Wednesday, September 30, 2015

AN INCREDIBLE VISION

Isaiah 25 describes an incredible vision. In it, the prophet Isaiah is transported into the future, to the very last days. Bible commentators agree that this is one of the clearest pictures in Scripture concerning the end times. Isaiah shows us precisely what God intends for the nations and for His Church just prior to the end. And right now, we are living in the very hour Isaiah describes.

In the first five verses, Isaiah outlines what God has in store for the nations. In an instant, God reduces Satan’s empire to rubble. And suddenly the nations being held under demonic tyranny are set free. Isaiah breaks into jubilant praise at the sight: “O Lord, thou art my God; I will exalt thee, I will praise thy name; for thou hast done wonderful things; thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Isaiah 25:1). He is saying, “Lord, You’re never taken by surprise. You’ve done great wonders in the past, and now You have a plan for this hour. You ordained it from the foundation of the world.”

As Isaiah watches God’s plan unfold, it thrills his soul. He exclaims for generations to follow: “In the last days, God is going to crush and annihilate Satan’s power. These palaces of strange demonic beings will be brought to ruin and the devil’s city will be reduced to a pile of dust.”

Chains begin to drop off the masses who have been bound. They are being freed from satanic prisons of fear and sin. Isaiah calls them “a strong people,” meaning “a once sin-hardened people.” And he tells us these same people begin to glorify God. For years they were terrified of their oppressor, Satan, but now they fear only the Lord, the one who delivered them.

In that hour, verse four will be fulfilled for the whole world to see: “Thou hast been a strength to the poor, a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast of the terrible ones is as a storm against the wall” (25:4).

I see this happening even now for millions of people all over the world. The poor in spirit are becoming strong. The needy are being rescued. And the distressed are finding an abundance of peace. Christ has become their protection, their refuge, their defender, their hiding place. When a blast of fiery temptation comes at them, it hits a holy wall surrounding them and disintegrates. And Satan’s once-fierce attacks fall harmlessly to the ground.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

THE VALUE OF A SINGLE BELIEVER

One Saturday evening, I walked down to Times Square as it bustled with tourists and others doing holiday shopping. It is estimated that at rush hour, nearly a quarter of a million people pass through that area. As I stood there, I prayed while watching the masses of people.

At one point, the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “David, take a look at these throngs. Multiply them several times, and that’s how many of my people died in the wilderness. Out of all those masses, only two entered into my rest, Joshua and Caleb. Everyone else died before their time, in despair and unbelief.”

The thought was overwhelming to me. As I watched the crowds, I realized they all had the gospel message available to them at any time, through television, radio, literature, even free Bibles in their hotel rooms. If only they wanted to know, they would be told that the same God who performed miracles for ancient Israel does the same for all who love Him today. Yet these don’t want to know Him. If they see someone handing out a gospel tract, they race by and wave him away. They have no gods but pleasure, money and possessions.

Suddenly, I began to see the value of a single believer in God’s eyes. And I hear Jesus asking the same question today: “When I return, will I find faith in the earth?” (see Luke 18:8). I see Christ, the searcher of men’s hearts, scouring all these venues, and finding few who truly love Him. I see Him searching college campuses, asking, “Who here will believe Me?” I see Him searching Washington, D.C., for those who would accept Him, and finding few. I see Him searching entire nations, and finding only a remnant.

Finally, He searches His church, looking for servants with a true faith. Yet, what He sees breaks His heart, grieving Him deeply. I hear Him cry as He did over Israel, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37).

As a minister of the Lord, I bear my Shepherd’s burden. And I feel His grief. Right now, I hear Him saying, “Even in My house, I find so few who have faith. Many of My own children, including My shepherds, faint in their times of trial. They don’t trust Me for their families, their jobs, their futures. Indeed, many have made their choice.”

So, what about you? The Lord comes to all of us, asking, “Will you believe Me? Do you trust Me? When I come, will I find faith in you?” How will you respond?

Monday, September 28, 2015

THE RICH AND SATISFYING LIFE by Gary Wilkerson

In illustrating for us the rich, satisfying life He has for us, Jesus uses the image of a sheep pen. “I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures” (John 10:9). In the pen, His sheep are safe from all enemies. They feed on the “good pastures” of God’s kingdom, enjoying health, peace and freedom.

It is this blessed life that our enemy, the devil, seeks to steal from us. Satan is bent on destroying our precious faith, and Jesus describes him as a thief who sneaks into the pen: “Anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber. . . . The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy” (10:1, 10).

If there is anything Satan wants to steal from us, it is the life God has designed for us. He does this by seeking to remove us from the “good pasture” (i.e., crucial spiritual food) that Jesus has given us. Immature Christians are most susceptible, as long as they remain on a diet of “milk,” never advancing to the meat of God’s Word. They are especially subject to Satan’s wiles in times of crisis. They spiral into a panic, filled with fear and worry, thinking, “I don’t know how to make a decision. Where are You, God?”

I saw this happen a lot when I was on the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in New York City. The teaching that people fed on there was deep and meaty, drawn from the dedicated study of God’s Word. Imagine my shock whenever parishioners told me they had skipped services to go hear a known charlatan whose only focus was money. How could they do that after a steady diet of solid, biblical food?

This brings up a second hindrance every Christian faces: the alluring gospel of a false teacher. Jesus teaches, “[My sheep] won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice” (10:5). Such “strangers” look, sound and dress like any good pastor. But the gospel they preach gradually leads people away from Christ’s rich, satisfying “good pasture” to the destruction of their souls.

