Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
“Nebuchadnezzar the king, unto all people, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth; Peace be multiplied unto you. I thought it good to shew the signs and wonders that the high God hath wrought toward me. How great are his signs! and how mighty are his wonders! his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and his dominion is from generation to generation.”
In the uncertainty and fear that followed the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, General James Garfield, who would later become president himself, addressed a large crowd of worried people with these words: “Fellow citizens, clouds of darkness are round about God. His pavilion is surrounded by dark waters and thick clouds. But justice and judgment are the habitation of His throne. Mercy and truth go before His face. Fellow citizens, God reigns!”
All of us have times of uncertainty and fear in life. Bad things do happen to good people. Things seem to spin out of control. But in every case and situation, God is sovereign and in control. Nothing takes Him by surprise. Nothing forces Him to switch to a backup plan. Nothing on earth can shake the purpose of Heaven. Even the mightiest king of the ancient world, Nebuchadnezzar found that his power was nothing compared to that of God.
The way we respond to life is governed by the way we view God. If we remember that He holds dominion over everything, then we will trust Him even when things go wrong. While we would not presume to say that we know better than God, too often we act is if that were true. When He does not conform to our plans, we doubt His love and question His power. Instead, we should rest in His promises and know that He only wants what is best—and that He is able to bring about what His wisdom and love decree for us.
“And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength. And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead. And he laid his right hand upon me, saying unto me, Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.”
When John was given his vision of Heaven on the Isle of Patmos, he was terrified. But then Jesus reached out to comfort him. To provide that comfort, He focused John’s gaze on His unending, unfailing and unchanging power that reaches beyond time. Jesus died for us once, but now He is alive forever, and gives the promise of eternal life to all those who trust in Him. Because we live bound by time, it is hard for us to imagine, but eternity will never end.
The English Puritan pastor Stephen Charnock wrote, “Time is fluid, but eternity is stable; and after many ages, the joys will be as savory and satisfying as if they had been but that moment first tasted by our hungry appetites. When the glory of the Lord shall rise upon you, it shall be so far from ever setting, that after millions of years are expired, as numerous as the sands on the seashore, the sun, in the light of whose countenance you shall live, shall be as bright as at the first appearance.”
Any promise is only as good as the person making it. Our eternity is promised and guaranteed by a God who never fails. Paul wrote, “Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). The promise of eternity is good as long as the Lord lives, and He will never die.
“For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
In the late 1800s, a civil war in the Samoan Islands sparked international worry. The various world powers that had influence in the region feared the loss of their preferred status so they backed different sides in the conflict. Warships from Germany, Great Britain, and the United States converged on Samoa. They remained in a standoff in Apia Harbor, unwilling to actually fight, but also unwilling to leave and allow another nation to gain influence. The standoff continued for weeks until a massive cyclone wrecked all six warships in the harbor. The power of the wind and waves didn’t care about the different sides or their opinions, but equally struck them all.
There are some battles that are worth fighting and we must not shirk from standing for the truth and doing what is right, even if it requires a battle. But there are other battles that simply are not worth fighting, and can instead distract us from the real enemy. And we have a real enemy to fight. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
A division or conflict that arises because of a stand for truth is very different from one that arises from a stand for preference. Without lowering our standards, we should make every effort to avoid conflict with other Christians. “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Our strength should be devoted to fighting against the devil.
“And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die. And it came to pass, when Joab observed the city, that he assigned Uriah unto a place where he knew that valiant men were. And the men of the city went out, and fought with Joab: and there fell some of the people of the servants of David; and Uriah the Hittite died also.”
2 Samuel 11:15–17
There is a spiritual war going on all around us. We do not get the option of sitting it out or avoiding it—even if we try to avoid it, the devil will bring that battle to our doorsteps. And there are days when that battle rages hot for all of us. We find ourselves on the front lines, facing the strongest foes of the enemy. And in that day, when the battle is most intense, it is vital for us to rely fully on God’s power for the victory.
There are many people who are happy to give advice about gaining victory who are not speaking in line with God’s Word. They hold themselves up to be experts, but they don’t really know what they’re talking about because they are not walking and working and battling in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is important that we receive good advice for spiritual warfare. Dwight Eisenhower said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”
The devil rejoices when he sees a Christian going into battle in his own might. He knows that victory is coming for him, and that we will fall. But when we stand in God’s power we cannot be defeated. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
“And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.”
Our attitude is not determined by our circumstances. Some people are joyful during times of great trial. Others are discontent even in times of plenty. Our attitude is determined by our view of those circumstances. If we view hard times as something unfair or surprising, we will be likely to allow them to drag us down. On the other hand, if we view hard times as part of God’s purpose for our lives, we will be likely to keep our joy.
Nothing ever happens that takes God by surprise. Many times we are blindsided by things we didn’t see coming, but He never is. And while there are times when His plan involves us going through great hardship and trial, there is never a time when we get there accidentally. Our hardships are an opportunity for our faith to grow and God’s power to be displayed. Writing to people who were literally being killed for their faith, Peter said, “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” (1 Peter 4:13).
In Pilgrim’s Progress, when Christian and Hopeful are trapped in Doubting Castle by the Giant Despair, they spend days in a basement prison. Finally, Christian remembers something important. “‘What a fool,’ quoth he, ‘am I, thus to lie in a stinking dungeon, when I may as well walk at liberty! I have a key in my bosom called Promise; that will, I am persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.’“ The key works, and the two walk free rejoicing to continue on to the Celestial City.
“So I was great, and increased more than all that were before me in Jerusalem: also my wisdom remained with me. And whatsoever mine eyes desired I kept not from them, I withheld not my heart from any joy; for my heart rejoiced in all my labour: and this was my portion of all my labour. Then I looked on all the works that my hands had wrought, and on the labour that I had laboured to do: and, behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the sun.”
King Solomon truly had it all with wealth, power, and the ability to indulge any whim that came to his mind. He took advantage of those opportunities, trying to find satisfaction and purpose “under the sun.” He failed miserably. Despite being able to pursue any and every pathway that might lead to pleasure, Solomon found none. Instead he came to the conclusion that life was empty and meaningless. Herman Melville wrote, “Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe.”
