Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
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For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
Caroline Sandell Berg grew up in a pastor's home in Sweden. When she was still a young girl, she witnessed her father drown in a tragic accident, but her faith remained unshaken. Known as the “Fanny Crosby of Sweden” she wrote more than 650 hymns, included one titled “Security.”
More secure is no one ever, than the loved ones of the Savior.
Not yon star on high abiding, nor the bird in home-nest hiding.
God His own doth tend and nourish, in His holy courts they flourish;
Like a father kind He spares them, in His loving arms He bears them.
Neither life nor death can ever, from the Lord His children sever,
For His love and deep compassion, comforts them in tribulation.
Little flock, to joy then yield thee! Jacob’s God will ever shield thee;
Rest secure with this Defender, at His will all foes surrender.
The world around us may be filled with doubt and uncertainty and trouble, but as children of God we have complete safety in Him. That does not mean that we will never endure hardship or suffering or loss. It does mean that we will never be forsaken or abandoned. God will be with us every day of our lives. We also do not need to fear the future. Our eternal destiny is already settled, secured by the promise of Jesus Christ.
Thomas Brooks said, “Christ is to be answerable for all those that are given to Him, at the last day, and therefore we need not doubt but that He will certainly employ all the power of His Godhead to secure and save all those that He must be accountable for. Christ’s charge and care of these that are given to Him, extends even to the very day of their resurrection, that He may not so much as lose their dust, but gather it together again, and raise it up in glory to be a proof of His fidelity.”
We can have complete confidence for the future because we are secure in the promises of God.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:12-14
I learned a lot of things during the years we spent on the mission field in Korea when I was growing up. One of them was the difficulty of communicating with people who don't speak your language. No matter how much you may want to get a message across, if they don't understand what you are saying, they won't get it. Even a conversation about the simplest things is fruitless when your words have no meaning to the person who hears them. If you don't speak their language, you need an interpreter to get them to understand what you are saying. Otherwise no matter how eloquent or persuasive your words may be, they will not produce understanding or response.
In a similar way, when we try to share biblical truths with those who do not know Christ, they cannot understand the spiritual realities behind those truths. In fact, the unsaved person ("natural man" in 1 Corinthians 2) will never understand spiritual truths until he is saved. And even to be saved, he needs the Holy Spirit to convict him of his need for a Savior. In a very real sense, when we share the gospel with unsaved people, the Holy Spirit works as an "interpreter," convicting the hearts of those with whom we speak of the realities of what we are telling them. Jesus said of the Holy Spirit, "And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8).
The way we can effectively witness to those around us is through the filling and power of the Holy Spirit.
Now a certain man was sick, named Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha. (It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick.) Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.
Jesus never had a permanent home once He began His ministry. As He traveled from place to place, He would stay with those who accepted and believed in Him and took Him into their homes. One of those families was the home of three siblings: Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They lived in Bethany, just outside Jerusalem on the other side of the Mount of Olives, and on His frequent trips to the Holy City, Jesus received their generous hospitality. They knew Him as the Messiah and saw His power displayed. So when Lazarus fell sick, the natural thing for his sisters to do was to send word to Jesus for help. What followed was a miraculous demonstration of God's power, as even after he had been dead for four days, Lazarus responded to the Lord's command, “Come forth.”
The depth of the closeness of their relationship is found in the way that Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus about their brother's illness. They knew that Lazarus loved Jesus, and they knew that Jesus loved him. We sometimes do not live with a confidence in God's love for us. We know that we fail Him, falling short of His glory and perfection. We know that we sin, yielding to temptation we should resist and overcome. But what we must remember is that God does not love us because of who or what we are, but because of who and what He is. “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We can be certain that God loves us because of His promises, and we should live in a manner that demonstrates we love Him in return.
God's love for us and our love for Him should be the dominating force in our lives.
When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.
When Jesus came into the world, He laid aside the splendor and glory of Heaven for a limited, fully-human body. Only for a brief time on the Mount of Transfiguration was His true glory revealed. But now that He has returned to Heaven, He is once again high and lifted up. In Heaven there are no lights because with Jesus there they are not needed. The majesty and beauty of the Lord who saved us is bright—and it is our future destiny to be like Him because of His grace.
When we reach Heaven, whether by death or by the Rapture, everything about us will be different, and we will be like the Lord. John wrote, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Just as the moon has no light of its own, but instead illuminates the night sky by reflecting the light of the sun, we are not glorious in ourselves, but our closeness to Christ makes us shine.
This was true of Stephen, the first martyr of the church. When they could not resist his powerful preaching, the Jewish leaders hired false witnesses to testify against him. They used these lies as their excuse when they dragged him out to be stoned. Yet even in the knowledge that his death was coming soon in a very painful manner, Stephen reflected God's glory. “And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). Though we will not be glorified in this lifetime, we can still make it clear to everyone who meets us that our relationship with Jesus Christ has changed everything about us.
Our confidence in the future God has in store for us should be reflected in our daily lives right now.
And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth.
I came across this powerful story that someone posted anonymously online. “Recently I laid a small circle of poison around a hill of stinging ants. Thinking the tiny granules of poison were food, the ants began to pick them up and carry them throughout the colony. I returned later to see how well the poison was working. Hundreds of the stinging ants were carrying the poison down into their hill. Then I noticed a hole in the circle of poison. Some of the poison was moving the opposite way-away from the hill. Some smaller, non-stinging ants had found this 'food' and were stealing it from their ant neighbors. Thinking they were getting the other ants’ treasure, they unwittingly poisoned themselves. When we see someone with more than we have, we must beware. The hunger to beg, borrow, or steal our way into what is theirs may poison us spiritually.
Almost every sin has somewhere at its root a desire for something we do not have. While it is not wrong to desire good things, we must always subject our desires to God's commands. Nothing that we desire enough to break His commandments, whether Adam with the forbidden fruit or Achan with the treasures of Jericho or David with Uriah's wife, will lead to real happiness. We should be thankful and grateful that God does good things for others rather than desiring what He has given them more than what He has given us. When we covet anything, it is just a short step to reaching out to grasp it regardless of the consequences. When we covet anything, it will not be long before it replaces God in our hearts.
Being content with what God has given guards our hearts from the poisonous effects of covetousness.
Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee. Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes. With my lips have I declared all the judgments of thy mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate in thy precepts, and have respect unto thy ways. I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.
When I was given my first Bible as a little boy, there was a note inscribed in the front. It said, “Sin will keep you from this book, or this book will keep you from sin.” That statement is absolutely true. I've seen it proven in my own life and the lives of others time and time again. The Bible is not just another book. It is the inspired Word of God that He has given to us to instruct us on how to live. It is the most important resource we have for the Christian life.
