“…and you are still?”

and you are still flatThis morning I found a verse that I’ve never noticed before but which really resonates for our times. It’s about “the promised land”. Specifically it refers to events from over 3000 years ago but its significance to us Christians today couldn’t be more important. No, this won’t be about Jewish settlements in the West Bank but about our own “Promised Land” of God’s will and destiny for His children which so many do not fully possess. From Judges 18:9 & 10. “Arise…for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good; and you are still? Be not slothful to go, and enter to possess the land: for God has given it into your hands; a place where there is no want of anything that is in the earth.

What really shocked me when I read this was realizing that this isn’t from the time of Joshua, the battle of Jericho and those events surrounding the original entrance of the Israelites into the land they’d been called to take. This verse is from hundreds of years later! They’d already entered the  land but only partially before running out of steam and settling down to enjoy what they had.

Come on flatAll of this of course is exceedingly rich in symbolism and meaning. They entered the promised land “by faith”, just as we are to receive and believe for all that God has given us through the mighty saving grace of our dear Lord Jesus. We have entered into the true “Promised Land” of eternal life and blessings through Him. But, but… like God’s people of old, so very many of us have not fully possessed the land.

Davids-Mighty-Men3Did you know that over 300 years after the Jews conquered the land, that what we now call Jerusalem was still inhabited by the Canaanites? David and his men climbed the mountains surrounding the city and routed the inhabitants, establishing Jerusalem as the new center and capital of ancient Israel. But that was centuries after the time of Joshua and the original conquering of the land.

They had to go further. David and his followers had to take the original commandments of God to a new level of obedience, hundreds of years after God had first spoken His Word on the mater. Why? Because our evil human nature of sloth,  disobedience, of being satisfied with a little, rather than all God has promised got the best of the people back then. So there were still giants in the land.

They had entered the promised land but they had not scaled the heights.

Solomon thinkingAnd of course we know that David not only scaled the heights and took the capital city physically, he did this spiritually as well. David probably went further than any other man in the Old Testament in really loving the Lord and, even as the sinner he was, in doing all he could to obey the Lord. It was David’s love for the Lord and obedience that catapulted Israel into the richest era in its history, not only physically in the coming kingdom of Solomon but spiritually in the lifetime of David and the treasures of spiritual riches he shared with his generation and all generations after that in the Psalms.

But what about us? How many Christians today will say with Caleb of old, “I’ll take the mountain”? In his 80’s Caleb, Joshua’s brother, led his tribe up the mountain to take the promised land. The question remains for so much of Christianity today, “…and you are still?

The truth is that the unconquered parts of the promised land came back to haunt and attack God’s partially obedient children of old. And it’s certainly still the same today. Christians who’ve gone as far as they want to go, who’ve settled down in the valleys of God’s Spirit, unwilling to drive out the darkened mountainous areas of their lives where God’s Spirit would lead them to victory, often find themselves to be in a weakened, defeated condition, not able to resist when the enemy launches a new attack. Because they themselves stopped attacking long ago. They didn’t really fully enter the promised land of God’s Spirit. They quit too soon, before the battle was fully won.

lethargy flatThe Bible says that “…in whatsoever state we are in to be content.” (Philipians 4:11) Well, I can tell you, there are certainly times to not be content. If “contentment” is actually self-satisfaction and lethargy when God is commanding and urging us on to greater obedience and greater spiritual victories, then “contentment” is not called for. Someone has wisely said, “Be content enough to be happy and discontent enough to want progress”

It comes back to discipleship and obedience. The Early Church was one of the best examples in history of about as close as we can find to ones who were really trying to obey fully. They claimed the spiritual promised land and prospered mightily in the first few generations of Christianity.

But today? So very many believers are “sitting at ease in Zion” (Amos 6:1). Maybe that’s why we’ll need to go through the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21) before the coming of the Lord. So often it takes suffering and tribulation to awaken His bride from her slumber. And we find this in His Word about the final days before His return, “…and some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them and to purge and to make them white, even unto the time of the end, for it is yet for a time appointed.” (Daniel 11:35)

Hearken and heed

world in darkness flatI heard about a man one time who had a good job at a law firm in a high-rise building in the USA. It was a beautiful day outside and he was admiring the view when God’s voice spoke to him, “See, the world lies in darkness”. He had a call of God in his life and he heard the Lord’s voice, impressing on him that, it might have been a beautiful day physically but spiritual darkness still reigned supreme on so many. And, as I heard it, this man took heed to God’s voice that day.

Recently I was reviewing some Bible verses I’ve memorized and I came upon a word that’s almost disappeared from modern English: heed. Maybe you’ve heard it used like, “You need to take heed to the warnings”. It means to listen to, consider or take note of. You won’t hear “heed” used on CNN, Fox News or BBC tonight.

hear O Israel fixed again flatIf you’re a student of the things of God, you’ll know how seriously He emphasizes the need for us to heed and hearken to Him. It virtually all starts with that. You can say it all starts with faith and belief; that’s certainly also true. But here’s an example of what I mean. Someone asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus said, “The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one God’.” (Mark 12:29) And He goes on in the next verses to say that we should love the Lord our God with all our hearts and our neighbor as our selves. That’s the part we remember. But it’s prefaced by “Hear, O Israel.

