Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“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.”
It is a normal part of human nature to resist change. We see it in families, in churches, in businesses, in politics—all across the board new ideas tend to be met with at least skepticism if not outright rejection. I read about a man who said his doctor had told him to cut red meat out of his diet, and as a result, he had stopped putting ketchup on his hamburgers! This resistance to change is not all bad, as not all change is good. Since the truth never changes, there are things that must not change. But there are some changes that are an integral part of God’s plan for our lives.
He did not save us for us to stay as we were. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If nothing is changing, if we are not becoming more and more like Jesus, something is wrong. God’s plan is for us to be transformed in His image. Only as we allow Him to change us will we become what He wills for us to be.
The problem often comes when we are reluctant to make a change that we know is necessary for godly living. We easily get attached to our sins and want to hold them fast. We find holiness to be confining, keeping us from pleasures we should not enjoy. Instead we must be willing participants in God’s lifelong program to change us to be like Him.
“And Joshua said unto Achan, My son, give, I pray thee, glory to the LORD God of Israel, and make confession unto him; and tell me now what thou hast done; hide it not from me. And Achan answered Joshua, and said, Indeed I have sinned against the LORD God of Israel, and thus and thus have I done: When I saw among the spoils a goodly Babylonish garment, and two hundred shekels of silver, and a wedge of gold of fifty shekels weight, then I coveted them, and took them; and, behold, they are hid in the earth in the midst of my tent, and the silver under it.”
In January of 2017, a bank executive in upstate New York made international news. After being arrested and charged with drunk driving, Joseph Talbot realized that his mugshot would be printed in the paper. He went from store to store in his hometown, buying up every copy of The Times of Wayne County he could find. By the time he gave up the effort, he had purchased nearly one thousand copies of the paper for $1.25 each. His efforts were in vain, and in fact, his plan was reported all around the world.
Every time we try to cover up sin we fail. No matter how effective we are at concealing things from others, we can never hide anything from God. Even if we bury them under the floor of our tents where no one would ever look, God sees. He has placed the law of sowing and reaping into effect, and sin always carries destruction with it—unless we repent. If we depend on our ability to keep the news of what we have done from spreading, we will not receive the forgiveness and restoration that we need. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
“Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever. Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein.”
In 1936, the professional football team known as the Rams took the field for the first time. They played in Cleveland for ten years before moving to Los Angeles for the 1946 season. After almost fifty years on the West Coast, they moved to St. Louis in 1995. They lasted there for twenty-one years before moving back to Los Angeles for the 2016 season. Someone suggested that fans of the team should only buy jerseys and hats that just say “Rams” without the city on it—because they’ll probably move again in a few more years.
In truth there is nothing human that is 100 percent dependable. No government, business, or institution is guaranteed to last. Many people know what it is like to be abandoned or betrayed or let down by someone they counted on. And even those people who are faithful and consistent can be taken from life at any moment. The one thing—the only one—we can always count on is God because He never changes.
David lived a life filled with huge swings. He went from winning great victories to literally running for his life. Leaders treated him unfairly, friends joined rebellions against his throne, and even some of his own family members turned against him. No wonder David wrote, “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance” (Psalm 42:5).
“Blessed be the LORD my strength, which teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight: My goodness, and my fortress; my high tower, and my deliverer; my shield, and he in whom I trust; who subdueth my people under me. LORD, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him! or the son of man, that thou makest account of him!”
Long before George Washington was a political leader, he served in uniform, fighting in the French and Indian War a decade before becoming commander in chief during the Revolutionary War. He led the small American army against a much larger British force through great hardship, including the winter spent at Valley Forge. Washington never forgot the courage of those men who sacrificed so much. In 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris recognizing America as an independent nation just a few weeks away, Washington sent a letter to the governors of what had been the colonies. It was a prayer recognizing God’s hand in all that had come before. Washington wrote (original spelling and capitalization):
“I now make it my earnest prayer, that God would have the United States in his holy protection, that he would incline the hearts of the Citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to Government, to entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another, for their fellow citizens of the United States at large, and particularly for their brethren who have served in the Field, and finally, that he would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Devine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation.”
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in England were marked by frequent wars over religious disputes. After Henry VIII established the Church of England, there was a struggle between Catholics and the new church for control of the government. The issue was thought to be settled by the late 1600s, but when the Catholic James II was placed on the throne after the death of his brother, the people feared a renewed conflict. To prevent that, the “Glorious Revolution” as it came to be known installed the Dutch king William of Orange on England’s throne as King William III. Along with his wife Mary, William ensured that Catholic control of England would not return. In our day, here in the United States, we have the opportunity to elect representative leaders on a regular basis. In so doing, we are choosing those who will lead us on local, state, and national levels.
There is a similar principle at work in our spiritual lives. No one has the option of being an independent ruler of his own life. Everyone serves something. Some people allow sin to rule over them, obeying what Satan wants rather than what God says. Some people allow God to rule over them, denying the lusts and desires that once motivated their actions. We still have a sin nature after we are saved, but sin no longer has the power to compel us to do evil. The only way we can return to its grasp is if we choose for sin to rule over us again.
“Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.”
Late in his life, Dr. James M. Gray who followed R. A. Torrey as the head of Moody Bible Institute suffered a serious health crisis. His doctors suggested a voyage at sea so that the clean air and relaxation would promote his recovery. Gray planned his trip, but just before he was to sail, his sickness worsened again, and he was not able to go. Just a few days later he read in the papers that the ship on which he had planned to sail had sunk after hitting a reef and everyone on board had drowned.
Many times we are not even aware of the things God does to deliver us from danger. He closes doors and redirects our path in such a way that we are spared great sorrow and heartache. Yet because we do not see it, we are often not grateful—sometimes even feeling that God is not doing anything in our lives. Even worse we sometimes become angry at the very things God uses to protect us. When Balaam foolishly went against God’s command not to go to Moab, three times his donkey stopped to keep Balaam from being killed by an angel that only the donkey could see. Each time Balaam beat the donkey, and even said he wanted to kill the very animal that was keeping him alive. We do not need to see what God is doing to trust that it is there.
“Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth. And there were seven sons of one Sceva, a Jew, and chief of the priests, which did so. And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye? And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, and overcame them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”
Paul’s preaching made a powerful impact as he traveled across the Roman Empire preaching the gospel. Few cities were touched more than Ephesus, where Paul spent three years establishing what would become one of the most important and effective churches of the first century. Paul’s impact, however, also inspired envy. In Ephesus the seven sons of a Jewish priest named Sceva decided to mimic Paul’s actions and tried to cast a demon out of a man who was possessed. It did not go the way they planned. Instead of leaving, the demon took control of the man and chased all seven of them down the street in defeat and shame.
There was no reason for the devil to be afraid of people like that—they had no power. It was very different with Paul. When he commanded demons to leave in Jesus’ name, they went. Our lives should be so filled with the Spirit of God, and we should walk in His power to such an extent that the devil is fully aware of our impact. The great missionary C. T. Studd said, “I pray that when I die, all of Hell will rejoice that I am out of the fight.” Not for any kind of pride, but for our effectiveness in the kingdom of God, our names should be known even in Hell.
“We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:”
When the forty years of wandering in the wilderness came to an end and the people were finally ready to enter the Promised Land, they faced the flooded Jordan River. There was no way for them to get across, until God stepped in. Much as He had done a generation before with the Red Sea, God worked a miracle to provide a path on dry ground for the Israelites. Before the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant left the river bed, Joshua instructed one representative from each tribe to bring a stone to build an altar in the middle of the river that would be there for years to come. When their children asked about it, “Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever” (Joshua 4:7).
Our faith is not just for ourselves alone. It is a heritage—a legacy even more important than any financial bequest we might make to our descendants—that is meant to continue through the generations. The only way to make that kind of lasting impact is to ensure that the power and work of God in our lives are remembered, and the stories of His power are told over and over.
“And Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the inhabitants of Gilead, said unto Ahab, As the LORD God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word. And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, Get thee hence, and turn thee eastward, and hide thyself by the brook Cherith, that is before Jordan. And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.”
1 Kings 17:1–4
After the end of World War II, Germany was divided into four zones—American, British, French and Russian. Though the capital of Berlin was inside the Soviet area of control, the city itself was also divided into four zones. In 1948, the Russians decided to try to take over the entire city by cutting off all road and rail traffic into Berlin. They felt that the lack of food and supplies would give them the victory. In response, President Truman launched what came to be known as the Berlin Airlift. For nearly a year, American planes flew supplies into the surrounded city. At the height of the effort, there was a C-54 transport plane, able to carry ten tons of supplies, landing or taking off every thirty seconds. Finally, in 1949 the Russians ended the blockade, acknowledging their effort had failed.
Many times we find ourselves in situations where it feels like we are surrounded by the enemy. It may be health problems, financial burdens, relationship fractures or spiritual battles, but we find ourselves needing a supply of strength and resources beyond our own ability. In those moments, we must turn to God. He has both an unlimited supply as well as the power to deliver whatever we need—if we seek His help. “If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof” (Psalm 50:12).
“And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the LORD had given him rest round about from all his enemies; That the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains. And Nathan said to the king, Go, do all that is in thine heart; for the LORD is with thee.”
2 Samuel 7:1–3
Much of David’s reign was filled with battles as Israel became a strong and growing nation under his rule. But one day David reached a point where the immediate battles had been won. When he sat down, David was at a crossroads. How would he spend his time and energy now that victory had been won? Rather than seeking to build a monument to exalt himself, David’s desire was to build a temple that would glorify God. Eventually God would direct David to have Solomon build it instead, and so David devoted the final years of his life to preparing materials for a worthy house for the Ark of the Covenant.
Near the end of his life, David was able to say to the nation of Israel, “Now I have prepared with all my might for the house of my God the gold for things to be made of gold, and the silver for things of silver, and the brass for things of brass, the iron for things of iron, and wood for things of wood; onyx stones, and stones to be set, glistering stones, and of divers colours, and all manner of precious stones, and marble stones in abundance” (1 Chronicles 29:2). This life is not about being sure that we are thought well of and remembered by others. It is about being sure that God is glorified in everything that we do. We are meant to be lifting up our wonderful Lord, not trying to exalt ourselves.
“For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
In 1944, during the buildup for the invasion of Normandy, an American Liberty ship named the Richard Montgomery sank in a fierce storm off the coast of England. Loaded with thousands of pounds of fragmentation bombs, the ship broke apart and disappeared beneath the waves. Despite the shallowness of the water, the wreck has never been salvaged. Investigation showed that trying to move or recover the bombs could easily set off a massive and destructive explosion. So the ruined ship continues to remain with its dangerous cargo beneath the waves.
Jesus said that every person born into the world starts out facing destruction. We do not start out good and then later go bad. We are born with a sin nature—a desire and bent to do what is wrong. And there is nothing we can do about it in our own strength and power. Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
We must have a Saviour, and that is why Jesus came into the world. He was perfect, but He was not here just to set an example. He was a great teacher, but He was not here just to educate. He was compassionate, but He was not here just to meet needs. He came to die on the cross so that in believing in Him, we could be saved.
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain.”
It does not take great insight or perception to realize that the world around us is filled with darkness. There are wars and conflicts in many nations. The evil of slavery continues to exist. There are crimes against people and property. Governments often take away freedom rather than expand it. The same evils that have existed throughout history continue in our day. Mankind is not becoming better and wiser, but more evil and depraved.
This should not take us by surprise. In his final letter to Timothy Paul wrote, “But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13). The cure for darkness is simple—light. Whether in the physical or the spiritual realm, darkness has no power against light. The problem of deep and growing darkness only comes when the lights are not shining.
Dr. John Rice said, “It is true that the world is dark. How great is that darkness! The world of natural man has always been dark. But no matter how full of darkness a room is, when you turn on plenty of light the darkness is gone. Jesus said, “Ye are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). If the dying, lost world does not have light, it is because Christians have put their lights under bushels. They are not like candles put on a candlestick that giveth light to all that are in the house. Most Christians are not like a city set on a hill that cannot be hid.”
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”
1 John 3:1–3
About fifty students tried out for the Emsley Laney High School basketball team in 1978. There were only fifteen spots on the roster, and one of the athletes who failed to make the cut was a sophomore. Instead of giving up on the game, he accepted a place on the junior varsity and began to work on developing his game. His name was Michael Jordan, and even most people who aren’t basketball fans know he was one of the greatest players that ever played. But at first, it didn’t look like he would be anything special.
