Monday, June 30, 2008

ONE PATH TO THE THRONE

You can’t weep your way into this heavenly place. You can’t study or work or will your way in. No, the only way to the throne-life is by way of a living sacrifice: “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

Paul is speaking from experience. Here is a man who was rejected, tempted, persecuted, beaten, jailed, shipwrecked, stoned. Paul also had all the cares of the church laid on him. Yet he testified, “In every condition, I have been content.”

Now he’s saying to us, “So, you want to know how I came into the knowledge of this heavenly walk? Do you want to know how I came to be content in whatever condition I was placed, how I came to find true rest in Christ? Here is the path, the secret to appropriating your heavenly position: Present your body as a living sacrifice to the Lord. I come into contentment only by the sacrifice of my own will.”

The Greek root for “living” here suggests “lifelong.” Paul is talking about a binding commitment, a sacrifice that’s made once in a lifetime. Yet, don’t misunderstand; this isn’t a sacrifice that has to do with propitiation for sin. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the only worthy propitiation: “Now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26).

No, Paul is talking about a different kind of sacrifice. Yet, make no mistake; God has no pleasure in the manmade sacrifices of the Old Testament. Hebrews tells us, “In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast no pleasure” (10:6). Why weren’t these sacrifices pleasing to the Lord? Simply put, they didn’t require the heart.

The sacrifice Paul describes is one that God takes great pleasure in, precisely because it involves the heart. What is this sacrifice? It is one of death to our will, of laying aside our self-sufficiency and abandoning our ambitions.

When Paul exhorts, “Present you body,” he’s saying, “Draw near to the Lord.” Yet, what does this mean, exactly? It means drawing near to God for the purpose of offering our entire selves to him. It means coming to him not in our own sufficiency, but as a resurrected child, as holy in Jesus’ righteousness, as being accepted by the Father through our position in Christ. The moment you resign your will to him, the sacrifice has been made. It happens when you give up the struggle of trying to please God on your own. This act of faith is the “reasonable service” Paul refers to. It’s all about trusting him with our will, believing he’ll provide all the blessings we need.

DELIGHT YOURSELF IN THE LORD

Our peace and contentment always depend upon our resignation into God’s hands, no matter what our circumstance. The psalmist writes, “Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart” (Psalm 37:4).

If you’ve fully resigned yourself into God’s hands, then you’re able to endure any and all hardships. Your Father’s desire is for you to be able to go about your daily business without fear or anxiety, totally trusting in his care. And your resignation to him has a very practical effect in your life. The more resigned you are to God’s care and keeping, the more indifferent you’ll be to the conditions around you.

If you are resigned to him, you won’t constantly be trying to figure out the next step. You won’t be scared by the frightful news swirling around you. You won’t be overwhelmed as you think about the days ahead because you’ve entrusted you life, family and future into your Lord’s safe and loving hands.

How worried or concerned do you think sheep are as they follow their shepherd? They are not worried at all, because they’re totally resigned to his leading them. Likewise, we are the sheep of Christ, who is our great Shepherd. So, why should we ever be concerned, disquieted or worried about our lives and futures? He knows perfectly how to protect and preserve his flock because he leads us in love!

In my own life, I’ve had to learn to trust God one problem at a time. Think about it: How can I say I trust God with everything, if I haven’t proven I can trust him with just one thing? Merely saying the words, “I trust the Lord completely,” isn’t sufficient. I have to prove this over and over again in my life, in many areas and in everyday things.

Many people living today have said, “I resign, I commit, I trust,” only after they say there was no other way out of their situation. But true resignation, the kind that pleases God, is done freely and willingly, prior to our coming to wit’s end. We are to act in agreement with the Lord, as Abraham did, giving God his life as a blank check, and letting the Lord fill it all in.

Friday, June 27, 2008

PRAYER IN TROUBLED TIMES

In perilous time like these, is the church powerless to do anything? Are we to sit and wait for Christ to return? Or, are we called to take drastic action of some kind? When all around us the world is trembling, with men’s hearts failing them for fear, are we called to take up spiritual weapons and do battle with the adversary?

The prophet Joel saw a similar day approaching Israel, one of “thick darkness and gloom.” According to Joel, the day of darkness that was approaching Israel would be one such as never seen in their history. The prophet cried, “Alas for the day! For the day of the Lord is at hand, and as a destruction from Almighty shall it come” (Joel 1:15).

What was Joel’s counsel to Israel in that dark hour? He brought this word: “Therefore…saith the Lord. Turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping and with mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments, and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him…?” (Joel 2:12-14).

As I read this passage, I am most struck by two words: “Even now.” As gross darkness fell over Israel, God appealed to his people: “Even now, at the hour of my vengeance—when you’ve pushed me out of your society, when mercy seems impossible, when humankind has mocked my warnings, when fear and gloom are covering the land—even now, I urge you to come back to me. I am slow to anger, and I have been known to hold back my judgments for a season, as I did for Josiah. My people can pray and petition for my mercy. But the world won’t repent if you say there is no mercy.”

