Hope Despite a Changing World

Where do you place your hope and security? If it’s in governments, financial markets, or education, you will be disappointed. Our world is always changing. Trusted governments fail, great economies falter, and strong institutions prove to be unstable. When this happens, people struggle with fear and insecurity.

The world, however, won’t become more trustworthy. Ever since the time of the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-32), people have been promising a better civilization, but no man-made advance has permanently enhanced life. Certainly some institutions go through periods in which humanity is greatly benefited, but ultimately any part of society that challenges God won’t last. It’s because the talented and knowledgeable people involved are also sinful people. Greed, pride, and lust have brought about the downfall of many civilizations.

Brilliant, charismatic leaders may claim to offer a better tomorrow, but no man or woman is the solution to the world’s problems. Only Christ can deliver on His promise of hope to those of us who trust in Him. He lives in us, guiding our path, comforting us in loss and sorrow, and promising an eternal future of heavenly bliss.

This changing world can be a scary place—especially for people who trust in themselves. But those who trust in God can have hope and confidence because even in a chaotic environment, He is the one constant. His Word is always true, His power is absolute, and His promises are certain. Human institutions fail, but when Jesus Christ returns to rule the earth, all will be made right.

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!

Developing a Servant Spirit

Personal ambition and servanthood aren’t always compatible. In fact, they are often at odds with each other. A servant’s goal is to please his or her master in whatever way is required, but personal ambition strives for self-advancement. Jesus’ words from today’s passage must have sounded foreign to the disciples’ ears since, according to the thinking of their culture, greatness was acquired by striving for it, not by serving.

Like them, we live in a world where many people are seeking to make a name for themselves. They set goals, make plans, and do whatever is necessary to achieve what they’ve set out to do. But as Christians, we’re to live by a different standard: exalt Christ, obey His commands, and serve Him faithfully by doing His will, not our own.

We’re not called to gain fame and fortune by leaving our footprints in concrete for all to admire.  Our task is to humbly follow in Jesus’ footsteps. Whether our lives have a large or small impact is up to God, not us. The greatest acts of service are not usually flashy displays; more often they’re commonplace gestures like being kind to strangers, ministering to fellow believers, and praying for others. 

Jesus humbled Himself, surrendered His rights, and obeyed God even to the point of death on the cross (Phil. 2:5-8). Being His servant begins with the same attitude. It requires helping others when it’s not convenient, doing tasks that are not glamorous, and obeying the Lord even if it’s costly. We aren’t on earth to build our own kingdom but to faithfully serve God as He builds His.

Improving Our Prayers

Are you satisfied with your prayer life? I don’t know too many people who would answer yes to that question, because most of us know that we fall short in this discipline. Even the most mature believers recognize their need for improvement, and one of the best methods for doing that is examining scriptural prayers and using them as a model.

Several of Paul’s prayers are recorded in his epistles, and they supply wonderful insights about different ways to pray. In today’s passage, we see two foundations for prayer.

A Humble Attitude. Paul’s physical posture of bending his knees served as a reminder of his submissive position before the heavenly Father. He knew there was nothing in himself that would cause the Lord to hear and respond. He had access to the throne of God only through his relationship with Jesus Christ. Paul did not make himself the center of the conversation but focused on the Lord and the church for whom he was interceding.

A Focus on God. The foundation of Paul’s prayer life was the Trinity. The apostle understood that God the Father adopts all believers worldwide into His family for eternity; that there are glorious riches found in God the Son; and that God the Holy Spirit has limitless power. The requests Paul made for the Ephesians were based on almighty God’s matchless abilities, resources, and power.

Although we can confidently approach the Lord’s throne of grace, we must always remember that we are but humble servants, and He is our exalted God.

Having a Rich Prayer Life

Prayer is an amazing privilege because it involves conversation with our heavenly Father. Yet, if we are honest, there are times when it seems more like a duty than a joy.  This is especially true if we reduce our prayers to a formula or routine, which can deaden our desire to talk to God.

In today’s passage, Paul’s prayer is just the opposite—it is full of life, spiritual truths, and love for his Lord. He asked God to do a great spiritual work in the Ephesians’ lives and, by extension, in ours as well:

To gain a greater comprehension of Christ’s love for us. Although it’s beyond our ability to fully grasp the vastness of our Savior’s love, Paul prays that we will be so firmly rooted and grounded in this truth that we will become controlled by it and “filled up to all the fullness of God” (v. 19). Experiencing Jesus’ love motivates us to obediently live for Christ and enables us to care deeply for others.

To be strengthened with the Lord’s supernatural power. Paul both praises God’s matchless power and invites it into our hearts. The most important battles take place inside us—in our minds, wills, and emotions—and Paul wants to ensure that the power of the Holy Spirit will be at work in our lives. When we welcome His authority, God can use us in meaningful ways, and what’s more, we will exhibit the life of Jesus in fuller measure.

Although physical and material needs are important, the apostle’s prayers more often focused on the spiritual welfare of others. That is a good example for us to follow as well.

Comebacks After Setbacks

Whether you have recently become a believer or have followed Christ for many years, you’ve undoubtedly discovered that the Christian life is a series of highs and lows. The truth is, we are never ultimately defeated because Christ overcame sin and death for us on the cross. Yet Scripture still warns us not to yield to the sinful desires of our flesh, conform to this world’s evil system, or fall for the schemes and lies of the devil. 

