Friday, August 29, 2008

HE DOES IT THROUGH LIFE

Let me tell you how God brings people into his house, how he speaks to them, and how he saves them. He does it through life. The Lord builds his church through the testimonies of light shining forth from those who love him. And he’s able to do this not because these servants use the right methods, but because they live the life.

Christ’s life produces light in homes, in neighborhoods, in cities, in workplaces. How is this life obtained? It comes down to every saint living right, beyond reproach, as examples of God’s mercy. Such servants deal honestly, selflessly, with no dark part in them. They lead lives wholly devoted to Jesus, and are ready to serve others at all times.

Paul speaks of servants who “knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness” (Romans 2: 18-19). Such saints as Paul describes are to be commended.

Let me give you an example of such light. Recently, the CEO of a company in New York called our church. Pastor Neil took the call. The CEO told Pastor Neil about two women from our church who work for him. He said they weren’t like the others in his office. These two women were always courteous, smiling, helpful to others, never complaining or backbiting. “There’s something different about them,” he said. “I would like to meet with you to find out what the difference is.”

These women were heavenly candlesticks, placed in their jobs by Jesus. And the light they shone lit up the entire workplace. How? They had the life of Christ in them. Their boss recognized it as something beyond what this world has to offer.

That CEO was Jewish. Do you think he would have responded to an invitation to a revival meeting? Would he have read a packet of materials produced by a church? No, he would have tossed it all into “File 13” and never looked at it again. This man responded to true light—a light born of lives hid in Christ, and being lived out daily by two humble women.

We are only able to bring light to our communities as we are full of Christ’s life ourselves. We have to live out the message we bring, if we are to preach it with any power. God help us to remember that the light shines through in the little things of life.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

THE PRODIGAL AND HIS FATHER

I believe the prodigal son (see Luke 15) came home because of his history with his father. This young man knew his father’s character, and apparently he had received great love from him. Otherwise, why would he return to a man who would have been angry and vengeful, who would beat him and make him pay back every cent he squandered?

The prodigal surely knew that if he returned he wouldn’t be upbraided or condemned for his sins. He probably thought, “I know my father loves me. He won’t throw my sin in my face. He’ll take me back.” When you have that kind of history, you can always go back home.

Notice how the prodigal’s father “prevented” him with the blessing of goodness. The young man was intent on offering a heartfelt confession to his dad, because he rehearsed it all the way home. Yet when he faced his father, he didn’t even get a chance to fully confess. His father interrupted him by running up to him and embracing him.

“When he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father was so happy his son was back, he covered him with kisses, saying, “I love you, son. Come home and be restored.”

The father did all of this before his son could complete his confession. The young man was able to blurt out the beginning of his speech. But his father didn’t wait for him to finish. To him, the young man’s sin had already been settled. The father’s only response was to issue an order to his servants: “Put a robe on my son and rings on his fingers. Prepare a feast, because we are going to celebrate. Everyone rejoice, for my son is home!”

Sin wasn’t the issue to this father. The only issue on his mind was love. He wanted his boy to know he was accepted, even before he could utter a confession. And that is the point God wants to make to us all: His love is greater than all our sins. “The goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4).

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

GO “IN THE SPIRIT”

You can go “in the Spirit” to any nation on earth. You can touch an unreached people while on your knees. Indeed, your secret closet may become the headquarters for a movement of God’s Spirit over an entire nation.

I think of Abraham’s example. He prayed over godless, wicked Sodom. The Lord answered him, “If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes” (Genesis 18:26).

When Abraham heard this, he began to negotiate with the Lord. He asked, “(If) there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five?” (18:28). Abraham was asking, “Lord, what if there are forty-five righteous people among those fifty believers? What if only that many are praying seekers? Or, what if there are only ten upright people who seek you? If only ten call on you, will you spare the city?” God answered Abraham, “I will not destroy it for ten’s sake” (18:32).

This passage tells us something about the Lord. He is willing to save entire societies if he can find a band of righteous people within them. This speaks of people who seek his face for the sake of their nation.

God goes even further on this issue than he did with Abraham. In Ezekiel 22, God speaks of finding just one praying believer who will stand in the gap: “I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30).

