God Always Does What He says in His Own Time!

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to Pharaoh and speak to him, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let My people go that, that they may serve Me. For if you refuse to let them go, and continue to hold them, behold, the hand of the LORD will come with a very severe pestilence on your livestock which are in the field, on the horses, on the donkeys, on the camels, on the herds, and on the flocks. But the LORD will make a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt, so that nothing will die of all that belongs to the sons of Israel.’ And the LORD set a definite time, saying , “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land. ” So the LORD did this thing on the morrow, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the sons of Israel, not one died” (Exodus:9:1-6).

While God was displaying His wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh, his officials, and magicians, were learning that they were no match for God. Prior to the display of God’s miraculous powers in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh and his officers boasted that they were something great. In fact, Pharaoh was regarded as a god. But now the one true God of the universe is teaching Pharaoh that his “god-status” is false and phony. Among the many lessons God was teaching Pharaoh’s officials is that their power is so puny compared to His. In other words, God was teaching them the lesson of humiliation at His hands. Since they refused to humble themselves before God, they must be humiliated. This was no doubt a painful and hard lesson to learn. But it was perfectly okay with God. He does all things well.

However, God was not only teaching Pharaoh and his officials lessons of humiliation during this time of executing His righteous judgment on Egypt. He also had lessons to teach Moses and Aaron, as well as all Israel. God’s people were being taught lessons of obedience, trust and confidence in Him, waiting on Him, listening to His voice, looking to Him for guidance and direction, and His perfect timing. One other lesson God intended to teach Moses and Aaron and the children of Israel is that of doing what He says at His appointed time. This spiritual lesson is vividly presented to us in the passage above. God always does what He says in His own time.

During the plague on the livestock, which is the fifth plague on Egypt, God made a distinction between the livestock of Israel and the livestock of Egypt. He would only target Egypt’s livestock. He warned Pharaoh that if he continued to hold His people back, His hand would bring a terrible plague on Egypt’s livestock. Egypt’s horses and donkeys and camels and cattle and sheep and goats would die. But not even one of the animals belonging to Israel would die. This was God’s sovereign decision. God also chose a specific time to execute His sovereign decision. Brimming with great confidence in the presence of Pharaoh, Moses declared to him: “And the LORD set a definite time, saying, ‘Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land'” (Exodus 9:5). Please notice very carefully that, it was Yahweh who set a definite time. The Hebrew word translated “definite time,” (Hebrew: mo’ed) also means “appointment,” or “signal.” It often designates a determined time or place without any regard for the purpose. In our passage, the focus is on God’s determination of a particular time to carry out His word. He had given Pharaoh a warning that if he refused to let His people, a terrible plague would come upon all of Egypt’s livestock. Knowing very well that Pharaoh would continue in his stubborn ways, God set a definite time to carry out His word. That set time was “tomorrow.” God was telling Pharaoh: “I am God, and I am free to choose the time to do whatever My heart desires or determines to do. You will learn that lesson too. I am the Lord of time. You will find out tomorrow that My word to you is not a bluff. I mean it. And I will bring it to pass at the time of My choice, whether you like it or not.”

Please notice very carefully that the Lord not only determined the time, but the Lord is the One who also promises to take a decisive action. “Tomorrow the LORD will do this thing in the land.” The lesson is clear: God always does what He says in His own time. Notice the Bible further says, “So the LORD did this thing on the morrow, and all the livestock of Egypt died; but of the livestock of the sons of Israel, not one died” (Exodus 9:6). He did it exactly at the time He appointed or signaled. He was right on time. He was not an hour early or an hour late.

I tell you friends, God does what He says at His appointed time. This lesson is timeless. As such, God has preserved it in His word for His people in all ages. Moses and Aaron and the sons of Israel learned it and saw its practical outworking in their lives. The prophets of Israel learned it and practiced it. The kings of Israel learned it and lived it out in their lives. The apostles and the disciples of Christ also learned it and looked to its fulfillment in their lives. It is now our time to learn it and live it out in our lives.

We live in an age of “hurry” and “haste.” We have the “microwave” mentality. Pop it in any time you want, and pop it out at the time you choose. People in our society want things done on their schedule. For example, if a coach is not producing good results in his first year on the job, calls for his resignation inundate him, on twitter, on facebook, in the newspaper, on the radio, and on TV sports channels. When a politician is not delivering on the promise he made during his campaign, we quickly vote him out of office in the next election, if not sooner. If an athlete is not performing according to his or her abilities, he or she is benched or traded as soon as the next trading season opens. Why? We want things done on our own timetable. Unfortunately, believers have also bought into this mentality. We forget we have a God who does what He says in His own time. We forget He is sovereign and free to do as He pleases in the heavens and on the earth. We forget He is not going to be coerced to change His timetable for us. Why? He is God. He is in control. He is in charge. He is all-wise. He knows what He is doing in our lives. He must therefore be respected and given the freedom to do what He says in His appointed time. He must be resolutely trusted that His timing is best in every situation. He must not be rushed by us to do things on our timetable.

To live out the principle that God always does what He says in His own time, in this age of “hurry” and “haste,” we must do the following. First, we must rely on the Spirit to impress this truth deep into our hearts. Second, we must remember that God is in control. Third, we must rest assured that God’s timing is perfect in every situation in our lives. Fourth, we must resolutely trust that He knows what He is doing in our lives, even if we are impatient with His timing. Fifth, we must not rush Him to follow our timetable, because we cannot force Him to change His timetable. How are you doing in living out this spiritual lesson? Please, think about that!

 

Learning from the Book of Obadiah!

The only book in the entire Bible that begins with the letter O, is Obadiah. It is also the briefest book in the Old Testament. Because of its brevity, it is often overlooked or skipped right over on the way to the prophet Jonah. But the briefest book in the Old Testament is indeed a great book with a great message that echoes an important principle taught and modeled by the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout His earthly ministry. The principle being: “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted” (Matthew 23:12). Obadiah may be a small package, but it holds the best gifts of God’s truth. Dr. McGee writes: “It is a small thing, but it has a potent message.”  The prophet Obadiah was one of the most obscure prophets of the Old Testament. He prophesied of the doom of the proud nation of Edom and the restoration of God’s chosen people, Israel. The prophecy in the book was written in vivid, lucid, and forceful language. God fulfilled His word concerning judging Edom. Their rock fortress still stands, but their name and their nation have perished. Please look at the world map today! You will not find Edom on it as a nation. God completely wiped them out as He prophesied through Obadiah. 

The message in Obadiah is certainly relevant for our times. Just as the nation of Edom, in her pride, chose to live without God, so also nations in this present era are living without God. And just as God brought a devastating judgment upon Edom for her arrogance, so also He will do, if nations in our day continue to walk in their pride of heart. The prominent doctrines presented in Obadiah include: the person of God, the power of God, the people of God, possession of God, the punishment of God, the prediction of the day of the Lord, the preservation of God’s redeemed people, and the promise of God.

Although Obadiah is the smallest book of the Old Testament, it has several important lessons for God’s people today. It is therefore my prayer that the Holy Spirit will enable us to pay careful attention to the truths revealed in it. And that in doing so, He will draw us closer to God’s heart and deepen our walk with Him and our witness of Him in such a time as this. May God bless you as you listen to the verse by verse exposition of the rich and remarkable prophetic book of Obadiah! To listen to these messages, please this link:http://www.oldhost.yesuli.org/audio/MP3AudioLibraryObadiah.htm

 

Learning from the Book of Third John!

The epistle of Third John is the shortest book in the New Testament and the entire Bible. It contains 219 words and thirteen verses in the original. In fact, this personal letter is just long enough to fit a single sheet of papyrus (10 inches by 8 inches) conforming to the pattern of letters of that period. It is the sixth of seven general epistles in the New Testament, all of which are titled according to their author (namely James, 1st and 2nd Peter, 1st John, 2nd John, 3rd John, and Jude). The Letter of Third John is also the only New Testament book that does not directly mention Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit is not referenced. Bible Teacher, Author and Pastor Chuck Swindoll shares this poignant insight about Third John: “This is another postcard in the New Testament, but one that carries quite a wallop when it comes to telling God’s people to “straighten up” and seek unity.” Dr. McGee also makes this remark about the Letter of Third John: “This epistle deals with my life for God, and it has to do with walking and working in the truth. Love can be very sloppy, it can be misdirected, and it certainly can be misunderstood if it is not expressed within the boundary of truth.” The point of these quotes is simple and straightforward: Although Third John is the shortest book in the entire Bible, yet it is a great book with a great message. It’s great message calls on all true believers in Jesus Christ to living a life of balance:-the balance of love and truth. Often some Christians emphasize one of these two to the exclusion of the other. The result of this imbalance can be devastating. Churches often go through bitter and divisive battles when they lose their balance:-the balance of love and truth. The Lord Jesus Himself, the Head, Lord, Savior, Sanctifier, and Redeemer of the Church exemplified the balance of love and truth in His ministry on earth. His Church must follow in His footsteps. The church to which Gaius, the recipient of Third John belonged, was exhorted to maintain the balance of love and truth. The believers who were in this first century church were also charged to continue their practice of Christian hospitality as well as be steadfast in the face of opposition.

Certainly, the message in Third John  is relevant for our times. Just as the believers the apostle John exhorted to maintain the balance of love and truth, so also Christians today must endeavor to maintain the balance of love and truth in their walk with God. Just as the early church practiced Christian hospitality for sake of the gospel, so also the Church of today must do in order to advance the cause of Christ. Just as the early Christians were exhorted to be steadfast in the face of opposition, so also must believers in the twenty-first century Church be steadfast in the face of opposition. Just as the first century Church walked in the truth, so also the Church today must rely on the Holy Spirit to walk in the truth. Just as the first century Church faced dictatorial leaders like Diotrephes in her midst, so also will the twenty-first century churches face such leaders and must learn how to deal with them. The prominent doctrines vividly illustrated in Third John include: the person of God,  prayer, the prosperity of the believer, the pleasure of ministry, proper conduct in the truth, partnership in the gospel, the people of God, practice of hospitality, and the peace of God.

Third John is the smallest book in the entire Bible. But it has a great reservoir of relevant and practical lessons for God’s people today. It is therefore my prayer that the Holy Spirit will enable us to pay close attention to the truths revealed in it. And that, in doing so, He will draw us closer to God’s heart and deepen our worship of Him, walk with Him and our witness of Him in such a time as this. May God richly bless you as you listen to the verse by verse exposition of the smallest yet significant book of the Bible! To listen to the messages, please click this link:http://www.oldhost.yesuli.org/audio/MP3AudioLibraryThirdJohn.htm

 

Learning from the Book of Habakkuk!

 

Habakkuk is the second of three books in the Old Testament that begins with the letter H (the others being Hosea and Haggai). The name “Habakkuk” means “embracer” or “wrestler.” It signifies a person who embraces, or one who is embraced. If you please, you can call Habakkuk “Mr. Embracer.”  Actually, at the end of the book of Habakkuk his name as “an embracer” becomes appropriate as Habakkuk clings to the Lord his God regardless of his circumstances. The book of Habakkuk is unique in that it includes no oracle addressed to God’s chosen and covenant people. In fact, Habakkuk is the only minor prophet who never addressed the people directly. His book is a dialogue between the prophet and God. You see, God’s prophet spoke for God to men. But  Habakkuk reasoned earnestly with God about His dealings with men. Richard W. De Haan of “Our Daily Bread Ministries” shares this poignant insight about the prophet: “Habakkuk was not a self-centered person concerned only with the comfort and safety of himself and his family. As a true patriot, he was deeply distressed by the moral and spiritual conditions about him. He loved his nation, and knew it was moving ever closer to the precipice of destruction by continuing to break the laws of God. Therefore two anguished questions burst forth from his lips: How long? and Why?” Also, noted Bible Expositor James Montgomery Boice shares this thought provoking insight about the book of Habakkuk: “Habakkuk is profound because it raises deep questions about the workings of God in history-why God does what He does, why He does it in the way He does, and why He sometimes does nothing. It is also profound because of the answers God gives. God says that although the righteous may not understand everything He is doing in history, they nevertheless should live by faith in Him (Hab. 2:4). This statement is so important that it is picked up and quoted three times in the New Testament: twice by Paul (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11) and once by the author of Hebrews (Heb. 10:38).”

Clearly, these two quotations show how relevant the message of Habakkuk is for our times. Just as the prophet Habakkuk demonstrated true patriotism by crying out in anguish to God about the moral and spiritual conditions of his nation, so also believers today must show true patriotism by earnestly seeking God’s face for spiritual restoration of their nations . You see, true patriotism is not merely about waving our national flags, donning the colors of our national flags, and showing great emotion while singing our national anthems. It is far more than that. It is to be deeply concerned about the spiritual and moral conditions of our nation, calling upon God to rid the land of moral corruption and spiritual degeneration. Also, the message of Habakkuk is applicable in our day because God’s believing people today ask the questions found in Habakkuk: Why does evil seem to go unpunished for so long? Why does God sometimes reprove the less evil by sending an even greater evil? God’s people will benefit a great deal by learning from God’s responses to Habakkuk’s questions. The prominent doctrines taught in Habakkuk include: the person of God, the people of God, the purity of God, perversion of justice, the power of God, the plan of God, the punishment of God, the promise of God, the praise of God, and prayer.

Although Habakkuk is considered a minor prophet, yet his book contains several major spiritual lessons for God’s believing people today. It is therefore my prayer that the Holy Spirit will enable us to pay closer attention to its timeless principles and precepts for our own spiritual growth and good. And that, in doing so, He will change and conform us more into the blessed image of our Lord Jesus Christ in such a time as this. May God richly bless you as you listen to the verse by verse exposition of the profound and practical prophetic book of Habakkuk!

Habakkuk’s prophecy was received during the time in history when Assyria was beginning to weaken, and soon Babylon would be the world power. 

Please follow this link to hear the messages on Habakkuk:

http://www.oldhost.yesuli.org/audio/MP3AudioLibraryHabakkuk.htm

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God Shows His Favor to His Servants Even Through Complete Strangers!

 

“And when they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was Malta. And the natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.” (Acts 28: 1-2).

Paul and his fellow travelers had just come through a difficult and dangerous storm at sea. God had kept His word to Paul. During the storm, God made a promise to Paul. Not a hair of any those traveling on board the storm-tossed ship would perish (Acts 27:34). Paul experienced firsthand that God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent (Numbers 23:19). Perhaps, Paul had a journal in which he recorded the many times God kept His word to him. What a gracious God we have! He keeps His word to His believing child. This is the first lesson we discover in this passage. Let me ask you: do you have a record of the many times God has kept His word to you? If not, it’s not too late to begin to do so. This practice will not only remind you of God’s faithfulness, but it will also strengthen your faith in God and in His word. It will boost your confidence in God and in His truth. Your appreciation for God will also increase as you look back on how many times God had proved Himself to you.

