Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going: A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any; A greyhound; an he goat also; and a king, against whom there is no rising up.
When the wise men came to Jerusalem looking for Jesus, they said something that would not normally be correct according to human reckoning. They asked, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him”(Matthew 2:2). When a baby boy is born into a royal family, he is called a prince, not a king. Yet from the very moment of his human birth, Jesus was not just a man, but also the King of kings who had come to be the Saviour of the world.
I love thinking about Jesus lying in the manger while Mary and Joseph watched over Him. But though that is a wonderful part of the Christmas story, it is only a tiny part of it. Jesus was always much more than just a baby. He came into this world on purpose, with every detail of His birth arranged and planned by God. Paul wrote, “But when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law. To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons” (Galatians 4:4–5).
Though Jesus was “tender and mild” as the carol “Silent Night” puts it, when He returns, it will be as the conqueror against whom no power will stand. In preparation for that day we should live today acknowledging and obeying His right to rule and reign over our lives. Let us remember that Jesus not only came to save, but that He will come again as King.
"Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded;"
In 1833, the Supreme Court was called upon to decide a most unusual case. A convicted felon named George Wilson had been sentenced to death for his part in a robbery of the United States mail. Using his power under the Constitution, President Andrew Jackson issued Wilson a pardon, but the condemned man refused to accept it. Unsure how to proceed, the lower courts appealed for help in applying the law to this circumstance.
Writing for the Supreme Court in the case of United States v. Wilson, Chief Justice John Marshall said, “A pardon is a deed to the validity of which delivery is essential, and delivery is not complete without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and if it be rejected, we have discovered no power in a court to force it on him. It may be supposed that no being condemned to death would reject a pardon, but the rule must be the same in capital cases and in misdemeanors.” As a result of rejecting the pardon offered by President Jackson, George Wilson was hanged for his crimes.
Though Jesus Christ came into the world to provide God’s gift of salvation and deliverance from the penalty of sin to all who believe, many people refuse to heed His offer. Isaiah foretold how the world would reject Christ: “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3). This month many will celebrate the Christmas season without even realizing that they are rejecting the central purpose of the Christmas story. We must be faithful to tell them that receiving Christ removes the penalty of sin forever.
"Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity;
yea, every good path.""
There is a European legend about a great kingdom whose roadway to the capital city was obstructed. In the middle of the road, not far from the gates of the city, was a large boulder. Travelers were forced to detour around it, and many complained that it was allowed to remain in the middle of the road. Finally, a man came along who was different. He got a long piece of wood to use as a lever, pried the boulder from its place, and rolled it out of the road. Under the boulder he found a small bag and a note from the king.
“Thank you for being a true servant of the kingdom. Many have passed this way and complained because of the state of the problem and spoken of what ought to be done. But you have taken the responsibility upon yourself to serve the kingdom instead. You are the type of citizen we need more of in this kingdom. Please accept this bag of gold that traveler after traveler walked by simply because they didn’t care enough about the kingdom to serve.”
When we walk in God’s path we live a life of service to others and to Him. Jesus described the purpose for His coming this way: “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). As a result He was able to say, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29). Jesus came and gave us an example “that ye should follow his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
"Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly."
D.L. Moody was the most famous evangelist in the world in the late 1800s. People came from around the world to attend his Bible Conferences in Northfield, Massachusetts. One year a large group of pastors from Europe were among the attendees. They were given rooms in the dormitory of the Bible school. As was the custom in Europe, the men put their shoes outside the door of their room, expecting them to be cleaned and polished by servants during the night.
Of course there were no servants in the American dorm, but as Moody was walking through the halls and praying for his guests, he saw the shoes and realized what had happened. He mentioned the problem to a few of his students, but none of them offered to help. Without another word, the great evangelist gathered up the shoes and took them back to his own room where he began to clean and polish each pair. Moody told no one what he had done, but a friend who interrupted him in the middle of shining the shoes and helped him finish the task later told the story of what had happened. Despite the honor, praise, and fame he received because of God’s blessing on his life and ministry, Moody remained a humble man.
Jesus Christ, the Son of God and King of Heaven, had the right to honor, praise, and worship. Yet to be our Saviour, He laid all of His privileges aside and became a lowly servant. We often hear people talk of living as Jesus lived, and while He truly is the model for us to follow, many who speak of following Him are unwilling to give up their rights and reflect His humility. We will never be like Jesus unless we are humble and lowly.
"Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.""
Since the fall in the Garden of Eden, man has needed a Saviour. None of us are able to save ourselves, because we have a sin nature and are incapable of fulfilling God’s righteous demands. For us to be saved, there had to be a sinless sacrifice—and that is why there is a Christmas. Jesus came to be the righteous Saviour that we needed. He lived a sinless life, completely fulfilling the law of God. His righteousness is placed on our account to pay for our sin. Paul wrote, “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
It was imperative that Jesus live a sinless life so He could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. If His life had not been perfect, He would have had to pay for His own sin. We see this illustrated at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He made the trip from Nazareth to the Jordan River where John the Baptist was baptizing people and asked John to baptize Him. John objected, pointing out that he should be baptized by Jesus instead. But because baptism was part of God’s plan, Jesus insisted. “And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness. Then he suffered him” (Matthew 3:15).
One of the greatest grounds for rejoicing as believers is the knowledge that God sees us as righteous because the righteousness of Jesus Christ has been applied to our record. As you celebrate this Christmas, give thanks to God for the provision of a righteous Saviour.
"I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly."
For almost seventy years, Franz Joseph I ruled the Austro-Hungarian Empire, one of the most powerful in the world. He was feared, honored, and greatly respected. But in the end, he was a man, and, like all other men, he died. A unique part of his funeral service illustrates the sinfulness of men and our need for a Saviour.
Like his ancestors of the Hapsburg dynasty, Franz Joseph I’s body was taken to the Church of the Capuchin in Vienna. When the funeral procession arrived at the doors they were closed. When they knocked on the door a voice from inside called out, “Who is there?” The leader of the funeral party answered, “His most serene majesty, the Emperor Franz Joseph I.” From inside the church the answer came, “I know him not. Who is there?” The next reply was, “The Emperor of Austria and Apostolic King of Hungary.” Again the words came, “I know him not. Who is there?” This time the answer was different. “A sinful man. Our brother Franz Joseph.” Then the door opened, and the funeral proceeded.
When the enemies of Jesus wanted to condemn Him, they referred to Him as “a friend of publicans and sinners” (Matthew 11:19). Instead of an insult, that was actually a wonderful description of the life and ministry of Jesus. He was perfect and sinless, yet He left the perfection of Heaven for a sinful world—He walked among sinners and loved them. Even more He went to the cross where God “made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Christmas is not just a wonderful time of celebration and gift giving, but a remembrance of the provision of salvation.
