Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.
After the death of Charles Spurgeon, his son Thomas became pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. But like his father, he suffered greatly from ill health. He soon realized he could not manage the massive church and all its ministries alone. He turned to one of his father's dear friends, Archibald Brown who had been saved and baptized at the Metropolitan Tabernacle as a teenager, and asked him to come and co-pastor the church. Brown did so, continuing a life that had been devoted to service to Jesus Christ. Late in his life, someone asked Brown how he had been able to accomplish so much for God. “The answer is very simple,” he responded. “Fifty years ago Archibald Brown was joined up to the main, and the tap has been running ever since.”
No work that we do for God in our own strength and power can possibly succeed. Only when we are dwelling in Him and walking in the Spirit will we see the fruit of the harvest. Even after three years of His personal instruction, the Lord told the disciples they were not ready to launch into their ministry until the Holy Spirit had empowered them. We are just as much in need of His power in our lives. The devil whispers in our ears that we can do it on our own. This message appeals to our pride, and we find it easy to listen to such temptations. But only God's power working in us can overcome the world and bring the victory.
The impact of our work for God is directly determined by the working of the Holy Spirit in and through our lives.
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
It is not uncommon for visitors to popular tourist sites to be targeted by pickpockets. For example, if you have the opportunity to visit the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, it is likely that your guide will warn you to be very careful about purses and wallets, as that is a prime hunting ground for thieves. Their goal is to take away what is valuable and precious, using the skills of deception and distraction which they have perfected. In the same way, Satan attempts to spoil us—to steal what God has given to us—using the teaching and philosophy of the world to distract us from the truth.
It is vital that we be careful students of the Word of God, so that the philosophies and doctrines of the world do not deceive us. We cannot afford to blindly accept something just because it sounds good and makes sense to us. Often that is the tool that the devil uses, presenting us with something that fits with our own ideas and desires, but subtly is drawing us away from God. We will not maintain the truth unless we make it a priority. Jude wrote, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
The key to identifying deceptive ideas and teachings is to be so familiar with the truth that error is quickly revealed. The only sure and certain source of truth is the Word of God, and that is the ultimate guide we should follow in determining what we will believe and how we will live. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
The clear light of the Bible reveals traps and false doctrines the devil tries to use to steal us away from the truth.
And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to usward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, Far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come:
When Secretariat went to the starting line at Belmont on June 9, 1973, virtually everyone expected him to win the race. Secretariat had already won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the first two races in the Triple Crown. In fact, only four other horses even entered the race against him. Despite the high expectations, no one had ever seen a performance like the one “Big Red” put on that day. The record time that Secretariat set over the mile and a half long track still stands almost fifty years later, and no other horse has even come within two seconds of matching it. The second place horse was 31 lengths—about 250 feet—behind when Secretariat crossed the finish line. It was a dominating performance that left no doubt at all about the winner.
Sometimes as we face the very real battles of this world, we are tempted to forget that Jesus has already won an overwhelming victory, completely and totally defeating Satan, just as God promised to Adam and Eve so long ago. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15). Jesus does not need to call on extra power or ask for backup or reinforcements. His power is unlimited, and His glory stands above any other—past, present or future. There is no need to fear the final outcome. Instead, we simply trust in our glorious and victorious Lord and trust Him to work in our lives.
Jesus has already overcome all of the opponents we will face, and we can fully rely on Him for victory.
And he shall make an atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions in all their sins: and so shall he do for the tabernacle of the congregation, that remaineth among them in the midst of their uncleanness. And there shall be no man in the tabernacle of the congregation when he goeth in to make an atonement in the holy place, until he come out, and have made an atonement for himself, and for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.
Once the work on the Tabernacle was completed, Moses was instructed to place the Ark of the Covenant inside the Holy of Holies—a special room separated from the rest of the Tabernacle by a massive curtain. No one was allowed in this room or in the presence of the Ark except for the high priest, and he could only do it once a year. The Ark was never to be touched by human hands. When it needed to be moved, it was covered and then poles were inserted into the rings placed at each corner. When David went to bring the Ark to Jerusalem after the Philistines had captured and then returned it, a young man named Uzzah tried to steady it when the cart carrying the Ark hit a bump. “And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God” (2 Samuel 6:7).
No one could take the place of the high priest there in the presence of God's glory. No one else was even allowed to be inside the Tabernacle at all. The high priest represented the people before God in a beautiful picture of the work Jesus would do for us. But it was only a shadow of what Christ Himself would do. Jesus did not make continual offerings year after year. He shed His blood once, and that was all that was needed. His work of redemption was done. “But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12).
God graciously provides us the means to become part of His family through the precious blood of Jesus.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
Jesus Christ came into the world, born to Mary in Bethlehem just as God had promised hundreds of years before. He was human in every way. Yet at the same time, He was also fully God. And while He set aside His glory and honor to accept the limitations of a physical body, He was still the King of kings. Jesus had then and has now all of the attributes and nature of God the Father. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus declared the importance of seeing the Father. Philip immediately asked to see Him, showing that he had not fully grasped what Jesus was teaching. “Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9).
In Jesus Christ we have everything we could ever need for every part of life. His wisdom guides us through our decisions. His power enables us to serve Him. His love motivates us to live for Him. His presence is the comfort that we are never abandoned or alone. He is to be the greatest love in our lives. He is the beginning and the end of what we believe, what we experience, and what we expect as part of His family. Jesus is wonderful beyond the ability of human words to describe. He is our hope and our help in every trial and victory. Many of us learned a little chorus when we were children that sums up this beautiful truth:
Christ is all I need,
Christ is all I need,
All, all I need.
Christ is all I need,
Christ is all I need,
All, all I need.
He was crucified,
For me He died,
This is why I know
That He loves me so,
Christ is all I need.
Our matchless Lord lovingly provides us with everything we need both for this life and the next.
If any man have ears to hear, let him hear. And when he was entered into the house from the people, his disciples asked him concerning the parable. And he saith unto them, Are ye so without understanding also? Do ye not perceive, that whatsoever thing from without entereth into the man, it cannot defile him; Because it entereth not into his heart, but into the belly, and goeth out into the draught, purging all meats? And he said, That which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man.
Under the Old Testament law, there were many things the Jewish people were not allowed to eat. Alongside the law God had given Moses, a whole body of tradition grew up around the actual law which soon obscured the point. The Pharisees had elaborate rituals for washing their hands and anything that would hold their food. There is certainly nothing wrong with eating with clean hands off clean dishes, but they had elevated that tradition to the point where they thought they were improving their standing in God's eyes by their outward cleansing. When they critiqued the disciples for not following their rituals, Jesus used the opportunity to highlight the difference between inward and outward cleanliness.
Jesus' primary point was that even those who have all the outward appearances of godliness still have a sinful nature and still need forgiveness from God. We can only be made holy on the inside through the blood Jesus shed to forgive our sins.
But Jesus' point can extend beyond salvation to our daily lifestyle. Even as forgiven children of God, we can get caught up in thinking that outward manifestations of holiness impress God while neglecting sins of the heart. Because the outside is what people can see, it can easily become our only focus. We find it easy to neglect care for our internal cleansing, but God calls us to address the heart. James wrote, “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8). The biggest problem we have with sin is not external. Temptations come from outside, but they find room to grow from our inward desires that are not cleansed. We must ask God to search our hearts and surrender every aspect of our lives to His rule.
