Christian Marines Under Fire

Washington-Praying-Etching-e1413464034612“All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,” (2 Tim 3:12).

Paul wrote this to Timothy from the Mamertine prison in Rome not long before he was martyred for his faith.  Paul never condemned the Roman government, though it was the Romans who ended his life.  Jesus never condemned the Romans, either.  He stated that it’s the world that hates Him, and therefore it will hate His followers.

Nothing has changed since then.  The world still hates Jesus and it hates Christians.  It doesn’t matter what cultural context we are in––the workplace, ministry, neighborhood, beauty salon––if we are salt and light we will be persecuted to some degree, whether snubbed mildly, ridiculed loudly, beaten or even martyred for our faith.  Persecution is inevitable.  How should we then live?  Jesus, Paul, and Peter tell us that we are to love our enemies, and to pray for them.  Difficult to do, granted.  But love them we must. 

My first encounter with persecution took place while I was serving in the Marine Corps.  Again, it could just as well have been at the local shoe store or Jack in the Box.  As I mentioned in my last blog (Honeymoon) some of the men in the barracks ridiculed those of us who had become Christ followers.  This went on for weeks.  It didn’t bother us; in fact, we were emboldened by it.  And then one morning I was ordered to report to one of the officers.  He said:      

“Joens, I want you to keep Jesus Christ behind doors on Sunday mornings, where He belongs.  Is that understood?”

The way he’d said Jesus Christ, was like a curse.  

I was raised in a Marine Corps family.  Growing up, I loved the Marines.  I was always proud of my dad’s thirty-three year service––World War 2, Korea, Vietnam.  To build upon his legacy I enlisted in the Marines to prove to myself that I, too, could be one of the Few, the Proud.  I graduated Boot Camp as the platoon honor man, and recipient of the dress blues award.  I am still proud of the Marines.  I thank God for the sacrifices they make to preserve freedom in our nation.  But on that morning it was foremost on my mind that the laws of God take precedent over the orders of 1st Lieutenants.  I answered respectfully:

“No sir.  I serve God, Country, and Corps in that order, not the reverse.”

I was dismissed.

I don’t believe that this was typical of the Marines.  When I was in boot camp I was given a New Testament, though I was not a believer at the time.  Clearly the idea of religion coexisting with the military was accepted.  The establishment of the military chaplaincy, dating back to 1791 by act of congress, was the basis for it.

No, this was not a Marine issue, this was a man issue.

From the morning of that interchange with my superior officer hostility grew against the tiny knot of Christian Marines.  The ridicule and ostracizing was now more virulent.  Handing out Gospel tracts to the men was forbidden.  And added to these there was now a clear double standard when it came to barracks inspection.  Non-Christians were left to decorate their rooms with contraband, pornographic and otherwise, whereas Christians were told to remove anything of a religious nature.  Tension in the barracks mounted.     

Matters came to a head one morning on the quarterdeck.  Two other Marines and myself were waiting to be posted on guard duty, one of whom had come to Christ a few weeks earlier.  He was nicknamed Lurch because of his enormous size.  Another of the Marines on deck (whom I will call Tom) picked a verbal fight with him.  Tom, no doubt emboldened by the recent tone in the barracks, told Lurch that he couldn’t be a Christian and a Marine at the same time.  Lurch disagreed.    

Tom pressed his point.  He said that if Lurch was a genuine believer he would take off his gun belt and serve Christ.  It was a challenge.  A gauntlet thrown.

To everyone’s astonishment, Lurch removed his gun belt and set it down on the desk before the Sergeant of the Guard.  Then he went upstairs to tell the CO what he had done.  Tom looked at me.        

WIthout giving it a thought, I took off my gun belt and set it before the Sergeant of the Guard.  I am not a conscientious objector, nor were any of the other Christian Marines.  We had all enlisted.  Five of us put down our gun belts that day in a united stand against the anti-Christian opposition in the barracks.  What we did was out of conviction for our new faith in Christ.  If we could not be Marines and Christians at the same time then we would be Christians.

We would soon pay for that decision.

Speaking for myself, with forty-three years of spiritual maturity behind me, I may have done things differently.  We were young.  The majority of us were less than two months old in our faith and sanctification.  Had I to do it over, I hope that with God’s grace and power I would have endured unto blood, that I would have borne up (Grk hupomone) under the mounting persecution.  But right or wrong I did what I thought was right at the time.  God is my judge.  And as we shall see in future blogs, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Next blog: Special Court Martial


lacco-ameno-ischia-conde-nast-traveller-2may14-stefano-scataHoneymoons are typically filled with joy, intimacy, and discovery between a husband and wife as they begin their new life together.  Likewise, the weeks immediately following my Christian conversion were like a honeymoon.

In those early days of my spiritual journey, I experienced a joy that I never thought existed.  As I devoted myself to the daily study of His Word and to prayer, the discoveries I made concerning the Person and Work of Christ, served to deepen my relationship with Him.  I enjoyed an intimacy with the Father that was like a well of living water.  Life was good!

