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.

“I have my doubts.”

I have my doubts flatYou hear folks say that sometimes, “I have my doubts.” And nobody says anything about it, it’s as normal as can be. But how about that? If you profess to believe in the God of three faiths, then you probably know that doubts, at least some kinds of doubts, are not just something to slough off as nothing, though mostly everyone does.

On the one hand, you’ve got “the father of faith”, the patriarch Abraham. What was the big deal about him? Well, for one, he kept hearing the voice of God telling him that he was going to have a big family when both he and his wife were like really getting up in years. And evidently the thing that pleased God about Abraham was his faith. Here are some especially poignant verses in the book of Romans that speak about the special faith of Abraham concerning this unusual promise God made to him which seemed to go unfulfilled for so long. Abraham for blog postHe (Abraham) staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief but was strong in the faith, giving glory to God, and being fully persuaded that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:20-22)

Did Abraham have his doubts? I don’t remember reading about them, although his wife Sara did evidently laugh once when an angel was with them and told them about their future family. And let’s be honest, do you ever sort of secretly sympathize with them? After all, there are oodles of times in the Bible where God and/or His prophets have foretold some extremely outlandish, almost impossible-to-believe things. And you and I might feel that if we’d been there, we’d be pretty challenged indeed to believe what was said at the time.

In fact, do you ever feel that way about the book of Revelation? My gosh. “The stars fall from heaven” and “the heavens departed as a scroll” (Revelation 6:13 & 14). It says during the time of the trumpets, just before the return of Jesus that “hail and fire, mingled with blood” will be cast upon the earth. “And a third part of trees was burned up, and all green grass” (Revelation 8:7).  Whew. No wonder some of the big time preachers in the churches here are still telling the believers on Sunday morning that none of them will ever see any of the events spoken of in Revelation. According to the main line evangelical denominations of this day, they will all be wonderfully swept away at any moment and will experience nothing of the endtime tribulation that’s so spoken of in both Daniel and Revelation.

bundle of faith flatMaybe a thing to do with some of this is what I’ve heard before, to “wrap it up in a bundle of faith and put it away somewhere”. When the time comes, the Lord will take it, unwrap it and make it all clear and plain.

Some folks think they have to understand something to believe it. But that’s not true. It’s a real liberation to realize that even if you don’t understand something, that doesn’t have to mean you cave in to unbelief. You can still believe something, even if you don’t understand it.

But I’m going to confess that at times, when I just look at the prophecies of the future with my carnal mind and worldly reasoning, it does become easy to be tempted to doubt that the strange, mighty things of Revelation can actually happen. But that’s a precarious place to be, being tempted to doubt the stupendous things God has foretold us about the future.

Maybe it’s like the famous preacher from over 100 years ago said to the two ladies who asked him, “Dwight L. Moody, do you have dying faith?” To which he said, “No, I don’t.” When they gasped at his apparent unbelief, he went on to say, “I’m not dying yet.” That’s how things work.dying faith flatAs thy days, so shall thy strength be” . (Deuteronomy 33:25) I really don’t have to worry or even totally understand some of the most awesome, intriguing mysterious of the future that Revelation tells us about. I’m not there yet. God gives us what we need for today, not before.

I do study these things and even teach about it. But as I wrote about in “Daniel First”, I really believe it helps a lot to start with an understanding of the book of Daniel, which Jesus Himself pointed us to, before we try to comprehend the book of Revelation. But what do I do with the almost incredible things found in Revelation? One thing is to simply look back at the already fulfilled prophecies of the past, many of them just as seemingly incredible but nevertheless fulfilled by the Lord. So I have every reason to believe that the stupendous things of the future that we find in Revelation will be fulfilled just the same.

