What Is A Conscience?

I got an interesting letter from a friend in Romania, telling me that someone had told him that our conscience is virtually a hindrance and a counterfeit of the presence of God. So he was asking me what actually our conscience is and where it might fit into the plan of God and God’s Word.

I wrote him back and said that, as with so many things like this, I always feel the first place to look is in the Word. The light of God’s Word can shine on and clarify things of the spirit, soul and heart that our own understanding can only try to grab at in our darkness.

That specific word, “conscience”, doesn’t seem to be used in the Old Testament but it’s found one place in the Gospels, “And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one,” (John 8:9) Actually, the first verse that came to mind for me was where Paul made his defense to the Jewish elders in Jerusalem. The first thing he said was, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1) Whereupon he got a big slap on the mouth for saying that to them.

gyroscopeBut when I was looking to the Lord about this question, I got some interesting pictures. The whole principle of gyroscopes and compasses came to mind. And I think maybe our conscience is like those things in some ways.

The Bible says we have a heart, a soul, a mind and a spirit. But it seems like our conscience is something that is sort of built into us and that we’re born with, almost like a rudimentary “on board navigation system” that each person has. Gyroscopes, in the physical, help provide ships and other things with a balancing system. How exactly that works with a gyroscope is a little mysterious; I can’t explain it but I’m sure some scientist can. And the same with compasses: they provide direction, always pointing to the north, although again, it seems almost spooky how they work. But they do.

compassSo maybe our consciences are a little like a gyroscope and a compass within our souls, providing us some rudimentary “balance” and “direction” in the affairs of our moral and ethical decision-making.

But like the person who was talking to my Romanian friend said, our consciences are far from foolproof and certainly not themselves devices that bring us salvation. Paul talked about things that “wound their weak conscience” (I Corinthians 8:12) or even where some “Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron…” (I Tim. 4:2)

So just as gyroscopes and compasses are relatively fragile instruments, it seems our consciences can be weak, even become damaged and in some cases dysfunctional. A word you don’t hear much anymore is “reprobate” (Romans 1:28), a good Bible word for someone who has moved so far away from the voice of their conscience that they literally don’t know the difference between right and wrong anymore.

But to the questions or statements about our conscience, the person told my Romanian friend that “The biggest lie, even before evolution, that the devil was able to push on the World was that our conscience is God’s presence in us. “

stopI think a thorough Word study on our conscience would show that it’s certainly something that we’re born with and is some form or type of guidance and balance system that is imbued in each soul born, or so it seems. And that it comes from God.

So I understand what that person is trying to say there. But I think they’re being a little too hard and critical of our God-given conscience. I understand what they want to get across is that our conscience is not going to save us and actually our sinful nature can and often does overrule our conscience. I think that’s what Paul meant when he said, “The good that I would, I do not, but the evil that I would not, that I do.” (Romans 7:19)

The power of sin in the life of the unsaved can and often will overcome their conscience. That’s certainly what happened to me. That’s why that verse in John has always seemed to encapsulate what happened to me, “As many as received Him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in His name.” (John 1:12) Until I received Jesus, I just didn’t have the power to resist the sins that were increasingly destroying my life. My conscience was there. But I increasingly listened to other voices, the voices of friends, social pressure and just “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2). And the voice of my conscience became fainter and fainter.smoking flat-a

That’s why God provided a better “guidance system” than our weak “onboard” conscience. And that is “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27) “A new heart I will give you and a new spirit I will put within you, I will take the stony heart out of our flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)

Our consciences are not bad and I believe they’re part of the gift and grace of God. But they alone won’t really provide the guidance and certainly not the strength we need to turn against the course of this world and to follow the Spirit of God into “the path of life. (Psalms 16:11)

So is that guy right or wrong? A little of both, I think. He does have a point. But your conscience doesn’t have to be seen as your enemy and again, a good Word study in the New Testament will repeatedly speak of our conscience as being a good thing.

Only, Salvation is a better thing. Salvation is God’s final solution and answer to the darkness and sin in our lives.Who has delivered us from the power of darkness and has translated us into the kingdom of His dear Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13 & 14) Gyroscopes and compasses are good and they have their place. But it’s far more important to get God’s full package of “upgrades, hardware and software” that can truly make us “new creatures in Christ Jesus”. (II Corinthians 5:17)

 

Conspiracy Theory and/or Bible Prophecy

John KennedyWhen John Kennedy was killed in Dallas, Texas, I was a young teenager, living 100 miles away. He was a major hero and role model to me and his death had a heavy impact on my heart and life. Later, as the info came out about the details of his death, it seemed clear to me that it was not just a lone gunman who got off some amazingly “lucky” shots. I saw the Zapruder film and from that it seems clear that the shot that killed Kennedy didn’t come from the direction of Oswald.

