Monday, November 30, 2015

WHAT IT MEANS TO ABIDE IN CHRIST by Gary Wilkerson



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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, November 28, 2015

ABRAHAM AND SPIRITUAL FAMINE by Claude Houde

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

A CLOUD OF CONFUSION

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

WALKING IN THE LIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

AMAZED AT HIS LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

GOD’S WONDERFUL LOVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2015

BECOMING MORE FRUITFUL by Gary Wilkerson

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, November 21, 2015

FINDING YOUR FIRE by Nicky Cruz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 20, 2015

THE GOODNESS OF GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 19, 2015

THE RESPONSIBILITY OF GRACE

In the parable of Matthew 18:23-35 did the king overlook his servant’s sin? Did he wink at his debt and merely excuse it? No, not at all. The fact is, by forgiving him, the king placed upon this man a weighty responsibility, a responsibility even greater than the burden of his debt. Indeed, this servant now owed his master more than ever. How? He was responsible to forgive and love others, just as the king had done for him.

What an incredible responsibility this is. And it can’t be separated from Christ’s other kingdom teachings. After all, Jesus said, “If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:15). His point is clear: “If you don’t forgive others, I won’t forgive you.” This word isn’t optional, it’s a command. Jesus is telling us, in essence, “I was forbearing with you. I handled you with love and mercy and I forgave you out of My goodness and mercy alone. Likewise, you are to be loving and merciful toward your brothers and sisters. You’re to forgive them freely, just as I forgave you. You’re to go into your home, your church, your workplace, into the streets, and show everyone the grace and love I showed you.”

Paul refers to Jesus’ command, saying, “Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3:13). He then expounds on how we pursue obedience to this command: “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any. . . . Above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness” (3:12-14). 


What does it mean to be forbearing? The Greek word means “to put up with, to tolerate.” This suggests enduring things we don’t like. We’re being told to tolerate the failures of others, to put up with ways we don’t understand.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

ACCEPTING HIS MERCY

Jesus gave the parable in Matthew 18:23-35 to show us an example of a trusted, gifted servant who is suddenly revealed to be the chief of all debtors. Here is someone who is undeserving, full of wrong motives, not worthy of compassion at all. Yet his master forgives him freely—just as Jesus did you and me.

Let me say a brief word here about repentance. This concept is often defined as a “turning around.” It speaks of an about-face, a 180-degree turn from one’s previous ways. Also, repentance is said to be accompanied by godly sorrow.

Yet, once again the New Covenant takes an Old Testament concept even further. Repentance is about much more than merely turning away from sins of the flesh—more than sorrowing over the past and being sad for grieving the Lord. According to Jesus’ parable, repentance is about turning away from the mind-sickness that allows us to believe we can somehow make up for our sins.

This sickness afflicts millions of believers. Whenever such Christians fall into sin, they think, “I can make things right with the Lord. I’ll bring Him sincere tears, more earnest prayer, more Bible reading. I’m determined to make it up to Him.” But that is impossible. This kind of thinking leads to one place: hopeless despair. Such people are forever struggling and always failing, and they end up settling for a false peace. They pursue a phony holiness of their own making, convincing themselves of a lie.

Tell me, what saved you? Was it your tears and earnest pleading? Your deep sorrow over grieving God? Your sincere resolve to turn from sin? No, it was none of these things. It was grace alone that saved you. And like the servant in the parable, you didn’t deserve it. In fact, you’re still not worthy of it, no matter how godly your walk is. 


Here is a simple formula for true repentance: “I must turn aside, once and for all, every thought that I could ever repay the Lord. I can never work my way into His good graces. Therefore, no effort or good work on my part can wipe out my sin. I simply have to accept His mercy. It’s the only way to salvation and freedom.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

HUNGRY FOR GOD

When revival broke out in Jerusalem, an angel spoke to the apostle Philip, instructing him to go to the Gaza desert where he would meet an Ethiopian diplomat riding in a chariot. Philip found the man reading aloud from the book of Isaiah, so he asked the official, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” (Acts 8:30).

