TRIALS are a natural part of life. Many trials come because of poor planning or deliberate actions on our part that end in less-than-happy circumstances. But there are also trials that fall upon us as a result of happenings over which we have no control. We may be seeking to obey God’s Word, living responsibly as a Christian, and all the sudden out of nowhere we are hit by trials.
James address this latter type of trial in his epistle: “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into diverse temptations [various trials], Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting [lacking] nothing” (1:2-4). The phrase James uses to describe the arrival of trials depicts a believer who is not intending to wake up to a trial, but it happened upon him anyway.
The trial often leaves the individual with the response of the unfortunate window washer. After cleaning a seventh-story window, the washer steps back to take a look at his work and unintentionally wakes up on the ground with a group of people gathering around him. As his eyes blink open he hears the question, “What happened?” He can only reply, “Don’t ask me, I just got here myself!”
When our eyes blink open to the unanticipated trial described by James, even before we are able to begin sorting things out, we can rest in the truth that the trial has beneficial purpose. As James instructs, the trial tests our “faith.” Not in the sense of destroying, but strengthening our “faith.” Not only is our faith strengthened, but “patience” (enduring under the pressure of the trial) is allowed to do a perfecting work in our lives that allows the blessed appearance of Jesus Christ to be more visible in our lives (I Peter 1:9).
The end result, according to James, is that the believer, after enduring the trial, may be “perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” Yes, trials will fall upon the believer who is not soliciting them through ill behavior. But when those trials come, the Christian can trust that though it may be difficult to understand at the moment, they will have a beneficial result in our lives.
King David wrote Psalm 51 when he was confronted by the prophet Nathan, after his sin with Bathsheba. There are many important truths we can learn from true confession of sins.
David makes his confession directly to God and not to some earthly priest. He appeals to God’s mercy, loving-kindness, and tender mercies, and asks Him to blot out his transgressions, to wash him thoroughly from his iniquity, and to cleanse him from his sin (51:1, 2)
David does not water down or make light of his sin. He acknowledges his personal transgressions. He could not hide from his sin or cover it because it was ever before him (51:3). Even though he sinned against Bathsheba and against her husband, he recognized that it was ultimately sin against God. Sin is sin, and it is evil. Every sin we commit is always in God’s sight. He sees and knows everything and we are answerable to Him alone. God is always just and His judgment is always right. He makes no mistakes (51:4). David knew that he was born with a sin nature. He had inherited that nature from Adam (51:5).
David also recognized that God always desires inward truth and reality. He was not saying nice words as some external game to get off the hook. His confession came from his heart (51:6). He asks God to purge him and to wash him; as a result he could be clean and be whiter than snow (51:7). He also wanted his joy and gladness to be restored which sin had taken from him (51:8, 12). He asked God to hide His face from his sin, blot out all his iniquities, create in him a clean heart, and to renew a right spirit within him (51:9, 10).
True confession brings cleansing and restoration. A changed heart is a powerful testimony to others which can result in their own conversion (51:13-15). External acts mean nothing, and are not wanted by God, without a broken and a contrite heart (51:16, 17, 10). Read Psalm 32 for a supporting truth.
These words in the book of James have been considered by some to be in conflict with the clear statements of many passages of Scripture which teach that we are saved by faith and not by works. For example, Ephesians 2:8-9 states, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, lest any man should boast.”
The problem was not a misunderstanding on the part of James, but is a lack of understanding in the minds of many as to the true nature of faith. Biblical faith is more than simply believing something is true. True faith that supernaturally saves a man’s soul is faith that includes responsibility on the part of a believing individual. James points out that “the devils also believe,” but are not saved. Of all creatures, the devil and his demonic host have an awareness of the reality of heaven and hell and Jesus Christ’s death for man’s sin; they believe these things to be true.
An often-overlooked word connected with saving faith unites the statements of James and the apostle Paul. Several times Paul speaks of obedient faith: Romans 1:5; 2:8; 10:9-16; II Thessalonians 1:8; Hebrews 5:9. The apostle Peter teaches obedient faith throughout his first epistle and caps it with the warning, “For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God; and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God” (I Peter 4:17).
