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.

Merkel’s Call

Angela MerkelAccording to my German friends, the Prime Minister of German, Angela Merkel, was asked the other day by reporters about what horrors would come from the influx of people from the Middle East into Germany and Europe. What I’ve been told is that the Prime Minister replied that the people of Germany should get out their Bibles and share their faith with the refugees coming to (at least nominally, somewhat) Christian Europe.

How can you respond to that? Stunned silence? Probably that was the response of a number of people there. But someone should have jumped up on a chair and yelled, “Give that woman a cigar!” putin and text flatMaybe you’re not from Europe and don’t have the perspective to realize how unusual that is, at least in my opinion, to be coming from the leader of the most powerful country in Western Europe.

Of course she’s totally right. I certainly think so. It’s kind of like stating the obvious. But it also sadly reminds me of a Bible verse I read shortly after I became a Christian that seemed to sum up what my life had been like for years before I had the stunning experiences that brought me out of my unbelief.

Psalm 10:4b says “God is not in all his thoughts.” That was how I was for years; any thought about God never entered my mind. And sadly it seems that for many west Europeans, they’ve been in that condition for decades. God has not been in all their thoughts. That’s why it’s been called “Post Christian Europe”.

So it’s against that backdrop that Angela Merkel has called for Christians to get out their Bibles in response to the challenge of Islam that’s come with the influx of refugees. But, here’s something else I didn’t know till yesterday. Angela Merkel, who’s originally from what was Communist East Germany, is the daughter of a Christian pastor. And if you’re the daughter of a Christian pastor during the time of Communism in East Germany, then your faith in God and in Christ was not something cheap or frivolous. It cost something to have faith in God in those times. And it especially cost something to be a pastor there.

But of course the question is, will anyone respond to Merkel’s call? I’m sure some will. A few dozen, a few hundred even. Maybe more? Actually, you’d be surprised. God can do, and has done in the past, some real miracles with even a few dozen or a few hundred. not limited w text flatJonathan and his armor bearer took initiative against the greater Philistine forces and were the initiators of a great victory for the people of the God of Abraham. Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few.” (I Samuel 14:6)

But, honestly, I’d like to interject here that I don’t even like to begin to use any terminology on this subject that is infused with terms of battles and wars. The whole sad story of current events now with these poor people is so drenched in terms of conflict. Also history itself is packed with the terminology of the Crusades and all those wars so that it really colors the whole dialog on Christian-Muslim experience. As a Christian, I find that thinking of “fields”, of “sowing” and “seeds” is much closer to the words of Jesus than all our analogies of warfare and victory, even if we know we’re speaking spiritually.

lift up your eyes with text flatIt says of Jesus, “When He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them, for they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep, having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) Then He turned to His disciples and said to them, “The harvest truly is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray, therefore, that the Lord of the harvest will send forth laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:37 & 38) At another time in another place, He said to His disciples, “Do you not say that in four months will be the harvest? I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.”  (John 4:35) And of course we all know that in those times, Jesus was not talking about wheat, barley and rye. He was talking about the harvest of souls that were fainting and scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. He was talking about a harvest of human souls that was already “white unto harvest”.

refugee in fieldIt may very well be, and I am convinced that it’s true, that this migration of people out of the Middle East into west Europe is an unprecedented opportunity. The Christians of Europe can get out their Bibles and their tracts, fill their hearts with the love of God and go out to meet these ones who have come here. One time Jesus said, “Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in, that My house may be full.” (Luke 14:23) And that’s literally where thousands of these people from the Middle East are now, in the highways, hedges and open fields of Europe as they trudge north to try to find peace.

Boy, that would be news, wouldn’t it? If bands of Christians rose to this occasion and “let their light shine before men“? (Matthew 5:16) Do you think God would be with Christians who went out to share His love with these ones? So the question seems to be, “Who will answer Merkel’s call?”