Every day the Spirit spoke powerfully to me from the pages of His living Word.  Justification, redemption, sanctification were but a few biblical concepts that impassioned my hunger and thirst to know more about my salvation.  I could not get enough of the Bible.  Further, I could not get enough fellowship with believers, either in our rooms or off-barracks meeting places.      


On liberty weekends we would head over to Carney Park, a park outside Naples that had been developed for use by military personnel.  There we barbecued hamburgers and played softball or tag football, played guitars and shared the Gospel with military personnel that frequented the park.  Sometimes we went over to Ischia, an island at the northern edge of the Gulf of Naples, which at the time was gloriously bereft of American tourists (they mostly went to Capri).  We camped on the beach, sang Christian songs around a bonfire, hiked and generally exulted in our youth and newfound faith. 

But mostly we spent our liberties downtown at the Serviceman’s Center, home of Jesse and Nettie Miller who were missionaries to servicemen.  There we met fellow believers off the Fleet or permanent personnel, played ping pong or chess or shared testimonies while waiting for a good home cooked meal provided by Nettie and her helpers.  Afterward we would gather in a circle and listen to Jesse teach.  Before heading back to the barracks we would go into the little in-house book store and purchase the latest Bible or music tapes or learning materials.  In those early days I added a Thompson Chain study Bible and a Scofield to my burgeoning library, along with the then popular Late Great Planet Earth and other books on end-time prophecy.  They were truly times of refreshing. 


Those early weeks were also heady days of evangelism.  What began with Terry and Mike leading me to Christ in Mike’s room, soon became a handful of committed Christians, with many others in the barracks dropping by our rooms to ask questions, listen to our Bible studies and songs of praise.  The Holy Spirit revival that began on the beaches of California then sweeping across the United States was now blowing through the Marine Barracks, Naples, Italy. 

I think the devil was caught napping. 

We handed out Chick tracts (This Was Your Life, and Holy Joe) on the streets of Naples, to servicemen, prostitutes, cab drivers, as well as the carabinieri (Italian police) with whom we stood guard, employing our pigeon Italian as best we could.  We left tracts on post for the next guard cycle of Marines to read.  By the way, this latter activity was not allowed, but Marines left all manner of contraband on post, so we did the same.  Our witness was known all over the barracks.   


It was truly a season of joy.  However, whenever God does a work in a person, persons, or region in the world, the devil may be counted on to mount a counter-offensive.  A counter-offensive that is usually designed to shut up witnesses, intimidate them, or to lock them up.  Such an offensive was mounting in the barracks. 

Persecution may take many forms: ostracizing, verbal abuse, physical abuse, loss of job, and of course martyrdom.  With that handful of young believers it began with mild persecution––mostly name-calling from fellow Marines.  We were told by a couple of men who later became believers the kinds of things that were spoken about us behind our backs.  It’s to be expected.  A verse has always given me pause to think, as well as to evaluate my walk with Christ.  It was written by the Apostle Paul to his young protege, Timothy, before he was executed.

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

It seems pretty straight forward, doesn’t it?  Godliness produces persecution.  We don’t have to search for it, it will find us.  Because the world hates Jesus it will hate His followers too.  If Christians hide their faith under a basket, or keep their salt in shakers, there is little danger of persecution.  However, as young and somewhat radical and naive followers of Christ, who were not ashamed of Gospel, we were about to be tested in ways that would change the course of our lives.  We had become targets.



66c5c-praying_hands_bible_070509The night I became a Christian I looked out the window of the Marine barracks, and there on a Naples, Italy, hill in the distance was a huge blue neon cross.  It was lit up like the 4th of July!  I took it as a sign from heaven.  We had weekend liberty, so I said to the guys, “Hey, why don’t we camp out beneath that giant cross?”

Everyone agreed, so we rolled up some blankets, Bibles and guitars, and were on our way.  Before we left the barracks, however, I opened a window and dumped out a pack of cigarettes.  “I quit!” I said, proud of my accomplishment. 

We trekked over several vineyards and fields and finally came to our destination.  Beneath the neon cross was a World War 2 era pill box, which made an ideal weekend camp.  We made a fire and sang songs, read the Bible by firelight, prayed and shared our testimonies of how wonderful Jesus was.  I had never been so happy or full of joy.

It was truly a “mountaintop experience.”


Monday morning found me standing guard at Post 14, in one of the NATO buildings, the one in which there was a PX with lots of foot traffic.  I was about to experience my first spiritual test as a new believer.

Watching the people go past my guard booth, many who were smoking, I had a sudden craving for a cigarette.  When I was with the guys over the weekend there were plenty of distractions to keep the urge at bay.  But on that first day of duty I was by myself, alone.  Only I wasn’t alone.  I soon heard an oily, voice-like-Kaa-the-snake hiss in my ear.  It wasn’t an audible voice, but I heard it nonetheless.  The voice said:

“What are you doing?  You’re making a fool of yourself with all this Jesus nonsense.  Come back to your senses.”