Don’t misunderstand! As the Bible declares, there is no saving merit in the works of man. Salvation is the miraculous work of God imparting to undeserved people the perfect righteousness of Christ. At the same time, man has the responsibility to be obedient to the truth of the Gospel.
Much ink has been spilled pitting man’s responsibility, “obedience of faith,” against God‘s gift of salvation which is “not of works.” The salvation testimony of the apostle Paul vividly illustrates true obedient faith and the miracle of conversion. Having fallen upon the ground before Jesus, Saul declared, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Do you simply have a mental knowledge of the Gospel, or have you truly been obedient to the Gospel?
We’ve looked at this subject before, but it is an escalating problem. Many people have no qualms about lying. It has become a matter of convenience. Truth is spurned and out-right lying is acceptable and subject to situational ethics. Last week’s article spoke about the lack of absolutes in our society and that God’s Word is the absolute truth. Truth is what delivers or makes a person free (John 8:32). Lies not only enslave, they also reveal the nature or character of the liar.
Notice this absolute truth spoken by Jesus who is “the truth” (John 14:6) to those who rejected Him: “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). It is impossible for the devil to speak the truth. It is his nature to lie. He is the source or originator of all lies. That truth should cause us to recognize that whenever we lie we are imitating the devil. A person who calls himself a Christian must be convinced that it is never right to lie. We are to always speak the truth no matter what the cost. Yet even some Christians think it is not wrong to lie or be deceptive at times when it is convenient. Notice that when Ananias and Sapphira lied to Peter, he said, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Spirit…?” (Acts 5:3); “…thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (5:4).
Because people reject the absolute truth of God’s Word, they have no misgivings when it comes to lying and so “changed the truth of God into a lie” (Romans 1:25). Read the entire context of Romans 1:16-32. We are commanded to “lie not one to another” (Colossians 3:9) and to be “putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor…” (Ephesians 4:25). Whom are you representing today?
Our nation was established upon absolutes, many of which were taken from the Bible. Absolutes have played an important role in holding the fabric of our nation together, allowing us to repeat the pledge, “One nation under God.” With the erasing of absolutes has come the fracturing of our country politically, morally, and spiritually.
The present circumstances in America mirror what happened to the people of Israel more than 3,000 years ago. In the closing chapters of the book of Judges God prompted the writer to repeat a statement: “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 19:25). When God repeats His words in the Bible it is for an important purpose. In this case it was the key to why the nation was falling apart at its very seams.
“There was no king in Israel” depicted the lack of absolutes. There was no leader encouraging, teaching and enforcing the absolutes of God’s Word. The result was that “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” The moral condition of the nation plummeted. The value of life hung in the balance of an individual’s unrestrained immoral desires. Marriage, the meaning of marriage and the purpose of marriage, were lost to the most sickening of behaviors.
The happenings of the last chapters of the book of Judges are a haunting demonstration in history of where we are headed as a people and a nation. Absolutes are important! The Bible
exhorts, “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart; And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is at this day” (Judges 6:5-7, 24).
I unashamedly believe in the absolutes of God’s Word and believe it is “for our good always.”
God’s love is beyond our limited understanding. Too many times we interpret God’s love only through human thoughts, emotions, and experiences which change and are untrustworthy. Many bring God down to the level of humans whose love is fickle and conditional; but that is not the God of the Bible. Let’s look again at John 3:16.
God’s love is divine: “For God so loved.” God is eternal and “God is love” (I John 4:8). He is the true definition of what true love is. His love is not false or untrue. His love is faithful through time and eternity. He does not simply tolerate or like; He loves.
God’s love is universal: “the world.” His love includes you and me. No matter our country of origin, colour of skin, language, social status, physical condition, gender, age, or whatever class you put yourself in, God loves YOU! “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8). God’s love is not limited to a select few, but for the whole world (I John 2:2).
God’s love is giving: “that He gave His only begotten Son.” God is not stingy. He gave His best and His all. He did not withhold from us what was required for our salvation (Romans 8:32). God did not give His second-best. He gave sacrificially and freely so that we might be saved and forgiven.
