Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city. And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. And when Gallio was the deputy of Achaia, the Jews made insurrection with one accord against Paul, and brought him to the judgment seat,”
One of the great missionary leaders of the 1800s was Hudson Taylor. He first sailed from England as a missionary to China in 1853. Twelve years later, he sensed God was calling him to invite many more missionaries to serve in China with him. But he wrestled greatly over this decision because he was afraid of what would happen should he prove to be insufficient for the task. The conflict within, only grew until he came to a point of trust and surrender. Taylor described that moment: “On Sunday, June 25th, 1865, unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge, I wandered out on the sands alone, in great spiritual agony; and there the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service. Need I say that peace at once flowed into my burdened heart?”
The promises of God are not given to us merely to admire, but to claim. We have a mission and assignment from Jesus to reach the entire world with the gospel. This is not a simple task. In fact, Jesus Himself told us that it would be difficult. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We cannot in our own strength and power accomplish what God has set before us. He does not intend that we should. It is in our faith to claim His promised power that we are able to face obstacles, challenges and persecutions while remaining faithful to our task.
“And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all. And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.”
Though Jesus was always God during His entire earthly life, He was also human and had to learn and grow. One of the things that He learned from childhood was the importance of hearing God’s Word preached and taught, and the importance of following God’s commands regarding gathering to worship Him. Joseph and Mary set this example for Jesus in their own lives. “Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover” (Luke 2:41). It is no surprise then to read that Jesus as an adult made a custom of going to the synagogue on the Sabbath. It is critically important, not only for our own sakes but also for the sake of our families, that we are faithful in gathering to worship each time we can.
Dr. John Rice wrote, “At our home as a boy we always expected to go to church. My father, my step-mother, the whole family (too many to ride in one carriage!) went to church. We went when it was cold, we went when it was hot. We went when it rained, we went when it was dry. It was rare indeed that any were so sick they could not go, and if that were true, the rest of us went to church, and just one stayed home to care for the sick. We went to church and Sunday school on time. We went to prayer meeting. I thank God for the happy memories that proved to me the sincerity of my father’s faith in God.”
“The wise men are ashamed, they are dismayed and taken: lo, they have rejected the word of the LORD; and what wisdom is in them? Therefore will I give their wives unto others, and their fields to them that shall inherit them: for every one from the least even unto the greatest is given to covetousness, from the prophet even unto the priest every one dealeth falsely. For they have healed the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace.”
Imagine if you sat across from an oncologist who was giving you the bad news that you had cancer. Immediately you would want to know what the prognosis was. Then you would want to know what the treatment plan would entail. How would you respond if that doctor said, “Well I think if you put a wrap on your wrist and a sling around your arm, that will take care of it”? You’d be looking for a new doctor immediately, because you would recognize the course of care he suggested would have no impact on your disease. This is what Jeremiah was referencing when he condemned the false prophets—they prescribed a cure that wouldn’t work. The only “healing” they offered was a false assurance that brought temporary peace.
We live in a world diseased and broken by sin. We have the cure for the deadly problem of sin that works every time it is applied. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). And yet many times, like a child spitting out a medicine that tastes bad, people reject the cure for something that doesn’t make them uncomfortable. Many churches, including some that are very large, offer kind words that people want to hear rather than diagnosing and effectively treating the problem. This may be popular, but it kills.
“And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things. But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you. Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Too many times people view God as if He were stingy, holding back on what He could do if He were willing. The Bible paints a very different picture. It shows us God as a loving Father who cares for His children deeply. “For the LORD God is a sun and shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). The reality is that God delights in giving to His children. He gives to us, not because we are so deserving, but because it is His nature to do so.
God is generous and giving by His nature. He is not selfish or stingy. He does not dangle good things in front of us only to snatch them back. We do not have to convince Him to help us—He delights to do so. The problem is not on His end, but on ours. People are willing to do almost anything except what God has provided to get what they want. “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2). When we act as if God is not willing to give us what we need, we are slandering His holy name. And we are besmirching His perfect character. Instead we should joyfully claim His promises, realizing that when we ask God to provide, we are bringing Him great delight.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
One of the realities of life is sorrow. All of us are confronted by loss, pain, disappointment, heartbreak, and despair. It is a wonderful blessing to have people around us to encourage us and pray for us and support us during the times of sorrow. But even if we have that human comfort, there is a far greater comfort available to us as children of God. And this source of comfort never fails when we need it. “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16).
There is never a day when we are alone or forsaken. There may be days when we feel that way, but it is never reality. God is always with us. The Holy Spirit comes into our lives when we are saved, and He does not leave. He is the Comforter we can count on in distress. God's comfort is based on His great love for us. Just as a shepherd would do whatever was necessary to care for his sheep, God will bring us help when we need it the most. Charles Spurgeon said, “He has loved thee long; He has loved thee well; He loved thee ever; and He still shall love thee. Surely He is the person to comfort thee, because He loves. Admit Him, then, to your heart, O Christian that He may comfort you in your distress.”
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”
Missionary Isaac Headland told of a poor Chinese woman who came to visit his wife. “Miss Kan, I’m so tired. I’ve walked fifteen miles today because I heard that you were going to the city soon, and I have not learned the Lord’s Prayer yet.” The missionary asked the exhausted woman holding a small child in her arms, “Why did you not wait till I came back again?” The woman replied, “Who knows whether I shall be living when you come again, I want to learn it now.” Dr. Headland said the woman would not allow his wife to go to bed until she was able to recite the Lord’s Prayer from beginning to end.
One of the tragedies of the church in our day is the casual way in which we approach spiritual things. When we read of Paul trying to reach people in Ephesus for Jesus both day and night while weeping, and doing it for three years, it seems strange to us instead of normal. The only day we know for sure we have to work for God is today. Jesus said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4). Rather than carelessly approaching life, we need an appreciation for the urgency of the work God has called us to do.
“O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.”
