Daily in the Word: a ministry of Lancaster Baptist Church
"A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength. For by wise counsel thou shalt make thy war: and in multitude of counsellors there is safety."
In 1852, a young man wrote the noted Scottish writer and educator, Thomas Carlyle, and asked him for advice on how to better himself. In addition to his advice, he recommended reading good books rather than fluff. Carlyle wrote: “Study to do faithfully whatsoever thing in your actual situation, there and now, you find either expressly or tacitly laid to your charge; that is your post; stand in it like a true soldier. Silently devour the many chagrins of it, as all human situations have many; and see you aim not to quit it without doing all that it, at least, required of you.”
It is important to receive wise counsel, but that is only half of the equation. We must also heed and follow it. Being encouraged to study the Word of God or follow the principles of Scripture does not change our conduct—that only comes about as we purposefully adjust our habits through the power of the Holy Spirit. When we refuse to listen to good advice, we place ourselves in great danger. While there is safety offered by having a multitude of wise counselors, we only benefit from that safety to the extent that we take action upon the wise advice we receive.
We see this truth illustrated in the life of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. On taking the throne, he consulted his father’s advisors (and it is worth noting that the wisest man in history still had advisors to help him!) on how he should respond to the people. They counseled a conciliatory approach, but Rehoboam rejected their wise advice. Instead he followed the advice of his young friends to be harsh with the people. Because Rehoboam did not heed the good counsel he received, the kingdom was divided.
Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: For better it is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen.
Lenny Skutnik had no intention of being a hero that day. The staffer at the Congressional Budget Office in Washington was having an ordinary winter day when Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the 14th Street Bridge over the Potomac River shortly after takeoff. Those who survived the crash faced death as the plane sank in the icy waters.
A helicopter dropped a rescue line to one of the survivors, but she was too weak to hold on. Lenny Skutnik saw what was happening and dove into the water. He swam out to her and pulled her back to shore, saving her life. Two weeks later, President Ronald Reagan invited Skutnik to attend the State of the Union address, and in describing the accident said: “And we saw the heroism of one of our young Government employees, Lenny Skutnik, who, when he saw a woman lose her grip on the helicopter line, dived into the water and dragged her to safety.”
Skutnik was honored by the president of the United States, not because he tried to draw attention to himself but because he did what was right in a crisis. Satan tells us that we need to be sure everything we do is seen and praised. Yet God reminds us that attempts to promote ourselves eventually backfire. Only the honor that God orchestrates is sure. Psalm 75:6–7 says, “For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.”
It is much better to leave recognition in the hands of God. We can trust Him to see and properly reward all that we do for Him. Better still, when we do “all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), we are completely free from the being elated or deflated by the finicky approval of men.
Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him.
One of the most beautiful stories of God’s deliverance of His people is found in the book of Esther. When Haman hatched his plot to destroy the Jews, it seemed foolproof. He had the king on his side, and he had already built the gallows on which he planned to hang his enemy Mordecai. Yet in response to the fervent prayers of His people, God intervened and turned the plot against those who planned it. In the end, Haman was hanged on the same gallows he had intended for Mordecai.
God is able to turn things around even when they seem hopeless. This truth should encourage us during the bleakest times to trust more fully in Him. Yet more than just providing a way of escape and bringing comfort when we are facing attacks, this truth is also a reminder to us not to plot evil against others. God has decreed that those who attempt such evil will find themselves in the same kind of difficulty they plotted for others. If we are facing a problem with someone, we need to let God handle it rather than trying to take care of things on our own. He is in charge, and He works all things according to His purpose.
There is no greater illustration of this principle than the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Though the Cross and the tomb appeared to be a triumph for Satan and the culmination of his work to destroy Jesus, in fact they were the beginning of Satan’s ultimate defeat. The very acts of evil that put Jesus on the Cross were fulfillment of Bible prophecy, and the death of Jesus was essential to the ultimate victory of the resurrection. God used Satan’s plans to bring about the fulfillment of His plan for our redemption.
Whoso keepeth the fig tree shall eat the fruit thereof: so he that waiteth on his master shall be honoured.
We live in a society that places little value on serving others. Most people are focused on what they can get others to do for them and how they can receive honor and promotion. Yet God honors those who are willing to serve. Jesus Himself was the epitome of a servant as He “made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7).
As God, Jesus had every right to be served. However instead of insisting on His prerogatives, He laid aside His rights and became a servant. But His service went far beyond living a life dedicated to helping others. “He humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Because of love, Jesus was willing to die for those who did not love Him.
Being a servant requires that we focus more on others than we do on ourselves. When we are willing to give up our own preferences and conveniences for the sake of others, we are living as Jesus did. He made the choice to humble Himself, even to the point of death. Most of us are not called on to go to that extreme, but we should be willing to lay aside our focus on self for the sake of others.
When we make that choice, it does not go unseen by God. The humility and service of Christ produced great honor: “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:10). If we are willing to serve and leave it up to God to reward what we do, we will have accomplished what is most important—and we will one day hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).
"He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the LORD shall be made fat."
Adoniram Judson, the great pioneer missionary to Burma (modern Myanmar), endured great hardship in his efforts to take the gospel to a country that had never heard it before. The sickness of the tropics and the heavy persecution they faced took a heavy toll on the missionary and his family. His first wife and several children died on the mission field, and then Judson had to bury his second wife as well. At one point he wrote back to America, “If I had not felt certain that every additional trial was ordered by infinite love and mercy, I could not have survived my accumulated sufferings.”
The Christian life is completely dependent on faith. We are saved by grace through faith. We walk by faith and not by sight. Even when things are not going as we think they should, we can trust that God is in control. In the final analysis, faith is believing that what God says is true and then acting accordingly. We see this kind of faith in the life of Christ as He prepared for what He knew was about to happen at the end of His earthly life.
Facing the cross was not easy for Christ. Though He knew that the pain and suffering of the cross would be followed by the triumph of the Resurrection, there was still a great struggle in His spirit. The night before the crucifixion as Jesus prayed alone in the Garden of Gethsemane, He cried out to His Father, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Ultimately He chose to be willing to trust that what God had planned was best. That is what faith does.
"Many seek the ruler's favour; but every man's judgment cometh from the LORD."
All over the world people seek the favor of God. Hindus follow holy sites on pilgrimages; Buddhists participate in devotion rituals; Animists offer sacrifices to appease the spirits; Catholics light candles for their prayers.
Truly, as mere mortals, we need the favor of God. Yet, God has made it clear that we can never earn His favor on our own. He tells us that salvation is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done…” (Titus 3:5).
When you think about it, it makes sense. How could we hope to earn God’s favor? And how could we be so brash as to assume that our good could cover our sin? The cross holds good news: we don’t have to earn it at all.
On the cross, God’s judgment and favor meet. Jesus—God in human flesh—bore the full cup of God’s judgment for our sin. “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We who have trusted Christ no longer have to “seek the ruler’s favour.” We already have it. Ephesians 1:6 tells us, “…he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” The righteous and sinless life of Christ and His death and resurrection allows Him to be both “just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
But what of those who have not trusted Christ? As Proverbs 29:26 says, “…every man’s judgment cometh from the LORD.” Jesus extends the gift of salvation to them as well; they have only to receive God’s favor if they will escape His judgment.
What love Jesus poured out for us on the cross! He bore our judgment that He might give us His favor.
"The horseleach hath two daughters, crying, Give, give. There are three things that are never satisfied, yea, four things say not, It is enough: The grave; and the barren womb; the earth that is not filled with water; and the fire that saith not, It is enough."
