Sharing your faith and seeing miracles

Sharing our faith with those who don’t know the Lord is not only “the Great Commission”, it’s an incredible way to experience the thrills of heaven and be right immediately where miracles of God happen. It’s a crying shame that so few Christians regularly share their faith with others, or “witness”, as it is called. There are virtually no churches who teach their congregations that they should actively share their faith with others, much less teach them how to do so.

Most of us would like to see more miracles in our lives. We know the Lord is there and that He can do “exceeding abundantly, above all we ask or think.” (Ephesian 3:20) But how can we be part of that? I’ll tell you, if you take the step to launch out and share your faith, you’ll often see some truly amazing and supernatural things happen, things that are impossible without God.

I’m blessed to be part of a weekly Christian fellowship, folks who almost all are active daily witnessers here in Texas. Many of these have backgrounds similar to mine, a lifetime of Christian service which was mostly spent outside the USA. So mostly these friends are not beginners to witnessing. And with this example I’m going to share, some of you might feel these friends have a lot more holy boldness than you feel you have right now. Their method of witnessing is perhaps not what you feel you’re ready for. But they told us recently of an incredible experience that happened to them while they were out sharing their faith and I thought to pass it on to you.

These friends told us of an afternoon when they were witnessing in restaurants. [“Oh, Mark. I COULDN’T POSSIBLY do that! What would people think? I’d just be making a fool of myself!”] OK, like I said, this is not a beginner’s witnessing testimony and an example everyone would feel they can immediately emulate. But here’s what they said happened.

“We were in a restaurant and we approached a table where two women were talking intensely. We had some Christian material with us that we usually offer to people in order to start a conversation. So we offered the first lady something that highlighted a Bible verse, Isaiah 41:10. And just looking at it she started crying. At first we didn’t actually see that the woman had started crying and I offered the other woman material having to do with the serenity prayer. Then that woman started crying. And we couldn’t talk to them for a minute or two because they both were crying.”

“We apologized to them that we made them cry and the first woman said that it wasn’t really us, it was just that her grandson is in the hospital with cancer. And his name is Isaiah. And then it turns out that Isaiah’s little sister is named Serenity. These women had just come from the hospital where little Isaiah was  and after lunch they were going back. We were able to pray with them and they said they knew the Lord sent us to them right then to comfort them and to be like a sign to them. They said, ‘We know God sent you to us right now’.”

My freinds went on to tell me, “When you are out there, it really isn’t like hard work. So often people say, ‘When I met you, it’s like I feel I’ve met the Lord in you.’ Often there’s this incredible timing to things, even though we don’t know it ourselves. It’s like a flow to be in and we take on the mantle of the Lord. This is how He’s ordained it and when you make yourself available, then His miracle working power is done through you, right in front of you and you are as amazed as the others. A person said to us today, ‘How does this work? Does God know this and then He told the angels to send you to this restaurant so you can talk to me? It must be because it’s not an accident that you came to see me today.’”

“Mark, these folks must really be saints. Probably no problems but just barely in this world they’re so spiritual.”

Well they just told me that not long ago, when their children were really not doing good, having troubles with growing up, that the only way they got through it was to go out daily and share their faith with others. Thinking about the needs of others and pouring out to others was a way to keep putting first the things of the Lord when their own situations were going over their head, even after they’d been doing everything they could for their kids.

They said “It just helped us to go out and talk to and help others as so many have so many problems and we were just there to be a blessing and help to others. One time we were driving down the street and I said, ‘I don’t even know how I can talk to people today, so many things and problems are going on.’ But then the first person we talked to said almost immediately, “Wow, I know God sent you to me today.”

One more thing they shared, I just can’t leave this out. They had been in Beirut, Lebanon during the time of the war when there were the militias and the Green Line. So they had witnessed to the Christian militias which often were teenagers. Late one afternoon they were coming back from downtown Beirut through the Muslim section and they were about to cross the Green Line to the Christian side of the city. But some Muslim militiamen came up to them and asked them what they were doing, pointing their Kalashnikovs at them. They were there to prevent people crossing back and forth.  Then out of a side street came the Christian militia they’d witnessed to and, pointing their guns at the Muslims, told the Muslims to let them pass over into the Christian section, that they were with them. But their witnessing to the Christian militias earlier was what keyed them to stand up for my missionary friends when they we were stopped by the opposing militias.

Whew. This is a lot better than sports bars, virtual reality or Netflix, no? I sure think so. Witnessing and sharing our faith is where it’s at.

