Monday, August 31, 2015

SPECTATORS by Gary Wilkerson

As the family of God, we gather in churches to worship, sing, listen and give. But if we’re not careful, we can end up being spectators when it comes to living as Jesus would have us live. Often when we see people in sin, rather than helping them out of it, we harbor a secret hope they’ll be caught. And when they are, we feel justified, thinking, “I knew it. That person’s life always seemed a little off.”

Why do we do this? It could be because we feel guilty about our own sin. We all have something in our lives that others could throw a stone at. The truth is, those Pharisees who brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus (see John 8:3-11) could have dragged anyone out of the crowd and stoned her. Nowadays, accusing people do that very thing through social media.

Jesus’ way is different. “Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more’” (John 8:10-11, NLT).

As a preacher of the gospel, I love those three words: “Neither do I.” Jesus didn’t condemn her. And that was a radical thing for Him to do. It still is today, when He tells each of us who repent, “Neither do I condemn you.” Yet Jesus got even more radical when He told the religious leaders, “I have much to say about you and much to condemn, but I won’t” (John 8:26). Wow! That sounds like an insult, but in fact Jesus had a whole laundry list of things He could condemn them for. He has a similar list about our lives today. But instead of condemning, He says, “Neither do I condemn you.”

What an amazing moment. It revealed the powerful love behind God’s grace— that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Friday, August 28, 2015

A CRY WITHOUT A VOICE

Just before Jesus healed the deaf man in Mark 7, we read, "Looking up to heaven, he sighed" (Mark 7:34). The word for sigh here signifies an audible groan. Evidently, Jesus grimaced and a groan came out of His heart. Of course, the man couldn't hear it, because he was deaf—but what was this groan about?

I have read many commentaries about this scene. Yet none bears witness to what I believe God's Spirit is telling me. I'm convinced Jesus was looking into heaven and communing with the Father. He was quietly weeping in His soul over two things. First, He wept over something that only He could see in this man. And second, He wept over something He sees today, locked in the hearts of so many people, especially the young.

What did Jesus see, both then and now? What was He hearing, both in this deaf man's heart and in the hearts of multitudes today? He was hearing a cry without a voice. He was hearing a cry of the heart, bottled up, unable to be expressed. Now Christ Himself groaned with a cry that could not be uttered. He was giving voice to the cries of all who cannot cry out.

Think of the many nights this deaf man cried himself to sleep because nobody understood him. Not even his mother or father could comprehend what he spoke. How often he tried to explain how he felt, but all that came out were painful, awkward sounds. He must have thought, "If only I could speak, just once. If only my tongue were loosed for a minute, I could tell someone what's going on in my soul. I would scream, 'I'm no dummy. I'm not under a curse. And I'm not running from God. I'm just confused. I've got problems, but nobody can hear them.'"


Yet Jesus heard the thoughts of this frustrated man's heart. He understands every inward groan that cannot be uttered. The Bible says our Lord is touched with the feelings of our infirmities. And He felt the pain of this man's deafness and tongue-tied condition.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

SIGN LANGUAGE

What's the first thing Jesus did when the deaf man was brought to him? "He took him aside from the multitude" (Mark 7:33). Christ knew immediately what this deaf man wanted. He longed for his own touch, his own experience. He couldn't settle for something "they" had found—it had to be real for him. He wanted Jesus to open his ears and set his tongue free. And it had to happen between the two of them.

If you've served God over the years, let me ask you: Isn't it true you can look back to a time when you had a supernatural encounter with Jesus? He touched you, and you knew it. You didn't get the experience from someone else; it wasn't instilled in you because you heard someone preach it; you experienced Christ for yourself. That's why you're confident in what you have with Him.

Jesus knew the deaf man needed this kind of encounter so He spoke to the man in his own language: sign language. "[He] put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue" (7:33).

Can you imagine what went through this deaf man's mind? He must have thought, “He's not questioning me or accusing me. He knows exactly what I've been going through. He knows I haven't rejected Him. He knows I want to hear His voice and speak directly to Him. He knows my heart wants to praise Him. But I can't do any of these things unless I receive His miraculous touch. He must know I want this."

