Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
At the start of 1867, England was going through very difficult times. The previous year's economy downturn had left thousands of people unemployed. There was a rebellion brewing in Ireland, and attacks by supporters of Irish independence left dozens dead across England. In those uncertain days, Pastor Charles Spurgeon chose John 14 as his text and said, “My Brothers and Sisters, some of us live at this hour in the midst of trouble. We do not remember any period more dark with portents of evil than the present watch of earth’s long night. Few events have occurred of late to cheer the general gloom. Think about whether any times have been more vexatious and troublesome than those which just now are passing over our head.”
The presence of trouble in the world is nothing new. Spurgeon's words sound like they could have come from today's news headlines. In fact, Jesus promised those who follow Him that they would experience hard times. “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Yet no matter how bad things are around us, we do not have to allow worry and fear to grip our hearts. We are commanded to not be filled with trouble in our hearts and are encouraged to look forward to our Heavenly home.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
If anyone had reason to quit serving God, we would think it was Paul. His powerful and faithful witness brought many to faith in Christ, but it also brought much opposition and persecution. Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, imprisoned, slandered, and hated. None of that happened because he was doing wrong. The persecution came because he was doing right. Yet in all that he endured, Paul refused to stop proclaiming the gospel.
Paul was not focused on the outward circumstances, but on the eternal reward. He called all of his sufferings “light affliction,” not because they were not real and painful, but because they were temporary and fleeting, and he was looking for Heaven. The way we view our troubles is primarily determined not by how severe those troubles are, but by our perspective. Someone once said that the best question you can ask to keep your perspective is, “Compared to what?” How are we measuring our situation?
Jesus set the example for us to follow. “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” (Hebrews 12:2). When we have Heaven in view, the troubles of the outward man pale and the strength of the inner man is restored. Focusing on what is in store helps us stay on the right path no matter what troubles may come.
And he said, About this season, according to the time of life, thou shalt embrace a son. And she said, Nay, my lord, thou man of God, do not lie unto thine handmaid. And the woman conceived, and bare a son at that season that Elisha had said unto her, according to the time of life. And when the child was grown, it fell on a day, that he went out to his father to the reapers. And he said unto his father, My head, my head. And he said to a lad, Carry him to his mother.
2 Kings 4:16-19
Of all the people who contributed to the ministry of Elisha, the unnamed woman who lived in Shunem had her story memorialized for us in Scripture. She and her husband made a place in their home for the traveling prophet where he could stay and be refreshed on his travels. Their help was so meaningful to Elisha that he asked what he could do for her, but she replied that she was content. Gehazi, Elisha's servant, pointed out that the couple had no children, so Elisha prophesied that they would have a son, and the next year he was born. When he had grown up, he went to the field with his father, and had something like a heatstroke and died, then was raised to life again by Elisha. But when he fell ill, his father immediately ordered the servants to take him to his mother.
The impact of mothers is beyond measure. John Wesley said, “I learned more about Christianity from my mother than from all the theologians in England.” Yet despite the value of a good mother, we see in our society a devaluing of motherhood. We must make sure that godly motherhood is valued and promoted and that gratitude is shown to those who are so often taken for granted.
And of Asher he said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil. Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be. There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.
When Moses neared the end of his life, he called the people together for a final set of instructions. Included were specific blessings for the different tribes. In the blessing for the tribe of Asher, Moses relayed a wonderful testimony to the strength of God—and to the way in which He provides that strength to us. At a time when the tribe of Asher was about to go into battle against enemies that vastly outnumbered them, they were promised victory, not because of their power, but because of God's power.
The battles that we face will quickly exhaust us if we try to rely on our own strength. Often we experience what Annie Flint described:
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
The secret to victory is found in our reliance on God's strength. His grace is always sufficient for whatever we need. His strength never fails. And for each day and each trial, we have the promise of that strength being available to us. God offers us a refuge if we will flee to Him, and He holds us with arms that never grow tired. This is His promise. As someone said, “When things go wrong, God is strong.”
Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. 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 4:13-16
You might say that the church at Corinth was the “problem child” of first century churches. They were riven by division, confused about spiritual gifts, and tolerated immorality in the church. They had trouble with giving and didn't understand the resurrection very well. Some of the members were not happy when Paul wrote to correct their errant behavior and conduct. They even critiqued his speaking style and his appearance.
Yet in spite of all of the problems and all of the turmoil, Paul still loved them. He stayed in Corinth for eighteen months on his first visit, much longer than he spent in most cities. Paul had given his heart to those people, and that did not change when he left and went on to other places. Bible scholars think the first letter Paul wrote (1 Corinthians) was four or five years after he left Corinth. Yet he was still thinking of them and loving them like a father loves his children.
If we are not willing to give our hearts to our family, to our churches, to our classes and fellowships, and to our friends and neighbors, we should not expect to make a deep and lasting positive impact. The costs of making that kind of difference may be high, but much like parents with their children, it is worth making the investment. Putting your heart into something that matters may be painful and costly, but it is required to be like Jesus.
If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
When Nicodemus talked to Jesus about eternal life, he had a great deal of difficulty understanding the concept of being born again. It was not a lack of intelligence or education, but a misplaced focus that clouded his view. So Jesus gave him an illustration from the history of Israel to make the point. When the people complained, God sent poisonous snakes into the camp. When they repented and cried out for forgiveness, God told Moses to make a serpent out of brass and lift it up on a pole in the center of the camp. Those who had been bitten would have their lives saved if they simply looked at the brass serpent.
In using this as a picture of Him being lifted up on the cross, Jesus was highlighting the way that salvation comes. Those who believed Moses when he told them their lives would be spared if they looked at the brass serpent, looked—and then they lived. Those who did not believe the promise, of course, did not look, and they perished. Just as the brass serpent was the cure for the snakebite, Jesus is the cure for sin. But the cure is only applied and effective for those who believe His promise of eternal life and receive it for themselves. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:
All of us are born sinners, bound in the darkness that blinds us to the light. But though the darkness is powerful, it can defeat the light. “And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not” (John 1:5). When we are saved, we are delivered from the bondage of darkness. We are given the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to allow us to walk in the light. However the lure of the darkness remains, and as long as we live, we face the temptation to go back to the comfort and familiarity of the chains of darkness.
