Wednesday, July 31, 2013

SHARING A LETTER OUR MINISTRY RECEIVED

"Dear Pastor David, A few years ago my husband lost a job that was very important to him. This was tragic for him, as he lost all his self-esteem and his good income, and he has never recovered. Even though he's employed, his present salary is less than half of what it was. Now I am the family’s primary breadwinner.

“A few weeks ago I was looking for something to read when the Lord led me to a box of papers I had kept. I pulled out one of your old sermons, ‘A Place Called Wits’ End.’ As I read this message, God's Spirit ministered to me that that's exactly where I am—at my wits’ end!

"God showed me through your message that I've turned in anger against my husband. I've been depending on him—that is, on the flesh. I need to turn to Jesus alone as my hope, as the only one who can provide for me and bring me out of these problems. I know now that my husband can never bring me out. Yet as I read your message, I received assurance that God is with me.

"I'm not through my trial yet. It's still very hard. Sometimes when I look down the road, I see potential disasters hemming us in like the children of Israel. Yet God has shown me I have doubted His love for me and His faithfulness to provide for me.

"I've also realized, as you've taught, that I've been good at suppressing my fears and have never dealt a deathblow to my doubts. Now I want to put an end to all that. I choose to praise God for loving me and providing for me, even though I haven't seen the provision yet.”

Dear saint, you may have more bad days coming. But you must come to the place where you can say, "Jesus, I cast all my cares upon You now. I'm an heir to the riches of God in Christ Jesus. And I know those riches include full supply of all my physical needs."

You can believe and trust God for that! 

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

THE COMFORT OF THE FATHER

Imagine an adopted son who has matured and inherited lordship over all of his father's wealth. Yet this son continues to eke out an existence with the servants, living under the terms of enslavement.

Is it right for this young man's father to comfort him in his bondage, assuring him he's loved and that everything will be all right? Of course not. Any father who loves his son would want him to claim his inheritance and leave his poverty. He would urge him to appropriate the riches that are his!

Likewise, God doesn't merely comfort us in our bondage. Rather, He comes to us saying, "Son, daughter, when are you going to take your place at My side? When will you come into My house and lay hold of all the resources that are now rightfully yours?"

"Because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ" (Galatians 4:6-7).

If Jesus is your Lord and Savior, then you're a child of God. And because you are His child, you are automatically an heir and joint-heir with Christ to all the riches of the Father!

Of course, our position as heirs has nothing to do with material wealth. To say that Christ died to make us rich in gold or silver is blasphemy. The Bible states, "In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily" (Colossians 2:9). This means God has given Jesus all riches in glory. Therefore, He has every resource needed to bring us out of every bad day we might face.

Yet, you ask, "Isn't God interested in our physical well-being? All my bad days have to do with my lack of finances. I constantly worry about making ends meet."

Beloved, your Father begins by meeting all your physical needs. His Word promises, "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:19). The Greek word for need here is from a root word meaning "to handle all business, all that is lacking or necessary."

Paul is saying, "God is faithful to take care of all your concerns—business, financial and otherwise. That covers your employment, your food, your clothes and your home. Yet there are also the riches of His goodness—strength, wisdom and grace, as well as the riches of His full assurance of salvation. And, beyond even these, there are His unsearchable riches."

Monday, July 29, 2013

POWER IN HARD TIMES by Gary Wilkerson

I visited a church in El Salvador where the average income of of the members is four dollars a day. I was astonished to learn that the people give two of their earned dollars toward charity. When I asked them why they give so much, all of them answered, “Because Jesus told us to give to the poor.”

When I pointed out that they were in need, they responded, “Oh, no! We’re blessed and we want to bless in return.”

These are not hearts that are unholy or swollen with conceit. Can we say the same of ourselves? As Christians, will we be eager to bless others when we have little in our own accounts? Or will we shrink back when it comes to blessing as we have been blessed?

The coming hard times will reveal the condition of our hearts. For the first time in history, less than 50 percent of Americans identify themselves as believers of some kind. That figure is even lower—30 percent—for people under thirty. Many of these check “none” as their religious affiliation. It is estimated that within a decade this generation will be lost completely to secularism and godlessness. And intolerance for Christians will only increase.

What are we to do with this? The writer of Hebrews answers, “Recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings” (Hebrews 10:32, ESV). God turned those early Christians’ sufferings into tools for gospel power: “Sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction . . . you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, ‘Yet a little while, and the coming one will come . . . but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.’ But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (10:33-39).