It is absolute necessary that we learn the voice of our Good Shepherd and be able to distinguish it from the voices of false shepherds. How do we do this? By feeding on the meat our Shepherd has so generously provided: “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ” (Romans 10:17). The only way to detect a counterfeit is to know the original intimately. Only by immersing ourselves in God’s pure Word will we become intimate with the look, sound, scent and taste of that which comes from heaven.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

“WHERE, LORD?” by Claude Houde

Abraham built an altar of obedience and trust when he didn’t know here he was to go. There are moments in each of our lives when we ask, with anguish in our hearts, “Where, Lord?” We have a decision to make with no clear direction. The believer’s “where” can be related to his career, his studies, where to go to school, whether to move, where to go to church, where to go after tragedy or sickness. In all these “where’s” we must build an altar of confidence and trust where we release everything into His hands. Faith that builds an altar when we don’t know where to go will never be disappointed. God will bless, provide and protect as we grow in our trust and confidence in Him. Abraham also built an altar of faith when he didn’t know God’s “what, how, or why.”

 “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country. . . . Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore” (Hebrews 11:8-9 and 12, NKJV).

There is so much substance and spiritual weight in these few verses. Abraham’s test was in the waiting—He didn’t know God’s “when.” The fulfillment always seemed to be delayed and the promise appeared to be vanishing little by little, the doubts becoming a “Mount Everest” of unbelief. He came to a place where he had absolutely no idea how God could possibly accomplish what He had promised. In these passages of the book of Hebrews the author makes reference to God’s promise to Abraham that he would have a son. For Sarah and Abraham it had always been difficult, so hard to believe, but now they were staring at an endless ocean of impossibility as far as the eye could see. It was a situation in which the only resource was faith to “rebuild” an altar in order to receive.

Abraham had faced this war with unbelief his whole life. Just as you and I, many times he found himself deep in these fierce battles of faith with the adversary and he was torn up with pangs of anguish from this endless questioning that is common to all believers: When? How? Why? Where, God?

__________

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, September 25, 2015

THEY DIDN’T WAIT FOR GOD

The Israelites went ahead of God by organizing an army, planning a strategy, and striking out on their own. But when the enemy saw them, they chased the Israelite soldiers “as bees do” and destroyed them (see Deuteronomy 1:44).

I have seen horrible cases of believers who have never entered into God’s rest. The Lord brought them to a place of severe testing—a family crisis, a financial struggle, a marriage problem—but they did not wait for God to act. Instead, they accused Him of neglect and tried to solve their crises on their own. Today, those believers have no rest, no peace, no sense of God’s presence, and they live in constant doubt. They seem to go from one crisis to another and all they can talk about is their latest problem. Yet every bit of their confusion is caused by one thing: unbelief.

The Psalmist says, “We spend our years as a tale that is told” (Psalm 90:9). This psalm is speaking of unbelievers. What is the title of their tale? It is These All Lived and Died in Vain. It’s the same story we hear people tell of unbelieving grandparents: “They lived all their years in gloom. They did nothing but murmur and complain and they died alone and forgotten.”

This is the dread of unbelief. It cuts off your spiritual history, so that all that’s remembered of you is a wasted life. When Israel’s young generation asked about what happened to Grandma and Grandpa, they were told, “They murmured and complained all the time. They had nothing to live for, so they just sat around waiting to die.”

True believers are determined to trust God even if their prayer isn’t answered. It doesn’t matter if all their goods are taken away, or even if they face death. They desire to enter God’s rest. What is the evidence of such a life? They have “ceased from [their] own works” (see Hebrews 4:10). They no longer lie awake at night trying to solve their problems in their own wisdom and skill. Instead, they turn everything over to Jesus. It doesn’t matter whether they end up in gain or loss. Their only focus is that God has a plan, and that He is working it out in their lives.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

THE CONSEQUENCES OF UNBELIEF

“The hand of the Lord was against them, to destroy them . . . until all the generation of the men . . . were wasted out from among the host” (Deuteronomy 2:15, 14). Here is some of the strongest language in all the Bible regarding unbelief.

You may say, “But that isn’t the language of grace. God doesn’t deal that severely with unbelief today.” Not true. The Bible says that today, under grace, “without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

This sin of unbelief cannot be isolated to a single issue in our lives. It spills over into everything, tainting and defiling every detail of our walk.

Israel’s doubt wasn’t just limited to God’s ability to slay their enemies. Their doubt spilled over into their trust for daily provisions. They doubted God’s ability to protect their children. They doubted whether He would lead them into the Promised Land. They doubted that He was even with them. That’s why God told them, “Turn you, and take your journey into the wilderness . . . for I am not among you” (Deuteronomy 1:40, 42).

If we have unbelief in one area, it spreads into every area, defiling our whole heart. We may trust God in certain matters, such as believing He saves us by faith, that He’s all powerful, that His Spirit abides in us. But do we trust Him for our future? Do we believe Him to provide for our health and finances, to give us victory over sin?

Unbelief leads to the sin of presumption. To presume is to dare to think we know what’s right. It’s an arrogance that says, “I know the way,” and then acts on its own.