Every day we are bombarded with a vast array of information. It is easier than ever before to stay connected to the world around us. Vast libraries are held in the small phones most of us carry everywhere we go. Media is intentionally created to cater to the shorter attention spans of the modern age. Sight and sound and information come at us in a flood. And in this flood, it is easy for us to lose sight of the vital importance of taking the time to think deeply and meaningfully about the Word of God.
Dr. R. A. Torrey said, “A verse must be read often, and re-read and read again before the wondrous message of love and power that God has put in begins to appear. Words must be turned over and over in the mind before their full force and beauty takes possession of us. One must look a long time at the great masterpieces of art to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning, and so one must look a long time at the great verses of the Bible to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning.”
The present controversies and issues of our world will quickly fade into irrelevance. But the Bible endures forever. If we are going to walk as God commands, we must set aside the temporary for the everlasting, and we must be people of the Word. Only through meditation can we grasp the full riches of God’s directions to us.
“The LORD is my strength and song, and is become my salvation. The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tabernacles of the righteous: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly. The right hand of the LORD is exalted: the right hand of the LORD doeth valiantly. I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the LORD.”
In May of 2019 the Journal of the American Medical Association reported on a study that has been going on since 1992. Beginning that year, and each year since, the Health and Retirement Study interviews adults in or near retirement age. By following these people from year to year, and by adding new participants to the study over time, they are able to track the factors that have the greatest impact on the lives and health of thousands of people. They summarized their key finding this way: “A growing body of literature suggests that having a strong sense of purpose in life leads to improvements in both physical and mental health and enhances overall quality of life.”
What is true in retirement is true throughout life—those who have a definite purpose and goal in life tend to lead happier, healthier lives than those who do not. Every child of God is gifted differently, and there are many avenues through which we serve Him. But no matter the role or roles we play, no matter the talents or abilities we have, and no matter what our physical limitations may be, there is one thing that every living Christian can do—praise God.
When we recognize the importance of bringing glory to God, we understand that we always have an important purpose in our lives. No matter what we can or cannot otherwise do, we can always praise Him. “I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being” (Psalm 104:33).
“Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
From the beginning of Creation, God had perfect fellowship with man. But when Adam sinned, that fellowship was broken. No longer did Adam look forward to spending time with God, but in shame hid himself. Since that time, sin has continued to stand as a barrier between God and men. Nothing we can do could reach across that divide. In the wonderful Hymn “Rock of Ages,” Augustus Toplady wrote:
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
What we could never do, Jesus did for us. His death and resurrection made salvation possible. It also places us into God’s family, giving us the qualification and permission to come to God as a loving Father just as Adam did before the Fall. “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). Jesus shed His precious blood to bring us back into fellowship with God.
Yet like spoiled children, many times we ignore the amazing grace and love of our Father, and neglect to spend time with Him. Given access to a close fellowship with God, instead we choose to fill our hearts and minds with frivolous or even sinful things. Salvation offers us fellowship, but we must live in it.
“And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
There are so many distractions that draw us away from God. Many of them are not wrong or evil things, but rather good things that deserve some of our time and attention. The problem comes when we allow those good things to keep us from the most important thing. “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment” (Mark 12:30). People are constantly looking for new methods and techniques of improving their spiritual lives, their finances, their families and their sanctification. Yet the answer is not in a new idea, but in practicing an old one—sit down at Jesus’ feet.
Charles Spurgeon said, “I know this, that the death of all that is sinful in me is my soul’s highest ambition, yes, and the death of all that is carnal and all that savors of the old Adam. Oh, that it would die. And where can it die but at the feet of Him who has the new life, and who by manifesting Himself in all His glory is to purge away our dross and sin?” The time that we spend with God is vital for our spiritual health and well-being. But it goes far beyond that. The time we spend with God improves every facet and relationship of life.
“This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
1 John 1:5-7
We went to some Oakland A’s baseball games when I was young, in part because Alvin Dark, who managed the team, was a member of our church and generously gave us tickets. Imagine that when I went to one of those games I was seated next to a man wearing a New York Yankees jersey. “You like the Yankees?” I might ask. “No, I’m a big A’s fan,” he would say. A little confused, I would watch his actions during the game. Each time the Yankees made a good play or scored, he would cheer. Each time Oakland did, he sat silently. What would I conclude at the end of the game? Which team would I believe he really supported?
There are many people who claim to be Christians, but whose lives reflect a very different allegiance. It is possible to say the right things, but to still be far from God. Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23). God does not measure our lives according to what shows on the outside or what we may claim with our words. He sees the heart, and no matter how successful we are at deceiving others, He knows the truth.
“But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Though Ruth was born in Moab rather than Israel, she recognized the God of her new family as the true Lord of all and began worshiping him. Even after the death of her husband, her father-in-law, and her brother-in-law, Ruth trusted in God. When Naomi decided to return to Israel, she urged Ruth and Orpah to stay behind, but Ruth refused. She issued this ringing declaration of her commitment: “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (Ruth 1:17).
God saved us from sin, and calls us to become more and more like His Son. Though God provides us the power through His Spirit and the knowledge through His Word, we must do our part in the process for it to achieve its desired goal. The tentacles of past sin grow deeply in our hearts, and we must ensure that we are looking forward rather than back. If we are dwelling on what was behind, we will certainly be presented an opportunity to return to our sin. “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned” (Hebrews 11:15). Instead we must focus on Jesus and on moving forward. The sins of the past are forgiven and the power of sin to control us is broken. But we must not look back.
“For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor. For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.”
People answer the question, “Who are you?” in many different ways. Some give a historical account of their family tree. Others cite their job, career, or hobby as an identifying mark. Some may share a philosophy or allegiance that helps define them. As children of God, all of us are called to identify with Jesus Christ, not just in a general sense, but in a specific way. We are to identify with His crucifixion. Without that identification, we cannot accomplish God’s purpose for our lives.