God’s love is saving: “that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish.” God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). There is no sin too great that God’s love cannot reach and forgive! But you must accept Christ by faith and receive Him to become His child (John 1:12).
God’s love is eternal: “but have everlasting life.” The moment you believe in Jesus Christ as your Saviour, you possess eternal life for all eternity (I John 5:11-13). He will never take it back and no one can take it from you (John 10:28-30)
Have you noticed that THE TRUTH often has little to do with what people choose to believe? The current views of “political correctness,” “religious correctness,” “social correctness” and “scientific correctness” are often unquestionably accepted while the truth is subjected to intense interrogation. Though the Bible prophesies that believing a lie would be a characteristic of the “last days” (2 Thessalonians 2:14), people’s response to the truth has divided mankind throughout human history.
As Jesus walked this earth He spoke the truth. The truth was a stark contrast to the current “correctness” views of the people and political and religious leaders of that day. Just as today, Jesus’ words of truth divided men. To those who believed His words, Jesus said, “As He spoke these words, many believed on Him. Then said Jesus to those Jews who believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know THE TRUTH, and THE TRUTH shall make you free” (John 8:30-32). Those who chose to NOT believe Jesus’ words rejected the truth. Jesus identified this second group’s source of authority by saying, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own; for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me no (John 8:44-45).
Jesus performed many miracles which openly revealed and demonstrated the truth that He was indeed the CHRIST. Most notable was the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Several days had passed since Lazarus’ death, and even the promoters of incorrect “correctness” had to concede that a notable miracle had occurred. Logically one might think, “the truth is undeniable; they will now believe.” Actually, blinded by their “correctness,” they rejected the truth and discussed how they could kill Lazarus and stuff him back into the grave (John 12:9-11).
I challenge you to believe THE TRUTH! (John 8:32).
Why do you do the things you do? Why do you help others in need? Why do you give to charitable organizations? What is your motivation? There are those who do certain deeds of kindness because it makes them feel good. Others do good things for others because they will be recognized and praised. Others do things simply as a tax write-off.
There is always a reward for giving alms or charitable deeds. But it depends on who gives the reward. Jesus warned people not to display their acts of kindness, mercy, or compassion before others in order to be seen by them. When you do that you will receive no reward from God. Your reward will be only here on this earth, one that is temporary, and one you cannot take into eternity with you (Matthew 6:1). The religious hypocrites in Jesus’ day actually sounded a trumpet to draw the attention of others. They would do this in church as well as in public. Then, when people were looking, they would do their good works (6:2). The people would then praise them and tell them what wonderful and spiritual men they were to help someone in need. That is the only reward they will receive.
Remember the Pharisee who went to the temple to pray (Luke 18:10-14)? He began his prayer bragging to God how he was not a sinner like others. He reminded God, “I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess” (18:12). But God was not impressed. Instead, he went back home the same way he had come – not right with God. But the publican, or tax collector, who was praying in a far-off corner, humbled himself before God and was justified by God.
God knows why we do what we do. He knows the secret motivations of our hearts, and He will reward us accordingly. When we serve others it should not be for our own glory but for the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31). Our alms should be done “in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret Himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:4).
One day as Jesus was condemned by the Pharisees for hanging around sinners, our Lord told a story: “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:4-7).
Nearly 20 years ago the young people from our church were presenting a Gospel program in a rural village in Mexico. As was our habit, we visited the 25 or so homes in the little farming settlement and then set up a puppet stage and chalk easel in the plaza area. For the first time in probably well over 100 occasions of doing this, a most unusual happening occurred – no one came! As darkness was falling and we were preparing to take down the equipment, an elderly fellow wearing a well-used cowboy hat walked up. He had come to see the program.
A seat was pulled out of the van and put front and center. The lone occupant carefully listened and the youth put their hearts into it as though there were a crowd. In closing, a simple presentation of the Gospel was made and opportunity was given to any who would like to receive Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. Again, it was a first. The whole audience responded to the call of salvation. One hand went up!
The well-weathered man was wonderfully saved that night and there was rejoicing in both earth and heaven. Little did we know that within six months this new brother would pass from earth to heaven.
