Wednesday, March 31, 2010

WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

What does it all mean when prayers go unanswered? When hurts linger and God seems to be doing nothing in response to our faith? Often God is loving us more supremely at that time than ever before. The Word says, "Whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth." A chastening of love takes precedence over every act of faith, over every prayer, over every promise. What I see as hurting me could be his loving me. It could be his gentle hand spanking me out of my stubbornness and pride.

We have faith in our faith. We place more emphasis on the power of our prayers than we do on getting his power into us. We want to figure out God so we can read him like a book. We don't want to be surprised or bewildered and when things happen contrary to our concept of God, we say, "That can't be God; that's not the way he works."

We are so busy working on God, we forget he is trying to work on us. That is what this life is all about: God at work on us, trying to remake us into vessels of glory. We are so busy praying to change things, we have little time to allow prayer to change us. God has not put prayer and faith in our hands as if they were two secret tools by which a select group of "experts" learn to pry something out of him. God said he is more willing to give than we are to receive. Why are we using prayer and faith as "keys" or tools to unlock something that has never been locked up?

Prayer is not for God's benefit, but for ours. Faith is not for his benefit, but for ours. God is not some eternal, divine tease. He has not surrounded himself in riddles for men to unravel, as if to say, "The wise will get the prize."

We are so mixed up on this matter of prayer and faith; we have had the audacity to think of God as our personal "genie" who fulfills every wish. We think of faith as a way to corner God on his promises. We think God is pleased by our efforts to back him against the wall and shout, "Lord, you can't go back on your promise. I want what is coming to me. You are bound by your Word. You must do it or your Word is not true."

This is why we miss the true meaning of prayer and faith. We see God only as the giver and we are the receiver. But prayer and faith are the avenues by which we become the givers to God. They are to be used, not as ways to get things from God, but as a way to give him those things by which we can please him.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

TEMPTING CHRIST

“Neither let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed of serpents.” (1 Corinthians 10:9).

What does Paul mean here when he speaks of “tempting Christ”? Simply put, tempting the Lord means putting him to a test. We tempt him whenever we ask, “Just how merciful will God be to me if I move forward into this sin? How long can I indulge my sin before his anger is stirred? I know God is merciful and this is an era of grace, with no condemnation toward sinners. How could he possibly judge me, when I’m his child?”

Multitudes of Christians casually ask the same question today, as they toy with a wicked temptation. They want to see how close they can get to hell-fire without facing the consequences of sin. In short, they’re tempting Christ. And all the while, such believers are casting off conviction from God’s Word.

Any time we go against truth that God’s Spirit has made clear to us, we’re casting off Paul’s warning: “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall…. Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand” (1 Corinthians 10:12, 8).

Ask yourself if you are testing the limits of God’s precious gift of grace. Are you tempting Christ to indulge your sin in the face of your outright rebellion? Have you convinced yourself, “I’m a New Testament believer. I’m covered under the blood of Jesus. Therefore, God won’t judge me.”

By continuing in your sin, you are treating Jesus’ great sacrifice for you with utter disregard. Your present willful sin is putting him to an open shame, not just in the world’s eyes, but before all of heaven and hell (see Hebrews 6:6).

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 Paul describes a way of escape from all temptation: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”

What is this means of escape? It’s a growing knowledge and experience of the holy fear of God.

Monday, March 29, 2010

WE ARE TOO EARTHBOUND

Have you noticed there is very little talk nowadays about heaven or about leaving this old world behind? Instead, we are bombarded with messages on how to use our faith to acquire more things. "The next revival," said one well-known teacher, "will be a financial revival. God is going to pour out financial blessing on all believers."

Any message about death bothers us. We try to ignore even thinking about it and think that those who discuss it are morbid. Occasionally we will talk about what heaven must be like, but most of the time the subject of death is taboo.

What a stunted concept of God's eternal purposes! No wonder so many Christians are frightened by the thought of death. The truth is, we are far from understanding Christ's call to forsake the world and all its entanglements. He calls us to come and die—and to die without building memorials to ourselves. To die without worrying how we should be remembered. Jesus left no autobiography—no headquarters complex—no university or Bible college. He left nothing to perpetuate his memory but the bread and the wine.

