The Third Man

Harry LimeI rarely write things that are just personal, just something about my life. Tonight, late, I was on YouTube and just taking the liberty to listen to a couple of old songs from my early youth, not something I do very often at all.

So I’ll share something personal with you. Some of the more formative years of my life were spent in Vienna, Austria. Vienna just sort of sat well with me. It got to me. It rang my bell. That was about as close to east Europe as one could get back then and not be behind “the Iron Curtain.” It was very much like a central European city, not really like West Europe at all. When I first got there, I saw old women walking around with very bowed legs. I found this was the result of them living through World War II there where the hunger and rickets was so bad that they had developed bowed legs from a lack of nutrition.

prater 2And I don’t know when the movie, “The Third Man” was first happening in my life. But that movie, and particularly the music to it, just got through to me in a very deep way. It still does and I was listening to it tonight. This movie is just so uncool by modern standards it’s beyond a joke. But it’s maybe like some extremely classic car from way back that doesn’t have all the gadgets and technology that ones do now. But it has a sense of style and intrigue that is just overwhelming.

Let me place right here the link to the theme music of “The Third Man”. This song came out around 1950 (1950!). I mean, it’s like a paraphrase of what Nathaniel said in the book of John, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) The same can be said of 1950, “Can any good thing come out of 1950?!” They didn’t even have televisions back then! Maybe this music won’t get to you but it sure does to me, even now.

The director of “The Third Man”, Carol Reed heard Anton Karas playing the zither in a wine stuba, a neighborhood wine house in Vienna at the time he was making a movie of Graham Greene‘s post World War II book. There’s so very much history in all this which is now only distant water under the bridge and the long forgotten past. But Reed was haunted by this local nobody troubadour and his strange instrument he played for pocket change to Viennese provincials, sitting outside in the evenings in the post war city.

vienna nightThe movie itself is one of the most unusual and best I’ve ever seen. Black and white, no sex, virtually no violence, no real special effects and almost one of those old square screens. But the narrative, the filming, the setting and the acting just keep you hanging on the edge of your seat for the full show. Or at least it did me for me the several times I’ve seen it.

But I’ve always sort of wondered what it is since it could hardly be more basic and non-techno. The instrument, the zither, has some comparisons I guess to a guitar. But the way Anton Karas plays it is just so that he gets all over it and brings out so much that I’m sure some music aficionado could explain much better than me.

Heading out into the neighborhood, looking for adventure

I’ve wondered why that music has such an effect on me. Perhaps I heard it on the radio sometime when I was a little boy and it stuck with me, even though I don’t specifically remember it. Maybe there’s just something intrinsic and indigenous about it that’s the essence of that part of the world which the Lord called me to serve Him in for many years.

The whole thing together just really works. If you’ve never heard that music or seen that movie, I suggest you do some time. It’s like checking out a Dusenberg sedan or something else like that from a bygone era, seemingly put to shame by the marvels we experience nowadays. But every so often we find something from days of yore that still hold us in wonder and the spell they spun for their times still works well today. Try it. You might like it.

Does God have a sense of humor?

mount of transfiguration flatSo Peter, James and John walked into a bar…   No, wait, change that. Peter, James and John were on the mount of transfiguration. There was Jesus and it says “His face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” (Matthew 17:2) It says that the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah, speaking with Jesus as He was transformed like that. It’s even recorded to some degree what Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about.

Can you relate to any of this? Can you see yourself one afternoon experiencing something like that? How would you react? What would you say? Do you thing you could do the subject justice and rise to the occasion? Well, dear impulsive, impetuous Peter the fisherman, just as human as any of us, tried to do what he could. It is recorded that during this utterly unearthly scene, transfigurationpretty much evidently unique in Jesus’ ministry, that our dear Peter just had to blurt out his analysis on the whole event and chime in with his council to Jesus as He glistened there in ethereal heavenly glory before them.

Peter advised the Lord at this time, “Lord, it is good that we are here. And let us make three tabernacles, one for You one, for Moses and one for Elijah”. (Luke 9:33) And the Bible goes on to try to help us understand Peter’s dilemma at this moment, “for he knew not what to say.” (Mark 9:6) You can say that again. And what happened next? Get this. “And while they were yet speaking, a cloud overshadowed them and a Voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him.” (Luke 9: 34 &35)

I don’t know about you but I’ve almost never been able to read this without a wry smile. It’s like the very presence of God, the Father (the “Ancient of Days” of Daniel 7:13), came near to them and sweetly, to me almost humorously chided Peter, “Umm Peter, this is My Son. Hear Him.

