Living by faith that God will supply all your needs

For those serving the Lord in mission work, you sometimes hear them speak of “living by faith.” This usually has an economic meaning. The Scriptural principle behind it is that if you’re “seeking first the Kingdom of God” as Jesus said, then “all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Another well known verse that’s claimed by those who live by faith is what Paul said, “But my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)

As you might figure, it can be a controversial doctrine. Some would say, “But what if everyone did that?!” Others will quote Paul who said, “Those who shall not work shall not eat.” (II Thessalonians 3:10) And it should go without saying that “living by faith” and serving God, seeking first the Kingdom of God, in no way implies any lack of work. It’s just that it’s work like you see in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. Folks who take this direction have verses that become much more alive to them than when they didn’t live by faith before.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “No man can serve two masters: for either he will 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) Those living by faith and serving the Lord feel they’ve come to a full-time service for the Lord which has delivered them from daily serving mammon and the systems of this world.

Is all this mandatory? Will a person go to hell if they’re not living by faith, fully serving the Lord? No. But a deeper look at the New Testament does pretty clearly show that this was the nature of the lives of the early apostles and disciples of Jesus. Let’s face it; so much of our lives is described in what Jesus said,

Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what you shall eat; neither for the body, what you shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment…  …If then God so clothes the grass, which is to day in the field, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? And seek not you what you shall eat, or what you shall drink, neither be of a doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after and your Father knows that you have need of these things.” (Luke 12:22-30)

Such famous, familiar words from the Lord. But how much they’ve been glossed over and set aside by so many believers as having no real message, meaning or promise to us practically in the real world of this day.

But when you’re “living by faith” on the mission field and all you have is the Lord (since you’ve gone into all the world and win souls), you very much see the promises and provision of God utterly come through for you, even in some of the strangest and most trying times. I wrote about one experience like that which my former wife and I had in Sweden when we first got married . You can read about that in “Foolhardy Faith”, an amazing time of miraculous provision, here.

“Well, Mark, that’s great but it’s not for me. And not for most of us, as you surely know. I need to have a normal job and a normal life like the rest of society. I’m a Christian, I go to church. But all this fanatical missionary stuff is just too far out.”

What I’ve found is that God has ways of sifting His people. He’s not trying to be mean to us. It’s just that we have more safety, security and even provision as well as meaning and happiness in serving Him, even full time, than we do in having a worldly job six days a week and then going to church on Sunday. Admitted, this is the way virtually all Christians live in these times.

Another simple thing Jesus said about this which is so often overlooked is “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust do corrupt and thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth or rust corrupt or thieves break through and steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:19-20) Heard all that before? Certainly. But how many understand it or take it to heart and try to put it into practice.

To end with, here’s some good news. In the final days before the Lord’s return, we’re not really going to be able to serve Mammon the way most Christians do now. The Bible says that “no man will be able to buy or sell” (Revelation 13:17) unless they have the mark of the Beast of the final Anti-Christ government. The sifting will be pretty strong then.

Christians, if they want to remain Christians, will have to trust God then and probably even be serving the Lord much more than they do now. And their economics? God’s got that covered then, just as He already does now. Revelation 12:6 & 14 speaks of the believers of those times, “The woman [the believing body of Christ on earth, the bride of Christ] fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there [3 ½ years] from the face of the serpent.In the end, before the Lord’s return, there’ll be a sifted, separated, fruit-bearing body of believers throughout the earth, living by faith and trusting Him to supply all their needs.

Conquering

ConqueringThat word probably leaves a funny taste in the mouth for most of us 21st century folks.  “Conquering” sounds like the war-mongering, triumphalist people we just don’t like or want to be. We’re mostly the peace loving, “can’t-we-get-along” types. But that’s where those of us who believe in God would do well to remember that we need to not look to our personal preferences or the currently most accepted view of “right and wrong”.

As much as we peace-loving people would like it if the whole world was just like us, reality has a way of jumping up and biting us in the butt from time to time. Like King David said, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalms 120:7). The same King David prayed to God, “Scatter the people that delight in war.” (Psalm 68:30) It’s a sad, reluctant realization that war is an integral part of the reality we now live in. In the golden age of peace that will come with the return of Jesus, “They shall beat their sword into plow shares. Neither shall they learn war any more.” (Isiah 2:4) But we’re not there yet; far from it.

