Friday, October 30, 2015

“CAPITALISTIC” CHRISTIANITY

America is witnessing a “capitalistic Christianity.” The goal is no longer spiritual growth, but expansion in numbers, property, finances. Jesus’ judgment of the Laodicean church applies to many churches today: “You don’t realize what has happened to you. Your blindness has caused you to grow lukewarm and you don’t even see it. You still think you’re hot for Me” (see Revelation 3:15-17)

In Ephesus, the church’s sin was a loss of intimacy with Jesus. In Thyatira, it was a loss of discernment, and flirtation with spiritual fornication. Now, in Laodicea, we see the worst sin of all: a loss of all need for Christ.

It all ends up in nakedness. Jesus charged the Laodiceans with their naked condition: “The shame of thy nakedness [does] not appear” (3:18). The Greek word for naked here means “stripped of resources.” You see, God reserves His resources for those who are reliant upon Him, who depend on Him in their need. What are His resources? They’re true spiritual riches: His strength, His miracle-working power, His divine guidance, His manifest presence.

Picture a congregation that sits comfortably through a one-hour worship service. These Christians hear a short sermon on how to cope with life’s stresses, then they’re quickly out the door. They don’t sense any need to be broken or contrite before Jesus. They don’t feel the need to be stirred or convicted by a piercing message. There’s no cry of, “Lord, melt me, break me. You alone can fulfill my hunger.”

Where is the zeal they had before? These believers were once eager to get to church, to pore over God’s Word, to lay their hearts bare before the Spirit’s searchlight. But now they think they’ve outgrown all that. So they’ve restricted their Christianity to Sunday mornings—to a religion of lukewarmness.

Jesus so loved this Laodicean pastor and his congregation that He told them He would create a need in them for his resources: “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent” (3:19). His loving hand was coming to chasten them and He would do it by creating a need in them to call on His power and help.

Christ is speaking to us with the same words today. He’s telling us, just as He told the Laodiceans: “This is all about supping with Me. It’s about answering the door when I knock. And I’m calling out to you now to come and commune. I have everything you need. Your fellowship with Me gives you what you need to continue in ministry. It all has to come from our time together.”

Thursday, October 29, 2015

FALSE SHEPHERDS

The problem with the church in Thyatira was a flirtation with seductive, devilish ministries. Imagine the pastor’s reaction when he read these words: “Unto the angel of the church in Thyatira write; These things saith the Son of God, who hath his eyes like unto a flame of fire” (Revelation 2:18).

The letter continues with a commendation: “I know thy works, and charity, and service, and faith, and thy patience, and thy works; and the last to be more than the first” (2:19). Once again, Christ is saying, “I know your deeds. Your love, faith, service and perseverance are greater now than when you began.” Best of all, the Lord tells them, “I know you love Me.” He doesn’t reprimand them for a loss of intimacy with Him.

But then we read these piercing words: “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols” (2:20).

Who, exactly, is the Jezebel mentioned here? Jesus is speaking of false shepherds. He’s reproving the pastor in Thyatira for tolerating covetous ministers who seduce His people. The Jezebel reference here indicates more than just ministers who are covetous. These false shepherds actually invent schemes to carry out and fulfill their lusts. Simply put, the name Jezebel is a byword for all that’s evil and detestable in the eyes of the Lord.

What a perplexing picture we’re given. These are people who love the Lord, devoted men and women of God. They’ve persevered, they’ve given faithfully, and they love Jesus. How could these believers be attracted to false prophets? How could they ever be seduced by wicked ministers whom God despises?

All through the gospels, Jesus warns of false shepherds who come seeking to devour, deceiving many. Yet I’m shocked by the lack of discernment in multitudes who abide their false gospels. Has this happened to you? Does your soul feed on some TV gospel that’s actually demonic? Do you drink in a message from prosperity preachers that appeals to your lusts and takes the last dimes of the elderly?

Jesus admonishes those who’ve faithfully stood against Jezebel ministers: “That which ye have already hold fast till I come” (2:25). He’s saying, “You’ve learned true discernment. You won’t let yourself be twisted by every wind and wave of doctrine. So, for now, just keep holding on. Don’t allow yourself to be deceived. That’s all I ask. I won’t put any other burden on you until I come back” (see 2:24)

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

THE LOSS OF THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST

The church of Ephesus described in Revelation 2 had lost the presence of Christ in their midst. I see a parallel in the world today. Some of the hardest people I’ve known are those who’ve worked for welfare departments and social agencies. These were sincere, dedicated workers but the suffering they witnessed daily became just too painful for them to face. The same thing can happen to Christians. Ministers and lay servants alike see so much pain and sin in the people they minister to, they can grow hard. That’s just what Jesus was saying to this pastor at Ephesus: “You once were so tender with others. You had such a love for people, and you listened to them. But now you turn a deaf ear. You sit with them, but you’ve hardened yourself to their cries. You’re doing ministry on a treadmill, with no life. I have no choice but to remove My presence from you.”

Spiritually hungry people won’t stay where Jesus’ presence is not evident. They’re desperate to know His nearness and when they don’t experience it, they go somewhere else to find it. I receive many letters with the same complaint: “I can’t find a church that’s alive with the Lord’s presence.”

