Friday, December 31, 2010

THE MAKING OF A WORSHIPPER

Exodus 14 describes an incredible moment in Israel’s history. The Israelites had just left Egypt under God’s supernatural direction. Now they were being hotly pursued by Pharaoh’s army. The Israelites had been led into a valley surrounded on both sides by steep mountains, and ahead of them was a forbidding sea. They didn’t know it yet, but these people were about to experience the darkest, stormiest night of their souls. They faced an agonizing night of panic and despair that would test them to their very limits.

I believe this passage has everything to do with how God makes his people into worshippers. Indeed, no other chapter in the Bible demonstrates this more strongly. You see, worshippers are not made during revivals, in the good, sunny times, or periods of victory and health. Worshippers of God are made during dark stormy nights. And how we respond to our storms determines just what kind of worshippers we are.

Hebrews 11 gives us this image of Jacob in his old age: “By faith Jacob, when he was a-dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning upon the top of his staff” (Hebrews 11:21). Why is Jacob portrayed this way in his dying days?

Jacob knew his life was about to end. That’s why we see him giving his blessing to his grandchildren. So, what does Jacob do as he looks back on the events of his life? He is moved to worship. Not a word is spoken by this man. Yet, as he leaned on his staff, marveling at the life God had given him, “[he] worshipped.”

Jacob worshipped God in that moment because his soul was at rest. He had proven God faithful beyond any shadow of a doubt. And now the patriarch concluded, “It never mattered what battle I went through. God proved himself faithful to me. He has always been faithful. O Lord, almighty God, I worship you!”

Thursday, December 30, 2010

DON’T 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 be hurt. We want painless deliverance, 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.”

We may blame our troubles on demons. We seek out a man of God and hope he can cast out the demon so that we can go on our way with no pain or suffering. All done! Breeze right through to a peaceful life of victory. We want someone to lay hands on us and drive away all the dryness. But victory is not always without suffering and pain. Look at your sin. Face it. Suffer it through, just as Jesus did. Enter into his suffering. Suffering endures for a night, but joy always follows in the morning.

God’s love demands a choice. If God supernaturally lifted us out of every battle without pain or suffering, it would abort all trials and all temptation; there would be no free choice and no testing as by fire. It would be God superimposing his will on mankind. He chooses to meet us in our dryness and show us how it can become the way into a new life of faith.

It is often the will of God that we suffer dryness and even pain. “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator” (1 Peter 4:19).

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

MAINTAINING A PRAYER LIFE

I must maintain a life of prayer in order to overcome spiritual dryness. Why is it that none of us pray as we should? We know that our burdens can all be lifted when we are shut in with him. The voice of the Holy Spirit keeps calling us to prayer, “Come!”

Come to the water that satisfies that soul thirst. Come to the Father, who pities his children. Come to the Lord of life, who promises to forgive every sin committed. Come to the One who refuses to condemn you or forsake you or hide from you.

We may try to hide from God because of guilt and condemnation but he never hides from us. Come boldly to his throne of grace, even when you have sinned and failed. He instantly forgives those who repent with godly sorrow. You don’t have to spend hours and days in remorse and guilt or earn your way back into his good graces. Go to the Father, bend your knees, open your heart, and cry out your agony and pain. Tell him about your loneliness, feelings of isolation, fears, and failures.

We try everything except prayer. We read books, looking for formulas and guidelines. We go to friends, ministers, and counselors, looking everywhere for a word of comfort or advice. We seek mediators and forget the one Mediator who has the answer to everything.

Nothing dispels dryness and emptiness more quickly than an hour or two shut in with God. Nothing can take the place of praying to the Father in that secluded secret closet. That is the solution to every dry spell.

“For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring” (Isaiah 44:3).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

GOING THROUGH A DRY SPELL

Even though I preach to thousands, there are times I feel very dry, far away from the warm presence of God. When I’m dry and empty, I have no great yearning to read the Word and little compulsion to pray. I know my faith is intact and my love for Jesus is strong, and I have no desire to taste the things of this world. It’s just that I can’t seem to touch God for days, maybe even weeks.

Have you ever watched other Christians get blessed while you feel nothing? They testify of God’s answers to their prayers and shed tears of joy. They seem to live on a mountaintop of happy experiences while you just plod along, loving Jesus but not setting the world on fire.

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

Without the nearness of God, there can be no peace. The dryness can be stopped only with the dew of his glory. The despair can be dispelled only by the assurance that God is answering. The fire of the Holy Spirit must heat the mind, body, and soul.

There are times I feel unworthy, like the worst kind of sinner, but in spite of all that, I know he is not far off. Somehow I hear a distinct, small voice calling, “Come, my child. I am aware of all you are experiencing. I still love you and I will never leave you nor forsake you. We will face it together because I am still your Father and you are my child.” I have a flame in me that will not be smothered and I know he will bring me out of any dry spell.