Lee Harvey Oswald

Lee Harvey Oswald

So I guess that makes me a conspiracy theorist. And since that time the whole genre of conspiracy theories has grown to a full industry and major phenomenon of our times.

Some years later I surprisingly came to find out that there actually is a God in heaven, as well as the devil, angels and the whole thing. It in some ways was the climax of a series of shocking, eye-opening experiences that caused me to see the world in a totally different way. And I guess you could say, “Well, if you can believe in conspiracy theories, it’s probably easy for you to believe in that God stuff too.

But they are different. Admittedly there are some similarities. Conspiracy theorists see a lot of things going on that most people don’t know about. They see unseen forces, organizations and individuals, working behind the scenes to shape the destiny of man to go the direction they want them to. They see entities which want us to view things a certain way, to believe things that aren’t true and to basically enslave the human race. Is that all true? I’d say some of it is true and even verifiable to some degree.

But also there’s a difference. From my experience, conspiracy theorists seem to get mad a lot and there’s virtually no stopping place at where they will see “them” at work. Everything that happens is somehow not as it seems. “They” are active, everywhere and just about to take over our lives, our nation and our world.

What I don’t find in conspiracy theory is answers. There’s fear, there’s what is said to be a revelation of what is real, but there really isn’t much offered to alleviate all this. Also I feel that following a strong, steady line of conspiracy theory doctrine will come to make someone rather paranoid overall, distrustful, cynical and afraid of virtually everyone, even their best friends.

It reminds me of the verse in II Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7) I came out of a lot of atheist, worldly darkness and that verse was like a promise I held on to for years that the Lord would create in me a “sound mind”, not burdened with confusion, fears and misunderstand.

Conspiracy Theory or Bible Prophecy flatThat’s another good verse that could be applied to conspiracy theories” “God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” (I Corinthians 14:33) I guess in some ways it is good what those folks do since so many people walk in such dullness and blindness. Conspiracy theorists might wake some of those ones up that there’s some serious stuff going on and that common people are being deceived daily on a massive scale.

sharing the Word with joy-2 flatBut this is all really different from what the study of Bible prophecy does. Bible prophecy not only exposes the systems and evils of man, which has been around for millennia, but it gives clear answers about what the solution is that God Himself has provided and is in the process of bringing to pass. Bible prophecy is a real eye opener. But it doesn’t carry that “spirit of fear”, as well as confusion that so often seems to accompany conspiracy theory teaching.

So I suppose those who avidly follow conspiracy theories might be woken up somewhat to the depth of evil in the world and shaken somewhat out of the general stupor that is upon so much of mankind. But then what?

God told Jeremiah that he was ordained to “root out, pull down, destroy, throw down” (Jeremiah 1:10) Conspiracy theory does that, sort of a general deconstruction of almost everything. But then God told Jeremiah two more things he was to do, “to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10) I haven’t seen any way that conspiracy theory builds and plants. But Bible prophecy does. It tells how bad it is and how bad it will still get. But then it tells of God’s solution and the happy ending to all this mess that He will bring in His coming Kingdom on earth.

jesus on mount reduced

Moses and Elijah appear to Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, as Peter, James and John watch. (Matthew 17:1-8)

I suppose one of the greatest witnesses of one of the greatest miracles on earth was the Apostle Peter. The Bible says he was there when Jesus was transformed on the mountain into His glory and shined like the sun in front of 3 of His disciples. And God the Father spoke to them as well. Peter said of this experience, “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables but were eyewitnesses of the majesty of Jesus Christ. For He received honor and glory from God the Father, when there came a voice from the excellent glory, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” And we heard this voice from Heaven, being with Him in the holy mountain.” (II Peter 1:16-18)

But then Peter goes on to say an amazing thing. He tells us of something that’s even greater than what he personally saw with his eyes and heard with his ears. Here’s what he says next. “We also have a more sure Word of prophecy, to which you do well to take heed, as to a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the Daystar arises in your hearts. Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture came into being of its own private interpretation. For prophecy didn’t come in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (II Peter 1:19-21)

Peter says that the prophecies of the Word of God are more sure than even what he personal saw and heard at perhaps one of the most seminal moments in his life. That’s good truth for us today when we are at times “tossed and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14), by conspiracy theories with their adjacent fears and uncertainties. For believers in God and in Christ, we have a “more sure word of prophecy.” (II Peter 1:19)

 

A little further

Jesus in gardenMathew 26:39 says of Jesus, “He went a little further and fell on His face.” This was Jesus’ time in the garden of Gethsemane, just before His arrest and subsequent crucifixion. But how many of us need to follow Jesus’ example here in “going a little further and falling on our face” in desperate prayer? Sadly, many of us are more like what it says of the Apostle Peter, an hour or two after Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane.

