“Understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty” (2 Timothy 3:1).
Paul does not say this to scare us. He attributes it all to the sin of the human heart:
“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people” (2 Timothy 3:2-5).
That’s quite a list of sins. Yet Paul is talking not only to the world but also to us Christians: “Having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.”
When he says people will be lovers of themselves, he quite accurately describes the situation in many churches today. While evil increases, these churches increase their pursuit of self-promotion, gain and comfort. God never tells us to avoid the unsaved; they are our primary mission. So when Paul tells us to “avoid such people,” he is referring to fellow Christians who deny God’s authority in their lives. In fact, he affirms this, saying, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. ‘Purge the evil person from among you’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13). As God’s people, what clearer call to repentance could we hear?
Satan will continue to spew forth death. And only one thing can resist his hell on earth: a church that is able to stand up and speak God’s Word boldly with integrity. Without a holy presence in this darkening world, the world will never know an alternative.
Today I implore you—as a pastor, as a father, as a brother—to get right with God. At times I feel like Noah, standing outside a place of complete safety as people casually pass by. In Noah’s day, many who heard him might even have agreed with him, yet they still refused to turn from their own ways and follow God. However, you and I must realize that we will not be able to stand in the coming days if we do not fully commit ourselves to obey the Lord. As the Scripture says:
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
In other words, the Lord commands us to have a change of heart; to agree with Him and turn from what is wrong.
LISTEN FOR GOD’S VOICE
Lately, I have been praying, “Lord Jesus, help me see if there is anything in my life that might lead me astray and, if so, give me the grace to put it away.” Over the course of my life, God has had His finger on attitudes I had embraced that I thought were acceptable but in reality had fallen short of God’s standard. Some practices were obvious, others were not. But I believe the one thing that has kept me up until this point in my life is that my heart has been open for the Lord to speak and reprove if needed.
And so I ask you again; Can God speak to you? Can God go after that issue of the heart; that practice in your life; that sense of self-righteousness? Or will you reject His counsel and end up locked out of His power?
CHOOSE TO HUMBLE YOURSELF
If you continually choose to come to Him in humility of heart and with a willingness to agree with His Word, God will bring down the mountains and raise the valleys. He will create a clear pathway between you and Himself, and you will find that He promises not only to keep you but to give you power, joy and victory in the coming days!
Carter Conlon joined the pastoral staff of Times Square Church in 1994 at the invitation of the founding pastor, David Wilkerson, and was appointed Senior Pastor in 2001.
It is a wonderful thing to have quality time with the Lord. He promises that as you seek more intimacy with Him, His presence will break forth in your life, working His divine order all around you. Yet something even greater than this will happen: The continual pursuit of God’s presence will lead you into a revelation of Christ’s glory.
Moses sought God for a manifestation of the Lord’s presence “that I may know thee” (Exodus 33:13). Here is how God answered His servant: “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (33:14).
Moses’ request here would be enough for most Christians. Who among us does not want God’s promised peace and rest? What more could anyone desire? Yet, having the assurance of God’s presence wasn’t enough for Moses. He knew there was more, and he cried, “I beseech thee, show me thy glory” (Exodus 33:18).
And God did show Moses His glory!
The Lord’s glory didn’t appear in some luminous cloud or in an earthshaking demonstration of power. Instead, God expressed His glory in a simple revelation of His nature: “The Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin” (Exodus 34:6–7). Do you see? God’s glory was a revelation of His goodness, mercy, love and compassion.
When God’s presence is missing, everything is out of kilter, with no guidance or righteous teaching. Everyone becomes a law unto himself, doing his own thing. This is a picture of many Christian homes today: everything out of order, with no peace or rest, everyone doing what he or she pleases. The Lord in His mercy grieves over such disorder.
Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. God’s promises are unchangeable, and His Word pledges, “For the rest of your life, if you will continue to seek Me I will be with you. When you cry out I will be found of you” (see Jeremiah 29:13).
This isn’t some complicated theology. Anyone can have the abiding presence of God if he or she will simply call out in faith. We are promised, “The Lord . . . will be found of you” (2 Chronicles 15:2). The Hebrew word for found here means, “His presence coming forth to enable, to bless.” In other words, “Reach out to the Lord with your whole heart, and He will manifest His presence. It will be an almighty power enabling you to be steadfast and fearless.” Only when God’s presence is upon us can we behold and comprehend His glory.
