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  The hand quickly was withdrawn and it all became clear to me at that moment that the young girl was part of a pick pocketing team.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.

 

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.