Peter afar off flatIt says of Peter, “he followed Him afar off” (Mathew 26:58). Well, at least he followed. But I wonder sometimes how many believers in God nowadays even know what it means to “follow”, much less to “go a little further”.

Maybe some do, I don’t want to be less than magnanimous or fail to give people the benefit of the doubt. But if there’s any hope for our nation, much less our world in these times, it’s that the people of faith have an awakening in their hearts to endeavor to truly obey and follow God more than they ever have before.

Sadly, I feel so many churches don’t teach this or hardly know what it means. In a recent blog post, I shared the story of how four of us were a team in the immediate aftermath of the South Asian Tsunami of late 2004. We’d each prayed desperately and felt individually called by the Lord to go to the horrific disaster area that we were hearing about. It was truly like being in another world in so many ways. All social structures had been swept away in that tsunami, the police, the hospitals and the survivors in city of nearly half a million were probably all in some state of shock, stress and suspended belief, mixed with great grief.

airport in Aceh

Four of us with 2 helpers. Banda Aceh, Indonesia. January, 2005

But it was the fact that the four of us had working in us strongly the operating system of the Lord, providing us unity between ourselves, peace, wisdom, compassion and as well leading and guiding at a time when many aid workers coming there couldn’t stay more than a few days. Many said it was just too much for them. But this principle of following the Lord, being a disciple of Jesus was the underpinning and stability that gave the four of us the strength, wisdom and grace we needed each day in what were traumatic, unstable and potentially hostile situations.

Are we going a little further and falling on our face in desperate prayer, like Jesus? Or are we “following afar off”? Or worse, are we “at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1)? Sadly, the nature of our world today (and maybe it’s always been this way) is that the words Jesus spoke to the church of Laodicea in Revelation 3 seem to hold a heavy significance for many believers today.I traded Gods will-flattened

Because you say you are rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing, but know not that you are wretched and blind and miserable and naked. I council you to buy of Me gold tried in the fire.” (Rev. 3:17 & 18) This wasn’t spoken to unbelievers; it was spoken from heaven by the Lord to His own followers which He was addressing in the book of Revelation.

Often it just finally takes some kind of persecution or affliction to wake people up, both individually and also as a nation. And even that doesn’t always work. I guess it comes back to that verse, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart“. (Psalm 95:7 & 8)

I believe that the voice and Spirit of God is active daily in the lives of believers, calling them, instructing them, pleading with them, offering Godly choices and alternatives to them. But sadly I think so many folks have become dull to the voice of God. They “follow afar off”. Or not at all. They believe in the Lord, but they barely know what it means to “take up their cross daily” (Luke 9:23) and follow Him. Definitely they believe. Definitely they pray, read their Bibles and make some efforts and even sacrifices to face the direction that God would lead. But it often doesn’t go too much further than that.

May the Lord help us all. May we “lay aside every weight and the sins that so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:2). May we “run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:2). Not as spectators, sitting in the grandstands of faith, but active participants for the Lord, disciples, servants of Him and others, moving with the white hot fires of the Spirit of God. Don’t follow afar off, go a little further.

Addicted to hate

I hate them-2 flatYears ago in Denmark my former wife and I were ministering to a recovered morphine addict. We read the Bible with him and tried to help him in his recovery. But a thing that both of us noticed was that, although he no longer used morphine, he was drinking up to 20 cups of coffee a day. In some sense, he’d traded one addiction for another.

It seems that’s how it is for multitudes of people when it comes to hatred. Vast numbers of people think of themselves as good citizens, faithful to their wife or husband and keeping the law. But, boy, they love to hate.

Around a year ago my dad passed away and I wrote a post about him, Bonner McMillion. One of the main things I mentioned there was how my parents taught me not to hate African-Americans at a time when virtually every white person I knew in our city was filled with racial hatred to one degree or another.

