God has given …a sound mind

It seems like everywhere I go nowadays, I hear about people who are suffering from serious mental problems. Fears, confusion, syndromes, suicidal thoughts and just various forms of insanity or bleak mental instability. And these are folks across all spectrums and nationalities, Christian or otherwise. It really moves me because for a time, in my younger years, I certainly battled royally with what some call “mind battles”.

It’s serious stuff. If it doesn’t actually end up killing you, it can just snuff out your life as far as any joy, peace or enjoyment that should be ours. I feel I can really testify that this is a battle that is winnable as I’ve had a lot of those battles but have survived and even, I feel, been blessed and prospered in this life. And of course it’s all through the dear Lord Jesus. It wasn’t pills, therapy, scientists or yoga that got me through those terrible times. A Bible verse that has always meant so much to me on this subject is “God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7)

I was going to say that perhaps the biggest thing that made the difference was when I found out that it wasn’t really my mind, it was my heart. But of course the really biggest thing was the work of God in my life, to show me His love when I was light years beyond any hope. First I found that there is a God, the true God of light and love, the God of Abraham, the God of the Bible. But then it was seven months later that I found that God was not alone up there in heaven. He has a Son who He sent to the earth to die for us, redeem us and “be a ransom for many”, (Matthew 20:28) as He said.

“Aw, Mark, darn. I thought you were going to tell us how to overcome mental problems and then you come along with all that Jesus and God stuff!”

Well, what should I say? This is what happened to me. This is how I found full deliverance and a joyous, meaningful life that’s now gone close to 50 years from the time I was so very far gone in confusion and depravity. So “all that Jesus stuff” may be, for some, too much a price to pay for having mental healing. But for those who will go that far, I’ll tell you more about what happened.

Like I said earlier, it was just a huge awakening when it dawned on me that my mental struggles were a direct result of my unregenerate heart. I didn’t even know I had a heart! No classes about that at the big university I was going to! But through the tender and steady mercy of God, almost against my will, He led me through the deepest depths I’d come to into a place where the simple message of salvation through Christ was shared with me. So by “receiving Him” (John 1:12) I was able to have the first step along the path towards peace of mind, by having a born again heart.  Without that, there never could have been any recovery of my weakened, confused mind.

But once my heart and soul were saved, the Lord went to work on my mind. I’m so thankful that I was able to fall in with a band of young radical Christians back then, “Jesus freaks” as they were known in those days. Most of them had come from a similar background to me so they knew what I’d been through and what it took to start up the road to full recovery.

“So, Mark, what did those people do to you? Did they brainwash you, Mark?!”

That word has a real negative connotation and I suppose someone who was just against the work of God’s Spirit in transforming a person into “a new creation in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17) could chose that word. But for some people, like I was back then, I certainly needed a major resetting of my values, concepts, principles, morals, purpose, vision, goals and the way I ordered my life. So I joyously and eagerly got with the program of daily Bible study, learning the basics of what was written there. The Bible talks about “being renewed in the spirit of your mind” (Ephesians 4:23). It talks about “the washing of water by the Word” (Ephesians 5:26). Jesus even said, “Now you are clean through the Word that I have spoken unto you.”  (John 15:3)

Like I wrote about in “Memorizing God’s Word”, a major part of this training and “rewiring” involved the daily memorization of specific Bible verses. “Oh, Mark! That’s so horrible! You just surrendered your mind!” Well, some people just come to the conclusion that they are their own worst enemy, that they really need help and they can get to where they’re so desperate, they even turn to God and the Bible, as despicable as that may seem to many. That’s what I had come to.

I can see that this subject won’t be exhausted in one blog post. Because it is a big subject and people are dying in their darkness and troubled minds daily for lack of the light of God. I hope to write more about mental problems and how the truth of God can solve them better than anything.

What is sin?

so what is sin flatYears ago a dear loved one asked me, “What is sin?” Unfortunately, the question was more of a challenge about if there was even such a thing as sin. And certainly, in our “modern world”, the idea of sin is ridiculed and usually rejected out of hand.

But, is there such a thing as sin? Does sin exist? Is it a prevailing force on humanity and each individual? If so, then what is it? Can it be measured, quantified, observed, detected? Admittedly, in this day when the mind of man is supreme in so much of the world, to talk about sin seems antiquated and passé. There’s no app for that. No college course and, besides, it can be plain discouraging to even talk about sin. It sounds so religious, like something you heard your grandmother talk about one time.

But, what if? What if sin is actually real, “alive and well”, and is daily wrecking destruction across the planet and probably in your own life also? It’s insidious. A pervasive, all encompassing phenomenon that prevails in its destruction throughout the planet, yet remains for the most part undedicated and unrecognized.

report on sin flatWhat an enemy sin is and yet only a tiny few even know of its existence while it daily destroys lives, nations, families, dreams and innumerable souls. There will be no speech today at the UN about sin, no 30 minute special on CNN or BBC about sin. In fact, I challenge you to do a search of material found on any major news outlet to see if you can even find once in a day the word “sin”.

But why? Well, sin, like love, is one of those things you don’t pick up readings on with your Geiger counter or spectro-analysis. Sin works in the realm of the heart and soul. And the mind. But like they say about the devil, one of the devil’s main jobs is to convince you that he doesn’t exist. The same could be said of sin. One of the more cleaver deceptions of sin is to tell you that sin doesn’t exist.