Our Savior shows the same kind of compassion to our unsaved loved ones. He won't make a spectacle of anyone. Think of how patient and caring he was with Saul of Tarsus. This well-known man was destined to have a miraculous encounter with Jesus. Christ could have come to him at any time; in fact, He could have struck Saul down while Stephen was being stoned in front of the multitudes. He could have made an example of Saul's conversion. But he didn't (see Acts 9:1-19).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

HIS ONLY HOPE

The deaf, tongue-tied man’s only hope for healing was to get to Jesus (Mark 7:31-35). He had to have a personal encounter with Him.

Let me note that this man was not like those Paul describes: "Having itching ears . . . they shall turn away their ears from the truth" (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Nor did this man have "the spirit of slumber . . . and ears that they should not hear" (Romans 11:8). He was not like those described in Acts 28:27: "Their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears." Nor was he like those present at Stephen's stoning, people who "stopped their ears" (Acts 7:57).

The fact is, this man wanted to hear. He wanted desperately to be healed. Yet, we read, "They bring unto him one that was deaf" (Mark 7:32, italics mine). This man didn't get to Jesus on his own, he had to be brought to Him. Clearly he must have known who Jesus was and that He had power to heal.

Moreover, this man knew how to communicate, either through sign language or writing, and he could get around on his own. Yet he never made the effort to come to Jesus himself—"they" had to bring him.

Who were "they" in this verse? I can only speculate that they were the man's family or loving friends, people who cared enough to bring him to Jesus. I believe this scene says so much about the situation with our young people today. They won't go to Jesus on their own. They have to be brought to Him by their parents, their friends, their church family. Like the deaf man's parents, we also must bring our children and loved ones to Christ. How? Through daily, believing prayer.


There's only one cure, one hope, for our children and loved ones to hear truth and that is a personal encounter with Jesus Himself. "And they beseech him to put his hand upon him" (Mark 7:32). The Greek word for beseech here means to implore, to pray. These parents begged Christ, "Please, Lord, touch our son. Put Your hand on him."

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

LESSONS FOR US

In Mark 7, we find Jesus performing a great miracle. The whole dramatic scene takes place in just five verses:

"Departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spoke plain" (Mark 7:31-35).

Picture the scene. As Jesus arrived on the shores of Decapolis, he encountered a man who was both deaf and tongue-tied. The man could talk, but his speech was unintelligible. Christ took the man aside, away from the crowd, and as He stood before the man, He placed His fingers in his ears. Then Jesus spat, and touched his tongue, speaking two words: "Be opened!" And instantly, the man could hear and speak clearly.

Just prior to this scene, Jesus had also delivered a woman's demon-possessed daughter. By merely speaking a word, He cast the evil spirit out of the girl. Why are these two miracles recorded in Scripture? Are they included as just two more scenes from the Lord's life on earth?

The vast majority of Christians believe such stories are preserved in Scripture because they reveal much to us. They are intended to show God's power over Satan and sickness. They're meant as proof of Christ's deity, to establish that He was God in flesh. And they're meant to encourage our faith, to show us that our God can work miracles.

I believe these stories were recorded for all these reasons, and much more. Jesus tells us every word He spoke came from the Father. He said and did nothing on His own, but by His Father's leading. Moreover, every event of Christ's life holds a lesson for us (see 1 Corinthians 10:11).

Monday, August 24, 2015

THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD by Gary Wilkerson

It was the Passover season and Jesus was teaching in the temple. A large crowd gathered to hear Him due to His reputation for speaking profound words of love and performing powerful works of God. Yet no sooner had this crowd of commoners gathered than the religious leaders showed up.

“As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery” (John 8:3, NLT). These leaders saw Jesus as a threat to their authority. He represented a new phenomenon whose teachings exposed their rigid, self-justifying practices. Now “they were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him” (8:6). They asked Him whether the woman should be stoned according to the Law.

The scene unfolds dramatically: “Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, ‘All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!’ Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, ‘Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?’ ‘No, Lord,’ she said. And Jesus said, ‘Neither do I. Go and sin no more’” (8:6-11).

What a powerful moment. Not only had Jesus defused a highly charged situation but He had literally saved a person’s life. Everyone on the scene was transformed by what happened—not just the accused, but also the accusers and even the audience.

Jesus used the moment to deliver one of His most famous teachings: “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (8:12). God’s light in that moment transformed everything.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

WHERE ARE WE GOING? by Claude Houde

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call of God and walked toward a country he was to receive as a promise and inheritance. He left and walked by faith, not knowing where he was going (see Genesis 12:1).