How different the first Christians were. Paul spoke much about death. In fact, our resurrection from the dead is referred to in the New Testament as our blessed hope. But nowadays, death is considered an intruder that cuts us off from the good life we have become accustomed to. We have so cluttered our lives with material things, we are bogged down. We can no longer bear the thought of leaving our beautiful homes, our lovely things, our charming sweethearts. We seem to be thinking, "To die now would be too great a loss. I love the Lord—but I need time to enjoy my real estate. I married a wife. I've yet to prove my oxen. I need more time."

What is the greatest revelation of faith, and how is it to be exercised? You will find it in Hebrews: "These all died in faith...and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.... But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city" (Hebrews 11:13 and 16).

Friday, March 26, 2010

THE LIFE IS NOT IN THE SHELL

These mortal bodies of ours are but mere shells, and the life is not in the shell. The shell is not for keeping, but a temporary confine that enshrouds an ever-growing, ever-maturing life force. The body is a shell that acts as a transient guardian of the life inside. The shell is synthetic in comparison to the eternal life it clothes.

Every true Christian has been imbued with eternal life. It is planted as a seed in our mortal bodies and is constantly maturing. It is within us an ever-growing, ever-expanding process of development—and it must eventually break out of the shell to become a new form of life. This glorious life of God in us exerts pressure on the shell, and at the very moment resurrection life is mature, the shell breaks. The artificial bounds are broken and, like a newborn baby chick, the soul is freed from its prison. Praise the Lord!

Death is but a mere breaking of the fragile shell. At the very precise moment our Lord decides our shell has fulfilled its function, so must God's people abandon their old, corrupt bodies back to the dust from which they came. Who would think of picking up the fragmented pieces of shell and forcing the newborn chick back into its original state? And who would think of asking a departed loved one to give up his new, glorified body—made in Christ's own image—and return to the decaying shell from which he or she broke free?

Paul said it: "To die is gain!" (Philippians 1:21). That kind of talk is absolutely foreign to our modern, spiritual vocabularies. We have become such life worshippers, we have very little desire to depart to be with the Lord.

Paul said, "For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better" (Philippians 1:23-24). Yet, for the sake of edifying the converts, he thought it best to “stay in the shell.” Or, as he put it, "abide in the flesh."

Was Paul morbid? Did he have an unhealthy fixation on death? Did Paul show a lack of respect for the life God had blessed him with? Absolutely not! Paul lived life to the fullest. To him, life was a gift, and he had used it well to fight a good fight. He had overcome the fear of the "sting of death" and could now say, "It's better to die and be with the Lord than to stay in the flesh."

Thursday, March 25, 2010

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

Most of America knows that the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled the Ten Commandments cannot be displayed in any government courthouse. This landmark decision has been covered exhaustively by the media. But what does the ruling mean?

A courthouse is where laws are enforced. The Ten Commandments represent God’s moral law, which never shifts or changes. It is as fixed as the law of gravity. If you defy that law, it’s like stepping off a high building. You can deny that the law affects you, but there are consequences sure to be paid.

Simply put, the Ten Commandments are eternal laws designed by God to keep society from destroying itself. Yet, amazingly, many sand-blasting companies are at work right now grinding away those Commandments—as well as God’s name—wherever they’re engraved in courthouse marble or concrete.

What a telling picture of the state of our society. These unchangeable laws were originally engraved in stone by the finger of God. And now they are being erased from stone by the law of man.

Some Christians are saying, “What’s the big deal? We are not under the law. Why should this be an issue?” No, we are not under the Hebrew law, meaning the 613 additional commandments added by Jewish rabbis. But every Christian is under the authority of God’s moral law, which is summed up in the Ten Commandments.

I wonder what goes through God’s mind as these sand-blasters erase his laws from before our eyes. Some believers claim, “We don’t need these displays of the Commandments. All that’s really necessary is for us to have them written in our hearts.” That’s not what God’s Word says. Consider the very visible presence God intended for the Commandments as they were delivered to his people:

“These words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart… and [thou] shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

FREEDOM FROM SIN’S SLAVERY MUST BE ACCEPTED BY FAITH

Faith is something you do about what you know. Knowledge means nothing unless it is acted upon.