Nothing that we do or try in this life can provide what only God can give. So many people think that if they had something more or could do something differently, they would find joy and happiness, but that is a lie from the devil. Only in God can we find what we are seeking. David wrote, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11).
The world is filled with things that try to draw us away from God. The devil offers substitutes that promise great things, but never deliver them. If our focus is on this world, we will never find what we have to be enough, no matter how much that may be. There must be a focus above the sun for life to truly matter.
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
1 John 4:7–10
The world around us is filled with talk of love, but often the way that word is used is different from the way God uses the word. His love for us is completely sacrificial, even to the point of Jesus coming into the world to die for our sins. While the Bible speaks of God loving us, it is in the context of that being a part of His nature and character. God does not love us for who we are but for who He is. Love is an integral part of who and what He is. He cannot be anything less than loving.
This is the pattern of love that is set before us, not just for us to appreciate, but to follow. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Unlike God, our hearts are not naturally filled with love. As a result of the Fall, our hearts were corrupted, and they cannot love as God does. But He has not left us alone and responsible for something we cannot do. He has given us His Holy Spirit, and He is able to produce genuine love.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,” (Galatians 5:22). We must walk in the Spirit if we are to love as God commands.
“I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me.”
1 Corinthians 4:14–16
Robert Chapman was well educated as a child and became a lawyer in London. After his conversion in 1823, however, he became actively involved in church work. After a few years he left the legal profession to become a pastor, and spent nearly seven decades reaching people with the gospel. He lived what he preached, and Charles Spurgeon called him “the saintliest man I know.” Chapman was a great friend and helper of George Mueller in his work with orphans, and called on his people to put their faith into action. Robert Chapman said, “There are many who preach Christ, but not so many who live Christ. My great aim will be to live Christ.”
When Paul wrote to the church at Corinth and told the people to copy his life, he was not boasting or holding himself up as some kind of spiritual giant. His reason for being confident to ask others to follow him was simply that he was a follower of Christ. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus is not just for Sundays at church. He is an example for us to follow every day, and those who know us best should see His principles and priorities on display in our lives.
Though it is not as popular now as it once was, the expression WWJD—what would Jesus do?—is a valid standard by which to guide our actions and decisions. If we love Him as we should and grow to know Him more through Bible reading and prayer, it will be easier for us to see how He would act, and then do the same.
“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived. 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 3:12–15
When Paul wrote his final letter to Timothy from his jail cell in Rome, he knew full well what awaited him. Soon he would be martyred, killed for the faith he would not stop proclaiming. But he also knew that it would be up to men like Timothy to carry on the work he had started. Paul pulled no punches in his instruction to his protégé. He told Timothy that persecution was coming, and that those who tried to do right would face opposition both within and without the church. He also told Timothy what would keep him on track—continuing in the truth of the Word of God.
It would be nice if we could make a commitment to the truth and everything would be settled once and for all. That is not the way the Christian life works. It is a daily commitment that having set out on the right course, we will stick to it no matter what comes. It is not enough just to start out right, we must keep doing it day after day. Ellen Sturgis Hooper wrote, “I slept, and dreamed that life was Beauty; I woke, and found that life was Duty.” The devil cannot be defeated once for all. If we stand firm against temptation today, he will return. If we hold to the truth tomorrow, he will come back the next day. We must continue in the truth day after day.
“From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”
At the start of His ministry, Jesus clearly laid out His expectations for those He called to follow Him. They would embark on a lifetime course that would revolve around reaching other people. Jesus did not initially tell them they would be preachers or teachers or writers, but He did tell them they would be soulwinners. They would trade in catching fish for catching men. Dr. Curtis Hutson said, “Soulwinning is not a request; it is a responsibility. Soulwinning is not an opportunity; it is an obligation. The only alternative to soulwinning is disobedience to a clear command of Scripture. Everybody is to be involved. Nobody is excluded.”
It is impossible to say that we are truly following Jesus until we are doing our part to share the gospel with others. This was His purpose. “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). And it must be our purpose as well. Everywhere we go, we meet people who are either heading for Heaven or for Hell, and we have a responsibility to them that we must not shirk. Paul wrote, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16). If Heaven and Hell are real, and they are, we must make the eternal destiny of others a priority in our lives every day.
“Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean, and between unclean fowls and clean: and ye shall not make your souls abominable by beast, or by fowl, or by any manner of living thing that creepeth on the ground, which I have separated from you as unclean. And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.”
It’s common in our day for people to deride those who hold to Bible standards of life and conduct. They mock the “old fashioned” approaches, lauding their freedom to do whatever they please and call it grace. God does not lower His standards, and we should not lower ours. The holiness that God calls us to live out is based on His nature and character. We are called to be holy because that is what He is. This holiness is not designed to take away our happiness, but to give us real and lasting joy.
Robert Murray McCheyne said, “To gain entire likeness to Christ, I ought to get a high esteem of the happiness of it. I am persuaded that God’s happiness is inseparably linked in with His holiness. Holiness and happiness are like light and heat. God never tasted one of the pleasures of sin. Christ has a body such as I have, yet He never tasted one of the pleasures of sin. The redeemed, through all eternity, will never taste one of the pleasures of sin; yet their happiness is complete.”
While sin promises pleasure, it only delivers pain and suffering. Only in obedience can we find true happiness. David wrote, “They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fairness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures” (Psalm 36:8).
“And he healed many that were sick of divers diseases, and cast out many devils; and suffered not the devils to speak, because they knew him. And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed. And Simon and they that were with him followed after him. And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee.”
In her book Jonathan and Sarah: An Uncommon Union, Edna Gertsner described the habit that helped Jonathan Edwards accomplish so much with his life. “He frequently spent thirteen hours a day studying. He managed this amazing amount of time by husbanding every hour of the day. He usually arose at four in the morning, indulging himself in the later rising time of five in the winter. In this way he was far along in his studies while the household slept.”
The pace of modern life is more hectic and frantic than ever before. It is tempting to use that as an excuse for ignoring time spent with God and in His Word, but it is not valid. We have the time to do what He commands, but we have to be willing to make other sacrifices to ensure God is not crowded out. The best way to measure true priorities is to evaluate how we are spending our time and our money. More than anything else, how we spend these reveals what matters to our hearts.
