When we first read of Abraham, God is asking him to pack up his family and travel to an unnamed destination (see Genesis 12:1). This must have been an incredible test for Abraham, as well as for his loved ones. Yet, by faith, Abraham obeyed. He lived among strangers in strange lands—unharmed and blessed—and he was delivered from every crisis, through supernatural dreams and visions given by the Lord.
LOOK AT THE STARS
At one point, God told Abraham to behold the starry sky, saying: “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them . . . So shall thy seed be” (Genesis 15:5). In other words: “Abraham, that’s how many children, grandchildren and descendants you are going to have. They will number as many as the stars.”
What a staggering promise! This word to Abraham was beyond the comprehension of any human being to grasp. And what was Abraham’s response to this promise? “He believed in the Lord” (15:6).
THE REWARD OF UNWAVERING TRUST
What was the result of Abraham’s faith? And what did his deep, abiding trust mean in God’s eyes? We find the answer in a single verse:
“He believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6, my italics).
Time after time Abraham put his faith in God, and he was considered righteous in the Lord’s eyes.
By the time Abraham turned 100 years old, he had endured a lifetime of tests and through everything, Scripture says, he had trusted God. And now the Lord said of this faithful, obedient man:
“I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (18:19).
Do you see what God Himself said of this man? He declared, “I trust Abraham. He has a proven faith.”
Jesus spent thirty-three years on Earth. Was that just so He could get old enough to die on a cross? Was it so He could have a few experiences to write about? No, of course not.
For thirty-three years Jesus did something that no one has ever been able to do. He took every rule, law and principle in the Bible, every thought that God had about what a righteous life would be like—holy and pure and totally obedient to God— and He fulfilled every single one of them.
That is why He was able to say, “I did not come to do away with the law, I came to fulfill the law” (see Matthew 5:17). What He is saying here is that He, and He alone, kept the law perfectly.
God said, “I take pleasure in Him because He perfectly kept every principle I’ve ever had for mankind. He fulfilled it all.”
Justification is not just that He cleansed you of your sin, He forgave your past, present, and future sin—but He imputed righteousness to you. In other words, He gave and He put upon you the righteousness that is His. At the cross He took your sin and pain and suffering—and did away with it.
And then He did something else that many Christians don’t realize. He took what He did on the cross and made it a final victory. When He said, “It is finished,” not only had He died for our sins but He had died for our righteousness. Now, even though we have no righteousness in ourselves, He gives us His righteousness.
Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do men say that I am?” (see Mark 8:27). This question is fresh and immensely important today. What does our secular world think? What is its perception of the church in our modern world?
Please allow me to say this as clearly as I can, with kindness and straightforwardness, speaking the truth in love. My travels around the world have allowed me to meet thousands of leaders and I am in direct contact with their churches. I am often afraid that the modern church is softly and inexorably slipping into a sweet insanity. Dear reader, there are many definitions of insanity, one of the most pertinent being: “to continue to do the same thing in the same way over and over and expect a different result.” That’s insane!
Over 90 percent of North American churches have known no significant growth in 20 years, but we see no need to change anything!
Dear reader, Abraham, the father of faith, freed captives, fought for the poor, built wells, and fed the hungry. Hundreds of scintillating promises, stern warnings and clear commandments from Genesis to Revelation motivate, call and challenge us to serve the needy. Prophets and patriarchs in the Scriptures taught and modeled generosity. The history of the church shines the brightest when she dedicates herself to the defense of the oppressed and walks in her true calling and purpose. The Son of God incarnated all of the eternal, immutable, divine Trinity’s desire and intentions when He came among the poorest, fed the hungry multitudes, and healed every type of sickness and suffering.
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.
The truth is, we sometimes mistreat others. We separate ourselves from a brother or sister; we wound and hurt someone; we can easily misrepresent others. And we think it is “just between God and me.” So we confess it to the Lord and repent, then go our way, thinking all is well. Yet, we never give thought to how in the process, we’ve not only wounded a brother, we have wounded the Lord. Indeed, we did it to the whole Body of Christ, because if one hurts, all hurt.
Here is the revelation we are given: “I belong to the Body of Christ! And so does my brother, my sister. We are all one because we are all connected to the head.”
I present to you the same message Paul delivered to his fellow workers.
“Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves. Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:3–4).
“I beseech [you] . . . be of the same mind in the Lord” (Philippians 4:2).
Here is how Paul sums it all up. Indeed, here is mercy lived out in full:
“Because ye [are] dear unto us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
I ask you: Are all your brothers and sisters in Christ dear to you? As the life of our head flows to us, the members of His Body, we begin to love not only each other but even our enemies.