Do you see God’s message to us in this? As his people, we can plead in prayer and he will hear us. We can make requests of him and know he will answer the sincere, effectual, fervent prayers of his saints.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

FEAR AND AWE

The prophets warn us that when we see God shaking the nations, and perilous times befall us, our natural man will fear greatly. Ezekiel asked, “Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the days that I shall deal with thee?” (Ezekiel 22:14).

When God warned Noah of his coming judgments and told him to build an ark, Noah was “moved with fear” (Hebrews 11:7). Even bold, courageous David said, “My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments” (Psalm 119:120). And when the prophet Habakkuk saw disastrous days ahead, he cried out, “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice: rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest in the day of trouble…” (Habakkuk 3:16).

Please note as you read theses passages: The fear that came upon these godly men wasn’t a fleshly fear, but a reverential awe of the Lord. These saints weren’t afraid of the enemy of their souls but they did fear God’s righteous judgments. And that’s because they understood the awesome power behind the approaching calamities. They didn’t fear the outcome of the storm, but rather God’s holiness!

Likewise, each of us will experience overwhelming fear in the coming times of destruction and disaster. But our fear must come from a holy reverence for the Lord, and never from a fleshly anxiety about our fate. God despises all sinful fear in us, the fear of losing material things, wealth, our standard of living.

All over the world, people are filled with this kind of fear, as they see their nations’ economies deteriorating. They’re afraid an economic flood will sweep away everything they’ve labored for throughout their lifetime. Such is the cry of unbelievers who have no hope. It ought not to be the cry of the godly. Indeed, if you’re a child of God, your heavenly father will not endure such unbelief in you. Isaiah warned: “…Who art thou, that thou shouldest be afraid of a man that shall die, and of the son of man which shall be made as grass; and forgettest the Lord thy maker…and hast feared continually every day because of the fury of the oppressor…” (Isaiah 51:12-13). “Sanctify the Lord of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread [awe]” (8:13).

Let God be your fear and awe. That kind of fear leads not to death, but to life!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

IN TIME OF NEED

Consider one of the most powerful promises in all of God’s Word:

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the sea; though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof…. There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early. The heathen raged, the kingdoms were moved: he uttered his voice, the earth melted. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge…. He maketh wars to cease” (Psalm 46:1-7, 9).

What a marvelous word. I’ve read this passage over and over, dozens of times, and I’m still overwhelmed by it. God’s Word to us here is so powerful, so immovable, he tells us, “Never again do you need to fear. It doesn’t matter if the whole world is in turmoil. The earth may quake, the oceans may swell, the mountains may crumble into the sea. Things may be in complete chaos, a total uproar all around you.

“But because of my Word, you’ll have peace like a river. While all the nations rage, powerful steams of joy will flow to my people. It will fill their hearts with gladness.”

Right now, the whole world is in a fearful time. Nations are trembling over terrorism, knowing no region is immune to the threats. Personal troubles and sufferings are mounting. Yet, in the midst of it all, Psalm 46 echoes to God’s people the world over: “I am in your midst. I am with you through it all. My people will not be destroyed or moved. I’m going to be an ever-present help to my church.”

God knows we all face deep needs; we all encounter turmoil, temptations, times of confusion that cause our souls to quake. His message for us in Psalm 46 is meant for just such times. He is saying that if we give in to fear, becoming downcast and full of despair, we’re living absolutely contrary to his reality in our lives.

It’s vital that you grasp what the Lord is telling us in this Psalm. Our God is available to us at any time, day or night. He’s continually at our right hand, willing to speak to us and to guide us. And he’s made this possible by giving us his Holy Spirit to abide in us. The Bible tells us that Christ himself is in us, and we are in him.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

THE BODY OF CHRIST

The apostle Paul instructs us, “Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Then he says more specifically, “As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members…being many, are one body: so also is Christ” (12:14).

Paul is telling us, “Take a look at your own body. You have hands, feet, eyes, ears. You are not just an isolated brain, unattached to the other members. Well, it’s the same way with Christ. He’s not just the head. He has a body, and we comprise its members.”

The apostle then points out, “We being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another” (Romans 12:5). In other words, we’re not just connected to Jesus, our head. We’re also joined to each other. The fact is, we can’t be connected to him without also being joined to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul drives this point home, saying, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Simply put, we’re all fed by the same food: Christ, the manna from heaven. “The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (John 6:33).

Jesus often spoke to his disciples in parables and each parable contained a hidden truth of God. These secrets have been shared by Father, Son and Holy Ghost from before creation: “I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 13:35). Jesus testifies that these hidden truths are revealed only to those who take time to seek them.

Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life…I am the living bread which came down from heaven…he that eateth me, even he shall live by me” (John 5:35, 51, 57). The image of bread here is important. Our Lord is telling us, “If you come to me, you’ll be nourished. You’ll be attached to me, as a member of my body. Therefore, you’ll receive strength from the life-flow that’s in me.” Indeed, every member of his body draws strength from a single source: Christ, the head. Everything we need to lead an overcoming life flows to us from him.

