Broken pieces of the ship

paul in shipwreckThis morning I was reading something from “Streams in the Desert” by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman. It was talking about when Paul was shipwrecked on his way as a prisoner to Rome in Acts 27. The devotion was on the verse, Acts 27:44 “And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.

How can you get anything significant out of that verse, right? Well, the devotion brought out that in this dire time in the great apostle Paul’s life, shipwrecked and at wit’s end, a great flaming angel did not appear upon the waters to raise Paul bodily above the rest. A chariot of fire with mighty thunderbolts did not come to his deliverance. And, by in large, that’s how God works most of the time.

God uses little things, broken things, seemingly trivial things. And with those He does His mighty works.

Paul in prison3Paul was destined to be in Rome, God had told him, “As you’ve witnessed for Me in Jerusalem, so must you also bear witness in Rome.” (Acts 23:11) Some things just seem to be destined and foreordained by God, if we continue to do our part. And even in this mighty storm that was upon Paul and the ones in that ship, even there God was in control. Like I wrote about recently when a tornado came over the house I was living in, “God has his way in the whirlwind and the storm.” (Nahum 1:7) But there’s even more significance to this seemingly insignificant verse. “broken pieces of the ship…” How poignant that is. Because so often that’s what each of us are in some points in our lives.

Our own ship has been broken and our life seems to be a ruins. Our family has been broken and seemingly destroyed. Our health is broken. Our church fellowship or denomination has been broken or shamed. And yet, God only uses broken things.

create in me flatGod told Saul, “When you were little in your own sight, I anointed you king over Israel”. (I Samuel 15:17) God wants and needs broken things, because that’s all He can work with. In perhaps one of the most important Psalms in the Bible, Psalm 51, King David in his desperate repentance and metanoia said to God, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, oh God, You will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)

Brokenness. Nobody almost ever wants to be broken, to be defeated, to be embarrassed, to seemingly fail. But God gets some of his greatest victories out of seeming defeat. That broken vessel, the ship Paul was on, was lost. But he and all on board were saved because they kept listening to what Paul, God’s representative to them right then, told them to do in that dire crisis.

In the same way, if individuals or bodies of individuals keep listening to the Lord, keep our eyes on Him and our direct hotline of prayer to His Throne alive through direst times, He will not fail to keep, deliver and guide through anything. He loves to do the miracles, that’s the nature of God. And in our brokenness, whatever form that may take, He can do what He can’t do when we are so “together” and on top of things.

Gods judgements flatJesus even said, “Whosoever shall fall upon this stone shall be broken. But on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.” (Matthew 21:44) God help us to fall on the Stone, Christ Jesus, in brokenness and dependence on Him. This is the safest state there is: utter dependence on the Lord. The proud, the haughty, the self sufficient who think they don’t need God or His ways and His love will sadly someday at length find the same Stone we are supposed to fall up will fall upon them when they see their lives were empty, meaningless and selfish. Although God’s wheels of justice sometimes seem to grind exceeding slow, they eventually grind exceeding fine.

God help us to have the vision of just being “broken pieces of the ship”. Broken things, little things, even despised things which God said He would use “to bring to naught things that are”. (I Corinthians 1:28)  “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways’, says the Lord.” (Isiah 58:10)

How inglorious to be floundering about helplessly and desperately on a plank in a stormy ocean, at wits end. But there the apostle Paul was and from there he was delivered by the One who always had “delivered him from every evil work”. (II Timothy 4:18) May God give us all the eyes He wants us to have to even be “broken pieces of the ship”, if so be the will of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Days of Heaven

intimacy photo edited retouched sizedI heard someone say one time, “I couldn’t tell you about it when I didn’t have the victory.” So I don’t totally have the victory about this right now but I’ll give it a shot at telling you.

It says in the Bible, “Now we know in part, but then shall we know as we are known.” (I Corinthians 13:12) And this is not only true of knowing the Lord that way in heaven to come. Up there we’re going to know each other that way too. And that will be a big part of heaven, a closeness there that we almost never have here with each other on earth.

But sometimes we do. Sometimes God allows and engineers situations so we’re led down a path where we are in the right place at the right time with someone with whom we experience a closeness, I’ll even use the word “intimacy”, if you understand that the way I mean, which is on a scale so advanced that it approaches that of heaven. That’s happened to me recently.