This is a hard passage, to be sure, but there is good news embedded here. God is telling us that in the midst of the growing darkness, He is doing something glorious, raising up a last-days church as a testimony to His power in hard times. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

HE ADOPTED US

I believe difficulties often are meant to bring us into maturity and out of childish bondages. Consider the way children react; one minute they're laughing and the next they're screaming. They're easily hurt and they cry a lot. In spite of all this, godly parents love and comfort their children through all of life's experiences.

Likewise, as Christians, we sometimes pout or throw fleshly tantrums when we face difficult times. We cry, "Okay, God, if that's the way You're going to treat me, if You're going to keep letting bad things happen, then why should I even pray to You?"

Yet our heavenly Father loves and comforts us through every tantrum, through our burdens, our childish ups and downs. His great desire is that in the midst of our trials we begin to grasp the knowledge of who we are and what we possess as His children. He knows that whenever we are tossed about by the winds and waves of our emotions, we often forget we are His children and we begin living far beneath our privileges. Yet His Word tells us we are His heirs and joint heirs with our older brother, Jesus!

"The heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all" (Galatians 4:1). Paul is talking about a Roman custom of the day. A child would be adopted by a rich man and then placed with a tutor until he turned eight years old. From age eight to twenty-five, the child would be put under the authority of a guardian. Through all those years, the child remained heir to a fortune yet he had virtually no control or power over his life.

Paul says such a child illustrates those who are under the law. The law is the tutor that instructs us in God's commands. But a time comes when our schooling ends and we are to take our places as heirs of God's riches through the grace of Christ. Yet, many Christians still live according to good works and rules without comprehending their position as sons of God. "We, when we were children, were in bondage" (verse 3). They are still serving God as slaves, bound by fear, guilt and despair because they don't understand their adoption.

Paul says to such believers, "You're still childish in your thinking, laboring under the bondage of laws you established for yourself. You don't see that you're now lord over all things, able to partake in everything your Father owns. He adopted you, loved you and put you in school to prepare you." 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

EVEN THE APOSTLE PAUL HAD BAD DAYS

Paul was hit with a bad day while traveling in Macedonia. "When we were come into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears" (2 Corinthians 7:5). This godly man confessed that his inner man was plagued not just by one fear, but by many fears!

Indeed, Paul was no superhuman. He was subject to the same human emotions we all face. At one point, all the believers in Asia turned against him, people he'd given his lifeblood for. He wrote, "The more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved" (2 Corinthians 12:15).

Yes, Paul had awful days. But he never gave in to his feelings and the temptations that accompanied them. He testified in his worst time: "I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation" (2 Corinthians 7:4). Then he added: "God, that comforteth those that are cast down, comforted us" (verse 6).

Are you going through a bad day, a bad week, a long season of despondency? Are you cast down, discouraged, with thoughts of quitting? If so, then how do you think God reacts to your trial? Does He rebuke you or chasten you? No, never! Paul states, "The Lord is never closer to you, never more ready to help you, than when you're down and hurting."

"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). The Greek word for comforteth here means "to comfort or encourage, to call to one’s side." What an amazing truth! When we experience bad days, our heavenly Father takes advantage of them to draw us closer to Himself. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

WHEN A BAD DAY COMES

My bad days come most often while I am alone with the Lord, searching His Word. I can be overwhelmed with feelings of ignorance as I sense a whole ocean of truth before me, knowing I can't possibly comprehend it because there's so much of it.

I get even more frustrated when I read the great writings of preachers who lived 300 years ago. I end up crying out, "Oh, Lord, I'm like a baby in my understanding compared to these spiritual giants. They lived in a supposedly unenlightened age and yet as young men they wrote about matters I have yet to grasp in my old age. Why is it so hard for me to get it?"

The only answer I receive is what I hear in Paul's words: "Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:9). All power rests in God, including the power to comprehend truth and maintain a godly life. This great treasure is contained in earthen vessels so that all glory may be to Him.

If your bad day involves a demonic attack on your faith, you may be tempted to think you're being unspiritual just for undergoing it. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.

A godly young man called me in tears and blurted out, "I've just had the worst day of my life and I don't know what to do! A strange feeling came over me today and I can't shake it. Brother Dave, I don't know if there is a God!"

The young man had no idea where his feelings of doubt came from and he was shocked and hurt by the terrible thoughts that entered his mind. He confessed, "I can't feel God's presence. And now I can't help doubting whether He exists at all. What am I going to do? I don't want to harbor these awful thoughts!"

