Tag Archives: theology

Two-Staged Miracles

 

In a 1944 radio series called “Books that Have Influenced Me,” author E.M. Forster made the comment that the only books which influence us are those for which we are actually ready, those “which have gone a little further down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves.”(1)

I am most comfortable reading with a pen in my hand. The quality is not unique. Navigating through the pages with circles and highlights is for some of us a way of remembering where we have been and charting wisdom for where we hope to go. And yet, how often I have returned to a book previously read only to wonder curiously why I drew so much attention to underlining paragraph three and seemed to completely overlook sentence seven. As we experience more of life, more of self, world, and neighbor, we learn to see things differently.

In an account of a miracle unlike any other found in any of the gospel accounts, Mark describes Jesus healing a blind man in stages. Touching the man’s eyes once, Jesus asks, “Do you see anything?”

“I see people,” the man replies. “They look like trees walking around.”

Then putting his hands on the man once more, Jesus restores the blind man’s sight.(2) And the man walks away seeing clearly.

A two-staged miracle seems very much like a contradiction in terms. But here, in this particular place in the book of Mark, the story is charged with symbolism. Following an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees (who are looking for Jesus to give them a miraculous sign), and an exchange between Jesus and the disciples (who have been in the presence of such miracles and yet keep failing to see), Jesus seems to tell all of them that seeing takes time. Moreover, as Jesus returns his hands to the blind man’s eyes so that he might see more than walking trees, he demonstrates an interesting hope. Namely, this man who claims to be God is persevering with those who truly long to see it.

Adding even more to this provoking theme of sight, Mark places his account of the transfiguration of Jesus near these events as well. As Peter, James, and John climb a mountain with their teacher, they are suddenly terrified as Elijah and Moses appear before them. The clothes of Jesus become dazzling white and just then a cloud appears and envelopes them, and a voice thunders from the heavens, saying: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly once again, as they look around, they see no one but Jesus.

Mark here imparts a profound mystery: Seeing clearly can be just as disturbing as not seeing at all. Whether in blindness or in partial sight, overwhelmed by reality or consumed by darkness, seeing is described, I think accurately, as a business beyond us. But here hopefully, Mark imparts, the one willing to be helped is helped. As Emily Dickinson once penned:

As Lightening to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind–

A wise old man with a most encouraging gleam of hope in his blind eyes once told me that though he had sat in church all of his life, it was well into his 46th year when Jesus became in his eyes one who is really loved. The truth dazzled gradually, until it was given its proper place.

What if in the task of seeing we are truly not alone? What if no eye has really seen, nor ear heard, nor mind conceived what God has prepared for those who would love him—Father, Son, and Spirit? Though partial sight is itself a gift, the God who comes near intends more. “Do you see anything?” The miracle may well come in stages.

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

(1) E.M. Forster, The Creator as Critic: And Other Writings by E.M. Forster, Jeffrey Heath, Ed., (Toronto: Dundurn Group, 2008), 364.

(2) See Mark 8:24.

Rejecting the World’s Passing Pleasures

 

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Heb. 11:24-25).

For forty years Moses enjoyed the best of everything Egypt had to offer: formidable wealth, culture, education, and prestige (Acts 7:22). Yet he never forgot God’s promises toward his own people, Israel.

Then, “when he was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. And when he saw one of them being treated unjustly, he defended him and took vengeance for the oppressed by striking down the Egyptian. And he supposed that his brethren understood that God was granting them deliverance through him; but they did not understand” (vv. 23-25).

Somehow Moses knew he was to deliver his people from Egyptian oppression. Although it would be another forty years before he was fully prepared for the task, by faith he forsook the pleasures and prestige of Egypt and endured ill-treatment with God’s chosen people.

Humanly speaking, Moses made a costly choice. He seemed to be sacrificing everything for nothing. But the opposite was much more the case since Moses considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the [greater] reward” (Heb. 11:26).

Sometimes obedience to Christ seems very costly, especially when evil people prosper while many who faithfully serve God suffer poverty and affliction. Asaph the psalmist struggled with the same issue: “Behold, these are the wicked; and always at ease, they have increased in wealth. Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure” (Ps. 73:12-13).

But be assured that the eternal rewards of Christ far outweigh the passing pleasures of sin. The wicked have only judgment and hell to look forward to; you have glory and heaven. So always choose obedience, and trust God to guide your choices, just as He did with Moses.

Suggestions for Prayer:    Praise God that the righteous will one day be fully rewarded.

Seek God’s grace to be obedient when you’re faced with difficult choices.

For Further Study:  Read Stephen’s account of Moses in Acts 7:20-39.

God’s Purpose for Adversity

 

Have you ever wondered why the Lord allows tragedy, sickness, and other suffering in our lives? Part of the answer lies in the fact that we inhabit a fallen world; the sin of Adam and Eve altered God’s original creation. However, the good news is that God uses adversity to show us our profound need for Him.

The Old Testament saint Jacob experienced something that forever changed how he related to God. The Lord weakened him physically to strengthen him spiritually. In a similar way, God wants to use adversity in our lives to draw us into a closer relationship with Him.

Jacob’s Journey

Read Genesis 32:1-32.

As Jacob traveled to the land of his parents, what troublesome news came to him (Gen 32:6-8)?

Why would Jacob expect the worst from his brother? (See Genesis 27:30-42 if necessary.)

On a practical level, how did Jacob prepare to meet his brother (Gen. 32:4-8, Gen. 32:13-20)?

Jacob also turned to the Lord in prayer. Summarize each section of his petition (vv. 9-12).

Example: v. 9—Jacob reminded God of His promise to prosper him.

v. 10

v. 11

v. 12

From Jacob’s prayer, what can you learn about how to approach God regarding your own problems?