“Lord, let us be merciful, as You have been merciful to us!”
Right now, the world needs a living example of the mercy of Christ. Tensions have never been greater. In Europe and the United States, racial tension is sweeping through society, even creeping into churches.
Do not be deluded into thinking that a government can take care of these problems. The costly mercy that’s needed throughout the world can come only from those who have tasted and received such mercy for themselves. And that is the calling of the Church of Jesus Christ. We are to offer a mercy that lays down self for the sake of a brother or sister — and, as Jesus demonstrated, even for an enemy.
STOP AND CONFRONT
I exhort you to stop here and confront this truth. Go no further in your life or ministry — stop all your plans and good works — until you confront the implications of being a member of Christ’s Body. The Lord declares of His Church, “This is My pearl of great price, the Bride for My Son.” Think of what a miracle this is! Think, too, of the great calling of this Body to show mercy to an unmerciful world.
Simply put, mercy looks beyond faults and failures, beyond self-justification. If we truly believed we wound Christ personally whenever we wound a brother or sister — that what we say and do against a single member of His Body is, as Jesus said, “against me” (see Luke 11:23) — we would work night and day to make everything right. And we would not stop until we were clear of it all.
Imagine Saul’s anguish when Christ confronted him near Damascus with a painful reality. The Lord told Saul, “I am Jesus. And you are persecuting Me” (see Acts 9:4-5). Saul had thought he was simply dealing with individuals, doing God’s work to root out Jewish heretics.
Saul was jolted with the truth: “Jesus has a spiritual body. He is the head and His body — His children here on earth — are connected to the head. It is one body, made up of believers who are flesh of His flesh. And anyone who comes against one of them is actually coming against Him.”
CAUSING JESUS PAIN
Every “Jesus person” whom Saul had persecuted and imprisoned — everything he had said and done against them — was felt personally by Christ Himself. Saul’s confrontation with this truth changed his life.
As Paul the apostle, he grew to understand how deeply God loved His Church. He came to see that, in the Lord’s eyes, the Church was a costly pearl. It was also a spotless Bride for His Son — one corporate, invisible body made up of blood-purchased children from every tribe and nation on earth.
A SERIOUS TRUTH
I am convinced we do not take this truth as seriously as we should. A full understanding would mean the end of all grudges in the Church . . . the end of all bitterness . . . the end of all prejudice, fleshly competition, pride, gossip and division.
“There should be no schism [division or discord] in the body; but the members should have the same care one for another” (1 Corinthians 12:25).
The mercy of God has amazing power to deliver. His mercy has broken the chains of all addictions, translating multitudes from the kingdom of Satan into the Kingdom of Christ.
There was a time, with millions throughout the world narcotized, that Satan thought he had prevailed. Indeed, word spread throughout the world that once the devil binds you, you are hopelessly bound forever.
But in every generation, God sends His Holy Spirit into the highways and byways.
- His mercy goes directly to the heart of Satan’s territory: into city slums, into crack houses, and onto rooftops where addicts lie in stupors.
- His mercy has shone upon the weakest, the most drug-crippled, and those cast aside by society as hopelessly lost.
NOT FOREVER HOPELESS
The first heroin addict to be saved and delivered through the Teen Challenge ministry was Sonny Arguinzoni. Sonny now serves as bishop of more than 600 churches worldwide made up of former addicts. Nicky Cruz, the famous former gangster and graduate of Teen Challenge, has preached the mercy gospel to millions around the world, with multitudes being set free and delivered.
NO LONGER ABANDONED
The whole world ought to arise and thank God for His saving deliverance, for restoring those once lost and abandoned by humanity.
At the very least, society should thank God for saving drunken dads and reuniting them with their wives and children.
“The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous [abounding] in mercy” (Psalm 103:8).
Often when God tells Christians that He has great plans for them, they respond, “Oh, I don’t know, Lord.” But when Satan comes to them and says, “I’m going to destroy you,” they think, “Yeah, that could be true.”
WHOM DO YOU BELIEVE?
We believe the lies of the enemy almost more than we believe the truths of God. But we must get to the place where we say, “No, God has a call on my life and a higher plan. I’m going to stand firm, steadfast, immovable—by the grace of God. By His power that works mightily in me, just as Paul says” (see Colossians 1:29).
You do not stand by might or power but by His Spirit—because His Spirit lives within you! You can be a Christian who possesses boldness and confidence, one who believes the truth about yourself and about others, but mostly about God and what He has planned for you.
