Thursday, December 31, 2015

NOT OF THIS WORLD

Jesus said, “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:18-19).

These verses strike at the very heart of why we are hated. When we were saved, we got “out of the world.” And we accepted our mission to insist that others also “get out of the world.”

“I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14).

“Ye are not of the world . . . therefore [because of this], the world hateth you” (John 15:19). Christ is saying, in essence, “The world hates you because I called you out of your condition. And that means I called you out of their fellowship. Yet, I didn’t just call you out. I then sent you to call everyone else out.”

The Protestant antichrist spirit works to hinder this separation of Christians from the world. It makes it seem possible for believers to stay in the world and still regard themselves as Christians.

You may ask, “What exactly does Jesus mean when he says ‘the world’?”

He isn’t just speaking of ungodly lusts, pleasure madness, pornography or adultery. No, “the world” Christ refers to isn’t some list of evil practices. That’s only a part of it.

“The world” that Jesus speaks of is an unwillingness to surrender to His lordship. In short, worldliness is any attempt to co-mingle Christ with self-will.

You see, when we surrender to the lordship of Christ, we cleave to Jesus. And we’re led by the Holy Spirit, step by step, into a walk of purity and uprightness. We begin to appreciate godly reproof.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

THE POWER OF THE PRESENCE OF JESUS

I can’t speak for other pastors; I can only speak what I know. And for fifty years now, I’ve preached to some of the hardest, most wicked sinners on earth: drug addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes. Yet, I tell you, these sinners are much less resistant to gospel truth than many who sit in church pews and are blinded to their condition.

Thousands of people who attend church regularly across America are more hardened than anyone on the streets. And no smooth, soft-spoken, half-truth gospel is going to break down the walls of their wickedness.

Saul of Tarsus was just such a hardened religious man. A Pharisee among Pharisees, an upright figure in a highly religious society, Saul had it all together. So, did Jesus come to this man taking a poll, asking what he’d like to see in a synagogue service?

No! Saul was struck to the ground by a blinding light, a full blast of the presence of Christ. It was a piercing, confrontational meeting that exposed Saul’s heart, pinpointing his sin (see Acts 9:1-9).

As a minister of the gospel of Christ, I am to do likewise. It’s my business to convince men and women of their sin. I’m to warn them of the danger that awaits them if they continue their way of living. And no amount of flattery, or subtlety, or getting them to like me will change their condition.

In plain terms, I am called to lead people to forsake everything to follow a Christ whom they find unattractive. Only the Holy Ghost in me can accomplish that. “For I have not shunned (held back from) to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Don’t mistake what I’m saying here. I preach the mercy, grace and love of Christ to all people. And I do it through tears. But the only thing that’s going to pierce the walls erected by hardened people is a blast of the presence of Jesus. And that has to come out of the mouths of contrite, praying pastors and parishioners.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

THE MISSION OF CHRIST

A church that’s accepted and approved by the world is a contradiction in terms because it is an impossibility. According to Jesus, any church that is loved by the world is of the world, and not of Christ.

“If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you” (John 15:19).

My life has been greatly influenced by the writings of George Bowen, a Presbyterian missionary who labored in India from 1848 to 1888. Bowen gave up all his missionary support to move into a slum and live as the natives there did. He led a frugal existence, in near poverty. Yet, because of that choice, he left behind a testimony of the true power of living in Christ.

This godly man warned of an antichrist spirit to come which he identified as being “the spirit of modern society.” According to Bowen, this spirit would infiltrate the Protestant church with the mindset, methods and morals of the larger society.

The antichrist spirit would continue its influence until society and church couldn’t be differentiated. Over time, the world would lose its hatred for Christ’s Church and true believers. It would stop its persecution, and the Church would be loved and accepted by the world. Once that happened, Bowen wrote, this antichrist spirit would have taken the throne.

Several years ago, as the doors to Iraq were about to be opened to Christian relief organizations, The New York Times ran a derogatory article. That is to be expected from a liberal, secular press. They might applaud the distribution of food in Iraq, but certainly not the preaching of Christ.

The article quoted a Protestant scholar who was critical of the whole effort. He completely denounced it, saying the church should mind its own business; he seemed actually embarrassed that the church would be evangelizing. Now that is a worldly mindset!

The closer we get to the mission of Christ—to preaching the gospel that He has ordained—the more we will be despised by the world.

Monday, December 28, 2015

DON’T GO BACK TO EGYPT by Gary Wilkerson

Abraham did amazing exploits as God led him into the fullness of his blessing. Later, though, when circumstances turned bad, Abraham lost his focus on God’s glory. He turned instead to his own resources: “Now there was a famine in the land. So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe” (Genesis 12:10).

The story makes clear that Egypt was the last place Abraham should have gone. Along the way he put his wife in jeopardy; he lost her to a hostile king for a season, and he lied and manipulated things to save himself. This man had trusted God wholly up to that point. Why didn’t he trust God to see him through his difficulty?

Maybe similar things happen in your crises. When life gets hard—in your finances, your health, your family—do you keep your eyes fixed on God’s glory through it all? If you’ve ever “gone to Egypt” for help in such times, you know how lifeless an effort it can be. Often it complicates the problem, adding shame and despair.

My point is this: Our separateness from the world doesn’t happen through our efforts or abilities. It happens through a revelation of God—and His glory remains with us even in our hard times. Consider the prophet Isaiah. When he entered the temple, he saw the glory of God: “I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple” (Isaiah 6:1). That holy sight sent Isaiah face down on the floor in humble awe: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (6:5).

At that moment Isaiah recognized God’s separateness. The Lord told him, “I have separated you for My holy purposes. I am sending you to preach My Word to a corrupt people. They will resist you, but you’ll be able to endure it because you have seen My glory. When they turn on you, you won’t have to ‘go to Egypt,’ because you’ve seen the nature of the God who has called you.”

Saturday, December 26, 2015

THE EVERLASTING ARMS by Claude Houde

God will never refuse a sincere heart that comes back to Him to rebuild an area of his spiritual life that has been broken down! I want to share a promise with you. Believe it. Meditate on it. Hold it tight and oh-so-close to your heart. Promises are love letters from God, destined for you, written with you in mind on the pages of His faithfulness with the ink of His blood offered for you.

“There is none like our God who rides the heaven to help you and in His excellency on the clouds. The eternal God is your refuge and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:26-27).

When you have made your worst mistakes and the storms of life are raging; when you are so ashamed of yourself you want to disappear; when you have fallen so low and you look down, underneath it all you will always find the everlasting arms. When you give up on yourself and your closest friends can’t believe what you’ve done; when everyone has left you and you can’t even look up, underneath the entire mess you will find His everlasting arms. When it takes everything you have just to pick up the first and smallest stone to rebuild your altar, and your attempt at a comeback with God and His calling on your life seems so futile, ridiculous and really hopeless, you will always hear His voice speak these words to you and for you, “A bruised reed He will not throw away and a smoking flax He will not quench. He will not fail, nor be discouraged till He has established His kingdom.” (Isa 42:3-4).

When our faith is strong and our altar is straight, and we are standing tall before God with all the passion of our commitment, and with our eyes looking high to the heaven, at such times it is not hard to believe that His arms can carry us. We experience moments of grace and amazing answers to prayer, and His presence is so near and so real. We accomplish exploits that surprise us and fill us with wonder and passionate worship. His face is so near we feel we could just touch Him; His word is sweet and moves us.

