Courage to Speak the Truth

Why is it so easy to lie? Telling a falsehood is something we all did as children, but lying can trip up even longtime Christians. The underlying motive for giving in to deception is usually a desire to protect ourselves in some way. We lie to get out of trouble, to avoid an unwanted situation, to profit financially, to receive acceptance, to bolster our image, to hide our flaws, or for other self-serving reasons.

When Nebuchadnezzar had an alarming dream, the Lord gave Daniel the interpretation: The king was going to become insane and live like a wild animal for “seven periods of time.” At that moment, Daniel had to decide whether he would tell the king the truth or conceal it. In those days, giving a king a bad report could cost the messenger his life. Yet despite the danger, Daniel held to his convictions and delivered the Lord’s message to Nebuchadnezzar.

Here’s why Daniel could speak the truth in the face of danger: He trusted God. Since he was doing exactly what the Lord wanted, he wasn’t frightened into compromise. Obedience to God is worth far more than anything we could gain from speaking lies or doctoring the truth in an effort to stay safe.

Are you willing to commit to speaking truth even when it’s costly? Altering income tax information, falsely enhancing your image on social media, or ignoring a miscalculation in your favor on a receipt isn’t worth the loss of character that comes with deception. Seeking to please the Lord and letting Him handle the consequences will always be the best course of action.

The Source of Discernment

Spiritual discernment is a supernatural ability, which requires supernatural power. In our human strength, we can rely only on what we see, hear, feel, and know in order to make decisions and evaluate circumstances and relationships. But when the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, He opens up an entirely new dimension of understanding. He shows us things we could never figure out by ourselves.

The Bible is one source of spiritual discernment, but without the interpreting power of the Spirit, reading it would be strictly an academic endeavor. It is the Holy Spirit who takes the words of Scripture and brings them to life in the believer’s heart. He knows precisely how to apply God’s Word to our exact need at the right moment. You have probably found this to be true: A passage you’ve read many times hasn’t stood out before, but when you need a particular message, that familiar verse jumps off the page right into your heart and transforms your thoughts.

That’s the work of the Spirit—His job is to open our understanding to “the things freely given to us by God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). The Lord isn’t trying to hide His thoughts from us. Rather, He wants us to know how He thinks so we can proceed wisely.

Then what should we do if we’re struggling to understand Scripture? The Lord wants us to seek Him and ask for wisdom to comprehend. This requires time invested in Bible study and prayer. And remember, the more yielded we are to the Spirit, the more we’ll be able to hear His voice.

How can you know God?

It all starts with accepting Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ provides a relationship with the Father and eternal life through His death on the cross and resurrection, see Romans. 5:10.

Romans. 10:9 promises, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." If you have not yet begun your personal relationship with God, understand that the One who created you loves you no matter who you are or what you’ve done. He wants you to experience the profound depth of His care.

Therefore, tell God that you are willing to trust Him for salvation. You can tell Him in your own words or use this simple prayer:

Lord Jesus, I ask You to forgive my sins and save me from eternal separation from God. By faith, I accept Your work and death on the cross as sufficient payment for my sins. Thank You for providing the way for me to know You and to have a relationship with my heavenly Father. Through faith in You, I have eternal life. Thank You also for hearing my prayers and loving me unconditionally. Please give me the strength, wisdom, and determination to walk in the center of Your will. In Jesus’ name, amen.

If you have just prayed this prayer, congratulations!

You have received Christ as your Savior and have made the best decision you will ever make—one that will change your life forever!

Solving Problems Through Prayer

Problems are an inevitable part of life whether a person is saved or not. The difference is that once a man or woman becomes a believer, the Father strengthens His child to face every difficulty.

Our omniscient and omnipotent God is greater than any problem. He knows our future circumstances and equips our heart and mind to withstand the coming trial. The moment we encounter a problem, we can turn to His omnipotence. He promised to meet believers’ needs and, therefore, is under His own divine obligation to give guidance and direction. Our first response should always be to call out “Father!” and pray. Immediately, two things take place: The problem’s growth is stunted, and God’s child is reminded of the unique position given those who trust in the sovereign Lord.

God always provides when we face problems. However, that doesn’t mean we should be sitting back and waiting for Him to work out the details. His provision may require an act of faith from us in order to reach a resolution. Experience and Scripture tell us that His solutions are always best, but human strength may falter when we hear what He asks of us in response to our prayers. Thankfully, He also offers the courage to act at the right moment.

Long before a crisis arises or a solution is needed, a wise believer will be seeking God in prayer. In trouble-free times, we can build a foundation of trust and communion with Him that can withstand any hardship. Problems are unavoidable, but as we seek our Father in prayer, He is faithful to deal with our difficulties.

Is Your Faith Genuine?

During my first pastorate in the mountains of North Carolina, I traveled throughout the area meeting people, telling them about the Lord, and inviting them to church. They all claimed to believe in Jesus even though many had no interest in church or the Bible and their lives showed no evidence of salvation. I feared that whatever faith they had would not take them to heaven.

Believing in vain is probably more common in the church than we’d care to admit. Some people assume they are Christians simply because they were raised in a Christian family or have attended church since childhood. Sometimes they merely believe the facts about Jesus in the same way that they’re confident George Washington existed.

However, there are also many people who deliberately limit what they believe about Christ and His Word. They don’t want a faith that requires them to forsake their sins and change their lifestyle. If asked what they believe, they may respond that their faith is a private matter.

Other people have been led to think they are saved because of an experience. They may have heard a nebulous invitation to make Jesus a part of their life, or perhaps an encounter at a conference made them feel close to God.

Today’s passage is a sobering warning. How can we be certain that our faith is genuine and our salvation is sure? Jesus said the proof lies in our obedience to God’s Word. If we are in Christ, then as He works to conform us to His image, the evidence will be displayed in our character, conduct, and conversation.

When We Feel Helpless

We love movies that capture our attention with tales of people who are trapped, helpless, and frantically looking for a way of escape. However, this is not something we want in real life. Yet when it happens, we immediately start looking for the way out and beg God for rescue through physical healing, changed circumstances, or additional provision.