God gave an instruction through Moses to the future kings of Israel. Each one was to personally hand write a copy of the law—the entire first five books of the Bible. After they had finished that laborious process their work was not done. “And it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them” (Deuteronomy 17:19). As far as we know from the Old Testament account, none of the kings of Israel or Judah obeyed this instruction. It is little wonder then that so many of them led the nation away from God. It is a love for and obedience to God's Word that will bring victory and success in our Christian walk.
A Christian who is not living in the Word of God will be a weak and defeated Christian.
But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
The French author Henri Duvernois wrote a short story called “Clothes Make the Man.” Many of us remember it from literature classes in high school. In the story, a group of thieves decide to rob a house. To avoid suspicion, they station one member of the gang outside the home in a police uniform. They are confident that the appearance of security provided by his presence will calm the fears of any passing observers. When Tango, the man chosen for that duty stands outside in his uniform, he is treated like a policeman. A lady asks for help across the street. Another officer passing by salutes him. The story ends when his cronies exit the house: “Tango stuffed the shiny whistle into his mouth and blew a salvo of blasts long enough to bring all the police in Paris. He yelled, 'Crooks, robbers! I arrest you. I arrest you in the name of the law.'" Wearing the police uniform had actually influenced Tango's behavior.
We know that a change of clothes does not change the heart. But we who have trusted Christ as our Savior actually do have transformed hearts. Because of that, Paul instructed the Ephesian Christians to "put on the new man." The picture is that of someone putting on clothes. Because God has already spiritually clothed us with the very righteousness of Christ, we are to make the daily decision to act according to those garments. Like Tango in Duvernois' story, the fact that we are "wearing" the righteousness of Christ should influence our daily actions. Every day, God calls us to lay aside the old actions of our fleshly nature and put on Christ.
We are called to lay aside our past habits and desires and put on the actions of Jesus Christ.
So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men. And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.
2 Samuel 24:8-10
The devil always makes sin look good to us, otherwise we would reject the temptation. But once the allure of sin has captured our hearts, it is very hard for us to say no. When David's pride led him to conduct a census of the fighting men of Israel, he refused to listen to those who warned him. Even his top general, his nephew Joab, could not get David to listen. “And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” (1 Chronicles 21:3). It was only after it was too late that David recognized his folly. Though he repented, a plague still struck the land. He focused on doing what pleased himself rather than what would please God, and the entire nation suffered as a result.
If we treat sin casually, laughing at it, we are likely to miss the warning signs that would guard us from evil. Charles Spurgeon said, “Christian, what hast thou to do with sin? Hath it not cost thee enough already? Burned child, wilt thou play with fire? You who have already been in the jaws of the lion will you enter a second time?”
Sin is a deadly thing, and we should never treat it lightly or forget that God hates it.
Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry:
Anyone who has ever had a garden knows about the ongoing, continuing, never-ended battle with weeds. Whether you're growing flowers or vegetables, these unwanted plants compete for water and nutrients in the soil with what you want to grow. So you pull them out. Is the job finished? Not at all. Wind carries new seeds into your garden. Hidden roots beneath the surface spring up. Birds or animals drop more seeds as they pass. You don't get rid of weeds one time. It is something that you have to do again and again and again. The only alternative to a weed-filled garden that does not produce as it should is constant attention to pulling weeds.
The same thing is true in the Christian life. God calls us to be fruitful and productive for Him, and in order to do that, we must not allow sin to grow up and choke out the fruit of the Spirit. Though salvation is once for all, the war against sin in our lives is an ongoing process. The old Puritan John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” The old sinful nature we have does not leave when we are saved, and it furnishes fertile ground for sin to take root if we relax and let down our guard.
God calls us to mortify—to put to death—the sins that try to creep back into our lives. This command only makes sense in the light of verse 3 of the same chapter: "For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God." When we remember that our old nature is effectively dead—it has no power to control us—and that Christ Hismelf is our life, we then have the understanding and motivation to say "no" to sin and "yes" to Christ.
Rather than tolerating sin in our lives, we must ruthlessly kill every “weed” as soon as it appears.
The field is wasted, the land mourneth; for the corn is wasted: the new wine is dried up, the oil languisheth. Be ye ashamed, O ye husbandmen; howl, O ye vinedressers, for the wheat and for the barley; because the harvest of the field is perished. The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.
Joel prophesied at a time when God's hand of judgment was on the land of Judah for their unfaithfulness to Him. The people had stopped bringing their sacrifices and offerings to the Temple, preferring to keep the best of their production for their own use. So God sent a drought that devastated the agricultural economy of the time. Since they had not brought the first fruits of the ground as God commanded, He removed His blessing and protection, allowing them to experience the consequences of their disobedience. This was a painful process for them. There was no part of the country that was exempt from the drought. When the people looked around at their devastated crops and herds, there was no joy to be found in their hearts or lives.
But real joy is not a product of our circumstances. Even if we are enduring chastening from God, we can still know His presence and purpose, and find joy. In his great song of repentance, David wrote, “Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice” (Psalm 51:8). When hardship and difficulty come into our lives as a result of something we have done that we shouldn't or something we have left undone that we should, it is not a sign that God hates us. His discipline comes from His love for us. He wants us to have what is best, and He knows that sin will never lead to that result.
If we are being chastised for sin in our lives, we can rejoice in knowing that God loves us enough to correct us.
And thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD; If ye will not hearken to me, to walk in my law, which I have set before you, To hearken to the words of my servants the prophets, whom I sent unto you, both rising up early, and sending them, but ye have not hearkened; Then will I make this house like Shiloh, and will make this city a curse to all the nations of the earth.
When the Israelites had finished the majority of the military campaigns in the Promised Land, Joshua gathered the people together at Shiloh. There the Tabernacle that housed the Ark of the Covenant was set up, and that became the center of worship for the people. It was at Shiloh that Joshua divided up the land among the twelve tribes. Samuel was a child serving in Shiloh when God appeared to him for the first time. Shiloh was the center of religious life in Israel for hundreds of years. But as the people forsook God, priests like Hophni and Phineas, the sons of Eli, were wicked and selfish men who desecrated Shiloh. The Ark was taken by the Philistines in battle, and even after the Philistines returned it, the Ark never came back to Shiloh. Instead, Jerusalem became the center of the Israelite's worship, leaving Shiloh.
