Rampant, predatory males

There’s a lot in the news about predatory males and a culture of rape. Doubtless, this is real but it’s hardly even news until some big shot really gets caught with his pants down. ( 🙂 ) But, you’re right, it’s no laughing matter at all. Cyberspace is abuzz with discussions about what can be done and who is to blame. I read an article in the New York Times that actually it’s just all men who are to be blamed; all of them are like that.

Well, this can get pretty wild, discouraging and extreme real fast. Again, there’s no doubt that this is a problem, there’s no doubt that countless people have been more than just hurt. They’ve been damaged, they have been ravaged not just in their bodies but in their souls and virtually irreparably messed up. And, as some bring out, it’s not just men doing this to women. Men, some at least, sexually attack other men also.

“Oh Mark, nice people don’t talk about things like this! You shouldn’t even be writing about things like this!” Well, it’s very real, very timely and it’s like one of the many onslaughts of the devil that engulfs our present world. Calls are ringing out for change. Guilt is being liberally apportioned and abundant shaming of males is the order of the day.

But, honestly, do you think it will change anything? I sort of don’t think so. Greater hate and division in society will likely come of it but positive change? I don’t think so. But let’s look at two factors in this. First, the man who’s so much in the news now had the job of being virtually the high priest of Babylon the Great, the mother of harlots and the abominations of the earth” (Revelation 17:5), as Revelation 17 and 18 say in the last book in the Bible. The modern American “entertainment industry” is the epicenter of satanic filth and immorality that was predicted in Revelation. It says there, “all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the merchants of the earth have grown rich through the abundance of her delicacies.” (Revelation 18:3)

American “entertainment” has permeated all nations with its evil, Godless, satanic “wine of the wrath of her fornication.” So it almost goes without saying that one of the men who was at the pinnacle of the entertainment industry would have the nature that this man has had, a heartless, marauding, animal-like sexual predator. The Bible talks about “men of the world, who have their portion in this life.” (Psalm 17:14) And there are plenty like that in every field.

Satan showed Jesus “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And Satan said to Jesus, ‘All this power I will give you for it is mine. If you will worship me, all shall be yours’”. (Luke 4: 5 & 6) Thankfully our dear Lord and King rebuked the devil at that offer. But there are plenty of folks around who’ve taken that offer with glee. The devil has given them all this world has to offer and they’ve served the pleasure of Satan in return. The “casting couch” has been a known part of the Hollywood path to stardom for many decades. Why anyone is surprised about any of this is itself a surprise.

But is there any solution? First you have to get to the root of the problem. And as I wrote in “What is Sin?“, basically no one will go there. Because the problem (I know some of you will hate it when I say this) is sin. It’s not males. It’s not sex. It’s sin in the heart. Without the regenerative salvation of Jesus Christ, coming into our hearts to save us from our sins and our powerful sinful nature, it can be said that any one of us are capable of almost any kind of horrendous sin. It’s like Tennessee Ernie Ford used to sing, “If the right one don’t get you, the left one will.” If your sex urge doesn’t get you, gluttony will. If gluttony doesn’t get you, violence will. If violence doesn’t get you, depression or drugs will. And on and on it goes.

Jesus said of the last days before His return, that  “men’s hearts failing them for fear” would be one of the signs of those times. But, more on our subject, He also said of the Last Days, “Because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” (Matthew 24:12) Natural God-given human love between a man and woman is waning as demonic interactions abound. Or like Paul said about the Last Days that people would be “without natural affection”. (II Timothy 3:3) People need warm, loving, “natural affection”. They need love, even the Godly, wonderful love between a man and woman.

So, again, is there solution? Probably not one that most people will recognize and accept. The only way to empower men to bring their bodies and desires into subjection is through the power of “Christ in us, the hope of glory.”  (Colossians 1:27) That’s the only thing that ever gave me the power over the sins that were destroying me. I hope you have that saving power through Jesus. Then you “can do all things through Christ which strengthens you” (Philippians 4:13), including becoming a loving, mature, carrying man who can truly find and love the woman of your dreams, who God prepared for you. That’s the only hope. Jesus saves.

Sadness

Sadness is one of the greatest of sins. It turns us from the heavenly vision and contradicts the promises of God. Hardly anything so strips us from the power of God as does sadness. Yet it seems so reasonable, so “normal”, so acceptable. Maybe that’s why it so successfully defeats so many of the people of God.

I pray hard against sadness every day. The Bible talks about “the sins that do so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1); well sadness just wants to keep me as its friend forever, if I will. Maybe you had a friend when you were a kid, someone in your neighborhood you hung out with. Seemed like a nice guy and you had fun together. But as you got older, that fellow began to get worse and worse. Started fights, did petty crime at the shopping center and began to get into drinking, drugs and wild parties. That’s how sadness can be. It seems almost innocent at first. “Just feeling a little sad”, you say. But then if you stay in that state, along comes other similar feelings and it just gets worse and worse.

