Friday, October 30, 2009

REJOICE IN THE LORD

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


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


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


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


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


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

Thursday, October 29, 2009

GOD HAS EVERYTHING UNDER CONTROL

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I HAVE LABORED IN VAIN

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

BE STEADFAST AND UNMOVABLE

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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, October 26, 2009

GIVE ME ALL YOUR TOMORROWS

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Friday, October 23, 2009

THE FATHER KNOWS

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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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

Thursday, October 22, 2009

PEACE AND SAFETY

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

THE DELIVERER

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

STAND STILL AND KNOW

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Monday, October 19, 2009

FEED MY SHEEP

When I asked the Holy Spirit to show me how to guard against neglect, he led me to consider Peter’s drifting and his eventual renewal. This man denied Christ, even cursing, telling his accuser, “I don’t know him.”

 

What had happened? What had brought Peter to that point? It was pride, the result of self-righteous boasting. This disciple had said to himself and others, “I could never grow cold in my love for Jesus. I’ve reached a place in my faith where I don’t have to be warned. Others may drift, but I will die for my Lord.”

 

Yet Peter was the first among the disciples to give up the struggle. He forsook his calling and returned to his old career, telling the others, “I’m going fishing.” What he really was saying is, “I can’t handle this. I had thought I couldn’t fail, but nobody ever failed God worse than I did. I just can’t face the struggle anymore.”

 

By that point, Peter had repented of his denial of Jesus. And he had been restored in Jesus’ love. Yet he was still a frayed man inside.

 

Now, as Jesus waited for the disciples to return to shore, an issue remained unsettled in Peter’s life. It wasn’t enough that Peter was restored, secure in his salvation. It wasn’t enough that he would fast and pray as any devoted believer would do. No, the issue that Christ wanted to address in Peter’s life was neglect in another form. Let me explain.

 

As they sat around the fire on shore, eating and fellowshipping, Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me more than these others?” Each time Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know I do,” and Christ responded in turn, “Feed my sheep.” Note that Jesus didn’t remind him to watch and pray, or to be diligent in reading God’s Word. Christ presumed those thing had already been well taught. No, the instruction he gave Peter now was, “Feed my sheep.”

 

I believe that in that simple phrase, Jesus was instructing Peter on how to guard against neglect. He was saying, in essence, “I want you to forget about your failure, forget that you drifted from me. You’ve come back to me now, and I’ve forgiven and restored you.  So it’s time to get your focus off of your doubts, failures and problems. And the way to do that is by not neglecting my people and to minister to their needs. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Friday, October 16, 2009

MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE

Of all 150 Psalms, Psalm 34 is my absolute favorite. It is all about our Lord’s faithfulness to deliver his children from great trials and crises. David declares, “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears…. The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them…. The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles…. Many are the afflictions of the righteous: but the Lord delivereth him out of them all” (Psalm 34:4, 7.17,19).

 

Note David’s claim in this Psalm: “I sought the Lord…this poor man cried….” (34:4, 6). When did David do this crying out? It had to have happened when he was feigning madness in Gath and yet he couldn’t have prayed audibly in the Philistines’ presence. This brings us to a great truth regarding God’s deliverance. Sometimes the loudest cry is made without an audible voice.

 

I know what this kind of “inner crying out” is like. Many of the loudest prayers of my life—my most important, heart-wrenching, deepest cries—have been made in total silence.

 

At times I’ve been so benumbed by circumstances that I couldn’t speak, overwhelmed by situations so beyond me that I couldn’t think clearly enough to pray. On occasion, I’ve sat alone in my study so baffled that I was unable to say anything to the Lord at all, but the whole time my heart was crying out: “God, help me! I don’t know how to pray just now, so hear the cry of my heart. Deliver me from this situation.”

 

Have you ever been there? Have you ever thought, “I don’t know what this is all about. I’m so overwhelmed by my circumstance, so flooded by deep pain, I can’t explain it. Lord, I don’t even know what to say to you. What is going on?”

 

I believe this is exactly what David went through when he was captured by the Philistines. When he wrote Psalm 34, he was making an admission: “I was in a situation so overwhelming that I played the part of a fool. Yet, inside I wondered, ‘What is going on with me? How has this happened? Lord, help!’”

 

And so it seems David was saying, “This poor man cried out from within, not knowing what or how to pray. And the Lord heard me and delivered me.” It was a deep cry from the heart, and the Lord is faithful to hear every whimper, no matter how faint.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

CHRIST REIGNS

Often people contact our ministry and say, “I have no one to talk to, no one to share my burden with, no one who has time to hear my cry. I need someone I can pour my heart out to.”

 

King David was constantly surrounded by people. He was married and had many companions at his side. Yet we hear the same cry from him: “To whom shall I go?” It is in our nature to want another human being, with a face, eyes and ears, to listen to us and advise us.

 

When Job became overwhelmed by his trials, he cried out with grief, “Oh that one would hear me!” (Job 31:35). He uttered this cry while sitting before his so-called friends. Those friends had no sympathy for his troubles; in fact, they were messengers of despair.

 

Job turned only to the Lord: “Behold, my witness is in heaven, and my record is on high…. Mine eye poureth out tears unto God” (Job 16:19-20). 

 

David urged God’s people to do likewise: “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8).

 

Eventually, suffering comes to us all, and right now multitudes of saints are chained down by afflictions. Their circumstances have turned their joy into feelings of helplessness and uselessness. Many are asking in their pain, “Why is this happening to me? Is God mad at me? What did I do wrong? Why doesn’t he answer my prayers?”

 

I believe in my heart that this word is an invitation to you from the Holy Spirit to find a private place where you can frequently pour out your soul to the Lord. David “poured out his complaint,” and so can you. You can speak to Jesus about everything—your problems, your present trial, your finances, your health—and tell him how overwhelmed you are, even how discouraged you are. He will hear you with love and sympathy, and he will not despise your cry.

 

God answered David. He answered Job. And for centuries he has answered the heart cry of everyone who has trusted his promises. He has promised to hear you and guide you. He has pledged by oath to be your strength, so you can go to him and come out renewed.