The fact that God is blessing an individual, a family, a church, or a ministry does not mean that He will always continue to do so. The fact that there is a long history of obedience and blessing in the past does not mean that disobedience in the present will be overlooked or ignored by God. He can remove His blessing at any time. If we have trusted Christ as our Savior, we will never lose the gift of eternal life. But if we are walking in willful disobedience to God, we will lose the blessings of experiencing the joy of His presence within us and His power working through us. Even then, however, God extends His mercy and invites us to return to Him in repentance. When we do, He will restore our joy in Him.
Experiencing God's power in the past does not give us a license to sin in the present.
I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding; And, lo, it was all grown over with thorns, and nettles had covered the face thereof, and the stone wall thereof was broken down. Then I saw, and considered it well: I looked upon it, and received instruction. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth; and thy want as an armed man.
Solomon was given great wisdom by God because that is what he requested when God offered to give him whatever he wanted. People quickly recognized that the young king was gifted at discerning attempts at deception and judging fairly and rightly the cases brought before him. God would eventually use Solomon to, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, pen a book of the Bible that would impart godly wisdom to those who came after him: “The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel; To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding” (Proverbs 1:1-2)
One of the things that Solomon highlights is the importance of learning from the events and outcomes we see in the lives of others. Solomon received instruction from what happened to other people, not just from his own experiences. Some people refuse to listen, and the only way they will learn is by suffering the consequences of their choices and actions. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn at no other.”
The slothful man whose vineyard Solomon saw did not set out to have a broken down and unusable vineyard. But his desire for sleep outweighed the necessity of work in his mind, and the consequences soon followed. There are no exceptions to the law of sowing and reaping. We will not somehow be exempt from outcomes that those who have gone before experienced. So we should look well and consider what follows certain choices and actions, and not repeat the mistakes of others.
Rather than repeat the mistakes of others, we should learn from their examples.
For which things' sake the wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience:
We live in a culture that does not want to acknowledge God's hatred of sin. Rather than being ashamed of evil, it is being paraded in the streets. Rather than fearing God's wrath, people mock Him. The world around us is doing exactly what Paul talked about in the decline of a society as it turns further and further away from God. “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them” (Romans 1:32). Yet no matter how people may mock sin or celebrate it, it still brings terrible destruction to lives. The worst of this destruction is eternal separation from God.
In his powerful sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God Jonathan Edwards said, “It is not because God is unmindful of their wickedness, and does not resent it, that he does not let loose his hand and cut them off. God is not altogether such an one as themselves, though they may imagine Him to be so. The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.” God hates sin, but He withholds His hand of judgment because He delights in mercy and desires to see people repent. Second Peter 3:9 tells us that God "is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Knowing this, should motivate us to share the gospel with everyone we can. If they never accept Christ, they will leave this earth and spend eternity under the wrath of God. But what a tragedy that is, since Jesus already suffered the wrath of God for their sin and offers them the gift of eternal life.
Knowing both the wrath and mercy of God should motivate us to tell everyone we meet of the salvation that is available through Christ.
And they said unto me, The remnant that are left of the captivity there in the province are in great affliction and reproach: the wall of Jerusalem also is broken down, and the gates thereof are burned with fire. And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven, And said, I beseech thee, O LORD God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments:
There is a direct correlation between the seriousness and intensity of our prayers and the depth of concern in our hearts. If we are greatly burdened about something, it will be evident in the way we pray about it. And when we need to accomplish great things for God, prayer must be an essential element of all we do. When the disciples asked Jesus why they had been unable to cast a demon out of a young boy, Jesus replied, “Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21). Something about which we are not willing to be passionate in praying is not something that deeply concerns us, no matter what we may say about it.
R. A. Torrey said, “We hear much in our day of the rest of faith, but there is such a thing as the fight of faith in prayer as well as in effort. Those who would have us think that they have attained to some sublime height of faith and trust because they never know any agony of conflict or of prayer, have surely gotten beyond their Lord, and beyond the mightiest victors for God, both in effort and prayer, that the ages of Christian history have known. When we learn to come to God with an intensity of desire that wrings the soul, then shall we know a power in prayer that most of us do not know now.”
Prayer should be a passionate outpouring of our hearts, not an empty ritual we follow.
This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.
In February of 1844, President John Tyler and a number of other high government officials sailed down the Potomac River on board the USS Princeton. The ship had been placed in duty the previous year and was considered to be one of the navy's most powerful vessels. Among the guests was Senator Thomas Benton of Missouri. He was standing near the bow gun, awaiting the demonstration of the power of the “Peacemaker.” Just before the gun was to be fired, someone drew him aside, and Benton's place was taken by the new Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Gilmer. When the captain pulled the lanyard to fire the gun, the barrel burst and six people aboard were killed, including Gilmer, who had taken Benton's place.
Benton had long had a feud with Senator Daniel Webster, but following his narrow escape, he adopted a new attitude toward life and toward others. Benton said, “"It seemed to me, Mr. Webster, as if that touch on my shoulder was the hand of the Almighty stretched down there, drawing me away from what otherwise would have been instantaneous death. That one circumstance has changed the whole current of my thought and life. I feel that I am a different man; and I want, in the first place, to be at peace with all those with whom I have been so sharply at variance.”
In truth we are often oblivious to God's mercy and the way He works to protect us from dangers we do not see or recognize. But we should appreciate His gracious care for us, and do our best to live every day for His glory.
Even when we are not aware of it, God's mercy is always actively working in our lives.
In the which ye also walked some time, when ye lived in them.
When Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee to Gadara, He met a man who had been expelled from the town. Because of the power of the demons that possessed this man, he could not be controlled. He lived among the caves on the side of the mountain where bodies were buried. Yet when He met Jesus, everything about his life was transformed. Jesus cast out the demons and gave him a new life. Word quickly spread, and the people of the town wanted to know what had happened. “Then they went out to see what was done; and came to Jesus, and found the man, out of whom the devils were departed, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed, and in his right mind: and they were afraid” (Luke 8:35).
The truth is that all of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior have experienced a radical transformation. It may not have been as outwardly apparent as it was for the "demoniac of Gadera," but it was eternity-changing. In that moment, we passed from darkness to light, from death to life.
This inward change of our hearts should manifest itself in our actions. The things that we once loved should be replaced with new objects of our affection. The things that once held no attraction to us should now be the greatest desire of our hearts. Charles Spurgeon said, “Some Christians overlook the blessing of sanctification, and yet to a thoroughly renewed heart this is one of the sweetest gifts of the covenant. If we could be saved from wrath, and yet remain unregenerate, impenitent sinners, we should not be saved as we desire, for we mainly and chiefly pant to be saved from sin and led in the way of holiness.” We used to be lost and enemies of God, but through His grace we have been redeemed. There has been a great change in us, and it should be reflected in the way we live.
