Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
Although we know that becoming more like Jesus should be the goal of every believer, sometimes we struggle to put that into practical terms. There are aspects of our modern lives that are different than they were in His time. If we are going to live as Jesus did, we must focus on doing the things that are pleasing to God as He did. Jesus said, “And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him” (John 8:29).
To know what pleases God, we must look to His Word. There we learn that we must walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh. So many times we rationalize sin rather than rejecting it because we value our own pleasure over pleasing God. Because we have two natures, it is never going to be possible for us to be completely sinless. But if we are living and walking in the Spirit, earnestly striving to please God rather than to please ourselves, we will resist temptation more and more.
D. L. Moody said, “I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.”
More than any other factor, whether our actions will please God or not should determine what we do.
And David said, Is there yet any that is left of the house of Saul, that I may shew him kindness for Jonathan's sake? And there was of the house of Saul a servant whose name was Ziba. And when they had called him unto David, the king said unto him, Art thou Ziba? And he said, Thy servant is he. And the king said, Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may shew the kindness of God unto him? And Ziba said unto the king, Jonathan hath yet a son, which is lame on his feet.
2 Samuel 9:1-3
On July 3, 1988, the USS Vincennes, an American navy cruiser on duty in the Persian Gulf, thinking itself to be under attack by an Iranian F-14, shot down an Iranian airliner with 290 civilian passengers on board, killing them all. At the time, a majority of Americans were not in favor of the US paying any compensation to the victims' families, but President Reagan approved the payments. When a reporter asked if the payment sent a wrong signal to Iran, Reagan replied, “I don't ever find compassion a bad precedent.”
Every one of us has experienced hardship, opposition, and unfair or unkind treatment from people in our lives. The question is not whether we have had wrong things done to us, but how we will respond. In David's day, it was common for a new king to have all the descendants of the previous ruler put to death. That way there would be no one to challenge the throne. Instead David reached out to Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul, in kindness and compassion. Our enemies can do awful things to us. Our friends can hurt us deeply. But they cannot make us treat them badly unless we wish to do so. Jesus said, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
We are called to be people of forgiveness and compassion, regardless of what others may have done.
But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully. Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work:
2 Corinthians 9:6-8
Paul Harvey told the story of an eight-year-old boy named Ben who was the winner of a contest sponsored by a local McDonald's. The prize was a new bike, but since Ben already had a bike, he asked his parents if he could give the bike to a friend of his who didn't have one and couldn't afford one. After Ben gave his new bike away, the manager at McDonald's heard about it. She invited Ben and his family to the restaurant for a free meal and then presented him with a gift certificate for $100. The next day Ben asked his parents to take him to the store, and used some of that money to buy a bike helmet for his friend.
God's people are supposed to be generous and giving people, just as God is generous and giving to us. Giving should not be a burden to us or something we resent. Everything that we have is a gift from God, and if He did not give to us we would have nothing. Since everything belongs to Him, we should have no problem parting with anything God asks us to give. If we begrudge giving, it is a clear sign that our hearts are not set on the right things. Do we love God, or do we love the things His grace has provided to us? God loves it when we give cheerfully, not because He needs our help or our resources, but because it shows that He has first place in our hearts.
Since all we have belongs to God, we should never begrudge what He asks us to give away.
But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution. But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
2 Timothy 3:10-13
The town of Nags' Head, North Carolina on the Atlantic Coast got its strange name from a deceitful practice. There were a local group of people called wreckers, or sometimes bankers, who would tie a lantern to the neck of a mule—known by locals as a nag—and attempt to lure sailing ships passing by to come closer. The bobbing lights were meant to mimic the motion of a ship at anchor, sending the message that the water was calm and safe. Their hope was that the passing ship would be wrecked on the rocks of the coast and that they could then salvage whatever contents were on it.
Not every light that we see is a light of truth. There are deceivers at work in our world, intentionally putting out a false message in a way designed to disguise the trap until it is too late. We cannot simply accept anything that looks like truth without first examining it—not if we want to be spiritually sound. Paul warned, “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The fact that someone is from a church with a name we recognize, or that they have a large following, or that they are saying something that sounds good does not automatically mean that it is true. Many times Satan has more success luring us away from the truth by mixing it with just a small amount of error than he does by offering us a complete lie. The “light” he provides may look like the real thing, but it leads to disaster and destruction.
The best way to recognize Satan's deception is to hold every teaching to the light of Scripture.
And it came to pass after three days, that the officers went through the host; And they commanded the people, saying, When ye see the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, and the priests the Levites bearing it, then ye shall remove from your place, and go after it. Yet there shall be a space between you and it, about two thousand cubits by measure: come not near unto it, that ye may know the way by which ye must go: for ye have not passed this way heretofore.
When we prepare to enter a new year, there is always uncertainty about what lies ahead. We cannot know all that is coming, but God already does. And He guides and directs those who look to Him for help. There will be problems in the coming year to which we do not know the answer. We do however know Someone who does. George Müller said, “I need not despair because the living God is my partner. I do not have sufficient wisdom to meet these difficulties, but He is able to direct me. I can pour out my heart to God and ask Him to guide and direct me and to supply me with wisdom.”
We can have absolute certainty in both God's willingness and ability to guide our steps in a way that pleases Him. The Israelites followed the Ark of the Covenant across the Jordan River. We have the Bible and the Holy Spirit living within us. When we face new obstacles and challenges, our task is not to find a way through on our own wisdom, but to seek guidance and direction from God. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Frances Ridley Havergal wrote,
Another year is dawning!
Dear Master let it be,
In working or in waiting
Another year with Thee.
Another year in leaning,
Upon Thy loving breast,
Of ever-deepening trustfulness;
Of quiet, happy rest.
Our judgment and vision may be clouded, but God's path is always safe to walk.
All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.
Knowing that he would not be going with them into the Promised Land, Moses gathered the people together before his death to give them final instructions to help them do what was right after he was gone. They were about to enter a new land where there would be battles and temptations and struggles they had not faced before, and Moses encouraged them to look back before they looked ahead. As we enter a new year, we know that we will face challenges and battles and temptations. Just as the Israelites were told, it is vital for us to remind ourselves of what God has done for us and in our lives.
The memory of God's blessing builds gratitude in our hearts. David wrote, “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah” (Psalm 68:19). Rather than taking the good things we have received for granted, we should be grateful. There's an old Southern saying that if you see a turtle sitting on top of a fence post, it's pretty safe to assume he didn't get there by himself. All that we have accomplished and achieved is only possible because of what God has provided to us.
The memory of God's blessing also strengthens our faith. When we look back at how God has delivered us and provided in the past, we are reminded that we can confidently trust Him for the future. There is no problem we will face in the year ahead that will pose a challenge or threat to God's power and God's plan for us.
Remembering what God has done for us in the past prepares us to face whatever comes in the future.
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.