I dont sin flatAnother loved one many years ago told me, “Mark, I don’t sin.” This was said very sincerely and I knew what they meant when they said it. To them, sin was robbing banks, murder, adultery, that kind of thing. And this person never was like that. But of course the reality is that sin is a whole lot more than that. That’s the kind of thing that some religious teaching will leave you with. Some religionists have conversations like, “Is it a sin to…” and then they bring up some things that are “classic” sins.

It’s like the story about the two little old ladies on the front row of the church and the reverend was preaching a hell-fire sermon. “IT’S A SIN TO DRINK WHISKEY!”, yelled the reverend. “Amen!”, affirmed the two little ladies. “IT’S A SIN TO RUN AROUND ON YOUR WIFE”, the reverend went on. “Amen!” shouted the little ladies. The preacher lowered his voice, looked down at the two ladies on the front row and said, “It’s a sin to dip snuff!” The two ladies gasped, looked at each other and one said, “He ‘dun stopped preaching and gone to talkin’!”

Sin is a lot bigger than the classic sins that most folks know not to partake of. The Bible says, “The thought of foolishness is sin.” (Proverbs 24:9) Every time you entertain foolish vain thoughts, that’s sin. Maybe that’s why King David said, “I hate vain thoughts, but Your law do I love.” (Psalm 119:113) Folks, sin is so vast, so overwhelming, so pervasive and so intertwined with our very being that it’s the ultimate dominating conqueror of every individual ever born. It’s that bad. And I’m not exaggerating.

Well, volumes and encyclopedias probably have been written on the subject of sin and am I going to do the subject justice in one of these short blog posts? I guess, if you don’t acknowledge that there’s a problem, how will you search for a solution? And sin, as hated and vilified as the concept is in modern times, is as much a scourge of mankind as it has ever been. And my guess is that it will only get worse since virtually everyone is looking for solutions other than the ones God has given us to free us from sin.

How can we be free from sin? That’s what Jesus did. When He died on the cross and “God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 13:30), He not only defeated death, He gave us power through Himself to overcome sin. Do I understand it all perfectly? No. But I have experienced it. It is through Jesus, His act of atonement at His crucifixion that any person on earth can have power over sin in their lives.

for our sins flatNow the biggest challenge for all the intellectuals, like I sort of used to be, is that this doesn’t seem to “make sense.” I’ve told some people before, “You are 18 inches from heaven” and then indicated that I was talking about the distance between their head and their heart. At some point, especially for those with a lot of education and worldly wisdom, they just have to make the jump and “go with their gut”, in other words go with their heart. I know this because it’s what I had to do and it worked for me.

Sin is the greatest enemy of mankind and every individual. It’s running rampant in its destruction across our planet and actually it always has been. But there is an antidote, a solution, a champion and deliverer. And that’s Jesus. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just the truth. Give it a try.

Repentance

repent for flatRepent. It must be something we can do because it was one of the first things Jesus taught. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17) But what is repentance and how do you do it? Well, repentance is sort of on the “endangered species” list of words and even ideas, as has happened to so many other words that once were clear and understood by all.

This means a lot to me because repentance was an essential step in my life that brought me out of indescribable darkness and death and into this (most-of-the-time-anyway) happy life I’ve had for decades. Probably most English speaking people have at least some inkling of what repentance means, even if they don’t fully understand it or even like the idea.

Simply put, “repentance” means to change direction in your life but from your innermost being, to have a change of heart. And it also implies that the direction you’ve been going has been wrong and that some at least of what you’ve harbored in your heart needs to be abandoned and turned against. But there are a few more utterly essential ingredients that go into repentance if it’s to be real and lasting.

Never do this flatI know this because I repeatedly tried to repent when I was using drugs in university. It was like I was vowing a vow, “I’m NEVER going to do this again!” But a few months later I did. What went wrong? I was sincere and desperate; I was really trying to repent. This is where another of those “endangered species” words comes into play: sin.

“Oh, Mark, please! It’s just insane to bring up these ragged, old, tired, unscientific concepts that belong to the dustbin of history! ‘Sin’! Mark, really? No one believes in that kind of thing anymore; you’re making a fool of yourself!”

And yet, this is the very best terminology to describe what happened to my life and how I survived to live beyond my 21st birthday. It’s like Paul the Apostle said, “The good that I would, I do not. But the evil that I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19) That’s exactly how it was with me. Although I was not familiar with that word yet, I really wanted to “repent”. But I just didn’t have the personal power to resist what I was into. That’s why Paul went on to say, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I do that do it but sin that lies in me.” (Romans 7:20)

Of course there’s a sense in which, in the big picture, God allows us to really go down the wrong path so that we will learn firsthand what the difference is between right and wrong. “The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15) and often we have to learn the hard way. whapHe even uses our wrongdoing to be His instrument of correction to bring us back to His highest and best. As unpopular a concept as it may be among the worldly, the Lord does chasten and punish His children and even those who aren’t His children to bring them back to a better way.

