John and his brother James were disciples of John the Baptist, the fiery prophet with a national following. Working in their father’s fishing business, the rough-and-tumble brothers acquired the nickname “Sons of Thunder.” In other words, they didn’t back down from much.
I’ve known some “sons of thunder” in my time. The wonderful ministry Victory Outreach reaches a lot of people from rough backgrounds, saints who might stay rough around the edges after they’ve come to Christ. It’s as if some of them go from gang life to being in God’s gang—unintimidated, speaking their minds, preaching boldly.
That was James and John. Even after following Jesus for some time, they wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy those who rejected the gospel. Decades later, in writing his gospel account, John spoke of a transformation that took place within him. He now saw himself as “the beloved disciple,” no longer the tough guy. He was telling the Greeks that Jesus was not just truth for head knowledge but truth for transformation of the heart.
Do you find yourself filling your head with knowledge about Jesus, yet you sense your heart isn’t being changed? Are you annoyed that your life is no different from day to day by the work of His Spirit in you? Jesus has come to transform you by His presence. In that sense, the real Word is not just information but the living God who dwells within you.
Jesus is also the real light who illuminates, revealing all truth. Carter Conlon, pastor of Times Square Church, tells of an encounter he had at a conference where he preached passionately on the holiness of God. After his sermon, he sat down next to a man who said, “I don’t agree with anything you preached.” When Carter asked why, the man said, “My God would never raise His voice with me.” Puzzled, Carter mentioned the biblical passage where Jesus took a whip into the holy temple to drive out the moneychangers. The man responded, “Yes, He did that, but that’s not who Jesus is now.”
Carter thought for a moment, then asked the man, “Tell me, friend—did your father yell at you growing up?” At that, the man dissolved. “My dad yelled at me all the time,” he said through tears. Carter ministered grace and truth to the man, ending by saying gently, “There is no such thing as ‘my God.’ There is only one God, and He can’t be yours or mine. We are His.”
Let me make a bold statement: Christianity is not predominantly a teaching religion. We have been almost overrun these days by the cult of the speaker. The person who can stand up and expound correct doctrine is viewed as essential; without such a talent the church would not know what to do. The North American church has made the sermon the centerpiece of the meeting, rather than the throne of grace, where God acts in people’s lives.
The Jewish faith in Jesus’ day was dominated by rabbis—teachers of the Law. Their doctrine was thorough. Jesus told them “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40, italics added). They knew the written Word of God very well, but not the living Word, even as He stood before them.
The Scriptures are not so much the goal as they are an arrow that points us to the life-changing Christ.
Unfortunately, the rabbis never did realize who was among them. In the last few days before His crucifixion, Jesus wept over the city as He said, “You did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:44).
It is fine to explain about God, but far too few people today are experiencing the living Christ in their lives. We are not seeing God’s visitation in our gatherings. We are not on the lookout for His outstretched hand.
The teaching of sound doctrine is a prelude, if you will, to the supernatural. It is also a guide, a set of boundaries to keep emotion and exuberance within proper channels.
But as Paul said, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6). If the Holy Spirit is not given an opening among us, if His work is not welcomed, if we are afraid of what He might do, we leave ourselves with nothing but death.
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 and longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson, Cymbala is a frequent speaker at the Expect Church Leadership Conferences sponsored by World Challenge throughout the world.
The majestic Lord, who has all power and might, is on our side! This is what Jesus has been trying to show His children all along. He says, “If you can, comprehend the greatness of God and the fact that He is on your side!”
“When I cry unto thee, then shall mine enemies turn back: this I know; for God is for me” (Psalm 56:9).
“The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me? The Lord taketh my part with them that help me” (Psalm 118:6-7).
The Holy Spirit has given us Psalm 124 as an antidote against fear and worry:
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, now may Israel say; If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us: then they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us:
Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul: then the proud waters had gone over our soul. Blessed be the Lord, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth. Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken, and we are escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
God wants us to be bad-news-proof! “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings [bad news]: his heart is fixed, trusting in the Lord. His heart is established, he shall not be afraid” (Psalm 112:7-8).
“When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid . . . thy sleep shall be sweet. Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh. For the Lord shall be thy confidence, and shall keep thy foot from being taken” (Proverbs 3:24-26).
Trust God with all your heart. To have freedom from fear and worry is to rest confidently in the Lord of Hosts. Rest in the very One who created you!
“Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 10:31-33).
For years I quoted this passage in my citywide crusades! I said it at the altar call to provoke people to come forward and confess Christ. But trusting God is so much more than making a public confession: “Jesus, forgive my sins. I believe in You!” Well-meaning millions have made that kind of “confession” and yet it did not stick.
The key to understanding what Jesus is saying is in Psalm 31:19. “Oh how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee; which thou has wrought for them that trust in thee before the sons of men!”
This “confession” is something the world must see and not just hear! “And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).
We often talk about “witnessing for Jesus,” and we picture it as street preaching, passing out tracts, and telling friends and strangers that Jesus loves them. Beloved, that is only part of it!
The world is not looking for more doctrinal proof of the reality of God! It is not looking for greater proof of the resurrection or better arguments about creation. The world is looking for Christians who can stand up to every crisis, fear, trouble and difficulty and remain calm and at rest in the midst of it all. The world needs to see God’s children trusting wholly in their Lord.
The world must be able to point to a Christian and say, “There goes one who is not a complainer! He doesn’t fret or fear or run in times of trouble. He isn’t worried about tomorrow! His faith holds at all times!”
David said, “Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to usward: they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Psalm 40:5).
God spoke to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity: “I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end” (Jeremiah 29:11).
God thought of you before you were born! He thought of you when your life was breathed into a cell . . . when you were still in the womb!
“Thine eyes did see my [unformed] substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written . . . when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16).
We accept that He cares for our body, but He goes much farther—counting every hair, bone, muscle, cell, fiber. He is aware of every tear you have shed—He has counted and bottled them all. “Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle; are they not in thy book?” (Psalm 56:8). I can’t comprehend it all. He counts my hairs; He counts my tears and He bottles and saves them. Think of it—not a wasted tear of sorrow, joy or repentance.
He thinks of us when we lie down in bed and when we rise. He thinks of us with every step we take. He knows and understands every thought we think. It is written, “Jesus perceived their thoughts” (Luke 5:22).
Heaven is populated with highly intelligent, created beings—angels, seraphim, cherubim and the four-and-twenty elders. They are witnesses to the faithfulness of our God. They know of all the promises He has made to us concerning His attention toward every detail. They hear Him tell of His minute, total provision to keep and watch over us! All of heaven praises God, throwing their crowns at His feet, which is proof that they behold and believe in His faithfulness.
God can be trusted to do all He said He would!