Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant? And the captain of the LORD's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.
Even after God parted the Jordan River, the Israelites still faced what seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle in the large city of Jericho. The great walls of the city made it impossible to launch a frontal assault, yet in those days there were no bombardment weapons that could make a difference. Joshua met the “captain of the LORD,” which was an Old Testament appearance of Jesus Himself. Once Joshua had identified to whom he was speaking, he only had one question: “What do You have to say to me?” There is no more important question a Christian can ask.
In any decision in life, the most important thing is to determine what God wants us to do. Can we find a commandment or principle that will help us? If we can determine what God wants, we know that we will be headed in the right direction. E. M. Bounds wrote, “If two angels were to receive at the same moment a commission from God, one to go down and rule earth’s grandest empire, the other to go and sweep the streets of its meanest village, it would be a matter of entire indifference to each which service fell to his lot, the post of ruler or the post of scavenger; for the joy of the angels lies only in obedience to God’s will.”
God's Word holds the key to making the right decision in any circumstance we may face.
And Joshua the son of Nun, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, which were of them that searched the land, rent their clothes: And they spake unto all the company of the children of Israel, saying, The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land. If the LORD delight in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it us; a land which floweth with milk and honey.
The twelve men Moses sent into the Promised Land as spies to gather the information the Israelites would need to prepare for the coming invasion all saw the same things. They saw the same bountiful lands. They saw the same walled cities. They saw the same enemy warriors they would have to fight. Ten of them concluded that the task was impossible—that there was no way Israel could win. The other two, Joshua and Caleb, came to the opposite conclusion. They did not see something in Canaan that their companions had missed, but they recognized that, with God's power and blessing, the enemy did not stand a chance.
There are obstacles, challenges, and difficulties in all of our lives. Sometimes we even face things that seem like giants to us. But the problems do not mean that we have to lose faith. If we cling to the promises of God, we can keep going forward in confidence. God's plan does not guarantee that things will always work out the way we think they should or that we will never have to fight battles. But it does mean that all things will work as He knows they should, that He will fight for us, and that He will be with us. It is a real comfort and encouragement when those around us increase our faith and go forward with us. But even if everyone else says it is impossible, we can still believe in God. We can claim every promise He has made and live with complete confidence in Him.
When we look at God rather than our circumstances, our faith will hold strong when it is tested.
And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests? But Saul increased the more in strength, and confounded the Jews which dwelt at Damascus, proving that this is very Christ.
The life of John Newton underwent a remarkable transformation. The man who had once been a slave trader became a leading advocate for the abolition of slavery. The man who had been profane and had no time for God became a leading preacher. Newton wrote, “I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, 'By the grace of God I am what I am.'”
Some of us, especially those who were saved at a young age, do not have a testimony of such radical outward change as Newton's, but everyone who has trusted Christ as Saviour should be marked by a new purpose in life. Where Saul had once led the persecution of the church, after he met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he became a powerful and effective preacher. Those who heard him in those early days did not understand how that change had come about, but that is what Jesus does.
We are not saved for our own benefit, although we do benefit greatly. We are saved to be part of God's work in this world. We are saved to tell others about the grace we found. We are saved to be different than we were before. The same God who saves us equips and empowers us for effective ministry for Him throughout our lives.
God powerfully transforms the lives of everyone who trusts Him for salvation.
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.
Under the Old Testament law, sacrifices were a regular and routine part of the life of God's people. There were sacrifices to be made for various offenses against the law. There were sacrifices to be made in gratitude and thanksgiving for God's blessings. There were sacrifices to be made as part of the observance of the feasts that God commanded. Of course, the death of Christ on the cross was the full and complete sacrifice for our sin. For this reason, we no longer offer animal sacrifices.
There is, however, another kind of sacrifice that we make, and that is the sacrifice of our hearts. Even in the Old Testament, God was looking for more than outward displays of worship; He wanted the dedication of His people's hearts. In his great psalm of repentance, David wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The sacrifice God is looking for is not dead, but living—one that carries forward every day of our lives.
The world may view the sacrifices Christians make in their service to God as being crazy, but Paul called them “reasonable.” He used the Greek word logikos, which is recognizable to us as the source of our word logical. It makes sense to serve God, to give Him all of our hearts and all of our lives. It makes sense for us to do this in this world, as we impact others for His kingdom, and it makes sense for the next world, where our faithful service to God will be rewarded. Salvation is free, but obedience requires sacrifice.
God is calling His children to exchange their own plans for His, no matter what sacrifice that may require.
Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding. For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law. For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother. He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.
Despite what we see and hear in the world around us, God has not changed. His nature and character remain just as they have always been. And His absolute standards of right and wrong have not been altered to match current popular opinion. God doesn't conduct polls to find out whether something is popular; He just declares what is righteous and holy and true and insists that we adjust ourselves accordingly. The doctrine and teachings that were true before are still true today. The instruction that we have received from God's Word must not be forsaken.
The playbook of the devil hasn't changed since the Garden of Eden. If he can convince us to question God's commitment to what He has said, if he can persuade us to alter God's instructions even slightly, he wins. We need to make a firm decision that we will stand fast on and for the truth. Regardless of what others may say or do, we can maintain our commitment to obey the good doctrines found in the Scriptures. They are only sure and certain guide for right living.
Those first principles that we learned when we were first saved, whether as children or adults, are still true. Rather than seeking new doctrines and loopholes, we need to stick to what God has said. In the unchanging pages of the Bible, we find what He wants us to know. We must not allow anything to take away, alter, or undermine the Word of God. It is true. In every case, in every decision, in every day of our lives, we must hold fast the good doctrine we have learned.
Anything or anyone who encourages us to question God's Word is doing the work of the enemy.
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
In May of 1844, Samuel Morse inaugurated the first commercial telegraph line between Baltimore and Washington by sending the message, “What hath God wrought!” (Numbers 23:23) from the Supreme Court building to the offices of the B & O Railroad. This was not merely a pious expression for public consumption, but rather the honest outpouring of Morse's heart. Some time later, a pastor named George Hervey spoke with Morse and asked him, “Professor Morse, when you were making your experiments yonder in your rooms in the university, did you ever come to a stand, not knowing what to do next?” “Oh, yes; more than once,” Morse replied. “And at such times, what did you do next?” “I may answer you in confidence, sir,” said the professor, “but it is a matter of which the public knows nothing. I prayed for more light.”
Whenever we are faced with an obstacle that is too great for us to overcome, our first resort should be to prayer. God is interested in every part of our lives, and He both knows and wants what is best for us. He offers us the great privilege of entering His presence and pleading for His help. We do not pray because God needs to be informed of our situation, but because we believe His promise to hear and answer. David wrote, “Trust in him at all times; ye people, pour out your heart before him: God is a refuge for us. Selah” (Psalm 62:8).
No situation that challenges us presents a challenge to the unlimited power of God, which we touch through prayer.
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.
We all celebrate when our children or grandchildren get their first teeth. It's an important step in their growth and development. But we don't start serving them steak that day. They still need baby food that has already been processed and made easy for them. They aren't ready to eat “strong meat” until they grow more and get more teeth. We expect that change to take place as part of the natural process of growing up. If a child still couldn't eat solid food by the time they started school, we would know that something had gone wrong. The same thing is true in our Christian growth.