Since we are not totally free from the corrupt influences in and around us, the Lord has provided a way for us to come back and be restored. It is called confession, and it involves humbling ourselves, telling God what we have done, and agreeing with Him that it is wrong. Then God promises to forgive and cleanse us so that we might be restored to fellowship with Him (1 John 1:9). The good news is that we are not alone in this battle with sin.

We have God’s Holy Spirit, by whom we put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom. 8:13).
We have God’s Word, by which we grow in respect to salvation (1 Pet. 2:2).
We have God’s grace, which instructs us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and live righteously (Titus 2:11-12).
We have God’s promise that He will complete the good work He has begun in us (Phil. 1:6).

When you sin, think of confession not as a dreaded duty but as a gracious gift of God. Take advantage of this privilege without shame, knowing that restoration is on the other side.

Too Sinful to Save?

Sometimes people avoid Christ’s offer of salvation because they feel they’ve messed up so badly that their sins are unforgivable. Perhaps that’s how John Newton, a former slave trader, felt before he experienced God’s mercy and penned this line from his famous hymn: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”

The apostle Paul had similar feelings—he saw himself as the foremost of sinners. But that didn’t stop him from believing in Jesus as his Savior and Lord. In fact, as he looked back at the wonderful display of divine grace in his life, Paul recognized he was being used as an example of how far God’s grace can reach.

Jesus came to save sinners. So if you are a sinner, His grace is available to you for salvation. In other words, if Paul’s and John Newton’s sins were forgivable, so are yours. In fact, those who regard themselves as wretches are in a better position than many who consider themselves good and think a Savior is unnecessary. God’s grace comes to those who acknowledge their sin and see the need for salvation.

No matter how vast your sins, God’s grace is greater. The truth is, all human beings are wretches because no one can be good enough to earn acceptance by a holy God. You can either be condemned in your sins or turn to Christ, whose blood paid your penalty for sin so you could receive a full pardon. If you accept His gracious salvation, God may even use your past as a witness so that other sinners can be saved.

Citizens of Heaven

An old gospel song says, “This world is not my home. I’m just a-passing through. My treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.” Does this describe how you think about life? As believers, we face the danger of forgetting that our citizenship is in heaven—it’s all too easy to start thinking of this world as our home.

Whenever anyone turns from sin and trusts in Jesus for salvation, that person’s name is forever recorded in heaven. It’s as if the new believer is already there. Ephesians 2:5-6 puts it this way: God has “made us alive together with Christ … raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” As a further guarantee of our spiritual position in heaven, we’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise as a pledge of our inheritance (Eph. 1:13-14).

But for now, we live here on earth and are subject to pain, illness, infirmities, and death. However, when Christ returns, He will transform these weak, mortal frames into glorious bodies like His. Although we don’t know exactly what we’ll look like, we can be sure that our new heavenly bodies will far exceed the ones we have now.

Are you eagerly awaiting that day, or have you been captivated by the fleeting pleasures and pursuits of this world? Since the earth is only our temporary home, we must be careful not to become too attached to the things it offers. A right understanding of our eternal citizenship changes our perspective and priorities in this life, prompting us to lay up treasures in heaven rather than on earth.

God Is With Us

God is always with us, even though we at times cannot sense His presence. There may be situations where we feel really close to Him, yet on other occasions, He might seem distant and uninvolved in our life. As believers, however, we can be certain He is our constant companion whether we’re aware of Him or not. This truth can empower and transform your life.

There are two statements in today’s passage that are the foundation for our confidence about God’s presence with us. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). Then He added, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love Him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him” (v. 23). What an amazing reality—the triune God has taken up residence in those of us who have received Christ’s forgiveness and salvation.

With this truth anchored in our mind and heart, we can know that no matter what we’re going through—even the loss of a loved one—we are not alone. Being in Christ, we have His peace in the midst of storms. That’s because there are none more powerful or knowledgeable than almighty God, who indwells us and gives us His comfort and strength. 

We must remind ourselves of God’s presence because, unfortunately, it’s tempting to forget. But the more we remember He is with us, the better we can discern His work and comfort in our life. Let’s pray to keep this aspect of God’s character at the forefront of our mind.

The Wages of Sin

God sent His Son to take our punishment by dying in our place. Unless believers understand this provision, they will doubt their salvation. We can’t be good enough to earn heaven. All are born with a corrupted nature; therefore, we will at times sin, no matter how hard we try not to. The Bible compares our attempts at righteous deeds to filthy rags (Isa. 64:6).

On its own, mankind has but one option with regard to sin: to die in it and spend eternity separated from God. But the Father so loved the world that He chose to punish His Son in our place (John 3:16). It was a severe price to pay. Holy God cannot look upon the squalor of sin, so when Jesus became sin for all mankind, the Father had to turn away (2 Cor. 5:21). The physical suffering of crucifixion was terrible, but nothing compared to Jesus’ wrenching horror when the Father left Him. The devastated Messiah cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mark 15:34).