On May 13, 1864, a twenty-one-year-old private named William Christman from Pennsylvania became the first soldier to be buried in what is now Arlington Nation Cemetery. The two hundred acre farm and house had belonged to Robert E. Lee, who resigned his commission in the United States Army to lead the Confederate forces. The property had belonged to Lee’s wife, the great great granddaughter of Martha Washington before it was seized by the United States government.
The decision to place a military cemetery there was intended to ensure Lee would never be able to live there again. In addition to placing the graves as close to the house as possible, the director of the cemetery placed the remains of more than 2,000 unknown soldiers in what had been the Lee’s rose garden. Today Arlington is home to the Tomb of the Unknowns and the graves of some 400,000 men and women who have served their country. Nearly 7,000 funerals per year continue to add to those buried among “the honored dead.”
While the grave may never be satisfied as long as sin and death are part of the world, its power has already been defeated. On the first Easter morning, when after three days and three nights in a borrowed tomb the Lord of Heaven and Earth arose in His glorified body, the power of the grave was shattered. We have not yet seen the end, but the outcome of the battle is already assured. Today in faith we can ask with Paul, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
"Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy."
The greatest need of mankind is a Saviour. There are great economical, political, physical, mental, and emotional needs facing people today, but the greatest problem—the eternity deciding problem—is the sin problem. Each person must either accept the payment for sin made through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross or bear the punishment themselves.
The primary reason Christ came into the world was to provide a way of escape from the penalty of sin. Even as His coming was announced, the angel told Mary, “Thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus Himself said, “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28)
The Bible tells us that all of mankind is under condemnation because of sin. In mercy and grace God sent His Son to provide the means of salvation through His death, burial, and resurrection. The empty tomb, which we celebrate today, proves that Jesus has the power to be our Saviour!
Each of us who have received the free gift of salvation has the privilege and responsibility to share the Gospel with those around us. Even as the women who first saw the empty tomb were instructed to “go…and tell” (Matthew 28:7), so we should tell others the glad news of a risen Saviour.
Every person we meet today is—as described in the verses above—appointed to destruction. It is our privilege and responsibility to open our mouths to share with them the gladdest tidings they could ever hear: Jesus paid for their sin, rose from the dead, and offers them His salvation.
"My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not."
Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of Panasonic, often told his employees this story to emphasize the vital importance of maintaining integrity: “In China's later Han era, there lived a politician called Yang Zhen, a man known for his upright character. After Yang Zhen was made a provincial governor, one of his earlier patrons, Wang Mi, paid him an unexpected visit. As they talked over old times, Wang Mi brought out a large gold cup and presented it to Yang Zhen. Yang Zhen refused to accept it, but Wang Mi persisted, saying, ‘There's no one here tonight but you and me, so no one will know.’ ‘You say that no one will know,’ Yang Zhen replied, ‘but that is not true. Heaven will know, and you and I will know too.’”
When we are tempted to sin, we face a choice. Will we listen to the enticement and agree to go along with it, or will we stand firm for what is right? There will always be “reasons” we can use to convince ourselves why it is okay for us to do wrong—but any reasons that justify sin are short-sighted. If we allow ourselves to accept them, we will bear the consequences. Rather than trying to find a reason that will allow us to sin, we should instead search for God’s means of escape.
Paul wrote, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). Sin is not an overpowering force. Through grace we have been given the means to resist temptation—but to overcome we must refuse to listen to those who would draw us astray.
"He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints."
Ira Sankey, who for years led the music for D.L. Moody’s evangelistic meetings, was traveling by steamboat on Christmas Eve in 1875. He was recognized by some of the passengers, and they asked him to sing. Sankey agreed, and began singing “Saviour Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” When the song was done, one of the listeners stepped forward and asked, “Did you serve in the Union Army?"
"Yes," Mr. Sankey answered. "Can you remember if you were doing picket duty on a bright, moonlit night in 1862?" "Yes," Mr. Sankey said again. “I was serving in the Confederate army. When I saw you standing at your post, I raised my gun and took aim. I was standing in the shadow, completely concealed, while the full light of the moon was falling upon you. At that instant, you raised your eyes to Heaven and began to sing that same song. 'Let him sing his song to the end,' I said to myself, 'I can shoot him afterwards.' I heard the words perfectly: 'We are Thine; do Thou befriend us. Be the Guardian of our way.' I began to think of my childhood and my God-fearing mother who sang that song to me. When you finished, it was impossible for me to take aim again. I thought, 'The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty.’”
The God who loves us also protects us, often in ways we do not even realize at the time. His promise to keep and preserve His children is one on which we can rely. Every step of our lives is guarded by His mercies which “are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). God’s preservation does not mean that nothing bad will ever happen to us, but it does mean that anything that comes our way must first be filtered through His providence.
"Honour the LORD with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine."
August Francke, a Lutheran pastor in Halle, Germany in the late 1600s was distressed by the needs of the orphan children who roamed the streets. He resolved to establish an orphanage for them, but the costs were great, and money was always in short supply to provide the many needs of more than one hundred children. One day when Francke was struggling to juggle the funds he had to cover the bills, a poor widow came to his office begging for help. When he regretfully informed her that he could not help, she began to weep.
Moved by her need, Francke went to pray. He believed God was leading him to help, so he returned and gave her a ducat—a single gold coin. Later that week, he received a thank you letter from the widow. In it she expressed her gratitude and told Francke that she had asked God to shower blessings on his work because of his generosity. Before the week was out, Francke received fourteen gold ducats in the mail…and he learned that the estate of a wealthy prince included a bequest of five hundred gold ducats for the orphanage!
It is not popular to talk about giving. The world’s philosophy is to hoard and save and keep everything we can. But while there is wisdom in making provision for the future, there is nothing more important that we can do with the resources we have than to honor God. Since everything we have comes from Him, the most we can do is return to Him what is already His. When we give in this way, He will bless. God does not promise that givers will have everything there is, but He does promise they will have everything they need.
"Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her."
Though David was a hero to the nation of Israel after God gave him victory in the battle with Goliath, his introduction to King Saul’s court afterward must have posed some difficult challenges for him. David was not highly regarded by his own family—in fact when Samuel came and told Jesse that one of his sons would be the next king of Israel, Jesse didn’t even bother to invite David to meet the prophet.
Yet despite the lack of respect he received from his family and his lack of training in political intrigue, David quickly became a favorite around the palace as he found favor and acceptance in the eyes of the people. The Bible tells us the reason for his quick rise: “David behaved himself wisely in all his ways” (1 Samuel 18:14). When we follow the path of wisdom, good things happen in every area of life.
Certainly not everything went exactly as David would have wished—his favor in the eyes of the people made him an enemy in the eyes of Saul. As a result, David spent several years literally running for his life. Yet throughout his life, in almost all cases, David lived wisely. When we are committed to wisdom, when we “embrace her” as Scripture says, it produces wonderful results in our lives.
Wisdom improves the way we interact with others. Wisdom changes the way we approach our assignments at work and our responsibilities at home and church. Wisdom is not something that is limited to spiritual matters. Instead it encompasses every aspect of life, and brings promotion and blessing to those who follow it. That is why it is so important that we devote ourselves to acquiring wisdom.
"Lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel: Lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger; And thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed,"
John Greenleaf Whittier, in his poem Maud Muller describes a couple who are smitten with each other but neither speaks out to let the other know because of the great divide between their wealth, education, and social standing. Instead they each go on with their lives, only to look back in the end with regret for the road not taken:
God pity them both! and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall;
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"
But there is something far worse than regretting a missed opportunity, and that is regretting sin after it is too late to go back and undo what has been done. Many people sin despite knowing that it is wrong, because they have believed the lie that somehow they will escape the consequences. That has never yet happened in all of human history, for God has written the law of sowing and reaping into the very fabric of His creation. Sin always brings consequences, and the only way to avoid the regret that comes with those consequences is to avoid the sin in the first place.