Have you ever considered that spiritual rescue is even more important than physical deliverance? Although Jesus has freed us from the penalty and power of sin, there are times when we feel helpless in the face of sinful habits, emotions, rash words, and ungodly thoughts. That’s when we need to follow the example of the psalmist and cry out to God for spiritual rescue.

Admit your helplessness to God. In yourself, you have no power to overcome sin. But God’s Spirit within you is almighty.

Confess any sins, fears, unbelief, or self-reliance. Surrender all further attempts to change by self-effort, and make no provision for sinful desires.

Turn your gaze toward God. Think about who He is, what He desires, and what He has promised.

Fill your mind and heart with God’s Word. Meditate on it. Ask Him for wisdom and strength to follow Him with reliance on and submission to His Spirit.

Trust God, and wait upon Him to change you from the inside out. Although salvation occurs in a moment, sanctification is a lifelong process.

A time will eventually come when the helpless feeling departs and is replaced by the joy of obedience. When that happens, give God the glory.

God’s Faithfulness

Ever since the heavenly Father created time, everything has been in flux—everything, that is, except God Himself. The environment changes with the seasons, and in a similar way, our life also goes through seasons. Some are filled with joy, while others are characterized by difficulty. But the Lord is faithful, and we can always take comfort in knowing this.

Faithfulness is one of God’s unchanging attributes. It means that He always does exactly what He says He will do and acts in accordance with His nature. He can never deny Himself, so when He promises to “sanctify you entirely” (1 Thessalonians 5:23), you can count on Him to make you more like Christ—even using the painful seasons of life to do so.

God’s unchanging nature and faithfulness are the foundation of our hope. Because He won’t change His mind about our salvation, we have the assurance of eternal security. Since He is the sovereign Ruler of the universe, we never have to fear that our world is out of His control. His plans were formed long ago with perfect faithfulness (Isa. 25:1), and no one can frustrate them or turn back His hand (Isa. 14:27).

Because God is faithful, we can have peace of mind in any circumstance—even in the face of death. Although we will change with time and the seasons of life will come and go, our faithful God is always the same. Since we belong to Him through Christ, He will never forget, neglect, or abandon us. He has promised to preserve us “complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23), and He will do it.

A Mind Set on Christ

What occupies your thoughts? That’s a challenging question and one we should not ignore. In many ways, we are what we think. If our thoughts are focused on the concerns of this world, we will become like the world. But if our minds are set on the things above—in other words, where Christ is—we’ll become more like Him.

The point isn’t merely to think about heaven but to think on Christ, who is in heaven. When we do this, changes will start to take place:

We will gain an eternal perspective. Instead of being distracted by trivial pursuits and discouraged by hardships and pain, we’ll be devoted to living for Christ. Then we will be able to rest in our loving Father’s choices for us.

Things of the world will lose appeal. The more aware we are of Jesus, the less we tolerate sin, because we know it doesn’t fit us anymore. Instead of chasing the passing pleasures and goals of the culture, we’ll pursue a lifestyle of obedience to the Lord.

We’ll realize our security is in Christ. Right now we are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). This speaks of our eternal security and also gives us a sense of safety since nothing comes our way without passing through God’s hands.

We look forward to a glorious future. When Christ is revealed, then we will be revealed with Him in glory (v. 4). Even when everything looks dismal, we have a reason to hope because our time here is infinitesimal compared to eternity with Christ.

Your beliefs determine your perspective on life, and that shapes your priorities and attitudes.

An Awareness of God

The three commands in today’s passage may look simple because they’re short, but many people find them challenging to obey. Our lives are so full of responsibilities and activities that it’s all we can do to keep up our schedules, let alone live as these verses command. There’s only one way to succeed—not by trying harder but by focusing on Christ. When He becomes the center of our attention, our attitude and behavior will change.

Rejoice Always. The realization that our omnipotent God is constantly with us puts troubling circumstances in their proper place—under His authority. It also helps us sense the incomparable joy of His companionship, even in difficulties and suffering.

Pray without ceasing. It’s important to set aside time each day to come before the Lord with our problems and requests. But believers also long for an ongoing attitude of prayer, which, like a continual conversation, is expressed either verbally or in our thoughts. Then if a decision is required or trouble comes, our first thought is to turn to God for help.

Give thanks in everything. If our minds are set on the Lord each day, we’ll be able to thank Him regardless of the situation. That’s because we know He is with us and will work everything for our good—if not here, then in heaven.

These three admonitions are a call to become preoccupied with Christ. If we are consumed with other thoughts, it’s easy to feel irritated, worry unceasingly, and complain about everything. But when we begin each day in God’s Word, we are reminded of His instructions and His care.

Holding Fast the Faithful Word

Today’s passage describes God’s requirement for elders and pastors in the church. Every believer, however, should aspire to the qualities mentioned, because they exemplify the spiritual maturity Christ desires for all of us. While everything listed is praiseworthy, the last item—“holding fast the faithful word”—is the foundation for all the rest (1 Timothy 1:9).

To hold fast means “to adhere, cling, or be devoted.” The phrase implies not only believing God’s Word to be true but also doing what it says by applying scriptural truths to every area of life. Peter described such devotion this way: “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

A consistent intake of Scripture is essential for our spiritual growth, and it enables us to distinguish between truth and error. The Bible is called “the faithful word” because it’s reliable and true. The Word of God is the means by which those who hold fast to it can “exhort in sound doctrine and ... refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9).

If we aren’t grounded in Scripture, we’ll unknowingly accept philosophies and teachings that will lead us astray. But when biblical truth has saturated our mind and heart, we’ll sense a red flag pop up in our spirit whenever we encounter an erroneous concept.

God’s Word is the compass for our life—not something we read only occasionally. It’s nutrition for our spiritual growth, a guide for life, protection from sin and error, and a means of knowing God better.

The Revelation of God

The times we live in may leave us feeling shaken and uncertain. We aren’t sure what will happen tomorrow—the economy could collapse or a natural disaster might strike. But one thing we can always count on is the Word of God. That’s our sure foundation in this ever-changing world.