Jesus accepted separation from the Father so we wouldn’t have to. When Paul said that the wages of sin was death, he was referring to eternal separation from God (Rom. 6:23). As believers, we are saved and forever reconciled with the Lord because of what Jesus has done.

The Savior took our place and accepted humanity’s punishment for sin. He and the Father have done the hard work of salvation so that you and I can live a life of peace, freedom, and hope and never be separated from our Creator. If you believe that Jesus Christ—the Son of God— died for your sins, then you too are saved.

What Is Heaven Like?

Heaven is the believer’s future home, and we’ve all wondered what it’s like. But the Bible gives us only a glimpse. Even if God revealed more in Scripture, we’d be incapable of comprehending it. As earthly creatures, we lack the experience or frame of reference needed to understand the eternal realities of that dimension.

Desiring to know more about heaven, some people have sought information outside of the Bible, often in books written by people who claim to have gone there. However, the only legitimate source of facts about heaven is God’s Word—nothing else can be depended upon to have a sure foundation in truth.

When Paul was caught up to the third heaven, he “heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak” (2 Corinthians 12:4). None of his letters include any details of his experience. God also entrusted the apostle John with a vision of heaven, but human language is inadequate to convey the realities of that otherworldly realm.

Although we may not be able to visualize everything John describes, we can all relate to what he says about those things that are absent in heaven: There will be no more tears, death, mourning, or pain (Revelation 21:4). What’s more, we will never become stressed, exhausted, frustrated, angry, or sick, because our new bodies will be imperishable, sinless, and powerful (1 Corinthians 15:42-43). Heaven is a perfect environment with no sin or sinners in it. And best of all, God will dwell among us.

Who Will Be in Heaven?

Most people think that when they die, they are going to heaven. If you asked why, the majority would say they have been good people or their positive deeds outweigh any negative things they’ve done. Yet the sad reality is, most people will not find themselves in heaven—and that includes some who claim to be Christians.

It may not be a popular topic of conversation, but our Savior knew that hell was essential to understand. In today’s reading, He uses illustrations of contrasting gates, trees, and houses to point out that there are only two possible destinies after death: heaven and hell. Jesus is warning us about a most sobering reality—that not everyone who calls Him “Lord” actually belongs to Him (Matt. 7:21-23).

What, then, distinguishes a true follower? John 14:15 tells us those who love the Savior will keep His commandments. This obedience begins with believing Jesus is the Son of God (John 3:36). In other words, the first step is to humble ourselves before God, admitting that we’re sinful and deserving of condemnation. Next, we must call out to Him, requesting the forgiveness for which His Son’s blood was shed on our behalf. From then on, we’re to live only for God.

If you hear the gospel but stop short of obedience, ask yourself, Do I fully understand the goodness of God’s love? That should inspire you to obey the Father. Looking good on the outside isn’t enough to enter the kingdom of heaven. Remember, to those who truly receive Him, He will give “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Won’t you make sure you’re among those destined for heaven?

Discovering God’s Will

Life involves all kinds of choices—some are small and mundane, while others are more consequential. Including God in our decision-making is always the wisest course of action. Scripture we have memorized is something the Holy Spirit uses to help us discover God’s will.

There’s a two-part process I find beneficial in making decisions, and it can also help you with choices regarding relationships, finances, health, employment, and other important matters. The first step involves assessing the heart, mind, and will. To receive the Lord’s direction, we need a clean heart, a clear mind, and a surrendered will. Sinful habits can cloud thinking and keep us from understanding His plan. Confessing our sins and turning from them brings cleansing and clarity (1 John 1:9). A stubborn will that says, “I want my way” prevents us from heeding God’s instruction. Instead, we need to lay down our desires and commit to saying yes to His plan.

The second step is to wait patiently on the Lord for His answer. It takes courage to stand firm, especially when others are telling us what they think we should do. Our own emotions may also be pushing us to act now, but we must resist moving ahead of God. To be patient means trusting the Lord while we wait to learn His answer and discover His timing.

Discerning God’s plan requires preparation of our heart, mind, and will. It also often requires patience. During our time of waiting, we are to follow His known will—to be a faithful servant in His kingdom, loving Him with our whole heart and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:37-39).

Conviction Versus Condemnation

Our heavenly Father desires that we walk closely with Him. To help us, the Holy Spirit guides us on the right path and redirects us when we are headed in the wrong direction. In other words, He convicts us when we are in danger of straying.

Conviction is God’s loving hand steering us back to the path that leads to life. To better understand the concept, picture a parent whose toddler begins to chase a ball into a busy street. The youngster has only one desire at that moment: to retrieve the toy. The parent, however, would be negligent if he or she did not stop the child.

We, like the toddler in this example, view our life from a limited perspective. If our heavenly Father stops us from achieving a desire, it seems frustrating. But we must remember that the Almighty is acting out of His love for us.

Conviction begins even before salvation. The Holy Spirit reveals our wrongs to help us recognize that we need forgiveness. When we accept Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf and choose to follow Him, we are born again. Only then are we free from the penalty of sin. At the same time, we are still human and will make some poor choices. So, even after we are His children, God continues to redirect us.

Conviction is different from condemnation. Remember that “God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:17). So though believers at times will sin, they are justified by Christ’s sacrifice and free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1).

