Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
2 Timothy 3:10-12
Paul sent his young associate Titus to the island of Crete to set elders over the churches there and establish strong churches. Though the Bible doesn’t continue the story, church history tells us the story of a job well done. Titus led the church in Crete until 105 AD, when he died at age 94. Nearly one hundred and fifty years later, in January 250, the Roman Emperor Decius issued an edict for the suppression of Christianity. He demanded that the bishops and officers of the church make sacrifices to the Emperor as a sign that their allegiance was to him rather than to God.
Leaders from the churches of Crete who became known as the “ten surmountable martyrs” refused and died for their faith. Their stories were told for centuries to encourage others to stand firm in their faith.
There are many places in the world today where Christians face grave persecution, but most of us in America have enjoyed religious liberty and do not face the choice
between being faithful to God and saving our lives.
However the day may come even here when we are faced with such a decision. Scripture tells us that persecution should not come as a surprise to us, because of the hatred of the world for the things of God. Every committed, consistent Christian is a rebuke to those who are doing wrong, without ever saying a word. And if we do reach a point where it is no longer acceptable or even legal to be a witness for Christ, we should remain firm in our faith.
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up."
The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at USC released a study on how American families are impacted by technology. Their report shows that more and more families are spending less and less time together. The number of Americans who acknowledged they are spending less time with those in their household has nearly tripled since 2006, from 11 percent to 28 percent. With the proliferation of social networking, time spent with family members has dropped from 28 hours per month just 6 years ago to 18 hours per month. Facebook, Twitter, and a whole list of social networks are capturing the time and attention of American families.
Each day we have opportunities to have an impact on others, particularly on our families. But that requires a decision to take advantage of those opportunities and spend our time on things that really matter. It is easy to fritter away an entire day without doing anything of lasting importance—easier today than at any time in the past. But as someone once observed, "A wasted life is nothing more than a bunch of wasted days put together."
Determine to focus your energy and attention on what is eternal. As you go through the day, talk about the principles and precepts of the Word of God. Encourage others to see Bible truth illustrated in the events of daily life. Taking this approach, you will find that you are a strength and help to those you influence.
"For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building. According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 3:9-11
Edward Mote was born in England in 1794. His father ran a pub, and Edward received little care as a child. After working as a cabinet maker, he was saved and eventually became a Baptist pastor. He also wrote a number of hymns.
The hymn by Edward Mote that we best remember is "The Solid Rock." Mote was working on the hymn when he learned about the dying wife of a church member. Mote went to visit the woman and shared his words of comfort: "On Christ the solid Rock I stand, All other ground is sinking sand." These words brought the woman hope, and Mote finished his hymn which we still sing today.
You have been given a solid and unshakeable foundation as a child of God. The faithfulness of every one of His promises has been proven again and again by centuries of believers. The ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes said, "If you give me a lever long enough and a place to stand, I can move the world." You have that place to stand today—on the promises of God.
Knowing the certainty of God’s truth and the surety of His promises gives us a responsibility—to build something of strong and lasting value on that foundation. Our lives are not our own; they are meant for His purpose. The Christian life is not an unstable or uncertain life; rather it is a life of meaning built upon a firm and solid Rock.
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power. But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
Over recent decades, nationally-known preachers and authors have specifically and publically predicted the date for the Lord’s return. In almost every case, they state that their declarations are the result of careful study of Scripture, and that there is no chance they may be mistaken. When one preacher’s date proved to be incorrect, he recalculated and declared a second date later in the year. The mistaken declarations provided great humor for the world and great embarrassment to those who believed them.
As children of God we should all be looking forward to the day when the Lord will return. We know that His coming could be at any moment, but the Scripture is also clear that no one is able to set a date or a time for “that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing” (Titus 2:13).
It is possible for us to become so focused on future prophetic events that we miss the tasks that God has assigned for us today. In fact, the disciples found themselves in just that position. Just before the Lord returned to Heaven, their focus was on figuring out God’s timetable. Jesus told them that instead of worrying about “the times or the seasons” they should instead be witnesses for Him. There is no more important mission that we have been given than bringing lost men and women to salvation in His name. When we win the lost, we are focused on what matters most.
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
The Bible tells us that there are things we do not have simply because we do not ask God for them. That is a tragedy, because prayer is the means which God has ordained for our needs to be met. One preacher of the past told of a dream in which he was taken by an angel to a large warehouse in Heaven. Shelves were piled high with packages. He asked the angel what he was seeing, and the angel replied, “These are things God had for you for which you never asked.”
But a second tragedy is when we pray for the wrong things or with the wrong motives. It is not wrong for us to ask for what we want or what we need, but we must be careful not to put ourselves in the place of God, asking Him to fulfill our will. That is not the purpose of prayer, and there is no basis for expecting answers to selfish prayers. Our desires will lead us astray unless we submit them to God’s will.
As in everything, Jesus is our pattern for proper motivation in prayer. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed for the cup to pass, but then said, “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). God’s wisdom so far exceeds ours that we must trust Him to give us what is best. The many wonderful promises of Scripture concerning answered prayer are true, but they are conditioned on proper attitudes and asking in our praying.
Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: 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.
If you have ever seen a video of lions hunting their prey in the wild, you have seen that while they may chase a herd of animals, they focus their attention on stragglers and strays—those who have gotten separated from the herd. These are the ones who are taken in the hunt. Any individual animal in the group is no match for a lion, but it finds that there is safety in numbers.
God never intended for His children to be isolated and alone. When Jesus sent the disciples out to begin preaching on their own, He sent them in pairs. When Elijah was depressed and discouraged, God gave him Elisha to join him in the ministry. When God commanded the early church to send out missionaries, they sent Paul and Barnabas together. There is enormous safety and encouragement in knowing that we are not alone.
We live in a culture that glorifies individualism. One of the most popular songs of the last century is called “I Did it My Way.” Satan is delighted when he can convince us to strike out on our own, leaving behind our spiritual family in the church. He knows that an isolated Christian is an easy target. There is truly safety in numbers. The giant redwood trees of California soar hundreds of feet into the air, but their roots are strong. The strength of a redwood’s roots is found in other redwoods. Instead of going deep underground, they spread sideways and entwine with the roots of other redwood trees so that they hold each other up. That is God’s pattern for us.
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour.
1 Timothy 2:1-3
In 1776, a group of fifty-six men met in Philadelphia to set the thirteen colonies on the path to independence. Though they were not all Christians, many of them were, and they set a pattern for our nation that from the beginning of our history declared our reliance upon God Almighty. The Declaration concludes with these words:
"We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."
