Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works."
2 Corinthians 11:13-15
During the administration of President Ronald Reagan, one of the main international issues facing the United States was a new arms control agreement with the then Soviet Union. As part of his negotiations with Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan refused to agree to a new treaty unless there were significant measures put in place to ensure that both sides complied with its terms. Reagan used an old Russian proverb doveryai, no proveryai—trust, but verify—to drive home his point. When the two men finally did sign the treaty, Reagan used that proverb again, and Gorbachev said, “You say that all the time!”
In our day, there are many who claim to be Christians who are teaching false doctrines and leading people astray. Just because someone uses Bible terms does not mean that their teaching can be accepted without comparing it to Scripture. We need to heed the warning of John when he wrote under the inspiration of God, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).
Most of us would recognize the devil if he showed up dressed as the cartoon image with a pitchfork and horns and tail. But he is subtle and, as part of his deception, presents himself as a force for good rather than evil. Remember that in the Garden of Eden the serpent tempted Eve by telling her the fruit would make her like God. Is it good to be like God? Of course. But the means proposed by Satan do not lead to that end, so we must be on guard.
"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints. And he saith unto me, Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he saith unto me, These are the true sayings of God."
Weddings are a big business in our society. In a typical year there are some 2.5 million weddings held, at a cost of more than $70 billion. It is believed that the royal wedding of Charles and Diana in 1981 is the most expensive wedding in history with a total price tag of more than $110 million in today’s money. But whether the wedding is large or small, cheap or expensive, there is an air of excitement and anticipation surrounding the preparation for the wedding.
As believers, we have a wedding to look forward to. The Bible uses the illustration of a bridegroom coming to claim his bride to help us understanding the relationship between Christ and the church. It is a beautiful picture of the love of God and something wonderful for us to anticipate. Paul wrote, “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Ephesians 5:25).
Jesus paid the price for our salvation in full, and once we have trusted Him as our Saviour, we become part of the bride. There is nothing that can take away our salvation, but we are expected to prepare for the day when we see the Lord. This preparation, which is seen in our personal commitment to holiness and our witness to a lost world, is evidence that we are eagerly anticipating His return.
"For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand."
When we drove a Ryder truck with our belongings into Lancaster on a hot July day more than twenty-five years ago, we had two children under five and another on the way. We didn’t have a whole lot of stuff, so it didn’t take us long to get moved in. We started going soulwinning with zeal in our hearts to do God’s work. You might think that no one would oppose such a good purpose, but one of the lessons we learned very early on was that anything we do for God involves spiritual warfare.
Anything good that you try to accomplish will result in opposition. Dr. Bob Jones Sr. said, “The door to the room of success swings on the hinges of opposition.” The devil is not interested in seeing you succeed as a Christian, and he is especially unhappy if you are having a positive influence on others. Just as a soldier would not go onto the battlefield without his weapons and equipment, we should never start a day without taking time to equip ourselves for the battles that lie ahead.
There is an old story about a boxer who was losing badly during a match. In an attempt to encourage him, his manager said, “He hasn’t laid a glove on you.” The battered boxer replied, “Then watch the referee this round because somebody is beating the daylights out of me!” We have a very real enemy, and he will use any and every means possible to try to get us to quit doing what God has called us to do.
"At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion."
2 Timothy 4:16-17
In the 1840s, John Geddie left the pastorate of a church in Canada to take his wife and two small children to the South Sea Islands to begin a mission work there. After a voyage of more than 20,000 miles, they arrived in the New Hebrides Islands at Aneityum. The island chain was filled with cannibals, and more than twenty crew members of a British ship had been killed and eaten just months before the Geddies arrived on the mission field.
They faced the difficulty of learning a language that had no written form and the constant threat of being killed. Slowly at first, a few converts came, and then soon many more received the Gospel. Geddie continued his ministry faithfully, including translating the entire Bible into the native language and planting twenty-five churches. For many of those years, Geddie labored with little help and little word from home, but God was faithful to His servant. In the pulpit of the church Geddie pastored for so many years stands a plaque in his honor which says: “When he landed in 1848, there were no Christians here, and when he left in 1872 there were no heathen.”
You may find yourself needing to take a stand for God without anyone else to help you, but as you stand, you will find that God is there standing with you. You are never truly alone as a child of God. Whatever He has called you to do can be accomplished through His Spirit and His power.
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. Ye daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you in scarlet, with other delights, who put on ornaments of gold upon your apparel. How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou wast slain in thine high places.
2 Samuel 1:23-25
On September 11, 2001 we received a reminder of the brevity of life and the presence of sin and evil in our world. For a brief period after this tragedy many people showed a renewed interest in spiritual things. That did not last long, however. Soon, most returned to the same careless approach to life despite the reminder that should have focused their attention. That does not have to be true of us.
It is proper that we pause today to remember those who were killed on that day, and the thousands who have died during other wars. While we grieve for those who perished, this reminder of the brevity of life and the certainty of death should also cause us to examine our hearts. Are we living in such a way that we are prepared to meet God? Are we living in such a way that our death would be a cause for genuine sadness rather than fleeting regret? Are we living in such a way that we are honoring and glorifying God?
None of the people who were killed in that terrorist attack were planning on their lives ending that day. They had plans for the future and hopes not yet fulfilled. Today we should commit ourselves again to living each day with the realization that it could be our last—and so that if it is, we will not be filled with regret.
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
2 Timothy 4:6-8
Near the end of his life, Paul wrote to his young protégée Timothy one final letter to encourage him to continue in the ministry and in service to God. The aged missionary knew that his life would soon end. He was being held in the Mamertine Prison in Rome, an underground dungeon where prisoners who had been condemned were held before they were executed.
Yet despite his circumstances, Paul did not complain. He was focused on what was to come—the crown that he would receive from the hand of the Lord for his love of Christ’s appearing. Most of us have never enduring anything like the physical suffering and abuse that Paul experienced for preaching. He was beaten and stoned and persecuted. But the love in his heart kept him going. “The love of Christ constraineth us” he wrote to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:14).
I am sure that Paul did not enjoy being chained in a damp, dark underground cell. Yet he regarded his surroundings as an opportunity to witness. Every six hours a new shift of soldiers would arrive to guard him. Clearly that witness bore fruit, because Paul told the church at Philippi about the saints, “that are of Caesar's household” (Philippians 4:22). Rather than focusing on your struggles, focus on your love for the Lord. One day we will see His face, and if we have been faithful to love and serve Him, we will hear Him say, “Well done.”
