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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

TIMES OF REFRESHING

 
A Russian memorial of a descive win over Germans in a WW11 battle

It has been a week of color and the smell of oil paint mixed with turpentine permeating the whole house. Two friends from England, one from NYC, and two Ukrainain artists filled my studio to craft 3D portraits out of flat canvas.

Every day we arose with one thing in mind; it's time to paint! We all went to bed with brushes still clinging to our hands like clutched swords in the heat of battle. There was definitely the look of war on our hands as paint indelibly stuck under fingernails. Up one day at 4 am we raced in the dark to a previously selected spot to paint a plein air landscape. Sleep was not a factor this day, everyone was way too excited. In fact sleep was the last thing we were thinking about. We were determined to catch the rising sun's first Orange rays beating down on a sole Ukrainian farmhouse, built right in the middle of a field. 


In waist high grass easels were set up in haste, while already mixed paint was pallet knifed out to each artist. It was not long before both house and light were captured in oil and we were heading back for bacon and eggs and the smell of great coffee brewing. Noline, was the star of the week. Her meals were wonderful. She was and is a great trooper. Thank you sweetie for supporting us with you delicious food. It has been a wonderful time allowing the creative juices to flow one stroke at a time. Everyone has left. They waved goodbye well satisfied with their weeks work. It is now that I get the chance to sit down at the computer and describe for you the joy of serving a great God who delights in giving you the best He has. 

Up to their waist's in grass

No sooner was this week completed with all the hectic running around to airports, painting, sightseeing and food preparation and I am back to packing for Western Ukraine and the revival meetings in Ivano Fronkievsk. This is where it gets interesting. We are so conditioned in performance for acceptance that during this awesome week of painting I allowed the enemy to get to me. He would bark in my ear, "you have not prayed enough for the upcoming services. God will not be with you as He has been in the past." More than once I just had to stop and rebuke this lie of the enemy. Now it is a fact most of the preaching that is done today is in some way conditional, even when mixed with huge doses of grace. There is this “thing” in side all of us that we have somehow got to work a little harder in order to please God. If we are not fasting, or reading, or studying until the candle is burned out, God will not hear your prayers.


With the object in sight they paint

Let me illustrate this in a different way with Buster my dog. I love this dog, he is a strong and very smart German shepherd. The reason I love him so much is because he is hard wired to please. For instance, he took a nap in our bathroom but the door closed behind him and he was stuck in there for a couple of hours. When he was discovered he ran excitedly throughout the house nudging us with his nose and just about wagging his tail off his body. He was so thrilled to be with us again; it was as though we had been gone for months and he had to show us just how excited he was. I had to more than once calm him down. Like I said, 'he's hard wired to please.' That’s why I love him and why I hate him. Since he is always exuberantly trying to please you, he is a constant reminder of just the kind of people we are. We too are always running our lives around in circles trying our hardest to please God. I am not saying don’t be excited about the Lord, but what I am saying is that I do not have to try to please God and constantly seeking His approval by my works.
No let up for these dedicated artists

In Ivano Frankievsk we are having a multi-church baptism by the river this Saturday. Watch for the video clip. This is a first for this religious laden area. I will be preaching on the white sands to families and members of ten small congregations who are participating. My text is Act 3:19. Peter calls for repentance and conversion of the Jewish listeners where approximately 5000 were converted in one day. Peter said there were times of refreshing for all who turned to God. The Greek transliteration makes this point very clear as does the Puritan writer Thomas Brooks. In fact God anxiously awaits to have the opportunity to pour out revival upon His people. In one act of true heart felt turning to Christ, God will pour out His abundant love and power upon you. 
Checking for "Values"

The King James calls this “times of refreshing.” But as I have mentioned, the literal transliteration is “an opportunity to believe God and have revival come to your life.” This revival of promised blessings is backed up by the historical records of the Old and New Testaments.