It sounds really hopeless and in a sense it is. But let’s bring in another of those “endangered species” words: Jesus Christ. No, not the words so many use as a loud and profane curse, but the man of the Bible. To cut to the chase here, I never was able to really repent until I accepted the saving power of Jesus by asking Him into my heart. I didn’t understand it all, in fact I didn’t understand very much of it at all. But it came down to instincts and my gut, as they say. I knew I needed help desperately. I met people who’d been in the same fix and they said it had all changed when they’d prayed to become new creatures through His forgiveness and regeneration. So I tried it.

Up until that time, I had stopped using hallucinogenic drugs but I was still smoking marijuana sometimes. I’d come to believe in the God of Abraham and I read my Bible every day. But I still had a lot of fears and confusion and I had no idea who Jesus was. But as I’ve shared elsewhere, the Bible verse that best summed up my experience is this, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12)

Jesus in heart-flattenedOnce I received Jesus, I had power I’d never had before. With that new power within me, I not only repented of using drugs at that time (and have never touched them since), I had a whole regenerative experience in my innermost being, in my heart, mind, soul and spirit.

So, from my experience, repentance without the power of Jesus in your heart… well it didn’t work or happen for me. But with Him, “all things are possible to him that believes.” (Mark 9:23) There have been other things over the years I’ve had to repent of, as the Lord brings them up in my life. Usually it’s been deeper things of my heart rather than physical sins like drugs. But the point is, through Jesus repentance is really possible, no matter what you’re facing.

Are you feeling doomed, defeated, utterly overwhelmed by aspects of your personality or life that you just can’t get on top of and overcome? As old fashion and out of style as it may sound, taking these things of your life and heart to Jesus Christ, through personal prayer, may very likely be the only way you’ll ever get a lasting victory over things that may end up being your total downfall and even death. It is possible, it does work and and I hope you’ll try it : repentance through the power of Jesus. God bless you.

Fret Not

which voice flatMost of us, all of us actually, hear voices. Yes, we do. It’s those little “subconscious” things that bubble up inside of us, for better or for worse. And a large part of life comes down to discerning those voices and knowing which ones are the good ones we listen to and which are the ones we don’t. In fact, this is a major factor in determining who we are: which of those voices are what we determine to be our own and our best.

But it can be tough. Even as children we learn what worry is and how it’s not good. But what about legitimate concern? The Bible says, “The prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” (Proverbs 27:12) At times the best and wisest voice in our hearts is caution and that can often look pretty close to worry or fear. So it just not all real easy.

But there’s more. We’re not alone. It’s not just the little voices we hear inside of us, there are ones that sound and seem almost exactly the same. But they come from outside us, from the spiritual world, both good and evil.

UpAgainstTheWall_02-reworkedHow many people have had some little nudge, some little hunch that they should or shouldn’t do something, even though there’s no visible, reasonable reason to do it? I sure have, on numerous occasions. I wrote about one of those in “Up Against the Wall!” Following that hunch or nudge kept me out of 2 years of prison as a teenager when by most standards, that’s what I deserved. But that was the voice of God, His mercy intervening and speaking powerfully to my mind to do something immediately, something I had not planned to do.

And then there are the voices from the other side, the dark side, that push and prompt people to do evil things. I’m convinced that much of the horror we read about nowadays is originated in the spiritual nether world as evil spirits influence weakened minds and hearts to do their bidding.

fight backBut the good news is that we have choice. The old saying, “The devil made me do it”, is not fully correct. Because we can choose, we can fight back. We can do what it says in the Bible, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Jesus Himself certainly did that; you can read about it in Luke 4:1-13.

Often though, it isn’t Satan we are dealing with, it’s our own hearts and weakened consciences. The Bible says that “the flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17) and those little voices from both sides are so often there and conflict with each other in our minds, even without any influence from the dark side. I guess that’s why for me it was such a complete breakthrough to receive Jesus as my Savior in my heart and to be filed with the Holy Spirit. I truly became a “new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17). It’s actually somewhat comparable to what we see happening in our times when we have to format the hard drives on our computers and install a new operating system.

Did that mean that now everything was ok for me? No more little voices conflicting within me? No, I still had and have my basic human nature, personality, quirks and foibles. Only that with Jesus coming into my life, it was like the verse I’ve mentioned before that so sums up the difference, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) I just had power to follow the right and the good that before I didn’t. Before, sin really did “have dominion over” me (Romans 6:14). But after receiving the Lord, I had Him in me to lead me and empower me to go in the direction of truth and light.

Is of the truth-a- flattenedAlso a major thing was that I found out what the real truth was when reading and understanding the Bible. But I still heard voices, like we all do. I still would be tempted to fear or fret. I still had really a lot to learn about which voices were ones of legitimate concern, not foolish fears, leading me away from the wrong direction. I had to learn, often from experiences, what the sound and nature of the voices were that came from God, calling me further up the mountain of His will and service. But just having the Bible that I began to memorize verses from was a major factor in helping me to recognize voices of truth and error within me.

And it’s still that way many years later. I’ve learned that I practically have to take a firm hand with certain aspects of my personality or nature, almost rebuking myself for giving ear to things I have learned are time wasters or weakeners of my soul and His will. And after a while, those fretful voices within me begin to not really be my own as they were and I more consistently “nip them in the bud”, as gardeners have to do with weeds.