“For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance. He found him in a desert land, and in the waste howling wilderness; he led him about, he instructed him, he kept him as the apple of his eye” (Deuteronomy 32:9-10).

“Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert. The beast of the field shall honour me, the dragons and the owls: because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen” (Isaiah 43:19-20).

Monday, December 27, 2010

HAVE YOU FELT LIKE GIVING UP LATELY?

A number of ministers have written to me expressing their concern for parishioners who are simply giving up. “Good honest Christians are so overwhelmed by guilt and condemnation that it causes despair. When they can’t live up to their own expectations, when they fall back into sin, they decide to give up….”

Growing numbers of Christians are at the breaking point. Few Christians would even dare entertain thoughts of quitting on their love for Jesus, but in despair they consider giving up on themselves.

Some ministers today continually preach only a positive message. To hear them tell it, every Christian is receiving miracles, everybody is getting instant answers to prayer; everybody is feeling good, living well, and the whole world is bright and rosy. I love to hear that kind of preaching because I really desire all those good and healthy things for God’s people. But that’s not the way things are for a great number of very honest, sincere Christians.

No wonder our young people give up in defeat. They can’t live up to the image, created by religion, of a carefree, rich, successful, always positive-thinking Christian. Their world is not that ideal; they live with heartbreaks, hour-by-hour crises, and family problems.

Paul talked about trouble: “…trouble which came to us…we were pressed out of [burdened beyond] measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (see 2 Corinthians 1:8).

Positive thinking won’t make these problems go away and “confessing” that these problems don’t really exist doesn’t change a thing. What is the cure? There are two absolutes that have brought me great comfort and help.

• God loves me. He is a loving Father wanting only to lift us out of our weakness.
• It is my faith that pleases him most. He wants me to trust him.

Friday, December 24, 2010

YOU WILL SURVIVE

Happiness does not mean living without pain or hurt—not at all. True happiness is learning how to live one day at a time, in spite of sorrow and pain. It is learning how to rejoice in the Lord, no matter what has happened in the past.

You may feel rejected and abandoned. Your faith may be weak and you think you are down for the count. Sorrow, tears, pain, and emptiness may swallow you up at times, but God is still on the throne. He is still God!

Convince yourself that you will survive. You will come out of it and, live or die, you belong to the Lord. Life does go on and it will surprise you how much you can bear with God’s help.

You cannot help yourself or stop the pain, but our blessed Lord will come to you. He will place his loving hand under you and lift you up to sit again in heavenly places. He will deliver you from the fear of dying and he will reveal his endless love for you.

Look up! Encourage yourself in the Lord. When the fog surrounds you and you can’t see any way out of your dilemma, lie back in the arms of Jesus and simply trust him. He has to do it all! He wants your faith and your confidence. He wants you to cry aloud, “Jesus loves me! He is with me! He will not fail me! He is working it all out, right now! I will not be cast down! I will not be defeated! I will not be a victim of Satan! I will not lose my mind or my direction. God is on my side! I love him and he loves me!”

The bottom line is faith. And faith rests on this one absolute: “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper…” (Isaiah 54:17).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

GOD WILL NOT LET YOU BREAK

Remind yourself that God knows exactly how much you can take, and he will not permit you to reach a breaking point.

Our loving Father said, “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” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

The worst kind of blasphemy is to think God is behind all your hurt and pain, that it is the heavenly Father disciplining you, that God thinks you need one or two more heartbreaks before you are ready to receive his blessings. Not so!

It is true that the Lord chastens those he loves, but that chastening is only for a season and is not meant to hurt us. God is not the author of confusion in your life; neither are you. The enemy tries to hurt us through other humans, just as he tried to hurt Job through an unbelieving wife.

Your heavenly Father watches over you with an unwavering eye. Every move is monitored; every tear is bottled. He feels your every hurt and he knows when you have been exposed to enough harassment from the enemy. He steps in and says, “Enough!” When your pain no longer draws you close to the Lord and, instead, begins to downgrade your spiritual life, God moves in. He will not permit a trusting child of his to go under because of too much pain and agony of soul.

God will lift you out of the battle for a while, right on time. He will never allow your hurt to destroy your mind. He promises to come, right on time, to wipe away your tears and give you joy for mourning. God’s Word says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

COMMITTED TO BE SEEKERS

“And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications…. And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession…. And while I was speaking, and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel…” (Daniel 9:3, 4 and 20). These were praying men!

You see, the first commitment they had made—to live a separated life—had to be backed up by a second commitment, to be seekers after God. Indeed, it is impossible to live a holy life without spending much time on your knees, seeking God for the power and authority to lead such a life.