Though many today would deny the godly heritage of America, the testament to our historical reliance on God is written into our founding documents and carved in stone on the walls of our national buildings and monuments. Those of us who are believers have a responsibility to both God and our country to pray for our leaders regardless of who they may be. The Roman emperors during Paul’s day were certainly no friend to Christians, but that did not change the command to faithfully pray for them. Just as our Founding Fathers once did, today we must again turn to God and seek His grace and favor for our land.
"And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king's meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself."
Daniel 1:5-6, 8
In 1992, we took some time apart as a family to establish a written "Chappell Family Purpose Statement." It was our desire to have a focus that would guide our activities and interactions, so we sat down and talked about how we wanted to live our lives as a Christian family. Here is what we wrote and each of us signed: "The Purpose of Our Family is to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ through obedience to His Word, and by edifying and exhorting one another."
Have each of us lived up to that goal every single day since then? No. We are imperfect people. But by having an established goal, we have done more to reach it than we would have had we just drifted through the days without a purpose. As the old saying goes, "If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time."
When Daniel was just a young man, he was ripped away from his home and family and taken to the center of the heathen world. There he was enrolled in a training program designed to break down his allegiance to his own country and his own God to make him a useful servant of the Babylonian Empire. Yet that well-refined program did not work on this young man because of the purpose he established and kept throughout his life.
"Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil."
A hunter raised his rifle and took careful aim at a large bear. When he was about to pull the trigger, the bear spoke in a soft, soothing voice, "Isn’t it better to talk than to shoot? What do you want? Let’s negotiate the matter." Lowering his rifle, the hunter replied, "I want a fur coat."
"Good," said the bear, "that is a negotiable request. I only want a full stomach, so let us negotiate a compromise." They sat down to negotiate, and after a time the bear walked away alone. The negotiations had been successful. The bear had a full stomach, and the hunter had his fur coat!
If you give the devil even one inch, he will take a mile or more. The pages of Scripture and of history are filled with the sad stories of people who thought they could let down their guard just a little without suffering any negative consequences. Each of them was wrong. Lot, Noah, David, and Peter are just a few of the examples of those who made small first steps toward wrong, thinking they were still in control, only to find themselves mired in sin.
You may remember the saying many of us learned in Sunday school: "Sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay." There is no negotiating with Satan. Anything that you give up he will take, but because he is a liar, he will never keep a promise that he makes to you. Stand your ground firmly, and never retreat on a single principle or conviction.
"If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory."
Both the hummingbird and the vulture fly over our nation's deserts. All that vultures see is rotting meat, because that is what they look for. But hummingbirds ignore the smelly flesh of dead animals. Instead, they look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on what was. They fill themselves with what is dead and gone. But hummingbirds live on what is. They seek new life. They fill themselves with freshness and life. Each bird finds what it is looking for.
Our affections—the things that we love—determine the things we focus on. The world is filled with trouble and heartbreak, yet the same world is filled with blessings and benefits from God. Which one we choose to focus on to a large measure determines whether we will be content and happy or not. Believers who are joyful Christians are not somehow spared from the hardships of life. But they are focused on the things of God.
This world is just temporary. The trials that we endure and the hardships we experience do not force us into bitterness or depression. Paul certainly endured much more than his share in the way of trouble, yet he viewed it as being for his own benefit. Paul wrote that his afflictions created "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17). He could say that because his heart was settled in Heaven.
"Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you."
1 Peter 5:5-7
James Cash Penney had a godly heritage as a child, and he carried those convictions into adulthood. A hard worker, Penney was scrupulously honest and maintained a godly lifestyle as he became successful in business. But when the Great Depression struck, he was overextended, and it appeared he would lose everything he had worked for. His health broke, and he was hospitalized. In such severe pain that he thought he was about to die, he wrote farewell letters to his family.
Penney later wrote, "I was broken nervously and physically, filled with despair, unable to see even a ray of hope. I had nothing to live for. I felt I hadn’t a friend left in the world, that even my family turned against me." But the next morning, he heard singing from the hospital chapel. "Be not dismayed, whate’er betide, God will take care of you." Those words rekindled his faith and he said, "I can’t explain it. I can only call it a miracle. I felt as if I had been instantly lifted out of the darkness of a dungeon into warm, brilliant sunlight."
No matter what circumstance you are in today, God is there. He has never abandoned or forsaken a single one of His children, and He is not going to begin now. You can take your burden to the Lord and leave it with Him because of His compassion and care for you. Your needs do not take Him by surprise—He is simply waiting for you to come to Him for help.
"And as she was going to fetch it, he called to her, and said, Bring me, I pray thee, a morsel of bread in thine hand. And she said, As the LORD thy God liveth, I have not a cake, but an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse: and, behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it, and die. 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."
1 Kings 17:11-13
I once heard a story of a missionary in Africa who received a knock on the door of his hut one afternoon. Answering, the missionary found a native boy holding a large fish in his hands. The boy said, "Missionary, you taught us what tithing is, so here. I've brought you my tithe." As the missionary gratefully took the fish, he questioned the boy. "If this is your tithe, where are the other nine fish?" At this, the boy beamed and said, "Oh, they're still back in the river. I'm going back to catch them now." This boy evidenced the joy of faith in his giving.
God does not need our money. He has all the resources of Heaven and Earth at His disposal. But He does command us to give tithes and offerings. Though this teaching is clear throughout Scripture, it sometimes meets with resistance from God's people. Yet those with a heart for God have no issue with giving back to Him part of what He has given to them. When we give to God first rather than handing Him the leftovers, we show that our heart is fixed on Him rather than on the material blessings we receive.
"Praise ye the LORD. Blessed is the man that feareth the LORD, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. His seed shall be mighty upon earth: the generation of the upright shall be blessed. Wealth and riches shall be in his house: and his righteousness endureth for ever. Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness: he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous.
It’s no secret that families are in trouble today. The divorce rate continues to rise, with devastating consequences. A Michigan State University study of adolescent murderers found that 75 percent came from broken homes. The increasing drug use and immorality among young people is made much worse by the plague of divorce as children struggle without the guidance two godly parents are meant to provide. This is yet another illustration of the truth that God’s commands are given to us for our own good.
Ever since the Garden of Eden, man has been tempted to follow his own path. Isaiah said, "we have turned every one to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6). Yet the God who knows everything has told us what will work and what won’t. If you want your family to be successful and blessed for generations to come, the first step is for you personally to be a Christian who fears and obeys God. This produces benefits that reach far into the future.