Tie up in port?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The princess and the pea

princess and peaEver heard the story about the prince who was trying to find a wife? So the story goes, he made a stack of mattresses, 100 tall. Then he put a tiny pea underneath them at the bottom. Next he had a try out for his princess, bringing one candidate after the other to see how she liked the bed. All were thrilled by laying on it till one said she felt something under the mattress. That was the one the prince chose to be his princess, so they say.

Well, I’ll tell you, I really don’t think that prince was Jesus. Because the Lord’s princesses need to be able to take quite a lot more than a little pea under 100 mattresses. But it does seem that many today have the notion that a Christian life is similar like to sleeping on 100 mattresses and being upset by a pea. If you read your Bible, or even the history of people who’ve lived a life for the Lord, you’ll see that personal comfort was most often really pretty far down their list of needs or wants.

special forcesThink about it, what humans will do for people or organizations other than God and His Son, Jesus. We glorify the Special Forces of the military, how they endure incredible hardships and sacrifices to fight foreign wars. We hear of people in Asia dying from overwork, literally dying on the job because they work such long hours, just trying to make money. And rock stars and movie stars often sacrifice everything in the way of morals and their conscience, to “rise to the top” and be famous.

Of course if we turn to modern Christianity, it would be wrong to say that there are just no people like that today with vision and guts to live a life of sacrificial service for God and others. But for probably too many, the idea of really and truly “going the extra mile” (Matthew 5:41), “laying down your life for the brethren” (I John 3:16), and going “out into the highways and hedges to compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23) is just nearly unthinkable.

That’s the only kind of Christianity I’ve ever known and I think the only kind that could have won me to Him: a strong Christianity similar like to the Early Church. Because I grew up surrounded by (I’m sorry to say) shallow, racist, self-righteous nominal Christians and I was deeply unimpressed. When I would engage them in a conversation about the things of God when I was a pre-teen or teenager, they would all wither at the first sign of any need to “contend for the faith.” (Jude 1:3)

passing tracts-2Thankfully I know that Christianity in our times is better about this in many ways compared to how it was where I was, growing up. The Christians who are still left in our times have found they have to do better at being able to defend and explain their faith or they’ll just be defeated and destroyed by the kind of person I used to be. I’m so thankful that, back then, I met some serious, committed, even radical young “Jesus People” Christians at a pivotal point in my life. And their lives, sample and knowledge of God’s Word won me to Him when no shallow Christianity had been able to do that till then.

But, think about it, where are the real fighters for the Lord in our times? Where are the ones working 12 to 16 hours a day, on the home field or the foreign field, to bring the love and truth of God to the people of our times? People will do it for money, so many millions do. They’ll endure incredible hardships in the military and kill people in foreign countries, all with the idea that they’re defending their nation 10,000 kilometers away.

fight backBut where are the people who are not hung up on their comforts or the pea under the mattress but are like the people of the Bible or past centuries who took up their cross to really “forsake all” (Luke 14:33) and put their lives in His hands, put the Devil to rout and win the world for Him?

It’s ended up happening that I’ve done a lot of traveling in the last 20 months or so. And it looks like that that may continue for a while more. It’s all been for the Lord’s work but in my travels, I do look around. How are people doing? How is the body of Christ? Is it growing or diminishing? Bold or defeated? Promised_Land fixed flatMoving forward or sliding back into the morass of humanity and the mire of the multitude?

One of the more encouraging things I’ve seen is to have met some teenagers, some in South Africa and others in northern Germany, who give the impression of being very sold out and committed to the Lord. I feel I’ve seen in some of them the vision and commitment to Christian service that is essential to happen in every generation if the Lord is to continue to have, not just sheep, but shepherds, servants, true followers and disciples in each generation.

It’s a big subject and maybe there will be more the Lord lays on my heart about this. But if there is anyone out there, my age or one or even two generations younger, and you’re feeling the Lord’s service may be His will in your life, I can tell you plainly that I have utterly no regrets about living for Him as a missionary and disciple for closing on 50 years now. If you feel a call on your life to serve Him, I greatly, greatly encouraging to follow that calling.

 

Trembling at the Word

trimble at Word flatAs many know, there’s just a lot more going on in this world than meets the eye. Forces, influences, impressions, nudges, just a cloud of unseen pressures and powers have sway over us in ways we often don’t even realize. One of those that perhaps very many don’t even know about is what is called “the Word of God”. By this I mean the Bible and what’s written there. I was thinking about this today and how powerfully it has fundamentally altered my life for good. Falling in love with the Bible has been perhaps one of the greatest factors in the life I’ve lived now for many years.

