The story and pictures from Bulgaria

me and vaska in church-2Of the three countries I have been in recently, the one where there’s been the most to do in the way of teaching and ministering has been in Bulgaria. So I think it would be interesting for many of you if I shared more of the main thing I was doing there and also include some of the photos from those times.

Bulgaria map 2As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I first heard from my friend Vaska when she wrote me over a year ago, after she began viewing my videos on the prophecies of Daniel. Last year I wrote about my contact with her in two articles, “Good News from Bulgaria” and “More Good News from Bulgaria”. She also was the one who sent me the story about the former Muslim priest who visited her church and told his about his experience which I wrote about in “Suicide Bomber Sees the Light”.

church crowd compositeSo when I arrived at the little church in the small town in southern Bulgaria where Vaska and her friends have their base, it was already a little familiar to me. The first night I felt led to just share my life story of how I went from being an atheist to becoming a Christian. It seems like the apostle Paul, in his journeys, often started his ministry in an area by just sharing the conversion he had experienced.

Of course a big thing with these new Bulgarian friends was the vast difference in culture, background and nationality between them and me. So one of the first things I did was to let them know that in the Lord’s eyes, He sees us as one in Him, brothers and sisters, equals through His working in our lives. That seemed to help that I wasn’t trying to come there as some exalted one from a foreign country. Jesus “made himself of no reputation” (Philippians 2:7) and it’s important that we do that as well.

The main little church I spoke in. My room was upstairs.

The main little church I spoke in. My room was upstairs.

And they really took good care of me while I was there, almost too much, ha! I was brought breakfast, lunch and dinner at the little room I stayed in above the church and most of the time it was way more than I could eat. A real specialty of Bulgaria is a salty white cheese and there was a lot of that, as well as olives, fried chicken, fresh vegetables and lots of fruit. The church was within site of the mountains of northern Greece and many of the locals in the church go to Greece in the summer to work in the harvests.

Vaska and Avram

Vaska and Avrim

Another thing that impressed me was how Vaska worked with the local pastors in the towns in the area. I met at least a half dozen of these men and it was clear that they all really were appreciative of her ministry to them and to their people. Vaska is a good guitar player and singer and she has been working with a very interesting, unusual young man, Avram. Actually, he ended up being the one to do the voice for the audio tract of the first Bulgaria video in the prophecies of Daniel series. In the beginning I was hesitant to have Avram be the voice as I felt he was just too young. But Vaska said his diction in Bulgarian plus his understanding of the material was really good so we ended up going with that.

I guess, in a sense, “running in the background”, I was amazed to see how the Lord’s Spirit was working in this place, the interaction between Vaska and the ones she ministers to, the mentoring and coaching of some of these ones as they discussed situations and people in the churches, and the time she spent with Avram to help him grow in grace and maturity.

I could see from my room a church, a mosque and a solar panel, all in daily use.

I could see from my room a church, a mosque and a solar panel, all in daily use.

It’s seemed to pay off in their communities as there was overall a tranquil atmosphere and cooperation in the places I saw there. Very many of these ones were originally Muslim before becoming Christians. Their towns are mixed between these two religions but there seemed to be little to no open hostility between the two groups that I heard about.

It reminded me of the verse, “The things that you have heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” (II Timothy 2:2) This is such an essential part of the vision of those of us who want to see the Lord’s work grow and His flocks to prosper, in Bulgaria or anywhere. There has to be training of those who are called to be shepherds and teachers themselves, to be able to take care of the multitudes that so often are coming to Him. Without “labor leaders”, you can end up with vast flocks of bleating sheep but no grass roots Christian leadership, trained to feed and guide the flocks into green pastures.

It was a wonderful time. If the Lord leads and provides, I do want to be back there again sometime before real long. I hope this has helped to fill out the view of what was going on there in Bulgaria and also that the pictures included here help as well. And thanks again for your prayers during this time; it went really well. It will be exciting to go back there, Lord willing, to see how things have grown and also to see what were the fruits and results of my visit there. God bless you.

God Needs You

Tell them I need them flatOne morning while I was in Bulgaria, I was in a room above the little church where they were hosting me. I’d been speaking  to around 70 people for the first two nights who’d braved the late winter snow to come and hear what the foreigner had to say. I’d shared my life story of how I came to believe in the God of Abraham and then in Jesus. Another night I’d shared some basic classes on the importance of Jesus, the subject of Salvation, the significance of the Holy Spirit, the need for the Bible in our lives.

church crowd 3But I somehow felt that the last night’s time with these folks lacked the full power that an opportunity like this requires. So the next morning I felt desperate that things go better. I’ve already written about this some in “Work? Or Prayer…in Bulgaria” There I mentioned how that I felt the Lord answered my desperate prayer by laying something on my heart which I wrote down after my prayer. Here’s an edited version of that and what has come to be one of the main things I’ve shared with these ones since then.