Often we judge ourselves and others by what we can see in the moment. But that is only part of the story. What we will be in the future has not yet appeared. If we are faithful to walk in the Spirit and grow in grace, God will shape and mold us to become more and more like His Son. In His hands, we are transformed to be like Jesus.
Stephen was stoned for his powerful witness, and in his last moment he echoed the words of Jesus on the cross. “And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). Although we will not all die as martyrs for the faith, the spiritual maturity and Christlikeness that Stephen demonstrated is God’s goal for each of our lives.
“And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:16–18
Normally graduation ceremonies are conducted in alphabetical order. But, in 2019, when Terri Furrh graduated from Moulton High School in Texas, she was asked to wait until all the other members of her class had been called across the stage. When her name was finally read, more than fifty police officers came forward and lined the stage. Terri’s father had been a policeman, but he was killed in the line of duty when she was just three months old. Moulton Chief of Police David Beyer had worked with her father. He told Terri, “I made a phone call, and because he couldn’t be here tonight to stand and congratulate you, all his brothers and sisters showed up to do that.”
Despite what many teach, only Christians have a relationship with God as a true Father. Though He is God over all, there is no family relationship except for those who accept Christ as Saviour. “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). When we come to Him in faith, He accepts us—not temporarily or based on something we do, but on His grace. Our earthly fathers can’t live forever, gut God is eternal. Nothing can take Him away from us, and nothing can take us away from Him. Those who are saved are saved forever.
“For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:”
Many people think and plan a great deal to ensure they can leave a financial inheritance to their descendants. This is certainly not a bad thing to do, but it is far from the most important. Primarily, we should be planning and working to leave a heritage of faith for our families that will endure long after we are gone. This heritage of faith is not guaranteed, no matter how devout or sincere we may be in our personal lives. It requires an investment of time, prayer, effort, and faith if our children and grandchildren are to walk in our steps.
The vital importance this holds in God’s eyes is revealed in His description of Abraham and the reason God knew that he could be trusted. “For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him” (Genesis 18:19). This is what God intends for every parent to do.
Far more important than success in our careers or our financial holdings is our success in faithful living—not just for ourselves but for those who follow after us. If we want our descendants to hope in God and obey His commands, we must succeed in this work. This does not happen by accident. Success only comes as we live that faith before them and share it with them.
“Wherewith shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before the high God? shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
It’s easy for us to fall into the snare of pride, because it makes us feel really good about ourselves—at least in the short term. We are happy when people praise us and build us up, and we are discouraged when they do not. But this life is not about us. God has a purpose and plan for us to bring glory to Him rather than to ourselves. The difference between pride and humility is a difference of focus. Do we truly trust God’s promises and provision, or do we live as if we are the ones doing the work?
Andrew Murray wrote, “Humility is perfect quietness of heart. It is for me to have no trouble; never to be fretted or vexed or irritated or sore or disappointed. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord where I can go in and shut the door and kneel to my Father in secret and be at peace as in a deep sea of calmness when all around is trouble. It is the fruit of the Lord Jesus Christ’s redemptive work on Calvary’s cross, manifested in those of His own who are definitely subject to the Holy Spirit.”
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
In January of 2019, a Japanese businessman paid a staggering $3.1 million for a massive bluefin tuna that weighed in at 613 pounds. Kiyoshi Kimura, who owns Sushizanmai chain of sushi restaurants in Japan, made the purchase which broke his own record for the most ever paid for a single fish. Before the auction, Kimura had estimated the fish would go for around $500,000. But the bidding was intense, and he realized that in addition to providing ingredients for many meals, the publicity would be worth a great deal, so Kimura continued to bid until he won the prized fish.
The price we are willing to pay for something is dictated by how much we value it. It is not so much a question of the intrinsic value of the object, but the value it holds for the buyer that determines the ultimate price. Jesus was not taken by surprise by the cost of the cross. He knew it was part of God’s plan before He ever came to earth. Yet knowing full well the cost, Jesus came anyway and laid down His life. If He had not been willing to pay the price, our sin debt would have remained. No one could compel Jesus to die, but He did so willingly because of His amazing love for us.
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.”
There is no question that we live in an evil world. Sin is paraded proudly through the streets and promoted by society, entertainment, politics, and sometimes even religion. It is everywhere around us. Yet despite the prevalence of sin, God calls us to be pure and holy. One of the key ingredients to reaching that goal is to not spend too much time focused on evil. We should not withdraw from the world, trying to isolate ourselves from sin. But we should separate from sin in our personal lifestyles and we should avoid curiosity or interest in the details of the sin around us. We do not need to study every detail of the latest sinful trend, becoming experts in evil.
There is a widely held false philosophy that claims the cure for human failing is education. If only people know more, they will do better, according to this way of thinking. Yet both the Bible and history contradict this. Knowing more, especially about sin, does not make us more likely to do right. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “Education without God makes men clever devils.”
Instead we need to be focused on what is good and holy and true and right. When these things fill our hearts and minds, we will find it easier to resist temptation. Paul told the believers at Ephesus the importance of this truth: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,” (Ephesians 3:17). Be an expert in good rather than evil.
“And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?”
Louisa Stead lost her husband when he drowned trying to save another swimmer as the family was enjoying a picnic at the beach. Left alone with a young daughter and no way to support herself in those days before government programs were available, Louisa began to pray. More than once an anonymous friend left food, money, and clothing on her porch when things were especially desperate. Out of that painful tragedy came one of the most beautiful hymns ever written:
‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus,
Just to take Him at His Word
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
Oh, for grace to trust Him more!
Most of us have, thankfully, never faced a challenge quite as severe as Louisa Stead did. But all of us have needs, burdens, heartaches, and struggles. In every one of those cases, we have an unfailing source of support—if we avail ourselves of it through faith. When Jesus was reminding the disciples not to worry about the future, He used the example of ravens. Ravens are not anyone’s favorite bird. They are scavengers who do not care about the freshness or delicacy of what they eat. They do not soar majestically like eagles or sing beautiful songs like robins or cardinals. Yet God still cares for these “ugly” birds. And He cares for us. He will never forsake you as His child.
“Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish. This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah.”
The reality of God is seen all around us in creation, yet men have gone to great lengths to concoct an alternate explanation. The faith required to believe the various theories put forward to explain both the universe and human life through evolution is far greater than the faith required to believe that God made the world as He said in the Bible. Men do not believe in God because they do not want to face an authority with the right and power to judge them. They don’t even want to think about Him. Romans 1:28 says, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient.”
