Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?"
Roger Staubach served three winning seasons as the starting quarterback for the Navy football team, won the Heisman Trophy as the best player in collegiate football, and served in Vietnam before joining the Dallas Cowboys. But he found that his track record did not gain him much leeway with his coach. Coach Tom Landry called all the plays, and Staubach was told he could only change the play he received in an emergency. Staubach later said that he thought he should have been allowed to run the team, but he yielded his will to his coach. The Super Bowl MVP quarterback said, "I faced up to the issue of obedience. Once I learned to obey there was harmony, fulfillment, and victory."
God has a purpose and plan for your life. He knows the end from the beginning, and He wants the very best for you. Often we are tempted to think we know better than God what should happen or what we should do. However we should never forget that like a coach with the view of the entire field from the press box above, God sees things we do not. His perspective allows Him to always put us in the right game plan. Rather than insisting on having things our way, we should yield in grateful obedience to what He has shown us in His Word and walk according to His will.
"But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father."
Phillip Brooks, who pastored in Massachusetts in the late 1800s, is probably best known today as the author of the Christmas hymn “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” It is said that one day a visitor to his office found him pacing the floor and somewhat distracted. “What’s the matter, Pastor?” the visitor asked. Brooks replied, “I’m in a hurry and God isn’t!”
Often when we pray we have a specific timeframe in mind for the answer. Yet God is operating on a schedule that we cannot see, and it is only in the “fullness of time” that He works according to His plan. George Mueller famously prayed for the conversion of two friends for more than fifty years. One was saved just before Mueller died and the other not long after. For more than five decades he was faithful, trusting God would answer even when he saw no results.
God has never yet been late. His provision is certain. His promises are secure. However if we allow our faith to fail, we can miss what God has for us. Galatians 6:9 says, “in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” This is a conditional promise. The reaping requires not fainting. When we do not think God is working, we must remember it is in what He defines as the due season that we can expect the harvest. If you pull the potatoes out of the ground every day to see how fast they’re growing, you are not going to have healthy produce—and it is the same with our prayers.
"He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue."
In June of 1989, after weeks of protests for freedom and democracy in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, the authorities ordered a crackdown. The army was sent into the crowd to brutally break up the protests. While no exact count has ever been revealed, it is believed that at least hundreds (if not thousands) of protestors were murdered—many of them shot in the back. Perhaps the most enduring image of the protest was a single individual who came to be known simply as “Tank Man.”
This one man holding two shopping bags saw a line of army tanks rolling toward the center of the city. He stepped into the street and stood in front of the lead tank. Even when they gunned their engines, he held his ground. When the tanks tried to maneuver around him, he moved to remain in front of them. Finally two men came out of the crowd and pulled him from the street. Though his fate is unknown, his courage has never been forgotten.
All of us face moments when we must choose to take a stand for right even if it means saying or doing something unpopular. Even if no one else stands with us, standing for right is always honored by God. Often we find that if we do take a stand, others will be inspired by our example and join with us. The influence that we have in those moments should not be missed. When Nebuchadnezzar commanded everyone to bow down before his golden idol, the three Hebrew children refused. Their courage was strengthened by being able to stand together. As a result, they presented a unified front to the heathen king. They were thrown into a burning furnace, but they emerged unharmed after walking with the Son of God through the fire.
"Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it."
In late 1940 and early 1941, as part of the preparation for Hitler’s planned invasion of England, the German Luftwaffe air force launched a massive aerial assault on the island nation. Thousands of German planes crossed the English Channel to drop bombs on London and other major cities. Hundreds of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed, and thousands were killed.
In an effort to protect young people, almost two million children were sent to live with relatives in the countryside or with those who volunteered to take them in. The story is told that one young boy was on the platform waiting for the train that would take him away from home. A passing man asked if he knew where he was going. “No,” the young boy replied, “but the king does.”
All of us face situations where we are not sure what to do. We make the best plans and decisions we can from the principles of Scripture and wise counsel, but we do not know the end of the path we will take. God does. Even before the world was created, He knew everything that would happen. He is able to move people around the world or across the street to accomplish His purposes. When we are tempted to doubt, we can take comfort that God knows where we are going.
"And when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, It is a spirit; and they cried out for fear. But straightway Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered him and said, Lord, if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water. And he said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus."
J. Sidlow Baxter wrote: "What is the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity? Our attitude toward it. Every opportunity has a difficulty, and every difficulty has an opportunity." When the storm arose on the Sea of Galilee, it was so strong that even the disciples who had been fishermen, like Peter, feared for their lives. Matthew 14:24 says, “the wind was contrary.”
It was then, when their progress was stopped and their future uncertain, that they saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. One of the wonderful benefits we receive as children of God is that He is always present with us, even in our storms. In every trial of life, He is there. We are not abandoned, even when we cannot see Him. “He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).
God’s presence with us means that every problem we face can become a triumphant victory. We may not be delivered from the problem, as Paul was not delivered from his thorn in the flesh; but in those cases we will receive God’s sufficient grace to deal with it. What we can know and trust and act on is that with God all things are possible. Rather than being daunted and dismayed by what comes into our lives, we can confidently go forward, walking with God through the storms.
"And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink."
It is very rare in the history of God’s work to find great things done by an individual working alone. The pattern that Jesus established when He sent the disciples out in pairs to preach is not a coincidence but rather a recognition of an important truth. We are much stronger when we are together than when we are alone. Solomon said, “Two are better than one… For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
Each of us has a responsibility to be an encouragement, help, and support to those around us. Some people focus only on their own needs—who is caring for me. But the pattern established by Jesus was to care for others rather than self. At the Last Supper He washed the disciples’ feet. That job was considered so demeaning that only a foreign slave could be commanded to perform it—a Hebrew slave had to be asked if he or she was willing to take on the job. Yet the very Lord of Heaven took a towel and performed a task no one else was willing to do.
If we are focused on ways in which we can be a help and encouragement to others, we will find that we always have an effective ministry. There is no shortage of people who are struggling and carrying heavy burdens. As we help lift those burdens, we build up the body of Christ.
"Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the LORD. For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the LORD will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward. Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high."
The Scottish pastor Robert Murray McCheyne wrote to a missionary friend who had just been ordained and said, “In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”
Though we live in a world that is defiled and filled with sin, we do not have to succumb to the temptations that drag down so many. As Christians, it is possible to live a holy and God-honoring life even when surrounded by great wickedness. Joseph and Daniel illustrate that it is possible to be in the middle of a heathen culture and yet do what is right. Too many in our day have adopted the mindset that we must become more and more like the world to be effective in our witness. And yet, this view is not consistent with Scripture.