Even in many churches today the need to hear God and to hearken to Him is either not understood or at least not emphasized much. But the Bible says, “Today, if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart.” (Psalm 95:7 & 8) Job said nearly 4000 years ago, “For God speaks once, yea twice, but man does not perceive it.”(Job 33:14) And then he goes on to say how that God will end up giving us dreams in the night when He can’t get through to us any other way.

“Mark what do you mean by hearing from God? Do you think we should all go around like Elijah? Or Moses on Mount Sinai?”

Nope. The first and most important way to hear from God is through His written, revealed Word. If you never hear a voice, if you never have a dream, if you never have a vision, if you’ll just receive and obey what He’s given us through His Word, you’ll do great. Jesus said, “He that has My commandments and keeps them, he is it that loves Me. And he that loves Me will be loved of My Father and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21) Jesus promises that those who keep His commandments will be loved by Him and the Father and that They will manifest Themselves to us. What a promise. So the first way to “take heed and hearken” to God’s voice is to receive and obey what He’s already said in His revealed Word, the Bible.

my presence flatBut there’s more to it than that. Some people think the last time God spoke was to John on the Isle of Patmos in 90 AD. But the reality is that God is still alive, well and speaking to us today, or at least He wants to if He can get our ear. “You shall hear a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it’.” (Isiah 30:21) The whole idea of salvation is to restore us to personal, living, intimate fellowship with God so that not only “Christ shall live in your hearts by faith” (Ephesians 3:17) but the presence of God can communicate to us in all the fullness, strength and joy that is His will and our need and desire. God told Moses, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus  33:14)

But there is something we need to do. We need to “take heed.” We need to “hearken.” Probably that’s why it says “Be not as the horse or the mule which have no understanding, whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle.” (Psalm 32:9) We are commanded to hear from God, both from His written Word and from His living voice and not to be like dull animals, insensitive to the voice and impulses of our Master.

Why? Because He’s some cruel supernatural authoritarian who just won’t leave us alone to do our own thing? Nope, because He’s the very spirit of love that created all things and He has an indescribably better idea than we do of what will make us happy and how we can best spend our lives. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit will “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13). And that’s true on so many levels and scales, not only deep theological truth but also for each of us personally in our day to day affairs, even “a very present help in the time of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1) God help us all to “incline our ear and come unto Him”. (Isiah 55:3) “Now therefore hearken unto Me, oh My children: for blessed are they that keep My ways.”  (Proverbs 8:32)

Pickpockets

PickpocketsI was at the Kiev train station two weeks ago, taking an early morning train back to eastern Ukraine. I hadn’t slept much the night before and I was in a bit of a rush to get to my place on the train before it left the station. There were a lot of people on the platform and at times things got rather packed in the crowd.

Suddenly I felt someone lightly pinch my arm. I looked and a young girl started speaking to me in Russian. I smiled and apologized that I didn’t speak her language and that (I thought) was the end of that. But I did think it was a little strange that she pinched my arm that way. Why didn’t she just tap me on the shoulder if she had a question? Anyway, it doesn’t matter (I thought).

kiev trainI was able to get onto my train wagon and was trying to get to my assigned seat but there still was quiet a crush in the isle. Somehow, I don’t know why, I got a “check” in my spirit, when the crowd was really packed, to reach back to my pocket to protect my wallet.

And as I reached back, there was already a hand in my back pocket, trying to pull out my wallet.  The hand quickly was withdrawn and it all became clear to me at that moment that the young girl was part of a pick pocketing team. I remembered that I’d barely seen another young girl with her when my arm had been pinched a few minutes earlier. It all happened in an instant and I didn’t want to try to take the time to yell or catch the pickpockets. They are usually very clever about what they do and know how to melt away into a crowd very quickly.

But as the train pulled out of the station I had time for the significance of it all to dawn on me. The Lord somehow had given me the presence of mind and the nudge of His Spirit to reach back with my painful arm to check my wallet just as the moment when I was being robbed. It would have been a real big setback for me as there were not only funds there but cards and documents having to do with travel that would have been a nightmare to replace. The Lord had protected me again in a supernatural and miraculous way.

A few weeks ago I wrote about “The Unguarded Moment”, when in a brief time of dullness and a lack of prayerfulness, I seriously injured my arm at a grocery store parking lot nearly a year ago. But my time in Kiev two weeks ago was a “guarded moment”. The dear loving Lord saw fit to protect me against very professional thieves who very nearly accomplished a major strike on my life when I was far from my home and base.

guardian-angelsSometimes it’s just God’s grace and we are swept along by His heavenly providence and protection. “The angel of the Lord encamps round about them that fear Him and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7)  “Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.” (I John 4:4)

I’ve thought some about why the Lord so miraculously protected me there at the train station in Kiev but allowed the serious injury at the parking lot in Texas last year. And I don’t have a really full and definitive answer about it. But a year ago in the parking lot, I was just “running on autopilot”, not really in prayer or even thinking very much. But in Kiev, I was praying as things were a little tense overall and I’ve had other times where I’ve known how crowds like that can be the lurking places of thieves. I think even that girl pinching my arm like that did something to alert me that there might be some funny business going on.

