Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit."
In his book Influence, Dr. Robert Cialdini of Arizona State University relates the story of a shop owner who was preparing to go on vacation and left tasks for her staff to perform. She had a line of jewelry that hadn’t been selling well, and she wanted it cleared out. In her haste, however, she left a note that was unclear. When she returned, she was delighted to find that every piece of the jewelry was gone. “I guess marking those pieces half price was the right call,” she told her assistant. “Half price? I thought you wanted the price doubled!” the shocked girl replied. The pieces that hadn’t been selling went out the door immediately once the price was raised because it changed the way people thought about them.
Our thoughts determine our actions. What seems to us to be shocking and out of character behavior would be explained if we could see the thought processes that had been going on internally. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).
It is impossible to do rightly while thinking wrongly for an extended period of time. What is inside will come out. If you want your life to be marked by righteous actions, you must think righteous thoughts. That is why Paul wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8).
"They that are of a froward heart are abomination to the Lord: but such as are upright in their way are his delight.""
It should be the desire of every Christian to glorify God and please Him with our lives. In this, as in all things, Jesus sets a perfect example for us to follow. We see an expression of this after Jesus was baptized by John. “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). We see it again on the Mount of Transfiguration when Peter suggested they stay with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah on the mount. “While he [Peter] yet spake, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them: and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5).
We do not gain favor or merit with God based on our performance— His grace has already “made us accepted in the beloved” (Ephesians 1:6) because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Our standing with Him has been secured by the precious blood of Jesus. Still, it pleases God to see us walking in His ways, just as He was pleased with Jesus who said, “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). It should be the desire of every child of God to live in such a way that we bring delight to Him through our actions.
Because we have God’s Word, we can order our lives according to the wisdom of God. As we read it, study it, memorize it and meditate on it, our thoughts and actions are brought into line with God’s thinking. When the Bible is the governing force in our lives, we can be certain that we are pleasing Him.
"Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase."
Before James Garfield went into politics and became president, he taught at what is now Hiram College in Ohio. The ambidextrous Garfield would amuse his students by writing on a chalkboard with both hands—one in Greek and the other in Latin—at the same time! It is said that on one occasion a father came to Garfield and complained that the academic course at the school was too long and arduous and asked if it could be shortened. “Certainly,” Garfield replied. “But it all depends on what you want to make of your boy. When God wants to make an oak tree, He takes a hundred years. When He wants to make a squash He requires only two months.”
In a world filled with people looking for shortcuts to success and ways to avoid work, we are called by God to work—patiently, diligently, and consistently. The commandment to observe the Sabbath day includes this instruction: “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work” (Exodus 20:9). Regardless of what those around us do, we have the responsibility to labor and work hard. This is the only path to true and lasting success. There are no shortcuts in God’s economy.
Rather than looking for the easy way to get ahead, we should recognize the value and importance of work. The old Puritan preacher Cotton Mather described the balance between working for God and doing earthly work as being like the two oars on a boat. If you only pull on one oar you will not make progress toward your goal. Only when both oars are pulling together are you moving forward. While it may take time—perhaps even a great deal of time—work eventually produces rewards that are lasting.
"In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.""
According to a recent study published in Forbes magazine on behavior in the workplace, 90 percent of employees said that they wasted at least some time each day at work. On average those employees were wasting about forty-five minutes per day. By far, the biggest time waster reported was talking to co-workers, with 43 percent of people saying they wasted time in this way. Economists estimate the value of wasted time each year to be in the billions of dollars.
When we view work properly, we recognize the value and importance of it. God has designed work not only to build and strengthen our character, but also to produce positive results. In God’s plan, there is a connection between labor and reward. That is why in the Old Testament those who owned fields were commanded to leave some beyond so that the poor could come and find food. “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest” (Leviticus 19:9). The New Testament echoes this command in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: “For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat.”
Of course work has little appeal to our fallen nature. Instead, people look for ways to acquire wealth without effort. This explains the popularity of the lottery, which, as someone noted, is a tax on people who are bad at math. All of the dollars paid out in prize money are taken from those who buy tickets in hopes of getting rich quick. Many people who do win end up in much worse shape financially after the passage of time. God’s plan is that we would work willingly and trust Him to reward us.
The Lord is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the
When God appeared to Moses at the burning bush and commanded him to return to Egypt to free the Jewish people from their slavery, He was responding to their pleas for deliverance. The Bible says, “And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows” (Exodus 3:7). When we pray we are not simply engaging in a religious ritual—we are talking to a God who hears us.
This knowledge is a critical part of the process to receiving answers to our prayers. John wrote, “And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him” (1 John 5:15). Sometimes we receive what we ask for immediately, but other times prayer becomes a lengthy process. George Müller famously prayed for more than fifty years for the conversion of two of his friends. One was saved just before he died and the other not long after Müller passed away. In time, his prayers of many decades were answered.
The temptation when we do not quickly receive the answer is to begin to lose faith—to doubt that God is hearing us. This was the downfall of Abraham and Sarah. When God’s promise of a son was not fulfilled they took matters into their own hands. Their plan created conflict and was fraught with disaster. Rather than losing heart and getting discouraged, we should continue to trust God even when we must wait for an answer. He does still hear and answer prayers, and we can count on Him to give us what is best in His timing.
"The wise in heart shall be called prudent: and the sweetness of the lips increaseth learning.""
In the play A Man for All Seasons, about the life of Sir Thomas More of England, the following exchange occurs between More and a young man seeking advice for his future:
Sir Thomas More: Why not be a teacher? You’d be a fine teacher; perhaps a great one.
Richard Rich: If I was, who would know it?
Sir Thomas More: You; your pupils; your friends; God. Not a bad public, that.
Even those who are not professional teachers are involved in instruction. God’s plan for His church is not just that the pastor will teach but that members will instruct and encourage each other. Paul told Titus to encourage the older women in the church, “That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children” (Titus 2:4). He told Timothy, “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). All of us are teachers in at least one area of our lives.
If we want to be effective in our teaching, it is crucial that we carefully guard the words that come from our lips. When we speak with harshness or condescension, we put up barriers to learning. If we speak with kindness and encouragement, we are much more likely to get a positive response. One of the things about Jesus that amazed those who heard Him was the way in which He spoke. Luke records: “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?” (Luke 4:22). May that truly be said of our speech as well.
"Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it?"
In 2004, a painting by Anna Mary Robertson, better known as Grandma Moses, was brought to the Antiques Roadshow for appraisal. Born before the Civil War, Robertson did not take up painting until late in her life. Her primitive style eventually became extremely popular, and her work commanded a high price. The man who brought the painting to be evaluated had lived nearby and his mother was a friend of Grandma Moses. He said, “She was just a wonderful friend of the family. And she would let my mother buy these paintings, which she thought had relatively little value. I guess my mother did, too. She probably bought eight or ten paintings in all, and my guess would be for perhaps under ten dollars each.”
The painting that was bought for around $10 was appraised as being worth $60,000! In her early days of painting, Grandma Moses did not think of her works as being very valuable, so she parted with them for next to nothing. How often do we give up that which is priceless for a little temporary pleasure or advantage? How often do we abandon that which matters most for that which matters least?
