Tag Archives: religion

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

CharlesSpurgeon

Morning  “Thou hast made summer and winter.” / Psalm 74:17

My soul begin this wintry month with thy God. The cold snows and the piercing

winds all remind thee that he keeps his covenant with day and night, and tend

to assure thee that he will also keep that glorious covenant which he has made

with thee in the person of Christ Jesus. He who is true to his Word in the

revolutions of the seasons of this poor sin-polluted world, will not prove

unfaithful in his dealings with his own well-beloved Son.

Winter in the soul is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee

just now it will be very painful to thee: but there is this comfort, namely,

that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds

of expectation: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes over the once verdant

meadows of our joy: he casteth forth his ice like morsels freezing the streams

of our delight. He does it all, he is the great Winter King, and rules in the

realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses,

heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills, are of the Lord’s

sending, and come to us with wise design. Frosts kill noxious insects, and put

a bound to raging diseases; they break up the clods, and sweeten the soil. O

that such good results would always follow our winters of affliction!

How we prize the fire just now! how pleasant is its cheerful glow! Let us in

the same manner prize our Lord, who is the constant source of warmth and

comfort in every time of trouble. Let us draw nigh to him, and in him find joy

and peace in believing. Let us wrap ourselves in the warm garments of his

promises, and go forth to labours which befit the season, for it were ill to

be as the sluggard who will not plough by reason of the cold; for he shall beg

in summer and have nothing.

 

Evening  “O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful

works to the children of men.” / Psalm 107:8

If we complained less, and praised more, we should be happier, and God would

be more glorified. Let us daily praise God for common mercies–common as we

frequently call them, and yet so priceless, that when deprived of them we are

ready to perish. Let us bless God for the eyes with which we behold the sun,

for the health and strength to walk abroad, for the bread we eat, for the

raiment we wear. Let us praise him that we are not cast out among the

hopeless, or confined amongst the guilty; let us thank him for liberty, for

friends, for family associations and comforts; let us praise him, in fact, for

everything which we receive from his bounteous hand, for we deserve little,

and yet are most plenteously endowed. But, beloved, the sweetest and the

loudest note in our songs of praise should be of redeeming love. God’s

redeeming acts towards his chosen are forever the favourite themes of their

praise. If we know what redemption means, let us not withhold our sonnets of

thanksgiving. We have been redeemed from the power of our corruptions,

uplifted from the depth of sin in which we were naturally plunged. We have

been led to the cross of Christ–our shackles of guilt have been broken off;

we are no longer slaves, but children of the living God, and can antedate the

period when we shall be presented before the throne without spot or wrinkle or

any such thing. Even now by faith we wave the palm-branch and wrap ourselves

about with the fair linen which is to be our everlasting array, and shall we

not unceasingly give thanks to the Lord our Redeemer? Child of God, canst thou

be silent? Awake, awake, ye inheritors of glory, and lead your captivity

captive, as ye cry with David, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is

within me, bless his holy name.” Let the new month begin with new songs.

Christ is superior to everyone and everything. – John MacArthur

John MacArthur

“God . . . has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:1-3).

The book of Hebrews was addressed to an audience composed of Jewish Christians, Jewish non-Christians who were intellectually convinced about Jesus but hadn’t yet committed themselves to Him, and Jewish non-Christians who didn’t believe the gospel at all.

The author’s goal was to demonstrate Christ’s superiority over everyone and everything that had preceded Him, whether Old Testament persons, institutions, rituals, or sacrifices. He specifically contrasted Christ with angels, Moses, Joshua, Aaron and his priesthood, the Old Covenant, and the sacrificial system.

The Jewish believers needed this focus on Christ’s superiority because most of them were suffering some form of persecution because of their Christian testimony. Some were in danger of confusing the gospel with Jewish ceremonies and legalism, and drifting back into their former practices.

Those who were intellectually convinced but spiritually uncommitted needed to be warned not to stop at that point, but to go all the way to saving faith. They were in danger of committing the greatest sin any person can commit: rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

Those who didn’t believe in Christ as all needed to see that Jesus was in fact who He claimed to be. To such people the author explains the unique priesthood of Christ, and the urgency of turning to Him in faith.

Within your circle of friends and associates, you probably have Christians who are weak of faith and need your encouragement and instruction. Be available to minister to them whenever possible.

Undoubtedly you also know people who are intellectually convinced that Jesus is who He claimed to be, but aren’t willing to embrace Him as their Lord. Don’t be shy about urging them to move on to salvation.

To those who reject Christ outright, boldly proclaim the gospel and trust the Holy Spirit to convict their hearts.

Suggestion for Prayer: Praise Christ for His preeminence and surpassing grace.

For Further Study: Read Hebrews 1-2. To whom does the writer compare Christ? Be specific.

God’s Christmas Gift – Greg Laurie

greglaurie

Over the years, the legendary Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog has featured some pretty extravagant gifts.

