May I give you a word I believe is from the mind of Christ through the Holy Spirit? It has to do with what I believe is one of the greatest needs in the church today. Indeed, it is a word every believer ought to hear.
This is the word: Growing numbers of Christians are no longer fully satisfied with Christ. He is being dethroned by what the Lord himself called thorns. Jesus defined thorns as the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, the lusts of other things entering into the heart. Christ said these are the thorns that choke the Word and cause it to become unfruitful.
I ask you, is the Lord more on your mind than a year ago? Do you spend more time in his presence than a year ago? Is your passion for him growing or withering?
Many of those who once were passionately in love with Christ now run about pursuing their own interests. They’re burdened down with stress and problems, chasing after riches and the things of this world. They have grown cold or lukewarm, and they have less and less time for Jesus. The Lord and his church now get only an hour of their time, on Sunday mornings.
Jesus said, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:6). In other words, that person is drying up, no longer drawing life from the true vine. He is deceived by thinking all is well, because he still speaks the language of the intimacy he once enjoyed with Christ.
I hear the Holy Spirit calling the Lord’s people back to their first love. Back to hungering and thirsting for more of Christ. Back to spending quality time in his presence. Back to loving his Word. Back to casting all cares upon him. Back to depending on him for guidance.
Christ desires intimacy with his bride. He yearns after his beloved to return to him with love and obedience. I humbly submit this word to you, trusting the Holy Spirit will stir your heart and draw you closer to himself.
Hebrews 12:1 tells us that the world is encircled by a cloud of witnesses who are with Christ in glory. What does this multitude of heavenly witnesses have to say to the present world?
Our day is one of great prosperity. Our economy has been blessed, yet our society has become so immoral, violent and anti-God that even secularists bemoan how far we have fallen. Christians everywhere wonder why God has delayed his judgments on such a wicked society.
We who love Christ may not understand why such gross evil is allowed to continue. But the cloud of heavenly witnesses understands. They don’t question the mercy and patience that God has shown.
The Apostle Paul is among that cloud of witnesses, and he bears witness to God’s unlimited love for even “the chief of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul’s life and writings tell us that he cursed the name of Christ. He was a terrorist, hunting down God’s people and dragging them off to be jailed or killed. Paul would say to us that God is being patient with this present generation because there are many who are like he was, people who sin in ignorance.
The apostle Peter is also among the cloud of witnesses, and he too understands why God is so patient. Peter’s life and writings remind us that he cursed Jesus, swearing he never knew him. God withholds his judgment because there are multitudes still who curse and deny him, just as Peter did. The Lord won’t give up on them, just as he never gave up on Peter. There are many like him whom Christ still prays for.
As I consider this cloud of witnesses, I see the faces of former drug addicts and alcoholics, former prostitutes and homosexuals, former gangsters and pushers, former murderers and wife-beaters, former infidels and pornography addicts—multitudes whom society had given up on. They all repented and died in the arms of Jesus, and now they are witnesses to the mercy and patience of a loving Father.
I believe all of these would say, in one unified witness, that Jesus didn’t judge them before they received his mercy. May he help us to love the lost as he does. And may we pray to have the love and patience he is showing the world right now.
Never once in the Bible do you see Peter, James and John have a problem with the beatings or the commands from authorities not to preach the gospel. That’s not going to slow the church down. It’s not external pressures or external persecutions that will put off God’s work among his people. It will be chaos and conflict that comes from within the church.
“Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews” (Acts 6:1, ESV). Whenever a church grows, whenever there are a lot of people around, conflict happens. “This person acted in a way I didn’t like; those people are prejudiced.” Suddenly, there’s a complaint against other believers in the church.
When this stuff starts happening, look out. How quickly complaining goes downhill! This is one of the most dangerous things that can take hold of a church.
Bickering, backbiting, failing to serve one another and harming one another will destroy the church. It will corrupt our witness. This will block the flow of anointing that comes from the Holy Spirit. What troubles me most is not the political situation in our country or the ‘sexual revolution,’ although those things are often horrifying. It’s not the world being worldly that worries me. It’s the church being worldly that troubles me.
In the middle of those external pressures, Jesus has a light and a witness with his people, but if that witness is corrupted by conflict, then where are we? If salt loses its saltiness, what is it good for?
Let there be such a hunger for righteousness among us that we move quickly to deal with worldliness within ourselves and also resolve conflict with other believers. Let us strive to serve one another in all humility and love.
“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm” (Ephesians 6:13, ESV).
It was the apostle Paul who penned those words to exhort the believers in Ephesus. Another translation says it this way: “Then after the battle you will still be standing firm” (NLT). Of course, there would not be much weight to Paul’s words had he himself not gone through the fire and ultimately been able to stand.
From the very onset of his ministry, the apostle Paul was entrusted with great suffering and trials. Shortly after the Lord stopped Paul on the road to Damascus, our Savior appeared in a vision to a man named Ananias and told him to pray for Paul. “He is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).
Paul clearly understood that he was appointed by God to be his witness, thus he embraced the suffering that accompanied this call. In fact, he even went so far as to regard suffering as “fellowship.” Notice what he said to the Philippian church: “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (Philippians 3:10).
It is tragic that this truth about suffering in the Christian life is largely neglected in much of today’s theology. I find it appalling that there are even places where people completely discount Paul’s life and the things he had to go through. Instead, they use the words of Paul to somehow convince people that suffering and trials should not be part of the Christian experience. It is almost inconceivable, especially as we see in the scriptures that Paul certainly did not try to hide his trials from the early church. Paul was constantly delivered into places in which he could not have survived in his own strength. He experienced suffering and trials to such a degree that without the infusion of Christ’s life within, he could not have endured in his own human ability.
Paul possessed an inner core, however, that proves to us today that ordinary people are able to withstand all the adversity and opposition they encounter by the life of Christ within them.
Suffering is part of the Christian life, and our faith becomes deeper each time we are tested, thanks be to God!
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001. In May of 2020 he transitioned into a continuing role as General Overseer of Times Square Church, Inc.
The prophet Isaiah describes what happens when the Holy Spirit falls upon a people. Isaiah prophesies, “Until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is counted as a forest” (Isaiah 32:15).
Isaiah adds, “Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness remain in the fruitful field” (32:16). According to the prophet, the Holy Ghost also brings with him a message of judgment against sin. And that message produces righteousness in the people.
Isaiah isn’t speaking of a one-time outpouring of the Spirit, what some people think of as “revival.” Isaiah is describing something that lasts. Studies by Christian sociologists show that most present-day revivals last for an average of five years, and leave in their wake much confusion and dissension. I know of some churches where so-called revivals took place, but now, within just a few years, there is no trace of the Spirit left. Those churches are dead, dry, empty. Houses that once held 1,000 are now cavernous tombs, with only fifty people in attendance.
Isaiah continues: “The work of righteousness will be peace, and the effect of righteousness, quietness and assurance forever. My people will dwell in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isaiah 32:17-18).
The Holy Spirit is busy sweeping out all unrest, disturbances and condemnation. What follows is peace of mind, peace in the home, and peace in God’s house. And when God’s people have the peace of Christ, they aren’t easily moved from it: “Though hail comes down on the forest, and the city is brought low in humiliation. Blessed are you who sow beside all waters, who send out freely the feet of the ox and the donkey” (32:19-20).
Isaiah’s prophecy about the Holy Spirit was directed to Israel during Uzziah’s reign. Yet it also applies to God’s people today. It is known as a dual prophecy. The fact is, every generation needs an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And I believe the church today hasn’t seen anything compared to what the Holy Spirit wants to accomplish.