Outward appearances can never be a substitute for inward cleansing.
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
We live in a pressure-packed, hectic, fast-paced world filled with people hurrying to meet deadlines and check off everything on their to-do lists. It can be hard not to feel pressured by the swift passage of time. There is always one more thing to do, and rest can be hard to find. But that is not unique to our day. It is believed to have been the Roman playwright and poet Plautus, born 250 years before the birth of Christ, who so eloquently complained about the pressures of time he faced.
The gods confound the man who first found out
How to distinguish hours! Confound him too
Who in this place set up a sundial
To cut and hack my days so wretchedly
Into small portions!
As Christians we are not immune to the pressures of the world, but we have a resource that the world does not. We have access to the peace and rest Jesus promises to give those who trust in Him. The fact that too often we take matters into our own hands and try to solve our problems without God's help greatly contributes to our stresses, worries, doubts, and fears. We can trust Jesus because He always keeps His promises, and there is rest promised for believers. “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9). But we cannot experience and enjoy that peace and rest unless we have first come to Him in faith. Charles Spurgeon said, “How many of our sleepless hours might be traced to our untrusting and disordered minds. They slumber sweetly whom faith rocks to sleep. No pillow so soft as a promise; no coverlet so warm as an assured interest in Christ.”
No matter how busy or burdened we may be, there is always rest for those who come to Jesus for it.
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
When Napoleon was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, it marked the end of his influence and power. The man who had once ruled over vast nations spent the final six years of his life in exile on the tiny Atlantic island of St. Helena. In interviews on the island, he reflected back on the fateful battle which at the time he had expected to win. One of the key factors Napoleon identified in his defeat was the failure of his subordinates to carry out their assignments. He told an interviewer, “I made a great mistake in employing Ney. I should have placed Soult on my left. I ought not to have employed Vandamme. I ought to have given Suchet the command I gave to Grouchy. My ordnance officers were too young. I ought to have had in their place men of experience. The men of 1815 were not the same as those of 1792. My generals were fainthearted men.”
Any time that we depend on people we are likely to be disappointed. While we are grateful for the help we do receive, only God is worthy of our dependence. “It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man” (Psalm 118:8). Only God can supply all that we need both for this life and the next. Only God can provide power to accomplish any task that is set before us. Only God can make up what is lacking in our lives. Sometimes the people we count on most let us down. Sometimes those who feel for us lack the ability to do anything about it. Sometimes the places we turn for help to make up what is lacking prove unable to provide. God never fails. He will keep His promises to provide if we come to Him as He directs. Then we can truly say, “My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:2).
God has all we lack, and He will freely provide for those who come to Him in faith to claim it.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
2 Timothy 3:1-5
There was no question in the minds of those who knew the disciples what the greatest influence on their lives was. They were like Jesus after spending time with Him. “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). The more we become like Christ, the more influence we will have on the world around us. Being godly, not in the sense of false piety or showy religion, but literally living and responding like Him, changes everything about the way we live.
A. W. Tozer wrote, “He talks familiarly every day to someone he cannot see, expects to go to Heaven on the virtue of another, empties himself in order that he might be full, admits that he is wrong so he can be declared right, goes down in order to get up. He is strongest when he is weakest, richest when he is poorest, and happiest when he feels worst. He dies so he can live, forsakes in order to have, gives away so he can keep, sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, and knows that which passeth knowledge.”
The measurement of growth in the Christian life is not found in methods or techniques or rituals, but in becoming more and more like Jesus. We do this the same way the disciples did—by spending time with Him through His Word and by surrendering to the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
The more like Jesus we become, the more powerful and effective our work for Him will be.
So likewise ye, except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood, how shall it be known what is spoken? for ye shall speak into the air. There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification. Therefore if I know not the meaning of the voice, I shall be unto him that speaketh a barbarian, and he that speaketh shall be a barbarian unto me. Even so ye, forasmuch as ye are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek that ye may excel to the edifying of the church.
1 Corinthians 14:9-12
When people stand out in any endeavor, it draws attention. Whether in business or sports or education or anything else, those who excel are looked up to by others who want to do the same. The book In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, Jr. was a publishing success story. It sold three million copies in just four years, and remains one of the better selling business books of all time. People wanted to know the traits and procedures that made excellent companies stand out. Yet when it comes to God's work, sometimes that drive for excellence is missing.
God is looking for people who are excellent, not to win fame and applause or financial rewards, but to serve Him and build up His church. God gives gifts to every believer to be used, not for ourselves, but for others. A gift that is casually treated or poorly exercised is not likely to make any positive impact. But a gift that is used in the power of the Holy Spirit to build and strengthen the work of God will change lives. It should be the desire of our hearts to be excellent in building up God's church by building up those around us. Not everyone has gifts for preaching or teaching or singing, but anyone can be an encouragement to others. The strongest churches are filled with people who are excellent in edifying.
God deserves our very best as we use what He has given us for the benefit of others.
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
As an outward expression of his covenant with God, Abraham was given the sign of circumcision. This physical mark was a distinguishing sign to Abraham and his descendants. “And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham's house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him” (Genesis 17:23). Through the centuries that followed, physical circumcision was practiced by the Israelites. But long before the birth of Christ, they had been told that the practice they were commanded to follow was only a token and that God Himself would perform the change that was needed for them to live. “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).
By the time of Paul, many Jewish religious leaders taught and believed that simply being a circumcised Israelite meant that their standing with God was secure. But nothing we do can gain us merit with God. No matter who our ancestors are, they cannot grant us salvation as an inheritance. We must come to God ourselves, trusting in Him alone to change, not our outward bodies, but our hearts. Only when that is done can we stand before Him accepted. Only when that is done can we find peace with Him. Jesus did all the work for our salvation. His death, burial and resurrection provide the hope for us to have our sins redeemed and become part of God's family. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12).
When you trusted Christ as your Savior, He began a process of change, not just of your actions, but of your heart.
According to thy name, O God, so is thy praise unto the ends of the earth: thy right hand is full of righteousness. Let mount Zion rejoice, let the daughters of Judah be glad, because of thy judgments. Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.
During his lifetime, Charles Wesley wrote more than three thousand hymns, many of which are still being sung today. He served God faithfully for more than fifty years. While he was on his deathbed, Wesley dictated one final poem to his wife Sally:
In age and feebleness extreme,
Who shall a helpless worm redeem?
Jesus, my only hope Thou art,
Strength of my failing flesh and heart,
Oh, could I catch a smile from Thee,
And drop into eternity.
God is not a part-time, fickle, changing deity. He is our salvation, our defense, and our guide—not just for a day or two, but as long as we live, and then into eternity. In Him we have a loving Father who never fails, who never turns away from His children. We can trust Him when things are going well, and we can trust Him when we do not see any hope for the future. We can rely on His faithfulness to keep all of His promises.
People we trust can let us down. People we believed in can fail to keep their promises. People we love can get sick and die. God is eternal. His presence with us all the days of our lives is our strength, our hope and our confidence. Even when we reach the end of this life, we will still find Him faithful. Paul described death as our last enemy, but then he rejoiced that Christ has already conquered death. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
We can safely trust in God every day of our lives, secure in the knowledge that we will spend eternity with Him.
And it came to pass after these things, that his master's wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me. But he refused, and said unto his master's wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?