“Good for your Mark, I’m so happy for you!”

Umm, yeah; thanks. But this is like two things I’ve written about before, “Sweet Potatoes with Butter” and “Pinnacle Experiences.” In my case, the Lord has allowed me to have some time of communication with someone I’ve vaguely known at various times for years. I’ve always been struck by this person. They’ve always seemed so unusually angelic that it’s been difficult for me to be around them the few times that I have been.

What do you think of when you think of an angel? Beauty? Wisdom? Humility? You can trust them. They have a stability and a “health”, for the lack of a better term, that kind of leaves you in awe. What if you talked to that angel?

He didn’t look like this. But this is what he was.

Some have had experiences with angels a few brief times in our lives. But real angels are not usually there for hours. They don’t talk to you for hours. They’re heavenly beings from that other realm who God allows to sometimes cross our path or even appear and speak to us.

But perhaps you’ve had some kind of experience with a human being who somehow has such grace, wisdom and beauty that it just doesn’t seem real. Sometimes you just almost stare at that person in awe at their beauty and words, their gentle soul and obvious grace.

As you and they talk, it’s almost like being pulled out of this world and into the realms of heaven. You don’t want to do anything wrong because it’s almost like a charmed time you are in. But a good time, given by God, where the essences of heaven pour into you and you’re lifted out of the humdrum dreariness that so often you are in, seemingly for so long.

This is the type of experience we think of that men and women have who get married. But maybe even married couples don’t always have this or they don’t have it any more. But it doesn’t have to be limited to that. And for Christians, it can be just something that God allows, like finding an oasis in a vast desert you’ve have traveled alone in for so long. The only way to describe it is heavenly. Somehow this person is almost like a window into heaven or at least God is using them this way.

Richard DreyfusIt sounds great, no? This happened to me recently. But then… but then. We have to come down from our mountain. We enjoy those “sweet potatoes with butter” but then it’s over. You’ve been on a shining mountain, a true “Close Encounter“. But you have to come down.

I don’t know how it is for you. But for me, my life for a number of years has been one of single-minded purpose in daily laying down my life for Him and others. But that has almost always been in a type of loneliness I’ve grown used to and accepted as how it has to be and how things are in this world for me.

The wonderful thing is that we each have the Lord, at least the ones of us who know and believe in Him. “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest”. (Exodus 33:14) We have the light of His Word in our hearts, which we have laid up there through faithfully memorizing and retaining it. We have the presence of His Holy Spirit. These are things that abide with us and help us to navigate and exist in what is frankly an often dark and lonely world, full of shadows and vanity.

masks off flatOur daily contact with other human beings is so often shallow in the extreme compared to the deep and intimate contact we will have with each other in the hereafter. Our main need is His salvation and presence and we have that constantly and daily as we pray and lean on His Word. But daily heartfelt intimacy with other human beings can often be rather rare, even if you’re surrounded with people during you day.

why crying flatSo, like  I said at the  beginning of this, I’m not sure I can tell you about all this when I don’t have the victory. We who are saved have a victory. We have the Savoir who’s “delivered us from every evil work“. (II Timothy 4:18) But still for some, even of the saved, we live with a heaviness and a loneliness that’s seldom lifted expect for those rare times of “days of heaven”, in some cases with virtual angels who walk the earth, splendid creatures who exude a beauty and grace, love and humility, and a knowledge of how to live life that’s virtually breath-taking and blinding. But it shines brilliantly in our hearts and is a glimpse into the future and heaven to come.

Tomorrow I will be back to “normal”. I hope I can do what I wrote about recently. I hope I can bring the pinnacle experience I’ve had with me back to my normal day-to-day world and share it with others. But right now I’m  a little afraid I’ll be remembering these days of heaven and, frankly, be missing them a lot. God told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (II Corinthians 12:9) I’ll be holding onto his Word and to Him. But also I’ll really be looking forward even more than before to the true heaven to come and the intimacy and beauty there that I’ve experienced a touch of here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 2)

sit down merged flatThis afternoon I was having a Bible class with around 10 young people between the ages of 7 and 17, children of some of the attendees at the Christian fellowship I’m at up in the mountains of Romania.

Teaching Daniel chapter 2 is one of my favorite things since it’s about the easiest chapter there is to introduce the phenomenon of Bible prophecy. It’s actually about someone who was probably not older than 14 at the time. So this adds to the interest in the chapter for younger people.

