German Awakening

young christiansI’m in northern Germany and for the last few days I’ve been going to a church that’s primarily filled with young people. I had read about what’s called the German awakening and how that there’s been something like a “revival” among this present generation of young Germans. I was interested as I’ve lived off and on in Europe for many years and I think most people who know about things there would agree that “post Christian” is a pretty good label for modern northern and western Europe.

Last night I was several times sitting at tables where everyone but me was 18 to 25 years old and most of them have been Christians for 2 or 3 years. One young woman from southern Germany told me she’s been a Christian since August. I’m being kind of factual here but leaving out the emotions I was feeling from being with these ones. I guess I just never thought I’d see the day when something like this happened in these parts. I was amazed at them and told them so and they were amazed at me. I told them I’ve been a missionary basically all my adult life and have aimed to live the life, not just of a passive, rock-along Christian, but of a disciple. This resonated with them as they too don’t want a compromised, milk-and-water Christianity but a real strong dose. And they just kept asking questions. Even when things got quiet, nobody got up to leave. I could just feel them pulling on me and that I needed to keep sharing things with them.

Some of them witness. It seems to be natural and spontaneous for them, not necessarily something being pushed to do by others. I told them about my experiences with sharing my faith, how very much the Lord blesses it and will use anyone who steps out to serve Him this way.

passing tracts-2One woman told me of a moment when she was passing out tracts at a bus stop. And instead of encountering resistance, it was like everyone was taking the tracts enthusiastically and encouraging her to share them with their friends. Again, having lived off and on in these parts for decades, I was just flabbergasted to hear this. In the 90’s in east Europe this kind of thing happened, but in Germany? It’s new to me.

And I told them about the many experiences I had when I was there age, witnessing on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, Piccadilly Circus in London or Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Often my friends and I would meet people who were planning to commit suicide that day. Or they were on their way to shoot someone who had tricked them in a drug deal. Or they’d just run away from home or gotten beaten up by a relative. And it’s not like things are better today than when I was their age. So I told them that God needed them to share their faith with the people of their generation, that God was doing something special in awakening the hearts of people here.

I asked one of them why she thought this was happening here now. She said that for her and her friends, things were just very fluid and unstable now. She said they don’t have the confidence in society and their country that former generations had and that many are looking for deeper answers and eternal truths. It sounded so much like what people said when I was their age and how things were in the tempestuous times I grew up in. So many back then came out of fully secular backgrounds into a strong faith in Jesus that totally changed their lives. That’s what I was seeing and hearing last night from the many I talked with.

Christian on guitarAnd it’s not easy to just walk away from this. I’m taking the little time I have here to talk to ones I know in the area. I hope to do whatever I can to encourage, inspire and instill in them the vision to make the very most of this unusually stirring of hearts in this part of the world to again look to God and Jesus as solution in this time of turmoil. It’s yet again another example of “the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few“. (Matthew 9:37)

The thing is, most of the folks I know are actually trained laborers for the Lord, not just nominal Christians. So I’ve been as importune as I feel I can be without overdoing it that they feed these young people coming to the Lord and to also spend time out witnessing and reaching the lost at this time. And the good news is that most of the ones I know here are totally on fire about what the Lord is doing now and are looking for where they can use their background to be fully involved in this formerly barren land that’s turning into a fruitful field.

Times like this don’t last forever and they don’t come along very often. Please pray with me that the laborers for the Lord in this part of the world will rise to the occasion and be what the Lord needs them to be in this springtime of the Spirit in Germany.

 

Encountering Refugees

crowd scene trainYesterday I had one of the most interesting experiences I’ve had in many years. I spent the day on the border between Macedonia and Serbia, working with friends who minister to many hundreds of refugees from the Middle East. They disembark at a train stop there before walking the two kilometers from Macedonia to Serbia where they’re able to take another train on north towards what they hope will be the safety and hospitality of Germany or other places in Western Europe.

dad and sonThis is a true phenomenon of our times, an exodus and migration unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. As you may know, I’ve written repeatedly about this and about these Islamic people. So to actually be in the midst of it all, to meet individuals who 10 days ago were in their home cities of Idleb or Damascus, Syria, or some who were from Afghanistan, was a remarkable experiences and very moving.