Here is yet another sin that Israel committed in its unbelief. When God told them to turn back to the wilderness, they didn’t want to obey. Instead, they came to Moses and said, “Okay, we sinned. But we’ve got it figured out now. We’re ready to obey God’s command to go up against the enemy.” And they took matters into their own hands.

Many doubting believers make a tragic mistake in a significant way: When they fail in a matter of faith, they turn to the flesh. They do what they think must be done, but they proceed in their own wisdom and skill. Faith always resists acting in fear and waits for God to work. Faith is never willing to make something happen by going ahead of God.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

WILL HE FIND FAITH ON THE EARTH?

Jesus came as a prophet and a miracle worker to His own house, Israel. Yet, “He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief” (Matthew 13:58). What an incredible statement. Unbelief limited even Christ’s power to work.

We see other tragic results of unbelief throughout the New Testament. The disciples couldn’t cast out a demon from a small child because of their unbelief—and Jesus rebuked them for it (see Matthew 17:14-21). After the resurrection, Christ was shocked again by their unbelief: “[He] upbraided (rebuked) them with their unbelief and hardness of heart” (Mark 16:14). Moreover, Paul says of the Jews, “Because of unbelief they were broken off” (Romans 11:20).

Why is God’s judgment of unbelief so severe in the New Testament? It’s because believers today have been given something that Old Testament saints could only dream of. God has blessed us with the gift of His Holy Spirit. Under the Old Covenant, believers were only occasionally visited by God’s Spirit; they had to go to the temple to experience the Lord’s presence. But today God makes His dwelling place in His people. We are His temple, and His presence abides in every believer.

In the Old Testament, Abraham was occasionally visited by an angel or given a word from God. He trusted that God was able to do all He pledged and “staggered not at the promise of God” (Romans 4:20). Yet, today, Jesus is available to us at any hour of the day. We have the ability to call on Him our entire lifetime, and we know He’ll respond. He invites us to come boldly to His throne room and make our petitions known. And He gives us comfort and guidance through the Holy Spirit.

Yet, in spite of these blessings, we still doubt God in our times of extreme testing. Jesus rebukes such unbelief, saying, “Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8). If Christ were to return today, would He find faith in you?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

ISRAEL DIDN’T BELIEVE

God’s word wasn’t enough for the Israelites. The Lord had given them incredible promises, yet in the midst of their crises, Israel never trusted Him. In spite of every promise, they rendered His word useless. How? By never mixing it with faith. “The word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Hebrews 4:2).

Instead, the people always demanded a new word from God. In other words: “We need to know whether God is with us in this present crisis, not just our last one. We must have a new revelation from Him for this situation.” I ask you, how could anyone forget so quickly all that God had done for them? Israel had forgotten every instance of God’s deliverance and had not allowed His past supernatural works to build up their faith in Him.

Yet, in spite of their accusations against Him, God spoke another word to Israel. He instructed Moses to tell them, “Dread not, neither be afraid of [your enemies]. The Lord your God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes” (Deuteronomy 1:29-30).

Now, this wasn’t a new promise. God was simply restating what He had already told His people: “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace” (Exodus 14:14).

Over and over God had told them, “I am with you. I’m going to fight for you so lay hold of this promise and don’t forget it.” Yet, here they were, trembling before their enemies and focusing on their own weakness. Finally, they reasoned, “We’re not able to go up against them.” This was blatant doubt—doubt of God’s call on their lives, doubt that He had sent them, doubt of His presence in their midst.

You may think you would never react this way, yet so many Christians today say similar things: “Lord, are You really with me? I know what You promised me, but is it really true? Can I trust what You’ve said? I need a fresh word. Please, give me some more assurance.”

We end up trembling before the enemy of our souls and it is all because we don’t believe what God has promised us. We act as if He has never said a word to us and we begin to “tempt” Him. Even though He has proven Himself to us again and again, we continually ask Him to prove His faithfulness anew, to send us yet another faith-building word. But God will speak only one word: “Believe what I have said to you. Trust Me.”

Monday, September 21, 2015

A FAITHFUL GUIDE by Gary Wilkerson

“The one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. . . . The sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:2-3, NLT).

We all need guidance for decisions in life. Yet, in a world as chaotic as ours, getting good guidance isn’t always simple or easy. Jesus says it is different for Christians. He makes it clear in the above passage that His followers—“His own sheep”—know His voice and “come to Him.” The picture is of a Good Shepherd providing His sheep with all the oversight and care they need.

Does that suffice for the hard decisions we all have to make? Each of us has serious matters to decide: “Whom do I marry? What vocation should I pursue? What is my purpose in life?” These decisions can be fraught with tension, especially if we regret poor decisions made in the past. My life has been immensely blessed by God, but I don’t want my children or grandchildren to make the mistakes I’ve made. Like any parent, I want to be able to give them the best guidance possible.

The good news is that we have a Shepherd who is a faithful guide to us in all things, no matter how faulty our decisions. He has the authority to guide us into an amazingly blessed life, regardless of our failures. Indeed, He says that is His purpose in guiding our lives: “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10, NLT).

We all know it is important to follow a quality guide. Think about the big life decisions you’ve made: Who was guiding you? What was their experience? What skill and knowledge did they use in getting you to where you wanted to go?

Some guides in life have the knowledge to get us through some troubling dilemmas. But do they also have the knowledge to carry us to the abundant life Jesus promises? As our Lord, Jesus is up to more than just guidance—He is forming a relationship. He wants us to know more than just when and where to go. He wants us to have the rich blessing of knowing Him personally in every area of life. So while we’re busy looking for an instruction manual, He’s saying very simply, “Follow Me.”