"When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:""
In 1914, Ernest Shackleton and a team of explorers set out from England to do something that no one before had accomplished—cross Antarctica from one side to the other across the South Pole. Disaster struck when the team’s ship, Endurance, became entrapped in ice and eventually sank after her hull was crushed. Marooned on nearby Elephant Island, there seemed little hope for their survival.
In a desperate effort to get help, Shackleton and five others set out in a twenty-foot lifeboat across some of the most dangerous and storm-filled waters in the world. It was an eight hundred-mile journey to South Georgia Island where help could be found. For fifteen days the men battled the treacherous seas and massive storms with waves of up to one hundred feet. Using only a compass and a sextant, Frank Worsley (who had captained the Endurance) navigated their course until they safely reached land and found help. Shackleton procured another ship and returned to rescue all of his men. He became a national hero in England for his courage and persistence.
All of us are making our way through a stormy world. Ever since the first sin in the Garden of Eden, mankind has struggled to make wise decisions about an uncertain future. The only way to ensure that we do not go astray is to have an objective source of truth that will guide us. Just as a compass can guide sailors through dark and uncharted waters, God’s Word can guide us through uncertain and difficult circumstances. We must simply trust it—over our feelings, over our own wisdom, and over contrary advice others may give us. Because the Bible is inspired by God, it is without error, and we can always trust it.
"My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye."
In 1896, the pastor of a small church in Topeka, Kansas, began preaching a series of sermons designed to encourage his congregation to truly live as Jesus would if He were in their situation. The next year, Charles Sheldon novelized the illustrations and stories he had used in his sermon series and published it as the book In His Steps. The novel became one of the best-selling books of all time with more than thirty million copies printed. Sheldon encouraged readers to make decisions based on the answer to the question, “What would Jesus do?” Many were challenged to consider their Christian walk in those pages.
People today still ask this question to help guide them in making important decisions. Sometimes people answer the question in ways that reveal they do not fully understand the principles that guided Jesus during His earthly life. With complete certainty and confidence we can say that Jesus would never do anything that violates the Word of God. He declared, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). Part of the reason that Jesus came to Earth was to live a life in complete obedience to the laws of God.
The most important way we demonstrate our love and commitment to Christ is not through our words but through our obedient actions. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Some who proclaim their love for Jesus undermine the validity of their declaration by refusing to submit to His commandments. We cannot ever truly say that we are following Christ unless we are walking as He walked—in submission to the will of the Father in Heaven.
"Blessed is the man that heareth me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at the posts of my doors. For whoso findeth me findeth life, and shall obtain favour of the Lord."
Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker both pastored large churches in London in the 19th century. Once someone asked Parker a question about the orphanages run by Spurgeon’s church, and he responded with a statement about the urgent needs of the children who were being taken in. His remarks were reported to Spurgeon as a critique of the orphanages and their lack of care for the children. Furious, Spurgeon publicly excoriated Parker. The story even made the newspapers of London.
The next Sunday, Parker’s church was even more crowded than usual as people came to see how he would respond to Spurgeon’s attack. He rose to the pulpit and said, “I understand Dr. Spurgeon is not in his pulpit today, and this is the Sunday they use to take an offering for the needs of the orphanage. I suggest we take a love offering here instead.” The ushers had to empty the collection plates three times before all the money could be received. That week Spurgeon came to see Parker. “You know, Parker, you have practiced grace on me. You have given me not what I deserved; you have given me what I needed.”
Every one of us needs grace. We need the favor of God rather than what we deserve. Through Jesus, “the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). By our adoption into God’s family through salvation, one of the benefits we receive is the same favor and approval that Jesus received from the Father. “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). When God looks at us, He sees the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ and finds us acceptable in His sight.
"For by me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased."
God’s purpose is not for us to barely make it through a miserable existence. Jesus said, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Jesus did not just come to provide us with salvation for eternity but with an overflowing life for the present. Of course that does not mean that we are all meant to be perfectly healthy and very rich—instead it means that we have the things that matter most.
There is a good illustration of this truth in the life of Adoniram Judson. The great missionary resolved to go to Burma to take the gospel to those who had never heard it. By any earthly measure the early part of his ministry was a miserable failure. Judson was brilliant and already fluent in several languages, but the Burmese language proved to be so difficult that it took him years to learn. For seven years Judson did not have a single convert. In the early years of his ministry, he endured persecution, physical suffering, and the death of his first wife and several of their young children.
Throughout that time, Judson’s love for God and his faith did not waver. One man with whom Judson studied the Burmese language went home and told his family that he had met an angel. Among the people of Burma, Judson came to be known as “Mr. Glory-Face.” Though he had little that the world would regard as success in those days, Judson still had an abundant life. Because his faith did not waver, he eventually saw a wonderful harvest in Burma. As we trust God regardless of our circumstances, we are prepared to live and enjoy the abundant life Jesus offers.
"The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness."
It was the first sermon Jesus preached in His hometown. On the Sabbath day He went to the synagogue as normal. This time, however, He stood to speak the words of the prophet Isaiah—the wonderful Messianic prophecy that foretold His coming. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).
He announced that the Scripture was being fulfilled before their eyes. The people heard this with amazement. For them, Jesus was just “Joseph’s son” (Luke 4:22)—the carpenter’s boy they had watched grow up. They did not understand how He could speak such wonderful words because they did not believe that He was the Son of God.
Despite Christ’s grace, they refused to receive His message. In fact, by the time the sermon was done they were trying to kill Jesus. Enraged by His message they “rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong” (Luke 4:29). In this story we see not just the offer of a gracious Saviour but also the rejection of His offer that sin and rebellion produce. The offer of salvation is freely given, but grace is not force—God does not compel people to respond. He accepts all those who come to Him, and we should be inviting others to meet Him too.
"Riches profit not in the day of wrath: but righteousness delivereth from death."
Arthur Hinkley was just eighteen years old that fall day in 1973. Working on a farm in Kennebec County, Maine, the teenager was startled to hear screams from a co-worker. Lloyd Bachelder who was also eighteen had been using a tractor to move an old car out of the way when it tipped over, trapping the frightened teenager beneath it. Hinkley was six feet tall and weighed two hundred pounds, but the tractor weighed a ton and a half, and the situation seemed hopeless. Fueled with adrenaline, Hinkley somehow managed to lift the tractor enough with his bare hands for his friend to crawl out. Bachelder had a hip fracture and internal injuries, but his life was saved.
Every person born into the human race since the fall has been under a death sentence. No matter how good or moral a person may be, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). It is these two truths that are at the very heart of the Christmas story. We needed deliverance from death, but our righteousness could never be equal to the task.
Jesus being perfect and sinless had nothing for which to atone, so His perfect righteousness was available to be our deliverance. In the Old Testament on the Day of Atonement, the priest would select two goats. One would be sacrificed on the altar. The other would be taken to the edge of the camp. There the priest would lay his hands on the “scapegoat” to symbolically transfer the sins of the people to it and then drive it into the wilderness. Jesus did something far greater—He did not just cover our sins but He removed them and replaced them with His righteousness so that we could be delivered from death.