Because we have been delivered, we have the responsibility to live like it. Paul warned, “Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness” (1 Thessalonians 5:5). The responsibility for our conduct rests squarely on our shoulders. We cannot blame the world or the flesh or the devil when we sin. Those are powerful enemies, but they cannot overcome us without our acquiescence.
Those Christians who try to live with one foot back in their old lives always find themselves back in bondage. We cannot overcome sin unless we are committed to walking in the light. The pleasures of sin are temporal and fleeting, but the pleasures of holiness are eternal.
For I am ready to halt, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I will declare mine iniquity; I will be sorry for my sin. But mine enemies are lively, and they are strong: and they that hate me wrongfully are multiplied. They also that render evil for good are mine adversaries; because I follow the thing that good is. Forsake me not, O LORD: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation.
Henry Francis Lyte suffered from poor health most of his life. His sickness forced him to leave his congregation in Brixham, England, for months at a time, but his love for the people kept him on the job. At just fifty-four years of age, Lyte contracted tuberculosis. Despite the advice of his doctors and family, Lyte determined to preach one more time to his church before leaving for treatment. After preaching his final sermon, just a few weeks before his death, Lyte gave a family member a poem and tune he had written.
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
In His final instruction to the disciples before returning to Heaven, Jesus said, “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:20). That promise of His presence is still true today, and it is our comfort when the rest of the world around us seems to be falling apart. God has never forsaken His children; He is—and always will be—with us.
Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion: and unto thee shall the vow be performed. O thou that hearest prayer, unto thee shall all flesh come. Iniquities prevail against me: as for our transgressions, thou shalt purge them away. Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts: we shall be satisfied with the goodness of thy house, even of thy holy temple.
It is normal for people to pray with greater intensity when times of trouble come, and there is nothing wrong with that. But prayer should be our constant, continual, habitual practice—not just when things go wrong, but all the time. “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” (Daniel 6:10).
Prayer is not an empty exercise. God hears when His children cry out to Him. It is a tragedy for us to fail to take advantage of the privilege we have been given as Christians to enter God's presence and pour out our hearts to Him. Unlike idols worshipped through the years by so many people, God actually hears our requests. We do not have to convince Him to listen—His love has already opened the door.
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “Seeing we have such a prayer-hearing God as we have heard, let us be much employed in the duty of prayer: let us pray with all prayer and supplication: let us live prayerful lives, continuing instant in prayer, watching thereuto with all perseverance; praying always, without ceasing, earnestly, and not fainting.” Prayer is not optional for the believer. It is impossible for us to live as God commands and fulfill His purpose unless we are people of prayer.
And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
In the week before the crucifixion, Jesus was invited to dinner at the home of a man named Simon, a leper Jesus had healed. At this dinner, a woman came and poured out a box of very expensive perfume on His feet. When her action was criticized, Jesus rebuked those who objected. He pointed out that the woman had taken advantage of the opportunity to honor Him, an opportunity she would never have again. If she had not acted when she did, we would never have heard of her.
Each new day brings new opportunities. We meet people with spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial needs; and if we are able, we should do what we can to meet them. Paul wrote, “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
If we have an opportunity to share the gospel, speak a word of encouragement, or meet a need, we do not need lengthy periods of prayer to determine what God's will is. He places these opportunities before us so that we will act on them. Nothing is gained by delaying to do something good, and many times the opportunity will be lost unless we act on it. Even if it requires sacrifice on our part, as the woman who anointed Jesus' feet, it is worth it to do good things for the Lord.
For whether we be beside ourselves, it is to God: or whether we be sober, it is for your cause. For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
2 Corinthians 5:13-15
After his conversion, Thomas Chisholm gave up his newspaper career and trained for the ministry. But not long after he became a pastor, ill health forced him to leave the pulpit. Rather than giving up the idea of serving God, Chisholm put his literary skills to work and began to write poems, many of which became well-known hymns. One of the best known is Living for Jesus.
Living for Jesus a life that is true,
Striving to please him in all that I do,
Yielding allegiance, glad-hearted and free,
This is the pathway of blessing for me.
O Jesus, Lord and Savior, I give myself to thee,
for thou, in thy atonement, didst give thyself for me;
I own no other master, my heart shall be thy throne,
my life I give, henceforth to live,
O Christ, for thee alone.
One of the most extraordinary traits of Jesus was His sacrificial love for others. He deserves all glory and praise and worship and service, but rather than insisting on His rights, He devoted Himself to meeting the needs of others. “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). If we are going to truly live for Jesus, we must live like Him. And to live like Jesus, we must acknowledge His right to rule and reign over every part of our lives, including being willing to put our own interests and desires after those of others.
And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat; neither for the body, what ye shall put on. The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. Consider the ravens: for they neither sow nor reap; which neither have storehouse nor barn; and God feedeth them: how much more are ye better than the fowls?
When Jesus cautioned His followers against worrying, He used examples from nature to illustrate God's love and care. To the Jewish people, ravens were unclean birds, unfit to eat according to the Mosaic Law because they were scavengers. The people then didn't care anything about such birds and regarded them as a nuisance. Yet Jesus said that God takes care of them. Since our Heavenly Father does this for even insignificant and unloved birds, why would we doubt that He will take care of us?
God's promises are just as certain and sure when things are going badly as they are when things are going well. He has not lost His power to deal with our situation, or His love that moves Him to do what is best. If we give in to worry, we are slandering the nature and character of God. Dr. John R Rice said, “Worry is putting question marks where God has put periods.”
The rain falls on ravens. Storms blow around them. Predators may attack at any moment. They do not have any means to make provision for the future. Ravens have very little value in the eyes of the world. Yet the God who created them loves and cares for them. And to Him we are much more precious. We do not need to worry whether He will able to meet any need that we may have. God has given us His precious promises, not just so that our needs will be met, but so we will not worry.