Someone said, “There is a great difference between realizing, ‘On that cross He was crucified for me,’ and ‘On that cross I am crucified with Him.’ The one aspect brings us deliverance from sin’s condemnation, the other from sin’s power.” The cross does not just represent the means of our salvation, but also our means of victorious new life in Christ. The Lord does not save us to leave us as we are, but to change us completely.
This process begins with our death to self. “And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34). The road Jesus left for us to follow can only be walked by those carrying crosses.
“And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates: That your days may be multiplied, and the days of your children, in the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers to give them, as the days of heaven upon the earth.”
It is not exactly news that our society is becoming increasingly wicked. Ungodly actions that used to bring shame in our society are now openly celebrated and flaunted in front of even young children. But we must not think that our experience is unique. There have been many times throughout history when evil ran rampant. As the Israelites faced their entry into Canaan, they were going to a place where they would be surrounded by idolatry and immorality. Their children would need a strong foundation of faith if they were to follow God. The solution for families in a wicked world is to make the home a place of instruction in what God teaches. It is easy to criticize the world for being hostile to God, but we must not neglect our responsibility to pass on our faith.
Dr. John Rice wrote, “What hypocrisy it is for Christian people to indignantly blame the action of the Supreme Court about no Bible reading and no prayer in the schools when they do not have it at home! There is no law to prevent you from praying with your children. There is no law to prevent you from reading the Bible in your home and teaching your children the Bible. And it is a poor kind of escapism to blame the courts for forbidding Bible teaching in the schools, when you do not sincerely care enough about it to have it in your own home.”
“But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.”
1 Corinthians 15:20–24
Anyone who has ever planted a vegetable garden knows that it takes a long time for the produce to ripen and be ready to eat. You pick out a good spot and prepare the ground. You plant your seeds and water the soil. Eventually, a small plant emerges from the soil. You weed and water and fertilize and then weed some more. Day after day it seems like no measureable growth is happening. But finally, you get to eat the first tomato or cucumber or ear of corn. That’s an exciting day, but it is just a small taste of what you are about to enjoy as the whole harvest comes in.
The wonderful things that we enjoy now as children of God are just “a foretaste of glory divine” as songwriter Fanny Crosby put it. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not the end of God’s plan; it was merely the first step of the final phase which will end with us experiencing eternal life and the world placed under His authority and rule. His resurrection was just the beginning of the harvest, for it awaits us as well. “Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51–52).
“And it was about the sixth hour, and there was a darkness over all the earth until the ninth hour. And the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was rent in the midst. And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
From the time shortly after the exodus from Egypt, God’s presence on earth was symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant. It was shrouded from view, first in the tabernacle and later in the temple in Jerusalem. Only one person, the high priest, was allowed in its presence, and that was just once a year on the Day of Atonement when he took the blood of the sacrifice to the Mercy Seat. There was a thick veil some thirty feet high that hid the Holy of Holies in the Temple. But on the day Jesus died, it was ripped apart, not by human hands, but instead from the top to the bottom and the way to God was opened to us. “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;” (Hebrews 10:19–20)
We have such an amazing privilege of access to God. The way has been opened once and for all. And yet too often we act as if there is still a barrier preventing us from coming into His presence. The reality of the torn veil does not benefit many Christians because they do not live as if it were true. Prayer is not just for emergencies, and fellowship with God is not just for Sundays. There is a real and living God who has invited us to come before Him. And though all Heaven and earth bow before Him, we get to call Him our Father.
“Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.”
Alarmed by the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear program, somewhere around 2005 (the details have never been released publicly) the American and Israeli intelligence services created a new kind of weapon—a computer “worm.” This program worked by making copies of itself over and over on each new computer with which it came in contact. When it had spread, Stuxnet, as the worm was called, began altering the speeds at which the centrifuges used to enrich uranium ran. The program was designed so that the controls would report everything was normal, even as the sensitive equipment was being damaged or destroyed. In the end, Iran still had the buildings and equipment standing, but their power to enrich uranium to create nuclear weapons had been largely taken away.
Before we are saved, we are completely unable to resist the power of sin. No amount of will power or good intentions can deliver a lost person from Satan. Paul described this condition to Timothy: “And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will” (2 Timothy 2:26). But Jesus has, through His death and resurrection, destroyed the power that sin had to control us. The same habits and desires that once held us in captivity are still there after salvation, but they no longer have the ability to force our surrender to evil. Though we still sin, it is no longer because we have no choice, but because we have given in to a powerful foe.
“And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us.”
God as the creator of everything is the only rightful ruler of the entire universe. Yet since before the world was created, there has been rebellion against Him. Satan led an angelic revolt meant to replace God on the throne. Adam defied the only command he had been given to do something in direct disobedience to God’s instruction. Israel rejected God for the false idols worshiped by their neighbors. Jesus was rejected by the religious leaders of His day because they feared they would lose their privileged positions.
The world does not want God to rule over them. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us” (Psalm 2:2–3). While rebellion against God by the world is still sinful, it is not shocking. But many Christians also struggle with the issue of obedience to God’s commands. Often it is not that we do not know what we should do, but that we would rather go our own way. We do not have that right, because we do not belong to ourselves. “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (1 Corinthians 6:19).
“And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.”
In 1799 a twelve-year-old boy named Conrad Reed noticed a strange rock in the river where he was fishing near his family’s home in North Carolina. He took the heavy rock home and showed it to his father. John Reed did not recognize what it was, and for the next three years, that rock was used as a doorstop in the family home. Finally it was showed to a jeweler who immediately identified it as a massive gold nugget—weighing 17 pounds. The jeweler melted down the ore the gold into a large bar, and then bought it from John Reed for $3.50, which was only 1/1000th of its true value. Reed soon learned how much gold was really worth, and established a profitable gold mine on the family farm.
