Bitterness – a word full of acid eating the hearts of its victims. It hurts the one who is bitter and also reaches out to destroy others. Bitterness, like a contagious disease, can lead to epidemic proportions. The Bible gives a strong warning “lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and by it many be defiled” (Hebrews 12:15). The acidity and poison of bitterness will sully, taint, stain, pollute, or contaminate many. Once it takes root, it is very difficult to uproot.
What causes bitterness? There are, no doubt, many reasons. People become bitter when they have a wrong perspective and philosophy of life. When things don’t go the way we want can lead to bitterness. People are bitter because they prayed to God and asked Him to do something, but He didn’t do what they wanted. In the context of Hebrews 12 we see that bitterness comes when we reject or fight against God’s discipline in our lives. In Deuteronomy 29:18 we see a big reason why people become bitter: they turn away from God. “Lest there should be among you man, or woman, or family, or tribe, whose heart turneth away this day from the LORD our God, to go and serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood.”
Bitterness blames others, especially God, for one’s problems. This is seen in the life of Naomi who said that “the hand of the LORD is gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13). And when she returned home to Bethlehem, she told the women, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara [“Bitter”]; for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me” (1:20), “seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me” (1:21).
But there is a cure for bitterness. Naomi’s heart was changed as she submitted herself to God and to His workings in her life. She learned to bless the LORD (Ruth 2:20). Have you been bitterly hurt by someone? God asks you to “let all bitterness. . .be put away from you. . .” (Ephesians 4:31). In its place you are to “be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, hath forgiven you” (4:32). Turn to God and be set free from your bitter spirit.
n graduate school many of us had demanding work schedules and sleep was a precious commodity. The classic practical joke was to nudge a fellow student who had drifted off, misinforming him that he had been called upon to close the class in prayer. I never personally participated in such a happening, but I can’t say the thought never passed through my mind.
The Bible speaks of a strategic time in history when it is vitally important for the believer to be spiritually awake. “And that, knowing the time that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Romans 13:11). The Greek phrase translated “knowing the time” does not refer to a specific day on the calendar, but a certain season of time. This season which the apostle is addressing is the period known elsewhere in Scripture at the “last days.”
The alert believer understands that the present troubling events in the world around us evidence that we are living in those long-prophesied “last days.” The Apostle Paul instructs us that “. . .it is high time to awake out of sleep.” These are not days when the believer should live in a spiritually drowsy manner. The reason we ought to “wake up” is because our Savior’s coming could be at any moment. “Now is our salvation nearer than when we believed.”
In this verse “our salvation” refers to the moment our Savior delivers us out of this evil world and we are “caught up” to the heavenly city. The moment in time when we “believed,” we were saved from our sins by Jesus’ blood and received our ticket to heaven. Believers living in the strategic end “time” are to understand that the moment of “salvation” is “nearer.” The Greek word translated “nearer” and used as an adverb in this context, speaks of an imminent happening.
“Wake up!” The alarming national and international news that surrounds isn’t business as usual. God has called us to live in a most important time in history. Sleeping in class is not recommended. But dozing off spiritually while “knowing the time,” is Biblically unacceptable. Jesus is coming and we need to be awake and busy doing what He has asked us to do.
As is obvious, God’s will and man’s will are opposites. The will reveals the heart of the person; that is, what we think is what we do. When comparing or contrasting the Divine will and the human will, we see that God’s will is always right.
After denouncing the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus gives a warning of impending judgment upon that generation (Matthew 23:1-36). He spoke out of love and not revengeful anger. What He said revealed His deep compassion for His people, even though His words were blunt. How do we know this? The next verse shows us Jesus lamenting over Jerusalem.
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings.” Do you see God’s will here? He was “long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Jesus wanted to gather His people under the protection of His wings. Many times He willed to do this. The sin of His people never stopped His heart of love for the lost. He saw the multitudes of people, and “He was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). God extends His heart-will today for you!
But how does the human will respond to God’s will? We all have a free will to choose or to reject God’s offer. Notice the last part of Matthew 23:37 which reads, “and ye would not!” God would have gathered, but you would not. They didn’t want Jesus as their Messiah-Saviour. They were content with their own self-righteous works and believed they didn’t need God. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” (John 1:11). No one will be able to blame God for not giving them an opportunity to be saved or to be restored to fellowship. Whose will will you choose today, God’s or man’s?
A few weeks ago I received an alumni communication from the seminary I had attended announcing a new addition to the graduate school’s curriculum. The addition required a change in the long-standing Biblical position of the school through a major reinterpretation of several passages of Scripture. This news prompted me to investigate further how the Bible could be twisted to match their troubling new conclusions.
Reading on line the reasonings behind these strange interpretations, a new hermeneutical term was introduced to my vocabulary that didn’t exist when I was a student: “the hard passages of Scripture.” By definition, “the hard passages of Scripture” are the ones that forbid the “new doctrines” they were discovering. Like the contortions of Houdini, the school twisted out of “the hard passages” the most novel and unexpected explanations.
These happenings would all seem like some sick joke; but, tragically, it was no joke. It is, rather, the fulfillment of prophetic Scripture: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine but, after their own lusts, shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy 4:3, 4).
“The hard passages,” when one reads them, are actually not hard at all and can be easily understood by a child. Be very careful when someone attempts to explain to you why the Bible doesn’t mean what it so clearly states. We need to be like the Bereans who had the testimony: “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the Word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).
The apostle exhorts: “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). The words “rightly dividing” are taken from the Greek term “to cut straight.” The scholars at the seminary are cutting a very crooked line. But each of us as Bible-believing Christians can simply believe every word, “cutting it straight,” and receive the blessing of walking in the truth.
When I was growing up we called an egg which was fried on one side with the yoke facing up and unbroken “sunny side up.” You may have noticed that by nature some people are “sunny side up,” while others are cooked on both sides with no visible “sunshine.” Some can find good and joy amid the most difficult of circumstances, while others can find reason to complain in the best of life’s happenings.
The apostle Paul had been put into prison for his preaching of the Gospel, a circumstance that could have easily prompted complaint. But, from this uncomfortable environ he penned the most encouraging of his prison epistles – Philippians. There were many terms which would have aptly described his present unpleasant abode – cold, damp, lonely, unjust. But the apostle did not let his mind dwell upon these things. Rather, the words, “rejoice,” “joy,” “gladness,” and “content” fill his vocabulary.
Since our minds by nature tend to think negatively, “sunny side up” requires the believer to prayerfully exercise concentrated effort. Paul encourages, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
In the epistle the apostle was able to name several positive things that came as a result of his present imprisonment. He was honestly able to say, “But I have all, and abound: I am full . . .” (Phil. 4:18). Physically his stomach may have been empty, but spiritually he was full.
Whether we are “sunny side up” is less dependent upon our circumstances and more dependent upon prayerfully choosing to “think on” the spiritually wholesome “things” the apostle names: things that are “true, honest, just, pure, lovely and of good report.” The specific Greek word Paul uses here translated “think” in our English Bible, has “effort” written all over it. It includes thoughtful consideration and reflection upon the great and bountiful blessings of God in our lives.
How’s your egg cooking? Is it “sunny side up”?
Freedom and liberty are such precious words. The freedoms which were established by our forefathers for the United States of America, are freedoms which came with responsibilities. We have heard it said that “freedom is not free.” Someone had to pay the price for the freedoms we enjoy today, and those within our military are continuing to pay the price to keep “liberty and justice for all.” These men and women “who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life” are the ones whose feet “a thoroughfare for freedom beat, across the wilderness.” Sadly, many Americans take those freedoms for granted and, in a sense, despise the lives given and the blood shed for their freedoms. History is being changed and torn down in order to accommodate a different set of thinking and morals. When these liberties of “the land of the free, and the home of the brave” are gone, how many will notice?
As our nation celebrates another year of freedom, may we be reminded that true freedom comes from God. Our nation must continue to be “one nation under God” or else we will suffer dire consequences as a nation gone under. Our motto must still be “In God we trust” if we wish to continue to enjoy this “sweet land of liberty.”
The same truth applies spiritually to our lives. Since we all are born sinners, we are enslaved by sin. But Christ came to provide freedom from sin and its consequences. He paid the ultimate price to purchase our freedom by His blood. When we receive Christ by faith, repent of our sin, Christ liberates us. “If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (John 8:36). We are responsible to “stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled with the yoke of bondage” (Galatians 5:1). “As free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (I Peter 2:16). Believer, “let freedom ring” in your life, and don’t take your freedoms for granted.
A century after the church was established (Acts 2), a damning heresy was introduced by the heretic Valentinus that later found home in the teachings of Augustine and Calvin. Among the heretical teachings of Valentinus was the denunciation of the Biblical importance of man’s will in salvation. A godly pastor of the 2nd century, Irenaeus, who would write seven books against Valentinus’ teachings, declared: “. . . but also in faith, has God preserved the will of man free and under his control, saying ‘According to thy faith be it unto thee;’ thus showing that there is a faith specially belonging to man, since he has an opinion specially his own. And again, ‘All things are possible to him that believeth,’ and, ‘Go thy way, and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee.’ Now all such expressions demonstrate that man is in his own power with respect to faith” (Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book IV, Ch. 37).