In the midst of a very busy time of ministry, after a long day healing the sick and preaching the gospel, Jesus could have said He was tired and stayed in bed. He was fully man as well as fully God, and He got tired just like we do. But instead of resting, Jesus did what was most important–getting up early to spend time with His Father.
“Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.”
When Nehemiah got to Jerusalem, the city was in dire straits. The lack of a wall around Jerusalem meant a complete inability of the people to defend against marauders who came to attack. Nehemiah’s first step was to make a survey of the situation, and when he had a grasp on the problem, he immediately launched a plan to solve it. He challenged the people, describing the need and then offering a solution. They caught his vision and together built the wall in just a few weeks.
Every time we face a crisis in any area of life, we have two basic choices. We can sit around feeling sorry for ourselves, wondering why things like that keep happening to us and blaming others for the trouble we’re in. Or we can evaluate the situation, determine the best solution, and get up and do what is necessary to resolve it. The more time we spend reviewing our troubles, the more discouraged we will become, and the less likely we will be to do anything to make a change.
If we want to accomplish great things, we must be willing to “rise up and build.” There will always be obstacles we can use as excuses to avoid moving ahead, but if we take that route, we will never get anything meaningful done. Once we have prayed and planned, we should get up and get busy.
But Jeshurun waxed fat, and kicked: thou art waxen fat, thou art grown thick, thou art covered with fatness; then he forsook God which made him, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. They provoked him to jealousy with strange gods, with abominations provoked they him to anger. They sacrificed unto devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
In his final address to the people of Israel, knowing that they would be going into the Promised Land without him, Moses gave them warning about the dangers they would face. One of the threats he highlighted was the peril of prosperity. When we are greatly blessed and have good things to enjoy provided by God's grace, we can quickly take them granted, giving ourselves the credit instead of glorifying and thanking God. “Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 6:12).
In her book Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, Peggy Noonan talked about the decline in religious commitment among successive generations of immigrants to the United States. The first waves tended to be very religious, while their descendants were less and less involved in their churches. She speculated that the prosperity of America explained the change, asking “Who needs God when you have America?”
But material blessings will never substitute for what only God can provide. And the more we are focused on material things, the more likely we are to take God's blessings for granted and forget that we owe everything to Him. There aren't very many people who would wish for a harder life with restricted finances. Yet there are many people who left those days behind, only to look back later and realize that they left God behind as well.
And Pharaoh's servants said unto him, How long shall this man be a snare unto us? let the men go, that they may serve the Lord their God: knowest thou not yet that Egypt is destroyed? And Moses and Aaron were brought again unto Pharaoh: and he said unto them, Go, serve the Lord your God: but who are they that shall go? And Moses said, We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters, with our flocks and with our herds will we go; for we must hold a feast unto the Lord.
Even after the first few plagues that brought so much destruction to the land of Egypt, Pharaoh was not eager to allow the Israelites to leave. When things got bad enough, he began trying to bargain with Moses, to offer for some of the people to go, but for them to leave everything they owned, and even their children behind. Moses rejected that compromise, declaring that all the people and all their belongings would be leaving. He was not willing to settle for partial deliverance and victory. He insisted on obeying God completely and departing, leaving nothing behind.
When we fight our spiritual battles, it is tempting to do so at less than 100 percent effort. It is hard work to resist Satan, to wrestle against evil, to cling to God. But nothing less than a complete commitment can bring the victory. If we are spending our time looking back at what we've given up for God and trying to hold on to things from the past, we are headed for trouble. “And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned” (Hebrews 11:15). God deserves nothing less than our complete commitment to Him, and we must follow Him without reservation or regret.
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
Despite the goodness and grace of God around us, many people still doubt the depth of His love. Nowhere do we see that love more clearly displayed than in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross being God's plan for our salvation. So many people are trying to earn favor with God when He graciously offers us a free gift through Jesus. God's plan for people to be saved is simple, not for purchase or to be earned, but to be given by grace through faith.
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “How astonishing is it that a Person who is blessed forever and is infinitely and essentially happy should endure the greatest sufferings that ever were endured on earth! That a Person who is the supreme Lord and Judge of the world should be arraigned and should stand at the judgment seat of mortal worms and then be condemned. That a Person who is the living God and the fountain of life should be put to death. How wonderful is this! And yet this is the way that God’s wisdom has fixed upon as the way of sinners’ salvation.”
Every person born into this world is a sinner in need of salvation. God's love decreed that He would provide that salvation for all who believe. And because of His love, Jesus died and rose again, and God accepted His sacrifice. We simply need to accept what He has done, turning from our sins to Jesus for salvation.
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
I have been greatly blessed through the years by men who invested in my life. There were several veteran pastors who shared their knowledge and experience with me when I was starting out in the ministry. I have been greatly blessed by books written in our generation and by those who were following God faithfully long ago. We should use such resources to help us grow in grace. However, nothing takes the place of time that we ourselves spend with God in His Word and in prayer.
There is a temptation to allow our church attendance and ministry work to become the source of input for our spiritual walk. We rely on what others write or speak rather than take the responsibility to focus on what God has said on a personal and practical level. Frequently, this is how people find their spiritual life stagnating and growing weak. They are still involved in church, but they have no personal input from the Word of God.
All human philosophy and opinion is fallible and subject to error. We are wise to seek counsel and find a church that teaches and preaches the Bible. But if we are to grow as Christians, we must take personal responsibility. We are not nourished by watching others eat or strengthened by watching others exercise. “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). We have the duty to do our own work in spiritual growth.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
Jesus was at a low point physically when Satan came to tempt Him. He was hungry after forty days of fasting, and the devil attacked Him at the point he thought Jesus was most vulnerable. There is nothing wrong with eating, but Satan was trying to get Jesus to act apart from His Father's will, using His power for selfish purposes. Jesus was fully God and could have banished Satan with a word, but that would not have served as an example for us. Instead, He quoted Scripture in response to each of Satan's temptations—overcoming the devil with the power of the Bible, which all of us can do as well.
We do not defeat Satan in our own strength. It is impossible. No one but God can do that. “Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee” (Jude 1:9). But while our words do not overcome the enemy, we have God's Word to use against him, and it will always be victorious when we apply it.
The requirement for overcoming Satan with the Bible is that we know what it says. When the temptation comes, we need to be ready to respond with the powerful Word of God. And we can only do that if we have already been reading, studying, and meditating on Scripture.