I listened to the voice bummed a cigarette off the first enlisted man that passed by my booth, intending to smoke it as soon as I got off duty.  I stood in smug defiance, reveling in my fleshy rebellion. 


No sooner did this rebellion occur when I felt a stinging rebuke, like a lash through my spirit.  The second Voice. 

“Don’t you dare!” 

It was the Holy Spirit, of course.  The Voice was inaudible but I felt the holy glare of God upon me.  It was the first time as a new believer that I actually felt the discipline of the Lord, for which I am eternally grateful.  I repented, crumpled the cigarette, and once again felt the joy of the Lord in my soul.


The devil––that serpent of old––has three weapons in his arsenal.  Only three.  But he uses them with great success.  They are:

The lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). 

Satan used each of these weapons in the Garden of Eden when tempting Eve, and he’s been using them ever since.  In my case it was the craving of a cigarette (lust of the flesh), the spotting of a cigarette dangling from a man’s lips (lust of the eyes), and my rebellious sense of autonomy (the pride of life) that he employed against me that particular day.

I failed my first test miserably.  Thankfully, I have a Heavenly Father who loved me enough to discipline me, and quickly got me back onto the path of righteousness.


When the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness (Matt 4), the devil tried each of his weapons on Him too but without success.  Jesus defeated each attack with prayer-backed Scripture.  We must do the same.  Here’s what Jesus said:

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matt 26:41)


I think most believers succumb to temptation because they fail to watch.  They’re too busy looking at worldly distractions (fill in the blank), making them easy prey for the enemy who, like a roaring lion, is seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).  He’s seeking believers.  Constantly.  We must be on the alert at all times, watching for the enemy as though from our guard posts (wherever God has placed us).  If we aren’t alert then we are vulnerable to attack. 


If we have a particular weakness in our flesh (“a chink in the armor,” as we used to say) then we ought to be praying for God’s help to overcome temptation in that area.  “The spirit is willing,” Jesus said, “but the flesh is weak.”  We are engaged in a spiritual battle and must use spiritual weapons to overcome.  All of our spiritual armor is powerful, but prayer puts us in direct contact with our Commander in Chief.  It is prayerful and watchful study of God’s Word that will send the enemy packing.

That was my first test as a new believer, but it wouldn’t be the last.  In the days and weeks to come the enemy would seek to devour not only myself, but also a handful of Christian Marines that were making an impact in the barracks.

Next blog: Heady Days 


Out of Darkness

imgresThe biblical writers referred to darkness in each the gospels, as did Peter, Paul and John in their epistles.  We tend to think of darkness as a metaphor for wickedness.  For evil.  The metaphor is certainly apt.  But darkness is more than a metaphor; it is also a palpable reality.  You can feel it, smell it.  It clings to you.  Living in it, you don’t think about it.  You figure it’s the norm.  It’s everyone’s reality, or perspective, right?  It’s not until a light hits you that you realize how dark the darkness is that you’ve been living in.

I was introduced to the Light the night of February 10, 1972 by two fellow Marines, Terry and Mike.  They shared the Gospel with me as I’d never heard it, and from then on I was no longer comfortable living in darkness.

The following morning after drill and calisthenics (gotta love the Marines), Terry and Mike asked if I’d like to go with them to the Serviceman’s Center in downtown Naples for Liberty.  They described it as a Christian USO.  I said I would.


That night as I entered the Center I entered a world of Light.  Just as darkness is a palpable thing, so is light.  Like darkness, you can sense it.  You can see it.  Remember Hank Williams’ “I Saw the Light?”

I saw the light, I saw the light, no more darkness no more night.  Now Im so happy no sorrow in sight, Praise the Lord, I saw the light.

These lyrics are true.  You really can see the light; which is why, if you’re walking well with the Lord, people will take notice that there is something different about you.  They’ll see it in your eyes, on your face.


The Serviceman’s Center was the home of missionaries Jesse and Nettie Miller, Jesse a onetime prisoner of the Japanese army and survivor of the infamous Bataan death march (his testimony is found in the book, Nine Must Die).  The home was crowded with servicemen––Navy, Army, Air Force and a few Marines from the Fleet, harbored in the Bay of Naples.  The men were playing guitars, and ping pong, some were reading Bibles, some chatting or playing chess.  No one was cussing, or crudely joking.  The room was filled with light, it was also filled with Life.

Men came up and introduced themselves to me, making me feel at home.  No one pressured me to do anything.  I’m sure they could discern that I was not a Christian at this point, that I was a searcher; still, they just treated me like one of their own.  Amazing.

Nettie fed us all a wonderful home-cooked meal, after which we gathered around Jesse for an informal Bible study.  He asked us to turn to the book of Ephesians.  I had no idea what an Ephesians was, so Terry helped me find it.  As Jesse taught, all I could think about as I looked around the circle of men, at their glowing faces, the sincerity in their voices as they asked and answered questions, was that these men had something very special.  Love.  Joy.  Peace.  A sense of belonging, of family.

By contrast, these guys truly had something that I didn’t have.  Just sitting in their presence, in their light, I knew that I was living in darkness and headed for hell.  It was a very, very sobering thought.  It put the fear of God in me.


