The Unconquerable Kingdom

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January 14, 1974, was a memorable day for college basketball. The UCLA Bruins, under iconic coach, John Wooden, were leading the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, coached by Digger Phelps, 70-59 with less than four minutes in the game. However, the Irish went on a 12-0 run to beat the Bruins 71-70, and bring to an end the longest NCAA Division 1 men’s basketball winning streak at 88 games. The Bruins had gone 1,092 days without losing a game. Ironically, the last loss before the 88 game winning streak began was exactly three years earlier, when Notre Dame beat UCLA.

Coach Wooden, who led UCLA to 10 national championships in 12 years, put things into perspective, saying, “Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” Records were made to be broken, and no sports team is unconquerable.

Since we are human, and live in a fallen world, from childhood we realize teams will be defeated, people will die, companies will go bankrupt, and nations will fall. Everything we know comes with an expiration date.

So, when you read Daniel 2:44, it really gets your attention. He wrote: “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.”

Daniel had just given Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, God’s interpretation of his dream. God revealed, through the king’s dream, the identity and order of empires that would rule the known world: Babylon (Daniel 2:36-38; 7:4), Media-Persia (Daniel 2:39; 7:5); Greece (Daniel 2:39; 7:6), and Rome (Daniel 2:40-43; 7:7). Though he wrote in the 6th century BC, during the days of Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire, the ensuing kingdoms rose and fell in the very sequence Daniel noted. If you take any history class on Western Civilization, you will study the same world kingdoms, in the very same order.

What a contrast! The Bible reveals that earthly kingdoms will rise and fall—but God’s kingdom will never fail. As Daniel wrote, when God sets up His kingdom, “it will itself endure forever” (2:44). When Jesus returns and God’s kingdom comes, it will endure without end. That is why, in the Model Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). We are to pray for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to be done here, as it is there (in heaven). Now, it is obvious that this prayer has not yet been answered.

Although Christians await the return of Christ, to establish His kingdom on earth, His spiritual kingdom, in the hearts of His people, is already enthroned. Jesus told Nicodemus, “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Nicodemus may have been counting on his lineage as an Israelite, or on his good deeds as a religious leader, to get him into God’s kingdom. But Jesus jarred his world by limiting entrance to God’s kingdom to the new birth. To be part of God’s kingdom requires one to be born again, by repentance of sin and faith in Christ.

This new birth, or saving faith, denotes a spiritual awakening, bringing a change that begins within, but evidences itself without. It saves our soul and moves us spiritually into God’s kingdom—“He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13, 14).

By physical birth, all of us are part of the earthly kingdom of this perishing world system (John 12:31-32; 14:30). But daily, believers in Christ should strive to live by kingdom values in this sinful world. Because “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12), we are to “take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm” (verse 13).

The shining light in this dark landscape is this—God’s kingdom will prevail! Daniel said it will “never be destroyed” and “it will itself endure forever” (Daniel 2:44). God the Father, says of His Son, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom” (Hebrews 1:8). Paul proclaimed, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18).

Children of God will “receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (Hebrews 12:28). No matter what happens here, the future is bright there, for every believer in Christ.

Jeremy Camp captured the awesome theme of God’s unconquerable kingdom musically, in a song entitled, “Can’t Be Moved,” (“I Will Follow,” Sparrow Records, 2015). Listen to these lyrics:

I can’t lean on the earthly things

‘Cause it’s broke and it’s gonna fade

And I can’t stand on the dirt below

‘Cause the dust’s gonna blow away

 

Truth be told, silver and gold

Ain’t where my treasure’s found

So when I die, gonna open my eyes

With a different kind of crown

 

When everything in this world is falling

We have a Kingdom that can’t be moved

People get ready Heaven is calling

We have a Kingdom that can’t be moved

 

We who know Christ should live here by kingdom values and “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:12), because we know Who wins in the end. His is an unconquerable kingdom.

Avoiding Taberah

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Taberah was the name given an encampment in western Paran where God judged Israel for their grumbling (Numbers 11:1-3). Taberah means “a burning” because it was there that “the fire of the LORD burned among them.”

The nation of Israel was finally on their way to the Promised Land after four centuries in Egyptian bondage. They had walked through the Red Sea on dry land. The representation of God’s visible presence in the cloud and the pillar of fire over the Tabernacle was leading them. God’s dynamic, handpicked leader, Moses, was filling his role, directing their way as God led.

Despite all these blessings, the people complained continually. Israel griped about a lack of water (Exodus 15) and a lack of food (Exodus 16). Though God gave them bread from heaven (Numbers 11:8, 9), they whined that they had no meat to eat (verse 4). Moses made it clear that: “Your grumblings are not against us but against the LORD” (Exodus 16:8). Because of the constant murmuring, God judged them and many died.

Unfortunately the complaining did not cease even after the judgment of God burned at Taberah. Numbers 11:5 reveals the mixed multitude spread that bitter, ungrateful spirit, by lusting for by-gone days in Egypt. These discontented people recalled the fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic they had enjoyed in Egypt; but conveniently forgot the cruelty, humiliation, pain and deprivations of their centuries of slavery.

