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1.  “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

2.  “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”  Isaiah 43:18-19

3.  “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12

4.  “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

5.  “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9

6.  “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:13-14




Jeremiah 31:3

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; 

Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

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 "What is the power of the Holy Spirit?"

The power of the Holy Spirit is the power of God. The Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, has appeared throughout Scripture as a Being through and by whom great works of power are made manifest. His power was first seen in the act of creation, for it was by His power the world came into being (Genesis 1:1–2Job 26:13). The Holy Spirit also empowered men in the Old Testament to bring about God’s will: “So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power” (1 Samuel 16:13; see also Exodus 31:2–5Numbers 27:18). Although the Spirit did not permanently indwell God’s people in the Old Testament, He worked through them and gave them power to achieve things they would not have been able to accomplish on their own. All of Samson’s feats of strength are directly attributed to the Spirit coming upon him (Judges 14:61915:14).

Jesus promised the Spirit as a permanent guide, teacher, seal of salvation, and comforter for believers (John 14:16-18). He also promised that the Holy Spirit’s power would help His followers to spread the message of the gospel around the world: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The salvation of souls is a supernatural work only made possible by the Holy Spirit’s power at work in the world.

When the Holy Spirit descended upon believers at Pentecost, it was not a quiet event, but a powerful one. “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them” (Acts 2:1–4). Immediately afterward, the disciples spoke to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. These people hailed from a variety of nations and therefore spoke many different languages. Imagine their surprise and wonder when the disciples spoke to them in their own tongues (verses 5–12)! Clearly, this was not something the disciples could have accomplished on their own without many months—or even years—of study. The Holy Spirit’s power was made manifest to a great number of people that day, resulting in the conversion of about 3,000 (verse 41).

During His earthly ministry, Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1), led by the Spirit (Luke 4:14), and empowered by the Spirit to perform miracles (Matthew 12:28). After Jesus had ascended to heaven, the Spirit equipped the apostles to perform miracles, too (2 Corinthians 2:12Acts 2:433:1–79:39–41). The power of the Holy Spirit was manifest among all the believers of the early church through the dispensation of spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, prophesying, teaching, wisdom, and more.

All those who put their faith in Jesus Christ are immediately and permanently indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11). And, although some of the spiritual gifts have ceased (e.g., speaking in tongues and prophecy), the Holy Spirit still works in and through believers to accomplish His will. His power leads us, convicts us, teaches us, and equips us to do His work and spread the gospel. The Holy Spirit’s powerful indwelling is an amazing gift we should never take lightly.









Integrity Draws Men to God

“Then Darius the king wrote to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language who were living in all the land: ‘May your peace abound! I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever. He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions’” (Daniel 6:25-27).

It doesn’t take a lot of people to make an impact for Christ; it merely takes the right kind.

Today’s passage proclaims the sovereignty and majesty of the living God and calls on everyone throughout the nation to fear and tremble before Him. Those verses could have been written by King David or one of the other psalmists, but they were written by a pagan king to a pagan nation. His remarkable tribute to God’s glory was the fruit of Daniel’s influence on his life.

God doesn’t really need a lot of people to accomplish His work; He needs the right kind of people. And Daniel shows us the impact one person can have when he or she is sold out to God. That’s how it is throughout Scripture. For example, Noah was God’s man during the Flood, Joseph was God’s man in Egypt, Moses was God’s man in the Exodus, and Esther was God’s woman in the days of King Ahasuerus. So it continues right down to the present. When God puts His people in the right place, His message gets through.

As a Christian, you are God’s person in your family, school, or place of employment. He has placed you there as His ambassador to influence others for Christ. That’s a wonderful privilege and an awesome responsibility.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank the Lord for His marvelous grace in your life and for the opportunities He gives you each day to share His love with others.

For Further Study
The key to Daniel’s fruitfulness, and to yours as well, is given in Psalm 1. Memorize that psalm, and recite it often as a reminder of God’s promises to those who live with biblical integrity.


Enjoying Friendship with God

"Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,' and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (James 2:21-24).

You are a friend of God if you love Him and obey His Word.

Can you imagine life without friends—those precious people who love you despite your failings and who stand by you through joys and sorrows—those to whom you've committed yourself and whose companionship you treasure? They are without question one of God's greatest gifts, yet there is an even greater gift: friendship with God Himself.

Jesus spoke of such a friendship in John 15:13-16, describing it as one of intimacy, mutual love, sacrifice, and commitment. In verse 14 He says, "You are My friends, if you do what I command you." That's the kind of friendship Abraham demonstrated when he obeyed God and prepared to offer Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:3-10). Isaac was the son through whom God's covenant to Abraham would be fulfilled. Killing him would violate that covenant and call into question the character of God, whose Word forbids human sacrifice (Deut. 18:10). It took unquestioning trust for Abraham to obey God's command. When he did, his faith was on display for all to see.

The Greek word translated "justified" in James 2:21 has two meanings: "to acquit" (treat as righteous) or "to vindicate" (demonstrate as righteous). James emphasized the second meaning. When Abraham believed God, he was justified by faith and acquitted of sin (Gen. 15:6). When he offered up Isaac, he was justified by works in that his faith was vindicated.

Faith is always the sole condition of salvation, but saving faith never stands alone—it is always accompanied by righteous works. That's the test of true salvation and of friendship with God.

As a friend of God, treasure that relationship and be careful never to let sin rob you of its fullest joy.

Suggestions for Prayer
Praise God for the privilege of being His friend.

For Further Study
Read Genesis 22:1-19, noting the faith and obedience of Abraham.


Two Destinations

“‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it’” (Matthew 7:13–14).

Both the broad and narrow ways point to the good life, to salvation, heaven, God, the kingdom, and blessing—but only the narrow way actually leads there. The broad way doesn’t have a road sign on it with hell as the destination. Jesus’ point is that this way is marked “heaven” but it doesn’t lead there.

That is the great lie of all false religions. The Lord makes clear the ultimate destinations of these two ways: the broad way leads to destruction; the narrow way leads to life. Every religion except Christianity follows the same spiritual way and leads to the same spiritual end, to hell.

There are many of those roads, and most of them are attractive, appealing, and crowded with travelers. But not a single one leads where it promises, and not a single one fails to lead where Jesus says it leads—to destruction, to total ruin and loss. It is a complete loss of well-being and the destination of all religions except the way of Jesus Christ.

But God’s way—the way that is narrow—leads to eternal life, to everlasting heavenly fellowship with God, His angels, and His people. Everlasting life is a quality of life, which is the life of God in the soul of man (see Ps. 17:15).

Ask Yourself
Celebrate today the eternal life promised to those who embrace the call of the narrow gate and the narrow way. Be grateful that none of the carry-ons and extras will ever give us the satisfaction we hope to find in them, but that in the wake of their emptiness we will be drawn ever deeper into the One whose way is both single and secure.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 21:1–22:19
* Psalm 78:34-39
* Proverbs 20:1-2
* Acts 9:1-21

1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan…moved. Second Samuel 24:1 reports that it was God who moved David. This apparent discrepancy is resolved by understanding that God sovereignly and permissively uses Satan to achieve His purposes. God uses Satan to judge sinners (Mark 4:15; 2 Cor. 4:4), to refine saints (Job 1:8–2:10; Luke 22:31, 32), to discipline those in the church (1 Cor. 5:1–5; 1 Tim. 1:20), and to further purify obedient believers (2 Cor. 12:7–10). Neither God nor Satan forced David to sin (James 1:13–15), but God allowed Satan to tempt David and he chose to sin. The sin surfaced his proud heart and God dealt with him for it. number Israel. David’s census brought tragedy because, unlike the census in Moses’ time (Num. 1; 2) which God had commanded, this census by David was to gratify his pride in the great strength of his army and consequent military power. He was also putting more trust in his forces than in his God. He was taking credit for his victories by the building of his great army. This angered God, who moved Satan to bring the sin to a head.

1 Chronicles 22:5 young. Solomon was born early in David’s reign (ca. ‪1000–990‬ B.C.) and was at this time 20 to 30 years of age. The magnificent and complex challenge of building such a monumental edifice with all its elements required an experienced leader for preparation. magnificent. David understood that the temple needed to reflect on earth something of God’s heavenly majesty, so he devoted himself to the collection of the plans and materials, tapping the vast amount of spoils from people he had conquered and cities he had sacked (vv. 14–16).

1 Chronicles 22:11–13 David’s spiritual charge to Solomon resembles the Lord’s exhortation to Joshua (Josh. 1:6–9). Solomon asked God for and received the very wisdom and understanding his father, David, desired for him (2 Chr. 1:7–12; 1 Kin. 3:3–14). He learned the value of such spiritual counsel and passed it on in Ecclesiastes 12:1, 13.

1 Chronicles 22:14 one hundred thousand…gold. Assuming a talent weighed about 75 pounds, this would be approximately 3,750 tons, a staggering amount of gold. one million. This would be approximately 37,500 tons of silver.

Proverbs 20:1 Wine…strong drink. This begins a new theme of temperance (23:20, 21, 29–35; 31:4, 5). Wine was grape juice mixed with water to dilute it, but strong drink was unmixed. While the use of these beverages is not specifically condemned (Deut. 14:26), being intoxicated always is (Is. 28:7). Rulers were not to drink, so their judgment would not be clouded nor their behavior less than exemplary (31:4, 5). mocker…brawler. “Mocker”is the same word as “scoffer” in 19:25, 29; a brawler is violent, loud, and uncontrolled. Both words describe the personality of the drunkard.

How did the apostle Paul come to faith in Jesus Christ?
The apostle Paul was originally named Saul, after the first king of Israel. He was born a Jew, studied in Jerusalem under Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), and became a Pharisee (23:6).He was also a Roman citizen, a right he inherited from his father (22:8). Acts 9:1–19 records the external facts of his conversion (see also 22:1–22; 26:9–20). Philippians 3:1–14 records the internal spiritual conversion.

At the time of his conversion Saul was “still breathing threats and murder” against Christians (Acts 9:1; 1 Tim. 1:12, 13; 1 Cor. 15:9). He was in Damascus, the capital of Syria, which apparently had a large population of Jews, including Hellenist believers who fled Jerusalem to avoid persecution (Acts 9:2). He had letters authorizing him to seek out those “who were of the Way.” This description of Christianity, derived from Jesus’ description of Himself (John 14:6), appears several times in Acts (19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22).

The “light…from heaven” (v. 3) that struck him was the appearance of Jesus Christ in glory (22:6; 26:13) and was visible only to Saul (26:9).The voice that asked him, “Why are you persecuting Me?” was that of Jesus (v. 5). An inseparable union exists between Christ and His followers. Saul’s persecution represented a direct attack on Christ. Saul arose from that encounter, blinded by the light, and went in obedience to await the next step (v. 6).

Meanwhile, Ananias was being given divine instructions concerning Paul and Paul’s ministry. He is told that Saul is a “chosen vessel,” literally “a vessel of election” (v. 15). There was perfect continuity between Paul’s salvation and his service; God chose him to convey His grace to all men (Gal. 1:1; 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). Paul used this same word 4 times (Rom. 9:21, 23; 2 Cor. 4:7; 2 Tim. 2:21). “Before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” Paul began his ministry preaching to Jews (13:14; 14:1; 17:1, 10; 18:4; 19:8), but his primary calling was to Gentiles (Rom. 11:13; 15:16). God also called him to minister to kings such as Agrippa (25:23–26:32) and likely Caesar (25:10–12; 2 Tim. 4:16, 17).

Ananias went to Paul and “laying his hands on him,” he prayed for Paul’s healing and that he would “be filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). He was then filled with the Spirit and empowered for service (2:4, 14; 4:8, 31; 6:5, 8).




Integrity Will Be Vindicated

“Then Daniel spoke to the king, ‘O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me, inasmuch as I was found innocent before Him; and also toward you, O king, I have committed no crime.’ Then the king was very pleased and gave orders for Daniel to be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no injury whatever was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The king then gave orders, and they brought those men who had maliciously accused Daniel, and they cast them, their children, and their wives into the lions’ den; and they had not reached the bottom of the den before the lions overpowered them and crushed all their bones” (Daniel 6:21-24).

God will always vindicate His people.

One of the challenges of the Christian life is to react properly when being unjustly accused. Our natural inclination is to defend ourselves, which is appropriate at times. But there are other times when we must remain silent and trust the Lord to defend us.

Apparently Daniel said nothing in his own defense when he was charged with disregarding the king’s decree to stop praying. Of course the charge itself was true, but his motives were righteous, and he knew he was innocent before God. 

Therefore, like Jesus Himself before His accusers, Daniel chose to remain silent and entrust himself to God, who “judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:22-23). 

Vindication doesn’t always come quickly, but in Daniel’s case it did. God affirmed his innocence by protecting him from the hungry lions. King Darius affirmed his innocence by putting his accusers to death. That was swift and decisive judgment.

Never lose heart or feel that God has abandoned you when evil people seem to prevail. The day will come when God will vindicate you. When He does, His judgment will also be swift and decisive.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray for a loving attitude toward those who unjustly accuse you.

For Further Study
Read James 5:7-11.
* What encouragement does James give to those who suffer at the hands of evil people?

* Who does he use as an example of someone 
* who suffered with patience?
* At what point in time will God’s people be vindicated?


Dead Faith Versus Demonic Faith

"Someone may well say, 'You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.' You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?" (James 2:18-20).

Even demonic faith is better than dead faith!

In recent years there has been an alarming rise in the number of professing Christians who believe that there's no necessary relationship between what they believe and what they do. They say you can't judge a person's spiritual condition by what he or she does because salvation is a matter of faith alone—as if requiring works violates the principle of faith.

It was that kind of reasoning that prompted James to issue this challenge: "You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works" (James 2:18). The Greek word translated "show" means "to exhibit," "demonstrate," or "put on display." His point is simple: it's impossible to verify true faith apart from holy living because doctrine and deed are inseparable.

Can you know if someone is a Christian by watching his behavior? According to James, that's the only way to know! In verse 19 he says, "You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder." In other words, affirming orthodox doctrine isn't necessarily proof of saving faith. 

Demons believe in the oneness of God, and its implications fill them with fear, but they aren't saved. The phrase "you do well" is intentionally sarcastic. The implication is that demonic faith is better than non-responsive faith because at least the demons shudder, which is better than no response at all.

You can't be a Christian in creed only—you must be one in conduct as well! James makes that very clear. Don't be confused or deceived by those who teach otherwise. 

Continually aim your life at bringing glory to God through obedient application of biblical truth.

Suggestions for Prayer
Reaffirm to the Lord your commitment to abide by His Word.

For Further Study
Read John 8:12-47. Make a list of doctrines and deeds that characterize dead faith and a corresponding list of those that characterize true faith.

The Way to Life: Simple, but Not Easy

“‘For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it’” (Matthew 7:14).

God’s way of salvation is remarkably simple, but it is not easy. Nothing we can give or give up can earn us entrance into the kingdom. But if we long to hold on to forbidden things, it can keep us out of the kingdom.

Even though we can pay nothing for salvation, coming to Jesus Christ costs us everything we have. Jesus says, “Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:27).

The person who says yes to Christ must say no to the things of the world, because to be in Christ is to rely on His power rather than our own and to be willing to forsake our own way for His. It can cost persecution, ridicule, and tribulation.

When we identify ourselves with Jesus Christ, we declare war on the devil, and he declares war on us. The one whom we formerly served now becomes our great enemy, and the ideas and ways we once held dear now become our great temptations and pitfalls.
Along with warnings of suffering, the Lord also gives promises that our hearts will rejoice (John 16:22) and that we are to take courage because He has overcome the world (John 16:33). He promises to enable us to prevail over those times of suffering, not to escape them.

Ask Yourself
Looking back, how have you experienced growth in your total dependence upon the Lord? Though we are often so hard on ourselves and perhaps weighed down with undue guilt, our hearts should rejoice to see the Spirit taking up residence in our attitudes and practices. Worship with this in mind today.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 19:1–20:8
* Psalm 78:26-33
* Proverbs 19:27-29
* Acts 8:26-40

1 Chronicles 20:1–3 The chronicler was not inspired by God to mention David’s sin with Bathsheba and subsequent sins recorded in 2 Samuel 11:2–12:23. 

The adultery and murder occurred at this time, while David stayed in Jerusalem instead of going to battle. The story was likely omitted because the book was written to focus on God’s permanent interest in His people, Israel, and the perpetuity of David’s kingdom.

1 Chronicles 20:4–8 See 2 Samuel 21:15–22.The chronicler chose not to write of some of the darker days in David’s reign, especially the revolt of David’s son Absalom, for the same reason the iniquity of the king with Bathsheba was left out. This section describes the defeat of 4 Philistine giants at the hands of David and his men. Though these events cannot be located chronologically with any certainty, the narratives of victory provide a fitting preface to David’s song of praise, which magnifies God’s deliverance (2 Sam. 22:1–51).

1 Chronicles 20:4 the giant. The Hebrew term is rapha. This was not the name of an individual, but a term used collectively for the Rephaim who inhabited the land of Canaan and were noted for their inordinate size (Gen. 15:19–21; Num. 13:33; Deut. 2:11; 3:11, 13). 

The term “Rephaim” was used of the people called the “Anakim” (Deut. 2:10, 11, 20, 21), distinguished for their size and strength. According to Joshua 11:21, 22, the “Anakim” were driven from the hill country of Israel and Judah, but remained in the Philistine cities of Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod. Though the Philistines had succumbed to the power of Israel’s army, the appearance of some great champion revived their courage and invited their hope for victory against the Israelite invaders.

How did Philip bring the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch?

Philip, who had been involved with the evangelization of the Samaritans, was told by an angel of the Lord to go to an undisclosed location along the road that went down from Jerusalem to Gaza (Acts 8:26). Gaza was one of 5 chief cities of the Philistines. The original city was destroyed in the first century B.C. and a new city was built near the coast.

There Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch. Ethiopia in those days was a large kingdom located south of Egypt. A eunuch can refer to one who had been emasculated or generally, to a government official. It is likely he was both since Luke refers to him as a eunuch and as one who held a position of authority in the queen’s court—that of treasurer, much like a Minister of Finance or Secretary of the Treasury. As a physical eunuch, he would have been denied access to the temple (Deut. 23:1) and the opportunity to become a full proselyte to Judaism.

The eunuch was reading Isaiah (Acts 8:28). He knew the importance of seeking God through the Scripture. And the verses he was reading were found in Isaiah 53:7,8. The eunuch’s question to Philip was “of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” (v. 34). His confusion was understandable. Even the Jewish religious experts were divided on the meaning of this passage. Some believed the slaughtered sheep represented Israel, others thought Isaiah was referring to himself, and others thought the Messiah was Isaiah’s subject.

Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch, who immediately responded with the wish to be baptized. After the baptism, it says that “the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away” (v. 39). Elijah (1 Kin. 18:12; 2 Kin. 2:16) and Ezekiel (Ezek. 3:12, 14; 8:3) were also snatched away in a miraculous fashion. This was a powerful confirmation to the caravan that Philip was God’s representative.




Integrity Accepts God's Will

“Then the king went off to his palace and spent the night fasting, and no entertainment was brought before him; and his sleep fled from him. Then the king arose with the dawn, at the break of day, and went in haste to the lions’ den. And when he had come near the den to Daniel, he cried out with a troubled voice. The king spoke and said to Daniel, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you constantly serve, been able to deliver you from the lions?’ Then Daniel spoke to the king, ‘O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not harmed me’” (Daniel 6:18-22a). 

When circumstances seem darkest, we can see God’s hand most clearly.

It is obvious that King Darius cared deeply for Daniel and that he had some degree of faith in Daniel’s God. Although he believed that God could deliver Daniel (v. 16), he spent a distressing and sleepless night anxiously awaiting dawn, so he could see if his belief was true. At the crack of dawn he hurried to the lions’ den and called out to Daniel. Imagine his relief to hear Daniel’s voice and to learn about how the angel had shut the lions’ mouths.

Why did Darius think God would deliver Daniel? I’m sure he learned of God from Daniel himself. Surely Daniel talked about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s deliverance from the fiery furnace and about other marvelous things God had done for His people. The king’s response shows that Daniel’s testimony was effective and that his integrity had lent credibility to his witness.

But suppose God hadn’t delivered Daniel from the lions. Would He have failed? No. Isaiah also believed God, but he was sawn in half. Stephen believed God but was stoned to death. Paul believed God but was beheaded. Trusting God means accepting His will, whether for life or death. And for Christians, “to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray for those Christian leaders today who influence kings and presidents throughout the world. Ask the Lord to give them boldness and blameless integrity.

For Further Study
How does God view the death of His children (see Ps. 116:15 and John 21:18-19)?


Exposing Dead Faith

"What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,' and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself" (James 2:14-17).

Dead faith is hypocritical, shallow, and useless.

Jesus said, "Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Your righteous deeds illuminate the path to God by reflecting His power and grace to others. That brings Him glory and proves your faith is genuine.

Your deeds also serve as the basis of divine judgment. If you practice righteousness, you will receive eternal life; if you practice unrighteousness, you will receive "wrath and indignation" (Rom. 2:6-8). God will judge you on the basis of your deeds because what you do reveals who you really are and what you really believe. That's why any so-called faith that doesn't produce good works is dead and utterly useless!

James illustrates that point in a practical way. If someone lacks the basic necessities of life and comes to you for help, what good does it do if you simply wish him well and send him away without meeting any of his needs? It does no good at all! Your pious words are hypocritical and without substance. If you really wished him well, you would do what you can to give him what he needs! Your unwillingness to do so betrays your true feelings. Similarly, dead faith is hypocritical, shallow, and useless because it doesn't put its claims into action—indeed, it has no divine capacity to do so.

I pray that your life will always manifest true faith and that others will glorify God because of your good works.

Suggestions for Prayer

Perhaps you know someone whose claim to Christianity is doubtful because his or her life doesn't evidence the fruit of righteousness. If so, pray for that person regularly and set an example by your own good works.

For Further Study
Read John 15:1-8.

What illustration did Jesus use for spiritual fruitfulness?
What is the prerequisite for fruitfulness?


The Two Ways

“‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it’” (Matthew 7:13–14).

Two gates lead to two different ways. The wide gate leads to a way that is broad; the narrow gate leads to a way that is narrow. The narrow way is the way of the godly, and the broad way is the way of the ungodly—the only two ways people can travel.
The way that is broad is the easy, attractive, inclusive, indulgent, permissive, and self-oriented way of the world. It has few rules, few restrictions, and few requirements. All you need to do is profess Jesus, or at least seem religious, and you’ll be accepted into that group.

The narrow way is the hard and demanding way—the way of self-denial and the cross. When Jesus was asked, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” He replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23–24). The Greek word for “strive” (agonizomai) indicates that entering the door to God’s kingdom takes conscious, purposeful, and intense effort.
The narrow way is for those who want God’s kingdom at any cost. Make sure that you’re following Christ as Lord along that narrow way.
Ask Yourself

We certainly live amid a “broad way” mentality—a mind-set that can worm itself into our own ways of thinking. But what has God taught and shown you during those times when you’ve been most devoid of worldly restraints, when your life has been most wholly devoted to His Word and His ways?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 17:1–18:17
* Psalm 78:17-25
* Proverbs 19:25-26
* Acts 8:1-25
1 Chronicles 17:27 The Davidic Covenant in Chronicles
1 Chr. 17:7–27
God to Nathan to David
1 Chr. 22:6–16
David to Solomon
1 Chr. 28:6, 7
David to Solomon
2 Chr. 6:8, 9, 16, 17
Solomon to the nation
2 Chr. 7:17, 18
God to Solomon
2 Chr. 13:4, 5
Abijah to Jeroboam
2 Chr. 21:7

Chronicler’s commentary
Psalm 78:18 the food of their fancy. Instead of being grateful for God’s marvelous provisions of manna, the Israelites complained against God and Moses. God sent them meat, but also judged them (Num. 11).

Proverbs 19:25 scoffer…simple…understanding.Three classes of people are noted: 1) scoffers are rebuked for learning nothing; 2) simpletons are warned by observing the rebuke of the scoffer; and 3) the understanding deepen their wisdom from any reproof.

Acts 8:1 consenting. Paul’s murderous hatred of all believers was manifested here in his attitude toward Stephen (1 Tim. 1:13–15). scattered. Led by a Jew named Saul of Tarsus, the persecution scattered the Jerusalem fellowship and led to the first missionary outreach of the church. Not all members of the Jerusalem church were forced to flee; the Hellenists, because Stephen was likely one, bore the brunt of the persecution (11:19,20). except the apostles. They remained because of their devotion to Christ, to care for those at Jerusalem, and to continue evangelizing the region (9:26, 27).

Acts 8:3 he made havoc of the church. “Made havoc” was used in extrabiblical writings to refer to the destruction of a city or mangling by a wild animal.
Acts 8:10, 11 the great power of God. Simon claimed to be united to God. The early church fathers claimed he was one of the founders of Gnosticism, which asserted there were a series of divine emanations reaching up to God. They were called Powers, and the people believed he was at the top of the ladder.

Is the Holy Spirit received subsequent to salvation?
In Acts 8:15, Peter and John were sent to Samaria to pray for those who had responded to the preaching of Philip (Acts 8:4–13) that they might receive the Holy Spirit. “For as yet He had fallen upon none of them” (v. 16). This verse does not support the false notion that Christians receive the Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation. This was a transitional period in which confirmation by the apostles was necessary to verify the inclusion of a new group of people into the church. Because of the animosity that existed between Jews and Samaritans, it was essential for the Samaritans to receive the Spirit in the presence of the leaders of the Jerusalem church, for the purpose of maintaining a unified church. The delay also revealed the Samaritans’ need to come under apostolic authority. The same transitional event occurred when the Gentiles were added to the church (11:44–46; 15:6–12; 19:6).

So “they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit” (v. 17). This signified apostolic affirmation and solidarity. That this actually occurred likely demonstrated that believers also spoke in tongues here, just as those who received the Spirit did on the Day of Pentecost, as the Gentiles did when they received the Spirit (10:46), and as those followers of John did (19:6). As Samaritans, Gentiles, and believers from the Old Covenant were added to the church, the unity of the church was established. No longer could one nation (Israel) be God’s witness people, but the church made up of Jews, Gentiles, half-breed Samaritans, and Old Testament saints who became New Testament believers (19:1–7). To demonstrate the unity, it was imperative that there be some replication in each instance of what had occurred at Pentecost with the believing Jews, such as the presence of the apostles and the coming of the Spirit manifestly indicated through speaking in the languages of Pentecost (2:5–12).




My beloved brethren 
I wish to inform you:

My dear friends and brethren. 

My sister called up last Night, around 9:30 PM, to announce that mom passed away. 

I find my consolation in the Lord.  I am continually giving Him the honor and glory for everything.  

God has mercy on whom ever He wants to have mercy.  

And I see that in mom's passing away, His compassion was upon her. 

She went to rest rather quickly.  I don't see any pain and suffering.  As my sister explains her heart was pounding out of her chest.  She put mom in the car and on the way to the hospital she passed away. 

Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. - 2 Corinthians 5:8

The apostle Paul appears to tell us here that something better than our current lives, namely being in the presence of God, awaits us after death, when we depart from our bodies.  

When God breathed into the man nostrils, it was a breath of life.  Man became a living soul.  The body goes to rest and the Bible uses the metaphor to sleep.  The christians soul as per Paul goes to be present with the Lord.  And that was Paul's desire.  

Praise God for that. 

God bless you all dearly

Maximiliano and Elba


Integrity Enjoys Divine Resources

“Then they approached and spoke before the king about the king’s injunction, ‘Did you not sign an injunction that any man who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, is to be cast into the lions’ den?’ The king answered and said, ‘The statement is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.’ Then they answered and spoke before the king, ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the injunction which you signed, but keeps making his petition three times a day.’ Then, as soon as the king heard this statement, he was deeply distressed and set his mind on delivering Daniel; and even until sunset he kept exerting himself to rescue him. Then these men came by agreement to the king and said to the king, ‘Recognize, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or statute which the king establishes may be changed.’ Then the king gave orders, and Daniel was brought in and cast into the lions’ den. The king spoke and said to Daniel, ‘Your God whom you constantly serve will Himself deliver you.’ And a stone was brought and laid over the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet ring and with the signet rings of his nobles, so that nothing might be changed in regard to Daniel” (Daniel 6:12-17).

When human resources have been exhausted, God has only begun to work.
The ink had barely dried on Darius’ decree when Daniel’s enemies reappeared to accuse him of disregarding the order. Only then did Darius realize the grave consequences of his actions.

In his deep distress the king exhausted every legal effort to save Daniel, but to no avail. Even he could not revoke the death sentence he had unwittingly placed on his loyal and trusted servant. In his grief and humility he confessed that God Himself would deliver Daniel. He was right!

Suggestions for Prayer
What are you praying for that only God can do, so that when He does it, He alone will get the glory?

For Further Study
Read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10. What was the apostle Paul’s attitude toward his own weaknesses?


Having a Faith That Works

"What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? . . . You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (James 2:14, 24).

True faith produces good works.

Many false teachers claim that you can earn your own salvation by doing good works. Most Christians understand the heresy of that teaching, but some become confused when they read that "a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone" (James 2:24). That seems to conflict with Paul's teaching on salvation by grace through faith.

But when properly understood, James' teaching on salvation is perfectly consistent with Paul's. Paul clearly taught salvation by grace. In Ephesians 2:8-9 he says, "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." But Paul also taught that true salvation results in good works, for in the next verse he says, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."

In Titus 3:5 he says that God "saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy"; but Titus 2:11-12 clarifies that God's grace leads us "to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." That's the proper balance between faith and works.

James also taught salvation by grace. He said that God redeems sinners by the Word of truth and implants His Word within them to enable them to progress in holiness (James 1:18, 21). That's a divine work, not a human effort. James 2:14-24 follows that up by telling us how we can know that work has taken place: there will be more than just a proclamation of faith but a faith that does good works.

Don't be confused by how faith relates to good works. Put the two together by being a living testimony to God's saving grace.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the righteousness He is producing in your life. Look for specific ways to demonstrate your faith to those around you today.

For Further Study
Read John 8:31-32.
* What is the mark of a true disciple?
* What effect does God's Word have on those who heed what it says?


The Narrow Gate, Part 2

“‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it’” (Matthew 7:13–14).

Entering through the narrow gate makes a few demands on the person passing through. First, he must enter alone. You can bring no one else and nothing else with you. Some have suggested that the gate is like a turnstile: only one person can get through at a time, and with no baggage.

The narrow gate also demands we must go through naked. This is a gate of self-denial—you can’t carry the baggage of sin and self-will. The way of Christ is the way of the cross, and the way of the cross is self-denial: “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matt. 16:24–25).
The narrow gate also demands repentance. Many Jews believed that merely being a Jew, a physical descendant of Abraham, was sufficient for entrance into heaven. Many people today believe that being in a church, or even being a good human being, qualifies them. But the way of repentance, of turning from their own way and their own righteousness to God’s, is the only way to enter His kingdom and therefore the only way to keep from perishing.

Ask Yourself
What are the various pieces of baggage that people want to hold on to as they enter from death to life? What are the pieces that you still have a tendency to long for, even on this side of the narrow gate?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 15:1–16:43
* Psalm 78:12-16
* Proverbs 19:22-24
* Acts 7:44-60

1 Chronicles 15:1 David built houses for himself. He was able by the alliance and help of Hiram (18:1) to build a palace for himself and separate houses for his wives and their children. While the ark remained near Jerusalem at the home of Obed-Edom for 3 months (13:13, 14), David constructed a new tabernacle in Jerusalem to fulfill God’s word in Deuteronomy 12:5–7of a permanent residency.

1 Chronicles 15:11 Zadok…Abiathar. These two high priests, heads of the two priestly houses of Eleazar and Ithamar, were colleagues in the high priesthood (2 Sam. 20:25). They served the Lord simultaneously in David’s reign. Zadok attended the tabernacle in Gibeon (1 Chr. 16:39), while Abiathar served the temporary place of the ark in Jerusalem. Ultimately, Zadok prevailed (1 Kin. 2:26, 27).

Psalm 78:13 waters stand up like a heap. The parting of the Red Sea at the beginning of the Exodus, which allowed Israel to escape from the Egyptian armies, was always considered by the Old Testament saints to be the most spectacular miracle of their history (Ex. 14).

Psalm 78:15 split the rocks. Twice in the wilderness, when Israel desperately needed a great water supply, God brought water out of rocks (Ex. 17:6; Num. 20:11).
Acts 7:44–50 To counter the false charge that he blasphemed the temple (6:13, 14), Stephen recounted its history to show his respect for it.

Acts 7:49, 50 Quoted from Isaiah 66:1, 2. Stephen’s point is that God is greater than the temple, and thus the Jewish leaders were guilty of blaspheming by confining God to it.

Why was Stephen martyred?
In the climax of Stephen’s sermon (Acts 7:51–53), he indicted the Jewish leaders for rejecting God in the same way that their ancestors had rejected Him in the Old Testament. He told the members of the esteemed Sanhedrin that they were “stiff-necked” like their fathers (Ex. 32:9; 33:5) and “uncircumcised in heart and ears!” Thus they were as unclean before God as the uncircumcised Gentiles (Deut. 10:16; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:28, 29). “You always resist the Holy Spirit” by rejecting the Spirit’s messengers and their message. And when he spoke of the “Just One,” Stephen reminds them that they betrayed and murdered Him (v. 52). His words were reminiscent of those from Jesus’ sermon in Matthew 23:13–39.

The reaction of the Sanhedrin was that they “gnashed at him with their teeth” (v. 54).That is the fullness of anger and frustration and was in contrast to Stephen, who “being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (v. 55). Isaiah (Is. 6:1–3), Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:26–28), Paul (2 Cor. 12:2–4), and John (Rev. 1:10) also received visions of God’s glory in heaven.

Stephen’s words were so appalling that they took him out of the city and “stoned him.” This was the punishment prescribed in the law for blasphemy (Lev. 24:16); however, this was not a formal execution but an act of mob violence. And those who participated “laid down their clothes…Saul” (v. 58). Paul’s first appearance in Scripture. That he was near enough to the action to be holding the clothes of Stephen’s killers reflects his deep involvement in the sordid affair. And Paul heard those marvelous words of Stephen, “do not charge them with this sin” (v. 60). As had Jesus before him (Luke 23:34), Stephen prayed for God to forgive his killers.




Integrity Is Devoted to Prayer

“Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God” (Daniel 6:10-11).

There is a direct link between prayer and integrity.

It is no coincidence that those whom God uses most effectively are those who are most fervent in prayer. David, for example, called upon the Lord in the morning, at noon, and at night, and the Lord heard his prayers (Ps. 55:17). Daniel followed the same pattern, praying three times a day from his roof chamber, where he could look out above the rooftops of Babylon toward Jerusalem.

Houses in Babylon often had latticework over their windows to allow ventilation, and Daniel would be visible through that latticework as he faced Jerusalem, prayed for its restoration, and gave thanks to God. He knew that Darius had issued a decree making it illegal to pray and that violating the decree would give his enemies opportunity to accuse him, but he would not forsake prayer or compromise his convictions. He would continue to call upon the Lord and leave any consequences to Him.

That was a bold decision for Daniel to make, especially in light of the punishment he would face. Would you be as bold if you knew that your prayers would lead to persecution and possible death? Perhaps more important, are you that committed to prayer even when you aren’t facing persecution? I trust that you are. The seriousness of the spiritual battles you face requires faithfulness in prayer. That’s why Paul said, “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving” (Col. 4:2).

Suggestions for Prayer
Are you devoted to prayer? If not, begin today to set aside a specific time daily to commune with the Lord and meditate on His Word. You might try keeping a written record of your prayer requests, noting the specific ways God answers them.

For Further Study
What was our Lord’s pattern of prayer, and how did He instruct His disciples to pray (see Luke 5:16; 6:12; Matt. 6:5-13)?


Showing Mercy

"So speak and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:12-13).

Showing mercy is characteristic of a regenerate person.

Divine judgment has never been a popular topic of conversation. Godly people throughout history have been ridiculed, persecuted, and even killed for proclaiming it. In their efforts to win the approval of men, false teachers question or deny it. But James 2:12-13reminds us that judgment will come, so we'd better live accordingly.

The basis for divine judgment is God's Word, which James called "the law of liberty" (v. 12). It is a liberating law because it frees you from sin's bondage and the curse of death and hell. It is the agency of the Spirit's transforming work, cutting deep into your soul to judge your thoughts and motives (Heb. 4:12). It gives you the wisdom that leads to salvation, and equips you for godly living (2 Tim. 3:15-17). It imparts truth and discernment, freeing you from error and spiritual deception. It is in every sense a law of freedom and liberation for those who embrace it.

The law liberates believers but condemns unbelievers. The phrase "judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy" (v. 13) speaks of unrelieved judgment in which every sin receives its fullest punishment. That can only mean eternal hell! If the Word is at work in you, its effects will be evident in the way you speak and act. If you are impartial and merciful to people in need, that shows you are a true Christian and have received God's forgiveness and mercy yourself. If you show partiality and disregard for the needy, the law becomes your judge, exposing the fact that you aren't truly redeemed.

Are you a merciful person? Do you seek to provide for others without favoritism? When you fail to do so, do you confess your sin and seek forgiveness and restoration? Those are marks of true faith.

Suggestions for Prayer
Praise the Lord for His great mercy toward you, and be sure to show mercy to those around you.

For Further Study
Read Luke 1:46-55 and 68-79. Follow Mary's and Zacharias's example by rejoicing over God's mercy toward His people.


The Narrow Gate, Part 1

“‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it’” (Matthew 7:13–14).

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount has been heading toward the appeal found in these two verses. Here is His call to people to make a decision about becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom and inheriting eternal life, or remaining a citizen of this fallen world and receiving damnation. Every person eventually comes to this crossroads in life, where he’ll need to decide on which gate to enter and which way to follow.

“Enter” is in a mood that demands a definite and specific action. Jesus pleads for people to enter the narrow gate, God’s gate, the only gate that leads to life and to heaven. Throughout the sermon Jesus had contrasted the narrowness of God’s internal standard of righteousness to the broad and external standards of Jewish tradition. The path to that narrow way of kingdom living is through the narrow gate of the King Himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). We proclaim a narrow gospel because that is the only gospel God has given and therefore the only gospel there is.

Make sure you are proclaiming to others the narrow gospel God has given us.

Ask Yourself
We needn’t apologize that the way to Christ is narrow and exclusive. For if it weren’t for this narrow way, there would be no way. Try to avoid presenting the gospel to others in an apologetic manner, one that accommodates more human choice and preference than God’s Word allows. Invite them to the true gospel alone, knowing that the Spirit of God will draw others only to the truth.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 13:1–14:17
* Psalm 78:1-11
* Proverbs 19:20-21
* Acts 7:22-43

1 Chronicles 13:3 the ark of our God. Not only had the ark been stolen and profaned by the Philistines (1 Sam. 5–6), but when it was returned, Saul neglected to seek God’s instruction for it. Scripture records only one occasion when Saul sought God’s ark after its return (1 Sam.14:18).

1 Chronicles 14:8–17 The Philistines desired to ruin David before the throne was consolidated. Their plan was to kill David, but God gave him victory over the Philistines (unlike Saul) and thus declared both to the Philistines and Israel His support of Israel’s new king.

Psalm 78:2 parable. The word is used here in the broader sense of a story with moral and spiritual applications. dark sayings. Puzzling, ambiguous information. The lessons of history are not easily discerned correctly. For an infallible interpretation of history, there must be a prophet. The specific puzzle in Israel’s history is the nation’s rebellious spirit in spite of God’s grace.

Acts 7:23 he was forty years old. Moses’ life may be divided into three 40-year periods. The first 40 years encompassed his birth and life in Pharaoh’s court; the second, his exile in Midian (vv. 29, 30); and the third revolved around the events of the Exodus and the years of Israel’s wilderness wandering (v. 36).

Acts 7:43 Babylon. Amos wrote Damascus (Amos 5:27), while Stephen said Babylon. Amos was prophesying the captivity of the northern kingdom in Assyria, a deportation beyond Damascus. Later, the southern kingdom was taken captive to Babylon. Stephen, inspired to do so, extended the prophecy to embrace the judgment on the whole nation summarizing their idolatrous history and its results. 

What does it mean that God “gave them up” in Acts 7:42? 
“Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven.” Here Stephen quoted from Amos 5:25–27. It means that God judicially abandoned the people to their sin and idolatry (Hos. 4:17).The worship of the sun, moon, and stars began in the wilderness and lasted through the Babylonian captivity (Deut. 4:19; 17:3; 2 Kin. 17:16; 21:3–5; 23:4; 2 Chr. 33:3, 5; Jer. 8:2; 19:13; Zeph. 1:5).

Similarly, in Romans 1:24, it states that “God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts.” The Greek word used is for handing over a prisoner to his sentence. When men consistently abandon God, He will abandon them (Judg. 10:13; 2 Chr. 15:2; 24:20; Ps. 81:11, 12; Matt. 15:14). He accomplishes this 1) indirectly and immediately, by removing His restraint and allowing their sin to run its inevitable course and 2) directly and eventually, by specific acts of divine judgment and punishment. “Uncleanness” is a general term often used of decaying matter, like the contents of a grave. It speaks here of sexual immorality (2 Cor. 12:21; Gal. 5:19–23; Eph. 5:3; 1 Thess. 4:7), which begins in the heart and moves to the shame of the body.

And “God gave them up to vile passions” (Rom. 1:26). This is identified in vv. 26, 27 as homosexuality, a sin roundly condemned in Scripture (Gen. 19; Lev. 18:22; 1 Cor. 6:9–11; Gal. 5:19–21; Eph. 5:3–5; 1 Tim. 1:9, 10; Jude 7). Rather than the normal Greek term for “women,” this is a general word for female. Paul mentions women first to show the extent of debauchery under the wrath of abandonment, because in most cultures women are the last to be affected by moral collapse.

And “God gave them over to a debased mind” (v. 28).This translates a Greek word that means “not passing the test.” It was often used to describe useless, worthless metals, discarded because they contained too much impurity. God has tested man’s minds and found them worthless and useless (Jer. 6:30).




Integrity Triumphs over Deception

“Then these commissioners and satraps came by agreement to the king and spoke to him as follows: ‘King Darius, live forever! All the commissioners of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the high officials and the governors have consulted together that the king should establish a statute and enforce an injunction that anyone who makes a petition to any god or man besides you, O king, for thirty days, shall be cast into the lions’ den. Now, O king, establish the injunction and sign the document so that it may not be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which may not be revoked.’ Therefore King Darius signed the document, that is, the injunction” (Daniel 6:6-9).

Integrity is more precious than flattery.

King David once prayed:
O Lord, lead me in Thy righteousness because of my foes; make Thy way straight before me. There is nothing reliable in what they say; their inward part is destruction itself; their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Hold them guilty, O God . . . for they are rebellious against Thee. But let all who take refuge in Thee be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and mayest Thou shelter them, that those who love Thy name may exult in Thee. For it is Thou who dost bless the righteous man, O LORD, Thou dost surround him with favor as with a shield.
—PSALM 5:8-12

That could have been Daniel’s prayer as well, being surrounded by men who were rebellious against God who and flattered Darius so they could have Daniel put to death. By their own devices they would fall, but not before Daniel’s integrity was tested.

Darius yielded to deceitful flattery, decreeing that he alone could grant petitions. (His ego is reminiscent of Nebuchadnezzar’s [Dan. 3:12].) Daniel, on the other hand, was unyielding in his convictions, and God literally surrounded him with favor as with a shield.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that when your faith is tested, you will stand firm and have the assurance that God is surrounding you with His favor.

For Further Study
Psalm 5:12 says that God blesses the righteous man. According to Psalm 64:10 and Psalm 92:12-15, what are some of those blessings?


Transgressing the Royal Law

"If you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, 'Do not commit adultery,' also said, 'Do not commit murder.' Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law" (James 2:9-11).

You sin when you fall short of God’s holy standard or go beyond the limits of His law.
Many people attempt to justify their sinfulness by categorizing sins according to their apparent severity. For example, telling a "little white lie" isn't as serious to them as committing perjury; cheating on their income tax isn't as serious as robbing a bank. 

Others see God's law as a series of detached injunctions, and assume they can gain credit with God by keeping one law even if they break the others. In the final analysis, if the laws they don't break outweigh the laws they do, they think everything will be OK.
Apparently some of those to whom James wrote had the same misconceptions, believing sins like prejudice, partiality, and indifference to the poor weren't as serious as sins like murder and adultery. Or perhaps they believed they could make up for their favoritism by keeping God's law in other areas.

Both of those views are erroneous and potentially damning because God's law isn't a series of detached injunctions or a way of gaining credit with God. It's a unified representation of His holy nature. Even though all sins aren't equally heinous or damaging, from God's perspective every sin violates His standard. When you break one law, you break them all and are characterized as a sinner and transgressor.

"Sin" in verse 9 speaks of missing the mark and falling short of God's holy standard. "Transgressors" refers to going beyond the accepted limits. One says you've fallen short; the other says you've gone too far. Both are equal violations of God's holiness. You must see all sin as an affront to Him and never compound your sin by attempting to hide it, justify it, or counterbalance it with good works.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Memorize 1 John 1:9 and always confess your sin whenever you violate God's holy law.

* Praise God for pitying our plight as sinners and providing a Savior.

For Further Study
Read Galatians 3:10-29, noting the purpose of God's law.


The Golden Rule Summarized

“‘In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 7:12).

The perfect love of the heavenly Father is most reflected in His children when they treat others as they themselves wish to be treated. This verse is a summary of the Law and the Prophets. It’s also a paraphrase of the second great commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). How we treat others is not determined by how we expect them to treat us or by how we think they should treat us, but by how we want them to treat us.

Man’s basic problem is preoccupation with self. In the final analysis, every sin results from that preoccupation. We sin because we are totally selfish, totally devoted to ourselves rather than to God and to others. Unregenerate humanity can never reach the standard of selfless love on its own.

So the dynamic for living this supreme ethic must come from outside our fallen nature. It can come only from the indwelling Holy Spirit, whose firstfruit is love (Gal. 5:22). In Jesus Christ “the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5). Only Christ’s own Spirit can empower us to love each other as He loves us (John 13:34).

Selfless love serves for the sake of the one being served, and serves in the way it likes being served—whether it receives such service or not. This level of love is the divine level, and can be achieved only by divine help.

Ask Yourself
Sometimes we find ourselves grappling with such deep biblical matters that we overlook the most simple—like the Golden Rule. Try being more deliberate in the coming day to heeding this basic teaching of Jesus. See how it alters the way you approach even your routine interactions with others.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 11:1–12:40
* Psalm 77:16-20
* Proverbs 19:17-19
* Acts 7:1-21

1 Chronicles 12:18 the Spirit. A temporary empowerment by the Holy Spirit to assure David that the Benjamites and Judahites were loyal to him and that the cause was blessed by God.

Acts 7:2–53 Stephen’s response does not seem to answer the high priest’s question. Instead, he gave a masterful, detailed defense of the Christian faith from the Old Testament and concluded by condemning the Jewish leaders for rejecting Jesus.
Acts 7:2 The God of glory. A title used only here and in Psalm 29:3.God’s glory is the sum of His attributes (Ex. 33:18, 19). Abraham…Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran. Genesis 12:1–4 refers to the repeat of this call after Abraham had settled in Haran (ca. 500 miles northwest of Ur). Evidently, God had originally called Abraham while he was living in Ur (Gen. 15:7; Neh. 9:7), then repeated that call at Haran (Gen. 11:31–12:3). 

What were the sources for the writer of the Chronicles? 
The inspiration of Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16) was sometimes accomplished through direct revelation from God without a human writer, e.g., the Mosaic Law. At other times, God used human sources, as mentioned in Luke 1:1–4. Such was the experience of the chronicler as evidenced by the many contributing sources. Whether the material came through direct revelation or by existing resources, God’s inspiration through the Holy Spirit prevented the original human authors of Scripture from any error (2 Pet. 1:19–21). Although relatively few scribal errors have been made in copying Scripture, they can be identified and corrected. Thus, the original, inerrant content of the Bible has been preserved.

1. Book of the Kings of Israel/Judah (1 Chr. 9:1; 2 Chr. 16:11; 20:34; 25:26; 27:7; 28:26; 32:32; 35:27; 36:8)
2. The Chronicles of David (1 Chr. 27:24)
3. Book of Samuel (1 Chr. 29:29)
4. Book of Nathan (1 Chr. 29:29; 2 Chr. 9:29)
5. Book of Gad (1 Chr. 29:29)
6. Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite (2 Chr. 9:29)
7. Visions of Iddo (2 Chr. 9:29)
8. Records of Shemaiah (2 Chr. 12:15)
9. Records of Iddo (2 Chr. 12:15)
10. Annals of Iddo (2 Chr. 13:22)
11. Annals of Jehu (2 Chr. 20:34)
12. Commentary on the Book of the Kings (2 Chr. 24:27)
13. Acts of Uzziah by Isaiah (2 Chr. 26:22)
14. Letters/Message of Sennacherib (2 Chr. 32:10–17)
15. Vision of Isaiah (2 Chr. 32:32)
16. Words of the Seers (2 Chr. 33:18)
17. Sayings of Hozai (2 Chr. 33:19)
18. Written instructions of David and Solomon (2 Chr. 35:4)
19. The Laments (2 Chr. 35:25)




Integrity Promotes a Righteous Person

“Then the commissioners and satraps began trying to find a ground of accusation against Daniel in regard to government affairs; but they could find no ground of accusation or evidence of corruption, inasmuch as he was faithful, and no negligence or corruption was to be found in him. Then these men said, ‘We shall not find any ground of accusation against this Daniel unless we find it against him with regard to the law of his God’” (Daniel 6:4-5).

Live so as to silence your critics.

Whenever God exalts a righteous person, there will be those who are jealous and who criticize. Sometimes, as in Daniel’s case, the jealousy turns to bitter opposition. But Daniel’s accusers had a problem: try as they may, they could find no ground of accusation against him. He was blameless and above reproach in his character and political dealings. Their only option was to somehow indict him for being totally committed to God. What a wonderful testimony to his faithfulness!

When an individual has served in office as long as Daniel had and his enemies can bring no charges of wrongdoing against him, he or she must be a person of great integrity and personal purity. That was the strength of Daniel’s character, and God wants you to have that kind of character as well.

There will always be those who want to discredit you. Even if they aren’t jealous of your position, they’ll resent your Christian faith and will scrutinize your attitudes and actions in an attempt to tarnish your reputation. How will your character hold up under that kind of scrutiny?

The apostle Peter wrote, “Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12). That means you must live the kind of life that silences your critics and refutes their accusations. When you do, some of them might even come to Christ.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to guard your testimony and to minister saving grace to anyone who might seek to discredit you.

For Further Study
Read Philippians 1:12-18. What was the apostle Paul’s perspective on those who were envious of him? Do you share his perspective?


Fulfilling the Royal Law

"If . . . you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing well" (James 2:8).

Love is the only antidote for partiality.

In Matthew 22:36 a lawyer asked Jesus which commandment was the greatest. Jesus answered, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (vv. 37-40). Love for God and one's fellow man summarizes the intent of God's law, and is the measure of true faith.

Jesus wasn't calling for the shallow, emotional, self-oriented love that is so prevalent in our society, but for a sacrificial quality of love that places the needs of others on par with your own. That kind of love is utterly incompatible with partiality, which seeks only to further its own selfish goals.

Showing partiality breaks God's law because it violates God's attributes, misrepresents the Christian faith, ignores God's choice of the poor, and condones the blasphemous behavior of the rich (James 2:1-7). But when you treat others impartially, you fulfill the royal law. "Royal" in James 2:8 translates a Greek word that speaks of sovereignty. The law was given by God, who is the supreme authority in the universe, so it is authoritative and binding. Love fulfills God's law because if you love someone, you won't sin against him.

Apparently not all of James's readers were showing partiality, so he commended them, saying they were "doing well." The Greek word translated "well" speaks of that which is excellent. They were doing an excellent thing because they were acting in a manner consistent with God's impartial, loving nature. That's God's call to every believer: for "the one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked" (1 John 2:6). As you do, you fulfill God's law and thereby prove that your faith and love are genuine.

Suggestions for Prayer
God's love is the only antidote for partiality, so pray each day that He will teach you how better to express His love to those around you.

For Further Study
Read the following verses, noting the characteristics of godly love: John 3:16, Ephesians 5:25-29, Philippians 1:9-11, and 1 John 5:1-3.


God’s Love Illustrated

“‘What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!’” (Matthew 7:9–11).

If we claim to be God’s children, we should be reflecting God’s character in our lives. Jesus here shows us something of what our heavenly Father’s love is like.

Jesus asks two rhetorical questions. The first asks what loving father would ever give his son a stone if he asked for a piece of bread. Leading up to the second question, Jesus gives an example of a son asking his father for a fish. The father wouldn’t give his son a snake, would he? The obvious answer to both is that no father would do that because it isn’t natural to ignore the physical or spiritual needs of his son.

In contrast to sinful, human fathers, our divine, loving, merciful, gracious Father has no limit on His treasure and no bounds to His goodness. Yet even the greatest human parental love cannot compare with God’s.

The truth Jesus proclaims here is that, if imperfect and sinful human fathers so willingly and freely give their children the basics of life, God will infinitely outdo them in measure and benefit. If we want God to treat us with loving generosity as His children, we should so treat others, because we are those who bear His likeness.

Ask Yourself
As always, our dealings with God are based on relationship—a relationship He has graciously established and continues to maintain. What threatens your own ability to view Him in this light, rather than primarily relating to Him only in religious terms—distant and detached?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 9:1–10:14
* Psalm 77:10-15
* Proverbs 19:15-16
* Acts 6:1-15

Psalm 77:10 This psalm illustrates one cure for depression. The psalmist does not explain the cause of his despair, but he was definitely locked into gloom. When he thought about God, it only caused him to complain bitterly. But beginning in v. 10, the psalmist’s mood starts to change because he commits himself to focusing on God’s goodness and past acts of deliverance. His lament then changes into a hymn of praise. years of the right hand of the Most High. The psalmist began to remember the times when God used His right hand (power) to strengthen and protect him.

Proverbs 19:16 commandment. Wisdom is equated with God’s commandments. In a sense, Proverbs contain the applications and implications of all that is in God’s moral law.

Acts 6:7 One of Luke’s periodic statements summarizing the growth of the church and the spread of the gospel (2:41, 47; 4:4; 5:14; 9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 16:5; 19:20). great many of the priests. The conversion of large numbers of priests may account for the vicious opposition that arose against Stephen.

Acts 6:8 wonders and signs. Acts 4:30; 5:12; 14:3; 15:12. Wonders is the amazement people experience when witnessing supernatural works (miracles). Signs point to the power of God behind miracles—marvels have no value unless they point to God and His truth. Such works were often done by the Holy Spirit through the apostles (5:12–16) and their associates (6:8) to authenticate them as the messengers of God’s truth (2 Cor. 12:12;Heb. 2:3, 4).

Acts 6:15 face of an angel. Pure, calm, unruffled composure, reflecting the presence of God (Ex. 34:29–35).

How did the apostles deal with the first major problem within the church?
By Acts 6:1 the church could have reached over 20,000 men and women. At that time “there arose a complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenists.” Hebrews were the native Jewish population of Palestine; Hellenists were Jews from the Diaspora. The Hellenists’ absorption of aspects of Greek culture made them suspect to the Palestinian Jews. The Hellenists believed their widows were not receiving an adequate share of the food the church provided for their care (1 Tim. 5:3–16).

The apostles considered the problem and said they could not “leave the word of God and serve tables” (v. 2). The word translated “tables” can refer to tables used in monetary matters (Matt. 21:12; Mark 11:15; John 2:15), as well as those used for serving meals. To be involved either in financial matters or in serving meals would take the 12 away from their first priority. Prayer and the ministry of the word (v. 2) define the highest priorities of church leaders (v. 4).

Rather, they told the church to pick out “seven men” to take care of it (v. 3). These were not deacons in terms of the later church office (1 Tim. 3:8–13), although they performed some of the same duties. Stephen and Philip (the only ones of the 7 mentioned elsewhere in Scripture) clearly were evangelists, not deacons. Acts later mentions elders (14:23; 20:17), but not deacons.

The 7 men chosen by the church all had Greek names, implying they were all Hellenists. The church, in a display of love and unity, may have chosen them to rectify the apparent imbalance involving the Hellenistic widows. The apostles “prayed…laid hands on them” (v. 6). This expression was used of Jesus when He healed and sometimes indicated being taken prisoner. In the Old Testament, offerers of sacrifices laid their hands on the animal as an expression of identification (Lev. 8:14,18,22; Heb. 6:2). But in the symbolic sense, it signified the affirmation, support, and identification with someone and his ministry (see 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:22; 2 Tim. 1:6; Num. 27:23).




Integrity Is Consistent

“It seemed good to Darius to appoint 120 satraps over the kingdom, that they should be in charge of the whole kingdom, and over them three commissioners (of whom Daniel was one), that these satraps might be accountable to them, and that the king might not suffer loss. Then this Daniel began distinguishing himself among the commissioners and satraps because he possessed an extraordinary spirit, and the king planned to appoint him over the entire kingdom” (Daniel 6:1-3).

Nations come and go, but God’s plans continue through people of biblical integrity.
As we come to Daniel 6, King Nebuchadnezzar is gone; Belshazzar, his son and successor to the throne, has been slain; the great Babylonian Empire has fallen to the Medo-Persians; and a king identified only as “Darius” (probably another name for Cyrus) is ruling the Medo-Persian Empire. But amidst all those changes, two things remain constant: Daniel distinguishes himself among his peers, and God exalts him.

Daniel served in Babylon for seventy years under three kings, each of whom recognized him as a man of unique wisdom and integrity. King Nebuchadnezzar “made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon” (Dan. 2:48). King Belshazzar “clothed [him] with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom” (Dan. 5:29).

Now King Darius is about to appoint Daniel as prime minister over the entire kingdom, and within a year the king will issue a decree for the Jews to return to Judah, thereby ending the seventy-year Babylonian captivity (Ezra 1:1-3). I believe Cyrus made that decree because of Daniel’s wisdom and influence.

Through Daniel’s faithfulness we learn that God is sovereign and will accomplish His plans regardless of human authorities. So despite any political, social, or economic changes that may come, remain faithful to Christ and He will use you in ways that are exceeding abundantly beyond all you ask or think (Eph. 3:20).

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that true Christianity will flourish in America and that our nation’s leaders will come to love the Lord and govern with biblical wisdom.

For Further Study
According to Isaiah 40:7-8, 15-17, how does God view the nations?


Siding with God's Enemies

"Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called?" (James 2:6-7).

You can’t accomplish God’s purposes by siding with His enemies.

Favoritism has a way of blinding its victims to reality. James wrote of Christians who were trying to impress a rich man so they could benefit from his wealth and social status (vv. 2-3). The rich man represented the enemies of Christ, yet they gave him preferential treatment anyway. The poor man represented those whom God chose to be rich in faith and heirs of His kingdom, yet they treated him badly and dishonored him (v. 6). That's not only inconsistent, it's foolish! You can't accomplish God's purposes by siding with His enemies.

Some ungodly rich people tyrannized Christians by withholding their wages and even putting some to death (James 5:4-6). They forcibly dragged Christians to court to exploit them by some injustice or inequity. They blasphemed the fair name of Christ. The phrase "by which you have been called" (v. 7) speaks of a personal relationship. Typically new converts made a public proclamation of their faith in Christ at their baptism. From then on they were called "Christians," meaning, "Christ's own," "Christ's ones," or "belonging to Christ." So when people slandered Christians, they were slandering Christ Himself!

That anyone could overlook those evils and show favoritism to the enemies of Christ shows the subtle and devastating power of partiality. Today, the circumstances may be different, but the principles are the same. So for the sake of Christ and His people, remember the three reasons James gives for not showing partiality: You and your brothers and sisters in Christ are one with the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the glory of God revealed (v. 1); God has chosen the poor to eternal riches (v. 5); and God has called you by His name (v. 7). If you desire to be like Christ, you cannot be partial. Be fair and impartial in all your interactions with others.

Suggestions for Prayer
Is there a personal or business relationship in which you are showing favoritism to gain some advantage for yourself? If so, confess it to the Lord and correct it right away.

For Further Study
Read Romans 15:5-7.
* How should Christians treat one another?
* What impact will we have if we obey Paul's admonition?


Qualifications to Receive God’s Wisdom

“‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’” (Matthew 7:7–8).

The promises in these verses are limited only to believers who meet certain qualifications. First, “everyone” refers to those who belong to the Father. Those who are not God’s children can’t come to Him as their Father.

Second, the one who claims this promise must be living in obedience to his Father. “Whatever we ask we receive from Him,” John says, “because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight” (1 John 3:22).
Third, our motive in asking must be right. “You ask and do not receive,” explains James, “because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures” (James 4:3). God does not obligate Himself to answer selfish, carnal requests from His children.

Finally, we must be submissive to His will. If we are trying to serve both God and mammon (Matt. 6:24), we can’t claim this promise. “For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:7–8).

Another possible qualification is perseverance, as indicated by the Greek imperatives ask, seek, and knock. The idea is continuance and constancy: “Keep on asking; keep on seeking; and keep on knocking.”
If you meet these qualifications, be sure you’re taking advantage of your access to God.

Ask Yourself
None of us can entirely attain to these lofty ideals, but God knows when our hearts are tender and sincere before Him, genuinely seeking His glory over our personal gain. In whatever situation you’re most in need of His guidance and provision today, ask in faith while surrendering yourself.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 7:1–8:40
* Psalm 77:4-9
* Proverbs 19:13-14
* Acts 5:22-42

Psalm 77:4 hold my eyelids open. The psalmist was so upset that he could neither sleep nor talk rationally.

Psalm 77:6 my song in the night. The remembrance of happier times only deepened his depression. spirit makes diligent search. His spirit continually meditated on possible solutions to his problems.

Proverbs 19:13 continual dripping. An obstinate, argumentative woman is literally like a leak so unrelenting that one has to run from it or go mad. Here are two ways to devastate a man: an ungodly son and an irritating wife.
Proverbs 19:14 One receives inheritance as a family blessing (a result of human birth), but a wise wife (31:10–31) is a result of divine blessing.

How was the church in Jerusalem spared initially from persecution?
In Acts 5:28, the high priest reminds Peter and the other apostles, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” The gospel of Jesus Christ (2:14–40; 4:12, 13). “And intend to bring this Man’s blood on us.” The Sanhedrin had apparently forgotten the brash statement its supporters had made before Pilate that the responsibility for Jesus’ death should be on them and their children (Matt. 27:25).

The apostles’ response was so fearlessly delivered that the Jews were infuriated and plotted to kill them. Then Gamaliel stood up in the Sanhedrin. Like his grandfather, the prominent rabbi Hillel, Gamaliel was the most noted rabbi of his time and led the liberal faction of the Pharisees. His most famous student was the apostle Paul (22:3). He argued that they needed to take heed as to what they were plotting. He mentioned Theudas (v. 36), an otherwise unknown individual who led a revolt in Judea in the early years of the first century, not to be confused with a later Theudas cited in Josephus as a revolutionary.

And Gamaliel reminded them of how Judas of Galilee rose up (v. 37). He was the founder of the Zealots who led another revolt in Palestine early in the first century. Zealots, a party of Jews who were fanatical nationalists, believed that radical action was required to overthrow the Roman power in Palestine. They even sought to take up arms against Rome.

Gamaliel’s counsel was to “let them alone” (v. 38); for if it was the work of men, it would come to nothing. But if it was of God, none could overcome it. Fortunately, the members of the Sanhedrin heeded Gamaliel’s words concerning the apostles and restricted their punishment to beating them.




Integrity Glorifies God

“Nebuchadnezzar responded and said, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore, I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.’ Then the king caused Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego to prosper in the province of Babylon” (Daniel 3:28-30).

God is honored when you are faithful.

When a well-known National Football League coach was asked why he always had a Christian minister on the sideline with his team, he explained, “I’m not even sure if I believe in God, but in case there is one, I want Him on my side.” King Nebuchadnezzar seems to have had a similar attitude when he blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and decreed that anyone speaking an offense against Him would be torn to pieces and have their homes reduced to rubbish.

Nebuchadnezzar believed that certain peoples or nations had their own gods, and even though he didn’t believe that the God of the Hebrews was the one true God, he had just witnessed dramatic proof that He was more powerful than the gods of Babylon. Therefore, he acknowledged Him as the supreme God and took steps to ensure that no one would offend Him. No doubt he also reasoned that having a God like that on his side would be a definite advantage.

Regardless of Nebuchadnezzar’s motives, his decree glorified God by exalting Him over Babylon’s false gods. More important, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s integrity glorified God by demonstrating the power and influence of an uncompromising life. When the king caused them to prosper in Babylon, the name of the Lord prospered with them.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray daily to live as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego lived and to be used as they were used.

For Further Study
According to Ephesians 3:20, what is God able to accomplish through you when you live with integrity? Are you trusting Him to do so?


God's Choice of the Poor

"Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man" (James 2:5-6).

Showing favoritism to the rich is inconsistent with God’s choice of the poor.

Wealth and poverty are not necessarily spiritual issues. Many wealthy people are godly Christians and many poor people are unbelievers. But generally speaking, God has chosen poor people to populate His kingdom. Jesus said, "It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easer for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God" (Matt. 19:23-24). 

That's because rich people tend to be bound to this world and have a false sense of security. Many of them not only reject Christ, but also persecute believers (cf. James 2:6-7).
Regardless of your financial status, if you love God, you are rich in faith and an heir of His kingdom (James 2:5). That means you're saved and will inherit the fullness of your salvation and the richness of God's eternal blessing. That's a marvelous truth!

Don't let riches cloud your good judgment. God expects Christians to honor and care for their poorer brothers and sisters in Christ. You can't do that if you're showing partiality to the rich.

Suggestions for Prayer
If God has blessed you with more resources than you need, be grateful and ready always to share with those in need (1 Tim. 6:19). If you struggle to get by, thank Him for what He does provide and for teaching you greater dependence on Him.

For Further Study
Read 1 Timothy 6:6-19.
* What is God's standard of contentment?
* What pitfalls await those who desire wealth?
* What constitutes true riches?


Asking for Wisdom

“‘Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened’” (Matthew 7:7–8).

Our heavenly Father is generous to us and promises we have access to His eternal and unlimited treasure to meet our own needs as well as the needs of others. Even when we have been cleansed of our own sin, we need divine wisdom to know how to help a brother remove the speck from his eye.
God’s wisdom is one of our greatest needs. We can’t be discerning and discriminating without divine counsel from our heavenly Father; and the primary means for achieving that wisdom is prayer: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Along with God’s perfect and infallible Word, we need His Spirit to interpret and illumine, to encourage and to strengthen. He does not want us to have all the answers; He wants us to be students who search the Scriptures. The Bible is a limitless store of divine truth. But apart from God Himself we can’t begin to fathom its depths or mine its riches. God gives enough truth for us to be responsible, but enough mystery for us to be dependent. He gives us His Word not only to direct our lives but to draw our lives to Him.
So when you need God’s wisdom to make spiritual decisions, ask God for it.

Ask Yourself
Part of feeling as though God isn’t providing us wisdom is that we don’t know how to receive it or what’s required in listening for it. How has God most often supplied you with the wisdom you need to handle a certain situation?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 5:1–6:81
* Psalm 77:1-3
* Proverbs 19:10-12
* Acts 5:1-21

1 Chronicles 6:8 Zadok. By the time of David’s reign, the high priestly line had wrongly been shifted to the sons of Ithamar as represented by Abiathar. 

When Abiathar sided with Adonijah rather than Solomon, Zadok became the ruling high priest (1 Kin. 2:26,27) and restored the high priesthood to the Levitical line through Phinehas (Num. 25:10–13).

1 Chronicles 6:27, 28 Samuel’s name in this Levitical lineage validates his acceptance into the priesthood (1 Sam. 1:24–28; 2:24–3:1). The fact that Elkanah was from Ephraim (1 Sam. 1:1) indicates where he lived, not his family history (Num. 35:6–8).

Acts 5:11 church. This is the first use of “church” in Acts, although it is the most common word used to describe the assembly of those who had believed (cf. 4:32).

Acts 5:15 shadow of Peter. The people truly believed he had divine healing power and that it might even extend to them through his shadow. But Scripture does not say Peter’s shadow ever healed anyone; in fact, the healing power of God through him seemed to go far beyond his shadow (v. 16, “multitude…were all healed”). This outpouring of healing was an answer to the prayer in 4:29, 30.

Acts 5:16 unclean spirits. They are demons, fallen angels (Rev. 12:3) who are so designated because of their vile wickedness. They frequently live inside unbelievers, particularly those who vent their wicked nature.
Acts 5:20 the words of this life. The gospel (Phil. 2:16; 1 John 1:1–4). Jesus Christ came into this world to provide abundant and eternal life to spiritually dead people (John 1:4; 11:25; 1 John 5:20).

Why the severity of judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira?

The account of Ananias and Sapphira as shown in Acts 5 represents the classic example of hypocrisy among Christians who faked their spirituality to impress others (Matt. 6:1–6,16–18; 15:7; 23:13–36). They were in the “multitude of those who believed” (4:32) and were involved with the Holy Spirit (v. 3), but remained hypocrites. 

