1 AM in Sofia, Bulgaria

sofia night 1My bus was delayed on the border so I didn’t get into Sofia, Bulgaria till after midnight. I was expecting my friends to meet me at the bus station. But as I looked around the nearly empty station, I had a bad feeling about how I’d not really made sure to completely be definite that they’d meet me there. I tried to phone them from the station but my roaming service on my phone was not connecting so I couldn’t get through. Things were getting bleak pretty quickly and it didn’t immediately get better.

There were some ominous looking taxi drivers hanging around who wanted to drive me somewhere. But I didn’t know where that would be. I asked someone at a food stall that was still opened if they could phone my friends. But they didn’t speak English. I was rapidly realizing that I was in a real fix and a potential dangerous situation.

There were 3 young guys standing around at the food stand in the bus station. I say young; I guess they were around 19. They weren’t grown men but they weren’t really kids. They heard me speaking English and said they could phone my friends on their phone. They did but there was no answer. I noticed that they were friendly, willing to talk and be helpful. So I explained to them what had happened and took the step of faith to ask them if they knew of any hotels in the area. It was past 1 AM and it was looking like a hotel was about the only alternative as I was not getting through to my friends and it was getting real late.

The three young Bulgarians said they knew some hotels in the area and could take me there. Needless to say, I was sure sending up some prayers during all this. The thought did cross my mind several times that I probably looked pretty vulnerable to any late night denizens of the deep who were looking for some soft target and easy pickings.

As we went out to their car, I’ll admit I thought about how these guys could just drive me off somewhere to kill me and rob whatever I had with me. But I was checking in with the Lord and also trying to get the witness of the Spirit on the whole thing. And I was not getting any checks in the Spirit against the way things were going.

sofia nightWe starting driving around downtown Sofia and soon found a hotel that was nicer than I was figuring to stay in. Two of them went in to check the price and it sounded surprisingly low to me. But they wanted to see if they could find something for less. At length, after trying a few other places, I told them that the nice hotel they checked out would be fine. I was also telling them how much I appreciated their help, that I’d come to Bulgaria to speak in churches and that I prayed that God would bless them for their helping. They continued to just be kind hearted “good guys”, for lack of a better term.

I checked into the hotel with their help and was finally up in my room for the night when the phone there rang in my room. It was my friends in Sofia who I’d been trying to reach earlier that night from the station. They had gotten the call from the young men and phoned the number back. Those guys told my friend where I was so she got in contact with me.

End of story, I guess. But I can tell you I was mighty glad to be safely in a hotel at that hour of the night in a foreign city where I didn’t speak the language and knew hardly anyone. I was very aware that it all could have gone much worse. And it really stood out to me that those 3 young men were there at the bus station at that time and were able and willing to help me. I certainly saw it as the Lord’s love and hand, getting me through a potentially very dangerous situation.

It reminded me of the verse, “…underneath are the everlasting arms.” (Deuteronomy 33:27) I’d failed to be diligent in making sure of my contact and meeting with my friends in Sofia. But in spite of my failure, the Lord came to the rescue in bringing along those young men to help me. It reminded me of another time I wrote about in the blog post “God’s Little Miracles” where a similar but even more supernatural thing happened to me late one night in Austin, Texas.

God-is-chanceSome folks will say, “This is all chance.” That’s certainly how I used to look at it in the past. In fact, one time before I was a Christian I blurted out one day to my friends like it was a revelation, “God is chance!” And the Lord proceeded to get a good deal of mileage out of my saying that. I wrote about that in the blog post “God Is Chance.

I’m just really thankful that the Lord was there to rescue me that night in Sofia. It could seem like a little thing or a “coincidence” that those young men were there and helped. For me, I recognized that it was again the Lord’s mercy on my life. I’m so thankful for that.