The God of Abraham

In the videos I’ve done and in these posts, I’ve spoken of “the God of Abraham”. And some have questioned, “Why did you use that phrase? Why not just say God? Or Jehovah?

Abraham for blog post

Abraham, Sara and baby Isaac 2000 BC

I guess, if you want to talk about a huge subject, you can talk about God. Or the name of God. I choose “the God of Abraham” because for probably the majority of people on earth, when you use that phrase, they know What/Who you’re talking about.

I could have said, “the God of the Bible”. But even that can arouse hesitations and possibly opposition. I wanted to find a phrase that would be clear to as many people as possible and with as little religious “baggage” as possible.

You might be surprised how many people trace their faith back to Abraham, a man who lived 4000 years ago, who has been called “the father of Faith”. I won’t get into the specifics of Abraham but he isn’t someone who nowadays inspires much hatred toward him or what he did with his life. In the first video I did, An Introduction to Prophecy in History, there is a part about Abraham and how so much of what billions believe today originated with him. And he even received specific, time-related prophecies, just as Daniel did some 1400 years later.

Ancient of Days for blog post

“The Ancient of Days”, as described in Daniel 7: 9 & 10

To write about God is for me an awesome thing which I know is so full of controversy, unknowns and religious dogma that I don’t really do it very much. But it’s fascinating to look at the way God is portrayed, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. In the Daniel 7 video  that i have done, there is one of the most unique visualizations of God in the whole Bible. There He is called The Ancient of Days (Daniel 7:9 & 10).

And this is bound to raise the hackles of some but the Koran is also based on faith in the God of Abraham. (I can hear the temperatures rising in some right now as you read this.) So just to give some backup to this thought, I could tell you about a book I’m currently reading by a man who is an executive director of Christianity Today magazine, Timothy George. His book, “Is The Father of Jesus The God of Muhammad?” is excellent, deeply researched and would shock a lot of people with what is said there.

But, back to God. James, “the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19), called God “the father of lights” (James 1:17). The book of Hebrews refers to God as “the Father of spirits” (Hebrews 12:19). In the book of John, Jesus said “God is a spirit” (John 4:24) and John the Beloved said “God is light” and “God is love” (I John 1:5 and 4:8).

For me, frankly and honestly, God is almost too big to comprehend or understand. That’s why I feel closer to, and think more about, Jesus. Jesus has been here; He walked the earth, was one of us, suffered our temptations and felt our aspirations. Paul says, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (I Timothy 2:5)

But even that is loaded with controversy and, generally, the circle of people who believe in the God of Abraham throughout the world is larger than the circle of people who believe in Jesus. I personally had a 7 month period of time where I knew that God was real as He had radically intervened in my life and made Himself manifest in tangible, miraculous ways. I knew God was real. I also knew the devil was real as he also had manifested himself clearly to me and I wanted no part with him.

sacrifice chickens flatSo I feel a kindred spirit with the billions of people who believe in God, the God of Abraham,  because I was like that for a while.  At that time I read the Bible every day but I hardly got anything out of it. I was plowing through the Old Testament and it was clear as day to me that I needed to start some kind of animal sacrifice to please God since it was obvious that this was one of the main things. It was right there in the Bible, how could I argue with that? But all that time there was this big question, “Who was Jesus?”

you need Jesus flatI went to some local churches to try to find the answer. But nobody talked to me and I guess I was shy or scared. After 7 months I met some young, non-conformist Christians, “Jesus freaks”, who were just getting started at the time. They showed me from the Bible who Jesus was, as well as the plan of salvation. I accepted Jesus as my Savior and received Him into my heart, being born again and starting on this wonderful life I’ve had. I think the biggest single change in accepting Jesus into my heart was that the Bible which had before been so unclear and opaque suddenly became clear and open, flooding my heart with truth, wisdom, knowledge and all I’d longed for.

Becoming a Christian made my relationship with God vastly so much stronger and settled. But this has in no way made me feel antipathy for the countless number of folks worldwide who may not know Jesus, but who deeply believe in the God of Abraham. I can truly say that I often feel a real fondness for and empathy with them, no matter what their nationality, race or religion.

Jesus said of one man, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). There must be billions of people on earth who believe in the God of Abraham. Would to God that we could love each other more and see the good and faith in the Father that He must see in each of us who seek Him. As well, would to God that those of us who’ve come to know Jesus would share Him more with others

 

Tales from Trondheim (part 2): “the day of small things”

tales from Tronhiem2-a-flatAs I wrote in the first post of this series, the time my former wife and I spent in Trondheim, Norway back in the mid 70’s was actually somewhat rough. It’s no reflection against Trondheim; it’s an interesting place with an interesting history. But for us, it was really kind of a “Gethsemane”, ha!

But besides the amazing experience we had with the young man who went to be with the Lord a few days after leaving our fellowship, another experience was very strong in our lives, one that mainly had to do with my former wife.

She was, and is, a gifted soul winner and personal witness. At this time she was well along with her pregnancy of our first son and so she was often staying back in our meager little flat during the day. But her zeal for souls was such that she somehow struck up a contact with a young little girl in our neighborhood.