They sold a possession and “kept back part of the proceeds” (v. 2). This was not a sin in and of itself. However, they had promised, perhaps publicly, that they were giving the full amount received to the Lord. Their outward sin was lying about how much they were giving to the church, but the deeper, more devastating sin was their spiritual hypocrisy based on selfishness.

Peter addressed Ananias with the words: “Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit” (v. 3). Ananias and Sapphira were satanically inspired in contrast to Barnabas’s Spirit-filled gesture (4:37). Ananias must have promised the Lord he would give the whole amount. He lied to the ever-present Holy 
Spirit in him (1 Cor. 6:19, 20) and in the church (Eph. 2:21, 22). And hearing Peter’s words, Ananias fell down and died. The Jews did not embalm, but customarily buried the dead the same day, especially someone who died by divine judgment (see Deut. 21:22, 23).

“So great fear came upon all those who heard these things” (v. 5). They were afraid about the seriousness of hypocrisy and sin in the church. The people learned that death can be the consequence of sin (1 Cor. 11:30–32; 1 John 5:16). That fear extended beyond those present to all who heard about the divine judgment (v. 11).

Then the same judgment fell upon Sapphira. Peter said that they had “agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord” (v. 9). Sapphira had gone too far in presuming upon God’s forbearance. The folly of such blatant human resumption had to be shown as a sin, hence the ultimate divine chastening that followed.




Integrity Is a Powerful Witness

“Then Nebuchadnezzar came near to the door of the furnace of blazing fire; he responded and said, ‘Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, come out, you servants of the Most High God, and come here!’ Then Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego came out of the midst of the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors and the king’s high officials gathered around and saw in regard to these men that the fire had no effect on the bodies of these men nor was the hair of their head singed, nor were their trousers damaged, nor had the smell of fire even come upon them” (Daniel 3:26-27).

A righteous life attracts people to God.

When Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven” (Matt. 5:16; compare v. 14), He was teaching that what we believe as Christians must be evident in the way we live. When it is, others will be drawn to God and honor Him.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were powerful witnesses for God because they lived according to their convictions. Nebuchadnezzar had done everything he could to intimidate them into compromise, and when that failed he called for their death. But God’s protection of them was so thorough that the intense flames didn’t even singe their hair or scorch their clothing. In fact, they emerged from the furnace without so much as the smell of smoke on them.

So powerful was the integrity of these young men and the hand of God upon their lives that within just a few short verses Nebuchadnezzar went from defying God to exulting Him as “the Most High God.” That phrase doesn’t mean he had abandoned his traditional worship of many gods (apparently that comes in Daniel 4), but he was placing the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego at the top of the list.
So it is when your life impacts others for Christ. They may not yet fully believe, but God uses your faithfulness as a foundation for His future work in their lives.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to use you to witness to someone today.
For Further Study
We have seen the impact of a consistently godly life, but according to Romans 2:17-24, what is the impact of a hypocritical life?


Guarding Your Motives

"If a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?" (James 2:2-4).

Favoritism is motivated by an evil desire to gain some advantage for yourself.
The story is told of a pastor who never ministered to an individual or family in his church without first checking a current record of their financial contributions. The more generous they were with their money, the more generous he was with his time. That's an appalling and flagrant display of favoritism, but in effect it's the same kind of situation James dealt with in our text for today.

Picture yourself in a worship service or Bible study when suddenly two visitors enter the room. The first visitor is a wealthy man, as evidenced by his expensive jewelry and designer clothes. The second visitor lives in abject poverty. The street is his home, as evidenced by his filthy, smelly, shabby clothing.

How would you respond to each visitor? Would you give the rich man the best seat in the house and see that he is as comfortable as possible? That's a gracious thing to do if your motives are pure. But if you're trying to win his favor or profit from his wealth, a vicious sin has taken hold of you.

Your true motives will be revealed in the way you treat the poor man. Do you show him equal honor, or simply invite him to sit on the floor? Anything less than equal honor reveals an evil intent.

Favoritism can be subtle. That's why you must be in prayer and in the Word, constantly allowing the Spirit to penetrate and purify your deepest, most secret motives.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Praise God for His purity.
* Ask Him always to control your motives and actions.

For Further Study
Some Christians confuse honor with partiality. Giving honor to those in authority is biblical; showing partiality is sinful. Read 1 Peter 2:17 and Romans 13:1, noting the exhortations to honor those in authority over you.


Of Dogs and Swine

“‘Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces’” (Matthew 7:6).

It is clear from this verse that Jesus doesn’t exclude every kind of judgment—here He commands a specific type. But to obey His command, you need to know who the dogs and swine represent.

In biblical times dogs were largely half-wild mongrels that acted as scavengers. They were dirty, greedy, snarling, and often vicious and diseased. No responsible Jew would ever throw to a dog a piece of holy meat that had been consecrated as a sacrifice in the temple. Since no man was allowed to eat this meat, how much less should it have been thrown to wild, filthy dogs.

Swine were considered by the Jews to be the epitome of uncleanness. Like the scavenging dogs, those swine were greedy, vicious, and filthy.

Dogs and swine represent those who, because of their great perversity and ungodliness, refuse to have anything to do with the holy and precious things of God except to trample them under their feet, turning and tearing God’s people to pieces.
Jesus’ point is that certain truths and blessings of our faith are not to be shared with people who are totally antagonistic to the things of God. Such people have no appreciation for what is holy and righteous. They will take that which is holy, the pearls of God’s Word, as foolishness and an insult. We need not waste God’s holy Word on those who both reject it and mock it.

Ask Yourself
What are some specific situations in your own daily experience where the wisdom of this statement really comes into play? What should you watch for in others to see whether they’re perhaps becoming receptive to Christ and His Word? Until then, what’s the best way to stay true to your faith in their presence?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 3:1–4:43
* Psalm 76:7-12
* Proverbs 19:8-9
* Acts 4:23-37

1 Chronicles 3:1 David. The chief reason for such detailed genealogies is that they affirm the line of Christ from Adam (Luke 3:38) through Abraham and David (Matt. 1:1), thus emphasizing the kingdom intentions of God in Christ.

Psalm 76:10 wrath of man shall praise You. The railings against God and His people are turned into praise to God when God providentially brings the wicked down (Is. 36:4–20; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:28).

Psalm 76:12 cut off the spirit of princes. God shatters the attitude of proud governmental leaders who rebel against Him.
Acts 4:24–30 Peter and John’s experience did not frighten or discourage the other disciples, but exhilarated them. They took confidence in God’s sovereign control of all events, even their sufferings. Furthermore, they were comforted that the opposition whom they were facing was foreseen in the Old Testament (vv. 25, 26).

Acts 4:32–35 all things in common. Believers understood that all they had belonged to God; and therefore, when a brother or sister had a need, those who could meet it were obligated to do so (James 2:15, 16; 1 John 3:17). The method was to give the money to the apostles who would distribute it (vv. 35, 37).

Acts 4:33 great grace. This means favor and carries a twofold meaning here: 1) favor from the people outside the church. Because of the believers’ love and unity, the common people were impressed (2:47); and 2) favor from God who was granting blessing.

Acts 4:36 Barnabas…a Levite. Luke introduces Barnabas as a role model from among those who donated property proceeds. Barnabas was a member of the priestly tribe of the Levites and a native of the island of Cyprus. He becomes an associate of Paul and a prominent figure later in the book (9:26, 27; 11:22–24, 30; chaps. 13–15). Cyprus. The third largest island in the Mediterranean after Sicily and Sardinia, located some 60 miles west off the Syrian coast.

List the major sermons in Acts.
Peter to crowds at Pentecost
Peter’s explanation of the meaning of Pentecost
Acts 2:14–40
Peter to crowds at the temple
The Jewish people should repent
Acts 3:12–26
Peter to the Sanhedrin
Testimony that a helpless man was healed
Acts 4:5–12
Stephen to the Sanhedrin
Stephen accuses the Jews of killing the Messiah
Acts 7:2–53
Peter to Gentiles
Gentiles can be saved in the same manner as Jews
Acts 10:28–47
Peter to church at Jerusalem
A defense of Peter’s ministry to the Gentiles
Acts 11:4–18
Paul to synagogue at Antioch
Jesus was the Messiah of Old Testament prophecies
Acts 13:16–41
Peter to Jerusalem Council
Salvation by grace available to all
Acts 15:7–11
James to Jerusalem Council
Gentile converts do not require circumcision
Acts 15:13–21
Paul to Ephesian elders
Remain faithful in spite of persecution
Acts 20:17–35
Paul to crowd at Jerusalem
Paul’s conversion and mission to the Gentiles
Acts 22:1–21
Paul to Sanhedrin
Paul’s defense of the gospel
Acts 23:1–6
Paul to King Agrippa
Paul’s conversion and zeal for the gospel
Acts 26:2–23
Paul to Jewish leaders at Rome
Paul’s statement about his Jewish heritage
Acts 28:17–20




Integrity Never Stands Alone

“Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he responded and said to his high officials, ‘Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?’ They answered and said to the king, ‘Certainly, O king.’ He answered and said, ‘Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!’” (Daniel 3:24-25).

God will never leave His children alone.

King Nebuchadnezzar was livid with rage when he had Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego bound and cast into the fiery furnace. But his rage quickly turned to astonishment when he saw four men loosed and walking around unharmed by the flames. Clearly something supernatural and beyond his control was occurring.
Although he described the fourth person as being “like a son of the gods,” he did not have the Son of God in mind. As a pagan he would not have understood an Old Testament appearance of Christ, such as occurred to Abraham in Genesis 18. But he understood enough to believe that God had “sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him” (v. 28).

I believe Nebuchadnezzar was correct. God sent an angelic messenger to comfort those young men and to explain that they would not be harmed by the fire. God would turn their darkest hour into their greatest triumph. Others in Scripture have been similarly encouraged by special angels from the Lord. God honored Elijah, for example, by having angels personally serve him food at an especially discouraging time in his life (1 Kings 19:4-7).

If you are a Christian, God has promised never to leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5). He will be with you in every circumstance. When necessary, He will dispatch His angels to minister to you in special ways (Heb. 1:14). Let that truth encourage you today, especially if you are undergoing a trial.

Suggestions for Prayer
Praise the Lord for the protection and encouragement He has given you in the past and for His promise of similar blessings in the future.

For Further Study
According to 1 Peter 2:18-23 and 4:12-16, how should Christians respond to persecution?


Ministering to the Poor

"If a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, 'You sit here in a good place,' and you say to the poor man, 'You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,' have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?" (James 2:2-4).

You must show equal respect to poor and rich alike.

Partiality is an age-old problem that exists in almost every area of life. Perhaps its most common manifestations are racial, religious, and socio-economic discrimination. By implication James denounced partiality in any form, but in James 2:2-4 he specifically mentions preferential treatment of the rich over the poor. He knew such favoritism was devastating not only because it is sinful, but also because the majority of believers in the early church were poor, common people. Discriminating against them would have struck a blow at the very heart of the church!

From its inception the church has upheld the priority of ministering to the poor. Acts 2:44-45 says, "All those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need." Paul organized a relief fund for the needy saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-4), and during one severe famine, "in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders" (Acts 11:29-30).

God has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, but some of James's readers were dishonoring them (vv. 5-6). That had to stop! We too must honor the poor by treating them with dignity rather than prejudice, and meeting their needs whenever possible. Be alert to those around you whom you might help in some practical way.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to keep you sensitive to those around you, and for wisdom to know how to respond to their needs.

For Further Study
Read 1 Corinthians 1:26-29, noting the kinds of people God uses to accomplish His purposes.


Challenging a Brother

“‘Then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye’” (Matthew 7:5).

Here is Jesus’ corrective to erroneous judgment: first of all we confess our own sin, which is often the sin of self-righteousness and of a condemning spirit toward others, and ask for God’s cleansing. When our sin is cleansed, when the log is removed from our eye, then we can see our brother’s sin clearly and be able to help him. We will also see everything more clearly—God, others, and ourselves. We will see God as the only Judge, others as needy sinners who are just like us. We will see our brother as a brother on our own level and with our own frailties and needs.

David reflects the right balance of humility and helpfulness in Psalm 51: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. . . . Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You” (vv. 10, 12–13). Jesus told Peter that after he had recovered from his moral defection, he could then “strengthen [his] brothers” (Luke 22:32).

All confrontation of sin in others must be done out of meekness, not pride. We can’t play the role of judge—passing sentence as if we were God. We can’t play the role of superior—as if we were exempt from the same standards we demand of others. We must not play the hypocrite—blaming others while we excuse ourselves.
Ask Yourself

When have you seen this interchange done in a way that honored God, considered self, and truly benefited others? What were the key factors that contributed to the purity and peace of it? How was the rebuke handled by the one being confronted? What would make the difference if that person were you?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Chronicles 1:1–2:55
* Psalm 76:1-6
* Proverbs 19:6-7
* Acts 4:1-22

Acts 4:1 priests. The office of priest in the Old Testament began with Aaron and his sons (Lev. 8). They became the human intermediaries between holy God and sinful humanity. They were characterized by 3 qualities: 1) they were chosen and set apart for priestly service by God; 2) they were to be holy in character; and 3) they were the only ones allowed to come near to God on behalf of the people with the high priest being the chief go-between on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). the captain of the temple. Chief of the temple police force (composed of Levites) and second-ranking official to the high priest. The Romans had delegated the temple-policing responsibility to the Jews.

Acts 4:2 preached in Jesus the resurrection. This part of the apostles’ message was the most objectionable to the Jewish leaders. They had executed Christ as a blasphemer and now Peter and John were proclaiming His resurrection.

Acts 4:8 filled with the Holy Spirit. Because Peter was under the control of the Spirit, he was able to face persecution and preach the gospel with power (Luke 12:11, 12).
Acts 4:12 no other name. This refers to the exclusivism of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ. There are only two religious paths: the broad way of works salvation leading to eternal death, and the narrow way of faith in Jesus, leading to eternal life (Matt. 7:13, 14; John 10:7, 8; 14:6). Sadly, the Sanhedrin and its followers were on the first path.
Acts 4:13 uneducated and untrained men. Peter and John were not educated in the rabbinical schools and had no formal training in Old Testament theology.

DAY 19: List the ministries of the Holy Spirit.
Baptismal Medium
1 Corinthians 12:13
Calls to Ministry
Acts 13:2–4
Channel of Divine Revelation
2 Samuel 23:2; Nehemiah 9:30; Zechariah 7:12; John 14:17
Exodus 31:1, 2; Judges 13:25; Acts 1:8
Luke 4:1; Acts 2:4; Ephesians 5:18
2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:14
2 Timothy 1:14
John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7
1 Corinthians 2:10–13
Romans 8:9–11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19
Romans 8:26, 27
Produces Fruit
Galatians 5:22, 23
Provides Spiritual Character
Galatians 5:16, 18, 25
John 3:5, 6, 8
Restrains/Convicts of Sin
Genesis 6:3; John 16:8–10; Acts 7:51
Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 2 Thessalonians 2:13
2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:14; 4:30
Selects Overseers
Acts 20:28
Source of Fellowship
2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1
Source of Liberty
2 Corinthians 3:17, 18
Source of Power
Ephesians 3:16
Source of Unity
Ephesians 4:3, 4
Source of Spiritual Gifts
1 Corinthians 12:4–11
John 14:26; Acts 15:28; 1 John 2:20, 27




Integrity Triumphs Under Fire 

“Then [Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego] were tied up in their trousers, their coats, their caps and their other clothes, and were cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire. For this reason, because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace had been made extremely hot, the flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. But these three men, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, fell into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire still tied up” (Daniel 3:21-23).

When God doesn’t deliver you from a trial, He refines you through the trial.
When facing excommunication at the Diet of Worms, Martin Luther wrote to the Elector Frederick, “You ask me what I shall do if I am called by the emperor. I will go down if I am too sick to stand on my feet. If Caesar calls me, God calls me. If violence is used, as well it may be, I commend my cause to God. He lives and reigns who saved the three youths from the fiery furnace of the king of Babylon, and if He will not save me, my head is worth nothing compared with Christ. This is no time to think of safety. I must take care that the gospel is not brought into contempt by our fear to confess and seal our teaching with our blood.”

Luther was willing to risk even death for the sake of Christ. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego before him, he valued integrity above his own life, and in his loneliest hour drew encouragement from their experience.

Often we pray to avoid trials when God wants to use them for our greater good. But trials test the genuineness of our faith and purge us of sin and shallowness like a refiner’s fire purges gold. The process may be painful, but the result is more precious than the purest gold (1 Peter 1:7).

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that you might face each trial with wisdom, patience, and a clear sense of the Lord’s presence.

For Further Study
Read Acts 20:22-24.
* What was the apostle Paul’s perspective on the persecution that awaited him in Jerusalem?
* What was his ultimate goal?


Looking Beyond Externals

"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism" (James 2:1).

Your true worth is based on the value of your soul, not on external considerations.
Jesus is "our glorious Lord" (James 2:1)—the Sovereign One who rules over all His creation, and the One in whom the fullness of God's glory is revealed. John said, "The Word [Jesus] became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Paul said, "In Him all the fulness of Deity dwells in bodily form" (Col. 2:9). 

As God, Jesus shares the impartiality of the Father. He knows that a person's worth is based on the value of his soul, not on external considerations. That's why He always looks on the heart and never judges on externals alone.

That was evident in the way Jesus dealt with sinners when He was still on earth. He never hesitated to confront them—whether they were influential Jewish religious leaders or common folks. Even His enemies acknowledged His impartiality when they said, "Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any" (Matt. 22:16).

Like the Father, Jesus also extended the offer of salvation to men and women of every race, social class, and moral standing. That's illustrated by the parable He told in Matthew 22:1-14 about the marriage of a king's son (an illustration of Himself). The invited guests (Israel) didn't show up, so the king commanded his servants to go out and gather everyone they could find to furnish the wedding with guests. As a result, people of every station in life attended the wedding, just as people of every station in life are called to salvation.

As you have opportunities to minister to others today, don't be influenced by externals such as looks, clothing, or economic level. Do as Jesus did: treat them with compassion and speak the truth without compromise. 

Suggestions for Prayer
Praise the Lord for His impartiality, and ask Him for special grace as you reach out to others today.

For Further Study
Read Matthew 20:1-16. How does that parable illustrate the impartiality of God?


Wrong Judgment: An Erroneous View of Ourselves

“‘Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” and behold, the log is in your eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your eye’” (Matthew 7:3–5).

When we judge critically we also manifest an erroneous view of ourselves. The “speck” Jesus refers to is not something insignificant—it was likely a twig or splinter. Though small in comparison to a log, it was not a good thing to have in your eye. Jesus’ comparison is not between a very small sin or fault and one that is large, but between one that is large and one that is gigantic. His primary point is that the sin of the critic is much greater than the sin of the person he is criticizing.

The wretched and gross sin that is always blind to its own sinfulness is self-righteousness. It looks directly at its own sin and still imagines it sees only righteousness.

The very nature of self-righteousness is to justify self and condemn others. Self-righteousness is the worst of all sins because it trusts in self rather than God. It trusts in self to determine what is right and wrong and to determine who does what is right or wrong.

Too, the term “notice” conveys serious, continual meditation. Until you have thought long and hard about your own sin, how can you confront another with his shortcomings?
Ask Yourself
Again, the thought conveyed here is not that we are forbidden from ever pointing out the sins of another, aiding him toward repentance and a desire for God’s forgiveness. But our hearts are so suspect, we must regularly keep our sins confessed and to the surface. How do you practice this discipline in your own life?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 25:1–30
* Psalm 75:1-10
* Proverbs 19:4-5
* Acts 3:1-26

Psalm 75:1 Your name is near. God’s name represents His presence. The history of God’s supernatural interventions on behalf of His people demonstrated that God was personally immanent. But Old Testament saints did not have the fullness from the permanent, personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit (John 14:1, 16, 17; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19).
Acts 3:13 The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. A description of God familiar to Peter’s Jewish audience (Ex. 3:6, 15; 1 Kin. 18:36; 1 Chr. 29:18; 2 Chr. 30:6; Matt. 22:32). He used this formula, which stressed God’s covenant faithfulness, to demonstrate that he declared the same God and Messiah whom the prophets had proclaimed.

His Servant Jesus. Peter depicted Jesus as God’s personal representative. This is an unusual New Testament title for Jesus, used only 4 other places (v. 26; 4:27, 30; Matt. 12:18), but a more familiar Old Testament name for Messiah (Is. 42:1–4, 19; 49:5–7; 52:13–53:12; Matt. 20:28; John 6:38; 8:28; 13:1–7). Pilate…determined to let Him go. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor at Jesus’ trial, came from a national tradition that strongly supported justice. He knew Jesus’ crucifixion would be unjust and therefore declared Him innocent 6 times (Luke 23:4, 14, 15, 22; John 18:38; 19:4, 6) and repeatedly sought to release Him (Luke 23:13–22; John 19:12, 13).

Acts 3:15 killed…God raised…we are witnesses. Peter’s confident and forceful declaration (1 Cor. 15:3–7) was a clear defense of and provided further evidence for Christ’s resurrection. Peter’s claim was undeniable; the Jews never showed any evidence, such as Jesus’ corpse, to disprove it. Prince of life. The Greek word for “prince” means originator, pioneer, or beginner of something. Both Hebrews 2:10 and 12:2 translate it “author.” It describes Jesus as the Divine Originator of life (Ps. 36:9; Heb. 2:10; 12:2; 1 John 5:11, 20).

Acts Repent…be converted. “Converted” is a frequent New Testament word that relates to sinners turning to God (9:35; 14:15; 26:18, 20; Luke 1:16, 17; 2 Cor. 3:16; 1 Pet. 2:25). your sins…blotted out. Ps. 51:9; Is. 43:25; 44:22. Blotted out compares forgiveness to the complete wiping away of ink from the surface of a document (Col. 2:14).

How did Judah and Jerusalem finally fall?
Responding to King Zedekiah’s rebellion in 2 Kings 24:20, Nebuchadnezzar sent his whole army to lay siege against the city of Jerusalem (2 Kin. 25:1).The siege began in January 588 B.C. and lasted until July 586 B.C. In August 586 B.C., one month after the Babylonian breakthrough of Jerusalem’s walls (vv. 2–4), Nebuzaradan, the commander of Nebuchadnezzar’s own imperial guard, was sent by the king to oversee the destruction of Jerusalem. The dismantling and destruction of Jerusalem was accomplished by the Babylonians in an orderly progression (v. 8).

First, Jerusalem’s most important buildings were burned (v. 9). Second, the Babylonian army tore down Jerusalem’s outer walls, the city’s main defense (v. 10).Third, Nebuzaradan organized and led a forced march of remaining Judeans into exile in Babylon (vv. 11,12). The exiles included survivors from Jerusalem and those who had surrendered to the Babylonians before the capture of the city. Only poor, unskilled laborers were left behind to tend the vineyards and farm the fields. Fourth, the items made with precious metals in the temple were carried away to Babylon (vv. 13–17). Fifth, Nebuzaradan took Jerusalem’s remaining leaders to Riblah, where Nebuchadnezzar had them executed. This insured that they would never lead another rebellion against Babylon (vv. 18–21).

“Thus Judah was carried away captive from its own land” (v. 21). Exile was the ultimate curse brought upon Judah because of her disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant (Lev. 26:33; Deut. 28:36, 64). The Book of Lamentations records the sorrow of Jeremiah over this destruction of Jerusalem.




Integrity Incurs the World's Wrath

“Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with wrath, and his facial expression was altered toward Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego. He answered by giving orders to heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain valiant warriors who were in his army to tie up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, in order to cast them into the furnace of blazing fire” (Daniel 3:19-20).

Persecution is the world’s futile attempt to silence the voice of godly integrity.

King Nebuchadnezzar was a brilliant and powerful man who had built an enormous empire by bringing entire nations under his control. Yet when three youths refused to compromise their devotion to God, he lost rational control and flew into such an intense rage that his face became visibly distorted.
Wanting to vent his wrath upon Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, Nebuchadnezzar ordered that the furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual. You might expect him to have turned the fire down, thereby punishing them more severely by prolonging their pain. But the king was reacting emotionally, not logically, which often is the case when sinful people are confronted by righteousness.

We see the same pattern throughout Scripture. For example, King Herod’s wife hated John the Baptist and had him beheaded for confronting her sinful marriage to the king (Mark 6:19 ff.). Those who couldn’t cope with the wisdom and spirit of Stephen stirred up the Jews against him, which eventually led to his death by stoning (Acts 6:9 ff.). The Old Testament prophets and the Lord Himself were killed by those who were hostile to God. Similarly, the Thessalonian and Judean Christians endured angry persecution from their own countrymen (1 Thess. 2:14-15).

The opposition we face today may be more subtle, but it all has its source in Satan, who “was a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44). So don’t be surprised if subtle opposition suddenly erupts into murderous wrath. But be encouraged, knowing that even when it does, it can never thwart God’s plans or overcome His sustaining grace.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray for boldness to speak the truth in love and never to fear the world’s reaction.

For Further Study
Read 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10.
* Why does God allow Christians to suffer persecution?
* When and how will God deal with those who persecute His children?


The Impartiality of God

"My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism" (James 2:1).

Because God is impartial, we as Christians must be impartial too.

People are prone to treat others differently based upon external criteria such as looks, possessions, or social status, but God is utterly impartial. He never shows favoritism and always judges righteously.
Favoritism can be defined as a preferential attitude and treatment of a person or group over another having equal claims and rights. It is unjustified partiality. James 2:1-13 confronts it as sin and admonishes us to avoid it at all costs.

God's impartiality is seen throughout Scripture. For example, Moses said to the people of Israel, "The Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt" (Deut. 10:17-19). Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, warned his judges to rule without partiality because God Himself has "no part in unrighteousness, or partiality" (2 Chron. 19:7).
God's impartiality is also seen in His gracious offer of salvation to people of every race. In Acts 10:34-35 Peter says, "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him."

God is also impartial in judgment. Romans 2:9-11 says that God will bring "tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil . . . but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good. For there is no partiality with God."
Our text is a timely admonition because prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry are ever-present evils in our society—both inside and outside the church. I pray that God will use these studies to guard you from favoritism's subtle influences and strengthen your commitment to godly living.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to reveal any partiality you might be harboring. As He does, confess it and turn from it.

For Further Study
Read Ephesians 6:5-9 and 1 Timothy 5:17-21. How does God's impartiality apply to how you should respond to your co- workers and your church leaders?


Wrong Judgment: An Erroneous View of Others

“‘For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you’” (Matthew 7:2).

Most people feel free to judge other people harshly because they erroneously think they are somehow superior. The Pharisees considered themselves exempt from judgment because they believed they perfectly measured up to the divine standards. The problem was that these weren’t divine standards—they were mere human standards they had established far short of God’s holy and perfect law.

When we assume the role of final, omniscient judge, we imply that we are qualified to judge—that we know and understand all the facts, all the circumstances, and all the motives involved. Therefore, when we assert our right to judge, we will be judged by the same standard of knowledge and wisdom we claim is ours. If we set ourselves up as judge over others, we cannot plead ignorance of the law in reference to ourselves when God judges us. We are especially guilty if we do not practice what we ourselves teach and preach.

Other people are not under us, and to think so is to have the wrong view of them. To be gossipy, critical, and judgmental is to live under the false illusion that those whom we so judge are somehow inferior to us.
This kind of judgment is a boomerang that will come back on the one who judges. Self-righteous judgment becomes its own gallows, just as the gallows Haman erected to execute the innocent Mordecai was used instead to hang Haman (Esther 7:10).

Ask Yourself
One of the more notable qualities of our sinful human nature is that the sins we seem quickest to judge in others are the ones we struggle the hardest with ourselves. Why do you think this is the case? What brings about this touchy sensitivity and indignance?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 22:1–24:20
* Psalm 74:18-23
* Proverbs 19:3
* Acts 2:22-47

2 Kings 22:8 the Book of the Law. A scroll containing the Torah (the Pentateuch), the revelation of God through Moses to Israel (23:2; Deut. 28:61). Manasseh may have destroyed all the copies of God’s Law that were not hidden. This could have been the official copy laid beside the ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place (Deut. 31:25, 26). It may have been removed from its place under Ahaz, Manasseh, or Amon (2 Chr. 35:3), but was found during repair work.

2 Kings 23:25 no king like him. Of all the kings in David’s line, including David himself, no king more closely approximated the royal ideal of Deuteronomy 17:14–20 than Josiah (Matt. 22:37). Yet, even Josiah fell short of complete obedience because he had multiple wives (vv. 31, 36). However, even this righteous king could not turn away the Lord’s wrath because of Manasseh’s sin (vv. 26, 27).

2 Kings 24:1 Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar II was the son of Nabopolassar, king of Babylon from 626 to 605 B.C. As crown prince, Nebuchadnezzar had led his father’s army against Pharaoh Necho and the Egyptians at Carchemish on the Euphrates River in northern Syria (605 B.C.). By defeating the Egyptians, Babylon was established as the strongest nation in the ancient Near East. Egypt and its vassals, including Judah, became vassals of Babylon with this victory. Nebuchadnezzar followed up his victory at Carchemish by invading the land of Judah. Later, in 605 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar took some captives to Babylon, including Daniel and his friends (Dan. 1:1–3). 

Toward the end of 605 B.C., Nabopolassar died and Nebuchadnezzar succeeded him as king of Babylon, 3 years after Jehoiakim had taken the throne in Judah (Jer. 25:1).Nebuchadnezzar reigned from 605 to 562 B.C. three years. Nebuchadnezzar returned to the west in 604 B.C. and took tribute from all of the kings of the west, including Jehoiakim of Judah. Jehoiakim submitted to Babylonian rule from 604 to 602 B.C. In 602 B.C., Jehoiakim rebelled against Babylon, disregarding the advice of the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 27:9–11).

2 Kings 24:14–16 In 597 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar took an additional 10,000 Judeans as captives to Babylon, in particular the leaders of the nation. This included the leaders of the military and those whose skills would support the military. Included in this deportation was the prophet Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:1–3). Only the lower classes remained behind in Jerusalem. The Babylonian policy of captivity was different from that of the Assyrians, who took most of the people into exile and resettled the land of Israel with foreigners (17:24). The Babylonians took only the leaders and the strong, while leaving the weak and poor, elevating those left to leadership and thereby earning their loyalty. Those taken to Babylon were allowed to work and live in the mainstream of society. This kept the captive Jews together, so it would be possible for them to return, as recorded in Ezra.

Acts 2:42 apostles’ doctrine. The foundational content for the believer’s spiritual growth and maturity was the Scripture, God’s revealed truth, which the apostles received and taught faithfully. fellowship. Literally, “partnership” or “sharing.” Because Christians become partners with Jesus Christ and all other believers (1 John 1:3), it is their spiritual duty to stimulate one another to righteousness and obedience (Rom. 12:10; 13:8; 15:5; Gal. 5:13; Eph. 4:2, 25; 5:21; Col. 3:9; 1 Thess. 4:9; Heb. 3:13; 10:24, 25;1 Pet. 4:9, 10). breaking of bread. A reference to the Lord’s Table, or Communion, which is mandatory for all Christians to observe (1 Cor. 11:24–29). prayers. Of individual believers and the church corporately (see 1:14, 24; 4:24–31; John 14:13, 14).

In response to Peter’s sermon, what instructions were given on how to become a Christian?

Those who listened to that powerful sermon were “cut to the heart” (v. 37).The Greek word for cut means “pierce” or “stab,” and thus denotes something sudden and unexpected. In grief, remorse, and intense spiritual conviction, Peter’s listeners were stunned by his indictment that they had killed their Messiah.

“Repent” (v. 38).This refers to a change of mind and purpose that turns an individual from sin to God (1 Thess. 1:9). Such change involves more than fearing the consequences of God’s judgment. Genuine repentance knows that the evil of sin must be forsaken and the Person and work of Christ totally and singularly embraced. Peter exhorted his hearers to repent; otherwise, they would not experience true conversion.
“Be baptized.” This Greek word means “be dipped” or “immersed” in water. 

Peter was obeying Christ’s command from Matthew 28:19 and urging the people who repented and turned to the Lord Christ for salvation to identify, through the waters of baptism, with His death, burial, and resurrection (19:5; Rom. 6:3, 4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Gal. 3:27). This is the first time the apostles publicly enjoined people to obey that ceremony. Prior to this, many Jews had experienced the baptism of John the Baptist and were also familiar with the baptism of Gentile converts to Judaism (proselytes).

“In the name of Jesus Christ.” For the new believer, it was a crucial but costly identification to accept. “For the remission of sins.” This might better be translated “because of the remission of sins.” Baptism does not produce forgiveness and cleansing from sin. The reality of forgiveness precedes the rite of baptism (v. 41). Genuine repentance brings from God the forgiveness (remission) of sins (Eph. 1:7); and because of that, the new believer was to be baptized.
“Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” The one-time act by which God places His Spirit into the believer’s life.





Integrity Trusts God Unconditionally

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up’” (Daniel 3:16-18).

Unconditional obedience is the trademark of mature faith.

In Matthew 13 Jesus speaks of people who hear the gospel and initially respond with joy, only to turn away when persecution arises. Tragically, that’s a common occurrence today that is caused by preachers who promise health, wealth, prosperity, and special miracles to all who believe. People who embrace such error are not prepared for the cost of discipleship (cf. Matt. 16:24; John 15:20).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego understood what it meant to serve God unconditionally. They knew He could move in their defense if it pleased Him to do so, but their faith was not dependent on miracles or any other special benefits they might receive from Him. They stood on convictions and deferred to His will even when doing so brought the threat of a fiery death. Their attitude was that of Christ Himself as He faced the agony of the cross and prayed, “Father . . . not as I will, but as Thou wilt’” (Matt. 26:39).

Their response to King Nebuchadnezzar’s ultimatum may sound arrogant or disrespectful, but they were simply acknowledging that they had nothing to say in their own defense. They had served him faithfully as far as they could, but serving his gods and bowing down to his image was out of the question. God forbids any form of idolatry, and they would not be coerced or intimidated into disobeying Him.

Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego, your faith in God isn’t measured by whether or not He rescues you from a difficult situation, but by your willingness to trust and obey Him unconditionally.

Suggestions for Prayer
Express your love to the Lord and your desire to serve Him faithfully despite the circumstances.

For Further Study
Read Matthew 13:1-23. What response does each soil represent?


Taking Spiritual Inventory

"This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father . . . to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27).

God doesn’t tolerate compromise with the world.

Keeping yourself unstained by the world is an important test of your spiritual condition. The apostle John said, "Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15). At first glance that might sound contradictory since God Himself so loved the world that He gave His Son to die for it (John 3:16). But John 3:16refers to the inhabited earth—the people for whom Christ died. First John 2:15 refers to the evil world system in which we live, which includes the life-styles, philosophies, morality, and ethics of our sinful culture. That world and everything it produces is passing away (1 John 2:16-17).

James 4:4 says, "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." Those are strong words but compromise is intolerable to God. You can't be His friend and a friend of the world at the same time!

Separation from the world is the final element of true religion mentioned in James chapter one. Before progressing to chapter two, take a final spiritual inventory based on the checklist provided in verses 26-27: (1) Do you control your tongue? Review the quality of your conversation often. What does it reveal about the condition of your heart? 

Are there speech habits you need to change? (2) Do you demonstrate love for others? Do you have a sincere desire to help those in need? When you do help, are your motives pure, or are you simply trying to sooth your conscience or make others think more highly of you? (3) Do you remain unstained by the world? What is your attitude toward the world? Do you want to win it for Christ and remain unstained by its evil influences, or do you want to get as much out of it as you possibly can?

Suggestions for Prayer
If your spiritual inventory reveals any sinful motives or practices, confess them and begin to change today. 

For Further Study
Reread James 1:19-27, reviewing the principles you've learned from those verses.


Wrong Judgment: An Erroneous View of God

“‘Do not judge so that you will not be judged’” (Matthew 7:1).

Believers are not to make unrighteous and unmerciful judgment on others because it manifests a wrong view of God. With the phrase “so that you will not be judged,” Jesus reminds the scribes and Pharisees that they are not the final court. To judge another person’s motives or to stand in the place of condemnation is to play God. “For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22). During the millennial kingdom Christ will share some of that judgment with us (Matt. 19:28), but until that time we blaspheme God whenever we take the role of judge on ourselves.

“Who are you to judge the servant of another?” asks Paul. “To his own master he stands or falls” (Rom. 14:4). Paul was little concerned about how other people judged him, nor was he concerned about how he judged himself. “I am conscious of nothing against myself,” he says, “yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord” (1 Cor. 4:4).

Except as they may be continually teaching false doctrine or following standards that are clearly unscriptural, we are never to judge a person’s ministry, teaching, or life—and certainly not his motives—by some self-styled standard.

Whenever we assign people to condemnation without mercy, we pass judgment that only God is qualified to make. Our Lord does not call for men to cease to be examining and discerning, but to renounce the presumptuous temptation to try to be God.

Ask Yourself
Why is the desire to judge and size up such an alluring appetite of ours? What does our tendency to enjoy it tell us about ourselves? What would need to occur inside before we saw an increased resistance to practice it?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 19:1–21:26
* Psalm 74:9-17
* Proverbs 19:1-2
* Acts 2:1-21

2 Kings 20:16, 17 word of the LORD…carried to Babylon. Isaiah predicted the Babylonian captivity that would come over a century later (586 B.C.), another prophecy historically fulfilled in all of its expected detail.

2 Kings 20:17 nothing shall be left. Hezekiah’s sin of parading his wealth before the visitors backfired, though this sin was only symptomatic of the ultimate reason for the captivity. The major cause was the corrupt leadership of Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son (21:11–15).

2 Kings 21:13 the plummet. These were weighted lines dropped from walls to see whether they were structurally straight (Is. 28:17; Amos 7:7, 8). Walls out of line were torn down. The Lord had measured Jerusalem by the standard of His word and had determined that the fate of Samaria (Israel) was also to befall Jerusalem. wipe Jerusalem. As one would wipe food off a dish, the Lord would wipe Jerusalem clean off the earth, i.e., obliterate her, and leave her turned upside down, empty, and useless.

Acts 2:3 The disciples could not comprehend the significance of the Spirit’s arrival without the Lord sovereignly illustrating what was occurring with a visible phenomenon. tongues, as of fire. Just as the sound, like wind, was symbolic, these were not literal flames of fire but supernatural indicators, like fire, that God had sent the Holy Spirit upon each believer. In Scripture, fire often denoted the divine presence (Ex.3:2–6). God’s use of a firelike appearance here parallels what He did with the dove when Jesus was baptized (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16).

Acts 2:7 Galileans. Inhabitants of the mostly rural area of northern Israel around the Sea of Galilee. Galilean Jews spoke with a distinct regional accent and were considered to be unsophisticated and uneducated by the southern Judean Jews. When Galileans were seen to be speaking so many different languages, the Judean Jews were astonished. 

What can we learn about the Holy Spirit’s special role from the Book of Acts? 
One of the cautions we must exercise in studying and teaching from the Book of Acts has to do with the difference between description and prescription. The difference plays an important role in interpreting the historical biblical books. The Bible’s description of an event does not imply that the event or action can, should, or will be repeated.

The role of the Holy Spirit in His arrival as the promised Helper (John 14:17), which Acts describes as a startling audiovisual event (2:1–13),had some partial and selected repetitions (8:14–19; 10:44–48; 19:1–7).These were special cases in which believers are reported to have received or been filled with the Holy Spirit. In each of these cases, the sound of a rushing mighty wind and the tongues as of fire that were present in the original event (2:1–13) were absent, but the people spoke in tongues they did not know (but others recognized).These events should not be taken as the basis for teaching that believers today should expect the same tongue-evidence to accompany the filling of the Holy Spirit. 

Even in Acts itself, genuine conversions did not necessarily lead to extraordinary filling by the Holy Spirit. For example, a crowd of three thousand people believed and were baptized on the same Day of Pentecost (2:41) that started so dramatically, yet there is no mention of tongues. So, why in some cases did tongues accompany the confirmation of faith? That this actually occurred likely demonstrated that believers were being drawn from very different groups into the church. Each new group received a special welcome from the Holy Spirit. 

Thus, Samaritans (8:14–19), Gentiles (10:44–48), and believers from the old covenant (19:1–7) were added to the church, and the unity of the church was established. To demonstrate that unity, it was imperative to have some replication in each instance of what had occurred at Pentecost with the believing Jews, such as the presence of the apostles and the coming of the Spirit, manifestly indicated through speaking in the languages of Pentecost.




Integrity Walks in Humility

“Then Nebuchadnezzar in rage and anger gave orders to bring Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego; then these men were brought before the king. Nebuchadnezzar responded and said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up? Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, and bagpipe, and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?’” (Daniel 3:13-15).

God humbles the proud but gives grace to the humble.

When King Nebuchadnezzar asked Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego “What god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” he showed the extent to which a person can be blinded by sinful pride and arrogance. It is sheer folly to pit one’s power against God’s, but that’s precisely what he did.

Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude reflects that of Satan himself, who boasted that he would ascend into Heaven and make himself like the Most High God (Isa. 14:13-14). God is quick to correct such foolish notions. Later in his life Nebuchadnezzar learned that “everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished” (Prov. 16:5). After being severely chastened by God, the king came to his senses and proclaimed, “I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride” (Dan. 4:37).

Although they may not be as openly defiant as Nebuchadnezzar was, everyone who willfully disobeys God’s Word is following his example by exalting their own will over God’s and challenging His authority in their lives.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to keep you humble and to forgive any subtle pride you may be harboring in your heart.

For Further Study
Read Psalm 31:23-24 and James 4:13-16.
* How does the psalmist encourage the humble?
* What is James’s caution to those who live as if they are not accountable to God?


Demonstrating Sacrificial Love

"This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress" (James 1:27).

Sacrificial love is the hallmark of true Christianity.

Recently a local newspaper reported the story of a young woman who had been brutally beaten, sexually assaulted, repeatedly stabbed, then dumped down a hillside and left for dead. Miraculously she survived the attack and crawled up the hill to a spot along the road where several people were parked enjoying the panoramic view of the city.

Covered with blood from head to foot, she went from car to car pleading for help, only to have one person after another roll up their windows and drive away. No one wanted to get involved. Finally someone came to her rescue and took her to a hospital where she was treated for her wounds. The article went on to describe the anger of her rescuer toward those who turned their backs on the woman's cries for help.

That tragic story illustrates the lack of compassion that is so prevalent in our society. Many people won't become involved—even when the lives of others are at stake. They're unwilling to risk personal injury or inconvenience, or perhaps they're just complacent and insensitive.

That should never be true of Christians! Jesus showed great compassion to those with special needs, and He expects us to do the same.

Just as James used the tongue to represent a pure heart (v. 26), so he uses widows and orphans to represent pure love. "To visit" means to bring love, pity, and care to them. Widows and orphans are an especially needy segment within the church. As such, they represent all who are destitute and unable to repay your kindness.
Let your love be sacrificial. Give with no intention of receiving anything in return. Generously invest your time and resources in ministering to those who have no resources of their own. That's the essence of true religion!

Suggestions for Prayer
Is there someone in your neighborhood or church whom you can help today? Ask God for wisdom and discernment on how you might best demonstrate His love to that person.

For Further Study
Read Exodus 22:22-24, Deuteronomy 14:28-29, Psalm 68:5, Acts 6:1-6, and 1 Timothy 5:3-16, noting God's provisions for widows and orphans.


Jesus’ Definition of Judging

“‘Do not judge so that you will not be judged’” (Matthew 7:1).

One of the central messages of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount to His followers is for them to be discerning and perceptive in what they believe and what they do. All Christians need to make every effort to judge between truth and falsehood, between the internal and the external, between reality and sham, and between true righteousness and false righteousness.

Every message we hear is to be judged for the soundness of its doctrine. Paul told the Galatians, “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” (Gal. 1:8).

Not to rebuke sin is a form of hatred, not love. Refusing to warn a person about his sin is just as unloving as refusing to warn him about a serious disease he may have. The writer of Hebrews calls for a level of spiritual maturity wherein Christians “because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Heb. 5:14).

So in Matthew 7:1, Jesus is not telling us never to think or make value judgments. He is referring to the self-righteous, egotistical judgment and unmerciful condemnation of others practiced by the scribes and Pharisees. Their primary concern was not to help others from sin to holiness, but to condemn them to eternal judgment because of actions and attitudes that did not square with their own worldly, self-made traditions.
Jesus is referring to the judgment of motives that no human being can know of another—judgment of external form. What Jesus is forbidding is self-righteous, hasty, unmerciful, prejudiced, and unwarranted condemnation based on human standards and human understanding.

Ask Yourself
This is one Bible verse our culture feels good about knowing—and thrusting into the faces of Christians at every opportunity. But how do you see this concept twisted in people’s dealings with others and in matters of morality?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 17:1–18:37
* Psalm 74:1-8
* Proverbs 18:22-24
* Acts 1:1-26

2 Kings 18:5 He trusted in the LORD God of Israel. The most noble quality of Hezekiah (in dramatic contrast to his father, Ahaz) was that he relied on the Lord as his exclusive hope in every situation. What distinguished him from all other kings of Judah (after the division of the kingdom) was his firm trust in the Lord during a severe national crisis (18:17–19:34). Despite troublesome events, Hezekiah clung tightly to the Lord, faithfully following Him and obeying His commands (v. 6). As a result, the Lord was with him and gave him success (v. 7).

Proverbs 18:24 must himself be friendly. The best text says “may come to ruin” and warns that the person who makes friends too easily and indiscriminately does so to his own destruction. On the other hand, a friend chosen wisely is more loyal than a brother. friend. This is a strong word meaning one who loves and was used of Abraham, God’s friend (2 Chr. 20:7; Is. 41:8; 1 Sam. 18:1; 2 Sam. 1:26).

Acts 1:3 presented Himself…by many infallible proofs. John 20:30; 1 Corinthians 15:5–8. To give the apostles confidence to present His message, Jesus entered a locked room (John 20:19), showed His crucifixion wounds (Luke 24:39), and ate and drank with the disciples (Luke 24:41–43). forty days. The time period between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension during which He appeared at intervals to the apostles and others (1 Cor. 15:5–8) and provided convincing evidence of His resurrection. kingdom of God. Here this expression refers to the sphere of salvation, the gracious domain of divine rule over believers’ hearts (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 5:5; Col. 1:13, 14; Rev. 11:15; 12:10). This was the dominant theme during Christ’s earthly ministry (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43; 9:2; John 3:3–21).

Acts 1:8 The apostles’ mission of spreading the gospel was the major reason the Holy Spirit empowered them. This event dramatically altered world history, and the gospel message eventually reached all parts of the earth (Matt. 28:19, 20). receive power. The apostles had already experienced the Holy Spirit’s saving, guiding, teaching, and miracle-working power. Soon they would receive His indwelling presence and a new dimension of power for witness (2:4; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; Eph. 3:16, 20). witnesses. People who tell the truth about Jesus Christ (John 14:26; 1 Pet. 3:15). The Greek word means “one who dies for his faith” because that was commonly the price of witnessing. Judea. The region in which Jerusalem was located. Samaria. The region immediately to the north of Judea.

When and why did the northern kingdom of Israel come to an end?
In 2 Kings 17:6, it says that the “king of Assyria took Samaria and carried Israel away to Assyria.” The capture of Samaria by Sargon II marked the end of the northern kingdom in 722 B.C. According to Assyrian records, the Assyrians deported 27,290 inhabitants of Israel to distant locations. The relocation of populations was characteristic of Assyrian policy during that era. The Israelites were resettled in the upper Tigris-Euphrates Valley and never returned to the Promised Land. “Halah” was a city northeast of Nineveh. 

The “Habor” River was a northern tributary of the Euphrates. The “cities of the Medes” were northeast of Nineveh. Samaria was resettled with foreigners (v. 24).God did what He said He would do in Deuteronomy 28.The Jews were carried as far east as Susa, where the Book of Esther later took place.

In vv. 7–23, the writer departs from quoting his written sources and gives his own explanation for the captivity of Israel. Judah is included, though her captivity did not occur until ‪605/604–586‬ B.C. at the hands of the Babylonians. Her sins were the same. Here is a very full and impressive vindication of God’s action in punishing His privileged but rebellious and apostate people. In v. 7, he begins by stating that the Israelites had sinned against the Lord who had redeemed them from Egypt. Gross perversion of the worship of God and national propensity to idolatry finally exhausted divine patience. The idolatry of Israel is described in vv. 7–12. 

In response to Israel’s actions, the Lord sent His prophets to Israel and Judah with a message of repentance (v. 13). However, the people failed to respond to the prophets’ messages, because, like their fathers, they did not have faith in the Lord (v. 14). Their lack of faith resulted in disobedience to the Lord’s commands and the further pursuit of idolatry (vv. 15–17). The idolatry of Israel (and Judah) brought forth the anger of the Lord, which resulted in exile (v. 18).The “great sin” of both Israel and Judah was their continual following of the sinful pattern of Jeroboam I, departing from the Lord and practicing idolatry, thus bringing down the judgment of captivity predicted by the prophets (vv. 19–23).




Integrity Endures Criticism

“For this reason at that time certain Chaldeans came forward and brought charges against the Jews. . . . ‘There are certain Jews whom you have appointed over the administration of the province of Babylon, namely Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These men, O king, have disregarded you; they do not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up’” (Daniel 3:8-12). 

Expect spiritual opposition.

Have you noticed that whenever you take a public stand for righteousness you feel the reaction of the world more strongly? Even something as noble as doing your work with integrity and diligence can bring ridicule, rejection, or even open hostility. But that shouldn’t surprise you.

Jesus said, “‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). The apostle Paul warns that “indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were well-acquainted with spiritual opposition, and in today’s passage they are targets of envious Chaldeans who want to see them put to death. The accusations brought against them were not entirely true because they had not disregarded the king. On the contrary, they were model citizens and exemplary leaders. They had attended the king’s ceremony and fulfilled all their other civil duties insofar as those duties did not violate their responsibility to God.

Their accusers weren’t motivated by loyalty to the king or by their personal allegiance to his religious views. They were jealous and resentful because they hated having Jewish captives ruling over them (see Dan. 2:49).

Sometimes Christians today will do their work excellently and be promoted over their peers, only to incur the displeasure of jealous workmates who criticize or bring false and discrediting accusations against them. If ever you are in that situation, you need to be especially diligent to do your work as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23), to guard your own attitude, and to let the Lord be your defender.

Suggestions for Prayer
In obedience to the Lord, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28).

For Further Study
Read Daniel 6.
* What parallels do you see between Daniel’s situation and our current passage?
* How did God prove Himself faithful in each?


Defining True Religion

"This is pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father, to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world" (James 1:27).

True religion produces holiness and sacrificial love.

In this verse James continues his practical and penetrating assessment of true faith. So far he has said in effect, "Don't just study the Bible—obey it! Don't just dabble in external religion—have pure speech!" Now he adds, "Don't just say you're religious—demonstrate sacrificial love! Don't just claim to love God—live a pure life!" Shallow claims to Christianity meant nothing to him. He wanted to see godly attitudes and righteous deeds.

The apostle John used the same approach when he wrote, "The one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. . . . The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes" (1 John 2:6, 10-11). "Light" in that passage represents truth and righteousness; "darkness" speaks of error and sin. If you are truly saved, you are in the light and show it by your love for others.

In our society, the definition of religion is very broad. Almost any belief system qualifies. But to God, any religion that doesn't produce holiness and sacrificial love is not true religion. That narrows the field considerably because anyone who isn't saved through faith in Jesus Christ remains in bondage to sin and has no capacity to live a holy and selfless life.

How about you? Do you flee from sin and reach out to those in need? If so, you have true religion. If not, receive Christ now. He alone is the source of holiness and love.

Suggestions for Prayer
If you are a believer, God's love is already shed abroad in your heart through the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). Ask God to increase your capacity to love others as Christ loves you.

For Further Study
Read 1 John 3:10-18, noting John's comparison of the children of God with the children of the devil.


Don’t Worry about Tomorrow

“‘So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own’” (Matthew 6:34).

Making reasonable provisions for the future is sensible, but to “worry about tomorrow” is foolish and unfaithful. God is the God of tomorrow as well as the God of today and eternity. “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22–23).

People are so committed to worrying that, if they can’t find anything in the present to worry about, they think about possible problems in the future. So Jesus assures us, “Tomorrow will care for itself.” This is not the careless philosophy of the hedonist who lives only for his present enjoyment. It is the conviction of the child of God who knows tomorrow will care for itself because it is in his heavenly Father’s hands.

“Each day has enough trouble of its own” is not a call to worry about that trouble—it’s an invitation to concentrate on meeting the temptations, trials, opportunities, and struggles we have today, relying on our Father to protect and provide as we have need. There is enough trouble in each day without adding the distress of worry to it.

God promises His grace for tomorrow and for every day thereafter and through eternity. But He does not give us grace for tomorrow now—He gives His grace only a day at a time as it is needed, not as it may be anticipated.

So begin today to focus on the issues of today. Don’t start dwelling on tomorrow until it becomes today.

Ask Yourself
What else might Jesus have in mind by commanding us to maintain our full attention on the day, the hour, the moment we’re currently living in? What do we lose by living in either the past or the future?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 15:1–16:20
* Psalm 73:21-28
* Proverbs 18:20-21
* John 21:1-25

2 Kings 16:3 walked in the way of the kings of Israel. This does not necessarily mean that Ahaz participated in the calf worship introduced by Jeroboam I at Bethel and Dan, but that he increasingly brought pagan, idolatrous practices into the worship of the Lord in Jerusalem. These are specified in vv.10–16 and parallel those of Jeroboam I in the northern kingdom. This included idols to Baal (2 Chr. 28:2). made his son pass through the fire. As a part of the ritual worship of Molech, the god of the Moabites, children were sacrificed by fire (3:27). This horrific practice was continually condemned in the Old Testament (Lev. 18:21; 20:2–5;Deut. 18:10; Jer. 7:31; 19:5; 32:35).

2 Kings 16:10 the altar. When Ahaz traveled to Damascus to meet Tiglath-Pileser III, he saw a large altar (v. 15) which was most likely Assyrian. Ahaz sent a sketch of this altar to Urijah the high priest in Jerusalem, and Urijah built an altar just like it. The serious iniquity in this was meddling with and changing, according to personal taste, the furnishings of the temple, the design for which had been given by God (Ex. 25:40; 26:30; 27:1–8; 1 Chr. 28:19). This was like building an idol in the temple, done to please the pagan Assyrian king, whom Ahaz served instead of God.

Proverbs 18:21 Death and life. The greatest good and the greatest harm are in the power of the tongue (James 3:6–10).

John 21:18,19 A prophecy of Peter’s martyrdom. Jesus’ call of devotion to Him would also mean that Peter’s devotion would entail his own death (Matt. 10:37–39).Whenever any Christian follows Christ, he must be prepared to suffer and die (Matt. 16:24–26). Peter lived 3 decades serving the Lord and anticipating the death that was before him (2 Pet. 1:12–15), but he wrote that such suffering and death for the Lord brings praise to God (1 Pet. 4:14–16). Church tradition records that Peter suffered martyrdom under Nero (ca. A.D. 67–68), being crucified upside down, because he refused to be crucified like his Lord.

How does Jesus deal with Peter’s denial of Him during the trial?
In John 21:15–17, the meaning of this section hinges upon the usage of two synonyms for love. In terms of interpretation, when two synonyms are placed in close proximity in context, a difference in meaning, however slight, is emphasized. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, He used a word for love that signified total commitment. Peter responded with a word for love that signified his love for Jesus, but not necessarily his total commitment. This was not because he was reluctant to express that greater love, but because he had been disobedient and denied the Lord in the past.

He was, perhaps, now reluctant to make a claim of supreme devotion when, in the past, his life did not support such a claim. Jesus pressed home to Peter the need for unswerving devotion by repeatedly asking Peter if he loved Him supremely. The essential message here is that Jesus demands total commitment from His followers. Their love for Him must place Him above their love for all else. Jesus confronted Peter with love because He wanted Peter to lead the apostles (Matt. 16:18), but in order for Peter to be an effective shepherd, his overwhelming drive must exemplify supreme love for his Lord.

In v. 15, when Jesus asked him if he loved Him “more than these,” He probably refers to the fish (v. 11) representing Peter’s profession as a fisherman, for he had gone back to it while waiting for Jesus (v. 3). Jesus wanted Peter to love Him so supremely as to forsake all that he was familiar with and be exclusively devoted to being a fisher of men (Matt. 4:19).The phrase may refer to the other disciples, since Peter had claimed he would be more devoted than all the others (Matt. 26:33).“Feed My lambs.” The word “feed” conveys the idea of being devoted to the Lord’s service as an undershepherd who cares for His flock (1 Pet. 5:1–4).The word has the idea of constantly feeding and nourishing the sheep. This served as a reminder that the primary duty of the messenger of Jesus Christ is to teach the word of God (2 Tim. 4:2).Acts 1–13 records Peter’s obedience to this commission.

In v. 17, “Peter was grieved.” The third time Jesus asked Peter, He used Peter’s word for love that signified something less than total devotion, questioning even that level of love Peter thought he was safe in claiming. The lessons driven home to Peter grieved his heart, so that he sought for a proper understanding of his heart, not by what he said or had done, but based on the Lord’s omniscience (2:24, 25).




Integrity Resists Intimidation

“Then the herald loudly proclaimed: ‘To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.’ Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up” (Daniel 3:4-7).

The choices you make reveal the convictions you embrace.

After King Nebuchadnezzar had gathered all his leaders to the dedication of his golden image, he issued a proclamation that at the sound of his orchestra they were to fall down and worship the image. Those leaders were the most influential and respected people in Babylon, so you might expect them to be people of strong convictions and personal integrity. Sadly, that was not the case, and with only three exceptions they all lacked the courage to say no.

Granted, punishment for disobeying the king’s decree would be severe indeed. But even the threat of a fiery death could not intimidate Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Instead, it simply revealed the depth of their commitment to God. That’s what makes them such remarkable role models. As young men barely twenty years old, they demonstrated tremendous courage and conviction.

Each day Christians face considerable pressure to compromise spiritual integrity and to adopt standards of thought and behavior that are displeasing to the Lord. Young people especially are vulnerable to negative peer pressure and intimidation. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego show us that young people can be spiritual leaders who are strong in their faith and exemplary in their obedience. May that be true of you as well, regardless of your age.

Suggestions for Prayer
Remember to pray often for the young people in your church, and do what you can to encourage them in their walk with the Lord.

For Further Study
Read Joshua 1:1-9. How did God encourage Joshua as he faced the intimidating task of leading the nation of Israel?


Speaking from a Pure Heart

"If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless" (James 1:26).

Your speech reveals the condition of your heart.

In verse 22 James talked about the delusion of hearing the Word without obeying it. Here he talks about the deception of external religious activity without internal purity of heart.

That's a common deception. Many people confuse love of religious activity with love for God. They may go through the mechanics of reading the Bible, attending church, praying, giving money, or singing songs, but in reality their hearts are far from God. That kind of deception can be very subtle. That's why James disregards mere claims to Christianity and confronts our motives and obedience to the Word. Those are the acid tests!

James was selective in the word he used for "religious." Rather than using the common Greek word that speaks of internal godliness, he chose a word that refers to external religious trappings, ceremonies, and rituals— things that are useless for true spirituality.

He focuses on the tongue as a test of true religion because the tongue is a window to the heart. As Jesus said, "The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart" (Matt. 12:34). Corrupt speech betrays an unregenerate heart; righteous speech demonstrates a transformed heart. It doesn't matter how evangelical or biblical your theology is, if you can't control your tongue, your religion is useless!

You can learn much about a person's character if you listen long enough to what he says. In the same way, others learn much about you as they listen to what you say. Do your words reveal a pure heart? Remember Paul's admonition to "let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29). Make that your goal each day so you can know the blessing and grace of disciplined speech!

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to guard your tongue from speaking anything that might dishonor Him. Be aware of everything you say.

For Further Study
Read James 3:1-12.
* What warning does James give?
* What analogies does he use for the tongue?


Seeking God’s Kingdom First

“‘But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you’” (Matthew 6:33).

When Christians think like the world and crave things in the world, they will worry like the world, because a mind not focused on God is a mind that has cause to worry. The faithful, trusting, and reasonable Christian is “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [let his] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

The antidote to worry that results in contentment is to make God and His kingdom your priority. Jesus is saying, “Rather than seeking and worrying about food, drink, and clothing like unbelievers do, focus your attention and hopes on the things of the Lord, and He will take care of all your needs.”

Seeking God’s kingdom means losing ourselves in obedience to the Lord and pouring out our lives in the eternal work of our heavenly Father. To seek God’s kingdom is to seek to win people into that kingdom that they might be saved and God might be glorified.

We are also to seek His righteousness. Instead of longing after the things of this world, we ought to hunger and thirst for the things of the world to come, which are characterized above all else by God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. We not only are to have heavenly expectations but also holy lives: “What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11–12).

Ask Yourself
Seeking first the kingdom can be little more than a mental slogan for us until we define what this means in real-life, everyday terms. Spend some time today focusing on what a kingdom priority looks like at home, at work, at church, at the gym, at the market, in all the places your routine takes you.


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 14:1–29
* Psalm 73:10-20
* Proverbs 18:18-19
* John 20:1-31

2 Kings 14:1–15:38 This section quickly surveys the kings and selected events of the northern and southern kingdoms from 796 to 735 B.C. In contrast to the previous 19 chapters (1 Kin. 17:1–2 Kin. 13:25), which narrated 90 years of history (885–796 B.C.) with a concentration on the ministries of Elijah and Elisha during the final 65 years of that period (860–796 B.C.), 62 years are covered in these two chapters. The previous section concluded with a shadow of hope: officially sanctioned Baal worship had been eradicated in both Israel (10:18–28) and Judah (11:17,18); the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem had been repaired (12:9–15); and the Syrian threat to Israel had been overcome (13:25). However, this section emphasizes that the fundamental problems still remained: the false religion established by Jeroboam I continued in Israel even with the change of royal families (14:24–5:9, 18, 24, 28), and the high places were not removed in Judah even though there were only good kings there during those years (14:4; 15:4, 35).

2 Kings 14:25 restored the territory of Israel. Jeroboam II’s greatest accomplishment was the restoration of Israel’s boundaries to approximately their extent in Solomon’s time, excluding the territory belonging to Judah. The northern boundary was the entrance of Hamath, the same as Solomon’s (1 Kin. 8:65) and the southern boundary was the Sea of the Arabah, the Dead Sea (Josh. 3:16; 12:3). Jeroboam II took Hamath, a major city located on the Orontes River, about 160 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. He also controlled Damascus, indicating that the Transjordan territory south to Moab was also under his authority. These victories of Jeroboam II were accomplished because the Syrians had been weakened by attacks from the Assyrians, while Assyria herself was weak at this time, suffering from threats on her northern border, internal dissension, and a series of weak kings. Jonah. The territorial extension of Jeroboam II was in accordance with the will of the Lord as revealed through the prophet Jonah. This was the same Jonah who traveled to Nineveh with God’s message of repentance for the Assyrians.

Proverbs 18:19 There are no feuds as difficult to resolve as those with relatives; no barriers are so hard to bring down. Hence, great care should be taken to avoid such conflicts.

John 20:9 did not know the Scripture. Neither Peter nor John understood that Scripture said Jesus would rise (Ps. 16:10). This is evident by the reports of Luke (24:25–27, 32, 44–47). Jesus had foretold His resurrection (2:19; Matt. 16:21; Mark 8:31; 9:31; Luke 9:22), but they would not accept it (Matt. 16:22; Luke 9:44, 45). By the time John wrote this Gospel, the church had developed an understanding of the Old Testament prediction of Messiah’s resurrection.

DAY 13: Describe the resurrection appearances of Jesus to His followers.
John 20 records the appearances of Jesus to His own followers: 1) the appearance to Mary Magdalene (vv. 1–18); 2) the appearance to the 10 disciples (vv. 19–23); and 3) the appearance to Thomas (vv. 24–29). Jesus did not appear to unbelievers (see 14:19; 16:16, 22) because the evidence of His resurrection would not have convinced them as the miracles had not (Luke 16:31). The god of this world had blinded them and prevented their belief (2 Cor. 4:4). Jesus, therefore, appears exclusively to His own in order to confirm their faith in the living Christ. Such appearances were so profound that they transformed the disciples from cowardly men hiding in fear to bold witnesses for Jesus (e.g., Peter; see 18:27; Acts 2:14–39). Once again John’s purpose in recording these resurrection appearances was to demonstrate that Jesus’ physical and bodily resurrection was the crowning proof that He truly is the Messiah and Son of God who laid down His life for His own (10:17, 18; 15:13; Rom. 1:4).

In particular, His appearance to Thomas, who has already been portrayed as loyal but pessimistic, is insightful (vv. 24–26). Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for his failure, but instead compassionately offered him proof of His resurrection. Jesus lovingly met him at the point of his weakness (2 Tim. 2:13).Thomas’s actions indicated that Jesus had to convince the disciples rather forcefully of His resurrection, i.e., they were not gullible people predisposed to believing in resurrection. The point is they would not have fabricated it or hallucinated it, since they were so reluctant to believe even with the evidence they could see.

With the words “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28),Thomas declared his firm belief in the resurrection and, therefore, the deity of Jesus the Messiah and Son of God (Titus 2:13). This is the greatest confession a person can make. Thomas’s confession functions as the fitting capstone of John’s purpose in writing (vv. 30, 31).




Worry Is Not a Trivial Sin

“‘But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!’” (Matthew 6:30).

It seems odd, does it not, that we who have freely put our eternal destiny into Christ’s hands would at times refuse to believe that He will provide what we need to eat, drink, and wear. Faith should extend to the ordinary, just as it extends to the extraordinary.
Worry is not a trivial sin because it strikes a blow both at God’s love and integrity. 

Worry declares our heavenly Father to be untrustworthy in His Word and His promises. To claim belief in the inerrancy of Scripture yet in the next moment express worry is to deny that very belief. Worry reveals that we are mastered by our circumstances and by our own finite perspective and understanding rather than God’s Word. Worry is therefore not only debilitating and destructive but also maligns and impugns God.
When a believer is not fresh in the Word every day so that God is in his mind and heart, then Satan moves into the vacuum and plants worry. And worry pushes the Lord even further from our minds.

Paul counsels us as he did the Ephesians, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might” (Eph. 1:18–19).

Ask Yourself
Have you ever seriously considered the unspoken statement you make when worry defines your reaction to life’s uncertainties? If you understood the root beliefs that fuel the fires of anxiety, what effect would this knowledge have on your level of fretfulness?


Integrity Worships the True God

“Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold, the height of which was sixty cubits and its width six cubits; he set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar the king sent word to assemble the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up. Then the satraps, the prefects and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the judges, the magistrates and all the rulers of the provinces were assembled for the dedication of the image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up; and they stood before the image that Nebuchadnezzar had set up” (Daniel 3:1-3).

People are incurably religious and will worship either the true God or a false substitute.
Scripture teaches that a double-minded man is “unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8). That certainly was true of King Nebuchadnezzar, who shortly after declaring that Daniel’s God “is a God of gods and a Lord of kings” (Dan. 2:47), erected a huge image of himself and assembled all his leaders for its dedication.

The image was ninety feet tall and was probably constructed of wood overlaid with gold. Because the plain of Dura was flat, the statue would have been visible for a great distance. The gold idol was a magnificent sight as it reflected the bright sunlight of that region.

The king’s plan was to have all his leaders bow down to the image, thereby bringing glory to himself, verifying their loyalty, and unifying the nation under one religion. But he was soon to learn that three young men with spiritual integrity would never abandon worship of the true God, regardless of the consequences.

Worshiping the true God or a false substitute is the choice that everyone must make. Sadly, millions of people who wouldn’t think of bowing to a tangible image nevertheless worship useless gods of their own imaginations. Even Christians can be lured into self-love and covetousness, which are forms of idolatry (Col. 3:5). That’s why you must always guard your heart diligently.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank the Lord for the privilege of knowing and worshiping the true God.

For Further Study
According to Romans 1:18-32, what are the spiritual and moral consequences of idolatry?


Persevering in the Word

"One who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25).

Doers of the Word are persevering learners.

The phrase "and abides by it" in James 1:25 demands our close attention. "Abide" translates a Greek word that means "to stay beside," "remain," or "continue." The idea is that a doer of the Word continually and habitually gazes into God's perfect law. In other words, he is a persevering learner.

When you have that level of commitment to the Word, you will be an effectual doer—one who is in union with God's will and seeks to obey it above all else. As you do, God will bless you. That doesn't necessarily mean you'll be successful in the eyes of the world, but your priorities and perspectives will be right and the Lord will honor what you do.

This verse is a call to carefully examine yourself in light of God's standards. That's not a popular thing in our society because many people have an aversion to serious spiritual thought and self-examination. I believe that's why Christian television, music, and other forms of entertainment are so popular. Escaping reality through entertainment is far more appealing to most people than gazing into the mirror of God's Word and having their spiritual flaws and blemishes exposed. But if you desire to be like Christ, you must see yourself for what you are and make any needed corrections. To do that, you must continually examine your life in the light of Scripture.

Can you imagine what the church would be if every Christian did that? Can you imagine the changes in your own life if you did it more consistently? Only the Holy Spirit can enable you to be a doer of the Word. So yield to His leading through prayer and confession as you continue to study and apply God's Word.

