Don’t Lower Your Sails Prematurely

 

Large white modern sailing ship with sails rolled up

How often we believers in Christ easily become spiritually complacent in our walk with God. Throughout the Old Testament we find many examples of complacency where the Israelites took God for granted. As a result, God would withdraw and let them find out that they were operating on their own. Through defeat in a battle, or being taken captive by their enemies, they learned the hard way that to be victorious in God, they had to continually obey His Word and also prepare themselves for the next trial or attack of the enemy. But whenever they became complacent or self-righteous, they failed.

God expects us to do as the Israelites should have done. We are not going in battle physically with our spears, clubs, swords, and armor today, but we are still fighting an enemy, and ours is unseen. Jesus said, “Watch ye and pray, lest ye enter into temptation. The spirit truly is ready, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38 emphasis added). Jesus would not have told His disciples this if He knew that they were strong in their spirit.

It is human nature to ease off at, or after, a time of victory. Compare this to a runner or race car driver who slows down or even stops just as he is about to win a race—even though his competition is coming up fast right behind him. Yet this is the very point when we must be the most vigilant. Peter became an example of how easy it is to be complacent concerning God, even though he was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. “And as Peter was beneath in the palace, there cometh one of the maids of the high priest: And when she saw Peter warming himself, she looked upon him, and said, and thou also wast with Jesus of Nazareth. But he denied, saying, I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest. And he went out into the porch; and the cock crew. And a maid saw him again, and began to say to them that stood by, This is one of them. And he denied it again. And a little after, they that stood by said again to Peter, Surely thou art one of them: for thou art a Galilaean, and thy speech agreeth thereto. But he began to curse and to swear, saying, I know not this man of whom ye speak. And the second time the cock crew. And Peter called to mind the word that Jesus said unto him, Before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. And when he thought thereon, he wept” (Mark 14:66-72). Not once, but three times Peter denied that he was connected with Jesus. Yet this is the same person who, just a short time earlier, had said “…though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee” (Matthew 26:35).

Peter in his own wisdom thought he was strong spiritually, and probably felt that after having been with Jesus for some time, he could never stray away from Him.

This is why Jesus emphasized many times that we must watch and, as well, pray. Whenever something is mentioned in the Bible one time—it is important, two times—it is very important, and multiple times—it is extremely important. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and He is well aware that we tend to grow overly confident and then we stumble. Had the Israelites gone to God during and after the victories that He brought them through as much as they had prior to the battles, there would have been fewer defeats afterward. If Peter had been watching and praying prior to Jesus’ arrest, his faith would not have wavered and left him open for the devil to push him to deny Christ.

Watching doesn’t involve our physical eyesight solely; it is a spiritual matter as well. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). God wants us to be in tune with Him through the Holy Spirit. If we are not open to His Spirit trying to alert us of impending danger, we leave ourselves prone to failure when temptation arises. It is only through His Spirit that we can truly know and deal properly with spiritual matters.

Accordingly, prayer must follow when we have been made aware of any imminent peril by the Holy Spirit. We are to go to God and seek Him for direction and protection for what is to come. We need to be sensitive to the leading of His Spirit as we pray, or else we will ask amiss and be ineffectual in our petitions to Him.

If we are watching without praying, we are like a child who sees an impending attack, but just stands there, instead of crying out to a parent for help and protection.

“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). God expects us to continually keep watch and then pray, for we, in our own physical understanding, do not know when or where the devil may strike. Our victory only comes through Jesus and His finished work on the cross. But when we become complacent, we take our eyes off of Christ and look at ourselves. This will result in a hopeless defeat by the devil. Don’t be like the captain of a sailing ship who, upon seeing land ahead, lowered his sails prematurely hoping to come in on his momentum, while failing to look behind and see a violent storm rapidly approaching. Let’s keep our sails fully open while we watch and pray accordingly.

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Trust Your Shield

graphic of red and silver shield with sword and battle axe

“God is a shield unto them that put their trust in Him” (Proverbs 30:5).

There are two ways we can obtain knowledge of God: by His word revealed to us, and by the experience of others who have put their trust in Him. His word portrays Him as the proper object for us to trust in both the natural realm and in the spiritual realm, always. Therefore, we are not to put our trust in rulers or in other men, but in God and His word. He repeatedly emphasizes that it is absolutely necessary for us to put our trust only in Him. Every word of God is pure, having already been put to the test in the hot oven of experience. And He provides perfect protection for all who rely on His word. Yet it is not so much His word itself that helps us, but God Himself, who spoke the word.

God called Israel, His chosen people to whom He had revealed Himself and His will, to trust in Him and no one else. And we are to trust in Him also. In fact, any soul who prays, whether Jew or Gentile, should trust in the Lord, not in man. He is the God who has made precious promises to man. He can always be trusted in everything earthly and in everything spiritual. He keeps His covenant. If we put our trust in God, we will not fail—because He cannot fail.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise Him” (Psalm 28:7).

