:39) and has cleaved to Babylon the Great.

mileyHow have “all nations drunk the wine of the wrath of her fornication”? From Borneo to Ecuador, from Lichtenstein to Qua Zulu Natal the pleasures and allurements of Babylon are daily the delight of billions in our times as they groove to the latest lewdness from Hollywood, the latest gadget from Silicon Valley or the latest Satanic music. And what does God’s Word have to say to all this? “Come out of her My people, that you be not partakers of her sins or receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached unto heaven and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Revelation 18:4 & 5)

If you believe in God and the Bible, you’ll know that a judgment day is coming. Not just Judgement Day in the hereafter but a day of judgment on this earth and the world as we know it now. And in the book of Revelation He spoke to His people to come out of this Babylon-dominated world, to be separated from the sirens of Satan that so overshadow our times. It’s like James, “the Lord’s brother”, told people “You adulterers and adulteresses, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hostility towards God? Whoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

This can be a little overwhelming. “Where do I start?” your might wonder. One place would be to “set no wicked thing before your eyes”, to “hate the works of them that turn aside.” Why? Because if you don’t, they will without doubt “cleave” to you. God took His people out of Egypt over 3000 years ago. He made a way for them to leave Babylon after their 70 years captivity 500 years before Jesus. Martin Luther even famously wrote of the “Babylonian Captivity” of Christianity as it had come to be in his time under the fallen Catholic church of his day. And our times? Babylon the Great is alive, well and squirming mightily to enter your heart and the heart of every person on this planet. But God’s Word stands, “Come out of her, My people.” Set no wicked thing before your eyes. Hate it. Or it will cleave to you.

God’s Many Ways

Thats in the Bible flatGod’s kind of funny sometimes. Just when you think you’ve got Him figured out and under control, He pops up with some new thing that lines up outside the box you had for Him. You’re reading your Bible and you come upon some verse or story and you slam on the breaks with a “What!? That’s in the Bible?!” Or you read the history of Christianity or even the history of the Jews in the Bible and you come upon things that seem to be way out of bounds at times.

Does God change? It says in the Bible, “I am the Lord, I change not.” (Malachi 3:6) But it sure seems to me He has a pretty wide array of ways and tools at His disposal. And of course this is only good.

For example, here’s an obscure verse that’s always interested me. “The Word of God was precious in those days, there was no open vision.” (I Samuel 3:1) This is right at the end of the period of the judges and right at the beginning of when Israel went into the period of their kings.period of judges and kings From what I get from that verse, during the period of the judges they were not having the kind of spiritual manifestations we associate with visions, dreams, prophecies and the like. And so the simple word of God was all the more precious then.

But in Samuel’s time and certainly with David and even Solomon after him, the Lord changed that. When you read I and II Samuel, as well as the Psalms, it seems they came into an abundant wealth of revealed spirituality that was a major change from the previous centuries.Elijah calling fire And you could say this went on for a good while. Even though northern Israel and southern Judah split into two kingdoms and often there were evil kings, still the Lord kept sending prophets in those times. We read about Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah and many others.

But then what happened? They stopped. For 400 years. It is said in Jewish history that Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were all around at the same time, around 400 BC and even then it was known among the people that after them, the line of prophets would stop. That’s what it says in history, they knew back there at that time that they were the last prophets.

Why? Why did God do that? Maybe it’s like it says in the Psalms, “Because they have no changes, therefore they fear not God.” (Psalm 55:19) Maybe God doesn’t like it when you think you have Him figured out. Like He said to Job, “Should it be according to your mind?” (Job 34:33)

Then along came Jesus. Talk about a change! But it was change with continuity, wasn’t it? The absolute basics didn’t change, to love God and love our neighbor. But as so many of the prophets had foreseen, God was going to “put the law in their heart”, (Jeremiah 31:33) with “a new spirit within them”. (Ezekiel 11:19) And it was to be “a light to the Gentiles, that you should be salvation unto the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

no new wine please-flattenedThat was about the biggest thing that broke the religious old bottles of Jewish Christians back then, that the God of Abraham was no longer just for the Jews but that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “What!? He loves the whole world? Whosoever believes in Him?” Even John 3:16 is a really radical verse when you see it in the context of its days. So in some ways, God is a moving God. He’s in some ways constantly changing and doing new things, effecting change in every sphere of His creation.