The will of man, the decision-making part of man, is essential in salvation! “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17). The words “whosoever will” (thelo) speak of the volitional part of man that moves with determination and makes a deliberate decision.
True salvation involves man’s will and requires an active choice: “. . .choose life,” (Deuteronomy 30:19); “Come unto Me. . .” (Matthew 11:28); “But as many as received Him. . .” (John 1:12); “. . .whosoever believeth. . .” (John 3:16). Jesus stands outside a man’s heart’s door knocking. Every individual has the personal responsibility to deliberately, intentionally, open the door. “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me” (Rev. 3:20).
Yes, a man’s will is important in salvation. Have you willfully received Jesus Christ as your Savior?
It had been many years since the people had heard God’s Word. But now, hearing and understanding it, the people began to mourn and weep: “for the people wept, when they heard the words of the law” (8:9).
It doesn’t matter how many Bibles you have in your house if you don’t read them. Too many people take God’s Word for granted and treat it like another book on the shelf. If your Bible were taken from you today, would you even miss it? There was a time in Jewish history when “the word of the LORD was precious”, valuable, or rare, and “there was no open vision” (I Samuel 3:1). When people close their hearts to God’s Word, as they did in the days of the Judges, when “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25), it results in spiritual chaos and destruction.
The message given by God through the prophet Amos brings a serious warning: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD” (Amos 8:11). Spiritual hunger is worse than the physical. How sad it is when people choose spiritual starvation. But those who “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8) can also say: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart. . .” (Jeremiah 15:16; cf. Psalm 19:7-11; 119:103).
Scrolling down through the daily news is very discomforting. The “New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2) appears to be a much better choice than New York. Heaven is looking better every day!
The Bible foretells of all the frightening, disturbing and seemingly irreparable happenings of our day. I pray for our country and our leaders, but realize that our nation’s problems are deeply rooted in man’s sinful heart.
I’ve got real estate awaiting my arrival in the New Jerusalem. Jesus promised, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself. . .” (John 14:3). My promised heavenly home is offered to all people: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved” (Romans 10:13).
Our sinful nature will be left behind: “And the nations [people] of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it” (Revelation 21:24). There will be no crime or injustice there. ”And there shall in no wise enter into it anything that defileth, neither he that worketh abomination, or maketh a lie, but they who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Reve. 21:27).
No electrical blackouts will occur; no back-up generators will be needed. “And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it; for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light of it” (Rev. 21:23).
The streets are made of pure gold and will never develop potholes. “. . . and the street of the city was pure gold, as it were, transparent glass” (21:21). Face masks will all be left behind; no need for isolation in the heavenly city, and there will never be the cry for a doctor. “. . . and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations” (22:2).
God offers you a piece of real estate in this wonderful city. “And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hearth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (22:17).
Yes, heaven is looking better every day!
The Old Testament character Job was answering Zophar’s false accusations. Job’s answer, among other things, states that God is sovereign, is in control, and has the ultimate authority. When God removes a leader from office, the people are said to wander in a trackless desert. Having no light or illumination for guidance, they grope in the dark. As a result, they “stagger like a drunken man” (Job 12:25). Are you staggering because you have no purpose or direction in life? God can change that!
Sailors going through a storm outside their control are afraid, and “they reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man” (Psalm 107:27). They are unstable and have no sure footing. They are at the end of their wits (107:23-30). Are you staggering in fear because of the storms of life which are beyond your own resources, and feel overwhelmed? God can bring you through and give you peace!
The apostle Paul affirms the promise God gave Abraham through faith. “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all, (as it is written, I have made thee a father of many nations,) before Him whom he believed, even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were: who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, So shall thy seed be. And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about a hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded, that what He had promised, He was able also to perform” (Romans 4:16-21).
God will give you direction, peace, and remove all doubt when you trust Him. Don’t stagger in faith. God always keeps His promises!
“The Fool Hath Said In His Heart, There Is No God”
In the morning I walk for exercise. The path takes me through forested areas and past pleasant pastures with cattle grazing and wild turkeys scolding me for passing by. The time gives opportunity to pray, think, and listen to thought-provoking things on my phone. This morning I was listening to a “scientific” documentary claiming that the immensity of our universe demanded the evolving of life forms many times over. It was explained that size and number increased probability, and increased probability equals evolved life forms. This equation assumed that “there is no God.”
The astronomical facts shared about the extent of the universe were truly fascinating to ponder. The same amazing facts that led the documentary to the conclusion of a Godless evolution compelled my mind in the direction of the Creator: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1).
Size and complexity don’t make the impossible more probable. It has been noted that if the information coded in human DNA, just the size of a pinhead, was put on paper, it would equal 500 stacks of books reaching from the earth to the moon. The amazing complexity of DNA doesn’t make evolution more probable. Rather, it declares the wonder of the Creator. The more the telescope reveals of the extent of the universe, and the microscope the extreme complexity of the smallest life forms, the more powerful the Psalmist’s words become: “The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God.”
Staring into the microscope or looking through the telescope leaves the observer “without excuse.” “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shown it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20). Don’t be foolish! The complexities of creation demand a Creator.
The prophet Isaiah had a vision of the Lord and it changed his life (Isaiah 6:1-8). The Lord Jesus Christ is God in flesh. One day certain Greeks came to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. They found Philip and expressed their desire in the words, “Sir, we would see Jesus” (John 12:21). Zacchaeus, who was “little of stature,” had a longing in his heart. “And he sought to see Jesus who He is” (Luke 19:3). So, he “climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him” (19:4). That action led to a changed life. “And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house. . . For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:9, 10).
Can we still see Jesus today? Those who believe in Him as Lord and Saviour have the honour to be lights in the world, so that the world might see Jesus in their lives. When Jesus talked to the woman at the well of Sychar, her life was changed. She told Jesus, “I know that Messiah cometh, which is called Christ; when He is come, He will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am He” (John 4:25-26). Trusting in Jesus, she had to share with others what He had done for her. “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did; is not this the Christ?” (4:29). After Jesus called Philip to be His disciple, Philip invited his friend Nathanael to come to Jesus. “We have found Him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45). Wondering if anything good could come out of Nazareth, Philip invites him: “Come and see” (1:46). It changed his life.
In the imminent future, all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ “shall see Him as He is” (I John 3:2); indeed, “Blessed are the pure in heart; for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).
During the days of Amos the prophet, the nation of Israel was passing through an era of financial prosperity, causing a spiritual callousness to fall over them. God warned them that because of their growing disregard for the Word of the LORD through His prophets (Amos 2:11-12), a day was coming when God would honor their backslidden desires by removing the Word of the LORD from them. Amos declared, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it. In that day shall the fair virgins and young men faint for thirst. They that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, Thy god, O Dan, liveth; and, The manner of Beersheba liveth; even they shall fall, and never rise up again” (8:11-14).
As prophesied, 400 years of spiritual silence fell upon Israel, and the hunger and thirst for a message from a prophet of the Lord became intense. Recent restrictions have caused many Christians to sense a hunger and thirst for spiritual fellowship not dissimilar to Israel of long ago. In a positive way, these happenings may be used by God to wake up Christians who have become far too casual about spiritual things. Hopefully, as restrictions are lifted, our churches will be full Sunday morning, evening, and prayer meeting. Hopefully believers will take more seriously the words of Hebrews 10:25: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another; and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”
I hunger and thirst for in-person church services! I hope you do as well.
David cried out for God’s abundant mercies and grace which were greater than his sin (v. 1). He requested to be washed and cleansed from his sin which had defiled him (v. 2). He didn’t blame his sin on Bathsheba or on someone else, but he took personal responsibility for his own actions (v. 3). He acknowledged his sin as being ultimately against God, and knew that God’s judgment was always right (v. 4). He knew that he was born with a sin nature and was therefore guilty (v. 5). Yet that didn’t excuse him. It’s easy to be one way outwardly and another on the inside. But God wants us to face the truth and be truthful in confessing our sin (v. 6). This is the only way for cleansing and forgiveness (v. 7). It’s the only way for restoration of joy and healing in broken relationships (v. 8). God see us as we really are and only He can blot out all our sins (v. 9). Only God can do the impossible (vv. 10-12). Once cleansed and restored, there was a ministry God had for David and He has one for you - letting others know about God and His willingness to cleanse and forgive a truly repentant heart (vv. 13-15). You can’t approach God with ulterior motives. He knows if you’re playing games or are genuine. You can’t bribe Him with outward religious acts. It is the “broken and contrite heart” that God accepts (vv. 16-17). Only doing things God’s way meets with God’s approval (vv. 18-19).
There is no sin too great or horrendous that God cannot cleanse and forgive. Go to God and confess with true repentance.
My purpose in addressing this FEAR is not to minimize the dangers of the disease or to argue for or against social distancing. The Bible warns of the dangers of FEAR, for FEAR itself can become a greater enemy and do more damage than the actual object of the FEAR. The Bible warns, “Be not afraid of sudden FEAR. . .” (Proverbs 3:25). Living under the shadow of the FEAR that something bad is going to happen not only robs us of peace and joy, but makes us very vulnerable to making unwise decisions. Those people capitalizing on our worries and selling FEAR can easily lead us into unforeseen dangers.