The Lord Jesus was called a “friend of publicans and sinners” (Matthew 11:19), but He remained pure and sinless. We do not have to isolate ourselves from the world to ensure our holiness. Rather, we should walk through the world with our eyes fixed on Jesus. Loving Him rightly and realizing His love for us helps ensure that we can be in the world without the world becoming part of us.
"And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. And David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, I pray thee, bring me hither the ephod. And Abiathar brought thither the ephod to David. And David enquired at the LORD, saying, Shall I pursue after this troop? shall I overtake them? And he answered him, Pursue: for thou shalt surely overtake them, and without fail recover all."
1 Samuel 30:6–8
All of us have times when we need encouragement, and almost all of us have known the experience of not finding anyone with a good or kind word to say. In that situation where do we turn for help? I’ve heard about some pretty heated board meetings, but I’ve never heard of one where they were ready to vote on stoning the leader. Yet David’s men were so distraught that they were ready to kill their leader.
At that crucial moment, without the help of friends or encouragers, the Bible tells us that David encouraged himself “in the Lord his God.” This is not the humanist notion of telling ourselves that we are good and things will get better, but rather the biblical truth of resting in the faithfulness of God even when we cannot see Him at work. No matter what our circumstances, we can always find strength and encouragement in His nature.
What we believe about God is never really put to the test until we face difficult days. It is easy to proclaim a strong faith when things are going well. It is something else entirely to be encouraged rather than defeated when everything is going wrong and even those who should be friends turn against us. The one source of encouragement that never fails is your loving Father in Heaven.
Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
A 1982 ABC Evening News special reported an unusual invention, with an even more unusual response to it. Someone had attached a chair to a loaded shotgun. People could sit in the chair and look directly down the gun barrel. The only drawback was that the inventor had set the gun on a timer, and it would fire at a predetermined (but unreleased) date sometime within the next one hundred years.
The incredible response to this invention was that people would actually wait in line for their chance to sit in the chair and stare down the loaded gun barrel. Every one of those people knew the risk, but they thought it was worth taking their chance so they could brag on it later.
One of the most common and most tragic mistakes of our day is the belief that the results of sin will be different for us. When we fall prey to the lie of Satan that we are somehow exempt from the consequences of sin, he has us right where he wants us. It is rare for someone to sin with a full understanding and appreciation for the awful results that will follow. Instead, we rationalize and convince ourselves that we will be able to avoid them somehow.
God has written the law of sowing and reaping into the very fabric of the universe. As Moses warned the children of Israel, “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). When we do what we should not or fail to do what we should, we will suffer the consequences just as God declares in Scripture. How much better to instead resist sin at the point of temptation!
"For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?"
The famous missionary to India, Henry Martyn, was a brilliant man. A Cambridge University student, Martyn’s gift for mathematics was early seen when he was honored at only twenty years of age with the highest recognition possible in that field. Yet Martyn still felt empty. He even stated once that instead of finding fulfillment with his accomplishments, he only grasped a shadow.
But while in college, Martyn trusted Christ as his Saviour. Stirred by the testimonies of missionaries William Carey and David Brainerd, Martyn committed his own live to missions. When he arrived in India at twenty-four years of age, he prayed, “Lord, let me burn out for You.” Seven years later, he was seized with a fever and died. But he left behind the New Testament translated into three Eastern languages.
The only true success and ultimate fulfillment in life is found in pleasing God rather than pleasing ourselves. This is true whatever our vocation is. Every Christian is to live for the eternal, rather than for the temporal.
God is not negotiating with us for control of our lives. He is the King, high and lifted up; and we either obey Him or disobey—there is no middle ground. He alone has the right to place demands on our lives which cannot be ignored if we wish to follow Him. The meaning of life is not found in anything that we can accumulate or achieve on the earthly level. And none of those things will ever truly satisfy the longing in our hearts that can only be met by God Himself. Live for Him, and you will be eternally thankful you did.
Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.
Clara Barton, who helped save the lives of many soldiers and bring relief to those suffering from disaster and tragedy as the founder of the American Red Cross, suffered a number of attacks. When someone reminded her of one of them, she acted as though it had never happened. “Don’t you remember that?” the friend asked. “No,” Barton replied, “I distinctly remember forgetting it.”
It is not possible for us to fully forget what has happened, but we do not have to allow it to dominate our thoughts and actions. The key to forgiveness begins when we stop keeping track of wrongs done to us. Peter seemed to think he was going above and beyond the call of duty by forgiving someone who sinned against him seven times. Jesus went far beyond what Peter expected by setting the standard at 490 times. Of course the point of that is not that we count until we get close to 500, but that we keep on forgiving.
God freely forgives us. Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” God forgave us because of the sacrifice Jesus made for us—and based on His forgiveness He expects us to extend forgiveness to others. We do not forgive others because they deserve it. Instead, we forgive them because it is right. If you are holding tightly to wrongs done against you in the past, you will never experience the freedom and joy that comes with letting go. Each time you are reminded of what happened, remind yourself that you have already forgiven that and let it go.
"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
God does not have in mind His children blending in with their surroundings. We are meant to stand out as a witness to the world. Too many of God’s children have, like a chameleon, adapted to their surroundings in such a way that they are no longer visible. This defense mechanism is effective for animals but damaging to believers and to God’s work. The desire to fit in and be accepted, the fear of criticism or persecution, and the temptation to avoid conflict, often lead those who should be the brightest testimonies of grace and the Gospel to instead hide their lights from view.
D. L. Moody said, “A holy life will make the deepest impression. Lighthouses blow no horns, they just shine.” If the way in which we live reflects the glory and grace of God, we will not need to make loud pronouncements of our faith—it will be evident. The best witness is that which comes when our lives and words match and we are glorifying our heavenly Father.
If we are faithful to follow God’s Word, do what is right and good, and share His plan of salvation, we will have an impact on our world. When the darkness is greatest, even small lights shine brightly. We do not have to be the largest or brightest lights that shine—merely faithful. Take your light out of hiding and make sure everyone who sees your life knows from your actions that you are God’s child.
"And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple."
We live in a culture that is obsessed with making people feel good about themselves. We give trophies to every child on the team so no one feels left out, and we’ve stopped keeping score in children’s games so no one feels bad about losing. We promote children to the next grade so that they don’t feel embarrassed, even though they have not learned the material they need to know. This unhealthy focus on self and self-esteem is one of the worst influences in creating a culture of entitlement and indifference to the needs of others.
