For Such a Time as This


On July 3, 2010, Pat and I were on Lake Hamilton, preparing to celebrate the Fourth with our family. While mowing the yard on that hot day, I stirred up a nest of yellow jackets and five or six stung me good. I didn’t think much about it, until a few minutes later I started seeing stars and passed out, dead as a hammer, in anaphylactic shock. It just so happened that our good neighbor had some guests for the Fourth, among who were an Emergency Room Nurse, and two other Registered Nurses. After Pat’s scream, they were there within seconds, administering CPR for fifteen minutes, until the EMT’s arrived. Lucky for me, huh? Well, luck had nothing to do with it. I believe it was the right people, in the right place, at the right time, and I am forever grateful to Pat, to them and to Him!

No doubt you too have experienced a similar “chance” happening, when, just in the nick of time, your life was spared or changed forever by a circumstance you had, or by a person you met. The Bible teaches that God is sovereign, even in His plans and dealings with us, and there is no such thing as luck or chance. This truth, though only comprehensible to us in hindsight, is very comforting.

During the fifth century Before Christ, the nation of Israel faced complete annihilation. Persians ruled the known world in a kingdom that covered almost three and a half million square miles, from India in the East, to Libya and Greece in the West. A death-sentence, decreed by King Xerxes (Ahasuerus in Hebrew), hung over the head of every Jew in the empire. Israelites were scurrying underground, becoming deathly silent about their lineage, and were probably hiding their genealogies. From the human view, things seemed hopeless.

However, there was a savior waiting in the wings—one who, if she chose, could deliver—but not without great personal risk. An undercover Jewess was Queen of Persia. But if she broke her silence and spoke up for her people, it could mean her death.

Queen Esther was moved to action, despite the danger, by Mordecai’s words: “Who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Her Jewish roots were unknown to her husband, the king, who had in ignorance and greed, commissioned their genocide. Esther’s cousin, Mordecai, knew it was not mere chance that she had become queen of Persia under the most unusual circumstances imaginable (Esther chapters 1—3).

She asked Mordecai to assemble her kinsmen to intervene and fast before God on her behalf. The king’s law stated that “any man or woman who comes to the king to the inner court who is not summoned…be put to death unless the king holds out to him the golden scepter so that he may live” (Esther 4:11). So Esther knew she could be executed for her actions. But she also knew the price was worth the risk.

Esther made a commitment to intervene, against all laws and customs, with the words, “Thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law; and if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). When Mordecai heard these words and saw Esther’s determination, he “went away and did just as Esther had commanded him” (verse 17), spreading the news and enlisting people to intercede with God on her behalf.

“If I perish, I perish.” Some things are worth the risk. Esther must have realized the uniqueness of events that had brought her to this position, made her the right person, in the right place, at the right time. Surely she was there “for such a time as this.”

The rest of the book reads like a fabricated drama. But it is not fiction. It is the true story of God miraculously preserving His people because of the bravery of one young Jewish woman who stood up for what was right.

So, what does that twenty-five hundred year old Bible story mean to us?

Like Mordecai and Queen Esther, we too live in very difficult times. Often, wrong prevails, cruelty abounds, immorality assails and righteousness flails. Many Christians lose hope in the fight. Some think it is useless to witness, to work, to reach out in this pagan world.

These ministers of dejection and defeat seem to think things are hopeless. But not so! Is the world crueler today than when it crucified Jesus? Are things more corrupt now than when idolatry, persecution, wickedness and perversion prevailed in first century Rome? Is the gospel less powerful than when enemies claimed that the followers of Christ “turned the world upside down”? (Acts 17:6).

I think not. Could it just be that God placed us here “for such a time as this”? Now, I am not advising that we put on rose-colored glasses. We must face the brutal facts of our current reality. But more than that, we must remember that carrying out the great commission is still the highest priority of obedient churches (Matt. 28:19, 20)–And  the One who indwells us is still greater than our enemy in the world (1 John 4:4)–And the gospel is still the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16)–And the lost are just as in need of Jesus as ever!

Let us praise God because we are here, the right people, in the right place at just the right time! Let’s say with Esther, “if I perish I perish,” and get busy sharing the glorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ because we are here “for such a time as this.”

The Big Picture

Clements 201808 Pix.jpg

A king asked six blind men, who had never seen an elephant, to tell him what one was like. The blind man who felt its leg said an elephant must be like a tree. Another who felt its tail surmised that an elephant was like a rope. The one who handled its trunk said an elephant was like a snake. The man who felt its ear reported that an elephant was like a fan. Feeling the elephant’s side, another blind man said an elephant was like a wall. Finally, the man who felt its tusk reported that an elephant had to be like a spear.

The king acknowledged they were all right, but only partially. He revealed that each blind man had touched a different part of the elephant, but that not one understood what the elephant, the sum of all those parts, was really like. Each one could only discern part of the whole, whereas the king could see the big picture.