But for Christians, we are just not supposed to allow that, any more than we would the more well known and recognizable sins. This isn’t just about being cheerful and staying upbeat. This is about the fundamentals of obeying God and “walking in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Jesus said, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” (John 13:17) Back in the Old Testament, Nehemiah told the Jews who’d come back to rebuild Jerusalem, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10b).

But, boy, the devil tries to fight that. And of course it isn’t always even the devil that prompts you to be sad. Our own natural human nature is prone to all kinds of things that are just how things are in this world. But for a child of God, we are no longer under the control of this world and its darkened tendencies. Paul said that we are “set down in heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 2:6)  If you’re a saved, born again Christian, then Christ dwells in your heart right now. You have heaven in your heart right now and the truths, influences, reality and essences of heaven are already very firmly the reality you live in. King David said to God in Psalm 16:10, “In Your presence is fullness of joy and at Your right hand are pleasures for ever more.” Not empty, hopeless sadness.

Senseless sadness is not part of the reality of heaven.God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:17) We are to “rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory.” (I Peter 1:8) And yet, still, sadness is so often and so easily with us. If someone offered us drugs or wanted to get us to commit illicit sex, my how we’d stand up against that! But sadness? We can almost look at it like an old friend, if we don’t watch out. Like the famous song by Simon and Garfunkel with the opening words, “Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk to you again…” Well, I’ll tell you, darkness better not be your friend.

OK, is there any balance due here? Sometimes we feel what the Bible calls “contrite”. (Psalm 51:17) We are sorry for our sins, for our foolishness and that brings us to what looks very much like sadness. But here’s a very significant verse about that which I hope you’ll take note of. II Corinthians 7:10 says, “For Godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, not to be repented of. But the sorrow of the world works death.” Such light from the Word of God there. Two kinds of sorrow and it could be said, two kinds of sadness. Is your sadness or sorrow one that works repentance in you to salvation? You are sad at your foolish mistakes and you, in your contrition and repentance, strive all the more to walk in the Spirit and to follow the Lord more closely?

Or do you have “the sorrow of the world” which works death? That’s why when folks talk about the gift of discerning of spirits, I always figure the greatest discerning of spirits is to discern your own spirit. Jesus said to His disciples, “You know not what manner of spirit you are of.” (Luke 9:55) Well, sadness can be one of the most unhealthy and even contagious atmospheres that you can entertain. Like that old friend from childhood that you finally had to distance yourself from, sadness needs to be recognized for what it is and to be fought against as soon as it raises its deceitful head.

What do you do about Godless sadness? First, recognize that it’s not your friend. Not reasonable or acceptable or deserved or inevitable. It’s a subtle, dangerous enemy that needs to have the light of the Word of God and Spirit of God shined on it. Why are you sad? Did something happen? Someone said something that caused this? Even, did the Lord just point out something that you need to change in?

I wrote about that in “Conviction or Condemnation”. If the Lord is convicting you and you feel contrite, that’s where you may be feeling “Godly sorrow”. Or did the Devil try to bring you into condemnation? Was it just an old impulse that’s been a part of your nature all your life? Whatever its source and reason, Godless sadness is dangerous to your heart and is not in the least one of the fruits of the Spirit.

Sing a song, quote a verse or Psalm from the Bible, praise God with your voice or if nothing else, start thanking the Lord for all His goodness to you. Plainly put, the Bible says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) And, yes, sadness can often be straight from the devil.

Otherwise that seemingly innocent little sadness, if left to fester in your heart and mind, will take you down the path of hell and get you utterly defeated and out of the will of God. Don’t let it happen. Recognize it as soon as it raises its hellish head. Resist it, turn from it, go the other direction, stand on His promises and fight the good fight of faith. “Be not overcome of evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Left or Right, Vertical or Horizontal?

Everywhere you look, it seems like the extremes are winning. I grew up in a political family and there was always talk of “the Left” and “the Right”. I learned early the basics of what this meant in America. It’s difficult to make short definitions but the Left seemed to be more for government having a helping hand in affairs of citizens. Government was seen as having a place in the solutions society needed. The Right was more for smaller government and it having less involvement in society. More should be left up to individuals and the work of market forces that worked in the economy.

“Verticals” and “horizontals” are not political terms but are understood within Christian circles. “Horizontals” are the ones who are more focused on our Christian responsibility to “love your neighbor”. “Horizontals” can often be found feeding the poor and doing things primarily in the physical to alleviate the plight of the less fortunate. “Verticals” on the other hand focus their attention more on their personal relationship with God and Jesus. Their emphasis is often on personal salvation, prayer, Bible reading, church attendance and the things related to our spiritual life with God, in the affairs of the heart and soul.