We desire peace, long for it and don’t naturally incline to war (many of us anyway). But we can’t get away from the Scriptural injunction that is part of the definition of the times and age we live in, that we should “war a good warfare” (I Timothy 1:18). Paul said, “No man that wars, entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who has called him to be a soldier.” (II Timothy 2:4)

Persecution picture-flattenedReluctantly, we have to admit that we’re called to be soldiers. We may be peacemakers and that’s our desire. But we face an Enemy who wants to defeat us. And we face continually our Enemy’s forces and loyalists who defy and mock our Commander and who want to destroy our faith.

Wouldn’t it be nice if it wasn’t that way? Yes, it would be nice. But we can’t just sit around and “imagine”.  We have to be realists. Our dear Lord Jesus is the future ruler of this earth, physically. He told us “I will come again.” (John 14:3). Daniel told us in that most simple first chapter of his prophecies that Jesus’ Kingdom to come will “break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms” and nations of this earth that His Kingdom will replace at His coming. (Daniel 2:44)

We must conclude that to conquer is part of the calling we have when He told us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) If we are to “win souls” (Proverbs 11:30), who are we to win them from? The answer is clear: they’re to be won from the powers of Darkness that rule this earth right now. Paul said that God, “has delivered us from the power of darkness, and has translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (Collossians 1:13)

Jesus conquered. Maybe He used me or you as his tool or instrument to help “win a soul” for Him. The forces of darkness were defeated. A battle took place. If you’ve ever been involved in personal witnessing and winning souls, you know how totally real that can be. It’s often an incredible fight and you can sometimes almost literally know, see and contend with dark forces that hold people in a grip of unbelief and pride, restraining them from reaching out to receive the new life Christ offers. And, lest there be any room for misunderstanding, how do we conquer? How do we win? Through love, like our Commander did.

jesus on horseRevelation chapter 6 talks about a rider with a crown on a white horse who “goes forth conquering and to conquer.” (Revelation 6:2)  In our times, modern church scholars have somehow attributed this figure to be a picture of the Satanic Antichrist of the endtime. But from the Early Church up till modern times, this figure on the white horse in Revelation 6 was always considered to be Jesus of Nazareth. The forces of God from the first century till now have followed Him into all nations, winning through His leadership the lost souls of this earth, gathering them into His eternal fold and contending with the devil and the forces of darkness who now hold sway over the nations.

We’re to be conquerors with Him. He defeated death on the cross of Calvary. He is the risen Savoir, the mighty Conqueror who now leads the forces of His saved ones, through the Holy Spirit, in this time of battle for the hearts and souls of the people of the earth. We’ve already passed the point in time which He spoke of when He said “This gospel shall be preached in all the world for a witness to all nations, then shall the end come.” (Matthew 24:14) That’s already happened over the last 100 to 150 years.

Soon the crowned Rider on the white horse that we see at the beginning of the Christian era in Revelation 6 will become the visible Lord from heaven in Revelation 19, leading the forces of heaven in a reconquering of the earth as He retakes this world from the clutches of the Devil and we experience the first days of His Kingdom come on earth.

We are sheep. And He has said He is our Shepherd. But we look forward to the Lion of Judah, the conquering King of Kings who will lead us as conquerors with Him in His soon return. In the meantime, we need to remember that we are, perhaps even reluctantly, called to be conquerors, fighters and triumphant (but still meek and humble) fighters with Him at this time. “The meek shall inherit the earth, and delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalms 37:11)

Falls Road, Belfast

I’ve just visited Northern Ireland, where bloody sectarian strife distressed that nation from 1968 to 1988. Fault lines between Catholics and Protestants go back hundreds of years there, exacerbated by British rule over Ireland and just a history of deep discord between faiths and peoples. The good news is that the bombings and carnage that was so prevalent in Northern Ireland over the last decades has abated and the city lives in peace, if not true concord.