If you view each temptation to sin through the lens of the end result after the consequences are experienced, you will find the allure of sin greatly diminished. The Bible says that Moses was willing to forego “the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25) to do what was right. When we realize how fleeting those pleasures are and how long the regret and suffering last, we find it easier to do right.
"My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck."
There is a wonderful story of the impact godly ancestors can have on their descendants in the Old Testament. In the days when Jehu overthrew the wicked house of Ahab, a godly man named Jonadab fought with him against the Baal worshippers who had invaded Israel. Not content to merely do right himself, Jonadab passed down instructions to his descendants to help them do right in future generations.
Some three hundred years later, God sent the prophet Jeremiah to test the resolve of the Rechabites (named after Jonadab’s father Rechab). When he offered the Rechabites wine to drink, they refused. God noted their obedience, and contrasted it to the disobedience of Israel. “The words of Jonadab the son of Rechab, that he commanded his sons not to drink wine, are performed; for unto this day they drink none, but obey their father's commandment: notwithstanding I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye hearkened not unto me” (Jeremiah 35:14).
The commitment to follow the commandments of the past protected the Rechabites from evil, and it will do the same for us. Today it is popular to cast aside the old ways and the ancient landmarks for the sake of keeping up with the times. Many who faithfully followed God for years are leaving the old paths, and forsaking the commandments they received from their fathers before them. But that should not be true of us. Let us remain faithful to the instructions we have received. When we do God blesses us. Jeremiah told the Rechabites that God had a message for them: “Jonadab the son of Rechab shall not want a man to stand before me for ever” (Jeremiah 35:19). God’s blessings continued on that family because of their continued obedience to the commandments of their father.
"For at the window of my house I looked through my casement, And beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, Passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house, In the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night:"
If you have ever been inside an operating room, you’ve probably noticed how bright the lights are. The same is true for the makeup room used by actors getting ready for a performance. Why? Because bright lights reveal things that the darkness conceals and allow a person to make the proper response to what they see. Temptation thrives in dark places. Satan knows that if he can conceal the true nature of what we are being offered, we are more likely to give in.
In contrast, First John 1:5 tells us, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” Deeds that can only be discussed or done in the shadows are never activities in which we should involve ourselves. But protection from sin requires more than just not doing wrong—it requires that we take steps to avoid the places of temptation as well. If we are spending time where we are likely to do wrong, it should not come as a surprise that we succumb to temptation.
Someone said that the reason people have a hard time resisting temptation is that they don’t want to discourage it completely. Folly tempts us to linger and toy with temptation and sin. Wisdom instructs us to “Flee also youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22). If the foolish young man in Solomon’s illustration had left the place of temptation in the twilight instead of lingering there until it was fully dark, he would have been kept pure and escaped great suffering. Keep walking until you reach the light, and then stay there.
"The fear of the LORD is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate."
Just days before the start of World War II, Germany and Russia signed a non-aggression treaty known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In it the two nations agreed that they would not take military action against each other, despite the animosity of their leaders. The purpose of the plan was leave the two powers free to divide up the portions of Europe they conquered without having to fear an invasion from the other. Of course Hitler had no intention of honoring the agreement, and in June of 1941 Germany launched a surprise invasion of Russia.
It is not possible to make a deal with Satan that will allow us to sin peacefully. The only hope for avoiding the horrible consequences and judgment that follows sin is to hate and shun it. God does not only dislike evil—He hates it. We cannot afford to treat sin lightly, not just because of the impact it has on our lives and the lives of those around us, but because of the way it impacts God. William S. Plummer said, “We never see sin aright until we see it as against God. All sin is against God in this sense: that it is His law that is broken, His authority that is despised, His government that is set at naught.”
When we recognize sin for what it is—an act of rebellion against a high and holy God—we will begin to hate it as God does. As we join God in His attitude toward sin, we will find that its power and allure is diminished. While we will never reach a point of perfection and sinless living, if we truly fear God we will become more holy in our conduct.
"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning."
There is an ancient Indian legend of a king who loved chess. He challenged visitors to a game, and was usually victorious. One day a traveling sage visited the kingdom and was challenged to a game. To entice him to play, the king offered to give the sage whatever reward he asked if he won. When the king was defeated, to honor his word he asked the sage what prize he would like. The sage asked for one grain of rice to placed on the first square of the chessboard, and then that it be doubled on each following square.
The request seemed modest, and the king ordered a bag of rice to be brought. One grain was placed on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth and so on. But it quickly became apparent the terms of the request were impossible to meet. By the twenty-first square more than one million grains of rice would be required. By the thirty-first square the total would go over one billion—with more than half of the chessboard still left to go.
Small things can have a big impact when they are added together! Albert Einstein said, “Compound interest is the most powerful force in the universe.” This is not just true in the physical realm but in the spiritual world as well. When we add to our wisdom and understanding, it grows stronger and stronger. The writer of Hebrews said, “strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). We should be working to strengthen our spiritual senses and increase in wisdom day by day.
"The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot."
The great evangelist D.L. Moody was challenged by a British preacher named Henry Varley who said, “Moody, the world has yet to see what God will do with a man fully consecrated to him.” Moody resolved, “By God’s help, I aim to be that man.” He traveled across America and England preaching, and it is estimated that 100,000,000 heard him preach. Thousands came to faith in Christ through Moody’s meetings. As he approached the end of his life, he viewed Heaven as something to anticipate. Moody wrote:
“Some day you will read in the papers that D.L. Moody of East Northfield, is dead. Don't you believe a word of it! At that moment I shall be more alive than I am now; I shall have gone up higher, that is all, out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal—a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint; a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. I was born of the flesh in 1837. I was born of the Spirit in 1856. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.”
The reason that Moody is remembered as such a powerful servant of God more than one hundred years after his death is that he lived in obedience to God and His Word. Each day we are building a legacy that will live on after we are gone. Each day we strengthen or weaken our character and our testimony. Each day we influence people for good or for evil. There are no neutral days—each one matters. We should commit ourselves as Moody did to being fully consecrated to God and following Him every day so that we will leave behind a godly legacy.
"The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them."
A Christian businessman named Joe Lee recounted an early work experience that helped shape the future course of his life. As a teenager he got a job on one of the largest cattle ranches in California. One day, he was instructed to drive a truck into the mountains to move cattle from one pasture to another. On the way, he saw that a fence had fallen down and the cattle had gotten out. Rather than continuing on, he stopped, rounded up those cattle and spent the rest of the day repairing the fence.
He was afraid that he would get in trouble for not carrying out his assignment, but he knew he needed to report in. When he told the foreman what he had done, instead of being scolded he was praised for taking initiative. “Act like you would if you owned the place,” his boss told him. That principle of integrity—taking diligent care of everything placed in his hand made Joe Lee a great success in the business world and more importantly as a Christian.
Solomon wrote: “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Integrity does not cut corners or look for ways to avoid responsibility. Instead it steps up to the plate and gives the best possible effort to do what is expected—and maybe a little more. This kind of attitude toward work and responsibility is certain to set you apart in any field, and will be rewarded. But even more importantly God will see your diligence and bless it. Someone said, “Even if the task is not worthy of you, diligence is.” Integrity steps us to the plate and answers the challenge. Even if everyone else is taking shortcuts, you can do what is right.