Each of us has received from God so much more than we deserve. Yet too often we yield to the temptation to think that our good things are the result of our own intelligence, strength and initiative, failing to remember that those things are only possible because of God's grace. Failing to recognize Him as our source of blessing leads us to be not only ungrateful, but also often loud, angry, and argumentative. Anyone who is focused on God will be less focused on self as a result.
Jonathan Edwards wrote, “If men sought not chiefly their own private and selfish interests, but the glory of God and the common good, then their spirit would be a great deal more stirred up in God’s cause than in their own; and they would not be prone to hasty, rash, inconsiderate, immoderate, and long-continued wrath, with any who might have injured or provoked them; but they would in a great measure forget themselves for God’s sake, and from their zeal for the honor of Christ.”
There are things that are genuine and legitimate targets for anger. Such anger—not for our own sake, but for the cause of God—is not sinful. Jesus did not do wrong when He turned over the tables of the money changers and drove them from the Temple. What those people were doing to hinder the true worship of God was offensive to Him. “And his disciples remembered that it was written, The zeal of thine house hath eaten me up” (John 2:17). Often, however, our anger is a zeal for ourselves rather than for God. This anger should be put away and replaced with tender-heartedness.
Pride and selfishness are the driving forces behind much of the anger we see displayed in our world.
And God spake all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
It wasn't an honest question motivated by a sincere desire to obey God. Instead it was meant as a trap for Jesus. “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:36-37). The idea that as long as we are in line with a few important things the rest doesn't matter to God is false, but it is not new. People who are looking for loopholes in God's law, ways in which they can be okay with God without having to give up their sins, reveal that they have a heart problem. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous” (1 John 5:3).
It is not by accident that the Ten Commandments begin with a focus on God. Nothing else can be allowed to take His place. Nothing can substitute for loving Him most and putting Him first. Nothing else will motivate us to live as we should in obedience to His commands. There were many very religious people in Jesus' day. Outwardly they had perfected their appearance, so that those who saw only what they presented to the world were impressed. But God sees through all our facades. No matter how many other people we may deceive, He knows the truth. God knows what we love most, and if it is not Him, He will not be pleased with our lives. No matter how good it may be of itself, nothing can be placed before God without it being sin.
If our hearts are not right toward God, it will not be long until our behavior follows.
And the men took of their victuals, and asked not counsel at the mouth of the LORD. And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them. And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them.
When the Israelites entered the Promised Land, God commanded them to drive out all of those who lived there. As news of Israel's military victories over Jericho and other powerful nations of the land of Canaan spread, others who lived there feared they would be next. The people of Gibeon devised a strategy. They sent men with badly worn clothing and scraps of moldy food. They told the Israelites that they had come from a great distance, having started out with new clothes and freshly made food. When they asked for a treaty, Joshua and the Israelites quickly agreed to it, not realizing that they were being deceived. They did not stop to ask God's counsel, and only three days passed before they recognized how they had been tricked.
There are many in our world today who are using deception as a tool to achieve their goals. This is not a new thing, nor should it take us by surprise, as those who are doing the devil's work are simply using a method he already perfected. Paul warned, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13-14). Rather than judging solely by how things look to us, we need to take the time to examine them thoroughly before we make commitments. We have the Word of God and wise people in our lives who can give us good advice; we need to use these resources in order to make good choices.
Our decisions and choices are only as good as the amount of wisdom with which they are made.
From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
Kenyon Wilson, who is a professor at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, has long suspected that his students paid very little attention to the syllabus he issues at the beginning of the semester. So for the fall 2021 year, he decided to test his theory. Wilson placed a $50 bill in a locker on campus, and then put the instructions to find it in the syllabus. On the second page he wrote, “Thus (free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five), students may be ineligible to make up classes.” At the end of the semester, Wilson retrieved the unclaimed bill, and revealed publicly what he had done. Any of the more than 70 students in the class could have claimed the money, but none of them did.
God offers us the unlimited resources of Heaven to meet our needs and equip us to accomplish His work, and yet all too often we do without things we can and should have simply because we do not avail ourselves of the opportunity to claim what He offers. There is no shortage with God. He does not have supply chain issues. All that we need is already in His possession, and giving it to us will not diminish His resources in the slightest. The breakdown in provision is not on God's end, but on ours. It is a failure of faith when we do not come to Him and ask for His help. “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
A lack of faith inevitably leads to a lack of prayer, which leads to a lack of resources for our lives.
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
There has never been a time when the world loved people who were fervently and faithfully living for God. We have been privileged and blessed with a great measure of religious freedom in America, but for most of church history that has not been the case. And there are many places in the world today where simply being a Christian can get you fired, divorced, beaten, or even killed. There is a natural tendency for us to try to minimize the opposition we receive. While we should never be unkind, we should also never let the world influence our beliefs or behavior.
More than one hundred years ago, Evangelist Billy Sunday said, “We have lost our power because we have failed to insist on the separation of the church from the world. The church is a separate body of men and women; we are to be in the world, but not of the world. The trouble with the church today is that she has sprung a leak. The flood tides of the world have swept in until even her pews are engulfed. We have become but a third rate amusement bureau.” What was true then is even more true today. The things that were right in the past are still right today. The level of opposition to the truth that the world exhibits has no bearing on whether it is true. The more we become like the world in an effort to placate them or diminish their opposition, the less power we will have to influence them for God.
Our goal and purpose must be to please God, not be approved and loved by the world.
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong. Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children. And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
2 Corinthians 12:12-15
Though Adam Clarke had only a limited formal education, John Wesley saw something in the young man and invited him to enroll in seminary at fourteen years of age. Clarke proved to be an apt pupil. He graduated from seminary at nineteen and began his ministry. Clarke would serve as an itinerant preacher for decades to come, traveling across England, Scotland, and Ireland to preach the gospel. His commentary on the entire Bible, written over a period of forty years was one of the most influential ever published. On his tombstone in London, there is carved an empty socket which would have once held a candle. Underneath are these words: “In giving light to others, I myself have been consumed.”
There is no such thing as an easy or painless way to serve God. Following Jesus requires sacrifice, just as His coming to provide our salvation required a great sacrifice of Him. “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). If we are not willing to make the sacrifices—to give up our rights and preferences for the sake of others—we are not walking as Jesus did, and our work for Him will not be fruitful. Only those who are willing to pay the price reap the harvest of obedience.
Serving God is not easy, but it is worth every sacrifice that we make.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.
Henry Lyte's father abandoned his family when Henry was a small child. Lyte was taken in by a local clergyman and sent to boarding school. After studying for the ministry, Lyte was ordained and began preaching. But it was not until after he had been a pastor for more than a year that he was converted. From then on his powerful preaching reached many. Lyte used his intellect and gifts as a poet to craft a number of beautiful hymns, including “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken.”
Let the world despise and leave me,
They have left my Savior, too;
Human hearts and looks deceive me;
Thou art not, like man, untrue;
And, while Thou shalt smile upon me,
God of wisdom, love, and might,
Foes may hate, and friends may shun me;
Show Thy face, and all is bright.