Talk about tact. Talk about understatement. Maybe everyone didn’t chuckle but there has just got to be some humor into that. “Peter, shhssss. Just be quiet Peter. We don’t really need your suggestions right now.” But isn’t it just like almost any of us have done in some incredible moment when we don’t know what to do? So we pipe up with something that in retrospect was pretty much misplaced and virtually stupid, considering the circumstances? Could God, the Father, have been smiling and just shaking His head when He said that? I’ve always thought so.

running from Jazebel fixed-1Then there was Elijah. Having fled from Jezebel, defeated, discouraged, a shadow of the great man of God that he’d just been recently in slaying the 450 prophets of Baal, now having fled far into the wilderness of the south. Away from his place of service and seemingly almost ready to hang up his crown and calling of being a prophet, there we see him on the mount Horeb.The Bible says the Lord sent the wind, but He was not in it, then the fire and He was not in it and then a shaking and He was not in it. What a pregnant build-up to that moment when Elijah heard the still, small voice of God. And what did the Voice say? (Wait for it) “What are you doing here, Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9)

doing here flatCome on! That’s funny! God, the God of the universe, the Almighty, is asking this guy what he’s doing there?! He knows everything! He doesn’t need to ask anything! I just can never read this without feeling that there’s this kind, loving God of the universe having condescended to this poor, defeated servant of His and He’s striking up a conversation with him, saying, “Umm, why are you here, Elijah?

Don’t you just know that if you could see all this in real time, there would be a warm, wry smile on the face of God as He asked that? Maybe, probably even a smidgen, a sprinkle of humor on the whole thing? Gotta be.

The Bible warns of “foolish jesting” (Ephesians 5:4) but it also says “A merry heart does good like a medicine” (Proverbs 17:22). keep laughing flatOne of the greatest helps I’ve ever had in my missionary service has been times when my friends and I just laughed at the impossibility of what we were trying to do and how it was utterly insane except within the will of God. My one year in Moscow in 1995 and 1996 was only sustained by just laughing with my friends at the extremes to which we were pushed physically to do what we felt we needed to do there and how no one in the world would do what we were doing, there’s not enough money to pay for it, unless you were doing it for God’s service.

So often we just kept laughing in the extremely difficult conditions we worked in. It was perhaps the toughest year of my adult life physically but also one I count as one of the most fruitful. And a sense of humor was a continual essential asset through it all.

I’m convinced God has some sense of humor. It doesn’t show up very much in the Bible and we know that Jesus was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). But also I’ve had times, even recently, where I just felt that the Lord can do some things that are just so amazing, “out there” and radically loving that the only reaction is to smile, laugh and feel that He’s just funny sometime. Or so it seems to me.

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 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.

Bucharest Tragedy

nightclub fireI just got off the phone with a dear Christian sister here in Bucharest. She’s not only been the faithful Romanian translator of the videos I’ve been doing, she’s a real friend and someone I greatly respect. She called to tell me that her oldest son was at the club in Bucharest late last night where the fire happened that took the lives of 27 young people.

She told me that her son had phoned her to tell her that he was ok, that he had been in the club until 10 minutes before the fire broke out but that he’d wanted to leave as he didn’t like it. After the fire blazed and then was contained, he was back there at the scene to identify bodies, many of whom he knew. The son of my translator friend’s sister is a teenage musician here; he and his band were scheduled to play at that club last night but it didn’t work out.

My friend here, let’s call her “Patricia”, said it was a big Halloween party at the place and it was full of plastic decorations that burst into flames. 500 people were there and around 300 got out. Buch tragShe said it’s being said that a number of the ones who were injured are not expected to make it. Also, the song that the band was playing when the fire broke out is called “This Is The Day You Die”.

Needless to say, this is a tragedy and traumatizing on many levels. I couldn’t stop crying on this call from my friend as I know her and her kids very well, as do probably some of ones reading this blog. And since “Patricia’s” teen age son, let’s call him “Ernest”, may perhaps later read what I write here, I want to respect his privacy and to be circumspect in what I write.