Suggestions for Prayer
Whenever you study Scripture, ask the Spirit to illuminate your mind and heart, and to use the Word to transform you more and more into the image of Christ. 

For Further Study
Read Colossians 3:16-17, noting what Paul says about responding to the Word.


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 11:1–13:25
* Psalm 73:1-9
* Proverbs 18:16-17
* John 19:23-42

2 Kings 11:17 a covenant. The renewal of the agreement between the people and the Lord and between the house of David and the people was appropriate because of the disruption under Athaliah. A similar ceremony was held later, during the reign of Josiah (23:1–3).

2 Kings 13:21 he revived. A dead man returned to life after touching Elisha’s bones. This miracle was a sign that God’s power continued to work in relationship to Elisha even after his death. What God had promised to Jehoash through Elisha when he was alive would surely come to pass after the prophet’s death (vv. 19,25) in the defeat of the enemy, the recovery of the cities that had been taken, and their restoration to the kingdom of Israel (vv. 22–25).

Proverbs 18:16 man’s gift. This is not the word for a bribe (17:23), but rather the word for a present given to someone (Jacob’s gift, Gen. 32:20, 21; Joseph’s gift, Gen. 43:11; David’s gift, 1 Sam. 17:17, 18; and Abigail’s gift, 1 Sam. 25:27).
John 19:23 His garments...and also the tunic. By custom, the clothes of the condemned person were the property of the executioners. The division of the garments suggests that the execution squad was made up of 4 soldiers (Acts 12:4). The tunic was worn next to the skin. The plural garments probably refers to other clothes, including an outer garment, belt, sandals, and head covering.

John 19:24 John cites Psalm 22:18. In the psalm, David, beset by physical distress and mockery by his opponents, used the symbolism of the common practice in an execution scene in which the executioner divided the victim’s clothes to portray the depth of his trouble. It is notable that David precisely described a form of execution that he had never seen. The passage was typologically prophetic of Jesus, David’s heir to the messianic throne (Matt. 27:46; Mark 15:34).

DAY 12: Was there any question as to whether Jesus died or not?
In His death on the cross, Jesus finally cried out, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).The verb here carries the idea of fulfilling one’s task and, in religious contexts, has the idea of fulfilling one’s religious obligations. The entire work of redemption had been brought to completion. The single Greek word here (translated “it is finished”) has been found in the papyri being placed on receipts for taxes meaning paid in full (Col. 3:13,14).“He gave up His spirit.” The sentence signaled that Jesus handed over His spirit as an act of His will. No one took His life from Him, for He voluntarily and willingly gave it up (10:17, 18).

It was “Preparation Day” (v. 31). This refers to Friday, the day before or the preparation day for the Sabbath. “Bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath.” The normal Roman practice was to leave crucified men and women on the cross until they died (and this could take days) and then leave their rotting bodies hanging there to be devoured by vultures. The Mosaic Law insisted that anyone being impaled (usually after execution) should not remain there overnight (Deut. 21:22, 23). Such a person was under God’s curse, and to leave him exposed would be to desecrate the land in their minds. So “the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken.” In order to hasten death for certain reasons, soldiers would smash the legs of the victim with an iron mallet. Not only did this action induce shock and additional loss of blood, but it prevented the victim from pushing with his legs to keep breathing, and thus the victim died due to asphyxiation.

However, the soldier’s stabbing of Jesus’ side caused significant penetration because of the sudden flow of blood and water (v. 34). Either the spear pierced Jesus’ heart or the chest cavity was pierced at the bottom. In either event, John mentioned the outflow of blood and water to emphasize that Jesus was unquestionably dead.




Integrity Results in Fruitful Ministry

“And Daniel continued until the first year of Cyrus the king” (Daniel 1:21).

People of integrity are people of significant spiritual influence.

When King Nebuchadnezzar took Daniel as one of his personal servants, it was just the beginning of a ministry that would last for seventy years. 

Daniel 2:48 records that soon afterward “the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon.” At Daniel’s request, the king also appointed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to positions of authority, thereby providing an even stronger voice for righteousness in Babylon.

Years later, Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar, “clothed Daniel with purple and put a necklace of gold around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he now had authority as the third ruler in the kingdom” (Dan. 5:29). 

Following Belshazzar’s death and the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians, Darius the Mede appointed Daniel as one of only three men in the kingdom to have oversight over all his governors (Dan. 6:1-2). As the Lord continued to bless Daniel, and as he distinguished himself among Darius’ leaders, the king appointed him as prime minister over the entire kingdom. Daniel therefore “enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (Dan. 6:28).

Daniel’s life was one of enormous influence, which began when he was a youth who chose commitment over compromise. He was faithful with little, and the Lord gave him much. Perhaps few Christians will have the breadth of influence Daniel enjoyed, but every Christian should have his commitment. 

Remember, the choices you make for Christ today directly impact the influence you will have for Him tomorrow. So live each day to hear the Lord’s “Well done, good and faithful [servant]; you were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:23).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to guard your integrity, so that your influence for Him will be strong and ever-increasing.

For Further Study
Read the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles 4:10.
* What did Jabez request of God?
* What was God’s response?


Gazing into the Perfect Law

"One who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man shall be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25).

God blesses you when you obey His Word.

James 1:21-24 contrasts hearers of the Word and doers of the Word. Hearers don't respond to Scripture or benefit from its truths—though they may study it in depth. Doers receive it in humility and obey its commands. James 1:25 adds that they are blessed in what they do. That means there is blessing in the very act of obedience.

James calls Scripture "the perfect law, the law of liberty" (v. 25). It is "law" because it's God's obligatory behavioral code. Grace doesn't eliminate God's moral law—it gives us the spiritual resources to obey it, and forgiveness when we fail. That's how Jesus fulfills the law in us (cf. Matt. 5:17).

Scripture is "the perfect law" because it is complete, sufficient, comprehensive, and without error. Through it God meets every need and fulfills every desire of the human heart. In addition, it is "the law of liberty." That may sound paradoxical because we tend to think of law and freedom as opposites. But as you look intently into the Word, the Holy Spirit enables you to apply its principles to your life, thereby freeing you from the guilt and bondage of sin, and enabling you to live to God's glory. That's true freedom!

"Look intently" translates a Greek word that pictures bending down to examine something with care and precision. Stooping implies humility and a desire to see clearly what Scripture reveals about your own spiritual condition. It's an attitude as well as an action.

As you study Scripture, let this be your underlying attitude: "Lord, as I gaze intently into your Word, reveal the things in my life that need to be changed. Then grant me the grace to make those changes so I can live more fully to your glory."

Suggestions for Prayer
Memorize Psalm 139:23-24 and make it your sincere prayer.

For Further Study
Read Hebrews 4:12-13.
* To what is God's Word compared?
* What effect does the Word have on those who are exposed to it?


Example of the Flowers

“‘And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrowis thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith!’” (Matthew 6:28–30).

Many of the people Jesus spoke to likely had little clothing to their name. So He pointed again to their surroundings, this time to flowers, to assure them of God’s concern and provision.
“The lilies of the field” may have been a general term used for the beautiful wild-flowers that graced the fields and hillsides of Galilee. Such decorations of nature make no effort to grow and have no part in designing or coloring themselves. The naked eye can see much of the amazing detail, shading, and coloring of a flower, yet under a microscope it shows itself to be even more marvelous and intricate than people in Jesus’ day could ever have imagined.

The simple point is that not even Solomon, one of most resplendent kings the world has ever known, could clothe himself like one of those little flowers growing abundantly on the hillside.

If Jesus told those who had but one simple garment not to worry about their clothing, what would He say to us? If God bothers to array the grass of the field with beautiful but short-lived flowers, how much more is He concerned to clothe and care for His very own children?

Ask Yourself
Nature is indeed a constant reminder not only of the wonder and splendor of God, but also of His daily provision. Perhaps the radical policies of today’s green generation—a fervor that borders on and often becomes an idolatrous worship of the earth—can make us wary of learning from the world around us. But creation is a gift of God to us, designed to help us look to Him as our source.


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 9:1–10:36
* Psalm 72:17-20
* Proverbs 18:14-15
* John 19:1-22

2 Kings 9:2 Jehu. The Lord had previously told Elijah that Jehu would become king over Israel and kill those involved in the worship of Baal (1 Kin. 19:16,17). The fulfillment of the prophecy is recorded from 9:1–10:31. inner room. A private room that could be closed off to the public. Elisha commissioned one of the younger prophets to anoint Jehu alone behind closed doors. The rite was to be a secret affair without Elisha present so that Jehoram would not suspect that a coup was coming.

2 Kings 9:3 anointed you king over Israel. The anointing with olive oil by a prophet of the Lord confirmed that God Himself had earlier chosen that man to be king (1 Sam. 10:1; 16:13). This action of anointing by a commissioned prophet indicated divine investiture with God’s sovereign power to Jehu. flee, and do not delay. The need for haste by the young prophet underscored the danger of the assignment. A prophet in the midst of Israel’s army camp would alert the pro-Jehoram elements to the possibility of the coup.

2 Kings 9:30 paint on her eyes. The painting of the eyelids with a black powder mixed with oil and applied with a brush, darkened them to give an enlarged effect. Jezebel’s appearance at the window gave the air of a royal audience to awe Jehu.

John 19:12 not Caesar’s friend. This statement by the Jews was loaded with irony, for the Jews’ hatred of Rome certainly indicated they too were no friends of Caesar. But they knew Pilate feared Tiberius Caesar (the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion) since he had a highly suspicious personality and exacted ruthless punishment. Pilate had already created upheaval in Palestine by several foolish acts that had infuriated the Jews, and so was under the scrutiny of Rome to see if his ineptness continued. The Jews were intimidating him by threatening another upheaval that could spell the end of his power in Palestine, if he did not execute Jesus.

John 19:18 crucified Him. Jesus was made to lie on the ground while His arms were stretched out and nailed to the horizontal beam that He carried. The beam was then hoisted up, along with the victim, and fastened to the vertical beam. His feet were nailed to the vertical beam to which sometimes was attached a piece of wood that served as a kind of seat that partially supported the weight of the body. The latter, however, was designed to prolong and increase the agony, not relieve it. Having been stripped naked and beaten, Jesus could hang in the hot sun for hours if not days. To breathe, it was necessary to push with the legs and pull with the arms, creating excruciating pain. Terrible muscle spasms wracked the entire body; but since collapse meant asphyxiation, the struggle for life continued. two others. Matthew (27:38) and Luke (23:33) use the same word for these two as John used for Barabbas, i.e., guerrilla fighters.

Describe the abuse that Christ endured during the trial?
In John 19:1, it says that “Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.” Pilate appears to have flogged Jesus as a strategy to set Him free (vv. 4–6). He was hoping that the Jews would be appeased by this action and that sympathy for Jesus’ suffering would result in their desire that He be released (Luke 23:13–16).Scourging was a horribly cruel act in which the victim was stripped, tied to a post and beaten by several torturers, i.e., soldiers who alternated when exhausted. For victims who were not Roman citizens, the preferred instrument was a short wooden handle to which several leather thongs were attached. Each leather thong had pieces of bones or metal on the end. The beatings were so savage that sometimes victims died. The body could be torn or lacerated to such an extent that muscles, veins, or bones were exposed. Such flogging often preceded execution in order to weaken and dehumanize the victim (Is. 53:5). Apparently, however, Pilate intended this to create sympathy for Jesus.

Then there was the “crown of thorns” (v. 2). This crown was made from the long spikes (up to 12 inches) of a date palm formed into an imitation of the radiating crowns which oriental kings wore. The long thorns would have cut deeply into Jesus’ head, adding to the pain and bleeding. The use of the “purple robe” represented royalty. The robe probably was a military cloak flung around Jesus’ shoulders, intended to mock His claim to be King of the Jews.

Pilate declared to the people, “I find no fault in Him” (v. 4), and when he brought Jesus out, he cried, “Behold the Man!” (v. 5). Pilate dramatically presented Jesus after His torturous treatment by the soldiers. Jesus would have been swollen, bruised, and bleeding. Pilate displayed Jesus as a beaten and pathetic figure, hoping to gain the people’s choice of Jesus for release. Pilate’s phrase is filled with sarcasm since he was attempting to impress upon the Jewish authorities that Jesus was not the dangerous man that they had made Him out to be.




Integrity Proves God's Faithfulness

“Then at the end of the days which the king had specified for presenting them, the commander of the officials presented them before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king talked with them, and out of them all not one was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king’s personal service. And as for every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king consulted them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and conjurers who were in all his realm” (Daniel 1:18-20).

God always equips you for the tasks He requires of you.

Daniel and the other young men deported in 606 B.C. received three years of intense training under the watchful eye of the commander of King Nebuchadnezzar’s officials. At the conclusion of their training, they were presented to the king for his personal evaluation. The results were impressive indeed. Of all those who were trained, none compared to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Beyond that, they were found to be ten times better than all the wise men in the entire kingdom of Babylon! Consequently, at the age of only seventeen or eighteen, they were made the king’s personal servants.

Why were these young men so superior to their peers? It wasn’t simply their training, because each man had received the same education. The difference was their character and the faithful provisions of their God, who granted them special knowledge, intelligence, and wisdom (v. 17). They were so righteous and wise that even those who did not believe in their God were compelled to acknowledge the quality of their lives. That’s the impact every believer should have on those around them!

God wants you to live the kind of life that silences those who would seek to malign you or your God (1 Peter 2:15), and He has provided every spiritual resource for you to do so (2 Peter 1:3). Therefore, when you live with integrity, you prove to others that God really does accomplish His work in those who love Him.

Suggestions for Prayer
Make a list of spiritual resources that are yours in Christ, then praise Him for each of them.

For Further Study
Read Psalm 119:97-104.
* What are the psalmist’s attitudes toward God’s Word (His “law”)?
* What steps did he take to ensure that godliness would be evident in his life?


Applying the Word Without Delay

"If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was" (James 1:23-24).

Always respond immediately to what you know to be God’s will for you.

Men, have you ever been at work and touched your face, only to realize that you forgot to shave? Perhaps you were distracted by your wife's call to breakfast or by one of the kids. Ladies, have you ever been out in public and suddenly realized that you forgot to apply some of your makeup? Those are common occurrences that illustrate what it means to hear God's Word but fail to respond.

James 1:23 says, "If anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror." "Looks" doesn't refer to a casual glance but to a careful, cautious, observant stare. This person is taking a good, long look at himself. Hearers of the Word are not necessarily superficial or casual in their approach to Scripture. They can be serious students of the Word. The fact is, some seminary professors or Sunday School teachers are not true believers. Some even write commentaries and other Bible reference works. Your response to the Word—not your depth of study alone—is the issue with God.

Despite the hearer's lingering look, he failed to respond and the image reflected in the mirror soon faded. That's reminiscent of Jesus saying, "When anyone hears the word of the kingdom, and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart" (Matt. 13:19). The Word was sown but it bore no fruit. The man looked into the mirror but he made no corrections.

Perhaps there's something God's Word is instructing you to do that you've been putting off. If so, delay no longer. Don't be a forgetful hearer!

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to teach you to be more disciplined in responding to the dictates of His Word.

For Further Study
Read Matthew 13:1-23, noting the various soils and what they represent.


Example of the Birds

“‘Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns,and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?’” (Matthew 6:26).

Many birds live in northern Galilee, and it’s likely some flew by as Jesus was teaching. As an object lesson, Jesus called attention to the fact that birds do not have intricate and involved processes for acquiring food.

Like every creature, birds receive their life from God. And He provides them with an abundance of food resources and the instinct to find those resources for themselves and their offspring. The Lord asked Job, “Who prepares for the raven its nourishment when its young cry to God?” (Job 38:41). The obvious answer is: God does.

If God is so careful to provide for such relatively insignificant creatures as birds, how much more will He take care of those He created in His own image and who have become His children through faith?

This doesn’t mean Jesus is suggesting that birds do nothing to feed themselves. But they never worry about where their next meal is going to come from. They gather food until they have enough, and then go about whatever other business they may have until time for the next meal.

Use this example of a bird’s worry-free life and adopt the same attitude for yourself.

Ask Yourself
It really is worth reiterating that birds don’t sit around waiting for their needs to be met. Keep your eye to an open window one morning, and you’ll see just how industrious they are. How does this help you understand Jesus’ words better? In what ways have laziness and other lacks of good character increased your worry quotient?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 7:1–8:29
* Psalm 72:8-16
* Proverbs 18:12-13
* John 18:19-40

2 Kings 7:6 the Hittites and…Egyptians. Sometime before the arrival of the lepers, the Lord had made the Syrians hear the terrifying sound of a huge army approaching. They thought the Israelite king had hired two massive foreign armies to attack them. The Hittites were descendants of the once-great Hittite Empire who lived in small groups across northern Syria (1 Kin. 10:29). Egypt was in decline at this time, but its army would still have represented a great danger to the Syrians.

2 Kings 8:10 recover…die. Ben-Hadad wanted to know whether or not he would recover from his present illness. In response, Elisha affirmed two interrelated things: 1) Ben-Hadad would be restored to health; his present sickness would not be the means of his death. 2) Ben-Hadad would surely die by some other means.

2 Kings 8:11 he was ashamed. With a fixed gaze, Elisha stared at Hazael because it had been revealed to him what Hazael would do, including the murder of Ben-Hadad (v. 15). Hazael was embarrassed, knowing that Elisha knew of his plan to assassinate the Syrian king.

Psalm 72:10 Tarshish…Seba. Countries near and far which brought tribute to Solomon (1 Kin. 4:21; 10:1, 23, 24; Is. 60:4–7; Jer. 6:20). Tarshish is probably in Spain; Sheba, a kingdom in southern Arabia (modern Yemen); and Seba, a North African nation.

John 18:36 My kingdom is not of this world. By this phrase, Jesus meant that His kingdom is not connected to earthly political and national entities, nor does it have its origin in the evil world system that is in rebellion against God. If His kingdom was of this world, He would have fought. The kingships of this world preserve themselves by fighting with force. Messiah’s kingdom does not originate in the efforts of man but with the Son of Man forcefully and decisively conquering sin in the lives of His people and someday conquering the evil world system at His Second Coming when He establishes the earthly form of His kingdom. His kingdom was no threat to the national identity of Israel or the political and military identity of Rome. It exists in the spiritual dimension until the end of the age (Rev.11:15).

Why was the trial of Jesus conducted by the Romans rather than the Sanhedrin?
Jesus was led from the trial before Caiaphas to the Praetorium in John 18:28.This was the headquarters of the commanding officer of the Roman military camp or the headquarters of the Roman military governor (i.e., Pilate). Pilate’s normal headquarters was in Caesarea, in the palace that Herod the Great had built for himself. However, Pilate and his predecessors made it a point to be in Jerusalem during the feasts in order to quell any riots. Jerusalem became his praetorium or headquarters. It was “early morning.” The word is ambiguous. Most likely, it refers to around 6:00 a.m. since many Roman officials began their day very early and finished by 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. 

Those who brought Jesus did not go into the Praetorium “lest they should be defiled.” Jewish oral law gives evidence that a Jew who entered the dwelling places of Gentiles became ceremonially unclean. Their remaining outside in the colonnade avoided that pollution. John loads this statement with great irony by noting the chief priests’ scrupulousness in the matter of ceremonial cleansing, when all the time they were incurring incomparably greater moral defilement by their proceedings against Jesus.

“What accusation…?” (v. 29). This question formally opened the Roman civil phase of proceedings against Jesus. The fact that Roman troops were used at the arrest proves that the Jewish authorities communicated something about this case to Pilate in advance. Although they most likely had expected Pilate to confirm their judgment against Jesus and order His death sentence, Pilate ordered instead a fresh hearing in his presence.

When Pilate told them to take Jesus back and try Him themselves, the Jews objected on the basis that “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death” (v. 31). When Rome took over Judea and began direct rule through a prefect in A.D. 6, capital jurisdiction (i.e., the right to execute) was taken away from the Jews and given to the Roman governor. Capital punishment was the most jealously guarded of all the attributes in Roman provincial administration.

By a Roman crucifixion, it also fulfilled “the saying of Jesus” (v. 32) that He would die by being lifted up (3:14; 8:28; 12:32, 33). If the Jews had executed Him, it would have been by throwing Him down and stoning Him. But God providentially controlled all the political procedures to assure that, when sentence was finally passed, He would be crucified by the Romans and not stoned by the Jews, as was Stephen (Acts 7:59).




Integrity Reflects Godly Wisdom

“As for [Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego], God gave them knowledge and intelligence in every branch of literature and wisdom; Daniel even understood all kinds of visions and dreams” (Daniel 1:17).

Godly wisdom guards against the influences of a godless society.

From the beginning of human history Satan has tried to confuse and confound God’s purposes by corrupting man’s thinking. In the Garden of Eden he succeeded by calling God’s character into question and convincing Eve that her disobedience would have no consequences. To this day he continues to deceive entire civilizations by blinding “the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:4).

Daniel and his friends were captives of a pagan king who wanted to dilute their allegiance to God by reprogramming their thinking. However, unlike Eve, they were determined not to be overcome by the evil influences around them. God honored their integrity and taught them everything they needed to know to be productive in Babylonian society and to influence it for righteousness.

Babylon was the center of learning in its day, boasting of advanced sciences, sophisticated libraries, and great scholars. God gave these young men the ability to learn and retain that level of knowledge, and the wisdom to apply it to their lives. Furthermore, He gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams and receive visions—gifts that would prove crucial later in his life as God elevated him to a position of prominence in Babylon and revealed the plan of history to him (see chapters 7—12).
Surely Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego didn’t understand all that God had in store for them or why He would allow them to be tested so severely at such a young age. 

But when they chose to love and trust Him despite their circumstances, they demonstrated the kind of wisdom that protects God’s children from the influences of a godless society. As we do the same, God uses us in significant ways. Also, we find that God never calls us to a challenge that He won’t equip us to handle.
Suggestions for Prayer

King David prayed, “Teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). Make that your prayer as well.

For Further Study
Read Colossians 1:9-12. What are the results of being filled with “spiritual wisdom and understanding”?


Avoiding Spiritual Delusion

"Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22).

It’s a delusion to think you can hear God’s Word, then disobey it without cost.

Matthew 7:21-23 records the tragic results of spiritual delusion. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'"

Jesus made a clear distinction between those who merely claim to be Christians and those who truly are. The difference is, true believers do the will of the Father. In the words of James, they are doers of the Word, not merely hearers who delude themselves.

"Hearers" in James 1:22 translates a Greek word that speaks of auditing a class. Auditing students attend class and listen to the instructor but don't do any work. Consequently, they don't receive credit for the course. The phrase "delude themselves" speaks of being victimized by one's own faulty reasoning.
People who listen to God's Word but never obey it are spiritual auditors who delude themselves by thinking that hearing the Word is all God requires of them. 

Unfortunately, many churches are full of such people. They attend services and hear the sermons but their lives never seem to change. They're content to hear the Word but never apply it. Like those whom Jesus condemned in Matthew 7, they've chosen religious activities over true faith in Christ.

How tragic to think you're saved, only to hear, "I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Matt. 7:23). That will never happen if you're a doer of the Word.

Suggestions for Prayer
Take advantage of every opportunity to respond to the Word in specific ways. Ask God for His grace to keep you faithful to that goal.

For Further Study
Read Matthew 7:13-29.
* How did Jesus describe false prophets?
* How can you discern a false from a true prophet?
* To what did Jesus liken those who hear His words and act on them? Why?


Reasons to Be Content

“‘For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eator what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’” (Matthew 6:25).

Worry is the opposite of contentment, which should be a believer’s normal and consistent state of mind. You should be able to say with Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need” (Phil. 4:11–12).

A Christian’s contentment is found only in God—in His ownership, control, and provision of everything we possess and will ever need. Since God owns everything, what we now have and what we will ever have belongs to Him.

Daniel understood the Lord’s control of everything: “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, for wisdom and power belong to Him. It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding” (Dan. 2:20–21).

And if we hadn’t heard it from Daniel, we should know it from one of the ancient names of God—Jehovah-Jireh, which means, “the Lord who provides.”

Whatever the Lord gives us belongs to Him. Therefore, it is our responsibility to thank Him for it and to use it wisely and unselfishly for as long as He entrusts us with it.
Ask Yourself
What keeps “enough” from being enough for us? How do we define the level of property or possessions we need in order to feel satisfied with our supply? Why are these measurements so often faulty and skewed away from sound biblical understanding?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 5:1–6:33
* Psalm 72:1-7
* Proverbs 18:10-11
* John 18:1-18

2 Kings 5:17 two mule-loads of earth. In the ancient Near East, it was thought that a god could be worshiped only on the soil of the nation to which he was bound. Therefore, Naaman wanted a load of Israelite soil on which to make burnt offerings and sacrifices to the Lord when he returned to Damascus. This request confirmed how Naaman had changed—whereas he had previously disparaged Israel’s river, now he wanted to take a pile of Israel’s soil to Damascus.

2 Kings 5:27 leprosy…shall cling to you. Gehazi’s greed had cast a shadow over the integrity of Elisha’s prophetic office. This made him no better in the people’s thinking than Israel’s false prophets, who prophesied for material gain, the very thing he wanted to avoid (vv. 15, 16). Gehazi’s act betrayed a lack of faith in the Lord’s ability to provide. As a result, Elisha condemned Gehazi and his descendants to suffer Naaman’s skin disease forever. The punishment was a twist for Gehazi, who had gone to take something from Naaman (v. 20), but what he received was Naaman’s disease.

2 Kings 6:5 iron…borrowed. Iron was expensive and relatively rare in Israel at that time, and the student-prophet was very poor. The ax head was loaned to the prophet since he could not have afforded it on his own and would have had no means to reimburse the owner for it.

John 18:4–8 Whom are you seeking? By twice asking that question (vv. 4,7), to which they replied, “Jesus of Nazareth” (vv. 5,7), Jesus was forcing them to acknowledge that they had no authority to take His disciples. In fact, He demanded that they let the disciples go (v. 8). The force of His demand was established by the power of His words. When He spoke, “I am He” (v. 6), a designation He had used before to declare Himself God (8:28, 58; 6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9, 11, 14; 11:25; 14:6; 15:1, 5), they were jolted backward and to the ground (v. 6). This power display and the authoritative demand not to take the disciples was of immense significance, as the next verse indicates.

John 18:13 Annas first. Annas held the high priesthood office from A.D. 6–15 when Valerius Gratus, Pilate’s predecessor, removed him from office. In spite of this, Annas continued to wield influence over the office, most likely because he was still regarded as the true high priest and also because no fewer than 5 of his sons, and his son-in-law Caiaphas, held the office at one time or another. Two trials occurred: one Jewish and one Roman. The Jewish phase began with the informal examination by Annas (vv. 12–14, 19–23), probably giving time for the members of the Sanhedrin to hurriedly gather together. A session before the Sanhedrin was next (Matt. 26:57–68) at which consensus was reached to send Jesus to Pilate (Matt. 27:1, 2). The Roman phase began with a first examination before Pilate (vv. 28–38a; Matt. 27:11–14) and then Herod Antipas (“that fox”—Luke 13:32) interrogated Him (Luke 23:6–12). Lastly, Jesus appeared again before Pilate (vv. 38b–19:16; Matt. 27:15–31).

DAY 9: Who was Naaman, and what does he teach us about obedience to God?
In 2 Kings 5:1, four phrases describe the importance of Naaman: 1) he was the supreme commander of the army of Syria as indicated by the term “commander,” used of an army’s highest ranking officer (Gen. 21:22; 1 Sam. 12:9; 1 Chr. 27:34); 2) he was a great man, a man of high social standing and prominence; 3) he was an honorable man in the eyes of his master, a man highly regarded by the king of Syria because of the military victories he had won; and 4) he was a mighty man of valor, a term used in the Old Testament for both a man of great wealth (Ruth 2:1) and a courageous warrior (Judg. 6:12; 11:1). Severely mitigating against all of this was the fact that he suffered from leprosy, a serious skin disease (v. 27). Naaman’s military success was attributable to the God of Israel, who is sovereign over all the nations (Is. 10:13; Amos 9:7).

Because of his personal greatness (v. 1), his huge gift of ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold (about 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold in v. 5), and diplomatic letter (v. 6), Naaman expected that Elisha would “surely come out to me” (v.11). He expected personal attention to his need. However, Elisha did not even go out to meet him. Instead, he sent his instructions for healing through a messenger (v. 10). Naaman was angry because he anticipated a personal cleansing ceremony from the prophet himself. Besides, if Naaman needed to wash in a river, two Syrian rivers were superior to the muddy Jordan. However, it was obedience to God’s word that was the issue, not the quality of the water.

Fortunately, Naaman had a servant who pointed out to him that he had been willing to do anything, no matter how hard, to be cured. He should be even more willing, therefore, to do something as easy as washing in a muddy river. Naaman’s healing restored his flesh to that “of a little child” (v. 14). Upon his healing, Naaman returned from the Jordan River to Elisha’s house in Samaria to give confession of his new belief: “there is no God…except in Israel” (v. 15).




Integrity Passes the Test

“So [the king’s overseer] listened to [Daniel and his friends] in this matter and tested them for ten days. And at the end of ten days their appearance seemed better and they were fatter than all the youths who had been eating the king’s choice food. So the overseer continued to withhold their choice food and the wine they were to drink, and kept giving them vegetables” (Daniel 1:14-16).

All spiritual commitment will be tested.

When God wants to prove the quality of one’s commitment, He tests it. The test may come directly from Him, as with Abraham when God asked him to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen. 22:1-2), or it may come through difficult circumstances, as with the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings (Deut. 8:16), or it may even come from Satan himself, as God permitted with Job (Job 1:12; 2:6). Regardless of its source, every test is designed by God to produce greater spiritual fruit in His children (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s tests came at the hands of their Babylonian captors. Separation from family, friends, and homeland must have been an extremely difficult test for them, but through it all their commitment to the Lord remained unshakable. Now they faced a test to determine whether or not they could remain undefiled. For ten days they would eat only vegetables and drink only water, while their fellow captives ate the king’s special diet.

Normally such a brief period of time would make no noticeable change in one’s physiology, but God must have intervened because at the conclusion of just ten days, these four young men were clearly healthier and more vigorous than their peers. The results were so convincing that their overseer allowed them to remain on a vegetarian diet throughout their entire three-year training period. God honored their uncompromising spirit.

When you are tested, remember that God is working on your spiritual maturity and that He will never test you beyond what you are able to endure and will always provide a means of victory (1 Cor. 10:13).

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray for wisdom and strength to meet each test in your life with courage and victory.

For Further Study
Read Psalm 26:1-3.
* What did King David request of God?
* How does he describe a person of integrity?


Being a Doer of the Word

"Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22).

A doer of the Word obeys what Scripture says.

Effective Bible study is built on three key questions: What does the Bible say? What does it mean? How does it apply to my life? Each of those questions is important, but applying the Word must always be the highest goal. Knowledge without application is useless.

Both the Old and New Testaments emphasize the importance of applying Scripture. For example, just prior to leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, Joshua received this message from God: "This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success" (Josh. 1:8). That's a command to be a doer of the Word—one who receives, studies, and understands Scripture, then applies it to every aspect of his or her life. That was the key to Joshua's amazing success.

James 1:22 is a New Testament counterpart to Joshua 1:8 and is directed to every believer: "Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves." It's not enough to hear the Word; you must also do what it says.

The phrase "doer of the word" doesn't refer to the person who obeys periodically, but the one who habitually and characteristically obeys. It's one thing to run in a race; it's something else to be a runner. It's one thing to teach a class; it's something else to be a teacher. Runners are known for running; teachers are known for teaching—it's characteristic of their lives. Similarly, doers of the Word are known for their obedience to biblical truth.

Never be content to be a hearer of the Word only, but prove yourself a doer in the Christian life. Your claim to love Christ will mean something only if you obey what He says.

Suggestions for Prayer
Memorize Joshua 1:8 and pray regularly that God will make you a faithful doer of the Word.

For Further Study
Read Psalm 1.
* What are the benefits of delighting in God's law?
* How does the psalmist characterize those who reject righteousness?


Worry Is a Sin

“‘For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?’” (Matthew 6:25).

For Christians to worry is to be disobedient and unfaithful to God. Nothing in our lives, internal or external, justifies our being anxious when God is our Master.

Worry is basically the sin of distrusting the promise and providence of God, and yet it is a sin Christians commit perhaps more frequently than any other. In the Greek, the tense of Jesus’ command includes the idea of stopping what is already being done. We are to stop worrying and never start again.

The English term worry comes from an old German word meaning to strangle, or to choke. That’s exactly what worry does—it’s a type of mental and emotional strangulation that probably causes more mental and physical afflictions than any other single cause.

The substance of worry is nearly always extremely small compared to the size it forms in our minds and the damage it does in our lives. It’s been said that worry is a thin stream of fear that trickles through the mind that, when encouraged, will cut a channel so wide that all other thoughts will be drained out.

If worrying is a pattern in your life—stop now. In the days to follow you’ll learn why you should trust your Father and stop worrying.

Ask Yourself
Would you categorize yourself as a worrier? If so, what do you think has driven you to choose the perceived relief of worry over the actual relief of trust in God? If not, what has tipped your heart in favor of less worry and more confidence and contentment?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 3:1–4:44
* Psalm 71:17-24
* Proverbs 18:9
* John 17:1-26

2 Kings 3:15 a musician. The music was used to accompany praise and prayer, which calmed the mind of the prophet that he might clearly hear the word of the Lord. Music often accompanied prophecies in the Old Testament (1 Chr. 25:1).

2 Kings 4:4 shut the door behind you. Since the widow’s need was private, the provision was to be private also. Further, the absence of Elisha demonstrated that the miracle happened only by God’s power. God’s power multiplied little into much, filling all the vessels to meet the widow’s need (1 Kin. 17:7–16).

John 17:17 Sanctify. This verb also occurs in John’s Gospel at v. 19; 10:36.The idea of sanctification is the setting apart of something for a particular use. Accordingly, believers are set apart for God and His purposes alone so that the believer does only what God wants and hates all that God hates (Lev. 11:44, 45; 1 Pet. 1:16). Sanctification is accomplished by means of the truth, which is the revelation that the Son gave regarding all that the Father commanded Him to communicate and is now contained in the scriptures left by the apostles.

John 17:21 they all may be one. The basis of this unity centers in adherence to the revelation the Father mediated to His first disciples through His Son. Believers are also to be united in the common belief of the truth that was received in the Word of God (Phil. 2:2). This is not still a wish, but it became a reality when the Spirit came (Acts 2:4; 1 Cor. 12:13). It is not experiential unity, but the unity of common eternal life shared by all who believe the truth, and it results in the one body of Christ all sharing His life.

What was Jesus’ prayer in John 17 about?
Although Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4 have become known popularly as the Lord’s Prayer, that prayer was actually a prayer taught to the disciples by Jesus as a pattern for their prayers. The prayer recorded in John 17:1–26 is truly the Lord’s Prayer, exhibiting the face-to-face communion the Son had with the Father. Very little is recorded of the content of Jesus’ frequent prayers to the Father (Matt. 14:23; Luke 5:16), so this prayer reveals some of the precious content of the Son’s communion and intercession with Him.

This chapter is a transitional chapter, marking the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of His intercessory ministry for believers (Heb. 7:25).In many respects, the prayer is a summary of John’s entire Gospel. Its principle themes include: 1) Jesus’ obedience to His Father; 2) the glorification of His Father through His death and exaltation; 3) the revelation of God in Jesus Christ; 4) the choosing of the disciples out of the world; 5) their mission to the world; 6) their unity modeled on the unity of the Father and Son; and 7) the believer’s final destiny in the presence of the Father and Son. The chapter divides into three parts: 1) Jesus’ prayer for Himself (vv. 1–5); 2) Jesus’ prayer for the apostles (vv. 6–19); and 3) Jesus’ prayer for all New Testament believers who will form the church (vv. 20–26).

Jesus speaks to His Father that the hour of His death has come (v. 1).“Glorify Your Son.” The very event that would glorify the Son was His death. By it, He has received the adoration, worship, and love of millions whose sins He bore. He accepted this path to glory, knowing that by it He would be exalted to the Father. The goal is that the Father may be glorified for His redemptive plan in the Son.

Note Jesus’ concern that the Father keep His disciples “from the evil one” (v. 15). The reference here refers to protection from Satan and all the wicked forces following him (Matt.6:13; 1 John 2:13, 14; 3:12; 5:18, 19). Though Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was the defeat of Satan, he is still loose and orchestrating his evil system against believers. He seeks to destroy believers (1 Pet. 5:8; Eph. 6:12), but God is their strong protector (12:31; 16:11; Ps. 27:1–3; 2 Cor. 4:4; Jude 24, 25).




Integrity Conquers Fear

“The commander of the officials said to Daniel, ‘I am afraid of my lord the king, who has appointed your food and your drink; for why should he see your faces looking more haggard than the youths who are your own age? Then you would make me forfeit my head to the king.’ But Daniel said to the overseer whom the commander of the officials had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, ‘Please test your servants for ten days, and let us be given some vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance be observed in your presence, and the appearance of the youths who are eating the king’s choice food; and deal with your servants according to what you see.’ So he listened to them in this matter and tested them for ten days” (Daniel 1:10-14).

People of biblical integrity tend also to be people with unashamed boldness.

I love to read the biographies of great missionaries and other godly people whose lives reflect an uncommon commitment to Christ and whose boldness in the face of difficulties sets them apart from their peers. Daniel was such a man. From his youth he delighted in doing God’s will and proclaiming God’s Word with boldness. He shared David’s perspective in Psalm 40:89, “I delight to do Thy will, O my God; Thy Law is within my heart. I have proclaimed glad tidings of righteousness in the great congregation; behold, I will not restrain my lips, O Lord.”
In stark contrast to Daniel’s boldness was Ashpenaz’s fear. 

Although he thought kindly of Daniel, Ashpenaz feared for his life if Daniel and his friends were to appear pale and malnourished after he granted them exemption from the king’s special diet. So with characteristic wisdom and boldness, Daniel suggested a simple test designed to relieve Ashpenaz’s fears and prove God’s faithfulness. Tomorrow we will see the results of that test (v. 15). But for today I pray that you will have the boldness of Daniel as you take every opportunity to proclaim God’s Word.

Suggestions for Prayer
Like Daniel you may be facing a situation that requires a special measure of boldness. If so, ask the Lord to strengthen you as you set your heart on doing His will.

For Further Study
Read Ephesians 6:19-20; Philippians 1:19-20. What was the source of Paul’s boldness?


Receiving the Word in Humility

"In humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21).

A humble heart is a teachable heart.

Scripture speaks of a past, present, and future aspect of salvation. You have been saved from the penalty of sin (salvation), are being saved from the power of sin (sanctification), and will ultimately be saved from the presence of sin (glorification). 

At first glance James 1:21may sound like it's written to unbelievers, urging them to receive the Word, which is able to redeem them. But the phrase "save your souls" carries the idea that the implanted Word has the ongoing power to continually save one's soul. It's a reference to the present and ongoing process of sanctification, which is nurtured by the Spirit-energized Word of God.

The Word was implanted within you by the Holy Spirit at the time of your salvation. It is the source of power and growth for your new life in Christ. Your responsibility is to receive it in purity and humility so it can do its sanctifying work.

"Humility" in James 1:21 could be translated "meek," "gentle," or "having a willing spirit"; but I prefer "teachable." If your heart is pure and humble, you will be teachable and will set aside all resentment, anger, and pride to learn God's truth and apply it to your life.

When Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15), He was addressing this very issue. If you love Him, you will desire to obey Him and will receive His Word so you can know His will for your life. As you receive the Word, the Holy Spirit empowers you to live according to its principles.
Paul said, "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another . . . and whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col. 3:16-17).

That's the essence of a biblical lifestyle and the fruit of receiving the Word in humility. May God bless you with a teachable spirit and an ever-increasing love for His truth.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to keep your heart tender towards Christ and His Word.

For Further Study
Read Nehemiah 8.
* Who read God's Word to the people?
* How did the people respond?
* Would you characterize them as receivers of the Word? Explain.


Serving Only One Master

“‘No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth’” (Matthew 6:24).

Just as we cannot have our treasures both in earth and in heaven or our bodies both in light and in darkness, we cannot “serve two masters.” The Greek word for “masters” is often translated “lord,” and often refers to a slave owner.
By definition, a slave owner has total control of the slave. For a slave there is no such thing as partial or part-time obligation to his master. He owes full-time service to his master. 

He is owned and totally controlled by and obligated to his master. To give anything to anyone else would make his master less than his master. It is impossible to “serve two masters” and fully or faithfully be the obedient slave of each.
In this way we can’t claim Christ as Lord if our allegiance is to anything or anyone else, including ourselves. And when we know God’s will but resist obeying it, we give evidence that our loyalty is to someone or something other than Him. 

But the person whose master is Jesus Christ can say that when he eats or drinks or does anything else, he does “all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). Make your allegiance to Christ your priority each and every day.

Ask Yourself
What alternative “masters” compete the hardest for your devotion? How has the inviolable truth of this “no man can serve two masters” statement been proven true in your life and in your observation of others? But why do we seem so intent on trying to have it that way anyway?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Kings 1:1–2:25
* Psalm 71:9-16
* Proverbs 18:6-8
* John 16:1-33

2 Kings 2:1 by a whirlwind. Literally, “in the whirlwind.” This was a reference to the specific storm with lightning and thunder in which Elijah was taken to heaven (v. 11). The Lord’s presence was connected with a whirlwind in Job 38:1; 40:6; Jer. 23:19; 25:32; 30:23; Zech. 9:14. Elisha. The record of this prophet, who was the successor to Elijah, begins in 1 Kings 19:16 and extends to his death in 2 Kings 13:20.

2 Kings 2:3 the sons of the prophets. See 1 Kings 20:35. take away. The same term was used of Enoch’s translation to heaven in Genesis 5:24. The question from the sons of the prophets implied that the Lord had revealed Elijah’s imminent departure to them. Elisha’s response that he didn’t need to hear about it (keep silent) explicitly stated that Elijah’s departure had been revealed by the Lord to him also (v. 5). from over you. I.e., from supervising you, an allusion to the habit of students sitting beneath the feet of their master, elevated on a platform. Elisha would soon change from being Elijah’s assistant to serving as the leader among the prophets.

2 Kings 2:11 chariot of fire…with horses of fire. The horse-drawn chariot was the fastest means of transport and the mightiest means of warfare in that day. Thus, the chariot and horses symbolized God’s powerful protection, which was the true safety of Israel (v. 12). As earthly kingdoms are dependent for their defense on such military force as represented by horses and chariots, one single prophet had done more by God’s power to preserve his nation than all their military preparations.

2 Kings 2:24 pronounced a curse. Because these young people of about 20 years of age or older (the same term is used of Solomon in 1 Kin. 3:7) so despised the prophet of the Lord, Elisha called upon the Lord to deal with the rebels as He saw fit. The Lord’s punishment was the mauling of 42 youths by two female bears. 

The penalty was clearly justified, for to ridicule Elisha was to ridicule the Lord Himself. The gravity of the penalty mirrored the gravity of the crime. The appalling judgment was God’s warning to any and all who attempted to interfere with the newly invested prophet’s ministry.
John 16:25 in figurative language. The word means a veiled, pointed statement that is pregnant with meaning, i.e., something that is obscure. 

What seemed hard to understand for the disciples during the life of Jesus would become clear after His death, resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit (vv. 13, 14; 14:26; 15:26, 27). They would actually understand the ministry of Christ better than they had while they were with Him, as the Spirit inspired them to write the Gospels and Epistles and ministered in and through them.

What very specific ministry does the Holy Spirit have on people’s lives?

In John 16:8, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was approximately 40 or more days away at this point (Acts 2:1–13). Jesus says that the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to “convict” people. 

This word has two meanings: 1) the judicial act of conviction with a view toward sentencing (i.e., a courtroom term—conviction of sin) or 2) the act of convincing. Here the second idea is best, since the purpose of the Holy Spirit is not condemnation but conviction of the need for the Savior. The Son does the judgment, with the Father (5:22, 27, 30). In v. 14, it is said that He will reveal the glories of Christ to His people. He will also inspire the writing of the New Testament, guiding the apostles to write it (v. 13), and He will reveal things to come, through the New Testament prophecies (v. 13).

The Holy Spirit convicts of “sin” (v. 9).The singular indicates that a specific sin is in view; i.e., that of not believing in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. This is the only sin, ultimately, that damns people to hell. Though all men are depraved, cursed by their violation of God’s law, and sinful by nature, what ultimatelys damns them to hell is their unwillingness to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior (8:24).

He convicts of “righteousness” (v. 10). The Holy Spirit’s purpose here is to shatter the pretensions of self-righteousness (hypocrisy), exposing the darkness of the heart. While Jesus was on the earth, He performed this task especially toward the shallowness and emptiness of Judaism that had degenerated into legalistic modes without life-giving reality. With Jesus gone to the Father, the Holy Spirit continues His convicting role.

And of “judgment” (v. 11).The judgment here in context is that of the world under Satan’s control. Its judgments are blind, faulty, and evil as evidenced in their verdict on Christ. The world can’t make righteous judgments (7:24), but the Spirit of Christ does (8:16). All Satan’s adjudications are lies (8:44–47), so the Spirit convicts men of their false judgment of Christ. 

Satan, the ruler of the world (14:30; Eph. 2:1–3) who, as the god of this world, has perverted the world’s judgment and turned people from believing in Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God (2 Cor. 4:4), was defeated at the Cross. While Christ’s death looked like Satan’s greatest victory, it actually was Satan’s destruction (Col. 2:15; Heb. 2:14, 15; Rev. 20:10).The Spirit will lead sinners to true judgment.




Integrity Enjoys God's Favor

“Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials” (Daniel 1:9).

God’s favor is the rich reward of obedience.

God delights in granting special grace and favor to those whose hearts are set on pleasing Him. For example, “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” and was spared the ravages of the Flood (Gen. 6:8). Joseph found favor in His sight and was elevated to prominence in Egypt (Gen. 39—41). God granted Moses and the children of Israel favor in the sight of the Egyptians, and they were able to plunder Egypt in the Exodus (Ex. 11:3; 12:36).

When Daniel chose to obey God by not defiling himself with the king’s special diet (Dan. 1:8), he demonstrated great courage and integrity. God responded by granting him favor and compassion in the sight of Ashpenaz, the commander of the king’s officials. The Hebrew word translated “favor” speaks of goodness or kindness. It can also include a strong affection from deep within. “Compassion” means a tender, unfailing love. Together these words tell us that God established a special relationship between Ashpenaz and Daniel that not only protected Daniel from harm in this instance, but also helped prepare him for his future role as a man of enormous influence in Babylon.

Today God’s favor is the special grace He grants His children in times of need. It is especially evident when their obedience brings persecution. The apostle Peter wrote, “This finds favor [grace], if for the sake of conscience toward God a man bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. . . . If when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor [grace] with God” (1 Peter 2:19-20).

Daniel knew that refusing the king’s special diet could lead to serious consequences, but he was more interested in obeying God’s Word than avoiding man’s punishment. He had the right priorities, and God honored his obedience, just as He will honor yours.

Suggestions for Prayer
Let the prayer of Moses be yours today: “Let me know Thy ways, that I may know Thee, so that I may find favor in Thy sight” (Ex. 33:13).

For Further Study
Read Genesis 39. What were the results of God’s favor upon Joseph?


Receiving the Word in Purity

"Putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness . . . receive the word" (James 1:21).

You cannot receive God’s Word and harbor sin at the same time.

When the psalmist said, "I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy word" (Ps. 119:101), he was acknowledging a key principle of spiritual growth: you must set aside sin if you expect to benefit from God's Word. Peter was expressing the same thought when he said, "Putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Pet. 2:1-2). Likewise, James admonished us to put off sin and receive the Word (James 1:21).

Neither James nor Peter were addressing unbelievers, because without Christ, people have no capacity to set sin aside or receive God's Word. But we as Christians are characterized by our ability to do both, and must continually purify our lives through confession of sin, repentance, and right choices. That's why Paul said, "Just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification" (Rom. 6:19).

The Greek word translated "putting aside" in James 1:21 originally meant taking off dirty, soiled clothes. "Filthiness" translates a Greek word that was used of moral vice as well as dirty clothes. Its root word was sometimes used of ear wax, which impedes a person's hearing. Similarly, sin impedes reception of the Word. "Wickedness" speaks of any evil intent or desire. Together they stress the importance of setting aside all evil actions and intentions.

Simply stated, you should never presume on God's grace by approaching His Word with unconfessed sin. David prayed, "Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous [deliberate] sins; let them not rule over me; then I shall be blameless" (Ps. 19:13). He wanted to be pure before the Lord. I pray that you share his desire and will always receive the Word in purity.

Suggestions for Prayer
Memorize Psalm 19:14. Make it your prayer as you study God's Word.

For Further Study
Read Colossians 3:5-17.
* What does Paul admonish you to put off? Put on?
* Why is it important to heed his admonitions?


Wealth and Heart Attitudes

“‘The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!’” (Matthew 6:22–23).

Expanding on the previous three verses, Jesus uses the eye as an illustration of the heart. The lamp, or lens, of the body is the eye; that’s how we receive light. The heart is the eye of the soul, and it is through our hearts that God’s truth, love, peace, and every spiritual blessing comes to us.

Words closely related to the word for “clear” include liberality and generosity. So the implication is that if our heart is generous (clear), our spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding.

However, if our eye is diseased or damaged, no light can enter, and our “whole body will be full of darkness.” If our hearts are burdened with material concerns, we’ll become “blind” and insensitive to spiritual concerns. The eye is our window—when it’s clear, light shines through; but when it’s corrupt, it prevents light from entering.

The eye that is bad is the heart that is selfishly indulgent. The person who is materialistic and greedy is spiritually blind. Because he has no way of recognizing true light, he thinks he has light when he doesn’t. It’s because he’s self-deceived that Jesus says, “How great is the darkness!”

This principle is both simple and sobering: the way we look at and use our money is a sure barometer of our spiritual condition.

Ask Yourself

Blind spots are certainly easy to develop in our hearts, whether about money or any other aspect of belief and practice. How can you safeguard yourself from letting your personal blind spots become ingrained attitudes, poisoning your ability to see clearly what God wants to do in your life?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 21:1–22:53
* Psalm 71:1-8
* Proverbs 18:3-5
* John 15:1-27

1 Kings 21:3 The LORD forbid. Naboth’s words implied that trading or selling his property would be a disregard of the law and thus displeasing in God’s eyes (1 Sam. 24:6; 26:11; 2 Sam. 23:17). The reason was that the vineyard was his ancestral property. The Lord, the owner of all of the land of Israel, had forbidden Israelite families to surrender ownership of family lands permanently (Lev. 25:23–28; Num. 36:7–9). Out of loyalty to God, Naboth declined Ahab’s offer.

1 Kings 22:6 prophets. These 400 prophets of Ahab were not true prophets of the Lord. They worshiped at Bethel in the golden-calf center set up by Jeroboam (12:28, 29) and were supported by Ahab, whose religious policy also permitted Baal worship. Their words were designed to please Ahab (v. 8), so they refused to begin with the authoritative “thus says the LORD” and did not use the covenant name for Israel’s God, “LORD.”

John 15:14,15 friends. Just as Abraham was called the friend of God (2 Chr. 20:7; James 2:23) because he enjoyed extraordinary access to the mind of God through God’s revelation to him which he believed, so also those who follow Christ are privileged with extraordinary revelation through the Messiah and Son of God and, believing, become friends of God also. It was for His friends that the Lord laid down His life (v. 13; 10:11, 15, 17).

What serious warning is sounded in the lesson of the vine and branches?
In John 15:1–17, Jesus used the extended metaphor of the vine and branches to set forth the basis of Christian living. Jesus used the imagery of agricultural life at the time, i.e., vines and vine crops (see also Matt. 20:1–16; 21:23–41; Mark 12:1–9; Luke 13:6–9; 20:9–16). In the Old Testament, the vine is used commonly as a symbol for Israel (Ps. 80:9–16; Is. 5:1–7; 27:2–6; Jer. 2:21; 12:10; Ezek. 15:1–8; 17:1–21; 19:10–14; Hos. 10:1, 2). He specifically identified Himself as the true vine and the Father as the vinedresser or caretaker of the vine.

The vine has two types of branches: 1) branches that bear fruit (vv. 2, 8), and 2) branches that do not (vv. 2, 6).The branches that bear fruit are genuine believers. Though in immediate context the focus is upon the 11 faithful disciples, the imagery also encompasses all believers down through the ages. The branches that do not bear fruit are those who profess to believe, but their lack of fruit indicates genuine salvation has never taken place and they have no life from the vine. Especially in the immediate context, Judas was in view, but the imagery extends from him to all those who make a profession of faith in Christ but do not actually possess salvation. The image of non-fruit-bearing branches being burned pictures eschatological judgment and eternal rejection (Ezek. 15:6–8).

“Abide in Me,” Jesus said (vv. 4–6).The word “abide” means to remain or stay around. The remaining is evidence that salvation has already taken place (1 John 2:19) and not vice versa. The fruit or evidence of salvation is continuance in service to Him and in His teaching (8:31; 1 John 2:24; Col. 1:23). The abiding believer is the only legitimate believer. Abiding and believing actually are addressing the same issue of genuine salvation (Heb. 3:6–19). “Abide in My love” (vv. 9, 10; Jude 21). This is not emotional or mystical, but defined in v. 10 as obedience. Jesus set the model by His perfect obedience to the Father, which we are to use as the pattern for our obedience to Him.




Integrity Stands on Principle

“And the king appointed for them a daily ration from the king’s choice food and from the wine which he drank, and appointed that they should be educated three years, at the end of which they were to enter the king’s personal service. . . . But Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice food or with the wine which he drank; so he sought permission from the commander of the officials that he might not defile himself” (Daniel 1:5,8).

Godly integrity is built upon the foundation of biblical authority.

From the world’s perspective, King Nebuchadnezzar had much to offer his Hebrew captives: the best food, the best education, and high positions in his kingdom. But Daniel’s perspective was quite different. He did not object to receiving a pagan education because God had given no direct prohibition against that, and a Babylonian education had much to offer in the areas of architecture and science. But as with anyone receiving a secular education, Daniel would have to exercise discernment in sorting out the true from the false and the good from the bad.

It was when Daniel was asked to violate a direct command from God that he drew the line and took his stand on biblical principle. That’s the character of godly integrity. It bases decisions on the principles from God’s Word, not on mere preference, intimidation, or peer pressure. Seemingly Daniel had every reason to compromise: he was young, away from home, and facing severe consequences if he defied the king’s order. Yet he was unwavering in his obedience to God.

Although Daniel couldn’t obey the king’s order, he handled the situation in a wise and respectful manner by seeking permission to abstain from eating what God had forbidden. From his example we learn that standing on principle will sometimes put us at odds with those in authority over us, but even then we can love and respect them.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Pray for those in authority over you who may want you to do things that would displease the Lord.
* Pray for wisdom and grace to maintain a loving attitude toward them while still standing on biblical principles.

For Further Study
Read Acts 5:17-29. How did the apostles respond to the authorities who commanded them to stop preaching the gospel?


Be Slow to Anger

"Let everyone be . . . slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).

If you resent God’s Word, you cannot grow in righteousness.

Have you ever started reading your Bible, thinking everything was fine between you and the Lord, only to have the Word suddenly cut deep into your soul to expose some sin you had neglected or tried to hide? That commonly happens because God seeks to purge sin in His children. The Holy Spirit uses the Word to penetrate the hidden recesses of the heart to do His convicting and purifying work. How you respond to that process is an indicator of the genuineness of your faith.

"Anger" in James 1:19-20 refers to a negative response to that process. It is a deep internal resentment accompanied by an attitude of rejection. Sometimes that resentment can be subtle. Paul described those who "will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires" (2 Tim. 4:3). 

They're the people who drift from church to church in search of someone who will tell them what they want to hear—or a congregation that wants a pastor who will make them feel good about themselves instead of preaching the Word and setting a high standard of holiness.

Sometimes resentment toward the Word ceases to be subtle and turns to open hostility. That happened when the crowd Stephen confronted covered their ears, drove him out of the city, and stoned him to death (Acts 7:57-60). Countless others throughout history have felt the fatal blows of those whose resentment of God's truth turned to hatred for His people.

Receiving the Word includes being quick to hear what it says and slow to anger when it disagrees with your opinions or confronts your sin. Is that your attitude? Do you welcome its reproof and heed its warnings, or do you secretly resent it? When a Christian brother or sister confronts a sin in your life, do you accept or reject their counsel?

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the power of His Word to convict you and drive you to repentance. Welcome its correction with humility and thanksgiving.

For Further Study
Read 2 Timothy 4:1-5, noting the charge Paul gave to Timothy and his reason for giving it.


Using Wealth Wisely

“‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’” (Matthew 6:19–21).

There is a great potential for your possessions to become idols when you accumulate them for yourself. But possessions that are wisely, willingly, and generously used for kingdom purposes can be a means of accumulating heavenly possessions. When they are hoarded and stored, they not only become a spiritual hindrance but also are subject to loss through moth, rust, and thieves.

In ancient times, wealth was frequently measured in part by clothing. The best clothes were made of wool, which the moths loved to eat. Wealth was also often held in grain. The Greek word for “rust” means “an eating.” That’s the application here, since grain was often ruined by rats, mice, worms, and insects. Also, almost any kind of wealth can be stolen. Many people in those days buried their nonperishable valuables in the ground, away from the house, often in a field.

Nothing we own is completely safe from destruction or theft. But when our time, energy, and possessions are used to serve others and to further the Lord’s work, they build up heavenly resources that are completely free from destruction or theft.
Make sure you are living by this principle: “Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine” (Prov. 3:9–10).

Ask Yourself
How many of your worries revolve around financial issues? What kind of stress and strain does this place on your mind and spirit—whether your problem involves being anxious about the prospects of the money you have, or anxious about the money you don’t have?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 19:1–20:43
* Psalm 70:1-5
* Proverbs 18:1-2
* John 14:1-31

1 Kings 19:3 he saw. His hope shattered, Elijah fled as a prophet, broken by Jezebel’s threats (v. 2), her unrepentant Baalism, and her continuing power over Israel. Elijah expected Jezebel to surrender. When she did not capitulate, he became a discouraged man (vv. 4, 10, 14).

1 Kings 19:4 broom tree. A desert bush that grew to a height of 10 feet. It had slender branches featuring small leaves and fragrant blossoms. take my life. Since Israelites believed that suicide was an affront to the Lord, it was not an option, whatever the distress. So Elijah asked the Lord for death (Jon. 4:3,8) because he viewed the situation as hopeless. Job (Job 6:8, 9), Moses (Num. 11:10–15), and Jeremiah (Jer. 20:14–18) had also reacted in similar fashion during their ministries.

1 Kings 19:11 the LORD passed by. The 3 phenomena, wind, earthquake, and fire, announced the imminent arrival of the Lord (Ex. 19:16–19; Ps. 18:7–15; Hab. 3:3–6). The Lord’s self-revelation to Elijah came in a faint, whispering voice (v. 12). The lesson for Elijah was that Almighty God was quietly, sometimes imperceptibly, doing His work in Israel (v. 18).

1 Kings 19:19 Elisha. This name means “my God is salvation” and belonged to Elisha, the successor to Elijah (2 Kin. 2:9–15). It was a common practice for several teams of oxen, each with his own plow and driver, to work together in a row. After letting the others pass, Elijah threw his mantle around the last man, Elisha, thus designating him as his successor.

John 14:6 This is the sixth I AM statement of Jesus in John (6:35; 8:12; 10:7, 9; 10:11, 14; 11:25; 15:1, 5). In response to Thomas’s query (v. 4), Jesus declared that He is the way to God because He is the truth of God (1:14) and the life of God (1:4; 3:15; 11:25). In this verse, the exclusiveness of Jesus as the only approach to the Father is emphatic. Only one way, not many ways, exist to God, i.e., Jesus Christ (10:7–9; Matt. 7:13, 14; Luke 13:24; Acts 4:12).

John 14:12 greater works than these he will do. Jesus did not mean greater works in power, but in extent. They would become witnesses to all the world through the power of the indwelling and infilling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8) and would bring many to salvation because of the Comforter dwelling in them. The focus is on spiritual rather than physical miracles. The Book of Acts constitutes the beginning historical record of the impact that the Spirit-empowered disciples had on the world (Acts 17:6).

How is the role of the Holy Spirit explained in John 14?
Jesus said, “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever” (v. 16). The priestly and intercessory work of Christ began with the request that the Father send the Holy Spirit to indwell in the people of faith (7:39; 15:26; 16:7; 20:22; Acts 1:8; 2:4, 33). The Greek word specifically means “another of the same kind,” i.e., someone like Jesus Himself who will take His place and do His work. The Spirit of Christ is the Third Person of the Trinity, having the same essence of Deity as Jesus and as perfectly one with Him as He is with the Father. A “Helper” literally means one called alongside to help and has the idea of someone who encourages and exhorts. Abiding has to do with His permanent residence in believers (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19, 20; 12:13).

He is the “Spirit of truth” (v. 17) in that He is the source of truth and communicates the truth to His own (v. 26; 16:12–15). Apart from Him, men cannot know God’s truth (1 Cor. 2:12–16; 1 John 2:20, 27). He “dwells with you and will be in you.” This indicates some distinction between the ministry of the Holy Spirit to believers before and after Pentecost. While clearly the Holy Spirit has been with all who have ever believed throughout redemptive history as the source of truth, faith, and life, Jesus is saying something new is coming in His ministry. John 7:37–39 indicates this unique ministry would be like rivers of living water. Acts 19:1–7 introduces some Old Covenant believers who had not received the Holy Spirit in this unique fullness and intimacy.

He “will teach you all things”(v. 26).The Holy Spirit energized the hearts and minds of the apostles in their ministry, helping them to produce the New Testament scriptures. The disciples had failed to understand many things about Jesus and what He taught; but because of this supernatural work, they came to an inerrant and accurate understanding of the Lord and His work and recorded it in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20, 21).




Integrity Triumphs over Personal Loss

“Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Then the commander of the officials assigned new names to them; and to Daniel he assigned the name Belteshazzar, to Hananiah Shadrach, to Mishael Meshach, and to Azariah Abed-nego” (Daniel 1:6-7). 

You can’t always prevent personal loss, but you can respond to it in ways that glorify God.

It was a quiet January morning in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California until suddenly and without warning the earth shook with such a violent force that many department stores, apartment houses, homes, and freeway overpasses crumbled under the strain. Within minutes the 1994 Northridge earthquake left scars upon lives and land that in some cases may never heal. Such catastrophic events remind us of just how difficult dealing with personal loss can be.

Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah understood personal loss. Perhaps in our day only those who have suffered as prisoners of war or as refugees from war’s ravages can fully appreciate the deep sense of loss those men must have felt after being cut off from family, friends, and homeland.

Their loss included even their own names. When taken captive, each of them had a Hebrew name that reflected his godly upbringing. But in an apparent effort to remove that influence and to exalt the pagan deities of Bel (or Baal) and Aku, Nebuchadnezzar’s commander changed their names from Daniel (which means “God is judge”) to Belteshazzar (“Bel provides” or “Bel’s prince”), from Hananiah (“the Lord is gracious”) to Shadrach (“under the command of Aku”), from Mishael (“Who is what the Lord is?”) to Meshach (“Who is what Aku is?”), and from Azariah (“the Lord is my helper”) to Abed-nego (“the servant of Nebo [the son of Baal]”).

Daniel and his friends couldn’t prevent their losses, but they could trust God and refuse to let those losses lead to despair or compromise. That’s an example you can follow when you face loss.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Ask the Lord for the wisdom to see your losses through His loving eyes, and for the grace to respond appropriately.
* Pray for those whom you know who have suffered loss recently.

For Further Study
Read Job 1:13-22.
* How did Job respond to his losses?
* What can you learn from his example?


Be Slow to Speak

"Let everyone be . . . slow to speak" (James 1:19).

Don’t rush into the role of a Bible teacher.

It is reported that when the Scottish Reformer John Knox was called to preach, he shed many tears and withdrew himself to the privacy of his room. He was grieved and greatly troubled at the prospect of such an awesome responsibility. Only the compelling grace of the Holy Spirit Himself enabled Knox to fulfill his calling.

John Knox understood the importance of being slow to speak. He knew that God holds teachers of the Word accountable for what they say, and will dispense a stricter judgment to them if they violate their ministry (James 3:1- 2).

In one sense, God holds everyone accountable for what they say. You are to "let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29). 

But being slow to speak doesn't refer to vocabulary or opinions. It refers to teaching the Word. You are to pursue every opportunity to hear God's Word, but exercise reluctance in assuming the role of a teacher. Why? Because the tongue reveals the subtle sins of one's heart and easily offends others (James 2:2).

Does that mean you should never teach the Bible? No, because God commands every believer to "make disciples . . . teaching them to observe all" that Jesus taught (Matt. 28:19-20, emphasis added). And the Spirit gifts many believers to be preachers and teachers of the Word. Paul said, "I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Cor. 9:16).

You must take every opportunity to share the gospel with others, and if God has called and gifted you to teach the Word, be faithful to do so. But remember, those are serious and sacred responsibilities. Be sure your motives are pure and your teaching accurate. If someone is offended, let it be by the convicting power of the Word, not by something you said at an unguarded moment.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to teach you to guard your tongue and to speak only what is edifying to others.

For Further Study
Read Proverbs 10:19, 13:3, 17:28, and 29:20, noting what each teaches about wise speech.


Jesus on Wealth

“‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also’” (Matthew 6:19–21). 

The focus of Jesus’ teaching here is this: “Do not lay up treasures for yourself.” The Greek word for “lay up” connotes the idea of stockpiling or hoarding—it pictures wealth that isn’t being used, things kept mainly to show off one’s plenty.

Be sure of this, though: Jesus is not advocating poverty as a means of spirituality. Both the Old and New Testaments recognize the right to material possessions, including money, land, animals, houses, clothing, and anything else acquired honestly. In fact, the foundational truth underlying the commands not to steal or covet is the right of possessing personal property.

God expects and commands His people to be generous. But He also expects and commands that we not only be thankful for the blessings He gives but also derive pleasure from them—including the material blessings. The Lord “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). 

This verse is specifically directed to “those who are rich in this present world,” yet it does not command them to divest themselves of their wealth. Rather, it warns them not to be conceited about it or to trust in it. It’s how we use our possessions for kingdom purposes that counts.

Ask Yourself
How would you define your general attitudes toward money? What is its purpose in the believer’s life? How are we supposed to handle it? What are some of the greatest abuses or misunderstandings of money that have plagued your life or distorted your freedom with it?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 17:1–18:46
* Psalm 69:29-36
* Proverbs 17:27-28
* John 13:21-38

1 Kings 17:1 Elijah. His name means “the LORD is God.” The prophet Elijah’s ministry corresponded to his name: He was sent by God to confront Baalism and to declare to Israel that the Lord was God and there was no other. Tishbite. Elijah lived in a town called Tishbe, east of the Jordan River in the vicinity of the Jabbok River. not be dew nor rain. The autumn and spring rains and summer dew were necessities for the crops of Israel. The Lord had threatened to withhold these from the Land if His people turned from Him to serve other gods (Lev. 26:18, 19; Deut. 11:16, 17; 28:23, 24). 

Elijah had prayed for the drought (James 5:17) and God answered. It lasted 3 years and 6 months. The drought proved that Baal, the god of the rains and fertility, was impotent before the Lord.

1 Kings 18:3 Obadiah. His name means “servant of the LORD.” He was the manager of Ahab’s royal palace and a devout worshiper of the Lord, who had demonstrated his devotion to the Lord by protecting 100 of the Lord’s prophets from death by Jezebel (vv. 4, 13), which had put him on tenuous ground with Ahab.
1 Kings 18:12 the Spirit of the LORD will carry you. The servant had been asked to tell Ahab Elijah was present to speak with him (vv. 7, 18), but he was afraid because Ahab was seeking Elijah so intensely. Since Elijah had disappeared from sight earlier (17:5), Obadiah was afraid that the Holy Spirit would carry Elijah away again (2 Kin. 2:16) and the irrational Ahab would kill him for the false report of Elijah’s presence.

1 Kings 18:21 falter between two opinions. Literally, limp along on or between two twigs. Israel had not totally rejected the Lord, but was seeking to combine worship of Him with the worship of Baal. The issue posed by Elijah was that Israel had to choose who was God, the Lord or Baal, and then serve God wholeheartedly. Rather than decide by his message, Elijah sought a visible sign from heaven.

1 Kings 18:24 the God who answers by fire. Since Baal’s followers believed that he controlled the thunder, lightning, and storms, and the Lord’s followers declared the same (Ps. 18:14; 29:3–9; 104:3), this would prove to be a fair test to show who was God.
John 13:26 He gave it to Judas Iscariot. The host at a feast (whose role was filled by Jesus) would dip into a common bowl and pull out a particularly tasty bit and pass it to a guest as a special mark of honor or friendship. Because Jesus passed it so easily to Judas, it has been suggested that he was seated near the Lord in a place of honor. Jesus was demonstrating a final gesture of His love for Judas even though he would betray Him.