__________
Claude Houde is the lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.

Friday, December 25, 2015

GOD IS NOT FINISHED

I ask you, dear saint, if there is any regret in your life. Is an unfulfilled expectation distressing you? Has something offended you in Christ? Did you call out to Him for help, but He didn’t come in time? Have you been praying for an unsaved child without any visible results? Do you feel imprisoned in a difficult marriage or job, and yet nothing has changed despite years of prayers? Do your requests seem to be falling on deaf ears?

Right now, Satan wants you to be impatient. He wants to make you anxious about God’s promises concerning your life, your family, your future, your ministry. He’s working to convince you that God is too slow, that He has ignored your requests, that He has left you behind. The enemy wants to bring you to the point where you’re ready to give up all your confidence in the Lord.

That’s right where Satan led John the Baptist. Yet, John did the right thing in his moment of distress: he took his doubt directly to Jesus who knew immediately that John was calling for help. Jesus so loved this man that He gave him exactly what was needed. As a result, I believe John never again voiced his impatience. I’m convinced that when John stood before the executioner, his last words were, “Jesus is the Christ, the Lamb of God. And I am John, the voice crying in the wilderness. By God’s grace and power, I have made His path straight.”

Likewise, beloved, God is doing a work in you and He will finish that perfect work in your soul. Your job is simply to hold on in faith. Then, when you have endured, you’ll be able to say: “Christ is resurrected and enthroned. I am His beloved and I have no regrets. He has fulfilled all my expectations.”


“Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God” (Philippians 4:6).

Thursday, December 24, 2015

IMPATIENT BELIEVERS

The devil seemed to sense impatience in John the Baptist as he was being held in prison before his death. Impatience is the inability to wait or bear afflictions calmly. And when we grow impatient with God—eager to receive answers from Him—and we mix impatience with faith, our attitude in prayer becomes a “strange incense” to the Lord. It fills our being, His temple, with a noxious odor. And instead of sending up a sweet-smelling incense of prayer, we exude a foul smell. Satan picks up this scent quickly.

Impatient believers are offended when they see God working miracles all around them but not in their lives. They’re offended at what they believe is God’s slowness to answer them, and over time they feel neglected and imprisoned. Hebrews tells us such impatience is a form of spiritual laziness: “Be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12). We are instructed to follow Abraham’s example: “After he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise” (6:15).

Scripture also tells us that “the Word of God tried [Joseph]” (see Psalm 105:17-19). Likewise today, God’s promises can try us at times, and if we don’t add patience to our faith during these trials, we’ll end up being offended at God. Proverbs 18:19 states, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city: and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.” The Hebrew word for offended as used here means to “break away, apostatize.” In other words, when we’re offended by God, there is a danger of spinning out of faith completely. And the longer we hold on to our offense, the harder it becomes to break through our prison bars of unbelief.

Yet James 1:2–4 gives us the cure: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

NO REGRETS

Jesus exposed one of the enemy’s biggest methods of causing God’s people to stumble when He spoke this message to John: “Blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matthew 11:6). The word for offended in Greek means “entrap, trip up, ensnare.” I believe Jesus was tenderly warning John, “You ask Me if I’m the One you have claimed I am. John, can’t you see what is happening here? Satan isn’t trying to get to Me, he is setting a trap for you through that question.”

Christ had been through the same test Himself during His forty days in the wilderness. And now He was telling John, “The devil is setting you up, trying to ensnare you. But you can’t entertain his lies. He says I’m not who I claim to be but you must not fall into this satanic trap.”

Let me ask you: What do you think is at stake in Jesus’ phrase, “offended in me”? What makes these three words so powerful? It’s that Jesus knew the consequences for John if he gave in to Satan’s lie. He knew what would happen if this godly man began to doubt who he was in Christ.

You see, all Satan had to do was trick John into speaking three words—three words that would quickly undo all the prophecies that had been delivered centuries before. All the good that God had accomplished in and through John would be undone. And the faith of untold multitudes, including generations to come, would be shipwrecked. What were the three words that Satan wanted John to utter? “I have regrets!”

The word “regret” means “distress over unfulfilled expectations.” To regret is to say, “My hopes have not been met.” In short, it is a statement that refutes one’s own faith.

Yet I believe John never got to that point. Instead, he received Jesus’ message to him, the essence of which was: “John, there awaits you a blessing of faith and reassurance if you will resist Satan’s lies. Do not allow unbelief about who I am to take root in you. If you do, you’ll doubt who you are and all that God has done in your life.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

THE PROMISES OF GOD

God’s promises are meant to build up our expectations in Him. We are to claim His Word as the rock-solid promise of a loving, powerful Father to His children. Yet, often, when we don’t see His Word being fulfilled according to our schedule, the enemy floods our minds with questions about God’s faithfulness. Satan’s aim is simple: to rob us of all our confidence in the Lord.

I’m convinced the devil tried to raise all kinds of doubts in John the Baptist when he was in prison. I imagine him whispering into John’s ear: “Yes, this Jesus is a holy man. But He’s just another prophet performing miracles and doing good deeds. If He is the Messiah, then why are you still in such need? Why hasn’t He kept His word, as Isaiah and the prophets laid it out? And why hasn’t your own preaching worked for you?”

Satan uses these same lies and deceptions against us today. His goal is to plant seeds of doubt in us about God’s Word, His promises, His delight in us. The enemy whispers: “You say your heavenly Father is a God of miracles, of the impossible, that He hears your requests before you even ask. Then why all this suffering? Why all the silence from heaven? Why isn’t there a single shred of evidence that God has heard your cry?

“Look around you. Everyone is receiving answers to their prayers but you. You’re stuck in an unfulfilling marriage. You pray for your children to be saved, but nothing changes. For years, you’ve preached God’s faithfulness to others, so why hasn’t it worked for you? Why has He left you stuck in this awful condition?”

One sure evidence that unbelief has taken root in your soul is that you quit praying for what you once believed God could do. You no longer bring your burdens to Him. You don’t come to Him in faith anymore. In short, you’re no longer willing to let Him do things His way in your life. 


“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7).

Monday, December 21, 2015

GLADLY SEPARATED by Gary Wilkerson

Abraham was neither Christian nor Jew. As far as we know, he didn’t have any history with God at all. But one day he was commanded by God, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). So Abraham packed up and left!

We all venerate Abraham as our forefather in the faith, but his story is actually sort of strange. Here’s a man who had everything—wealth and heritage, a wonderful wife, and plenty of cattle and land. Yet, incredibly, when a voice told him, “Get up and leave,” he heeded it. He willingly separated himself from everything he knew, even good things, to follow God.

Now, let me ask those of you who are married: Would you think it strange if your spouse said a voice had told him to give up his job, his home and possessions, and move his family to another state with no promise of support or income? Even if he thought he had heard from God? Maybe you would be willing to go—but wouldn’t you be tempted to call a psychiatrist first?

What compelled Abraham to do this? What empowered such clear separation? A look at Stephen in Acts 6 and 7 provides some insight. Stephen was clearly set apart for God’s purposes, working miracles and wonders in Christ’s name in the early Church. Yet this got him into trouble with the religious leaders. As he stood before them on trial, he preached, “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia” (Acts 7:2).

Stephen was saying, in effect, “Are you offended by my faith? Well, it all started when our father Abraham left behind his dependency on the things of this world to follow God. Once he beheld the Lord’s glory, he gladly separated himself from everything he knew!” 


