Saturday, May 31, 2008

Dearly Beloved

TO CHRIST BE ALL GLORY, HONOR AND PRAISE.

May I give you a word I believe is from the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit? It has to do with what I believe is one of the greatest needs in the church today. Indeed, it is a word every believer ought to hear.

This is the word: Growing numbers of Christians are no longer fully satisfied with Christ. He is being dethroned by what the Lord himself called thorns. Jesus defined thorns as the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, the lusts of other things entering into the heart. Christ said these are the thorns that choke the Word and cause it to become unfruitful.

I ask you, is the Lord more on your mind than a year ago? Do you spend more time in his presence than a year ago? Is your passion for him growing or withering?

Many of those who once were passionately in love with Christ now run about pursuing their own interests. They’re burdened down with stress and problems, chasing after riches and the things of this world. They have grown cold or lukewarm, and they have less and less time for Jesus. The Lord and his church now get only an hour of their time, on Sunday mornings.

Jesus said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered” (John 15:6). In other words, that person is drying up, no longer drawing life from the true vine. He is deceived by thinking all is well, because he still speaks the language of the intimacy he once enjoyed with Christ.

Of course, riches and the things that are necessary in life are not evil in themselves. All of us face cares and troubles in this life. The sin comes in the effort, time and energy we spend in pursuing these things, at the expense of neglecting Christ.

One day soon we all will stand before our blessed Christ to face his judgment seat. We will see him face to face. I want to stand in my Lord’s presence as a fruitful son, not ushered into his presence as a lukewarm, withered, estranged, thorn-choked servant.

I hear the Holy Spirit calling the Lord’s people back to their first love. Back to hungering and thirsting for more of Christ. Back to spending quality time in his presence. Back to loving his Word. Back to casting all cares upon him. Back to depending on him for guidance.

Christ desires intimacy with his bride. He yearns after his beloved to return to him with love and obedience. I humbly submit this word to you, trusting the Holy Spirit will stir your heart and draw you closer to himself.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Cloud Of Witnesses

Hebrews 12:1 tells us that the world is encircled by a cloud of witnesses who are with Christ in glory. What does this multitude of heavenly witnesses have to say to the present world? We live in a generation that is far more wicked than Noah’s. What can these witnesses say to a human race whose sins exceed even that of Sodom?

Our day is one of great prosperity. Our economy has been blessed, yet our society has become so immoral, violent and anti-God that even secularists bemoan how far we have fallen. Christians everywhere wonder why God has delayed his judgments on such a wicked society.

We who love Christ may not understand why such gross evil is allowed to continue. But the cloud of heavenly witnesses understands. They don’t question the mercy and patience that God has shown.

The Apostle Paul is among that cloud of witnesses, and he bears witness to God’s unlimited love for even “the chiefest of sinners.” Paul’s life and writings tell us that he cursed the name of Christ. He was a terrorist, hunting down God’s people and dragging them off to be jailed or killed. Paul would say to us that God is being patient with this present generation because there are many who are like he was, people who sin in ignorance.

The apostle Peter is also among the cloud of witnesses, and he too understands why God is so patient. Peter’s life and writings remind us that he cursed Jesus, swearing he never knew him. God withholds his judgment because there are multitudes still who curse and deny him, just as Peter did. The Lord won’t give up on them, just as he never gave up on Peter. There are many like him whom Christ still prays for.

As I consider this cloud of witnesses, I see the faces of former drug addicts and alcoholics, former prostitutes and homosexuals, former gangsters and pushers, former murders and wife-beaters, former infidels and pornography addicts—multitudes whom society had given up on. They all repented and died in the arms of Jesus, and now they are witnesses to the mercy and patience of a loving Father.

I believe all of these would say, in one unified witness, that Jesus didn’t judge them before they received his mercy. God still loves this mad, immoral world. May he help us to love the lost as he does. And may we pray to have the love and patience he is showing the world right now.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

When The Holy Spirit Comes

The prophet Isaiah describes what happens when the Holy Spirit falls upon a people. Isaiah prophesies, “The spirit be poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness be a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be counted for a forest” (Isaiah 32:15).

Isaiah is saying, “When the Holy Ghost comes, what was once a barren wilderness becomes a harvest field. A dead patch of ground suddenly overflows with fruit. And this is no temporary harvest. The field of fruit will grow into a forest. And you’ll be able to take cuttings from this forest year after year, and build on your fruitfulness continually.”

Isaiah adds, “Then judgment shall dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field” (32:16). According to the prophet, the Holy Ghost also brings with him a message of judgment against sin. And that message produces righteousness in the people.

Isaiah isn’t speaking of a one-time outpouring of the Spirit, what some people think of as “revival.” Isaiah is describing something that lasts. Studies by Christian sociologists show that most present-day revivals last for an average of five years, and leave in their wake much confusion and dissension. I know of some churches where so-called revivals took place, but now, within just a few years, there is no trace of the Spirit left. Those churches are dead, dry, empty. Houses that once held 1,000 are now cavernous tombs, with only fifty people in attendance.

Isaiah continues: “The work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isaiah 32:17-18).

Peace comes because righteousness is at work. The Holy Spirit is busy sweeping out all unrest, disturbances and condemnation. What follows is peace of mind, peace in the home, and peace in God’s house. And when God’s people have the peace of Christ, they aren’t easily moved from it: “When it shall hail, coming down on the forest; and the city shall be low in a low place. Blessed are ye that sow beside all waters, that send forth thither the feet of the ox and the ass” (32:19-20).
Isaiah’s prophecy about the Holy Spirit was directed to Israel during Uzziah’s reign. Yet it also applies to God’s people today. It is known as a dual prophecy. The fact is, every generation needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And I believe the church today hasn’t seen anything compared to what the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Heathenism Of Worry

“Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek)” (Matthew 6:31-32).