Later that night, as we went back to the barracks, feeling the deep conviction of the Holy Spirit in my soul, I told Terry and Mike that I wanted to become a Christian.  So we knelt in Terry’s room, and I prayed the sinner’s prayer.  It was simple, childlike.  I told Jesus that I believed in Him, in His perfect sinless life, that I believed in His death and resurrection for my sins.  I confessed that I was sorry for my sins, and that I wanted to be saved.

That Friday night at 11:00pm, the Light of Christ flooded my darkened soul, and I was washed in the blood of the Lamb.  I was born again.  Jesus was now my Lord and Savior.  I was His child.  He had found me in the darkness of the San Fran bar and called me into His Light.  I’ll admit that it might be considered by some to be a cliche, but words truly cannot express the “joy unspeakable and full of glory” that I received that night!


A Lost Marine is Found

Mike Pic“Mike, Jesus loves you.” 

Those four words forever changed my life.  I’d heard the words before and hated them.  I hated those who believed in them.  Why?  Because I was a Christ-hater, a blasphemer, a thief, an immoral man.  But on that night of February 10, 1972, everything changed.

Before I continue let me say this about conversion stories.  Everyone who is a believer in Jesus Christ has one.  Every one is a miracle, a treasure, a testimony of God’s grace, love and forgiveness, the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and to regenerate the spiritually dead sinner.  To me the most powerful story is that of the young man or woman who was raised in a Christian home, was faithful to Christ throughout high school and college, and continued in the faith into adulthood.  In our culture this is an amazing testimony.  It is so rare.  Would that my story was like that.  It isn’t.


I was stationed at the 100 man Marine Barracks in Naples, Italy.  The Marines guarded the NATO base, and the headquarters and security buildings for AFSOUTH (Allied Forces Southern Europe).  I had just finished my guard cycle and was on Liberty.  Sweet Liberty!  Another night to revel in darkness.  I dropped a half tab of LSD in the bar across the street from the Main Gate, washed it down with several hard swallows of whiskey to give it a kickstart, then by 9:00pm was downtown in the San Fran bar draped over the jukebox, listening to The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, definitely in an altered state of mind.

Thirty minutes later I felt a strange compulsion to go back to the barracks, something that had never happened before on Liberty.  My plans were to pound the streets hard until just before Roll Call, at 7:00am.  However, “many are the plans of a man’s heart, but God directs his steps” (Prov 19:21).

He was about to redirect mine.


I caught a cab back to the barracks, hallucinating the whole trip, went straight into the room of a Christian Marine with a name like mine––Mike.  He was sitting on the edge of his bunk, like he was waiting for someone.  He was.  Me.  If it had been a scene from a movie it would have looked staged, contrived.

I sat down on the chair beside his bunk and proceeded to tell him what a great “trip” I was having.  I stared at the marble tiles between my feet as I talked.  Mike didn’t say a word for 20 minutes.  It might have been two hours, or two minutes (time is irrelevant when you’re stoned).  Then a thought occurred to me that I might have hallucinated my return to the barracks, that I might still be in the San Fran bar.  When I looked over at him his face wet with tears.  He was sobbing.  Whoa!  A Marine––a jarhead––sobbing.  I asked him what was wrong and he told me.

“Mike, Jesus loves you.”


What happened in the next instant is a testimony of God’s love, grace, and power.  I became cold sober!  Not drunk.  Not stoned.  I was completely clear-headed, as though I hadn’t taken any drugs or alcohol.

That scared me.

Mike took me next door and introduced me to a new arrival in the barracks named Terry.  Terry had been in the barracks about a week.  His room was directly across from mine, so I’d seen him before.  I noticed he carried a Bible.

Terry was a Marine Jesus freak!

He was lying on his bunk when Mike and I entered his room and––guess what?––he was reading his Bible.  Liberty night and he’s reading his Scofield.  For the next hour-and-a-half Terry and Mike shared the Gospel (the Good News) with me in a way I’d never heard before.  They talked about God’s love, His holiness, my sin, heaven and hell, the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.  Strangely, I didn’t hate them.  I didn’t reject what they were saying.  In fact, I hung on every word.

Finally, Mike pressed for a decision but I told him I needed to think about it.  I was still a rebel at heart and didn’t want anyone pushing me into anything that wasn’t my idea first.  I didn’t become a Christian that night.  Instead, I went across the hall into my darkened room, shut the door, looked up at the ceiling and said, “If you’re real, God, then I’d be a fool not to want you.”


After that I climbed into bed, closed my eyes, and for the remainder of the night the effects of whiskey and LSD once again raged through my mind and body.  The Holy Spirit had held back their effects for a window of time, while two faithful Marines told me about Jesus.  The window closed.  And now, lying on my bunk, the Spirit who had once hovered over the darkness of the unformed earth, was hovering over the darkness of my soul and about to unleash His creative power.

Next blog: Out of Darkness                  

Stones of Remembrance

imagesThis is the first of a three-part series that chronicles my Christian testimony (part 2––A Lost Marine is Found; part 3––Out of Darkness).