The children of Israel received the good word that God had given them Canaan for a homeland. That information would have meant nothing at all to them if they had remained in Egypt as slaves. But the Bible says, "By faith [they] forsook Egypt...by faith they passed through the Red Sea" (Hebrews 11:27, 29).

The Israelites did not march to the border of Canaan, fire one volley of arrows, and expect all the enemy armies to drop dead. The land was theirs, but they had to possess it "one dead soldier at a time."

What does that have to do with my getting victory over the grip of sin? Everything! Christ settled the issue of slavery to sin by declaring you emancipated from its dominion, but you have to believe it to the point that you do something about it.

It is not enough to say, "Yes, I believe Christ forgives sin. I believe he is Lord. I know he can break the power of sin in my life." You are mentally consenting to what you heard, but faith is more than that. Faith is stepping out on that promise of freedom and acting upon it.

Believers overcome the evil power of this world through faith. True faith is the only thing that can help you stand up with confidence against the powers of temptation. Self-control is possible only when, by faith, the truth about being emancipated is accepted.

“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith” (1 John 5:3-4 NKJV).

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking who he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 5:8-11 NKJV).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

THE BLINK GENERATION

Many Christians read the Bible regularly, believing it is God’s living, revealed Word for their lives. Over and over in the pages of Scripture, they read about generations who heard the voice of God. They read of God speaking to his people again and again, with this phrase repeated time after time: “And God said…” Yet many of these same Christians live as though God doesn’t speak to his people today.

An entire generation of believers has come to make decisions completely on their own, without praying or consulting God’s Word. Many simply decide what they want to do, and then ask God to validate it. They move ahead forcefully, their only prayer being, “Lord, if this is not your will, then stop me”

We are now living in a time referred to as the “blink generation.” People are making major decisions in the blink of an eye. A best-selling book has been written on this concept, titled Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. The theory is, “Trust your instincts. Blink-of-the-eye decisions prove to be the best.”

Think about all the hurried-up “blink language” we hear every day: “This is an offer of the century. You can make a bundle overnight. But you have only a short window of opportunity. Get on it now!” The driving spirit behind it all is, “Blink, blink, blink!”

Such thinking has begun to infect the church, affecting the decisions made not just by “blink Christians” but by “blink ministers.” Scores of bewildered parishioners have written to us telling the same story: “Our pastor came back from a church-growth conference and immediately announced, ‘As of today, everything changes.’ He decided we would become one of the popular trend churches overnight! He didn’t even ask us to pray about it...we’re all confused.”

Just a few years ago, the watchword among Christians was, “Did you pray about this matter? Have you sought the Lord concerning it? Are your brothers and sisters surrounding you in prayer? Have you received godly counsel?” I ask you, has this been your practice? In the past year, how many important decisions have you made where you honestly took the matter to God and prayed sincerely? Or, how many of those decisions did you make “in the blink of an eye”? The reason God wants full control of our lives is to save us from disasters—which is exactly where most of our “blink decisions” end up.

Monday, March 22, 2010

NO LONGER SLAVES

Abraham Lincoln is said to have "freed the slaves" with the Emancipation Proclamation. This legal document declared that slavery was dead and all the slaves were set free.

When this news first spread through southern plantations, many of the slaves would not believe it. They continued slaving for their masters, convinced their promise of freedom was a hoax. Numbers of unscrupulous landowners told their slaves it was just a rumor and kept them under bondage. But little by little, the truth dawned on them as they saw former slaves walking about, happy in their newfound freedom. One by one, they threw down their loads, turned their backs on slavery, and walked away to begin a new life.

Maybe you haven't heard yet, or maybe it sounds too good to be true, but Christ emancipated all the slaves to sin at Calvary. You can now "walk out" on the devil! You can throw down your load of sin, walk away from Satan's dominion, and enter into a new life of freedom.