But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend. Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
Dr. A. C. Dixon told a story he heard from a friend who lived near a forest where many hunters sought their game. He said, “Rising early one morning, I heard the baying of a score of deerhounds in pursuit of their quarry. Looking away to a broad, open field in front of me, I saw a young fawn making its way across, and giving signs, moreover, that its race was well-nigh run. Reaching the rails of the enclosure, it leaped over and crouched within ten feet from where I stood. A moment later two of the hounds came over, when the fawn ran in my direction and pushed its head between my legs. I lifted the little thing to my breast, and, swinging round and round, fought off the dogs. I felt, just then, that all the dogs in the West could not, and should not, capture that fawn after its weakness had appealed to my strength.”
God delights in rescuing and delivering and defending His children when they cry out to Him for help. We do not have to convince or persuade Him; we simply must seek His protection and He will provide it. “The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe” (Proverbs 18:10). No matter how difficult our situation may be, God never abandons us. He is always in charge of every situation.
Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence.
Because God created the world in the first place, He understands exactly how everything works. At the very core of His creation, made from nothing and spoken into existence, is the ongoing love and care of God. He is the one who holds everything together. He put the natural laws that govern the universe in place, and He is the one who ensures that they continue to work. He designed a perfect world, and though it has been marred by sin, He still sees to it that it continues. The sun holds its place in the solar system. The planets revolve around it. The seasons continue throughout the year.
None of this is an accident, nor is it the product of billions of years of chance and happenstance. It is all part of God's plan. And His plan predates the existence of the world. “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” (Isaiah 46:10). God is not making up responses as He goes along. He is not reacting in surprise to events and then scrambling to make the best of things. He is sovereign and rules over all the world. No matter how upset, confused, distressed, or endangered we may be by what is going on around us, God is still in control.
Behold, thou hast instructed many, and thou hast strengthened the weak hands. Thy words have upholden him that was falling, and thou hast strengthened the feeble knees. But now it is come upon thee, and thou faintest; it toucheth thee, and thou art troubled. Is not this thy fear, thy confidence, thy hope, and the uprightness of thy ways?
He always wanted to be a pilot, and when he joined the military, Gail Halvorsen was assigned to fly C-47 and C-54 bombers. During the Soviet blockade of West Berlin in 1948, he became part of the Berlin Airlift. Halvorsen flew planes loaded with food every other day. On one trip he saw a group of children gathered by the fence to watch the incoming aircraft. He gave them two sticks of gum—all that he had—with thirty children, who broke it into tiny pieces so everyone could share. Halvorsen told the children that on his next trip, he would bring more candy.
The “Berlin Candy Bomber” as he came to be known used a handkerchief to make a parachute and began dropping gum and candy on each trip. Soon other pilots joined in contributing from their own candy rations. When news of what they were doing reached America, individuals and corporations alike began contributing. By the time the Berlin Airlift ended in 1949, more than 23 tons of candy had been dropped, using more than 250,000 handkerchiefs. One lady later said, “It wasn’t the chocolate, as much as knowing we weren’t forgotten.”
Simple acts of kindness may not seem like a big deal at the moment, but they can have far-reaching implications. There are needs all around us, and they are not hard to find. What we should do is look for any way in which we can help build up and strengthen those in need. The members of the body of Christ are meant to encourage and build up those around them.
Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach. 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.
In our day, we tend to think of communication strictly in terms of talking to others. We have more means to communicate at our disposal today than at any other time in human history. Most people carry a device with them that is capable of sending messages around the world. Most phone companies don't even charge for long distance anymore. Lately various video conferencing tools have brought people together and allowed for communication for those who could not meet in person.
But the original meaning of the Latin word from which we get the English word communicate was “to share”—not just in words, but in actions. The Bible uses communication to talk about our giving, and reminds us not to neglect this important responsibility. While God is certainly able to miraculously provide for any need, He has ordained for the work that is done for Him to be supported by His children. Hudson Taylor said, “Depend on it. God's work done in God's way will never lack God's supply. He is too wise a God to frustrate His purposes for lack of funds, and He can just as easily supply them ahead of time as afterwards, and He much prefers doing so.”
The resources that are needed to carry on God's work have been entrusted to His children. It is our responsibility to see to it that we are faithful to give. Whether times are good or bad, if we are faithful in our giving, we will not suffer because of it.
Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier.
2 Timothy 2:1-4
There are many reasons that motivate service to God, but the most important one is a desire to acknowledge the love He has shown to us by acting in ways that please Him. Paul's life was transformed by meeting Jesus Christ, and the man who had led the persecution of believers became the greatest missionary of the early church. But Paul’s new life was not an easy life. He faced opposition, persecution, and great hardship; yet his service to God never wavered. The love God had showed toward him created an obligation on Paul's part to do the work to which God had called him. He wrote, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead” (2 Corinthians 5:14).
If our motive for serving God is not right, it will not withstand the trials and hardships of life. Many people start out serving God only to later turn aside. If we recognize that our lives are not about pleasing ourselves but about pleasing God, it changes the way we look at both service and difficulty. When our hearts are filled with love for God and appreciation for the love He has freely given to us, we will be quick to serve. We will be willing to give up certain things, even those to which we may have a right, in order to be a more effective servant of Jesus Christ.
I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have shewed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
The story goes that a farmer once went to hear John Wesley preach. The message was on the subject of money. Wesley's first point was “Get all you can.” The farmer nudged the man sitting next to him and said, “That man has got something in him; it is admirable preaching!” The farmer was equally delighted with Wesley's second point which was, “Save all you can.” But then Wesley started to expound on his third point which was, “Give all you can.” “Oh, dear,” exclaimed the farmer, “He’s gone and spoiled it all!”
It is truly a blessing to receive help when we need it. When our family first came to Lancaster, California, there were churches and friends who supported us financially, and it made a real difference. But it is far more enjoyable for us to be able to meet the needs of others than to have our own needs met. We have recently seen a stark reminder of the truth that money is temporary at best. Solomon put it this way: “Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven” (Proverbs 23:5).
The blessing that comes from giving cannot be taken away. It is not lost to time or to economic difficulty. The blessing of giving is available to everyone. It does not require great resources to be a blessing. It simply requires a willing and generous heart to see a need and respond to it.
And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God. Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.