 

Terrorist Infiltrators

[On November 14th I was going to publish this. But the sad events in Paris, France a few hours earlier were so vivid and visceral that it seemed to not be the best time. I’ve left it unchanged. It’s definitely a “minority report” but, I believe, very needed to challenge us to turn the evil tide of these times.]

migrant boatHave you seen all the articles and posts about the fear of terrorist infiltrators among all the refugees coming to Europe? You can’t really miss it. And, don’t get me wrong, I don’t doubt that there are ones like that among all those coming to the West right now. I don’t doubt that at some point there will be attacks in the West, perpetrated by Islamic radicals.

But allow me to give you something even greater to fear and be shocked at. Where are the people of God who feel challenged by all this, to rise up as His true witnesses and to win as many of these people as they can to Him?

Most people love fear, rage and nationalism/racism far more than they love to be challenged to live their faith in God. Fear and hatred sell and are sadly popular. People need to be told who their enemies are, right? But this gets even more personal; bear with me.

It would not really be correct if I said, “I once was a terrorist”. me 72 fixed-ABut when I was going to university, I was getting real close to circles of people who would today be called that. It was the height of the anti-war movement in the late 60’s. I was in university but working as a writer and editor on the most well-known “underground newspaper” in the state of Texas. I helped write it, put it together with a group of about 10 people, drove a van across central Texas to get it printed and then sold it on the street.

“Mark, that’s so innocuous. Mark, Muslims HATE us and want to KILL us!”

At one point there was a major riot/demonstration at my university. Thousands of students stormed the main building. The police came, then the National Guard surrounded the campus and it was on all the national news services.demonstrators I was one of 6 people who were inside the main administrative building, negotiating with the president of the university.

During that fall, the organization “Students for a Democratic Society” held their nation conference just off our campus. I went to their meetings and to the private parties afterwards. I met the top leadership, some of whom were soon to end up on the FBI top 10 wanted list as leaders ofThe Weathermen. I was very drawn to these people as I was very grieved by the events of the times.

Back then two guys approached me who said they were soldiers at nearby Fort Hood, one of the main US Army staging posts for the Viet Nam war. They said they were part of the underground movement. “Give us the LSD and we’ll give you the machine guns”, they told me. Almost certainly they were undercover FBI guys. But that’s how my life was back then.

“What does this have to do with Islamic migrants and terrorism?”

This. I wasn’t into killing people or violence. I was just desperate for truth, justice and the triumph of good over evil. And through it all, the God of Abraham saw my heart and brought me first to Him, and then months later to His Son.

I believe and know with all my heart that within this multitude of people coming to Europe and the US from the Middle East, there are many, perhaps very many who are as desperate and heart-sick as I was in my youth. refugee in fieldAnd somebody witnessed to me back then. Somebody didn’t look at my longish hair and strange ways; they looked into my heart and saw a desperate, needy soul.

But my question is, will there be people in our times who can look past all the propaganda, hatred and fear about Muslims and see instead a multitude of people who God Himself has allowed to come to our lands?

Paul on the road to Damascus

I was virtually on the road to being a “terrorist” in my youth but God intervened and brought me to Him. Saul of Tarsus sure must have seemed like a terrorist to the early Christians. But God saw his heart, knocked him off his high horse and called him to be His servant. But there had to be Christians back then who could see the hand of God in this and who accepted Paul as their new brother, rather than the “terrorist” he had been.

Is it Scriptural to share our faith with terrorists? Is it in the Word? First, for those who keep up with these things, it’s common knowledge that Jesus Christ has been way out in front of all of us on this for years. 01For years, Muslims all over the Middle East have been having living, life-altering experiences with the Son of God. This is what I wrote about in “Suicide Bomber Sees the Light”.

And it was the same way at the time of the Early Church. Christ Himself was way out in front back then as well and dramatically appeared to one of the very worst “terrorists” of the Early Church. But then what happened? Let’s have a short Bible study on that and see if it applies to today.

Saul had been blinded by the Light of the Lord and had been led into Damascus where he was for the next 3 days. We pick up the story at Acts 9:10

And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias. And the Lord to him said in a vision, “Ananias”. And he said, “Behold, I am here, Lord.

And the Lord said unto him, “Arise and go into the street which is called Straight and inquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus. For, behold, he is praying and has seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight.”