The Lord does not save us with the idea that we will stay baby Christians. He expects us to grow up. But the responsibility for that growth rests with us. We are called to do the work of spiritual growth. “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen” (2 Peter 3:18).
J. C. Ryle wrote, “One thing essential to growth in grace is diligence in the use of private means of grace. By these I understand such means as a man must use by himself alone, and no one can use for him. I include under this head private prayer, private reading of the Scriptures, and private meditation and self-examination. The man who does not take pains about these three things must never expect to grow.”
Trying times require strong faith for us to remain consistent in our Christian growth.
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
2 Timothy 4:1-4
Speaking the truth has never been especially popular. The prophets God sent to His people were often rejected and sometimes even killed. History is filled with examples of Christians who were persecuted or martyred for their faithful witness. But opposition, threats, and danger are not meant to stop us. These should come as no surprise because Paul warned Timothy of this response almost two thousand years ago. So while those of us in America have enjoyed and benefited from a great measure of religious freedom, we recognize that this is not guaranteed. No matter how unpopular the truth becomes, we must continue to speak, share, teach, and preach what God says.
The path of least resistance may make us more popular in the short run, but it will not please God or produce lasting results. We are not called to be famous or well thought of. In fact, if we are popular with the world, we are probably doing something wrong. Jesus said, “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). We are called to faithfully and consistently declare the truth. This command does not change with the seasons or with the response of others. It is not dependent on public opinion or what the world views as success. One day we will stand before God to give an account of our service to Him, and He is the only one whose approval we should seek.
The more ungodly our society becomes, the more important it is for us to firmly stand for the truth.
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
In the late 1700s, a new Sunday school class was formed in a small church in Scotland. The superintendent promised he would furnish a new set of clothes to every boy who would attend. The teacher was pleased to see a group of well-dressed boys on the first Sunday. After a few weeks, a little boy named Bob disappeared from class. When she went to visit, she found he had ruined his clothes. The superintendent provided a new set, and Bob came again for a few weeks before dropping out again. When the teacher discovered he had ruined yet another set of clothes, she despaired, but the superintendent gave Bob a third set of clothes, and this time he became faithful to the church.
Bob grew up to be Robert Morrison, one of the pioneers of Chinese missions and a translator of the Bible into the Chinese language. When he arrived on the mission field in China, someone asked Morrison if he expected to make a spiritual impact on that vast country. He replied, “No sir, but I expect God will!” If his teacher and Sunday school superintendent had given up on him, Morrison might not have ever been saved or become a missionary. The work of God in people's lives is usually not observable immediately; it requires repeated and continued investment. Rather than being discouraged and giving up, we need to remain faithful to work and pray until the fruit of the harvest is realized.
If we give up too soon, we will miss the certain harvest that God has promised.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
When Jesus was asked what mattered most in terms of the law—which commandment was the most important—He answered that it was love for God and love for our neighbors. The way that we respond both to God and to others is determined by who or what we love the most. Without love, we will not do what we should. And even when we do things that others may view as being generous and sacrificial, without love, those actions do not matter. Paul wrote, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
It can be hard to love people. They don't always treat us properly. They don't always do what they should. But if we're honest, we don't always do what is right either. So we must extend the forgiveness and grace to others that we need ourselves. For any group, whether a family, a company, a church, or some other organization, to function properly, there must be love and forgiveness. There will be problems because imperfect people will do things they shouldn't and fail to do things they should. When this happens, choosing to love can make the difference.
The hallmark of the church in Jerusalem was their unity. Yet even among those Spirit-filled, committed believers, there were problems. “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” (Acts 6:1). Rather than allowing this problem to continue, however, this church found a solution. When we love others as we should, we will do whatever is right and necessary to keep unity and harmony intact.
Love for God and others is the most important responsibility given to us.
For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: If so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
2 Corinthians 5:1-4
The story is told of an old Scottish preacher who, late in his life and unable to live alone anymore, was facing a move to a new home where he could be cared for. But his home held many memories for him as his children had been born there, he had studied for his sermons there, and it had been a place of hospitality and outreach to others for many years. He was reluctant to leave, but then one of the men who was helping with the move came to him and said, “Sir, everything's gone; and the new house is better than this one. Come away.” Hearing that, he went gladly to his new home.
Every child of God has the hope of Heaven and the perfection that awaits us. The aches and pains of our bodies, the sins and temptations that beset us, and the sorrows and griefs we endure will all be wiped away forever. Instead, we will eternally dwell in the presence of God in splendor and beauty. The things of this world on which we place such great importance should not be allowed to draw our desire and attention away from our eternal home. The perfect place, “not made with hands,” should be our desire. If we are more attached to earthly things than heavenly ones, we are not living as we should. If we are to live here as we should, our hearts must be fixed above, rather than on things of this world.
Our focus must be more on the next world than this one if we are to live as God directs.
Now I will come unto you, when I shall pass through Macedonia: for I do pass through Macedonia. And it may be that I will abide, yea, and winter with you, that ye may bring me on my journey whithersoever I go. For I will not see you now by the way; but I trust to tarry a while with you, if the Lord permit. But I will tarry at Ephesus until Pentecost. For a great door and effectual is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries.
1 Corinthians 16:5-9
Though there were times when God told Paul where and when he would be going next, there were also times when Paul had to wait and see what lay in store for him. This uncertainty is on display at the end of his first letter to the church at Corinth. He told them what he was hoping to do, but he recognized that God's plans would take precedence. Many times when people try to discern God's will for their lives, they allow hardship and opposition to influence their decision. Yet rather than being a sign that we are going in the wrong direction, opposition is often the best sign that we are headed in the right direction. G. Campbell Morgan said, “If you have no opposition in the place you serve, you’re serving in the wrong place.”
We should be living in such a way and having such an impact for God that our lives are not being ignored. When the sons of Sceva tried to cast out a demon without God's power, it ended in disaster for them. They had neither the power or the standing to do so, and their power proved inadequate to the task. “And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?” (Acts 19:15). There is no reason for Satan to focus his attacks on Christians who are doing nothing for God. Adversaries provide evidence that we are having an impact.
We must never let obstacles or opposition deter us from doing what we know is right.
But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God. But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
For seventeen years, H. A. Ironside pastored the Moody Memorial Church in Chicago. One of his great treasures was one of the Bibles from which Evangelist D. L. Moody had studied and preached for many years. Ironside said that in the margin next to Philippians 4:19, Moody had written, “The Christian's Bank Note.” Ironside further commented, “The Christian is to ask largely, according to his present need, and must use at once the riches provided. Christ's promises are more than beautiful sentiments to be hung upon the wall for decorative purposes. They are not intended as life-savers for use only in time of shipwreck. In the presence of such divine provision, there is no excuse for spiritual poverty.”
The Lord loves us, and we do not have to convince Him to listen when we pray. It is part of His nature that He wants to help us. Psalm 65:2 addresses Him as, "O thou that hearest prayer...." So often we fail to receive the provision that He is able to give simply because we do not ask Him for what we need. The devil is more than happy for us to try to handle life on our own, for he knows that we cannot defeat him in our own strength. Yet as William Cowper put it, “Satan trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees.” Not a single promise from God has ever failed. The only failure is our failure to claim those promises and act upon them. Every day and in every situation, we can come to God and ask Him to meet our needs. God never ignores the prayers of His children.