The temptation we face when we are faced with opposition and even persecution is to think that we are somehow being unfairly singled out for trouble. Yet Jesus told us there is a blessing for those who are hated by the world. Trouble does not come into our lives by accident. It is part of God's plan for us, and it is a natural result of standing for the truth in a fallen world. If we respond to it properly, the result will be spiritual growth and development in our lives. James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience” (James 1:2-3). Rather than complaining, we should rejoice when trouble comes.
God uses the opposition of the world and the pressure we face to work greatly in our lives.
But Jesus called them to him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.
If you grew up in church, were part of a church youth group, or attended a Christian school, you probably heard this expression: “You are either a stumbling block or a stepping stone to others.” Our lives make a great impact, often much more than we realize, on those around us. We certainly should not be causing people to stumble by our example.
But there is another important aspect to the expression mentioned above. Being a stepping stone, by definition, means that sometimes we will be walked on to further the growth of others. The obedient Christian life is a life of sacrifice and service to others. That means that we must be willing to do what Jesus did, and be more focused on serving than being served.
If we insist on our rights and privileges, we may be built up in our own eyes, and even in the eyes of others. But God views things differently than does the world. He is looking for those who are willing to humble themselves, and He rewards them, rather than those who lift themselves up. Jesus said, “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matthew 6:5). It should be far more important to us to be great in the eyes of God rather than the eyes of man.
The world may overlook and ignore those who serve God humbly and faithfully, but He never does.
Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
When he was still a very young man, Jonathan Edwards wrote a series of seventy resolutions to do and to avoid things so that he could be a more effective Christian. His sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” would eventually help spark the Great Awakening, but Edwards was committed to God's work long before preaching that famous message. Resolution 24 said, “Resolved, whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, to trace it back, till I come to the original cause; and then both carefully endeavor to do so no more, and to fight and pray with all my might against the original of it.”
As believers we have the responsibility to live holy lives. Sin can never be dealt with on the outside alone. Before we can successfully deal with outward sin, we must deal with the internal problem. Sin does not drop into our lives from some outside source, but rather springs from things we have allowed to take root in our hearts and minds. It is comforting to blame other people or circumstances or our environment when we do wrong, but it is also false. We must be ruthless with temptation. Half measures are not effective. Paul wrote, “And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Galatians 5:24). Sin will grow and develop and destroy us unless we first destroy it—not cutting down the plants, but by pulling up the roots.
Jesus died and rose again to deliver us from both the penalty and the power of sin. We who have trusted Him as our Savior have already been saved from the eternal penalty of sin. We must daily choose to live in the victory Christ already gave us from sin's power.
No outward reformation can deal with the problem of sin we harbor internally.
So shall I keep thy law continually for ever and ever. And I will walk at liberty: for I seek thy precepts. I will speak of thy testimonies also before kings, and will not be ashamed. And I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved. My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.
The most important thing God has given to equip us to live in a way that pleases Him and changes the world for the better is the Bible. It should be our most-read and best-loved book. It should fill our hearts and minds, and we should live in obedience to its commands and principles. Yet though the Bible remains a best-seller, it is clear that not enough people are taking it as seriously as they should. The Bible has the ability to transform our lives, but that will only happen if we first take it to heart and do what it says. “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:25).
R. A Torrey said, “A verse must be read often, and re-read and read again before the wondrous message of love and power that God has put into begins to appear. Words must be turned over and over in the mind before their full force and beauty takes possession of us. One must look a long time at the great masterpieces of art to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning, and so one must look a long time at the great verses of the Bible to appreciate their beauty and understand their meaning.” A casual relationship with the Bible, reading a few verses here and there or hearing a brief passage read at church, will not produce change in our lives.
It is impossible to rightly live for God without loving His Word.
For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live in the flesh, this is the fruit of my labour: yet what I shall choose I wot not. For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you. And having this confidence, I know that I shall abide and continue with you all for your furtherance and joy of faith; That your rejoicing may be more abundant in Jesus Christ for me by my coming to you again.'
One of the most blessed truths in all of Scripture is that this world is not all there is. For those of us who love the Lord, the end of this life and the start of the next are not something to fear but something to eagerly anticipate. Dr. John R. Rice wrote, “This world is only an anteroom of the next. This short life is incidental compared with eternity. This world is not home to the Christian. Here we are only sojourners, temporary dwellers in a foreign land. Our citizenship is in Heaven. Our treasure should be in Heaven. Our thoughts should dwell lovingly and longingly on that sweet home of the departed saints, of our Savior and of our Heavenly Father.”
As believers we have a hope for the future that the lost do not have. Though we face the same troubles in this life because we all live in a fallen world, our response is not the same, because we know that no matter what happens in this life, we have the promise of Heaven before us. Every struggle, every burden, every failure and every broken heart will be gone forever, never to return. “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
The hope of Heaven sustains us through every difficulty and hardship of this life.
Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
In the 1800s, a meeting with the prominent English evangelist Thomas Cook was announced in a small village. The local preacher made arrangements for Cook to stay with a well-off family in the church. Wanting to make a good impression on the guest, the family tried to make sure everything was prepared. A young woman who worked for the family was sent to the butcher shop. The flustered young woman told the clerk, “Oh, you would think that the Lord Jesus Christ Himself was coming to stay with us there is such a fuss being made.” After the visit was concluded, she returned to the store and asked, “You remember I told you about the fuss being made and that you might think the Lord Jesus Christ was coming to our house”? “I do,” said the salesman. “Well,” said the girl, “He has been.” Cook's presence was so Christlike that this young woman was drawn to Christ through Cook's influence.
Our lives have an impact on others. That is not a choice we can make. The choice we have is what that impact will be. Will our lives reflect the love and light of God to those we meet, or would they be surprised or disheartened to know that we claim the name of Jesus? The more that we walk in God's Spirit, the more like Jesus we will become. The more that we shun the things of the world and the flesh, the better we will be at pointing others to Him. Our Christianity is not just for church or one or two days a week, but all the time and in every place we find ourselves.
People form their opinion of God in large measure by what they think of those who bear His name.
For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
There are times when God does not work in our lives in the way we would prefer. Perhaps an illness does not respond to treatment. Sometimes an economic hardship is persistent. Paul prayed fervently and repeatedly for his “thorn in the flesh” to be removed, but God refused. There are times when God's plan for us involves things that are painful or difficult for us to experience. Yet when that is the case, He never forsakes us, but instead gives us the grace we need to keep going.
The English pastor and hymn writer John Fawcett said, “How many, how suitable, how sovereign are the supports our heavenly Father affords to His afflicted children! They make the affliction, which in itself would seem heavy and tedious appear to be light, and but for a moment. It is happier to be in the furnace of affliction with these supports than to be in the highest prosperity without them! Blessed with the hopes and comforts of Christ!”