But even more, it was a thrill to be able to pass on to these dear ones some portions of the Bible in their language which they could take with them on their journey, to read, study and perhaps share with their friends and family. I was outside all day and it was below freezing the whole time. But I’ve seldom had a time in recent years when, at the end of the day, I felt happier and more fulfilled than yesterday.

me at transit center

The refugees walk up the path behind me 2 kilometers to Serbia.

The experience reminded me of when I was in Aceh province, Indonesia in the immediate aftermath of the Asian tsunami which happened 11 years ago this week. I wrote about that here. Back then, four of us were able to travel to that remote province a week after the tsunami and to work in refugee camps there. Yesterday I saw again many of the same NGO’s and UN agencies that I’d first met there. The  UNHCR has a major presence at this railroad siding where all these multitudes came to, the Mercy Corp has a presence, SOS Children, as well as of course the Macedonian government’s involvement.

An Afghan man I talked with

There’s a whole aspect in these situations that’s interesting from almost a secular, sociological view. How does this all get organized, who shows up to help, what are the folks like who come out  to stand in the freezing cold while they wait for the trains to pull in? Who cleans up the mess, what kind of security is needed, how dangerous is it, are the refugees thankful or belligerent?

And for ones like me and my friends, there’s an additional purpose and vision to it all. As I’ve written about, I feel this is an opportunity presented to us from God to share His truths with these ones. That can be controversial. But then the whole injunction from Jesus in the New Testament to share His love and truth “in all the world and to every creature”  (Mark 16:15) is bitterly opposed by millions of people. Nevertheless, we who believe in Him are called to actively share our faith and this was possible for me yesterday in wonderful ways.

I went there with friends who regularly go there and other places to minister to these people in ways they can. They and other groups who go there offer clothes, bread, hot soup and tea, directions, access to the internet, and overnight accommodations in temporary housing constructed there in some cases. And, yes, the refugees are thankful. I hope the pictures I took there yesterday will give you a firsthand impression of what it was like. The  expression on their faces really can tell you a lot as they leave the train and mill about on the sidings, trying to understand what was going on, what was available to them right then and what the next step would be.

I had brought with me copies of the Gospel of Luke in Arabic. It turned out that, after counseling with friends, I began to move about in the crowd, just engaging in conversations as best as I could. Many spoke English. I was glad to find how many of them were from Syria, I’d say that was the largest group. The second largest group was people from Afghanistan.

more women and childrenTrying to get my signals from the Lord, after talking a little with ones I would meet, I’d pull out a copy of the Gospel of Luke in Arabic and say that I had something I wanted to share with them. No one turned it down. Almost everyone immediately recognized what it was and began looking through the pages. With the Syrians, I told them that 6 months ago I was on their border, in the city of Reyhanli. I wrote about that experience in “Visiting Syria”. Some of them came from just across the border, some 30 kilometers from where I was in March.

One group of Syrians I talked with were Christians. They all had Christian names; perhaps there were 20 men, women and children traveling together. The man I first spoke to asked me, very humble and sincerely, why Americans didn’t like Syrians. I wasn’t stunned by the question but it was difficult.

little girl standingSo I told him that it was a combination of many things. For one, I told him, not all Americans are like that but some are. Partly it’s legitimate fear of the tiny minority of Middle Eastern people who’ve chosen to attack the West. But also, I told him that these fears were greatly enhanced by propaganda and media sensationalism, as well as nationalism and even racism.

All in all it was an amazing day to be one-on-one with these people and as well to be there as an ambassador of the Lord. To share His love and truth with some of the most needy, desperate people in the world at this time is about as good as it gets.

 

They that be with us…

Elisha 1Elisha and his helper were surrounded by the forces of the enemy. It could have hardly looked more dire. But then that crazy prophet told his helper to look up, that “They that be with us are more than they that be with them”. (II Kings 6:16)

“What are you talking about Elisha?! We’re surrounded by our enemies!”

Elisha 2But as the young man looked up, he caught sight of the spiritual realities around him and saw the host of heaven that were with him and Elisha at the moment. And as it turned out, he and Elisha were saved from that situation.