I told him, "Don't be afraid or discouraged. Believe me, this is an old trick of the devil that he loves to play on young believers who are precious to God. He is trying to strike at your faith and confuse you."

I was able to tell this young man the same thing I had told my son Gary when he was going through a bad time: "Just ride it out. Your heavenly Father knows exactly what you're going through and He'll see you through it all. Remember, God has promised never to leave you. Just keep turning to Him—by faith alone!" 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS

The Christian life is not a life of clear sailing. Every believer is going to have bad days, no matter how holy he may be. Most Christians know Jesus isn't just a "good times only" savior. He is with us not only when things are going well, but during our bad days also. When hard times hit us, He doesn't disappear, saying, "I'll be back when you've got it all worked out." No, He's faithful and caring through every season.

The apostle Paul addresses this when he writes, "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us" (2 Corinthians 4:7). The treasure Paul refers to is the knowledge and presence of Jesus Christ.

The Greek word Paul uses for earthen is "frail clay," meaning "weak, easily broken, easily tempted." He is saying, "Yes, we hold Jesus' presence in our very bodies. But our bodies are weak, easily tempted and easily broken."

The fact is, we all suffer what the Bible calls "infirmities." For many Christians, a common infirmity of life is a frail constitution or poor health. Paul spoke of Timothy's frequent illnesses, calling them "often infirmities" (1 Timothy 5:23). The Greek word infirmity here means "sickly, without strength, feeble of body or mind."

Yet there are other infirmities besides physical ones, and they are just as difficult to handle. In my opinion, infirmities of the mind are probably the most widespread. I'm talking about those unexplainable times when your feelings betray you and play tricks on your mind. Let me explain.

Guilt, fear and anxiety are all infirmities of the mind. You might be haunted because of your past or because of some sin that still clings to your life. And these infirmities cannot but help affect your feelings.

If you are undergoing this kind of trial, you must understand that you are not being unspiritual while enduring such attacks. You are still the child of your heavenly Father, and He won't let you fight alone. He will send the Holy Spirit to chase away all your doubts. Don't try to argue with the devil, because you can't prove anything to him. Instead, when the next attack comes, run to your heavenly Father. Then stand still—with patience and hope!

Monday, July 22, 2013

LIVING LIFE EMPOWERED BY GOD by Gary Wilkerson

Many of us want to know God’s way and hear gospel truth, but we avoid living it. Sadly, in today’s church it is acceptable to enjoy sermons and worship, yet go home completely unchanged.

Paul said of his own testimony, “My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4, ESV). If we are not living a life empowered by God, the problem is with us, not the Lord.

God didn’t stop giving His people power in 100 A.D. Jesus never said, “Greater works than these shall you do—until the Reformation.” Paul preached a message of gospel power and he wanted that power for Timothy for a specific reason: “In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless . . . not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:1-5, ESV).

Paul is speaking here of churchgoers but describes them as having only “a form of godliness.” These Christians didn’t mind going to the synagogue, reading spiritual texts or taking part in religious activities. Yet Paul’s advice to Timothy was, “Avoid them.” He was saying, “It’s dangerous to be around those people. You’ll start to think their way is acceptable. They may look godly, but the Lord looks on the heart—and He sees unholiness and conceit.”

Paul said these Christians were “always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (3:7). In other words, they listened to all the gospel teachings but never took them to heart. That made them powerless, Paul said, because they “oppose the truth” (3:8).

Note how Paul begins this passage: “In the last days there will come times of difficulty” (3:1). He makes clear that “normal” Christianity won’t be sustainable in the days to come, that perilous times will wither a superficial faith. I am probably the least prophetic Christian alive, but even I can see bad times on the horizon. When global economies teeter, the average American faces financial disaster, and political upheaval heightens, then something has to give.

What will most Christians do when things turn really bad? Are our hearts truly prepared to deal with hard times? I pray we’ll react as the church in Acts did when they learned of a coming famine. They did not stockpile goods against the coming tide. Instead, they took up an offering for other churches whom they knew would suffer. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

CONSIDER YOUR WAYS

Thank God for the prophet Haggai. Here was a man of God living in victory, someone who had the mind of God, who walked in grace, and who had heaven open to him. He came to the site of the unfinished temple in Jerusalem and gave Zerubbabel and Joshua this warning: "Is it time for you, O ye, to dwell in your ceiled houses, and this [God's] house lie waste? Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways" (Haggai 1:4-5).