Jesus tells us that worry—about the future of our family, about jobs, about how we are to survive—is a heathen’s way of life. Jesus is talking here about those who have no heavenly Father. They do not know God as he wants to be known, as a caring, providing, loving Father in heaven.

“Take no thought for tomorrow” (v. 34). In these plain words, Jesus commands us, “Do not give a thought, do not give a worry, about what might or might not happen tomorrow. You can’t change anything. And you can’t help by worrying. When you do, you’re only doing as the heathen do.” Then Jesus says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (v. 33). In other words, you are to go on loving Jesus. You are to move on, casting all your cares on him. You are to go on resting in his faithfulness. Your heavenly Father will see to it that you are supplied with all the essential things of life.

I wonder if the angels are baffled by all the worrying and anxiousness of those who claim to trust in God. To them it must seem so degrading, so insulting to the Lord, that we worry as if we had no caring Father in heaven. What perplexing questions the angels must ask among themselves: “Have they no Father who is in heaven? Do they not believe he loves them? Did he not tell them he knows all about their needs? Do they not believe that he who feeds the birds and the whole animal kingdom will feed and clothe them? How can they fret and worry if they know he owns all power, all wealth, and can supply the needs of all creation? Would they accuse their heavenly Father of neglect, as if he was not true to his word?”

You have a heavenly Father. Trust him!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Ministry Of Refreshing

In Acts 27, Paul was on a ship headed for Rome when the vessel came to a stop at Sidon. Paul asked the centurion in charge for permission to visit some friends in the city, and “Julius…gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself” (Acts 27:3). Here is yet another instance of God using believers to refresh other believers.

We see this also in 2 Timothy, where Paul writes of a certain believer:

“The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me…. And in how many things he ministered unto me” (2 Timothy 1:16-18).

Onesiphorus was one of Paul’s spiritual sons and he loved Paul so deeply and unconditionally that he sought him out in his sufferings. Once, when Paul was jailed, Onesiphorus went through the city looking for him until he found him. His motivation was simply, “My brother is hurting. He has suffered the terrors of shipwreck, and now he’s being buffeted by Satan. I have to encourage him.”

The ministry of refreshing clearly includes seeking out those who are hurting. We hear a lot of talk about power in the church these days: power to heal the sick, power to win the lost, power to overcome sin. But I say there is great, healing power that flows out of a refreshed and renewed person. Depression, mental anguish or a troubled spirit can cause all kinds of physical sickness, but a spirit that’s refreshed and encouraged—one that’s made to feel accepted, loved and needed—is the healing balm needed most.

We find this ministry of refreshing in the Old Testament as well. When David was being hunted down by King Saul, he was exhausted and hurting, forced to run day and night. During that time, he felt rejected by God’s leaders and God’s people. Then, at a crucial moment, David’s friend Jonathan came to him: “Jonathan Saul’s son arose, and went to David…and strengthened his hand in God. And he said unto him, Fear not: for the hand of Saul my father shall not find thee; and thou shalt be king over Israel, and I shall be next unto thee” (1 Samuel 23:16-17).

That was all David needed to hear and immediately his spirit was refreshed to go on. We see this example time after time in Scripture: God sends not an angel or a vision, but a fellow believer to refresh his beloved ones.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Comfort And Refreshing

How did the Holy Ghost bring comfort to Paul during his downcast times? The apostle himself tells us: “God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us by the coming of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7:6). Titus arrived in Macedonia with a refreshing spirit, and suddenly Paul’s heart was lifted. As the two men fellowshipped, joy flooded through Paul’s body, mind and spirit, and the apostle wrote, “I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all my tribulation” (7:4). Paul was declaring, “I still face problems, but the Lord has given me what I need for the battle. He has refreshed me through Titus.”

Throughout my years in the ministry I’ve seen men and women of God come to the end of their endurance, cast down low and utterly confused. I’ve anguished over these dear brothers and sisters in their pain, asking the Lord, “Father, how will these servants of yours ever get out of such a pit of suffering? Where is the power that will bring them out? What can I say or do to help them?”

I believe the answer is found right here, in Paul’s testimony. Here was a man so deeply weary that he was no longer himself. Paul was at the darkest time of his ministry, as cast down as he’d ever been. Yet within a few short hours, he was completely out of that dark pit and reveling in joy and gladness. Once again, the beloved apostle felt loved and needed.

How did this happen? First, let’s look at what happened in Corinth. When Titus arrived there to meet with the church leaders, he received his own glorious refreshing. An awakening was taking place in the church because they had heeded Paul’s instruction, and now God was blessing them mightily.

Titus arrived back in Macedonia with the encouraging news: “Paul, the brethren in Corinth send their love! They’ve removed the sin that was in their midst and dealt with the false prophets. They no longer despise your sufferings but instead rejoice in your testimony.”

This refreshing word, brought by a dear brother in the Lord, immediately lifted Paul out of his pit: “God that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us [me], by the coming of Titus” (2 Corinthians 7:6). Do you see the example here? God uses people to refresh people. He didn’t send an angel to refresh Paul. The comfort this man received came through the refreshing of Titus’ spirit, who in turn refreshed Paul’s.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Exceeding Danger Of Unbelief

“To whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief…. Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:18-19,12).

Hebrews warns the New Testament church: “Take heed to Israel’s example. If you don’t, you may fall the same way they did. You’ll descend into evil unbelief. And it will turn your life into one long, continual wilderness.”

Consider what happened to the unbelieving generation who were turned back into the wilderness. God told them pointedly, from the leaders to the judges to the Levites on down, that his hand would be against them. From then on, all they would know is distress and leanness of soul. They wouldn’t see his glory. Instead, they would become focused on their own problems and consumed by their own lusts.