But the thought that came to me is that, as they say, “God has no grandchildren.” It can’t be your parents’ faith and experiences that you build your life on. Each individual ends up having their own experiences that are the formative ones in their lives. That certainly is true with how I came to faith in God from an atheist background. It’s often the deepest, darkest, most overwhelming experiences of our lives that are the crucibles in which we are shaped and molded.

Death for a Christian should be a different experience from that of an unbeliever and we who are the people of faith should really view it differently. communion-fixedIt’s like what I wrote in “Tales from Trondheim”, about the young man in Norway who was getting Christian training with my wife and I who went to be with the Lord around 48 hours after he left us. It was very traumatizing for us, very sobering, but we had peace and joy to know that he went to be with the Lord.

I don’t know how it is for those young people who died here last night. This is a very Christian country in many ways and most of the ones I’ve met here have a deep reservoir of faith in God and in Christ. This country had a strong wave of Christian revival here during the 90’s, after the fall of Communism.

I guess it’s just hard to talk about right now. Emotions are raw and these are the children of people here in this city, some of whom were laid out of the sidewalks for identification as the hospitals were overwhelmed.

But I would like to ask you to please pray for my translator friend, “Patricia”, and perhaps especially for her 17 year old son, “Ernest”. There’s a lot I won’t share here about them as it’s their personal life and the things they’ve already gone through in the past which have bordered on the unique. And now this. Please pray for them that the foundation they both have in the Lord will sustain them through this time as never before and that this tragedy, this darkness, will be a time when the light of God’s truth and love will be more evident than ever before. Please pray for Bucharest and my friends here at this time. Thanks so much, Mark


Apparatchiks and Sycophants

Sycophant[I’ve worked on this post, off and on, for months. The things written here, to me, are heartfelt. Perhaps this can be seen as a warning, from experience, of two dreadful dangers that can lurk in the path of Christian discipleship.]

For most of us, there are some things that just “get our goat”, a wonderful English phrase for things that “get under your skin” and irritate you. In my experiences as a missionary, I think that those two non-English words there, “apparatchiks” and “sycophants” sum up what have “gotten my goat” at times.

First, an “apparatchik”. That’s a Russian word from Communist times for what we can call in English a bureaucrat or functionary, someone who just ends up working in some system. He virtually loses his or her identity to the particularly system and becomes a part of it. bureaucratOften, in his promotions within his organization, many pricks of his conscience have been silenced in order to help facilitate his rising position and prominence.

“Apparatchik”, a wonderful Russian word that brings to mind another word from that part of the world, “Byzantine”. The picture is of a turgid, sclerotic organization, endlessly slowed to an almost standstill, devoid of life and conscience. This is how so many organizations and, yes, even movements of God’s Spirit end up.

Mark, how can you say that?! Administrators and bureaucrats are needed in every organization, secular or spiritual! Records must be kept; Paul even said, “Let all things be done decently and in order!” (I Cor. 14:40)

matthew taxmanYou’re right. I’ve been thinking about Matthew, the Levite. With his background as a tax collector, do you think he may have become sickened by the humdrum drudgery of his job, just caught up in some lifeless system? Did he feel like a bureaucrat or an apparatchik? Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, when Jesus called him to be His disciple, he immediately went for it.

It’s not that I’m against people with administrative gifts, just when their gifts and callings take the place of the greater administrative and organizational ability of the Holy Spirit which is never lifeless and stultifying. And, sad to say, I’ve known some gifted Christian friends who in some cases ended up spending years as not much more than apparatchiks, just “doing their job”, when the Holy Spirit was there to show them things that were amiss. But to speak up would cost them the position they had risen to. “Quench not the Spirit.” (I Thessalonians 5:17)

Sycophant shrunkThen there are the sycophants. This brings to mind a different set of organizations from an earlier time of “the Sun King”, Louis the XIV of France. He was the ultimate epitome of European royalty at the time of its zenith. Louis the XIV had his sycophants. This was an entire swarm of dithering dukes, marquis and lords of the realm whose whole existence was to please the king and to rise within the universe of the throne scene around this golden ruler, Louis the XIV, his court and the affairs of his heaven-like earthly palace, Versailles.