John 13:34 A new commandment...as I have loved you. The commandment to love was not new. Deuteronomy 6:5 commanded love for God and Leviticus 19:18 commanded loving one’s neighbor as oneself (Matt. 22:34–40; Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 5:14; James 2:8). However, Jesus’ command regarding love presented a distinctly new standard for two reasons: 1) it was sacrificial love modeled after His love (as I loved you; 15:13), and 2) it is produced through the New Covenant by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Jer. 31:29–34; Ezek. 36:24–26; Gal. 5:22).

How do scholars conclude that the expression “whom Jesus loved” was John’s way of referring to himself?
Three obvious clues about John’s Gospel help identify the unnamed disciple who called himself the disciple “whom Jesus loved” (13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20).

Early church fathers invariably identify the apostle John as the author of this Gospel. John is frequently mentioned by the other Gospel writers as an active participant among the disciples of Jesus, yet John’s name is absent from the fourth Gospel.

If four people take a trip together and each carries a camera, the group-shots each person takes will naturally not include them. In fact, someone else could probably guess who took which pictures by which member of the group was absent. The Gospel of John functions this way—John’s absence by name shouts his presence. 

As for his signature phrase, the words “whom Jesus loved” convey both a sense of the apostle’s humility and the depth of his relationship to Jesus. The phrase doesn’t mean that John thought of himself as the only disciple Jesus loved. It simply expresses with disarming honesty the wonder of this disciple over the fact that the Lord loved him!




Integrity Triumphs over Pride

“Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding, and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. . . . Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah” (Daniel 1:3-4, 6).

Man values physical beauty and superior human capabilities, whereas God values spiritual character.

As King Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem, he received word that his father had died. So he returned to Babylon, leaving Jehoiakim, king of Judah, in power. To ensure the king’s loyalty, Nebuchadnezzar instructed Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to take some hostages from among the royal families of Israel. Among those selected were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to train these young hostages in the ways of the Babylonians (Chaldeans), then press them into service as his representatives among the Jews. There were an estimated fifty to seventy-five hostages, each of whom was young (probably in his early teens), handsome, and without physical defect. In addition, each had superior intellect, education, wisdom, and social graces.

Being among such a select group of people could have led to pride in Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But self-glorification meant nothing to them. Their priority was to serve their God with humility, integrity, and fidelity. Nebuchadnezzar could look on them favorably, train them in the ways of the Chaldeans, and offer them power and influence in his kingdom, but he could never incite their pride or diminish their allegiance to the Lord.

Like Babylon, our society is enamored with physical beauty and human capabilities. However, let your focus be on spiritual character and using for God’s glory the talents and abilities He has given you.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank the Lord for the special gifts He has given you.
* Prayerfully guard your heart against subtle pride, which undermines spiritual character.

For Further Study
Read Daniel 4:28-36.
* How did God deal with King Nebuchadnezzar’s pride?
* What was the king’s response (see v. 37)?


Be Quick to Hear

"This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear" (James 1:19).

Being quick to hear involves a proper attitude toward God’s Word.

It has been well said that either God's Word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God's Word. Apparently some of James's readers were allowing sin to keep them from receiving the Word as they should. God was allowing them to experience various trials so their joy and spiritual endurance would increase, but they lacked wisdom and fell into temptation and sin. James called them back to the Word and to a godly perspective on their circumstances.

James 1:19 begins with the phrase "This you know," which refers back to verse 18. They had experienced the power of the Word in salvation, now James wants them to allow it to sanctify them. For that to occur, they must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to wrath (v. 19).

Being quick to hear means you don't disregard or fight against God's Word. Instead, when trials or difficult decisions come your way, you ask God for wisdom and receive the counsel of His Word with a willingness to obey it. You're not like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, whom Jesus described as "foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25).
You should be quick to hear the Word because it provides nourishment for your spiritual life and is your weapon against all spiritual adversaries. It is the means by which you are strengthened and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It delivers you from trials and temptations and engages you in communion with the living God. The Word should be your most welcome friend!
Be quick to hear, pursuing every opportunity to learn God's truth. Let the testimony of the psalmist be yours: "O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day. . . . I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy word. . . . How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" (Ps. 119:97, 101, 103).
Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for His precious Word and for the marvelous transforming work it accomplishes in you.

For Further Study
Read Psalm 19:1-14.
* What terms did the psalmist use to describe God's Word?
* What benefits does the Word bring?


Proper Fasting and Prayer

“‘But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you’” (Matthew 6:17–18).

Jesus’ statement “when you fast” indicates that fasting is normal and acceptable in the Christian life. He assumes His followers will fast on certain occasions, especially in times of testing, trial, or struggle.

Fasting is appropriate during times of sorrow. On occasions of deep grief, fasting is a natural human response. Most people don’t feel like eating at those times. Other things that motivate fasting have included overwhelming danger, penitence, and the receiving or proclaiming of a special revelation from God. And fasting often accompanied the beginning of an important task or ministry.

In every scriptural account, genuine fasting is linked with prayer. You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast biblically without praying. Fasting is an affirmation of intense prayer, a corollary of deep spiritual struggle before God. It is never an isolated act or ceremony or ritual that has some inherent efficacy or merit.

Fasting is also always linked with a pure heart and must be associated with obedient, godly living. This is the attitude that will motivate the one fasting not to attract attention to his deprivation and spiritual struggle. Fasting is not to be a display for anyone, including God. Genuine fasting is simply a part of concentrated, intense prayer and concern for the Lord, His will, and His work. Jesus’ point is that the Father never fails to notice fasting that is heartfelt and genuine, and He never fails to reward it.

Ask Yourself
Has fasting ever been a part of your life and relationship with God? If so, what have those experiences taught you about Him . . . and about yourself and your need for Him? If you’ve never actually participated in fasting, what might be some appropriate times and ways for you to practice it?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 15:1–16:34
* Psalm 69:22-28
* Proverbs 17:25-26
* John 13:1-20

1 Kings 15:11–15 Asa did 4 good things: 1) he removed the sacred prostitutes (v. 12); 2) he rid the land of all the idols made by his predecessors (v. 12); 3) he removed the corrupt queen mother and burned the idol she had made; and 4) he placed holy things, items that he and his father had dedicated to the Lord, back in the temple (v. 15). Though he never engaged in idolatry, Asa’s failure was his toleration of the high places (v. 14).

1 Kings 15:13 obscene image. This term is derived from the verb “to shudder” (Job 9:6). It suggests a shocking, perhaps even a sexually explicit, idol. Asa removed his grandmother, Maacah, the official queen mother, because of her association with this idol.

1 Kings 15:29 he killed all the house of Jeroboam. Baasha, the northern king, in a vicious practice too common in the ancient Near East, annihilated all of Jeroboam’s family. This act fulfilled Ahijah’s prophecy against Jeroboam (14:9–11). However, Baasha went beyond the words of the prophecy, since 14:10 specified judgment only on every male, while Baasha killed all men, women, and children.

1 Kings 16:30 evil…more than all who were before him. With Ahab, Israel’s spiritual decay reached its lowest point. He was even worse than his father, Omri, who was more wicked than all before him (v. 25). Ahab’s evil consisted of perpetuating all the sins of Jeroboam and promoting the worship of Baal in Israel (vv. 31, 32). Of all Israel’s kings, Ahab outraged the Lord most (v. 33).

Psalm 69:26 the ones You have struck. Those hostile to the psalmist were ridiculing him as one suffering from God’s chastisement. In its messianic application, the suffering of the Messiah was a part of God’s plan from eternity past (Is. 53:10).
Proverbs 17:26 punish…strike. Here is a clear statement on political and religious injustice, focusing on the equally bad mistreatment of the innocent and the noble.

Why was Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet so powerful a lesson?
The dusty and dirty conditions of the region necessitated the need for footwashing. Although the disciples most likely would have been happy to wash Jesus’ feet, they could not conceive of washing one another’s feet (John 13:4–17). This was because in the society of the time footwashing was reserved for the lowliest of menial servants.

Peers did not wash one another’s feet, except very rarely and as a mark of great love. Luke points out (22:24) that they were arguing about who was the greatest of them, so that none was willing to stoop to wash feet. When Jesus moved to wash their feet, they were shocked. His actions serve also as symbolic of spiritual cleansing (vv. 6–9) and a model of Christian humility (vv. 12–17). Through this action Jesus taught the lesson of selfless service that was supremely exemplified by His death on the cross.

These proceedings embarrassed all of the disciples (vv. 6–10). While others remained silent, Peter spoke up in indignation that Jesus would stoop so low as to wash his feet. He failed to see beyond the humble service itself to the symbolism of spiritual cleansing involved (v. 7; 1 John 1:7–9). 

Jesus’ response made the real point of His actions clear: Unless the Lamb of God cleanses a person’s sin (i.e., as portrayed in the symbolism of washing), one can have no part with Him. The cleansing that Christ does at salvation never needs to be repeated—atonement is complete at that point. But all who have been cleansed by God’s gracious justification need constant washing in the experiential sense as they battle sin in the flesh. Believers are justified and granted imputed righteousness (Phil. 3:8, 9), but still need sanctification and personal righteousness (Phil. 3:12–14).

Jesus said, “I have given you an example” (v. 15). The word used here suggests both example and pattern. Jesus’ purpose in this action was to establish the model of loving humility.“ If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (v. 17). Joy is always tied to obedience to God’s revealed Word.



PS. Dear beloved, please include my mother Zoila in your prayers.  She is 95 and suffered strokes and a heart attack.  Currently stable. please include me in your prayers.  Going through difficult times, with my job.  I suffer from body nerve pain.  Having difficulty working. Thank you. God bless you. 


Integrity Triumphs over Adversity

“In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god” (Daniel 1:1-2).

Integrity shines brightest against the backdrop of adversity.

Our passage today tells of the tragic time in Israel’s history when God chastened her severely by allowing King Nebuchadnezzar and the wicked nation of Babylon to march against her and take her captive. God never coddles His people, nor does He wink at their sin. Israel’s chastening illustrates the principle that “judgment [begins] with the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). But as severe as His discipline can be, it is always aimed at producing greater righteousness and godly integrity in His children (Heb. 12:5-11).

The Babylonian captivity set the stage for a truly uncommon display of integrity from Daniel and his three Hebrew friends. In the days ahead we will examine their character in some depth. 

For now, however, be encouraged that adversity of any kind—even chastening for sin—is God’s way of providing the rich soil for nourishing and strengthening the spiritual fruit of integrity. Without the adversities of Babylon, Daniel’s integrity and that of his friends would not have shone as brightly as it did and would not have had the significant impact it had on King Nebuchadnezzar and his entire kingdom.

Perhaps you are currently experiencing adversities that are especially challenging, and you may not yet understand what God is accomplishing through them. But like Daniel and his friends, you can pray for the wisdom to understand His will and the faith to trust Him through the process. And you can be assured He will never fail you.

Suggestions for Prayer
Each day your integrity is tested in many ways. Ask the Lord to help you be aware of those times and to make choices that honor Him.

For Further Study
Read 1 Kings 9:3-5.
* What kind of integrity did God require of Solomon?
* What promises did He make if Solomon obeyed?


Receiving Gods Word

"This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:19-21).

True believers receive God’s Word.

The key word in today's passage is "receive" (James 1:21). Believers are to receive God's Word. That's what distinguishes them from unbelievers. Jesus said to a group of religious unbelievers, "Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. . . . He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God" (John 8:43, 47).

"Hear" in those verses doesn't refer to hearing with the ear only. Jesus' audience heard in that sense—even to the point of wanting to kill Him for what He said (v. 59)—but they didn't receive and obey His words. By rejecting the truth, they proved themselves to be children of the devil, who is the father of lies (v. 44).

Peter called God's Word the imperishable, living, and abiding seed that brings salvation (1 Peter 1:21). But receiving God's Word isn't limited to salvation alone. As a Christian, you have the Word implanted within you. Now you must nurture it by removing the weeds of filthiness and wickedness so it can produce the fruit of righteousness. That isn't a one-time effort, but a lifestyle of confession, looking into God's Word, desiring His message, and longing to obey it. 

That doesn't mean you'll be sinlessly perfect, but your life will be marked by ever-increasing spiritual maturity and obedience to the Word. When you are disobedient, you should feel an enormous tension in your spirit until you repent and make things right.

Are you hearing and receiving God's Word in that way? Do those who know you best see you as a person whose life is governed by biblical principles? Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine" (John 8:31). Receive His truth and abide in it continually!

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to keep you sensitive to His Word in every situation you face today.

For Further Study
Read 1 Thessalonians 2:13-14, noting the Thessalonians' response to God's Word.


Jesus and Fasting

“‘Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full’” (Matthew 6:16).

The Greek word for “fast” literally means not to eat, to abstain from food. But by the time of Christ, fasting had been perverted and twisted beyond what was scriptural and sincere. Fasting had become a ritual to gain merit with God and attention before men—it was largely a hypocritical religious show.

Many Pharisees fasted twice a week (Luke 18:12), usually on the second and fifth days of the week. They picked those days supposedly because on them Moses received the tablets of Law from God on Mount Sinai. But they also happened to be the two major Jewish market days, when cities and towns were crowded with farmers, merchants, and shoppers, where public fasting would have the largest audiences.

Those wanting to call attention to their fasting would “put on a gloomy face” and “neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men.” They would wear old clothes, sometimes purposely torn and soiled, mess up their hair, cover themselves with dirt and ashes, and even use makeup to look pale and sickly.

But this kind of fasting is a sham and mockery. Those whom Jesus condemned for fasting “in order to be seen by men” were pretentiously self-righteous. God was of little concern in their motives or their thinking, and so He had no part in their reward. The reward they wanted was recognition by men, and that’s what they got.

Ask Yourself
Are you sometimes guilty of feeling superior to others by the faithful way you observe various spiritual disciplines and religious expectations? What do these prideful feelings and comparisons take away from the purity of your times with God? How do they complicate your worship?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 13:1–14:31
* Psalm 69:16-21
* Proverbs 17:23-24
* John 12:27-50

1 Kings 13:18 He was lying to him. Why the old prophet deceived the man of God the text does not state. It may be that his own sons were worshipers at Bethel or perhaps priests, and this man wanted to gain favor with the king by showing up the man of God as an imposter who acted contrary to his own claim to have heard from God. Accustomed to receiving direct revelations, the Judean prophet should have regarded the supposed angelic message with suspicion and sought divine verification of this revised order.

1 Kings 14:15 Ahijah announced God’s stern judgment on Israel for joining Jeroboam’s apostasy. Struck by the Lord, Israel would sway like a reed in a rushing river, a biblical metaphor for political instability (Matt. 11:7; Luke 7:24). One day, the Lord would uproot Israel from Palestinian soil and scatter it in exile east of the Euphrates. The fulfillment of this prophecy is recorded in 2 Kings 17:23.

Psalm 69:21 gall…vinegar. Gall was a poisonous herb. Here it serves as a metaphor for betrayal. Friends who should provide sustenance to the psalmist had turned against him. Gall in vinegar was actually offered to Christ while He was on the cross (Matt. 27:34).

John 12:42, 43 The indictment of vv. 37–41 is followed by the exceptions of vv. 42, 43. While the people seemed to trust Jesus with much more candor and fervency, the leaders of Israel who believed in Him demonstrated inadequate, irresolute, even spurious faith. The faith of the latter was so weak that they refused to take any position that would threaten their position in the synagogue. This is one of the saddest statements about spiritual leadership, for they preferred the praises of men above the praises of God in their refusal to publicly acknowledge Jesus as Messiah and Son of God.

As Jesus approached His death, what kept Him going?
In John 12:23, Jesus knew that “the hour” had come for His death. Considering what was ahead, He confessed, “Now My soul is troubled” (v. 27). The term used here is strong and signifies horror, anxiety, and agitation. Jesus’ contemplation of taking on the wrath of God for the sins of the world caused revulsion in the sinless Savior (2 Cor. 5:21).

What kept Him going was the principle that Jesus lived by and would die by: “Father, glorify Your name” (v. 28). See 7:18; 8:29, 50. The fact that the Father answered the Son in an audible voice signifies its importance: “I have both glorified it and will glorify.” This is only one of three instances during Jesus’ ministry when this took place (Matt. 3:17—His baptism; 17:5—His transfiguration).

Jesus acknowledged that “the ruler of this world” was involved (v. 31). This is a reference to Satan (see 14:30; 16:11; Matt. 4:8,9; Luke 4:6,7; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:2; 6:12). Although the Cross might have appeared to signal Satan’s victory over God, in reality it marked Satan’s defeat (Rom. 16:20; Heb. 2:14). This would occur as Jesus was “lifted up from the earth” (v. 32), referring to His crucifixion (v. 33; 18:32). This is a veiled prediction of Jesus’ death on the cross. Jesus referred to the story of Numbers 21:5–9 where the Israelite people who looked at the serpent lifted up by Moses were healed. The point of this illustration or analogy is in the “lifted up.” Just as Moses lifted up the snake on the pole so that all who looked upon it might live physically, those who look to Christ, who was lifted up on the cross for the sins of the world, will live spiritually and eternally.

The people’s response was to ask Him, “We have heard from the law that the Christ remains forever; and how can You say, ‘The Son of Man must be lifted up’?” (v. 34). The term “law” was used broadly enough to include not only the 5 books of Moses but also the whole of the Old Testament (Rom. 10:4).Perhaps they had in mind Isaiah 9:7 which promised that Messiah’s kingdom would last forever or Ezekiel 37:25 where God promised that the final David would be Israel’s prince forever (Ps. 89:35–37). To their question, Jesus offered them a final invitation to focus on His theme of believing in the Messiah and Son of God (vv. 35, 36).




Integrity Means No Compromise!

“O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill? He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart” (Psalm 15:1-2).

To love Christ and to be characterized by ever-increasing fidelity to biblical truth is the heart of true integrity.
Christian integrity has been defined as the absence of compromise and the presence of biblical convictions. In the words of the psalmist, it is to work righteousness and to speak truth from the heart (Ps. 15:2).

Many people in Scripture demonstrate exemplary integrity. For example, Jesus spoke of Nathanael as an Israelite “in whom is no guile” (John 1:47). To be without guile is to be truthful and unpretentious, which is another way of saying Nathanael had integrity. What a wonderful commendation!

Like Nathanael, Daniel was a man of uncompromising integrity, and in our studies this month Daniel’s example will demonstrate the power, characteristics, and blessings of biblical integrity. You will also see how God uses even the most difficult circumstances to test and refine your integrity.

This is an especially timely topic for our day because the spirit of compromise is flourishing all around us: in politics, in sports, in business, and sadly, even in the church. But Scripture calls us to an uncompromising standard that reflects the integrity of Christ Himself. As the Apostle John said, “The one who says he abides in [Christ] ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6).
This month you will see some of the challenges that await those who refuse to compromise their biblical convictions, as well as the blessings that come to them. As you do, I pray that the Lord will strengthen and encourage you, and that you will be one who truly “walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart.”

Suggestions for Prayer
Make King David’s prayer yours today: “Guard my soul and deliver me; do not let me be ashamed, for I take refuge in Thee. Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for Thee” (Psalm 25:20-21).

For Further Study
Read Daniel 1, 3, and 6 in preparation for our studies this month. Make a list of the character traits you see in Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego that are worthy of imitation.


Examining Your Faith

"Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves" (James 1:22).

God wants you to know whether your faith is genuine or not.

Our studies this month center on James 1:19-2:26, which deals with the issue of true faith—a most important consideration indeed. Knowing your faith is genuine is a wonderful assurance, but thinking you're saved when you're not is the most frightening deception imaginable. In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus speaks of those who call Him Lord and even do miracles in His name, but aren't redeemed. Second Timothy 3:5 speaks of those who have a form of godliness but deny its power. They're religious but lost. Sadly, many people today are victims of the same deception. They think they're Christians, but they're heading for eternal damnation unless they recognize their true condition and repent.

Deception of that magnitude is a tragedy beyond description, but you need never fall prey to it because James gives a series of tests for true faith. This month we'll be applying one of those tests: your attitude toward God's Word. That's an especially crucial test because the Word is the agency of both your salvation and sanctification. The Holy Spirit empowered it to save you, and He continually works through it to conform you to the image of Christ. That's why Peter said, "You have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God. . . . [Therefore] like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (1 Pet. 1:2-2:2).

Jesus Himself characterized believers as those who abide in His Word and obey His commandments. They receive the Word with an attitude of submission and humility. However, unbelievers resist and disobey the Word (John 8:31, 43-45). Psalm 119:155 says, "Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Thy statutes."
As you study this test of true faith, ask yourself, Do I pass the test? I pray that your answer will echo the words of the psalmist: "I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes always, even unto the end" (Ps. 119:112).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God for clarity and confidence about your faith in Christ.

For Further Study
Read the book of James, noting the instructions he gives regarding Christian living.


Postscript on Forgiveness

“‘If you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions’” (Matthew 6:14–15).

Believers should forgive others because they have received forgiveness from God themselves (cf. Eph. 1:17). We can’t claim to know God’s parental forgiveness—that which keeps our fellowship with the Lord rich and open—apart from forgiving others in heart and word.

Paul had this in mind when he wrote, “I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience” (1 Tim. 1:16). An unforgiving spirit not only is inconsistent for one who has been totally forgiven by God, but also brings the chastening of God rather than His mercy.

Jesus states the truth of verse 14 in a negative way when He says, “But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” The sin of an unforgiving heart and a bitter spirit (Heb. 12:15) forfeits blessing and invites judgment.
We must seek to manifest the forgiving spirit of Joseph (Gen. 50:19–21) and of Stephen (Acts 7:60) as often as needed (Luke 17:3–4). To receive pardon from the perfectly holy God and then refuse to pardon others when we are sinful people is the epitome of abuse of mercy. “Judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). So be sure you are practicing forgiveness of others.

Ask Yourself
What breaks down in your relationship with God when you withhold forgiveness from those who have wronged or mistreated you? How does it choke out your openness and freedom in the Lord’s presence?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 11:1–12:33
* Psalm 69:5-15
* Proverbs 17:20-22
* John 12:1-26

1 Kings 11:26 Jeroboam the son of Nebat. In contrast to Hadad and Rezon, who were external adversaries of Solomon, God raised up Jeroboam from a town in Ephraim as an internal adversary. Jeroboam was from Ephraim, the leading tribe of Israel’s northern 10 tribes. He was a young man of talent and energy who, having been appointed by Solomon as leader over the building works around Jerusalem, rose to public notice.

1 Kings 11:38 if you heed all that I command you. The Lord gave to Jeroboam the same promise that He had made to David—an enduring royal dynasty over Israel, the 10 northern tribes, if he obeyed God’s law. The Lord imposed on Jeroboam the same conditions for his kingship that He had imposed on David (2:3, 4; 3:14).
1 Kings 11:39 but not forever. This statement implied that the kingdom’s division was not to be permanent and that David’s house would ultimately rule all the tribes of Israel again (Ezek. 37:15–28).

1 Kings 12:26 return to the house of David. The Lord had ordained a political, not a religious, division of Solomon’s kingdom. The Lord had promised Jeroboam political control of the 10 northern tribes (11:31, 35, 37). However, Jeroboam was to religiously follow the Mosaic Law, which demanded that he follow the Lord’s sacrificial system at the temple in Jerusalem (11:38). Having received the kingdom from God, he should have relied on divine protection, but he did not. Seeking to keep his subjects from being influenced by Rehoboam when they went to Jerusalem to worship, he set up worship in the north (vv. 27, 28).

Psalm 69:9 has eaten me up. The psalmist has brought hatred and hostility on himself by his unyielding insistence that the behavior of the people measure up to their outward claim of devotion to God. Whenever God was dishonored, he felt the pain, because he loved God so greatly. Jesus claimed for Himself this attitude, as indicated in John 2:17; Romans 15:3.
John 12:19 the world has gone after Him. The world means the people in general, as opposed to everyone in particular. Clearly, most people in the world did not even know of Him at that time, and many in Israel did not believe in Him. Often, world is used in this general sense (v. 47; 1:29; 3:17; 4:42; 14:22; 17:9, 21).

Day 1: What was Solomon’s main downfall?
“But King Solomon loved many foreign women” (1 Kin. 11:1). Many of Solomon’s marriages were for the purpose of ratifying treaties with other nations, a common practice in the ancient Near East. The practice of multiplying royal wives, prohibited in Deuteronomy 17:17 because the practice would turn the king’s heart away from the Lord, proved to be accurate in the experience of Solomon. His love for his wives (vv. 1,2) led him to abandon his loyalty to the Lord and worship other gods (vv. 3–6). No sadder picture can be imagined than the ugly apostasy of his later years (over 50), which can be traced back to his sins with foreign wives. Polygamy was tolerated among the ancient Hebrews, though most in the East had only one wife. A number of wives was seen as a sign of wealth and importance. The king desired to have a larger harem than any of his subjects, and Solomon resorted to this form of state magnificence. But it was a sin directly violating God’s law, and the very result which that law was designed to prevent happened.
“Solomon did evil in the sight of the LORD” (v. 6). The particular evil of Solomon was his tolerance of and personal practice of idolatry. These same words were used throughout the Book of Kings to describe the rulers who promoted and practiced idolatry (15:26, 34; 16:19, 25, 30; 22:52; 2 Kin. 3:2; 8:18 ,27; 13:2, 11; 14:24; 15:9, 18, 24, 28; 17:2; 21:2, 20; 23:32; 24:9, 19). Solomon became an open idolater, worshiping images of wood and stone in the sight of the temple which, in his early years, he had erected to the one true God.
The Lord appeared to him twice (vv. 9, 10).Once was at Gibeon (3:5), the next at Jerusalem (9:2). On both occasions, God had warned Solomon, so he had no excuses. “Because you have done this…I will surely tear the kingdom away from you” (v. 11). Solomon failed to obey the commandments to honor God (Ex. 20:3–6), which were part of the Mosaic Covenant. Obedience to that Covenant was necessary for receiving the blessings of the Davidic Covenant (2:3, 4).The Lord’s tearing of the kingdom from Solomon was announced in Ahijah’s symbolic action of tearing his garment in vv. 29–39.




Our Ultimate Example

“And while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Jesus Christ, as the sinless sufferer, is the only model we need as we endure life’s trials.

Prior to his death in 1555, the English Reformer and martyr Hugh Latimer expressed his convictions this way: “Die once we must; how and where, we know not. . . . Here is not our home; let us therefore accordingly consider things, having always before our eyes that heavenly Jerusalem, and the way thereto in persecution.” Latimer knew much about how to face suffering, but he knew that Jesus Himself was the final model regarding how to deal with suffering and death.

That model is summarized in today’s verse, which is a quote from the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah 53. All the horrible physical and verbal abuse Christ endured just prior to the cross, along with the evil tearing down of His perfectly virtuous character, was unjustified, and yet He did not strike back. As the Son of God, Jesus had perfect control of His feelings and powers.

Jesus found the strength to endure such an abusive final trial when He “kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Literally, Jesus kept handing Himself and all His circumstances, climaxing with His death on Calvary (Luke 23:46), over to the Father. The Son had complete trust in God, the just and fair Judge of the entire earth (see Gen. 18:25).

We can follow His example and endure persecution and unjust suffering without answering back, whether it be in the workplace, among relatives, or in any social setting. The key is simply entrusting our lives, by faith, to a righteous God who will make everything right and bring us safely into His glory (1 Peter 5:6-10).

Stephen and Paul are notable role models for how we can triumph over life’s persecutions and hardships, even death. But those great men were themselves merely “fixing [their] eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2). We must do the same.

Suggestions for Prayer
As you daily experience life’s normal difficulties and challenges, ask God to help you better remember the perfect example Jesus set in facing the worst of pain and suffering.

For Further Study
Read Hebrews 1:1-2 and 4:14-16.
* Compare and contrast what these passages tell us about Christ’s deity and humanity.
* What do they reveal about the superiority of His example?


Making Worthless Things Valuable

"The names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him" (Matt. 10:2-4).

In God’s hands you can be a precious and effective instrument.

The story is told of a great concert violinist who wanted to prove a point, so he rented a music hall and announced that he would play a concert on a $20,000 violin. On concert night the music hall was filled to capacity with music lovers anxious to hear such an expensive instrument played. The violinist stepped onto the stage, gave an exquisite performance, and received a thunderous standing ovation. When the applause subsided, he suddenly threw the violin to the ground, stomped it to pieces, and walked off the stage. The audience gasped, then sat in stunned silence.

Within seconds the stage manager approached the microphone and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, to put you at ease, the violin that was just destroyed was a $20 violin. The master will now return to play the remainder of his concert on the $20,000 instrument." At the conclusion of his concert he received another standing ovation. Few people could tell the difference between the two violins. His point was obvious: it isn't the violin that makes the music; it's the violinist.

The disciples were like $20 violins that Jesus transformed into priceless instruments for His glory. I trust you've been encouraged to see how God used them despite their weakness, and I pray you've been challenged by their strengths. You may not be dynamic like Peter or zealous like James and Simon, but you can be faithful like 

Andrew and courageous like Thaddaeus. Remember, God will take the raw material of your life and expose you to the experiences and teachings that will shape you into the servant He wants you to be.

Trust Him to complete what He has begun in you, and commit each day to the goal of becoming a more qualified and effective disciple.

Suggestions for Prayer
Make a list of the character traits you most admire in the disciples. Ask the Lord to increase those traits in your own life.

For Further Study
Read 1 Timothy 1:12-17, noting Paul's perspective on his own calling.


Trusting God for Protection

“‘“. . . but deliver us from evil”’” (Matthew 6:13).

If you realize the great danger that temptation poses to your soul, this petition will be a plea for God to provide a protection you can’t give for yourself. You will ask God to watch over your entire being so that in whatever you do or say, see or hear, and wherever you go, He will guard you from sin.

Joseph understood that even though ungodly forces intend certain things for our evil, God can use those things for good (Gen. 50:20). But we may not react to every such situation as Joseph did. Therefore we must seize the promise that “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13; cf. John 17:15).

When you sincerely pray “deliver us from evil,” you implicitly submit to your only protection from sin, God’s Word. “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Submitting to God is in essence submitting to His Word. “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11).
In a fallen world we are inadequate to deal with sin’s powerful effects. Therefore we must confess the weakness of our flesh and the absolute powerlessness of our own resources to rescue us from sin’s grasp.

Ask Yourself
Let this be a new day of triumph for you—a fresh start with God, knowing that His eternal might is greater than the allure of any sinful desire. Why continue on in ways that invariably lead to guilt, coldness, and defeat in your life? Choose the way that leads to unknown adventures with the Lord. Be delivered from evil as you take hold of the Father’s hand and just walk away.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 9:1–10:29
* Psalm 69:1-4
* Proverbs 17:18-19
* John 11:30-57

1 Kings 9:3 consecrated. The Lord made the temple holy by being present in the cloud (8:10). As proof of the temple’s consecration, the Lord told Solomon that He had put His name there (3:2). forever. God was not saying He will dwell in that building forever, since in less than 400 years it was destroyed by the Babylonians (vv. 7–9). He was saying that Jerusalem and the temple mount are to be His earthly throne as long as the earth remains, through the millennial kingdom (Is. 2:1–4; Zech. 14:16). Even during the new heaven and new earth, the eternal state, there will be the heavenly Jerusalem, where God will eternally dwell (Rev. 21:1, 2). eyes…heart. These symbolized, respectively, the Lord’s constant attention toward and deep affection for Israel. By implication, He promised them access to His presence and answers to their prayers.

1 Kings 10:1 Sheba. Sheba was located in southwestern Arabia, about 1,200 miles from Jerusalem. concerning the name of the LORD. The primary motive for the queen’s visit was to verify Solomon’s reputation for wisdom and devotion to the Lord. hard questions. Riddles designed to stump the hearer (Judg. 14:12).

1 Kings 10:25 silver and gold…horses. The wisdom God had given to Solomon (v.24) caused many rulers, like the queen of Sheba (vv. 1–13), to bring presents to Solomon as they sought to buy his wisdom to be applied in their own nations. These gifts led Solomon to multiply for himself horses, as well as silver and gold, precisely that which God’s king was warned against in Deuteronomy 17:16, 17. Solomon became ensnared by the blessings of his own wisdom and disobeyed God’s commands.

John 11:50 one man should die for the people. He only meant that Jesus should be executed in order to spare their own positions and nation from Roman reprisals, but Caiaphas unwittingly used sacrificial, substitutionary language and prophesied the death of Christ for sinners.

John 11:51 he prophesied. Caiaphas did not realize the implications of what he spoke. While he uttered blasphemy against Christ, God parodied his statement into truth (Ps. 76:10). The responsibility for the wicked meaning of his words belonged to Caiaphas, but God’s providence directed the choice of words so as to express the heart of God’s glorious plan of salvation (Acts 4:27,28). He actually was used by God as a prophet because he was the high priest and originally the high priest was the means of God’s will being revealed (2 Sam. 15:27).

What so troubled Christ at the death of His friend Lazarus? 
Jesus was met by Mary, who fell brokenhearted at His feet and “the Jews who came with her weeping” (John 11:33).According to Jewish oral tradition, the funeral custom indicated that even a poor family must hire at least two flute players and a professional wailing woman to mourn the dead. Because the family may have been well-to-do, a rather large group appears present.

“He groaned in the spirit and was troubled.” The phrase here does not mean merely that Jesus was deeply touched or moved with sympathy at the sight. The Greek term “groaned” always suggests anger, outrage, or emotional indignation (v. 38; Matt. 9:30; Mark 1:43; 14:5). Most likely Jesus was angered at the emotional grief of the people because it implicitly revealed unbelief in the resurrection and the temporary nature of death. The group was acting like pagans who had no hope (1 Thess. 4:13).While grief is understandable, the group was acting in despair, thus indicating a tacit denial of the resurrection and the Scripture that promised it. Jesus may also have been angered because He was indignant at the pain and sorrow in death that sin brought into the human condition.

“Jesus wept” (v. 35).The Greek word here has the connotation of silently bursting into tears in contrast to the loud lament of the group. His tears here were not generated out of mourning, since He was to raise Lazarus, but out of grief for a fallen world entangled in sin-caused sorrow and death. He was “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (3:16; Is. 53:3).

Jesus’ prayer in vv. 41,42 was not really a petition, but thanksgiving to the Father. The reason for the miracle was to authenticate His claims to be the Messiah and Son of God.




Endurance: Look to the Future

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

It is far easier to endure trials when we value the future over the present.

A few years ago the popular Back to the Future movies dealt rather whimsically with the possibility of time travel, which always involved entering the future. The recurring theme was that with all the complications of tampering with the future, it was better to live in the present. Viewers could infer that, ultimately, it is not worth it to dwell a lot on the future.

That is just the opposite of the apostle Paul’s attitude about the future. He dealt with the profound certainties of what awaits all believers in the life to come. For Paul, the value of the future was another important reason he could endure life’s sufferings and trials. The temporal pain for him and us is inconsequential compared to what awaits us in Heaven (Rom. 8:18).

Trials are inevitable, and the pain associated with them can be very intense, but when compared to what we will enjoy in the future, they hardly matter. Paul saw them as light afflictions, or literally “weightless trifles.” He knew that their real significance is only in how they contribute to our eternal glory.

That contribution is anything but trivial. Rather, it produces “an eternal weight of glory.” Concerning this expression, it’s as if Paul envisioned an old-fashioned two-sided scale that was being tipped in favor of the future by the cumulative mass (“eternal weight of glory”) of his individual sufferings. Paul could endure the pain of present trials when he was certain that they contributed positively to his life in Heaven.
The amount of trials and suffering you and I endure now is also directly linked to our eternal rewards. Those rewards are not external bonuses such as fancier crowns, better robes, or bigger heavenly mansions. Instead they refer to our increased capacity to praise, serve, and glorify God. That fulfilled Paul’s greatest desire and enabled him to joyfully persevere in trials, and it should do the same for us.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to give you a perspective that sees every trial as trivial in light of eternal rewards.

For Further Study
Read Romans 8:18-25.
* How far do the effects of sin and suffering extend?
* What does Paul say about hope in this passage?


Learning from Judas (Judas Iscariot)

The twelve apostles included "Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him" (Matt. 10:4).

God can use even an apostate like Judas to teach us some important lessons.
Judas is history's greatest human tragedy. He had opportunities and privileges known only to the other disciples, but he turned from them to pursue a course of destruction. Yet even from his foolishness we can learn some important lessons.

Judas, for example, is the world's greatest example of lost opportunity. He ministered for three years with Jesus Himself but was content merely to associate with Him, never submitting to Him in saving faith. Millions of others have followed his example by hearing the gospel and associating with Christians, yet rejecting Christ. Tragically, like Judas, once death comes they too are damned for all eternity.

Judas is also the world's greatest example of wasted privileges. He could have had the riches of an eternal inheritance but instead chose thirty pieces of silver. In that respect he is also the greatest illustration of the destructiveness and damnation greed can bring. He did an unthinkable thing, yet he has many contemporary counterparts in those who place wealth and pleasure above godliness.

On the positive side, Judas is the world's greatest illustration of the forbearing, patient love of God. Knowing what Judas would do, Jesus tolerated him for three years. Beyond that, He constantly reached out to him and even called him "friend" after his kiss of betrayal (Matt. 26:50).

If you've ever been betrayed by a friend, you know the pain it can bring. But the Lord's pain was compounded many times over because He knew He would be betrayed and because the consequences were so serious. Yet He endured the pain because He loved Judas and knew that His own betrayal was a necessary part of the redemptive plan.

The sins that destroyed Judas are common sins that you must avoid at all costs! Use every opportunity and privilege God gives you, and never take advantage of His patience.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank Jesus for the pain he endured at the hands of Judas.
* Pray that you will never cause Him such pain.

For Further Study
Read 1 Timothy 6:6-19.
* What perils await those who desire wealth?
* Rather than pursuing wealth, what should you pursue?
* What attitude should wealthy people have toward their money?


Avoiding Temptation

“‘“And do not lead us into temptation”’” (Matthew 6:13).

By itself, the word rendered “temptation” here has a neutral connotation, unlike the English that usually indicates an inducement to sin. But in this context, with its parallel to the term “evil” at the end of the verse, Jesus likely used the word to mean an enticement to sin. Yet elsewhere Scripture tells us that God does not tempt believers to evil, while at the same time we should be thankful for various trials (James 1:2–3, 13). So why did Jesus give us this expression as a pattern for prayer?

The answer to this paradox is not as difficult as it may seem. Jesus is concerned that we truly desire to avoid the danger and trouble sin creates. Saints should so despise sin and want to escape it at all costs that they pray in advance to avoid sin rather than waiting to defeat it when tempted.

Further, we know trials can promote our spiritual growth, yet we do not want to be in a place where we experience an increased possibility of sin. Like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, we should pray, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). The prospect of taking sin upon Himself repulsed our Savior, but He was willing to do so to fulfill His Father’s will and secure the salvation of sinners. Whatever testing we might have to endure is nothing by comparison.

Ask Yourself
In addition to asking God not to “lead us into temptation,” we must be aware of instances in which we walk headlong into it ourselves. Ask God for the spiritual strength to avoid those very familiar forms of sin that we too often approach without fear. Aren’t you ready to start gaining victory over them?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 7:1–8:66
* Psalm 68:28-35
* Proverbs 17:16-17
* John 11:1-29

1 Kings 8:22–53 Solomon moved to the altar of burnt offering to offer a lengthy prayer of consecration to the Lord. First, he affirmed that no god could compare to Israel’s God, the Lord (vv. 23, 24). Second, he asked the Lord for His continued presence and protection (vv. 25–30). Third, he listed 7 typical Israelite prayers that would require the Lord’s response (vv. 31–54). These supplications recalled the detailed list of curses that Deuteronomy 28:15–68 ascribed for the breaking of the law. Specifically, Solomon prayed that the Lord would judge between the wicked and the righteous (vv. 31, 32); the Lord would forgive the sins that had caused defeat in battle (vv. 33, 34); the Lord would forgive the sins that had brought on drought (vv. 35, 36); the Lord would forgive the sins that had resulted in national calamities (vv. 37–40); the Lord would show mercy to God-fearing foreigners (vv. 41–43); the Lord would give victory in battle (vv. 44, 45); and the Lord would bring restoration after captivity (vv. 46–54).

Proverbs 17:17 The difference between a friend and a brother is noted here. A true friend is a constant source of love, while a brother in one’s family may not be close, but is drawn near to help in trouble. Friends are closer than brothers because they are available all the time, not just in the crisis.

John 11:17 in the tomb. The term “tomb” means a stone sepulcher. In Palestine such a grave was common.  Either a cave or rock area would be hewn out, the floor inside leveled and graded to make a shallow descent. Shelves were cut out or constructed inside the area in order to bury additional family members. A rock was rolled in front to prevent wild animals or grave robbers from entering. The evangelist made special mention of the fourth day in order to stress the magnitude of the miracle, for the Jews did not embalm and by then the body would have been in a state of rapid decomposition.

Why did Jesus delay when He heard that Lazarus was sick?
The resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 is the climactic and most dramatic sign in this Gospel and the capstone of Christ’s public ministry. Six miracles have already been presented (water into wine [2:1–11], healing of the nobleman’s son [4:46–54], restoring the impotent man [5:1–15], multiplying the loaves and fishes [6:1–14], walking on the water [6:15–21], and curing the man born blind [9:1–12]). Lazarus’s resurrection is more potent than all those and even more monumental than the raising of the widow’s son in Nain (Luke 7:11–16) or Jairus’s daughter (Luke 8:40–56) because those two resurrections occurred immediately after death.  Lazarus was raised after 4 days of being in the grave with the process of decomposition already having started (v. 39).

Upon hearing that Lazarus is sick, Jesus’ immediate response is that it is “for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (v. 4). This phrase reveals the real purpose behind Lazarus’s sickness, i.e., not death, but that the Son of God might be glorified through his resurrection. So He stayed two more days. The decision to delay coming did not bring about Lazarus’s death, since Jesus already supernaturally knew his plight. Most likely by the time the messenger arrived to inform Jesus, Lazarus was already dead. The delay was because He loved the family (v. 5) and that love would be clear as He greatly strengthened their faith by raising Lazarus from the dead. The delay also ensured that Lazarus had been dead long enough that no one could misinterpret the miracle as a fraud or mere resuscitation.

Coming to Martha, Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). This is the fifth in a series of 7 great “I AM” statements of Jesus (6:35; 8:12; 10:7,9; 10:11,14). With this statement, Jesus moved Mary from an abstract belief in the resurrection that will take place “at the last day”(see 5:28, 29) to a personalized trust in Him who alone can raise the dead. No resurrection or eternal life exists outside of the Son of God. Time (“at the last day”) is no barrier to the One who has the power of resurrection and life (1:4) for He can give life at any time.




Endurance: The Value of the Spiritual

“For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Believers are far more blessed when they concentrate on the spiritual rather than physical aspects of life.

Concerning endurance, Paul is again our role model. One reason he was able to endure pain and trials was that he knew the physical was far less important and lasting than the spiritual. He realized that our physical bodies are naturally aging and therefore not permanent. He was probably aware of this more than most people because his rigorous ministry with its travel demands hastened his own aging process. And surely he also aged more rapidly than others because of all the physical and emotional persecution he endured from his enemies.

Paul was able to accept physical suffering and aging because he knew his inner man (his spiritual self, his new creation) was being renewed daily (2 Cor. 4:16). It’s not easy for us to follow Paul’s example; yet he urges believers to “set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Many of the trials and sufferings the Lord brings to us compel us to obey Paul’s words, look away from ourselves, and experience the spiritual growth that is so directly the result of suffering (see 1 Peter 5:10).

God’s Word assures us that He will provide all the strength we need to endure. In closing, consider the prophet’s words:  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable. He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.
—Isaiah 40:28-31

Suggestions for Prayer
As you go through this day, pray that the Lord would help you focus on the spiritual rather than the physical.

For Further Study
Read Hebrews 11:1-16. What common ingredient allowed those in this passage to look beyond the physical toward the spiritual?


The Characteristics of Hypocrisy (Judas Iscariot)

The twelve apostles included "Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him" (Matt. 10:4).

Hypocrisy is a spiritual cancer that can devastate lives and destroy ministries.

On a recent trip to New Zealand I learned that sheepherders there use specially trained castrated male sheep to lead other sheep from holding areas into the slaughtering room. Those male sheep are appropriately called "Judas sheep." That illustrates the commonness with which we associate Judas with deception and death. Pretending to be a friend of Jesus, Judas betrayed him with a kiss and became for all time and eternity the epitome of hypocrisy.

Several characteristics of spiritual hypocrisy are clearly evident in Judas's life. First, hypocritical people often seem genuinely interested in a noble cause. Judas probably didn't want the Romans to rule over Israel and he saw in Christ an opportunity to do something about it. He probably had the common misconception that Jesus was immediately going to establish His earthly kingdom and put down Roman oppression.
Second, hypocritical people demonstrate an outward allegiance to Christ. Many of those who followed Jesus in the early stages of His ministry deserted Him along the way (John 6:66). Not Judas. He stayed to the end.

Third, hypocritical people can appear to be holy. When Jesus told the disciples that one of them would betray Him, none of them suspected Judas. Even after Jesus identified Judas as His betrayer, the other disciples still didn't understand (John 13:27-29). Judas must have put on a very convincing act!

Fourth, hypocritical people are self-centered. Judas didn't love Christ—He loved himself and joined the disciples because he thought he could gain personal prosperity.
Finally, hypocritical people are deceivers. Judas was a pawn of Satan, whom Jesus described as a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). Is it any wonder that his whole life was one deception after another?

Judas was an unbeliever, but hypocrisy can also thrive in believers if its telltale signs are ignored. That's why you must guard your motives carefully, walk in the Spirit each day, and immediately confess even the slightest hint of hypocrisy.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to purify your love for Him and to protect you from the subtle inroads of hypocrisy.

For Further Study
Read John 12:1-8.
* How did Mary demonstrate her love for Christ?
* What objection did Judas raise?
* What was his motive?


The Need to Forgive Others

“‘“. . . as we also have forgiven our debtors”’” (Matthew 6:12).

Even as we have been forgiven, we need to forgive. This is the character of righteousness. But because of our sinful flesh, we are often inconsistent with that duty and need constant exhortation (cf. Rom. 7:14–25). 

The Lord Jesus’ own example is a powerful motivation for us to forgive others. Paul reminds us, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32; 1 John 2:6). In view of such divine graciousness, our forgiveness of another’s sin expresses one of humanity’s highest virtues: “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11).

Extending genuine forgiveness to fellow believers benefits the entire body of Christ. Few other things have so weakened the church’s power than unforgiveness among believers. Notably, mutually unforgiven, unresolved sins such as conflicts among members can really hinder a church’s effectiveness. The psalmist warns us, “If [we] regard wickedness in [our] heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps. 66:18; cf. Matt. 5:23–24; 1 Cor. 1:10–13; 3:1–9).

Harboring an unforgiving attitude is just plain sinful and invites God’s chastening, as does any sin (1 Cor. 11:30; Heb. 12:5–13). But forgiving others brings God’s forgiveness to us, and nothing in the Christian life is more important than that. Puritan Thomas Manton said, “There is none so tender to others as they which have received mercy themselves, for they know how gently God hath dealt with them.”

Ask Yourself
Is there a relationship in your own life that continues to suffer from your unwillingness to forgive, from your deliberate decision to cling to your hurt and bitterness? This would be a good day to let this burden go, forgiving any who have wronged you—the same way God has forgiven you.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 5:1–6:38
* Psalm 68:21-27
* Proverbs 17:13-15
* John 10:24-42

1 Kings 5:6 cedars…from Lebanon. The cedars of Lebanon symbolized majesty and might (Ps. 92:12; Ezek. 31:3). Because cedar was durable, resistant to rot and worms, closely grained, and could be polished to a fine shine, its wood was regarded as the best timber for building. The logs were tied together and floated down the Mediterranean to Joppa (v. 9; 2 Chr. 2:16), from where they could be transported to Jerusalem, 35 miles inland.

1 Kings 6:16 the Most Holy Place. This inner sanctuary, partitioned off from the main hall by cedar planks, was a perfect cube about 30 feet on a side (v. 20) and was the most sacred area of the temple. The Most Holy Place is further described in vv. 19–28. The tabernacle also had a Most Holy Place (Ex. 26:33, 34).

Proverbs 17:13 evil for good. Solomon knew this proverb well since his father mistreated Uriah (2 Sam. 12:10–31). Contrast this with the man who repays evil with good (20:22; Matt. 5:43–48; 1 Pet. 3:9).

John 10:38 believe the works. Jesus did not expect to be believed merely on His own assertions. Since He did the same things that the Father does (5:19), His enemies should consider this in their evaluation of Him. The implication is, however, that they were so ignorant of God that they could not recognize the works of the Father or the One whom the Father sent (see also 14:10, 11).

DAY 29: How secure is the believer in Christ?
In John 10:24, the Jews surrounded Him and said, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” In light of the context of vv. 31–39, the Jews were not seeking merely for clarity and understanding regarding who Jesus was, but rather wanted Him to declare openly that He was Messiah in order to justify attacking Him.

Jesus’ response is that He has told them and that His works confirm the truth of who He is. The problem is that they do not believe because they “are not of My sheep” (v. 26).This clearly indicates that God has chosen His sheep and it is they who believe and follow.

But for those who do believe and follow Christ, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish” (v. 28).The security of Jesus’ sheep rests with Him as the Good Shepherd, who has the power to keep them safe. Neither thieves and robbers (vv. 1,8) nor the wolf (v. 12) can harm them. Verse 29 makes clear that the Father ultimately stands behind the sheep’s security, for no one is able to steal from God, who is in sovereign control of all things (Col. 3:3; Rom. 8:31–39). No stronger passage in the Old Testament or New Testament exists for the absolute, eternal security of every true Christian.

“I and My Father are one” (v. 30). Both Father and Son are committed to the perfect protection and preservation of Jesus’ sheep. The sentence, stressing the united purpose and action of both in the security and safety of the flock, presupposes unity of nature and essence (see 5:17–23; 17:22).


Have a blessed day. 



Joy in Spite of Death

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

In addition to Scripture, God has given us more than adequate spiritual resources to meet suffering and death.

Wall Street, the name synonymous with the American stock market and financial investing, is a place where confidence can rise and fall with great force and unpredictability, right along with the rising or sinking level of stock prices. Prices always seem to even out, but who can be certain about how they will behave in the future?

The apostle Paul’s spiritual confidence was not based on the changeableness of financial markets but on truths that are stable and reliable. Yesterday we saw his confidence in God’s Word, and today we’ll look at three more reasons Paul could confront death confidently.

First, Paul had confidence in the prayers of other believers. But it was not a presumptuous confidence because he believed in asking others to pray (see Rom. 15:30). Paul was convinced that “the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

Second, Paul was confident that the Holy Spirit would supply all necessary resources to sustain him through any suffering, even death. All Christians can have that same confidence: “The Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

Third, Paul had the utmost confidence in Christ’s promises. The apostle was sure that God had called him to a specific ministry (Acts 26:16) and that if he was faithful, he would never suffer shame (Mark 8:38). Jesus never abandons His sheep, no matter how bleak and frustrating their circumstances seem (John 10:27-28).

Our verse from Philippians summarizes Paul’s confidence and joy in spite of possible death. As long as he was serving Jesus Christ, he’d just as soon die because death frees the believer from the burdens of earth and lets him glorify Christ in eternity. We can rely on the same promises and provisions as Paul did and have his kind of joy. Jesus “is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever” (Heb. 13:8).

Suggestions for Prayer
* Confess any ways in which you have a misplaced confidence.
* Ask the Lord to reinforce in your heart a Pauline confidence that rejoices no matter what.

For Further Study
Read Romans 8, and list as many spiritual resources and reasons for rejoicing as you can from the chapter.


Jesus Purposely Selects a Traitor (Judas Iscariot)

The twelve apostles included "Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him" (Matt. 10:4).
God works all things together for His purposes.

At one time the little town of Kerioth was a relatively obscure Judean town, but all that changed when it produced the most hated man who ever lived: Judas Iscariot.

The first mention of Judas is here in Matthew's list of disciples. We have no record of his call, but we know Jesus did call him along with the others, and even gave him authority to minister in miraculous ways (Matt. 10:1). His first name, Judas, is despised today, but it was a common name in the days of Christ. It is the Greek form of Judah—the land of God's people. Iscariot literally means "a man from the town of Kerioth."
People commonly ask why Jesus would select such a man to be His disciple. Didn't He know how things would turn out? Yes He did, and that's precisely why He chose him. The Old Testament said the Messiah would be betrayed by a familiar friend for thirty pieces of silver, and Jesus knew Judas was that man (John 17:12).

Some people feel sorry for Judas, thinking he was simply misguided or used as some kind of pawn in a supernatural drama over which he had no control. But Judas did what he did by choice. Repeatedly Jesus gave him chances to repent, but he refused. Finally, Satan used him in a diabolical attempt to destroy Jesus and thwart God's plan of salvation. His attempt failed however, because God can use even a Judas to accomplish His purposes.

Undoubtedly there are people in your life who wish you harm. Don't be discouraged. They are as much a part of God's plan for you as those who treat you kindly. You must reach out to them just as Jesus reached out to Judas. God knows what He's doing. Trust Him and rejoice as you see His purposes accomplished even through your enemies.

Suggestions for Prayer
Praise God for His sovereign control over every circumstance and for the promise that His purposes will never be thwarted.

For Further Study
Read Matthew 26:14-50 and 27:1-10.
* How did Jesus reveal that it was Judas who would betray Him?
* What reaction did Judas have when he heard that Jesus had been condemned?


The Plea for Forgiveness

“‘“And forgive us our debts”’” (Matthew 6:12).

God will not forgive our sins if we do not confess them. John makes that condition clear when he declares, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Confession simply means we agree with God that our sins are evil and defiling and we do not want them to taint our walk with Christ.

Our sinful pride makes it difficult to confess sin, but it is the only way to the free and joyful Christian life (cf. Prov. 28:13). John Stott said, “One of the surest antidotes to the process of moral hardening is the disciplined practice of uncovering our sins of thought and outlook as well as word and deed and the repentant forsaking of the same.”

We must never take God’s promise of forgiveness as a license for sin or as an excuse to presume on His grace. Instead we must view forgiveness as an aid to our sanctification and be constantly thankful to the Lord for His loving forgiveness.
Your prayer ought to coincide with the Puritan one: “Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, and the exceeding wonder of grace. I am guilty but pardoned. I am lost but saved. I am wandering but found. I am sinning but cleansed. Give me perpetual broken-heartedness. Keep me always clinging to Thy cross.”

Ask Yourself
How can one walk in an awareness of his own wretchedness while also living in the confidence of Christ’s righteousness and salvation? Actually, it is only by realizing our great need for Him that we can enjoy the grace that overwhelms our sin. Seek this biblical balance in your own life.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 3:1–4:34
* Psalm 68:15-20
* Proverbs 17:10-12
* John 10:1-23

1 Kings 3:7 little child. Since Solomon was probably only about 20 years of age, he readily admitted his lack of qualification and experience to be king (1 Chr. 22:5; 29:1).
1 Kings 3:8 a great people. Based on the census, which recorded 800,000 men of fighting age in Israel and 500,000 in Judah (2 Sam. 24:9), the total population was over 4 million, approximately double what it had been at the time of the conquest (Num. 26:1–65).

1 Kings 3:9 an understanding heart. Humbly admitting his need, Solomon sought “a listening heart” to govern God’s people with wisdom.

1 Kings 3:10 pleased the Lord. The Lord was delighted that Solomon had not asked for personal benefits—long life, wealth, or the death of his enemies.

John 10:7–10 I am the door. This is the third of 7 “I AM” statements of Jesus (6:35; 8:12). Here, He changes the metaphor slightly. While in vv. 1–5 He was the shepherd, here He is the gate. While in vv. 1–5, the shepherd led the sheep out of the pen, here He is the entrance to the pen (v. 9) that leads to proper pasture. This section echoes Jesus’ words in 14:6 that He is the only way to the Father. His point is that He serves as the sole means to approach the Father and partake of God’s promised salvation. As some Near Eastern shepherds slept in the gateway to guard the sheep, Jesus here pictures Himself as the gate.

John 10:17, 18 take it again. Jesus repeated this phrase twice in these two verses indicating that His sacrificial death was not the end. His resurrection followed in demonstration of His messiahship and deity (Rom. 1:4). His death and resurrection resulted in His ultimate glorification (12:23; 17:5) and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (7:37–39; Acts 2:16–39).

What does it mean to have Jesus as the “Good Shepherd”?
In John 10:1–39, Jesus’ discourse on Himself as the “Good Shepherd” flowed directly from chapter 9, as Jesus continued to talk to the very same people. The problem of chapter 9 was that Israel was led by false shepherds who drew them astray from the true knowledge and kingdom of Messiah (9:39–41). In chapter 10, Jesus declared Himself to be the “Good Shepherd” who was appointed by His Father as Savior and King, in contrast to the false shepherds of Israel who were self-appointed and self-righteous (Ps. 23:1; Is. 40:11; Jer. 3:15; see Is. 56:9–12; Jer. 23:1–4; 25:32–38; Ezek. 34:1–31; Zech. 11:16).

Jesus spoke in vv. 1–30 using a sustained metaphor based on first-century sheep ranching. The sheep were kept in a pen, which had a gate through which the sheep entered and left. The shepherd engaged a “doorkeeper” (v. 3) or “hireling” (v. 12) as an undershepherd to guard the gate. The shepherd entered through that gate. He whose interest was stealing or wounding the sheep would chose another way to attempt entrance. The words of Ezekiel 34 most likely form the background to Jesus’ teaching since God decried the false shepherds of Israel (i.e., the spiritual leaders of the nation) for not caring properly for the flock of Israel (i.e., the nation). The Gospels themselves contain extensive sheep/shepherd imagery (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34; 14:27; Luke 15:1–7).

The doorkeeper was a hired undershepherd who recognized the true shepherd of the flock, opened the gate for Him, assisted the shepherd in caring for the flock, and especially guarded them at night (v. 3). “The sheep hear his voice.” Near Eastern shepherds stand at different locations outside the sheep pen, sounding out their own unique calls which their sheep recognize. As a result, the sheep gather around the shepherd.“ He calls his own sheep by name.” This shepherd goes even further by calling each sheep by its own special name (see 3 John 15). 

Jesus’ point is that He comes to the fold of Israel and calls out His own sheep individually to come into His own messianic fold. The assumption is that they are already in some way His sheep even before He calls them by name (vv. 25–27; 6:37, 39, 44, 64, 65; 17:6, 9, 24; 18:9).

Unlike Western shepherds who drive the sheep from the side or behind, often using sheep dogs, Near Eastern shepherds lead their flocks, their voice calling them to move on (vv. 4, 5). This draws a remarkable picture of the master/disciple relationship. New Testament spiritual leadership is always by example, i.e., a call to imitate conduct (1 Tim. 4:12; 1 Pet. 5:1–3).


Have a blessed day. 



Confidence in the Face of Death

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).

We can count on Scripture to give us confidence in the face of death.

A few years ago my radio ministry heard from a listener who was exhibiting exactly the right attitude in the face of a terminal illness. A teenager from the Midwest sent a prayer request concerning her recently diagnosed Lou Gehrig’s disease. That Christian young woman, who by now is probably with the Lord, accepted her condition with grace and optimism. Here is part of what she wrote to us: “I love the Lord very much and feel the Lord is using my condition to work in different peoples’ lives. Please pray with me that He would continue to use me no matter what the outcome.”

Her sentiments were right in step with Philippians 1:21, in which the apostle Paul proclaims his joy and confidence at the possibility of death. What enabled him to rejoice was his complete confidence in the Word of God.

Earlier Paul had articulated his trust in God’s promises when he wrote these familiar words in Romans 8:28, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Now he shared verbatim with the Philippians from Job 13:16, “For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance” (Phil. 1:19). That too was a trustworthy promise from the Word, and it made Paul confident that his current trials would have a positive outcome.

Whether suffering was of long or short duration, Paul knew that the righteous would be delivered from their temporal trials. That was certainly borne out when God restored Job from his difficult, lengthy ordeal of testing.

Knowing all this, and realizing that all of God’s written Word is available to us, we can certainly have Paul’s type of confidence as we consider the inevitability of death. And we can “keep on rejoicing” (1 Peter 4:13), even if it’s the Lord’s will that we experience an early departure from this life.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank God for the provision of His Word, which is such an infallible guide as you deal with the uncertainties of death.
* Pray for someone you know at your church or in your neighborhood who may be facing death right now.
For Further Study
Read Psalm 34:17, 19; 37:39-40; 91:3; 97:10. What theme runs through these verses that would help you deal as you ought with trials and sufferings?


From Terrorism to Discipleship (Simon the Zealot)

The twelve apostles included "Simon the Zealot" (Matt. 10:4).

Even people of vastly different backgrounds can minister together for Christ.

During the time between the Old and New Testaments, a fiery revolutionary named Judas Maccabaeus led the Jewish people in a revolt against Greek influences on their nation and religion. The spirit of that movement was captured in this statement from the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees: "Be ye zealous for the law and give your lives for the covenant" (1 Maccabees 2:50). That group of politically-oriented, self-appointed guardians of Judaism later became known as the Zealots.

During the New Testament period, Zealots conducted terrorist activities against Rome in an effort to free Israel from Roman oppression. Their activities finally prompted Rome to destroy Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and slaughter people in 985 Galilean towns.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, the few remaining Zealots banded together under the leadership of a man named Eleazar. 

Their headquarters was at a retreat called Masada. When the Romans laid seige to Masada and the Zealots knew defeat was imminent, they chose to kill their own families and commit suicide themselves rather than face death at the hands of the Romans. It was a tragedy of monumental proportions, but such was the depth of their fiery zeal for Judaism and their hatred for their political enemies.

Before coming to Christ, Simon was a Zealot. Even as a believer, he must have retained much of his zeal, redirecting it in a godly direction. We can only imagine the passion with which he approached the ministry, having finally found a leader and cause that transcended anything Judaism and political activism could ever offer.
It's amazing to realize that Simon the Zealot and Matthew the tax-gatherer ministered together. Under normal circumstances Simon would have killed a traitor like Matthew. But Christ broke through their differences, taught them to love each other, and used them for His glory.

Perhaps you know believers who come from totally different backgrounds than yours. Do you have trouble getting along with any of them? If so, why? How can you begin to mend your differences? Be encouraged by the transformation Christ worked in Simon and Matthew, and follow their example.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray for the people in your church, asking the Lord to give everyone a spirit of unity.

For Further Study
According to Romans 12:9-21, what attitudes should you have toward others?


The Problem of Spiritual Debt

“‘“And forgive us our debts”’” (Matthew 6:12).

Sin dominates the hearts and minds of lost men and women, separates them from God, and is therefore their greatest enemy and problem. It is the common denominator for every crime, immorality, pain, and sorrow—and there is no natural cure: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jer. 13:23). The natural individual does not even want his or her sin cured (John 3:19).

If sin is our greatest problem, our greatest need is the forgiveness God provides. Though forgiven from sin’s ultimate penalty (cf. Rom. 8:1), believers need God’s constant forgiveness for sins they still commit. The apostle John cautions us, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

Jesus’ act of washing the apostles’ feet (John 13:5–11) is more than a picture of humility; it also portrays God’s repeated, cleansing forgiveness to His disciples. The forgiveness that secures our saving position in Christ at regeneration does not need repeating; but we need God’s practical forgiveness every day to cleanse us from sin’s contamination as we live in this world. Out of God’s vast heart of forgiveness He is ever willing to continually pardon His children (cf. Neh. 9:17; Rom. 5:20).

Ask Yourself
There are probably a small number of things in your life that are clearly in violation of what you know to be right—things that are top-of-mind as you consider again the depths of our sin and our need for God’s forgiveness. Deal with these in prayer today as you repent before the Father and receive His promised mercy.


Reading for Today:
* 1 Kings 1:1–2:46
* Psalm 68:11-14
* Proverbs 17:7-9
* John 9:24-41

1 Kings 1:5 Adonijah. Adonijah was the fourth son of David (2 Sam. 3:4) and probably the oldest living son, since Amnon (2 Sam. 13:28,29) and Absalom (2 Sam. 18:14,15) had been killed, and Chileab apparently died in his  youth, since there is no mention of him beyond his birth. As David’s oldest surviving heir, Adonijah attempted to claim the kingship. chariots and horsemen. Like Absalom (2 Sam. 15:1), Adonijah sought to confirm and support his claim to kingship by raising a small army.

1 Kings 1:13 Did you not…swear…? This oath was given privately (unrecorded in Scripture) by David, perhaps to both Nathan and Bathsheba. Solomon’s choice by the Lord was implicit in his name Jedidiah, meaning “loved by the Lord” (2 Sam. 12:24,25) and explicit in David’s declaration to Solomon (1 Chr. 22:6–13).

1 Kings 2:4 His word. The unconditional Davidic covenant was made by God with David in 2 Samuel 7:4–17 and confirmed to Solomon in 1 Kings 9:5, promising the perpetuation of the Davidic dynasty over Israel. If your sons take heed to their way. David declared that the king’s obedience to the Law of Moses was a necessary condition for the fulfillment of divine promise. The Book of Kings demonstrates that none of the descendants of David remained faithful to God’s law; none of them met the conditions for the fulfillment of the divine promise. Rather, David’s words provided a basis for explaining the Exile. Thus, the ultimate and final King of Israel would appear at a later, undesignated time.

John 9:35 Do you believe…? Jesus invited the man to put his trust in Him as the One who revealed God to man. Jesus placed great emphasis on public acknowledgment of who He was and confession of faith in Him (Matt. 10:32; Luke 12:8). Son of God. This should be Son of Man (see 1:51; 3:13, 14; 5:27; 6:27, 53, 62; 8:28).

John 9:41 your sin remains. Jesus had particular reference to the sin of unbelief and rejection of Him as Messiah and Son of God. If they knew their lostness and darkness and cried out for spiritual light, they would no longer be guilty of the sin of unbelief in Christ. But satisfied that their darkness was light and continuing in rejection of Christ, their sin remained. 

How did the simple logic of the healed man outwit the religious authorities? 
In John 9, the religious authorites wanted the man to own up and admit the truth that Jesus was a sinner because He violated their traditions and threatened their influence (see Josh.7:19). “Give God the glory! We know that this Man is a sinner” (v. 24). 

Enough unanimity existed among the religious authorities to conclude that Jesus was a sinner (8:46). Because of this already predetermined opinion, they refused to accept any of the testimony that a miracle had actually taken place.

In order to forcefully emphasize their hypocrisy, the healed man resorted to biting sarcasm when he suggested they desired to be Jesus’ disciples (v. 27).

“You are His disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples” (v. 28). At this point, the meeting degenerated into a shouting match of insults. The healed man’s wit had exposed the bias of his inquisitors. As far as the authorities were concerned, the conflict between Jesus and Moses was irreconcilable. If the healed man defended Jesus, then such defense could only mean that he was Jesus’ disciple.

In vv. 30–33, the healed man demonstrated more spiritual insight and common sense than all of the religious authorities combined who sat in judgment of Jesus and him. His penetrating wit focused in on their intractable unbelief. His logic was that such an extraordinary miracle could only indicate that Jesus was from God, for the Jews believed that God responds in proportion to the righteousness of the one praying (Job 27:9; 35:13; Pss. 66:18; 109:7; Prov. 15:29; Is. 1:15; see 14:13,14; 16:23–27; 1 John 3:21,22). The greatness of the miracle could only indicate that Jesus was actually from God.

“You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?” (v. 34). The Pharisees were incensed with the man, and their anger prevented them from seeing the penetrating insight that the uneducated healed man had demonstrated. The phrase also revealed their ignorance of Scripture, for the Old Testament indicated that the coming messianic age would be evidenced by restoration of sight to the blind (Is. 29:18; 35:5; 42:7;Matt. 11:4, 5; Luke 4:18, 19).





Paul: Joy in Spite of Detractors

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. To Live Is Christ Yes, and I will rejoice, -  (Philippians 1:18). 

It is possible to maintain your joy even while dealing with criticisms and irritating distractions.

The dictionary definition of detraction is “the uttering of material (as false or slanderous charges) that is likely to damage the reputation of another.” A detractor wants to undermine and destroy the good name and credibility of another. Great statesmen, such as President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War, often have been the targets of contentious political opponents and stinging detractions by the press.

For the church, the most difficult criticism has arisen from within, from false professors who once claimed to support it and its leaders. Paul came to know the disappointment and distress of being torn down when his detractors at Philippi assailed him even while he sat in prison. But he is a model of how one can rise above such pain and discouragement.

Paul’s main detractors (Phil. 1:15) were his fellow preachers who proclaimed the same gospel as he did. They were not at odds with him over doctrine but over personal matters. Paul’s detractors were envious of his ministry gifts and the way God had blessed his efforts with many converts and numerous churches.

Contending with the detractors at Philippi was not a completely new trial for Paul. He had previously learned patience in dealing with the letdowns caused by other supposed supporters (see 2 Tim. 1:15; 4:16). Now his opponents were testing his patience to the extreme as they sought to destroy his credibility with his supporters.
The detractors’ tactics might have unsettled the faith of some in the churches, but not Paul’s confidence. He stood up to all the unpleasantness with joy because, as our verse indicates, he knew the cause of Christ was still being advanced.

Paul’s exemplary behavior under fire provides an obvious lesson for us: no amount of false and unfair criticism should steal our joy in Christ and His gospel. And we can keep rejoicing if we, like Paul, stay devoted to our top priority, proclaiming and glorifying the name of Christ.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank the Lord that the gospel and its power are strong enough to overcome any amount of jealous detraction. Pray that you would stay focused on gospel priorities.