Can you imagine the conversation that must have gone on between Abraham and his lovely wife, Sarah, as this wild adventure began? Abraham was successful, prosperous, and well established in his community. He and Sarah had worked hard, and they were enjoying the fruit of their efforts. After all, it was well-deserved, right?

As Sarah looked at her husband one evening, she noticed that he seemed pensive and somewhat emotional. He hadn’t said a word since he came home.

“What’s the matter, honey? You know you can tell me anything,” Sarah whispered.
Abraham blurted out, “I have been in prayer for many months about this and I have this deep conviction, this impression that I can’t get out of my mind that we must leave, get out of my father’s house, leave everything we know. And I feel that as we do this and obey God, we will be blessed.”

If you are married, you can imagine the scene and almost hear the conversation that followed! “What do you mean, we are leaving? We are happy here! It’s safe! I like it here! You know, as I do, the horrors that are taking place in the heathen towns around us!”

Abraham answered the best he could, “God is leading us, Sarah. I know it. I have built an altar to Him and I am serious. We have to go!”

As Abraham kept repeating, “We have to go, we are to go,” all of a sudden Sarah asked, “Where are we going?” Silence. Then he answered sheepishly, “Well, that the exciting part! God has not told me where yet!”

The father of faith walked, not knowing where he was going!

___________

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, August 21, 2015

NO LIMITS

My dear friend, God’s forgiveness has no limit. Jesus told His disciples, “If [thy brother] trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:4)

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

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

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

John, speaking as a Christian, wrote, “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

According to John, the goal of every Christian is to “sin not.” That means that the Christian is not bent toward sin, but instead, leans toward God. But what happens when that God-leaning child sins?

“If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. . . . If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 2:1 and 1:9).

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

Thursday, August 20, 2015

HIS PERFECT PLAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

HEADED FOR A COLLISION

Jesus ordered His disciples into a boat that was headed for a collision. The Bible says He “constrained [them] to get into a ship” (Matthew 14:22). It was headed for troubled waters; it would be tossed about like a bobbing cork; the disciples would be thrust into a mini-Titanic experience—and Jesus knew it the whole time.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THE AUTHORITY OF JESUS

After Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount, His listeners sat in awe. Scripture says, "The people were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:28-29). The Greek word for authority in this verse means "with mastery, power, liberty; as one in control." Jesus' listeners were saying, in essence, "This man speaks as if He knows what He is talking about."

Note that this verse does not say Christ spoke "with authority," but rather "as one having authority." It is one thing to speak with what we think of as authority—in a loud, boisterous voice, seeming to have total control. But in God's kingdom, authority is something altogether different. It's something you have, not something you simply speak.

The authority Jesus wielded shook up the entire religious system. Jewish leaders kept coming to Him demanding to know where He had obtained His authority: "By what authority doest thou these things? And who gave thee this authority?" (Matthew 21:23). Jesus answered them point blank, "I'm not telling you" (see verses 24 and 27). Our Lord knew He didn't have to answer to the devil about where He got His spiritual authority.

Christ had this authority not only in the pulpit, but also over all satanic powers. When He entered a synagogue in Capernaum, He was accosted by a man possessed by a demonic spirit. The spirit cried out, "Let us alone; what have we to do with thee, thou Jesus of Nazareth? Art thou come to destroy us?" (Mark 1:24).

Now, Jesus knew this synagogue didn't need another sermon or interpretation of the Law. It didn't need a how-to seminar or some exciting new program. It needed a person with authority—someone who could chase the devil out of their midst, and cleanse both the possessed man and the powerless church.

Christ used His authority to do just that. Scripture says, "Jesus rebuked him, saying, Hold thy peace, and come out of him" (1:25). In modern terms, Jesus said, "Shut up, devil, and get out of here." And Satan fled. "The unclean spirit . . . came out of him" (1:26). Once again, the people marveled, saying, "What thing is this? . . . For with authority commandeth he even the unclean spirits, and they do obey him" (1:27).

If ever the Church of Jesus Christ needed His power and authority, the time is now!

Monday, August 17, 2015

THE FRIEND OF THE BRIDEGROOM by Gary Wilkerson

John the Baptist is a biblical example of how to resist worldly distractions and pursue true greatness. He testified, “The friend of the bridegroom . . . rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29). In Jesus’ day, the supporting role in a wedding was a place of honor and respect. It called for a person of great stature and responsibility.