There is a second spiritual lesson in this passage. That is: God shows His favor to His servants even through complete strangers. Having safely been brought through the storm of their lives, Paul and his fellow voyagers found themselves on an island called Malta. Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea between the island of  Sicily and North Africa, (to be specific, north of Libya) about 145 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Syracuse (which is on the southeast coast of the island of Sicily). With its fine natural harbors, Malta was a convenient haven for ships. First colonized by the Phoenicians, it was captured by the Greeks in 736 B.C. Later in 528 B.C., it was captured by the Carthaginians. After two hundred and eighty six years of Carthaginian rule, Malta was captured and conquered by the Romans in 242 B.C. The Romans were in control of the island when the story in Acts 28:1-2 occurred. Paul and his fellow travelers would be stranded on this island for three months (Acts 28:11). God knew what He had in store for Paul on this small island. If I am not mistaken, Paul never thought of visiting this island. But here he was. 

Paul’s first experience on this island was special and very encouraging. He and the others with him experienced God’s favor through people who were complete strangers to them. The word translated “natives” is from the Greek word “Barbaroi,” literally, barbarians. In other words, the islanders were foreigners to Paul and company. The stranded voyagers and the islanders didn’t know each other. It’s likely this is the first time they met each other. Yet, when Paul and company of over two hundred and seventy people arrived on the island, the islanders showed them unusual kindness. The word translated “kindness” is “philanthropia.” It derives from “philos” which means friend and “anthropos,” meaning man. It can be translated as human friendship. The word denotes that apparent and ready goodwill usually manifest in a friendly, considerate demeanor, and especially in the practice of hospitality, readiness to help, tenderheartedness, cherishing and maintaining friendship. Philanthropia, which is used in English as “philanthrophy,” is that disposition which does not always think of self, but takes thought for others, their needs and wishes. ~Adapted from The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible.

Although the islanders had every reason to be wary of the new arrivals, they chose not to think of themselves. They could have taken arms to ward off the “illegals” from their island. But they didn’t. Rather, they were eager and ready to help the stranded travelers. They took thought for their needs. They displayed extraordinary tenderheartedness toward the shipwrecked survivors. They practiced hospitality. They extended genuine compassion and kindness to all the travelers who were brought safely through the storm. The Bible was right to describe their kindness as extraordinary or unusual. Why? They knew nothing at all about the new arrivals, but they sprang into action to provide the help they desperately needed. Notice, the islanders didn’t even ask Paul and company to tell them why they had come to their island. They didn’t take them to a detention center to be processed by immigration officials before expressing kindness to them. Right then and there, they extended goodwill to them. How they did show their kindness and goodwill to the shipwreck survivors? It was pouring rain. The survivors were wet and cold. They needed warmth. So the islanders built a fire and welcomed all of them. On a cold and rainy day, nothing soothes like a warm fireplace. Paul and company had that fireplace on the beach. There is no doubt in my mind that God Himself put it into the hearts of the barbarian-islanders to show unusual kindness to the storm-survivors. He had purposed for His servant Paul to get to Rome safely and He would use every person and everything at His disposal to get him safely there. This is one of the blessings God extends to His messengers. In fact, the inspired writer of Acts, goes on to show us that the kindness they experienced on the island was not a one-time act. Later,  in verse 10, he wrote of how the islanders honored them with many marks of respect. And when they were ready to sail from the island, the islanders supplied them with all they needed for their journey to Rome. This was God at work using complete strangers to show unusual kindness and to provide for the needs of His faithful servants. At least they had known each other now for three months. But before Paul and company left, they experienced God’s favor through the islanders. Their three-month stay on the island was a season of experiencing God’s kindness through others. How encouraging for Paul!

Missionaries, ministers, and messengers of God, who are called of God to serve His purpose can be assured of this: God can and is able to show them His favor even through complete strangers. Many of God’s servants have testified of the many times God had shown them extraordinary kindness through people they rarely knew. Personally, I have experienced God’s favor and kindness through people I’ve met just for the first time in my life. I’ve been received into homes and shown extraordinary kindness. I’ve been shown considerate tenderheartedness by people I barely knew who donated a vehicle or gave funds toward a purchase of a vehicle for me to use for my travels in spreading the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the laptop I’m using today to write this article, and the previous ones’ I’ve had, are an expression of God’s unusual kindness to me through others. To God be the glory!

I am certain that God has also shown you unusual kindness through people you rarely even knew. Savor such stories! Save them! Share them with others to the praise of Gods glory both now and to the day of eternity!

 

Prolonged Suffering Often Limit God’s People from Laying Hold of God’s Promises!

“So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9).

In Exodus 6:6-8, God personally made the greatest promise ever found in the Old Testament to Moses. Moses was specifically charged by God to declare this promise to the oppressed sons of Israel. It was a promise full action. It was a promise signed and sealed by Yahweh, the sovereign of the universe, the self-existing God, the self-sufficient Lord of all. It was a promise in which God committed Himself to taking concrete and decisive action on behalf of His people. Indeed, it was an unconditional promise to Israel with seven “I will” statements. “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” “I will deliver you from their bondage.” “I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” “I will take you for My people.” “I will be your God.” “I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” “I will give it to you for a possession.” What a promise so full of action and commitment on the part of God! He promised here to rescue and redeem His people. He promised to bring His people from a place of bondage to a place of blessing. He promised to bring them out from their affliction to a place of abundance. He promised to be their personal God, and they, His own chosen and set apart people. One would have thought that hearing of such a great and glorious promise would result in shouts of jubilation and joy in the camp of Israel. But that was not the case. There were no shouts of joy and jubilation. There was no celebration. There were no songs of praise among the Israelites. There was only discouragement. Despondency took hold of the hearts of the people of Israel. As a result, they could not eagerly embrace God’s glorious promise to them. In fact, at this point, they didn’t expect God’s promise to make any difference in their difficult lives. As far as they were concerned, the promise was meaningless, worthless, useless, and out of touch to reality. Israel’s experience in this situation teaches us an important spiritual lesson:Distressing circumstances and prolonged suffering often limit God’s people from laying hold of God’s promises. In other words, tough and trying times in the lives of believers often make it difficult for them to take God at His word.

In obedience to God’s clear and concise command to him, Moses communicated the promise to the sons of Israel. That’s what God expects from His servant-leaders and all believers. He expects complete obedience from us. Moses was obedient. But if he thought his obedience to God would to lead to jubilation and a laying hold of God’s promise by the sons of Israel, he was greatly mistaken. The response Moses got upon faithfully declaring God’s promise to God’s people could be described in these terms: “long faces, closed ears, silent lips, and discouraged hearts.” No one fed off the promise to respond positively. There was no positive energy in the camp. There was no excitement among the people about taking God at His word. There was no talk of laying hold of God to fulfill His promise. There was no special praise and worship gathering to celebrate the promise of rescue and redemption from Egyptian bondage and oppression. There were no “Hallelujah songs” from the lips of the sons of Israel. Instead, there was a feeling of hopelessness, depression, discouragement, and despondency.

Please notice that the Bible says, “So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen.” Notice the conjunction “but.” It clearly indicates that Israel’s response upon hearing the promise was not consistent with God’s expectation. God expected them to take Him at His word. God expected them to trust His word to them in their tough and trying time. God expected them to turn their eyes from their distressing predicament and fix them fully upon Him. But they didn’t. Isn’t that the way it is with us also? When the going gets tough for us, we find it difficult to take God at His word. We fail to turn our eyes fully on God. We falter in these tough times to trust God’s word to us. Trustworthiness of God’s word is undermined. His rich and great promises to us seem worthless, useless, meaningless and out of touch to reality in times of prolonged hardship. This was where Israel found themselves thousands of years ago. This is where we also find ourselves when hard times and hardships persist in our lives. In such times, we find ourselves not at all enthused about God’s promises, let alone lay hold of them with the tenacity and determination of Jacob, who said to God, “I will not let You go unless You bless me” (Genesis 32:26).

Israel, we are told “did not listen.” The Hebrew word translated “listen” is shama. This is one of the most important verbs in the Hebrew Old Testament. It appears 1,160 times. Its main idea is perceiving a message or sensing a sound. It also means “to hear intelligently (with attention and obedience)”, “to give undivided listening attention,” “to lend an ear to,” to understand what one has heard,” “to give heed,” or “to obey.” Israel did not give undivided attention to what they heard from the mouth of Moses. They did not hear intelligently with attention and desire to obey God. They didn’t perceive the message. It went into one ear and out of the other without getting down into their hearts. Why? The Bible clearly and concisely tells us why. It says it was because of “their despondency and cruel bondage.” The Hebrew word translated “despondency” (Hebrew: qoser) literally means “shortness of spirit.” It also means “discouragement.” You see, the prolonged suffering had taken not only a physical toll on Israel, but also a spiritual toll. As they suffered cruelty and oppression at the hands of Pharaoh, their confidence in God and His promise plunged to a new low. Instead of focusing on God, they were focusing on their circumstances. It’s true, these were tough times for Israel. Yes, these were hard times for God’s people in Egypt. Indeed, their bondage was cruel. God knew that. That was exactly why He gave them this remarkable promise to redirect their focus on Him. Please listen, the more you focus on your circumstances rather than on God, the more you will experience “shortness of spirit” in your hardships. The more despondency and discouragement will take hold of your heart. The more your trust in God will sink to new lows. And the more difficult it will become for you to lay hold of His promise to you. In fact, it’s Satan great delight to see God’s believing people in a discouraged and despairing state. Why? Because he knows that when believers are discouraged or depressed, he can easily take advantage of them. He knows it’s easy for God’s people to doubt God’s goodness when they are discouraged. He leaves no stone unturned to create distrust in believers who are depressed. In our despondent state, he doesn’t relent from whispering into our ears: “You see, God doesn’t love you after all. If He did, you’d not have continued suffering for this long.” Furthermore, our chief enemy will exploit us in our discouraged state to create confusion and chaos in our minds. His goal is simple: to rob us of the privilege of rising above our circumstances and reaching out to receive what God has promised us in His grace.

Now the question is: how does the believer in Jesus rise above his distressing circumstances and diligently lay hold of God’s great and gracious promises to him? Only by the work of the Holy Spirit can God’s believing people rise above their circumstances to lay hold of God’s promises. No matter how distressing, discouraging, depressing, despairing, and despondent your circumstances are, if you are a genuine born-again believer, God has blessed you with His Holy Spirit. He is with you and in you. He has power to help you soar high above your circumstances. This is the work Israel needed in their lives at this crucial time. In His grace, God accomplished this work in their lives. They were able to rise above their despondency and take hold of God’s promises to them. In fact, before they left Egypt, they took God at His word by asking their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold and for clothing and plundered Egypt just as God promised them (see Exodus 3:22 and 12:35).

It was a long and weary battle. But God gave victory to His despondent people. What He did for them thousands of years ago, He is willing and more than able to do for you and me, who believe in His Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. After all, He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Today, turn your eyes upon Jesus in total reliance on the Holy Spirit! Take Jesus at His word! Trust Jesus to do what He has promised you! Tell Jesus that no matter how long it takes to bring about the fulfillment of His promise in your life, you will choose not to give in to discouragement and depression, only and always in His strength. For His word says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13)

 

Believers in Christ Can Count on God to Give What He’s Promised Them!

“And it will come about when you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, that you shall observe this rite…” (Exodus 12 :25; cf. 13:11).

Just before His very last plague on Egypt, that is, the death of all the first-born in the land of Egypt, God took time to institute the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread. God gave Moses specific instructions to communicate to the people of Israel regarding the celebration of these feasts to Him throughout their generations. On the tenth of the first month, each family or household is to select an unblemished lamb for themselves. The unblemished lamb is to be kept until the fourteenth day of the same month. At twilight, literally between the two evenings, the lamb is to be slaughtered for the celebration of the Lord’s Passover. For their first Passover, God instructed Moses to inform all Israel to take some of the blood of the lamb and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintels of the houses where they eat their Passover lambs. God explained that the blood would be a sign for them on their houses where they lived. Upon seeing the blood, He would pass over them. They would be safe from His destructive plague (see Exodus 12:1-13). However, in giving these specific instructions, God was not only concerned about the present, but also about the future of Israel in the Promised Land. Knowing the end from the beginning, God spoke of the day when Israel would settle in the Promised Land as their homeland. So, even before Israel would leave Egypt or take their first step toward the Promised Land, God made it clear to them that He expected them to keep the Passover in the Promised Land. As far as God was concerned, He would get Israel to the Promised Land. In other words, He would keep His word to His people. He would not fail them. He would not falter in fulfilling His promise of bringing them to the Land of Promise. With this as His motivation, God spoke these words to Israel through His prophet Moses: “And it will come about when you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, that you shall observe this rite” (Exodus 12:25). The main spiritual lesson preserved in this verse is simply this: God’s believing people can count on God to give what He has promised them.

Notice God begins by saying “when.” What’s the significance of this simple observation? It is to establish the certainty of what follows. God is saying, “it’s simple a matter of time before My promise to give you the land is fulfilled. Never doubt that. I am taking you to the Promised Land. I will make sure you get there. I will do everything in My power to give you that land as your homeland. Take Me at My word! Trust Me in this!” As if to further strengthen Israel’s faith in Him, God used the language of certainty to assure them of His intention of bringing them into the land. Please observe the words, “the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised.” There is no uncertainty in these words. These words are sure and steadfast. God is saying, “I will give you what I have promised you. I will do as I have spoken to you. I am not a man that I should lie, nor a son of man that I should change My mind. Oh Israel, My people, let this be known! What I have said, I will do. What I have spoken, I will also make good. I speak and I act. I promise and I fulfill. You can count on Me to give you what I have promised you, no matter how long it takes.”

Israel wandered 40 years in the wilderness. Not only that, there were those who rebelled against God and chose a leader to take them back to Egypt. Others grumbled and griped about the journey. Still, others made life so difficult for Moses and Aaron, God’s chosen and appointed leaders, by their jealousy and envy of them. The grumblers and gripers suffered the consequences of their sins. All died in the wilderness. But all these negativity on the part of Israel didn’t change God’s promise to them. He finally brought them into the Promised Land. Thank God, despite our fickleness, failures, and faults, He remains faithful to His promises. What a faithful God we have! What a promise-keeping God we have! What a gracious God we have!

Before Israel ever took their first step out of Egypt, God taught them a precious lesson. They could count on Him to keep His word to them. Actually, God repeated the lesson in Exodus 13:11 by saying: “When the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you…” Earlier, God said, “when you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised.” Now, He uses a stronger expression, “as He swore to you.” The repetition and the use of the stronger expression, “as He swore to you,” served to drive this spiritual lesson deep down into the hearts of the sons of Israel. But please understand that this lesson is not only for the sons of Israel. It is for all who believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. God’s believing people today, can also count on God to give them what He’s promised them. Why? It is God’s nature to fulfill His promises to His people. God is not interested in giving empty promises to His people. Presidents, prime ministers, parliamentarians, politicians, parents, even pastors, preachers, and people may give us empty promises. But believers can always count on God that He will indeed give them what He’s promised them. Why? No empty promise has ever come out of the holy mouth of God. He always gives His people promises He intends to make a reality in their lives.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, how convinced are you of God’s word of promise to you? How confident are you in God’s ability to do exactly as He’s spoken to you? How certain are you that God will do what He’s promised you? On a scale of one to ten, one being the lowest and ten being the highest, how would you rank your confidence in God’s ability to fulfill His promises to you? May we rely on the Holy Spirit to rise to the ranks of believers who count on God to give us what He’s promised us! May He not be ashamed of our confidence level in His ability to keep His word to us!