If you keep up with things at all, you’ll know that there are very strong forces at work in many countries now, pulling and pushing things towards the extremes in all of these areas. You hear of “center Right” politicians but also you hear of “far Right” or even “extreme Right” or “alt Right”. And it works the same for the terms of the Left. Similarly in the field of faith, some push more and more for a completely “horizontal” view of our responsibilities to the Lord, that overwhelmingly it should play out in our service to mankind. Yet others downplay that completely and, being “Verticals”, feel the only solution left is for utter repentance and commitment to God in every way among all citizens of a nation.

“OK, Mark. We more or less know all that. So what’s the solution? Things are getting worse and worse, more and more divided. What’s right?”

For me, I had to learn the hard way that politics and political solutions just don’t address the fundamental issues of humanity. I wrote about that in several places like, “Citizenship in Heaven” or “Consumer, Citizen or Disciple.” I planned a career in politics and public service but was appalled by the reality I found when I began to get close to it while I was in university. So for me, the question isn’t really “Left” or “Right” as neither one has enough truth and solutions to be worth consideration in the most fundamental issues of life.

But what about “Vertical” or “Horizontal”? Which one of those is right? Is the main thing to be of service and to show an example of God’s love to our fellow man, to be a “Horizontal? You can certainly see a lot of examples of that in the New Testament and there are plenty of verses pointing us that direction for sure. However, “Verticals” would ask, isn’t it all contingent on our relationship with the Lord and the grace and power we receive from Him, once we are born again and filled with His Spirit? Don’t we need to stay close to His Word and the nudging of His Spirit so we’ll know what to do in this world?

For me, I’m completely convinced that the only solution for individuals or mankind is a spiritual one, first and foremost. And within the opposites of Vertical and Horizontal, I guess something Jesus said somewhat boils it all down: “These ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”(Matthew 23:23)  Simply put, a solid balance between “Horizontal” and “Vertical” is what I believe you find in the 4 gospels and the book of Acts in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t only “go about doing good”, (Acts 10:38) He “opened the Scriptures” (Luke 24:32) You could make a study of which He did more but I venture to say that the works of Jesus and the times He taught the Word would likely be pretty balanced

In the book of Acts, you don’t really see the early disciples of Christ doing humanitarian aid projects the way some of us do now. But you do see repeatedly their using the miracle-working power they’d received from Jesus to heal the sick. Acts 3:6 says, “Then Peter and John answered and said, ‘Silver and gold have we none, but such as we have we give you. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise up and walk.’” Jesus said of those who cloth the poor and visit prisons, “In as much as you have done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40)

I want to base my life around the discipleship found in the earliest days of Christianity. It was neither primarily based on humanitarian aid or in a lofty, aloof, separatist spirituality similar like to the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. So maybe some of these forces compelling us to extremes of Left or Right, Horizontal or Vertical are not directing us to God’s highest and best. Perhaps a healthy balance between dedicated Christian works in the horizontal and, vertically, a spiritual life of Christian salvation and power through the Spirit is closest to the bull’s-eye of God’s will in our times.

Falls Road, Belfast

I’ve just visited Northern Ireland, where bloody sectarian strife distressed that nation from 1968 to 1988. Fault lines between Catholics and Protestants go back hundreds of years there, exacerbated by British rule over Ireland and just a history of deep discord between faiths and peoples. The good news is that the bombings and carnage that was so prevalent in Northern Ireland over the last decades has abated and the city lives in peace, if not true concord.

Belfast was the last destination on my recent trip abroad and I found it interesting to be going from Beirut, Lebanon to Belfast, Northern Ireland. If you’ve kept up with the news over the years, you’ll know that both places were almost constantly flashpoints between warring factions, and in both places “religion” was a major factor. I personally don’t consider myself religious; I think of myself as spiritual. But “religion” to me brings up thoughts of altars, robes, swinging incense, unintelligible chants and usually meaningless traditions.

I don’t think Jesus was religious. But then we have to admit that the factions in both Beirut and Belfast had what we can call religion in mind as they fought and bombed and plotted for years against citizens in other parts of their cities. Pitiful, isn’t it?

For me on this trip, I wasn’t in either place to see the sights or rehash history. People are the most important thing to me. How are the people of God? Solomon said to “be diligent to know the state of your flocks and look well to your herds.” (Proverbs 27:23) In this case, they aren’t your flock or mine but they are the Lord’s. And as Paul said to the elders of his day, we should “feed the church of God”, “over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers.” (Acts 20:28) And in these days, that  goes for all of us. Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go again and visit our brethren … and see how they do.” (Acts 15:36) There aren’t really a handful of Paul’s and Peters anymore but there are a lot of us who the Lord calls to be shepherds and feeders of the flock.