This bread is what distinguishes us as members of his body. We are set apart from the rest of humanity because we dine from a single loaf: Jesus Christ. “We are all partakers of that one bread” (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Monday, June 23, 2008

THE PROMISED LAND

I believe that Psalm 46 is a picture of the New Testament “promised land.” Indeed, Psalm 46 represents the divine rest referred to in Hebrews: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). This Psalm describes this rest to God’s people. It speaks of his ever-present strength, his help in time of trouble, his peace in the midst of chaos. God’s presence is with us at all times, and his help always arrives on time.

Israel rejected this rest: “They despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word” (Psalm 106:24). Sadly, the church today is much like Israel. In spite of God’s great promises to us—his assurance of peace, help and full supply—we don’t trust him fully. Instead, we complain, “Where is God in my trial? Is he with me or not? Where is any evidence of his presence? Why does he keep letting these hardships pile up on me?”

Today, I hear the Lord asking his church, “Do you believe I still speak to my people? Do you believe I desire to give you my help and guidance? Do you truly believe I want to speak to you daily, hourly, moment by moment?” Our response has to be like David’s. That godly man shook all hell when he made this statement about the Lord: “He spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast” (Psalm 33:9).

Here is God’s promise to every generation who would believe his Word that he desires to speak to us: “The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations” (33:11). The Creator of the universe wants to share his very thoughts with us!

Scripture make it clear: Our God spoke to his people in the past, he’s speaking to his people now, and he’ll continue to speak to us till the very end of time. More to the point, God wants to speak to you about your problem today. He may do it through his Word, through a godly friend, or through the Spirit’s still, small voice, whispering, “This is the way, walk in it.”

No matter what means he uses, you will recognize his voice. The sheep know the voice of their Shepherd. And he is faithful to “(preserve) the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 97:10).

Friday, June 20, 2008

LORD JESUS, COME QUICKLY, COME SOON!

In Revelation, Jesus announces, “Behold, I come quickly: blessed is he that keepeth the sayings of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7). Five verses later Christ says, “Behold I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (22:12).

Here is the cry of all who look expectantly for Jesus’ return: “The Spirit and the bride say, Come” (22:17). This refers to the bride of Christ, made up of a worldwide body of believers under his Lordship. All these servants are born-again, blood-cleansed believers.

You may ask, “I understand this is the believer’s heart-cry. But why would the Spirit also cry to Jesus, ‘Come’?” It is because this is the Holy Ghost’s last prayer, knowing his work on earth is almost completed. Like Paul or Peter who were told by God their time was short, the Spirit likewise cries, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

So, where do we hear this cry of the Spirit today? It comes through those who are seated with Christ in heavenly places, who live and walk in the Spirit, their bodies the temple of the Holy Ghost. The Spirit cries in and through them, “Hasten, Lord, come.”

When was the last time you prayed, “Lord Jesus, come quickly, come soon”? Personally, I can’t remember praying this prayer. I never knew I could hasten Christ’s coming by allowing the Spirit to pray this prayer through me. Yet Peter gives us proof of this incredible truth: “Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat” (2Peter 3:12). In Greek, the phrase “hasting…the coming of (that) day” means “to speed up, to urge on.” Peter says our expectant prayers are hastening, speeding up, urging the Father to send back his Son quickly.

The Lord’s merciful patience dictates the timing of his return. So, does this mean we shouldn’t pray for his coming? Not at all. Christ himself tells us, “In those days shall be affliction, such as was not from the beginning of the creation which God created unto this time, neither shall be. And except that the Lord had shortened those days, no flesh should be saved; but for the elect’s sake, whom he hath chosen, he hath shortened the days” (Mark 13:19-20). Imagine what might happen if, all over the world, Christ’s bride were to wake up and pray in the Spirit, “Jesus, come.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

BOUND TO THE LIVING WORD

The Lord rules over all of creation with majesty and power. His laws govern the whole universe—all of nature, every nation and all the affairs of men. He rules over the seas, the planets, the heavenly bodies and all their movements. The Bible tells us: “He ruleth by his power for ever; his eyes behold the nations” (Psalm 66:7). “The Lord reigns, he is clothed with majesty; the Lord is clothed with strength… Thy throne is established of old: thou art from everlasting…. Thy testimonies are very sure” (93:1-2, 5).

These Psalms were written by David, who is testifying, in essence: “Lord, your testimonies—your laws, decrees and words—are irrevocable. They are utterly reliable.” The author of Hebrews echoes this, declaring that God’s Living Word is eternal and unchangeable: “the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Think about it: There are laws operating in the universe that govern how things work, without exception. Consider the laws that rule the movements of the sun, moon, stars and earth. These heavenly bodies were all put into place when God spoke a word, and since that time they have been ruled by laws that God also spoke into being.