 

God Encourages the Believer in Order to Become His Instrument of Encouraging Others.

   

And yet now I urge you to keep up courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told….And until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish. And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food (Acts 27:22-25, 33-36).

  In the previous devotional message from the story of Paul’s shipwreck, we learned this precious lesson: God knows exactly when and how to encourage His believing servant in his time of darkness and difficulty. Today, I would like to focus on a second spiritual lesson arising from this blessed passage of Scripture, that is: God encourages His believing servant in his time of darkness in order to encourage others in their time of distress. 

Facing a time of difficulty and darkness in his life, where all hope of being delivered from a terrible storm at sea was gradually abandoned, God sent His angelic messenger to bring much needed encouragement to His servant Paul. God knew Paul needed His encouragement. While it might have seemed to us that God’s encouragement took longer in coming, as far God was concerned, it came just at the right time. God did not fail Paul. God did not disappoint Paul for trusting in Him during his time of difficulty and darkness. It is comforting to know that the God who did not fail to encourage Paul in his time darkness, will also not disappoint us who are faithfully looking to Him for His encouragement in our time of distress and darkness. He will bring His encouragement to us just at the right time.

On that encouraging note, please carefully observe that after Paul was encouraged by God, he in turn was used by God to bring encouragement and hope to the discouraged and hopeless voyagers on a storm-tossed ship. Earlier, before Paul disclosed to the men on board the ship that an angel had appeared to him, he exhorted them with these words: “And yet now I urge you to keep up courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship” (Acts 27:22). Please notice the words “Now I urge you to keep up your courage.” No doubt, the men on board had lost not only their hope but also their courage. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul, who had himself been encouraged by God was now being used as God’s instrument to bring encouragement to the sailors and soldiers, the passengers and prisoners, and to the centurion and the captain of the ship. After telling them that an angel of God had appeared to him with a message that they would all safely come through the storm, Paul followed up his first exhortation with a second. Speaking with great conviction of heart, he declared, “therefore, keep up your courage, men” (Acts 27:25). The Greek verb translated “keep up your courage” in verse 22 and 25 is “euthumeo.” It literally means to be of good cheer, to cheer up, be cheerful, or be in good spirits. The repetition of this verb stresses the teaching that God encourages His believing servant in his time of darkness in order to encourage others. In other words, God encourages the believer to be an encourager. 

The Holy Spirit’s work to bring encouragement to the discouraged and hopeless men on board the storm-tossed ship did not end with Paul’s two exhortations to them to be of good cheer. It went further. The Bible tells us that “until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish” (Acts 27:33-34). Please notice the repeated use of the verb “encourage” in these verses. The repetition teaches us again that Paul’s encouragement of the discouraged people on board was an outflow of God’s encouragement of him. In other words, Paul was an effective encourager, simply because God had Himself encouraged him. The Greek verb “encourage” is “parakaleo.” It is an important verb. It is used for every kind of calling to a person which is meant to produce a particular effect; comfort, exhort. It is used to beseech with a stronger force than the verb “ask” or “request.” Paul really got himself into encouraging his fellow travelers. Indeed, he was passionate about cheering them up. He was not content with the fact that he had been encouraged by God. He wanted the people on board the ship to experience the encouragement he received from God. Now the question is: Did Paul succeed in cheering the spirits of his fellow travelers? The Bible tells us that he did. “And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food” (Acts 27:35-36). The verb translated “were encouraged” in verse 36 comes from “euthumeo” not “parakaleo.” It should therefore literally be translated “and all of them became cheerful or were in good spirits.” God had encouraged Paul in his time of difficulty. but God has also used him to encourage others in their time of distress.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the same principle is taught but in reference to comfort. God comforts believers in all their affliction, not just for them to be comfortable but to be comforters. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we are comforted by God.” Paul understood the importance of receiving both God’s encouragement and comfort and allowing these blessings to flow through him to impact the lives of others. I wonder what would have happened if Paul had not allowed the Holy Spirit to use him to impact his fellow voyagers with the encouragement he had received from God. Certainly, a different story would have been told. But thank God, Paul yielded to the Spirit of God and became God’s instrument of encouraging people who were hopeless in their time of darkness and distress.

In your time of darkness and distress as a believer in Jesus Christ, there is one thing you can count on. At the right time, God will give you the encouragement and comfort you need. That is a guarantee. It doesn’t matter how dark and discouraging the situation is. God will in His grace come to you and bring into your heart the encouragement you need to move forward in His purposes. He did that for Paul and countless followers of Christ. But remember God does not encourage us just to stay encouraged. His goal for encouraging us is to prepare us to cheer up others in their discouraged and distressed circumstances. In other words, God provides opportunities for us to pass on His encouragement to others. Why? He loves them. He wants His best for them as well. He has their best interests at heart. God who sent His angel to encourage Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty hasn’t changed. Has God encouraged you of late in your time of distress? I trust that you poured out your heart in thanksgiving to God. But please understand that that’s not where it should end. God’s goal for encouraging you is to prepare you to be His instrument of encouragement to others who are discouraged with life. There are many around you who are discouraged and feeling hopeless. God has already prepared you to impact them with the encouragement He had given you. Lean on the Holy Spirit dwelling in you to make yourself available for God to use. Look for God’s opportunities to pass on His encouragement to the discouraged and distressed. Let God’s Spirit lead you to the person God wants you to touch with His encouragement through you. Learn from Paul’s example of being God’s instrument of encouraging others with His encouragement.

 

 

Spiritual Principles from God’s Truth

God Can and Does Bring Much Good out of Evil

“But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains were unfastened. And when the jailer had been roused out of sleep and had seen the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here!’ And he called for lights and rushed in and, trembling with fear, he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.’ And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house. And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household. And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household” (Acts 16:25-34).

The above passage is a classic example of an important spiritual principle: God can and does bring much good out of evil. There was no doubt that Paul and Silas encountered evil when they went to Philippi to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. After casting out a demon from a slave girl who brought big bucks to her owners, all hell broke loose upon God’s committed messengers. They were seized. Shamelessly and senselessly dragged. Slandered. Struck with many blows. Finally, they were shut up in the most secured place in the Philippian prison. Of course, Satan was behind all these. He was opposing God’s purposes and plans. He wanted to stop the spread of the life-changing Good News. His evil intention was at work behind the scenes. His wicked intention was to thwart God’s work through God’s workers. His devilish plan was to hinder sinners from finding freedom and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. His purpose was to continue to hold sinners in slavery to himself. His diabolical goal was to rob the people of Philippi from receiving the gift of eternal life in Jesus Christ. In fact, he wasn’t pleased at all when Lydia and her household believed in the Lord and were baptized. So he doubled up his efforts against God’s messengers to Philippi. His efforts “paid off”. Paul and Silas are now shut up in prison. They no longer have the freedom to spread the Good News. Satan was satisfied. But God was not finished.

In fact, God permitted all the evil Paul and Silas experienced because He had a greater purpose to accomplish in the Philippian prison. He will bring much good out of the evil that is meant against His faithful messengers. I am not sure if Paul and Silas knew at that moment that God was going to do that. Whether they knew or not, they refused to hold a “pity-party” for themselves in their prison cell. Rather, they raised up their voices in a “praise-party” to the Lord. Their praises rang through the prison halls and cells. Prisoners heard for the first time believers’ praise of God even in a difficult and distressing circumstance. Not long after the “praise-party” to the Lord began, God decided it was time to flex His muscles. All along, God had been patiently waiting for this moment to display His power and might to bring much good out of the evil suffered by His servants. At His command, a powerful earthquake struck. The foundations of the prison house were shaken. The earthquake was precisely measured by God to shake the prison house, not to shatter it into pieces. That is a miracle in itself. Windows were not shattered, nor the ceilings neither the doors. The doors, however, were opened. Everyone’s chains came loose. It was at this point things got very interesting. The jailer woke up from his slumber. He had thought that this night was going to follow the normal routine. Lock down the prisoners. Leave nothing to chance. Loiter around for awhile and stretch his legs. Look forward to a peaceful night without incident. Lounge in his chair and doze off until morning. But this was not to be. On this night, God didn’t let the jailer have a normal night of duty. This was the night God had appointed from eternity to bring the jailer and his household to salvation.

When the jailer came to the stunning realization that the prison doors were opened, he decided to commit suicide with his own sword rather than face Rome’s sharp sword of execution. He knew the Roman law very well. When a prisoner escapes on one’s watch, the jailer must pay with his own life. Just before the jailer took his own life based on a wrong assumption (he had wrongly assumed that all the prisoners had escaped:-by the way, most people who commit suicide do so on faulty assumptions), Paul saw the danger and shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” Having called for lights, the jailer rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He asked Paul and Silas one of the most important questions of life. “What must I do to be saved?” Without any hesitation, Paul and Silas clearly, concisely, and convincingly showed the jailer the way of salvation. They made it clear to him that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ through simple, child-like trust in Him. Having explained the way of salvation to the jailer, God Himself went to work. He brought much good out of the evil Paul and Silas experienced by saving the jailer and his household. The jailer demonstrated the genuineness of his salvation, not only by submitting to water baptism but also by showing kindness to Paul and Silas. He washed their wounds. Brought them into his own house. Set a meal before the hungry messengers of God. I don’t know what conversation took place between Paul and Silas at that “after midnight dinner.” They must have looked at each other in shock. Perhaps at this point the lesson would have sank in. “Trust Me, My servants! I am the God who specializes in bringing much good out of the evil that is meant against My servants! I am in the business of turning obstacles into opportunities for My servants! Let that not escape your hearts.”

That message is for us as well. Have you started out in obedience to God and have been attacked by the enemy? Are you facing obstacles in your path of duty? Do you feel like you have been “shut in prison” and can’t do what God has called you to do? Are you experiencing satanic opposition in the ministry God has graciously given you? Do you feel like all hell has broken loose on you after responding to God’s voice to serve His purpose? Take heart! Turn your eyes upon Jesus and praise Him! Trust Him to bring much good out of the evil you have encountered and are encountering! Take Him at His word to turn the obstacles into opportunities for you. Our God is trustworthy and He will also bring it to pass for you as He did for Paul and Silas!

 

 

Obedience that Is Acceptable to God Must Be on His Terms!

So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh, and he said to them, ‘Go, serve the LORD your God! Who are the ones that are going?’ And Moses said, ‘We shall go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast for the LORD. Then he said to them, ‘Thus may the LORD be with you, if I ever let your little ones go! Take heed, for evil is in your mind. Not so! Go now, the men among you, and serve the LORD, for that is what you desire.’ So they were driven out from Pharaoh’s presence…Then Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, ‘Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you'” (Exodus 10:8-11, 24).

This passage teaches us an important lesson about obedience. It is a timeless spiritual lesson that is very crucial for the believer’s success in life. Obedience that is acceptable to God must be on His terms, not on man’s terms.

Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, was a powerful ruler of his time. He was regarded as a “god.” But he is now about to learn that obedience on his own terms is not acceptable to Yahweh. When God sent Moses to Egypt to rescue His people from Egyptian bondage, He gave him a message to Pharaoh. It was a simple and straightforward message. “Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1). The Hebrew word for “people” (‘am) also means “a people (as a congregated unit),” “a nation,”, “a community,” “inhabitants,” or “the populace.” Usually it denotes a group of people which is larger than a tribe or a clan, but less numerous than a race. An ‘am is a group which has certain unified, sustained relationship within itself. It may be characterized by religious fellowship (Gen. 17:14), a material relationship (Gen. 17:16), an ancestral relationship (Gen. 25:8, 17; 49:33), family ties (Gen. 36:6), social inter- relationships (Num. 5:27) or adoption (Ruth 1:16). The first time when God referred to the descendants of Abraham as “My people” was Exodus 3:7ff. ~Adapted from the Hebrew Greek Study Bible

The point of bringing out the Hebrew definition of the Hebrew word for “people” is to make it clear that Pharaoh clearly understood that when God sent His word to him to let His people go, it meant the whole congregated unit of the sons of Israel. It meant all who are Abraham’s descendants. It meant the nation of Israel as a whole. It meant all who had family ties as Hebrews. This point was not lost on Pharaoh. He knew what God meant when He said, “Let My people go.”

However, after the devastating plague of locusts, the eighth plague on Egypt, Pharaoh’s officials became impatient with him. They questioned him: “How long will this man be a snare to us? Let the men go, that they may serve the LORD their God. Do you not realize Egypt is destroyed?” (Exodus 10:7). The Hebrew words for “the men” in verse 7 and verse 11 (highlighted in blue) are different. The word in verse 7 is “ha’anashim” which derives from “enosh.” It means an individual man or human being; man in general, mankind. The one in verse 11 is “ha’gebarim” which derives from “geber.” This word means “man, valiant man, male person, boy, husband, warrior.” A “geber” was a male at the very peak of his natural strength. The distinction between “enosh” and “geber” is important. This important distinction is not readily seen in our English translations. This is where a basic knowledge of the original language is advantageous. Pharaoh’s officials advised him to let the general population of Israel go. But he didn’t accept their advice to him. Rather, he wanted only the men who were valiant warriors to go. Pharaoh was smart. His thinking was this: “Moses, take the strong and stout men of your people and go. And leave the weak behind.” He wanted the strong and valiant men of Israel to leave Egypt and the rest, the elderly men, women, young boys and girls, and children to be left behind. This way, Pharaoh would not be faced with any uprising from the sons of Israel. Even if there was, Pharaoh’s army would easily crush any such opposition arising from such a weak camp.

The point here is that Pharaoh was obeying God on his own terms. Yes, he declared, “Go, serve the LORD.” But he would not allow all of God’s people to go, only the valiant warriors among them. But this was not acceptable in God’s sight. Moses knew that. So, he confidently spelled out to Pharaoh, “We shall go with our young and our old; with our sons and our daughters, with our flocks and our herds we will go, for we must hold a feast for the LORD” (Exodus 10:9).

Later, after three days of blinding darkness in the land of Egypt, “Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, ‘Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you'” (Exodus 10:24). Again, Pharaoh was obeying God on his own terms, which of course, is not acceptable to God. Pharaoh wanted Israel to leave behind their livestock. Remember, earlier, in the fifth plague, the plague of livestock, all of Egypt’s livestock perished. But none of Israel’s perished (Exodus 9:1-6). Pharaoh’s motive is obvious. He wants to continue eating meat. He wants steaks, prime ribs, kebobs, etc. to chow on. He doesn’t want to be stuck with a vegetarian diet. So after telling Moses “Go, serve the LORD,” he says, “By the way, leave your flocks and herds behind. Even your women and children, in addition to the strong men among you, can go. Moses, I think I have made myself clear to you on this point. This is how far, I’m willing to obey your God.”