I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.
George Atley was killed while serving with the Central African Mission. There were no witnesses to his death, but the evidence indicates that Atley was confronted by a band of hostile tribesmen. He was carrying a fully loaded Winchester rifle and had to choose either to shoot his attackers and run the risk of negating the work of the mission in that area, or not to defend himself and be killed. When his body was later found in a stream, it was evident that he had chosen the latter. Nearby lay his rifle still fully loaded. He had made the supreme sacrifice, motivated by his burden for lost souls and his unswerving devotion to his Savior. With the apostle Paul, he wanted Christ to be magnified, "whether it be by life or by death" (Philippians 1:20).
When we are faced with difficult choices, the decisions we make reveal what matters to us the most. Those who are faithful, in matters both large and small, are those whose heart desires are fixed on the eternal. Nothing in this world, not even our lives, is more important than what waits for us in eternity. We should live with an eye on the things that matter most—those that will last.
"Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ."
In the sixteenth century, there was a protestant reformer in England by the name of Hugh Latimer. He was known as a great preacher of his day and as a result he had many opportunities to speak. Once he found that he was to preach before the King Henry VIII of England. As he thought about his great responsibility to bring a message before the king he realized that the message that God laid on his heart was not the message that the king would want to hear.
As he contemplated this, he said that he heard a voice saying, “Latimer, remember you are preaching before King Henry VIII who, if he wills, can take away your life.” Then he heard another voice saying, “Latimer, remember you are preaching before the King of Kings, do not displease Him.” Latimer faced the choice: would he preach what man wanted to hear or would he preach what Christ would have him preach. Latimer did take his stand for truth and preached boldly. Eventually, he was martyred by Henry’s daughter Queen Mary.
The work that you do today is not just done to be acceptable to a boss or supervisor, it should also been done in such a way as to be faithful to our testimony and commitment to Christ. In every sphere of life, the ultimate accountability we have is to Him. He evaluates not only what we do but the motives with which we do it. And if we are faithful to Him, the final result is secure.
"But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
2 Timothy 3:10-12
Charles Spurgeon said, “The good man has his enemies. He would not be like his Lord if he had not. If we were without enemies we might fear that we were not the friends of God, for the friendship of the world is enmity to God.” The choice that we face is not whether we will have enemies—anyone who takes sides will have enemies from the other. The choice that we face is whether we will stand with God or with His enemies.
It is a fallacy to think that we can somehow trim our message and soften our stance enough to avoid facing opposition. The devil is not content with small victories. He keeps pushing and pushing until everything has been lost. Many churches and denominations that once were faithful to the Word and to God stand as sad evidence of this truth. Little by little they gave up their convictions and commitments in search of acceptance and approval until nothing of value was left. They may still use religious symbols and language, but they are anything but Christian.
Of course we should not be making enemies because of our temperament or disposition. It is possible to stand for the truth without wavering while being courteous and polite. But we should never allow the natural tendency to want to avoid conflict and enemies to lead us down the path of compromise and decay. It should not come as a surprise that standing for the truth leads to opposition, and we must not let that opposition deter us from our stand.
"Wherefore we labour, that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are made manifest unto God; and I trust also are made manifest in your consciences."
2 Corinthians 5:9-11
We have the certain knowledge that one day we will give an account of our lives to the Lord. That should motivate us to be faithful in obeying His commands, including the final instruction He left to, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). But in addition to obedience, there is another motive for sharing the Gospel—the knowledge that each person must stand before God either saved or lost.
Charles Spurgeon described that day this way: “If you haven’t looked at Christ on the cross, you’ll have to look at Him on the throne—with great trembling. The sacrificial death of Christ will be brought before the eyes of all who refuse to accept His free gift of forgiveness and eternal life. In Bethlehem He came in mercy to forgive sin. In the future He will come on the clouds in glory to establish justice. What will we do without a Saviour? On the day of judgment there is nothing we can do if we have not trusted Christ.”
The only hope of salvation is found though faith in Jesus Christ. There is no other way to Heaven. And God’s plan for people to hear the Good News and be saved is for His children to tell them. This is a wonderful privilege, but it is also a heavy responsibility. Remembering that judgment is coming, we should do all we can to reach the lost.
"Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith: To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ for ever. Amen."
The ancient inventor and mathematician Archimedes once said, “If you give me a lever long enough and a place on which to stand, I can move the world.” The importance of a stable foundation cannot be overstated. God has given us the means through His power to firmly and securely settle us and ground our lives on the principles and truths of His Word. This is crucial to our ability to glorify Him through our lives.
God wants us to be established and settled in every area of our lives. We should be on a firm footing in our family relationships, with our church, and with Him. Paul equated the presence of stability in our lives with spiritual maturity when he wrote, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). This growth comes from reading and hearing and studying the Bible.
Here in California, because of the many fault lines that run under the surface of the ground, all the buildings have to be built to a very strict code. If the foundations are not firmly settled, the building, no matter how impressive it may be, is not going to last. Instead great care is taken to ensure that even when the earth shakes, the building will stand. As we grow in our faith, building upon a foundation which cannot be shaken, we can move the world.
"And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet."
Things were very hard for the early church in Jerusalem. The believers faced intense persecution, and many who had come to Jerusalem from other cities and countries for the Feast of Pentecost found themselves stranded far from home. Those who had the resources made sacrifices, in some cases major sacrifices, so that the daily living needs of the others could be met. One of these generous people was a man named Joses, better known to us as Barnabas.
This nickname that he was given is very revealing. The disciples called him “the son of consolation” using the same word—paraclete—that Jesus used for the Holy Spirit in John 14. They were saying that Joses was like the Holy Spirit in the way that he interacted with other Christians to bring them hope and comfort. We see this illustrated again in the way Barnabas interacted with Saul after his conversion on the road to Damascus. When the other believers were afraid to allow Saul into their company, Barnabas championed and encouraged the new Christian and helped place him on the road to an amazing life of ministry and service.
So many people simply need an encouraging word or a small gesture of kindness to keep them going. They feel isolated and alone and wonder if anyone cares about what they are going through. We can make a real difference for them. Mark Twain once said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” The impact that we make on the lives of others, sometimes without even realizing how much what we do or say means to them, can be the difference between despair and triumph.