That’s exactly what happens with all unbelieving people: They end up consumed with their own welfare. They have no vision, no sense of God’s presence, and no prayer life. They no longer care about their neighbors, or a lost world, or eventually even their friends. Instead, the entire focus of their lives is on their problems, their troubles, their illnesses. They go from one crisis to another, shut up in their own pain and suffering. And their days are filled with confusion, strife, envy and division.

Without faith, it is simply impossible to please God. After God walled up the waters of the Red Sea on both sides and let the Israelites walk through safely, they danced and rejoiced. And then, merely three days later, these same Israelites were grumbling against God, murmuring and complaining, questioning the very presence of God in their midst.

For thirty-eight years, Moses watched as, one by one, every Israelite in the unbelieving generation died. As he looked back on those who wasted their lives away in the wilderness, he saw that everything God had warned about had happened. “The hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them until they were consumed” (see Deuteronomy 2). God suspended his eternal purpose for Israel for all those years.
Likewise today, some Christians are content to merely exist until they die. They don’t want to risk anything, to believe God, to grow or mature. They refuse to believe his Word, and have become hardened in their unbelief. Now they’re just living to die.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

God Has Set His Heart On You!

What does the cloud of witnesses from Hebrews 12:1 have to say to you and me? What does Scripture tell us is their message to fellow overcomers in the body of Christ? Simply this: “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers” (1 Peter 3:12).

I don’t believe this great crowd of heavenly witnesses would speak to us about holding to complicated theologies or doctrines. I believe they would speak to us in the simplicity of truth:

· The author of Hebrews witnesses to us that we are to look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. We are to keep preaching the victory of the cross, endure the accusations of sinners against us, and lay aside our besetting sin, running with patience the race set before us (see Hebrews 12:1-2).
· King David witnesses to us that we can trust in the Lord’s forgiveness, and he won’t remove his Holy Spirit from us. David committed murder and was an adulterer and a liar. But he repented and the Father would not let him go because he had set his heart on David.
· Peter witnesses to us that he sinned against the greatest light a man could ever have. This disciple walked in Jesus’ presence; he touched the Lord and received his calling from Christ personally. This man could have lived in guilt and condemnation, but God set his heart on him.
· Paul would tell us not to fear our afflictions. Jesus suffered every day of his ministry, and he died in suffering. And when Christ called Paul to preach the gospel, he showed him how many great afflictions awaited him.

Throughout his years in ministry, Paul was indeed afflicted. Yet afflictions prove that God has set his heart on you. “That no man should be moved [or shaken] by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we are appointed thereunto” (1Thessalonians 3:3).

We also see Job’s witness: “What is man, that thou shouldest magnify him? And that thou shouldest set thine heart upon him? And that thou shouldest visit him every morning, and try him every moment?” (Job 7:17-18, italics mine).

When God sets his heart on you, you will be tried often. But the fact is, the longer and harder your affliction, the more deeply God has set his heart on you, to show you his love and care. That is the witness of Paul’s life and of Jesus’ life. The enemy may come against you, but our Lord has raised up a standard against him. We find absolute rest in Jesus.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Ultimate Test Of Faith

There comes a time in the life of every believer—as well as in the church—when God puts us to the ultimate test of faith. It’s the same test Israel faced on the wilderness side of the Jordan. What is this test?

It is to look at all the dangers ahead—the giant issues facing us, the high walls of affliction, the principalities and powers that seek to destroy us—and to cast ourselves totally on God’s promises. The test is to commit ourselves to a lifetime of trust and confidence in his Word. It’s a commitment to believe that God is bigger than all our problems and enemies.

Our heavenly Father isn’t looking for a faith that deals with one problem at a time. He’s looking for a lifetime faith, a lifelong commitment to believe him for the impossible. This kind of faith brings a calm and rest to our soul, no matter what our situation. And we have this calm because we’ve settled once and for all, “My God is bigger. He is able to bring me out of any and all afflictions.”

Our Lord is loving and longsuffering, but he won’t allow his people to dwell in unbelief. You may have been tested time after time and now the time has come for you to make a decision. God wants faith that endures the ultimate test, a faith that won’t allow anything to shake you from trust and confidence in his faithfulness.

There is so much theology surrounding the topic of faith. Simply put, we can’t conjure it up. We can’t create it by repeating, “I believe, I really believe….” No, faith is a commitment we make to obey God. Obedience reflects belief.

As Israel faced Jericho, the people were told not to say a word, but simply to march. These faithful believers didn’t whisper to themselves, “Help me to believe, Lord. I so want to believe.” No, they were focused on the one thing God asked of them: to obey his Word and go forward.

That is faith. It means setting your heart to obey all that is written in God’s Word, without questioning it or taking it lightly. And we know that if our hearts are determined to obey, God will make sure his Word to us is clear, without confusion. Moreover, if he commands us to do something, he’ll supply us with the power and strength to obey: “Let the weak say, I am strong” (Joel 3:10). “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might” (Ephesians 6:10).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Heaven

“Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). Many believers quote this verse daily, applying it to their trials and tribulations. Yet the context in which Paul speaks it suggests a deeper meaning. Just two verses earlier, Paul states, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (15:54-55).

Paul was speaking eloquently about his longing for heaven. He wrote, “We know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2, italics mine)

The apostle then adds, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (5:8).

According to Paul, heaven—being in the Lord’s presence for all eternity—is something we are to desire with all our hearts.

As I ponder these things, a glorious picture begins to emerge. First, I imagine Jesus’ description of a huge gathering, when the angels “shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matthew 24:31). When all these multitudes have been gathered, I picture a great victory march taking place in heaven with millions of glorified children singing hosannas to the Lord, the way children once did in the temple.

Then come all the martyrs. Those who once cried for justice on the earth now cry, “Holy, holy, holy!” All will be dancing with joy, crying, “Victory, victory in Jesus!”

Then a mighty roar comes forth, a sound never before heard. It is the church of Jesus Christ with multitudes from all nations and tribes.