This little girl was around 8 years old and had virtually no friends. Her mom was single and the little girl herself was not really “pretty” but was sort of plain and also overweight. So she ended up getting teased a lot by kids her age and it was really weighing heavily on this little girl’s life. Her mom was at work all day and this little girl was actually at a severe crisis point in her life.

tales from Tronhiem2-b flatWell, my former wife ended up praying with this precious little girl to receive Jesus and the new life in Him that He could give. She told me about it with joy when I came home from a day of witnessing and taking care of business things on the streets of Trondheim.

Some weeks later this little girl’s mother called on us. Basically she said, “I don’t know what you did but I want to thank you”. She went on to say that her little girl had become totally different from before, with more confidence and strength, able to stand up to her bullying friends and just had really become “a new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17). This of course brought us immense joy as we felt we hadn’t been seeing a lot of fruit in our efforts to evangelize Trondheim during that winter.

And it was a real eye-opener for me. At that time my focus was still on the hippy generation my former wife and I had come out of. But here was a little 8 year old who was in the biggest crisis of her life, her light almost snuffled out through bullying and just being alone so much. So salvation had come at the time she needed it most, even though she was younger than I figured folks needed salvation… a lesson I hope I never forget.

tales from Tronhiem2-c flatIt’s rather like the verse from Zachariah, “despise not the day of small things”. (Zechariah 4:10) That’s certainly how we looked at our time in Trondheim, as a day of small things. But looking back, the Lord was working and changing lives, even through us in those dry times.

Not long after that we journeyed south and ended up having our first son in Stockholm, Sweden in the spring of ‘75. But even in that difficult time, He still helped us to bear some fruit, to touch some lives and to help a few people.

And the amazing sequel to all this is that 25 years later I met, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, an American missionary and his Norwegian wife. He’d been led to the Lord in Trondheim by ones we’d left in charge of our fledgling efforts there back in the ’70’s. He had been a backpacking young American who was met and witnessed to by our friends in Trondheim and had receive the Lord right there on the street. He had gone on to marry a dear Norwegian sister in the Lord I also knew and had since moved to the interior of Brazil to serve the Lord there.

So the ways of the Lord can at times seem strange. But here were at least these three lives that were strongly changed for Him during those months we were there and immediately after, even though for ourselves it was some of the most difficult months of our lives.

It’s like that verse, “In due season we shall reap if we faint not.”(Galatians 6:9) I can tell you, it sure felt like we fainted a lot back then and we were claiming the verse “he will make a way of escape that you be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) But all the while He was still using us “in season and out of season” (II Timothy 4:2) and there was “fruit that remained” (John 15:16), even from that difficult time.

Somehow all these things were crossing my mind tonight. Maybe someone needs this, to know “your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (I Corinthians 15:58) and that He will always bring people into our lives who need Him and all that He has bestowed on us. God bless you.

 

Suicide Bomber sees The Light

bomber dressingI received this letter from a friend in Europe recently. It was just astonishing. I’ll add it here as I received it; the English isn’t perfect but you’ll understand. Some names and places have been changed a little. Here’s what my friend wrote:

I know a man who lives in [West Europe] who used to be a “hodja”.  That is a Muslim priest (you know, those who serve in a mosque and sing in Arabic). He has a wonderful testimony of how he became a Christian.

saying goodbyeHe was very ill of a kidney disease and had pain all over his body and a terrible infection. He couldn’t get any help from doctors and finally decided to commit a suicide by blowing himself up at a public place and kill many others with him, especially people from other religions .

So, he prepared everything for this “kamikaze” they call it and went to kiss his little daughter for the last time. But when he left her room and was in the living room, he heard a voice, “Is there only one religion in the world that can help you?”at the door

He said to himself, “Of course not.” Since he was a religious figure, he knew there were more than 3,500 religions in the world. He had been praying to Allah to heal him but nothing happened. So, before going on, he decided to pray to another god from a different religion. “Who knows”, he said, “maybe I can get some help.”

He decided to pray to the Christian God because this is the second largest religion from their point of view, after Islam. So he prayed to Jesus and asked him to help him and heal him.

Immediately all the walls and the floor and the ceiling disappeared and he found himself in the middle of the universe and a great Light was standing in front of him. He knew that the Light knew everything about him but loved him so much. He felt like an empty bucket in front of the Light; he couldn’t give anything in return to this great love.

seeing the lightThe Light said, “I am Jesus who you called for help and I’m healing you.”

Then great light came out of the Light and came over him, flowed though him and he felt warmth and peace. Immediately all pain and weakness disappeared and he found himself well and happy in the living room again.

He changed his mind about killing himself and decided that there was point in living now since he was well and somebody heard his prayer. From that day on, he started proclaiming that Jesus Christ healed him.

At first his family and friends thought that because of his illness he had gone insane. But he was getting better and better. He was gaining weight again and strength and went on talking about Jesus. So they decided to kill him because he betrayed his religion and turned to the enemies of God.

Then he took his wife and daughter and escaped to [West Europe] where he found plenty of other people like himself from his country – converted Christians and joined a Christian church there. This happened about 10 years ago.