The great missionary Hudson Taylor is well known as a man of faith who was greatly used by God. But he was actually the fourth generation in his family to follow God. His great grandfather James Taylor was saved under the preaching of John Wesley when he heard a sermon called "As for Me and My House, We Will Serve the Lord." If you follow Christ faithfully, you are setting an example and securing a blessing that can reach beyond your own children for generations.
"For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof."
The renowned teacher Harry Ironside was in a prayer meeting for a seminary at which he often lectured. The school was in critical need of $10,000 to keep the work going, and a group of men were praying together for this need. Ironside prayed, "Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Please sell come of those cattle to help us meet this need." Shortly after the prayer meeting, a check for $10,000 arrived at the school, sent days earlier by a friend who had no idea of the urgent need or of Ironside’s prayer. The man simply said the money came from the sale of some of his cattle!
The popular teaching in our day of the "prosperity Gospel" is completely false. It is not God’s will and plan for every Christian to be rich. However, it is also true that when we pray, we are making our request to Someone who has unlimited resources. None of our needs pose any challenge to His ability to meet them. You will never offer a prayer that will require God to dig into His reserves to answer. He has more than enough for every need.
Andrew Murray wrote: "Beware in your prayer, above everything, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do." The things that are impossible for us are fully possible for Him. Yet too often we pray small prayers, not expecting God to do great and mighty things. His loving nature and almighty power have not changed. God is still in the business of hearing and answering big prayers.
"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."
There are many things that are important in life, but only a few that are essential. One of the most important but often neglected essentials is time spent in prayer. The great evangelist R.A. Torrey said, "We are too busy to pray, and so we are too busy to have power. We have a great deal of activity but accomplish little. We have many services but few conversions. We have much machinery but few results."
Continued prayer should characterize the life of every believer. Yet often we have so much going on that we "don't have time" to pray. That is a tragedy because it cuts us off from a vital time of fellowship and communion with God and robs us of the resources that prayer is meant to provide. It is easy to set aside our time of prayer in the hurry and pressure of life, but it is a grave mistake to do so.
The disciples in the early church understood the priority of prayer. Rather than surrender their prayer time to the good and important function of caring for the needs of widows, they called the church to select the first deacons to meet that need. Nothing can substitute for the benefit of the time you spend before the throne of God in prayer.
"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
The great missionary Hudson Taylor personally baptized more than 35,000 converts during decades of service in China. He brought hundreds of missionaries to what had previously been a closed mission field and established hundreds of churches. Over those many years, God worked miraculously to supply his needs, but there were many times when the money did not arrive until the very last moment.
Though those times could have shaken Taylor’s faith, he retained his confidence in God. At one point he wrote to a friend, “We have left eighty-seven cents and all the promises of God.” If we have the promises of God—and we do—then there is nothing to fear. Even if we cannot see how the answer could possibly come, He is not limited by our resources or lack of them. The most overwhelming problem you will ever face does not tax His abilities or power in any way.
We see this truth beautifully expressed in the story of Jonathan and his armor bearer going out alone to attack a garrison of Philistine soldiers. Jonathan was not the least bit worried about being outnumbered. He said, "there is no restraint to the LORD to save by many or by few" (1 Samuel 14:6). When God is on your side, nothing else matters. Simply claim His promises in faith, knowing that not one has ever failed, and you will not be overtaken with fear.
"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full. This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you."
Former Congressman J.C. Watts from Oklahoma once said, "Compassion can’t be measured in dollars and cents. It does come with a price tag, but the price tag isn’t the amount of money spent. The price tag is love." Love is anything but free. The nature of godly love is that it is willing to make sacrifices for the good of the other rather than being focused on protecting itself or getting its own way.
Of course the ultimate example of this love is found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. He willingly came "to give his life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). This is a different kind of love from the kind our world knows today. Most of what is called love would more properly be called attraction, and in many cases simply lust. This kind of self-focused behavior is far short of what God has in mind.
It is no surprise that the world falls short when it comes to love, but that should never be true for us. Each of our relationships—with family members, friends, fellow church members and the lost—should be characterized by this divine love that "seeketh not her own" (1 Corinthians 13:5). As we evaluate our love for others, we should not measure our feelings or our words, but our actions. Are we loving as Christ did, willing to give up that which we have every right to claim in order that someone else may benefit? Truly loving another is never an inexpensive proposition.
"The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward."
In 1848 James Marshall’s discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill in northern California sparked one of the greatest migrations in human history. News travelled slowly at first, but by 1849 tens of thousands of people were on their way to California. During the gold rush, some 300,000 people flocked to the area hoping for riches. The journey itself posed significant dangers. A trip across America required facing hostile Indians, wild animals, mountain snows, and desert heat. Sailing around the tip of South America took months and was quite dangerous as well. Yet people willingly took on the challenges and threats in hope of what might lie in store for them.
There are many things that people desire and are willing to sacrifice to attain. However there is no treasure that can be compared to that found in the pages of the Bible. God’s eternal truth is readily available to us, and yet we allow other interests and pursuits to fill our time. The wisdom and strength and power that we need for successful and blessed living is there, like the gold nuggets that were found resting on the surface in the creeks of California. But so often, we allow those truths to remain undiscovered and unsought while we settle for the trinkets of the world. Many, and in fact most, of the "forty-niners" went home empty-handed, never having found treasure. Yet those who seek the unsearchable riches of Scripture are never disappointed.
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
When D.L. Moody was just starting in the ministry he heard a preacher say, "The world has yet to see what God can do with a man fully surrendered to Him." Moody that night said, "By God’s grace I’ll be that man!" It is said that Moody shook two continents for God and over a million souls came to Christ under his preaching and ministry. Moody had little formal education, and he was not a polished speaker. But God greatly used his life.
At a memorial service some years after Moody’s death, Evangelist R.A. Torrey who had been one of his closest friends said, "The first thing that accounts for God’s using D.L. Moody so mightily was that he was a fully surrendered man. Every ounce of that two-hundred-and-eighty-pound body of his belonged to God; everything he was and everything he had, belonged wholly to God."
When we surrender our purpose and will to God and allow Him to use us as He sees fit, amazing things happen. The world is shaken not by the wise, the mighty, the intelligent, or the skilled, but by those who have yielded to God. Paul said it was "reasonable" for us to surrender our lives, but many today seem to think that it is too much to ask. Instead of surrendering, they cling tightly to their own desires and interests. How much better it is both for us and for a world in need if we surrender and let God choose our path!
"Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also aboundeth by Christ."
2 Corinthians 1:3-5
I remember attending the funeral of a greatly used pastor who had died suddenly at a young age. His death was so unexpected, and it was obvious that his family and the church family had been staggered by the news. Yet despite the sorrow and sadness that were very real, there was also a spirit of hope at this funeral. The people sang "Great Is Thy Faithfulness." Several of the speakers, including the pastor’s family, talked about the importance of trusting God. As I spoke to the pastor’s wife, she told me how she was trusting God in the storm.
Being a child of God is no guarantee that we will not endure suffering and times of grief. But as children of God, we have a resource of comfort and strength that the world does not know. We have a God who gives us comfort in the midst of our grief. Because Jesus endured suffering, He knows well the pain that we feel. In fact, the Bible calls Him "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Isaiah 53:3).
It should always be true that our Christian friends and church family will gather around us during difficult times. Yet even if that does not happen and there are dark days when we feel like we are all alone, we are never abandoned or forsaken. The God who gives comfort and peace is always there for His children to help them through the darkest days they face.
"And ye shall compass the city, all ye men of war, and go round about the city once. Thus shalt thou do six days. And seven priests shall bear before the ark seven trumpets of rams' horns: and the seventh day ye shall compass the city seven times, and the priests shall blow with the trumpets. And it shall come to pass, that when they make a long blast with the ram's horn, and when ye hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him."
The city of Jericho was the first city the Israelites had to face when they entered the Promised Land. Because the city was built on the site of an oasis and had high interlocking walls, it was considered impossible to conquer. The military technology of the day had no weapons capable of mounting an effective attack against Jericho. To the children of Israel, Jericho represented an insurmountable obstacle.
But to the God of the children of Israel the walls of Jericho did not present any challenge. Notice, however, that He did not just immediately level the enemy city. First the Israelites had to obey His command to march around the city day after day for a week. Then on the last day they circled the city seven times. Only after they had followed His instructions did God miraculously deliver the city into their hands.
Often when we face some difficult challenge, we are tempted to sit back and ask God to take care of it for us. While He is certainly able and sometimes does work in that way, often He expects us to take steps of faith even before He has worked. When we obey, He acts.
"And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."
Evangelist R. A. Torrey said this about the importance of the Word of God. "You may talk about power; but, if you neglect the one Book that God has given you as the one instrument through which He imparts and exercises His power, you will not have it. You may read many books and go to many conventions and you may have your all-night prayer meetings to pray for the power of the Holy Ghost; but unless you keep in constant and close association with the one Book, the Bible, you will not have power.
"And if you ever had power, you will not maintain it except by the daily, earnest, intense study of that Book. Ninety-nine Christians in every hundred are merely playing at Bible study; and therefore ninety-nine Christians in every hundred are mere weaklings, when they might be giants, both in their Christian life and in their service."
Imagine someone training for an athletic competition by never eating. Picture a solider preparing for battle by skipping all his meals. That would be ridiculous, yet while the Bible tells us that we are in a race and a battle, many Christians ignore their need for the spiritual food found in the pages of the Word of God. It should not come as any surprise that such people find themselves struggling to win their battles—they have cut themselves off from their power supply. It is vital to be part of a good Bible preaching and teaching church, but that is not enough. You must be a student of the Word yourself to become a powerful and victorious Christian.
"And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth."
I read about a pilot who always looked down intently on a certain valley in the Appalachians when the plane passed overhead. One day his co-pilot asked, "What’s so interesting about that spot?" The pilot replied, "See that stream? Well, when I was a kid I used to sit down there on a log and fish. Every time an airplane flew over, I would look up and wish I were flying... Now I look down and wish I were fishing."
An ancient philosopher said that if all of the troubles in the world were placed in one pile so that everyone could see what burdens others bore, each person, given the choice, would take home the same problems with which he arrived.
It is always tempting to think that others have it better than we do, and that if we just had "a little more" everything would be fine. But contentment cannot be achieved by increasing possessions. Nothing will ever be enough.
Covetousness—a driving desire for more and more and more—is a snare that leads many people away from the truth. In fact Paul wrote that covetousness "is idolatry" (Colossians 3:5). When we are not content with what God has given us, we are placing something else on the throne of our heart. While we are too sophisticated to carve idols of wood or stone and bow to them, many in our society worship cars, homes, bank accounts, and clothing. This false worship leads inevitably to disappointment and often to ruin.
"And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away."
One of the heroes of the American Revolution was Marquis de Lafayette. This French officer provided invaluable assistance to George Washington and the struggling American army. After the war was over, he returned to France and resumed his life as a farmer of many estates. In 1783, the harvest was a terrible one, and there were many who suffered as a result. Lafayette’s farms were unaffected by the devastating crop failures. One of his workers offered what seemed to be good advice to Lafayette, "The bad harvest has raised the price of wheat. This is the time to sell." After thinking about the hungry peasants in the surrounding villages, Lafayette disagreed and said, "No, this is the time to give."
God blesses us not just for our own benefit, but also so that we can be a blessing to others in need. The tendency to hoard and try to build up more and more is a dangerous one, and the best antidote to greed is to be a generous giver. There is certainly no shortage of people in need today, and while we cannot meet every need, if we do what we can, God will multiply resources so that it is enough.
A pastor friend told me that when his father was presented with a need, he always gave immediately. He had learned that if he waited, he would be able to talk himself out of giving. So once he found someone who needed help, he reached into his pocket and gave them what he could on the spot. That’s a great example for all of us to follow.
"And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places."
Not too long ago I read about a cult leader in the Philippines named Apollo Quiboloy who calls himself the "Appointed Son of God." Quiboloy claims to have six million followers around the world who are part of his Kingdom of Jesus Christ church. It is no surprise to any student of the Scriptures to see false messiahs arise, for Jesus told us this would happen.
Many people are very interested in the prophetic teaching of the Bible, but some approach the events we see unfolding with fear rather than with confidence. Jesus instructed us that when we see such things, we not allow them to trouble our hearts. Nothing should shake our faith and confidence in Him. Nothing takes God by surprise. Nothing happens that can hinder His plans. He is God of everything, and He is in control.
If we keep this truth in mind, then the news holds no terrors for us. The economy may improve or get worse. Our enemies may attack or be defeated. The world may see an increase in wars and natural disasters. Yet though we may face times of difficulty and even persecution, we still have the promise of the presence of Christ. He said, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee" (Hebrews 13:5), and we do not face our trials on our own. God is always there no matter what circumstances arise.