The best way to determine what matters the most to someone is not to hear what they say but to see what they do. The things we pursue and give our lives to are the things that we truly value the most. Fools do not seek wisdom because they do not place any value on it. Wise people will seek wisdom even at great expenses because they understand how important it is to successful living. When we value what God values we are on the path to wisdom.
"A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
Jonathan Edwards was one of the greatly used men of God in the early days of America. He is probably best remembered for the powerful sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” That sermon broke through the proud self-reliance of many and helped spark the revival known as the Great Awakening in the churches of New England. Later, Edwards’ own church turned against him when he insisted that only those who had been saved should be eligible for church membership. Voted out of his church, Edwards became the president of what is now Princeton University. Just a month after taking office, he received a smallpox vaccine, but contracted the disease and died. On his death bed, just before lapsing into unconsciousness, he said, “Now, where is Jesus of Nazareth, my true and never-failing Friend?” Indeed, Jesus is our true and never-failing Friend as well.
Friendship is one of the greatest blessings God has given to us. A true friend is a source of encouragement, counsel, wisdom, correction, and strength. In our moments of greatest trial, if we have such a friend we can find hope despite the darkness around us. Of course that is not always the case. Think of Job who in his suffering was visited by three men who were supposed to be his friends. Rather than bringing hope and encouragement, they condemned and criticized Job. Finally Job had enough: “Then Job answered and said, I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all” (Job 16:1–2). Even if we are utterly forsaken and alone, there is still hope. David wrote, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Psalm 27:10). There is never a burden or problem you will face that God will not be there for you.
"Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the
words of knowledge.""
One of the most important influences on the direction of your life is the people to whom you choose to listen. If you listen to those who encourage, motivate, uplift, and instruct in righteousness, you are likely to do right. If you listen to those who discourage and criticize, you are likely to stray from following God. The fact that we become like those to whom we listen makes it essential for us to choose wisely who we allow to influence us.
In his poem “It Couldn’t Be Done,” Edgar A. Guest wrote:
There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.
Don’t listen to voices that are filled with discouragement and doubt. Instead, find those who encourage you to do right and well. Find those who uplift your spirit and keep you going when you want to quit. Find those whose speech is like that instructed in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” We do not have to allow our minds and spirits to fall under the influence of those who would lead us astray. By measuring the input we receive from others against the Bible, we can determine if it is worth hearing.
"Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out."
If you travel to Greensburg, Kansas, you can pay a visit to what is billed as the “World’s Largest Hand-Dug Well.” Construction on the well began in the 1880s. As the railroads made their way across Kansas, a reliable source of water for the steam engines was essential. The work was done by teams of men using hand tools—shovels, picks, half barrels, pulleys, and rope. As they made their way downward, they lined the well shaft with limestone rock. The finished well is more than one hundred feet deep and more than thirty feet in diameter. It took enormous effort to reach the water, but it produced lasting results.
The Bible likens wise counsel to water in a deep well. Good advice is not just lying around on the surface—it takes work to find. There are plenty of people who have no idea what they are talking about but will be more than happy to give you a “piece of their mind.” And sadly there will be plenty of people to give you advice that goes directly against the authority and commandments of Scripture. Anyone who wishes to be truly wise and reap the benefits of godly counsel is going to have to reject the simple approach and put forth effort—but the effort is worth it.
The Bible says, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly” (Psalm 1:1). If we reject the counsel of the world and seek the counsel of wise men, it will bring God’s blessings on our lives and keep us on the right path. Do not let the effort required to find good counsel keep you from this important task.
"To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice."
Some people believe that God is pleased with whatever we happen to bring before Him—that all worship is equally acceptable to God. But a quick review of Scripture clearly shows that this is not the case. Cain brought an offering, but it was not accepted because it was not given in obedience. Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire” before the Lord in the tabernacle and were struck dead as a result. King Uzziah went into the temple to offer the sacrifices of the priests, and God struck him with leprosy. Ananias and Sapphira brought an offering to Peter, but because they lied about it, they fell down dead in front of the congregation.
Our sacrifices do not buy us favor with God. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has forever settled the question of position with God for all who believe. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11). Our gifts to God are given in gratitude for His grace to us, not to improve our standing with Him.
Hebrews 13:15–16 says, “By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.” God does not need anything that we have. Everything already belongs to Him. When we live with praise in our hearts toward Him and love in our actions toward others, He is pleased. Rather than trying to buy God’s favor and forgiveness, we should give freely because we have already received them through His grace.
"Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease."
Paul “Red” Adair was one of the most famous firefighters in the world. Adair was not the kind of firefighter who rushed into burning homes or office buildings. Instead his highly specialized team travelled around the world to put out fires at oil wells and gas fields. Adair served in the Army during World War II as a bomb disposal expert, and he used his knowledge of high explosives to good effect in his dangerous line of work. One of his most famous firefighting efforts was in the Gassi Touil field in Algeria. The fire burned out of control for more than five months—the pillar of flame reaching some 450 feet in the air—before Adair was called in to put out the blaze.
The secret to Adair’s technique lay in the recognition that fire requires oxygen to burn. The blast from the high explosives would temporarily stop the fire by removing the oxygen until a cap could be put in place to stop the flow of oil or gas that was feeding the fire.
In the same way that oxygen is a component of fire, critical people are a component of strife and trouble. The harsh and unkind words of a continual critic create a combustible atmosphere that inevitably leads to conflict.
If you want to enjoy a calm and peaceful life then you must, as Romans 14:19 says, “follow after the things which make for peace.” One of those things is limiting your exposure to critical people. While it is not possible for us to avoid these types of people completely, we do need to take whatever steps we can to reduce their impact on our lives. Like a raging oil fire that is capped after an explosion to take away oxygen, peace follows when critical people are removed.
"Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee. The morsel which thou hast eaten shalt thou vomit up, and lose thy sweet words.""
The Medici were one of the most famous and powerful families of Italy during the Middle Ages. Their involvement in politics, religion, art, and science left a major impact on the entire world. They were known as a ruthless family, willing to do virtually anything to get their way—even in their dealings with each other. In 2007, scientists from the University of Florence unearthed the grave of Francesco de Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Their finding of highly elevated levels of arsenic in his bones and hair fragments gives credence to the rumor that he had been poisoned. It is very likely that the poisoner was his own brother, Cardinal Ferdanando de Medici, who wanted the title for himself and poisoned Francesco at a family meal.
Not every banquet that is set before you is safe to eat. The devil knows how powerful an attractive “meal” is in tempting us to sin. This approach worked in the very first temptation in the Garden of Eden: “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:6). Like a sports team running the same play again and again because the opponent hasn’t adjusted, Satan continues to make sin look attractive to lure men and women to sin and destruction.
"My son, fear thou the Lord and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change: For their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the ruin of them both?""
It is a natural part of life for things to change. (For instance, anyone who has needed medical care understands that “the good old days” weren’t a good time to have a serious illness.) The conveniences of modern technology, though sometimes used for ill, also offer wonderful opportunities to take the gospel to more people. Yet we live in a world that is obsessed with change, and that spirit has had a serious impact on churches as well. Change is sometimes needed, but those who are constantly seeking change for the sake of change are on a path to disaster.