But it saddens me how very many people don’t have any idea of the healing, thrilling, creative, almost unimaginable effect the Bible can have on any individual. And the Bible itself says this in so many places. King David said, “The entrance of thy Words gives life, it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130) But somehow it can happen that people can read the Bible and they just don’t get it. That actually happened to me at the very beginning of my journey of faith. I read through the whole Bible and just got virtually nothing from it. I wrote about this is in “Isn’t God Enough?

Im fine flatAnd I’ll admit, I don’t totally know how this works. In one place the Bible says, “The Word did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.” (Hebrews 4:2) Maybe it’s like what Jesus said, “They that seek shall find.” (Matthew 7:8) Some people aren’t really seeking, they are satisfied with their life and the truths of the Bible just don’t appear to them as they’re not really looking for more or greater truth than they think they already have.

Martin LutherBut then some people are actually “born again” through the Word. The apostle Peter said, “being born again…by the Word of God which lives and abides forever.” (I Peter 1:23) If you know the life of Martin Luther, it was a conversion experience that happen to him while reading the Bible that was one of the most formative experiences in his life, specifically when the truth of Romans 1:17 dawned on him, “the just shall live by faith.

God told Isaiah one time, “But to this man will I look, even to him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembles at My Word.” (Isaiah 66:2) Why would God want someone who trembles at His Word? Because He’s as monster on some vast power trip? No. Because He knows that the very best for any person is to recognize the unfathomable riches of His truth and the eternal certainty of His guidance.

But some people just don’t get it very much. I was with someone like that recently. They have had a good amount of time around people who are deeply and passionately into the study and living of God’s Word. Their friends talk about it, read it and try to live it in their lives to the utmost. But this person just doesn’t at this time find a great deal of interest in these things. They are fairly satisfied with their life as it is, their surroundings, culture and this present world. So they, I guess, must be hesitant to have the Word have more sway and power in their lives. Perhaps they recognize there’s a beckoning in the Word of God to not only listen to it but to obey it and follow it out of one’s present attachments and loyalties into a fuller experience of the Lord and His eternal certainties and instruction.

they that are whole flatBut knowing this person has had me pondering how this all works. Somewhere there has to be a spark and part of that I think it realizing one’s own lack, our weakness, our… I’ll use the word “sins”, our darkness as compared to the light of God and His Word. Jesus said, “They that are whole need not a physician but they that are sick.” (Luke 5:31) If we feel sufficient and satisfied with ourselves and our life as it is, it makes it less likely that we’ll look for something like the touch of God and His truth to bring light into our darkness.

But while there’s life, there’s hope. If ever someone was “alienated from the life of God” (Ephesians 4:18), it was me as a teenager. But the Lord somehow was able to bring me to a place where I was able to receive all the truth that I was looking for but in all the wrong places. Maybe it’s even like the story I heard, almost a parable of popcorn.

popcorn 1When you make popcorn, you put the oil in the pot and heat it up. Then when the time is right you pour in the popcorn and start shaking it over the fire. At first one or two corns pop. Then soon a lot of them do. At the last there’s still a few that pop kind of late. And yes, a few just don’t pop. Maybe it’s like that with life and with trying to bring people to the Lord. You just have to keep shaking them and keep them over the fire. Or perhaps that’s what the Lord does with us.

popcorn 2And many of us do eventually pop. Like a popcorn, we suddenly pop and turn inside out, from a hardened little corn to a big white popcorn, to realize the potential that was there all the time. It has to be the Lord. Thank God for His patience to keep shaking us and even keeping the fire under our lives to help us to end up being what He knows we are meant to be.

So I need to have patience with this friend and pray that they will eventually get the point and see the wonders and convicting truth of God’s Word so that they can get the breakthrough and deliverance from the somewhat hard shell of their life right now. With enough heat, oil and shaking, the Lord can find a way to crack some of the hardest shells and out pops a “new creature in Christ Jesus”.

The French Resistance

french resistance fightersLast night I talked with a man who was a commander as a teenager of French resistance forces during World War II. Now in his 90’s, he was a young student when war broke out in 1939. It was fascinating to hear his stories of those times and how he ended up working in the French underground. At first, he would do things like clandestinely distribute underground newspapers which counteracted German propaganda, as well as those French who were collaborating with the invasion forces.

french women on bicyclesHe told of a blind man back then who would mostly be overlooked by the Germans who would carry about a large suitcase, often with radio equipment inside which the French resistance forces could use. There were women on bicycles who’d convey messages to bands of French freedom fighters who were on the constant move in the woods or fields. Those he worked with would focus on trying to help downed airmen from the Allied forces fighting the Germans, ones whose planes had been shot down over France. There was like an “underground railroad” to get the Allied pilots either to Spain or across the English Channel and back to Britain.