This old story from India illustrates that it is possible to focus so much on details that we miss the whole picture. Like the blind men, if we only concentrate on what we see, apart from the big picture, we will draw erroneous conclusions.

Have you ever been so consumed by small details, that you were distracted from the main objective of what you were doing? It is possible for us to become so engrossed in day-to-day activities, jobs, recreation, business, family, stresses and deadlines that we lose sight of the big picture—the main thing. The big picture is the complete view, not just the partial scene.

God wants His children to live for Him daily, but not lose view of the big picture—His overall kingdom plan. Zig Zigglar used to say, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.” You don’t want to live your life like a blind man and miss the main thing.

So, what is this big picture? Peter’s inspired words help with the answer. He reminds us that, though it had been many years since Jesus promised to return that, He will come back as He promised. In AD 33, Jesus confirmed, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). Then, 30 years later, Peter wrote that “in the last days mockers will come with their mocking…saying ‘Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation’” (2 Peter 3:3-4).

To correct that error, Peter reminds us that, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (verse 9). God’s timing is always perfect and purposeful—never negligent and tardy. His seeming delay returning is to extend His mercy, allowing more people to come to Christ.

None of us should lose sight of the promised return of the Lord Jesus as we live our daily lives this side of eternity. His return is the big picture you need to see, over everything else you do. The Scriptures plainly teach that Jesus will return, and if you believe the promise, it should motivate you to live for Him every day.

Peter went on to prophesy, “The earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). He believed that the reality of the Lord’s return and the destruction of the present world system should be the major motivation for God’s people to live holy lives for Him. Peter wrote, “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness” (verse 11). If we believe the Scripture that everything we see now will be dissolved then, we should focus our energy, income and effort on that which is eternal, not merely on the temporal. Do we need the temporal? Yes. Everyday we live in temporary housing, drive temporary cars, and work at temporary jobs. But earthly things are temporary! The Christian lives in a temporary world—awaiting an eternal home. That is the big picture. “Since everything around us is going to be destroyed like this, what holy and godly lives you should live!” (verse 11, NLT).

Living life in view of the big picture is not all gloom and doom. Peter goes further to write, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (verse 13). For the child of God, in that day, the temporary things of earth will be transformed into beautiful, fully functional, eternal things in the heavens. What a glorious day that will be!

Seeing the big picture means, “since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (verse 14). If you see the big picture in life, anticipating the return of Jesus to set things right—then diligently work to be at peace, spotless and blameless in your life. Aim to live daily with the big picture in view.

The gospel songwriter, John Peterson (1921-2006) summed it up perfectly when he wrote:

Standing before Him at last, Trial and trouble all past,

Crowns at His feet we will cast, Jesus is coming again!

Coming again, Coming again, May be morning, may be noon,

May be evening and will be soon! Coming again, Coming again;

O what a wonderful day it will be—Jesus is coming again!

(copyright 1967, John W. Peterson Music Co.)







Walking by Faith – the Product

Boots Madden. He’s the answer to the question: “Who do you know that walked by faith?” He has been gone for over a decade, but his influence lives on.  His name is still brought up in conversations. Memories of his words and deeds are fresh yet among those who knew him well. Stories of his ventures seem to grow, rather than diminish, with time.

He left an indelible mark on people for one reason—he walked by faith. Did he live a perfect life? No. Was he errorless? Hardly. But he lived his daily life near to God, trusting Him—walking in faith.  He pastored churches in Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana and California—always seeming to be led to the church that had fallen on tough times. He would dig in, preach hard, work tirelessly to see it grow, then move on when it became self-sustaining. He simply trusted God to take care of him, his family and his church, during the process.

Later in life Brother Madden became Treasurer of Missions for an international Baptist Association. His ministry was to raise funds, encourage missionaries and report to participating churches. One of his regrets was not being able to dispense the million-dollar balance in the mission fund. He wanted to spend every penny on missions and missionaries. He would often say, “We are going to be ashamed when Jesus comes, with unsaved people all over the world, while we are sitting on a million dollars!”

When you answer the question: “Who do YOU know that walked by faith?” your mind will probably run to a man or woman who demonstrated to you what it was like to live a Christian life. That person probably impacts your own Christian life, even today. What you are able to see in them is the product of Christian living. Walking by faith begins with the prelude—personal saving faith in Jesus Christ. It continues as a process of trusting the Lord daily, seeking to please Him. Then it ends with a product—a life pleasing to God and persuasive to people.

Most of us, though, want the product and not the process. But it is the process of walking with Christ in the daily trials of life that produces the results: An obedient Christian life. And truthfully, you can’t have the product without the process.

The walk by faith is a blessed, but not an easy one!  When Paul wrote, “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7), he was referring to the confidence of believers that when they leave this world by the door of death, they will immediately arrive in the presence of the Lord of life.