In that time, the friend of the bridegroom was in charge of the entire marriage event. He invited the guests, planned and organized the wedding ceremony, and hosted and oversaw the reception. He even arranged the honeymoon, going ahead of the couple to make sure everything was in place for his friend and the bride. He also secured their new home, preparing it for the couple to live in. In short, the friend of the bridegroom was responsible for it all. His role was a rigorous work of love and grace, from beginning to end.

John the Baptist was not saying, “Theology isn’t important.” He was saying, “How can you be fixated on minutiae like this if you’re truly focused on the essentials? Jesus is going to give His life as a sacrifice, rise from the grave, and return for a Bride whose faith is spotless and without wrinkle. Can you not see what God is doing in your midst?”

John had good reason for his focus: King Herod’s household had begun calling for his head and he knew he was about to die. John was telling his followers, “I have only a few days left and I want everything I say to be fueled with this urgent message: ‘Turn to Jesus.’ I want my passion to be for the one true thing!”

John the Baptist had one overriding passion, and it is contained in this beautiful verse: “The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete” (John 3:29). Knowing his own time was short, John could rejoice over one thing: Jesus had come to proclaim the kingdom of God!

We all play John’s role in God’s kingdom—paving the way for people to receive Jesus. When that is our singular focus, all else falls into its rightful place. And God promises to empower us in our service to Him. As John the Baptist testified, “He whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure” (3:34).

Saturday, August 15, 2015

COMPLETELY TRANSFORMED by Nicky Cruz

God gifted my mother with endless talent and ability, and He wanted to use her to do mighty things for His kingdom on earth—to reach countless souls for Christ, to raise a good family, to be an exceptional wife and mother.

But Satan kept her from discovering her godly purpose. He seduced and distracted her at an early age, introducing her to the world of the occult, shielding her from the truth of God’s Word. By bringing my mother into a dark and evil world, Satan kept her from embracing the blessings that God had in store for her. He bound her, blinded her, and beat her into submission. She lived most of her life in chains—imprisoned by the Evil One, completely unaware of the goodness and mercy of God.

The day my mother broke free from Satan’s curse was the day that she finally began to see what God had planned for her life. She became a different person. Her eyes were opened for the first time, and she could see! She saw the hate and violence that she had lived with, and it was abhorrent to her. It sickened her to think of the way she had treated her family, the love she had withheld, the sin that had held her hostage.

Those beautiful green eyes that once had looked at me with such vengeance and hatred were suddenly filled with love. The tension in her face lifted, and a tremendous peace came over her. Jesus came into her heart and took away every ounce of fear, every hint of hate, every lasting shade of darkness and despair. He changed her completely. Finally my mother was able to embrace her purpose, her calling, her glorious future before God.

For the final twenty-five years of my mother’s life, she lived in God’s blessing and favor. She became the person He had created her to be—a wonderful wife and mother. Everyone she met was blessed by her kindness and her friends didn’t even recognize her. She was no longer the person I had grown up with. Her life was completely transformed by Jesus.

__________

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, August 14, 2015

BINDING UP THE ENEMY

"For many are called, but few are chosen" (Matthew 22:14). I picture God looking over that banquet hall, declaring, "For many years I called out to Israel, through My apostles. But they refused to hear. Now these guests here in My house have responded to My call. I tell you, they have been chosen. And I won't allow Satan to cut off any one of them from My Body."

We know the devil hasn't yet been cast into his eternal prison. Yet, as we feast at the banqueting table, waiting for the Bridegroom to come, we're given a command. The King has told us to bind up the devil and cast him out of the banqueting hall. In short, we're to rise up and take serious action against Satan's attacks on Christ's Body.

Amazingly, this command is ignored by many Christians. Whenever we see a tenderhearted believer in pain, we think, "I'll offer him comfort. I want to be a listening ear." Or, "I can provide some kind of support. I'll bring him a meal, or offer financial help." These are indeed acts of godly love but often, they're not enough.

If we know Satan is speaking lies into someone's life, we're required to do more than merely listen or offer counsel. We're to gather other believers together and take authority over the enemy. Jesus tells us some kinds of demonic oppression "goeth not out but by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21). Thus, with fasting and prayer we are to bind up the enemy. And we are to cast him out of our fellow believer's mind, soul and circumstances.

Are you living under a cloud of despair? Do you know a brother or sister who is downcast, listening to Satan's accusations? I urge you, seek out praying believers in Christ's Body. Go to those who truly know God's heart and let them point out the enemy's lies for what they are.