And when I say, “God’s Many Ways”, of course I’m not meaning many ways to God. I’m still a firm believer in what Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father but by Me.” (John 14:6) There’s only one way to God, “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5) But, boy, God Himself has a really huge repertoire of songs He can sing, instruments He can play, brushes in His box, and colors on His palette.

“The Venerable Bede”, northern England, 722 AD

“The Venerable Bede”, northern England, 722 AD

Here’s one that nearly stumbled me so I”ll share it, just to show God’s many ways. Relics. Have you ever heard of “relics”? Years ago I read a fantastic book, written in 722 AD, called “The Ecclesiastical History of England.” Written by “the Venerable Bede”, it’s the story of the Christianization of England up till that time. But I was choking and stumbling where there were repeated testimonies of relics being the instruments of major miracles back then. I figure that this guy, “the Venerable Bede”, was either lying or telling the truth. It didn’t seem like he was lying. So, if he was telling the truth and all these things happened like he said, then why and how did the Lord allow that to happened? Why did He work that way back then?

Books and libraries have been written on this subject and I don’t have that much room here. But maybe the Lord was working with the faith that people had back then. So many had faith but they really didn’t have the knowledge of the Word that we have now. The Bible was all still in Latin or Greek and perhaps one in a thousand back then could even read. And besides, God had used this method of working at least a few times in the Bible.

II Kings 13:20 & 21 says a burial team in an emergency virtually threw a dead body onto the grave of Elisha. And when the dead man’s body touched the bones of Elisha, then he came back to life. Or in the New Testament they sent handkerchiefs from Paul to people and they got healed. So, what can you say? These things are in the Word. (Acts 19:12)

But it just shows the broadness and latitude of God at times to work in ways that we (should I say this?) don’t think He should. Ha! Lord help us. Like King David said, “Stand in awe and sin not.” (Psalm 4:4) He really is a mighty God. We don’t have Him completely figured out. We err when we limit Him and say what He can’t or won’t do. He doesn’t always fit into our religious framework. He’s downright unorthodox at times. Still, we love Him, right? Lead on, oh King Eternal.

The day of small things

Day of Small things flatDuring my devotions this morning, I listened to a short talk given years ago about common place things. I was surprised how it spoke to me as, I have to admit, at times I can chafe at the work and ministry I have presently, Lord forgive me. But as this message brought out, it’s a sad condition of human nature that we all are tempted to bemoan our lot, no matter what it is and find it drudgery.

The teacher can grow weary in the well doing of training the precious ones they instruct. The mother can faint under the continuing housework and monotony of the care she shows to her family. The father can trudge back home after a day of work, feeling unappreciated and that his life is going nowhere. This mindset is there probably for ever person on earth.

But God’s Word asks “who has despised the day of small things?” (Zach. 4:10) We are to be “content in whatsoever state we are in” (Philippians 4:11). “Godliness with contentment is great gain.” (I Tim. 6:6) Of course, as I wrote about recently, I’m not advocated a resigned, fatalistic capitulation to whatever life seems to throw at you. That’s not according to God’s Word either. I’m talking about the kind of contentment we have and need to hold on to when we know we are in the will of God but we are tempted to “be weary in well doing.” (Galatians 6:9)

Condemnation-flattenedThe devil just loves to belittle us. If he can’t get you lifted up in pride, then he tries the other direction of belittling us, making us feel small, foolish and insignificant. It reminds me of what Solomon said, “He that justifies the wicked and he that condemns the just, even they both are an abomination unto the Lord.” (Proverbs 17:15) Perhaps more people have a problem with walking in pride but some have a real problem with condemnation. They perennially are under a cloud of condemnation, whether of their own making or the devil’s.  “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” (I John 3:20)

What’s the solution to all this? “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2) We’re to walk neither in pride nor condemnation. In fact, the less we have our eyes on ourselves, the better off we’ll be. I think it was the famous song writer Fanny Crosby who said, “There is joy in self-forgetfulness”. Boy, that’s the truth. Otherwise it can certainly happen to any and all of us that we “despise the day of small things”.

So many nowadays fully know of the humdrum drudgery, zombie treadmill and rat race that modern employment and making a living can be. It’s a sad day for a poor man. It seems most middle class people have to be going full speed and flat out just to stand still in so many modern economies.

happy peopleAt least for us Christians, those who are serving the Lord, we can have a glory in the things we do, if we are doing it for the Lord. “Whether therefore you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) You’re a school teacher? A busy mother? A businessman supporting your family? A missionary on some far flung field? Then if you have the Lord, you have that infinitely greater motivation that you’re doing what you are doing in service to Him. And you have His abundant grace for the job He’s given you.