The change that salvation makes in our hearts should be constantly reflected in the changed way we live.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
There is no denying the impact that the early church had on the city of Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit-empowered preaching of the apostles and the Holy Spirit-empowered witness of the believers could not be ignored. Not everyone accepted the message, but everyone was forced to make a decision. The central focus of the life of that church—their preaching, their fellowship and their daily lives—was Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Savior whose coming had long been promised.
There are a lot of things that are good and necessary and important for a healthy church, but there is one center that is essential above all, and that is Jesus Christ. “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Colossians 1:18). All of our abilities and talents should be put to work for His cause, but none of them can substitute for His power. Nothing can be allowed to come before Him, and nothing can be allowed to take His place.
Alexander MacLaren said, “All which we can know concerning God and man, concerning sin and righteousness and duty, concerning another life, is in Him Who is the home and deep mine where truth is stored. The central fact of the universe and the perfect encyclopedia of all moral and spiritual truth is in Christ, the Incarnate Word, the Lamb slain, the ascended King.” Jesus is everything to us, and He should be the center of our message to the world.
A church or a Christian without Jesus at the center will be powerless and easily led into error.
Now when all the princes, and all the people, which had entered into the covenant, heard that every one should let his manservant, and every one his maidservant, go free, that none should serve themselves of them any more, then they obeyed, and let them go. But afterward they turned, and caused the servants and the handmaids, whom they had let go free, to return, and brought them into subjection for servants and for handmaids.
When Jerusalem was surrounded by the Babylonian army, Zedekiah and the leaders of the nation decided they needed God's help. Up until that time they had been happy to go their own way and ignore the law of God. But then, in an effort to curry God's favor, they announced a release for all the Hebrew servants, much in the spirit as God had commanded for the (long overdue) Year of Jubilee. They hoped that in response God would help them against an opponent they had no hope of defeating. Yet when Nebuchadnezzar and his army left Jerusalem to fight other enemies, the evil king and his nobles retracted their offer and compelled all the servants they had freed to return to their former positions.
We don't gain God's favor by making bargains with Him, although people often try to do so. But we should take our commitments to God seriously, and we should not go back on them. Solomon put it this way: “When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed” (Ecclesiastes 5:4).
In Psalm 116, we see a better pattern for making and keeping vows to the Lord: "What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD. I will pay my vows unto the LORD now in the presence of all his people" (Psalm 116:12–14). The psalmist wasn't making promises to God to curry His favor. He was recognizing the manifold goodness of God and, with a heart of gratitude, desiring to give Him thanks.
Fulfill your commitments to God today out of a grateful heart for His goodness to you.
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth.
When we trust Christ as our Savior, our standing with God immediately changes. We are made God's child, and we receive the gift of eternal life. But we still live in a fallen world and still struggle with the temptations of our flesh. For this reason, the Bible instructs us to "put off" our old habits, attitudes, actions, and words and to replace them with Christlike habits, attitudes, actions, and words. This includes our reaction to others. Hostile attitudes toward others and evil speaking reveal a heart need that must be dealt with, and one follows the other.
One of the most certain ways to ascertain the condition of a person's heart is to listen to what they say. The greatest opposition Jesus faced came from those who hypocritically declared their allegiance to the law, but whose words and deeds showed otherwise. Jesus declared, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).
Of course the task of controlling our speech is beyond our ability to do on our own. We cannot win this battle with willpower or determination. “For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8). Our only hope of victory is to rely on the power of God—the Holy Spirit living within us. Only in His strength are we able to put off the old attitudes and way of speaking.
Self-reliance and self-confidence will never accomplish the work of defeating the old nature—we must have God's help.
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.
1 Corinthians 2:14-16
Though the idea of organ transplants go back to ancient times, it was not until relatively-recent times that medical science advanced far enough to allow it to become reality. Skin grafts began to be performed around 1900, but internal organs posed a great challenge. The first successful kidney transplant took place in the 1950s. The next decade saw successful liver and pancreas transplants as well as the first successful heart transplant. In the 1980s lungs were able to be transplanted as well. Thousands of people are living today because of an organ they received from a donor. None of these people have a transplanted brain.
A brain transplant is far beyond the reach of man's ability. Yet God changes everything about us at salvation. He gives us a heart transplant. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). But He also changes our mind as well. The way we thought as lost people was completely in opposition to the way God thinks. He views everything differently than we do, and unless we come to view things His way, we cannot live as He commands. So when we are saved, God gives us a new mind—a new way to look at the world. It is a mind which is available to us, but we must exercise it and use it and allow it to control our lives. “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5).
If we have the mind of Christ, then our words, attitudes and actions will reflect His priorities and purpose.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
When Moses gave the Israelites the instructions for the first Passover, he paid special attention to the lambs that would provide the blood they were to place on the doors of their homes. “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year: ye shall take it out from the sheep, or from the goats” (Exodus 12:5). To ensure that the lamb was acceptable for the sacrifice, there was a period of four days—the lamb was selected on the tenth day and sacrificed on the fourteenth day—when it could be inspected to ensure no flaw or defect had been overlooked. Only after it had passed inspection would a lamb be acceptable for a sacrifice.
Of course, this is a powerful picture of Jesus Christ. His perfect life met the approval of His Heavenly Father which was expressed when Jesus was baptized by John. “And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). We are far from perfect. All of us are sinners. We were born with a sin nature and also choose to sin. But when we trust Christ as our Savior, the righteousness of Jesus Christ is placed on our account, and God views us as fully acceptable just as His Son is. Although we still struggle with sin and will continue to as long as we live in this fallen world, we remain "accepted in the beloved." We don't fight sin in order to gain God's acceptance; we fight sin because we already have His acceptance and want to walk in obedience to the God Who loves us and has made us His own.
We meet God's standard of perfection because the righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to us. We are fully accepted in Him.
Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds;
God is truth. There is nothing dishonest, untruthful, or contradictory in His nature and character. By contrast, there is no truth at all in Satan. Jesus told those who lied about Him not being the Messiah and accused Him of being from the devil, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). As children of God it is imperative that we be truthful and honest. Anything less is a shame and disgrace to the holy name we have been given to carry before the world.