Let me show you what the Bible means when it talks about dying to sin. When Lincoln emancipated the slaves, the "issue" of slavery died. Not the slave master—not the slave. The slave could walk away free, saying to himself, “Slavery is a dead issue.”

Now the slave could slip back into the field and pick a few more rows of cotton—perhaps through fear or instinct—but that in no way made him a slave again. He was free, but he had to exercise his freedom. The proclamation couldn't force compliance, and neither could the slave master force him to return. It was a matter of the will of the slave.

The Bible says, "...he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe we shall also live with him" (Romans 6:7-8).

What that means is simply this: Since the matter of your slavery to sin is a dead issue, seeing that Christ has already declared you emancipated, you are now free to live as a new person in Christ by thinking of yourself as unchained.

Christ can't make you do right, and Satan can't make you do wrong. Christ declares you are free by faith, but you must act as a free person.

Friday, March 19, 2010

GOD HAS EMERGENCY PLANS FOR EVERY BELIEVER

No matter how unsettled the world becomes, God's people can relax and keep their joy flowing, because our Lord has promised special protection when it is most needed.

Didn't God have an emergency plan for the children of Israel during the worldwide famine? He sent Joseph ahead to Egypt, promoted him to prime minister and filled the warehouses with enough grain to last out the famine. He then transported his people within walking distance of those storehouses and fed them to the full all through the raging famine.

Didn't God have emergency plans for Elijah? While his nation reeled under the impact of an economic collapse and food was scare because of severe famine—and a wicked king had a ransom on his head—God put his emergency plan for Elijah into effect. He hid him by a quiet brook and fed him by having a bird deliver his food. The survival plan also included a mysterious barrel of grain that never ran out.

What about Noah? What a detailed survival plan God had for him and his family! An ark—floating him and his family safely above all the death and destruction of a worldwide flood.

And Lot? God actually sent angels to personally pull him and his children out of the doomed city of Sodom. God's hands were tied until Lot was safely out of the suburbs. It was more than a loss of his job, more than a collapse of the economy, more than a downfall of the government—it was total annihilation of his society. But Lot was delivered safely.

Paul proved God's emergency contingencies over and over! This apostle was shipwrecked, chased by thieves, imprisoned, accused of treason and plotted against by assassins yet, in every crisis, God had a contingency plan for deliverance. Only when God determined his race was over did he call in his last contingency plan. He called him to his resurrection.

We, too, have an emergency plan for survival—designed specifically for each believer.

Let there be no question about it—God will see us through every crisis!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

FOLLOWING HOLINESS

God’s Word tells us in no uncertain terms: “Follow…holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).

Here is the truth, plain and simple. Without the holiness that’s imparted by Christ alone—a precious gift we honor by leading a life devoted to obeying his every Word—none of us will see the Lord. And this refers not just to heaven, but to our present life as well. Without holiness, we won’t see God’s presence in our daily walk, our family, our relationships, our witness or our ministry.

It doesn’t matter how many Christian conferences we attend, how many preaching tapes we listen to, how many Bible studies we are involved in. If we harbor a cancerous sin, if the Lord has a controversy with us over our iniquity, then none of our efforts will produce godly fruit. On the contrary, our sin will only grow more contagious and infect everyone around us.

Of course, this issue goes beyond all lusts of the flesh, to corruption of the spirit as well. Paul describes the same destructive sin in this passage when he says, “Neither murmur ye, as some of them also murmured, and were destroyed of the destroyer” (1 Corinthians 10:10).

So, dear saint, will you allow the Holy Spirit to deal with all the lusts you may be harboring? And will you instead seek and trust in the escape that God has provided for you? I urge you to cultivate a holy fear and trust in these last days. It will keep you pure, no matter how loudly wickedness rages around you. And it will enable you to walk in God’s holiness, which holds the promise of his enduring presence.