God Needs You

In Ezekiel there’s an obscure but extremely significant passage. God is speaking and He says, “I sought for a man among them to stand in the gap and make up the hedge, that I should not destroy the land. But I found him not.” (Ezekiel 22:30) The picture is of a broken wall. We can think of it as the city of our fellowship and heritage of the people of God. There was a gap through which the Enemy could attack and God needed a person to rally the forces of God to stand up for Him in the battles of the Lord. But the Scripture says, “He found him not.” God found no one to take up the mission of His will and service.

who shall I send flat-2In another place, God is speaking in Isaiah, “Who shall I send, who shall go for us?” Then Isaiah answers “Here am I Lord, send me.” (Isaiah 6:8) That’s what is needed, but there are so very few. Jesus said the same thing. “When He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion. For they fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plenteous, but the laborers are few. Pray to the Lord of the harvest that He will send laborers into His harvest.’” (Matthew 9:36-38)

And it’s certainly still the same today. God needs and wants fighters, not just believers. There is a raging war going on. Souls are dying without the Word of the Lord. In the endtime, we are destined to be winners in the battles. Where are the victors of God? Where are the heroes? Where are the “mighty men”, like David had, who knew there was a battle and that they were on the side of the God of light and love and truth?

come out flatThat’s what is needed. Not spectators, but players on the field of battle. God has a destiny prepared for those who will claim it in their lives. God has victorious battles to be won, souls to be set free, lights to be lifted up, and multitudes to turn to Him. But He doesn’t want to do it alone. He wants us to work with Him; He wants to work with flesh and blood us.

Who can He use in your community, in your family? Who does He chose? “The foolish things to confound the wise.” (I Corinthians 1:26). “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled and took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13) That’s really all that’s needed. Not theology school, a university degree, the right skin color and the backing of a large denomination. What’s needed is that “they had been with Jesus”. And so, so many have been with Jesus and are with Jesus. But their lights remain “under a basket” (Matthew 5:15), rather than really on a candlestick. The church of our times has left the arena and now sits in the grandstands.

How can we rule with Him in the Millennium if we are not working, fighting and winning with Him right now? “Now is the day of salvation“. (II Corinthians 6:2) Today is the day that souls are fainting in the land, dying and giving up hope. Today is the day that God needs you to step out of your circle of normalcy and to go a little further. It says of Jesus, “He went a little further, and fell on His face.” (Matthew 26:39) That’s what each of us should be doing each day: going a little further and falling on our face in desperate prayer that we can be all that He wants us to be and needs us to be.

harvest is plenteous flatMay God help all of us to not be complacent, not satisfied with the normal hum-drum tediousness of our lives. May we obey what the Lord said, to “Lift up our eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.” (John 4:35) The Lord needs laborers, the Lord needs soldiers, the Lord needs simple people like you and me to take the mantel of His mighty men of old in these desperate end times, to have the vision of fighters, winners, overcomers, harvesters, soul winners, sheep-feeders, comforters of the weak, whatever the call or need is, that His people will have the vision of the service He has called us to and which is so very needed in these desperate times.

It’s just a very basic principle of God for centuries, “If you draw out our soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light will rise in obscurity and your darkness will be as the noonday.” (Isiah 58:10) Even in your own life, if you “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then all these things will be added to you”. (Matthew 6:33)

It all comes back to love, to love God and your neighbor. But that love is a compassionate, active, stirred up love, love that doesn’t get stopped by barriers, love that ends up being something that isn’t really often seen to the degree it needs to be. It was love that sent the shepherd boy David to the front lines to see and confront the enemies of God. “Is there not a cause?”, young David said. It was love that cause Philip to run to meet the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), “The love of Christ constrains us”, Paul said. (II Corinthians 5:14)

This is what I have come to share here with these precious ones. I felt the Lord would challenge them to go further in their lives, to look outward to the circle of friends and acquaintances they come in contact with daily, to witness and share the Love of God with the unsaved, those who’ve never heard the message of salvation, so many of whom will willingly come to Him, if someone will just reach them with His love.

Tea & Endtime with the Kurds

My friend and I were sitting in the office of a Kurdish business woman. We were over in her neck of the woods, not in the West. And my friend had told me that in his conversations with her at other times, quite often the subject had turned to the events of the endtime, predicted in prophecy. By the way, the picture here is one I found on line of Kurdish women, not of the ones we met.

“So, Mark, the Kurdish woman was an evangelical Christian?”

No, she wasn’t. In fact when we first got there, we had to wait for her as she was having prayer, something many Muslims do 5 times a day.