So it’s another of “God’s Little Miracles” which I have written about a few times elsewhere. What else can we say but to be abundantly thankful for a supernatural, miracle-working God Who’s promised to be with us unto the end of the world. I think this is especially true when we are going forward for the Lord, even in foreign lands to share His love and truth to those in need. “They went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them and confirming His Word with signs following.” (Mark 16:20)

A Rabbit and the Lynch Mob

lynch mobA week ago was the day of the funeral of my mom, Virginia McMillion. I’d flown in from Europe the day before and it was just a rough time for me in every way. I’d not planned to speak at the funeral as I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. But that morning a couple of things came to mind that I felt would be good for folks to know about the heritage and upbringing both I and my parents had.

My dad, about 8 years old, 1929

My dad, about 8 years old

At the funeral I shared two stories of my parents’ upbringing that had a big impact on them and a big impact on me when I was told them as a child. First, about my dad. He went hunting with his dad when he was maybe 7 years old, around 1928. They came back with a rabbit he’d shot and showed it to his mom. Her only comment was something like, “Poor rabbit. Why did you shoot it? He never hurt anyone.” This of course made a huge impact on my dad and he never went hunting again. But in a broader sense, it was indicative of the traditions and life view of my dad’s mother and father and their families.

There was an underlying theme of kindness and even harmlessness that permeated the lives of those people. Trying to find something in the Bible that could describe this, the phrase “without guile” (John 1:47) came to mind. I’ve thought about how, if I’d tried to speak about this when I was young, I don’t think I could have verbalized it. But it continually touched me and impacted me at perhaps a subconscious level, strongly shaping my life. I wrote about my dad’s side of my family in “Texas People”.

“Sharecroppers” picking cotton

“Sharecroppers” picking cotton

At the funeral I next told about a major event in the history of my mom’s family. They lived on northeast Texas countryside and her grandfather was a very wealthy landowner and cotton farmer over 100 years ago. He had many “sharecroppers” working on his land, both whites and African-Americans. It happened that a white man came to the house of a black man over some argument. A fight broke out and in defending himself, the black man killed the white man. The black man fled for protection to the house of my great-grandfather, Marshall Womack. Soon after that a crowd of white men on horseback came to my great-grandfather’s house, demanding that he turn the black man over to them.

If you’re from the US, you probably know what was going on with this. But for those who might not understand, this time 100 years ago was still totally dominated in the southern states of the USA by rampant, often violent, racism. The sudden hangings of black men without trail, “lynching”, was often the way things were handled in situations like this.

But my mother’s grandfather went out to meet the lynch mob in front of his house and told them he had no intention of handing over the black man to them. It ended up that the black man was taken to Paris, Texas to stand trial where he was convicted of manslaughter and served a few years in jail. But he wasn’t turned over to a racist mob that day and my great-grandfather stood up against the evil that was so rampant in those times about these things.

My great grandfather, Marshal Womack (1869-1964)

My great grandfather, Marshal Womack (1869-1964)

These stories of my family’s history made a huge impact on me when I was young. It made me realize that there are important things in life having to do with what we call morals, ethics and the things of the soul and heart which are supremely important. Solomon said, “Keep your heart with all diligence for out of it are the issues of life.” (Proverbs 4:23) My dad’s side of the family was still fairly Christian but my mom’s side was not as much. But even without being overtly Christian, there was still a strong underlying sense of right and wrong and at times a willingness to stand up and against the tide, like in the case of the lynch mob at my great grandfather’s house.

Growing up, I just knew that in my family, we had a standard of right and wrong that would end up standing alone at times against what many others felt was acceptable and normal. Somehow I knew I was accountable to a very high standard of decency, because of the heritage of my upbringing.

Probably all of us have things like this from our youth, stories your parents told you that shaped your life. Maybe you said in your heart, “I want to be like that.” Or maybe you said in your heart that you didn’t. This is a major way our lives are shaped and how we come to decide who we are and what we want to be.

Long ago God told believers back then, “This Word which I command you this day shall be in your heart. And you shall  teach it diligently to your children.” (Deuteronomy 6:6 & 7) We all have influence, for evil or for good. I’m so thankful to be from a family that taught me through their words and deeds to have a real love for mankind and for truth, justice and equality as well.

Virginia McMillion (1921-2016)

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

Four days ago I moved back here to Texas to attend the funeral of my dear mother, Virginia McMillion. I was in Ukraine when I heard from relatives here that she had taken a sudden turn for the worse. I made it back to my base in Romania, closed it and was able to fly here the day before her funeral.