When the Israelites were in the wilderness, God manifested His presence to them through a cloud. This cloud was a physical manifestation of God’s pledge to be with His people. It covered the tabernacle night and day, and it acted as a guide for every undertaking. When the cloud moved, they moved, and when it stayed, they stayed. The people never had to try to figure out their direction or future. They put all their confidence in that visible cloud of the Lord’s presence.
King Asa led God’s people to a miraculous victory over Ethiopia’s million-man army. Afterward he testified that God’s presence had scattered the enemy.
“Asa cried . . . Lord, it is nothing with thee to help, whether with many, or with them that have no power: help us . . . for we rest on thee, and in thy name we go against this multitude. . . . So the Lord smote the Ethiopians before Asa” (2 Chronicles 14:11–12).
As Asa led his triumphant army back to Jerusalem, the prophet Azariah met him at the city gate with this message: “Hear ye me, Asa . . . the Lord is with you, while ye be with him; and if ye seek him, he will be found of you; but if ye forsake him, he will forsake you. Now for a long season Israel hath been without the true God. . . . But when they in their trouble did turn unto the Lord God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them” (2 Chronicles 15:2–4).
Here is the secret of getting and maintaining the presence of God in your life. The Lord reminded Asa in no uncertain terms: “Asa, don’t ever forget how you got this victory. When you were in trouble, you sought Me with all your heart. Remember, it was My presence that brought you victory.”
Today, the cloud of God’s presence hovers over your secret closet of prayer. It will lead you, empower you and keep you in God’s rest, giving you guidance for your home, work and relationships. You can commune with the Lord anywhere, whether during your commute to your job or on your way to school. You can shut out everything else and say, “Lord, I’ve got half an hour right now and I want to talk with You.” This is your “closet time” with Him.
Moses was convinced that without God’s presence in his life it was useless for him to attempt anything. When he spoke face to face with the Lord, he stated boldly, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence” (Exodus 33:15). He was saying, “Lord, if You are not with us, we’re not going to make it. We won’t take a single step unless we are assured of Your presence.”
Moses knew it was God’s presence among them that set them apart from all other nations, and the same is true of God’s people today. God’s presence “with us” leads, guides, and works His will in and through us. His presence also drives out fear and confusion.
Moses’ attitude was, “We operate on one principle alone: The only way for us to be guided or governed, to do battle and survive in these times, is to have God’s presence with us. When His presence is in our midst, no one can destroy us. But without Him we are helpless, reduced to nothing. Let all the nations of the world trust in their mighty armies, iron chariots and skilled soldiers. We will trust in the manifest presence of the Lord.”
God answered Moses’ bold statement: “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (Exodus 33:14). The Hebrew word for rest here means “a comfortable, peaceful confidence.” God was saying, “No matter what battles or trials you face, you will always be able to find a quiet rest and confidence in Me.”
Just a few decades ago, if a national leader was caught in any kind of scandal he resigned immediately. But today there is little shame attached to these acts. I think of the Lord’s words to Jeremiah: “Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among the fallen; when I punish them, they shall be overthrown, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 8:12, ESV).
As Christians we know our hope doesn’t rest in this world. Whenever we have put our hopes in a leader or institution, we have been disappointed. Yet, the open sin that has built up over the last twenty years has become an outrage. And as God told Jeremiah, He will not remain silent.
In just a few years’ time homosexuality has become normalized when the Bible clearly teaches against it. As Christians we love homosexuals and anyone else dealing with a sexual sin. Yet, no matter how you look at it, same-gender sexual practice can’t be reconciled with Scripture. (Some churches say it can be, but by trying to make it happen they profoundly compromise God’s authority.)
As we follow Jesus’ example to sacrificially love all people, including homosexuals, we’re labeled haters and bigots. But there is no hate speech in the Bible — only uncomfortable speech about sin. Right now society is basically commanding us to extract the passages that speak of homosexuality as sinful. My heart breaks over this, because homosexuals are being sold a lie. It doesn’t matter who we are; if we do not turn from sin, our relationship with God derails horribly.
“The people stayed in the tent of meeting. They murmured against Moses and Aaron and they were even blaming each other, saying, ‘It’s your fault.’ The plague had begun and multitudes were dying. Aaron took the flame from God’s altar and ran into the midst of the people. As he stood there, between the living and the dead, on behalf of the people, the plague stopped” (see Numbers 16:41-48).
We see in this passage a powerful and important image of so much of the modern-day Church—of ourselves—perpetually looking to stay inside, in “the tent of meeting,” locked in a mentality of “our needs are so great and the people outside, the heathen, the ‘unsaved’ are so evil.”