When we don't get what we would prefer, we must be willing to accept God's grace and trust Him to sustain us. Sometimes people become bitter against God for the very things He has brought into their lives to make them more like His Son. Though difficulty can be the result of sin in our lives, it can also be a pruning tool God is using so that we will be more fruitful in our lives for Him. Taking up the cross is never easy, but it is an essential requirement to following Jesus Christ.
God never fails to provide comfort to those who seek His face in times of trouble.
And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonied, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king. He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.
In his most famous book Lex Rex, the Scottish theologian Samuel Rutherford argued powerfully in favor of constitutional limits on the power of kings. Christians in Scotland had suffered greatly from religious persecution, and he contended that no human ruler should be able to rule by whim. After the Restoration placed Charles II on the throne of England in 1660, Rutherford was arrested and charged with high treason. He died in prison while awaiting his trial. In a letter written to the members of his congregation not long before his death, Rutherford ended by saying, “Jesus Christ came into my prison-cell last night, and every stone in it glowed like a ruby.”
It is often in the hardest, most trying and most difficult circumstances of life that we see God most clearly. He is always with us, but when things are going well we sometimes forget how utterly dependent on Him we truly are. The blessings of life we have received can cloud our vision. But when we are at the end of ourselves we find that He is always faithful to strengthen and lift us up. We never endure any circumstance which takes God by surprise. No earthly power can take us from His love and care. Even when we cannot discern His purpose, we can trust His goodness toward us. When we run to God in times of trouble, we find that He is always there, ready to hear our cries and provide all He knows we need.
Do not stop trusting God just because you do not understand all He is doing in your life.
And of Asher he said, Let Asher be blessed with children; let him be acceptable to his brethren, and let him dip his foot in oil. Thy shoes shall be iron and brass; and as thy days, so shall thy strength be. There is none like unto the God of Jeshurun, who rideth upon the heaven in thy help, and in his excellency on the sky. The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms: and he shall thrust out the enemy from before thee; and shall say, Destroy them.
Before Moses said goodbye to the Israelites, he pronounced a series of blessings for the different tribes who were about to go into the Promised Land. One of the most beautiful of those blessings is the one for the tribe of Asher. Moses did not promise they would find things easy, but he did promise them God would provide what they needed for victory. The path through this world is often uncertain and difficult, but God's promise of grace and mercy and strength never fails.
God does not give it to us all at once, but rather day by day. D. L. Moody said, “A man can no more take a supply of grace for the future than he can eat enough today to last him for the next six months, or take sufficient air into his lungs to sustain life for a week to come. We must draw upon God's boundless stores for grace from day to day, as we need it.”
We will never reach a point in this life when we can afford to stop being utterly dependent on God. We needed Him yesterday. We need Him today. We will need Him tomorrow. The wonder of His grace is that He is always there. When we are weak, He is strong; and if we flee to Him for refuge, He will lift us up. Nothing that we face poses a challenge to Him. His grace is always sufficient for whatever we need.
Whatever you need for victory this day is available to you through God's grace.
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4
At a time when travel was fraught with dangers and foreign places were regarded more as myth than reality, Marco Polo spent nearly twenty-five years on an epic journey through China. He met the famous emperor Kublai Khan and saw the wonders of the Chinese court. After he returned to Venice, Marco Polo wrote a book to recount all that he had seen. Some people thought The Travels of Marco Polo contained too many amazing things to be fact. It is said that on his deathbed someone told him he should recant of making up such stories. Marco Polo replied, “I have not told half of what I saw.”
The wonders and glories that wait for us in Heaven are beyond our ability to describe or even imagine. The glimpses of our eternal home that we see in Scripture are only hints at what is in store for us as God's children. The glad tomorrow that waits for us is a source of hope and comfort and strength when we endure hardship in this life. On the night before the crucifixion, when He was telling the disciples not to be troubled despite what was about to happen, Jesus focused on the promise of eternity. He said, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).
When we are pressed down by the trials of life we can always look up to the promise of Heaven.
Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness, those that remember thee in thy ways: behold, thou art wroth; for we have sinned: in those is continuance, and we shall be saved. But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee: for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.
Though he was far from a Christian, the philosopher Eric Hoffer was a keen observer of human nature. Hoffer spent much of his early life working as a field laborer, moving from town to town following the harvests. In each town he would get a library card, working on his education. Eventually he began to teach at Berkeley. His best-known book The True Believer, studied popular mass movements in history. In it Hoffer wrote, “Even when men league themselves mightily together to promote tolerance and peace on earth, they are likely to be violently intolerant toward those not of a like mind.”
In God's eyes, measured against His perfect holiness, the very best that we can achieve is disgustingly filthy. None of us has the power to do right without God's help. Satan twists even the desire to do good into something else. The Pharisees honorable commitment to obeying the law of God eventually led them instead to develop a series of rules and traditions that had the opposite effect. Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy. “But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). The fact that the people who resisted Jesus the most strongly were those most devoted to religion is a stark reminder to us that we must never rely on our own strength to accomplish the work God has given us.
Any effort centered around man cannot help but fall short of what God expects.
Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me. I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee. Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.
In the 1890s a man with a lengthy criminal record named William Callahan was taken by a friend to a rescue mission where he heard the gospel and was saved. Many people doubted the legitimacy of his conversion, but his continued walk with God gave evidence it was real. He attempted to have his criminal records purged but was not successful. One day Callahan spoke at an event in Michigan where the governor of Illinois, his home state, was in attendance. Governor Atgeld heard his testimony and the story of his unsuccessful attempt to convince the authorities to remove his records.
One month later Callahan received this letter from the governor: “My dear Mr. Callahan, It gives me pleasure to enclose your photograph from the Penitentiary of Joliet, and to tell you that your records and measurements there have all been destroyed. There is no record, except in your memory, that you were ever there. You have the gratitude and best wishes of your friend, John P. Atgeld."
When God forgives our sins, He completely clears our record. The perfect righteousness of Jesus is placed on our account, and our sins are gone forever. God never brings up something from the past which we have repented and confessed. When Satan makes accusations against us to God, he is refuted as a liar. When he makes accusations to us, however, we sometimes accept guilt and shame for something that God has already taken away.
Do not let a false sense of guilt keep you in bondage to sins God has forgiven.
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content. But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.
1 Timothy 6:6-9
Though Alfred Schofield was a skilled doctor as well as a noted Bible teacher, neither he nor any of his contemporaries were able to treat the skull fracture which his daughter suffered after being thrown from her horse. The injury gave her a great deal of pain, so Schofield hired nurses to help her throughout the long days and nights. Later he wrote, “When my daughter had been ill a fortnight, her nurse came to me and said she thought I would like to know that she had become a Christian. `Why, what were you when you came?' I asked. `I was an atheist, Doctor. Your daughter is the only absolutely contented girl I ever met, and I couldn't understand it, so I asked for her secret, and now I'm a Christian.'”