In Luke’s account of Paul’s missionary journey to Athens he wrote, “(For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing)” (Acts 17:21). In the process of seeking change, many people abandon things that should not be lost. The notion that change is a good thing in and of itself is a lie that the devil has used to great effect through the centuries. While there are good changes that should be made, they should be made with great care.
In logic there is something known as the Fallacy of Chesterton’s Fence which says, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know why it was put up.” That is sound advice for every part of life. While it may seem attractive to go around replacing the old with the new, this is something that should only be done with much thought and the seeking of wise counsel. Do not follow those who are constantly promoting change simply because they are unsettled and discontent. They are likely to lead you to a destructive end.
"Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain."
In July of 2013, one of the oldest and most prestigious honorary intellectual societies in the nation, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was stunned by the resignation of its president and chief executive officer, Leslie Berlowitz. The Academy, founded during the Revolutionary War, has more than four thousand members dedicated to advancing knowledge and conducting research. Berlowitz was forced to resign after it was revealed that she falsely claimed to have received a doctorate from New York University. Ironically one of the books she had written was titled Restoring Trust in American Business.
The prevailing attitude in our society reflects the spirit of “tooting your own horn,” even falsely when it seems advantageous to do so. In contrast, the prevailing attitude commanded in Scripture is one of humility. Jesus observed how the Pharisees competed to get the best and most prominent seats when they gathered. But He instructed His followers to not seek a place of prominence for themselves: “But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 14:10–11).
There is a great temptation to want others to see and notice what we are doing. We want them to think well of us. While we should certainly live in an honest and upright manner which is worthy of praise, that is not the reason we do it. Instead, we should allow God to determine our level of fame and attention. Faithfulness to Him will always be rewarded, whether or not it is ever seen or noticed by others.
"As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport?""
Laughter is one of the kindest gifts God has given to humans. It lightens the heart and, as researchers continue to find, has positive health benefits.
As helpful as laughter may be, however, we need to be cautious about having fun at the expense of others. Some people delight in saying hurtful and critical things about their friends and then pass it off as “just teasing.” Comments about physical attributes or intelligence can quickly become painful. The fact the person saying them may be laughing doesn’t make them funny to the person about whom they are spoken. Such words can be discouraging and defeating to hear.
Many of us can still remember hurtful things that were said to us or about us on playgrounds and in classrooms decades ago. Those wounding words carry enormous power. Many are discouraged and defeated because they are subjected to a constant barrage of negativity and criticism.
When Job’s friend Eliphaz came to comfort him after Job lost all of his children and his possessions, he said this about Job: “Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees” (Job 4:3–4). Part of what made Job such an upright man was the impact his words had on others. Rather than making jokes and having fun at the expense of others, we should ensure that our words are lifting them up and encouraging them to go forward and do right. Paul wrote, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6).
"As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man."
In his short story The Great Stone Face, Nathaniel Hawthorne tells of a rock outcropping in the New England mountains that resembled a human face. The legend in the story is that someday a man will come whose face matches the stone and who will be the “greatest man of his time.” A young boy named Ernest growing up nearby hopes that he will be able to find that great man. Over the course of his life, a number of prominent men come to the mountain, including a wealthy merchant, a victorious general, a rising politician, and a gifted writer. But each of them is flawed, and none of them resemble the stone face.
As an old man, Ernest, who has become a preacher, is asked to give a sermon at the base of the mountain. In the evening as the sun sets and the people listen, they make a discovery. Hawthorne wrote, “The face of Ernest assumed a grandeur of expression, so imbued with benevolence, that the poet, by an irresistible impulse, threw his arms aloft and shouted, ‘Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!’ Then all the people looked, and saw that what the deep-sighted poet said was true. The prophecy was fulfilled.” Despite their acclaim, Ernest remained unconvinced. He went home hoping someday a great man would come.
This fictional story contains an important spiritual truth—we become like those who influence us. Just as we see a reflection of our face in a still pool of water, we see a reflection of our heart in those we have chosen as our friends. The basis of any friendship is shared beliefs and interests. Amos asked, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). But our friends do not just reveal our hearts. They also help shape and mold them.
"He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue."
In June of 1989, after weeks of protests for freedom and democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, the authorities ordered a crackdown. The army was sent into the crowd to brutally break up the protests. While no exact count has ever been revealed, it is believed that at least hundreds (if not thousands) of protestors were murdered—many of them shot in the back. Perhaps the most enduring image of the protest was a single individual who came to be known simply as “Tank Man.”
This one man holding two shopping bags saw a line of army tanks rolling toward the center of the city. He stepped into the street and stood in front of the lead tank. Even when they gunned their engines, he held his ground. When the tanks tried to maneuver around him, he moved to remain in front of them. Finally two men came out of the crowd and pulled him from the street. Though his fate is unknown, his courage has never been forgotten.
All of us face moments when we must choose to take a stand for right even if it means saying or doing something unpopular. Even if no one else stands with us, standing for right is always honored by God. Often we find that if we do take a stand, others will be inspired by our example and join with us. The influence that we have in those moments should not be missed. When Nebuchadnezzar commanded everyone to bow down before his golden idol, the three Hebrew children refused. Their courage was strengthened by being able to stand together. As a result, they presented a unified front to the heathen king. They were thrown into a burning furnace, but they emerged unharmed after walking with the Son of God through the fire.
"When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn."
A few years ago, the global consulting firm Ernst & Young did a survey of corporations in a number of different countries. Among the startling reports was that more than half reported suffering losses due to “significant fraud.” Even more startling was the revelation that of those companies, an overwhelming majority of the losses were at the hands of managers—most often among those newly promoted to positions of leadership. A companion study showed that a large majority of workers believe they are more honest than their bosses.
All of us are responsible to God as leaders in at least some part of our lives. As such we have a serious responsibility to those who are following us. Whether that is one young child or hundreds of employees, the principle remains the same: we must set a righteous and godly example, or there will be serious consequences. Of course, a failure on the part of a leader does not justify wrongdoing on the part of a follower, but because of human nature, people frequently use the misconduct of those over them to excuse their own bad behavior.
Think of the life of Joseph. He was hated by his brothers because of the favoritism shown to him by Jacob. When the opportunity arose, they sold Joseph into slavery and took his coat of many colors home covered with blood so their father would think Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Where did they learn to deceive their father? Years earlier, Jacob had conspired with his mother to deceive Isaac and claim the blessing from his brother Esau. The implications and influence of our example can stretch for generations, so it is vital we make sure it is a good one.
"The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces."
In May of 2001, Erik Weihenmayer accomplished something that only about 150 people per year do—reaching the top of Mount Everest. The thing that made Erik’s achievement unusual is that he is the first blind person to succeed in scaling the tallest mountain in the world. Erik was born with a disease called retinoschisis, and by the time he was thirteen he was completely blind. Rather than focus on what he could not do, he made the choice to focus on what he could do and went much further than almost anyone expected. Erik Weihenmayer’s autobiography is titled Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther Than the Eye Can See.