If there was a word to describe this kind of person in the Bible, it would be “man-pleasers.” (Ephesians 6:6) The Bible does not speak well of this. Sycophants lived (and live) for nothing else but to please their ruler. Their only function was within the realm of the court and the palace. The things of the common man disgusted them and they were far removed, above any of that.

There are still folks like that today. They live to please some individual who they think will be their path to glory and promotion. They have no higher motive or goal than to please their sovereign, whoever that may be. Again their conscience is long silenced, like the apparatchik, in order to submit their heart and lives to no other purpose but to please the leader of their organization, company or society, like the original sycophants did for Louis the XIV.

There are folks like that today. I’ve seen the end of some of these ones; a few even were dear friends who became apparatchiks or sycophants. It’s a very sad thing. Somehow they compromised their original Godly convictions and tender consciences in order to please what they thought were the best people they knew. These people were on the rise, they were the future, and they would rise with them.

If you are of the world, the world would love his own; but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:19) “Be not conformed to this world but be transformed…” (Romans 12:2)

If anyone chooses to follow the path of an apparatchik or a sycophant, it invariably leads away from keeping Jesus Christ first and foremost in your mind and heart.

Some never really recover. They’re overwhelmed and disillusioned when it becomes clear that they let someone or something take the place that should have been only for Jesus Christ. In some cases, like Solomon said, “The man that wanders out of the way of understanding shall remain in the congregation of the dead.” (Proverbs 21:16) It’s a huge temptation for sincere followers of the Lord to yield to a job or relationship that they feel will lead to success and power. Not only governments and businesses but even denominations can be strewn with the lives of people like that.

“But Mark, isn’t there another side to all this? Isn’t there a time for loyalty to an organization or even a denomination, to stick with them through thick and thin? Aren’t there anointed men of God that many follow as their chosen Godly leadership?”

Yep, there may be a time for that; some would say even often there is. But it’s hugely important that individuals don’t turn off their consciences and their personal link with the Lord so that they just drift along with their organization, denomination or even Godly leadership. “Everyone of us shall give account of ourselves unto God” (Romans 14:12) and it can just happen, if you don’t stay in prayer, that you become some functionary apparatchik in some frozen organization, or a man-pleasing sycophant of some formerly anointed leader who is not following God as he did before.

my life over flatBut perhaps the worst thing is that inevitably, when the system or organization that the apparatchik let replace Jesus in their heart, or the individual that the sycophant let replace Jesus in their heart finally crumbles to dust and defeat, so very often the originally inspired Christian goes down with the ship they let replace the Lord in their lives. Their faith in Christ became inalterably intertwined with their new faith in their organization or superior. And when that was gone, they too fell away from the faith they once held so high.

Thankfully, I never was successful as an apparatchik or a sycophant.  Believe me, I tried; God forgive me. “Better it is to be with the lowly than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:19) Big powers have come and gone but the little people live on. God’s eye is on the sparrow and “the meek shall inherit the earth”. (Matthew 5:5)

Thank God flatAre you a nobody? Truly, you should thank God for it. Have you been passed over by those who seem to be something and “great” in the eyes of this world? Don’t worry about it. “The first shall be last and the last first.” (Matthew 19:30) Are you a “little person”, with nothing but your relationship with the Lord? “Rejoice and be exceeding glad for great is your reward in heaven.” (Matthew 5:12) “The high and lofty One dwells with those of a humble and contrite spirit.” (Isaiah 57:15)

[Thinking about it more today, perhaps it’s like a sequel to John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress“. There he saw “Christian” and the others. He doesn’t mention “Apparatchik” or “Sycophant” in his writings. But in my personal pilgrim’s progress, these two bogeymen of deceiving deathly darkness have been the downfall of more than just a few people I’ve loved. If this helps anyone to not fall into the snare of these two dangers, then this post will not have been in vain. God bless you.]


What’s Wrong With This Picture?

syria war mapThey say, “The fog of war”. “Truth is the first causality in any war” is another one like that. I’m not a professional political pundit. But I have kept up with the situation in the Middle East for several decades and I visited the border with Syria back in February. So I feel led to write something here about factors that most of you won’t be hearing about concerning all this. Nope, this won’t be conspiracy theory. I’m not going to bash Obama or Putin. But many people just don’t quite understand what’s going on with Syria and the war there. I’m not saying I have all the answers. But there are a few obvious things that most of you won’t find on the evening news or very many “alternative” or conspiracy theory sites.