Acting in reliance on the promises of God will never fail to achieve His purposes.
When Jesus then lifted up his eyes, and saw a great company come unto him, he saith unto Philip, Whence shall we buy bread, that these may eat? And this he said to prove him: for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, Two hundred pennyworth of bread is not sufficient for them, that every one of them may take a little. One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, saith unto him, There is a lad here, which hath five barley loaves, and two small fishes: but what are they among so many?
Evangelist Gipsy Smith lost his mother when he was still very young. He recounted going to his father and asking what they would do about Christmas. His father had once made money by playing his violin in bars, but since he had become a Christian, he refused to do that. Instead he told Gipsy, “I do not know what we shall have for Christmas, but we will sing.” He sang:
In some way or other the Lord will provide:
It may not be my way,
It may not be thy way;
And yet, in His own way,
The Lord will provide.
While they were singing, a knock came at the door. A pastor from Cambridge told them to go to a certain shop in town where food had been purchased and was waiting for them to pick it up. Gipsy Smith said there was so much that they had to use a wheelbarrow to carry it all. He said, “I never learned who purchased those things, but God had provided our Christmas dinner.”
God's ability to meet our needs does not depend on our resources. Whether we have much or little, or even nothing at all, He is more than able to provide. He hears when His children call out to Him, and even before we are aware of the need, He already knows the solution. Our responsibility is simply to come to Him in faith and trust that He will provide.
We don't need to know all the answers; we simply need to trust the One who does.
Who can understand his errors? Cleanse thou me from secret faults. Keep back thy servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me: then shall I be upright, and I shall be innocent from the great transgression. Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.
For a number of years, the clock in the Park Street Church in Elmira, New York, continually ran fast. Despite all the efforts to fix it, it continued to be unreliable. Finally a sign was placed above the clock which read, “Don't blame my hands; the trouble lies deeper.” Whenever there are failings in our behavior and conduct as Christians, the problem is not so much the things we are doing outwardly as it is the things we have allowed within. Until our thoughts and our hearts are cleansed, nothing we do on the outside will produce a lasting change in behavior.
There are lots of people in our world today trying to substitute cleaning up the outside for a genuine change in the heart. This isn't new. It is something that Jesus identified in those who were only concerned with what others could see. “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
What we do—how we act, how we speak, how we treat others—matters. It matters a lot. But it is a byproduct of what is on the inside. When we allow temptation to linger, when we permit our thoughts to dwell on sinful things, we may still look fine to those around us. But eventually those inward things will impact our actions. Before we ask God to change our behavior, we should be seeking Him in repentance, asking Him to change what no else sees. That change will fix the problem in a way nothing else can.
The problem of sin does not start on the outside, but rather within our own hearts and minds.
Servants, obey in all things your masters according to the flesh; not with eyeservice, as menpleasers; but in singleness of heart, fearing God: And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men; Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ. But he that doeth wrong shall receive for the wrong which he hath done: and there is no respect of persons.
Dr. Robert Speer, who wrote two of the original articles in a series of books titled The Fundamentals, told the story of a sculptor who was hard at work on a statue. The piece was designed to go inside a niche in the wall so that it would only be seen from the front. Yet a visitor to his studio found the sculptor diligently laboring over the back of the piece. When he expressed surprise, the sculptor said, “God will always be looking upon it.” Speer concluded, “I am not so sure that it is not on the obscurities of our lives that God looks far more than on what we regard as our real life upon which men look. What He looks at after all is what is back of the life.”
The temptation to cut corners and do just enough to get by must be resisted. No matter what the business setting is, a Christian should be the most diligent, responsible, and faithful worker there. This is just as true for someone who works for a church as it is for someone who works in a factory. No matter what company name is on the paycheck we receive, as believers, we are ultimately working for God, not for our employer. And He always deserves the very best that we can offer Him. When Daniel's enemies tried to find something in his work life to use against him, they came up empty. “Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God” (Daniel 6:5).
The way we approach our work reveals much about the way we view our relationship with God.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
A missionary named Ira Gilbert wrote of the great difficulty that went into building a mission hospital in Africa. Supplies were hard to find, workers were sometimes scarce, and they faced opposition from some who did not want to see the gospel spread in their area. Eventually the hospital was finished, and they began treating patients. Soon they found that many of their patients walked miles to get there and that a number of them passed a government hospital on the way. When one man was asked why he had made the extra journey past the government hospital to the mission hospital, he replied, “The medicines may be the same, but the hands are different.”
The work and ministry and lives that we lead in this world should reflect the love of the Lord in an unmistakable way to those around us. They should be able to tell that we have been spending time with Jesus, not just from the words we speak, but from the way we act toward them. Our “hands” should be different from those who are not believers. Our joy should shine through as a witness of the transformation Jesus made in our lives. His love for the world should be reflected in our conduct toward those around us. His grace and kindness should be the guide for our actions.
Truth is important, and we should never compromise our beliefs and convictions in the name of kindness. But the way in which we interact with others is important as well. If we hold fast to the truth but are harsh and short and critical with others, it is unlikely that they will be receptive to what we say, regardless of how right it is. Instead we should demonstrate both the grace and the truth that Jesus had.
If those around us can see we have been with Jesus, they will be more willing to listen to what we have to say.
Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD.
The story is told of a desperate mother who sought an audience with the Emperor Napoleon. When she was admitted into his presence, she begged him to spare the life of her son, who had been sentenced to die for failure to do his duty. As it was his second offense, Napoleon pointed out that justice demanded his execution. “I don't ask for justice,” the mother said, “I plead for mercy.” “But he does not deserve mercy,” Napoleon responded. “Sire,” she cried, “it would not be mercy if he deserved it. Mercy is all I ask.” Napoleon commuted the young man's sentence, and his life was spared.
When we come to God, we do not bring proof of our innocence. We do not offer Him something that would qualify us for His grace and forgiveness. Instead we fall at His feet and beg for mercy—and God grants it. One of the most amazing things about our salvation is the way God fully and freely forgives us, even though all we deserve is His wrath and punishment. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross made it possible for mercy and forgiveness to replace what we deserve, and for God to still be just.
Whether we have been saved for a few days or for many decades, our gratitude for what God has done should never wane. We should never lose sight of the great mercy of God which is beyond our ability to fully understand. We should never start to believe that somehow we deserved salvation. If we had not received God's abundant pardon, we would still be hopelessly lost.
God's mercy is amazing, and we must never forget what it cost Jesus to make it possible for us to receive it.
And the multitude rose up together against them: and the magistrates rent off their clothes, and commanded to beat them. And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely: Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks. And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
The treatment that Paul and Silas received in Philippi certainly gave them ample room for complaint. They were arrested, not for doing anything evil, but for casting a demon out of a young woman and giving her freedom from the control of a dark power. Without being given the trial to which they were entitled as Roman citizens, they were beaten severely. Then they were placed in the maximum security section of the prison with strict instructions that they were not to be allowed to escape under any circumstances. In such a situation, we would not be surprised to hear complaints and protests. Instead Paul and Silas expressed their trust in God with words of praise from the depths of the prison.
