Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.”
1 Peter 4:12–14
When trials come into our lives, we often struggle with the repeated admonitions of Scripture to rejoice over them. Instead we complain, gripe, feel mistreated, and sometimes become bitter because of the trials. But trials should not take us by surprise. We have God’s promise that they are a normal and expected part of life. Many times the trials increase the more we try to do right. Yet we must not let that deter us from doing what we should.
One of the biggest reasons we struggle with trials is that we do not remember their purpose. Satan wishes to destroy our faith through suffering; God desires to refine it. If we lose sight of God’s intention, we will find our burdens too heavy to bear. God’s plan is for us to glorify Him through those trials as our faith is proven to be real. “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
In the midst of pain, suffering, and trials, we must remind ourselves that God remains in control. Nothing happens to us that cannot be used for our good and His glory. But we must properly respond to the trials for that benefit to be realized.
“If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do.
The Apostle Paul was a greatly used and spiritually fruitful Christian. But even Paul struggled with the power of sin in his life. He recognized that even after his conversion he still had the fleshly sin nature that he was born with, and that unless sin was put to death, it would triumph over his will. He wrote to the church at Corinth, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31).
Satan comes to us with the message that we do not have to completely give up our sin—that we can hold on to the things that we enjoy as long as we limit them. Like all of his temptations, this is a lie. Sin never remains under our control. Only when we utterly defeat it in the power of the Holy Spirit can we be safe.
A. J. Gordon wrote, “Has the body of the flesh become so kind and so helpful to the Spirit, that we have no need, like Paul, to keep it under and bring it into subjection lest we be castaways? If there were no answer from revelation to this question, there is one from universal experience. None has ever yet found untempered self-gratification compatible with strong spiritual growth. None has ever yet discovered how to give nature all it asks, without defrauding grace.”
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
Dr. W. A. Criswell recounted this remarkable story from a missionary in Nigeria. A man stood up in a testimony service at church and said, “When I was well and when I was strong, I was a heathen and didn’t know God. When I became a leper I was cast out, and the Christian missionary picked me up and brought me here to this clan settlement. And here I have been taught the faith of the Lord Jesus, and I became a Christian here. Had I remained well, I would have still been a heathen. Now that I’m a leper, I have found the Lord. I’d rather be a leper and have Christ than to be strong and well and be a heathen.”
Jesus has already done all of the paying for salvation. There is nothing we can do to add to His finished work on the cross. Yet sometimes we do not value our salvation as highly as we should. Jesus said that even the whole world would not a be worthy trade for our souls. Our salvation is a great treasure we could never purchase, and while we do not give up things to get it, it should make us willing to give up everything for the Lord. Paul wrote, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ” (Philippians 3:7). Recognizing the value and worth of our salvation, we should hold the things of the world loosely in our hands.
“But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
George Kaufman was a noted playwright and director in the early 1900s. He is probably best remembered today for writing material for the Marx Brothers comedy movies. Kaufman often directed his own plays, though it was not uncommon for him to launch a new production and then go on to work on another project while someone else took over the director’s duties. The story goes that a couple of months after he turned over one of his plays, Kaufman went to see it. Over the weeks of the run the cast and new director had made some additions and changes to the material. Kaufman went backstage and put up an announcement: “Rehearsal tomorrow at 2:00 to remove all the improvements.”
God has given us a perfect Word to follow throughout our lives. But often over time people add interpretations and traditions that change the meaning. Jesus dealt with that in His day. What He pointed out was that when we follow the traditions rather than the actual things God has said, we diminish the power of the Bible to nothingness in our lives. There is no need for us to improve or update or rewrite the Scriptures. They are perfect, given by God and kept by His power—His message to us just as surely as when human authors were inspired to write the words. There is nothing to add to what God has said.
“And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
When you ask someone about themselves, the answer they give tells you a lot about what is important to them. Some people speak of their jobs. Others talk about their families. Some focus on their hobbies and interests. When God presented Himself to Moses and the Children of Israel, He identified some of His traits, and one of those was that He was “abundant in goodness.” God is not just partly good or somewhat good. His goodness is perfect and overflowing.
There are times in all of our lives when we are tempted to question the goodness of God. When the doctor gives us a bad test report, when the company issues layoff notices, when the relationship fractures and seems like it cannot be restored, God is good. When the doctor gives us the all clear, when the company announces raises and bonuses, when hearts are knit back together, God is good. He never changes. And understanding and remembering His goodness is vitally important to maintaining our faith through the hard times. David said, “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).
In his poem “The Eternal Goodness” John Greenleaf Whittier wrote:
Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!
“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 15:55–58
While Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made their famous moonwalk, the capsule that would return them safely to Earth was being flown by Michael Collins. He was their vital lifeline to get back home. And despite being trusted with that vital role, just a few years before, Collins had been told that he didn’t have what it took to be an astronaut. The West Point graduate and test pilot applied to NASA following John Glenn’s flight around the world, only be to rejected. He later called it, “a big flop, a big failure,” but he refused to give up. He continued working and applying until in 1963, he was accepted into the astronaut program and chosen for the Apollo 11 mission.
There are many times in life when we do not immediately succeed at what we try. The temptation in those moments is to give up and accept that we cannot do what we have set out to do. However, defeat should not discourage us. This is even more true in the spiritual realm than it is in any other part of our lives. Paul pointed out to the church at Corinth that Jesus through His resurrection had already defeated the greatest enemy we face—death. In light of that victory, he called them to faithfulness in service to God. Not everyone to whom we witness gets saved, and not everyone for whom we pray gets healed; but the ultimate victory has been won. We must not quit serving God.
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”
1 Peter 5:1–3
One of the most famous plays in baseball history happened on October 25, 1986, in the sixth game of the World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets. With the score tied in the tenth inning, Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner allowed a softly hit ground ball to go between his legs into right field, giving the Mets the opportunity to win the game, and eventually the championship. Despite twenty-two successful years of professional baseball, Buckner’s error on that one play became the defining moment of his career.