But today, hatred of blacks by whites is much less than it was when I was growing up. It’s not in vogue anymore, it’s less accepted. But it’s surely still ok to hate, perhaps more than in the past. Pew Research recently made a study and found that the USA is more divided as a nation than any time in the last 150 years. I wonder how much of that has to do with a thriving cultural acceptance of hatred.

fear them not-3- flattenedThe most popular hatred here in the States seems to be hatred of Islamic people. “They” are here. “They” will destroy us. But some people feel that way about Catholics. Years ago it was popular to hate Jews. That was normal and accepted. We just seem to stop one addiction but move on to another.

You could say a lot of things in support of hatred, at least if you are not a Christian. Shouldn’t we hate “them”? Here’s what the Bible says, even the Old Testament. “You shall not hate your brother in your heart.” (Leviticus 19:17) It’s one of the greatest truisms of Christianity that it teaches love. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you and pray for them that despitefully use you.” (Matthew 5:44)

If you’re a Christian, and your life and words are full of hatred, then you’re living in sin, just as much as if you were an adulterer or whore monger. You’re just as defeated by your addiction to hatred as that man was that I ministered to years ago who was addicted to morphine first and then switched to coffee.

But, in a sense, you have my sympathies because “everybody else is doing it.” You’re mostly right on that; they are. But that surely doesn’t make it right if you’re trying to follow the light and path of the God of the Bible.

But Mark! Surely all hatred is not wrong!

Right again. Let’s look to God’s Word about that. Psalm 97:10 says, “You who love the Lord, hate evil.” Does it say to hate Muslims there? Or Catholics? Blacks? Jews? “Dagoes”? “Spics”? “Wops”? “Krauts”? “Chinks”? “Ragheads”? Obama? Or whatever your favorite hatred is? No. It says to hate evil, not people. God even “sends His rain on the just and the unjust”. (Matthew 5:45)

Does God hate? Yes, He does. Here’s what God’s Word says He hates. These six things does the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaks lies, and he that sows discord among brethren.” (Proverbs 6:16-19) We are to hate sin, as God does. But not people. We are to love people, in our hearts.

But Mark! I really hate them! All my friends hate them! TV commentators hate them! They are evil, Mark!

Conversation between 2 flatMy friend, this is a modern, virulent, satanic mindset that’s blinding and will snuff out God’s blessing and presence in your life, if it hasn’t already. You need to be “renewed in the spirit of your mind.” (Ephesians 4:23) You might need to turn off the TV, make new friends and move away from the old ones, just as if they were drug dealers or criminals.

If you love to hate, if you cultivate and nurture hatred, if you propagate hatred and start conversations with words about your hatred, then please don’t call yourself a Christian. If you’re doing this, you’re a reproach to the cause of Christ; you’re a mockery of what it is to be a Christian, no matter how outwardly righteous you appear to be. The evil you should hate is the hatred that has gripped your heart. Call out to the Lord Who can break every chain and cleanse ever stain. Flee hatred as you would drugs and ask the Lord to replace it with His love in your heart for all men, as He had.

 

 

Foolhardy Faith

What is that flatSome of the things I’ve done or experienced in my life as a missionary would probably be seen by some people as virtually foolish and even a bad testimony. I wrote about “It’s a gun, isn’t it?” and how the Lord protected me and my friend with 5 drunken east European miners in our train car on a Saturday night. But we were traveling on a mission for the Lord, trying to go forward for Him.

ItsAGun_04F fixed flatI can tell you of another time, perhaps more miraculous, while also probably more of a testimony of my youthful zeal but without wisdom, which the Lord forgave and seemingly blessed anyway.

I’d been married a little over a year and my Norwegian wife and I were desperate to leave Stockholm, Sweden, where our first son had been born, and to somehow get ourselves to Vienna, Austria, where we both strongly felt that God was leading us. We felt called to the then-Communist lands of eastern Europe. And to get ahead of the story a little, we did ultimately get to Vienna and had nearly 6 wonderful years there as we aimed with other young missionaries back then to reach the be-darkened people “behind the Iron Curtain”, as it was called then.

But before we ever got there, I’ll tell you of a story of God’s infinite mercy and provision, in spite of our zealous inexperience and almost foolhardy attempts to obey Him and go forward.

north European map flatIt was barely spring in the Stockholm, Sweden. My wife and I were desperate to move on from there, towards what we hoped would be an “open door” (I Corinthians 16:9) to Vienna, Austria, almost 1800 kilometers (1100 miles) to the south. Our first move was to get ourselves back over to Norway, my wife’s home country. We believed in “living by faith”, that is trusting God to “supply all our needs according to His riches in glory” (Philippians 4:19)  if we were “seeking first His Kingdom” (Matthew 6:33).  A solidly Biblical belief but certainly not one you’ll hear taught from most churches.

