He was religious and worshipped God his own way. Sure, it was not like the religion his brother had, but it was good enough for him. What more could you ask? He even gave God his offering since he knew God wanted one. Surely God would accept him and his gift! He would even call himself “spiritual” because of his actions. But God was not pleased with his efforts. God turned away and did not look with approval on Cain’s offering from the fruit of the ground. How dare God not accept his offering! There was nothing wrong with the vegetables from his garden. They were beautiful in colour and firm; no bruises or spots; no insect bites. He worked hard, spent time, and put in a lot of care to have good crops. Surely his good was good enough for God! But it wasn’t, because his heart was not right with God. And so Cain was angry with God.
But there was his younger brother Abel who took care of the sheep. Abel also brought an offering to the LORD. It was “of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof” (Genesis 4:4a). Abel knew God required firstborn sheep and the fat parts which represented God’s best. This was his gift to God. “And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering” (4:4b). God accepted Abel and his gift because his heart was right with God and because he offered it by faith. “By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts . . . But without faith it is impossible to please Him . . .” (Hebrews 11:4, 6a).
Cain’s offering was of the flesh; Abel’s of the spirit. Cain’s came from his own hand; Abel’s from his heart. Cain’s was a result of his own works; Abel’s was a demonstration of faith. God, in His grace and mercy, gave Cain an opportunity to make it right and offer the accepted offering (Genesis 4:7), but he refused God’s offer. Where do you fit in this story? Works – your good, or faith – God’s best?
My Favorite Old Testament Book
My favorite Old Testament book is Isaiah and it is obvious that I am not alone in this judgment. The book of Isaiah is quoted by name in the New Testament more than any other prophetic books. In fact, Isaiah is named more than all the Old Testament prophetic writings combined.
Because of the prophetic preciseness and accuracy of forecasted future happenings, the book became the target of critics with less-than-noble intentions. It became popular to break up the unity of the book by speaking of First, Second, and Third Isaiah, each written by a different author. Their hope was to spread the penning of the book over centuries and thus mute the miraculous nature of the prophetic utterances. Providentially God allowed the finding of the ancient “Isaiah Scroll” in a cave in 1947, exposing the foolishness of the above-mentioned critics.
The book is written in the eternal present. The 53rd chapter, with its description of the suffering Messiah, is declared as an accomplished fact more than seven centuries before our Savior’s death: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed” (v.5).
Isaiah not only proclaims the Messiah’s death, but also His birth: “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (7:14).
Much to the distress of religious cults, the Book presents the eternal God as one God, but three Persons. God Himself declares, “Come near unto Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I; and now the Lord God, and His Spirit, hath sent Me. Thus saith the LORD, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am the LORD thy God, who teacheth thee to profit, who leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go” (48:16-17). Obvious to the careful reader who can count to three, is the “Lord God, and His Spirit” which add up to two. These two Persons of the Godhead send the “Me” who is the speaker in the text and also named as the “Redeemer” -- 2+1=3.
I hope these few words will encourage you to examine this book that might become a favorite of yours!
Do you have arachnophobia or fear of spiders? They are everywhere. You clean your house and before you even realize it another spider takes its place. Even the rich and famous have spiders in their homes.
The Bible tells us that spiders are one of the “four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceedingly wise” (Proverbs 30:24). The passage goes on to name the ants (v. 25), the conies (v. 26), the locusts (v. 27), and then the spider (v. 28). In that last verse we read, “The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings’ palaces.” Even royalty must deal with spiders.
Even though many scholars believe the word for “spider” refers to a small species of poisonous lizard, yet the fact remains that even magnificent dwelling places of kings cannot keep out the infiltration of such a small creature. The same goes for the heart of mankind. The Bible states that “there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good and sinneth not” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Even the best person on earth, no matter how righteous and good that person may be, is a sinner and commits sin. Even those whom people call most holy are sinners: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Trying to clean up your act without dealing with your sin nature is wasted energy. Self-reformation may make you feel good for a while, but it does not make you right with God.
Jesus told a story of a man who cleaned up his life and made it look good, but in the end “the last state of that man is worse than the first” (Luke 11:24-26). Only Jesus can transform a sinner into a saint. “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Let Jesus change your life for eternity.
A couple of weeks ago we saw that leeches, like sin, are never satisfied (Proverbs 30:15, 16). Little leeches become big leeches, for what may seem insignificant grows as it feeds off the host. Today I want us to consider that there are some sins which may be cute or funny, yet they also have a way of being very destructive.
Most baby animals are cute, even wild ones. Yet an admonition is given in Song of Solomon 2:15 which says, “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.” This does not mean to catch the little foxes and make pets of them. It means to catch or seize these cute little foxes which were destroying or corrupting the grape vines and remove them. The vines were in a most vulnerable condition because they were literally in blossom.