Why hasn’t America and the West solved the Syria crisis? How has this gotten so bad? Is it malfeasance on the part of the American government? If a Republican was President of the United States, would it all be totally solved by now? What’s holding things back? Let’s talk about that.

First, let me speak of the unspeakable, “our allies in the Middle East”. Most of the time, commentators don’t even touch on this. They work for news agencies or media outlets that have their internal rules about what can and cannot be said. And what few ever tell you is that the most major influence on Western strategy in the Middle East is the wellbeing of Saudi Arabia and Israel. That’s just reality and the way it is. And Saudi Arabia and Israel in these times have converging interests in their part of the world. They both want a continuation of the status quo. And anything that would threaten the status quo is seen as a threat to them.

Shiite crescentHow does that factor into the Syrian conflict? You may have heard of the Iran (Shiite)-Syria-Hezbollah crescent or axis. This is the coalition that has held together for years who are seen as the greatest threat to both Saudi Arabia and Israel. So, just viewing things as Machiavelli would have us to do, the fall of Assad in Syria would break the link in that axis or arc. So both the Saudis and Israel have been quietly making their views known and doing what they can do bring about the downfall of Assad, at virtually any cost.

Those two nations are the main allies of the West in the Middle East. So this is a major reason you hear so much about the need for Assad to be removed. Yes, they give you all that hoop-la about what a tyrant he is. But then they said worse about Sadam Husain and Muammar Gaddafi. You probably know how that turned out. Actually not too bad for the Saudis and Israel but not so good for many others.

The hands of the West are tied in many ways because of the need to curry favor with our allies in the Middle East. You hear a lot nowadays about how the US government has “thrown Israel under the bus” in recent times, diplomatically. This reminds me of a phrase I heard about the condition of Germany some years back when they were going through something of a recession. It was said, “Germany is not tightening its belt. It’s just not letting it out quite as fast.” That’s how the West’s policy is towards Israel and the Saudis right now. They aren’t cutting back, they’re just hesitating on signing our acquiescence on more blank sheets of paper on which our allies can fill in their instructions to us.

“Mark, you are so cynical! Don’t you believe our world leaders care about the suffering millions of refugees who need help and humanitarian relief?!”

Well, sadly, I don’t think those things really come to the top of the list for those who lead us. Maybe if millions were in the streets and there was a threat of revolution because of the inaction of governments, that might make them take notice, like in the days of the Viet Nam war. But that kind of thing doesn’t really happen anymore. And let’s also remember that another major factor in all this is that the American people have really soured on foreign military involvement after the wars in Iraq. That’s another reason why there is no mandate from the America people for involvement in Syria or anywhere else for that mater

Putin AssadThen, along comes Russia. Those are the bad guys, right? Everyone knows that, you see it on the news all the time. But, strangely, it might just be that Putin and his troops may be free to take action where the West just can’t. Assad, and his father before him, have been allies of Russia at least since the ‘70’s. Putin doesn’t have any of the restraints on him that I’ve mentioned here that the West does. He does have some restraints but they’re not as hindering as what holds back the West now. He’s going in there to shore up an ally, just the same we would expect the States to go in to protect Israel or Saudi Arabia if they needed it the way Assad does.

Russian tankAnd Putin just might pull it off. People have been saying for a long time that a strong, sustained ground attack against ISIS would do the trick. You hear countries like Turkey mentioned, that they could do it. But then the Turkish government has its own reasons for wanting the fall of Assad. You hear that Iranian forces could do it. And if a few of those got together, like Putin’s troops, what’s left of Assad’s and also Iran’s, then most commentators say that this would be what it would take to destroy ISIS.

Maybe that’s what’s developing. And maybe that’s why you hear a huge amount of squawking from the talking heads in the Western media about how bad this all is. Because it’s really not what the West or their allies in the Middle East want at all. They want the status quo. And they want the fall of Assad, at whatever cost, including a prolonged state of anarchy like what’s now going on in Iraq or Libya.

But for the most part, we plebeians at the bottom of the food chain are not told about these finer nuances of Middle Eastern circumstances. We will continue to be told that Russia and Assad are the bad guys and that our nations must do our part to liberate Syria from its tyrant, as we have done in Iraq, Libya and many other nations before that. Like the old song said, “It ain’t necessarily so.”