 The biblical principle underlying this lesson is that God hates when His people are ungrateful, unthankful and filled with complaints. With all the reasons the people of Israel had to be thankful and rejoice in God’s goodness, why would they complain? But, with all the blessings of God on His people today, why would we complain? We have no reason to gripe, but just like Israel, we often do.

Paul used this Old Testament experience to warn New Testament believers of similar sins. “Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved….Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:6, 10, 11). Clearly: the lesson of Taberah is also for us!

Though we do not always discern God’s direction, and cannot always see how He is working, we know it is always God’s will for us to give Him thanks! To be constantly grateful is not to ignore problems. It is to be genuinely grateful in them, instead of chronically dismal because of them.

 So, how do we avoid Taberah?

  • ADAPT Complaints into Solutions – When things get under your skin, pray about it—“be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). When things are tough, God wants you to trust Him more, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6).

 

  • AVOID Chronic Complainers – Griping, complaining and grumbling is contagious. Avoid whiners like the plague. They will drag you down. They will increase your discontentment. Unfriend chronic complainers on Face Book and unfollow them on Twitter. Life is too valuable to sulk and sour with dismal downers. If you happen to be married to one, spend more time praying for him or her!

 

  • ACCEPT Responsibility for your Own Mistakes – If you blew it, own it, confess it, ask forgiveness and seek reconciliation—instead of blaming other people.

 

  • APPRECIATE God’s Blessings – Practice Gratitude. We cannot always give thanks FOR all things, but we can find ways to be thankful IN them. “In everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Learn Contentment—like Paul, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Philippians 4:11). As we appreciate blessings we can grow in contentment for, “godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

Let’s avoid Taberah and grumbling—the thing God hates! Determine not to gripe about unpleasant or inconvenient things. Complaining leads to bitterness, which is a sin that can affect your whole life and everyone around you (Hebrews 12:15). Constant griping can destroy your relationships with other people, and at the very least, cause them to avoid you.

At the top of this devo-blog is a familiar picture. It was taken in 1918 by Eric Enstrom. The photograph shows a bearded, saintly, older man giving thanks to the Lord before partaking of a meager meal. In the photo entitled “Grace,” Enstrom wanted to show people that even though they had little during World War I, they still had much to be thankful for. The man had few earthly goods, but had more than most people, because he had a thankful heart. Today we have much more, but it seems we must work harder to be genuinely thankful and content.

The good news is that the judgment of Taberah and its cause can be avoided. We can repent of our complaining ways. We can be more grateful and express more thanks. We can look on the bright side and pray for our enemies. Not only CAN we be more thankful, we MUST be more appreciative if we would truly represent the saving message of our wonderful Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who always gave thanks.

Repairing the Fish Gate

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The smell would gag a maggot. From the odor it was obvious we had made a huge mistake. My wife, son, daughter-in-law and I were shopping for fruit, vegetables and fresh tuna steaks at a large Davao City open market on the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines. But we had waited too late in the day, and the smell of non-refrigerated, day-old fish, was overwhelming. To say the least, the smell diminished our appetite for seafood. We should have shopped earlier.

A similar odor must have greeted Hassenaah and his sons as they struggled to lay the beams, set up the doors and locks, rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 3:3).  Maybe Hassenaah realized that somebody had to repair the fish gate, and after all, at least he wasn’t assigned to work on the dung gate (verse 14)!  The odor there must have been unbearable during the heat of the day.

Despite the obviously disagreeable smell, hard labor, danger and difficulty, teams of builders at every gate worked together to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Strong walls were needed to defend their city, secure their homes and honor their God. Teamwork was required to accomplish the task. In the third chapter of Nehemiah the term “next unto him repaired,” or “after him repaired,” is used 28 times to describe forty-one teams of workers who, as one man, repaired the walls.

Nehemiah used great wisdom when he assigned people to work on the walls that were nearest their own houses (Neh. 3:21, 23-24, 26, 28-30). The obvious purpose of this was to get the workers personally involved and motivated to do good work. They would want the wall in front of their house to be strong. Also, in case of attack, they would be less likely to leave their posts, but stay and protect their families.

The remarkable feat of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was a great accomplishment, especially in view of the constant criticism aimed at them. The enemy would say, “What are these feeble Jews doing?” (Neh. 4:2); and, “Even what they are building—if a fox should jump on it, he would break their stone wall down!” (verse 3).

Nehemiah and his workers labored under constant threat of physical harm, as their enemies, “conspired together to come and fight against Jerusalem and to cause a disturbance against it” (Neh. 4:8). The threat of violence scared the people, so Nehemiah encouraged them saying, “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses” (verse 14). The Lord was great and awesome—but they had to be prepared to fight.

Imagine the difficulty of working under adverse conditions as “those who were rebuilding the wall and those who carried burdens took their load with one hand doing the work and the other holding a weapon. As for the builders, each wore his sword girded at his side as he built” (Neh. 4:17-18). This meant fewer bricklayers were on the job, but the work was well defended!