Here comes the hard part. You’re gonna think this is really “out there”. We were desperate and believed the Lord wanted us to go forward in our faith and obedience to Him. We had very little money at that time so we decided to “hitchhike” from Stockholm to Oslo, Norway in early spring. This was somewhat more normal back then, not as dangerous as it is nowadays and somewhat more acceptable. Still, we had our 2 month old son with us so it was still pretty close to foolhardy. And it’s not like there’s some 500 kilometer (300 mile) super highway between Stockholm and Oslo.

The first evening my former wife and I were at a highway rest stop, not actually too far from Stockholm. We’d made very little progress in hitchhiking, had virtually no money and we were eating a plate of French fries, praying together, reading our Bibles together and  were pretty desperate.

Fool hardy faith 1 editedTo make a long story short, we saw a man looking at us from across the restaurant who seemed to be a truck driver. As he left to go out to his truck, my wife went out to talk to him and ask if he was driving to Norway to see if we could get a ride. (I didn’t speak the language there at that time.)

Fool hardy faith 2 flatThe man was already in his truck by the time my wife got there. He said that, no, he wasn’t driving to Oslo. But then he said, “Are you guys Christians?” Perhaps that was slightly more normal back then in that part of the world than it is now. But still, it was a very unusual question to have a stranger ask in Sweden. He’d seen us praying and reading our Bibles in the restaurant.

So my wife said that we were and he asked, “Well, do you need help?” She explained our situation and he then helped with a generous donation. This made it possible for us to have a normal meal there as well as to pay for a room to stay at an adjoining motel over night.

The next day, we were able to hitchhike, in fits and starts, across Sweden to Norway and Oslo, to friends and loved ones where we grew in the Lord in those early years of our faith.But, it took another 3 years of travails in Scandinavia before we finally made it to Vienna.

They say, “It takes an impossible situation for God to do a miracle.” For us, that was one of the most outstanding and appreciated miracles we ever experienced. Perhaps it was foolhardy for us to “step out on the water” (see Matthew 14:28) like that with a young baby. But the Lord somehow forgave and overlooked our naivety and lack of wisdom and saw instead our desire to go forward for Him.

on our field flatAre you young in the Lord? Are you desperate to follow your faith and what you believe God is calling you to do? I would certainly say, try to have wisdom in what you do. “Wisdom is the principle thing” (Proverbs 4:7). But also, if God is giving you the faith to follow Him and trust that He will provide and supply, I can tell you that He did that for me, in spite of my indiscretions and being pretty much “a fool for Christ” (I Corinthians 4:10).

Your best bet is to truly follow Him, no matter how “crazy” it may seem. If it’s truly of Him, He’ll reach out His hand and get you across to the other side, no matter what outlandish way He has to do it. Like He did for me, my wife and little boy so many years ago. God bless you.

With Muslims in Tragedy

me&AcehKids-2 croppedTen years ago this week was the beginning of perhaps the most heart-wrenching experience I’ve ever had in ministering to others. You may have read that around this time is the 10th anniversary of the Asian Tsunami disaster of late 2004. I’d been living in Jakarta, Indonesia for over a year and when the disaster happened, we quickly found that the worst hit area was Aceh Provence at the northwest tip of Indonesian.
Those of us who were working in Jakarta at the time knew almost immediately that some of us had to go the disaster area to do what we could. After much prayer, a team of four of us left for the capital of the province, Banda Aceh. The city had suffered the death of 155,000 people. Below I’ll add parts of a newsletter I sent to friends from Banda Aceh a few days after we arrived, 10 years ago this week.

Far Country Photos #4-A  picture for blog post flatFar Country Photos #4-B  picture for blog post flatFar Country Photos #4-C  picture for blog post flatFrom that time in Banda Aceh, I made a 30 minute video of my experiences there that week in those camps and in other parts of the city. One thought I came away with from that time was what the famous lines from the Bible say: “Love never fails.” In spite of ethnic, geographic and even religious differences, love, the Love of God in this instance, made it so that people could work together to help each other in such a devastating tragedy. It changed my life to be a part of that and to see the Love of God in such a miraculous way. Below is the video of that time.

Christmas, 2014

Bethlehem-at-ChristmasIt’s that time of year again, Christmas. Last year around this time I wrote an article “Well, it’s Christmas” which told a lot about my thoughts and feelings about Christmas, which isn’t perhaps a totally mainstream, traditional approach. I also included in that article a song that has always been the one I associate with Christmas, more than any other, “Oh Holy Night”.