Now the end begins?

prophet of doomQuite a few aficionados of Bible prophecy are getting excited when they view current events in the Middle East. Most of them have believed that at some point in the future, Russia will come to play a very major role in the region. A dear friend sent me a letter and blog article about this. The article declares emphatically that the Russian buildup in Syria is a prelude and pretext for Russia to invade Israel, virtually at any time. My friend wanted to know what I thought about the article. Here are parts of what I wrote back to him.

Most everyone agrees that Ezekiel 38 and 39 sure look like potentially major Scripture on the endtime. From reading those chapters, it does sound like what’s been identified as the land area of Russia will “invaded Israel” or something similar to that in some future time. Only, no one really knows exactly where these verses in Ezekiel fit in the endtime picture.

Are they a part of the finally events of the 42 months of Antichrist rule during the Great Tribulation? (Revelation 13:5-7)The Pact flat Or are they events occurring before the signing of the Pact or Covenant and the Last 7 Years? (Daniel 9:27) Or does Ezekiel 38 & 39 cover material mentioned in Daniel 11:21 to 45? Some even cite Psalm 83 nowadays as being an endtime prophecy when it was actually a historical prayer written during the time when ancient Israel was at war with its neighbors.

It does seem very significant that Russia has gotten suddenly involved in the Syrian war and evidently they have the top hand in the Middle East now.  I wrote a blog post about all this with some factors having to do with the move by Russia which probably a lot of people don’t know or understand. You might find it interesting, especially since you served in that part of the world. It’s called “What’s Wrong With This Picture?

whites of thier eyes-flattenedBut I sadly feel another one I wrote summarizes the more sensationalist articles that come out on sites like “Before It’s News”, “Now the End Begins”  “Armageddon News” and others like this. What I wrote about this is called “The Whites of Their Eyes”.

When I hear about clear, unequivocal events happening in the news that we can directly connect with endtime prophecies, that’s when we can really place it in prophetic Scripture that is known to precede the Great Tribulation. Otherwise, it’s just very fertile ground for the many criers of “Wolf! Wolf!” with abundant speculations about prophetic fulfillments that so often just turn out to be duds. It kind of bugs me how many people are claiming Bible prophecy has been fulfilled every time a car bomb explodes.

But what could be something on the horizon that would clearly be an event predicted in Scripture? If and when I see the building of a third Jewish temple in Jerusalem and particularly the beginning of animal sacrifices there, then I think we’ll have some real specifics to take serious note of. Where we are at on the Trumpets and Seals of the book of Revelation, or the specifics of Ezekiel 38, can be rather hazy now.

Mosque of OmarAnd yet so very many commentators endlessly try to find where we are presently in those things. They usually end up in farfetched, emotional speculation that borders on confusion. Lots of heat but not much light. However, if there’s a third temple built in Jerusalem and then sacrifices start, that will be some concrete, Biblically predicted endtime events happening in real time. And of course even the subject of the third temple in Jerusalem is also now in the news every day, with present events on the Temple Mount and the whole thing.

It may be getting very near and I certainly am keeping up with it all. But I’m not ready to start hanging labels on things like, “That country is the bear or ram” and “That one is the goat”. Those verses in Daniel were fulfilled long ago and don’t apply to endtime prophetic events. In Daniel 8, the angel Gabriel specifically told the prophet Daniel what the goat was. “The rough goat is the kingdom of Greece.”  (Daniel 8:21) But still today, you’ve got oodles of experts telling us that the goat of Daniel 8 directly refers to some modern nation today. That is not teaching “sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1)

I covered all that in my videos on the subject. Perhaps the best one on the final years of the endtime is the one about Daniel 9:27 and Matthew 24, called “The Last 7 Years”.  But a lot of things are happening that quite possibly are major steps towards final endtime events and it really bears watching.

Studying current events in relation to Bible prophecy about the final days is a little like looking through a kaleidoscope. We look at God’s Word and then we look at current events and we can see a lot of similarities. But every time there’s some slight changing of events, like when a kaleidoscope is moved ever so slightly, then the whole picture changes. That’s what’s happening with Russia’s current move. I agree with so many others that the change in the picture we see now is another move towards the picture we are shown in Scripture of how it will be at the beginning of the most specific events that are predicted, preceding the return of Jesus. But being overly specific with dramatic proclamations of prophetic fulfillment when it really hasn’t happened yet is just not good Bible teaching, no matter how anxious anyone is to see prophecy fulfilled.