While the tireless laborers rebuilt the walls, there were no 8 hour days or 40 hour work-weeks, for they carried on the work “with half of them holding spears from dawn until the stars appeared” (Neh. 4:21). Additionally, they were so intent that Nehemiah said, “neither I, my brothers, my servants, nor the men of the guard who followed me, none of us removed our clothes, each took his weapon even to the water” (verse 23).

As the teams worked together, the wall around Jerusalem was finished in an amazingly short time—52 days!  The testimony of such unselfish labor for the glory of God made an impression on the enemy:  “It came about when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations surrounding us saw it, they lost their confidence; for they recognized that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God” (Neh. 6:16). Get this: those who knew not God, recognized that God was at work among His people!

This kind of teamwork is based on a powerful biblical principle: When God’s people work together for His glory, great things may be accomplished, and God’s presence and power become visible to unbelievers. This principle underlies Christ’s command about loving one another: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). It makes a powerful impression on the lost world when God’s people love one another and work together for His glory!

This unity of heart, mind and effort may have been the reason the early church was so effective. Acts 2:1 says the church was “all with one accord in one place.” After the day of Pentecost and the salvation of three thousand, “they continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart praising God and having favor with all the people” (Acts 2:46-47). Later, “the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (Acts 4:32).

Whatever your area of service, do it with all your might for God’s glory!  Paul encouraged the Colossians and us, with these words: “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve” (Colossians 3:23, 24).

If you will honor God by serving with your best, even if it seems you are assigned to the fish gate, God will be glorified and the unsaved around you will be influenced. We are to serve at His direction and command. When we do, He will be uplifted and the lost will be positively affected.

 

 

 

The Stunning Conjunction

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Do you remember the joy of learning the eight parts of Speech? What a blessing!

My favorite part of speech is the conjunction. So, what makes it beautiful?

Conjunctions are words that link other words, phrases or clauses together to form a sentence. Without them, speech would really be dull, like: I love pizza. I love sweet tea. I don’t like cleaning up the mess. However, when you sprinkle in some conjunctions, things smooth out: I love pizza and sweet tea, but I don’t like cleaning up the mess.

There are common conjunctions we use every day, like: for, and, nor, or, yet, so and but. However, not all conjunctions are created equal because my favorite conjunction is “but.”

The word “but” is a conjunction because it connects two clauses together, but it may also inject a contrasting thought. For example: “I was going to church with you, but decided to go by myself.” If you made that statement, the word “but” reveals you decided to do the opposite of what you said first. The word “but” turned the thought, plan and flow 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

So, where in the world am I going with this, you ask? Please keep reading.

Julie Ackerman Link wrote a great devotional for “Our Daily Bread,” that was published on August 1, 2012. It began: “Howard Sugden, my pastor when I was in college, preached many memorable sermons. After all these years, the one titled, ‘But God…’ still makes me stop whenever I come to those words in the Bible.” She then shared some of those “But God…” verses that encouraged her to remember God’s righteous intervention in human affairs. With appreciation to her article, here are a few thoughts that cheer my soul when I see that stunning conjunction standing before the word for deity—But God….

“You meant evil against me; But God meant it for good, in order to . . . save many people alive” (Genesis 50:20)—Reminds us that God’s providential care can overcome evil intentions.

“Their beauty shall be consumed in the grave . . . . But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He will receive me” (Psalm 49:14-15)—Reminds us that God’s promised resurrection is stronger than physical death.

“We…were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5)—Reminds us that God’s rich mercy can save us despite our sinful nature.

The nations shall rush on like the rushing of many waters; But God shall rebuke them and they will flee far away, and shall be chased like the chaff in the mountains before the wind” (Isaiah 17:13)—Reminds us that, though nations seem mighty, God will rule over them.

“My flesh and my heart may fail; But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:26)—Reminds us that though we die, God is our eternal Savior.

No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; But God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1Corinthians 10:13)—Reminds us that though we face temptation, God will faithfully provide an escape.

“I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry. But God said to him, You fool! This very night your soul is required of you” (Luke 12:19-20)—Reminds us how foolish it is to seek material possessions and ignore God.

You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner, or to visit him; But God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. (Acts 10:28)—Reminds us that it displeases God when we discriminate against others.

“And Jesus said to them, You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, But God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15)—Reminds us to seek to please God, not men.

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard…the things which God has prepared for those who love Him. But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10)—Reminds us that God has unimaginable things in store for all who love Him.

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7)—Reminds us that only God should receive the glory for our service.

“For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8)—Reminds us that Christ’s love for sinners was demonstrated when He died on the cross for every one of us.

“They took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 13:29-30)—Reminds us that we serve a risen Savior.

Whenever you feel discouraged, look up some “but God” verses and be reassured of God’s involvement in your life as you love and serve Him. Let His promises light up your life!

For Such a Time as This

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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

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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

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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?