God is concerned for every lost sinner and there is joy “in heaven over one sinner that repenteth.” Statisticians might say, “An audience of one is a big time wash out,” but that night an audience of one caused the hosts of heaven to rejoice.
How to Have a Successful New Year
Uzziah became king of Judah when he was 16 years old. He faced many decisions in life, but he chose to follow God and not his own way. “He did that which was right in the sight of the LORD” (2 Chronicles 26:4). He didn’t live one way in public and another way in private. He wanted a life that pleased God, and God’s standard of right living was what he chose. “He sought God” (26:5a) in whatever he did. That means that he looked to God in prayer, asking for His wisdom and guidance. He had godly counsel from others, but he purposed to seek God himself. He didn’t rely upon the spirituality of others, but he wanted a personal relationship with God. “And as long as he sought the LORD, God made him to prosper” (26:5b). As long as God was number one in his life, as long as he didn’t lean upon his own understanding, God caused him to prosper and succeed in what he did. As a result “God helped him” (26:7) defeat his enemies and helped him in his work. “But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction” (26:16). His success went to his head. He began to take credit for his victories. His pride led to his fall. He took his eyes off the Lord and began to sink.
God must be in control from beginning to end. The moment we take credit we begin to crash. God alone must be our power and provision. Joshua was admonished with these words: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein; for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success” (Joshua 1:8). God’s Word must be a vital part of our lives. It shows us the right way to live. Obedience to God and His Word is the key to success.
Much of the prophecy in the Bible is clustered around two great events – the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ. We have just passed the annual celebration of Jesus’ first coming. This event fulfilled exactly the numerous Old Testament prophecies predicting Christ’s birth, life and ministry, and death and resurrection.
Emphasizing this fact of this miraculous fulfillment, the Gospel writers point out: (1) Christ’s birth was prophesied, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying” (Matthew 1:22); (2) Christ’s ministry was prophesied, “When the even was come, they brought unto Him many that were possessed with devils; and He cast out the spirits with His word, and healed all that were sick, That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah, the prophet, saying, He himself took our infirmities, and bore our sicknesses” (Matthew 8:16-17); (3) Christ’s death was prophesied, “And they crucified Him, and parted His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, They parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots” (Matthew 27:35); (4) Christ’s resurrection was prophesied, “And He said unto them, These are the words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44).
As 2019 rolls in we stand ever nearer to Christ’s second coming. As with His first coming, we are excitedly witnessing the fulfillment of long-standing Biblical prophecy.
The declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the alignment of the nations in the Middle East, the “earthquakes,” “famines,” “fearful sights” (Luke 21:11) and a great number of other current happenings evidence that Scriptures anticipating our Savior’s second coming are being fulfilled.
Yes, the daily news is disturbing! But, praise the Lord, we who love the Word of God realize Jesus is coming, and maybe 2019 will be the year!
Excitement rises as you see gifts with your name beneath the Christmas tree. You’re also excited to find gifts to give to others, and can hardly wait to see the surprise and joy and hear the laughter as they open their gifts. We can only imagine what went through the hearts and minds of the Wise men when they brought their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to baby Jesus (Matthew 2:11).
But did you know that God has gifts for you? Do you know what is “the gift of God” (John 4:10)? For the woman at the well Jesus was offering her “living water.” This was spiritual water that would fill and satisfy her thirsty soul, “a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (4:14). This was no ordinary water connected with the mystical “fountain of youth.” This was a gift which comes from God. As “your Father which is in heaven,” He will “give good things to them that ask Him” (Matthew 7:11). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning” (James 1:17).
God’s gifts are free. You can’t earn, merit, or pay for them. It is “the free gift” (Romans 5:18), “the gift of grace” (5:15), “the gift of righteousness” (5:17), the gift of salvation. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works…” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Satan offers only death: “for the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a). God offers life: “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (6:23b).
God’s gifts are guaranteed, non-breakable, cannot be lost or stolen, are of infinite value and eternal. He has enough for everyone. He will never run out of gifts or put them on back order. He will never take back His gifts: “for the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29). They are good year-round and not just for Christmas. Jesus is God’s gift to you. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift” (2 Corinthians 9:15).