After Jacob sent his family away (v. 23), he wrestled with a mysterious man. At first, he may have thought he was fighting one of Esau’s men, but later, he says he saw God (v. 30). In a similar way, we sometimes have a hard time recognizing how the Lord is at work in adversity. That can happen when we are busy blaming other people, ourselves, or the Devil.

What difficulty are you facing right now?

Who or what do you have a tendency to blame for your problems?

What purpose might God have for your hardship?

As the fight continued, the man touched Jacob’s hip and dislocated it. This may have alerted Jacob to the fact that he was wrestling with a supernatural being. He determined to hold on until he received a blessing (v. 26).

When we are facing adversity, we may need to wrestle with God—that is, stay at the throne of grace and mercy until we have what we need from Him (Heb. 4:14-16).

In your time alone with God, do you tend to wait until you hear from Him or sense His comforting presence?  Why or why not?

Many scholars believe the man Jacob wrestled was the pre-incarnate Christ (Jesus before He was born as a baby). Others think Jacob fought an angel. Either way, this supernatural being changed the patriarch’s name.  Jacob literally means “heel catcher,” an idiomatic expression that meant “trickster” or “supplanter.” Israel means “he struggles with God” or perhaps “a prince with God.”

Jacob became the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Why do you think it was important for him to have a new name?

After this incident, Jacob walked with a limp (Gen. 32:31). With a dislocated hip, he would have found it almost impossible to defend himself against Esau. Jacob was forced to depend completely on God’s ability to protect him.

What does Esau’s greeting show about his feelings toward Jacob (Gen. 33:4)?

Jacob learned that he could rely on God more completely when he was weak. This is the same lesson Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” taught him (2 Cor. 12:7-10). The apostle wrote, “I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10).

Give an example of a time when your weakness provided an opportunity to rely successfully on The Lord’s power.

How could your present adversity help you lean more fully on God?

As we depend on the Lord, we learn more about who He is. After God spoke to Job, revealing His character and incredible power, Job said, “I have heard of You . . . but now my eye sees You” (Job 42:5).

What new insight has hardship given to you about God or the Christian life?

Adversity shows us how much we lack spiritually. Give an example of a time when difficulty revealed your weaknesses and need for God.

Apart from the Father’s help, we can never handle all our problems, consistently resist temptation, or avoid bitterness. In fact, when we attempt to wage spiritual battles on our own, not only do we wander away from God, but we ultimately fail.

Jude 1:24 says that God “is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.” According to this study, what is a believer’s role in handling problems, temptations, and suffering?

Prayer: Father, thank You for being willing to carry me through the challenges of life. Teach me to rely more on Your power rather than on my own strategies and coping abilities. Show me how You want to use the difficulties I face to draw me into a more intimate relationship with You. Amen.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning “To preach deliverance to the captives.” / Luke 4:18

None but Jesus can give deliverance to captives. Real liberty cometh from him

only. It is a liberty righteously bestowed; for the Son, who is Heir of all

things, has a right to make men free. The saints honour the justice of God,

which now secures their salvation. It is a liberty which has been dearly

purchased. Christ speaks it by his power, but he bought it by his blood. He

makes thee free, but it is by his own bonds. Thou goest clear, because he bare

thy burden for thee: thou art set at liberty, because he has suffered in thy

stead. But, though dearly purchased, he freely gives it. Jesus asks nothing of

us as a preparation for this liberty. He finds us sitting in sackcloth and

ashes, and bids us put on the beautiful array of freedom; he saves us just as

we are, and all without our help or merit. When Jesus sets free, the liberty

is perpetually entailed; no chains can bind again. Let the Master say to me,

“Captive, I have delivered thee,” and it is done forever. Satan may plot to

enslave us, but if the Lord be on our side, whom shall we fear? The world,

with its temptations, may seek to ensnare us, but mightier is he who is for us

than all they who be against us. The machinations of our own deceitful hearts

may harass and annoy us, but he who hath begun the good work in us will carry

it on and perfect it to the end. The foes of God and the enemies of man may

gather their hosts together, and come with concentrated fury against us, but

if God acquitteth, who is he that condemneth? Not more free is the eagle which

mounts to his rocky eyrie, and afterwards outsoars the clouds, than the soul

which Christ hath delivered. If we are no more under the law, but free from

its curse, let our liberty be practically exhibited in our serving God with

gratitude and delight. “I am thy servant, and the son of thine handmaid: thou

hast loosed my bonds.” “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”

 

Evening  “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I

will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” / Romans 9:15

In these words the Lord in the plainest manner claims the right to give or to

withhold his mercy according to his own sovereign will. As the prerogative of

life and death is vested in the monarch, so the Judge of all the earth has a

right to spare or condemn the guilty, as may seem best in his sight. Men by

their sins have forfeited all claim upon God; they deserve to perish for their

sins–and if they all do so, they have no ground for complaint. If the Lord

steps in to save any, he may do so if the ends of justice are not thwarted;

but if he judges it best to leave the condemned to suffer the righteous

sentence, none may arraign him at their bar. Foolish and impudent are all

those discourses about the rights of men to be all placed on the same footing;

ignorant, if not worse, are those contentions against discriminating grace,

which are but the rebellions of proud human nature against the crown and

sceptre of Jehovah. When we are brought to see our own utter ruin and ill

desert, and the justice of the divine verdict against sin, we no longer cavil

at the truth that the Lord is not bound to save us; we do not murmur if he

chooses to save others, as though he were doing us an injury, but feel that if

he deigns to look upon us, it will be his own free act of undeserved goodness,

for which we shall forever bless his name.