Apparently, the diplomat was stuck on a passage that baffled him: “He made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:9-11).

Try to imagine the Ethiopian’s excitement as he read these wonderful things. Evidently, he was hungry for God or he would not have been reading the Scriptures. And now Isaiah’s prophecy revealed the coming of an eternal king. With every revelation, the diplomat’s thoughts must have mounted: “Who is this wonderful Man?”

First, “Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35). Philip explained to the diplomat, “The Man you’re reading about has already come. His name is Jesus of Nazareth, and He is the Messiah.”

Next, Philip explained Isaiah 53:11:“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied.” Philip told the diplomat, in essence, “Christ’s travail was the crucifixion. That’s when He was cut off and buried. But the Father raised Him from the dead and now He is alive in glory. Everyone who confesses His name and believes on Him becomes His child. Indeed, Christ’s seed lives in every nation. That’s how His life is prolonged—through the Holy Spirit in His children. And now you can be His child, too.” 


What incredible news to the Ethiopian’s ears. It’s no wonder he was eager to leap out of his chariot and be baptized. “He answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him” (Acts 8:37-38).

Monday, November 16, 2015

ABIDING IN THE VINE by Gary Wilkerson

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (John 15:1, ESV).

When Jesus refers to Himself as the “true” vine, He is talking about more than accurate information. “True” here carries the same sense as the phrase “true friend”—meaning real, genuine, authentic, on hand to support you with substance.


So what about the vinedresser, our heavenly Father? He tends His garden lovingly and perfectly. It’s His job to keep life flowing through us, and He can be trusted to put the right things into place to make them grow. Therefore, as we abide in Christ, attached to the vine, we don’t have to stress or worry about our lives. We are given true life-flow from Jesus and are caringly tended by our Father.

If we are grafted into the vine, shouldn’t we bear fruit naturally? We know we are saved and secure in Christ and graced by the Father’s love. How could fruit not come from this?

Again Jesus supplies the key word: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:4). Here is another phrase that sets off alarms in a lot of Christians: “Unless you abide in me.” Some followers grow fearful when they read this. They create dos and don’ts that actually cut them off from true life.

It’s true that Jesus’ statement here is conditional, meaning that we have a part to play. But the other part of the equation is this: Jesus abides in us—and His presence in us is steadfast, stalwart, immovable: “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). When Christ says, “Unless you abide in Me,” He is not referring to our salvation—because our salvation was secured by Him on the cross. He is speaking of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives—our witness, our righteous walk, our joy and peace.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

NO HOCUS-POCUS by Jim Cymbala

There is no better example of God’s moving mightily in a city than the account told in Acts 11:20-21: “Men from Cyprus and Cyrene went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks . . . telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”

Such a harvest occurred that Barnabas was dispatched from Jerusalem to check things out. “When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad. . . . And a great number of people were brought to the Lord” (verses 23-24).

Who were these men who launched such a mighty church that it eventually surpassed the mother church in Jerusalem? We don’t know their names. We don’t know their methodology. But we do know a couple of things: They spread “the good news about the Lord Jesus,” and “The Lord’s hand was with them” (verses 20-21).

This turned out to be the first truly multicultural church, with multicultural leaders, according to Acts 13:1—Simon the Black, some Jewish leaders, some Greeks, Manaen, the boyhood friend of Herod (which would have made him suspect to everyone!), and others. Yet they worked together in a powerful model of cross-cultural unity.

The Jewish-Gentile hatred of the first century was even greater than our racial strife of today. God met this problem head-on, for He was building His church His way.
Racial feelings in New York City are worse now than they were ten years ago. A harsh spirit prevails in many churches. We desperately need the love of God to override theses tensions, as it did in Antioch long ago.

No novel teaching is going to turn the trick. There are no trendy shortcuts, no hocus-pocus mantras that can defeat Satan. One man told me, “You know, you ought to think about getting a topographical map of Brooklyn so you could figure out the highest point in the borough. Then you could go there and pray against the territorial spirits.”