Many people think nothing of shading the truth. They tell “little white lies” and do not feel the least bit guilty for doing so. J. C. Ryle observed, “Think about how much falsehood and deceit there is in the world! How much exaggeration! How many untruths are added to a simple story! How many things are left out, if it does not serve the speaker’s interest to tell them! How few there are around us of whom we can say, that we trust their word without question!” Though God hates all sin, Proverbs 6 lists a group of sins that are particularly offensive to Him. “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him” (Proverbs 6:16). Lying occupies two of the seven spots on the list: “A lying tongue” and “a false witness that speaketh lies.”
Sin entered the world because Adam and Eve believed the lie of the devil. When we are not honest and truthful, we are promoting the spread of sin, no matter how we might try to justify it, and we are committing a sin that God abhors.
Honesty is a vital part of the Christian life, and we must fight every temptation to use lies for any reason.
But to the king of Judah which sent you to enquire of the LORD, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, As touching the words which thou hast heard; Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the LORD, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the LORD.
2 Kings 22:18-19
Josiah became king of Judah when he was just a boy. Early in his reign, he began to lead the nation back to God. One of his projects in this endeavor was to repair and reopen the Temple. During that process, the priests found a copy of the law of Moses. When they brought it to Josiah, he was astonished and heartbroken because of the disobedience of those who had come before him. Immediately he sent messengers to ask what God intended to do. The answer he got was that while judgment would come for the sin of the people, Josiah's repentance and humility would spare him from enduring it. In a time when wickedness abounds in our land, it is imperative that God's people seek His face in humble repentance, first for our own sins, and then for what our nation is doing.
In the midst of the Civil War in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, issued National Proclamation of Prayer and Repentance which said in part, “We have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us! It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”
God still hears the prayers of His people when they turn to Him in humble repentance, even in times of great wickedness.
John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.
The religious leaders who refused to listen to the preaching of John the Baptist were delighted to come and tell him that more people were following Jesus. They thought that John would be upset at the decline of his audience. Instead he expressed his joy that things were turning out exactly the way God planned. We tend to think that having more attention is the measure of success, but in God's eyes success is all about faithfulness to His cause.
The Scottish preacher Andrew Bonar wrote in his diary, “This day twenty years ago I preached for the first time as an ordained minister. It is amazing that the Lord has spared me and used me at all. I have no reason to wonder that He used others far more than He does me. Yet envy is my hurt, and today I have been seeking grace to rejoice exceedingly over the usefulness of others, even where it cast me into the shade. Lord, take away this envy from me!”
We should never measure the effectiveness of our life and work by comparing ourselves to others. God's purpose is not for us to be glorified, but for us to bring glory to Him. Jesus said, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). If our focus is on God's glory, we will not be upset or envious when others receive more notice or attention, or have more of what seems to be success in the eyes of the world.
God's blessings on the life and work of others should only be a joy to us rather than a cause of envy.
And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him:
God's design and creation of the world was perfect. As He finished, the Bible records, “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Genesis 1:31). The crowning glory of creation was man, who was made in God's image. But sin came into that perfect creation when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil—the one thing in all the world that God had forbidden—and everything changed.
Man was still fashioned in God's image, and that did not change with the fall. Because of sin, however, God's image in man was severely distorted. That destruction of God's purpose and design was Satan's great accomplishment. Yet God in His mercy and grace provided a way for the fallen to be restored, and for people to once again be like Him. Indeed this purpose lay behind God's plan for redemption, and for Jesus coming into the world. Paul wrote, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
This process will never be completed until we see the Lord face to face. We never arrive at a state of perfection on this earth. However, we are continually being transformed to be more and more like Jesus. The more that we abide in Him, dwelling in His Word and allowing His Word to dwell in us, the more we will reflect the image of God. Because we still battle our old sinful nature, this is a struggle we must fight on an ongoing basis. But it is a battle that has already been won for us. We must simply apply God's power to renew our minds and be victorious over sin and the devil.
The more our minds are renewed, the more like Jesus we will live.
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
2 Timothy 3:14-16
The are lots of good and helpful books that have been written over the centuries. There are many useful and correct philosophies and ideas that have been developed. But there is only one true and perfect authority and that is the Word of God. Through it, God gives us the wisdom and knowledge to come to Christ for salvation and to walk in His ways. Through it, God gives us the teaching and correction we need to live righteous lives. Nothing can ever be allowed to take the place of the Bible as the source of absolute truth that governs and directs us.
The Scottish mathematician and theologian John Napier wrote, “From the Garden of Eden, to the experience of Job, to the temptation of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the present day, Satan has tried to move man away from submission to the authority of God and His Word. If he cannot do it through direct enticement or challenge, he will attempt to do it through all manner of subtlety and deception. That is why one must be careful not to embrace new revelations that come through any avenue: impressions, intuition, visions, dreams, tongues, or prophecy.”
Every teaching and doctrine needs to be carefully measured by how well it aligns with what God has revealed in His Word. There will always be false teachers attempting to lead people astray. To know the truth, we must know God's Word.
No human doctrine is infallible, but God's Word is completely trustworthy in all it says.
Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD. There be many that say, Who will shew us any good? LORD, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us. Thou hast put gladness in my heart, more than in the time that their corn and their wine increased. I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, LORD, only makest me dwell in safety.
Most people's happiness and security is found in their circumstances and possessions. If they have money in the bank and things are going well, they are glad. But while all of us prefer those times to times when things are harder, as God's children we are still to have gladness and peace even in the midst of trouble. God is just as good and faithful when things are going what we think of as wrong as He is when things are going what we think of as right.
When David spoke of his enemies or of danger throughout the Psalms, he was not speaking of theoretical enemies or imaginary danger. He spent years running for his life. The constant threats were very real. “And David sware moreover, and said, Thy father certainly knoweth that I have found grace in thine eyes; and he saith, Let not Jonathan know this, lest he be grieved: but truly as the LORD liveth, and as thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death” (1 Samuel 20:3). In Psalm 4, the gladness and peace David experienced was not because there were no troubles, but because God was faithful.
There will be days for all of us when it seems the sky is falling. There will be unwelcome medical reports and unsettling job rumors and unhappy personal relationships. But in every case and in every circumstance, we can trust in God. Even if everyone else were to turn against us (which we sometimes feel like or even say but is seldom ever true) God would still be there. And God would still be enough for all that we need.
The storms of life never change God's love and care for us, and we can fully trust Him no matter what happens.
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all.
There are all kinds of ways that people identify themselves. I am a husband, a father, and a grandfather. I am a pastor and a college president. I am a friend, author, Californian, and an American. But none of these identities, or any of the hundreds of others that people rely on as part of the way they view themselves, should be the primary one. Instead, the first and foremost identification in our lives should be that we are Christians. Nothing else comes close to being as important as our position in Jesus Christ. It is this position in Christ that is my most precious identity, and it is what gives me the most in common with any other person. .
