Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."
2 Corinthians 8:9
If you were to make a list of everything you want or hope to receive this Christmas, how many items on your list would be things you couldn’t live without?
In truth, the only One that we cannot live without is the One whose coming we celebrate in this season of gifts. Without Jesus we have no Christmas. Without Jesus, we have no eternal life, no abundant life. In John 10:10, Jesus said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”
Every need of the human heart can be met in Jesus. First Corinthians 1:30–31 tells us, “But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: That, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
What a miracle of God’s power that He—the Creator of the universe—could clothe Himself in flesh and come to us as a tiny, helpless baby, and that in that coming, He could meet every need of our heart and soul. What love of God to desire to give us eternal life—at His expense. And what love of God to give us full, abundant life through His life!
As you approach Christmas this year, take a moment to reflect on the riches that we have through Jesus Christ. Christmas was God’s most valuable gift delivered to Earth—to you. And in this precious Gift, you have all you need.
"But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
On Christmas Eve, a frazzled and stressed mother was running from store to store trying to get her last minute gifts. In the middle of her shopping, she realized she’d lost track of her three-year-old son. In a panic, she retraced her steps and found him standing with his little nose pressed flatly against a frosty window. He was gazing at a manger scene.
When he heard his mom call his name, the little boy turned and exclaimed, “Look Mommy! It’s Jesus! It’s baby Jesus in the hay!”
The frazzled mom took his arm and led him away saying, “We don’t have time for all that right now! Can’t you see that Mommy’s trying to get ready for Christmas?”
How easy it can be to lose sight of the meaning, wonder, and true joy of Christmas! Obligations of the season combined with the normal pressures of life can produce stress, fatigue, and frustration—the opposite of serenity.
Mary could have easily succumbed to this same temptation. With the strain of travel and stress of finding a place to give birth, combined with the emotions of holding her Saviour in her arms and the excitement of the shepherds—she had a lot to take in that first Christmas season.
Yet the Bible says Mary took time to ponder all these things in her heart. In a moment of peaceful contemplation, she found serenity for her soul. She chose not to stress, analyze, fret, or worry.
Yes, there is much about which we can worry and fret—especially during the busy seasons of life. But there is also much for which we can praise and thank God. If your soul lacks that God-given peace, pause for a moment today and spend time with your Saviour. Ponder His goodness in your life and enjoy the serenity He can bring to a frazzled heart.
"But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS."
Matthew 1:20, 24–25
One Christmas when my children were teenagers, our family carpooled home from a Christmas gathering in Southern California. As we drove past Staples Center in Los Angeles, my wife and I made a last minute decision to create a special family memory by watching the Lakers play that night. Knowing how much joy this would bring to my sons who were following in the car behind me, I called and told them to follow me as I took a different route home, but I did not tell them why or where we were going. They obliged my request, and we were able to surprise them because of their quick obedience! As we later discussed what a great night we had together, my sons told me that after I called they almost took the normal route home so they could get to bed sooner. But they were glad they chose to follow dad’s leadership!
When Joseph found out that Mary was going to have a baby, he did not know exactly what to do. He did not want to publicly humiliate her, but he was contemplating a private “putting away” because of what appeared to be her unfaithfulness to him. Yet when the angel came to him and explained that what was happening was part of God’s plan, Joseph immediately submitted to God’s role for him and did as God instructed.
Obedience is not based on understanding or rationalizing but on faith. We don’t have to be able to figure out how things will work out. We simply have to choose to obey and follow His plan.
"And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds."
The angelic host returned to Heaven after announcing the birth of Christ to the shepherds. God could have sent these angels across Israel and even around the world to make the same announcement. Yet instead, the shepherds were the ones who spread the news that Jesus had come. God’s plan for spreading the message of salvation is that those who have heard it will take it to others all around the world.
Writing to the church at Corinth, Paul said that God, “hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18). We have a calling to proclaim the Gospel. This task falls not just on those in vocational ministry, but on every believer. The shepherds had no training, but they could tell what they had experienced.
Our focus on the shepherds in the Christmas story often begins with the appearance of the angels and ends with them at the manager, but there is more to it than that. They became messengers for God. This is a wonderful time of year to share the Gospel with others. Even people who are not normally interested in spiritual things may be more open because of the season. Be alert for opportunities to share the true meaning of Christmas and God’s plan of salvation with everyone you can.
"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
One of the things that I love about Christmas is that, when we observe it as we should, Jesus is the center and focus of our attention. He deserves all of the praise and glory and worship that we can possibly give Him. Jesus is the Creator of all, yet He left behind the splendor of Heaven and, as Charles Wesley put it in the wonderful old hymn And Can It Be, “emptied Himself of all but love.”
He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
We should worship and give thanks all year long, but at this time of year we focus our attention on the gift of His love in a special way. Salvation is a wonderful gift that we receive only through grace; the gift of Jesus Himself is beyond anything that we could ever imagine.
He had everything, yet He gave it up so that we “through his poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). As you celebrate Christmas this year, take time to praise our wonderful Lord and Saviour who is the gift of Christmas. His high and holy name is above all others, and it is through His grace and sacrifice that we become the children of God.
"And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible. And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her."
William Barclay once said that the world’s most popular prayer is, “Thy will be changed.” But the world’s greatest prayer is, “Thy will be done.” Mary displayed this attitude of submission to the will and plan of God when she received the news that she would be the mother of the Messiah. I’m sure she didn’t fully understand everything that was going to happen. What she did understand was that she was willing to do whatever God wanted her to do.
The role that God had for Mary to play involved a great deal of difficulty and sacrifice. There is a popular but false teaching today that if we love God He will make sure only good things happen to us and that we will get everything we want. It’s easy to see why people like that message, but it does not match the Word of God. God’s plan for us frequently involves things that we would not choose for ourselves, but these are things that He knows are best for us.
Rather than fight against His purpose or have our faith be shaken when things don’t go as we think they should, we should be yielded to His will. Let us say with Mary that we want our lives to go according to God’s Word.
"As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."
Benjamin Franklin said, “How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few His precepts! O ‘tis easier to keep holidays than commandments.” As we celebrate the love of God demonstrated to us at Christmas, we should also be showing our love for Him through our obedience to His commandments. God offers salvation freely through His grace, and we do nothing to earn His favor. He has every right, however, to expect our obedience.
The proper understanding of grace does not lead to us to live any way we please. Instead, it leads us to live in a way that is pleasing to God. Paul wrote to Titus about the role of grace: “Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12). When people declare that they can do something wrong because of grace, it is a sign that they really don’t understand what grace is.
The more we love God, the more we want to do what He says—not out of a desire to earn our place or favor with Him, but from a desire to please Him. This is the way Jesus lived His life on Earth. Speaking of His Father in Heaven He said, “I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
How would the next few days of this Christmas season be different for you if you were as observant of Christ’s commandments as you are of commemorating His birthday?
"He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."
There are points throughout the Christmas season when I don’t know what to do—primarily when it comes to gift giving. I don’t know what to purchase. I don’t know how the gifts will be received. Maybe you can identify with this feeling. Perhaps you don’t know which Christmas event to attend. Some people may not even know how much money they are spending! But there is one important truth—one important Person—that people often don’t recognize during this season.