A warrior equipped with a shield on his arm can shove death aside. But the believer in God depends on Him as his shield to oppose the enemy’s blows. He is therefore kept free from harm. So we can put our full confidence in Him to protect us. We are not to trust in any creature. We are not to trust in our own righteousness or strength. We are not to trust even in our own heart. We are to trust in the Lord’s righteousness and strength alone. God told Abraham, “Fear not…I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward” (Genesis 15:1). And He tells us that He will be our shield too, if we put our trust in Him. Then we will be able to receive His protection and blessing and prosperity. He is our shield to protect us from all our enemies by His grace and His power—whether sin, the devil, or the world—or all three. He also protects us from error and false doctrine.

“The God of my rock; in Him will I trust: He is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my saviour; thou savest me from violence” (2 Samuel 22:3).

The Lord will become our rock, our fortress, and our shield since we cannot become these on our own. No man could become them for us instead. Man is without help when Satan comes against him, because man and his methods have no effect on the supernatural powers of darkness. The only Rock and Deliverer we can turn to and count on is the Lord. In Him alone we can place our trust. He is “the God of my rock” who is my shield.

“But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head” (Psalm 3:3).

The power of demons will be strongly used against every child of God, especially those with a divine touch on their life. It doesn’t matter what we feel in times of danger; the only way to have victory over these enemies is through the Lord in all dangers. We must put our total trust in God or we will not have victory. When we are sure we totally trust in Him, then we can, with confidence, totally expect to be victorious and have complete deliverance ourselves. Whoever tries a direction different from what is stated here will not succeed. He will be destroyed by the enemy in the end. But when we will put our full trust in the Lord God, He will be our shield, and we will be victorious!

Dirtied Jewels

picture of smoky quartz crystals
Rob Lavinsky, iRocks.com – CC-BY-SA-3.0

The children were extremely bored, so they wandered around the house in a futile attempt to entertain themselves. Their mother was next door preoccupied with the neighbor’s new baby. Their father was stuck at an airport heavily entrenched in snow. Then an ugly scenario began to unfold after the children discovered a box containing mother’s jewelry collection.

“Open it! Open it!” the children cried in unison, while one of the older boys pried unsuccessfully, first at the gap in the lid, and then under the lock. After several minutes, their disappointment turned into mild anger as some of the children begin to push and pull at each other. Then the bureau was jarred. Suddenly the jewelry box crashed to the floor, bursting apart at the hinges. Precious jewels scattered everywhere and glee was the result. The room filled with awe and squeals of joy as necklaces with diamonds, earrings with rubies, and bracelets made of emeralds were passed around like candy. It wasn’t long before the whole group was in the backyard strutting around in a manner that would leave a fashion diva aghast.

Given their fleeting attention span, the children (mainly the boys) soon lost interest in the jewelry debacle. One boy then made the challenge to the others that jewels will still shine even if they have become dirty. Naturally, a handful of children jumped at the opportunity and started churning some jewelry through a muddy patch in the yard. But their escapades did not stop there. One discovered a small bin nearby of odd lawnmower parts with lots of oil and grease in the bottom. If there ever was a possible point of stopping their progress and restoring everything to its original state, they had long since passed it. The jewels they smothered in mud, grease, and grime were now virtually unrecognizable. Then one girl taunted the others, “OK, let’s see all that shine you boasted about!”

Sadly, there was now absolutely no shine, no glimmer, or anything good left to remark about. When they held the jewels up, they were nothing but a collection of black blobs. Another boy took a clean rag from the shed. After a great deal of scrubbing, he tried his best to get them to at least hint at sparkling again. But, to his great dismay, the jewels refused to gleam. In fact, they would not even come close to being clean. Then he tried dipping some jewels into a heavy-duty cleaning solution full strength. Yet, after a lot of soaking and wiping, they still were only about seventy-five percent clean. The rest of the children peered over his shoulder with great concern.

“What’s Mom going to say when she sees these?” one girl inquired. A boy retorted in exasperation, “She won’t see them! Quick, take all the other jewelry and put it back in the case.” He then ordered one of his brothers to repair the broken hinges and lid. “Maybe,” he muttered softly to himself, “just maybe, she won’t even notice.”

To the relief of all the children, days passed into weeks without a single mention of the jewelry case. One older boy scrubbed and scrubbed, but the film and dirt that remained kept the beauty of the jewels from reappearing. He knew their mother would not overlook the grimy residue, so he continued holding on to the jewels, hoping to figure out something he could use to get them totally clean again. But he got no opportunity to try again.

“OK, who has been in my jewelry box?” their mother yelled down the stairs. “Where are my precious jewels?”