Many times we face a choice—will we allow obstacles to stop us, or will we keep pressing on regardless of opposition and trouble? It would be nice if following God meant that things would always work out well and people would always like us. The reality is that many times doing what is right requires overcoming obstacles. We should not expect constant smooth sailing, nor should we allow troubles that arise to convince us to quit.
Consider the story of Jesus calming the storm for the disciples. “Now it came to pass on a certain day, that he went into a ship with his disciples: and he said unto them, Let us go over unto the other side of the lake. And they launched forth” (Luke 8:22). The disciples were acting in complete obedience to the command of Christ. They were in His physical presence—in close relationship to Him. Yet a great and terrifying storm arose, and they went to Jesus and begged for help. Jesus rebuked the storm, and they made their way safely to the other side. Do not let circumstances stop you from doing right.
"She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens. She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard."
Immediately following the fall of France to the invading German army in 1940, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt began discussing how to drive Hitler’s forces back and liberate Europe. Planning this invasion began in earnest in 1942—a full two years before the Normandy invasion that came to be called Operation Overlord. The massive invasion that began the toppling of Hitler from power required so much manpower and machinery that it could not be quickly put together. Instead, long and careful planning was required to increase the likelihood of success.
While there are occasions when an opportunity suddenly arises, most significant accomplishments require diligent planning and preparation. For instance, over the years, our church family has built a number of buildings for the work of our ministry. We do not call for the bulldozers and steelworkers to show up first—instead we talk to architects and engineers. The construction of the building is what is visible, but that is the result of careful work that must begin long before the building starts to rise out of the ground.
The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 planned meals for her family and their workers before the day started. That is careful short-term planning. Beyond that, the Bible tells us that she bought a field and planted a vineyard. This is careful long-term planning. It takes years before a vineyard becomes productive. But she was looking to the future, considering what she would need in the coming years, and making preparations for it.
Faith in God does not free us from the necessity of making wise plans. Instead of hoping things will work out somehow, we should do all we can to prepare for success. Then we must trust in the Lord for the outcomes.
"If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: Let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: Cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse:"
Jehoshaphat was in many respects a good and godly king over Judah. But despite how much God blessed him, Jehoshaphat stopped following God with his whole heart. One of the biggest negative influences on his life was his friendship with the wicked king Ahab. “And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramothgilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war” (2 Chronicles 18:3).
In the following battle, Ahab was killed (just as Elijah had prophesied after the murder of Naboth), and Jehoshphat was nearly slain as well. But the consequences of Jehoshaphat’s foolish alliance did not end in his lifetime. Following his death, his oldest son Jehoram took the throne.“And he walked in the way of the kings of Israel, like as did the house of Ahab: for he had the daughter of Ahab to wife: and he wrought that which was evil in the eyes of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 21:6).
While it is important for us to be kind and loving toward those who do not love and follow God, we should never make them our closest friends and companions. Jehu rebuked Jehoshaphat saying, “Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the Lord?” (2 Chronicles 19:2). Limit your close alliances to those who love and serve God.
"For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead. None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life.""
Located on the border between the United States and Canada, the three waterfalls of the Niagara River known as the Niagara Falls have the largest water flow rate of any falls in the world. Above the falls, Goat Island divides the river to flow over the Canadian Falls and the American Falls. The swift current of the river around the island forms amazing whitewater rapids that are often referred to as the “point of no return.” Any boater who ventures past that point will be unable to escape being swept over the falls.
In every temptation we face, there comes a point of no return—a point where if we go any further, we will go over the edge into sin. At that point, our actions (or lack thereof) determine the outcome. Think of Joseph leaving his coat behind and fleeing from the house where Potiphar’s wife was urging him to sin. In contrast, think of David lingering on the rooftop of the palace to look at Bathsheba. If David had done as Joseph did, the awful sin and suffering that followed would have been avoided. But by remaining in the place of temptation, David passed the point of no return.
Paul instructed Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). The longer we linger near temptation, the more likely we are to sin. Someone said that the reason people struggle with temptation is that they want to discourage it instead of defeat it. Recognizing the horrible consequences of sin, we should treat every temptation as a deadly danger to be avoided.
"Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.""
Edmund Burke, the great English politician and statesman of the eighteenth century, said, “No one ever made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” We sometimes face the temptation to wait until we can do more before doing anything. Yet throughout Scripture and the history of the church, we see God doing great things with small gifts that came from willing hearts. The widow’s mite, the little boy’s lunch of loaves and fishes, the staff in the hand of Moses, the sling that David carried—none of these were mighty, yet they were used by God to accomplish great things.
Before He was crucified, Jesus was eating dinner when a woman came and anointed Him with spikenard. She was immediately criticized by those sitting around for wasting such a valuable commodity. The criticism was led by Judas who wanted the money to go into the treasury so he could embezzle it, but Jesus quickly corrected the critics. He pointed out that her gift was not a waste because it was an offering made from a loving heart. Jesus said, “She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying” (Mark 14:8).
We may not be able to do much, and there may never be buildings named in our honor because of our great donations. But God is much more concerned about the heart that motivates the gift than He is the size of the gift. He does not need our resources—it all belongs to Him already. What He desires is for us to do what we can.
"Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee."
Marla Runyan gave her all to qualify for the Olympic Games in 1996, but her best time finished short of the mark to make the United States team. Undeterred by that failure, she returned in 2000 and made the team for the Sydney Olympics. Her eighth place finish in the 1,500 meter race was the best finish ever for a United States woman runner. The thing that makes Runyan’s accomplishments even more remarkable is that she is legally blind. She is the first legally blind athlete to ever qualify for and compete in the Olympic Games. After her Olympic career was over she switched to running marathons and in 2002 posted the second fastest debut marathon time ever by an American woman.
Runyan can only see shapes and blurs, but she says that her lack of vision is actually an asset—she just focuses on the finish line in front of her rather than looking around to see what the other runners are doing. Not having visual distractions helps her compete and win her races. The same thing can be true in our lives. There will always be things that try to pull us away from what we should be focused on doing. Many times these will be good things, but we must be willing to set them aside and stay focused on what is most important.
The writer of Hebrews said, “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1–2). No matter what is going on around us, Jesus never changes. As long as we focus on Him, we will stay on course.
"His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins."
Before Samson was even born, God had a special purpose for his life. The angel who told his mother that she would have a son said, “For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (Judges 13:5). God gave Samson a vast measure of strength which allowed him to win great victories over Israel’s enemies. Despite the blessings he received from God, Samson took his responsibility to obey God’s law lightly. He neglected to obey the God who gave him strength.
Samson frequently indulged immoral appetites, and he disregarded all but one aspect of his Nazarite vow—that of not cutting his hair. Eventually, however, through the influence of Delilah, Samson disclosed the secret to his strength (his obedience to his vow of not cutting his hair). His enemies cut off his hair while he slept, and when he awoke, his strength was gone, and he was captured. “But the Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house” (Judges 16:21). Playing with sin became the downfall of Samson.