No matter how Pharaoh argued his case, Yahweh was not impressed. He would not lower His standards. Obedience must be on His terms, not on man’s terms. Yahweh will never tolerate man’s discussion or debate on His terms of obedience. His terms of obedience will never be negotiated. When it comes to obeying His word, God is not looking for a “compromised-deal.” Rather, He expects complete obedience, that is, doing exactly as He has commanded. Nothing less! This was the lesson Pharaoh learned the hard way. Without fear or favor, Moses declared to him, “not a hoof will be left behind” (Exodus 10:26).

But obeying God on His terms is a critical lesson for the believer in Jesus Christ. If we are going to live like our Savior, who obeyed God on God’s terms all throughout His earthly life to Gethsemane, where He prayed, “Not My will, but Yours be done” (Matthew 26:39), we must also determine in our hearts that we will not negotiate God’s terms of obedience once they are made clear to us. How would you describe your personal life of obedience? Would you say, you consistently obey God on His terms? Would you say your life is marked by complete obedience to God? Or would you say you obey God on your own terms-which are favorable to you? Remember, obedience that brings a big smile to God’s face is that which is based on His terms only.

 

God Speaks to His Believing Child in Order to Reveal His Will to Him!

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh’…God spoke further to Moses and said to him, ‘I am the LORD'” (Exodus 6:1-2).

One of the clearest teachings of the Bible is found in this brief passage. It is simple and straightforward. Yet, it’s significant. The lesson is this: God speaks to His chosen servant in order to reveal His will to him.

Every year, for the last twenty-two years of my life, God has given me the privilege of reading through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. One of the spiritual lessons God has taught and continue to teach me is that He is the God who speaks to His believing child. He is the God who communicates with His people to make known to them His purposes and plans. Perhaps, no one was blessed like Moses, who learned this precious lesson and enjoyed its blessed fruits. God spoke to him again and again. He learned that when God’s servant listens, God speaks to him. Whenever, I get to Exodus to Deuteronomy, I look forward to the Spirit’s work of teaching me afresh that the God who converted, cleansed, consecrated, called, and commissioned me into His service is a God who speaks to His chosen servant in order to make His will known to him. Repeatedly, the Bible says, “the LORD spoke to Moses” or “the LORD said to Moses and Aaron.” In fact, I have not yet taken the time to count exactly how many times these expressions are used in the Pentateuch. I would like to encourage you to take careful note of these expressions the next time you read through the Bible, the Pentateuch in particular. It would amaze you how many times they are used. Certainly, the repetition is to emphasize to God’s believing people that their God is in the business of speaking to them in order to make known His will to them.

From the burning bush, God began to teach Moses this important lesson. And throughout their journey in the wilderness, God deeply impressed this lesson on Moses’ heart. God had specifically told Moses that when the tabernacle is constructed, He would Himself meet with him to speak with him and to him. We find this in Exodus. “And there I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 25:22). “It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the doorway of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak with you” (Exodus 29:42).

You see, one of the main purposes of building the tent of meeting or the tabernacle, was for God to communicate to His chosen people. In our zeal and passion to study the significance of all the various objects of the tabernacle, we often overlook this main purpose. Communication! God’s desire to speak to His people! Unlike other so-called gods who have eyes but do not see, ears but do not hear, mouths but do not speak, Yahweh, the sovereign God of the universe, the self-existing God, the self-sufficient Ruler of the nations, sees, hears, and speaks to His people. How encouraging! In fact, the whole Bible can be accurately described as the record of what God has spoken. That’s what it is. It’s about what Yahweh has said to mankind.

God speaks to His people. Please notice what the Bible says in Exodus 6:1-2: “Then the LORD said to Moses… Godspoke further to Moses.” Please observe that whenever God speaks, it is specifically directed to a person. He doesn’t speak aimlessness. He speaks directly to a person. The object of the verbs “said” and “spoke” is Moses. The verb “spoke” (Hebrew: dabar) is one of the most general words in the entire Hebrew Old Testament. The verb occurs 1,100 times. It is one of the basic words for “say” and “speak.” About thirty different English words are used to translate it in the K. J. V. Mental or oral communication is the main idea. ~Adapted from the Hebrew Greek Study Bible

Moses enjoyed the privilege of God speaking to him. The Bible itself says of Moses: “If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD, shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household; with him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD” (Numbers 12:6-8). But please understand that the privilege of hearing the God who speaks is not reserved for a spiritual giant like Moses. Joshua learned from Moses’ example. Before the conquest of Jericho, Joshua, had an encounter with the captain of the host of the LORD. Having fallen on his face to the earth before this divine figure, Joshua asked an important question that revealed that he had learned from Moses’ example. He asked: “What has my lord to say to his servant?” (Joshua 5:14). Samuel also learned and enjoyed the blessed privilege of hearing God speak to him personally. Eli, the old priest, taught him to say, “Speak, LORD, Your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Other prophets and kings and ordinary individuals in Israel also enjoyed the blessed privilege of hearing God speak to them.

Perhaps, you are asking: “Can believers in Jesus expect God to speak to them today?” This is an important practical question. It is however, not a question to be debated merely for the sake of debate. The resounding answer to this question is that God speaks to believers today. Think of it! He is the God of communication. Communication originated with Him. Moreover, He has shown throughout the Bible that He longs and loves to communicate with the people He created in His own image. In fact, the inspired writer of Hebrews summarized God’s love and longing to communicate with His people in these words: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son…” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The writer of Hebrews emphasized that God spoke to the generations before them. But God didn’t stop there. He continued to communicate to generations after the fathers who are living in “these last days.” The inspired writer is simply saying, God hasn’t cut-off His communication line with His people. The line is still open, if only they would listen to Him. Therefore, present day believers can expect God to speak to them too. Why? It’s God’s nature to communicate with His believing people. He longs and loves to speak to them.

Having established the fact that believers can expect God to speak to them, another important question arises at this juncture. How does God communicate with believers today? Today God speaks to believers primarily through His word, the Bible. Every time we approach the Bible, we should pray like Joshua or Samuel. “What has my Lord to say to His servant?” “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.” God also speaks through the impression of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit residing in the believer, is our Counselor and Guide. He speaks to the believer to guide and lead him or her into God’s purposes. God speaks today through Spirit-filled believers, such as pastors, shepherds, Bible teachers, and believers who are in tune with Him. God also speaks today to believers through circumstances. In other words, God directs the path of His believing child through the circumstances he or she faces in life. I wanted to be a professor in civil engineering, but God orchestrated the circumstances of my life to accept His call to become a minister of His precious Word. Lastly, when God chooses, He can speak to believers through dreams and visions. But the believer must be vigilant and aware that not every dream or vision is of God. Discernment of the Spirit is greatly needed to sort out which dream or vision is of God and which is not.

Now the question is: As a believer in Jesus Christ, do you consistently expect God to speak to you and lead you into His will for your life? Is it your regular practice to ask God, “Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening, whenever you open your Bible? Do you ask Him: “What has my Lord to say to His servant?”

Personally, two hymns by Frances Ridley Havergal have been a blessing to me. In my personal time with the Lord, whenever God brings this principle to my attention, I sing them in my time of worship to allow the Spirit to impress His teaching about this principle deeper on my heart. The first one is “Master, Speak, Thy Servant Heareth.” The second one is “Lord, Speak to Me.” These hymns are rarely sang in churches today. But, oh, how rich they are to my soul! Please prayerfully ponder their words and use them in your personal and private time of seeking God. I have included the first three stanzas of the first hymn and the first stanza of the second.

“Master, speak, thy servant heareth, waiting for thy gracious word, longing for thy voice that cheereth; Master, let it now be heard. I am listening, Lord, for thee: what has thou to say to me?

Speak to me by name, O Master, let me know it is to me; speak, that I may follow faster, with a step more firm and free, where the shepherd leads the flock in the shadow of the rock.

Master, speak: and make me ready, when thy voice is truly heard, with obedience glad and steady still to follow every word. I am listening, Lord, for thee: Master, speak, O speak to me!”

The first stanza of the second hymn reads: “Lord, speak to me, that I may speak In living echoes of Thy tone; As Thou has sought, so let me seek Thy erring children lost and lone.”

God speaks to His believing child to reveal His will to him or her. What a privilege! Are you enjoying this privilege as a believer in Jesus Christ? Remember, God longs and loves to speak with you and to you. It’s His nature to communicate with His believing people. Today, through the help of the Holy Spirit living in you, position yourself to listen to God! Pause before Him! Pay close attention to His still small voice! Promptly obey what God’s Sprit says to you!

 

Opposition Is Simply an Opportunity for God to Display His Power!

“Then the LORD said to Moses, Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that My wonders will be multiplied in the land of Egypt”(Exodus 11:9).

Just before God performed His last plague in Egypt, He took the time to instruct Moses and Aaron concerning an important spiritual lesson. The lesson has to do with how God wants His believing people to view the oppositions they face in life while doing His will. You see, God knows that as His obedient people, we will face opposition from the enemy. As such, He wants us to operate with His perspective. God is well aware that encountering enemy opposition without seeing things from His point of view is a recipe for doubt, discouragement, despair, despondency, depression, and defeat. So God, literally took a time out to impress on the hearts of Moses and Aaron this important spiritual lesson. That is, opposition of the enemies of God’s people is simply an opportunity for God to display His power.

Moses and Aaron learned this lesson and lived it out in their lives. It is now our turn to learn it and live it out in our lives. God says to Moses, “Let this lesson be impressed upon your heart. When you are doing what I have called you to do but come under enemy opposition, I’ve got your back. The opposition you face is but an opportunity for Me to show My power and bring glory to Myself. Hold onto this perspective so that you may not fall into despair and discouragement.”

Again and again, Pharaoh refused to obey God’s direct command to let His people go and serve Him. as a result, God brought plague after another upon Egypt. But He has one more to perform to show that enemy opposition to His people is simply an opportunity to display His power and might. Please observe that God says, “so that My wonders will be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” The expression “so that” clearly shows that God considers Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal as an opportunity to display His might. It’s an opportunity to show Pharaoh that his stiff-neckedness and stubborn rebellion against His orders will only serve to advance His purpose of multiplying His wonders in the land of Egypt. In other words, God is saying, “the opposition of Pharaoh is not going to hinder Me. It will not hold Me back. It will not derail My plans and purposes for My people. It will not tie My hands from moving to act on behalf of My chosen people. It will not slow Me down. Rather, it will only spur Me to display My power in such a way as to bring glory to Myself.”

The Hebrew word translated “wonders” comes from “mopheth.” This masculine Hebrew noun occurs in the plural form. It means wonderful deed, miraculous sign, miracle, portent, omen, mighty act of God. The word also has a bad sense. For example, Israel became a spectacular demonstration, an object lesson, of disobeying God (see Deuteronomy 28:46; Psalm 71:7; Isaiah 8:18; 20:3; Ezekiel 12:6, 11; 24:24, 27; Zechariah 3:8). Sometimes it is an authenticating sign. The use of this word here in Exodus 11:9 has the bad sense meaning. God is saying He is going to act in such a way as to make Egypt a spectacular demonstration, or an object lesson of disobedience.

Actually, this is not the only time God taught Moses and Aaron this lesson. Exodus 7:3 was the first time God presented this lesson to them. There God says: “But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart that I may multiply My signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.” Please I want you to notice that this was before Moses and Aaron performed any sign in Egypt or before any of God’s plagues came upon Egypt. How interesting is that! God first taught them before they faced the first enemy opposition. And just before His final plague, God repeated the lesson. You see, Moses and Aaron didn’t quite get it the first time. You remember, how discouraged they were. Moses even expressed doubt in his call and mission to be used by God to deliver Israel from Egyptian slavery. So just before God ended His plagues on Egypt, He repeated the lesson. Opposition of the enemies of My people is simply an opportunity for Me to display My power and bring glory to Myself. How patient is our God! How persistent is our Lord! How persevering is our Shepherd in instructing us in His ways! Personally, I am very thankful that God doesn’t give up on impressing His precious truths on our hearts.

This lesson is critical for every believer in Jesus Christ. When we are doing God’s work God’s way, we will certainly face opposition from the enemy. The Lord Jesus Himself said to His disciples in the upper room: “In this world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). His point is simply that opposition will come into the lives of His true followers. But they can be assured of this: they will overcome because He overcame all oppositions. Also, through the Holy Spirit, Paul said: “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). As believers in Christ who are obeying God, we will experience opposition. That’s an established fact. But the question is: Do we have God’s perspective on the oppositions we face in our Christian life? Opposition comes in all kinds of forms. Opposition will come from self-seekers and self-promoters in the church. These will be seeking to establish their own agenda in the church, not God’s agenda. It’s a real opposition for the godly leaders in the church. Opposition can also arise from your own family, your friends, your workplace, your school, your teammates, and of course, directly from the devil himself. How do you view such oppositions? A sign that God has abandoned you? A sign that God has withdrawn His assistance from you? Or as an opportunity for God to display His power on your behalf for the praise of His glory? Remember, encountering enemy opposition without this perspective is a recipe for doubt, despair, discouragement, despondency, depression, and defeat. Let the Holy Spirit impress upon your heart today, that, as a child of God, who is walking in obedience to God: opposition is simply is an opportunity for God to display His power on your behalf for the praise of His glory! If this lesson hasn’t sunk in the first time for you, don’t despair! God is incredibly patient. He will repeat the lesson for you until it is deeply impressed on your heart. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

 

Believers in Christ Can Count on God to Give What He’s Promised Them!

“And it will come about when you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, that you shall observe this rite…” (Exodus 12 :25; cf. 13:11).

Just before His very last plague on Egypt, that is, the death of all the first-born in the land of Egypt, God took time to institute the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread. God gave Moses specific instructions to communicate to the people of Israel regarding the celebration of these feasts to Him throughout their generations. On the tenth of the first month, each family or household is to select an unblemished lamb for themselves. The unblemished lamb is to be kept until the fourteenth day of the same month. At twilight, literally between the two evenings, the lamb is to be slaughtered for the celebration of the Lord’s Passover. For their first Passover, God instructed Moses to inform all Israel to take some of the blood of the lamb and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintels of the houses where they eat their Passover lambs. God explained that the blood would be a sign for them on their houses where they lived. Upon seeing the blood, He would pass over them. They would be safe from His destructive plague (see Exodus 12:1-13). However, in giving these specific instructions, God was not only concerned about the present, but also about the future of Israel in the Promised Land. Knowing the end from the beginning, God spoke of the day when Israel would settle in the Promised Land as their homeland. So, even before Israel would leave Egypt or take their first step toward the Promised Land, God made it clear to them that He expected them to keep the Passover in the Promised Land. As far as God was concerned, He would get Israel to the Promised Land. In other words, He would keep His word to His people. He would not fail them. He would not falter in fulfilling His promise of bringing them to the Land of Promise. With this as His motivation, God spoke these words to Israel through His prophet Moses: “And it will come about when you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised, that you shall observe this rite” (Exodus 12:25). The main spiritual lesson preserved in this verse is simply this: God’s believing people can count on God to give what He has promised them.