“Uh-oh,” the boy who had tried cleaning them muttered loudly to himself. He knew that it was hopeless at this point to try to hide or escape. He grabbed the jewels and ran to his mother instead. “Mom, it’s all our fault. I mean, actually, it’s my fault,” he blurted out, as he began to sob. “I made a challenge to everyone that the jewels would still shine when they are dirty.” Now he was crying. “I tried and tried to get them clean, but they just won’t look pretty anymore.”

His mother reached over and gave him a big hug. She told him how she appreciated his honesty and willingness to come forward. “But why did you hide this from me?” she gently inquired.

“Because I was afraid of what you and Dad would do to us if you saw how dirty these are.”

“My son, your father and I greatly love you all. You still need punishment for what was done, but that does not mean that we hate you or want to hurt you. Besides, I have methods to clean these jewels you don’t know about. You should have come to me in the first place. You never could have solved this in your own efforts; in fact, you might have ruined them permanently.”

picture of clear gemstone

Do you realize that God sees each one of us as a perfect, sparkling, precious jewel? We usually see ourselves as dirty and blemished, like the jewels mentioned here, and are constantly trying in our own strength to make ourselves shine. And, like the boy trying his best to get the jewels clean, we go through all kinds of programs and rituals, yet in the end, we are still just as soiled as before—if not worse. We try so often to make ourselves pure and right, but we usually cause even greater damage to our hearts and lives instead. The devil wants to keep us believing the lie that we are too polluted and have to keep working at getting our life straight before we come to God. So we hide from Him, hoping He will never notice what we have done. This only causes our relationship with Him to suffer. “For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was any thing kept secret, but that it should come abroad” (Mark 4:22).

Only God can cleanse us so that the true beauty and purity He alone sees in us will shine forth. The key is that we must yield our self to Him and let Him do the work. The more effort we do, the more we remain mottled and murky. But if we actually could cleanse our heart and life ourselves, then it would just lead to boasting and pride—making us dirty all over again. “Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:9). Therefore, we need to stop trying to clean up our heart and life by our own efforts, and yield our self to Jesus instead. He wants to make us into the bright polished precious jewel that He sees, not the muddy, imperfect, unclean one that we see. He is the only One who can do it.

The Photograph That Can’t Be Deleted

A preview from a digital camera of a blurred street scene

Sally and her brother Steve are photography addicts. Whether it is an armadillo in Florida, a mountain range in Canada, or an amoeba through a microscope, between these two, they most likely have photographed it. Start a casual conversation with either of them, and you’ll end up sloshing through a pool of jargon. Recently someone commented about a passing sailboat and was inundated with exposure, ISO, metering, figure-to-ground, rule of thirds, bluket joins, rabbles, monkey stops and kewn. They own dozens of digital and film cameras, a multitude of lenses, and numerous accessories.

‘Delete’ should have been Sally’s middle name, since she deletes all the pictures she doesn’t like, even if just the slightest bit imperfect. Steve, on the other hand, is a ‘keeper.’ He feels that almost all of his pictures could be used for something, even if they don’t originally seem acceptable. The result? Steve has hundreds of thousands of photographs stored away for future use, while Sally had only a fraction of that.

Steve commented one day while Sally was engulfed in one of her many deleting sessions—about someone who never deleted the pictures captured. Sally paused and abruptly turned around.

“Are insinuating that I keep way too few pictures and should stop deleting so much?”

“Not at all—it was just something I thought about while reading a book last night.”

“Ha! You can read? That’s a good laugh!”

“No, seriously, I read about how God keeps a record of everything that we do, say, or even think. It’s like what we do with our cameras, except it’s in full action with unlimited detail. I mean, He knows everything about each one of us!”

“And does He share this with the world’s governments, or is it exclusively His own? Or is this how Santa got his secret information on every child on the planet?”

“You don’t care in the least! Look, this isn’t science fiction, a conspiracy theory, or some kids’ tale—it’s for real!”

“Okay, I’ll humor you. What does God do with the ones He doesn’t like? You know—the images that are all messed up and unusable. I refuse to believe that He has some kind of photo editing equipment that corrects mistakes.”

“Of course not! Actually these are not photos that you and I know of, but a written record that translates into a viewable image. It says so right here in the book I was reading:

“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12).

All that He records is perfect; we are the ones that are a problem.”

“Uh-oh, here we go with that judgment stuff. Look, you might not be in the best standing with God, but I have accomplished lots of good works to help counter the bad things I’ve done in my life.”

“Well, from what I’ve read, that doesn’t improve our record in God’s book. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves right with God. He said, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That means we were in the wrong from day one. We have to commit our life over to Him and let Him correct the ‘image’ He has on file.”

“How can God correct what has happened in our past? Does He rip pages out of this book you mentioned? You just said that He doesn’t use editing equipment, and now you say He corrects what was recorded about us—I’m confused.”