Many of you reading this know what Stephen was talking about. When you first encountered Christ, you recognized, “I just tasted something I’ve never tasted before. I’ve never known this kind of joy. I’ve never experienced this awe. I know for sure I’m on holy ground.”

Saturday, December 19, 2015

CRAWLING INTO THE HEART OF CHRIST by Nicky Cruz

When I think of how tender and compassionate God was toward me during the time I went home to bury my mother, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed by His goodness and mercy. At a time when I most needed comfort, He was right there beside me, holding me, whispering in my ear, “Don’t worry, Nicky. Your mother is with me.” I found greater shelter and solace in the arms of God than I could have ever found on earth.

In my hour of need, I crawled into the heart of Christ, and He embraced me, as He has always done during dark and lonely moments. This is the relationship I have with Jesus. It is how He lets me know how much He cares for me—how He cares for all those who depend on Him. For those who love Him and accept Him as the Brother.

It reminds me of when my children were very small. There were times when they were playing on the carpet and they would hurt their finger on a toy. They’d start to cry, and I would go over to see what had happened. I’d bend down and extend my arms and say, “Come see Daddy. Let me kiss the hurt.”

They would immediately crawl toward me and let me lift them onto my lap. And then I would hold them, kiss them, and comfort them. “Don’t worry,” I’d whisper softly into their ear. “Daddy is here. Everything will be all right.”

That’s the kind of relationship He wants each of us to have with Him. That’s the kind of God we serve. His compassion runs deep and wide and knows no limits. His love is as real and vibrant as the morning mist or the evening sky. “In you, O Lord, I have taken refuge,” David wrote. “Be my rock of refuge, to which I always go. . . . From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you” (Psalm 71:1, 3, 6).

David understood that without God’s mercy and compassion, his life would not be worth living. He didn’t just serve the God of the universe; he had a real relationship with a loving and gracious Father. That’s what set him apart from other kings and Jews of the day. That’s what endeared him to God so powerfully.

And that’s how God wants all of His children to see Him.

__________
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.

Friday, December 18, 2015

THE LOVE OF GOD

David listened to God’s word from the prophet Nathan and he repented and obeyed. As a result, he spent the rest of his life growing in his knowledge of God. The Lord brought great peace into David’s life, and eventually all his enemies were silenced.

Yet the clearest evidence of God’s restoration in David’s life is his own testimony. Read what David wrote in his dying days:
  • “The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer . . . in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour” (2 Samuel 22:2–3). This is not the testimony of someone who has faded away.
  • “[My God] did hear my voice. . . . He took me; he drew me out of many waters. . . . He brought me forth also into a large place: he delivered me, because he delighted in me” (2 Samuel 22:7, 17, 20). Even after all that David did to displease the Lord, he was able to say, “The Lord delights in me.”
The reason that David will forever be known as “a man after God’s own heart” is because he quickly and genuinely repented of his sins. Proverbs tells us:
  • “He that regardeth reproof shall be honoured” (Proverbs 13:18). God will honor you if you love and obey godly reproof.
  • “They despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way. . . . For the turning away of the simple shall slay them” (Proverbs 1:30–32). If you turn a deaf ear to godly reproof, it will end up destroying you.
  • “Reproofs of instruction are the way of life” (Proverbs 6:23). Simply put, the convicting Word of God brings life.
If you are being probed by God’s Word—if His Spirit isn’t letting you sit comfortably in your sin—then you are being shown mercy. It is the deep love of God at work, wooing you out of death and into life.

Will you respond to Him as David did? If so, you’ll know true restoration and reconciliation. And God will restore everything the enemy has stolen.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

THE LORD PROMISES TO RESTORE

It’s true that King David paid severe consequences for his sin; in fact, he prophesied judgment upon himself. He told the prophet Nathan that the rich man who stole the poor man’s lamb should restore it fourfold (see 2 Samuel 12:5-6). And that’s just what happened in David’s life: The baby that Bathsheba birthed died within days. And three of David’s other sons—Ammon, Absalom and Adonijah—all had tragic, untimely deaths. So, David did pay for his sin with four of his own lambs.

Yet the Bible clearly shows that whenever we return to the Lord in genuine, heartfelt repentance, God responds by bringing absolute reconciliation and restoration. We do not have to end up like Saul, descending into madness and terror. Nor do we have to “fade away” from life, biding our time in quiet shame until the Lord takes us home. On the contrary, the prophet Joel assures us that God steps in immediately when we return to him: “Rend your heart . . . and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil” (Joel 2:13).

Amazingly, God then gives us this incredible promise: “I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten. . . . And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed” (Joel 2:25–26). The Lord promises to restore all.

Understand, when this prophecy was given, God had already pronounced judgment on Israel. But the people repented, and God said, “Now I’m going to do wonderful things for you. I’m going to restore everything the devil has stolen.” 


Beloved, God’s tender mercy allows even the worst sinner to say, “I’m not a drug addict. I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not an adulterer. I am a child of the living God, with all the rights of heaven in my soul. I no longer live under condemnation, because my past is fully behind me. And I don’t have to pay for any past sins, because Jesus paid the price for me. What’s more, He said He’ll restore everything to me.”

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

CREATE IN ME A CLEAN HEART

If there had been no prophet like Nathan—no piercing, prophetic word—David could have ended up like Saul: spiritually dead, with no Holy Ghost guidance, having lost all intimacy with God.

As David listened to Nathan’s loving but searing word, he remembered the time a previous king had been warned by a prophet. David had heard all about the prophet Samuel’s warning to King Saul. And he had heard about Saul’s halfhearted response, confessing, “I have sinned.” (I don’t believe Saul cried from his soul, as David did, “I have sinned against the Lord!”)

David saw firsthand the ruinous changes that befell Saul. The once godly, Spirit-led king continually rejected the Spirit’s reproving words, delivered by a holy prophet. Soon Saul began to walk in self-will, bitterness and rebellion. Finally, the Holy Ghost departed from him: “Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king” (1 Samuel 15:23). “The Lord . . . departed from Saul” (18:12) and Saul ended up turning to a witch for guidance. He confessed to her, “God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets, nor by dreams: therefore I have called thee, that thou mayest make known unto me what I shall do” (1 Samuel 28:15).

David remembered all the madness, ugliness and terror surrounding this man who had shut out God’s word. Suddenly, the truth pierced his own heart: “God is no respecter of persons. I have sinned, as Saul did. And now here’s another prophet, in another time, giving me a word from God, as Samuel gave to Saul. Oh, Lord, I’ve sinned against you! Please don’t take your Holy Spirit from me, as you did from Saul.” 


David wrote, “I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight. . . . Purge me. . . . Create in me a clean heart. . . . Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:3-4, 7, 10-11).

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

GOD SHOWS US HIS LOVE

I believe one of God’s greatest gifts of mercy to His Church is His faithful ministers who lovingly reprove us of our sins. I know that as a loving shepherd, I must be careful of my tone, but I can’t apologize for preaching convicting truth. What happens to the Church when pastors no longer point people to their iniquities? Consider where King David would have ended up if he had not had Nathan to show him his wickedness (see 2 Samuel 12).

You have to understand, Nathan had seen David fly off the handle often so he was well aware that the powerful king could have slain him at any time.

Nathan could have said, “I’ll just be a friend to David. I’ll pray for him and be there when he needs me but I have to trust the Holy Spirit to convict him.” What would have happened then?