God has given us so many blessings, yet far too often we do not value them as we should. Instead, we trade the valuable for fleeting trinkets and give up the eternal for the immediate. Like Esau, we magnify our needs and desires out of all proportion. Esau was in no real danger of dying from hunger after a day in the field, but he allowed his hunger to lead him to his foolish choice which had bitter lifelong consequences. “For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears” (Hebrews 12:17).
“But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
The two men crucified with Jesus had earned their punishment by their evil deeds, but Jesus died as an innocent sacrifice for the sins of the world. As the crowd mocked Jesus on the cross, one of the thieves joined in. But the other responded with an acknowledgment of the perfection of Jesus and His rightful role as Lord of all. This thief was forgiven. Why? Because he put his faith in Christ. But to do that, he had to first accept responsibility for what he had done. He admitted that his punishment was just and deserved.
Until we come to the point where we are willing to acknowledge that we are wrong, we cannot experience the joy of God’s forgiveness. The pattern stretches all the way back to the Garden of Eden where Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. It has continued throughout history. Aaron told Moses the fire had made the golden calf. King Saul claimed it was the people’s fault that the best livestock had been spared rather than destroyed.
The only way to forgiveness is through the blood of Christ. But after we are saved, the key to walking in the joy of that forgiveness is confession when we have sinned. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession does not just mean to admit something. It carries the idea that we call sin the same thing God does—that we agree with Him that what we have done is wrong and accept personal responsibility for that sin. And when we do, we experience the cleansing only God can give.
“And the king said unto Cushi, Is the young man Absalom safe? And Cushi answered, The enemies of my lord the king, and all that rise against thee to do thee hurt, be as that young man is. And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
2 Samuel 18:32–33
In his poem Maud Muller, John Greenleaf Whittier described a chance meeting between a wealthy young man destined for a courtroom and a poor country girl destined for a farm. They met at a well and shared a drink of water on a hot summer day. Each recognized something special in the other, but the difference between their stations made them go their separate ways. The poem ends with both of them looking back at how things would have changed had they stayed together.
Alas for maiden, alas for Judge,
For rich repiner and household drudge!
God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
The tears that David wept over the death of his son were genuine, despite Absalom’s rebellion that threatened David’s very life. They were also most likely preventable. Absalom’s rebellion was, in large part, a response to David’s poor moral example and then his unwillingness to deal with Amnon’s (Absalom’s brother) sin against David’s daughter Tamar. If David had dealt with the issues arising from these situations, Absalom’s rebellion might have been prevented. Because David did not do so, he was left to weep over what he had not done. Take full advantage of every opportunity God places before you today.
“Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
1 Peter 1:13–16
When people talk about godliness, there is often a great deal of confusion about what it means. Some equate godliness with a solemn form of religious observance. Others measure godliness by conformity to an outward code of behavior. While genuine worship and righteous living are important, godliness simply means that we are living as God says. The trait which He has chosen to emphasize above all others is holiness. In his vision of Heaven, Isaiah saw specially created six-winged seraphs who sole responsibility is to continually proclaim God’s holiness. “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
Peter wrote, “in all manner of conversation,” or in other words, in every part of our lives we are supposed to be holy. There is no area of life—business, home, church, school, hobbies, entertainment or anything else—that should not be subject to God’s control. He calls us to be obedient to His Word, and that is the foundation of holiness. When our hearts are in tune with Him as they should be, we will not find it burdensome to give up the things of the world. God has nothing to do with the things of the world, and we shouldn’t either. “And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world” (John 8:23).
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children. As they were increased, so they sinned against me: therefore will I change their glory into shame. They eat up the sin of my people, and they set their heart on their iniquity.”
The people of Israel in Hosea’s day did not want to give up the worship of God altogether, but they did want to be free to add in the gods of the nations surrounding them. Most homes had small idols to represent the gods they worshiped, and any grove of trees or hilltop could become a shrine to a false deity. God rejected this attempt at blended worship and even compared the sin of idolatry to the sin of adultery. The unfaithfulness of Hosea’s wife Gomer was a glaring illustration of the cost of Israel’s idolatry.
In the New Testament, God used the sin of adultery to illustrate a Christian who loves the world in the place of God: “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
One of the most effective tools of Satan is to convince people that they will be able to limit the consequences of their sin. By painting something as a small transgression, he tries to persuade us that even if we get caught, there will be minimal consequences. But sin always carries consequences that go beyond what we expect. And beyond the impact that it makes on our lives, sin often has negative consequences for our family that reach far into the future. When we sin, we are unleashing a powerfully destructive force into the world, and we cannot control it.
“Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
The Christian life is meant to be lived with a forward focus rather than a backward one. While we should never lose our gratitude for what God has done for us in the past, that is not where He means for us to live. There are things ahead for each of us, no matter what stage of life we may be in, that God has planned for us to accomplish for His glory. There is a future to anticipate even when we reach old age. “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:” (Joel 2:28). These dream are not remembrances of the past but anticipation of the future.
A. W. Tozer said, “I always get an uneasy feeling when I find myself with people who have nothing to discuss but the glories of the days that are past! Why are we not willing to believe what the Bible tells us? The Christian’s great future is before him. Therefore, the whole direction of the Christian’s look should be forward. It is a fact that we should ponder soberly that so many Christians seem to have their future, already behind them! Their glory is behind them. The only future they have is their past. They are always bringing around the cold ashes of yesterday’s burned-out campfire!”
“Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.”
If you see a picture of three or four generations of a family together, you can usually identify common traits and characteristics. They may all be tall, or all short. They may all have the same hair or eye color. They may all look like the oldest person in the picture. The reason for that is one we all know well—they are related to each other. They have the same genetic heritage, and therefore they often look and act alike.
The same thing is true in the spiritual world. Despite what we often hear, man is not basically good. In fact the Bible tells us that the sin problem starts at birth: “The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies” (Psalm 58:3). We got that sinful nature the same way we get our physical traits. They are passed down to us and we inherit them. Those who are apart from God do not display His nature.