In a study on the scope and impact of narcissism in our society, Dr. Keith Campbell, co-author of the study, voiced concerns about the results of this continual focus on self. He said the study shows narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, be at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors.”
God’s focus is different from ours. Rather than teaching us to love ourselves and feel good about ourselves, He teaches us to love Him and give up our own rights and privileges for the sake of others. God deserves first place in our hearts and lives. Nothing, particularly not our own love for self, can be allowed to take His place if we want to truly follow Him. Our love for any person, desire, or thing should pale in comparison to our love for God.
"But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many."
A missionary was preaching in Philadelphia. At the close of the service a man came and said, “I don’t like the way you spoke about the cross. I think that instead of emphasizing the death of Christ, it would be far better to preach Jesus, the teacher and example.” The missionary replied, “If I presented Christ in that way, would you be willing to follow Him?” “I certainly would,” said the man without hesitation.
“All right then,” said the missionary, “let’s take the first step. He did no sin. Can you claim that for yourself?” The man looked confused and somewhat surprised. “Why, no,” he said. “I acknowledge that I do sin.” The missionary replied, “Then your greatest need is to have a Saviour, not an example!”
Jesus was perfect, and He is a wonderful example—but it is an example that we are incapable of following apart from the power of the Spirit of God. Setting an example was not the primary purpose for His coming. Instead, He came to provide salvation for all who believe. This willingness to meet our greatest need is a striking testimony to the deep love God has for us.
Having received His salvation, we have the responsibility to share that Good News with others. Many churches have fallen into thinking that if they provide food or medicine or clothing for the poor, they are doing all Christ called them to do. It is certainly important to meet physical needs, but these are not the greatest needs of those we serve. They need the salvation that can only be found in Jesus Christ.
"Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
2 Corinthians 5:20–21
Many years ago, the famed pastor R. G. Lee visited the Holy Land. When he reached the place where Jesus is believed to have been crucified, he wanted to go to the top of the hill. His guide discouraged him from climbing up, but the elderly pastor insisted. When they reached the top the guide asked, “Have you ever been here before?” “Yes,” Dr. Lee replied, “I was here some two thousand years ago.”
Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, but He also died specifically for my sins and for your sins. All that I have done that I should not have done, and all that I have not done that I should have done was placed upon Him while He hung on the cross. Jesus—the perfect and sinless Son of God—became sin because of me so that I could be righteous in the sight of God. What a treasure! What an enormous price!
Though I have been saved since an early age, I never want to lose sight of the fact that my salvation is an unmerited gift of God’s grace that transformed my life and my eternal destiny. I never want to forget that Jesus went to the cross because of my sin. I never want to get so accustomed to my salvation that I lose the wonder and gratitude that God loves me so much. The Christian who has forgotten that he stood at Calvary has lost one of his main sources of joy and one of his main motivations for service.
"For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."
1 Corinthians 15:9–10
I’ve often heard people describe grace as “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” A. W. Tozer put it this way: “Grace is the good pleasure of God that inclines Him to bestow benefits upon the undeserving. Its use to us sinful men is to save us and make us sit together in heavenly places to demonstrate to the ages the exceeding riches of God’s kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”
We should not need to be reminded that everything good that we have or do is a direct result of the grace of God. Yet our pride constantly tempts us to take the credit that rightly belongs to God. We would probably never say out loud what Nebuchadnezzar did: “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). But too often we look at our accomplishments and achievements as if they were solely the result of our effort and intelligence.
The thing that makes God’s grace so amazing is that it is both completely undeserved and completely free. His grace is given to us because of His great love for us. Rather than focusing our attention on ourselves, the grace we receive should cause us to glorify and praise Him. The realization that it is only because of grace that he was anything at all made it possible for Paul to recognize that the great things he accomplished for God were not because of his efforts in his own strength but because of God’s grace.
"Israel then shall dwell in safety alone: the fountain of Jacob shall be upon a land of corn and wine; also his heavens shall drop down dew. Happy art thou, O Israel: who is like unto thee, O people saved by the LORD, the shield of thy help, and who is the sword of thy excellency! and thine enemies shall be found liars unto thee; and thou shalt tread upon their high places."
Today we stop to honor the courage and sacrifice of those who have served in the military to protect and defend the freedoms that we enjoy. It was on November 11, 1918, that the First World War—the “war to end all wars”—reached its conclusion. This day was set aside to honor those who fought in what was then the greatest conflict the world had ever seen. As further conflicts have followed, proving that war has not ended, honor for veterans of other wars has been added to the observance of this day.
The failure of the treaties drawn by men to bring about lasting peace and the continued drumbeat of conflict and war highlight the truth for us that God is the only source of peace, and the only true defense for any nation. Though we may have impressive military might, apart from God’s hand it can quickly be brought to nothing.
To those who, as our national anthem put it, placed their lives “between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,” we owe a debt of gratitude. To God who is our hope of peace, we should not only give thanks, but also pray. Though many in our land have turned away from Him and snub His Word and His law, we should thank Him for the thousands of righteous people who love and honor God. We should pray today for His protection and peace.
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls."
Some of our problems come from the fact that we are slow to do things we should and fast to do things we should not. One of the areas in which this displays itself for many is in our hearing and speaking. Lehman Strauss asked, “Could it be that we are not more ‘swift to hear’ because we are not ‘slow to speak’? God gave us two ears and only one mouth. Should we not be twice as swift to listen and learn?”
Many times conflicts arise in churches, marriages, friendships and work relationships because someone jumps to a conclusion without knowing all of the facts and begins telling everyone they know what they think happened. These people may be quite sincere in what they are doing, but they can be destructive nonetheless. It is impossible to recall words once they have been spoken. Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes.”
Do not be in a hurry to repeat things that are told to you, and be sure to evaluate the facts before you reach a conclusion. Solomon reminds us, “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13). While there is a time to speak up for what is right, we should never respond in haste or anger. Rather, we should be quick to listen and make sure that we fully understand the situation before we begin to speak.
"But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus."
2 Timothy 3:14–15
God’s primary plan for the spiritual education of young people is the family. Our church works hard to provide sound teaching to children, but nothing can fully take the place of godly parents teaching and living the truths of Scripture for their children. It is in the home where we first learn about God and His Word.