Now he is well and healthy, full of zeal for the Lord and weeps for his lost relatives to whom he went back again last year and gave them Bibles and urged them to read and get saved. When we prayed for his relatives in his country to be saved, he started crying dearly. He said, “You folks are happy. You have freedom and you do not appreciate what you have. Talk to the people, talk so that they get saved.”

It’s hard to know what I could add to that. This story affects me in so many ways. I’m thrilled and glad to hear of such a miracle like that. But I am aware that this kind of experience is something that is happening throughout the Islamic world. Not “en masse” but if you keep up with these things, there are many testimonies of Islamic men and women having incredible experiences in finding Jesus this way in recent times. Instead of fearing and hating Muslims, it seems far closer to the ways of God to realize that very many of them are turning out to be the “sheep” of God, rather than the monsters we are so often told that they are.

Many of us have known the verse, Romans 10:13, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” But the next verse says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” And in these times, the preacher most likely to reach out to the millions of Muslims in western lands around the world is you and me.

Isn’t God Enough?

I believe in God-flattenedThere was a 7 month period of time when I strongly and sincerely believed in God, but I just didn’t know who Jesus was. I wrote about my experience in “Lucifer and the White Moths” where I very nearly died and was carried by Satan into the spirit world to be his. But by the mercy of God, I called out to Him at that time. That’s how I came to know that God was real. As the Bible says, “some saved by fire” (I Corinthians 3:15) . That was me.

But was I saved? I don’t know. I’d had an utter change in my life. I went from being a hardened, mocking atheist to being a stunned, almost speechless believer. I believed in the God of the Bible. I had personally experienced the God of the Bible and the Satan of the Bible as well. But I had no idea who Jesus was. I totally didn’t know the difference between Jesus and Moses and Paul and Abraham. A verse I read a few months later, after I became a Christian, was “God is not in all their thoughts.” (Psalms 10:4) Boy, I could relate to that verse. When I read that, I immediately felt, “That’s just the way I was before all these things happened to me”.

And yet, I didn’t know Jesus. I didn’t pray to Jesus or have any knowledge of Him. I went to a couple of churches in Austin during those months in order to try to find out from them about Jesus. But I guess I looked like a hippy at the time, although I wasn’t a hippy. And in those days, churches were not too friendly to hippies.

But I’ve often wondered, “What would have happened to me if I’d died during that time?” Would I have gone to heaven? I wasn’t a Christian. In many ways actually I was like a Muslim or Jew who believes in the God of Abraham and prays to God from their heart. That’s how I was. If I had died right then, would I go to hell? It’s actually a rather deep question and brings up a lot of pretty touchy theological questions, which can lead to some very heated debates.

For me at least, the good news was that the Lord was preparing a way for me to meet some people who could tell me about Jesus. Just after New Year of 1970, I met some Jesus People. And they really knew their stuff.

SDS demonstration

Student demonstrations, 1969

Earlier that year, the SDS, the Students for a Democratic Society, had had their national meeting in Austin. I went to that convention and also to some of their private parties afterwards. I met people informally who were part of the Weathermen who ended up on the FBI’s Top Ten wanted list. So I had been in some pretty radical and serious circles in the last months.

But those Jesus People had more certainty and just plain answers than anything I’d ever seen. They could answer me with Scriptures. I was 21 by then but a lot of them were no more than 19 or even 17 years old. But they showed me verse after verse from the Bible to answer my questions and to show me that I needed to receive Jesus and to be born again.

When I did that, after several talks with them, I didn’t suddenly have a swirling heavenly feeling and saw the gates of paradise opened. I’d already had a lot of experiences and I think the Lord figured that I just didn’t need any big emotions right then. But something really did change mightily. All during that last 7 months, I’d been reading the Bible every day. I read all the way through it from cover to cover and was on my second reading. Had I really gotten a lot out of it? No. Virtually nothing. I was convinced that God’s will was that I should be sacrificing chickens and goats since there was so much of that in the Bible and it was obvious that this was God’s will for mankind. That’s how be-darkened I was.

3-D GlassesBut the strongest thing that happened to me when I received Jesus was that it was almost like those 3-D glasses that are given to people when they see a 3-D movie. Without them the movie is all a blur. But when you put them on, it all becomes clear, in 3-D. When I was born again through receiving Jesus as my Lord and asking Him into my heart, that was when the Bible suddenly began to flood my mind and heart as it had not done at all before that time. I really fell in love with the truth that was there and that love is still with me till now.

Before I recieved Jesus-flattenedWas God enough? For me, I can say that it wasn’t till I received Jesus that I truly was what I needed to be. Even during that 7 months when I prayed to God every day, I was still a little afraid of the Devil. I still was weak through my sins and at one point even started using some light drugs again. But when I recieved the Lord, I was no longer afraid of the Devil. Also like the verse says, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power…” (John 1:12) that was really, really true for me.

I had the power now to resist sin. I had experienced a change of heart and I knew that I was just not the same person or even the same thing as I’d been before. What would have happened if I’d died with only believing and praying to God? I really don’t know. But I know I was like what the Old Testament calls, “a half baked cake” (Hosea 7:8), I wasn’t fully what God wanted me to be and what God planned for me. Yes, I did believe in the God of Abraham, vehemently and sincerely. But I was not complete till I came to Jesus. That’s why the Bible says, “We are complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10) and why, if you only believe in God, there’s really more for you that you’ve not experienced yet. Just like what happened to me.