Sin promises pleasure and enjoyment, but it only delivers bondage. The illusion that we are in control is part of the allure of sin, but it is a lie. Like fetters wrapped around our souls again and again, the tentacles of sin take control and rob us of freedom. Like Samson, we usually do not recognize this is happening until it is too late. Knowing the deadly power of sin we must reject the false promises of temptation. This is the only way to maintain spiritual freedom.
"My son, if thou be surety for thy friend, if thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger, Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.""
The Bible is filled with spiritual truths as well as advice for successful living in the “here and now.” One of these is the warning against the co-signing of loans, what the Bible calls “surety.” Many parents and grandparents have learned this lesson the hard way and are stuck with student loans that their children cannot or will not repay. In at least one high profile case, the loan company sued the parents of a student who had died before finishing his degree to try to get their money back.
Borrowing money is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is done much too freely in our society. It poses dangers that must be recognized, and if they are not, trouble is likely to follow. In many respects, borrowing resembles an old saying about government (sometimes attributed to George Washington): “Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. Never for a moment should it be left to irresponsible action.”
If you choose to borrow or guarantee someone else’s loan, you are placing yourself in a potentially dangerous position. The principles taught in Scripture teach that a far better approach is to save and to give rather than to co-sign. Many people stay in bondage for years because they have failed to heed this warning.
"For the goodman is not at home, he is gone a long journey: He hath taken a bag of money with him, and will come home at the day appointed."
Many times people—saved and unsaved alike—think that they will have plenty of time to repent and make things right with God. We think that we can sin up to a certain point, and then we will have time to settle our accounts with God. But the truth is that we do not know how long God’s mercy will stay His hand of judgment. The fact that we are not immediately struck down the moment we sin is not a statement of God’s indifference to our actions; it is a demonstration of His patience.
Consider, for instance, when David sinned with Bathsheba and then had her husband Uriah killed to cover up what he had done. He knew that it was wrong, but the plan he had devised to hide his sin appeared to be working so he stuck with it. It was not until he was confronted by Nathan that David repented.
We cannot count on knowing God’s clock and getting in under the wire with a last minute repentance. The author of Hebrews wrote, “While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation” (Hebrews 3:15). The longer we put off making things right with God, the harder it becomes. Our hearts settle into a comfort zone with our sin, and our conscience becomes seared. In such a state, it usually requires severe chastisement from God for a true change to occur. It is far better to repent today than wait for tomorrow.
"When he prepared the heavens, I was there: when he set a compass upon the face of the depth: When he established the clouds above: when he strengthened the fountains of the deep: When he gave to the sea his decree, that the waters should not pass his commandment: when he appointed the foundations of the earth:"
One of the purposes of creation is to show the power and majesty of God. In Psalm 19:1, David wrote, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”
The Old Testament saint Job learned the value of seeing God’s power displayed in creation. When God permitted Satan to take away everything he possessed, Job exhibited tremendous patience. But he also expressed a desire to understand—to have God explain why this was happening to him. When God did appear and speak, He did not provide the explanation Job was seeking. Instead He spoke at length (Job 38–41) about His power as demonstrated in the creation of the world. When God finished speaking, Job still did not have a reason for what he had gone through, but he did have a new appreciation for God. He said, “I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee” (Job 42:2).
When we are enduring difficult times, we too can look to creation to see the wisdom and majesty of God. We may not be able to understand the reasons for our present suffering (indeed, our finite minds may be unable to comprehend the purposes of God in allowing the suffering), but we can be renewed as we focus on the greatness of our God. Knowing the truth of creation and seeing the revelation of the power of God all around us, our faith will be strengthened and we will be encouraged to trust all of His precious promises.
"Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant."
Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, a new set of rules governing the air space over Washington, D.C. was put into place by the Federal Aviation Administration. In the first eighteen months after the new restricted zone was established, more than one thousand unauthorized flights flew into the off-limits area. Though none of these were attempted attacks, they all required a response from defense and security personnel. On several occasions, the White House and other government buildings were even evacuated. To curb the problem, the FAA established a special training course that all pilots who would be flying in the Washington, D.C. area were required to complete. The course would equip pilots to avoid straying into air space they are not allowed to enter.
Through His Word, God gives us the tools and guidance we need to avoid the things that are off limits. God knows that this training is necessary because the devil works hard to make sin as alluring as possible. He paints a beautiful picture of pleasure and enjoyment that will come when we yield to temptation and cross the boundaries God has established. The first temptation in the Garden of Eden succeeded because Adam was willing to join his wife in eating the forbidden fruit. It looked good, and I’m sure it tasted good, and Satan (falsely) promised that eating it would make them like God. So they ate. And death entered the world along with sin.
First John 2:16 describes the aspects of temptation this way: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.” It is our job to learn to recognize what is forbidden and stay far away from it.
"Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction.""
General Douglas MacArthur grew up in a distinguished military family. His father won the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Civil War at the Battle of Missionary Ridge. Douglas went to West Point where he had the highest grade point average of any student in the previous twenty-five years. He would go on to be one of America’s most courageous and creative military leaders. What most people don’t realize is that MacArthur never stopped his military education. Despite his high academic standing at West Point, he did not consider his learning complete. He devoured military textbooks and visited battlefields in person to see how the terrain influenced the conflicts he had studied. He learned everything he could to prepare himself to be a better leader.
Wisdom encourages us to continue to learn—to “lay up knowledge”—just as a settler in pioneer days would spend the year cutting a large quantity of firewood and storing food in preparation for the winter months. The reality is that life is going to present us challenges and obstacles, and the more we can learn, the better prepared we will be to meet them. Education and learning are not just for children in school settings but for all of us throughout all of our lives.
Late in his life, not long before his execution, Paul wrote to Timothy from prison in Rome: “The cloke that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). Why did the aged apostle want Timothy to bring him books? Because he recognized the need for continued learning and study, particularly of the Word of God. We should never fall into the trap of thinking that we have learned all we need to know—there is always more to learn.
"By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked."
America has been blessed throughout our history to have men of great courage and faith stand in the gap and fight for our freedom. Veteran’s Day is set aside to honor those who have served our country in this way. We have truly received a great gift through their sacrifice, and it is only right that we pause to remember and give thanks for the price they have paid for the freedom we too often take for granted.
One notable fighter in the Revolutionary War was Nathanael Greene. Known as the “Fighting Quaker,” he laid aside the pacifism of his upbringing because of the importance of the cause of freedom. Greene rose through the ranks from private to general and became one of George Washington’s most trusted officers. Largely self-taught, he studied scores of books on military history to equip himself for the tasks he was assigned.
In a letter to his wife, Nathanael Greene wrote: “It had been happy for me if I could have lived a private life in peace and plenty, enjoying all the happiness that results from a well-tempered society founded on mutual esteem. But the injury done my country, and the chains of slavery forging for all posterity, calls me forth to defend our common rights, and repel the bold invaders of the sons of freedom.”
There is a long tradition of Christians placing their lives “between their loved homes and the war’s desolation” as Francis Scott Key put it in “The Star Spangled Banner.” We must not forget the price of freedom. If you have a loved one or friend who served in the military, take time to thank them today. We have been blessed by their sacrifice, and we should express our gratitude to them.
"Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad."