"In the way of righteousness is life; and in the pathway thereof there is no death."
The brilliant poet William Cullen Bryant was just seventeen years old when he wrote what many consider to be one of the greatest poems in all of American literature—Thanatopsis. Many people doubted his authorship because of his youth. Though this poem, a meditation on death and the grave, is beautiful and well-written, it is filled with a sense of melancholy and futility. Bryant wrote: “Earth, that nourished thee, shall claim Thy growth, to be resolved to earth again. And lost each human trace, surrendering up Thine individual being, shalt thou go To mix forever with the elements; To be a brother to the insensible rock.”
There is so much more than that to life, death, and what comes after. There is an eternity that is to come and each person will spend it in Heaven or in Hell. Apart from salvation, man has no hope for eternity. Each of us is born under the power of sin and subject to the penalty of death. Only in Christ can we find a Saviour who has already triumphed over death. John wrote of Jesus, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:3–4).
Life is part of the very nature of Christ. Not even death and the grave could hold Him in bondage. Once He had overcome death, there was nothing more to fear. Although each of us will face death (unless Christ returns first), we will face only a defeated foe. With Paul we can victoriously cry, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). This is one of the glories of Christmas.
"There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches."
In January of 1956, Jim Elliot and four other missionaries gave their lives in Ecuador in their effort to reach the Waodani (Auca) Indians. This fierce group was known to attack any outsiders, but the vision for reaching them with the gospel compelled these young men to take the risk. Not long after they set up camp near the Waodani village they were attacked by warriors. Refusing to defend their lives with force, the missionaries were killed. The news flashed around the world, and the story of courage and sacrifice challenged many to take up the missionary cause. Even today Elliot’s words live on: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
In a very real sense, Jim Elliot and his missionary friends were living the spirit of Christmas. They were willing to give up the comforts of home and promising careers and to ultimately lay down their lives to take the gospel to those who had never heard. They could have fought back to defend themselves, but they chose not to.
This is what Jesus did for us in coming to Earth. Paul wrote, “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Nothing of lasting significance and importance for God is ever accomplished without great sacrifice. Whether it is our time, our talent, our treasure, or even our lives, we must be willing to give up what is temporary for the sake of what is eternal. When we do, we are following the example and pattern of Christ and walking in His steps.
"The evil bow before the good; and the wicked at the gates of the righteous."
One of the most famous voices on radio, Paul Harvey, began his broadcast career when he was just a teenager living in Oklahoma. His personal style made him a fixture on stations across the country. One of his best known features was a series of broadcasts called “The Rest of the Story” which ran for more than thirty years. Harvey would tell part of a well-known story without revealing all of the details. Then he would fill in background information that explained what people knew and reveal whose story he was telling. “Now you know the rest of the story,” he would conclude.
Christmas is like that—the parts of the story that are most familiar to people are wonderful, but they are not the full story. Jesus is more than a baby in a manger, and He is more than our Saviour. He is also coming again to rule over the entire world. Isaiah prophesied, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this” (Isaiah 9:7).
Many people in the world think that the Baby of the Christmas story is the One who will return. But at His Second Coming, He will return as “Lord of lords, and King of kings” (Revelation 17:14). Evil will be banished, and with perfect justice He will rule the world. There will be no question regarding His authority and right to rule. As we prepare for Christmas, we need to keep the entire story in mind and remember that Christ is King.
"The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath."
Walter L. Wilson was trained as a medical doctor and practiced medicine for many years, but his greatest passion was pointing people to Jesus. Dr. Wilson told the story of how he used John 3:16 to lead a young boy to Christ. Stressing the importance of receiving the gift of eternal life Wilson asked, “Does the giving of a gift make it yours?” The boy answered, “You must take it if it is to become yours.” “True,” said Dr. Wilson, “and so Christ must be taken as God’s gift, if He is to become yours. I am a doctor,” he went on, “but I am not your doctor, am I?” “No,” said the boy. “Why not?” asked Wilson. “Because we never took you as our doctor,” the boy replied. “Very well, then, Jesus Christ is a Saviour, but He is not your Saviour unless you take Him. Will you do so now?” The boy did.
Our society likes to view all religions and beliefs as equal. We are told there are many paths to God. But that is not the message of the Bible, nor is it the message of Jesus Himself. He came into to the world to provide the only means of salvation that is acceptable to God and available to man. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
If Jesus is the only way to Heaven (and He is), then those of us who know this truth have a responsibility to share the good news with others and point them to the way of life. God’s plan is not for us to be saved alone but to bring others with us on the way to Heaven.
"He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he."
One of the leaders of the early church was a man named Polycarp— believed to have been a disciple of the Apostle John and appointed by him as pastor of the church at Smyrna. Polycarp was noted for his faithful witness. Late in his life (according to some accounts, he was more than one hundred years old), a wave of persecution arose and Polycarp faced martyrdom for refusing to deny Christ and burn incense to the Emperor of Rome. Asked to deny the Lord, Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me injury. How can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?”
God calls His children to be faithful to Him, even unto death if necessary. But this call is not given without an example. Set before us as a pattern to follow is the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Though He was fully God, He was also fully human, and He lived by faith in His Father just as we are meant to do. Praying at the grave of Lazarus before raising him from the dead Jesus said, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 11:41–42).
Throughout Jesus’ time on Earth, He exhibited faith and confidence in the Father by living according to His will. As Jesus demonstrated, faith is not shown by having a good feeling about something but by being obedient to what God has commanded in His Word. Just as Jesus trusted the Father and fulfilled His purpose, we should be walking in faith-filled obedience. If we do not, we will miss the great blessings that come from faithful obedience.
"A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
An English evangelist told the story of young Prince Edward visiting a military hospital where injured heroes of World War I received treatment. After being escorted through the cots and thanking each veteran, he turned to the nurse who led him and said, “I understood you had thirty-six patients here, but I have only seen twenty-nine.”
Gently, the nurse explained that they had moved some of the more disfigured veterans so as not to disturb the prince too greatly. Prince Edward insisted on seeing them and was brought to a room where six more men lay. Once again, the prince thanked each veteran. But as he left the room, he again asked the nurse about the missing veteran. “There were twenty-nine in the first room and six here. Where is the seventh?”
The nurse hesitated. “Your Majesty, no one but those who must care for him are allowed in his room. He is very badly maimed.” The prince insisted, and he was shown into the room where a blind, dismembered, and horribly disfigured soldier lay on a cot. With tears in his eyes, the prince knelt by the man and reverently kissed the cheek of the war hero.
Although perhaps not externally, you and I are far more broken even than that soldier. Our brokenness is not because of heroism, but because of the ugly sin that has stained our souls. Yet, Jesus Christ stooped low—far lower than the English prince—to love us. God’s love for us is not based on our loveliness, but on His nature. Paul wrote, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Nothing that we have done or failed to do keeps God from loving us. He sent His Son as an expression of that love to provide us with a way of salvation. The love Christ has for us cannot be measured, and it will never end.
"Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, and before honor is humility."
As a young man, Henry Leach answered the call of his country and served in the Army during the Korean War. When his unit came under fire, several of the soldiers were injured. Leach risked his life to help rescue them, being shot twice himself in the process. Because of a mix-up in paperwork and a records fire, he was never acknowledged or awarded for his courage. It was not until 2013 that Leach’s congressman heard the story and took action. More than sixty years after he was wounded in battle, Henry Leach was finally honored and received his Purple Heart as well as other medals for bravery.
The Lord Jesus humbly came to Earth, laying aside all of the glory and honor of Heaven because of God’s great love for us. Though He was despised, rejected, and crucified instead of being honored, the story does not end there. The Bible tells us that one day, in response to His humble obedience to the will of His Father, Jesus will receive the honor that He is rightfully due. “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Philippians 2:9–10).
The world may not have honored Him at His first coming, and they may not be honoring Him today, but every single person will honor Him one day. Jesus is not coming the second time in the same manner as He did the first time. He is going to receive all the honor due Him at His return. Knowing that, it is important for us to honor and glorify Him with our lives today. As we glorify Jesus through our words and our actions, we are doing our part in God’s plan for our world.
"There are many devices in a man’s heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand."
Mary received a birth announcement unlike any other in history— the angel Gabriel came and told her that even though she was a virgin, she would have a son. Although this announcement was stunning, and even impossible, she received it with faith.
Of course the birth of a baby does not happen immediately. During the nine months before Jesus’ arrival, Mary and Joseph faced many challenges. One of the biggest was a trip that was required for the Roman census. Because of their ancestry from David, they had to go to Bethlehem to register, even though Mary was near her time of delivery. “And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered” (Luke 2:6). It is important for us to remember that none of this happened by accident or coincidence—every part of the Christmas story was in accordance with the plan and timing of God.
The sovereignty of God is vital to our faith. When we do not see how things can work out for the best and do not understand why our prayers seem to go unanswered, we can be confident that God is still in control. In the fullness of His time, the “counsel of the Lord”—His purpose and plan for our lives—will be accomplished no matter what it takes. There is no reason for us to fret and fear, for God is in charge.
"Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?"
In the 1800s, childbirth was extremely dangerous. Mortality rates for both mothers and babies were high. One of the most dangerous complications of childbirth was puerperal fever, often called “childbed fever.” It killed more than one in ten new mothers in many hospitals. A Hungarian obstetrician named Ignaz Semmelweis determined to find an answer to this lethal threat. After careful study and observation, he realized that puerperal fever was almost unknown among women who gave birth outside of hospitals.
As he continued his studies, Semmelweis concluded that infections were being spread by unwashed hands and medical implements. After he instituted a careful sanitation program at his clinic, cases of puerperal fever almost vanished. Rather than hail him as a life-saving hero, the medical community rejected his simple cure for the problem. Doctors refused to take part in sterilizing their hands and equipment. Semmelweis lost his position at the hospital and was eventually placed in an insane asylum where he died after being beaten by the guards.
Mankind needs cleansing, yet often we reject it. The message that we need a Saviour to take away our sins offends our pride and undermines our belief in our ability to do everything for ourselves. But sin is a disease with no human cure. No religious ritual or observance can solve the problem. The writer of Hebrews said, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). The only hope that we have is Someone who can cleanse us and do what we cannot do for ourselves—this person is Jesus. When John the Baptist saw Him, he cried out “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He completely cleanses all who trust in Him.
"The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the Lord."
In addition to being one of the most popular actors in America, Jimmy Stewart was an accomplished pilot. When World War II broke out, Stewart enlisted in the Army and took additional flight training at his own expense to prepare for combat. After initially being used largely for publicity purposes, Stewart was sent to Europe where he flew his B-17 in twenty combat missions. Later he was promoted to chief of staff of his combat wing of the Eighth Air Force.
All through the war, Jimmy Stewart carried with him a copy of Psalm 91, given to him by his father just before he left for the service. Stewart said, “What a promise for an airman. I placed in His hands the squadron I would be leading. And, as the psalmist promised, I felt myself borne up.” Stewart remained in the Air Force Reserve after the war, eventually rising to the rank of Brigadier General.
In Jesus, we have a Saviour who offers us perfect protection and who will never leave us or fail us. There is no power that can overcome His love for us. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28).
He is our only true source of security. Physical health can vanish overnight. Political freedom can be lost unexpectedly. Economic security can quickly be destroyed. But the security that comes from being in the very hand of Jesus can never be lost or taken away. In Him we have a Saviour who not only delivers us from sin but also ensures our security until we reach His presence in Heaven.
"Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?"
We are told almost nothing about the life of Jesus before He reached adulthood, but the Bible records a story about Him as a twelveyear- old boy that reveals many wonderful truths. That year, as they did every year, Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem for the Passover. When they prepared to return home, Jesus remained behind in the temple. It took a day for them to realize that He was missing, and it was not until the third day that they found Him.
During that time, Jesus had joined the learned scholars of the Scriptures who met and discussed different points of the law and the writings of the Old Testament. Despite His young age, He displayed a depth of knowledge that those who listened found remarkable. Luke 2:47 records, “And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers.” Of course we know that Jesus is the very Word of God, so it comes as no surprise that He was able to speak with authority and insight concerning the inspired Word God gave to man.
There is a lesson for us in this story: Jesus has the answers for the problems and difficulties that we face. Isaiah said, “His name shall be called…Counsellor…” (Isaiah 9:6). There is wisdom and protection available if we seek wise and godly human counsel, but there is no better source of guidance and direction than that which we find in the pages of Scripture. Peter reminds us that it is in the Word of God that “His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3).
"Hearken unto thy father that begat thee, and despise not thy mother when she is old."
Gladys Aylward was born to a poor family in 1902. At a young age she began working as a domestic servant to help provide for her family, yet in her heart, even as a girl, she dreamed of going to the foreign mission field. Because of her lack of education, she was turned down by the China Inland Mission. Undaunted, she used her life savings to pay her own way to China where she became widely known for caring for orphans and abandoned children. During the Japanese invasion of China, she led one hundred children to safety over treacherous mountains. Asked later about her work she said, “I did not choose this. I was led into it by God. I’m not really more interested in children than I am in other people. But God gave me to understand that this is what He wanted me to do—so I did it!”
God places great value on obedience. Even Jesus demonstrated obedience throughout His life on Earth. Though He was both fully God and fully human, He did not “pull rank” on Mary and Joseph, but instead lived obediently just as God expects every child to do. The Bible says, “And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51).