Charles Spurgeon wrote this about the way Puritan parents reared their children. “Not being obliged to worry over some of the recent theories of education, they were accustomed to ‘bring up the babies on the body of truth,’ so that a child of twelve in a Puritan home could talk with intelligent skill on central New Testament doctrines. These Puritans reared their children in the atmosphere of their own fiery convictions.”
One of the reasons that our churches and culture are so saturated with false ideas is that the truth has not been well and fully taught to young people in Christian homes. The foundation that this provides protects them later in life from error. But this teaching does not end when our children start school or even when they leave home. We are to be teachers all the days of the lives of our families.
Young adults need godly examples of faith and commitment from older adults. Young children need grandparents who show them faith in practice, demonstrating that what they are hearing at home and at church is true in the “real world.” The time you take to teach and model the truths of the Word of God for your family is precious and incredibly valuable.
"But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; Whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus."
When the Apostle Paul came to town, it was never a quiet event. The powerful preaching of the Gospel not only saw many converts, but it also stirred up serious opposition. The world did not ignore Paul. Even his enemies declared that he “turned the world upside down.” Yet today, many churches and many Christians are having very little impact on their communities at all. In large measure, that is because we have lost the fire and commitment that drove the early church.
Noted historian Thomas C. Reeves, who for many years was a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, wrote: “Christianity in modern America is, in large part, innocuous. It tends to be easy, upbeat, convenient, and compatible. It does not require self-sacrifice, discipline, humility, an otherworldly outlook, a zeal for souls, a fear as well as love of God.”
God did not save us solely so that we could go to Heaven. He calls and commands us to have an impact here on Earth as well. When we trade the shame of the cross of Christ for the plaudits and acceptance of men, we have forfeited the power to shake the world. Far better to be despised and even persecuted than to live a life without making a difference for God.
"Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin."
We live in a world which places great value on individual liberty but which also is committed to pursuing paths that inevitably lead to bondage. The Devil knows our weaknesses well, so he presents the “fun” of sin in hopes that we will overlook the consequences that are certain to follow. The truth makes us free, but because it requires us to follow God and restricts us from fulfilling our own selfish desires, many look for an alternate and find it in sin.
The deception of the enemy keeps them from even realizing the chains have been placed upon their lives until it is too late. The Jewish people proudly boasted to Jesus that they had never been in bondage. That reveals an amazing disconnect from reality. Throughout Israel’s history they had been in bondage, first in Egypt, then to Assyria and Babylon, and even as they spoke Israel was under the rule of Rome.
But far more important and more damaging than political or physical bondage was the spiritual bondage they failed to recognize. They thought that because of their heritage they were guaranteed their freedom. That is not true in any realm—political, financial, religious or spiritual. The only pathway to freedom is found in personal commitment to walking in truth and rejecting sin. Every person serves something. Either we will find freedom in serving God, or we will find slavery in serving sin. There are no other choices.
"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him. And Aaron said unto them, Break off the golden earrings, which are in the ears of your wives, of your sons, and of your daughters, and bring them unto me."
When we take matters into our own hands rather than waiting for God to work in His time, disaster follows. The children of Israel worshipped the golden calf that Aaron made because they were not willing to wait for Moses to return from Mt. Sinai where he was receiving the Law from God. Their impatience led to idolatry and immorality.
G. Campbell Morgan wrote, “Waiting for God is not laziness. Waiting for God is not going to sleep. Waiting for God is not the abandonment of effort. Waiting for God means, first, activity under command; second, readiness for any new command that may come; third, the ability to do nothing until the command is given.”
We live in an impatient culture that prizes haste and busyness. Certainly we should not use the excuse of waiting on God to avoid doing what we already know He wants us to do. But we must also be careful not to try to provide solutions and choose directions apart from His plan. Think of the tension that still exists in the world today four thousand years after Abraham and Sarah decided to involve Hagar in producing the son God had promised to them. The enmity between the descendants of Ishmael and Isaac would not exist had they been willing to wait for God to do what He said He would do.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled."
In Lectures to My Students, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “When your own emptiness is painfully forced upon your consciousness, chide yourself that you ever dreamed of being full except in the Lord.” Each of us has a choice to seek fullness in the things of God or in the things of the world. When we settle for satisfaction in less than God has for us, we are doomed to failure and to disappointment.
The things of the world never truly satisfy. Jesus said, “Woe unto you that are full! for ye shall hunger” (Luke 6:25). Not only do things of the world not satisfy, but they also leave no room for us to be filled with the Spirit of God. His presence is in our lives from the moment we are saved, but that does not mean that we are walking in the fullness of His power. God’s plan is for His Holy Spirit to not just influence, but to control, our lives, our thoughts, and our actions.
There is no way to receive the blessings of God in the measure He wants to give them apart from being filled with the Spirit. And there is no way to be filled with Him unless we are hungering and thirsting to be filled. What we want most is revealed in what we choose, rather than in what we say. The things for which we truly hunger are those we think about, talk about, and focus on. The world is filled with distractions and temptations, but if our appetites are focused on the right things, we will find our lives filled with the Spirit of God.
"For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him."
First published in 1967, the self-help book I’m OK, You’re OK by Dr. Thomas A. Harris has sold more than fifteen million copies and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. It is not surprising that a message that tells us to feel good about ourselves would prove popular. However much that view may appeal to our vanity, it does not match what God says about our condition.
The Bible’s picture of man’s condition is dire. We are not okay. Not only that, but we do not have the strength or the ability to save ourselves or make ourselves okay. Yet there is hope—because God loves us. The judgment that should rightfully come to us for our sins has been taken away and replaced with the reward for the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ which has been placed on our account.
God’s love was great enough to provide the ultimate sacrifice so we could be reconciled to Him. As we consider things for which we should be thankful, nothing comes before our salvation. This provision of God altered our eternal destiny, transformed us with a new nature, and changes the way we walk through this world. None of this happens because we deserve it or because we earn it. When Christ died for us, we were His enemies, yet His love overcame every obstacle so that we could trust Him for salvation and enjoy fellowship with Him.
"And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage."
In the post-World War II era, a church was launching a building campaign. After a service in which the pastor laid out the vision for the project, two families waited in line to meet with him. The first father said, “Pastor, as you know, our son was killed in the war. We would like to give $200 toward the building as a memorial gift.” The second father said, “Pastor, we were going to give $200, but our son came home from the war. We will give $5,000!”
It should be true that the good things we receive from God make us more grateful, but in reality often they make us complacent and self-satisfied. We can quickly forget that He is the source of all of our blessings and benefits. In truth, nothing good that we have is the result of our own strength and ingenuity. Though we should be diligent in our work, even the strength to labor comes from God.