How shall those who are the subjects of divine election sufficiently adore the

grace of God? They have no room for boasting, for sovereignty most effectually

excludes it. The Lord’s will alone is glorified, and the very notion of human

merit is cast out to everlasting contempt. There is no more humbling doctrine

in Scripture than that of election, none more promotive of gratitude, and,

consequently, none more sanctifying. Believers should not be afraid of it, but

adoringly rejoice in it.

Accepting God’s Plan

 

“By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict” (Heb. 11:23).

It has been wisely said that trying to improve on God’s plan is more pretentious than trying to improve the Mona Lisa with an ink pen. All you’d do is ruin the masterpiece.

The story of Amram and Jochebed, the parents of Moses, is about two people who refused to ruin the masterpiece. They trusted God implicitly and did everything possible to see His plan for their son come to fruition.

Because of the number and might of the Hebrew people in Egypt, the pharaoh enslaved them and ordered that all male Hebrew babies be put to death. In direct defiance of that wicked edict, Moses’ parents hid their baby for three months, then placed him in a waterproofed basket along the banks of the Nile River near the place where Pharaoh’s daughter bathed. One can only imagine the faith it took for them to risk their own lives, as well as the life of their baby, by placing him into that basket and introducing him into the very household of the one who wanted all male Hebrew babies slain.

By God’s providence, Pharaoh’s daughter found the baby, took pity on him, and adopted him into her family. More than that, the Lord used Moses’ quick-thinking sister, Miriam, to arrange for Jochebed to nurse and care for her own son! That gave Moses’ family the opportunity to teach him of God’s promises for Israel to inherit the Promised Land, become a mighty nation, and be a blessing to all nations. They helped instill within Moses the faith in God that would later characterize his life.

You may never be called on to make the kind of sacrifice that Moses’ parents made, but no matter what the risks, remember God always honors your obedience.

Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for His plan for your life. Seek wisdom and grace to live accordingly.

For Further Study:  Read of Israel’s oppression and Moses’ birth in Exodus 1:1–2:10.

The Fountain of Youth?

 

It Starts with Caring

When he reached the age of 70, historian Will Durant said, “To live forever would be the greatest curse imaginable.”

Will we live forever? The answer is “yes” and “no.” Will our bodies live forever? No. Will our bodies cease to exist at one point? Absolutely. But the soul is immortal. Each one of us has a soul. It is the soul that gives each of us uniqueness and personality. . .and that part of us that will live forever.

Today, many people are searching for immortality, that elusive fountain of youth. Sometimes, it’s hard for us to accept the fact that life is passing and death is approaching. One day, you will wake up and realize you have more life behind you than you have in front of you. But the question we should be asking is not, “Can I find immortality?” Rather, it should be, “Where will I spend my immortality?”

If you have put your faith in Jesus Christ and have asked Him to forgive you of your sin, the Bible teaches that you will go immediately into the presence of God in heaven when you die. That is God’s promise to you.

But God not only promises life beyond the grave. He also promises life during life, not just an existence, but a life that’s worth living. Jesus said, “My purpose is to give life in all its fullness” (John 10:10 NLT).

In Romans 5:17, the apostle Paul declares: “For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (NIV).

Reign in life! No matter what our circumstances, we are sons and daughters of the great King. He will watch over us through our days on earth, and take us home to be with Him when this brief life is over. That’s the hope and promise for all Christians. And that’s why the believer does not have to be afraid to die. . .or afraid to live.

WEEKEND BIBLE READING: Matthew 20-22; Matthew 23-25

Acknowledging God’s Sovereingty

 

“By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones” (Heb. 11:22).

God uses your present circumstances to accomplish His future purposes.

Like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Joseph was an heir to the covenant promises of God. His hope was firmly fixed on God, and he knew that some day his people would be at home in the Promised Land.

Although he spent all his adult life in Egypt, never seeing the Promised Land for himself, Joseph’s faith never wavered. At the end of his life, he instructed his brothers to remove his bones from Egypt and bury them in their future homeland (Gen. 50:25). That request was fulfilled in the Exodus (Ex. 13:19).

But Joseph’s faith wasn’t in the promises of future events only, for his life was marked by exceptional trust in God and personal integrity. His understanding of God’s sovereignty was unique among the patriarchs. Even though he suffered greatly at the hands of evildoers (including his own brothers, who sold him into slavery), Joseph recognized God’s hand in every event of his life and submitted to His will.

Joseph said to his brothers, “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life . . . and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Gen. 45:5, 7-8). Later, after their father’s death, he reassured them again: “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to . . . preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:19- 20).

The genius of Joseph’s faith was understanding the role that present circumstances play in fulfilling future promises. He accepted blessing and adversity alike because he knew God would use both to accomplish greater things in the future.

Joseph is the classic Old Testament example of the truth that God works all things together for good to those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). That’s a promise you can rely on too.

Suggestions for Prayer:   Reaffirm your trust in God’s sovereign work in your life.

For Further Study:  Read of Joseph’s life in Genesis 37-50.

From Jacob to Israel

 

“By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped” (Heb. 11:21).

Jacob’s life can be outlined in three phases: A stolen blessing, a conditional commitment, and a sincere supplication.

From the very beginning it was God’s intention to bless Jacob in a special way. But Jacob, whose name means “trickster,” “supplanter,” or “usurper,” tricked his father into blessing him instead of his older brother, Esau (Gen. 27:1-29). As a result, Jacob had to flee from Esau and spend fourteen years herding flocks for his Uncle Laban.

As Jacob traveled toward Laban’s house, God appeared to him in a dream (Gen. 28:10-22) and made him the recipient of the covenant promises first made to his grandfather, Abraham, then to his father, Isaac.

Jacob’s response is revealing, for he “made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God'” (vv. 20-21, emphasis added). Jacob’s conditional vow said in effect, “God, if you’ll give me what I want, I’ll be your man.”