It is all a matter of faith. Christ has promised to keep you from falling, and to give you sin-resisting power—if you simply believe what he has said. So, believe him for this godly fear. Pray for it and welcome it. God will keep his Word to you. You cannot break free from the death-grip of besetting sin by willpower, by promises, or by any human effort alone. “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

THE CROSS TEACHES US HOW TO DENY SELF

Never once does our Lord say, “Stoop down and let me lay a cross on you.” Jesus is not in the drafting business; his army is all volunteer. Not all Christians carry crosses. You can be a believer without carrying a cross, but you cannot be a disciple.

I see many believers rejecting the way of the cross. They have opted for the good life with its prosperity, its material gain, its popularity and success. I’m sure that many of them will make it to heaven—they will have saved their skins—but they will not have learned Christ. Having rejected the suffering and sorrow of the cross, they will not have the capacity to know and enjoy him in eternity, as will all the cross-bearing saints who have entered into the fellowship of the suffering.

You will have to carry your cross until you learn to deny. Deny what? The one thing that constantly hinders God's work in our lives—self. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). We are misinterpreting this message if we emphasize self-denial, that is, the rejection of material or unlawful things. Jesus was not calling upon us to learn self-discipline before we take up our cross. It is far more severe than that. Jesus is asking that we deny ourselves. This means to deny your own ability to carry any cross in your own strength. In other words, "Don't take up your cross until you are ready to reject any and every thought of becoming a holy disciple as a result of your own effort."

Millions of professing Christians boast of their self-denial. They don't drink, smoke, curse or fornicate—they are examples of tremendous self-discipline. But not in a hundred years would they admit it was accomplished by anything other than their own willpower. They are practicing self-denial, but they have never denied self. In some ways, we are all like that. We experience "spurts" of holiness, accompanied by feelings of purity. Good works usually produce good feelings, but God will not allow us to think our good works and clean habits can save us. That is why we need a cross.

I believe Jesus is actually saying to us, "Before you take up your cross, be ready to face a moment of truth. Be ready to experience a crisis by which you will learn to deny your self-will, your self-righteousness, your self-sufficiency, your self-authority. You can rise up and follow me as a true disciple only when you can freely admit you can do nothing in your own strength—you cannot overcome sin through your own willpower—your temptations cannot be overcome by your self-efforts alone—you cannot work things out by your own intellect.

Your love for Jesus can put you on your knees but your cross will put you on your face.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

GOD’S ULTIMATE PLAN

By the close of the book of Genesis, God had chosen a small, insignificant people to become a teaching nation. He wanted to raise up a people who would be living examples of his goodness to the heathen world. So, to bring about such a testimony, God took his people into places that were beyond their control. He isolated Israel in a wilderness, where he alone would be their only source of life, caring for their every need.

Israel had no control over their survival in that desolate place. They couldn’t control the availability of food or water. They couldn’t control their destination, as they had no compasses or maps. How would they eat and drink? Which direction would they go? And where would they end up?

God would do it all for them. He would guide them every day by a miracle cloud, one that glowed at night and dispelled the darkness before them. He would feed them with angels’ food from heaven and provide them with water from a rock. Yes, every single need would be supplied by the Lord, and no enemy would be able to defeat them.

“Out of heaven he made thee [Israel] to hear his voice, that he might instruct thee” (Deuteronomy 4:36). God’s people would hear his very words guiding them, and in turn they would testify, “Who is there of all mankind who has heard the voice of the living God?” (see 4:32-34).

The nations surrounding ancient Israel were filled with “other gods,” idols made of wood, silver and gold. These gods were mute, unable to see or hear, unable to love, guide or protect the people who worshipped them. Yet any one of the nations could look to Israel and see a special people whom God carried through a terrible wilderness. They would see a God who spoke to his people, who loved and felt, who answered prayers and provided miracles. Here was a living God, one who guided his people in every detail of their lives.

God raised up a people who would be trained by him. There had to be a people who lived under his authority, who would trust him completely, giving him full control of every aspect of their lives. That people would become his testimony to the world.

Why would God want full control of a people and insist on their complete trust at all times? It was because only God knew the way and he would perform the impossible that was needed to get them there.

Monday, March 15, 2010

YOU CANNOT CARRY YOUR OWN CROSS

Jesus said to his disciples, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). However, Jesus could not carry his cross and neither can you!