Rather than looking at our possessions as tokens of our effort, intellect, and superiority, we should look at them as tokens of God’s love and grace. He gives us so much more than we deserve, and giving thanks helps us remain on guard so that we do not forget Him.
"This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him."
I read of a missionary who was visiting a church in India where they were taking a special offering during harvest time. One elderly widow came with a very large offering of rice, far more than would have been normal for someone in her situation to give. The missionary asked if she was making the gift as thanks for something special that had happened in her life. “Yes,” replied the woman. “My son was sick, and I promised a large gift to God if he got well.” “And your son has recovered?” asked the preacher. The widow paused. “No,” she said. “He died last week. But I know that he is in God’s care; for that I am especially thankful.”
There are times when God does not answer our prayers as we expect, but there is never a time when He does not do what is best for His children. His faithfulness, love, mercy, and compassion are unchanging. Rather than complain that we do not get exactly what we want, we should be grateful that He is constantly guarding and enriching our lives. Every good thing that we have is from God.
Because He has perfect knowledge, perfect power, and perfect love, we can count on Him to know what is best, to be able to do what is best, and to give us what we most need. Our thanksgiving and gratitude should be as consistent as the compassion of our loving Heavenly Father.
O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever.
Ravensbruck was known as one of the worst German concentration camps during World War II. When Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie found themselves imprisoned there, they were disgusted to discover that their barracks were infested with fleas.
When Corrie began to complain, Betsie insisted that they instead give thanks, quoting 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” With some persuasion, Corrie finally joined her sister in thanking God for the fleas.
Several months later, the two sisters expressed their surprise that the camp guards had never come back to their barracks to disrupt or prevent the evening Bible studies they held for their fellow prisoners. It was then that Corrie realized that the very fleas which she had so despised had actually been a God-sent protection from the cruel guards.
When we think we deserve good things, we find it hard to be thankful, and we often miss the blessings God sends “in disguise.” Greed, materialism, and selfishness destroy a grateful heart. God, our society, and our parents don’t owe us anything, no matter what others may say or think.
Rather than complaining about what we don’t have or don’t get, it is important that we are grateful for what we do have. Every one of us will suffer setbacks and experience loss. But there are always things for which we can be grateful—things we can never lose. As believers, our eternal destiny is settled and can never be changed. We always have the promises of God on which we can fully rely.
"For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased."
What could you give to God that would express your gratitude and convey honor to Him? Hebrews 13 suggests the “sacrifice of praise.” All throughout Scripture we see people offer this sacrifice to God. Job worshipped God when he had nothing (Job 1:20–21). The book of Psalms chronicles David’s praise in both the good times and the bad. Mary expressed praise when she learned she was to be the mother of Christ (Luke 1:46–55). And one man from the group of ten lepers Jesus healed offered thanks and praise (Luke 17:15–16). From these testimonies, we see that our sacrifice of praise should be continual—not contingent on our mood or current circumstances.
A. W. Tozer said, “Gratitude is an offering precious in the sight of God, and it is one that the poorest of us can make and be not poorer but richer for having made it.” Even in times when we do not have as much as others in the way of material blessings, we still have so much for which to be thankful. And when we purposefully give thanks to God, that sacrifice of our heart is pleasing to Him.
The giving of thanks is a habit which we can develop and cultivate. By focusing on the good things we have and realizing that every one of them came from God, we find that even in times of lack we can be thankful. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). Thanksgiving requires that we set aside our pride and our desire to take credit for what we have and that we acknowledge the goodness of God in providing for us.
"So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them from me. When I say unto the wicked, O wicked man, thou shalt surely die; if thou dost not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless, if thou warn the wicked of his way to turn from it; if he do not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul."
Fanny Crosby loved sharing the Gospel with anyone who would listen. In 1869 she penned the words to “Rescue the Perishing.” When asked about the song, she explained, “It was written following a personal experience at the New York City Bowery Mission.” She went on to explain that she would go one night a week to talk to “her boys.”
One night while speaking to them, she kept having the thought that there was a boy present who had wandered away from his mother and must be rescued that night, or he would be eternally lost. She made a plea to each boy that was there that night. At the end of the service, one of the young men came forward and said, “Did you mean me, Miss Crosby? I promised my mother to meet her in Heaven, but as I am now living that will be impossible.” She prayed with him and led him to Christ. As they finished, he said, “Now I am ready to meet my mother in Heaven, for I have found God.”
There are many things in life that are important, but the greatest task we have been assigned is to do our part to rescue those who are perishing before it is eternally too late. The sacrifices that we make for the sake of the Gospel, whether they are physical or financial, are worth it. Do not allow anything to deter you from reaching those in danger of spending eternity in Hell.
"And Jonathan said to the young man that bare his armour, Come, and let us go over unto the garrison of these uncircumcised: it may be that the LORD will work for us: for there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few. And his armourbearer said unto him, Do all that is in thine heart: turn thee; behold, I am with thee according to thy heart."
1 Samuel 14:6–7
Dr. Tom Malone often said, “When God is going to do something wonderful, He starts with the difficult. When God is going to do something miraculous, He starts with the impossible.” We have limits and restraints on our abilities and resources, but God does not. He is able to do things that are completely impossible in the natural order of things. The miraculous power of God is not merely a relic of the past. His nature never changes, and He is still able to do great and mighty things.
Many believers tragically live as if they are orphans. A lack of faith keeps us from claiming God’s promises and from relying on God to do the things He has promised in His Word. Certainly, there is much false teaching that leads people to expect things God has not promised, but we should not let anything keep us from claiming the full extent of our birthright as His children.
Psalm 81:10 says, “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” As long as our will is submitted to His will and we are walking in His Spirit, we have every right to make big requests of an Almighty God and expect Him to hear and answer. It was only in unbelief that the children of Israel “limited the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41). May that never be said of us.
"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me."
Many people are searching for contentment, but very few seem to find it. That is largely because most people are seeking contentment in the wrong place. It is never found in possessions or circumstances. It is never based on what is happening outside. Contentment flourishes despite circumstances either good or bad, because it grows in a grateful heart.
F. B. Meyer said, “If we would find content, let us go to homes where women are crippled with rheumatism, or dying of cancer, where comforts are few, where long hours of loneliness are not broken by the intrusion of friendly faces, where the pittance of public charity hardly suffices for necessary need, to say nothing of comfort, it is there that contentment reveals itself like a shy flower. How often in the homes of the wealthy one has missed it, to find it in the homes of the poor! How often it is wanting where health is buoyant, to be discovered where disease is wearing out the strength!”