This morning, after hearing of the tragic mass shooting in Paris, France last night, I thought of this verse and these events recorded in the Bible. They that be with us are more than they that be with them. But it was with a different thought to it. I thought of the millions, tens of millions, perhaps hundreds of millions of Christians in Europe and in the West right now, the multitude of people who to one degree or another think of themselves as Christians or believers in God.

fear them not-3- flattenedIf 5% of those people, or even better, 10% or 20% of those people determined in their hearts that they were going to not let fear conquer them but that they were going to turn from religious spectators to Christian disciples and activists, think of the multitude who would begin to get actively involved in reaching out to the multitude of souls recently come to the West from the Middle East.

Right now the people of the West are being inundated with fear. And they’re further immobilized by a lack of vision and initiative to know how to respond to this new development in these nations. But just think how it would be if there was a groundswell of individual Christian initiative to share the Love of Christ with these ones coming here. Just imagine how it would be if millions of somnolent Christians awoke and began to share their faith with those around them, Muslims or otherwise.

They are coming as refugees to Christian lands. Their own nations are so volatile and often collapsed that they travel overland to find some place to live. And yet we fear them? What a pitiful testimony of the spiritual condition of Western Christendom that so many are so weak, unprepared, untrained, un-envisioned to see this incredible hour of opportunity.

That’s what it is. I don’t know if this will happen. But I believe it could happen if someone will challenge the Christians of the West to fight back against… not the Muslims but their own fears and their often-weakened Christian condition that’s prevailed for so many decades in much of Europe. Just think how it would be if multitudes of Christians at the grass roots level across Europe said to themselves,

“OK, this is it. God needs me right now to actively live for Him like I never have before. I need to know what I can do. How can I get involved? How can I love these people with His love, to show them I care about them and that the things of Jesus are real and true?”

I’ve heard it said many times about Muslims, “They don’t want to know about Christianity. But often they do want to know about Jesus”. So how can the people of Jesus individually engage with individuals who’ve come here as refugees? This is where and how things can change, not with politics or police or governments but with the people of Christ being more alive than they have been in generations so that each one can do what they can.

And each one actually can do a lot. They first can determine to do so. They can pray heartily to God to lead them in their local situation to find out what they can do. They can work with others who are similarly minded.

Conversation between 2 flatTalk with refugees. Get to know individuals. Invite them to dinner or have dinner with them. Get over the stereotypes and get to know individuals. It will probably challenge your faith. They may have questions you don’t immediately have answers for. You may have to search the Scriptures or ask help of others.

But if this was happening on a grand scale across Europe and the West, I’m just convinced that the “polarity” of all this would change. God would just bless it. Lives would be drastically changed. This is the essence of how the world came to Christ in the first centuries. And if we even marginally made the same efforts again, then we would see results in the way of changed lives that would leave us speechless.

They that be with us are more than they that be with them. Doubtless the mighty God of Abraham is ready to help, aid, empower and bless those who stand up for Him in this hour of need. All He needs is us. Oh, pray that there will be ones who decide to do what they can to turn the tide in these amazing times. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:18)

Witnessing 101

all the world flatIf you don’t even know you’re supposed to do something, how can you be taught to do it? So in talking about witnessing, first a foundation should be laid from the Word that this is something we’re supposed to do.

Because, folks, let me tell ‘ya, the Devil does NOT want you to be a witness. He may not have been able to stop you from being a Christian. But if he can corral you into being a fruitless, impotent, timid, unknowledgeable Christian, then he’ll be pretty satisfied with the results. And let’s face it. That’s the condition of many Christians today.

be witnesses flatIs it their fault? The fault of their pastors? Their denominations? Let’s don’t go there. Let’s dig into the foundation of Christ’s teaching to His disciples about witnessing and see what He taught. I may share some key Bible verses from Jesus on this subject and perhaps some of the classic examples of excuses that our own lazy, indolent hearts will come up with to block the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

After His resurrection Jesus told His disciples, “You shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you and you shall be witnesses unto me, both in Jerusalem, …and unto the uttermost parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

But Mark…

That was for back then. My pastor never taught us that. My denomination doesn’t believe in that. Who am I, Mark? We’re not Peter, James and John, Mark! That was for them back then! That’s only for the very called and special people, not just for us all. I don’t know how to witness. What if they ask me a question and I don’t know the answer? Etc, etc.

Sound familiar? Let’s get back to Jesus. In John 15, He said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. He that abides in Me and I in Him, the same shall bring forth much fruit.” (John 15:5)

Mark! That’s the fruit of the Spirit! Love, joy and peace, Mark! I do that already, Mark.