The decision of whether we will do right and resist or give in and yield is not really made in the moment of temptation. It is made in the time that leads up to that moment. If we have developed a close personal relationship with God, spending time in His presence through His Word and in prayer, our perception of and ability to respond quickly to temptation will be different than if we have been casual in our relationship toward Him. Jesus warned Peter, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41). Peter did not heed the warning, going back to sleep while Jesus prayed. When the temptation to deny the Lord came, he yielded, despite his early protests that he would remain faithful.
F. B. Meyer said, “The supreme test is not in the greater but in the smaller incidents of our character and practice; not what we are when standing in the searchlight of public scrutiny, but when we reach the firelight flicker of our homes; not what we are when some clarion-call rings through the air, summoning us to fight for life and liberty, but our attitude when we are called to sentry-duty in the gray morning, when the watch-fire is burning low. It is impossible to be our best at the supreme moment if character is corroded and eaten into by daily inconsistency, unfaithfulness, and besetting sin.”
The more closely we walk with God, the less alluring temptations to sin become.
Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
Because of Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden, every person born into the world has been born under the penalty of sin, which is death. Whether someone lives a few days or many decades, death is still the end result. People take all kinds of medicines and vitamins and eat certain foods while avoiding others in an attempt to extend their lives. In every case, sooner or later, every life comes to an end. The story goes that on her deathbed Queen Elizabeth I said, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” Yet all of her power and wealth could not command even one more second of life.
Fear of dying is so common that it has an official name: thanatophobia. For those of us who have become part of God's family through faith in Jesus Christ, physical death will still be a reality, unless the Lord returns during our lives. But it is no longer something we must face with dread. The Holy Spirit that lives within each believer is the guarantee of God's promise of eternal life. Paul wrote, “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Romans 8:11).
The resurrection of Jesus was the final demonstration of God's power overcoming every enemy. The inability of death and the grave to hold the Lord shows He is victorious. We claim and enjoy that victory when we walk in God's Spirit and live in His power. We face real enemies. We fight real battles. But we already know the final outcome. We have complete confidence that both in this life and in eternity we will never be forsaken by God. Jesus did not stay in the grave, and neither will we.
God's resurrection power is not just for the end of our lives, but for each and every day of our lives.
And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD. For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.
1 Samuel 1:26-28
When A. B. Simpson was still very young, he demonstrated a gift for Bible preaching and teaching. Word of his ability spread, and he began receiving invitations to speak in various places. But he was unsure if that was God's direction for his life. Torn between a call to preach and the need to take care of his widowed mother, he struggled to determine what course he should take. Finally he went to his mother to talk about it. Rather than trying to hold him back, she said, “My son, I have been looking for this hour ever since you were born.” For more than fifty years Simpson would preach and teach, write books and hymns, and impact the lives of thousands of people.
Serving God always requires sacrifices. Sometimes those sacrifices are very great, but they are always worth it. Rather than resenting what we give up for Him, we should regard it as a privilege. Giving God everything that we have is not some kind of outrageous demand He makes of us. As Paul pointed out, it is both right and logical: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). We should never cling to something God asks us to give to Him. If we do, we reveal that our love for Him is not what it should be. It is often good things given too much weight that keep us from serving Him as we should.
God is worthy of any sacrifice which He calls us to make as part of His service.
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
Because of His love for us, God chastens us when we disobey Him. His goal is always to bring us back into close fellowship with Him. This process, however, can be very painful, as all of us who are God's children have experienced. There are times when people who are undergoing God's chastening become discouraged. They may want to give up because things seem so hard. That is the time they need encouragement the most. This is when we want to be a voice of hope for those who are trying to take steps on the path to God.
When a fellow Christian is experiencing chastening due to an obvious, public sin, there is a temptation for those who are watching to criticize or judge the person rather than encouraging them. But if we look down on them, we place ourselves at risk. “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). It's easy to think we are superior, but instead, we must realize that we are subject to the same faults and failings as others.
Often our critiques of others reveal that we do not fully understand the situation. When Jesus met a man who had been blind all of his life, His followers assumed they knew what the reason was. “And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:2-3). The reality is that everyone needs encouragement. Rather than being quick to judge, we should be quick to encourage.
We should take advantage of every opportunity to encourage those around us, no matter why they are having a hard time.
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
For much of history, justice was dispensed by individual rulers. Whatever they thought about the guilt or innocence of the accused was the verdict. Starting in the twelfth century in England, the concept of a jury trial came into being. Rather than one person issuing a judgment, now a group would deliberate and render a verdict. One of the abuses of that system was that if the verdict was “wrong” in the eyes of authorities, they would simply charge the person again, hoping for a conviction in the second trial. To prevent that, the US Constitution forbids “double jeopardy.” The Fifth Amendment says, “Nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb.” Once someone has been acquitted of an offense, they cannot be tried again for the same charge. From a legal standpoint, it can never be held against them again.
All of us had offenses against God on our record. All of us are sinners. Through the blood of Jesus Christ, we have complete and total forgiveness. Every sin, whether past, present, or future, was placed on His account, and His perfect righteousness was placed on ours. As a result, our sins are not just forgiven, but they will never be held against us again. Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). God's forgiveness is complete and permanent. We are called to holiness, but even when we fall short, the Lord is still for us. “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1). Jesus finished the work of salvation on the cross, but He continues to intercede on our behalf.
We should never be afraid of God holding sins against us which we have repented and forsaken.
And the LORD said unto me, The backsliding Israel hath justified herself more than treacherous Judah. Go and proclaim these words toward the north, and say, Return, thou backsliding Israel, saith the LORD; and I will not cause mine anger to fall upon you: for I am merciful, saith the LORD, and I will not keep anger for ever. Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the LORD thy God, and hast scattered thy ways to the strangers under every green tree, and ye have not obeyed my voice, saith the LORD.
One of the most devastating lies of the devil is that we can let little things slip without any consequence, but instead stay in control of what follows. That is completely false. Charles Spurgeon said, “If you begin to slip on the side of a mountain of ice, the first slip may not hurt if you can stop and slide no further. But alas, you cannot so regulate sin! When your feet begin to slide, the rate of the descent increases, and the difficulty of arresting this motion is incessantly becoming greater. It is dangerous to backslide in any degree, for we know not to what it may lead.” The first step we take away from God will inevitably lead to another and then another.
The prodigal son had no intention of living with the pigs and longing for their food when he left home with his inheritance, but that is where he ended up. The devil tries to hide the consequences of sin, getting us to focus on the present moment rather than the future results. When we are not living in close fellowship with God, there is always a sin somewhere, because that separates us from God. Like Adam, instead of longing for God's presence, we try to hide from Him. Yet while God hates sin, He is merciful and gracious to sinners who come to Him. The process of restoration begins with that first step back as we turn toward Him.
A single step away from God leads to ruin while a single step back toward Him leads to restoration.
For the ships of Chittim shall come against him: therefore he shall be grieved, and return, and have indignation against the holy covenant: so shall he do; he shall even return, and have intelligence with them that forsake the holy covenant. And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate. And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.
It's easy for us to look around and be discouraged by the opposition and attacks we face from the world. Yet no matter how mighty or determined the enemy may be, we know that God will ultimately be victorious. And we know that He has a role for us to play in His work. God does not need our help to triumph, but He calls us to be part of His work. In the face of rising opposition, we should view it as an opportunity to see God at work through us. Our relationship with God strengthens us to do great things for Him. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father” (John 14:12).
