Charles Stanley – The Privilege of Knowing God

 

Philippians 3:7-11

It is a tragedy that many people go through life without ever becoming acquainted with their Creator. To overlook that relationship is to miss the purpose for their existence and the greatest privilege available to mankind: knowing God. Even Christians can undervalue the honor of getting to know Christ more intimately.

Paul’s all-consuming passion to know God caused him to count everything else as worthless in comparison to that tremendous blessing. Though believers can accept Christ as their Savior, faithfully serve Him, and anticipate being with Him in heaven, many have no hunger to know Him right now. How can we be satisfied with simply being saved and have so little interest in the most gratifying relationship available to us? Pursuing Christ with passion requires sacrifice—spending time with the Lord, surrendering our will, and knowing Him through suffering. Although salvation is a free gift, intimacy with God is a costly process, but the rewards are invaluable and eternal.

Our culture floods us with distractions that can fill our minds and hearts, leaving us indifferent about developing a deeper relationship with Christ. Some people even substitute learning facts about the Lord for knowing Him relationally.

Find what is hindering your passion for God. Consider ways to carve out time each day to be alone with Him. As you go about your routine, seek His guidance and listen for His voice. You, too, will eventually count everything else as rubbish compared to knowing Christ.

Our Daily Bread — In The Same Boat

 

 

Read: Matthew 8:23-27
Bible in a Year: 1 Kings 3-5; Luke 20:1-26

When He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. —Matthew 8:23

When the cruise ship pulled into port, the passengers got off as quickly as possible. They had spent the last few days enduring an outbreak of a virus, and hundreds of people had been sickened. One passenger, interviewed as he disembarked, said: “Well, I don’t mean to complain so much. I mean I know everybody was in the same boat.” His seemingly unintentional pun made the reporter smile.

In Matthew 8, we read about another trip on the water (vv.23-27). Jesus got into the boat and the disciples followed Him (v.23). Then a terrible storm arose, and Jesus’ disciples feared for their lives. They awakened a sleeping Jesus, who they assumed was unaware of the crisis.

While Jesus was literally in the same boat as His followers, He was unconcerned about the weather. As the all-powerful Creator, He had no fear of a storm. “He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm” (v.26).

But we are not all-powerful, and we are oh-so-prone to fear. So what are we to do when the storms of life rage around us? Whether they quickly blow over or last for a long time, we can be confident in this: We are in the same boat with the One whom even the winds and the sea obey. —Cindy Hess Kasper

Heavenly Father, this life is full of uncertainty. But You have promised us Your unfailing presence. May we see You today—especially when we are tempted to panic or to do things in our own strength.

No danger can come so near the Christian that God is not nearer.

INSIGHT: Today’s passage contains a beautiful story of Jesus’ power when He commands the winds and the waves to obey Him, giving further evidence that He is the Creator (see Col 1:16). Jesus’ question in Matthew 8:26 may seem harsh, but the disciples had been with Jesus long enough now that they should have had a better understanding of who He was. Immediately following the account of the calming of the wind and waves is the account of Jesus’ power over demons (vv. 28-34). This would have been another reminder that the disciples should have faith in Him.

Ravi Zacharias Ministry – A Human Circumference

 

French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre closes his play Huis Clos (“No Exit”) with the pronouncement, “Hell is other people.” The play offers a sardonic vision of hell as the place in which one must spend eternity with individuals one would barely seek to spend five minutes with in real life. As one writer notes, “The most terrible, exasperating torment, in Sartre’s eyes, is the agony of soul caused by having to live forever alongside someone who drives you up the wall. Their annoying habits, their pettiness or cynicism or stupidity, their disposition and tastes that so frustratingly conflict with yours and require, if you are to live in communion with them, some sort of accommodation or concession of your own likes and desires—that, says Sartre, is Hell.”(1) Living in a world in which tolerance is the highest value, most readers find Sartre’s vision highly narcissistic or the logical conclusion of an exclusively individualistic, existentialist philosophy.