Behold, I go forward, but he is not there; and backward, but I cannot perceive him: On the left hand, where he doth work, but I cannot behold him: he hideth himself on the right hand, that I cannot see him: But he knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.
Thankfully, most of us have never endured anything close to what Job experienced. In the blink of an eye, he went from a rich man with all the resources he would ever need, to a man with nothing. He went from a man with a large and happy family, to a man without children or support. He went from health to grave sickness. And despite the fact that he cried out to God for an explanation for his suffering, he never received one. Yet even in his time of darkness and despair, Job trusted in God.
George MacDonald said, “No words can express how much the world owes to sorrow. Most of the Psalms were born in the wilderness. Most of the Epistles were written in a prison. The greatest thoughts of the greatest thinkers have all passed through fire. In bonds Bunyan lived the allegory that he afterwards wrote, and we may thank Bedford Jail for Pilgrim’s Progress. Take comfort, afflicted Christian! When God is about to make preeminent use of a person, He puts them in the fire.”
There are times when we are praying for God to relieve us from trouble and difficulty, when those hard times are exactly what He has placed in our lives to produce growth and increase our fruitfulness in His work. “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). Trouble never means God has forgotten us.
Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
There are two ways we can go through life—either we can focus on ourselves, or we can focus on Jesus. All of our priorities and responses rest on that focus. If our hearts are fixed on God, the praise of men will not lead us to pride, and the pain of men will not lead us to despair. If we are focused on ourselves, we will easily be swayed or sidetracked by the experiences of life.
Andrew Murray wrote, “Let us ask whether we have learned to regard a reproof, just or unjust, a reproach from friend or enemy, an injury, or trouble, or difficulty into which others bring us, as above all an opportunity of proving how Jesus is all to us, how our own pleasure or honor are nothing, and how humiliation is in very truth what we take pleasure in. It is indeed blessed, the deep happiness of heaven, to be so free from self that whatever is said of us or done to us is lost and swallowed up in the thought that Jesus is all.”
Our path through this world may be difficult, and we may at times face great opposition from others for trying to do right. But we have the assurance of God’s presence, comfort, and help. “So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:6).
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.
All human love is limited. No matter how deeply or sincerely we love someone, we are constrained by our own failings so that we cannot perfectly love another. And our lives are limited, so that even if we love for decades, eventually death will close the chapter. God's love, however, is different. Because it is part of His nature and character, like Him, it never ceases. “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jeremiah 31:3).
That love is most clearly seen in His offer of salvation. It is not because we are good or lovable that He loves us, but because of His gracious love. Dr. John Rice said, “Nobody ever deserves salvation, and no one ever will. I deserved Hell before I was saved, and I deserve Hell now. But bless God, through His infinite mercy I am saved and on my way to Heaven. Salvation is wholly by God's rich grace. Jesus died for sinners.”
The temptation we face after we have been saved for a few (or many) years is to start taking God's love for granted. We should never forget the love that took Jesus to the cross, and we should never stop being grateful or feel like we somehow deserved it. Nothing we can ever do or avoid doing makes us worthy of God's love. He loves us in spite of who we are, not because of it.
But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Stuart Robson was a well-known comedian and actor in the late 1800s. He told the story of finding out that the daughter or a fellow actor was going to get married. So Robson sent his daughter to the wedding with a large check as a gift. When she returned home, he asked her how the couple responded. “They didn't say anything,” she replied, “but they shed tears.” “How long?” he asked. “I didn't time it, but it must have been at least a minute,” the daughter answered. “Just one minute? I cried for an hour after I signed it!” Robson concluded.
When we give freely of what God has given to us, we should never regret it. Everything that we have comes from Him. When we work, He gives us strength. When we plan, He gives us wisdom. When we succeed, He gives us blessing. When we have resources, it is because of Him, not us. “But thou shalt remember the LORD thy God: for it is he that giveth thee power to get wealth, that he may establish his covenant which he sware unto thy fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:18).
When we recognize all that God has given to us, and His central role in giving all that we have, it is clear why we should not be grudging givers, but instead give joyfully and willingly. A Christian who is not happy to give to God's work has lost sight of what matters most in life.
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. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you.
1 Peter 5:8-10
In 2019, more than 6,500 people in the United States died from being struck by motor vehicles while walking. This represented the highest number of pedestrian deaths in history, a more than five percent increase from the previous year. While overall traffic fatalities are declining, the number of people killed while walking is going up rapidly. There are several factors to blame, but the increase in distractions—both for drivers and pedestrians—from cell phones is one of the main influences on the rise in deaths. People are simply not focused, and it places them in danger.
The dangers of driving or walking while distracted are not unknown to us. We all recognize the problems that can quickly occur. Yet any trip down the street reveals that while people know better, they are not doing better. They think that they can safely go through life without paying attention, and will not suffer the consequences.
The same is true in the spiritual realm. There are few Christians who do not know the threat of Satan and the deadly nature of sin. Yet all too often we go through life carelessly, believing that somehow we are an exception and that the tragedies others have experienced will pass us by. That is a lie that delights the devil. He knows that if our guard is down, his task of destroying our lives will be much more likely to succeed. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,” (Ephesians 5:15).
Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about. And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do? And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
2 Kings 6:14-16
Elisha was number one on Syria's most wanted list. It was his warnings to the king of Israel that allowed the smaller Jewish army to avoid battles with the Syrians in situations that would have placed them at a disadvantage and to win battles the Syrians were not expecting. The Syrian king believed he had a traitor in his council who was revealing secrets to the Israelites, but one of his men told him that it was the prophet Elisha who was to blame. So the king set out to remove that problem, sending a large army to the small town of Dothan where Elisha lived. When Elisha's servant saw the host, he was terrified. But Elisha wasn't worried at all.
Elisha recognized God's protection even when it was not visible to human eyes. Because his trust was in God, it could not be shaken by circumstances. Elisha would not fear because He knew God was in control. “Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea” (Psalm 46:2). None of us knows what the future holds, but it is obvious that the opposition and threats of the enemy to those who commit to follow Christ faithfully are increasing. But even if we wake up to find ourselves surrounded by an enemy army, we do not need to fear for God will never leave or forsake us.