“Let me clarify. Our image is not exactly corrected; it is covered completely from God’s sight. We have given God such a bad reputation that we never come to fully realize the magnitude of His love for us. Another place in my book says,

“For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

I’ve never known of anyone to give up any of their children for the sake of the whole world. In addition, His Son Jesus willfully chose to die on a cross for our sins. It was His blood shed on that cross which made it possible for the record of our sinful past to be removed from God’s view.”

“Where did you suddenly get all this knowledge? Just a few weeks ago you couldn’t stop rambling about the picture of the eagle flying at sunset that you missed. Now you’re an instant theologian! And what’s with this talk about shed blood?”

“Some time ago I found this old Bible, and since I had to wait for hours while a time-lapse photo project finished, I decided to read some it. Since then my life has changed and I can’t seem to put the book down. Anyway, I read about how only the blood shed from the sacrifice of an innocent, defect-free lamb could temporarily cover the sins of the people of that period. Yet when Jesus came, He took the place of that lamb, and through His sacrifice of His shed blood, now everyone’s sins are permanently covered. God no longer sees that old photograph recorded of us or anyone else.”

“That is pretty deep! So now, because of His blood, we all are covered and everything is good with God, right?”

“If the story ended right there, then yes, that would be the case. But it continues on over to us.

We have to make a choice of whether to accept Jesus’ sacrifice as our own, since we deserve to be put to death due to our sins.

Or to reject what He has accomplished for us, and suffer God’s wrath and eternal punishment due to the sinful life has been minutely recorded about us in His book.”

“Oh! That’s what I was afraid you would say. You know, I’m thinking that I would rather give my heart and life over to Jesus and follow Him and His ways. The thought of God’s photograph of my whole life with everything I’ve done never being deleted, and my inability to make it better, is not going over well with me.“

What about you? Is the image or record of your life blameless? Has it been covered by the blood of Christ? Every detail has been minutely recorded from when you were formed in the womb, to the moment you read this. Each and every thing you have done is in His book, ready for that day of His judgment.

You can’t hide anything from God. Even if you’ve forgotten about it, He still remembers. Jesus said, “…for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known” (Matthew 10:26).

Yet it doesn’t have to remain that way. By accepting what Jesus has done at the cross, and allowing Him to work in your life, you can have that record washed clean, or “covered with His blood.” While this photograph can never be deleted, Jesus made a way for it to no longer be visible before God. Won’t you follow that way right now?

To find out more on how to have this undeletable photograph covered and made clean please visit our main website by clicking here.

A Fountain of Water or a Beautiful Sculpture?

A three-tiered fountain with water flowing down around it

Ever notice that a fountain doesn’t do anything but let the water building up inside it gush out and fill the area all around it? There is almost no effort on its part. It just fills with water and then releases it for all to see. It makes no attempt to conserve the flow of water or to block it completely. As God’s children, He wants to flow through us by way of His Spirit. When we yield to Him as a willing vessel (or “fountain”), we allow His love to flow out of us for others to see.

When we try to express God’s love without having much love for, or devotion to, Him ourselves, we prevent Him from flowing in our life. But the more we allow Him to fill us with His Spirit, the more His love will flow out and all over us, through no effort of our own. When a fountain no longer streams forth water, it becomes just a nice-looking sculpture. It might have beauty outwardly, but there is nothing going on inside. In the same manner, when we block God’s Spirit from flowing through us, we may seem appealing on the outside, but there is little or no activity spiritually within us.

“Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets” (Proverbs 3:16).

Let’s increase our time and intimacy with Jesus, so His love will overflow abundantly from us like “rivers of waters in the streets” for all to experience.

Want to Build a Fire?—Let Go of the Wood!

Two recently cut sections of a small tree

The woodpile grew rapidly as Leo and his dad finally cut up the old tree in the far end of the backyard. The huge tree fell eight years ago after a Nor’easter hit the region. It did not really obstruct anything, but had become an eyesore and home for many critters that raided the trash bin. Leo felt torn between holding onto the old tree and breaking it down for the fire pit. He had lots of fond memories of climbing and hiding between the various crevices of its larger branches. Sometimes when he was upset, he would sit on its large trunk pondering the meaning of life, or, at least, what little he knew of it.

The crisp Fall morning grew warmer as the sun climbed across the sky. Leo’s dad urged him to pick up his pace if they were to finish the tree before sunset. As Leo picked up a small bundle of cut branches, his mind wandered back to the time when the tree became his snow fort. It was impenetrable as long as he kept below the trunk. One time he failed to, just as a hard-packed snowball slammed into his forehead. Then he recalled the five-hour emergency room visit and head bandage.