This is not a problem that can be addressed through our devotion, worship, giving, or good deeds. The only way we can get a new nature is to come to Jesus Christ and accept His offer of salvation by grace through faith. Only He can place us into the family of God.
“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. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
1 John 5:11–13
Because of speaking engagements, I fly on a fairly regular basis. On many of those flights, when I get to the gate there will be a list of people who are on standby, hoping to get on the plane if there is room for them. There is a marked difference in the way the passengers on standby act compared to the passengers whose tickets are already confirmed. The confirmed passengers know where they are going, and they’re not worried about whether they will get there. They are confident, sitting back and relaxed. On the other hand, often you’ll see standby passengers pacing with clear signs of stress and concern on their faces as they wonder if they will make it. There is a world of difference, and it comes down to whether one has a confirmed seat or not.
God does not want us to be in doubt or confusion regarding our salvation. This vital matter needs to be firmly settled. Many people struggle for years with doubts over whether or not they have truly been saved. It is important that we know we have been saved. Peter wrote, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall” (2 Peter 1:10). But when we know that matter has been settled, there is never any reason to doubt. Our future in Heaven is secure. We can live with confidence rather than with worry.
“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.”
The direction of our lives is determined by the things that we love. God calls us to love Him and that which is attached to Him rather than the things which attract those around us. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). It takes work and spiritual discipline to keep our affection set on the things of God in the face of distractions all around us.
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Persons need not and ought not to set any bounds to their spiritual and gracious appetites, [instead they ought] to be endeavoring by all possible ways to inflame their desires and to obtain more spiritual pleasures. Our hungerings and thirstings after God and Jesus Christ and after holiness cannot be too great for the value of these things, for they are things of infinite value. There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting.”
If we do not love God as we should, we will not walk in His ways for long. In his final letter to Timothy, Paul lamented the condition of a man who had once been one of his stalwart helpers in the ministry. “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia” (2 Timothy 4:10). We do not control the world around us, but we can control what we love.
“But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”
Joshua was tasked with leading the soldiers of Israel in battle against the Amalekites. But though the military conflict was real and intense, that is not where the real battle was taking place. Above the field of battle, Moses stood praying for victory. As long as he held the rod aloft Israel was winning, but when he grew tired, the Amalekites had the upper hand. The solution to Moses’ fatigue was for Aaron and Hur to hold up Moses’ arms until the victory was won. But after that victory, God had a very pointed instruction to Moses for Joshua—to have this story written down and repeated in the future so that it would not be forgotten.
The natural human tendency is for us to take credit for the things God has done. We want to lift up ourselves and brag about our power, but it is only in His strength that real victory comes. “Then he answered and spake unto me, saying, This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the LORD of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). Every work that we do for God must be done in His power if it is to succeed. We do not bring victory over evil and sin by our effort or will or strength.
“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up. Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?”
2 Peter 3:10–12
Mel Blanc had already been a successful voice talent for more than a decade when he took on the role of Bugs Bunny in the 1940 cartoon A Wild Hare. The new character made him one of the most famous people in America even though almost no one knew what he looked like. For more than sixty years Mel Blanc brought a variety of characters to life. At his request, his tombstone was inscribed with the catchphrase he popularized: “That’s all folks.”
In reality, however, death is not the end. The things of the world will one day be utterly destroyed. No fortune, inheritance, estate or achievement will survive. But there are things that will last—the things which are eternal. Al Smith wrote:
With eternity’s values in view, Lord,
With eternity’s values in view;
May I do each day’s work for Jesus,
With eternity’s values in view.
The things to which we devote our lives are determined by the things which we value. There is a reason why the two great commands Jesus gave to summarize the entire law start not with our actions, but with our hearts. When we love the things of God, the eternal things, we will not easily be swayed by the temptations of the world. We will spend our precious moments on the eternal.
“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.”
When news came to Jesus that His friend Lazarus was sick, the Lord did not respond immediately. This was not by accident, but by design. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. When He arrived in Bethany with His disciples, Lazarus had been dead for four days. Mary and Martha were heartbroken, not understanding why Jesus had not come in time to heal their brother. Jesus insisted on being taken to the graveyard, and called Lazarus back to life. This is a wonderful picture of what happens to us when we are saved. We are dead in our sins, with no hope of saving ourselves until Jesus comes.
However, while Lazarus was once again alive, he was still wrapped tightly in the traditional fashion of the time. Strips of cloth would be wrapped around the body, with spices sprinkled between the layers. Lazarus was alive, but he was not free.
Similarly, coming to Christ for salvation does not remove the bindings of habitual sin that we have accumulated. While we now have the power of God to say “no” to sin, we activate that power by acknowledging we have it and resisting temptation as it comes. “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?... Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:2, 11).
“When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The most important questions each of us must answer are, “Who is Jesus?” and “How will I respond to Him?” We often think of these questions in the context of salvation, and they are critical, for Jesus is the only hope of eternal life. But it is just as crucial for those of us who are saved to understand who Jesus really is and respond to Him properly if we are to walk in a way that is pleasing to God.
Jesus is not just a wonderful example, a great teacher, a gentle friend, or a nice man. He is all of those things, but He is much more. He is God—the rightful ruler over everything. Jesus told His disciples, “Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am” (John 13:13). Recognizing Jesus as Lord is not just calling Him that, but living as if we believe it to be true—living in obedience to Him. Jesus asked, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46).
It is wonderful and important to have the right doctrine, but unless that is matched by right living, our claims to be following the Lord are empty. He has the absolute right of both creation and ownership to call us to obedience. We must not lose sight of the fact that Jesus is truly Lord of all.
“What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.”