For me, I can find it slightly tedious and monotonous to be spending many hours at my computer, mainly working on real minuscule details in getting out these foreign language videos of the series I’ve done on the prophecies of Daniel. It’s so much brain work, so many various facets that go into the final product that it’s almost numbing sometimes.

But for me, this is my “day of small things”. This is where things are for me right now and I just have to keep the vision. “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18) and I have to continually remind myself that the seeming sacrifice in all this right now will be worth it when folks in these countries get to have these classes on Bible prophecy and the endtime that so few know anything about.

And I’m sure it’s that way for many now. I don’t know many people presently who are working together with other Christians in some great endeavor for the Lord, like it was here in east Europe in the 90’s. It seems like for many it’s a time of “every man to his tents” (II Sam. 20:1) , a time of abatement, loneliness and low tide spiritually, rather than the great united forces of the Lord, “knit together as one man” (Judges 20:11) that have been at other times

But we all can still be wary not to “despise the day of small things”. We can keep the vision for our callings during these times when life can seem tedious and hum-drum, when we can seem insignificant to ourselves, falsely thinking we are unknown, unappreciated and forgotten. We’re not. His eye is on the sparrow and He sees every sacrifice, ever deed we do as unto Him. “In due season you shall reap if you faint not.” (Galatians 6:9)

“…but now they are hid from your eyes.”

jesus weptThe Bible says of Jesus, “When He beheld Jerusalem, He wept over it saying, ‘If you had known, in this your day, the things that belong to your peace! But now are they hid from your eyes’”. (Luke 19:42) His entering Jerusalem right then was the very day when prophecy was being fulfilled, Zachariah 9:9, which said to Jerusalem that “…behold, your King comes to you: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” Jesus wept because the very Word of God was being fulfilled that day before them. But for so many, they just couldn’t or didn’t see it.

That’s kind of scary in some ways for me: Jesus wept because God worked right in front of people and they didn’t recognize it. On the other hand, He said one time to His disciples, “Blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear, for many prophets and kings have desired to see the things you see and have not seen them and to hear the things you hear and have not heard them.” (Luke 10:24)

How does this all work? Is it just random? God in heaven simply decides who can perceive His mighty works and who can’t? I was thinking about these things this morning while on a walk and pondering my recent trips around Europe. In several places in the last month I spent the day among Muslim refugees, helping them physically but also talking with them about the things of God. And I was just thinking this morning how thankful I am that the Lord has shown me that these people need His love and truth, not our Christian hatred. Because, let’s face it, it certainly seems that the vast majority of Christians evidently feel that our religious obligation before God is to be some of the most vehement voices of hate and fear when it comes to these people.

angry JesusAnd that just grieves me and perhaps it grieves the Lord too. You don’t often hear about Jesus being angry. But in one place it says of Him, “He looked about with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts.” (Mark 3:5) He was angry and grieved for their hardness of heart. And I’m figuring that a hardened, hateful heart in His people must grieve and even anger Him today just as much.

My thinking on this continued, “How can any of us ‘see’? Are we all doomed to be spiritually blind like so many people of Jesus’ day?” And I’ll speak here to those of us who are already Christians. I think if there’s any secret to this, it’s in doing all we can to take on “the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16) which comes so much through reading His Word.

cleans my mind flatKing David said, “Your Word is a lamp into my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105) The fact is that we need to continually let God’s Word wash us. And yes, that does sort of mean a Godly “brainwashing”. We need to be “renewed in the spirit of our minds.” (Ephesians 4:23) He must “sanctify and cleanse us through the washing of water by the Word.” (Ephesians 5:26) Jesus even prayed to the Father in Gethsemane for His disciples, “Sanctify them through Your truth; Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17)

And perhaps a caveat is needed here. Some, perhaps all of us need to pray the prayer of David, “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18) Because the sad fact is that folks can be reading the Bible and it still may not get though to them , perhaps because of  some religious rut they’ve been in for years. Jesus said, “The words that I speak unto you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) God’s Word has incredible power to reach down to our hearts but still we need to pray for that and want it as well.

wolf sheep flatIf we let God’s Word be the eyes with which we see the world, even the current events and seeming dangers and threats we’re so told about, then He can give us a perspective that’s of Him, not of the world. But it’s something we have to want to do and decide to do. Because there are oodles of wolves in sheep’s clothing, determined to implant fear and hatred in your heart in the name of Christ.