I believe that without Nathan’s convicting word, David would have fallen under the worst judgment known to humankind—the judgment of having God turn you over to your sin, to stop all of the Holy Spirit’s dealings in your life. Yet, that’s exactly what is happening to many Christians today. They choose to listen only to soft, flesh-assuring preaching. Where there is no convicting word, there can be no godly sorrow over sin. Where there is no godly sorrow for sin, there can be no repentance. And where there is no repentance, there is only hardness of heart.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner. . . . For godly sorrow worketh repentance” (2 Corinthians 7:9–10). Paul said his outcry against the Corinthians’ sin produced a godly sorrow in them that led to repentance. In turn, that produced in them a hatred for sin, a holy fear of God, and a desire to live upright. Yet this never would have happened if he had not preached a sharp, piercing, convicting word. 


The reason Paul spoke so strongly to the Corinthians was, “That our care for you in the sight of God might appear unto you” (7:12). In other words: “I wasn’t trying to unnerve you or condemn you. I exposed your sin so that you would see how much I love and care for you. When the Holy Ghost knocks on your heart, sometimes it sounds like harsh pounding. But it’s actually God showing you His tender love.”

Monday, December 14, 2015

KINGDOM VALUES by Gary Wilkerson

Until the past few years, separation was a defining characteristic of Christ’s Church. Being set apart was a clear command from God’s Word and a part of every Christian’s calling. But today there seems to be very little distinction between the Church and the world. This is tragic, because God has set His people apart for His kingdom purposes—to be instruments of change with the very aim of making a difference in the world.

A lot of churches today seek to appease the world. They compromise Christ’s gospel and, as a result, a lot of Christians allow themselves to conform to the world’s values rather than to those of Jesus.

This can’t make God happy. When the lost souls of this world face serious life crises and are confused, with no source of hope, the Church is meant to embody the difference they are looking for. Our lives are to be distinguished by hope, joy, peace, love, and giving. But a lot of followers today have erased those distinctions by creeping toward a line of compromise—and even crossing it at times. As a result, the lost and hurting see Christians’ lives as no different from their own.

Jesus addressed this when He said to His disciples, in essence, “The world sees Me one way, but I have revealed Myself to you in full. You’ve seen that the peace I offer isn’t received by the world. I’ve demonstrated to you the values of My kingdom—how to live, believe, walk and serve the Father. Those values are in stark contrast to the world’s and you are to live out My kingdom values. If Satan has no part in Me, he can have no part in your lives, either” (see John 14:27).

When God speaks of separating from the world, He doesn’t mean removing ourselves from it. The separation He desires takes place in the heart. It is reflected in our desires, our choices, our lifestyles. For an older generation of Christians, being separate meant not drinking, smoking or partying. Those are outward things, but God is addressing much more. He’s asking, “Is your heart still linked to the world in a way that excludes Me? Do you draw peace and self-worth from what the world says about you or from how I see you?”

Saturday, December 12, 2015

MIGHTY WARRIOR by Jim Cymbala

Among the mighty warriors I have had the privilege of knowing, I count Delores Bonner, an African-American woman who lives alone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods. She has been a medical technician at Maimonides Hospital for more than thirty years. Carol and I met her one year at Christmastime while we were bringing gifts to some poor children in our congregation.

Delores had a full apartment that day—but these children were not hers. She had brought them from a nearby shelter to meet us. Their natural mother was too consumed with her own problems to be present even for an occasion such as this.

“How did you come to meet these children?” I asked.

She modestly mumbled something that didn’t really answer my question. Only from others did I learn that right after her conversion in a prayer meeting at the church in 1982, she became concerned for children in the streets and in the crack houses. God touched her heart, and she started bringing the children to Sunday school. At first she packed them into taxis; later on someone heard what she was doing and bought her a car. Today she has a van so she can transport more children and teenagers to hear the gospel.

This is only part of Delores’ story. On Sundays between services, she oversees the crew that cleans the sanctuary so it will be ready for the next crowd. On Saturdays she goes out with the evangelism teams, knocking on doors in the housing projects to share God’s love. On weekdays I find her on her knees upstairs with the Prayer Band, taking a shift to intercede for people’s needs. She did the same thing on a ministry trip to Peru, where she joined others in calling out to God on my behalf as I preached in an outdoor meeting.

Delores is a woman of quiet determination, the kind shown in 1 Chronicles 12:18, where it says, “The Spirit came upon Amasai, chief of the Thirty, and he said: ‘We are yours, O David! We are with you, O son of Jesse! Success, success [peace and prosperity] to you, and success to those who help you, for your God will help you.’” Once again, the merging of divine and human effort is clearly shown.

__________
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.

Friday, December 11, 2015

A NEW ATTITUDE OF LOVE AND CONCERN

You remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They were believers who dropped dead in the church because they misrepresented who Jesus was. They lied to Peter about the amount they received for the land they sold, but Peter told them they had lied to the Holy Ghost. Indeed, if a Christian lies to any man, it's as if that person has lied to God (see Acts 5:1-11).

What exactly was this couple’s lie? It was their misappropriation of money designated for the poor. They must have testified to the buyer, “Everything you pay us is for the cause of Christ. It all goes to widows and the poor.” But they kept back a portion of the money for themselves.

The message behind the story of Ananias and Sapphira is that you do not touch what belongs to the poor and needy. God won’t stand by and see His Son misrepresented to the world by those who call themselves by His name.

I ask you, how did the Holy Spirit bring about this sudden change of heart in those newly baptized believers in Jerusalem? Their transformation was an incredible miracle. The answer is that these Christians were the children of Malachi’s prophecy. Malachi is the last prophet we hear from in the Old Testament. God spoke through him, saying, “I will come near to you to judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, and against the adulterers, and against false swearers, and against those that oppress the hireling in his wages, the widow, and the fatherless” (Malachi 3:5).

Now fast-forward in time to the church in Jerusalem. These believers were going from house to house in fellowship. “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42). What was the apostles’ doctrine mentioned here? It was the very words of Christ. Jesus had instructed His disciples, “The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). 


Jesus’ words were quickened in their hearts, and they knew they could never live the same way again. Suddenly, they saw how serious this matter of representing Jesus truly was. It drove them into their houses to find everything they didn’t need, and then they took those goods to the streets to sell. Simply put, Christ’s Word in Matthew 25 gave these believers a new attitude of love and concern for the poor.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

WALK IN THE LIGHT

We’re told that Christ is the light of the world “that all men through him might believe” (John 1:7). Yet, we then read, “The light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. . . . He came unto his own, and his own received him not” (1:5, 11).

Unbelief has always grieved the heart of Jesus. When our Lord came to earth in the flesh, He brought incredible light into the world. And that light was meant to open the eyes of men. Yet, in spite of Jesus’ amazing show of light, Scripture speaks of incredible examples of unbelief in the very face of such light.

Perhaps no other chapter in the Bible contains as much proof of Jesus’ deity as we see in John 12. We see a man who had been raised from the dead by Jesus’ command. We see the visual fulfillment of a centuries-old prophecy known to every Israelite. And we hear a literal voice speaking from heaven.

Even after witnessing these wonders, the people had the audacity to question Jesus. “The people answered him, We have heard out of the law that Christ abideth for ever: and how sayest thou, The Son of man must be lifted up?” (12:34). They were saying, “You claim You’re going to be crucified. But we know the true Messiah is going to live forever.”

Then the people asked a question that absolutely stunned Jesus: “Who is this Son of man?” (12:34). Christ must have been incredulous at their blindness. In fact, He didn’t even attempt to answer the question. Instead, He warned, “Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you. . . . While ye have light, believe in the light” (12:35-36).