You see, there are some sins which may look cute, but they have a way of bringing great destruction. Eve was captured by the beauty of the forbidden fruit, and she and Adam both ate of it and brought sin and death into the world (Genesis 3:6; 2:17; Romans 5:12). Samson was captivated by beautiful women who brought havoc and blindness into his life (Judges 14-16). Achan was taken in by the forbidden spoils of Jericho (a beautiful garment, silver and gold) which led to the defeat at Ai, the death of 36 soldiers, and eventually to his own death and that of his family (Joshua 7). Moses, however, was “choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season” (Hebrews 11:25).
A sliver in the finger can bring infection and pain. Small issues in our lives, if not dealt with, have a tendency to grow and bring destruction. This is true in any relationship, especially between husbands and wives. Little things can become the very thing that destroys blossoming love. Everything in our lives that “spoil the vines” must be removed. The seemingly cute and insignificant sins will overtake our lives if we do not deal with them properly. Let God help you.
History bears testimony to many jailers who, while guarding Christians imprisoned for their faith, became believers through the testimony of their prisoners. The first occasion is recorded in the Bible. The apostle Paul and his fellow laborer Silas, while preaching the gospel in Philippi, were falsely accused. “And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely” (Acts 16:23). Instead of complaining to the jailer, the two prisoners prayed and sang praises to God. In the middle of the night there was a startling event. “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed” (vs. 26).
Because the jailer feared that the prisoners had escaped, he was going to take his own life. But Paul stopped him, assuring the frightened man that they had not fled. The jailer immediately asked the question, “What must I do to be saved?” (vs. 30).
Moving forward in history to AD 202, the pagan Roman emperor Septimus Severus decreed by edict that conversion to Christianity of Judaism would not be allowed. In the north African city of Carthage the gospel of Jesus Christ was transforming lives. A young mother, Perpetua and her servant Felicitas, had been saved along with three men. They were being discipled by the deacon Saturus.
The six believers and the infant were put into prison awaiting a trial. The verdict was decisive – execution. Perpetua’s family encouraged the young woman to deny her faith, but she would not. A hungry bear, leopard and wild boar were put into the arena and the four men were led to the beasts. As Saturus passed the chief jailer he paused and gave a last testimony of his faith, an event that would have similar results as found with the jailer in Acts 16.
The two women were subjected to a mad heifer and then to the sword, but not before powerful words of faith in Christ were proclaimed by Perpetua. History records that her words did not fall on deaf ears; for, the jailer, Pudens, received Jesus Christ as his Savior and, like those whom he had watched die for their faith, he also died as a martyr for his faith.
The trail was narrow and muddy as our little group walked along the edge of the swamp. There was beauty all around in spite of thorny vines, the smell of rotting vegetation, and heavy humidity. Waving away an occasional mosquito, the greenery of the jungle was highlighted by a splash of color from an orchid, an isolated ground flower, or a flame tree. But there was a sinister activity having to be constantly monitored – leeches! Those blood-sucking creatures were so small, some thinner than the lead of a pencil and less than an inch long, but would gorge themselves to several times their size. We were having to constantly check our bodies and flick off these worm-like creatures before they became attached.
The Bible mentions leeches only one time: “The horseleech hath two daughters, crying, Give, give” (Proverbs 30:15a). These bloodsuckers are always out to get a free meal at the expense of their host. In this verse and the next they are listed among things “that are never satisfied” and do not say, “It is enough” (30:15, 16). Leeches are a picture of sin. They represent the cravings, desires, or lusts of the flesh which have an insatiable thirst. A little leech becomes a big leech. Every time you feed sin it always wants more. It is like the drug addict who craves for something stronger. “The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing” (Ecclesiastes 1:8b). The desires of the flesh are always demanding and taking. What may begin as something small and insignificant eventually enlarges and sucks you dry. At first you may not feel the effects of the little sin, but over time the numbing wears off and you wonder how you ever got into the mess you are in now. Even a little mosquito can bring death to a person. It’s not fun having to administer medicine to a four-day-old baby with malaria or to an elderly man fighting cerebral malaria, but it is necessary to save lives. Medicine is the cure for physical ailments; Jesus is the cure for the spiritual. It is He who gives satisfaction which nothing else could!
I’m old enough to remember the era of fallout shelters, named after the falling to earth of radioactive particles following a nuclear explosion. As a small boy I attempted to dig more than one fallout shelter, which, upon examination, my dad re-named fall-in shelters. Though there was genuine fear of “the bomb” on the part of many, for more it was an excuse to dig a hole.
One who did fear the bomb was an elderly friend who actually completed a shelter for him and his aged wife. When he gave me a tour I was impressed. The cement structure he had built and the preserves his wife had stowed away on the shelves were supposed to sustain the couple, while the rest of us withered away. In retrospect, the shelter would have done little to protect from the effects of an actual nuclear event.