If there is anyone in the Bible whose life could have been defined by one moment of failure, it was Peter. The denial of the Lord that he issued again and again after Jesus’ arrest was a striking lapse, all the more because it came so closely after Jesus’ warning that Peter would not stand with Him when the moment of testing came. “Peter answered and said unto him, Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended” (Matthew 26:33).
Peter could have given up, but instead he responded to the renewed command he received from Jesus and spent the rest of his life winning the lost and building the church. Peter did what all of us should do—he obeyed what Jesus told him. And later in his life Peter passed on the same mission to those who would come after, instructing them to feed their flocks.
“But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night; Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven? There they cry, but none giveth answer, because of the pride of evil men. Surely God will not hear vanity, neither will the Almighty regard it.”
Thomas Chisholm had a path for his life planned out. Born in Kentucky shortly after the Civil War, Chisholm chose, after his conversion, to train for the ministry. However, his pastoral career was cut short after just one year by serious health problems that left him unable to handle the responsibilities of the job. Rather than turning away from God in that darkness, Chisholm began writing poems. He eventually authored more than one thousand, including one of my favorites:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
And all I have needed Thy hand hath provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.
Heartaches, trials, and struggles should come as no surprise to us. We have the promise of Jesus that these difficulties and hardships will come: “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). The key for us to maintain joy and victory is found in seeing God’s hand in the events of our lives—and when we cannot see it, trusting Him anyway. Those Christians who follow this course are the ones who still have joy in their hearts and a song on their lips in hard times.
“The chariots of God are twenty thousand, even thousands of angels: the Lord is among them, as in Sinai, in the holy place. Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them. Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah.”
I read the story of a poor family from Europe that had saved all of their money to purchase passage on a boat to America hoping for freedom and opportunity. Because they had spent nearly all of their money on the tickets, they packed bread and cheese to eat on the way. After several days of that, the son complained, and his father gave him a nickel to get ice cream for a treat. He was gone for a long time, and his family began to worry. He finally showed up with a huge smile on his face, and said excitedly, “I had three ice cream cones and a steak dinner!” “All that for a nickel?” his father asked. “No,” the boy replied. “The food is free. It comes with the ticket.”
David said that God loads us up with benefits, and it is true. Every day we are richly blessed by the good things He provides for us, yet too often we miss out on even more that He could do for us. We lose battles that could have been won, we do without things we could have; and we work in our own strength when His power is available to us. We miss out on the benefits God is ready, willing, and able to provide for us. “Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries” (Psalm 81:13-14).
“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;”
At the conclusion of His observance of the Passover with the disciples, just before going out to the Garden of Gethsemane where He would be arrested, Jesus prayed. He poured out His heart to the Father, not just for Himself, but for His disciples—and for us. We are a part of “them also which shall believe” that Jesus spoke of in this prayer, and He is still praying for us today. “Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:25).
There are times when we face opposition and obstacles that seem to be overwhelming. In these moments we often feel like we are all alone and there is no one who cares about us. Even if that is true in the earthly realm, it is never true in Heaven. We are saved because of the love God extended to us, and we are still loved when things are going wrong. It is a great encouragement in dark and difficult days to be reminded that Jesus is still praying for us. Robert Murry McCheyne said, “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He is praying for me!”
“Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
Ever since the Garden of Eden, Satan has been working to separate people from God. He knows that the closer we are to the Lord, the less power he has in our lives. That is one reason so many Christians endure tribulation, distress, and persecution. The devil is trying to do to them the same thing that he tried to do to Job—to separate them from God, undermine their faith, and render them ineffective in service to Him.
These possibilities are very real. I have talked to people who have been put in jail for their faith. I have talked to widowed spouses of those who were killed for their faith. I have seen the pain and sorrow these attacks bring. They are not figments of the imagination. They are not easy to face, but they are utterly incapable of changing God’s love for us. We can allow them to defeat us, but that is not a failure on God’s part.
When trouble comes, it should drive us closer to God rather than further away from Him. David wrote, “In the LORD put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?” (Psalm 11:1). No human refuge can sustain in trials. There is no fortress that can defend us. Only God can overcome the power of the devil. Our responsibility is to maintain our relationship with Him, trusting in His love just as much when things go wrong as when they go right.
“Now the feast of unleavened bread drew nigh, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people. Then entered Satan into Judas surnamed Iscariot, being of the number of the twelve. And he went his way, and communed with the chief priests and captains, how he might betray him unto them. And they were glad, and covenanted to give him money.”
In 280 BC, the expanding power of Rome reached into what is now the Balkans and was confronted by the Greek state of Epirus. Led by Pyrrhus, their king, the Epirote army defeated the invaders. The next year they launched an attack against Roman territory. In the Battle of Asculum, Pyrrhus was once again victorious, but his army suffered great losses. According to Plutarch, “Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such victory would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits.” This is where we get the term Pyrrhic victory.
The ultimate Pyrrhic victory in all of history was Satan’s at the cross. Satan conspired, plotted, and worked to end the life and ministry of Jesus. To human observers it must have looked like an utter defeat for the rabbi from Nazareth whose preaching and miracles had drawn so many to follow Him. But it was this “victory” of Satan that sealed his doom. This was the fulfillment of the promise God made to Adam and Eve. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). This was the ultimate victory over Satan, sin, death and the grave, and Jesus won it for us.
“For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:19–22
In September of 2019, US Air Force Sgt. Kenneth O’Brien was on his way from Japan to the United States. O’Brien had been selected to receive the “Outstanding Airmen of the Year” award to recognize his heroism. He had saved the life of a motorist trapped in a burning car while he was stationed in Korea. That incident happened not long after he took part in supporting the effort to rescue the youth soccer team trapped underground in Thailand. During that effort, he also saved the life of a Thai Navy SEAL team member.
On the flight, a young boy started choking and lost consciousness. O’Brien cleared his airway and after about a minute the child began breathing on his own and regained consciousness. He said, “If someone needs to go do something dangerous, I volunteer. If someone needs a leader, I volunteer. I happened to be in the right place at the right time and that’s what helped me stand out because I sought out key positions or responsibilities.” We need a new generation of Christians who are reaching the lost with the gospel even if it means sacrifice. This was the mindset of Jesus, and we need that thinking toward those around us.