And as much as I enjoy the study of these things, I do feel that my most important calling is that of a disciple, soul winner and a feeder of sheep, a teacher of babes. It can end up just being a trip off if you get so lost in the intricacies of the prophetic future and you abrogate your calling of full time Christian discipleship. Maybe this is what King David meant when he said “Lord, my heart is not haughty or my eyes lofty, neither do I exercise myself in great things or matters too high for me.” (Psalm 131:1)

truth and humility flatI do strongly believe that more people need to have a much better understanding of the events that we’re told about in Daniel and Revelation which have not yet happened. But I think any teacher who seriously makes an attempt to teach the book of Revelation to others must have the honesty, humility and candor to say at some points, “I don’t really know what this means here or at least I don’t understand it enough to be certain about it.”

Sometimes it’s the Lord’s wisdom for us to just stay simple, to admit it when we don’t exactly know what some things are and to not get spooked out about some seemingly foreboding future event foretold in God’s Word. Maybe that’s the correct time and place to apply what Jesus said, “Take no thought for the morrow for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.” (Matthew 6:34)

Back again in Ukraine

Ukraine mapFor the last week I’ve been back visiting where I lived in 2008 and 2009, in eastern Ukraine. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. This isn’t Monaco or Hawaii. But for me, it is now (and was 6 years ago) a very nice place to be, among friends who hold the same views and beliefs as I do and who’ve dedicated their lives to serving the Lord.

But it can be a tough place to be in some ways and it’s a challenge for me to write this blog post and to keep it upbeat and cheerful. Because this place can be “not for the fainthearted”. It’s not a matter of violence or crime, the statistics on that are probably pretty low. And it’s not the simmering border war with Russian separatists that is still happening about 200 miles (@320 kilometers) to the east or the Russian takeover of Crimea 200 miles to the south. At one point these things did look like they would spill far into the country but it no longer really looks like that.

No, the overarching narrative here that affects nearly every life is the extreme deprivation, resulting from years of severe economic hardship, already prevalent before the worldwide crash of 2008. And I’m at a juncture here because the Bible teaches us, “Whatsoever things are true, righteous, pure and lovely, if there is any virtue or praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) In brief, we should aim to stay positive. And at the same time, Solomon said, “Sorrow is better than laughter for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Eccles. 7:3)

So I’ll tell you the good news first. My friends here have continued to stay on the wall of Christian service during the 6 years since I left here. There are not a whole lot of them but they’ve worked tirelessly in this country, often focusing on what they can do in the vast numbers of orphanages and places for the mentally challenged. Someone has said, “A little bit of love can go a long, long way.” It sure needs to here and it does. Besides delivering physical aid to these places which just barely get by, a surprising ministry for my friends here has been what’s called clowning.

fixed-Dom Malutki 12“Clowning” might not sound like a great idea to some. You may think we have too many clowns around already when we look at the politicians and so many other sources of light, frivolous froth that seems so prevalent nowadays. But this is Ukraine, not the “rich-and-increased-with-goods” West. Here I find that the clowning my friends do in orphanages and detention homes is closer to being like what Solomon said about these things, “A merry heart does good like a medicine but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

patch AdamsIf this still seems strange to you, perhaps you’ve heard of the movie starring Robin Williams, “Patch Adams”, about the true story of a famous doctor who used clowning to cheer up his patients and how much this helped them. That’s what my friends do here and it’s been both successful, as well as much appreciated by the authorities in these parts. Of course my friends are dedicated Christians and are doing all this to bring light, love and joy to a part of the world that really does need it very much, increasingly so.

horse wagonOK, that’s the good part; now let’s talk about the bad, ha! It’s the economics. And you could think, “Oh, Mark, at least it’s not violence, crime or diseases.” Hmm. Let me give you some statistics and you can see how this would work for you. You’re retired and draw a pension from your government? Millions here do and they receive… $45 a month. That’s $ 1.50 per day. An average wage in Guatemala is about twice that, I’m told. Are you going to buy medicine on $1.50 a day? No. You’re just barely going to avoid starvation if you somehow have some place you can grow some potatoes, have an apple tree and a few chickens you feed.

woman plowingYou’re a teacher in your prime, not retired? Let’s see. You’ll receive… about $55 a month. At 40 hours a week that would be about $.25 an hour for your efforts. Your tops in your field, medicine, and are #2 at a large city hospital? You’ll be getting less than $200 per month. So it’s all kind of indescribable. Almost like a sci-fi movie where all that you’ve taken for normal is deeply distorted so that things are surreal, Kafkaesque.