So both physically and emotionally it’s been one of the more trying weeks of my life. You may know that my dad passed away at the age of 92 in 2014. Here’s an article I wrote about him and his life, “Bonner McMillion“. The picture you see there is of my mom and dad at my dad’s 92nd birthday in November of 2013. While the blog post about my dad is mainly about him, a lot there is a reflection of how my mother was as well.

My mom was a very loving and kind matriarch of our family and she will be very much missed. While I was at ground zero of “the generation gap” as I grew up, in later years my relationship with my folks got better. They invited me to live with them in 2012 as my mom wasn’t able to take care of my dad who by then needed full time care. He passed away about 18 months after I moved into the house and I lived another 18 months with my mom, until August of last year when I moved to Romania.

It’s sometimes difficult to explain to others what someone has meant to you. In the matter of my parents and me, things are even more complicated by many layers of twisting and turnings in our lives, including some strong disagreements and differing views. But it’s been said that out of the twisting and suffering of the life of King David came forth the sweetness of the Psalms and that’s true in this case also.

The fact that I became a born again Christian and accepted the call of full time Christian service in my 20’s was very difficult for my parents to understand or accept. But tolerance and inclusion always played an integral part of their lives and they tried to be understanding. As the years went by, I myself became less adamant and blunt in expressing my faith while still retaining my beliefs and the path God set me on. By the time I was in my 60’s and my parents reached their 90’s, there was a much better relationship between us than there had been in earlier years.

There’s a lot I wish I could tell you about my parents and upbringing as I was very much prepared for a life of Christian service through my parents, even though they themselves were not overt Christian ministers themselves. It’s like the verses in James 2 where it is said, “I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18) Without going off the very deep end on that subject, I’ll just say that my parents very often showed a sample of kindness, love, self-sacrifice and empathy that never wavered in their lives. It was through my parents that I learned to care about people and the greater world we live in. That’s why I wanted to be a politician when I was still growing up, thinking somehow that I could make a better world that way. God saw it all and called me to serve Him but the principle of service and living for others was already there from what I’d learned from my parents.

When I was 1, with my parents and grandparents. Kinder people and perhaps better times

When I was 1, with my parents and grandparents. Kinder people and perhaps better times

I had an interesting experience the morning of my mom’s funeral. I was very jet lagged and had not planned to speak at the funeral as I figured it would just have been too much for me. But, surprisingly, some ideas did come to me of things I could share about what kind of family I come from and what kind of families my mother and father come from.  A while back I wrote about some of this in the blog post “Texas People”. And I’ll try to write up what I shared at the funereal as two stories of my parent’s upbringing came to mind which helped to show the heritage they came from which they passed on to me and my sisters.

I’m very much in a recovery mode right now, both physically and emotionally. It’s a major end of an era in my life and the life of my family. I’m so thankful that I have the Lord to hold on to during this time and I’ve been reminded that I still have the things He has done and continues to do in my life. But rebasing back to the States has been necessary and that also is a rather big and surprising turn of events which I’m still digesting as I get my bearings in this new situation. And thanks to the many of you who’ve prayed for me and sent words of love and encouragement during this time. I aim to continue to do what He has led me to do. But this has been a pretty big event and I’m looking to Him to keep me going and on the right course in the weeks and months to come. God bless you, love to you all, Mark

Back again in Ukraine

Ukraine mapFor the last week I’ve been back visiting where I lived in 2008 and 2009, in eastern Ukraine. I guess it depends on what you are looking for. This isn’t Monaco or Hawaii. But for me, it is now (and was 6 years ago) a very nice place to be, among friends who hold the same views and beliefs as I do and who’ve dedicated their lives to serving the Lord.

But it can be a tough place to be in some ways and it’s a challenge for me to write this blog post and to keep it upbeat and cheerful. Because this place can be “not for the fainthearted”. It’s not a matter of violence or crime, the statistics on that are probably pretty low. And it’s not the simmering border war with Russian separatists that is still happening about 200 miles (@320 kilometers) to the east or the Russian takeover of Crimea 200 miles to the south. At one point these things did look like they would spill far into the country but it no longer really looks like that.

No, the overarching narrative here that affects nearly every life is the extreme deprivation, resulting from years of severe economic hardship, already prevalent before the worldwide crash of 2008. And I’m at a juncture here because the Bible teaches us, “Whatsoever things are true, righteous, pure and lovely, if there is any virtue or praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8) In brief, we should aim to stay positive. And at the same time, Solomon said, “Sorrow is better than laughter for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better.” (Eccles. 7:3)

So I’ll tell you the good news first. My friends here have continued to stay on the wall of Christian service during the 6 years since I left here. There are not a whole lot of them but they’ve worked tirelessly in this country, often focusing on what they can do in the vast numbers of orphanages and places for the mentally challenged. Someone has said, “A little bit of love can go a long, long way.” It sure needs to here and it does. Besides delivering physical aid to these places which just barely get by, a surprising ministry for my friends here has been what’s called clowning.