"But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord."
1 Corinthians 15:57-58
Someone once said, “The men and women who have moved the world have been the men and women the world could not move.” There is something wonderful about a person who takes a stand for God and does not allow anything to shake or change his position. In 1521 the reformer Martin Luther was summoned to appear before Charles V at the Diet of Worms because of his opposition to the false teaching of the Catholic church. Luther was told that he must recant, but he remained committed to the truth even though he was threatened with excommunication and even death.
Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason—for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves—I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant.”
May God give us men and women today who share that passionate commitment to God’s Word. The Bible is under attack on so many fronts, and even the idea that there is such a thing as absolute truth is mocked and scorned by many. Yet despite what man may say or do, the truth abides. And as children of God, when we are committed to standing firm for what is right, we can know that our efforts will be rewarded. Nothing done for God is ever wasted—our work and our sacrifices and our stands are not unseen. The God who gives the victory will bless and reward our efforts.
"Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."
John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, was repeatedly jailed for refusing to take a license to preach from the Church of England. He insisted on the truth that his authority came from God and not from man. From jail, Bunyan began his famous book as a way to convey truth to his children while he was separated from them by his stand for what was right. He was falsely accused of many things, but it did not shake his resolve.
Bunyan said, “Therefore, I bind these lies and slanderous accusations to my person as an ornament; it belongs to my Christian profession to be vilified, slandered, reproached and reviled, and since all this is nothing but that, as God and my conscience testify, I rejoice in being reproached for Christ's sake.”
It is normal for us to want to be liked and accepted, but our commitment to Christ should supersede all other desires. If and when we are persecuted or criticized for doing right, we should count it an honor, rather than assuming it is a sign that we should change our position or our stand. In fact, we should celebrate the opposition we receive for doing right.
Suffering places us in the long line of heroes of the faith who have endured abuse, ridicule, and persecution for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. John Bunyan’s jailers left a license to preach by the door of his cell, telling him he had only to take it to be free. Bunyan refused and left the license there until the rats ate it. May we be that faithful.
"And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled."
Tertullian, one of the leaders of the early church in Africa, wrote, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” From New Testament days until now that has been true. According to the World Evangelical Encyclopedia, since the death of Jesus Christ 43 million Christians have become martyrs. More than half of those deaths occurred in the last century. More than two hundred million believers—over half of them children—face persecution on a daily basis. Each day more than three hundred people are martyred for their faith.
Because of the religious liberty that believers in America enjoy, it is important that we stop to remember those who are literally risking their lives to publicly take a stand as Christians. We should pray for and support these courageous men and women and young people, and we should also resolve to stand firm for our faith.
Even in places where the law guarantees religious freedom, there is a growing effort to silence Christians from speaking out on social issues from a biblical viewpoint. It is regarded as bigoted, hateful, and mean-spirited to say what God says in an uncompromising manner. And the day may come when we, too, are called on to make the choice whether to be silent or risk our lives for the truth.
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."
Alexander MacLaren wrote, “The apostolic church thought more about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than about death and Heaven. The early Christians were looking, not for a cleft in the ground called a grave but for a cleavage in the sky called Glory.” Paul believed he would be alive when the Lord returned, as he declared, “We which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).
In our day when there is so much false teaching on prophecy and so many inaccurate predictions by people who think they have figured out the date for Christ’s return, it is easy to lose sight of the glorious truth—Jesus could come today. There are no events that must take place or prophecies to be fulfilled before His return. This truth should inspire us to be busy about the Father’s work, knowing that time is short.
This truth should bring us comfort and hope as well. Rather than dreading the Lord’s return, we should be eager and watchful for it. The key to greeting Him with joy rather than regret is found in doing His work and His will as we wait for His return. Picture a child given a task to complete before Mom and Dad get home. If the job is done, the parents’ return holds no terror. But if the child has been busy with things other than his task, the sound of a car in the driveway is not a happy one. Knowing that Christ could return at any moment, we should be busy so that we can rejoice at His appearing.
"And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the LORD hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work."
The Bible commands us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is a command for every believer, not just those who are in full time ministry. We need God’s power for every aspect of life. Bezaleel, who made much of the furniture and decoration for the Tabernacle in the Old Testament, needed the filling of the Spirit for his work just as Moses needed God’s power for his position of leadership.
Dr. Curtis Hutson said, “Every Christian is as full of the Holy Spirit as he or she has decided to be.” We are filled with the Spirit as we are emptied of ourselves. It is said that when a group of churches met to consider inviting the evangelist D. L. Moody to come to England for a crusade, a young, prideful pastor protested, "Why do we need this 'Mr. Moody'? He's uneducated, inexperienced, etc. Who does he think he is anyway? Does he have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit?" An older, wiser pastor rose and responded, "No, but the Holy Spirit has a monopoly on Mr. Moody."
God does not want control of our lives only for a while on Sundays or when we are with others from the church—His plan is for His Spirit to control our steps every day in every area of life. Surrender your will to His, and you will find yourself walking in the Spirit.
"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed."
1 Peter 2:21-24
When the wife of the great pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson told him that a newspaper article likened him to some of the apostles, Judson replied, "I do not want to be like a Paul...or any mere man. I want to be like Christ...I want to follow Him only, copy His teachings, drink in His Spirit, and place my feet in His footprints...Oh, to be more like Christ!"
Even before the world was created, God’s plan was for us to be, “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). God did not save us solely to allow us to go to Heaven, though of course that is a wonderful and undeserved blessing. God also saved us so that we could go into the world just as Jesus did and point men and women to Him. God intends for us to be walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ as we go through this world.
Though Jesus left us many important examples, perhaps the greatest is His sacrificial death for the sins of others. While we are not called on to do what only He could do, we are called to give up our rights and privileges for the sake of following Him and for the benefit of others. The more we are willing to give and invest in those in need, the more we are being like Jesus.
"Now therefore fear the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the LORD. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the LORD, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
We can make no greater investment than to be a godly example of faith in action for our children. Speaking of Abraham, God said, “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD” (Genesis 18:19). This requires both spending time in positive instruction and providing a positive example in daily life—teaching our children the truth “when thou walkest by the way” (Deuteronomy 6:7).