At the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy, Israel was polluted spiritually. The prophets were profane, violating God’s law left and right. And the people were oppressed, vexed on all sides, full of lust, robbing one another. Not one person among them cried out to the Lord. Nobody stood in the gap to intercede. Yet God would have saved the entire nation for the sake of just one intercessor.

If you cannot physically go to the nations, you can be part of the support body of intercessors. And we are to assist those who have given themselves to go to the nations. When Paul writes of his journeys, he mentions not only Timothy and Titus as his helpers, but also Lydia and the other precious women who aided him. These were all devoted servants whose assistance helped touch entire nations with the gospel.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

PRAY THE LORD OF THE HARVEST

As Jesus looked down from his own time to the end of the age, he pointed out a terrible problem. He told his disciples, “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the laborers are few” (Matthew 9:37).

As I read these words, I wonder, “What’s the solution? How can more laborers be raised up to go the nations?” Jesus gave the answer, in the very next verse: Someone has to pray these laborers into the harvest. “Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he will send forth laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:38).

You may think, “Doors are closing all over the world.” That may be true, but it doesn’t matter how closed some nations may look to our eyes. If God can tear down the Iron Curtain in Europe and the Bamboo Curtain in Asia, nothing can stop him from working wherever he will.

In the 1980’s, when our ministry was headquartered in Texas, I spent a year praying that God would send someone to New York City to raise up a church in Times Square. I pledged to help whomever God chose: to raise money, to hold meetings, to build up support. Yet, while I was praying for God to send a laborer into this specific harvest, the Lord put the burden on me.

The apostle Paul was sent forth as a missionary through the power of prayer. It happened in Antioch, where leaders of the church were praying over the harvest (see Acts 13:2-6). Paul’s first missionary journey came out of a prayer meeting. It was the direct result of godly men obeying Jesus’ words, to pray for God to send laborers into the harvest.

The same is true today. We are to be about the work of praying for the harvest, just as those godly men in Antioch did. The fact is, while we’re praying, the Holy Spirit is searching the earth, putting an urgency in the hearts of those who desire to be used of the Lord. He’s touching people everywhere, setting them apart for his service.

In Matthew 8, a centurian came to Jesus seeking healing for his dying servant. Christ answered the centurion, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee. And his servant was healed in the selfsame hour” (8:13). I believe the same thing happens with all who intercede for the harvest. While we’re asking God to send forth laborers, the Holy Spirit is stirring someone somewhere and it doesn’t matter where it takes place. The powerful truth is, our prayers are being used to send laborers into the harvest.

Monday, August 25, 2008

THEY HAD THE LIFE AND THE LIGHT

The church of Jesus Christ lacks spiritual authority in society because it lacks spirituality.

Why are our government leaders and the media so condescending to Christians? Why has the church lost all meaning and purpose in the world’s eyes? Why have young people written off Christianity as totally irrelevant to their lives?

It’s because, for the most part, the church is no longer a light. Christ isn’t ruling in our society because he doesn’t reign in our lives. As I look around today, I see few in God’s house who are truly in union with Christ. There is so little fellowship with heaven. And few ministers refuse worldly methods to trust God for their direction. We have lost our light because we have lost Christ’s life. For God’s authority to have any impact, it must be lived out in yielded, obedient vessels.

Consider the kingdom of Babylon during the time of Nebuchadnezzar. This was the mightiest empire on earth. Daniel prophesied that every succeeding king would be inferior, less powerful, less influential. Why? Because Nebuchadnezzar was not the real ruler in Babylon. The power behind the empire wasn’t in the golden statue he erected. No, Babylon’s authority rested in the hands of a small group of God-possessed men. The Lord had set up a secret, heavenly government and it was ruled by Daniel and the three Hebrew children. These men were God’s governing instruments, because they operated in the heavenly realm. They refused to have anything to do with the world system. Instead, they shut themselves in with God.

As a result, these holy men knew the times. They could tell the people what God was up to at any given time. They were bright, shining lights to the whole nation, because they had the life of God within them.

In 2 Kings 6, we read of Syria making war against Israel. During this conflict, the prophet Elisha sat at home communing with the Lord. This man was God’s secret government, and he ruled with authority. Elisha heard from the Lord, and sent messages to Israel’s king, warning him of every move the Syrian army made.