The light had shone into their darkness but their darkened minds didn’t comprehend it (see 1:12). The Greek word for comprehend means “to seize it, to lay hold of it, to possess the truth, producing life and power.” These people had been given a life-changing truth but they didn’t seize it or lay hold of it. They didn’t understand the truth of Christ, because they did not seek to possess it.

“These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them” (12:36). In this one verse, we find God’s attitude toward unbelief. Indeed, from cover to cover in the Bible, God never has sympathy or pity for unbelief. And the same is true in this scene. Jesus simply walked away from the unbelieving crowds. As a result, those people would leave Jerusalem in darkness because they didn’t walk in the light they’d been given.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

A GREAT FALLING AWAY

Today there is a great falling away from faith and trust in God. Paul warned about this: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [Christ’s return] shall not come, except there come a falling away first” (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

In the Old Testament, the Lord gives us an example of what happens to those who fall away from faith in God’s power on their behalf. In 2 Chronicles 14, King Asa faced a million-man army of Ethiopians. But the king had great faith: “Asa cried unto the Lord his God, and said, Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us, O Lord our God; for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. O Lord, thou art our God” (2 Chronicles 14:11).

What happened then? “The Lord smote the Ethiopians before Asa” (14:12). What great faith Asa had! For years afterward, “There was no more war unto the five and thirtieth year of the reign of Asa” (15:19). For years, Asa walked in faith before the Lord, and that brought God’s favor to Judah. A great peace fell over the land, and that peace became a witness to the world. Soon hungry people from surrounding nations flooded Judah, because they knew Asa walked with God.

Then, in the thirty-sixth year of his reign, Asa faced another crisis. Israel’s king rose up against Judah, capturing Ramah in an effort to cut off all trade to and from Jerusalem. The plan was to starve Judah into submission. Asa was left completely vulnerable, but this time he didn’t rely on the Lord in his crisis. Instead of praying for God’s direction and counsel, he turned to the king of Syria. In exchange for Syria’s help, Asa opened up Israel’s treasury, emptying it of all the nation’s gold and silver.

And so Judah was delivered from their enemy, but not by the Lord. That glory went to an alien army from Syria—and Judah’s witness to the world of God’s power was gone. A righteous prophet in the land came to Asa with this scathing word: “Thou hast relied on the king of Syria, and not relied on the Lord thy God . . . For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars” (16:7, 9). 


I am convinced many Christians today are troubled for the same reason Asa was. They have war in their souls because they have traded faith for self-reliance. But the fact is, there is no way a follower of Jesus can have faith in any other source and not be troubled.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

GOD’S DAILY FAITHFULNESS

Right now, your life may seem like a boat in the midst of a raging storm, your situation beyond all hope. The storm swirling around you may be as frightening as any you’ve ever faced. But He is still God, and you have One greater than Solomon present with you. He is Master over every storm, and He’ll use that storm to test you. He’s allowing your crisis to see what’s in your heart.

You may think, “But what if my ship actually sinks? What then?” Consider Paul’s example in the book of Acts. His ship sank but he didn’t lose his life. In fact, he clung to God’s Word to him in the midst of that storm: “The ship will go down, but I will give you the lives of everyone on board.” When the storm ended, God was glorified for his faithfulness. And great miracles followed, accompanied by an awesome revival (see Acts 28:1-10).

Yes, the Lord may allow you to endure something that looks absolutely disastrous. But you will survive—and so will your faith—if you trust Him. Your ship may go down, but God will give you the strength to swim ashore, as He did Paul. All you can lose is that which is material, and God can easily replace that. He owns bigger, better boats, and He’s able to bless you with more than anything you may have lost. “Cast thy burden upon the Lord, and he shall sustain thee: he shall never suffer the righteous to be moved.” (Psalm 55:22)

I have to admit, as I read Jesus’ rebuke to the disciples, I think, “Lord, that’s not fair. I receive letters from people today who are facing their own terrible disasters. They’re losing their homes, their jobs, their loved ones. Surely You don’t expect them to remain full of faith.” 


Then the Holy Spirit reminds me of some of the poverty-stricken areas I’ve visited. I’ve seen people living in shacks and sleeping on dirt floors, yet they have a joy I’ve never witnessed anywhere else. They rejoice in God’s daily faithfulness to them, and He causes their faith to abound, despite all their trials.

Monday, December 7, 2015

SEPARATION by Gary Wilkerson

On the night before His crucifixion, at the Last Supper Jesus told His disciples, “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me” (John 14:19). What an interesting statement for Jesus to make, knowing the disciples wouldn’t grasp it. One of them asked, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” (14:22).

Of course, Jesus had a lesson in mind. He answered, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. . . . Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. . . . And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father” (14:23, 27, 29-31).

I have slightly abridged Jesus’ response here to bring into focus a theme He is driving at throughout this passage. That theme is separation. In these few verses, Christ makes three clear distinctions between His kingdom and the world: “The world will see me no more, but you will see me” (14:19). “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you” (14:27). “The ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me” (14:30).

Why did Jesus make these distinctions to His followers? It seemed important to Him that we see the clear divisions between these things. The fact is, God makes such divisions throughout the Bible. At the Creation, He separated light from darkness and day from night. He separated Israel from all other nations. In the New Testament, He commands His Church, “Come out from among them and be separate.” And at the Judgment, He will separate sheep from goats. Throughout His Word, God constantly draws lines of division that tell us very clearly, “This is one thing and this is another.”

Saturday, December 5, 2015

HAVING FAVOR WITH ALL THE PEOPLE by Carter Conlon

Let me ask you a question today on God’s behalf: Are you willing to love others the way Jesus commanded us to?

Will you be willing to open your home to others if necessary—to give of what you have to meet the needs of others in the Body of Christ? Will you be willing to be a vessel through whom God will give a drink to somebody who is thirsty? Food to somebody who is hungry? Clothing to somebody who is naked? Shelter to somebody without a home?

Now please don’t misunderstand me—I am not suggesting that you go out today and call a real estate agent, sell your house or your apartment, go to the bank to take out your savings and just throw it all to the wind. What I am saying is that God, foreseeing the days ahead of us, knows what we need to hear and consider, for this is what will earmark the true Church of Jesus Christ. Such was the case in the book of Acts: “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47, NKJV).

When it says, “having favor with the people,” I believe it was exactly what Jesus told His disciples: “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Over the past few decades, many have gone to great lengths to try to prove God’s presence among them. However, it is obedience to this new commandment that is the evidence! Tongues can be imitated, gifts of the Holy Spirit can be faked, prophecy can be of the flesh. All of these things can be fraudulent, but an ongoing, benevolent, self-sacrificing love for one another cannot be faked—at least not for very long. That is why if people in the world see the Body of Christ living in genuine fellowship—a stark contrast to the self-centeredness and divisions of this generation—they will have no choice but to acknowledge that this could be done only by the Spirit of God.

__________
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001. A strong, compassionate leader, he is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences conducted by World Challenge throughout the world.

Friday, December 4, 2015

HIS FAITHFUL FRIENDSHIP

How it must grieve our Lord when we forget His past victories in our lives, all His miracles of deliverance. He has called us His friends (see John 15:15), yet in our crises we often forget all about His faithful friendship. This is why Jesus warned the disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees (in Mark 8). He told them, in essence, “If you come to Me with hard questions, don’t expect Me to answer if you have a heart of unbelief. You’re to come to Me with trust and faith, believing I am One greater than Solomon.”