Others are saying, “The key to releasing God’s power is to sing through the streets of your city. Put on a march, make banners, and declare God’s sovereignty in a big parade.” Still others say, “Rebuke the devil, face the north, and stamp your feet when you do it. That will bring victory.”

Let’s forget the novelties. If we prevail in prayer, God will do what only He can do. How He does things, when He does them, and in what manner are up to Him. The name of Jesus, the power of His blood, and the prayer of faith have not lost their power.

__________
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, November 13, 2015

DO IT AGAIN, LORD!

In Mark 8, Jesus once more fed a crowd—this one numbering 4,000 people—with just seven loaves and a few fish. Again, the disciples took up several baskets of leftovers (see Mark 8:5-8). Yet Christ discerned that the disciples still didn’t accept His miracle-working power, so He asked them, “Have ye your heart yet hardened?” (Mark 8:17).

I picture the disciples after this second feeding, sitting dumbfounded. They must have thought, “This can’t be happening. If Jesus truly is God, why would He choose us to share in such incredible power? We’re just uneducated fishermen. Why would He walk out onto the water to get into our little boat instead of revealing this miracle to a group that’s more worthy?”

You’ve probably wondered the same things at times, about yourself: “There are billions of people on this earth. Why did God speak to me? Why did He choose me?” The reason is that it was an absolute miracle. Your conversion was totally supernatural. It wasn’t just one unexplainable natural event—no, there was nothing natural about it.

Why? Because there is nothing natural about the Christian life. It is all supernatural. It’s a life dependent upon miracles from the very beginning (including your conversion). And it simply can’t be lived without faith in the supernatural.

The power that keeps you in Christ is totally supernatural. The world lives in darkness, but you have the light all because you live in the realm of the supernatural. There’s nothing natural about your body being the temple of the Holy Ghost. Nothing is natural about being the abode of the supernatural God of the universe.

Yet this is often where hardening occurs. People begin to attribute God’s supernatural workings in their lives to the natural. It is dangerous to forget His miracles. It’s frightening to look back at divine wonders and say, “It just happened.” Every time you take the super out of the supernatural, your heart hardens a little more.

Dear saint, you simply must accept this by faith: The same supernatural God who fed crowds of thousands with just a few loaves will work supernaturally in your crises also. His miracle-working power will deliver you from all bondages. It will empower you to walk in freedom. And He’ll use your weakness—indeed, your very lowest state—to show the world His miracles of keeping power. 


Hard times are guaranteed to come upon all who follow Jesus. Yet when those times come we’re to say with confidence, “Do it again, Lord. You’ve worked miracles before in my life. You’ve delivered Your servants supernaturally throughout history. Let your strength be made perfect in my weakness.”

Thursday, November 12, 2015

NOTHING TO FEAR

God told Israel, “You didn’t believe Me when I said you had nothing to fear, that I would fight for you. You completely forgot that I bore you up like a child and cared for you. You never did trust Me, even though I went before you, gave you a cloud to shelter you from the blazing sun, gave you a fire by night to light your way and bring you comfort in the black night. Instead, you voiced your doubts, slandered Me, and made Me out to be a liar” (see Deuteronomy 1:27-35).

You can be saved, Spirit-filled, and walking holy before God, yet still be guilty of unbelief. You may think, “I don’t have any unbelief.” But do you get upset when things go wrong? Are you fearful of failing God? Are you restless, afraid of the future?

The believer who has unconditional faith in God’s promise enjoys complete rest. What characterizes this rest? A full, complete confidence in God’s Word, and a total dependence on His faithfulness to that Word. Indeed, rest is the evidence of faith.

You may wonder: How does a believer’s heart become hardened in unbelief? We see a shocking illustration in Mark 6. The disciples were in a boat headed for Bethsaida, sailing in the darkness. Suddenly, Jesus appeared, walking on the water. The twelve thought He was a ghost and shook with fear. But Christ assured them, “Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid” (Mark 6:50). Then He stepped into the boat, and the wind ceased.