Christmas is a tangible expression of God’s great love for us—a love so great that it led Him to send His Son to be our Saviour. Yet most of the world does not recognize the love of God or the meaning of Christmas. This is not true just for our day. It was true when Jesus was here as well. When the wise men came to Jerusalem looking for the place where Jesus had been born, the religious leaders knew exactly where to send them—to Bethlehem. Yet though they knew this, they showed no interest in going to see Jesus themselves.
The world did not and does not recognize the gift of God’s love. Even worse, the very people to whom Christ came rejected Him. So many people today are repeating that tragic error. Though they may celebrate Christmas, they do not know the Christ of Christmas. Take time this Christmas to introduce someone to Jesus Christ.
"I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened."
We enjoy the novelty of gifts given at Christmas. Once the gifts are unwrapped, it is fun to learn and experience new gadgets or toys. But our greatest gift at Christmas is not the latest technological gadget. Our greatest Gift has always existed. And even though He is the Ancient of Days, the joy, renewal, and peace He gives far surpasses the happiness found in any temporal Christmas gift ever given.
Jesus did not become God, nor was He created. He always existed, and He always was God. The full divinity of Christ is shown by Daniel who used the term “Ancient of days” to refer to both God the Father and God the Son. The Christ that much of the world pictures when they think of Christmas, if they stop to think of Him at all, is much less than the Christ the Bible describes.
This was not just any baby who was lying in the manger at Bethlehem. This was God Himself, come to Earth to be the Saviour. It is impossible for us to fully comprehend how Jesus could be both completely God and completely human, yet we believe this vital truth because the Bible tells us that He was. Without being fully God, Jesus could not pay for the sins of the world. Without being fully man, Jesus could not die and become the sacrifice that was required. Christmas should be more than just a special time of year. It should be a time when we meditate on and rejoice in the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for us.
"And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn."
Because of the census that had been decreed by Caesar Augustus, when Joseph and Mary reached Bethlehem, after a long and difficult journey of some eighty miles, they could not find anywhere to stay. Travel was quite demanding in Bible times, and there was nothing like the widespread system of accommodations for travelers that we take for granted today. There would have been only a few places for visitors to stay, and there was no room in the inn.
Of course, this initial rejection was symbolic of the reaction of the world to Jesus. They did not receive Him or His message. His brothers did not believe Him until after the resurrection. The people of His hometown tried to kill Him after His first sermon in Nazareth. The Jewish leaders rejected His message and conspired to put Him to death.
But the tragedy of the full inn can easily be repeated in our own lives as well. While we would never knowingly turn Jesus away from staying in our homes, we can allow ourselves to become so busy—often with things that are right and good—that we simply have no room in our thoughts or schedules for spending time with Him. Make time during this Christmas individually and with your family to focus on Jesus and thank Him for coming to save you.
"Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us."
Christmas—the first Christmas—was a package of miracles. A virgin birth, God clothing Himself in human flesh, the Father giving His amazing love to an undeserving world, Christ making Himself poor that we might be made rich. It’s an unspeakable gift that we can’t begin to wrap our minds around.
But we can open the gift. We can receive the truth that it brings to us.
Emmanuel—God with us.
Take any word of that phrase, and it is astounding.
God with us. The very God of the universe humbled Himself to take on human flesh and enter our world through a manger. Lying there in the straw was God Himself. And He chose to come to our world.
God with us. Not only has God come to our world, but He is near. His very coming proved that He wants us to know Him, to be reconciled to Him. He is not a distant God, but a God who loves us and has chosen to show His love for us in a phenomenally unthinkable way—by giving Himself for us.
God with us. We don’t deserve God’s love. Yet He came. He chose to be born into a common family and grow up in a common home and learn a common profession. He proved that He can identify with us—with you, with me.
Who would have expected that God would even want to come to us? Who would have thought that God could come to us? But God did the miraculous. He came.
And because of Christmas, every child of God can know with certainty, God is with me—right here, right now.
"And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them: That his heart be not lifted up above his brethren, and that he turn not aside from the commandment, to the right hand, or to the left: to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he, and his children, in the midst of Israel."
Long before Israel foolishly rejected God in search of a king to rule over them, God gave instruction to Moses for what the king should do when he assumed office. One of the critical assignments each king was supposed to follow was to make for himself a handwritten copy of the law of God from the scrolls carefully kept and preserved by the priests. This would be a labor-intense task that would consume a great amount of time in the life of a busy man with many responsibilities. Yet God commanded that the investment of time and effort be made.
This command illustrates the vital priority that the Word of God should have in our lives. It is from the Scriptures that we learn to fear and obey God and keep His commandments. It is from the Scriptures that we learn to be humble and to instruct others to follow God. In our day when copies of the Bible are readily available, it is easy for us to take the Word for granted. Instead, we should treasure and cherish it, and make it part of our daily lives.
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all."
The well-loved hymn “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” is more than 250 years old. It was written by Robert Robinson when he was just twenty-two years of age. Robinson left the Church of England when his study of the Word of God convinced him that infant baptism was not scriptural, and he faithfully served for many years as a Baptist pastor. Even at a young age he was aware of the tendency of our hearts to be drawn away from God.
Solomon warns us of the importance of guarding our hearts. By divine inspiration the wise king wrote, “Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life” (Proverbs 4:23). This natural tendency of our hearts to stray from God is not limited to the days when we are young. The Bible contains many examples of those who followed God for years but then later turned away from Him. Tragically, one of those was Solomon himself. Despite his warnings to others, he turned from following God, and the nation of Israel was divided as a result. This set off a civil war that raged for years.
Solomon’s testimony highlights the importance of the example we set for others. When we turn from following God to go our own way, it can have a devastating impact on those who are watching. Whether we realize it or not, each of us serves as an example to others. As we guard our hearts and continue to follow God closely, we not only protect ourselves but others also.
"Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy."
1 Peter 4:12–13
In 1555, as part of her campaign to re-establish the Catholic Church in England, Queen Mary, also known as Bloody Mary, arranged for John Philpot, one of the leading Protestant ministers of the day, to be burned at the stake. When his death sentence was pronounced, Philpot said, “I am ready; God grant me strength and a joyful resurrection.” Philpot walked to the place of execution on his own, rather than having to be dragged to it, and when he reached it, he knelt and kissed the stake at which he would be burned.
It is easy for us to focus on our problems and think that they are larger than they really are. Most of us have never endured genuine persecution for our faith. A few times people have gotten upset with me for sharing the Gospel with them, but none of them have tried to kill me. There may come a day when we must make the same life-or-death decision to be loyal to Christ regardless of the consequences. However, even in lesser trials we have a definite choice to make. Will we stand firm for what is right, or will we lower the standard to avoid trouble?
Christ could easily have avoided the cross, yet He chose instead to suffer for our salvation. When we suffer for doing right, we should rejoice because we have the opportunity to follow His example. The joy that is coming when we reach Heaven is so great that we should willingly endure whatever trials come to us in this life. May God give us grace to be faithful to Him.
"Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit."
Someone once observed that a wasted life is really nothing more than a collection of wasted days. As God gives us life, each one of us starts the new year with the same number of opportunities—365—that we can choose to either use and invest in eternal things or allow to drift by without taking advantage of the gift we have been given. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is not found primarily in talent but in diligence and effort.
Each day is precious, and it represents an opportunity that will never come again. Instead of allowing time to pass without effort and productivity, we are to redeem it—to make the most of it. Benjamin Franklin said, “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for time is the stuff life is made of.” The time of the past year cannot be recaptured, but the pages of the coming year are still blank and waiting for us to write on them.