In 1945, Gunder Hagg of Sweden set a new world record, running the mile in 4 minutes and 1 second. Over the next nine years, numerous athletes tried to better than mark, but all of those attempts failed. When Roger Bannister finally turned in a time of 3 minutes 59 seconds in 1954, it was hailed around the world as a remarkable achievement. The barrier that had sometimes been called unbreakable had been broken. The very next month John Landry beat Bannister's time by more than a full second. Once the barrier fell, numerous other athletes ran the mile in under four minutes.
Every day we face obstacles and barriers that sometimes seem to be insurmountable. Looking at the world in our own strength can leave us in despair and cause us to give up. But we do not run the race as Christians on our strength. It is God's strength that enables and equips us to succeed at the tasks to which He has called us. “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13).
The power of God that is available to us as His children is far beyond our ability to comprehend. It is greater even than our wildest imaginations. That is the power which He has promised to those who set out to glorify Him and advance His Kingdom. His power—the power that is unparalleled—is the power that works in our lives. “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
Then came certain of the elders of Israel unto me, and sat before me. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face: should I be enquired of at all by them?
Ezekiel ministered in a dark time in Israel's spiritual life. The nation had adopted the practices of their heathen neighbors, erecting idols even in the beautiful Temple that Solomon had built for the worship of Jehovah. God showed the prophet what was really happening in His house. “And he brought me into the inner court of the LORD'S house, and, behold, at the door of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about five and twenty men, with their backs toward the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east; and they worshipped the sun toward the east” (Ezekiel 8:16).
Yet despite their unfaithfulness to God, these leaders of the nation came to Ezekiel, seeking Divine guidance and direction. God refused to respond, pointing out that there was no reason for Him to help those who worshiped other gods in His place. While in the modern world most people don't carve out stone and wood statues of gods to worship, idolatry is rampant. Idolatry begins in our hearts and minds, not in our outward worship. “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).
Though God does promise to hear and answer the prayers of His children, that promise is not unconditional. It is not by accident that the first commandment Moses gave, and the one Jesus affirmed as the most important, was for us to love God above all else. Any person or thing that takes His place is an idol.
Then Joshua commanded the officers of the people, saying, Pass through the host, and command the people, saying, Prepare you victuals; for within three days ye shall pass over this Jordan, to go in to possess the land, which the LORD your God giveth you to possess it.
The death of Moses was no surprise. God told the great leader ahead of time what was coming, so when Moses died and the people finished mourning, Joshua stepped into the role for which he had been preparing. Along with Caleb, Joshua encouraged the people to enter the Promised Land despite the dire and faithless warnings of the other ten spies. He assisted Moses throughout the forty years of wandering that followed, so he was as well trained as possible for the job of leading the people.
But now, after the death of Moses, Joshua faced an impossible obstacle. The Jordan River was flooded, and there was no human means of crossing available. Despite the fact that God had not yet laid out His plan for getting the Israelites into Canaan, in Joshua's very first remarks to the people of Israel he told them that in three days they would cross over the river. He knew what God promised, so even though Joshua didn't yet understand how it would happen, he believed that God was going to do what He had said He would do.
This is what faith in action looks like. It is not a foolish presumption that nothing will ever go wrong no matter what we do, but a firm resolution that God will do what He has promised. The priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant before the people had to walk into the edge of the water of the Jordan before God stopped the flow of the water. Faith does not insist on detailed directions before acting.
And after the second veil, the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of all; Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat; of which we cannot now speak particularly.
To meet the needs of the Israelites in the wilderness, God sent manna six days a week. This practice continued day after day, year after year. The people were not allowed to keep any overnight to provide for the next day, except on the day before the Sabbath. Yet, they were never left without provision. When they finally crossed the Jordan River and had access to the food in the land, the manna stopped. “And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year” (Joshua 5:12).
Though the manna was no longer falling daily, God did not want the people to forget what He had done for them. One of the reminders He instructed the Israelites to keep was a pot filled with manna that was kept in the Ark of the Covenant. There would be difficult days the people would face. There would be times that they would not know how their needs would be met. But in those moments, they would be able to look back on what God had done for them in the past and be encouraged. The thanks that we offer to God for the blessings we receive are good, but they must not just be in the moment. We should remember what He has done with us in the past to help us face the future.
And when the inhabitants of Jabeshgilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul; All the valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. And they took their bones, and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.
1 Samuel 31:11-13
One of the first acts of Saul as king of Israel was to call together an army to defend the city of Jabesh from an attacking force that threatened to completely destroy the city and those who lived there. The people there never forgot what he had done for them. Years later, when they heard that Saul and his sons had been killed by the Philistines in battle and that their bodies were being publicly displayed on the walls of the city to humiliate them, they launched a nighttime raid to recover the bodies and bury them with honor. The people of Jabesh in Gilead were not willing to forget what had been done for them by those who had been willing to pay the price for their freedom.
Every day in America we enjoy a level of political and religious freedom that is unprecedented in history. But that freedom was purchased at a high price. In his Memorial Day speech in 1982, President Ronald Reagan said, “I have no illusions about what little I can add now to the silent testimony of those who gave their lives willingly for their country. Yet, we must try to honor them—not for their sakes alone, but for our own. And if words cannot repay the debt we owe these men, surely with our actions we must strive to keep faith with them and with the vision that led them to battle and to final sacrifice.”
He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him. Whoso removeth stones shall be hurt therewith; and he that cleaveth wood shall be endangered thereby. If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
On a hot summer day, a young man named Clarence set out for a picnic with the young lady he was dating. He rowed them across the lake to an island where they planned to eat. But as they spread their meal out, she pointed out they had forgotten the ice cream. Dutifully Clarence rowed back to shore and retrieved their dessert. But when he returned, his girlfriend noted that he hadn't brought the chocolate syrup. As he rowed and sweated on his way back to shore, Clarence began to think—there had to be a better way. That was the day Clarence Evinrude began to develop the idea for the first outboard motor. He eventually married the girl, and the company used the story for years in their advertising.
Many people put forth a great deal of effort only to find little result. Solomon used the illustration of trying to cut wood with a dull ax. No matter how hard you swing, there isn't much result. Wisdom encourages us to find the proper ways to do things so that our work produces something that matters. And while none of us has amassed all wisdom, God freely offers to give us the wisdom we need if we will just ask Him for it. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). None of us wants to spend our lives on things that do not matter, and that is why having wisdom is so vitally important.