Saturday, September 19, 2015

NAKED FAITH by Nicky Cruz

So many people think that my passion for Jesus comes from years of study and prayer and ministry, but they are wrong. It comes from seeing God come through for me during those times when life has left me completely exposed and alone. It comes from feeling God’s presence during moments of my greatest confusion and despair. It comes from seeing God’s hand before me, time and time again in the face of unimaginable danger.

Every time I stand face to face with a hardened, teenage gangbanger, I see David Wilkerson fearlessly preaching on the corner of my street. Every time I walk into the middle of a crime-ridden, drug-infested neighborhood, I feel the same strength that drove Wilkerson to the streets of New York so many years ago. Every time I hold a lost and hurting soul in my arms, I feel God’s power and presence.

I depend only on God. God has used the pain of my past to take me to a deeper level, to bring me closer to Him. What Satan intended for evil, God has used for His glory. Any joy I receive in life pales in comparison to the ecstasy of seeing God accomplish the impossible, watching how He reaches into a dark heart and brings light, how He spreads His mercy like butter across the sins of those who need forgiveness.

It’s so easy to intellectualize God, to acknowledge His power without ever experiencing it, to believe in His supremacy without ever calling on Him to do mighty things in our presence. We see Him with our minds but not our hearts. We never embrace the power that we preach to be true. We never call on God to move mightily in our presence—to take our ounce of faith and use it to lift a mountain off of its pedestal and hurl it to the bottom of the sea!

Naked faith demands that we somehow learn to marry the mind and the spirit. That we put away our pride and doubt and fear and stand before God, empty and broken, with nothing but a raw and unquenchable trust.

__________

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, September 18, 2015

IN-YOUR-FACE IMPOSSIBILITY

Kadesh-Barnea is a place of in-your-face impossibility. The name itself comes from a Hebrew root word meaning “fugitive, vagabond, wanderer.” In short, if you make the wrong choice here, you’ll end up wandering through a wilderness all your life.

Many Christians are in this very place right now. God has given them His covenant promises. He has given them a wonderful history with Him, providing miracle after miracle of deliverance. But the devil has come to them with lies, telling them they’re not going to make it. He has convinced them they’re not good enough, that God is still mad at them for their past sins, and that He will never forgive them.

Tell me: Have you begun to accept such lies? Do you think God is going to fail you in your crisis? If so, then at some point in your walk you stopped taking God at His Word. You didn’t act on His command and what was true for Israel is also true for you: The test you face at Kadesh-Barnea will determine the course of your remaining years.

Like Israel, you’ve been carried by God through an awful wilderness. As you look back, you can recall the terrible testings you faced, the painful failures you endured. You went through trials you never thought you’d come out of. But God was faithful to you in every one. Each time, He mercifully reached down and picked you up. And now you can say, “God has never failed me. I stand here today by His grace. It’s true, God bore me in His arms, the way a father carries his child.”

Moreover, God brought you out in order to bring you in. There is a promised land ahead for you, just as there was for Israel: “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). The Lord saved you to bring you into a place of rest. What is this rest? It’s a place of unshakable faith and confidence in the Lord. It’s a place of trust in His promises, a trust that will see you through your most difficult times.

But to get to this place of rest, you must first pass through Kadesh-Barnea. When you’re there, you come face to face with a battle that is extremely intense, beyond anything you have experienced. There are enemies, giants, high walls, things that look utterly impossible. And you have to place your absolute trust in God to bring you through.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

THE TRAGIC MISTAKE

Moses described the tragic mistake Israel made at Kadesh-Barnea (see Numbers 13-14). It happened shortly after the Red Sea crossing. God had commanded Israel to go boldly into Canaan and He had given them this powerful word of assurance:

“The Lord thy God hath set the land before thee: go up and possess it, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath said unto thee; fear not, neither be discouraged. . . . Dread not, neither be afraid of them. The Lord our God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes” (Deuteronomy 1:21, 29-30). What an incredible promise. None of their enemies would be able to stand up to them (see 7:24).

But Israel staggered at God’s promise. Instead of taking Him at His Word, they insisted on sending spies into Canaan. And those spies brought back an “evil report,” full of unbelief. They spoke of giant men and high, walled cities, and the people believed their report: “Ye would not go up, but rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God” (Deuteronomy 1:26). Now Moses is telling the younger generation, “They should have moved instantly on God’s Word to them. The Lord had said He would fight for them—but they rebelled.”

Can you see what happened to the older generation? Sending those spies into Canaan was an act of unbelief. And while the spies were there, they were influenced by Satan. They were subject to the enemy’s lies, because they had not believed God.

After hearing the evil report, the people shook their fists at God, accusing, “You’ve abandoned us, God. You brought us here to die.” Just months before, these same people had been set apart by God, made special in His eyes, and miraculously delivered. But now the whole camp was in confusion. They wondered aloud to each other, “Is God even with us anymore?” Soon they were weeping over their children, crying, “Our kids will starve to death in this wilderness. God hates us!”

Moses reminded the younger Israelites of their parents’ accusations: “Ye murmured in your tents, and said, Because the Lord hated us, he hath brought us forth out of the land of Egypt, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us” (1:27).