Because we are living in days when evil is growing, it is more important than ever that we be aware and attentive to what is happening around us. The will of God for each of us in this new year is that we be filled with and controlled by His Spirit so that we can accomplish the work which He has prepared for us to do. Commit yourself to using your time wisely, and you will have a productive year.
"Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified."
As our church has grown over the years, we have built a number of buildings so we can worship and study the Word together. I have noticed as we have gone through the building process again and again, that while the structures may have different designs and different purposes, every building project has one feature in common. For instance, no building project that I have ever seen or heard of has been quick! They all take time.
It is the same way in the Christian life. We want to see immediate results, but the work that God is doing in our hearts through His Word and His grace takes time. Before any building is constructed, a foundation must be laid that will provide structure and stability so the building will last. As you look toward the new year, remember that the foundation for God’s work in your life must be solid before anything great can be done for Him. Don’t be discouraged in the preparation process.
It’s also important during any building project not to let delays and problems deter you from your purpose. Things aren’t always going to go according to plan. There will be days when it seems like nothing is happening. Yet we must not be discouraged “for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not” (Galatians 6:9). Keep on moving forward through the new year. The blueprint God has given us in His Word is tested and proven. Live each day in such a way that at the end of the year you will be closer to God than you were at the beginning. Simply trust Him to build your life!
"For all our days are passed away in thy wrath: we spend our years as a tale that is told. 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. Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath. So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom."
As we prepare to start a new year it is important for us to stop and take into account the brevity of life. When we think about how long we might live, we may take into consideration the lifespan of our parents and grandparents, our health, and where we live. Insurance companies invest heavily in actuarial tables giving statistical information on life expectancy, and they use these tables to establish insurance rates and premiums.
When we consider our lives from God’s viewpoint, two things become immediately clear. First, no matter how long we live there will come a day when our lives will end. It may be death or it may be the Rapture, but in either case our lives on this Earth are not going to continue forever. That places a premium on making wise use of the days we do have. The psalmist tells us that carefully numbering our days will lead us toward wisdom.
The second certainty is that we are not in control of the length of our lives—God is. The only day that we know for certain we have is today. James warns those who make their plans for the future without considering God. “Ye know not what shall be on the morrow” (James 4:14). Realizing that you may only have this one day, use it wisely for God.
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding;
Industrialist Charles Schwab was a key figure in Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire. Frustrated with his inability to get everything done, he once reluctantly agreed to meet with a consultant named Ivy Lee, who was recommended to him by John D. Rockefeller. Schwab had little use for consultants, but since Rockefeller recommended Lee so highly, he scheduled the meeting. Lee’s proposal was elegantly simple.
He told Schwab to make a list of the six most important things he could do the next day to further the overall health and function of U.S. Steel. At the end of the day, Schwab was to review the list, move anything that had not been finished to the top of the next day’s list, and then add enough items to make a total of six again. Within fifteen minutes, the meeting concluded. Lee told Schwab to follow this practice for thirty days, and then send him a payment based on how much Schwab thought the advice was worth. After the month ended, Schwab sent Lee a check for $25,000!
This story illustrates the great value of receiving instruction in wisdom. Wisdom can be defined as “skillfulness in the use of knowledge.” It is more than just education and the accumulation of facts. Wisdom is being instructed in God’s views and values and living accordingly. It is so important, in fact, that God has given us an entire book of Scripture designed to instruct us to live wisely.
Throughout this year, we will be studying in these devotions the wisdom recorded in Proverbs. This book is the written advice that Solomon wrote and compiled for his son Rehoboam, to help prepare him to do right and lead the nation of Israel. May we apply our hearts to wisdom today and throughout our lives.
My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; Then shalt thou understand the fear of the LORD, and find the knowledge of God.
For more than thirty years, archaeologist Howard Carter searched the deserts of Egypt for something that most people thought didn’t exist—the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Most experts believed that everything in the Valley of the Kings had already been discovered, but Carter continued his search. Eventually after five more years without result, Carter’s sponsor, Lord Carnarvon of England, declared that he would stop funding the search.
In November of 1922, during his final season of work, Carter uncovered a hidden staircase near the tomb of Ramses VI. He sent a cable to England which said, “At last have made wonderful discovery in Valley; a magnificent tomb with seals intact.” Carter had indeed located the tomb of King Tut, one of the greatest archaeological treasures every discovered. After months of careful work, the golden treasures of the tomb were cataloged and the first intact royal mummy ever found was removed from the place where it had rested for more than 3,000 years.
Carter’s search was driven by his firm belief that there was treasure to be found, though he could not be certain that he was correct. Unlike Carter, we have an absolutely guaranteed result of success and great reward if we search for the wisdom of God. Notice the certainty of the promise—if we receive God’s Word, if we cry out for it and seek it as treasure hunters do for precious metals, we will surely find what we seek.
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.
Thousands of people each year visit the Winchester Mansion in San Jose, California. This massive structure was built by Sarah Winchester, the widow of the gun company owner. For thirty-eight years, from 1884 until her death in 1922, the house was under constant construction. Teams of carpenters, masons and other workers were employed around the clock. Various stories have been told about the reason for this unusual practice. Most center on Mrs. Winchester’s belief that she either was haunted or would be haunted by the ghosts of those killed by her husband’s weapons unless she kept building her house. Others claim that she thought she would not die as long as building continued.
Whatever the reason, she continued ordering more renovations and construction as long as she lived. There are more than 10,000 windows in the Winchester Mansion, doorways and stairs that lead to blank walls, and some 160 rooms in total. It is estimated that she spent more than $70,000,000 in today’s money on largely pointless construction—all in a desperate search for peace that was ultimately doomed to fail.
Many people today are seeking peace through equally fruitless means. They turn to pleasure, drugs, alcohol, immorality, wealth and other dead end avenues. Like the staircases that lead nowhere in the Winchester Mansion, pursuing such paths will never bring peace. Instead we find peace when we follow the path that God has given us in His Word. Those who keep the law of God in their hearts and obey it in their actions add peace to their lives. Rather than seeking peace as an end, we should seek to follow Christ. When we do we will find that peace comes as a side effect that we receive from Him.
"Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law."
The only pastor among the fifty-six men who signed the Declaration of Independence was John Witherspoon. After pastoring for a number of years in Scotland, he came to America to become president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Witherspoon was not just an administrator. He also proved to be one of the school’s most popular teachers as well. His class in Moral Philosophy emphasized the Christian foundation of all truth in every sphere of life. He worked to strengthen the educational program of the school, and train better equipped ministers for churches.
Witherspoon would go on to serve as a member of Congress for a number of years, helping first to push for independence from England and then later the formation of the new government. But his most lasting contribution to our nation may well have been the impact he had on the lives of his students. Among Witherspoon’s pupils were three Supreme Court Justices, more than seventy-five Senators and Congressmen, ten Cabinet officials, one Vice President and one President. His focus on the foundational role of Scriptural truth profoundly impacted the nation.
In our day it is common to find people downplaying the importance of good doctrine, both in the church and in society. Doctrine is simply teaching, and all sound teaching has its foundation in God’s truth. There is no substitute for the truth if we want to have a positive impact on our world. It is very important that we remember that teaching is not limited to classrooms and formal settings. Each of us has an influence on others, often far beyond what we realize. So we must make sure that we are giving others good and true doctrine.