Belfast was the last destination on my recent trip abroad and I found it interesting to be going from Beirut, Lebanon to Belfast, Northern Ireland. If you’ve kept up with the news over the years, you’ll know that both places were almost constantly flashpoints between warring factions, and in both places “religion” was a major factor. I personally don’t consider myself religious; I think of myself as spiritual. But “religion” to me brings up thoughts of altars, robes, swinging incense, unintelligible chants and usually meaningless traditions.

I don’t think Jesus was religious. But then we have to admit that the factions in both Beirut and Belfast had what we can call religion in mind as they fought and bombed and plotted for years against citizens in other parts of their cities. Pitiful, isn’t it?

For me on this trip, I wasn’t in either place to see the sights or rehash history. People are the most important thing to me. How are the people of God? Solomon said to “be diligent to know the state of your flocks and look well to your herds.” (Proverbs 27:23) In this case, they aren’t your flock or mine but they are the Lord’s. And as Paul said to the elders of his day, we should “feed the church of God”, “over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers.” (Acts 20:28) And in these days, that  goes for all of us. Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go again and visit our brethren … and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36) There aren’t really a handful of Paul’s and Peters anymore but there are a lot of us who the Lord calls to be shepherds and feeders of the flock.

It was very encouraging to see how the people of God were doing in Belfast. I visited two churches and one prayer group while I was there and it was inspiring. One was Presbyterian and the other church was Baptist. In both places there was a real mix of age groups, not just “old people”, as I feared. And the conversation in both places was about reaching others for the Lord, bearing fruit and on-the-ground activity to bring the gospel to the people there.

I’ve written in a few places about conditions I’ve found in other places in my travels. I wrote in “German Awakening” about my visits to Germany and Christian churches I encountered there. In “A Flock of Whopping Cranes” I wrote about the church I attend in Texas and how it’s been heartening to see those of the younger generation who have been keeping the faith and not “casting away their confidence.” (Hebrews 10:35)

But I was pretty surprised, both in Beirut and Northern Ireland. Particularly in Northern Ireland there was an overall sense of the people there not having fallen away from the faith anywhere near as much as you can see in some other parts of Britain. And it was not like a “hold the fort” type of faith but a ground-gaining boldness in their faith that I found very heartening.

In Beirut I heard of churches there that are in use for 16 to 18 hours a day, with one denomination after the other using the building to hold packed out services for both Lebanese citizens as well as Syrians and even Africans who’ve come there to work. And there’s just a lot of witnessing going on there with inspired individuals doing sometimes astounding things to reach a part of the world which is really reaching out to the Lord in their time of desperate need.

In future blog posts I can explain more about why I was in Belfast. It is all mission-related and some very important things were happening, both in Beirut and Belfast which should help further the Lord’s work in hopefully significant ways. But I’m glad to be back at my base in the States after this most recent 11 weeks abroad. Sometimes we have to not get so busy gaining territory for the Lord that we don’t securely consolidate the gains He’s giving us in His work. I have a lot to do in the next months to work on the many things that got started on this recent trip. I’ll be letting you know how that goes. God bless you, Mark

 

At the Green Line in Beirut

Yesterday I had lunch next to the Green Line in Beirut, Lebanon. The Green Line was the boundary that divided Beirut during the civil war here from 1975 to 1990 between Muslim, Christian and other factions. A large street was next to the outdoor restaurant and my friends said the French ambassador had been killed in the intersection in front of us during the civil war. There were still some pock marks in places on the buildings nearby from the street fighting that was so normal back then.

But I’m not here as a tourist. I won’t go into specifics of what I’m doing, some of you reading this already know but primarily it has to do with the Christian service that’s been a part of my life for decades. In the few days I am here I’ll be meeting old friends and making new ones in an effort to bring the love of God and the power and truth of God to this part of the world. Mostly I’m just listening, getting a clearer understanding of how things really are, what can be done, what the needs are as well as realistic possibilities. And in the months to come, Lord willing I’ll be sharing more about what has been going on while I am here and things that have been able to get started on this visit.

The last verse in the book of Mark says, “And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word with signs following.” (Mark 16:20) That might be a good explanation of something I’ve really notice since being in Beirut. I’ve very strongly noticed that phenomenon here of “the Lord working with them.” Things that I came here to do, which I had very few leads or ideas about, actually worked out really well and got taken care of in barely 24 hours. The answers and results were almost like falling on me. And I heard other people here use that phrase also, like the Lord was just dropping things on them.