God is the only one who is eternal and gives immortality. Yet when people turn their backs on Him, they do not give up on believing in eternity—they just falsely believe that they can create their own version of immortality apart from God. This is not a new trend. It was this spirit of rejection of God that led to the attempt to build a great tower at Babel. “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). All such efforts are doomed to failure because they are built on a foundation of rejecting God and His revealed truth. Only when we follow His path can we have a true hope for eternity.
“Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”
1 Timothy 6:17–19
Following Germany’s defeat in World War I, the victorious Allies imposed harsh economic reparations on the Germans. Their purpose was twofold: to punish Germany for the war and to help rebuild the other nations, especially France, which had been devastated during the intense fighting. The economic hardship those reparations imposed led to a staggering rate of inflation in Germany in the early 1920s. The German mark rapidly lost value. There are famous pictures of children playing with stacks of paper money because that was cheaper than buying building blocks. Germans even heated their homes or cooked by burning money rather than wood. At the height of the economic crisis, one American dollar was worth more than 4 trillion German marks. This financial disaster helped pave the way for Hitler to rise to power.
Money may seem to offer great security, but it is only an illusion. All human wealth is uncertain, and even vast fortunes that seem inexhaustible can vanish in a moment. Though this has happened again and again throughout history, people still trust in earthly wealth. But Solomon reminds us that all such efforts are doomed to failure. “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:5). It is important for us to be wise and plan for the future, but our security is not found in stocks or bonds or gold or any other earthly investment. Security comes from God alone.
“And Samuel came to Saul: and Saul said unto him, Blessed be thou of the LORD: I have performed the commandment of the LORD. And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear? And Saul said, They have brought them from the Amalekites: for the people spared the best of the sheep and of the oxen, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God; and the rest we have utterly destroyed.”
1 Samuel 15:13–15
I read a humorous story about a man who had agreed with his friends that they would go on an all-vegetarian diet in an effort to lose weight. After a while, he was craving meat, so he made an excuse to go out of town. In a nearby city, he walked into a restaurant and ordered a whole roasted pig. In a few minutes, he was surprised to hear someone call his name. It was one of his dieting friends. Just as the friend walked up, the waiter arrived with a huge platter holding the pig with an apple in its mouth. “This restaurant is something else,” the diet cheater declared. “I order an apple, and look what they brought with it!”
Making excuses and shifting blame has been part of human nature ever since the Garden of Eden. Both Adam and Eve tried this approach when God confronted them after they ate the forbidden fruit, and it continues to this day. Like Saul when he was confronted by Samuel after failing to carry out God’s instructions in full, we twist and turn and sometimes even lie to get out of facing the fact that we have done wrong. When all else fails, we blame it on someone else. The problem with this approach is that we will never deal with a problem until we honestly address it and accept our part in whatever has happened.
“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.”
From 1869 to 1882, Jesse James was the most famous outlaw in America. Along with his brother Frank and some of their friends and fellow Civil War veterans, James robbed banks and trains across the American Midwest. He had an eye for publicity as well as crime, often leaving press releases behind to bolster his reputation as a thief. James continued his murderous crime spree until he was betrayed and killed by a fellow gang member who hoped to collect the large reward placed on Jesse James.
We rightly condemn Jesse James for his criminal life. We observe that his end was far from unexpected given the violence he visited on others. Yet too often God’s children are living from the proceeds of robbery—not of other people, but of Him. Rather than responding to God’s grace by tithing and generous giving, they hold back from God what is rightfully His.
Tithes and offerings are a Christian’s way to affirm that everything he has comes from God and belongs to God. Giving that first 10 percent back to God is something He has instructed in His Word, and giving is something we see Christians in the New Testament practice as well. Actually, many New Testament Christians gave far above their tithes. In 2 Corinthians 8:5, as Paul described the Macedonian Christians’ sacrificial giving to the Lord, he wrote, “And this they did, not as we hoped, but first gave their own selves to the Lord….”
In contrast to these sacrificial gifts, a Barna survey in the United States indicated that only about 8 percent of the people who identify as Christians tithe. When we rob God in tithes and offerings, we may think that we are getting ahead and will have more than if we give generously. Instead we are impoverishing ourselves and limiting the opportunities we have to invest in God’s eternal work.
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.”
John Paton’s decision to leave Scotland and go to the New Hebrides Islands as a missionary was not made lightly. The inhabitants of most of the islands were cannibals, and several Europeans had already been killed there. But Paton believed he had a responsibility to go and take them the gospel. His faith was greatly influenced by his father who went alone to pray three times each day and had family prayers twice each day.
Many years later Paton wrote about the day he left for the mission field. “My dear father walked with me the first six miles of the way. His counsel and tears and heavenly conversation on that parting journey are fresh in my heart as if it had been but yesterday; and tears are on my cheeks as freely now as then, whenever memory steals me away to the scene. His tears fell fast when our eyes met each other in looks for which all speech was vain! He grasped my hand firmly for a minute in silence, and then solemnly said: ‘God bless you, my son! Your father’s God prosper you, and keep you from all evil!’”
Parents and especially fathers have a great obligation from God to teach their children to love and obey Him. There is nothing more important we can do for the future than to pass on our faith to the next generation.
“And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”
Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made news when he auctioned off NBA championship rings, signed basketballs, and other memorabilia and raised nearly $3 million for his Skyhook Foundation to promote education for children. Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “Looking back on what I have done with my life, instead of gazing at the sparkle of jewels or gold plating celebrating something I did a long time ago, I’d rather look into the delighted face of a child holding their first caterpillar and think about what I might be doing for their future. That’s a history that has no price.” The basketball star is not a Christian, but practices Islam. Yet even without Christ’s promises regarding investing in eternity, he understands that there are some things which are more important than others.
We do not all have the same physical talents, spiritual gifts, or financial means. However, we do all have the same number of hours in a day. The question is how we will invest that most precious resource God has entrusted to us. Will we spend our lives on things that matter both for this world and the next, or will we waste our lives on things that have no real value or meaning? One day God will judge everything that we have done to see what value it holds. “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Corinthians 3:15).
“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.”