My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding: That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge.
Operation Fortitude was one of the most important parts of the Allied war effort against Germany during the Second World War. Yet despite its importance, almost no one outside of what was called the London Controlling Section even knew of its existence. That’s because the purpose of Operation Fortitude was to deceive the Germans so they would not reinforce their defense at Normandy, which would be the site of the Allied invasion of Europe.
They intentionally leaked false information and planted misleading news stories, fed detailed copies of supposed invasion plans to known German spies and created elaborate phantom armies to confuse the German military about their true intentions. When the attack was actually launched in June of 1944, they continued their efforts, releasing stories to suggest it was only a diversion with the real invasion to follow later. The success of this secret operation contributed greatly to the victory over Germany.
Discretion is the ability to sort out truth from error. Someone defined it as the ability to read between the lines. Someone else pointed out the vital importance of discretion this way. “You get education when you carefully read the fine print on a contract. You get experience when you don’t.” God knows that we are facing a stream of temptation from Satan who is a great deceiver. To help protect us, He has given us His Word to teach us discretion.
By becoming familiar with the truth, we find it easier to recognize and reject error. This is why the acquisition of wisdom is so important—it goes hand in hand with developing discretion. As we grow in grace on our way toward Heaven we should be strengthening our skill at reading between the lines and avoiding the deception of the enemy.
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.
It is said that when John Wesley was in his eighties, he complained in his diary that he was struggling with being tempted to stay in bed until 5:30 in the morning! One of the most active and productive evangelists in history, Wesley is said to have traveled more than a quarter of a million miles on horseback, and to have preached over four thousand sermons. One thing is for sure, Wesley knew how to work. In spite of difficulties throughout his lifetime, he simply took the initiative to do what God had called him to do.
One of the most difficult things to find in our day is people who are willing to work hard without waiting for someone else to decide what needs to be done and issue instructions. Our culture and society no longer regards work as it once did. Instead of being seen as a way to honor God and provide for our needs, work is often viewed as something to be avoided as much as possible.
Work is not part of the curse that came upon the world with sin. (God had already assigned tasks to Adam prior to the Fall. The curse was that work became more difficult.) Work is important because it helps build strength of character. When a society makes it easy for people who are able to work to survive without working, they are undermining their very foundations. Paul laid out God’s plan by inspiration when he wrote: “If any would not work, neither should he eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). God’s plan is for us to get up, look around, find what needs to be done and do it.
My son, keep my words, and lay up my commandments with thee. Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye. Bind them upon thy fingers, write them upon the table of thine heart.
Jonathan Goforth was one of the great missionary heroes of the past. For decades he labored among the people of China, and many thousands were saved as a result of his work. He was known for his powerful praying, his love for the lost, and his love for the Scriptures. He spent prolonged hours reading and studying God’s Word. Late in his life, disease robbed him of eyesight. Since he could no longer read the Bible for himself, he would have some of the young men who were training for the ministry come in and read to him in Chinese.
In her biography, Goforth of China, written after her husband’s death, Rosalind Goforth described how each time one of readers would skip a verse or read one incorrectly, Goforth would correct them. He had spent so much time in the Scriptures that he knew virtually the entire Bible by heart. The effectiveness of his ministry was based in the power of the Word of God.
I have learned much from good books and I am thankful for them and those who write them, but nothing can take the place of the Bible. It should be our primary source of instruction and education regarding the things of God. One old preacher said he found the verses he read gave him great insight into what the commentaries had to say about the verses. There is a reason that when Paul was imprisoned in Rome he asked Timothy to bring him “the parchments” (2 Timothy 4:13). Even the great apostle who had penned much of the New Testament under inspiration wanted to have the Word of God to read and study.
She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things.
One of the grandest and most lavish weddings the world has ever seen was held in April of 2011 as Prince William married Catherine Middleton. Millions of people around the world watched on television as the future ruler of England was married. In contrast to the great number watching electronically, only about 1,900 people were invited to attend the wedding. The royal wedding invitations alone cost an estimated $32,000. Those who received these invitations were the only ones who were allowed to enter the cathedral and observe the wedding in person.
You may never be selected to receive an invitation to a royal wedding, but the King of Kings has offered an open invitation to all of His children to enter the pages of His Word and find the principles of wisdom that lead to success in every area of life. This invitation is not just for the famous, rich, or well connected. It’s not just for the people we look up to as “super Christians.” It is extended to all who are willing to hear the call and respond. It is for me, and it is for you.
It’s hard to picture someone being invited to a special event like the royal wedding and declining to attend, yet each day many people refuse to listen to the voice of wisdom. When we seek God’s wisdom through His Word, we are guaranteed to find it. God has not hidden or restricted His truths. They are displayed for us in His Word, which we understand through the work of His Spirit. No one can be truly wise apart from the knowledge and application of the principles and precepts of Scripture.
Wisdom hath builded her house, she hath hewn out her seven pillars:
William Levitt headed his family’s successful construction company, carefully guiding it through the Great Depression. Following World War II, to meet the housing needs of tens of thousands of soldiers returning to America, the company began developing suburbs which came to be known as Levittowns. These early suburbs featured homes built according to the principles of an assembly line model, which were then shipped to the suburb where they would be permanently located. Because of this production method, Levitt’s homes were economical to purchase and therefore attractive to these young men beginning homes of their own.
The company eventually built more than 180,000 homes in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Maryland. The company claimed at the height of production to be producing a finished home every sixteen minutes. Even now, decades later, thousands of people are living in homes built by the Levitt & Sons, which, although built quickly, were built to last.
Far more important than the building that houses our families are the homes that we create inside those buildings. Strong and lasting families are built on the principles of wisdom found in the Word of God. There is no shortage of dangers and threats facing our homes today. Satan knows that by destroying families he undermines both the church and society. Against these threats we must be constantly on guard.
Some years ago the saying “The family that prays together stays together” became popular. There is a great deal of truth in those simple words. Those families that put God first—who focus on pleasing and obeying Him and on developing Christ-honoring relationships with one another—find that they are building on a solid foundation. Just as every part of a Levitt home was constructed by following the master plan designed by the architect, God has given us a blueprint to wisely build our homes.
"The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother."
Abraham Lincoln was well known for total abstinence from alcohol. According to one well known story, he was once offered a drink by a military officer. Lincoln responded by telling the man that when his mother was on her deathbed, she had summoned him as a nine year old boy and asked for his promise that he would never take a drink. He then said, “I promised my mother that I never would, and up to this hour, I’ve kept this promise! Would you advise me to break that promise?” Lincoln honored his mother by keeping his promise to her.
We most commonly think of honoring our parents in terms of obedience; and for children in the home, obedience is definitely an important aspect of honor. However, there are two separate commands given in Ephesians 6:1–2. First children are instructed to obey. Despite the fact that it may be out of style to say so, God holds young people accountable for obedience. While the obligation to obey ends with adulthood and the assumption of responsibility, there is another obligation that does not. The command to honor our parents is open-ended and remains in effect for all of our lives.
This command is also “the first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:2). While we are to obey every command of God, there are some commandments which carry particular rewards and blessings for obedience. The very first of those given by God is the command to honor our parents. One of the best ways in which we can do that is to live according to the principles of Scripture. Becoming wise through seeking God’s wisdom brings us blessings, but it also delivers our parents from the grief and heartbreak that comes when a child goes astray.