If you’re a teacher, there’s a lot you can do to dramatize this chapter. Daniel and his friends are taken captive and carried away from their home country. They are educated, probably “upper class” kids. They’d already had serious instruction in the things of the Lord and had taken it to heart.

Shadrach-Meshach-AbednegoBut then Daniel and his friends are put to the test and nearly executed. Daniel and the others got down to desperate prayer and the Lord answered in one of the most miraculous ways in the Bible. Like I told the kids in my class, “What if you were suddenly carried away to Moscow?! You have to appear before Vladimir Putin and his advisers in the Kremlin to tell him what he had dreamed!” It makes it more real like this.

Dan & Neb for D9 postA lot of drama helps if you’re teaching kids. There’s the strange statue and, even stranger, that stone that hit the statue on the feet. So I was the statue, one of the kids held a big basket which hit me (the statue) on my feet. I crumbled to dust in front of their eyes and the basket (the stone) became a great mountain. Lots of spectacle in that when you act it out .

Neb falls at feetThe result? King Nebuchadnezzar fell at the feet of Daniel in front of his whole court. So I fell at the feet of one of the kids there and we played like I was Vladimir Putin, speaking my broken Russian, falling at their feet in thankfulness and awe that they were able to reveal the secret. It helps to bring it all home to kids and to help them remember it and grasp the significance when you do this. Often times that’s what they remember the most

But also in the room was a friend of mine who is 20 who comes from a family of dedicated east European Christians. All through our class I’d been trying to bring it all back to their level and help them to see how this could have been them and what it would have been like to have been 14 year old Daniel. Then at the end of the class, my 20 year old friend shared her life story with the ones there who were actually the same age as her younger sisters and brothers. She told them something like this.

“In 7th grade, because of my Christian beliefs, I really didn’t have many friends in school. So I decided I wanted friends and for them to accept me. From then on I started going to parties without my parents knowing.

When I turned 15, I started a relationship with a boy who at first accepted my beliefs. But after a year he told me he had lied to make me like him. I continued to be with him another 2 years and through that time he and his friends told me that I lived in a fantasy world and that I’m trying to run away from reality. This affected my beliefs and caused me to doubt my faith in the Lord. Around the end of our relationship, we went for a summer vacation where we had a big fight and I ran out crying.

I ended up looking at the stars which often brought me peace. I decided to give the Lord “one last chance”. Inside me I had a battle and felt I was making a fool of myself. But I told the Lord my feelings and I told Him I wanted to see a shooting star from left to right if I was not supposed to be together with my boyfriend. Or right to left if he was the one for me. And I told him if nothing happens, then I will never believe in Him again.

sit down merged flatI waited for about 10 minutes but nothing happened. So I stood up to leave but then a very strong voice in my head told me, ‘Sit down. The answer is coming.’ 

When I sat down and looked up, an enormous shooting star went exactly from left to right the way I had asked. The Lord told me then that my future boyfriend would have the same beliefs that I have. This showed me that the Lord truly loves me and that He will never leave me or forsake me. This was about 2 years ago and now actually I do have a boyfriend who has the same beliefs as me and he has a strong relationship with the Lord.”

So for me this was a great way to end the class with these east European kids from missionary families, hearing from one from their generation who’s come to know the Lord personally and has their own experiences (some learned the hard way).

(In part three I’ll tell you about a young man I met for the first time here, one who’s overcome obstacles most of us never face, who is an incredible light for the Lord in a far off corner of eastern Europe.)

 

At the Camp of the Saints (Part 1)

fellowship first photo croppedAs many of you know, I moved back to eastern Europe a few weeks ago after living 6 years in Texas. It’s been a bit of a transition and it’s an ongoing process to let the Lord transform me back to how He wants me to be in this part of the world.

Right now I’m up in the mountains at an informal get together of a few dozen people who have similar backgrounds and Christian calling to me. It is very revitalizing to be in this atmosphere, it’s hard even to describe it. But there’s just something about being around fellow disciples and committed Christians, many of whom are like the Lord talked about ones who had “born the burden and heat of the day.” (Matthew 20:12) A number here have had lives of Christian service for decades. So being here is a lot like the verse, “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for the brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1)

One of the best things for me has just been the depth of communications and heart-to-heart contact that goes on here. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty” (II Corinthians 3:17) and sometimes that’s manifested in wonderfully deep, clear, heart-sharing with friends.