We don't need to worry that we are attempting to do too much for Him. He delights in equipping and empowering us to accomplish things the world views as impossible. D. L. Moody said, “A big God does not make small plans.” We do not do great things for God to bring us glory or gain the attention of others, but to glorify Him and accomplish His purposes for our lives. We should never allow opposition to determine the scope of our work for God. We should instead trust in His power and promises, and do all that He leads us to do.
A worsening world provides us with opportunities to see God do greater works.
Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above, and his roots from beneath. Also I brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite. And I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites. Is it not even thus, O ye children of Israel? saith the LORD.
In King Lear, one of Shakespeare's great tragic plays, the aged king plans to step down from the throne and divide the land between his three daughters. Two of them prove to be unworthy, scheming against him and against each other, while his one loyal daughter suffers his misplaced anger and is compelled to leave the country. Forced to flee into the countryside, Lear proclaims, “How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!”
God is often depicted in the Bible as a parent. He likened Himself to a father holding a child's hand while teaching him to walk when He said, “I taught Ephraim also to go, taking them by their arms; but they knew not that I healed them” (Hosea 11:3). Yet sadly God often faces ungrateful, thankless living from His children. He has given us so much, all because of His grace and not because we earned it or deserved it. He loads us down with benefits worthy of praise and thanks, but too often does not receive them.
There is no way for us to thank God as much as He deserves, but there is a way for us to be grateful children who thank Him and tell others about Him. When we refuse to take His blessings and goodness for granted, we honor Him with grateful hearts. “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (Psalm 107:8).
May it never be said of us that we are not thankful for all God has done for and given to us.
Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
God gave Moses the law which governed the way the Israelites were to live. Their standing with God came, not from keeping the law but from believing that God's promises of salvation and forgiveness were true. No one could ever fully keep the law, and even if that were possible, it still would not have been sufficient. Paul wrote, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). The law's greatest purpose is to show people their need for a Savior.
Yet rather than learning that lesson, many Israelites over the years decided that keeping the law was too much trouble. And it was not just the little details that they let slip. Even major events like the Feast of Passover stopped being observed. When Hezekiah held a nationwide Passover observance, it was the first time in more than two hundred years. “So there was great joy in Jerusalem: for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there was not the like in Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 30:26).
Every person born into this world is born with a sin nature. All of us have made willful choices to break God's law. Without Christ, we stand guilty before God. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, however, is the full payment for our sin and removed the law's judgment for those who have trusted in Christ. The guilt of the past is gone, nailed to the cross. The penalty of our sin is gone, nailed to the cross. The way to forgiveness and salvation has been opened, and we have hope for eternity.
Christ died to set us free from sin and the law so we could walk in freedom to glorify Him.
And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
When George Croly was appointed to pastor in London in 1835, the small parish was in dire circumstances, but that quickly changed. Croly would spend the next twenty-five years as pastor there, and his ministry had a great impact. Years later Croly's son Frederick would write, “The church of St Stephen's, previously almost deserted, soon became filled, under the influence of this powerful attraction, with a large and attentive congregation, most of whom came from a considerable distance.” Through Croly was a gifted preacher and a noted author, his gifts were not the secret of his success. Instead he relied on the power of God, as described in his most famous hymn:
Spirit of God, descend upon my heart;
Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move.
Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art,
And make me love Thee as I ought to love.
Teach me to love Thee as Thine angels love,
One holy passion filling all my frame;
The kindling of the Heav’n-descended Dove,
My heart an altar, and Thy love the flame.
When we work in our strength, talents, and abilities, we only get what we are able to accomplish. But when we live and work and minister and serve in the power of the Holy Spirit, we get what God can accomplish, and there is no limit to what He can do. Our world urgently needs Christians who have God's power on their lives. Nothing less will have the impact that is required to truly change things for the better.
We must have God's power to do His work in an effective and meaningful way.
For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.
The noted poet and diplomat James Russell Lowell used his considerable talents to advocate for the abolition of slavery in America. He devoted many years of his life to that cause, editing abolitionist newspapers, printing magazines and writing poems calling attention to the plight of slaves. But even after all he had done, he still recognized the frailty and weakness of his flesh. It is said that Lowell told a friend this phrase should be inscribed on his tombstone: “Here lies that part of James Russell Lowell which hindered him from doing well.”
Each one of us has a weak, fleshly nature that constantly fights against doing what is right. As long as we live on this earth, we will have to contend against our flesh which constantly tempts us to satisfy our desires apart from God. When we yield to the flesh, we will fall short of what God has for us to do. Paul wrote, “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” (Romans 8:7-8). Victorious Christian living requires a consistent and dedicated effort to do what God says rather than what appeals to our sinful nature. If we love Him more than anything else, we will set aside our desires for His glory.
God has given us the power to fight and win in the battle against the flesh as we die to self to live to Christ.
And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
When Domitian became emperor of the Roman Empire after the death of his brother Titus, he commissioned a great arch to honor his brother's being elevated to “divine” status by the Roman Senate. The Arch of Titus built around 81 AD still stands in Rome today. It depicts the victory celebration following Titus' defeat of Jerusalem ten years before, and shows the great menorah and other objects from the Temple being carried away by Roman soldiers. The Latin inscription on the arch reads, “The Senate and the Roman people [dedicate this] to the deified Titus Vespasian Augustus, son of the deified Vespasian.”
The spoils captured from defeated enemies played a crucial role in the military and economic life of ancient nations. Frequently the bulk of the pay for soldiers consisted of what they could loot. What Achan did in taking gold and silver and clothing from Jericho was the normal practice, and it would have been fine had not God commanded everything in the city to be reserved for Him alone. “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also, and they have put it even among their own stuff” (Joshua 7:11).
When Jesus defeated Satan on the cross, He provided for our salvation and our freedom. Once we were in bondage to sin and held captive by Satan. "And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will" (2 Timothy 2:26). Like prisoners of war being held by an enemy are freed when the war is worn, we find our release in Jesus Christ. In God's grace, we are a prize He claimed as His own at great cost to Himself.
The high cost of our salvation is the measure of the value God places on our lives.
So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter; and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter. Wherefore I praised the dead which are already dead more than the living which are yet alive. Yea, better is he than both they, which hath not yet been, who hath not seen the evil work that is done under the sun.
Solomon had a unique combination of wealth and power. There was nothing that was beyond his ability to get. Merchants came from far away bringing exotic animals, spices, clothing, and treasures. He ruled over a kingdom at peace, without having to fear any attacks or invasions. Solomon was given great wisdom by God when he was a young man, and because he asked for wisdom, God gave him a great deal more. But Solomon did not spend his life wisely. He became focused only on what is “under the sun” rather than what is eternal and lasting. Despite all that he had, Solomon was miserable. He came to view life as empty and worthless. "Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2).
In truth, the best that this world has to offer will never provide lasting peace and contentment. All of its pleasures are temporary. But we are not meant just for this life. This is not where we are meant to focus our efforts and energy. Paul reminds us, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). We need to keep eternity in view in all that we do. That will determine what we do, what we value, and how we live. Our hearts belong to God first and foremost. Rather than looking for hope and happiness in this world, we should look to Him for all we need both in this life and the next.