The 1963 catalog offered his-and-her submarines for $18,000. In the 1964 catalog, you could buy a hot air balloon for $6,000. In 1967, the catalog’s offerings included a pair of camels for $4,000. And in 1971, an actual mummy case was selling for $16,000. But in 2006, Neiman Marcus upped the ante with a trip to outer space for $1.7 million.

Maybe a ticket to space isn’t at the top of your wish list this year, but perhaps you have certain expectations of what you hope to find waiting for you under the Christmas tree. If you put your hope in what Christmas offers, however, you will be very disappointed.

But if you can get past that to what Christmas is really all about, it truly can be “the most wonderful time of the year.”

The wise men brought the rather unusual gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to Jesus. But the first Christmas gifts were not gifts to the Child. The first Christmas gift was the gift of the Child.

Christmas, at its best and purest state, is a promise of something else, something that no holiday or experience or earthly thing can satisfy. Galatians 4:4–5 says, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons” (NIV). Isaiah 9:6 offers a description of what God has given to us:

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (NKJV)

Each of the above names of Jesus deals with an important area of our lives. They are like five Christmas gifts that we can open, and each is special and unusual.

First, His name is Wonderful. That takes care of the dullness of life. “Wonderful” comes from the root word “wonder.” The word used here could also be translated as “amazing, surprising, astonishing, or awe-inspiring.” And as I contemplate the fact that the Almighty God made this sacrifice for me, it will produce in my heart a sense of bewilderment, awe, and, finally, worship.

Second, His name is Counselor. That takes care of the decisions of life. We all have very important decisions that we have to make. The God who is Wonderful wants to give us counsel and direction. God has a plan for each of our lives—an individual plan, not a one-size-fits-all plan. When you are overwhelmed with the decisions of life, remember that there is a God who wants to counsel you.

Third, He is the Mighty God. That takes care of the demands of life. We need to be reminded that Jesus was not just a good man. He was the God-man. And this God who is Wonderful, this God who wants to be your Counselor, will give you the strength to live the life He has called you to live.

Fourth, His name is Everlasting Father. That takes care of the destiny of life. We believe in an Everlasting Father with no beginning and with no end. It reminds us that life on Earth is temporal, that heaven is so much better than anything this world has to offer.

Also, this hope of an Everlasting Father resonates with those who have never had an earthly father. Because of what Jesus did for us, we can now refer to the Almighty God, Creator of the universe, as our Father who is in heaven.

Fifth, His name is the Prince of Peace. That takes care of the disturbances of life. Life is filled with disturbances and, quite frankly, Christmas can be one of the most stressful times of the year. Old problems are often brought back to the surface. Friction, stress, and problems that you are having with various family members can be at the forefront of your life at this time of year.

But here is One who is the Prince of Peace, One who will help you with the disturbances of life.

Whatever gifts you may have waiting for you this Christmas, they pale in comparison to God’s gift for you. It is better than anything the Neiman Marcus catalog can offer. It is the only gift that truly keeps on giving: the gift of eternal life

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

CharlesSpurgeon

Morning  “And Amaziah said to the man of God, But what shall we do for the hundred

talents which I have given to the army of Israel? And the man of God answered,

The Lord is able to give thee much more than this.” / 2 Chronicles 25:9

A very important question this seemed to be to the king of Judah, and possibly

it is of even more weight with the tried and tempted O Christian. To lose

money is at no times pleasant, and when principle involves it, the flesh is

not always ready to make the sacrifice. “Why lose that which may be so

usefully employed? May not the truth itself be bought too dear? What shall we

do without it? Remember the children, and our small income!” All these things

and a thousand more would tempt the Christian to put forth his hand to

unrighteous gain, or stay himself from carrying out his conscientious

convictions, when they involve serious loss. All men cannot view these matters

in the light of faith; and even with the followers of Jesus, the doctrine of

“we must live” has quite sufficient weight.

The Lord is able to give thee much more than this is a very satisfactory

answer to the anxious question. Our Father holds the purse-strings, and what

we lose for his sake he can repay a thousand-fold. It is ours to obey his

will, and we may rest assured that he will provide for us. The Lord will be no

man’s debtor at the last. Saints know that a grain of heart’s-ease is of more

value than a ton of gold. He who wraps a threadbare coat about a good

conscience has gained a spiritual wealth far more desirable than any he has

lost. God’s smile and a dungeon are enough for a true heart; his frown and a

palace would be hell to a gracious spirit. Let the worst come to the worst,

let all the talents go, we have not lost our treasure, for that is above,

where Christ sitteth at the right hand of God. Meanwhile, even now, the Lord

maketh the meek to inherit the earth, and no good thing doth he withhold from

them that walk uprightly.

 

Evening  “Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and

his angels.” / Revelation 12:7

War always will rage between the two great sovereignties until one or other be

crushed. Peace between good and evil is an impossibility; the very pretence of

it would, in fact, be the triumph of the powers of darkness. Michael will

always fight; his holy soul is vexed with sin, and will not endure it. Jesus

will always be the dragon’s foe, and that not in a quiet sense, but actively,

vigorously, with full determination to exterminate evil. All his servants,

whether angels in heaven or messengers on earth, will and must fight; they are

born to be warriors–at the cross they enter into covenant never to make truce

with evil; they are a warlike company, firm in defence and fierce in attack.