My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation: he is my defence; I shall not be moved. In God is my salvation and my glory: the rock of my strength, and my refuge, is in God. Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah.
All of us face various storms and trials as we go through life. In those difficult moments, it is sometimes hard for us to keep our footing—to maintain our balance and stability in the face of uncertainty and fear. There is no doubt that David knew that feeling well. Over and over during his life he faced hardship and danger. He had enemies committed to his destruction, like Saul who pursued him with unrelenting fury and the Philistines who rightly viewed him as a deadly threat. David was betrayed, opposed, hunted, and hated. But David maintained his trust in God through it all.
In every storm of life, God offers us the shelter and security of His presence. It is up to us to ensure that we keep our hearts fixed on Him and seek Him as our refuge. Amy Carmichael said, “Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall enjoy much peace. If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace. In that stillness you know what His will is.”
While there are times that God takes away the trouble and turmoil we face, more often He gives us the strength and the peace to face the storm. The purpose of His plan for our lives is not to make us comfortable, but to shape and refine us to bring glory to Him.
Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O Jacob. Selah.
God desires to have a close and meaningful relationship with His children. This was true at the beginning of creation as God came to walk and talk with Adam and Eve day after day. But sin broke the closeness of that fellowship. God's perfect holiness cannot tolerate the presence of sin. While no effort on our part can achieve true holiness, God has given us His perfect holiness through salvation, and He has given us the power to walk in His holiness as part of our inheritance as His children. In His strength and the power of the His Holy Spirit, we can come into His presence and remain there.
We come to God in His righteousness rather than our own. Then we must remain in His presence to continue to be righteous and holy. Charles Spurgeon said, “If you think you can walk in holiness without keeping up perpetual fellowship with Christ, you have made a great mistake. If you would be holy, you must live close to Jesus.” There is a natural tendency for us to want to spend time with the people we love. I do not have to be persuaded or coerced to take advantage of an opportunity to spend time with our grandkids. I'm eager to do it because of the love I have for them. In the same way, our desire should be to spend time in the presence of God. “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8).
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great.
Many times people who have been attempting to do something good for God have come to a point where it was impossible for them to proceed in their own strength. The women who came to the tomb with spices to properly prepare the body of Jesus (there had not been time on the day of the crucifixion because of the start of Passover) had the best of intentions, but there was no way they could do what they set out to do. The stone that had been rolled across the door of the tomb could not be moved without a great deal of help.
When they got to the tomb, they found that the stone was already gone—not so that Jesus could leave the grave, but so others could see that He was no longer there. God had already removed the obstacle they were facing. It is tempting for us to allow the obstacles to keep us from doing all that we can. When we see that the way is hard and there is more to do than we can accomplish, we face a choice. We can either give up, or we can go as far forward as we can, trusting God to provide what we cannot. That faith in His ability and timing keeps us from giving up when things are hard. That faith allows us to see God's power displayed to accomplish His purposes.
And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen: remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee, Saying, The Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again. And they remembered his words, And returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven, and to all the rest.
When we are afraid and troubles are mounting, there are many places we can look for help and encouragement. Some of us have trusted friends to whom we can pour out our hearts and seek counsel and words of hope. Some of us have spouses who share our heart for God and will stand with us through thick and thin. Some of us have strong church families who are there for us in our moments of need. But all of us have the unchanging, unfailing, powerful Word of God. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever” (Isaiah 40:8).
The reality is that most of us have had times when the things and people we turned to for help let us down. We've failed to find the encouragement and hope that we sought when we looked for it with others. That never happens when we turn to the Bible. When we remember God's words, our faith grows and our hope returns. When we recall and rely on His promises, we have the strength to continue, no matter what comes. Our faith is based on the Word of God, and it grows as we hear it again and again. No matter how many times we have read or heard the Scriptures, we need to be reminded over and over so that we do not fail in moments of crisis.
And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee. But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice.
Sometimes things in life take us completely by surprise. Something we never expected happens, and we are knocked off balance as we try to recover and respond. But most of us have had the experience of looking back at one of those “unexpected” moments only to realize that we had been given advance warning, but had failed to heed it. We realize later that we were caught off guard, not because the event was so unprecedented, but because we had missed the warning signs that would have prevented the problem.
Jesus did not just hint to Peter that trouble was coming—He flat out told the self-confident disciple that he would soon betray and deny the Lord. Yet rather than seek the help of the One who could help him resist any temptation, Peter insisted that Jesus was wrong, because he believed he was fine in his own strength. But before the rooster crowed the next morning, everything happened just as Jesus had said. “And Peter went out, and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62).
The confidence that we place in ourselves is treacherous. It leads us to underestimate dangers and overestimate our strengths. That leads us to fail in moments of temptation and challenge because we are not prepared for them. The warnings we receive from the Word of God and from others play a vital role in keeping us on the right track, but only if we heed them.
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
All of us know what it is like to run out of things. We run out of gas in the car or we run out money before the end of the month. We run out time before the end of the day to get everything done, or we run out of energy to complete all the tasks on our list. That never happens to God. And in His great love and compassion, He extends unfailing and unending mercy to us over and over and over again. Charles Spurgeon said, “God’s mercy is so great that you may sooner drain the sea of its water, or deprive the sun of its light, or make space too narrow, than diminish the great mercy of God.”
No matter how often we go to Him for help, God never runs out of patience with our requests or of mercy to extend us the forgiveness and help that we so urgently need. The mercy of God should be at the center of our expressions of gratitude to God both in public and in private. We should praise Him for extending that mercy to us, because it is only because of His goodness to us that receive it. “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” (Lamentations 3:22-23).
And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know. Thomas saith unto him, Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
One of the most common reasons people seek help from pastors and counselors is that they are trying to determine what they should do—which way they should go. Life is filled with choices and decisions, and it is the accumulation of our choices that determines how our lives go. In moments of doubt and uncertainty, we must remember where the source of truth and wisdom is, and turn to God's direction rather than trusting in our own wisdom.
On the night before the crucifixion, Jesus told the disciples that He was the answer to the question posed by Thomas as to how they could know the way to go. Jesus is the way. That truth will guide us in any situation, because the more we know about Jesus from His Word and from the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, the more we know about the way to go. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13).