For many others, however, Sartre’s sentiments are not so easily dismissed. Living, working and interacting with other people can indeed create a hellish existence for many. And most of us, if we are honest, can quickly think of the names of several individuals whose personal habits or grating personalities makes relating to them very difficult at best. Sartre’s honesty, albeit through a cynical lens, also exposes a truth about the realities of human tolerance. On the one hand, we generally base our capacity for tolerance on loving those who are easy to love or who are broadly similar to our own way of living and viewing the world. On the other hand, we are easily tolerant of external causes, ideals, and principles, which are quickly lost when we come into contact with individuals who shatter that ideal image.

I was reminded of Sartre’s insight while serving at my church’s hospitality ministry dinner. Homelessness and hunger for the working poor is a perennial issue where I live. While homelessness remains an abstract idea, it is easy for me to ‘love’ the broad category of people who are poor or homeless. Yet, every month at my church dinner for the homeless—the full-range of humanity on display right in front of me-I often see the ways in which my ‘love’ is merely a form of patronage. Eating with individuals who have not showered in weeks (or months), who suffer from mental illness or chemical dependency tests my love of humanity in ways that the abstract category of homelessness never will. A preference for categories makes it very hard for me to love the real people seated all around me.

A contemporary of Sartre, C.S. Lewis wrote about this tendency to love causes and ideals more than real people in his novel The Screwtape Letters. He saw this hellish tendency as a carefully constructed diabolical strategy. The demon, Wormwood, was advised to “aggravate that most useful human characteristic, the horror and neglect of the obvious.”(2) The obvious, Lewis notes through his character Screwtape, is the human capacity for both benevolence and malice. Their misdirection and exploitation is not as obvious to us. Diabolical Uncle Screwtape explains to his nephew Wormwood:

“The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary…but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are finally located in the circle of fantasy.”(3)

If benevolence, tolerance, or love are simply attached to remote ideals involving people we never have any direct contact with in the day-to-day, how can that really be benevolence? In the same way, how can we say we love our neighbor when our malice towards particular habits or personality quirks is on full display? How quickly we lose our temper with family members; how easily we show offense at those who do not see it our way; how readily we devise strategies to withhold love, or to punish our ever-present offenders?

Lewis highlights a predominant theme in the teaching of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, Jesus corrects the prevailing notion that the neighbor is one just like me, who agrees with me, and sees the world as I see it. The “neighbor” is other people—not an abstraction, but a living, breathing person with habits, views, and quirks that will not only get on our nerves, but also tempt us toward contempt. And love is only a real virtue when it is lived out among real, human relationships. As Lewis’s character Screwtape notes wryly:

“All sorts of virtues painted in the fantasy or approved by the intellect or even, in some measure, loved and admired, will not keep a man from [Satan’s] house: indeed they may make him more amusing when he gets there.”(4)

Sartre was honest in revealing the often hellish reality of living with other people. We would much rather love an ideal, a concept (the homeless, or starving children across the world) than the people right in front of us, in our lives right now. In the life of Jesus, we see a man who loved those individuals directly in front of him; he gathered around him a group of disparate people from tax-collectors on the left, to zealot revolutionaries on the right. He delayed arrival at a temple official’s home because an unknown woman touched the hem of his garment. He delivered a man so out of his mind that he had been driven from his community to live in desolate caves. In front of the most important religious officials of his day, he allowed a woman of questionable reputation to anoint his feet with perfume and use her tears and hair to wash them.

The love of Jesus is not a pie in the sky ideal for people he never knew; it was tangible, messy, and ultimately cost him his life. In Jesus, we see heaven on display in the hell of individual lives. If we seek to follow him, vague ideals about tolerance must give way to flesh and blood reality—loving the all-too-human in front of us.

Margaret Manning Shull is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Bellingham, Washington.

(1) Lauren Enk, “Hell is Other People; Or is It?” Catholicexchange.com, August 12, 2012, accessed July 10, 2013.

(2) C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Rev. ed., (New York: Collier Books, 1982), 16.

(3) Ibid., The Screwtape Letters, 30.

(4) Ibid., 31.

Alistair Begg – Claiming God’s Promises

 

Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.Psalm 119:49

Whatever your particular need may be, you will find some promise in the Bible related to it. Are you faint and feeble because your way is rough and you are weary? Here is the promise–“He gives power to the faint.”1 When you read such a promise, take it back to the great Promiser and ask Him to fulfill His own word. Are you seeking for Christ and thirsting for closer communion with Him? This promise shines like a star upon you–“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”2 Take that promise to the throne continually; do not plead anything else, but go to God over and over again with this–“Lord, You have said it; do as You have said.”