Well, no, Jesus wasn’t talking about the fruit of the Spirit there; you’re mixing that up with what Paul talked about in Galatians 3.stands at the door flat The fruit of an apple tree is apples; you’re “fruit” is your kids and the fruit of a Christian is another Christian. “Herein is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit, so shall you be My disciples”, Jesus said. (John 15:8) There are many verses like this in the gospels. But another one that couldn’t be plainer is when Jesus said to His disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

But Mark…

We aren’t all preachers. You have to go to seminary to be able to do that and it takes years of knowledge and experiences to be ready to preach. That’s what we pay the preacher for, Mark. To preach. So if we feel like it and something really out of the ordinary happens, we might take some friend to church and the preacher will witness to them. That’s not our job, Mark

Admittedly that’s how it is in most places nowadays. But from the beginning, these things were not so. Christianity didn’t spread like wildfire throughout the world in the first centuries after Christ by it being limited to only a tiny handful being allowed to share it with others. Everybody witnessed.behold these Christians flat They were so enraptured with the love of God and excited about their salvation that it just gushed out of them and soon most of the known world of that day knew the truth of Jesus. Places like southern Scotland, the east coast of India and inland China had Christian communities within the first 100 years after the resurrection. Those folks spread the Word.

But today? Well, there’s a little. Some are doing it. But the vast majority are inoculated against sharing their faith with the unsaved. They don’t even know they should. They’ll appropriate John 3:16 to themselves, the 23td Psalm and other comforting verses that they can rest their salvation and their relationship with the Lord on. But the challenges and commandments of the Lord to the first disciples to make it their commission, calling and direct orders from Him to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creation, nope, that bunch of verses is not something they’re taught to take personally.

It doesn’t matter whose fault it is. It’s just vital to individuals and the body of Christ in these times that Christians take that charge and commission from the Lord back then to His disciples of those times just as seriously as we do the promises of salvation and eternal life.

This is not some heavy yoke that’s designed to take away your joy and burden you with some dreadful responsibility. I can tell you that some of the greatest joys I’ve ever experienced have been in witnessing and wining souls into His kingdom. look whos here flatThere’s joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” (Luke 15:10) And for those who are involved with His sowing and harvest, He brings a rejoicing as well as a strengthening to your heart that is mostly unknown by non-witnessing Christians. Hopefully I’ll write more soon, not only about our responsibility to witness but also some about how to go about it.

 

Musings on our darkened times

times are rough flatI’ve just been thinking about things, about the big picture, where things are going, how things are going. And I mean this not only for myself but for our world as it is right now and the saints of God, the world-wide “body of Christ”, as it is called within Christian circles.

It’s just very easy to get discouraged with the way things are now, the killings, the hatred, the fear, the division, the extremism and the lowering of public discussions so often to raging ignorance, a fact-less truth-less cacophony of darkened confusion. “Truth is perished.” (Jeremiah 7:28) Indeed.

John KennedyCan any of us do anything?  I grew up wanting to be a politician. This was back when there still were some role model politicians around. I think my motive was not to accrue power but to try to help people and make a better world. But experiences on my campus at university and also working in the newsroom of a large city newspaper showed me that politics is not an avenue to get at the root of the problems of individuals or societies.

Then, as my life deteriorated rapidly, along came Jesus. Actually it was God that came along first but you know how it is, They work together. And things changed so immensely and utterly for me that it’s hard to know what to emphasis in it all. But one of the most important things was that I’d found the truth I was searching for. It was the full package, the whole download. My “hard drive” had been formatted and I had an utterly new “operating system”.

But I soon noticed and knew that I wasn’t the only one with some variation of this operating system. “Christianity”, in one form or other, had been around a long time and I grew up around folks who considered themselves Christians. [I’m building up to something here, sorry it’s taking me a while.]