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

THE DANGER OF UNBELIEF

In the message of Moses to Israel in Deuteronomy, Moses showed us the danger of unbelief. And he warned that unless we take heed, we will suffer the same awful consequences as those who fell before us: “Lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief” (Hebrews 4:11). He is saying, in essence, “It doesn’t matter what impossibilities you face, or how hopeless things may appear. You are not to fall into the same sin of unbelief. Otherwise, you’ll end up in a terrible wilderness, as they did. And you’ll wander through it for the rest of your life.

“God is faithful to lead you as He led our fathers into their crises for a reason. He wanted to teach them to trust Him. He wanted a people who would be unshakable in their faith. They were to come out of the wilderness with a tried faith that was as pure as gold. He wanted them as a testimony to the world of His goodness toward His people.”

I believe our generation has taken the sin of unbelief too lightly and right now we are seeing the tragic results. I see many believers today who are full of depression and unrest. Of course, some suffer these things for physical reasons, but many others endure such sufferings because of their spiritual condition. In my opinion, their depression is the result of God’s displeasure with their continual unbelief.

The Lord always uses strong language when He refers to unbelief among His people, words such as wrath, anger, abhorrence, tempting Him. Moses made a point to remind the younger Israelites of this: “Thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went. . . . And the Lord heard the voice of your words [of unbelief], and was wroth, and sware, saying, Surely there shall not one of these men of this evil generation see that good land, which I sware to give unto your fathers” (Deuteronomy 1:31, 34-35).

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

FOR OUR INSTRUCTION

The entire book of Deuteronomy consists of a single speech by Moses, delivered just before his death. This speech was a review of the forty years Israel had spent wandering in the wilderness and Moses delivered it to a new generation of Israelites.

At the time, the people were perched at Kadesh-Barnea, an important place in their history. They were at the border of Canaan, the Promised Land, the same spot where their fathers had stood thirty-eight years before. It was also the place where God had prevented that older generation from entering into the Promised Land. Except for Joshua and Caleb, they were all sent back into the wilderness to wander until the whole generation died out.

Now Moses was reminding this new generation of their fathers’ story. He wanted them to know exactly why the previous generation had died as despairing rebels in God’s eyes. Moses urged them to learn from their parents’ tragic mistakes, saying, in so many words:

“You know your fathers’ history. They were a people called, chosen and anointed by God. But they lost the vision. The Lord so loved them that He bore them up in His arms and carried them, time after time. Yet over and over, they murmured and complained against Him, grieving Him.

“Finally, God’s patience came to an end. He saw that they were committed to unbelief and there was nothing He could do to change their minds. No miracle He performed could fully persuade them of His faithfulness and goodness. Their hearts were like granite, so God told them, ‘Not one of you is going to enter My promised land. Instead, you’re going to turn around now and go back into the wilderness.’”

What powerful words. Yet Moses wasn’t just speaking to a new generation of Israelites. He was also addressing every generation of believers to follow, including us today. Like all the Old Testament accounts, this one was written for us: “Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition [instruction], upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).

Monday, September 14, 2015

TRANSFORMED BY GRACE by Gary Wilkerson

Throughout His ministry, Jesus was asked two kinds of questions by the people He encountered, questions that revealed everything about the hearts of those asking. The first type of question was accusatory. Time after time, religious leaders asked Christ, “Why do You eat and drink with sinners? How could You be sent by God with a reputation like that?”

The second kind of question came from people bearing the problems of life: “Would You heal my sick daughter? Would You deliver my son who is being thrown into the fire by demons? Would You heal my issue with bleeding, which has plagued me my whole life? Jesus, would You help me?”

Do you see the difference between the two kinds of questions? Both seek an answer about the nature of God. The first asks, “Do sinners deserve God’s love?” while the second asks, “Does God want to help me?”

Jesus answered both questions with His actions. First, He transformed the outcasts, bringing them from the farthest margins of society to the very center of God’s love. He told them, “You are on center stage now. You’re at the very heart of My Father’s kingdom.” Second, Christ revealed that the accusers were not at the center of God’s kingdom. He told them very clearly, “You have no say in My Father’s kingdom.”

Do you want a meaningful, significant role in God’s kingdom? Then be willing to lay down your stones and pick up the cross of His grace. Every time you act as Jesus did, extending grace to those marginalized by sin, you take part in a great transformation. You will be changed by your actions, the accused will be changed, and those accusing will be changed. Meanwhile, passive believers will be stirred by the manifestation of God’s grace.

May we all become His army of grace—drawing to His kingdom the addicted and the clean-living, the grieving and the carefree, the poor and the wealthy, the lonely and the lively. Let every soul be loved and belong, and may we all be transformed by the amazing grace of our Savior.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

LEARNING TO PRAY by Jim Cymbala

Prayer cannot truly be taught by principles and seminars. It has to be born out of a whole environment of felt need. If I say, “I ought to pray,” I will soon run out of motivation and quit; the flesh is too strong. I have to be driven to pray.

Too many Christians live in a state of denial. “Well, I hope my child will come around someday.” Some parents have actually given up: “I guess nothing can be done. Bobby didn’t turn out right—but we tried; we dedicated him to the Lord when he was a baby. Maybe someday.”

The more we pray, the more we sense our need to pray. And the more we sense our need to pray, the more we want to pray.