Only the eternal things really matter, and only the pursuit of eternal things will give our lives purpose and meaning.
Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: And he laid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.
It's easy to see that we live in an increasingly wicked culture. However, this is certainly not a new experience for God's people. Through the centuries, Christians have been surrounded by wickedness and evil. Yet darkness can never overcome the light. There is a temptation for us to get focused on the problems of the world around us, but that is not the main issue. Instead, we should be focused on our own hearts and lives, and ensure that we are prepared to be effective witnesses to those around us. When we are in a close relationship with God, we are ready to speak His truth to the world.
We often think of revival in terms of a number of people getting saved. But revival is first and foremost a work among God's people. The evangelist Gipsy Smith was once asked how to start a revival. Smith replied, “Brother, go back home, lock yourself up in a private room. Take a piece of chalk and mark a circle on the floor, get down on your knees inside the circle, pray God to start a revival inside this circle. When this prayer is answered, the revival will be on.”
When Christians are not living as they should, they will have little impact on a sinful world. Lot knew God through his uncle Abraham, yet when he moved to Sodom he did not reach others with the truth. There were not even ten righteous people to be found, not because the city was wicked, but because the Christians were weak.
When we are more concerned with our own relationship with God than what others are doing, we are prepared for His service.
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
Ever since Adam tried to shift the blame for his sin to Eve, people have been looking for ways to feel superior to others. Sometimes that takes the form of downplaying our own contributions to problems. Sometimes it takes the form of judging others for what they are doing or not doing. It's always possible to find something about even the greatest people to criticize if we choose to live that way, but it is a foolish approach to life. “For we dare not make ourselves of the number, or compare ourselves with some that commend themselves: but they measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12).
There were people in the church in Colosse who were observing the commandments of the Mosaic law in respect to diet, holidays, and observances. There were also people there who were not. Neither position was a valid cause for judgment or condemnation. It's important for us not to judge others unfairly, but it is also important for us not to accept false judgments from others. We can and should learn from criticism if it is valid, but we should not allow improper judgments from others to make us feel like we have fallen short. “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Romans 14:22).
We are one day going to give an account to God for our service to Him, and how we used the talents and abilities He gave to us. His evaluation will not be based on what anyone else thinks, but on what He has said. We do not need to fear that the judgments of others will persuade Him to adopt their views. We should be more concerned about obeying and honoring God than we are about anything else.
God is looking for people who are more concerned with doing what He says than they are with impressing others.
But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation.
Barnabas was one of the most important figures of the early church. At great personal expense and effort, he donated a large sum of money for the needs of church members. When no one else would accept Paul's conversion as genuine, Barnabas vouched for him and insisted the church welcome him. When Paul did not want to take Mark on what would have been their second missionary trip, Barnabas found a way to give the young man a second chance. His plan worked, and later Paul would ask for him specifically. “Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).
There was great dissension in the early church between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. Those who had grown up as Jews were accustomed to doing things according to the law of Moses—or more accurately to doing things according to the traditions that had grown up around the law through centuries of the teaching of rabbis. As a result, they sometimes separated themselves even within the church. In Antioch, this came to a head when Peter ate with the Gentiles when other Jews were not present, but would not do so when they were. This is the hypocrisy that also ensnared Barnabas.
No matter how long we have been saved, no matter how much good influence we have shown, no matter how many people we have helped, we never become infallible. We need to constantly stay on guard to make sure what we are saying and doing is in line with the truth of God's Word.
To keep serving God faithfully, we must continue to evaluate everything in our lives by His Word above all else.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.
We live in this world, but this world is not our home, and we must not become attached to the things in it. When God called Abraham to leave Ur and go to the promised land, without telling him exactly where that was, Abraham went. He did not look back, and he did not go back. He kept his focus on what God said mattered. Following God faithfully requires that we be focused on what He has called us to do, rather than on what we have left behind to do it.
Looking toward the past and what is behind can easily lead us astray. It was not an empty warning that the angels gave Lot and his family about leaving Sodom behind. “And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Genesis 19:17). Lot's wife ignored the warning and was turned into a pillar of salt.
God has a purpose and plan for our lives, and it is always forward focused. We cannot go back and change the past, but we can keep our eyes on Him and not allow the past to pull us off course. We do not please God when we spend our energy and time on the things of this world. He wants us to be fully committed. “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).
A person devoted to following Jesus does not focus on where he has been, but on where he is going.
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
When we were little, most of us heard the story of Jack and the Beanstalk. The story first appeared in English in 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.” The story begins with Jack, who has been tasked with selling the family cow, taking five beans that are described to him as magic rather than getting money. In the story this works out well, because the beans grow into a stalk so high that Jack is able to reach a giant's house and plunder his possessions, so that he and his mother can enjoy the standard fairy tale “happily ever after.” But that's not typically the way things work in the real world when someone is deceived and cheated.
Most of us know, or at least have heard of, people who have fallen victim to scams. In the old days, con artists sold people the Brooklyn Bridge. More recently many people got emails or phone calls from a member of a foreign royal family who would richly reward them if they would just help move his money out of the country. These various schemes have a goal of taking something of value in exchange for nothing more than empty promises. This kind of deception is not limited to the financial world, but appears in spiritual matters as well.
Paul warns us not to get swindled into exchanging what is good and worthy of rewards for that which is worthless. When we have the truth, we should not trade it for anything else. Many times people are susceptible to this kind of deception because what they are being offered appeals to their pride. If we think adopting some practice will make us look good in the eyes of others, we may find it easy to believe the false and abandon the truth.
The more we know and are committed to the truth, the harder it will be for someone to deceive us.
And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.
As a teenager, Charles Spurgeon was going to church on a Sunday morning when a sudden snowstorm disrupted his plans. Instead of the church he had planned to attend, he went into a little Primitive Methodist church. The pastor had been unable to make it, so a layman stood in the pulpit. He hadn't prepared a sermon, but he faithfully declared the way of salvation, preaching from Isaiah 45:22: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.” As he talked about the simplicity of looking to Jesus alone, Spurgeon found what he had been seeking.
He described the experience this way: “That happy day, when I found the Savior, and learned to cling to His dear feet, was a day never to be forgotten by me. An obscure child, unknown, unheard of, I listened to the Word of God; and that precious text led me to the cross of Christ. I can testify that the joy of that day was utterly indescribable. I could have leaped, I could have danced; there was no expression which would have been out of keeping with the joy of my spirit at that hour.”
Whether we have been saved for days or decades, we should never lose the wonder and joy of being rescued from death and destruction and placed into God's family. The gift of eternal life we received through God's grace is worthy of all the praise we can give, and a constant source of joy.
Never allow anything in life to take away the overwhelming joy of being a child of God.
If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.
Though there are some four thousand different species of bees native to North America, none of them produce honey. In 1621, the Virginia Company, looking for ways to improve the productivity of crops in their colony in the New World sent beehives filled with European honeybees as part of the cargo. The honeybees arrived in 1622 and quickly multiplied, becoming a crucial part of early American agricultural development. Lots of different kinds of bees buzz around flowers collecting nectar, but only honeybees produce a sweet and useful product.