THE EDGE OF A CLIFF
Today you may feel like you are being pushed right to the edge of a cliff, about to be thrown over. Your nerves are on edge and you feel like you are nearing rock bottom. And then there are other things: your marriage, your emotional life, pressures on your job, an addiction. You feel like crying, “God, is there any way out of this?”
Your bigger question is, “How do I get to the point of trust and belief where I need to be?”
The Word of God has the answer and here is a scripture for you to hold on to.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT).
Jesus chose to be a child of the valley. Before He came to earth He was living in greater glory than we could possibly imagine. The Son of the King of the universe. He sat at the right hand of God. He is God. And yet He chose to step down from His throne and enter the world of the valley. He chose to live among the hopeless and lost of creation. He humbled Himself, denied Himself, emptied Himself for our sake. And He went to the cross in shame to create a bridge between the valley and the mountaintop.
The valley is a cold and heartless place to live. It is defined by blindness, drought and hunger. You can feel the rejection, the hurt, the insecurity, the fear, the turmoil. You can smell the hopelessness and pain. You can sense the anguish and sorrow. And the valley has nothing to do with income or social status. It’s a state of the heart. It is anyplace apart from knowing and trusting God.
Jesus came to the valley to bring hope, love and compassion, to bring sight to the blind, to show the way out. He came to bring new life to those who were dead. He went to the valley because that’s where the lost people lived. And yet, so often, those He sets free never take the time to look back. They never make an effort to journey back into the valley to help others find their way out. They never travel into the valley of hopelessness to bring hope.
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV).
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.
I picture the zealous Pharisee Saul at the beginning of the special day when mercy shone on him. He had asked for an audience with the high priest:
“The young man who persecutes the Jesus crowd wants permission to take his crusade to Damascus. He vows to jail them all. He actually thinks he will be able to put out this ‘Jesus fire.’”
Imagine the scene as Saul and his band of men rode out of Jerusalem toward their next mission. They were cheered on their way by the high priest and all the scribes and Pharisees. But then, just outside the township of Damascus, the radiant gleam of mercy fell on Saul (see Acts 9).
THIS IS JESUS!
How did mercy present itself to this lost, misguided man? It did not try to confound him. It did not accuse him. It did not try to destroy him. Instead, the fully paid, free mercy of the Lord laid Saul facedown on the ground. And a voice spoke to him, saying, “Saul, Saul, this is Jesus. Why are you persecuting Me?”
Christ’s message to this zealot was clear: “It is Me you are touching, Saul. With every Christian you have jailed, you have done it to Me.”
REVELATION AND REDEMPTION
Saul was overwhelmed by this revelation. Temporarily stricken blind, he was led to the home of a praying, Spirit-filled man in Damascus named Ananias. In a small room there, Saul called on the name of Jesus. Ananias boldly explained to him the high cost of the mercy he had received and told him, “Now, Saul, you are going to suffer for His name’s sake.”
With a stricken conscience, Saul surely thought back to the stoning of Stephen, the many believers he had thrown into jail, and the multitudes he had abused. But this man received mercy that day!
The first cost of mercy to Jesus was His heavenly position. Mercy moved Him to come to earth to take on human flesh and, ultimately, the mercy He offered to the world cost Him His life. Yet Jesus’ example of mercy is a model to all who would follow Him. He tells us, in essence, “Let My life show you the cost of mercy — total rejection by this world.”
The apostle Paul paid the same high cost of living out God’s mercy that Jesus paid on earth and that He warned us about:
“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).
Paul testified to this truth:
“[We] labor, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we entreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring [scum] of all things unto this day” (1 Corinthians 4:12–13).
A DIFFICULT TRUTH
What are we to make of this rejection? Jesus answers us: “Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for behold, your reward is great in heaven” (Luke 6:23).
This is a difficult truth to swallow. How can we rejoice and be glad when we endure harsh persecution? Beloved, it is all part of the high cost of mercy. As it was with Paul, who was seen as filth, so it is for Christ’s Body, the Church. There is a price we all must pay when we preach Jesus and His mercy.
Even in your sinful bondage, your heart’s cry reached Jesus and His tender mercy found you. He opened your eyes, changed you, and filled you with His Holy Spirit. Then He made you a vessel of honor to proclaim His gospel.
Make no mistake: it is a costly mercy you have received. We preach that God’s mercy is free, that it is unmerited, and that the price for it was paid in full by Christ’s shed blood. And, indeed, all this is true. God is fully satisfied by the price Jesus paid to bring us His mercy, give us the inheritance of heaven, and assure us that we have eternal life.