If you’ve ever done a home improvement project that involved painting, you know how important light is to getting the job done right. In a dim light, your paint job looks quite different than it does in the bright sunshine. It is easy to miss spots and think you have done a good job until the light shines on it. The same thing is true for cleaning. Dust hides in darkness, but the light reveals. The light does not make the dirt; it simply exposes it. And that is why people respond so negatively to having the truth of God’s Word brought to bear on their sin. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19).
What is true of the lost can be true of Christians as well. If we are drawing away from close fellowship with other believers and spending less time in the Bible, it is an indication that something is wrong in our hearts. If we are trying to avoid the light, there is likely some darkness in our lives that we are hoping to conceal. God does not want our sin to remain hidden, and He will send lights—whether from His Word, from other Christians or from circumstances—to expose what we are attempting to conceal from Him and from others.
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 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. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law.”
In 1337, disputes between England and France over succession to the throne and control of land broke out into open warfare. For the next 116 years, fighting continued in what came to be known as the Hundred Years War. Though there were brief periods of truces and peace, the conflict, along with smaller wars between competing factions and allies of the two nations that went on at the same time, continued until France finally gained the upper hand and England renounced all claims to the French throne. Five generations of English kings ruled during the time the fighting lasted. It was a battle that must have seemed like it would never end.
As Christians we are part of an ongoing spiritual conflict that will never end until we reach Heaven. The new nature that we receive when we trust Christ as Saviour competes with the old sinful nature that we inherited from Adam. The battle never ends. There are no days off or times when it is safe for us to set aside the weapons of spiritual warfare. Satan never gives up on his attempts to drag us down and destroy our lives. We must not grow weary of battle and stop fighting, or we will surely be defeated.
On the other hand, we can rejoice in the fact that, through the Holy Spirit, we are not powerless in this struggle. Second Corinthians 10:3–4 tells us, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;).”
“Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope.”
During his time in the White House, critics of President Ronald Reagan were often disappointed that charges or accusations they made against him did not seem to have an impact on his popularity. During the lead up to the 1984 campaign that led to his reelection, Democratic congresswoman Pat Schroeder of Colorado referred to Reagan as “the Teflon president.” She said she got the idea while making breakfast for her children and seeing eggs slide around in a pan coated with Teflon. What was intended as a criticism was soon adopted by Reagan’s supporters as they celebrated his ability to avoid negative attacks sticking to the president.
When God saves us, He saves us both from what we have done—our sins—and from who we are—sinners by nature. And though there may be scars that remain from the past, the guilt is gone forever and cannot be added to our record again. This is a measure of God’s marvelous grace extended freely to us. “He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities” (Psalm 103:10).
The Bible tells us that Satan is “the accuser of our brethren” (Revelation 12:10). But through God’s grace, our sins are completely blotted out, removed from our record forever. There is nothing Satan can say, even in true accusations for our failures and shortcomings, that can damage our standing in God’s family. That standing did not depend on us in the first place, but on the perfect holiness of Jesus Christ, which was given to us.
“Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”
When Paul wrote about the new life that comes after salvation, he was not speaking theoretically. His life story was a dramatic illustration of this truth. Paul went from leading in the persecution of Christians and attempting to stamp out Christianity in its infancy, to being one of the most powerful and effective voices of the gospel. Everything changed for Paul when he had his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. From that day forward, nothing was ever the same for him again.
God saves us as we are, but He does not mean for us to stay that way. Peter wrote, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18). The day will never come in this life when we have reached perfection. There is always more to learn about God and more to do to be like His Son.
The old life must be left behind if this is to take place. We cannot be looking over our shoulders and longing for the old things if we are to truly experience the new life. “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned” (Hebrews 11:15).
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”
In March of 2019, Harry Krame returned a book to the library in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. That is an occurrence that happens every day. But Krame had checked out The Family Book of Verse by Lewis Ganet when Lyndon Johnson was president—fifty-three years before. The book had been stacked with others and stored in his basement. When Krame found the book during a cleanup, he said he felt guilty for keeping it so long. Though the fine would have amounted to some $2,000, the library waived all the fees. They plan to use the book as part of an exhibit to stress the importance of returning library books on time.
There are things in the past of all of our lives that we look back on with regret. Poor decisions, harsh words, failed efforts, and especially sin (both of omission and commission). Yet while we should not ever take sin lightly, we should also not be bound by guilt over what is in the past. Once we have confessed a sin and forsaken, and done what we can to make things right with those we have hurt, the sin is gone. God does not bring them up again, and neither should we. “For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12).
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
1 John 2:15–17
One of the striking characteristics of the world around us is the desperate longing of people for acceptance and approval. There are many searching for genuine love through every means imaginable, but nothing apart from God can satisfy that desire. Every temporal pleasure is fleeting, as Solomon discovered when he attempted to find meaning in life from wealth and pleasure. Even with nearly unlimited power and resources, Solomon ended up feeling that life was worthless. “Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:11).
The problem is that the things of the world by their desire are alluring. It is easy for us to be drawn away from loving God as we should, and to try to replace His role in the center of our hearts with something else. That never works. No matter how attractive the present world may appear to be on the outside, it is a dead end road. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12). This is just as true for a Christian as it is for an unbeliever. Though we do not face the ultimate penalty of Hell, the path of sin always brings destruction.
“Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the LORD thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me.”
When Jacob was at the lowest point of his life, running from Esau after Jacob stole the blessing that actually should have belonged to his older brother, he had an encounter with God. Though he undoubtedly knew about God, Jacob does not appear to have had a real relationship with Him. God introduced Himself to Jacob this way: “And God said unto him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins” (Genesis 35:11).
God was telling Jacob that He was able to do whatever Jacob needed, even making a fugitive second son the father of a great nation. And He was faithful to that promise. Hundreds of years later, He moved to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. There was no human explanation or expectation for that deliverance, but God is able to do all that He has promised.
Dr. John Rice said, “God has more for us than we take. God has bigger plans for us than we make. God has more love for us than we know. God has more people for us to bless than we do. Oh, if we could know the breadth, the length, the width, the height of all things, and the love of God which passeth knowledge! He said He ‘is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.’ Can you ask something big? God has something bigger than that!”