The Colossian Christians were a mixture of cultures, languages, social statuses, and backgrounds. It would be easy for divisions to grow in the church that would hinder the work of Christ. This is what was allowed to happen in the church at Corinth. Paul wrote to reprove them: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it” (1 Corinthians 11:18).The importance of unity within the body of Christ cannot be overstated. It is critical to His mission for us and His plan for us to reach the world.
There is no class or group of people who are superior to others, and there is no justification for anyone to look down on others. None of us can stand before God in our own righteousness. Nothing that we have done is accomplished through our own power. No talent or gift that we have is a result of our merit. It is all God's grace. “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Our position in Christ overrides any temptation we have to think ourselves better than others.
I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread.
1 Corinthians 10:15-17
In 1795, near the end of George Washington's second term as President, the Great Seal of the United States with the motto e pluribus unum—out of many, one—was struck on the $5 gold coin known as the half eagle. The motto was added to silver coins starting in 1798, and it remained in use until the 1830s. After the motto had been dropped, a movement arose to have it returned to the coins, and the Coinage Act of 1873 (which remains in effect to this day) required that it once again be included.
The motto of our country is also a good description of God's plan for His church. Though people come from all different backgrounds, races, economic statuses, education levels, and life experiences, they find unity in Jesus Christ. The night before He would be crucified, Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:21-22).
The one central thing that unites us is far greater than anything that might divide us. There is no reason for God's people not to be united in fellowship, in worship, and in working for the Lord. Indeed this unity of God's children is one of the key evidences meant to convince the world that we are truly following Jesus Christ. “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).
God unites our hearts with other believers so that we can show and reflect His love to the world.
And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. 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.
The fact that Jesus endured intense temptation from Satan when He was on earth provides great encouragement for us. When we are tempted, we should not think that Christ does not understand. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). We can also be encouraged to follow Jesus' example as He answered each temptation by a specific quotation of Scripture, directly responding with the Truth to Satan's lies.
When it came to the third temptation Satan presented to Jesus—to worship him instead of God—Jesus responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:13 and 10:20 which command us to worship God and God alone. Jesus' response also highlights the importance of keeping God first in our lives. Living for “Him only” solves a multitude of sin problems. If that is the way we are living, the things of the world will not hold a powerful attraction to us. If that is the way we are living, the actions and attitudes of others will not dictate whether our responses to them are what they should be. If that is the way we are living, we will not be drawn away from good to do evil.
The problem of idolatry—not particularly the worship of images or idols, but putting something else in God's rightful place—has plagued God's people for thousands of years. We are constantly presented with things to occupy the throne of our lives. Sometimes the devil uses outright sin. Other times he tempts to allow something good to become our ultimate focus. But only God can be allowed to hold first place.
Anything that takes first place away from God is wrong, no matter how noble or appealing it may seem to us.
And it shall be, when the LORD thy God shall have brought thee into the land which he sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give thee great and goodly cities, which thou buildedst not, And houses full of all good things, which thou filledst not, and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten and be full; Then beware lest thou forget the LORD, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
One of the great challenges God's people face is to not take His blessings for granted. It's easy for us to fall into the trap of assuming that we have good things because we deserve them or because we are somehow better than others around us. In truth, every good thing that we have is a direct result of God's goodness to us. James wrote, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
Knowing this, it is vital for us to be grateful. The beginning of the road to destruction, both for societies and for individuals, is a failure to be grateful for what God has done for us and to give Him glory for it. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).
No one can stop us from being grateful. No law can forbid thanksgiving, and no decree can make us cease from glorifying God. Only we are able to stop our praise and gratitude, and only we are able to forget all God has done for us. We must never fall prey to this grievous sin. Dr. Bob Jones, Sr. said, “When gratitude dies on the altar of a man's heart, that man is well-nigh hopeless.”
We need to be constantly reminding ourselves and telling others of the good things God has done for us.
And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off: And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
Jesus performed many miracles of healing during His time on earth. As word spread of what He was doing, people began to come from far around to see Him in hopes of being healed and helped. When He came into a town, all those who could tried to reach His presence. This was even true for lepers, who were exiled from normal life because of the danger of them spreading the disease. When ten lepers cried out for healing, Jesus granted their request. But only one of the ten took the time to express thanks. The other nine took their great blessing for granted rather than being grateful.
David wrote, “Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah” (Psalm 68:19). Every one of us has received from God far more than we deserve. His grace and mercy freely bestowed on us cannot be measured. John Broadus said, “An unthankful and complaining spirit is an abiding sin against God, and a cause of almost continual unhappiness; and yet how common such a spirit is. How prone we seem to be to forget the good that life knows, and remember and brood over its evil—to forget its joys, and think only of its sorrows—to forget thankfulness, and remember only to complain.”
God's goodness to us deserves and demands that we have grateful hearts.
Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The LORD God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds' feet, and he will make me to walk upon mine high places. To the chief singer on my stringed instruments.
In September of 1881, just sixteen years after the Civil War, Vice President Chester Arthur became the twenty-first president of the United States when James Garfield died. In November, having been in office for just over two months, Arthur, whose father was a Baptist preacher, issued a proclamation for a day of thanksgiving in which he wrote, “And although at this period, when the failing leaf admonishes us that the time of our sacred duty is at hand, our nation still lies in the shadow of a great bereavement, and the mourning which has filled our hearts still finds its sorrowful expression toward the God before whom we but lately bowed in grief and supplication, yet the countless benefits which have showered upon us during the past twelvemonth call for our fervent gratitude and make it fitting that we should rejoice with thankfulness that the Lord in His infinite mercy has most signally favored our country and our people.”
Our gratitude and thanksgiving to God do not rely on our circumstances, but on His grace and faithfulness. Even when things seem to be going wrong, He is still good. He never forgets or abandons His children. When we go through times of hardship and difficulty, God is always there. When we find our path forward blocked, He makes a way. When we have needs, He provides. And even in the midst of difficulty, we should not despair but turn to Him with thanks for all that He has done for us.
Gratitude does not spring from our circumstances or our condition, but from our faith in God's love and goodness.
Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;
One of the most significant areas in which God's children are called to live differently than the world around us is in the way we treat others. In this, as in every part of the Christian life, Jesus serves as the example for us to follow. He was consistently and continually showing mercy and humility to those around Him. His treatment of others was one of the hallmarks of His life.