The next verse says everything about the disciples’ hearts in that moment: “They were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered. For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened” (6:51-52). (The Greek meaning of hardened here indicates “stone-like, blind, stubborn disbelief.”) We are being reminded that these men had just experienced an incredible miracle. They had seen Jesus feed five thousand people with only five loaves and two fishes and He had used the twelve to do it. When Mark tells us the disciples “considered not” this miracle, he means, “They couldn’t put it all together.”

Hardening comes when you take the super out of supernatural. These men didn’t have the faith to believe what they’d just seen Jesus do. Within twenty-four hours, they had dismissed His miraculous feeding as some kind of natural event. They still had doubts about Christ’s supernatural power.
 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

TRUSTING WHAT HE SAYS

You may remember the Old Testament story of the Israelite spies sent to scout out the Promised Land. They came back saying, “Yes, it’s a land flowing with milk and honey. But it’s also full of giants and walled-up cities. We’re not able to go up against these people. Compared to them, we’re mere grasshoppers” (see Numbers 13).

Now, these men didn’t accuse God. They never said, “God isn’t able. He isn’t strong enough.” They dared not voice such unbelief. Instead, they focused on themselves, saying, “We’re not able. We’re like little bugs in our enemies’ sight.”

Yet that is not humility. And it isn’t innocent, harmless talk. Rather, it’s an affront to the One who is the Light of the world, who commands us to believe, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).

You see, when you complain of your inabilities and weaknesses, you’re not putting yourself down. You’re putting down your Lord. How? By refusing to believe or walk in His Word. That is sin against the Light. And it brings on darkness.

The Israelite spies were so focused on their inabilities, they were ready to quit. They even talked about going back to Egypt. What was God’s response to their fears and unbelief? “The Lord said unto Moses, How long will this people provoke me? And how long will it be ere they believe me, for all the signs which I have shewed among them?” (Numbers 14:11). God charged them with one sin: unbelief. 


Today, the Lord is asking His people the same question He asked Israel: “When will you believe what I promised you? I said My strength would come to you in your times of weakness. You’re not to rely on the strength of your flesh. I told you I would use the weak, the poor, the despised of this world to confound the wise. I am Jehovah, everlasting strength. And I’ll make you strong through My might, by My Spirit. So, when will you act on this? When will you trust what I say to you?”

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

THE WITNESS OF PENTECOST

Most sermons on Pentecost focus on the signs and wonders performed by the apostles. Or they emphasize the 3,000 who were saved in one day, or the cloven tongues and fire appearing. But we don't hear about one event that became the greatest wonder of all—and sent multitudes back to their nations with a vivid, unmistakable impression of who Jesus is.

You've heard of signs and wonders. I want to tell you about this story's "wonder signs." Overnight, “For Sale” signs appeared in front of homes throughout Jerusalem and the surrounding area. Scripture says, "All that believed were together, and had all things in common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. . . . Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" (Acts 2:44-45; 4:34-35).

Can you imagine the scene in Jerusalem? Multitudes of houses, lots and farmland were suddenly being sold off. Household goods were being sold as well: furniture, clothes, crafts, pots and pans, works of art. On the streets, in the marketplaces, at every city gate, hundreds of signs must have read, "Goods for Sale." It had to be the biggest garage sale in Jerusalem's history.

There is no evidence in Scripture that the homes being sold were the owners' primary dwelling places. And there is no mention of communal living. If that had happened, it would have placed an unbearable burden on the Church. God's Word clearly commanded them to provide for their families and children. These believers couldn't have fulfilled those commands if they didn't have their own homes. Besides, we read that they went to each other's homes in fellowship, "breaking bread from house to house" (2:46). Clearly, these people still owned their homes.