The Bible is unique because it is God’s divine revelation of Himself. In Scripture, the term revelation refers to something God has made known to mankind—information we could never discover on our own. For instance, since no human being was present at creation, the only way we know what happened is because God has revealed it in the book of Genesis.

The process by which the Bible was written is called inspiration. God used human beings to record His thoughts. He didn’t put them in a trance, but His Spirit moved in them as they wrote down His truths, using their own personality, style, and vocabulary.

Now as we read Scripture, the Holy Spirit within us illumines our mind so we can understand what the passage means. Then God’s Word becomes like “a lamp shining in a dark place,” giving us insights from the Author Himself (2 Peter 1:19).

One reason unbelievers often reject or find fault with the Bible is because they don’t understand it. The fact is, they can’t understand it because they do not have the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14). But if you belong to Christ, His Spirit will teach you the Word of God as long as you are faithful to read and study it. Then you’ll have a sure foundation in troubled times.

The Profitable Word

Why should you read the Bible? To some people, it’s just an archaic book that has little relevance today. But for believers, God’s Word is essential and life-changing. Christians living in countries where Bibles are illegal would love to have the access to Scripture that you and I take for granted.

Consider what the world would be like if God had not given us His Word. Though we would still have the testimony of creation to tell us who He is (Rom. 1:20), our understanding of God and how to follow Him wouldn’t be as clear. The Bible’s pages contain everything we need for life and godliness through the true knowledge of God (2 Peter 1:3).

Reading God’s Word has many benefits. The apostle Paul describes four ways Scripture is profitable for believers (2 Timothy 3:16).

Teaching. The Bible has all the divine truth that God wants us to know. From Scripture, we deepen our relationship with the Lord, see life from His perspective, and understand how He wants us to live.

Reproof. God’s Word is a light that reveals our sins and a sword that pierces and convicts so we can confess and receive forgiveness.

Correction. Scripture restores and points us to godly living and obedience.

Training in righteousness. The Word of God trains us to stay on the path of righteousness and mature spiritually.

The end result of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness is a life adequately equipped to live as the Lord desires. With so much to gain, why would we ever neglect this most precious gift from God?

How to Avoid God’s Discipline

“For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want.” Can you relate to Paul’s statement from Romans 7:19? Although sin’s power has been broken in the Christian’s life, it can still exert influence. That’s why the apostle tells us not to let sin reign in our bodies—otherwise, it could lead us away from the Lord and hinder His transformative work (Rom. 6:12-13).

Divine discipline is one of the means God employs to halt the progress of sinful behavior in His children. But it doesn’t always have to come to that. Paul suggested that the Corinthians examine their hearts prior to participating in the Lord’s Supper. Then they could correct themselves before coming under the Father’s discipline.

We can adopt the same practice of self-examination in our daily life by asking God where we might be harboring wrong attitudes or hidden sin. Then as we pray and read the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit will help us see where we have gone astray. If we truly desire to mature in our faith, we will honestly confront the problem areas He reveals. This is done by confessing our sins and turning from them in repentance. But if we delay in this process, we are inviting His discipline.

Sin is not something that we can sweep under the rug and ignore. Unless we put it to death, it will grow and poison our life. The heavenly Father knows this, and because He loves us, He may forcefully intervene with divine discipline so we can be forgiven and restored to fellowship with Him for eternity (Heb. 12:6).

Seeking God’s Guidance

A correct perspective of God is vital because it determines how we interact with Him. For instance, if we think He is concerned only about the big events in world history, we won’t bother to pray about our daily concerns. However, if our view of Him is grounded in the Scriptures, we’ll readily seek His guidance, knowing that He cares about every aspect of our life.

Despite this assurance, there may be times when we are so determined to get what we want that we don’t even ask for God’s direction. Instead, we plunge ahead, thinking that He will simply stop us if our decision is not according to His will. But the Lord won’t necessarily prevent us from doing that which is not His will, nor will He always come to our rescue if we have acted presumptuously without seeking His help.

A better approach is to do as David did. He said, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8). The omniscient heavenly Father has provided everything we need to live wisely through His Word and His Spirit. And as those who know and love Him, we should desire to please God by seeking His direction in every area of life.

The Lord is certainly willing to guide us through the treacherous seas of decision-making. But we must pay attention to the instructions in His Word and to the promptings of His Spirit, who is our helper, teacher, and guide. Then we can say with David, “I will bless the Lord who has counseled me” (Psalm 16:7).

How to Discern Direction From God

Have you been seeking the Lord’s guidance on a particular issue yet still can’t discern what He would have you do? We don’t always know why God doesn’t make everything clear when we ask for His help. But doing certain things can prepare us to hear His directions.

Seek Cleansing. We need to ask the Lord if there is anything in our life that is hindering our prayers. Then, if He brings something to mind, we can receive His cleansing through confession (1 John 1:9).

Surrender. If we have not fully yielded ourselves to the Lord, our heart will remain set on our own desires. When that’s the case, we’ll have difficulty perceiving His will (James 4:3).

Ask Wisely. God is committed to answering our prayers if we ask according to His will (1 John 5:14-15). Therefore, we must carefully consider if our requests align with His desires as revealed in Scripture.

Meditate. Since God’s Word is a light to our path, the more we think about the truths of Scripture, the clearer the way will become (Psalm 119:105).

Wait. God promises to act on the behalf of those who wait (Isa. 64:4). Therefore, we must resist the urge to run ahead of Him by trying to fix the situation ourselves or manipulate circumstances to get our desired outcome.

Instead of letting uncertainty cause you to become anxious or fearful, consider these five practices. Then begin to look at your situation as an opportunity to trust your sovereign, omnipotent God who always works everything for your good (Rom. 8:28).

Walk in God’s Ways

Most of us realize there’s no guarantee that life will be pleasant and easy. But when disappointment or hardship comes, we are often more preoccupied with finding a way out than with understanding how God is moving in our situation. One danger of this approach is that we might not recognize if we’ve gotten off course.