Despite Jacob’s selfish motives, God did bless him, but He humbled him too. By the time he left Laban’s house, Jacob was ready to yield to God’s will unreservedly. Note his change of heart in Genesis 32:10: “I am unworthy of all the lovingkindness and of all the faithfulness which Thou hast shown to [me].”

Then the Lord appeared in the form of a man and wrestled with Jacob all night (v. 24). Jacob refused to let Him go until he received a blessing. That wasn’t a selfish request, but one that came from a heart devoted to being all God wanted him to be. That’s when the Lord changed Jacob’s name to “Israel,” which means “he fights or persists with God.”

Like Abraham and Isaac before him, Jacob never saw the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. Yet on his spiritual journey from Jacob to Israel, from selfishness to submission, he learned to trust God and await His perfect timing.

Suggestions for Prayer: Pray for grace to consistently pursue God’s will, and patience to wait on His perfect timing.

For Further Study: Read Jacob’s story in Genesis 27-35.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning “Israel served for a wife, and for a wife he kept sheep.” / Hosea 12:12

Jacob, while expostulating with Laban, thus describes his own toil, “This

twenty years have I been with thee. That which was torn of beasts I brought

not unto thee: I bare the loss of it; of my hand didst thou require it,

whether stolen by day, or stolen by night. Thus I was; in the day the drought

consumed me, and the frost by night; and my sleep departed from mine eyes.”

Even more toilsome than this was the life of our Saviour here below. He

watched over all his sheep till he gave in as his last account, “Of all those

whom thou hast given me I have lost none.” His hair was wet with dew, and his

locks with the drops of the night. Sleep departed from his eyes, for all night

he was in prayer wrestling for his people. One night Peter must be pleaded

for; anon, another claims his tearful intercession. No shepherd sitting

beneath the cold skies, looking up to the stars, could ever utter such

complaints because of the hardness of his toil as Jesus Christ might have

brought, if he had chosen to do so, because of the sternness of his service in

order to procure his spouse–

“Cold mountains and the midnight air,

Witnessed the fervour of his prayer;

The desert his temptations knew,

His conflict and his victory too.”

It is sweet to dwell upon the spiritual parallel of Laban having required all

the sheep at Jacob’s hand. If they were torn of beasts, Jacob must make it

good; if any of them died, he must stand as surety for the whole. Was not the

toil of Jesus for his Church the toil of one who was under suretiship

obligations to bring every believing one safe to the hand of him who had

committed them to his charge? Look upon toiling Jacob, and you see a

representation of him of whom we read, “He shall feed his flock like a

shepherd.”

 

Evening  “The power of his resurrection.” / Philippians 3:10

The doctrine of a risen Saviour is exceedingly precious. The resurrection is

the corner-stone of the entire building of Christianity. It is the key-stone

of the arch of our salvation. It would take a volume to set forth all the

streams of living water which flow from this one sacred source, the

resurrection of our dear Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; but to know that he

has risen, and to have fellowship with him as such–communing with the risen

Saviour by possessing a risen life–seeing him leave the tomb by leaving the

tomb of worldliness ourselves, this is even still more precious. The doctrine

is the basis of the experience, but as the flower is more lovely than the

root, so is the experience of fellowship with the risen Saviour more lovely

than the doctrine itself. I would have you believe that Christ rose from the

dead so as to sing of it, and derive all the consolation which it is possible

for you to extract from this well-ascertained and well-witnessed fact; but I

beseech you, rest not contented even there. Though you cannot, like the

disciples, see him visibly, yet I bid you aspire to see Christ Jesus by the

eye of faith; and though, like Mary Magdalene, you may not “touch” him, yet

may you be privileged to converse with him, and to know that he is risen, you

yourselves being risen in him to newness of life. To know a crucified Saviour

as having crucified all my sins, is a high degree of knowledge; but to know a

risen Saviour as having justified me, and to realize that he has bestowed upon

me new life, having given me to be a new creature through his own newness of

life, this is a noble style of experience: short of it, none ought to rest

satisfied. May you both “know him, and the power of his resurrection.” Why

should souls who are quickened with Jesus, wear the grave-clothes of

worldliness and unbelief? Rise, for the Lord is risen.

The Reluctant Patriarch

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come” (Heb. 11:20).

Isaac is a fascinating Old Testament character. He was Abraham’s long-awaited son, the covenant child, the child of promise. Yet aside from that, he was rather ordinary, passive, and quiet. Just over two chapters of Genesis center on him, whereas the other patriarchs (Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph) command about twelve chapters each.

In the final analysis, Isaac believed God and submitted to His will. But overall, his spiritual character seems more reluctant than resolute.

After a famine prompted Isaac to move his family to Gerar (a Philistine city on the border between Palestine and Egypt), he received a vision from the Lord. In it God passed on to Isaac the covenant promises He had made to Abraham: “Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you, for to you and to your descendants I will give all these lands, and I will establish the oath which I swore to your father Abraham. And I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 26:3-4).

You would think such promises would infuse Isaac with boldness and confidence, yet no sooner had he received them, then he lied to the men of Gerar about his wife, Rebekah, because he feared they might kill him to have her (v. 7).

It was only with great difficulty and prodding that the Lord finally brought Isaac into the Promised Land, where He once again repeated the covenant promises (vv. 23-24).

Later in his life Isaac even sought to bless his son Esau after Esau had sold his birthright to Jacob (25:33). Only after he realized that God’s choice of Jacob was irreversible did Isaac acquiesce.

Isaac is a vivid reminder of how believers can forfeit joy and blessing by disobeying God. But he’s also a reminder of God’s faithfulness–even toward reluctant saints.