And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
1 Corinthians 15:14-17
While He was with the disciples, Jesus told them what was coming in the future. But they did not really grasp the implication of His teaching until later. When the angels met the women at the empty tomb, they told them to remind the disciples of what Jesus had said. “But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you” (Mark 16:7). The resurrection is essential, and just as much a part of God's plan of salvation as the cross is. There is no hope of Heaven if Jesus did not rise from the dead. But He did. And as we celebrate that victory over the grave, we are reminded of our certain future with Him in Heaven.
J. C. Ryle said that the resurrection “is the crowning proof that He has paid the debt which He undertook to pay on our behalf, won the battle which He fought to deliver us from hell, and is accepted as our Surety and our Substitute by our Father in heaven. Had He never come forth from the prison of the grave, how could we ever have been sure that our ransom had been fully paid? Had He never risen from His conflict with the last enemy, how could we have felt confident that He has overcome death, and him that had the power of death, that is, the devil?”
O how love I thy law! it is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts. I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word.
Dr. W. A. Criswell told of preaching the funeral for a man who was a member of his church. The man had once been far from God, but after his salvation, became a devoted follower of Jesus. As Criswell looked down from the pulpit, he saw that the man's Bible had been placed in his hands. After the service he spoke to the widow about it. She said, “After he was saved he read the Bible day and night. He would put a little Testament in his pajama pocket when he went to bed. He would prop it up by the mirror when he shaved in the morning. In the funeral parlor when I looked at him, his hands seemed so empty. So I went home and got his Bible.”
The Bible is not just for Sundays. It is meant to be our most loved, most read, and most studied book throughout our lives. It is the source of God's instruction for our lives, and it is by far the most important and vital resource that we have. We should treat the Word of God as a necessity because it is just as vital to our spiritual life as food is to our physical life. “Neither have I gone back from the commandment of his lips; I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food” (Job 23:12). We cannot fulfill God's purpose and plans for our lives without loving His Word.
Ye shall observe to do therefore as the LORD your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess.
Mammoth Cave in Kentucky is the longest known cave system on earth, with some four hundred miles of underground tunnels, caverns, and rivers mapped to date. Each year more than two million people from around the world visit. Not far inside the cave is a large opening known as “The Cathedral.” In the 1800s, churches sometimes held services there, with the preacher standing on what became known as “Pulpit Rock” to address the congregation. It is said that on one tour, the guide stopped his group in that spot and told them he was going to preach to them. Climbing up on the rock he said, “Stay close to your guide!”
That is a sermon that every Christian needs to hear again and again. We are walking in a dark world filled with dangers and temptations. If we do not stay close to Jesus, walking in His footsteps, we are heading for trouble. There is more than just joy and fellowship in a close relationship with Him. He is also our source of guidance and protection. When we walk in God's ways, every part of life is better. The commandments and instructions of Scripture are not random, nor are they optional. They are given to us to follow.
Many times people ask about God's will as they face decisions. If we want to please Him with our choices, it is imperative that we are committed to doing what He has directed. We must walk in God's ways to fulfill His purpose for us.
O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him. O fear the LORD, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him. The young lions do lack, and suffer hunger: but they that seek the LORD shall not want any good thing. Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
The wife of the Scottish evangelist James Scroggie told how while she and her husband were sitting in a station waiting for a train, they began talking to a young man sitting nearby. When Scroggie asked him if he were a Christian, the young man replied that he was. As they talked further, Scroggie decided to give him some books to help him grow in grace. Unknown to the young man, Scroggie placed a half crown in one of them. As the man looked through the books, the coin fell out.
The young man was startled and said, “Thank God! I never meant to tell anyone, but I must tell you.” On his way to the train station, he had passed the house of a widow and heard her crying. He went in to see if he could help, and found that she was a half crown short of being able to pay her rent. He said to Scroggie, “I am but a laborer myself, and have nothing to spare, but I felt I must give the poor widow the money. When I left her house I wrote 'the Lord will provide' on a slip of paper. I have only walked to the station and He has already given it back to me!”
When we trust people, we may be disappointed; but when we trust in God, we always find Him faithful. There is never a day when He does not see our needs and provide for us what He knows is best.
And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the LORD had given him rest round about from all his enemies; That the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains. And Nathan said to the king, Go, do all that is in thine heart; for the LORD is with thee.
2 Samuel 7:1-3
When he was a boy, David had few prospects. As the youngest of eight brothers, he could not look forward to any meaningful inheritance. He was so lightly esteemed that when Samuel told Jesse he had come to anoint one of his sons to be the next king, David wasn't even invited to be considered. The only thing his family thought David was good for was keeping sheep. But God saw in David something more. “But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee” (1 Samuel 13:14).
The blessing of the Lord followed David, exalting him in the eyes of the people, and eventually placing him on the throne of Israel, just as Samuel had prophesied. In his success, David did not forget that it was all due to God's blessing and favor, and he did not allow those material blessings to change his desire to worship and serve God. When David realized that his palace was much nicer than the tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant, he wanted to change that. He knew that God deserved the very best, and his desire for God led him to do something about it. David set the process in motion that would culminate in Solomon's beautiful Temple because of his love for God and desire to please Him.
And David said to Solomon his son, Be strong and of good courage, and do it: fear not, nor be dismayed: for the LORD God, even my God, will be with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee, until thou hast finished all the work for the service of the house of the LORD. And, behold, the courses of the priests and the Levites, even they shall be with thee for all the service of the house of God: and there shall be with thee for all manner of workmanship every willing skilful man, for any manner of service: also the princes and all the people will be wholly at thy commandment.
1 Chronicles 28:20-21
When David recognized that the end of his life was near, he determined to do all that he could to keep his nation and his family on the right track. He developed plans for the Temple that Solomon would build and gathered much of the materials that would be needed. He laid out a schedule for the priests so that everything would be in place. He even found skilled craftsmen to work on the building. David knew that he would be with God, but he was still concerned about what those who came after him would do.
Every day we are building a legacy that will endure long past our lives. There are no actions that we take that do not have consequences. All of our choices, our priorities, and how we spend our time, talent, and treasure work together to build a legacy. We have an opportunity to increase the impact of our lives by doing things that touch the future. When we invest in others through discipleship, when we build memories of faith with our children and grandchildren, when we strengthen and give to our church, we are doing something that matters and something that lasts. This is how we make our lives matter more.