I’ve witnessed the tragic backsliding of many Christians who’ve felt this way. They never find a church so they end up sitting at home and watching preachers on TV. They never get any meat in their spiritual diet and over time, a coldness sets in. Soon they’ve abandoned church altogether. They neglect the assembling of the brethren, which Hebrews warns against (see Hebrews 10:25) and they become totally indifferent to Christ and His presence.

I tell you, God won’t hear any excuses from such people. Jesus can be your all-in-all if you continue your personal communion with Him. No matter what condition your church is in, you are to be diligent in giving Him precious time. You must drink deeply of His presence if you want His Word to come alive to you.

In light of Revelation 1-3, every believer must ask himself: “Have my good works—my Bible studies and my service—robbed me of time with Jesus? Do I still hunger for Him as I once did? Or have I lost something?”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

OUR PRESENT SUFFERINGS

Perhaps right now you’re suffering an excruciating trial. Yet, you know the reason behind it isn’t that God is dealing with sin in your life. So you wonder why the Lord is allowing you to endure such awful pain.

It could be that the furnace of your affliction is meant to bring you into a life-changing revelation. This is exactly what happened with Job. In the midst of his suffering, Job made an incredible discovery: Despite his pure knowledge of God, he didn’t truly know the Lord. He confessed, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5-6).

At the time Job experienced this trial, he was at least seventy years old; he had known about God all his life. At some point, Job had erected an altar to the Lord, where he spent many reverent hours praising and worshiping God. For years, God had taught him about His ways and mysteries. Job had been taught about the Lord’s consolations, His holiness, His character, His nature, His wrath, and he had learned about the majesty of God’s power and wisdom.

Yet, when Job’s mind-boggling crisis came upon him, he wasn’t able to see the Lord at all. Instead, God became to him nothing more than a vague theological term. The Lord who had been so much a part of his everyday life now seemed absent from everything Job was going through. Suddenly, God seemed like only a series of sermons, a dead word, a knowledge without any power or life behind it.

I believe this is what the Lord wanted to bring to the surface in Job’s life all along. You see, our loving Father wants His children to know Him more deeply than we can merely through worship services, Bible study or prayer meetings. He wants us to know Him intimately, in every aspect of our lives—and that includes during our deepest trials and sufferings. Our Lord longs to be more than a God of some dead-letter theology; He wants us to know Him as a Father who is all-knowing, ever near to us, holding everything in total control, in the very hollow of His hand.

Our present sufferings produce one of two things in us: either hard-heartedness and a spirit of unbelief, or a glorious vision of God’s control over everything concerning us.

Monday, October 26, 2015

WHY DO WE FOLLOW JESUS? by Gary Wilkerson

John 6 contains one of the hardest passages for me in all of Scripture because it speaks of followers who end up rejecting Christ and turning away. It is a scene in which people literally left Jesus in droves (see John 6:66).

Jesus had just miraculously fed a crowd of thousands. The people were amazed and thrilled by what He had done, ready to follow this wonder-working Messiah. But when He challenged them about what they were really after, they scoffed and left by the masses.

Underlying this passage is a question for anyone who would follow Christ: “Who is in charge of your life, you or Jesus?” Do we allow God to have total direction of our lives? Or do we try to determine for ourselves what God wants of us?

Every Christian faces this question early in his or her walk with the Lord. From the outset, a battle takes place in us, a clash of two warring cultures. First, there is the outer culture of the world, which constantly urges, “How can you benefit from this?” Then there is the culture of God’s kingdom, which asks, “How can you serve the Lord and your neighbor?”

Jesus had already preached that the kingdom of God was at work in the world: “The kingdom of God is near” (Mark 1:15, NLT). In other words: “The kingdom of God is present among you.” Most of Christ’s listeners that day had the world’s mindset. They were driven mainly by what they could gain for themselves. When Jesus came along offering blessings, they flocked to Him, saying, “Sure, if You’re going to provide me with everything, I’ll follow you. If You’ll heal my sick family members and answer my prayers, yes, absolutely, I’ll be Your disciple.”

But what happens to our faith commitment if these things don’t come to pass for us? How committed to Jesus are we when we realize He’s not just our “assistant” in life? The same people in this scene who were quick to follow Christ were just as quick to reject Him. Disappointed, they left, giving up on Him.

Jesus knew this would happen. That’s why on the heels of performing a great miracle for those multitudes, He confronted them: “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (John 6:26, NLT). Is the same true of us today? Do we follow Jesus mainly because of His blessings or because He is Lord?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

STRONG FAITH FOR TOUGH TIMES by Claude Houde

The Bible clearly paints a picture, infinitely tender and personal, reminding us that God always “hears our weeping” (Psalm 6:8). Some translations from the Hebrew text render it, “He counts or will receive or know each one of our tears.”

This altar of faith that we are called to build, as winds of uncertainty, anger, fear, anguish and doubt roar their threats at us from all sides, is sometimes one of the hardest altars to build. It is a single mom looking at her son today, scary, distant and angry, while it seems that only yesterday he was so loving and affectionate. She lies on her bed at night asking herself, “Who is this monster, so arrogant and mean, wearing my son’s clothes? Why? How can I raise a son without a dad in our home?”

It is you and me, struck down by illness, hearing the doctor speaking dreadful words of cancer that turn into a blur of fear and panic. It is a single person, surrounded by her married friends and their children, drowning in loneliness, asking, “When, Lord? Why?” It is the businessman who gave it everything he had for years, his best, his all, now facing bankruptcy. He feels lost, useless, so powerless and a total failure.