A chain saw cutting a tree trunk

“Leo!” shouted his father over the chain saw growl, “if you don’t get that wood stacked immediately, I’m going to….” His voice disappeared as the growl changed back to a snarling roar. Leo quickly abandoned reminiscing and resumed his vigorous collecting and stacking of cut branches. Then the noon chime sounded on his watch, and he recalled the day when the neighbor’s dog slipped into his yard, chasing what Leo thought was a black cat with a white stripe. After a few minutes assisting the dog, a pungent ‘fragrance’ filled the air. Leo grabbed a broken branch from the tree and chased the dog instead, shouting, “Get away from here, you crazy dog! That’s not a cat!” but to little avail.

Lunch was a brief break before he and his dad prepared a crude fire pit in a sandy clearing. “That ought to help keep the fire in one place,” his dad remarked, while turning toward the house. “Leo, start stacking those logs while I go for the water hose and then get the fire underway. And I want results this time.”

Leo grabbed a tiny section of trunk. The day had become quite warm by then. This, along with his dad getting the hose, reminded him of the time when his friend came over to help build their version of a water park. They drilled holes in the newly-fallen tree, and were going to put sprinklers in at various intervals—until he broke the drill.

“Leo! What is taking so long? What’s going on in your head?” his dad angrily interrupted. “Stack the logs in the pit so I can get a fire going! How hard is that?”

Leo sighed, grabbed more logs, and stacked them down while his dad stuffed wood scraps all around the logs in the pit. He then turned one branch into a torch, lit it, and started setting the scraps on fire. Initially, Leo kept adding more of the old tree to the pile, but before long, strangely enough, he decided to take a few logs back and lay them aside nearby. Then he just stood staring at the newly-started fire and retrieved a few more branches that by now had begun to catch fire. It seemed like he wanted to get rid of the tree and all of the problems it caused, but at the same time, he didn’t want to completely let go of it.

A bonfire at night with large flames

“Leo! Come over here for a moment,” his dad motioned. Leo hesitantly walked a short distance from the fire. “Now you and I, along with everyone else around here, want this tree removed, right? Yet ever since we began, you have been daydreaming and taking your time. I’ve finally reached the point where we are able to burn the tree and get rid of it. But here you are, holding onto some of the logs. You’ve even gone so far as to pick them back up from the fire!”

“But I…” Leo started his defense.

“Look,” his dad interrupted, “we can’t get this fire going if you won’t let go of the logs!”

As believers in Christ, we are often guilty of doing the same thing with God—not with wood and a fire, but with leaving our problems and concerns at His altar. So often we want God to take care of our situation, but our unbelief won’t let Him. We go to the altar, commit our needs before Him, and leave. Then, after a few days, weeks, or even just a couple of hours, we return to the altar to retrieve what we left there. We never give God a chance to do much of anything. As a result, we become down in spirit or depressed. We may even complain that the problem doesn’t go away. Maybe we never truly wanted to give up the concern in the first place. We were moved in our heart to let go, but our old self, or “the flesh,” rose up and overruled—denying us the victory.

As our Heavenly Father, God wants us to come to Him with our needs and concerns. In fact, He will often allow, or even bring about, problems to affect us, to bring us to the point of committing them over to Him. In His love for us, He wants us to come to Him first and leave all of these things with Him. When we take them back (or never give them up in the first place) we are not allowing God to work in our lives. In essence, we tell God that we want to be free of the situation—but only on our terms and in our time frame.

Looking up a a stone cross with clouds behind

When Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for us, it was a complete, finished work. There will never be a return trip and another sacrifice, much less multiple sacrifices. He did everything required and was victorious, so that we can be victorious. But we must lay our concerns on the altar and leave them there, putting our complete faith and trust in Him and His victory at the cross. Don’t be like Leo, and hold onto, or, worse yet, retrieve the logs from the fire. How can we start a fire, if we don’t let go of the wood?

The Path to Greatness

A great tit feeding its young.

What is the whole work of a servant? It is to serve. Even though Jesus is God and King, He gave up all claims to honor and glory in order to be a servant to man. Since He was willing to yield Himself to the lowest position of a servant in order to serve the very ones He created, where do we get the idea that serving others is beneath us? “…the servant is not greater than his lord…” (John 13:16).

Jesus urged His disciples to desire earnestly to be a servant to not only some, but to all. “…whosoever will be chief among you…,” the one in the first or highest position—in order to have the first place in the kingdom of the Messiah—should first be a servant. The Apostle Paul confirmed this by becoming a servant to all men himself, despite the fact that he was a free man. He was willing to do this so that men might come to Christ. This attitude made him the “chief among the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9) even though he considered himself the least of the apostles, and even the least of all the saints. But far more important than seeking to be chief over men is seeking the salvation of men’s souls.