The repressive Communist government of Romania did everything they could to silence Richard Wurmbrand after their takeover of the country following World War II. He was arrested and imprisoned, but not even prison bars could stop him from proclaiming the truth of the gospel. In his autobiography, Tortured for Christ, Wurmbrand wrote, “It was strictly forbidden to preach to other prisoners. It was understood that whoever was caught doing this received a severe beating. A number of us decided to pay the price for the privilege of preaching, so we accepted their terms. It was a deal; we preached and they beat us. We were happy preaching. They were happy beating us, so everyone was happy.” Wurmbrand’s perspective could only come through his confidence in God’s promises and the Holy Spirit’s work of grace in his life.
Though Jesus promised a blessing for those who are persecuted for their faith, that is a blessing most of us are willing to miss out on receiving. As a result, there are times when we are tempted to be silent with the gospel or avoid taking a stand for Christ when we think it would not be well received. The temptation to take the easy way out is not new. Peter faced it as he warmed himself by the fire outside where Jesus was being tried (John 18:25). But as our society does more to promote evil, our firm stand for the truth must never waver. While none of us would be excited to have to suffer serious persecution, beatings, or worse, as many Christians in the world today do, we should be so committed to following Jesus that if that becomes the choice we face, we will make the right decision.
“And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments: Let thine ear now be attentive, and thine eyes open, that thou mayest hear the prayer of thy servant, which I pray before thee now, day and night, for the children of Israel thy servants, and confess the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned.”
When Nehemiah got the news of the dangerous conditions in the undefended city of Jerusalem, he wanted to do something about the problem. There were many human obstacles in the way of him being given permission to leave his post and rebuild a conquered capital, but Nehemiah knew how those could be overcome. Before he did anything publicly, he devoted time to prayer and fasting. He knew God’s power was the only thing that could accomplish the task. And at the beginning of his prayer, Nehemiah focused on making sure things were right between him and God as He confessed his sins, and those of his nation.
There is enormous power and unlimited resources available to us through prayer, but when our relationship with God is not what it should be, that power is cut off. God told Israel through the prophet Isaiah: “And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood” (Isaiah 1:15). We should keep short accounts with God—promptly confessing sins rather than allowing them to linger. Before we ask God for what we need, we should ensure that our fellowship with Him is clear. We have no reason to expect answered prayers from God if we harbor sin in our hearts.
“Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the LORD. And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon. Then said Hezekiah unto Isaiah, Good is the word of the LORD which thou hast spoken. And he said, Is it not good, if peace and truth be in my days?”
2 Kings 20:17–19
Hezekiah was mostly a good king, but after God miraculously healed him and gave him an extra fifteen years to live, he made some serious mistakes. Hezekiah was not grateful as he should have been, but instead became proud. After he displayed his treasures for emissaries from Babylon, Isaiah came to announce God’s judgment. Yet unbelievably, Hezekiah did not seem at all concerned to learn that the lives of his children would be altered forever as God gave victory to Babylon. As long as he had peace for himself, he didn’t care about the future.
Satan has used a short-sighted focus on the present many times to lure God’s children away from obedience. He shows us the immediate pleasure of sin, but conceals the long-term suffering. He shows us the temporary benefit while hiding the lasting damage. Our lives are not just about the years we spend on this earth. They should be about the future and about eternity. Every day we are having an impact on others for either good or bad. Making sure our focus is where it should be is a vital step toward doing right in any situation. And we cannot maintain that focus unless we maintain our appreciation for that which is lasting. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “Never sacrifice the future on the altar of the immediate.”
“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;”
2 Timothy 3:1–4
The Department of Health and Human Services’ 2016 report showed that their investigations revealed more than 676,000 confirmed cases of child abuse and neglect among the more than three million cases they investigated. Even worse, they found 1,700 fatalities from child mistreatment. Most of these cases were at the hands of parents or relatives—the very people who should be doing the most to protect and defend those young lives. There is no doubt that we are living in a day “without natural affection”—where even parents often don’t display the affection that would be natural for their own children.
This is the result of a society’s decision to turn away from God. We cannot deny Him as the Creator and His rightful role as the Judge without at the same time denying the value of the lives He made. When people proclaim evolution as an alternate explanation for life, it is a short step from claiming we are nothing more than advanced apes to deciding that certain lives, or even all life, has no real value that must be respected.
The solution to this problem is not found in a political movement or in social reform. Instead, it is found in our hearts. Paul wrote to Timothy from prison in Rome where a depraved Nero was doing everything in his power to undermine morals and righteousness and oppose Christianity. His plan—God’s plan—was to change the world through faithful ministry. We must keep our focus on the Bible in perilous times. “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
“But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the servant, the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arabian, heard it, they laughed us to scorn, and despised us, and said, What is this thing that ye do? will ye rebel against the king? Then answered I them, and said unto them, The God of heaven, he will prosper us; therefore we his servants will arise and build: but ye have no portion, nor right, nor memorial, in Jerusalem.”
We should never be surprised when doing something right creates a backlash. While it would be nice if people recognized we were trying to build something for God and supported us, often it raises criticism and opposition instead. We continually fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil, but sometimes we also have to face hostility from those who should be on our side. Motion always creates friction. Elbert Hubbard put it this way: “Do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing, and you’ll never be criticized.”
If we are going to do what God calls us to do, we are going to face criticism. It is not the criticism but our response to it that determines the outcome. Nehemiah faced this when he began the massive rebuilding project to raise up the walls around Jerusalem. Rather than allowing his critics to deter him, Nehemiah turned to God. In faith he stepped out, believing that what he was doing was what God had called him to do—and that God would make the work prosper no matter who opposed it.
While there are sometimes legitimate criticisms that we should evaluate (and we should never be too proud to listen), most of the negative things said when we are doing right come from detractors with the wrong motives. Rather than allowing those to dictate our actions, we should simply move ahead with what God has called us to do. Only then will we be able to fulfill His calling.
“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.”
William Wilberforce probably did more than anyone else to end the slave trade in England and her colonies. Despite being right about the awfulness of slavery, Wilberforce found few allies in the fight. It took many years of effort and a willingness to keep going in the face of one defeat after another. One of the encouragements he turned to was a letter John Wesley wrote him not long before Wesley died.
Wesley said, “Unless the divine power has raised you up... I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that [slavery] which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? Oh, be not weary of well-doing. Go on in the name of God, and in the power of His might.” The Slavery Abolition Act gained the votes to pass three days before Wilberforce died.
