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Pulpits aflame with righteousness

May 8, 2011 Comments off

I spent some time last week continuing to follow the story of the death of David Wilkerson, and considering what a giant legacy he has left the church. I went back and watched the film version of The Cross And The Switchblade, which is available on YouTube. It’s a great story, but the movie is dated and suffers from a mediocre screenplay. Of course the film has its moments, since it is about Jesus, but the story is worthy of a full-blown quality remake, and I hope that someday soon it gets it.

You also can view a nice video tribute to Brother Dave here.

During my stay at Times Square Church years ago, I often was reminded of the famous saying attributed to de Tocqueville:

I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers – and it was not there . . . in her fertile fields and boundless forests and it was not there . . . in her rich mines and her vast world commerce – and it was not there . . . in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it was not there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.

And I began to wonder how TSC was faring now, since Wilkerson retired. So I began scouring for sermons of the current senior pastor, Carter Conlon. The result has been amazing. The pulpit of TSC is still aflame with righteousness. Watching the sermons brought me right back to being there again. It’s nice to see the work Brother Dave began continue to give to the Body of Christ.

I’m going to embed two sermons here. The first one is perhaps the greatest sermon I have ever heard. It dramatically delineates the role of the law in the Christian life, and the related necessity of dying to self before we can live to Christ. The second is an powerful exhortation to believe God for fruitfulness.

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Out of the comfort zone, and on to victory

October 28, 2010 Comments off

Out of weakness were made strong – Heb 11.34

Blessed be the Lord, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle –Ps144.1

The story of Gideon gives us a vivid biblical illustration of how the Lord can raise up a fearful, powerless person to be an overcomer. Gideon, you may know, was treading his wheat secretly in a secluded winepress when God spoke to him. The Israelites were outnumbered and out-armed by the Midianites, and had been “brought low” and were being badly abused. (Judges 6)

Gideon was hiding away, quite understandably full of fear, yet God chose him to defeat the Midianites, a task far bigger than he alone was capable of. The story of how God raised up Gideon to complete this task tells us a lot about how God works in His chosen vessels even today.

God’s first message to Gideon was that He was with him. And note that God addressed this fearful person as a “mighty man of valor”. In the midst of repression and reproach, God was speaking his affirming vision over Gideon. And Gideon’s first response was the classic, “if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us?” Isn’t that always our biggest hurdle? To believe the good promises of God in the face of the daunting circumstances life can throw at us?

To overcome Gideon’s lack of faith, God began to give Gideon encouraging signs. First He miraculously consumed a sacrifice with fire. This terrifying event made fearful Gideon even more afraid – but it served to focus the fear where it belonged – on God. When we fear God we no longer have to fear man. Sometimes God needs to give us a jolt in order to awaken us to a new work.

Gideon now was encouraged enough to face the first challenge Lord asked of him. He was to pull down the town’s idols and replace them with an altar to the Lord. Gideon needed every bit of his newfound courage to do this (and indeed he did it under cover of darkness), because pulling down the town’s idols of choice was not a terribly effective way to make friends and increase one’s life expectancy. Predictably, the neighbors were up in arms afterward and aiming to kill him for offending their religious sentiments (remember, this was Israel, so you can see how far the people had fallen spiritually). It was only Gideon’s father’s intervention that saved him. His father essentially told the townspeople that they would have to go through him to get to Gideon, and then he had the wisdom to challenge them to let their gods punish Gideon if those gods really were so powerful (v. 31).

Gideon’s father’s courage and wisdom saved the day, at a point when Gideon was just starting out in his walk of faith and he was very vulnerable. If we see our brothers striking out against the idols of today and in a vulnerable position, we ought to do the same for them.

Gideon was strengthened by his success, and now the Lord was ready to call him to fight the Midianites. For this new task Gideon would need an extra dose of encouragement. He prayerfully put out a fleece one night, and the next day it was drenched with dew while everything else was dry. But to be absolutely sure that he wasn’t imagining the whole God thing, he repeated the experiment. This time the fleece was dry but everything else was wet. At the mouth of two or three witnesses every thing shall be established.

The Lord was raising Gideon up, and He was doing it by mixing affirmations with challenges. First He would show Gideon His mighty power, and then He would challenge Gideon to do some risky faith-stretching exploit. If God had given Gideon support with no challenges, Gideon would have grown complacent and would never would have grown up spiritually. And if He had given challenges with no support, Gideon would have been spiritually paralyzed and also would not have grown up spiritually.