In Mark 4:35-41, the disciples were again crossing a lake. This time, “There arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full” (Mark 4:37). Waves flooded the boat, and the frantic disciples rushed to bail out the rising water. These were experienced fishermen, and they soon saw that their lives were in danger. They quickly awoke Jesus, who’d been asleep at the back of the boat, and cried, “Master, we’re going down!”

As I see Jesus being awakened, my flesh wants Him to encourage the disciples: “I’m so glad you woke Me. This is serious. You poor brothers, I’m sorry I let you endure this storm for so long. Forgive Me for not acting sooner. Hopefully, you didn’t think I was unconcerned about your crisis.”

No, Jesus’ reaction was just the opposite. He rebuked the disciples! “Why are ye so fearful? How is it that ye have no faith?” (Mark 4:40). Imagine what those men thought in that moment: “Did Jesus really expect us to stand in water up to our waists and have no fear? This is the worst storm we’ve ever faced. Waves are pouring in, the ship’s about to sink. Were we supposed to practice faith in a seemingly hopeless situation?” 


The answer is: Yes, absolutely! Jesus was testing their faith. He wanted to know, “Will these followers trust Me in the face of death? Will they cling to their belief in Me?” In the flesh, Christ may have been asleep, but He was also God, and the Lord never sleeps: “Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4).

Thursday, December 3, 2015

THE BATTLE IS ALL ABOUT FAITH

The devil’s threat to the Church today goes beyond the flood of filth being poured out on the earth. It’s beyond materialism, addictions or intense seductions. Our battle is one of faith. The more you set your heart to seek Jesus, the more vicious Satan’s attack on your faith becomes.

In recent months, I’ve heard confessions from godly saints who speak of awful attacks on their minds. They’re plagued by arrows of doubt and nagging questions about God’s faithfulness. Many are just staggering onward, wavering in their faith, thinking, “I don’t know if I can go on.”

There was this letter from a dear 81-year-old woman who wrote, “My husband is suffering with bone cancer, our son is dying of AIDS, and I’m slowly wasting away with diabetes.” As I read everything this family is enduring, I shook my head, wondering, “How could she possibly maintain her joy? This is too much for anyone to bear. Surely God will cut her some slack regarding her faith.”

And then I read the final paragraph of her letter: “In spite of it all, God is faithful. He has never once failed in any word He has promised us. We have given our son over into Jesus’ hands. And now we’re waiting for the day we see our blessed Lord face to face.”

Yes, the battle is all about faith. We see this illustrated in Mark 8, when Jesus had just fed 4,000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish. Afterward, He got into a boat with His disciples and sailed for the other side.

“Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, neither had they in the ship with them more than one loaf. And he charged them, saying, Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, and of the leaven of Herod. And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have no bread. And when Jesus knew it, he saith unto them, Why reason ye, because ye have no bread? Perceive ye not yet, neither understand? Have ye your heart yet hardened? Having eyes, see ye not? And having ears, hear ye not? And do ye not remember? When I brake the five loaves among five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? They say unto him, Twelve. And when the seven among four thousand, how many baskets full of fragments took ye up? And they said, Seven. And he said unto them, How is it that ye do not understand?” (Mark 8:14-21)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

UNOPENED RIDDLES

In Mark 4:2 we are told, “And [Jesus] taught them many things by parables.” Imagine what happened with the majority of that crowd after they went home. Neighbors crowded around them, anxious to know what Jesus had said: “What message did He bring? Tell us all you learned.” Those who had heard Him might have been able to repeat His parables but their words would have been dead, lifeless, with no impact or life-changing power.

I believe the same thing happens in Christ’s Church today. The word that goes forth from many pulpits is dead-letter, with no Holy Spirit revelation or power to deliver from sin. Then, when the people go home, many of them merely repeat the word they’ve heard without the life of the Spirit. What a contrast to the hungry disciples and the others who remained followers of Christ in this scene. These people represent everyone who hungers for God’s Word, and who will pursue Jesus at any cost to get it. They comprise a “Queen of Sheba Company,” servants who want Christ’s life-changing revelation.

How does Jesus respond to their pursuit? He says, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all things are done in parables” (Mark 4:11). The Greek word for mystery here means secrets. In short, Christ reveals His secrets only to those who hunger for life-changing truth. He is saying, “If you want answers to your hard questions, pursue Me. Spend time with Me. I’ll reveal My Word to you, and show you truth that others don’t see.”

So, who are those “that are without” (Mark 4:11)? Jesus is referring to the multitudes who are not willing to wait upon Him. They won’t give up their comforts to do what is necessary to train their ear to His voice. They may come to church regularly and seek the Lord to meet all their human needs, but they’re not interested in knowing His voice beyond His ability to provide for them. His freeing truth remains a bafflement to them, a series of unopened riddles.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A HUNGER FOR TRUTH

“For [the Queen of Sheba] came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42).

We all have to answer one crucial question today: If One greater than Solomon is in our midst, would He possibly leave us in confusion? If His wisdom is always available, do we seek for it as passionately as the queen sought Solomon’s wisdom?

God still speaks to His people today. And He speaks as clearly as He did in the Old Testament, or to the apostles, or to the early Church. Yet, we must realize one thing: God chooses to speak only to those who have ears to hear. Let me illustrate.

Mark 4:2 tells us that Christ “taught [the crowds] many things by parables.” Then Jesus told the parable of the sower, a man who sowed seed in a field. Yet, when He finished the story, the crowds were baffled. They wondered, “Who is this sower He’s describing? And what does the seed represent? All this talk about birds, devils, thorny ground, good soil—what’s it about?”

Jesus didn’t explain it to them. Instead, Scripture says, “He said unto them, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear” (4:9). Only the disciples and a few others, a mere remnant, wanted answers. So they came to Jesus afterward and asked the meaning of the parable: “When he was alone, they that were about him with the twelve asked of him the parable” (4:10). Then Christ took time to answer all their concerns (see 4:14-20).

Do you see what’s happening in this scene? Jesus had given the crowd revelation truth, a word spoken directly from God’s mouth, yet it puzzled them. You may wonder, “Why didn’t Jesus explain the parable more clearly?” We find a clue later in the same chapter: “Without a parable spake he not unto them” (4:34). I believe Jesus was saying, “If you want to understand My Word, you’re going to have to pursue Me for the answer. And you must come as the Queen of Sheba did: with a hunger for truth that will set you free. I’ll give you all the revelation you need. But you must come to Me with a pursuing, attentive ear.”

Monday, November 30, 2015

WHAT IT MEANS TO ABIDE IN CHRIST by Gary Wilkerson



God’s grace not only saves us but it also trains us.

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people” (Titus 2:11). What great news! Paul extols God’s glorious grace, which saves us. End of story, right? No, that’s hardly the end of the story. Paul quickly adds that this same grace “[trains] us to renounce ungodliness” (2:12).

Paul is describing here what it means to abide in Christ. It involves “[renouncing] ungodliness and worldly passions, and [living] self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (2:12). In other words, God’s grace provides not only eternal life but abundant life now, today. The part we play by abiding in Christ leads to a blessed, godly, peaceful life.

