Witnessing 101

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

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

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

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

But Mark…

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

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

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

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

But Mark…

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

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

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

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

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

 

Twisted Scripture

[I wrote this two years ago but things are still the same]

peace in our times 2 flatSomething rather sad happened at my church last Sunday. I’ve enjoyed going to that church for over a year and I’ve met some very like-minded folks there.

But yesterday something was taught that I find disturbing. I was glad to know that there was going to be a series taught on the book of II Thessalonians. It contains one of the clearest places in the New Testament which speaks of the conditions immediately prior to the return of Jesus. In fact, this letter was written to the Thessalonians specifically to address this subject.

[Some may think that this is just getting into Biblical minutia. But what’s being talked about here is of exceptional importance to the foundation that’s laid for many millions of sincere Christians.If what’s taught from the pulpit is dangerously flawed, the result is that Christians who receive that teaching without question are denied key components of their Christian knowledge and have allowed themselves to be deluded about the future that God clearly spells out for us in His Word. And they are unprepared for the future God tells us will happen.]

In I Thessalonians 4:17, Paul gave perhaps the clearest explanation of the return of Jesus to this world. He said, armagdedon picFor the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we ever be with the Lord.” The word “rapture” is not found in the Bible. But this verse is the one that’s the clearest in describing what we now call “the Rapture”.

But then somehow the Thessalonians got things mixed up or misunderstood what Paul said to some degree and some of them came to the conclusion that Paul was saying that “the day of Christ was at hand”, in other words, that Paul had told them that Jesus could return at any minute. So he wrote to clarify that, very specifically.

I’ll pick up in verse 2 of II Thessalonians chapter 2 where Paul addresses this. He said, “… don’t be shaken in mind … that the day of Christ is at hand. AC figure-2For that day will not come except there come a falling away first and the man of sin [the Biblical Antichrist of the last days] be revealed, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshipped so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

It’s one of the clearest Scriptures in the Bible to show that before Jesus returns to the earth, the Antichrist of the endtime will be seen by the believers in Jesus.

But sadly it was taught from the pulpit in the church I go to that the believers in Jesus will not in fact see this happen, even though the Apostle Paul clearly told the Early Church that they would.

This is the essence of what’s called the “Pre tribulation Rapture” doctrine. I won’t go into the details of this here as I have already done so in other places. But it’s disheartening to hear a sincere and Godly preacher tell a congregation that I feel a part of that they’ll never see or experience what Paul has said because they’ll be whisked away before, when very clearly Paul told the Early Church the exact opposite.

But this dear pastor is just teaching what’s been taught from evangelical pulpits for decades so that this false teaching has become embedded in modern Christian thought, although it’s not based on Scripture. And that verse right there which they’re teaching from is one of the clearest places in the Bible which disproves this modern false doctrine!

But some would say,

“Mark! Why does this matter to you?! As a Christian, shouldn’t you be out feeding the poor and clothing the homeless instead of quibbling over Bible doctrine?!”  

Neville C

Neville Chamberlain

Have you ever heard of Neville Chamberlain? During the 1930’s in Europe, it was an exceedingly troubled time. Communism was seen as a rising tide of Godlessness and totalitarianism which was destined to take over Europe. Rising against Communism, at the other extreme, was Fascism.

But much of Europe was just exhausted by the severe years ofthe great depression the Great Depression and they just didn’t want to look war in the face. So Hitler methodically drove Germany to greater and greater military might and preparedness.

But the prevailing desire of public opinion, the majority view was summed up by Neville Chamberalin, the Prime Minster of Great Britain back then who declared there would be, “Peace in our time.” That’s a lot like what the preachers tell their congregations nowadays, that they’ll suddenly be raptured before “the great tribulation” comes that Jesus warned of. (Matthew 24:21)

There was no “peace in our times” for the people of Europe. The quasi-Antichrist of those days, Adolf Hitler, struck Europe and very nearly conquered ever inch of it for a time. But the unpreparedness of the rest of Europe was a key factor in Hitler’s rise.

It’s the same today. Millions of Christians are being taught, “Peace in our times.”You don’t need to be prepared! No need to strengthen your convictions or be prepared for the battles of the final days before the Lord’s return! Sleep on now and take your rest!