He said their specific goal was not to engage in combat with German forces but to make things difficult for them by blowing up bridges, planting bombs on roads and whatever it took to slow down and hinder the occupation. We laughed at one point when he smilingly said how that he’d been known as a terrorist back then and we talked about how it so often happens that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.

But there was combat and lose of life. His older brother had been in the underground as well but was betrayed and ended up dying in a concentration camp in Germany. He told of times where he had to react instantly to save his life before someone shot him. This had come down to the reality of whether it would be his life or theirs.

French awardSomething he felt proud of is that the group of men he led had a relatively smaller loss of life than that experienced by many other similar groups. He mentioned that his own dad had somewhat miraculously survived as a combat soldier throughout the First World War when 1.2 million French soldiers were killed. He told me that at the end of the war, at the age of 20, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor for his service in freeing his nation from the occupiers.

I asked him what kept him motivated, what he drew his strength from during those times. It was clear that the main thing was what we would call nationalism. His ancestry has been part of the French aristocracy for many centuries and he felt there was no question of what he should do to defend his nation against the invaders of his youth.

I asked him if he ever saw anyone pray in those times and he said he hadn’t. The conversation turned briefly to “religion” and, as some of you know, that word has a very bad ring to it in France, arising in part from the French Revolution and the impact that formal religion was seen to have had on the nation and society.

I told him at the first that part of my reason for wanting to hear about his life was to try to find what I could learn from his experiences. I told him that I too considered myself, in a sense, a freedom fighter. Of course, as Paul said, “The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty through God to the tearing down of strongholds.” (II Corinthians 10:4) The warfare I have been engaged in all my adult life has been spiritual warfare but it has no less been warfare. We are to “fight the good fight of faith”, we are to “war a good warfare”, “as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” (I Tim. 6:12, 1:18, II Tim. 2:3)

Elisha 1And certainly in these seemingly peaceful times, we need another “French Resistance” as well as a resistance in a good many other counties also. I’m reminded of the post I wrote about “They that be with us…” where Elijah and his young helper were surrounded by the armies of their enemies. Elisha 2But then Elijah prayed that the young man would see the heavenly forces surrounding them who were protecting them and were much greater than their present earthly enemies.

At this time, so many “post Christian” countries have repelled their former invaders and now enjoy relative stability and outward peace. But if there were to be an opening of the eyes of the young man now, it would be to see the flood of godless darkness that has seeped in like a poisonous gas under the door and now benights so thoroughly so much of Europe and even north America.

resistance fighters flatThe Bible says, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19) Well, the enemy of truth and love has and is continuing to come in with wave after wave of putrid lifelessness which is put forward as modern enlightenment. But so often it’s exactly like what Jesus said, “If the light that be in you be darkness, how great is that darkness.” (Mathew 6:23)

Turning pointsPlease pray that God will open the eyes of young men, like he did in the time of Elijah, to see things as God sees them and that “resistance fighters” as bold and brave as the one I spoke with tonight will be raised up to fight the good fight of faith and “hold forth the Word of life” (Philippians 2:16) for the lost and truthless nations of these times.

Serving God or Mammon

God and Mammon flatOne of the more striking and perhaps perplexing things that Jesus said was this: “No man can serve two masters for he will either hate the one and love the other or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) Determining how that plays out in the life of each individual has been a huge question for Christians through the centuries.

Examples in the four Gospels are numerous. Jesus said to the fishermen Peter and Andrew, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” The Bible goes on to say, “And immediately they left their nets and followed him.” (Matthew 4:19 & 20)Follow me and I flat Matthew the tax collector is another example. “And as Jesus passed forth from there, he saw a man named Matthew, sitting at the receipt of custom: and he said unto him, Follow me. And he arose, and followed him.” (Matthew 9:9)

Of course there are those who will rightly say that Jesus didn’t say that to everyone. But it might surprise you to see how many He did say that to. It is clear, though, that the concept of serving God, being a true follower and disciple is what the Bible has taught from beginning to end. God told Moses to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go, that they may serve me.” (Exodus 8:1)

But what does that mean? How can we serve God? Are we serving God as we go about our secular employment? The daily “affairs of this life”?  (II Tim 2:4) In the history of Christianity, there was a time when a very large number of people were in what was considered Christian service. The lived in monasteries, abbeys and various religious houses throughout Europe. It got to where these religious orders owned as much as 30% of the land of some nations. friarsThey accrued vast wealth in obligatory tithes and enforced offerings which all levels of society felt impelled to pay to these vast numbers who were ostensibly “serving God”.