When Peter shared the gospel with the Roman centurion Cornelius he said, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him” (Acts 10:38). We never need to agonize in prayer seeking God's will over whether we should treat someone kindly or do something good for them. If it is in our power and ability, we should be merciful and helpful in every way that we can.
The natural human tendency is to promote ourselves, and look for ways others can be helpful to us. Instead, we are called to put the needs of others above our own. When the disciples were debating which one of them would have the highest rank, on the night before the crucifixion, Jesus admonished them. “But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve” (Luke 22:26). He then illustrated that principle by washing their feet. That attitude toward others is what we are called to adopt and display, showing forth the likeness of Jesus in the way we treat people.
Very few things are more revealing of our closeness to Christ than the way in which we treat others.
And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Nobody ignored the disciples and members of the first church in Jerusalem. Some people received and accepted the gospel message and joined them. Some people rejected the gospel message and persecuted them. But either way, the early believers just kept right on going. When they were told not to tell people about Jesus, they refused to stop. When they were put in jail and even beaten, they kept right on doing what God had commanded. Some people might have viewed this level of opposition as a sign that they were not doing things the right way. But these men who had spent so much time with Jesus remembered what He said about opposition. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake, Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). They recognized the persecution they were going through as a sign that God thought they were worthy.
None of us wants to be opposed or rejected. None of us enjoy having doors slammed in our face. Certainly none of us wants to go to jail or endure a beating. But if we reach the point where the only alternative to suffering is disobedience to God, then we should recognize that He believes we will be faithful even through the hardest times. Let us say with Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15).
We must trust God and be faithful and obedient to Him regardless of what others may do or what opposition we face.
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.
In May of 2014, Sandra Walker sat in a courtroom in Georgia, looking at the woman whose actions had caused her so much pain and suffering. In November of 2011, Tamara Matthews had driven across traffic and struck the Walker's car causing a massive crash. In the accident Sandra's husband Glen was killed, and she suffered a traumatic brain injury which required her to learn how to walk and talk again. Rather than feeling bitterness, Walker encouraged the court not to sentence Matthews to any prison time, noting that she also had lost a family member—her son—in the accident. “'I know she is going through as much pain as I am feeling. I wanted her to know that I forgive her for what she did,” Walker said. When the hearing concluded, she went and gave Matthews a hug.
We may not have to face a challenge to forgive something as great as that, but all of us face regular opportunities to make the choice to let go of anger and bitterness and choose forgiveness instead. Forgiveness is not saying that the offender was right or justified, or that the wrong behavior will be allowed to continue. Instead it is saying that there will be no retaliation, no attempt to get even, and no bringing up the offense again in the future. Of course this is a difficult thing to do, but it is a command of God, not an option we can accept or reject. We must forgive others, or our relationship with God will not be what it should. Our standing as His children is secure, but our fellowship is based on obedience. Jesus said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).
We are to forgive those who do us wrong in the same way that God forgave us—freely and fully.
And the spirit cried, and rent him sore, and came out of him: and he was as one dead; insomuch that many said, He is dead. But Jesus took him by the hand, and lifted him up; and he arose. And when he was come into the house, his disciples asked him privately, Why could not we cast him out? And he said unto them, This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.
Life is filled with challenges, obstacles, temptations, opportunities and decisions. To successfully respond to those events and navigate life requires more than we have or can possibly do on our own. Victory in the Christian life is utterly dependent on the power of God. That power is available to us, but far too many believers fail to tap into it because they do not pray as they should. All of God's resources are available to fulfill His promises of answered prayer. Yet are we seeking His face as we should? Are we a people of prayer? James wrote, “Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not” (James 4:2).
Andrew Murray wrote, “The majority of Christian men and women who pray to a living God know very little about real prevailing prayer. Yet prayer is the key that unlocks the door of God’s treasure-house. It is not too much to say that all real growth in the spiritual life—all victory over temptation, all confidence and peace in the presence of difficulties and dangers, all repose of spirit in times of great disappointment or loss, all habitual communion with God—depends upon the practice of secret prayer.” The extent to which we have the power to triumph over sin and the devil is determined by the extent to which we pray. The power shortage is never on God's end. It becomes apparent when we are not connected closely to the Source.
Only through regular, fervent prayer will we find the strength to accomplish God's purposes for our lives.
Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword. Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?
An earthly leader who commands a large army has great power. Throughout history those who could rely on the soldiers at their command had a great advantage in any battle. It is said that Pompey of Rome once boasted that he could summon all the armies in Italy to battle with a single stomp of his foot. When his partnership with Julius Caesar frayed, and they began fighting against each other, Pompey discovered he was not able to muster the forces necessary after all, and he was defeated.
When Jesus told Peter not to fight the men who came to arrest Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was not speaking from a position of powerlessness. He could have called "twelve legions of angels" to stop His arrest and crucifixion. The Roman legion was comprised of around 6,000 soldiers. Having the Bible account of what a single angel did to the army of Sennacherib at Jerusalem, seeing more than 70,000 angels appearing in a moment would truly be a display of overwhelming power. Jesus chose to go to the the cross, or it would never have happened.
It is true that we are constantly facing battles here in this life. But we do not ever have to fight them alone. God has legions of angels ready to intervene on our behalf if and when they are needed. No battle is impossible with Him on our side. “Then said David to the Philistine, Thou comest to me with a sword, and with a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied” (1 Samuel 17:45).
God is more than able to meet any need we have, and we should trust Him to do so.
And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.
D. L. Moody was noted in the city of Chicago for his efforts to reach children. He organized special classes for those in whom others were not interested. Many of his pupils traveled past a number of other churches to arrive at Moody's. Moody told the story of a little boy who traveled a number of blocks across the city in the cold of winter for Sunday school. Someone stopped him and asked, “Where are you going?” “To Mr. Moody's Sunday school,” the boy answered. Then he was asked if he would not prefer going to a church that was closer, but he continued to insist on heading for Moody's. When he was asked the reason he replied, “Because they love a fellow over there!”
The thing that should be the distinguishing mark of our lives and service for God should be that we are reflecting His love. We should be treating others with the compassion and love that Jesus showed to them. It is not a question of programs or ideas or methods, but a question of the heart. Good methods and even great sacrifice will not produce any lasting benefits unless they are motivated by and saturated in love. Paul wrote, “And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).
Love motivates us to keep going when we feel like giving up. Love encourages us to try again when someone rejects the gospel. Love lightens the load that we carry when we are investing in the lives of others. Love indicates that we are walking under the control of the Holy Spirit for it is the first of the fruit that He produces. Love shows that we are like Jesus, Who extended an invitation to all who would come to Him, meeting them with open arms.