And so they do. The British and others were weak and unprepared in the days leading up to World War II and they were easy pickings for the forces of darkness of their day. And it’s exactly the same today, thanks in a large part to this horribly disarming false doctrine of PreTribulation rapture that means the body of Christ can leave church each Sunday and mostly do their own thing till next Sunday, instead of being strengthened and prepared for the endtime battles to come.

I’ll end this with another thing Paul told the Thessalonians which may have an eerie prophetic ring to it. In I Thessalonians 5:3, the Apostle Paul said, “For when they shall say “peace and safety”, then sudden destruction comes upon them as travail upon a women with child and they shall not escape.” May we all pray and do what we can to shake off this false doctrine of a PreTribulation rapture which is bringing such slumber and false peace on the believers in Christ in our times.

 

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.

They believed not for joy

cant believe it flatRecently something happened to me that was so amazing and, Lord help me, so unexpected that when it happened, I almost didn’t believe it. It did happen, no question about that. But I just was saying afterwards to myself, “Did that really happen?”

It’s like when the disciples saw Jesus after His resurrection and “they believed not for joy”. (Luke 24:41) It’s a funny experience, not normal at all. In Acts 12 is another example. Peter’s brother, James, had already been killed by Herod and Peter, the head of the church at that time, was kept in prison, evidently waiting execution from the way the narrative reads.Peter and angel flat “But prayer was made without ceasing of the church” (Acts 12:5). Then what happened? It says an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter in his prison cell, “smote him on his side” (Acts 12:7) and told him to get up quickly. The prison door opened and then the next ones until they were out on the street and the angel disappeared. Somewhere around here it says that Peter realized that it was real what was happening.this is real flat Evidently he just thought he was dreaming or that it was a vision he was seeing.

Sometimes the Lord really does “exceedingly above all can we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Yes, I know it doesn’t seem to just happen all the time, every day of our lives. But it does happen.

A man came to Jesus, asking him to heal his demonic son who had been in that condition a long time. Jesus said to the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.” “And straightway the father of the child cried out with tears, Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23 & 24) And the beautiful answer to all this is that the Lord did answer his prayer and healed his son. The Lord saw “the glass half full” and healed the child, even though the father confessed that he was struggling with belief about the whole thing.

I guess I think of myself as a person with faith in God and faith in Jesus. That’s what my life has been about. But every so often something happens or comes along that shakes our foundation to the core. It can be something “bad”; but equally it can be something “good”. Maybe it’s like what happened with one of my children when they were very little. One day one of them ran through the house almost screaming, “So happy! Can’t believe it!”

Or it’s like the story I heard which is supposed to be true about a prayer meeting years ago in Oklahoma. A Christian man there had been asking for prayer for his son for years because he was such a scoundrel and a fallen human being. Sure ‘nuf, at a prayer meeting one night the young man answered the alter call and turned his life over to the Lord.

Those there were eager to tell the father what had happened. But when the father was reached at the back of the meeting and told the news, he said something like this. not my son flatOh, no, that couldn’t be my son; you must be mistaken. There’s another young man in the community with a similar name. I’m sure it must be him.” The father had been praying all that time but when the answer came, he just refused to believe that his prayer had been heard. And it can be that way for any of us.

I’ve been reminded recently that He really can answer prayers like that, above all we ask or think. The Lord can come along with “new wine” that “breaks our bottles”, or new changes in our lives that are almost like entering into another life from the one we have been living.

Not only was I noticing my potential unbelief, I was also noticing one of my first reactions was to try to do things in the flesh and my own spirit to confirm and make sure that the act of God that He was doing was something I was going to take care of now. “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Sometimes the Lord just does something for His purpose and plan. And you just know it’s all Him, not something of yourself. It may be a long awaited answer to prayer but also it can just be what He was planning all along. And you’re humbled to know how little you had to do with it, besides just being what He wanted you to be and needed you to be.

mary and angelThink about young Mary the night the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Do you think she was all cool with that and it was like she was expecting it all along? I don’t think so. I’ll bet she was just at the very edge of reality with what was happening with her. But also she was His chosen vessel so the Lord gave her the grace for that event.