The egocentric congregation stays inside, with no time, energy or passion to take outside because of the battles waging within the four walls of the church. Religious ritual has a foot on the throat of any redemptive initiative and the church is dying. Platitudes have replaced passion. Rationalism has choked revelation. There is a religious hierarchy but no real heroes.
The disciples were on the Mount of Transfiguration standing in the presence of Jesus. The glory of God surrounded them amidst breathtaking prophetic revelation. Peter announced triumphantly what sadly became the rally cry, the anthem, for hundreds of thousands of modern believers, “It is good for us to be here. Let us build three tabernacles to dwell in and stay here.”
BE A HERO FOR GOD
The people wanted to stay in “the place of meeting” and Peter wanted to dwell on the Mount of Transfiguration. However at the foot of the mountain, there is a tormented, captive man, hopeless and abandoned by all, who needs a hero to come down from the mountain to bring him deliverance.
Claude Houde is the lead pastor of Eglise Nouvelle Vie (New Life Church) in Montreal, Canada. Under his leadership New Life Church has grown from a handful of people to more than 3500 in a part of Canada with few successful Protestant churches.
We know that through the centuries those who have trusted in Jesus have suffered much. Since the time of the cross they have been martyred, some viciously. Some New Testament believers lost their houses and lands and lived in caves.
Beloved, no true preacher of God’s Word will ever promise that you won’t suffer, that you won’t lose property, that your lifestyle will be protected. But there is a “great cloud of witnesses” in heaven who would say to all of us who love Jesus:
“It is true that in Christ we were safe — eternally safe. His grace was sufficient for every crisis. Yes, there were seasons of pain, suffering and hard times. But no trial can ever take you out of Christ, the Ark of safety.”
I want you to hold on to this wonderful promise from 1 Peter 1:3–9:
“According to his abundant mercy [He] hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
“Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: that the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ: whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory: receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.”
If I am to live by my faith, I must do as Noah did and build an ark to ride out the storm.
“By faith Noah . . . moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house” (Hebrews 11:7).
The ark that Noah built represents Jesus Christ — and there is no other safe place on earth.
When Isaiah prophesied of a king coming to reign in righteousness, he was clearly describing Christ:
“A man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land” (Isaiah 32:2).
All over the world people are desperately searching for a safe place to hide their money. Multitudes are buying guns to protect their families during what they believe will be a dark time of “every man for himself.” These include Bible-believing Christians.
Yet there is no place of guaranteed safety on earth, except to abide in Jesus. I don’t state this as some empty theology that Christians often say thoughtlessly. For over two thousand years, those who have trusted in Jesus for safety have proven God’s Word faithful.
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous run into it, and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10).
“The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust” (Psalm 18:2).
Right now, I believe the Church needs a refresher course on God’s majesty and power, much like Job was given. The Lord said to Job, in essence:
“What is all this dark, hopeless talk I hear from you? Stand up and listen to Me. I laid the foundation of the earth; I made the light and the darkness; I created the rain, snow, ice and wind; I gave wings to birds and I feed the beasts of the field. I control all of nature.
“Tell me, Job, who can thunder with a voice like Mine? Who can look into every man’s heart and see its condition? Who is able to identify the arrogant, locate them, and then bring them low?” (see Job 38).
Beloved, the same God who knows the name and address of every proud person also knows your name, your address, your condition. And He will keep you in His heart all of your days, through every calamity. To accept this is to live by faith.
If I live by faith, I will not fear for the future of God’s people or the Church in calamitous times.
“Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
This pledge from Jesus has emboldened the faith of generations. And it is meant to sustain us now in our present global calamity.
“Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4, my italics).
The phrase I emphasize here is familiar to Christians all over the world. For centuries “living by faith” has motivated the daily decisions of believers in every generation.
“By faith” is the only way God’s people are ever able to face a calamity or affliction. It was the only way in Habakkuk’s day, it was the only way in every Old Testament generation, and it was the only way in New Testament times. Now, in our day, the same foundational truth stands: “The just shall live by his faith.”
Yet, what does this mean, to live by one’s faith? God’s Word shows us it means more than simply believing. To live by one’s faith is to see God’s hand and his holiness in all calamities:
“The Lord is known by the judgment which he executeth” (Psalm 9:16).
“When thy hand is lifted up, [the wicked] will not see” (Isaiah 26:11).
YES, GOD’S HAND IS IN EVERYTHING
The world doesn’t see God lifting His hand to bring chastening. But those who live by faith readily acknowledge, “What we are seeing is God’s hand at work. This is His holiness being established. He is keeping His Word.”