When the Syrian king found out about Elisha’s thwarting messages, he surrounded the prophet’s hometown with a battalion of troops. But God blinded the Syrians, and Elisha ended up leading them captive into the Israelites’ camp. Elisha had the light—and he knew Satan’s every move—because he had the life.

Friday, August 22, 2008

LIMITING THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL

“They…limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41). The word for limited here comes from two root words, meaning, “grieving God by scratching out an imprint.” In short, limiting God means drawing a line, or making a circle, and stating, “God is in here, and he goes no further.” This describes the thinking of many believers. We’ve marked in our minds a very small imprint, or concept, of Christ’s magnitude.

That’s just what the early church in Jerusalem did. They limited Christ to a small circle, confining him to the Jewish population. But Jesus can’t be confined. He is constantly breaking out of our little, confining circles, and always reaching out to the uttermost.

Let me give an example. Up to about 40 years ago, Pentecostals seemed to have the baptism of the Holy Spirit confined to their movement. Many Pentecostals thought, “We are God’s Spirit-filled church!” Pentecostal preachers bemoaned the deadness of mainline denominations, “They don’t have the full gospel like we do,” they declared.

Suddenly, God’s Spirit burst through everyone’s drawn circles. The Holy Ghost fell on believers in all kinds of denominations. A classic book was written about this move of the Spirit, called They Speak With Other Tongues by John L. Sherrill.

The Lord also used my book, The Cross and the Switchblade, especially in Catholic circles. Yet, like Peter and the early church, I had to allow God to work in my heart before I could accept what was going on. I had been raised Pentecostal, and for the first time in my life I saw priests weeping with conviction, crying out to Jesus.

Soon I had evangelical preachers contending with me, demanding, “What about those Catholics’ Maryology? How can you minister to people who believe in that?” I found myself answering the same way Peter did: “I don’t know anything about Maryology. All I know is, there are hungry people in the Catholic Church. And there are true Jesus worshippers among the priests. God is filling these people with his Spirit.”

God has his people everywhere, and we are not to call any of them common or unclean. We have to be careful that we do not represent Jesus as being small and box him in with our puny thinking.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

WITHOUT SPOT OR WRINKLE

Christ’s church has never been approved or accepted by the world. And it never will be. If you live for Jesus, you won’t have to separate yourself from other’s company; they’ll do it for you. All you have to do is live for him. Suddenly, you’ll find yourself reproached, rejected, called evil: “Men shall hate you, and…they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake” (Luke 6:22).

Yet, Jesus adds, this is the path to true fulfillment. “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). In other words: “The only way you find meaning in life is by selling out your all for me. Then you’ll find true joy, peace and satisfaction.” Christ tells us, “My church is without spot or wrinkle. So, when you come to me, you must be willing to lay down all sins. You must surrender all to me, die completely to self, ungodly ambition and ego. By faith, you’ll be buried with me. But I will raise you up into new life.”

Think about what it means to be without spot or wrinkle. We know a spot is a stain. But what about a wrinkle? Have you ever heard the phrase, “a new wrinkle”? It means adding a new idea to an existing concept. A wrinkle, in that sense, applies to those who try to improve on the gospel. It suggests an easy way to attain heaven, without full surrender to Christ.

That’s the kind of gospel that’s being preached in many churches today. The sermons are aimed only at meeting people’s needs. As I read Jesus’ words, I see that this kind of preaching will not work. It doesn’t accomplish the true work of the gospel.

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not against preaching comfort and strength to God’s people. As a shepherd of the Lord, I’m called to do exactly that. But if I preach only to people’s needs, and ignore Christ’s call to lay down our lives, then true needs will never be met. Jesus’ words are clear: Our needs are met by dying to ourselves and taking up his cross

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

HE PREACHED REPENTANCE

Jesus declares, “My church is a place of shameless, open repentance.” Indeed, the apostle Paul attests: “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation; For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 10:8-11).

Simply put, we are brought to salvation through our open confession of repentance. Jesus states, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). And, he says, repentance is how we are healed and restored: “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

This is good news. Jesus is telling us, “In my church, everyone is healed through repentance. It doesn’t matter who you are—the physically broken, the mentally ill, the spiritually sick. Everyone must come to me the same way. And all find healing through repentance.