I guess this whole part of the world here is just a very serious place. The Lord is really doing big-time miracles here, lives are being drastically altered, abject prayers are being answered and also people are suffering terribly and dying for their faith. Someone told me about a Muslim military commander in the war in Syria. Somehow he found a Christian tract in his language on the ground. He picked it up, read it and saw an address on it where he could order a Bible in his language. He did that and ended up having a strong salvation experience that empowered him to be a witness to those he was leading. Ultimately he paid with his life for his newfound faith. But then death by one means or the other is often known to be not far from so many in the Levant.

And there are many who come here to try to help in whatever way they can. Volunteers work in refugee camps in the region, some with over 100,000 people in them, doing shows for children, providing physical needs and at times just providing the education that school age children would be having if there was any normalcy in their lives. Groups from abroad channel finances to some individuals here who are deeply connected to the vast numbers of refugees and sufferers. These funds help to provide the barest of basic necessities for the essentials of life so that families don’t exist on the streets and so they can eat.

Others here and in the region are called to a different path and are actively straightforward in sharing their faith in God and the answers they’ve experienced from the Bible. I won’t go into details but things I’ve heard of people like this are very similar indeed to what you can read in the book of Acts. Some have survived repeated attempts on their lives here as they win people to the Lord and feed His sheep. Others who’ve come from abroad have actually died for their faith. But mostly this isn’t what happens as the Lord so closely and strongly leads His few bold soul winners in ways that they can reach effectively the people of this country and others in the region.

Well, this is just a little update, a few things I’ve seen or heard and a bit of news from this series of visits I’ve been making to places over the last 2 months. Once I’m back to my base, following up on the things that have gotten started on this trip will be the main thing I’ll be doing for the next months. There have been a lot of beginnings during the last two months which I’ll be telling you more about before long.

God bless you, your friend, Mark

Does God use organizations? Or individuals?

Ever wondered how God works best, with a group of organized individuals? Or with individuals alone? It does kind of mater. Should we endeavor to find a group of like-minded folks who share the same vision, goals and understanding of the Lord as we have? Or should we concentrate on our personal relationship with the Lord and just follow as best we can the Word and the directing of God’s Spirit?

Of course the best way to find the answer to this is to look to God’s Word. But the answer that comes back may not be conclusively for one side or the other. If you were to say that God blesses and usually wants us to work within some larger organized structure, you could use the example of Israel of old and how He raised them up and blessed them as a nation for centuries. It was their unity, their cohesion and their subjection to His laws and prophets that made them what they were. Or in some cases what they were not. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper.” (II Chronicles 20:20)

But there were times when this wasn’t the way the Lord blessed or delivered His people. The Lord raised up the shepherd boy David, virtually a child, to deliver Israel from Goliath and the Philistines in his day. Before that, Saul’s son Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few” (I Samuel 14:6) and then he and his armor bearer routed the Philistines and turned the tide of battle when the larger army and forces of Israel were bottled up and tied down.

“Mark, you’re wrong. God prefers organizations and the safety of the flock.”

Yeah, sometimes He does work that way. But equally, some have traded their insecure liberty in following God individually for safety and security but ultimately bondage in Christian organizations that stopped truly follow God generations ago.

It looks like you can’t make a really solid case that God only works one of these ways or the other. But what about in Christian times? Was the Early Church a highly organized, structured, top-down outfit, demanding subjugation and dominion over all the multitudes who came to Christ in the first century?

Well, back at the time of the Early Church, they did have some organization and they did try to shepherd and feed the tremendous wave of people who kept coming to the Lord from all over the known world of that time. But it was centuries before there was the kind of stultifying, soul-quenching “organization” that the Catholic Church, as well as the various Orthodox churches, came to be by the time of the so-called Dark Ages.

Maybe it’s just because there are so many kinds of people. Some, perhaps the majority, are more followers than they are pioneers and spirit-led disciples who can really forge ahead on their own. Admittedly, not everyone is going to turn out like the Apostle Paul or some of the famous missionaries and pioneers of history who just couldn’t be tied down in some daily routine that was supposed to be the fulfillment of their obligations to the Lord’s call to discipleship.