Then Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he has done to Your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on Your name“. But the Lord said unto him, brother saul flatGo your way; for he is a chosen vessel unto Me, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake.

And Ananias went his way and entered into the house. And putting his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, who appeared unto you in the way as you came has sent me, that you might receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Ghost.” And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales. And he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus.

We hear so much about Saul and his Damascus road experience. We are all thankful for Paul. But when Saul became Paul, God needed an Ananias. Today that should be you and me. How would it have gone if there had not been ones like Ananias and others who were willing to be led of the Lord to minister to this man who had been their feared, fearsome enemy until then? This can be one of Christianity’s finest hours if there are those who will see God’s hand and this opportunity from Him to share our faith with these ones.

Could there be danger? Yes. Will they all become Christians? No. But, I challenge you here: watch not only for some future terrorist attack from Muslims coming to Europe. Instead, watch to see to what degree Christians rise up to love, welcome and share their faith with these ones in this hour.

If the Christian response is anemic, halting and virtually non-existent, then that in the realms of heaven may be far bigger news and a greater disappointment than any terrorist incident. If God’s people are so defeated and uncaring that they don’t let Jesus in them be the Light, Love and Truth that so many of these poor souls coming to these lands so desperately need, then God help us all.

German Refugee Camp

German Refugee CampI’ve been visiting a camp in Germany for refugees from the Middle East. There was a riot one evening in the camp that my friends work in daily. People from one nationality got very riled up against folks from another country in the camp. Chairs were thrown, furniture broken, water hoses pulled out of the wall and 200 people fled to the streets. Over 100 police were called in to quell the disturbance. It was a very big deal.

My friends the next morning got an emergency email about the situation in the camp. They wrote back that they weren’t afraid and that they were on the way there. It turns out that they’d already been scheduled to do a major performance and skit for the 1000 or so people in the camp the next day. It was to be based around the parable of the Sun and the Wind and how that love is more powerful than violence, an interesting theme indeed when contrasting Christianity and Islam. So, strange as it may seem, the uproar the night before made the setting perfect. The Lord had prepared hearts and allowed the riot to happen so they’d see their need all the more.

sun and wind“The sun and the wind” (Based on the fable by Aesop)

One day the sun and the wind quarreled about which was the stronger. The wind said, “I’ll prove I am. See that old man down there with a coat? I bet I can make him take his coat off quicker than you can.”

So the sun went behind a cloud and the wind blew until it was almost a tornado. But the harder it blew, the tighter the old man wrapped his coat about him.

Finally the wind calmed down and gave up; and then the sun came out from behind the cloud and smiled kindly on the old man. Presently, the man mopped his brow and pulled off his coat. The sun then told the wind that gentleness and friendliness were always stronger than fury and force.

german camp and guitarsMy friends came to the camp with their guitars. But some of the ones they planned to work with in the camp were terrified because of the events from the night before and didn’t want to do it. So they prayed with them against fear and at the same time prayed with several of them to receive the Lord. This helped and they were more relaxed.

Also some of the main workers at the camp talked with various factions there to try to restore calmness and cooperation between national groups. Each ethnic or national group, Syrians, Kurds, Afghans, Iraqis, etc, have their own group leaders and they talked to their people in their language. The German Christian woman who heads up the camp spoke to them about forgiveness and peace. She said if some were doing evil, it would not be accepted; that they are going to build up something there in peace.

My friends and their helpers started their performance with the song, “Love Can Build a Bridge”. But then while some were singing, a man from one nationality came up and insisted that he speak on stage. He wanted to apologize to the other nationality group that his people had gotten into the fight with the night before. He publicly asked them for forgiveness. Then he went out into the large crowd, shook hands and gave hugs to the ones his people had been fighting with. This man was actually one of the ones who were working with my friends and he played the role of “the Sun” in the skit.