Don’t be mistaken—faithful praying will not keep you out of a crisis. On the contrary, most likely it will bring you to a fired-up furnace and a lions’ den. But prayer will prepare you to face it all with trust—to become a living sacrifice for Jesus’ sake!

Daniel’s praying led him straight to the lions’ den. And this test came years after that of the Hebrew men—when Daniel was in his eighties! This may frighten you, if you wonder how long it will be before you stop having crises. Perhaps you thought you’d learned all your “important” tests after a certain number of years in the Lord. Yet, here God is allowing one of his greatest prayer warriors—a man of a quiet, tender spirit—to face the crisis of his life after decades of faithful intercession!

Beloved, the testing only ends when Jesus comes—or when you die in Christ! This is why prayer is so important. You can make a commitment to live an undefiled life—but that commitment is impossible to fulfill without also having a commitment to seek God.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

UNDEFILED IN THE MIDST OF WICKEDNESS

“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).

The word defile here suggests “freeing through repudiation.” Daniel was saying, in other words, “Any compromise of my standards will rob me of my freedom!” So Daniel committed to eat only beans and drink only water for ten days. When he told the prince of the eunuchs this, the prince answered, “You’re going to cost me my life! You’ll look sickly at the end of ten days. Your cheeks will be sunken—and the king will surely notice! Here—eat just a little meat. You need the protein. Drink the wine to build up your blood. Eat some of these sweets to give you energy!”

I believe Daniel and the three Hebrew men had something more in mind than avoiding anything ceremonially unclean. They had been taken captive along with thousands of their countrymen. What they saw when they first arrived in Babylon must have shocked them beyond belief. It was a society so loose, immoral and full of cursing, these four men’s spiritual sensibilities were assailed.

So the four made a commitment. They told each other, “We dare not compromise. We dare not adopt these moral standards. We will be separate, and we will be disciplined in our walk of faith!”

These four men did not go about preaching their way of life to others. It was strictly a matter between them and God.

I ask you: When you’re in a crisis, do you cry out, “Lord, where are you when I need you? Aren’t you committed to my deliverance?” But what if the Lord should say to you, “Where are you when I need a voice? I need voices in these sinful times, pure vessels through whom I can speak. You say you want me to come to your crisis—yet you remain a part of the wicked, worldly system. Tell me—are you committed to my purposes?”

Monday, December 20, 2010

IT BEGAN WITH REPENTANCE

The church as we know it today began with repentance. When Peter preached the cross at Pentecost, thousands came to Christ. This new church was made up of one body, consisting of all races, filled with love for one another. Its corporate life was marked by evangelism, a spirit of sacrifice, even martyrdom.

The wonderful beginning reflects God’s word to Jeremiah: “I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed” (Jeremiah 2:21). Yet the Lord’s next words describe what often happens to such works: “How then art thou turned into the degenerate plant of a strange vine unto me?” (2:21). God was saying, “I planted you right. You were mine, bearing my name and nature. But now you’ve turned degenerate.”

What caused this degeneration in the church? It always has been, and will continue to be, idolatry. God is speaking of idolatry when he says to Jeremiah, “My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit” (2:11).

Most Christian teaching today identifies an idol as anything that comes between God’s people and himself. Yet that’s only a partial description of idolatry.

Idolatry has to do with a much deeper heart issue. The number-one idol among God’s people isn’t adultery, pornography or alcohol. It’s a much more powerful lust. What is this idol? It’s a driving ambition for success. And it even has a doctrine to justify it.

The idolatry of being successful describes many in God’s house today. These people are upright, morally clean, full of good works. But they’ve set up an idol of ambition in their hearts, and they can’t be shaken from it.

God loves to bless his people. He wants his people to succeed in all they undertake honestly. But there is now a raging spirit in the land that is overtaking multitudes—this is the spirit of love for recognition and acquiring of things.

A man of the world said recently, “He who dies with the most toys—wins.” Tragically, Christians, too, are caught up in this pursuit.

How far we have strayed from the gospel of living through dying to self, ego, and worldly ambition.

Friday, December 17, 2010

CHRIST CAME WITH AN INVITATION AND A WARNING

Jesus stood in the temple and invited everyone to come under his merciful wings of protection. He called out to the blind, the sick, the leprous, the poor, the lost, everyone to come and find healing and forgiveness. But the religious crowd refused his offer. So Christ testified of them, “Ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

As I read this, a question arises: Here in the New Testament, would God dispose of an old work the same way he did in the Old? Would he cast off that which rejected his offers of grace, mercy and awakening?

Yes, he would. Jesus answered those who rejected him by saying, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). He told them, “This temple is now your house, not mine. I’m leaving it. And I leave what you wasted and deserted.”

He then added, “I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord” (23:39). He was declaring to them, “My glory is no longer in this old work.”