This faith that walks in the valley of the shadow of death pushes forward and treads on paths “tourists at the cross” don’t dare to walk on. No, at this very place, you will find true Christians. A passionate pastor who dies a thousand deaths as he sees his church sinking into an ugly division. A man or woman of faith abandoned and cheated on, cut to the bone by a divorce that will not be repaired. The fracture of soul is so violent that this person truly feels as if she will limp for the rest of her life.

There is a faith that can and will rebuild, restore and even resurrect. Abraham lost his altar (see Genesis 12). There was a famine in the land, and the words of Scripture lift a truthful, yet painful, veil from covering what truly happened to him.

Dear reader, the Bible is an implacable mirror of truth and its purpose and vision is to save your life (see James 1:23-25).

Friday, October 23, 2015

HIS WORDS PRODUCE LIFE

“This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live forever. These things he said in the synagogue . . . Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?” (John 6:58-61).

Note that Christ was speaking to believers here. What was the hard saying they reacted to? It was, “You must eat My flesh and drink My blood, or else you have no life in you. My flesh is meat, and My blood is drink. And eternal life comes only through consuming them.”

Jesus saw that the people were shocked by His words. So He asked them, in essence, “Did I offend you? Are you bothered by My truth-telling?” Then He states, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). He made it crystal clear: “The very thing you’re offended by is what brings life.” How did His followers respond? “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66).

What is Jesus saying about His gospel here? Simply put, He is stating that the message of His blood and His cross is offensive. Even though it is the only gospel that leads to eternal life, some are not going to accept it. “But there are some of you that believe not” (John 6:64).

Jesus’ words here are being borne out in many churches today. Incredibly, some congregations have removed every reference to Christ’s blood from their worship services. Pastors don’t mention it in their sermons, and hymns about the blood have been removed from the church. It’s all considered too offensive.

But Jesus warns, “It doesn’t matter how offensive My words may seem to you. You can’t change them. My words produce life and you have to consume them as you would food and drink, to make them the very fiber of your being. Therefore, you’re not to soften what I’ve said. If you remove the blood and the cross from your preaching, you’re cutting off seekers from their only hope for eternal life.”

Thursday, October 22, 2015

AT THE HEART OF JESUS’ MESSAGE

Repentance was at the heart of the very first sermon after Christ’s resurrection. Peter told the crowds gathered at Pentecost, “Jesus of Nazareth . . . ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain” (Acts 2:22-23).

When the people heard this, they fell under powerful conviction. The preached Word pricked their hearts, because the Holy Spirit had come in all His power. And according to Jesus, that’s precisely the Spirit’s work. He said the Holy Ghost comes to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
The crowds were so stirred, they couldn’t move. Suddenly, before them were the very issues of life and death. So they cried out to Peter, asking what they should do. He answered, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. . . . Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:38, 40).

This passage illustrates the repentance at the heart of Jesus’ message. If there is no conviction in the message—no truth about sin and guilt, no smiting of the heart—then the Holy Ghost simply isn’t in it. He’s simply not present in such preaching.

Peter wasn’t interested in offending those crowds at Pentecost. His only purpose was to show them the truth, and when the Holy Spirit reveals the truth, it convicts. It goes down deep and roots out every area of the heart.

Sadly, this isn’t happening in many churches today. Our ministry receives letter after letter echoing the same refrain: “I have a neighbor I have witnessed to for months. I take him to church, hoping he’ll hear a word about his condition and his need for the Lord. But my pastor never says a word about sin. There’s never a word that brings conviction, that spells out the need for Jesus’ cleansing, freeing power. So my neighbor leaves even more comfortable in his sin.”

What a tragedy! How grievous it must be to God that more people are affirmed in their sins inside churches than outside of them.

According to Jesus, no one can be delivered from sin—no one is ever faced with truth—without the convicting presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

A PLACE OF REPENTANCE

Jesus declares, “My church is a place of shameless, open repentance.” Indeed, the apostle Paul attests: “The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; that if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 10:8-11).

Simply put, we are brought to salvation through our open confession of repentance. Jesus states, “I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13). And, He says, repentance is how we are healed and restored: “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31-32).

Beloved, this is good news! Jesus is telling us, “In My Church, everyone is healed through repentance. It doesn’t matter who you are—the physically broken, the mentally ill, the spiritually sick. Everyone must come to Me the same way. And all find healing through repentance.”

So, what is the central message of Christ’s gospel? He makes it plain throughout Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In these four gospels, He tells us, “Here is what I preach in My church. This is My message to all sinners.”

First of all, “Jesus came . . . . preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15). What was Jesus’ first message? He preached repentance.

To some Christians, this may sound like strong language. They may respond, “Okay, but how strongly did Jesus preach repentance?” Luke answers that Jesus told His listeners, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:5).

You may think Christ’s gospel of repentance sounds like a downer. But Paul says otherwise. A repentant heart brings true life: “Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of” (2 Corinthians 7:10).

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

THE TRUE GOSPEL

What is the true gospel of Jesus Christ?

The Lord told Peter, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
Clearly, belonging to Jesus’ Church means more than simply believing in Him. Many Christians today merely “cast a vote for Jesus.” Their attitude is, “I voted for Christ. That makes me a member of His party.” But once they cast their vote, they walk away and forget all about His lordship over their lives.