"That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 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."
Author David F. Wells wrote, "Today, we are neither rooted nor do we have much sense of belonging. We are in fact the uprooted generations, the disconnected, the drifters, the alone. We are being blown around by the windstorms of modernity. Our roots in families, place, and work have all withered or been cut off." That may be true of our culture, but it does not have to be true of us.
There may be times when we need to relocate for family or work reasons, and sometimes it is God’s will for people to move. However people frequently drift from one place to the next for less compelling reasons. We need to put down deep roots wherever we are. There needs to be a depth of commitment—to family, to God, to church—that is unable to be shaken by anything that occurs.
Psalm 1:3 promises that a believer who loves and meditates in the Scriptures "shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water." This is the key to a stable and productive life. A fruit tree that is moved every year is not going to be a healthy and productive tree because it has no time to take root. Rather than constantly being driven from place to place by changing ideas and circumstances, we need to make the commitment to stand firm.
"And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience."
I read about a lady who called American Airlines and asked the reservation clerk, "How long does it take to get from Dallas-Fort Worth to Frankfort, Germany?" The clerk had to wait a moment for the information to come up on her computer screen, so she said, "Just a minute." The caller responded, "Thanks very much," and hung up! Most of the things that really matter in life do not happen in "just a minute."
It is easy for us to become impatient when God does not work on our timetable. Most of us want to see immediate results, but things don’t usually work that way in our lives. Instead we must go through the process of working and building and developing before we reach the goal. The great pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson labored in Burma for seven years before seeing his first convert. But rather than giving up and looking for an easier place to minister, he remained faithful, and eventually established many churches and saw thousands saved. Judson’s translation of the Bible into the Burmese language is still in use today, touching lives more than 150 years after his death.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote: "The heights by great men reached and kept, were not obtained by sudden flight. But they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night." If we are patient and continue steadfast in the work regardless of whether we see immediate results, we will reap the harvest "in due season" (Galatians 6:9). It is impossible to remain fruitful unless we first remain patiently faithful.
"And as Samuel was offering up the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to battle against Israel: but the LORD thundered with a great thunder on that day upon the Philistines, and discomfited them; and they were smitten before Israel. And the men of Israel went out of Mizpeh, and pursued the Philistines, and smote them, until they came under Bethcar. Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us."
1 Samuel 7:10-12
When most people hear the word "Ebenezer" they think of the character of Scrooge in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. But like many names, it is taken from Scripture and holds an important meaning. The Hebrew word means "stone of help." The prophet Samuel set up a stone as a reminder for the children of Israel after God gave them a great victory over their enemies. It is vitally important both for our own lives and for our children and grandchildren that we have reminders of God’s goodness.
In their book Disciplines of a Godly Family, Kent and Barbara Hughes wrote that because of our rootless culture, "Every Christian family [should] take conscious and disciplined measures to cultivate tradition and memory. But there is an even more compelling reason. Namely, God’s Word dramatically recommends that all believing families cultivate both spiritual memory and spiritual traditions to commemorate and celebrate God’s goodness."
Because of our fallen nature, it is easy for us to take credit for the good things that happen rather than thanking and glorifying God. By reminding ourselves of the great things He has done for us, we keep our gratitude and faith strong. This is a vital spiritual discipline not only for our own lives but for the sake of our children as well. The remembrance of what God has done should be a testimony from generation to generation.
"As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
We live in a society that seems to be dedicated to tearing down the very concept of truth. Yet because truth is part of God’s fundamental nature and is one of the defining characteristics of the Word of God, it cannot be destroyed. We serve a God who "cannot lie" (Titus 1:2). No matter what man does or chooses to believe, truth never changes. Beliefs may come and go, but truth abides.
Winston Churchill said, "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened." That may be a common response to truth, but it places those who respond thusly on the road to tragedy and destruction. There is no way to love and follow God without loving and following truth. The two cannot be separated.
The concept that all ideas are equal and there are no absolutes is doing as much or more to destroy our culture than anything else. Christians who are committed to the unchanging truth of Scripture are viewed as narrowminded and bigots. Yet those who reject the truth have no foundation. They may spin elaborate philosophical webs to justify their positions, but without a foundation of truth, there really is no way to determine what is acceptable and what is not.
A writer of the past said, "When men stop believing in God they don’t believe in nothing—they will believe in anything." It is true that ideas are gaining acceptance today that fail every basic test of logic and truth. Ground your heart and mind in the Scriptures, and your life will be built on a firm foundation of truth.
"As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious. To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen of God, and precious, Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ."
1 Peter 2:2-5
I’ve noticed something about babies—they don’t need to be persuaded to eat. When a child gets to be two or three years of age, that can change. But little babies are very eager for their food. In many ways it is the same with believers. I’ve seen so many new Christians who couldn’t wait to read and study and hear the preaching and teaching of the Word. They desired it with all their hearts. Yet as time passed, rather than wanting to learn more and more, they became "picky eaters" who only wanted the parts of Scripture that tasted good to them. It is a tragedy for any child of God not to love and desire the Word of God.
Robert Chapman wrote, "The great cause of neglecting the Scriptures is not want of time, but want of heart, some idol taking the place of Christ." All of us have more than enough to do to fill our time day after day. How then do we prioritize? What is truly most important to us (not what we say is most important) is what gets done.
If in our heart we truly desire the Word, we will make the time to read and study it. How many Christians have fallen into sin and gone away from God because they allowed their desire for the Word to grow cold? Renew your love for the Book, and you will stay close to the Author.
"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. To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
1 Peter 5:8-11
Bernard "Kip" Lagat is a world-class runner from Kenya. During the Sydney Olympics, an interviewer asked him how his country was able to produce so many great distance runners. With clever wit, Lagat told of the Kenyan strategy for motivating success in running. He said, "It's the road signs: 'Beware of Lions.'"
There is a lion stalking every believer every day. It is vitally important that we remain on guard because of the patience and persistence of our enemy. If we win a spiritual battle today, that does not offer us safety for tomorrow. The devil will return with new temptations and challenges. This was true for Jesus even after He decisively defeated Satan when He was tempted in the wilderness. The Bible says that Satan “departed from him for a season” (Luke 4:13). There are no permanent victories in spiritual warfare. As long as life continues, so do the battles.
Victory in this continuing battle requires continuing vigilance. There are no days when you can let down your guard. The devil is looking for those who have grown careless and incautious because he knows they will be easy prey. Think of David remaining at home when it was time to go to battle. He thought he was in a safe place, but in fact he was in far more danger in the palace than he would have been on the front lines of the war.
"Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success."
One college professor put it this way: "Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our mind with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That's where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization."
Many of our churches have good programs to promote Bible memory for our children and young people, but very few encourage adults to continue to memorize the Scriptures. But the Word of God is not just necessary for children and teens. Adults need to continue to add to the store of Scriptures they have in their hearts and minds. Beyond just reading the Bible, it is important for us to continue to commit it to memory.
We know how important meditation on the Word of God is, but memorizing Scripture is a vital prerequisite for meditation. We cannot "think on these things" (Philippians 4:8) unless we first have them in our minds. It is certainly easier to memorize when we are young, and it is a blessing to have verses we have known for decades in our hearts. But even as we grow older, we need to regularly practice this vital spiritual discipline.
Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.
2 Timothy 4:9-11
One writer noted an interesting reality about human nature: “People today will admit any problem—drugs, divorce, alcoholism—but there’s one admission that people loathe to make, whether they’re a star on television or someone who fixes televisions in a repair shop. It’s just too embarrassing. It penetrates too deeply to the core of who they are. People don’t want to admit that they are (sometimes) lonely. Loneliness is an affliction of losers and misfits. But—to be honest—it also affects respectable people like you and me."
There are so many people who go through life feeling alone. They may be surrounded by family, neighbors, co-workers, and others, but they do not feel that anyone really understands the situation they are in. David knew this feeling. When he was running for his life to escape from Saul he wrote, “…no man cared for my soul” (Psalm 142:4). God created us with a need for companionship and encouragement.
All around you today there are people who are desperately hoping someone will look past the façade they have established and realize that they have a hurting heart. When we take the time to see that need and meet it, lives change. Think of the overwhelming loneliness of the woman at the well whom Jesus met. Because of her past, she was cut off from the normal fellowship of her community. She was drawing water from the well at an odd time because she was not welcome. Yet Jesus reached out to her in love, describing and then meeting her needs and providing her living water.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
For nearly four hundred years, the people of Oberammergau in Bavaria have been putting on a “Passion Play” depicting the events of the last week of the life of Christ. They began the performances after the village was spared from the bubonic plague in the early 1600s. The story is told that an American visitor watching the drama unfold sprang into action when the actor portraying Jesus fell while carrying the cross toward the crucifixion scene.
The tourist was caught up in the emotion of the moment and wanted to lift the cross from the back of “Jesus.” Expecting it to be a prop, he reached down with one hand but found that he could not move the heavy wooden cross. After the play was over, he met with the actor who told him, “I found that I cannot look like Christ without carrying a real cross.”
In another sense, this is true for every one of us. There are no light crosses for the Christian who wishes to truly follow Jesus Christ. The cross is more than just a symbol of Christianity. It is a literal expression of what Jesus demands from those who would follow in His steps. There is no successful model for selfish Christianity. Though there are many selfish Christians, their refusal to take up the cross limits their ability to follow Jesus. Obedience is costly, but so is the prize of hearing the words “well done” when we stand before the Father.
"And unto the angel of the church in Smyrna write; These things saith the first and the last, which was dead, and is alive; I know thy works, and tribulation, and poverty, (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews, and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life."
In the last year of the reign of Henry VIII in England, a new wave of persecution was launched against believers. One of those caught in the nets of the established church was a young lady named Anne Askew. Just twenty-six years old, she was taken to the Tower of London and tortured in hopes that she would name others who stood for the truth of Scripture. She refused to do so, and she refused the offer of a pardon if she would recant her faith.
Askew was sentenced to death. She had to be carried to the stake to be burned because the torture she had endured left her unable to walk. This courageous young lady was truly faithful unto death. Most of us do not face the threat of death for our beliefs today, although there are believers in many countries who literally take their lives in their hands by making a public stand for Jesus Christ.
Yet in the face of far less severe threats, many times we fail to take the stand we should for Christ. Some never witness for fear they will be rejected. Some go along with friends in doing wrong to avoid taking a stand for right. Be firm today, and you will be prepared for whatever comes tomorrow.
"For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God."
1 Corinthians 1:17-18
There are many things that are important, but there is one thing that is essential. The heartbeat of the mission of Christ, the driving purpose behind His life, death and resurrection was "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10). Oswald Smith put it this way, "Oh, my friends, we are loaded down with countless church activities, while the real work of the church, that of evangelizing the world and winning the lost, is almost entirely neglected."
Our church is a busy place, and I like it that way. I love that we have programs for fellowship and encouragement and instruction and fun. But I never want us to lose sight of the fact that the primary focus—the most important thing we can do—must be winning the lost to Jesus Christ. There is no greater important priority for us. This is the final command that Jesus left before He returned to Heaven, and we must obey it.
Many times we lose our focus in the busyness of life. There are a thousand things—good things—that can keep us from doing the main thing. And though those things are not bad in and of themselves, they can be used to keep us from doing what matters most. The Bible said of Christ just before He met the woman at the well that He "must needs go through Samaria" (John 4:4). Jews in that day usually travelled around Samaria to avoid the people they looked down on, but Jesus needed to go there—He knew there was a hungry heart who needed a Saviour, and He went where others would not go to reach her.
"I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
One day a lady criticized D.L. Moody for his methods of evangelism in attempting to win people to the Lord. Moody’s reply was “I agree with you. I don’t like the way I do it either. Tell me, how do you do it?” The lady replied, “I don’t do it.” Moody responded, “Then I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.”
Sometimes we fall into the trap of waiting for a perfect opportunity or a perfect plan before we begin doing something for the Lord. It is far better for us to be active than to sit back and critique those who are not doing things exactly as we think they should be done. It’s easy to be a critic, but that does not produce anything for the kingdom of God. I would much rather see someone working hard and trying to do what he can than someone doing nothing. If a person has flaws in his methods or needs instruction to be more effective, that can be provided. As someone said, “It’s easier to steer a ship that’s moving than one that is sitting still.”
The Apostle Paul encouraged the church at Ephesus to be busy for the Lord, "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Ephesians 5:16). The idea is that we should make the most of every opportunity we have—even more because of the evil that pervades our culture. There are people today that you will have an opportunity to reach. In many cases you are the person best equipped to reach them, despite the fact that you may feel inadequate. Do your best for God, and work while there is still time.
"And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God."