Think of it. Here stood mercy and grace Incarnate, saying, “This old thing isn’t mine anymore.” Then Jesus moved on to Pentecost, to the beginning of a new thing. He was about to raise up a new church, not a replica of the old. And he would make it brand-new from the foundation up. It would be a church of new priests and people, all born again in him.

Let me ask you: Is what you see going on in the church today representative of who Jesus is? Is what we’re seeing truly the church triumphant, the spotless bride of Christ? Does it reveal to a lost world the very nature of God? Is this the best that God’s Spirit can produce in these last days?

Have you found a church where Christ is truly present and the Word is faithfully preached? How very thankful you should be. Perhaps you are among the multitudes who can’t find a church that has life. I hear their cry, “I cannot find a church that is meeting my spiritual hunger. Too much entertainment—too much self—too much dryness.”

Take heart—God is soon going to shake things up in unbelievable ways. In that awesome shaking of all things, God will raise up true shepherds who will feed hungering sheep.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I’VE ALREADY GIVEN YOU A WORD

We are living in a time of the greatest gospel revelation in history. There are more preachers, more books, and more gospel-media saturation than ever. Yet there has never been more distress, affliction and troubled minds among God’s people. Pastors today design their sermons just to pick people up and help them deal with despair.

There is nothing wrong with this. I preach these truths myself. Yet I believe there’s still just one reason why we see so little victory and deliverance: it is unbelief. The fact is, God has spoken with great clarity in these last days. And this is what he has said: “I’ve already given you a Word. It is finished and complete. Now, stand on it.”

Let no one tell you we are experiencing a famine of God’s Word. The truth is, we’re experiencing a famine of hearing God’s Word, and of obeying it. Why? Faith is so unreasonable, but faith never comes to us by logic or reason. Paul states plainly, “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). This is the only way true faith will ever rise up in any believer’s heart. It comes by hearing—that is, believing, trusting and acting on—God’s Word.

“The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry…. The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles…. Many are the afflictions of the righteous…. The Lord redeemeth the soul of his servants: and none of them that trust in him shall be desolate” (Psalm 34:15, 17, 19, 22).

In just these few passages from Psalms, we are given enough of God’s Word to drive out all unbelief. I urge you now: hear it, trust it, obey it. And finally, rest in it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

WHY IS MY SOUL CAST DOWN?

Over and over, the Psalmist asks, “Why is my soul cast down? I feel useless, forsaken. There’s such a restlessness inside me. Why, Lord? Why do I feel so helpless in my affliction?” (See Psalm 42:11 and Psalm 43:5.) These questions speak for multitudes who have loved and served God.

Take godly Elijah, for example. We see him under a juniper tree, begging God to kill him. He’s so downcast, he’s to the point of giving up his own life. We also find righteous Jeremiah cast down in despair. The prophet cries, “Lord, you’ve deceived me. You told me to prophesy all these things but none of them has come to pass. I’ve done nothing but seek you all my life. And this is how I’m repaid? Now I’ll no longer mention your name.”

Each of these servants is under a temporary attack of unbelief. But the Lord understood their condition in times of confusion and doubt. And after a period, he always pointed them to their way out. In the midst of their afflictions the Holy Spirit turned on the light for them.

Consider Jeremiah’s testimony: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart” (Jeremiah 15:16). “The word of the Lord came to [Elijah]” (1Kings 19:9). At some point, each of these servants remembered God’s Word. And it became the joy and rejoicing of their lives, pulling them out of the pit.

The truth is, the whole time these people were struggling, the Lord was sitting by, waiting. He heard their cries, their anguish. And after a certain time had passed, he told them, “You’ve had your time of grief and doubt. Now I want you to trust me. Will you go back to my Word? Will you lay hold of my promise to you? If you do, my Word will see you through.”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

MY PROMISE IS ALL YOU NEED

Faith is very demanding. It demands that once we hear God’s Word, we’re to obey it, with no other evidence to direct us. It doesn’t matter how big our obstacles may be, how impossible our circumstances. We’re to believe his Word and act on it, with no other proof to go on. God says, “My promise is all you need.”

Like every generation before us, we also wonder, “Lord, why am I faced with this test? It’s beyond my comprehension. You’ve allowed so many things in my life that don’t make sense. Why is there no explanation for what I’m going through? Why is my soul so troubled, so filled with great trials?”

Hear me again: The demands of faith are totally unreasonable to humankind. So, how does the Lord answer our cries? He sends his Word, reminding us of his promises. And he says, “Simply obey me. Trust my Word to you.” He accepts no excuse, no wavering, no matter how impossible our circumstances may seem.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Our God is a loving Father. And he doesn’t allow his people to suffer indiscriminately, for no reason. We know he has at his disposal all the power and willingness to make every problem and heartbreak go away. He can merely speak a word, and rid us of every trial and struggle.