Prayer is the source of the Christian life, a Christian’s lifeline. Otherwise, it’s like having a baby in your arms and dressing her up so cute—but she’s not breathing! Never mind the frilly clothes; stabilize the child’s vital signs. It does no good to talk to someone in a comatose state. That’s why the great emphasis on teaching in today’s churches is producing such limited results. Teaching is good only where there’s life to be channeled. If the listeners are in a spiritual coma, what we’re telling them may be fine and orthodox, but unfortunately, spiritual life cannot be taught.

Pastors and churches have to get uncomfortable enough to say, “We are not New Testament Christians if we don’t have a prayer life.” This conviction makes us squirm a little, but how else will there be a breakthrough with God?

If we truly think about what Acts 2:42 says—“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer”—we can see that prayer is almost a proof of a church’s normalcy. Calling on the name of the Lord is the fourth great hallmark in the list. If my church or your church isn’t praying, we shouldn’t be boasting in our orthodoxy or our Sunday morning attendance figures.

In fact, Carol and I have told each other more than once that if the spirit of brokenness and calling on God ever slacks off in the Brooklyn Tabernacle, we will know we’re in trouble, even if we have 10,000 in attendance.

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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, September 11, 2015

HE AWAKENS MY EAR

I didn’t realize how guilty I was of the sin of having defiled ears until I was on a preaching trip to the British Isles. My son Gary and I were being driven to a preaching event by a pastor who politely asked how our meetings had been going. When I tried to answer, he interrupted me to talk about his own preaching. This happened several times and each time, he “one-upped” me with stories of having bigger crowds and visiting more countries than I had.

Finally, I decided to just shut up and let him talk. At one point, I looked at Gary and rolled my eyes, thinking, “What a boastful man. This preacher is a nonstop talker.”

Then I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit whisper to me, “Think about why you’re upset, David. It’s because this man isn’t listening to you. You wanted to do the talking and now that you’re hearing his stories, you want to brag about your own ministry. You may have stopped talking, but you have a boastful spirit in your heart.”

What’s more, I had defiled my mouth. Notice that I didn’t speak anything terrible about this man. In fact, I hadn’t said a single word about him. Yet, by merely rolling my eyes, I had slandered him to my son.

I can speak about holiness, I can expose society’s sins, I can preach on the victory of the New Covenant. But if I allow my ears to be defiled—if I shut out another person by focusing on my own interests, if I can’t listen to him with respect—then the life of Christ isn’t prolonged in me. I am no longer leading a life that satisfies my Lord and I am not bearing the fruit of His travail.

“He wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isaiah 50:4-5).

“Mine ears hast thou opened” (Psalm 40:6).

Thursday, September 10, 2015

DEFILED EARS

“The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary: he wakeneth morning by morning, he wakeneth mine ear to hear as the learned. The Lord God hath opened mine ear, and I was not rebellious, neither turned away back” (Isaiah 50:4-5).

Note the last verse: Jesus was awakened every morning by the Holy Ghost. And the Spirit attuned His ear to hear the Word of His Father. When Christ testifies, “I was not rebellious, neither turned away back,” He is saying, “When I was on earth, I was taught what I should say, do and hear. And I never turned away from it.”

Beloved, I need this kind of spiritual wake-up call every day. I must have a reminder from the Holy Spirit, “David, close your ears to all slander, gossip and filth. Keep yourself from being defiled.”

Jesus’ own disciples had defiled ears. On one occasion, He told them, “Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the Son of man shall be delivered into the hands of men” (Luke 9:44). He was saying, in other words, “Pay close attention, because I’m about to give you an important revelation. I am going to be crucified. Now, let that sink deep into your ears. It’s something you need to know.”

So, how did they react to this? Scripture says, “They understood not this saying” (9:45). Why couldn’t they hear what their Master was telling them? Because their ears had been defiled by self-interest. Immediately we read, “There arose a reasoning among them, which of them should be greatest” (9:46).

Here is proof positive that defiled ears cannot receive the deeper revelations of God’s Word. These men couldn’t hear Jesus’ voice, even as He stood before them in the flesh, speaking to them plainly. Instead, Scripture says, “It was hid from them, that they perceived it not” (9:45). I have to wonder: Would the disciples’ experience at the crucifixion have been different if they had been able to hear Jesus?

The truth is, anyone who is engrossed in his own interests cannot see that fact about himself. And if he did, he wouldn’t admit to it. That’s why the disciples couldn’t hear what Jesus was telling them. They were so self-centered, so bent on boasting about themselves, they couldn’t hear the voice of Christ.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

VAIN WORDS

Psalm 50 spells out the sin of the unclean use of the mouth and its consequences. Many in God’s house have taken His Word lightly on this matter

“Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son. . . . Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself; but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes. . . . Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God” (Psalm 50:19-23).

So, why don’t we fear and reverence God’s Word on this matter? Why do we so easily speak of others with vain words? Why do we continue to use words carelessly, with an uncontrolled tongue? This psalm tells us why: “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.”

Simply put, we make God out to be like ourselves. We bend His Word to reflect our own tendency to judge the outward person. And we ignore God’s ways of considering the hidden, deeper issues of a person’s heart.

Now the Lord is telling us here in Psalm 50, “I’m going to reprove you, because I want you to set this matter in order. You have to see your defilement the way I do: as wicked and evil, a serious danger to your soul.”

As a minister of the Lord, I want Christ’s life to flow out of my preaching. And as a husband, father and grandfather, I want it to flow out of me freely to my family. Therefore, the fountainhead of Christ’s life in me cannot be polluted. I cannot allow any poison in the spring, or any roadblocks to hinder its free flow in me.