God did not promise us that things would be easy. Some of the greatest Christians in all of history suffered great persecution, bouts of grave illness, financial lack, and times of despair. What God promised us instead was His presence, and in that presence we can find contentment regardless of what else is happening in our lives. God knows everything about your circumstances today, and nothing comes into your life that does not first pass through His hands.
"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. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you."
Jesus promised that we would not be left alone—that a Comforter, the Holy Spirit—would come and dwell with us forever. This happens at the moment that we are saved. Though we are to surrender to God’s leading so that we can be filled with the Spirit, we do not need a second baptism to get more of Him in our lives. Instead, we need for Him to have more of us. This is vital to every aspect of our lives and walk with God.
Charles Spurgeon rightly said, “Without the Spirit of God, we can do nothing. We are as ships without the wind, branches without sap, and like coals without fire, we are useless.” It is impossible to live a victorious Christian life or do any meaningful and lasting work for God apart from the power of His Holy Spirit. Our own strength was never meant to be equal to that task. As the old hymn says, “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Holy One comes down.”
There is no substitute for the Holy Spirit’s presence and power. No plan, no program, no effort will replace what only He can do in and through us. Jesus did His work on Earth in the power of the Spirit of God. John 3:34 tells us, “God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him.” Jesus had unlimited Holy Spirit power, and though we will never reach that level, we must have His power active in our lives.
"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: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost."
2 Peter 1:19–21
Someone said of the Word of God: “This Book is the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy, its precepts are binding; its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, practice it to be holy.”
Although we know what God has told us about His Word, men keep trying to alter and change it and find some way other than God’s way to determine what we should do and how we should live. We do not need new translations or new concepts, we need to trust that God’s promise to preserve His Word is true and we need to follow what the Bible we have says.
I have learned much from good men and good books, but the only source of infallible truth is the Word of God. It should be the focus of our study and the guide for our lives. The Bible tells us that it is God’s plan for our words, thoughts, and actions to be filled with and directed by what He has told us in Scripture. Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” It is a tragedy for us to take the great gift of God’s Word and not study and heed it.
Make a commitment now to regularly spend time in God’s Word. Allow it to saturate your mind and heart so you can know the mind of God and follow His wisdom.
"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."
Salvation changes far more than just our eternal destiny. It also changes our current situation. We move from the family of Satan to the family of God. We move from being in the world to being in Christ. Yet too often we fail to fully recognize the changes that have taken place, and thus we do not benefit from them as we should.
R. A. Torrey said, “When Jesus died, He died as my representative, and I died in Him; when He arose, He rose as my representative, and I arose in Him; when He ascended up on high and took His place at the right hand of the Father in the glory, He ascended as my representative and I ascended in Him, and today I am seated in Christ with God in the heavenlies. I look at the cross of Christ, and I know that atonement has been made for my sins; I look at the open sepulcher and the risen and ascended Lord, and I know the atonement has been accepted. There no longer remains a single sin on me, no matter how many or how great my sins may have been.”
We have already received these blessings as part of our conversion. The challenge is for us to overcome the snares of the world and the guilt of the past and begin to live as if what God says about our new position in life and in Him is true.
"And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
I had the privilege of meeting a missionary who had served God faithfully for fifty years. He labored in Lebanon, starting a Baptist church, until he and his wife were kidnapped and held hostage for a period of time before being released and having to leave the country. Rather than abandoning the ministry, they began a new work with the Lebanese people living in Australia. Why did they serve the Lord so long through so many difficulties and dangers? Because they realized that their lives were not their own.
Vance Havner said, “What our Lord said about cross-bearing and obedience is not in fine type. It is in bold print on the face of the contract.” We are not promised that our lives will be easy or that things will go according to our plans. We are promised that God will always be with us and work to make all of the things that happen in our lives produce good.
When we trust Him to do what He has promised, it gives us the strength to endure the challenges and trials we face. The rewards that come from faithfulness are not primarily in this life but in the next. We can be confident that God is in control and that one day He will reward our work for Him.
"But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith."
One of the most beautiful pictures of grace in all the Word of God is found in the story of Noah. At a time when the world was filled with great wickedness—much like our day—Noah found grace from the Lord and was saved along with his family from the flood that destroyed the world. Our modern world skeptically laughs at the story of the flood, just as Peter said that they would. He wrote that in the last days men would deny the truth of this particular Bible story.
Peter said these scoffers “willingly are ignorant…that…the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished” (2 Peter 3:5–6). Why would men deny the flood? The answer is twofold: First, denying the flood is an attempt to deny the fact that we must one day face judgment. Second, denying the flood is an attempt to deny that the only way of escape from the judgment that is to come is found in the grace of God.
As you remember, the ark only had one door—symbolizing that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation. This message of an exclusive means of salvation is not popular in our day, but it is true. There are not many roads that lead to Heaven; there is only one way. For those of us who have received salvation by grace through faith, there is a responsibility to do as Noah did and invite others to join us in escaping the coming judgment.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
Though Christmas should be a happy and blessed time as we celebrate the gift of God’s Son, it often becomes a hectic and frantic time as every minute is filled with shopping, parties, travel and extra work. The poet and humorist Ogden Nash wrote, “Christmas was once the season of peace and good will; Now it’s the holiday it’s so many shopping days left until.”
It is a tragedy if we lose sight of the simple and vital message that is at the heart of this special time of year. The point is not getting the most packages under the tree or impressing the neighbors with our display of Christmas lights. The point is that we are celebrating the coming of the Saviour—the greatest gift that ever has or ever could be given. Christmas is not a commercial invention designed to sell things, but instead a spiritual celebration.
The fact that God loved us enough to give His Son for our salvation should be at the center of our thoughts and activities at Christmas. The meaning of the season cannot be found anywhere but in the message the angels brought to the shepherds that night near Bethlehem. And as we celebrate, we should also do what the shepherds did when they returned from seeing Jesus in the manger—tell others what we have heard and seen. This is a wonderful time of year to share the Gospel with family and friends and remind them that the Saviour has come.
But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
After unwrapping all of her presents, a little girl was asked, "Did you get everything you wanted for Christmas?" She thought for a moment and said, "No. But then, it's not my birthday." There is a lot attention paid, and rightly so, to the over-commercialization of Christmas. This is not a season for seeing how much stuff we can pile under the tree and how deeply in debt we can go in order to make sure everybody in the family gets everything they want.