The duty of every soldier in the army of the Lord is daily, with all his

heart, and soul, and strength, to fight against the dragon.

The dragon and his angels will not decline the affray; they are incessant in

their onslaughts, sparing no weapon, fair or foul. We are foolish to expect to

serve God without opposition: the more zealous we are, the more sure are we to

be assailed by the myrmidons of hell. The church may become slothful, but not

so her great antagonist; his restless spirit never suffers the war to pause;

he hates the woman’s seed, and would fain devour the church if he could. The

servants of Satan partake much of the old dragon’s energy, and are usually an

active race. War rages all around, and to dream of peace is dangerous and

futile.

Glory be to God, we know the end of the war. The great dragon shall be cast

out and forever destroyed, while Jesus and they who are with him shall receive

the crown. Let us sharpen our swords tonight, and pray the Holy Spirit to

nerve our arms for the conflict. Never battle so important, never crown so

glorious. Every man to his post, ye warriors of the cross, and may the Lord

tread Satan under your feet shortly!

An Unlikely Heroine – John MacArthur

John MacArthur

“By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace” (Heb. 11:31).

Our final Old Testament hero of faith is an unlikely addition to the list. Not only was she a prostitute, she also was a Gentile–and a Canaanite at that.

The Canaanites were an idolatrous, barbaric, debauched people, infamous even among pagans for their immorality and cruelty. Yet in the midst of that exceedingly wicked society, Rahab came to faith in the God of Israel.

Joshua 2:9-11 records her confession of faith to the two men Joshua had sent into Jericho as spies: “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (emphasis added).

Rahab demonstrated the genuineness of that profession by risking her life to hide the spies from the king of Jericho, who sought to capture them.

Because Rahab lied to protect the spies (vv. 4-5), some people question the validity of her faith. Surely genuine believers wouldn’t lie like that–or would they? Abraham did. Sarah did. Isaac did. Jacob did. But the important thing to understand is that God honored their faith, not their deception.

As with all the heroes of faith before her, Rahab’s faith wasn’t perfect, nor was her knowledge of God’s moral law. But because she trusted God, she was spared during Jericho’s conquest, then given an even greater honor. She became the mother of Boaz, who married Ruth, the great-great-grandmother of David, thereby becoming an ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:5).

Suggestions for Prayer: Praise God for receiving even the vilest sinner who turns to Him in faith.

For Further Study: Read all about Rahab in Joshua 2:1-24, 6:22-25, and James 2:25.

Taking Risks – Greg Laurie

greglaurie

Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert.—Acts 8:26

When Philip was instructed to “arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (Acts 8:26), how easily he could have argued. He was having a productive ministry in Samaria, but God basically told him to go to the desert. It didn’t make any sense at all. But to Philip’s credit, he obeyed the Lord.

God was preparing both the listener and the speaker for what was about to happen. He was preparing a man from Ethiopia, who went to Jerusalem and did not find what he was looking for. And God was preparing Philip to go to the desert and be in place when that man arrived.

God doesn’t always give us a detailed blueprint of what He wants us to do. Instead, He will ask us to take steps of faith. There will be risks involved. The question is, are you willing to obey? God’s way becomes plain when we start walking in it. Obedience to revealed truth guarantees guidance in matters unrevealed.

Maybe God is waiting for you to take the first step before He shows you what the second one will be. Are you willing to just take a little risk? If you say, “No, I am not,” then God will find someone else to do take that step. But it would be great if it were you.

Many times when the Lord has opened up opportunities for me to share the gospel, I was just going about my day when I sensed a nudge from the Holy Spirit. Then God showed me what to do next, and I took the next step—and the next one.

If you want to share the gospel, then you need to be open and obedient to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

Living in Grace

2 Corinthians 5:17

Before the apostle Paul’s conversion, if someone had suggested that he would impact the world for Jesus, he’d probably have laughed. In fact, his original goal was to rid the world of Christians.

God’s grace can impact anyone; no sin is beyond the reach of His forgiveness. This amazing gift of redemption changes lives. Contrary to what many think, being a Christian does not mean adding good deeds to one’s life. Instead, believers receive forgiveness by God’s grace, and a completely new nature. Our inward transformation results in obvious outward changes.

A beautiful illustration of this is the butterfly’s metamorphosis. Once it’s in a chrysalis, a caterpillar doesn’t merely act or appear different from the outside; it truly has changed inwardly as well.

Transformation for believers occurs in many areas. For example, our attitudes change–salvation by God’s grace results in humility and gratitude. Out of thankfulness for this undeserved free gift flows compassion for the lost and a desire to share the gospel with them. Experiencing Christ’s forgiveness also results in a longing to serve Him. This does not need to be in a formal church setting; we serve Him by loving others, helping those in need, and telling them about salvation.