And some of them were. They, some of them, ministered to the poor and did other things such as offering prayers or works of righteousness. But it got to where it was increasingly obvious that so many were just living off the fat of the land, laying a heavy yoke of religious bondage and servitude on society while doing little or nothing to serve God or man.

Actually, the place I’m writing this in was once a rectory of a Catholic church in Normandy, France, built in 1760. But at the time of the French Revolution, this property was seized by the government from the church and turned over for secular uses. Caen house frontThis kind of thing had been going on in fits and starts since the 1500’s throughout Europe when kings and governments increasingly saw many if not most religious orders (those who said they were serving God) as being not much more than leeches on the body politic, neither truly serving God or rendering much of any service to mankind.

With Protestantism and the Reformation, the whole concept of serving God swung radically the other direction. Martin Luther said that one could faithfully and adequately serve God as a cook or plowman. And that to this day is the prevailing view of those whose roots are in Protestant Christianity.

But how about now? It’s pretty well known in modern Christian circles throughout the world that spiritual and moral darkness has precipitously increased in the lifetimes of many of us. It’s increasingly difficult to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (II Corinthians 6:14). Very many are forced to compromise and even renounce their Christian convictions in their workplace in order to conform to the mores of “post-Christian” society throughout the Western world. Or simply hold their job. Millions are finding they must put their children in Christian schools or home school them in order to preserve some atmosphere of Godliness that their children can be safe in.

And I feel this trend is only likely to increase and accelerate. I’m still of the opinion that what Jesus said is true when He told His disciples just before His crucifixion, “I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go, I will come again and receive you unto myself.” (John 14:2 & 3) That Jesus said He would return to this world at the end of this age is indisputable. Mark of the BeastAnd it says in the Bible that in the times just before His return, that a worldwide economic system will be in place so that “no man might buy or sell except for those who had a mark in their hand or forehead”. (Revelation 13:17) The choice between serving God or Mammon is already becoming increasingly stark. And in the future to come, believers worldwide will literally have to choose the satanic world government to come or to throw their trust utterly on the Lord and to serve Him only.

I feel there’s a strong stirring in the body of Christ worldwide. So many sense that modern Christianity is insufficient for present times and certainly so for times to come. One of the most glaring deficiencies is how individual Christians are not being challenged or prepared to truly serve God in the way Christ taught and the way the early Christians lived.

Daniel 11 32b for blog siteIf there is any happy ending to this post, it could be that I do feel the Bible indicates that in the prophetic endtime future, there will be a called out, vibrant, fruitful body of Christian believers who’ll stand up as some of God’s strongest witnesses in the world’s darkest time. “The people who do know their God shall be strong and do exploits. And they that understand among the people shall instruct many.” (Daniel 11:32&33)

 

They that will not work…

Grandma Helen flatI’m having an amazing time in South Africa, there’s a lot to tell you. This post will mainly be about a story I heard of an 80 year old woman who is poor herself but ministers to the poor in one of the “townships” here, as they are called. I think another word that fits for these areas is “shanty towns”. But they can be very huge.

me and JosefFirst I’ll tell you who told me this. I have a friend here, Josef from Austria, who lives in Johannesburg. He has a similar calling to the friend I told you about who holds HIV seminars in schools here. But Josef and his wife often are “up country”, actually spending a lot of time in neighboring Malawi where he has quite a work going in having seminars with local pastors there on basic subjects of Biblical faith and shepherding the flock of God.

When Josef told me about an octogenarian woman he helps in Johannesburg, I was amazed at her faith. Also I was amazed at her vision to not just minister physically to the desperately poor around her, but also to minster to them spiritually as well, sometimes even with a little bit of “tough love.” Maybe it’s like Jesus was. He certainly was kind, giving and sympathetic, more than any man. But also when it was the time for it, the Lord could be pretty frank and candid with people who needed to hear perhaps surprising truth.

townshipGrandma Helen has been living in squatter camps for the last 20 years but she’s also faithfully shared what little she had with those there, as well as sharing her faith in God. Josef said that he and his wife began helping Grandma Helen when she lost the little support she had. They started giving her gospel literature to share as well as of course food they’d received from businesses who donated it.