He’d told my friends days before that those people have no concept of forgiveness and love because it is not emphasized in the Koran. They can’t relate to it. So when my friends talk to them about forgiveness and love, they really listen and they don’t know what to say. It shakes there concept of things that Jesus came for love. They said they never heard that before, that Jesus came to bring God’s forgiveness to them.

german camp crowdThe skit started. One of my friends was “the Wind”, Mustafa was “the Sun” and there was another Muslim guy who took his jacket off. So afterwards my friend asked the hundreds watching the skit if they understood that the sun is more powerful than the storms and that love and forgiveness are more powerful that hate and violence. I should mention by the way that this friend of mine who was sharing this is actually from Asia and was raised a Buddhist. But he became a Christian in his 20’s and is one of the most vigorous, fruitful Christians I know anywhere.

He said that he wanted to pray with everyone so he knelt down on stage and asked others on stage to knell with him. He prayed for them and their countries, that God would stop the wars. He told them he was a Christian and that he wanted to build bridges of love and faith. He asked who wanted to pray and very many raised their hands. He prayed a prayer that they repeated, that God would stop the war, that they would have peace there in the camp and a better life. And that they would have Isa (Jesus) in their hearts as their friend.

The devil wrecked havoc there the night before because he was mad that the next day there would be such a victory. I was just so encouraged and inspired when I heard about all this. It’s not something the media will report but I think it was a very big thing in the Spirit that “the poor have the gospel preached unto them.” (Luke 7:22)

German Awakening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Fret Not

which voice flatMost of us, all of us actually, hear voices. Yes, we do. It’s those little “subconscious” things that bubble up inside of us, for better or for worse. And a large part of life comes down to discerning those voices and knowing which ones are the good ones we listen to and which are the ones we don’t. In fact, this is a major factor in determining who we are: which of those voices are what we determine to be our own and our best.

But it can be tough. Even as children we learn what worry is and how it’s not good. But what about legitimate concern? The Bible says, “The prudent man foresees the evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.” (Proverbs 27:12) At times the best and wisest voice in our hearts is caution and that can often look pretty close to worry or fear. So it just not all real easy.

But there’s more. We’re not alone. It’s not just the little voices we hear inside of us, there are ones that sound and seem almost exactly the same. But they come from outside us, from the spiritual world, both good and evil.

UpAgainstTheWall_02-reworkedHow many people have had some little nudge, some little hunch that they should or shouldn’t do something, even though there’s no visible, reasonable reason to do it? I sure have, on numerous occasions. I wrote about one of those in “Up Against the Wall!” Following that hunch or nudge kept me out of 2 years of prison as a teenager when by most standards, that’s what I deserved. But that was the voice of God, His mercy intervening and speaking powerfully to my mind to do something immediately, something I had not planned to do.

And then there are the voices from the other side, the dark side, that push and prompt people to do evil things. I’m convinced that much of the horror we read about nowadays is originated in the spiritual nether world as evil spirits influence weakened minds and hearts to do their bidding.

fight backBut the good news is that we have choice. The old saying, “The devil made me do it”, is not fully correct. Because we can choose, we can fight back. We can do what it says in the Bible, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Jesus Himself certainly did that; you can read about it in Luke 4:1-13.

Often though, it isn’t Satan we are dealing with, it’s our own hearts and weakened consciences. The Bible says that “the flesh wars against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh” (Galatians 5:17) and those little voices from both sides are so often there and conflict with each other in our minds, even without any influence from the dark side. I guess that’s why for me it was such a complete breakthrough to receive Jesus as my Savior in my heart and to be filed with the Holy Spirit. I truly became a “new creature in Christ Jesus” (II Corinthians 5:17). It’s actually somewhat comparable to what we see happening in our times when we have to format the hard drives on our computers and install a new operating system.

Did that mean that now everything was ok for me? No more little voices conflicting within me? No, I still had and have my basic human nature, personality, quirks and foibles. Only that with Jesus coming into my life, it was like the verse I’ve mentioned before that so sums up the difference, “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) I just had power to follow the right and the good that before I didn’t. Before, sin really did “have dominion over” me (Romans 6:14). But after receiving the Lord, I had Him in me to lead me and empower me to go in the direction of truth and light.