While there are still natural consequences for our sin, God offers us forgiveness and redemption through Jesus. He made a way to restore our broken relationship with Him. What’s more, our Father transforms our lives so we will become more like His Son and reflect His heart to others.

Conquering in Conflict

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days” (Heb. 11:30).

Forty years had lapsed since the Israelites refused to enter the Promised Land. That unbelieving generation had perished in the wilderness. Now Joshua was leading a new generation into the land. The first obstacle they faced was Jericho–a well- fortified city that was near the mouth of the Jordan River.

Some city walls of that day were wide enough at the top to allow two chariots to ride side-by-side. That was probably true of Jericho because of its strategic location. That, coupled with the caliber of its army, made the city virtually impregnable– especially to unsophisticated Israelites, who lacked military training.

But what is impossible for man is easy for God. And the stage was set for Him to demonstrate His power and for the Israelites to demonstrate their faith and humility.

One can only imagine how embarrassed the Hebrew people felt as they marched around Jericho once a day for six days. That certainly is not your typical military strategy. But on the seventh day, after marching around the city seven times with the priests blowing their rams’ horns, the priests gave one final blast, the people all shouted out loud, and the walls of the city collapsed (Josh. 6:20). Faith had reduced a formidable obstacle to a crumbled ruin.

Can you identify some spiritual obstacles you’ve faced recently? How did you handle them? You’ll always have them to deal with in your Christian walk, but don’t fret. See them as opportunities to exercise faith and see God’s power on display in your life. Continue to trust the Lord and demonstrate your faith by courageously doing what He has called you to do.

Suggestions for Prayer:   Ask God to help you humbly trust in God’s power when you face spiritual conflicts.

For Further Study:   Read about the conquest of Jericho in Joshua 6:1-21. Note each occasion where the people obeyed one of Joshua’s commands without hesitation.

From Drawing Near by John MacArthur

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

Morning  “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people … Thou shalt

in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” / Leviticus

19:16-17

Tale-bearing emits a threefold poison; for it injures the teller, the hearer,

and the person concerning whom the tale is told. Whether the report be true or

false, we are by this precept of God’s Word forbidden to spread it. The

reputations of the Lord’s people should be very precious in our sight, and we

should count it shame to help the devil to dishonour the Church and the name

of the Lord. Some tongues need a bridle rather than a spur. Many glory in

pulling down their brethren, as if thereby they raised themselves. Noah’s wise

sons cast a mantle over their father, and he who exposed him earned a fearful

curse. We may ourselves one of these dark days need forbearance and silence

from our brethren, let us render it cheerfully to those who require it now. Be

this our family rule, and our personal bond–Speak evil of no man.

The Holy Spirit, however, permits us to censure sin, and prescribes the way in

which we are to do it. It must be done by rebuking our brother to his face,

not by railing behind his back. This course is manly, brotherly, Christlike,

and under God’s blessing will be useful. Does the flesh shrink from it? Then

we must lay the greater stress upon our conscience, and keep ourselves to the

work, lest by suffering sin upon our friend we become ourselves partakers of

it. Hundreds have been saved from gross sins by the timely, wise, affectionate

warnings of faithful ministers and brethren. Our Lord Jesus has set us a

gracious example of how to deal with erring friends in his warning given to

Peter, the prayer with which he preceded it, and the gentle way in which he

bore with Peter’s boastful denial that he needed such a caution.

 

Evening   “Spices for anointing oil.” / Exodus 35:8

Much use was made of this anointing oil under the law, and that which it

represents is of primary importance under the gospel. The Holy Spirit, who

anoints us for all holy service, is indispensable to us if we would serve the

Lord acceptably. Without his aid our religious services are but a vain

oblation, and our inward experience is a dead thing. Whenever our ministry is

without unction, what miserable stuff it becomes! nor are the prayers,

praises, meditations, and efforts of private Christians one jot superior. A

holy anointing is the soul and life of piety, its absence the most grievous of

all calamities. To go before the Lord without anointing is as though some

common Levite had thrust himself into the priest’s office–his ministrations

would rather have been sins than services. May we never venture upon hallowed

exercises without sacred anointings. They drop upon us from our glorious Head;

from his anointing we who are as the skirts of his garments partake of a

plenteous unction. Choice spices were compounded with rarest art of the

apothecary to form the anointing oil, to show forth to us how rich are all the

influences of the Holy Spirit. All good things are found in the divine

Comforter. Matchless consolation, infallible instruction, immortal quickening,

spiritual energy, and divine sanctification all lie compounded with other

excellencies in that sacred eye-salve, the heavenly anointing oil of the Holy

Spirit. It imparts a delightful fragrance to the character and person of the

man upon whom it is poured. Nothing like it can be found in all the treasuries

of the rich, or the secrets of the wise. It is not to be imitated. It comes

alone from God, and it is freely given, through Jesus Christ, to every waiting

soul. Let us seek it, for we may have it, may have it this very evening. O

Lord, anoint thy servants.