No, the possessions they sold were things they had over and above their needs, things not essential to their survival. In some cases, these probably had put a stranglehold on their owners' hearts. So the goods were sold, turned into cash, and donated to support the church's widows, fatherless and homeless. Here was the witness of Pentecost. The world saw those empowered believers loving one another, selling their goods, giving to the needy. And that's exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted from them. He desired a living testimony to the world of God's love. They were proclaiming Christ's gospel by their actions.

Monday, November 9, 2015

THE TRUE VINE by Gary Wilkerson

It was Jesus’ final night with the disciples and He knew His time was short. They had just finished supper and Christ wanted to impart to His friends one last teaching while on earth. He summoned them, “Rise, let us go from here” (John 14:31, ESV) and led them on a walk. Along the way He gave them this analogy:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches” (15:1-5).

What a lovely image summing up our relationship to the Son and the Father. Jesus is the vine and we are branches extending from Him; He is the source of all life flowing into us. Overseeing all of this life-flow is our heavenly Father, the gardener who tends to our growth. Could there be any more serene image of our life in Christ?

There is a lot to unpack in this one passage—and I can assure you, all of it is good. The image of a blade comes to mind, the instrument of an expert gardener—our merciful, compassionate, loving Lord. There is deep beauty contained in this parting message He gave to His church and the first key to understanding this passage is Jesus’ phrase “true vine.” Christ is telling us He is more than a mere life source to us—He’s the life source. Other “vines” may appear to promise life but none contain true life as He does. Some Christians seek life from other vines, sources that destroy life and aren’t legitimate for any Christian. Others seek life from sources that seem good and legitimate—ambition and drive, success and comfort—but these vines in themselves are lifeless. They can’t produce true life. Jesus wants us grafted firmly into Him so that we may drink deeply of His abundant life every day.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

GOD WILL BE OUR SUPPLY by Carter Conlon

I remember that when I first left my secular job in order to enter ministry fulltime, I put a certain amount of money into the bank from my retirement plan. I figured that if the whole ministry thing did not work out, at least I had a slush fund to fall back on. One day, a friend who was also in ministry came into my office and said, “Pastor, I don’t know what I’m going to do. The engine in my car just blew up, and I don’t have any money. I don’t even know how I’m going to get to church.”

I knew that his need was legitimate, and I also knew that I had enough money in the bank to buy him a car. Yet, suddenly I got very, very spiritual and said, “Well, let’s pray. God owns the cattle on a thousand hills, so He is well able to provide. David said, ‘I have been young and now I’m old, and I have never seen the righteous forsaken or His seed begging bread’” (see Psalm 37:25).

As he sat there across the desk, I bowed my head and we began to pray—yet, it was as if my mouth was full of peanut butter. I could hardly pray, for all the while this little voice behind me was saying, “You hypocrite! If a man sees his brother in need and he shuts his bowels of compassion, how can he say the love of God dwells in him?” (see 1 John 3:17). I kept trying to push it out of my mind as I was praying until finally I ran out of gas and said, “I have money in the bank if you need it.”

I ended up buying him a new car. Shortly after that the engine in my car blew up and at that point I said, “Well, Lord, I have obeyed You. That’s all I can say.”

Sometime later, we were renovating a church that we had purchased in the country. I was up on a scaffold, helping to paint the ceiling, when suddenly somebody came in and said, “You have an emergency call!” When I got on the phone, the man on the line introduced himself as a salesman at a local car dealership. Then he said, “A gentleman came in this morning and bought you a brand-new car. All you have to do is come in and sign for it!” I asked him the identity of the gentleman, but he told me that he had chosen to remain anonymous.

Now please understand that that I am not telling you that if you buy a car for a friend, you are going to get a new one in return. My point is simply that as we do things God’s way, refusing to hold back when we see a genuine need before us, God will be our supply and meet our needs.

__________
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, November 6, 2015

THE DAMAGE CAUSED BY UNBELIEF

We think that when we fail to trust God in our daily situations, we only harm ourselves. We think we’re simply missing out on His blessings. But that isn’t the whole story. First of all, we hurt and anger our blessed Lord. He warns, “If you don’t trust Me, you’re going to develop a hardened heart.”