I could tell you much more but I won’t. It’s against this backdrop that my friends here work daily to try to bring hope, love, truth and a little happiness and joy amidst such grim deprivation. It moves me and affects me. Verses like “Unto whom much has been given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48) and “They that be strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” (Romans 15:1) have always under-girded my life as keystones of how I should respond to the gross darkness that is upon so much of our world. Being here has been a reminder of how much I and many of my friends have and how much we have to give (in so many ways) to help others.

 

News about Witnessing in Germany

German streetI received a thrilling testimony from a Christian sister around my age in Germany who’s been a faithful witness for many years. I’d like to share this with friends far and wide as it’s certainly not the kind of thing you’ll see on the evening news. But I really believe this is something that makes news in heaven.

This sister lives in a large industrial city in German which has very many Muslim refugees, as well as German citizens of Middle Eastern background. And on top of that, it’s one of the centers in Germany of the far right, anti-immigrant, nationalist movement. A few months ago I helped my friend to get a shipment of several hundred Gospels of Luke in Arabic which she would be able to use in the times she goes out witnessing in her city. Here’s part of a letter she wrote me yesterday.

passing litI was out witnessing after some time of not being able to go out much and at first it was such a battle; but that always happens. I’d copied some tracts to pass out and it had become late already. I was starting to get tired but was dissatisfied because I’d taken 10 Arabic Gospels of Luke with me, with the determination to give them out. But I was by that time just tired and wanting to go home.

I told myself, “OK, I’ll walk toward the train station and on the way pass out some more things.” I realized there where quite a few people also streaming toward the train station so I just asked Arabic-looking people if they spoke Arabic and offered them then the Gospels of Luke.

There were two families with little kids and each looked at me like they wanting to say, “Are you in your right senses? We are Muslims.”  sharing wordSo I told them that the Quran teaches we should read the “Injils”, the gospels about “Isa”, Jesus. They both reacted with an “Ohh”, realizing I might know more about the Quran than them, and took it, thanking me for it.

On the way I passed the big cinema and decided to see if there was an announcement about the new movie with Joseph Fiennes about the resurrection of Jesus. And there were 2 young girls sitting with Muslim head-scarfs on, around 15 or 16 years old.

I offered them Gospels of Luke too and at first they were a bit mixed up in surprise. Then the younger one started to get all excited and I heard the word “Injil” several times. Then the older one caught on and thanked me profusely, even kissing the booklet. That was my time to be startled.

Phew, what a great time I still had! One more guy took it because I said yes when he asked me if I’ve read the Quran. I have read only here and there a verse but that’s probably more than many Muslims ever have read, like most church people don’t read their Bible.

giving GoL flatIn all I was able to give out 8 Gospels of Luke in Arabic and a bunch of German and English tracts, thank you Jesus! I was all poured out when I arrived at the train station but very happy.

I am still praying for one or more Muslims to teach the Bible and who can help me better spread the Good News (my strength is so little for this great job) if you like to pray with me for this.

Much love, C.

Angela MerkelI don’t know about you but this just made my day. It’s exactly what I’ve written about in blog posts like “Merkel’s Call”, “Enemy at the Gate”, “They that be with us…” and several other similar posts about conditions presently in Germany and Europe. What this dear sister wrote about shows that it can be done. It would be great it if was some huge, mass movement that everyone can feel they are swept up in and feel a part of. But that may not happen. Meanwhile, it’s up to individuals to just share the love of God and the truth of God with the lost, like the people of faith have been doing since the days of the Early Church.

It may not seem like much. “What is this among so many?” (John 6:9) But it’s a start. And I know personally a number of other folks around Europe who are doing daily exactly what this dear sister in German wrote about.Go flatOne shall chase a thousand and two shall put ten thousand to flight.” (Joshua 23:10) May the Lord bless this dear German sister for her faithfulness to share God’s love and truth with the lost and may others catch the same vision and passion.