This was a call to quit focusing on self—not only self-comfort, but also self-despair. Haggai was saying, "Forget the past! It's time to rise up out of your lethargy. In spite of all your sinning, God wants you to take up His work where you left off. Now, pick up your instruments of labor and regain your confidence in the Lord. Go back to your secret closet of prayer, back to trusting God. Soon you'll hear His voice again!"

Scripture says, "The Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel . . . and the spirit of Joshua . . . and the spirit of all the remnant of the people; and they came and did work in the house of the Lord of hosts, their God" (verse 14). Then God gave them this promise: "Consider now from this day and upward . . . from this day will I bless you" (2:18-19).

Zerubbabel and Joshua were once again walking in faith and righteousness. And now the prophet brought them the best word of all: God was going to take down the obstacle that nearly destroyed them! "Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain: and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shoutings, crying, Grace, grace unto it" (Zechariah 4:7).

Dearly beloved, this is what your present trial is all about. God is going to stir your heart once again and you will see the completion of your call. The Holy Spirit is going to destroy every stronghold in your life—not through your strength, but through His. Then you will finish the course God has laid out before you. And, like Zechariah, you'll do it shouting, "Grace, grace! God has been merciful and faithful to me!"

Thursday, July 18, 2013

NOT BY MIGHT NOR BY POWER

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord” (Zechariah 4:6).

The Lord sent two men on a mission to rebuild the fallen temple in Jerusalem. Zerubbabel and the high priest, Joshua, were godly leaders who obeyed the Lord and carried out His work with zeal and faithfulness.

At first they had to labor against heavy opposition. Groups of backslidden, idolatrous Jews and jealous Samaritans opposed the work, trying everything to prevent it. Finally, these groups succeeded in getting Cyrus to rule against the two men's mission. After that, Zerubbabel and Joshua grew weary of the struggle, of being opposed, slandered and misjudged. So for the next sixteen years, the work of God stopped.

Yet Zerubbabel and Joshua never received a mandate from God to retire. The Bible doesn't record any edict from Cyrus actually revoking their permission to build. So their work should not have missed a beat. The fact is, God still had all the power necessary to help them go forward.

In such times, Satan always shows up providing a perverted theology to support a compromising lifestyle. The doctrine in this case was: "It's not God's time yet. The word from Cyrus has made that clear. The Lord will let us know when the time is right to build. Meanwhile, let's build up our estates. We need to enjoy our religion!"

Simply put, the people of Israel—including these two godly men—were guilty of blatant unbelief. They lost all their confidence in God to direct and support them.

I see the same spirit of unbelief at work today. Preachers have told me very bluntly, "I'm counting the days till I retire. I've had it with people! I don't want to put up with their stuff anymore. As soon as my retirement date comes, I'm out of here."

No! May this never be the attitude of any true servant of God. The Holy Spirit is a quickening Spirit and if you're living and ministering in the Spirit, then the older you get and the longer you minister, the stronger you'll grow through it all. The work of God ought to become more exciting to you with every passing year! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

GOING BACK TO EGYPT

Isaiah speaks of Christ healing the stammering tongue (see Isaiah 33:19). The Hebrew word for "stammer" in this passage means "a defective utterance." This is the voice of uncertainty and hesitation, one that speaks a word without power or any ring of truth.

Listen to the prophet's solemn words on this subject: "The vile person will speak villainy, and his heart will work iniquity, to practice hypocrisy" (32:6). The Hebrew word for villainy here means "foolishness, a wicked crime." It comes from the word nabal, which means "dolt, fool."

Isaiah is telling us, "Only a wicked, doltish man attempts to deliver God's word while indulging in sin. His words come out as utter foolishness!" Such a man commits "utter error against the Lord, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail" (same verse). His own error ends up misleading others.

I am convinced that one particular sin, more than any other, causes such blatant distortion of truth. It is the sin of unbelief, which is rampant in many ministries today.

God calls the sin of unbelief "going back to Egypt." "Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help . . . but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the Lord!" (31:1). "Woe to the rebellious children . . . that take counsel, but not of me . . . that walk to go down into Egypt" (30:1-2).

Isaiah was dumbfounded when he saw many of Israel's leaders mount their horses and gallop to Egypt to try to get counsel on national policy and security. These were the same men who told the prophet they had no time to seek the Lord or consult with Him. But God didn't take their actions lightly. He called it all rebellion and pronounced woe upon them!