The future is hidden to us, but not to God. He knows beforehand what will happen. That makes it imperative that we seek His guidance for the direction of our lives. Only when we follow in the path of Jesus can we fulfill God's purposes and calling for our lives and glorify Him as we should.
Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come. And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.
Every person born into the world is a sinner. It is part of our nature, and has been ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden. We do not start out good and turn bad. We do not begin in innocence and perfection and only later get off track. David wrote, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). That inherent sin nature means not only that we need a Saviour, but that we cannot save ourselves. All of our efforts fall far short of the perfection that God demands. The only hope that we have is to believe in Jesus.
When Jesus said, “Ye shall die in your sins,” He was talking to the most devoted and religiously observant people in Israel. He was not speaking to people that everyone identified as sinners. He was speaking to those who were confident that their own righteousness and good works secured their standing with God. Yet they were wrong, and Jesus pointed it out. Nothing they were doing and nothing they were avoiding could save them. Only through faith in Him could they be approved by God. Nothing has changed. That is still true today. Only if we put our trust in Him alone can we be saved.
And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.
Everything that we have can be taken away from us. Many people who were once rich become poor. Many who were once healthy get sick. Many who had good relationships find them broken. The notion that we are in control of our lives may be comforting, but it is false. This truth should not lead us to be foolish, but to be even more committed to using the time and talents God has given to us primarily on things that last. We only have one life to use in a way that will make an impact on eternity, and we should not waste it.
When Martha complained about Mary sitting at Jesus' feet instead of helping her prepare the meal, Jesus responded by pointing out that Mary had made a choice. Her place was not a random outcome, but the result of her priorities in life. And Jesus said that by choosing Him above all else, she was investing her life in something she could never lose. It is easy for us to get swept up in the pressures and burdens of daily life, only to find that we have spent most of our time and energy on temporal things that are not that important. Focusing on the eternal only happens when we make that choice.
When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar.
The leaders of the Roman Empire were well aware of the history of the Jewish people revolting against foreign occupying powers. Even after a major military defeat and imposition of foreign rule, the Jewish people often fought against their conquerors. There would be a series of minor outbreaks of violence until finally open war broke out in AD 66, leading to the capture of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in AD 70. The Jewish people had no love for Caesar.
Yet when Pilate announced that he had found nothing worthy of death in Jesus, the people still insisted on Jesus being crucified. Noting His title as “King of the Jews,” Pilate asked again if they were sure. In response, the Jewish leaders proclaimed their complete loyalty to Caesar. Those men knew they were lying, and so did Pilate. But their hatred of Jesus made them reject Him, and they were willing to do or say anything to further their own aims.
When we determine that we will not be ruled by God, we do not get freedom. Instead, we are under another ruler. The devil is delighted when we rebel against God's authority. He knows that such a course leaves us no alternative but to ruled by him.
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
Paul did not go into the ministry because he was seeking an easy life. He did not preach the gospel because he was seeking the approval or praise of men. He did it because once he had met the Lord and been saved, he wanted to reach as many people as possible. Paul faced constant persecution and opposition. Time and again he had to flee for his life. He was beaten, stoned, and thrown in jail again and again. Over the years, those wounds took their toll, and when Paul wrote to the Galatians, he reminded them that his body was covered with scars he had received while following God.
It is not by accident that Paul so frequently used the metaphor of war for the Christian life. We are not coasting to Heaven on “flowery beds of ease” as Isaac Watts put it. We are in a continuing conflict with a deadly serious enemy. If we fight against him as we should, we should not be surprised when we face opposition. Vance Havner said, “Where are the marks of the cross in your life? Are there any points of identification with your Lord? Alas, too many Christians wear medals but carry no scars.” We must be willing to pay the price to serve God. As we serve Him, we should not be surprised when battles come and we are wounded. But even when this occurs, we can know that God sees, cares, and heals.
Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass. And he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday. Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.
David knew all about waiting. He was still young when Samuel anointed him to be the next king of Israel. But many years went by and much difficulty followed before David was finally able to take the throne. Through many of those years, David lived on the run as King Saul tried to kill him. At one point, he was so desperate that he even went to the Philistines to hide from Saul. Even after Saul was dead, several years passed before the entire nation accepted David as his successor. The promises of God to David were fulfilled, but most of them took a long time.
The Lord does not operate on our schedule. The things that are urgent to us are minuscule compared to His grand plans for our world. Because He is eternal, the pressure of clocks and calendars that we experience do not apply to Him. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
We live in a world that wants everything right away, but often God's plan for us requires patience. Understanding His purposes and delighting in Him helps us wait until His time has come. There is no reason for a Christian to be upset or impatient because God has not yet acted. He will always do what is best for us.
Therefore they sought again to take him: but he escaped out of their hand, And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode. And many resorted unto him, and said, John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true. And many believed on him there.
For a time, John the Baptist had more influence on the religious life of Israel than anyone else. Vast crowds thronged to hear him preach. Many repented and were baptized before returning to their homes to live in a new way. Yet after John baptized Jesus, his ministry withered. “And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him” (John 3:26). John's service to God was not predicated on the response of the people but on his obedience. And he faithfully continued to proclaim the truth until Herod had him executed.
When the people later spoke about John the Baptist, they did not talk about his ministry being spectacular or miraculous, but about it being faithful and true. All that John said about Jesus was true. He did not need to perform miracles to attract people; he just needed to keep sharing the message of repentance and salvation. John's life was a great success, not because of magnificent events, but because of continued and consistent faithfulness.
There are people in our day who wish to be known for great talents or great accomplishments. But the purpose of our lives is not to lift up ourselves, but to glorify God. That is something anyone can do who is willing to pay the price. It does not require spectacular gifts or miraculous power—only faithful witness to the truth as we live and minister to others. The faithful life is no failure, regardless of results.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
At the start of His most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus laid out a list of blessings that relate directly to the attitude of our hearts. These blessings are not reserved for the powerful or famous or well-connected. They are for all who are poor in spirit, who are meek, who are mournful, and who are merciful. The final blessing Jesus proclaimed was for those whose commitment to following Him and doing right stirs up opposition.