First, there is the record of one and a half million people going through the waters of baptism as they walked through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Immediately on getting to the other side God destroyed their enemies. This is a life giving promise to those plagued by a harassing enemy. God will fight for you against all attacks. Then there is a second promise. it is the destruction and down fall of stubborn strongholds in our lives. The walls of Jericho collapsed supernaturally right after another generation of Israelites came through the waters of the Jordan River. This was a type of their baptism. So you too can have the confidence that no matter how impregnable the issue at hand in your life might be, God is willing and ready to bring it down. Lastly, we see in the New Testament, Jesus receiving an open heaven after He was baptized. In other words, communication with His Father would be unhindered. Nothing could come between Him and His Father. We too are now privileged to have God's open heaven for uniterrupted communication with Him through Jesus Christ. 
Pam, from England, doing a great job


Packing up after a hard morning of work

Peter calls all of these “the time or opportunity of God refreshing His children.” These blessings are unending, just as God's mercies are unending and new every morning. God gives us these because we simply choose to believe Him. Therefore, without faith it is impossible to please Him. So as I make preparations to travel tomorrow by overnight train to Ivano Frankievsk, I go with the confidence my God is with me, He is not against me. He fights my enemies for me and brings down every stronghold fortified against me. He alone gives an open heaven to all who trust in Him, and it is His delight to shower us again and again with His mercy and love. Today, stop trying to please God in your own strength. Like a good Italian pastor once preached; “just stop!”  

Enjoy these few photo's and rest in the loving arms of Jesus. 










New and lasting friendships were made from across the globe
















Wednesday, June 15, 2011

WHY JUDGMENT CONTINUES

Have you wondered why there is a prolonged outworking of judgment throughout the world today? Why is there so much untold suffering, and very little lasting peace? Whether it is natural disasters pummeling the world, or the monetary system being brought to the brink of utter ruin and collapse, there is judgment being pronounced on the earth. From major tsunamis, tornados and hurricanes, to droughts, endless wars and devastating earthquakes, the obvious conclusion is – this present world we live in is under judgment! Ultimately, we cannot help but feel and see that the collateral damage of this profound reality is untold misery on a global scale. Are there any answer to all of this?

Let us ask some further questions: What is being achieved, if anything? Is God behind this? What is it that we need to learn and understand? Until recently, all I could have done was quote some verses and give a normative explanation to all this phenomena. But God has begun to awaken within me an understanding which I did not possess in times past. Little by little a veil is being lifted and God is giving a fresh glimpse into what He wants to accomplish in the world today. I feel like a man who has been walking through a dark but furnished room, stumbling and bumping onto objects along the way. Suddenly, without any doing of my own, I have found a candle with matches. In a moment, complicated issues have become clear and light is being shed on the subject of judgment. I did not ask for this directly, it has been handed to me by the Lord, and I will begin to speak what is revealed. You may not like all that is about to be said, but I will with gentleness and as much clarity as I presently have, write what has been given to me.

It has been in relative but short retrospect while working with churches in Ukraine, that understanding in these matters has come to light. What I will say in this blog is by no means a reflection on this country. I am talking globally, and this setting in Western Ukraine is the backdrop, a minute example of a universal problem. A further disclaimer. This is not intended in any way to disregard the amazing work that is being done for Christ in many parts of the globe. It is only one small voice speaking into key issues. In these last times, it is my firm belief the church will be more triumphant, more Christ honoring and more of a force than the devil had ever bargained for.

RELIGIOUS STRONGHOLDS  
God is revealing His purposes to me through a microcosm of His outworking as I have mentioned here in Ukraine. In this far western part of the country, religious influence prospers more than in any other place. In its many forms it has become a pervasive and powerful force as exampled by the swollen springtime rivers which gush from the mountains. In the beginning I had wondered why God had led me to this city with such strongholds. Now it has become evident. I truly see and understand how God is making His point. He wants to uncover these same strongholds which in too many cases have gripped the remnant church.

Make your way up into the Carpathian Mountains, and almost every mile there are exquisite roadside shrines with religious idols. Even in the more prosperous homes there are huge shrines. On any given Sunday you find dozens of people literally walking miles to reach imitation gold domed churches as part of their religious observance. As you drive by you can hear them chanting and singing on their walk in their weekly pilgrimage. To the casual observer it has the outward appearance of true holiness and dedication until you scratch the surface of the lives of these men and women. You dig only to find, poverty, misery, and abuse. I asked a cab driver if he was a Christian; “Oh, yes, everyone here is.” Religious dogma has so infiltrated the minds of the people that they cannot see the plight of their own bondage.