For Further Study
Read Nehemiah 4—6.
* How did Nehemiah deal with the detractors to his work?
* What was the eventual outcome (6:16)?


Receiving Christ's Word (Thaddaeus)

The twelve apostles included "Thaddaeus" (Matt. 10:3).

If you love Christ, you will receive His Word and obey it.

Radio signals are fascinating. At any given moment every room in your house is filled with voices, music, and numerous other sounds—yet you can't hear them unless your radio is tuned to their frequency. That's a modern parallel to a spiritual truth Jesus taught in John 14:21, where He says, "He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and will disclose Myself to him." In effect Jesus was saying, "I reveal Myself to those who love Me—those whose spiritual receivers are tuned to My frequency. They receive My Word and obey it."

In the biblical record Thaddaeus is a man of few words. His question in John 14:22 is the only thing he ever said that is recorded in Scripture. It was prompted by his perplexity over Jesus' statement in verse 21 to disclose Himself only to those who love Him. Thaddaeus asked, "Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us, and not to the world?"

Thaddaeus didn't understand Christ's statement because it wasn't consistent with his concept of the Messiah. Like the other disciples, he expected Jesus imminently to vanquish Roman oppression, free God's people, and establish an earthly kingdom wherein He would sit on the throne of David, reigning as Lord and Savior. How could He do that without revealing who He was to everyone?

In verse 23 Jesus responds by reiterating that only those who love Him will be able to perceive Him, and they are the ones within whom He and the Father would dwell.
That brief conversation between the Lord and Thaddaeus addresses the very heart of Christianity. It isn't those who say they love God who are true believers, but those who receive Christ and obey His Word. As Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word" (v. 23).

Does obedience to the Word characterize your life? I pray it does. Remember, your obedience to Christ is the measure of your love for Him.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for His Word, by which the Spirit instructs and empowers you to live an obedient life.

For Further Study
Read John 8:31-47.
* To whom was Jesus speaking?
* Why were they seeking to kill Him?
* How did Jesus characterize the devil?


Asking for God’s Provision

“‘“Give us this day our daily bread”’” (Matthew 6:11).

“Give” reminds us of our need to ask God for His provision. In recognition of His past and present provision we ask Him, and trust for His future furnishing of all our needs. We can ask confidently because God has richly promised. “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart. . . . The humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity” (Ps. 37:4, 11). 

God does not pledge to always meet the physical needs of everybody, but only of those who trust in Him. In Psalm 37:25, David is speaking about believers when he says, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.”

It is clear that the “us” who can expect provision from the Father are believers. Paul echoes the same principle: “Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God” (2 Cor. 9:10–11; cf. Luke 18:29–30).

God mercifully supplies our needs daily, meaning simply our ordinary, day-by-day provision of food, clothing, money, etc. The primary means by which we receive these things is through work, but isn’t it the Lord who provides even the strength for that? To accept God’s provision for today without undue concern for tomorrow is a testimony of our godly contentment (cf. Matt. 6:25, 32–33).

Ask Yourself
If the supply we have today isn’t satisfying to us and doesn’t seem like enough, is the problem with our Supplier or with our own measure of demand? Pray for a humble willingness to be thankful for every blessing, without focusing on the ones He seems to be withholding.


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 23:1–24:25
* Psalm 68:7-10
* Proverbs 17:5-6
* John 9:1-23

2 Samuel 24:1 Again. A second outbreak of the divine wrath occurred after the 3-year famine recorded in 21:1. against Israel. The inciting of David to conduct a census was a punishment on Israel from the Lord for some unspecified sins. Perhaps sins of pride and ambition had led him to increase the size of his army unnecessarily and place heavy burdens of support on the people. Whatever the sin, it is clear God was dissatisfied with David’s motives, goals, and actions and brought judgment. 

He moved David. Satan incited David to take this census, and the Lord sovereignly and permissively used Satan to accomplish His will (1 Chr. 21:1). number Israel and Judah. A census was usually for military purposes, which seems to be the case here (v. 9). Numbering the potential army of Israel had been done in the past (Num. 1:1, 2; 26:1–4). However, this census of Israel’s potential army did not have the sanction of the Lord and proceeded from wrong motives. David either wanted to glory in the size of his fighting force or take more territory than what the Lord had granted him. He shifted his trust from God to military power (this is a constant theme in the Psalms; see 20:7; 25:2; 44:6).

John 9:2 who sinned. While sin may be a cause of suffering, as clearly indicated in Scripture (5:14; Num. 12; 1 Cor. 11:30; James 5:15), it is not always the case necessarily (see Job; 2 Cor. 12:7; Gal. 4:13). The disciples assumed, like most Palestinians of their day, that sin was the primary, if not exclusive, cause of all suffering. In this instance, however, Jesus made it clear that personal sin was not the reason for the blindness (v. 3).

John 9:3 Jesus did not deny the general connection between sin and suffering, but refuted the idea that personal acts of sin were the direct cause. God’s sovereignty and purposes play a part in such matters, as is clear from Job 1 and 2.
John 9:17 He is a prophet. While the blind man saw clearly that Jesus was more than a mere man, the sighted but obstinate Pharisees were spiritually blind to that truth (v. 39). Blindness in the Bible is a metaphor for spiritual darkness, i.e., inability to discern God or His truth (2 Cor. 4:3–6; Col. 1:12–14).

What does the healing of the blind man in John 9 teach us about unbelief?
In ancient times, severe physical deformities, such as congenital blindness (vv. 8, 9), sentenced a person to begging as the only means of support (Acts 3:1–7). The drastic change in the healed man caused many to faithlessly believe that he was not the person born blind.

If you read through vv. 13–34, this section in the story of the healing of the blind man reveals some key characteristics of willful unbelief: 1) unbelief sets false standards; 2) unbelief always wants more evidence but never has enough; 3) unbelief does biased research on a purely subjective basis; 4) unbelief rejects the facts; and 5) unbelief is self-centered. John included this section on the dialogue of the Pharisees with the blind man most likely for two reasons: 1) the dialogue carefully demonstrates the character of willful and fixed unbelief, and 2) the story confirms the first great schism between the synagogue and Christ’s new followers. 

The blind man was the first known person thrown out of the synagogue because he chose to follow Christ (see 16:1–3).
Even though the neighbors had confirmed that the man had in fact been blind (v. 9), that was not evidence enough. So the authorities called the parents (v. 18). While neighbors may have been mistaken as to the man’s identity, the parents would know if this was their own son. And the authorities considered the witness of the healed man worthless.





Paul: Joy in Spite of Trouble

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4).

The apostle Paul was a model believer who did not let his troubles steal His joy in the Lord.

According to today’s verse, believers should never let a negative outlook replace our joy, no matter how bad life seems to be. The apostle Paul set an example that was far different. He wrote to the Philippians that in spite of being imprisoned in Rome, he was still rejoicing. Even though Paul was restricted under trying and harsh conditions, he was glad because the gospel message was being declared, even among the prison guards. Paul was not so concerned about his own hardships but that others hear the saving good news of Jesus Christ (see 1 Cor. 9:16).

Paul saw himself as a prisoner for the sake of Christ and the gospel. Therefore, he never gave in to any temptation to indulge in self-pity but rather focused on his duty of telling others about his Lord and Savior. Some of Paul’s other letters also mention his imprisonment (see Eph. 3:1; Col. 4:10) but always positively, because the apostle never forgot that being a prisoner was merely part of the role he was called to as an ambassador for God’s kingdom.

Paul’s Roman imprisonment resulted in his joyful attitude extending out in evangelism: “My imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well-known throughout the whole praetorian guard and to everyone else” (Phil. 1:13). However, Paul’s ultimate impact on the guards and others was not just from his outward expressions of happiness. Rather, those who heard him were changed because they saw an attitude of joy and a message of truth deeply fixed in a man experiencing great trials and afflictions.

What a profound example Paul is for you and me today. For instance, we can make difficult witnessing opportunities easier by exhibiting Christlikeness and godly joy no matter how events are pressing us down. Such attitudes, so different from what people naturally expect, will give us many chances to testify of God’s grace (see 1 Peter 3:15).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to help you look above and beyond your problems and focus on what He has done for you.

For Further Study
A very striking example of Paul’s rejoicing in the midst of suffering happened at the Philippian dungeon. Read Acts 16:22-34. What did he and Silas do to make the best of that trial?


Living Courageously (Thaddaeus)

The twelve apostles included "Thaddaeus" (Matt. 10:3).

Victorious Christian living requires great courage.

Thaddaeus was a man of many identities. In the King James translation of Matthew 10:3 he is called "Lebbaeus, whose surname was Thaddaeus." He is also called "Judas the son of James" (Luke 6:16; Acts 1:13) and "Judas (not Iscariot)" (John 14:22).
Judas, which means "Jehovah leads," was probably the name given him at birth, with Thaddaeus and Lebbaeus added later as nicknames to reflect his character. 

Apparently Thaddaeus was the nickname given to him by his family. It comes from a Hebrew root word that refers to the female breast. Basically it means a "breast-child." Perhaps Thaddaeus was the youngest child in the family or especially dear to his mother. Lebbaeuscomes from a Hebrew root that means "heart." Literally it means a "heart-child," and speaks of someone who is courageous. That nickname was likely given him by his friends, who saw him as a man of boldness and courage.

Early church tradition tells us that Thaddaeus was tremendously gifted with the power of God to heal the sick. It is said that a certain Syrian king named Adgar was very ill and sent for Thaddaeus to come and heal him. On his way to the king, Thaddaeus reportedly healed hundreds of people throughout Syria. When he finally reached the king, he healed him then preached Christ to him. As a result, the king became a Christian. The country, however, was thrown into chaos, and a vengeful nephew of the king had Thaddaeus imprisoned then beaten to death with a club. If that tradition is true, it confirms that Thaddaeus was a man of great courage.

It takes courage to die for Christ but it also takes courage to live for Him. That's why Paul said that God hasn't given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (2 Tim. 1:7). Each day trust in God's promises and rely on His Spirit. That's how you can face each new challenge with courage and confidence.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the courage He has given you in the past and ask Him to help you face future spiritual battles without retreat or compromise.

For Further Study
Read Daniel 3:1-30.
* Why were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego punished by King Nebuchadnezzar?
* How did God honor their courage?


The True Source of Bread

“‘“Give us this day our daily bread”’” (Matthew 6:11).

Jesus’ reference to “bread” not only signifies food but all of our physical needs. It is amazing that the self-sufficient, infinite God of the universe would care about our physical needs—that we have enough food, clothing, shelter—and then pledge to supply those needs. Thus God is the only source of our daily bread.

When everything is going well in life, we tend to think we are managing it all ourselves. Yet even the hardest-working person owes all he or she earns to the Lord’s gracious provision (see Deut. 8:18; Acts 17:24–28). God provided for humanity even before He created Adam and Eve. They were His final creation, and one of the first things He said to them was, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you” (Gen. 1:29). God has fulfilled this statement abundantly and in unlimited ways ever since.

Yet Paul teaches that in the latter days some will “advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:3). But the apostle reminds us “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected” (v. 4).

This part of the Lord’s Prayer is an affirmation—appropriate for the well-fed and those who have little. By it we can thank God that every good thing comes from His gracious hand (James 1:17).

Ask Yourself
What are some of the more mundane, ordinary, forgettable things you not only can ask God for today, but can also transform into a prayer of gratitude? How can you make this refresher course in God’s gracious gifts become a more regular part of your conscious thoughts and prayers?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 21:1–22:51
* Psalm 68:1-6
* Proverbs 17:2-4
* John 8:28-59

2 Samuel 21:1, 2 Saul and his bloodthirsty house. By divine revelation David learned that the famine was a result of sin committed by Saul; namely, that he had slain the Gibeonites. There is no further reference to this  event. Saul was probably trying to do as God commanded and rid the land of the remnant of heathen in order that Israel might prosper (v. 2). But in his zeal he had committed a serious sin. He had broken a covenant that had been made 400 years before between Joshua and the Gibeonites, who were in the land when Israel took possession of it. They deceived Joshua into making the covenant, but it was, nevertheless, a covenant (Josh.9:3–27). Covenant keeping was no small matter to God (Josh. 9:20).

2 Samuel 22:1–51 David’s song of praise here is almost identical to Psalm 18.This song also has many verbal links to Hannah’s prayer (1 Sam. 2:1–10) and together with it forms the framework for the books of Samuel. This song focuses on the Lord’s deliverance of David from all his enemies, in response to which David praised the Lord, his deliverer (vv. 2–4). The major part of the song (vv. 5–46) states the reason for this praise of the Lord. David first describes how the Lord had delivered him from his enemies (vv. 5–20), then declares why the Lord had delivered him from his enemies (vv. 21–28), then states the extent of the Lord’s deliverance from his enemies (vv. 29–46). The song concludes with David’s resolve to praise his delivering Lord, even among the Gentiles (vv. 47–51).

John 8:39 If you were Abraham’s children. The construction of this phrase indicates that Jesus was denying that mere physical lineage was sufficient for salvation (Phil. 3:4–9). The sense would be “if you were Abraham’s children, but you are not, then you would act like Abraham did.” Just as children inherit genetic characteristics from their parents, so also those who are truly Abraham’s offspring will act like Abraham, i.e., imitate Abraham’s faith and obedience (Rom. 4:16; Gal. 3:6–9; Heb. 11:8–19; James 2:21–24). works of Abraham. Abraham’s faith was demonstrated through his obedience to God (James 2:21–24). 

Jesus’ point was that the conduct of the unbelieving Jews was diametrically opposed by the conduct of Abraham, who lived a life of obedience to all that God had commanded. Their conduct toward Jesus demonstrated that their real father was Satan (vv. 41, 44).

John 8:58 Most assuredly…I AM. Here Jesus declared Himself to be Yahweh, i.e., the Lord of the Old Testament. Basic to the expression are such passages as Exodus 3:14; Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, where God declared Himself to be the eternally preexistent God who revealed Himself in the Old Testament to the Jews. 

What are the steps toward true Christian discipleship?
John 8:31–36 is a pivotal section of Scripture in understanding genuine salvation and true discipleship. John emphasized these realities by stressing truth and freedom. The focus in the passage is upon those who were exercising the beginnings of faith in Jesus as Messiah and Son of God. Jesus desired them to move on in their faith. Saving faith is not fickle but firm and settled. Such maturity expresses itself in full commitment to the truth in Jesus Christ resulting in genuine freedom.

The first step in the progress toward true discipleship is belief in Jesus Christ as Messiah and Son of God (v. 31).“ If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed” reveals the second step in the progress toward true discipleship. Perseverance in obedience to Scripture (Matt. 28:19, 20) is the fruit or evidence of genuine faith (Eph. 2:10). The word “abide” means to habitually abide in Jesus’ words. 

A genuine believer holds fast, obeys, and practices Jesus’ teaching. The one who continues in His teaching has both the Father and the Son (2 John 9; Heb. 3:14; Rev. 2:26). Real disciples are both learners (the basic meaning of the word) and faithful followers.

“The truth” (v. 32) has reference not only to the facts surrounding Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God but also to the teaching that He brought. A genuinely saved and obedient follower of the Lord Jesus will know divine truth and both freedom from sin (v. 34) and the search for reality. This divine truth comes not merely by intellectual assent (1 Cor. 2:14) but by saving commitment to Christ (Titus 1:1, 2).

“Whoever commits sin” (v. 34).The kind of slavery that Jesus had in mind was not physical slavery but slavery to sin (Rom. 6:17,18). The idea of “commits sin” means to practice sin habitually (1 John 3:4, 8, 9). The ultimate bondage is not political or economic enslavement but spiritual bondage to sin and rebellion against God. Thus, this also explains why Jesus would not let Himself be reduced to merely a political Messiah (6:14, 15).





Stephen: Godliness in Suffering

“But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:55).

Because Stephen was so consistently Spirit-filled, it was natural for him to react in a godly way to persecution and death.

The cliché “Garbage in, garbage out” provides a good clue to the essence of the Spirit-filled Christian life. Just as computers respond according to their programming, we respond to what fills our minds. If we allow the Holy Spirit to program our thought patterns, we’ll be controlled and renewed by Him and live godly lives. And that’s exactly how Stephen consistently and daily lived his life.

The expression “being full” is from a Greek verb (pleroo) that literally means “being kept full.” Stephen was continuously filled with the Holy Spirit during his entire Christian life. This previewed Paul’s directive in Ephesians 5:18, “but be filled with the Spirit.” These words don’t mean believers are to have some strange mystical experience, but simply that their lives ought to be fully controlled by God’s Spirit.
Stephen gave evidence of his Spirit-filled godliness as He was about to die from stoning. Acts 7:55-56 says he looked to Jesus and let his adversaries and any witnesses know that he saw Christ standing at the right hand of God. Stephen did not focus on his difficult situation but fixed his heart on the Lord, which is what all believers must do: “Keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:1-2).

Stephen’s spiritual sight was incredible and enabled him to see the risen Christ and be certain of his welcome into Heaven the moment he died. We won’t have that kind of vision while we’re still on earth, but if we are constantly Spirit-filled like Stephen, we will always see Jesus by faith and realize His complete presence during the most trying times (John 14:26-27; Heb. 13:5-6).

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that God would direct your mind away from mundane distractions and toward Him throughout this day.

For Further Study
Stephen established a magnificent pattern during his short ministry in Acts 6. Read that chapter, and jot down several positive things you see about how he did things.


Saluting an Unknown Soldier (James, Son of Alphaeus)

The twelve apostles included "James the son of Alphaeus" (Matt. 10:3).

God often uses ordinary people to accomplish great things.

Like most Christians, James the son of Alphaeus is an unknown and unsung soldier of the cross. His distinguishing characteristic is obscurity. Nothing he did or said is recorded in Scripture—only his name.

In Mark 15:40 he is called "James the Less," which literally means "Little James." That could refer to his stature (he might have been short), his age (he might have been younger than James the son of Zebedee), or his influence (he might have had relatively little influence among the disciples).
In Mark 2:14 Matthew (Levi) is called the son of Alphaeus. 

Alphaeus was a common name, but it's possible that James and Matthew were brothers, since their fathers had the same first name. Also, James's mother is mentioned in Mark 15:40 as being present at Christ's crucifixion, along with other women. She is referred to as the wife of Clopas in John 19:25. Since Clopas was a form of Alphaeus, that further supports the possibility that James and Matthew were related.

From those references we might conclude that James was a small young man whose personality was not particularly powerful. If he was Matthew's brother, perhaps he was as humble as Matthew, willing to serve the Lord without any applause or notice. Whichever the case, be encouraged that God uses obscure people like James, and rewards them accordingly. Someday James will sit on a throne in Christ's millennial kingdom, judging the twelve tribes of Israel—just like the other more prominent disciples (Luke 22:30).

No matter how obscure or prominent you are from a human perspective, God can use you and will reward you with a glorious eternal inheritance.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank the Lord for all those people unknown to you whom He has used to shape your life for His glory.
* Seek to be more like James, serving Christ faithfully without applause or glory.

For Further Study
* Read Luke 9:23-25. What did Jesus say is necessary to be His disciple?
* Read Luke 9:57-62. What were those men unwilling to give up to follow Christ?


Three Aspects of the Divine Will

“‘“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”’” (Matthew 6:10).

God’s Word reveals three aspects of His will. First is His will of purpose—His sovereign, ultimate plan for the universe. “Surely, just as I [God] have intended so it has happened, and just as I have planned so it will stand” (Isa. 14:24; cf. Eph. 1:9–11). It has been within God’s purpose to allow sin to affect the world for a time. But that situation will end precisely according to His plan and foreknowledge.

Within God’s will of purpose is His will of desire. This will is more specific but not always fulfilled in the present age. For example, Jesus desired His people, the Jews, to be saved. However, only a relative few believed in His message. Jesus prayed, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together … and you would not have it!” (Luke 13:34). Like the Jews, most Gentiles are also unwilling to come to Christ for salvation (John 5:40; cf. 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

Third is God’s will of command, which is His desire that believers obey Him fully, as only they of all people can, with the help of the Spirit (see Rom. 6:16–18). Pride is the great enemy set against all of God’s will. But for us to obey His will, we must forsake self-will and “prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2; see also v. 1).

Ask Yourself
Understanding the many-layered aspects of God’s will is not nearly as important as being obedient to every aspect you do know. Don’t you long for His purpose, desire, and command to be met with full acceptance in your own life? Submit to Him in some new way today. Conform to His will.


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 19:1–20:26
* Psalm 67:1-7
* Proverbs 16:33–17:1
* John 8:1-27

2 Samuel 19:7 not one will stay with you. Joab, who was the esteemed general of the army, was a dangerous person because of that power. He was also dangerous to David because he had disobeyed his command to spare Absalom and killed him with no remorse. When he warned David that he would be in deep trouble if he did not immediately express appreciation to his men for their victory, David knew he could be in serious danger.

2 Samuel 19:13 Amasa…commander of the army…in place of Joab. David appointed Amasa commander of his army, hoping to secure the allegiance of those who had followed Amasa when he led Absalom’s forces, especially those of Judah. This appointment did persuade the tribe of Judah to support David’s return to thekingship (v. 14) and secured the animosity of Joab against Amasa for taking his position (20:8–10).

2 Samuel 20:11 one of Joab’s men. Joab was reinstated as commander of David’s army by his troops. It is a striking illustration of Joab’s influence over the army that he could murder the commander whom David had chosen, a killing right before their eyes, and they would follow him unanimously as their leader in pursuit of Sheba.

Proverbs 16:33 lot. Casting lots was a method often used to reveal God’s purposes in a matter (Josh. 14:1, 2; 1 Sam.14:38–43; 1 Chr. 25:8–31; Jon. 1:7; Acts 1:26). The high priest may have carried lots in his sacred vest, along with the Urim and Thummim (Ex. 28:30).
John 8:24 if you do not believe. Jesus emphasized that the fatal, unforgivable, and eternal sin is failure to believe in Him as Messiah and Son of God. In truth, all other sins can be forgiven if this one is repented of. I am He. “He” is not part of the original statement. Jesus’ words were not constructed normally but were influenced by Old Testament Hebrew usage. It is an absolute usage meaning “I AM” and has immense theological significance. 

The reference may be to both Exodus 3:14 where the Lord declared His name as “I AM” and to Isaiah 40–55 where the phrase “I am” occurs repeatedly (especially 43:10, 13, 25; 46:4; 48:12). In this, Jesus referred to Himself as the God (Yahweh—the LORD) of the Old Testament and directly claimed full Deity for Himself, prompting the Jews’ question of v. 25.

How is Jesus the light of the world?
In John 8:12–21,the word “again” indicates that Jesus spoke once more to the people at this same Feast of Tabernacles (7:2,10). While Jesus first used the water-drawing rite (7:37–39) as a metaphor to portray the ultimate spiritual truth of Himself as Messiah who fulfills all that the feast anticipated, He then turned to another rite that traditionally occurred at the feast: the lighting ceremony. During Tabernacles, 4 large lamps in the temple’s court of women were lit and an exuberant nightly celebration took place under their light with people dancing through the night and holding burning torches in their hands while singing songs and praises. The 

Levitical orchestras also played.
Jesus took this opportunity of the lighting celebration to portray another spiritual analogy for the people: “I am the light of the world” (v. 12). This is the second “I AM” statement (6:35). John has already used the “light” metaphor for Jesus (1:4). Jesus’ metaphor here is steeped in Old Testament allusions (Ex. 13:21,22; 14:19–25; Pss. 27:1; 119:105; Prov. 6:23; Ezek. 1:4,13,26–28; Hab. 3:3,4). The phrase highlights Jesus’ role as Messiah and Son of God (Ps. 27:1; Mal. 4:2).

The Old Testament indicates that the coming age of Messiah would be a time when the Lord would be a light for His people (Is. 60:19–22; see Rev. 21:23, 24), as well as for the whole earth (Is. 42:6; 49:6). Zechariah 14:5b–8 has an emphasis on God as the light of the world who gives living waters to His people. This latter passage probably formed the liturgical readings for the Feast of Tabernacles.

“He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” The word “follows” conveys the idea of someone who gives himself completely to the person followed. No half-hearted followers exist in Jesus’ mind (Matt. 8:18–22; 10:38, 39). A veiled reference exists here to the Jews, following the pillar of cloud and fire that led them during the Exodus (Ex. 13:21).





Stephen: Grace and Serenity in Suffering

“And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5).
Stephen’s excellent character teaches us much about responding to suffering and death.

Stephen, the first Christian martyr, is one of the most inspiring biblical examples of faithfulness in life and ministry. But his personal excellence shines forth most through the familiar account of his death by stoning.

As one of the first deacons in the church, Stephen was recognized early on as a man of great faith and spirituality (Acts 6:5). And a few verses later Luke describes him as “full of grace and power” (v. 8). That was a grace of loving-kindness toward others, which he displayed in a most powerful way just before his death.

In Acts 7:60, as the Jews were pelting him with rocks, Stephen was able to look up to Heaven and say, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” That kind of faith-filled, grace-filled reaction to those who were hatefully killing him was possible only because Stephen believed in God’s sovereign control over his life and death.

At the very start of his encounter, Stephen manifested another amazing response to his horribly unjust treatment: his enemies “saw his face like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). It’s impossible for us to know precisely what such an expression would have been like, but it denoted a supernatural tranquility and joy that comes from being enveloped by the Lord’s glorious presence. 

Stephen’s awesome expression must have been an extremely forceful rebuke to the Jewish leaders who claimed to know God.
The typical reaction from many of us in the same situation would have been to exhibit much anxiety, stress, and anger. But Stephen demonstrated no such response. Instead, he is a role model for how any believer ought to behave during the most challenging trial. He had more than adequate grace to cope well in every circumstance (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9; James 4:6), which is true of all genuine Christians—those “full of faith and of the Holy Spirit.”

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank the Lord for Christian friends who are role models to you. Pray that your behavior today would be special and Spirit-filled, not ordinary and man-centered.

For Further Study
Read Exodus 33:7-11, 17-23; 34:29-35. What does Moses’ experience reveal about the power of God’s glory?


Marveling at God's Forgiveness (Matthew)

The twelve apostles included "Matthew the tax-gatherer" (Matt. 10:3).

Never lose your sense of awe over Christ’s forgiveness.

Matthew describes himself as "Matthew the tax-gatherer" (Matt. 10:3). He is the only apostle whose name is associated with an occupation. Apparently Matthew never forgot what he had been saved from, and never lost his sense of awe and unworthiness over Christ's forgiveness.

This is how he set the scene of his own conversion: Matthew 9:1-8 tells us Jesus forgave the sins of a paralytic man and then healed him of his paralysis. When the Jewish scribes accused Him of blasphemy for claiming to have the authority to forgive sins, He said to them, "Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, and walk'?" He wanted them to know His miracles testified of His deity. As God, He could as easily forgive sins as He could heal diseases.

Immediately after that account, Matthew gave the account of his own call. It's as if he wanted his own salvation to serve as an illustration of Christ's ability to forgive even the vilest of sinners. Matthew 9:9 says, "As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man, called Matthew, sitting in the tax office; and He said to him, 'Follow Me!' And he rose, and followed Him."

When the Pharisees questioned Jesus's practice of associating with tax-gatherers, He said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. . . . I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (vv. 12-13). The Pharisees were sick with sin but thought they were healthy. Matthew and his associates knew they were sinners who needed a Savior.

Do you share Matthew's humility and sense of awe at receiving Christ's precious gift of forgiveness? I pray that you do and that you are continually praising Him for it.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank God for the wonder of forgiveness.
* If you have lost your sense of awe over God's forgiveness, perhaps you're taking His grace for granted. Confess your apathy and ask Him to give you a deep appreciation for the enormous price He paid for your salvation.
For Further Study
As a reminder of what Christ endured for you, read Matthew 26:17—27:56, which chronicles the events of His betrayal and crucifixion.


A Right Understanding of God’s Will

“‘“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”’” (Matthew 6:10).

To understand God’s will rightly, we need an attitude of righteous rebellion. If we would pray that God accomplishes His will, we must reject the notion that sin is normal and therefore we must accept it. Instead we must righteously rebel against the world’s ungodliness, its unbelief of Jesus Christ, and believers’ disobedience. Not to do this is to abandon key biblical teachings and accept powerlessness in prayer.

Jesus was not resigned to the spiritual status quo—He preached and acted against sin. When Jewish leaders profaned God’s house, “He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business’” (John 2:15–16).

We further must rebel against the idea that wickedness and corruption is somehow God’s will that we must passively accept. Nothing evil comes from God’s hand, but only from Satan’s. To ask that righteousness and God’s will be done oftentimes means we have to pray for Satan’s will to be undone (cf. Ps. 68:1; Rev. 6:10).

To pray with a right understanding of God’s will is to pray believing that He hears and answers our prayers. Lack of such faith is one of our greatest hindrances to effective praying.

Ask Yourself
Yes, to pray for God’s will to be done on earth, we must first make sure it is being done in us. What are some aspects of God’s will that are going unheeded in your own heart, even though they are far from mysterious, very clearly laid out in Scripture? Make this your prayer today—that His will would be done in you.


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 17:1–18:33
* Psalm 66:16-20
* Proverbs 16:31-32
* John 7:28-53

2 Samuel 17:7–13 Providentially, the Lord took control of the situation through the counsel of Hushai (15:32) who advised Absalom in such a way as to give David time to prepare for war with Absalom. Hushai’s plan seemed best to the elders. It had two features: 1) the need for an army larger than 12,000 (v. 1), so that Absalom would not lose, and 2) the king leading the army into battle (an appeal to Absalom’s arrogance).
2 Samuel 17:14 the LORD had purposed. The text notes that Ahithophel’s advice was rejected by Absalom because the Lord had determined to defeat the rebellion of Absalom, as prayed for by David (15:31). God’s providence was controlling all the intrigues among the usurper’s counselors.

2 Samuel 18:33 my son. Repeated 5 times in this verse, David lamented the death of Absalom, his son (19:5). In spite of all the harm that Absalom had caused, David was preoccupied with his personal loss in a melancholy way that seems to be consistent with his weakness as a father. It was an unwarranted zeal for such a worthless son and a warning about the pitiful results of sin.

John 7:31 many…believed. Divided conviction existed among the people regarding Jesus. While some wanted to seize Him, a small remnant of genuine believers existed among the crowds. The question here anticipates a negative answer, i.e., the Messiah could do no greater kinds of miracles than those Jesus had done.

John 7:37–52 This section catalogues the different reactions of people to Jesus’ claims. These reactions have become universal patterns for reactions to Him through the ages. This section may be divided into the claim of Christ (vv. 37–39) and the reactions to Christ (vv. 40–52). The reactions may be subdivided into 5 sections: 1) the reaction of the convinced (vv. 40,41a); 2) the reaction of the contrary (vv. 41b,42); 3) the reaction of the hostile (vv. 43, 44); 4) the rejection of the confused (vv. 45, 46); and 5) the reaction of the religious authorities (vv. 47–52).

What does the “living water” have to do with Jesus?
A tradition grew up in the few centuries before Jesus that on the 7 days of the Feast of Tabernacles, a golden container filled with water from the pool of Siloam was carried in procession by the high priest back to the temple. As the procession came to the Watergate on the south side of the inner temple court, 3 trumpet blasts were made to mark the joy of the occasion and the people recited Isaiah 12:3, “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” At the temple, while onlookers watched, the priests would march around the altar with the water container while the temple choir sang the Hallel (Pss. 113–118).The water was offered in sacrifice to God at the time of the morning sacrifice. The use of the water symbolized the blessing of adequate rainfall for crops.

In John 7:37, Jesus used this event as an object lesson and opportunity to make a very public invitation on the last day of the feast for His people to accept Him as the living water. His words recall Isaiah 55:1. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink.” These 3 words summarize the gospel invitation. A recognition of need leads to an approach to the source of provision, followed by receiving what is needed. The thirsty, needy soul feels the craving to come to the Savior and drink, i.e., receive the salvation that He offers.

“Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (v. 38).The water-pouring rite was also associated within Jewish tradition as a foreshadowing of the eschatological rivers of living water foreseen in Ezekiel 47:1–9 and Zechariah 13:1.The significance of Jesus’ invitation centers in the fact that He was the fulfillment of all the Feast of Tabernacles anticipated, i.e., He was the One who provided the living water that gives eternal life to man (4:10, 11). By this “He spoke concerning the Spirit” (v. 39). The impartation of the Holy Spirit is the source of spiritual and eternal life.




Evaluating Our Suffering

“By no means let any of you suffer as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler” (1 Peter 4:15).

We must not presume that God blesses every possible kind of suffering a Christian may become involved in.

It’s quite obvious that some sufferings and trials are not part of God’s plan for us. Believers should never suffer because they’ve murdered, robbed, or done evil. But in today’s verse Peter mentions a fourth category—“a troublesome meddler”—whose meaning is not as apparent and whose application might be more in dispute.

“A troublesome meddler” interferes with everyone else’s business, and Paul says we should avoid such persons (1 Thess. 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:14; 1 Tim. 5:13). But I believe Peter also uses the term to refer to a political agitator, someone who actively tries to disrupt the normal function of the government. If this understanding is correct, then Peter is commanding Christians to be good citizens in their non-Christian cultures (cf. Rom. 13:1-7). We are to go to work, live peacefully, witness to others, and exalt Christ.
Believers are not to act like radicals who are intent on overthrowing existing authority or imposing Christian standards on society. Getting into trouble with your employer or being fired by him because of disruptive activities, even those done in the name of Christ, is not honorable but disgraceful.

Most believers would never even consider the possibility of being involved in militia groups that are engaged in separatist activities and are violently opposed to all legitimate governmental authority. Yet some Christians wrongly see validity in strategies of civil disobedience and violence as they oppose some government-sanctioned acts, specifically abortion. They are not satisfied with simply providing biblical counsel or material and educational assistance at a local pro-life agency, as many believers have done over the past twenty-five years.

Therefore, if we would seek to promote what is right and redress injustices, we must use scriptural discernment regarding which strategies to implement or support. Similarly, the Lord wants us to evaluate all our trials and sufferings and be sure they are placing us in the center of His will. Otherwise, we can claim to suffer righteously when we are not and merely be “a troublesome meddler,” which is not pleasing to God.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that your church would always have biblical reasons for supporting any efforts at redressing social wrongs.

For Further Study
What areas does Peter include in 1 Peter 2:11-19 when he encourages obedience to authority?


Beyond Doubt to Hope (Thomas)

The twelve apostles included "Thomas" (Matt. 10:3).

Jesus can replace your doubts with hope.

When Jesus was crucified, Thomas was shattered. He loved Jesus deeply and wanted always to be with Him. He was willing even to die with Him, but now his greatest fear had been realized: Jesus was gone.

Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them after His resurrection. John 20:25says, "The other disciples therefore were saying to [Thomas], 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.'" Thomas was emotionally spent and unwilling to subject himself to any further pain. So he retreated behind a wall of empiricism, saying in effect, "I'm not going to believe this on your word alone. I need proof! I must see Jesus myself."

Because of that, people have labeled him "Doubting Thomas," but remember, none of the disciples believed the resurrection until Jesus appeared to them. Thomas wasn't a compulsive doubter—he was a loving pessimist.

As it turned out, Thomas didn't need as much proof as he thought. When Jesus finally appeared to him and invited him to touch His hands and side, Thomas didn't do either. Instead he immediately cried out, "My Lord and my God!" (v. 28)—which is the greatest single confession of faith ever made.

Thomas struggled with doubt because he didn't understand what Jesus said about His own death and resurrection, and he wasn't with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them. He failed to understand God's Word and forsook the company of believers—two common mistakes that can lead to doubt.

Jesus doesn't condemn you when you have doubts. Instead, He gives you His Spirit, His Word, and the fellowship of His people to encourage and strengthen you. So commune with the Spirit in prayer, know the Word well, and never forsake the fellowship of believers. That's how to change your doubts into hope!
Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the presence of His Spirit, the power of His word, and the fellowship of His people.

For Further Study
Read Luke 24:13-35.
* Why didn't the two disciples recognize Jesus?
* How did Jesus change their doubts to hope?


How His Kingdom Comes

“‘“Your kingdom come”’” (Matthew 6:10).

It is obvious that Christ is not physically ruling on earth today, but one day He will. Therefore we should pray that God would hasten that time when His Son returns to establish His earthly kingdom, defeat sin, and ensure obedience to God’s will. After a thousand years, this kingdom will merge into the eternal kingdom, and His earthly and heavenly rule will be the same (see Rev. 20–21).

There are two major ways in which God’s kingdom comes, and they ought to inform our prayers as we ask Him to complete His purpose. First, His kingdom comes by means of conversions. Thus we should pray for sinners to repent (Mark 1:14–15) and to embrace the gospel (Luke 9:61–62). Our prayers must be simply that the Spirit will add new citizens to God’s kingdom.

Second, the kingdom comes through believers’ commitment. If we pray as Jesus commands, we will constantly ask that our lives and those of other Christians might obediently honor and glorify God in heaven.

The kingdom that we hope and pray for is of infinite value. Jesus elsewhere teaches that it “is like a treasure hidden in the field” or like “one pearl of great value” (Matt. 13:44–46). When the kingdom fully comes at His return, God will have completely answered our prayers. As the hymn says, “Jesus shall reign where’er the sun does its successive journeys run. His kingdom spread from shore to shore, ’til moon shall wax and wane no more.”

Ask Yourself
How focused are you on these twin elements of kingdom advance? How do these priorities show themselves in your daily choices and activities? If they are commonly missing from your field of reference, ask yourself why this is the case.


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 13:1–14:33
* Psalm 66:1-7
* Proverbs 16:25-26
* John 6:52-71

2 Samuel 13:15 hated her. Amnon’s “love” (v. 1) was nothing but sensual desire that, once gratified, turned to hatred. His sudden revulsion was the result of Tamar’s unwilling resistance, the atrocity of what he had done, feelings of remorse, and dread of exposure and punishment. All of these rendered her intolerably undesirable to him.
2 Samuel 14:13 against the people of God. The woman asserted that by allowing Absalom to remain in exile, David had jeopardized the future welfare of Israel. If he would be so generous to a son he did not know in a family he did not know, would he not forgive his own son?

Psalm 66:4 All the earth shall worship You. This praise is not only an acknowledgment of God’s universal Lordship, but also an intimation of the people’s belief in a future worldwide kingdom where God will be worshiped (Is. 66:23; Zech. 14:16; Phil. 2:10, 11).

John 6:64 Jesus knew. Reminiscent of Jesus’ words in 2:23–25, Jesus knew the hearts of men, including those disciples who followed Him. He supernaturally knew that many did not believe in Him as Messiah and Son of God so He did not entrust Himself to them. These false disciples were simply attracted to the physical phenomena (miracles and food) and failed to understand the true significance of Jesus’ teaching (v. 61).

If we accept the scholarly view that the surviving ancient manuscripts of 1 and 2 Samuel were poorly preserved, what should be our attitude toward these books?
Given the challenges involved in hand-copying and preserving scrolls, it is a wonder that we have the ancient documents that we do have. Our attitude ought to lean more toward amazement that we have such few discrepancies rather than toward concern over the ones that puzzle and challenge us.

Many of the discoveries in the science of analyzing ancient manuscripts involve the typical errors that commonly appear when handwritten documents are copied. For example, when two lines of text end with the same word or words, the eye of the copyist tends to skip the second line, deleting it completely. Careful comparisons between manuscripts and reconstruction of the text often reveal these simple errors.
In the case of 1 and 2 Samuel we have two ancient text families: 1) the Masoretic text in the Hebrew language and 2) the LXX (Septuagint) text in Greek that was translated by Jewish scholars in about 100 B.C. Comparing the two, it is clear that the two differ in more places with the Samuel books than with other Old Testament books. There are frequent disagreements between the texts when it comes to numbers. In settling these discrepancies, the age and language of the Masoretic text is generally considered a closer version of the original manuscript unless grammar and context indicate a copying error.

When thinking about the possibility of textual errors in the Scriptures, it is crucial to remember this: The central doctrines of the Christian faith are never based on a single verse of Scripture, nor do they rely on a disputed section of Scripture. God’s plan of salvation and the main outline of Christian teaching can be found throughout Scripture.

(Christian quotes)




Entrusting All to God

“Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19).

The final attitude we should have in facing trials and sufferings is that of entrusting ourselves to God.

Geoffrey Bull epitomizes the modern-day believer who entrusts his entire soul to God’s will in the middle of terrible suffering. Bull was punished with solitary confinement, brainwashing, many kinds of intimidation, and starvation during more than three years of imprisonment by the Communist Chinese forty years ago. During his affliction he prayed that God would help him remember Scriptures, realize His peace, and triumph over doubt, fear, loneliness, and fatigue. The final two lines of a poem he wrote summarize Bull’s complete trust in God’s plan and purpose:

And Thy kingdom, Gracious God,
Shall never pass away.

The term “entrust” is a banker’s expression meaning “to deposit for safekeeping.” Peter encourages all believers who experience trials and tribulations to give over their very lives (“souls”) to God’s care. The Lord is indeed “a faithful Creator” who made us. Therefore we can and should trust Him fully as the only one who is able to care for all our needs.

By this point Peter has assumed that his original readers, since many had endured persecution, knew what suffering was like. Therefore, he could also present the Lord as a sovereign God who could be trusted to do “what is right.” Because it is God’s will to allow sufferings and trials in the lives of all believers, it is only logical that Peter exhort us to entrust ourselves to Him during such times.

Peter’s instruction is also related to Romans 12:1, “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 [or rational] service of worship.” Paul reminds us that it is much easier to react as we should to trials if we have already resolved, with God’s help, to entrust everything to Him. Then we can face with calm and confidence, rather than worry and fear, whatever God allows.

Suggestions for Prayer

Review your commitment to God, and ask Him to bring to mind anything that you need to entrust wholly to Him; then by faith take that step.

For Further Study

Psalm 25 describes David’s desire to trust in God. Read it and pick out several verses or a paragraph to meditate on.


A Traitor Turns to Christ (Matthew)

The twelve apostles included "Matthew the tax-gatherer" (Matt. 10:3).

God can use you despite your sinful past.

I remember reading a notice in a local newspaper announcing the opening of a new evangelical church in our community. It gave the date and time of the first services, then added, "our special guest star will be . . ." and named a popular Christian celebrity. In its attempt to appeal to unbelievers or simply draw a large crowd, the church today commonly uses that kind of approach.

Jesus, however, used a different approach. None of His disciples were famous at all. In fact, rather than drawing a favorable crowd, some of them might have repelled or even incited anger and hatred among His Jewish audience. Matthew was such a man because he was a despised tax-gatherer—one of many Jewish men employed by Rome to collect taxes from his own people. As such he was regarded as a traitor by his own countrymen.

The Roman tax system allowed tax collectors to keep anything they collected in excess of what was owed to Rome. That encouraged bribes, extortion, and other abuses.

To compound the issue, Matthew was among those who had the prerogative of taxing almost anything they wanted to tax—roads, bridges, harbors, axles, donkeys, packages, letters, imports, exports, merchandise, and so on. Such men could accumulate enormous wealth for themselves. You might remember another tax-gatherer named Zaccheus, who is described in Luke 19:2 as a wealthy man. His salvation was evidenced by his offer to repay fourfold to those he had defrauded (v. 8).

Some people think God can't use them because they're not famous or because of their past sins. But God has used Matthew, Zaccheus, and millions of others like them. Concentrate on your present purity and let God bless your ministry as He sees fit.

Suggestions for Prayer

Thank God that he has made you a new person in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). Minister in light of that reality!

For Further Study

Read Luke 19:1-10.

Where was Zaccheus when Jesus first spoke to him?
What was the reaction of the crowd when Jesus went to Zaccheus's house?
What prompted Jesus to say that salvation had come to Zaccheus?


God’s Will: Two Misunderstandings

“‘“Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”’” (Matthew 6:10).

Two polar opposite views of God’s will can cause Christians to have faulty understandings of prayer and the accomplishing of God’s purposes. On the one hand, some see His will as absolutely deterministic—whatever will be, will be. They either pray little at all, figuring the divine will is inevitable, or they are resignedly obedient, praying for God’s will simply because He tells them to.

Neither approach to prayer demonstrates faith. Viewing God’s sovereignty in a fatalistic, prayerless way robs us of the joy of aligning our wills with His and seeing His will done as we pray in faith. And praying with passive resignation leads to a weak, unexpectant prayer life. It is one that doesn’t heed Jesus’ instruction in the parable of the persistent widow: “He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart” (Luke 18:1).

Other believers overemphasize the role of human will and see prayer as mainly a way to twist God’s will to their own desires. They think of God’s will as what He dispenses from His cosmic vending machine—they get whatever they want by inserting a claim on one of His promises. But our Lord rejects such a false, man-centered concept throughout the model prayer. Genuine prayer focuses on God’s name, God’s kingdom, and God’s will. The emphasis remains on the Father. God is sovereign, but Jesus tells us to pray that His will be done (cf. James 5:16).

Ask Yourself

Which of these two misunderstandings has been the hardest for you to counteract? Which one do you find yourself gravitating toward in your usual dealings with God? How has this led you to defeat and discouragement in your walk with Christ? What would you gain from embracing a more biblical mind-set?


Reading for Today:

2 Samuel 15:1-16:23
Psalm 66:8-15
Proverbs 16:27-30
John 7:1-27


2 Samuel 15:1–6 stole the hearts. Public hearings were always conducted early in the morning in a court held outside by the city gates. Absalom positioned himself there to win favor. Because King David was busy with other matters or with wars, and was also aging, many matters were left unresolved, building a deep feeling of resentment among the people. Absalom used that situation to undermine his father, by gratifying all he could with a favorable settlement and showing them all warm cordiality. Thus, he won the people to himself, without them knowing his wicked ambition.

2 Samuel 15:10–12 Absalom formed a conspiracy, which included taking some of the leading men to create the impression that the king supported this action and was in his old age sharing the kingdom. All of this was a subtle disguise so Absalom could have freedom to plan his revolution. Absalom was able to do this against his father not merely because of his cleverness, but also because of the laxness of his father (1 Kin. 1:6).

John 7:4 to be known openly….show Yourself to the world. Jesus’ brothers wanted Him to put on a display of His miracles. Although the text does not clearly state their motivation, perhaps they made the request for two reasons: 1) they wanted to see the miracles for themselves to determine their genuineness, and 2) they may have had similar crass political motives as did the people, namely that He would become their social and political Messiah. Jerusalem’s acceptance of Him was to be the acid test for them as to whether His own family would believe in Him as Messiah.

John 7:17 If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know. Those who are fundamentally committed to doing God’s will will be guided by Him in the affirmation of His truth. God’s truth is self-authenticating through the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit (16:13; 1 John 2:20, 27).

DAY 22: How confused were the Jewish people about who Jesus was?

John 7:12–27 reflects the confusion among the people. In vv. 12,13 the crowds, made up of Judeans, Galileans, and Diaspora (scattered) Jews, expressed various opinions regarding Christ. The spectrum ranged from superficial acceptance (“He is good”) to cynical rejection (“He deceives the people”). The Jewish Talmud reveals that the latter view of deception became the predominant opinion of many Jews.

Jesus’ knowledge of Scripture was supernatural. The people “marveled” (v. 15) that someone who had never studied at any great rabbinical centers or under any great rabbis could display such profound mastery of Scripture. Both the content and manner of Jesus’ teachings were qualitatively different from those of any other teacher. And the people were surprised that, in spite of the ominous threat from the religious authorities (vv. 20, 32), Jesus boldly proclaimed His identity (v. 26).

“Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?” they asked. The question indicates the level of confusion and uncertainty as to who Jesus was and what to do about Him. They did not really have any firm convictions regarding Jesus’ identity. They were also perplexed at the religious leaders’ failure to arrest and silence Him if He really were a fraud. Such dense confusion caused the crowd to wonder if the religious authorities in private concluded that He was indeed the Christ. Mass confusion among all groups reigned regarding Jesus.

“No one knows where He is from” (v. 27). Only information regarding the Messiah’s birthplace was revealed in Scripture (Mic. 5:2; Matt. 2:5, 6). Beyond that, a tradition had developed in Jewish circles that the Messiah would appear suddenly to the people, based on a misinterpretation of Isaiah 53:8 and Malachi 3:1. In light of this, the meaning of this phrase most likely is that the identity of the Messiah would be wholly unknown until He suddenly appeared in Israel and accomplished Israel’s redemption. In contrast, Jesus had lived His life in Nazareth and was known (at least superficially) to the people (v. 28).





Rejoicing in Suffering

“But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation” (1 Peter 4:13).

We should rejoice in trials and persecutions, not for their own sake, but for the benefits that result.

The late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his classic book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, made the following careful distinction on what it means to rejoice in persecution: “The Christian is, in a sense, one who must feel his heart breaking at the effect of sin in others that makes them do this [persecute believers]. So he never rejoices in the fact of persecution as such.”

We can draw from this, then, that 1 Peter 4:13 and other verses (notably Matt. 5:11-12), while they encourage the positive attitude of rejoicing in trials, do not mean we should have a masochistic or elitist view of suffering. The joy we are to have should go beyond the pain and heartache of the suffering itself and focus on the ramifications of what God is doing in our life.

Peter begins our verse by asserting that one of those ramifications is enjoying the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings. That means we can share, for His sake, in the same kind of suffering and rejection He endured. We should be ready for such persecution whenever we share the gospel or generally identify with Him. The apostles learned this lesson soon after Jesus departed— “rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41). We will increasingly embrace such suffering as a privilege if we heed Peter’s exhortation.

The apostle goes on to give us more motivation for rejoicing. “The revelation of His glory” is a reference to Jesus’ second coming, which in itself ought to bring tremendous joy to all believers. If we have faithfully endured all the persecutions, sufferings, trials, and problems of this life, when our Lord returns we will have genuine reason to rejoice all the more. And it will be with an intense and joyous outburst that exceeds any we’ve had before (see Luke 6:22-23).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to give you the right motivation to rejoice in the midst of suffering.

For Further Study
Matthew 5:11-12 contains some of the most challenging truth in all the Bible. Commit these verses to memory, and look for opportunities in which they can become real in your experience.


Searching for Truth (Bartholomew)

The twelve apostles included "Bartholomew [Nathanael]" (Matt. 10:3).

God knows your heart and will honor your search for truth.

Despite Nathanael's prejudice, Jesus knew he was an honest, sincere, Jewish believer in whom there was no religious hypocrisy or deceit (John 1:47). He truly sought after God and looked forward to the Messiah's coming.

Most of the Jewish people of Jesus' day believed that every circumcised descendent of Abraham was a true Jew and a beneficiary of the Abrahamic covenant. But in Romans 2:28–29 Paul explains that salvation is an issue of the heart, not of national origin: "He is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart." Nathanael was such a man.

He was shocked when Jesus described him as "an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile" (John 1:47) because they had never met before. He was equally shocked when Jesus said He saw him under a fig tree because Jesus was nowhere near that tree. Nathanael immediately realized that Jesus was omniscient—He knew everything! That's why he exclaimed, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel" (v. 49). He had found the Messiah for whom he had searched so long!

The Lord's mention of the fig tree is significant. In that region, fig trees were commonly used as a source of shade and outdoor shelter. Many of the houses in Palestine had only one room, so fig trees became a place to be alone for prayer and meditation on the Scriptures. Quite possibly Nathanael was under the fig tree searching the Scriptures and communing with God when Jesus saw his open heart and his desire to find the Messiah. Jesus personally answered Nathanael's prayer.

When Jesus looks into your heart, does He see a true believer in whom there is no hypocrisy? Nathanael wasn't perfect, but he loved God and was a diligent student of the Word. The Lord did great things through him. I pray that is true of you as well.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Ask the Spirit to reveal and deal with any hypocrisy you might be harboring.
* Ask God to increase your desire and capacity to know and love Him.

For Further Study
Memorize Romans 12:1–2 as a defense against hypocrisy.


Hallowing God’s Name

“‘“Hallowed be Your name”’” (Matthew 6:9).

Scripture (1 Peter 1:16) commands believers to be holy (“hallowed”), whereas it recognizes God as being holy. So attributing to Him the holiness that already is His is how we hallow His name.

As with every other truly righteous action, hallowing God’s name must begin in the heart. Peter reminds us to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts” (1 Peter 3:15). When we do this, we also sanctify Him as Lord in our lives, as we above all affirm that He exists: “for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6).

Discovering and believing scriptural truth about God is also a way to hallow His name. Any deliberate ignorance or wrong doctrine about the Father shows gross irreverence for Him. But if we want to completely hallow His name and have full reverence for Him, we must go on to have a constant awareness of the Father’s presence. David was a great example of this: “I have set the Lord continually before me” (Ps. 16:8).

Perhaps the greatest way of all for us to hallow His name is by following His will—down to the smallest task—making it the entire goal of our lives to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31).
Furthermore, we hallow God’s name by drawing others to Him. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may … glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16; cf. Ps. 34:3).

Ask Yourself
Everything we do, think, say, and communicate is a reflection on the name of God, since we have been called by His name and wear it as our chief identity. When are you most likely to forget that you bear the name of Christ, that you carry the responsibility for doing nothing to defame or discredit it?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 9:1–10:19
* Psalm 65:1-8
* Proverbs 16:20-21
* John 6:1-21


2 Samuel 9:8 dead dog. A “dead dog” was considered contemptible and useless. Mephibosheth saw himself as such in that he knew that he had not merited David’s kindness and that there was no way for him to repay it. David’s offer was an extraordinary expression of grace and beauty to his covenant with Jonathan (1 Sam. 18:3; 20:15,42).

2 Samuel 10:4 shaved off half of their beards. Forced shaving was considered an insult and a sign of submission (Is. 7:20). cut off their garments…at their buttocks. To those who wore long garments in that time, exposure of the buttocks was a shameful practice inflicted on prisoners of war (Is. 20:4).

Proverbs 16:21 sweetness of the lips. “Honeyed words,” which reflect intelligence, judiciousness, and discernment in speech. This refers to eloquent discourse from the wise (v. 24).

John 6:19,20 Jesus walking on the sea. The Synoptics reveal that in fear and the darkness, the disciples thought Jesus was a ghost (Matt. 14:26; Mark 6:49). The Son of God, who made the world, was in control of its forces; and, in this case, He suspended the law of gravity. The act was not frivolous on Jesus’ part, for it constituted a dramatic object lesson to the disciples of Jesus’ true identity as the sovereign Lord of all creation (1:3).

Why were the crowds who followed Jesus a potential liability?
In John 6:2, it says that the multitudes followed Jesus “because they saw His signs.” The crowds followed not out of belief but out of curiosity concerning the miracles that He performed (v. 26). However, in spite of the crowd’s crass motivations, Jesus, having compassion on them, healed their sick and fed them (Matt. 13:14; Mark 6:34).
The crowd’s declaration of Jesus as “the Prophet” (v. 14) is a reference to 

Deuteronomy 18:15. Sadly, these comments, coming right after Jesus healed and fed them, indicate that the people desired a Messiah who met their physical, rather than spiritual, needs. Apparently, no recognition existed for the need of spiritual repentance and preparation for the kingdom (Matt. 4:17). They wanted an earthly, political Messiah to meet all their needs and to deliver them from Roman oppression. Their reaction typifies many who want a “Christ” that makes no demands of them (Matt. 10:34–39; 16:24–26), but of whom they can make their selfish personal requests.

Jesus “perceived that they were about to come and take Him by force to make Him king” (v. 15). John supplemented the information in Matthew and Mark by indicating that the reason Jesus dismissed the disciples and withdrew from the crowd into a mountain alone was because of His supernatural knowledge of their intention to make Him king in light of His healing and feeding of them. The crowd, incited by mob enthusiasm, was ready to proceed with crassly political intentions that would have jeopardized God’s will.


(Christian quotes)



The Necessity of Grateful Prayer

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). 

Genuine believers will react thankfully to trials and suffering.

Preventive spiritual maintenance is very important. If we are disciplined believers, we’ll practice it and prepare ourselves for any kind of trials and hardships. Then when the unexpected happens, we’ll be able to respond in a godly manner and truly appreciate what the Lord is teaching us.

The attitude expressed in today’s verse is basic and is one of the strongest antidotes to fear and lack of preparation in the face of trials. The apostle Paul affirms an attitude that allows us to call upon God for help in difficulties but does not leave room for doubt, blame, or second-guessing. Those responses reveal an absence of faith and a lack of acceptance of what God has for us.

A prayerful and grateful reaction to God’s tests in our lives, no matter how painful, unexpected, or difficult to understand at the time, results in our receiving His unsurpassed peace. A careful look at Philippians 4:6, along with verse 7—“the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”—proclaims that God’s chief concern for us is not so much specific answers to our every request, but that we know His supernatural peace. We can also glean this principle from the long series of questions Job asked God about Himself. God chose not to answer Job’s questions per se (see Job 38—41) because His purpose was simply that Job know God’s sovereignty and submit to it.

That may be His purpose for us as well. Therefore, the Lord wants us to be prepared for trials and sufferings with a faith-filled, grateful response, one that recognizes He has an ultimate purpose for us (1 Peter 5:10) and remembers His promise that we will receive no trial or temptation we can’t bear (1 Cor. 10:13).

Suggestions for Prayer
* Ask God to help you stay faithful in your reading and study of Scripture so that the preventive maintenance of your soul will be strong.
* Thank the Lord for His peace that is available even in the most difficult circumstances.
* Praise Him for a specific time when that peace was especially comforting to you.

For Further Study
Read Ephesians 2:14-15; 6:15; and 1 Thessalonians 5:23. What important components characterize peace?


Speaking the Truth in Love (John)

The twelve apostles included "John" (Matt. 10:2).

Seek to maintain a proper balance between truth and love.

Some people picture John as overly sentimental and egotistical, lying with his head on Jesus' shoulder and constantly referring to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved. But that's not an accurate characterization of one of the "Son of thunder"! He loved Jesus deeply and was amazed that Jesus loved him—especially after he wanted to burn up the Samaritans and then secure a prominent place for himself in Christ's kingdom. Calling himself "the disciple whom Jesus loved" (e.g., John 21:20) was simply his way of marvelling over God's grace in his life.

As much as he loved Jesus, John never allowed his love to deteriorate into mere sentimentalism. In fact, the proper balance between truth and love is the hallmark of his ministry. In his writings we find the word love more than eighty times and witness nearly seventy times. His profound love for Christ compelled him to be a teacher of love and a witness to the truth. To him, obedience to the truth was the highest expression of love. As 1 John 2:5 says, "Whoever keeps [God's] word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected."

John's greatest joy was to know that his spiritual children were walking in the truth (3 John 4). He firmly denounced anyone who attempted to divert them from that goal by denying or distorting God's Word.

Today, media talk shows and other influences have blurred the lines between opinion and truth. One man's opinion is purported to be as good as the next, and there's little talk about what's right or wrong.

Truth suffers even within the church because many Christians are willing to compromise it to avoid upsetting people. They forget that true love flourishes only in the atmosphere of biblical truth (Phil. 1:9).

Amid such confusion, God calls you to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). The world doesn't need another opinion—it needs God's absolute and authoritative Word!
Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the gift of His love and the power of His truth. Ask Him to make you a person of ever-increasing biblical integrity.

For Further Study
Read Revelation 2:1-7.
* What strengths did the church at Ephesus have?
* What did it lack?
* What did Jesus require of it?


The Lord’s Prayer: An Overview, Part 1

“‘Pray, then, in this way: “Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]” For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions’” (Matthew 6:9–15).

In the words of this passage, Jesus provides a concise but comprehensive model outline of genuine prayer. First our Lord addresses God’s glory (vv. 9–10), then He speaks to humanity’s needs (vv. 11–13a). Three petitions make up each of the sections. The first three deal with God’s name, kingdom, and will; the second three appeal to the Father concerning daily bread, forgiveness, and protection from temptation.

Jesus says nothing specific about where we should pray. During His earthly ministry, He prayed in many different places and situations, both public and private. Paul instructed his readers to pray “in every place” (1 Tim. 2:8).

There is also nothing specific about a time to pray. Jesus prayed at many different hours, around the clock. Scripture pictures believers praying at every conceivable occasion—at regular, habitual prayer times; at times of special danger and special blessing; before and after meals; and when arriving at or leaving a certain location.
At any time and under any circumstance, prayer is appropriate. It should be a continual, comprehensive way of life—an open communion with God (Eph. 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17).

Ask Yourself
As we embark on several days of devotional discussion concerning the Lord’s Prayer, try to articulate what this passage has meant to you through the years. What is in this pattern of prayer that has ministered to you in deep, unforgettable ways?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 1:1–2:32
* Psalm 62:1-4
* Proverbs 16:10-12
* John 4:1-30

2 Samuel 1:19 The beauty of Israel. Literally, the gazelle or antelope of Israel, the chosen symbol of youthful elegance and symmetry, most likely referring to Jonathan. Thus, the song began and ended with Saul’s noble son (vv. 25,26). high places. These were open-air worship sites generally established at high elevations. In this case, the high place was Mt. Gilboa, where Saul had died. How the mighty have fallen! They were not only Israel’s slain “beauty,” but Saul and Jonathan were mighty men who had fallen in battle. This phrase is repeated as a refrain in vv. 25 and 27.

2 Samuel 2:4 anointed David king. David had already been privately anointed king by Samuel (1 Sam. 16:3). This anointing recognized his rule in the southern area of Judah. Later he would be anointed as king over all Israel (2 Sam.5:3).men of Jabesh Gilead. Jabesh, a city of Israel east of the Jordan, demonstrated its loyalty to Saul by giving him a proper burial (1 Sam. 31:11–13).

John 4:4 Samaria. When the nation of Israel split politically after Solomon’s rule, King Omri named the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel “Samaria” (1 Kin. 16:24). The name eventually referred to the entire district and sometimes to the entire northern kingdom, which had been taken captive (capital, Samaria) by Assyria in 722 B.C. (2 Kin. 17:1–6). While Assyria led most of the populace of the 10 northern tribes away (into the region which today is northern Iraq), it left a sizable population of Jews in the northern Samaritan region and transported many non-Jews into Samaria. 

These groups intermingled to form a mixed race through intermarriage. Eventually tension developed between the Jews who returned from captivity and the Samaritans. The Samaritans withdrew from the worship of Yahweh at Jerusalem and established their worship at Mt. Gerizim in Samaria (vv. 20–22). Samaritans regarded only the Pentateuch as authoritative. As a result of this history, Jews repudiated Samaritans and considered them heretical. Intense ethnic and cultural tensions raged historically between the two groups so that both avoided contact as much as possible (v. 9; Ezra 4:1–24; Neh. 4:1–6; Luke 10:25–37).

John 4:10 living water. The Old Testament is the background for this term, which has important metaphorical significance. In Jeremiah 2:13, Yahweh decries the disobedient Jews for rejecting Him, the “fountain of living waters.” The Old Testament prophets looked forward to a time when “living waters shall flow from Jerusalem” (Zech. 14:8; Ezek. 47:9). The Old Testament metaphor spoke of the knowledge of God and His grace which provides cleansing, spiritual life, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit (Is. 1:16–18; 12:3; 44:3; Ezek. 36:25–27). John applies these themes to Jesus Christ as the living water which is symbolic of eternal life mediated by the Holy Spirit from Him (v. 14; 6:35; 7:37–39). Jesus used the woman’s need for physical water to sustain life in this arid region in order to serve as an object lesson for her need for spiritual transformation.

What aspect of worship toward God is absolutely essential?
In His conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4:24, Jesus reminded her that “God is Spirit.” This verse represents the classical statement on the nature of God as Spirit. The phrase means that God is invisible (Col. 1:15; 1 Tim. 1:17; Heb. 11:27) as opposed to the physical or material nature of man (1:18; 3:6).The word order of this phrase puts an emphasis on “Spirit,” and the statement is essentially emphatic. Man could never comprehend the invisible God unless He revealed Himself, as He did in Scripture and the Incarnation. 

“Must worship.” Jesus is not speaking of a desirable element in worship but that which is absolutely necessary. “In spirit and truth.” The word “spirit” does not refer to the Holy Spirit but to the human spirit. Jesus’ point here is that a person must worship not simply by external conformity to religious rituals and places (outwardly) but inwardly (“in spirit”) with the proper heart attitude. The reference to “truth” refers to worship of God consistent with the revealed Scripture and centered on the “Word made flesh” who ultimately revealed His Father (14:6).

The Samaritans also anticipated Messiah’s coming. The Samaritan woman responded, pushing toward the future.“ I who speak to you am He”—Jesus forthrightly declared Himself to be Messiah, though His habit was to avoid such declarations to His own Jewish people, who had such crassly political and militaristic views regarding Messiah (10:24;Mark 9:41).The “He” in this translation is not in the original Greek for Jesus literally said “I who speak to you am.” The usage of “I am” is reminiscent of 8:58. This claim constitutes the main point of the story regarding the Samaritan woman, upon which all worship is centered.




Reassurance in the Midst of Trials

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

We can be certain of God’s love for us, no matter how unexpected or difficult any trial might be.

Reassuring words are vital as we strive to deal in a godly fashion with trials and sufferings in our Christian lives. In today’s verse, Peter opens with a pastoral term (“beloved”) that conveys tenderness, love, and concern for his audience. It reinforces in a single word the concepts of fervent love for one another and love that covers sin (1 Peter 4:8). Such love is a welcome reality to lean on whenever anyone is undergoing suffering or persecution.

Trials can easily tempt us to be discouraged and doubt God’s love. That likely was happening to believers in Peter’s time. For example, the emperor Nero coated many, including children, in pitch and used them as human torches. With such cruel persecution going on, we can see why Peter wrote to fellow Christians—which includes us—to reassure them of God’s love.

Peter’s expression “fiery ordeal,” which can refer to many different types of difficulties, provides reassurance that troubles and trials come for a purpose. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, “fiery” referred to a smelting furnace that refined metals of their foreign, unwanted elements. That process is pictured in verses such as Psalm 66:10, “For Thou hast tried us, O God; Thou hast refined us as silver is refined.” So “fiery ordeal” represents the various sufferings God allows in our lives to purify us.

Peter closes by assuring us that trials are not out of the ordinary, or “some strange thing.” We should not be surprised at them as if each was some bizarre occurrence, coming at us simply by chance. Trials, therefore, should be seen as part of life. They might catch us off guard at first, but we can confidently deal with them, knowing that God’s loving care for us never fails.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank the Lord that no trial, no matter how unusual it seems at first, needs to catch you by surprise.

For Further Study
* Jesus taught the disciples about the inevitability of sufferings, trials, and disappointments. What warnings did He give in John 15—16?
* What major resource did He promise?


Avoiding Prejudice (Bartholomew)

The twelve apostles included "Bartholomew [Nathanael]" (Matt. 10:3).

Prejudice can destroy relationships and prevent people from coming to Christ.

Prejudice is an uncalled-for generalization based on feelings of superiority. It is an ugly sin that has fueled hatred and conflicts for centuries, dividing entire nations and bringing untold misery. But prejudice is most damning when it blinds people to God's Word. The prophet Jonah was so prejudiced against the Assyrians, he refused to go to Nineveh to preach to them. Even after God convinced him to obey, he wanted to die because the people of Nineveh had repented and God had spared them.

Prejudice also reared its ugly head in Nathanael, whose last name was Bartholomew (meaning "son of Tolmai"). John 1:45-46 says, "Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." And Nathanael said to him, 'Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?'" Nathanael was a student of the Word and was looking for the Messiah, but he couldn't understand how Messiah could come from Nazareth.

Nazareth lay on the fringes of the Jewish world—the last stop before Gentile territory. Perhaps the people of Cana, Nathanael's hometown, were more refined and educated than the people of Nazareth. Whatever the cause, Nathanael's perspective seemed to be that nothing but trouble could come out of Nazareth.

Prejudice has blinded many people to the gospel. The Jewish religious leaders rejected Jesus because He didn't fit their idea of a Messiah, wasn't from Jerusalem, and wasn't trained in their synagogues. Fortunately Nathanael's desire for truth overpowered his prejudice and he came to Jesus.

Perhaps you have family or friends who are resisting the gospel because of prejudice. If so, don't be discouraged and don't give up! Jesus broke through Nathanael's prejudice and redeemed him, and He has done the same for millions of others.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Pray for those you know who are blinded by prejudice, asking God to open their spiritual eyes to His truth.
* Confess any prejudice you might have in your own heart.

For Further Study
Practicing unity and humility is the best way to overcome prejudice within the Body of Christ. Read Ephesians 4:1-6 and Philippians 2:1-8.
* What attitudes did Paul encourage? Discourage?
* Who is the example we're to follow of humble service on behalf of others?


Value and Importance of Knowing the Father

Knowing God as our Father carries with it a definite list of spiritual privileges and benefits. First, it means we need not fear, as pagans do before their false gods or unbelievers do in their agnosticism.

Second, real knowledge of God resolves uncertainties and gives us hope. A good earthly father does what it takes to protect and provide for his children; so our heavenly Father does much more to love and sustain His children (cf. Matt. 7:11; John 10:29; 14:21).

Third, knowing the Father alleviates loneliness. Family, friends, and even other believers may reject us, but we can be sure that God never will (John 14:21; cf. Ps. 68:5–6).