Charles Spurgeon said, “Brethren, I wish it were more common, I wish it were universal, with all [Christians] to have family prayer. We sometimes hear of children of Christian parents who do not grow up in the fear of God, and we are asked how it is that they turn out so badly. In many, very many cases, I fear there is such a neglect of family worship that it’s not probable that the children are at all impressed by any piety supposed to be possessed by their parents.”
While it is possible to present a front to the outside world for a while, those who live with us know best whether our faith if real. Live your faith outside the walls of the church, and you will have a powerful impact on your entire family.
"But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."
On February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia exploded while re-entering the atmosphere after completing its mission. Some of the heat shielding tiles had been damaged during takeoff, leading to the destruction of the ship and the death of all on board. The commander of the mission, Col. Rick Husband, had an outstanding Christian testimony. At a memorial service, a video that Husband had recorded before the flight was played.
He said, “If I ended up at the end of my life having been an astronaut, but having sacrificed my family along the way or living my life in a way that didn’t glorify God, then I would look back on it with great regret. Having become an astronaut would not really have mattered all that much. And I finally came to realize that what really meant the most to me was to try and live my life the way God wanted me to and to try and be a good husband to Evelyn and to be a good father to my children.”
One day each of us will reach our last day on earth. More than likely we will not know in advance when that day will be. That fact should remind us to live each day with a commitment to fulfilling our responsibilities so that, when we do reach the end of our lives, we do not look back with regret. Focus on what matters and what is eternal, and you will complete your mission with success.
And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, And say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; And have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!
George Washington’s father died when he was just eleven, and for a time the young Washington had his heart set on joining the British navy. However, his mother had some serious reservations about that path and eventually strongly urged him to reconsider. He listened to his mother, and rather than becoming the captain of a ship, he became Commander in Chief of the entire military forces of the United States of America.
Much of the course of our lives is determined by the input we get when making decisions and whether we heed wise counsel when we receive it. By admitting we don’t know everything and seeking counsel, we are protecting ourselves from great damage. What the Bible says in regard to counsel is often misquoted. It is common to hear people say, “In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom.” While there is truth in that statement, the Scripture actually says, “In the multitude of counsellors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14).
Refusing to heed godly counsel places us on a pathway to destruction. Each of us has a heart that is deceitful and subject to being deceived. That is why counsel is so important—so that someone can objectively evaluate the situation and respond from a biblical perspective. Though the Scriptures do not directly address every area of life, the principles in the Word of God can and should guide us in all that we do. Rather than being a sign of weakness, seeking counsel—and following it—is a sign of wisdom. Surround yourself with people whose thinking is influenced by Bible principles, and you will be protected.
"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. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another."
In 1987 the Rockdale County Bulldogs won the Georgia state high school basketball championship for the first time in the school’s history. The celebration was short-lived, however, because the school discovered that one of the back-ups who played just one minute of one game during their entire playoff run was academically ineligible. Though they had not known it or broken the rule intentionally, the discovery meant that they had to inform the state athletic association and forfeit their championship.
"Some people have said we should have just kept quiet about it, that it was just forty-five seconds and the player wasn't an impact player,” the team’s coach said. "But you’ve got to do what's honest and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games; they don't ever forget what you're made of.”
Our integrity is far more valuable than anything we can gain by giving it up. Any temporary and fleeting victories that may be achieved through dishonesty will never bring satisfaction. Even if we manage to deceive the rest of the world, we ourselves will always know the truth. Worse, dishonestly quickly grows into a habit that spreads into every part of our lives.
The nature of lies is that they multiply. One lie necessitates the next, and then the next. This negative process begins with one moment of dishonesty or falsehood, often one designed to protect us from the consequences of something we have done or failed to do. Doing right in those moments offers great protection.
"The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: But, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day: and in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well."
2 Timothy 1:16-18
One of the overlooked needs that people have is to be encouraged. It is often easier for us to see and identify physical needs than emotional ones. Yet in truth many people are discouraged as they face the challenges and pressures of life. Hearing a kind word of hope from someone else can make all the difference. William Arthur Ward said, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.”
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon described the importance of having an encourager this way: “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 4:10). From creation we were designed with a need for fellowship and companionship. Our world may worship the myth of the rugged individual who needs help from no one, but that is not God’s plan. He means for His children to use their words to build and strengthen each other.
The person who sets out to be an encourager will never find a shortage of people to help. Even simple words spoken sincerely may make all the difference and give someone who is struggling the strength to go on. We call it encouragement, which literally means to give courage to someone who needs it. Such words are beyond value to the hurting heart that receives them.
"And unto Joseph were born two sons before the years of famine came, which Asenath the daughter of Potipherah priest of On bare unto him. And Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: For God, said he, hath made me forget all my toil, and all my father's house. And the name of the second called he Ephraim: For God hath caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction."
An old saying admonishes that we should learn to write our hurts in the sand and carve our blessings in stone. Much of our happiness and contentment is found not in what we have or don’t have, but rather in where we choose to place our focus. There are things that we should forget and things we should remember, yet our tendency all too often is to reverse the two.
Every person who has ever lived has had trouble and struggles with which to deal. “Man is born unto trouble” Job 5:7 tells us. But we do not have to remember and replay our troubles over and over in our minds. Instead we can focus on our blessings—which is the key to living productive and happy lives. People who are trapped in the pain of the past will never be fruitful. The point is not that the pains are not real, but rather that our minds should not be focused on that pain.
As an antidote to allowing the troubles of the past to overwhelm us, the Bible commands us to be grateful. Over and over the Scriptures tell us to remember what God has done. “Forget not all his benefits” the Psalmist instructs in Psalm 103:2. By fixing our thoughts and our attention on the many good things God has done for us, we can begin the process of moving away from the painful past into a fruitful future.
But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
1 Thessalonians 5:8-11
R. A. Torrey was a brilliant and educated man and a powerful preacher who was greatly used by God. His evangelistic meetings all around the world resulted in thousands trusting Christ as Saviour. Yet within his own home, Torrey was more known for his gentle compassion than his fervent preaching. When his daughter Edith mentioned a failing of a friend, he told her, “What looks like a flaw may be the scar of a great battle.”
If we extend that spirit of compassion to those we meet, we will find that we are not harsh and judgmental toward them. In return we will find them willing to listen to the truth. One of the interesting characteristics of Christ is that so many people felt free to come to Him despite the troubles and sins in their lives. He was always gentle, accepting those who were heavy laden and offering them rest.