Josef encouraged Grandma Helen to use Christian literature in her caring and ministering to people. Before she passes out the food parcels, she has a short Bible study and prayer with ones who come for help. After that she passes out the food parcels and the gospel pamphlets with them. She and Josef wanted to teach the people in her area more about the things of God and one idea that came up was to have them memorize Bible verses when they received the food parcel.

But they learned that it was difficult for the people there to memorize Scripture, as it often is for most. So to make it easier for them and to be sure they were taking in the Word, Grandma Helen had them write out the Scripture verse and give it to her before they received a food pack. And if they hadn’t done so, they could do it when they got the food pack. As I’ve written about elsewhere, there’s just something powerful about memorizing Scripture. “Lay up His Word in your heart”, the Bible says. (Job 22:22)

Josef told Grandma Helen about the verse that says, “They that will not work should not eat” (II Thessalonians 3:10) and that we owed it to the Lord and the people they were giving the food to to teach them the principles of God. So besides some of the most basic tenets of Biblical faith, Grandma Helen also shared with those that came for food that “They that will not work should not eat.”

But also she knew that in these camps it’s often very difficult to get or hold a job. Basically almost all of them there are unemployed or under employed. So Grandma Helen suggested they could offer their services to others in their community by doing chores, running errands, helping the elderly and those generally worse off than them.

Helen weeding flatAt one point she had a younger man come by who asked for food and she helped him. Then on another day he came by when she was in the garden and she asked him to help with weeding. He said he was too busy. So next time he came around for a food pack, she told him, “Sorry, they that will not work should not eat.”

I don’t know about you but I find this an amazing and encouraging story. Godly principles completely transcend borders, time, social strata and just everything. Jesus told us, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) But often also the Spirit of God calls us to some action, not only as a test but also as a lesson that our soul needs to grow in and be fed spiritually in. Sometimes these things can seem like “hard sayings” but it’s actually just God’s wise and life-giving love which is actually more needed that simple food. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4) Or like wise Job said, “I have esteemed the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” (Job 23:12) It’s a lesson everyone needs.

And please do say a word of prayer for dear Grandma Helen. Josef and his wife help her, as they do very many, but sometimes she has to get around in her wheel chair. Also her grandson reads the Bible to her because her eyes are failing. But she continues to minister to these people. Makes you feel that most of us have it pretty good.

Working in an HIV Seminar in South Africa

me in Durban classI’ve been in Durban, South Africa for over a week and it’s been wonderful. I never saw this coming, never foresaw a time I’d be in this part of the world but it has gone really well. I know several people here from my times in Europe. One dear friend is Andras Namenyi, a Hungarian who actually was my translator when I shared classes with young Christians in Budapest back in the late ‘90’s.

Andras has been in this part of the world for years and the Lord has given him an amazing ministry. It’s by no means the only thing he does. But his main outreach is to visit schools here to do a presentation on the subject of HIV prevention which has to do with being informed, being wise and simple abstinence.

I was astounded and floored to hear the statistics about HIV in this country. In this province, KwaZulu-Natal, out of a population of 11 million, 40% of the people are HIV positive. Think about that. Those are numbers like the worst of the Black Plague that hit Europe in the 1300’s. But it utterly underlines the importance of what my friend is doing in these seminars in the schools here.

Durban school crowd sceneI was with Andras for a seminar earlier this week and I’ll include pictures I took there. We were addressing 8th graders in a “colored” part of Durban. [“Mark! That’s racist!”] I’ve had to adjust to the English language that’s spoken here being slightly different from the USA. When I was a kid in Texas, “colored” was the word used at the time for those we now in the US call “African-American”. But here “colored” basically means “mixed race”.

We first talked to the principal; the seminar had all been arranged beforehand. The kids filed into the room with the guidance of their teachers, not really knowing what to expect. Andras has addressed around 90,000 students over the last years with this ministry.

3 colored pitchersAs the presentation started, Andras in his opening was switching back and forth between English and Zulu, the main language spoken in this province. The kids were of course laughing and impressed that he was comfortable with them that way. But probably they were also curious about the props he had set up for the presentation. Several kids behind him had been given various colored balloons. And on the table in front of him were 3 pitchers with distinctly colored liquids. By the way, this was all done in English as the school is a fully English speaking school, even though many there have another language as their first.