2 Corinthians 5:18-20
I read about a barber who had just been gloriously saved in an old-fashioned revival meeting. The next morning at work he wanted to share his new faith and witness to the lost. A customer came in, and the barber began to shave him. He was trying to muster up the right words to say. Finally as he stood with his razor poised over the man's throat he asked, "Are you prepared to meet God?"
You may not always find exactly the right words, but God has given to you and every Christian the task of representing Him to a lost and dying world. For thousands of people, today is their last day before they enter eternity. Of course we don't know who those people are. But we do know that God loves the people whose paths we cross and that He has entrusted to us the most important message they can ever hear. The question is whether we will be faithful to share that message with them.
It is said that D. L. Moody made a commitment to God that he would not go to bed without having witnessed to at least one person. On several occasions he went out late at night to find someone with whom he could share the Gospel. There should be a sense of urgency and passion for the lost that drives and motivates us to be effective ambassadors for Jesus Christ.
"For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants. Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine affliction."
Not everyone accepts that the Word of God is settled. Many religions teach that rather than being complete, Scripture is still being added in our day. For example, the official position of the Mormon church says, "To the Mormons, God is still a God of continuing revelation. Hence, the LDS canon is open; the Doctrine and Covenants becomes an official, open-ended locus for revelations that affect the whole Church; and revelations continue to come to the living prophets, seers, and revelators of the Church, to be communicated to the members."
The problem with that approach (in addition to being a rejection of what the Bible teaches) is that if the Word is not settled, our faith can never be settled. Those who are looking for additional revelation and a new word from God have no basis to be certain in what they have. Since faith comes from the Bible (Romans 10:17), we must have a Bible that we can trust. And that is exactly what God has given to us.
The Scriptures give us many wonderful promises that allow us to be confident that we have the finished Word of God. Psalm 12:6–7 says, "The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." Rather than looking for new revelation and new words from God, we should be reading and studying and obeying the settled Word of God that has been kept for us by His power and promises.
"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."
While there is a spiritual gift of teaching that God gives to some individuals, there is also a very real sense in which all of us are to be teachers. What we have learned from our walk with God and our own study of the Bible is not just for our benefit. As we have opportunity, we should be sharing that with others to strengthen and encourage them. All of us have people whom we can influence for better, and we have a responsibility to do so. The main requirement for this kind of teaching is not talent but heart.
We received this wonderful testimony from a former student at West Coast Baptist College. "My teachers were interested in more than my grades. They were interested in me. Their investment in teaching me spiritual applications, life lessons, leadership skills, and knowledge allowed me to step into life with a proper confidence in who God made me to be. I went into ministry having seen the example of dedicated, godly teachers who exemplified who I wanted to be. To this day I still call them for advice and help!"
A heart filled with compassion and love for others is ready to share truth and encouragement with them. This spirit, which the Bible calls being "apt to teach" (2 Timothy 2:24), is a vital element of a healthy family and a healthy church.
"For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;"
Because sin is part of our world, we have to deal with the reality of death. But for a believer, death is not the end. We have the promise of eternal life if we die before the Lord returns—and the promise of being transformed in a moment if we are alive on that blessed day. This is a hope that we can be sure of, because the promises of God never fail. Others may not keep their promises to us, but He always does—and thus we can be certain of the future.
On a trip to the East Coast, I was able to visit Mt. Vernon. While I was there I saw the tomb in which George and Martha Washington are buried. On the back wall of the open vault, there is a plaque with Jesus’ words inscribed: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die" (John 11:25-26). The "Father of our Nation" found confidence in the hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ.
There is no more powerful comfort than the knowledge that we who know Christ have a hope for the future, even after death. When Jesus went to the grave of His friend Lazarus, He declared His power over death in an unmistakable way. This great enemy has already been defeated. We need no longer fear what will come—for our Lord has already faced death and conquered it. And because of His victory, we can have full certainty in our hope for the future.
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you."
1 Peter 1:23-25
At our family farm in Colorado, my uncle and cousins have acres and acres of pinto beans. Once while I was visiting, my uncle explained to me that the crucial element of growing beans is the seed itself. The beans my uncle grows come from especially cultivated and bred seeds that are designed to be fruitful in his particular growing conditions. The agronomists who produced this new variety were incredibly careful to avoid it being contaminated with any other kind of bean. They had dedicated warehouses for the seeds and plants, and would not grow the first plants in a field with any other varieties. All of this was done to ensure the purity of the final product.
God’s Word is completely perfect. As He promised, God has preserved it so that we can have complete confidence in what we hold in our hands—it is His Word. Though it has been challenged and attacked through the centuries, still it stands. It cannot be corrupted by demons or men because it is kept perfect and pure by the power of God Himself.
The seeds my uncle plants have been designed and created to increase production, but despite their purity and potential, left in the barn, the seeds will never produce a harvest. The same is true of the Scripture. We must study and read and hear and memorize the incorruptible seed of the Word of God for it to produce righteousness and fruit in our lives.
"I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour. For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building."
1 Corinthians 3:6-9
William Carey, often called the father of modern missions, arrived in India in 1793 with a burden to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who had never heard His name. For seven years he proclaimed the Gospel message faithfully week after week, month after month, with not a single native of India converted to Christ. Carey could have allowed himself to return home defeated and empty-handed.
But he had faith that God would bring the harvest. To his sisters back home in England Carey wrote, "I feel as a farmer does about his crop: sometimes I think the seed is springing, and thus I hope; a little blasts all, and my hopes are gone like a cloud. They were only weeds which appeared; or if a little corn sprung up, it quickly dies, being either choked with weeds, or parched up by the sun of persecution. Yet I still hope in God, and will go forth in His strength, and make mention of His righteousness, even of His only."
Carey established one of the great missionary works in all of history, in great measure because he stayed in the field rather than allowing discouragement to drive him to quit. When we work for the Lord, we will not always see quick results. But just as a farmer remains diligent throughout the spring and summer in hopes of the harvest in the fall, "we shall reap, if we faint not" (Galatians 6:9).
"Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD'S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him."
During the Civil War, someone asked President Abraham Lincoln whether he thought God was on the Union side in the conflict. Lincoln is said to have replied, "Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side, for God is always right." There is only one standard of absolute right and truth, and that is the one set by God in His Word. Many people claim that God is for their efforts, but those claims are only valid when they are in agreement with Scripture.
Each day we are faced with decisions as to whether we will take our stand for what is right. In our world there are many competing visions of truth, and in fact a large number of people today reject the notion that there is any such thing as settled, absolute truth. When we face such an environment, we must be aware of the temptations that attempt to lure us to make "small" compromises in order to fit in better and be accepted. But each time we yield to that impulse, we move further away from being on God’s side.