How many churches still open their altars for heart-smitten people to come forward and repent? How many pastors have stopped giving invitations for this all-important spiritual work? How many believers have lost all sense of their need to confess sin?

What is the central message of Christ’s gospel? He makes it plain throughout the four gospels. He tells us, “Here is what I preach in my church. This is my message to all sinners.”

“Jesus came…preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). This was Jesus’ first recorded message. He preached repentance!

To some Christians, this may sound like strong language. They may respond, “Okay, but how strongly did Jesus preach repentance?” Luke answers that in his gospel. Jesus told his listeners, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

DRAWING OUR OWN CIRCLE

Are you worried about a family member or friend who doesn’t seem to be growing or maturing in Christ? As you size up that person, are you using your own concept of Christ for their lives? Have you drawn your own circle of what it means to be a true follower of Christ and you don’t see your loved one moving in that circle?

Is it possible that you are limiting Christ? Is your Jesus so small, so tightly circumscribed, that you can’t believe his Spirit may be doing a deep, hidden work? Do you condemn for not measuring up to your imprint? Do you believe that God is big enough to work on him in ways that are unseen?

About 35 years ago, an infamous woman named Celeste Horvath walked into the Teen Challenge in Brooklyn. She was New York’s most notorious madam, running a prostitution ring that catered to some of the nation’s most famous men. Celeste had grown up in a Pentecostal home, and her praying grandmother had prophesied over her, “You’re going to be an evangelist.” But Celeste rejected her church upbringing and turned to prostitution.

As Celeste’s prostitution ring grew, she became addicted to drugs. All during that time, a battle was going on in her heart. Night after night, she prayed, “God, please let me live just one more day.” Finally, Celeste was arrested. The news made national headlines. At one point her brother wrote to her, saying, “You’ve so shamed our family, you’re beyond redemption.”

But Jesus never forsook her. One day in her loneliest hour, Celeste prayed—and she broke before the Lord. The change in her was immediate, and instantly she became a new creature.

Everyone who had seen Celeste’s life from the outside thought she was utterly hopeless, totally unmovable. But they had a limited view of Christ. They hadn’t seen the Holy Ghost at work in her all through the years. While the people in Celeste’s life had seen her only as common and unclean, the Lord had seen in her an evangelist.

Celeste showed up at Teen Challenge just before she was sentenced, and we took her in. She served time in prison where she became the evangelist God had called her to be. She led many souls to Jesus while in jail. After she was released, she became a powerful street preacher and eventually she started a church on Long Island, a congregation that is still on fire today.

Monday, August 18, 2008

AWE AND RESPECT

The Bible makes it clear that there is a fear of the Lord that every believer is to cultivate. True fear of God includes awe and respect, but it goes much further than that. David tells us, “The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes” (Psalm 36:1). David is saying, “When I see somebody indulging in evil, my heart tells me that such a person has no fear of God. He doesn’t acknowledge the truth about sin, or about God’s call to holiness.”

The fact is, godly fear gives us power to maintain victory in wicked times. So, how do we obtain this fear? Jeremiah answers with this prophecy from God’s Word: “I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever, for the good of them, and of their children after them: and I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me” (Jeremiah 32:39-40).

This is a wonderful promise from the Lord. It assures us he will provide us with his holy fear. God doesn’t just drop this fear into our hearts in a supernatural flash. No, he puts his fear in us through his Word.

Does that mean God’s fear is planted in our hearts when we merely read the Bible? No, not at all. It comes when we consciously decide that we are going to obey every word we read in God’s Word. Scripture bears this out. It tells us this is how godly fear came upon Ezra: “Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it” (Ezra 7:10).

The fear of God isn’t just an Old Testament concept. We see godly fear mentioned in both Testaments. The Old tells us, “Fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:7). Likewise, the New declares, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). Paul adds, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Friday, August 15, 2008

A LIGHT NOT MEANT TO BE HIDDEN

Jesus tells us, “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). His statement here is about much more than just doing ministry. It extends beyond teaching, preaching or passing out tracts. Christ tells us very plainly, “Ye are the light.” He’s saying, “You are not just a reflection of the light. You’re not a mere conduit. You are the light itself. And the intensity of your light depends upon the intensity of your walk with me.”