Hard Knocks Witnessing

you are wrong flatI’ve often mentioned the subject of witnessing and it’s certainly a huge subject. I’ve never yet been in a church that teaches personal witnessing to its people. But witnessing at times can be tough. Everyone probably knows that and it’s one reason so few people do it.

I was on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California decades ago, witnessing to young people when I was a young person myself. Then, off to my right and striding down the sidewalk in the early evening was someone decked out in a full Satan costume, red cape, horns, mask and all. As he walked by he was repeatedly saying in a deep voice, “I’ve come to see my kingdom”. This was many years ago and I’ve been told it’s much worse there now.

While witnessing is really like sowing seeds, it also can be like a battle. Some folks just have their standard lines they throw back at Christians since most Christians don’t know how to answer tough questions. I remember one that really stumped me when I was about a year old in the Lord. This guy in Los Angeles told me that Jesus never actually said that He was the Son of God. That really got me right then. I’d been studying the Word and had memorized a lot but I just couldn’t think of anything right then that absolutely proved the guy wrong.

But it really got me into the Word about it. Later I found what I figure was the best place where Jesus said He was the Son of God, John 10:36b, “…do you say of Him who was sanctified and sent into the world, ‘you blaspheme’, because I said I am the Son of God?

Actually, when you think about it, Jesus didn’t go around all the time telling everyone He was the Son of God. He called Himself “the Son of Man” over 70 times  but the specific places where He said He was the Son of God were rare. So that guy back then long ago sort of won the conversation I was having with him that day. But then I knew what to answer the next time someone pulled that one on me.

Weapons to Pakistan 1-flattenedMaybe that’s another thing about witnessing that most people just don’t want to experience. You just might meet your match, ha! The only thing is, it may be your match but not the Lord’s. Like anything, you have to hone your skills or, better yet, let the Lord teach you how to witness and share your faith. You may have your stumbles or bumps in the road but you keep taking it back to the Lord, learn your lessons, Weapons to Pakistan 2-flattenedand do better next time. A little like what happened to me years later in New Delhi, India when I was witnessing door to door there and a woman almost immediately, upon opening her door, yelled at me, “Why are you selling weapons to Pakistan!” I wrote about that experience here.

I was a smart-alecky 18 year old atheist in my first semester of university  when a young Christian student at the university was going door to door in the dormitory, witnessing for the Lord. I gleefully welcomed him in to have a talk, like a spider to a fly.

The thing is, I’d never before met a Christian like that. I tried all my old lines I usually used to mock Christians. I laughed long and heartily at him. He stood his ground with a friendly smile and just kept sharing his faith with me. I rejected the witness he shared with me but that experience changed my life.

Jesus said, “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin.” (John 15:22) Up till that time, I’d never really been witnessed to by a strong Christian. But after that event I was much more accountable and two weeks later, having rejected the messenger of God, the messenger of Satan was allowed by God to come to me in the form of a hippie on campus who sold me my first marijuana. For the next 2 years my life gradually went downhill till I very nearly died on drugs and went to hell, an event I told you about in “Lucifer and the White Moths”.

delivered your soul-1 flatBut it was the faithfulness of that young Christian student at my university to share God’s message with me, even though I rejected it, that was part of God’s plan in bringing me to Him. And I share this here to show how that, even if you have a “negative” witnessing experience, as that dear brother had with me that day back then, “nevertheless Christ is preached” (Philippians 1:18) and it was an integral part of God’s plan for my life. Even if someone gives you grief while you’re out witnessing, it is still your faithfulness that counts and you have “delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 3:19), as the Lord wants us to do.

Enemy at the Gate?

enemy at gate 2A movie I really enjoyed was “Enemy at the Gates”. One reason is that I lived over two years in Moscow and in the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine. Knowing that part of the world, the people, the history and their sufferings, made it all the more moving to me. The subject of the movie is the battle of Stalingrad and I have Russian friends from Stalingrad, now called Volgograd.