In summary, yes this big move by Russia does very much look like a foretold piece of the prophetic puzzle that we see in Bible prophecy. But I don’t think we should be standing by in expectation that Russia is about to invade Israel at any moment. That’s getting ahead of the music and jumping the gun. And web sites that continue to delude Christians in that way should be noted and held accountable for their sensationalism and lack of credibility.

Afterwards Build Your House

harvest fields flatIn my early years as a Christian, someone shared a Bible verse that has always stuck with me. “Prepare your work without and make it fit for yourself in the field, and afterwards build your house.” (Proverbs 24:27) This isn’t really an admonition to farmers and ranchers. Maybe if I bring in another verse that’s perhaps more familiar to you, the idea will be clearer. Jesus said, from the Sermon on the Mount, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33)

It’s easy to agree with this in principle but, for most of us, much more difficult to do. Because it goes against our human nature and it surely goes against “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2). Our unregenerate human nature says to seek first our own, whatever that may be. Food, clothes, money, reputation, everything. And every voice from “this present evil world” (Galatians 1:8) will chime in with harmony to this.

share flatBut God’s voice and His ways are contrary to this. Our self and our world says, “Hold on to what you’ve got. You deserve it; you’ve worked hard, now enjoy it.” But Jesus said, “Give and it shall be given unto, good measure, pressed down and shaken together shall men give to your bosom, for with the same measure that you give, it shall be given to you.” (Luke 6:38) And this admonition is all through the Bible, Old and New Testament.

For me, I’m thankful that the Christianity I originally was led to was a discipleship, Christian-service Christianity. I’d seen so much of the insipid once-a-week Christianity when I was growing up and it didn’t show anything to me of a true, powerful, righteous God. So for me Christianity and discipleship Christianity are not the same thing. Jesus said to them all, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it. But whosoever will lose his life for My sake, the same shall save it.” (Luke 9:23 &24) Needless to say, this is ludicrous to the average worldling and even a lot of Christians secretly cringe at statements like this from Jesus.

It’s like what I wrote about a few years ago in “The Multitude and the Disciples”, not so many people really wanted to follow Jesus up the mountain to hear the greatest sermon ever preached. “Seeing the multitude, He went up into a mountain. And when He was set, His disciples came unto Him.” (Matthew 5: 1 & 2) It doesn’t say the multitude came to Him on the mountain; it says the disciples did. And it’s still the same today.

And for the disciples of Jesus, these verses I’ve mentioned are first grade principles on which we base our lives. We don’t build our house first; we take care of the fields. In this case, they are His fields. Peter and JesusJesus told Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Peter said yes three times. Each time Jesus answered with “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:16 &17) He didn’t tell him to go back to the fishing business. He didn’t tell him to go back to Capernaum and take care of his physical family. He told him to feed His sheep. And in Peter’s case, he seemed to do that and continue to do that the rest of his life until he ultimately died a martyr’s death for Jesus.

So Peter did what Jesus told His disciples to do, he “sought first the kingdom of God”. And it cost him. Continually and a lot. Just like it has for other disciples of the Lord for the last two thousand years. But it’s those folks, those few who have carried the banners of the Lord and the love and truth of God to the ends of the earth, generation after generation up to our times. And there are still folks like that today; not just Christians, not just believers, but disciples and followers of the teachings of Christ.

I hate to say it and this might offend some. But going to church once a week to hear the sermon will not necessarily be what it takes to be a disciple of the kind the early Christians were. You may get a little spiritual feeding, they’ll pray and sing and you may find the warmth of the Lord there.stands at the door flat But often it doesn’t go much further than that. In most churches, you won’t learn how to lead the unsaved to Christ. They figure that’s what the preacher is for. Just bring your friends to church and that’ll do it. So, sadly, many modern Christians are not equipped to really serve the Lord and to “bear much fruit” (John 15:8) which is one of the criteria of being a disciple, according to Jesus.

Hopefully some people are seeing this. They are seeing that their Christianity and religion has been pretty much “skimmed milk” and they are looking around to find the kind of discipleship they read about in the Bible.