But this must be a conscious decision on my part. I must cry out to the Holy Spirit continually, “Lord, convict me each time I defile myself.” David made this kind of determination. He wrote, “I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress” (Psalm 17:3). “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” (141:3).

You may wonder, “Is it really possible to control the tongue, to purpose not to sin with the mouth?” David answers with this testimony: “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me” (39:1). He’s saying, in essence, “Every time I mount a horse, I have to put a bridle in its mouth. And as surely as I do that with my horse, I have to do it with my tongue.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

ROBBERY OF THE WORST KIND

James warns the church, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity; so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6).

We read a similar warning in Isaiah: “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity” (Isaiah 58:9). The Hebrew meaning of vanity here signifies rudeness, irreverence, disrespect.

Isaiah is making an astounding statement. The very reason we pray, fast and study God’s Word is to be heard in heaven. But the Lord attaches a big “if” to this. He declares, “If you want Me to hear you on high, then you must look at your issues of the heart. Yes, I will hear you—if you quit pointing a finger at others, if you stop speaking about them disrespectfully.”

It’s a great sin in God’s eyes for us to speak in ways that tarnish someone else’s reputation. As we read in Proverbs, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold” (Proverbs 22:1). A good reputation is a treasure that is carefully built up over time. Yet I can quickly destroy anyone’s treasure with a single defaming word from my mouth.

Now, we wouldn’t dare rob somebody of his gold watch or bank account. Yet God states clearly that slandering someone’s name is robbery of the worst kind. And we can do it in the subtlest of ways: by pointing an accusing finger, questioning one’s character, passing on tidbits of gossip. Indeed, three of the most damning words we can speak are, “Have you heard?” The mere suggestion of the question robs a person of something valuable. And it defiles our own mouth.

Monday, September 7, 2015

THE ACCEPTED by Gary Wilkerson

In the story of the woman caught in adultery told in John 8, Jesus turned the accused into the accepted. Instead of rejecting the adulterous woman, whose life hung in the balance, He accepted her. And He does the same for us today. He takes everyone pushed to the margins by their own sin and tells them, “You are mine. You’re right in the center of the Father’s love.”

This gesture by Jesus was crucial for the adulterous woman. Why? Because she still had to live in her community with the reality of what she’d done. You see, while it’s true that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, there are still real- life consequences to sin. Ask any addict who’s gone through a recovery program. There are broken bonds to mend with family, friends, children, coworkers. In the case of adultery, there can be unwanted pregnancies, broken love with a spouse, strained relationships with children, betrayals of trust within a community—matters that can take years to be repaired.

That’s why there is very real mercy in Jesus’ two distinct statements to the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). I would not be a faithful minister of God if I didn’t say that while, yes, Jesus loves you, accepts you and forgives you, there is very real fallout to sin. As a pastor I see it all the time. That’s why our sin is of great concern to God beyond the moral reasons of law-breaking. Paul says, “Run from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does. For sexual immorality is a sin against your own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). This is all the more reason to bring any and every sin to Jesus. Only His powerful, redeeming grace can fully heal and restore.

There is a third group transformed by God’s grace: the accusers. The Pharisees’ heartless, accusing plan backfired on them. Ultimately, the sinful woman wasn’t condemned but instead was rescued and healed. And when that kind of radical grace manifests, evil is forced to slink away in shame. “They slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman” (John 8:9).

Saturday, September 5, 2015

A NEW COMMANDMENT by Carter Conlon

“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you. A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:33-35).

In this passage of Scripture, Jesus was addressing His disciples not long before He went to the cross. It was an incredible scene! The One who was the embodiment of God’s extravagant love for all mankind was commanding His disciples to follow Him into the depth of this love for others—particularly toward those who belonged to the household of faith. Of course, this was not a commandment solely for those present with Him at the time; the Lord is issuing this command to you and me today.

Note that the kind of love Jesus is referring to does not simply mean having affection or an affinity for one another. No, the Lord is calling His Church to be an expression of a love so deep and so far beyond our natural human ability that it will stand as an undeniable testimony of the reality of God. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things . . . endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NKJV).

Upon receiving this new commandment, the apostle Peter assumed he had the inherent ability to do what Jesus was calling them to do. He asked Jesus, “Lord, where are You going? Jesus answered him, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward’” (John 13:36, NKJV).

In other words, Jesus was saying, “Peter, you do not have the strength now to go where I am going. You cannot love the way that I love.” We, too, must recognize this weakness in ourselves. I cannot love people the way Jesus commands me to, and neither can you. Only God has this kind of benevolent love that we need. It is only when the Holy Spirit comes upon us—when the victory of Christ becomes our victory and God’s heart becomes our heart—that we can fulfill this new commandment.

__________

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, September 4, 2015

PRAYING FOR LOVED ONES

Not long ago, a young man came forward during a prayer service at Times Square Church, shaking and crying. He told me he was from the state of Washington and that earlier that night he'd walked into our service accidentally. He had left and gone to a music concert, but then he left that event and returned to the church. Now he wanted prayer and so I asked him, "Are your parents Christians?" He answered, "Yes, sir. They keep praying for me."

I ask you: Was it an "accident" that this young man walked into our church? Hardly! He was having his own encounter with Christ. No one pushed or begged him; without question, he had been brought by Jesus. And I'm convinced it happened because of the prayers of his concerned parents.