Father knows how to balance our spiritual “nutrition and exercise” in just the right way in order to work what is best for us. While we are going through the discipline, at times it doesn’t seem balanced to us at all. It seems hard. But that’s inherent in the definition of testing faith. By nature we crave the familiar status quo, and God sometimes has to make us uncomfortable in order to get us to move forward.

It behooves us to get into agreement with God early. The more in harmony with God we are, the less disruptive and painful our spiritual growth will be.

Now the battle with the Midianites loomed. This was big. Gideon must have felt relieved when some thirty-two thousand men showed up, forming a significant army. But God had a problem with that – the job had to be done with fewer men, so that the glory clearly would be His. So He had Gideon thin the ranks. Those who were afraid were allowed to leave, and twenty-two thousand did so.

That left an army of ten thousand brave men, but that was still too many. At the Lord’s direction, Gideon separated out three hundred more men. That wasn’t such a lot of soldiers to lose, Gideon may have thought. But if he was thinking that way, he was much mistaken – it wasn’t the three hundred that were to be sent home, it was the 9700! God was going to send Gideon into battle with a mere 300 men! Clearly, God was VERY intent on receiving the glory Himself!

This was a challenge, indeed. Do you see the dynamic here? When God chooses one to be a vessel of His glory, He begins a process of stripping him of his natural strength. This forces him to rely on God alone – not man, not his own abilities, but God alone.

At this point, Gideon understandably began to question and fear again. And so the Lord shifted back to Affirmation Mode. He sent Gideon sneaking into the enemy camp, where he “just happened“ to overhear two soldiers discussing an unlikely dream whose interpretation confirmed that an impending victory awaited Gideon.

This would be the last bit of encouragement that Gideon would need. His assurance was complete, and he went on to execute his bold battle plan magnificently. The fearful man initially alone and hiding from his enemies had been transformed into a military leader whose breathtaking boldness shocked, confused and terrified the enemy into self-destruction.

Very often when God raises up a person out of strongholds such as fear, depression and despair, He will use a process similar to the one He used with Gideon. He will demonstrate His protection and power, but at the same time He will lead His wavering warrior into challenges previously undreamed of, where new levels of overcoming faith are required.

To walk with God requires courage, but to seed that courage He goes out of His way to reassure us of His faithful providence. As with Gideon, often our fear is not completely taken away initially. There may be a period in which both fear and courage are present together, working against each other, and godly character develops as courage dynamically overcomes the fear.

It’s a growing process, and as our faith grows our heart becomes more healthy. God knows exactly what we need. If we give Him our willingness, He will work in us to bring about godly change, even dramatic change. And it’s a win-win all the way around. God builds His character into us and sets us free from our strongholds, and at the same time we become useful to Him in setting others free and in building up His Kingdom.

The story of Gideon is a fascinating, vivid study in how God can work in even the most fearful person to overcome extremely daunting odds. The good news is that the story is not about Gideon alone, because what is written of him was written for our instruction, as an example to us. Whatever obstacles you face, what God did for Gideon he will do for you, if you will believe the promises and rise to the challenges He allows in your life.

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Jesus Insists On Full Salvation

July 19, 2010 4 comments

There’s a well known story in the Bible, about a woman who had a flow of blood for twelve years. She came to Jesus from behind, secretly touched the hem of His garment, and was healed. It seems like a simple story, but there’s much going on beneath the surface that you might not be aware of. When we examine the story, we find that both Jesus’ and the woman’s behaviors seem strange, until we understand the religious and cultural context of Israel back then. And in finding that key, we will come to see what is really the most important part of the story. First let’s take a look at what actually happened.

And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. ​​​

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.

She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”

And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?”

And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’”

And he looked around to see who had done it.

But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth.

And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” – Mark 5:24-34

The scene is one of near chaos, as crowds throng around the Savior. Just previous to our excerpt, a Jewish synagogue leader named Jairus had come up to Jesus and fallen at His feat, pleading with Him to come and heal his young daughter who was dying. The girl was fading fast, and Jairus was uptight and in a hurry, so Jesus tells him “fear is useless; only believe”, and they start off to the girl. But then this woman with a chronic bleeding problem comes up from behind, touches Jesus’ cloak and is healed. Jesus senses that power has gone out of himself, and, despite Jairus’ desperation, stops and makes an issue of it. The disciples are incredulous – with all the people thronging around, many of them must have been touching Jesus. So what’s the big deal? But Jesus is intent on finding the person who was healed. Finally, the woman comes in great fear and falls to the ground trembling before Jesus, telling all. Jesus blesses her and continues on His way with Jairus.