Conviction for the Believer

Recently I spoke to a heartbroken woman. Her father was dying, and he was cold toward his family and God. He desired no contact and refused to discuss any spiritual matter.

But God is able to reach anyone—even someone hostile to the faith, as we saw with the apostle Paul’s conversion. Yet Scripture also teaches that though the Lord is patient toward man, He may eventually give individuals over to the hardness of their own heart. In other words, He may let them have their own way in rejecting the Savior.

The situation is different for believers, however. When we, in our humanness, continue to sin, the Holy Spirit convicts us so we’ll get back on track. At that point, we can humbly repent and follow Him or ignore His voice and continue to sin. If we persist in error, our Father will keep calling us back. But the danger is that our hearts may become desensitized and we could eventually cease to hear His warnings.

Thankfully, we are children of God, and He loves us too much to let us remain in a sinful pattern. Though chastisement and conviction are never pleasant, He knows our traveling down the wrong road would result in much greater heartache (Prov. 3:12). The Lord is a shepherd, using His staff and rod to lovingly bring us to green pastures.

On the Christian journey, temptations to stray falsely promise to satisfy our longings. Stay closely connected to Jesus through prayer and Scripture. Be listening so you can obey immediately when He calls you to change course. In the long run, living God’s way is what brings the greatest joy.

How God Works

God is at work everywhere. In the very first verse of the Bible, He is creating the heavens and earth. In the last verses of Revelation, He is calling people to be saved. Throughout Scripture and in the world today, the Lord is active in the lives of believers and unbelievers, although in very different ways.

We will be able to see God move in our life if we understand how He works—and He operates in both dramatic and seemingly insignificant ways. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments, everyone could see by his face that he’d had a dramatic encounter with God. In contrast, Joseph entered Potiphar’s household as a slave. That may seem like an inconsequential situation in an incredible life, but it was important to God’s plan for Joseph.

In a similar way, God’s work in us always has purpose. Our life may seem routine, but God is busy every day conforming us to Christ’s likeness. He may allow circumstances we dislike, but those situations accomplish His goal. And we can see from examples like Gideon and Samson that He works differently with each person.

However God chooses to work in our life, we must trust Him. For instance, the Lord promised Abraham a son but silently waited 25 years to honor His vow. What appears slow to us is not slow to God. He is working out the perfect timing of events. Our patience to wait on Him demonstrates our trust, which is rewarded when we come ever closer to God’s goal: to become more like Jesus.

Watching God Work

We have the privilege of serving a God who does abundantly more than we can imagine. Most Christians go through their daily life with no real awareness that the Lord is at work. However, He is active all the time, orchestrating circumstances, listening to the prayers of His children, and working through His followers to serve others. God is at work in the life of each believer so that He will receive glory and honor.

It is important that Christians learn to see God at work. To do that, we first need to observe how He worked in the lives of men and women in Scripture. It is also essential for us to listen for what He is saying to our heart. If we think that the Lord has never spoken to us, then either we have not been listening, or we do not really expect an answer from Him at all.

To listen and learn, we must have a right relationship with the Lord—this means confessing our sins and choosing to serve Him. We cannot see God at work if we are not prayerful people. Prayer centers our attention on Him. That focus opens us to the fact that we are loved enough to receive direction from our Father.

Frequently though, the problem is that we do not receive guidance according to our schedule. Our heavenly Father may work over long periods of time, so we must learn to practice patience. A human parent needs at least 18 years to teach a child how to function appropriately in the world. How much longer must it take God to achieve His goal of conforming us to the image of His Son?

Immature Faith

We all know that the Christian walk begins with faith in Jesus for the salvation of our soul. But faith is not a onetime act—it’s a lifelong path. And Hebrews 11:6 tells us why that journey is so important: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”

The faith of new believers is immature and often restless because there isn’t yet a deep understanding of the heavenly Father. Therefore, when trials come, the tendency is to look at the problem rather than at God. But as we spend more time studying His Word and growing in our knowledge of Him, our confidence in the Lord begins to increase. The more we learn what pleases Him, the wiser our prayers become.

Another way faith matures is through trials. In today’s passage, Jesus’ disciples became frightened in a storm and cried out to Him for help. We can relate to this scenario—at one time or another, we all have found ourselves in a desperate situation with no way to extricate ourselves. And the words Jesus spoke to His disciples could probably be said to us as well: “Why are you afraid, you men of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26).

We’d all like a problem-free life, but that’s not possible. The silver lining is that trouble can strengthen our faith in the Lord. It’s one thing to read about God’s faithfulness in His Word, but we also need to experience it in our personal life. Each time we’re able to trust the Lord during a trial, we know our faith is genuine.

When God Is Silent

When Lazarus was dying, his sisters urgently called for Jesus. Imagine how their grief must have compounded when He didn’t instantly respond to their request.

God’s silence is difficult to accept. We want Him to leap into action when we call, particularly if we are hurting or afraid. But since He promises to meet our needs, we can be sure that His silence has purpose.

Silence grabs our attention. The disciples knew that Jesus could heal, so they must have wondered why He delayed instead of rushing to His friend’s bedside. But the Lord wanted them to witness something even greater: His power over death. They had been confused by His statements about conquering death, and they needed to understand that He could fulfill His own resurrection prophecies (Mark 9:31-32). The miracle at Lazarus’ tomb was part of their preparation.