While so much of the basics of my new found faith in God and in Jesus were the same as the Christians I’d grown up around, there were definitely some things that were different. If I was to boil it down to two things, I’d say it could be called “discipleship” and “witnessing”. Now decades later, I look at those two things as still defining difference-makers in my life and also what could be the defining difference makers in society today.

gun & Bible pictureChristianity in some ways has come a long way from when I was in university. But then, so has the world at large and the minions of Satan have not been on vacation either. And maybe this is where the rubber meets the road. What can we do? Should we really, like top Christians leaders in the USA have called for in the last few days, all become fully armed with handguns and lethal weapons as a response to the times we live in? Is that the message of Christ from the throne of God to His people on earth? I don’t think so.

“OK, Mark, what is the answer?”

Discipleship and witnessing.

“Mark, we already know that!”

Well, if every any group of people needs to double down on what they think they already know, it’s right now with Christians concerning their discipleship and witnessing. The somewhat good news is that a lot of Christians over the last years have realized more and more that their level of discipleship (what there is of it), is woefully lacking. As multitudes of people fall away, the believers that remain are coming to know they need a stronger brew of faith than the Lite-beer variety that’s been the staple and trademark of modern Christianity. There may be fewer Christians now than in times past. But a lot of the ones remaining are realizing that yesterday’s discipleship was a façade and they have to get much more serious about their life for the Lord. Some are.

But what about witnessing? I don’t have good news on this front. I’m sure there are some folks somewhere who are doing this. But from what I’ve seen and experienced, the basic aspect of Christian witnessing has been mostly expunged from modern Christian teaching. It’s not emphasized. It’s not taught. Rank and file Christians know little or nothing about witnessing and winning souls and they’re not taught to do so from the pulpit. “My brethren, these things ought not so to be.” (James 3:10) To say the least.

When some family from the Middle East moves into their neighborhood, what are most modern Christians encouraged to do from so many quarters? “LOCK AND LOAD!”  share me flatAnd some day those Christians are going to be at the judgment seat of Christ and He will not ask them if they locked and loaded their semi-automatic weapons when those foreign people came into their lives. He will ask them if they shared His love with them. That’s just how seriously messed up things are right now.

So, pray for me. Pray that I’ll write more about witnessing. Witnessing’s been part of my heartbeat as a Christian since I was 21. It’s supposed to be for all Christians. It’s like if some major files were deleted from your operating system. The programming of your Christian experience is severely incomplete and you’re not equipped to run as a fully functional Christian. It’s that bad. And this affects not only your life; it affects how we, His people, can make a difference in this world as He called us and commanded us to do.

The God of Abraham

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

Abraham for blog post

Abraham, Sara and baby Isaac 2000 BC

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

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

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

Ancient of Days for blog post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Acts 26 Live Class Audio

Appeal to ceasar flatAt the beginning of our live class on Acts 26, we were looking at the chapter before when Paul had to think and pray fast when he was asked if he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be judged there. Paul knew with virtual certainty that he’d be killed along the way if he went back to Jerusalem. So, to get out of that desperate situation, he said, “I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11), rather like ones nowadays can appeal to the highest presiding court. And since he was a Roman citizen, he had the right to appeal to Caesar in Rome.The live class audio on Acts 26 can be heard here.

And we talked about destiny and how some things just are evidently “ordained”. This was in relation to how the prophet Agabus had told Paul much earlier, in warning him not to go to Jerusalem, that he would be delivered to the gentiles.

So I told a testimony about a time years ago when I was in Romania and how destiny seemed to get involved in my life. I was single and was getting close to a Romanian Christian sister. I liked her, she liked me, everyone was telling me how great this was and things seemed to really be moving a direction.

Going to Russia flatBut then, when I checked in with the Lord about it, He kind of startlingly reminded me that He’d already told me a year or two before that I was going to go to Russia. I’ll admit this wasn’t what I wanted to hear from the Lord. At the time I had no “burden” for Russia, I didn’t see anything I could do there and there were other factors that made it so that I just really was peeved that the Lord was not going along with this really good thing that was happening right then in Romania.

But as it worked out, circumstances change and as I was leaving Romania unexpectedly, I had the first of two dreams in which the Romanian Christian sister I was close to had two sons who were not by me. Sure ‘nuf, not long after I left the country, she fell in love with a guy I knew there and… they had two sons! And around 2 years later circumstances changed again so that I was invited to Moscow. I spent one of the toughest years of my life in that city, but also one of the most fruitful. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18) Some things at least seem to be foreknown and planned by God.