But Paul doesn’t stop there. He instructs Titus boldly, “Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority” (2:15). Remember, Paul’s subject in this passage is grace. He is stating, in essence, “When grace is preached but it doesn’t train you to deny ungodliness, something is missing.” If we want to serve Jesus, we can’t avoid correction, whether it comes from God’s Word or from our respected friends. Yet we are also promised this about God’s corrective pruning: “Later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

His pruning is powerful—both in its pain and in its glorious fruit. Do you lack peace? Have you drifted from the Vine, your source of life, to draw from other sources? Ask God to take His pruning blade to your heart. He may cut, clear and take away things that don’t belong and when He is finished, the glorious tree in your yard may appear to be no more than a stump. But what grows from that stump is fruit you never could have imagined—and something you could not have produced on your own. 


Why a blade in this parting teaching from Jesus? He explains, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). “Full” indicates thorough, complete, powerful. What good, true, beautiful parting words He gave to His disciples—and they are manna for us today. God’s cutting and pruning ends up producing joy—all from the hand of the expert gardener who loves us.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

ABRAHAM AND SPIRITUAL FAMINE by Claude Houde

The famine was getting worse and Abraham began to drift away from his altar. Take a hard look at him, because Abraham is you and me at one moment or another of our Christian walk. You say, “I have lost something: my passion for prayer, my peace, my worship, my joy, my zeal for His house, my kindness, my generosity, my capacity to be moved by the needs of the people around me or afar.” Abraham had lost his altar because there was a famine.

What is the famine? The famine is a series of hard knocks, one hurt after another. It is when we go through seasons with strings of disappointments, and we bravely try to go on as if we are okay. Abraham had lost his objective, his vision. Listen to him as he pondered the thought “that I may be well, that I may be left alone, that my life might be spared” (see Genesis 12:10-13). He was called to be a blessing to others, but he had lost his very purpose.

Abraham was dying slowly in the grips of a spiritual famine. He was losing not only his fervor and purpose, but also his favor and his faith. The man who had been called to be a source of blessing began to tragically forsake what had made him great: the very faith that had brought the favor of God on him and through him to touch and bless others.

“And Pharaoh’s house was struck with a plague because of Abraham and Sarah. Pharaoh said, ‘Why have you lied and brought this plague on my house?’” (Genesis 12:17-18). Abraham was no longer a source of joy and respect; in fact, he had become someone who brought shame and pain. He had completely lost his faith and trust in God.

Come closer, take a look at him. He was tormented, afraid, and his spiritual heritage was in danger. As we kneel beside him, we realize why he was considered to be the father of faith. He wasn’t a model because he was spotless and sinless, or because his life was an uninterrupted succession of exploits, wisdom and immaculate perfection. The Bible doesn’t treat his sin lightly or justify him in any way. However, he has a message for us all simply because he knew how to rebuild his altar and find God again. “Abraham came back to the place where he had built an altar before and he called on the name of the Lord” (see Genesis 13:3-4).

__________
Claude Houde, lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada, is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences conducted by World Challenge throughout the world. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A CLOUD OF CONFUSION

I wonder how many Christians reading this message right now are in a cloud of confusion. Does this describe you? Perhaps your prayers go unanswered. You’re constantly downcast. You face things in your life that you can’t explain. You’re disappointed in your circumstances and in people. You continually doubt yourself, you’re plagued with questions, and you constantly examine your heart to see where you went wrong. You feel gloom, despair, indecision—and you can’t shake any of it.

You may be a mature believer. For years you’ve sat under pure gospel preaching but now you doubt yourself, and you feel inadequate. You don’t sense the joy of the Lord the way you once did. So now you wonder if the Lord has a controversy with you.

Let me ask you: Do you trust His promises? Do you embrace His precious Word? Do you go on the offensive against Satan with the Word that you’ve heard preached? Or do you ignore the Lord’s past faithfulness to you? Do you not trust that He stands with you, in control of everything pertaining to your life? If so, then you’ve opened yourself to darkness.

Jesus describes the person who lives in darkness, saying, “He that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth” (John 12:35). In other words, “Such a person has lost his way. His steps are confused, he’s indecisive, and he walks in blindness.”

I know what it’s like to enter such a cloud of darkness. Things get confusing. You can’t hear a clear word from God. You want answers quickly, crying out to God, “Oh, Lord, I’m not seeing or hearing You like I used to.” You end up asking Him to be more sympathetic, more pitiful toward your condition. But the truth is, the Lord has no pity for outright unbelief. He’s grieved by it. He expects us to walk in the light we have received. We are to trust in His Word and lay hold of His promises. When we come back to our knowledge of His Word, and to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, will we exit this darkness—but only then!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

WALKING IN THE LIGHT

“Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you” (John 12:35). Darkness here means “spiritual blindness, confusion, loss of clarity, gloom.” At first, I wondered, “Darkness on those who love Jesus? How could such darkness come upon God’s people?”

I readily admit, I personally have been flooded with the light of Jesus. In my more than fifty years of ministry, I’ve witnessed the Lord’s power to raise the spiritually dead. I’ve seen many walk out of the tombs of drug addiction and alcoholism. My book The Cross and the Switchblade was all about God’s miracle-working power. I’ve had a lifetime of watching the walking dead come alive through His resurrecting power.

I’ve seen many other rays of light—from the life-giving names of God, to His New Covenant promises, to the fulfillment of His prophecies. In a sense, I’ve witnessed everything John 12 describes and much more. Indeed, God has revealed to His people today what the eyes of those Jews couldn’t see. We know not just from Scripture but by experience that God has prepared great things for those who love Him. We’ve been given a New Testament to instruct us in this and we’ve been given the Holy Spirit to teach us. Likewise, we have “better promises,” so we can become partakers of His divine nature.

We’ve also been given anointed teachers, pastors, evangelists and prophets to flood our hearts and minds with the light. They immerse us in truth, fill us with glorious promises, and remind us of God’s faithfulness to deliver us time after time. I ask you, with all these wonderful blessings, how could we possibly have clouds of darkness over us?

Usually, when we think of spiritual darkness, we think of atheists. Or we think of jaded, sin-satiated sinners groping about in sorrow and emptiness. But that isn’t the kind of darkness Jesus describes here in John 12. No, this darkness is a cloud of confusion, a spiritual blindness, indecision, a gloom of spirit and mind—and it comes upon believers. 

When those times come, when we’re besieged by temptation or despair, we’re to say with confidence, “You’ve delivered Your servants supernaturally throughout history. Do it again and let Your strength be made perfect in my weakness.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

AMAZED AT HIS LOVE

We must take to heart this word from Christ’s parable: “O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt. . . . Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:32-33).

The question for every Christian is this: “Do I forgive my brethren? Do I put up with their differences?” If I refuse to love and forgive them, even as I have been forgiven, Jesus calls me a “wicked servant.”

Don’t misunderstand; this doesn’t mean we are to allow compromise. Paul preached grace boldly, but he instructed Timothy, “Reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2). We are to be bold guardians of pure doctrine.

Yet we are not to use doctrine to build walls between us. That was the sin of the Pharisees. The law told them, “Keep the Sabbath holy,” but the command itself wasn’t enough for their flesh. They added their own safeguards, multiple rules and regulations that allowed the fewest possible physical movements on the Sabbath. The law also said, “Do not take God’s name in vain.” But the Pharisees built even more walls, saying, “We won’t even mention God’s name. Then we won’t be able to take it in vain.”

What was the king’s response to his servant’s ingratitude in Jesus’ parable? Scripture says, “His lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him” (Matthew 18:34). In Greek, this translates, “taken to the bottom to be tormented.” I can’t help thinking Jesus is speaking here of hell.