Basically the idea was to highlight the consequences of risky behavior. He told me later that almost certainly there were kids in the audience who were already HIV positive. Andras held up the first pitcher with red liquid and said this represented risky behavior, out partying, drinking, drugs and of course promiscuous sex. Then he held up the pitcher with green liquid. This represented someone “on the fence”, not really totally living a risky life but someone who was near the edge of it. Then he held up the pitcher with yellow liquid, representing morals and a moral life with vision, goals and a purpose.

pouring pitchersAfter that he poured some of the yellow liquid into the green and red pitchers. The red turned to a murky brown almost immediately but the green liquid began to turn yellow, representing a changed and more moral life. As Andras continued to speak on this subject, the liquids continued to change from their original colors and soon the green pitcher changed to yellow liquid. Eventually even the red liquid turned yellow.

It was all a huge object lessons in the visual realm for these few hundred 13 and 14 year olds of how morals and self-restraint could change a life and in this case even save their own physical life. Of course I’m only giving you the highlights here of the 45 minute talk. At the end, Andras explained to them how much we all need the saving power of Jesus to come into our hearts and give us the strength we need to essentially resist sin, which is what this is in many ways really all about. He led the kids in a prayer to receive the Lord and they all prayed.

watching intentlyIt even worked out that I was able to address the kids for a few minutes, telling them about my life and how it was changed through Jesus and the truth and power of God. Afterwards we were able to pass out gospels of John in Zulu to the students; these are booklets I helped to have shipped to Andras here in Africa about 18 months ago.

me and AndrasIt was an astounding afternoon, being involved in something so important, life changing and even very much life saving. For me, this is all better than any worldly or earthly riches: being a part of something that’s reaching into young lives who are so often right on the precipice of good or bad, sin or salvation and even life or death. It was another moment to confirm just how thankful I am for a life of Christian discipleship. I hope this testimony is a blessing to you of how people in our times can be used of the Lord to impact this world for Him and to let their light shine before men.

 

Walk in Newness of Life

which sins flatA few days ago I got a note from a dear Christian man in India. He wrote to ask me, “Pastor, Jesus has said, “All those who do not repent will perish”. So which are the sins we have to repent for? Should we repent for breaking the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament or should we repent of sins mentioned in the New Testament?” Doubtless it’s a sincere question he asked there, although it’s also one of those huge debate points that Christians have struggled with for centuries.

I don’t have the theological training of many years in a seminary. But I do have the experience of having “passed from death unto life” (John 5:24) through the Lord’s work of bringing me from entrenched atheism, through a series of spiritual breakings, to where I received Jesus as my Lord and savior. “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) By His Grace, I did that. I received Jesus and His coming into my soul, heart and life gave me power to overcome the sins that had overcome me till that time. I was “born again” (John 3:3), a “new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17).

But how does this relate or connect to what this friend wrote and asked me about? At the beginning of my new life in the Lord, I was receiving a good amount of shepherding and spiritual feeding from some young Christians who’d also recently come to the Lord, as well asreview verses flat some others who’d been raised Christians. Daily I was immersed in the Word of God through Bible studies and memorizing verses and I truly was filled with immense joy at the new life I’d received and been born into.

As far as which sins I was thinking about and aware of, either the ones mentioned in the Old Testament or the ones in the New Testament, I think the best way to describe it is that I wasn’t thinking a whole lot about either. I was very aware of sin and how my sins before my salvation experience had nearly taken my life. But once I came to the Lord, it’s like the verse, “the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10b) Or like the verse where it says to “walk in newness of life”.  (Romans 6:4)

I wasn’t as focused on what I shouldn’t be doing and what I should be repenting of because I was much more aware of what the Lord was now showing me in His Word and all “do’s”, rather than the “don’ts”.

I was aware of the presence of the Lord through the Holy Ghost. I very much wanted to serve the Lord and obey His admonitions in the New Testament as well as the lessons and guidance found in the Old Testament. Maybe it’s like the verse “that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations.” (Luke 24:47)

In my coming to Him, laying my all on the altar of His service and calling, I was not just repenting of individual specific nameable sins; I was repenting of being a hopeless lost rebellious sinner. And with that repentance, He granted “remission of sins”. I wasn’t thinking about my sins anymore because I had been “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His Dear Son.” (Colossians 1:13)

So in my case, I was almost totally focused on trying to live the admonitions Jesus gave to His disciples. He told them to “feed His sheep” (John 21:16). He told them to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). He told them to “go and teach all nations.” (Matthew 28:19)  And most of all He told them to “love God and your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37-39)

God will reveal-flattenedThis subject in some ways reminds me of what I very seriously went through in the first year of my Christian experience. I was intensely concerned that I didn’t miss anything the Lord wanted to show me or wanted me to do. That’s of course a good thing to be concerned about. But it my case, it got to be so much that it was a hindrance to God’s will in my life and He had to show me His view on the matter. It really changed my life. I wrote about this in “God Will Reveal”.