God does not work on our timetable. He promises that anyone who delights in His Word will flourish, but even trees of righteousness only bear fruit in season. There is a certain time of harvest, but it is only enjoyed by those who continue faithfully until they see the promises fulfilled. Do not be discouraged just because you have not yet seen that harvest.
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”
Time and again, the Scriptures instruct us to study and memorize and meditate on the Word of God and to be faithfully hearing it taught and preached. We must obey those commands. But we must also remember that the purpose of learning the Bible is not primarily to know more, but to do more. Dr. George Truett said, “To know the will of God is our greatest knowledge; to do the will of God is our greatest challenge.”
We see this principle in practice in the life of Jesus. He was not content with merely knowing what was right, but instead set an example of living what was right. The writer of Hebrews describes the motivation of Jesus this way: “Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second” (Hebrews 10:9). When Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized, John realized that Jesus was above Him and protested that he was not worthy to baptize the Lord. Yet 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).
The temptation to think that we are growing in grace because we are growing in knowledge is very real. However, we only grow in grace when we put into practice what we know. Reading every book available about lifting weights, running, and other exercises does nothing to improve our health. It is only when we actually do what we have learned that we benefit.
“And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD. And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering: But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.”
All over the world people are trying to reach God in their own way, rather than coming to Him through faith in Jesus Christ alone. This problem dates all the way back to the first two children born into the world, Cain and Abel. The story shows us the evil power of hatred, but it also shows us the folly of thinking we can come to God on our own terms. He alone has the right to demand and dictate how we worship Him.
The story of Cain’s rejected offering also raises the question as to why Abel brought the right sacrifice while his brother did not. The answer is simple—Abel believed what God said and acted accordingly. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh” (Hebrews 11:4).
This obedient faith is essential both to our salvation and to our Christian life. Many people do foolish things and claim to be acting in faith. But in the Bible, faith is always shown as acting according to what God has said. We can fully believe every promise He has made, because none of them have ever failed. And faith is always active, never passive. If we are not acting as God directs, we are not living in faith.
“Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.”
In one of their humorous true life story collections, Reader’s Digest told about a lady named Callie Rough who was arrested in Middletown, Ohio for shoplifting at a local Dollar General store. To make matters worse, she had two young children with her as she stole from the store. To top off the situation, among the things which she stole was a book: 101 Ways to Be a Great Mom.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day made a great show of public righteousness. They offered loud public prayers, sounded trumpets to make sure people were paying attention when they gave, and spent a great deal of time telling other people how to live. The reason they hated Jesus so much was that He exposed their hypocrisy. They said the right things, but they did not live them. Hypocrisy is bad enough in its own right, but it also makes us resistant to the call of God to repent.
When we are living hypocritically, we can justify ourselves to ourselves (though God is never fooled) by pointing to the outward expressions while ignoring the evil in our hearts. When we think of ourselves as righteous, we see no need to change our ways. Jesus saw this in the Pharisees, and revealed it, but they rejected His message. “And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” (Luke 18:9). They were content if people viewed them as doing right, without regard to whether they actually were doing right.
“And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:”
The power station with the most generating capacity on earth is at the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China. At full capacity, the thirty-two turbines that make up the power plant can produce over 22,000 megawatts of electricity. Each of these massive generators weighs more than 12,000,000 pounds. In 2015 the electricity production from Three Gorges was more than twenty times that of the Hoover Dam in America. In recent years, the power station has operated at less than full capacity because there simply isn’t demand for the additional electricity that could be produced.
God’s available supply of power is unlimited. In fact it is beyond our capacity to even imagine how vast it is. Ephesians 3:20 tells us, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us.” There is never any challenge, burden, or obstacle we face that would require God to exert Himself to solve. With mere words, God created the world. He does not need extra effort to solve our problems.
Yet as we serve the Lord, we all come to points when we find ourselves struggling to face the pressures in front of us or to experience His power through us. When we come to these times, we must remember that God is not limited in power; there is never a power failure with Him. We need to claim His promises and tap into the resources available to us. We are not helpless bystanders to the events around us. We are meant to be gospel witnesses, but we can only do that in God’s power.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called: Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure.”
When Abraham headed for Mount Moriah to offer Isaac as a sacrifice as God instructed, to all human reasoning he would be coming back without his son. The child God had promised decades before had finally come after all hope seemed to have been lost. Yet now Abraham was preparing to obey God’s command to kill his own son. Abraham’s faith in God was so unshakable that he not only was willing to do that, but he also believed that after he did, God would resurrect the boy. His faith is revealed in what he told the servants who accompanied him on the trip. “And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you” (Genesis 22:5).
As far as we know, no one had ever been brought back from the dead. Abraham was not speaking from experience when he declared Isaac would return with him from the mountain. He was not speaking with the knowledge that he would only pretend to obey God but not really offer his son. He was expecting Isaac to die. Abraham knew God had promised that his descendants would come through Isaac and would become a great nation. And he believed that what God had said was as certain as if it had already happened. We honor God most when we live in such a way that it is apparent we are acting in faith. When we claim his promises in faith, we please Him.
“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.”
In April of 2006, two workers were trapped in a gold mine near Beaconsfield, Australia, after an earthquake caused the tunnels to collapse. They only survived because they were able to make it into a safety cage that kept them from being crushed by falling rocks. For five days no one outside the mine knew whether they had survived. Finally a thermal imaging scan revealed their location, and rescue efforts began. It was a full fourteen days before rescuers could create a shaft large enough for the miners to escape. The head of the miner’s union called the rescue a “great escape.”
All of us are born trapped as slaves to sin. There is no hope that we can rescue ourselves. Unless someone comes from the outside to help, we are doomed. That is what Jesus did for us on the cross. We have been freed from the power that sin once had over our lives. Yet if we’re honest, we must admit that even after we are saved, the allure of sin remains, because we still have a fallen nature.
Having been freed from our captivity, we must resist the temptation to crawl back into the darkness of sin. Paul wrote, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). Sin no longer has the power to compel us, so each sin requires our willing participation.
“Jesus answered, If I honour myself, my honour is nothing: it is my Father that honoureth me; of whom ye say, that he is your God: Yet ye have not known him; but I know him: and if I should say, I know him not, I shall be a liar like unto you: but I know him, and keep his saying. Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.”