The 23rd psalm puts fear in its proper context: “I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me” (23:4). The psalmist declares, “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of His holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King. God is known in her palaces for a refuge” (48:1-3).
The true Christian needs to replace the great dangers of living in FEAR with the unchangeable and comforting truths of God’s Word in Psalm 37: “Fear not” (v. 1); “Trust in the LORD” (v. 3); “Delight thyself also in the LORD” (v. 4); “Commit thy way unto the LORD” (v. 5); “Rest in the LORD” (v. 7); “Wait patiently for Him” (v. 7).
People have responded in different ways to the present pandemic. Some have a care-free attitude as if they are invincible or they relegate it to fate. Others almost go into pandemonium as fear grabs hold of their hearts and minds. But others face the reality of the epidemic and turn to God in faith.
In Psalm 23:1-4 we read these well-known words written by David under the inspiration of God: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeath me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” David was confident in Jehovah. Even when things looked dark and deadly, he kept his eyes on the Shepherd. He declared, “I will fear no evil.” Whatever that evil may be, he would not be afraid. Why? The answer is, “for Thou art with me.” The personal presence of the Shepherd brought peace to the sheep. He promised, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6). He goes with you through the trials of life. He will never abandon His own. “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:20).
The prophet Isaiah declared, “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; He also is become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2). Isaiah chose faith over fear. He would flee to God for his refuge. Even when things were bad, he would not allow fear to control him. Why? Because the LORD was his personal salvation, strength, and song.
So, what is your response? Declare confidently with David with these words: “What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee” (Psalm 56:3). He said those words “when the Philistines took him in Gath” (heading). He chose faith, not fear!
Jesus’ Return?- Coronavirus
Bible students have observed an uptick in the happenings named by our Lord. Although some of the apparent increase can be attributed to instant news and better world-wide communication, it is also true that the frequency of earthquakes has increased. A strong case can be made for the prevalence of famines, fearful sights and unexplainable observations in the heavens.
But of special interest to us in this sermonette is the matter of “pestilences.” Interestingly, the Greek word Jesus chose (LOIMOS) was used to identify infectious contagious plagues or scourges. The particular coronavirus presently making its way around the world is known for its particularly infectious and contagious nature. Is this a sign of the end of the age and Jesus’ soon return? I don’t know! But it should at least awaken our minds to the fact that it could be.
Jesus used the plural form of the word, evidencing that there would be an increase in infectious contagious diseases. I’m not an infectious disease specialist, but in recent years my vocabulary has grown to include HIV, SAARS, EColi, West Nile, and the list keeps growing. This can all be very discouraging for the unbeliever, but for the true believer in Jesus Christ it causes us to look heavenward. Jesus is coming again!
Jesus’ disciples were in a state of shock. Only a week earlier they had followed their Lord’s instructions to bring a colt. The moments that followed brought to pass the event known as the “triumphal entry.” “And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:8-9). Excitement filled their hearts. The disciples envisioned Jesus being crowned as king.
But just a week later those same disciples were in disbelief, trying to process the seemingly astounding turn of events. Instead of being crowned king, Jesus had been crucified. The last report they had heard left them with the numbing news that Jesus was in the grave. Three dark and discouraging days and nights slowly passed.
Unknown to these disheartened disciples, Jesus had come forth from the grave and several women returning from the empty sepulcher excitedly brought them word. The disciples’ response to the good news was: “And their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not” (Luke 24:11). Two of the disciples, Peter and John, decided to go to the tomb. Something was beginning to happen in their hearts because John tells us that they ran and he outran Peter. John stopped outside the open tomb while Peter ran past him and into the empty grave.
John joined Peter in the tomb. As he looked about one can only imagine the thoughts which flooded his mind. Old Testament Scriptures long prophesying the resurrection came alive in John’s heart. “He is alive!” All the happenings are summed up in John’s own personal description of that moment: “. . . he saw and believed” (John 20:8).
“He’s alive!” Later that day Jesus was seen by 10 of the 11 disciples and then a week later by Thomas (John 20:19-29). On one occasion (I Corinthians 15:6) more than 500 saw the resurrected Christ before He ascended back to heaven. Like John, their hearts rejoiced, “He’s alive!” And like John, they “saw and believed.”
We pray that your heart rejoices with the truth, “He’s Alive!” And we pray that you, like John, “saw and believed.”
What does it mean to be a follower of God? The word used here means more than just walking behind someone or accompanying someone. The Greek word literally means “imitators” or “mimics.” That means one is following God so closely that he copies exactly what He does. It means that he does not live for himself but lives in such a way that people will know he has been with Jesus (Acts 4:13). You will be like the person you spend time with. We think it obnoxious or annoying when someone copies everything we do, but God has commanded us to imitate Him. He delights in it.
The world doesn’t recognize God when a Christian lives for himself. If a person is following the leader too far behind, he will not see clearly what the leader does. That distance then gives the person an excuse to do whatever he wants, or to do it in a half-hearted way. He becomes careless, thinking it doesn’t really matter, and he becomes the one to complain about the leader, thinking he can do a better job. On the night Jesus was arrested, Peter followed Christ, but it was “afar off” (Luke 22:54). That is when he got into trouble; he denied his Lord three times.
We are to imitate God as “dear children.” This implies absolute trust. The child believes the father has everything under control. He doesn’t need to understand it or have it explained in detail. The child simply knows that the father loves him and will take care of him.
In what should we imitate God? This verse is connected to Ephesians 4:32 by the word “therefore.” In that verse we read, “And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” That is what we are to imitate.
The Scriptures exhort: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25). Understanding the reasons for the present restrictions, the Highway Bible Church is seeking, through live streaming, to make it possible for our church family to listen on line. We also invite and encourage others to tune in. At present there is a Sunday School lesson taught at 9:45 a.m. and the regular Sunday morning worship service at 11:00 a.m. During the worship hour the words to the hymns are projected so that you can sing along. We trust you will enjoy the special music and have your heart encouraged by Pastor Rubio’s message.
If during this time of difficulty you have special prayer needs, feel welcome to send them by email – email@example.com – or call Pastor Rubio – 530-344-2462.
Yes, these are challenging times, but as believers we can be encouraged by God’s promise: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).
The news hasn’t been good news recently and seems to be getting worse each day. The “virus” has many stirred to the point of panic. People are asking very important questions: “Where did all the toilet paper go?”
My purpose is not to belittle an illness which will be of great consequence to some, but to encourage true believers in Jesus Christ not to worry and fret. The coronavirus has not taken God by surprise! Circumstances have not spun out of His control. To those who trust Him, God promises: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:27).
The psalmist, by personal experience, gives testimony to God’s watchful care: “He who dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust; His truth shall be thy shield and buckler. Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday” (Psalm 91:1, 4, 5, 6).
In the New Testament the apostle declares: “Be careful [don’t worry or be anxious] for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
According to the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, if we will replace anxious fears with prayers and thanksgiving, the blessed peace of God will guard our hearts and minds. Four specific elements of prayer are given:
“Prayer” – approaching God’s “throne of grace” through the access purchased by the precious blood of our Savior.
“Supplication” – simply talking with God about the burdens and fears of our heart.
“Thanksgiving” – being grateful for all that God allows in our lives.
“Request” – asking according to God’s will that He might make provision for our needs.
Busying ourselves with these four responses will replace worry with “peace”. We can have a song in our heart, toilet paper or no toilet paper!
First, notice the unlimited measure of doing the will of God in the word “whatsoever.” We limit ourselves when we say we will do only this or that. We are to do whatever Jesus tells us, even when it may not make sense, when it seems illogical, and even when it may not be convenient according to our understanding. The infinite God doesn’t have to work in our finite box.
Second, notice who is to be in charge: “Whatsoever He saith unto you.” God’s will is not our will for Him but His will for us. We don’t tell God what to do, when to do it, or how to do it. He has the first and final word. We are to say, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Our tendency is to argue with or to bargain with God. That didn’t work for the complaining Israelites in the wilderness and it doesn’t work today. We need to listen to what Jesus tells us. He communicates to us in His Word. What has He already said to you but you have not listened?
Third, notice the requirement of obedience in the words “do it.” There is no option to obedience. There is no multiple choice offered. We are to do exactly what He tells us to do. And when we obey God, the blessings or miracles happen. We act by faith and reap the rewards.
The Bible opens with the very important truth – “God has spoken!” No less than 10 times in the first chapter of the Bible we read the recurring statement, “And God said.” The creative power and authority of His words brought the world, universe and abundant life form into existence. The record of the voice of the living God in creation has a greater purpose than to simply inform us of the origin of all things. The record of the supernatural voice of God more importantly reveals to us spiritual truth essential for salvation.
God has spoken, revealing to us that which we would otherwise not know. Like the Old Testament, the New Testament declares that God has spoken, but also becomes more specific. ”God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom He hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; Who, being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:1-3).
When Jesus came to earth to live and die and come forth from the grave, His very person and words were the voice of God to us – God has spoken! It is for this reason that Jesus Christ is introduced in the New Testament as the WORD of GOD. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:1-4).