I’ve had a pretty good year and I hope you have too. I’ve seen my kids twice this year, once here in Texas when my dad, Bonner McMillion, passed away in February and then again when I was “Visiting Europe” in October. I think the thing I might be the most thankful for this year is that the Lord made it so that I was able to cross a finish line on the video series on the prophecies of Daniel. I feel I’ve gone far enough with the work on those in English and now the challenge is to get them into a number of foreign languages. The whole thing reminds me of the verse that says, “Now unto Him that is able to do exceeding abundantly, above all that we ask or think…”  (Ephesians 3:20) All my Christian life the book of Daniel and the truth there has been so precious and meaningful to me. That the Lord has made a way so that the classes I’ve taught on it for years are now made into a video series is just astounding and I’m so thankful for that.

My dad, with my mom, on his 92nd birthday, November, 2013

My dad, with my mom, on his 92nd birthday, November, 2013

I’ve been blessed with good hearth this year, my mother turned 93 earlier this month and she is doing very well for her age. And for me personally there are some very inspiring and challenging things which are growing clearer on my near term horizon, including what I hope will be a trip soon to southeastern Europe and the Middle East. Please pray for that, it’s not certain yet but I believe it is God’s will for me.

Last year I added a song that means a lot to me and I included a version done by Celine Dion. Here’s another one from her, also about Christmas, with the text. I wish the very best for you, for us all and for those who are suffering and in fear, tread, darkness and in terror in our world. May we all do our best for Him and His Father to bring their Light and Love to this world.

Your friend in Him, Mark

Where is a Saladin?

Saladin I have a number of links and/or experiences in and with the Islamic world including some near relatives. From this I’ve come to a generally different view, as compared to what is considered the normal North American Christian view of Islam and Muslims.

So even writing about this is kind of “skating on thin ice”. But I’ll share my heart, while realizing that this will upset people on both sides of the divide, so to speak.

This has been prompted by the murder this week of over 100 children in Pakistan. It was perpetrated by the Taliban, Muslim against Muslim. But the shear barbarity of the massacre, the utter heartless, meaningless slaughter of innocents is beyond anything that qualifies in any way whatsoever as justified, in any form or theory or even more so, in any religion.

I’ve entitled this post, “Where is a Saladin?” Very few will have any idea what that means. Perhaps those of the Muslim faith will. I’m not hugely informed on these things, only marginally so. But to those who don’t know who Saladin was, he was the leader of the Muslims forces at the time of the Crusades, when the Crusaders came down from Europe to try to retake “the Holy Land” for “the cause of Christ”.

Saladin, magnanimous in victory against the Crusaders

Saladin, magnanimous in victory against the Crusaders

It was such a time of infamy that I won’t get into it here. But from almost all historical accounts, the nominally Christian crusaders encountered in the leader of their foes, Saladin, a man more humane, gentlemanly and civilized than they themselves were. No, I’m not siding with the Muslims against the Christians here; this is the verdict of historians and the people of those times. The “heathen, barbarian infidel” had more character, maturity and even Godliness than the marauding Crusaders.

The Frenchman René Grousset, who wrote a history of the Crusades, wrote of Saladin, “…his generosity, his piety, devoid of fanaticism, that flower of liberality and courtesy which had been the model of our old chroniclers, won him no less popularity in [European Christian] Syria than in the lands of Islam.

My question is, and I pose this as a friend and in acknowledgment of the many good qualities I’ve experience in my interaction with Muslims and Muslim nations: where is a Saladin today? You could be quick to say that I should be taking to task my own people instead of those of the Muslim faith. I’ve done that on occasion, you can read about one example here in this article, Hawks and Doves.

But sincerely and with hope, I so much wish to see a strong … is “uprising” the word?… or something coming from the decent, concerned Muslims of the world to truly stand up with horror and outrage at some of the things that are being perpetrated in the name of your religion. And some of my Christian friends may wonder at this point:

“Mark, are you calling on the Muslims to follow their Mahdi? The one the Koran prophesied would come?”

No, actually I’m not. It’s a matter of empathy with a battered and almost defeated people, a people not my own, who are being defeated from within at this time, not really from without. In our times there have been Churchill, Gandhi and even Nelson Mandela who arose to, in a sense, save their peoples in times of great distress. These Islamic people, with devotion towards the God of Abraham, need leaders to help save them from their enemies within at this time

Malala flat croppedMaybe here in the insular bubble that’s imposed by the American media upon its people, we’re just not hearing about the outrage and the groundswell rising in the Islamic world against these unspeakable outrages that are committed daily by people calling themselves religious and Islamic. If this is already going on but I’m just unable to find out about it since the American media doesn’t tell us about it, please get in contact with me. I do want to know about it.