So I thought to share with you some about some folks I’ve met here, ones I never met before who’ve deeply impressed me with their Christian witness and the lives they’re living. I’ll leave out their names and some specifics as that’s probably for the best. But their lives are fascinating and resonate with how I feel we all can be, and should be, in the way the Lord can lead and use each of us.

One of the first I talked to was a man half my age. He grew up in a missionary family. But that of course doesn’t really count for all that much when one has to personally choose what they believe and want to do with their lives. Someone has said, “God has no grandchildren.” In this case, this dear brother, after a few years of “sowing his wild oats”, put his life firmly back in the Lord’s hands and has found a way to be a very effective witness in what I consider one of the more “post Christian” countries in all of Europe.

I feel that Western and Northern Europe is not a place in these times where sharing your faith and witnessing for the Lord is often met with receptivity. “Nah, that’s not for me” is a phrase often heard, or worse than that, if you speak up for the Lord there. But this dear brother is working and studying in a country I know pretty well, one that I don’t at all consider a receptive part of the world to the Gospel. From what he’s told me, he actually pretty bold about it.

He’s often worked as a waiter or other things like that so this brings him in contact with a lot of people. And he’s learned how to wisely and gracefully bring the Lord and the things of faith into conversations. But he also keeps in contact with people, drops by for a visit sometime, gives little gifts to ones he knows and overall cultivates his friendships. This has often brought comments like about how they don’t know anyone else like him who’s as friendly and concerned as he is. Rather like Solomon said, “A man that has friends must show himself friendly. And there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

fools for christBut another thing I noticed from what he said was how he just seems to have a lot of love for the Lord and others. So much so that he’s wiling at times to be “a fool for Christ” (I Corinthians 4:10), like Paul said. Most of us who witness for the Lord in any way know that we will get opposition from time to time and even have folks think we’re crazy or eccentric. But it was the same for Jesus, “When his friends heard of this, they went out to lay hold on him, for they said, ‘He is beside himself’.” (Mark 3:21)

So this was very inspiring to meet this new friend and to hear of someone regularly witnessing on his job and in university, standing up for Godly values and unafraid to call a spade a spade when confronted with the atheist/agnostic morals and ethics of modern Northern and Western Europe. I got the verse for him, “The  Lord didn’t leave Himself without witness” (Acts 14:17) in that He has strengthen and raised up this young man to be His light in what is often the atheist darkness that prevails in many parts of that area of the world.

(In part two, I’ll tell you about a Bible study I held with the young people at the fellowship and how afterwards a 20 year old friend of mine shared an amazing story that changed her life and faith in God.)

The Stand

they stoodSomeone said one time, “If your will power doesn’t work, try your “won’t” power.” Ha! But there’s a lot of truth in that. The Bible talks about the stand of faith. An obscure verse that highlights this principle is Judges 7:21, “And they stood, every man in his place, round about the camp, and all the host ran and cried and fled.” In this case, the forces of God didn’t attack. They just took the stand of faith.

I’ve definitely had times in my life when I just couldn’t seem to take any forward steps. And sometimes this went on a long time. But even if “my gas pedal” just didn’t seem to work, I still had “my brakes”. And I kept my foot on the brakes. I wasn’t going to go back, even if it seemed impossible to go forward. I think this can happen a lot of times to a lot of us. The Bible says, “Having done all, to stand.” (Ephesians 6:13)

Wont go back flatBut sometimes the storms get so strong, we’re rendered so helpless that all we can do is just hang on. “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.” (Isaiah 59:19) And at times all we can do is to take the stand of faith. Our “will” power is seemingly matched by the onslaughts of the enemy or the storms of life. But we still have our “won’t” power.

Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4) His Spirit in us will cause us to do the humanly impossible. We can choose, no matter what.

That’s one of the things I came away with from the utterly horrific times I went through in the last months and year or so before I came to a knowledge of God. “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man, but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able, but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13) When I read that verse for the first time, I was just so very astounded. Because that was exactly what I had experienced, even without salvation earlier.