We do not have to allow our circumstances to dictate our attitude or our behavior. Even when we have been badly mistreated, we can still trust in and praise God. He is in control, no matter how difficult our situation may be. Those who know we are believers watch us even more closely during trying situations, just as the other prisoners listened to Paul and Silas. The impact that we can have on others when we respond properly to trials and tribulations is immense. We can respond properly if we retain our trust in God. David wrote, “I will bless the LORD at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth” (Psalm 34:1). He didn't write these words, however, when he was ruling over Israel and safely on the throne; he wrote them when he was running for his life. Even then, he knew God deserved his praise.
Hard situations offer us a unique opportunity to praise God and influence others to trust Him as well.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
A great many of the Jewish people when Jesus came had no real interest in a Saviour. They were looking for the Messiah, but they pictured Him as a military or political leader who would overthrow the Romans and give Israel back its independence. They were thinking purely in nationalistic and physical terms rather than in personal and spiritual terms. The truth that the Messiah would come as a sacrifice rather than as a conqueror was laid out clearly in the Old Testament, but the people in large part had no desire to follow such a leader. A large number of people responded to Jesus initially, but as He laid out His purpose and God's plan more clearly, they went away. “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66).
If there had been any way in which salvation could have been offered to sinful and fallen man, God would not have sent His Son to die on a cross. But it was necessary for the perfect and sinless Christ to die in our place, paying the rightful penalty He did not owe so that we could receive pardon. The cross was not a setback or a detour, but a central part of God's plan to save those who believe and accept His offer of salvation by grace through faith alone. There is no other way that any of us can be justified before God.
The only way we can come to God is on His terms—through Christ's sacrificial death on the cross.
Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.
Annie Johnson Flint, who was orphaned before she was six, knew a great deal about hardship in life. She suffered from poor health and spent much of her adult life bedridden. But in her suffering, she sought strength from God and wrote beautiful hymns that testify to His love and faithfulness. Among the best known is “He Giveth More Grace,” which includes these words:
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father's full giving is only begun.
His love has no limit, His grace has no measure;
His pow'r has no boundary known unto men.
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!
The strength that we need to live as God's children in a wicked world is more than we can ever muster on our own. If we try to go in our own power, we will surely be defeated. It is only when we rely on God, waiting on His power and provision, that we are able to be victorious. God wants us to be dependent on Him. When we are tired, discouraged, exhausted, and about to faint, He calls us to come to Him. In His strength, we can accomplish any task He sets before us.
Those who rely on God for the strength they need will never exhaust His supply.
Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
2 Corinthians 11:24-28
The life of the Apostle Paul was anything but easy. Being faithful to God's calling put his life in danger over and over. He suffered intense persecution, dire hardships, lack, and danger—not for doing wrong, but for doing right. There were many reasons for Paul to quit, but he never did. The hardships made some of his companions turn back. Mark quit the first missionary journey. Demas decided the things of the world were more to be desired than the suffering of following Christ. Yet despite all that Paul endured and the fact that others were turning back, he continued. He refused to allow anything to deter him from serving God.
Paul declared, “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). There are times when difficulty comes as a result of something we have done wrong. But many times the opposition and hardship we experience are because we are doing right, and the devil is trying to get us to stop serving God. Whatever the source, we must not allow anything to stop our service to God. Edgar Guest wrote, “It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.”
Our love for Christ should be so great that nothing can deter us from serving Him.
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
We live in a day when many people utterly reject the truth of God. They mock the Bible and those who believe it as being hopelessly out of date. They scorn the church and refuse to listen when the gospel is presented to them. In the face of this rejection, some churches have chosen to change their message, hoping for more acceptance. As a result, they are no longer proclaiming the truth. But the response to the message is not our responsibility. Our task is to faithfully declare what God has said, speaking not our message, but the one He has entrusted us to deliver. We are not responsible for the way people receive God's truth, but rather responsible for offering the message of salvation.
When the Israelites came to Samuel and insisted on having a king, the prophet was distraught. He warned them that they were going against God's plan. He pleaded with them to reconsider, but they refused. So he went to God in prayer, feeling like he had failed. “And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them (1 Samuel 8:7). Whether or not anyone believes the gospel, our job is to speak it clearly and call the world to repentance. The results of that are totally in God's hands. As long as we are faithful, compassionate witnesses of the truth, we have done our job.
As faithful ambassadors for Christ, our responsibility is to present His message to the world and then to trust Him with the results.
But when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest room; that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee, Friend, go up higher: then shalt thou have worship in the presence of them that sit at meat with thee. For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
We are taught and encouraged by our society to be self-promoters. There are all kinds of books and articles and studies that suggest the way to get ahead is to broadcast how wonderful and effective we are. Yet God calls us to a different course of action. The radical humility that Jesus taught—that the way to promotion and favor with God is not by lifting ourselves up, but by humbling ourselves—seems strange to us. It is the opposite of what our nature wants to do. We want to be thought of as successful and looked up to by others. We want to be praised and exalted. It feels good. It feeds our pride. It satisfies our ego. It fills our desire for significance. God is looking for something different than the world praises.
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble brokenhearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is an humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable, and full of glory, is a humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to an universal lowliness of behavior.” If we want to please God with the way we live, and that should be our goal above all else, we must lay aside the pride and self-promotion that lift us up and instead put on the humility that exalts God alone. Every talent and resource we have is a gift from God, and nothing about which we should be boastful.
When we see God and ourselves as we should, we realize we have no basis for pride.
Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.
The Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written has different grammar rules than English. One of those concerns negatives. In English, a double negative can cancel out the statement. If you say, “I'm not not going,” that means you are going. In Greek, however, a double negative is an intensifier. If you say, “I'm not not going,” that means you are really and truly not going. The more negatives are included in the statement, the stronger it is. The promise from God to never leave nor forsake us would be unchanging and certain if He said it once. But to emphasize the point, the Greek rendering of Hebrews 13:5 includes not two or three or even four, but five negatives. God was emphatic in making this promise. He wants us to know that we can trust Him completely.
Truly there will never come a day when He will abandon us. His nature forecloses the possibility that He will change His mind or fail to do what He has said. Moses wrote, “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19). When we are faced with what seem to be impossible circumstances, we are not forsaken. When we are struggling to figure out what to do, we are not alone. Every day we have the privilege to hear from God in His Word and talk to Him in prayer. These are not empty or meaningless religious rituals, but rather a vital and necessary part of the Christian life. To experience His overcoming power displayed on our behalf, we must practice living in His presence.
There is never a cause for a Christian to live in fear because God never forsakes His children.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
I'm sure you've seen the photo sections in newspapers where they ask various people to respond to a question. I recently came across one where they were asking people how they viewed what lies ahead. A thirteen year old girl said, “My computer screen is brighter than my future.” There is no question that we live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion regarding what will happen next. Things that people counted on as stable and long-lasting proved to be anything but reliable. People we expected to remain steadfast faded away. It is no wonder that many people are unsettled and fearful concerning the future.