If obedience was important for the sinless Son of God, it certainly is no less important for us. Though our society often lauds rebellion and obstinate behavior, God praises those who are in submission to authority. In whatever sphere of life you find yourself, be sure that you are obeying the authorities which God has placed over you. You will find His blessing through obedience, and you will truly be following Christ.
"So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul: when thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off."
In 61 BC, Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, commonly known as Pompey the Great, returned to Rome after a startling military victory that expanded Rome’s empire as far east as the Black Sea. He was honored with a “Roman triumph”—a grand festival reserved only for the most impressive of victories. The triumph lasted two full days rather than the customary one day celebration. Thousands of captured enemy soldiers and slaves were forced through the streets before Pompey’s chariot, as a massive portrait of Pompey made entirely of pearls was carried overhead. A dozen years later, however, those who had once cheered him turned against him, and he was defeated in battle by Caesar. The great general died almost totally alone.
Contrast Pompey’s defeat with Christ’s triumph. When Christ came to Earth, He did not have an impressive reception with generals lining the streets to welcome Him. Crowds did gather throughout Jesus’ ministry, but by the end of His life He was abandoned even by His closest followers. He was put to death in a barbaric and humiliating fashion. Yet in what appeared to be the moment of His defeat on the cross, Christ was actually gaining His greatest triumph over Satan, death, and the grave—and the story isn’t over yet.
The final victory still remains to be accomplished when Jesus returns, not as a lowly Saviour, but as a ruling and triumphant King. Though nearly two thousand years have passed since Jesus went back to Heaven to prepare a place for us, His return is still certain. Those of us who know and love Him can be confident as we await His coming, because it is going to happen just as the Word of God tells us.
"As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters."
In his autobiography, Charles Spurgeon described his conversion this way: “I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little…chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people….
“The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man, a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was, ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 45:22). He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text.”
A faithful layman opened the Scriptures, and God used his simple message to bring one of the greatest preachers in history to faith in Christ. Like the faithful messenger mentioned in Proverbs 25:13, this preacher shared the simple plan of salvation—look to Jesus alone—and it led Charles Spurgeon to trust Christ as Saviour.
The promise of God is unchanging. Through the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him” (Hebrews 7:25). This is the true wonder of Christmas.
"Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him."
Samuel Morse was born into a preacher’s home in New England just two years after George Washington was elected the first president of the United States. Early in his life he demonstrated two traits—a deep love for God and great skill as a painter. After finishing his education at Yale, he went to England to hone his painting skill. Upon his return to America he was recognized as a gifted artist and was soon in much demand. Morse’s first wife died while he was away from home painting in Washington, D.C. He did not receive the news until it was too late. In his heartbreak he turned away from painting and began trying to develop a means of rapid communication over great distances. This eventually led to his discovery of the telegraph.
Despite his fame and the many honors that came his way, Morse wasn’t proud or boastful. In a letter to his second wife he wrote, “The more I contemplate this great undertaking, the more I feel my own littleness, and the more I perceive the hand of God in it, and how He has assigned to various persons their duties, He being the great controller, all others His honored instruments. Hence our dependence first of all on God, then on each other.”
When we walk in pride and are conceited regarding our talents and accomplishments, we are demonstrating that we do not understand or appreciate the role that God holds in everything we do. None of us are able to succeed in our own strength or wisdom; we should always remember it is God that makes what we do possible. As Paul put it “what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
"Thine own friend, and thy father’s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother’s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.""
The 1936 Olympics were about far more than just sports. Hitler wanted to use the games to demonstrate the superiority of the German people, especially in contrast to those who “came from the jungle,” as he put it to one aide. The performance of American Jesse Owens was particularly galling to the German leader. Owens would win four gold medals in track and field—a feat that had never been accomplished. The gold medal in the long jump, however, was one that Owens would not have won without help from an unlikely source.
German long jump champion Luz Long watched as Owens fouled on his first two attempts in the qualifying round. One more foul would keep Owens from even being able to compete for the medal. Long told Owens to put a mark several inches in front of the takeoff board and jump from there. Owens followed his advice and qualified. He then went on to win the gold medal with an Olympic record distance while Long settled for the silver. Luz Long would be killed during World War II, but Owens never forgot what he had done. Nearly thirty years later, Owens arranged a meeting with Long’s son and told him how much his father’s action had meant. Owens said, “You could melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.”
A true friendship is a great treasure—and very rare. Most friendships falter when one party begins to focus only on self. Being a true friend requires a measure of loyalty and sacrifice, but the value of such a friendship is worth the investment it takes to build one.
"Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.""
In his best-selling autobiography, Lee Iacocca told of a painful experience from his childhood. Though people of Italian ancestry faced prejudice in his school, he decided to run for captain of the student patrol for his sixth grade class. When the election returns were counted, he lost by a vote of twenty-two to twenty. He didn’t realize what had happened until the next day when a classmate pointed out that there were only thirty-eight children in the class! The teacher allowed his opponent to add extra votes to ensure he would win over Iacocca.
Our society is filled with people who try to get ahead by doing things that are not right. In sports, business, and politics the story is the same. If someone thinks he can gain an advantage, he is willing to abandon his integrity to do so. Then when the news comes out and he faces disgrace, we see tearful apologies and interviews where he explains why he made these choices. Rarely does anyone admit, “I was not a person of integrity.”
Integrity is not the result of a single decision; it is the product of a day-by-day process of refusing to cut corners and do wrong just because no one will see. A life of integrity comes from a series of choices to do right because it is right. Walking uprightly demands that we do right even if no one else does. It would be nice if integrity always produced a good outcome, but sometimes there are no short-term benefits. In some cases, it even produces a negative immediate result. Even then, however, the eternal reward makes it worth any temporary hardship we may endure.
"A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards."
In one of Aesop’s Fables, a donkey walking through the woods finds the skin of a lion. Hunters had killed the lion and left the skin to dry in the sun. The donkey put on the lion’s skin and was delighted to discover that all the other animals were terrified of him and ran away when he appeared. Rejoicing in his newfound respect, the donkey brayed his happiness—only to give himself away by his voice. The moral of the fable was clear: fine clothes may disguise, but silly words will disclose a fool.
In our day of social broadcasting it seems that anyone can become famous by disclosing every embarrassing part of his life to the world on television or the Internet. Yet what is truly gained by such “entertainment”? People may sit at home and laugh at the folly of those who hold nothing back, but they are diminished in the process. This produces a corrosive effect because it encourages people to share more and more when they have less and less to offer.
We have an epidemic of people sharing their opinions without regard to whether or not they have anything meaningful to say. Someone said, “The problem today is that those who know the least know it the loudest.” Indeed much of what is promoted as wisdom is actually anything but—it is the worst of foolishness displayed publicly.
Maybe you’ve heard the old saying “You have two ears and one mouth—use them proportionately.” Almost all of us could stand to listen more and talk less. Rather than being compelled to tell everyone we meet everything we can fit into the length of the conversation, we should remember that one of wisdom’s best qualities is the ability to hold the tongue.
"Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: Lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain."
The story is told of an early church leader who was particularly known for his display of contentment. When he was asked to explain his secret he replied, “It consists in nothing more than making a right use of my eyes. In whatever state I am, I first of all look up to Heaven and remember that my principal business here is to get there. Then I look down upon the Earth, and call to mind how small a place I shall occupy in it when I die and am buried. I then look around in the world, and observe what multitudes there are who are in many respects more unhappy than myself. Thus I learn where true happiness is placed, where all our cares must end, and what little reason I have to complain.”
Every person can come up with a list of things they would like to have (and there is nothing wrong with owning things if the things don’t own us). If we are honest in our assessment, however, we would have to say that we have far more than most people in the world, and more than we must have to live. The reality of our lives is that we do have enough—we simply need to be content with what God has provided and thank Him for it.
"Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates."
Born into a wealthy family, Henry Parsons Crowell determined at a young age that he would use his resources to further the work of God. According to his biography The Cereal Tycoon, Crowell prayed, “God, if You will let me make money, I will use it in Your service.” In addition to founding the Quaker Oats Company, he had a number of other successful businesses. He was a great personal friend and supporter of D. L. Moody and helped finance the work of the great evangelist. During the latter part of his life, Crowell regularly gave 70 percent of his income to his church and other Christian works.
As part of his vision to extend his giving beyond his lifetime, Crowell founded a trust to support evangelistic efforts around the world. The founding document he wrote stipulates that when a vacancy occurs on the board, the remaining members “shall elect a person who is an avowed disciple of Jesus Christ, as witnessed by profession and character.” Though this successful businessman has been dead for decades, he continues to have an impact for the kingdom of God.
All of us are building legacies that we will leave behind. The work that we do for God establishes the testimony by which we will be remembered. The possessions we accumulate and the earthly honors we achieve will soon vanish away, but the investments that we make in God’s work will last throughout eternity. If you want to look back on the coming year with joy rather than regret, make sure you take full advantage of every opportunity to serve God and others. If you do, your works will be praiseworthy.
"Even the youths shall faint and be weary, And the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings as eagles; They shall run, and not be weary; And they shall walk, and not faint."
Over the years as I have traveled across the country I have had the opportunity to visit some of the truly great churches of the past. These were churches that were once great lighthouses—places where many were saved, where believers grew in grace, and where deep roots of faith were established. Yet sadly it is often the case that the buildings are only a shell of what was once a vibrant assembly of Christians. Some of these great auditoriums are no longer churches at all, while others have been taken over by false teachers who deny the truths that once thundered from those pulpits.
What causes these tragedies? What makes churches or individual Christians stop walking with God and turn aside after other things? What leads to the failure to finish strong? While there are many causes, one of the most common is that people and organizations fail to be renewed. As a result their strength wanes, and then they collapse. The reality is that we are constantly facing threats and challenges that are beyond what we can meet in our own strength.
Paul wrote, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16). The devil knows that if he can convince us to do good works in our own strength rather than through the power of the Holy Spirit, he has placed our feet on the road to ruin. Rather than relying on ourselves, we should be running to Lord daily for a renewal of our strength.
"And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live."
When Satan tempted Jesus after He had been fasting and praying for forty days in the wilderness, he used the same techniques he has been using on men and women with great success for centuries. Yet against Jesus, they did not work at all. While Jesus was fully God, He was fully man as well, and He felt the full weight of the temptations. In His response, Jesus gave us a pattern we can follow: He used the Word of God in answer to every offer from the devil.
It is impossible to live a victorious and productive Christian life apart from regular, consistent, habitual reading and meditating on the Scriptures. Just as food is the source of our physical strength, God’s Word is the source of our spiritual strength. It is instructive that the story of the manna God provided for the children of Israel is used to highlight the importance of the Bible.
The food that God sent from Heaven in response to the Israelites’ need was unlike anything they had seen before. It was only available early in the morning. If the people waited too long to gather it, it would melt away in the sun. And it could not be stored up against the future. Except on the day before the Sabbath, the manna had to be gathered each day. If it was kept overnight, worms turned manna into an inedible mess. The principle is the same—we need to gather strength from the Word daily to walk in victory.
"If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
The disciples had the unique privilege of hearing Jesus speak nearly every day for over three years. They listened as He preached to others and as He taught them privately. Those words were powerful, and they remembered what Jesus had said. Many years later John introduced one of his epistles by writing, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).
I wonder if¬when the Holy Spirit inspired John to pen those words–he thought back to the day that Jesus called him to leave his fishing boat and become a disciple? Or perhaps he remembered the Mount of Transfiguration, or Jesus telling him from the cross to take care of Mary. John had kept those words that he had heard from Jesus in his heart, and they continued to abide in him. Though Jesus had returned to Heaven, His presence was still felt through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Word.
If we want to have the presence of Christ in our lives today, we must have His Word filling our hearts and minds. There is no substitute for the habit of regular, careful reading, studying, and hearing of the Scriptures. Paul wrote, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). This is the key to walking daily in the presence of Christ, and it is the key to power in our spiritual lives as well.
"If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness."
One of the earliest known teachers of painting in Italy was Cennino d'Andrea Cennini. Sometime in the late 1300s or early 1400s he wrote a book called Il libro dell'arte: The Craftsman's Handbook. It was an early “how to” book that covered everything from brushes and paints to detailed instruction on different painting techniques. Cennini recommended a course of study that lasted thirteen years, beginning with long sessions of copying the works of master artists, to prepare the painter. He believed that by learning what greatly skilled artists had done, a young painter would develop proper habits and techniques.
There is a reason that Paul instructs us, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). When we view things as Christ does and think as He thinks, we will act as He acted. Proper behavior on the outside begins with proper thinking on the inside. Because of the fallen nature of man, our normal thought process is corrupted and cannot be trusted.
Instead, we must learn through the pages of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit to think with the mind of Christ. The disciples learned this lesson during their time with Jesus, and after He returned to Heaven, their conduct demonstrated their commitment to His way of thinking: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
"And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed."
If you drive from California across the deserts of Nevada, even on the interstate there are very few places to stop that have any services at all. It is common to see a sign that says, “Last gas station for 75 miles.” Those signs are warnings that, if you do not fill up now, you may not have a chance to do so later. It would be foolish to say, “I filled up my car with gas last week, and that should last until I get across the desert.” Yet many Christians do something very much like that in their spiritual lives.
They go to church on Sunday for a “fill up” and then don’t add anything else to their spiritual tank for the rest of the week…and wonder why they run out of gas. I believe in going to church. Even if I was not a pastor, I would be in church every time the doors were open. But church alone is not enough. There must also be personal spiritual exercises that fill our hearts and minds. One of the most important of these is prayer.