The Joy of the Harvest

Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.   —Psalm 126:5–6

As a pastor and evangelist, I have had people tell me that I saved them. But God is the one who saves people—not me. I simply declare the truth of the gospel, and people put their faith in Jesus. He saves them.

While I don’t have to worry about being the one who saves people, I do have to concern myself with telling them how to find salvation. God will bring about the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them to me” (John 6:44). Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit, but God uses the seed of His Word in that person’s heart.

Here is an interesting thing to consider: there is no person in the New Testament who came to faith apart from the agency of a human being. We can find example after example. Take the Philippian jailer (see Acts 16). God could have reached him in many ways. Instead, he chose to reach him when Paul and Silas were incarcerated in his cell. And he ultimately said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).

Then there was Cornelius, a centurion. An angel appeared to him one afternoon, and instead of preaching the gospel, the angel directed Cornelius to Peter, who then delivered the gospel. Angels are not the primary agents God uses to bring the gospel. Primarily, God will use people to reach people.

And even though the apostle Paul encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, I believe that young Stephen, through his witness, was instrumental in his conversion.

God reaches people through people. It gets hard at times, but we need to stay with it, because there is great joy when someone responds to the gospel.

GregLaurie@harvestdirect.org

How Grace Changes Everything

 

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Our lives are hopeless without God. We are born with a “flesh” nature and continue to choose wrong paths throughout our lives. The penalty for sin is death and eternal separation from God. No one is exempt from this biblical truth. And there is nothing that any of us can do to change the situation.

Enter God’s grace, His unmerited favor toward us. We can’t do anything to earn it. He blesses us according to His goodness, apart from anything we have done.

Consider the apostle Paul, whose original intent was to persecute anyone claiming the name of Jesus. He played a significant role in the brutal violence aimed at Christians and, in his own words, was the “chief” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15 kjv). Nothing he did deserved God’s love.

Divine grace led the Almighty to reach down and forgive this hateful zealot who blasphemed Jesus’ name. God lovingly transformed him into a man who dedicated himself to sharing the gospel message. Paul’s life illustrates grace beautifully.

We are unable to do enough good deeds to earn our way to heaven. Salvation is possible only because by grace, Christ died on the cross. The one who took the punishment for our sin deserves all credit for our redemption.

Jesus’ death covered the sins of the entire world. There is no transgression too great for Him to forgive. We can add nothing to His act of atonement; all we can do is receive this free gift. If we trust in Christ as Savior, God will save us, making us His children forever.

Coming Home Again

In the process of moving and reorganizing some bookshelves in the middle of October, I recovered something long out of place. A small Nativity scene carved out of olive wood had been inadvertently left behind from the previous year’s Christmas. Holding it in my hand, I cowered at the thought of digging through boxes in the garage long buried by post-Christmas storage. At this point, it seemed better to be two months early in setting it up than ten months late in packing it away. I decided to keep the carving out.

Strangely enough, my decision then coincided with a friend’s mentioning of a good Christmas quote. Advent was suddenly all around me. In a Christmas sermon given December 2, 1928, Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One himself comes down to us, God in the child in the manger. God comes. The Lord Jesus comes. Christmas comes.  Christians rejoice!” To be early with my Nativity scene suddenly seemed a wise, but convicting thought. I had kept it around for the sake of convenience, what about the sake of remembering? If Advent reminds us that we are waiting in December, what reminds us that we are waiting in October or February?

The story of the Nativity, though beautiful and familiar, and admittedly far-reaching, is as easily put out of our minds as Christmas decorations are put in boxes. On certain sides of the calendar, a carved Nativity scene looks amiss. Sitting on my mantle in the fall or the spring, it seems somehow away from home, far from lights and greenery, longing for Christmas fanfare. But looking at it with thoughts of Advent near, I am struck by the irony that longing is often my sentiment amidst the burgeoning lights, greens, and fanfare of Christmas.

Bonhoeffer continues, “When once again Christmas comes and we hear the familiar carols and sing the Christmas hymns, something happens to us… The hardest heart is softened. We recall our own childhood. We feel again how we then felt, especially if we were separated from a mother. A kind of homesickness comes over us for past times, distant places, and yes, a blessed longing for a world without violence or hardness of heart. But there is something more—a longing for the safe lodging of the everlasting Father.”(1)

Unlike any other month, December weighs on my heart the gift and the difficulty of waiting. In the cold and in the hymns, I remember that I am troubled in soul and looking for something greater; I remember that I am poor and imperfect and waiting for the God who comes down to us, and I hear again the gentle knock at the door. Like the Nativity scene on my mantle in June or October, I embody a strange hope. I see a home with tears and sorrow, but I also see in this home the signs of a day when tears will be wiped dry. Advent is about waiting for the one who embraced sorrow and body to show us the fullness of home. It is not December that reminds us we are longing for God to come nearer, but the Nativity of God, the Incarnation of Christ. For each day is touched by the promise that in this very place Jesus has already done so, and that he will again come breaking through, into our world, into our longing, into our sin and deaths.