As Jesus bore his own cross to Golgotha, led by his tormentors, he was too weak and frail to carry it for long. When he had reached the end of his endurance, his cross was laid on another's shoulder. The Bible doesn't tell us how far Jesus carried his cross but we do know Simon, the Cyrene, was compelled to pick it up and carry it to the place of crucifixion (see Matthew 27:32).

What does this mean to us? Would our Lord make us do something he could not do? Did he not say, "...whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27)? A cross is a cross, be it wooden or spiritual. It is not enough to say, "His cross was different—our cross is spiritual."

Personally, it gives me great hope to know that Jesus could not take up his own cross. It encourages me to know that I am not the only one burdened down to the ground at times, unable to go on in my own strength.

Jesus knew exactly what he was saying when he called us to "take up our cross and follow him." He remembered his own cross and that another had to carry it for him. Why then would he ask us to shoulder a cross he knows will soon crush us to the ground? He knows all about the agony, the helplessness, and the burden that a cross creates. He knows we can't carry it all the way in our own strength.

There is a truth hidden here that we must uncover, a truth so powerful, it could change the way we look at all our troubles and hurts. It may sound almost sacrilegious to suggest Jesus did not carry his own cross, but that is the truth.

God knows that not one of his children can carry the cross they take up when following Christ. We want to be good disciples by denying ourselves and taking up our cross, but we seem to forget that that same cross will one day bring us to the end of our human endurance. Would Jesus purposely ask us to take up a cross that he knows will sap all our human energies and leave us lying helpless, even to the point of giving up? Absolutely yes! Jesus forewarns us, "Without me ye can do nothing" (John 15:5). So he asks us to take up our cross, struggle on with it, until we learn that lesson. Not until our cross pushes us down into the dust do we learn the lesson that it is not by our might or power or strength, but by his power. That is what the Bible means when it says his strength is made perfect in our weakness.

Friday, March 12, 2010

GOD’S TREASURE IS IN EARTHEN VESSELS

One of the most encouraging Scriptures in the Bible is 2 Corinthians 4:7: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” Then Paul goes on to describe those earthen vessels—dying men, troubled on every side, perplexed, persecuted, cast down. And even though never forsaken or in despair, those men being used by God are constantly under the burden of their bodies, waiting anxiously to be clothed with new ones.

God mocks man’s power. He laughs at our egotistical efforts at being good. He never uses the high and mighty but, instead, uses the weak things of this world to confound the wise.

“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And the base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not…that no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

Does that ever describe me! Weak thing—foolish thing—despised thing—a base thing—not very noble—not very smart. Yet that is his perfect plan—the greatest mystery on earth. God calls us in our weakness. He puts his priceless treasure in these earthen vessels of ours because he delights in doing the impossible with nothing.

I saw Israel Narvaez, former Mau Mau gang leader, kneel and receive Christ as Lord. It was not just an emotional surface experience—he really meant it. But Israel went back to the gang and ended up in prison, an accessory to murder. Did God quit on him? Not for one moment! Today Israel is a minister of the gospel, having accepted the love and forgiveness of a longsuffering Savior.

Have you failed? Is there a sin that so easily besets you? Do you feel like a weakened coward, unable to get the victory over secret sin? But with that weakness in you, is there also a hunger for God? Do you yearn for him—love him—reach to him? That hunger and thirst is the key to your victory. That makes you different from all the others who have been guilty of failing God. That sets you apart. You must keep that hunger alive. Keep thirsting after righteousness. Never justify your weakness—never give in to it—and never accept it as a part of your life.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

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.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A DRY SPELL

I preach to thousands, yet there are times I feel so very dry—so far away from the presence of God. In such moments, I have no great yearning to read the Word. The reading of the Bible, in times of dryness, is done mostly through a sense of obligation. When I’m dry and empty, I feel little compulsion to pray even though I know my faith is intact, and my love for Jesus is strong.

Have you ever sat in church and watched those around you getting blessed, while you feel nothing? They cry; they pray; they worship with tremendous feeling. But you are not moved upon—at all. You begin to wonder if there is something wrong with your spiritual life.