The fruitfulness of our Christian life is not just the sounds we make or activity we generate—what we say or how busy we are. Our fruitfulness is measured by what is actually produced through our lives—the fruit of the Spirit and our witness. Bible faith is always active faith. And active faith always results in something happening. When Jesus met the disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after His resurrection, He didn't ask them to tell Him what they believed about the different kinds of fish in the water. He didn't ask for their opinion about nets or boats or the best time to fish. He asked what they caught. “Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No” (John 21:5).
All around us there are people in need. The lost need to hear the gospel. The tired and discouraged need to be lifted up. The hurting hearts need to be comforted. That is what we are to do, putting our faith into action as we represent Jesus Christ to those we meet and show His love in a powerful and productive way.
A living faith is always an active and productive faith that makes an impact on those around us.
And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
From the time George Eastman introduced the first transparent roll of film in 1899, Kodak dominated the film market. They were leaders in developing new technologies that revolutionized how people took, printed, and viewed pictures. In 1975 a young engineer named Steven Sasson invented the first digital camera. It was crude by modern standards, but it represented a huge leap forward for picture taking. For the first time an image could be converted into a digital format. Executives at the company had little interest in the new invention. They viewed it as competition for their existing business rather than the wave of the future. “Every digital camera that was sold took away from a film camera and we knew how much money we made on film,” Mr. Sasson said. “That was the argument.” Kodak missed out on the chance to be the leader in digital photography, and in 2012 the company filed for bankruptcy. They lost sight of their business—it wasn't film, but pictures that mattered.
All over the world there are churches that have existed for decades or even centuries. Once they were great lighthouses of the truth of the gospel. Today though the buildings may remain, they are just empty shells of what they once were. This happens not just to false teachers and apostate denominations. It can happen to sound, solid churches as well. The process begins when we lose sight of what matters most. God warned the church at Ephesus, “Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love” (Revelation 2:4). The first love of the church is not preaching or singing or missions or teaching. The first love of the church is Jesus. Anything that keeps Him from being the main thing we love and the main focus of all we do is dangerous to our future.
No individual or church can maintain the right course unless Jesus is our first and greatest love.
And he divided the three hundred men into three companies, and he put a trumpet in every man's hand, with empty pitchers, and lamps within the pitchers. And he said unto them, Look on me, and do likewise: and, behold, when I come to the outside of the camp, it shall be that, as I do, so shall ye do. When I blow with a trumpet, I and all that are with me, then blow ye the trumpets also on every side of all the camp, and say, The sword of the LORD, and of Gideon.
In the days before modern communication, soldiers on the battlefield faced huge challenges with knowing what to do as conditions changed. Gideon faced this dilemma as his tiny army prepared to go up against the massive host of the Midianites. He resolved the problem by telling his men to watch him, and then copy his actions. We all know the story of how the sudden burst of light and noise in the darkness confused the Midianites, and they were defeated by an army a fraction of their size. The audacious plan worked because it was done at the direction of God, and He worked a miracle. But the mechanics of all three hundred soldiers doing it in unison worked because Gideon set the example, and others were able to follow it.
The Lord's plan is for those of us who have been saved longer and have grown in grace to be examples for others that they can copy. This process only works if we are diligent about setting the right kind of example. Paul was able to tell the Corinthian believers to follow his pattern, not because he was something special in and of himself, but because he too was following a pattern that had been set for him. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). If we live in such a way that those who copy our attitudes and actions are becoming more like Jesus, we are fulfilling one of God's main missions for our lives. If, on the other hand, those who emulate us are drawn away, we are failing.
We can only influence others to do right by copying us to the extent that we ourselves are copying Jesus.
Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works' sake. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father. And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
God has big plans for us to do great things for Him. He knows that we are unable to accomplish His purposes apart from His power, so He graciously provides both the opportunities for us to work for Him and the strength to do so. Just before He returned to Heaven, Jesus told the disciples they would not be ready to start their work until they received this power. “For John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence” (Acts 1:5). Once the Holy Spirit came upon them in power, they shook the world.
F. B. Meyer said, “Michaelangelo, entering the studio of his pupil Raffaello and finding his style too cramped, drew a chalk line across it and wrote at the foot of the canvas the word 'Amplius'–broader, fuller, wider. That is God's perpetual word to us in relation to the filling of the Holy Spirit. We can never have enough to satisfy His yearning desire. When we have apprehended most, there are always unexpected supplies in store ready to be drawn on.”
The fact that the things we are meant to do for God are bigger than we can handle doesn't mean that we should not do them. It simply means that we should rely fully on Him and trust Him to provide what we lack. His power working in and through us allows us to do things that bring Him honor and glory, and make an impact on the world around us.
God's power gives us the ability to accomplish His purposes, no matter how far beyond our own ability they may be.
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
In the 1800s, people began referring to those who were unconscious or in a coma as being “dead to the world.” Over the next hundred years the usage changed until it became a synonym for sleeping very soundly. But the original purpose of the expression had nothing to do with a person's psychical condition, but rather with his spiritual condition. Once we have trusted Christ as Savior, we are called to leave the things of the world behind—to treat them with no more interest than a dead person shows toward anything earthly.
Like his pastor father before him, William Jenkyn refused to support the official Church of England. He was a powerful and effective preacher, but he frequently aroused the ire of the authorities. He was imprisoned in 1651 and at one point even sentenced to be executed, but his life was spared. He resumed his ministry but found himself in trouble again ten years later when he refused to follow the Uniformity Act which dictated prayers and sermons to church leaders. Jenkyn died in Newgate Prison, where he had been sent after again refusing to stop preaching. William Jenkyn wrote, “To forsake Christ for the world, is to leave a treasure for a trifle, eternity for a moment, reality for a shadow.”
Death to the world and self and our own interests and desires is not a one time thing, but something that must happen again and again if we are to love God as we should and value what matters to Him. Paul wrote, “I protest by your rejoicing which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). Only when we are dead to the world can we truly be alive to the things of God. Only when we are dead to the world can we truly make the difference in our world that God calls us to make.
We cannot value the things of God as we should unless we have first died to the things of the world.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king. But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.
During the French Revolution, expressing support for the restoration of the monarchy was a dangerous thing to do. When Thomas de Mahy, the Marquis de Favras, was accused of plotting to help the king return to power, he was quickly arrested and put on trial. Though the evidence against him was sparse and somewhat contradictory, he was still found guilty and sentenced to be executed. The Marquis refused to relent from his position. As the story goes, when he was handed his death warrant, he looked it over and said, “I see that you have made three spelling mistakes.”
Things do not always work out the way that we would like for them to or the way we think they should. But negative circumstances or even negative outcomes should not deter us from following God and doing what is right. God is always able to deliver us, but that is not always His plan. Peter was delivered from prison by an angel, but James was executed by Herod. Our responsibility is not to control the outcome, but to remain committed to Him and trust whatever He brings into our lives is for His purposes.
The Roman Empire could cut off Paul's head, but they could not silence His message or cut him off from God's power and love. “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
No opposition, hardship, persecution or enemy can defeat God's purpose for our lives.
Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.
Jesus used a number of metaphors to describe Himself in a way that people could understand. In connection with His role as the Good Shepherd, Jesus also pictured Himself as the Door to the sheepfold. He said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). The sacrifice of Jesus provides us so many benefits beyond the great gift of salvation. Through His righteousness applied to our account by grace through faith, we have access to peace with God.