We’re told throughout the New Testament that this great God is our Father and that he takes pity on his children. Hebrews tells us the Lord is touched with the feelings of our infirmities, and that he hears our every cry and bottles every tear. Yet we’re also told that he is the righteous King who judges by his law. And his Word is his constitution, containing all of his legal decrees, by which he rules justly. Everything in existence is judged by his immutable Word.

Simply put, we can hold the Bible in our hands and know, “This book tells me who God is. It describes his attributes, nature, promises and judgments. It is his rule of law, from his own mouth, by which he rules and reigns. And it is a Word to which he has bound himself.”

Every earthly judge is bound to determine the case before him according to the established law. God rules and judges everything before him according to the eternal law—that is, his own established Word. When the Lord makes a ruling, he speaks by his living Word, a Word to which he has bound himself.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

BOLDY

“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Ephesians 3:12). These verses speak of coming to God boldly with our pressing needs, which pleases him.

When God tells us to come to his throne boldly, with confidence, it is not a suggestion. It’s his preference, and it is to be heeded. So, where do we obtain this boldness, this access-with-confidence, for prayer?

“The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16). The word “effectual” here comes from a Greek root word that means “a fixed position.” It suggests an unmovable, unshakeable mindset. Likewise, “fervency” speaks of a boldness built on solid evidence, absolute proof that supports your petition. Together these two words—effectual fervency”—mean coming into God’s court fully convinced that you have a well-prepared case. It is beyond emotions, loudness, pumped-up enthusiasm.

Such prayer can only come from a servant who searches God’s Word and is fully persuaded that the Lord is bound to honor it. Indeed, it is important that none of us goes into God’s presence without bringing his Word with us. The Lord wants us to bring his promises, remind him of them, bind him to them and stand on them.

We see this demonstrated in Acts 10, when Peter was given a vision. God told the apostle, “Some men are coming to your door, and they will ask you to go with them. I have sent these men, Peter, so I want you to go with them, doubting nothing.”

What does this passage tell us? It says that when God has declared something to be true, we are to believe and stand on it, without consulting our flesh. We simply cannot measure the reliability of God’s Word by examining our situation or our worthiness. If we do, we’ll end up only seeing that we’re unworthy. And we’ll talk ourselves out of claiming his Word and appropriating it.

Moreover, we have been given help to approach God’s throne of grace. The Bible says we are petitioners at his throne, and that Christ is there as our intercessor or advocate. We also have the Holy Ghost standing beside us in the Father’s court. The Spirit is our “paraclete,” one who serves as our advisor. He stands by to remind us of the eternal decrees and divine constitution that make up God’s Word.

And so we have these incredible promises—of an advocate and an advisor, standing beside us—to give us boldness and assurance in coming to God’s throne.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

EVER-PRESENT HELP

God has promised us, “In your time of trouble—when you face a persistent, ever-present evil—I will be your ever-present help” (Psalm 46:1).

The phrase “ever present” means “always here, always available, with unlimited access.” In short, the abiding presence of the Lord is always in us. And if he’s ever present in us, then he wants continual conversation with us. He wants us to talk with him no matter where we are: on the job, with family, with friends, even with non-believers.

I refuse to accept the lie Satan has thrust upon so many of God’s people today: that the Lord has stopped speaking to his people. The enemy wants us to think God has allowed Satan to grow in power and influence, but that he hasn’t equipped his own people with greater authority. No, never! Scripture says, “When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him” (Isaiah 59:19). It doesn’t matter what the devil brings against us. God’s power in his people will always be greater than Satan’s assaults.

This verse from Isaiah actually refers to the flag-bearer who rode ahead of Israel’s army. The Lord always led his people into battle behind his own mighty standard. Likewise today, God has a glorious army of heavenly hosts who ride forth under his banner, ready to execute his battle plans on our behalf.

You may ask, “So how does God bring us help in our troubles?” His help comes in the gift of his Holy Spirit, who dwells in us and works the Father’s will in our lives. Paul tells us again and again that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. We are the Lord’s dwelling place on earth.

Of course, we repeat this truth often, in our worship and testimonies. Yet, many of us still don’t take it seriously. We simply don’t understand the power that resides in this truth. If we did grasp it and trust in it, we would never again be afraid or dismayed.

I certainly haven’t laid hold of this lesson fully. Even after all my years as a minister, I’m still tempted to think I have to work up some emotion in order to hear from God. No, the Lord is saying: “You don’t have to spend hours waiting for me. I abide in you. I am present for you, night and day.”

Listen to David’s testimony: “I will bless the Lord, who hath given me counsel: my reins also instruct me in the night seasons. I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved” (Psalm 16:7-8). David is declaring, “God is always present before me. And I’m determined to keep him in my thoughts. He faithfully guides me day and night. I don’t ever have to be confused.”

Monday, June 16, 2008

THE LORD’S MERCIES NEVER FAIL

The Bible tells us that the Lord is no respecter of persons. And because he doesn’t show favoritism—because his promises never change from generation to generation—we can ask him to show us the same mercies he has shown his people through history. King Mahasseh sinned worse than any king before him yet when he repented, he was restored (see 2 King 21:1-18).