Edward Steichen was one of the first professional photographers to become well known to the general public. His gifted eye made him the highest paid photographer in the world for many years. He directed award-winning documentaries, and his work graced a number of museums around the world. But his remarkable photographic career almost didn’t happen. As a teenager he bought a used camera and took his first fifty pictures. Only one was any good, and he almost gave up. His mother, however, insisted that one—a photo of his sister playing the piano—was so good he should continue.
There are many times when people are discouraged simply because of the nature of living in a fallen world. There are pains, disappointments, and defeats that each of us will face. The temptation in those trying times is to despair and give up. In those moments, a simple word of encouragement can be powerful. Solomon wrote, “Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9–10).
It is a blessing to have friends to offer that kind of help and encouragement when things are hard. But it also falls to us to be such a friend—to be ready to provide hope and comfort when others face difficulty. Sometimes we get wrapped up in looking for someone to come and encourage us when God wants us to be offering encouragement to others. There is never a bad time to provide genuine and hopeful words to a friend. Indeed by doing so you may help make the difference between success and failure.
"A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just."
From time to time I stop and think about the legacy and inheritance that Terrie and I will leave to our children and grandchildren. There are many things that can be inherited, but the most important of all that we can leave behind is a heritage of faith in God and faithfulness to Him. God said this about Abraham: “For 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; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Genesis 18:19).
A person who leaves millions of dollars, fine artwork and paintings, vacation houses, and other material possessions alone has failed their heirs. There is certainly no sin in leaving wealth to future generations, but that pales in importance next to assuring that the faith and confidence we have in God is passed on to future generations. This is not something that can be done intermittently—it requires a lifelong example.
The Bible records something interesting about the life of Enoch. “And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah: And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters” (Genesis 5:21–22). It appears to have been the birth of his son that sparked Enoch’s focus on his relationship with God. That relationship became so close that it was the defining testimony of Enoch’s life. The writer of Hebrews said, “Before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God” (Hebrews 11:5). If that can be said by those who know us best, we have left the greatest inheritance of all.
"In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death."
In the closing days of World War II, the USS Indianapolis was tasked with a top secret mission—to deliver the atomic bomb that would be dropped on Japan to help end the war. On the return voyage home, the ship was attacked and sunk by a Japanese submarine. Because the mission was so secretive, the ship was not immediately missed. The men who survived the explosions and sinking of the ship floated in the water for five days. The group was repeatedly attacked by sharks. Many of them were seriously injured, and few had any food or water. By the time the survivors were spotted in the ocean and rescued, only 317 of the 1,196 sailors on board were still alive.
One of the survivors was Edgar Harrell. His son wrote a book about his father’s experiences called Out of the Depths. In it Edgar Harrell recalled: “Clearly there were no atheists in the water that day. Gone was [the] attitude of pride that deceives men into thinking that there is no God, or if there is, they don’t need Him. When a man is confronted with death, it is the face of Almighty God he sees, not his own. We were all acutely aware of our Creator during those days and nights.”
When we recognize the reality that God is sovereign and everything in our lives depends on Him, it reminds us that He is not only to be loved but also to be feared. Though our culture may take a casual view of God, we must not. Instead we must recognize His power, share His hatred of sin, and live in the confidence and safety He offers.
"A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.""
The fact that Nehemiah occupied the position of cupbearer to the king of Persia was unusual. The cupbearer was someone in whom the king had complete confidence. To protect the king from poison, the cupbearer would taste the prepared food and drink before it was served to the king. For Nehemiah, a member of a conquered people, to have a position like this means that he must have demonstrated a great deal of character and responsibility. When Nehemiah got the news of the sad state of Jerusalem, it had an impact on him that was noticeable. “Now I had not been beforetime sad in his presence. Wherefore the king said unto me, Why is thy countenance sad, seeing thou art not sick? this is nothing else but sorrow of heart” (Nehemiah 2:1–2). The words Nehemiah heard brought sorrow to his heart.
The emotional wounds that people receive as they go through life do not show up on x-rays or CAT scans, but they are still real. These hurts of the heart cannot be shrugged off or ignored because they have an impact on both our spiritual and physical well-being. Sometimes these wounds are overlooked or downplayed, but they do not go away or heal without help. The well-known pastor George Truett of Dallas, Texas, had a radio broadcast for many years. Each day he would end the program by saying, “Be good to everybody, because everybody is having a hard time.”
The early church was blessed to have a man who provided great help and encouragement. His name was Joses, but he was such an encourager that the apostles called him Barnabas, which means “the son of consolation” (Acts 4:36). God wants us to offer consolation, help, and encouragement to those who are suffering from sadness and sorrow of heart.
"A froward man soweth strife: and a whisperer separateth chief friends."
The court of Queen Elizabeth I was a swirling hotbed of intrigue. Her counselors and advisors constantly tried to undercut each other and gain her favor. Elizabeth skillfully played them against each other, promoting one then another to keep anyone from becoming too powerful. One of the most skillful players of the court game was Robert Devereux, the Second Earl of Essex. At Essex’s direction, false accusations of treason or disloyalty were laid at the feet of some of the queen’s most trusted servants—and such accusations were hard to prove false. Essex eventually reached too far and tried to depose Queen Elizabeth. He gathered a group of conspirators and marched into London. The group was arrested, and Essex was executed for treason. By his continual undermining of others, he planted the seeds for his rejection.
When we spend our time gossiping and telling stories about others— whether those stories are true or false—we are doing a great disservice to them and to ourselves. Much damage has been done to the body of Christ by those who gossip. Paul warned Timothy about the danger such people pose to the church. “And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not” (1 Timothy 5:13).
For some people, “prayer requests” are a spiritual cover given to the spreading of gossip. If someone needs prayer, talk to God and see if there is anything you can do to encourage them. Telling others about the latest news is not productive. Instead it destroys relationships and creates conflict. Purpose to never be one who spreads rumors and damages relationships.
"He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.""
President Calvin Coolidge was famously known as a man of few words. His nickname was “Silent Cal.” His wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, told the story of a young woman who sat next to her husband at a dinner party. She told Coolidge she had a bet with a friend that she could get at least three words of conversation from him. Without looking at her he quietly retorted, “You lose.” Coolidge understood very well the value of using only carefully considered words—and those being few in number.
In a time when people reveal their most personal information in the most public ways without thought or hesitation, it is important for us to recapture this piece of wisdom. Truly wise believers do not feel the need to tell everything they know to everyone they meet—much less to total strangers. Instead they choose their words with care, recognizing the responsibility that comes with our speech. Jesus said, “But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:36–37).
The reason our words are important to God is because they carry much power and can cause great damage. James wrote, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (James 3:6). Instead of allowing our words to spew forth and bring destruction, we need to tame our tongues and control them in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then our words will bring hope, healing, and blessing to others.
"A man’s gift maketh room for him, and bringeth him before great men."
Bertoldo de Giovanni is hardly a household name, but without him we might never have known the name of Michelangelo. When the great sculptor was just a teenager, he became Bertoldo’s student. Michelangelo’s talent was already visible even at that young age, but he still needed to be taught to use his great gifts. It is said that one day Bertoldo entered the studio to find Michelangelo working on a sculpture far beneath his ability. The outraged teacher took a hammer and smashed the work to bits. Bertoldo said, “Michelangelo, talent is cheap; dedication is costly!” Michelangelo responded to the challenge and produced a lifetime of brilliant work.