In my greatest, overwhelming inundations of fear, defeat and death, there was always some tiny sliver of light, some “way of escape”, no matter how faint. And through it all, I learned I had a soul. I learned the hard way. “The way of the transgressor is hard” (Proverbs 13:15) and I don’t know if it could have been any harder, if I was to survive it. But it was because of my sins and my lack of knowledge of the will and existence of God. He brought me through it but not without the smell of smoke. It took months and years of the cleansing of the Word of God to, in a sense, “rewire me” and to be “renewed in the spirit of my mind.” (Ephesians 4:23)

I choose Him flatBack in those times, I had no idea really where “forward” was. But the forces of darkness and sin were so strong in my life that if I didn’t learn how to use my brakes, if I didn’t have forming in me the basics of recognizing evil and repentance of sin, then those things would have fully taken my life before I was 21. But I learned I could resist the enemy and the darkness. I learned I could choose and therefore I was responsible for my decisions. Often they were bad decisions but that’s how I learned, at length.

I didn’t have the power of God then because I wasn’t saved. “As many as received Him, to them He gave  power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That verse encapsulates my salvation experience. I received Him, Jesus. And He gave me the power I didn’t have to, not only resist the wrong, but to know what was right.

So don’t underestimate the stand of faith. Don’t underestimate your “won’t power”. Just make sure you are exercising it on the enemy and your sins; don’t use your “won’t power” against the Lord. “If you be willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land, but if you refuse and rebel… (things won’t go so well).”  (Isaiah 1:19)

PS  And when writing this, I got a little concerned. Because, as much as we all need to understand the stand of faith and how to apply our “brakes”, it’s perhaps equally or more important to know when to “step on the gas”. Faith in God is not just about standing and resisting the darkness; it’s perhaps even more about getting moving with, and for, God. More about that in the next post.

 

Partitions

soul heart flat-2Sometimes just to have the vocabulary for a thing is a huge step forward. When I started working with computers years ago, I realized immediately that there was a vocabulary involved. And learning the basic vocabulary having to do with computers was pretty essential in learning to use them.

Somewhat similarly, when I was an atheist in university, I kept experiencing things that I had no way to describe and no vocabulary for. How can an atheist describe spiritual experiences? Maybe that’s one of the reasons why, when I finally came to believe in God and later in Jesus, that it all just flooded into me. Because I had already had things happening to me that I didn’t understand and couldn’t describe until I learned the vocabulary of the Bible that helped to understand those things.

why arent we flatIf you’re secular, basically “your mind” is about as far as the vocabulary goes. Maybe it’s different now but back when I went to university, they sure never ever talked to me about my “soul”, or my “spirit” or my “heart”. Can you imagine going to a university that offered “Soul 101” as a course? Yet the Bible talks about those things all the time. And understanding what they are and what the differences are between them is a mighty step forward in understanding what are the essences of the beings we are. But university sure isn’t going to teach you that. Maybe you’ll hear some rock song about how your girlfriend “broke your heart”. But what is a heart? Is that all just metaphorical or some ancient wives’ tales?

For me, it was an incredible breakthrough to have the vocabulary of the Bible to describe my existence and experiences. Jesus spoke in one place of our “soul” and “heart” and  “mind”. (Matthew 22:47). In another place He said, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh…” (John 3:6) On the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 23:46) And Paul, writing to the Ephesians, said that we should put off “the old man” and put on “the new man” (Ephesians 4:22-24). These are all ancient Biblical terms but they brought light and clarity to my soul that I was utterly lacking before.

So many people bemoan their present state. “Oh, I’m so tired!” “Oh, I’m so afraid!”  But they don’t really know, evidently, God’s way of partitioning our beings. The Bible is full of expressions that use this viewpoint. “While our outward man perishes, our inward man is renewed day by day.” (II Corinthians 4:16) Jesus said, “It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing.” The Bible says of the Word of God that it pierces, “even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit… and is a discerner of the thoughts and the intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)

There is ageless wisdom and understanding in the Bible that bring us to depths of understanding that university degrees never reach. Wisdom, understanding, knowledge. The Bible can help us to both treasure these things and to know how to apply them practically and daily in our lives.

Recently “my flesh” has been pushed. I’m pushing myself to get off to the next stage of my life. If I didn’t know better, I could say, “Oh, I’m really tired!” “Oh, this is so hard!” But I know that’s just the reaction of “my flesh”, according to how the Bible describes it. Because, truly, my spirit is fine and I’m excited about what’s going on and up ahead.