The story of the woman taken in adultery found in John 8 beautifully illustrates this truth. Jesus said to her both “Neither do I condemn thee” and also “go and sin no more.” He never accepted or expressed approval of sin, but He was and is a friend of sinners. If we view people with compassion as Jesus did, we will find it easy to reach out in love rather than condemning them because of their conduct. God has called us to encourage, strengthen and build up each other.
And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
1 John 5:11-12
As I witness to people, one of the most common misconceptions I hear them express is that our eternal destiny will be settled after we die. Many think that their deeds will be measured, and if they have done “enough” good things, they will be allowed into Heaven. Of course we know the truth that each person’s destiny is determined by whether they accept Christ as Saviour. Yet salvation is so much more than just our getting to go to Heaven—it is also peace, comfort and security while we are here on Earth.
Timothy Dwight, the grandson of Jonathan Edwards who went on to become president of Yale University, wrote: “Christ is the only, the true, the living way of access to God. Give up yourselves therefore to him, with a cordial confidence, and the great work of life is done.” Though there is work God has for us to do as His children, there is no work which we can or must do in order to become His children. That which we could never do for ourselves has already been done for us by our loving Saviour.”
This knowledge should give us confidence. Rather than being tormented by doubt and uncertainty, we can place complete trust in the promise of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ as our substitute. We do not need to fear the future. This knowledge should also give us a sense of urgency to share the Gospel with others. When we take the Good News to the lost, we are offering them God’s gift of eternal life, as well as the blessings for this life that come from being a child of God.
For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
As Christianity began to spread through the Roman Empire, the authorities often didn’t know quite what to make of this new religion. As they had done with other nations they had conquered, offers were made to place a statue of Jesus in the Pantheon, which held all of the various deities worshipped in the empire, so that He could be honored along with all of the other gods and goddesses.
The Christians rejected that approach. Jesus is not another god to be added to a list. He is God, and He is the only true God. Isaiah 44:8 says, “Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.” The person and position of Christ demand that nothing else be placed in comparison or competition with Him. He will not share His rightful place on our heart’s throne—it belongs to Him alone. Nothing and no one else is worthy of our devotion.
Though our knowledge of Christ means we would never worship graven images, we can easily fall into the worship of things which take the place in our heart meant only for Christ. Paul wrote of the danger of “covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). We need to guard the desires of our heart in such a way that nothing takes the place of Christ or even assumes a position alongside Him. Only when our love is properly ordered can we truly worship and glorify Him.
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?
1 Corinthians 4:6-7
Recently I came across an excellent quote that says much about how we view the things we have. “The law of rightful ownership says: When we are blessed with money and material things, we are not getting what we deserve, but what God in His grace lovingly allows us to enjoy and care for.” Everything we have belongs to God. The things we have are entrusted to us as stewards to care for on behalf of the rightful Owner.
We like to take credit for our successes and our possessions. Perhaps you have seen the bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” That mindset fits well with our world, but it does not fit well with God’s Word. The Bible teaches us that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). While it is true that God expects us to work hard and be diligent, it is also true that the very strength and energy that allow us to do that are from Him.
Remembering this truth is especially important when we receive blessings. Though God should receive all of the credit, too often like Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon, we boast of what we have done. Far better it is for us to give Him all the glory rather than being judged for our pride.
"Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
God gives His children blessings for many reasons. One of the most important is so that we can in turn be a blessing to others in need. When God announced His blessing upon the life of Abraham, He said He would bless Abraham once, while twice declaring that Abraham would be a blessing to others. We cannot be what God means for us to be while at the same time being self-focused.
Murray J. Harris put it this way: “All too often we regard stewardship simply as a matter of our giving to God, but this aspect is secondary. Before we can give, we must possess, and before we possess we must receive. Therefore, stewardship is, in the first place, receiving God's good and bounteous gifts. And once received, those gifts are not to be used solely for our own good. They must also be used for the benefit of others, and ultimately for the glory of God the giver. The steward needs an open hand to receive from God and then an active hand to give to God and to others.”
Knowing how freely God gives to us, we should be generous and compassionate in providing help to others. As good stewards we must carefully use the resources that have been entrusted to our care to achieve the best results for the One who gives them to us. Use what you have to build His kingdom today.
"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus."
Judge Horace Gray of Boston who would later go on to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court once said to the man who escaped conviction on a technicality: "I know that you are guilty and you know it, and I wish you to remember that one day you will stand before a better and wiser Judge, and that there you will be dealt with according to justice and not according to law."
Man’s justice is always subject to errors, but God’s justice is perfect. No sin escapes His gaze, and though punishment is sometimes delayed as God grants room to repent, it is certain. No one escapes God’s justice on a technicality. Longfellow wrote, “Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small.”
And yet, though God is just, He is also merciful and loving toward us. The love of God for us is so great that He sent His Son Jesus to die so that the payment for our sins could be provided. As Romans 3:26 says, Jesus is both “just, and the justifier.” His blood shed on the Cross paid the penalty for our sins in full so that when His righteousness is applied to our account through faith, we are fully justified in God’s sight. When God looks at my record and your record, He finds only the perfection of Jesus. Knowing that we have been justified should inspire us to share the Gospel with others.
"And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying."
Giving is largely a matter of the heart, not the checkbook or bank balance. When people have a heart to give, they cannot be stopped. The woman who came and anointed Jesus’ feet with very precious oil just before His crucifixion was not giving out of great wealth but out of great love. This truth is borne out by some statistics on giving that I recently encountered. Mississippi is the 49th state in per capita income, yet the people there averaged $4,070 in charitable giving, which was 2nd highest in the nation. Conversely Massachusetts had the 4th highest average income, yet people there averaged only $2,645 in charitable giving, which was 49th in the nation.
The Lord’s plan is for His work to be financed by His people. Because everything belongs to Him, He could easily have chosen another way. Yet in His wisdom He knows that it is important for us to give. It reminds us of His ownership of everything when we give part of what He has given us back to Him.
Having a giving heart does not mean that we are giving great amounts. Instead it means that we are giving what we are able to give. The great English statesman Edmund Burke said, “No one ever made a greater mistake that he who, because he could only do a little, did nothing.” The Scripture is clear that God blesses the gift given from a heart willing to give.
"Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it."