As believers, our trust is not to be in men, institutions, or our resources, but in God. When we recognize that He is in control and provides His mercy to accompany us every day, we realize there is no need to be fearful regarding the future. Our lives may be filled with hardship and difficulty, but we will never be forsaken by the Good Shepherd. We can always rely on Him to both know what is best for us and provide for all our needs. Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
When we allow worry and fear to control our thinking and our actions, we are demonstrating a lack of faith. The promises of God are certain and sure, and our future is settled. We do not see what lies ahead, but God already knows. We simply need to trust in His love and care for us every day.
The faithfulness of God is the foundation of our hope for the future.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
From time to time, all of us have known people who were heavily burdened down. Perhaps it was the launch of a new ministry, a long term illness, a wayward child, or a severe economic reversal. Most of us have been in that position. Most of us know what it feels like to wonder if there is anyone who knows or cares what we are facing. Even if all earthly help has failed us, there is a source of comfort and rest. Jesus promises peace to those who come to Him. Yet how often we do without His promised rest. Charles Spurgeon said, “How many of our sleepless hours might be traced to our untrusting and disordered minds. They slumber sweetly whom faith rocks to sleep. No pillow so soft as a promise; no coverlet so warm as an assured interest in Christ.”
God's promise of peace and comfort does not hinge upon our circumstances changing; it hinges upon our trust in the promises of God. If we wait for the situation to improve, we will never know true peace. Faith claims the blank check we have been offered and takes it to the Bank of Heaven for payment.
On the deck of a sinking ship when all hope seemed lost, the Apostle Paul declared his faith. “Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me” (Acts 27:25). The rain did not stop falling, and winds did not subside. The sun did not appear to give the sailors a way to determine where they were. But still Paul had comfort from the promises of God. When God is the source of our peace, no storm can take it away.
Our rest comes from God, not as a change in our circumstances, but as a change in our perspective.
Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness. Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought. For I the LORD thy God will hold thy right hand, saying unto thee, Fear not; I will help thee.
Because we live in a fallen world, we have trouble in our lives. Christians are not exempt from the impact sin had on God's creation design. We get sick, lose loved ones, struggle with temptation, and face obstacles that seem to be overwhelming. God does not promise that we will avoid these things. In fact, He tells us to expect them. But that does not mean that we are condemned to lives of worry and fear. While God does not promise that we will escape trouble, He does promise that He will never abandon us in our difficulties. Instead, like a parent taking a child by the hand to make sure they do not fall, He will strengthen, uplift, and encourage us all the way through.
As Martin Luther put it in the hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” this is our only hope. He wrote, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.” God's strength, power, and support guide us through every challenge. But His promise offers us even more. That precious promise offers us peace and comfort in place of the fear that naturally accompanies difficult circumstances. Fear is not required. Fear is not overpowering. Fear is a choice to ignore or doubt the promises of God rather than trust that He will do as He promised.
God's children have no need to fear anything that life can throw at them, for He is always with us.
And he asked for a writing table, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, and praised God. And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. And all they that heard them laid them up in their hearts, saying, What manner of child shall this be! And the hand of the Lord was with him.
Great things were expected of Hartley Coleridge. His father Samuel was one of the most famous poets and authors in England. He went to Oxford on a full scholarship, but he found drinking, gambling, drugs, and immorality more attractive than classes. Eventually, he was expelled. He wasted his talent and opportunities, never becoming what he could have been. On a visit to his family's home years later, Hartley wrote in the flyleaf of one of his schoolbooks, “Only seventeen years have passed over me since this book was given to me. Then all looked forward with hope and joy to what I was to become. Now every mother prays that her lamb, every father hopes that his boy, will never be what I have become.”
God gives each of us talents and gifts to be used in His service. While some may have more gifts than others, above all, the Lord is looking for faithfulness with what He has given us. Having potential to do great things for God and failing to do them is one of the great tragedies of life. Those the Lord deems to be successful are not those with the greatest potential, but those who faithfully made the most of what He had entrusted to them. We are not given talent for our own glory, but for His. We are not provided with potential so that we can be praised, but so that He can be lifted up. This is the purpose of life.
Use everything that God has given you to the fullest for His kingdom and His glory.
And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them. Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the coats and garments which Dorcas made, while she was with them.
During the days of westward expansion in the United States, life on the frontier was anything but certain. Hundreds of people were buried alongside trails and in small cemeteries without much notice or remembrance. At one point, a Missouri newspaper called the Mountain Echo ran this notice: “If you have frequent fainting spells, accompanied by chills, cramps, corns, bunions, chilblains, epilepsy, and jaundice, it is a sign that you are not well, but liable to die any minute. Pay your subscription in advance and thus make yourself solid for a good obituary notice.”
Every day, we are making a record that people will remember after we are gone. We may never be famous or well known, but there are people whose lives we are impacting—for good or ill—and they will remember what we have done. The obituary that we are writing with our actions will long outlast anything that may be printed or posted online. The encouraging words we speak, the kind actions we perform, the generous gifts we give, and the faithful witness we present are the best kind of obituary there is to leave behind.
The opportunities of today will likely not be repeated tomorrow. We must seize each day and do all that we can for God and for others in it. In truth, none of us knows what the next day will bring. The only day we have for certain is this one, and we must not waste it. Jesus said, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
The way we will be remembered after we are gone is determined by the way we live today.
But when they in their trouble did turn unto the LORD God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them. And in those times there was no peace to him that went out, nor to him that came in, but great vexations were upon all the inhabitants of the countries. And nation was destroyed of nation, and city of city: for God did vex them with all adversity. Be ye strong therefore, and let not your hands be weak: for your work shall be rewarded.
2 Chronicles 15:4-7
When Asa, one of the better kings of Judah, was distressed because of the enemies threatening his nation, God sent the prophet Azariah with a message of hope and encouragement. The message acknowledged the troubles God's people were having and the fact that their unfaithfulness to Him was at the root of those problems. Yet it also offered hope that God would reward the efforts and work of those who refused to allow themselves to become discouraged and give up.
I read about a little boy who was struggling to learn to ice skate. His repeated falls brought sympathy from a watching man who said, “Sonny, you're getting all banged up. Why don't you stop for a while and just watch the others?” With tears still rolling down his cheeks from his last fall, the boy looked from the man to his wounds and then to the shining steel on his feet and answered, “Mister, I didn't get these skates to give up with; I got 'em to learn how with!”
Most of the things in life that are worth anything require a great deal of effort to acquire. And the process of learning and developing the skills to succeed is often marked with failure. Very few things work perfectly from the start. The difference between success and failure is found in whether or not we give up. If we refuse to quit because things are difficult, we will find that God is faithful to reward our efforts.
God is looking for people whose faith in Him is stronger than the obstacles they face.
The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. He sitteth alone and keepeth silence, because he hath borne it upon him.
We live in an impatient world. We want immediate answers and immediate results. Yet often God's plan for us is longer term. He does not cater to our impatience. Instead He bids us to patiently wait for Him, trusting in His timing and His plan. Andrew Murray wrote, “A doctor was once asked by a patient who had met with a serious accident, 'Doctor, how long shall I have to lie here?' The answer, 'Only a day at a time,' taught the patient a precious lesson. It was the same lesson God had recorded for His people of all ages, long before: The day's portion in its day. Faithful for one short day, long years take care of themselves.”