The love of God is not just something we receive, but something we are to display to those around us.
Pilate answered, Am I a Jew? Thine own nation and the chief priests have delivered thee unto me: what hast thou done? Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. Pilate therefore said unto him, Art thou a king then? Jesus answered, Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.
Jesus came into the world with a clear and certain purpose. Although He did many wonderful things during His life that helped people in miraculous ways, that was not His primary purpose in coming. That is just what He did while He was here on earth, showing His love and compassion for those in need. John wrote, “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). Jesus came to fulfill God's plan of providing a way of salvation for those who would believe on Him—a plan that was put in place even before the world was created.
When the world celebrates Christmas, if their focus is actually on the meaning of the holiday at all, it will be focused on the baby in the manger. Much of the time even that part of the story is obscured under piles of presents and brightly shining lights. But for those of us who know the Lord, Christmas is only the beginning of story that ends with a cross and an empty tomb. We celebrate Christmas with the knowledge of both the cause and the cost and marvel that Jesus was willing to pay such a high price for our redemption. We rejoice in the arrival of the promised Savior.
God's overwhelming love for us and His plan of salvation are the reason for Christmas.
Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD. And he said, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Butter and honey shall he eat, that he may know to refuse the evil, and choose the good.
In almost every ancient religion, the gods were distant from people. They needed to have their attention drawn to even care about what was happening in the world. This led to the creation of elaborate ceremonies and sacrifices in an attempt to curry favor with the deity of their choice. It never worked, because those gods are not real. Elijah highlighted this false belief as he ridiculed the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel. “And it came to pass at noon, that Elijah mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth, and must be awaked” (1 Kings 18:27).
Our God is not like that. He is closely attentive to everything that happens in His creation. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” (Matthew 10:29). He is much more concerned for His children. God is not distant from us. Jesus came into the world as both God and man, and lived among the people He had created. He demonstrated God's compassion and mercy. He knows what it is like to be hungry and thirsty, to be tired and alone, to be abandoned and even betrayed by friends. He is close to us every moment.
God desires a close and personal relationship with each of His children.
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. Then Joseph being raised from sleep did as the angel of the Lord had bidden him, and took unto him his wife: And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son: and he called his name JESUS.
The challenge Joseph faced was staggering. The young woman he loved and wanted to marry was pregnant, and he knew that he was not the father. Yet when God told him to move forward with his plans for his wedding to Mary, Joseph did exactly that. He knew that there would be consequences. No doubt he was the subject of rumors and gossip; probably he was an object of pity if not ridicule. Yet without questioning or complaining or pushing back against what he was told to do, Joseph obeyed. The potential future cost of doing what he was told did not matter compared to the value of obedience in Joseph's eyes.
Like the other Jewish people of his era, Joseph was no doubt looking for the promised Messiah. He probably never imagined that he would be part of the story and be given the incredible responsibility of bringing up God's promised Savior and taking on the role of His earthly father. There are times when we do not understand all of God's purposes and plans, but we can and must always be obedient to what He commands. We don't need explanations or justifications for doing what God says. It is right, no matter what others may think or whether it makes sense to us. God doesn't make any mistakes. He sees what we may not even recognize in ourselves and calls us to simply obey His commands.
When we do what God says, we are doing right, no matter what others may say or think.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. John bare witness of him, and cried, saying, This was he of whom I spake, He that cometh after me is preferred before me: for he was before me. And of his fulness have all we received, and grace for grace.
Though he had been involved in ministry and mission work for several years after growing up in a pastor's home, Charles Wesley was not converted until his thirty-first year. Once he fully understood salvation by grace through faith alone and committed his life to Christ, he never looked back. As he walked to church for a service through the streets of London on Christmas Day, Wesley was moved by the sound of the church bells. In 1739 his beloved Christmas carol “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” first appeared in print. Wesley beautifully expressed the truth of the incarnation this way:
Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb!
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel:
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the newborn King.
The only acceptable sacrifice for sin was the perfect blood of Jesus Christ. The elaborate system of sacrifices under the Mosaic law was only a covering for sin, and an expression of faith that one day God's promised Messiah would appear bringing salvation. “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). Without Jesus becoming human while still remaining God, He could not shed His blood and provide the sacrifice that would save all those who believe. For a time He laid aside His glory—willingly taking on the limitations of human form—and perfectly obeyed the law so that He could be the sinless sacrifice.
The amazing love of Jesus is clearly seen in His willingness to become human so He could be our Savior.
And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law, Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Every year the day after Christmas is one of the busiest days stores see all year—not from sales, but from people returning items they got as presents. In fact according to the National Retail Federation, about one out of every three Americans will return something they got for Christmas. They stand in line, sometimes for hours, waiting to give back what they just got. Clothing and electronics tend to top the list of the most returned items. In 2020, UPS alone processed nearly nine million returned packages just in the first week of January. Although lots of gifts are given and received as the packages stacked under the tree are passed out and opened, often people are not satisfied with what they get and want to trade it in for something else.
Simeon was given a promise by God that he would see the Messiah before he died. When Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the Temple when He was eight days old, Simeon was there. He rejoiced to meet the Savior he had been waiting for, and he declared his complete satisfaction and contentment. There was nothing lacking in Jesus, and Simeon knew that everything he needed—and everything the world needed—was wrapped up in the baby he was holding. David lived a thousand years before the birth of Christ, but he too expressed complete contentment in the presence and person of the Lord. “As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness” (Psalm 17:15).
No one who accepts Christ as Savior will ever be disappointed in what they receive in Him.
And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
The story of Christmas is a story in stark contrasts. The baby in the manger was also Lord of Heaven and Earth. The despised shepherds were the first to receive word from the angels of Jesus' birth. The religious leaders who knew the prophecies regarding when and where the Messiah would come had no interest in the fulfillment of what they claimed to want most. The evil king Herod viewed the announcement of the wise men not as a reason for joy, but a cause for envy and even murder. The poor young couple who had made the long trip to Bethlehem were being mocked and slandered but greatly honored in God's eyes.
When John saw his vision of Heaven, he heard the word that the Lion of Judah could open the sealed book he had been shown. But when he looked, what he saw was the Lamb of God. Jesus is both. He is the sacrifice who laid down his life to pay for our sins. He is also the king Who will rule the world and defeat every enemy. Jesus is more than we can even imagine. He must be the center of our love and worship. “Saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing” (Revelation 5:12).
Jesus is worthy of our worship—both as the Lamb of God Who gave Himself as the payment for our sins, and as the Lion of Judah Who is the conquering Lord.