NIGHT, DAY, NIGHT – JUDGMENT IS RELENTLESS
He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, the morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come (Isa 21:11, 12 KJV). The call to the watchman was how long will we have to endure such adverse difficulties? Like a sick person after a sleepless night, who longs for the break of dawn, only to find out that the day is as bad as the night, and all too soon another sleepless night is upon him. The condition of judgment is unchanging declared the watchman, who is as vigilant as a lion. He invites the enquirers to return as many times as they wish, but the answer would remain the same. Judgment is upon us!

Today, God’s judgment is felt throughout the world. Even when there seems to be a new day emerging fiscally. But it will be short lived and darkness will again return. Presently, for many casualty nations of this last economic crash, the news cannot and will not be good. Like the watchman speaking by the Holy Spirit; “Your new day will soon be swallowed up by night.”

The church is feeling the weight of judgment because there has been powerful influences of religious behavior infiltrating into mainstream Evangelicalism, Protestantism and Pentecostalism. God has allowed judgment to speak to both the world and the church. He is working something into the body of Christ, while at the same time removing subtle burdens, which have been quietly and unobtrusively slipped around the neck of His people as a yoke of bondage. The Apostle Paul, who would not hurt a bone in your body, stood with all heavens authority against such entanglement with another yoke of bondage. What is this yoke? In one simple word. Exclusivity! It is more than just doctrinal differences. It is a compelling by which church leaders seek to maintain control over congregants, and it is staggering to behold, not to say anything about it being exploitative.

Long gone is the scripture where Christ said He would build His church, and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. Now around the world, 80 - 90% of time, money and energy, is spent inside the four walls. Reputation is at an all time premium and preaching no longer singularly is Christ exalting. Christianity for the masses has become a weekly routine of one service after another. The yoke is clearly identifiable. So if the local church is full, or semi full, and if the bills and salaries are paid, and the preaching is fiery, then it is considered a great day. And there seems to be no way out of this cyclical pattern. The body of Christ has settled in under this as the norm. Yet in record numbers pastors are leaving the ministry. Something is clearly not right and God is powerfully addressing it.

Here is the key! The present shaking is for the sake of His remnant church. This remnant, beleaguered by a gospel of prosperity preaching, have themselves succumbed to following a pattern of self-centeredness. Like the yeast of the Pharisee, it has permeated even the most influential of us all. Through judgment and suffering God is slowly achieving change from this pattern. God is placing a new cry in the heart of the pastor He is touching and from the people He is leading. It is a cry for authentic true freedom in Christ. And God has heard it. In an unprecidented moving of the Holy Spirit, witnessed by ten churches in Ivano Fronkiesk, with this number increasing monthly, who are laying down their differences for the common good of serving one another.

God is showing and demonstrating, at least in this tiny example of Western Ukraine, what He is wanting to do in a fresh and powerful way around the world. No monies are being exchanged, and no sheep are being stolen. The need for each other is being established. This working of the Holy Spirit does not impinge on their present identity or pressure to all look alike. Not at all! But out of the ashes of the incessant religious fires that have burned far too long is coming a vibrant church who believes in the sovereignty of Christ once again. Poo-hoo this as much as you want. But judgment today is breaking off the yoke of bondage along with the apendages and fetishes for the constant approval of man. Judgment is taking pastors apostolically out of the four walls which have held the people captive, and are offering their help to other unrelated churches. This is without cost and without the need of recognition. Hallelujah! Revival fires are burning again.  Listen to the word of the Lord.

Zech 6:12-13  Thus speaketh the Lord of hosts, saying, Behold the man whose name is The BRANCH; and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord: Even he shall build the temple of the Lord; and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne; and he shall be a priest upon his throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both. KJV
The BRANCH; Jesus, our savior whose kingdom is ever growing and expanding, He will build His temple; He alone gets the glory; and He alone governs. He alone unifies the office of king and priest alike, and only under His leadership is suffering alleviated and the religious yoke smashed and broken. In these last days you are about to see a church without walls. Oh, don’t get me wrong. They will still meet in manmade edifices, but they will fellowship with one another without fear and their mandate will be simple: To take the love of God to all mankind.