But maybe we should note that the Lord did call individuals to personal discipleship and to even leave behind their present life to be “fishers of men”. (Matthew 4:19) He said we should pray to the Father that He would “send forth laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Is that best done on a huge scale with much leadership attention to detail, where the laborers need to constantly be checking back with headquarters far away to make sure every move they make is ok with the council of the elders? Or is it best portrayed by Spirit-filled and called individuals who go out, even “not knowing whether they went”? (Hebrews 11:8) I suggest, and I’ve experienced, that this second mode seems to work better, even though it’s rarer and some folks just think it’s almost dangerous.

“How can we just let these individuals out there to roam around, saying whatever they will and with no accountability to anyone?!”

But if you look at the record of God’s Word, as well as Jewish and Christian history, some of the greatest things God ever did, some of the greatest works He ever started were where there was no controlling head but God , no organization but that supplied by the Holy Spirit, no directors or direction except His Word and the leading voice and presence of the Lord.

Sometimes, alone and outnumbered, people of God have had to utterly depend on Him for support, direction, inspiration and just the whole caboodle. But the Lord came through wonderfully time and again. Isn’t that what happened with Noah? With Abraham? With the Apostle Paul and the pioneers of the Early Church? In some situations that might seem weak and unorganized by man, God had some of His mightiest works done through His frail but yielded individuals. I might add that ones like Saint Patrick and many of the highly effective early Celtic Christian apostles were like this. Could we add ones like Dr. Livingstone and Florence Nightingale to this list?

And is there a reason I’m even writing this? Perhaps because in my own life I’ve come to feel that at times when I had no one but God to lean on and direct me, that at those times some of the most amazing things happen. So if you’re feeling quenched and subdued in some kind of Christian organization that is supplying your need for fellowship but is slowly sapping your faith, fire and initiative, perhaps you might find greater blessings in simply doing and living the truth you know in your heart that you realize your religious organization is just not following. Perhaps you need to follow God into greater fruitfulness, greater faith and a closer relationship to Him as you follow and obey the Lord, where so often modern Christian organizations just won’t be taking or directing you.

In Indonesia, after 10 years

I’ve been in Jakarta for over a week now, where I lived between 2003 and 2008. Those 5 years and this country had a huge impact on my life. Now I’m again with my friends from those times as I do recordings in Indonesian of the prophecies of Daniel video series which actually was started in Jakarta back in 2006.

From time to time I’ve mentioned in blog posts about when I was living here. But there’s something about talking about the past and reminiscing about the past which I’m not so into. Because I feel there’s a danger that any of us can so easily slip into living in the past and the highlights of those times so that we lose sight of all that’s still before us in God’s vision and future for us, if we’re willing to keep going forward for Him. There’s so much ahead of us in peaks we have yet to climb, if we keep the vision.

And so truly it has been said, “Without a vision the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) If we let our looking back to the past replace our following the vision that’s before us, it’s a great error. But it can be thrilling to look back, with some caution, to see the peaks and valleys we’ve already crossed, the victories that have already been won and all that the Lord has already done in our lives till now.

With that thought in mind, I’ll take the liberty to share a few links to blog articles I did several years ago when I first started doing these. As a few of you know, I was doing what I called “Fields” newsletter for a number of years before I had these web sites. In fact, one of the first blog articles I did was mostly taken from the first “Fields” newsletters I did. It briefly traces an outline of my life, going back a number of years and then explains why I was about to go abroad in Christian service again in 2003, to Indonesia. Here’s a link to that article.

During the time I was in Indonesia, I was often involved in projects with friends to help start schools, doing character building programs in schools and also in direct disaster relief. Perhaps the most intense few weeks of my adult life was spent in the Indonesian province of Aceh in the direct aftermath of the horrific tsunami that hit the region on December 26 of 2004. I went there immediately as an aid worker with a few friends but I also brought along my small video camera. Here’s a video on YouTube which I made while I was there.