A Christian who is not content is not likely to be an effective witness for the Lord. If we have not found satisfaction in Him ourselves, why should others be interested in what we have to offer? Even when we do not have everything we want we can be satisfied, because God is always with us. “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). True contentment is not born out of things, because anything we have here on earth can vanish away. True contentment is born out of the unfailing faithfulness and presence of God in our lives. That never changes. It is not affected by our bank balance, our fame, our popularity or anything else. And in God we can always be content.
If our faith and trust are in God, we will find it easy to be content with whatever He gives us.
And Jesus said, Let her alone; why trouble ye her? she hath wrought a good work on me. For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always. She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying. Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached throughout the whole world, this also that she hath done shall be spoken of for a memorial of her.
James Thoburn was born to a poor farming family in Ohio in 1836. When he grew up and wanted to go to school, the family did not know how they would cope in his absence, but his brother volunteered to do extra work to get the money for Thoburn's schooling. After training for the ministry, James Thoburn became one of the earliest American missionaries to go to the country of India where he labored for forty-nine years and established many churches. But he would never have been able to go without the support of his brother who is almost forgotten by history.
Many times the things we do for God's work and for others are not recognized. They may not seem large or important either to us or to others. They may seem like a small thing that will not have a large impact. But we never know how God will use the unseen sacrifices we make for Him. He was able to turn a shepherd's staff into an instrument of His power for Moses. He was able to take a shepherd's sling and bring down the giant Goliath. He was able to use a little boy's small lunch to feed thousands of people. When we do what we are able to do, we can trust God to take care of the rest. And though the world may never notice or remember, God never forgets. One day He will honor and reward all those who faithfully serve Him in ways both large and small.
God never loses sight of any act done for Him, no matter how small it seems to us or others.
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
The fiery circuit riding evangelist Peter Cartwright took his task of preaching the gospel very seriously. He refused to trim his message for anyone. Once General Andrew Jackson came to hear him preach, and another preacher warned Cartwright not to be offensive to the famed military leader. Cartwright publicly declared that Jackson would go to Hell as quickly and certainly as anyone else if he did not repent and turn to God. When someone apologized to Jackson for Cartwright's bold declaration, Jackson said that was what a minister should do, and added that he wished his officers had Cartwright's courage.
We have the privilege and responsibility of taking the gospel to the world, and we need to make that a priority in our lives. We should not let anything or anyone deter us from speaking out. Telling the truth in a world addicted to lies may not be popular, and it may bring us opposition and even persecution. We must do it anyway. When Jesus was preparing the disciples for ministry on their own without Him present, He told them not to focus on what people thought of them, but rather what God thought. He said, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). God's work is worthy of anything it costs us, and deserves our best effort.
God places on our shoulders the great responsibility of telling other people about Him.
Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb: He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.
In his book Fools and Foolishness, Harry McKnown told a story from the early days of General Electric. New engineers were told that they should work on frosting electric light bulbs on the inside. This was thought to be impossible, and the old hands would enjoy the frustration of those who tried and failed at the task. After successfully working as an Army researcher during World War I, Marvin Pipkin was hired and given the usual instructions. However he did not believe it was impossible and set about developing a process using etching acid to create a frosted bulb. Despite the fact that most people thought it couldn't be done, Pipkin's invention was patented in 1925.
When we allow our belief in God to be limited by what we or others think is impossible we miss out on things He can and will do in our lives. Abraham certainly had no human reason to think that he could have a son when both he and his wife were well past the age when it was possible. Yet his faith remained strong, and even though he had no idea how it would or even could happen, he believed that it would. God is able to do everything He has promised. He said, “Is any thing too hard for the LORD? At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son” (Genesis 18:14).
God is able to meet any challenge and overcome any obstacle we face in doing His will.
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.
Paul had a list of accomplishments that very few who have ever lived could match. He was used by God to take the gospel to numerous cities where it had never been preached. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote letters to churches and pastors that make up much of the New Testament. Yet despite all his human achievements, Paul recognized that the only thing in his life that was worth bragging about was the cross. When we look at the cross, we see the folly of pride for it was our sins that Jesus took upon Himself to provide our salvation.
For Paul this was not an academic exercise or classroom theology. His commitment to Christ and the cross took a serious toll on Paul. He was beaten, shipwrecked, imprisoned, falsely accused, and even stoned. He was willing to pay the price, not just to enjoy the benefits of salvation for himself but to declare the gospel to others. And if we are to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ, we must be willing to make the sacrifices and pay the cost. That is what Jesus did, giving up His rightful glory and position, enduring the weakness of a human body, and laying down His life for us. Just as He did, we must be willing to suffer for the sake of others.
Amy Carmichael, missionary for over half a century in India, wrote these words:
No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And piercèd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?
There is no faithful and successful service for Christ that does not come with a cost.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.
In the 1600s, British scientist, philosopher, and poet Thomas Hobbes found little to celebrate in the natural world. In what is perhaps his most famous work, Leviathan, Hobbes wrote of the harsh impact of the wars that were ravaging Europe as well as England and said that there was, “No Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
We live in a day when people want to feel good about themselves. There is a whole industry devoted to building up people's self esteem. When anyone points out the innate sinfulness of mankind, they find themselves critiqued and condemned. Yet apart from God, Hobbes' bleak description is very accurate. Because of sin, nothing that we do of our own nature is godly. This is true, not just of the people we think of as evil—the Hitlers and Stalins of the world—but of every one of us.
There is a great push in our day to adapt the message of the gospel so that people will not be made to feel bad about themselves. But an edited gospel that removes the problem of sin cannot save. Salvation is only possible for those who understand they need it. “When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Mark 2:17).
We must declare what God has said about sin before we can effectively declare what He says about salvation.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
1 Peter 1:3-5
We do not save ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. It is only the mercy and grace of God that makes salvation available to those who trust Jesus for it. And we do not keep ourselves saved. The same divine power that makes salvation possible secures the destiny of all who receive it. And once we are saved, we need never fear that God will decide we have sinned too greatly and disown us. We need never fear that He will forget one of His children. We are both saved and kept.
Dr. A. T. Pierson told the story of an elderly lady with strong faith. She was poor and uneducated and someone the world may not see as important. When she expressed her confidence of going to Heaven, someone said, “Nobody knows anything about you, and if you go to the Hell, the universe will be ignorant of it.” She responded, “It won't make no difference to the universe but it would make a great difference to the Lord. His honor would be gone.”
Many people struggle with doubts and fears regarding the future. That is a sign that our focus is in the wrong place. It is true that many times we are disappointed or let down by people who fail to do what they have promised. God never fails. He does not just want us to be secure in Him, but to be fully confident regarding the future. “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).
Our future is secure because it does not depend on us but on our unfailing God.
Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
Every year on the Jewish Day of Atonement, the high priest was tasked with taking the blood of the sacrifice and sprinkling it on the Mercy Seat. This act was designed by God to represent their faith in the coming Messiah, and it symbolically covered the sins of the people. Yet before the high priest entered the sacred "Holy of Holies" where the Mercy Seat was located, he had to offer a sacrifice for his own sins. “And Aaron shall bring the bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make an atonement for himself, and for his house, and shall kill the bullock of the sin offering which is for himself” (Leviticus 16:11). If the high priest was not right with God himself, entering the presence of God's holiness would end his life.
Because Jesus was holy and perfect, He had no sins that needed covering. So He was able to be both the priest and the sacrifice for our sins—not just to cover them, but to take them away forever. Unlike the daily and yearly offerings made by the priests under the Old Covenant, Jesus went to the cross once and for all. Sin covered by His blood applied to our hearts is gone. This is not just a theological or academic truth. It has the practical application that once we have been saved, we are to be active in serving God. We were not redeemed for our own sake alone, but to be part of God's work in the world. Our sins were purged so that we could be effective in our service for Him.
The measure of God's love for us is found in the magnitude of His sacrifice for our salvation.
But I would ye should understand, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the gospel; So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places; And many of the brethren in the Lord, waxing confident by my bonds, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.
Maybe you've heard the old story about the shoe salesman who was sent to a new territory. After just a week on the job, he quit in disgust. “No one here wears shoes. There's no market,” he wrote in his resignation letter. After his replacement had been on the job for a week, he also wrote a letter to headquarters. “Send more shoes and more salesmen. No one here wears shoes, and we can corner the market!”
All of us have things happen in our lives that may not be part of what we had planned. There are obstacles and hardships and difficulties that we face. The difference between people who move forward and accomplish things and those who sink into defeat is not whether or not they have trouble. All of us have trouble because that is part of living in a fallen world. The difference is in how we view and respond to those things. We must never forget that God is able to use even the things that are meant against us for His purpose and for our good.
Paul endured a great deal more than most of us ever will, but he viewed everything that happened in his life through the lens of God's plan. When some people were tempted to think that the hardships Paul faced were evidence that he was doing something wrong, he reminded them that all of the things he endured were being used by God to take the gospel to new places—even inside Caesar's own house. If we view opposition as an opportunity rather than an obstacle, we will not yield to the temptation to give up when the going gets tough.
We need to be aware all the time that God is using our circumstances for His purposes.
That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should shew light unto the people, and to the Gentiles. And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad. But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness.
After his arrest in Jerusalem, Paul exercised his right as a Roman citizen to appeal his case to Caesar. This allowed him to escape the plot to kill him that had been concocted by the Jewish leaders who wanted to silence his preaching about Jesus. Because he had really done nothing against either Jewish or Roman law, Paul's case proved a source of confusion to a succession of leaders. Paul found himself repeatedly standing before government officials, explaining why he was there and what he believed. When he stood before Agrippa and Festus, Paul's clear and powerful preaching led the Roman governor to accuse Paul of having lost his mind.
It should not be a surprise to us if the world thinks or says that we are crazy. In fact, rather than being the indication of a problem, it is more frequently a sign that we are doing things right. Our purpose and goal is not to win the approval of the world. James put it bluntly, “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4). Our purpose is to please God and faithfully declare His message to those around us. We should not be ridiculous or offensive in our attitudes, but we should be so committed to Christ that those who are not view us as strange. God measures our obedience and effectiveness by what we do, not by what others may think or say.
Living as God directs will inevitably mean that we are out of step with the world around us.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5
In 1925, a number of prominent French companies in the metal recovery and scrap business received a solicitation to submit a bid for the purchase of the Eiffel Tower. The official-looking document, complete with government seals said, “Because of engineering faults, costly repairs, and political problems I cannot discuss, the tearing down of the Eiffel Tower has become mandatory.” The scam was the brainchild of Victor Lustig who one Secret Service agent described as the “smoothest con man who ever lived.” Lustig actually managed to “sell” the Eiffel Tower twice before his scheme was revealed. Those who trusted him lost everything that they paid.
Our faith and confidence is not the result of a clever scheme devised to defraud us, but the result of our belief in an unfailing, reliable, unchanging, and completely trustworthy God. He never fails His children. He never breaks His promises. Every time we trust in Him our faith is rewarded. David wrote, “Yea, let none that wait on thee be ashamed: let them be ashamed which transgress without cause” (Psalm 25:3). If our faith depended on the abilities or intelligence of man, we would be completely at the mercy of the individual we chose to believe. When our faith rests on God, it cannot be destroyed. The tool God has given us to build faith in our own lives and to encourage it in the lives of others is His Word, and we must use it.
Men can fail us in many ways, but God never will.
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands;
When Paul went to Athens, it was meant to be a place for him to wait in safety until Silas and Timothy could rejoin him. What he saw there, however, sparked a fire in Paul's heart. “Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16). Athens had long been a major cultural and religious center, not just during the Greek empire but under the Romans as well. As a result of their attempt to cover every possible base, the Athenians had erected temples and altars for the worship of all the deities of the region; and to make sure they hadn't left any out, they had an altar for an unnamed god.
Paul described their worship as ignorant. The problem was not that they were not worshiping, but that they were worshiping the wrong things. None of us has a choice not to worship something or someone. Though Satan has been successfully selling the same lie since the Garden of Eden, we never get to the point where we are the determining force and influence in our lives. That is always going to be either God or a substitute. And no matter what name we put on the altar of what we worship, anything we put ahead of God is just as much an idol as one carved from stone would be. We are commanded to worship God alone, and we cannot replace Him with anything else.
If we do not actively work to keep God first in our hearts, other things will take His place.
Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
In Paul's day, the city of Rome was more than just the capital of a great world empire. It was a center of science and culture. It was also a center of pagan worship of idols. The Romans worshiped a great variety of deities, and starting during the reign of Caesar Augustus, the emperor began to be worshiped as well. It was into the heart of this false worship and doctrine where Paul longed to go to present the truth. He was not intimidated or deterred by the opposition he might face, but rather emboldened to declare the gospel.
The church is not meant to live and work in a defensive crouch, trying to guard itself against attacks. It is rather meant to be marching forward into the battle, working and walking in the power of God in such a way that the devil himself cannot stop its progress. Jesus said, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
We live in a culture that is increasingly hostile to the truth of God's Word. That does not mean that we should be discouraged or silence our voices so as not to rouse opposition or persecution. Instead, it means that we should be more bold in our witness and take full advantage of every opportunity to reach as many people as we can. The power and presence of God within us is stronger than anything the enemy can do.
The opposition we face cannot silence us if we are relying on the power of God for victory.