“Were she and her friends covered from head to toe in black and all you could see of her was where there was a slit for her eyes?”

No, actually they were all dressed completely casually and looked like everyday folks from northern Italy.

“Mark, that doesn’t make sense! How could she be someone that carries on a conversation about the endtime if she was a Muslim?!”

My friend who took me to her office said that all she knows about the prophetic endtime is what she’s learned about it from the Koran and what my friend has shared with her. Yes, there’s plenty about the future to come in the Koran that has some definite parallels to the same narrative we find in the Old and New Testament, and quite a few Muslims know about this.

I spoke about this in my video on Daniel chapter 7, how that Muslims know specifically about “the dejjal”, the name in the Koran for the Antichrist, spoken of as a demonic world leader who will arise in the final years before the return of Jesus. AC figure-2This is also explained in the Koran. That may be surprising news to some who read this. Here’s the text and illustrations to the Daniel 7 class if you’re interested in knowing more about this.

So while drinking tea with her and her friends, one of the things we talked about was “the mark of the beast”, predicted in Revelation 13:16 & 17 as being a part of the world economic system of the final days. We talked about how this type of thing was not really possible for 2000 years. But now in our times virtually every product has a bar code. And we shared with our friend how that it would be just as easy to implant some kind of chip in each individual so that he could be scanned for each economic transaction and kept up with electronically in an almost complete way. We told her that this was prophesied many centuries ago as a sign of the final years at the time of the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21), before the return of Jesus.Mark of the Beast

This was not the first time my friend had talked with this Kurdish business woman and her friends about this. But it was a way to share with her the vision of the future from the Bible which she already knew a good deal about, from her study of the Koran. She said, as we discussed the overall endtime picture of possibly needing to draw back from the large cities if a world government took over, that she felt she could be safe in some of the smaller villages she knows where Kurds are the majority. And that’s a similar conclusion to what many in the West have come see as a way to survive if an Antichrist world rule comes in our lifetime. Some may need to “flee into the wilderness” (Revelation 12:14), as the Bible says some will.

Another of my friends later told me that this is one of the easiest ways to enter into conversations with Islamic people, by talking about the vision of the future to come and what the prophets and writers of the Old and New Testament were shown by the God of Abraham about that time. So it was a wonderful day, sharing faith and truth that I’ve learned with someone hungry and receptive to the same truth.

By the way, you might wonder why I’m not being more specific and detailed about the name of the woman, her city and things like that. The reason is that in some parts of the world, a “Christian” way of looking at God, Jesus and the Bible is pretty controversial and even outright dangerous.

In some countries you can be thrown out of them if you’re known to be sharing your faith in that way. In other countries, it can get much worse, not always from the governments but just from local people who “take the law into their own hands” or who are motivated by ancient animosities to see you as an enemy of their society. In those circumstances you learn quickly to be a good deal less specific when sharing news of what the Lord has done, both for your own sake but also for the sake of your friends.

But it’s a wonderful life. It’s a wonderful and thrilling to have a conversation with people like my friend and I spoke with today, ones who have such a genuine hunger for the things of the Lord and such believing hearts to grasp and retain what we shared with them.

So I’d encourage you to not be afraid to step out and share your faith and what you know with your friends who might have an Islamic background. You might find it a very interesting and rewarding conversation, just like we did, even if you have to wait till they finish praying.

Visiting Syria (part 2)

Reyhanli kids in classI mentioned in the first post on my visit to the city bordering Syria, how that the school we visited was a surprise. Clean, organized, a real testimony to the people who are running it. It just struck me as a sign of the resilience of these folks who have almost all suffered personally, often physically, or have had members of their families who’ve suffered. But they seem very determined to make an environment for their children so they can continue their education and to not be defeated by the horror and destruction going on in their country.

I took some photos of some of the drawings the kids had done which were posted in the hallways of their school. Often they were in English. One of them said:

Peace poster -1Peace is part of love.

Peace cannot be controlled but it can only be made.

Peace is there.

Peace is here.

Peace is all over the world.

 

And another one said:

Peace poster -2“P” Peace is calm and friendly.

“E” Everyone is joyful.

“A”  Always have a smile.

“C” Careful and nice, no hate is allowed.

“E”   Evil is not right

But what could we do in the time we had there? We visited several classrooms, including where they were learning English. There were 4 of us; 3 spoke Turkish and 2 also spoke Arabic. We told them that we loved them and that we were so amazed by their happy smiles and joyful spirits. It wasn’t an opportunity or appropriate right then to speak on religious topics to these kids in their classrooms. But they knew we were different and had come to show love and solidarity with them.

Some of the Syrian kids with school supplies we brought for them.

Some of the Syrian kids with school supplies we brought for them.