My five years here was an interesting time with a lot of variety. At times I would be having Bible classes with young people who were from missionary families in Indonesia. But at other times I was able to do presentations in some local schools that we helped start of principles that are shared between Christianity and Islam. In the picture you can see me with a flash card I am holding of a picture of an angel and the title is something like “Angels watching over us”. One of the local students is translating my explanation of it all to the other students there. A blog post that I wrote about this experience with these young students is “East Meets West”.

This particular school was a start-up of a young Islamic man in one of the very poorest parts of Jakarta. First he had to persuade the parents to let the kids go to school since the kids could make $5 a day each from begging, far more than their parents could make at a job here. But it finally worked out and an extremely basic school got started on stilts over standing stagnate water, very close to an oil refiner on the coast of the city. A blog article about this little slum school is called “Far Country Photos from Jakarta”.

Student-in-Jakarta

And it was a thrill that some of my Christian friends back in the States contributed to this project at a particularly needy time which made it possible for us to hire 3 teachers to continue there when it was touch-and-go back then as to whether the school would continue. The amazing good news is that from those seemingly feeble, tenuous beginnings, the school (with help from my friends here) was able to build larger and better facilities.It  now has over 300 students who are being educated when, almost certainly, many of them would still be begging on the streets.

It’s been a good time to be back here again, to meet friends I worked with during that time and with whom I am still working with on things presently and happened soon. Some of this is like what they say about “happiness that money can’t buy”. There’s a deep gratitude in my heart to the Lord that He’s led my life in the way He has , to be able to not only be a child of the Lord but to serve Him and be a positive contribution to mankind and the world we live in. Thank the Lord!

Coming together

It’s been heartening to read about the outpouring of help from so many to the flooding disaster in Texas. Right now I’m in Indonesia, 12 time zones away from my base in Texas but I’ve very much kept up with events there. There’s just something Godly about genuine outgoing concern for others that’s expressed in sacrificial giving and breaking out of your routine in order to rescue others from the peril they’re in.

If there’s anything that Jesus is remembered for, even by unbelievers and those of other faiths, it’s that He was a caring, loving, sympathetic man. He took action. He went out of His way. Jesus got up from dinner with His friends to go help someone who’d come there to plead for His help. And when we do this, as individuals or in mass, we are “touched with the feeling of their infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15), like He was. And, doubtless, this is what God wants.

So I’ve been gladdened to read about the activities of so many now to try to do what they can to help make things better in south-east Texas after such “unprecedented”, almost Biblical floods. I’ve read that there’s been virtually no looting, so different from a similar hurricane disaster just to the east of Houston, Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005.

We aren’t supposed to be proud, there’s not a place in the Bible that promotes or condones pride in any way. But it is nice every so often to feel good about the people and place you come from. I wrote something about this a few years ago in “Texas People”. I’ve always known that, contrary to many popular stereotypes, there are some very kind, humble and godly people in Texas. So it’s been encouraging to see this being manifest right now in the aftermath of this tragedy.

And that’s the funny thing about tragedies, isn’t it? King David of long ago once said, “And in my prosperity I said, ‘I shall never be moved’; Lord, by Your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong. You did hide Your face and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30: 6 & 7) It’s natural and human to like and want prosperity and certainly there’s quite a lot of prosperity in Texas, especially around the Houston area. And although it’s nominally a very Christian city and state, very many people have a real problem with materialism. Jesus once said, “Beware of covetousness for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” (Luke 12:15)

So as terrible and destructive as this disaster has been, there likely has been an almost unwanted silver lining for many. They’ve escaped with their lives. They’ve hopefully seen “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13:22). And in their dire straits and extreme dangers they’ve just been through, the real things of life have hopefully become clearer to them than they were when everything was just coasting along and they were “rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing”. (Revelation 3:17)

Chastening, judgment, loss, these are things that virtually no one wants to go through. But for those of us who know the Lord, we know from the Word that these things happen and that they can be for our good, often for our very good. And equally it puts the onus on those who have not been so affected, to see what kind of response it will illicit in them. Will they be like the Good Samaritan, stopping to help the stranger and truly loving their neighbor? Or will they be like the religious hypocrites, the Pharisees from Jerusalem who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10: 31 & 32) when they saw someone in need.