Millions of Christians are already on the Enemy’s channel because they imbibe and espouse fear and hatred first and foremost. Jesus said, “The times come that whosoever kills you will think that they do God’s service.” (John 16:2) How many Christians today daydream about killing those they consider their enemies, rather than winning their souls to Christ? Very many; too many.

Jesus “went about doing good.” (Acts 10:38) And He can still do the same in us today if we have eyes to see things the way He wants us to and the way His Word shows us. I think for many of the people of faith in our times, it’s like what Joshua said to Israel long ago, “Choose this day whom you shall serve.” (Joshua 24:15) I’m convinced that love is the will of God, not hatred and fear. My hope is that more of His people will turn from the prophets of Baal of our day, the false prophets of hatred and fear, and will choose instead to have the mind of Christ through God’s Word and win even our seeming enemies to Him.

 

Terrorist Infiltrators

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul on the road to Damascus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your friend in Him, Mark

They that be with us…

Elisha 1Elisha and his helper were surrounded by the forces of the enemy. It could have hardly looked more dire. But then that crazy prophet told his helper to look up, that “They that be with us are more than they that be with them”. (II Kings 6:16)

“What are you talking about Elisha?! We’re surrounded by our enemies!”

Elisha 2But as the young man looked up, he caught sight of the spiritual realities around him and saw the host of heaven that were with him and Elisha at the moment. And as it turned out, he and Elisha were saved from that situation.

This morning, after hearing of the tragic mass shooting in Paris, France last night, I thought of this verse and these events recorded in the Bible. They that be with us are more than they that be with them. But it was with a different thought to it. I thought of the millions, tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of Christians in Europe and in the West right now, the multitude of people who to one degree or another think of themselves as Christians or believers in God.

fear them not-3- flattenedIf 5% of those people, or even better, 10% or 20% of those people determined in their hearts that they were going to not let fear conquer them but that they were going to turn from religious spectators to Christian disciples and activists, think of the multitude who would begin to get actively involved in reaching out to the multitude of souls recently come to the West from the Middle East.

Right now the people of the West are being inundated with fear. And they’re further immobilized by a lack of vision and initiative to know how to respond to this new development in these nations. But just think how it would be if there was a groundswell of individual Christian initiative to share the Love of Christ with these ones coming here. Just imagine how it would be if millions of somnolent Christians awoke and began to share their faith with those around them, Muslims or otherwise.

They are coming as refugees to Christian lands. Their own nations are so volatile and often collapsed that they travel overland to find some place to live. And yet we fear them? What a pitiful testimony of the spiritual condition of Western Christendom that so many are so weak, unprepared, untrained, un-envisioned to see this incredible hour of opportunity.

That’s what it is. I don’t know if this will happen. But I believe it could happen if someone will challenge the Christians of the West to fight back against… not the Muslims but their own fears and their often-weakened Christian condition that’s prevailed for so many decades in much of Europe. Just think how it would be if multitudes of Christians at the grass roots level across Europe said to themselves,

“OK, this is it. God needs me right now to actively live for Him like I never have before. I need to know what I can do. How can I get involved? How can I love these people with His love, to show them I care about them and that the things of Jesus are real and true?”

I’ve heard it said many times about Muslims, “They don’t want to know about Christianity. But often they do want to know about Jesus”. So how can the people of Jesus individually engage with individuals who’ve come here as refugees? This is where and how things can change, not with politics or police or governments but with the people of Christ being more alive than they have been in generations so that each one can do what they can.

And each one actually can do a lot. They first can determine to do so. They can pray heartily to God to lead them in their local situation to find out what they can do. They can work with others who are similarly minded.

Conversation between 2 flatTalk with refugees. Get to know individuals. Invite them to dinner or have dinner with them. Get over the stereotypes and get to know individuals. It will probably challenge your faith. They may have questions you don’t immediately have answers for. You may have to search the Scriptures or ask help of others.

But if this was happening on a grand scale across Europe and the West, I’m just convinced that the “polarity” of all this would change. God would just bless it. Lives would be drastically changed. This is the essence of how the world came to Christ in the first centuries. And if we even marginally made the same efforts again, then we would see results in the way of changed lives that would leave us speechless.