Notice God begins by saying “when.” What’s the significance of this simple observation? It is to establish the certainty of what follows. God is saying, “it’s simple a matter of time before My promise to give you the land is fulfilled. Never doubt that. I am taking you to the Promised Land. I will make sure you get there. I will do everything in My power to give you that land as your homeland. Take Me at My word! Trust Me in this!” As if to further strengthen Israel’s faith in Him, God used the language of certainty to assure them of His intention of bringing them into the land. Please observe the words, “the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised.” There is no uncertainty in these words. These words are sure and steadfast. God is saying, “I will give you what I have promised you. I will do as I have spoken to you. I am not a man that I should lie, nor a son of man that I should change My mind. Oh Israel, My people, let this be known! What I have said, I will do. What I have spoken, I will also make good. I speak and I act. I promise and I fulfill. You can count on Me to give you what I have promised you, no matter how long it takes.”

Israel wandered 40 years in the wilderness. Not only that, there were those who rebelled against God and chose a leader to take them back to Egypt. Others grumbled and griped about the journey. Still, others made life so difficult for Moses and Aaron, God’s chosen and appointed leaders, by their jealousy and envy of them. The grumblers and gripers suffered the consequences of their sins. All died in the wilderness. But all these negativity on the part of Israel didn’t change God’s promise to them. He finally brought them into the Promised Land. Thank God, despite our fickleness, failures, and faults, He remains faithful to His promises. What a faithful God we have! What a promise-keeping God we have! What a gracious God we have!

Before Israel ever took their first step out of Egypt, God taught them a precious lesson. They could count on Him to keep His word to them. Actually, God repeated the lesson in Exodus 13:11 by saying: “When the LORD brings you to the land of the Canaanite, as He swore to you and to your fathers, and gives it to you…” Earlier, God said, “when you enter the land which the LORD will give you, as He has promised.” Now, He uses a stronger expression, “as He swore to you.” The repetition and the use of the stronger expression, “as He swore to you,” served to drive this spiritual lesson deep down into the hearts of the sons of Israel. But please understand that this lesson is not only for the sons of Israel. It is for all who believe in Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. God’s believing people today, can also count on God to give them what He’s promised them. Why? It is God’s nature to fulfill His promises to His people. God is not interested in giving empty promises to His people. Presidents, prime ministers, parliamentarians, politicians, parents, even pastors, preachers, and people may give us empty promises. But believers can always count on God that He will indeed give them what He’s promised them. Why? No empty promise has ever come out of the holy mouth of God. He always gives His people promises He intends to make a reality in their lives.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, how convinced are you of God’s word of promise to you? How confident are you in God’s ability to do exactly as He’s spoken to you? How certain are you that God will do what He’s promised you? On a scale of one to ten, one being the lowest and ten being the highest, how would you rank your confidence in God’s ability to fulfill His promises to you? May we rely on the Holy Spirit to rise to the ranks of believers who count on God to give us what He’s promised us! May He not be ashamed of our confidence level in His ability to keep His word to us!

 

 

Sharing God’s Truths

God Shows His Favor to His Servants Even Through Complete Strangers!

 

“And when they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was Malta. And the natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.” (Acts 28: 1-2).

Paul and his fellow travelers had just come through a difficult and dangerous storm at sea. God had kept His word to Paul. During the storm, God made a promise to Paul. Not a hair of any those traveling on board the storm-tossed ship would perish (Acts 27:34). Paul experienced firsthand that God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent (Numbers 23:19). Perhaps, Paul had a journal in which he recorded the many times God kept His word to him. What a gracious God we have! He keeps His word to His believing child. This is the first lesson we discover in this passage. Let me ask you: do you have a record of the many times God has kept His word to you? If not, it’s not too late to begin to do so. This practice will not only remind you of God’s faithfulness, but it will also strengthen your faith in God and in His word. It will boost your confidence in God and in His truth. Your appreciation for God will also increase as you look back on how many times God had proved Himself to you.

There is a second spiritual lesson in this passage. That is: God shows His favor to His servants even through complete strangers. Having safely been brought through the storm of their lives, Paul and his fellow voyagers found themselves on an island called Malta. Malta is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea between the island of  Sicily and North Africa, (to be specific, north of Libya) about 145 kilometers (90 miles) southwest of Syracuse (which is on the southeast coast of the island of Sicily). With its fine natural harbors, Malta was a convenient haven for ships. First colonized by the Phoenicians, it was captured by the Greeks in 736 B.C. Later in 528 B.C., it was captured by the Carthaginians. After two hundred and eighty six years of Carthaginian rule, Malta was captured and conquered by the Romans in 242 B.C. The Romans were in control of the island when the story in Acts 28:1-2 occurred. Paul and his fellow travelers would be stranded on this island for three months (Acts 28:11). God knew what He had in store for Paul on this small island. If I am not mistaken, Paul never thought of visiting this island. But here he was. 

Paul’s first experience on this island was special and very encouraging. He and the others with him experienced God’s favor through people who were complete strangers to them. The word translated “natives” is from the Greek word “Barbaroi,” literally, barbarians. In other words, the islanders were foreigners to Paul and company. The stranded voyagers and the islanders didn’t know each other. It’s likely this is the first time they met each other. Yet, when Paul and company of over two hundred and seventy people arrived on the island, the islanders showed them unusual kindness. The word translated “kindness” is “philanthropia.” It derives from “philos” which means friend and “anthropos,” meaning man. It can be translated as human friendship. The word denotes that apparent and ready goodwill usually manifest in a friendly, considerate demeanor, and especially in the practice of hospitality, readiness to help, tenderheartedness, cherishing and maintaining friendship. Philanthropia, which is used in English as “philanthrophy,” is that disposition which does not always think of self, but takes thought for others, their needs and wishes. ~Adapted from The Hebrew-Greek Key Study Bible.

Although the islanders had every reason to be wary of the new arrivals, they chose not to think of themselves. They could have taken arms to ward off the “illegals” from their island. But they didn’t. Rather, they were eager and ready to help the stranded travelers. They took thought for their needs. They displayed extraordinary tenderheartedness toward the shipwrecked survivors. They practiced hospitality. They extended genuine compassion and kindness to all the travelers who were brought safely through the storm. The Bible was right to describe their kindness as extraordinary or unusual. Why? They knew nothing at all about the new arrivals, but they sprang into action to provide the help they desperately needed. Notice, the islanders didn’t even ask Paul and company to tell them why they had come to their island. They didn’t take them to a detention center to be processed by immigration officials before expressing kindness to them. Right then and there, they extended goodwill to them. How they did show their kindness and goodwill to the shipwreck survivors? It was pouring rain. The survivors were wet and cold. They needed warmth. So the islanders built a fire and welcomed all of them. On a cold and rainy day, nothing soothes like a warm fireplace. Paul and company had that fireplace on the beach. There is no doubt in my mind that God Himself put it into the hearts of the barbarian-islanders to show unusual kindness to the storm-survivors. He had purposed for His servant Paul to get to Rome safely and He would use every person and everything at His disposal to get him safely there. This is one of the blessings God extends to His messengers. In fact, the inspired writer of Acts, goes on to show us that the kindness they experienced on the island was not a one-time act. Later,  in verse 10, he wrote of how the islanders honored them with many marks of respect. And when they were ready to sail from the island, the islanders supplied them with all they needed for their journey to Rome. This was God at work using complete strangers to show unusual kindness and to provide for the needs of His faithful servants. At least they had known each other now for three months. But before Paul and company left, they experienced God’s favor through the islanders. Their three-month stay on the island was a season of experiencing God’s kindness through others. How encouraging for Paul!

Missionaries, ministers, and messengers of God, who are called of God to serve His purpose can be assured of this: God can and is able to show them His favor even through complete strangers. Many of God’s servants have testified of the many times God had shown them extraordinary kindness through people they rarely knew. Personally, I have experienced God’s favor and kindness through people I’ve met just for the first time in my life. I’ve been received into homes and shown extraordinary kindness. I’ve been shown considerate tenderheartedness by people I barely knew who donated a vehicle or gave funds toward a purchase of a vehicle for me to use for my travels in spreading the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ. Even the laptop I’m using today to write this article, and the previous ones’ I’ve had, are an expression of God’s unusual kindness to me through others. To God be the glory!

I am certain that God has also shown you unusual kindness through people you rarely even knew. Savor such stories! Save them! Share them with others to the praise of Gods glory both now and to the day of eternity!

 

 

God’s Believing People Must Learn to Take Him at His Word!

“For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told (Acts 27:23-25).

The third and final lesson that is vividly illustrated in this passage is this: God’s believing servant must take God at His word. Believers in Jesus Christ must be known as people who take God at His word.

Having received the encouragement of God in a dark and difficult time of his life, Paul, in turn, encouraged his fellow voyagers on the storm-tossed ship. He understood that God’s encouragement of him in his dark and difficult time was to flow through him to others who were in desperate need of encouragement in their time of crisis. Paul was God’s instrument of cheering up the spirits of others who were feeling discouraged and hopeless in their distress and darkness.

While encouraging his fellow travelers, Paul did something very special. You ask: what is that? The special thing he did is his personal expression of trust in God and in His word to him. Paul demonstrated unshakable faith in God and in His word to him. Paul took God at His word. Paul counted on God and His promise. Please notice Paul’s resolve to take God at His word. Speaking with great confidence, certainty and conviction of heart, Paul declares, “I believe God, that it will be exactly as I have been told.” Literally, this reads, “for I believe God that thus it will be in the way in which it has been spoken to me.” Please notice that there was no doubt or distrust in Paul’s heart as he spoke to the men on board, who were weary, hopeless and discouraged. He didn’t say, “Maybe, what I have been told will come to pass. Let’s just cross our fingers and see what happens.” Paul knew that God is trustworthy. He knew that God is always reliable. He knew that God is dependable. He knew that God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Paul was convinced that what God says, He always does. He was confident that what God speaks, He always makes it good (Numbers 23:19). The Greek word used here for “believe” is “pisteuo.” It means “to adhere to, to cleave to; to trust, to have faith in; to rely on.” Consequently, the words, “I believe God…” really mean “I have an absolute personal trust in God.” Paul is saying, “I have unshakable faith in my God that His word to me will not fail. I am certain that God’s word to me will not fall to the ground. I have confidence in my God that His promise to me will not falter. I am convinced that He will fulfill the message His angelic messenger delivered to me. I know my God is faithful to His word.”

You see, Paul knew that it’s altogether useless for God to give him a promise if he’s not going to believe Him to carry it out in his life. Please think of this! What use will it be for God to give His believing people His precious and magnificent promises (2 Peter 1:4) if they won’t believe Him to perform them in their lives? There will be no point in giving us promises if God’s people are not going to commit themselves to trusting Him to accomplish them in their lives. It will be a complete waste of time for God. It will make no sense at all for God to invest Himself in our lives in such an unworthy manner. You see, the storm was God’s way of strengthening Paul’s faith and confidence in His ability to perform His word. It was a faith-building test for Paul. Paul allowed the Holy Spirit to sustain as well as strengthen his faith in the storm-to the point of standing before over two hundred and seventy people to express his confident faith in God to do exactly as He had spoken. Now please put yourself in Paul’s shoes! Is that something you would do? Would you be able to stand before hundreds of people in a deadly storm and confidently tell them that they would all be safe on the basis of the word God had spoken to you? Would you trust God that much? Or would you shrink back in fear, thinking that you would make a fool of yourself? I believe most of us would not want to make a fool of ourselves in such a life-threatening situation. We would choose the easy path of silence, not sticking out our neck.

Please I want you to understand that Paul had a track record of taking God at His word. Writing to the church of Corinth about the hardships he and his fellow-workers experienced in the west coast province of Asia (that is, modern Turkey), Paul reveals some of the precious lessons God taught them. The most notable being-trusting in God. He writes :”Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves in order that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead; who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope. And He will deliver us” (2 Corinthians 1:9-10). Notice Paul’s overflowing confidence in God. He looked back to the past. God had delivered them. Then, he looked forward to the future with certainty that God would deliver them again. Twice he wrote “He will deliver us.” My brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s confidence in God. That’s counting on God. That’s demonstrating absolute certainty and conviction in God’s ability to do what He’s promised. Later in this second letter to the Corinthians, Paul discloses a secret to the Corinthians. What’s the secret? He’s learned from others to take God at His word. “But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore also we speak” (2 Corinthians 4:13). Paul had learned from the psalmist the importance of trusting God and taking Him at His word. In fact, the verb translated “believe” in this verse is the same as the one in Acts 27:25, that is, “pisteuo,” which speaks of absolute reliance o God.

Let me share one more example of Paul’s track record of taking God at His word. Before embarking on this voyage that was fraught with danger and damage, Paul testified before King Agrippa and Governor Festus. After sharing that Jesus had appeared to him and appointed him a minister and witness, with the mandate to carry His message to Jews and Gentiles-to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God (Acts 26:16-18), Paul let his hearers know that he is a man who takes God at His word. Please take careful note of his words: “Consequently, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance” (Acts 26:19-20). You see, Paul took God at His word and did exactly what He ordered him to do. He believed the words which were spoken to him by the Risen Lord on the road to Damascus. He acted on God’s word to him. With this past record of taking God at His word, when God called upon Paul once more to take Him at His word in one of the darkest moments of his life, he did not falter. Paul rose to the occasion and expressed bold, confident, and conquering faith in God, bringing glory to Him.

I believe one of the greatest needs in the church today, is believing men and women who exhibit a track record of taking God at His word. The world has not seen such men and women of God for a long time. I believe God is waiting to raise up godly men and women who will confidently take God at His word. He is longing for committed believers who will be willing to trust Him wholeheartedly, not half-heartedly. He is desiring Spirit-filled Christians who will declare with certainty, “I believe God, that it will be exactly as I have been told.” God is looking for believers who will say with great conviction of heart, “I believe, therefore I also speak.” My heart’s desire is to allow the Holy Spirit to strengthen my faith in my trials to count on God. To be confident in the Lord my God. To be convinced that God’s word to me will not fail. To be certain that God’s promise to me will not fall to the ground. But that, He will fulfill every promise of His to me. What about you?

God Encourages the Believer in Order to Become His Instrument of Encouraging Others.

   

And yet now I urge you to keep up courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told….And until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish. And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food (Acts 27:22-25, 33-36).

  In the previous devotional message from the story of Paul’s shipwreck, we learned this precious lesson: God knows exactly when and how to encourage His believing servant in his time of darkness and difficulty. Today, I would like to focus on a second spiritual lesson arising from this blessed passage of Scripture, that is: God encourages His believing servant in his time of darkness in order to encourage others in their time of distress. 

Facing a time of difficulty and darkness in his life, where all hope of being delivered from a terrible storm at sea was gradually abandoned, God sent His angelic messenger to bring much needed encouragement to His servant Paul. God knew Paul needed His encouragement. While it might have seemed to us that God’s encouragement took longer in coming, as far God was concerned, it came just at the right time. God did not fail Paul. God did not disappoint Paul for trusting in Him during his time of difficulty and darkness. It is comforting to know that the God who did not fail to encourage Paul in his time darkness, will also not disappoint us who are faithfully looking to Him for His encouragement in our time of distress and darkness. He will bring His encouragement to us just at the right time.