When we talk about the faith of Abraham, we often think of a few ways he demonstrated trust in God: his willingness to leave his home for a new country, his long wait for a promised son, and then his obedience to God’s command to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. The faith of Abraham is most clearly seen in the things he still believed even though he never saw them. “For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The permanent nation in the land we know as Israel did not become a reality until hundreds of years after Abraham’s death. And the most important promise—Jesus—did not come until thousands of years had passed. Yet Abraham rejoiced in God’s promises, even those he did not personally experience.
There are hundreds of promises in the Word of God. Many of us have claimed those promises and found them to be true in our own lives. But the promises that we have not yet seen fulfilled are just as certain as the ones in the past. God has never failed to keep His promises, and we will not be disappointed in receiving all He has promised to us. It is right and fitting for us to be thankful and rejoice in God’s future promises today. 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).
“And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel? Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.”
1 Chronicles 21:2–4
David largely followed God during his time as king, and as a result he was blessed and Israel became more powerful. It appears that for a time, however, David became somewhat proud and self reliant, rather than depending on God as he had before, and that is why he decided to count the number of people in his kingdom. Despite receiving good advice against the plan, David insisted on having his way…and brought death and destruction on Israel as a result.
While we are supposed to count our blessings, we should never make the mistake of counting on our blessings as our source of security or as the result of our own doing. When we lift up ourselves in pride, we miss out on God’s grace: “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6).
We are utterly and completely dependent on God for every good thing in our lives. Whatever we have and accomplish is not to our credit, but to His. Jesus made our dependence on Divine power clear when He said, “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
“And he came to the sheepcotes by the way, where was a cave; and Saul went in to cover his feet: and David and his men remained in the sides of the cave. And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily. And it came to pass afterward, that David’s heart smote him, because he had cut off Saul’s skirt.”
1 Samuel 24:3–5
The jealous Saul took an army of three thousand men out, not to fight Israel’s enemies, but to kill David. The threat was so great that David had to hide his family outside the country, and he and a small group of men lived in the mountains and caves. If they went to a city, spies would tell Saul, and he would show up. On one occasion, David was hiding in a cave with some of his men when Saul’s army came near. Saul went inside the cave, not knowing that the very man he was trying to kill was there. David’s men advised him to kill Saul while he had the chance, but David refused, instead cutting a piece off the bottom of Saul’s robe. After Saul left the cave, David revealed himself, and showed Saul the piece of his robe he had cut off—proof that Saul’s life had been in David’s hands.
Even though it was only David’s restraint that kept Saul alive, David still felt guilty even about the small step he had taken against the king. Despite all that he had endured and the unfairness of his circumstances, David’s heart was still tender. He had not seared his conscience by justifying evil toward others because of the evil done toward him. There is plenty of hurt in the world around us. We need to be aware of the impact we have on others.
“Then began he to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not: Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”
As our world rushes headlong in the normalization of evil, we should not forget that this is not new. Throughout history there have been societies that were characterized by their promotion and praise of that which was morally repugnant to God. It is easy for us to become discouraged and think that living in such a wicked society means that there is no hope. But, as Jesus told us in the verses above, even places that are best known for wickedness, such as Sodom, would have repented and been spared if there had been a powerful and effective witness of truth.
Tragically, however, the few in Sodom who did know God and the truth kept it to themselves. Lot’s focus was on not making waves and improving his financial and political future. He had so damaged his witness that when he did try to sound the alarm, even those closest to him were not convinced. “And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law” (Genesis 19:14). Yes, we do live in a wicked society. But rather than being like Lot with an inconsistent testimony and non-existent witness, may we point those around us to the salvation they need through Christ.
“The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect. The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men.”
While America has never been a Christian nation in the sense that all citizens were believers, it was unquestionably founded on principles that owed much to the teachings of the Word of God. Even men who were not born again Christian,s such as Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin, quoted Scripture and drew ideas from the Bible. In spite of the efforts of revisionist historians, the role of Christianity in the founding and shaping of America cannot be denied.
In our day, it is becoming common for our faith to be labeled as bigoted or prejudiced. Anyone holding to what the Bible teaches is subject to attack—some have lost jobs or businesses for trying to practice their faith in daily life. We are not promised religious freedom, but we are promised blessings for obedience. We must not listen to the voices that are trying to drive faith out of our nation.
Charles Spurgeon in England said, “I long for the day when the precepts of the Christian religion shall be the rule among all classes of men, in all transactions. I often hear it said, ‘Do not bring religion into politics.’ This is precisely where it ought to be brought, and set there in the face of all men as on a candlestick. I would have the Cabinet and the members of Parliament do the work of the nation as before the Lord, and I would have the nation, either in making war or peace, consider the matter by the light of righteousness.”
“We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain. (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)”
2 Corinthians 6:1–2
We live in a world that often devalues people. There is hatred and bigotry in abundance. And among those messages of worthlessness, it can sometimes be hard for us to really believe that God actually loves and values us. The offer of salvation by grace through faith, however, is a powerful measure of how God views our value.
The great evangelist J. Wilbur Chapman said, “I was standing the other day in Tiffany’s, in New York, and I overheard a woman asking to see some pearls. The salesman placed on the counter some wonderful pearls. I heard him say that the price was $17,000. When I looked at them, they seemed overwhelmingly splendid. This sum represented Tiffany’s estimate of the value of the pearls. You may say that your life is not worth very much, but I tell you that you are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. I tell you that in the sight of God you are worth more than all the gold in the hills, all the diamonds in the fields.”
As great as the offer of salvation is, it must be personally accepted. And the time to make that decision is not at some unknown point in the future—it is today. There is no guarantee of tomorrow given to any of us. “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away” (James 4:14). The accepted time God offers for salvation is right now.
“And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. 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.”
Only a few weeks passed—fifty days—between the crucifixion and Pentecost. On that day, the disciples walked out onto the streets of the city where the Lord had been crucified, preaching that Jesus was the only way of salvation. These were the same men who had fled in terror when Jesus was arrested. These were the same men who Jesus found huddled in a locked room on Easter Sunday. This was the same Peter who three times denied knowing Jesus or being His follower.