Is your obedience reluctant or resolute?

Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for His unwavering faithfulness to you.

Seek His forgiveness when your obedience is reluctant or withheld altogether.

Ask Him to teach you to love Him in the same unwavering, resolute way He loves you.

For Further Study:  Read of Isaac in Genesis 25:19–26:34.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning “Grieve not the Holy Spirit.” / Ephesians 4:30

All that the believer has must come from Christ, but it comes solely through

the channel of the Spirit of grace. Moreover, as all blessings thus flow to

you through the Holy Spirit, so also no good thing can come out of you in holy

thought, devout worship, or gracious act, apart from the sanctifying operation

of the same Spirit. Even if the good seed be sown in you, yet it lies dormant

except he worketh in you to will and to do of his own good pleasure. Do you

desire to speak for Jesus–how can you unless the Holy Ghost touch your

tongue? Do you desire to pray? Alas! what dull work it is unless the Spirit

maketh intercession for you! Do you desire to subdue sin? Would you be holy?

Would you imitate your Master? Do you desire to rise to superlative heights of

spirituality? Are you wanting to be made like the angels of God, full of zeal

and ardour for the Master’s cause? You cannot without the Spirit–“Without me

ye can do nothing.” O branch of the vine, thou canst have no fruit without the

sap! O child of God, thou hast no life within thee apart from the life which

God gives thee through his Spirit! Then let us not grieve him or provoke him

to anger by our sin. Let us not quench him in one of his faintest motions in

our soul; let us foster every suggestion, and be ready to obey every

prompting. If the Holy Spirit be indeed so mighty, let us attempt nothing

without him; let us begin no project, and carry on no enterprise, and conclude

no transaction, without imploring his blessing. Let us do him the due homage

of feeling our entire weakness apart from him, and then depending alone upon

him, having this for our prayer, “Open thou my heart and my whole being to

thine incoming, and uphold me with thy free Spirit when I shall have received

that Spirit in my inward parts.”

 

Evening “Lazarus was one of them that sat at the table with him.” / John 12:2

He is to be envied. It was well to be Martha and serve, but better to be

Lazarus and commune. There are times for each purpose, and each is comely in

its season, but none of the trees of the garden yield such clusters as the

vine of fellowship. To sit with Jesus, to hear his words, to mark his acts,

and receive his smiles, was such a favour as must have made Lazarus as happy

as the angels. When it has been our happy lot to feast with our Beloved in his

banqueting-hall, we would not have given half a sigh for all the kingdoms of

the world, if so much breath could have bought them.

He is to be imitated. It would have been a strange thing if Lazarus had not

been at the table where Jesus was, for he had been dead, and Jesus had raised

him. For the risen one to be absent when the Lord who gave him life was at his

house, would have been ungrateful indeed. We too were once dead, yea, and like

Lazarus stinking in the grave of sin; Jesus raised us, and by his life we

live–can we be content to live at a distance from him? Do we omit to remember

him at his table, where he deigns to feast with his brethren? Oh, this is

cruel! It behoves us to repent, and do as he has bidden us, for his least wish

should be law to us. To have lived without constant intercourse with one of

whom the Jews said, “Behold how he loved him,” would have been disgraceful to

Lazarus; is it excusable in us whom Jesus has loved with an everlasting love?

To have been cold to him who wept over his lifeless corpse, would have argued

great brutishness in Lazarus. What does it argue in us over whom the Saviour

has not only wept, but bled? Come, brethren, who read this portion, let us

return unto our heavenly Bridegroom, and ask for his Spirit that we may be on

terms of closer intimacy with him, and henceforth sit at the table with him.

 

Defeating Death

 

“By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones” (Heb. 11:20-22).

Commentator Matthew Henry said, “Though the grace of faith is of universal use throughout the Christian’s life, yet it is especially so when we come to die. Faith has its great work to do at the very last, to help believers to finish well, to die to the Lord so as to honor Him, by patience, hope and joy so as to leave a witness behind them of the truth of God’s Word and the excellency of His ways.”

God is honored when His people die triumphantly. When we’ve lived a life to His glory, and joyfully left the world behind to enter into His presence for all eternity, He is pleased, for “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones” (Ps. 116:15).

Many believers who have dreaded facing death have experienced a special measure of God’s grace that made their final hours the sweetest and most precious of their lives.

Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph are examples of men who faced death with great faith and confidence. Each “died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13). They hadn’t seen all God’s promises fulfilled, but by faith they passed them on to their children.

These men didn’t have perfect faith. Joseph was exemplary, but Isaac and Jacob often vacillated in their walk with God. Yet each ended his life triumphantly. That’s the reward of all who trust God and cling to His promises.

Like every believer before you, you haven’t seen the fulfillment of all God’s promises. But certainly you’ve seen far more than Isaac, Jacob, or Joseph did. How much more then should you trust God and encourage those who follow you to do the same?

Suggestions for Prayer:   Thank God for His marvelous grace, which triumphs over sin and death.

For Further Study: Read the final words of Jacob and Joseph in Genesis 48:1–49:33 and 50:22-26.

Hard Wrought Thanks

 

“In everything give thanks” is an admonition of my faith that often confounds me. Reading the news of the world even as I anticipate a national day of Thanksgiving juxtaposes the overwhelming need of the world with a surreal celebration of abundance. Global unemployment soars. Giving to charity is at its lowest in many sectors. Wars and rumors of wars terrorize so many, and it is a wonder that it is even possible to give thanks for anything. Yet, to hear others giving thanks—particularly from those who struggle in circumstances where we would be stretched to find any reason for praise—always lends itself to beauty and indicates a gratefulness that transcends material bounty and benefit.