It was very encouraging to see how the people of God were doing in Belfast. I visited two churches and one prayer group while I was there and it was inspiring. One was Presbyterian and the other church was Baptist. In both places there was a real mix of age groups, not just “old people”, as I feared. And the conversation in both places was about reaching others for the Lord, bearing fruit and on-the-ground activity to bring the gospel to the people there.

I’ve written in a few places about conditions I’ve found in other places in my travels. I wrote in “German Awakening” about my visits to Germany and Christian churches I encountered there. In “A Flock of Whopping Cranes” I wrote about the church I attend in Texas and how it’s been heartening to see those of the younger generation who have been keeping the faith and not “casting away their confidence.” (Hebrews 10:35)

But I was pretty surprised, both in Beirut and Northern Ireland. Particularly in Northern Ireland there was an overall sense of the people there not having fallen away from the faith anywhere near as much as you can see in some other parts of Britain. And it was not like a “hold the fort” type of faith but a ground-gaining boldness in their faith that I found very heartening.

In Beirut I heard of churches there that are in use for 16 to 18 hours a day, with one denomination after the other using the building to hold packed out services for both Lebanese citizens as well as Syrians and even Africans who’ve come there to work. And there’s just a lot of witnessing going on there with inspired individuals doing sometimes astounding things to reach a part of the world which is really reaching out to the Lord in their time of desperate need.

In future blog posts I can explain more about why I was in Belfast. It is all mission-related and some very important things were happening, both in Beirut and Belfast which should help further the Lord’s work in hopefully significant ways. But I’m glad to be back at my base in the States after this most recent 11 weeks abroad. Sometimes we have to not get so busy gaining territory for the Lord that we don’t securely consolidate the gains He’s giving us in His work. I have a lot to do in the next months to work on the many things that got started on this recent trip. I’ll be letting you know how that goes. God bless you, Mark

 

At the Green Line in Beirut

Yesterday I had lunch next to the Green Line in Beirut, Lebanon. The Green Line was the boundary that divided Beirut during the civil war here from 1975 to 1990 between Muslim, Christian and other factions. A large street was next to the outdoor restaurant and my friends said the French ambassador had been killed in the intersection in front of us during the civil war. There were still some pock marks in places on the buildings nearby from the street fighting that was so normal back then.

But I’m not here as a tourist. I won’t go into specifics of what I’m doing, some of you reading this already know but primarily it has to do with the Christian service that’s been a part of my life for decades. In the few days I am here I’ll be meeting old friends and making new ones in an effort to bring the love of God and the power and truth of God to this part of the world. Mostly I’m just listening, getting a clearer understanding of how things really are, what can be done, what the needs are as well as realistic possibilities. And in the months to come, Lord willing I’ll be sharing more about what has been going on while I am here and things that have been able to get started on this visit.

The last verse in the book of Mark says, “And they went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming the word with signs following.” (Mark 16:20) That might be a good explanation of something I’ve really notice since being in Beirut. I’ve very strongly noticed that phenomenon here of “the Lord working with them.” Things that I came here to do, which I had very few leads or ideas about, actually worked out really well and got taken care of in barely 24 hours. The answers and results were almost like falling on me. And I heard other people here use that phrase also, like the Lord was just dropping things on them.

I guess this whole part of the world here is just a very serious place. The Lord is really doing big-time miracles here, lives are being drastically altered, abject prayers are being answered and also people are suffering terribly and dying for their faith. Someone told me about a Muslim military commander in the war in Syria. Somehow he found a Christian tract in his language on the ground. He picked it up, read it and saw an address on it where he could order a Bible in his language. He did that and ended up having a strong salvation experience that empowered him to be a witness to those he was leading. Ultimately he paid with his life for his newfound faith. But then death by one means or the other is often known to be not far from so many in the Levant.

And there are many who come here to try to help in whatever way they can. Volunteers work in refugee camps in the region, some with over 100,000 people in them, doing shows for children, providing physical needs and at times just providing the education that school age children would be having if there was any normalcy in their lives. Groups from abroad channel finances to some individuals here who are deeply connected to the vast numbers of refugees and sufferers. These funds help to provide the barest of basic necessities for the essentials of life so that families don’t exist on the streets and so they can eat.

Others here and in the region are called to a different path and are actively straightforward in sharing their faith in God and the answers they’ve experienced from the Bible. I won’t go into details but things I’ve heard of people like this are very similar indeed to what you can read in the book of Acts. Some have survived repeated attempts on their lives here as they win people to the Lord and feed His sheep. Others who’ve come from abroad have actually died for their faith. But mostly this isn’t what happens as the Lord so closely and strongly leads His few bold soul winners in ways that they can reach effectively the people of this country and others in the region.