But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
1 Peter 3:14-17
When something difficult comes into our lives, we may think that it is in response to something we have done or failed to do. While that sometimes is the case, there are other times when suffering comes, not as a result of sin or failure, but because we were doing exactly what we should have been doing. This is one reason why we should not be quick to judge others for hardships they endure. We may think they had it coming, but there may well be things going on of which we are unaware. Job's friend Eliphaz was confident that Job's catastrophe was the result of something Job had done wrong. He asked, “Remember, I pray thee, who ever perished, being innocent? or where were the righteous cut off?” (Job 4:7).
If days of suffering and hardship come into our lives, we need to stand strong in our faith. If we have sinned and God is chastening us, we can turn to Him and experience His mercy and restoring grace. If we do not see any sin or failure on our part, we can rest in God's sovereign purposes. Either way, rather than allowing that difficulty to make us doubt or question God, we should run to Him for the strength we need to endure the hardship. He will never turn away one of His children who comes to Him for comfort and help in times of trouble.
Suffering that comes as a result of doing what is right provides an opportunity for an even more effective testimony.
I will love thee, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the floods of ungodly men made me afraid. The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me. In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.
David Livingstone only returned from Africa to England twice during his ministry. During his first visit, Livingstone stood before a church in Scotland and told the assembled audience what God had done through his work. Then Livingstone asked, “Would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among a people whose language I could not understand and whose attitude toward me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this, 'Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.' On these words I staked everything, and they never failed.”
When we go to God in times of crisis and need, He hears our pleas for help. God never deserts His children. He never abandons us to our own devices. He never says, “I helped you before, and I don't have anything left to help again.” God's hand is ready and willing to act if we come to Him for help. We are never without His help unless we choose to be. The prophet Hanani told Asa, “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9).
God never fails to answer His children when they cry out to Him for help.
And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations. He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
When R. A. Torrey was head of the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, his calendar was packed. He had meetings across the country and around the world, When he was at home, his days were filled with administration and appointments. Once Torrey found himself facing a deadline to leave town when he realized that he had not picked up his clothes from the cleaners. There were several young men in the office at the time, but only one of them was willing to help the evangelist by performing such a menial task. That man was James M. Gray, who would later himself be the head of the Moody Bible Institute.
God is not looking for people who are only interested in doing work that seems big or important. God is looking for people who will do whatever He places in front of them. Anyone who has been in church for a length of time knows that there are some jobs which are easy to fill and others which require numerous requests and encouragement. If a job is in front of you, go ahead and do it, no matter what size it is. As you follow that practice, you will find God's approval. People who are looking for fame or attention or praise will not remain faithful unless the task continues to produce those things. But people who are looking for God's approval keep on doing what is right without fail.
If we have not been diligent and faithful with what He has already given us, why would we expect God to expand our opportunities?
And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for thee, before I be taken away from thee. And Elisha said, I pray thee, let a double portion of thy spirit be upon me. And he said, Thou hast asked a hard thing: nevertheless, if thou see me when I am taken from thee, it shall be so unto thee; but if not, it shall not be so. And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.
2 Kings 2:9-11
When Elijah called Elisha to the work, Elisha left everything behind to follow the great prophet. He watched as God answered Elijah's prayers and worked in powerful ways to accomplish His purposes. When Elijah's ministry reached its end, Elisha requested that even more of God's power would be placed upon his own life. Elijah described this as a “hard thing” but described how Elisha could receive his request. After Elijah was gone, Elisha put the promise to the test immediately. “And he took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, and said, Where is the LORD God of Elijah? and when he also had smitten the waters, they parted hither and thither: and Elisha went over” (2 Kings 2:14).
The work of God is always going to be a “hard thing.” We face active opposition from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Sometimes even other Christians will not understand or will fight against what we are trying to do. We should expect the troubles rather than being surprised by them. We should also do as Elisha did and recognize obstacles as opportunities for God to display His power in our lives. Because he had God's approval, Elisha was not swayed by the opinions of men. Because he had God's power, Elisha was not discouraged by the opposition of men.
No matter how hard our work for God may prove to be, we will never face anything He cannot handle.
And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee. And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand:
One of the lessons anyone who wants to do a great work for God must learn is that the power to succeed does not come from us, but rather from Him. When God called Moses to go to Egypt and lead the Israelites out of slavery there, Moses was very reluctant to take on the job. This is somewhat surprising because for years he had known that this was God's purpose for his life. We know this from Stephen's sermon before the Sanhedrin in which he said, “For he [Moses] supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not” (Acts 7:25).
Yet when the moment came for Moses to take up the task, he hesitated. He gave God excuse after excuse trying to pass off his responsibility to someone else. Instead God demonstrated that with His power, what Moses had would be enough to get the job done, turning Moses' shepherd's rod into a snake and then back again. Often we try to convince God that we need more than we have before we can start a work for Him. However if God is with us, whatever we have will prove to be enough. God wants us to be dependent and reliant on Him rather than on our own resources. The reality is that we will never be enough on our own, but we will always be enough with Him.
God can take and use whatever we have and make it more than enough for His purposes in our lives.
And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.
2 Samuel 24:24-25
When David sinned by numbering the people of Israel, God sent a great plague on the land. David was determined to seek God's forgiveness, so he went to a new location to make an altar. When the owner of the land offered to donate both it and the sacrificial animals, David refused. He recognized that an offering that cost nothing is also worth nothing. David wanted to give his best to the Lord.
God demonstrated His love for us by giving His best as well. In fact, He gave Himself. "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9). God didn't give us that which cost Him nothing. He gave everything.
As recipients of the amazing grace of God, how much more should we willingly give ourselves to Him? Someone said, “God's business is the greatest business in the world, and it deserves our very best.” It should not take a crisis to remind us that God is worthy of our best; rather it should be a part of our daily lives. The question of a grateful heart is not, “How little can I get by with doing?” but, “Is there any way I can do more?”
Sacrificial service to God flows naturally from a heart that understands and appreciates the magnitude of His grace.
And herein I give my advice: for this is expedient for you, who have begun before, not only to do, but also to be forward a year ago. Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have. For if there be first a willing mind, it is accepted according to that a man hath, and not according to that he hath not.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12
Most of us know the feeling of wishing that we could do more about a situation. Perhaps it was pictures of children starving in a foreign country or of homeless people living in cardboard boxes. Maybe it was a missionary who needed help reaching a group of people who had never heard the gospel before or a needed church building program. The greatest tragedy, however, is not that we can't do more; it is if we do nothing with what we have been given. We may not be able to fully meet the needs God brings to our attention, but we can sacrificially do something toward meeting them.
God does not measure our giving by the amount, but by the heart that gives it. When Jesus watched people giving at the Temple, He was not impressed by rich people who gave a lot, but by a widow who gave very little. “And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living” (Mark 12:43-44).
The philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke said, “No one ever made a greater mistake than he who, since he could only do a little, did nothing.” Rather than hoping for some time in the future when we will have more to start giving, God wants us to start right where we are. He sees our heart and knows the motive for our actions. If those are right, He will be pleased no matter what the world may think.
God not only knows our actions but also our motives, and both must be right to please Him.