Jesus says belonging to His Church means committing to follow Him. And that involves a life of self-denial and taking up a cross. “He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me is not worthy of me” (Matthew 10:38).

Our Lord makes it clear: “If you’re in My church, then be prepared to suffer and be persecuted for your faith in Me. Be prepared to deny yourself all fame, acceptance and worldly pleasure-seeking.”

The fact is, Christ’s Church has never been approved or accepted by the world and it never will be. If you live for Jesus, you won’t have to separate yourself from others’ company; they’ll do it for you. All you have to do is live for Him and you’ll find yourself reproached, rejected, called evil: “Men shall hate you, and . . . shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake” (Luke 6:22).

Yet, Jesus adds, this is the path that leads to true fulfillment. “Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 16:25). In other words: “The only way you’ll find meaning in life is by selling out your all for Me. Then you’ll find true joy, peace and satisfaction.” Christ tells us, “My Church is without spot or wrinkle. So when you come to Me, you must be willing to lay down all sins. You must surrender all to Me, to die completely to self, to all ungodly ambition and ego. By faith, you’ll be buried with Me. But I will raise you up into new life.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

GUIDED BY THE GOOD SHEPHERD by Gary Wilkerson

“A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. . . . I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep” (John 10:12, 14-15, NLT).

Let’s face it, even the most dedicated pastor is a hired hand. He is someone the Good Shepherd trusts, an approved workman hired to care for the sheep. But sometimes even a trustworthy servant is no match for a desperate, hungry wolf (unless that servant is supernaturally emboldened as David was).

The point here is that even the best pastor will fail you at times. He’s human, after all. And he doesn’t know you the way the Good Shepherd does. Don’t misunderstand me, most of us need the godly counsel of a faithful pastor. At times we may even need the wisdom of a professional counselor. Scripture tells us that there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, including our devoted Christian friends. The difference with Jesus is that He is always there for us: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep” (10:11). He never fails you, never leaves you, and always has your best in mind.

We all know the famous scene in the Gospels where Jesus turned over the money changers’ tables in the temple. It was a literal act but also symbolic. Jesus was overturning an inferior religious system, declaring in effect, “You leaders are supposed to be shepherds over the people but you sell sacrifices to them rather than making true sacrifices to the Father. I’m overturning your system. I am the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. I faithfully guide them into the good pastures that will bless and keep their lives.” If you want true guidance in life, get to know your Shepherd’s voice. It may or may not come to you audibly, but it always comes through His written Word. Do you need direction in your life? He has but two words for you: “Follow Me.” Keep your eyes on Jesus. Focus on what His Word says and obey it. You can trust Him to lead you into His promise of a rich and satisfying life!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

STOLEN YEARS by Nicky Cruz

When my father left this world, he went out singing the praises of Jesus. Late in his life he renounced witchcraft, renounced Satan, and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. My mother brought him to the Lord before his death, and now the two of them are together in heaven, dancing along the golden streets, basking in God’s glory, relishing their new eternal home with God. When I close my eyes, I can almost hear them shouting out in worship to their new King. Their Savior. Their glorious Redeemer!

How I wish my father could have enjoyed such a life on earth. I would give anything to have seen him worship God on earth as passionately as he served Satan. He would have been such an effective witness, such a powerful evangelist, such a great and mighty preacher of God’s Word.

Everything he did, he did with passion. His faith would have been so real and strong and unquenchable. He would have commanded such great miracles. He would have trusted God completely, drunk of His Word, followed Him wherever He might lead! His heart would have burned with a soul obsession! Because that’s the kind of man he was.

Instead of cowering before the devil, he could have spent his life hurting him, defeating him, bruising him. He could have had such an impact on the world. If only my father could have found Jesus at an early age.

Don’t let Satan steal your life and heart the way he stole my father’s. Don’t be seduced by his lies. Don’t be taken in by his charm or led astray by his empty promises. Put your faith in Jesus. Give your life to the one who wants to lift you up, not tear you down. The one who loves and cares for you. The one who brings true power and strength, not puny parlor tricks.
Don’t let Satan rob you the way he robbed my father. Don’t let him blind you to the truth of God’s goodness. Put your trust in an extraordinary God!

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life” (John 10:10).

__________
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, October 16, 2015

THE LOSS OF HIS PRESENCE

In the third chapter of Revelation, Christ sums up His message to all seven pastors and the churches of Revelation. And His words are telling: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (3:20). Too often, Christians don’t open up the doors of their hearts to Jesus. When He knocks, they’re not even home. Instead, there’s a sign on the door, saying, “Dear, Lord, I’m off to minister at the hospital, then later at the jail. See You in church.”

Many churches today are doing so many good, charitable things in Christ’s name. They have programs for almost every human need and the congregants live clean, upright lives, careful to avoid sin. But something has changed about them. At one time, these believers were devoted to their communion with Jesus. They wouldn’t go a single day without spending time alone with Him. But now things are different. All they give Him is a quick greeting on their way to some work. How serious is this to Jesus?

Jesus is warning us, “Something has been lost in My Church. It’s My awesome presence. You have to get back to the secret closet, back to supping with Me. Otherwise, I’ll remove My presence from you. All your good works—your preaching, evangelism and giving—must flow out of our time together. It has to come from My table.”