Today, nothing has changed. Multitudes of Christians crisscross the country attending seminars and conventions with a "go to Egypt" mentality. They are networking, strategizing, borrowing worldly methods, getting flesh-inspired counsel. In short, they are looking for any new thing that might excite them.

But the praying servant who trusts God wholly knows he has no time for Egyptian concepts. The only place he runs is to his secret closet—where he gets his counsel on his knees! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A TRUE SERVANT OF GOD

When the prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of Christ and His kingdom, he outlined what Christ's true ministers would be like. In doing so, he defined our ministry in these last days by saying, in essence, "I want you to know the marks of the true people of God, those who will be ministering just before the Prince of Peace comes to reign!"

Isaiah begins with these words: "Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness" (Isaiah 32:1). Then the prophet adds, "And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (verse 2).

It is clear to me that Isaiah is talking about Christ. He goes on to tell us that a true servant of God will preach the all-sufficiency of Christ! Indeed, this believer shuts himself in with Jesus, trusting his Lord to make his soul a well-watered garden. He lives with a quiet confidence, his spirit at rest and full of peace.

This true servant of God has no "tempest" brewing in his soul because of sin. On the contrary, he fully trusts the Holy Spirit to mortify his sins, and his spirit is as free as a bird. He has no fears or worries, because all is clear between him and his Lord. There is a song in his heart because Christ is his delight!

Moreover, this servant knows no one can harm him because he clings to the security and comfort of God's promise to defend the righteous. No weapon formed against him can prosper because God Himself rises up against every tongue that comes against him. God is his defense in a weary land!

Isaiah points out two distinguishing marks of the righteous servant. First, he has discernment and, second, he knows the voice of God distinctly: "The eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken" (Isaiah 32:3).

We see an example of this in Jesus' first encounter with Nathaniel. When He saw Nathaniel coming toward Him, He cried, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47). In other words, "Look, brothers! Here comes a man who is no hypocrite. There's no deceit in him, no immorality. He is a clean vessel!"

Monday, July 15, 2013

MOST CHRISTIANS ARE POWERLESS by Gary Wilkerson

“Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48, ESV).

Most Christians are powerless. To some readers, this statement will sound bold and to others it will sound obvious. Either way, it is a commentary on the church I would rather not have to make.

Consider what “normal” Christianity in the typical believer looks like today. This person is a bit self-seeking and a little materialistic, and most of his daily choices are about improving his life. That includes his spiritual pursuits, from his church groups to the podcasts he downloads, to the seminars he attends.
There is nothing wrong with any of these things. Our Lord wants our lives to be blessed, but for some Christians these are nothing more than worldly pursuits. They are about self-improvement, not the kingdom of God, and they can drain a believer of true gospel power.

What passes for normal Christianity today must be an outrage to God. It is not only powerless, it is passionless, lacking self-sacrifice. In other words, it is cross-less—and therefore Christ-less. Do not misunderstand. I am all about God’s grace, and I would not lay an undue burden on anyone. But it’s time for the church to take a spiritual inventory to see whether our “spiritual” pursuits are leading us closer to God’s heart or causing us to run in circles.

Let me pose a question. Do you think it would be better for your spiritual health to attend a church that doesn’t preach much gospel, teach much of God’s Word or have much passion for His kingdom? A church where no one really lives out His commands? Or would it be better to attend a church that exalts God’s Word, proclaims the gospel and has a home group for every type of believer?

I would humbly suggest that the second option might be more dangerous to your spiritual health. Why? Because Jesus declares that to whom much is given, much is required. For someone whose life doesn’t match the biblical truth he’s been taught, Judgment Day will be scary. 

Friday, July 12, 2013

WHEN GOD NO LONGER SPEAKS

Isaiah faithfully prophesied to Israel that the "ears of them that hear" would one day be opened. But, sadly, his listeners had shut their ears to God's voice. They wanted to hold on to their sins!

"When I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not. Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, my servants shall eat, but ye shall be hungry: behold, my servants shall drink, but ye shall be thirsty: behold, my servants shall rejoice, but ye shall be ashamed. Behold, my servants shall sing for joy of heart, but ye shall cry for sorrow of heart, and shall howl for vexation of spirit. (Isaiah 65:12-14).

How tragic it is to refuse to hear the loving warnings of the Holy Spirit. Whenever we shut our ears to God's command to mortify the sins of our flesh, we are doomed to experience every kind of sorrow and pain.