Much of the time Jesus spent ministering here on Earth was in healing the sick and helping the suffering. During that era, the task of dealing with the sick and suffering was assigned to servants. Jesus gave up His personal freedom in order to bear the burdens of the sick, the suffering, the friendless, and the nobodies. His example demonstrated that true ministry really means serving, or assisting those in need. “Minister” and “servant are the true distinguishing marks of greatness. The message here is that anyone seeking greatness will do so by becoming the greatest servant.

Therefore, what should be the spirit of God’s ministers? A minister called of God should devote his time, his talents, his abilities, and his powers to the well-being of the flock Jesus has put in his care. He should not lord himself over Jesus’ flock. He should not take care of the affairs of the portion of the Church in his care by imposing his own will on others as if he ‘ruled’ the Church.

True greatness involves serving the body of Christ like the first apostles did. It also applies to a man who can humble himself and stoop to the lowest offices—if that is what it takes to move the true happiness and salvation of his fellow men forward.

He should be willing to spend himself in serving that flock. He should even be willing in his heart to give up his life unto death if necessary, if it will move the salvation of others forward. Paul said, “…I will very gladly spend and be spent for you…” (2 Corinthians 12:15).

Jesus promoted this idea, which He also lived Himself. His greatest apostle also lived it. Yet there are some, if not many, who still hold to the idea that greatness does not come from serving the lowly, but from being honored and served and elevated to a position of great dignity by others instead. The very attitude and exercise of serving, no matter how low it must go—when done willingly out of sincere sympathy and concern for the good of others—leads to being exalted. “…whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; and whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant…the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-28). This is where that we find the path to true greatness.

Have You Reached Your Dead End?

A pale rust covered block wall indicating a dead end

Once you were in bondage to sin, but a way was made for you to get free. You acknowledged the price paid, and were then granted your release from captivity. The enemy was forced to let you go. Now the world you are in is a beautiful place. The burdens that weighed you down are gone. You triumphantly travel down the road of victory, eager to tell others what has transpired in your life. It’s a happy journey! You feel like nothing can stop you anymore.

But what is this obstacle ahead? It looks something like a great channel of water. You cannot safely cross it, nor go around it. To make matters worse, the one who released you from captivity is now in hot pursuit and threatening to capture and destroy you. You can’t go forward, left, or right. You certainly can’t go backward either. Even standing still can only be for a limited time. You have hit a dead end.

You thought that, by following the One who led you out of the depths of sin, you were now free from all kinds of problems and difficulties. Yet it seems like everything is going against you. So what do you do?

The first inclination is to doubt, complain, and murmur about your circumstances and leadership, just like most of those around you.

But this never solves the problem and only worsens your relationship with God (although it hasn’t stopped anyone to this day from trying!). Or you could just continue to trust in the One who led you out. He is in direct communication with God and surely will know what to do next.

The Israelites encountered this kind of situation when they left Egypt several thousand years ago. For years, they endured the bondage of the Egyptians, which continually grew more harsh and demanding. God heard their eventual cry for freedom and raised up Moses—one of their own—to be their deliverer. In due time, the Egyptian leaders finally let them go, and God led them out into the wilderness through the obedience of Moses. During this time of exodus they rejoiced greatly. The weight of Egypt and their taskmasters was gone at last. They also had the glorious visible presence of God with them as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

But all of this joy ceased when their journey abruptly ended at the Red Sea. They immediately descended into murmuring and complaining also—first against Moses, and ultimately against God Himself. In fact, what they really wanted was to kill Moses for leading them out into this wilderness to die. To make matters worse, the Pharaoh of Egypt changed his mind, and now the whole Egyptian army was rapidly gaining on them, intending to permanently end this migration! Even if they were capable of building a bridge or some type of watercraft to cross the water, there was absolutely no time. They (like you are at this very moment) couldn’t safely travel in any direction. They were truly at a dead end.

A yellow street sign displaying the words 'dead end.'

Did God abandon them and leave them to their own devices for survival? Did He tell them: “I delivered you from the bondage of the Egyptians. Now, go figure out the rest of the way for yourself”? No! He made a way that was completely unexpected by everyone. But first, Moses had to be obedient to God and not give in to the unbelieving crowd around him. Then “…the Lord said unto Moses, Wherefore criest thou unto me? speak unto the children of Israel, that they go forward: But lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea” (Exodus 14:15,16).

Moses did as God commanded and the millions of Israelites went across the Rea Sea just as dry as they were on the shore. The Egyptian army believed in God less than the Israelites did, which they demonstrated when they hotly pursued the people right through the parted waters! They could have stopped on the shoreline, or even have just sent a small company—but no, the entire army went forward! As a result, after Moses led the people across the waters, “…the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand over the sea, that the waters may come again upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots, and upon their horsemen. And Moses stretched forth his hand over the sea, and the sea returned to his strength when the morning appeared; and the Egyptians fled against it; and the Lord overthrew the Egyptians in the midst of the sea. And the waters returned, and covered the chariots, and the horsemen, and all the host of Pharaoh that came into the sea after them; there remained not so much as one of them” (Exodus 14:25-27).