Yet, the fact is, God isn’t going to show us how or when he’ll fulfill his promises to us. Why? He doesn’t owe us any explanation, when he has already given us the answer. He’s given us everything we need for life and godliness in his Son, Jesus Christ. He is all we need for every situation life throws at us. And God is going to stand on the Word he has already revealed: “You have my Word within your reach. My promises to you are yea and amen to all who believe. So, rest on my Word. Believe it and obey it.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

THE UNREASONABLENESS OF FAITH

When God says to humankind, “Believe,” he demands something that’s wholly beyond reason. Faith is totally illogical. Its very definition has to do with something unreasonable. Think about it: Hebrews says faith is the substance of something hoped for, evidence that’s unseen. We’re being told, in short, “There is no tangible substance, no visible evidence.” Yet, we’re asked to believe.

I’m addressing this subject for an important reason. Right now, all over the world, multitudes of believers are bowed low in discouragement. The fact is, we’re all going to continue facing discouragement in this life. Yet I believe if we understand the nature of faith—its illogical, unreasonable nature—we’ll find the help we need to get through.

Consider the faith that was demanded of Noah. He lived in a generation that had spun out of control. The condition of humans had grown so awful, God couldn’t take any more. Finally, He said, “Enough! Man is set on destroying himself—it must end” (see Genesis 6).

Imagine Noah’s bafflement as he tried to grasp this. God was going to send a cataclysmic event, one that would destroy the entire earth. Yet all that Noah was told about the matter were these brief words from heaven. He was simply to accept it by faith, without receiving any more direction for 120 years.

Think about what faith was demanding of Noah. He was given a mammoth task to build a huge ark, and meanwhile he had to live in a dangerous world. He had to keep believing while the whole world around him danced, partied and wallowed in sensuality. But Noah did as God said. He kept trusting the word he’d been given, for more than a century. And for his obedience, Scripture says, Noah “became heir of the righteousness which is by faith” (Hebrews 11:7).

In Genesis 12:1–4, God told Abraham, “Get up, go out, and leave your country.” Surely Abraham wondered, “But where, Lord?” God would have answered simply, “I’m not telling you. Just go.”

This wasn’t logical. It was a totally unreasonable demand to any thinking person. I’ll illustrate by asking every Christian wife: Imagine that your husband came home one day and said, “Pack up, honey, we’re moving.” Of course, you’d want to know why, or where, or how. But the only answer he gives you is, “I don’t know. I just know God said go.” There’s no rhyme or reason to this kind of demand. It simply isn’t logical.

Yet this is precisely the illogical direction that Abraham followed. “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). All he knew was the brief word God had given him: “Go, Abraham, and I’ll be with you. No harm will come to you.” Faith demanded that Abraham act on nothing more than this promise.

One starry night, God told Abraham, “Look up into the sky. See the innumerable stars? Count them if you can. That’s how many descendants you’re going to have” (see Genesis 15:5). Abraham must have shaken his head at this. By now he was old, as was his wife, Sarah. They were long past the time of ever possibly having a child. Yet here he’s given a promise that he would become a father of many nations. And all the evidence he had to go on was a word from heaven: “I am the Lord” (Genesis 15:7).

But Abraham obeyed. And the Bible says the same thing of him that it says of Noah: “He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). Once again, we see an illogical scene. Yet one man’s faith is translated into righteousness.

What God asks of you may sound unreasonable. He asks that we trust him when he gives no evidence of answering our prayer, when the situation seems hopeless and we are sure it is all over. “Trust me”—the Lord says. Illogical? Yes. But for centuries the Lord has proven he is always on time and he never allows Satan to have the last word. God always comes through—in perfect Holy Ghost timing.

Friday, December 10, 2010

AN EVER-INCREASING OUTPOURING

In chapter 47 of Ezekiel, the prophet was being shown the following: In the very last days, the church of Jesus Christ will be more glorious, more victorious, than in its entire history. The Lord’s true body isn’t going to weaken and sputter. It’s not going to dwindle in numbers, or decrease in power or spiritual authority. No, his church will go out in a blaze of power and glory. And it will enjoy the fullest revelation of Jesus that anyone has ever known.

Ezekiel writes, “The fish of the great sea [shall be] exceeding many” (Ezekiel 47:10). There is coming forth a body of believers who will swim in the rising waters of the Lord’s presence.

This is what God is showing us in Ezekiel’s vision of the rising waters (see Ezekiel 47:3–4).

Ezekiel is speaking here of an increase of the Holy Spirit. In the latter days, there will be an increase of God’s presence among his people.

The very spring and foundation of this river is the cross. We see a literal image of this in the following verse; “One of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water” (John 19:34).