The church at Ephesus (Revelation 2:1-11) had lost something they once possessed—the manifest presence of Christ in their midst. They had begun to take Jesus’ presence for granted, and it was affecting their ministry. At one time, they loved and cared for one another, but now they took each other for granted as well. And that had a disastrous effect on their labors to do good works. They were so busy serving people that their deeds became the focus, not the love of Christ. His powerful presence was missing.

Now Jesus warned them: “If you don’t make changes—if you don’t return to your hunger for Me—I’m going to take away your testimony. You’ll no longer have any authority when you do your good works. It will all be for naught.”

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A LETTER FOR THE PASTOR

Christ saw things needing attention in His Church. He instructed John to write down His words and send them to the seven “angels” of the churches. This refers to His ministers, calling them the stars in His hand (see Revelation 1:16). He is telling John, “I love these servants. I’ve called and anointed them and now you’re to deliver My words to them.”

As a pastor myself, I have to wonder: What must it have been like to open such a letter from John? “Unto the pastor of the church in New York: Thus saith the Lord, concerning your congregation.” Now imagine what those seven ministers felt.

Take, for example, the pastor at Ephesus (see Revelation 2:1-11). As he reads John’s letter, he sees Christ rejoicing over His Church. The Lord commends the Ephesians for being hardworking, patient and discerning. They hate evil, and they stand up for the cause of Christ. And through the years, they’ve never stopped doing good deeds. This pastor marvels at what he reads and thinks, “Wow, the Lord is pleased with us. This is a letter of commendation.”

But as he reads on, he comes upon piercing words: “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Revelation 2:4). Jesus warns the pastor, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick” (Revelation 2:5).

The Ephesian pastor must have been aghast at this. He thinks, “Repent? Or He’ll remove our witness? How could this be? We’re covenant believers. We’re justified by faith. We’ve been charitable, caring. Now we’re supposed to go back and be as we were at the beginning? What does that mean? How can this be Jesus speaking? How could I ever read this letter to my congregation?”

Keep in mind, these words are directed to a godly congregation. So this had to be a deeply serious matter in the Lord’s eyes. Otherwise, why would He speak so searchingly to such a shining example of a church? He’s telling the pastor, “Your love for Me isn’t what it once was. You’ve neglected communion with me. Now, repent!”

Jesus makes it clear that it all has to do with His presence. Yes, the Ephesians had labored diligently in doing good works but they were no longer intimate with the Lord.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

CHRIST LOVES HIS CHURCH

Christ loves His Church. He gave His life for it, and told us that the gates of hell won’t prevail against it (see Matthew 16:18). Jesus Himself is the foundation stone of this Church and Scripture tells us His glory and wisdom dwell in it. At Pentecost, He sent His Holy Spirit to establish the Church and He has gifted it with anointed servants—pastors, teachers, apostles, prophets and evangelists—for the purpose of building it up (see Ephesians 4:11-12).

It is clear that the Lord desires to bless His Church so why does Revelation present such a fearsome picture of Christ when He appears to His people? John writes that Jesus comes to the Church with flaming eyes and a thundering voice:

“[I saw] in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man . . . His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow: and his eyes were as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters. And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp two-edged sword” (Revelation 1:13-16).

Now, Revelation is the summation of God’s Word. It describes the end of all things and here is the first image of Christ we see in this book. Why does Jesus appear so foreboding here? And why does He speak so piercingly to His Church? John writes that Christ’s words are as sharp as swords, cutting down to the marrow. Remember, this was the apostle who leaned his head on Jesus’ bosom. But now he finds himself on his face: “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead” (Revelation 1:17).

The Lord Himself explains His awesome appearance: “All the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works” (Revelation 2:23). The fact is, Christ loves His Church. And that’s the very reason He comes to search it. He comes to correct His people in love, to purify them.
 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

DEVELOPING AN ABSOLUTE TRUST

When we’re in the midst of a trial, we must get our eyes off our troubles. In just such times, we need to encourage ourselves, saying, “My God can do anything—and He hasn’t forgotten me. He has His eyes on me right now, as I endure this awful trial. And I know, no matter how bad things look, that He has everything under control. Nobody, and no power, can change the plans He has for me.”

Maybe you’re discouraged right now, wondering, “I can’t see any way out of my troubles. Will I ever get out of this fiery trial? Will my suffering continue until Jesus comes? Lord, will I ever be able to rejoice again?”

Here is God’s answer to you: “Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy” (James 5:11). “The Lord turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before” (Job 42:10).

You may not double what you’ve lost, as Job did. But you will possess something much greater. You’ll have a true heart-knowledge that God is in control of your life. His love for you will no longer be just a theological concept. Instead, you’ll know His deliverance deeply, in a personal way. And you’ll never again fear any adversary or hardship. Why? Because you will have come through your trial more than a conqueror, seated in heavenly places with Christ Jesus.

Right now, like Job at the beginning of his trial, you may know God only from hearing about Him, through sermons and Bible studies. That’s good, because Scripture tells us that is exactly where our faith comes from: hearing the Word of God. Yet, now God wants you to see Him as well. He wants you to develop an absolute trust that He has a divine plan designed for your life. And His eternal purpose cannot be thwarted by any demon in hell, nor by any monster that appears in your path.

Then, in the midst of your greatest trial, you’ll be able to testify of God’s goodness, as Job did. And you’ll quote confidently this great statement of faith: “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).