On that encouraging note, please carefully observe that after Paul was encouraged by God, he in turn was used by God to bring encouragement and hope to the discouraged and hopeless voyagers on a storm-tossed ship. Earlier, before Paul disclosed to the men on board the ship that an angel had appeared to him, he exhorted them with these words: “And yet now I urge you to keep up courage, for there shall be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship” (Acts 27:22). Please notice the words “Now I urge you to keep up your courage.” No doubt, the men on board had lost not only their hope but also their courage. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul, who had himself been encouraged by God was now being used as God’s instrument to bring encouragement to the sailors and soldiers, the passengers and prisoners, and to the centurion and the captain of the ship. After telling them that an angel of God had appeared to him with a message that they would all safely come through the storm, Paul followed up his first exhortation with a second. Speaking with great conviction of heart, he declared, “therefore, keep up your courage, men” (Acts 27:25). The Greek verb translated “keep up your courage” in verse 22 and 25 is “euthumeo.” It literally means to be of good cheer, to cheer up, be cheerful, or be in good spirits. The repetition of this verb stresses the teaching that God encourages His believing servant in his time of darkness in order to encourage others. In other words, God encourages the believer to be an encourager. 

The Holy Spirit’s work to bring encouragement to the discouraged and hopeless men on board the storm-tossed ship did not end with Paul’s two exhortations to them to be of good cheer. It went further. The Bible tells us that “until the day was about to dawn, Paul was encouraging them all to take some food, saying, ‘Today is the fourteenth day that you have been going without eating, having taken nothing. Therefore I encourage you to take some food, for this is for your preservation; for not a hair from the head of any of you shall perish” (Acts 27:33-34). Please notice the repeated use of the verb “encourage” in these verses. The repetition teaches us again that Paul’s encouragement of the discouraged people on board was an outflow of God’s encouragement of him. In other words, Paul was an effective encourager, simply because God had Himself encouraged him. The Greek verb “encourage” is “parakaleo.” It is an important verb. It is used for every kind of calling to a person which is meant to produce a particular effect; comfort, exhort. It is used to beseech with a stronger force than the verb “ask” or “request.” Paul really got himself into encouraging his fellow travelers. Indeed, he was passionate about cheering them up. He was not content with the fact that he had been encouraged by God. He wanted the people on board the ship to experience the encouragement he received from God. Now the question is: Did Paul succeed in cheering the spirits of his fellow travelers? The Bible tells us that he did. “And having said this, he took bread and gave thanks to God in the presence of all; and he broke it and began to eat. And all of them were encouraged, and they themselves also took food” (Acts 27:35-36). The verb translated “were encouraged” in verse 36 comes from “euthumeo” not “parakaleo.” It should therefore literally be translated “and all of them became cheerful or were in good spirits.” God had encouraged Paul in his time of difficulty. but God has also used him to encourage others in their time of distress.

In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, the same principle is taught but in reference to comfort. God comforts believers in all their affliction, not just for them to be comfortable but to be comforters. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we are comforted by God.” Paul understood the importance of receiving both God’s encouragement and comfort and allowing these blessings to flow through him to impact the lives of others. I wonder what would have happened if Paul had not allowed the Holy Spirit to use him to impact his fellow voyagers with the encouragement he had received from God. Certainly, a different story would have been told. But thank God, Paul yielded to the Spirit of God and became God’s instrument of encouraging people who were hopeless in their time of darkness and distress.

In your time of darkness and distress as a believer in Jesus Christ, there is one thing you can count on. At the right time, God will give you the encouragement and comfort you need. That is a guarantee. It doesn’t matter how dark and discouraging the situation is. God will in His grace come to you and bring into your heart the encouragement you need to move forward in His purposes. He did that for Paul and countless followers of Christ. But remember God does not encourage us just to stay encouraged. His goal for encouraging us is to prepare us to cheer up others in their discouraged and distressed circumstances. In other words, God provides opportunities for us to pass on His encouragement to others. Why? He loves them. He wants His best for them as well. He has their best interests at heart. God who sent His angel to encourage Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty hasn’t changed. Has God encouraged you of late in your time of distress? I trust that you poured out your heart in thanksgiving to God. But please understand that that’s not where it should end. God’s goal for encouraging you is to prepare you to be His instrument of encouragement to others who are discouraged with life. There are many around you who are discouraged and feeling hopeless. God has already prepared you to impact them with the encouragement He had given you. Lean on the Holy Spirit dwelling in you to make yourself available for God to use. Look for God’s opportunities to pass on His encouragement to the discouraged and distressed. Let God’s Spirit lead you to the person God wants you to touch with His encouragement through you. Learn from Paul’s example of being God’s instrument of encouraging others with His encouragement.

God Knows Exactly When And How to Encourage the Believer in His Time of Darkness!

 

“For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God, that it will turn out exactly as I have been told” (Acts 27:23-25).

There are several spiritual lessons in the story of Paul’s shipwreck on his way to Rome as a prisoner. It is my privilege to share three of them with you in the next three devotional articles. I would like to begin with this: God knows exactly when and how to encourage His believing servant in his time of darkness and difficulty.

Having been imprisoned for two years in Caesarea, Paul and other prisoners and passengers embarked on an Adramyttian ship to sail to Italy. Paul was accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica (Acts 27:2). Dr Luke also traveled with Paul on this occasion as indicated by the repeated use of the personal pronoun “we” in this chapter. Paul was treated kindly by Julius, the centurion, who was to deliver him safely to the authorities in Rome (Acts 27:1, 3). Things went very smoothly for the crew and passengers for the first many days of their journey. But soon they began to encounter difficulty on the voyage. Although a prisoner, Paul warned the captain and his crew and the centurion about damage and great loss they would encounter on their way should they pursue their course of action. Paul’s warning was brushed aside. The centurion chose to go ahead with decision of the captain of the ship which was supported by the majority on board the ship (Acts 27:9-13). The majority decision got a major boost when a moderate south wind came up. But before very long the northeaster violent wind, also called the Euraquilo, rushed down with violent hurricane force. The ship was caught in it. Since the ship could not face the violent wind, they let themselves be driven along. From that point on things went from bad to worse for them. They were storm-tossed. Cargo was thrown overboard to lighten the ship in the storm. For many days, sun nor stars appeared. Worst of all, all hope of being delivered from danger at sea was gradually abandoned. Those on board would go a long time without food (Acts 27:13-21). In fact, the Bible tells us later that they had been without food for fourteen days (Acts 27:33). Simply put, the voyagers hit rock bottom. They reached the end of their rope. They were stuck in a bad situation.

But it was precisely at this moment of reaching the end of their rope that God’s encouragement came to His believing servant Paul. God’s encouragement to Paul came just at the right time. No doubt, Paul and Aristarchus and Dr. Luke might have prayed earnestly for days for a breakthrough in their situation. But day after day, the northeaster hurled its violent force at them as if to mock them. It pounded the ship with its relentless force and fury. It lifted up the waves of the sea. Literally, they rose up to the heavens and went down to the depths. But Paul and his believing brothers on board the storm-tossed ship pressed on in their silent prayers to God. I imagine Paul silently praying on board the ship: “Lord, You are the Creator of heaven and earth and the seas. You rule over all. You have promised me in Jerusalem that just as I have witnessed to Your cause in Jerusalem, so I must witness at Rome also (Acts 23:11). Lord, I believe Your word. O Lord, in Your grace, fulfill Your word to me. We have reached the end of our rope. Please, send us Your help.”

Whether such a prayer was prayed or not, one thing is certain and clear, God knew exactly how and when to encourage Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty. At the right time, He chose to send His angelic messenger to deliver a message of encouragement and hope to Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty. How the angelic messenger was revealed to Paul on board a crowded ship of two hundred and seventy-six persons (Acts 27:37), we are not told. We are not even told how he looked like or what he wore. But what we are told is that his message brought much needed encouragement and hope to Paul. Notice that the angel’s first words to Paul was a prohibition: “Do not be afraid.” This is best rendered “stop being fearful, frightened, terrified, or afraid.” The great apostle was giving in to fear. Fear was griping his heart. Fear was ruling in his heart. He was therefore exhorted not to allow fear to control his heart. Having done this, the angel quickly reassured Paul that he would stand before Caesar. In other words, the angel is saying to Paul, “Paul, I want you to know this. This storm ain’t going to stop you from going to Rome. Remember, the Risen Christ Himself had already assured of that. You’ll get to Rome no matter what. Moreover, the people who are traveling with you will be safe. No life will be lost though the storm be fierce and furious.”  What a timely encouragement in a time of darkness and difficulty!

The God who sent His angel to encourage Paul in his time of darkness and difficulty hasn’t changed. He is still in the business of bringing much needed encouragement to His believing children in their time of darkness and difficulty. Are you being storm-tossed today? Are you being pounded by the storms of life? Are you feeling like you have reached the end of your rope? Are you feeling like you have hit rock bottom? Are you ‘stuck” in a bad situation? Is all hope of being delivered from your present predicament gradually fading? Remember, God knows exactly when and how to encourage His believing servant in his time of darkness and difficulty. By the power of the Holy Spirit, pray on in faith! Press on confidently knowing that He will bring His encouragement to you at the right time! Patiently look up to Him for His help! Persevere in watching and waiting for His breakthrough in your life and circumstance! Proclaim His goodness daily!

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Believers Must Not Compromise on God’s Purposes for Their Lives!

“And Pharaoh called Moses and Aaron and said, ‘Go, sacrifice to your God within the land.’ But Moses said, ‘It is not right to do so, for we shall sacrifice to the LORD our God what is an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice what is an abomination to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not then stone us? We must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He commands us…’ Then Pharaoh called to Moses, and said, ‘Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you.’ But Moses said, ‘You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice them to the LORD our God. Therefore, our livestock will go with us; not a hoof will be left behind, for we shall take some of them to serve the LORD our God. And until we arrive there, we ourselves do not know with what we shall serve the LORD.'” (Exodus 8:25-27; 10:24-26).

When Moses returned to Egypt to be used by God in the rescue of His oppressed people from Egyptian bondage, God specifically made it clear to him that Pharaoh would not let Israel go unless His mighty hand compelled him. With great confidence and conviction of heart, God also declared to Moses that He would Himself stretch out His hand and strike the Egyptians with all the miracles He had purposed to perform. Then after performing all His wonders, Pharaoh would let them go (Exodus 3:19-20). God kept His word to Moses. He began performing His wonders in Egypt. These wonders are also called “the Ten Plagues of Egypt.”

After the plagues of turning the waters of the Nile into blood and the plague of frogs, which Pharaoh’s magician also performed by their secret arts, came the plague of gnats or insects. Unlike the previous plagues which were first announced to Pharaoh before they were performed, the third plague was unannounced to Pharaoh. So this plague caught him off guard. It came suddenly upon all Egypt. The magicians tried hard to produce gnats by their secret arts, but this time, they were not successful. They failed. Teaching us that God knows how to limit the counterfeit works of the enemy. He permitted them three times to use their secret powers to mimic His work. The first time of using their secret powers to produce a counterfeit of God’s work was turning their staffs into a snake, just after Aaron’s staff turned into a snake before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:8-13). They were three for three. Each time the magicians did the same miracle with their secrets arts, Pharaoh’s heart became hard. But now, for the first time, the magicians could not duplicate God’s work through their magic arts. In fact, they confessed to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). They saw the hand of God. They realized for themselves that they were up against a great and mighty God. They knew they could not compete with Him. In fact, this was their last attempt to counterfeit God’s wonders through Moses and Aaron. After this incident, they would not try again. They clearly understood that they had met their match in God. However, despite the confession of the magicians, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. He stubbornly refused to let Israel go. A fourth plague-the plague of swarms of flies was unleashed upon the land of Egypt. Pharaoh’s house and the houses of his officials and the houses of all the Egyptians were full of flies. Imagine that! However, the land of Goshen where the Israelites were residing was spared this plague. As a result of this fourth plague, the land of Egypt was ruined or laid waste (Exodus 8:20-24). It was at this point that Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said to them: “Go, sacrifice to your God here in the land.” (NIV)

You see, Pharaoh was complying with God’s order to let His people go. However, he was doing so not on God’s terms, but on his own terms. He said to Moses and Aaron to sacrifice to their God within the land, that is, the land of Egypt. Moses and Aaron clearly understood that. They knew that obedience must be on God’s terms, not on man’s terms. The spiritual lesson this story presents us is this: God’s people must not compromise on God’s purposes for their lives.

From the very beginning, Pharaoh heard loud and clear God’s demand. “Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 5:1). Moses and Aaron also let him know that they were to “go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God” (Exodus 5:3). Also, before the first plague of turning water into blood, God again gave a clear message to Pharaoh through Moses: “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness” (Exodus 7:16). So on three different occasions God specified where His people were to go to sacrifice or serve Him. Pharaoh heard it. They were to go into the wilderness, a three days’ journey into the wilderness. But Pharaoh conveniently ignored God’s clear instructions and decreed that Israel should go and sacrifice on his terms-within the land of Egypt, not on God’s terms-in the wilderness, a three days’ journey from Egypt. Moses and Aaron had a choice to make. They could choose the easy path of compromise: “After all, it’s no big deal if we sacrifice here in the land.” Or they could stand their ground and say: “Thanks! But no thanks! We are not going to compromise on God’s purpose for our lives. God has clearly specified to us that, we are to sacrifice to Him in the wilderness. That’s where we’ve decided to go. We will do it on God’s terms whatever the consequences. Period!” The latter path is what Moses and Aaron chose to set an example for us: Believers must not compromise on God’s purposes for their lives.

How did they stand their ground and not compromise on God’s purposes for their lives? Well, in responding to Pharaoh’s decision to sacrifice within Egypt, Moses first employed his knowledge of the Egyptian culture. After all, he had been raised in Pharaoh’s household for years. He knew through and through the cultural norms of the Egyptians and what was offensive to them. Equipped with that knowledge, Moses told Pharaoh: “That would not be right. The sacrifices we offer the LORD our God would be detestable to the Egyptians. And if we offer sacrifices that are detestable in their eyes, will they not stone us?” (Exodus 8:25-26 [NIV]). Personally, I do not think Pharaoh would have cared if the Egyptians stoned the Israelites. He had been treating them cruelly and harshly with a cold and callous heart. It would have been his pleasure to see some of them die at the hands of the Egyptians. The Hebrew word translated “abomination” or “detestable” (Hebrew: to’ebah) also means “loathsome,” “repulsive,” “repugnant,” “disgusting.” These are strong words revealing the Egyptians’ hatred of practices that could flare up emotions leading to detrimental actions against the Israelites. In fact, way back in the days of Joseph, it is known that the Egyptians did not eat with the Hebrews, for that was loathsome to the Egyptians (Genesis 43:32). Also, “Every shepherd is loathsome to the Egyptians” (Genesis 46:34). If such was the case, Moses says to Pharaoh, “Sacrificing in the land of Egypt is not a good idea. It will put us in a bad light before the Egyptians to incur their wrath.”