God led the people across a great sea without so much as a sandal getting wet! He even took care of their oppressors (who might have survived if they had only feared God). Therefore, if God can open a dead end for millions of people, and bring them through safely, He can certainly bring you through your impossible situation right now. God has allowed you to reach this point to show His faithfulness. God wants you to believe in Him for the impossible, to expect the unexpected. If you trusted Him for what you or someone else could accomplish for you, then there is really no need for Him in the first place. But He already planned a way out for you long before you reached your present dilemma.

When you try to solve your problems on your own, you will always reach a dead end.

In Proverbs 3:5 God said, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” He sent His Son to sacrifice His life on the cross, not just to save you from being eternally lost when you die, but also to make your life right now victorious in Him. Jesus has already fought and won the war; all you are expected to do, as a believer in Him, is to put your complete trust in Him to bring you through the battle you are facing right now.

Throughout the Old Testament, when the Israelites went before God in unbelief, they encountered impossible situations. Yet when they cried out to God, repented, and put their trust in Him, He changed their impossible situations. Take your eyes off of the impossible, and place your faith in the victorious and finished work of Jesus at the cross. Make His victory your victory, and watch the dead end you are facing turn into an open pathway.

Same Direction, Wrong Destination

A red electric train on curved tracks.

Many major cities around the world have specific areas where multiple railroad tracks cluster together. A great number of trains pass through these hubs to pick up and unload passengers or freight. For some, this is their destination, for others, just a stopover. Looking down on these rail yards from above, you would see many tracks running parallel to each other. Some will cross paths with another, while many never meet at all. Even in some towns, two or more tracks may run near each other yet never come together.

An overhead view of three red cabooses sitting on one of several train tracks including one that curves away from the others.

Now suppose two people decided to each take one of these parallel tracks and travel on it, expecting to get out and meet the other at the end of the line. After only a short period of traveling, they might discover that the tracks they chose depart from their parallel course instead, and end up reaching separate destinations. For the one who ended up at the wrong destination, everything seemed right in the beginning. His companion riding on the other track started off shortly before he did and moved along in the same direction as he was about to travel. Therefore he assumed that the end of the trip would work out just as well.

Two trains sitting side by side at a station.

Many think that they can just get on a track that seems right when it comes to really finding God and entering Heaven and they will surely arrive at the feet of God Himself, along with everyone else on other parallel tracks. The Bible spoke of this and its outcome thousands of years ago: “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12). Just because we think the way we want to travel is the best way does not always mean that it is. God made only one way available to get to Him, and that is through His Son, Jesus. “Jesus saith…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). But many vehemently disagree with this statement, because they want control over the whole process. They do not want God’s way, because it involves giving up of the right to their self. They want everything on their own terms. They feel God must come down to them, not the other way around. They would prefer to accept a verse out of the ‘anti-Bible’ –“…I am a way, a truth and a life; all persons can come to the Father whether by me or anything else.”

Because of our sins, we are not allowed to come before God, since He is holy and righteous. No other being can rival or equal God. He is supreme and almighty. On the other hand, we—the human race—are sinful, finite beings. Our sinful nature cannot mix with God’s holiness; if we could do so, it could not make us more holy and free of sin. Instead, it would corrupt God Himself, nullifying His very existence, and cause complete chaos in the delicate balance of all of His creation (including us). In fact, with our limited knowledge of this world and the universes beyond, we cannot possibly comprehend the fullness of the consequences of God’s annihilation (if such was possible).

Prior to Jesus coming to Earth as a man, God made a temporary way for man to come before Him. But man still could not actually be in His presence, similar to children being in the house of their parents but still not in the actual room where their parents reside. The whole process found in the Old Testament exceeds the scope of this article, but the essence of it involves a sacrifice. God required the blood of an innocent, spotless, defect-free lamb to be shed as a temporary covering for the sins of the people. The lamb took the death penalty man deserved. Note the word ‘temporary,’ as these sacrifices could never permanently remove anyone’s sins. Therefore, they had to be repeated over and over. By obeying God’s commandments outlined in the Old Testament, and the offering up of the sacrifice by a high priest, God’s judgment could be avoided. But God never intended for this sacrificial system to go on forever. It necessitated a final sacrifice, one that would, once and for all, pay the price for the sins of every man, woman and child—not just the ones alive now, but even for those who already died and those yet to be born. The problem was that no one on Earth, or anywhere in the universe, could qualify as a man who was a perfect, sinless substitute.

A silhouette of a cross and brush with fog, sky and mountains in the distance.