Maybe this all sounds farfetched to you, but Paul himself testified about it. When the faithful apostle was caught up into heaven, he “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:4). Paul staid he was staggered at what he heard there. I believe these were the very sounds he heard. He was given a preview of the singing and praising of God by those who will be rejoicing in his presence, their bodies made whole, their souls filled with joy and peace. It was a sound so glorious that Paul could hear it but not repeat it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

THE PEACE OF CHRIST

Jesus knew the disciples needed the kind of peace that would see them through any and all situations. He told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you” (John 14:27). This word had to amaze the disciples. In their eyes, it was almost an unbelievable promise: Christ’s peace was to become their peace.

These twelve men had marveled at the peace they had witnessed in Jesus for the past three years. Their Master was never afraid. He was always calm, never ruffled by any circumstance.

We know that Christ was capable of spiritual anger. At times he was stirred, and he knew how to weep. But he led his life on earth as a man at peace. He had peace with the Father, peace in the face of temptation, peace in times of rejection and mockery. He even had peace during storms at sea, sleeping on the deck of the boat while others trembled with terror.

The disciples had witnessed Jesus being dragged to a high ridge by an angry mob determined to kill him. Yet he calmly walked away from that scene, untouched and full of peace. All this must have caused discussion among the disciples: “How could he sleep in a storm? And how could he be so calm when that crowd was about to throw him over a cliff? People mock him, insult him, spit on him, but he never fights back. Nothing disturbs him.”

Now Jesus was promising these men the very same peace. When they heard this, the disciples must have looked at each other in wonder: “You mean, we’re going to have the same peace that he has? This is incredible.”

Jesus added, “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27). This wasn’t going to be the so-called peace of a numb, zoned-out society. Nor would it be the temporary peace of the rich and famous, who try to purchase peace of mind with material things. No, this was the very peace of Christ himself, a peace that surpasses all human understanding.

When Christ promised the disciples his peace, it was as if he was saying to them and to us today: “I know you don’t understand the times you face. You don’t comprehend the Cross and the suffering I am about to face. But I want to bring your heart into a place of peace. You won’t be able to face what is coming without having my enduring peace in you. You must have my peace.”

Saturday, May 17, 2008

CONTENTMENT

Contentment was a huge test in Paul’s life. After all, God said he would use him mightily: “He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). When Paul first received this commission, “straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God” (9:20).

Paul was in no hurry to see everything fulfilled in his lifetime. He knew he had an ironclad promise from God, and he clung to it. For the present moment, he was content to minister wherever he was: witnessing to a jailer, to a sailor, to a few women on a riverbank. This man had a worldwide commission, yet he was faithful to testify one-on-one.

Nor was Paul jealous of younger men who seemed to pass him by. While they traveled the world winning Jews and Gentiles to Christ, Paul sat in prison. He had to listen to reports of great crowds being converted by men he’d battled with over the gospel of grace. Yet Paul didn’t envy those men. He knew that a Christ-surrendered man knows how to abase as well as abound: “Godliness with contentment is great gain…and having food and raiment [clothing] let us be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:6, 8).

The world today might say to Paul, “You are at the end of your life now. Yet you have no savings, no investments. All you have is a change of clothes.” I know what Paul’s answer would be: “Oh, but I’ve won Christ. I tell you, I’m the winner. I’ve found the pearl of great price. Jesus granted me the power to lay down everything, and take it up again myself. Well, I laid it all down, and now a crown awaits me. I have only one goal in this life: to see my Jesus, face to face. All the sufferings of this present time can’t be compared with the joy that awaits me.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

Run Your Fingers Through Your Hair

Christ described the last days as a troubling and frightful time: “Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth…. Upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity” (Luke 21:26, 25).

What did Jesus give us to prepare us for these calamities? What was his antidote to the fear that was going to come?

He gave us the illustration of our Father watching the sparrow, of God numbering the very hairs on our heads. These illustrations become even more meaningful when we consider the context in which Jesus gave them.

He told these illustrations to his twelve disciples, as he sent them out to evangelize the cities and towns of Israel. He had just endowed them with power to cast out demons and heal all manner of sickness and disease. Think of what an exciting moment that had to be for the disciples. They were given power to work miracles and wonders! But then came these fearful warnings from their Master:

“You won’t have any money in your pocket. And you won’t have a home, not even a roof to sleep under. Instead, you’ll be called heretics and devils. You’ll be beaten in synagogues, dragged before judges, thrown into prison. You’ll be hated and despised, betrayed and persecuted. You’ll have to flee from city to city to avoid being stoned.”

Now picture these men wide-eyed as they listened to Jesus. They must have been gripped with fear. I imagine them wondering, “What kind of ministry is this? Is that what the future holds for me? This is the bleakest outlook on life I’ve ever heard.”

Yet, in this very same scene, Jesus told these beloved friends three times: “Fear not!” (Matthew 10:26, 28, 31). And he gave them the antidote to all fear: “The Father’s eye is always on the sparrow. How much more will it always be on you, his beloved ones?”

Jesus is saying, “When doubts flood in— when you’re at your wits’ end and you think no one sees what you’re going through—here is how to find rest and assurance. Look at the little birds outside your window. And run your fingers through your hair. Then remember what I told you, that these small creatures are of immense value to your Father. And your hairs are to remind you that you’re of much greater value to him. His eye is always on you. And he who sees and hears your every move is near.”

That is how our Father cares for us in hard times.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Through It All

As Paul faced his court trial in Rome, he was held under horrible conditions (see Philippians 1:13-14). He was guarded around the clock by soldiers of the Praetorian guard, his feet chained to a soldier on either side. These men were crude, hardened, cursing frequently. They’d seen it all, and to them in their line of work, every jailed man was a guilty criminal, including Paul.