For those who lived in ancient Israel, the concept of thanksgiving was explicitly tied to memory. The praises of Israel recalled a history in which God was intimately involved. Indeed, the exhortation to remember the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt was a frequent refrain. The ancient poets and prophets extended the invitation to remember the days of old when the Lord came near to the people even in a desert land, and in the howling waste of a wilderness. They remembered a God who “encircled them, cared for them, and guarded them as the pupil of his eye.” The psalmists reminded the people to “remember that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer,” and Job cried out in defiant praise after suffering horrific loss, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”(1)

A spirit of thanksgiving marked the earliest followers of Jesus as well.(2) These early believers were so overjoyed at the Spirit’s work among them that they shared meals, their property and possessions, and were continually praising God. Paul exhorted the Philippian Christians to offer their prayers and supplications “with thanksgiving,” and the endless song around the throne of heaven in Revelation sounds the chorus for “blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever.” Indeed, the apostle Paul insists that giving thanks in everything is the will of God and the biblical witnesses seem to affirm his insistence.

To have a national day of thanksgiving (of which the United States is far from alone) calls its residents to pay particular attention to offering thanks. And while I am grateful for a day set apart to focus on thanksgiving and a worldview that provides me with one to thank, I am challenged to live into giving thanks in everything every day of the year. Thanksgiving doesn’t always come easily as I wrestle with the difficulties and sorrows of a world with so much need. Yet when I give thanks for the faithfulness of God there is no room for jealousy over what others have; no room for complaining about what I lack.

Even in times of deepest sorrow, there is a joy that rises up within the heart to praise even with tears. Thanksgiving can fill a heart full of gladness, which overflows and spills out into acts of kindness and generosity for others. When we are grateful, we cannot help but share our gratitude. And this sharing is the will of God for our lives. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews sums up: “Through God then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God that is the fruit of lips that give thanks to his name. And do not neglect doing good and sharing; for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”(3)

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

(1) Deuteronomy 5:15; 32:7-12, Psalm 78:35, and Job 1:21.

(2) Acts 2:42-47, Philippians 4:6, Revelation 7:12.

(3) Hebrews 13:15-16.

Passing the Test

 

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; it was he to whom it was said, ‘In Isaac your descendants shall be called.’ He considered that God is able to raise men even from the dead” (Heb. 11:17-19).

John Bunyan had a little blind daughter, for whom he had a special love. When he was imprisoned for preaching the gospel, he was deeply concerned about his family, especially that little girl. He wrote, “I saw in this condition I was a man who was pulling down his house upon the head of his wife and children. Yet, thought I, I must do it; I must do it. The dearest idol I have known, what ere that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”

Despite his personal grief, Bunyan was willing to sacrifice the most precious thing he had, if God so willed. So it was with Abraham. Every promise God had made to him was bound up in his son Isaac.

Abraham believed God’s promises, and his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness (Gen. 15:6). But the moment of truth came when God instructed him to offer his son as a sacrifice. Abraham realized that to kill Isaac was to put to death God’s covenant. So he reasoned that surely God would raise Isaac from the dead. He believed in resurrection before the doctrine was revealed in clear terms.

God tested Abraham, and Abraham passed the test: He was willing to make the sacrifice. And that’s always the final standard of faith. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Romans 12:1 says, “I urge you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

I pray that you are willing to sacrifice whatever is necessary to minister most effectively for Christ.

Suggestions for Prayer:    Thank God for those you know who are passing the test of a sacrificial faith.      Pray for the courage and grace to follow their example.

For Further Study: Read the account of Abraham’s test in Genesis 22.

Unforgettable

 

It is tempting to look at the ancients of Israel, particularly as they wandered and grumbled in a desert for forty years, and wonder at their behavior. After being participants in the mouth-dropping events at the Red Sea, how could they doubt God’s presence among them, God’s power, God’s concern, God’s plan for their lives? Did they really believe they could be as moved and cared for by a golden ornament, molded at their own hands, as they were with the God who split open the Red Sea? It is tempting to keep their behavior at a healthy distance, as if in its ancient context, it is wholly un-relatable to my own. But imagining that Israel’s actions are in complete contrast with mine, I repeatedly discover, is a stretch by any imagination. The behavior of the Israelites is still among us; at times, is it frustratingly close to home.

Though the events of Egypt could have similarly been held at a distance by the psalmist, the writer stood poised to remember the events of Israel’s past so as to see his present situation more clearly. As if forging it in his memory, the psalmist speaks bluntly of Israel’s experience in the desert: “Then they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his promise” (106:24).

What does it take to come to despise what once seemed promising? What would it take for you to refuse to believe the one thing you want to believe most? When hopes are dashed in trying places, I don’t believe their reaction to the desert is so far removed from our own. The Israelites were not unusually slow in understanding; they were no more stubborn than you or I am. But they were entirely disappointed; all they longed for seemed altogether unreachable. They could not believe that the wilderness was the way to Canaan. They could not see how their current trouble was consistent with God’s love or could possibly work for good in the end. Who among us cannot at some point relate?

Whether people of faith or not, we long for someone or something or some place that can make right what is wrong in this world, what is wrong in our lives. And yet, carrying ideas of what that someone or something will look like, and not finding it, we end up doubting the promising thought we once held on to with hope. When the route we see in front of us seems irreconcilable with the place we thought we were going, we come to despise what once seemed hopeful, holding in its place shattered expectations, fear, and anger.

When Jesus healed a man who was called Legion because he was possessed with so many demons, the townspeople had a peculiar response. Mark describes the scene and its aftermath as a crowd began to gather. “When they came to Jesus, they saw the man who had been possessed by the legion of demons, sitting there, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid” (5:15).