God wanted me to get going in newness of life, under the direction and guidance of the Holy Spirit to be an ambassador for Him in this present evil world. If my focus had been on my still sinful “old man” instead of the “new man”, I would have been missing His highest and best.  This is what Paul said in Ephesians 4:22-24. “That you put off concerning the former life, the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts. And be renewed in the spirit of your mind. And that you put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.

As a saved child of God, my focus is on letting the Lord in me have His way in my life so that His Spirit can move me and guide me daily in service for Him. It’s like moving from a defensive warfare, constantly aware of our sins and which one is going to get us next, into an offensive warfare where we are alive and activated by Him to be positive witnesses for Him in this world.

Specifically, the guidelines of the Old Testament are very real and precious to me. But it’s clear from the New Testament that the binding nature of the Old Testament law is not operative for those who are saved in the Lord. “You are become dead to the law by the body of Christ”  (Romans 7:4), Acts 10 and 11 are also good chapters about that.

path aheadBut the main thing I feel that’s the answer to this friend’s question is that our awareness as born again believers shifts from a concentration on our sins to a concentration on the Lord Himself, His power, His Word, His will, His daily directions to us as we go forth with Him to win this world back to its rightful King. “You will hear a voice behind you saying ‘this is the way, walk ye in it”, when you turn to the right hand or the left.”  (Isaiah 30:21)

Pilot lights

got something flatHave you ever had someone get something from the Lord for you? Maybe they had a dream about you or some verse came to them that was just the word of the Lord for you? It doesn’t happen all the time and probably we can quickly get too much of something like that, it can go to our head. But I had something like that happen to me when I was in my 20’s and it’s always stuck with me as a source of encouragement.

I was in London and preparing to move to Scandinavia. I’d been working with friends in England for close to 2 years and it was a big thing for me to leave and go off into what for me was the unknown. Someone came up to me and said they’d gotten something from the Lord for me. They said that the Lord had shown them a vision of a pilot light and said that this was what I was. It wasn’t some long prophecy, just a simple vision, but to me it said a lot.

pilot lightSome might even ask, “What is a pilot light?” Well, on gas stoves, maybe only on older ones now, there was beneath the surface of the stove a small flame, a pilot light, that stayed on constantly. Then, when someone turned the knob to get the stove to come on, the pilot light was there to light the flow of gas so that it provided flame on the burner on the stove.

So I was thinking of what that could mean, how could the Lord pictured me as a pilot light? I guess the thing that’s most singular about a pilot light is that it’s always on. It reminds me of the verse about the flame at the altar of the Lord at the ancient Hebrew temple.fire on the altar It says in the Word about this, “The fire shall ever be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.” (Leviticus 6:13) And of course this is symbolic of how it should be with each of us. We are to be lights to the world and to “let our light shine before men” (Matthew 5:16), as Jesus admonished us in the Sermon on the Mount. Of the ten virgins, 5 had let their lights go out but the other 5 kept theirs burning.

And in the case of a pilot light, it isn’t even usually visible on the stove; it’s just there behind the scenes, always burning and ready to provide a start to other larger flames. So this was a very encouraging vision this friend received for me and one I needed as I was going through a lot of spiritual battles at the time.

Of course, in a sense we all can or should be pilot lights. We should all be having our lights burning at all times, “it shall never go out” as it is said of the fire on the altar in the Old Testament. And a pilot light has one function, to help start other, often larger fires. There are so many stories in history of insignificant people who led someone to the Lord who turned out to be really world-changer disciples.

Moody & Livingstone flatWhen Dwight L. Moody was an insignificant shoe clerk over 100 years ago, someone witnessed to him and led him to the Lord. And Dwight L. Moody went on to become one of most successful evangelists in American history. Or there’s the preacher who was speaking to a small gathering of ladies in a Scottish church on a gloomy, rain-drenched day about the need for missionaries to Africa. Unbeknownst to him, up in the balcony was a young man who was adamantly taking in every word of the preacher. That young man was David Livingstone, one of the greatest missionaries who ever went to Africa.

But for Livingstone and Dwight L. Moody, for all the great lights and flames that they were, there still had to be those pilot lights , those unsung, unknown ones who were there when the Lord needed them, faithful in “the day of small things” (Zachariah 4:10) that God had placed them in.

Jesus said, “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much, and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.” (Luke 16:10) One of the most important things to the Lord is our faithfulness and commitment to Him. Having our lights burning and being ready to be of service to Him is something that anyone can do and is at the bedrock of our Christian existence.