But if there is apathy, fear, fatalism or indifference in the Islamic world to what has virtually taken over the name of Islam and religion in our times, then my question rises again. Where is a Saladin? Where is some mature, compassionate yet angry and animated leader within the Islamic world who will lead his (or her) people to stand up against this horrible filth that is done in the name of the God of Abraham?

Someone has said one time, “All that’s necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Why do the evil men of our day have more faith and boldness than those who stand for love and brotherhood, compassion and the higher things of the God of three faiths?

It really saddens me. Satan must be laughing with glee that not only is innocent blood being spilled every day, but that he is able to have it perpetrated in the name of the God of Abraham. What a defeat and besmirchment of the name of God for those who say they stand for and hold high the standard of God.

I don’t have an answer to my question. It reminds me of what one of the ancient prophets said, Ezekiel. As the mouthpiece of the God of Abraham, he said, “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 none.” (Ezekiel 22:30)

God looked for someone to “stand in the gap”, to lead God’s people to victory. But He couldn’t find anyone. People like this are not only needed in the Islamic world. They’re needed all over. To rally the people of faith out of their numbness, often their ignorance, out of their immaturity and up the mountain of faith, love and the light of God that could make them beacons to the nations.

To me, it’s particularly pitiful currently what is triumphing within the Islamic world which (and they will know this) is so far distant from the many great accomplishments and heights of civilization and benevolence that have been seen in their history. With sincerity and respect, I hope your people will rise above the heart-wrenching times that are upon so many parts of your society.

May God, the compassionate, the merciful, raise up warriors of faith, love and humility to fight against the darkness that’s engulfing their people now. Not with carnal weapons but with spiritual weapons of love and truth, drawing men away from evil. “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good”.

Aliens and Astronauts

not of this world flatI’m an astronaut but I am not an alien. Let me explain. In a sense the first Christians were called to be astronauts, other-worldly citizens of a world to come. Not aliens, but no longer really earthlings either.

But many Christians today just fly kites. Some fly little Cessna’s, a few fly airliners and can carry God’s people from one place to the other. Even fewer are in God’s army air corps, really fighters in the battles of the Lord. They fly military aircraft at 50,000 feet. And a very few actually get all the way into space; they escape the gravity of this planet and our world.

You can hear it in the way people talk. I know someone at church. I can tell she is a pilot. She has the demeanor of a millionaires’ wife. But she talks in the first personal and sincerely about persecution.rise above flat How many American Christians can talk convincingly and passionately about suffering persecution? Usually it’s only a very few who somehow have the marks of Christ upon them; they have somehow stood up, stood out and suffered for His name personally.

This person I know is like that, that’s what made me first notice her. She has a good degree from a top university. But she struggles to find a job in a city where there is virtually no unemployment. She is personable and speaks several languages. What could be wrong? She is “over qualified”, they say.

But actually, it’s worse than that. She belongs to God. God is opening and closing doors. She is “in the world but not of it” (John 15:19). She is a child of the King, more than a child of this world. So God is somehow staying very involved in her life. At a time when she should be basking in all the glory of man, have a trophy husband, a SUV and a mansion by the lake, she struggles and has been struggling for a while now.

But she’s cheerful. She is keeping the faith and taking care of herself, expecting God to do a miracle when for a worldly woman, the doors of this present world would have already opened for her. But God is keeping them shut for her, it seems.

Like the verse says, “God having provided some better thing for us.” (Hebrews 11:40) Since she is not of the world, these normal things are more difficult, doubtless because God Himself is leading her by a way not known.

We are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth“. (Hebrews 11:13) It’s interesting to meet others who fly the friendly skies of God Himself, the heavenly realms, who rise above the mundane “course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) and are willing to “suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season”. (Hebrews 11:25)

I hardly know this person. But I recognize in her a kindred spirit, a sister in the Lord and not only that, but a person who’s suffered for her commitment to Him and has suffered personal lose for her faith and discipleship. I was giving a talk in Sunday school recently about witnessing and I talked about passing out tracts. She was the only one in class who pulled a tract out of her purse. She keeps those there so she can pass them on to people she witnesses to.

angel in heavenIt’s not a very big herd of folks like this, precious little and precious few. She and I are just passing acquaintances. But I recognize in her that she flies the skies of the Spirit and that a crown awaits her at the end of her flight and this life we live now.