This man was someone they were familiar with; the crowd actually recognized him. He was the one they saw dodging in and out of nearby caves, living as a total recluse, cast out of society, an outcast even of his own mind. Yet, seeing the one they were used to avoiding suddenly dressed and in his right mind evoked within them, not delight or amazement, not thanks or hopefulness, but fear. No one suspected that this was a shadow of all they longed for themselves. Seeing Jesus, the instrument of healing—the one who set right what was wrong—they were simply afraid. And they begged him to leave.

As the Israelites beheld the desert and the townspeople beheld Legion, both missed what God was doing because they were troubled by the failures of their imagination. It brings quiet inquiries to mind. Do we not still oscillate between being too uncomfortable to trust and too comfortable to believe? How do we guard against missing our deepest hope, though we fear? And how do we not come to despise what once seemed promising, though we stand broken or disappointed in the wilderness?

Like the psalmist, we might stand poised to remember, seeing God in history, seeing ourselves, seeing today—with imagination, with thanksgiving. Though I am tempted to keep the behavior of those who have gone before me at a distance, I am comforted by the proximity of God throughout their story, continually drawing them nearer, even in the desert. Though they grumbled and failed and begged God to leave, God continued to lead them, in mercy breaking each idol they would have settled for, prying from their hands the things that blocked their view of the promise God would not forget.

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

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

 

Morning  “A spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” / Song of Solomon 4:12

In this metaphor, which has reference to the inner life of a believer, we have

very plainly the idea of secrecy. It is a spring shut up: just as there were

springs in the East, over which an edifice was built, so that none could reach

them save those who knew the secret entrance; so is the heart of a believer

when it is renewed by grace: there is a mysterious life within which no human

skill can touch. It is a secret which no other man knoweth; nay, which the

very man who is the possessor of it cannot tell to his neighbour. The text

includes not only secrecy, but separation. It is not the common spring, of

which every passer-by may drink, it is one kept and preserved from all others;

it is a fountain bearing a particular mark–a king’s royal seal, so that all

can perceive that it is not a common fountain, but a fountain owned by a

proprietor, and placed specially by itself alone. So is it with the spiritual

life. The chosen of God were separated in the eternal decree; they were

separated by God in the day of redemption; and they are separated by the

possession of a life which others have not; and it is impossible for them to

feel at home with the world, or to delight in its pleasures. There is also the

idea of sacredness. The spring shut up is preserved for the use of some

special person: and such is the Christian’s heart. It is a spring kept for

Jesus. Every Christian should feel that he has God’s seal upon him–and he

should be able to say with Paul, “From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I

bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Another idea is prominent–it is

that of security. Oh! how sure and safe is the inner life of the believer! If

all the powers of earth and hell could combine against it, that immortal

principle must still exist, for he who gave it pledged his life for its

preservation. And who “is he that shall harm you,” when God is your protector?

 

Evening  “Thou art from everlasting.” / Psalm 93:2

Christ is Everlasting. Of him we may sing with David, “Thy throne, O God, is

forever and ever.” Rejoice, believer, in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday,

today, and forever. Jesus always was. The Babe born in Bethlehem was united to

the Word, which was in the beginning, by whom all things were made. The title

by which Christ revealed himself to John in Patmos was, “Him which is, and

which was, and which is to come.” If he were not God from everlasting, we

could not so devoutly love him; we could not feel that he had any share in the

eternal love which is the fountain of all covenant blessings; but since he was

from all eternity with the Father, we trace the stream of divine love to

himself equally with his Father and the blessed Spirit. As our Lord always

was, so also he is for evermore. Jesus is not dead; “He ever liveth to make

intercession for us.” Resort to him in all your times of need, for he is

waiting to bless you still. Moreover, Jesus our Lord ever shall be. If God

should spare your life to fulfil your full day of threescore years and ten,

you will find that his cleansing fountain is still opened, and his precious

blood has not lost its power; you shall find that the Priest who filled the

healing fount with his own blood, lives to purge you from all iniquity. When

only your last battle remains to be fought, you shall find that the hand of

your conquering Captain has not grown feeble–the living Saviour shall cheer

the dying saint. When you enter heaven you shall find him there bearing the

dew of his youth; and through eternity the Lord Jesus shall still remain the

perennial spring of joy, and life, and glory to his people. Living waters may

you draw from this sacred well! Jesus always was, he always is, he always

shall be. He is eternal in all his attributes, in all his offices, in all his

might, and willingness to bless, comfort, guard, and crown his chosen people.

The Problem of Unmet Needs

 

Psalm 84:11-12

If the Lord has promised to provide and is able, why doesn’t He always meet our needs when we ask? Since He’s completely faithful to His Word, the problem is obviously with us, not Him. In today’s passage, His promise of provision has a condition–it’s given to “those who walk uprightly” (v. 11). So if God isn’t providing for our needs as we think He should, He may have a different plan for us. But we should also examine our lives for possible hindrances.

Sin. One reason our prayers may not be answered is because we’ve allowed sin in our lives and are not walking uprightly. If the Lord ignored disobedience and granted our requests, He’d be affirming a sinful lifestyle.

Laziness. Another possible explanation for unmet needs is that we haven’t done our part. Although God is the ultimate source of all we have, He’s given us the responsibility to work in order to provide basic necessities (2 Thess. 3:10-11). If you’re an able-bodied person who’s unwilling to work and wants something for nothing, the Lord is not going to reinforce your laziness.

Desires. Perhaps God hasn’t provided as you expected because your “needs” are really desires. If He knows that what you want won’t fulfill His plans for your life, He will withhold it in order to provide something better.

To avoid disappointment with God, understand that His actions and character always align. He won’t reward rebellion or laziness, and His answers to prayer fit with His goal of conforming us to Christ’s image. If He’s withholding something you deem essential, He’s working something even better for you.