"When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom."
J. Hudson Taylor was one of the great missionary heroes in history. His work in the China Inland Mission saw thousands come to Christ, and the stories of his faith and prayers have inspired the generations that have followed. His work was driven by his passion to see the salvation of the lost. He once said, “If I had a thousand lives, China should have them. No! Not China, but Christ. Can we do enough for such a precious Saviour?” Taylor also had another outstanding characteristic—his humility.
The story is told of two women in Shanghai who were discussing the topic of pride and began to wonder if the famous missionary was ever tempted to be prideful because of his many accomplishments. One of the women decided to ask Taylor’s wife, Maria, about it. Maria promised the woman that she would find out. When Mrs. Taylor asked her husband if he was ever tempted to be proud, he was surprised. “Proud about what?” he asked. “About all of the things you have done,” his wife explained. Taylor responded, “I never knew I had done anything.”
One of the great truths we must remember is that it is God who does the work and deserves all of the credit. Paul put it this way: “So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). If we remain focused on this truth, we avoid the snare of pride because we realize that we have done nothing for which we can take credit.
Satan uses pride especially effectively against those who are busy in working for the Lord. Many mighty men and women who have done much for God have been brought to shameful sin through the snare of pride. Remember, we deserve no praise or recognition for what God has graciously done through us, but we do enjoy getting to be part of the process when we remain humble!
"A good man obtaineth favour of the LORD: but a man of wicked devices will he condemn. A man shall not be established by wickedness: but the root of the righteous shall not be moved."
The tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, rises more than 2,700 feet—over half a mile tall. It has 160 floors and is twice as tall as the Empire State Building in New York City. It is home to the world’s fastest elevator that travels at 40 miles per hour. The Burj Khalifa also hosts the world’s highest outdoor observation deck (on the 124th floor) and the world’s highest swimming pool (on the 76th floor).
But the secret to the stability of this massive building is found underground. Before construction began to rise up, workers spent a year digging and pouring the massive foundation that supports the building. The foundation contains some 58,900 cubic yards of concrete weighing more than 120,000 tons. The building is safe because the foundation is solid.
Godly and righteous living is important as a matter of obedience, but there are also many wonderful benefits that follow as a result. When we live according to God’s principles of wisdom, we receive His blessing, but we also establish a firm foundation for our lives and our families.
Ever since our children were small, I wanted to be sure that I left a godly legacy for them. Now that I am a grandparent, I’m even more reminded of the effect of my testimony on young lives.
I want my grandchildren to grow up knowing that their parents and grandparents follow God. I want them to see as well as hear that we honor Him and obey His Word. I want them to be able to follow in my footsteps and serve the Lord. To see that happen, I must continue to lay the foundation of obedience that will give them that sense of stability and purpose.
"A wise son heareth his father's instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke."
I heard about a couple who bought one of the first automobiles many years ago. They decided to take their prize possession out for a drive to show off to their neighbors. As they made their way along the road, the engine suddenly stopped. The man got out to look at the car, but to his great annoyance and frustration, he didn’t have any idea what to do to get it running again. An older man passed by and offered to help with the car, but the driver didn’t seem interested. So Henry Ford went on his way, and the wise advice and help he could easily have given was never heard.
While it is not usually pleasant to receive correction or rebuke, it is vitally important that we listen to and heed the warnings of wisdom. God has graciously given us people—parents, a spouse, teachers, pastors, mentors, and friends—to help us avoid the pitfalls of life and the snares of sin. His intention is that we will listen to what they have to tell us and shape our lives accordingly. The American self-made man is foreign to God’s plan for living. His plan is for us to learn from the teachers of wisdom He places in our lives.
It is much less painful to learn from the experiences of others than it is to refuse correction and experience the pain and trouble firsthand. Those who insist on continuing in their own way are living in folly. Benjamin Franklin put it this way: “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.” When our pride and stubbornness prevent us from listening, we are on the path to danger. When we are willing to humble ourselves and receive instruction, we are on the path to wisdom.
"He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the LORD: but he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him."
Gunther Gebel-Williams was one of the most famous animal trainers and circus performers of his generation. He began his career in the circus as a teenager. He was so highly regarded that Ringling Brothers bought the entire circus for which he worked just so they could have him as one of their star attractions. His work with wild animals, especially lions and tigers, was stunning and drew record-breaking crowds to see the circus. He was also featured on a number of television broadcasts and specials.
When he announced his retirement from the ring, Gebel-Williams told an interviewer why he knew it was time to quit: he realized that he was no longer afraid of the animals.
The fear of the Lord is vitally important, but it is often misunderstood. Many teach that fearing God means to be in reverence and awe of Him. While we should approach God with respect, that is not what it means to fear Him. Fearing the Lord means that we display a healthy fear of His holiness and hatred of sin.
When first Ananias and then his wife Sapphira fell down dead at Peter’s feet after lying about their giving in the book of Acts, the Bible says, “And great fear came upon all the church” (Acts 5:11). The fear of the Lord gave the church great power. Acts 9:31 says these first churches, “walking in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Ghost, were multiplied.”
Knowing the holiness of God has a profound impact on our own behavior, but it also has a great impact on others. As they see us walking in the fear of the Lord, they realize that there is a God to whom they must also one day answer. Fearing God improves our evangelism as well as our conduct. A Christian without the fear of the Lord will be declining in his walk with God and ineffective in his witness.
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger. The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness.
I read about a study that researchers at Kenyon College conducted among naval personnel. They wanted to evaluate how the tone in which orders were given impacted the response those orders received. What the study showed was that the way in which the orders were given had a greater impact on the response than the content of those orders. The tone of the order went a long way toward determining the response.
When someone received an order in a soft voice, the answer tended to be given softly. But when the order was shouted, the response tended to be sharp as well. Interestingly enough, these findings held true whether the communication was in person or on the phone. It was not so much the facial expression or body language as the tone and volume of the voice that drove the response.
The same principle holds true in our lives, just as we find spelled out in the Scripture. When we speak to those around us with harsh, loud, or angry words, we should expect a negative response. Wisdom guides us to govern and control the way in which we speak to others. This is an especially important lesson for those in leadership positions—pastors, teachers, parents—as the manner of our speech often determines the response as much or more than the content.
We should never shrink from a necessary confrontation or correction. If some behavior needs to be changed or stopped it should be plainly stated. However, this should be done in kindness and love rather than harshness. Jesus was never soft when confronting sin, yet those who heard Him speak were astonished by the “gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:22).
All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the LORD weigheth the spirits.
One of America’s leading political figures and constitutional experts in the early 1800s was Daniel Webster. Known for his powerful speeches, he worked to hold the country together in the years leading up to the Civil War. One story from his childhood shows his quick wit and way with words.
Daniel and his brother Ezekiel had been given careful instructions about a task they were to perform while their father was gone during the day. Yet when Ebenezer Webster returned home, he found the work had not even been started. He queried his older son, “Ezekiel, what have you been doing today?” “Nothing, sir,” came the honest reply. “Well Daniel, what have you been doing?” “Helping Zeke,” the boy responded.
We can always find excuses to justify what we have done or not done, but such responses will never change the nature of our actions.