The Lord’s mercies never fail, and his precedent examples of past mercies should provide each of us with bold assurance to bring our own requests to him. So, dear saint, when you fear you may have sinned too often against the Lord’s mercy…when you think you’ve crossed a line, and God has given up on you…when you’re discouraged, cast down by failure or by unChrist-like behavior…when you wonder if God is putting you on a shelf, or withholding his love from you because of past sins—if you truly have a repentant heart, then lay hold of this truth: GOD CHANGES NOT.

Bind God to his Word. Write down every remembrance you have of what he has done for you in past years. Then go to Scripture and find other instances of his “mercy precedents” with his people. Bring these lists before the Lord and remind him: “God, you cannot deny your own Word. You are the same yesterday, today and forever.”

I urge you, do not neglect doing this. Often we rush into God’s presence making our requests passionately and zealously. But we wilt in our time of prayer, because we don’t come to his throne prepared. We must have a fixed position when we come to God. True boldness doesn’t begin with emotions; it begins when we are fully persuaded. And so we must build a case beforehand not just to present to God, but to fortify our own faith.

Today we have something that the Old Testament saints could only dream of. And that is God’s own Son seated at the right hand of the Father-Judge. We know the Son, because he is our blood-covenant brother, by adoption. And we are able to claim our blood-tie to him whenever we stand before the Judge and bind him to his own arguments: “Father, I have nothing to bring you but your own Word. You promised that I would be complete in Christ, that you would keep me from falling, and Jesus would be my intercessor. You promised you would open your ears to my petition and supply all my needs. Oh, Lord, have mercy and grace on me now, in my hour of need. Amen!”

I truly believe that God is wonderfully blessed when we approach his throne with this kind of boldness, binding him to his own Word. It’s as if he says to us, “Finally, you got it. You bless me!”

Friday, June 13, 2008

THE DAY OF CHRIST IS AT HAND

Paul wrote, “We beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, that ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand” (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2).

Scoffers point out, “See, someone in the early church shook up believers with the message that Christ was about to come. And Paul told them, ‘No, don’t worry about it. Don’t let it trouble or concern you.’”

But that is not what the original Greek reveals. The root word is “[be not shaken]…that the day of the Lord has come.” What disturbed the Thessalonians was they thought Christ had already come, and that they’d missed it. Paul reassures them in the next verse, “Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2:3). Paul was only addressing their fears when he said, “Don’t be worried, because two things have to happen first.”

So, what was Paul’s primary theology about Christ’s return? We find it in two passages: “Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand” (Romans 13:11-12). “Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand” (Philippians 4:5). Paul is crying, “Wake up! It’s past midnight already. The Lord’s coming is drawing near, so stir yourself. Don’t be slothful. Jesus is coming for those who expect him.”

Skeptics may ask, “But what about Paul’s own words? He did say two things had to happen before Christ returns. First, the Lord can’t come until a great apostasy takes place. And second, the Antichrist has to rise up and proclaim himself God. We have to see the Antichrist sitting in the temple, demanding that people worship him, before Jesus will come.”

First of all, you have to be willfully blind not to see a raging apostasy gripping the whole world. Unbelief is seeping through nations, with believers falling away from faith on all sides. The apostasy Paul refers to has clearly arrived.

Some may say, “Paul clearly says Jesus can’t come until the Antichrist is in power.” Consider what Scripture says: “Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son” (1 John 2:22). According to John, the Antichrist is anyone who denies the Father and the Son. Moreover, he says, the increase of such Antichrists is proof we are living in the very last days. In short, nothing is hold ing back Christ’s return!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

GOD USES PEOPLE

God uses people to refresh other people. He so loves this kind of ministry that he moved the prophet Malachi to speak of it as a most-needed work in the last days. Malachi described how, in his day, God’s people built each other up through one-on-one edification: “They that feared the Lord spoke often one to another” (Malachi 3:16).

When did this happen, exactly? Malachi’s words came during a time of rampant ungodliness, when the “devourer” had destroyed much fruit in the land. God’s people had grown weary and started to doubt that walking with the Lord was worth it. They thought, “We’re told it pays to serve the Lord, obey his Word and carry his burdens. But as we look around at the proud and the compromisers, they’re the ones who seem happy. They’re pursuing prosperity, living carelessly, enjoying life to the fullest.”

The Holy Spirit began to move in Israel, and soon the fear of the Lord came upon a God-hungry people. Suddenly everyone in Israel, young and old, became one-on-one missionaries. By the Spirit’s prompting, people opened up to one another, edifying each other and building up and comforting those around them.

I’m convinced Malachi’s word about this ministry is a mirror image of the present day. He has given us a picture of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the last days, as God’s people stop gossiping and complaining and instead minister refreshing. It’s happening by phone, by letter, by e-mail, and face to face. And God is so pleased with this ministry, we’re told he writes everything down. Every kind word spoken, every call made, every letter written, every effort to comfort the downcast is recorded in a “book of remembrance.” And the Bible says each of us whose deeds are written down will be precious to him: “They shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels” (Malachi 3:17).