This is a season that celebrates the good gifts that we have received from God. Of course the gift of Jesus is the “unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15)—a gift so precious there are no words that can adequately describe it. Yet that is far from the only gift that we received because of Christ’s coming. As David put it, God “daily loadeth us with benefits” (Psalm 68:19). The Hebrew word used here signifies a load that is almost too heavy to carry—that’s a lot of benefits!
It is a measure of how much God loves us that He not only gave us His Son but so much more along with Him. We should never forget all that He has graciously bestowed upon us. The gift giving season of Christmas is a time to share our expressions of love with others, but it is also a time when we should be grateful for all that we have received. If you maintain that focus this Christmas, you will find that you are having a truly merry holiday no matter what is under the tree.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 12:9-10
Sir Edwin Landseer was one of the most famous painters of the Victorian era. His talent developed early, and he had the first showing of his work at the Royal Academy when he was just thirteen years old. He was commissioned to do a number of official portraits of the royal family, and even gave private drawing lessons to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But he was best known for his depictions of the natural settings and life in the Scottish highlands.
One day as he was visiting a family in an old mansion in Scotland, one of the servants spilled a pitcher of soda water, leaving a large stain on the wall. While the family was out for the day, Landseer remained behind. Using charcoal, he incorporated the stain into a beautiful drawing. When the family returned they found a picture of a waterfall surrounded by trees and animals. He used his skill to make something beautiful out of what had been an unsightly mess.
God works in much the same way in our lives. The things that we think of as weaknesses and handicaps can, through His grace, become our greatest strengths—and the very things He uses the most to bring glory to Himself. Rather than wishing that the “stains” in our lives would go away, we should give thanks to God for our infirmities and seek His grace so that even those things can be used for His purposes. God’s grace provides the strength to meet every challenge and overcome every weakness.
"Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross."
We aren’t accustomed to the downward mobility that brought Christ to the manger and then to the cross. In fact, our thought processes are the very opposite of God’s.
We think “up.” By our human standards, we want more recognition, more achievements, more praise—more us.
But Jesus thought “down.” He chose more humility, more service, more sacrifice.
We tend to think in terms of self-promotion. But Christ thought in terms of self-emptying: “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).
We think of how we can have more self-gratification. But Christ thought of how He could serve: “For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
We think of our comfort. But Christ thought of the Father’s will: “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
Our thinking may bring short-term success, but Christ’s sacrifice bought our salvation.
Philippians 2:5 instructs, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.” This Christmas, ask the Lord to help you think the way that Jesus thinks.
"No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us. Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world."
1 John 4:12–14
There were many reasons that Jesus came to Earth, but the primary purpose for His coming is found in His name. In Hebrew, the name Jesus means “Jehovah saves.” This was not a name that Joseph and Mary selected. Instead, it was a name given to them from Heaven. The angel told Joseph, “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).
The ultimate message of Christmas is not a long trip by an expectant woman, the search for a place to stay, a baby in a manger, the angel’s message to the shepherds, nor the journey of the wise men to see the newborn king. The ultimate message of Christmas is that there is a Saviour who has come to deliver us from sin. This is the greatest need of a lost and dying world. God loved us enough to provide a way of salvation for us, and that is why there is a Christmas at all.
We hear people talk about “keeping Christ in Christmas,” and it is important that the holiday not be overtaken with commercialism and secular pursuits. But Christmas is not just a religious event. Christmas is the story of God’s plan to redeem those who have been separated from Him by sin. Christmas is a redemptive story. As we celebrate with family and friends, we should never lose sight of that primary truth.
"Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God."
Charles Spurgeon said, “A man’s life is always more forcible than his speech. When men take stock of him they reckon his deeds as dollars and his words as pennies.” There is no substitute for a Gospel witness that is matched by a Gospel life. When we fail to live as we should, we forfeit what is meant to be a mainstay of our witnessing.
Paul instructed the Philippian church to live in a way that was becoming to the Gospel. Our very lifestyle should adorn the Gospel that we share with others. For example, how ridiculous would it have been if, when the shepherds came to visit Christ in the manger, Mary and Joseph were loudly complaining about the raw deal they had been given—having to bring Jesus into the world in a stable? There probably would not have been much worship taking place that night!
Even so, everything about our lives—our speech, our demeanor, our habits, our responses, our relationships—all of it, either gives credence to or discredits our message. If our lives do not reflect that our faith is real to those we meet, it is not likely that they will be interested in listening to any message we give them.
The central message of Christmas is that Jesus came to save us from our sins. And Christ has commissioned us, His people, to actively share this message. Yet if our lives are not what they should be, we will not be effective in winning people to the Lord.
"Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;"
I distinctly remember sneaking around the house as a young boy in search of a highly coveted Christmas gift. I was praying to find a BB gun hidden somewhere in my house, and there was something exciting about the prospect of being able to capture a quick and hopeful glimpse of that highly anticipated Christmas gift!
I am thankful that when it comes to the greatest Gift ever given to man we don’t have to hope for rare moments of secrecy to catch a glimpse of Him. He is the “brightness of [the Father’s] glory and the express image of his person.” Contrary to my childhood experiences of quickly peeking at gifts, Christ calls us to fix our gaze on Him!
It is vitally important that we have a clear picture of who God is. Our society portrays a god who is a joke—a distant, distracted comic figure. But the God of the Bible revealed both His power and His love when He entered our world through a manger.
John 1:14 captures the heart of the Christmas message: “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.” When Mary and Joseph and the shepherds looked into the face of the infant Christ child, they looked into the face of God. What an awesome and humbling thought!
In the pressures of daily life and the busyness of a holiday season, it is easy for us to take our eyes off the Lord and to begin to focus on ourselves. Resist the pull to become so wrapped up in the intricacies of daily living that you miss taking time each day to seek the face of God.
"And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child."
Luke 2:1, 3–5
The Christmas story has many wonderful aspects. One of the aspects that sometimes goes unremarked is that it is a demonstration of God’s sovereignty. God exercised sovereign control over the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the birth of Christ.
The world would have said that Caesar Augustus was the ruler, but God was the one in control. He used the decree from Caesar Augustus to move Mary and Joseph from Nazareth to Bethlehem so that Jesus would be born where the prophet Micah had said. Christmas is the story of God working to fulfill His prophetic promises so that everything happened just as He said it would.