Are you distressed because of sin and burdened with the heavy load of your iniquities? Listen to these words–“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”3 You have no merit of your own to plead why He should pardon you, but plead His written promises and He will perform them. Are you afraid that you might not be able to hold on to the end and that after having thought yourself a child of God you should prove a castaway? If that is your condition, take this word of grace to the throne and plead it: “The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you.”4

If you have lost the sweet sense of the Savior’s presence and are seeking Him with a sorrowful heart, remember the promises: “Return to me . . . and I will return to you.”5 “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you.”6 Feast your faith upon God’s own Word, and whatever your fears or wants, take them to the Bank of Faith with your Father’s note, which reads, “Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope.” 7

1) Isaiah 40:29   2) Matthew 5:6   3) Isaiah 43:25   4) Isaiah 54:10   5) Zechariah 1:3   6) Isaiah 54:7   7) Psalm 119:49

Devotional material is taken from “Morning and Evening,” written by C.H. Spurgeon, revised and updated by Alistair Begg.

Charles Spurgeon – The desolations of the Lord, the consolations of his saints.

 

“Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he hath made in the earth. He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire.” Psalm 46:8-9

Suggested Further Reading: 1 Samuel 5:1-7

Jehovah still standeth, “the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.” One generation of idols has passed away, and another comes, and the desolations stand—memorials of the might of God. Turn now your eyes to Assyria, that mighty empire. Did she not sit alone? She said she should see no sorrow. Remember Babylon, too, who boasted with her. But where are they, and where are now their gods? With ropes about their necks they have been dragged in triumph by our archaeologists; and now in the halls of our land, they stand as memorials of the ignorance of a race that is long since extinct. And then, turn to the fairer idolatries of Greece and Rome. Fine poetic conceptions were their gods! Theirs was a grand idolatry, one that never shall be forgotten. Despite all its vice and lust, there was such a high mixture of the purest poetry in it, that the mind of man, though it will ever recollect it with sorrow, will still think of it with respect. But where are their gods? Where are the names of their gods? Are not the stars the last memorials of Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus? As if God would make his universe the monument of his destroyed enemy! Where else are their names to be found? Where shall we find a worshipper who adores their false deity? They are past, they are gone! To the moles and to the bats are their images cast, while many an unroofed temple, many a dilapidated shrine, stand as memorials of that which was, but is not—and is passed away for ever. I suppose there is scarce a kingdom of the world where you do not see God’s handiwork in crushing his enemies.

For meditation: The gods created by man can be destroyed by man, but the Lord made the heavens (Psalm 96:5; Isaiah 37:15-20). The false religions of today become the museum pieces of tomorrow.

Sermon no. 190
28 April (1858)

John MacArthur – Three Kinds of Persecution

 

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me” (Matt. 5:10-11).

When you speak out for Christ, you can expect harassment, insults, and slander.

Jesus mentioned three broad categories of suffering that Christians will experience. The first is persecution. “Persecuted” (Matt. 5:10) and “persecute” (v. 11) both come from the same Greek root meaning “to pursue” or “chase away.” Over time it came to mean “to harass” or “treat in an evil manner.” Verse 10 literally reads, “Blessed are those who have been allowing themselves to be persecuted.” You are blessed when people harass you for your Christian stance and you willingly accept it for the sake of your Lord.

The second form of suffering is “insults” (v. 11), which translates a Greek word that means “to reproach,” “revile,” or “heap insults upon.” It speaks of verbal abuse—attacking someone with vicious and mocking words. It is used in Matthew 27:44 of the mockery Christ endured at His crucifixion. It happened to Him and it will happen to His followers as well.

The final category Jesus mentioned is slander—people telling lies about you. That’s perhaps the hardest form of suffering to endure because our effectiveness for the Lord is directly related to our personal purity and integrity. Someone’s trying to destroy the reputation you worked a lifetime to establish is a difficult trial indeed!

If you’re going through a time of suffering for righteousness’ sake, take heart: the Lord went through it too and He understands how difficult it can be. He knows your heart and will minister His super-abounding grace to you. Rejoice that you are worthy of suffering for Him and that the kingdom of heaven is yours.

