Monday, December 22, 2014

HUNGER FOR GRACE by Gary Wilkerson

I am convinced there is a hunger throughout the world for the grace of Christ, and Scripture attests to this. Luke writes that when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount, crowds of thousands “had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those troubled by evil spirits were healed” (Luke 6:18, NLT). These masses came because they had heard a rumor about a man of grace who would heal them.

“There were people from all over Judea and from Jerusalem and from as far north as the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon” (Luke 6:17). The hurting masses didn’t travel those distances because they wanted to hear a preacher urge them to try harder. They were already worn down by discouragement, disease and despair over their efforts to remain godly. And this wasn’t just a gathering of “good” people. Many were probably on the fringes of life, people shoved aside by their broken condition. Whatever the case, observing the Law had not brought them life.

To these hungry sojourners, Jesus’ reputation for grace turned out to be true. He not only preached grace but demonstrated it by healing them all: “Healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone” (Luke 6:19).

As a boy, I measured my walk with Christ by how well I demonstrated humility, purity and mercy. If I caught myself being aggressive, I thought, “I need to be more humble and meek.” Or if I had sexual thoughts, I wondered, “How will I ever be able to keep a pure heart?” Like many before me, I turned God’s gracious promise of blessing into laws I tried to keep. If I “lived” the beatitudes well enough, then maybe God would say, “Gary, you’re blessed.”

No! That is completely backward—and utterly contrary to Christ’s gospel. When Jesus looked on that crowd of people, He saw them already poor in spirit, on their knees in humility, harangued by sickness, exhausted by their efforts to live a good life. So what did He do? He spoke blessings upon them! Just as the Lord spoke creation into a void of utter darkness, Jesus spoke divine blessings onto ravaged sinners, people beaten down by life. He assured them, “You came here in mourning, but I say you are blessed in the eyes of God—blessed in your marriage, blessed in your labors, blessed in the depths of your soul.”

This was a radical message to their ears! These people only knew the terms of the Old Covenant. They thought they deserved to hear, “You’re cursed! You didn’t keep the Law according to Deuteronomy; otherwise, your lives would be blessed.” Jesus told them the opposite: “Before you’ve done anything for Me—before you’ve prayed, worshiped or confessed—I have already blessed you!”

Saturday, December 20, 2014

SEEDS OF FORGIVENESS by Nicky Cruz

I wish you could experience the miracle that our family has experienced. I wish you could feel the difference between how we live now and how we lived during the days of my youth. Today I love my brothers and sister with a passion. There’s nothing I’d rather do than sit around and laugh and talk and cry with my family.

The times that I get to travel back to Puerto Rico and visit are some of my most precious memories. When I go home I’m no longer Nicky Cruz the evangelist or speaker; I’m just a brother. I’m just one of the family, and I love that. In fact, two of my brothers pastor churches in Puerto Rico, and they’ve never even asked me to speak to their congregations. They know that when I come home I come to hang out.

I have so many memories of staying up late with my family, eating and laughing and joking and praying and crying together. Sometimes we stay up until one o’clock in the morning telling stories. Trading jokes. Relishing the joy we all share. It’s like one big fiesta!

But that’s not how it used to be with us. We weren’t always so happy and carefree and loving. When Jesus came into our lives, He brought with Him an explosion of love! He opened the floodgates of mercy and forgiveness. In my family there is a lot of pain in our past, yet not one of us harbors feelings of resentment. No one holds a grudge. We hold nothing but love in our hearts among us. We don’t spend any time in regret; we just rejoice in the Jesus we know today—in the future He brings to us all.

It breaks my heart to see families that hold on to the past. Brothers and sisters who hang on to bitterness and resentment from days long gone. Husbands and wives who have been hurt by words or actions, so they allow the pain to fester, to grow, to eat away at them like a cancer.

Jesus can do for the human heart what no one else can do. He can bring about change unlike anything we could imagine. When He comes to live in your heart, He does more than forgive you, He leaves behind seeds of forgiveness. Supernatural seeds that will not only erase the sin, but erase the pain that sin has brought.

I could never thank Jesus enough for what He has done for our family. For the forgiveness and mercy and grace that He has brought, bringing us back together.
And He can do the same for anyone.

__________

Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run

Friday, December 19, 2014

DON’T FEEL SORRY

Naomi tried one last time to encourage Ruth to go back home, but Ruth would not go. “Ruth clave unto [Naomi]” (Ruth 1:14). The word used here suggests a maiden on her knees with her arms around her master’s waist, as if she will never let go. Ruth wanted God!

As soon as Ruth crossed over the border to Judah, she was on the road to winning Christ. There was no signpost to tell her, but we know where the road led: straight to the heart of Jesus! Ruth and Naomi came to the place of blessing—poor and not knowing where their next meal would come from—but they arrived during the beginning of the harvest season.

Ruth was penniless, with no future in sight, yet she was a virtuous woman, and had committed everything to the Lord. She said, “Let me now go to the field, and glean” (Ruth 2:2). Only the very poor did such work. The Law demanded that the owners not harvest the four corners of their fields and not glean the remains, so that the poor could have them. “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shall not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest . . . thou shall leave them for the poor” (Leviticus 19:9-10).

It looked as if Ruth had made a poor bargain: Her devotion took her all the way to the place of visitation and now she was sweating over a minimum-wage job! She was even below the poverty line. Take a good look at her, because this is how you may end up if you break loose and go all the way with God!

This was the cross of the apostle Paul until he died: “For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake . . . we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; and labor, working with our own hands; being reviled . . . persecuted . . . being defamed . . . we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring [we get the brush-off, being considered the scum of the earth]” (1 Corinthians 4:9-13).

But don’t feel sorry for Ruth—for she was just about to win Christ!