The Old Testament prophet Elijah went through God’s boot camp of faith-training three years before his victorious confrontation with the 400 prophets of Baal. Elijah was able to overcome by great faith on Mount Carmel because he had endured great tests of faith in the valley, by Cherith and in Zarephath.

Elijah learned to trust God by the brook Cherith (1 Kings 17:1-7).  God’s prophet told Ahab there would be three years of drought.  Baal worshipers believed their god was the god of rain, but God proved He was in control of the weather, as a drought baked the land. Elijah’s faith was stretched while God sustained him with food brought by ravens at Cherith. Imagine being dependent on a wild bird to bring your meals. Elijah’s faith was tested again when the brook suddenly dried up.

God’s prophet then learned to follow in the city of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8-12). God pointed Elijah ninety miles west to a widow in this Gentile city on the Mediterranean. It must have seemed strange to Elijah when he went from being fed by an unclean bird, to being sustained by an unclean woman, but that was part of God’s faith-training program for His prophet. God was preparing Elijah for greater service, by teaching him to walk in faith.

The next character in this drama was the widow of Zarephath, who learned there was blessing in obeying God (1 Kings 17:13-16).  Though she was a pagan, the widow knew the LORD God was the one living God (verse 12).  When Elijah commanded the widow to fix him a cake, though she had only a handful of meal and a little oil, she obeyed and fixed a little cake for God’s servant first. As she put God first, He put her first! Because of her faith, God promised: “The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth” (1 Kings 17:14).  God kept His word, sustained His prophet, the widow and her son.

As Elijah learned to trust God for small things at Cherith and Zarephath, he later knew he could trust Him for greater things on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18).  Walking by faith is blessed!  Whether it is trusting God for food by a brook—or trusting Him for heavenly fire on a mountain—God blesses when we walk by faith!

Believers are saved “by grace…through faith” (Ephesians 2:8, 9)—then are to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). They are saved through faith, and serve by faith. They have life through faith, and they are to live by faith. In his commentary on Hebrews 11:11, John MacArthur summed it up well:  “Faith sees the invisible, hears the inaudible, touches the intangible, and accomplishes the impossible” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary, Hebrews, c. 1983, p. 332).

We do not always understand how God leads, or why He permits events in our lives, but we can always trust Him as we walk by faith.  In those tough times of life, when events surround us that are beyond our control, then we must trust God and continue to walk by faith, not by sight. Are you walking by faith?






Walking by Faith – The Process


The Bible is the best-selling book in history with estimated sales over five billion. But, can you name the best-selling book of all time, written by a human author? Neither Hemingway, Clancy, Mark Twain, J. K. Rowling or Stephen King wrote it. It never appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list, because it pre-dated that newspaper by 300 years.

Would it help if you knew it was written by a man who truly walked by faith? Remember: the Prelude to walking by faith is personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Then, following saving faith, the walk of faith begins–the Practice–by trusting the Lord daily and seeking to please Him in your life. As you live your life in faith, by convictions founded on biblical principles, you begin a life-long process that, at times results in suffering, but always ends in glory.

The second best-selling book of all time is “Pilgrim’s Progress.” One hundred thousand copies of this book were in print by 1692 and millions have been printed since. This book is an allegory of the Christian life, written by John Bunyan (1628-1688).

John Bunyan and his wife were destitute and penniless, living in Bedford, England. He was a tinker, a tinsmith who traveled, repairing household utensils. John came to faith in Christ in his early 20’s and afterward became a preacher of the gospel. But because of persecution in those days, he was imprisoned for 12 years, for preaching without a license. If he would have just promised not to preach, he would have been released, but by faith he adamantly refused to disobey God’s command.

Walking by faith is not easy. Neither does it instantly follow saving faith. Walking by faith is just that—“walking”—a process that requires direction, discipline, action and time. But walking by faith through difficult times is rewarding, as Peter wrote, “you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7). If John Bunyan had not been imprisoned, he would never have written “Pilgrim’s Progress” – the book that is called “the second-best book in all the world.”

However difficult it is at times, walking by faith is something God desires from His born-again children. Jesus expected such from His disciples on the ship in the storm, because He said, “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matthew 8:26). Their fearful actions betrayed a huge lack of faith—a faith Jesus expected from them. And, as you grow in your Christian life, He expects you also to walk in faith.

God’s Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11—the short biographies of many of His faithful servants—reveals how much God values His children who walk by faith. The inspired record shows an amazing pattern as the noun “faith” is followed by various action verbs that reveal how faith became visible in godly activities in the lives of these Bible heroes.

Notice the actions produced by a life of faith:

Faith SacrificesHebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice” – Abel’s faith was manifested in the sacrifice he gave (Genesis 4:4).