With the head teachers and administrators, we talked more. We asked what we could do to help. They asked if we meant financially, materially or psychologically. We said we didn’t come from a large aid organization but were primarily volunteers. We brought with us several hundred dollars worth of school supplies for the children there, as well as clothes and goods they could pass on to the most needy in their community. We also gave a cash gift.

But we said we felt our strongest help could be in the realm of the heart, to let them know that millions are praying for their people, that they’re not forgotten and that our hearts were broken for them and their people at this time. When we asked what we could do, one of them spoke up emphatically to tell us to stop the bombing of their villages and cities and to stop the killing. We said we would if we could but that was beyond our abilities.

At one point in our talk with the administrators, I somehow shared how I’d come to faith in God as the only solution that was able to help my life and that we all felt the ultimate solution to the crises that griped their nation was to somehow find the love of God and love for each other. These were things that they all agreed with, even though I got the impression that some of them had seen such horrible examples of vilely twisted religiosity in their country that they’d swung towards secular solutions and views as they rejected the twisted religious views they’d seen. Then again later we were able to speak with other members of the school staff and to take the conversation in the direction of faith and a loving God who can heal and deliver us from the worst of circumstances.

One thing we learned from the situation in Reyhanli and from other areas nearby is that there are a number of volunteers coming from various parts of Europe and even farther afield. Most of these are young people and it often has to do with things like teaching music, sports activities, trauma counseling, computer training, art and just finding ways to help young people to still be able to get on with their lives in spite of the collapse of their society at this time. The motivation of these volunteers ranges from simple humanitarian concern to spiritual/religious convictions of different types.Mts syrian kids 4-fixed

As classes were being dismissed, we were able to gather with a large group of young students in the activity area in front of the school. One of us had a guitar and we got going with some good songs, both in English and in Arabic. Some of the kids really got to rocking out with us. They knew some of our songs and gather round to sing loudly. At this time we also brought in the school supplies and materials that we’d brought with us to distribute. Later we talked more with some of the administrators and got more familiar with the situation, as well as finding out possible opportunities to come back and do more.

Singing with the school kids, hills of Syria in the background.

Singing with the school kids, hills of Syria in the background.

Afterwards it was still daylight and we considered visiting some other places. But we felt what had happened already was a real answer to prayer and had gone well. So we agreed that we should “quit while we were ahead.” Then one of us paraphrased that idea to fit our situation, that we should “quit while we still have a head”. We laughed, somewhat quietly.

At the end of the day, as we headed back to our city, there was a feeling of peace and joy that we’d been able to go there, do what we’d been able to do, and then to get safely back out of a relatively dangerous situation. It seems like it is very rare for folks there to get visitors like us to their city and their people. My friends here will continue to be contact with similar groups and initiatives along the border where people with love and Godly concern in their hearts are doing what they can to bring light, love and practical help to what is one of the worst humanitarian crises I’ve seen in my lifetime.

Work? Or Prayer…in Bulgaria

Kornitsa group photoI’m in Bulgaria right now, such an interesting place and I’m having amazing experiences. I’ve been working with friends during the day to get a Bulgarian version of the first video I did on my series of videos on the prophecies of Daniel. Then at night I’ve been speaking at small churches and cell groups in this area.

For example, Saturday night my hosts said we would be going to a “radical Muslim” town to speak in a church there. I didn’t know what to expect. Well, for one, the “church” turned out to be someone’s medium sized kitchen. But “the church was packed”, or in this case the kitchen was packed. The picture above shows about half the people there. But they were all hungry and sincere Christians within this Muslim district who’d come to hear what I had to share with them.

That morning I had felt I could work on finalizing a blog post. But it just wasn’t flowing. One big thing I’m finding here is that prayer is a vital essential in what I’m doing. On Friday we had worked much of the day on the recording of the Bulgarian audio for the video. But it was so much effort that at night, when it was time to teach and share testimonies with the 70 or so that came to the church, I could feel I was somewhat drained and had not taken enough time in prayer earlier to be fully strengthened in the Lord for the evening’s activity. I still went ahead but I could just feel that it was not as full and flowing as it could have been and should have been, if I’d take more time alone with the Lord and not tried to cram so much into the day in the way of work.

Tell them I need them flatSo Saturday morning I knew I really needed to come to the Lord in desperation for His strength and even to try to get something from Him that would be in some way a message or theme that would be what He’d want me to share with these ones. Also at that time I sent a prayer request out to some of you to please pray for me to have wisdom and strength for this opportunity here.