Jesus was completely God as well as completely man. As an example to us and as part of His mission, He continually prayed, often spending entire nights in prayer. In that intimate fellowship with His Father alone in prayer, He was strengthened to continue His work. Prayer does produce results as God works in response to our petitions, but it also produces strength in our spiritual walk.
"And the LORD said unto Joshua, Get thee up; wherefore liest thou thus upon thy face? Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff."
When the Israelites crossed the Jordan River, God gave them a mighty victory over the large city of Jericho. Yet when they came to the little town of Ai, they suffered a humiliating defeat. In response Joshua ran to God in prayer. “And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!” (Joshua 7:7). Rather than answering Joshua’s plea for help, God told him to stop praying and deal with the sin that was in the camp.
Though God had commanded that everything in Jericho was to be reserved as holy to Him rather than taken as the spoils of war, Achan had seen things that he wanted in the ruins of Jericho , took them and hid them in his tent. Because of his sin, the army of Israel was robbed of God’s power and protection and three dozen soldiers died as a result. The solution to the problem was not a lengthy prayer meeting but rather dealing with the hidden sin.
The same principle applies to individuals as well as nations or churches. Sin blocks effective prayer. Isaiah warned, “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). If we want God’s power to be active in our daily lives through prayer, then we must confess and forsake our sin.
"And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, Here am I; for thou didst call me. And Eli perceived that the LORD had called the child. Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, LORD; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place."
1 Samuel 3:8-9
I read about a naturalist and his friend who were walking through a park. At one point the naturalist said to his friend, “Did you hear that cricket?” His friend replied, “With all the noise in this park how do you hear a cricket?” The naturalist said, “You hear what you train yourself to hear.” To prove his point, he took some coins from his pocket and threw them on the sidewalk. Everyone nearby immediately stopped and looked.
If we are going to walk with God in the midst of a society that is going the other direction, we must hear His voice. There will always be other voices calling out to distract us from our course, but our ears should be open and eager to hear what God has to say. This is what James had in mind when he instructed us to “be swift to hear” (James 1:9).
Though the world speaks loudly, God often whispers. This was the experience Elijah had when he was running for his life from Jezebel. Alone on a mountain, he witnessed loud and powerful events: “And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). Hearing that “still small voice” is vital to the renewal of our strength for the Christian walk day after day. But it does not happen unless we are willing to focus our hearing to discover what God has to say.
"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."
2 Timothy 4:3-4
The first martyr of the early church, Stephen, was brought before the Sanhedrin for judgment because of his powerful preaching about Jesus. His sermon to the council recorded in Acts 7 is a masterpiece, weaving God’s work in the history of His chosen people with His plan of redemption. His Spirit-filled message so convicted and enraged those who heard it that they completely lost control.
The Bible records, “When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord” (Acts 7:54, 57). They stoned Stephen to death to avoid having to listen to the truth from his lips. But while they silenced Stephen, they could not stop the truth. The church continued to grow as great numbers of people were converted, baptized, and added to it.
Our society has many people who clearly are not interested in listening to the truth. There are vast audiences for preachers who only say things the audiences want to hear. Yet the size and apparent success of such ministries does not equate to either their correctness or to God’s blessing. He does not measure the effectiveness of our work by how many people agree with us but by how closely we adhere to His Word. It is critically important that we respond with a ready heart to the truth when it is presented to us. While it certainly is not comfortable to be corrected and reproved, it is far better than being allowed to continue on a path that leads to destruction.
"But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also;"
Dr. Thomas Reeves who for many years taught history at the University of Wisconsin Parkside as an expert on religion in America wrote: “Christianity in modern America is, in large part, innocuous. It tends to be easy, upbeat, convenient, and compatible. It does not require self-sacrifice, discipline, humility, an otherworldly outlook, a zeal for souls, a fear as well as love of God.” Sadly his evaluation is largely correct—and it goes a long way to explaining the lack of impact Christians are having on our world and our culture today.
When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, his powerful preaching resulted in many being saved, but it also sparked a great deal of opposition. Those who opposed the gospel hated the preachers, but they could not deny the effectiveness of the message. The power of the early church stands in sharp contrast to many churches and Christians today. Instead of challenging the world and turning it “upside down” they float along with the current, not making any waves.
When Peter and the other apostles were called in for questioning by the Sanhedrin for their preaching about Jesus, they refused to allow threats to silence them. After they were beaten and released, the Bible says, “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41). We must be willing to suffer if we are to truly be like Jesus.
"Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you."
Living in California where agriculture is a major business, it is common to see people working the fields planting various crops. In fact if California were a separate country, it would be the fifth largest producer of food and agricultural goods in the world. The billions of dollars worth of food products that come from the rich California soil each year do not just spring up from the ground. There is a long process that precedes the harvest. There is watering and fertilizing and weed control to consider. Before there can be fruitfulness, there must be preparation.
The Christian life is supposed to be characterized by fruit-bearing. It is God’s purpose and plan for each of His children, not just that we are saved and destined for eternity in Heaven but that we are productive in His Kingdom work while we are here on Earth. God uses His children to do His work in the world. Beyond the impact that being fruitful has on God’s work and His church, our fruitfulness also brings honor and glory to God. Jesus said, “Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples” (John 15:8).
But that kind of fruitfulness does not happen by accident. Like fruitfulness from a farmer’s field, there must first be preparation before God can use us productively. That preparation begins with our hearts. The natural tendency we face is for our hearts to grow calloused and hard through the passage of time. Therefore we have to break up the ground of our hearts and make sure they remain soft and tender to the leading of God. We must spend time with Him in His Word and allowing His Spirit to search our hearts. Only then can we bring forth fruit to His glory.
"Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, That bringeth forth his fruit in his season; His leaf also shall not wither; And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."
Very few people will admit that they want to be miserable—people say that they want to be happy. Yet if you know very many people at all, you realize that a lot of people are not happy. Part of the reason for that is that so many people seek their delight in the wrong places. When we delight in things that are temporary, even good things, we at best have fleeting happiness. When we delight in things that are eternal, we can enjoy happiness regardless of our circumstances.
We see a clear illustration of this during the ministry of Jesus. Luke 10 records that He sent seventy of His followers out two by two to preach and minister. Before He sent them out, He gave them power to perform miracles of healing and to deliver people from demons. When they returned, these disciples were thrilled and rejoicing at what they had experienced. But Jesus said, “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
The principle for us is that we need to walk each day with our hearts fixed on that which is eternal. When our delight is in the Word of God, His gift of salvation and our future in Heaven we can keep a spirit of rejoicing no matter what happens because our delight is in the right things.
"And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection."
Luke 8:7, 14
One of the most challenging weeds that ranchers and farmers in the American West face is the Canadian thistle. Sometimes known as “bindweed” these prolific weeds with the scientific name of Cirsium arvense rapidly spread across fields. Once they have gotten established, they are extremely difficult to remove because of their amazing root structure. The roots of the Canadian thistle spread both down into the ground and horizontally as well, often reaching as much as fifteen feet in both directions. They steal the nutrients and water that crops need to flourish. And if, when the thistle is removed, even part of the root remains, the plant will regrow and spread again.