Police had little trouble tracking down a man who robbed a bank in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The hapless thief used a bank deposit slip for his note informing the teller that the bank was being robbed—a deposit slip he had filled out with his name! The robber was quickly arrested and sent to prison.
Yet as silly and shortsighted as that is, many people are doing something far worse. Though they would never rob a bank or a store, they are robbing the very God of Heaven. He has given us commands regarding our giving that He takes very seriously. The people of Israel in the days of the prophet Malachi protested when they were accused of robbing God, and reacted as if that were something they would never do.
In response, God sent them a powerful message—they were under a curse because they had not faithfully brought their tithes and offerings as they were commanded. Not giving is a dangerous theft, and it is a double tragedy. Not only were the people suffering under a curse but they were missing an amazing blessing that God was willing to give them in response to their obedience. “Prove Me,” God said, offering them a challenge that they should find out for themselves how faithful He would be to reward them for giving.
"He that hath pity upon the poor lendeth unto the LORD; and that which he hath given will he pay him again."
James L. Kraft, head of the Kraft Cheese Corporation, made his fortune on the basis of a unique process for pasteurizing cheese so that it would not spoil. Along with his brothers he created a massive industrial enterprise. A committed Christian, Kraft gave approximately 25% of his enormous income to Christian causes for many years. He once said, "The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money I have given to the Lord."
There are many things we can and should do with the resources God entrusts to us, but none of them are more important than using them to further His work. We have seen over and over in recent years that investments thought to be safe proved to be based on nothing but empty promises—sometimes even outright fraud and deception. Some of the biggest names on Wall Street have vanished. Well-known economist Irving Fisher famously said, “Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau” just three days before the stock market crashed in 1929.
In such an uncertain world, there is great comfort in having the rock of God’s promise that when we give He will guarantee the return. While many today promote a false view of God’s blessing that teaches every child of God should be rich, we must not let their erroneous doctrine make us forget what God actually says. There is a very certain return on our “deposits” into God’s kingdom, both in this world and the next.
And while seeking riches is not meant to be the purpose of our lives and our money management, God does expect us to be wise with what He gives to us. There is nothing more wise than lending money to One who always repays.
"Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
I am not a big fan of road construction projects. When you see those big orange signs warning that there is construction ahead, the natural tendency is to groan a little. Someone said the official state flower of California is the orange traffic cone! And you may have seen the picture of the construction sign that says, “Prepare to be annoyed.” However despite the frustration that comes with the process, the end result is wonderful when we get to drive on a smooth, rebuilt road.
Life is filled with things that bring us frustration and annoyance. Often like Job we may not be able to see or understand what God is doing in our lives. Yet even when we cannot discern the purpose behind what is happening to us, we can be certain and confident that God knows exactly where we are and He knows exactly what He is doing. The process may be filled with things that are painful and difficult and sometimes frustrating, but the end result is something beautiful made according to His design.
God’s purpose is for us to be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). That requires that the things in our life that do not match that image be removed. Many times the things God must take away for us to be like Jesus are things that we would rather cling to. In faith we must be willing to release them to His purpose, trusting that He knows what the best end result will be.
"They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:"
Faith is easy to maintain when things are going well—when we’re in good health and the bills are paid and we are seeing results from our work. When things are going wrong (according to our perspective) it is much more difficult to continue to trust in God. He has called on us to have a committed faith that is just as certain when we are suffering as it is when we are rejoicing.
Charles Spurgeon said, "I would recommend you either believe God up to the hilt, or else not to believe at all. Believe this book of God, every letter of it, or else reject it. There is no logical standing place between the two. Be satisfied with nothing less than a faith that swims in the deeps of divine revelation; a faith that paddles about the edge of the water is poor faith at best. It is little better than a dry-land faith, and is not good for much."
James 1:6 tells us that, when we pray, we are to “ask in faith, nothing wavering.” So many times we miss what God could and would have done for us simply because we allow our faith to be shaken. Like Peter when he walked on the water we take our eyes off Jesus and begin to focus on the wind and the waves. And like Peter we sink. God will not fail you today. He never has, and you are not going to be the first of His children to be abandoned. Trust Him fully.
"But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:"
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
We often think of giving only in financial terms, and that is certainly an important part of it. Yet there is so much more than money involved in having a giving spirit. Giving begins with our attitude, not our checkbook or wallet. When we grasp our possessions and talents tightly, wanting to keep everything we have for ourselves, we are not following the plan of God for our lives.
His grace is meant to turn us into givers, and not just givers, but cheerful and generous givers. Appreciating grace means that we understand that all of the things we have are given to us by God. It also means that we understand the difference between the temporal and the eternal. The great missionary Jim Elliot who was killed in Ecuador in 1956 said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
God does not need our money or our talent or anything else that we have. He owns everything and is all-sufficient. He said, “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 50:12). He has designated His work to be supported and carried out by His people because we need to give and work for Him. If we allow His grace to work in our hearts, we will not find it hard to be generous and do what we can to minister to others in need.f
"And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all."
Someone said that prayer is much more talked of than practiced. One evangelist of the past used to say that on average Christians pray about five minutes a day, and sadly he may have been a little optimistic in that low assessment. In truth we need prayer to be a daily, sustained and regular part of our lives. The power of the early church as recorded in Acts was repeatedly seen following their times of prayer.
In our day we often fail to pray because we feel self-sufficient. We think that we are able to figure things out and make things happen on our own. We have lost the spirit of dependence that led President Abraham Lincoln to say, "I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom, and that of all about me seemed insufficient for the day."
Dr. Curtis Hutson often said, “There is more that you can do after you pray, but there is nothing you can do until you pray.” Like the early disciples, we need to be diligent about our praying. We should not allow anything to distract or deter us from seeking God’s face. It is only after we have spent time in His presence asking Him for His wisdom and power and blessing that we are prepared to work for Him.
"I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD."
When Hudson Taylor went to China, he made the voyage on a sailing vessel. As it neared the channel between the southern Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra, the missionary heard an urgent knock on his stateroom door. He opened it, and there stood the captain of the ship. "Mr. Taylor," he said, "we have no wind. We are drifting toward an island where the people are heathen, and I fear they are cannibals."
Taylor agreed to pray for wind. He wrote later that after a few minutes of praying he was so certain of the answer that he thought there was no need to pray any longer. So Taylor went up to the deck of the ship. He told the first mate to let down the sails. When the man protested that there was no wind, Taylor told him it was coming. The man reluctantly gave the order, and in moments the wind began to blow and stayed with them until they reached their destination.