Be a Titus to someone who’s downcast in spirit. Pray to have the spirit of Onesiphorus, who sought out the hurting to bring them to healing. Think of it: You’ve been given all the power of heaven to refresh a hurting believer, someone who needs the consolation that God has given uniquely to you. Yes, there are people who need you and the Lord intends your past consolations to bring refreshing to them. Call that someone today and say, “Brother, sister, I want to pray for and encourage you. I’ve got a good word for you.”

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

ACCESS TO GOD

I sought the Lord in prayer and I asked him, “What is the most important aspect of your making us your temple?” Here’s what came to me: access with boldness and confidence.

Paul says of Christ, “In whom we have boldness and access with confidence by the faith of him” (Ephesians 3:12).

In the Jewish temple, there was very little access to God. In fact, such access was available only to the high priest, and then only once a year. When the time came, the priest entered God’s presence in the temple with fear and trembling. He knew he could be struck down for approaching the mercy seat with unforgiven sin in his heart.

Today God has emerged from that small, restricted room. And he has come directly to us in all our disgrace and corruption. He tells us, “I’ve come to live in you. You don’t have to hide your filth and despair from me. I’ve chosen you because I want you and I’m about to turn your body into my home, my dwelling place, my residence.

“I’ll send my Holy Spirit, who will sanctify you. He’s going to clean and sweep out every room, to prepare your heart as my bride, but that’s not all. I’m going to seat you right next to me and I’ll urge you to come boldly to my throne, with confidence. You see, I want you to ask me for power, grace, strength, everything you need. I’ve brought heaven down into your souls, so you can have access to it all. You’re rich, yet you don’t even realize it. You’re an heir to all my glory.”

The sole reason your body is holy is because the Holy Ghost lives there. And it’s kept holy only by his continual presence and power. You can’t do it. You’d become a nervous wreck just trying to guard all the entrances. You’d get discouraged when you failed to keep out all the dust and filth that blows in. You’d get weary by running from room to room, sweeping and polishing, trying to make things look good.

Every Christian ought to rejoice in this fact: God is in you! And he is with you always, so who can be against you?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

ENLARGEMENT OF HEART

The evangelists George Whitefield and John Wesley were two of the greatest preachers in history. These men preached to thousands in open meetings, on the streets, in parks and prisons, and through their ministries many were brought to Christ. But a doctrinal dispute arose between the two men over how a person is sanctified. Both doctrinal camps defended their positions strongly, and some vicious words were exchanged, with the followers of both men arguing in unseemly fashion.

A follower of Whitefield came to him one day and asked, “Will we see John Wesley in heaven?” He was asking, in effect, “How can Wesley be saved if he’s preaching such error?”

Whitefield answered, “No, we will not see John Wesley in heaven. He will be so high up near Christ’s throne, so close to the Lord, that we won’t be able to see him.”

Paul called this kind of spirit “enlargement of heart.” And he had it himself as he wrote to the Corinthians, a church in which some had accused him of hardness and who had sneered at his preaching. Paul assured them, “O ye Corinthians, our mouth is open unto you, our heart is enlarged” (2 Corinthians 6:11).

When God enlarges your heart, suddenly so many limits and barriers are removed! You don’t see through a narrow lens anymore. Instead, you find yourself being directed by the Holy Spirit to those who are hurting. And the hurting are drawn to your compassionate spirit by the Holy Ghost’s magnetic pull.

So, do you have a gentleness of heart when you see hurting people? When you see a brother or sister who has stumbled in sin or may be having problems, are you tempted to tell them what’s wrong in their lives? Paul says that hurting ones need to be restored in a spirit of meekness and gentleness. They need to encounter the spirit that Jesus demonstrated.

Here is the cry of my heart for my remaining days: “God, take away all narrowness from my heart. I want your spirit of compassion for those who are hurting…your spirit of forgiveness when I see someone who’s fallen…your spirit of restoration, to take away their reproach.

“Take away all exclusiveness from my heart, and enlarge my capacity to love my enemies. When I approach someone who’s in sin, let me not go in judgment. Instead, let the well of water springing up in me be a river of divine love for them. And let the love that’s shown to them kindle in them a love for others.”

Monday, June 9, 2008

GOD LOVES THE CHURCH

The true church of Jesus Christ is the apple of the Lord’s eye. Yet from the beginning, his church has experienced apostasies and false teachers. The earliest churches—those apostolic bodies founded by Paul and the apostles—had the full counsel of God taught to them. Nothing “profitable to growth and steadfastness” was withheld from Christ’s followers. They were given truth, not only in word but in demonstration and power of the Holy Ghost.

Paul warned Timothy that a time was coming when some of God’s people “will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lust shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables [so-called mystical truths]” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

History records that this happened just as Paul had predicted. After the apostles died—and the generation that sat under their teaching had passed away—a conspiracy of wicked error flooded the church. Believers were seduced by strange doctrines, and science and philosophy eroded the truth of Christ’s gospel.