Monday, October 12, 2015

GENUINE IN THE SIGHT OF GOD by Gary Wilkerson

Some Christians seek guidance for the smallest daily decisions. If you want to know whether to buy a brand of toothpaste, God would say to you, “Just be sure to brush every day.” There are certain things we don’t need His explicit guidance for, because we already know to do them by what we read in His Word.

Recently, I was in Turkey near the border of Iraq, praying about how World Challenge might help in the refugee crisis. People were fleeing the violent persecution by ISIS and flooding into the area, but the U.N. wasn’t present to provide any order. The need was overwhelming as desperate people arrived with nothing but the clothes they wore. I talked to one young boy who had seen his parents blown up by an ISIS landmine. I couldn’t imagine the trauma this child had been through.

On the flight home I prayed, “Lord, would you have World Challenge provide help here?” I immediately felt a holy conviction surging through me, saying, “Why are you praying about this? You know to help!” I realized, “Of course World Challenge is supposed to be here. We have the hope of the gospel, and we will pray in God’s resources to help. That has always been this ministry’s DNA. Feed the hungry? Bring comfort to the suffering? Make a difference in an orphan’s life? Why do I need to pray? Let’s go!”

“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” (Matthew 25:35-36, ESV). Make no mistake, I believe in prayer for guidance. But because we are God’s sheep and we know His voice, there are certain things we know to do. One of them is this: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27, NLT).

Saturday, October 10, 2015

THE DAY JESUS GOT MAD by Jim Cymbala

I love the mental picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd putting the lamb on His shoulders and carrying it to safety. I love the story of Christ feeding the hungry multitudes with bread and fish. And I marvel at the sight of Him bursting out of the tomb alive on Resurrection morning!
But there is one picture of Jesus that, frankly, doesn’t seem to fit. I wonder why God even put it in the Bible.

“On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple area and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. And as he taught them, he said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it a den of robbers”?’” (Mark 11:15-17, NIV).

“The atmosphere of My Father’s house,” Jesus seemed to say, “is to be prayer. The aroma around My Father must be that of people opening their hearts in worship and supplication. This is a house for calling on the Lord.”

I do not mean to imply that the Jerusalem temple, built by Herod the Great, is the direct counterpart of our churches today. God no longer centers His presence in one particular building. In fact, the New Testament teaches that we are now His dwelling place; He lives in His people. How much more important, then, is Jesus’ message about the primacy of prayer?

The feature that is supposed to distinguish Christian churches, Christian people, and Christian gatherings is the aroma of prayer. 

Does the Bible ever say anywhere from Genesis to Revelation, “My house shall be called a house of preaching”? Does it ever say, “My house shall be called a house of music”? Of course not. The Bible does say, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.”
The honest truth is that I have seen God do more in people’s lives during ten minutes of real prayer than in ten of my sermons.

__________
Jim Cymbala began Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, 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, October 9, 2015

COME TO GOD’S HOLY MOUNTAIN

Isaiah foresaw the humiliation of Satan. He also watched as God brought down all the power and pride of wicked principalities. “In this mountain shall the hand of the Lord rest, and Moab shall be trodden down under him, even as straw is trodden down for the dunghill” (Isaiah 25:10).

Isaiah makes it clear: Satan’s humiliation happens on the mountain, in the place of prayer and worship, where Christ’s presence is manifested. Moab here was an actual enemy of Israel. But it became a symbol representing all that was evil and satanic.

Peter preached that Isaiah’s vision was already being fulfilled in the church at Jerusalem. “Those things, which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:18-19). Peter reasoned that if the prophecies about Christ had been fulfilled to the letter, then all other prophecies would come to pass. And that included times of refreshing by being in the Lord’s presence.

Isaiah referred to such times of refreshing (see Isaiah 28:12). These are times when God chooses to revive and heal. And He does it not because we’ve earned it, but for the glory of His own name. Peter saw this fulfilled at Pentecost: Christ’s presence was manifested, bringing revival and refreshing to a crowd of thousands. Multitudes were set free, including whole families. We see this later when Peter brought Jesus’ presence into Cornelius’ house, and the entire household was saved.

Right now, I believe we’re in the very beginning of the last reviving. We’re going to see families brought out of captivity. Millions of backsliders will have their veils removed and wayward sons and daughters will be restored to their parents. What is our part? We’re to do as Daniel did when he read Jeremiah’s prophecy and discerned the times: “I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Daniel did what we’re all called to do: come to God’s holy mountain. May every devoted servant of Jesus Christ in these last days meet there!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

IN THE COMING DAYS

In the coming days, many are going to come under the power and presence of Christ. Those who return to Him fully—who repent, forgive, and feast with Him in prayer and in His Word—will see all their tears turned into joy. Around the world right now, vast rivers of tears are flowing from those who’ve already been set free. After centuries of satanic bondage, people are being loosed from chains and they are crying tears of repentance and praise to their Deliverer.

Isaiah prophesied that when we begin to see God’s miraculous works in our midst, we’ll cry, “And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isaiah 25:9). Isaiah was so excited by what he saw, he nearly exploded in amazement.

“The rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8). The word rebuke here comes from a Hebrew root suggesting “railing, disgrace.” This speaks of satanic powers that mock and rail against devoted believers. Such attacks come mainly when we are praying for a loved one to be rescued from a demonic stronghold.

Maybe you have heard these railing rebukes from hell. They taunt you, saying, “You boast that God answers prayer. Well, where’s His answer? You’ve fasted and prayed for your child for years, but you still haven’t gotten through. After all this time, nothing has changed. He’s never going to get saved.”