Faith PreparesHebrews 11:7, “By faith Noah…in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household” – Noah’s faith was seen in the ark he built (Genesis 6:13-22).

Faith ObeysHebrews 11:8, “By faith Abraham…obeyed by going out” – Abraham’s faith became visible when he obeyed God and left his homeland, following God’s command (Genesis 12:1-4).

Faith BlessesHebrews 11:20, “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau” – Isaac’s faith was seen in his prophetic blessings of his sons (Genesis 27:27-29).

Faith Chooses RightlyHebrews 11:24, “By faith Moses…refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin” (Exodus 2:10-11). Though the riches of the Egyptian empire were rightly his, by faith Moses chose hardship with the people of God.

Faith EnduresHebrews 11:27, “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” (Exodus 10:28). Moses endured Pharaoh’s attacks and Israel’s complaints by his faith in the unseen God.

Some who walked by faith won great victories…these “by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight…” (Hebrews 11:33-34). But not everyone who walks in faith comes out victorious in this life.

Some who walked by faith experienced great sorrow… these “others were tortured, not accepting their release…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy)…” (Hebrews 11:35-38).

But the summary reads…“And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us….” (Hebrews 11:39-40). Note it says, “ALL these” gained approval through their faith. “ALL” means those whose faith was victorious—and—those who seemed to suffer defeat – they all walked by faith – pleased God – and will yet receive their full reward.

We know that, “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that he is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). The good news is that you can be saved by placing your faith in Christ—and you can please Him by walking in faith. And, then…God has something even better awaiting you in Heaven!






Walking by Faith-the Prelude

180718 Walk by Faith-Prelude-2.jpg

Walking by faith is not jumping off of a ten-story building or stepping in the path of a Greyhound bus, expecting miraculous deliverance. That’s not faith; that’s foolishness. Walking by faith is trusting God in difficult circumstances when you don’t understand why they happen. Walking by faith is doing the right thing when it is costly or more convenient to ignore it. It is to continue to believe in God when doubt and darkness surround your way. Walking by faith is to trust the promises in God’s Word, though they seem unrealistic. It is living by the guarantee, “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37), which, by the way, was spoken by the angel Gabriel when he announced to the virgin Mary, that she would give birth to the Son of God.

Charles Spurgeon, the famous 19th century London preacher said, “Never doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.” He meant that believers in Christ and in the Bible should continue to trust what they know is true about God, His character, His righteousness, His Word and His promises, even when, to the senses, they do not seem to be true.

The verse you sang as a child in Sunday School on beautifully sunny days—“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so”—is still true though you may be an adult facing difficult, unwelcome circumstances in life. Jesus does love you, as the Bible teaches, during the joys and also, in the midst of the sorrows you face.

For these reasons, Peter commands Christians to “cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Walking by faith means you bundle up your fears, worries, concerns, with the cares of life, and cast them on the Lord, like you would throw a backpack on the shoulders of a strong companion. You trust God to resolve the impossible issues you face, and to hold and keep you, “because He cares for you.”

The idea of walking by faith, sharing your burden, trusting the Lord with the problems and weights of living life, is also an Old Testament truth. The psalmist commanded believers in God to “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken” (Psalm 55:22). Casting off the burdens that weigh you down allows Him to sustain you—to hold you up.

Doing the right thing and trusting the Lord for the results is the secret of walking by faith. The psalmist wrote, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4).

For the Christian, faith is a spiritual discipline that results in spiritual and physical action. In the Bible, having “faith” means to believe or trust. So, every Christian is saved by God’s grace (His unmerited kindness) through faith (your belief and trust) in Jesus. Paul wrote, “For 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, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). When people trust Christ to save them, God’s grace forgives their sins and grants them eternal life as a free gift, undeserved and totally unearned, “so that no one may boast.”

With a firm grip of the meaning of “faith” – to believe – other verses of the Bible make more sense. When Jesus famously said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), we understand that to “believe” in Jesus, means, not to just believe He exists, but to place your trust in Him alone as your Savior. This teaches that every single person who trusts in Jesus Christ to save him or her, will be saved, shall not perish, but have eternal, everlasting life.

Then, lest anyone misunderstand the whole purpose for His coming into the world, Jesus said, “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). Here is the Lord’s summary statement for why He came into the world—why He was born of a virgin—why He was rejected by His own—why He was crucified, buried, arisen, ascended and glorified—“that the world might be saved through Him.” Contrary to what many think about the message of Christ being about condemnation—it is all about salvation….by grace through faith in Him…and it is for the whole world!

The prelude to your walk by faith is salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ. You must trust Christ alone to save you, before you can walk by faith, as a Christian, and live a life pleasing to God. Paul testified about the glorious results of this saving faith in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” In addition to being justified before God, one enormous result of being saved is that you then have “peace with God.” God is no longer your adversary and judge, but your Advocate and Savior, for “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1-2). Jesus is the only sacrifice or offering for our sins that is acceptable to God. And when He saves us as we call on and trust Him, we then have reconciliation, justification, harmony and peace with our perfectly sinless Heavenly Father.