Admittedly, it’s a little hard on my flesh right now. But if I didn’t know God’s Word and how these things are described in the Bible, then I wouldn’t recognize the partition between “me” and “my flesh”. I’m not my flesh. It’s not the main thing, it’s not the real me. It’s part of me and part of my existence. But I am a soul, I have a spirit and a heart and a mind. So even if I have to push my flesh right now, if I still take care of it and don’t exceed the guidelines of the Lord, then this is generally what the Lord said, to “take up your cross daily” (Luke 9:24) and follow Him.

So many things flatI am benefiting so much at this time by being able to keep a Biblical view of things and what’s going on. I’m trying to go forward for Him. It involves some measure of personal and physical sacrifice and discomforted. But like Paul wrote, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) When we can take to ourselves these simple, basic principles from God’s Word, the terminology He uses to describe us, His creations, then it just helps overall to understand who and what we are, how our spiritual insides are constructed and how things work, what are our components and how we are partitioned.

Close Encounters and Pinnacle Experiences

Richard DreyfusMaybe you’ve heard the phrase, “pinnacle experiences”, those rare moments in life when you feel like you’re on some kind of spiritual mountain and see things that are almost eternal, truths you almost never realized before. For many people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience or perhaps a few times at most. You’re lifted above the mundane, the routine, the trivial, and you briefly glimpse eternal realities.

Moses on MountPerhaps not many in history more fully experienced that than Moses of the Old Testament. He literally was called up into a mountain to hear the very voice of God and to experience the very presence of God. We are told this went on for 40 days. Of course most of us have no way we can relate to that. But many of us have had “mountain peak” experiences, moments of clarity, purity, fullness of truth when we feel we see eternal things and understand things we almost never do.

And Moses was told, “See that you make all things according to how it was showed you on the mount” (Hebrews 8:5). And it’s still the same today. Those “mountain peaks” of truth the Lord lets us see glimpses of perhaps only a few times in our lives, those glimpses of how things can be, how things are in the hereafter through the Spirit of God, those are the ways of heaven that He wants us to emulate here on earth. I’ve had a few times like that and I’ve written about them in the category “Angels and Miracles“.

Dreyfus in truckThere’s an old movie that has become very famous, ‘”Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. One of the main characters, Richard Dreyfus, has a “close encounter” with a UFO which comes to hover over his truck as he drives around to fix power lines one night. His life is utterly changed. It’s like some kind of message or imprint has been made on his soul. He just keeps duplicating “what he saw on the mount”, what he experienced in those few moments with the UFO. He isn’t really the same person he was before, because of the mountain peak experience he had with the UFO.

This to me has always been a parallel of how it is and can be with our experience with God. Many of us have had a moment in the stillness, in the presence of the supernatural Spirit of God. It could have been a dream, it could have been in prayer, it could have been in reading His Word when the affairs of this life drop behind you, you are away from secular things and on the mount with God, even if for a moment.

And I believe that the same way God told Moses to do all things according as it was shown him on the mount, He says the same to us today. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Sometimes there are moments when we “see God”. It doesn’t happen all the time but it does happen. And if we hold on to that, if we retain and treasure in our hearts those moments with Him on the mount that He gives us, then we can bring that essence down from the mount, as Moses did.

It says that Moses’s face shown and glowed so much when he came down from Mount Sinai that he had to put a veil or covering over his face because he glowed with the light of God right then. That’s for us too. If we remember our paths to the mountains that He has taken us to, then we can “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)

Glow with GodThose mountain peaks don’t have to be once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Maybe they aren’t everyday things. But the influence, the change, the glory, the infusion of His mighty Love and Light can remain with us and we come back to this world as Moses did when he came down from the mount. We can “go about everywhere doing good” (Acts 10:38), as Jesus did. We can be “instruments of his peace”, that Saint Francis prayed he would be. We can bring that imprint of the mountain back to this dark, sad world and be the light He has called us to be.

See that you do all things according to how it was shown you on the mountain” (Hebrews 8:5). May God help us to remember those mountain peaks of experience He gives us, to live in those moments, even if they’re now memories, and to let others see that heavenly realm in and through us. “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were ignorant and unlearned men, they marveled and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)