"A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness."
A number of years ago a car company aired an eye-catching commercial. They showed a car made by one of their competitors heading toward a wall. In slow motion, they played out the crash. The car was well made and it kept the passengers from being hurt. Then they showed one of their own cars heading toward the same wall. But instead of crashing into the wall, it was able to stop short. The announcer came in to drive home the message: Is it better to live through a wreck or to avoid getting in one in the first place?
Prudence helps us avoid danger because it recognizes what is going on around us. Our English word prudence comes from the Latin word for “seeing ahead.” One of the most important ways in which prudence is displayed (and by which it protects us from danger) is in the matter of our speech. Prudent people do not feel the need to tell everything they know to everyone they meet. Someone once said, “If I don’t tell you what I know, how will you know that I know so much?” The temptation to be recognized as one of those “in the know” often leads us to speak when we should be silent.
There is a time to speak out and confront evil, but most of us speak too much rather than too little. Instead of proclaiming the latest about everyone, we would avoid a great deal of trouble if we prudently kept our mouths closed. If we continue to open our mouths about everyone and everything, we will certainly create trouble for ourselves and for others. If you have a problem with a person, you should talk to them and God about it—and not others.
"The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat."
A city dweller traveled far into the country to visit a distant relation. He found his second cousin sitting on the stump of a tree. “How have things been?” he wanted to know. “Not bad at all,” the country dweller replied. “I was going to have to cut down all these trees, but a cyclone blew through and saved me the trouble.” “That’s amazing,” the city man said. “But there’s more,” the countryman said. “There was a huge pile of brush I needed to clear, and lightning set fire to it and burned it all up.” “That’s remarkable,” the visitor exclaimed. “What are you doing now?” “Waiting for an earthquake to come along and shake the potatoes out of the ground!”
Hard work as a virtue has fallen out of favor in our society. The trend is toward people working fewer and fewer hours, and not working as hard in those hours as they once did. Many are looking for loopholes to avoid work altogether. More people have been added to the Social Security disability payment system than have gotten jobs in recent years. Certainly there are some people who cannot work because of injury or illness, but a great number of these cases are people whose disability is very hard to define.
It may not be in fashion, but God still expects His people to work. “Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work” (Exodus 20:9). When we do not work, we lose the provision that labor provides. Many people wish they had more—a nicer home, a newer car, or better clothes. Yet most people stay stuck in the wishing stage instead of finding a way to work harder to provide for what they need.
"A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth. Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge."
In his parable written in the 1920s about wise money management, George Samuel Clason tells the story of a young man named Arkad who desired to learn the secrets of wealth. He arranged a bargain with a rich man in Babylon, who agreed to teach him the principles he needed to know to succeed. Once Arkad began following those principles, he began to accumulate wealth.
Looking to expand his resources, Arkad gave the money he had been saving to a bricklayer who was supposed to use it to buy jewels to resell at a profit. But the bricklayer was swindled by dishonest merchants who sold him worthless pieces of glass. When he told this story to his mentor, Arkad was rebuked for trusting someone without knowledge. “About brickmaking he gives good advice,” Arkad later ruefully concluded.
When we try to learn from those who do not have knowledge and wisdom, we end up worse off than we were when we started. Those who learn from fools will simply become more foolish. There are many people in our world who are highly credentialed with all sorts of degrees and honors, who despite their learning are still utterly foolish in the eyes of God. As Bob Jones Sr. said, “Education without God makes men clever devils.” There is no source of true wisdom apart from God.
Psalm 1:1 says, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” Both in matters relating to spiritual things and those that deal with the daily issues of life, we should be listening only to those with godly wisdom.
"In the house of the righteous is much treasure: but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble."
So many people think if they just had money, everything would be different. What many who do get money suddenly find is that things are different—it gets worse. When Jack Whittaker won the Powerball lottery prize jackpot of over $314 million on Christmas day 2002, it was at the time the largest prize won by a single winner in US history. Whittaker was already a successful businessman, but the sudden windfall proved to be anything but a blessing for his family.
Over the next decade, both his granddaughter and her boyfriend died from apparent drug overdoses, his daughter passed away, he was robbed on more than one occasion, arrested for driving under the influence, and he has been sued by a number of people and businesses, including a Caesar’s Atlantic Casino for $1.5 million in bounced checks to cover gambling losses.
The devil knows we are often susceptible to the temptation to take shortcuts to try to get rich, but that path always leads to ruin. The more successful a person is at getting wealth through illegitimate means, the worse off they are—no matter how much their bank balance grows. That is because of the great temptations that lie in the path of those who desire riches. Paul reminded Timothy “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:9).
Despite what some teach, God does not promise that every one of His children will be wealthy. He does promise to meet and supply our needs, and we can trust Him enough not to look for quick or dishonest ways of accumulated wealth. Cultivate contentment instead, and you will be spared many sorrows.
"A man's heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps."
President Ronald Reagan’s family was often poor while he was growing up because of his father’s alcoholism. He told the story later in his life that an aunt had offered to purchase a pair of shoes for him. She took him to the cobbler, who asked young Reagan, "Do you want square toes or round toes?" Unable to decide, Reagan didn't answer, so the cobbler gave him a few days to choose.
Several days later the cobbler saw Reagan on the street and asked him again what kind of toes he wanted on his shoes. Reagan still couldn't decide, so the shoemaker replied, "Well, come by in a couple of days. Your shoes will be ready." When the future president did so, he found a pair of shoes—one square-toed and one round-toed! "This will teach you to never let people make decisions for you," the cobbler said to his indecisive customer. "I learned right then and there," Reagan said later, "if you don't make your own decisions, someone else will."
Often when faced with a difficult decision, we give in to the temptation to put it off. We hope that it will get easier in the future, but that is rarely the case. Instead the wavering between choices paralyzes us and leaves us unable to take action and do what is right. “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21) Elijah asked the people on Mt. Carmel. This is not “halt” in the sense of stopping, but rather the Hebrew word means to be lame or to limp. When we are indecisive, we cripple ourselves and make it difficult to accomplish great things for God. It is impossible to know everything before making a decision. So learn what you can, seek wise counsel, pray, and then choose your course and follow through.
"A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool."
The evangelist Gipsy Smith would often counsel with people after the end of a service where he preached. He told of meeting with a man once who told him he was not getting anything out of his Bible reading. The man said he received no inspiration although he had “gone through it several times.” “Let it go through you once," replied Smith, "then you will tell a different story!"
One of the easiest ways to distinguish between someone who is wise and someone who is foolish is to see how he responds to reproof. Since all of us make mistakes, all of us need correction. The problem arises when we respond to that correction with pride rather than heeding it. This not only robs us of improvements that need to be made in our character and conduct, but it demonstrates that we are not walking in wisdom.
In addition to the reproofs we receive from friends and authorities in our lives, we need to carefully approach the Word of God looking for things that need to change. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Often we are tempted to go to the Bible to point out the mistakes of others rather than reading it to find things in our own lives that are worthy of reproof. If we do not listen to the reproofs of Scripture, we will not be equipped to do the work to which God has called us. It may be painful to receive reproof, but it is far better than continuing on the path of folly. As we respond properly to reproof, we demonstrate skill and wisdom in living.
"A man's belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth; and with the increase of his lips shall he be filled."
During the latter part of his life, President James Madison, who lived to be eighty-five years old, suffered from a variety of physical problems. As a result, he was constantly trying different medicines and potential cures. It is said that an old friend who lived nearby sent Madison a box of vegetable pills which he had made himself, and asked Madison to let him know how they worked. After some days went by, he received one of Madison’s famous carefully worded letters. It went something like this: "My dear friend, I thank you very much for the box of pills. I have taken them all; and while I cannot say I am better since taking them, it is quite possible that I might have been worse if I had not taken them."