Are you walking by faith? It is the only walk that eventually leads to, and essentially pleases, God. And it begins by trusting Jesus! Next: Walking by Faith—the Process.



The Magnetic Fellowship


I borrowed the title “Magnetic Fellowship” from Larry Weeden’s book, published in 1988, dealing with attractive church fellowship. He believed that when New Testament churches worship and serve the Lord rightly, something beautiful happens, and people are drawn to the Lord’s presence through them. This was true of the magnetic fellowship of the first church in Jerusalem, and succeeding churches planted throughout Syria, Asia Minor, Macedonia, Greece, Rome and other first century civilization centers.

So, how does this magnetic fellowship develop? The fellowship begins with Jesus, the founder and Head of the church. He was captivating to the average hearer. Wherever He went, He drew huge crowds. Before Jesus fed the 5,000, He preached to them of the Kingdom of God. On another occasion, after preaching, teaching and healing among 4,000, he fed them. These thousands of people had not come to be fed, but to be near, hear and meet, this magnetic “friend of sinners.” Even before ministering to the 5,000 and 4,000, Jesus preached the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7) to thousands on a hillside.

One thing that made Jesus magnetic was that He made people feel important and welcome in His presence. In a sentence one Gospel writer summed up what people thought when they were around Him—“the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37 KJV), or “the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him” (NASB). The NIV translates this verse; “the large crowd listened to him with delight.” Jesus was, in every word, a man of the people, the common people.

It wasn’t just His preaching the people loved. Another thing that drew throngs to Jesus was that He took time for them—for common, ordinary, sometimes deeply wounded, sinful and hurting people. One day as Jesus, His disciples and “a large crowd” left Jericho, the blind beggar, Bartimaeus began shouting, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47). Many in the crowd “were sternly telling him to be quiet” (verse 48), but he cried out even more. Friends and followers of Jesus reasoned that He had important things to do, places to go, more worthy people to see. But Jesus stopped, called Bartimaeus to himself and said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” The beggar responded, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” (verse 51). Then Jesus complimented his faith, healed him and continued on His way.

The third thing that attracted people to Jesus was His complete disdain for human recognition, social climbers, political pundits or rising stars in the religious arena. Referring to the pious elite of His day, Jesus said, “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men…They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues” (Matthew 23:5-7). None of His followers were to be called “Rabbi; for One is your teacher, and you are all brothers” (verse 8). Jesus commanded, “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ” (verse 10). He cared nothing about pumping up egos—but was totally committed to encouraging His brethren.

The irresistible humility of Jesus is another factor that made Him attractive. Unlike most in His day, Jesus rejected all who sought power by intimidation, wealth or position. On one occasion, His disciples were arguing among themselves about “which one of them was regarded to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). Jesus admitted that kings of the Gentiles loved to “lord it over” others, “but it is not this way with you.” God’s plan of rule for His kingdom was “the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant” (verse 26). Jesus then set the perfect example for His followers, that would make them attractive, and their assemblies magnetic: “I am among you as the one who serves” (verse 27).

As the disciples of Jesus, His first church, put these basic principles of life into practice following His ascension, the magnetic qualities of Jesus, became visible in them, and among His people. So, we see that the first church “had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). Then, “day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (verses 46-47). An amazing, beautiful, attractive, magnetic church began to grow and go everywhere in the steps of Jesus, spreading the saving Gospel of Christ.

Truly, if we followed the powerful example and practiced the life-changing methods of our Savior, our churches could enjoy similar magnetic fellowships.

So, how can we do that?

  1. Like Jesus, make normal, average people important to you and welcome them into your life. Common, ordinary and regular people need to feel at ease and know they are valuable to you.
  1. Like Jesus, take time for people around you who may be hurting. We live in a world of pain and agony, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Someone rightly said, “The world doesn’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Seek to meet needs.
  1. Like Jesus, forget about striving for human recognition or the approval of people. Whether others understand is not your primary concern—Pleasing God is.
  1. Like Jesus, humble yourself under God’s control. Trust Christ as your Savior and put Him first in your life.

Inspired directions for becoming part of a truly magnetic fellowship was summed up in Romans 12:15-16: “Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” (NLT).







Spitting into the Wind


This devotional is not really about spitting—it  is a little about wind—and a lot about life.  I am typing this on my laptop computer as I sit in my wife’s Intensive Care Unit room at the George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C. While on vacation here a couple of days ago Pat suffered a potentially serious heart problem, but thankfully, doctors expect her to fully recover.