Fourth, knowing God as Father settles the issue of selfishness. Jesus used the plural possessive pronoun in reference to God because we share His fatherhood with millions of other Christians. Thus we ought to pray for others, not just ourselves.
Fifth, genuine knowledge of the Father means all His heavenly resources are available to us (Eph. 1:3).
Finally, this comprehension settles the issue of obedience. If Jesus in His incarnation did only His Father’s will (John 6:38), we as adopted spiritual children must also do only God’s will. This proves our relationship to Him (Matt. 12:50). Yet God in His grace still loves His children who disobey (cf. Luke 15:11–24).

Being our Father reveals God’s willingness to lend His ear, power, and blessings to His children, for their best and His glory.

Ask Yourself
Which of these six benefits of God’s Fatherhood struck you as most comforting and compelling today? What needs in your life does this particular blessing of God meet? And how does it do so in ways that no person could ever accomplish?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 7:1–8:18
* Psalm 64:1-10
* Proverbs 16:18-19
* John 5:24-47

2 Samuel 7:14 his Father…My son. These words are directly related to Jesus the Messiah in Hebrews 1:5. In Semitic thought, since the son had the full character of the father, the future seed of David would have the same essence of God. That Jesus Christ was God incarnate is the central theme of John’s Gospel. If he commits iniquity. As a human father disciplines his sons, so the Lord would discipline the seed, if he committed iniquity. 

This has reference to the intermediary seed until Messiah’s arrival (any king of David’s line from Solomon on). However, the ultimate Seed of David will not be a sinner like David and his descendants were, as recorded in Samuel and Kings (see 2 Cor. 5:21). Significantly, Chronicles, focusing more directly on the Messiah, does not include this statement in its record of Nathan’s words (1 Chr. 17:13).

2 Samuel 7:16 your house…your kingdom…Your throne. Luke 1:32b,33 indicates that these 3 terms are fulfilled in Jesus, “…and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” forever. This word conveys the idea of 1) an indeterminately long time or 2) into eternity future. It does not mean that there cannot be interruptions, but rather that the outcome is guaranteed. Christ’s Davidic reign will conclude human history.

Psalm 64:1 Preserve…from fear. This word for “fear” means “dread” and is a different Hebrew word than the “fear” in verses 4 and 9. The psalmist recognized that the fear of an enemy can be as destructive as an actual assault.
John 5:36 the very works that I do. See 10:25. The miracles of Jesus were witness to His deity and messiahship. Such miracles are the major signs recorded by John in this Gospel, so as to fulfill His purpose in 20:30,31.

John 5:39 You search. Although the verb “search” could also be understood as a command (i.e., “Search the Scriptures!”), most prefer this translation as an indicative. The verb implies diligent scrutiny in investigating the Scriptures to find “eternal life.” However, Jesus points out that with all their fastidious effort, they miserably failed in their understanding of the true way to eternal life through the Son of God. testify of Me. See v. 45. Christ is the main theme of Scripture.

DAY 18: What was the Davidic Covenant?
Second Samuel 7:1–17 record the establishment of the Davidic Covenant, God’s unconditional promise to David and his posterity. While not called a covenant here, it is later (23:5). This promise is an important key to understanding God’s irrevocable pledge of a king from the line of David to rule forever (v. 16). It has been estimated that over 40 individual biblical passages are directly related to these verses (see Pss. 89; 110; 132); thus, this text is a major highlight in the Old Testament. 

The ultimate fulfillment comes at Christ’s Second Advent when He sets up His millennial kingdom on earth (see Ezek. 37; Zech. 14; Rev. 19).This is the fourth of 5 irrevocable, unconditional covenants made by God. The first 3 include: 1) the Noahic Covenant (Gen. 9:8–17); 2) the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15:12–21); and 3) the Levitic or Priestly Covenant (Num. 3:1–18; 18:1–20; 25:10–13). The New Covenant, which actually provided redemption, was revealed later through Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31–34) and accomplished by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Specifically, 2 Samuel 7:8–16 state the promises the Lord gave to David. Verses 8–11a give the promises to be realized during David’s lifetime. Verses 11b–16 state the promises that would be fulfilled after David’s death. During David’s lifetime, the Lord: 1) gave David “a great name”; 2) appointed a place for Israel; and 3) gave David “rest” from all his enemies.After David’s death, the Lord gave David: 1) a son to sit on his national throne, whom the Lord would oversee as a father with necessary chastening, discipline, and mercy (Solomon); and 2) a Son who would rule a kingdom that will be established forever (Messiah). This prophecy referred in its immediacy to Solomon and to the temporal kingdom of David’s family in the land. But in a larger and more sublime sense, it refers to David’s greater Son of another nature, Jesus Christ (Heb. 1:8).




Satan's Role in Our Trials

“Your adversary, the devil, prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” (1 Peter 5:8-9).

All of Satan’s involvement in our sufferings and trials is under God’s control, which means our success against him is also in God’s sovereign hands.

During the past twenty-five years, there has been a tremendous upsurge of interest in the occult, Satan worship, and evil supernatural influences. Such unwise fascination has had an impact on the church and led to an overemphasis on spiritual warfare in some circles. But such unbiblical emphases give us an unbalanced perspective on the role Satan plays in our trials and persecutions.

On the other hand, 1 Peter 5:8-9 places Satan’s activities in the proper context. Peter urges us to watch our surroundings and be alert to possible temptations. But as we do, we can be encouraged that Jesus Christ has already defeated Satan, and therefore the evil one can have no long-term victories in our lives (1 John 4:4).

Peter goes on to admonish us that we need to resist Satan, which simply means we must “stand up against” him with our spiritual feet solidly planted on the objective truth of the Word (see also James 4:7). The Devil is a liar and a deceiver, and the surest way to deflect his onslaughts is with the infallible, revealed truth of Scripture.
In the biblical accounts of Satan’s participation in the trials, persecutions, or sufferings of God’s servants, God is always the one in control (see Job 1:1—2:8; Matt. 4:1-11). 

Therefore, our responsibility as we prepare for possible satanic attacks is to recall that our own grand strategies of spiritual warfare, however relentless and innovative they might be, will not provide the vigilance Peter speaks of. Paul gives us a further example of the right kind of preparation when he describes the essence of spiritual warfare as “taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). If we heed the implications of those words, there’s really nothing else we need to have or do in combating the Devil. 

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to give you a biblical, balanced approach to dealing with Satan and his many subtle temptations.

For Further Study
Read Mark 9:14-29.
* What does this passage affirm about Jesus’ authority?
* What basic lesson did the disciples need to be reminded of?


Overcoming Pessimism (Philip)

The twelve apostles included "Philip" (Matt. 10:3).

Pessimism will blind you to the sufficiency of God’s resources.

It's been said that an optimist sees a glass half full; a pessimist sees it half empty. An optimist sees opportunities; a pessimist sees obstacles. In one sense Philip was an optimist. He recognized Jesus as the Messiah and immediately saw an opportunity to share his discovery with Nathanael. In another sense, Philip was a pessimist because on occasions he failed to see what Christ could accomplish despite the apparent obstacles.

On one such occasion Jesus had just finished teaching and healing a crowd of thousands of people. Night was falling and the people were beginning to get hungry. Apparently Philip was responsible for the food, so Jesus asked him, "Where are we to buy bread, that these may eat?" (John 6:5). Philip said, "Two hundred denarii worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little" (v. 7). In other words, "We don't have enough resources in our whole savings account to buy enough food for a group this size!" Philip's calculating, pragmatic, pessimistic mind could reach only one conclusion: this is an utter impossibility.

Jesus knew all along how He was going to solve the problem, but He wanted to test Philip's faith (v. 6). Philip should have passed the test because he had already seen Jesus create wine from water at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Despite Philip's failure, Jesus didn't give up on him. Instead, from five barley loaves and two fish He created enough food to feed the entire crowd, thus replacing Philip's pessimism with a reaffirmation of divine sufficiency.

There's a little of Philip in each of us. We've experienced God's saving power and have seen Him answer prayer, yet there are times when we let pessimism rob us of the joy of seeing Him work through obstacles in our lives. Don't let that happen to you. Keep your eyes on Christ and trust in His sufficiency. He will never fail you!

Suggestions for Prayer
Memorize Ephesians 3:20-21. Recite it often as a hymn of praise and an affirmation of your faith in God.

For Further Study
Read Numbers 13 and 14.
* What kind of report did the pessimistic spies bring back from the Promised Land?
* How did the people react to their report?
* How did God react to their report?


Knowing God as Father

“‘“Our Father who is in heaven . . .”’” (Matthew 6:9).

Only those who have come to God through Christ can call God “Father.” He is the Father of unbelievers only in that He created them (cf. Mal. 2:10; Acts 17:28). It is only those who trust Jesus who have “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12; cf. Rom. 8:14; Gal. 3:26).

In the Old Testament, faithful Jews saw God as the Father of Israel, the nation He elected as His special people. Isaiah proclaimed, “You, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is Your name” (Isa. 63:16b; cf. Ex. 4:22; Jer. 31:9). Many of them even saw God in an intimate way as their spiritual Father and Savior (Pss. 89:26; 103:13).

But because of their disobedience toward God’s commands and their embracing of false gods around them, most Jews of Jesus’ time had lost the true sense of God’s fatherhood and viewed Him as only the remote Deity of their ancestors.

These six words at the beginning of the Disciples’ Prayer reaffirm that God is the Father of all who trust in Him. Jesus Himself used the title “Father” in all His recorded prayers except one (Matt. 27:46). Although the text here uses the more formal Greek pate–r for Father, Jesus likely used the Aramaic abba when He spoke these words. Abba has a more personal connotation (cf. Mark 14:36; Rom. 8:15), equivalent to the English “daddy.”

Because saints belong to Jesus the Son, they can come to God the Father (“Daddy”) as His beloved children.

Ask Yourself
Certainly in our decadent day and age, many are increasingly growing up in homes where “father” is a person to be feared, a person who rejects, a person who demeans and devalues. How does God’s identity as “Father” fill the holes left by even well-meaning dads who fall short of what their role requires?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 5:1–6:23
* Psalm 63:1-11
* Proverbs 16:16-17
* John 5:1-23

2 Samuel 5:1,2 all the tribes of Israel. The term “all” is used 3 times (vv. 1,3,5) to emphasize that the kingdom established under King David was truly a united monarchy. The “elders” of Israel (v. 3), representing the “tribes” (v. 1), came to David at Hebron with the express purpose of submitting to his rule. Three reasons were given by the Israelites for wanting to make David king: 1) he was an Israelite brother (Deut. 17:15); 2) he was Israel’s best warrior and commander; and 3) he had been chosen by the Lord to be the king of Israel.

Psalm 63:1 Early will I seek You. Eagerness to be with the Lord in every situation is more in view than the time of day. My soul thirsts. David longs for God’s presence like a wanderer in a desert longs for water. In a dry and thirsty land. David writes this psalm while hiding in the wilderness of Judea, but longing to be back worshiping in Jerusalem.

John 5:10,11 The Old Testament had forbidden work on the Sabbath but did not stipulate what “work” was specifically indicated (Ex. 20:8–11). The assumption in Scripture seems to be that “work” was one’s customary employment, but rabbinical opinion had developed oral tradition beyond the Old Testament which stipulated 39 activities forbidden (Mishnah Shabbath 7:2; 10:5), including carrying anything from one domain to another. Thus, the man had broken oral tradition, not Old Testament law.

John 5:14 Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you. The basic thrust of Jesus’ comments here indicates that sin has its inevitable consequences (Gal. 6:7,8). Although Scripture makes clear that not all disease is a consequence of sin (9:1–3; Luke 13:1–5), illness at times may be directly tied into one’s moral turpitude (1 Cor. 11:29,30; James 5:15). Jesus may specifically have chosen this man in order to highlight this point.

DAY 17: Why did Jesus not back down to religious hypocrisy?
A careful reading of John 5:17–47 reveals the ultimate reason Jesus confronted the Jews’ religious hypocrisy, i.e., the opportunity to declare who He was. This section is Christ’s own personal statement of His deity. As such, it is one of the greatest Christological discourses in Scripture. Herein Jesus makes 5 claims to equality with God: 1) He is equal with God in His person (vv. 17,18); 2) He is equal with God in His works (vv. 19,20); 3) He is equal with God in His power and sovereignty (v. 21); 4) He is equal with God in His judgment (v. 22); and 5) He is equal with God in His honor (v. 23).

In v. 17, Jesus’ point is that whether He broke the Sabbath or not, God was working continuously and, since Jesus Himself worked continuously, He also must be God. Furthermore, God does not need a day of rest for He never wearies (Is. 40:28). For Jesus’ self-defense to be valid, the same factors that apply to God must also apply to Him. 

Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath! (Matt. 12:8). Interestingly, even the rabbis admitted that God’s work had not ceased after the Sabbath because He sustains the universe.
In response to Jewish hostility at the implications of His assertions of equality with God (v. 18), Jesus became even more fearless, forceful, and emphatic.“ Most assuredly”(v. 19) is an emphatic way of saying “I’m telling you the truth.” Jesus essentially tied His activities of healing on the Sabbath directly to the Father. The Son never took independent action that set Him against the Father because the Son only did those things that were coincident with and coextensive with all that the Father does. Jesus thus implied that the only One who could do what the Father does must be as great as the Father.




Confidence in God's Providence

“We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We will be better prepared for what God teaches us through trials if we have a basic understanding of His providence.

I believe it is vital that all Christians have an essential awareness of God’s providence if they want to be fully prepared to cope with life’s adversity. Providence is how He orchestrates, through natural means and processes, all things necessary to accomplish His purposes in the world. It is the most frequent way He works and controls the daily course of human events. The only other means the Lord uses to intervene in the flow of history is miracles.

But He does not perform miracles in the same way now as He did during the days of Christ, the apostles, and the prophets. However, God has continuously used providence from eternity past to coordinate the infinite variety of factors necessary to accomplish His perfect purpose.

Think about it. The vast scope and endless outworking of divine providence, in which God draws together millions of details and circumstances to achieve His will each day, is a far greater miracle than the relatively uncomplicated, one-time supernatural occurrences that we usually term miracles. Belief in God’s providence is, therefore, one of the greatest exercises of faith we can have and a major contributor to our general preparedness and peace of mind as we encounter trials and hardships.

Paul trusted wholeheartedly in the providence of God, no matter how easy or challenging life was (Phil. 4:11). Joseph the patriarch stated his confidence in providence this way: “You [his brothers] meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen. 50:20). Until we come to a similar acceptance of God’s providential control of everything, we will not fully realize the rich lessons He wants to teach us through trials, and we will not be able to apply the truth of Romans 8:28.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank the Lord that His providence is always at work for your benefit. If this concept is new to you, ask Him to help you understand it better through His Word.

For Further Study
* Read more about Joseph in Genesis 39—50. Jot down some of his positive character traits.
* What events in the narrative were possible only because of providence?


Friendship Evangelism (Philip)

The twelve apostles included "Philip" (Matt. 10:3).

Friendships can provide the most fertile soil for evangelism.

Philip was probably a fisherman and acquainted with Peter, Andrew, James, John, Nathanael, and Thomas prior to their all becoming disciples. We first meet him in John 1:43-46, which says, "The next day [after Jesus encountered Peter and Andrew], He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip, and Jesus said to him, 'Follow Me.' Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, 'We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. . . . Come and see.'"

Those brief verses reveal two things about Philip. First, he had a seeking heart. Apparently he and Nathanael had studied the Scriptures in anticipation of the Messiah's coming. When Jesus said, "Follow Me," Philip was ready. Jeremiah 29:13 describes such a person: "You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart."

Second, he had the heart of an evangelist. The first thing he did after his own conversion was to lead Nathanael to Christ. Imagine his joy as he told his friend about the One for whom they had searched so long. 

I believe friendships usually provide the best context for evangelism because you're introducing Christ into an already established relationship of love, trust, and mutual respect. After all, it's only natural to share the joy of your salvation with someone you love.

I pray that your joy overflows to those around you and that they are drawn to Christ because of your testimony.

Suggestions for Prayer
Do you have unsaved friends? If so, be faithful in praying for their salvation and asking the Lord to use you as an instrument of His grace. If not, ask the Lord to bring unsaved people into your life so you can tell them about Christ.

For Further Study
The Samaritan woman Jesus met at Jacob's well spoke of Him not only to her friends, but also to the entire city. Read John 4:1-42.
* What analogy did Jesus use in presenting the gospel to her?
* How did Jesus describe true worshipers?
* What was the reaction of the city people to the woman's testimony?


The Lord’s Prayer: An Overview, Part 2

“‘Pray, then, in this way’” (Matthew 6:9).

Over the years people have had misunderstandings about the Lord’s Prayer (more accurately, the Disciples’ Prayer) that need correcting. First, Jesus’ words were not meant to be repeated as a formal prayer. The disciples had asked Him how to pray, not what to pray. And He hardly would have given them a prayer to recite after He had just warned against “meaningless repetition” (v. 7).

Second, people often don’t realize that Jesus’ teaching here is simply a skeleton or pattern for prayer. As believers, we are to flesh out the skeleton with our own words of worship, praise, and intercession as we come to the Father.

Third, people have seldom realized how versatile Jesus’ pattern for prayer is. Each phrase reflects the relationship between Creator and creature, and each one demonstrates an attitude and spirit of prayer. Similarly, we can variously outline it to show God’s glory versus our need, the threefold purpose of prayer (hallow His name, usher in His kingdom, and do His will), or to present our concerns from a past, present, and future standpoint.

We can see God’s overall purpose in prayer throughout the Lord’s Prayer. The primary focus is on God, which includes our adoration of Him, His worthiness, and His glory. From this model we see that prayer is not so much our asking to meet our own needs and wants, but our affirming God’s sovereignty, holiness, and majesty, and conforming our desires and purposes to His will.

Ask Yourself
What have people forfeited the most by viewing this prayer primarily as a rote, methodical, unthinking recitation before God? Does this argue against stating it in unison at church or in other religious gatherings? Or is there value in quoting it together—as long as our hearts are attuned to its meanings?


Reading for Today:
* 2 Samuel 3:1–4:12
* Psalm 62:5-12
* Proverbs 16:13-15
* John 4:31-54

2 Samuel 3:25 Abner…came to deceive you. It is ironic that Joab accused Abner of deception in spying on David in v. 25 when in v. 26 he deceived David by not telling him of his request to have Abner returned to Hebron. Joab used this deception to slay Abner out of personal vengeance for the death of his brother Asahel (v. 27; 2:19–23).
2 Samuel 4:4 Mephibosheth. He may be introduced here to demonstrate that his youth and physical handicap disqualified him from being considered for ruling Israel. He would have been only 12 years old at the time of Ishbosheth’s death. For the history of this man, see 9:6–13; 16:1–4; 19:24–30; 21:7.

Proverbs 16:15 cloud of the latter rain. The late spring rain, which matured the crop, fell before the harvest (2 Sam. 23:3,4; Ps. 72:6) and is here compared to the king’s power to grace his subjects with encouragement.

John 4:44 prophet has no honor in his own country. This proverb (also in Matt. 13:57;Mark 6:4) contrasts the believing response of the Samaritans (v. 39) with the characteristic unbelief of Jesus’ own people in Galilee (and Judea) whose reticent faith depended so much on Jesus’ performance of miracles (v. 48). While in Samaria, Jesus had enjoyed His first unqualified and unopposed success. His own people’s hearts were not open to Him, but exhibited reluctance and hardness.

John 4:48 Unless you people see signs and wonders. The “you” is plural. Jesus addresses these words to the Galileans as a whole and not just to the nobleman (vv. 45,46). The response of the Galileans was fundamentally flawed because it disregarded the person of Christ and centered in the need for a constant display of miraculous signs. Such an attitude represents the deepest state of unbelief.

DAY 16: What is a believer’s role in the evangelism of the world?
In the context of the Samaritan woman and village coming to faith in Christ, Jesus spoke of the harvest and the need for workers in John 4:35. Jesus used the fact that they were surrounded by crops growing in the field and waiting to be harvested as an object lesson to illustrate His urgency about reaching the lost, which the “harvest” symbolized. The event probably happened in December or January, which was 4 months before the normal spring harvest (mid-April). Crops were planted in November, and by December or January the grain would be sprouting up in vibrant green color. Jesus points out the Samaritan woman and people of Sychar (“lift up your eyes”) who were at that moment coming upon the scene (v. 30) looking like a ripened “harvest” that urgently need to be “gathered,” i.e., evangelized.“ Already white for harvest.” Their white clothing seen above the growing grain may have looked like white heads on the stalks, an indication of readiness for harvest. Jesus knew the hearts of all (2:24), so was able to state their readiness for salvation (vv. 39–41).

This episode represents the first instance of cross-cultural evangelism (Acts 1:8). In vv. 36–38, the Lord’s call to His disciples to do the work of evangelism both then and now contains promises of reward (“wages”), fruit that brings eternal joy (v. 36), and the mutual partnership of shared privilege (vv. 37,38).

When He talked with the Samaritan woman, Jesus was performing the will of the Father and thereby received greater sustenance and satisfaction than any mere physical food could offer Him (v. 34). Obedience to and dependence upon God’s will summed up Jesus’ whole life (Eph. 5:17). Certainly, the same is true for any follower of Christ.





Being Prepared for the Worst of Trials

“‘And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock’” (Matthew 7:25).

Faithfulness in discipleship will mean we are prepared for the worst possible adversity and trial.

People are often unprepared for life’s unexpected upheavals. This was vividly illustrated by the once-in-500-year floods that struck the Northern Plains of the United States in the spring of 1997. One community on the Red River in North Dakota was especially devastated by the surprising events.

After working diligently for days to fortify levees against the swelling river, people in Grand Forks were hopeful. But one early morning in mid-April 1997, the relentless Red River broke through the earthen and sandbag flood barriers and inundated the entire town of 50,000. Few deaths or serious injuries occurred, but practically the entire population had to abandon homes and property to the muddy waters. It was one of the largest mass evacuations in the history of American disasters, and it will take many months, even years,before Grand Forks and surrounding towns can repair all the flood damage.

For believers, facing such an utterly unexpected trial can help them learn to grow closer to the Lord. And they can prepare themselves by resting in the truth of the prophet’s words: “The steadfast of mind Thou wilt keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in Thee. Trust in the Lord forever, for in God the Lord, we have an everlasting Rock” (Isa. 26:3-4).

Jesus emphasized the need for total self-denial by His followers and complete preparedness to face any challenge, even death (Matt. 10:38-39). If we are living daily as His disciples, no trial will catch us totally unprepared. We might be temporarily surprised and feel inadequate initially, but we won’t remain that way. We already know from our studies this month that a sovereign God has the right to bring certain trials and tribulations into our lives, and He is also more than able to give us every resource we need to endure (Phil. 4:11-13; 1 Peter 5:6-7).

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the strength and wisdom He gives through His Word so that you may be prepared for whatever trial He sends.

For Further Study
* Read 1 Peter 5:6-11, and spend some extra time meditating on or memorizing one or two of the verses.
* Write down one key thought that relates to being spiritually prepared for trials.


Tempering Zeal with Sensitivity (James, Son of Zebedee)

The twelve apostles included "James the son of Zebedee" (Matt. 10:2).

Zeal without sensitivity can destroy your life and ministry.

There's the story of a Norwegian pastor whose motto was "All or nothing!" His life and preaching were stern, strong, powerful, uncompromising, and utterly insensitive. 

Reportedly the people in his church didn't care much for him because he didn't care much for them. In his zeal and ambition to advance the kingdom and uphold God's standard, he neglected everything else—including his own family.

One day his little daughter became so ill the doctor warned him that if he didn't move her out of the cold Norwegian air to a warmer climate, she would die. He refused, telling the doctor, "All or nothing!" Soon his little girl died. His wife was so grief-stricken she would sit for hours holding her daughter's garments close to her heart, trying somehow to ease her pain.

When the pastor saw what his wife was doing, he gave away the clothes to a poor woman in the street. All that remained was a little bonnet, which his wife had hidden so she would have some reminder of her precious daughter. When the pastor found it, he gave that away too, lecturing his wife on giving "all or nothing." Within a few months, she too died—of grief.

Now that's an extreme example of insensitive zeal, yet there are many pastors, evangelists, and other Christian workers who are so zealous for the Lord and so task- oriented, they don't see the pain their own families and congregations are suffering.
James could have been like that if he hadn't yielded his life to Christ. He began as a zealous and insensitive disciple but God refined his character and used him in a marvelous way.

Examine your own ministries and motives. Are you sensitive to your family and the people you serve with? Zeal can be a wonderful quality but it must be tempered with love and sensitivity.

Suggestions for Prayer
If you have been insensitive to those around you, confess that to them and ask the Lord to give you a greater sensitivity from now on.

For Further Study
Eli the priest was negligent and insensitive to his family. Read 1 Samuel 3:1—4:18.
* What did the Lord tell Samuel concerning Eli?
* What was the outcome of Israel's battles with the Philistines?
* How did Eli and his sons die?


Sincere Prayer Requests

“‘So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him’” (Matthew 6:8).

We do not have to badger or cajole God to ensure that He will hear and answer our prayers or to convince Him that our requests are sincere. Prayer is more for our benefit than God’s, as Luther said, “By our praying … we are instructing ourselves more than we are him.” Our prayers, no matter how eloquent or earnest, can never really inform or persuade God. Our responsibility and privilege is simply to approach Him with sincerity, purpose, and true devotion.

We can share with God all manner of needs, burdens, and heartfelt concerns, even though He already knows everything that’s on our hearts and minds. God delights to hear us and commune with us more than we ever delight to commune with Him. He loved us first and with a greater intensity than we could ever love Him. Our sincere prayer requests allow God the opportunity to more fully reveal all His wonderful attributes to us (cf. John 14:13).

The great evangelist D. L. Moody once felt so filled up and overwhelmed with God’s blessings that he reportedly prayed, “God, stop.” Potentially, every faithful believer today could have Moody’s response to God’s goodness. The Lord answers us in better ways than we want or expect—but He always answers.

Ask Yourself
The fact that God “knows what you need before you ask Him” can easily be construed into a rationalization for praying less. What is it about this astounding reality, however, that should actually inspire us to pray more? How does it reorient us to the true meaning of relationship with God?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 29:1–31:13
* Psalm 61:5
* Proverbs 16:7-9
* John 3:19-36

1 Samuel 30:6 distressed…grieved. Arriving home to the reality of their great tragedy caused David immense distress and provoked the wickedness of his men to entertain the treasonous idea of stoning him. Having not inquired of the Lord before his departure to support Achish in battle, David was in need of God’s getting his attention. strengthened himself in the LORD his God. This was the key to David’s being a man after God’s heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22).

1 Samuel 30:19 nothing…was lacking. In spite of David’s previous failures, God showed Himself to be more than gracious and abundant in His stewardship of the wives, children, livestock, and possessions of David and his men.

Proverbs 16:9 Sovereign God overrules the plans of men to fulfill His purposes. (See Gen. 50:20; 1 Kin. 12:15; Ps. 119:133; Jer. 10:23; Dan. 5:23–30; 1 Cor. 3:19,20.)

DAY 14: How did John the Baptist respond to the growing ministry of Christ?
The potential conflict between John and Jesus as depicted in John 3:26 was heightened by the fact that both were engaged in ministry in close proximity to each other. Because baptism is mentioned in v. 22, Jesus may have been close to Jericho near the fords of the Jordan, while John was a short distance north baptizing at Aenon. John’s followers were especially disturbed by the fact that so many were flocking to Jesus whereas formerly they had come to John.

John’s response was to emphasize God’s sovereign authority in granting any ministry opportunity (v. 27). It must be “given to him from heaven.” And he conveyed his understanding of his own role through the use of a parable (v. 29).The “friend of the bridegroom” was the ancient equivalent of the best man who organized the details and presided over the Judean wedding. This friend found his greatest joy in watching the ceremony proceed without problems. Most likely, John was also alluding to Old Testament passages where faithful Israel is depicted as the bride of the Lord (Is. 62:4,5; Jer. 2:2; Hos. 2:16–20).

In vv. 31–36, John the Baptist gave 5 reasons for Christ’s superiority to him: 1) Christ had a heavenly origin (v. 31); 2) Christ knew what was true by firsthand experience (v. 32); 3) Christ’s testimony always agreed with God (v. 33); 4) Christ experienced the Holy Spirit in an unlimited manner (v. 34); and 5) Christ was supreme because the Father sovereignly had granted that status to Him (v. 35).

In a fitting climax to the chapter (v. 36), John the Baptist laid out two alternatives, genuine faith and defiant disobedience, thereby bringing to the forefront the threat of looming judgment. As John faded from the forefront, he offered an invitation to faith in the Son and clearly expressed the ultimate consequence of failure to believe, i.e., “the wrath of God.”




Trials' Lessons: No Partiality

“But let the brother of humble circumstances glory in his high position; and let the rich man glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away” (James 1:9-10).

God does not exempt any believer, rich or poor, from trials and suffering.

There is a basic principle of life that we all know to be true—namely, that trials and sufferings do not exclude privileged people. This is a humbling truth that we don’t always like to acknowledge, yet it operates before us regularly in such things as natural disasters. No one can deny that large-scale floods, hurricanes, or earthquakes affect both rich and poor, young and old, educated and uneducated; all races and classes are susceptible to pain, hardship, and even death during such events. After a major earthquake, for example, nearly everyone feels the effects of disruptions in transportation and communication. And the ground’s violent shaking can damage or destroy both modest bungalows and expensive mansions.

The realization that God does not show favoritism in sending trials and difficulties is also quite sobering and humbling for those in the Body of Christ. As today’s first verse suggests, the challenge for poor believers is in realizing that they can rejoice in their exalted spiritual position as Christians (1 Peter 1:3-6), no matter how lowly their earthly status might be. Current economic hardship does not diminish the glories of our future inheritance (see Eph. 1:11-14).

The challenge for wealthier believers is to accept the “humiliation” that trials bring, remembering that such tests will make them more dependent on God and His grace rather than on earthly riches. Such wealth is only temporary, and it fades away like the grass of the field.

Once we grasp the truth of this equalizing factor, we will be more inclined to declare with sincerity, “My resources are in God.” The divine impartiality revealed through trials also has a wonderful unifying effect on the church. The commentator R.C.H. Lenski summarized it this way: “As the poor brother forgets all his earthly poverty, so the rich brother forgets all his earthly riches. The two are equals by faith in Christ.”

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to give you a better appreciation for His evenhandedness in bringing trials our way.

For Further Study
Read Hebrews 12:3-13.
* What are some parallels between this passage and what we have been studying about trials?
* Does God exempt any believer from correction?


Playing Second Fiddle (Andrew)

The twelve apostles included "Andrew" (Matt. 10:2).

Andrew is a picture of all believers who humbly minister behind the scenes.

It's been said that no one likes playing second fiddle, but that wasn't Andrew's perspective at all. Growing up in the shadow of an aggressive, outspoken brother like Peter would be a challenge for anyone. Even in the biblical record Andrew is known as "Simon Peter's brother" (e.g., John 1:40). Yet when Andrew met Jesus, his first response was to tell Peter, knowing full well that once Peter became a disciple he probably would run the group. But Andrew was a truly humble man who was more concerned about bringing people to Christ than about who was in charge.

Andrew's faith and openness prompted him to take advantage of every opportunity to lead others to Christ. He knew that the Lord's primary mission was to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt. 10:6), but he led Gentiles as well as Jewish people to Christ (John 12:20-22). He had seen Jesus change water into wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), so he knew Jesus could do much with very little. That must have been on his mind when he brought the boy with five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus, knowing it would take a miracle to feed the huge crowd with such a small offering (John 6:8-9).

Tradition tells us that just prior to his death, Andrew preached in a province in which the governor's wife heard the gospel and was saved. The governor demanded that she reject Christ, but she refused. In anger he had Andrew crucified on an X-shaped cross, on which Andrew hung for two days before dying. Even then his courage didn't fail. He preached the gospel from that cross—still trying to bring others to Christ.

Andrew symbolizes all those humble, faithful, and courageous Christians who labor behind the scenes. They're the backbone of every ministry and the ones on whom every leader depends. You might never be a prominent leader like Peter, but you can be a faithful, courageous servant like Andrew.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank the Lord for all the humble, faithful servants in your church.
* Ask Him to teach you greater openness and courage so you can serve Him more effectively.

For Further Study
Read Philippians 2:25-30, noting how Epaphroditus ministered to Paul.


Prayer’s Real Audience: God

“‘But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you’” (Matthew 6:6).

Jesus’ primary instruction about prayer here is not about the location, but about our attitude in realizing that God constitutes our audience. If you go to a quiet, private place and shut everything else out as you pray, you’ll turn your focus from yourself and others and over to God exclusively. Jesus regularly got away to pray alone so He could have effective communion with His Father, the most important, singular member of His prayer audience.

Praying to God “who is in secret” doesn’t mean He is not our main audience for public prayers. He is definitely there wherever and whenever we call on Him. Genuine prayer is thus in a sense always intimate. If offered rightly, even public prayer will shut us into a private moment with God, enclosed in His presence.

Our “Father who sees what is done in secret” never betrays one of our prayer confidences. Unlike the occasional breached confidence we suffer at the hands of even our closest family or friends, private prayers and secret concerns shared with God will forever remain known just to Him, unless we later want others to know. The important thing for God is not the precise words we utter in private prayer, but rather the private thoughts we express in our hearts. Only He can know these with certainty and truly care about them (cf. 1 Cor. 4:3–5).

When God is genuinely the audience of our prayers, He will faithfully and unfailingly bless and reward us.

Ask Yourself
What have you discovered to be the greatest blessings of prayer? If none immediately spring to mind, try imagining a life without access to God’s ear and His Spirit. What would you miss most about being out of contact with Him?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 26:1–27:12
* Psalm 60:6-12
* Proverbs 16:4-5
* John 2:1-25

1 Samuel 26:21 I have sinned. As in 24:17, Saul confessed his sin and wrongdoing. Although Saul may have been sincere, he could not be trusted and David wisely did not accept his invitation to return with him. I have played the fool. Saul had been foolish in his actions toward David, as had Nabal.

1 Samuel 27:1 by the hand of Saul. In direct contrast to Saul’s word that David would prevail (26:25), David thought that Saul would ultimately kill him. This anxious thinking and the fear that fell upon him explain David’s actions in this chapter. God had told him to stay in Judah (22:5), but he was afraid and sought protection again among the Philistine enemies of Israel (21:10–15).

John 2:2, 3 both Jesus and His disciples were invited. The fact that Jesus, His mother, and His disciples all attended the wedding suggests that the wedding may have been for a relative or close family friend. Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathanael, and the unnamed disciple (1:35), who was surely John, witnessed this miracle. wine. The wine served was subject to fermentation. In the ancient world, however, to quench thirst without inducing drunkenness, wine was diluted with water to between one-third and one-tenth of its strength. Due to the climate and circumstances, even “new wine” fermented quickly and had an inebriating effect if not mixed (Acts 2:13). Because of a lack of water purification process, wine mixed with water was also safer to drink than water alone. While the Bible condemns drunkenness, it does not necessarily condemn the consumption of wine (Ps. 104:15; Prov. 20:1; Eph. 5:18).

John 2:23, 24 many believed in His name…. But Jesus did not commit Himself. John based these two phrases on the same Greek verb for “believe.” This verse subtly reveals the true nature of belief from a biblical standpoint. Because of what they knew of Jesus from His miraculous signs, many came to believe in Him. However, Jesus made it His habit not to wholeheartedly “entrust” or “commit” Himself to them because He knew their hearts. Verse 24 indicates that Jesus looked for genuine conversion rather than enthusiasm for the spectacular. 

The latter verse also leaves a subtle doubt as to the genuineness of the conversion of some (8:31, 32). This emphatic contrast between vv. 23, 24 in terms of type of trust, therefore, reveals that, literally, “belief into His name” involved much more than intellectual assent. It called for wholehearted commitment of one’s life as Jesus’ disciple (Matt. 10:37; 16:24–26).

What did Jesus mean by His comments about the temple in John 2?
In John 2:18, the Jews demanded that Jesus show some type of miraculous sign that would indicate His authority for the actions that He had just taken in regulating the activities of the temple. Their demand of a sign reveals that they had not grasped the significance of Jesus’ rebuke that centered in their need for proper attitudes and holiness in worship. Such an action itself constituted a “sign” of Jesus’ person and authority. Moreover, they were requesting from Jesus a crass display of miracles on demand, further displaying their unbelief.

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (v. 19). At His trial, the authorities charged Jesus (Mark 14:29, 58) with making a threatening statement against the temple, revealing that they did not understand Jesus’ response here. Once again John’s Gospel supplements the other Gospels at this point by indicating that Jesus enigmatically referred to His resurrection. As with His usage of parables, Jesus’ cryptic statement most likely was designed to reveal the truth to His disciples but conceal its meaning from unbelievers who questioned Him (Matt. 13:10, 11). 

Only after His resurrection, however, did the disciples understand the real significance of this statement (v. 22; Matt. 12:40). Importantly, through the death and resurrection of Christ, temple worship in Jerusalem was destroyed (see 4:21) and reinstituted in the hearts of those who were built into a spiritual temple called the church (Eph. 2:19–22).
“It has taken forty-six years to build this temple”(v. 20). This was not a reference to the Solomonic temple, since it had been destroyed during the Babylonian conquest in 586 B.C. When the captives returned from Babylon, Zerubbabel and Joshua began rebuilding the temple (Ezra 1–4). Encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Ezra 5:1–6:18), the Jews completed the work in 516 B.C. In 20/19 B.C., Herod the Great began a reconstruction and expansion. Workers completed the main part of the project in 10 years, but other parts were still being constructed even at the time Jesus cleansed the temple. The famous “Wailing Wall” is built on part of the Herodian temple foundation. 




Trials' Lessons: Increased Wisdom

“‘But where can wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man does not know its value, nor is it found in the land of the living’” (Job 28:12-13).

God’s wisdom is our source for understanding life and all its trials.

The supernatural wisdom believers need in order to understand their trials is simply not available from our society. During Job’s ordeal he soon learned the utter inadequacy both of his reason and his friends’ misguided advice. That led him to the profound conclusion that the Lord’s wisdom is the only source for comprehending life and all its difficulties.

Wisdom in general has always been among the highest, most respected virtues believers can have. The Lord was greatly pleased when Solomon asked for wisdom rather than riches or power (1 Kings 3:5-13), and Solomon later set forth the basic importance of God’s wisdom: “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6).
God’s wisdom puts things in the right perspective during trials and helps us endure them. But as we have already noted, it is not something we will have automatically. 

The apostle James, in the context of a passage about trials, says we must ask for wisdom: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
In keeping with our series on trials’ lessons, it’s crucial that as we experience difficult tests, we ask God for wisdom to persevere according to His Word. Without a practical understanding of how to live according to His will and Word, we will not see His sovereign hand of providence at work in our trials. And we will miss one of God’s most important purposes in bringing sufferings and trials to us—that we would become more dependent on Him.

Once we have the Lord’s wisdom and realize that we have become more and more dependent on Him, we’ll be like Job, who received this answer to his earlier questions: “‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding’” (28:28).

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that you would be more diligent in gleaning wisdom from your study of Scripture. 

For Further Study
Read 1 Kings 3:5-13.
* What does Solomon’s request reveal about his character?
* What rewards and closing promise did God give to him as a result?


Leading Others to Christ (Andrew)

The twelve apostles included "Andrew" (Matt. 10:2).

Leading others to Christ should be a top priority in your life.

Andrew was Peter's brother and a native of Bethsaida of Galilee. From the very start we see him leading people to Christ—beginning with his own brother.

The gospel of John records his first encounter with Jesus: "John [the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples (Andrew and John), and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God!' And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. . . . One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He found first his own brother Simon, and said to him, 'We have found the Messiah' (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus" (John 1:35-37, 40-42). 

Later Jesus called both Andrew and Peter to become His disciples, and they immediately left their fishing nets to follow Him (Matt. 4:20).

Our next glimpse of Andrew is in John 6:8-9. It was late in the day and thousands of people who were following Jesus were beginning to get hungry, but there wasn't enough food to feed them. Then Andrew brought to Jesus a young boy with five barley loaves and two fish. From that small lunch Jesus created enough food to feed the entire crowd!

Andrew also appears in John 12:20-22, which tells of some Greeks who were traveling to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover feast. They came to Philip and requested to see Jesus. Philip took them to Andrew, who apparently took them to Jesus.

Andrew didn't always know how Jesus would deal with a particular person or situation, but he kept right on bringing them to Him anyway. That's a characteristic every believer should have. Your spiritual gifts might differ from others, but your common goal is to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20), and that begins with leading sinners to Christ. Make that your priority today!

Suggestions for Prayer
When was the last time you told an unbeliever about Jesus? Pray for an opportunity to do so soon.

For Further Study
Do you know how to present the gospel clearly and accurately? As a review read Romans 3:19-28, 1 Corinthians 15:1-8, Ephesians 2:8-10, and Titus 3:4-7.


What about Public Prayer?

“‘They love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full’” (Matthew 6:5).

In Jesus’ time, the synagogues were the likeliest and most appropriate places for sincere public praying. Devout Jews also offered many prayers on street corners, if that’s where they were at the appointed hour of prayer. But the word Jesus uses here indicates a major street, and therefore a major street corner where a bigger crowd would likely be. By inference the hypocrites were at fault for wanting to pray before the biggest possible audience. 

No location is intrinsically forbidden as a place of prayer. But it’s not right to consistently choose such a spot just to attract the largest audience.
As with anything tainted by human ambition and pride, the sin of praying in the wrong place begins in the heart. Like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable (cf. Luke 18:11), the hypocrites He mentions here prayed primarily to themselves and before others, not to God—and He wants no part in that.

Some Christians have thought Jesus’ warnings here rule out all forms of public prayer. But to do so was not our Lord’s intention. He prayed many times with His apostles (e.g., Luke 11:1) and in the midst of much larger crowds (e.g., Matt. 14:19). The early church rejoiced and “lifted their voices to God with one accord” (Acts 4:24) after the Jewish leaders released Peter and John. Public praying also is available to us, whether in church, Sunday school, or any smaller meeting of fellow believers. 

Ask Yourself
What reward do those who perform their religious practices for show actually receive? And why isn’t this enough to really satisfy—even when it’s paid “in full”?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 24:1–25:44
* Psalm 60:1-5
* Proverbs 16:3
* John 1:29-51

1 Samuel 24:4 the day of which the LORD said to you. David’s men perhaps believed that God had providentially placed Saul in the same cave where they were hiding so David could kill the king. However, nothing revelatory had previously been said by the Lord that indicated He wanted David to lift a hand against Saul.
1 Samuel 24:5 David’s heart troubled him. David was able to cut off a piece of Saul’s robe undetected. However, touching Saul’s clothing was tantamount to touching his person, and David’s conscience troubled him on this account.

1 Samuel 24:6 LORD’s anointed. David recognized that the Lord Himself had placed Saul into the kingship. Thus the judgment and removal of Saul had to be left to the Lord. 

Proverbs 16:3 Commit. Literally, “roll upon” in the sense of both total trust (3:5,6) and submission to the will of God (Pss. 22:8; 37:5; 119:133). He will fulfill your righteous plans.

John 1:41 Messiah. The term “Messiah” is a transliteration of a Hebrew or Aramaic verbal adjective that means “Anointed One.” It comes from a verb that means “to anoint” someone as an action involved in consecrating that person to a particular office or function. While the term at first applied to the king of Israel (“the LORD’s anointed,” 1 Sam. 16:6), the high priest (“the anointed priest,” Lev. 4:3) and, in one passage, the patriarchs (“My anointed ones,” Ps. 105:15), the term eventually came to point above all to the prophesied “Coming One” or “Messiah” in His role as prophet, priest, and king. The term “Christ,” a Greek word (verbal adjective) that comes from a verb meaning “to anoint,” is used in translating the Hebrew term, so that the terms “Messiah” or “Christ” are titles and not personal names of Jesus.

How did John the Baptist characterize Jesus Christ?
John the Baptist’s witness to Jesus in John 1 introduces a lengthy list of titles applied to Jesus: Lamb of God (vv. 29, 36), Rabbi (vv. 38, 49), Messiah/Christ (v. 41), Son of God (vv. 34, 49), King of Israel (v. 49), Son of Man (v. 51), and “Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote” (v. 45).

In John 1:29, John the Baptist refers to Jesus as “The Lamb of God.” The use of a lamb for sacrifice was very familiar to Jews. A lamb was used as a sacrifice during Passover (Ex. 12:1–36); a lamb was led to the slaughter in the prophecies of Isaiah (Is. 53:7); a lamb was offered in the daily sacrifices of Israel (Lev. 14:12–21; Heb. 10:5–7). 

John the Baptist used this expression as a reference to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to atone for the sins of the world, a theme which John the apostle carries throughout his writings (19:36; see Rev. 5:1–6; 7:17; 17:14) and that appears in other New Testament writings (e.g., 1 Pet. 1:19).

“Who takes away the sin of the world.” In this context “world” has the connotation of humanity in general, not specifically every person. The use of the singular “sin” in conjunction with “of the world” indicates that Jesus’ sacrifice for sin potentially reaches all human beings without distinction (1 John 2:2).John makes clear, however, that its efficacious effect is only for those who receive Christ (vv. 11, 12).

John adds that “I saw the Spirit descending…upon Him” (v. 32). God had previously communicated to John that this sign was to indicate the promised Messiah (v. 33), so when John witnessed this act, he was able to identify the Messiah as Jesus (Matt. 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:22). “I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God” (v. 34). Although, in a limited sense, believers can be called “sons of God” (v. 12; Matt. 5:9; Rom.8:14), John uses this phrase with the full force as a title that points to the unique oneness and intimacy that Jesus sustains to the Father as “Son.” The term carries the idea of the deity of Jesus as Messiah (v. 49; 5:16–30; 2 Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7; Heb. 1:1–9).




Trials' Lessons: True Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

God entrusts comfort to us, often through trials, so that we may comfort others.

The nation of Ireland is nicknamed the “Emerald Isle” for good reason—it contains some of the greenest countryside of any location on earth. In visiting there I have noticed that abundant mist and fog, which often shroud the rolling landscape, help produce the rich green grass and trees. That phenomenon is much like the Christian life. Many times when our life is obscured by the sufferings and sorrows of trials, it has a refreshing beauty of soul that is not always readily seen. As the apostle Paul’s life demonstrates, sensitive and merciful hearts are the products of great trials.

Difficulties beset us so that God might bestow much comfort on us. But such comfort is not merely for our own benefit. The Lord entrusts His comfort to us that we might share it with others, as verse 4 of today’s passage indicates. And He comforts us in direct proportion to the number of trials we endure, which means the more we suffer, the more God comforts us; and the more He comforts us, the more we can comfort others who are hurting.

When we do experience real comfort in the wake of a trial, perhaps the most precious result is the sense of Christian partnership we feel. If God’s comfort helps us to comfort others, then it’s clear that other believers are positively affected by what we learn from our trials. The entire process lifts us beyond ourselves and shows us that as part of a local fellowship or the greater Body of Christ we are not alone and do not have to undergo various trials in a vacuum.

The comfort we receive and the sense of partnership that results is a great incentive for any of us to be encouraged through trials and sufferings, knowing that such experiences enable us to minister as integral parts of the Body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 12:26; 2 Cor. 1:6-7).

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for His unlimited supply of comfort.

For Further Study
Read Isaiah 40:1; 49:13; 51:3; 61:2. What promise does each verse have in common?


Building a Leader: The Right Results (Peter)

The twelve apostles included "Simon, who is called Peter" (Matt. 10:2).

God knows how to get results.

God makes leaders by taking people with the right raw material, putting them through the right experiences, and teaching them the right lessons. That's how he trained Peter, and the results were astonishing. In the first twelve chapters of Acts we see Peter initiating the move to replace Judas with Matthias, preaching powerfully on the Day of Pentecost, healing a lame man, standing up to the Jewish authorities, confronting Ananias and Sapphira, dealing with Simon the magician, healing Aeneas, raising Dorcas from the dead, and taking the gospel to the Gentiles. In addition, he wrote two epistles that pass on to us all the lessons he learned from Jesus. What a leader!

Peter was as much a model of spiritual leadership in death as he was in life. Jesus told him he would be crucified for God's glory, and early church tradition tells us that Peter was in fact crucified. But before putting him to death, his executioners forced him to watch the crucifixion of his wife. As he stood at the foot of her cross, he encouraged her by saying over and over, "Remember the Lord, remember the Lord." When it was time for his own crucifixion, he requested that he be crucified upside down because he felt unworthy to die as his Lord had died. His request was granted.

Just as God transformed Peter from a brash and impulsive fisherman into a powerful instrument for His glory, so He can transform everyone who is yielded to Him.
You will never be an apostle, but you can have the same depth of character and know the same joy of serving Christ that Peter knew. There's no higher calling in the world than to be an instrument of God's grace. Peter was faithful to that calling—you be faithful too!

Suggestions for Prayer
* Praise God for the assurance that He will perfect the work He has begun in you (Phil. 1:6).
* Ask Him to use the experiences you have today as instruments that shape you more into the image of Christ.
For Further Study
Read John 21:18-23.
* How did Jesus describe Peter's death?
* What was Peter's reaction to Christ's announcement?
* What misunderstanding was generated by their conversation?


Wrong Reason for Prayer

“‘When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full’” (Matthew 6:5).

Over the centuries, various questionable practices and attitudes have affected the prayer life of God’s people—ritualization, prescription prayers, limitations of time and place, the love of long prayers, and meaningless repetitions. But the worst fault was when God’s people prayed mainly to be noticed by others, especially by fellow Jews. This fault was inherently sinful because it originated from and helped intensify pride. Such an evil, self-glorifying motive was and is the ultimate perversion of God’s gift of prayer, which is intended to glorify Him (cf. John 14:13) and express our dependence on His grace.

Prayer that focuses on self is always hypocritical; it stands in sharp contrast to true prayer, which focuses on God. Hypocrites are simply actors, persons playing a role, as the Greeks did on stage with their large masks. What such persons do and say is seldom sincere, but merely designed to create an image.

The scribes and Pharisees’ prayers served the same purpose as so many of their activities—to draw praise and honor to themselves. This is the type of righteousness that has no place in the kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 5:20).

The more sacred something is, such as prayer, the more Satan wants to profane it. And one way to do that is to inject pride and self-centeredness into prayer—to get believers to pray as the Pharisees did. So if you pray to be impressive to fellow believers, you are praying for the wrong reason.

Ask Yourself
What should be the tone and purpose of public prayer? Should it be any different from your private interactions with God? What could you do to help make sure you’re addressing God and not your audience?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 22:1–23:29
* Psalm 59:6-17
* Proverbs 16:1-2
* John 1:1-28

1 Samuel 22:1 cave of Adullam. A cave near Adullam was David’s refuge. Adullam, which may mean “refuge,” was located in the western foothills of Judah (Josh. 15:33), about 17 miles southwest of Jerusalem and 10 miles southeast of Gath. See titles of Psalms 57 and 142, which could possibly refer to 1 Samuel 24:3. brothers and all his father’s house. David’s family members went down from Bethlehem to join David in Adullam, a journey of about 12 miles.

John 1:12 as many as received Him…to those who believe in His name. The second phrase describes the first. To receive Him who is the Word of God means to acknowledge His claims, place one’s faith in Him, and thereby yield allegiance to Him. gave. The term emphasizes the grace of God involved in the gift of salvation (Eph. 2:8–10). the right. Those who receive Jesus, the Word, receive full authority to claim the exalted title of “God’s children.” His name. Denotes the character of the person himself.

John 1:14 the Word became flesh. While Christ as God was uncreated and eternal, the word “became” emphasizes Christ’s taking on humanity (see Heb. 1:1–3; 2:14–18).This reality is surely the most profound ever because it indicates that the Infinite became finite; the Eternal was conformed to time; the Invisible became visible; the supernatural One reduced Himself to the natural. In the Incarnation, however, the Word did not cease to be God but became God in human flesh, i.e., undiminished Deity in human form as a man (1 Tim. 3:16). dwelt. 

Meaning “to pitch a tabernacle,” or “live in a tent.” The term recalls the Old Testament tabernacle where God met with Israel before the temple was constructed (Ex. 25:8). It was called the “tabernacle of meeting” (Ex. 33:7) where “the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). In the New Testament, God chose to dwell among His people in a far more personal way through becoming a man. In the Old Testament, when the tabernacle was completed, God’s Shekinah presence filled the entire structure (Ex. 40:34; 1 Kin. 8:10). When the Word became flesh, the glorious presence of Deity was embodied in Him (Col. 2:9).

DAY 10: Note the powerful words loaded into John 1:1.
“In the beginning.” In contrast to 1 John 1:1 where John used a similar phrase (“from the beginning”) to refer to the starting point of Jesus’ ministry and gospel preaching, this phrase parallels Genesis 1:1 where the same phrase is used. John used the phrase in an absolute sense to refer to the beginning of the time-space-material universe. “Was.” The verb highlights the eternal preexistence of the Word, i.e., Jesus Christ. Before the universe began, the Second Person of the Trinity always existed; i.e., He always was (see 8:58). 

This word is used in contrast with the verb “was made” (or “were made”) in v. 3, which indicate a beginning in time. Because of John’s theme that Jesus Christ is the eternal God, the Second Person of the Trinity, he did not include a genealogy as Matthew and Luke did. In terms of Jesus’ humanity, He had a human genealogy; but in terms of His deity, He has no genealogy.

“The Word.” John borrowed the use of the term “Word” not only from the vocabulary of the Old Testament but also from Greek philosophy, in which the term was essentially impersonal, signifying the rational principle of “divine reason,” “mind,” or even “wisdom.” John, however, imbued the term entirely with Old Testament and Christian meaning (e.g., Gen. 1:3




Trials' Lessons: We See Greater Reward

“And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace . . . will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).

Successful endurance of present trials leads to greater focus on glorifying God in the future.

Sufferings and trials teach us patience. However, in Heaven we won’t need to have patience, and therefore it is not the major long-term lesson God wants us to learn from trials. He is far more pleased if we grasp the truth that what we suffer now is directly related to our ability to glorify Him in eternity. Worshiping God will be our role in Heaven (Rev. 4—5), and Paul reminds us that “if we endure, we shall also reign with Him” (2 Tim. 2:12). In other words, if we learn to endure trials and tribulations now, we can expect to receive great reward in eternity. I believe that reward is primarily the capacity to glorify God; and therefore the greater our present endurance, the greater will be our capability to glorify Him in the future.

At one point during Jesus’ ministry with the disciples, two of them—brothers James and John—desired that He appoint them to the two positions of greatest prestige in His kingdom—seats at His right and left hands (see Matt. 20:20-23). James and John recognized the concept of eternal rewards, but they did not understand how it works. Thus Jesus asked them if they were ready to endure the cup of suffering and death (as He was) prior to occupying such powerful positions in His kingdom (v. 22). This implies again that endurance in trials and advancement in future glory are correlated. (Jesus endured the greatest suffering on the cross, and He was raised to the highest position, at the Father’s right hand.)

The application for us from all this is clear: the Lord wants us to realize that the end of every trial contains much satisfaction and joy because we are building up our future capacity to glorify Him. At the same time, we are comprehending more and more about the value of persevering through all sorts of pain and tribulation (see Rev. 2:10).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to give you the desire to see the benefits of trials from an eternal perspective.

For Further Study
Read Revelation 4—5. What attributes of God do you see, directly or indirectly, that are worthy of eternal praise?


Building a Leader: The Right Lessons (Peter)

The twelve apostles included "Simon, who is called Peter" (Matt. 10:2).

Peter learned five lessons that every believer must also learn.

We have seen that God uses our experiences to mold us into more effective Christians and leaders. Using Peter as our example, let's briefly look at five lessons we can learn from our experiences: submission, restraint, humility, sacrifice, and love.

Leaders tend to be confident and aggressive, so they must learn to submit to authority. Jesus illustrated that by telling Peter to go fishing and look for a coin in the mouth of the first fish he caught (Matt. 17:24-27). He was to use that coin to pay their taxes. Peter was a citizen of God's Kingdom, but he needed an object lesson in submitting to governmental authorities.

When the soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter grabbed a sword and would have fought the entire group if Jesus hadn't restrained him. Peter needed to learn to entrust His life to the Father, just as Christ was doing.

Peter bragged that he would never leave or forsake Christ—but he did. Perhaps humility was the most painful lesson he had to learn.

Jesus told Peter that he would die as a martyr (John 21:18-19). From that day forward Peter knew his life was on the line, yet he was willing to make the necessary sacrifice and minister anyway.

Leaders tend to be task oriented and often are insensitive to people. Peter was that way, so Jesus demonstrated love by washing his feet and instructing him to do loving deeds for others (John 13:6-9, 34).

Submission, restraint, humility, sacrifice, and love should be characteristic of every believer—no matter what role he or she has within the Body of Christ. I pray they are characteristic of your life, and that you will constantly seek to grow in those graces as God continues His work in you.

Suggestions for Prayer
Spiritual lessons are sometimes painful to learn, but God is patient and gracious. Thank Him for His patience and thank Him also for Christ, who is the perfect example of what we should be.
For Further Study
Peter learned his lesson well. Read 1 Peter 2:13-18, 21-23; 4:8, 16; and 5:5. What can you learn from Peter's instructions on submission, restraint, love, sacrifice, and humility?


True Giving Should Anticipate Rewards

“‘When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you’” (Matthew 6:3–4).

When you give as Jesus directs—lovingly, unpretentiously, and with no concern for public recognition—“your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” In other words, if you remember, God forgets; and if you forget, God still remembers. You should simply try to meet every need you can and leave the bookkeeping to Him. This kind of giving is just a matter of realizing that “we have done only that which we ought to have done” (Luke 17:10).

There is nothing wrong with humbly anticipating our reward for true and honest giving. God knows our hearts, attitudes, and motives, and He will not fail to reward us appropriately. After all, our sovereign Lord knows exactly what everyone is doing (Heb. 4:13).

In giving and every other realm of good works, Jesus Christ is our perfect role model (cf. Eph. 2:10). He preached and taught before crowds large and small, and He did miracles of healing, compassion, and power over nature for many to see and benefit from. But He always focused the final attention on His heavenly Father and did not seek His own glory but the Father’s (John 8:49–50).

Our motive in hoping for any rewards ought to be the anticipation of placing them as offerings at the Lord’s feet, like the twenty-four elders who “will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, ‘Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power’” (Rev. 4:10–11).

Ask Yourself
Like with any sinful tendency you wish to conquer, the secret is daily obedience, even in the smallest ways, not wanting to give the enemy the slightest opening for victory. In what ways could the day ahead likely give you an opportunity to practice this—to seek God’s reward alone?






Trials' Lessons: Confidence in Heaven

“To obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:4).

We can rejoice after enduring a trial because our hope in Heaven will be renewed.
The joy a Christian experiences as a result of trials can be the best kind he will ever know. But so often we allow the everyday stress and strain of financial difficulties, health problems, unrealized goals, and many other trials to rob us of our joy in Christ. True joy stems from spiritual realities that are much greater than temporal circumstances.

In today’s verse Peter gives us one strong reason for rejoicing—the confident hope that as Christians we have inherited a place in Heaven. This confidence can be so powerful that Peter, who was writing to believers suffering persecution, describes it as a truth we ought to “greatly rejoice” in (v. 6). This expressive, intense word is always used in the New Testament in relation to the joy of knowing God, never of shallow, temporal relationships.

Jesus’ disciples had a difficult time seeing that trials could be related to the certainty of going to Heaven. In teaching them about His upcoming death, Christ told the Twelve, “Therefore you, too, now have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one takes your joy away from you” (John 16:22). And that is exactly what happened when they saw the risen Savior and understood the impact of His work.

We can have two responses to trials, just like passengers riding a train through the mountains. We can look to the left and see the dark mountainside and be depressed. Or we can look to the right and be uplifted by the beautiful view of natural scenery stretching into the distance. Some believers even compound their sadness by continuing to look to the mountain shadows of their trial after life’s train has moved away from the threatening peaks. But they would not forfeit their joy if they simply looked ahead to the brightness and certainty of their eternal inheritance.
Nothing in life can take away the wonderful promise of Heaven’s glory: it was reserved by God, bought by Christ, and guaranteed by the Spirit (see Eph. 1:11-13).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to help you meditate today on the glories promised for you in the future.
For Further Study
Read Revelation 21 and note the primary living conditions that will be true of Heaven.


Building a Leader: The Right Experiences (Peter)

The twelve apostles included "Simon, who is called Peter" (Matt. 10:2).

Your present experiences contribute to your future leadership ability.

Stan Carder is a dear brother in Christ and one of the pastors on our church staff. Before coming to Grace Church he pastored a church in Montana. While there, he was riding one night in a truck that was involved in a very serious accident. Stan suffered a broken neck and other major injuries. As a result he underwent months of arduous and painful therapy.

That was one of the most difficult periods in Stan's life, yet God used it for a specific purpose. Today, as pastor of our special-ministries department, Stan ministers to more than 500 physically and mentally handicapped people. God needed a man with unique qualifications to show love to a group of very special people. He chose Stan and allowed him the necessary experiences to fit him for the task.

God doesn't always permit such serious situations, but He does lead each of us into life-changing experiences that heighten our effectiveness in ministry.
Peter had many such experiences. In Matthew 16:15-16, for example, God gave him special revelation about the deity of Christ. In Acts 10 God sent him to preach the gospel to Gentiles—something unheard of at the time because Jewish people resisted any interaction with Gentiles. Perhaps the most tragic experience of Peter's life was his denial of Christ. But even that only increased his love for Christ and his appreciation of God's grace. After His resurrection, Christ forgave him and restored him to ministry (John 21:15-19).

Peter's many experiences helped prepare him for the key role he was to play in the early church. Similarly, your experiences help prepare you for future ministry. So seek to discern God's hand in your circumstances and rejoice at the prospect of becoming a more effective Christian.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for both the good and bad experiences you have, knowing that each of them is important to your spiritual growth (cf. James 1:2-4).

For Further Study
Read Acts 10, noting what Peter learned from his experience.
* What vision did Peter have?
* What was the point of the vision?


Principles of Giving: Part 2

“‘When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you’” (Matthew 6:3–4).

Continuing from yesterday’s list of scriptural giving principles, four more come to mind. First, financial giving correlates to spiritual blessings. God will not entrust things of greater value to those who are not faithful with lesser things. Jesus asks, “If you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?” (Luke 16:11). Men have dropped out of the ministry because they couldn’t handle their finances, and others remain but see little fruit because God won’t commit souls to them if they can’t manage material things, including their giving.

Second, believers must personally decide their giving. True giving will flow from a righteous heart, not artificially imposed percentages. “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7; cf. 8:1–2; Phil. 4:15–18).

Third, Christians must give toward the needs of others. The early Jerusalem church did not hesitate to share its resources (Acts 2:44–45), and years later Paul took a collection from Gentile churches to help meet the continued needs of believers in Jerusalem.

Finally, genuine giving demonstrates the love of Christ, not adherence to the law. The New Testament does not specify required amounts or percentages (such as the tithe) for our giving. The amount we give, which ought to be as generous as possible, will derive from our heartfelt love and our knowledge of others’ needs.

Ask Yourself

How do you go about deciding the amounts you give? Are you satisfied that you’re being obedient to the Lord in this? Remember, giving is not supposed to be a source of guilt but rather a fount of blessing and gratitude. Are you experiencing a high level of peace about your giving decisions?


Reading for Today:

1 Samuel 18:1–19:24
Psalm 58:1-11
Proverbs 15:27-30
Luke 24:1-35

1 Samuel 18:1 Jonathan loved him. Jonathan loved David with a loyalty and devotion indicative of covenantal love (18:3). Hiram of Tyre had much the same covenantal love for David (see 2 Sam. 5:11; 1 Kin. 5:1; 9:11). David’s later reign from Jerusalem is marked by loyalty to his covenant with Jonathan (2 Sam. 9:1).

1 Samuel 19:23 the Spirit of God was upon him. This was the last time the Spirit of the Lord would rest on Saul. God turned Saul’s heart to prophesy and not to harm David.

1 Samuel 19:24 stripped off his clothes. Saul removed his armor and royal garments, prompted by the Spirit of God, thus signifying God’s rejection of Saul as king over Israel. lay down naked. Without the royal garments, Saul was figuratively “naked,” perhaps so overwhelmed by the Spirit of God as to be in a deep sleep. Other than Saul’s utter despair and pitiful state at the home of the medium at En Dor (28:20) and his end at Mt. Gilboa (31:4–6), this episode represents one of the severest humblings in Saul’s life. Is Saul also among the prophets? This is a final editorial comment tying together the Spirit of God’s presence at Saul’s inauguration (10:10, 11), and the final departure of the same at his rejection (19:24).

Psalm 58:4 Their poison. The words and actions of these tyrants are like poisonous venom in a serpent’s fangs. deaf cobra. Like a cobra which cannot hear its charmer are these stubborn rulers, who ignore all encouragements to righteousness.

DAY 8: What happened on the day that Christ was resurrected from the dead?

Early in the morning, certain women came to the tomb “bringing the spices which they had prepared” (Luke 24:1). But they found “the stone rolled away” (v. 2). Matthew 28:2–4 records that an earthquake occurred and an angel rolled the stone away. The Roman guards fainted with fear. Mark, Luke, and John make no mention of the guards, so it appears they fled when they awoke to find the empty tomb. The women must have arrived shortly after.

Finding the stone rolled away, the women entered the tomb, but found it empty (v. 3). While they were still in the tomb, the angels suddenly appeared (v. 4; Mark 16:5). Only Luke mentioned both angels. Mark was concerned only with the one who spoke for the duo. Such minor differences in the Gospel accounts are all reconcilable.

The angel who spoke reminded them of Jesus’ promises (vv. 6–8), then sent them to find Peter and the disciples to report that Jesus was risen (Matt. 28:7, 8; Mark 16:7, 8). The women did as they were told (vv. 9–11). The disciples were skeptical at first (v. 11), but ran to where the tomb was, John arriving first (John 20:4), but Peter actually entering the tomb first (John 20:6). They saw the linen wrappings intact but empty, proof that Jesus was risen (v. 12; John 20:6–8). They left immediately (v. 12; John 20:10).

Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb and was standing outside weeping when Christ suddenly appeared to her (John 20:11–18). That was His first appearance (Mark 16:9). Sometime soon after that, He met the other women on the road and appeared to them, as well (Matt. 28:9, 10). Later that day He appeared to two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus (vv. 13–32) and to Peter (v. 34).

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Trials' Lessons: Right Priorities

“‘For now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me’” (Genesis 22:12).

Trials from the Lord will reveal to believers what they love and appreciate the most.
A big part of the reason for the Lord’s testing Abraham at Moriah was to show him what he valued most in life. The question God wanted Abraham to answer was, “Do you love Isaac more than Me, or do you love Me more than Isaac?” And the Lord was prepared for the drastic test of taking Abraham’s son’s life if that’s what was necessary for Abraham to give God first place in everything.

God also tries the sincerity of those today who claim to love Him (see Deut. 13:3; Matt. 22:36-37). Jesus was so concerned that we have our priorities right that He made this radical statement: “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). Christians must love Christ so much that by comparison they will seem to hate their families and themselves. In order to test this first love, God might in some dramatic fashion ask us to renounce the many tugs and appeals from family and place His will and affections first in our life.

That kind of radical obedience, which is what Abraham had, always leads to God’s blessings. Jesus Himself was a perfect example of this principle. Because He was fully human as well as fully God, our Lord did not escape ordinary pain and hardship while on earth. As the Suffering Servant (Isa. 53), He learned completely what it means to obey through pain and adversity, all the way to His crucifixion (Heb. 5:7-9). As a result, the Son was exalted by the Father (Phil. 2:8-9).

God sometimes makes our path of obedience go through the experiences of trials and sufferings. But if we are faithful to His Word and will, those difficulties will teach us to value and appreciate God’s many blessings.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that your priorities each day would stay in line with God’s.
For Further Study
Read Deuteronomy 6:1-9. What must be the top priority for all believers?


Building a Leader: The Right Raw Material (Peter)

The twelve apostles included "Simon, who is called Peter" (Matt. 10:2).

God can use your natural abilities as a basis for your spiritual service. 

Peter is a good illustration of how God builds a spiritual leader. He begins with a person's natural traits and works from there. Natural traits alone don't make a spiritual leader—the person must also be gifted and called by the Holy Spirit to lead in the church and be a model of spiritual virtue. But often God endows future leaders with natural abilities that constitute the raw materials from which He builds spiritual ministries. That was certainly the case with Peter, who demonstrated the leadership qualities of inquisitiveness, initiative, and involvement.

Peter was always asking questions. In fact, the gospel records show he asked more questions than all the other disciples combined! People who aren't inquisitive don't make good leaders because they're not concerned about problems and solutions.
Initiative was another indicator of Peter's leadership potential. He not only asked questions, but also was often the first to respond when Jesus asked the questions (e.g., Matt. 16:15-16; Luke 8:45).

Also, Peter loved to be in the middle of the action, even when it got him into trouble. For example, we might criticize his lack of faith when he sank after walking on water, but remember, the rest of the disciples never even got out of the boat.

Peter was inquisitive, showed initiative, and sought to be involved. How about you? Are you inquisitive about God's truth? Do you take the initiative to learn about Him? Do you want to be involved in what He is doing? If so, you have the raw material for spiritual leadership. Continue to cultivate those qualities, allowing the Spirit to use you for God's glory.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Pray for your spiritual leaders.
* Ask God for opportunities to lead others in the way of righteousness. Use every opportunity to its fullest.