They that be with us are more than they that be with them. Doubtless the mighty God of Abraham is ready to help, aid, empower and bless those who stand up for Him in this hour of need. All He needs is us. Oh, pray that there will be ones who decide to do what they can to turn the tide in these amazing times. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:18)

They believed not for joy

cant believe it flatRecently something happened to me that was so amazing and, Lord help me, so unexpected that when it happened, I almost didn’t believe it. It did happen, no question about that. But I just was saying afterwards to myself, “Did that really happen?”

It’s like when the disciples saw Jesus after His resurrection and “they believed not for joy”. (Luke 24:41) It’s a funny experience, not normal at all. In Acts 12 is another example. Peter’s brother, James, had already been killed by Herod and Peter, the head of the church at that time, was kept in prison, evidently waiting execution from the way the narrative reads.Peter and angel flat “But prayer was made without ceasing of the church” (Acts 12:5). Then what happened? It says an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter in his prison cell, “smote him on his side” (Acts 12:7) and told him to get up quickly. The prison door opened and then the next ones until they were out on the street and the angel disappeared. Somewhere around here it says that Peter realized that it was real what was happening.this is real flat Evidently he just thought he was dreaming or that it was a vision he was seeing.

Sometimes the Lord really does “exceedingly above all can we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Yes, I know it doesn’t seem to just happen all the time, every day of our lives. But it does happen.

A man came to Jesus, asking him to heal his demonic son who had been in that condition a long time. Jesus said to the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.” “And straightway the father of the child cried out with tears, Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23 & 24) And the beautiful answer to all this is that the Lord did answer his prayer and healed his son. The Lord saw “the glass half full” and healed the child, even though the father confessed that he was struggling with belief about the whole thing.

I guess I think of myself as a person with faith in God and faith in Jesus. That’s what my life has been about. But every so often something happens or comes along that shakes our foundation to the core. It can be something “bad”; but equally it can be something “good”. Maybe it’s like what happened with one of my children when they were very little. One day one of them ran through the house almost screaming, “So happy! Can’t believe it!”

Or it’s like the story I heard which is supposed to be true about a prayer meeting years ago in Oklahoma. A Christian man there had been asking for prayer for his son for years because he was such a scoundrel and a fallen human being. Sure ‘nuf, at a prayer meeting one night the young man answered the alter call and turned his life over to the Lord.

Those there were eager to tell the father what had happened. But when the father was reached at the back of the meeting and told the news, he said something like this. not my son flatOh, no, that couldn’t be my son; you must be mistaken. There’s another young man in the community with a similar name. I’m sure it must be him.” The father had been praying all that time but when the answer came, he just refused to believe that his prayer had been heard. And it can be that way for any of us.

I’ve been reminded recently that He really can answer prayers like that, above all we ask or think. The Lord can come along with “new wine” that “breaks our bottles”, or new changes in our lives that are almost like entering into another life from the one we have been living.

Not only was I noticing my potential unbelief, I was also noticing one of my first reactions was to try to do things in the flesh and my own spirit to confirm and make sure that the act of God that He was doing was something I was going to take care of now. “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Sometimes the Lord just does something for His purpose and plan. And you just know it’s all Him, not something of yourself. It may be a long awaited answer to prayer but also it can just be what He was planning all along. And you’re humbled to know how little you had to do with it, besides just being what He wanted you to be and needed you to be.

mary and angelThink about young Mary the night the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Do you think she was all cool with that and it was like she was expecting it all along? I don’t think so. I’ll bet she was just at the very edge of reality with what was happening with her. But also she was His chosen vessel so the Lord gave her the grace for that event.

Or the centurion Cornelius in Acts 10 when the angel appeared to him after his years of faithfulness and told him to “send men to Joppa and call for one whose surname is Peter“. (Acts 10:5) The whole conversion of the Gentiles ensued from that event. Peter and CorneliusDo you think it was just another day at the office for Cornelius? I don’t think so. I’ll bet he was a pretty shook up guy. But he kept it together as this was the hour of his destiny and that of the Gentile world as well.

At times in our lives, God can do things with, for and through us that take us to the very edge of our belief and even abilities to believe. That’s how much He loves us and wants to do for us. That’s one of the reasons why we have “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (I Peter 1:8)