Do you see what the Lord is implying here? The world recognizes those who walk closely with him. Your neighbors or coworkers may not know about your daily communion with Christ, your faith in him, your utter dependence upon him. But they do see the light that shines from your because of the life you have with him. And as long as nothing hinders that life, your light will continue to shine in the darkness.

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14). Jesus is saying, “I have put you on exhibition to the world. People are looking at you, because I’ve made you a spectacle. You’re a light that is not meant to be hidden.”

So, who are these lights set on a hill? And where do we see them? They are not usually found in the limelight. They aren’t among the self-centered, self-promoting people who live for recognition in this world. And they are not among those self-important church cliques who pretend to be holy but gossip, murmur and complain.

Through the years, I’ve seen many believers who appear godly but in truth are spiritually lazy. They tell others about their failings and weaknesses, thinking this makes them humble. Yet they are quick to judge others. They don’t possess the true, giving, loving servant-like spirit of Christ. On the contrary, the “light” they have is actually darkness. Jesus says, “If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!” (Matthew 6:23). Where there is no life of Christ, there can be no light for others.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (5:16). The reason that we are to let our light shine forth to the world is that God may receive glory.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

THE LIFE BEHIND THE LIGHT

“Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Jesus was, and still is, the light of the world. John says this light was produced by the life that was in Christ: “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4). Simply put, the life that Christ possessed was his source of light to the world. And all who believe “shall have the light of life” (John 8:12). What is the “life behind the light” that Scripture speaks of?

Most of us think of this life as the eternal existence that’s embodied in Christ. We see it as his power to bestow eternal existence on all who believe. But John is talking about something more here. When he uses the word “life,” he is speaking of the whole biography of Jesus’ existence.

Jesus tells us that we are to live as he did. For us to be as Christ was in the world, his life has to be something we can know and experience for ourselves. It has to relate to our own lives.

I want to tell you how I relate to the life that is in Christ. I rejoice in the kind, little things that Jesus did, touched and said. I believe his everyday deeds, words and walk with the Father are meant to define the meaning of the Christ-life to us.

I think of Jesus’ friendship with Lazarus. I think of him as he retreated from the multitudes after a long period of ministry. I think of him as he enjoyed time in the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And I think of Jesus taking the little children into his arms and blessing them. I think of his obedience to his mother, even as a grown man, when he turned water into wine at the wedding feast. I think of Jesus’ love and care for the scorned, the unlovely, the poor. I think of his compassion for the woman caught in adultery or his honoring the widow who had only two mites to give.

I doubt there would be enough books to record all the loving, servant-like things Jesus did while on earth. In these passages, we find the ways we are to relate our lives to Christ’s. This is how we comprehend the life that is the light.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

RIDING THE PROMISE

Because of God’s “preventing” promise, we are able to claim victory and dominion even before the battle begins. David sang, “The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! Thou has given him his heart’s desire, and has not withholden the request of his lips” (Psalm 21:1-2).

You may wonder, “How could David rejoice? He faced the most intense attack he’d ever known. How could he have joy when he might have been wounded or killed?”

David answers: “Thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head” (21:3). What David is saying here is life-changing: “I face a powerful enemy who is bent on destroying me. But my soul is at peace. Why? The Lord has foreseen my struggle. And he has showered me with assurances of his love. My enemy may cause me to stumble or fall, and at some point it might seem I’m finished. But God has told me that if I will just get up, I will receive his strength and win the battle.”

David then made this statement of faith just before going to war: “Thou settest a crown of pure gold on (my) head” (21:3). The crown of gold David mentions here is a symbol of victory and dominion. David was saying, “I’m going to war riding on God’s promise to me. He said I would walk out of the battle wearing the crown of victory.”

This sums up the doctrine of God’s “preventing goodness”: He has anticipated all our struggles—all our battles with sin, flesh and the devil—and in his mercy and goodness, he has paid our debt before it can even come due. Our victory is a done deal.