When we ask God for His help, it is important that our faith remains firm. Whether the answer comes quickly or after the passage of time, we must trust that God knows not only what we need but also when we need it. He is never late according to His timetable. Since He is God and we are not, we must remain patient if He does not work quickly. And even before the wind begins to blow, you can be confident in His answer.
"And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved."
In 1996, the pastor of a small church in Arkansas who was distressed because the members of the congregation were divided came up with a plan to unite them. When he went to the church on a Saturday evening to turn on the air conditioner for the next day’s services, he lit a small fire by one of the walls. In his confession to the police, the pastor said he only meant to scorch a wall in hopes that having a repair project to work on would bring the people together. Instead the entire building burned down, and the pastor was convicted of arson.
The phrase “in one accord” appears often in the book of Acts. The early church had great power from God in large part because of their unity. When the church is divided, it should come as no surprise that very little of lasting good gets accomplished. Yet all too often we allow small matters to divide us and discord grows among the people of God.
While there certainly are things worth fighting over, most of the conflicts that divide churches are not over major doctrinal points, but rather over minor issues and preferences. We lament the church’s lack of power to make an impact on our communities and culture, yet we do not copy the early church’s unity of spirit and purpose. They had a common heartbeat—they were united around their love for Christ and their desire to take His Gospel to everyone they could. Like pianos tuned with the same tuning fork, their message and ministry was marked by unity, and as a result, by great power.
"If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?"
The great evangelist D. L. Moody once said, “Some people think God does not like to be troubled with our constant coming and asking. The way to trouble God is not to come at all.” God cares even about the details we think are small and insignificant. If He knows when each sparrow falls and how many hairs are on our heads, how much more important are our needs and concerns to Him?
Of course God does not need us to inform Him of what our problems are. We never give Him information He does not already have. Why then has God ordained prayer as the means through which our needs can be met and His work can be done? Prayer is meant to build our relationship with God. As we come to Him in faith pouring out our hearts before Him, we are giving a visible demonstration of our belief in His promises and His goodness.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us that this is a prerequisite for prayer: “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” In addition when we have past answered prayers to look back on and rejoice in, it encourages us to continue to boldly go to the throne of grace to seek help. Nothing shows God’s love for His children more than the fact that He is willing to meet our needs. God wants to hear from you today.
"Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."
Author E. M. Bounds wrote, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use—men of prayer, men mighty in prayer.” Our culture has a fascination with new methods to accomplish God’s work. The “seeker-sensitive” church movement has abandoned many core truths of the Scripture in their effort to make the church attractive and comfortable to the lost.
Instead of seeking new tools and leaving behind our convictions, we should go back to what the Word of God commands and do things His way. A praying church will be a powerful church. And while there is an important place for corporate prayer, it is also true that a praying church is characterized primarily by having praying members. In our individual time alone with God, we must seek His power and resources for the church to accomplish His work.
Jonathan Edwards said, “There is no way that Christians can do so much to promote the work of God and advance the kingdom of Christ as by prayer.” As a pastor, it is a blessing to know that people are praying for me in the work. Your prayers for the work of your church are important. The Bible warns us that the enemy is seeking to devour us, and prayer provides a shield against his attacks. I encourage you today to spend time praying for the power and protection of your pastor and your church.
"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."
One of the most beautiful pictures of grace in all the Word of God is found in the story of Noah. At a time when the world was filled with great wickedness—much like our day—Noah found grace from the Lord and was saved along with his family from the flood that destroyed the world. Our modern world skeptically laughs at the story of the flood, just as Peter said that they would. He wrote that in the last days men would deny the truth of this particular Bible story.
Peter said these scoffers “willingly are ignorant…that…the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished.” (2 Peter 3:5-6) Why would men deny the flood? The answer is twofold: First, denying the flood is an attempt to deny the fact that we must one day face judgment. Second, denying the flood is an attempt to deny that the only way of escape from the judgment that is to come is found in the grace of God.
As you remember, the ark had only one door—symbolizing that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. This message of an exclusive means of salvation is not popular in our day, but it is true. There are not many roads that lead to Heaven; there is only one way. For those of us who have received salvation by grace through faith, there is a responsibility to do as Noah did and invite others to join us in escaping the coming judgment.
"And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you."
The normal response of Jesus to His disciples when they asked Him for something was to grant their requests. Yet in response to their plea for increased faith, Jesus simply told them that a tiny amount of faith—mustard seeds are very small—was enough to have a tree picked up and planted in the sea. The problem was not that they needed more faith; the problem was that they were not exercising the faith they already had.
We often think of people who see God work in amazing ways as if they had some secret and superior level of faith that allowed them to accomplish so much. Instead the key is found in their willingness to use their faith. Think of the early church praying for the release of Peter from prison. Herod had already killed James and was planning on killing Peter. As the church met to cry out to God for deliverance, an angel came and freed Peter from the prison.
When he knocked on the door where they were meeting, the young lady named Rhoda who answered the door was so happy to hear Peter’s voice that she ran back inside, leaving the delivered prisoner standing in the street. But when she told the church that their prayers had been answered, they did not believe her. “And they said unto her, Thou art mad” (Acts 12:15). When they finally did let Peter in, the Bible says they “were astonished” to see him. Did they have great faith? No. They were surprised when the answer came. But they did have enough faith to pray, and God answered their prayers.
"And also all that generation were gathered unto their fathers: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the LORD, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim: And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger."
God’s plan for faith to be transferred from one generation to the next is for those who have seen His work for themselves to pass that knowledge on to their children and those they lead to Him. If we are not faithful to accomplish that task, the results will quickly become catastrophic. Joshua and the leaders of his generation served God faithfully and led the people well. But they failed miserably at transferring their knowledge of God to the next generation.
Former Education Secretary William Bennett wrote: “Today’s ordinary citizen is living off the stored up moral capital of another century’s experience.” That accurate description highlights the true problem facing our country and our churches today. We cannot continue to coast on the faith of the past. We need people who are walking with God now rather than simply reliving the days of the past when others walked with Him and saw Him work.
Our children and grandchildren need to see God as real and at work in our lives so that they too will love, fear, and serve Him rather than following other gods in their heart. The knowledge of the true and living God is a vital inheritance—far more important than money or property or anything else that we could leave to those who follow us.