Often our words are used to wound people rather than to build them up and encourage them. (Frequently this is even true of our words directed at ourselves.) People who are constantly critical find that their words divide relationships and discourage others. The Bible tells us that we will receive the fruit from the kind of words we speak. Someone once said, “Lord, remind me to make my words sweet because I may have to eat them.” In truth, we all “eat” from the words we use.
While we should always tell the truth, that is not an excuse for cruelty with our words and unleashing whatever we are thinking on others. Instead Paul wrote we should be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). If you must correct someone, you can still speak kindly and add encouragement to the mix. There is no excuse for being harsh and cruel, even in that kind of setting.
"The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression."
When John D. Rockefeller was running the Standard Oil Company, he was well known for his disdain for losing money. One day an executive made a bad decision that cost the company $2 million. His senior staff spent the day trying to avoid his presence to make sure they were not caught up in his wrath. One partner, Edward Bedford had an afternoon appointment with Rockefeller that he could not avoid. When he entered the office, he found Rockefeller making notes on a piece of paper.
They briefly discussed the loss, and then Rockefeller showed Bedford what he had written. According to Bedford’s account: "Across the top of the page was written, 'Points in favor of Mr. _______.' There followed a long list of the man's virtues, including a brief description of how he had helped the company make the right decision on three separate occasions that had earned many times the cost of his recent error.” Bedford said, “In later years, whenever I was tempted to rip into anyone, I forced myself first to sit down and thoughtfully compile as long a list of good points as I possibly could. Invariably, by the time I finished my inventory, I would see the matter in its true perspective and keep my temper under control.”
The difference between those who control their anger and those who do not is not in whether things happen that upset them, but in whether they control their reactions. It brings glory to God when we refuse to allow anger to control our actions and responses. We have both the ability and the responsibility to control our emotions and our anger.
"Say not thou, I will recompense evil; but wait on the LORD, and he shall save thee."
Charles Spurgeon told this story of his grandfather James and his faith in God. “He had a large family and a very small income, but he loved his Lord, and he would not have given up his preaching of the gospel for anything.” One day the cow on which the family relied for milk for the children suddenly died. James Spurgeon’s wife was greatly concerned, but he said, “God said He would provide, and I be¬lieve He could send us fifty cows if He pleased.”
On that same day, a group met in London—a group James Spurgeon did not know—that wanted to help meet the needs of poor pastors. They raised a large sum of money, and began sending it to different pastors in need to help their families. When they reached the end of the list, there were still five pounds left. One man suggested sending it to James Spurgeon. Another said, “No, let’s not send just five pounds. Let me add five more to go with it.” Others joined in, and the day after his cow died, James Spurgeon received twenty pounds in the mail!
You can trust God to keep His promises and provide for your needs. This is true for our physical needs, but it is true in all other aspects of life as well—including when others do wrong toward us. There is always the temptation to “get even” and lash out at those who are unkind or unfair. But God’s Word commands: “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Faith in God is demonstrated, not just in our prayers for His provision, but also in our patient belief in His justice.
"Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard."
William Booth was greatly stirred by the needs of the poor of London, and realized that most churches were doing nothing to reach the “undesirables”—drunkards, morphine addicts, prostitutes, and the poor. He set out to reach them with what he called the 3 S’s: Soup, Soap and Salvation. Thousands were saved among those that most churches had no interest in reaching. Booth gave his life for the cause of reaching others.
In his 80s, Booth’s work began to be hindered by blindness. He briefly lost his sight and then recovered it, but later he lost his vision permanently. His son Bramwell came to bring him the bad news that he would never see again. Booth replied, "God must know best, Bramwell. I have done what I could for God and the people with my eyes. Now I shall do what I can for God and the people without my eyes."
A heart of love for those in need was always a key part of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. “But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). It is easy for us in the modern world to be caught up in the busyness of life and forget to stop and care about those in need. It is not just in far off lands that people are lost, poor, and hungry—they are in our own neighborhoods and towns as well.
There is no way for us to do what God wants us to do as Christians without caring for and reaching out to those in need. The followers of Jesus should live as He lived. Peter said Jesus “went about doing good” (Acts 10:38). This statement should describe our lives as well.
He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed; for he giveth of his bread to the poor.
When 67-year-old carpenter Russell Herman died in 1994, his will included a staggering set of bequests. Included in his plan for distribution was more than two billion dollars for the City of East St. Louis, another billion and a half for the State of Illinois, two and a half billion for the national forest system, and to top off the list, Herman left six trillion dollars to the government to help pay off the national debt. That sounds amazingly generous, but there was a small problem—Herman’s only asset when he died was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made grand pronouncements, but there was no real generosity involved. His promises were meaningless because there was nothing to back them up.
True generosity is not determined by the amount that we give but by our hearts. When Jesus saw the widow give two mites in the Temple He responded, “Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury” (Matthew 12:43). The sacrificial gift that she gave demonstrated how much she loved God and His work. The best way to determine what we love most is not by our words but by how we use our time and our money.
There is no shortage of need in our world. Some, like the scribe and the Pharisee in the parable of the Good Samaritan pass by without caring enough to get involved and help. No doubt such people would profess their love for God and others, but it is not visible from their actions. Those who obey the command to love God and their neighbor find ways to help. Even if giving requires a sacrifice they are willing to make it because of the depth of their love.
"Wilt thou set thine eyes upon that which is not? for riches certainly make themselves wings; they fly away as an eagle toward heaven."
James Marshall left his family’s home in New Jersey as a young man and, like so many others, began a migration west. After contracting malaria while living in Missouri he was advised to go further west, and in 1845 he arrived in California. He worked a number of different jobs and served in the army during the Mexican-American War in 1846. When he got out, a man he had earlier befriended, John Sutter, entered a partnership agreement with Marshall to build a sawmill.
When they discovered that the spillway they had constructed was too narrow to handle the amount of water needed to operate the mill, they began the process of enlarging it. On the morning of January 24, 1848, as Marshall examined the channel, he found large flakes of pure gold, sparking one of the greatest gold rushes in history. But Marshall did not profit from his discovery. The mill project failed. His mines did not produce. A vineyard he bought went bankrupt. In his old age, reduced to abject poverty, Marshall died alone in a small shack.
Wealth is easy for us to trust. If God blesses us and we begin to accumulate financial resources, we must be on guard against them becoming an idol in our hearts. Paul instructed his protégé Timothy to issue a warning to the rich members in his church: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17). Riches do not provide security because they can quickly vanish away. Instead our confidence should be in the presence and promises of God which never fail. Only then can we find true security.
Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.
In the early 1900s the world watched with excitement and intense interest as the race to be the first to reach the South Pole unfolded. The two frontrunners were Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and British naval officer Robert Falcon Scott. Scott’s expedition set out hoping to arrive first. After weeks of strenuous and dangerous travel Scott and four other men reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912—only to find that Amundsen and his party had beaten them by five weeks. Disappointed in their failure, they set out on the eight hundred mile journey back to safety.
That return journey proved fatal. Scott and his group failed to connect with the dog teams that were meant to meet them on the way and speed their trip to safety. The party was trapped by a massive blizzard, their supplies ran out, and all of them perished. Scott was lauded as a hero and received posthumous honors from the British Empire. But as historians began to study his surviving notes and the accounts of others, they came to realize that the fate of Scott and his party was largely due to his failures as a leader, specifically his failure to plan for the adversity and hardships he and his men would face in the hostile Antarctic.