Silence teaches us to trust. Mary and Martha sent word of Lazarus’ illness because they anticipated that the Lord would heal him. But would their faith waver if that expectation was not met? Martha answered the question by stating, “I have believed that You are the Christ” (John 11:27). And sure enough, the Lord demonstrated His power with a stunning miracle: their brother’s return to life.

At times, the only thing we can hear when we pray is our own breathing. That can be frustrating and frightening. But Scripture says God is always with us, and His silence will not last forever (Job 23:8-10; Matt. 28:20). Cling to those promises as you wait for Him to answer.

The Uniqueness of Christ

Many people today have their own ideas about who Jesus is. Some people think He was merely a prophet or good teacher who taught people how to live. Even those who claim to be Christians have some inaccurate views of Him because they haven’t based their perceptions on the comprehensive truth of Scripture.

When Jesus asked, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:15-16). Jesus was unlike any other person who ever lived. He was set apart by . . .

His birth. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, the eternal Son of God entered the human race through the womb of a virgin.

His wisdom. At age 12, Jesus spent three days with the Jewish teachers, amazing them with His divine wisdom and understanding.

His baptism. Though He was innocent of sin, Jesus asked John to baptize Him in order to identify with the sinners He came to save.

His temptation. Though Satan tempted Him in the wilderness, Jesus did not yield. Throughout His life, He fully obeyed every law of God and never sinned.

His ministry. He challenged man-made traditions and demonstrated the power of God by healing people, raising the dead, and forgiving sins.

His death. Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for the sins of mankind so they could be forgiven and reconciled to God.

His resurrection. Christ was the only person to ever permanently overcome death through resurrection.

Is this the Jesus you know? He is the only one who can save you.

The Names of Christ

In biblical times, a baby’s name was based on the child’s characteristics or a hope or prayer of the parent. The same is true of Jesus, whose name means “Jehovah is salvation.” He was uniquely sent from heaven by the Father to be our Savior, and all His names and titles are powerful descriptions of who He is and what He does. What’s more, the way Jesus describes Himself in John’s gospel provides additional, rich insight into His character and work:

The Bread of Life (John 6:32-40). Jesus Christ is the only one who can truly satisfy our heart and feed our soul with sustenance that leads to eternal life.

The Light of the World (John 8:12). He shines through this dark, sinful world, showing us the way to forgiveness and salvation.

The Door (John 10:7-10). Whoever enters through the door of Christ will be saved.

The Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18). As our Shepherd, Jesus knows and cares for us—with a love so great that He laid down His life to save us.

The Way, the Truth, the Life (John 14:6). Jesus alone is the origin of truth and life, so He is the only avenue by which we can be saved and live eternally.

The Vine (John 15:1-10). Christ is the source of our spiritual life. Without His abiding presence, we could do nothing of eternal value.

These are just some of the titles that Jesus Christ used to identify Himself, and the Bible refers to Him in many additional ways. Each time you read God’s Word, pay attention to the descriptive names of Jesus. Each one will help you come to a better understanding of the One who loves you and came to save you.

The God Who Rescues Us

When we tell people that God wants to save them, they may immediately wonder why rescue is necessary. In their mind, they are in no immediate danger and therefore have no need of a Savior. Before a person can appreciate the good news, he or she has to understand the bad news.

Every one of us is in need of rescue because we are all sinful and worthy of God’s eternal condemnation and punishment. No matter how hard we try, “there is none who does good, there is not even one” (Rom. 3:12). This means that we lack the ability to make ourselves acceptable to God. In other words, we’re eternally doomed unless God Himself intervenes on our behalf. And that is exactly what He did.

In order to rescue fallen humanity, God ordained a plan for mankind’s salvation before He even created the world. Since His attribute of justice could not be set aside, an acceptable substitute was chosen to bear the condemnation and punishment that sinners deserved. The only one qualified for this mission was His beloved Son, who took on human flesh and lived a life without sin.

The gift of forgiveness and reconciliation to God is free to all who will receive Jesus Christ and believe He made atonement on their behalf. There is no condemnation for those who take refuge in Him. But those who reject His offer of salvation will have to bear the penalty for their sins themselves.

Christ did everything that was necessary to rescue us. All we have to do is believe and entrust our life to Him by faith.

Christmas Giving

Why do we give gifts at Christmas? When we were children, presents were the highlight of the season, and for some of us, the joy of giving and receiving gifts has not waned. Some people wonder what all this has to do with the celebration of Christ’s birth. But there is a connection—although nothing came wrapped in paper, the occasion was marked by extravagant generosity.

God gave His only begotten Son. This was greatest gift ever given, because His precious Son was the only one who could die as a sacrifice for our sins.

Mary gave her body and reputation. When the angel told her she would bear the Son of God, Mary responded, “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Although this was a glorious privilege, it also included the loss of her reputation. Her engagement to Joseph was as binding as marriage, and to be found pregnant before the actual ceremony would have been scandalous in the people’s eyes.

The shepherds gave a testimony. After hearing the birth announcement from the angel and seeing the newborn Messiah, they couldn’t keep the news to themselves. They told everyone what they had heard and seen (Luke 2:17-20).