Far better is the comfort that comes through trusting in God’s promises. The Bible paints a wonderful picture of the place of shelter which God provides for the true believer. God promised, “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms…” (Deuteronomy 33:27). The word “refuge” describes a place of safety and protection. As I remember, my elderly friends’ shelter had a concrete floor; the shelter God has provided for me has a foundation far greater than cement - “. . . underneath are the everlasting arms.” If everything collapses, I simply fall into God’s arms.
God’s place of refuge has a roof that certainly surpasses my fall-in shelters. The psalmist declares, “He who dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress, my God; in Him will I trust. Surely He shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. He shall cover thee with His feathers and under His wings shalt thou trust; His trust shall be thy shield and buckler” (Psalm 91:1-4). “Under the shadow of the Almighty,” covered “with His feathers,” and “under His wings.” What a protection from above!
Obviously I’m no longer digging for protection; my trust is in the eternal God.
Is There Any Help?
After King Saul died in battle, David was made king over Israel (I Chronicles 11:1-3). He inherited a lot of responsibility which required help. Who was able to help him? The answer, of course, was the LORD, “for the LORD of Hosts was with him” (11:9). In the context of this and the next chapter we are given the names of David’s mighty men and his valiant men who stood by him as his helpers (11:10-12:15). These men were dependable, strong, and faithful, and “they helped David” (12:21); but they recognized that there was One who was even greater than they were. Amasai declared to David. “. . . thy God helpeth thee” (12:18).
We all need the help of others. None of us should think we can go through life without one another. We need people to encourage us as well as confront us. Believers are a part of the “body” of Christ. Each member of the body has an important part for the over-all health and function of the body. Even though each member has its own special and unique function, yet it is for the benefit of the entire body.
In the higher sense, however, the Lord is the greatest helper anyone could ever have. The psalms speak much about the LORD being our helper. “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the LORD, which made heaven and earth” (Psalm 121:1, 2). “Give us help from trouble: for vain is the help of man” (60:11). “Behold, God is mine helper . . .” (54:4), etc. In the book of Hebrews we read these precious words: “let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for He hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me” (Hebrews 13:5, 6). Even when we face temptations and trials, the Lord Jesus Christ, who “Himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succor them that are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18).
“I Go to Prepare a Place for You”
Among the great promises of Scripture given to the believer, Jesus’ promise of preparing a place for us is one that should excite our hearts. The context of this promise is as follows: “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3). Imagine! The same hands that created the world are preparing a place for us.
The book of Revelation also speaks of this place Jesus is preparing for us: “And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bore twelve kinds of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him; And they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads. And there shall be no night there; and they need no candle, neither light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light, and they shall reign forever and ever” (22:1-5).
We must also observe that there is a prepared place for those who reject the salvation Jesus offers. The Bible warns: “Then shall He say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).
All people will end up in a prepared place. Make sure you end up in the right one. “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).
Are You Tired of Waiting?
We don’t like to wait. This characteristic can be witnessed in the smallest of children. When my youngest grandson decides it’s time to nurse, there is no rest for the ears until his request is honored. Grandchildren a few years older stand around the ice cream freezer asking, “Is it ready yet?” The last time they stood around the churning freezer the “Is it ready yet?” was repeated more than usual because the paddle had accidentally been left out of the canister.
As believers we often get tired of waiting. Though we’d be embarrassed to verbally voice it, we sometimes think that God has waited too long. After waiting 25 years for a promised son, Abraham believed God had waited a bit too long: “Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? And shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?” (Genesis 17:17b). But within the year Abraham was holding the promised son in his arms.
The timing was right! God caused Isaac to be born at the right time in history so that, among other things, his grandson Joseph would spare the young nation Israel from starvation.
In Scripture the word wait is sometimes paired with patiently. The psalmist declares, “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him…” Every bone in our body is crying “hurry up,” but the LORD says “wait patiently.” David gives testimony to the blessing of patiently waiting: “I waited patiently for the LORD, and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And He hath put a new song in mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:1-3).
My Situation is Impossible!
Many times in the course of our lives we find ourselves in the midst of seemingly impossible circumstances. Fear, and even despair, can grip our hearts and leave us believing there is no hope. But for the true believer who has put his or her faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9-10), we are invited before the throne of our Savior Who specializes in impossibilities. “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
In the book of Genesis record is given of a most dreadful situation. A mother found herself alone in the wilderness with her child. Given only a bottle of water, they had been expelled from the place where they had lived. We read, “And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot, for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lifted up her voice, and wept” (Genesis 21:15-16). As the heat of the day were on, humanly there was no hope. But in the middle of this impossibility we find the wonderful words, “And God heard…” (v. 17). Hopeless despair was immediately replaced with God’s provision. “And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink” (v. 19).