Suggestions for Prayer

  • Pray for those who treat you unkindly, asking God to forgive them and grant them His grace.
  • Pray that you might always treat others with honesty and fairness.

For Further Study

Throughout history God Himself has endured much mocking and slander. Read 2 Peter 3:3-9, then answer these questions:

  • What motivates mockers?
  • What do they deny?
  • Why doesn’t God judge them on the spot?

Joyce Meyer – Overcoming Evil with Good

 

Has anyone ever hurt your feelings? Maybe you found out somebody lied to you or you didn’t get the raise at work that you deserved, or maybe you were rejected or physically abused. Well, one of the most important things we need to learn is how to trust God and walk by faith when people don’t treat us the way they should. Our natural response is to get angry when we’re mistreated, and feeling angry is not wrong. But God’s Word reminds us that we shouldn’t return evil for evil or anger for anger.

What Good Does Anger Do?

Have you ever noticed that being angry never makes anything better? I know because I used to have a quick temper. In fact, I was angry more than I wasn’t. Sometimes, I voiced my aggression, and sometimes it was just seething on the inside of me. The problem is, if we have unresolved anger, we either explode or we implode; we either blow up at somebody or we fall apart on the inside. And a lot of times we take it out on a person who has nothing to do with what we’re angry about. It’s just a miserable way to live.

But getting upset is not the way God wants us to fight our battles. Instead, when somebody hurts us, we can choose to trust God with our pain or injustice and overcome anger with good. Romans 12:17-21 (AMP) says, Repay no one evil for evil, but take thought for what is honest and proper and noble [aiming to be above reproach] in the sight of everyone. If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave the way open for [God’s] wrath; for it is written, Vengeance is Mine, I will repay (requite), says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not let yourself be overcome by evil, but overcome (master) evil with good.

What God is saying in those verses is there’s a right and wrong way to respond to injustice. We can get angry and get back at the person who hurt us or we can fight the way God fights, trusting Him to be our Vindicator while we bless our enemies and do good (Psalm 37:1-3). It’s certainly not easy to love our enemies and bless the people who have hurt us (Luke 6:27). In fact, this is probably one of the most difficult scriptures in the Word of God to follow.

I was sexually abused by my father for close to 15 years so I understand how painful and impossible it might seem to believe you could actually love your enemies. I’m not trying to make light of that. But there is true freedom in doing the right thing. And we can choose to do what’s right no matter how we feel. We have to stop being afraid of hard things and press in and trust God because the truth is He will give us the strength and grace to do anything we need to do.

Prayer Brings Peace

It’s so much harder to live with anger than it is to live with God’s peace, love and joy. And we have to take responsibility for our behavior. One of the best things we can do is learn how to pray for the people we’re mad at. The first thing to do when somebody mistreats you is pray, God, this hurts and I’m angry about it, but I know my anger won’t solve the problem or change the person. So I trust You. I’m going to stay sweet and keep being nice. I’m going to keep doing good because that’s what You put me here for. And as I trust You and go about blessing others, I’m going to watch You vindicate me and do what needs to be done in this situation. That is the way to fight and win your battles!

Make a decision today that you’re going to refuse to live angry. Ask God to help you take control of your feelings. And if you do act out in anger, confess it and God will forgive you. There will be a lot of battles in life, but God has an amazing plan for you! As you put your focus on Him as your Vindicator, it becomes easier and easier to conquer angry feelings and walk in peace. And you will be a blessing as you overcome evil with good!

 

Campus Crusade for Christ; Bill Bright – Fullness of Joy

 

“Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:11, KJV).

“If you have lost the joy of the Lord in your life,” someone once observed, “who moved, you or God? For in His presence is fullness of joy.”

That saint and prophet of earlier years, A. W. Tozer, suggested several ways for the believer to achieve real joy:

  1. Cultivate a genuine friendship with God. He is a Friend who sticks closer than a brother.
  2. Take time to exercise yourself daily unto godliness. Vow never to be dishonest about sin in your life, never to defend yourself, never to own anything (or let anything own you), never to pass on anything hurtful about others, never to take any glory to yourself.
  3. No known sin must be allowed to remain in your life. “Keep short accounts with God” – never allow unconfessed sins to pile up in your life.
  4. Set out to build your own value system based on the Word of God. Meditate on the Word; practice the presence of God. Set priorities as you realize what is truly important. It will be reflected in the standard of values you set for yourself.
  5. Share your spiritual discoveries with others.