Though it’s not usually one of the things we focus on at this time of year, I encourage you to view Christmas as a demonstration of God’s power and allow the wonderful story of the birth of Christ to build and to strengthen your faith. The same God who sent the angels to the shepherds and the star to guide the wisemen is in control of your life today. His power and wisdom have not diminished. He is just the same today as He was when Christ was born. Things may happen that we do not understand, but we can trust that God is in control—orchestrating our circumstances for our good and for His glory.
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers."
My wife enjoys baking during the Christmas season, but she especially delights in the opportunity it provides for fellowship as loved ones gather together to enjoy the delicious fruit of her labor. One of the precious, although sometimes overlooked, gifts we have through Christ is Christian fellowship. It is impossible to overstate the importance and benefit of Christian fellowship to our walk with God.
One of the keys to the power of the early church was the fact that they spent so much time together. It is a hallmark of genuine believers that they long to be together. Praying and learning the Word of God together strengthens the bonds of unity in the church, but it also strengthens each individual who takes part. The challenges and struggles we face as part of daily life in a fallen world require more strength than any of us has on our own. While we receive strength from God to face these battles (“the inward man is renewed day by day,” 2 Corinthians 4:16), He has also ordained that we encourage and minister strength to each other during difficult times.
Christianity is not meant to be lived in isolation but in groups. Regular fellowship with other believers—both as part of church services or activities and on a personal basis—is meant to be a source of strength and encouragement as we face the challenges and struggles of life. Thank God for the fellowship you have with His people and together enjoy the celebration of His birth.
"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."
Perhaps the most remembered message of Christmas was spoken by the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). While Christmas should be a time of peace, it is often the opposite for many. Worry, family problems, and financial stress can rob us of the peace God desires for His children to enjoy.
The Old Testament prophet Daniel provides a perfect illustration of God’s peace. Notice the specifics of how Daniel prayed: “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. Then these men assembled, and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God” (Daniel 6:10–11).
The prescription for peace that Paul provided in Philippians is exactly the same pattern Daniel followed in his prayers. Although Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den, he still had a peace that was beyond human understanding. This peace did not come to Daniel because he was immune to fear, but because of how he prayed and trusted God.
When we take our requests to God while thanking Him for all that He has done for us, we will have His perfect peace. All the worry in the world will never change things for the better. Until we seek God’s face in prayer, we will never know His genuine peace.
Do you want to know the reality of the angel’s Christmas message? Do you long to experience peace on Earth? Take your needs to the Lord in prayer, and thank God for His never-ending faithfulness in your life.
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 3:2–4
One of the simple pleasures I cherish during Christmas time is to sit in front of our wood burning stove. Something about the crackling of the wood, the rustic smell, the glowing light, and the enveloping warmth brings comfort after busy days of festive activities. The serenity these moments offer, however, significantly pales in comparison to the warmth of God’s presence in my life—during the Christmas holiday and throughout the year.
In the life of Eli, we see how vital it is that we desire God’s presence. Though Eli was the high priest over Israel, he was not the faithful servant of God he should have been. In the story of the boy Samuel being called by God, we see a significant indication of Eli’s failure. The lamp of God in the tabernacle was supposed “to burn always” (Exodus 27:20). The fire represented God’s presence among His people, yet Eli apparently allowed it to go out every night. We need a new sense and appreciation of God’s presence in our day.
What a joyous and eventful time of year Christmas brings! If we are not careful, however, it is possible for us to replace the presence of God with busyness in the things of God and not recognize the loss. The things that we do in service to Him and in celebration of Him must not replace the time we spend with Him. Allow the light of His presence to warm your heart this season.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.
Our world is certainly in need of peace. There are wars and conflicts and battles constantly raging. One of the attributes of Christ and one of the promises He brings is peace. Because He is the Prince of Peace, He provides us with what we have no other means of obtaining.
Jesus offers us “peace from God” (Romans 1:7). This is a peace unlike anything known by the world. Such peace is a gift bestowed upon us through His grace. Jesus offers us “peace with God” (Romans 5:1). This is the peace that comes from having our sins covered in His blood and His wrath and condemnation turned away from our lives forever. Jesus offers us “the peace of God” (Philippians 4:7). This is the peace that calms our fears and allows us to trust and obey even during the storms of life.
Of course, the entire world will never know peace until Jesus returns. But we who are His children and are already part of His Kingdom can enjoy peace in our daily lives. Because of the coming of Jesus into the world, and His promises to us, we can have peace regardless of our circumstances. Is the peace of God ruling your heart today? If not, spend time with your Prince of Peace and allow Him to comfort your heart in a way only He can.
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.
Christmas is a time of feasting! From family meals to church functions to cookie exchanges—the season offers many opportunities to eat! Commentator Andy Rooney once observed that the fastest moving items in bookstores were cookbooks and diet books. “The cookbooks tell you how to prepare the food, and the diet books tell you how not to eat any of it,” he wryly remarked. Christmas is not usually a time for dieting because, when we are not fully committed to a course of action, it is highly unlikely that we will achieve success. This principle is just as true in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical.
There will always be things to distract us from the path God wants us to walk. We cannot allow anything—even good things—to draw our attention away from God.
Rather, we must walk with a firmness of purpose and a singleness of heart. One of Aesop’s fables tells of a donkey that starved to death because he could never decide which of the two bales of hay that were set before him he should eat first. Once you have determined what God would have you do, fix your mind and focus your efforts toward that end. If you allow yourself to be double minded, your chance of success is small indeed. Instead, be like Jesus and walk with a firm and determined purpose in the path which God lays before you.
"Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see."
The city of Nazareth was not held in high regard by the Jewish people of Jesus’ day. It was considered to be a small village not worthy of notice or attention. No one expected much of anything from that source, as evidenced by the question Nathanael asked Philip when he was told about Jesus.
What Nazareth did have was a young woman who was completely yielded to the will and purpose of God. When she was presented with a plan for her life that was impossible and would expose her to ridicule and possibly even death, she did not protest against it. Instead, she praised God for choosing her to be part of His plan. Mary did not have any financial or social advantages. She was not the person we would have immediately identified as the most likely candidate to be the mother of Jesus, but God saw what was in her heart.
In her song of praise to God, Mary said, “He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree” (Luke 1:52). Great works of God rarely start in big places or with big people. Instead, they usually start in small places with little people who have a big commitment and a big faith to be used of God. Good things can come from your Nazareth as you follow Mary’s example of dedication and devotion. First Corinthians 1:27 says, “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” God has a plan for you—embrace your role.