The magi gave gifts and worship. Having traveled a long distance to find this new King of the Jews, they fell to the ground in worship and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Matt. 2:11).

Although materialism and commercialism have hijacked the tradition of gift giving to some degree, we must also remember the true generosity that is at the heart of Christmas.

Lessons From a Life Well Lived

Paul’s second letter to Timothy was written from prison. This time the apostle felt certain that the emperor would have him executed. But God’s faithful servant was ready to take the next step of faith.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Paul met death with calm acceptance. He lived every day—from his conversion on the road to Damascus to his final moments—in service to God, which meant consenting to whatever hardship he was asked to bear in Jesus’ name. “I have fought the good fight,” he wrote to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:7). From Paul’s many letters, we know that he battled the same enemies we face—the flesh (Rom. 7:14-15), the world (1 Corinthians 4:11-13), and Satan (Eph. 6:12). These passages are a reminder that Paul wasn’t more holy than us; he had to persevere by faith. And the same is true for us today.

Even with his profound wisdom and skill as an apostle and missionary, Paul wasn’t so different from ordinary you and me. He was not perfect and he had spiritual defeats. But Paul didn’t stay down. He got back into the fight. For this and for the life he lived, he anticipated rich rewards in eternity. And he pointed out that heaven’s treasures were “not only to me but also to all who have longed for [Jesus’] appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 NIV).

Paul struggled and agonized, as believers today often do. But he kept the faith, and you can as well. Fight the good fight, friend. Battle your enemies by choosing to trust, obey, and rely upon the Lord. You will bring honor to Him and store up treasures in heaven for yourself.

Brokenness: The Way to Blessing

No one enjoys heartache. Yet God uses pain to mold His children. Although times of happiness are wonderful, times of suffering tend to produce more growth.

Brokenness can highlight parts of us that try to act independently of God. If we have unsurrendered areas of our life, they may hinder our Father’s purposes for us. But in His skillful and loving way, our Father uses our circumstances and discomfort to reveal how dependent on Him we truly are.

The apostle Paul experienced this. After being saved on the road to Damascus, he still needed spiritual growth in order to be most effective for Christ. Therefore, God allowed some type of affliction, which the apostle termed a “thorn.” Three different times, he pleaded with the Lord for its removal, but the thorn remained. Remarkably, Paul’s response was gratitude. Even more, he wrote, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Like Paul, we can dislike suffering and yet still be confident that God is growing us. His purpose is that we walk in intimate oneness with Him and serve effectively according to His purpose and will. To accomplish this, He has to break us of our resistance and self-reliance.

If you truly desire to live for Jesus, trust Him enough to pray, “Lord, more than anything else in life, I want to live for You. Please challenge any areas that are not in complete submission to Your will.”

God Values Endurance

As human beings, we often have a difficult time perceiving what the Lord is doing in our life. We are limited by the passage of time, the confusion of present circumstances, and a lack of understanding regarding God’s goals and His means of accomplishing them. That’s why studying the lives of men and women in Scripture helps us see how the Lord worked in previous generations. God’s relationships with the faithful in earlier times are helpful examples for us today.

When we face uncertainty, we can look to Moses’ example. His life was unpredictable and full of hardship, yet he “endured, as seeing Him who is unseen” (Heb. 11:27). In Greek, the root word for “endurance” refers to the capacity to bear up under difficulty. Moses successfully persevered under pressure by keeping his focus on God rather than on the events surrounding him.

From Moses’ example, we learn that this is what the Lord desires for us as well. Although we may want out of a difficult situation as soon as possible, this may not be God’s aim. It is not His goal to make us as comfortable as can be but, rather, to transform us into the image of His Son. And endurance helps us get there.

If God calls us to endure pain, hardship, or uncertainty, we can find encouragement in knowing we’re never alone. Part of “seeing Him who is unseen” is realizing that God’s grace and comfort carry us through every situation. The Lord doesn’t want us to simply grit our teeth and bear hardship; He desires that we trust Him and bring glory to His name through our dependence.

An Encounter With God

Each Sunday countless people congregate in church buildings to worship God. But for many of them, going to church is merely an item on their checklist—an activity that fulfills their “spiritual duty.” Although they may be moved by the music and sermon, they quickly lose the feeling and return to a life in which God seems distant, and the world’s pleasures begin to look more attractive.

Isaiah’s time apparently wasn’t so different from ours. Listen to God’s assessment: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isa. 29:13 NIV).

What is the solution when God’s people begin to take Him for granted? Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord in today’s reading provides a good example. When he saw God’s awesome holiness, Isaiah was filled with fear and profound awareness of his own sin. In distress, he cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” (Isa. 6:5). After being cleansed from his sin, his one desire was to serve the Lord as His prophet, and he said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isa. 6:8).

Although it’s unlikely we will experience a vision like this, every time we open God’s Word, we have an opportunity to see “the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5) as Isaiah did. What’s even more amazing is that this majestic, holy God invites us into an intimate relationship with Him through His Son.

If your spiritual life has become too mechanical, it’s time to approach your time with God differently. Pray for a heart that is open to a true encounter with Him, and wait patiently for His provision.