Then, after that time of desperate prayer, a somewhat surprising thing happened. I felt led to just go to my computer and I wrote up something that wasn’t really a prophecy, in the literal sense of the word. But it was something I felt the Lord definitely laid on my heart right then, as a result of my earnest prayer to be a better channel and witness for Him in this situation. I’ll try to write that up into a blog article soon but the main idea was that “God needs us”. This is the message I shared with the Christians in the Muslim town that I visited Saturday night.

Now this morning also, as I nearly plunged back into a routine that usually worked ok for me back at my home base, the Lord instead led me to not start work but to get back on the wall of prayer. In this situation, it seems that I may be “doing” less each day. But it’s important to really spend quality time alone with the Lord, pouring out my heart to Him that He will help me to “raise the floor” so to speak and to be higher in the Spirit so that what’s being done will be from a time that’s really been brought before Him first.

So…, work or prayer? Of course both are needed. But in my case in this situation, spending more time in prayer has evidently become an essential for me if I’m to be in His highest will here and to be effective and fruitful in this time. A real lesson for me, and I thought to pass it on to you.

And I should mention that the place I am working from now is the same one that I wrote you about a year ago in “Good News from Bulgaria” and “More Good News from Bulgaria”. You can click on those links to get some background to how I ended up visiting these friends here.

Visiting Syria (part 1)

Reyhanli city-2I should be clear that I didn’t visit the geographic nation of Syria. I was in a large town, just on the border, as seen in this picture. But there are over 3 million Syrian refugees living outside their country now. So in visiting a place where the majority of the city was Syrian refugees, it was visiting Syria in that sense.

I didn’t really know what to expect. I can tell you that I did some pretty tall praying even before leaving the States for this trip. And then the day we went to this border town, that was another time of very serious prayer and looking to the Lord for His confirmation and then protection and blessing.

“Mark, that was naive and frivolous of you! Many people love you, Mark. And you just risked you life on some kind of foolhardy Christian joy ride! For what, Mark?”

Jesus said, “I was sick and in prison and you didn’t visited Me.” And then He said that “they will ask, ‘When were You sick and in prison and we didn’t visit You?’ And He said, “In as much as you did it not to the least of these, you did it not to Me.” (Matthew 25:43-45) Or as He said in another place, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39)

“Mark, get a grip! They aren’t your neighbor. They hate us and want to kill us, Mark!”

Friend, if you think that, truly you are the one that needs to get a grip. I went there because I had an unexpected “open door” (I Corinthians 16:9) from the Lord to go there. Besides that, this whole thing that’s been going for the last couple of years has just grossed me out and “gotten my goat”, to perhaps use strong language. So I wanted to get as close as I responsibly could, to see for myself how it is, to help all I could and to find what if anything I myself can do about it on the longer term.

Reyhanli mapI was able to make a one day visit to Reyhanli, a town/city of originally around 63,000 people which has swollen to around 150,000 with the influx of refugees. If things were different, I might have aimed to stay there a couple of weeks, to try to do more. But that truly wouldn’t be wise or safe. By the time you get that close to the situation and you’re a Westerner, you run a real risk of getting kidnapped. The baddies in Syria will offer a very large reward for ones outside Syria who can deliver up Westerners which they hold for ransom or to ultimately execute publicly.

We were able to visit a very well run school for refugee children, within sight of the nearby Syrian border. On our way to Reyhanli we saw refugee camps along the side of the road, people living under makeshift plastic sheets and begging (or worse) at traffic lights and in towns and cities. But the school we visited was surprisingly well organized, with cheerful, focused children who sang us songs and tried to converse with us in English.

About half the staff of the school spoke English. All the women wore traditional Muslim clothes but they were very friendly to us and showed us how the school worked. They said they get almost no visitors like us. We also had some time of rather deep and intense talks with some of the administrators. One of them had had his house bombed by “barrel bombs”, dropped by the government. Miraculously, no one was killed. But they took it as a sign it was time to leave.

A friend sings with the kids at the school, I’m in the background and the hills of Syria in the background.

A friend sings with the kids at the school, I’m in the background and the hills of Syria in the distance.

It seems like the funding comes from Syrians rather than any international or UN source. The school had been set up there for a few months and there are several others like it in the city. I’ve decided not to share the name of the school as the whole thing with this is a slight dilemma for me. I want to let you know how things are and what’s happening. And in the case of this school, it was a real surprise to see these folks having gotten things going there so well.

Reyhanli, May 11, 2013

Reyhanli, May 11, 2013

But on the other side, this is a very serious place. The city of Reyhanli had two car bombs go off there in 2013, killing over 50 and injuring around 150. You can read about “Reyhanli bombings” on Wikipedia for more info. It happened right off the main street through town and we drove by there several times. Also mortar rounds fired from across the border have landed in the city there at night. Our friends told us that they can see helicopter gunships and jet fighters which drop bombs on villagers just on the other side of the border. So I also truly need to think of the well-being of the ones we visited and the ones I’ve worked with here. For that reason I’m being less than fully explicit about some of this.