It’s based on a true story of one of the bloodiest, heart-wrenching battles of World War II. The movie shows that the Russians were so bad off that two soldiers were given one gun and a handful of bullets each, enemy at gate 3the idea being that when the first solder was shot, the second one was to pick up the gun and keep going. But the hero of the movie, played by Jude Law, grew up as a hunter with his grandfather and was a crack shot with a rifle. Lying motionless among his dead comrades in the battle of Stalingrad, Law uses his rifle skills to pick off Nazi officers at a distance during the battle. He actually gets pretty good at it.

It’s an amazing story but then another layer is added. A fledgling writer of propaganda for the Communists finds out about Jude Law’s beginnings of success. And it’s not just the battle in Stalingrad they’re losing; the whole Russian nation is utterly defeated and afraid spiritually at that time. They need heroes. They need to hear about a victory. So the writer begins to write up what the young sniper is doing to turn the battle at least somewhat towards the favor of Russia. And soon the nation is taking heart as they hear of a common soldier picking off the Nazi officers in the battle there.

trojan horseIt’s not meant to be a parable but today it became like a parable to me. “The enemy at the gate.” How many times have we heard something like that in reference to the current refugee crisis in Europe? “They are sent here to invade us, to defeat us! They are the very forces of Satan, every last one of them! It’s a Trojan Horse. We’re doomed; it’s the end of civilization! The enemy at the gate!

Pardon me but that’s a lot of hooey. It’s sensationalist propaganda from folks often not even from Europe who have a political agenda. I’ve written about this in “Merkel’s Call” and “Come, I Will Send You”. I will send you 1 flatBut right or wrong, many millions of people are very afraid, just as the Russians were over 70 years ago. Back then, just a tiny handful of sharp shooters had a major hand in turning a loosing battle into a victory, rather like the British aviators did in the Battle of Britain.

Is there any parallel to this today? Well, first, we aren’t talking about sharp shooters, airplane battles in the sky and killing people. And we’re not talking about Nazis battling Communists. crowd scene trainWe’re talking about millions of poor souls who’ve had it so bad in their home countries that they’ve risked their lives to cross land and sea, hoping to find refuge in Europe. What can any of us do? I’ve been with these people personally several times recently; here’s a post about when I was on the Macedonian border with them a few weeks ago, called “Encountering Refugees”.

In this case, I think what Angela Merkel has said is just incredible. She’s said her people should show kindness, hospitality and love to these refugees.refugees at tables And some are doing that, I met and worked with them last month; this is what I wrote about in “German Refugee Camp”.

How can those so many view as “enemies at the gate” be met today? By snipers? If you’re a Christian, what’s your greatest “weapon”? It’s love. Wouldn’t that shock and invigorate Christendom if a few brave souls plunged into the events of today and found that these “enemies”, many of them at least, turned out to be our friends? Turned out to want what we have? Not just the material wealth of the West but the truth that the West was founded on long ago? That the Love of God in Jesus was and is all that it’s said to be. That might alter the mood of whole nations to hear some good stories of the love of God and the love of our neighbors actually wining out over the hatred and fears we’ve been taught. That’s what I was personally seeing and experiencing last month at the refugee camp I was in in Germany.

“Mark, do you really believe that? Do you think love is going to win out in all this and that everyone will put down their antagonism and love one another? Come on; get real!”

Maybe not; maybe all of Europe is not going to come around to love and accept this flood of refugees. And probably not all of them are going to be humble and thankful for the help they are receiving.

But I know some will. Some will find that there are good and kind Europeans, even ones who come with the love they have from God. And there will be changes of minds and hearts; there will be miracles of love because that’s happening already. For some, this is their hour. How it all will play out, I don’t know. But if ever there was a time for Christians in Europe to show love to those who need it so much, now’s the time.

In Stalingrad, it only took a few. But it changed the course of history and invigorated the Russian nation. May God in heaven today find those in these times who will answer His call in this hour and turn this crisis into a mighty victory of His love and truth.