Imagine the indignities Paul suffered in that situation. He had no time alone, not a single moment of freedom. Every visit from friends was closely monitored, with the guards probably ridiculing Paul’s conversations. It would have been so easy for that godly man’s dignity to be totally stripped away under that kind of treatment.

Think about it: Here was a man who had been very active, loving to travel the open road and high seas to meet and fellowship with God’s people. Paul drew his greatest joy from visiting the churches he had established throughout that region of the world. But now he was chained down, literally bound to the hardest, most profane men alive.

Paul had two options in his situation. He could spin out into a morbid, sour mood, asking the same self-centered question over and over: “Why me?” He could crawl into a pit of despair, reasoning himself into a hopeless depression, completely consumed with the thought, “Here I am bound up, with my ministry shut down, while others out there enjoy a harvest of souls. Why?”

Instead, Paul chose to ask, “How is my present situation going to bring glory to Christ? How can great good come out of my trial?” This servant of God made up his mind: “I can’t change my condition. I could very well die in this state. Yet, I know my steps are ordered by the Lord. Therefore I’m going to magnify Christ and be a testimony to the world while I’m in these chains.” “Now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

Paul’s attitude demonstrates the only way we can be emancipated from our dark pit of unhappiness and worry. You see, it’s possible to waste all our tomorrows anxiously waiting to be delivered out of our suffering. If that becomes our focus, we’ll totally miss the miracle and joy of being emancipated in our trial.

Consider Paul’s statement: “I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel” (Philippians 1:12). Paul is saying, “Don’t pity me or think I’m discouraged over my future. And please don’t say my work is finished. Yes, I’m in chains and suffering, but the gospel is being preached through it all.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Holding Forth The Word Of Life

Paul writes, “Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain” (Philippians 2:16). Paul was picturing the day when he would stand in Christ’s presence and the secrets of redemption would be unveiled.

Scripture says that on that day our eyes will be opened, and we’ll behold the Lord’s glory without rebuke from him. Our hearts will be set on fire as he opens all the mysteries of the universe and shows us his power behind it. Suddenly, we’ll see the reality of all that had been available to us in our earthly trials: the power and resources of heaven, the protective angels, the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit.

As we behold the awesomeness of these things, the Lord will say to us, “All along, my warriors were camped about you, an entire army of powerful messengers assigned to you. You were never in any danger from Satan. You never had any reason to fear your tomorrows.”

Then Christ will show us the Father, and what an overwhelming moment that will be. As we behold the majesty of our heavenly Father, we’ll fully realize his love and care for us, and suddenly the truth will come to us in full force: “This was, and is, and forever will be our Father, truly the great ‘I AM.’”

Here is why Paul “held forth” his word about God’s faithfulness. On that glorious day, he didn’t want to stand in the Lord’s presence thinking, “How could I have been so blind? Why didn’t I fully trust my Lord’s purposes? All my worries and questions were in vain.”

Paul is exhorting us: “I want to rejoice on that day, when my eyes are fully opened. I want to be able to enjoy every revelation knowing I trusted in his promises, that I didn’t go about my labors full of doubt. I want to know that I held forth the Word of life in all my reactions to my sufferings, that I fought a good fight, that I proved my Lord faithful.”

Paul then sums it up with the word: “This one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Philippians 3:13). In short, he thought it was impossible to place his future into the Lord’s hands without first laying down his past.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Rejoice In The Lord

“Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). These are Paul’s closing word to the Philippians. He wasn’t saying, “I am in prison and these chains are a blessing. I’m so happy for this pain.” I’m convinced Paul prayed daily for his release and at times cried out for strength to endure. Even Jesus, in his hour of trial and pain, cried to the Father, “Why have you forsaken me?” That is our first impulse in our afflictions, to cry out, “Why?” And the Lord is patient with that cry.

But God has also made provision so that our “what ifs” and “whys” can be answered by his Word. Paul writes, “Knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel…Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:17-18). He’s telling us, in other words, “I am determined God’s Word will be validated by my reaction to this affliction. I have set my mind that I won’t disgrace the gospel or make it seem powerless.

“The fact is, Christ is being preached by my calm countenance, by my rest in the midst of all this. Everyone who sees me knows that the gospel I preach takes me through these hard times. It proves that the Lord can take anybody through any situation, any fire or flood, and his gospel will be preached through the experience.”

Here is the message that I hear through Paul and Abraham: We don’t have to do something great for the Lord. We only have to trust him. Our role is to place our lives in God’s hands and believe he will care for us. If we simply do that, his gospel is being preached, no matter what our circumstances. And Christ will be revealed in us most especially in our difficult circumstances.

Sam, an elder in our church, once told me, “Pastor David, the way you respond to hard times is a testimony to me.” What Sam didn’t realize is that his life is a sermon to me. He lives with chronic pain that allows him to sleep no more than a few hours each night. Despite his constant, raging pain, his devotion to the Lord is a testimony to all of us. His life preaches Christ as powerfully as any of Paul’s sermons.

So, is Christ being preached in your present trial? Does your family see the gospel at work in you? Or do they see only panic, despair and questioning of God’s faithfulness? How are you responding to your affliction?

Monday, May 12, 2008

God Has Everything Under Control

The whole world is trembling right now over the outbreak of terror and calamities happening throughout the earth. Every day we wake up to learn of another disaster. Some observers say we are witnessing the beginnings of World War III.

Non-believers are becoming convinced there are no solutions left, that everything is spinning into chaos because there is no “all-seeing governance.” But God’s people know differently. We know there is no reason to fear, because the Bible reminds us again and again the Lord has everything under control. Nothing happens in the world without his knowledge and governance.

The Psalmist writes, “The kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations” (Psalm 22:28). Likewise, the prophet Isaiah declares to the world, “Come near, ye nations, to hear; and hearken, ye people: let the earth hear, and all that is therein” (Isaiah 34:1). He’s saying, “Listen, nations, and give me your ear. I want to tell you something important about the Creator of the world.”