Yet on Pentecost, everything was different. These men who had been terrified became bold witnesses of the gospel. Thousands were saved in those first few days of the early church. What made the difference? The disciples were transformed when the power of the Holy Spirit took control of their lives. They had not suddenly become more courageous in their own strength, but they were were empowered by the Holy Spirit. “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
All of our efforts, abilities, methods, and programs will come to nothing if we work in our own strength. It is only in the power of the Holy Spirit that we become effective witnesses to the lost. As the old hymn puts it: “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.” The Holy Spirit plays many roles in the life of the believer, but one of the most vital is His empowering us to witness.
“But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”
Many years ago, a group of men became convinced of the need for a genuine revival in their city. They agreed to meet together to work on plans for bringing someone to town to preach. Soon several had suggested D. L. Moody be asked to come, as he had already held great meetings in both America and England and had seen great blessings on his work. The story goes that one man rose to object. “You speak as if D. L. Moody had a monopoly on God,” he declared. One of the men replied, “No, God has a monopoly on D. L. Moody.”
It is true that every Christian has the same Holy Spirit. But it is also true that the Holy Spirit does not have the same level of control over every Christian. It is only as we yield control of our lives to Him that He will work in and through us as He is able to do. There is a constant and ongoing battle in our lives between the flesh and the Spirit. “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Galatians 5:17). The power to live spiritually is available, but it cannot be applied if we are focused on fulfilling our own desires and interests.
“And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God. Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
Stephen started out by caring for the needs of widows in the church at Jerusalem, but he quickly also became a powerful and effective preacher. His preaching created such an uproar that the Sanhedrin brought him in to stand trial. Stephen preached with such power that his listeners literally put their fingers in their ears and screamed to make sure they wouldn’t hear his voice. The source of Stephen’s powerful preaching was the Word of God. Over and over he cited what Abraham, Moses, Solomon, and the prophets had done and said.
Our thoughts and opinions and philosophies and methods may have a place, but no human ability or plan can change the heart of people. Only the Word of God has the strength to do that. “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The living Word of God proclaimed faithfully in the power of the Spirit of God will produce an effect. It may be people coming to Christ as Peter saw at Pentecost. It may be such hatred that the speaker is killed as happened to Stephen. But there will not be indifference.
“And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof? And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.”
It took Stephen Mills thirty seconds to open the safe in the basement of the Vermillion Heritage Museum in the small Canadian town some 300 miles northeast of Calgary. The safe had belonged to the Brunswick Hotel, which closed in the 1970s. It was donated to the historical museum, but no one knew the combination. For forty years, various locksmiths and safe experts attempted to open it without success. Even the safe manufacturer was unable to provide a working combination.
Mills took his family on a visit to the museum in May of 2019. When the tour guide showed him the safe and shared the story, Mills looked at it for a few moments, and then tried a simple combination. He later said, “I gotta get down and try this for a laugh. I was doing it as a joke for the kids.” Everyone was shocked when the safe opened. All those who had come before had failed, but Mills succeeded.
When John saw his vision of Heaven, he wept when he realized no one was worthy to open the seals. The angel told John that Jesus, having prevailed over death and the grave was worthy. We have a precious loving Saviour who is our friend and comfort. But we must never forget that He is also the King of Heaven, the omnipotent and almighty Lord. He has no equal, and nothing can be allowed to rival His rightful place on the throne of our hearts.
“And he said, Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou king Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the LORD unto you, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours, but God’s. To morrow go ye down against them: behold, they come up by the cliff of Ziz; and ye shall find them at the end of the brook, before the wilderness of Jeruel. Ye shall not need to fight in this battle: set yourselves, stand ye still, and see the salvation of the LORD with you, O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed; to morrow go out against them: for the LORD will be with you.”
2 Chronicles 20:15-17
When three of Judah’s neighbors allied together to fight against the Jewish people, there was no military hope for victory. Outnumbered by the enemy armies, Jehoshaphat did the most important thing—he turned to God. God sent word through a prophet that not only would He give a victory, but it would be a victory that did not require any effort on their part. As always, God did exactly as He promised, and all the enemies perished without the Israelite army doing anything. When news of this divine victory spread, the nation of Judah had peace for years afterward.
This was not the normal way God gave victory to the Israelites. Most of their battles required them to fight. But this story reminds us that all of our battles—whether we must fight or whether God defeats our enemies—can only be won in God’s power. We are called to overcome the world, mortify the flesh, and resist the devil. We cannot do this on our own. If the battle is not God’s, there is no hope of victory. When we fight it is not in our strength. The end result does not depend on our power. There are battles we must face, but God must win them.
“Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways? Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off? Even as I have seen, they that plow iniquity, and sow wickedness, reap the same. By the blast of God they perish, and by the breath of his nostrils are they consumed.”
When Job lost everything in a single day, it was because God had allowed Satan to take away his possessions. In this great hardship, just as God knew he would, Job maintained his faith in the Lord. As word of the disaster spread, three of Job’s friends came to try to comfort him. They were good enough friends to come and see Job, yet as sometimes happens, they were more of a discouragement and burden than a help. Eventually Job said, “I have heard many such things: miserable comforters are ye all” (Job 16:2).
The problem was that Job’s friends made a mistake that is still common in our day. They assumed that the reason behind the tragedy was some hidden sin in Job’s life. Their conclusion was that Job’s suffering was a punishment from God. While it is true that God does chasten His children and there are times when suffering in our lives is a result of our disobedience to God, it is also true that there are many godly Christians who are walking with the Lord in obedience and yet are enduring great hardship.
We need to be careful not to blame the innocent—either to ourselves, to others, and especially to the person who is hurting—and assume that some hidden sin is being judged before our eyes. It is not our responsibility to make those determinations. “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).
“Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you.”
There is so much confusion and false teaching today about the purpose and role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian. But Jesus clearly laid out His purpose—to guide our lives in such a way that we will glorify Jesus. The Holy Spirit is not sent to indwell us so that we bring attention to ourselves, but so that we focus our attention on Jesus Christ. No self-promoting display of what is sometimes passed off as the power of the Holy Spirit is genuine. If He is working, Jesus will be lifted up instead of us.
When we are filled with the Holy Spirit and walking in Him and being led by Him, what happens?
Being filled with the Spirit does not mean that we are immune from struggles with the devil. In fact His power may place us in direct conflict with Satan. Indeed, this is exactly what happened in the life of Christ: “And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost returned from Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness” (Luke 4:1). It was not through avoiding Satan but through defeating him that the Spirit-filled Jesus was exalted. When we overcome temptation through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are declaring the honor and glory of Jesus Christ.