There are certain phrases in the Bible that, though I have grown up in the church, each time I read them they just seem to jump off the page at me. One of my favorites is in our reading today. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul starts by summarizing the simple gospel that Christ died for our sins and then rose from the dead. Paul then recounts that Jesus was seen by over 500 different “brethren” after his resurrection, attempting to confirm beyond any doubt to the Corinthians that Christ was indeed risen. He then recounts that “He was seen of me”, no doubt referring to his encounter with Christ on the Damascus Road.
But Paul is quick to mention that he doesn’t consider himself on par with the 12 apostles, but refers to himself as the “least of the apostles” because he persecuted the early church. He then takes the opportunity to give all the credit where credit was due, by saying “But by the grace of God I am what I am.” What a wonderful statement! Paul is saying the he is nothing without Christ and that the change that had taken place in his life was only because of God working in his life.
How many down through human history could echo those same words? I’m sure most of us have heard of the radio program “Unshackled” which chronicles stories of those often with dramatic testimonies of God’s life-changing grace. This program was started in 1950 and continues even to this day. How many drunks, prostitutes and drug addicts have experienced this supernatural work of God’s grace? I’m currently reading a book by Pastor Jim Cymbala of the Brooklyn Tabernacle which has many stories of dramatically changed lives in inner city NYC. On the other hand, but just as miraculous, we can see God’s grace at work as He saves a young child who surrenders to Him for the vast majority of their life and though not perfect, is spared a life of addiction and heartache as they live their life for God.
Consider your life today-where would you be without the work of God in your life? Think about that for a second. How different would your life be right now? How different would your relationships be? Your marriage? What sins would you be powerless to fight against? How many of us might not even be here today due to choices we would have made? All praise needs to go to God for His grace in our lives!
Can’t you see Job glow as he remembers the days when he was not only blessed, he was lavishly blessed? “Oh that I were as in months past” (Job 29:2). Those were the days when he was surrounded by his lovely children and his abundant wealth splashed upon the ground. It seemed inexplicable blessings burst from the most unlikely of places (Job 29:5-6), but Job was attentive to not overindulge in his blessings. He was the champion for the mistreated. He attended the needs of the derelict. Truly, God’s description of Job from the opening chapters are verified by his personal account. “Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil” (Job 1:8)?
Why do bad things happen to good people? This is often a thorny question the critics toss out to believers. There are two big assumptions in that question. First, you are generalizing “bad” as anything which opposes your personal plan. There have been people who experienced a bad accident, but while they were in the hospital doctors noticed a tumor upon which they operated and spared that person’s life. So was the accident a bad thing? The second big assumption is we are good people. However, we know this is not the case. The Bible records it three times, “There is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Romans 3:10-12).
The truth is we live in a world which man perverted with his decision to define morality their own way. All of creation has been tortured and “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22). We will feel the effects of a fallen environment. However, God allows us to endure such moments because we learn something about him we would not know unless we walked through the experience. The formula for life is to appreciate the past, accept the present, and attain the prize (Philippians 3:14). “Anything that makes us need God is a blessing” (Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth)!
“God delights to increase the faith of his children. We ought, instead of wanting no trials before victory, no exercise for patience, to be willing to take them from God’s hands as a means. Trials, obstacles, difficulties, and sometimes defeats, are the very food of faith” (George Muller).
We often enjoy reflecting on the past, those good ol’ days. Yes, it’s enjoyable especially when we are facing a struggle today! James tells us to “count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations” (James 1:2). Paul says, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Although we never seek out complications and trials, we must never forget God is growing us into maturity. You’ve probably told a child to eat his vegetables so he will grow strong. Difficulties are the “very food of faith.”
Who does not like stories? As a child growing up, I loved to listen to stories from older folks. I learned how life was when they grew up, the hardships they faced and how they managed. Then there were the “spooky” stories; mostly reserved for camping. I do not know how we survived with things like boogie-men, werewolves and hob-goblins on the loose. I had my turn telling stories to youngsters. My stories made kids wish they were anywhere but with me. I soon learned to tone the tales down; otherwise, they would all be in my tent at night.
America is in trouble today, partly because we have gotten away from storytelling. It seems most parents no longer tell their children right from wrong (Pr. 22:6). As a child listening to stories, good or bad, I was always made to feel involved, but children today feel detached from everything. We, in general, have an attitude of disobedience and a “false” fear that it might “scar” them. Our land is in the process of destroying every vestige of our past (both historical and godly) and we the people are becoming detached from our roots. As Christians, we should immediately recognize the pattern. The path we trod mirrors Israel’s disobedient and perilous times. The more we turn from God the deeper we fall into the pit of despair. Each successive generation knows less of a Holy God.