God's timetable is not the same as ours. He is never in a hurry, and He never runs behind. Our task is not to encourage Him to get on our schedule, but to tune our hearts and minds to be patient. This does not mean that we are to be passive or inactive. Rather, it means that we are not to expect results until God is ready. James used the illustration of a farmer looking forward to the harvest when he wrote, “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain” (James 5:7). As long as we are patiently working and waiting for God, we need not fear the eventual result.
Patience does not mean that we do nothing for God, but that we trust His timing for the harvest.
Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.
When God called Abraham to leave behind all he knew and go to an unknown land, Abraham went. That is faith—not just saying that we believe God, but acting on that belief. Abraham is honored and remembered for his faith to this day. Paul described him this way: “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also” (Romans 4:11).
But while Abraham was a man of great faith, he was not perfect. Sometimes we look at figures from the past and think we could never match their lives. Yet they were men and women just like us who tried, failed, and tried again. Abraham certainly had his lapses in faith. He did not fully obey God's command, taking some of his relatives with him. When the birth of their promised son was delayed, Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands, committing sin against both God and Hagar.
And yet, as we saw above, Abraham is considered the father of faith. How can this be? It is because God's forgiveness is complete. Yes, Abraham had lapses to his faith, but Abraham's faith wasn't in himself; it was in God. In fact, his faith was specifically in God for his righteousness. "...for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness" (Romans 4:9). When we repent, God forgives us completely and moves ahead. He does not hold the past against us but calls us to continue walking by faith in Him.
God forgives us completely and invites us to continue walking with Him by faith.
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
Stephen was an impressive man. The few facts that we learn about his life in the book of Acts reveal a man whose faith was real. Stephen was not just a “church” Christian, but someone who lived out his faith every day of the week. When men of quality and character were needed to help meet the needs of poor widows in the church, Stephen was one of those selected. He was also a powerful witness of the truth of the gospel. The Bible tells us that when those who rejected the message of Jesus confronted Stephen, they could not overcome his message or the spirit in which he gave it. In fact, eventually Stephen was stoned by people who were enraged by the truth he spoke.
Stephen was irresistible in his preaching, not because he was immensely talented or gifted. Though he clearly knew the Old Testament well, it was not his intellect or training that made his message so powerful. It was the fullness of the Holy Spirit in his life that brought such strong conviction on those who heard him. Such a powerful message is not a guarantee that people will respond positively. But the results are not our concern—faithfulness is. “Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord” (Acts 7:57). Imagine a group of adults so enraged by the truth that they scream and stick their fingers in their ears so they don't have to hear it anymore! Being filled with the Spirit does not mean we will be accepted, but it does mean that the truth we speak cannot be resisted.
Christians filled with the Holy Spirit will make a powerful impact on those around them.
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you.
It is natural for people to want to hear things that are encouraging, uplifting, and happy. Certainly there is a time and place for those words. Yet often what we need to hear instead is a hard truth—a word of correction or instruction or reproof that will take us from where we are to where we need to be. If we refuse to hear the truth because it is hard, we miss the benefit that comes when we change our lives to match what God commands.
The problem of rejecting hard truths is not limited to other people. It can affect any of us. When Jesus laid out God's design for salvation through faith in Him alone, many people rejected the message. “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it?” (John 6:60). These were not the Pharisees who found this teaching hard to bear, but those who had up to this point been following Jesus.
If we refuse to hear and heed unpleasant truths, our lives can never become what God calls and commands us to be. Just as a doctor performs surgery and may even remove part of the body to save the rest, the truth may be cutting and painful, but it is necessary. When we find ourselves responding badly to something the Bible says, the solution is not to find an alternative voice that is kind and soothing and does not demand change. Instead we must conform our thinking, our beliefs, and our behavior to what God has said.
We must not adjust God's hard truths to make them more acceptable to us or to others.
And he gave him the covenant of circumcision: and so Abraham begat Isaac, and circumcised him the eighth day; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat the twelve patriarchs. And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him, And delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favour and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house.
The life of Joseph is a powerful lesson for us when things don't go right. Because of the favoritism Jacob showed him, Joseph's brothers hated him. But because there was no financial profit to be had by killing him, they sold him into slavery. Then they stained Joseph's coat with blood and brought it to their father, leaving Jacob to believe that his beloved son was dead. Meanwhile, Joseph's commitment to doing right led to his imprisonment on a false charge. Later, his kindness and prophetic interpretation of the dream Pharaoh's butler had was forgotten, and Joseph continued to languish in prison.
Although the circumstances were certainly not what Joseph would have preferred, God was at work. The hardships and injustices that Joseph experienced were necessary steps on the path that God had laid out for his life. All of us go through things that are difficult and painful. As we seek to understand them, we must never forget that God is at work. Yes, there are times when we have trouble that we brought upon ourselves. But even then, God does not forsake us. It is, however, during the times when we are suffering for doing right that we are tempted to believe that God has forgotten us. He has not, and He will not.
God is able to use every event of our lives for our good and for His glory. Dr. R. B. Ouellette said, “The very worst an enemy can do to you is be an unwitting instrument to accomplish God's purposes in your life.” God was just as much with Joseph in the prison as He was was in the palace. We must never lose heart when we do not see what He has in mind. We must trust and obey.
God is always at work, even when we do not see or understand His purposes and plans for us.
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
There are a number of what science refers to as genetic disorders. These are diseases that are passed down from parents to children. Some of the most common are sickle cell disease, hemophilia, cystic fibrosis, and Huntington's disease. Some of these diseases can be treated or at least mitigated through medicine and therapy, while others are fatal. These diseases are not the result of environmental or behavioral factors, but instead something that results from the genetic combinations in the ancestry of the person who has them.
There are many different kinds of religious alternatives in our world today. They offer promises to Heaven, enlightenment, peace with God, unity, or something else. But unless the promise is based solely on the Word of God and the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, it can only result in empty hopes and distorted religions. Only the Bible, the incorruptible Word of God, is able to produce the new birth without any “genetic” defects. The Bible must be perfect—and it is—for us to have hope of salvation.
So many people today are trying to rewrite and revise God's plan of salvation to make it better fit with our modern way of thinking rather than humbly aligning themselves with what God has said. Every person born into this world inherits the disease of sin and must have a new birth. We can only come to God on His terms. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber” (John 10:1).
The accuracy and perfection of the Word of God is the guarantee that our faith is built on a firm foundation.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate. For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.
Anyone who has presented the gospel to a number of people has experienced a complete rejection of the message of the truth. It may have been polite, or it may have been rude, but the person responding made it clear that they had no interest in considering their eternal state. We should not allow that to discourage us, for Jesus Himself experienced the same thing. He lamented the rejection of His offer by the people of Jerusalem. He knew what awaited those who rejected Him, and it grieved Him to think of their fate.
It is hard for us to understand how someone could reject Jesus in person. He knew what people were thinking and feeling, and He presented the truth to them in the way that He knew would most resonate with them. He was loving and kind, merciful and gracious, open and inviting. Yet with all of that, the majority of people did not accept Him as the Messiah and Savior that they needed. He offered them salvation, hope, and eternal life, but they refused to take Him up on that offer.