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 4) The Last Night

fellowship second photo A croppedThe last afternoon with my Christian friends at the east Europe get together was spent in a prayer meeting and heart sharing. I talked with them about things that I’ve needed to ask prayer for a long time. It was emotional for me. I said things I haven’t said to almost anyone for years. I was desperate for their prayers and for His grace. Perhaps it’s like the verse, “Bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ”. (Galatians 6:2)

Later a young east European man came up to me and asked if we could talk. Actually I’d shared a room with him the night before in the inn/hotel where the fellowship was being held. But he’d come in late and we hadn’t talked. He was a friend of some missionaries who’d come there and they invited him.

life over flatHe told me that, when I’d shared my heart and asked for prayer earlier in the day, it very much troubled him. He’d fought back tears because he was going through exactly the same thing. Also, because I explaned some of my background, he said what he was going through right then was identical to a crisis I experienced around his age. He was very aware that we’d ended up in the same room together and that perhaps the most difficult experience in my life, years ago, was exactly what he was going through now.

He shared that his personal life had recently been more or less destroyed by events beyond his control. He was distraught, depressed and thinking thoughts of revenge, retribution and even violence.These are emotions that many people have felt at some of the worst times of their lives.

He had been brought up a Baptist but for one reason or the other, became dissatisfied and unfulfilled there. So he’d moved away from faith, applying God’s Word in his life or going to Him in prayer, at least for the most part.

So I shared one of the most poignant verses in the Bible for ones experiencing what he was right then. Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to them who the love the Lord, to them who are called according to His purpose.” For anyone going through the life-altering crisis this young man was going through, that verse is about as essential a truth as you can find in God’s Word. Another key Bible verse I shared with him is what Joseph said to his brothers who had virtually ended his life and sold him into slavery years before, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)

I survived flatThis young man agreed with me that in a real sense, his life was over, at least most of what his life had been for the last 10 years. He was faced with two choices. He could try to hold on to what was gone, to change things that really couldn’t be changed or to get revenge for how he was wronged. That path would lead nowhere. He might end up in jail, dead or just to live the rest of his life, never recovering from this trauma and injustice he was experiencing.

Or he could call out desperately to God, embrace the truths of God’s Word and experience the Love of God that He would have for him in giving him a completely new start in life. Only God could do. Drugs and counseling could not reach the deepest place in his heart and heal and renew the deep pain and injury he was experiencing.

He was like a ship that had been torpedoed, a computer whose hard drive had crashed. But I could tell him from my own experience that this was something he could survive. “With man, it is impossible. But not with God, for with God, all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)

Perhaps the best thing was that he was really listening. He began to have hope that he’d not had. Over the 2 hours we talked, his whole “countenance”, the look on his face gradually changed from sadness and anger to one with more hope and even a smile. He did have a foundation in God’s Word. He did know the principles of God’s dealings with man, even if he’d not been applying them in his life for a while.

maybe there is hope flat-1As we searched the Word together and talked into the evening, it was wonderful to see his mind come around towards the things of the Lord and to begin to have a vision where there had not been one, to have a healthy view of the future where there had only been hopelessness and temptations to violence.

It’s like the verse, “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace”. (Romans 8:6) As we talked of the things of the Lord, the atmosphere just changed. The seed of God’s Word was falling on good ground. Or perhaps the Lord had to “break the rock in pieces” (Jeremiah 23:29) and root out the weeds of his life so that He Himself could give this man a new start, on the ruins of his former life. This dramatic event could actually be a new beginning for a new life for him, better than he’d ever known before,

I told him it would take time, years probably for this all to fully be in his past. There would be temptations every day to look back to what he had, how he’d been wronged, how much it all hurt. But that if he truly held on to the Lord like he had never done before, this all could be the beginning of something better than he’d ever experienced before.

So it turned into a wonderful evening and a wonderful day. It was a blessing for me to able to share my experiences with this new friend and to be, in a sense, living proof that what sometimes looks like “the end” can turn out to be just “a bend in the road” , if we keep holding on to Him.

At the Camp of the Saints (part 3) Sammy’s story

fellowship third photo croppedAnother fascinating person I met at this east European fellowship was a young man from these parts. Sharp looking guy, bright smile, but probably the first thing you’d notice is that he is around 4’ 8” tall (about 1.42 meters). I learned later that he was born partially blind and deaf.  But a hearing aid and an eye operation 5 years ago have made that side of his life better.