The Lord wants us to know His ways so that we can walk in them. Yet like Israel, we fail to listen to Him and instead plot our own course through life. As a result, we experience unnecessary suffering—a high price for disobedience. We should remember that though walking in God’s ways may lead us through painful valleys, His grace is always there to strengthen our faith and bring comfort and encouragement. But we forgo such mercies if we rebel and go our own way.

So consider whether your life is aligned with the Lord’s ways or aligned with your own. He always leads us in holiness, wisdom, faith, and obedience. But our ways are a result of convenience, self-interest, self-advancement, and human reasoning. The Lord’s path is always the best, and ours is usually costly.

No matter where you find yourself today, God is calling out to you, “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). The imagery is that of a baby bird with its beak stretched wide to receive the food its parent brings. The Lord wants to feed you with His Word so you can learn His ways. Are you open to receiving it? More importantly, are you willing to obey it?

An Awesome Privilege

Prayer is a truly remarkable privilege, especially considering the Lord’s holiness. How can human beings, who are inherently sinful, dare to approach a holy God whose nature is so flawless and perfect that even a hint of sin is incompatible with His presence? Yet that is exactly what Christians are invited to do—to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace” so they can receive help in times of need (Heb. 4:16).

Although we often take prayer for granted, we should never forget what God did to open this path to His throne. Because He is holy, a blood sacrifice is required to cover sin before anyone can approach Him (Lev. 17:11). In the Old Testament Law, a priest offered animal sacrifices for the cleansing of imperfect people (Lev. 4:1-35; Lev. 5:1-19). However, that was only a temporary solution because, while animal sacrifices covered the sin, they could never wipe it out.

At the cross, God’s Son offered Himself as the only fully sufficient, atoning sacrifice to pay the penalty for sin once for all time. His blood is adequate for the forgiveness of every past, present, and future sin of those who have by faith received His atonement. Now believers are not only forgiven but also welcomed into God’s family as a result of being born again of His Spirit, who indwells them.

One aspect of our new spiritual birth is that we have the privilege of communion with the Father in prayer because the Son is our high priest, eternally covering us in His righteousness. We can rest assured that we always have access to the Creator of the universe, who is sovereign over everything.

Trusting God in Prayer

Prayer is one area of our Christian life in which most of us recognize the need for improvement. Not only do we battle with distractions, but we’re also tempted to give up if we don’t see immediate results. Yet the Lord wants us to keep coming to Him with our concerns because in the process, we develop an intimate relationship with Him.

We may find it a struggle to establish a consistent prayer life, but what endeavor could be more valuable than petitioning an omnipotent God for whom nothing is impossible? Of course, that is not to say He’ll give us everything we request, as people don’t always make petitions according to His will. But even when His answer is no, God’s fatherly concern for His children is obvious. Have you ever looked back at past prayer requests and been grateful the Lord didn’t give the answer you hoped for? Sometimes a maturing perspective reveals that getting what you desired would have been disastrous.

In today’s passage, God draws a comparison between earthly fathers and the heavenly Father. If a human father, who is flawed and limited, can offer good things to his children, then it stands to reason that the heavenly Father, who is all-powerful and all-knowing, will give His children superior gifts.

Therefore, we can trust that even if we don’t receive exactly what we’ve requested, our loving heavenly Father is giving us something even more beneficial. Peace and confidence in prayer come when we humbly accept that we’re like children who have a very limited perspective, but our loving Father sees eternally. We can always trust Him to answer our prayers wisely.

Responding to Accusation

When conflict occurs, the natural reaction is to blame someone else and defend yourself. But believers must respond differently. Once, I was publicly chastised for a wrong I had not committed. Thankfully, the Lord enabled me to remain calm rather than react angrily. Praying before doing anything else is the best response in a crisis. When we do, God supernaturally provides that which we can’t muster up ourselves.

Spiritual discernment. The Lord, who perfectly understands the source of every problem, can give us insight beyond our limited perspective. Perhaps there’s been a communication breakdown, a feeling of jealousy on the other person’s part, or a mistake we unknowingly made. The Holy Spirit can show us how to approach our accuser and see beyond hurtful words or actions.

A quiet spirit. Our human nature wants to react quickly so that we can defend ourselves. That’s why we must first deliberately focus our attention on the Lord and experience the inward peace He alone makes available to us (John 14:27).

Wisdom. Jesus told His disciples the Holy Spirit would give them wise words to say when they faced hostile authorities. He’ll do the same for you. Ask Him to put a seal on your lips until He shows you what to say and when (Psalm 141:3).

We don’t have to react to criticism with anger and self-protection the way the world does. Instead, we are called to represent Christ in every situation by depending on Him. In responding as He directs, we bring Him glory and cause unbelievers to want to know the source of our strength.

The Expression of Faith

Have you ever heard the old saying, “Faith gives feet to belief”? This simply means that faith is the active expression of what you truly believe about God. If you have the idea that He sits in some far-off place called heaven and only half-heartedly listens to your prayers, then that will reveal itself in your day-to-day walk of faith. Your God will seem small, powerless, and disinterested.

Abraham’s actions demonstrated that he had a very large view of God and complete confidence in His faithfulness. Even though the patriarch misjudged how the Lord would rescue Isaac, it was evident that he knew God would fulfill His promise. Abraham’s faith was perfected (or made complete) when he demonstrated willingness to sacrifice his son in obedience to the Lord (James 2:21-22).

As Christians, we profess faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord, but it’s by our actions that we prove our faith is genuine. When God says not to be anxious about our physical needs, do we trust Him, or do we worry about our finances as we watch the economy fluctuate? Is prayer our first reaction to a problem, or are we more prone to rely on ourselves for a solution? How confident are we that the Bible is true and God will do what He’s said?

Consider what your actions say about your perception of God. If you believe that the Lord is who He has revealed Himself to be in the Scriptures, then your life will show evidence of your faith. You’ll confront sin, pursue godliness, worship God with reverence, seek to obey Him fully, and be confident of His love for you.