“And the child Samuel ministered unto the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was precious in those days; there was no open vision. And it came to pass at that time, when Eli was laid down in his place, and his eyes began to wax dim, that he could not see; And ere the lamp of God went out in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was, and Samuel was laid down to sleep; That the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I.”
1 Samuel 3:1–4
When Samuel went to live with the aged priest Eli at Shiloh, it was a low time in the life of Israel. The people had failed to drive out the inhabitants of the Promised Land as God instructed, and as a result they were constantly being tempted by the gods and idols worshiped by those around them. To make matters worse Eli’s wicked sons had made many people unwilling to come to the tabernacle and worship God there. They had only the five books of the law Moses had written, and there were few copies available for people to read and learn. It is little wonder that Samuel failed to recognize God’s voice when he first heard it. Soon, Samuel did learn that voice, however, and because he obeyed it he changed the destiny of Israel.
Today God no longer speaks to us audibly. But He has given us something even better—the completed Bible. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). Here in the United States, copies of the Word of God are not scarce, but sadly even those who are His children often ignore what He has said to us.
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”
When Paul met with the elders of the church at Ephesus for the last time, it was a bittersweet moment. He had poured years of his life into this church, which had become one of the most important and influential churches in the world. The church had been built on evangelism, love, hard work, and a passion for others. But as good as it was, Paul knew the church would come under attack, both from without and from within.
It is no different in our day. The truth is still under attack, but not just from the world around us; there are some people inside of churches who spread false doctrine. There are some churches today where many people go because they like what they hear, but what they are hearing is far from the truth. There is always a temptation to make the message more accepted by removing the “rough edges.” But that path leads to destruction.
Paul did not tell the Ephesians to be popular or accepted by the world. He told them to be on guard for attacks against the truth. Maintaining a belief in the truth requires diligence, attention, and effort. “Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 12:1). No one remains in the truth accidentally.
“Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?”
Frederick Winslow Taylor was one of the first efficiency experts in the world. Doing what came to be known as time-motion studies, Taylor worked to determine the most effective way to do specific jobs, and how long each job should take. His 1911 book The Principles of Scientific Management was one of the most influential books of the last century. But Taylor’s system with its demands on workers to become more and more productive came in for a great deal of criticism. One of the critics was Vladimir Lenin who called Taylor’s discoveries: “Advances in the extortion of sweat.” But when Lenin gained power in Russia after the Communist revolution he changed his tune. He announced, “We must organize in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system.”
It is common for people to change their views when it becomes more convenient than sticking to them. But while it is good to change our views if we had previously been wrong, often these changes are not an improvement, but a capitulation to convenience. What this kind of change reveals is that the position we once held was not serious and genuine, but only on the surface level. Perhaps the greatest indication of our commitment to our beliefs is whether we actually practice what we say. A man who says his family is his priority but spends all his time at work or on the golf course doesn’t really have a firm belief of the importance of family. It is not enough just to say the right things, but we must put them into practice as well.
“And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?”
Many people in our day treat God as a punchline. They blaspheme Him and take His name in vain without scruple or remorse. If they think of God at all, it is usually as an old man with white hair sitting on a cloud. Nothing could be further from the picture painted in the Word of God. When Jesus came the first time, He came as a lowly Saviour. People came to Him gladly, finding comfort and hope. When He returns, however, His face will be set for judgment, and so frightening that people want to die rather than face Him.
A. W. Tozer said, “I am among those who believe that the judgments of God are certain. We do not know the day nor the hour. But God is indeed going to shake the earth as it has never been shaken before, and He will turn it over to the Worthy One to whom it belongs—Jesus Christ!” We do not need to worry about the final outcome of our world. It is already settled. And the day on which God’s wrath is poured out will be a tragic day for those who have rejected Him. It will also be a day of regret for us if we fail to warn those we can of this coming judgment. The world may mock, but we still have a responsibility to be faithful witnesses of the gospel.
“He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD God of Israel; so that after him was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor any that were before him. For he clave to the LORD, and departed not from following him, but kept his commandments, which the LORD commanded Moses.”
2 Kings 18:4–6
Hezekiah was one of the few good kings the Jewish people had after the division of the nation. His father Ahaz was so wicked that the people did not bury him in state with the previous kings. Ahaz had introduced the worship of the Assyrian gods to his people, even defiling the Temple. When Hezekiah first took the throne, he set out to undo what his father had done. He began destroying false idols and places of worship, and had the Temple cleansed. But he did one more thing—he destroyed the brass serpent that Moses had lifted up in the wilderness so the people could be healed.
The Jewish people had begun to worship it rather than God, making sacrifices and burning incense. This wonderful reminder of God’s provision for the healing of the nation, and wonderful type of Jesus Christ, had been turned into an idol. God gives us good things because of His love and grace, but we must never let them become our focus. Instead, we should allow God’s gifts to point us to Him.
A. B. Simpson wrote:
Once it was the blessing,
Now it is the Lord;
Once it was the feeling,
Now it is His Word;
Once His gift I wanted,
Now, the Giver own;
Once I sought for healing,
Now Himself alone.
All in all forever,
Only Christ I’ll sing;
Everything is in Christ,
And Christ is everything.
“Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. 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.”
Abraham waited for some twenty-five years for the arrival of his promised son who would fulfill God’s promise to raise up a great nation. In that time, he had no human reason to expect a son would ever come. In fact, it was physically impossible for Sarah to bear a child. Yet in that long season when there seemed to be no reason for hope, Abraham still believed. And he continued in faith until the promised child, Isaac, was finally born. Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who commanded the French army during much of World War I said, “There are no hopeless situations: there are only men who have grown hopeless about them.”