God has spoken with the result that the universe came into existence. But infinitely more important, God has spoken through His Son. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6).
God has spoken! Are you listening? Our eternal destinies are in the balance!
To see the eyes and hands of God means that we must be near Him. Even though God dwells in the heavens, yet He is omnipresent – everywhere equally at the same time. The psalmist raises his eyes from off himself and looks to God for His will. The hands also communicate in such a way that even where words are left unspoken, yet the message is clear. When the servant lifted up eyes to look at his master, it meant that he was ready for service. The movement of a finger, the wave or clasping of the hand, and other hand signals gave clear guidance to the servant. In baseball, the pitcher watches for the signs given by the catcher. They must be in agreement or else they could lose the game.
The Word of God is the hand of God. It communicates His will and way. We must read and heed His Word expectantly, attentively, and obediently. Such action pleases God and results in our joy. Looking unto Jesus shows our complete dependence upon Him. Our own thoughts, emotions, and will can misdirect us into all kinds of disasters. It may feel right to us, but is wrong before God. Too many times we run ahead of God instead of waiting for Him. It is when our eyes wait upon Jehovah that His mercy comes. “Blessed are all they that wait for Him” (Isaiah 30:18).
This verse in Psalm 32 tells us that the LORD, Jehovah, is the One who will instruct and teach us in the way we are to go. God will help us to live and act in a circumspect way. He will make us spiritually intelligent and prudent to make the right choice at the right time. He will give us the spiritual insight, understanding, and comprehension beyond our ability to do His will and live a life pleasing to Him. But the key is that we keep our eyes fixed on Him because He will guide, counsel, or advise us with His eye. Our problem is when we take our eyes off Jesus. The answers to life’s problems are not found in ourselves, but in God. The philosophy to “follow your heart” is anti-God because we cannot know our heart; it is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). We must follow the heart of God. And even though we are not able to see the literal eyes of the LORD, yet He has revealed His will in His Word. If we don’t read and obey the Word of God, then we will miss out on the blessing and guidance of God. Go to your spiritual instructor and He will lead you in the right way.
Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate our nation and believe our founders laid out the best form of government man can create. I purpose to be a faithful citizen and responsibly participate in the preservation of our “democratic republic” which includes casting my vote. But, as a Bible-believing Christian, I also am looking forward to the day Jesus Christ returns as” KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS (Revelation 19:16).
The problem with human governments begins with the spiritual condition of our hearts. The Bible declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it” (Jeremiah 17:9). When we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior, we’re given a “new nature.” “Therefore, if any man be in Christ; he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). But the Bible also teaches that we retain our “old nature” until we part with this present body, meaning that even true Christians can be less than noble citizens.
When Jesus returns as KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS, we will not be left wondering, “will campaign promises be kept”? Environmental pollution will be gone: “. . .a pure river of water of life clear as crystal. . .” (Revelation 22:1). No more “Affordable Care Act,” for “the tree of life” (Revelation 22:2) is available again. No poverty, no hunger will exist. Even the forest trees will no longer be seasonal, but yield “fruit every month” (Revelation 22:2). Here’s a ”campaign promise” the believer can bank on: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away. And He that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And He said unto me, Write; for these words are true and faithful” (Revelation 21:4-5).
I’m looking forward to the coming of KING Jesus!
Spiritually speaking, all human beings are sick and dying. Their human blood is insufficient to sustain them, to save them from sin, or to provide spiritual life. They need a spiritual blood transfusion. Knowing this, God the Father made adequate provision through His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, “to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” (Romans 3:25). Jesus, God the Son, willingly shed His blood on the cross for our redemption. “In whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14). “Without shedding of blood is no remission” (Hebrews 9:22). The blood Jesus gave does not need to be repeated. He provided it once for all (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 28). We are “justified by His blood” (Romans 5:9); that is, made right with God. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanseth us from all sin” (I John 1:7). There is no sin too great that cannot be cleansed by the blood of Jesus! He “loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Revelation 1:5). God desires that we have fellowship with Him. “Having made peace through the blood of His cross, by Him to reconcile all things to Himself” (Colossians 1:20), we are thus “made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13).
Have you experienced the wonder of God’s “personal touch” upon your life? The Bible is filled with accounts of people whose lives were personally touched by God. The early chapters of the book of II Kings give a cluster of these happenings.
1. A widow was destitute and faced with a creditor who was threatening to take her two sons (II Kings 4:1-7). God, through the prophet Elisha, provided oil in a manner that defied the known laws of physics. Selling the oil and paying her debtor, she knew God had “personally touched” her life.
2. The “school of the prophets,” numbering 100 men, were hungry without a visible answer to their immediate need (II Kings 4:42-44). A man happened to drop by with some food, but not nearly enough to feed 100 men. The prophet told the one waiting on tables to pass out the food. The servant explained there wasn’t nearly enough. The prophet explained that the LORD had instructed him, “They shall eat, and shall leave thereof.” The men ate and, as God had said, food was left beyond what their appetites could consume. There was no doubt! God had “personally touched” their lives that day.
The apostle exhorts, “Be careful for nothing [don’t worry]. but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
God still “personally touches” lives today. He sometimes allows circumstances with no other solution than His “personal touch.” As we bring the impossibility before Him in prayer, God miraculously answers and we are left with the wonder of God’s “personal touch,” “love with skin on it”!
Have you experienced God’s personal touch?
“For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9). Jesus Christ left the splendours of heaven, came down to this sinful world, and made the only way for us to enter the splendours of heaven (Philippians 2:5-11). He laid aside His wealth so that through His poverty we might become spiritually rich in Himself. This He accomplished by His death on the cross in payment 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). A sinner cannot save himself or even remove his sin. Only Christ, the sinless Lamb of God, could both pay for and remove sin (John 1:29). Christ took upon Himself the sins of the whole world (I John 2:2) so that He who never sinned could exchange our sin for His righteousness (Titus 3:4-5).
“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” (Isaiah
53:5). You see, the “wages of sin is
death” (Romans 3:23a) and we all must pay that price. However, since our death has no redemptive
value, Christ stepped in and became our
Substitute. It was only by His death on the cross that provided the ultimate provision for our spiritual healing so that we might have eternal life (John 3:16; 10:10).
“Much more then, being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Romans 5:9). Everyone who trusts in and receives Christ as Saviour is no longer under God’s wrath. “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1a).
What wonderful exchanges!
Demas, who had started well and was a companion of the apostle Paul, fell in love with the world (2 Timothy 4:10). Some fell away having espoused false doctrine (Titus 2:10), while others became consumed with “foolish questions,” and “contentions” (Titus 2:9). As they began their Christian lives, they never imagined such an end. The sober warning of the apostle must not be ignored: “Therefore, we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip” (Hebrews 2:1).
In stark contrast is the testimony of the apostle Paul as he was approaching the end of his life: “For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Many others’ lives bore record of the same happy end.
After giving a list of heroes of the faith who were “faithful to the end,” their dramatic and blessed examples are followed with an important encouragement for each of us who are still running the race: “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
Are we being “faithful to the end”? Will we be able to honestly say, “I have kept the faith”?
Jesus was on His way north to Galilee, and “He must needs go through Samaria” (John 4:4). Arriving at the city of Sychar, Jesus sat on Jacob’s well to rest while the disciples went to town to buy food. In the absence of His disciples, a woman of Samaria came to the well to draw water. Jesus looked beyond her physical need and met her spiritual need as she came to know Jesus in faith as the Messiah, the Living Water of Life. When the disciples returned they wanted Jesus to eat. It is here we see that the disciples were shortsighted. They were so concerned with food that they missed the most important. Jesus said, “Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? Behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest” (John 4:35). Too many believers are shortsighted and focus upon themselves instead of a lost world needing Jesus. Glad to be saved and not under condemnation, yet they don’t want to be disturbed out of their comfort zone. Do we believe and “know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42)?
The believer is to be “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). The soon return of the Lord Jesus Christ for His bride at the rapture is a hope that invigorates the believer. But we cannot be so farsighted that we fail to fulfill our present responsibilities. We are to be working while waiting. We are to be running the race while “looking unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2). 20-20 vision is seeing the lost while looking to Jesus.
As a young pastor, this professor found himself in a small rural community. The challenge of the regular disciplines of the ministry were dwarfed by an obstacle causing him great distress. There was a mature woman of a very dominant spirit who had made it clear to the young pastor that she was in charge. His seminary classes hadn’t prepared him for this unique circumstance. The pastor made it a matter of fervent prayer, realizing that if God didn’t intervene in some miraculous way he would be forced to leave.
One Sunday afternoon the lady and a friend were walking around the yard admiring the flowers. Necessity prompted the woman to excuse herself for a moment. Recently indoor plumbing had been added to the home, but the faithful old outhouse remained in the yard. She conveniently slipped into the unused facility, not realizing that structural integrity of the seat had been compromised by time.
Her cries for help brought her friend, but attempts to pull the trapped woman out of the broken seat only wedged the boards tighter into her thighs. Interest in the situation quickly resulted in a gathering crowd. It was determined that the boards from the side walls must be removed in order to relieve the pressure on the wedged seat.