For Further Study
Read the following verses, noting the kinds of questions Peter asked: Matthew 15:15; 18:21; 19:27; Mark 13:2-4; John 21:20-22.


Principles of Giving, Part 1

“‘When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you’” (Matthew 6:3–4).

From this and other Scripture, we can learn principles to guide us in God-honoring giving. First of all, genuine heart-giving is an investment with God. “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38; cf. 2 Cor. 9:6).

Second, biblical giving should be sacrificial. We don’t determine this by the amount, but by the proportion. Consider the widow and Jesus’ observation: “A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned’” (Mark 12:42–44).

Third, Christians of all income levels should give. If you don’t give when you have little, you won’t necessarily give when you’re prosperous. You might give a larger amount, but not a greater proportion. Jesus’ parable of the unrighteous steward teaches, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much” (Luke 16:10). God is concerned not with how much you have to give, but with how much love is behind the gift.

Ask Yourself
Think of personal examples from your own life where this “faithful in small things” principle has proven itself true. What have you promised you’d do if only you had a little more? What has usually happened when the “more” became reality?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 16:1–17:58
* Psalm 57:4-11
* Proverbs 15:26
* Luke 23:26-56

1 Samuel 16:7 his appearance…physical stature. Samuel needed to be reminded that God’s anointed was not chosen because of physical attributes. This was initially a difficult concept for Samuel as he was accustomed to a king whose only positive attributes were physical. the LORD looks at the heart. The Hebrew concept of “heart” embodies emotions, will, intellect, and desires. The life of the man will reflect his heart (see Matt. 12:34, 35).

1 Samuel 17:4 champion. Literally, “the man between two.” An appropriate appellation as Goliath stood between the two armies and offered his challenge to a “duel” of hand-to-hand combat, the outcome of which would settle the battle for both sides. six cubits and a span. One cubit measures approximately 18 inches and one span about 9 inches, making Goliath about 9 feet 9 inches in height.

1 Samuel 17:32 Let no man’s heart fail. Joshua and Caleb exhorted Israel in the same fashion regarding the giant Anakim 400 years prior (Num.13:30; 14:8, 9). The heathens’ hearts fail at the name of the Lord God of Israel (Josh. 2:11).

1 Samuel 17:37 The LORD…He will deliver me. Just as Jonathan believed earlier (14:6). David had a wholehearted faith in the God of Israel. the LORD be with you. One of the first explicit indications in the text that Saul knew that the Lord was with David (see 15:28).

Luke 23:42 Lord, remember me. The penitent thief’s prayer reflected his belief that the soul lives on after death; that Christ had a right to rule over a kingdom of the souls of men; and that He would soon enter that kingdom despite His impending death. His request to be remembered was a plea for mercy, which also reveals that the thief understood he had no hope but divine grace and that the dispensing of that grace lay in Jesus’ power. All of this demonstrates true faith on the part of the dying thief, and Christ graciously affirmed the man’s salvation (v. 43).

DAY 7: Contrast the spiritual anointings of David and Saul.
David was first anointed by Samuel “in the midst of his brothers” (1 Sam. 16:13). David’s first anointing was before his family/house. His second anointing would be before the assembly of his tribe, Judah; and his third anointing would be before the nation Israel. At this time, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon David.” This familiar Old Testament expression relates to empowerment for some God-given task (see 10:6, 11; 11:6; 19:20, 23; 2 Sam. 23:2; 2 Chr. 20:14; Is. 11:2; 61:1; Ezek. 11:5; 37:1). 

David’s anointing was an external symbol of an inward work of God. The operation of the Holy Spirit in this case was not for regeneration, but for empowerment to perform his (David’s) role in God’s program for Israel. After David sinned with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11; 12), he prayed, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11).

When David’s ascent to the throne began, Saul’s slow and painful descent began also. “The Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul” (1 Sam. 16:14). Without God’s empowering Holy Spirit, Saul was effectively no longer king over Israel (15:28), although his physical removal from the throne, and his death, happened many years later. “And a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.” God, in His sovereignty, allowed an evil spirit to torment Saul (see Judg. 9:23; 1 Kin. 22:19–23; Job 1:6–12) for 

His purpose of establishing the throne of David. This spirit, a messenger from Satan, is to be distinguished from a troubled emotional state brought on by indwelling sin or the harmful consequences of the sinful acts of others (e.g., spirit of jealousy, Num. 5:14). This demon spirit attacked Saul from without, for there is no evidence that the demon indwelt Saul. Saul, whose inward constitution was already prone to questionable judgment and the fear of men, began to experience God’s judgment in the form of severe bouts of depression, anger, and delusion, initiated and aggravated by the evil spirit assigned to him. There are several New Testament occasions where God turned people over to demons or Satan for judgment (see Acts 5:1–3; 1 Cor. 5:1–7; 1 Tim.1:18–20).

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Trials' Lessons: Contentment

“Considering the reproach of Christ greaterriches than the treasures of Egypt . . .” (Hebrews 11:26). 

Trials can show that material things are inadequate to meet our deepest needs.

We rely every day on material possessions—cars, computers, pagers, telephones, microwaves, radios, and TVs. These familiar conveniences make us feel as though it’s quite a hardship to cope without them. Therefore it’s difficult to avoid the pitfall Jesus warned about in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon [riches].”

Materialism can exert such a powerful influence on us as believers that the Lord will sometimes subject us to trials just so He can remove us from the grip of the world’s devices and riches. Various trials and sufferings will almost invariably reveal how inadequate our possessions are to meet our deepest needs or provide genuine relief from the pains and stresses of life. And this realization ought to become more and more true of you as you grow in the Christian life. I have observed that mature believers, as time goes by, become less and less attached to the temporal items they’ve accumulated. Such stuff, along with life’s fleeting experiences, simply fades in importance as you draw closer to the Lord.

Moses is a wonderful example of someone who learned through trials these important lessons about materialism (Heb. 11:24-26). He spent forty years in Pharaoh’s household and was brought up to be an Egyptian prince. But he was willing to leave a position of prestige and power so he could experience something of the sufferings of his fellow Israelites, who were living as slaves in Egypt. God in effect made Moses a participant in Israel’s trials, content to rely on Him, not on the comforts and advantages of materialism: “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” (Heb. 11:27).

The Lord might need to get our attention in similar fashion, so that we learn one of the key lessons from life’s trials: to rely on His unlimited spiritual wealth, not on our finite and fading material possessions.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to make you more willing to rely on His strength and less willing to lean on material things.
For Further Study
Read 1 Timothy 6:6-11. According to Paul, what does contentment involve?


Gaining Spiritual Stability (Peter)

The twelve apostles included "Simon, who is called Peter" (Matt. 10:2).

Jesus can make an impulsive and vacillating Christian as stable as a rock.

The first disciple Matthew's gospel names is "Simon, who is called Peter" (Matt. 10:2). He was a fisherman by trade but Jesus called him to be a fisher of men. John 1:40-42 records their first encounter: "One of the two who heard John [the Baptist] speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. He found first his own brother Simon, and . . . brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, 'You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas' (which translated means Peter)."

"Peter" means "stone." "Cephas" is its Aramaic equivalent. By nature Simon tended to be impulsive and vacillating. Apparently Jesus named him Peter as a reminder of his future role in the church, which would require spiritual strength and stability. Whenever Peter acted like a man of strength, Jesus called him by his new name. When he sinned, Jesus called him by his old name (e.g., John 21:15-17). In the gospel of John, Peter is called "Simon Peter" seventeen times. Perhaps John knew Peter so well he realized he was always drifting somewhere between sinful Simon and spiritual Peter.
For the next few days we will see how Jesus worked with Peter to transform him into a true spiritual rock. It was an amazing transformation, but not unlike what He desires to do in every believer's life.

You might not have the same personality as Peter, but the Lord wants you to be a spiritual rock just the same. Peter himself wrote, "You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet. 2:5). That occurs as you "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18). Make that your continual aim.

Suggestions for Prayer
List the areas of your Christian walk that are inconsistent or vacillating. Make them a matter of earnest prayer, asking God for wisdom and grace as you begin to strengthen them.

For Further Study
First Peter was written to Christians in danger of severe persecution. Read that epistle, noting the keys to spiritual stability that Peter gives.


The Satisfaction of True Giving

“‘When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you’” (Matthew 6:3–4).

The most satisfying, God-blessed giving is that which we do and then forget about. We do not wait for or want recognition—we’re not even concerned whether the recipient is grateful or not. The act should be so discreet that even our left hand will not realize what happened.

The Old Testament describes giving as a part of God’s cycle of blessing. Proverbs says, “The generous man will be prosperous, and he who waters will himself be watered” (11:25). God blesses our giving, and when that occurs we can give some more out of the additional resources He gives. The Lord, through Moses, told the Israelites, “You shall celebrate the Feast of Weeks to the Lord your God with a tribute of a freewill offering of your hand, which you shall give just as the Lord your God blesses you” (Deut. 16:10).

Appeals from all sorts of charities, ministries, and causes—some legitimate, others illegitimate—bombard Christians today, perhaps in a greater way than ever before. Having discernment on how to allocate your giving resources can be very difficult. But first of all, you should give systematically to your local church: “On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper” (1 Cor. 16:2). Then you can be alert for opportunities to give other amounts directly to individuals in need.

Willing and generous giving has always and should always characterize God’s faithful people.

Ask Yourself
Are you being faithful to contribute the firstfruits of your giving—regularly, repeatedly—to the church where you are fed each week? Does this seem like a painful thing to do, or does it instead stir gratitude within you? As you pray, ask God to lead you with wisdom, sensitivity, and generosity to other people and ministries He wants to bless through you.

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Word of God really does hit the spot!!!

How can I have victory in overcoming sin?

Christians should all have overcoming sin as one of our goals. Although we will never be perfectly victorious over sin in this life (1 John 1:8), we must recognize that overcoming sin is part of the battle which is the Christian life. God has not left us to battle sin on our own, however. He has given us clear instructions and several resources to aid in the struggle.

The first resource, and the most important, is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, without whom victory over sin is impossible. Not only must we have the presence of the Spirit, but we must also be "filled" with the Spirit in order to overcome sin (Ephesians 5:18-21). We should be so completely yielded to the Holy Spirit that He can possess us fully and, in that sense, fill us. Romans 8:9 and Ephesians 1:13-14 state that He dwells within every believer, but He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30), and His activity within us can be quenched (1 Thessalonians 5:19). When we allow this to happen, we do not experience the fullness of the Spirit's working and His power in and through us. Therefore, the presence and the filling of the Holy Spirit are essential to overcoming sin.

Another resource God has given to us to overcome sin and live for Him is the Word of God, which is sufficient to equip us for every good work and to make us "complete" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If it is able to make us complete, that would include the power to have victory over sin. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that the Word of God is living and powerful, able to penetrate straight to our hearts to root out and overcome the deepest sins of heart and attitude. Psalm 119:9 (NIV) refers to the power of the Word: "How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word." Joshua 1:8 further exhorts "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success."

The Bible will help us to overcome sin, but not if it sits on the shelf until Sunday. We are to memorize it, meditate on it, or apply it to our lives. When it comes to the Word of God, we can't simply take in just enough to keep us alive spiritually. We must ingest enough of it to be healthy, thriving Christians, which involves feeding on it and meditating on its truths enough to derive its spiritual nutrition. The Bible is an essential and major part of the armor that God gives us to fight our spiritual battles (Ephesians 6:12-18). Without it, we have no hope of overcoming sin.

Prayer is the third crucial resource in our battle against sin. If Jesus had to pray diligently to prepare for the ordeal He was about to suffer, how much more do we who are weak and sinful have to rely on prayer to overcome temptation? In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus exhorted the disciples to "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation" (Matthew 26:41). When they failed to heed His warning, they fell into the sin of fear and unbelief (Mark 14:50). God has given us wonderful promises concerning prayer (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 18:1-8; John 6:23-27; 1 John 5:14-15), and Paul includes prayer in his passage on preparing for spiritual battle (Ephesians 6:18). Prayer acknowledges that we recognize our own limitations and God's inexhaustible power and it allows us to tap into that power as we "approach God's throne of grace with confidence" (Hebrews 4:16 NIV) with our petitions and supplications.

A fourth resource in our war to conquer sin is the fellowship of other believers, particularly in the local church. Overcoming sin with the help and encouragement of others in love and good works (Hebrews 10:24) is much easier than going it alone. James tells us to confess our faults to one another (James 5:16) and pray for one another because just as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another (Proverbs 27:17). There is strength and comfort to be found among a body of believers whose hearts are inclined toward God and one another (Ecclesiastes 4:11-12).

Accountability partners who can come alongside a struggling brother and render help in overcoming stubborn sins is another resource provided by the local church. Temptation is part of the Christian life (1 Corinthians 10:13), but God has promised not to test us beyond our ability to bear it and having an accountability partner or an accountability group can help us to overcome even the most stubborn of sins.

Sometimes victory over sin comes quickly; other times, victory comes more slowly. God has not left us helpless in our battle against sin. He has promised that as we make use of His resources, He will progressively bring about change in our lives. We can persevere in our efforts to overcome sin because we know that "The LORD is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does" (Psalm 145:13b NIV).

Comfort Food
Be Fed to the Full on God's Word
People often use food to relieve their woes. Stress, sadness, loneliness and frustration are often "fixed" with cookies, chocolate, an extra helping of macaroni and cheese, or a Big Mac with super-size fries and a Coke.

Or, if digestibles don't soothe the blues, then we'll try over-stuffing ourselves with reality TV, Facebook or Twitter, busyness, gossip, shopping, clubbing, drinking (or worse), and sex.

Now, all such "comfort foods" — except of course substance abuse — can have their calming benefits in the right contexts and with proper moderation and balance. But even then, do they really comfort us deep down where it's needed the most? If so, then for how long? Do they really relieve a hungry heart, or are they merely temporary fixes that feed the flesh more than they feed the Spirit?

Oh, how we need to be reminded that no so-called "comfort food" hits the spot quite like the precious Word of God! "How sweet are Thy words unto my taste! Yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth!" the psalmist says at Psalm 119:103. And the Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed, "Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and Thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart: for I am called by Thy name, O Lord God of hosts" (Jeremiah 15:16). Amen! and Hallelujah!

Notice the context of Jeremiah's statement here. He is languishing over God's rejection of an impending judgment on His wayward people. But he also says that God's Word was "found" by him and that it brought his heart joy in spite of the anguish.

Often what has been found and enjoyed must first have been sought for. So maybe if Jeremiah had been searching for God's Word more than anything else he could have tried to comfort and satisfy his distraught soul. Verse 16 really stands out as a promise even in the midst of threatened woe — a savory morsel of hope for anguishing souls hungry for real relief.

What a vivid, practical picture these Scriptures give us, a picture for us to live by, of God's wonderful Word as something to consume like food to satisfy our spiritual "hunger pangs." 

A similar picture is given at Ezekiel 2:8 to 3:4 where the Lord says, "Open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee...cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this roll [i.e., Word] that I give thee." To which Ezekiel says, "Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." The psalmist adds a sense of urgency to this sort of imagery: "I opened my mouth, and panted: for I longed for Thy commandments" (Psalm 119:130).

Jesus said at John 15:11: "These things have I spoken unto thee, that My joy might remain in thee, and that your joy might be full." Read the surrounding verses. 

Couple that with such verses as, "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4); and "As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that you may grow thereby: If so be you have tasted that the Lord is gracious" (1 Peter 2:2-3).

Such Scriptures remind us that God's Word, everything He has said to us, is intended to feed us to the full with His Joy that enriches. Joy that remains. Joy that tastes so good to the longing soul. Joy that sticks to the ribs, so to speak, so that like Jeremiah's, our hunger pangs can be quieted even in the midst of our trials.

Let's feast on the sweet and savory words of the Lord. Let's taste that He is gracious. Take His Word in, chew on it, swallow it, digest it. Savor its richness. Absorb its goodness deep down into your spiritual bowels. Be fed to the full with the joy of the Lord. Yes, the Word of God really does hit the spot. 

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"What does the Bible say about managing/controlling emotions?"

Answer: What would humans be like if we never became emotional, if we were capable of controlling emotions at all times? Perhaps we would be like Mr. Spock on Star Trek, as his responses to all situations seem to be purely logical, never emotional. But God created us in His image, and God’s emotions are revealed in the Scriptures; therefore, God created us emotional beings. We feel love, joy, happiness, guilt, anger, disappointment, fear, etc. Sometimes our emotions are pleasant to experience and sometimes not. Sometimes our emotions are grounded in truth, and sometimes they are “false” in that they are based upon false premises. For example, if we falsely believe that God is not in control of the circumstances of our lives, we may experience the emotions of fear or despair or anger based on that false belief. Regardless, emotions are powerful and real to the one feeling them. And emotions can be helpful indicators of what is going on in our hearts.

That being said, it is important that we learn about managing emotions rather than allowing our emotions to manage us. For example, when we feel angry, it is important to be able to stop, identify that we are angry, examine our hearts to determine why we are angry, and then proceed in a biblical manner. Out-of-control emotions tend not to produce God-honoring results: “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).

Our emotions, like our minds and bodies, are influenced greatly by the fall of mankind into sin. In other words, our emotions are tainted by our sin nature, and that is why they need controlling. The Bible tells us we are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6; Ephesians 5:15–18; 1 Peter 5:6–11), not by our emotions. If we recognize our emotions and bring them to God, we can then submit our hearts to Him and allow Him to do His work in our hearts and direct our actions. At times, this may mean God simply comforts us, reassures us, and reminds us we need not fear. Other times, He may prompt us to forgive or to ask for forgiveness. The psalms are an excellent example of managing emotions and bringing our emotions to God. Many psalms are filled with raw emotion, but the emotion is poured out to God in an attempt to seek His truth and righteousness.

Sharing our feelings with others is also helpful in managing emotions. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. God has given us the gift of other believers who can share our burdens and whose burdens we share (Romans 12; Galatians 6:1–10; 2 Corinthians 1:3–5; Hebrews 3:13). Fellow believers can also remind us of God’s truth and offer new perspective. When we are feeling discouraged or afraid, we can benefit from the encouragement, exhortation, and reassurance other believers provide. Often, when we encourage others, we ourselves are encouraged. Likewise, when we are joyful, our joy usually increases when we share it.

Allowing our emotions to control us is not godly. Denying or vilifying our emotions is not godly, either. We should thank God for our ability to feel emotion and steward our emotions as a gift from God. The way to manage our emotions is to grow in our walk with God. We are transformed through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1–2) and the power of the Holy Spirit—the One who produces in us self-control (Galatians 5:23). We need daily input of scriptural principles, a desire to grow in the knowledge of God, and time spent meditating on God’s attributes. We should seek to know more of God and share more of our hearts with God through prayer. Christian fellowship is another important part of spiritual growth. We journey with fellow believers and help one another grow in faith as well as in emotional maturity

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"Why is encouragement so important according to the Bible?"

"But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness,” Hebrews 3:13 tells us. First Thessalonians 5:11 says, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” Throughout the Bible we see instructions to encourage one another and verses that are meant to encourage us. Why is encouragement emphasized in the Bible? Primarily because encouragement is necessary to our walk of faith.

Jesus told His followers, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b). Jesus did not shy from telling His followers about the troubles they would face. In fact, He told them the world would hate them (John 15:18-21; see also Matthew 10:22-23 and 2 Corinthians 2:15-16). But Jesus’ grim forecast was tempered with cheer; He followed His prediction of trouble with a sparkling word of encouragement: He has overcome the world. Jesus is greater than any trouble we face.

Without encouragement, hardship becomes meaningless, and our will to go on wanes. The prophet Elijah struggled with discouragement (1 Kings 19:3-10), and so do we. It is important to remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). This truth makes encouragement all the more important. It is not just that we face the world’s displeasure; we are caught in the crosshairs of a spiritual battle. When we are encouraged in Christ, we have strength to put on our spiritual armor and remain steadfast (see Ephesians 6:10-18).

Even in places where Christians do not experience overt persecution or hatred, we all know that life can be difficult. Discouragement is not an uncommon human experience. At times, recognizing that there is meaning in the seemingly inconsequential things we do seems next to impossible. We may want to give up. Yet He who calls us is faithful, and He gives us the power to be faithful, too (1 Corinthians 1:9).

A man in the early church named Joseph was given the nickname “Barnabas,” which means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). What a blessing Barnabas was to the believers of his day! Through the encouragement of Barnabas, the apostle Paul was first accepted by the church in Jerusalem (Acts 9:27). Through the encouragement of Barnabas, Mark was given a second chance after an abject failure (Acts 13:13; 15:39).

Encouragement makes it easier to live in a fallen world in a holy way. Encouragement makes it easier to love as Jesus loved (see John 13:34-35). Encouragement gives hope (Romans 15:4). Encouragement helps us through times of discipline and testing (Hebrews 12:5). Encouragement nurtures patience and kindness (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Galatians 5:22-26). Encouragement makes it easier to sacrifice our own desires for the advancement of God’s kingdom. In short, encouragement makes it easier to live the Christian life.

Without encouragement, life would soon feel pointless and burdensome. Without encouragement, we can be overwhelmed by the very real pains of our lives. Without encouragement, we feel unloved. Without encouragement, we begin to think that God is a liar or is unconcerned with our welfare. So, the Bible tells us to encourage one another, to remind each other of the truth that God loves us, that God equips us, that we are treasured, that our struggles are worth it.

Encouragement from the Bible gives us the will to carry on. It is a glimpse of the bigger picture. It can prevent burn-out. It can save us from believing lies (“sin’s deceitfulness”). Encouragement helps us experience abundant life (see John 10:10).

Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” God’s Word is full of encouragement. Pleasant words, indeed.

"What does the Bible say about managing/controlling emotions?"

What would humans be like if we never became emotional, if we were capable of controlling emotions at all times? Perhaps we would be like Mr. Spock on Star Trek, as his responses to all situations seem to be purely logical, never emotional. But God created us in His image, and God’s emotions are revealed in the Scriptures; therefore, God created us emotional beings. We feel love, joy, happiness, guilt, anger, disappointment, fear, etc. Sometimes our emotions are pleasant to experience and sometimes not. Sometimes our emotions are grounded in truth, and sometimes they are “false” in that they are based upon false premises. For example, if we falsely believe that God is not in control of the circumstances of our lives, we may experience the emotions of fear or despair or anger based on that false belief. Regardless, emotions are powerful and real to the one feeling them. And emotions can be helpful indicators of what is going on in our hearts.

That being said, it is important that we learn about managing emotions rather than allowing our emotions to manage us. For example, when we feel angry, it is important to be able to stop, identify that we are angry, examine our hearts to determine why we are angry, and then proceed in a biblical manner. Out-of-control emotions tend not to produce God-honoring results: “Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:20).

Our emotions, like our minds and bodies, are influenced greatly by the fall of mankind into sin. In other words, our emotions are tainted by our sin nature, and that is why they need controlling. The Bible tells us we are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (Romans 6Ephesians 5:15–181 Peter 5:6–11), not by our emotions. If we recognize our emotions and bring them to God, we can then submit our hearts to Him and allow Him to do His work in our hearts and direct our actions. At times, this may mean God simply comforts us, reassures us, and reminds us we need not fear. Other times, He may prompt us to forgive or to ask for forgiveness. The psalms are an excellent example of managing emotions and bringing our emotions to God. Many psalms are filled with raw emotion, but the emotion is poured out to God in an attempt to seek His truth and righteousness.

Sharing our feelings with others is also helpful in managing emotions. The Christian life is not meant to be lived alone. God has given us the gift of other believers who can share our burdens and whose burdens we share (Romans 12Galatians 6:1–102 Corinthians 1:3–5Hebrews 3:13). Fellow believers can also remind us of God’s truth and offer new perspective. When we are feeling discouraged or afraid, we can benefit from the encouragement, exhortation, and reassurance other believers provide. Often, when we encourage others, we ourselves are encouraged. Likewise, when we are joyful, our joy usually increases when we share it.

Allowing our emotions to control us is not godly. Denying or vilifying our emotions is not godly, either. We should thank God for our ability to feel emotion and steward our emotions as a gift from God. The way to manage our emotions is to grow in our walk with God. We are transformed through the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1–2) and the power of the Holy Spirit—the One who produces in us self-control (Galatians 5:23). We need daily input of scriptural principles, a desire to grow in the knowledge of God, and time spent meditating on God’s attributes. We should seek to know more of God and share more of our hearts with God through prayer. Christian fellowship is another important part of spiritual growth. We journey with fellow believers and help one another grow in faith as well as in emotional maturity.

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Trials' Lessons: Humility

“To keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me” (2 Corinthians 12:7). 

God sometimes uses trials to humble believers.

Professional athletics, as a whole, makes up one of the least humble sectors in modern American society. Players with multi-million dollar salaries and extravagant benefits have replaced those who played because they loved their sport and had great community loyalty.

One such noble model from the past was Lou Gehrig, the Hall of Fame first baseman with the New York Yankees, whose career ended in 1939 after he was stricken with a rare and always fatal neuromuscular disease. Throughout his ordeal, Gehrig conducted himself with dignity and humility, all of which culminated on July 4, 1939, before a capacity crowd at Yankee Stadium, with millions more listening on the radio. He concluded his special remarks on “Lou Gehrig Day” with this amazing statement: “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.” He died approximately two years later.

Shouldn’t those who seek to serve and glorify God react in similar fashion if confronted by the same kind of trial? They will if they remember that He sometimes sends trials to humble His children and remind them they are not to be overconfident in their own spiritual strength (Rom. 12:3).

Today’s verse tells us God allowed Paul to be plagued by some sort of chronic, painful problem, “a messenger of Satan.” This likely refers to a man who led the opposition to Paul at the church in Corinth. When we are greatly blessed spiritually—Paul saw the risen Christ several times and was even taken up into the third heaven—the Lord sometimes allows “a thorn in the flesh” to afflict us, that we might remain humble. Whenever we are besieged by such trials and come to the point where all strength seems gone, God’s Word reminds us, as it did Paul, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I [Paul] will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (2 Cor. 12:9).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to remind you throughout the day of your humble dependence on Him, whether or not you are going through a trial.

For Further Study
Read James 4:6-10 and 1 Peter 5:5-7. What do these passages say is the key to genuine humility?


The Priority of Spiritual Unity

"The names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him" (Matt. 10:2-4).

Unity in the Spirit is the key to a church’s overall effectiveness.
Unity is a crucial element in the life of the church—especially among its leadership. A unified church can accomplish great things for Christ, but disunity can cripple or destroy it. Even the most orthodox churches aren't immune to disunity's subtle attack because it often arises from personality clashes or pride rather than doctrinal issues.
God often brings together in congregations and ministry teams people of vastly different backgrounds and temperaments. That mix produces a variety of skills and ministries but it also produces the potential for disunity and strife. 

That was certainly true of the disciples, which included an impetuous fisherman like Peter; two passionate and ambitious "sons of thunder" like James and John; an analytical, pragmatic, and pessimistic man like Philip; a racially prejudiced man like Bartholomew; a despised tax collector like Matthew; a political Zealot like Simon; and a traitor like Judas, who was in it only for the money and eventually sold out for thirty pieces of silver.

Imagine the potential for disaster in a group like that! Yet their common purpose transcended their individual differences, and by His grace the Lord accomplished through them what they never could have accomplished on their own. That's the power of spiritual unity!

As a Christian, you're part of a select team that is accomplishing the world's greatest task: finishing the work Jesus began. That requires unity of purpose and effort. Satan will try to sow seeds of discord, but you must do everything possible to heed Paul's admonition to be "of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, and intent on one purpose" (Phil. 2:2).

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray daily for unity among the leaders and congregation of your church.
For Further Study
Read 1 Corinthians 3:1-9, noting how Paul addressed the issue of disunity in the Corinthian church.


What’s Wrong with False Giving?

“‘When you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full’” (Matthew 6:2).

Giving to the poor literally means any act of mercy, but it came to mean more specifically the giving of money or goods to the needy. Jesus did not say “if” but “when” concerning our giving—in other words, He expects us to do so. But just as sympathy for the needy does not help them unless something is actually done toward their need, so giving money provides us no spiritual blessing unless done from the heart.

Those who, like the Pharisees, give to impress others with their piety and generosity will receive no further reward. When we give with this false motive, we receive back only what people can give; we thereby forfeit God’s blessings.

Many times, of course, the pretense people use to draw attention to or make an impression with their giving is not so obvious. They know, especially if they profess to follow Christ, that other Christians will resent ostentatiousness. So they seek to make their giving “accidentally” noticed. But any strategy designed to draw attention is still a basic form of trumpet-blowing hypocrisy, which can appear in vari-ous forms. Whenever we make a point of doing our giving publicly to be noticed, rather than doing it privately simply for God’s reward, we behave more like the hypo-crites of Jesus’ day, not like His children.

Ask Yourself
What are some of the ways that giving can be done for personal recognition, even within the decorum of outward humility? How does one guard against this need for acknowledgment? What are we forgetting when we’re tempted to crave the credit for every dollar we share with others?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 12:1–13:23
* Psalm 56:1-13
* Proverbs 15:21-23
* Luke 22:47-71

1 Samuel 12:12 when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites came against you. According to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Josephus, Nahash was campaigning over a large area. It was that Ammonite threat that seemingly provoked Israel to demand a human king (8:1–20). the LORD your God was your king. The clearest indictment of Israel for choosing a mere man to fight for her instead of the Lord God (see 8:20).
1 Samuel 13:19 no blacksmith. The Philistines had superior iron- and metal-working craftsmen until David’s time (see 1 Chr. 22:3), accounting for their formidable military force.

Psalm 56:8 my tears…Your bottle. David asked God to keep a remembrance of all of his sufferings, so that God would eventually vindicate him.

Luke 22:51 Permit even this. I.e., the betrayal and arrest (see John 18:11). All was proceeding according to the divine timetable. touched his ear and healed him. This is the only instance in all of Scripture where Christ healed a fresh wound. The miracle is also unique in that Christ healed an enemy, unasked, and without any evidence of faith in the recipient. It is also remarkable that such a dramatic miracle had no effect whatsoever on the hearts of those men. Neither had the explosive power of Jesus’ words, which knocked them to the ground (John 18:6). They carried on with the arrest as if nothing peculiar had happened (v. 54).

Luke 22:53 this is your hour. I.e., nighttime, the hour of darkness. The arresting group had not the courage to confront Jesus in the presence of the crowds at the temple, where He had openly taught each day. Their skulking tactics betrayed the truth about their hearts. Nighttime was a fitting hour for the servants of the power of darkness (Satan) to be afoot (see John 3:20, 21; Eph. 5:8, 12–15; 1 Thess. 5:5–7).

DAY 5: Why was Saul judged so severely?
When Saul was anointed king by Samuel, Saul was commanded to wait 7 days to meet Samuel in Gilgal. Samuel would offer burnt offerings and peace offerings, and he would show Saul what he should do (1 Sam. 10:8). After 7 days of waiting and Samuel had not come, the people were scattered (1 Sam. 13:8). Saul’s men were deserting him because of anxiety and fear over the coming battle.

Rather than continue to wait, Saul “offered the burnt offering” (v. 9). Saul’s sin was not specifically that he made a sacrifice (see 2 Sam.24:25; 1 Kin.8:62–64), but that he did not wait for priestly assistance from Samuel. He wished to rule as an autocrat, who possessed absolute power in civil and sacred matters. Samuel had waited the 7 days as a test of Saul’s character and obedience to God, but Saul failed it by invading the priestly office himself.

Confronted by Samuel, Saul’s response was “When I saw…” (v. 11). Saul reacted disobediently based upon what he saw and not by faith. He feared losing his men and did not properly consider what God would have him do. Consequently, Samuel places the responsibility fully on Saul’s shoulders: “You have not kept the commandment” (v. 13). “Now your kingdom shall not continue” (v. 14). Instead of Saul, God was going to choose one whose heart was like His own, i.e., one who had a will to obey God. Paul quotes this passage in Acts 13:22 of David. Someone else, namely David, had already been chosen to be God’s leader over His people.

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Trials' Lessons: Faith

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac; and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son” (Hebrews 11:17).

The main reason God allows trials in the lives of Christians is to test the strength of their faith.

The memorable example in Genesis 22 of Abraham’s testing is perhaps the severest trial any human being has ever faced. When God told Abraham to offer his only son Isaac as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of Moriah (Gen. 22:1-2), Abraham no doubt was stunned. In terms of God’s nature, His plan of redemption, His promise to Abraham, and His love for Isaac, the entire concept was utterly inconceivable and unprecedented.

But in the face of all that, Abraham showed remarkable faith in dealing with this trial (Gen. 22:3-8). He did not second-guess God, as many of us would, but rather obeyed immediately (v. 3) and displayed the confidence that he and Isaac would return (v. 5) and that God would supply a lamb for the offering (v. 8). Then Abraham showed he was ready to obey completely. Genesis 22 tells us he “bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. And Abraham stretched out his hand, and took the knife to slay his son” (vv. 9-10). What unbelievable faith, and what a dramatic moment when God spared Abraham from the full cost of obedience (vv. 11-12)! The story clearly shows us the nature of true faith (Gen. 15:6) and why Abraham was later called the father of the faithful (Rom. 4:11-12; Gal. 3:6-7).

As heirs to Abraham and his extraordinary trust in God, we can also endure the most difficult trials and pass tests of faith that seem unimaginably severe at the time. God might want us to offer our own loved ones to Him and let them go His way rather than tightly holding on to them for our own purposes. However, if we look to God as Abraham did (Heb. 11:17-19), we can be confident in any trial and know with certainty that our faith has passed the test.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that God would strengthen your faith even in the smallest of daily trials.
For Further Study
Read 2 Kings 20:1-11 and 2 Chronicles 32:24-31.
* What was at the heart of Hezekiah’s difficulties (2 Chron. 32:25)?
* Why did God test him (v. 31)?


Chosen to be Sent

"Having summoned His twelve disciples, [Jesus] gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Now the names of the twelve apostles were these" (Matt. 10:1-2).

Every disciple must also be a discipler.

Have you ever met someone who constantly absorbs what the church has to offer, yet never seems to plug into a ministry where he can give to others? I've met many people like that. Some have attended church for many years, and have even taken evangelism and other special training classes. But they never quite feel qualified to minister to others or even to share their testimony. Eventually that has a crippling effect on their spiritual lives and on the life of the church in general.

When Jesus called the disciples to Himself, He did so to train them for ministry. We see that in Matthew 10:1-2. The Greek word translated "disciples" means "learners." "Apostles" translates a Greek word meaning "to dispatch away from" or "send." In classical Greek it refers to a naval expedition dispatched to serve a foreign city or country. Disciples are learners; apostles are emissaries. Jesus called untrained disciples, but dispatched trained apostles. That's the normal training process.

In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus says, "Go . . . and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you." Paul said to Timothy, "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, these entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2).

As wonderful and important as it is to learn of Christ, you must never be content to be a disciple only. You must also be a discipler!

Suggestions for Prayer
Memorize Matthew 28:18-20. If you aren't currently discipling someone, ask the Lord for an opportunity to do so.

For Further Study
An important part of discipleship is spending time with Christ. One way to do that is to read through the gospels on a regular basis. You might want to obtain a harmony of the gospels to help in your study. Tell a friend of your plan so he or she can encourage you and hold you accountable.


Jesus on God’s Love: To Be Like the Father

“‘Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’” (Matthew 5:48).

These words embody all the truths Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount—in fact, they are the apex of all He teaches in the gospels. The ultimate goal of our redemption and the sincere, strong yearning of God’s heart is for all who would trust in His Son to be like Him.

The word translated “perfect” essentially means arriving at an intended end or realizing a completion of something. The word elsewhere in the New Testament is often rendered “mature” (cf. 1 Cor. 2:6; 14:20; Eph. 4:13, etc.). But here Jesus clearly intended to convey the meaning of perfection, because He is presenting God as the ultimate, holy standard for being and doing. It is the criterion of absolute perfection.
In our own power, such supreme and divine perfection is completely impossible to attain. And if we wonder how our Savior can demand the impossible, we simply have to remember His later instruction, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). God always provides the means and the power to accomplish what He commands.

Simply because God’s righteousness is perfect, it is impossible in human strength to attain it. However, the impossible becomes possible for those of us who trust the Lord Jesus, because God gives to us the very righteousness of Christ.

Ask Yourself
Are you willing to believe God for the impossible—that you can actually be “wise in what is good and innocent in what is evil” (Rom. 16:19)? How could you cooperate with Him today in drawing closer to this noble goal?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 10:1–11:15
* Psalm 55:16-23
* Proverbs 15:18-20
* Luke 22:24-46

1 Samuel 10:1 the LORD has anointed you commander. The Lord chose Saul to be the leader of Israel and communicated His choice through the private anointing by Samuel, signifying a setting aside for God’s service. His inheritance. The inheritance was God’s nation, Israel, in the sense that she uniquely belonged to Him (Deut. 4:20; 9:26).

1 Samuel 10:6 the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you. The Holy Spirit would enable Saul to declare the word of the Lord with the prophets. turned into another man. With this empowerment by the Holy Spirit, Saul would emerge another man (see 10:9), equipped in the manner of Gideon and Jephthah for deeds of valor (see v. 9; Judg. 6:34; 11:29).

1 Samuel 11:15 they made Saul king before the LORD. All the people came to crown Saul king that day. The process of entering the kingship was the same for both Saul and David: 1) commissioned by the Lord (9:1–10:16; 16:1–13); 2) confirmed by military victory (10:17–11:11; 16:14; 2 Sam. 1:27); and 3) crowned (11:12–15; 2 Sam. 2:4; 5:3). peace offerings. Sacrifices of thanksgiving (see Lev. 7:13). rejoiced greatly. Along with the victory over the Ammonites, there was a great celebration over the nation being united.

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD. The word for “burden” implies one’s circumstances, one’s lot. The psalmist promises that the Lord will uphold the believer in the struggles of life.

Luke 22:44 like great drops of blood. This suggests a dangerous condition known as hematidrosis, the effusion of blood in one’s perspiration. It can be caused by extreme anguish or physical strain. Subcutaneous capillaries dilate and burst, mingling blood with sweat. Christ Himself stated that His distress had brought Him to the threshold of death (see Matt. 26:38; Mark 14:34; Heb. 12:3, 4).

DAY 4: How can we face temptation with confidence?
Shortly after a dispute among the disciples as to which one should be considered the greatest (Luke 22:24), Jesus specifically addresses Peter as “Simon, Simon” (v. 31). The repetition of the name (see 10:41; Acts 9:4) implied an earnest and somber tone of warning. Christ Himself had given Simon the name Peter (6:14), but here He reverted to his old name, perhaps to intensify His rebuke about Peter’s fleshly overconfidence. The context also suggests that Peter may have been one of the more vocal participants in the dispute of v. 24.

“Satan,” Jesus told him, “has asked for you.” Though addressed specifically to Peter, this warning embraced the other disciples as well. The pronoun “you” is plural in the Greek text.“ That he may sift you as wheat.” The imagery is apt. It suggests that such trials, though unsettling and undesirable, have a necessary refining effect.
Nevertheless, Jesus said, “I have prayed for you” (v. 32).The pronoun “you” is singular. Although it is clear that He prayed for all of them (John 17:6–19), He personally assured Peter of His prayers and of Peter’s ultimate victory, even encouraging Peter to be an encourager to the others. “That your faith should not fail.” Peter himself failed miserably, but his faith was never overthrown (see John 21:18, 19).

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Love of the Truth Brings Hatred

“‘All these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me’” (John 15:21).

The world, in its general hatred of the truth and ignorance of God, will also hate believers.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ time hated Him intensely. If we are committed to following Him wholeheartedly today, we can’t expect to avoid persecution and hardship any more than He did. In John 15:20 our Lord tells us what to expect: “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.”

If our perspective is right, however, this expectation should actually make us happy and even provide a certain sense of security. Receiving persecution from the world because we are Christ’s representatives means we have an opportunity to experience what Paul called “the fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). As one commentator has said, Christian suffering “is the very means God uses to transform us into the image of His Son.” Troubles and pains can be great reassurances that we have been united with Christ.

As we saw yesterday, it’s no surprise that the world hates us. It despises our general opposition to its system, but aside from that, the world hates believers simply because it doesn’t know God.

This basic ignorance of God usually appears in one of two ways. Either it shows up as apathy and religious superstition (Acts 17:22-23) or as more glaring actions and attitudes of moral and spiritual deviation (Romans 1:18—2:2). Whatever the case, people in the world are just doing what is natural for them because of their sin and depravity.

As a Christian, what should your response be? You should not be indifferent or accommodate the serious challenges you’ll face from the world. Instead, you ought to, by faith, realistically accept the truth of John 15:21, comfortably rest in the teaching of Philippians 3:10, and confidently seek to minister to the world “because the foolishness of God [the gospel] is wiser than men, and the weakness of God [the cross] is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to help you begin grasping what it means to partake in “the fellowship of His sufferings.”

For Further Study
Read Acts 5:17-42.
* How is the world’s attitude toward the gospel displayed in this passage?
* What did the apostles appeal to when faced with severe opposition?


Overcoming Spiritual Inadequacies

"Having summoned His twelve disciples" (Matt. 10:1).

Jesus can overcome any inadequacy you might have.

Most people think of the disciples as stained-glass saints who didn't have to struggle with the faults and frailties of normal people. But they had inadequacies just like we all do. Seeing how Jesus dealt with them gives us hope that He can use us too.

One inadequacy common to all the disciples was their lack of understanding. For example, Luke 18 tells us Jesus gave them details about His future suffering, death, and resurrection, but they didn't understand anything He said (vv. 31-34). Jesus overcame their lack of understanding by constantly teaching them until they got it right.

Another inadequacy was their lack of humility. More than once they argued among themselves about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (e.g., Mark 9:33-37). Jesus dealt with their lack of humility by His own example. He likened Himself to a servant, and even washed their dirty feet.

In addition to their lack of understanding and humility, they also lacked faith. Jesus often said to them, "O men of little faith." In Mark 16:14 He rebuked them for not even believing the reports of His resurrection.

They also lacked commitment. Just prior to Christ's death Judas betrayed Him, Peter denied Him, and the others deserted Him. Jesus dealt with their lack of commitment by praying for them (e.g., John 17:15; Luke 22:31-32).

Finally, they lacked spiritual power, which Christ overcame by giving them the Holy Spirit.  Those are significant inadequacies, but despite all that, the book of Acts records that the disciples turned the world upside down with their powerful preaching and miraculous deeds. They were so much like Christ that people started calling them Christians, which means "Little Christs."

Jesus still transforms inadequacies into victories. He does it through the Spirit, the Word, and prayer. Don't be victimized by your inadequacies. Make those spiritual resources the continual focus of your life.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank the Lord for your inadequacies because they help you realize your dependence on Him.
* Ask for grace always to rely on your spiritual resources rather than human abilities.
For Further Study
Read Matthew 20:20-28.
* Who spoke to Jesus on behalf of James and John?
* What was His response?
* How did the other disciples respond?
* What was Jesus' concluding principle?


Jesus on God’s Love: That We Exceed Others’ Actions

“‘For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?’” (Matthew 5:46–47).

These words of Jesus were perhaps the most devastating and offensive ones the religious leaders had ever heard. The Lord bluntly stripped away their hypocrisy to reveal that their love was nothing more than the ordinary self-centered love common among the despised tax collectors and Gentiles. Tax collectors were dishonest, traitorous extortioners; Gentiles were considered unfit to be people of God.

Yet the type of love displayed by the scribes and Pharisees, according to Jesus’ infallible assessment, was no better than the persons’ whom they so looked down upon. In essence, our Lord declared that their righteousness was no better than that of the worst and lowest of other classes and groups.

Christ urges believers to have a much higher standard of righteousness than the world’s low standard. The world should notice Christians as being more honest employees and more helpful and caring neighbors. The culture should always notice that saints love as God loves: “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). J. Oswald Sanders once wrote, “The Master expects from His disciples such conduct as can be explained only in terms of the supernatural.”

Ask Yourself
Yes, we can become so comfortable in our culture and so indoctrinated in its ways that we are nearly indistinguishable in our likes, our schedules, and our matters of importance. Ask yourself what makes you appear different from the unsaved world around you. Is it just by what you don’t do, or by Jesus’ active brand of love and righteousness?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 8:1–9:27
* Psalm 55:9-15
* Proverbs 15:15-17
* Luke 22:1-23

1 Samuel 9:16 anoint him. This represents a setting apart for service to the Lord, which occurs in 10:1. commander. Literally, “one given prominence, one placed in front.” The title referred to “one designated to rule” (see 1 Kin. 1:35; 2 Chr. 11:22). their cry has come to Me. The people had been crying out for deliverance from the Philistines, their longstanding rivals, just as they did for liberation from Egypt (see Ex. 2:25; 3:9).

1 Samuel 9:17 This one shall reign over My people. God identified Saul to Samuel, assuring there was no mistaking whom God was choosing to be king.
Luke 22:3 Satan entered. I.e., Judas was possessed by Satan himself. Satan evidently gained direct control over Judas on two occasions—once just before Judas arranged his betrayal with the chief priests and again during the Last Supper (John 13:27), immediately before the betrayal was actually carried out.

Luke 22:12 a large, furnished upper room. One of many such rooms for rent in Jerusalem that were maintained for the express purpose of providing pilgrims a place to celebrate feasts. The furnishings undoubtedly included a large banquet table and everything necessary to prepare and serve a meal.

Luke 22:22 as it has been determined. Every detail of the crucifixion of Christ was under the sovereign control of God and in accord with His eternal purposes. See Acts 2:23; 4:26–28. but woe. The fact that Judas’s betrayal was part of God’s plan does not free him from the guilt of a crime he entered into willfully. God’s sovereignty is never a legitimate excuse for human guilt.

DAY 3: What was wrong with Israel wanting a king?
“Now make us a king…like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). When Israel entered the land, they encountered Canaanite city-states that were led by kings (Josh. 12:7–24) and were later enslaved by nations that were led by kings (Judg. 3:8, 12; 4:2; 8:5; 11:12). However, at the time of the judges, there was no king in Israel (Judg. 17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25).

According to Deuteronomy 17:14, God knew this would be their desire and He would allow it to occur. “Heed the voice of the people,” the Lord told Samuel (v. 7) and give them a king. “They have not rejected you, but…Me.” The nature of this rejection of the Lord by Israel is explained in vv. 19, 20.

Samuel obeyed the Lord by warning them of the behavior of a human king in vv. 10–18. A king would: 1) draft young men and women for his service (vv. 11–13); 2) tax the people’s crops and flocks (vv. 14, 15, 17a); 3) appropriate the best of their animals and servants (v. 16); and 4) place limitations on their personal freedom (v. 17b). 

Additionally, Samuel told them “you will cry out…because of your king” (v. 18). They would later cry out for freedom from his rule (1 Kin. 12:4), but “the LORD will not hear you.” In contrast to the Lord’s response to Israel during the period of the judges (Judg. 2:18), the Lord would refuse to deliver the people out of the hand of their king who oppressed them.

In spite of Samuel’s warnings, the people demanded a king who will “fight our battles” (v. 20). Up until this point, the Lord Himself had fought the battles for Israel and given continual victory (Josh. 10:14; 1 Sam. 7:10). Israel no longer wanted the Lord to be their warrior—replacing Him with a human king was their desire. It was in this way that Israel rejected the Lord. The problem was not in having a king; but, rather the reason the people wanted a king, i.e., to be like other nations. They also foolishly assumed there would be some greater power in a king leading them in battle.

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Opposition to the World Brings Hatred

“‘If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you’” (John 15:18-19).

Because they are not part of the world’s system, Christians should expect it to hate and oppose them.

If you’ve been a Christian for a while, you doubtless remember how soon you realized that you were no longer in step with the world’s culture. You were no longer comfortable with its philosophy. You no longer had the world’s desires and yearnings. You no longer felt good about doing some of the things the world takes for granted. In fact, you even felt constrained to speak out against such things and urge unbelievers to turn from their sins and embrace Christ. All that opposition to worldliness, when added up, can and will result in hatred toward us from people in the world.

In John 15, the Greek word translated “world” (kosmos) refers to the world’s system of sin, which is devised by Satan and acted out by sinful people. The Devil and his angels sometimes make it even more difficult for us by subtly presenting their “religion” as if it were true. Such deception can lull us into complacency and leave us spiritually weak when persecution comes.

Because of the world’s relentless opposition to God’s kingdom, it is crucial that we remember Christ’s call to stand for Him in our sinful society. The apostle Paul exhorts us to be “children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil. 2:15).

If we take Scripture seriously and prayerfully spend time in it daily, we will not be caught off guard when our faith is opposed. Instead, we will be heartened by Jesus’ words, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord to strengthen you today and to remind you that even though you are not of the world, you are to be a light to it.

For Further Study
Read the account of John the Baptist’s death in Mark 6:14.
* How did John suffer before he was killed?
* What character differences do you see between John and Herod?


Exemplary Living

"Having summoned His twelve disciples" (Matt. 10:1).

A good example is the best form of teaching.

Matthew 10:1 is Christ's official commissioning of the twelve men He hand-picked to serve beside Him during His earthly ministry. Mark 3:13 says He "summoned those whom He Himself wanted, and they came to Him." In John 15:16 He tells them, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit." This is not their call to salvation, but to service. With the exception of Judas, they were already saved. Before the foundation of the world God chose them to be redeemed in Christ, and they had responded accordingly. Now Jesus was calling them to a specific ministry.

God always chooses those who will be saved and serve within His church. But between salvation and service there must be a time of training. For the disciples it was a period of three years in which Jesus Himself trained them as they experienced life together from day to day. That's the best form of discipleship. Classrooms and lectures are helpful, but there's no substitute for having a living pattern to follow—someone who models Christian virtue and shows you how to apply biblical principles to your life.

Paul understood the importance of such an example. In Philippians 4:9 he says, "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things." He said to Timothy, "Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe" (1 Tim. 4:12). Peter followed suit, admonishing the church elders not to lord their authority over those in their charge, but to be godly examples (1 Pet. 5:3).
Whether you've been a Christian for many years or just a short time, you are an example to someone. People hear what you say and observe how you live. They look for a glimpse of Christ in your life. What do they see? How would they do spiritually if they followed your example perfectly?

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank the Lord for those who are examples of godliness to you.

For Further Study
* What do these verses indicate about your salvation: John 15:16, Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:4, and 2 Thessalonians 2:13?
* According to Ephesians 2:10, why were you saved?


Jesus on God’s Love: To Show Our Sonship

“‘. . . so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’” (Matthew 5:45).

God Himself is love, and the best evidence that we are His children through faith in Jesus Christ is our love for other believers. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35; cf. 
1 John 4:20). Our divine sonship is further evidenced when love leads us to pray for our opponents.

Even though the world often has a faulty understanding of what the gospel is, it knows enough about Christ and His teachings to see that believers do not obey all His commands or live consistently as He lived. People in the world who are the furthest from saving faith nevertheless often sense the divine power that underlies the loving and caring Christian life—simply because such a life that goes far enough to love enemies is so uncharacteristic of human nature.

In this way we show our family likeness, an increasing resemblance to our heavenly Father. For example, God provides His general blessings on everyone, with no respect for merit or deserving; otherwise no one could receive them. The psalmist writes, “The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15–16). If God is so generous, we who claim to know Him ought to show similar love and impartial concern for everyone, even those who don’t like us.

Ask Yourself
Though God does possess qualities we can never attain as mortals, He has given us—by virtue of our adoption into His family—the privilege of looking more like Him in our attitudes and behaviors. Why is pursuing this so important?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 6:1–7:17
* Psalm 55:1-8
* Proverbs 15:14
* Luke 21:20-38
1 Samuel 6:19 looked into the ark. This action on the part of the men of Beth Shemesh constituted the sin of presumption. This is first addressed in Numbers 4:20and is mentioned again in 2 Samuel 6:6, 7. fifty thousand and seventy men. Some debate whether this figure is too large. However, retaining the larger number is more consistent with the context of “a great slaughter” and the reference to 30,000 in 4:10 (see 11:8). However, a scribal error could have occurred, in which case the number would omit the 50,000 and likely be “seventy,” as in the LXX, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.

1 Samuel 7:6 drew water, and poured it out before the LORD. The pouring out of water before the Lord was a sign of repentance. This act is repeated in 2 Samuel 23:16. We have sinned against the LORD. The symbol of Samuel pouring out the water and the acknowledgment of the people reveal a situation where true repentance had taken place. The condition of the heart superseded the importance or righteousness of the ritual. Samuel judged. At this point Samuel is introduced as the judge of Israel. His judgeship encompassed both domestic leadership and the conduct of war. The word links the text back to the last comment about Eli who judged 40 years (4:18). Samuel is shown to be the one taking over Eli’s judgeship. He served as the last judge before the first king (see 1 Sam. 8:50).

1 Samuel 7:16 a circuit. The circuit was an annual trip made by Samuel; he would travel to Bethel, Gilgal, Mizpah, and return once again to Ramah, which allowed him to manage the affairs of the people.

Luke 21:20 Jerusalem surrounded by armies. A comparison with Matthew 24:15, 16 and Mark 13:14suggests that this sign is closely associated with “the abomination of desolation” (see Matt. 24:15; Dan. 9:27; 11:31). This sign of Jerusalem under siege was previewed in A.D. 70, but awaits its fulfillment in the future.

Luke 21:24 the times of the Gentiles. This expression is unique to Luke. It identifies the era from Israel’s captivity (ca. 586 B.C. to Babylon; see 2 Kin. 25) to her restoration in the kingdom (Rev. 20:1–6). It has been a time during which, in accord with God’s purpose, Gentiles have dominated or threatened Jerusalem. The era has also been marked by vast spiritual privileges for the Gentile nations (see Is. 66:12; Mal. 1:11; Matt. 24:14; Mark 13:10).

DAY 2: How did the Philistines attempt to stop the plague?
“The priests and the diviners” (1 Sam. 6:2) of the Philistines were summoned to figure out how to appease God so that He would stop the plague. They understood that they had offended God. Their diviners decided to rightfully appease His wrath by sending the ark back to Israel. These pagans recognized their sin and the need for manifest repentance, which they did according to their religious tradition by means of a “trespass offering” (v. 3) to compensate for their trespass of dishonoring the God of Israel. It was their custom to make models of their sores (and the rats which brought the plague), in hopes that the deity would recognize that they knew why he was angry and remove the evil which had fallen upon them (v. 4).

“Give glory to the God of Israel…He will lighten His hand” (v. 5).While sympathetic magic was the Philistine custom, this statement expressly affirms the intention behind the offerings: They were to halt the dishonor, confess their sin, and give glory to the God of Israel by acknowledging who it was that they had offended and who was the supreme Deity. The diviners correlate the Philistines’ actions of not recognizing God with those of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. “Why then do you harden your hearts…?”(v. 6).This is the same word “harden” that was used in Exodus 7:14; 8:15, 32. It is an interesting correlation, because the dominant purpose in Exodus 5–14 is that the Egyptians might “know that I am the LORD” (Ex. 7:5).

To know without a doubt that the God of Israel was behind all of their troubles, the diviners devised a plan that would reveal whether God was the One responsible. Using cows that had “never been yoked” (v. 7) meant using animals that were untrained to pull a cart and probably would not go anywhere. The second element in their plan was to use nursing cows taken away from their calves. For the cows unnaturally to head off in the opposite direction from their calves would be a clear sign that the cause of their judgment was supernatural, which is precisely what happened (v. 12).

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Why Sufferings and Trials?

“‘For man is born for trouble, as sparks fly upward’” (Job 5:7).

Because they are sinners, still living in a sinful world, Christians should expect to encounter difficulties.

“It all depends on how you look at it.” That may be a cliché, but it is very applicable for believers as they deal with trials and sufferings. Any trial can be a joyous experience for a Christian if he looks at it from the proper, biblical perspective. Or, as with Jonah (Jonah 4) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-14), trials can be frustrating times of self-pity if believers lose their focus on what God is doing.

For some of us, the first hurdle to overcome is the very notion that trials and sufferings will be a part of the Christian life. But Job 5:7 reminds us that trouble is inevitable. If we imagine an ideal world where everything is just right all the time for believers, we are setting ourselves up for profound disappointment. Jesus Himself tells us we must expect significant difficulties in our lives: “In the world you have tribulation” (John 16:33).

All of us, to a greater or lesser extent, need to be prepared for testings and tribulations. And these troubles will be different for each of us. For some, the trial might be a financial crisis, accompanied by the loss of personal savings or investments. For some, it could be the loss of employment, with the anxiety of not being able to find another job anytime soon. Perhaps for others, the severe trial will be a serious illness or injury in their family, a fatal car accident, or being devastated by a major crime like murder or burglary.

In God’s purpose and plan, trials and sufferings are real and should not catch us by surprise or leave us angry and perplexed. If we recognize the Lord’s sovereign role in all these things, we will be able to affirm these words from an old hymn:
Whate’er my God ordains is right: 
Holy His will abideth; 
I will be still whate’er He doth, 
And follow where He guideth.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Ask God for wisdom to better understand and accept the truth that He is sovereign over all areas of life.
* Pray for a friend or family member who might be currently in the midst of a trial.

For Further Study
Read 1 Kings 19:1-14.
* Who and what did Elijah focus on more than God?
* What events from chapter 18 did the prophet quickly forget?


The Master's Men

"The names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him" (Matt. 10:2-4).

God uses unqualified people to accomplish His purposes.

We live in a qualification-conscious society. Almost everything you do requires you to meet someone else's standards. You must qualify to purchase a home, buy a car, get a credit card, or attend college. In the job market, the most difficult jobs require people with the highest possible qualifications.

Ironically, God uses unqualified people to accomplish the world's most important task: advancing the kingdom of God. It has always been that way: Adam and Eve plunged the human race into sin. Lot got drunk and committed incest with his own daughters. Abraham doubted God and committed adultery. Jacob deceived his father. Moses was a murderer. David was too, as well as an adulterer. Jonah got upset when God showed mercy to Nineveh. Elijah withstood 850 false priests and prophets, yet fled in terror from one woman—Jezebel. Paul murdered Christians. 

And the list goes on and on.
The fact is, no one is fully qualified to do God's work. That's why He uses unqualified people. Perhaps that truth is most clearly illustrated in the twelve disciples, who had numerous human frailties, different temperaments, different skills, and diverse backgrounds, yet Christ used them to change the world.

This month you will meet the disciples one by one. As you do, I want you to see that they were common men with a very uncommon calling. I also want you to observe the training process Jesus put them through, because it serves as a pattern for our discipleship as well.

I pray you will be challenged by their strengths and encouraged by the way God used them despite their weaknesses and failures. He will use you too as you continue yielding your life to Him.

Suggestions for Prayer
Memorize Luke 6:40. Ask God to make you more like Christ.

For Further Study
Read 2 Timothy 1:3-5, noting the weaknesses Timothy may have struggled with, and how Paul encouraged him. How might Paul's words apply to you?


Jesus on God’s Love: For Persecutors

“‘Pray for those who persecute you’” (Matthew 5:44).

Throughout the centuries the worst kinds of persecutions against Jesus’ followers have come from religious people. Persecution has been so strong against believers because they uphold God’s standards, which indict the sin and corruption of false religion. God’s Word unmasks hypocrisy in a most crucial area—humanity’s propensity for self-justification.

Knowing that persecution would be the world’s response to the Father’s truth, Christ assures us that we will be persecuted, just as He was (John 15:20). Thus His command that we pray for our persecutors is one every faithful believer will have some opportunity to obey, not just those who live in countries where Christianity is illegal or severely restricted.

The best way to have agape- love for those who persecute us is to pray for them. We might sense their sinfulness and intense hatred and ridicule of us. Those traits make it impossible to love the persecutors for what they are, but we must love them for who they are—sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and His saving grace. So we need to pray for them that they will repent and turn to Him for salvation, as we have already done.

Bear in mind, though, that persecutors will not always and only be unbelievers. Those professing to be fellow believers can give saints real grief and difficulty, too, but—as in every case—the first step in making right those situations is prayer. Jesus knew that prayer for persecutors can begin to knit our hearts with God’s in the matter of loving our enemies.

Ask Yourself
Which has been the hardest for you to deal with—persecution from without or from within the family of God? Why is prayer such a powerful tool in combating the hard feelings this dredges up in you?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 4:1–5:12
* Psalm 54:1-7
* Proverbs 15:12-13
* Luke 21:1-19


1 Samuel 4:4 dwells between the cherubim. A repeated phrase used to describe the Lord (see 2 Sam. 6:2; 2 Kin. 19:15; 1 Chr. 13:6; Ps. 80:1; 99:1; Is. 37:16). It spoke of His sovereign majesty. Hophni and Phinehas. These were the two wicked sons of Eli (2:12–17, 27–37), of whom it was said that they “did not know the LORD” (2:12). The fact that they were mentioned together recalls the prophecy that they would die together (2:34).

1 Samuel 4:11 the ark of God was captured. In spite of their hopes to manipulate God into giving them the victory, Israel was defeated and the ark fell into the hands of the Philistines. The view of having the ark of God being equivalent to having control of God, possessed both by Israel and then the Philistines, is to be contrasted with the power and providence of God in the remaining narrative.

1 Samuel 4:21 Ichabod…The glory has departed. Due primarily to the loss of the ark, the symbol of God’s presence, Phinehas’s wife names her child Ichabod, meaning either “Where is the glory?” or “no glory.” To the Hebrew, “glory” was often used to refer to God’s presence; hence, the text means “Where is God?” The word “departed” carries the idea of having gone into exile. Thus, to the people of Israel, the capturing of the ark was a symbol that God had gone into exile. Although this was the mind-set of Israel, the text narrative will reveal that God was present, even when He disciplined His people.

Psalm 54:1 by Your name. In the ancient world, a person’s name was essentially the person himself. Here, God’s name includes His covenant protection. vindicate. David requests that God will execute justice for him, as in a court trial when a defendant is declared not guilty.

Luke 21:1 the treasury. Thirteen chests with funnel-shaped openings stood in the court of the women. Each was labeled for a specific use, and donations were given accordingly.

Luke 21:5 donations. Wealthy people gave gifts of gold sculpture, golden plaques, and other treasures to the temple. Herod had donated a golden vine with clusters of golden grapes nearly 6 feet tall. The gifts were displayed on the walls and suspended in the portico. They constituted an unimaginable collection of wealth. All of these riches were looted by the Romans when the temple was destroyed (v. 6).

DAY 1: Contrast the pagan god of the Philistines and the living God.
In Judges 5:2, Dagon is mentioned. Ugaritic literature identifies this deity as a god of grain or vegetation, whose image had the lower body of a fish and upper body of a man. Dagon seems to have been the leader of the Philistine pantheon (Judg. 16:23) and is noted to be the father of Baal. The placing of the ark of God in the temple of Dagon was supposed to be a sign of Dagon’s power and Yahweh’s inferiority, a visual representation that the god of the Philistines was victorious over the God of the Hebrews.

The next morning the Philistines found Dagon had “fallen on its face” (1 Sam. 5:3). Ironically, God Himself overturned the supposed supremacy of Dagon by having Dagon fallen over, as if paying homage to the Lord. The same thing happened the next morning, but this time the “head…hands were broken off” (v.4). The first display of God’s authority over Dagon was not perceived. God’s second display of authority, the cutting off of Dagon’s head and hands, was a common sign that the enemy was dead (Judg. 7:25; 8:6; 1 Sam.17:54; 31:9; 2 Sam. 4:12), and was to be understood as God’s divine judgment on the false idol. Because the head and hands of Dagon fell on the threshold, superstition developed that it was cursed; therefore, the Philistines would not tread on it (v. 5).

In contrast to the hands of Dagon being cut off, symbolizing his helplessness against the power of Yahweh, the Lord was pictured to be actively involved in judging the Philistines. “The hand of the LORD was heavy” on the people (v. 6). The imagery of God’s hand is found throughout the ark narrative (4:8; 5:6, 7, 9, 11; 6:3, 5, 9). It has been suggested that “tumors” refers to the sores or boils caused by an epidemic of the bubonic plague carried by rats (6:4, 5). The spread of the disease and its deadly effect (5:6, 9, 12; 6:11, 17) make this a likely view.

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The Victory of the Resurrection

“‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ . . . but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, 57).

The Resurrection seals what we could not: victory over death.

Death is the great enemy of mankind. It comes to everyone without exception. It violates our dominion of God’s creation, breaks apart relationships, disrupts families, and causes us to grieve the loss of loved ones. 

However, Christ’s resurrection has broken the power of death for Christians because “death no longer is master over Him” (Rom. 6:9).

In today’s passage the apostle Paul reminds us of the final victory over death that results once we have been transformed into our resurrection bodies. To make his point, Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Hosea. In using Hosea’s sting of death metaphor, Paul implies that death left its sting in Christ, as a bee leaves its stinger in its victim. On the cross Jesus bore all of death’s sting (sin), so we wouldn’t have to bear any of it. When sin’s penalty has been removed, death merely interrupts our earthly life and ushers us into the heavenly realm, where we will worship and praise God forever.

Paul concludes (v. 57) by thanking God, who provided us the triumph over sin and death. We also should be thankful to God who, through Christ’s redeeming work, gave us what we could never have obtained by ourselves. God promises to all believers the heavenly in exchange for the earthly, and the immortal in exchange for the mortal.

With Jesus Christ’s triumph over death, we have no reason to fear what death can do to us. Instead, we should rejoice concerning the Lord’s promise to us about the next life: “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire . . . and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 20:14; 21:4).

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God that in His sovereign wisdom and power He has defeated death and removed all reasons for the believer to be afraid of it.

For Further Study
Read 2 Kings 2:9-14 and 4:18-37.
* What do these passages preview about Jesus’ control over death, His own and ours?
* Do they remind you of any particular New Testament stories?


Realizing Your Reward

"Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. 

Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:11-12).

The sacrifices you make for Christ’s sake in this life will be abundantly compensated for in Heaven.

God's promise for those who are persecuted for His sake is that their reward in heaven will be great (Matt. 5:11). Jesus said, "Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life" (Matt. 19:29).

Focusing on that promise instead of your present circumstances is how you can experience happiness amid suffering. That was Paul's great confidence even as he faced certain death. In 2 Timothy 4:8 he declares, "In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing."

Another source of joy in trials is knowing that you share the fate of the prophets themselves (Matt. 5:12). Those godly men suffered untold hardships for proclaiming God's message. 

That's a noble group to be identified with!
One final word of encouragement from Matthew 5:11: persecution will not be incessant! Jesus said, "Blessed are you when. . . ." The Greek word translated "when" means "whenever." You won't always be persecuted, but whenever you are, you will be blessed. In addition, God will govern its intensity so you will be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). He knows your human weaknesses and will supply the necessary grace and peace to get you through. That's why you can rejoice when otherwise you might be devastated and filled with grief.

If you are willing to make sacrifices now, you will receive incomparable rewards in the future. How shortsighted are those who protect themselves now by denying Christ or compromising His truth rather than sacrificing the present for the sake of eternal blessing and glory!

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the example of the prophets and others who have suffered for Him.

For Further Study
Read Matthew 21:33-39 and Hebrews 11:32-38.
* How did Jesus illustrate the persecution of God's prophets?
* What is Scripture's commendation to those who suffered.


Jesus on God’s Love: For Enemies

“‘But I say to you, love your enemies’” (Matthew 5:44).

People tend to base love on the attractiveness and likeability of the one loved. They love the so-called beautiful people, enjoyable activities, nice houses, and sharp cars. That list could go on, but Jesus’ kind of love is need oriented. In His parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:29, 36–37), the Samaritan showed tremendous love because he sacrificed his own convenience, safety, and finances to help a desperately needy man.

The love our Lord sets forth here is translated from the Greek agape-, the noblest and best New Testament love. It is the form of love that strives to meet another’s utmost welfare. 

Such love may involve emotion, but it must involve action. Like every aspect of righteousness, love originates in the regenerate heart, but it shows its fullest potential by what it does. More than anything, this kind of love is the love God is, expresses, and provides (Rom. 5:5, 8; 1 John 4:7–12), which allows us to love as He loved.

When Christ told His apostles, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34), He had just washed their feet as an example of agape- love. The apostles were self-centered, quarrelsome, envious of one another, and even sometimes challenged the Lord. Yet Jesus always did for them what was for their good. And this is how He wants all of us who claim to follow Him to show love—even for our enemies.

Ask Yourself
Few biblical mandates are more unnatural to our desires and experiences, but few make us a more sterling example of the difference Christ makes in an ordinary individual’s life. If you are currently dealing with situations that call for this kind of love, how do you intend to express it?


Reading for Today:
* 1 Samuel 1:1–3:21
* Psalm 53:1-6
* Proverbs 15:8-11
* Luke 20:27-47

1 Samuel 3:1 the boy Samuel. Samuel was no longer a child (2:21, 26). While Jewish historian Josephus suggested he was 12 years of age, he was probably a teenager at this time. The same Hebrew term translated here “boy” was used of David when he slew Goliath (17:33). the word of the LORD was rare. The time of the judges was a period of extremely limited prophetic activity. The few visions that God did give were not widely known. revelation. Literally, “vision.” A divine revelation mediated through an auditory or visual encounter.