Scripture says that if one of us hurts, we all hurt. That's why it's absolutely vital that we gather together in Jesus' name, for each other's sake. We are to call on our Savior's authority, bind up the enemy, and cast him out of each other's lives. Then we'll be able to bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. That is truly the work of Christ's Body.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

THE WEDDING FEAST

"Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests" (Matthew 22:8-10).

Since Calvary, the gospel has gone out to all humankind: Jew and Gentile, slave and free, rich and poor, good and bad alike. This is how "the wedding was furnished with guests" (22:10). Please understand, this scene isn't about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. These guests are those who heed the call to receive Christ as Lord.

Think of it. According to Jesus, this Bride is comprised of "as many as they found, both bad and good" (22:10). Such a group includes formerly bad people: addicts, alcoholics, prostitutes, murderers, gamblers, drug pushers. Yet it also includes formerly good people, those who once relied on a righteousness of flesh.

Now they all have been changed. They've confessed their sins and been washed clean by Christ's blood.

Typically, we think of wedding feasts as lasting a few hours. In the Jewish culture of Jesus' day, such feasts could last up to seven days. Yet to God, a day is as a thousand years. And in this parable, the feast we are seeing has lasted since Calvary. It has been going on for centuries. And it won't end until the Bridegroom returns.

Dear saint, do you realize what this means? Every day is your wedding day. As a member of Christ's Body, you are a part of His Bride. That means each morning when you rise, you are to put on your white wedding garment. If it becomes spotted or soiled, you are to bring it to His Word to be washed clean. And you are to wear your wedding ring at all times. It signifies your married status, as sealed by the Holy Ghost. Finally, you are to feast on the Bread of heaven: Christ, the heavenly manna.

This wedding feast is taking place every day in Christ’s Body.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

PARTAKERS OF THE BREAD

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).

This bread is what distinguishes us as members of His Body. We are set apart from the rest of humanity because we dine from a single loaf: Jesus Christ. "We are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:17).

Some Christians, however, don't want to be connected to other members of the Body. They commune with Jesus, but they deliberately isolate themselves from other believers. They want nothing to do with the Body, other than the Head.

But a body can't be comprised of just a single member. Can you picture a head with only an arm growing out of it? Christ's Body can't be made up of a head alone, with no limbs or organs. His Body consists of many members. We simply can't be one with Christ without being one with His Body also.

You see, our need isn't just for the Head, it is for the whole Body. We are knit together not only by our need for Jesus, but by our need for each other. Paul states, "The eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you" (1 Corinthians 12:21).

Note the second half of this verse. Even the head can't say to another member, "I don't need you." What an incredible statement. Paul is telling us, "Christ will never say to any member of His Body, 'I have no need of you.'" Our Head willingly connects Himself to each of us. Moreover, He says we are all important, even necessary, to the functioning of His Body.

This is especially true of members who may be bruised and hurting. Paul emphasizes, "Much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary" (12:22). The apostle then adds, "And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness" (12:23). He's speaking of those in Christ's Body who are unseen, hidden, unknown. In God's eyes, these members have great honor. And they are absolutely necessary to the work of His Body.

This passage holds profound meaning for us all. Paul is telling us, "It doesn't matter how poor your self-image may be. You may think you're not measuring up as a Christian but the Lord Himself says, 'I have need of you. You're not just an important member of My Body. You're vital and necessary for it to function.'"

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

MEMBERS OF HIS BODY

The apostle Paul instructs us, "Ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" (1 Corinthians 12:27). He says more specifically, "As the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members . . . being many, are one body: so also is Christ" (12:12).

Paul is telling us, in essence, "Take a look at your own body. You have hands, feet, eyes, ears. You're not just an isolated brain, unattached to the other members. Well, it is the same way with Christ. He is not just a head. He has a body, and we comprise its members."

The apostle then points out, "We, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Romans 12:5). In other words, we are not just connected to Jesus, our Head. We are also joined to each other. The fact is, we can't be connected to Him without also being joined to our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Paul drives this point home, saying, "The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread" (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Simply put, we are all fed by the same food: Christ, the manna from heaven. "The bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world" (John 6:33).

Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life . . . I am the living bread which came down from heaven . . . he that eateth me, even he shall live by me" (John 6:35, 51, 57). The image of bread here is important. Our Lord is telling us, "If you come to Me, you will be nourished. You will be attached to me, as a member of My Body. Therefore, you will receive strength from the life-flow that is in Me." Indeed, every member of His Body draws strength from a single source: Christ, the Head. Everything we need to lead an overcoming life flows to us from Him.

Monday, August 10, 2015

MEASURING GREATNESS by Gary Wilkerson

John the Baptist would not let himself be distracted from leading a life of great consequence.

The gospel of John tells us, “A discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness — look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him’” (John 3:25-26, ESV). John’s followers were speaking of Jesus. Evidently they had theological concerns about Him. Maybe they had heard about His miracle at Cana and thought He had mishandled the cisterns.

John wasn’t going to be distracted by the debate. He knew that something greater than doctrinal sticking points was at stake. He answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27). In other words: “Can someone work a miracle like this if he hasn’t been sent by God? That kind of power comes only from heaven.”

What John says next is powerful: “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ . . . He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:28, 30). John’s focus in life was clear; his holy calling was centered completely on Jesus. For that reason John the Baptist was known as a great man.

The problem for many of us today, in our success-driven culture, is that we seek great things for ourselves. Well-intentioned ministers seek to build a Twitter following. Christians want to be heard even if it means having fifteen seconds of stupidity on YouTube. We may convince ourselves we are pursuing things for God, but is Jesus really our focus? Without rigorous examination of our hearts, we won’t be able to discern whether we are pleasing our Master or following an inner longing for validation.

The prophet Jeremiah addressed this question directly: “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not, for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the Lord. But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go” (Jeremiah 45:5). Jeremiah makes clear that God’s measurement of greatness is much different from the world’s. Note that he doesn’t say, “Do not be great. You’ll get spiritual brownie points for false humility.” No, as Jesus Himself says, greatness is measured in how well we serve others.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

BRAVE FOR GOD by Jim Cymbala

“So David went on and became great, and the Lord of hosts was with him” (1 Chronicles 11:9, NKJV).

The mighty warriors of 1 Chronicles 11 helped David conquer a new capital for his kingdom, a story told in verses 4-9. The modern nation of Israel has made a big celebration of the 3,000th birthday of this city, Jerusalem, as the center of Jewish life.

It was not an easy prize. The Jebusites who lived in Jerusalem flatly told David, “No way. This is a tough, fortified city, and you won’t get inside.” In fact, 2 Samuel 5:6 records their insult: “Even the blind and the lame can ward you off.”

So it is with every attempt to do something significant for God. It is never simple. Whenever God stirs us to establish His kingdom in a new place, the enemy is sure to taunt us. The devil always tries to convince us that we’ve tackled too much this time and we’ll soon be humiliated.

But David and his warriors pressed on. They would not be turned back. In fact, David made an unusual offer: “Whoever leads the attack on the Jebusites will become commander-in-chief” (1 Chronicles 11:6). This meant being the first to head uphill against well-armed soldiers perched atop thick walls, just waiting to rain down arrows and rocks. David’s young nephew Joab, however, seized the opportunity to perform this exploit. He broke into the city first, and thus he became David’s leading general for years to come.

That is not how we select leaders in the church today, is it? We go by resumes, seniority, image, education, and a half-dozen other human criteria. By contrast, David looked for bravery and boldness in the real world of battle.

If we are courageous enough to go on the spiritual attack, to be mighty men and women of prayer and faith, there is no limit to what God can accomplish through us.

__________

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

OUT OF THE BELLY OF HELL

"Out of the belly of hell cried I" (Jonah 2:2). Why did the Lord take Jonah so low? He was in the belly of a living hell, suspended in darkness, hanging between life and death. Why would a merciful God put a servant through this? I believe Jonah's story shows us how God deals with disobedient servants.

Jonah was in this hell for three days and nights. Yet, in all that time he never prayed. The storm hadn't brought him to his knees and neither did his brush with death in the whale's belly. Only after three days and nights do we read, "Then Jonah prayed unto the Lord his God out of the fish's belly" (2:1).

Why didn't Jonah pray before this? It was because he was convinced, "I am cast out of thy sight" (2:4). He described God as having mercy for Nineveh, but Jonah couldn't believe for the same mercy for himself. He thought, "I'm a dead man. I can't fall any lower. God has turned His back on me. He hates me for what I did."