As the darkness and foreboding of this world daily increases so rapidly, there’s no greater time when the light of the love of God is needed in each Christian to shine more brightly and vehemently than ever before. May God help each one of us to “prepare our work without and make it fit for ourselves in the field (the spiritual fields of sowing and reaping for Him) and afterwards build our houses”. God help us to seek first His kingdom now like never before. Let it not be said to our generation, as it was to God’s rebellious people of Jeremiah’s time, “The summer is past, the harvest is ended, and we are not saved.” (Jeremiah 8:20)

Acts 25 Live Class Audio

Paul and accussorsAs we’ve done at other times in our book of Acts classes, we started out by going over the last verse in the chapter before, chapter 24, and again zeroed in on where Paul “reasoned with him” (Acts 24:25). That’s actually a really good verse about sharing our faith with others. Paul didn’t start berating and condemning him but he “reasoned with him”. The full audio class on Acts 25 can be heard here.

And we got off into a rollicking discussion at the beginning about witnessing and someone mentioned “the Roman road”, a phrase used to describe the use of verses in the book of Romans which can be used to explain to people how the Bible says “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And subsequent verses show “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) These are verses that were shown to me on the day I received Jesus as my Savoir.

Even that phrase right there, “receiving Jesus”, is directly from Scripture, one of my favorite verses. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did, I received Jesus.

Well, this is quickly developing into a basic salvation class and a witnessing class but we all need plenty of those. Going along with John 1:12 that I just quoted is the super famous verse from Revelation 3:20, Jesus at doorBehold I stand at the door and knock” [this is Jesus speaking about His standing at the door of your heart.] If any man hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will sup with him and he with Me.” Simple salvation. And sometimes you have to “reason” with people, as Paul did here at the end of Acts 24

And we talked about how even the word “sin” and the concept of sin in our world today is virtually a lost word in almost every segment of society except perhaps some churches. We related that to how things are actually in our world today and how Jesus said, “If the light that be in you be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23). Regardless of the technical advancements we’ve experienced, if a society no longer retains the light of God’s Word, then there‘s an immense darkness upon it.

Actually, we had a little difficulty getting this class started because we just kept getting deeper on some of these first subjects. We even got into where there are things you can find on line that will tell us that the Apostle Paul led people away from God because Paul didn’t exalt and stay submitted to the Torah, the ancient laws given to Moses.

But did only Paul do that? What about when this all came up in Acts 15? The Apostle Peter settled the argument of that time when he said,Peter Acts 15Why do you tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? [He’s speaking here to his Jewish Christian brethren in Jerusalem about the Mosaic Law and he went on to say…] But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:10 & 11)

We talked about the importance of Paul and how it seems he had a better grasp and understanding of what Jesus did and had done, and the vast significance of it all. It’s been said that without Paul and his writings, quite possibly the early Christian movement would have ended up faltering, being absorbed back into Judaism and would have just been another branch of it, like the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. And someone in the class rightly mentioned that it all wasn’t really Paul but the power of the Holy Spirit which used Paul. Absolutely. But believe it or not, there are websites that say Paul was a false apostle that led away Christianity from the laws of Moses. Whew!

And then we finally got going into the chapter. The new governor, Festus, after two years, heard Paul again at the judgment seat. But something new happened. “Willing to please the Jews…” (Acts 25:9), Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to go back to Jerusalem and to be judged there by Festus. And undoubtedly Paul knew what would await him in Jerusalem or even along the road there, as 40 of his enemies had sworn to kill him a few years earlier.

So Paul told Festus, “I stand before Caesar’s judgment. To the Jews I have done nothing, as you know.” And then the big thing, Paul said, “I appeal to Caesar.” To which Festus said, “Have you appealed to Caesar? Unto Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25:12)

It’s amazing the twists and turns of all this. Some days later, the next level up in the hierarchy of the Romans, King Agrippa and his wife Bernice came to Caesarea and Felix explained Paul’s cause to them.  Paul in prison3And we could almost think like that Paul made a mistake or God made a mistake. Because Agrippa and Bernice wanted to let Paul go. But he’d already appealed to Caesar. However, like Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.

And the Lord had already told Paul back in chapter 23, “As you have witnessed for Me in Jerusalem, so shall you witness for Me in Rome.” So it was another rousing, at times debate-filled Bible class we had on the Book of Acts. The recording of the class can be heard here.