Well, this is just a little update, a few things I’ve seen or heard and a bit of news from this series of visits I’ve been making to places over the last 2 months. Once I’m back to my base, following up on the things that have gotten started on this trip will be the main thing I’ll be doing for the next months. There have been a lot of beginnings during the last two months which I’ll be telling you more about before long.

God bless you, your friend, Mark

Does God use organizations? Or individuals?

Ever wondered how God works best, with a group of organized individuals? Or with individuals alone? It does kind of mater. Should we endeavor to find a group of like-minded folks who share the same vision, goals and understanding of the Lord as we have? Or should we concentrate on our personal relationship with the Lord and just follow as best we can the Word and the directing of God’s Spirit?

Of course the best way to find the answer to this is to look to God’s Word. But the answer that comes back may not be conclusively for one side or the other. If you were to say that God blesses and usually wants us to work within some larger organized structure, you could use the example of Israel of old and how He raised them up and blessed them as a nation for centuries. It was their unity, their cohesion and their subjection to His laws and prophets that made them what they were. Or in some cases what they were not. “Believe in the Lord your God, so shall you established; believe His prophets, so shall you prosper.” (II Chronicles 20:20)

But there were times when this wasn’t the way the Lord blessed or delivered His people. The Lord raised up the shepherd boy David, virtually a child, to deliver Israel from Goliath and the Philistines in his day. Before that, Saul’s son Jonathan famously said, “God is not limited by many or by few” (I Samuel 14:6) and then he and his armor bearer routed the Philistines and turned the tide of battle when the larger army and forces of Israel were bottled up and tied down.

“Mark, you’re wrong. God prefers organizations and the safety of the flock.”

Yeah, sometimes He does work that way. But equally, some have traded their insecure liberty in following God individually for safety and security but ultimately bondage in Christian organizations that stopped truly follow God generations ago.

It looks like you can’t make a really solid case that God only works one of these ways or the other. But what about in Christian times? Was the Early Church a highly organized, structured, top-down outfit, demanding subjugation and dominion over all the multitudes who came to Christ in the first century?

Well, back at the time of the Early Church, they did have some organization and they did try to shepherd and feed the tremendous wave of people who kept coming to the Lord from all over the known world of that time. But it was centuries before there was the kind of stultifying, soul-quenching “organization” that the Catholic Church, as well as the various Orthodox churches, came to be by the time of the so-called Dark Ages.

Maybe it’s just because there are so many kinds of people. Some, perhaps the majority, are more followers than they are pioneers and spirit-led disciples who can really forge ahead on their own. Admittedly, not everyone is going to turn out like the Apostle Paul or some of the famous missionaries and pioneers of history who just couldn’t be tied down in some daily routine that was supposed to be the fulfillment of their obligations to the Lord’s call to discipleship.

But maybe we should note that the Lord did call individuals to personal discipleship and to even leave behind their present life to be “fishers of men”. (Matthew 4:19) He said we should pray to the Father that He would “send forth laborers into the harvest” (Matthew 9:38). Is that best done on a huge scale with much leadership attention to detail, where the laborers need to constantly be checking back with headquarters far away to make sure every move they make is ok with the council of the elders? Or is it best portrayed by Spirit-filled and called individuals who go out, even “not knowing whether they went”? (Hebrews 11:8) I suggest, and I’ve experienced, that this second mode seems to work better, even though it’s rarer and some folks just think it’s almost dangerous.

“How can we just let these individuals out there to roam around, saying whatever they will and with no accountability to anyone?!”

But if you look at the record of God’s Word, as well as Jewish and Christian history, some of the greatest things God ever did, some of the greatest works He ever started were where there was no controlling head but God , no organization but that supplied by the Holy Spirit, no directors or direction except His Word and the leading voice and presence of the Lord.

Sometimes, alone and outnumbered, people of God have had to utterly depend on Him for support, direction, inspiration and just the whole caboodle. But the Lord came through wonderfully time and again. Isn’t that what happened with Noah? With Abraham? With the Apostle Paul and the pioneers of the Early Church? In some situations that might seem weak and unorganized by man, God had some of His mightiest works done through His frail but yielded individuals. I might add that ones like Saint Patrick and many of the highly effective early Celtic Christian apostles were like this. Could we add ones like Dr. Livingstone and Florence Nightingale to this list?

And is there a reason I’m even writing this? Perhaps because in my own life I’ve come to feel that at times when I had no one but God to lean on and direct me, that at those times some of the most amazing things happen. So if you’re feeling quenched and subdued in some kind of Christian organization that is supplying your need for fellowship but is slowly sapping your faith, fire and initiative, perhaps you might find greater blessings in simply doing and living the truth you know in your heart that you realize your religious organization is just not following. Perhaps you need to follow God into greater fruitfulness, greater faith and a closer relationship to Him as you follow and obey the Lord, where so often modern Christian organizations just won’t be taking or directing you.