I should add that on Sunday, two days after our visit to Reyhanli, a bomb was found and diffused on a car there. This might be an encouragement to those of you who prayed for my trip. That’s how important prayers are. Here’s the link to the article about the bomb that was found. http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-police-disarm-bomb-found-in-former-syrian-rebel-commanders-car.aspx?pageID=238&nID=79060&NewsCatID=341

It seems like there’s a lot to write about what we saw and experienced that day. So I think I’ll write another post with more of the details of what happened, what we learned, how we tried to help and how more help might be possible.

Preserve the Pillars

pillarsHolding on to our faith is paramount. Paul said, “Holding faith and a good conscience”. (I Timothy 1:19)  Because a loss of faith can be a terrible, almost indescribable thing. I know because I went though it to the nth degree and was in profound despair when faced with the fact that I had nothing, I knew nothing, I could hold onto nothing. I wrote about this experience recently in “Hell”.

me 72 fixed-ABut coming out of that, I was brought by the love and mercy of God to come to know, “Whom to know is life eternal”, Jesus Christ. But not right away. At the very first it was just an experience with the forces of darkness, a presence that tried to claim me and extract me from this world. I thank God from the bottom of my heart that somehow He gave me the grace at that moment to have the presence of mind and heart to recognize the spirit of Satan and to turn from him to the Spirit of the God of the Bible. Those experiences were the beginnings of the turnaround and life I’ve lived since that time, going back to when I was 20 years old.

But I feel I know what it is like to be without faith, in the most tangible and disturbing way one can possibly experience. And I’m sure hundreds of millions, if not billions of people are more or less in that condition in our world every day.

That’s why it’s so important what the Bible says, “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward.” (Hebrews 10:35) Oh my gosh, how many people every day cast away their confidence? We worry about ISIS. But so many people every day abandon their faith, turn their back on their birthright and “do despite unto the Spirit of grace.” (Hebrews 10:29)

light and certainty flatThat’s why it is vital to “stablish, strengthen, settle” (I Peter 5:10) the foundations of our faith and the faith of others. Faith works. Faith will move mountains, we’ve heard it said. “But without faith, it is impossible to please Him”. (Hebrews 11:6) It might be added, without faith, it is impossible to survive the storms and vicissitudes of the world we live in. By His grace I’ve lived a life of faith by holding on to His Word which has sustained me for 45 years through 40 countries and innumerable “trials and tribulations” which I never would have been able to survive without supernatural faith.

It’s those pillars of faith, founded on the solid rock of God’s Word, that we have to maintain and strengthen, both in our own lives and the lives of others. I’ll quote that verse again, “Cast not away your confidence which has great recompense of reward”. How often that truth has been a personal experience for me. I won’t get specific here as some of this is personal and there are perhaps ones reading this who would be hurt or offended if I got too specific. But I can tell you that the Lord has let me experience heartbreak that has taken me to depths I could have never survived without the pillars of faith that I found in His Word.

Save me oh lord flat-AI was in Silkeborg, Denmark back in the late ‘70’s and I woke up one morning, thinking that was going to be the day I would finally say “uncle” to defeat and death. I really didn’t think I would survive that day with my faith and soul intact. There had already been many like it and I was at my wits end. Before I even got out of bed, the verse came to me, “Save me oh Lord, for the waters are come into my soul. I sink deep where there is no standing.“ (Psalm 69:1 & 2) That’s how it felt: just completely drowning in hopelessness. But later that same day, just out of nowhere, in my time of being past hope, the Lord came though and did things so that the winds of misfortune and hopelessness gave way to a new spring of better times.

Hope. Faith. Knowing. In Him we don’t just have to have ”hope”, or even “have faith”. We can know. That’s what the Bible says. “Faith” can seem kind of weak at times. But the Bible speaks of knowing.For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” (II Timothy 1:12)

Paul preaching in Athens

Those pillars of faith, those absolutes that we have staked our lives on are not irrational, as the secularists say they are. They are faith in the God of love and His Son who died for us and was raised from the dead. Yes, it doesn’t make sense to the agnostic minds of our world today. But we have more than that. We have what the people of faith have had for 1000’s of years. Deliverance. Truth. Joy. A power unknown by unbelievers. Pillars of faith that are strong enough to get us through whatever this life may throw us. “The Lord shall deliver me from every evil work and shall preserve me unto His heavenly kingdom, to whom be glory for ever and ever.” (II Timothy 4:18)

Hell

The-devil-and-hopelessnessMaybe I should write more about hell. I’m tempted to say, “If anyone could write about hell, it’s me”. I wrote an article about my experiences which ultimately brought me to faith in God, called “Lucifer and the White Moths”. It was perhaps the seminal experience of my life, in which Satan came to claim my soul.