Acts 16 live class audio

Paul Acts 16In Acts 16, Paul was back out “on the road”, obeying what the Lord had told him would be his future and destiny, “to bear my [Jesus’] name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15). (You can listen to our live class on Acts 16 here.)

Paul and his companions, first Barnabus and then later Silas, had already experienced severe, violent persecution in our earlier chapters. But in Acts 16, at one point they seemed to have a new dilemma: struggling to find the direction God was leading.

They were back in the area they’d been in before, what is today modern Turkey, and they were visiting regions they had been in before. But then it says, “They were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia.” (Acts 16:6) OK, they might have said, “Let’s just head off this direction”. But then it says, “They attempted to go into Bithynia. But the Spirit did not allow them.” (Acts 16:7)

I don’t know about you but I think at this point they might have gotten confused or perhaps even angry or discouraged. “Jesus, we’re out here in virtual “enemy territory” and then everywhere we turn, your Holy Spirit keeps telling us no! What’s up, Jesus?

Probably they didn’t exactly say that or react that way but maybe it was a temptation. But it all turns out to be an incredible lesson on following the leading of God and God’s direct revelations. It says next, “And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A certain man of Macedonia stood, begging him, saying, Come over into Macedonia and help us!” (Acts 16:10)come to Macedonia

That was it! That was why they weren’t supposed to go to those other places! So immediately they got going that new direction, on toward Macedonia and the beginning of Christianity on the continent of Europe.

God wanted them to go to the major cities and centers, rather than getting off somewhere in the boonies, which is what Bithynia, along the coast of the Black Sea, was in those days. He wanted them to win leaders and people He could raise up to reach their own people in their area. And that’s what happened.

The rest of the chapter is a classic example of the Lord opening doors for Paul and his friends as they “pioneer” a new city, Philippi. The Lord raised up new friends and converts who became disciples as well as hosts and helpers there for the disciples.

And it’s an example for modern missionaries of how you can find people at different levels of belief.Paul by the river It turns out that Paul and Silas met up with some women who came together by a riverside to worship. It says one woman in particular was touched by their witness, Lydia. This woman believed in God, but Paul and his friends were able to share with her the whole council of God. It’s a similar situation to the ones later in Acts 19:2, they knew the baptism of John but that’s all they knew and had heard about. In our Christian witnessing, quite often we find ones who know some about God, they believe some. But then the Lord brings you along so you can share with them truths from the Word and from the life of faith that they’ve never before seen or heard about.

And it seems that in nearly every chapter Paul and his companions are suffering one kind or another of physical persecution. Later in Acts 16, after casting out the spirit of divination from a young woman, her handlers were furious because their source of income had been ruined. So they caused a riot that made it so that Paul and Silas ended up in prison or jail again.

Paul and jailorAnd a famous salvation verse is found in this chapter. Paul’s jailor came to him after an earthquake in the night had opened the prison doors, and the jailer asked Paul, “Sir, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30)

So Paul said, “Well first you have to get circumcised and keep the laws of Moses. You have to be accepted into a local synagogue and complete 50 years of training in the Talmud.”

Do you think Paul said that? Maybe he gave him a long lecture on his sins and a list of do’s and don’ts to keep? Nope. Here’s what Paul said to the man, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved, and your house.” (Acts 16:30)

Mark! It’s all too easy! Come on, anybody can do that! The bar is too low, Mark!

I didn’t write this, I just read it and believe it. And actually, maybe that’s the whole point. The bar is low, it is easy and anybody can do that.

But sadly so many don’t. Their pride, their intellect, their own understanding, their upbringing, their background and a 1000 other things keep people from simply doing what Paul said to that man right then: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.

So it’s another wonderful chapter and we had a really inspiring class as we discussed these and other aspects of all this. I hope, if you get a chance, you can listen to the live class audio on Acts 16 which can be heard here. God bless you and yours as you witness and win souls for Him, like the ones of the Early Church did.

“Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection” (Salvation part 4)

Cancel subscription2-flattenedAfter the recent post I did about salvation, I got a very touching letter from a fellow missionary who wrote and asked what my thoughts were about some of her kids who were brought up as Christians but are now vocally anti-God. Here’s part of what she wrote:

I will never doubt my salvation… but I have questions about some of our kids. Some of them turned away from their beliefs about 10 years ago. One of our sons keeps “preaching” that God does not exist. He’s very intellectual and each time faith or God is mentioned in our home, he’s totally “off” in his comments. I wonder sometimes if he ever was really saved. It’s my understanding that Faith is a free gift of God BUT IT HAS TO BE RECEIVED, NO? He does not force it on us. Our son said a few times that he does not need a God that saves and has no need of salvation. You can imagine that we pray for him a lot. Our kids prayed the salvation prayer when they were young and then they followed in our footsteps. But a few abandoned their faith as teenagers. What do you think? Thanks for taking time to answer.

Absalom

Absalom

This is a huge, deeply sensitive, somewhat complicated question that hits closer to home than I care to say in a public post like this. I said in another post that I felt there’s a Scriptural foundation to believe that King Saul was saved. He was a failure in life but I think he was saved. But another major character from the same time period was a horse of a different color.