Yet there is a price on the human side — our side — of God’s mercy. What is the cost to us? It is the high cost of becoming a true witness to the power of the mercy we have received. The fact is, offering the same mercy that has been given to us will cost us dearly here on earth. It is a cost we can expect to pay in our everyday life.
You see, Jesus commands us, “Be merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (see Luke 6:36). And, as Christ showed by example, to be merciful as the Father is merciful is very costly. The more Christ is exalted in our lives, the more we will experience the following from the world:
- Total rejection
- Unacceptance of our words
- Ridicule and rejection of God’s mercy
Jesus paid the price of mercy in His flesh and you and I can expect to pay a price, as well.
“Love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36, my italics).
Throughout the Bible, a powerful theme rings out: “The Lord thy God is a merciful God” (Deuteronomy 4:31). This theme of mercy (leniency, compassion, forgiveness) is at the very core of the Old Testament. We read it again and again in Deuteronomy, Chronicles, Nehemiah and Psalms: “The Lord your God is gracious and merciful.” Likewise, we see the same theme of mercy in each of the Gospels and throughout the New Testament.
A SACRIFICE OF GREAT WORTH
When God looked down at the outbreak of debauchery on the earth, He did not turn away from His creation. He did not give up on this sinful, godless, lust-consumed world — and the Scriptures tell us something of what His mercy to a sinful world cost Him. He sent His own Son down into our midst and then in His tender mercy, the Father offered up His Son as a sacrifice, laying on Christ the iniquities of us all.
Think of the high cost of mercy that Jesus paid. The weight of such a price simply cannot be calculated. No one can measure Christ’s pain at taking upon Himself the sins of the world.
Scripture says the angels look down on us and marvel at the gift we’ve been given. Think about it: It is one thing to offer physical healing to someone and it is quite another to offer abundant life for this world and salvation for all eternity. Jesus gives us all the resources of heaven to deliver this Good News in truth and power:
“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it” (John 14:13-14).
When we read this verse, we think of the amazing scale of Jesus’ miracles. But Jesus is speaking of kingdom activity — salvation, transformation, abundant life. When He says, “Whatever you ask in My name,” our request will be revealing. Do we ask for miracles because we think they will bring visible glory to God? Or do we ask for kingdom results no matter how small the scale?
According to Jesus, there is only one qualification to do the greater works He speaks of: “Whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works” (John 14:12, my emphasis). Every Christian believes, so that means we all are capable of doing the greater works Jesus has ordained for us.
A CLEAN HEART
But to do these works, we must have a clean heart. The very next thing Jesus says is, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (14:15). If our hearts are cleansed, our obedience will not be grudging but an act of love.
Do you have trouble keeping God’s Word? Jesus’ promise to you is:
“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (14:16-17).
Note the word “Helper” here. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives us the help we need to obey Him.
As we already know, the Christian church was born when the Holy Spirit was poured out. Amazingly, in the hours afterward, thousands of people converted to the faith, and the new believers fell into an inspired new rhythm of congregational life. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
In the beginning, Christian doctrine was transmitted orally since there wasn’t a written New Testament. The apostles spoke the gospel and the associated teachings they heard from Jesus. This was the Word of God that the early believers “devoted themselves to.”
That kind of dedication to the Word is always a vital sign that the Holy Spirit is moving in the life of a person or a church. Believers have a hunger to hear, read, study, and in particular, understand more about the Word of God.
That makes sense, of course, since the Holy Spirit was the one who inspired the Bible. He was the author who inspired the writers. The Bible is His book. Spirit-controlled Christians don’t usually have to force themselves to read the Bible; the Spirit gives them a holy appetite for it.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, so He will always direct us toward God’s truth. When a person has little interest in the Word, or when Scripture seems dull and tedious to a church body, that is a sign that something is seriously out of sync. When we don’t have respect for the Word and reverence for its authority, and when we don’t humble ourselves to hear what God has said, we’re on the wrong path.
I know it is possible today to gather large numbers of people together on a Sunday without a strong emphasis on the Word. In fact, many of the people sitting in the pew might be totally content without hearing careful Bible preaching and exposition. But when we wander away from the Word, thinking we can live without it day after day, week after week, we cease to grow spiritually and open ourselves to spiritual deception. The apostle Peter wrote, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation” (1 Peter 2:2, emphasis added). The Word of God contains the vital spiritual nutrients we need—every day—to grow in Christ.
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.