The Value of Discernment

 

Proverbs 2:1-11

If you made a list of the things you want most in life, would a discerning spirit be one of them? The Lord places a high value on this attribute and wants all of us to have it. If we don’t, we’ll make wrong choices because we won’t understand situations clearly.

Discernment is the ability to make sound judgments by perceiving what is not readily obvious. For example, can you tell the difference between legalism and liberty? God calls each of us to live according to our personal convictions, but not all of them are moral mandates for every believer. We should be able to determine the difference between the two.

Another area that requires discernment is distinguishing good from best. God has the perfect plan for each of us; however, there are a multitude of good options before us. For instance, suppose you’re offered two different jobs. They both look promising, but only one of them is God’s best for you. Do you know how to determine His will?

It’s obvious from these two examples that our most basic need for discernment involves being able to understand what God is saying to us. When you’re faced with a decision, how do you know if you’re hearing from the Lord or simply listening to your own desires or reasoning?

The time to develop discernment is now. Don’t wait until a critical decision comes. Begin today to fill your mind with God’s Word so you can think His thoughts and understand His ways. Spend time with Him in intimate fellowship. The more you know Him, the better you can discern His voice.

Stepping out in Faith

“By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Heb. 11:8).

Abraham is the classic example of the life of faith. As the father of the Jewish nation, he was the most strategic example of faith available to the writer of Hebrews. But the people to whom Hebrews was written needed to understand that Abraham was more than the father of their race; he also was, by example, the father of everyone who lives by faith in God (Rom. 4:11).

Contrary to popular first-century Jewish thought, God didn’t choose Abraham because he was righteous in himself. When called by God, Abraham was a sinful man living in an idolatrous society. His home was in the Chaldean city of Ur, which was located in ancient Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

God’s call to Abraham is recorded in Genesis 12:1-3: “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you; and I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Note Abraham’s response: “So Abram went forth as the Lord had spoken to him” (v. 4). He listened, trusted, and obeyed. His pilgrimage of faith began when he separated himself from the pleasures of a pagan land to pursue God’s plan for his life.

So it is with you if you’re a man or woman of true faith. You’ve forsaken sinful pleasures to follow Christ. And as your love for Christ increases, there’s a corresponding decrease in worldly desires.

I pray your focus will continually be on fulfilling God’s will for your life, and that you’ll always know the joy and assurance that comes from following Him.

Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask God for the grace and spiritual fortitude to walk by faith today.

For Further Study: Memorize 1 John 2:15 as a reminder to remain separate from the world.

Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening

Morning “The Lord is my portion, saith my soul.” / Lamentations 3:24

It is not “The Lord is partly my portion,” nor “The Lord is in my portion”;

but he himself makes up the sum total of my soul’s inheritance. Within the

circumference of that circle lies all that we possess or desire. The Lord is

my portion. Not his grace merely, nor his love, nor his covenant, but Jehovah

himself. He has chosen us for his portion, and we have chosen him for ours. It

is true that the Lord must first choose our inheritance for us, or else we

shall never choose it for ourselves; but if we are really called according to

the purpose of electing love, we can sing–

 

“Lov’d of my God for him again

With love intense I burn;

Chosen of him ere time began,

I choose him in return.”

 

The Lord is our all-sufficient portion. God fills himself; and if God is

all-sufficient in himself, he must be all- sufficient for us. It is not easy

to satisfy man’s desires. When he dreams that he is satisfied, anon he wakes

to the perception that there is somewhat yet beyond, and straightway the

horse-leech in his heart cries, “Give, give.” But all that we can wish for is

to be found in our divine portion, so that we ask, “Whom have I in heaven but

thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.” Well may we

“delight ourselves in the Lord” who makes us to drink of the river of his

pleasures. Our faith stretches her wings and mounts like an eagle into the

heaven of divine love as to her proper dwelling-place. “The lines have fallen

to us in pleasant places; yea, we have a goodly heritage.” Let us rejoice in

the Lord always; let us show to the world that we are a happy and a blessed

people, and thus induce them to exclaim, “We will go with you, for we have

heard that God is with you.”

 

Evening   “Thine eyes shall see the King in his beauty.” / Isaiah 33:17

The more you know about Christ the less will you be satisfied with superficial

views of him; and the more deeply you study his transactions in the eternal

covenant, his engagements on your behalf as the eternal Surety, and the

fulness of his grace which shines in all his offices, the more truly will you

see the King in his beauty. Be much in such outlooks. Long more and more to

see Jesus. Meditation and contemplation are often like windows of agate, and

gates of carbuncle, through which we behold the Redeemer. Meditation puts the

telescope to the eye, and enables us to see Jesus after a better sort than we

could have seen him if we had lived in the days of his flesh. Would that our

conversation were more in heaven, and that we were more taken up with the

person, the work, the beauty of our incarnate Lord. More meditation, and the

beauty of the King would flash upon us with more resplendence. Beloved, it is

very probable that we shall have such a sight of our glorious King as we never

had before, when we come to die. Many saints in dying have looked up from

amidst the stormy waters, and have seen Jesus walking on the waves of the sea,

and heard him say, “It is I, be not afraid.” Ah, yes! when the tenement begins

to shake, and the clay falls away, we see Christ through the rifts, and

between the rafters the sunlight of heaven comes streaming in. But if we want

to see face to face the “King in his beauty” we must go to heaven for the

sight, or the King must come here in person. O that he would come on the wings

of the wind! He is our Husband, and we are widowed by his absence; he is our

Brother dear and fair, and we are lonely without him. Thick veils and clouds

hang between our souls and their true life: when shall the day break and the

shadows flee away? Oh, long-expected day, begin!