This is a such a powerful indictment of the condition of the lost world. Even when they are presented with the truth, some reject it willfully and intentionally. Thankfully, others receive the Word of God gladly and believe on Christ. Paul reminded the Christians at Thessalonica that when he had first come to preach the gospel, "when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
God has given each person a free choice to receive Him or reject Him. Our part is to faithfully share the gospel with everyone.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Nearly four hundred years ago, Harvard was founded with the primary mission of training preachers for the churches of the American colonies. The original motto of the institution was “Truth for Christ and the Church.” Things have changed a lot since then. In 2021, the chaplains of the university elected one of their members as the new head for the chaplain corps—a man named Greg Epstein. This is remarkable because Epstein, a self-described humanist, is an atheist who does not believe in God at all. He serves the humanist students of the university. In his best-selling book, Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, Epstein argues, “We don’t look to a god for answers; we are each other’s answers.”
The fact that people do not like to think about God or acknowledge His right to rule over the world and command our behavior is not new. Jesus told a parable in which He was represented as a nobleman who went to gain a kingdom. “But his citizens hated him, and sent a message after him, saying, We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14). No matter how hard people try to convince themselves that they do not need God, that pride does not change the consequences of refusing to listen to Him. When we look at the world around us, it is easy to see that we are living with the results of rejecting God. The best that we can do apart from Him always produces ruin and failure. The truth about God may not be popular, but it is still real. No matter what people may do, He remains on the throne.
Refusing to accept God does not make us free, but rather enslaves us more deeply to sin.
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.
Before his conversion, John Bunyan was a profane and godless man, renowned throughout the town of Bedford, England, for his contempt of anything to do with God or religion. Bunyan's transformation after his salvation was complete, and he became a powerful and noted preacher. Because he recognized that only God has the right to control the church, Bunyan refused to take a license from the Church of England. He was threatened, and when that did not work, he was imprisoned. Again and again, he was offered his freedom if he would either stop preaching or take a license, but he consistently refused. Eventually, Bunyan's time in jail reached almost twelve years. It was during his imprisonment that he wrote much of The Pilgrim's Progress, which remains one of the best-selling books in history.
God does not promise to make things easy for us. He does not promise that we will avoid the hardships and troubles of the world simply because we are His children. But He does promise that if we are patient and persevering, He will reward our work for Him and make it fruitful. Our suffering never takes God by surprise, and He does not allow things to come into our lives that are not meant to further His purpose. Rather than acting as if something is lacking in His care for us, suffering should make us more determined to keep on working for Him.
The trials of life cannot stop us from serving God unless we choose to allow them to do so.
And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.
One of the key members of the great church at Philippi was Lydia. She used the resources that God had provided to help the church get established. But she was not looking for fame, praise, or attention. She was instead concerned that her life be evaluated by—and that she indeed would pass the test—her faithfulness to the Lord. We live in a day when many people hunger to be recognized as talented, gifted, or successful, but God has never been impressed with such things. He is looking for those who are committed, dedicated, and consistent in His work. Paul wrote, “Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2).
The faithful life requires humility and obedience. That is why so many people would prefer other measures of success. It is not easy, but it is right. Oswald Chambers wrote, “The goal of faithfulness is not that we will do work for God, but that He will be free to do His work through us. God calls us to His service and places tremendous responsibilities on us. He expects no complaining on our part and offers no explanation on His part. God wants to use us as He used His own Son.” Faithfulness shows up day after day. It does not concern itself with whether it is noticed or popular, but whether it is diligent. Faithfulness is the persistence to keep going, even when we do not see immediate results. Faithfulness is a dedication to the process, not the results. And faithfulness makes our lives pleasing unto God.
If we are faithful to God, our lives are a success—no matter what the world may think.
Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of musick brought before him: and his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?
Darius was not happy to consign Daniel to the den of lions for praying to God, but even the king could not alter what he had codified with his signature into the law of the Medes and the Persians. He now realized that Daniel was being railroaded for a made up offense, but he also knew what happened to someone sentenced to that fate. After a sleepless night, Darius went to find out if by some chance Daniel had survived. He wanted to know if the God of Daniel had the power to do something miraculous, and he found out that God did. Everyone who knows that we are believers should be able to see evidence that God is at work in our lives. If they do not, they too will question whether God is able.
When Jesus returned from the Mount of Transfiguration, He found a crowd gathered around a distraught father. This desperate man had brought his demon possessed son to Jesus' disciples, but they were unable to do anything about it. The failure of Jesus' followers made the man question whether the Lord Himself would be able to help. He said, “And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us” (Mark 9:22). The answers to prayer that we receive and the way that He works in our lives are one of the strongest evidences the world can see that He is real.
Our lives should be evidence to those around us that God is real and able to do anything.
And David said unto Saul, Thy servant kept his father’s sheep, and there came a lion, and a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock: And I went out after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth: and when he arose against me, I caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him. Thy servant slew both the lion and the bear: and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be as one of them, seeing he hath defied the armies of the living God.
1 Samuel 17:34-36
When Jesse sent his son David to check on his brothers in the army and bring them some food from home, David was no doubt eager to accept the assignment. It certainly would be more exciting than keeping the family's sheep. When he arrived, David was outraged to hear the challenge of Goliath, and even more outraged that no one was doing anything about it. When word of David's willingness to fight reached the ears of Saul, he demanded to know how an untrained youth could possibly expect to triumph over a giant warrior. David responded by recounting times in the past when God had worked to give him victory. Later David would write, “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2).
It is vital for us to have faith to face the challenges of today, and it is vital to that faith for us to remind ourselves of what God has done for us in the past. There are nearly four dozen references in the Bible to God parting the Red Sea for the Israelites. He does not want us to forget what He has done. God knows that if we count our blessings and reflect on His goodness to us in the past, it will encourage us for the future. It will also have a powerful impact on others as we share our testimonies, and they realize that they too can trust in God to do all that He has promised.
The greater the obstacles in front of us seem to be, the more important it is for us to look back on what God has done for us.
I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy, For your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now; Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ: Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.
God does not do anything halfway. What He begins, He finishes. What He plans, He completes. We can have full confidence in the future, because it is God who has promised to accomplish what He has said. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “When [the Israelites] were in Egypt he sent not only a deliverer, but an actual deliverance; not only a redeemer, but complete redemption. He has done the like spiritually for all his people, having first by blood purchased them out of the hand of the enemy, and then by power rescued them from the bondage of their sins. Redemption we can sing of as an accomplished act: it has been wrought for us, sent to us, and enjoyed by us, and we are in very deed the Lord’s redeemed.”
The path that we started on when we accepted Christ as Savior does not always run smooth and straight. Many times there are troubles, hardships, tears, and frustrations. Many times we fail to do what we should and instead do what we should not. But just as we did not save ourselves, we do not keep ourselves—God does that. He knows what we will do long before it ever happens. He knows the obstacles, temptations, and struggles we will face. He continues to love and care for us, and He will keep us safe in Him until the day we see Him face to face.
We need never fear that God will abandon us or fail to accomplish all He has planned for our lives.
And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches; And not that only, but who was also chosen of the churches to travel with us with this grace, which is administered by us to the glory of the same Lord, and declaration of your ready mind: Avoiding this, that no man should blame us in this abundance which is administered by us: Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men.