Building on Christ

Have you ever seen an elaborate, masterfully crafted sandcastle? That’s one of the most delightful experiences of a trip to the beach. The best builders are painstaking in every detail as they craft these beautiful works of art. The towers are straight, the windows are even, and sometimes the outline of individual bricks can be seen on each wall. The end result is often stunning, rivaling the elegance of homes in the wealthiest neighborhoods of the world.

But for all a sandcastle’s splendor, its hours are numbered. From the moment the first grain of sand is set in place, the miniature building is on its way to oblivion. Within hours the details are destroyed by wind, rain, and the incoming tide. There is simply no future for a house of sand.

Sometimes believers’ lives are like sandcastles. Even though everything looks perfect on the outside, their life’s pursuits and activities will be revealed as worthless in the fire of God’s judgment. Although their eternal destiny is secure, they will suffer the loss of heavenly rewards because they used inferior building materials.

The most important thing in life is to make sure we have the right foundation. Church attendance, ministry work, discipleship programs, or community service are no substitute for the rock-solid foundation of faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We also need to build our life with faithful, obedient service to the Lord. The goal is not to have the most impressive-looking life in this world but to build one that demonstrates our devotion to the Savior who died to rescue us.

The Justice of Divine Judgment

Every person will face God on judgment day. Whenever that topic comes up, I am usually asked something like, “What about people who live in remote areas, who will never hear about Jesus?” The concerned questioner is really wondering, How could a loving Lord send an ignorant person to hell? In other words, how can it be fair to condemn those who have never heard the gospel?

To understand how God judges, we should recognize two truths about Him. First, He is not limited. While whole people groups still have no Scripture in their language, God always reaches individuals whose hearts are open to knowing Him. Men like Abraham and Moses had no Scriptures, and yet the Lord spoke to them.

Second, God reveals Himself to all people, whether or not they have access to the Bible. As we saw yesterday, He not only demonstrates His power and attributes through creation; He also programs our conscience to understand the basic distinctions between right and wrong. For those who are blessed to hear the gospel at some point, Jesus Christ is the greatest revelation of God in their life.

When people stand before the Father, He will judge them on three criteria: the amount of truth to which each has been exposed; how many opportunities there were to accept the truth and share it with others; and what was done with those opportunities. The believer’s responsibility, then, is to reach as many as possible with the gospel so that no one need ask, “What about those who have never heard of Jesus?"

Salvation: The First Step

After a baby takes his first steps, the parents call loved ones. They excitedly announce the awesome accomplishment, which is the beginning of a new life of greater mobility and maturity. In the same way, the Christian life begins with a first step—salvation. But it’s only the start of a new life of increasing spiritual growth.

When the Philippian jailer asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” they answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31). It’s simple enough that even a child can do it, and after salvation, we are all like babies taking our first steps. A new believer doesn’t understand all the doctrines of salvation any more than a toddler knows all the mechanics of walking. However, once we are saved, we have a responsibility to learn what God has done for us and to take more steps of obedience in the Christian life.

Genuine salvation always results in transformation. When we receive Jesus as our personal Savior, He comes to live within us through the Holy Spirit. Our old way of life no longer fits our new identity, and the Spirit works within us to make us more like Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Has there been a particular point in your life when you recognized your sin and then asked Jesus to forgive you and become your Savior? If so, how has your life been transformed since then? Spiritual growth is one of the ways we can know that we are saved.

Walk by Faith, Not by Sight

Throughout His ministry, Jesus repeatedly commended people for faith and reproved others for a lack of it. Faith is of great importance because it’s required for salvation. It’s also essential after we’re saved, as we are to continue living by faith—that is, by the firm conviction God will do what He has promised. This requires us to stay focused on the Lord. If we take our eyes off Jesus and start looking at circumstances, our confidence in Him could begin to wobble.

A good example is Peter’s experience of walking on the Sea of Galilee. He started out confident, but as soon as he looked away from Jesus and saw the wind, human reasoning took over. The apostle thought, People can’t walk on water!—and his faith faltered. We’re just like Peter when we know what God has said but try to add our logic to His commands.

Another reason we falter is that when we focus on the circumstances instead of on Christ, little problems can seem huge and start to dominate our thoughts. That’s why we must consider every situation in the light of our great God, who can handle anything and everything.

Sometimes the problem is that we can’t see God in our circumstances. He’s promised to take care of us, but He may provide in a way other than what we want. Or, we may think the Lord couldn’t possibly be in the midst of a difficult or painful situation. But He is, and He works everything for our good if we belong to Him (Rom. 8:28).

Are you walking by faith or relying on your senses and reasoning? Walking by sight brings anxiety and fear, but faith produces peaceful confidence.

Small Steps to a Great Destiny

God’s simple requests of us are oftentimes stepping-stones to His greatest blessings. Although we may view these lesser events as unimportant, the Lord sees them as a big deal. The apostle Peter is a wonderful example of a man who took small steps that led to a great destiny.

When Jesus asked to be taken out in Peter’s boat, the fisherman could have said no. After all, he’d put in a full night’s work and was probably exhausted. But by taking this small step, Peter received a front-row seat to hear the greatest teacher on earth, and he began a life-changing adventure.

Although Jesus’ first request was fairly ordinary, His next suggestion would challenge everything Peter knew to be logical. Heading into deep water at midday for the purpose of catching fish was ludicrous to this fishing expert. Sometimes the Lord asks us to do what seems unreasonable. We should remember that the Lord is not obligated to work within the realm of what’s normal or logical. If Peter had refused this unusual request, he would have missed the biggest catch of his life—and I don’t mean just the fish. This miracle opened Peter’s eyes to catch sight of his Messiah. When he got out of that boat, the fish meant nothing to him because Jesus became his everything.

The Lord isn’t waiting for us to do some big, impressive task for Him; He’s simply calling us to obey Him one small step at a time. Don’t miss the great adventure God has for you. Even when His ways seem unreasonable, follow Him faithfully, and your destiny will unfold before your eyes.