In his sermon on Advent, Dietrich Bonhoeffer offered a prayer worth praying in December and year round. “Lord Jesus, come yourself, and dwell with us, be human as we are, and overcome what overwhelms us. Come into the midst of my evil, come close to my unfaithfulness. Share my sin, which I hate and which I cannot leave. Be my brother, Thou Holy God. Be my brother in the kingdom of evil and suffering and death. Come with me in my death, come with me in my suffering, come with me as I struggle with evil. And make me holy and pure, despite my sin and death.” Every day, despite its location on the calendar, a still, small voice answers our cry persuasively here and now, “Behold. I stand at the door and knock.”

 

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) Edwin Robertson, Ed., Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas Sermons (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005).

Accepting God’s Provisions

 

“By faith [Moses] kept the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that he who destroyed the first-born might not touch them. By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned” (Heb. 11:28-29).

When the time came for Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, everything on the human level said it couldn’t be done. Pharaoh wasn’t about to let two to three million slaves just pack up and leave. His formidable army was ready to insure that no such exodus occurred.

But when God devises a plan, He always makes the necessary provisions for carrying it out. On this occasion, His provision came in the form of ten terrifying plagues designed to change Pharaoh’s mind.

The tenth and worst plague was the death of all the first- born (Ex. 11:5). To protect themselves from this plague, the Israelites sprinkled the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their homes. When the angel of death saw the blood, he passed over that house. Thus the Passover was instituted.

The blood from those first Passover lambs had no intrinsic power to stave off the death angel, but its presence demonstrated faith and obedience, thus symbolizing the future sacrifice of Christ (cf. John 1:29).

Pharaoh got the message and allowed the Israelites to leave. But soon afterward he changed his mind and commanded his army to pursue them. Again God intervened by parting the Red Sea, allowing His people to walk across on dry land. He then drowned the entire Egyptian army when it followed the Israelites into the sea.

That was a graphic demonstration of a lesson every believer must learn: God’s provisions are always best. They may sometimes seem foolish to the human intellect–just as “the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18)– but the man or woman of faith trusts God and receives His provisions gratefully.

Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the wise and gracious provisions He has made for your salvation and ongoing Christian walk.

For Further Study:  Read the account of the Passover and the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus 11-14.

How Will They Hear?

 

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?—Romans 10:14

We don’t know his name; the Bible simply identifies him as “a man of Ethiopia.” He essentially had everything this world had to offer that was supposed to bring happiness and fulfillment. As the one in charge of Ethiopia’s treasury, he would have had wealth, influence, and fame. Yet there was something missing in his life that sent him on a search for God.

This search led him to the spiritual capital of the world, Jerusalem. This foreign man, who probably worshipped false gods, believed the answer to life’s questions would be found in this city.

But he didn’t find what he was looking for in Jerusalem. Instead, he found it in a conversation with Philip. He had an appointment with God in the desert.

God could have sovereignly spoken to this Ethiopian dignitary, but He instead chose Philip, who was the right man in the right place at the right time. And as he read from the scroll of Isaiah, Philip asked him if he understood what he was reading.

He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31).

We need to engage people, because God has chosen to primarily reach people through people.

God could text-message everyone instantaneously. He could appear to us. He could write His message in the sky. He could do whatever He wants. But God has chosen to reach others through people, using verbal communication. That is what the Bible says: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14).

Have you ever thought about engaging a person in a conversation about Christ? As believers, we are all called to do our part in evangelism.

Overcoming Discouragement

 

Psalm 42:5-11

Whenever you’re feeling down, the best place to turn is the Psalms. In today’s passage, the writer asks: “Why are you in despair, O my soul?” (v. 5). Surprisingly, this question is the first step in overcoming discouragement.

Look within. Before you can deal with your despair, you need to know what is causing it. If you’re not sure, ask the Lord to help you figure out what’s going on inside you.

Look up. The next step is to lift up your eyes to the Lord and place your hope in Him. Remember, discouragement comes to everybody at one time or another, but it doesn’t have to stay. In the course of time, you “shall again praise Him for the help of His presence” (v. 5).

Look back. Despair has a way of erasing our memory of all the good the Lord has done for us over the years. Instead of wallowing in our present misery, we must make an effort to remember His past care and provision. Then our faith will overpower discouragement (v. 6).

Look Ahead. Knowing that God’s plans for us are good, we can look forward to what He going to do in the future. His lovingkindness will support us by day and bring comfort by night as we trust Him to work all things out for our good (v. 8).

When your focus is right, you’ll respond correctly to discouragement. The key is to fix your eyes on the Lord. Circumstances may cause you to think He’s forgotten about you (v. 9), but His Word promises that He’s there and will bring you through the valley. Even if you feel lonely, you’re never alone.