Consider what Paul said of the purity of Christ’s church: “Christ…loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle…but that it should be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:25-27).

God’s great concern is not about the apostate church. Even apostasies will not be able to kill or destroy the church of Jesus Christ. In spite of these problems, God has everything under control, and his mystical, invisible, overcoming church is not dying. Rather, the river of the Holy Spirit is flowing into the “dead sea” of apostate churches, exposing iniquity and lukewarmness. And it’s causing new life to spring up.

Those who are turned from the dead, lifeless churches may be but just a remnant. Nevertheless, Jesus declared: “The fields are ripe for harvest. And there is still time for laborers to go forth.” Nowhere in the Bible does it say that the Holy Spirit has fled the scene, leaving behind a withered harvest. God’s Spirit is still at work, convicting, wooing and drawing the lost to Christ, including those in apostasy.

The cloud of heavenly witnesses would tell us not to look for judgment, not to focus on “holding the fort.” It is still the day of the Holy Spirit, who is waiting to fill every willing vessel.

God still loves his church, blemishes and all!

Friday, June 6, 2008

BE READY

In Matthew 24 Jesus uses a parable to teach about being ready for his return: “Be ye also ready: for in such an hour as you think not the Son of man cometh. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, who his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Verily I say unto you, That he shall make him ruler over all his goods.

“But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:44-51).

Note that Jesus is speaking about servants here, meaning believers. One servant is called faithful and the other evil. What makes the latter evil in God’s eyes? According to Jesus, it’s something he “shall say in his heart” (24:48). This servant doesn’t voice such a thought and he doesn’t preach it. But he thinks it. He has sold his heart on the demonic lie, “The Lord delays his coming.” Notice he doesn’t say, “The Lord isn’t coming,” but “he delays his coming.” In other words, “Jesus won’t come suddenly or unexpectedly. He won’t return in my generation.”

This “evil servant” is clearly a type of believer, perhaps even one in ministry. He was commanded to “watch” and “be ready,” “for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matthew 24:44). Yet this man eases his conscience by accepting Satan’s lie.

Jesus shows us the fruit of this kind of thinking. If a servant is convinced that the Lord has delayed his coming, then he sees no need for right living. He isn’t compelled to make peace with his fellow servants. He doesn’t see the need to preserve unity in his home, at work, in church. He could smite his fellow servants, accuse them, hold grudges, destroy their reputations. As Peter says, this servant is driven by his lusts. He wants to live in two worlds, indulging in evil living while believing he’s safe from righteous judgment.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

THE LIES OF THE ENEMY

In our times of trial and temptation, Satan comes to us bringing lies: “You’re surrounded now and there is no way out. Greater servants than you have quit in circumstances no worse than this. Now it’s your turn to go down. You’re a failure, otherwise you wouldn’t be going through this. There’s something wrong with you and God is sorely displeased.”

In the midst of his trial, Hezekiah acknowledged his helplessness. The king realized he had no strength to stop the voices raging at him, voices of discouragement, threats and lies. He knew he couldn’t deliver himself from the battle, so he sought the Lord for help. And God answered by sending the prophet Isaiah to Hezekiah with this message: “The Lord has heard your cry. Now, tell the Satan at your gate, ‘You’re the one who is going down. By the way you came here, you will also go out.’”

Hezekiah had very nearly fallen for the enemy’s trick. The fact is, if we don’t stand up to Satan’s lies—if, in our hour of crisis, we don’t turn to faith and prayer, if we don’t draw strength from God’s promises of deliverance—the devil will zero in on our wavering faith and intensify his attacks.

Hezekiah gained courage from the word he received, and he was able to say to Sennacherib in no uncertain terms: “Devil king, you did not blaspheme me. You lied to God himself. My Lord is going to deliver me. And because you blasphemed him, you will face his wrath!”

The Bible tells us that God supernaturally delivered Hezekiah and Judah on that very night: “It came to pass that night, that the angel of the Lord went out, and smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand: and when they arose early in the morning, behold, they were all dead corpses” (2 Kings 19:35).

Believers today stand not just on a promise but also on the shed blood of Jesus Christ. And in that blood we have victory over every sin, temptation and battle we will ever face. Maybe you’ve received a letter from the devil lately. I ask you: Do you believe God has the foreknowledge to anticipate your every trial? Your every foolish move? Your every doubt and fear? If so, you have the example of David before you, who prayed, “This poor man cried, and the Lord delivered him.” Will you do the same?

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

PEACE AND THE HOLY SPIRIT

On whom does Jesus bestow his peace? You may think, “I’m not worthy of living in Christ’s peace. I have too many struggles in my life. My faith is so weak.”

You would do well to consider the men to whom Jesus first gave his peace. None of them was worthy, and none had a right to it.

Think about Peter. Jesus was about to bestow his peace on a minister of the gospel who would soon be spewing out cursings. Peter was zealous in his love for Christ, but he was also going to deny him.