We read in Hebrews: “Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation, in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted me, proved me, and saw my works forty years. Wherefore I was grieved with that generation, and said, They do always err in their heart; and they have not known my ways. So I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest” (Hebrews 3:8-11).

What reason is given for God’s people being unable to enter into His rest? Was it because of adultery, covetousness, drunkenness? No, it was because of unbelief alone. Here was a nation exposed to forty years of miracles, supernatural wonders that God worked on their behalf. No other people on earth had been so loved, so tenderly cared for. They received revelation after revelation of the goodness and severity of the Lord. They heard a fresh word preached regularly from Moses, their prophet leader.

But they never mixed that word with faith. Therefore, hearing it did them no good. In the midst of all those blessings, they still didn’t trust God to be faithful. And over time, unbelief set in. From that point on, darkness covered their wilderness journey.

Unbelief is the root cause behind all hardness of heart. Hebrews asks, “With whom was he grieved forty years? Was it not with them that had sinned, whose carcases fell in the wilderness?” (3:17). The Greek word for grieved here signifies indignation, outrage, anger. Simply put, the people’s unbelief kindled God’s anger against them. Moreover, it hardened them into a continual spiral of unbelief: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God . . . lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (3:12-13). 


Unbelief is the mother of all sins. It was the first sin committed in the Garden of Eden and it’s at the root of all bitterness, rebellion and coldness. That’s why Hebrews 3 is addressed to believers (“Take heed, brethren”). The writer concludes with these chilling words: “To whom sware he that they should not enter into his rest, but to them that believed not? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (3:18-19).

Thursday, November 5, 2015

CLEANSING MY MOUTH, EARS AND EYES

Recently, I met a minister I’ve known for a number of years. Every time I had encountered him in the past, I had said to my wife afterward, “That man is so shallow. Such a boastful show-off. I don’t know how God could ever bless him.” Then I met this same man after the Holy Ghost had dealt with me about judging others. This time, the Spirit told me, “Love him. Be quiet and listen to him. Then pray with him.”

I obeyed. I loved the man, listened to him talk, and afterward took his hand and prayed. As soon as we parted ways, a strange thing happened to me: I was stricken with grief. A terror swept over me—the terror of what I’d done to this man over the years. I saw the exceeding sinfulness of my defiling sin.

David exhorts, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). The apostle Paul adds this perspective: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God” (4:29-30).

Dear saint, not a person reading this message is too holy to heed it and make a change. For my part, I feel God’s grief over all the ways I’ve misjudged people through the years, whether knowingly or unknowingly. I urge you to cry out as my heart does:

“Oh, Lord, why wasn’t I ready to hear this sooner? Why haven’t I dealt with this before now? I want to proclaim Your gospel, declare Your generation. Please, Jesus, forgive me. Cleanse my defiled mouth, my defiled ears, my defiled eyes. And give me a renewed heart. I want nothing to hinder my life from being a full manifestation of who You are.” May the Lord hear our cry and move quickly to remake us. He will give us strength to put away all evil speaking, evil listening and mental judging. Then we’ll be better able to prolong the days of our Lord.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

HOW WOULD JESUS START A CHURCH?

How do you think Jesus would start a church in your city or town?

The first thing Christ would do is go on a weeping tour throughout your area. Scripture tells us, “When he was come near, he beheld [Jerusalem], and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from thine eyes” (Luke 19:41-42).

What made Jesus weep? It began with a heartbreaking walk He took around the city. He was overcome with grief at the sight of so-called religious people who had no peace. These people had rejected the truth for fables and now they were following a dead form of religion. They were sheep without true shepherds.

Now, I’m not out to judge any minister. But I want to ask everyone reading this message: Can you imagine your pastor driving through your town and weeping over it? What a different image Jesus gives us from so many of the plotters and planners building churches today. These men go door to door, surveying people, asking what they want in a church: “How long would you like the sermon to be? Fifteen minutes? Ten?”