He shared his life story with all of us one night and it was touching and amazing. He wasn’t totally an orphan as he had his mom but Sammy was placed in an institution for special needs children when he was very young. He grew up there and, as you may know, this is not usually a happy, healthy place. And in parts of eastern Europe, these places are sad, gloomy places with often somewhat extremely poor conditions physically.

When he was 9, a young east European missionary woman came to his institution to do activities and have stories with the young people there. Sammy was especially drawn to her and they began a friendship that went on for years. She led him to Jesus and ministered to him spiritually as well as helping with his speech which had been slow since he didn’t hear well.dear Jesus flat From what I understand, Sammy was soon sharing the Bible stories he’d heard with other kids in the institution.

But then one day, unannounced, the missionary woman stopped coming to visit. She kept writing him regularly for the next years. But he never got the letters because of jealous people at the school who didn’t pass them on. Nine years later, when he was 18, his missionary friend came back. Of course this was a joyous time and also he found out she’d been writing him all that time.

Rom special needs schoolIn the past, the conditions in special needs schools and orphanages in this part of the world were very dire. But it’s getting better now.

During the years he was growing up and his missionary friend was not there, he had held on to his faith the best he could. But it wasn’t easy. He found some fellowship in local churches but this at times was a mixed blessing. For example he was told that his praying to Jesus would not do. He had to pray to “the Lord”. Things like that. I’m leaving out a lot of details in order to not make this long. But you get the picture that he had a very rough upbringing, both as a virtually orphan and also a special needs person.

I guess a verse that comes to mind for this dear brother is “that on the good ground are those who, in an honest and good heart, having heard the Word, keep it, and bring forth fruit.” (Luke 8:15) I’ve been struck by how much he has “kept” the truth that’s come his way, even if it came sporadically and often tainted and faint through some of the channels and ways it came to him. But he “kept all these things and pondered them in his heart.” (Luke 2:19)

And now that he’s an adult, can you figure out what he has done with his life? “We comfort others with the comfort we ourselves are comforted with.” (II Corinthians 1:4) He was prayed for and loved and taught by a missionary when he was young and growing up.praying-1 Now as an adult he feels he wants to do the same thing. He’s recently graduated from university with a degree in special education. He’s seen that he has a place of service right where he grew up, with the same kind of people and situation he’s come from, ministering to the young people in his city who come from the same background he came from.

He’s been through it himself and survived so he can be an example to others of growing up to be something of value and victory. And through all this, it’s the light and love of the Lord that’s been the deciding factor time and time again. Plus the love of a local national missionary who never gave up on him. The kids he ministers to often want him to come home with them when they go home so that he can meet their parents.

When he was sharing his story that night, I got a verse for him or that fit for him. “The people which sat in darkness have seen a great light and to them who dwell in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up.” (Mark 4:16, Isaiah 9:2) He’s become the Lord’s light to some people who really often dwell in severe darkness. Then later when he was sharing how he had struggled to speak properly when he was growing up because of his hearing problems, another verse popped into my mind for him. Paul said about himself when speaking to the Corinthians. “For his letters say they are weighty and heavy, but his bodily presence is weak and his speech contemptible.” (II Corinthians 10:10) Dear Sammy has a somewhat weak physical presence. But his spirit and heart have become strong through the Lord and he’s a strong and bright witness and blessing in his part of the world.

 

“I have seen the affliction of My people. Come, I will send you.”

refugees 2If there is anything that should mark a person with faith in God, it should be love. “God is love.” (I John 4:8) and if you know and believe in God, that nature and essence of love should dwell in you too. It says of Jesus, “When He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them, for they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36) And let’s face it, that scenario is playing out before our eyes this very day here in Europe as unprecedented waves of displaced migrants sojourn across mountains and borders in whatever way they can to reach what they hope will be safer lands than the ones they come from.