fixed-Dom Malutki 12“Clowning” might not sound like a great idea to some. You may think we have too many clowns around already when we look at the politicians and so many other sources of light, frivolous froth that seems so prevalent nowadays. But this is Ukraine, not the “rich-and-increased-with-goods” West. Here I find that the clowning my friends do in orphanages and detention homes is closer to being like what Solomon said about these things, “A merry heart does good like a medicine but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Proverbs 17:22)

patch AdamsIf this still seems strange to you, perhaps you’ve heard of the movie starring Robin Williams, “Patch Adams”, about the true story of a famous doctor who used clowning to cheer up his patients and how much this helped them. That’s what my friends do here and it’s been both successful, as well as much appreciated by the authorities in these parts. Of course my friends are dedicated Christians and are doing all this to bring light, love and joy to a part of the world that really does need it very much, increasingly so.

horse wagonOK, that’s the good part; now let’s talk about the bad, ha! It’s the economics. And you could think, “Oh, Mark, at least it’s not violence, crime or diseases.” Hmm. Let me give you some statistics and you can see how this would work for you. You’re retired and draw a pension from your government? Millions here do and they receive… $45 a month. That’s $ 1.50 per day. An average wage in Guatemala is about twice that, I’m told. Are you going to buy medicine on $1.50 a day? No. You’re just barely going to avoid starvation if you somehow have some place you can grow some potatoes, have an apple tree and a few chickens you feed.

woman plowingYou’re a teacher in your prime, not retired? Let’s see. You’ll receive… about $55 a month. At 40 hours a week that would be about $.25 an hour for your efforts. Your tops in your field, medicine, and are #2 at a large city hospital? You’ll be getting less than $200 per month. So it’s all kind of indescribable. Almost like a sci-fi movie where all that you’ve taken for normal is deeply distorted so that things are surreal, Kafkaesque.

I could tell you much more but I won’t. It’s against this backdrop that my friends here work daily to try to bring hope, love, truth and a little happiness and joy amidst such grim deprivation. It moves me and affects me. Verses like “Unto whom much has been given, much shall be required” (Luke 12:48) and “They that be strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak” (Romans 15:1) have always under-girded my life as keystones of how I should respond to the gross darkness that is upon so much of our world. Being here has been a reminder of how much I and many of my friends have and how much we have to give (in so many ways) to help others.

 

Judging Others

Judging others flatI received a comment recently in response to what I wrote in the article “But Mark…” which was written about salvation but also about our rewards in heaven or lack of them. It was a pretty brisk letter I received, here are parts of it.

Hey Mark, you leaves me scratching my head in amazement!!! I agree that some who claim to be Christians don’t do as much as they could.  But to call people FAT & LAZY is such a sin in itself!!! Who told you that you will be the judge of people!? But you are calling people names & chasing them away!!! We’re supposed to encourage!! We don’t judge & call names!!!

You talk about people watching too much TV?? So now Mark gets to decide what is good & bad!! Does Mark decide who watches what & how long can we watch? It’s apparent Mark has a computer, a telephone, the internet & how far does that go? A fridge, a stove, a microwave, air conditioning???

Mark doesn’t volunteer at his church but he does tell us how to live!!! Please!!! Mark, you don’t make the rules, you don’t decide how much, how long when or where & how people do things!!!! So put down the ego & do GOOD WORKS !!!! Please don’t judge & don’t chase people!!!! Shepherd the sheep, spread the good word!!! It’s really not Mark’s rules!!! It’s the LORDS !!!! You see how I put my KINGS name in caps & not Mark’s !!! That’s because I follow & interpret the LORD’S word my own way!!! I decide how much my family watches TV, drives, cooks, shops or whatever!!!! NEVER Mark!!!!

That gave me a lot to think about. First I went back to the article to see if I really called people fat and lazy. The place where that’s found is where I’m having an imaginary person call me out for my teaching and they are saying to me, “So many Christians are just spiritually fat and lazy because of what you are teaching!

You told me the truth-a-flattenedI feel that if you read the text, I’m not speaking there but voicing what others have accused me of. Also it says “spiritually fat”. Of course, if you pause to think about it, millions today have become physically obese. I have to watch it about that myself. It’s another of the many “sins that so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1) that every child of God in the world has to fight and resist each day if they want to stay on the Lord’s path. So I don’t think I’m calling people names there and chasing people away, certainly not ones who read the article for what it says and not for some phrase that suddenly jumps out at them.

But in a deeper sense, this brother brings up the subject of judging others. As far as I know, I haven’t been laying down rules for people. But the question is there for all of us: are we to judge others? Is it permissible in any way to assess and counsel our brothers and sisters in Christ? Is this all supposed to be left to the Lord and we’re to remain aloof and unresponsive when we see others who are struggling with the weights and sins of this life?

Judge righteous Judgment-flattenedPerhaps this brother knows well the Lord’s famous admonition “Judge not, that you be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) It’s worthwhile to go on to the next thing the Lord said about this, “for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged.” It’s like the blog post I wrote “Judge Righteous Judgment” which was based on the place where Jesus said, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

So it’s not like we’re just to all be silent and passive when we see our brethren who’ve fallen prey to temptation or error. Here’s another place in the Bible that speaks of this. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

In many ways it’s like what the first murderer, Cain, said to God when He asked Cain where his brother, Abel, was. Cain said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9) And of course the answer to that actually is yes. We are to “shepherd” each other, only “in a spirit of meekness”, as that verse above says.