Isaiah states that when God’s indignation is aroused against nations and their armies, it is the Lord himself who delivers them to slaughter. “Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance…. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing…. It is he [God] that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers…. To whom then will ye liken me?” (Isaiah 40:15, 17, 22, 25).

Isaiah then speaks to God’s people, who are battered and troubled by world events. He counsels, “Look up to the sky, to the glorious heavens. Behold the millions of stars placed there. Your God created and named every one. Are you not more precious to him than they are? So, fear not.”

We are to know there is a map in heaven, a plan that our Father has outlined for the course of history. And he knows the end from the beginning. As this plan comes to fruition, I believe we are to ask ourselves this question: “Where is the Lord’s eye focused in all this?” God’s eye is not focused on the world’s tin-god dictators or their threats.

Scripture assures us these wild men’s bombs, armies and powers are as nothing to the Lord. He laughs at them as mere specks of dust, and soon he will blow them all away (see Isaiah 40:23-24).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I Have Labored In Vain

Would it shock you to know that Jesus experienced the feeling of having accomplished little?

In Isaiah 49:4 we read these words: “Then I said, I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain….” Note that these are not the words of Isaiah, who was called by God at a mature age. No, they are Christ’s own words, spoken by One “called…from the womb; from the body of my mother…The Lord…formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, (and to gather Israel)” (49:1, 5).

When I came upon this passage, one that I’d read many times before, my heart was in wonder. I could hardly believe what I was reading. Jesus’ words here about “laboring in vain” were a response to the Father who had just declared, “Thou art my servant…in whom I will be glorified” (49:3). We read Jesus’ surprising response in the next verse: “I have labored in vain, I have spent my strength for nought” (49:4).

After reading this, I stood to my feet in my study and said, “How wonderful. I can hardly believe that Christ was this vulnerable, confessing to the Father that he was experiencing what we humans face. In his humanity, he tasted the same discouragement, the same despondency, the same woundedness. He was having the same thoughts I’ve had about my own life: ‘This isn’t what I perceived was promised. I wasted my strength. It has all been in vain.’”

Reading those words made me love Jesus all the more. I realized Hebrews 4:15 is not just a cliché: our Savior truly is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin. He’d known this very same temptation from Satan, hearing the same accusing voice: “Your mission is not accomplished. Your life has been a failure. You’ve got nothing to show for all your labors.”

Christ came into the world to fulfill the will of God by reviving Israel. And he did just as he was commanded. But Israel rejected him: “He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:11).

Why would Jesus, or any man or woman of God, speak such despairing words as these: “I have labored in vain”? How could the Son of God make such a statement? And why have generations of faithful believers been reduced to such despondent words? It is all the result of measuring little results against high expectations.

You may think, “This message sounds like it applies just to ministers, or to those called to do some great work for God. I can see it being meant for missionaries or the Bible prophets. But what does it have to do with me?” The truth is, we’re all called to one grand, common purpose, and to one ministry: that is, to be like Jesus. We are called to grow in his likeness, to be changed into his express image.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Dearly Beloved:

GRACE, PEACE AND MERCY TO YOU, IN CHRIST.

A scientist said of the catastrophe, “The whole world shook.” Another called it “the worst natural disaster in the world’s history.” They were describing the underwater earthquake that devastated entire coasts in Asia a few years ago. An island in the Indian Ocean moved nearly 100 feet. Tens of thousands were left dead. Just recently a powerful cyclone swept Myanmar leaving an estimated 100,000 feared dead.

When awful disasters of this magnitude strike, I always go to the Father with one question: “Lord, what is this all about? Is there something you’re trying to tell humankind? Was this simply an unexplainable accident of nature, or is there something your people ought to know as to why it happened?”

We all sorrow and mourn for the indescribable pain and misery endured by multitudes. We have prayed earnestly for those afflicted. Our ministry has sent thousands of dollars through Christian relief agencies to help rebuild churches and homes in devastated areas. Scripture tells us our heavenly Father is touched by the very feelings of the wounded. The Holy Spirit pours out comfort to all believers in the nations affected.

America is a giving nation and very compassionate. I thank God for the response of so many who prayed, gave and went to those areas to help. But something deep within my soul troubled me. The magnitude of the disaster didn’t sink in. We seem to be numbed, stupefied by it all.

I thank God for good reports of blessings in areas of the world, including America. But if we cannot be brought to our knees by such unleashed power – if we cannot humble ourselves after witnessing the worst natural disaster in world history, the entire globe trembling – what will it take to silence the God-mockers? Are we now shockproof?

Think of the expulsion of God from our society in the name of political correctness…the whole world turning to secularism and materialism…a church growing more worldly than the world itself…the rise of violence and apathy, more so than in Noah’s day…the Bible no longer being accepted as God’s Word…a day “when everything that can be shaken is being shaken”…when power is unleashed that was one million times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima…when thoughtful people everywhere have an intuition that “somebody is tinkering with nature, something is happening that cannot be explained away”…when society continues its business without a single “God pause,” without even a thought that God will not be mocked. THAT IS THE TIME WHEN WE HAVE COME NEAR OR CROSSED A LINE INTO A SPIRITUAL STUPOR THAT NO AMOUNT OF DIVINE MERCY CAN AWAKEN.

God is merciful, gracious and ready to forgive. Jesus died to save this lost world; he did not come to destroy, maim or pour out wrath. Out of the terror and pain of the passion of Christ, redemption came. May Jesus demonstrate his love and compassion through his disciples, as the day of the Lord approaches.

PS
Several days ago, a powerful cyclone swept Myanmar leaving an estimated 100,000 feared dead.

World Challenge responded immediately to help the survivors through ministries who are already on the ground. If you would like to help, please write a check payable to World Challenge Inc. and mail to P.O. Box 260, Lindale, TX 75771, earmark "Myanmar Cyclone".