Please understand, I'm not talking about a servant of God who is overtaken by a sin he hates. Nor am I referring to the believer who won't allow himself any rest until the Holy Ghost sets him free. Rather, I'm talking about the believer who has learned to love his sin, who has laid his head in the lap of a Delilah. Such a person has a calloused conscience.

The servant who continues his sinful ways will hear voices but none of them will be God's. Instead, that person will be given over to delusion: "I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not" (Isaiah 66:4).

What an awful thing it is when God no longer speaks! But how encouraging to know that the Holy Spirit will lovingly caution us and keep us from sin. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

WORKS OF DARKNESS

"If thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:23). Scripture makes it plain that hidden sins are "works of darkness." We know from God's Word that light has no communion with darkness.

Peter tells us Christ "preached unto the spirits in prison; which sometime were disobedient" (1 Peter 3:19-20). Disobedience cast these souls into a prison of darkness. Likewise today, every willful act of disobedience causes the light of discernment within us to darken. Over time our perception of truth becomes distorted, and our "open heaven" grows clouded.

The Lord suffers greatly whenever hidden sin brings gross darkness upon our souls. And nothing grieves Him more than when we resist and reject His warnings and convictions. Consider this tragic case described in a letter we received:

"My husband has given himself over completely to Internet pornography. Now I've filed for divorce, and he doesn't even care. We were happily married for twenty-five years before all this happened. I couldn't understand why he spent so much time shut up in his room with his computer. Then one day I walked in and was shocked by the ugly filth I saw on the screen.

"He became obsessed. His personality changed, and a meanness came over him. I knew he was addicted. He said, 'I can't help it. I'm going to do as I please.'"

The apostle Paul directs a horrifying statement to those who walk "in the vanity of their mind" (Ephesians 4:17). Such people justify their sin, no longer seeking deliverance from it. Paul says of them: "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart" (verse 18).

How did they become so dark and blinded? They fell under a blindness that comes upon all who give themselves over to sin: "Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness" (verse 19).

John Owen, the Puritan writer, spells out the tragic result: "A man under the power of some predominant lust is under false security and does not discern coming perilous times." 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

AN OPEN HEAVEN

Jesus turned to Nathaniel and said, "Verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:51). The Greek phrasing here comes from a root meaning that suggests "repetitively." In other words, Jesus was telling Nathaniel, "God is going to open up to you continuing revelations."

Likewise, God makes this covenant with every minister of the gospel whose life is above reproach, with no hidden sin or dark secrets. Such a servant receives a continuous flow of the revelation of Christ's glory. And he acts as an oracle of God, continually receiving a fresh word from heaven.

I am often amazed by the fresh, anointed words I hear these days from a number of unknown young preachers. We receive scores of preaching tapes from all over the country, and occasionally a tape will contain such a message. When I hear this kind of pure vision of Christ, I sometimes call the minister who preached it and ask for more tapes.

If the tapes prove consistent in vision and message, the preacher might be invited to speak at Times Square Church. In fact, that is how we got our Senior Pastor, Carter Conlon.

Such servants are straightforward and simple in their walk with God, and their lives are open books. They are devoted to their families and do not exhibit even a hint of ambition. Instead, they happily pastor small congregations, spending many of their waking hours alone in prayer. Their very presence is full of God's Spirit and revelations of Christ flow out of them like rivers of life.

Our church is also staffed by godly elders. Often when I hear these men teach, I shake my head in awe, wondering, "Where did these servants get such incredible revelations of the glory, power and sufficiency of Christ? They have no theological training, yet they're teaching pure, holy streams of revelation!"

Like Nathaniel, these are servants in whom there is no guile, no secret habit or sin. Therefore, they can see, hear and discern God's voice to them and recognize His heartbeat clearly!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

GRACE IS FREE!

"[The father] said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found" (Luke 15:31-32).

The younger son, the prodigal, was mired in a muck of loneliness brought on by sin. He was dead to his own will and in his wretchedness, he experienced something beyond his pain—he experienced his lostness!

As he thought of his father, he wanted to go back to him—to surrender himself completely. He knew he could never repay his father or please him by any good works. He also realized that he was wholly dependent on his father's grace and love for any kind of restoration to take place.

But the older son never had a sense of his lostness, of how hopeless it was to try to bridge the gulf between himself and his father, so he never faced his need to die to self.

Beloved, that chasm can never be bridged by works, promises or self-effort. Our acceptance in the love of the Father comes only through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is no other plea. The cross alone bridges the gulf.