So, this got me to thinking about life, diet, exercise, health and other matters of the heart. My exercise of choice is to briskly walk several miles early in the morning. Last winter I walked one day when the temperature was a few degrees below freezing, and the wind was gusting in 10 mile an hour blasts, straight out of the north. Since half of my route was north and the other half was returning south, I was having a lot of negative, whiny thoughts as I walked north. But when I turned back to the south, everything was better. So, I thought, maybe I should walk my entire 3 miles going south.  That way the wind would be at my back. I would certainly be warmer. I could avoid the bitter wind and resulting negative thoughts.  The only obvious problem was that when I finished my walk, I would be 3 miles from home.  So, I did some quick math, and figured the best thing would be for me to bite the bullet, and face the wind for half the walk, so I could end up where I wanted to be when I finished.

Life is a lot like that.  If you always walk with the wind at your back, you will never get where you need to be.  Life is made up of pleasant and unpleasant things—Good and bad things—events both joyful and painful. When people join in the happy and holy bonds of matrimony, they promise to stay together whether “for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health, for better or for worse, until death do us part.”

Serving the Lord is much the same way.  It is at once both lovely and difficult. Many people think if you are serving the Lord rightly, everything will go well. They also wrongly think that if you are facing difficulty or hardship, you must not be doing the will of God. But that is not true on either count.  That is not realistic.  In fact, that is not even Biblical.

Try selling Abraham that formula for success in life. He left his home and family, endured sorrow, and waited 25 years for God’s promised son. Then after Isaac finally arrived, God commanded Abraham to take his son to a mountain and offer him as a sacrifice. Talk about tough decisions and wondering “why?”  But Abraham kept on doing right, obeying God, serving and trusting Him, even when God’s will may not have made sense to him.

What would Joseph think if you told him, as long as you are serving the Lord rightly, everything will go well? Joseph was doing God’s will, yet was despised by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused by his master’s wife, and spent two years confined in a prison cell. But Joseph was faithful, and kept on doing right and obeying God. God saw to it that it ended well, to the saving of his whole family. But even that was not without a lot of sorrow.

The only perfect person who ever lived, who deserved no heartache or pain, carried the weight of the sin of the world, was abused, despised, afflicted and crucified. His disciples also learned that serving Jesus was not without cost, as all but one willingly suffered martyrdom for Him.

Do you know anyone who never had a problem? Can you name one human in the Bible, who always triumphed, and never failed? Can you think of one person whose life was always painless? The nearest to this ideal may be a man Jesus referred to in Luke 16. Do you remember him? The rich man who died the same day as Lazarus?  After a lifetime of nothing but success, Jesus said about him, “…in hell, he lifted up his eyes, being in torments,” (Luke 16:23).

The secret of success in the Christian Life is to endure the difficult, and enjoy the blessing! It is possible for a person to be in the very center of the will of God and be betrayed by his brethren, threatened by his enemies, wrongly accused by his friends, and imprisoned because of false allegations….  But, at the very same time, that same one may be a powerful witness for Christ, an unexcelled leader in the faith, a teacher of preachers, and a church planter in many lands….  Just ask the Apostle Paul!

Those experiences allowed Paul to write the Corinthians and share his joy of future service this way: “For a great door, and effectual, is opened unto me, and there are many adversaries” (I Cor. 16:9).  Life is made up of great opportunities and stubborn obstacles.  Life is meant to be both enjoyed and endured. Both parts make up the whole.

Remember that walk into the chilling wind?  We learn from our walk for exercise, and from our walk for Christ:  If you always walk with the wind at your back, you will never get where you need to be, or where the Lord wants you to be. May we all learn from the words of Jesus to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).


He Knows My Name


Early one morning in February, a few years ago, I was at Los Angeles International Airport to catch a flight home from a seminar in California. I was inching my way through a long TSA security line, anxious to get in the air. All of us were removing shoes, watches, belts, and pocket items in hopes of not setting off the metal detector. After I cleared it without alarm and was struggling to put my shoes back on, I noticed the man who had gone through the line before me. He looked so familiar. I knew him from somewhere. Who was he? Then I realized he was a famous movie star I had watched on television for years. As we walked away from security toward the gates, I caught up with him and asked, “Aren’t you Tom Danson from ‘Cheers,’ ‘Becker’ and CSI?’” He smiled and said, “Yes, I am.” I was wowed. I had seen a real somebody.

I found a place to sit a few minutes later and phoned my wife, Pat, to share the exciting news. I was so thrilled. After I told her I had talked to Tom Danson, she said, “His name is TED Danson, not Tom!” Of course it was! Man! I thought, how could I have been so dumb? My joy turned to embarrassment. But after thinking about it a few minutes, in my defense, I told her, “Well, he didn’t even know my name at all!”

Isn’t it most embarrassing not to know the names of people you should know? Most of us have had that happen at some time. But here’s what’s important: If some person doesn’t know your name, it’s no big deal in the grand scheme of things. People are people, and you and they will get over it.