The reason we can have hope in what may seem to others to be hopeless situations is that our hope is not based on our ability, resources, knowledge, or strength. Our hope is in the Lord who faithfully keeps every promise He has made to His children. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God” (Psalm 42:11). Any other resource we could have can be exhausted or fail, but God never does. He is not only the source of the promises we have received, but the guarantee that they will be fulfilled.
“Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
1 Corinthians 6:18–20
When Solomon set out to fulfill David’s dream of having a permanent building for the Ark of the Covenant, to replace the tent it had been kept in since the time of Moses, he left nothing to chance. Every detail was planned and prepared. The stone blocks for the walls and the wood beams for the roof were precut to fit, “So that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building” (1 Kings 6:7).
The Temple was dedicated with massive sacrifices and thousands of singers praising the Lord. The reason they took such extraordinary steps was that they realized exactly what they were building—a holy Temple for the living God. “That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day, even toward the place of which thou hast said, My name shall be there: that thou mayest hearken unto the prayer which thy servant shall make toward this place” (1 Kings 8:29).
There has not been a Temple in Jerusalem since the Romans destroyed it in 70 AD. But there is still a temple of God on earth in each of His children, and we must not forget who we are. And just as Solomon built that Temple to be solely for the worship of God, our temples must be kept holy as well. “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
“I have called upon thee, for thou wilt hear me, O God: incline thine ear unto me, and hear my speech. Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, From the wicked that oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about.”
David spent most of his early adult life on the run. King Saul was jealous of David’s popularity and favor with God, and tried to kill the man he feared would overthrow his kingdom. David went to great lengths to survive. When he talks about looking to God for shelter and protection, it is grounded in painful experience. If God had not delivered David, he would surely have perished at the hands of Saul. But God did deliver David, and He offers the same protection and shelter to His children today.
Dr. John Rice who grew up on a ranch in Texas said, “You city slickers would not know about it, but there is something especially sweet about a mother hen taking care of the little chickens. If there is just a shadow of a hawk flying over, she clucks and they run and get under Mamma’s wings. If it rains, they get under there and the rain falls on her, not on the little chickens. They’re cheep, cheep, cheep-comforted under there. Now, a Christian is to hide under His wings, under His feathers.”
Too often we try to create our own protection to shield us from the world. We trust in our financial resources, or our strength or our friends, only to find that they are unable to meet the challenges we face. Only God has the ability and resources to shield us from any attack. When we are under His wings, we are safe from any threat that may come.
“No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”
Worry seems to be a constant part of life in our world today. Surveys show people have all kinds of fears, some of which are about common things and others about things that are unlikely to happen. But we worry just the same. This is not new. Jesus instructed the people in His day not to worry in the context of teaching about the choice we make between loving and serving God and loving and serving money and material possessions. This is the “therefore” that leads into Jesus saying not to worry about the necessities of life.
While we should never be foolish and wasteful in handling our resources, we do not have to wonder if our needs will be met. Just as God cares for the birds and flowers and all of creation, He cares for us. When we worry, we reveal that He is not the center of our hearts, and that we do not really trust Him as we should. If He is in first place, the presence or lack of particular resources will not change our outlook on life. From a prison cell in Rome Paul wrote, “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).
“But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
We live in a world in which much of life is dictated by scarcity and limits. There are only so many hours in a day, so much money in the bank, so many skills to apply to the task at hand; and as a result, there are often times when things we would like to see cannot be accomplished. It is hard for us to comprehend the meaning of God’s unlimited power, because nothing we know in this world is without limits.
Nowhere is that more clearly seen than in the matter of salvation. God provides freely what we could never obtain on our own. The sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross provides salvation through grace for all those who believe. No matter how many people accept Him as Saviour, the saving grace of Jesus is never exhausted. No matter what sins a person may have committed, grace is able to cover them all. Grace abounds more than sin ever could.
God’s grace is not just extended to us at salvation, but for every part of life. “As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Peter 4:10). Grace is available to us for every challenge and trial and temptation we face. There is no possibility of the supply being exhausted. There is no danger of going to God for help only to find that He is no longer willing to provide for us. We have overflowing abundant grace from God.
“As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”
Thomas Piggott went to China in 1879 as a missionary to work with Hudson Taylor in reaching the lost. In May of 1896, he wrote: “How shall we look on the investment of our lives and labour here, even from the near standpoint of one hundred years hence? I am, I can truly say, more grateful every day for the opportunity of serving Christ, and I believe this to be the only true and sober view of life s realities. The work pressed home now, will make all the difference a few years hence.” When the Boxer Rebellion broke out, Piggott refused to leave and was executed along with dozens of other missionaries. He gave his life for the gospel.
Paul grounded his appeal for Christians to willingly serve God on the sacrifice that Jesus made for our salvation. “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” (Romans 12:1). Jesus was not dragged to the cross by forces beyond His control. He willingly laid down His life for us, and we are called to do the same for others. A Christian who is unwilling to sacrifice will not make an impact for God.
“And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word.”
In ancient times, Anthemis nobilis—Roman chamomile—was widely used in medicines. The flowers were brewed into tea for treatment of digestive disorders, headaches, and to promote restful sleep. The Greeks also used Roman chamomile as a symbol for humility because, “the more it is trod, the more it spreads.” Walking on the low-growing plants encourages the seeds to spread, and increases the crop.
When the church in Jerusalem was greatly persecuted, that did not end their gospel witness. Instead it increased it widely. At a time when opposition to Christianity is becoming widespread in our society, it is important for us to remember that we are not promised religious freedom by God. Almost every book in the New Testament was written by a man who would be martyred for his faith. But God can turn even the hatred of His people into something positive. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain” (Psalm 76:10).
As our culture shifts from resistance to receiving the gospel message to attempts to silence it, we must be conscious of the hand of God even in times of hardship and suffering. The mission we have been given to reach the world is not conditioned on the world being happy to receive the good news. Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves or silencing our voices when things get harder, it is simply another opportunity for us to spread the gospel.