So it’s a time when God is really working in the lives of many millions. And from what I’ve read and heard, a lot of good has come of this disaster, as strange as it may seem. “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve even noticed that there seems to be (temporarily at least) much less hate-filled squawking from the extreme left and extreme right in the States. It’s hard to talk about “fake news” and “them” when the desperate realities of your fellow man are staring you right in the face and you have to make a decision what you’re going to do, even though that person in need might not be of your race or political party.

So, personally, I’m thanking God that I can see at least a little bit of real coming together. Of people forgetting their differences long enough to help those who may die without the immediate help of their neighbors, friends and countrymen. Love in action is what it’s really all about and the love of God moving in the hearts of people to love others and to manifest that love sacrificially is a wonderful, heartening sight. Praise God!

“He has made my chain heavy.”

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:31) But there can be times where it’s like what Jeremiah said, “He has made my chain heavy.” (Lamentations 3:7) Is there a contradiction? Not really. For those who are following the Lord, not just only believing in Him, there are certainly times when we can clearly see and experience what Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

Let’s sadly face it: in this day and age, the vast majority of Christians are not really following the Lord, as He said there. They may be believers; they may be saved and will be in heaven.  But at best, they “follow afar off” (Matthew 26:58). On the other hand, for those who really have committed to a life of Christian service, who are determined and in the practice of following both the admonitions of God’s Word, as well as and equally following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, taking up our cross daily can definitely be what God calls for. And at times it can even be like a heavy chain.

But, almost strangely, there’s an incredible, utterly unearthly freedom in following the Lord to that degree. That may seem like a huge paradox. How could there be freedom in carrying a cross and being chained? I could use a military analogy or talk about James Bond or Jason Bourne. But to use something less sinister, think of successful sports stars or concert pianists for example. Those folks often go all over the world, they are famous, well paid and have the adulation of the multitude.

But what level of commitment is required of them? How many hours of practice, of sacrifice and denial were necessary for that goal scorer to get to the place where he could play at that level? Or that pianist to play that solo so amazingly. For those very few who are endeavoring to follow the Lord the way He wants and needs us to, there’s both this incredible freedom of experience but at the same time an incredible confinement (if that’s the right word) that is done by the Holy Spirit to keep us on the track and direction for Him. The apostle Paul certainly knew of this. He said once, “Necessity is laid upon me, yeah, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” (I Corinthians 9:16)

And if we follow that path, to attain God’s goals, He sometimes just waves the rules. In Acts 10, Peter was led of the Spirit to eat unclean meats, or at least it seemed so at the beginning of his experience. But it was a picture of what was about to happen, that the Spirit led him out of his Jewish training and restrictions into a new age of the gospel of Christ being open to the gentiles. I wrote about that here.

It seems Peter just barely obeyed because the leading of the Lord appeared so contrary to what he had thought was the will of God. Actually at first Peter just said no to God. Nevertheless he did obey, almost like with a chain about his neck since the Spirit was so clear and definite in what God’s will was right then. But he obeyed.

That’s the kind of following Jesus that changes the world. And it wasn’t just for 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is just as alive today; the needs are just as great, the freedom just as magnificent and breathtaking but also the cross and the chain just as real and necessary as it was in Biblical times.

When I came to the Lord when I was 21, the type of Christianity I was born into was a radical discipleship Christianity. It was about soul winning and forsaking all to go into all the world to follow Him to the ends of the earth for the Kingdom of God. Eighteen months after I got saved I was across the Atlantic and out personal witnessing in places like Hyde Park in London or Vondel Park in Amsterdam. In some ways it was tough but also it was often extremely exhilarating. Thankfully some decades later now that life of Christian discipleship is still what I’ve been allowed by God to experience.

If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free in deed.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Brethren, you’ve been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.There’s been amazing liberty, incredible experience and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But if I ever use that liberty for “an occasion to the flesh”, the Lord may just lift off his blessing.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been having a life of thumb screws and aestheticism. He’s often given me many happy times, even in the physical side of this life. He’s very often “cast our lines in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6) But His cause and instant obedience to the leading of His will has always had to be preeminent and paramount.

It’s a wonderful life, almost charmed. But you have to accept that cross and that chain as part of the bargain and contract.

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.