Strength for the Fearful

I recommend that believers underline Isaiah 41 in their Bible and meditate on it frequently. When one of God’s people is seeking an anchor in turbulent times, this is the right passage for the job. Here, Isaiah writes about the source of Christians’ strength.

In Isaiah 41:10 alone, the Lord promises strength, help, and protection. Moreover, He gives two commands: “Do not fear” and “Do not anxiously look about you.” Among Satan’s subtle and successful traps is the art of distraction. The evil one knows that fear can choke faith. He works hard to make unsettling circumstances a person’s sole focus. Once a believer’s attention is diverted from God, natural human tendencies take over. In the absence of prayer and worship, anxiety and doubt grow unobstructed.

Staying focused on the Lord can be hard. The flesh prefers to seek security by thinking through all possible angles. Our tendency is to weigh what we think could happen against what “experts” say will happen, and then to evaluate possible ways of preventing our worst fears from coming true. Instead of becoming more confident, we begin to realize how powerless we are. Thankfully, we serve an almighty God who says, “Surely I will help you” (Isa. 41:10). We can count on Him.

By focusing on our circumstances, we’re actually choosing to feel anxiety and doubt. But these emotions don’t belong in a believer’s daily life. Instead, let’s decide to trust in the promises God has given us. He’s filled His Word with scriptural anchors to keep His children steady in the faith.

Following Our Convictions

Most of us have been blessed to live relatively free from persecution. We may have experienced some mocking, ridicule, or ostracism because of our beliefs, but we don’t have to fear punishment or death. However, that’s not the case elsewhere in the world. There are Christians in other countries for whom today’s passage is all too familiar.

Acts 4 tells us that Peter and John faced great opposition for their faith. After being thrown into jail for healing a sick man, they were warned not to speak or teach in Jesus Christ’s name. But they held firmly to their convictions and replied, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 NLT).

Our goal as believers is to become unshakeable in our faith. Peter and John didn’t flinch from their responsibility to proclaim salvation in Jesus’ name, even in the face of imprisonment and threats. Yet in reading this account, we may wonder how we could ever endure persecution.

The truth is that in ourselves, we can’t do it. But we are never alone. When we stand for our convictions, God’s Spirit is always present in us. He gives us the physical, spiritual, mental, and moral strength to stand firm when we are tested and tried (Luke 12:11-12).

God wants His children to trust Him with the future; He doesn’t want us becoming panicky about what may lie ahead. But if He ever calls us to suffer for Him, in that moment He’ll provide the grace we need in order to remain faithful.

Living by Our Convictions

Have you ever had to take a stand against a barrage of opposing opinions in order to be true to Christ? Or has a group of friends or coworkers ever wanted to cut corners or participate in a sinful activity—and you were the only one saying no? When the godly voice is outnumbered, it can be challenging to speak up for righteousness.

We all have convictions that define who we are and determine our lifestyle and choices. We may like to think that these are a private matter, but in reality, they are constantly on display for all to see. That’s because we live them out each day with our words and actions.

Since convictions have a powerful influence, we should examine what ours are saying about us. Are they leading us to a righteous life in accordance with God’s will, or are they so weak that our life is dominated by the old fleshly nature?

God has given us principles from His Word to guide, protect, and help us lead godly lives. These standards are like guardrails that keep us from veering off track when temptations beckon. By holding firmly to these convictions, we follow a path that fits our identity in Christ. Instead of going along with the crowd, we’re to walk in God’s will and abstain from the sins that surround us in the world.

The time to establish our convictions is before we face temptations, not in the midst of them. We need solid, immovable biblical principles to shape what we believe and how we live.

Following in Christ’s Footsteps

Much of Christianity has a distorted view of discipleship. In our desire to see more people come to Christ, we may be guilty of offering a gospel that emphasizes the benefits of following Jesus while avoiding any mention of the cost involved.

However, Jesus didn’t shy away from speaking truth. He let people know that being His disciple would not be easy, because they’d be following in His footsteps. Since Christ didn’t sail through life without challenges, why should we? Our goal should be to become like our Savior, and that means we must be willing to suffer to one degree or another.

Contrary to what many contemporary sermons suggest, following Jesus may not make your relationships better. It could become a source of contention because a true disciple’s love, devotion, and loyalty to Christ supersedes every other relationship. If what a friend or family member desires contradicts what the Lord has commanded, then the choice must be to follow Christ rather than a loved one.

As Christians, we’ll frequently be tempted to compromise in order to avoid misunderstanding, criticism, rejection, or persecution. But as Christ’s followers, we are called to live a crucified life—and compromise undercuts the wholehearted nature of crucifixion. We cannot pursue the acceptance of the world and at the same time follow the Lord. Until we stand with both feet on the side of obedience, we forfeit assurance of God’s peace and blessings.  

Although discipleship is costly, the reward is great. Jesus promises to confess us as His own before God when we enter our heavenly home.

Does God Want You to Succeed?

Is success a legitimate goal for believers? Is this something God wants for His children? The answers depend upon your definition of success. Many people define it as the achievement of wealth, prominence, or fame. If that’s what you’re seeking, then you are following the world’s definition, not the Lord’s.

In His eyes, true success begins internally—the first step is a relationship with Jesus, whereby you have trusted Him as Savior and are following Him obediently. His goal for you is ongoing growth in Christlike character and spiritual maturity, but that’s not all. He also has some work for you to accomplish here on earth (Eph. 2:10). God planned these tasks specifically for you and designed them with your personality, talents, abilities, and spiritual gifts in mind. You could think of them as your unique calling and responsibility in life.

Genuine success involves doing what the Lord has called you to do, not just occasionally but continually. It has to do with persistence rather than perfection. When this is your definition of success, you can know that the Lord wants you to succeed. And He’s committed to helping you become the person He designed you to be—and to accomplish the goals He’s set for you.

The ultimate evaluation of our success will take place when we stand before God and give an account of our life (Rom. 14:12). Any self-centered earthly achievements will be left behind. But if we’ve lived by His definition of success, our treasure will await us in heaven—along with the words “Well done!”