“For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. Be not ye therefore partakers with them.”
The first-century church at Ephesus was a body of believers surrounded by a godless and immoral culture. When Paul wrote to them, he warned them of a particular danger—that people would try to paint sin as not really being all that bad. We face much the same problem today. All around us there are powerful voices being raised to deceive people regarding what is acceptable to God. His standards have not changed, and no human opinion—in either the church or the culture—will change them.
Our responsibility is to follow God no matter who tries to deceive us into doing wrong. The ability of people to try to rationalize or justify sinful behavior is profound. Often those who are doing wrong attempt to either convince others to join them in their sin, or at least convince them that it isn’t so bad. We see the “gospel” of acceptance being preached in schools, media, entertainment, politics and even in some churches. But it is a false gospel with deadly consequences.
This downplaying of the destructiveness of sin may appeal to those who desire an excuse for disobedience, but it does not change the reality. Sin is still wrong, and it still brings disastrous results. “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Rather than allowing our hearts and minds to be filled with the lies of the world, we must fill them with the Word of God. Only in the Bible do we find the wisdom and strength to identify and overcome temptation.
“Nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place every year with blood of others; For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”
Most of the religions of the world teach that man’s relationship with God or a multitude of gods requires repairing. The difference between Christianity and the others is where the focus and responsibility of that repair is placed. Most of the people living in the world today are attempting to do something so that they can be accepted by God, however they may conceive of Him. But the Bible tells us that the work of salvation has already been completed. That is what Jesus declared just before He died on the cross. “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30).
There is nothing we can do to earn or deserve salvation. And indeed anything that we insist on doing ourselves, whether that is joining a church, getting baptized, doing good works, or turning over a new leaf, takes away our ability to receive salvation on God’s terms. We must trust Him alone to save. The English reformer Thomas Cranmer said, “This is the honour and glory of this our high priest, wherein He admitteth neither partner nor successor. For by His own oblation He satisfied His Father for all men’s sins, and reconciled mankind unto His grace and favour.”
“And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”
When Nicodemus came to Jesus, he struggled to understand the necessity and nature of the new birth. He thought of it in natural terms, commenting on the impossibility of being physically born for a second time. Jesus pointed his attention to the fallen condition of man. We are not born basically good. We are not capable of obedience to all that God has commanded. We are born as sinners—born into darkness and in desperate need of being changed into light. This is somewhat ironic because Nicodemus came to Jesus under the cover of darkness seemingly for fear that his position as a leader of the Jewish people would be undermined if they knew he was talking to Jesus.
The transformation that takes place when we are saved is complete. It is a total shift, not just of our eternal destiny, but of the power we have to live a new life day by day in this world. The old nature of darkness was once our condition, but a new nature has come. Paul wrote, “For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light” (Ephesians 5:8). God does not just enlighten us so that we can avoid Hell, but so that we can walk in His way through a dark world, shining as lights to those around us. The light of salvation we receive freely from God is not just meant for ourselves. We are to make it visible to all those around us.
“And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother. And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.”
When the man we sometimes refer to as the “rich young ruler” came to Jesus with his question about the way to eternal life, he called Jesus “Good Master” before asking what he could do to inherit eternal life. Rather than answering his question, Jesus asked him a question in return. Jesus was probing the sincerity of this man’s interest (though of course He already knew) so he would be forced to confront the roadblock to his faith—his reliance on his great wealth for his standing with God.
Jesus interrogated him to show whether he really meant what he said or not when he called Jesus “Good Master.” Since only God is good, if this young man wanted to call Jesus good, he would have to confess Jesus’ divinity and his own inability to get to Heaven by good works.
But there is another implication for us who have already trusted Christ as our Saviour. To confess Jesus as God requires submission and obedience to Him. He has the right to tell us what to do and what not to do, and we have the responsibility to obey. The young man was unwilling to do what Jesus said. “And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:22). As Christians, when we profess our intention to do what God says, we must follow through with our actions. Christianity is a life religion, not a lip religion. If we profess our submission to God but live in rebellion, we are demonstrating that our obedience is only on the surface.
“And Elijah said unto all the people, Come near unto me. And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down. And Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, unto whom the word of the LORD came, saying, Israel shall be thy name: And with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD: and he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed.”
1 Kings 18:30–32
The story of Elijah confronting hundreds of false prophets on Mount Carmel is one of the most dramatic in the entire Bible. After three years without rain, the people of Israel gathered. The prophets of Baal, a god who was claimed to control the weather, cried out for fire to come down and burn the sacrifice. Nothing happened. Then it was Elijah’s turn. Before his brief prayer which was answered by fire, Elijah took twelve stones to make an altar. This was the custom laid down by Moses and followed by succeeding generations. But at the time of Elijah, Israel had been divided into two nations for more than sixty years.
Elijah still used twelve stones to represent all the people. If we want to see God’s power fully displayed, then we must be united in our work for Him. Many churches have their work hindered because the members are not all on the same page. We need what each person has to contribute to accomplish God’s purpose. “From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). If we allow divisions within the church, we are forfeiting the blessings of unity.
“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:”
God always blesses faithfulness. We see this truth demonstrated over and over both in Scripture and in history, yet God’s blessings do not always align with what we would prefer. Many through the years who were faithful and committed to doing what was right suffered greatly. Even today around the world Christians are being martyred for their faith. Has God failed to keep His promises? Of course not. We should never allow temporal circumstances to control our belief in God’s love and provision for His children.
John Bunyan spent years in jail in England because of his refusal to take a license to preach from the Church of England. He recognized the heresy and corruption that had taken over the church, and would not be part of it. It was in that jail cell that he began the masterful Pilgrim’s Progress which remains one of the best-selling books in history. Bunyan said, “In times of affliction we commonly meet with the sweetest experiences of the love of God.”
It is a mistake to focus only on the things of this world. Eternity is much more important. While there are rewards in this life for obedience, the greatest rewards are yet to come. “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
“Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God’s husbandry, ye are God’s building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.”