However, is it not a fantastic truth that the God of the universe knows your name? Get this: The One who created the world and everything on it, knows your name! He knows you personally!

God said to His people: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you, For I am the LORD your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2-3). This statement was about Israel corporately, but is also true of believers individually.

“I have called you by name; you are Mine!” The God of the universe knows your name! It doesn’t get much better than that!

The Lord Jesus, our Good Shepherd, revealed similar comforting realities when He spoke to His disciples about His care for them. In John 10 Jesus compared believers to sheep and himself to the shepherd. He said “the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (verses 3 and 4). Jesus is the Good Shepherd who knows every one of His sheep, calls them by name and leads them. You are most precious to the Good Shepherd! Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me,…and I lay down My life for the sheep” (verses 14-15). He knows your name! He guides your life!

On another occasion the disciples went overboard celebrating the power they had used in ministering to people, healing and casting out demons. They had only employed the power Jesus gave them when He sent them out. However, the Lord put things back into perspective when he reminded them of what should bring joy to their hearts. He said, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven” (Luke 10:20). That fact—having your name written in heaven—is something to really celebrate!

In 2010, Tommy Walker wrote the lyrics for a powerfully comforting song entitled, “He knows My Name.” These words bring joy to our hearts and serve to remind us of God’s great promise:

I have a Maker, He formed my heart.

Before even time began, My life was in his hands.

He knows my name, He knows my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls and He hears me when I call.

I have a Father, He calls me His own.
He’ll never leave me, No matter where I go.

He knows my name, He knows my every thought.
He sees each tear that falls and He hears me when I call

Have you noticed how you feel when people call you by your name? It brings affirmation, joy, appreciation and a proper sense of pride. If it thrills you that people know your name, how much more thrilling will it be when the Lord of lords calls you by your name?

Have you received Christ as your Savior? Do you know Him? As great as it will be for Jesus to call your name, it will be a million times worse to hear Him say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23). And He will say those words to all who have not received Him as Savior. You can know Him and be called and led by Him, if you will call on Him, repent of your sin and trust Jesus alone to save you. Then He will call you by name to follow Him…and it won’t mistakenly be someone else’s name! What a day that will be!

If I Should Die Before I Wake


“Now I lay me down to sleep…I pray the Lord my soul to keep.

If I should die before I wake…I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

As a child, my mother taught me this little poetic prayer. Like many things adults consider childish, this little prayer is built on solid spiritual ground. The Bible truth underlying it is the security of eternal life and the reality of a home in Heaven for young children and all believers in Christ.

This wording is so thought provoking. “If I should die before I wake…” makes you think of what would happen if you died in your sleep. Where would you go if you passed from this life into eternity before you awoke?

In reality, death is not the only thing, or even the worst thing that could happen to any of us. Remember the words of Hebrews 9:27? “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.”

This verse reminds us of three realities about physical death:

  • Death is an appointment we will not miss—“It is appointed for men to die once.” The lives of people, all kinds of people, of every gender, race, creed or culture, come to an end. Modern medicine can extend and improve it, but cannot continue it. Statistics have always been the same: one out of every one person dies. Death is the natural sequence of events for man.
  • Death is not the end—“and after this.” Death is but a transition or channel to life on another plane in another place for another time. For believers, death here means living in Heaven. Paul had “the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Philippians 1:23). He knew that when death came, he would go to live with Jesus. However, Jesus spoke about a lost man who died and was buried, but “in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment” (Luke 16:23).
  • Death results in personal accountability to our Creator—“comes the judgment.” For believers in Christ, their service will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Romans 14:10-12). For unbelievers, their lives will be judged at the Judgment of the Great White Throne (Revelation 20:11-15). But for both, accountability to God follows death.

The best news you will ever hear is that, though you may die physically, you can live eternally. Though physical death awaits each of us, Jesus has provided a way to save everyone who comes to Him. He promises life beyond death—a future beyond a grave.

After His friend, Lazarus, had died in Bethany, Jesus returned to comfort the family. He did this with truth and action. As Jesus approached Bethany, Lazarus’s sister Martha came to Him and said, “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again” (verse 23). Mary affirmed her belief in the resurrection in general, but Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:23, 25-26). Resurrection and eternal life were not mere doctrines about future events, but present realities in Jesus himself.