In the parable of the sower and the four types of ground, Jesus talked about the devastating impact of thorns on the Word of God in the hearts of people. Simply put, if there is no room for the Word in our hearts because of other concerns, there can be no growth. While not everyone who makes a profession of faith is a believer, there are also many genuine Christians who are living unfruitful lives because no space has been cleared in their hearts for God.
Jesus said that most important of all of God’s commandments is: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” (Matthew 22:37). Anything in our hearts that takes God’s rightful place as the preeminent love and concern of our lives will hinder our walk with Him. The weeds of the world may be difficult to remove, but it must be done.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
On a night when there is a full moon, if you go outside and look up it seems that the moon is very bright indeed. It lights up the evening sky. Yet of course the moon is not actually shining at all—it is merely reflecting the light of the sun. If there was no sun shining on it, the moon would be invisible. It has no light of its own to beam down on the world below.
When Jesus said that we are to be lights in the world, He was not talking about us producing light, but rather reflecting His light to those around us. The only way we can do this is to live in close communion and fellowship with Him day by day. When the moon passes between the Earth and the sun during a solar eclipse, the sun’s light is obscured. The same thing happens in our lives when something comes between God and us.
There are many negatives associated with sin, but one of the worst is that it breaks the fellowship we have with God. While it does not change our relationship in His family, it does create a disruption. And that disruption is communication to those outside. The evangelist D. L. Moody said, “A holy life will make the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns, they just shine.” When we walk in God’s light and behave wisely and obey his commandments, it shows God’s glory to the world.
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe."
1 Thessalonians 2:13
One of the most important things Christians in our day need is an appreciation for the power and purpose of the Word of God. The Bible is not just a book. It is not a collection of ancient moral tales, nor is it the product of men acting on their own. The Bible is nothing less than the words that God has given to us to learn and follow. The way we look at the Bible determines to a large extent the course of our lives. Christians who are casual about the Word will not grow and develop in their faith. The Psalmist wrote, “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word” (Psalm 119:9).
Charles Spurgeon wrote, “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your spirit is flavoured with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is the very essence of the Bible flows from you.” The only way to have the Word of God flow through us so that it guides and controls our steps is to first make sure that it is filling our hearts and minds.
Filling the gas tank on your car is not a one-time event. It is something that must be repeated over and over again. In the same way we need regular “fill ups” with the Bible. Reading, studying, and memorizing Scripture is not just for the young—it must be a lifelong commitment if we are to walk in God’s way.
"Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him."
On January 13, 2012, the massive Costa Concordia cruise ship with more than 4,200 passengers and crew on board was sailing off the coast of Italy on a tour of the Mediterranean Sea. The captain deviated from his planned course and the ship struck a reef near the shore. After taking on water for a while, the ship began to sink. Going against centuries of tradition, Captain Francesco Schettino left the ship instead of remaining to make sure everyone could be rescued.
In a phone conversation, the local Coast Guard commander repeatedly pressed Schettino for an update on the situation. “Tell me if there are women, children and people in need there.” Failing to receive a satisfactory reply, he ordered Schettino to return to the ship. The captain responded, “You realize it’s dark and we can’t see anything?” “You’ve been telling me that for an hour, now get back on board!” the Coast Guard official shouted. The captain was later arrested for his failure to do his duty, resulting in the deaths of more than thirty people.
Every day we are surrounded by people who will spend eternity either in Heaven or in Hell. The fact that so many are lost should disturb us. The Bible tells us that Jesus cared about the people a great deal. “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Let your heart be stirred by the condition of the lost and do everything you can to win others to Christ.
"As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?"
In 2011 an eighty-four-year-old man named Henry Morello was driving north of Phoenix, Arizona, when he realized he was heading the wrong direction. When he tried to turn around he got stuck in a ditch. Unable to walk to the main road to get help, he spent five days trapped in his car. To stay alive he took a rock and cracked open the wiper fluid container in his car and drank the fluid. After he was rescued, doctors were amazed to find him in such good condition.
Those who are thirsty—truly thirsty—know what it is to seek something with a great desire. That level of desire should characterize our walk with God. We should seek Him above all others. He should be our greatest desire. And He has promised that when we seek Him in this way, our search will be rewarded. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Knowing how important it is for us to desire a close and intimate relationship with God, Satan offers us alternatives to satisfy our thirst apart from God. The first temptation in the Garden of Eden revolved around the promise that eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would satisfy their need. Satan promised, “ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5). Yet as with all of Satan’s promises, this was a lie. There is no path to truth, love, beauty and satisfaction apart from God. As we learn to reject the alternatives offered by the enemy, our thirst for God grows—and He will meet our needs.
"And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God."
1 Corinthians 6:11
One of the most famous and successful con artists in recent times was a man named Frank Abagnale. He passed himself off as an airline pilot, a medical doctor, an attorney, and a government agent. He twice managed to escape from custody—before he turned twenty-one. Pan Am Airlines estimated that he flew over one million miles for free by posing as one of their pilots. When he was finally caught and sent to prison, Abagnale decided to change his ways. He began as an unpaid advisor to government agents fighting con artists. Eventually, he established a security company helping companies guard against the tactics he had once used. The goal and purpose of his life had completely changed.
The moment that we are saved, God begins a process of transforming us into the likeness of Christ. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29). Even those who grew up in Christian homes and were saved at a young age before being exposed to much of the world need this transformation, for we are all born with a sinful nature.
God’s purpose for us is that the old things will be left behind and we become witnesses of the power of His grace. Paul wrote, “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). We should live focused on the eternal and invite others to join us on the way to Heaven.
"Hear this word that the LORD hath spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying, You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities. Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"
God had a special covenant relationship with the nation of Israel, but they repeatedly turned away from following Him despite His goodness to them. The people of the surrounding lands drew their hearts away. Their desire to be liked and accepted by their neighbors overwhelmed their desire to be true to God. So they began to worship other gods and abandoned their moral values. As a result, they no longer agreed with God and could not walk with Him.
Dr. John Rice said, “Most men change their fellowship before they change their doctrine.” We need to be extremely careful of who we allow to influence our thinking and our actions. Today we often hear people call for unity, but without regard to truth. That is a recipe for disaster. Charles Spurgeon said, “Truth alone must determine our alignments. Truth comes before unity, because unity without truth is hazardous. Our Lord's prayer for His disciples in John 17 must be read in its full context. Look at verse 17: 'Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.' Only those sanctified through the Word can be one in Christ. To teach otherwise is to betray the gospel.”
Those with whom we walk will influence us to become increasingly like them over time. This is a natural process, and no one is exempt from it. Just as a sick person infects someone who is well rather than the other way around, our walk will be pulled away from God if we associate with those who are not committed to following Him.