Another passage on this subject says, “The servant of the Lord must not strive but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, in patience instructing those who oppose themselves, if God in fact will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth and that they may recover themselves from the snare of the devil.” (II Timothy 2:25)  It’s clear from Scripture that we’re to be involved in a humble, loving way in the lives of our brothers and sisters, not self-righteously, not setting ourselves up above others but taking the low seat and also trying to be a living example of any admonitions we have for others.

watching TVThere’s a lot more that could be said on this but I don’t want to make this too long. As far as television goes, I’ll admit that I feel it is the bane and “Waterloo” of very many people everywhere in these times. I recently wrote about this in “No wicked thing before my eyes”.

For myself, and perhaps others of you in a similar situation, it is a sobering thing to share lessons or even admonitions with others. Jesus did clearly say “With what judgment you judge you shall be judged.” James, the Lord’s brother said, “He will have judgment without mercy who has showed no mercy, and mercy rejoices against judgment.” (James 2:13)

But, as strange as it may seem, the Bible does clearly say we are to judge others. With wisdom, humility and the fear of the Lord , as we would be judged, with tenderness and with the full instruction of His eternal Word. Paul told the Corinthians, “Do you not know that the saints shall judge the world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?”   (I Corinthians 6:2 & 3)

It’s a fearful, sobering thing to in any way become a teacher or adviser of others when you are aiming to do that “as unto the Lord.” (Colosians 3:23) I’m thankful for this brother’s reminder of that and I pray I will have a clean heart and a right spirit in the things I do and the things I share with others on line.

The unguarded moment

The-fight-of-faithFrom time to time as a kid I’d hear the phrase, “the bogey man will get you if you don’t watch out.” Of course, even as I child I knew there was no “bogey man.” Still, there’s kind of a flip side to this here. Because, in actuality, there are a lot of things that will “get you if you don’t watch out.”

Many Christians know what the Apostle Peter said, “Be sober, and be vigilant, for your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, goes about, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter 5:8) But sometimes we find in our lives is that the “evil spirit” we have the most problem with is often our own personal spirit, our own dull, rebellious, ornery nature. And sometimes this can even be true for the saved. Jesus’ disciples rejoiced that “even the devils are subject unto us through Your name”. (Luke 10:17) But our own selves are often the spirits we have the most trouble with. This is all related to how I incurred the shoulder injury 8 months ago that caused the need for the surgery I had a few days ago. I wrote about this experience recently in “Pain and suffering”.

It was nothing sinister I did and that’s all the more reason why it’s worth sharing this as I think a lot of us may be guilty of such things from time to time. What happened? You’re going to be disappointed. I was taking a heavy grocery bag out of a shopping cart when I took a bad angle on it and suddenly felt a big pain in my shoulder. I thought I’d strained a muscle, something most of us have done at some time. But this just never healed up. I was due to move to Europe in 6 weeks and I thought it would get better but it didn’t. Now it’s turned out to be the biggest injury I’ve ever had, at least in the way of pain, debilitation and time lost for the Lord’s service.

Why did that happen? How can it be that, when the Lord has so protected me in numerous places around the world where legitimate danger was very real, I end up getting hurt pretty bad in a grocery store parking lot? There is an answer to this. It’s called “the unguarded moment”.

unguarded flatFor Christians, the Bible says “We are sealed by the Holy Ghost.” (Ephesians 1:14) “The angel of the Lord encamps about them that fear Him and delivers them.” (Psalm 34:7) For those who are His, there’s a tremendous amount of protection and power that’s ours. But there are at least some conditions. “Walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh.” I wasn’t taking drugs or drunk when this accident happened. But I’ve realized that I was not sufficiently walking in the Spirit of God at the time like I should have been.

Jesus told His disciples, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) For many of us, we can think that this means, “Oh, if a drug dealer or a prostitute came up to you there in that parking lot, you wouldn’t be tempted by them!” That’s not what happened but still something very serious did happened. “The curse causeless shall not come” (Proverbs 26:2) so what was I doing, or not doing, that brought this on?

Basically I was dull in my spirit right then . I was “entangled with the affairs of this life” (II Timothy 2:4) to the degree that I missed whatever check the Holy Spirit could have given me right then that I was making a dangerous move with the heavy grocery sack. Even with my personal limited knowledge of weight lifting, I should have noticed that my angle was bad in lifting the bag. But I must have been dull at the time, my mind somewhere else and overall being in a false sense of security in familiar surroundings, doing something I’d done so many times before.