God’s preventing goodness applies especially to those who love Jesus and are surprised by sin. The Lord assures us that even if we are cast down temporarily, we will emerge from the battle standing upright, all because Jesus has paid our debt.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

“PREVENTING” LOVE

“Thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head” (Psalm 21:3). At first glance, this verse by David is a bit puzzling. The word “prevent” is usually associated with hindrance, not with blessing. A modern translation here would be, “The Lord hindered David with the blessings of goodness.”

Yet the biblical word for “prevent” signifies a completely different meaning. It means “to anticipate, to precede, to foresee and fulfill in advance, to pay a debt before it is due.” Furthermore, in almost every instance, it implies something of pleasure.

Isaiah gives us a glimpse of this kind of pleasure. It comes from God anticipating a need and fulfilling it ahead of time. “It shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer; and while they are yet speaking, I will hear” (Isaiah 65:24).

This verse provides us with an incredible picture of our Lord’s love for us. Evidently, he is so anxious to bless us, so ready to fulfill his lovingkindness in our lives, that he can’t even wait for us to tell him our needs. So he jumps in and performs acts of mercy, grace and love toward us. And that is a supreme pleasure to him.

That is just what David was saying in Psalm 21: “Lord, you pour out blessings and lovingkindness on me before I can even ask. And you offer more than I could even conceive of asking.”

David was referring to some awesome work that God performed for him in the spiritual realm. It was something that gave David victory over his enemies, answers to prayer, overcoming power and unspeakable joy. And God did it all before David could even go to prayer, to unburden his heart or present his request. Once David finally did pour out his heart, he discovered that God had already made provision to defeat his enemies. David’s victory was assured before he could even get near the battlefield.

Monday, August 11, 2008

OUR FOCUS

As Christians in Paul’s day sensed the destruction of Jerusalem drawing near, they wanted to know more about prophetic events. They were fearful over rumors about the ruthlessness of invading armies, who took multitudes captive into slavery. It caused these believers to sense that perilous times were close at hand. So they asked Paul to tell them more about what was to come: “Write to us about how to read the times.”

Paul responded with these words of assurance: “Of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:1-2).

Paul described to them what would take place when Christ returned: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (4:16-18).

Paul’s exhortation to them was meant to be encouragement. He was saying, in essence, “There’s no need for you to fret about those things coming on the earth. You don’t have to be overly concerned about all the fearful signs and calamities. You well know what this is about. It is all signaling the coming of the Lord Jesus, to take away his people.”

The truth is that history is going somewhere. We can be sure that the swift current of unfolding events today is carrying us toward God’s eternal purpose. The world is not adrift; the Lord hasn’t abandoned the earth, not matter how wicked and faithless humankind has become. Rather, God has simply picked up the pace. And what we are seeing now is a swift movement of events toward the “one divine event” ahead: the re-creation of a new heaven and earth, where Christ will reign supreme for all eternity.

As followers of Christ, our focus is not to be on daily news reports. We are not to dwell on wars and rumors of war, nor on the possibility of a nuclear accident, nor on other things that are coming on the earth. When Jesus said, “In that day, look up” (see Luke 21:28), he is talking about where our focus should be.

Friday, August 8, 2008

GOD OF OUR MONSTERS

God said to Job, “Behold now behemoth [the hippopotamus], which I made with thee” (Job 40:15). “Canst thou draw out leviathan [the crocodile] with an hook? Or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?” (41:1).

Why would God begin his revelation by having Job consider these two massive monsters? Why would God have Job look into the faces of a hippopotamus and a crocodile?

First, the Lord posed this problem to his servant: “Look, Job, here comes the hippopotamus after you. What are you going to do? Can you wrestle him down in your physical strength? No? Maybe you can try to sweet-talk him.

“Now, behold the crocodile that’s threatening. How will you handle him? This creature has a heart of stone. He has no concept of mercy.” This was more than a simple lecture about the animal kingdom. Rather, God was telling Job something about life’s “monsters.” He was showing his servant that these two awesome, ferocious, overpowering creatures represented the monstrous problems raging in Job’s life.

“Consider the hippo. He tramples down everything in sight. He’s simply too big a problem for you to handle, Job. You are no match for him whatsoever. Nothing you can do will tame him. Only I, the Lord, know how to stop such a monstrous creature.