Back to the book of Acts. We talked about how King Agrippa was much more knowledgeable of Jewish affairs, his wife being Jewish and he being brought up in Israel. And this is all like Jesus had said years earlier.

You shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak for it shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak, for it is not you that speak but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you.”(Matthew 10:18-20)

Here was a perfect example and fulfillment of those words of Jesus.

So Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself” (Acts 26:1). It was a private council, it sounds like his accusers from Jerusalem where not there. And Paul told Agrippa that his accusers actually knew him well, because he came from the Jewish Pharisee hierarchy. He went on to say, as he had said at other times, that he was being accused and judged “for the hope of the promise God made to our fathers.” (Acts 26:6)

And in verse 8 Paul asks Agrippa, “Why should it be thought an incredible thing to you that God should raise the dead?” (Acts 26:8) For the Greeks and Romans, raising the dead was a new and strange idea. But for Agrippa, who knew Jewish customs and history, he would know that this was found within the history of the Jews. Paul ends up giving his testimony to Agrippa so that it is much the same story as what we read in Acts 9 where Paul’s conversion is recorded

And this chapter actually includes the words Jesus spoke to Paul in his encounter on the road to Damascus years before. Here’s a famous ringing part of Jesus’ charge to Paul, what Paul was to do with his life from them on. Not disobedient flatJesus told Paul that He was sending him to the Gentiles, “…to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” (Acts 26:18) What a charge of God that man had on his life.

Then Paul next said, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”  (Acts 26:19) God help us all to be able to say that in our own hearts with a clean conscience.

much learning flatAnd it’s a fascinating sequence of events because, after Paul has shared these things that had happened to him, Festus, not Agrippa, blurts out. “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning has made you mad!”  (Acts 26:24) Those are some nice old English terms from the King James Bible. But in our times, he would have just said, “Paul, you’ve gone crazy!”

So it’s pretty amazing. Paul had boldness but he also had humility. When Festus said that, Paul didn’t back down but neither did he get provoked. He “stuck to his guns” but with humility. What a lesson for us all. It’s another great chapter from the book of Acts, full of the jewels found in His Word. The live class audio on Acts 26 can be heard here.

Battles or Harvests, Swords or Seeds?

swords or seeds flat-2So many of us know that we need to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12). We heed the admonition to “put on the whole armor of God” (Eph. 6:11) and “war a good warfare” (I Tim. 1:18). But I know times when this analogy, that paradigm is not the best one.

I’ve written a lot recently about the current refugee crisis in Europe and the West. Many of you know that I spent years in Islamic countries and I don’t accept the hatred and fear of Muslims that’s so often heard in our times. And when I think about or write about my interaction with those people, I believe I’ve gotten a strong check from the Lord that the terms of “battle” are not the ones that should be used.

crusadorsWhy? If you know history, you’ll know that the interplay between Christianity and Islam has been fraught with conflict, almost always violent. When we in the West think of the Crusades, it brings thoughts of virtually ancient times and Catholic at that. We just don’t relate to it. But for Muslims, the history of the Crusades is almost like still a living memory. And all bad.

For me at least, and I think it’s true for many of us, I just need to draw back, way back from all this. I’m not an ethnic Christian, I’m a born again Christian. There should be no race, people or nationality that I think of as my enemy. I do want to have the attributes of a soldier of the Lord, that dedication, that sacrifice, that character. But when it comes to wining people to the Lord, approaching my interaction with lost souls is not best helped if I go at it with the mindset that I’m a solder going to defeat an enemy.

Jesus gave us a much better way of looking at this. He spoke of harvests, of sowers, reapers and vine-dressers. And I find that a much better mindset to approach all this with. Let me say it again, Muslims are not my enemy. They are individuals who need the love and truth of Jesus Christ , just as much as the Jews do or any other people on earth.

sowerJesus said something so rich and poignant in Luke 8:15. “That on the good ground are they which, in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it. And bring forth fruit unto life eternal.” That to me describes very many people who have been born into a Muslim culture and religion. Many people who minister to Muslims are finding very “good ground” among these people.

So what is needed? Sowers of the seed which “is the Word of God” (Luke 8:11).” That’s you and me. That’s our job, to be sowers. There’s no harvest without a sowing and sowers. While we hear of many Muslims coming to the Lord now, for the most part it’s more a time of planting, rather than harvesting just yet.