If we are to live by faith, we must have a reverential fear of God’s power. And it is impossible not to see His awesome might at work in the world today.
Judgment — I am not accustomed to writing messages on this subject, and you may be surprised by this one. I prepared it with great reservations; in fact, it took me far beyond my comfort zone, even though I am dedicated to preaching the whole counsel of God.
Right now I am compelled to speak because of something I see happening in our culture. I have grown convinced that America now stands on the brink of one of the most extreme judgments it has ever faced. And in this bleak hour God has something to say to His Church that may begin to turn the tide.
When I grew up, it wasn’t unusual to hear this kind of difficult message in the denomination my family was part of. Occasionally I heard my father preach on the subject of judgment. What I’m talking about is a prophetic message (although my dad was adamant about not being called a prophet). He said he was a “watchman.”
LOVE TO HEAR HIS VOICE
These days I better appreciate the messages my dad preached and the anguish they caused him. I know he spent hours wrestling with God over the difficult sermons he delivered. As a pastor, I appreciate A. W. Tozer’s lesson that God loves to speak to the man or woman who loves to listen. Yet I fear the church has lost that practice. God wants to speak to us about our family, our marriage, our life’s direction, but our ear is inclined less and less to His voice and more to the world’s.
The Bible calls this condition a famine of the Word of God (see Amos 8:11) — a lack of knowledge of God and His ways. In times of chaos He will use the famine to get our attention and He has my full attention right now! And if He is speaking hard messages about society to grace-oriented pastors such as I am, it tells me He is up to something.
In the eighth chapter of Acts, an angel of the Lord told Philip to stop what he was doing and start out toward the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. At the time, Philip was busy preaching and healing in Samaria. The Lord gave Philip no explanation, and he had no idea why he was being sent. Yet he obeyed.
While traveling down this road, Philip was passed by a chariot and the Holy Spirit told him to stay near it. When he caught up to the chariot, he heard a man inside reading from Isaiah the prophet. The man, a eunuch from Ethiopia, was an important official of the queen. Immediately Philip understood why the Spirit had led him to this place in the middle of nowhere. He was able to witness to the eunuch and bring him to Christ (Acts 8:26-35).
Had Philip not been listening to the Spirit’s leading, or had he chosen not to heed His direction (or worse yet, failed to acknowledge that the Spirit actually speaks to us), he would have missed out on this divine appointment.
UNDERSTANDING GOD’S AUTHORITY
The truth is, had Philip stayed in Samaria preaching, he probably would have reached many more for Christ during this period of time. Instead, God diverted him for the sake of one soul. It would have been easy for Philip to question this mandate, to second-guess God’s wisdom in leading him away during a successful and busy time in his outreach, but he didn’t. Philip understood God’s authority and knew better than to question His ways.
THE VALUE OF LISTENING
What does it mean to trust God and walk in the Spirit? Jesus offers us a perfect description:
“The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with every one born of the Spirit” (John 3:8).
When and where God leads may not always make sense to us. But a true disciple learns to listen and obey, regardless of his or her own opinions or agenda at the moment.
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.
Over the years we who have known the Lord intimately have experienced many miracles. We have been blessed by His deliverance from great trials and temptations.
Decade after decade we have proven God faithful in the midst of dire circumstances. We have known Him as our source of strength; we have been touched often by Christ’s healing hand; we have known the comfort and guidance of God’s Spirit at all turns. We have great knowledge of the Lord’s many precious promises because we have seen Him fulfill them to us faithfully over the years.
THE UNTOUCHED YOUTH
Yet, the fact is, our preaching and experiences have not touched the youthful generation behind us. These young ones haven’t been enamored by the beauty of God’s Word because they haven’t heard it preached in purity. Instead, they have mostly been enticed into church with the lure of flesh-centered activities and entertainment. Once inside, the only gospel they hear is one that is easy, noncommittal. And that easy message has totally failed them.
I know there are a few churches reaching young people in significant numbers. But by and large the upcoming generation has not known, seen or experienced God’s miracle-working power. Tell me, to whom can they turn? To me, their plight is captured in a recent newspaper headline THE WORLD HAS LOST ALL TRUST.
GOD HEARS OUR CRY
The prophet Isaiah spoke of a coming day when the world would be eating “the bread of adversity, and the water of affliction” (Isaiah 30:20). Isaiah predicted that out of this adversity and affliction a cry would arise. And when God hears that cry, “He will be very gracious unto thee at the voice of thy cry; when he shall hear it, He will answer thee” (Isaiah 30:19).