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.
Left to Tell, by Immaculee’ Ilibagiza
A few weeks ago a sister sent me an email forward about a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Immaculee’ Ilibagiza, and how God had preserved her through the horrors there. I did a little research and knew there was something in this story for me.
I dreaded reading this book for several reasons. I feared the exposure to evil; I have enough of that on my plate already. I feared seeing that evil in myself. I feared seeing how weak my own faith was, and how poorly I would fare in similar circumstances. And I feared recognizing the downhill societal spiral gripping our own nation in Rwanda’s story.
But my fears were misplaced. The book is clearly and effectively written, and it is very sensitive about the atrocities. It speaks of the horrors of the genocide, but it never broaches sensationalism. Very precisely, this is not a book about the genocide, per se. It is a book about God’s faithfulness in it.
Immaculee’ initially saw her country as a paradise, but as she grew up she increasingly became aware of the deep-seated racial animosity between the two main tribes of Rwanda, the Tutsis and the Hutus. There had been violent outbreaks in decades past, and as she entered college tensions again were increasing. Radio stations began openly calling for the slaughter of the Tutsi minority, and when the president of the nation was assassinated, the powder keg exploded.
What ensued was a case study in how evil can break out and overrun a land. The rubric was racism, but that was only an excuse for lust and bloodlust. Among the first victims were moderate Hutus who spoke against the genocide, including the acting Prime Minister. Radicalism was ascendant, and the center could not hold.
Neighbors, lifelong friends, and fellow church members suddenly became killers and rapists, as all civil order vanished. The nation actually came to a commercial halt, as Hutus embraced the wholesale killing of Tutsis as their full-time job.
Over that backdrop of horror, Immaculee’ tells her tale. For three months she survives by being hidden in a small bathroom with seven other women. Initially she was overcome with a paralyzing and torturous spirit of fear. She was always a believer, but now her faith came down to desperate spiritual warfare. The battle was intense. The instant she left off praying and believing, the spirit of fear and death would overwhelm her again, as the machetes of her pursuers sometimes brushed against the other side of the bathroom walls, only inches away.
Immaculee’ focused on Bible verses of faith, such as found in Mark 11. She would silently meditate for hours on the meaning of one word at a time. Literally in the valley of the shadow of death, she began to envision God’s protective hand over her. Eventually she began to have the victory of faith over fear, and she saw repeated tangible evidence that her faith was supernaturally efficacious in the real world.
“I realized that my battle to survive this war would have to be fought inside of me. everything strong and good in me – my faith, hope and courage – was vulnerable to the dark energy. If I lost my faith, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to survive. I could only rely on God to help me fight.” -Immaculee’ Ilibagiza
Eventually a new challenge presented itself, as a different darkness strove to grip her heart. This time it wasn’t fear that sought Immaculee’, it was hatred. She realized that her family most probably had been slaughtered, and she began to desire vengeance. With that dark spirit enveloping her, she soon realized that if she was going to continue with the Lord she had to let go of unforgiveness. After a struggle, light crept in and she began to see the perpetrators as the worst victims of their acts. The were misled children who indeed would be punished for their choices, unless they repented. She again reached a plateau of peace and communion with the Lord, and her faith once again became a tangible and effective force.
Even in Mark 11, where Jesus speaks of the unlimited power of faith, forgiveness is given as a requirement. We simply cannot draw down on God’s power unless we are in right relationship with Him. And that means forgiving others.
Eventually the seven women left the bathroom and found shelter in a French compound. And finally, invading Tutsi forces retook the nation and restored order.
The story doesn’t end there, though. Immaculee’, with no family and in a devastated country, has huge hurdles to overcome in order to restart her life. The story of how she believes God for miracle after miracle and makes a rich life for herself is amazing. She is Catholic, but the way she takes verses on faith and visualizes her success makes a Pentecostal feel right at home. I found the way she co-labors with God in bold, practical ways to make her visions become reality refreshing to the utmost. I learned much from her, and watched closely as she had the spiritual insight to turn down a very appealing marriage prospect because it didn’t feel spiritually right. This is a woman who has spent a lot of time in the deep presence of the Lord.