But please here is what I don’t want you to miss. Moses’ uncompromising stance was not solely based on his knowledge of the Egyptian cultural preferences and practices. Moses’ unmovable stance was more importantly based on God’s clear instructions to him. It was settled on what God had specifically said to him. In other words, it was rooted on God’s righteous standards. Notice what Moses said to Pharaoh and how he said it: “We must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness and sacrifice to the LORD our God as He commands us” (Exodus 8:27). Notice he said, “we must go a three days’ journey into the wilderness.” What confidence! What conviction! What courage! Here was Moses standing before the most powerful ruler of his day. But he did not cower. He did not compromise. He did not cave in to the pressure of Pharaoh. Calmly and coolly, he stood his ground based on what God had commanded him. He would not compromise on God’s purposes for Israel. In fact, he left no room for compromise on what he knew was God’s purpose for their lives. He slammed shut the door of compromise.

Please understand that this is not the only time Moses stood his ground before Pharaoh. During the ninth plague of darkness, which came upon Egypt unannounced, Pharaoh called Moses and made a lot of concessions to him. These concessions were very appealing. They would have lured most of us into compromise. Listen to Pharaoh’s concession speech to Moses: “Go, serve the LORD; only let your flocks and your herds be detained. Even your little ones may go with you” (Exodus 10:24). Earlier, Pharaoh had stubbornly refused to let Israel go. But now, he gives them the green light to go. Earlier, he had threatened Moses with these words: “Thus may the LORD be with you, if ever I let you and your little ones go” (Exodus 10:10). But now, he is telling Moses, not only the old, but the little ones can go. What a great relief it must have been for Moses! Pharaoh now permits them to go and serve the Lord. He is now willing for them to take their children and families with them. “Israel, Let’s go now! What else do we need? We have the permission to go. We have the freedom to take our entire families with us. We are free to take the most important thing in our lives-our families. As long as we have our families with us, let’s go. Let’s leave this oppressive land.” Moses could have also said: “I’ve had a lot trouble with Pharaoh. This is a good deal. Our families our going with us. We can leave our flocks behind. Pharaoh, I accept your offer to go with our families and leave our flocks behind.”

But that’s not what Moses did. He knew better. He knew he must not compromise on God’s purpose for their lives. So with great confidence and conviction of heart, Moses responded to Pharaoh with these uncompromising words: “But Moses said, ‘You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings, that we may sacrifice them to the LORD our God. Therefore, our livestock will go with us; not a hoof will be left behind, for we shall take some of them to serve the LORD our God. And until we arrive there, we ourselves do not know with what we shall serve the LORD'” (Exodus 10:25-26). Notice the courage of Moses! “You must also let us have sacrifices and burnt offerings…not a hoof will be left behind.” Moses says: “Pharaoh, let this be clear to you. For us, worshiping the Lord involves making sacrifices and offerings to Him. We will offer animal sacrifices to Him. So please make no mistake about this. In addition to our entire families, we are also taking all our flocks whether you like it or not. Not a hoof is to be left behind. Understand that! That’s our stance! That’s our position!”

One question remains to be answered! How could Moses stand his ground consistently and courageously before the most powerful man of his time? The answer is this. When situations of compromise came into Moses’ life, he slammed shut the door of compromise. He stood on God’s word. He settled it in his heart that he would choose God’s way, not the easy way of compromise. What about us?

We live in an age of compromise, tolerance, and political correctness. Believers in Jesus Christ are finding it harder and harder to remain true to God and His righteous standards to which they are called. It’s far easier to blend into the way the world does business than to dare to be different-that is, living according God’s righteous standards found in the Bible. It’s far easier to bend to the cultural preferences and practices than to stand our ground on God’s truth. We need to ask ourselves these honest questions: Do I cave in to the pressure of the culture in which I live? Do I easily cower to peer pressure? Do I choose the path of compromise to avoid being branded as “narrow-minded,” or “bigoted?” Or do I, like Moses and Aaron, calmly and coolly stand my ground in the strength of the Spirit, trusting that God will take full responsibility for my commitment to my God-given convictions? The choice is ours to make. May God’s Spirit help each one of us to live as people who refuse to compromise on His purposes for our lives! And when we fail, let us be quick to confess our failure to Him and look to Him for His cleansing, forgiveness and renewal!

Prolonged Suffering Often Limit God’s People from Laying Hold of God’s Promises!

“So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage” (Exodus 6:9).

In Exodus 6:6-8, God personally made the greatest promise ever found in the Old Testament to Moses. Moses was specifically charged by God to declare this promise to the oppressed sons of Israel. It was a promise full action. It was a promise signed and sealed by Yahweh, the sovereign of the universe, the self-existing God, the self-sufficient Lord of all. It was a promise in which God committed Himself to taking concrete and decisive action on behalf of His people. Indeed, it was an unconditional promise to Israel with seven “I will” statements. “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” “I will deliver you from their bondage.” “I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments.” “I will take you for My people.” “I will be your God.” “I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” “I will give it to you for a possession.” What a promise so full of action and commitment on the part of God! He promised here to rescue and redeem His people. He promised to bring His people from a place of bondage to a place of blessing. He promised to bring them out from their affliction to a place of abundance. He promised to be their personal God, and they, His own chosen and set apart people. One would have thought that hearing of such a great and glorious promise would result in shouts of jubilation and joy in the camp of Israel. But that was not the case. There were no shouts of joy and jubilation. There was no celebration. There were no songs of praise among the Israelites. There was only discouragement. Despondency took hold of the hearts of the people of Israel. As a result, they could not eagerly embrace God’s glorious promise to them. In fact, at this point, they didn’t expect God’s promise to make any difference in their difficult lives. As far as they were concerned, the promise was meaningless, worthless, useless, and out of touch to reality. Israel’s experience in this situation teaches us an important spiritual lesson:Distressing circumstances and prolonged suffering often limit God’s people from laying hold of God’s promises. In other words, tough and trying times in the lives of believers often make it difficult for them to take God at His word.

In obedience to God’s clear and concise command to him, Moses communicated the promise to the sons of Israel. That’s what God expects from His servant-leaders and all believers. He expects complete obedience from us. Moses was obedient. But if he thought his obedience to God would to lead to jubilation and a laying hold of God’s promise by the sons of Israel, he was greatly mistaken. The response Moses got upon faithfully declaring God’s promise to God’s people could be described in these terms: “long faces, closed ears, silent lips, and discouraged hearts.” No one fed off the promise to respond positively. There was no positive energy in the camp. There was no excitement among the people about taking God at His word. There was no talk of laying hold of God to fulfill His promise. There was no special praise and worship gathering to celebrate the promise of rescue and redemption from Egyptian bondage and oppression. There were no “Hallelujah songs” from the lips of the sons of Israel. Instead, there was a feeling of hopelessness, depression, discouragement, and despondency.

Please notice that the Bible says, “So Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen.” Notice the conjunction “but.” It clearly indicates that Israel’s response upon hearing the promise was not consistent with God’s expectation. God expected them to take Him at His word. God expected them to trust His word to them in their tough and trying time. God expected them to turn their eyes from their distressing predicament and fix them fully upon Him. But they didn’t. Isn’t that the way it is with us also? When the going gets tough for us, we find it difficult to take God at His word. We fail to turn our eyes fully on God. We falter in these tough times to trust God’s word to us. Trustworthiness of God’s word is undermined. His rich and great promises to us seem worthless, useless, meaningless and out of touch to reality in times of prolonged hardship. This was where Israel found themselves thousands of years ago. This is where we also find ourselves when hard times and hardships persist in our lives. In such times, we find ourselves not at all enthused about God’s promises, let alone lay hold of them with the tenacity and determination of Jacob, who said to God, “I will not let You go unless You bless me” (Genesis 32:26).

Israel, we are told “did not listen.” The Hebrew word translated “listen” is shama. This is one of the most important verbs in the Hebrew Old Testament. It appears 1,160 times. Its main idea is perceiving a message or sensing a sound. It also means “to hear intelligently (with attention and obedience)”, “to give undivided listening attention,” “to lend an ear to,” to understand what one has heard,” “to give heed,” or “to obey.” Israel did not give undivided attention to what they heard from the mouth of Moses. They did not hear intelligently with attention and desire to obey God. They didn’t perceive the message. It went into one ear and out of the other without getting down into their hearts. Why? The Bible clearly and concisely tells us why. It says it was because of “their despondency and cruel bondage.” The Hebrew word translated “despondency” (Hebrew: qoser) literally means “shortness of spirit.” It also means “discouragement.” You see, the prolonged suffering had taken not only a physical toll on Israel, but also a spiritual toll. As they suffered cruelty and oppression at the hands of Pharaoh, their confidence in God and His promise plunged to a new low. Instead of focusing on God, they were focusing on their circumstances. It’s true, these were tough times for Israel. Yes, these were hard times for God’s people in Egypt. Indeed, their bondage was cruel. God knew that. That was exactly why He gave them this remarkable promise to redirect their focus on Him. Please listen, the more you focus on your circumstances rather than on God, the more you will experience “shortness of spirit” in your hardships. The more despondency and discouragement will take hold of your heart. The more your trust in God will sink to new lows. And the more difficult it will become for you to lay hold of His promise to you. In fact, it’s Satan great delight to see God’s believing people in a discouraged and despairing state. Why? Because he knows that when believers are discouraged or depressed, he can easily take advantage of them. He knows it’s easy for God’s people to doubt God’s goodness when they are discouraged. He leaves no stone unturned to create distrust in believers who are depressed. In our despondent state, he doesn’t relent from whispering into our ears: “You see, God doesn’t love you after all. If He did, you’d not have continued suffering for this long.” Furthermore, our chief enemy will exploit us in our discouraged state to create confusion and chaos in our minds. His goal is simple: to rob us of the privilege of rising above our circumstances and reaching out to receive what God has promised us in His grace.

Now the question is: how does the believer in Jesus rise above his distressing circumstances and diligently lay hold of God’s great and gracious promises to him? Only by the work of the Holy Spirit can God’s believing people rise above their circumstances to lay hold of God’s promises. No matter how distressing, discouraging, depressing, despairing, and despondent your circumstances are, if you are a genuine born-again believer, God has blessed you with His Holy Spirit. He is with you and in you. He has power to help you soar high above your circumstances. This is the work Israel needed in their lives at this crucial time. In His grace, God accomplished this work in their lives. They were able to rise above their despondency and take hold of God’s promises to them. In fact, before they left Egypt, they took God at His word by asking their Egyptian neighbors for articles of silver and gold and for clothing and plundered Egypt just as God promised them (see Exodus 3:22 and 12:35).

It was a long and weary battle. But God gave victory to His despondent people. What He did for them thousands of years ago, He is willing and more than able to do for you and me, who believe in His Son Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins. After all, He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. Today, turn your eyes upon Jesus in total reliance on the Holy Spirit! Take Jesus at His word! Trust Jesus to do what He has promised you! Tell Jesus that no matter how long it takes to bring about the fulfillment of His promise in your life, you will choose not to give in to discouragement and depression, only and always in His strength. For His word says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me!” (Philippians 4:13)

God Desires that His Believing People Experience the Reality of His Promises in Their Lives!

“Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you to the land which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the LORD'” (Exodus 6:6-8).

Moses and Aaron stormed the presence of Pharaoh to tell him what God had specifically commanded them: “Let My people go.” Pharaoh’s response to God’s command was one of defiance. Not only did Pharaoh defied Yahweh, but he also deliberately determined in his heart to make life bitter and harsh for the sons of Israel. He demanded that no straw be given to the sons of Israel for making bricks. The Israelites were ordered to gather straw for themselves and then produced the same amount of bricks as before. No doubt, this was an impossible task. You see, Pharaoh shrewdly set them up for failure in order to inflict greater punishment on them and treat them more cruelly. It worked. Moses didn’t understand why God didn’t come through on His promise of deliverance. So he went before God to present his case to Him. “God, You have not rescued Your people at all,” was Moses’ disheartened words to God (see Exodus 5:1-23). God immediately responded to Moses and promised action. In promising action, God gave Moses and the people of Israel, one of the greatest promises found in the Old Testament. In fact, the promise recorded in Exodus 6:6-8 could be regarded as the grandest promise in all of the Old Testament. It is a promise that teaches a powerful spiritual lesson to God’s people. That is, God desires that His people personally experience the reality of His promises in their lives. In other words, God’s promises to His people are to be possessed. They are given to be their personal possession. God doesn’t give promises that are just nice words to soothe our hurting emotions. The sons of Israel were hurting. They needed real assurance from God that He meant every word He said and that the words would actually translate into concrete action in their lives. And that’s exactly what God did here for the people of Israel. He assured them that His promises to His people are actually a guarantee to concrete and decisive action on their behalf.

Please, I want you to notice that he grandest of promise of the OT first of all begins with God pointing Moses to who He is: “I am the LORD.” This is very important. You ask why is it important? Well, I’m glad you’ve asked. Please take note of this. By these words, God is directing Moses’ eyes off of the disheartening and discouraging circumstances to Himself. Yahweh, the self-existing God, the sovereign of the universe, the self-sufficient God is above Israel’s deplorable and difficult circumstances. Not only that, He is also able to overcome the seeming impossibility in their lives to advance His purposes for them. So before God ever gave the details of His promise of action to Moses, He deliberately says to Moses: “Moses, turn your eyes upon Me. Look full in My wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of My glory and grace.” If Moses was going to grow in confidence in God and be a successful messenger of God,, he would need to focus on the person of the Lord Himself. Actually, the expression, “I am the LORD” is used three times by the Lord. First, at the beginning of the promise in verse 6. Second, in the middle of the promise in verse 7. Third, at the end of the promise in verse 8. It is as if God is saying, “I said it! I signed it! And I sealed this promise to you. It’s settled! You can be sure of that!”

No matter what you are going through today, remember, God’s goal is for you to focus on Him, not on your circumstances. Why? The more you focus on God, the more His Spirit will work in your heart to develop and boost your confidence and conviction in His power and ability to handle the situation you are facing in life. God will loom larger in your thoughts. You will be able to see your problems in the light of God’s greatness and unlimited power, not in your own feeble and limited strength and resources. God did that for Moses. He grew in confidence and conviction in God to the point that before the last plague that broke Pharaoh’s stubborn heart, he stood confidently before the king of Egypt and spoke these words to him: “You are right; I shall never see your face again!” (Exodus 10:29). That’s confidence and conviction in God! Moses didn’t have that conviction and boldness in the presence of Pharaoh in the beginning. But the more his eyes were focused on God, the more he grew in confidence. What God did for Moses thousands of years ago, He is willing and ready to do in your life and mine.

Having started by directing Moses’ focus on His person, that is, on who He is, God now presents Moses with the particulars of His promise. Please notice carefully that the particulars of the promise are vividly stated in seven “I Will” statements. You can call them the “Seven I Wills of God.” First, is “I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians” (v. 6b). Second, is “I will deliver you from their bondage” (v. 6c). Third, is “I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments” (v. 6d). Fourth, “I will take you for My people” (v. 7a). Fifth, “I will be your God” (v. 7b). Sixth, “I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 8a). Seventh, “I will give it to you for a possession” (v. 8b).