2 Corinthians 8:18-21
Charles Spurgeon was in the public eye in England from the time he became a pastor of the New Park Street Chapel (later named the Metropolitan Tabernacle) in London at the age of nineteen through the rest of his life. He quickly became one of the best known men in the entire country. His sermons were printed in newspapers, and so many people wanted to hear him preach that they gave out tickets to control the size of the crowds. His firm stands for the truth and his willingness to apply what the Bible said to the issues of the day regardless of whether it was popular or not aroused a good deal of opposition. At one point, he was even threatened that if he did not tone down his preaching, disparaging information about him would be made public. Spurgeon responded, “Write all you know about me across the heavens.”
Spurgeon was not claiming to be perfect. In fact, a reading of his sermons and articles reveals that Spurgeon was painfully aware of his own failings. But he also knew that he had led an honest and honorable life, and there was nothing about his personal or pastoral work that he would be ashamed to have revealed to the world. We know that God sees everything that we do, and nothing is hidden from His eyes. But we should be willing to have our work and lives examined by others. There should not be anything we do that we would be embarrassed or ashamed to have known by others.
If we do not want others to know about something we do, that is a warning sign that we should not be doing it.
And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
As the Reformation and the teaching of salvation by grace through faith alone began to spread, Martin Luther became the target of a campaign of persecution and slander. He faced enormous pressure from both political and religious authorities to recant his teaching. Eventually he was summoned to Worms, Germany, in 1521 to answer charges of heresy. Luther refused to relent and deny what he believed to be true. Fearlessly he said, “Unless I am convinced of error by the testimony of Scriptures or…by manifest reasoning I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God’s Word, I cannot and will not recant anything. On this I take my stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
Though we should not be arrogant or unwilling to listen to instruction and correction, when we know that we are standing firm on what the Word of God says, nothing should shake our confidence or cause us to abandon our commitment to the truth. Many people treat uncertainty as a virtue, but it is not. God wants us to know what is right and to clearly and firmly present it to those around us. There is an urgent need in our day for a clear and consistent declaration of what God has said. Paul wrote, “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8). The more the darkness grows around us, the more vital it is to have clarity about the truth. God is looking for people who are unwilling to allow anything to deter them from speaking the truth to the world.
Nothing should be allowed to shake our commitment to stand for the truth.
Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began, But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel: Whereunto I am appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles.
2 Timothy 1:9-11
All of us are familiar with accidents. Whether it is something minor like a glass of spilled milk or something major like a car wreck, we know what it is like for things to happen that we do not expect. This never happens with God. Everything that happens is known to Him before it occurs, and everything that happens is according to His purpose. We think of our lives as beginning the moment we are born, but in reality, God already knows us before that because He is the one who made us in our mother's womb: “Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (Psalm 139:16).
None of us knows the future, but God does. He knows when things will happen, and they will happen when He knows that the time is right. “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,” (Galatians 4:4). Knowing that God is in control should give us a great sense of peace and confidence. We do not have to worry, for no matter what happens, we know His purpose is at work. We do not have to fear, for no matter what happens, He will never forsake us. We do not have to doubt, for no matter what happens, He will be faithful. A fearful Christian is a poor testimony to others of the power and love of God. We can be bold because of His purpose.
Because God is in control, we can face any circumstance with faith instead of fear.
The high priest then asked Jesus of his disciples, and of his doctrine. Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. Why askest thou me? ask them which heard me, what I have said unto them: behold, they know what I said.
Most of the Pharisees who controlled much of the religious establishment at the time of Christ hated Him. Rather than accepting Him as the Messiah for whom they claimed to be waiting, they refused to heed His message. They were happy with the way things were and saw no reason to upset the power structure they had created. Their self-righteousness meant that they were unwilling to repent and acknowledge that they needed a Savior. The problem was not that they had not heard the truth. Jesus proclaimed it publicly again and again. The problem was that they would not heed the truth.
The Lord does not allow us to come to Him on our own terms. We must accept salvation through Jesus alone, or we will never receive it. It is imperative that we heed the message rather than try to find alternative ways through which we can gain acceptance in His sight. So many people today are willing to believe and do almost anything except what God has said. They view the Bible as old fashioned and too strict, so they look for another way. But there is no other way.
Every one of us must decide whether we accept what the Bible teaches or not. That is true when it comes to salvation, and it is just as true when it comes to the Christian life. Mark Twain famously said that it was not the parts of the Bible he didn't understand that bothered him, but rather the parts he did understand. We don't get to pick and choose—if we would be in God's family and live in a way that pleases Him, it can only be done on His terms.
Even when it is not what we want to hear, we must accept and obey what God says in His Word.
And he arose out of the synagogue, and entered into Simon's house. And Simon's wife's mother was taken with a great fever; and they besought him for her. And he stood over her, and rebuked the fever; and it left her: and immediately she arose and ministered unto them. Now when the sun was setting, all they that had any sick with divers diseases brought them unto him; and he laid his hands on every one of them, and healed them.
One of the ways in which the rightful claim of Jesus to be the Messiah was validated was through the many miracles that He performed. In our day, we take the access we have to medical care for granted. Diseases that were life-altering or even fatal in the past are now treated routinely. In the time of Christ, however, there were no hospitals as we know them today, and even trained doctors did not have the knowledge and tools that medical professionals have now. People who were sick often had little hope of effective treatment. So when word spread that Jesus was healing people, huge crowds began to gather.
Whether He was healing all who were sick in a large crowd or just one person, Jesus was demonstrating the authority and power that were rightfully His as the Son of God. He commanded diseases and demons and all of the natural world, which should come as no surprise because He is the Creator of everything. When He calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, those closest to Him, who had seen so much of His power on display, were still astonished. “And they feared exceedingly, and said one to another, What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).
The knowledge that we have a God with all power, who is able to do whatever is necessary for us to accomplish His purpose and His will, should fill us with confidence. It should lead us to seek His face and trust Him to work.
We can trust God's power to provide victory and resources in every circumstance of our lives.
And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.
The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross is the only hope any of us have for salvation. Even in the Old Testament, all of the sacrifices offered by the priests under Old Testament law were simply an expression of faith in the promise of God to provide a way of salvation. They were a temporary way to demonstrate that belief, but the sacrifices did not provide atonement. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).
J. C. Ryle wrote, “We can never attach too much importance to the atoning death of Christ. It is the leading fact in the word of God, on which the eyes of our soul ought to be ever fixed. Without the shedding of his blood, there is no remission of sin. It is the cardinal truth on which the whole system of Christianity hinges. Without it the Gospel is an arch without a key-stone, a fair building without a foundation, a solar system without a sun.”
No matter how long we have been saved, we must never forget how much we needed God's salvation. Even those of us who grew up in good Christian homes and good churches and were saved at an early age still had no hope of earning or deserving Heaven. The only hope we have is the finished work of Christ on the cross. This is just as true for the elementary school child as it is for a hardened criminal on death row. All of us must have a Savior. And the only One who can provide salvation is Jesus Christ Himself.
Salvation is only in Jesus, and He deserves our unending praise and gratitude for what we have received from Him.