The inspiration for the title of this blog comes from Joshua Chapter 4.  Briefly, God had parted the Jordan River so that the children of Israel could cross over into the Promised Land.  Afterward, God commanded Joshua to have one man from each of the twelve tribes carry a stone from the middle of the river and set it up as a memorial on the other side.  Why?  So that when their children and children’s children would ask what the stones meant they would recount the wondrous things that God had done.


Over the years my children have asked to hear stories of my early walk with Jesus, during the revival days of the Jesus Movement.  They have told me that the stories are like those in the Book of Acts, but that those kinds of things aren’t happening nowadays, at least not in the US.  I would disagree.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well.  He is still moving in people’s hearts, still drawing them to Christ.  Travel to Brazil today to see what God is doing there.  I think what my kids mean is a matter of scale, of numbers.  I would agree with that.


During that too-brief decade of the late 1960s and 70s, God’s manifest Presence was everywhere apparent––on school campuses, in coffee houses, on street corners, beauty salons, bus stations, grocery stores, in the military, even military brigs (as you shall see in future posts).  Significant numbers of young people surrendered their lives to Jesus.  They were called “Jesus freaks.”

I became one of them in a Marine Barracks in Naples, Italy, Feb 11, 1972 (part 2 and 3).

I miss those days.  I miss the One Way Jesus stickers, the “Maranatha!” greetings, the Bible tracts that everyone carried along with their Thompson Chain Bibles, Scofields and Living Bibles.  The very air seemed charged with the expectancy of the Second Coming.  We listened to Jack Van Impe tapes, read Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, and a host of other modern day “prophets,” warning everyone of the imminent return of Jesus Christ.  Those that came to Christ were happy that they’d “made it” before the final curtain fell, and were zealous to share the Gospel with everyone before it was too late.

Larry Norman’s I Wish We’d All Been Ready captured the zeitgeist of the age.

“Witnessing” was the ministry of the day––didn’t matter where––on the street, on the beach, in bus stations, in halfway houses and bars (yes, bars), in college dorm rooms, in military barracks and ships.  The locations were irrelevant.  The Spirit was everywhere.  He was relevant, working, drawing sinners to Christ.  So many came!


By the late 1970s, early 80s, the revival wind that fell upon the beaches of Southern California and blew across the continent and over into Europe, was mostly gone.    Only a breeze remained.  A whisper.  The revival fires died down to embers.

What happened?  Did the Holy Spirit run out of gas?  Where did the revival go?  What happened to all the Jesus people, to that great Movement that made the covers of Life and Time and caught the world’s attention?  Ed Underwood (pastor of the Church of the Open Door) addresses this very question in his book Reborn to be Wild.  It’s a compelling history of the Jesus Movement, its rise and demise.  In short, we became gentrified.  Tamed.  Absorbed into the mainstream status quo.


I have many stories to tell of God’s work and grace in the lives of young people during that time, and will tell them, Lord willing, over the next several months.  They are my Stones of Remembrance.  My hope is that they will both inspire and encourage believers today to pray, to read their Bibles, to boldly go out onto the dark streets with the blazing fire of the Good News, shouting it from the rooftops!  Jesus changed the world with a handful of committed disciples that boldly went into the streets of Jerusalem with a very powerful message.


Without question.  There are so many more handfuls of disciples today than in those early First Century prayer meetings.  But are we as committed as they were?  Or the Jesus freaks, for that matter.  Do we care as much about our lost neighbors, coworkers, and family members as we once did?  I am a Christian today because a fellow Marine had the courage to say to an outrageous sinner: “Mike, Jesus loves you!”

I still weep at God’s mercy and grace.

O God, fill us anew with Your Holy Spirit!  Fan into flames Your holy fire!  Revive us again, O Lord, so that we will have stones of remembrance to teach our children’s children.

Begin with me.

Next post– A Lost Marine is Found

A Sermon in G-Major

IMG_0166When I was a young Christian, fresh out of the Marine Corps, I was a minstrel with a mission.  I carried my guitar everywhere I went, singing Christian favorites, as well as songs of my own composition.  The size of my audience didn’t matter; there might be one or two, there might be a roomful.  I just loved to sing about Jesus and looked for opportunities to do so.


One day in September of 1973, during my first semester at a northern California Bible college, I went into the chapel after classes to practice my repertoire.  The chapel appeared empty, so I went onto the platform, got out my guitar and began singing to the Lord.   A few minutes later a girl at the rear of the chapel (she’d been lying on the floor praying), poked her head over a pew and stared across the chapel at me.  It was a funny “peekaboo-I-see-you” moment.  Then she immediately jumped up and rushed out of the door. 

Needless to say, this didn’t encourage my musical self-esteem.  I’d had an audience of one and she bolted like her hair was on fire!

I continued singing.  Five minutes later the girl returned and asked if I would be willing to speak and sing at her church the following Sunday.  I guess she liked my singing after all.  The church in question was a small country fellowship in the hills north of San Francisco.  Not having cell phones in those days, she had just rushed out to phone her pastor to see if inviting me was all right with him.  It was. 