The old Latin expression mundus vult decipi, meaning “the world wants to be deceived,” is too often true when it comes to the way we view our own behavior. Rather than deal with the sins and failures, we struggle for ways to rationalize our conduct—or to blame what we have done on someone else. This temptation is not new. Following the very first sin, Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent.
Perhaps the most famous of the parables Jesus told, the story of the Good Samaritan, was told in response to a lawyer who questioned Jesus because he was “willing to justify himself” (Luke 10:29). Until we stop trying to find ways to justify ourselves we can never begin to change our behavior for the better. Right and wrong is not determined by what we think or by what we can excuse, but by what God declares in His Word.
Better is a dry morsel, and quietness therewith, than an house full of sacrifices with strife.
There is an old parable about a king who had fallen ill. The doctors could not cure his disease, but one of them told him that if he put on the clothing of a truly contented man, he would be healed. The king immediately dispatched his servants throughout the land to seek a contented man so that he could be cured. One by one they went out and returned without success. Finally the last servant returned, and he also was empty-handed.
“Could you not find a single contented man in my kingdom?” the monarch asked.” “We found only one, Sire,” the servant replied. “Then where is his shirt? I must have that to be cured.” “The contented man we found was so poor that he had no shirt,” the answer came.
Often we fall prey to the trap of thinking that if we just had a little bit more than we already have, we would then be happy. Satan has been using this lie effectively throughout all of human history. Yet getting more never works because getting more things creates still more obligations and appetites rather than producing satisfaction. As Solomon pointed out, “When goods increase, they are increased that eat them” (Ecclesiastes 5:11).
Instead of looking for more and better things, we should be thankful to God for what we already do have. The Hebrew word for “morsel” in Proverbs 17:1 literally means a crumb or a tiny piece. Gratitude does not come from the size and scope of our blessings, though we indeed have received so much. Rather gratitude comes when we realize that every good thing we have is a gift from God and is a result of His grace rather than our merit. Such thinking produces great benefits for our lives. First Timothy 6:6 says, “But godliness with contentment is great gain.”
"Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom."
It took less than ten seconds for Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to cover the one hundred meter distance on the Olympic track and win the gold medal in London. Those few seconds cemented his status as the “fastest man alive” and placed him on the winner’s podium once again. But the race was not won in those seconds—it was won by hours and hours of practice, workouts, weightlifting, special diet, and coaching.
The race was not won in the performance but in the preparation. It is our desire for something greater that causes us to sacrifice some things, even some good things, for the sake of things that are better. The famous football coach Bear Bryant said, “The difference between success and failure is not the will to win. Everyone has the will to win. Not everyone has the will to do what it takes to prepare to win.” The level of commitment that we make beforehand determines the success of our efforts.
Think of Daniel, a teenage boy taken hundreds of miles from home and subjected to a brainwashing program designed to break down his allegiance to his homeland and his God. But long before the temptations came, Daniel “had purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).
Because of Daniel’s preparation, no amount of persuasion, threat, or pressure could overcome his commitment to God. His dedication was unshakeable. For example, when Daniel’s enemies got the decree passed that outlawed prayers to anyone other than the king of Persia, Daniel still prayed three times a day. He did not start praying when the law was passed, instead he continued his habit of prayer “as he did aforetime” (Daniel 6:10).
Our character is not made when we are put to the test; it is simply revealed then. Our character is made long before the test ever comes.
"Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool."
When Carlo Ponzi arrived in Boston from Italy in 1903, he had just $2.51 in his pocket. He quickly became involved in a number of shady deals and served several years in prison, first for forgery and then later for his involvement in a smuggling ring. When he returned to society, he determined to make a fortune, and he began encouraging people to invest in a plan that was “guaranteed” to pay them a handsome rate of interest.
Ponzi was selling international reply coupons, a form of postage payment designed for international mail. Since few people had ever seen one and almost no one understood how they worked, it was easy for Ponzi to convince people that buying them in different countries could produce vast profits. Though there was never any real way to make money in the project, Ponzi used the new money coming in to pay off his early investors, and publicity encouraged still more people to “invest.” When the plan collapsed, those who had trusted Ponzi lost everything. In less than a year he had swindled some 250 million dollars in today’s money from those who trusted him. Today his very name is synonymous with swindles and schemes.
Though God may choose to bless us with financial riches, the presence of wealth is certainly not proof that a person is doing what he should. In fact, there are cases when riches are part of God’s judgment on someone’s life. Proverbs 1:32 notes, “...the prosperity of fools shall destroy them,”
Instead of focusing our desires and ambition on accumulating money and things, we should focus on keeping our character and integrity strong. Though that kind of wealth cannot be measured in dollars, stocks, or assets, it is a true wealth that can never be taken away or lost.
"Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise."
Have you heard the story of Waylon Prendergast? The man from Tampa, Florida, had been out drinking when he decided to rob a house on his way home. The drunken man forced his way into the house, filled a suitcase he found there with the valuables he discovered, and made his way to the living room. In his stupor he decided it would be a good idea to set a fire to cover his tracks, so he ignited a blaze before making his way out the back door. Thinking he was home free, he continued on to his house—only to find three fire trucks parked outside fighting the blaze he had set to cover his theft from his own home.
According to a study published in The Washington Post a few years ago, almost one third of adults in America admit they either have now or have had in the past a problem with drinking. The Bible describes alcoholic drinks as being deceitful for a reason. None of those people who now realize they have a problem with it intended to become alcoholics or dependent on their next drink to make it through the day. But that is where the end of the path they set out on leads.
It has become popular in some Christian circles today to downplay the warnings in Scripture regarding alcoholic beverages in the name of Christian liberty and grace. Yet God’s grace never leads to bondage. Those who think they are in control of their drinking often take a long time to realize the awful truth. By the time they understand the strength of the chains of addiction that hold them, they are heavily bound. Listening to the voice of wisdom and the warnings from the Word of God guards us from the shame and distress that comes from drinking.
"The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will."
Cyrus was a heathen king, the ruler of the Medes and Persians, who as far as we know was not a believer in the true God. Yet years before he was born, Isaiah spoke of him by name and prophesied that God would use him to restore the people of Israel to their home and help them rebuild the Temple, which then had not yet been destroyed. “ That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid” (Isaiah 44:28).
This wonderful story from the Word of God emphasizes for us the truth that God is in control of our world. Nothing ever takes Him by surprise or causes Him to change His plans. As the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, “At first laying down as a fact fundamental, that nothing with God can be accidental.” If we understand that God is in control, then there is no reason for us to fear, regardless of how bad our circumstances may appear. Even death for a Christian is not a tragedy but merely the entrance to something far better and more wonderful.
This truth also gives us confidence in our praying. The God to whom we present our petitions has the power to respond, shaping events and moving the hearts of people to help us far beyond our power to influence or persuade. We are not alone as we face the challenges of this world. It is a tragedy when God’s children live like orphans rather than as children of the King. We have been given His invitation to “come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16), and we should do so, praying to God and believing that He will hear and answer.
"A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold."
Henry Heinz, born in 1844, to German immigrants in Pittsburg, PA, helped support his family as a teenager by growing and selling vegetables in the family garden. After graduating from college and getting married, he started a business selling horse radish. In 1875, a national financial collapse drove the young company into bankruptcy. Despite the legal freedom bankruptcy gave him, Heinz regarded each of the company’s outstanding debts as a moral obligation and personally paid back every penny.