Wisdom places great value on planning and preparation because of the important connection between how we start and how we finish. Jesus pointed out the importance of planning when He asked, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” (Luke 14:28). Many of the problems we have come because we simply did not prepare to avoid them before beginning our work. Seek wise counsel, pray, search the Scriptures, and determine your direction before you begin—it brings great protection.
"Go not forth hastily to strive, lest thou know not what to do in the end thereof, when thy neighbour hath put thee to shame."
Apparently the first person to be arrested for speeding in the United Sates was a taxi driver named Jacob German. He worked for the Electric Vehicle Company operating an electric powered cab in New York City. On May 20, 1899, he was pulled over for driving 12 miles per hour in an 8 mile per hour zone. A policeman on a bicycle gave chase and took him to jail. According to most accounts German did not actually receive a ticket. The first speeding ticket wouldn’t be issued until 1904 when a man named Harry Myers was caught breaking the speed limit in Dayton, Ohio.
In his famous sermon Payday Someday Dr. R.G. Lee referenced Jehu who the Bible says “drove furiously” and said Jehu had many relatives on the roads of America. But the truth is that our passion for haste is hardly confined to the roadway. In fact, we live in a world that is obsessed with getting things done faster, with reaching goals sooner and with making better time—often without stopping to consider whether we are even going in the right direction.
Often this is true in our personal relationships with very destructive results. A small matter can quickly trigger a large dispute without regard to whether this is a fight worth having or not—or even considering the potential consequences that winning the fight might bring. Many relationships are destroyed because someone is simply too quick to fight. Someone once described a man as “Willing to fight at the drop of a hat…and willing to drop the hat if the other guy didn’t.” That’s not a good approach for a believer. Instead we should be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).
The slothful man saith, There is a lion in the way; a lion is in the streets. As the door turneth upon his hinges, so doth the slothful upon his bed. The slothful hideth his hand in his bosom; it grieveth him to bring it again to his mouth.
I read about a hobo back in the days when they would ride the trains who was making his way west. He stopped in the town of Denver, hoping that people would have pity on him and give him something to eat. But everywhere he went, he seemed to get the same response. Finally in disgust he made his way back to the train station. Under his breath he muttered, “This has got to be the laziest town I’ve ever been to. Every person I met wanted me to do work for him!”
A lazy person can always find some excuse not to work—no matter how ridiculous it is. That’s because he has surrendered everything for sake of avoiding labor. Yet taking the path of least resistance is a guarantee of never accomplishing anything good for this world or the next. Every work of lasting importance requires labor, effort, and sacrifice. Whether the world values work or not, we as believers have a responsibility to be diligent in our efforts and overcome laziness.
It is important that we understand the role God intends for work to play in building and strengthening our character. Adam had assignments and responsibilities even before the Fall. The thing that changed was that work became harder. God told Adam, “cursed is the ground for thy sake” (Genesis 3:17). The necessity to labor and struggle is good for us. Avoiding work is like not taking medicine because it tastes bad. It may avoid temporary unpleasantness, but in the end we are harming ourselves.
"As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place."
John Frederick Parker was one of the original officers when the Metropolitan Police Department for Washington DC was established in 1861. He had an undistinguished record, having been reprimanded on more than one occasion for sleeping or being drunk while on duty. Despite his checkered past, Parker was assigned to guard the booth of President Abraham Lincoln during the performance of Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theater that Lincoln attended on April 14, 1865.
During the intermission of the play, Parker and several other men left the theater and went to a nearby tavern for drinks. As a result when John Wilkes Booth arrived at the presidential box, there was no security guard to stop him from entering and killing President Lincoln. Confronted later by Mary Todd Lincoln who blamed him for her husband’s murder, Parker said, “I did wrong, I admit, and have bitterly repented.” John Parker failed to stay in the place where he should have been, and tragedy followed.
It is easy for us to find excuses for not being where we should be and doing what we should do but there is great value in diligence and reliability. Instead of being distracted, bored, or tempted by something else, we must be faithful to our responsibilities. This is true in our families, on our jobs, in the church, and everywhere we belong. A man or woman who is where they should be, doing what they should do, is far safer than one who is not. Think of David staying behind in Jerusalem and seeing Bathsheba on the rooftop. While he should have resisted the temptation, if he had been where he should have been, the temptation would never have happened. Don’t wander away from the place where God has put you in search of greener pastures.
"He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination."
One of the wonderful attributes of God is His willingness to hear and answer prayer. The Bible is filled with promises about prayer, and we should certainly claim those promises. Yet there are prayers that God will not hear and answer, and as shocking as it may be to contemplate, there are prayers that God actually hates. These are prayers that are offered by those who refuse to submit in obedience to the Word of God yet expect to be heard anyway.
The prophet Amos declared to the people that God was not interested in hearing from them because of the sin that they harbored in their hearts. “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts” (Amos 5:21-22).
In his book Prayer: Asking and Receiving, Dr. John Rice told the story of Charles Blanchard, who followed his father as the second president of Wheaton College. Blanchard’s wife had gotten sick, and doctors were unable to do anything to help. As a last resort they decided to try an operation. As he prayed about his wife’s condition, Dr. Blanchard was convicted of a certain matter in his heart which he had not addressed. He confessed that sin, prayed again, and his wife immediately began to recover and the operation was cancelled.
Many times we wonder why God does not answer our prayers. We bombard Heaven fruitlessly, forgetting the warning of Scripture: “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). Sin that we tolerate in our hearts not only breaks our fellowship with God but it keeps our prayers from being answered.
"The fear of man bringeth a snare: but whoso putteth his trust in the LORD shall be safe."
One of the most gifted speakers in church history was John Chrysostom—the name comes from the Greek word meaning “golden tongued.” John was sent from Antioch to what was then Constantinople where he preached fearlessly in the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. His denunciation of the lavish extravagance of the rich and ruling class and his condemnation of excess infuriated many, including Empress Eudoxia who arranged for him to be exiled. When he was told of his fate, Chrysostom responded: “What can I fear? Will it be death? But you know that Christ is my life, and that I shall gain by death. Will it be exile? But the earth and all its fullness are the Lord’s. Poverty I do not fear; riches I do not sigh for; and from death I do not shrink.”
Far too many today are more worried about what people think than about what God thinks. The desire not to offend others (which is not a bad thing in itself) is often elevated to be the most important thing. As a result, many shrink from speaking the truth. In America we have enjoyed a great measure of freedom from persecution, but the proclamation of clear Bible principles is rapidly falling out of favor. There may well come a day when we face persecution and even death for speaking the truth.
The decision we make in that hour will be determined by who we fear more—God or man. As we commit ourselves to following Christ and being faithful to Him regardless of the consequences, we may be persecuted, but we will please the One who matters most. When Stephen was stoned for his fearless preaching he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56).
There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness.
The Scottish poet Robert Burns’ best known verses is entitled To a Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church. In the poem Burns describes the audacity of the little creature crawling around with impunity on the fine bonnet worn by a high society matron to the service. The poem concludes with these lines (put in modern English from Burns’ original)
And would some Power the small gift give us
To see ourselves as others see us!
It would from many a blunder free us,
And foolish notion:
What airs in dress and gait would leave us,
And even devotion!
All of us are capable of thinking ourselves as being far better than we actually are. Studies show that people routinely over-estimate their skills, intelligence, and abilities in comparison to others. One study famously found that half of all men rated themselves in the top ten percent nationally in athletic ability!