"And it came to pass after a while, that the brook dried up, because there had been no rain in the land. And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Arise, get thee to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon, and dwell there: behold, I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee. So he arose and went to Zarephath."
1 Kings 17:7-10
God sent Elijah to King Ahab with the message that it would not rain because of the people’s worship of Baal. Ahab attempted to kill the prophet because he did not like the message, and God sent Elijah to hide by the brook Cherith where He sent ravens to feed Elijah. When the brook dried up, God sent Elijah to Zarephath.
To our logic and reasoning, the command to go to Zarephath was a crazy instruction. Zarephath was in Zidon—the home country of Jezebel. If there was anyone who wanted Elijah dead more than Ahab, it was his evil wife. Now God was sending His prophet deep into enemy territory.
Furthermore, God sent Elijah to a widow who did not have the resources to take care of him. When he arrived in Zarephath, she was preparing one last meal for herself and her son—she was literally scraping the bottom of the barrel. But that was God’s place for His prophet, and Elijah obeyed. There is no record in Scripture that he argued with God. God said “Go,” and Elijah went. Through his faith and obedience, he was kept safe and provided for until the famine was over.
When we obey God, we honor and please Him. There are people doing things in the name of God which God has not told them to do, and that is not faith no matter what it may be called. God’s directives for our lives are found in His Word. Each command of Scripture is to be obeyed, regardless of whether it fits our logic or not.
"Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit."
Hudson Taylor said, “The prayer power has never been tried to its full capacity. If we want to see mighty wonders of divine power and grace wrought in the place of weakness, failure and disappointment, let us answer God’s standing challenge, ‘Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not!'”
One of the great tragedies of modern-day Christianity is that we simply do not pray as we should. The Lord has placed all of the power and resources of Heaven at our disposal to do His work, yet we “have not, because [we] ask not” (James 4:2). Prayer is not an empty ritual. It is not a religious exercise. It is how a child of God goes to the throne of grace based on the relationship He has freely given us to seek His help which He has promised to give.
Elijah is used as a model for prayer because he “prayed earnestly” and he “prayed again.” In these brief statements we see both the importance of intensity in our praying and the importance of continued praying. Though there are times when a quick prayer is all that is needed—think of Peter sinking beneath the water—in most cases the serious issues we face will require sustained, fervent and serious prayer. God is waiting to hear from us before He will work on our behalf.
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 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 6:9-11
I read a beautiful story about a young lady who wanted to join a church. One of the deacons asked, “Were you a sinner before you received the Lord Jesus into your life?” “Yes, sir,” she replied. “Well, are you still a sinner?” “To tell you the truth, I feel I'm a greater sinner than ever,” she admitted. He questioned, “Then what real change have you experienced?” “I don't quite know how to explain it,” she confessed. “I used to be a sinner running after sin, but now that I am saved, I’m a sinner running from sin!”
The transformation that the Holy Spirit works in our lives when we are saved goes far beyond changing our eternal destiny. He also changes the desires and appetites of our hearts. The sins that once were so attractive are no longer what we seek. As He sanctifies us, we can leave the past behind and move forward “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29).
Someone once told Charles Spurgeon, “If I believed what you preach about eternal security, I would sin as much as I wanted.” Spurgeon replied, “I sin more than I want to!” Our flesh will never be fully eradicated in this life, but we should be growing and maturing in grace and leaving the sins of the past. The same power that provided our salvation is available to provide our sanctification as well.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
For more than forty years, Margaret Stringer faithfully served the Lord as a missionary in Indonesia. She worked among some of the most primitive people, including a number of tribes that still practiced cannibalism when she arrived on the field. She surrendered her life to be a missionary when she was just twelve years old. Later she wrote, “Nobody expected that I really would do it, but they had not taken God into account.”
Not everyone is called to a full-time ministry, but every child of God has a work to do for Him. God did not save us to sit back and enjoy the ride to Heaven; He saved us to serve. Jesus said, “As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21). There are things that you can do and people you can reach that are part of God’s plan and purpose for your life.
Annie Johnston Flint wrote, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today, He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way, He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died, He has no help but our help to bring them to His side.” God could have chosen any means for the Gospel to go throughout the world. He could have had angels make the announcement of the Good News or had clouds spell out the message in the sky. Instead He calls us to be His messengers, walking in the works He has prepared for us to do.
"And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform."
The Christian life cannot be separated from faith. We are saved “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). We “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7). We “live by faith” (Romans 1:17). Yet despite this truth many people do not really understand what faith is. In its simplest form, faith is believing what God says and then acting on it. It is treating what God says as true even before it happens.
Over and over Scripture tells us that nothing is impossible for God. Yet all too often Christians live as if they were orphans, with no Heavenly Father able and willing to work in their lives and meet their needs. George Mueller said, “Faith does not operate in the realm of the possible. There is no glory for God in that which is humanly possible. Faith begins where man’s power ends.”
Can your life and work for God be fully explained by things that can be seen, or is there something going on that shows God’s power? Do you believe the things that God has said in His Word are true? Are you living as if they are true? When God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice, no one had ever been resurrected. Yet Abraham believed that would happen. He went to Mt. Moriah “Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead” (Hebrews 11:19). Let nothing shake your faith today. Every promise of God is certain and true, and you can trust it completely.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
In Old Testament times, bringing a sacrifice to the priest was something every Israelite was familiar with doing. Animals were brought for offerings, not to take away sins but as an expression of faith in the coming Messiah who would provide salvation through His blood. Hebrews 10:12 contrasts the work of the priests whose work never finished with the completed ministry of Jesus Christ who “after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God.”
Though the sacrifices for sin are finished, there is still a sacrifice we are to make—of ourselves. We are exhorted to place our bodies at the complete disposal of God. There is a beautiful picture of this in the story of Abraham and Isaac. God instructed Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice. Though Isaac was a strong young man and Abraham was well over one hundred years old, Isaac willingly allowed himself to be placed upon the altar.
Our tendency is to regard making such a sacrifice as something large and out of the ordinary. Yet Paul described it as “reasonable service.” In light of all that God has done for us, providing us the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, sending the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and promising to hear our prayers and supply our needs, it is not at all unreasonable for us to cheerfully offer ourselves for His service. Those who truly understand the magnitude and wonder of salvation will not hold back from yielding their lives to the King who rescued them.