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Be Steadfast And Unmovable

We have learned from Isaiah 49 that the Lord knows your battle. He has fought it before you. And it is no sin to endure thoughts that your labor has been in vain, or to be cast down with a sense of failure over shattered expectations. Jesus himself experienced this and was without sin.

It is very dangerous, however, to allow these hellish lies to fester and enflame your soul. Jesus showed us the way out of such despondency with this statement: “I have labored in vain…yet surely my judgment is with the Lord, and my work with my God” (Isaiah 49:4, italics mine). The Hebrew word for judgment here is “verdict,” Christ is saying, in effect, “The final verdict is with my Father. He alone passes judgment on all that I’ve done and how effective I’ve been.”

God is urging us through this verse: “Stop passing a verdict over your work for me. You have no business judging how effective you’ve been. And you have no right to call yourself a failure. You don’t yet know what kind of influence you’ve had. You simply don’t have the vision to know the blessings that are coming to you.” Indeed, we won’t know many such things until we stand before him in eternity.

In Isaiah 49, Jesus heard the Father say in so many words: “So, Israel is not yet gathered. Yes, I called you to bring in the tribes, and that has not happened in the way you imagined it. But that calling was only a little thing compared to what is coming for you. It’s nothing in comparison to what I have in store. I’m going to make you now a light for the whole world. You’re going to bring salvation to the whole earth” (see Isaiah 49:5-6).

While the devil is lying to you, saying that all you’ve done is in vain, that you’ll never see your expectations fulfilled, God in his glory is preparing a greater blessing. He has better things in store, beyond anything you could think or ask.

We’re not to listen to the enemy’s lies any longer. Instead, we’re to rest in the Holy Spirit, believing him to fulfill the work of making us more like Christ. And we are to rise up from our despair and stand on this word: “Be ye stedfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58).

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Give Me All Your Tomorrows

The Lord appeared to Abraham one day and gave him an incredible command: “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee” (Genesis 12:1).

What an amazing thing. Suddenly, God picked out a man and told him, “I want you to get up and go, leaving everything behind: your home, your relatives, even your country. I want to send you someplace, and I will direct you how to get there along the way.”

How did Abraham respond to this incredible word from the Lord? “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went” (Hebrews 11:8).

What was God up to? Why would he search the nations for one man, and then call him to forsake everything and go on a journey with no map, no preconceived direction, no known destination? Think about what God was asking of Abraham. He never showed him how he would feed or support his family. He didn’t tell him how far to go or when he would arrive. He only told him two things in the beginning: “Go,” and, “I will show you the way.”

In essence, God told Abraham, “From this day on, I want you to give me all your tomorrows. You’re to live the rest of your life putting your future into my hands, one day at a time. I’m asking you to commit your life to a promise that I am making to you, Abraham. If you will commit to do this, I will bless you, guide you and lead you to a place you never imagined.”

The place God wanted to lead Abraham is a place he wants to take every member of Christ’s body. Abraham is what Bible scholars call a “pattern man,” someone who serves as an example of how to walk before the Lord. Abraham’s example shows us what is required of all who would seek to please God.

Make no mistake, Abraham was not a young man when God called him to make this commitment. He probably had plans in place to secure his family’s future, so he had to be concerned over many considerations as he weighed God’s call. Yet Abraham “believed in the Lord; and [God] counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

The apostle Paul tells us that all who believe and trust in Christ are the children of Abraham. And, like Abraham, we are counted as righteous because we heed the same call to entrust all our tomorrows into the Lord’s hands.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Father Knows

Jesus calls us to a way of living that gives no thought about tomorrow and puts our future wholly into his hands: “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) For your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself” (Matthew 6:31-34).

Jesus doesn’t mean that we are not to plan ahead or do nothing about our future. Rather, he is saying, “Don’t be anxious or troubled about tomorrow.” When you think about it, most of our anxieties are about what might happen tomorrow. We’re constantly harassed by two little words: What if?

“What if the economy fails, and I lose my job? How will I pay the mortgage? How will my family be able to survive? And what if I lose my health insurance? If I get sick or have to be hospitalized, we’ll be ruined. Or, what if my faith fails me in trying times?” We all have a thousand “what if” anxieties.

Jesus interrupts our “what ifs” and tells us, “Your heavenly Father knows how to take care of you.” He tells us further, “You don’t need to worry. Your Fathers know you have need of all these things, and he won’t ever forsake you. He is faithful to feed you, clothe you and take care to supply all your needs.”

“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, not gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.... Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

“Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?” (Matthew 6:26, 28-30).

We gladly give all our yesterdays to the Lord, turning over to him our past sins. We trust him for forgiveness of all our past failures, doubts and fears. So, why don’t we do the same with our tomorrows? The truth is, most of us cling tightly to our future, wanting the right to hold on to our dreams. We make our plans independent of God, and then later ask him to bless and fulfill those hopes and desires.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Peace And Safety

There is one thing I dread above all others and that is that I would drift away from Christ. I shudder at the notion that I would become slothful, spiritually neglectful, caught up in prayerlessness, and go for days without seeking God’s Word. In my travels around the world I have witnessed a “spiritual tsunami” of evil drifting. Entire denominations have been caught up in the waves of this tsunami, leaving in their wake the ruins of apathy. The Bible warns clearly that it’s possible for devoted believers to drift from Christ.

A Christian who goes after “peace and safety at any cost” and merely hangs onto salvation pays a high spiritual price. So, how can we guard against drifting from Christ and neglecting “so great a salvation”? Paul tells us how: “Give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1).

God isn’t interested in our being able to “speed read” through His Word. Reading many chapters a day or trying to get through the Bible quickly may give us a good feeling of accomplishment. But what’s more important is that we “hear” what we read with spiritual ears, and meditate on it so that it’s “heard” in our hearts.