Often we do not see problems in our own lives, although we can be quite skilled at detecting the problems of others. This tendency to judge others while giving ourselves a pass can lead to both a harsh spirit toward others and a tolerance of sin in our own lives. As the prophet Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 19:7). If we are depending on our ability to evaluate ourselves, we are heading for trouble. Instead we need an absolute standard of truth that is reliable against which we can measure ourselves. That standard is the Word of God. It is “a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). To properly judge ourselves we must truly be diligent students of the Bible and apply what we read to our lives.
For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
I read about a young man just starting out in business who told his pastor that he would be faithful to tithe and asked for God’s blessing on his work. The man was faithful to give as he had promised, and his income continued to increase. He became one of the highest givers in the church. But as his income continued to grow, it got harder and harder for him to feel good about writing a check to give so much money to God.
Finally he called the pastor and said, “I made six million dollars last year. I can’t afford to give God six hundred thousand. What can I do?” The pastor responded, “How about I pray that God reduces your income back down to where you can afford to tithe!” It didn’t take long for the businessman to decide that tithing was a better deal. That story illustrates one of the dangers that comes with God’s blessing. As we get more, it can become an idol that we worship and lead to our destruction.
Paul warned Timothy about false teachers who would come in and equate prosperity with God’s blessing, “supposing that gain is godliness” (1 Timothy 6:5). We should not fall into the trap of thinking that because someone has more they must be receiving God’s favor. The popular message that God wants all of His children to be rich and financially well off is not grounded in Scripture. In fact what the Bible teaches is that while God does bless people with prosperity in some cases, in other cases material gain is actually part of His judgment. The destructive power of the love of money leads those who have some to want still more. They are never satisfied or content, thus missing the blessing of God’s peace.
"Who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked;'
“I should quit texting. I could die in car accident,” twenty-one-year-old college student Chance Bothe wrote to a friend. Moments later, still texting, he missed a curve on the road and plunged thirty feet into a ravine. Miraculously he did not die, but he suffered a serious brain injury and numerous broken bones. It was some six months before he was able to leave the hospital, and he had to relearn how to walk, talk, and take care of himself. He knew what he was doing was wrong and dangerous, but he did it anyway.
The story is shocking, yet each day millions of people do things that they know are wrong, dangerous, and sinful without believing that they will suffer the consequences. Our culture has adopted a casual attitude toward sin—even worse, sinful behavior is often seen as comical and a source of fun and delight. While the world may have forgotten how awful sin is and how much God hates it, believers cannot afford to take that attitude.
A casual approach to sin, or finding humor and pleasure in sin exposes us to danger when it comes to temptation. A fear of sin and the holiness of God protects us from giving in. This was Joseph’s response when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife. Rather than finding sin attractive, he viewed it as destructive. When Potiphar’s wife approached Joseph with her immoral offer he replied, “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9)
This attitude is especially important in our entertainment choices. If we are laughing about sin night after night on television or enjoying reading about it in books or online, when temptation comes we will be far more vulnerable. Wisdom keeps the right attitude toward sin—hating it just as God does.
'My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the LORD loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.""
When Christians endure suffering and affliction they often find it hard to maintain a proper perspective toward the goodness of God and His kindness in bringing correction into our lives. Of course not every trial is a result of sin in our lives. We live in a fallen world where the ravages of sin impact both the saved and the lost alike. Yet it is always wise to stop and examine our lives and see if there is correction from our Heavenly Father involved.
Charles Spurgeon said, “It is not every affliction that benefits the Christian; it is only a sanctified affliction. Take heed if God is trying you, that you search and find out the reason. Have you lost that joy you once felt? There is some cause for it. Many a man would not have half so much suffered if he would but look to the cause of it. I have sometimes walked a mile or two, almost limping along because there was a stone in my shoe, and I did not stop to look for it. And many a Christian goes limping for years because of the stones in his shoe, but if he would only stop to look for them, he would be relieved. What is the sin that is causing you pain? Get it out.”
The author of Hebrews quoted this admonition from Solomon because it is a truth that is worth repeating. “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him” (Hebrews 12:5). Instead of allowing ourselves to be discouraged or getting angry with God and giving up, we should view His chastisement as evidence that we are His children and that He loves enough to correct us.
"I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths. When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble."
The use of the term “red herring” to describe something that distracts someone from their main goal dates back to at least the 1500s. The writer Thomas Nashe penned, “Next, to draw on hounds to a scent, to a red herring skin there is nothing comparable.” Despite this literary depiction, there appears to be little evidence that hunters actually used herring to train their dogs to stay after their prey, but the phrase stuck. It came to be used as a general figure of speech to describe a false trail that led nowhere but instead draws attention away from the main thing.
The devil is a master at using distractions to draw us away from what God intends for us to do. He is perfectly willing to use good things to keep us away from the best things. I once heard a sermon “Rabbit Chasers” in which a preacher with rural roots described how in his childhood they would take their dogs into the woods to hunt opossum but found that the dogs would stop hunting opossums to chase rabbits instead. He talked about how anything that distracts us from God’s best is a waste.
When it comes to avoiding destructive distractions, wisdom offers a great defense. Wisdom chooses the important and long-lasting over the fleeting and temporary. Wisdom rejects the quick fix in favor of the permanent solution. Wisdom shuns the approach of the world for the path of God—even when that path is narrow and not chosen by many others. In short, the more we are in touch with God’s Word and God’s wisdom, the more closely we follow in God’s path.
"For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings."
In August of 2010 a group of thirty-three miners were trapped in a Chilean gold and copper mine by a cave in. Amazingly they managed to survive for more than two months before they were finally rescued. On reaching the surface, one of the miners, Yonni Rojas, discovered that both his wife and his mistress had arrived to hold vigil and watch for his safe return! He thought that he had covered his tracks and that no one knew of his five year affair, but an unexpected mine disaster revealed his sin, not just to his family, but to the entire world.
Charles Spurgeon said, “You say that you can handle your secret sins, that there is no one hurt by them. But you may as well ask the lion to let you put your head into his mouth. You cannot regulate his jaws: neither can you regulate sin. Once done, you cannot tell when you will be destroyed. You may put your head in and out a great many times; but one of these days it will be a costly venture.”
As Christians we must never lose sight of the fact that God sees and knows everything that we do and think. No matter how carefully we may hide from others, nothing is hidden from His sight. Hebrews 4:13 says, “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.” God knows what we are doing and what we desire to do. And He has not changed His mind regarding sin. God hates sin too much and loves us too much to allow us to get away with secret sin.
"Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly; suddenly shall he be broken without remedy."
Despite its location on a low island on the Texas Gulf Coast and the destruction brought by a hurricane on the neighboring city of Indianola, a majority of the residents of Galveston did not see any need for the building of a sea wall to protect their city from a major storm. Though the US Weather Bureau was aware that a tropical storm was passing through the Caribbean, they did not have the means to track it. The warnings that were issued were far too little and too late.
On September 8, 1900, a massive hurricane which caused the deadliest natural disaster in US history struck the thriving Texas town. Modern estimates place it as a category four hurricane. Wind speeds reached over one hundred miles per hour before the measuring equipment was destroyed. A storm surge of more than fifteen feet swept over the low island and destroyed thousands of homes and buildings. Estimates of the total loss of life ranged as high as 12,000. Burial plots could not be found for the massive number of bodies, and after attempts to dispose of them at sea were thwarted by the tides, massive funeral pyres were built to burn the remains.