Nothing could have been further from the truth. When Scripture says, "The Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah," the word for prepared means enrolled. God had picked out a huge whale and put an urgency in that creature. So when Jonah went overboard, the fish was there, ready to swallow him. The Lord was still at work.

The truth was, God was speeding Jonah on his way to Nineveh. Soon the prophet would be walking in sunlight again. He would preach boldly in the streets as a chosen messenger.

What did God intend through Jonah's belly-of-hell experience? For a season Jonah knew what it was like to feel dead. He couldn't pray. God had hidden His face, and the prophet had no one to turn to. Hell for Jonah wasn't the seaweed sweeping over him, or being pounded back and forth. It was the sense that God had lifted His hand from his life.


It was all meant to test Jonah in his disobedience. God wasn't demanding, "Now will you obey Me, Jonah?" Rather, He was asking, "Whose word will you believe in this awful hell, Jonah? Mine or the devil's?" Finally, we read, "Then Jonah prayed" (2:1). "When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee" (2:7). Jonah rushed back to God's loving arms. Then he testified, "Out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice" (2:2).

Thursday, August 6, 2015

A REVELATION OF GOD’S NATURE

How could such a prayerful man as Jonah drift away from his calling and fall into disobedience? It begins with a partial, incomplete knowledge of God's nature.

Jonah was given a powerful revelation of God's grace and mercy. He testified, "I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil" (Jonah 4:2).

Jonah claimed this revelation was the reason he ran away: "Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish" (4:2). By his actions he was saying, "Lord, You so easily forgive all who repent. Every time you pronounce judgment, You are overcome with mercy. I know You're not going to judge Nineveh. As soon as I prophesy, they'll repent, and You'll pour Your grace on them."

Do you see the problem with Jonah's reasoning? He is describing only a partial revelation of God's nature. And he is accusing God of being soft on sin. Of course, God is everything Jonah describes here: longsuffering, willing to forgive, ready to pour out abundant grace. I thank God for this marvelous revelation of His nature. It has been the most life-giving truth I have ever known. I love preaching mercy to God's people.

But the Bible also speaks of God's holy, righteous nature. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness" (Roman 1:18). Surely Jonah knew this side of God. How could he neglect it?

I believe Jonah had no understanding of the fear of God. If you think of God only as merciful, you will find it easy to disobey His Word. You'll believe He esteems His warnings lightly, that He doesn't mean what He says. I believe this was the root of Jonah's disobedience.

Such fear has to be sought diligently. And it must be implanted in us by the Holy Spirit: "If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:4-5). Like God's mercy, the fear of God is life-giving: "The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death" (Proverbs 14:27).

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

BEING TAUGHT BY JESUS

Have you been taught by Jesus in your secret closet of prayer? Have you sought Him for things you can't get from books or teachers? Have you sat quietly in His presence, waiting to hear His voice? The Bible says all truth is in Christ. And He alone can impart it to you, through His blessed Holy Spirit.

A question may now arise in your mind: "Isn't it dangerous to open my mind to a still, small voice? Isn't that why so many Christians get into trouble? The enemy comes in and mimics God's voice, telling them to do or believe some ridiculous thing—and they end up deceived. Isn't the Bible the only voice we're supposed to heed? And isn't the Holy Spirit to be our only teacher?"

Here is what I believe on this matter:
  1. Like the Father and the Son, the Holy Spirit is a distinct, living, powerful, intelligent, divine person in Himself. He is not a person of flesh, but of spirit, a personality in His own right. And He rules the Church. He brings divine order, comforts the hurting, strengthens the weak, and teaches us the riches of Christ.
  2. Scripture calls the Holy Ghost the Spirit of the Son: "God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts" (Galatians 4:6). He is also known as the Spirit of Christ: "What manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them" (1 Peter 1:11). "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Romans 8:9). It is clear that the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ are one and the same. Christ is God, and the same Spirit emanates from both. The Holy Spirit is the essence of both Father and Son, and is sent by both.
  3. There is a way we can be protected from deception during deep, searching prayer. Our protection is in waiting. The voice of the flesh is always in a hurry. It wants instant gratification, so it has no patience. It is always focused on self rather than the Lord, always seeking to rush us out of God's presence.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

WHO DO MEN SAY I AM?

The Pharisees and Sadducees came and demanded that Jesus show them a sign from heaven (see Matthew 16:1). Jesus responded, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas” (Matthew 16:4). Later, Jesus called His disciples together and asked, "Whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:15-16).