Then you hear this accusation: “It’s your fault. You planted the seeds of rebellion in that child (or that friend or loved one). It was you who hardened his heart.” Beloved, this is the devil’s foremost rebuke against God’s people and we are never to listen to it. Instead, we are to stand on God’s sure Word to us: “The rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8)

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

MIRACLES FOR GOD’S LAST DAYS PEOPLE

“He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7).

Here are two marvelous prophecies, the first of which involves the Jews. The veil Isaiah refers to here is the spiritual blindness that had covered Jews’ hearts since Moses’ time. The apostle Paul speaks at length of this blindness:

“When [they] shall turn to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). “Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. . . . There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob” (Romans 11:25-26).

Paul believed what Isaiah prophesied about Israel: that the Deliverer would cast off their veil of blindness. A Jewish remnant was going to turn to the Lord and obtain His mercy (see 11:30). Beloved, this prophecy is being fulfilled right now. Around the world, Jews’ eyes are being opened to Christ. One secular magazine reports that Jews are now taking a new look at Jesus. That’s all it takes—just one look.

But Isaiah’s prophecy also has another meaning, which has to do with your immediate family. It applies to every spouse, every child, every family member who has had a veil of spiritual blindness cast over them by Satan. I receive many letters from parents who write of their children being blinded by the enemy. They raised their young ones in a Christian environment but now the parents are confused and bewildered, saying, “I don’t understand what happened. They just don’t believe. Nothing I say gets through.”

Paul says the god of this world has blinded these young ones. They’ve lost faith because the enemy has shut out the light of the gospel to them. Therefore, it doesn’t do any good for a parent to try to look deeper for a reason behind it. It’s all the work of Satan. He wants to keep that child bound, confused and in sin. The problem goes way beyond counseling, preaching or parenting strategies. It’s going to take a miracle, plain and simple. Our battle must take place in the Spirit. After all, we’re up against a spirit from the god of this world. And that wicked spirit is affected only by our feast on the mountain. It’s going to require the presence of Christ in our lives such as we’ve never known it. Only Jesus’ manifest reality will melt Satan’s bondage like wax, rendering it powerless against our loved one.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

THE PRESENCE OF JESUS

Do visitors sense the presence of Jesus in your household? Does the aroma of His holiness permeate your family, your marriage, your relationships? Are there tears of intercession by family members, cries of brokenness, a sincere desire to make all wrongs right? Or, does the flesh rule?

Every Christian household ought to be an elevated place, a mountain of separation from the world and the flesh, a holy banqueting hall with Christ. Yet this doesn’t happen in many Christian homes because they’ve been defiled by filth. Lewd, vile wickedness is allowed in through TV and the Internet.

How amazed the angels must be as they witness such evil in households that ought to be cultivating Jesus’ presence. Multitudes of Christians now spend their time dabbling in Internet porn, renting sensual videos, drinking in corruption on TV and actually paying to attend movies that blaspheme Christ’s name. And then they wonder why the pall of spiritual death hovers over their home.

It is the Holy Spirit’s work to bring and maintain the presence and power of Christ in our homes, our churches, our hearts. But multitudes continue to grieve the Spirit with idolatry. What sense does it make for us to pray for unsaved loved ones when our own homes are defiled?

God intends to work an amazing array of miracles that will overwhelm our minds and hearts. And He’s had all this planned since before the world existed. If He has devised such a covenant plan, then it must and will happen. Yet some aren’t going to make it to the banquet table. Those who have grown lukewarm, lovers of ease, people who’ve given themselves to the world’s pleasure-madness—none of these will be at the feast. The prophet Isaiah describes those who are present at the banquet table this way: “In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Isaiah 25:6). This speaks of a people who aren’t satisfied with just the milk of God’s Word. These servants love their Lord’s reproof. They hunger for meaty truth; a godly word from tested, tried shepherds; a message set on fire by the Holy Ghost. And they seek God’s Word daily for themselves, thirsty to taste His refined, aged wine.

Monday, October 5, 2015

THE GUIDE by Gary Wilkerson

Several years ago a group of friends and I took a road trip to San Antonio, Texas, to see the Alamo. One of the guys on our team offered to navigate for us. “That’s my hometown and I’d love to be your guide,” he said. But once we arrived in San Antonio, things got a little confusing when a few of us noticed we had passed the same store three times.

“Hey, aren’t we going in circles?” someone asked. “No, no, we’re getting close,” my friend assured us.

We found ourselves in a rough part of town—then in a massive traffic jam—then going in circles again. Finally, someone said to my friend, “Hey, I thought you knew your way around. You said this was your hometown.” “It is,” he answered, “but we moved away when I was two.”

Obviously, Michael wasn’t our ideal guide. He had good intentions but no idea where to lead us. He represents the kind of guide we may think we want in life, but one that ends up leading us in circles instead of into the rich and satisfying life Jesus designed for us.

Another kind of guide may have the right information but may be missing other essentials. My wife, Kelly, and I went on a mission trip to the Philippines. On our day off, we took a guided canoe tour. The crew consisted of several small but athletic Filipinos. At one point we came to a place in the river too shallow to float through. “Uh-oh,” I thought, “this must be the end of the line.” To my surprise, our strong young guides lifted up our canoe—with Kelly and me still in it!—and carried it to deeper waters. “Wow,” I thought, “talk about reliable guides!”