The seed and the eggBut when the Bible talks about hell, what the experience is like, it’s not as strange and foreign to me as it might seem to some people, perhaps many. But it’s hard to describe because it is such a different experience from what we have here. Another place I wrote about this is “The Parable of the Seed and the Egg”.

There’s the phrase that’s used in some places, “middle earth”. Although it comes from the fantasies of J. R. R. Tolkien, it’s a useful phrase because it is a little bit accurate. In this world, we are somewhat in a middle zone. We can be raised through faith in God and Jesus to the glories of heavenly experience and that has happened for some, recording in the Bible and other places.Lowest Hell flat But at the same time, we are susceptible to the magnetism of hell, the unutterable horrors, the hopelessness, the eternity, the indescribable remorse, the reality of eternity without hope of ever being able to undo the mistakes that you made and the damage you did.

King David said to God, “You’ve delivered me from the lowest hell.” (Psalm 86:13) Many of the preachers from years gone by really dwelt on hell. And it seems they actually scared a lot of people into heaven. We today look down on that approach. But it sure worked back then. And that was the only way that God could get through to me. As I’ve mentioned before, “others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 23) has always been a verse that I’ve felt has described my experience.

“Oh, Mark, that’s so horrible! How could a “God of love” do such a thing to you! You poor, poor thing!”

Friends, how could a person so alienated from the life of God, so hard-hearted, so obstinate and continually in resistance of the Holy Ghost find pardon and forgiveness in the infinite mercy of God? Truly, I can find no fault in God.

first road picture-flattenedAnd then, as I wrote in “Lights on the Road“, even after He delivered me from my soul being seized and taken to hell by Satan, a few months later I was back doing my own thing on drugs in my sports car with my girl friend, utterly impudent in my returning to my vomit of my former druggy ways.

“So this time He’d had enough and He allowed you to have what justice would allow, a just reward for your foolishness and backslidden nature after He had kept you from death a few months before? Right?”

No, He was merciful again, when I really, really didn’t deserve it.

But what about hell? How bad is it? It’s so bad that I’m always hindered from writing about it because truly, words fail me. And also it’s just so unutterable and hopeless, so much a condemnation of my own sins, so clear that I deserved every bit of it and so final and complete. I just don’t write about it as it’s just no fun and utterly something else from this world of “middle earth”. But I do feel this is what the Bible has described and when I first read about hell in the Bible, I immediately related it to what I’d experienced and come out of.

In my first months as a Christian, I memorized a few verses from the Old Testament that most reminded me of my experiences in hell. Here’s one. “There is one alone and not another. (The utter, utter alone-ness of hell was so vast and complete. I was alone, in solitary confinement, with only myself) yea, he has neither child nor brother (just nothing, nothing. No one in your universe. You are cut off.) Yet is there no end of all his labor (you are constantly striving to get out of that situation, your very being is intensely trying to “find a way out of there”, as Bob Dylan sang) neither is his eye satisfied with riches (no matter what you had, riches, intelligence, beauty, potential, whatever, it’s all utter vanity in the hereafter without the salvation of God) Neither does he say, for whom do I labor and bereave my soul from good? (You know something is terribly, terribly wrong, but you just don’t know what it is. You are in utterly dazed and confused and perplexed, but you can’t find the answer. And that is your eternal state,) this also is vanity, it is sore travail”. (Ecclesiastes. 4:8)

It sure is. “There must be some way out of here, say the joker to the priest. There’s too much confusion here, I can’t get no relief” Amen to that. Even Bob Dylan somehow had some glimpse of the reality of hell.

Honestly, maybe I should talk more about hell; maybe I would help more people if I really dwelt on this subject. Even the Apostle Paul said, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”  (II Corinthians 5:11) It ultimately took a repeated series of experiences like this with eternity without God to finally get through to my hardened heart and reprobate mind that I was an utterly hopeless sinner, that life went on in one form or the other after death, and that I was ripe for “the grim reaper” of Satan to claim my soul, unless I turned in repentance to God.

I sure hope you’re not in that condition or situation. Friend, it is so utterly horrible that I may have failed to testify of its reality and its unspeakable horror. Get right with God. Even better, call out to Jesus; He’s the “mediator between God and men.” (I Timothy 2:5) Even if you just have a little faith and a lot of doubts, call out to Him. Hell is indescribably bad but you don’t have to go there. “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart.”(Psalm 95: 7 & 8) Call out to Him now. “Call unto Me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things which you know not.” (Jeremiah 33:3)

Speaking Truth to Evil

I heard recently, “People need to see more heroes.” Well, here’s one, as far as I can see. She may not be “one of us”. But then that depends on how you see what “us” means.