In Indonesia, after 10 years

I’ve been in Jakarta for over a week now, where I lived between 2003 and 2008. Those 5 years and this country had a huge impact on my life. Now I’m again with my friends from those times as I do recordings in Indonesian of the prophecies of Daniel video series which actually was started in Jakarta back in 2006.

From time to time I’ve mentioned in blog posts about when I was living here. But there’s something about talking about the past and reminiscing about the past which I’m not so into. Because I feel there’s a danger that any of us can so easily slip into living in the past and the highlights of those times so that we lose sight of all that’s still before us in God’s vision and future for us, if we’re willing to keep going forward for Him. There’s so much ahead of us in peaks we have yet to climb, if we keep the vision.

And so truly it has been said, “Without a vision the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18) If we let our looking back to the past replace our following the vision that’s before us, it’s a great error. But it can be thrilling to look back, with some caution, to see the peaks and valleys we’ve already crossed, the victories that have already been won and all that the Lord has already done in our lives till now.

With that thought in mind, I’ll take the liberty to share a few links to blog articles I did several years ago when I first started doing these. As a few of you know, I was doing what I called “Fields” newsletter for a number of years before I had these web sites. In fact, one of the first blog articles I did was mostly taken from the first “Fields” newsletters I did. It briefly traces an outline of my life, going back a number of years and then explains why I was about to go abroad in Christian service again in 2003, to Indonesia. Here’s a link to that article.

During the time I was in Indonesia, I was often involved in projects with friends to help start schools, doing character building programs in schools and also in direct disaster relief. Perhaps the most intense few weeks of my adult life was spent in the Indonesian province of Aceh in the direct aftermath of the horrific tsunami that hit the region on December 26 of 2004. I went there immediately as an aid worker with a few friends but I also brought along my small video camera. Here’s a video on YouTube which I made while I was there.

My five years here was an interesting time with a lot of variety. At times I would be having Bible classes with young people who were from missionary families in Indonesia. But at other times I was able to do presentations in some local schools that we helped start of principles that are shared between Christianity and Islam. In the picture you can see me with a flash card I am holding of a picture of an angel and the title is something like “Angels watching over us”. One of the local students is translating my explanation of it all to the other students there. A blog post that I wrote about this experience with these young students is “East Meets West”.

This particular school was a start-up of a young Islamic man in one of the very poorest parts of Jakarta. First he had to persuade the parents to let the kids go to school since the kids could make $5 a day each from begging, far more than their parents could make at a job here. But it finally worked out and an extremely basic school got started on stilts over standing stagnate water, very close to an oil refiner on the coast of the city. A blog article about this little slum school is called “Far Country Photos from Jakarta”.

Student-in-Jakarta

And it was a thrill that some of my Christian friends back in the States contributed to this project at a particularly needy time which made it possible for us to hire 3 teachers to continue there when it was touch-and-go back then as to whether the school would continue. The amazing good news is that from those seemingly feeble, tenuous beginnings, the school (with help from my friends here) was able to build larger and better facilities.It  now has over 300 students who are being educated when, almost certainly, many of them would still be begging on the streets.

It’s been a good time to be back here again, to meet friends I worked with during that time and with whom I am still working with on things presently and happened soon. Some of this is like what they say about “happiness that money can’t buy”. There’s a deep gratitude in my heart to the Lord that He’s led my life in the way He has , to be able to not only be a child of the Lord but to serve Him and be a positive contribution to mankind and the world we live in. Thank the Lord!

Coming together

It’s been heartening to read about the outpouring of help from so many to the flooding disaster in Texas. Right now I’m in Indonesia, 12 time zones away from my base in Texas but I’ve very much kept up with events there. There’s just something Godly about genuine outgoing concern for others that’s expressed in sacrificial giving and breaking out of your routine in order to rescue others from the peril they’re in.

If there’s anything that Jesus is remembered for, even by unbelievers and those of other faiths, it’s that He was a caring, loving, sympathetic man. He took action. He went out of His way. Jesus got up from dinner with His friends to go help someone who’d come there to plead for His help. And when we do this, as individuals or in mass, we are “touched with the feeling of their infirmities” (Hebrews 4:15), like He was. And, doubtless, this is what God wants.

So I’ve been gladdened to read about the activities of so many now to try to do what they can to help make things better in south-east Texas after such “unprecedented”, almost Biblical floods. I’ve read that there’s been virtually no looting, so different from a similar hurricane disaster just to the east of Houston, Hurricane Katrina which hit New Orleans, Louisiana in 2005.