Christ, the King

 

Most of us only know of kings and queens through fairy tales. Especially those who reside in North America, we have not witnessed the coronation of a royal, nor visited the museum that houses crown jewels. For most of us living in the modern world, kings and queens are the product of legend and myth, or remembered through history classes as those often tyrannical figures overthrown by revolution.

Yet, if you are part of a church that journeys through the liturgical church year, then you’ll be aware that this past Sunday, November 25 was the Sunday of Christ, the King. This special Sunday marks the end of the church year, and inaugurates the Advent Season that includes Christmas Day. This day, for Christians, celebrates and recalls the rule of Christ over all creation. Special hymns, Scripture readings, and prayers fill the day captured by the apostle Paul’s words to the Philippians: “God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”(1)

For many living today, the language of kingship may seem outdated or oppressive. And perhaps for many, the dominant images of kings and kingdoms conjure up thoughts of tyrants. We think of ancient feudal societies with despotic rulers and overlords, or power-hungry leaders who will stop at nothing, nor think twice about stepping over anyone who gets in their way. As a result, these images often negatively impact thoughts about Christ being called the King.

But the biblical imagery and descriptions of Christ’s kingship are not despotic or oppressive. The ancient Hebrew prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah, both envision a Messiah who presents an alternative vision to the stereotypical understanding of kingship:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth…the wolf and the lamb shall graze together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox…they shall do no evil or harm in all my holy mountain, says the Lord….Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I shall raise up for David a righteous Branch; and he will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness I the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is his name by which he will be called, ‘The Lord our righteousness.’”(2)

In addition to this prophetic vision, the way in which Jesus lives radically alters the human understanding of kingship. For, the earthly ministry of Jesus was not one of power, military might or oppression. Indeed, Jesus turns the whole concept on its head in a discussion with his disciples:

“You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to become great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.“(3)

Jesus argued before Pilate that his kingdom was not of this world. He understood all too well popular images of kings and lords and he specifically sought to undermine them. Jesus demonstrated that as king and as ruler of all, he would be the servant of all. Indeed, even the Incarnation celebrated on Christmas day is an example of this: God the Son, King of all creation, humbled himself to become human, even sharing the ultimate fate of his would-be captive subjects: human death.

For those who care to see and hear in a new way during this season of Advent, Christ, the King Sunday points us to King Jesus who did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, being made in the likeness of humans. It is before the rule of this servant-king that one day all will bow.

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

(1) Philippians 2:9-11.

(2) Isaiah 65:17, 25; Jeremiah 23:5-6.

(3) Mark 10:42-45.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning  “Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord.” / Zechariah

3:1

In Joshua the high priest we see a picture of each and every child of God, who

has been made nigh by the blood of Christ, and has been taught to minister in

holy things, and enter into that which is within the veil. Jesus has made us

priests and kings unto God, and even here upon earth we exercise the

priesthood of consecrated living and hallowed service. But this high priest is

said to be “standing before the angel of the Lord,” that is, standing to

minister. This should be the perpetual position of every true believer. Every

place is now God’s temple, and his people can as truly serve him in their

daily employments as in his house. They are to be always “ministering,”

offering the spiritual sacrifice of prayer and praise, and presenting

themselves a “living sacrifice.” But notice where it is that Joshua stands to

minister, it is before the angel of Jehovah. It is only through a mediator

that we poor defiled ones can ever become priests unto God. I present what I

have before the messenger, the angel of the covenant, the Lord Jesus; and

through him my prayers find acceptance wrapped up in his prayers; my praises

become sweet as they are bound up with bundles of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia

from Christ’s own garden. If I can bring him nothing but my tears, he will put

them with his own tears in his own bottle for he once wept; if I can bring him

nothing but my groans and sighs, he will accept these as an acceptable

sacrifice, for he once was broken in heart, and sighed heavily in spirit. I

myself, standing in him, am accepted in the Beloved; and all my polluted

works, though in themselves only objects of divine abhorrence, are so

received, that God smelleth a sweet savour. He is content and I am blessed.

See, then, the position of the Christian–“a priest–standing–before the

angel of the Lord.”

 

Evening  “The forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” / Ephesians

1:7

Could there be a sweeter word in any language than that word “forgiveness,”

when it sounds in a guilty sinner’s ear, like the silver notes of jubilee to

the captive Israelite? Blessed, forever blessed be that dear star of pardon

which shines into the condemned cell, and gives the perishing a gleam of hope

amid the midnight of despair! Can it be possible that sin, such sin as mine,

can be forgiven, forgiven altogether, and forever? Hell is my portion as a

sinner–there is no possibility of my escaping from it while sin remains upon

me–can the load of guilt be uplifted, the crimson stain removed? Can the

adamantine stones of my prison-house ever be loosed from their mortices, or

the doors be lifted from their hinges? Jesus tells me that I may yet be clear.