Hundreds of times in Scripture we read of impossibilities met by God’s provision:
“She hath no child and her husband “And the woman conceived,
is old” (2 Kings 4:14) and bare a son” (2 Kings 4:17)
“There was death in the pot” “There was no harm in the pot”
(2 Kings 4:40) (2 Kings 4:41)
“The axe head fell into the water” “the iron did swim”
(2 Kings 6:5) (2 Kings 6:6)
“All hope that we should be saved “They escaped all safe to land”
was taken away” (Acts 27:20) (Acts 27:44)
After sharing with Mary miraculous things, the angel Gabriel explained how these impossibilities would become realities: “For with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). Impossibilities are God’s specialty!
Gladness or Gloom
We’ve talked about trials several times, but such things are a part of life. Even the greatest and best of men and women have been nurtured through the trials of life. But how do we respond or react to difficulties? What is our perspective when experiencing troubles?
When writing to the believers in Jesus Christ living in Corinth, Paul blurts out, “I am filled with comfort, I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation” (2 Corinthians 7:4b). How could Paul have such overflowing joy in all his troubles, even when he and others “had no rest, but…were troubled on every side; without were fightings, within were fears” (7:5)? It was because “God… comforted us…” (7:6). God was with them.
The believers in Macedonia were going through “a great trial of affliction,” but it was in that affliction that “the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality” (8:2). They had an abundance of joy which their poverty could not take from them. They had very little to give to meet the need of others, yet they gave out of their deep poverty. They were not whining or begging for themselves; but, being filled with joy, they gave.
The apostle Paul shared with the believers the sufferings he experienced in life. He mentions being “in stripes above measure; in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep” (11:23-25). Paul went on to share other perils and difficulties of life (11:26-29), and yet, even with his “thorn in the flesh,” God gave him the grace to endure (12:1-9). Paul’s response? “Most gladly, therefore, will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then am I strong” (12:10). Be glad instead of gloomy!
One of the amazing declarations in the life of Joseph was that of the personal presence of God in the midst of his troubles. After his brothers sold him to the Ishmaelites (Genesis 37:28), who then sold him in Egypt to Potiphar (37:36), we read, “And the LORD was with Joseph” (39:2; cf. Acts 7:9, 10). Can you imagine how Joseph felt when his own brothers hated him so much that they sold him into slavery? But any feelings of rejection and abandonment were washed away through the love of God’s presence. God hadn’t abandoned him at any time. Egypt couldn’t keep God out. Joseph was not feeling sorry for himself. He would live in the joyful presence of God. It made such a difference that his owner saw God in his life. “And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand” (39:3). Joseph was even promoted above all others in Potiphar’s household (39:4-6).
But then came another trial. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, but Joseph escaped after he had declared that he would not sin against God (39:7-12). Because she couldn’t get her way, she falsely accused Joseph of trying to molest her (39:13-18), and Joseph was thus put into prison for a crime he did not commit (39:19-20). Where was God in all of this? “But the LORD was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (39:21). Why would He allow this to happen? God had a greater plan than what Joseph could imagine. God’s plan for his life was perfect. Joseph could rest in the comfort of knowing that God was working on his behalf for a greater purpose. And so “the keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper” (39:23).
Facing overwhelming trials? You don’t have to go through them alone. Yield your life to God and He will be with you forever (Hebrews 13:5b).
The Bible gives the record of the lives of men and women, revealing both the good and bad. God has obviously purposely allowed these unfiltered accounts for our spiritual benefit. No clearer example exists than the little book of Jonah. Because we are made of the same clay, it is important for us to pay close attention.
The prophet Jonah had just observed an amazing result coming from his preaching. One of the largest cities of the ancient world had repented and turned from their evil. God alerted the prophet to the wonderful news -- the city and its tens of thousands of people would be spared from destruction.
Jonah’s response was to throw a temper tantrum. The city of Nineveh was Israel’s national enemy and in Jonah’s mind God should not save our enemies. Several of the details which follow are very instructive for the believer who desires to avoid the irrational trap of temper.
The cause of Jonah’s anger is clearly revealed: “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1). Jonah didn’t get his way and he was angry, very angry. The prophet’s anger was quick, contrasted with God’s anger in the next verse: “slow to anger” (v. 2). When our anger flashes because our selfish will has been stepped upon, a great caution should fill our hearts. Slow down and carefully, prayerfully consider the matter.
God’s question to Jonah revealed that the prophet’s anger had caused his thinking to become irrational. Two times God asked the angry prophet, “Doest thou well to be angry?” The irrational answer of the prophet revealed his upside-down thinking, “I do well to be angry, even unto death” (4:4, 9).
Temper is dangerous! A sinful city repented and the preacher responds by throwing a temper tantrum. When your temper flashes, it’s time to slow down and prayerfully consider the matter!