You may protest everything I have written here. You may say, "Brother Wilkerson, you're telling sinners that if they'll just repent, everything will suddenly be okay—and God will wipe out their past and immediately bring them into His favor and blessing."

Yes, that is exactly what I am saying because that is just what Jesus is saying in this parable! Whenever a sinner turns to the Lord in utter repentance, brokenness and humility, he is immediately brought into the loving arms of his Shepherd.

Grace is freely bestowed on those who have died to feelings of self-worth and have acknowledged just how lost they are!

Monday, July 8, 2013

SHOULD WE SPEND THE WINTER IN PHOENIX? by Gary Wilkerson

Paul and “some other prisoners” were being transported to Rome, but they encountered many difficulties in their travels. Because sailing was so dangerous, Paul wanted to remain in a place called Fair Havens but he was overruled. “And because the harbor was not suitable to spend the winter in, the majority decided to put out to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix . . . and spend the winter there” (Acts 27:12, ESV).

When we are going through a storm, we can lose sight of the fact that the ship we are on is a battleship. We are in a war with Satan, so we face a constant battle with the powers of darkness. That’s a good reason why we can’t afford to “spend the winter in Phoenix.”

We are doing war against an enemy who brings depression, attacks marriages, and is enslaving a new generation of teenagers to heroin, a growing problem in many cities. We have gone to war believing Christ’s glorious gospel will set captives free—that He is faithful to break the chains of those in bondage, liberate families mired in troubles, and reach the neediest with His generous love. To be in this battle, it is imperative that we keep our focus on the mission He has given us and hear His voice directing us. Our mission is always secondary; what is primary is “knowing in whom we have believed” (see 2 Timothy 1:12).

Does this speak to you? Has your ship taken precedence over Jesus in your heart? Have you become caught up in fleshly concerns, whether it’s making a good living or having a successful ministry? Neither is God’s high calling for you. Don’t misunderstand: He doesn’t want you to stop working hard or serving with devotion. Yet, could He be speaking to you right now about what is most important in your heart?

If you have been spending your winters in Phoenix, He is calling you back to your journey to Rome. Set aside everything that keeps you from being “on a mission for Jesus.” 

Friday, July 5, 2013

THE PRODIGAL AND HIS BROTHER

Both the prodigal son and his brother were equally sinful. The younger son had not understood the purpose of grace, which is to grow into the maturity of holiness. But the older son had never known his father's heart. He had always sought to earn his father's love by obeying and doing. He could not accept that his dad had always loved him unconditionally, totally apart from his good works. The truth was, his father loved him simply because he was born of him.

"Therefore came his father out, and entreated him. And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf" (Luke 15:28-30).

The older son was saying to his father, "All these years I've worked so hard to please you, yet you've never shown me this kind of love. At least I have never felt it." This sums up the root problem of the protesting son. He thought he had earned, through good works, what his younger brother had received through grace.

Every legalist has a difficult time setting aside the works of his flesh. Why? Because our flesh wants to perform for God! We want to be able to say, "I've earned my peace in the Lord. I've fasted, prayed, done everything to get the victory. I've worked hard and now I've finally made it.”

If we are honest, we will see that our flesh always protests against dependence on the Lord. We don't want to rely on His mercy and grace or acknowledge that only He can give us the power, wisdom and authority to live as overcomers.

We must be careful not to make the protest of the older brother. It is a protest of human uprightness—and it is a stench in God's nostrils! 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

THE CRY OF A REPENTANT HEART

"Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in" (Luke 15:25-28).

The older brother of the prodigal grew angrier by the moment. After all, he had served his father diligently for years, never transgressing any commandment. He was upright according to the law, and he had kept himself scrupulously clean.

Yet, peering through that window, this older son saw the greatest vision of grace ever given to humankind: The father was embracing a repentant, lost son. He didn't ask any questions or lecture; instead, he clothed him in a new garment and restored him to his former position of full favor and blessing. And then he brought him into the feast!

The vision this older son saw was that a person can repent, no matter how low he sinks, if he simply gives up running his own life and comes back to the father. Yet the older brother protested it all and refused to go in to the feast. Why? He wanted no part in what he saw as an easy grace!

It is typical of the legalistic mindset to protest a generous outpouring of grace on a returning backslider. Many Christians, sitting next to some drug addict or alcoholic in church, think, "Thank God that I never sinned that way. He could fall again tomorrow."