If you’re concerned about all that we’re told to be concerned about, and you want to know what you can do, I implore you to take on the mindset of a sower of the seeds of God. He wants His love and truth to be planted in fertile, tilled, broken ground. And many Muslims are that fertile broken ground right now.

As so often happens, we come back to the simple words of Jesus in the Gospels. multitudesThink about these verses again and keep in mind the plight and challenge of these millions of Muslims who God has allowed to come from their lands to ours.

But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them. For the fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38)

This is a whole lot more fitting an analogy to use that anything having to do with warfare right now. In the Spirit, if you can see it, this can be an incredible springtime of sowing precious seeds in a fertile field of people eager to learn of Him.

He that goes forth, weeping, bearing precious seed, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)

Obi-Wan Kenobi In His Cave

Obi WanThere he is, Obi-Wan Kenobi in his cave. Remember him? When you first saw him there in that movie, what did you think? “Hmm. Old has-been. Failure, washed up, driven into the wilderness.”

But as we watched further, we found that he was an incredible guy. He had supernatural powers. He was extremely wise but also good. He was a survivor, a warrior, a master. Maybe he was in the wilderness but he still had some life in him, some purpose, fight and even destiny ahead of him.

But I think there are a lot of Obi-Wan Kenobi’s in caves nowadays. Maybe that’s not you but on the other hand, maybe you’re one of a few I know who are. Seasoned disciples of Jesus Christ, years of Christian service in faraway lands, crowns already laid up for them in heaven from just what they’ve done with their lives already. But some are now in “caves”, for one reason or the other.

“Oh, it’s all over!” “That was then!” “I’ve made mistakes!” or “Others damaged my life.” “So I’ve retired; the war is over! God can’t really use me anymore. And besides, there’s not really anything to do anymore. Those fields are now harvested so I’m back home now and just taking it easy till I die. That may be 20 or 30 years from now. But I’ve gone as far as I want to go.”

no discharge flatObi-Wan in the cave. But along comes a new day, a new generation, a new need for Jedi masters. I’m convinced that this is the situation for perhaps quite a few people. I believe it was Solomon who wrote “There is no discharge in this war.” (Ecclesiastes 8:8) Or, another way of looking at it is what Paul said, “The gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Romans 11:29) When Obi-Wan Kenobi met Luke Skywalker, he seemed to come out of retirement. And from what I am seeing, there are a lot of Luke Skywalker Christians around nowadays who could really use some Obi-Wan Kenobi’s.

When you’ve had a call of God in your life, when God has gifted, called and trained you for His purpose, He doesn’t take that away. He needs every worker He can find. It’s another thing for those who “put their hand to the plow and look back”. (Luke 9:62) But even then some return to that plow and return to that field because they know it was “the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)

These thoughts came to me today on a phone call with some dear friends in Western Europe. They presently are very engaged in trying to do what they can to minister to the hundreds of thousands of refugees in their country. And you’d probably be surprised how well it’s going and how receptive and thankful they are finding these refugees to be. They themselves are not really physically young. But their spirits are just tingling with excitement and expectation at the amazing things that are happening where they are. They aren’t Obi-Wan Kenobi’s in caves. They are fully energized Jedi Masters for Jesus, if you know what I mean.

We talked about ones we know, folks who have incredible gifts, experiences and unquestionable callings as disciples and servants of the Lord, some of whom are not really active or engaged in the things of the Lord in the way they were before. But for many that we could think of, they seem to be like Obi-Wan Kenobi in his cave. Alone, away from the arena of Christian discipleship where they spent years. They are gifted, inspired, anointed people but many are hardly using their spiritual gifts at all anymore.

The story is told that Alexander the Great died of a broken heart because he thought there were no more worlds to conquer. Of course he’d gone so far to the east but towards the west, he had hardly ventured and it wasn’t too many more years before the Roman empire of the west conquered the Greeks.Esther flat When we think there are no more worlds to conquer, that’s not good. And when we lose the vision of God for our place and calling in this world, that’s not good.

Mordecai told Queen Esther, “You are come into the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Esther recognized the truth of this; she saw the reality of how important she was to His work. She seized her calling and crown and was the instrument God used for a mighty deliverance for her people at that time.