And Elijah said unto her, Fear not; go and do as thou hast said: but make me thereof a little cake first, and bring it unto me, and after make for thee and for thy son. For thus saith the LORD God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sendeth rain upon the earth. And she went and did according to the saying of Elijah: and she, and he, and her house, did eat many days.
1 Kings 17:13-15
When Elijah showed up at the home of the widow in Zarepath, in the home country of Jezebel where most people worshiped Baal, she was in a desperate situation. Because of the drought and the resulting famine, she was almost completely out of food. In fact when Elijah arrived, she was getting to ready to make one final meal before she and her son would die from hunger. In those grim circumstances, the instruction of the prophet of a foreign God must have been challenging to the extreme, yet she believed He was the living God and did as Elijah told her He would have her do. In return, God provide for her and her son for the rest of the famine. The little bit of meal and the little bit of oil never ran out.
Every one of God's promises is faithful and true. He never lets down those who trust in Him. George Müller once said, “If the Lord fails me at this time, it will be the first time.” There are great challenges that come into our lives. There are times when we cannot see the way forward. There are times when it seems like all hope is lost—but it never is. With God, all things are truly possible. He is not limited in His power, and He is willing and able to exercise that power in our lives when we trust in Him. He never fails.
Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun. Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest. I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.
The great missionary C. T. Studd, who gave away his vast inheritance to God's work and then spent decades reaching others with the Gospel, wrote:
Only one life, a few brief years,
Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;
Each with its days I must fulfill,
Living for self or in His will;
Only one life, ’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.
There are some people who accomplish much more than others, and there are people who have much greater opportunities than others. But there are no people who have more time in a single day than others. Each of us gets the same number of hours in a day. The thing that determines the impact of our days is how we use those hours. We can easily waste a number of minutes and hours and days, but when we do, we will have nothing to show for it.
The reason we are commanded to do our work with all of our power is that we have opportunities today which may never come again. They deserve our utmost effort—to be done with all our might. Only then can we redeem the time and make the most of the lives God has given us.
He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him. But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother's breasts. I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother's belly. Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
Many of the pagan religions surrounding the Israelites in Bible times featured gods who were angry and distant from mankind. Many nations worshiped the sun or the moon far off in the sky. Others, like the Greeks who believed the gods lived on far-away Mount Olympus, felt that only on rare occasions would humans interact with them. The Bible, however, paints a different and far better picture of the true God—one who is close to His people and invites them to intimate fellowship with Him.
T. DeWitt Talmage said, “God puts His ear so closely down to your lips that He can hear your faintest whisper.” God knows where we are, what we are experiencing, and what we need. There are times when we may feel that He is far away from us, but that is never reality. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He knows exactly what is going on in our lives and what is coming next.
The devil tempts us to think that God has forgotten or abandoned us when hard times come, but He never fails. During times of uncertainty or difficulty, we can hold to His promises and believe in His faithful presence, even when we cannot see or perceive it. Even when trouble is our constant companion, God is nearer than our difficulties and is with us through any pain or challenge that we face.
Notwithstanding ye have well done, that ye did communicate with my affliction. Now ye Philippians know also, that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church communicated with me as concerning giving and receiving, but ye only. For even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may abound to your account.
Paul had no access to the mission agencies and communication network that we take for granted today. When he was sent out first with Barnabas and later with Silas from the church at Antioch, he had only what he took with him for resources. When he was able to stay in one place long enough, he helped cover the expenses of his work himself, as he did when he stayed with Aquila and Priscilla in Corinth.
“And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers” (Acts 18:3).
But much of the time Paul was only in a town for a few weeks, and sometimes even less. Thus he frequently found himself short of funds. There were times when he went hungry because he could not buy any food and was not in a place where other believers would share what they had with him. On more than one occasion, the church at Philippi sent gifts to help Paul when he was in need. The last several verses of the letter he wrote to them revolves around thanking them for their generosity.
One of the things Paul notes specifically is that they did not just give once and turn away. Instead, they continued to invest in his work and ministry, making it possible for him to focus on spreading the Gospel. Those who only give once in a great while are missing out on being part of God's plan for reaching the world for Him.
And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.
1 Thessalonians 1:6-8
It is said that on one occasion someone approached the evangelist George Whitefield and said, “I should like to hear your dying testimony.” Whitefield responded, “No, I shall in all probability bear no dying testimony.” Somewhat startled, his questioner asked, “Why not?” Whitefield said, “Because I am bearing testimony every day while I live, and there will be the less need of it when I die.”
Every day we are setting an example for others, whether we are aware of it or not. When Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica he told them that he was using them as an example to other believers—and that even before he did, word of this faith had already spread. There should be no doubt in the minds of anyone who knows us that we are committed to following God. If our faith is not evident to others, something is not right.
While we do not live for the praise or approval or notice of others, we also must not neglect the impact that our lives have on them. Paul wrote, “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself” (Romans 14:7). Every day in ways both large and small, and often in ways we are not even aware of ourselves, we are influencing others. Whether that influence is positive or negative, whether we are a good example or a bad example, is determined by how closely we are walking with God in faith.
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army said, “Faith and works should travel side by side, step answering to step, like the legs of men walking. First faith, and then works; and then faith again, and then works again—until they can scarcely distinguish which is the one and which is the other.” Some people talk a lot about how much they love God and believe His promises without any evidence of it in their actions. The measure of our faith, however, is not what we say but how we act.
Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). There is no way to separate believing what God says from doing what God says. If we do not act, it is evidence that we do not truly believe. There is nothing in our hearts that God does not see. He is not limited to measuring what we do on the outside to determine our beliefs. But for those around us, the fact that we are working as God has commanded is evidence that we genuinely believe what we claim to believe.
All of us have a testimony before others, and it must be defined by our actions more than our words. “Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Tabitha, which by interpretation is called Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did” (Acts 9:36).
He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust. Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.
The Bible places great emphasis on our words, and reveals that they carry tremendous weight. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Proverbs 18:21). The world we live in is filled with threats and dangers. And in times of trouble, it is not enough for us simply to trust in God. Instead we are told to declare that trust—not just in our thoughts but in our words.