I said sure.

Sunday was two days away, so there was plenty of time to cook up a sermon, right?  It didn’t work out that way.


The next day as I boarded a bus for the trip I still had no sermon prepped, just my guitar and a handful of psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.  I also had the audacity to trust that God would use me to somehow to bless His people.  I remember praying on the bus that God would give me something to talk about the next morning.  I was apprehensive, to say the least.  Still, no topic came to mind.

I had to change buses in San Francisco, and catch another one that went on to the mountain community.  I had about an hour’s wait, so I pulled out my guitar and began to sing.  That might sound a little strange to people today, but back in the days of the Jesus Movement it wasn’t uncommon at all to see young people singing on street corners, or in parks, or other public places.  It went with the times.

Soon a small crowd gathered around to listen.  I sang Amazing Grace, I sang I Wish We’d All Been Ready, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus, interspersed with some of my own songs and personal testimony.


When my bus arrived I packed up and headed for it.  A moment later a good-looking, well-dressed man about forty-something followed me to the rear of the bus and stepped into the seat in front of me.  But instead of sitting down he leaned over the seat-back and looked at me. 

“I was listening to you singing,” he said, with tears in his eyes.  “I’m a backslidden Assemblies of God pastor.”

He went on to confess that he had wandered from the path of righteousness, and had gotten into a bad way of living.  Even now he was heading to Las Vegas to continue his wayward lifestyle.  He told me that as I was singing, the Holy Spirit convicted him of his sin, and he wanted to repent.  We prayed right there. 

Afterward he thanked me, walked to the front of the bus and got off.  I watched him disappear into the station crowd, stunned and amazed at God’s grace.  Then I thought about what had just happened. 

My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).

I had my sermon. 

I told this story to the little church in the mountains.  My sermon didn’t have a three point outline with a joke and a punchline, it wouldn’t have passed a Homiletics class, but the Holy Spirit used it to bless the saints in a little mountain church.  I sang my songs, and we all rejoiced together.


Obviously, I have never forgotten that story, which occurred over forty years ago.  I don’t know whatever became of the backslidden pastor.  Was his repentance genuine?  It sure seemed so to me.  Did he get back onto the path of righteousness?  I hope so, but I don’t know.  That’s not my business, it’s God’s.  My business is to walk in the Spirit and “make use of every opportunity [to share Christ], because the days are evil” (Eph 5:16).  This is so much more true today than it was back in 1973.

The Apostle Paul says, “Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Eph. 5:19).  A Spirit-filled life is a song-filled life.  The child of God who is filled with the Spirit cannot help but sing!  And when we sing unto the Lord, those walking in darkness cannot help but take notice.  They will be drawn to the Source of spiritual music and life.

Have you been making melody in your heart to the Lord lately?

Lord, fill us with the audacity of Your Spirit, that we might minister to a lost and dying world.   


A Faith That Works

imgresThere are many today who say they believe in God but their lifestyles suggest otherwise.  My purpose for this writing is not to judge, nor to discourage, but to encourage each of us to put our faith into action, to pursue Jesus with all our heart, mind and strength.


James wrote that “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  Earlier he said: “You believe that there is one God.  Good!  Even the demons believe that––and shudder” (James 2:19).  The same Greek word for believe (pisteuo) is used in both instances.  Interestingly, the demons’ belief goes beyond mere intellectual assent.  They shudder.  They know that God is who He says He is, and because of that belief they tremble at the implications of it.  They know that their time is short, that one day they’ll be judged and cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10).  Because of their belief they’re enraged, and work all the harder to thwart God’s plans (Rev 12:12). 

I don’t care two hoots about the fate of devils; I care about those who may believe that they are right with God, but in fact are not genuine believers at all.  Paul says:

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you––unless, of course, you fail the test?” (1 Cor 13:5). 


There are many who have a creedal understanding of the “gospel;” that is, they believe the gospel to be true, they believe the Bible to be true––the Word of God.  But that’s as far as it goes.  There is no outworking of genuine faith or commitment to their belief.  They may go to church on Sundays and holy days, thinking that this somehow earn points in their account.  It doesn’t.  Their “faith” is dead.  Again, Paul says:

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed––not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence––continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose” (Phil 2:12). 

Genuine belief calls one to action.  It takes hold of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross.  It takes up its cross and follows Jesus in resurrection power, working to advance His kingdom on earth. 


To illustrate the difference between intellectually believing something to be true and committing to that belief, consider the true story of Jean Francois Gravelet––the Great Blondin (1824-1897).

Blondin (so called because of his blonde hair) was a French tightrope walker who did most of his amazing stunts during the 19th Century.  One of his most famous stunts occurred on June 30, 1859, when Blondin stretched a 3 inch cable wire 1100 feet across Niagara Falls, 160 feet above the turbulent waters below.