Religious but Lost

Nicodemus would probably be welcome at any church today. He seems an ideal member—principled, knowledgeable, and courteous. And as a Pharisee, he followed strict Jewish rules, which certainly made him religious. However, Nicodemus had serious drawbacks: He was blind to the truth and spiritually lost. In other words, he didn’t have a relationship with Jesus.

When Nicodemus came to see the Lord in John 3, Jesus explained to him that no amount of goodness could erase or change a person’s nature. Instead, everyone who desires to serve God must be born again. Jesus promised that if Nicodemus trusted Him as Savior, then he would enter into a brand-new life. His old flesh nature would be replaced so that he could have a real relationship with God—instead of appearing to be a religious man, Nicodemus would be a true believer.

No one gets into heaven because of good works and kind behavior. At the end of our earthly life when we stand before God, only our relationship with Him will matter. We will want to show Him that in place of our old sinful nature, we now have the living Spirit we received when Jesus Christ came into our life.

The Ultimate Rejection

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus said that the gate to heaven is narrow (Matt. 7:13-14). The easier route through life is the path of happiness, which has side roads to decadence and self-indulgence. But the way to eternal life is marked by self-sacrifice and humility.

The Lord warned His followers not to be deceived about their salvation. Those who find heaven’s road have trusted Him as Savior and acknowledged that His sacrificial death paid their sin debt in full. This is important because we meet many people who appear to be walking the narrow path but have never made a decision for Christ. They may be busy with church work, but they have placed performance before commitment. At the judgment, Jesus will tell them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matt. 7:23).

You don’t want to be among those who think their deeds will earn them admission to heaven. Receiving Christ as Savior is the only way (John 14:6). Then you can be sure that at the end of your life, you’ll step off the narrow road and into God’s presence forever (1 John 5:13).

The Key to Acceptance

Many churchgoers will be disheartened to learn that ministry work doesn’t reserve them a place in heaven. Good deeds mean nothing to God unless they are the outgrowth of a relationship with Him. It doesn’t matter how many acts of kindness or service a person has performed—only those who have received Jesus Christ will enter heaven.

The definition of believe often confuses church members who lack genuine faith. They believe in God, Jesus, and heaven. But there’s a difference between giving intellectual assent to an idea and spiritually acknowledging Christ as Savior. What we see in the Bible is that when someone truly comes to faith in Jesus, he or she changes. It’s impossible to remain the same after realizing one’s desperate need for Him. (See John 4:39.)

A desire for salvation begins with the recognition that we’ve sinned against God and there is no hope of salvation apart from Jesus. When we trust in His sacrifice for the payment of our sin debt, God promises to respond. If you desire to be in heaven with Him for eternity, ask yourself, Have I been saved? If not, now is the time.

Doing God’s Work God’s Way

Zechariah 4 speaks of an approach to serving that will never become stale: All kingdom work that the Father considers valuable takes place through His Holy Spirit—not by means of human power or might (Zech. 4:6). Far from being aimed at a select few who are called to ministry, this is an essential truth for all believers. 

God, speaking through the apostle Paul, addressed the struggling believers in the Corinthian church as “saints by calling” (1 Corinthians 1:2). In other words, Christians have been chosen by the Lord and called to honor Him with a life of obedience, which is expressed through faith and service. Here’s what this means for believers today: We must not rely on our own wisdom or strength, but on God’s Holy Spirit and Word.

Regardless of the situation, if you’re a believer, you are called—called to rest in Christ, to abide in Him, and to seek His will. The first step is to get your focus off the circumstances and redirect it to Christ. How can you possibly know where He’s leading unless you are looking and listening?

Our Heavenly Inheritance

Do you have too much stuff? If you’re like most people, the answer is yes. The problem is that whatever we accumulate demands our time and attention. It must be obtained, maintained, organized, and eventually discarded or given away. But nothing comes with us when we die. Our security isn’t found in possessions, but in our relationship with Christ.

Peter assures us that we have an inheritance waiting for us in heaven (1 Peter 1:4)—one that is safe and secure because we’re not the ones guarding it. Our treasure, which is held and protected by God, cannot be stolen or ruined. It is ...

Imperishable. Heavenly treasure will never wear out or need fixing. It’s forever new.

Undefiled. Our inheritance is pure and can’t be spoiled by sin.

Unfading. It’s not affected by the passing of time and will never wear away or become less beautiful.

Our eternal hope is secure—and in God’s presence, everything will be perfect. When life is tough, we can find hope in knowing what awaits us in the future. This awareness increases our desire to live a holy life, because we know the perfection of our destiny: absolute holiness and freedom from sin.

A Need for Spiritual Discernment

In Philippians 1:8-11, Paul says he wants the believers at Philippi to grow in their knowledge of God so they can choose the best way to live. Our heavenly Father doesn’t want us living by feelings or sight, so He provides the gift of discernment—the capacity to judge situations and determine what is His best for us.

To live in God’s will, we must have a discerning spirit. He wants us to walk in a manner that both brings Him glory and blesses us with joy and peace. Jesus will reveal the path to anyone who asks, but we must be able to judge what is of Him and what’s not—then we can avoid avenues that merely seem right. Remember, many opportunities and situations that look good aren’t the Lord’s will.