Jesus witnessed a form of this in His own day. As He walked through the temple, He saw tables of moneychangers, ministers who merchandised the things of God. There was no real prayer, no fear of the Lord. And Christ wept over it all, crying, “It is written, My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Luke 19:46).

I ask you: Would Jesus weep over what He sees in your church today? Would He find your pastor anguishing over lost souls? Would Christ find His people praying or would He find them occupied by busyness and programs, focusing on their own interests? Once Jesus concludes His weeping tour of your city, would He commend His people? Or would He bring this warning: “You’re blind to the times. Judgment is at the door, but you look more like the world than ever. Why aren’t you praying, seeking Me for strength and wisdom to redeem the time?”

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

STRONG WORDS FROM THE SPIRIT

If you are in Jesus’ Church, then strong messages are going to come from the Holy Spirit. Why? Because the Spirit cries out in us against everything we think, say or do that is of the flesh. Jesus says, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).

Yet, the sign of every true follower of Jesus is that he surrenders to Christ’s every word. This servant loves reproof because of what it produces in his heart. He sees the change it brings, and he knows it is life to him.

Deep down, that is also why a sinner comes to God’s house. It’s not just to be counted as one more number in a large congregation. It’s to be found by God, because in his heart he knows he’s lost. His soul isn’t at rest, and he’s had too many long, sleepless nights. He wants answers, truth, real change, because he senses he’s bound for hell.

We’ve all been taught that Christ is the cornerstone of His Church. Paul says this stone is a rock of offense: “As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Romans 9:33). Peter also calls Jesus a rock of offense: “The head of the corner, and a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient” (1 Peter 2:7-8).

Peter could tell you firsthand what happens when you try to do away with the message of the cross. He was offended when Jesus foretold His death to the disciples. So, “Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee” (Matthew 16:22).

But Jesus answered him with these stinging words: “Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men” (16:23).

Here is a clear example of how Satan can plant a deception in even a godly, Christ-loving shepherd. And you can bet Peter never forgot his Master’s words. Likewise today, every minister and believer is to heed Christ’s warning: “My cross and My blood may offend you. But if you’re ashamed of My message, or you try to soften it, then you’re an offense to Me. You don’t represent My Word or My Church.”

Monday, November 2, 2015

KNOWING GOD by Gary Wilkerson

Every generation of Christians must check itself to discern whether its mission and actions are God-honoring. We continually have to ask ourselves, “Are we still serving the Lord and our neighbor faithfully and sacrificially? Or have we drifted into a ‘bless me’ mentality?”

Christ knew exactly where the masses’ hearts were when they began following Him. “You want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (John 6:26). Why does Jesus refer to “miraculous signs” here? Think about what a sign does. It points to something, it isn’t the thing itself. When a road sign reads, “Denver 60 Miles,” we know we’re not in Denver yet but we’re on the way. In the same way, Jesus was letting the disciples know that the loaves and fishes weren’t the point. They revealed the loving care of the heavenly Father. His miracles are signs of His care for us.

The crowd’s response revealed their hearts. “Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:31). They were playing Moses’ example against Jesus. It was arm-twisting, like a child who goes to each parent trying to get what he wants. Do we look for God in our midst or do we merely seek His provision? Let’s be honest, often when we pray we want an answer now, today, this hour. That’s an unfortunate trait of our world’s “have it all now” culture. In a spiritual sense, we lack a tremendous value that the Greatest Generation held dear: to know that by faith we’ll eventually see great blessings.

For the Christian, knowing God isn’t about being “blessed now.” The Lord won’t bend to our lusts to give us everything we want—when we want it. His desire is to have a relationship with us—an ongoing, long-term relationship that bears lasting fruit. So His blessings aren’t the end-all of the relationship; they’re signs of His faithfulness and compassion—traits that any of us would covet in a relationship. Christ’s miracles were evidence of those beautiful traits.