Stormy flatThere are always things which must be attended to; we live in a physical world and we can’t be drifting around on some spiritual cloud in perpetual trance-like mediation. But for those who are His, it just doesn’t pay to ever neglect our link with the Lord, even for a moment. We are to “pray without ceasing”. (I Thessalonians 5:17) This doesn’t mean being down on your knees, frantically calling out to God all the time but that we’re walking in an alert spirit, “in all our ways acknowledging Him” so that “He shall direct our path.” (Proverbs 3:6) “You shall hear a voice behind you saying, ‘this is the way, walk in it.’” (Isaiah 30:21) Well, I didn’t hear His voice that day because I was inadvertently dwelling in my carnal mind and the affairs of this life so the Holy Spirit was less able to get through to me and I’ve suffered for it ever since.

Did the devil do it? No, it was my mistake. It’s so easy to be lulled into a false sense of security when we’re on familiar ground and doing things that are so commonplace to us. But that’s when we can suffer some of our worst mistakes, in those unguarded moments when we let down our shield and are dull to our surroundings. So, as it turns out, there certainly are some things that “will get you if you don’t watch out.” It reminds me of what Jesus said, “What I say unto you, I say unto all. Watch.” (Mark 13:37)

 

Pain and suffering

I’ve had an interesting week. On Wednesday I had 5 hours of surgery on my right shoulder to repair a tendon I ruptured 8 months ago. I’d never had surgery before and almost never needed to go to a hospital til now. So it was all very new to me. I’ll pick up with what happened the next morning at the hospital, after the anesthesia wore off.

With my new shoulder sling

Basically I quickly began to experience pain like I’ve never had in my life. For 2 hours it got worse and worse to where I was moaning, crying and asking/begging the nurse to hurry up with boosting the dosage of pain killer. She was doing her job but she had others to attend to. Also I suspect it can get to be with nurses that they become desensitized to the suffering that patients experience after a while. But I was getting increasingly desperate and insistent.

We got to the point where I was asking/demanding that they either give me morphine or gas me out so I wouldn’t experience what was happening at that time. But around then the effects of what they’d been giving me the last two hours began  to work and the pain level came down from “10” to about “6.5”. I was able to bear that enough.

It had been pain that pushed me to get a better analysis of what had happened to my shoulder 8 months ago. I’d finally had an MRI done which the orthopedic surgeon used to show me where my muscle was detached from my bone by about 1 inch. That’s why it had been virtually impossible for me to sleep at night for months.

Back home that night, still taking the maximum allowed of pain killers and wearing the shoulder sling you  can see in the picture, I realized I’d have another night of no sleep until my fatigue got the better of my pain. All I could do was wait, pace the floor in my apartment and “draw nigh to God” (James 4:8). And in prayer I thought about a lot.

dad and sonI thought about how many people around the world are in pain all the time. The hungry, the sick, the dispossessed, the refugees, those with no hope. I thought about the Syrians, Iraqis and Kurds I’d talked with on the Macedonian border in December, or in refugee camps in Berlin in January. Women with children, young Syrian daddies who held their little son’s hand, all in the bitter cold of a Balkan winter. How was my pain compared to theirs?

Moscow beggarI thought of the year I lived in Moscow in the 90’s and the beggars I’d see there. Many were not alcoholics but former military officers or older women who looked to come from very distinguished backgrounds who stood with their hands out, a look of sadness on their faces that made me realize how great a personal loss so many had had with the collapse of Communism. Or the middle aged men I met in Aceh Province, Indonesia, after the tsunami disaster there in 2004. It was the men who survived. aceh survivorThey often were fishermen or truck drivers and were away from their families on the Sunday morning when 3 giant waves crashed into coastal communities for hundreds of miles. I remembered the many men I’d met who’d lost their wife and all their children and the utter sadness and profound despondency they had.

And I thought of my own United States of America and the social background I come from: middle aged to elderly, White and middle class. lost my jobWhile prosperity has increased over the last 20 years or so, the demographic I’m a part of has seen basically no gain in their standards of living and it’s been necessary to work all the more just to keep at the level they were decades ago. Alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide has steadily risen for the white middle class in the USA while in other industrialized Western nations, these things have all decreased. You don’t have to talk to refugees to find pain and suffering in our times.

So I hesitate to say I became thankful for my suffering because you might ask, “Oh, would you like some more of it?” And I’d say no. But it was a reality check that I’ve had it pretty good in my life. I’ve had some very strong pain in an emotional sense from personal family-related things in my past. Also decades ago when I was getting close to becoming a Christian, the Lord allowed me to feel severe anguish and torment of soul that helped drive me to salvation. But plain, outright physical pain is not something I’ve experienced so much of.

Around 4 AM my fatigue finally got the best of my pain and I slept 2 hours, sitting upright on my sofa since lieing down was impossible. Now, a couple of days later, things are improving. The worst of the pain has abated and I’m able to sleep in my bed at night with a good deal fewer pain killers than before.

feeling pain flatThe Bible says “in everything give thanks” (I Thessalonians 5:18) and I can say, in some strange way, I’m thankful for this experience. It was a very good reminder of what hundreds of millions, if not billions of people experience every day. Even before I became a Christian, when I was growing up, I wanted to do something to make things better in this world. I’m so, so thankful that the Lord got a hold of me and brought me into a life of Christian discipleship.