God does not give us talents and abilities so that we can feel good about ourselves or receive praise from others. His purpose in gifting His children is so that we can use what He has given to us to build and strengthen the body of Christ. Paul told the church at Ephesus that God gave gifts to the church to be used: “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).
There is a danger when we do not use the talents God has given us. In addition to robbing His work of these talents, we place ourselves in danger of losing what we are neglecting. Jesus said, “For I say unto you, That unto every one which hath shall be given; and from him that hath not, even that he hath shall be taken away from him” (Luke 19:26). Identify the gifts that God has given to you, and put them to work for His Kingdom.
"Also, that the soul be without knowledge, it is not good; and he that hasteth with his feet sinneth."
A few years ago an economist did a study to determine the impact of continued education on a worker’s earning potential. Though the study focused on those in the engineering field, the basic principle applies in every field of work. The study concluded: “Without the added value from continually acquired knowledge, the lifetime earnings would be 67 percent less. This explains why it is necessary for individual information workers to start managing their own knowledge capital for maximum returns to themselves as well as to their employers.”
God intends for His children to be learners. He does not regard ignorance as a virtue. The more that we know—the more skills we develop—the better we are able to serve Him. While this is true in the intellectual realm, it is even more true in the spiritual realm. For instance, Acts 8 records how Philip was being greatly used by God to bring revival to Samaria. From there, the Holy Spirit led him into the desert where he met an Ethiopian eunuch. This man had been to Jerusalem and was returning home without the answer to his spiritual need. The Bible account records that he was reading from the words of the prophet Isaiah a Messianic prophecy about Jesus. Philip immediately recognized the text and knew how to apply it. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus” (Acts 8:35).
Let us be careful students of Scripture, increasing our knowledge of the Word so we can be effectively used by God to witness and help others. Peter wrote, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15).
"The glory of young men is their strength: and the beauty of old men is the gray head."
In December of 1874, in his paper The Sword and Trowel, Charles Spurgeon penned this challenge to young people: “You will not have another youth: soon it will not be in your power to offer to God your beauty and freshness. One occasionally sees in certain places announcements such as this, ‘Smart young men wanted for the Guards.’ Well, I am a recruiting sergeant. My colours are crimson, and I am eager to enlist both young men and women. I would be glad if I could do a bit of business and gather up recruits for Christ. Young men and women, step forward and fill the places of your fathers and mothers! We cannot have a better stock; none could be more welcome than your fathers’ sons and daughters.”
Service to God is a lifetime calling for Christians, and it should begin when we are young. It is said that after one meeting Moody reported “two and a half people” had been saved. When someone asked if he meant two adults and one child he said, “No. Two children and one adult. The children have a full life to serve God.” We should be teaching and training our children and grandchildren the vital urgency of doing what they can in the strength of youth for the cause of Christ.
Hannah, who had been barren for many years, prayed for a son and promised him to God’s service. When he was still very young, she took Samuel to Eli the priest where he began a life of fruitful service to God. The Bible says, “But Samuel ministered before the Lord, being a child, girded with a linen ephod” (1 Samuel 2:18). The church today needs a new generation of young people to rise up and dedicate their lives to serving God.
"He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honour."
When he finished his second term as president, Theodore Roosevelt took his son Kermit and set out on an expedition to Africa. An avid hunter, Roosevelt went with the aim of collecting specimens of African wild animals to be displayed at the Smithsonian Institution. The expedition was a major event, involving more than 250 porters and guides. Updates of the journey were sent to newspapers around the world so readers could follow the adventures of the former president. By the time the trip was over, Roosevelt and his son had shot more than five hundred big game animals, including seventeen lions, eleven elephants, and twenty rhinoceroses.
All of Roosevelt’s skills as a hunter and the knowledge and training of his guides would have been for naught if he had gone on his hunt in Kansas. There are no wild lions, elephants, or rhinos there. Likewise, for you and me to get the results that we want, we must chart and follow a course that leads to the destination we desire. Many people today are following paths that lead to ruin and destruction, while at the same time hoping for good results. That approach is doomed to failure. Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).
The success or failure of your life is not determined by the destination you want to reach, but rather by the destination toward which you set your course. You will find what you follow. The key to a life that is pleasing to God and successful in His sight is following those things which matter to Him.
"Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise, and apply thine heart unto my knowledge. For it is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee; they shall withal be fitted in thy lips.""
To truly hear the words of the wise, we must be willing to humble ourselves and listen. Solomon was gifted by God with great wisdom and was inspired to write much of Proverbs as an instruction to his son, but Rehoboam did not learn the importance of either wisdom or humility. Upon Solomon’s death, the people came to Rehoboam and asked him to lighten the heavy load of taxes and service which Solomon had placed on them to finance all of his grand construction projects.
Rehoboam had two choices, and his decision revealed a great deal about his heart. He first went to his father’s advisors (and it says something important that the wisest man in history had a group of counselors himself) and asked them what he should do. They correctly told him that granting the people’s request would cement his place in their hearts. But then he went to his own friends—those his own age who did not have the wisdom and experience to give wise counsel—and they gave him very different advice.
Rehoboam foolishly listened to his peers. “And the king answered the people roughly, and forsook the old men’s counsel that they gave him; And spake to them after the counsel of the young men, saying, My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions” (1 Kings 12:13–14). As a result of his folly, the nation of Israel was permanently divided into two warring kingdoms. Receiving counsel requires that we humble ourselves to listen and follow the wisdom of others, even if it is not our preferred course.
"My son, if thine heart be wise, my heart shall rejoice, even mine. Yea, my reins shall rejoice, when thy lips speak right things."
Professional baseball has been played in America since 1875, but on September 14, 1990, something happened that has never happened before or since. Late in his career, Ken Griffey, Sr., who had been a key member of the World Series champion Cincinnati Reds years before, was signed by the Seattle Mariners. His son Ken Griffey, Jr. was just starting his major league career. In the first inning of a game against the Angels, Griffey, Sr. hit a home run to left center field. His son followed him to the plate and hit another home run to almost exactly the same spot. It was the only time a father and son had hit back-to-back home runs in baseball history. Ken Griffey, Jr. said later that his father greeted him at the plate by saying, “That’s how you do it, son!”
There are few joys that can compare to seeing our children and grandchildren succeed. Whether it’s on a ball field, at a music recital, in an academic competition, or, most importantly, in a spiritual setting, seeing a child demonstrate character and competence is a true pleasure. But this victory is not something that just happens. Every right performance, every victory over temptation, every accomplishment is the result of a concerted effort to prepare for the moment of challenge.
Most of the kings over God’s people after the nation of Israel was divided did not rule righteously. One of the few exceptions was Jehoshaphat. The reason for his success is spelled out for us: “And he walked in all the ways of Asa his father; he turned not aside from it, doing that which was right in the eyes of the Lord” (1 Kings 22:43). Set an example for those who follow you by living in wisdom.