We aren’t supposed to be proud, there’s not a place in the Bible that promotes or condones pride in any way. But it is nice every so often to feel good about the people and place you come from. I wrote something about this a few years ago in “Texas People”. I’ve always known that, contrary to many popular stereotypes, there are some very kind, humble and godly people in Texas. So it’s been encouraging to see this being manifest right now in the aftermath of this tragedy.

And that’s the funny thing about tragedies, isn’t it? King David of long ago once said, “And in my prosperity I said, ‘I shall never be moved’; Lord, by Your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong. You did hide Your face and I was troubled.” (Psalm 30: 6 & 7) It’s natural and human to like and want prosperity and certainly there’s quite a lot of prosperity in Texas, especially around the Houston area. And although it’s nominally a very Christian city and state, very many people have a real problem with materialism. Jesus once said, “Beware of covetousness for a man’s life consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses.” (Luke 12:15)

So as terrible and destructive as this disaster has been, there likely has been an almost unwanted silver lining for many. They’ve escaped with their lives. They’ve hopefully seen “the deceitfulness of riches” (Matthew 13:22). And in their dire straits and extreme dangers they’ve just been through, the real things of life have hopefully become clearer to them than they were when everything was just coasting along and they were “rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing”. (Revelation 3:17)

Chastening, judgment, loss, these are things that virtually no one wants to go through. But for those of us who know the Lord, we know from the Word that these things happen and that they can be for our good, often for our very good. And equally it puts the onus on those who have not been so affected, to see what kind of response it will illicit in them. Will they be like the Good Samaritan, stopping to help the stranger and truly loving their neighbor? Or will they be like the religious hypocrites, the Pharisees from Jerusalem who “passed by on the other side” (Luke 10: 31 & 32) when they saw someone in need.

So it’s a time when God is really working in the lives of many millions. And from what I’ve read and heard, a lot of good has come of this disaster, as strange as it may seem. “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.” (Romans 8:28) I’ve even noticed that there seems to be (temporarily at least) much less hate-filled squawking from the extreme left and extreme right in the States. It’s hard to talk about “fake news” and “them” when the desperate realities of your fellow man are staring you right in the face and you have to make a decision what you’re going to do, even though that person in need might not be of your race or political party.

So, personally, I’m thanking God that I can see at least a little bit of real coming together. Of people forgetting their differences long enough to help those who may die without the immediate help of their neighbors, friends and countrymen. Love in action is what it’s really all about and the love of God moving in the hearts of people to love others and to manifest that love sacrificially is a wonderful, heartening sight. Praise God!

Getting around in Istanbul

I’m back in Istanbul again; it’s really an interesting place. I don’t come here as a tourist and the things I have come here for have been going very well. No need to get into details right now but in the next months there will be some exciting and encouraging news, Lord willing.

Being here has reminded me of what it says about Paul when he visited Athens. “Now while Paul waited for [his friends] at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.” (Acts 17:16) Of course in our times folks are not “given to idolatry” in the same fashion people were 2,000 years ago. On the other hand, both in Gothenburg, Sweden where I was before this, and now here in Istanbul, it’s a weight on my heart how it seems so many people are just moving along with “the course of this world” (Ephsians 2:2) and so many are in spiritual darkness.

I got into a conversation with the manager of a restaurant I ate at. A young guy, like so many Turks with a very mixed background. Partly Iraqi Jewish, part Turkmen, part Bulgarian. He told me he really wants to move to Canada as he’s a movie maker and he finds the current situation here to be repressive and foreboding, as you may have read about in the news. I ended up sharing the story of my life with him, how I had a dramatic change from atheism to faith in the God of Abraham and His Son. He said he was into Sufism and the 13th century Persian mystic, Rumi, a popular direction that many young people in this part of the world have turned towards in recent times.

And I just wish I could reach more, to do more to come in contact with the very many people here who are searching and reaching out to find something beyond what is so heavy upon this part of the world now. I talked to a woman who is connected to a Christian book store here in Istanbul. You might be surprised to know there are over 40 churches in the city, not just ancient buildings but active congregations as well as Bible societies and similar things. She told me it was amazing how it was that people came to the small Bible bookshop.

Some ask how they got in there and what it was. They said they felt like something pushed them into the Bible bookshop and they wanted to know what it was about. So very few here have ever had any contact with a Christian and know next to nothing about Christianity.

The popular understanding is that Christians worship three gods, a strange mix up of what is called Trinitarianism. Other people have come into the Bible book shop and asked why they don’t turn the page on the large Bible that is open in the front display window of the shop. People on the street stop to read the text and now the bookshop has to keep turning the page daily since folks have asked them to do that.