Forever blessed be the revelation of atoning love which not only tells me that

pardon is possible, but that it is secured to all who rest in Jesus. I have

believed in the appointed propitiation, even Jesus crucified, and therefore my

sins are at this moment, and forever, forgiven by virtue of his

substitutionary pains and death. What joy is this! What bliss to be a

perfectly pardoned soul! My soul dedicates all her powers to him who of his

own unpurchased love became my surety, and wrought out for me redemption

through his blood. What riches of grace does free forgiveness exhibit! To

forgive at all, to forgive fully, to forgive freely, to forgive forever! Here

is a constellation of wonders; and when I think of how great my sins were, how

dear were the precious drops which cleansed me from them, and how gracious was

the method by which pardon was sealed home to me, I am in a maze of wondering

worshipping affection. I bow before the throne which absolves me, I clasp the

cross which delivers me, I serve henceforth all my days the Incarnate God,

through whom I am this night a pardoned soul.

Bearing the Reproach of Christ

 

Moses considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” (Heb. 11:26-27).

How could Moses, who lived 1,500 years before Christ, bear His reproach? Christ is the Greek form of the Hebrew title Messiah, the Anointed One. Many Old Testament personalities were spoken of as being anointed for special service to the Lord. Some have suggested that Moses was thinking of himself as a type of messiah, for he delivered his people from the Egyptian bondage. They would translate verse 26 as, “Considering the reproach of his own messiahship as God’s deliverer.”

However, it seems best to see this verse as a reference to Jesus Himself, the future great Deliverer. We don’t know how much knowledge Moses had of Jesus, but certainly it was more than Abraham, of whom Jesus said, “Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).

The Messiah has always been identified with His people. When they suffer for righteousness’ sake, they suffer in His place. That’s why David said, “The reproaches of those who reproach Thee have fallen on me” (Ps. 69:9). Speaking from a New Testament perspective, Paul made a similar statement: “I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17).

There’s also a sense in which Christ suffers with His people. When Jesus confronted Paul, who was heavily persecuting the church, He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? . . . I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5).

Moses chose to turn his back on Pharaoh’s household and identify with God’s people because he knew that suffering for Christ was far better than enjoying the riches of Egypt. At some point in time you too will be persecuted for Christ’s sake (2 Tim. 3:12), so be prepared. When that time comes, follow Moses’ example of faith and courage, knowing that God will be your shield and your reward (cf. Gen. 15:1).

Suggestions for Prayer:  Follow the examples of the apostles by thanking God for the privilege of bearing a small portion of the reproach that the world aims at Christ (Acts 5:27-41).

For Further Study: Memorize Psalm 27:1 as a source of encouragement when facing difficulty.

Counterfeit Faith

 

But Peter said to him, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God.”—Acts 8:20–21

Not everyone who responds to the gospel is necessarily a Christian.

The book of Acts tells the story of a sorcerer named Simon. His sorcery was a mixture of science and superstition, combining astrology, divination, and occult practices with mathematics and astronomy Simon had been deceiving people in Samaria with his acts of sorcery.

By the way, the devil can do miracles—lying wonders. Writing about the Antichrist, the apostle Paul said, “The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders” (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

It may be that Simon’s acts were devilish deeds, or they may have been sleights of hand. We don’t really know exactly, but he was doing his thing, and everyone thought he was someone great.

Then Philip came to town and started preaching the gospel with the authentic power of God. A revival broke out, and people were abandoning Simon. Simon started realizing that Philip was bad for business, but there was no way that he could compete with him. So Simon faked a conversion. We know it wasn’t a genuine conversion, because later, when Peter and John arrived, they were doing true miracles by the hand of God.

When Simon offered them money in an attempt to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter rebuked him and said, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God” (Acts 8:20–21). Clearly this is not a description of a true believer.

You can’t buy the power of God. There is no substitute for a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.

Strengthen Yourself in the Lord

 

1 Samuel 30:1-8

After an exhausting three-day journey, David and his men finally arrived home to find a scene of devastation. Their homes were burned to the ground, and their families were missing. Utter despair engulfed them, but David’s distress soon increased when his men’s grief turned into bitter anger and they spoke of stoning him.

Most of us won’t experience this extreme a situation, but we can identify with David’s discouragement. Sometimes despair follows a personal tragedy or loss, but it can also result from the weariness of ongoing daily pressures. Family problems, unemployment, financial difficulties, and health issues may make discouragement a constant companion. The same can happen with emotional struggles over feelings of unworthiness, failure to overcome an addictive habit, the pain of criticism, or fear of inadequacy.

Despair can grip anyone unexpectedly, but the Lord doesn’t want us to stay in a fog of depression. We often can’t avoid the situations that lead us into discouragement, but we do have a choice whether to stay in that condition. Instead of caving in to misery, David chose to strengthen himself in the Lord. He recognized that God was the only one who could give him the proper perspective on the problem and provide the guidance he needed.

When you’re discouraged, where do you turn? Perhaps the last thing you want to do is read Scripture and pray–at first, the passages may seem like meaningless words and your prayers might feel empty. But if you persist in crying out to God, you’ll eventually find His comforting strength.