The residents of Galveston thought they were living in perfect safety when in fact they were in enormous danger. This is also true of those who are casual about their relationship with sin. The fact that God’s mercy may sometimes delay immediate judgment for sin does not mean that it is hidden from His eyes or that it is acceptable to Him. As Moses warned the children of Israel, “be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23). Rather than being lulled into complacency we should flee to God in repentance and seek His forgiveness before we fall under His judgment.
"And, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtil of heart."
Cecil Scott was just fifteen years old in 2007 when he walked from his home to his school for band practice. The teenager was wearing blue house slippers as he and a friend took their walk. Tragically for Scott, he wore those blue shoes through the territory of a gang whose colors were red—and his blue was taken as a sign that he was part of a rival gang. Scott was confronted by nineteen-year-old Tywan Ransom, who shot and killed him when he refused to take off his shoes.
Since ancient times people have signaled their allegiance by their clothing and decorations, from the red and white roses of the Lancasters and Yorks during the wars of succession in England to the blue and gray of the Civil War in America. What we wear sends signals about us that other people receive. Of course those messages are not always the ones we intend to communicate, and that places a great responsibility on us to be careful what the clothes we wear have to say. We should not wear anything that conflicts with our commitment to following Jesus Christ. No matter how popular such garments or styles may be, they are not for the believer who desires to reflect the holiness of God.
Paul’s direction to Timothy “that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety” (1 Timothy 2:9) may not be popular in our day, but it is still important. (And the same principle applies equally to men as well.) The clothes we wear, or don’t wear, convey a message. We should not tempt others with our clothing, nor should we dress in garments designed to call attention to ourselves. Instead we should be dressed as becomes members of the “glorious church” that will assemble at Christ’s return, “not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing” (Ephesians 5:27).
"Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom: I am understanding; I have strength. By me kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth."
Because Solomon asked for a wise and understanding heart when God offered him anything he choose, he was granted a measure of wisdom that no one before or since possessed. Early in his reign that wisdom was put on display when he decided between two women, each of whom claimed that a baby was hers. Apparently, the “lower courts” had been unable to discern which woman was telling the truth, so they brought them both to Solomon for him to judge between them. What happened next cemented Solomon’s reputation as a man with great insight and wisdom.
“And the king said, Bring me a sword. And they brought a sword before the king. And the king said, Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one, and half to the other” (1 Kings 3:24-25). The real mother wanted the child alive, while the false claimant was willing for the child to be killed. Thus Solomon revealed the true mother. The people of the kingdom were astonished. “They saw that the wisdom of God was in him, to do judgment” (1 Kings 3:28).
Every person in leadership (and almost all of us are leaders in some aspect of our lives) needs the wisdom of God. The problems that we face and the decisions we must make are beyond our own ability to determine in our own wisdom what should be done. Many people have made tragically destructive choices that have impacted not only their own lives but their followers as well because they trusted their own wisdom. Instead we should seek to apply the principles of Scripture and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit so that we lead wisely.
"If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself: but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it."
When he was just twenty years old, Benjamin Franklin set out to improve his character. He created a list of thirteen virtues that he wanted to cultivate in his life. They were: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. His plan was to work on one each week and then go on to the next. When he reached the end of the list, he would start over again.
The problem with this approach is that in our own strength we do not have the ability to develop and cultivate the behavior that God expects from us. Though Franklin’s parents were devout churchgoers and he was good friend with noted evangelist George Whitefield, Franklin was not a believer. His lack of reliance on God meant that no matter how diligently he tried, he could never truly improve himself in a lasting way.
The key to success in life and living in a manner that is pleasing God is found only in the power of God. Paul wrote, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). It is not our willpower and strength of character that overcomes temptation and displays godly character, but the life surrendered to the Holy Spirit and operating under His power and influence.
Wisdom teaches us to obey God and His Word with profound and lasting results. In his will, Ben Franklin left 1,000 pounds (about $4,400 in that day) to the city of Philadelphia with the stipulation that it be allowed to accumulate interest for 200 years before being spent. By the time it was used, his bequest was worth some $5,000,000! Wisdom also accumulates, and the benefits last for all of our lives.
"The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it."
Fleeing religious persecution in England and seeking a place where they could worship God freely, a small group we now know as the Pilgrims made the treacherous journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of America in 1620. After a difficult trip, they finally reached the New World in November. Before going ashore to establish a new colony, they wrote and signed a document known as the Mayflower Compact. In it they stated that their purpose in founding the colony was “for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith.”
William Bradford, who eventually served as governor of the Plymouth Colony, wrote in his diary that the Pilgrims “came to anchor in the Bay, which was a good harbor...and they blessed the God of Heaven, who brought them over the fast and furious ocean... and a sea of trouble.” Though the Pilgrims endured hardship as they worked to carve a new home out of the rocky shores of New England, the hand of God continued to bless them and meet their needs.
The blessings of God are often misunderstood. Some people teach that if God is blessing you, nothing will ever go wrong and you will have everything that you want. Yet that is not the teaching of Scripture. The blessing of God is not primarily about material things, although it certainly may include those. Instead it is mostly about the things that are eternal and can never be taken away.
In order to properly appreciate the blessings of God, we must first trust that He knows what is best for us and that His power will ensure that we receive what He wants us to have. This kind of faith allows us to be content regardless of our circumstances. With that attitude, we will be grateful for all the good things God gives.
"A false balance is abomination to the LORD: but a just weight is his delight."
A Michigan judge found himself in the news recently because of the violation of a courtroom rule—and what happened next. Judge Raymond Voet has long had a policy forbidding the use of electronic devices in the courtroom. Anyone whose phone rings aloud has it confiscated and receives a fine. Over the years, attorneys, police officers, witnesses, and spectators have broken the rule and received the punishment.
During closing arguments at the trial, someone’s smartphone started talking. “I can’t understand you. Say something like Mom,” the phone requested. It was the judge’s new phone! "I'm guessing I bumped it. It started talking really loud. That's an excuse, but I don't take those excuses from anyone else. I set the bar high, because cell phones are a distraction and there is very serious business going on," he said. "The courtroom is a special place in the community, and it needs more respect than that." During the next break in the trial, Judge Voet held himself in contempt, and paid the standard $25 fine that he issues anyone who disturbs a trial. “Judges are human,” Voet said. “They're not above the rules. I broke the rule, and I have to live by it.”
To live a life that is pleasing to God, we need to deal justly both with ourselves and others. The priority God places on justice is very high indeed. The prophet Micah wrote, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8). There will always be temptations to cut corners in our dealings with others, or perhaps to let ourselves get by with something we condemn in in others. We should reject these temptations and act justly.
There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.
When future president Abraham Lincoln was just nine years old, his mother Nancy died after drinking milk from a cow that had eaten a poisonous plant. Through she had only those few years in which to impact his life, she used them well. Later Lincoln would say, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” But it was not just in her teaching that she touched his life. Lincoln also said, “I remember my mother's prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life.”
As we stop today to honor mothers, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the power of a mother’s words in the life of a child. In contrast to the good example set by Nancy Lincoln, consider another mother. She was angry and abusive toward her youngest son. When classmates teased him, calling him “Ozzie Rabbit” because he was small and had big ears, she told her son that they were right. The boy’s older brother later said, “We learned very early that we were a burden...she wanted to be free of responsibility.” That boy, Lee Harvey Oswald became a household name when he assassinated President John Kennedy.
The words of a mother (indeed the words any of us use toward others) have enormous power. They can deeply wound or they can heal. Knowing this truth, we should be very careful how we speak to others. As Paul wrote, “Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man” (Colossians 4:6). Words that we excuse as teasing may cut much deeper than we realize. Words that praise character and effort encourage a child to continue doing right.