Is of the truth-a- flattenedAlso a major thing was that I found out what the real truth was when reading and understanding the Bible. But I still heard voices, like we all do. I still would be tempted to fear or fret. I still had really a lot to learn about which voices were ones of legitimate concern, not foolish fears, leading me away from the wrong direction. I had to learn, often from experiences, what the sound and nature of the voices were that came from God, calling me further up the mountain of His will and service. But just having the Bible that I began to memorize verses from was a major factor in helping me to recognize voices of truth and error within me.

And it’s still that way many years later. I’ve learned that I practically have to take a firm hand with certain aspects of my personality or nature, almost rebuking myself for giving ear to things I have learned are time wasters or weakeners of my soul and His will. And after a while, those fretful voices within me begin to not really be my own as they were and I more consistently “nip them in the bud”, as gardeners have to do with weeds.

Back in Bulgaria

Bulg church Dec 2015I’ve been spending Christmas with the friends in southern Bulgaria that I visited for the first time back in March. I’ve been doing recordings in Bulgarian but also speaking in their church nearly every night. One of the “dilemmas” for me is knowing what to say.

I just don’t want to get up there and start blabbering away in my own thoughts. What would that help? So I usually have to get desperate in prayer beforehand to get some leading from the Lord as to what He’d want me to share. Tell them I need them flatI wrote about this happening back in March where I just didn’t want to speak without knowing it was what He wanted and they needed. I ended up on my knees, really asking the Lord what to share with them. And it was amazing; I went over to my computer and wrote down virtually a message from the Lord to share that evening. I wrote about this experience in “God Needs You”.

Bulg church-1 Dec 2015But that was then; this is now. Being back here again, I was again faced with this need to get my directions from the Lord in order to make the most of these opportunities. The first night I’d been praying about what to say but I felt I hadn’t really gotten anything from the Lord.

So I went downstairs before the meeting, not really expecting to say anything. But then I started talking to the 16 year old guy who is the Bulgarian voice for the videos and to his 12 year old sister. I was asking her about her life, what her hobbies are and things like that. At one point she said that she doesn’t run around very much but mostly enjoys doing her homework and then going to church here nearly every night. I thought that sounded pretty good and a lot better than most kids do nowadays.

me and vaska in church-2

From March, 2015

Then the church started filling up and lots of people were bringing their kids. And I felt then that the Lord was leading me to talk about children being a mission field in themselves. I told them how my grandmother had such an effect on me and that just pouring out the love of God and the truth of His Word to their kids and grandkids could be one of the greatest things they could do.

Most of the ones here are never going to go to some foreign field. But their kids and grandkids are some of the ones they can minister to. I never thought of that kind of thing to say and it’s not the what I usually share but that became my “message” last night.

church crowd composite

from March, 2015

Another night there was a large crowd as some ones from the surrounding villages came. Again I was sitting there, with them expecting me to speak in the next few minutes and I didn’t know what I was going to say. I’m not recommending this as the best way to go about things but the Lord can and does come through. He said, “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 that speaks in you.” (Matthew 10:19 &20) Boy, I’ve sure claimed that verse a lot. And He does it.

So by the time I stood up to speak, I’d come to feel that I should just share my testimony and also some of the basics and fundamentals of our faith. I told them about what I wrote about in “Lucifer and the White Moths”, how I nearly died and was carried away by the devil except for the mercy of God. And I went on to share how I was witnessed to 7 months later by “Jesus people” who shared the salvation message with me. It was a good time to go over verses like Ephesians 2:8 & 9, Romans 6:23 and one of my favorites, John 1:12. We went on to talk about the need for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the importance of God’s Word, all just basic things that are often good to go over again in order to strengthen people in their faith.

The-prophet-Daniel-and-Nebuchadnezzar

Daniel explains the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, from Daniel chapter 2

Another night was really different. My friends and I went to a nearby, predominately Muslim village where there is a tiny church that actually meets in someone’s kitchen. I’d been there in March and it was great to see them again. But over half the ones there were 12 or younger and the rest were mommies or grandmas. Again, really looking to the Lord, He led me to tell them the story of Daniel from the Bible and how he told the king’s dream in Daniel 2. This is just what we had been working on earlier, doing the audio tract of the video that I’ve done on this chapter over into Bulgarian.