I highly recommend this book, for the way it shows God’s ability to preserve and provide in the midst of dark circumstances, and for its very clear depiction of our role in the equation. We may ask why Immaculee’ lived while so many died. We cannot know the answer, which surely involves the mysteries of God’s will, but we can know that within the context of that will God is always faithful to those who look to Him. Sometimes it takes dire circumstances indeed for that truth to be revealed to us in a meaningful personal way. Immaculee’ has written her story of how God has been faithful to her even amid great trial and loss, and that story is edifying indeed.
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?
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
I’ve been landscaping around the house where I live. The weapons of my warfare in this case are indeed physical: steel rake, shovel, Johnson bar and wheelbarrow!
Most of the time the job has been ecstasy for me. There’s something about working the earth that is super gratifying. You can tune out the noise of the world, and with the accompaniment of the ancient rhythms that are so deeply a part of us, tune into the precious Holy Spirit. (The only exception to my reverie has been the darn mayflies that I’ve had to do battle with.)
But the other day I got to the part of the job where I had to repair a stone wall, and the stones that comprised the wall were BIG. I tried to use tools as much as possible, but there came the moment when the only way to shift a 200+ lb. rock into place was to bend over and pick it up by hand.
I was successful, but I did hurt my back. I’ve done a lot of physical work in my life, and consequently my lumbar region has a disk that’s worn out, with two vertebrae naturally fused. I’m careful about it, but I don’t let it stop me from doing what I have to.
And so I developed a significant backache from lifting the rock. By evening I had become bent over, and pain shot down my leg when I walked a certain way. Having gone through this before, I know the drill. The answer is not in the likes of heating pads, herbs or magnetic exotica. The answer is to gently but firmly work the back up straight again, despite the pain it brings.
That’s what I did in bed that night, and the next day I avoided heavy work and concentrated on straightening up as I walked around.
The following day – today – after working out the morning stiffness, 50% of the problem was gone. I was out there raking, shoveling, and wheelbarrowing soil and stones uphill, with little problem. Tomorrow, I expect the problem to be reduced another 50% from today’s level, then another 50% the following day, until the problem is off the radar screen altogether.
I was thinking about this as I was working today, and it struck me how precisely the Bible describes this healing dynamic:
For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. -Heb 12:11-13
That about says it all. If we want to be healed, the answer doesn’t lie in passively coddling ourselves, it is found in confronting our problems and challenges square-on. If you’ve got a bent-over back, the remedy is to straighten it up. If you have weak knees, the answer is to exercise them (strong quadriceps hold the patella in correct position, alleviating much knee pain. I’ve had a lot of knee pain, and I’ve personally found this to be the case, to the point where my knees no longer bother me much).
Note that we are cautioned that this is not going to be a pleasant process, but rather, a painful one. It’s as if our healing is a castle surrounded by a mote of pain. But there’s a stronger warning in those verses yet. If we will not straighten ourselves up and confront our condition, we can expect what is lame to be “put out of joint”. Nothing ever stays the same for long. It’s either going to improve or it will get worse. Our lives are always in some kind of flux. Don’t be lulled by some sort of compromised status quo. The reality is that either we’re pressing in to higher ground, or we’re sliding backward.
But oh, the promise! If we will meet our challenges head-on, we not only can cope with them, we can be healed! The world doesn’t believe this is possible. Even in the physical realm, when knees or backs go bad, or metabolisms take a hit, the medical industry’s quick, formulaic (and lucrative) answer is usually surgery or maintenance drugs, and overwhelmingly, the patient is sent on a downhill course, worse than before they went to the doctor. (I’ve had metabolic problems as well, and by fighting back rather than becoming dependant on hormone therapy, I was able to completely overcome the problem. Yes, the Lord has healed me of much! –see Psalm 103.1-4)
Here, the physical is symbolic of the spiritual and soulical. When we have a problem, obstacle or hindrance in the spirit, the answer is not to coddle ourselves or adjust downward into permanent workaround mode. The answer is to face the problem square-on. Yes, it may be painful for a season. But that pales in comparison to the pain of a life lived at a subsistence level of accommodation and mediocrity. Jesus has given us all the authority we will ever need to overcome any problem that could ever confront us (see Matthew 16.19, 28.18-19). He offers us healing, but like the man in the synagogue with the withered hand, very often we must stretch out that part of us that needs the healing, in order for the virtue to flow in (Mt 12.13).