Neil's painting of the Carpathian Mountains




Wednesday, June 8, 2011

COMMANDED BLESSINGS

Kris Malinoski, cheeks bulging with compressed air stood outside the inglorious turn of the century hotel, in Ivano Fronkievsk, playing Amazing Grace on his saxophone. Those walking by were immediately arrested by his forceful and faultless playing of the all time favorite hymn. Ivano Fronkievsk, is accustomed to street musicians of various kinds so these pedestrians passed by giving him little more than an interesting smile. Their attention gravitated instinctively beyond this sidewalk artist glancing in wonderment at the newly generated activity at the hotels entrance. As I stood alongside Kris, I heard the cough and splutter of ill tuned four cylinder diesel engines of the “Masharootka’s,” or oversized vans pull up to the curb, offering an unsolicited background hum to the music. Passengers in their ‘Sunday’s-best’ regalia were disembarking from the rattle-trap busses to make their way into the dingy and dimly lit building. Their posh clothing, with bright colors, contrasted and even contradicted the gray old hotel of a past era.

This edifice which once boasted of a hundred or more beautiful suites, now offered only a paltry fraction of those rooms which had been moderately refurbished. Today’s patrons would be the basement bargain hunters seeking low priced accommodation at the convenience of city center privileges. Guests taking advantage of such deals know they would have to acquiesce to communal bathroom facilities, a relatively small inconvenience or trade off for having such great central locality. All new renovations started and ended on the third floor, leaving the rest of the hallmark building to a fate of a slow and lingering demise. One glance at the antique chromatic pictures hanging on the walls instantly took you back to a rich history of this being a prestigious hub for the musical arts. The theater’s two well-designed balconies, wrapped around the main floor which gave its customers a full coverage on any performance on a stage of unusual depth.  

Tonight though, this small auditorium with its well worn floor boards, which creaked and groaned at the slightest provocation and its former luxurious seating, long overdue for new upholstery and much needed padding, hosted a different sort of audience. On fire Christians filled the seats downstairs, in what they now considered church pews, for a combined worship service. Inside there was an unmistakable sense and expectation of what God was about to do. At the very least, He was meeting with His people. Amidst all the hubbub of guitars being tuned and the electric piano being tested, there was the buzz of close friends and new acquaintances greeting each other with ‘Slava Bogo,’ or ‘praise God.’ Above this joyful commotion there was the distinct manifest presence of God in the house. You could feel His smile over this naive group of believers from 10 different backgrounds and churches.

Young and old were coming together for two hours of collective prayer, praise and the preaching of God’s Word. Pastors and congregants were bravely crossing all denominational and doctrinal boundaries for the sole express purpose of worshipping God together! Kept apart over the years by Satan’s stratagems of fear and somewhat grounded lies, they now momentarily left all their individual differences behind and linked arm in arm to boldly shout God’s praises. For all they cared, the entire world was welcomed tonight to hear them worship God. This, my friend, was revival! From past political and present religious oppression, these Christians had a shout in their heart for the King of Kings.

There is a simple integrity of trust being fostered among leaders and saints in and around Ivano Fronkievsk. Everyone is discovering afresh that God does not ‘steal’ sheep, but He adds daily to the church as should be added. This revival is not a ‘flash in the pan,’ ‘fall to the ground,’ ‘taking up three offerings kind of service.’ In fact, there are no offerings received at all. Ten pastors are now standing together in unison and praying for each other’s sheep. This is a miracle in the making. A year earlier there was not this level of trust among the churches. The music and worship teams change every month and are being conducted by one of the participating ten churches. Everyone has a part, everyone is benefitting and everyone is being honored and respected regardless of the size of their congregation. The word preached is exhortative and convicting. People are responding to the Spirit’s wooing and salvation is being given to the hungry and the hurting.

No one could have planned for this; no one could pay for this. God has chosen to place His hand on this religious war-torn area of Ukraine. He started it and He will finish it. The constant prayer that is prayed is no one touches His glory.

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore. Psa. 133:1-3. KJV