“And what about the crocodile, Job? No human can do battle with such a creature. And nobody in his own strength can strip the crocodile of his thick armor. The same is true of your spiritual enemy, the devil. Only I can win the battle with him.”

Do you hear what God is saying in this speech? He’s speaking not just to Job but to all believers. And he’s declaring, “Face the truth about the monsters in your life. You can’t handle them. I’m the only one who can.”

Job answered, “My God is all-powerful. He can do all things. And no purpose of his can ever be thwarted. I know I can’t stand up against the hippo or the crocodile. But that doesn’t matter. I know God can. My part is simply to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” (see Job 42:1-2).

Thursday, August 7, 2008

EVERY BATTLE A VICTOR

God promised that you would come out of every battle a victor, crowned by his strength. “Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power” (Psalm 21:13).

How does the Lord “prevent” us with these blessing of goodness and lovingkindness? The Holy Spirit drives out all fear from us—fear of falling, of being cut off from God, of losing the presence of the Holy Spirit—by implanting in us his joy. We are to go forth rejoicing, as David did, because God has assured us we will prevail.

Yet so few Christians have this joy and exceeding gladness. Multitudes never know rest of soul or the peace of Christ’s presence. They walk around as if in mourning, picturing themselves under the thumb of God’s wrath rather than under his protective wings. They see him as a harsh taskmaster, always ready to bring a whip down on their backs. And so they live unhappily, with no hope, more dead than alive.

But in God’s eyes, our problem isn’t sin; it is trust. Jesus settled our sin problem once and for all at Calvary. He doesn’t harp on us, “This time you’ve crossed the line.” No, never! His attitude toward us is just the opposite. His Spirit is constantly wooing us, reminding us of the Father’s lovingkindness even in the midst of our failures.

When we become focused on our sin, we lose all sight of what God wants most: “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). This verse says it all. Our God is a rewarder, and he’s so anxious to shower us with his lovingkindness that he blesses us way ahead of schedule.

This is the concept our heavenly Father longs for us to have of him. He knows when we’ll repent over our failures and sins. He knows when our contriteness is coming. But he can’t wait for the due date. So he jumps in, saying, “I want to assure my child he won’t be judged, because I’ve already forgiven him through my Son’s cleansing blood.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

WHY IS “GREENNESS” IMPORTANT?

“And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads” (Revelation 9:4).

Why is “greenness” important to our faith? Remember, the locusts are commanded not to touch anything green. Simply put, they can’t hurt anybody who’s walking in faith.

So, even at the height of their attacks, those who place their trust in God will stand tall, like solid, green trees. They won’t be harmed by locusts of any kind, including terrorists. The best defense against every kind of hellish attack, every scorpion-like sting, is spiritual health. And this kind of health comes only as we turn to the Lord and trust in his promises.

Let me ask you:

· Do you fully trust in God’s forgiveness? Do you depend on his blood to cleanse you of every iniquity? If you feel condemned, and constantly strive to please God, then you are not green and healthy. God’s foremost desire is that you accept his gift of forgiveness and rest in it.

· You’ve accepted God’s forgiveness. But do you trust in his unconditional love for you?

Our Lord doesn’t cut us off every time we fail. He doesn’t constantly look over our shoulder, demanding we get it right. He simply asks that we come to him, confessing, “I believe your Word, Lord. Forgive me, wash me, hold me in your arms.”

God’s desire for us is that we live all our days without fear. Therefore, we don’t dare allow Satan to accuse us with a failure from the past. If we’ve repented of it, then we’re covered by Christ’s precious, cleansing blood.

Here is God’s promise to all who place their trust in him: “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright” (Psalm 20:7-8).

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

ON THEIR FEET AND READY

“Saul was afraid of David, because the Lord was with him” (1Samuel 18:12).

Satan envies and fears most those who have been with God in prayer and are determined to stand up and fight in faith. Satan fears even a small army of those who are girded up in faith for a fight. He cowers before those who are up on their feet and ready to resist. And because he fears you, his design is to neutralize your fighting spirit.

The devil does this by trying to flood your mind with defeating, distracting, hellish thoughts that breed mistrust and questions about God’s power. He’ll scream into your mind and spirit, “It’s no use fighting any more. You are too weak from your personal struggles. You’re never going to be an overcomer. The powers of hell are just too big to overcome. So, you might as well relax. You don’t need to be so intense about the battle anymore.”