This growing flow of water is the image of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost was given to the disciples. Along with this gift of the Spirit, Christ’s followers were given a promise that he would be a river of life springing up within them. And that river would flow out into all the world (see John 7:38–39).

The river of life will crest just prior to the Lord’s coming. This is foretold in the vision given to Ezekiel. God took the prophet on an amazing trip. Carrying a measuring rod, the Lord paced off 1,000 cubits, about one-third of a mile. At that distance, the Lord and Ezekiel began walking in the water which at this point was ankle high.

Ezekiel testifies, “He brought me through the waters” (Ezekiel 47:3). And the Lord just kept urging the prophet onward, deeper and farther into the water. After another 1,000 cubits, the water came up to their knees. And it was still rising.

Do you see what was happening here? Ezekiel was walking into the future, right into our time. Christians today live in the final 1,000 cubits of the river in this vision. We’re in the very last measurement of water. And Ezekiel says that when he stepped to the edge of this measure, the water was too deep for him, too overwhelming. “I could not pass over: for the waters were risen, waters to swim in” (47:5).

I can only imagine this man’s wonder as the Lord asked him, “Ezekiel, what is this sea that has risen? If this river is all about life and resurrection power, who are the ones who’ll be so blessed to swim in such glory?” He could only envision what we now enjoy.

Maybe you’ve experienced the presence of Jesus abundantly. You may be thrilled by your present revelation of him. Yet, I tell you, you haven’t seen anything in comparison to the increase that’s coming to the righteous. Christ is going to open our eyes and wonderfully appear in our midst. He’ll reveal himself to us, pouring out on us as much of his life as we can possibly stand without already being in glorified bodies.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

WHEN SIFTING COMES

“And the Lord said, Simon, Simon; behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31).

You must understand that Satan seeks to sift only those who threaten his work. He goes after the tree with the most potential to bear fruit. But why did the devil desire to sift Peter? Why was he so anxious to test him? Well, for three years Peter had been casting out devils and healing the sick. Satan had heard Jesus promise the disciples another baptism, one of Holy Ghost power and fire—and he trembled! Now, the devil heard God’s ultimate plan for Peter. He realized that the past three years would be nothing compared to the greater works Peter and the other disciples would perform. Having already pulled down Judas, he would have to look for a measure of corruption in Peter to build on, to make Peter’s faith fail.

Perhaps, like Peter, you are in the sieve right now, being shaken and sifted. But, you ask, why me? And why now? First of all, you ought to rejoice that you have such a reputation in hell! Satan never would have asked God’s permission to sift you unless you had crossed the line of obedience. Why else would he spend his efforts harassing and troubling you, scaring you and shaking all that you have? He is sifting you because you play an important part in God’s church in these last days. God is doing a new thing once again in this last generation, and you have been set apart by him to be a powerful witness to many. He has set you free, and is preparing you for his eternal purposes. And the greater your gifts, the greater your potential, the greater your surrender to the will of God—the more severe your sifting will be.

When someone is going through the fire of sifting, what should those around him do? What did Jesus do about Peter’s imminent fall? He said to him, “I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32).

I look at this wonderful example of Christ’s love and realize I know almost nothing about how to love those who fall. Surely Jesus is that “friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24). He saw both the good and the bad in Peter and concluded, “This man is worth saving. Satan desires him, but I desire him all the more.” Peter truly loved the Lord, and Jesus told him, “I have prayed for you.” Jesus had seen this coming for a long time. He had probably spent many hours before his Father talking about Peter—how he loved him, how needed Peter was in God’s kingdom, how he valued him as a friend.

Lord, give all of us that kind of love! When we see brothers and sisters compromising or heading for trouble or disaster, let us love them enough to warn them as firmly as Jesus warned Peter. Then we’ll be able to say, “I am praying for you.”

Today we have yet another “It is written” with which we can do battle against Satan. It is this: “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail.” You can tell the devil, “You may have gotten permission to sift me, to try to tear down my faith. But you need to know this: My Jesus is praying for me!”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

CROSSING THE LINE

When Jesus walked the earth, he knew all too well the fierceness of Satan’s power, that he comes with every weapon in hell to sift the Lord’s people. I don’t think any of us can comprehend the great conflict raging right now in the spiritual realm. Nor do we realize how determined Satan is to destroy all believers who have fixed their hungering hearts firmly on going all the way with Christ. But it is true that in our Christian walk, we cross a line—the obedience line—that sets off every alarm in hell. And the moment we cross that line into a life of obedience to God’s Word and dependence on Jesus alone, we become a threat to the kingdom of darkness and a prime target of demonic principalities and powers. The testimony of every believer who turns to the Lord with all his heart includes the sudden onslaught of strange and intense troubles and trials.