None of us like to face opposition or be slandered. Though our natural reaction is to be angry or defensive, Jesus said that we should rejoice. The disciples who were with Jesus that day learned the lesson well. When they were persecuted and threatened, it did not discourage them or stop them from doing right. “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name” (Acts 5:41).
One of the biggest reasons many people find it hard to rejoice at persecution is the unfairness of it. If we were doing wrong, we would not be surprised to be punished. But when we are doing right, it often comes as a shock to find ourselves lied about and defamed. Yet that is exactly what Jesus told us would happen. Rather than feeling unjustly treated, we should remember that He also faced unjust assaults. And we should remember the eternal reward—the “great reward”—that is waiting for us in Heaven.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.
The Christian life is not a spectator sport. The cloud of witnesses described in Hebrews 12 is comprised of those who have already reached Heaven—not those who are here on Earth sitting around doing nothing. The Word of God is not given to us merely for informational purposes. It is life-changing, but only to the extent that we put it into action in our lives. Knowing the truth is not the same thing as doing the truth.
The devil tempts us to substitute knowledge for obedience. He tells us that if we know what is right, that is sufficient. Like all of his lies, this contains a tiny portion of truth. It is important to know what is true and right, but it is not enough. Nothing changes in our lives until our behavior changes in obedience to the conviction and commandments of the Bible. There is no blessing apart from doing.
The acquisition of knowledge alone is dangerous. Paul wrote, “Now as touching things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Paul was one of the most educated men in the early church. Unlike most of the disciples who had no formal training, he had been to the best rabbinical schools. Yet he did not rest on his knowledge of God. Instead he lived out the truth from day to day.
And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.
There were many charlatans in Jesus' day, just as there are in ours, who claimed to be able to work great miracles. Yet Jesus actually healed people who were sick. As news of this new rabbi began to spread, people came from all over to hear Him, and hoped that He would heal them or those they loved. When Jesus returned to His hometown after a trip around Galilee, a man with crippling palsy was carried on a bed to see Him.
His loved ones no doubt wanted him to be healed, but Jesus had something more important in mind. “And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2). The man's greatest need was spiritual, even though his physical problem was very real, and Jesus met that first.
Some of those watching called it blasphemy for Jesus to pronounce the man's sins forgiven. Jesus pointed out that it was easy to say sins were gone because no one could tell from the outside. To demonstrate His right to forgive, Jesus healed the man. The physical healing was wonderful, but the true and great miracle was the forgiveness of sins. Salvation is the greatest miracle any of us will ever see.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3-5
If you've traveled much at all, you've undoubtedly had the experience of having a flight canceled, or a motel room that turned out to be unavailable. It's pretty frustrating to arrive somewhere late because of unexpected delays only to find no place to stay. It's nice to have a place lined up, but it's even better to have a confirmed reservation. Even if you show up hours behind schedule, your spot will still be held for you.
In the spiritual life, we have eternity ahead of us. There is a lot of uncertainty and confusion in our world about Heaven. But there is also a sure and certain promise on which we can depend. Jesus said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). Jesus is both the preparer of our eternal home and the guarantee of the promise that we will reach it.
The devil tries to get us to focus on ourselves because if we do, we have no certainty or confidence. But salvation is not our work in any way. We don't get ourselves saved, we don't keep ourselves saved, and we don't have to fear that Jesus will be unable to finish what He has begun in our lives. Those who have gone before us and are already in Heaven are no more certain of being there than we are.
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
Life as we know it is filled with hardship, pain, suffering, and grief. The world was not created that way, but the entry of sin changed everything. Though modern conveniences make much of life easier than in past generations, the heartbreak remains. No matter how strong we are or how long we live, we spend our days in a sin-cursed world. Moses said, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away” (Psalm 90:10).
In the darkest moments of our lives—those moments of greatest struggle, greatest pain, greatest regret, and greatest loss—we are not alone. The promise of God's comfort and care is not just in the future, although that is when it will be perfected. Jesus said, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18). The same love that sent Jesus into the world to be our Saviour cares about heartache and pain.
There may be times when we feel alone. There may be times when those we have counted on are not there for us as we might wish. But there is never a time when God is not present to offer us comfort and hope. We have a Saviour who experienced pain and loss and who understands the hurt of a broken heart. He will comfort us now, and He has promised an eternity without sorrow.
"For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 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."
Every person who is a born-again believer starts life as a baby in Christ. Whether the new convert is six or sixty, that person is still a new Christian. Leonard Ravenhill tells about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village who walked by an old man sitting beside a fence. In a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked him, "Were any great men born in this village?" The old man replied, "Nope, only babies."
It’s a good thing to be a baby, but it’s not a good thing to remain a baby. This is just as true in the spiritual realm as it is in the physical realm. A baby Christian who has been saved for forty years is a tragedy. God intends for us to grow and mature so that we can be a positive influence in the lives of others. Until we learn to dig into the meat of the Word for ourselves, we will never grow.
I have the privilege of pastoring a local, New Testament church. I take the Word of God to the pulpit and preach His Word. Attending a good Bible-preaching church is vital to your spiritual growth, but it is not enough. In addition to hearing the teaching and preaching of the Word, you need be a student of Scripture yourself.
"Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."
Charles Spurgeon used this parable to illustrate the bondage of sin. He said, “There was once a tyrant who summoned one of his subjects into his presence and ordered him to make a chain. The poor blacksmith—that was his occupation—had to go to work and forge the chain. When it was done, he brought it into the presence of the tyrant and was ordered to take it away and make it twice the length. He brought it again to the tyrant, and again he was ordered to double it. Back he came when he had obeyed the order, and the tyrant looked at it then commanded the servants to bind the man hand and foot with the chain he had made and cast him into prison.”
Spurgeon continued with an application. “That is what the devil does with men. He makes them forge their own chain, and then binds them hand and foot with it and casts them into outer darkness.”
Every sin places us in bondage to the enemy. We hear in religious circles today about freedom, but too often those who use the word use it wrongly because they do not understand the danger of sin. In many cases, they speak of being free to sin, rather than being made free from sin.