Scripture says this kind of pride is more deadly than any addiction: "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

The truth is, when the prodigal saw his older brother frowning at him through the window, he probably thought, "Oh, my brother, if you only knew how I admire you! You never went out and sinned as I did. You have the better testimony. And all my life I'll have to live with the memory of bringing shame on our family's good name. I know I don't deserve any of this. In fact, you should be here in my place. How I wish I could have fellowship with you!"

That is the cry of a truly repentant and humbled heart! 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

STARVING CHRISTIANS

Luke writes about the prodigal son, "When he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him" (Luke 15:14-16).

I have seen this kind of starvation among Christians. They once had a marvelous testimony of grace and mercy but because of sin, they became spiritual skeletons with no life whatsoever.

Luke writes: "When he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants" (verses 17-19).

The young prodigal had to admit, "I can't handle these blessings after all. I've sinned against God and my family and squandered everything that's been given to me!"

Repentance is more than just turning around and going back to God. It is a full surrender of self-government, a return to God with this confession: "Lord, I've made a mess of my life and now I come humbly to You, asking You to take over my life!" That's when God begins to do a very special work of restoration.

When the son returned, he was fully restored in his father's house—not as a servant, but as a son! He was willing to submit to his father and be under his governance. Moreover, he wanted intimacy with his father. He had lost all interest in the things of the world and was ready to do as his father commanded (see verses 20-23).

What a wonderful scene of total restoration! 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

WHAT GRACE TEACHES US

At Times Square Church, we preach of God's mercy, compassion, and lovingkindness toward us, His justification and sanctification of us, and His acceptance of us in His son. All these doctrines center on God's grace toward us through Jesus Christ. But what happens to us when we try to heap up this rich inheritance?

Consider what happened to the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. Once he loaded himself down with his father's wealth, it began burning a hole in his pocket and he decided to turn to the world to satisfy the lust in his heart. He said to himself, "My blessing is going to last a long time!"

I am convinced many Christians cannot handle the blessings of grace. They glory in the message of God's unearned pardon, filling their minds with every Bible passage describing His mercy and compassion. They love to hear the story of the shepherd who goes after the lost sheep, because it brings them great comfort. Yet, once they stockpile all the rich, glorious truth about God's grace toward them, it begins to burn a hole in their purse of flesh. And it becomes to them a license to sin!

The prodigal misused his wealth in this way. He spent his father's riches partying, gambling, getting drunk, visiting prostitutes. Night after night he squandered his blessings, falling deeper and deeper into sin. Yet each morning he got up, shook off all conviction, went back to his stash and told himself, "There's still plenty here for me. I can handle it."

In the same way, today many Christians set off for some place of forbidden pleasure, looking to spend their riches on riotous living. Their lust carries them to the bed of a fornicator, to a fix of cocaine, to homosexuality, to pornography, to alcohol or drugs. Yet they continually comfort themselves in their sin, saying, "God's grace is more than sufficient for me. He will love me no matter what I do in my flesh. His mercies endure forever!"

No! God's grace was never intended to be perverted and squandered. In fact, it is meant to have just the opposite effect. Paul writes: "The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world" (Titus 2:11-12). God's grace teaches us godliness, righteousness, and a holy fear of the Lord!

Monday, July 1, 2013

DO NOT GIVE UP by Gary Wilkerson

Paul did not blink when disaster came. Consider the scene: “Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, ‘Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.” So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we must run aground on some island’” (Acts 27:21-26, ESV).

I don’t know about you, but I would have a hard time hearing this word. “My ship is about to crash? Whoa, Lord, what’s happening here?”

What would you do if you were told your ship was going to sink? How would you react if your calling was threatened by circumstances beyond your control? Many of us would have an identity crisis because our identity is wrapped up in our calling—whether that calling is our family or work or even ministry. Our ship can be our home, our new car, our kids’ success at sports, or a hundred or more other things. We should thank God for the ships in our life, but none of them has equal value to Christ and the people He has called us to serve. Our identity cannot be in anything other than Christ.

Paul knew this, and even as his ship splintered into pieces, He never took his eyes off his calling, which was Christ. Paul was calm throughout the storm because he was burdened for all on board, and he had God’s assurance that each would be spared. Someone’s precious ship was about to go down, but Paul encouraged them all, “We are to press on.”

If God has called you to something, it doesn’t matter what storms may arise. He says, “It is not over. When everything seems out of control, I am in control. Do not give up!”