There are some interesting questions here. Why did the woman come up to Jesus from behind? If she wanted a healing, why did she even from the outset intend on only touching Jesus’ garments rather than His person? Why did Jesus make an issue of this healing, when almost certainly many people in this vast crowd must have similarly been coming up, touching Him and being healed? And lastly, why did the woman finally come forward in fear and trembling, rather than with joy and exaltation at being healed of her long-standing disease? Indeed, the Gospel of Luke expands on why the woman even come forward at all:

And when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people why she had touched him, and how she had been immediately healed. -Luke 8:47

According to Luke, the woman was not merely lost in the crowd, she was actually hiding in that crowd! What then was this woman so afraid of?

Jewish law

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There is great gain in contentment!

April 26, 2010 Comments off

Drivers on the road this morning – a damp, cold Monday – were rough, jagged, unpredictable, selfish, dangerous. I immediately adopted an attitude of meekness rather than fighting back. I decided I was not going to participate in the craziness. I took it easy and made my way sure.

What occurred on the road was symbolic of a reality operating in the spirit. The word that came to me was to be content. Paul has this to say about contentment:

1Cor 11:16 If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

2Cor 12:10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Phil 4:11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

1Tim 6:6 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment,

1Tim 6:8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Heb 13:5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Being content in this world of discontent is a protection for our souls. It keeps us from making desperate choices that lead to disaster. And choosing contentment brings sweetness to a soul in turmoil.

Notice, contentment is a choice. We can make up our mind not to let discontent with our present circumstances upset our poise, not to let fear of the future or lust for gain distort our priorities, not to give anyone in a rage the power to control our emotional landscape. “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is staid on You, because he trusts in You.” (-Is 26.3)

The ironic thing is that, often, being content also brings physical blessings on us – the very kind for which the world discontentedly strives. People who are content tend to draw friends easily, think clearly and have good priorities, do well at their jobs, handle responsibility well, avoid traps, and get promoted.

Nothing – nothing – is worth losing the peace Christ has brought to us. When the world loses its composure before your very eyes, don’t sign on to it. Regard it as an opportunity: keep your peace, and you will come out on the other side with spiritual promotion.

Posted via email from paul1149’s mini-blog †

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Conditions are right! -by Jeremy Caris

April 25, 2010 Comments off

This comes by way of the Elijah List. I think it’s a timely and very-well-stated encouragement to deal with our situation as it NOW is rather than waiting for the breakthrough. Not that the breakthrough isn’t coming, but in one parable after another, the Lord taught us to be faithful during the dark seasons as we await the Light.

Conditions are right!

Jeremy Caris

One of the key things that I see God doing right now is re-positioning many Believers who will cooperate with Him, making adjustments that will allow for advancement. If you are in Christ, your conditions are already right. You simply need to allow Him to position you in a way that will enable you to take advantage of the existing opportunities that surround you. I see the grace of Jesus being released to re-position many right now. The details of your particular circumstances may be daunting facts, but God will turn the current circumstances of your life to your advantage. Better than that, He is ready to use your circumstances to His advantage.

It’s tempting to think that perhaps one day in the future the conditions will finally be perfect and then you will be able to settle into God’s ways and His design, but I hear God saying that today is the day. Now is the time to trust God with your future and thereby enter the rest of God. “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from His” (Hebrews 4:9-10, ESV).

How to Let Outside Forces and Circumstances Become Your Staircase to Ascend into God’s Purposes

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Divine opponent, Divine friend

March 8, 2010 Comments off

Joseph Prince brought out some great insights in his devotional today. It was about the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought Jesus’ help for her demonized daughter. This passage can be hard to understand, and many skeptics have used it to paint Jesus as uncaring and even racist, or at the least, temperamental. For anyone who really knows the Gospels, those charges are impossible, but they have been used to sow doubt in those unfamiliar with the Savior’s character.