Throughout history different cultures and religions have sought ways to be at peace with God. But in almost every case, their prescription for peace involved the things that people were to do or to avoid. Many of these religious rituals were harsh and cruel, involving terrible acts in an effort to show sincerity and appease the wrath of different gods. The true God, rather than requiring us to do something, made the sacrifice on our behalf. “He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11).
God made a way for us to become part of His family, exchanging the sinful inheritance we received from our earthly parents (through Adam and Eve) for the robe of righteousness He offers to all who believe.
Coming to God through faith in Jesus Christ provides us access to all of the blessings He has in store for us to receive.
(Touch not; taste not; handle not; Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
God gave the law to Moses at Mount Sinai that governed how His people were to live. It contained rules and regulations for their diet, their worship, their sacrifices, and the way they interacted with each other. There were things people were required to do, and things which were forbidden to them. Later rabbis would calculate that there were 613 commandments in the writings of Moses. While no one was able to keep the entire law, the plan for living in a way that was acceptable to and honoring of God was there for anyone who cared to read and follow it.
Very few people even tried. Instead they began substituting their own interpretations which often obscured or even contradicted what God had actually said. This is one of the things for which Jesus most criticized the Pharisees. They had elaborate rituals that made them feel good about themselves and look good to others, but their hearts were not in the right place. Even worse, their devotion to the teaching they themselves had developed took precedence over what God had actually commanded. Jesus said they were: “Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye” (Mark 7:13).
It is essential that our beliefs and practices are dependent on God's Word above all else. There is nothing wrong with following a tradition or custom that is in agreement with Scripture, but nothing should ever be elevated above the Bible. And nothing should be accepted that has the effect of going against what God has said, no matter how many people are following it or how long they have been following it. Every human idea and invention that contradicts or opposes the Bible must be rejected. Only as we follow those doctrines that are in line with Scripture will we be on the path to holy and godly living.
Everything we believe and practice must be built on the firm foundation of what God actually said.
So king Rehoboam strengthened himself in Jerusalem, and reigned: for Rehoboam was one and forty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the LORD had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put his name there. And his mother's name was Naamah an Ammonitess. And he did evil, because he prepared not his heart to seek the LORD.
2 Chronicles 12:13-14
Rehoboam had a great number of advantages when he became king over Israel. He had the example from his grandfather David of wholehearted devotion to God. He had the example from his father Solomon of the importance of wisdom. In fact he had an entire book of the Bible written primarily for his instruction—the book of Proverbs. “My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother:” (Proverbs 1:8). Yet for most of his seventeen years on the throne, Rehoboam did not follow the good parts of the examples he had, but instead followed the bad. He did not serve God exclusively, looking to the idols worshiped by other nations instead. He did not lead the people with wisdom. The biggest problem Rehoboam had was that he had no plan to seek and follow God.
None of us live in a godly way by accident. Because of our sin nature and the temptations of the world around us, the normal course of an undirected life is toward evil. As the old hymn put it, all of us are “Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” If we want to honor and obey God as we should, then we must do so intentionally. We must set aside time to read, study, memorize, and meditate on the Word of God. We must set aside time for prayer. We must set aside time for worship, for fellowship, for witnessing, and for service. If we are not diligent in this, we will end up not doing what we should.
A heart that is not prepared to intentionally follow God will be easily drawn astray by temptation.
And after all this the LORD smote him in his bowels with an incurable disease. And it came to pass, that in process of time, after the end of two years, his bowels fell out by reason of his sickness: so he died of sore diseases. And his people made no burning for him, like the burning of his fathers. Thirty and two years old was he when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years, and departed without being desired. Howbeit they buried him in the city of David, but not in the sepulchres of the kings.
2 Chronicles 21:18-20
Many of the kings who ruled over Judah after the nation of Israel was divided had ungodly fathers who did not set a good example for them. Jehoram was not like that. His father, Jehoshaphat, mostly tried to follow God. Yet when Jehoram came to the throne, he turned his back on God. He murdered all of his brothers to secure his claim to be king. He led the people to military defeats, and despite warnings from prophets, he refused to repent. When he died, the people did not mark his passage with the elaborate ritual of a state funeral. That was because they did not really mourn his departure. They buried him without ceremony and didn't miss him when he was gone.
Every day we are building a legacy by which we will be remembered. If we are kind and gracious and godly in the way we treat others, that will not soon be forgotten. If we are harsh and selfish and critical in the way we treat others, that will also be remembered. Charles Spurgeon said, “A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots have withered. Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.” It should be our constant desire, not for our own glory but for God's, that people will remember us for living as much like Jesus as we could.
What people remember about us tomorrow is determined by what we do today.
Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.
In his tale of growing up in the Midwest, Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain highlights some of the odd things that people believed in that day. For example, when Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are discussing how to remove warts, they disagree on the best method. Tom Sawyer confidently declares his way is foolproof. “You got to go all by yourself, to the middle of the woods, where you know there's a spunk-water stump, and just as it's midnight you back up against the stump and jam your hand in and say: 'Barley-corn, barley-corn, Indian-meal shorts, Spunk-water, spunk-water, swaller these warts,' and then walk away quick, eleven steps, with your eyes shut, and then turn around three times and walk home without speaking to anybody. Because if you speak the charm's busted.” Of course that's not an effective treatment, and we laugh when we read how fervently Tom Sawyer believes in it.
But it is not uncommon for Christians to attempt to win our spiritual battles using methods that have no hope of working. Through the years many people have tried to improve their standing with God by establishing rules that they think will gain them favor with God and eternal life. But our works cannot add to the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that has already been placed on our account. We may impress others with an outward display, like the Pharisees who called attention to their giving and their fasting, but God sees what is in our hearts. He knows that only the perfect sacrifice of Christ can make us righteous before God.
After we have received the righteousness of Christ through salvation, there is still no point in us making up ways to please God. God has given us His Word for clarity on what to believe and how to obey Him. And He has given us the Holy Spirit to enable us to obey Him as His children. We can rely on Him.
The superstitions of religion or added commandments of men do not result in true godliness of the heart.
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
God delights in supplying what we lack. When Paul was struggling with his thorn in the flesh, his prayers for it to be removed were not granted. Instead, God told Paul to rely on Him and He would provide. There are people who tell us that loving and serving God means nothing should ever go wrong. That sounds nice, but it isn't what the Bible teaches. Things do go wrong. We get sick. We get tired. We get discouraged. We get let down by people we counted on. We face challenges that are too big for us to handle. But in every situation and in every difficulty, God's grace is more than enough for everything we may need. And He invites us to turn to Him and rely on Him rather than on ourselves. When we take matters into our own hands rather than seeking God's grace, we are headed down the wrong path.
The prophet Hanani told Asa, king of Judah, that his response to enemy aggression—seeking to hire heathen armies to fight for him—had kept him from experiencing God's deliverance. “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. Herein thou hast done foolishly: therefore from henceforth thou shalt have wars” (2 Chronicles 16:9). The problem is not that God is reluctant to help, but that we are reluctant to admit our complete dependence on Him. When we rely fully on what His grace provides, we will always find that we have more than enough.
Rejecting the lie that we can do things on our own is the first step toward receiving God's help to accomplish His purposes.
What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.