Before huge crowds of amazed onlookers he crossed the gorge not once but on many occasions, sometimes stopping mid-way to cook meals, or to lie down.  Sometimes he crossed blindfolded, on stilts, and he even pushed a wheelbarrow across loaded with sacks of grain!  Then on one occasion he asked the crowd if they believed that he could carry a man across on his back.

The crowd roared “Yes!”  So he asked for a volunteer.  Silence!  Even though the crowd believed he could do it, not one person volunteered.  Finally, Blondin asked his manager, a man by the name of Harry Colcord, to ride on his back, which he did.


Though the crowd believed that Blondin could do the incredible stunt, none of them but his manager exercised faith in him.  Their belief amounted to nothing.  It produced no works.  Their faith was dead.   

Although we are saved by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9)––and let there be no quibbling about that––genuine faith, the kind of faith that pleases God is a working faith.  It will produce good works, works that will be seen by men who will then glorify God because of them (Matt 5:16).  Genuine faith trusts God’s Word and His promises; it produces love for both God and man.  It is obedient, consecrated to holiness.  It seeks first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.  It is a faith that shines in the darkness, a faith that produces a life that is winsome, salty, and effective.  It’s a faith that seeks to reproduce itself in the lives of others. 

Genuine faith moves forward when everyone else stands still.  It sees the unseen and moves mountains.  When others fall back or compromise with culture, it follows Jesus first and last.

Onward and Upward! 


When God Doesn’t Seem to Hear

We’ve all prayed prayers that God either hasn’t answered yet, or seems slow to answer, or doesn’t imgresanswer the way we thought He should.  But God always answers our prayers.  He may have answered with a No.  He may have said Yes (we like Yes).  He may have said Wait.   This is the one He most often answers me.  I don’t like waiting. 

Hmmm…I wonder if He’s trying to teach me something?      

There have been times in my life when I have come close to despair in waiting for God to answer my prayers.  Father, why don’t you answer this?  I know it has to be your will that this person comes to Christ.  I had been praying for certain loved ones for years and God didn’t seem to hear me.  They continued in their bad choices, at times even mocking the faith.  They seemed irreparably lost.


My stepfather was one of them.  I had been praying for Gary for over forty years.  Gary was a medical doctor with a thriving practice.  He was handsome, intelligent, a great athlete (windsurfing and skiing well into his 70s), and he was married to my mom, a beautiful lady.  Further, he was a genuinely nice guy.  He had it all.    

However, when I’d broach the subject of Christianity with him, he would shut down discussion.  He had no use for it.  Jesus did not appeal to him.  He truly believed that one day science would eliminate disease, possibly even death, and that something or someone from the galaxies beyond would come and save the planet.  He was a devoted “Trekkie.”    

About three years ago Gary started forgetting things.  He’d leave the tap on, the car door opened as he exited his car, engine running, and so on.  As a medical doctor he knew what was coming.  We all did, for we had witnessed these very symptoms in his mother.  Gary was diagnosed with frontal lobe dementia.


With the dark clouds of dementia there came a silver ling.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear Gary asking me to pray for him during our visits.  This was amazing!  Clearly, something was changing in him.  He was still fairly lucid but there were obvious signs he was not the same man he once was.  I would pray, “Jesus, have mercy on Gary.  Comfort him.  Draw him close to you.”   He would smile and thank me. 

One day after another of our visits, we were about to leave, but I’d forgotten to pray for Gary.  As we headed to the car he followed me outside and said, “You didn’t pray for me, Mike.”  I felt terrible and of course prayed for him in the driveway.  I felt better.  And I could see in Gary’s expression that he felt better too.  He truly took comfort in my prayers.

Driving home, however, I felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit––a sense of urgency.  I told Cathy I should have talked to Gary more about Jesus.  I should have said something.  I should have… 


I called him on my cell phone (Cathy was driving), and for about ten minutes Gary and I discussed the Christian faith.  I hung up, again feeling better about it, but something was still prodding me to do more.  The Holy Spirit.  Why didn’t you invite Gary to come to Jesus?

As soon as I got home, I called again.  I told my mom I needed to talk with Gary.  Moments later he was on the line.  I shared the Gospel with him and then I asked if he would like to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  Gary’s response floored me.  “Yes.  What do I have to do?”  Fighting back tears, I led Gary in a simple prayer.  He repeated every word I said––just like a child––and in that moment Gary, the once devoted Trekkie, became a child of God. 

It was just a short time later that the window of lucidity in Gary’s mind closed.  A caretaker in his home read the Bible to him every day, but his mind was quickly going.  I’d pray with him when he was in the hospital, holding his withered hand, but I wasn’t sure if he even knew who I was.  Gary went home to be with the Lord the end of last October.  He is now in the Presence of the One who so loved the world––had so loved Gary Hathaway––who in the fulness of time opened his heart, gave him saving faith and eternal life.


Dear ones, never give up praying for your loved ones, no matter how hardened to the Gospel they appear to be.  Just know that God loves them infinitely more than we ever could.  God hears your prayers.  He will answer in His perfect time.  The one arguing the most may be the very one who is struggling with God.  Pray without ceasing, for as James says, “The effective prayers of the righteous will accomplish much” (James 5:16).    