The young pastor’s prayer was like unto the prayer of the psalmist, “I waited patiently for the LORD, and He inclined unto me, and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). Making a long story short, the woman was embarrassed to be seen in public for some time and the pastor’s prayer was answered. The psalmist continues, “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” (v. 2).
God is concerned about His children and their needs, no matter how unusual they may be.
‘With Christ in the vessel I’ll smile at the storm,
With Christ in the vessel I’ll smile at the storm,
With Christ in the vessel I’ll smile at the storm,
Until He takes me home.
Sailing, sailing home, Sailing, sailing home,
With Christ in the vessel I’ll smile at the storm,
Until He takes me home.’”
This account was taken from the writing of my father, B.H. Cowles, who was in the U.S. Navy aboard the U.S.S. New Orleans during WW2.
The true believer is safely kept in God’s protective care until in God’s time he is transferred to his heavenly home. The Bible 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 truth shall be thy shield and buckler. For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalm 91:1-4, 11).
“With Christ in the vessel I’ll smile at the storm.”
This star appeared to a group of men who lived in the East, the star being to their West. It appears that the star was not visible to everyone. When Herod questioned the wisemen about the star, if it had also been visible to him then I believe the king would have sent his soldiers, not the wisemen, to the house where Jesus dwelt. I believe these wisemen knew the prophetic promise of Scripture, “I shall see Him, but not now: I shall behold Him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob…” (Numbers 24:17). In a similar manner, if a person with a sincere heart searches the Scriptures he, like the wisemen, will find Jesus.
Interestingly, when Herod “demanded” of the religious ‘scholars’ in Jerusalem the location of the promised King’s birth, they knew from the Old Testament book of Micah that Bethlehem was the place; but they, like Herod, did not seem to see the star. ‘Scholars’ today may know in theory statements of Scripture, but if their hearts are closed to the truth they will not see Jesus. A similar happening occurred in the wilderness as the Egyptians entrapped the Israelites against the Red Sea. The miraculous cloud of fire which lit the camp of God’s people was to the Egyptians a “cloud of darkness” (Exodus 14:20).
“The star which they saw (while in the East) went before them till it came and stood over where the young Child was” (Matthew 2:9). The words of the Bible indicate that the star moved before them and stopped over where Jesus was. The observation that the star stopped caused them to rejoice “with exceeding great joy” (Matthew 2:10). When one truly finds Jesus, there is no need to look any further. If you, like the wisemen, are truly looking for the Savior, God will personally lead you through His Word to Jesus.
I trust you “understand the meaning of His star”!
Luke’s account of the Christmas story begins with the angel Gabriel greeting Mary with the word “Hail” (Luke 1:28), a command literally meaning “Rejoice,” the same word used in Philippians 4:4. In spite of the political situation under Roman rule, and being poor on the social scale, Mary could rejoice or be glad because God’s grace to her was greater than all the circumstances of life (1:28, 30). She was going to give birth to the Messiah, Jesus, “for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). What joy!
When Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was at that time six months pregnant, and greeted her, Elizabeth’s baby “leaped in her womb” (Luke 1:41). This was not an extraordinary kick, but literally a jump for joy, or as it says later, “the babe leaped in my womb for joy” (1:44). This was an extreme, exuberant joy expressed by an unborn child. It is at this point Mary bursts forth with praise: “and my spirit rejoiced in God my Saviour” (1:47). Christ is the key to Christmas joy.
Later, an angel appeared to the shepherds with the joyful Good News: “Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (2:10, 11).
The whole context of the Christmas story is that of joy, gladness, and praise. It was not about getting presents, accumulating more possessions, or acquiring a promotion. The joy of Christmas is not found in things, but in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s why joy is possible. True joy comes to you when you invite Christ into your life. He is what Christmas is all about. Rejoice in Christ your Saviour!
As the children of Israel left the land of Egypt, they probably numbered more than two million. Ten devastating plagues had been sent by God upon Pharaoh and Egypt. In desperation Pharaoh let Israel depart, but had a quick change of heart as his slave labor source was now gone. God purposely led His people by the cloud and pillar of fire to the shores of the Red Sea. As Pharaoh’s army closed in behind them, the terrified people cried out against their leader, Moses, accusing him of taking them there to die (Exodus 14:11).
At this point God, by the hand of Moses, caused the sea to be divided with a path of dry land which led to the opposite shore (Exodus 14:21-22). After the Israelites had crossed, the Egyptians entered the sea in pursuit. God caused the wheels to fall off their chariots and the waters to close in upon them (Exodus 14:23-31).
The sea now separated God’s people from Egypt, both physically and spiritually. More than 40 years later this event would still bring fear to their enemies in the Promised Land: “For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea for you” (Joshua 2:10). Nehemiah, the Psalmist, and the prophet Isaiah, among others, would remind God’s people of this event and its spiritual significance. They must not lust after the old life on the other side of the sea.
This spiritual message is picked up by the apostle in the New Testament, and its application extends to believers today. Saved from the bondage of sin (Egypt) we’re not to look back to the old life (I Corinthians 10:1-11). The miracle of salvation delivers us from bondage and sets us free. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (II Corinthians 5:17).
Before it got dark, I ventured out to find a snack. Seeing the sign of a Grocery Outlet, I headed that direction. Having to change course twice because of a fellow who seemed possessive of the dumpster he was raiding, and another time avoiding a campsite on the sidewalk, I was glad to be inside before the sun set.
Propped up on the bed and reading a book, the solitude was suddenly interrupted by a loud bang, bang, bang, bang. Both Joseph and I were breathlessly waiting for any other sound. Since my bed was closer to the door, I told him I would take a look at whatever had happened. As my head went out the door, so did the head of the occupant in the next room. We exchanged words about the possible cause, both sure there had just been a shooting.
All the sudden there was another loud burst of bang, bang, bang, but this time there was the flash of light with it. In that instant my whole perspective changed. It was Veteran’s Day and we were very close to the harbor and a naval base. The sky was brilliantly lit up with fireworks!
Our hearts are often times filled with fear as we think upon all the “what ifs.” But when we lift our eyes up and by faith look at the LORD, the perspective completely changes. “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1).
What is your perspective?
Jesus warned of those whose “Christianity” would be highly religious but not truly Christian: “Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of My Father, who is in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Thy name? And in Thy name have cast out devils? And in Thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:21-23).
Jesus shared that the way of salvation is narrow: “Enter in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in that way; Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). The way of salvation is not open to our ideas or personal opinions; it is exclusive. Either we lay aside our ideas and simply come to God as He requires, or we will some day hear His voice, “…depart from Me…”
There were some who were offended when they heard Jesus speak, and there are many today who are offended when they are confronted with the exclusiveness of Jesus’ words: “…I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me” (John 14:6). The Bible declares, “Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
Interestingly, if Jesus walked this earth today and proclaimed the same “narrow” message of salvation He preached 2000 years ago, it would probably be so-called “Christians” who would crucify our LORD.
Are you a true Biblical Christian? Is your Christianity a collection of men’s thoughts about Christ, or are you a Biblical Christian basing your faith exclusively upon that which God has revealed in His Word? Our eternity rests upon this question’s answer!
We all face many kinds of trouble and we need God’s help and strength to endure them. God’s personal presence brings comfort, and faith in Him is the cure for fear. There is nothing you are facing now that God is not able to bring you through. Temptations press hard against the soul, and there is the cry of failure and defeat, but there is no sin too great that cannot be forgiven when true confession is made (Psalm 51). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
Our natural tendency is to grumble and complain. We become grouchy when the electricity goes off, and we rant and rave when our comforts are taken away. We wallow in our misery and flounder in our weakness. We question the sanity of individuals or the purpose of certain laws, and we forget that God is greater than all. As followers of Jesus Christ, our hearts are to rest in Him. The familiar admonition stated by the psalmist is this: “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10a). Let the peace that God gives rule in your heart (John 14:27; Philippians 4:7; Colossians 3:15), and “rest in the LORD” (Psalm 37:1a). We can face the unknowns and sing in triumphant jubilation when we let God be God. “The LORD of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah” (Psalm 46:11).
God has spoken and it is very important that we listen! In the Bible is the account of a little boy who had been taught to listen to both parents and God. Young Samuel was a miracle child given in answer to a barren mother’s prayer. Hannah had promised to give the child to the service of the Lord at the tabernacle. This godly mother faithfully instructed Samuel so that at five or six years of age he was ready to serve Eli the priest.
The third chapter of I Samuel records that after the child had “laid down to sleep” (v. 3) “the LORD called Samuel: and he answered, Here am I” (v. 4). Thinking it was Eli who had called him, the little boy ran to the priest. The event was repeated three times, causing Eli to discern that God was speaking to Samuel. The priest instructed Samuel to respond, “Speak, LORD, for thy servant heareth” (vv. 5-9).
The next time the Lord called, Samuel “answered, speak for thy servant heareth” (v. 10). The result was that God spoke and Samuel’s attentive ears received a very important message for that moment in time. But the discipline of Samuel listening to God’s voice continued and became the practice of his life, much to the benefit of both the prophet and the nation: “And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground” (3:19).