This is all a distraction! Satan’s entire strategy is to get you to take your eyes off the victory of the Cross. He wants to turn your focus onto your weaknesses, your sins, your shortcomings—and that’s why he turns up the heat of your present problems and sufferings. He wants to make you believe you aren’t strong enough to go on. But your strength is not the point: Jesus’ strength is!

The fact is, we’re all going to be in a fight until we either die or Jesus comes back. We may be given seasons of calm, times of reprieve. But as long as we are on this earth, we are engaged in spiritual warfare. And there is simply no end to these battles. That’s why Paul says Jesus has given us weapons that are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. We have been equipped with weapons that Satan cannot withstand: prayer, fasting and faith.

The time has come for us to get our focus unstuck from our current afflictions. We must take our eyes off our trials and fix them on the Captain of this war. Jesus holds the key to all victory and he has promised us: “I have supplied you with every weapon needed for battle. And I am ready and willing to give you strength in times of weakness.”

Monday, August 4, 2008

A PLEASING WALK

The Apostle Paul taught the Colossian church: “Walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).

What is required for a pleasing walk? Paul tells us: “Put on therefore, as the chosen of God, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, whoever has a complaint against another; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12-13, my paraphrase).

Paul is telling us in so many words: “Here is my word to you in these critical times. In light of the hard times you know are coming, you are to measure your walk with the Lord.”

In other words, we are to ask ourselves: “Am I becoming more like Christ? Am I growing more patient, or more quick-tempered? Kinder and gentler, or meaner and more argumentative? More tender and forgiving, or more bitter, holding onto grudges? Do I ‘bear with others’? Do I put up with the weaknesses and faults of those near to me, or do I always have to be right?”

Paul is suggesting that, in light of such a coming day, it doesn’t matter what works you accomplish or what charitable deeds you do. No matter how kind you are to strangers, no matter how many souls you bring to Christ, this question remains: Are you becoming more loving, patient, forgiving, forbearing?

Examining your walk with Christ means looking not so much at what you are doing, as at what you are becoming. Such a walk cannot be achieved by human effort alone. It won’t happen by self-determination, merely saying, “I am going to become that kind of believer.” Rather, it happens by the work of the Holy Spirit, through faith in his Word.

First, we read these words and believe them to be God’s call to us, to examine ourselves. So we ask the Spirit to show us who we truly are, and measure ourselves by his Word. Then we ask the Holy Spirit to help us change.

Friday, August 1, 2008

CHASING AWAY THE VULTURES

In Genesis 15, God made a glorious agreement with Abraham. He instructed the patriarch to take a female heifer and a female goat and cut them in two. Then Abraham was to take a turtledove and a pigeon and lay them on the ground, head to head. Abraham did as he was instructed, and as these creatures lay bleeding, vultures began to descend on the carcasses. Suddenly, Abraham felt a terrible darkness surrounding him. What was this darkness? It was Satan in a panic.

How do you think Satan reacts when he sees all the promises of God becoming yours, as you give your life to Jesus? The devil goes into a jealous rage. Then when he sees your firm resolve to go all the way with the Lord, there is only one way for him to react: all of hell goes into a panic!

What did Abraham do when the vultures came? Scripture says he chased them away. Likewise, the Lord has shown us a way to deal with menacing vultures. We don’t have to be afraid of the devil’s attacks, because we have been given mighty weapons of warfare.

Whenever any voice of doubt or questioning of God comes into my mind, I have to line it up against what I know about my loving Lord. I can’t accept any thoughts as true if they are based on simply what I am feeling in the moment. They have to be measured against Jesus’ promises to me about himself and about the victory he has won for me.

Simply put, if thoughts come to me that are accusing—if they cause doubt and fear, or are condemning, or bring a sense of rejection—I know they are not of God. We all have to be prepared for such horrible thoughts to come. Even the Lord Jesus was subject to these kinds of thoughts from the enemy during his wilderness temptation.

When vultures come at you, bringing thoughts of unworthiness and insecurity, chase them away with God’s Word. The sacrifice that the Lord has led you to make is pleasing to him, and he will honor it.