And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”

The Prince piece started me conjecturing what was really going on. First, he pointed out that the woman, though a Gentile, approached Jesus using his Davidic messianic title, Son of David. Why did she do this? Desperate for her daughter, she sought to incur Jesus’ favor by pretending to be a Jew herself, or at least by showing that she knew and respected the Jewish religion.

But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”

And what did trying to massage Jesus get her? Silence! Hmmm. The woman gets persistent (just as Jesus teaches us to be), but now the disciples want to get rid of her! From the woman’s perspective, things are going downhill, fast.

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

Finally Jesus answers. But how does He answer? He further stonewalls the woman. This is the story’s crisis point. Everything the woman had planned to do had now been done, to no effect. Out of ammo, the woman was either going to have to give up on her miracle or do something unplanned and desperate.

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

Remember, the Jews would have nothing to do with these Gentiles, yet still the woman dares to cast herself before Jesus. It’s no longer the “Son of David” appellation from afar. It’s now “Lord”, in an intimate voice, up close and personal.

And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

Jesus stills opposes the woman, but Prince points out that the Greek word used for dogs here signifies a little dog – we would call it a puppy. Though His words still say “no”, the tone of Jesus voice expresses tenderness toward the woman. She sees a ray of hope and is encouraged.

She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”

Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.  – Matt 15:21-28

All the while Jesus seemed to be uncaring, and even adversarial, He was masterfully drawing the woman out of herself and towards himself. He wasn’t satisfied with distant, impersonal worship, and He certainly wasn’t impressed with religious titles or knowledge.

He pressed the woman to reveal her true self, not out of callousness, but so that she could enter into intimate relationship with her Savior. His actions were borne of love, not disdain. All the while that He seemed uncaring, He wanted her to take up the challenge and overcome the obstacles, and He was delighted when she did so.

As always, Jesus was in perfect control of the situation at all times, and He perfectly engineered the conversation so that the woman – His seeming adversary – not only could gain the blessing for her daughter, she could be forever changed in the process!

There is no one like our matchless Jesus, and there never can be. We can take an important lesson from this. Whenever the Bible presents a difficult passage, adopt the view that there is an explanation even if we don’t know it at this time. God is still in the business of drawing people out, to prove what’s in their hearts and to draw them close to Him.

And whatever our need in life, even when Jesus seems to be silent, even when He seems to be adversarial, He’s really on our side advocating for us the whole time. Never doubt the kind intentions of the Savior. Press in and receive the blessing!

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The high call

January 3, 2010 Comments off

Sometimes the real issue is not the pressing issue. Sometimes a more basic principle is at play that we dare not violate. Especially when we think we can handle a tricky situation ourselves, we can choose an expedient solution, only to find that we’ve made the situation far worse. The devil’s most effective time of getting us to stumble can be when we least expect it.

All my Christian life I’ve been inspired by the life of good king Asa. Asa became king of Judah after Israel had split off. He had ten years of peace initially, and he used this period to purge Judah of idolatry and immorality.

During the period in which Asa was purging Judah of false worship, a prophet came to him and spoke this challenging word:

“Hear me, Asa, and all Judah and Benjamin: The Lord is with you while you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you. – 2Chr 15:2

Asa took the challenge, and he set about reconsecrating Judah to the Lord. He took this task so seriously that he removed his own mother from being the queen-mother because she openly harbored an abominable idol. Asa honored the Lord more than even family, so it is no wonder the Bible says that his heart was “perfect with the Lord all his days”.

There are two interesting things about Asa’s perfect heart for God. First, he still was not able to bring about complete purification of the land. Though Asa made immense progress, the “high places were not removed”. Commentator David Guzik points out that 2Chr 14.3 states that Asa did remove the high places dedicated to foreign gods, so evidently the high places that were not taken down were unauthorized places of worship to the Lord himself. Remember, this was not the New Covenant, where the presence of merely “two or three” represents an “official” quorum. Worship had to be done in authorized, formal ways.

The other thing I find interesting about Asa’s perfect heart is his stumble later on in life. After those ten years of peace a great crisis befell Asa. The nation of Ethiopia came against Judah with an army of one million men. Back then, Ethiopia consisted of much of the eastern horn of Africa, including the Sudan. Asa was vastly outnumbered and out-armed, and understandably afraid. In one of the most memorable prayers of the Bible,

Asa cried to the Lord his God, “O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude. O Lord, you are our God; let not man prevail against you.” -2 Chr 14:11

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