I believe that all true believers experience dry spells at various times in their Christian life. Even Jesus felt the isolation—when he cried aloud, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”

What shall I do to overcome spiritual dryness?

1. I must maintain a life of prayer!

Nothing dispels dryness and emptiness quicker than an hour or two shut in with God. Putting off that date with God in His secret closet causes guilt. We know that our love for him should lead us into his presence, but we busy ourselves in so many other things—time slips away, and God is left out. We throw in his direction a whole array of “thought prayers.” But nothing can take the place of that secret closet—with the door shut—praying to the Father in seclusion.

Come boldly into his throne of grace—even when you have sinned and failed. He forgives—instantly—those who repent with godly sorrow.

2. I must no longer be afraid of a little suffering!

Christ’s resurrection was preceded by a short period of suffering. We do die! We do suffer! There is pain and sorrow.

We do not want to suffer or resist or be hurt! We want painless deliverance! We want supernatural intervention. “Do it, God,” we pray, “because I am weak and always will be. Do it all, while I go my way, waiting for a supernatural deliverance!”

But, thank God, suffering is always that short period before final victory. “But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered awhile, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

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).

Monday, March 8, 2010

JESUS AND STORMS

Jesus ordered his disciples into a boat that was headed for a collision. The Bible says he “constrained [them] to get into a ship…” that was headed for troubled waters where it would be tossed about like a bobbing cork. The disciples would be thrust into a mini-Titanic experience—and Jesus knew it all the time.

“And straightway Jesus constrained his disciples to get into a ship, and to go before him unto the other side, while he sent the multitudes away” (Matthew 14:22).

Where was Jesus? He was up in the mountains overlooking that sea. He was there praying for them not to fail the test he knew they must go through. The boat trip, the storm, the tossing waves, the winds were all a part of a trial the Father had planned. They were about to learn the greatest lesson they would ever learn—how to recognize Jesus in the storm.

At this point, the disciples recognized him as the miracle worker, the Man who turned loaves and fishes into miracle food. They recognized him as the friends of sinners, the One who brought salvation to every kind of humanity. They knew him as the supplier of all their needs, even paying their taxes with money from a fish’s mouth.

They recognized Jesus as “the Christ, the very Son of God.” They knew he had the words of eternal life. They knew he had power over all the works of the devil. They knew him as a teacher, teaching them how to pray, to forgive, to bind and to loose. But they had never learned to recognize Jesus in the storm.

This is the root of much of our trouble today. We trust Jesus for miracles and healing. We believe him for our salvation and the forgiveness of our sins. We look to him as the supplier of all our needs and we trust him to bring us into glory one day. But when a sudden storm falls upon us and it seems like everything is falling apart, we find it difficult to see Jesus anywhere near. We can’t believe he allows storms to teach us how to trust. We are never quite sure he is nearby when things get really rough.

There was only one lesson for the disciples to learn in this storm—only one! A simple lesson—not some deep, mystical, earth-shattering one. Jesus simply wanted to be trusted as their Lord in every storm of life. He simply wanted the disciples to maintain their cheer and confidence even in the blackest hours of trial. That’s all!

Friday, March 5, 2010

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.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

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 centurion 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.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

GOD’S UNLIMITED FORGIVENESS

My dear friend, never limit God’s forgiveness to you! There is no limit to his forgiveness and longsuffering. Jesus told his disciples, “If [thy brother] trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:4).

Can you believe such a thing? Seven times a day this person willfully sins before my very eyes, then says, “I’m sorry.” And I am to forgive him—continuously. How much more will our heavenly Father forgive his children who come in repentance to him! Don’t stop to reason it out—and don’t ask how or why he forgives so freely. Simply accept it!

Jesus did not say, “Forgive your brother once or twice, then tell him to go and sin no more. Tell him that if he ever does it again he will be cut off. Tell him he is an habitual sinner.” No! Jesus called for unlimited, no-strings-attached forgiveness!