The apostle John was an “old man,” most likely in his mid-90s, when he penned the following words to his friend Gaius: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth” (III John 3). Gaius was flourishing spiritually and John’s prayer wat that his friend’s physical health would be as good as his spiritual health. Would you desire the apostle to pray that your physical health match your spiritual health? Or would such an answer to prayer result in a sudden decline in your physical well-being?
In his letter, John informed Gaius of his intention to travel and personally visit his dear friend and the church in which this faithful servant served. Obviously, John was, at this advanced age, still enjoying the health to serve the Lord. The apostle commends this brother for walking “in the truth” and for actively serving the Lord. Most important to our physical well-being is our walking “in the truth” and our faithfulness in busying ourselves in the work of the Lord.
Though it is important for us to live in a healthy manner, it is easy to get caught up in the latest product that claims to renew the strength of our youth, while forgetting that God is the true giver of strength and holds the number of our days in His hands. Remember the words of the prophet? “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
At 19 years of age my grandfather went to the doctor to pass a physical for an insurance policy. The doctor dropped his stethoscope and explained that my grandfather could not possibly survive more than six months. Sixty-four years later, after a full and busy life of serving the Lord in China and the U.S., my grandfather was called home to heaven. Rather than searching for the “fountain of youth,” he put his faith in Jesus’ words, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). My grandfather put his heart into his spiritual health and left his physical health in God’s hands; he didn’t die a day too early or a day too late.
“Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD” (Psalm 150:6).
Hallelujah! We have much for which to praise God. There are innumerable things God has done for us, is doing for us, and has promised to do for us, that it should cause us to explode with praise and thanksgiving. Our human nature generally focuses on negative things, and we end up complaining instead of celebrating. But there are many things about God and what He has done that should transform our thinking into a Biblical attitude of praise.
In the context of giving God praise, thanksgiving, glory, and honour, many verses in the book of the Psalms or “Praises” reveal things for which to be thankful. The following verses are just a miniscule sample:
“Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endureth to all generations” (100:4-5). “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all His benefits: who forgiveth all thine iniquities; who healeth all thy diseases; who redeemeth thy life from destruction; who crowneth thee with loving-kindness and tender mercies; who satisfieth thy mouth with good things; so that thy youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (103:2-5). “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (147:3). “The LORD is gracious, and full of compassion, slow to anger and full of great mercy. The LORD is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works” (145:8-9). “The LORD is righteous in all His ways, and holy in all His works. The LORD is nigh unto all them that call upon Him, to all that call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him; He also will hear their cry, and will save them” (145:17-19). Read the whole of Psalms 103 and 107, and let them fill your heart with praise.
“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (I Thessalonians 5:18).
God Desires to Dwell With Us
The opening verses of the Bible declare that God “created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Within the universe God formed the planet earth and from the dust of the ground He made the first man. God purposed to dwell with man in the beautiful garden which He had made. There was a tree of life in the garden and if man was obedient to God’s command man would never die.
Sadly, this blessed state did not last long. The Bible records man’s willful disobedience and the resulting consequences of expulsion from the garden, broken fellowship with God, and bodies which would die. But happily, because of God’s love for man (John 3:16), He made provision for our salvation through Jesus’ death in our place.
What God originally purposed will happen, but in a much grander way. The apostle Peter prophetically proclaimed that this present earth and universe will “pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10-13). God will then create a new heaven and a new earth. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Revelation 21:1-3).
As in the original “garden of God,” God promises that He “will dwell with them.” As one continues to read in Revelation chapters 21-22, it becomes obvious that there are great similarities between the original “garden of God” where God purposed to dwell with man and the eternal abode of the believer when God again will dwell with His people. The beautiful stones (Rev. 21:18-20), the “river of water of life” (22:1), and “the tree of life” (22:2) bear striking resemblance to features of the original Garden. Don’t forget! Being a recipient of these future blessings comes only to those who have received Jesus Christ as Savior (John 1:12)
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!