"Fret not thyself because of evil men, neither be thou envious at the wicked; For there shall be no reward to the evil man; the candle of the wicked shall be put out."
I read about a man who returned from a trip to Paris with a beautiful French doll for his young niece. When she opened the package the girl was so thrilled that she rushed inside to show her mother what she had received. “Did you thank your uncle for the present?” her Mother asked. “Yes, Mama,” the girl replied, “But I didn’t tell him so.”
Sometimes we think that we are thankful people, but we neglect to express our gratitude. Often this is the result of failure to appreciate what we have. This ingratitude happens because we count the blessings of those around us instead of counting our own blessings. We fail to realize that even great blessings and prosperity may only be temporary. The fact that those who do not know God may have temporary success in “climbing the ladder” or accumulating the most toys does not change the fact that this is short-term success that produces no lasting or eternal result.
Instead of looking at others we should be focused on the amazing grace and blessings that God has given to us. David wrote, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2). While we may not have everything we wish for, it is the promise of God that we will have everything we need. Those good things are not the result of our worth and merit, but of His grace. Since God is the source of all our blessings, He deserves the full measure of our praise.
"As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country."
Dr. R. A. Torrey told of a young Jewish woman who had been converted during his ministry in Chicago. When she went to work the next week, she began telling her co-workers what had happened. Many of them were upset and went to the manager to complain. The manager called her in and said, “We do not object to Christianity or to you being a Christian, but you must not talk about it in the office.”
Though she was a single woman responsible for supporting her aging mother, she was unwilling to abandon her faith. “I cannot work somewhere that I cannot take my Master with me,” she replied. She was told to return to her desk. She went back expecting to hear at any moment that she had been terminated, but nothing was said the rest of that day or the next. On Friday, she received a letter. Sure that it was her notice of dismissal, she opened it with trembling hands. It said, “We have a place of greater responsibility than the one you now occupy and with a larger salary than you are getting. We think you are just the person for this position.”
Whether it results in promotion or termination, we should always be faithful to share the gospel with others. In the workplace this must be done in such a way that it does not steal time and effort from the boss, but there should be no doubt that we are believers from our speech and our conduct. In this season of the year when we think about gratitude in a special way, it is only fitting that we share with others the best gift we have ever received. We show gratitude for our salvation when we share the gospel with others.
"The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.""
Anne of Austria, mother of the famed Sun King Louis XIV, ruled the kingdom as regent while her son was a young boy. Through repeated tangles in the intrigues between competing factions at the court, she attempted to guide her young son to be a good ruler for France. One of her favorite sayings quoted often to him and others was: “God does not pay at the end of every week; nevertheless He pays.”
We often think of God’s faithfulness to keep His promises, but that faithfulness also extends to His rewards and punishments. Intertwined with God’s faithfulness is God’s sovereignty. We can trust Him to take care of matters—we do not have to take things into our own hands. Instead, we can rely on His perfect justice to work in His timing.
Life would be extremely difficult if it was up to us to determine and administer justice. There are times when we think someone has done wrong only to later discover that we didn’t understand the reasons for what happened. Other times we think someone has failed only to later discover that they actually helped. God’s perfect wisdom and knowledge always allow Him to know what should be done, and His power sees that justice will be served in the end.
Faith is based on the knowledge that we can count on God to do what He says. This gives us the confidence to trust Him and His unfailing goodness. James tells us that in God’s character there “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Give thanks today for the consistency and faithfulness of our Heavenly Father.
"The full soul loatheth an honeycomb; but to the hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet."
A rich British homeowner, coming downstairs one morning overheard the cook in the kitchen say, “Oh, if I only had five pounds, I would be content.” She was a good worker, and he thought he would grant her wish. He walked into the kitchen and handed her a five pound note. She thanked him, and he left to go on about his day. But he paused outside the door to see if she would say anything else. Instead of expressing contentment, once she thought he was gone she said, “Why didn’t I say ten pounds?”
The idea that if we just had a little more we would be content and happy is one of the most successful lies Satan has ever used against God’s people. Contentment does not come from having more possessions, but from having more gratitude. There are some people with millions who are not content while there are others who don’t even have hundreds who are. An active and working faith chooses to trust that God knows and cares about our situation. Jesus said, “your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things” (Matthew 6:32).
Each time we complain about what we do not have, we are expressing our belief that we know what we need better than God. It is not wrong to ask Him for things—in fact He commands us to do so. The problem comes when we are not content with His answer. The tragedy of discontentment is that it renders us vulnerable to temptation and prevents us from realizing the abundance of blessings we have. If you are honest in evaluating what God has done for you, it won’t take long for you to begin rejoicing that He “daily loadeth us with benefits” (Psalm 68:19).
"The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days."
I read about a farmer who went to visit relatives in the city. At mealtime, as was his custom he bowed his head to give thanks for his food. The sophisticated city people found that amusing and told the old farmer that they no longer observed that custom. He replied, “Well not everyone out on the farm gives thanks before eating either.” “Who doesn’t?” they asked. “The hogs don’t,” he responded.
Greed and covetousness are great plagues in our day. We live in a society that is obsessed with getting more. You’ve probably seen the popular bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Sadly, this materialistic pursuit has seeped into the church and impacted the way God’s people view possessions. Rather than being grateful for all that God has given us, we too often fall into the trap of wishing for what others have.
Paul warns of this danger and the consequences that follow. “Covetousness, which is idolatry: For which things’ sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience” (Colossians 3:5–6). Anything we covet is taking the place of God in our hearts and minds. We are promoting it to a level of worship—something that God reserves only for Himself.
God does not just command us not to covet; He also gives us the cure to guard against it—thanksgiving. Moses warned the children of Israel that when they reached the Promised Land, the bounty God had prepared for them would tempt them to ingratitude. He cautioned, “Beware lest thou forget the Lord” (Deuteronomy 6:12). Take extra time today and throughout the year to give thanks and praise to God for His great goodness to you, and the allure of covetousness will fade.
"The king that faithfully judgeth the poor, his throne shall be established for ever."
“Good King Wenceslas” may be the most popular Christmas carol to which the fewest people actually know the words. It has an interesting historical background. It is based on stories from the life of Wenceslas I, Duke of Bohemia in the early 900s. Revered in his day as a just and noble ruler, one biographer wrote that he rose “every night from his noble bed, with bare feet and only one chamberlain, he went around to God’s churches and gave alms generously to widows, orphans, those in prison and afflicted by every difficulty, so much so that he was considered the father of all the wretched.”
Regardless of how much detail has been lost through the intervening centuries, there is no doubt that when Wenceslas cared for the needs of poor widows and orphans, he was following the pattern established by Jesus. James wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
The birthplace of Jesus—in a manager for animals rather than a palace—was no accident. Nor was it an accident that His birth was announced by the angels to humble shepherds rather than to the leaders of the nation. Jesus came not to impress the high and mighty, but to rescue the perishing. In a day when the poor were often looked down on and riches were seen as a sign of God’s favor, Jesus spent most of His time with simple, common people. Many of His miracles worked directly to benefit those in need. Jesus came to be a King for everyone—including those who were ignored by society.