It is God’s nature to forgive. David said, “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee” (Psalm 86:5). God is waiting right now to flood your being with the joy of forgiveness. You need to open up all the doors and windows of your soul and allow his Spirit to flood you with forgiveness.

John, speaking as a Christian, wrote, “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).According to John, the goal of every Christian is to “sin not.” That means the Christian is not bent toward sin but, instead, leans toward God. But what happens when that God-leaning child sins?

“And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Lay down your guilt, my friend. You don’t need to carry that load another minute. Open up the doors and windows of your heart, and let God’s love in. He forgives you—over and over again! He will give you the power to see your struggle through to victory. If you ask—if you repent—you are forgiven! Accept it—now!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

THE DANGER OF GUILT

Guilt is dangerous in that it destroys faith. The enemy of our soul is not at all interested in making Christians into adulterers, addicts or prostitutes. He is interested in one thing only—turning Christians into unbelievers. He uses the lusts of the body to bind the mind.

Satan wants you to be so crushed with guilt that you let go of your faith. He wants you to doubt God’s faithfulness and think that nobody really cares; that you will live in misery and heartbreak; that you will always be a slave to your lust; that God’s holiness is unreachable; that you are left alone to work out your own problems; that God no longer cares about your needs and feelings. If he can get you to the point of despair, he can flood you with unbelief—and then he has succeeded in his mission. The three simple steps toward atheism are guilt, doubt and unbelief.

Guilt can eat away at the spiritual vitality of a Christian like a raging cancer. It causes a person to lose control of life; it leads to a desire to quit or retire from spiritual activity; and, finally, it brings on physical pain and disease. Like cancer, guilt feeds upon itself until all spiritual life is gone, and the end result is weakness and a sense of shame and failure.

The way to get rid of guilt is to get rid of sin, which sounds simple, but it is not. You don’t just make up your mind to “drop” that third party that has entered your life. Many have tried that and found it didn’t work. You don’t just walk away from things that bind.

The most important move you will ever make in your life is the move you make right after you fail God. Will you believe the accuser’s lies and give up in despair, or will you allow yourself to receive the forgiving flow of God’s love?

Do you fear asking his forgiveness because you are not really sure you want to be free from that thing that binds you? Do you want the Lord, yet secretly long for something that is not lawfully yours? God is able to answer sincere prayer, to make you want to do his perfect will. Ask him to make you want to fulfill his will.

Monday, March 1, 2010

WE CAN HEAR HIS VOICE TODAY

Millions have been converted because one man waited to hear the voice of God. Saul "fell to the earth and heard that voice" and when he became Paul, he kept on hearing that voice. The Lord spoke man-to-man with him.

Peter allowed the Savior's voice to come to him. "Peter went up upon the housetop to pray…and there came a voice to him” (Acts 10:9, 13).

The entire Gentile race was welcomed into the kingdom, along with the house of Cornelius, because a man obeyed a voice. We are living in the same New Testament times as Paul and Peter and we, too, must allow His voice to come to us. "But today, if you will hear his voice...." What God could do with Christians who learn to hear from heaven!

Instead of waiting for His voice to come to us, we run to counselors and Christian psychologists, one session or another, and read books and listen to tapes—wanting to hear from God. We seek a clear word of direction for our lives and want pastors to tell us what is right and wrong. We desire a leader to follow, a diagram for the future. But few know how to go to the Lord and hear his voice. There are many who know how to get God's attention— to really touch God—but they know nothing about God reaching them.

"They that have ears to hear, let them hear what the Spirit saith..." (see Matthew 11:15).

God wants to shake the earth once more.

"See that ye refuse not him that speaketh. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven: whose voice then shook the earth: but now he hath promised, saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven" (Hebrews 12:25-26).

He has promised, "Once again my voice will be heard. Those who hear will shake the earth, and heaven and earth will be moved. By the hearing of my voice, whatsoever is loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven."

To the last church, the Laodicean church, the Lord cries:

"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me" (Revelation 3:20).

"I'm asking to be heard. Open up. Let me into your secret closet. Let me talk with you and you talk with me. Let's commune. That's how I will keep you from the hour of temptation that is coming on all the world."