What can I say? God needs every one of us, but perhaps especially the ones who have served him for so many years, who ben & Luke skywalkerhave so much experience, so much they could teach and use and put to His service right now in the events we see unfolding here in Europe. Can you please pray with me that if there are any Christian “Obi-Wan Kenobi’s” who have retired to their caves, that they will hear the calling of God again and get back on the wall of His Will, to “die daily” (I Corinthians 15:31) in this incredible hour here in Europe when the need for experienced, grass roots Christian leadership in the field is very great. Thanks so much.

Catalyst

Catalyst flatAccording to the dictionary, a catalyst is (1) “a substance that increases the rate of a chemical reaction without itself undergoing any permanent chemical change” or (2) “a person or thing that precipitates an event”.

That’s what we should be, those of us who believe in and know God and Jesus. Of course it is only the Lord in us. But, then, it is the Lord in us. And He very definitely wants to change things. He wants to “increase the rate of reaction”; He wants to “precipitate events”. And if we’re moving with His Spirit within us, then we’ll be catalysts for good, in our families, in our communities and in our world. This is how it is supposed to be. This is what we are ordained, commissioned and even “predestined” to do.

hold back flatPoor Jeremiah, he knew all about this. He had been given such a powerful message of judgment to declare to the rebellious people of God of that day. But it was difficult for him and sometimes he just didn’t want to do it. In one place he said, “Then I said, ‘I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name.’ But His Word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not hold back.” (Jeremiah 20:9)

If you’re truly staying close to the Lord and wanting Him in you to have full sway in your life, there will certainly be times when He will want to move in you when you’re in some situations. Maybe it’s a “on the road to Jericho” (Luke 10:30) situation where you’re moved with compassion and just have to say or do something.

grand bazaarA strange happened to me years ago at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey when I burst into tears when I meet an Iraqi for the first time. I was surrounded by a bunch of Turkish men at the time and it was a little bit of an embarrassing moment for me. But I just knew it was the Lord in me so I didn’t quench it or hold back. I wrote a blog post about this experience called “Hawks and doves (Part 2) Istanbul, Turkey”.

We are supposed to be catalysts of change in this world. Jesus warned of “the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). But He also spoke of another kind of leaven. He said leaven is like the Kingdom of God itself. “It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.” (Luke 13:21)

And I could embarrass everyone now by asking for a show of hands of who actually knows what “leaven” is. I certainly never did until I became a Christian and read about it. Because the tradition of baking bread at home had passed out of my family several generations ago. A word we now use for “leaven” is “yeast”. And even that’s not always very well known.

Many years ago I lived with my 3 sons in Andra Pradesh, India for around 18 months. knead dougSomething my two oldest sons would do almost every day, at the ages of 10 and 11, was to make bread. And part of that was to not only knead the dough but to include a rather small amount of yeast or leaven in it. This is what makes the bread rise over a few hours. But it’s kind of interesting if you’ve never been around it, and most of us haven’t in these times, to see how this tiny little ingredient somehow has this major effect on the whole lump of bread, making it rise like that.

But it’s all a picture of how we, the people of the kingdom of God on earth at this time, should “leaven the whole lump”.  This is all a similar idea to what I wrote about a while back in “A Parable of Yogurts and Warm Milk”. Yogurt when added to milk actually works rather similarly and almost mysteriously like leaven does to bread.

The fact of the matter is, everything means something. This is what Paul meant in Romans 1 when he said, “The invisible things from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead…” (Romans 1:20) With all our technology and science in these times, it’s so easy to miss the messages all around us in His creation. And one of those messages is that we are “created for good works, which God has before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

He wants to change things. Things really, really need to be changed; most of us know and agree to that. But He doesn’t want us to just be observers. That’s what’s so sadly wrong with so many churches. “They say and do not” (Matthew 23:3). But then it’s been like that for generations and it’s very hard to change ingrained habits of inaction and trepidation. Generations ago, possibly well meaning religious leaders led the body of Christ out of the arena, off the playing field of Christian discipleship, and into the grandstands of mere Sunday church attendance. Maybe they thought everyone would be safer and more comfortable there. Sad mistake.

But just remember, if He’s in you, He wants to be allowed to use you as a catalyst, a world changer, as leaven to leaven the whole lump. God help us all to let Him do that in us, through us in the desperately darkening days we live in.