The choice is ours. Discomfort for a season, leading to victory, or dancing around our problems and living far below the level God lovingly intends for us. Cowards don’t enter in (Rev 21.8). Let’s resolve to face down our problems, knowing that any pain we incur doing so is a sign of soon-coming victory. The pain is temporary, the victory will be sweet, and it will be ours permanently. As Jesus repeatedly tells us in the Book of Revelation, blessed are they who overcome.
Remember the embarrassing passage in Genesis, in which Jacob, working for the finagler Laban, set his wages to be every “speckled or spotted sheep”? Laban thought he was getting a deal, and set out to defraud Jacob. It was all so easy. But Jacob outwitted Laban by setting up an environment for the sheep that graphically mimicked how he wanted the new lambs’ coats to look. The result was:
When the sheep mated in front of the [color-contrasting] branches, they gave birth to young that were streaked or speckled or spotted. -Gen 30.9
“Oh, what a rip. Genetics are entirely independent of environment! This Jacob story is just more evidence that the Bible is a collection of fairy tales and its believers are anti-scientific, irrational yokels.”
So the ridicule went. But it seems that after centuries of evolution theories, science has just made a reversal and taken a small step to catching up with the Bible in this matter.
Take a look at this article over at the Guardian. The young field of “epigenetics”, which is the study of the protective layer surrounding the chromosome chain, and the effects of that layer on gene sequencing, has found that environmental factors do affect the surrounding matter, and they in turn influence which genes are switched on and which are not. Or, in other words, and I quote:
“Today,” notes David Shenk, “any high school student knows that genes are passed on unchanged from parent to child, and to the next generation and the next. Lifestyle cannot alter heredity. Except now it turns out that it can . . .”
Considering the pummeling the scientific community is rightfully taking on shoddy and dishonest global warming methodology, you can imagine that questions about basic evolution orthodoxy have the potential to create another, and even greater, scientific bombshell.
I’m not a scientist, so I’m not going to work that angle. And neither am I going to try to prove that the Bible is true. But I am going to suggest a practical benefit that the Christian can take away from this unfolding story.
Consider these wonderful promises from the beginning of Psalm 103:
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. -Ps 103:1-7
Among other things, the Lord here promises us that He will heal our diseases, restore our youth, and redeem our life. Now, let’s say you had neurological damage. For decades medical science told us that nerves and brain tissue cannot be regenerated. We only have a certain number of these cells, and once they were gone, that was it. – Until last year, that is, when they suddenly found out better. For in another reversal, scientists now have proof that human nerve tissue can replenish itself.
If you didn’t believe – or didn’t know – what the Bible says here, what hope for healing would you have had all those years? None. But if you knew the Word, and took God at his Word, believing Him over medical scientists, and taking your stand for your healing – you may have been laughed at by sophisticates, but you would have had hope.
And hopeful, you would have filled your mind with positive, expectant thoughts. You would have meditated on the Word day and night. You would have prayed affirmations aloud, according to passages such as Mark 11, where Jesus tells us to pray believing that we are, right now, as we are praying, receiving, and John 15.7, where we are promised our prayers will be answered if we abide, and so many other places where we are exhorted to pray through to victory. In effect, you would be filling your soul with the reality of your healing even before that healing was manifest to the natural eye.
Your faith would have been anticipating the result you wanted to obtain. Or, put scientifically, you would have been altering your environment in order to affect your genetics. And isn’t that just exactly what Jacob did when he wanted to change the appearance of the baby lambs?
Folks, this faith business is a matter of life and death. Indeed,
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits. -Pro 18.21
Whatever your need is, are you going to believe the world’s report, or are you going to believe God? Ancient Israel chose to believe their natural eyes and logic rather than have faith in God, and their lack of faith forced them to futilely circle a desert mountain for forty years rather than enter the promised land after what would have been a mere eleven day journey.
If we fail to enter into the realm of faith, we too risk wasting precious time. The good news is that with the power of the Word, we have the faith option. We can choose to believe God. And if we have failed in the past, it is not too late to repent (which simply means to rethink) and to get on the faith track and begin to reverse the damages. Get serious with God, get in the Word, and you will see His rewards.
One day science will catch up to the Bible, and we’ll know and understand the awesome wisdom which emanates from the God who brought Creation into being. But currently, to the extent that it is at odds with the Bible, fallen science is out in the desert, futilely circling mountains. Thankfully, we don’t have to join it. The choice of whom to follow is up to us. In this age we must walk by faith rather than sight if we are going to take the Kingdom and bear fruit. There is no other way.
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!