So, what does this parable tell us? How does Christ sum up His message to His disciples, His closest companions? “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (18:35).

As I read this parable, I shudder. It makes me want to fall on my face and ask Jesus for a baptism of love toward my fellow servants. Here is my prayer and I urge you to make it yours as well: “God, forgive me. I am so easily provoked by others, and too often I respond in anger. Yet, I don’t know where my own life would be without Your grace and forbearance. I am amazed at Your love. Please help me to understand and accept Your love for me fully. Then I’ll be able to to be patient with my brethren, in your Spirit of love and mercy.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

GOD’S WONDERFUL LOVE

What is behind judgmental strife? Why do servants of God, who have been forgiven so much personally, mistreat their brethren and refuse to fellowship with them? It can be traced back to the most grievous sin possible: despising the goodness of God.

I came to this conclusion only as I searched my own heart for the answer. I recalled my personal struggle to accept God’s mercy and goodness toward me. For years, I had lived and preached under a legalistic bondage. I tried hard to live up to standards that I thought led to holiness. But it was mostly just a list of dos and don’ts.

The truth is, I was more comfortable in the company of thundering prophets than I was at the cross, where my need was laid bare. I preached peace, but I never fully experienced it. Why? Because I was unsure of the Lord’s love and His forbearance of my failures. I saw myself as being so weak and evil that I was unworthy of God’s love. In short, I magnified my sins above His grace.

Because I didn’t feel God’s love for me, I judged everyone else. I saw others in the same way that I perceived myself: as compromisers. This affected my preaching. I railed against evil in others as I felt it rise up in my own heart. Like the ungrateful servant, I hadn’t believed God’s goodness toward me (see Matthew 18:32-33). And because I didn’t appropriate His loving forbearance for me, I didn’t have it for others.

Finally, the real question became clear to me. It was no longer, “Why are so many Christians hard and unforgiving?” Now I asked, “How can I possibly fulfill Christ’s command to love others as He loved me, when I’m not convinced He loves me?”

Paul admonishes, “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

Monday, November 23, 2015

BECOMING MORE FRUITFUL by Gary Wilkerson

Jesus says: “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

Christians who bear fruit get pruned? That’s not what most of us expect from a life of service to God. Deep down most of us expect a reward. After all, isn’t that fair?

What Jesus says here is counterintuitive and countercultural. When I grew up, it was tough to get a compliment for any achievement. Today, if a child merely participates in a team sport, he or she is awarded a trophy. Don’t think I’m some bitter old guy who thinks he never got his due. And I’m all for the amazing support many parents give their children today. But our society is starting to discover a negative effect of coddling our children. It teaches them to hate being corrected and when they’re celebrated for everything they do, they believe everything they do is right.

This describes much of the church today. As Christians, we enjoy unconditional love but we hate being corrected. In His analogy of the vine, Jesus says our Father wants us to know a deeper love than that of a coddling parent. Our loving God says, in effect, “Yes, you’re bearing good fruit, and that pleases Me. But I want to increase your joy of abundant life. And I will accomplish that by pruning you further.”

“He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” Most of us do not get this concept. My wife and I learned it the hard way last year when a gardener took a pruning blade to our plants. We returned from a trip to find every green thing in our yard reduced to nubs. Our beautiful garden looked like the barren landscape of a lonely planet. We were ready to fire the guy! 


But when spring came this year, every plant had doubled its blossoms. Each one had shot up faster and fuller, and what was once clutter was now clean and beautiful, with flowering fruit. God’s pruning work in our lives is like that. It isn’t easy on us—in fact, it’s painful. And it isn’t pretty—but it yields glorious fruit that could not have come in any other way.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

FINDING YOUR FIRE by Nicky Cruz

Recent studies have predicted that by the year 2020 Islam will be the primary religion in Norway and all Scandinavian countries. If that is correct, we can expect to see it as the state religion in Norway within the next few years. That’s what has happened in every other country where Muslims developed a foothold.

It saddens me to see how little impact Christians have been making in Europe. We’ve been all but powerless in effectively reaching the lost—not only in European countries but in the United States. We pray for God to expand our territory, to help the Body of Christ grow and flourish, yet so few denominations are seeing that happen. Most are shrinking, and some are dying out altogether.

What will it take for God to finally grab hold and bring about the transformation that we need—the transformation we pray for? When will we finally rise up and make a serious dent in Satan’s foothold on the world?

The answer is so simple it feels strange to have to say it: We must trust in God for great miracles! We must rise together with contrite hearts and bold faith, asking God to make us mighty warriors for the kingdom. Like the young people who work with us—our Twelve Disciples—we must open our hearts and lives to God and allow Him to instill His passion for souls within us, to develop in our hearts a soul obsession. To break us, to use us, to empower us for service!

When you look at our small band of young people, these twelve unlikely heroes, these bruised and battered kids who own little more than a few sets of clothes and a raging fire of passion in their hearts, and you see how mightily God is using them on the front lines of battle, you begin to get just a small glimpse of what God can do with even the smallest ounce of faith. You see what it was that caused the early church to explode in numbers, drawing thousands to the faith from only a handful of disciples. You understand what it was that attracted people to the message—the message of Jesus. And you see how much God can accomplish with so very little.

“God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty” (1 Corinthians 1:27, NKJV).

__________
Nicky Cruz, internationally known evangelist and prolific author, turned to Jesus Christ from a life of violence and crime after meeting David Wilkerson in New York City in 1958. The story of his dramatic conversion was told first in The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson and then later in his own best-selling book Run, Baby, Run.

Friday, November 20, 2015

THE GOODNESS OF GOD

“Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering: not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

What does Paul mean when he says this person despises the riches of Christ’s goodness? The word for despised here means, “He could not think it possible.” In other words, this believer said, “Such grace and mercy isn’t possible. I can’t fathom it.” It didn’t fit into his theology. So, instead of accepting it, he set his mind against it.

Why couldn’t the ungrateful servant of Matthew 18:23-35 accept the king’s grace? There is one reason: he didn’t take seriously the enormity of his sin. Yet, the king had already told him, “You’re free. There’s no more guilt, no more claim upon you, no probation or works required. All you need to do now is focus on the goodness and forbearance I’ve shown to you.”

Tragically, a person who doesn’t accept love is not capable of loving anyone else. Instead, he becomes judgmental toward others. That’s what happened to this servant. He missed the whole point of the king’s mercy to him. You see, God’s forbearance and unmerited forgiveness are meant for one thing: to lead us to repentance. Paul asks, “Don’t you realize that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”

It’s clear from the parable that this is the reason the master forgave his servant. He wanted this trusted man to turn away from his own works of flesh to rest in the king’s incredible goodness. Such rest would free him to love and forgive others in return. But instead of repenting, the servant went away doubting his master’s goodness. He determined to have a contingency plan. And despising the king’s mercy, he treated others with judgment.

Can you imagine the tortured mind of such a person? This man left a sacred place of forgiveness, where he experienced his master’s goodness and grace. But instead of rejoicing, he despised the thought of such unmitigated freedom. I tell you, any believer who thinks God’s goodness is impossible opens himself to every lie of Satan. His soul has no rest. His mind is in constant turmoil. And he’s continually fearful of judgment.

I wonder how many Christians today live this tortured existence. Is that why there is so much strife, so many divisions in the Body of Christ? Is it why so many ministers are at odds, why so many denominations refuse to fellowship with each other?