Then there was James and his brother John, men with a competitive spirit, always seeking to be recognized. They asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand when he ascended to his throne in glory.

The other disciples were no more righteous. They simmered with anger at James and John for trying to upstage them. There was Thomas, a man of God who was given to doubt. All of the disciples were so lacking in faith, it amazed and stressed Jesus. Indeed, in Christ’s most troubling hour, they would all forsake him and flee. Even after the Resurrection, when the word spread that “Jesus is risen,” the disciples were slow to believe.

But there’s even more. These were also confused men. They did not understand the ways of the Lord. His parables confused them. After the Crucifixion, they lost any sense of unity they had, scattering in all directions.

What a picture: These men were full of fear, unbelief, disunity, sorrow, confusion, competitiveness, pride. Yet it was to these same troubled servants that Jesus said, “I am going to give you my peace.”

The disciples weren’t chosen because they were good or righteous; that much is clear. Nor was it because they had talent or abilities. They were fishermen and day laborers, meek and lowly. Christ called and chose the disciples because he saw something in their hearts. As he looked into them, he knew each one would submit to the Holy Spirit.

At this point, all that the disciples had was a promise from Christ of his peace. The fullness of that peace was yet to be given to them, at Pentecost. That’s when the Holy Spirit would come and dwell in them. We receive the peace of Christ from the Holy Spirit. This peace comes to us as the Spirit reveals Christ to us. The more of Jesus you want, the more the Spirit will show you of him—and the more of Christ’s actual peace you will have.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

GOD’S GREAT CONCERN

In the midst of this worldwide “shaking of all things,” what is God’s great concern in all of this? Is it on the events of the Middle East? No. The Bible tells us God’s vision is trained on his children: “Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy” (Psalm 33:18).

Our Lord is aware of every move on the earth, by every living thing. And yet his gaze is focused primarily on the well-being of his children. He fixes his eyes on the pains and needs of each member of his spiritual body. Simply put, whatever hurts us concerns him.

To prove this to us, Jesus said, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Even in the midst of great world wars, God’s primary focus isn’t on the tyrants. His focus is on every circumstance in his children’s lives.

Christ says in the very next verse: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” (Matthew 10:29). In Christ’s day, sparrows were the meat of the poor and sold two for a penny. Yet, Jesus said, “Not one of these small creatures falls to the ground without your Father knowing it.”

Jesus’ use of the word “fall” in this verse signifies more than the bird’s death. The Aramaic meaning is “to light upon the ground.” In other words, “fall” here indicates every little hop a tiny bird makes.

Christ is telling us, “Your Father’s eye is on the sparrow not just when it dies but even when it lights on the ground. As a sparrow learns to fly, it falls from the nest and begins to hop along the ground. And God sees every little struggle it has. He’s concerned over every detail of its life.”

Jesus then adds, “Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows” (10:31). Indeed, he says, “The very hairs of your head are numbered” (10:30). Simply put, the One who made and counted all the stars—who monitored every action of the Roman Empire, who keeps the galaxies in their orbits—has his eye fixed on you. And, Jesus asks, “Are you not worth much more to him?”

Monday, June 2, 2008

AMAZING PEACE!

Jesus gives us more than one reason why we need his peace. Christ said to his disciples in John 14:30, “The prince of this world cometh.” What was the context of his statement? He had just told the twelve, “Hereafter I will not talk much with you” (14:30). Then he explained why: “For the prince of this world cometh.”

Jesus knew Satan was at work in that very hour. The devil had already enlisted Judas to betray him. And Christ knew that the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem was being empowered by the principalities of hell. He was also aware that a devil-inspired mob was coming shortly to take him prisoner. That’s when Jesus said to the disciples, “Satan, the wicked one, is coming. So, I won’t be talking to you much more.”

Jesus knew he needed time with the Father to prepare for the coming conflict. He was about to be delivered into evil men’s hands, just as he had spoken. And he knew that Satan was doing all he could to shake his peace. The devil would harass and attempt to discourage him, all in an effort to break Christ’s faith in the Father—anything to get him to avoid the Cross.

You may be in turmoil, thinking, “It’s over. I’m not going to make it.” But Jesus says “I know what you’re going through. Come and drink of my peace.”

Right now you may be going through the hardest time you’ve ever faced. Your life may be unsettled and things may look hopeless. There seems to be no way out for you and every avenue you turn to fills you with more stress, confusion and weariness.

It doesn’t matter what you’re going through. Your life may look like it was struck by a tornado. You may endure trials that cause others to look at you as a modern-day Job. But in the midst of your troubles, when you call on the Holy Spirit to baptize you in the peace of Christ, he will do it.

People will point to you and say, “That person’s world has come completely apart. Yet he’s determined to trust God’s Word, live or die. How can he do it? How does he go on? He should have quit long ago. Yet he hasn’t given up. And through it all, he hasn’t compromised anything he believes. What amazing peace! It’s beyond understanding.”