God has spoken in His Word, the Bible, and it is very important that we listen and teach our children to listen.
God has spoken; I hope you are listening!
Scripture says, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1). A person who is constantly being confronted and reproved because of his sin or wrong-doing, if he is stubborn and obstinate against that chastening and refuses to receive correction and wise counsel, he will face the consequences of his own action. It will come suddenly, in a wink of an eye, quickly and even unexpectedly, and he will be destroyed, shattered into many pieces like Humpty Dumpty or like a ship in a storm, and there is no remedy, cure, or medicine to heal the broken life. There is no one to blame but himself.
How many lives could have been spared had they listened to and obeyed God’s Word! Read Proverbs 1:20-33. “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). The warning was given: “Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes” (Deuteronomy 12:8). But years later we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 21:25).
“Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your heart, as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness: when your fathers tempted Me, proved Me, and saw My work. Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known My ways” (Psalm 95:7c-10). Lord, soften our hearts!
God’s people in both the Old and New Testaments, and believers today, are guilty of testing the patience of God because “they forgot.” In the 106th Psalm the writer points out the forgetfulness of the children of Israel: “Our fathers understood not Thy wonders in Egypt; they remembered not the multitude of Thy mercies, but provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea” (106:7).
Unbelievable miracles had just occurred in the days preceding. The waters had been turned to blood, the land covered with frogs, lice, flies, great sores upon the livestock, boils upon men, fire and hail from heaven, locusts, darkness and the death of the firstborn. The Israelites had observed all these miraculous judgments upon the Egyptians, while God’s people had been protected from all of them.
Now their faith was being tested as they stood before the Red Sea, blaming Moses because “they remembered not.” The Psalmist records God’s gracious provision in spite of the people’s inexcusable forgetfulness. “He rebuked the Red Sea also, and it was dried up; so He led them through the depths, as through the wilderness” (106:9).
No sooner had they arrived on the other side before they again forgot. “They soon forgot His works; they waited not for His counsel” (106:13). Drinking water from a rock and eating manna from heaven, they were told to wait while Moses ascended the mount. Within days “they forgot God their Savior, which had done great things in Egypt” (106:21), and replaced God with a golden calf.
Before we blame the children of Israel for their forgetfulness in light of God’s wondrous provisions, we need to be mindful of how often we forget and inexcusably murmur and complain. We need to set our hearts to remember all the great things God has done for us. How easily we forget!
Part 3: Serving the Lord
The Greek word translated “reasonable” gives us our English word “logical;” hence, that which is “rational” or what follows reason. You see, true worship has a logical conclusion – service. It should be the spiritual response and sensible action of the believer who has been in the presence of God to let others know he has been with Jesus. True worship is therefore incomplete when we don’t act upon what we have heard.
C.T. Studd said it in this way: “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great to make for Him.” Do we recognize that God is worthy of our “reasonable service”? Some translate those words as “spiritual worship” or “service of worship.” As believer-priests we are to offer our sacred service to God. Everything we do in life must be a means of worshipping and serving the Lord. We have been saved to serve. We are commanded to be habitual “doers of the word, and not hearers only” (James 1:22a); otherwise, we will be “deceiving your own selves” (1:22b). We are self-deluded when we only hear and don’t do. But notice the blessing of obedience. “But whoso looketh into the prefect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:25).
We are commanded to “Serve the LORD with gladness” (Psalm 100:2a). Exultant joy and delight should mark the service of the believer. Don’t serve Him grudgingly, reluctantly, indifferently, or resentfully! We should not say, “I’ll do it if I have to,” but “I would be glad to do it.” Since Jesus Christ is God and died for you, then there is nothing you cannot do for Him!
Part 2: Submitting to the Lord
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). Too many times we approach worship with a “come-as-you-are” attitude. If we come that way we will also leave that way. But as true believers we are required to actively present, exhibit, offer, and yield our bodies as a living sacrifice (cp. Romans 6:13, 16, 19), not as a dead and stinking corpse. This means that we surrender ourselves and our rights to God, allowing God to set the rules for our lives. Acknowledging God’s authority over our lives is a part of worship. It is offering to God what and who you love the most -- like Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22).
Our offering is to be “holy,” that which is in conformity to the nature and character of God; sacred, set apart from common use; consecrated, devoted, and set apart exclusively for God. The offering of our bodies is also to be “acceptable to God,” one that is well-pleasing to Him. God will only accept our worship when we go by His rules. Once again, our worship and everything else in life, is all about God. May we humbly yield obediently to Him.
Part 1: Seeking the Lord
Too much of what we call worship is nothing but self-focused glory. We think we haven’t “worshipped” because our emotions were not stirred. “What’s in it for me?” is the main idea many have. Too much of what is called worship is based on man rather than on God. Even though the music, teaching, and preaching may be outwardly religious, yet it may be nothing but a ritual or performance. A bending of the knee must begin with a bowing of the heart.
God alone is to be worshipped (Matthew 4:10). Worship is to be done “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24), not through legalistic rituals or meaningless traditions. True worship can only be done through the “beauty of holiness” (I Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 29:2; 96:9). It is so easy to be experts in living on the externals – outward rituals rather than inward reality. God is seeking “true” worshippers, those who are not putting on a show or acting in a spiritual way to impress others. They are genuine and have no hidden agenda. God is seeking for true worshippers, and we need to seek Him (Psalm 27:4).
The Israelites were passing through a situation that would leave them discouraged and frightened. Moses had been their leader for 40 years. Though they had not always treated him with the respect Moses deserved, the children of Israel had come to depend upon their leader. It was obvious that God communicated with Moses. When the people were locked against the Red Sea with the Egyptian army closing in behind them, God used His servant Moses to lead the Israelites across the sea. Water from the rock, manna from heaven, and more, all came as the result of the people’s murmurings against Moses and God’s gracious provisions.
But now Moses was going to be taken from them. Because of an event years before, Moses would not be entering the Promised Land. Moses would walk to the top of a high mountain from which he would view the land, followed by his death and burial by God.
The children of Israel wept for 30 days, but were left with those comforting words: “The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” When God’s people honored Him, in miraculous ways God protected and provided for them in fulfillment to this promise.
This promise remains as a blessed comfort for believers today. As we pass through difficult and sometimes frightening times, God promises a place of refuge. The Hebrew word refuge refers to a provision of safety and protection. The believer also has the promise that when the bottom falls out, “underneath are the everlasting arms.” With God’s hands extended underneath us, the farthest we can fall is right into His comforting arms.
When Christ the Light of the world enters into our darkened, sinful hearts, His light illuminates us and casts out the darkness of sin. “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5). Jesus is “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). Animals, insects, and other life forms living in perpetual darkness are generally blind. And those who live in the darkness of sin are also spiritually blind – blind from birth (John 9:1). Admitting your sin, repenting of it, and believing in Jesus is the key. Darkness is not only a picture of sin, but also spiritual ignorance and aimlessness. As the Light of the world, Jesus makes blind eyes able to see, gives us wisdom from above, and gives us a purpose in life! Let Him light up your life!
The key to what happened in the life of this woman is recorded in the two words “by faith.” A person can have seemingly very upright credentials, but if they fail to place their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ they remain unsaved (John 3:16-18). Another may have experienced a very rugged beginning, but through true saving faith their life can be transformed in unimaginable ways.
The book of Genesis shares the fascinating facts of the life of Joseph. His older brothers were jealous of Joseph and sold him as a slave. But things became even worse. His master’s wife falsely accused Joseph and he found himself in prison. A ray of hope was dashed when Pharaoh’s chief butler, to whom Joseph had exhibited kindness and who had promised to remember Joseph before Pharaoh, forgot (Genesis 40:23).
But the book of Hebrews characterizes Joseph with those same powerful words, “by faith” (Hebrews 11:22). Miraculously Joseph was taken from a prisoner to the second-in-command in the government of Egypt, and the brothers who sold him into slavery would bow before him. Surprising to say the least, but a testimony to the wonderful workings of God in our lives in response to faith.
No matter how bumpy the ride of your life has been up to this point, faith can bring about wonderful changes in our lives that are indeed surprising. “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Lot lifted up his eyes, saw the well-watered plain of Jordan, and claimed it for himself (Genesis 13:10-11), but he “pitched his tent toward Sodom” (13:12), the inhabitants being “wicked and sinners before the LORD exceedingly” (13:13). What you keep looking at has the power to capture you. And so, before long, Lot “dwelt in Sodom” (14:12). He made it his home. Even though he did not participate in the evil of the city, yet he seemed to tolerate it. Did he think his presence would somehow influence it for good? Is that why he “sat in the gate of Sodom” (19:1)? When he did confront them with their sin (19:7) they accused him of judging them (19:9).
But God was the Judge. And before He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, by His grace and mercy He forcefully brought out Lot and his family (19:16, 19). But he lost his wife through her disobedience (19:26). The Lord rescued or “delivered just Lot” who was being “vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked” (I Peter 2:7). Lot was passively being spiritually worn down, wearied, oppressed, and harassed by the unrestrained behavior of those living a lawless lifestyle. But he actively “vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2:8). Daily he was harassing, tormenting, or torturing his own soul by their ungodly works. Their sin troubled him; but, because of his spiritual weakness, he lived a painful and ineffective life for God.