1 Samuel 3:19 the LORD was with him. The Lord’s presence was with Samuel, as it would be later with David (16:18; 18:12). The Lord’s presence validated His choice of a man for His service. let none of his words fall to the ground. Everything Samuel said with divine authorization came true. This fulfillment of Samuel’s word proved that he was a true prophet of God (see Deut. 18:21, 22).

Proverbs 15:11 Hell and Destruction. See 27:20. Hell or Sheol is the place of the dead. “Destruction” refers to the experience of external punishment. See Job 26:6.
Luke 20:37 the burning bush passage. Exodus 3:1–4:17. In that passage God identified Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—using the present tense. He didn’t say He was their God, but “I AM” their God, indicating that their existence had not ended with their deaths.

Luke 20:40 they dared not question Him. The more questions Jesus answered the clearer it became that His understanding and authority were vastly superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees.

DAY 30: What do the two prayers of Hannah teach us about prayer?
In 1 Samuel 1:10,11, Hannah vowed in “bitterness of soul” to give the Lord her son in return for God’s favor in giving her that son. She prayed as a “maidservant”—a humble, submissive way of referring to herself in the presence of her superior, sovereign God.

“Remember me,” she requested, asking for special attention and care from the Lord. She would give the child to the Lord “all the days of his life,” which was in contrast to the normal Nazirite vow, which was only for a specified period of time (see Num. 6:4, 5, 8).

In contrast to the prayer that came from her bitterness, Hannah prayed from joy in 2:1–10. The prominent idea in Hannah’s prayer is that the Lord is a righteous Judge. He had brought down the proud (Peninnah) and exalted the humble (Hannah).The prayer has four sections: 

1) Hannah prayed to the Lord for His salvation (vv.1, 2); 

2) Hannah warned the proud of the Lord’s humbling (vv. 3–8d)

3) Hannah affirmed the Lord’s faithful care for His saints (vv. 8e–9b); 

4) Hannah petitioned the Lord to judge the world and to prosper His anointed king (vv. 10d-e). 

This prayer has a number of striking verbal similarities with David’s song of 2 Samuel 22:2–51:“horn” (2:1; 22:3),“rock” (2:2; 22:2, 3), salvation/deliverance (2:1, 2; 22:2, 3), grave/Sheol (2:6; 22:6),“thunder” (2:10; 22:14),“king” (2:10; 22:51), and “anointed” (2:10; 22:51).

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Our New Bodies

“Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Corinthians 15:49). 

All believers can look forward to one day receiving new bodies and new images.
Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances present a glimpse of the greatness, power, and wonder that our own resurrection bodies will have. Our Lord appeared and disappeared at will and always reappeared in other places. He was able to go through walls and doors, but He could also eat, drink, sit, talk, and be seen by others. Jesus was remarkably the same as before His death, yet He was even more remarkably changed. The body the disciples and other followers saw after the Resurrection was the same one we’ll see when we go to be with Him. Christ will also appear in the same form when He returns to earth (Acts 1:11).

As it was with Jesus, our perishable, natural, and weak bodies will be raised imperishable, spiritual, and powerful. No longer will they limit us in our service to God. In Heaven we’ll blaze forth the magnificent glory that God so graciously gives to His own (Matt. 13:43). Christ promises to “transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” (Phil. 3:21).

The future resurrection of believers to the glories of Heaven has always been a blessed hope and motivation for the church through the centuries— and it should be for you and me. No matter what our present bodies are like— healthy or unhealthy, beautiful or plain, short-lived or long-lived, pampered or abused—they are not our permanent bodies. One day these natural, created bodies will be re-created as supernatural. Even though the Bible gives us just a glance at what those new bodies will be like, it is a precious assurance to know that “we shall be like Him” (1 John 3:2).

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray for an opportunity to share insights from this study with a Christian friend, especially if he or she has been discouraged recently.

For Further Study
Read Luke 24:33-53.
* What do verses 37-43 verify about Jesus’ new body?
* Write down other things from the entire passage that describe how Jesus had changed from the way He was prior to the cross. How had He remained the same?


 Receiving Christ's Wounds

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

The persecution you receive for proclaiming Christ is really aimed at Christ Himself.
Savonarola has been called the Burning Beacon of the Reformation. His sermons denouncing the sin and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church of his day helped pave the way for the Protestant Reformation. Many who heard his powerful sermons went away half-dazed, bewildered, and speechless. Often sobs of repentance resounded throughout the entire congregation as the Spirit of God moved in their hearts. However, some who heard him couldn't tolerate the truth and eventually had him burned at the stake.

Jesus said, "'A slave is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you" (John 15:20). Sinful people will not tolerate a righteous standard. Prior to Christ's birth, the world had never seen a perfect man. The more people observed Christ, the more their own sinfulness stood out in stark contrast. That led some to persecute and finally kill Him, apparently thinking that by eliminating the standard they wouldn't have to keep it.

Psalm 35:19 prophesies that people would hate Christ without just cause. That is true of Christians as well. People don't necessarily hate us personally but resent the holy standard we represent. They hate Christ, but He isn't here to receive their hatred, so they lash out at His people. For Savonarola that meant death. For you it might mean social alienation or other forms of persecution.

Whatever comes your way, remember that your present sufferings are not worthy to be compared with the glory you will one day experience (Rom. 8:18). Therefore, "to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing" (1 Pet. 4:13).

Suggestions for Prayer
When you suffer for Christ's sake, thank Him for that privilege, recalling how much He suffered for you.

For Further Study
Before his conversion, the apostle Paul (otherwise known as Saul) violently persecuted Christians, thinking he was doing God a favor. Read Acts 8:1-3, 9:1-31, and 1 Timothy 1:12-17, noting Paul's transformation from persecutor to preacher.


Jesus and Non-Retaliation: Property

“‘Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you’” (Matthew 5:42).

Secular people also hold tightly to the concept that property rights are sacred. But such self-centered possessiveness is merely another symptom of humanity’s sinfulness. Even believers forget that whatever they have belongs to God and that they are simply stewards of their wealth.

We do have certain legal rights in most countries to manage property as we wish. But we must be willing to sacrifice those rights on the altar of Christian obedience and submission (cf. Rom. 12:1–2). Whenever someone wants to borrow something of ours, we ought to willingly allow him or her to do so. That person might well have a genuine need, which only we can meet.

The Lord implies here that His disciples should offer to give as soon as they sense a need, not waiting to be asked. And He is not referring to our grudgingly donating, but to generous giving that springs from a loving desire to help. Our attitude should be far more than a token charity that merely wants to salve an uneasy conscience.

Christ’s words do not intend to undercut civil justice, but to destroy human selfishness, which is sin and does not belong in the hearts of true Christians. In truth, the only persons who do not selfishly or vengefully cling to their property rights are those who have died to self (cf. Gal. 2:20). The faithful believer lives for Christ and if necessary surrenders all his or her rights and dies for Him (Rom. 14:8).

Ask Yourself

Again, since we cannot give away everything we have, how do we deal with the requirement of adhering to this Christian command while also using sound judgment, being good stewards of our God-given resources?


Reading for Today:
* Ruth 3:1–4:22
* Psalm 52:6-9
* Proverbs 15:6-7
* Luke 20:1-26

Ruth 4:7 took off his sandal. The scripture writer explained to his own generation what had been a custom in former generations. This kind of tradition appears in Deuteronomy 25:5–10 and apparently continued at least to the time of Amos (see 2:6; 8:6). The closer relative legally transferred his right to the property as symbolized by the sandal, most likely that of the nearer relative.

Ruth 4:22 David. Looking back at Ruth from a New Testament perspective, latent messianic implications become more apparent (see Matt. 1:1). The fruit which is promised later on in the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:1–17) finds its seedbed here. The hope of a messianic king and kingdom (2 Sam. 7:12–14) will be fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ (Rev. 19–20) through the lineage of David’s grandfather Obed who was born to Boaz and Ruth the Moabitess.

Psalm 52:8 green olive tree. The psalmist exults (through this simile) that the one who trusts in the mercy of God is productive and secure.

Luke 20:5 Why then did you not believe him? John had clearly testified that Jesus was the Messiah. If John was a prophet whose words were true, they ought to believe his testimony about Christ. On the other hand, it would have been political folly for the Pharisees to attack the legitimacy of John the Baptist or deny his authority as a prophet of God. John was enormously popular with the people and a martyr at the hands of the despised Herod. For the Pharisees to question John’s authority was to attack a national hero, and they knew better than that. So they pleaded ignorance (v. 7).

DAY 29: How does Ruth exemplify the Proverbs 31 wife?
The “virtuous” wife of Proverbs 31:10 is personified by “virtuous” Ruth of whom the same Hebrew word is used (Ruth 3:11). With amazing parallel, they share at least 8 character traits (see below). One wonders (in concert with Jewish tradition) if King Lemuel’s mother might not have been Bathsheba, who orally passed the family heritage of Ruth’s spotless reputation along to David’s son Solomon. Lemuel, which means “devoted to God,” could have been a family name for Solomon (see Jedidiah, 2 Sam. 12:25), who then could have penned Proverbs 31:10–31 with Ruth in mind:

1. Devoted to her family (Ruth 1:15–18 // Prov. 31:10–12, 23).

2. Delighted in her work (Ruth 2:2 // Prov. 31:13).

3. Diligent in her labor (Ruth 2:7, 17, 23 // Prov. 31:14–18, 19–21, 24, 27).
4. Dedicated to godly speech (Ruth 2:10, 13 // Prov. 13:26).

5. Dependent on God (Ruth 2:12 // Prov. 31:25b, 30).

6. Dressed with care (Ruth 3:3 // Prov. 31:22, 25a).

7. Discreet with men (Ruth 3:6–13 // Prov. 31:11, 12, 23).

8. Delivered blessings (Ruth 4:14, 15 // Prov. 31:28, 29, 31).

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The Resurrection: Motive for Sanctification

“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’ Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34).

Trusting in the fact of Christ’s resurrection and looking forward to our own rising from the dead ought to stimulate us toward sanctification.

Like any essential teaching of Scripture, the doctrine of the Resurrection can be studied and discussed from an academic standpoint only. 
When that happens, we usually acquire a factual understanding of the topic and perhaps some appreciation of how the doctrine supports our faith—but that’s as far as we go.

However, our studies on the Resurrection have already taught us some of the implications this Bible truth ought to have for our conduct. The hope of the Resurrection can give everyone an incentive to be saved and believers an incentive for service. This hope also provides a third incentive: the motivation toward sanctification.

The apostle Paul knew that those in the Corinthian church were being exposed to the heretical theology that there is no real resurrection from the dead. This false teaching was having a bad influence on the Corinthians’ behavior. That’s why Paul tells them in today’s verse, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” It is impossible to be around evil people and not be contaminated both by their ideas and their habits. The apostle goes on to urge those believers who hoped in a resurrection to be a positive influence on others and lead them to the truth.

This glimpse at the situation in Corinth proves that sound doctrine matters and does affect how people live. We see all around us today what results when there is no belief in a resurrection. People become short-sighted and live as they please because ultimately nothing keeps them accountable. This is all the more reason for us to hold firm to the truth of the Resurrection, live in its hope, and proclaim it to others.

Suggestions for Prayer
How is the pursuit of holiness coming in your life? Pray that the Lord would increase your diligence and help you especially in an area of weakness.

For Further Study
Read 1 Peter 1.
* List all the verses that refer to God’s plan for Christ’s death and resurrection.
* How does the existence of such a divine plan strengthen your hope?
* Write a theme sentence for the chapter.


Three Kinds of Persecution

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

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

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

The final category Jesus mentioned is slander—people telling lies about you. That's perhaps the hardest form of suffering to endure because our effectiveness for the Lord is directly related to our personal purity and integrity. Someone's trying to destroy the reputation you worked a lifetime to establish is a difficult trial indeed!
If you're going through a time of suffering for righteousness' sake, take heart: the Lord went through it too and He understands how difficult it can be. He knows your heart and will minister His super-abounding grace to you. Rejoice that you are worthy of suffering for Him and that the kingdom of heaven is yours.

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

For Further Study
Throughout history God Himself has endured much mocking and slander. Read 2 Peter 3:3-9, then answer these questions:
* What motivates mockers?
* What do they deny?
* Why doesn't God judge them on the spot?


Jesus and Non-Retaliation: Liberty

“‘Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two’” (Matthew 5:41).
The concept of liberty is much cherished in the United States and other democratic nations. The Declaration of Independence famously speaks of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Patrick Henry of Virginia used the bold oratory, “Give me liberty or give me death!” These sentiments were derived from biblical principles, although sometimes altered from those ancient origins.

God’s intention from the beginning was for mankind created in His image to live in perfect liberty, both spiritually and physically. But the Fall ruined this ideal and introduced such corrupt concepts as slavery and subjugation to totalitarian governments. Democratic governments have tried, although imperfectly, to protect the liberty of their citizens—sometimes even extending such freedoms to foreign visitors and immigrants. However, civil liberties should not supersede our duties to righteousness or our obligations to display a faithful witness.

Jesus here makes the analogy between surrendered liberties and the Roman law that could force civilians to carry a soldier’s pack for a mile. Except for facing them in battle, Roman troops were not as despised by their opponents as when those people were obligated to carry the troops’ packs or other equipment.

Yet our Lord teaches that we should be willing to go the extra mile for someone else—even at the expense of our cherished liberty. In so doing, we are worthy ambassadors for Christ, realizing that in Him we have an eternal liberty that can never be taken.

Ask Yourself
Who in your life regularly asks you to go the second mile for them? What is your usual response to their demand for your time and energy? How do you strike the balance between being sacrificial and maintaining boundaries that help you protect other godly priorities?


Reading for Today:
* Ruth 1:1–2:23
* Psalm 52:1-5
* Proverbs 15:4-5
* Luke 19:28-48

Ruth 1:16 And your God, my God. This testimony evidenced Ruth’s conversion from worshiping Chemosh to Yahweh of Israel (see 1 Thess. 1:9, 10).

Ruth 2:12 wings...refuge. Scripture pictures God as catching Israel up on His wings in the Exodus (Ex. 19:4; Deut. 32:11). God is here portrayed as a mother bird sheltering the young and fragile with her wings (see Pss. 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 63:7; 91:1, 4). Boaz blessed Ruth in light of her newfound commitment to and dependence on the Lord. Later, he would become God’s answer to this prayer (see 3:9).

Psalm 52:1 mighty man. A reference to Doeg, the chief of Saul’s shepherds, who reported to Saul that the priests of Nob had aided David when he was a fugitive (see 1 Sam. 22:9, 18, 19).

Luke 19:40 the stones would immediately cry out. This was a strong claim of Deity and perhaps a reference to the words of Habakkuk 2:11. Scripture often speaks of inanimate nature praising God. (See Pss. 96:11; 98:7–9; 114:7; Is. 55:12.) See also the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:9; note the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Matthew 27:51.

Luke 19:41, 42 Only Luke recorded the weeping of Jesus over the city of Jerusalem. Christ grieved over Jerusalem on at least two other occasions (13:34; Matt. 23:37). The timing of this lament may seem incongruous with the Triumphal Entry, but it reveals that Jesus knew the true superficiality of the peoples’ hearts, and His mood was anything but giddy as He rode into the city. The same crowd would soon cry for His death (23:21).

DAY 28: Why is the “kinsman-redeemer” a prominent part in the story of Ruth?
In Ruth 2:20, the great kinsman-redeemer theme of Ruth begins (cf.3:9, 12; 4:1, 3, 6, 8, 14). A close relative could redeem 1) a family member sold into slavery (Lev. 25:47–49), 2) land which needed to be sold under economic hardship (Lev. 25:23–28), and/or 3) the family name by virtue of a levirate marriage (Deut. 25:5–10). This earthly custom pictures the reality of God the Redeemer doing a greater work (Pss. 19:14; 78:35; Is. 41:14; 43:14) by reclaiming those who needed to be spiritually redeemed out of slavery to sin (Ps. 107:2; Is. 62:12). 

Thus, Boaz pictures Christ, who as a Brother (Heb. 2:17) redeemed those who 1) were slaves to sin (Rom. 6:15–18), 2) had lost all earthly possessions/privilege in the Fall (Gen. 3:17–19), and 3) had been alienated by sin from God (2 Cor. 5:18–21). Boaz stands in the direct line of Christ (Matt. 1:5; Luke 3:32). This turn of events marks the point where Naomi’s human emptiness (1:21) begins to be refilled by the Lord. Her night of earthly doubt has been broken by the dawning of new hope (cf. Rom. 8:28–39).

When Boaz negotiated with another relative about the settlement of Elimelech and Naomi’s estate in Ruth 4:1–12, he referred to a law established by Moses in Deuteronomy 25:5–10. That law set out specific actions to be taken by the surviving family if a married son were to die without a son to inherit or carry on his name. Another (presumably unmarried) man in the family was to marry the widow. The first resulting child would inherit the estate of the man who had died.

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The Resurrection: Motive for Service

“If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

The truth of the Resurrection is an incentive for believers to persevere in service for Jesus Christ.

Certainly Paul’s statement in today’s verse is an extraordinary one, but it reiterates that the truth of Christ’s resurrection and the hope of believers’ resurrection are definite incentives for Christian service. It allows us to look more closely at what motivated Christians like Paul, and how we also should be motivated for service.

The apostle may have fought with literal wild animals at Ephesus. Or he may be speaking figuratively of the wild Ephesian mob that opposed him in Acts 19. But whatever the case, Paul knows that no mere human motives were compelling him to engage in such battles or continually risk his safety in other ways. He would not have put up with so many difficulties had his purposes and objectives been only temporal and worldly.

Paul and all Christians throughout history have been willing to labor under adversity, suffer, be persecuted, and continue diligently in the Lord’s service because they were convinced God’s kingdom extends beyond the frailties and limits of this life (Rom. 8:18). If our ministry on earth were an end in itself, then it would make sense to “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”

However, you can praise God today that your life does not have to end simply with sensual pleasures and comforts. The hope and motivation in all your service for Christ can be identical to faith’s giants in Hebrews 11 who earnestly served, that they “might obtain a better resurrection” (v. 35). 

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray that God would use the truth of the Resurrection to motivate you toward more faithful service in a difficult area of ministry or in a ministry in which you have been inconsistent.

For Further Study
Memorize 1 Corinthians 15:58. What does the “therefore” refer to? Make this verse a constant reminder of the incentive you should have for serving the Lord.


Are You Avoiding Persecution?

"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness" (Matt. 5:10).

If you don’t experience persecution, people probably don’t know you’re a Christian.

I heard of a man who was fearful because he was starting a new job with a group of unbelievers whom he thought might give him a bad time if they found out he was a Christian. After his first day at work his wife asked him how he got along with them. "We got along just fine," he said. "They never found out I'm a Christian."
Silence is one way to avoid persecution. Some other ways are to approve of the world's standards, laugh at its jokes, enjoy its entertainment, and smile when it mocks God. 

If you never confront sin or tell people Jesus is the only way to heaven, or if your behavior is so worldly no one can distinguish you from unbelievers, you will probably be accepted and won't feel the heat of persecution. But beware!
Jesus said, "Woe to you when all men speak well of you. . . . Whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory" (Luke 6:26; 9:26). 

The last thing anyone should want is for Christ to pronounce a curse on them or be ashamed of them. That's an enormous price to pay for popularity!
If you take a stand for Christ and manifest Beatitude attitudes, you will be in direct opposition to Satan and the evil world system. Eventually you will experience some form of persecution. That has been true from the very beginning of human history, when Abel was murdered by his brother Cain because Cain couldn't tolerate his righteousness.

You should never fear persecution. God will grant you grace and will never test you beyond what He enables you to endure (1 Cor. 10:13). Nor should you ever compromise biblical truth to avoid persecution. In Philippians 1:29 Paul says that persecution is as much a gift of God as salvation itself. Both identify you as a true believer!

Suggestions for Prayer
Memorize 1 Peter 2:20-21. Ask God to continually grant you the grace to follow Christ's example when difficulties come your way.

For Further Study
Read 2 Corinthians 11:23-33, noting the severe persecution Paul endured for Christ's sake.


Jesus and Non-Retaliation: Security

“‘If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also’” (Matthew 5:40).

Most people in New Testament times owned just one coat and likely just one or two shirts. Shirts were undergarments, and coats were outer garments that also served as blankets overnight. This kind of coat was important, what the Mosaic law required be returned to its owner “before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body” (Ex. 22:26–27).

Jesus’ reference here is not to a theft, when someone wants to steal another’s garment, but to a legitimate lawsuit in a legal court. In those days the courts often mandated that fines or judgments be paid in clothing. The illustration is that a genuine follower of Christ will be willing to surrender even his most valuable coat to an adversary rather than cause offense or hard feelings. The judge could not require a specific coat in payment, but the person could voluntarily give it up.

Even if a settlement against us is fairly arrived at for a certain amount, we should be willing to pay more to demonstrate sincere regret for the wrong done and the pain inflicted on another. Most of us have probably never considered this option, but it shows the love of Christ and genuineness of our faith.

Ask Yourself
Notice again that this series of scenarios from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount consistently calls for more than the law demands. What does that tell you about the way we’re supposed to respond in situations in which our personal integrity or the cause of Christ is being challenged?


Reading for Today:
* Judges 20:1–21:25
* Psalm 51:12-19
* Proverbs 15:1-3
* Luke 19:1-27

Judges 20:18 to inquire of God. The Lord gave His counsel from the location of the ark at Shiloh, probably through the Urim and Thummim (vv. 27, 28). The tribe of Judah was responsible to lead in battle since God had chosen a leadership role for that tribe (Gen. 49:8–12; 1 Chr. 5:1, 2).

Judges 20:22–25 The Lord twice allowed great defeat and death to Israel to bring them to their spiritual senses regarding the cost of tolerating apostasy. Also, while they sought counsel, they placed too much reliance on their own prowess and on satisfying their own outrage. Finally, when desperate enough, they fasted and offered sacrifices (v. 26). The Lord then gave victory with strategy similar to that at Ai (Josh. 8).

Judges 21:25 Judges 17–21 vividly demonstrates how bizarre and deep sin can become when people throw off the authority of God as mediated through the king (see 17:6). This was the appropriate but tragic conclusion to a bleak period of Israelite history (see Deut. 12:8).

Luke 19:17 faithful in a very little. Those with relatively small gifts and opportunities are just as responsible to use them faithfully as those who are given much more. over ten cities. The reward is incomparably greater than the 10 minas warranted. Note also that the rewards were apportioned according to the servants’ diligence: the one who gained 10 minas was given 10 cities, the one who gained 5 minas, 5 cities (v. 19), and so on.

DAY 27: How did Zacchaeus personify why Jesus came to this world?

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector, who probably oversaw a large tax district and had other tax collectors working for him (Luke 19:2). 

Jericho alone was a prosperous trading center, so it is certain that Zacchaeus was a wealthy man. Zacchaeus was among “the crowd” in Jericho who lined the street to see Jesus pass through. They had undoubtedly heard about the recent raising of Lazarus in Bethany, less than 15 miles away (John 11). That, combined with His fame as a healer and teacher, stirred the entire city when word arrived that He was coming. Zacchaeus was so desperate to see Christ that he took an undignified position for someone of his rank (v. 4).
Both the religious elite and the common people hated Zacchaeus. 

They did not understand, and in their blind pride refused to see, what possible righteous purpose Jesus had in visiting such a notorious sinner (v. 7). But He had come to seek and to save the lost, which is exactly what happened here (v. 10).

Not only did Zacchaeus receive Jesus joyfully (v. 6), but his willingness to make restitution was proof that his conversion was genuine (v. 8). It was the fruit, not the condition, of his salvation. The law required a penalty of one-fifth as restitution for money acquired by fraud (Lev. 6:5; Num. 5:6, 7), so Zacchaeus was doing more than was required.

Zacchaeus judged his own crime severely, acknowledging that he was as guilty as the lowest common robber. Since much of his wealth had probably been acquired fraudulently, this was a costly commitment. On top of that, he gave half his goods to the poor. 

But Zacchaeus had just found incomprehensible spiritual riches and did not mind the loss of material wealth.

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The Resurrection: Motive for Salvation

“What will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why then are they baptized for them?” (1 Corinthians 15:29).

The fact of the Resurrection often is a powerful testimony to draw people to saving faith in Christ.

The apostle Paul knew that believers who face death with joy and hope can present powerful testimonies to unbelievers. The prospect of life in Heaven and a reunion with loved ones is a strong motive for people to hear and receive the gospel. When believers die, their spirits go immediately to be with the Lord. And one day in the future their glorified bodies will rejoin their spirits, and Christians will worship and enjoy God for all eternity.

First Corinthians 15:29 uses the term “baptized” to refer to those who were testifying that they were Christians. Although the mere act of baptism does not save a person, anyone who is an obedient Christian will be baptized. In Paul’s day, the church assumed that any believer would have been baptized, and people were not baptized unless the church was confident their profession of faith was genuine.

“The dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29 could also include believers, those who have died and whose lives were persuasive testimonies to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. People were being saved (baptized) in Corinth because of (“for”) the faithful witness of deceased believers.

The Resurrection is still a powerful incentive to salvation. In my years as a pastor I have seen people come to Christ after the death of a believing spouse or parent. Those husbands and wives, sons and daughters could not bear the thought of never seeing their loved one again. Those converted survivors were unknowingly touched and changed by the reunion hope that already sustains believers. That hope, based on the promise of resurrection, upheld David after the death of his infant son: “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23).

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask the Lord’s forgiveness for times when your testimony has been weak and the resurrection hope in your life has not been evident.

For Further Study
Read Matthew 22:23-33.
* What did the Sadducees’ hypothetical story demonstrate about their belief concerning resurrection?
* How important was the doctrine of resurrection to Jesus?
* To what did He appeal in correcting the Sadducees?


Paying the Price of Righteousness

"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness" (Matt. 5:10).

There is a price to pay for being a Kingdom citizen.

Unlike many today who try to make the gospel palatable for reluctant sinners, Jesus made it clear that following Him had its price. Rather than acceptance, fame, prestige, and prosperity, you can expect rejection and persecution. That's not a popular approach to evangelism, but it's honest. Also it insures that no one will try to enter the kingdom on the wrong basis.

Jesus wanted His hearers to count the cost of discipleship. He knew that many of them would be disowned by their families and excommunicated from the Jewish synagogues. Many would suffer persecution or martyrdom at the hands of the Roman government. They needed to count the cost!

Persecution did come to those early Christians. The Emperor Nero smeared many of them with pitch, crucified them, and then burned them to light his garden parties. He condemned Christians for refusing to worship him as a god, and blamed them for the burning of Rome in [sc]A.D. 64. Christians were accused of cannibalism because Jesus said, "He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him" (John 6:56). They were said to be revolutionaries because they believed that God would one day destroy the earth.

The world's animosity toward Christians hasn't changed. You might not face the severe persecutions the first-century believers faced, but you will be persecuted (Phil. 1:29). Even new Christians often face difficulties. If they refuse to join their former friends in sinful activities, they might be rejected. If they work for a dishonest boss who expects them to participate in or condone his evil practices, they might be fired or have to quit their jobs. That might bring extreme financial hardship to their families.
God won't always shield you from persecution, but He will honor your integrity and give you strength to endure any trial that comes your way. Praise Him for His all-sufficient grace!

Suggestions for Prayer
* Pray for those you know who are suffering hardship for Christ's sake.
* Ask God for the wisdom and strength to face persecution with integrity and unwavering faith.

For Further Study
Read James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 5:10.
* What purpose does suffering serve?
* How should you respond to suffering?


Jesus and Non-Retaliation: Dignity

“‘Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also’” (Matthew 5:39).

God has created every human being in His image, and therefore He demands that we treat one another with basic respect, dignity, and consideration. But in a sinful world, this will not always happen, so believers can expect to suffer persecution simply because of their basic testimony (cf. Matt. 10:16–23; John 15:18–16:3). This leaves one inevitable issue to deal with: how should Christians respond to ridicule, insult, or physical abuse.

The Lord Jesus, of course, is the perfect example of how to behave when personally attacked. When the Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers physically abused Him and mocked Him prior to His crucifixion, He did not react in words or actions (Matt. 26:67–68). As Jesus hung from the cross, He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Peter summarizes well how we should respond in view of Christ’s example:
When you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously. (1 Peter 2:20–23)

Ask Yourself
When have you succeeded in practicing this kind of self-control and restraint? What happened as a result? Even if it left you feeling misunderstood and stepped upon, what value did you experience from obeying what Jesus has commanded?


Reading for Today:
* Judges 17:1–19:30
* Psalm 51:7-11
* Proverbs 14:33-35
* Luke 18:24-43

Judges 19:22 perverted men. Literally, “sons of Belial,” i.e., worthless men, who desired to commit sodomy against the Levite. The phrase elsewhere is used for idolaters (Deut. 13:13), neglecters of the poor (Deut. 15:9), drunks (1 Sam. 1:16), immoral people (1 Sam. 2:12), and rebels against the civil authority (2 Sam. 20:1; Prov. 19:28). “Belial” can be traced to the false god Baal and is also a term for yoke (they cast off the yoke of decency) and a term for entangling or injuring. It is used in the New Testament of Satan (2 Cor. 6:15).

Judges 19:25 the man took his concubine...to them. This is unthinkable weakness and cowardice for any man, especially a priest of God. Apparently he even slept through the night or stayed in bed out of fear, since he didn’t see her again until he awakened and prepared to leave (see vv. 27, 28).

Proverbs 14:33 is made known. Wisdom is quietly preserved in the heart of the wise for the time of proper use, while fools are eager to blurt out their folly (see 12:23; 13:16; 15:2, 14).

Psalm 51:7 hyssop. Old Testament priests used hyssop, a leafy plant, to sprinkle blood or water on a person being ceremonially cleansed from defilements such as leprosy or touching a dead body (see Lev. 14:6ff.; Num. 19:16–19). Here hyssop is a figure for David’s longing to be spiritually cleansed from his moral defilement. In forgiveness, God washes away sin (see Ps. 103:12; Is. 1:16; Mic. 7:19).

DAY 26: What did the anointing of the Holy Spirit mean in the Old Testament?
Old Testament Israel had mediators who stood between God and His people. To empower the Old Testament mediators, the Holy Spirit gave special administrative ability to carry out the management of the nation and military skills which enabled them to defeat the theocracy’s enemies. The Lord first anointed Moses with this ministry of the Spirit, and then in a truly dramatic scene, took some of this ministry of the Spirit and shared it with the 70 elders. Thus they were enabled to help Moses administer Israel (Num. 11:17–25).

Also Joshua (Deut. 34:9), the judges (Judg. 3:10; 6:34), and the kings of united Israel and the southern kingdom were anointed with this special ministry of the Spirit. When the Spirit of the Lord came upon King Saul, for example, he was in effect given “another heart” (1 Sam.10:6–10). This does not mean that he was regenerated at this point in his life, but that he was given skills to be a king. Later the theocratic anointing was taken from Saul and given to David (1 Sam. 16:1–14). Saul, from that time on, became a totally incapable leader.

King David no doubt had this special ministry of the Spirit in mind in his prayer of repentance in Psalm 51. He was not afraid of losing his salvation when he prayed, “Do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11), but rather was concerned that God would remove this spiritual wisdom and administrative skill from him. David had earlier seen such the tragedy in the life of Saul when that king of Israel lost the anointing of the Holy Spirit. David was thus pleading with God not to remove His hand of guidance.
King Solomon also perceived his youthful inabilities at the beginning of his reign and requested God to give him special wisdom in administering Israel. God was greatly pleased with this request and granted an extra measure to the young man (1 Kin. 3:7–12, 28; 4:29–34). Although the Old Testament is silent in this regard about the kings who succeeded Solomon, the theocratic anointing of the Spirit likely came on all the descendants of David in connection with the Davidic Covenant.

When the theocracy went out of existence as Judah was carried away into captivity and the last Davidic king was disempowered, the theocratic anointing was no longer given (Ezek. 8–11). The kings of the northern tribes, on the other hand, being essentially apostate and not in the Davidic line, never had the benefit of this special ministry of the Spirit.

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The Resurrection

“If we have only hoped in Christ in this life, we are of all men most to be pitied” (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Without Christ’s resurrection, our individual Christian lives would be pathetic exercises in futility.

In ancient times the strongest swimmer among the sailors on a ship was called the archegos, a Greek word that means “front-runner” or “pioneer.” If as the ship approached shore, it got caught in waves so strong that a safe landing was doubtful, the archegos would fasten one end of a long rope to the ship, tie the other end around himself, jump into the water, and guide the ship to land. Once on land, he would secure the rope to a rock or tree. 

Then the other passengers could disembark and use the rope as a safety tether to reach the shore. 

Jesus is our archegos. If He didn’t overcome death and make a way possible for us to do the same, we would have nothing more to look forward to than life on earth, which would leave us with no brighter hope than the typical unbeliever (Rom. 6:23).

The archegos illustration shows us once again the crucial importance of Christ’s rising from the grave. Without the Resurrection, Christianity loses its doctrinal strength, as we saw in yesterday’s study. 

Furthermore, the Christian life would become futile and pathetic if we could not point to the truth of the Resurrection. If our Lord were still in the tomb, He could not help us regarding eternity or our earthly ministry. We would have nothing to justify our efforts in Bible study, preaching, teaching, witnessing, or any activity of Christian service.

However, God the Father did raise “Jesus our Lord from the dead, He who was delivered up because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification” (Rom. 4:24-25). Because Christ lives, we too shall live (John 14:19). This great certainty should give us all the confidence and motivation we’ll ever want or need as we serve our Lord and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.

Suggestions for Prayer
Based on the reality of the Resurrection, ask God today to give you fresh incentive to be His faithful servant.

For Further Study
Read Luke 24:1-12.
* What immediate effect did knowledge of Jesus’ resurrection have on Mary Magdalene and the other women?
* How did their reaction differ from most of the disciples’?


Messengers of Peace

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).

You are a messenger of peace!
When Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5:9), He was referring to a special group of people whom God called to restore the peace that was forfeited because of sin. They may not be politicians, statesmen, diplomats, kings, presidents, or Nobel Prize winners, but they hold the key to true and lasting peace.

As a Christian, you are among that select group of peacemakers. As such you have two primary responsibilities. The first is to help others make peace with God. There is no greater privilege. The best way to do that is to preach the gospel of peace with clarity so people understand their alienation from God and seek reconciliation. Romans 10:15 says, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things!" The early church preached peace through Christ, and that is your privilege as well.

Your second responsibility is to help reconcile believers to one another. That's a very important issue to God. He won't accept worship from those who are at odds with each other. They must first deal with the conflict (Matt. 5:23-24). That is especially true within a family. Peter warned husbands to treat their wives properly so their prayers wouldn't be hindered (1 Pet. 3:7).

Peacemakers don't avoid spiritual conflicts—they speak the truth in love and allow the Spirit to minister through them to bring reconciliation. If you see someone who is alienated from God, you are to present him or her with the gospel of peace. If you see two Christians fighting, you are to do everything you can to help them resolve their differences in a righteous manner.

Of course to be an effective peacemaker you must maintain your own peace with God. Sin in your life will disrupt peace and prevent you from dispensing God's peace to others. 

Therefore continually guard your heart and confess your sin so that God can use you as His peacemaker.

Suggestions for Prayer
Pray for those close to you who don't know Christ. Take every opportunity to tell them of God's peace.

For Further Study
Read 2 Corinthians 5:17-21.
* How did Paul describe the ministry of reconciliation?
* What was Christ's role in reconciling man to God?


 A Perspective on Non-Retaliation

“‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evil person’” (Matthew 5:38–39).

Christians are to “resist the devil” (James 4:7; cf. 1 Peter 5:9) and all that his evil world system stands for (Matt. 6:13; Rom. 12:9; 1 Thess. 5:22). This proves that, although Jesus refuted the Jewish leaders’ wrong teaching that people should take revenge in personal matters, our Lord did not teach that His followers simply had to tolerate all sorts of sinful misconduct and evil.

The resistance of evil and wrong, if done properly, will occur within the church. Jesus’ instruction on church discipline concludes with this command: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17; cf. 1 Tim. 5:20). 

A sinning member who rejects one-on-one reproof as well as reproof from two or three others and from the entire church must be excluded from the fellowship. Concerning unrepentant immorality in the church, Paul instructed—quoting the Old Testament—“Remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13).

In contrast to this, Jesus clarifies that His followers must not resist or take vengeance regarding supposed harm done to them personally. Such retaliation has no place in society at large, much less among Christians. Paul later wrote, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone” (Rom. 12:17; cf. v. 19). Instead, God calls us to overcome others’ bad treatment of us by doing good to them (Rom. 12:21).

Ask Yourself
What are the main reasons for this kind of rebuke and discipline? What are its goals and objectives? When do circumstances become necessary to perform it?


Reading for Today:
* Judges 15:1–16:31
* Psalm 51:1-6
* Proverbs 14:31-32
* Luke 18:1-23

Judges 16:20 he did not know that the LORD had departed from him. Here was the tragedy of the wrath of abandonment. His sin had caused him to forfeit the power of God’s presence. This principle is seen throughout Scripture (Gen. 6:3; Prov. 1:24–31; Matt. 15:14; Rom. 1:24–32).

Judges 16:24 they praised their god. It is tragic when a person’s sin contributes to the unsaved community’s giving praise to a false god, for God alone is worthy of praise.
Psalm 51:1 lovingkindness. Even though he had sinned horribly, David knew that forgiveness was available, based on God’s covenant love.
Psalm 51:4 Against You, You only. David realized what every believer seeking forgiveness must, that even though he had tragically wronged Bathsheba and Uriah, his ultimate crime was against God and His holy law (see 2 Sam.11:27).

Psalm 51:5 brought forth in iniquity. David also acknowledged that his sin was not God’s fault in any way (vv.4b, 6) nor was it some aberration. Rather, the source of David’s sin was a fallen, sinful disposition, his since conception.

DAY 25: Why is human righteousness so insufficient for salvation?
The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9–14 is rich with truth about the doctrine of justification by faith. It illustrates perfectly how a sinner who is utterly devoid of personal righteousness may be declared righteous before God instantaneously through an act of repentant faith. 

The parable is addressed to Pharisees who trusted their own righteousness (vv. 10, 11). Such confidence in one’s inherent righteousness is a damning hope (see Rom. 10:3; Phil. 3:9), because human righteousness—even the righteousness of the most fastidious Pharisee—falls short of the divine standard (Matt. 5:48). Scripture consistently teaches that sinners are justified when God’s perfect righteousness is imputed to their account (see Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:4, 5; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:4–9)—and it was only on that basis that this tax collector (or anyone else) could be saved.

For the Pharisee to fast twice a week (v. 12) was more than is required by any biblical standard. By exalting his own works, the Pharisee revealed that his entire hope lay in his not being as bad as someone else. He utterly lacked any sense of his own unworthiness and sin.

The tax collector’s humility is notable in everything about his posture and behavior (v. 13). Here was a man who had been made to face the reality of his own sin, and his only response was abject humility and repentance. He contrasts with the Pharisee in virtually every detail. “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” He had no hope but the mercy of God. This is the point to which the law aims to bring every sinner (see Rom. 3:19, 20; 7:13; Gal 3:22–24). He was “justified” (v. 14), i.e., reckoned righteous before God by means of an imputed righteousness.

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The Resurrection: A Belief That Matters

“How do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Corinthians 15:12).

Without the truth of bodily resurrection, the Christian faith would not make sense.

Even though Paul and the other apostles made the resurrection of Christ and His followers from the dead a central part of the gospel message, some new Gentile converts (the Corinthians especially) had difficulty accepting the idea of bodily resurrection. That struggle resulted mainly from the effects of Greek dualism, which viewed the spiritual as inherently good and the physical as inherently bad. Under that belief, a physical resurrection was considered quite repulsive.

The only way for the doubting Gentiles to accommodate their dualism was to say that Jesus was divine but not truly human. Therefore, He only appeared to die, and His appearances between the crucifixion and ascension were manifestations that merely seemed to be bodily. But Paul knew that was bad doctrine. He wrote to the Romans, “Concerning His Son . . . born of the seed of David according to the flesh . . . declared with power to be the Son of God by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom. 1:3-4).

To deny the actual, bodily resurrection of Christ creates some very significant doctrinal problems. Without His resurrection, the gospel is an empty message that doesn’t make sense. Without the Resurrection, Jesus could not have conquered sin and death, and thus we could not have followed in that victory either.

Without physical resurrection, a life of faith centered on the Lord Jesus is worthless. A dead savior cannot provide any kind of life. If the dead do not rise bodily, Christ did not rise, and neither will we. If all that were true, we could not do much more than conclude with Isaiah’s Servant, “I have spent My strength for nothing and vanity” (49:4). But the glorious reality is that we can affirm with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and . . . .without my flesh [after death] I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God that the truth of the Resurrection makes our theology credible and the gospel powerful.

For Further Study
* Sometimes Jesus’ closest followers have doubts about the Resurrection. Read John 20:19-29. How did Jesus prove to the disciples that it was really Him?
* What else did Jesus implicitly appeal to when He confronted Thomas’s doubts?


Christ Is Our Peace

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).

Christ’s atonement made it possible for man to be at peace with God.

After World War II the United Nations was created to promote world peace. But since its inception in 1945 there has not been a single day of global peace. That's a sad commentary on man's inability to make peace. In fact, someone once quipped that Washington D.C. has so many peace monuments because they build one after every war!

It hasn't always been that way. Prior to the Fall of man peace reigned on the earth because all creation was in perfect harmony with its Creator. But sin interrupted peace by alienating man from God and bringing a curse upon the earth. Man couldn't know true peace because he had no peace in his heart. That's why Jesus came to die.

I once read a story about a couple at a divorce hearing whose conflict couldn't be resolved. They had a four-year-old boy who became distressed and teary-eyed over what was happening. While the couple was arguing, the boy reached for his father's hand and his mother's hand and pulled until he joined them.

In a sense that's what Christ did: He provided the righteousness that allows man and God to join hands. Romans 5:1 says that those who are justified by faith have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ. Colossians 1:20 says that God reconciled all things to Himself through the blood of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

Yet on the surface, the scene at the cross wasn't peaceful at all. Pain, sorrow, humiliation, hatred, mockery, darkness, and death were oppressively pervasive, but through it all Christ was doing what He alone could do: making peace between man and God. He paid the supreme price to give us that precious gift.

In the future, Jesus will return as Prince of Peace to establish a kingdom of peace that will usher us into an eternal age of peace. In the meantime He reigns over the hearts of all who love Him. Let His peace reign in your heart today!

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the peace of heart that comes from knowing Christ.

For Further Study
Read Philippians 4:6-9. What must a person do to know God's peace?


Jesus on Genuine Truthfulness

“‘But let your statement be, “Yes, yes” or “No, no”; anything beyond these is of evil’” (Matthew 5:37).

Keeping your word is the mark of a genuine worshiper and demonstrates that you, as a child of God, hate lies. Everything in God’s kingdom is sacred and all truth is His truth, so truth has no degrees or shades. Thus even what seems to be the most minor false statement dishonors God’s name.

The Lord has never had any standard other than absolute truthfulness. He wants every one of us to possess “truth in the innermost being” (Ps. 51:6). And it follows that “lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22; cf. 6:16–17; Ps. 58:3–4).

Because God has the ultimate criterion of complete truthfulness, even our most routine conversations should be truthful and dependable in every detail. Our everyday talk ought to be plain and straightforward, uncluttered by qualifiers, exaggerations, or hedges on the truth. Our word must be as good as our bond or as any vow or oath we ever make. James’s admonishment agrees with Jesus’ teaching, “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment” (James 5:12).

Ask Yourself
Truth and honesty will never be your default setting until you pursue it deliberately—spending your words carefully and keeping your word completely. In what particular areas of your life is it hardest for you to keep your promises?


Reading for Today:
* Judges 13:1–14:20
* Psalm 50:16-23
* Proverbs 14:29-30
* Luke 17:20-37

Judges 13:5 Nazirite. The word is from the Hebrew “to separate.” For rigid Nazirite restrictions, such as here in Samson’s case, see Numbers 6:1–8. God gave 3 restrictions: no wine (vv. 3, 4), no razor cutting the hair (v. 5), no touching a dead body and being defiled (v. 6). Such outward actions indicated an inner dedication to God.
Judges 14:1–4 she pleases me well. 

The Philistines were not among the 7 nations of Canaan which Israel was specifically forbidden to marry. Nonetheless Samson’s choice was seriously weak. Samson sins here, but God is sovereign and was able to turn the situation to please Him (14:4). He was not at a loss, but used the opportunity to work against the wicked Philistines and provided gracious help to His people. He achieved destruction of these people, not by an army, but by the miraculous power of one man.

Luke 17:20 when the kingdom of God would come.They may have asked the question mockingly, having already concluded that He was not the Messiah. does not come with observation. The Pharisees believed that the Messiah’s triumph would be immediate. They were looking for Him to come, overthrow Rome, and set up the millennial kingdom. Christ’s program was altogether different. He was inaugurating an era in which the kingdom would be manifest in the rule of God in men’s hearts through faith in the Savior (v. 21; see Rom. 14:17). 

That kingdom was neither confined to a particular geographical location nor visible to human eyes. It would come quietly, invisibly, and without the normal pomp and splendor associated with the arrival of a king. Jesus did not suggest that the Old Testament promises of an earthly kingdom were hereby nullified. Rather, that earthly, visible manifestation of the kingdom is yet to come (Rev. 20:1–6).

Luke 17:22 The days will come. This introduces a brief discourse that has some similarities to the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24 and 25. you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man. I.e., desire to have Him physically present. This suggests a longing for His return to set things right (see Rev. 6:9–11; 22:20).

DAY 24: What about those who claim to see a wide gap between Luke’s theology and Paul’s theology?
Although Luke, more than any of the other Gospel writers, highlighted the universal scope of the gospel invitation, some have questioned why a companion of Paul’s would use so little of Paul’s language in explaining the process of salvation. But a difference in vocabulary does not necessarily imply a difference in thought or underlying theology.

Luke certainly wrote in his own style. He was an astute observer and careful thinker. In writing the Gospel, he was careful not to insert Pauline language back into the Gospel account. The theology of Luke’s record parallels Paul’s exactly. Luke repeatedly related accounts of Gentiles, Samaritans, and other outcasts who found grace in Jesus’ eyes. 

This emphasis not only records Jesus’ appeal, but also proves to be precisely what we would expect from the close companion of the “apostle to the Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13).
A compelling illustration of this parallel involves Luke’s treatment of the centerpiece of Paul’s doctrine—justification by faith. Luke highlighted and illustrated justification by faith in many of the incidents and parables he related in his Gospel. For example, the account of the Pharisee and the publican (18:9–14), the familiar story of the prodigal son (15:11–32), the incident at Simon’s house (7:36–50), and the salvation of Zacchaeus (19:1–10) all serve to demonstrate that Jesus taught justification by faith long before Paul wrote about it.

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A Special Testimony

“And last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also” (1 Corinthians 15:8). 

The resurrection power of Christ transformed Paul into a preacher of the gospel.

Throughout history, reliable eyewitness testimony about a person or event has been one of the most accepted forms of courtroom evidence. The apostle Paul appeals to the eyewitness record as an important confirmation of the Resurrection’s reality. He cites the examples of Peter, the apostles (twice), 500 believers, and James (1 Cor. 15:5-7). And with today’s verse, Paul presents himself as a special eyewitness to the fact of Jesus’ resurrection.

Paul’s case was unique. He was not among the original apostles, nor the 500 other believers, all of whom had opportunities to be with the Lord during His earthly ministry and/or see Him soon after He arose. Paul was not even a Christian during his early life and career but was rather the leader of those who persecuted the early church.
Furthermore, Paul’s situation was different because Christ’s appearance to him was not only post-resurrection but post-ascension. The Lord’s dramatic manifestation to the apostle was probably several years after the forty-day period of His many other appearings.

Paul genuinely viewed the timing of Jesus’ appearance to him as coming “to one untimely born.” We know he greatly rejoiced in his conversion, but if he had not seen the risen Savior then or some other time, Paul could not have become an apostle. In other words, by gracious, sovereign provision God chose Paul to be an apostle because “He [Jesus] appeared to me also.” The longtime opponent of the church was now like the Twelve—he had seen the risen Christ.

The power of the Resurrection is always strong enough to change a life. It transformed Paul’s life in three major ways. First, he recognized his sin and saw how far removed external religion was from internal godliness. Second, his character was revolutionized. He went from a self-righteous hatred of the things of Christ to a self-giving love for the truth. Finally, Paul’s personal energy and motivation were completely redirected. He went from being a zealous opponent of Christians to one who fervently served and supported the church.

Suggestions for Prayer
Ask God to help your testimony always show forth the power of the risen Christ.

For Further Study
What common elements were present in Paul’s experiences in Acts 18:9-10; 23:11? Note some things that were more unusual about Paul’s experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-7.


Hindrances to Peace

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).
Sin and falsehood hinder true peace.

Just as righteousness and truth are the noble companions of peace, so sin and falsehood are its great hindrances. The prophet Jeremiah said, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately [evil]; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). Jesus said, "Out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23).

People with sinful hearts create a sinful society that resists true peace. Ironically, many who talk of peace will also pay huge sums of money to watch two men beat the daylights out of each other in a boxing ring! Our society's heroes tend to be the macho, hard-nosed, tough guys. Our heroines tend to be free-spirited women who lead marches and stir up contention. Psychologists and psychiatrists tell us to stand up for our rights and get everything we can for ourselves. That breeds strife and conditions people to reject the peace of the gospel.

Beyond that, the unbelieving world has never tolerated God's peacemakers. Christ Himself often met with violent resistance. His accusers said, "He stirs up the people" (Luke 23:5). Paul's preaching frequently created conflict as well. He spent much time under house arrest and in filthy Roman prisons. On one occasion his enemies described him as "a real pest . . . who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world" (Acts 24:5).

All who proclaim the gospel will eventually meet with opposition because sin and falsehood have blinded people's hearts to true peace. That's why Paul warned us that all who desire to be godly will suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12). You can avoid strife by remaining silent about the Lord, but a faithful peacemaker is willing to speak the truth regardless of the consequences. Let that be true of you.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank God for Christ, who is the solution for the world's problem of sin and falsehood.
* Follow Paul's example by praying for boldness to proclaim God's truth at every opportunity (Eph. 6:19).

For Further Study
Read Matthew 10:16-25, noting the kind of reception the disciples were to expect from unbelievers.


Jesus on Vows and Oaths

“‘Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, “You shall not make false vows, but shall fulfill your vows to the Lord.” But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black’” (Matthew 5:33–36).

In the regular business of life, people use vows and oaths—at marriage ceremonies, in the courtroom, executive oaths of office. Because human nature is prone to lying and distrust, God has provided for proper use of oaths (cf. Heb. 6:16). In describing who may enter God’s presence, the psalmist says one requirement is that the person be one who “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps. 15:4b; cf. vv. 2–3). Such a person’s word is more important than his or her welfare.

God Himself has issued oaths in the past (Gen. 22:16–17; cf. Pss. 89:3, 49; 110:4; Jer. 11:5; Luke 1:73). He did so to impress upon people the special importance or urgency of a promise. As Hebrews notes, “Since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself” (6:13). Christ often used the expression “truly” or “truly, truly” (e.g., Matt. 5:18, 26; 6:2, 5, 16; John 1:51; 3:3, 5; 5:19, 24). As with the Father’s oaths, the Son’s use of “truly” did not make those statements any more trustworthy than any other pronouncements. The “truly” teachings underscored the importance of certain teachings. Jesus even used an oath before the high priest Caiaphas that He was indeed God’s Son (Matt. 26:63–64).

In view of the special nature of divine oaths, we should “make no oath[s] at all”—in other words, no frivolous ones that would compromise our truthfulness and integrity (cf. Pss. 119:29, 163; 120:2).

Ask Yourself
Could your conversation be improved with less embellishment and exaggeration? Can your word stand on its own two feet?


Reading for Today:
* Judges 11:1–12:15
* Psalm 50:7-15
* Proverbs 14:28
* Luke 17:1-19

Judges 11:31 I will offer it. Some interpreters reason that Jephthah offered his daughter as a living sacrifice in perpetual virginity. With this idea, v. 31 is made to mean “shall surely be the LORD’s” or “I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” The view sees only perpetual virginity in vv. 37–40 and rejects his offering a human sacrifice as being against God’s revealed will (Deut. 12:31). 

On the other hand, since he was 1) beyond the Jordan, 2) far from the tabernacle, 3) a hypocrite in religious devotion, 4) familiar with human sacrifice among other nations, 5) influenced by such superstition, and 6) wanting victory badly, he likely meant a burnt offering. The translation in v. 31 is “and,” not “or.” His act came in an era of bizarre things, even inconsistency by leaders whom God otherwise empowered (see Gideon in 8:27).

Psalm 50:8 I will not rebuke you for your sacrifices. The divine Judge’s condemnations are directed not at the act of sacrifice but at the people’s attitude in sacrificing (see 

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The Church Testifies to the Resurrection

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand” (1 Corinthians 15:1).

The true church has consistently testified to the power of the Resurrection.

Kenneth Scott Latourette observed in his History of the Expansion of Christianity: “It was the conviction of the resurrection of Jesus which lifted his followers out of the despair into which his death had cast them and which led to the perpetuation of a movement begun by him.” This statement was true for the church at Corinth, even with its many problems.

The apostle Paul opens his well-known chapter on the Resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15 by implicitly affirming the Corinthians’ testimony to that doctrine. Simply by receiving the gospel and having their lives transformed, the believers at Corinth demonstrated the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. And that resurrection is what empowered the gospel. Paul did not need to explicitly remind the Corinthians of Christ’s rising to life until verse 4, “He was raised on the third day.” The apostle was confident at the outset that the Corinthians had already believed in the truth of the Lord’s resurrection.

The fact that the Corinthian church continued to exist, though beset with problems of immaturity and other weaknesses, was a solid witness to the power of the gospel of the risen Christ. Only a living Savior could have converted some of the hardened sinners of Corinth—extortioners, idolaters, the sexually immoral—into a community of the redeemed. Paul was concerned and distressed about many of the things that did and did not happen in the church at Corinth, but he did not hesitate to call the core group of members there “brethren.”

In spite of many challenges from skepticism, persecution, heresy, and unfaithfulness, the church through the centuries has continued to testify to the reality of Christ’s resurrection. The true church celebrates that truth often, not just on Easter Sunday. Actually, because the church gathers on Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the first day of the week (when Jesus rose), we remember the Resurrection every week. Praise the Lord for that reminder the next time you worship on the Lord’s Day.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God that His church was faithful in the past to testify to the truth of the Resurrection.

For Further Study
Read Acts 4, and list some things that suggest a testimony to the power of the Resurrection.


Risking True Peace

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).

True peace exists only where truth reigns.

People often define peace as the absence of conflict, but God sees it differently. The absence of conflict is merely a truce, which might end overt hostilities but doesn't resolve the underlying issues. A truce simply introduces a cold war, which often drives the conflict underground, where it smolders until erupting in physical or emotional disaster.

James 3:17 says, "The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable." Godly wisdom, purity, and peace go hand- in-hand. Peace is wisdom in action and is never established at the expense of righteousness. It brings righteousness to bear on the situation, seeking to eliminate the source of conflict and create right relationships. 

Feuding parties will know true peace only when they are willing to admit that their bitterness and hatred is wrong and humbly seek God's grace to make things right.
Some people equate peacemaking with evading issues, but true peace can be very confrontive. In Matthew 10:34 Jesus says, "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." That may seem to contradict Matthew 5:9, but it doesn't: Jesus knew that sinful people have to be confronted with the truth before they can experience peace. That can be a painful and difficult process because people usually have a hostile reaction to the gospel before they finally embrace it. Even believers will sometimes react negatively when confronted with God's truth.

Being a biblical peacemaker has its price. You can expect to upset unbelievers who openly oppose God's Word as well as believers who compromise its truth for the sake of maintaining "peace" among people of differing doctrinal persuasions. Some will call you narrow-minded and divisive for dealing with controversial issues. Some will misunderstand your motives or even attack you personally. But that's been the path of every true peacemaker— including our Lord Himself. Take heart and be faithful. Your efforts to bring peace show that you are a child of God.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Ask God for the boldness never to compromise His truth.
* Pray for those you know who are suffering for the sake of the gospel.

For Further Study
Read Luke 12:51-53, noting how the gospel can bring division even among families.


Jesus on Divorce

“‘It was said, “Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce”; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery’” (Matthew 5:31–32).

Jesus no more approves of divorce than did Moses (cf. Matt. 19:6). Adultery, another reality God never condoned, is the only reason under the law that allows for dissolving of a marriage, with the guilty party to be put to death (Lev. 20:10). Because Jesus mentions this here and again in Matthew 19:9, God must have allowed divorce to replace execution as the penalty for adultery at some time during Israel’s history.

Divorce is never commanded; it is always a last resort, allowed when unrepentant immorality has exhausted the patience of the innocent spouse. This merciful concession to human sinfulness logically implies that God also permits remarriage. Divorce’s purpose is to show mercy to the guilty party, not to sentence the innocent party to a life of loneliness. If you are innocent and have strived to maintain your marriage, you are free to remarry if your spouse insists on continued adultery or divorce.

Jesus does not demand divorce in all cases of unchastity (immorality, primarily adultery in this context), but simply points out that divorce and remarriage on other grounds results in adultery.

Our Lord wants to set the record straight that God still hates divorce (Mal. 2:16) and that His ideal remains a monogamous, lifelong marriage. But as a gracious concession to those innocent spouses whose partners have defiled the marriage, He allows divorce for believers for the reason of immorality. (Paul later added the second reason of desertion, 1 Cor. 7:15.)

Ask Yourself
How could you be an encouragement to a couple whose marriage is on the verge of collapse? How could you show Christ’s mercy to those who have been wounded the greatest?


Reading for Today:

* Judges 9:1–10:18
* Psalm 50:1-6
* Proverbs 14:25-27
* Luke 16:1-31

Psalm 50:1 The Mighty One, God the LORD. The Divine Judge is introduced with three significant Old Testament names. The first two are the short and longer forms of the most common word for “God” in the Old Testament, and the third is the name for Israel’s God par excellence, i.e., Yahweh. From the rising of the sun to its going down. A common Old Testament idiom conveying from east to west, i.e., all over the planet.

Luke 16:13 You cannot serve God and mammon. Many of the Pharisees taught that devotion to money and devotion to God were perfectly compatible (v. 14). This went hand-in-hand with the commonly held notion that earthly riches signified divine blessing. Rich people were therefore regarded as God’s favorites. While not condemning wealth per se, Christ denounced both love of wealth and devotion to mammon.

Luke 16:15 justify yourselves. The Pharisees’ belief was that their own goodness was what justified them (see Rom. 10:3). This is the very definition of “self-righteousness.” But, as Jesus suggested, their righteousness was flawed, being an external veneer only. That might be enough to justify them before men, but not before God, because He knew their hearts. He repeatedly exposed their habit of seeking the approval of people (see Matt. 6:2, 5, 16; 23:28).

Luke 16:31 neither will they be persuaded. This speaks powerfully of the singular sufficiency of Scripture to overcome unbelief. The gospel itself is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Since unbelief is at heart a moral rather than an intellectual problem, no amount of evidences will ever turn unbelief to faith. But the revealed Word of God has inherent power to do so (see John 6:63; Heb. 4:12; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23).

DAY 22: Why would the parable of the rich man scandalize the Pharisees?
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31) was employed in the same fashion as all Christ’s parables, to teach a lesson, in this case for the benefit of the Pharisees. The mention of table scraps, sores, and dogs all made this poor man appear odious in the eyes of the Pharisees (v. 21).They were inclined to see all such things as proof of divine disfavor. The idea was that Lazarus was given a place of high honor, reclining next to Abraham at the heavenly banquet, “Abraham’s bosom” (v. 22). 

This same expression (found only here in Scripture) was used in the Talmud as a figure for heaven. Yet the rich man was “in Hades” (v. 23). The suggestion that a rich man would be excluded from heaven would have scandalized the Pharisees. Especially galling was the idea that a beggar who ate scraps from his table was granted the place of honor next to Abraham.

“Hades” was the Greek term for the abode of the dead. In the Greek Old Testament, it was used to translate the Hebrew Sheol, which referred to the realm of the dead in general, without necessarily distinguishing between righteous or unrighteous souls. 

However, in New Testament usage, “Hades” always refers to the place of the wicked prior to final judgment in hell. The imagery Jesus used fit the erroneous common rabbinical idea that Sheol had two parts, one for the souls of the righteous and the other for the souls of the wicked—separated by an impassable gulf. But there is no reason to suppose, as some do, that “Abraham’s bosom” spoke of a temporary prison for the souls of Old Testament saints, who were brought to heaven only after He had actually atoned for their sins. Scripture consistently teaches that the spirits of the righteous dead go immediately into the presence of God (see 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). And the presence of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (9:30) belies the notion that they were confined in a compartment of Sheol until Christ finished His work.

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The Centrality of the Resurrection

“‘Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified. He is not here, for He has risen, just as He said’” (Matthew 28:5-6).

The fact of Jesus’ resurrection is the culmination of redemptive history and the essential basis of the Christian faith.

Without the Resurrection, our Christian faith would just be a lot of wishful thinking, no better than human philosophies and speculative religions. In fact, the noted seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke, some of whose ideas were incorporated into the Declaration of Independence, wrote, “Our Saviour’s resurrection is truly of great importance in Christianity, so great that His being or not being the Messiah stands or falls with it.”

From its very early accounts, Scripture has contained the message of resurrection hope. Death has never been the end for the believer, but simply a gateway to eternal life in Heaven. Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son Isaac because in faith “he considered that God is able to raise men from the dead” (Heb. 11:19). The Lord assured Daniel that believers “will awake . . . to everlasting life” (Dan. 12:2).

The Resurrection was the focal point of Christ’s teaching to the disciples about His sufferings and death: “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). It is therefore completely understandable that Matthew and the other three Gospel writers all included an historical account of Jesus’ resurrection in their narratives.

Paul knew that without the Resurrection our salvation could not have been possible. He was also convinced that the truth of the Resurrection must be believed or else salvation cannot be received: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Rom. 10:9).

It’s no wonder that Paul, the other apostles, and every leader in the early church continually proclaimed Christ’s resurrection as the culmination of His ministry. Those men were so captivated by the significance of the Resurrection that they could not help but preach it. And that should be our attitude today.

Suggestions for Prayer
Thank God for the truth of John 11:25, which gives us the hope of resurrection in Jesus’ own words.

For Further Study
Read Acts 2:14-36 or 3:12-26.
* What is the focal point of Peter’s evangelistic sermons?
* How does he prove his theme?


The Cushion of Peace

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5:9).

God’s peace cushions the soul during difficult times.

I remember reading about what is called "the cushion of the sea." The ocean surface is often greatly agitated, but as you descend, the water becomes increasingly calm. At its greatest depths the ocean is virtually still. Oceanographers dredging ocean bottoms have found animal and plant remains that appear to have been undisturbed for hundreds of years.

Similarly, Christians can experience a cushion of peace in their souls regardless of their troubled surroundings. That's because they belong to God, who is the source of peace; serve Christ, who is the Prince of Peace; and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who is the agent of peace. Galatians 5:22says, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, [and] peace." When you become a Christian, God grants you the gift of peace.

God is not only the source of perfect peace, but also its purest example. Everything He does is marked by peace. First Corinthians 14:33 says He is not a God of confusion but of peace. In Judges 6:24 He is called Jehovah-shalom, which means, "the Lord is peace." The Trinity is characterized by a total absence of conflict: perfect oneness, perfect righteousness, and absolute harmony. It is impossible for God to be at odds with Himself!

God wants everyone to know that kind of peace. He created the world with peace and sent His Son to offer peace. Someday Christ will return to establish His kingdom and reign in peace for eternity.

In the meantime turmoil exists for all who don't know Christ. They have no cushion for their souls. You, however, have peace with God through the death of Christ Jesus, and as you obey Him, His peace will continually reign in your heart. Don't ever let sin rob you of that blessed cushion. Only as you experience peace within yourself can you share it with others.

Suggestions for Prayer
* Thank God for the cushion of peace He has provided amid difficult circumstances.
* Ask God to use you as an instrument of His peace today.

For Further Study
Read Isaiah 57:15-21, noting how God encourages the repentant and warns the wicked in relation to peace.


Dealing Radically with Sin

“‘If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell’” (Matthew 5:29–30).

We must be willing, as Jesus teaches here, to relinquish whatever is necessary to protect us from evil and preserve righteousness. Mutilation will not cleanse our hearts, but Jesus’ figurative words call for dramatic severing of any impulse that could lead to sin (cf. Matt. 18:8–9).

In other words, we must deal radically with sin, as Paul says, “I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). If we don’t purpose to carefully control the worldly influences around us, they will control us. Those we can’t control we should not hesitate to discard.

Cutting off harmful influences will not necessarily and automatically turn a corrupt heart into a pure one. But just as external acts of murder or adultery reflect internal hearts of sin, the outward act of fleeing sinful effects reflects the inward attitude that seeks holiness and God’s will rather than human pleasure.

Jesus reminds us again that His standards of righteousness are humanly impossible to attain. We have all been murderers and adulterers in our hearts, and often we don’t realize this because of sin’s subtlety and blinding effect. But the impossibility of measuring up to divine standards points to our need to receive a new heart and turn over our helplessness to His sufficiency.

Ask Yourself
How have you practiced this kind of severing in your Christian life? What familiar sins and seductions have proven so injurious in your past, it’s best if they’re just never in the same room with you?


Reading for Today:
* Judges 7:1–8:35
* Psalm 49:10-20
* Proverbs 14:22-24
* Luke 15:11-32


Judges 7:18 The sword of the LORD and of Gideon! Here was the power of God in harmony with the obedience of man. Such shouts reminded the enemies that the threat of the sword of Gideon and of God was for real. The impression was one of doom and terror.

Judges 8:24–27 Gideon made...an ephod. This was certainly a sad end to Gideon’s influence as he, perhaps in an expression of pride, sought to lift himself up in the eyes of the people. Gideon intended nothing more than to make a breastplate as David did (1 Chr. 15:27) to indicate civil, not priestly, rule. It was never intended to set up idolatrous worship, but to be a symbol of civil power. That no evil was intended can be noted from the subduing of Midian (v. 28), quietness from wars (v. 28), and the fact that idolatry came after Gideon’s death (v. 33), as well as the commendation of Gideon (v. 35).

Psalm 49:15 But God will redeem my soul...He shall receive me. This is one of the greatest affirmations of confidence in God in the Psalms. Although the faithless person cannot buy his way out of death (v. 7ff.), the faithful one is redeemed by the only Redeemer, God Himself. (On the significance of the word “receive,” see Gen. 5:24; 2 Kin. 2:10; Ps. 73:24; Heb. 11:5.) So in v. 15 the psalmist expresses his confidence in God, that He would raise him to eternal life.

Luke 15:29 I never transgressed your commandment at any time. Unlikely, given the boy’s obvious contempt for his father, shown by his refusal to participate in the father’s great joy. This statement reveals the telltale problem with all religious hypocrites. They will not recognize their sin and repent. The elder son’s comment reeks of the same spirit as the words of the Pharisee in 18:11. you never gave me a young goat. All those years of service to the father appear to have been motivated too much by concern for what he could get for himself. This son’s self-righteous behavior was more socially acceptable than the younger brother’s debauchery, but it was equally dishonoring to the father—and called for repentance.

DAY 21: What is the main feature of the parable of the prodigal son?
The parable in Luke 15:11–32, unlike most parables, has more than one lesson. The prodigal is an example of sound repentance. The elder brother illustrates the wickedness of the Pharisees’ self-righteousness, prejudice, and indifference toward repenting sinners. And the father pictures God, eager to forgive and longing for the return of the sinner. The main feature, however, is the joy of God, the celebrations that fill heaven when a sinner repents.

For the son to demand “the portion of goods that falls to me” (v. 12) is tantamount to saying he wished his father were dead. He was not entitled to any inheritance while his father still lived. Yet the father graciously fulfilled the request, giving him his full portion, which would have been one-third of the entire estate—because the right of the firstborn (Deut. 21:17) gave the elder brother a double portion. This act pictures all sinners (related to God the Father by creation), who waste their potential privileges and refuse any relationship with Him, choosing instead a life of sinful self-indulgence. The Greek word for “prodigal” means “dissolute” and conveys the idea of an utterly debauched lifestyle. “To feed swine” (v. 15) was the worst sort of degradation imaginable for Jesus’ Jewish audience; swine were the worst sort of unclean animals. His situation could hardly have been more desperate.

Nevertheless, when “his father saw him [he] had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him” (v. 20). Clearly, the father had been waiting and looking for his son’s return. The father’s eagerness and joy at his son’s return is unmistakable. This is the magnificent attribute of God that sets Him apart from all the false gods invented by men and demons. He is not indifferent or hostile, but a Savior by nature, longing to see sinners repent and rejoicing when they do. From Genesis 3:8 to Revelation 22:17, from the Fall to the Consummation, God has been and will be seeking to save sinners, and rejoices each time one repents and is converted.

My Royal Family




Compassionate Loyalty

“And many women were there looking on from a distance, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him” (Matthew 27:55).

The women who supported Jesus’ ministry all the way to the cross are fine examples of compassionate loyalty.

Caring, consistent loyalty is a wonderful characteristic of godly