Psalm 44:1-2 states, “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, what work thou didst in their days, in the times of old. How thou didst drive out the heathen with thy hand, and plantedst them; how thou didst afflict the people and cast them out.” The operative words here are “heard” and “told.” Israel (like America today) was in bad shape because nobody was telling the old, old stories of a God who saves and restores people and lands.
It is evident that the “stories” were not being told prior to Israel’s mess in Judges 6. God had to send a prophet…”which said unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I brought you up from Egypt, and brought you forth out of the house of bondage; and I delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all that oppressed you, and drave them out from before you, and gave you their land”(Jg.6:8-9).
For the good of our land, and future generations, we need to tell the stories of God, His love, deliverance and salvation. Please make it a point to read the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy. It should be required reading for all parents and grandparents. Pay particular attention to verse seven. See if you can pick out the operative words; then do as it says!
David is wounded emotionally, spiritually, even psychologically. He retreats from the expulsion from King Saul’s presence. When he escapes to the cave Adullam, others hear of his story. Soon a band of distressed, discontented, and indebted men gather around David and nominate him to be his new leader. This group would not rate very high in emotional health or stability. Yet, David nobly leads this group during a desperate season. The need for revenge was intense. Because of David’s actions at the Tabernacle, he “occasioned the death” of an entire priestly family (1 Samuel 21:22). He is running for his life from a maniacal leader and he has several hundred men with a chip on their shoulder.
The natural impulse and one we see in our current world would be to stir up riots, or worse, engage in guerilla warfare. Civil war would create a deep divide in the country of Israel. David was able to put the right thing in his crosshairs. He sought the profit of the nation he loved, and he lived by a different standard. You can almost hear his cry from his youth echo throughout his life, “Is there not a cause” (1 Samuel 17:29)? David takes the helm of a volatile band of men and aims their passion and even their aggression in the right direction—the enemy. He wasn’t perfect at it. He almost wiped Nabal off the face of the earth, but the wisdom of Abigail rescued him.
We all have been wounded, and naturally, people who share similar experiences gravitate to you. The tendency is to fight the wrong enemy. Whether it’s in your family, at work, or in the church, your friends and family are not the enemies! Your spouse is not the enemy. Your co-worker is not the enemy. The person on the other side of the church sanctuary is not the enemy. Satan is the enemy and he has a way of fanning the flames of “getting even.” If he can encourage you to expel all your energy in bitterness or infighting, then he has one less soldier of the cross to worry about.
Who should be in the crosshairs? You’ve been hurt. I understand. Paul said, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Endeavor to restore relationships with your fellow soldiers, your spouse, or co-workers, but aim your energy at the true enemy. “Neither give place to the devil” (Ephesians 4:27).
You probably did not realize a popular game show has its roots all the way back in Egypt. The first host was Pharaoh, Moses and Aaron were selected to be the traders, and obeying the will of God was on the line. “And Pharaoh said, I will let you go, that ye may sacrifice to the Lord your God in the wilderness; only ye shall not go very far away: intreat for me” (Exodus 8:28). Pharaoh began his negotiations masterfully by raising the stakes. The children of Israel had to make the same number of bricks, but without the gracious provision of straw from the Egyptians. In a way, he made it appear the options were either serve or keep serving.
We begin to consider making a deal with the devil when we are facing intimidating pressure. The devil deceives us into thinking this is the only option available. He wants you to notice how different you are from everyone else. When the leaders of Israel came back from a meeting with Pharaoh, they were irate and tell Moses, “And they said unto them, The Lord look upon you, and judge; because ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh” (Exodus 5:21). He wants you to think your decisions are depriving your children, hindering your success, robbing your loved ones of all that the world enjoys without any threat of danger. You begin to consider you may have been going overboard, but, wait, this is the devil’s tactic! If he tried to forbid you from following God, it might intensify your faithfulness. Instead, he wants to offer you a deal. If he can turn your head for a moment his chances to derail your resolve increase from nil to highly likely!
What does Moses do in this high-pressure moment? “And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, Lord, wherefore hast thou so evil entreated this people? why is it that thou hast sent me” (Exodus 5:22)? The psalmist also declares, “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee” (Psalm 50:15). When you are facing the pressure to make a deal with the devil, cry out to God. Take a page out of Christ’s negotiating techniques with the devil. When He was facing compromise, Jesus said, “Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve” (Matthew 4:10).
To make a deal with the devil is to compromise on the mission God has given you to live. To put such a decision plainly, it is sin. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). When we make a deal with Satan, we always lose. He is not sincerely interested in your success. Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.
Don’t make a deal with the devil. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).