God’s Provisions for Your Success

Whenever our goals align with the Lord’s, we can count on His help in achieving them. This truth is vividly confirmed in the story of Joshua. Since God the Father gave him the huge responsibility of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land, He also provided everything Joshua would need for success. He will do the same for us every time we believe Him and step up to fulfill the goals He has set for us.

His Promises: God assured Joshua that He would give him the land and no one would be able to stand against him. In the same way, the Lord will enable you to achieve whatever He’s called you to do, and neither man nor the devil will be able to thwart His purposes. You just need to stand firm in faith.

His Power: Be strong and courageous, because you will encounter obstacles that challenge your obedience. Such boldness isn’t something we muster within ourselves. It’s developed through reliance upon the Lord. Courage comes when our faith is stronger than our fear.

His Word: Joshua’s success depended upon his obedience to God’s Word. The same is true for us. If God’s truth isn’t shaping our thoughts, words, and actions, we will naturally go our own way and miss the path He has planned for us.

Everything you need to succeed in life is provided for you by God. But these provisions are available only when you choose to follow His plans. If you ignore the Lord and set your own goals without His direction, you may get what you want, but it won’t be true success.

Goal Setting: The Key to Success

What three goals would you set for your life if you knew that you could achieve them? Would any of them be spiritual in nature? The apostle Paul was a goal-oriented person (even before he became a Christian), and he understood which pursuits were the most important. His chief ambition was to know Christ and His resurrection power, along with the fellowship of His suffering (Phil. 3:10).

We’d all do well to adopt these goals, but they sound so broad. How do we put them into practice? First, it’s important to comprehend that a goal is a purpose or direction toward which we work. This concept is fairly easy to understand when we’re talking about specific objectives like going to bed earlier or washing dishes every day, but what steps would you need to take in order to achieve spiritual goals like Paul’s?

Success requires choosing steps that are specific, reasonable, and measurable. For example, if you want to know Christ more intimately, you might start by spending 15 minutes each day praying and reading His Word. After developing your plan and the steps to accomplish it, put your desire into action. If you don’t take the necessary steps, it will simply remain a wish. No one develops intimacy with Christ through good intentions; it takes commitment, diligence, and perseverance.

If you feel as if your faith is lacking vitality, it may be that you’ve lost sight of your goal. No one intends to slip into complacency. But unless you set some specific goals and work to achieve them, you’ll drift through life and miss the reward—knowing Christ intimately.

Praying for Our Needs

As believers in Jesus Christ, we have God’s invitation to ask Him for whatever we need. What an amazing privilege! He’s not a stingy heavenly Father, but one who loves us and cares about every aspect of our life.

Sometimes, however, if the answers we expect aren’t materializing, we may question God’s love, interest, or ability. In today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reassures us that we can pray for our needs with full confidence in our Father’s provision. We are to … 

Trust in His Care. Whenever we start to wonder whether our Father hears our requests, we can look outside at His creation (Matt. 6:26-32). If God feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, won’t He also care for His beloved children? 

Believe His Promise. Jesus assures us that God will provide our basic needs if we’ll make Him our top priority in life (Matt. 6:32-33).

Seek His Kingdom and Righteousness. Jesus warns against making earthly things our treasure and admonishes us to store up heavenly riches instead (Matt. 6:19-21). That’s what it means to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. When the desire and ambition of our life is to obey the Lord and reflect His character in our words, attitudes, and actions, He assumes the responsibility to provide whatever we may need.  

God’s ways are different from how we naturally think. Human logic leads us to conclude that if we need something, we should seek it, but God’s perspective says, “Seek Me, and I’ll take care of your need.” Whose way are you trusting?

The Danger of False Teaching

Throughout the ages the church has been bombarded with false teaching, and it’s still prevalent today. Since the only way to combat error is with truth, the church must be grounded in the Scriptures to avoid falling victim to deception.

The church needs an accurate view of Jesus. To hold firmly to the truth of the gospel, we must have a solid understanding of who Christ is. Though some claim Jesus was a teacher or a prophet, Scripture says He was fully God, who created everything and came to earth to save mankind from condemnation (John 1:1-13).  Others argue that there are many ways to God. However, reconciliation with Him requires that sin’s penalty be paid in full by one who is sinless. Only Jesus, the perfect Son of Man, could meet God’s requirement. Therefore, no one can come to the Father except through Him (John 14:6).

The church must also affirm true doctrine. False teachers can be very persuasive and lead listeners into wrong thinking, confusion, and discouragement. In contrast, true doctrine strengthens and encourages believers by assuring them that salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ alone; it is not gained or maintained by their performance (Eph. 2:8-9). Those who belong to Jesus need never fear condemnation because the penalty for their sins has been paid (Rom. 8:1). Everyone who is born again has an imperishable inheritance, which is reserved in heaven and protected by divine power through faith until God reveals it (1 Peter 1:3-5). 

Can you discern false teaching? The only way to guard yourself and your church is to be firmly grounded in God’s Word.

Dying to Serve: A Parable

Imagine two grains of wheat lying on the floor of a warm and cozy barn. One day, the farmer comes in and tells them, “I want to take you out of this comfortable barn and plant you in the earth. I’m going to place you in the cold ground and cover you with soil. It will be dark, and you will die. But I promise that you will multiply and become very fruitful.”

The first grain of wheat turns down the suggestion. “No way!” he says. “Count me out. I like my comfort, and I don’t want to die.” But the second one, after carefully considering the pain and discomfort of dying, decides the promise of a future harvest is worth the sacrifice. So the farmer takes him outside and plants him in the ground, while allowing the first grain of wheat to remain inside the barn.

A few days later, a small green sprout begins to appear over where the seed has been planted. Then it grows and becomes a tall stalk of wheat that produces one hundred more grains. For the next 40 years, the farmer plants all the seeds that originated from that first grain of wheat, and year after year the harvest multiplies. Meanwhile, the grain of wheat that stayed in the barn remains there all alone, never growing or multiplying—but he has stayed very comfortable.