Staying steadfast in God’s Word was no small matter for Paul. He lovingly warns, “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1). He also says, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith: prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Paul isn’t suggesting to these believers that they’re reprobates. Rather, he’s urging them, “As lovers of Christ, test yourself. Take a spiritual inventory. You know enough about your walk with Jesus to know you’re loved by him, that he hasn’t turned from you, that you are redeemed. But ask yourself: How is your communion with Christ? Are you guarding it with all diligence? Are you leaning on him in your hard times?”

Perhaps you realize, “I see a bit of drifting in my life, a tendency to slumber. I know I’m praying less and less. My walk with the Lord isn’t as it should be.”

“We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14).

Saturday, May 3, 2008

AN IRONCLAD PROMISE

God has given us an ironclad promise for life on this earth. He says that when our enemy attempts to walk over us, “My people shall know my name: therefore they shall know that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I” (Isaiah 52:6). In other words, God says, “When you’re in your darkest trial, I will come and speak a word to you. You’ll hear me say, ‘It is I, Jesus, your Savior. Don’t be afraid.’”

In Matthew 14, the disciples were on a boat in an awful storm, being tossed about by torrents of wind and waves. Suddenly, the men saw Jesus walking toward them on the water. Scripture says, “When the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, it is a spirit; and they cried out for fear” (Matthew 14:26). What did Jesus do in that fearful moment? “Straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (14:27, italics mine).

I’ve wondered why Jesus used these particular words, “Be of good cheer.” Why would he say this to men who thought they were about to die?

The word cheer means “to be relieved, happy, released from fear.” And here, in the disciples’ time of distress, Jesus tied the word to his identity. Remember, these men knew him personally. And he expected them to act on his word by faith. He was saying, “The Father has promised I’ll come to you in your storm. It is written, ‘they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I’ (Isaiah 52:6, italics mine). Now I’ve come to you in your storm. It’s me, Jesus, here with you in the midst of it all. So, cheer up.” Likewise, our Savior expects the same faith reaction from us, in our distressing times.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The Deliverer

The Apostle Peter tells us, “If God…spared not the old world, but saved Noah…bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes…making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly; and delivered just Lot…[then] the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations” (2 Peter 2:4-9).

Despite the severity of these examples, God is sending a clear message of comfort to his people, as if to say: “I have just given you two of the greatest examples of my compassion. If, in the midst of a world-engulfing flood, I can deliver one righteous man and his family out of the havoc…then can I not deliver you also? Can I not provide a miraculous way of escape?

“If I can send down fire-and-brimstone judgment that consumes entire cities at a time, yet I manage to send angels into the chaos to deliver Lot and his daughters…then can I not also manage to send angels to deliver you out of your trials?”

The lesson here for the righteous is this: God will do whatever it takes to deliver his people out of fiery trials and temptations. Think about it: It took the opening of the Red Sea to deliver Israel out of the clutches of its enemy. It took water out of a rock to save those same Israelites from their wilderness trial. It took miracle bread, angels’ food literally sent from heaven, to spare them from hunger. And it took an ark to save Noah from the flood, and “angel escorts” to deliver Lot from fiery destruction. The clear point is that God knows how to deliver his people, and he will go to any extreme to accomplish it, no matter what their circumstance.

Peter’s phrase “God knoweth how to deliver” means simply, “He has already made plans.” The wonderful truth is that God already has plans for our deliverance even before we cry out to him. And he doesn’t sit on those plans; he only awaits our cry for help. We may be entangled in the struggle of a lifetime, wondering how God will deliver us, yet he is ready all at times to put his plan into action.

We see this illustrated in Jeremiah 29, when Israel was in captivity to Babylon. Here was perhaps the greatest trial God’s people had ever experienced, yet the Lord promised them: “After seventy years, I will visit you and perform my Word to you.”

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11). The last phrase literally means “to give you what you long for.” God wants us to keep praying so we’ll be ready for his deliverance.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Stand Still And Know

In 1958, I was brokenhearted over a news story about seven teenage boys who stood trial for murdering a crippled boy. The Holy Spirit stirred in me so strongly that I felt led to go to the New York courthouse where the trial was taking place, and I entered the courtroom convinced the Spirit had prompted me to try to talk to those youngsters.

As the day’s session came to a close, however, a realization began to dawn on me. I thought, “Those boys are going to be led out that side door in chains, and I will never see them again.” So I got up and made my way down the aisle toward the judge’s bench, where I asked to be allowed to talk with the boys before they returned to their cells.

In an instant, policemen pounced on me, and I was unceremoniously escorted from the courtroom. Flashbulbs popped all around me, and I was besieged with questions from reporters who were covering the trial. I could only stand there speechless, utterly dumbfounded, in a humiliating, embarrassing situation. I thought, “What will my church back home think? People are going to see me as crazy. I’ve been so naïve.”

In the midst of all this chaos, I prayed inside, “Lord, I thought you told me to come here. What went wrong?” I couldn’t pray out loud, of course, because the media would have thought I was even crazier than I appeared. (And I looked pretty silly already, as I was wearing a bow tie!)

God heard the cry of this poor man that day, and he has honored my silent cry ever since. You see, from that very pitiful scene in the courthouse, the Teen Challenge ministry was birthed, with a reach today that extends worldwide. And I happily share in David’s humble testimony from Psalm 34: “My soul shall make her boast in the Lord: the humble shall hear thereof, and be glad” (Psalm 34:2).

David is saying here, in essence, “I have something to tell all of God’s humble people on earth, now and in ages to come. As long as this world exists, the Lord will deliver everyone who calls out to him and trusts in him. In his incredible mercy and love, he delivered me, even though I made a very foolish move.”

All you need to know is that our blessed Lord hears every sincere cry, loud or unspoken, and he responds. Even if you acted foolishly or had a terrible failure of faith, you only need to get back to calling on your Deliverer. He is faithful to hear your cry and to act.