When the question is raised, "Who is on the Lord’s side?" our answer should be swift and sure. We should be willing to stand up and be counted among those who have chosen His Word and His way. Even if our society completely rejects the standards and truth of God, we do not have to join them. When most of the Israelites were worshipping the golden calf, the sons of Levi were still willing to stand up and publicly declare allegiance to God. We should do the same.
"For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly; And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;"
2 Peter 2:4-6
Rick Rescorla was born in England, but moved to the United States as a young man. He served with distinction in the Army during the Vietnam War and received awards for his courage. After his military career ended, he became head of security for Morgan Stanley. He feared the World Trade Center would be the target of a terrorist attack, so he insisted on frequent evacuation drills to teach people how to quickly and safely exit the building.
Many of the people who worked there resented the constant drills and thought it was a waste of time. On the morning of September 11, 2001, when the first World Trade Tower was hit by a terrorist plane, Rescorla ordered the evacuation that had been practiced for so long. Despite the urging of authorities for people to remain in the building, he got virtually every Morgan Stanly employee out, and many others as well, before the second tower was hit. Rescorla was last seen going back into the building attempting to rescue more people just before it collapsed.
You and I have a message from God to sound to the world. There is a coming judgment that must be faced. Many people prefer not to hear that message, wanting to live as they please rather than dealing with a Holy God. But we have a responsibility to tell them the truth whether they listen or not.
"The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart, and upon the horns of your altars; Whilst their children remember their altars and their groves by the green trees upon the high hills. O my mountain in the field, I will give thy substance and all thy treasures to the spoil, and thy high places for sin, throughout all thy borders. And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever."
Diamonds are the hardest natural material known to man. In fact, our word for diamond comes from the Greek word meaning "unbreakable." Though we often associate them with jewelry, diamonds are commonly used for industrial purposes. Their hardness makes them valuable for cutting, etching, and grinding a number of surfaces.
When the Bible speaks of sins being written with diamonds, it is describing the lasting marks that sin leaves on our lives. Though God is merciful and forgiving, His forgiveness does not erase all of the consequences of sin that we experience. The scars of sin are deeply cut like an engraving made with a diamond.
When Satan tempts us to sin, he never shows us the full picture. We see the "pleasures of sin for a season" (Hebrews 11:25), but he attempts to hide the final and awful consequences that come from turning away from God. It is impossible for us to choose or limit the consequences of sin. Once we have chosen the wrong path, "the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 16:25). Resisting temptation protects you and those you love from the ravages of sin.
"Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you."
One of the most important and meaningful days of my life occurred in 1983 when I was ordained as a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During that service, men of God came and prayed over me as I was appointed to fill the office of ministry to which God had called me. I cherish the memory of that day.
While we have special services to ordain men as pastors and deacons for those offices of the church, there is also a very real sense in which each believer is ordained—especially appointed by God—not for a church office, but to be a fruitful Christian. Many today have fallen into the trap of thinking that “church work” is only the responsibility of full-time Christian workers. In reality, every believer is meant to be a fruitful, productive, active worker in God’s kingdom.
Bearing fruit is God’s calling and purpose for your life according to the words of Jesus. The Lord has appointed each one of us to "bring forth fruit." God has no backup plan for reaching the world—He has entrusted that task to each of us as His children. We must be telling the Good News and helping others come to faith in Christ. No matter what spiritual gifts and abilities you have, they are meant to be used to produce fruit.
"And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive. Now therefore fear ye not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them, and spake kindly unto them."
Samuel Bringle was a worker with the Salvation Army in Boston many years ago. As he passed by a saloon, some men threw a brick at his head. Their aim was good, and Bringle nearly died. As it was, he spent eighteen months in recovery. During that time he wrote a little book entitled Helps to Holiness. Thousands of copies were published. After he was able to begin preaching again, people would often thank him for the book. He would respond by saying, "If there had been no little brick, there had been no little book." His wife saved the brick and had Genesis 50:20 engraved on it.
The difference between people who trust God even through difficult times and trials and those who do not is found in the way they view those trials. Godly Christians have the same problems, heartbreaks and even tragedies as everyone else. They are not somehow exempt from suffering. But they view their difficult circumstances through the lens of an understanding of God’s love and purpose for their lives.
One preacher said it well, "The only thing an enemy can do to you is to be the unwitting instrument of God’s plan for your life." Of course many things happen that are painful and hard for us to endure. Yet those circumstances do not mean God has forgotten or forsaken us. He makes "all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28). This helps us understand that even the most difficult things we experience are a necessary part of His plan.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
The promises of prayer in the Bible are many, yet if we are honest, we would have to admit that most Christians do not see their prayers answered in a great and powerful way. We know that God never changes from age to ageâ€”His power is as great as it was in the days of Moses, David, Daniel, John, and Paul. The reason we do not see great answers is not found in God but in our own lives.
Charles Spurgeon said, "If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ." Sometimes we treat prayer like a fire escape. It remains available but unused, until we have an emergency! Using prayer that way forfeits the close communion and fellowship that our time with God presenting our requests to Him is meant to provide for us.
God certainly does not need us to pray to inform Him of what we need. He already knows not only what we will ask, but whether what we ask is best for us. However, like a loving parent, He still encourages us to come to Him and create a meaningful relationship that includes, in part, prayer. The time that we spend in the Word and in prayer is about far more than just getting our needs met. It is the resulting fellowship that brings abundant joy.
"But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end; While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation."
Not far from our church is the Edwards Air Force Base. This storied flight facility has been home to some of the most famous airplanes and pilots in United States history. It was from Edwards that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 test aircraft in 1947. The geological feature that originally drew the military to Edwards was the presence of the Rogers Dry Lake bed—a flat, hard surface that stretches for miles across the high desert.
While a hard surface makes an ideal location for airplane runways, it makes for a spiritual barrenness when it characterizes our hearts. When our hearts are hard, we are not ready to hear the Word of God and allow it to produce fruit in our lives. There is simply no place for it to take root.
How do our hearts become hard? The Bible tells us that the deceitfulness of sin produces a hard heart. The word deceitfulness indicates that it is the result of a process we may not be fully aware of ourselves. Over time as we allow the allure of sin to tempt us, our hearts grow hard toward the things of God. To become fruitful again, we must do what a farmer does before planting seeds in the field—break up and prepare the ground. As we confess our sins and seek the face of God, we will find our hearts softening and becoming ready once again to hear His Word.