I will send you 1 flatOver 3000 years ago, God spoke to an 80 year old shepherd who’d lived in a desert for 40 years, “I have seen the affliction of My people. Come now, I will send you.” (Exodus 3:7 &10) God didn’t send angels to deliver His people from their severe affliction. He called one of us, a flesh and blood human to be His instrument. And that man responded to the call, howbeit with some questions, with some trepidation. But it resulted in the freeing of the Hebrews from their affliction, one of the mightiest works in history where God and man worked together to “set the captives free”. (Luke 4:18)

But sadly it’s perhaps more common in history what was said 1000 years later. Speaking to those who observed the desolation of Jerusalem by Babylon, Lamentations 1:12 says, “Is it nothing to all you who pass by?” Foreigners passed by the destruction of the Hebrews and it meant nothing to them. Rather like the Pharisees who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10:31 & 32) when they saw the beaten man on the road to Jericho. But the Good Samaritan stopped to help and he’s been remembered for his kind deed ever since.

good samaritan 1Are there any good Samaritans today? Or will the people of our generation just “pass by on the other side”? This is one of the things that drove me to visit the Syrian border that I wrote about a few months ago in “Visiting Syria”. Now I’ve moved back in Europe, for a number of reasons. But one of them is to try to do what I can in this historic and heartbreaking time.

Jesus said of one woman, “She has done what she could.” (Mark 14:8)  I can tell you with joy that I know already of some friends, people of faith, who are beginning to do what they can here in Europe. I have a friend in Sweden who’s taken the initiative to start passing out tracts to refugees who’ve come to that country. Another long time friend in Austria is now doing the same thing with her husband. Others I met recently from Berlin, as well as friends in Hungary, are stirred in their hearts to take action there at this time. We can’t just pass by the man on the road to Jericho. Paul said, “The love of Christ constrains us.” (II Corinthians 5:14)

But you can think or even say, like they did long ago to Jesus, “What are these among so many?”  (John 6:9) There was a multitude to be feed but they only had five loaves and two small fishes. So they said, “What are these among so many?” Well, in that case, the Lord multiplied those loaves and fishes and fed the multitude.

Conversation between 2 flatToday, what difference will it make if a few dear souls, scattered out around Europe, go out to visit refugee camps to help in what way they can and to also share the hope of the Gospel with those people? Well, it’s a start. They’ll help someone today if they do that. They won’t turn the tide and solve the problem. But they’ll help someone today. And they will be obeying God and His admonition and commandments that are the foundation of the Old and New Testament: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. (Mark 12:31)

And who knows? Maybe the efforts of those few will inspire others. Maybe they’ll be so blessed by God for doing what they can that others will catch the vision. Maybe they’ll start communicating among themselves, sharing how things have gone in their witnessing, what’s working in these situations and what isn’t. Maybe this is one of the most golden opportunities in our generation to share the love of God with folks we’d never be able to be in contact with any other way.

Esther flatSo I’ve been happy to hear from friends around Europe in this first month I’ve been back here that, for many, their hearts are being touched by God in this time. They feel, like it was said of Esther of old, “You are come into the kingdom for such a time as this.” (Ester 4:14)  This may be the time when the grace and calling they’ve had in their lives comes to the fore more than ever before, when they are the instruments of God’s peace to reach a people who could have never been reached any other way. At a gathering of east European Christians I was at last week, this was a subject that many felt strongly about.

For some, this may be their finest hour. But many are saying what a horrible time this is, what a danger, what a conspiracy, what a doom. But perhaps in God’s eyes, for some of His people, this is an opportunity that’s never happened before to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

What Jesus said 2000 years ago to the believers is still true, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14) . But He has no hands but your hands, He has no voice but your voice, He has no feet but your feet in this day and age. Jesus said to His disciples during a very rough time when so many were leaving Him, “Will you also go away?” And Peter said, “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:67 & 68)

Except perhaps today, these pitiful multitudes coming to Europe will say to the Christians here, “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” May the mighty God of Abraham stir up His saints to rise to this occasion and pour forth His love and truth to these multitudes, coming to the shores and lands of Europe.

(I’d like to hear from Christians in Europe who’ve been moved by God to “do what you can”. Have you found some way to help and even to bring the truth of His love to these ones pouring into this part of the world? If so and you have time, please send me a note about it. Thanks.)