I really had to ham it up for the kids, in order to get their attention. We acted out the whole thing in an impromptu drama of Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel in the king’s court and then the statue and the stone striking it. Even with all the effects, not all of the kids paid attention but the majority did, as well as the adults. So it was an inspiring evening where we all just got lost in the excitement and significance of God’s Word and how God can use even children and young teenagers who turn their lives over to the Lord. And I was thrilled that the Holy Spirit continues to provide the inspiration to feed His sheep in these unusual circumstances.

Christmas 2015

me & Bulgarian church Christmas 2015Hi and greetings to you all, Merry Christmas. Right now I’m with some dear friends in southern Bulgaria, up in the mountains at the little church I visited here back in March. I wrote several blog articles from here at that time, here’s the one that was the main article, explaining how I came upon these wonderful folks.

I was looking over past blog posts I’ve written at Christmas and it seems like for the last 3 years in a row I’ve written a Christmas message to friends this way and posted it on my sites. I guess for all of us it’s a time of reflection, of taking stock and looking at the larger picture of our lives and life itself. As much as we see the commercialization of Christmas and in places just the abolishment of its original meaning, still Christmas abides and remains an “institution” and ancient holiday that forces opposed to it can never seem to really get rid of.highrises

In the last week I have been on buses, first from Bucharest, Romania to Sofia, Bulgaria, then on to Skopje, Macedonia and then back here to southern Bulgaria. It’s so interesting to be driving past little houses on the countryside, massive collapsed Soviet area factories, virtual forests of cheap high-rise apartments for the proletariat of these countries, gypsiesgypsies riding along the road on their horse-drawn wagons and just all that goes on in this vast diverse world of ours.

At one point I just felt the sadness and emptiness that abides like a constant shadow over so many lives. But then I thought about the obscure verse from Job, “But there is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Most High gives him understanding.” (Job 32:8)

Everybody is looking for some inspiration, not always from the best sources but from somewhere. We are not just flesh and blood, we are souls and spirits and we need something that satisfies these, not just our daily food. And of course, as trite and old fashion as it may sound, there is no greater inspiration that the dear Lord Jesus and the regeneration He can work in any life that He is allowed to come into.

thanks for grace flatThese were some of my thoughts on my bus travels in the last week. Sometimes our emotions and understanding are not able to be expressed as we would like. But for me, I’ve just been feeling very thankful (what’s the word that is several measures further up the scale than thankful?) for the life the Lord has given me and how things have gone in recent years. The Biblical explanation for it is “grace”. We’re not only saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8) but also “We have access by faith unto this grace” (Romans 5:2) when we “come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16) There’s even the song, Amazing Grace.

And that‘s how I’ve felt at times in this last year, really amazed by His grace and goodness in my life. As the old song goes, (not one of my favorites), “It was a very good year.” And I think a good part of it has been that long ago the Lord made it a part of my life that the principle of “it is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35) became a fundamental part of my operating system. The Lord said through Isaiah, “If you draw out your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the longing soul, then shall your light rise in obscurity and your darkness shall be as the noonday.” (Isiah 58:10) So I’ve ended up feeling like a very rich man but not in the way the worldly think of such things. I’ve just felt a sense of wealth from the riches in Christ that I have and the joy that He gives to any of us who go in the way of Christian service and love for our fellow human beings.

It’s been a very good year, And from what I can see at this time on my personal horizon, this coming year already has some very interesting and exciting possibilities in it. One of the senses of richness I’ve felt is the number of friends I’ve come in contact with, often through connecting on the internet. Many I have not ever actually met face to face but we’ve become friends though our contact on line and that has been really neat. So I wish you all, far and near, old and young, those I’ve known for decades and those I’ve never met in real time, a very happy Christmas and a Spirit-filled and led New Year to come.

Your friend in Him, Mark

Encountering Refugees

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

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

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

me at transit center

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

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

An Afghan man I talked with

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

They that be with us…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witnessing 101

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

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

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

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

But Mark…

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

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

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

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

But Mark…

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

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

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

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

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