Our words have power not just on others but on our own lives as well. We listen to what we say, and if we say something often enough, we begin to believe it. If we are publicly and privately declaring our trust and confidence in God, we will not be shaken by the storms of life. On the other hand, if we are constantly speaking our fears and doubts, we will find even small problems magnified.
At one of the lowest points in his life, David wrote, “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). It is important for our hearts to be filled with gratitude and praise for God's goodness to us, but it should go beyond that into our words. If someone listened to everything you say today (and even if no one else is around, you hear what you say), would they hear that you are trusting in God and grateful to Him for His goodness?
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.
There is much confusion in our day when it comes to the topic of how Christians should live. Some people promote the idea that because of God's grace we can do whatever we want without it being a problem. They justify sin and seem to try to live as much like the world as they can. This is a complete inversion of what the Bible teaches. John Bunyan wrote, “Wherefore, though the Christian, as a Christian, is the only man at liberty, as called thereunto of God; yet his liberty is limited to things that are good: he is not licensed thereby to indulge the flesh.”
Because God is holy, we are also called to be holy, and God’s grace through salvation gives us the power to do so. The freedom we are given is not permission to sin, but to more effectively serve the Lord. “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13). If our focus is on ourselves and our “rights” to do whatever we want, it is in the wrong place. The point of our lives is not to please ourselves but to please God.
The false teaching that “anything goes” undermines the holiness that God demands, and leaves people thinking that they are fine with their sinful behavior. In reality, we are only living in Christian liberty when we are living according to the pattern of God's holiness—using our freedom to avoid sin rather than indulge in it and excuse it.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:
If you read the account of Paul's trip to Philippi in the book of Acts (chapter 16), which was the first time the gospel reached into Greece and Macedonia, it was a difficult time. There does not appear to have been a Jewish synagogue there, so Paul could not reach out to a gathered group as he often did. After a few days in Philippi, Paul was publicly accosted by a demon-possessed girl. When he cast out the demon, he was arrested and illegally beaten without being convicted of anything. After all of that, as he and Silas were praising God, there was a massive earthquake that shook the prison. The next day Paul left Philippi with his injuries unhealed to remind him of the pain he endured there for the sake of the gospel.
Yet years later when Paul wrote from his Roman prison to this church, he said he was filled with joy when he remembered them. Many times we remember events of the past with pain rather than joy. The difference is not whether only good things happened, because that is never the case. The difference is in where we choose to place our focus. Helen Keller, who was both blind and deaf, said, “So much has been given to me that I have no time to ponder that which I don't have.” If you want to be joyful, you can find good things to remember, even among the bad. If you want to be unhappy, you can find bad things to remember, even among the good. The choice is up to you.
And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.
The early church had a powerful impact on those around them. Not everyone believed the gospel message, but everyone was aware that these Christians were fervent in their belief. Everywhere they went, they made a difference. One of the keys to their enormous impact was the time they spent together. Before they made an influence on the world around them, they made a difference on each other. They built up and strengthened their faith through fellowship. Though they did not have church facilities as we do, they met together in both public places and private homes, spending time in spiritual activities and even meals.
Charles Spurgeon said, “Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. He attaches far more importance to godly intercourse than we do. Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation.” One of the tools Satan uses to discourage fellowship is the threat of persecution and opposition.
When the writer of Hebrews addressed the topic of fellowship, he wrote, “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). What were the signs of “the day approaching”? Trouble. Jesus told the disciples that they would endure opposition because of their devotion to Him, and it is the same for us. But when those hard times come, some are tempted to withdraw from other believers.
In the past several weeks, we’ve seen special challenges to fellowship through the social distancing necessary because of the COVID-19 virus. Yet, even through this pandemic, we can build each other up by reaching out—even if just through a text or phone call. It is during the hard times when we most need to build each other up in the faith.
Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name. My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips: When I remember thee upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night watches.
The actions that fill our days and make up our lives are not random. They are determined by what fills our hearts and minds. The only thing that has the power to shape our lives to conform to God's standard is His Word. It should be part of our lives on a daily basis, and we grow as we read, study, and hear it. But it is vital that we also mediate on what we read, rehearsing the truth in our mind over and over again.
R. A. Torrey said, “A verse must be read often, and re-read and read again before the wondrous message of love and power that God has put into it begins to appear. Words must be turned over and over in the mind before their full force and beauty takes possession of us. One must look a long time at the great masterpieces of art to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning, and so one must look a long time at the great verses of the Bible to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning.”
The world will gladly fill our minds with all kinds of things, but only God's Word can fill our minds with the truth. We always have a choice of what we will mediate on, and if we want to do what is right, then we must make the Bible a priority. Our desire to please God should drive us to the Scriptures and remind us to continually meditate on what God has said.
But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 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.
On one of his news programs, Charles Osgood conveyed the story of two ladies who lived in the same nursing home. Both had been skilled pianists, but each had suffered a stroke. Margaret could no longer use her left arm, and Ruth could no longer use her right. Missing the ability to play was a grief to both of them, but then an employee of the nursing home had a brilliant idea. She took them both to the piano, and had each one use the hand that still worked. By joining together, they were able to once again make beautiful music.
Each of us has talents and abilities to use for God's kingdom. None of us has all of the things that the work needs. It requires that each of us contribute what God has given for us to the ministry to be unhindered and accomplish all that God has for it to do. The church that has members hoarding their gifts or hiding their lights will not be fully effective in reaching the world.
Every one has a responsibility, to God and to each other, to make our contribution to the body of Christ. Just as the human body cannot fully function if one part is injured or missing, the church needs what each person has to give. Some parts of the body are large and others small, but each is vital. Only when “every joint” is working together can we fulfill the calling and accomplish the mission given to us.
From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast. There shall not any man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.
Joshua was faced by a daunting challenge after the death of Moses. Israel had lost the only leader the people had ever known, and although he had been at Moses' side for all those years, Joshua now had all the responsibility for the decisions that would determine the success or failure of the nation. He faced powerful military enemies with the advantage of defending strong cities. Yet in the face of the very real challenges he would face, God instructed Joshua to be courageous.
God never gives us commands without also giving us the means to obey, and His command to Joshua for courage was accompanied by the promise of His presence. Though the battles to come would require Joshua and his men to fight, they would not be responsible for the outcome. God was promising them victory based on His power, not theirs. God had promised the land to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob hundreds of years before. Now He was working to fulfill that promise.