In Mark 7:31-37 we are told the story of a deaf man being brought to Jesus. Jesus took him away from the crowd, "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 spake plain" (Mark 7:34-35).

Jesus performed a private miracle for this man and then He spoke to him just to prove to him that he could hear. Imagine! The first voice the deaf man heard was Christ's! Oh, how that man must have talked when his tongue was loosed. Out of his mouth poured years of pent-up feelings because now he could express the inner cry that had no voice before.

I imagine him falling into the Lord's arms, weeping, "Jesus, You heard the voice of my cry" (see Psalm 5:2). Consider the poignancy and power of Psalm 5 to this healed man: "My God . . . unto thee will I pray. My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee" (5:2-3). The love this man had for Jesus was now his own—because he had a personal encounter with Him.

Beloved, when you pray for your loved ones, keep in mind Jesus groans over them. He wasn't sighing over just one man in Decapolis. He was weeping over the stifled, inner cries of your children, your unsaved loved ones, and mine. Perhaps you need to change the way you pray over them. Pray that the Holy Ghost goes after them, woos and draws them, stirs and awakens them to a fresh desire for Jesus.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

A LITTLE LEAVEN

Paul asked the Galatian church, "Ye did run well; who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth? This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you. A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump" (Galatians 5:7-9).

Paul is referring here to a mindset, a doctrinal belief or point of theology. He is asking, "What's in your life that keeps you from going on in the full blessing of Christ? You were doing so well at one time. I know you to be a praying people, and you labor diligently to do good works, but something is wrong. I don't see you growing anymore. Instead, you've gone back to relying on your flesh. I don't sense the sweet aroma of Christ you once had. Your certainty, your clarity, your vision are all gone. Something's hindering you.

"What could have persuaded you to settle in this condition? Whatever it is, I tell you it's not of God. In fact, I sense leaven in you, a compromise of some kind. Something is clouding you, something you may be holding on to. And it's causing the Lord to have a controversy with you. Tell me, what is it?"

I know so many Christians today who once were mightily used of God. These people were devoted, praying, believing saints. But then something happened to them that somehow caused them to be hindered from experiencing the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

This includes many ministers I know. These men saw victory after victory in their walk with the Lord. But something crept into their lives, some compromise, and over time they made peace with it. Often that hindering leaven was a single besetting sin.

To all such people, Paul asks, "What happened? What's hindering the flow of Christ's blessing in your life? What leaven has crept in?"

Paul finished this passage by warning the Galatians, “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump” (Galatians 5:9).

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A HOLY CONFIDENCE

It was with confidence that Paul could say to the church at Rome, "When I come unto you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:29). He had a holy confidence in his walk with Christ. He claimed, "Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16).

Paul was saying, in essence, "My life is an open book before the Lord. I have no hidden sin in my heart, and He has no controversy with me. His blessing to me is a continual flow of revelation, so when I preach to you, you don't hear the words of men. I don't deliver a dead sermon full of clever theology. What you hear are the very words of God's heart to you."

You see, the fullness of Christ's blessing has little to do with material goods. Of course, all good health and earthly resources must be seen as blessings from God's gracious hand. But Paul is speaking of a much greater blessing here. The Greek word he uses for blessing means "God's commendation."

In short, the blessing of Christ means having a life that is pleasing to the Lord. It's an inner knowing from the Holy Ghost that as God looks on your life, He says, "I'm pleased with you, My son, My daughter. There is nothing between us to hinder our communion and relationship."

The writer of Hebrews sums up the fullness of Christ's blessing this way: "The God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever" (Hebrews 13:20-21).

I love being around people who live this kind of Christ-life. They have about them the aroma of having been with Jesus. Like Paul, these saints have a divine dissatisfaction with this life; a longing to be in the presence of Christ; a hunger to obtain more and more intimacy with Him. They speak much of Jesus, and they exude His love and holiness.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

FILLED WITH THE FULLNESS OF GOD

"I am sure that, when I come to you, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:29). Paul wrote these words to the Christians in Rome. He was telling them, "I have no doubt that when I meet you, it will be in the fullest measure of Christ's blessing."

The apostle's words here imply something that every believer must know. That is, there are various degrees, or measures, of Christ's blessing. Some believers obtain a full measure of this blessing, which is the goal. We're all meant to come into a full measure of the Lord's blessing. Yet, other Christians enter into only a small measure of Christ's blessing.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul urges everyone to pursue the fullest measure of this blessing: "Unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. . . . Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. . . . To know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God" (Ephesians 4:7, 13, 3:19).

Note the word "fullness" in these passages. The Greek word Paul uses here means "to complete the task of filling up to the full." That is the task God has given us: to pursue the fullness of Christ's blessing in our lives.

Paul elaborates on this, writing, "There is . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). In short, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit abides in all His children. Jesus promised, "We will come and make our abode in you" (see John 14:23). Paul is making clear that we all have the same access to the Lord. Therefore, we all have an equal opportunity to obtain His ever-increasing blessing. Indeed, our lives should continually increase in what Paul calls "the blessing of Christ."

Consider the incredible measure of Christ's blessing in Paul's life. This man received revelations from Jesus personally. He writes that Christ revealed Himself in him. Of course, Paul knew he hadn't attained perfection. But he also knew, without a doubt, that there was nothing in his life hindering the flow of Christ's blessing.