This is just another example of how it is across the Islamic world. Strange as it may seem for some of us who’ve been so conditioned against people from this part of the world, there really are many who are “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” (Matthew 5:6)  But sadly, it may turn out to be as the prophet Amos wrote long ago, “Behold the days come says the Lord that I will send a famine in the land. Not a famine of bread of a thirst for water but of hearing the world of the Lord. And they shall wander from sea to sea, from the north, even to the east. They shall run to and fro to hear the word of the Lord and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst.” (Amos 8:11-13) There are a handful here and there who are trying to do what they can to reach the hungry and seeking here but “what are they among so many?”

I’ve been here a few times in the past. I wrote about this in “Tea and the Endtime with the Kurds”, “Visiting Syria” and earlier this year in “Four months abroad”. And I personally am doing what I can to reach this part of the world and this country. But what I see that is really needed here is just basically witnessing Christians, ones who can share their faith with people here in a wise and loving way.

In many ways, it comes back to what the Lord said long ago and I feel it really fits here in this country and part of the world now. “But when He saw the multitude, He was moved with compassion upon them. For the fainted and were scattered abroad as sheep having no shepherd. Then said He to His disciples, the harvest is plenteous but the laborers are few. Pray therefore the Lord of the Harvest that He will send forth laborers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:36-38) Please pray for that, for laborers in this harvest. And please pray that I will be able to be in contact with some of them as well. Thanks so much.

“He has made my chain heavy.”

Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:31) But there can be times where it’s like what Jeremiah said, “He has made my chain heavy.” (Lamentations 3:7) Is there a contradiction? Not really. For those who are following the Lord, not just only believing in Him, there are certainly times when we can clearly see and experience what Jesus said, “If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23)

Let’s sadly face it: in this day and age, the vast majority of Christians are not really following the Lord, as He said there. They may be believers; they may be saved and will be in heaven.  But at best, they “follow afar off” (Matthew 26:58). On the other hand, for those who really have committed to a life of Christian service, who are determined and in the practice of following both the admonitions of God’s Word, as well as and equally following the promptings of the Holy Spirit, taking up our cross daily can definitely be what God calls for. And at times it can even be like a heavy chain.

But, almost strangely, there’s an incredible, utterly unearthly freedom in following the Lord to that degree. That may seem like a huge paradox. How could there be freedom in carrying a cross and being chained? I could use a military analogy or talk about James Bond or Jason Bourne. But to use something less sinister, think of successful sports stars or concert pianists for example. Those folks often go all over the world, they are famous, well paid and have the adulation of the multitude.

But what level of commitment is required of them? How many hours of practice, of sacrifice and denial were necessary for that goal scorer to get to the place where he could play at that level? Or that pianist to play that solo so amazingly. For those very few who are endeavoring to follow the Lord the way He wants and needs us to, there’s both this incredible freedom of experience but at the same time an incredible confinement (if that’s the right word) that is done by the Holy Spirit to keep us on the track and direction for Him. The apostle Paul certainly knew of this. He said once, “Necessity is laid upon me, yeah, woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel.” (I Corinthians 9:16)

And if we follow that path, to attain God’s goals, He sometimes just waves the rules. In Acts 10, Peter was led of the Spirit to eat unclean meats, or at least it seemed so at the beginning of his experience. But it was a picture of what was about to happen, that the Spirit led him out of his Jewish training and restrictions into a new age of the gospel of Christ being open to the gentiles. I wrote about that here.

It seems Peter just barely obeyed because the leading of the Lord appeared so contrary to what he had thought was the will of God. Actually at first Peter just said no to God. Nevertheless he did obey, almost like with a chain about his neck since the Spirit was so clear and definite in what God’s will was right then. But he obeyed.

That’s the kind of following Jesus that changes the world. And it wasn’t just for 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is just as alive today; the needs are just as great, the freedom just as magnificent and breathtaking but also the cross and the chain just as real and necessary as it was in Biblical times.

When I came to the Lord when I was 21, the type of Christianity I was born into was a radical discipleship Christianity. It was about soul winning and forsaking all to go into all the world to follow Him to the ends of the earth for the Kingdom of God. Eighteen months after I got saved I was across the Atlantic and out personal witnessing in places like Hyde Park in London or Vondel Park in Amsterdam. In some ways it was tough but also it was often extremely exhilarating. Thankfully some decades later now that life of Christian discipleship is still what I’ve been allowed by God to experience.

If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free in deed.” “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” “Brethren, you’ve been called unto liberty, only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another.There’s been amazing liberty, incredible experience and a sense of purpose and fulfillment. But if I ever use that liberty for “an occasion to the flesh”, the Lord may just lift off his blessing.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t been having a life of thumb screws and aestheticism. He’s often given me many happy times, even in the physical side of this life. He’s very often “cast our lines in pleasant places.” (Psalm 16:6) But His cause and instant obedience to the leading of His will has always had to be preeminent and paramount.

It’s a wonderful life, almost charmed. But you have to accept that cross and that chain as part of the bargain and contract.