Or the centurion Cornelius in Acts 10 when the angel appeared to him after his years of faithfulness and told him to “send men to Joppa and call for one whose surname is Peter“. (Acts 10:5) The whole conversion of the Gentiles ensued from that event. Peter and CorneliusDo you think it was just another day at the office for Cornelius? I don’t think so. I’ll bet he was a pretty shook up guy. But he kept it together as this was the hour of his destiny and that of the Gentile world as well.

At times in our lives, God can do things with, for and through us that take us to the very edge of our belief and even abilities to believe. That’s how much He loves us and wants to do for us. That’s one of the reasons why we have “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (I Peter 1:8)

(Romanian) Textul a “O încadrare a profeției în istorie”

[Aceasta este varianta scrisă a înregistrării cu titlul “O încadrare a profeției în istorie“.]

Romanian thumbnail for ITPIHVreau să vă vorbesc despre ceva deosebit ce mi-a marcat în mod special viața. Este vorba despre profeții. E un subiect amplu. La auzul cuvântului „profeție,” diferite gânduri trec prin mintea fiecăruia, așa că am să explic la ce mă refer. Am să vă spun câte ceva despre mine, ca să înțelegeți de ce mă ineresează acest subiect.

M-am născut în Texas și am ajuns să merg la facultate fără să fi înțeles sau să mă fi interesat vreodată lucrurile spirituale. Devenisem ateu și făceam tot ce puteam să întorc de la credință pe oricare ar fi avut vreun fel de credință în Dumnezeu.

Printr-un complex de evenimente am ajuns în punctul în care a trebuit să recunosc… că există o dimensiune spirituală. Nu vroiam să devin “habotnic”, dar știam, îmi dădusem seama, că există o dimensiune în care se găsesc și spirite bune, și spirite rele.shot of me at firstEu vroiam să fiu cu cele bune.

Căutările mele m-au adus în contact cu diferite grupuri și, astfel, am întâlnit alți tineri, creștini cu vederi radicale sau, „Țicniții lui Iisus”, cum erau numiți pe atunci iar ei au reușit să mă ajute să înțeleg adevărurile din Biblie. Dumnezeu a folosit această împrejurare ca să îmi ofere un nou început și, pînă la urmă, mi-am dedicat viața în slujba Lui. Am trăit peste hotare mai bine de 30 de ani și m-am bucurat de o viață minunată, lucru pentru care sunt foarte recunoscător.

Deci, când vorbesc despre profeție, mă refer, de cele mai multe ori, la profeții din Biblie. Pe asta vom pune accentul în această serie de studii. O să ne ocupăm de profetul Daniel din Vechiul Testament. De fapt, când Iisus a fost întrebat despre viitor, l-a menționat în mod specific pe profetul Daniel. A spus: “Când veți vedea (evenimentele viitoare)… despre care a vorbit profetul Daniel (cine citește să înțeleagă)…” (Matei 24:15)

Îmi închipui că unii dintre cei care se uită la acest program au aflat destule despre acest subiect și de-abia așteptați să intrăm în detalii. Alții nu cunosc mai nimic despre toate acestea. Vreau să me adresez și unora, și altora, dar dacă ar trebui să aleg între cele două categorii, prefer să mă adresez celor pentru care acesta este un subiect nou. Așa eram și eu până când am ajuns aproape la maturitate. Acesta este, probabil, unul dintre motivele pentru care vreau ca și voi să bucurați de încântarea de a cunoaște adevărurile din cartea lui Dumnezeu, Biblia.

Acum, poate că unii dintre voi se întreabă: “Ce mai este și profeția?” Vă gândiți că, „da, sigur, sigur, într-o bună zi lumea se va sfârși și chestii din astea.” Așa credeam și eu cândva și totul mi se părea bizar și chiar stupid.

Bethlehem for blog postBun! Haideți să vedem dacă există ceva despre care a auzit fiecare dintre cei care se uită la acest program și care a fost profețit cu sute de ani înainte de a se întâmpla. Putem spune cu siguranță că fiecare dintre cei care urmăresc acest program au auzit despre Crăciun. Știți că de Crăciun oamenii cântă colinde. Se sărbătorește nașterea lui Iisus și ați văzut imagini cu Maria și Iosif și cu pruncul Iisus.