Later, we came to a beautiful spot where the river widened, and the leader signaled for us to stop rowing. “Oh, good,” I thought, “now we’re going to hear some rich history. Maybe this is where the country’s democratic leaders planned their revolution.” Visibly excited, our guide pointed and exclaimed, “Here on this spot is where the movie Rambo was made!”

That was a little disappointing. But soon we came to another beautiful spot where the river opened up to a lush, green field. It looked like the kind of place where an historic battle might have taken place. “On this spot,” said the guide, clearing his throat, “Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had a picnic!”

There are some guides in life who 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?

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10, ESV).

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A BENEVOLENT LOVE by Carter Conlon

After having denied Jesus three times—just as the Lord had said he would—Peter must have realized the impossibility of obeying the Lord’s commandment in his own strength. Jesus had said to the disciples, “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 13:34-35).

It was not until the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon the 120 disciples in the Upper Room that Peter finally stepped into the place where he had been able to follow. Suddenly he burst forth into the marketplace and began speaking boldly to a blood-thirsty crowd. He was now enabled by the Spirit of God to be given for others—even those who were resisting their own salvation. It was truly an amazing moment.

As we do things God’s way, God will be our supply and will meet our needs. The Bible tells us that “they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need” (Acts 2:41-45).

The believers held all things in common! There was such a fervency, such a baptism of the love of God, that people even began to sell lands and houses and lay the money at the apostles’ feet for distribution to those in need among the body of believers. Wherever God pours out His Spirit, a benevolence comes into the hearts of the people. It is a generous and compassionate love that causes them to look away from their own needs and instead see the needs of others—which is what this new commandment entails.

__________

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, October 2, 2015

THE INCREDIBLE FEAST

In Isaiah 25 God shows the prophet a lavish, supernatural banquet taking place on a mountain: “In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Isaiah 25:6).

Do you get what Isaiah is saying here? This marvelous feast will take place just prior to Jesus’ return. At that time, God’s people won’t be mourning, wallowing in fear, stressed out and defeated. They won’t appear as frail, skeletal figures of spiritual leanness. No, Christ is going to return to find His people feasting on “fat things full of marrow.”

God Himself has prepared this feast. And right now, in this final hour, the banquet is already in progress. The Lord is telling us, in essence, “I’ve saved the best wine for last. And now I’m pouring it forth for My people. They are feasting on wonderful things in My presence.”

I see this incredible feast taking place as I travel all over the world. Young men and women of God are hungry for a gospel that touches them deep in their spirits. They have rejected the gospels of hype, crowds and professionalism. They seek only to be shut in with Jesus, to receive revelation from Him. And they are coming forth from prayer with a fire that stirs everyone around them.

Now, the mountain where this feast takes place is very significant. It represents a holy place, a house where the presence of Christ is manifest. It’s a place where God’s people commune and sup with Him, worshiping Him in spirit and in truth. This mountain of God’s presence is an important concept for His people. Everything the Lord is doing in these last days is closely tied to His presence. And His feast of fat and wine can only take place where Jesus’ presence is manifest.

Now, when I speak of Christ’s manifest presence, I’m not talking about something mystical and otherworldly. Whenever Jesus makes Himself known, everyone present senses it. The Psalmist says the hills melt like wax in the Lord’s presence (see Psalm 97:5). Simply put, every spiritual wall and fleshly blockade evaporates when Jesus makes Himself known. Christ’s presence is so real when it is manifested that you can almost touch it.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

IN THE LAST DAYS

Right now, we are living in the biblical period known as the “latter rain” and God’s plan has been set in motion. All around the world, the high walls of Satan’s city are coming down.

Think about what has happened to Communism. Literal walls have come down in Germany, Russia and throughout Eastern Europe. Millions of people who once lived under Satan’s tyranny are being freed, and many are hearing the gospel preached for the first time. A “strong people,” once hardened in sin, are now praising God.

I tell you, we are living in a special time. I have never seen anything like it in my fifty-plus years of ministry. Our team conducted a crusade in Nigeria, and 500,000 people came on a single night. There is a hunger for God that seems to be unprecedented as we are seeing things happen I never would have dreamed possible.

One of those wonders is taking place in Iran. Several decades ago, my book The Cross and the Switchblade was printed covertly there. An estimated 25,000 copies have been in circulation. Also, the Jesus film has been shown in secret to hundreds of groups. Now hundreds of thousands of Iranians are being saved through gospel messages such as these.

I recently received a stirring report about a Teen Challenge drug program in a Middle Eastern nation I’m not allowed to name. This Islamic country is riddled with alcoholism and drug addiction. Government officials admit that the problem is over their heads, yet through the delivering power of Jesus Christ, the Teen Challenge program has produced hundreds of graduates who have been saved, delivered and set free.

One graduate is now the overseer of a Pentecostal denomination there. He says that the nation’s drug czar attended Teen Challenge’s graduation ceremony. This prominent Islamic leader heard dozens of young men stand up and testify of how Jesus healed them of their addictions. (What the czar probably didn’t know is that over one hundred graduates have gone on to start churches in that nation.) The government now recognizes Teen Challenge as the most successful drug program in the country.

It’s happening all over the world in unbelievable ways: Satan’s walled city is coming down!

“And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh” (Acts 2:17).