That is where Jesus comes in. He willingly came down from His place in Heaven and became a physical human being just like us—only without any sin, ever. He, in turn, became the ultimate, final, living sacrifice needed to pay the penalty for our sins. During His time here on Earth, He fulfilled every requirement God had laid out in the Old Testament. This was something impossible for any other person on Earth to completely accomplish. When He was crucified on the cross, He took upon Himself every sin—past, present and future—of every person who was, is, and will be on Earth. His shed blood covered our sins. They are completely removed from God’s sight. “And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission [elimination]” (Hebrews 9:22). But, unlike the lamb mentioned earlier, Jesus’ sacrifice was final and permanent. Not only that, after He was taken down from the cross and buried, He rose three days later from the grave and soon ascended back to His place with God. This further seals the finality of His sacrifice.

This is how Jesus alone became “the way, the truth, and the life.”No man or animal ever sacrificed his life for us and rose from the dead afterward. Furthermore, no one every loved us to the point that he gave his only son to die for us.

But “…God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Remember also, that Jesus loved us as much as the Father, in that He willfully came down and gave His life in our place.

Which track are you riding on right now? Is it the one that you think (or have been taught) is going to God? Or is it one that everyone else is riding because they also believe that it is going to the right place? Just because the train’s cars are full does not make that track the right one. There may be two tracks at that station, or there may be many tracks in the rail yard, but only one is the right one that will take you to eternal life with God. Are you on that track? Or are you on a parallel one that will ultimately take you away from God? Don’t let today’s smug rejection be tomorrow’s surprise for eternity. There is still time to get on the train that is riding on the correct track. Why don’t you take a moment now and ask God to lead you to it?

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“And I Sent the Hornet before You”

 

A graphical image of a hornet.

Many times in our walk with God He will use something small, or even unseen, to bring about a great victory for His glory. One example of this occurred thousands of years ago, after the Israelites had crossed the Jordan River and were entering the land that God had promised for many years to give them. One thing remained though—the occupants of the land did not simply leave after their arrival. God ordered the Israelites to destroy the people of the land because they were idolaters who worshipped everything but God Himself. They loved the creation more than the Creator.

Some may think that God is an evil tyrant who kills on a whim and has no compassion for anyone, yet He is quite the opposite. “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9 emphasis added). He never wants any of us to die eternally lost. The depth of His love no one can fathom. What is overlooked here is, that God’s love and longsuffering had given these people the opportunity to forsake their disobedience and rebellion for hundreds of years—but they never did. Noah and his family did not build the ark in a few hours, and then God immediately destroyed everyone else with a flood. God continued to give the people time to change their evil, rebellious ways and turn to Him. There could have been many more than just the members of Noah’s family in the safety of the ark, but the people continued to refuse the offer from a loving and merciful God—only to die in the rising waters.

When the Israelites arrived, they did not just set up camp until God gave them the land as their inheritance and then wait for the enemy’s arrival to see if they were as evil as described. No, they went forward in battle in the name (or unfailing nature) of God, with Joshua as the captain of the host leading the way.

But while they may have fought and defeated their enemies, they were not the ones who actually drove the occupants out. The real victor was God. And He did it in ways not known to the Israelites.

“And I sent the hornet before you, which [drove] them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; but not with thy sword, nor with thy bow” (Joshua 24:12). One insect sent a whole army to flight! Although some scholars believe this may not have been a literal hornet, it still shows that God uses a simple means that is not conventional to us to accomplish His task. Now look at verse thirteen: “…I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat” (emphasis added). Notice that the land was given to them, cities were already built, and crops were already growing—and were ready to eat. Even the very enemy they came against was brought out before them to be eliminated. And all of this was carried out without any work of their own. God, in His faithfulness, did it all Himself. Why? Because they trusted in Him, obeyed His commandments, and because of His immense love for them.

“Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve Him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord” (Joshua 24:14).

This was the key for their victory. As we read throughout much of the Old Testament, whenever the Israelites forsook God and His Word, they were defeated in battle against their enemies. Yet when they cried out to God and repented of their rebellious ways, He would come in and deliver them. If they did not overcome and destroy their enemies, then their enemies would overcome them, due to the Israelites’ compromise and worship of their enemies’ gods. As long as the Israelites turned away from God and followed idolatry, they would walk in defeat, and ultimately in bondage to their enemies.

These verses apply in our own life spiritually as the children of God. We must remember that our success comes from trusting in God and obeying His Word, the Bible. Then God will drive out our enemies by means not seen, and He will provide for our needs through no part of our own doing. All He wants is for us to love and serve Him, and Him alone. “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). We may never know how many ‘hornets’ have gone before us and driven out our enemies, but we do know that when we truly and wholeheartedly follow Him in trust and obedience, He will always go before us and bring victory.

“What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).