When St. Paul's Cathedral opened in London in 1708, it was hailed as a marvel of architectural design and beauty. Because of the curved design, people standing in the gallery above the nave found that they could hear a whisper from the other side of the church, and it came to be known as the Whispering Gallery. The story goes that one day a young couple were talking in the gallery. The man, who was a shoemaker told the lady that because his business was struggling, he could not buy leather to make more shoes, and thus could not afford to marry her. A man on the other side of the gallery heard their sorrow and followed the young man to his shop. He then anonymously paid for and had delivered a large shipment of leather, saving the business and allowing the couple to wed. It was not until many years later that they learned their benefactor had been William Gladstone, the Prime Minister of England.
God is so far above us that the gap cannot be measured or even described adequately. Yet in His mercy and love He provides for us not just salvation, but all that we need to live in a way that honors and pleases Him. God demonstrated His willingness to give by sending Jesus to be our Savior. We should never think of Him as stingy, or feel that we must somehow convince Him to help. He gives to us freely because that is His nature.
God is eager to give good things to His children who cry out to Him for help.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.
About three hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Greek philosopher Philo of Megara was one of the first to develop a detailed means of evaluating conditional statements. Philo wanted to lay out a logical structure that would help his students determine whether or not something was correct. His summary was that a conditional statement such as, “If A then B” was correct if and only if both A and B were true statements. If either of the elements is false, then the statement cannot be true. This simple formula allowed his students to quickly check the logic behind a declaration.
The declaration Paul presents us with is not that kind of “if-then” statement. It is not conditional, but declarative. The "if" is stated with a clear underlying assumption that the readers have already accepted Christ and are risen with Him to a new life. It is not a question of uncertainty, but a clear truth. In light of that truth, since we are believers, then our lives are supposed to be characterized by a desire and pursuit of the things of God. If we are more focused on this world than the next, something is wrong.
The pursuit of heavenly things is not a casual thing but a diligent and consistent way of life. It is something that is meant to consume our attention and energy. It is pictured in the parable Jesus told. "Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?" (Luke 15:8). If we lost something precious we would not rest until we found it. In the same way, as Christians our lives should be noted for their devotion to the things of God.
Since our eternal destiny is already fixed above, we should focus our pursuits and affections above as well.
Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles.
There is no questioning the impact that the early church had on the city of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, and the powerful proclamation of the gospel saw thousands of people saved. The new converts joined with those who already believed in Jesus, and they formed a nucleus that would eventually reach out to take the gospel to the entire world. The key to their success in replicating their faith and training others to reach others as Jesus commanded is found at the very beginning of the story. They “continued steadfastly.” Their faith, their fellowship, and their fervor was not a temporary, passing thing; it was rooted in a real and ardent faith in Jesus Christ, and it continued in a steadfast spiritual pursuit of Christ.
Many people start out well in the Christian life. They respond to the good news and begin to grow in grace. But then after a few months or a few years, something happens that derails them. They no longer are faithful in attending church. They cut themselves off from fellowship with other believers. They stop living as the Word of God directs and commands. They began on the right path, but they did not stick to it. The world is filled with distractions that try to draw us away from God. Satan places temptations in our path to lead us astray. If we do not stand firm on purpose, we will fall. “But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself” (Daniel 1:8).
Living for Christ and pressing forward in our faith is not something to just "try for a while"; it should be the ongoing expression of heartfelt commitment and love for Christ.
For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.
Throughout human history, people have worshiped all sorts of things rather than the one true God. And throughout human history, they have made images and idols to represent their deities, using them as a focus for their worship. In our day, the idols of Western culture take different forms, but the worship of things other than God is still widespread. The folly of worshiping something made with human hands is that it reverses the proper form of worship. We should only worship the God Who made us. “And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Luke 4:8).
The things of this world can draw us away from God, but they do not have the power to satisfy the true longing of our hearts. Only the Lord can do that. Only He has the power to give us the good things that make life truly matter. There is an old story about an attorney who was asked after the death of a wealthy client how much he left behind. “All of it,” the lawyer said. False gods cannot provide us with lasting peace and happiness in this life, and they cannot provide us with hope for the next life. That is why our hearts must be fixed on loving God above anything and everything else.
Anything we love more than we love God is a false idol that must be destroyed.
Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth.
What or whom we love most determines what we do most. Many people make statements about their priorities and values that sound good, but sometimes their actions do not show evidence that what they say matters actually is most important. This is why we must consciously choose to love God first and fully, which Jesus said is "the first and great commandment” (Matthew 22:38). Nothing can take the place of that love. Nothing can be allowed to substitute for it.
Our affections—that which we love—are not imposed on us by others. We are responsible for how they are set. We determine what we will value and appreciate and love. We are responsible to God for loving Him above all else, and not letting our hearts become fixed on the things of this world. The way we make certain that our hearts are in the right place is to put our treasure in the right place. When our time, our abilities and our resources are invested in the things of Heaven, it will not be hard for us to love those things. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).
Charles Spurgeon said, “Let us also quit the vault of carnal enjoyments, wherein men seek to satisfy themselves with provision for the flesh. Let us not live by the sight of the eye, nor by the hearing of the ear. Let us not live for the amassing of wealth, or the gaining of fame, for these ought to be as dead things to the man who is risen in Christ. Let us not live for the world which we see, nor after the fashion of men to whom this life is everything.” Our lives belong to God completely, and we should love Him above all else.
When we love God first and fully, everything else will take its properly proportionate place in our hearts and lives.
For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
President Harry Truman was noted for his outspoken bluntness. One of his most famous sayings was issued to those who were complaining about difficulties: “If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” While that is a clever and memorable turn of phrase, it, in some ways, misses the point. The real question is not whether we can stand the heat, but whether what we are cooking is worth standing in the heat for. If our cause is light and trifling, we will not want to endure hardship, opposition, and persecution. But if our cause is weighty and important, we will not be deterred from continuing no matter how hot the “kitchen” gets.
Paul suffered far more than most of us can even imagine, yet he called that “light affliction” not because it was not painful and difficult, but because his driving purpose and motivation made that suffering immaterial. Paul regarded his ministry as a vital necessity, worthy of sacrifice. He wrote, “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
The center of our focus determines how we evaluate and respond to the events of life. At the time Paul lived, some people might have thought that facing so much opposition was a sign that Paul was not doing what was right. He viewed it as a sign that the devil was trying to stop him. With the goal of eternity in mind, none of the things that endured kept him from continuing his work and ministry.
If we keep our eyes on Jesus, our work for Him will never cease because of opposition or suffering.
And Joshua rent his clothes, and fell to the earth upon his face before the ark of the LORD until the eventide, he and the elders of Israel, and put dust upon their heads. And Joshua said, Alas, O Lord GOD, wherefore hast thou at all brought this people over Jordan, to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us? would to God we had been content, and dwelt on the other side Jordan!
Distraught over the defeat at the city of Ai, Joshua expressed the desire that he had never entered Canaan. Instead, he wished that he had settled for less than God had promised. There are times when the difficulties of life cause us to doubt God's ability or willingness to help. But we should never settle for less than what He offers us. And we should never forget that what is able to do exceeds our ability to imagine. “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us” (Ephesians 3:20). Faith claims the promises of God even when they seem to be impossible.
The famed English admiral Sir Frances Drake wrote, “Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little, when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of things we possess, we have lost our thirst for the waters of life; having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity; and in our efforts to build a new earth, we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim. Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas where storms will show your mastery; where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars. We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes; and to push into the future in strength, courage, hope, and love.”
We should never be content with less than all that God has promised us He will do.