Bible Reading: John 15:7-11

TODAY’S ACTION POINT:  Knowing that the best witness in the world is a joyful, radiant Christian, I will try to be that kind of believer, trusting the indwelling Holy Spirit to thus empower me and radiate His love and joy through me. I will share my spiritual discoveries with others.

Presidential Prayer Team; C.P. – Encouraging Words

 

For a bit of humor, some churches post I Corinthians 15:51 on a nursery wall, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.” The true meaning of this verse should also bring a smile to your face.

Since we believe that Jesus died and rose again…God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

I Thessalonians 4:14

To the Thessalonians, Paul described how those who have died first will be the first ones to rise when Christ returns. Then those remaining will be caught up to be with them forever with the Lord. Paul tells them to “encourage one another with these words.” (I Thessalonians 4:18)

Two thousand years later, the promise is still true. Back then Christians thought Jesus would return in their day. Today, signs show that His coming is imminent. Believers alive now don’t know if they will be one of the first risers or be among the remaining. Either way, they can be encouraged they will see their saved loved ones in Christ again and be with them for eternity in Heaven. Pray for all who have not prepared themselves that they will soon receive the risen Christ as their Savior – and have the hope of His encouraging words.

Recommended Reading: Matthew 24:3-14

Greg Laurie – Expect Opposition

 

Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. —1 Peter 5:8

We don’t know how long Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden before temptation came. The Devil had heard God’s warning to Adam: “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die” (Genesis 2:16–17). The way the text in Genesis unfolds, it almost appears as though Satan came immediately with his temptation.

It reminds me of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, where Jesus talked about a sower who went out and scattered seed, and some seed fell on the roadside, where the birds came and quickly ate it.

We all know what that is like. Have you ever dropped a French fry outside McDonald’s? Birds suddenly appear out of nowhere. Then there are the seagulls at the beach that fly off with your lunch or your children or your very small dog.

Jesus said, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, then the wicked one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart” (verse 19). That is why we need to pray for people who have just come to Christ, because the Devil will be there with temptation, with doubt, and with an onslaught of other things.

This reminds us that whenever God is blessing, expect the Devil to be opposing—immediately. He isn’t going to wait for a year. He isn’t going to wait for a month. He may not even wait for an hour.

You can be walking out of church when temptation suddenly comes. You think, What is with that? The fact is that Satan wants to undermine what just happened in your life. He opposes immediately. He always will.

Max Lucado – No Deception

 

A woman stands before judge and jury, one hand on the Bible, the other in the air, and makes a pledge: to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. She’s a witness. Her job is to tell the truth.

The Christian, too, is a witness. We, too, make a pledge to tell the truth. The bench may be absent, the judge unseen, but the Bible is present, the watching world the jury, and we’re the primary witnesses—subpoenaed by no less than Jesus himself in Acts 1:8. “You will be my witnesses, in all of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world.”

The witness in court eventually steps down from the witness chair, but the witness for Christ never does. The claims of Christ are always on trial, and we remain under oath!

From Just Like Jesus

C.S. Lewis Daily – On hell

 

There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of Our Lord’s own words; it has always been held by Christendom; and it has the support of reason. If a game is played, it must be possible to lose it. If the happiness of a creature lies in self-surrender, no one can make that surrender but himself (though many can help him to make it) and he may refuse. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully “All will be saved.” But my reason retorts, “Without their will, or with it?” If I say “Without their will” I at once perceive a contra- diction; how can the supreme voluntary act of self-surrender be involuntary? If I say “With their will,” my reason replies “How if they will not give in?”. . .

The doors of Hell are locked on the inside. I do not mean that the ghosts may not wish to come out of Hell, in the vague fashion wherein an envious man “wishes” to be happy: but they certainly do not will even the first preliminary stages of that self-abandonment through which alone the soul can reach any good. They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more and more free.

From The Problem of Pain

Compiled in Words to Live By