Some of us are doing ok today. But if we have food in our stomach, a place to sleep, some friends and we’re pretty much staying above the waves and vicissitudes of this often dangerously raging world we live in, it’s good to remember those who aren’t doing so well and who could use some help.  I think that’s how Jesus taught us to look at these things.

 

Dr. Kosmos

Dr Kosmos fixed flatI was thinking about an incredible incident that happened when I was in university but already on the path of faith in God and in Jesus, only just at the beginning. You may have read were I wrote about how I very nearly died on drugs and went to hell for my sins when I was in university. I wrote about that in “Lucifer and the White Moths.

You’d think an incident like that would be all that it would take to utterly get me turned around and straightened out once and for all. But it wasn’t. I had many rises and falls, many missteps and hesitations, even what could be called backslidings.first road picture-flattened I wrote about one of those in “Lights on the Road”, where I had a car mishap that should have surely taken my life when I was back in sin again. But the Lord saw fit to make things happen otherwise through the intervention of what certainly were angels who manifested themselves.

Tonight I was thinking back to those first weeks and how utterly astounded I was, flabbergasted, utterly mind-blown at the reality of the existence of the God of Abraham. It might be easy for you to think, “if that happened to me, I would so much straighten up and fly right”, as my dad  used to say. Maybe you would but I didn’t. It really took a lot to get me even to the point of receiving Jesus as my personal savior.

In the first days and weeks after I had the incredible breakthrough just before I was 21, I had a strong feeling in my heart that I should just leave everything behind and start traveling with a backpack as so many young people were doing then. I strongly felt that I should travel towards Houston, Texas and then on east towards Atlanta. I didn’t really know why but later I found that some of the Jesus People who led me to the Lord were in those areas at that time. But I didn’t know that.

Dr. Kosmos 2 fixed flatBut I did determine that this was what I should do and I began to make preparations. I had flunked out of university, mostly because of my fallen state through drugs, debauchery and a lack of vision for “useless and pointless knowledge”, as Bob Dylan had described higher education in one of his songs. I was on the right track at last, trying to move with a new impetus from the Spirit of God and a specific leading to travel, going out “not knowing whether I went” (Hebrews 11:8), rather like Abraham.

But then, the Devil entered the scene again. I got a letter from my university. (This is going to be hard to believe but it really happened.) In those days, if you flunked out of university, you were very likely to be drafted almost immediately to go fight in the war in Viet Nam which was raging at that time. And I’d flunked out so I would shortly be eligible to be drafted.

A letter arrived from my university. They told me they were going to give me another chance. I could come back for another semester and try one more time. Sounds good, no? Only, in my case, God had saved me from hell and He had greater plans for me than “finishing my education” at university. He had a whole new life ahead of me, from Him.

But here’s where it really gets good. I was reading this letter, telling me I could reapply to the university. And I was thinking, “I’ve already made a decision to just leave everything and go out traveling in the direction the Spirit of God is leading me, towards Houston and Atlanta. And now I get this letter. Hmm.”  But here it comes, wait for it….

Dr Kosmos 3 fixed flatThe letter from the university was signed by… Dr. Kosmos. Even with my extremely limited knowledge of spiritual things, I knew that “Cosmos” was the Greek word for “the world”. Like the verse that says, “Love not the world.” (I John 2:15) So I nearly dropped my teeth, as they say. I practically could smell the sulfur and see the horns peaking up behind the letter I had received. I’m sure there was a literal “Dr. Kosmos” who had sent me this letter from the university. But I was able to see by the Spirit that this was a message from Satan, luring me back into the world after I’d begun to be set free by God to follow Him.

Good for you Mark! You really recognized the enemy there! And you stood your ground and didn’t yield, right?

dont follow God flatNope, I was weak and fell for it. Even though by the Spirit I recognized this as an allurement of Satan to hinder me from following the Lord the way He was leading, I still didn’t have the faith and strength to go against this back then and I went back to university.

So you failed God! Again, Mark! And He sent you to Hell, right!? You failed Him over and over again, practically at every turn and here you did it again! He killed you that night as you rightly deserved, no?!

Not actually. Back at university in the fall of 1969 I experienced what I wrote about in “Terrorist Infiltrators”, getting to know some of the top revolutionaries in the USA back then, working on SDS demonstrationthe main underground newspaper in Texas at the time and being in the leadership of a major demonstration on my campus. At the end of that semester I was still alive. I had flunked out again, had stopped using heavy drugs, was still reading my Bible every day and praying all the time. Again the Lord led me to just leave it all behind, “forsake all”  (Matthew 19:29), and to journey in the direction He’d originally told me to go. That finally happened. And soon I met those Jesus People and came to the day where I received Jesus as my Savior, beginning this wonderful life I’ve had for so long.

If you get a letter from “Dr. Kosmos”, giving you “one more chance” to make it in this world’s systems of man, as opposed to God’s will for your life, maybe you can remember this story. “You shall worship the Lord you God, and Him only shall you serve.” (Luke 4:8) “My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.” (Proverbs 1:10)