Finally, be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit who may be prodding you to boldly share the love of Christ with someone––friend, colleague, or family member.  Remember, someone once led you to faith in Christ.  They’d been praying for you, maybe wondering if God was hearing their prayers.  They’d asked God to give them courage to talk with you about Jesus.  They did. 

Be that person, that light, to that dear soul wandering in the darkness.  Eternal Life awaits them!

Onward and Upward! 

Birth Pangs

One of the happiest dd969d2f1a6df44419c3b73273e232e8bays of my life was the time when my wife Cathy told me she was pregnant with our first child.  I shouted it from the rooftops.  Cathy’s pregnant.  A baby is coming!  Our baby!


Month one, two, three––everything was relatively normal.  Funny, you don’t look pregnant, Honey.  Month four, five and six––definitely showing signs.  No doubt about it now.  You’re pregnant.  Baby’s room is decorated.  Lamaze classes begin.  “Pant, blow?  That’s it?”  Piece of cake.  Month seven and eight––major discomfort for Momma.  Month nine––big as a house––hurry up, Baby, Momma’s not liking this. 

And then they started…birth pangs! 

“I think it’s time,” Cathy said one night.  The pangs were five minutes apart, so we packed up our baby gear and headed for the hospital.  However, after a brief checkup we were sent home. 

False alarm.

The pangs continued regularly.  Then at 6:00 pm the next night the interval between pangs decreased to around 2 to 4 minutes apart.  They were more intense.  Pant––pant––blow––blow.  We headed to the hospital again.  No mistaking it now.  The signs were regular, more intense.

What followed was twenty-six hours of labor, followed by ten hours of HARD labor.  Cathy was exhausted.  She’d given up on Lamaze, she just took it.  I was nervous.  It wasn’t supposed to take this long, I thought, or be this hard.  I actually wondered if Cathy and the baby would survive.  One nurse examined her, then quipped, “I don’t think you’re ever going to have this baby.”  I almost punched her. 

The baby was in the birth canal for ten hours of very intense labor!  The baby was major stressed, Cathy was major stressed.  I was praying like crazy.  Finally, after what seemed an interminable amount of pain, the moment arrived.  Brandon was born, the cord twisted around his neck three times!  It was a miracle that he survived!


Jesus said that His Coming would be like the birth pangs of a woman in travail (Matt 24:8).  The Apostle Paul said the same in 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3.  There would be birth pangs before the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ.  As in a natural birth, the pangs would increase in intensity, the intervals between them shorten, and then the time would come.  What would these birth pangs look like? 


Jesus said, “As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt 24:37ff; Gen 6:5).  What was it like in the days of Noah?  Genesis 6:5 reveals that wickedness covered the face of the earth, continually. 

On April, 20, 1995 Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma Federal Building, killing 168 people and wounding over 600.  The nation was shocked.  Four years later, almost to the day, two teenage killers murdered 12 fellow students and one teacher at Columbine High School.  Again, the nation was in shock.

Everyone at the studio where I worked at the time stared dumbfounded at the news reports on a widescreen television.  The carnage, the cold-hearted wickedness, was stunning.  Who could image such a thing happening.  Two years later, on September 11, 2001, it happened again. 

I groaned in my spirit, as did we all, at such wickedness.   

Since then there have been more mass murders, more school killings, theater killings, train killings, riot after riot, here and abroad, at shortened intervals, with heightened intensity.  As it was in the days of Noah!


Jesus said it (Luke 17:28-30).  A reading of Genesis 19 will give us a sickening glimpse into the depravity of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  It is no wonder that God destroyed them.  Is the world any different today than it was then?  With the recent Supreme Court decision to redefine marriage, I wonder if we aren’t living in the days of Lot. 

Other birth pangs will include the rise of false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, famines, worldwide deception, the love of many growing cold, children hating their parents, worldwide apostasy, the persecution of genuine Christians, and on and on.  These birth pangs are being felt around the world today.  Jesus is coming soon!


Immorality continues to increase.  Celebrity worshippers gawk at their “stars” audacity.  The killing of unborn babies continues at an alarming rate of 1.6 million a year in the US alone, with Planned Parenthood selling baby parts for profit!

Every baby killed is yet another birth pang.

How long, O Lord? 

The news pundits point to this or that cause but miss it entirely.  Man is wicked.  His wickedness will increase until one day, finally, the heavenly trumpet will sound.  It won’t be a false alarm either.  The heavens will open and Jesus will appear in the clouds, so that every eye will see Him!  The dead in Christ will rise from their graves, and we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the air to meet the King of kings, and Lord of lords in His glory!   


Dear ones, the birth pangs are many.  They continue to grow and become more intense.  More frequent.  But let us not lose heart.  Jesus said, “When you see these things begin to happen, look up for your redemption draws near”  (Luke 21:28).  Be comforted with His words.  In the meantime let us “hasten the day” of His coming (2 Peter 3:2), by living godly and holy lives, and by sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with a lost world.  Let us be found doing so when the Master returns.