Romanian Jerusalem map for blog postAți auzit, probabil, un vechi colind, nu prea pot eu să îl cânt, dar e cam așa: “În seara de Crăciun venim/ La Vilflaim, la Viflaim/ Pe pruncul sfânt să-L preamărim/ La Viflaim, la Viflaim.

Acest colind este despre orășelul Betleem, de lângă Ierusalim, unde s-a născut Iisus. Poate că deja știați că acolo s-a născut, sau poate vă amintiți că ați mai auzit undeva de asta.

Probabil că cunoașteți măcar câte ceva despre acest subiect. Bun, haideți să ne uităm în Biblie. Haideți să ne uităm în Vechiul Testament, în cartea profetului Mica. Romanian Micah 5-2 for blog postLa mine în Biblie scrie că această carte a fost scrisă în jurul anului 700 Î.Hr. O să citim capitolul 5, versetul 2. Este ca și cum vocea lui Dumnezeu se adresează orașului sau sătucului Betleem. Spune “Și tu, Betleeme Efrata, măcar că ești prea mic între cetățile de căpetenie ale lui Iuda, totuși din tine Îmi va ieși Cel ce va stăpâni peste Israel și a cărui obârșie se suie până în vremuri srăvechi, până în zilele veșniciei.

Aici Dumnezeu se adresează Betleemului și îi spune că, cu toate că este un oraș micuț printre multe altele din regiunea Iuda (o provincie a Israelului din zilele acelea), totuși din Betleem va veni Cel care, până la urmă, va conduce poporul lui Dumnezeu și că asta era stabilit din vechime, din veșnicii.

Este o profeție din Vechiul Testament, profețită cu sute de ani înainte de nașterea lui Iisus, care ne spune exact unde se va naște Mesia, regele pe care Îl va trimite Dumnezeu. Sunt multe alte profeții ca aceasta.

Când toate acestea erau încă o noutate pentru mine, mi-a trebuit o bucată de vreme ca să încep să  înțeleg că există o putere în Ceruri, puterea lui Dumnezeu cel din Biblie, care a prezis viitorul lumii de mii de ani, și că aceste profeții, aceste previziuni s-au împlinit cu o exactitate absolută. Pentru mine asta a fost șocant. Aș putea spune că încă mai este. Acesta va fi subiectul acestor studii: profețiile care s-au împlinit și profețiile care urmează să se împlinească.

Când am menționat nașterea lui Iisus în Betleem am vrut să aleg ceva ce era cunoscut tuturor. Apoi, după ce am văzut din Biblie că cu sute de ani înainte de nașterea Lui a fost dată o profeție care spunea că Iisus se va naște în Betleem, veți putea aprecia importanța și relevanța acestui aspect. Așa că, mai departe o să aruncăm o privire asupra contextului istoric ca să ne încadrăm în timp, cum s-ar spune și să vedem amprenta profeției, care exista cu mult timp înainte și care prevestise multe dintre evenimentele cheie care aveau să se întâmple mai târziu.

Abrahamprays 4 blog postDumnezeu a ales un om cu patru mii de ani în urmă. Îl chema Avraam. El se trăgea din regiunea care în ziua de azi se numește Irak. Din urmașii lui Avraam a apărut poporul pe care noi astăzi îl cunoaștem cu numele de evrei. Dealtfel, și popoarele arabe, și credința musulmană se trag și ele tot de la Avraam.

Dar Vechiul Testament este cartea evreilor. Așa că, pentru a înțelege profețiile, trebuie să avem o perspectivă de ansamblu asupra istoriei evreilor. În același timp, va trebui să privim ascensiunea și declinul imperiilor antice până în zilele lui Iisus și ale Imperiului Roman.

Romanian History timeline for blogpostIată câteva personaje cheie din Biblie și perioada în care au trăit. Avraam este plasat în jurul anului 2000 Î.Hr. Iar Iisus în anul 30 AD. Între aceste date se situează Moise, în jur de 1400 Î.Hr. Regele David a trăit în jur de 980 Î.Hr, iar profetul Daniel, ale cărui scrieri vrem să le studiem, în jur de 600 Î.Hr.

Romanian Bible History Chart for video flat resized

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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)

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.