Heinz went on to found the H.J. Heinz Company with its 57 varieties and became a leading American businessman. A devout Christian, he was known for the generous treatment of his employees and his generosity to Christian causes. Throughout his life Heinz conducted his business and personal dealings with the same integrity that led him to pay back hundreds of thousands of thousands of dollars he technically did not owe. He began his will with these words: “I desire to set forth at the very beginning of this will as the most important item in it a confession of my faith in Jesus Christ as my Saviour.”
The importance of maintaining integrity is beyond any financial price. When people are tempted to cut corners, they often do so without realizing the lasting impact that it will have. Each time we do what is required to uphold and protect our testimony we are making a lasting investment in building a good name. There is no more important or permanent inheritance we can leave behind, than the legacy of a good name.
Like all things genuine, the foundations of integrity can be undermined in small ways that are almost imperceptible. It is only by defending against these “little foxes” that we can maintain the godly testimony we wish to keep.
Labour not to be rich: cease from thine own wisdom.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Hetty Green may have been the biggest miser who ever lived. Her father died when she was thirty leaving her an inheritance of more than $100 million in today’s money. Though it was unusual for a woman to be involved with banking and investments at the time, she concentrated all of her efforts and attention on growing the family fortune.
Her focus on money drove a wedge between her husband and their two children. And the family was scattered. Known for eating cold oatmeal to save money for heating and washing only the hem of her dress to save money on soap, she was sometimes called the “Witch of Wall Street.” When her son, Ned, broke his leg as a boy, she tried to have him treated in a free clinic for the poor, before treating him at home. His leg would later have to be amputated. When she died, Hetty Green was worth the equivalent of some 4 billion dollars today, but she was alone and miserable.
Each of us have a choice in how we will invest our lives and in what goals we will pursue. A life that is spent only in acquiring material wealth will never produce true and lasting happiness. A life that is spent for the good of others and building the work of the Lord may not result in the same level of possessions and wealth. But in light of the eternal dividends that come when we lay up treasures in Heaven, we are wise pursue to eternal goals.
While wealth and riches are not inherently evil, the pursuit of them has led many people away from following God and into a life of sin and misery. First Timothy 6:10 says it plainly: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” The missionary Jim Elliot wisely wrote, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them. For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.
Samuel Clemens, more commonly known by his pen name, Mark Twain was a gifted writer. Yet Twain held a deep contempt for Christianity. He once referred to it as a “slaughterhouse religion” because of the doctrine of the blood atonement, and he often turned his ridicule on those who believed the Bible. He met and fell in love with Olivia Langdon, a young woman from a good Christian family. While they were courting he appeared to have downplayed his lack of faith, and she agreed to marry him.
After their marriage, Twain began to openly mock Christianity once again, and before too much time passed, Olivia stopped attending church. Twain and his family suffered many great reversals, including a complete financial collapse and the death of a beloved daughter. At one point Twain attempting to comfort his grieving wife said, “Livy, if it comforts you to lean on your faith, do so." She replied sadly, "I cannot. I do not have any faith left."
The people we spend most of our time with, and cultural influences such as books, music, social media, and television that we allow into our hearts and minds have a dramatic influence on us. This is why Solomon warned of the dangers of wanting to spend time with those who are evil. No matter how charming or enjoyable or intellectually stimulating those who oppose God and the truths of His Word may be, spending significant amounts of time with them will always have a great impact on our thinking and conduct.
Satan has long sold the allure of a sinful lifestyle to tempt people away from God. Those who are evil can exert a faulty attraction that believers sometimes envy and wish to copy. Remembering the end of the wicked and the destruction of faith that time spent in their company brings, will help us guard against this temptation.
"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter."
George Washington Carver became one of the most honored and respected scientists of his generation by focusing on the very simple peanut. Eventually he would discover some three hundred uses for this most basic and seemingly insignificant common food. Carver attributed all of his scientific discoveries to God.
He once said that he had asked God to explain the universe to him, but that he felt God saying that was too large a task. When he asked for something he could handle, Carver said that God directed his attention to the peanut. His focus and search for value produced amazing results. Carver never doubted that God was rewarding his faith and effort, and he said, “Without God to draw aside the curtain I would be helpless.”
In a day when many people deny that truth even exists as an absolute reality, those of us who know God need to be more focused than ever on seeking for it. Truth is not an abstract concept that varies with time and place and can never be fully known. Truth is part of the very nature of God. As we grow and develop in our Christian walk and learn more about Him, we will also learn more about the truth. The Scripture tells us that honor comes when we diligently investigate to find the truth.
Winston Churchill once said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” Instead of running away from truth, we should diligently pursue it. Through the pages of God’s Word and the principles God provides, we should endeavor to understand and seek the truth about every relationship and interaction we have so we will live as people of honor and integrity.
"As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, so honour is not seemly for a fool."
On April 21, 1980, the record time for a female winner of the Boston Marathon was smashed when a twenty-seven year old Cuban-born runner named Rosie Ruiz crossed the finish line in just over two and half hours—more than three minutes ahead of the second place finisher. Onlookers were surprised that she was not soaked with sweat and did not appear to even be out of breath as is normal for someone who finishes the grueling twenty-six mile race.
Soon, however, evidence began to surface that Ruiz had not actually run the entire event. Photos taken at various checkpoints and stations along the course did not show her, and she could not remember any details of the various landmarks passed along the route. Two witnesses came forward to report they had seen Ruiz break out of the crowd just a half a mile from the finish line and run only that distance to “complete” the race. The evidence of cheating mounted, and after three days Ruiz was stripped of the title and disqualified from the competition. She was found unworthy of the honor she had received. Since then, races have instituted stringent tracking systems to ensure that such a scheme cannot succeed again.
There are many people who are not worthy of honor and yet receive it anyway. Our society holds up as heroes those who are famous for athletic, financial, or musical achievements without regard to whether or not they have received their success through honesty and character. Often these who are held up as role models prove to be poor examples for others to follow. It is important for us to ensure that ours heroes are not simply famous fools but rather men and women of godly character who are worthy of applause and emulation.
"Boast not thyself of to morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."
Major General John Sedgwick was born into a family with a long and honored military tradition. He was named for his grandfather, who served as a general with George Washington in the Revolutionary War. After graduating from West Point he served with distinction in the Mexican-American War where he received two battlefield promotions. During the Civil War he was twice wounded in battle, and after his recovery he was placed in charge of the VI Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
In May of 1864, during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, Sedgwick was directing artillery placements for his troops when they came under fire from the Confederate lines. The men began ducking for cover, and Sedgwick scolded them. “What? Men dodging this way for single bullets? What will you do when they open fire along the whole line? I am ashamed of you. They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance.” Those were the last words Sedgwick ever spoke, as just seconds later he was hit in the head and killed by a bullet. Sedgwick was the highest ranking Union officer to die during the entire Civil War.
Exerting confidence is to be admired, but presuming that we know the future and can control its outcome is the height of folly. In truth, none of us knows what is going to happen tomorrow. We can and should make wise plans for our lives, our families, and our ministries; but behind every plan must be the knowledge that God is ultimately in control of the outcome. Rather than presumptuous boasting we should humbly remember God’s sovereignty. James 4:15 cautions those who would boast of tomorrow, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” Trust God fully, and rely on His wise control of events.
"The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion."