When we face daunting challenges, we can still be strong and courageous, not in our own strength, but in God's, and He will never leave us. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5).
And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish? And he arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea, Peace, be still. And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. And he said unto them, Why are ye so fearful? how is it that ye have no faith?
When the disciples frantically woke Jesus who was sleeping through the massive storm that threatened to sink their ship, they were not dealing with an imaginary or theoretical problem. The wind and the waves were very real. The water that was filling the boat faster than they could bail it out was real. Many of them had spent most of their lives on the Sea of Galilee as fishermen, and they knew the difference between a small storm and a serious tempest.
Yet despite the real danger of the storm, after He calmed it, Jesus rebuked them for their lack of faith. He did not question their nautical judgment or disagree that the situation was serious. Instead, He questioned their lack of faith. Faith is never dependent on circumstances. Faith believes what God has said, no matter how things look. Faith recognizes that God is still in control, even in the worst of storms.
If we are walking in faith, we will not walk in fear. “The LORD is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?” (Psalm 118:6). Faith is not the belief that nothing will ever go wrong, but rather the belief that God is for us, and He will never allow us to endure something that He cannot ultimately use for our good and His glory. With such faith, we will not fear.
But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.
All of us either know or have known people who are extremely judgmental. They constantly evaluate others, deciding for themselves whether what those people are doing measures up to what they expect or not. This kind of judgment occurs for two main reasons. First, it shows that the person has forgotten that God is in charge and that He is the only one who can accurately judge. “But the LORD said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
Second, it shows that the person has forgotten that one day he will be called to give an account, not for those he has judged, but for himself. Each of us is building on the foundation we have been given, and our work will be subjected to a thorough and revealing testing. “Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 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 3:12-13). Rather than trying to make ourselves feel better by finding someone we can judge as failing to measure up, we should be investing our time and attention in the work God has given us to do.
Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil.
In our society, people invest a great deal in trying to create and preserve the illusion that they are in control of the future. While this may be a comforting thought, it is also a complete lie. None of us knows what is going to happen on any given day. We may make careful plans and determine how each hour will go, but that is no guarantee that the schedule will not be completely upended even before we finish breakfast. There is no problem with making wise plans for the future, but we should never forget that God is in control and we are not.
Even our very lives are uncertain. We may take care of our bodies, exercise, and get plenty of rest, but that does not protect us against accidents or prevent us from experiencing disease. At any moment, life can dramatically change. It is like fog that settles overnight only to quickly vanish once the sun warms the sky.
Life is short even in the best case, and that makes it even more important that we discern what God's will for us is and make sure that we are conforming to that every day. “And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (Luke 11:2).
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
Many times people are tempted to cut corners or not be diligent in things they do not think are important. But the truth is that there are no little things—it all matters. Champion football coach Tony Dungy said, “Character begins with the little things in life. We must show that we can be trusted with even the trivial things.” In the eyes of Heaven, nothing on earth is more trivial than money. The street of Heaven is made of gold—it is only fit to walk on there, not something precious.
Yet the way we handle the financial resources which have been entrusted to us is anything but trivial. In fact, Jesus said that if we are not faithful with our money, there is no reason for us to expect God to trust us with spiritual things. Whether our resources are large or small, we are still meant to be faithful in how we use them. “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
Many churches struggle because the members are not faithful with their money. The resources for the work God calls us to do for Him do not normally come in miraculous ways. Though God can do anything, His plan is for His work to be financed by the obedience of His children. When we remember that everything we have belongs to God and not to us, we see why it is so important to do even little things faithfully.
Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
1 Timothy 6:17-19
God blesses us because He is good and because He loves us, not because we deserve it. But He does not just bless us for our own sake. When we are blessed, we have a responsibility to use what God has given us to accomplish something worthwhile with those blessings. We should enjoy our blessings and give thanks for them, but we should not begin to think that they are ours by right and can be used only for ourselves.
When King Hezekiah found out he was sick, and the prophet Isaiah told him that he was about to die, he cried out to God. God heard Hezekiah's prayer, and added fifteen years to his life. Yet that miracle of healing and the blessing of a longer life did not produce any lasting benefit either for Hezekiah or for his people. “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him, and upon Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 32:25).
Some people have much more than others when it comes to financial resources. But every Christian has the responsibility to trust in God rather than in wealth. And every Christian has the responsibility to use those resources he has been blessed with, no matter what size, to invest in God's work. Every earthly investment is uncertain at best, but the treasure we lay up in Heaven can never be lost or stolen away.
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
2 Corinthians 5:1-4
The evidence that we live in a fallen world is easy to see. Everywhere we look, we are reminded that things are not operating as God originally designed them. The very creation around us desires to be returned to its perfection. “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). In contrast, the Heaven that is waiting for us as believers is perfect. Nothing can ever enter it that would change that. Yet in spite of the perfection of Heaven and the corruption of Earth, some people show little interest in the place God has prepared for us. Nothing should be allowed to eclipse the glory of Heaven, and eternity should be our focus.
D. L. Moody said, “If I were going to dwell in any place in this country, if I were going to make it my home, I would inquire about its climate, about the neighbors I would have—about everything, in fact, that I could learn concerning it. If soon you were going to emigrate, that is the way you would feel. Well, we are all going to emigrate in a very little while. We are going to spend eternity in another world. Is it not natural that we should look and listen and try to find out who is already there and what is the route to take?”
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
All of us go through times in our lives when it seems like everything is coming apart. And there are times when the problem is not individual but widespread. There are times when the world is frantically searching for answers, and it seems like all of the things that people once depended on have failed to provide safety and stability. There are times when it seems like we have no hope and nowhere to turn. But there is never a time when a Christian has no place to rest, for there is never a time when we are not watched and kept by the Good Shepherd.
Sylvia Lockwood wrote:
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto Me and rest:
Oh, weary one, bowed down with care,
Come, lean upon My breast.
There is no load I cannot bear;
Nor burden that I will not share,
So cast on Me thine every care;
Come unto Me and rest.”
The need for restoration is universal. All of us need the strength and healing and encouragement and uplifting and restoration of the Lord. There is pain and heartache in life, and all of us need help to meet it. One of the names of the Holy Spirit is the Comforter. Jesus said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).