King David’s son Absalom was undoubtedly brought up in a Godly home by at least a Godly father, we know that much. But Absalom as an adult led a nearly successful rebellion against his father that was as powerful as anything David ever faced. There’s nothing in Scripture to indicate in any way that Absalom had any fear of God or anything other than an evil, unregenerate heart. I would guess that Absalom didn’t go to heaven. But he was raised by his father David, who obviously loved him very much.

In the picture at the top of this article I posted the words to a famous song from The Doors, one of the top rock groups of the late 1960’s. Jim Morrison sings, “Cancel my subscription to the Resurrection. Send my credentials to the house of detention. I’ve got some friends down there.” It’s a barely cryptic prayer to renounce any place he may have in heaven and that he be enrolled in Hell, where he has friends, he says.

What would God do with someone like that? I don’t think there are very many like that. But there are some. A few may even come from Godly families. Perhaps the most famous Satanist of the last 100 years is Aleister Crowley. And yet Crowley grew up in a family who were Plymouth Brethren in England, one of  the most “on fire” and dedicated avant-garde groups of their day, comparable to the Jesus Movement of the 1970’s. Crowley has become the most recognized face of Satanism. And yet he was exposed to a tremendous amount of faith and truth from the Scriptures when he was young.

Absalom, Jim Morrison, Aleister Crowley. It seems, very sadly, that at least in some cases there are those who never really received and embraced the light, love and truth they were surrounded with when they were young.

Prodical sonI believe ones like this are not a large group. I believe a larger group are just “prodigal sons” (Luke 15:11-32) who’ve gone away from the Father’s house but sooner or later come back or will come back. I know several like that of my children’s generation. Sometimes it’s God’s gentleness, love and goodness that at length wins these ones back.The-devil-and-hopelessness

At other times, like with what happened to me, it takes the virtually literal flames of hell, the presence of Satan and the imminent judgement of God to shock and frighten some people to turn from their foolishness and rebellion. You can read about my experience with that here.

The goodness of God leads you to repentance” (Romans 2:4). “Turn, oh you backslidden children, for I am married unto you, says the Lord. And I will take you one of a city and two of a family and will bring you to Zion”. (Jeremiah 3:14) “God has ways that His banished be not expelled from Him”. (II Samuel 14:14) “Whether shall I go from Your Spirit, or whether shall I flee from Your presence? …If I make my bed in hell, behold You are there” (Psalms 139:7 & 8).

But some will say, “Mark, they say they don’t believe in Jesus anymore!” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. If they are His, He goes out to find the sheep that was lost. (Luke 15:6) It even says in one place, “If we believe not, yet He remains faithful;, He cannot deny Himself” (II Timothy 2:12). “We are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation” (I Peter 1:5). “He that has begun a good work in you shall perform it to the end” (Philippians 1:6) . He is “the Author and Finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2) .

I know some children of missionaries who departed from the faith for a while, really got down to business with God, came back and are now going strong for the Lord on distant mission fields. I know people in their thirties who are all out for the Lord on difficult fields while their former missionary parents have let their lamps burn so dim in their home countries that you’d hardly know they’re still Christians.

There are just so many different varieties of experiences in all this. Some do come back. Sometimes at the end of their lives. Some are going to go on to heaven with very little reward at all. But they’ll be there. One of the most amazing things I ever read was by a woman from over 100 years ago, Rebecca Springer. It was originally titled “Intra Muros” and you can find it on Amazon under the title “Within Heaven’s Gates”. She had a prolonged experience in heaven while she was very sick. In one experience there, she saw a mother reunited with her son in heaven. But, during their life on earth, the son had killed his mother. Yet he was in heaven.

It gets to be where some of this is just beyond our understanding at this time. I believe there are ones like Absalom who were brought up by Godly parents but it seems likely he went to hell because of his rejection of all the truth, righteousness and faith he was shown. Others are going to be there in heaven in “everlasting shame and contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Others are “prodigal sons” (Luke 15:11-32) who eventually come back. Others, many others, “follow afar off” (Luke 22:54). They retain some faith they were brought up with but keep their light “under a bushel” (Matthew 5:15) for much of their lives. And some do show their light and retain their faith but not at all in the manner of the discipleship they were brought up with.

Hurt so much-flattenedIt’s a very heartbreaking subject for the parents of these people. I know some moms who are so mistreated and verbally insulted to this day by their adult children who were brought up on the mission field with their humble Christian parents. It is a major cross these parents bear to endure the insults, taunts and humiliation their children pour out on them, even 20 years after their children left their faith and chose “the course of this world“. (Ephesians 2:2)

What can we say? What can we do? We can keep the faith; hold on to our crowns and pray for our loved ones who’ve turned away from their faith. It’s really not easy. It’s not a happy, pleasant subject. We don’t really know how this will turn out for each of our children. We do know that we serve a mighty, tremendously loving, tremendously able God who cares more about our kids that we do and is able to rescue all who will be rescued and in some cases even those who seem to not want to be rescued.

But we can’t be utterly sure that simply because they were born into a Christian home, that they themselves will be Christians and saved. God has no grandchildren.

Every one of us must give an account of himself unto God”. (Romans 14:12)