Christian, are you actively vexing your soul with the sinful world around you? “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptation. . .” (2 Peter 2:9a). Let Him rescue you!
One of God’s ways of ministering to the needs in our lives is through purposefully making us wait. The Bible instructs the believer to “wait”: “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him…” (Psalm 37:7). But though in theory we understand the truth, the actual waiting is often difficult and brings out less-than-noble character traits.
God promised Abraham a son and the patriarch couldn’t have been more excited. Along with his barren wife he waited, and waited, and waited some more. “Tired of waiting”, Sarah suggested to Abraham a method of bringing about the promise and putting an end to the waiting. Her plan immediately proved that simply waiting would have been better. Now there would be added friction while they waited (Genesis 16:5).
Twenty-five years after God had promised, God fulfilled the promise and “Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son …” (Genesis 21:2). Among the important things that God would bring through the waiting, was the fact that the nation of Israel began as a miracle. A barren woman, beyond the age of conceiving, miraculously brought forth the son of promise, and Abraham would indeed be the father of this prominent nation.
We put our request into Amazon and 24 hours later our coveted item is on the doorstep. We pray and nothing happens in 24 hours. We must remember that God ministers as much, or more, through the waiting as through the answer. “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 my mouth, even praise unto our God; many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD” (Psalm 40:1-3).
Jesus and His disciples were going up to Jerusalem from Jericho some 20 miles distant. Passover was the following week and so many pilgrims accompanied Him. This would be the last time Jesus passed through Jericho before His death the following week. “Behold,” see what others don’t. See with spiritual insight and grasp the truth presented. There were two completely blind men sitting along the road side, a place of advantage to ask for and receive alms from travelers. Being blind, but not deaf, they recognized a large crowd passing by and discovered that Jesus was passing by. This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. They had a problem and the solution to their problem was present. They cried out over the noise of the crowd with a plea, not for alms, but for God’s mercy; not money, but an act of mercy. They recognized Jesus as “Lord” (their Master), and as “Son of David” (their Messiah). The crowd didn’t want to share Jesus with the blind men. “The multitude rebuked them.” Those who saw were really blind, and those who were blind really saw. The crowd spoke harshly with them and told them to be silent. But the men were determined and cried out even louder. “Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou Son of David.” Jesus heard the cry of their lips and heart. Standing still, He called them, and gave them His undivided attention. Knowing their need, He yet asked them to confess their need. “Lord, that our eyes may be opened.” They had lived in darkness too long. In compassion and mercy, Jesus didn’t simply speak and heal them from a distance; He “touched their eyes.” The healing was instantaneous. Jesus was the first person they saw. They now saw the Light. And what was the result of their healing? “They followed Him.” They wanted to be with Jesus who changed their lives forever.
Let Jesus open your spiritual eyes and transform you for eternity! And then follow Him all the days of your life on the road to Glory.
The gospel of John opens by introducing the readers to the eternal Son of God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was and is God. God’s Word teaches the truth of the triune God. “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one” (I John 5:7). God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are one God. Our human minds struggle with understanding the trinity, but our responsibility is not to figure it out, but believe it.
Jesus is eternally the Son of God. He did not become God and He did not become the Son, but is eternally God the Son.
THE CREATOR OF ALL THINGS:
“All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). In the beginning, when God spoke things into existence (Genesis 1), it was the voice of the living Son of God who brought about the miracle of creation.
THE ONLY MEANS OF SALVATION:
“And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know Him that is true; and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (I John 5:11-12, 20).
The only way of salvation is through believing in Jesus Christ, God’s Son, who “is the true God.”
God’s Faithfulness Described: It is everlasting. “Thy faithfulness is unto all generations; Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth” (Psalm 119:90). It is established. “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever: with my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, Mercy shall be built up for ever: Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens” (Psalm 89:1, 2). It is unfailing. “Nevertheless, My loving-kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer My faithfulness to fail” (Psalm 89:33). It is great. “It is of the LORD”s mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22, 23).
God’s Faithfulness Displayed: In His counsels. “O LORD, Thou art my God; I will exalt Thee, I will praise Thy name; for Thou hast done wonderful things, Thy counsels of old are faithfulness and truth” (Isaiah 25:1). In His covenants. “Know therefore that the LORD thy God, He is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations” (Deuteronomy 7:9). In His deliverance from temptations. “There is 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” (I Corinthians 10:13). In His cleansing and forgiving of sins. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
God’s faithfulness is not just something of the past, but is presently toward you as well. Even “if we believe not, yet He abideth faithful: He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13), for He is “a faithful Creator” (I Peter 4:19).
Asaph, in Psalm 78, is reminding the people what they had heard, known, and been told by their fathers. But the message was not to stop with them. “We will not hide them from their children, showing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and His strength, and His wonderful works that He hath done” (78:4). God had already “established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children” (78:5-6). The message was to be passed on from one generation to the next in a continual flow. And what was the purpose? “That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, and keep His commandments: and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God” (78:7-8).
Why is it that people have not set their hope in God, and have forgotten God’s works, and do not obey God’s Word? The answer may be that Believers have dropped the baton and have not passed on the Good News of Jesus Christ. They are more afraid of not being politically correct than of being spiritually right. They bought the lie that “silence is golden” and should let everyone, even their own children, believe whatever they want. The path of Ieast resistance ends up to be the path of destruction. Read and heed the rest of Psalm 78. “And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
God created certain foundation stones upon which our lives and nations are to rest. These stones are moral absolutes which, when followed, cause a people to experience God’s blessings. Our nation was built upon a respect for the Bible, God’s Word, and the resulting moral fabric helped enable strong families and generations knowing right from wrong.
Many have witnessed the terrifying results of an earthquake when the shaking apart of the foundation stones causes structures to collapse and lives to be lost. Even greater is the damage when evil and wicked philosophies shake the foundations and the supporting stones of righteousness and truth are scattered about. The resulting wreckage is aptly described in the book of Judges: “. . . every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
In his day, the psalmist David observed the foundations being destroyed by the wicked. Those who desired to honor God and His Word were being threatened and were tempted to flee as a bird to the mountains (Psalm 11:1). David’s heart was encouraged because he knew God was watching: “The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men” (11:4).
The foundations are being shaken today by that which the Bible describes as wickedness. Like the days of David, it is easy for Bible-believing people to become discouraged and cry with the psalmist, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” Like the psalmist, God’s people need to remember: “The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids try the children of men. For the righteous LORD loveth righteousness; His countenance doth behold the upright” (11:4, 7).
Yes, our nation is being shaken at its very foundations. Let us pray for the healing of our land (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Gold is a precious metal for which men have lived and died. During the Gold Rush fever, many men abandoned their families hoping to hit pay dirt in the gold fields of California. Some succeeded and returned to their families; others were never heard from again.
Throughout history gold has controlled the hearts of kings and peasants, and its beauty and value have overpowered even the strongest of nations. The interiors of old cathedrals have been overlaid with gold, and marriages have been symbolized with gold rings.
Did you know that there is something better than gold? The value of gold fluctuates with the economy, but there is something which has endless value. Many people have this object in their homes and don’t even realize its worth. Many people even mishandle it and try to destroy it. Many people even ridicule it and reject it. But those who love it find its worth beyond all human calculation.
What is this which is better than gold? It is God’s Word, the Bible. Read what David writes about it in Psalm 19:7-11. “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than the honeycomb. Moreover by them is Thy servant warned; and in keeping of them there is great reward.”
You see, if we love and obey what God has given to us in His Word, we will have great reward. Your success in life is not based upon your bank account or gold investment, but it is based upon your relationship with Jesus Christ. Your future security is not found in financial investments, but in laying up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). “But seek ye first the kingdom God and His righteousness. . .” (Matthew 6:33).
But the greatest race is the one spoken of in the Bible. Every true believer is a participant in this race. The Bible states, “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).
The 11th chapter of Hebrews gives a list of dramatic, heroic racers of the past, beginning with Adam’s son Abel. Noah, Abraham and Moses were all participants in this greatest of all races. Six thousand years have passed since Abel and we’re now in the last moments of that race. The Bible pictures heaven’s grandstand filled with those who have run before us: “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses….”
Pause and consider! God has chosen that you and I should live in the last moments of that great race. The eyes of the ages are upon us. Many runners before us have paid a great price, some laying down their lives for the faith. It should come as no surprise that we are instructed to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily best us, and RUN!”
If at any time in history God’s people should be truly putting their hearts into service for Christ, it ought to be today, when the finish line is so near. Can we say with the apostle Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)?
Jesus was eating a meal in Simon the leper’s house. There were others there around the table, including Jesus’ disciples. During dinner, Mary came with her expensive alabaster stone container filled with very costly ointment of spikenard. We don’t know where she got it or how long she had had it. We don’t know what her original purpose for it was. But there came a moment in her life when love conquered self and she chose to give it to Jesus. Taking that alabaster box she broke it, poured out the ointment on Jesus’ head, and anointed His feet, and then wiped His feet with her hair. Not only did she and her Saviour emit the aroma, but the entire house was filled with the perfume.