The fact that God Himself said “I will” means that the matter is settled. In other words, this is an unconditional promise to the sons of Israel. God said it. God signed it. God sealed it. That means, it’s sure and steadfast. Every detail of the promise will be accomplished. God promised Israel that He was going to take them from their place of bondage to a place of blessing. In order to let His people know that this is not just a pep-talk to get them merely excited emotionally for awhile, God made it clear to Israel that He was not only going to bring them out of Egypt, but was also going to bring them to the Promised Land and give it to them as a possession. The Hebrew word translated “possession” (Hebrew: Mowrashah) also means heritage, property, inheritance. It is as if God is saying to Moses and to all His believing people: “I want My promise to be your personal inheritance. I want My promise to become your property. I want you to inherit My promise. I want you to experience the reality of My promise in your personal life and circumstances. I want you to see the outworking of My promise in your life and situation.” How lovely!

In the homes of rich and famous people, one may find high-end designed cabinets with expensive china cabinets delicately put on display in them. You see, they are there for decoration. As such, they are rarely touched let alone used. But I tell you friends, that’s not the way God’s promises are. They are far more precious than the most expensive china plates. But they are not decorations to be seen from afar. They are not just nice words put on display in the Bible. God intends for His people to actually experience His promises in their lives:- where the rubber meets the road. God desires for them to see the actual working of His promises in their lives and circumstances. In fact, God expects His people to claim His promises as their inheritance. He wants His people to receive His promises as their personal property. God doesn’t want us to see His promises as untouchable decorations that are never used.

Are you personally experiencing the reality of God’s promises in your life? What promise of God has become your personal inheritance? Which of His promises have you claimed as your property? Has any of God’s promise become your possession? If not, why not? Remember, it’s God’s desire that the believer in Jesus personally experience the outworking of His promise in his or her life! Rely on the indwelling Spirit to focus on God and not on your circumstances! Remain committed to Him! Remind Him of His “I Wills”to you! Rest confidently in Him that He will do what He’s promised you in His own time! To God be the glory for the great things He has done and will do in your life and mine!

 

God’s Promises to His People Often Seem far Removed from Reality!

“So the same day Pharaoh commanded the taskmasters over the people and their foremen, saying, ‘You are no longer to give the people straw to make brick as previously; let them go and gather straw for themselves. But the quota of brick which they were making previously, you shall impose on them; you are not to reduce any of it. Because they are lazy, therefore they cry out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Let the labor be heavier on the men and let them work at it that they may pay no attention to false words. So the taskmasters and their foremen went out and spoke to the people, saying, ‘Thus says Pharaoh, I am not going to give you any straw. You go and get straw for yourselves wherever you can find it; but none of your labor will be reduced.’ So the people scattered through all the land of Egypt to gather stubble for straw. And the taskmasters pressed them, saying, ‘Complete your work quota, your daily amount, just as when you had straw’….Then Moses returned to the LORD and said, ‘O Lord, why have You brought harm to this people? Why did You ever send me? Ever since I came to Pharaoh to speak to in Your name, he has done harm to this people; and You have not delivered Your people at all'” (Exodus 5 :6-13, 22-23).

After spending forty years in the back side of the desert, God appeared to Moses at the burning bush. God called, charged and commissioned him to bring His people, the sons of Israel, from Egyptian bondage and oppression. Moses dragged his feet. After giving several excuses, which God did not accept, Moses complied with God’s call and charge to bring God’s people from Egypt. Partnering with Aaron, his older brother, Moses and Aaron stormed the presence of Pharaoh at God’s command. Their message to Pharaoh was strong and sharp. “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me in the wilderness'” (Exodus 5:1). Moses and Aaron were bubbling with confidence. After all, God had revealed Himself to them and put these words in their mouths. Despite their boldness in the presence of Pharaoh-the world’s most powerful man at the time, he would not bulge. Pharaoh displayed great arrogance. He disregarded the Lord. He disdained the God of Israel. He disobeyed Him. Pharaoh’s disrespectful and disdainful response to God’s direct command to let His people go is recorded in these words: “Who is the LORD that I should obey His voice and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, and besides, I will not let Israel go” (Exodus 5:2). Moses’ and Aaron’s respectful and polite pleas to Pharaoh to let them go, did nothing to change Pharaoh’s stubborn stance. In fact, things went from bad to worse for God’s people in Egypt. Pharaoh would deliberately make life unbearable for the children of Israel from that point on.

Moses and Aaron had come to Pharaoh with the hope of seeing God’s promises fulfilled. But they ran into a major roadblock. Pharaoh-a proud and stubborn king. The spiritual lesson in this touching story is this: God’s promises to His people often seem far removed from reality. Notice very carefully that the very same day Moses and Aaron came to Pharaoh and told him to let God’s people go was the same day things went from bad to worse for the sons of Israel. It was on that same day Pharaoh gave orders to the slave drivers and foremen in charge of the Israelites to no longer supply them with straw for making bricks. It was on that same day, Pharaoh decreed that the Israelites were to gather their own straw and make the same number of bricks as before-when they had straw given to them. It was on the same day that the slave drivers or the taskmasters and the foremen swiftly executed the decree of Pharaoh: “No straw, but produce the same number of bricks as before.” The slave drivers and foremen were rigid, relentless, rude, rough, and religious in carrying out Pharaoh’s orders. They pressed the Israelites. “Complete the work required of you for each day, just as when you had straw.” As if this was not enough to dishearten even the most resilient worker, the slave drivers of Pharaoh whipped the Israelite foremen. Talk about things going from bad to worse! Talk about hitting rock bottom! Talk about life throwing you a curveball! This was the experience of the sons of Israel in Egypt. They had just been given the great and precious promises of God. The promise of deliverance. The promise of freedom. The promise of their own homeland. The promise of worshiping God in the land God Himself had chosen for them. What happened to these glorious promises? As far as the children of Israel were concerned at this time of increased oppression and brutality, those promises were far removed from reality.

What about Moses? What was going through his mind? Moses, the chosen deliverer of the children of Israel, himself also thought that God’s promises to His people were far removed from being realized. How do we know that? After leaving the presence of Pharaoh with a heavy heart and watching the mistreatment and manhandling of his fellow Israelites, Moses went to God and laid it all out before Him. Moses asked God two “why” questions. First, “Why have You brought harm to this people?” Second, “Why did You ever send me?” Moses was trudging in the land of doubt. He had received a direct and specific promise from God, but he had not seen its fulfillment. At this critical moment in Moses’ life, all he could think of was that God’s promise of deliverance seemed so far removed from reality. Moses was so plagued with the seeming failure of God’s promise that he even questioned God’s rational for sending him to Egypt in the first place. After his two “why” questions, Moses proceeded to charge God for bringing trouble upon His people and failing to rescue them. It is as if Moses was saying to God, “Deliverance is what I came for. Deliverance is what You promised me. But as things are today, deliverance is far removed from us. Pharaoh’s grip on Your people is ever tightening and threatening. God, I don’t see the deliverance You promised. Whatever happened to Your promise of rescuing Your people?”

Many of us can identify with Moses’ experience. We have humbly and honestly sought God. In His grace and goodness, He gave us a promise. But the very day we began to lay hold of the promise of God, things went from bad to worse for us. We faced a major roadblock to the fulfillment of the promise. Like Moses, we ask: “Lord, why? Why are You not fulfilling Your promise to me? Why is the enemy gaining the upper hand in my situation? Why are my circumstances becoming more difficult after receiving Your promise? Why have You brought trouble to me ever since I’ve decided to trust You to fulfill Your promise to me? Why? Lord, why? Lord, I can honestly say to You that Your promises to Your people often seem far removed from reality.”

Personally, I have wrestled with this spiritual lesson for years. God had given me certain promises, but at this point in my life, despite devoting myself to the call of God and diligently serving His purpose through the help of His Spirit, I have not yet seen God’s fulfillment for them. What about you? Does God’s promises to you seem far removed from reality for you despite being committed to Him? Remember Moses! He was devoted and diligent in serving God’s purpose, and yet he didn’t see the fulfillment of God’s promise on day one. Why? God had an appointed time for fulfilling His promise of deliverance. He had more work to do in Egypt to make a name for Himself. In fact, when His appointed time came and His work was fully accomplished in Egypt, He speedily and swiftly brought about the fulfillment of His promise of deliverance to His people. Similarly, when God’s appointed time comes and His work is accomplished in us, He will swiftly and speedily bring about the realization of His promises in our lives. Until then, what are you to do? Here is what you do and I do. Rely on the Holy Spirit to lay bare your heart to God! Relate your heart’s struggles to God in all honesty! Resist blaming Him! Remain devoted to Him and be diligent in serving His purpose for your life! Raise a song of praise to Him-for He will not fail to keep His word to you! Thanks be to God! For He is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent. What He has said, He will also do. What He has spoken, He will also make good! Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Man Is So Quick to Make Judgments Based on Faulty Assumptions!

“But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, ‘Undoubtedly this man is murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live.’ However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god” (Acts 28:3-6).

This is an interesting story. It is a story that is replayed often in human history. The main spiritual lesson in this story is this: Man is so quick to make judgments based on faulty assumptions.

Having been brought safely through a violent storm that destroyed their ship, God provided a place of refuge for Paul and all on board on the island of Malta (Acts 28:1). On their arrival, God sovereignly and supernaturally worked in the hearts of the islanders to show Paul and his fellow travelers unusual kindness by building a fire to welcome them all. They needed warmth because it was a cold and rainy day for the storm-tossed travelers (Acts 28:2). No sooner had they began enjoying the warmth of the fire and relief from the relentless fury of the fierce and ferocious waves at sea than tragedy struck. Although in chains, Paul demonstrated his heart of service. He gathered a pile of sticks and laid them on the fire. It is very interesting that the Holy Spirit chose to give us this account. As a prisoner, whose hands and feet were chained, Paul had every reason to sit back and let others do the work. He could have said to himself, “My hands and feet are chained. So let someone else do the gathering of sticks and put it on the fire to keep the fire burning.” But Paul didn’t think of using this excuse to exempt himself from serving. I like that. Paul saw a need and he took it as an opportunity to serve. He didn’t mind that his hand were in chains. What an example Paul is to us! Paul’s example of service demonstrated in this passage is more compelling because of his circumstances. His circumstances were not the best. Remember, he was a prisoner in chains! Yet when the opportunity arose for service, he pounced on it and made the most of it. What about you? When an opportunity arise for you to serve, do you make the most of it? Or do you let it go to waste?

Please understand that Paul’s service of gathering sticks and putting them on the burning fire was not just for his own personal good. It was for the good of all who had escape death at sea. Unfortunately for Paul, a venomous viper, driven out by the heat of the fire, came out and fastened itself on his hand. Apparently, when Paul gathered the bundle of sticks, a viper was in the bundle. Paul didn’t know that. It seems that the viper was on a mission of revenge. After all, Paul was the one who had disturbed its peace. If Paul had not gathered the pile in which it was hiding, it would not have found itself in the fire. It is as if the viper was saying, “the hand that moved me from my restful abode would be the hand I fastened myself to.”

The startling scene of a viper fastening itself to Paul’s hand led to an instant and inevitable judgment. The natives or the islanders were quick to make judgment on the shocking situation they were beholding. There was no doubt that this was a shocking and startling spectacle. Without wasting any time after overcoming their initial shock, the islanders pronounced their judgment. Their judgment was swift and sharp. Not only that, their judgment on this sudden and surprising development was made with great confidence and conviction of heart. Observe that in their own words: “And when the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, ‘Undoubtedly this man is murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live’ “ (v.4).

The islanders knew how fast and fatal a viper’s bite was. Rarely does a person survives its venomous strike. I remember a time in my life when I met a deadly cobra on my way to school in my hometown. I was then in elementary school. Part of my route to school went through a grassland which was a good habitat for snakes. On that particular day, I happened to be the first person on the path going to school. My mother used to tell me to look down and ahead of me when I walk. She kept telling me that because I had the strange habit of looking up most of the time when I’m walking. Her motherly advice saved me that memorable day. As I looked down and ahead of me on the path, lo and behold, there was a deadly cobra just a few feet away from me. It was poised and positioned to spit out its venom and strike at me. Having overcome the initial shock of this startling spectacle, I quickly turned around and took off at top-speed to run for my life. I did not stop nor look back until I got to safety-hundreds of yards from where I saw the cobra. My heart was literally pounding and racing within me. The thought of facing that deadly cobra and the horror it brought to my heart still remain vivid in my mind today. It was one of the unforgettable events in my life.

Perhaps, the fastening of a viper onto Paul’s hand remained vivid in his mind for years-not so much because of the horror it might have caused him, but because of what happened afterward. He experienced firsthand how people are so quick to make judgment based on faulty or false assumptions. The islanders thought that the reason why the viper fastened itself to Paul’s hand was because he was certainly a murderer. For them, Paul was a convicted killer. But their assumption was completely wrong. Paul was not a murderer. He was a missionary. He was a messenger of God. He was a minister of God. He was a man of God. In their judgment, the islanders went on to say that though Paul escaped the watery graves of the sea, “Justice” has not allowed him to live. They were saying Paul deserved to have died at sea. But he didn’t. Now “Justice” (Greek: dike) has not allowed him to live. The word “Justice” is a personification of a goddess. You see, the islanders were pagans. Their worldview was paganistic. Their assumptions in this situations were faulty and false. You see, God had specifically told Paul that he would get to Rome alive, not as a corpse. God intended for Paul to witness to His cause in Rome as he did in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11). He assured Paul that he would definitely stand before Caesar (Acts 27:24). God’s word to His servant cannot fail. And yet the islanders of Malta were so sure that this was Paul’s last day on earth. And so they waited expectantly for Paul to swell up and suddenly fall dead. But after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to Paul, they changed their minds and said Paul was a god. Again, their judgment was quick. Again, their judgment was made with great conviction-he was a god. Again, their judgment was based on a faulty assumption. Paul was not a god. He was God’s chosen servant to carry His message to both Jews and Gentiles (Acts 9:15). Perhaps this experience with the islanders opened the door for Paul to point them to God and His truth and worldview. I find it very interesting that Paul didn’t ridicule or rail at the islanders at the fireside on the beach for being so quick to judge him based on faulty assumptions. He respected them and waited for God to open the door for him to present His truth to them.

We live in a world in which people are quick to judge. We are told, “everyone is entitled to their opinion.” Unfortunately, most of man’s judgments are based on faulty premises. The only valid premise on which to make sound judgment is the Word of God. Why? It is true. It comes from the only true God who cannot lie. Therefore, it is trustworthy. It is dependable, It is reliable for matters of this life and the life to come. As a believer in Jesus Christ, are you allowing the Word of God to shape your worldview? Do you base your judgments on what the Bible teaches about this life and the life to come? Do you show respect to the people whose views are not in line with the Bible and wait for God to open the door for you to present His truth to them? That’s what Paul did. He showed great respect to the islanders and waited for God to open the door for him to present His truth to them. May you rely on the Spirit of God to saturate your heart with God’s Word! Allow the Spirit to shape your worldview through the renewal of your mind! Share God’s truth with respect and in all gentleness to those who haven’t yet experienced its life-changing power!

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