Which grain of wheat are you? Are you playing it safe, or have you let Christ plant you in the world? The only way you’ll become useful and fruitful in God’s kingdom is by abiding in Him and trusting that His desires for your life are worthwhile.

Sharing the Good News

Can you imagine filling a ship with precious cargo and launching it into the sea, only to watch it repeatedly dock without offloading anything? I imagine silent Christians are much like this ship. God has personally blessed believers with salvation and eternal life and entrusted to them the message of the gospel, yet too few of His children are willing to share with others the good news of salvation in Christ.

What causes us to stay silent? We know that Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples (Matt. 28:18-20). Furthermore, He has assured us that we will be empowered by His authority and presence with us. God is offering the invitation of salvation to “whoever will call on the name of the Lord.” He has even made it clear that our communicating the good news is the means by which people will come to saving faith (Rom. 10:13-14).

Sometimes Christians who don’t share their faith defend that choice by saying, “My faith is private. It’s between me and my God.” But that is not the model we see in Scripture. Genuine faith is confessed with the mouth and shared with the world.

Every believer has been entrusted with the good news of salvation through Christ. It is unquestionably the single most important piece of information we have, because it offers the only door to heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” We have to courageously step forward in faith, be willing to set aside worldly concerns, obey God, and tell someone about Jesus.

What Would Jesus Do?

In the 1990s many Christians joined the trend of wearing small wristbands bearing the letters W.W.J.D., which stood for the question “What Would Jesus Do?” Although the fad has passed, the question is still valid. It’s designed to prompt us to consider whether our words, actions, and attitudes are an accurate reflection of the life of our Savior. 

However, before we can accurately assess whether we are doing what Jesus would, we need to have a comprehensive understanding of what He said and did, as recorded in Scripture. It’s easy to take a few verses and come away with a simplistic view of the Lord. Most people are tempted to make Jesus into an image of what they want Him to be instead of trying to see the whole picture. Yes, He responded to people with love and compassion, but He also told them to stop sinning and warned them about the dangers of hell.

If we truly want to respond like Christ, it will take more than a reminder from a bracelet. We must yearn to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts” (Rom. 13:14). This means we must learn who Christ is through daily Scripture reading and pray for Him to transform our heart. That will help purify our life from sin and align our thoughts and desires with His.

Then, as we not only show His compassion and concern for the lost but also warn them of the danger they face by rejecting Him, some may be drawn to our Savior. And since “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV), we know our actions are in line with what He would do.

Jesus Identifies With Our Needs

We often forget that during His stay on earth, Jesus experienced need just as we do. Although Christ was fully God, He was at the same time completely human, with all of humanity’s weaknesses and shortcomings. Though He didn’t sin, He identified with our suffering.

When Jesus had finished a 40-day fast in the wilderness, He experienced physical hunger and an onslaught of temptation from the devil (Matt. 4:1-2). Later, after an exhausting day of healing people and feeding a crowd of more than 5,000, the Son of God required time alone with His Father for spiritual strength and refreshment (Matt. 14:23). And in the Garden of Gethsemane, Christ was under tremendous spiritual and emotional pressure as He faced the daunting task of paying for the sins of mankind through His death on a cross (Matt. 26:38-39).

In each weakness, Jesus turned to His Father. The Word of God was His defense in temptation, prayer was His source of strength for ministry, and submission to the Father’s will was His pathway to victory over sin and death. By passing through every difficult situation without sin, He became our Great High Priest, who intercedes for us and invites us to draw near to God’s throne for help in time of need.

Whatever your needs may be, you can follow Christ’s example and experience the Father’s provision. The Word of God is your protection, prayer is your strength, and submission to the Father is the way to victory over sin. Draw near with confidence, and let the Lord shower you with His grace.

Things That Cannot be Shaken

In general, people like security. We seek what is comfortable. Yet the reality of our world is that much instability exists. For example, finances, health, and even a country’s ability to survive are not guaranteed.

When our foundation is shaken, we often feel overwhelmed. Sometimes Satan causes the difficulty—with God’s permission, of course. At other times, challenging circumstances are brought about by the Lord’s hand. Regardless of the source, we have the promise in Romans 8:28 that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” And in either case, the Almighty’s purpose remains: to glorify Himself in our world and in our lives.

There are different reasons that the Lord permits turmoil, but for now, let’s focus on one: He will not allow anything that enables man to seem self-sufficient in his own eyes. Therefore, God may lovingly allow enough trouble for us to realize our need of Him. Consider the trials the Israelites faced each time they turned away from the Lord to worship other gods. In many ways, we do the same thing today. Individually, in our churches, and as a nation, we often glorify “gods” like money or status. But the One who created us will not tolerate this.

In our pride, we tend to think we’re able to manage without God. But out of love, He may stir up our life to reveal our dependence upon Him. If you are basing your security on anything except Jesus Christ—even something as seemingly innocent as comfort—it will prove to be sinking sand.

Unshakeable Foundation

With each passing year, the instability in the world seems more and more apparent. Natural and man-made catastrophes claim lives; political balance shifts; wealth and status come and go. It all causes us to ask, Is anything unshakeable?

As overwhelming as these things seem, let me give you an even bigger example. In today’s passage, we read that the heavens and earth will be shaken. It will all be destroyed—burned, to be exact. Thankfully, we have the promise that God will create new heavens and a new earth, but in the meantime our world will undergo great turmoil.

Instability can create feelings of insecurity and fear unless we latch onto the truths God has given us. The Bible refers to Jesus as a rock and firm foundation (1 Corinthians 3:10-11; Eph. 2:20). And we know that God is unchangeable and sovereign; nothing can undermine or move Him. His Word is truth, and it will last forever.

As Christians, we know that our eternal relationship with God is secure. We’ve been adopted as His children, and nothing can rob us of this position. What’s more, believers are assured of an eternal home with Him. Though we may at times feel unsettled by our circumstances, we can rejoice when trials bring us humbly to the cross of Jesus, where we will find peace and safety.

What assurance we have as God’s children! We can rest in peace and full confidence, knowing that our hearts are secure in Jesus Christ. As King David said in Psalm 16:8, “I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”

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