Now when I had delivered the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah, I prayed unto the LORD, saying, Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee: Thou shewest lovingkindness unto thousands, and recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them: the Great, the Mighty God, the LORD of hosts, is his name,
The Irish evangelist W. P. Nicholson had a powerful and effective ministry. It is said that as a result of the revival he preached in Belfast, the shipyard there had to construct a building they called the “Nicholson shed” to make room for all the stolen tools that were returned by men who had been converted. In one of his preaching illustrations, Nicholson told of visiting a specialist for medical treatment which involved an electrical current. Not feeling anything, Nicholson asked the doctor when the treatment would start. The doctor told him it had already been going on for some time, but he would not feel it because he was insulated. Nicholson said, “My friends, you may have all the power of almighty God passing through you and yet be unconscious of it because there is no special call for its use. But let the need come, and the power will be manifested, for it is there.”
We live in a world filled with limits. We only have so much time in a day, so much money in the bank, so much strength to do our work. God is not like that. He has no limits at all. He is able to save people who seem impossible to reach. He is able to revive dead churches that seem to have no hope of restoration. He is able to heal diseases that seem to be medically hopeless. No matter what challenges or difficulties we may face, nothing we ask of God will strain His power. Our responsibility is to ask in faith for what we need, trusting Him to provide.
We can trust God's ability to work in any situation we face, no matter how hard it seems to us.
Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen. And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil. Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, even empty vessels; borrow not a few.
2 Kings 4:1-3
When a widow came to Elisha with a plea for help to keep her sons from becoming indentured servants, he could have asked God to drop a bag of money in her lap, and God could certainly have done that. But as is usually the case when we seek God's help, He (through Elisha) instructed that she use what she had. The widow did not see how one pot of oil could possibly make a difference. But when we pray and prepare, God works in a mighty way. The problem is that too often we do not pray at all, or we do not pray in faith that God will respond.
Dr. John Rice said, “God is still able and is still willing to do mighty things, but there are so few people who ask God and believe God and expect big things. God is still the God who brought His people out of Egypt, but we do not open our mouths wide, and we do not get big bites from God. God still has plenty of oil, but we do not furnish empty vessels.” God wants us to come to Him with our needs. That is why Jesus taught His followers to ask for “daily bread.” But we need to believe and trust Him enough to pray, and not be afraid to pray for things that are bigger than most people think are possible.
We should prepare and live in a way that reflects our faith that God will answer our prayers.
Now therefore send, and gather to me all Israel unto mount Carmel, and the prophets of Baal four hundred and fifty, and the prophets of the groves four hundred, which eat at Jezebel's table. So Ahab sent unto all the children of Israel, and gathered the prophets together unto mount Carmel. And Elijah came unto all the people, and said, How long halt ye between two opinions? if the LORD be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him. And the people answered him not a word.
1 Kings 18:19-21
In the time of Elijah, a large percentage of the people of Israel had adopted the worship of gods like Baal that were worshiped by their neighbors. The false prophets of Baal were even supported by Ahab and Jezebel. Yet the people did not want to abandon the God of Israel entirely. Instead they tried to add the worship of other gods to their worship of the true God. Elijah made it clear that they had to make a choice. There is no way we can succeed without making the right choice. Jesus put it this way: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24).
The message that we can add a little of God and a little of the world together and come out okay is alluring, but it is false. God makes the exclusive demand to be first place in our hearts. He does not share His place on the throne of our lives with anyone or anything else. The statement of Elijah to the people reveals what happens when we try to straddle the fence. He asked how long they were willing to be crippled which is the meaning of “halt” by refusing to choose God or Baal. We cannot move forward in our lives or positively impact the lives of others until God is first in everything we do.
When we avoid choosing between God and anything else, it cripples us from being able to live as we should.
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
For much of the history of our country, there was a widespread agreement on the moral framework of what was right and what was wrong. Even those who were not Christians largely followed the laws, and most people recognized that our laws were based on a biblical standard of morality. That has changed. Now many people reject the idea that there is even such a thing as right and wrong. We hear people saying things like “my truth” or “that may be true for you but not for me.” As the moral framework of our society has broken down, we have seen sinful behavior that once was done only in secret paraded through the streets and celebrated.
As the world around us becomes more openly wicked, enjoying the opportunity to flaunt their evil conduct, it is more important than ever that we take a firm and unwavering stand for the truth. The things that were wrong before are still wrong now. There is no changing in God, and thus there is no changing in His law. We are to stand for the truth even if those around us are celebrating evil. Alexander Pope warned:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,
As to be hated needs but to be seen;
But seen to oft, familiar with her face,
We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
What we must do is to fill our hearts and minds with the Word of God so that we remain firmly grounded in what is right and what is wrong.
We should celebrate and love righteousness with more intensity than the world celebrates and loves sin.
And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah? And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: for the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
1 Kings 19:9-10
After the great demonstration of God's power when fire came from Heaven on Mount Carmel, Elijah was distressed that Jezebel wanted revenge on him, and he fled out of the country. Elijah was suffering from what many of us have experienced as a time of letdown after a great victory. One of the things that drove Elijah to a state of depression was the feeling that he was alone. He complained to God that he was the only one left who was trying to do right. While we should stand for God even if no one else does, it is usually not the case that we are the only one left. God corrected Elijah's mistaken impression, saying, “Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).
Satan is depicted in the Bible as a lion seeking to devour and destroy. The hunting method of lions, as with many other predators, does not typically focus on a large herd of prey, but rather looks for stragglers and those who have become separated from the group. It is far easier for a predator to take down a lone target than one that is part of a group. We need to be sure that we do not allow ourselves to become isolated from other believers. It is a huge help and encourage to have others standing with us as we face the challenges and temptations of life. When we feel lonely or isolated, we are easier targets for the devil to attack.
One of the gifts of being part of a local church is surrounding yourself with others who love God and can help encourage your faith in the Lord.
Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, he was afterward an hungred. And when the tempter came to him, he said, If thou be the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread. But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.
The devil came to tempt Jesus at a strategic moment. After a prolonged period of fasting, Jesus was tired and hungry. Physically He was at a very low point. Yet when Satan arrived with a temptation that was specifically targeted at the Lord's most vulnerable point, Jesus did not give in. Instead He responded with the Word of God, quoting what Moses had told the children of Israel. “And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
The key to defeating temptation is not will power or determination or anything to do with self reliance. Instead, the key to victory is found in knowing and applying what the Bible says in any situation we face. When we run to the Scriptures for strength, we will always find what we need to reject temptation. No matter how appealing the devil's offer may be, and no matter how weak we may be at that particular moment, there is strength in the Bible that will withstand any attack of the enemy. Our task is to prepare our hearts and minds before the temptation comes by learning what God has said and hiding it in our hearts. Only then will we be ready to respond properly when we are tempted.
Victory over temptation begins long before the moment when the temptation occurs.