These verses remind us of three realities about eternal life:

  • Eternal Life is in the person of Jesus—“I am the resurrection and the life.” Eternal life and gloroius resurrection are not found in things you do, works you perform or commands you obey. The resurrection and eternal life are in the person of Jesus. He is the resurrection and the life. If you have Him, by faith, you have the resurrection and the life. John wrote, “the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:11-12).
  • Eternal Life comes by faith in Christ—“he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” This is why Jesus said, “whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). When you believe in, trust in, Christ alone to save you, you receive eternal life and will live again, even if you die. Jesus said that death was a passing event, not a permanent condition.
  • Eternal Life is forever without end—“everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” Jesus promised Martha, and us, that everyone who believes in and trusts Him for salvation will never die spiritually. It is obvious beleivers die physically, because Lazarus was dead then and millions have died since. But the beauty is that beleivers in Christ continue to live spiritually, even after their body dies. Beleivers have eternal life and the end of their physical life is only a sleep for the body until the resurrection. At death the spiritual part of every believer goes to be with the Lord. Paul wrote, “while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord…and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6, 8).

Physical death is a bleak reality but eternal life is a constant hope. It is obvious we live in the land of the dying, but in Christ, are headed to the land of the living. Paul’s statement of victory can be yours in Christ: “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).


Homegrown Culture Shock


Culture shock is a feeling of disorientation experienced by someone who is suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes. It is most commonly experienced by people who immigrate or visit a new country or strange social environment. It may leave one with a feeling of lostness; of being surrounded, suppressed and depressed.

But, you don’t have to leave your country to experience culture shock. Sometimes all you have to do is watch the news, read the paper or walk through a mall to make you feel lost or distant; like a stranger in your own land.

Our Problem

This homegrown type of culture shock is complicated when we reject change and hold rigidly to by-gone days. Truthfully, morals, values and traditions may have been more common and virtuous in earlier times. But in retrospect the good-ole days were not always that good.

When we look back and long for earlier days instead of making the most of our time for God during this age, we will miss God’s purpose for us here and now. It is especially problematic if we use the corruption of our culture or the immoralities of our times to excuse our lack of influence for Christ in this generation. God has us here in this day, to reach these people with compassion and truth.

David is a great example of ministering to people during difficult, immoral days. Most people know about David’s triumph over the giant, Goliath. But listen to the way Paul summarized David’s life: : “For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid among his fathers…” (Acts 13:36). David accomplished his purpose by serving his own generation doing the will of God, then died fulfilled. Could this be said of you? Are you serving your own generation by the will of God?

Our Command

If Christian people, because of the sinful condition of mankind and immoralities of our days, withdraw from contact, it will mean abandoning the very people we are supposed to reach with the saving gospel. This would be like medical doctors refusing to treat people who had the plague. Their task is difficult and dangerous, but it is their life purpose.

No matter what the condition of society and the world, we are commanded, as was Titus, to “deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age” (Titus 2:12). The true Christian avoids and denies ungodliness and worldly desires, while living sensibly, righteously and godly in the present. You can live holy for Christ in this ungodly world.

Our Understanding

In 1 Chronicles 12, the writer is summarizes the number of people and strength of the twelve tribes of Israel. But when he comes to describe Issachar, he writes that they were “men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do…” (verse 32).

They possessed particular insight that enabled them to understand the times in which they lived. It says a lot when someone understands the seasons of their lives and the signs of the times. We need to understand the times in which we live, with knowledge of what we are to do, in light of our days and our culture. I wish that we, like Issachar, could understand and interpret our generation so that we could treat them effectively, reach them with the gospel, and teach them the Word of God.

Our Purpose

The meaning of “culture” is the characteristic features of everyday existence shared by a group of people in a particular place or time. It is the set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that characerize it.

It is not our aim to change the culture. Our enemy is not the culture. The culture is just the typical ways people live and pass values to their children and others around them. Our purpose is to know the culture so we can communicate to people within it. But knowing the culture and communicating to people in it means we must:

  1. Not conform to the culture.
  2. Not fall in love with the culture.
  3. Not try to repair the culture.

Neither the Lord Jesus, nor Paul, the apostles or early churches sought to change the cultures of their world. God has not called us to change the culture, but to communicate the living Word of God in such a powerful way that people within the culture are changed. The only biblical way to change the culture is to change the people within the culture. And, though we cannot change the culture, God can, through the power of Christ and the application of His Word.

Our Aim

The power of God can change the culture, one sinner at a time. Paul reminded the Corinthians of the power of Christ to change – after he names 10 kinds of sins characteristic to their culture (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)—he says, “Such were some of you: but you were washed,but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God” (verse 11). The saving, cleansing, sanctifying, justifying power of Jesus and His Spirit changed the Corinthians, and it can change people immersed in our culture today!

The aim of Christians, indeed the purpose of churches, is to reach our generation with the saving power of Christ through saving faith in Him alone. Our prayer should be that God would raise up spiritual leaders who are intent on reaching their generation for Christ in salvation and service. There is so much to do serving Christ in the present that we do not have the luxury of living in the past, or of hiding from the culture. With God’s help let us confront the culture in the power of the Spirit, with the gospel claims of Christ and the truth of Scripture.  Maybe that is the best way to defeat culture shock.