Eddie Rickenbacker was already famous as a race car driver when he enlisted to fight in World War I. The same quick thinking and reflexes that served him so well on the track made him one of the best fighter pilots the world had ever seen. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor for shooting down at least twenty-six enemy aircraft. After the war, Rickenbacker enjoyed great success in the business world, becoming the owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and head of Eastern Airlines.
During World War II on a mission to encourage the troops in the Pacific and deliver messages from President Roosevelt to General MacArthur, Rickenbacker’s plane was forced to make a crash landing in the ocean. With six other survivors he endured more than three weeks adrift before finally reaching land. One day when their food had run out and hope seemed lost, Rickenbacker read Matthew 6:33 and prayed. A few moments later a seagull landed on his head. He caught the seagull and the men ate most of it and used the rest as bait to catch fish to keep them alive. Rickenbacker believed God had saved him for a life of service. Eddie Rickenbacker said, “Courage is doing what you're afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you're scared.”
When we are doing what is right, there is no need to be afraid, regardless of what circumstances we face. God does not guarantee our comfort or even our lives—many righteous believers have perished because they would not recant their faith. What God guarantees is better. He promises to deliver us. Whether that is in life or by death, we have nothing to fear. God is always in control, and we can fully rely on Him to do what is best for us in every situation.
"He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy."
Bernard Madoff seemed to have it all. He lived the life of the fabulously wealthy in New York City. The securities trading company he founded when he graduated from college produced amazing returns for investors. He was tapped to serve as Chairman of the NASDAQ stock trading company. He rubbed elbows with the elite of the financial, political, and entertainment worlds. He enjoyed the best of everything that money could buy.
Yet all of Madoff’s apparent success was built on the foundation of a lie. His investment firm was nothing more than a giant Ponzi scheme that for decades depended on getting new investors to pay off the old ones while money was being siphoned off for the personal use of Madoff and his family. With shocking suddenness Madoff was arrested, tried, and convicted. He is today serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison.
One of the most effective lies of Satan is that we will get away with doing wrong. He convinces us that we will be the exception and can escape the consequences of sin. If we had an accurate assessment of the devastating results of sin in advance, we would be far more hesitant to cross the lines that God has drawn in His Word. Often we mistake the grace and forbearance of God that protects us from immediate punishment when we first do wrong as His permission to continue. Yet that very mercy is extended as a reminder to do right. As Paul wrote, “the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance” (Romans 2:4).
The only cure for sin is confession and repentance. No cover up will hide sin from the eyes of God, and if we continue stiff necked in doing wrong, eventually judgment will fall. The best way to avoid sudden destruction is to respond to the first warnings of reproof.
"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him."
In 1985, for the first time in more than fifty years, Congress authorized the issue of official US government gold coins. Beginning in 1986 these new coins came on the market. Each of these American Eagles, as they are known, is guaranteed by the US Mint to contain the stated amount of pure 22 karat gold. They come in 1/10, 1/4, 1/2, and 1-ounce sizes, and buyers from around the world trust these coins because they trust the promises of the United States government that the coins are what they claim to be.
When it comes to Scripture, we have something far more reliable than the guarantee of a government—we have the promises of Almighty God that His Word is perfect and pure. God promised to preserve His Word for us. That means that, according to the promise of God, we can have complete faith that every word in the Bible is there on purpose. Psalm 12:7 affirms, “Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.”
The very first temptation in human history began with Satan asking Eve, “Yea hath God said?” This challenge to the authenticity of Scripture continues in our day. If God promised to keep His Words—and He did—then we can confidently trust the Bible. God has seen to the preserving of His Word, and the Bible that we hold in our hands today is fully reliable. Instead of evaluating the Word of God and trying to decide if it is trustworthy, God intends for us to use it to evaluate our thoughts and actions. Trust with complete faith and confidence in the Bible you hold—it is guaranteed by God Himself.
"It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink: Lest they drink, and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any of the afflicted."
There is no question that consuming alcohol affects a person’s judgment in a negative way. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that seventy percent of speeding drivers who have fatal accidents between midnight and 3:00 a.m. are legally drunk. Intoxicated drivers are half as likely to wear seatbelts, and alcohol is involved in more than four out of every five crashes involving drivers who are driving on suspended or revoked licenses or without a license at all.
Alcohol abuse is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Nearly half of trauma patients in emergency rooms are there because of alcohol. Those who had been drinking are three times more likely to die in a fire than those who have not. More than one third of adult drowning involves the use of alcohol. Yet people continue to insist that they can “handle it” and know when they have had too much to drink. This is folly because from the first drink alcohol begins to impair judgment.
Every day we are involved in a very real spiritual war. We have a committed enemy who, “as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). The danger we face day after day requires that we must be diligent and on guard. That is one of the reasons the Bible and especially the book of Proverbs—the book devoted to teaching principles for wise living— contains so many warnings about the dangers of drinking and drunkenness. Alcohol affects our senses, dulls our judgment, and keeps us from fulfilling our duty to God. We should reject it in all of its forms.
"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels:"
There is a well-known story that after several years in office as president, Franklin Roosevelt grew tired of the long receiving lines where he would have to greet the guests at White House functions. He felt like the people weren’t really interested, but going through the motions. To test his theory, he began greeting guests by quietly saying something outrageous. His favorite line was, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests would respond with things like, “Wonderful. Keep up the good work!” which indicated that they truly were not listening. Finally the Bolivian Ambassador came through the line and actually heard Roosevelt’s remark. He leaned down and whispered back, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
One of the primary indicators of wisdom in a person’s life is that he is willing to listen rather than thinking he already knows it all. There is much information missed and much pain and damage incurred simply because people do not listen. God has given us in His Word “all things that pertain unto life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Yet He also sadly says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6).
Though there are countries where copies of the Word of God are hard to come by and churches are few and far between, most of us have multiple Bibles in our homes and on our electronic devices. And very few Christians here in the United States must drive hours to get to a good church. The problem is not a lack of availability of instruction in wisdom, but rather a lack of hearing. Because we are not willing to hear and heed the Scriptures, our churches, families, and lives are suffering as a result. If you desire God’s wisdom, commit yourself to listening to His Word.
"For the LORD giveth wisdom: out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding."
There are many factors that contribute to the worth of a gift. Some gifts are valuable because of the monetary expense that went into their purchase. For instance, last Christmas the Faber-Castell pen company unveiled a $97,000 gold and diamond fountain pen. I can’t imagine how someone would be willing to actually use a pen like that for fear something would happen to it! Others gifts are valuable, not because of their worth, but because of who the giver is. For instance, every parent treasures gifts from their children even though those gifts may have no inherent value.
The combination of a gift of great value from a person of great value produces the most valuable gift. Wisdom is certainly one of the greatest of these gifts. Divine wisdom is a treasure because it offers protection from the dangers and damages of sin. The wisdom of God helps us see through the deceptions of Satan and respond properly to the temptations he brings across our path. Wisdom helps us deal with the people in our lives in a way that honors God and shows them His mercy and truth. Wisdom provides the insight and understanding to live skillfully according to the precepts of Scripture.
We need wisdom, and in His Word God revealed clearly how we can obtain it. Wisdom is not produced by our ingenuity or learning; it is given by the grace of God. James 1:5 says, “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.” Wisdom is not reserved for a special class of believers. The promise of wisdom is available to anyone who is willing to ask for it. And God gives it freely without restraint or condemnation because of His nature.