1 Corinthians 3:8–10
We are not saved just for our own benefit. God freely brings us into His family without any work or effort on our part, but there are no faithful, obedient, yielded Christians who are not doing something for Him. We all have different gifts and abilities. We all have different opportunities and avenues of service. We all have the choice of whether we will be faithful workers in His kingdom.
Charles Spurgeon said, “We greatly err when we dream that only a preacher can minister to the Lord—for Jesus has work of all sorts for all sorts of followers. As there is no idle angel there ought to be no idle Christian. We are not saved for our own sakes, but that we may be of service to the Lord and to his people; let us not miss our calling.”
The way that we should assess our work for God is not whether we are well known or popular or have a very public and noticeable area of ministry. Rather, we should judge our work as He does—by what motivates it. “Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is” (1 Corinthians 3:13). There are no “bonus points” for fame or the applause of men. Instead, God honors those who are faithful to labor for Him no matter what.
“For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:15–18
Irving Berlin was one of the most prolific and successful songwriters in history. He wrote dozens of hit songs, produced award winning Broadway musicals, and wrote the music for some of the best-loved movies of his day. His song “White Christmas” remains one of the best selling pieces of music in the world, and continues to be recorded by new artists year after year. But in 1962, Berlin’s new musical Mr. President was a complete flop. The reviews were negative, and many suggested that Berlin had lost his touch. From that point on, Berlin stopped producing music publicly, though he continued to write for more than twenty years afterward. He simply refused to submit his music to the judgment and criticism of others.
There is nothing worthwhile that is ever accomplished without struggle and opposition. The fact that we are having difficulty, often is the best indication that we are on the right track. If Paul had not been doing a great missionary work, he would not have faced such harsh opposition. He would have missed out on the beatings, the imprisonment, the stoning, the shipwreck, and more. But he would have also missed the opportunity to spread the gospel across the Roman Empire. He knew that what he was doing was worth the sacrifice.
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
As Christians, we have been given a resource to help us learn, grow, and develop as God calls us to do—His Word. Again and again the Bible tells us that it is nothing less than inspired, infallible, and unchanging. Yet throughout history, beginning in the Garden of Eden, people have doubted and questioned what God said. While it is certainly possible to misunderstand or misinterpret the Scriptures, they are completely accurate and reliable. The Bible does not need to be revised, updated, or edited. It needs to be understood, believed, and practiced.
Dr. John Rice said, “You cannot hold on to the Christ of the Bible unless you hold on to the Bible itself. Anybody who is ashamed of the Word of Jesus Christ is ashamed of Christ. They stand or fall together. The Bible is the Word of Christ, and the words are the words of Christ.” There are many voices that try to make us doubt what the Bible says, but none of them can take away the power of the Bible in our lives—only we can do that. We must learn what it says, read it and study it, hear it preached and taught, and hide it in our hearts. Then we must do what it says in faith. Any doubt about what God has clearly said takes us down the wrong path.
“And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, saying, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the LORD our God hath commanded you? Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand: And the LORD shewed signs and wonders, great and sore, upon Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his household, before our eyes: And he brought us out from thence, that he might bring us in, to give us the land which he sware unto our fathers.”
There is no question that children in our society are under attack. Not only do our current laws devalue their very life by allowing abortion. But children in our culture are subjected to all sorts of temptations and struggles, and it is having a dramatic impact. According to the Centers for Disease Control between 2007 and 2017, the suicide rate among 10-14 year olds almost tripled and the suicide rather for 15-19 year olds nearly doubled. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for teenagers in America.
While there are many reasons for this disturbing trend, the hopelessness among young people is obvious. This is one reason it is so important that Christian families give careful attention to transfer their faith to their children and grandchildren. Christian children are not exempt from the pressures and temptations faced by their peers. And if their faith is to be strong enough to resist the negative elements of their society, it needs to be built and strengthened from a young age by their parents and grandparents.
There needs to be family traditions of faith and faithfulness that young people see at an early age. And those traditions need to continue as they grow up rather than being abandoned when they become teenagers. The faith that is real in our hearts will not automatically be passed on—it must be done on purpose.
“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.”
Pastors frequently hear expressions of concern from people about their prayers not being answered. Of course the Bible gives us a number of reasons why that may be the case, but one of the most common problems is that too often we do not pray with the intensity and fervor we should. Most of the prayers recorded in Scripture were issued from broken hearts and fervent spirits. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus exemplified this. “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
R. A. Torrey said, “We hear much in our day of the rest of faith, but there is such a thing as the fight of faith in prayer as well as in effort. Those who would have us think that they have attained to some sublime height of faith and trust because they never know any agony of conflict or of prayer, have surely gotten beyond their Lord, and beyond the mightiest victors for God, both in effort and prayer, that the ages of Christian history have known. When we learn to come to God with an intensity of desire that wrings the soul, then shall we know a power in prayer that most of us do not know now.” When our prayers are fervent, there is a great impact on our lives and on the world.
“Continue in prayer, and watch in the same with thanksgiving; Withal praying also for us, that God would open unto us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds: That I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”
All of us get the same number of precious seconds every day—86,400. No one gets additional time in a twenty-four hour period to accomplish what they want to do. The difference between those who live a life that matters and those who do not is largely found in the way they use—or fail to use—their time. The Bible speaks of “redeeming the time” which means that we are to obtain the maximum benefit and usage of the time we are given. One of the most important ways in which we can and should do that is by doing what needs to be done without delay.
Oswald Sanders wrote, “Procrastination, the thief of time, is one of the devil’s most potent weapons for defrauding us of eternal heritage. The habit of ‘putting off’ is fatal...its power resides in our natural reluctance to come to grips with important decisions. Making decisions, and acting on them, always requires moral energy. But the passing of time never makes action easier; quite the opposite. Most decisions are more difficult a day later, and you may also lose an advantage by such delay.”
There are opportunities that will come today that will never come again. If we keep putting things off, we will never accomplish what God has prepared for us to do. Though there are times when patience is required, more of our problems come from putting off what we should do rather than doing it too quickly.
“Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee? And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, Go. And the maid went and called the child’s mother. And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, Take this child away, and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages. And the woman took the child, and nursed it. And the child grew, and she brought him unto Pharaoh’s daughter, and he became her son. And she called his name Moses: and she said, Because I drew him out of the water.”
The story of the beginning of the life of Moses was filled with trouble. He was born in Egypt at a time when being a male Hebrew baby carried a death sentence, but his parents made the courageous choice to keep him and hide him. When he could no longer be hidden, they put him into a basket and placed him in the Nile River, where he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter. She paid Moses’ own mother to nurse him, and then brought him into the palace.
Every step along that path was needed to prepare Moses for the work God had for his life. Though most of us will not be called to do something as dramatic as leading the Israelites out of Egypt, God has tasks for each of us to accomplish. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
And for those tasks, we do not have to rely on our own strength and abilities. God has already arranged things, handling all the details so that we will be ready for His callings. Our responsibility is to lean on Him rather than our own strength. We can always trust His wisdom and love to both know and do what is best.
“And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.”
1 Kings 19:11–12
We live in a world filled with voices that clamor for our attention. What social scientists refer to as “information overload” poses challenges as we try to sort out the true from the false, and the important from the ephemeral. One of the most important disciplines of the Christian life is taking the time to stop and listen to God’s voice. The great missionary David Brainerd wrote, “In the silences I make in the midst of the turmoil of life I have appointments with God. From these silences I come forth with spirit refreshed, and with a renewed sense of power. I hear a voice in the silences, and become increasingly aware that it is the voice of God.”
If we are constantly running from place to place, and constantly bombarded with information, it will be easy to miss the “still small voice” with which God speaks. That is why He calls us to take the time to stop and listen. “Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10). We all need to hear wise counsel from trusted voices. We need to benefit from the experiences of others. But above all else, we need to stop to listen to what God has to say. When we open His Word and take it to heart, we are equipped for His work.
“And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you. And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.”
Joy is not optional for a Christian. Certainly sadness and suffering and heartbreak are real in this fallen world, but joy can still be present even in the worst of circumstances. As believers, we have the resource to always be joyful. Paul was in prison when he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). He had no outward reason for joy, but in our faithful Father and His love Paul could find reason to rejoice.
Matthew Henry wrote, “All our joy must terminate in God; and our thoughts of God must be delightful thoughts. Observe, it is our duty and privilege to rejoice in God, and to rejoice in Him always; at all times, in all conditions; even when we suffer for Him, or are afflicted by Him. We must not think the worse of Him or of His ways for the hardships we meet with in His service. There is enough in God to furnish us with matter of joy in the worst circumstance on earth. Joy in God is a duty of great consequence in the Christian life; and Christians need to be again and again called to it.”
Joy is not something we produce or manufacture on our own, nor does it come from any outward source. Rather, joy comes as a byproduct as we obediently walk in the power of the Holy Spirit. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith” (Galatians 5:22).
“And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:”
We are surrounded by voices that tell us not to take our faith so seriously. Some of those come from the culture, while others are even inside the church. We’re called fanatics if we hold fast to what the Bible teaches. In response, some people have toned down their faith, sanding away the rough edges that would bring them into conflict with our culture. They still profess to be following Jesus, but they do not challenge the world the way that He did.
Vance Havner wrote, “The cause of Christ has been hurt more by Sunday-morning benchwarmers who pretend to love Christ, who call Him Lord but do not His commands, than by all the publicans and sinners. They glory in being disciples of the Lowest Common Denominator. They traffic in unfelt truth and refuse to get excited over religion. How many nice, comfortable, lovely people rest smilingly in church pews, their conscience drugged, their wills paralyzed, in self-satisfied stupor, utterly unconscious of their danger.”
The Bible paints a very vivid picture of God’s opinion of this kind of living—as being something so disgusting that it is only fit to be vomited out. We may be comfortable with a casual faith that does not produce anything of value, but God is revolted by it. He calls and commands us to love Him with our entire being.
“And all the congregation of the children of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and they brought the LORD’S offering to the work of the tabernacle of the congregation, and for all his service, and for the holy garments. And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing hearted, and brought bracelets, and earrings, and rings, and tablets, all jewels of gold: and every man that offered offered an offering of gold unto the LORD.”
The evangelist Gipsy Smith told the story of a letter he received from a woman in London, asking him to come and speak. She wrote, “I have a meeting I want you to come to speak to. It is only a small meeting and will take nothing out of you.” Smith replied, “I cannot come, and it would be of no use if I did come. If it takes nothing out of me it will do nobody any good.” He concluded by saying, “It is service that costs, and a cheap religion is not worth preaching.”
We are surrounded by a society that is focused on getting and keeping as much as possible. No doubt you’ve seen the popular bumper sticker “He who dies with the most toys wins.” The Christian mindset is directly opposite to that. Rather than trying to hold on to everything we can, we should always be willing to follow the example of Jesus. “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). There is always something else we could do with the time and money that we give to God’s work. Giving our best to Him shows that He is in first place in our hearts.
“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
1 Corinthians 1:26–29
One of the things that makes it so hard for us to humble ourselves so that God can use us is that it goes against our nature. We want to be seen as wise and strong and good and gifted. God wants us to glorify Him. We want to be praised for our accomplishments and receive the acclaim of men. God wants us to praise Him. We want to be lifted up, but that is His place alone. And until we come to grips with this truth, we will not be usable by God. D. L. Moody said, “When we are ready to lay down our strength and our weakness before the Lord, He can use us.”
This requirement for humility is not by accident or coincidence. It is specifically part of God’s plan so that He receives the glory instead of us. Our very nature was created by Him to highlight the awesome wonder of His power. Paul wrote, “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). God certainly does not need our help. He could accomplish every purpose He has for the rest of time in this world with a single word. He chooses to allow us to be part of His work. And all the glory for that work belongs to Him.
“Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again. Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”
Though George Frederic Watts is little remembered today, at one time he was a leading painter and sculptor in England. At the Tate Gallery in London you can still see his painting “Sic Transit Gloria Mundi.” The Latin phrase means “Thus passes the glory of the world.” The painting depicts a body laid out for burial. The accessories around the room show a man of wealth and accomplishment. But all that he had done and acquired was now at an end. On the wall behind the funeral bier is this slogan: “What I spent I had. What I saved I lost. What I gave I have.”
Every material thing that we posses is fleeting. It may last for decades or even centuries, but it will pass away. All of the awards and plaques and ribbons and certificates that note our accomplishments will perish. Yet too often it is the fleeting things to which we give our greatest focus. We allow the things of this world to overshadow the things of the next, keeping us from doing the things that we should.
Paul wrote, “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” (Colossians 3:1–2). A life spent for the eternal may be little noted by men, but it will be seen by God. And He will reward all those who faithfully serve Him with an eye on eternity.
“I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth. He will not suffer thy foot to be moved: he that keepeth thee will not slumber. Behold, he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD is thy keeper: the LORD is thy shade upon thy right hand.”
The story goes that John Wesley was walking past a farm with a friend who was greatly troubled. As the friend poured out his struggles, Wesley listened with compassion. When he was done speaking, Wesley pointed to the cows in a nearby field and asked this question, “Why do the cows look over the stone fence?” After a moment his friend replied, “Because they can’t see through it.” Wesley then said, “So when you cannot see through your troubles, look over them. Look up to God.”
All of us know the feeling of being overwhelmed with trouble. David wrote, “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in unto my soul” (Psalm 69:1). In those moments when it seems like our burdens are more than we can bear and there is no way out, we must remember that God is still with us. He never takes a holiday. He never oversleeps. He never misses a plea for help. And when we cry out for Him, He always answers.
God knows what we need even before we ask Him. When we pray, we are not informing God of our situation. Instead, we are pouring out our hearts, asking Him to do what only He can do. God does not always work the way we prefer or the way we think He should. But God does always work what is best. We can confidently rest in His goodness and love for us, and look to Him in help without wondering if He will hear. God can be trusted in every situation.
“And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. And the LORD said unto Moses, How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws? See, for that the LORD hath given you the sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days; abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the seventh day. So the people rested on the seventh day.”
When the children of Israel were in the wilderness, providing food was a challenge beyond human solution. So God provided manna each morning. When Moses told them this was going to happen, he gave strict instructions that they were not to leave any overnight. Those who disregarded his teaching found that their manna had worms and stunk the next morning. So they learned that manna didn’t last. But on the sixth day, Moses told them to gather a double portion so that they would not have to work on the Sabbath day. Yet some, remembering the stench of leftover manna, went out to look for it anyhow, only to find nothing.
In our day there are many people who place the lessons of their experience ahead of what God has said. While experience is a valuable teacher, it does not supersede Scripture. When what we think we have learned conflicts with what God has declared, He is right and we are wrong. With our limited understanding, it is easy for us to take the wrong lessons from our experiences, and rather than being guided rightly, we are led astray. The people who went out to seek manna on the Sabbath knew about the worms and the stench. The problem was a problem of faith. They were not willing to accept what God said and act on it.
“And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.”
According to church history, Polycarp, who pastored the church in Smyrna, was personally discipled by the Apostle John. After a long, faithful ministry, he was arrested during a period of Roman persecution of the church. When he was told to renounce Christ, Polycarp responded, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” In light of his advanced age, he was told he would go free if he would say, “Away with the atheists” which was how the Romans regarded the Christians who refused to worship Caesar. Instead, Polycarp pointed at the crowd and said, “Away with the atheists.” As a result, he was burned at the stake.
Nothing should be able to shake our commitment to Jesus Christ. He is our Saviour, and His sacrifice for us is worthy of any sacrifice we might be called on to make for Him. While most of us do not face the beatings, imprisonment and even death faced by the members of the early church, and many Christians around the world today, we are still tempted to be silent when we should speak. Someone referred to “Secret Service” Christians—those who are undercover and never let anyone know that they are followers of Jesus. There is great shame in allowing fear or hardship to keep us from sharing the gospel with those around us. May we be like the early disciples and never cease to speak about Jesus.
“Then these presidents and princes assembled together to the king, and said thus unto him, King Darius, live for ever. All the presidents of the kingdom, the governors, and the princes, the counsellors, and the captains, have consulted together to establish a royal statute, and to make a firm decree, that whosoever shall ask a petition of any God or man for thirty days, save of thee, O king, he shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the decree, and sign the writing, that it be not changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which altereth not.”
When Daniel’s enemies tried to find an avenue of attack against him, they could not find anywhere in his duties where Daniel was cutting corners or doing anything wrong. So they decided to attack him for his faith. The courtiers went to King Darius and flattered him into signing a law outlawing praying to anyone else, human or divine. This sounded good to the king, because it placed him on a very high level indeed. And that is why flattery works—because it tells us what we want to hear.
This is far from an ancient phenomenon. According to a study conducted by researchers affiliated with the College Boards, the company that manages the SAT testing process, in 2016, fully 47 percent of US high school seniors graduated with an A average. The trend is referred to as “grade inflation” and it reflects the desire people have to be told they are doing well whether that reflects reality or not. The problem, of course, is that the rise in grades being handed out is not matched by an increase in learning and excellence in education. Flattery is a dangerous weapon that can be subtly used against us to lower our own standards. If we allow ourselves to be convinced that everything is fine, we will not make needed changes.
“So he brought down the people unto the water: and the LORD said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, were three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water.”
When Gideon sent out the call for men to fight against the Midianites, thousands showed up. God wanted a smaller army so there would not be any question about who really won the victory. First Gideon announced that all those who were scared should go home. While that reduced the number somewhat, God said it was still too many. So Gideon led the men to water and watched how they got their drink. Only those who stayed alert, taking water from their hands so they could keep looking around were selected for the final army. Those three hundred who were prepared and ready before the battle started were the ones God chose to bring about His victory.