If you’ve crossed the obedience line, then you are making waves in the unseen world. In Luke 22:28–34 Jesus introduces this subject of the sifting of saints. “Simon, Simon!… Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (v. 31). In Christ’s day, grain workers used a sieve just before they sacked grain. They shoveled wheat into a square box covered with netting, then turned the box upside down and shook it violently. The grit and dirt fell through the netting until only the grain kernels remained. In this verse sift means “to be shaken and separated”—to be shocked through the agitation of sudden trials. Jesus used this analogy to say to Peter: “Satan believes you’re nothing but grit and dirt, and that when he puts you in the sieve and shakes you, you will fall through to the ground!”

There are tests and trials, and then there is sifting. I see sifting as one major, all-out satanic onslaught. It is usually compressed into a short but very intense period of time. For Peter, the sifting would only last a few days, but those days would become the most faith-shaking, shocking and remorseful days of his life. That sifting time shook out the pride that had brought Peter down. The shaking rid his soul of hindrances that could have destroyed his witness once and for all.

Thank God, Peter’s faith did not fail and as surely as Jesus prayed that his “faith fail not,” so he prays for us in the same manner.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

THE HOUR OF ISOLATION

I know what it is like to face divine silence, not to hear God’s voice for a season. I have walked through periods of total confusion with no apparent guidance, the still small voice behind me completely silent. There were times when I had no friend nearby to satisfy my heart with a word of advice. All my patterns of guidance from before had gone awry, and I was left in total darkness. I could not see my way, and I made mistake after mistake. I wanted to say, “O God, what has happened? I don’t know which way to go!”

Does God really hide his face from those he loves? Isn’t it possible he lifts his hand for a short while to teach us trust and dependence? The Bible answers clearly: “God left him [Hezekiah], to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31).

You may be going through a flood of trials right now. You know what I’m talking about when I say the heavens are as brass. You know all about repeated failures. You’ve waited and waited for answers to prayer. You’ve been served a cup of affliction. Nothing and nobody can touch that need in your heart!

That’s the time to take your stand! You don’t have to be able to laugh or rejoice, because you may not have any happiness at the moment. In fact, you may have nothing but turmoil in your soul. But you can know God is still with you, because Scripture says, “The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever” (Psalm 29:10).

Soon you will hear His voice: Don’t get excited, don’t panic. Just keep your eyes on me. Commit all things to me. And you will know that you remain the object of his incredible love.

Monday, December 6, 2010

GET GOD’S POWER—AND THEN GO!

As soon as the disciples heard about receiving a baptism of power, they asked, "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel"? (Act 1:6). Jesus answered in no uncertain terms: "It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power" (v. 7).

Stop and think about what their question implied: "Lord, do you mean that beginning in that room, with just us, you will restore the kingdom of Israel? Are we to be the ones to bring down Herod and Rome? Are we the ones to cleanse the land, set up the kingdom and bring you back?"

We know that Jesus had to deal with the lust for leadership and authority in some of the disciples. But I sense something in their question here beyond a thirst for place and power. It speaks of a human need to be involved in some great, final destiny! It was a need to be special—to be the right people at the right time!

In their hearts the disciples may have been saying, "Lord, where are we in your prophetic schedule? It would be a great spiritual incentive to know we are at the end of one dispensation and that a new day is about to dawn. How excited we'd be if you'd let us know we are living and ministering in a day of destiny—that you are using us to wrap it all up!"

Saints, this same need to be people of destiny is in all of us to some degree. But Jesus' response to this was blunt: "It is not for you to know the times." Jesus is not looking for men or women of destiny. He wants only witnesses unto himself! He is saying, "The issue is not the 'prophetic hour,' or some great destiny appointed to you. I must have witnesses to this present generation!"

This deeply convicts me! Like so many others today, I want to know where we are at this very minute on God's prophetic clock. Are we about to enter the great tribulation? Is God gathering the final remnant of believers?

Then I hear Jesus say, "It's not for you to know. Become filled with the Holy Ghost. Wait on God, receive his power—and then go witness!" We are to live in a state of watchfulness, waiting in expectancy with our lamps trimmed and burning. We are to yearn and look for his appearing. Yes, we are to preach about his coming and warn of his judgments, but first and foremost, we are to be his witnesses!

Friday, December 3, 2010

GOD USES PEOPLE TO PROCLAIM HIS WORD

I think the majority of Christians would like to escape to some safe, quiet hideaway in the mountains to keep from being tainted by all the iniquity surrounding them. Many despair, saying, "What can one Christian do about all this moral degradation? What can one church do in such a huge, wild and wicked city? It's enough for me just to stay close to Jesus, so I don't get carried away with the flood."

Others think, "Is there really anything I can do—an insignificant Christian like me? I have no money, no training, no influence—only a great love for Jesus!"