Judas Iscariot thought this was a great waste and tremendous financial loss. He voiced his displeasure and said that this perfume could have been sold for 300 pence and then given to the poor. But he really had no concern for the poor; he wanted the money for himself.
There are always givers and takers. Those who have withhold, and those who have not give. Mary preached a message without words. Her actions demonstrated her great love for Jesus. She didn’t have much, but what she did have she gave it all to Jesus. Jesus said, “She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint My body to the burying” (Mark 14:8).
Do you love Jesus? You may not have much, but you can give Him your life, even a broken life.
“Being in the way” is not always a bad thing. Most have had the experience of being seated to watch a ball game, only to have a person with a hat the size of an umbrella sit down directly in the line of vision. The newly-seated spectator is “in the way” and not in a positive sense.
But there is another occasion where “being in the way” is a good thing. The Bible gives a most touching account of the romance surrounding the finding of a bride for Isaac. Abraham had sent a most-trusted servant to travel a great distance in order to find a bride from among his clan for his son Isaac. The servant keenly sensed the great responsibility which rested upon his shoulders.
Arriving at his destination, and being a godly man, this humble servant prayed. He would put himself purposely in the path traveled by young women, trusting that God would bring the bride of divine choice along his way. The spot chosen where he would be “in the way,” was a well of water where the young ladies came to draw water. His exact words were, “Behold, I stand here by the well of water; and the daughters of the men of the city come out to draw water” (Gen. 24:13).
God answered his prayer! The Bible declares that before he had finished praying a young lady showed up. But not just any young lady. God had brought Rebekah, the wife of His choice for Isaac. The conversation that followed revealed the miraculous nature of all that had just happened. The servant could only pause and give thanks to the LORD for the instantaneous, supernatural answer to his prayer. Included in this prayer of thanksgiving was the statement, “I being in the way, the LORD led me…” (Gen. 24:27).
The servant’s obedience to Abraham, his prayer for the accomplishing of the mission upon which he had been sent, put him “in the way,” but in a good sense. The lesson is clear! If we desire to be recipients of miraculous answers to prayer, we need to act obediently to God’s Word and prayerfully wait upon God. We, like this servant, will be able to look back and say, “I being in the way, the LORD led me.”
Last week we considered the truth that Jesus “was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19), where He is presently making intercession for us (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25). To realize that Jesus is praying for you and for me should be a great encouragement!
But the second truth in the ascension passage is that Jesus Himself is coming again! “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11). What a glorious promise!
Jesus previously had told His disciples, “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). Jesus Himself will come again. “For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18).
As a motivation for holy living, the apostle John wrote, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as He is pure” (I John 3:2, 3).
The event known as the pre-tribulation rapture is imminent in God’s timetable. Are you ready? Jesus is praying for you and He keeps His promise. Receive Him and live for Him.
From this we see two great truths. The first is that Jesus is presently sitting in the place of greatest honour, at the right hand of God the Father. He is sitting because the work He had been sent to do on earth was finished. But He is not idle. Christ is not sitting in judgment. Instead He “is risen again” and “is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Romans 8:34). As the Great High Priest having “an unchangeable priesthood . . . He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come to God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Hebrews 7:24b-25). “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 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 4:14-16). Jesus is praying for you!
A second truth in the ascension passage is that Jesus Himself is coming again! We’ll contemplate this next time.
The message of the death, burial, and resurrection is called the Gospel, a word meaning “Good News.” The resurrection of Christ is the joyful sound of the Christian. And on that resurrection morning several women “departed quickly from the sepulcher with fear and great joy; and did run to bring His disciples word” (Matthew 28:8) that Jesus “is risen from the dead” (v. 7). Mary Magdalene had a personal encounter with the resurrected Lord, and “she went and told” the disciples “that He was alive, and had been seen of her” (Mark 16:10, 11; John 20:18). Two disciples on the road to Emmaus walked and talked with the risen Jesus and they reported to the other disciples the message: “The Lord is risen indeed” (Luke 24:34).
Before Jesus ascended bodily into heaven, He gave to His disciples the “Great Commission.” He said, “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
Jesus gave Peter the special commission to “Feed My lambs” and “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17). Jesus stated to His disciples: “But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And indeed, on the day of Pentecost, God empowered Peter to preach concerning the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, resulting in the salvation of about 3000 souls (Acts 2:14-42).
You and I have a life-changing message that the whole world needs to hear from our lips and see from our lives. We serve a risen Saviour!
I believe in the RESURRECTION! Jesus promised, “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth in Me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth, and believeth in Me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (John 11:25-26).
Skeptics foolishly declare, “the resurrection is impossible!” The Bible anticipates the critic’s response and boldly answers, “But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die; And that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be, but a bare grain, it may chance of wheat, or of some other grain. But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased Him, and to every seed its own body” (I Corinthians 15:35-38).
The Bible tells the unbeliever to look at what happens all around us in the natural world. A seed falls to the ground and in the process of the demise of the seed comes new life. The life springing forth from the decaying seed is impossible without a miracle by the hand of the Creator of life. How can one look at the new life bursting forth from dying seeds in my garden and deny the resurrection?
I believe in the RESURRECTION, a wonder that, though similar, dwarfs the miracle of life from a seed. The words of Scripture thrill the heart of the true believer: “Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall all be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:51-57).
I believe in the RESURRECTION! Do you?
When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey (Matthew 21:1-10; Mark 11:1-10; Luke 19:28-30; John 12:12-19), He came not to overthrow the Roman government as a conquering King, but He came as a humble Saviour to save the world from sin. Yes, He was the King of the Jews, but it was not yet the time to establish His Messianic Kingdom.
This so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem was a fulfillment of prophecy (Matthew 21:4, 5). Zechariah 9:9 says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” When Christ the Messiah came the first time, it was for the purpose of salvation. He had come “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10; Matthew 18:11). He came to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). This is His purpose even today. He did not come “into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).
Even though the people in Jesus’ day were looking for a conquering king, yet Jesus came to conquer sin and become the King of the hearts of people by faith. The people were crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9). This statement came from Psalm 118:25 which says, “Save now, I beseech Thee, O LORD: O LORD, I beseech Thee, send now prosperity.” The Hebrew words for “Save now” are hoshi’ah na’! This is what Jesus wants to do in your life! Don’t put it off. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13; Joel 2:32). “For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee; Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2-3; Isaiah 49:8). Let Jesus have a “Triumphal Entry” into your life!
THE MOUTH REVEALS THE HEART
The best efforts to hide the evil hidden in the heart are unwittingly betrayed by the mouth. The mouth is a revealer of the heart. As wise counsel states, “It is better to keep your mouth shut and have people think you stupid than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
The scribes and the pharisees which were continually attempting to find cause to discredit Jesus complained because they noticed Jesus’ disciples eating without washing their hands according to “the tradition of the elders” (Matt. 15:1). Our Lord explained that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth. “Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goes into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart, and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19-19).
The scribes and pharisees pretended that they were holy as they publicly went through an impressive hand washing ritual. People watching were naively inclined to think, “now there is a truly holy and godly man.” Jesus pointed out that the speech which came out of their mouths trampled on God’s commandments and revealed the evil, deceitful heart within.
As a pastor I’ve been fooled by the flowery, religious speech of many claiming to be true believers. Then, in the process of time, circumstances brought a moment when the mouth revealed the true nature of the heart. In the moment vile cursings pour forth from the tongue, the heart has just been revealed!
If a person is a true believer, such an occasion will be followed by the conviction of the Holy Spirit and true repentance. But when the filth of the heart is the true intent of the person and the evil communication is left without repentance, it is evidence of a defiled heart. All the washing of the hands and religious talk will not fix the problem of a defiled heart. The person needs “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5).
Are you trying to hide a defiled heart? If so, you need the new heart that only Jesus can give.
The birds are rebuilding their nests in various places around the church from the previous years. They love gathering the shed chicken feathers from the neighbour’s hens. If you look closely at these birds you will see that no wrinkles line their faces. They fly around and do their work just as they have always done. They hadn’t worried about this past cold winter or what they were going to do when spring came. Instead they went along with what life brought them and kept on doing what they were made to do.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Behold the fowls of the air; for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26). We are commanded to observe the birds. They are in absolute dependence upon God their Creator. God has supplied everything they need for their lives. They don’t pace up and down with frowns on their faces worrying about their breakfast. They are not anxious or worried about one single thing. Why? Because they are fed by God. They simply appropriate or partake of God’s gracious and bountiful provision. “Are ye not much better than they?” The answer is an emphatic “YES.” You, as a person created in the image of God, are of greater value than all the birds of the world! And since God even takes care of the “ravens” (Luke 12:24), He will also take greater care of you!
God’s Word says, “casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you” (I Peter 5:7). Our cares or worries leave no room for God’s provision. Get rid of them! Throw all of your worries upon the Lord. He can handle it all. Since Christ carried all of your sins on Himself on the cross, He can surely take your burdens and bear them. He cares for you! You are the object of His great love and concern. He knows all about you and will take care of you. Seek God first and your worries will fly away (Matthew 6:33).
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!