Every single day of the Christian life is a battle. We have a dedicated and committed enemy who is looking for any opportunity he can to defeat and destroy us. And there are few things more dangerous we can do than to fail to prepare for that conflict. We do not have to wonder if temptations and challenges will come because we know they will. We just have to ensure that we are ready for them when they do. The Scottish preacher James Hastings wrote, “How carefully David prepared to meet Goliath! He chose five smooth stones out of the brook. He did not assume that one would be lying by his hand when he needed it. Never go to the Lord’s work with meager preparation.”
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee. Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.”
Because our human wisdom and understanding is limited, even our best we attempt to plan for the future is flawed. Our most carefully laid plans are subject to failure. In contrast, God already knows the end, not only of the path we are on, but of every path we could have taken that would have changed the outcome. If we are willing to listen to His Word and the Holy Spirit who lives within us, He offers guidance and blessings. One of the most difficult things for us to do is to trust God’s timing. When we do not see Him at work, we are tempted to doubt that He knows or cares about us, but He always does.
Andrew Murray wrote, “He knows when we are spiritually ready to receive the blessing to our profit and His glory. Waiting in the sunshine of His love is what will ripen the soul for His blessing. Waiting under the cloud of trial that breaks in showers of blessings, is as needful. Be assured that if God waits longer than you could wish, it is only to make the blessing doubly precious. God waited 4000 years, till the fullness of time, ere He sent His Son. Our times are in His hands; He will avenge His elect speedily; He will make haste for our help, and not delay one hour too long.”
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him, because he first loved us.”
1 John 4:16–19
Love is not just something God does; love is something God is. He is the very personification and definition of love. He is the standard by which all other love is measured, and compared to which all other love falls short. We are commanded by God to love each other, and we are commanded by God to love Him. Often we struggle with both of these.
It is hard for us to love other people because they are too much like us—selfish, proud, greedy, and unkind. Yet God loves us in spite of our failures. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another” (John 13:34). It is hard for us to love God because we are too little like Him. We do not spend enough time in His Word and in prayer to allow His Spirit to kindle a divine measure of love in our hearts. Dr. John Rice wrote:
What words can I find to tell Jesus I love Him,
Because He first loved me;
Because of my ransom He paid with such suffering,
Upon the cursed tree.
In the morning, and at noontime and when come evening shadows,
I love Thee my Jesus, I love Thee my King;
In rejoicing and in sorrow, in lightness and burden,
I love Thee my Saviour and Lord.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.”
Many of us will spend Thanksgiving with family or friends, and most of us will probably eat more than we ought to. If we sat down to the table and the only thing on it was a turkey or a ham, we would surely think something was missing. There are things that traditionally go with the main course—potatoes, dressing, green beans, corn, gravy, bread—that are family favorites. We would not have the same meal if things that go with the main dish were not present.
In the same way, thanksgiving and peace go together. The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary says, “Thanksgiving gives effect to prayer, and frees from anxious carefulness by making all God’s dealings matter for praise, not merely for resignation, much less murmuring. Peace is the companion of thanksgiving.”
Paul was in a jail cell in Rome when he wrote, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6–7). Our circumstances do not dictate either our gratitude or our peace. Those are totally up to us. We can choose in any situation to be grateful and thankful for God’s work in our lives, or we can complain and gripe and become bitter. But if we take that approach, we are forfeiting God’s peace.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world.”
1 Peter 5:6–9
The world tells us to lift ourselves up, make sure that we are noticed, and insist that we receive credit for whatever we do. God tells us to humble ourselves, prefer others ahead of ourselves, and focus on His approval rather than that of people. One of these methods works, and the other does not. It is no surprise that it is God’s way that works, but it remains hard for us to humble ourselves. It goes against our nature.
F. B. Meyer said, “I used to think that God’s gifts were on shelves one above the other; and that the taller we grew in Christian character the easier we could reach them. I now find that God’s gifts are on shelves one beneath the other; and it is not a question of growing taller but of stooping lower; and that we have to go down, always down, to get His best gifts.”
No matter how difficult we may find the process of humility, there is no substitute for God’s power in our lives, and that power is never given to the proud. “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble” (James 4:6). One of the crucial aspects of humility is a clear recognition of how great God is. When we see a glimpse of His glory and power, it helps us recognize that without Him we cannot accomplish anything—that we have nothing of which to be proud.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
Almost anyone who has accomplished anything great in their lives is tempted to think that they are responsible for it. Nebuchadnezzar, absolute ruler of the mightiest empire in the world fell victim to this temptation. “The king spake, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30). Sometimes that tendency is the result of us thinking that our accomplishments are greater than they really are. No matter the cause, it is always wrong.
We cannot overcome the enemy in our strength. He is a far greater and more powerful foe than we can deal with. But we do not have to rely on our own strength. We have the power of God available to us. The thing that keeps many people from living in that power is their pride. When we claim credit for ourselves, we forfeit God’s power and are left with our own. We must learn the lessons of humility if we want true and lasting victories. D. L. Moody said, “Moses spent forty years thinking he was somebody; forty years learning he was nobody; and forty years discovering what God can do with a nobody.” God never needs our help to get anything done. A word from Him could make or break entire worlds. He lets us be part of His plan, but we need Him, not the reverse.
“And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”
God’s plan for the redemption of lost mankind was put in place even before the world was created. Even though the world was perfect when God made it, He knew that man would yield to temptation and break His command not to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. At that point, sin entered into the world, and everyone who has been born since then has been a sinner both by nature and by choice, and the penalty God pronounced on sin is still in effect. “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). From the beginning, though, God made a promise that would provide hope and salvation.
The Christmas story that we celebrate each year is the fulfillment of the ancient promise—the one God made to Adam and Eve. Though the plan was in place before the Fall, God did not announce it to them until they had sinned and recognized their need of a Saviour. He then told them that one day the Redeemer would come. The full details were not revealed then, but the announcement had already been made.
And when the angel told Joseph that the child Mary was carrying was part of God’s plan he said, “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). He is the only way of salvation.
“But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. Therefore will he give them up, until the time that she which travaileth hath brought forth: then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel.”
Some seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, God revealed to the prophet Micah where the promised Messiah would be born. The little town of Bethlehem, just six miles from Jerusalem, held a special place to the people because it was where Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel had been buried after she died in childbirth. It was also where the great king David had been born. Though the city remained small, it was central to Israel’s identity.