We often expect God to move in one of two ways: By sending a supernatural outpouring of his Holy Spirit to sweep multitudes into his kingdom, or by sending judgment to bring people to their knees.

But, beloved, that's not God's method of changing things in an evil day. His way of rebuilding ruins has always been to use ordinary men and women whom he has touched. And he does this by filling them with his Holy Spirit and sending them into warfare with great faith and power!

God is raising up a holy ministry consisting of men totally given to the Word and prayer. They do not lord it over anyone. They are caring men and women with hearts that are stirred, with no plan in mind but to seek, hear and obey God!

Next, God is calling you into immediate service. He needs the common man, the layman! He uses people whom the high priests would call "unlearned and ignorant men" (Acts 4:13).
The Bible also says that in the Upper Room at Pentecost, "They were all filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 2:4). All became mighty in battle and all were bold, powerful witnesses! These Spirit-filled believers did not include just Peter, James, John and the other well-known disciples, but also the widows, the young, the servants and the handmaidens!

We know that Stephen was full of the Holy Ghost—"full of faith and power" (Acts 6:8). He was not an apostle nor an ordained minister. In fact, he was chosen to serve tables for the church so the disciples could devote themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.

Stephen was an ordinary man full of the Spirit of God! You can be God’s witness to your city. He uses laymen who get alone with him, are stirred in their hearts, seek him in prayer—and go forth like Stephen, full of Holy Ghost faith and power!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

HANDCUFFED TO JESUS

Paul often refers to himself as "the prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 3:1). In Ephesians 4:1 he says being a prisoner of the Lord is actually his vocation, his calling! He considered this God's gift of grace to him (Ephesians 4:7).

Paul wrote to Timothy: "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner" (2 Timothy 1:8). Even into his old age the apostle rejoiced in having been apprehended by the Lord and taken captive to his will: "Being such an one as Paul the aged, and now [or still] also a prisoner of Jesus Christ" (Philemon 9).

Paul could tell you the very hour that the Lord handcuffed him and took him captive. He was on the road to Damascus, with letters in hand from the high priest, bound and determined to bring back Christians to Jerusalem. He was "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord" (Acts 9:1)—full of hatred, bitterness and anger in his misguided zeal for God.

As he approached the city of Damascus, "Suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven" (Acts 9:3). He was struck completely blind by that light—which was Christ! Paul testified again and again how he had to be taken by the hand and led into Damascus, a helpless prisoner. He spent three days in an isolated room without sight and without eating anything. He'd been taken captive totally—in spirit, soul, mind and body!

What happened in that room for three days? The Lord was handcuffing Saul and making him into Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ!

In this vivid scene, Paul lets go of his independence and submits to Christ's yoke. He stretches forth his hands to Jesus, to be handcuffed for life! You can almost hear his agonizing prayer: "O, Lord, I thought I was doing your will! How could I have been so blind? I've been going my way, doing whatever I thought was right. I can't trust my own thoughts!"

My prayer is, "Here, Jesus, take my hands and put your manacles on me. Take me prisoner to your will and lead me wherever you want me to go. Keep me handcuffed to your mighty right arm!"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

HE WILL RESTORE YOUR WASTED YEARS

"And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpillar, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you" (Joel 2:25).

How many years did you waste before you repented and surrendered all to Jesus? How many years were eaten up by the cankerworm of sin and rebellion?

You know you are forgiven and your past is forgotten because it is under the blood of Jesus, but wouldn't you love to get back those years and live them for the glory of the Lord?

"I could have been so much deeper in Christ! I could have brought such joy to his heart! I could have saved myself and my family so much pain and suffering. How blind I was: how enslaved by the devil! How close I came to losing my soul and my sanity. I can never make up for all those wasted years." How often have you thought this?

In his final days Paul looked back over his life and testified, "I have fought a good fight, I have kept the faith. Now a crown of righteousness is awaiting me" (see 2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Paul says, "Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). In other words, "Forget your past and press on in Jesus!"

Satan's favorite form of harassment is bringing up your past by pulling old skeletons out of the closet to scare you! He will try to persuade you that an old addiction or lust is going to rise up in your heart and take you back to the old life. Or you could succumb to pride, thinking you cannot fall—but then you would be targeted by the enemy for certain!

You might feel the pangs of remorse as long as you live. And yes, the memories will keep you humble. But in God's eyes, your past is a dead issue. As far as condemnation and guilt are concerned, God says, "Forget the past. Press on to what I promised you!"

We see a picture of such restoration in the New Testament when Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. "Then saith he to the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it forth; and it was restored whole, like as the other" (Matthew 12:13). You see, when Jesus restores you, he also heals the wounds.

Beloved, take those old wounds—the worries and regrets about your wasted years—and let God restore to you the very years that were taken away. Then press on toward the prize of your high calling in him!