Have you seen enough to know that “the course of this world” (Ephesians 2:2) is not for you? And you’re trying to get airborne? Trying to break out of the gravity of this old world? To get away from the pull of this planet and to rise into the heavenlies? You’ve got to start somewhere. “Go fly a kite”. “Oh that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away, and be at rest.” (Psalm 55:6)

It’s going to cost you. Maybe you already feel a little different from the norm. But if you aim for the heavens, many will really think you are strange. Maybe you won’t fit in, or even be able to find a job, like my friend. But you’ll know heights of knowledge, experience, otherworldliness and intimacy with the Lord that will be more than anything you’ve ever experienced before. There are not very many of us right now. But we can begin to recognize each other in a crowd after a while, just by the way we talk and how we talk about life. “The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” (Romans 8:16)

Ultimately, “the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our Lord and His Christ”. (Revelation 11:15) A few of us are already getting ready for this. For people of this world, we can almost seem like aliens. But we’re not; we’re astronauts.

Acts 21 Live Class Audio

If the Apostle Paul is one of the main characters of the book of Acts, then Acts 21 is one of the most pivotal chapters in his life. Up until Acts 21, Paul was a free man and had done an incredible amount of work to win souls and establish churches throughout the part of the world he was from. From Acts 21 on, he was a Roman prisoner. This focus on the life of Paul was the main subjects of our live class audio on Acts 21. The recording can be heard here.

Paul, protected by Romans from the Jerusalem mob

Paul, protected by Romans from the Jerusalem mob

In our class we discussed how we found that the Holy Ghost was clearly speaking to Paul through prophets that “he should not go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). And unlike other times in the Bible where Paul was very yielded and sensitive to God’s voice and will, it seems here his steadfastness and zeal was at cross purposes with the revealed will of God in His life.

Reacting to the plea of the brethren not to go up to Jerusalem, after a prophet had again warned Paul of his plans, Paul said, “What do you mean to weep and break my heart? I am ready to die at Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:13) Very commendable indeed and Paul was such a light and testimony to his generation and to all generations after that. But it seems in this case his willingness to lay down his life as a martyr interfered with God’s specific instructions for him to not proceed in the direction he was going.

“What do you mean to weep and break my heart? I am ready to die at Jerusalem.”

“What do you mean to weep and break my heart? I am ready to die at Jerusalem.”

We talked briefly before the class started on what it might have been that caused Paul to miss the Lord’s highest and best, what He was leading. For David it was Bathsheba, for Samson it was Delilah. But with Paul, it seemed to be something totally different.

Rather than being a “traditional” temptation like a woman, alcohol or something like that, it seems it had to do with Paul’s loyalty to his physical nation and Jewish heritage that caused him to miss what the Lord was calling him to do at that time, which was to remain true to the calling of God in his life to be a light to the Gentiles.

And on another subject we discussed in our class (when we got to the place in the chapter about Philip the evangelist and his 4 daughters that prophesied) about prophets and prophetesses of the early church and of the culture of those times, as well as the verse, “On my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:18)

That of course raises the question of where Paul wrote, “Let the women keep silent in the churches.” (I Corinthians 14:34) How can the women keep silence in the churches if God has poured out His Spirit on them and given them the gift of prophecy? Which then led on to a large discussion about women in the Bible and the different ones who’d been used of God in Bible times, Deborah, Ester, Rehab the harlot and others.

So in Jerusalem Paul ran into something that had been coming on all the time and growing, but he’d been far away from it. James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem told him, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law.” (Acts 21:20)

Zealous of the laws of Moses? Do think those Christians he’d just left in Ephesus or the ones in Corinth and Philippi were zealous of the law? In case you don’t know the answer to this, it’s “no”.

This small blog article won’t suffice for space to delve into the very deep implications of those Jews who’d been converting to faith in Jesus in Jerusalem but were still fully holding on to the Jewish laws of Moses. But we did get into this more in our live audio class. For those who don’t know about this, this subject of whether Christians are obligated to keep the Mosaic Law is one of the most continuous issues there is, certain among many Christians today and it’s been that way off and on for 2000 years.

This is one of the somewhat longer live classes we had and the reason may be that it contains some of the most significant, personal and far reaching lessons in the book of Acts that we can see and learn from concerning Paul’s life and even his mistakes.

There’s more. Actually there are passages in this chapter and the next that are some of the most heart breaking in the Bible and to me reveal the heart of God and of Jesus, more than almost anything anywhere else does. We talked about this towards the end of our study. I hope you’ll have the time and a chance to listen to the class, it can be heard here.

God bless you, thanks for your prayers and the comments some of you have sent.

Your friend in Him, Mark