This is the kind of news you won’t see normally on American news media. But it shows us something of the little people, the unheard of’s, the forgotten of this world who still stand up to evil in their land, among their people, and in these times. May the gracious God of Abraham see and bless this dear soul and all those like her.

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Seeking Truth, without a spin

Free at last flatAll my life, truth has really been important to me. I haven’t believed in God all my life, but I have believed in and reverenced the truth. That’s one of the reasons why, when I came to God, the God of the Bible, it had such an overwhelming impact on me.

Here was raw, pure truth to have and love and swim in for free. At last I had found it. I soaked in it, reveled in it, memorized it daily and shared it thrillingly with everyone I could.

But it also underlined to me, even more, the darkness that the world and the nations live it. I already knew this in many ways but this just made it clearer. I come from a family of journalists, grew up around the media and worked in the newsroom of a large daily newspaper when I was going to university. This was all before I came to know the God of Abraham and then Jesus. And being back here in the States after 36 years abroad, it’s a heavy feeling of sadness to see the degree of constant disinformation that most Americans consume each day. And then think they’re informed.

“You are what you eat” and you are also what you read, listened to and believe. It grieves and saddens me so much to know how very many Christian brethren here are less than fully informed of the world we live in, by their choices of where they get their information from.

If your going to tell flatLies can come in many forms. It was Hitler that said, “If you are going to tell a lie, tell a big one that no one would believe you would say unless it was true”. But there are other kinds of lies, where the truth is shaved and shaped to fit an agenda that doesn’t want you to know the full truth. So there’s some truth there, it’s not a totally unadulterated lie.

But it’s not the unbiased, unvarnished, “unspun” truth. It’s “brought to you” by someone. It’s “genetically modified” truth from the sponsors of the broadcasting network or the owner of the publishing empire. So it fits their desire that you see things a certain way. It looks pretty much true; handsome men and beautiful woman are there to tell you how it is. But much of the picture is left out.

In a few weeks I’m (by God’s grace) going to be taking a trip to a part of the world that is in the news every day. I have many hopes for this trip. But one of them is to be able to come back to my friends here in the States and to tell them plainly, first hand, “This is what I saw and what I learned”. Because they seldom if ever hear that. We’re told what the powers that be want us to know.

And I’m not talking about the government here since we have an ostensibly free press. But I’ve had to, over and over again, speak to my Christians friends to tell them my personal experiences outside the United States. And often this has meant I’ve had to break the stereotype my friends have been feed through the media and the websites they get their info from.

What can we do? “Hunger and thirst after righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), that’s what the Bible says. Be desperate for the truth, like the Berean’s were in Acts 17. “These were more noble that those of Thesallonica in that they searched the Scriptures daily whether these things are so.” (Acts 17:11)

Let me tell you, friends, “we” are not always right and “they” are not always wrong. If you want the truth, strive to get a full picture, even if you have to go to websites and news agencies that may not be what you would consider part of your group or your people.

You told me the truth-a-flattenedHave you ever had someone you thought was your “enemy” say something to you that hurt, but you knew there was some truth to it? Something your buddy-buddy friends didn’t or wouldn’t tell you? That’s sometimes how you have to find truth, even from someone not of your camp or group. And today America is so very divided that most folks won’t begin to believe anything they hear unless it comes from “their side”. That’s a bad sign.

In Old Testament times, Isaiah said of the people of his day, “Who say to the seers, ‘See not’; and to the prophets, ‘Prophesy not to us right things, speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits.’” (Isaiah 30:10). Just before the destruction of Jerusalem, Jeremiah said of those then, “The prophets prophesy falsely and My people love to have it so.” (Jeremiah 5:31) Probably there are many millions like that today. They don’t even want the truth; they’d rather have the pleasing lies, the “smooth things” and so they remain in their stupor.

“Hunger and thirst after righteousness.” Realize that you are being heavily propagandized every single day. You may be concerned about the food you eat; how about the news you believe?

I look forward to being back here here from my trip and being able to share with my friends first hand experiences from real people that are in the middle of what we see on the news every day. I hope to be able to share what is really happening, what also can be done, what God is doing there and what those people really need.

Truth is a precious thing. Without truth, we may not be lost when it comes to our souls, if we are saved and believing in Him. Is of the truth-a- flattenedBut we can be walking in darkness and deceived in a major way if we just drift with the tide of what we’re told here daily, not only by the main stream media but by extremists with their own agendas.

Jesus said, “Everyone who is of the truth, hears my voice.” (John 18:37) May we all be desperate and searching for what is actually true and real in these dark and desperate times.