The name Bethlehem means “House of Bread.” The region was fertile ground for crops, and as Ruth found when she accompanied Naomi home from Moab, there was much wheat and other grain in Bethlehem to be gathered when harvest time came. And there in the “House of Bread” Jesus was born. He described Himself using the metaphor of bread. “And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
In sending His Son, God has given us all that we will ever need. As David put it centuries earlier, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). When we have Jesus, we have everything that we need. We lack nothing in the spiritual bounty that He provides, and He has promised to meet our physical needs as well. Only a Divine Saviour can provide sufficient bread for all the people through the centuries who trust in Him.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace. For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
We know that Jesus came into the world taking on a fully human nature while still being completely divine because the Bible tells us that was the case. In our understanding we cannot fully comprehend how it was possible for Him to be both man and God at the same time. But in faith we believe what God has said. Charles Spurgeon said, “He who never began to be, but eternally existed, began to be what He eternally was not, and continued to be what He eternally was.”
The only way that Jesus could become the means of God’s grace to provide salvation was by taking on humanity. And that is the miracle of the incarnation. It is the basis from which we receive both grace and truth. By His nature God must maintain both. He cannot be anything other than perfectly truthful. He could never accept our sins and call them anything other than what they are. But He is also gracious, extending salvation to us through His Son.
We needed the humanity of Jesus to help us understand God and the nature of His love for us. Many years later the Apostle John would write, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).
“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good. For before the child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land that thou abhorrest shall be forsaken of both her kings.”
When we speak about something that is rare or difficult, we often use the expression, “It would take a miracle.” Usually that is not meant to be a literal statement, but rather an indication of how hard or unlikely it is that something will happen. However, in the case of God’s promise of the Messiah that a child would be born of a virgin, it indeed required a miracle. The virgin-birth of Christ was necessary so that Jesus would not have the same sin nature that everyone has had since Adam.
Through the centuries people have mocked and denied the virgin birth of Christ. They offer ludicrous theories rather than accepting the truth of the Bible. Many refuse to believe that God could have done something so far outside the normal laws of the universe, yet God did the impossible because that was what His plan for the redemption of mankind required.
There is never an obstacle that we face that is an obstacle to God. He has unlimited power and is willing to use it to fulfill the promises He has made. A number of things had to happen in order for the birth of Christ to take place as the prophets had foretold. The might of the Roman Empire was enlisted in the project to make sure Mary and Joseph were in Bethlehem, and a girl who was still a virgin had a baby, the Saviour. When your faith is challenged, the Christmas story is a great reminder of what God can and will do for us.
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Most religions throughout history have featured deities who were aloof and distant—needing persuasion to intervene in human affairs, and often doing so in fickle ways that brought more harm than help. Ever since sin entered the world, there has been a separation between God and man. No matter how man tries to bridge that divide, whether through worship or works, it cannot be crossed from the human side. Only God could reach across the gap, and that is why Jesus was born. He was God living with man to bring man back to God.
Jesus lived some two thousand years ago, and He has long since returned to Heaven. But His departure does not mean that God is no longer present. Jesus told His disciples, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:16–17).
The Holy Spirit lives in every believer, and is always present with us. People sometimes speak of feeling like they are far away from God, but that feeling is never caused by His withdrawal from us. We can and often do break the closeness of the relationship but it never changes. He never leaves or forsakes His children.
“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
When the Children of Israel left Egypt, God gave careful and specific instructions to guide both their daily lives and their worship of Him. One of the things God put in place was the office of the high priest, whose responsibility was to lead the people in obedience and sacrifice. The most important task given to the high priest was a beautiful picture of Jesus—the sprinkling of the blood of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement on the mercy seat. “And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD” (Exodus 30:10).
Jesus came into the world with the express purpose of laying down His own life as a sacrifice for sin. He perfectly fulfilled the role that the high priest imperfectly pictured. Jesus was more than just the priest. He was also the sacrifice, and His precious blood is the atonement for our sins. This is the true joy of the Christmas story—that salvation has come into the world. But there is even more. When we accept Christ and are adopted into His family, He has compassion on us when we need his help. The earthly high priest was largely cut off from the normal life of the people, but Jesus is with us every day.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”
Everything we know about Joseph is drawn from the Bible accounts of his actions. Not a single word of his is recorded in Scripture. But we do know for certain that he was a man of great love and great faith. He knew that he was not the father of Mary’s baby, but undoubtedly some people would assume that he was. Others would think that she had found someone else behind his back. Yet even in that difficult situation, Joseph loved Mary and did not want to publicly humiliate her.
Even more importantly, Joseph loved God. And when he received a message from an angel, he believed it and acted on it. Despite the fact that what he was told was unprecedented in all of history—and in fact impossible. Joseph believed that it was true and obeyed. Fear can easily keep us from obedience, and the solution to that is to love God more fully and deeply. “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 John 4:18). Most of us will not be challenged with something as staggering as Joseph faced, but all of us are tempted and tested in different ways. Our response is determined in large measure by our love for God.
“That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”
In November of 2018 an elementary school principle in Omaha, Nebraska, made national news when she issued detailed instructions to the teachers regarding what was and was not acceptable during the Christmas season in their classrooms. While polar bears and penguins were still approved, candy canes were banned. “The J shape is for Jesus,” the principal wrote. “The red is for the blood of Christ, and the white is a symbol of His resurrection. This [ban] would also include different colored candy canes.”
The culture around us is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. Religious symbols are being challenged in lawsuits, and the mentions of God in the Pledge of Allegiance and on our currency are under attack as well. Though this is a significant shift from the history of America, it should not come as a surprise to us, for Christ was not accepted in His lifetime either.
Storms, diseases, and even demons were obedient to His commands. The natural part of His creation received Him gladly, but the human part of His creation in large measure refused to hear and obey His voice. There are few more condemning words in the Bible than “His own received him not.” But just as with those who received the message in Jesus’ day, our receiving Him is not controlled by what those around us do.