Monday, October 20, 2014

CHRIST HAS SET US FREE by Gary Wilkerson

Think of all these blessed things: intimate prayer with the Lord; reading His wondrous Word; sharing His gospel joyfully. They are all wonderful practices that make for a joyful, fulfilling life. Yet we often make merit-based works out of them—arduous, duty-bound labors. By doing so, we neglect “so great a salvation”—a saving grace that does not fail. You see, even when we fail, the New Covenant does not. According to Paul, that truth should set us free, not enslave us.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5:1, ESV). Throughout this epistle Paul asks believers, “Why would you ever go back to an Old Covenant of works? That system will only re-enslave you. You’ve been given the New Covenant, which sets you free to love and serve God in perfect liberty.”

Paul hammered this home to the Galatians, saying the gospel empowers us in the Spirit through grace. But the Galatians kept trying to live out the gospel through a lens of works. They were convinced, “If I do this, I’ll get a blessing. If I don’t, I’ll get a curse.”

We may not see this in ourselves, but we tend to do something similar today. Our attitude is, “I’ll do my best to obey God’s commands and then He’ll have to bless me.” But God says differently through the New Covenant: “I have blessed you already, before you even attempt to obey My commands. I also know you can’t keep my Word perfectly, so I will empower you to keep it through My Spirit. My grace will be the power behind your works, not your own strength.”

This is the core of the gospel: God does it all! Therefore, when we are told to “pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” (Hebrews 2:1), it doesn’t mean we’re to pay greater attention to rule-keeping. Instead, we are to pay attention to the gospel of grace that has set us free.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

MERCY IS CONTAGIOUS by Nicky Cruz

“When Jesus . . . saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34, NIV).

In Oslo, Norway, our ministry teamed with a large Lutheran church. It was one of the few churches willing to help us. Their kids were deeply committed to the Lord but were caught completely off guard by our methods of evangelism. European Christians are quiet, humble people who usually keep their faith to themselves. The idea of preaching on a street corner in the middle of a neighborhood took them far from their comfort zones. At first they didn’t want to go with us, but within a few weeks we couldn’t stop them. They developed a fire in their guts for evangelism—a genuine soul obsession.

Many of them travelled by train for two or three hours each morning to help us, then travelled home again late in the evening. They couldn’t get enough. And they were so thirsty to learn more about our kids from New York. When we told them that many of our kids were former gang members and drug addicts, they had a hard time believing it. They were astonished by what Jesus had done in their lives—what He was still doing.

But what attracted them most was the genuine compassion our kids had for others. When someone was hurting, our kids would cry with them, hold them, pray with them. Every morning began with several hours of prayer and worship at the church building, and the Lutheran kids couldn’t get enough of it. The love our kids exuded for them and one another was beyond anything they had ever experienced. And they soon caught that enthusiasm. It spread like wildfire throughout the hearts of everyone working with us.

By the time our crusade ended, the kids from Norway couldn’t bear to see us leave. They had become so attached to our group, so in love with our kids, that they cried for hours at the airport before our plane left. Our kids made lifetime friends on that trip and made an indelible impact on the lives of those we left behind.

That’s the beauty and nature of compassion. It is one of the most endearing and contagious of all human emotions. It cannot be faked, and its impact cannot be explained, yet it is so real. And so very powerful!

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

A FRESH WORD EVERY DAY

God is speaking a fresh word every day to all who will hear, but many cannot hear it because their hearts are growing hard. In Hebrews we read, “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7-8). God’s voice is a “today” voice. He wants us to hear an up-to-the-minute voice.

Jesus warned us about stony-ground hearers: “These are they likewise which are sown on stony ground; who, when they have heard the word, immediately receive it with gladness; and have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended” (Mark 4:16-17). This refers to the ones who love to hear, who receive all God says with gladness. But the Word does not sink in. God’s voice does not change them. They remain unbroken with their hearts turning to stone. Where are the stony hearts? In prison? On the streets? Sadly, the hardest of hearts can be found in God’s house among those who don’t even know they are getting hard!

Let me tell you how Christians develop hard hearts. They refuse to allow God’s voice to smash their stubborn will. They hear God’s voice in His Word, in preaching, and sometimes even in the still, small voice. Yet, they will not obey it! The Word cannot take root. And there is something even worse. Every day God is calling His people to the secret closet of prayer because He wants to speak. He wants to talk about obedience, about problems, about the future, and give guidance. “I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not” (Jeremiah 7:13). Each time we refuse that call and go instead to our own interests and business, putting other things ahead of God—every time we miss a day of hearing—every day we refuse to listen—our hearts grow colder and colder. Every time we listen to another voice rather than waiting to hear His voice, we grow a little harder.

When we refuse to discipline ourselves to be alone with God to hear His voice, we become strangers to that voice. It is shameful to observe what is happening in so many churches today with many who can no longer recognize God's voice. The Lord sees them getting hard, but He cares and loves them still. So He turns His Holy Ghost light upon them, bringing a scorching, penetrating word—a voice of thunder—to awaken them up. But the Word offends them; the very Word God meant to deliver them offends them and they get angry and dry up! “When the sun comes up they are scorched and wither” (see Matthew 13:6).