We who know the Lord have been made free from sin. But Christian liberty does not entitle us to do wrong. That is the path back into bondage. Think about the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. Again and again they complained against Moses and against God. They often said, “We wish we were back in Egypt.” In Egypt they were slaves and their male children were killed at birth. Why would they want to go back to such awful circumstances? Yet when we choose to sin, we are placing similar chains of bondage on ourselves.
"My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments."
1 John 2:1-3
A pastor finished his message early one Sunday, then he decided to see if his congregation understood what he had preached. So he asked, “Can anyone tell me what you must do before you can obtain forgiveness of sin?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room, a small boy spoke up, “You have to sin.”
There are some people who teach that it is possible for a Christian never to sin. I’ve often thought that it would be nice if they were right! But Scripture makes it plain that although we should always obey God and His Word, we will not. Paul wrote, "For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do" (Romans 7:19). The question is not whether we will sin, but whether we will respond properly when we do sin.
There is an old saying in the legal community that a lawyer who represents himself in court has a fool for a client. I am so grateful that when we sin we do not have to stand on our own before God. Jesus acts as our attorney—placing His blood and His righteousness on our account in place of our sin.
This truth is critical for us to grasp. I have counseled many people who were struggling with guilt over a past sin. They are being held captive by the enemy rather than living in the freedom that is available to every child of God.
"For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
Two little neighbor boys had quarreled bitterly one night. But the next morning Johnny took his cap and headed for Bobby’s house. Surprised, an older member of the family said teasingly, “What! Going to play with him again? I thought you quarreled only last evening and were never going to have anything more to do with each other. Funny memory you have.” Johnny looked a little sheepish, dug his toe into the carpet for a moment, then flashed a satisfied smile as he hurried away. “Oh! Bobby and me are good forgetters!”
It is a virtual certainty that someone is going to disappoint you today in some manner. A friend may not stand up for you when you need him to. A family member may say something unkind. A spiritual leader may not respond properly. Whatever the case, you are faced with a question: How will you respond? The key to a proper response is found in the way God deals with our sins.
When we fall short, as all of us do, and ask for His forgiveness, God does not demand that we go through a long process to prove we have learned our lesson; He forgives. Then He forgets—never bringing up our sin again. While we cannot forget as God does, we can refuse to ever bring up the sins of the past.
"Grace and peace be multiplied unto you through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus our Lord, According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust."
2 Peter 1:2-4
I read about a Christian attorney who, after meditating on several Scriptures, decided to cancel the debts of all his clients who had owed him money for more than six months. He drafted a letter explaining his decision and its biblical basis and sent the letters via certified mail to seventeen past due accounts. One by one, the letters began to return to his office. Eventually sixteen of the seventeen letters came back unopened. A few people had moved, but the most common reason was that his clients refused to sign for and open the envelopes fearing that he was suing them for their debts!
Sometimes people approach the Word of God as a long list of rules and regulations rather than a message of love and forgiveness. The Bible is not telling you all the things you can’t do in an effort to ruin your life; it is telling you how to experience freedom and the joy of the Lord. God has given us everything we need to live a happy and godly life in the promises of Scripture, yet too many of His children never “open their mail” from Him.
Set aside time to read, study, and meditate on the Bible. You will find that God’s promises of forgiveness and hope lighten your load and set you free.
"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."
The largest piano in the world is the Challen Grand Concert Piano. It is more than two feet longer than a standard grand piano and weighs over a ton. When the 230 strings are connected, the frame tension is more than 60,000 pounds‚Äîthirty tons of pressure! That‚Äôs a lot of pressure, but without that pressure, the piano cannot make beautiful music.
Life works in much the same way. All of us have times when we experience extreme pressure. Whether it is sickness, financial difficulty, a strained relationship, a besetting sin, or something else, these times of trial and testing can produce something beautiful. Job certainly experienced far worse trials than most of us will ever endure. He lost his wealth, his health, and his children; and his wife suggested he curse God so he could die. At the lowest point in his life, even when he could not see or understand what God was doing, he had faith that he was being refined and made better by the pressures he was enduring.
The attitude we take toward the pressures of life goes a long way toward determining whether those pressures will produce improvement or bitterness. If we react with anger or complain about our circumstances, our lives will not be made better by what we experience. If like Job we respond in faith, God can use those trials to refine us and make us more useful to His work and to others. The pressures of your life hold the key to your productivity for Him.
"When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living."
I read a tragic story about a young lady in England who told the world on her Facebook page that she was about to end her life. She wrote, "Took all my pills be dead soon bye bye everyone." She had 1,048 "friends" on Facebook. Most did not respond, and there is some indication that some of her friends posted mocking statements on her wall and did not take her seriously. While there are reports that some out-of-town "friends" tried to obtain her contact information, no one local came to her physical rescue.
We live in a world that is constantly "in touch" online and yet also increasingly disconnected at the same time. There are people all around us with hidden hurts and heartbreaks that they may never reveal in public, but they are in desperate need of someone to care for them—and someone to remind them that God loves them as well. The comfort of a friend and a kind word can make all the difference to someone in need.
In our fast-paced society it is easy for these people to be overlooked and ignored, sometimes until it is too late. Many people have perfected the art of looking fine on the outside while covering a broken heart. Take the time to look beneath the surface and find out what is happening. Express your love, and remind people of God’s unfailing love. No one should ever leave our presence feeling that there is no one who cares for and loves him.
"And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us. Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."
A young boy traveling by airplane to visit his grandparents sat beside a man who happened to be a seminary professor. The boy was reading a Sunday school take-home paper, and the professor thought he would have some fun with the lad. "Young man," said the professor, "if you can tell me something God can do, I will give you a big, shiny apple." The boy thought for a moment and then replied, "Mister, if you can tell me something God can't do, I’ll give you a whole barrel of apples!"
Each of us faces difficult circumstances at times in our lives. There may even be days when we see no way out of the problems we face. But when God is involved, nothing is impossible. No obstacle you face challenges His strength and resources; no decision you must make challenges His wisdom and knowledge. If there is a problem, it is not with God’s ability but with our faith.
After Jesus began His public ministry and became well known for the miraculous works He had done, He returned to His home region. Yet there, the same power that had awed so many others was not widely displayed. Matthew 13:58 explains, "He did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief." Believe God today—not only that He can do what you need, but also that He will.