A lot of information seems true but is actually false. We must be able to distinguish between the two. It would be unwise to accept everything we hear on the internet, radio, or television. Counsel from influential people, the media, and even the pulpit must be evaluated against the only reliable measure for spiritual discernment: God’s Word.

The Joy of Obedience

We read in Luke 5 that Peter had spent his night as he usually did—fishing—but didn’t catch anything. He was surely tired, frustrated, and ready to go home. However, Jesus asked to borrow his boat in order to preach to the crowd. Peter knew there were other boats around, but Jesus asked for his.

When Jesus finished speaking to the crowd, He told Peter to spread the nets again. The fisherman replied, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but I will do as You say” (Luke 5:5). Peter’s obedience led to nets that overflowed with fish. By saying yes to the Lord’s plan, he experienced both material and spiritual blessings. The benefits far outweighed any effort or inconvenience.

God’s requests can come at inopportune moments or when we least expect them. We may be tempted to let someone else respond, thinking that it won’t matter who answers His call. But God’s plans are always for our spiritual good (Jer. 29:11). Obeying God—even in the areas where we feel knowledgeable and skilled enough to handle matters ourselves—is essential to enjoying His rewards and extending them to others. What is Jesus asking of you?

Obeying God

Peter was a professional fisherman. He knew how to gauge weather conditions, where to cast nets for the likeliest haul, and when to end an unproductive session. Because of his expertise, he may have silently questioned Jesus’ instructions, which we read about in yesterday’s devotion—Peter may have thought, Why let down the nets when we’ve caught nothing all night?

Sometimes Jesus asks us to do something that seems unreasonable. It might involve leaving a job or ministry, taking on more responsibility when life already feels overloaded, or accepting an assignment that seems better suited for someone with a different skill set. Yet, because of the One who asks, it’s the right thing to do.

Scripture talks about many people who faced such a choice. Abraham was asked to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:2). Noah was told to build an ark on dry land because a flood was coming (Gen. 6:14). Joshua was given a military strategy of marching around Jericho instead of attacking it (Josh. 6:2-5). Gideon, who was young and unsure, was told to send most of his warriors home before battle (Judg. 7:2-3). They all obeyed and then experienced God’s power.

Don’t let human logic dictate whether you follow the Lord. Trust in Him as Peter and these other faithful believers did.

Praying in Jesus’ Name

Do you remember the teaching Jesus introduced the night before His death? He told His followers, “Whatever you ask in My name the Father will give you” (John 15:16 NIV, emphasis added). Praying in the name of Christ declares our:

Association with the Savior. Our relationship with Jesus allows us to approach the Father. We used to be foreigners, but at salvation, we became God’s children through the redemptive work of the Son of God (Eph. 2:19). The Holy Spirit within us proves we belong to the Father, who listens to the requests of His family.

Access to the Father. Jesus’ death opened an immediate, unhindered path to the Father’s presence. When the Savior offered Himself as the final priestly sacrifice (Heb. 7:26-28), the temple veil that separated the Holy of Holies from man was torn in two (Mark 15:38). In that moment, access to God became available to all who believe. Through the Holy Spirit, we can talk to God directly without a human intermediary (Eph. 2:18).

Because of our Savior Jesus Christ, we can freely access our heavenly Father. Let’s give Him thanks for the remarkable privilege of prayer!

The Power of Jesus’ Name

Yesterday we read how praying in Jesus’ name affirms our relationship with Christ and our direct access to the Father. It also declares our ...

Authority to Petition God. Christ sits at the right hand of God, where He intercedes for us (Heb. 7:25). He says to ask for what we need and gives us authority to enter the throne room at any time and speak with the Father. Everyone who trusts in the Savior has the right to use Jesus’ name.

Agreement With God’s Purposes. In the Savior’s name, we can make requests to the Father, but we must agree with His purposes. This means aligning our prayers with His character and will, and making His work the priority—not ours. We can learn to pray in accordance with God’s plan by abiding in His Word and letting it influence our thoughts.

Assurance of an Answer. “In Jesus’ name”is also a phrase of confidence. It shows we believe that our prayers will be heard and answered.

In Jesus’ name. These three words powerfully touch the Father’s heart. Using them is a mighty prerogative we have as children of God. Let’s exercise this privilege well.

Holding Fast to Our Convictions

It’s easy to hold firm to our beliefs when we’re with like-minded people in church. But if we’re among people who doubt or disagree with Christianity, we need courage to stand up for the truth of God’s Word.

In these situations, we might be tempted to compromise our convictions out of fear, such as:

• Fear of Criticism. Believers standing up for God’s truth will likely get criticized by people who don’t share their beliefs.

• Fear of Rejection. If we live by our convictions or verbally share our faith, we may not be accepted by those who follow their own desires.

• Fear of Loss. Sometimes we don’t want to take a godly stand because we could lose our friends. But anyone who keeps us from obeying the Lord is not a true friend.

Sacrificing righteous standards in order to please others will keep us from the fullness of what God has planned for our life. It’s better to live for Christ and follow His commandments so we can glorify Him. 

As God’s people, we hold on to our convictions, no matter the consequences. Pleasing Christ is our highest priority and well worth our standing firm for Him.

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