Jesus declared, "Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 16:17). Christ was saying, "You didn't get this revelation just by walking with Me, Peter. My Father revealed it to you from heaven." In short, Peter received the glorious, initial revelation that comes to everyone who believes. The glory of Christ's salvation was being revealed in him.

Yet, we read, "Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ" (16:20). Why did Jesus say this? Hadn't heaven itself already announced that He was the Lamb of God who had come to save the world?

The fact is, the disciples weren't ready to testify of Him as the Messiah. Their revelation of Him was incomplete. They knew nothing of the cross, the way of suffering, the depths of their Master's sacrifice. Yes, they had already healed the sick, cast out devils and witnessed to many. But even though they had been with Jesus for those years, they still had no deep, personal revelation of who He was.

The next verse confirms this: "From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples" (16:21). In other words, Christ began to reveal Himself to them, showing them deeper things about Himself. The rest of the verse continues, "how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day."

Monday, August 3, 2015

LITTLE THINGS by Gary Wilkerson

Solomon wrote, “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom” (Song of Solomon 2:15). Solomon is warning that oftentimes it’s the little, nagging issues that keep us from walking fully in God’s calling to abundant life in Him.

Do you remember when you gave your life to Jesus? Like other new Christians, maybe your heart was filled with purpose. You experienced God’s healing love, and you longed to share it with others, evangelizing, reconciling and serving. As you moved forward in this new life, you began to better discern your role in God’s kingdom and your gifts for serving Him. Maybe you even sensed a calling to ministry of some kind.

But then you noticed something peculiar happening. Almost daily, your singular focus on Jesus got crowded out by other demands. Little things popped up, capturing your attention and distracting you so that slowly you lost your focus on Christ.

My father, David Wilkerson, was very familiar with this aspect of the Christian life. He was determined to have an intimate life with God through prayer, and nothing could interrupt that. Dad prayed between two and four hours every day of his life, sometimes setting aside a whole day for prayer and letting us know not to interrupt him.

The need intense focus is demonstrated by the famous Wallenda family. They are tightrope walkers dating back seven generations. Just over a year ago, Nik Wallenda added to his family’s legend by walking on a high wire across a gorge in the Grand Canyon. The wind was fierce that day, and Nik was unsure about the event. But once he made up his mind, he had a laser-like focus. He emerged from his quarters with an expression that inspired awe. The entire media grew quiet, and the cameras zoomed in on Nik’s face. His every breath was in sync with his task and the blowing winds that day were no match for his focus. Pole in hand, he strode forward to the wire—and walked all the way across the gorge, never distracted for an instant.

Nik Wallenda’s focus was literally a matter of life or death. Yet we in the Church of Jesus Christ have an even higher calling—but do we have his laser-beam focus? How often has our distraction turned into days, months, even years of meandering and mediocrity?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

AMBASSADORS OF PRAYER by Carter Conlon

When we come to God in prayer, we must know who He is and what He is willing to do for us. We must know that He is our Father, our provider, our deliverer; that we are forgiven so that we can become ambassadors of forgiveness. We must have an assurance in our hearts that God is faithful to protect us from every weapon of evil that is formed against us.

“And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him?” (Luke 11:5-6).

Once we are completely at rest in who God is, fully trusting in His provision and keeping power, there is a shift that ought to take place in our prayers. Prayer should no longer be all about us but should also be focused on others. This is where the true power of prayer is found.

Please notice that verse five tells us that it was midnight. I am sure by now you are aware that we are living in the midnight hour. Everything as we know it is moving into a last and final rebellion against all the ways of a holy God. It was at midnight, as well, that Paul and Silas found themselves in an inner prison, yet they chose to pray and worship (see Acts 16:25). Suddenly, there was an earthquake that shook the prison’s foundations. All the prison doors were opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed. If only you and I can learn to pray like that in this dark hour!

We can be sure that Paul and Silas were not simply praying, “Forgive us for our sins and give us our daily bread.” No! I believe they were crying out, “God, it’s midnight, and there is a need here that is much greater than we can handle. Friends have been set before us, and these friends are in prison—shackled and hopeless. You have entrusted us with this inner prison, so now You must give us the strength to make a difference.”

How did God respond to their prayer? He put a song inside of them! As they began to worship God for answering the cry of their hearts, suddenly everything began to shake and miracles started to happen. Even the Philippian jailer and his entire household surrendered their lives to Jesus!

__________

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.