Have you ever felt discouraged as a Christian? Have you ever felt that your life has been a failure? And do you know what it is like to be frightened about the future?
Well, take heart! You’re not the first child of God to feel this way.
In fact, it may surprise you to know that none other than the great apostle Paul seemed to be struggling with these very same problems. Paul found himself stuck in a Roman prison because of his faithfulness to preach the gospel.
But one night, Jesus came to pay him a visit:
“But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you
must also bear witness at Rome’” (Acts 23:11 NKJV).
God has not, nor will He abandon you.
Even though the local Christians did not help him, the Lord had come to visit him. Later, in his last epistle, Paul wrote, “Everyone abandoned me” (2 Timothy 4:16 NLT).
Have you ever felt that way? Abandoned, forgotten, forsaken? Know this: God has not abandoned you!
The Lord is with you
Know this today: He can compensate, by His own loving presence, for every earthly loss.
C.H. Spurgeon said, “If all else forsook him, Jesus was company enough. If all others despised him, the smile of Jesus was approval enough. If the good cause seemed to be in danger, in the presence of his Master victory was sure. The Lord who has stood for him at the cross now stood for him in the prison. It was a dungeon, but the Lord was there; It was dark, but the glory of the Lord lit it up with Heaven’s own splendor. Better to be in a jail with the Lord than to be anywhere else without Him.”
No matter what you are going through right now, know this: you are not alone. God is there with you, wanting to bring encouragement to you.
Have you noticed that courage seems to be in short supply in this day and age?
What is courage? According to one definition, courage (also known as bravery, will, and fortitude) is the ability to confront fear, pain, risk/danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. “Physical courage” is bravery in the face of physical pain, hardship, or threat of death.
We see courage on display every day from our troops defending our freedom overseas, as well as those brave police officers and firefighters that put their lives on the line for us every day.
A few questions
- How would you define courage?
- Do you think of yourself as courageous?
- Can you think of any examples of courage you have seen recently?
But physical courage is not the only kind of courage that exists. There is also moral courage, the ability to do what is right in the face of popular opposition or discouragement.
It takes courage to do the right thing today, to stand up for what the Bible says about right and wrong, good and evil.
It takes courage to live honestly, with integrity, avoiding the “shortcuts” that may get you ahead but take you down spiritually and morally.
It takes courage to honor the vows you made to be faithful to your spouse and stand by them “for better or for worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and health,” as opposed to abandoning them when the marriage gets challenging.
It takes courage to remain sexually pure as a single person with all the pressure today from peers and the media.
And it takes courage to follow Jesus Christ, no matter how hard it gets.
One more question
- Can you think of any examples of moral courage that you have seen?
This Sunday at Harvest
This Sunday morning at Harvest, I will be giving a message from Chapter 23 in the Book of Acts.
In this passage, Jesus tells a discouraged apostle Paul, “Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome” (Acts 23:11 NKJV). A better translation of the word “cheer” would be “courage.”
My message title will be “Christ’s Call to Courage.” So come join us in person or watch online.
I just finished reading an outstanding book, Abraham Lincoln, A Man of Faith and Courage, by Joe Wheeler.
I have read many, far more detailed, tedious biographies of the one who is thought of as by many as America’s greatest President. What I liked about this book was that it dealt more with the personal faith of Abraham Lincoln.
Literally born in a log cabin in abject poverty, Lincoln saw his mother die at an early age. The woman who was to take her place become a powerful influence in his life. He said of her, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.”
Against all odds and despite multiple setbacks, Lincoln ascended to the Presidency. He had many personal tragedies, including the death of two of his sons during his lifetime. But it was Lincoln’s personal faith that sustained him through this and much more to come.
Almost immediately after he was sworn in, what was to be known as the Civil War began. Many underestimated Lincoln’s resolve, but he was determined to keep the Union together.
But as the war progressed, Lincoln become more determined that this war must be fought and settled because of the evils of slavery that simply could not stand. At great cost, the war finally ended and the slaves were free, thanks to Abraham Lincoln–a man who read and believed the Bible.
Our new President
Today, we make history as our first African-American President is sworn in. Our new President, Barack Obama, has great admiration for Lincoln, and will even place his hand on the same Bible Lincoln used when he was sworn in.
Lincoln had no qualms about expressing his faith in God and his belief in Jesus Christ. In his first inaugural address, he said, “Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty.”
Lincoln was a strong believer in Scripture as well, as he also said, “All the good the Saviour gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man’s welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it.”
We must continue to look to God and His Word
May the Lord help us now as a nation,and direct the steps of our new President, and may we all look to God and His Word for direction as we face an uncertain future.
Get your doctrine straight!
Years ago, C.S.Lewis gave this warning: “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones.”
If this has ever been a problem in the church, it is certainly now. Paul warned such a day would eventually come, telling Timothy: “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3 NLT).
Friends, the “time” that Scripture spoke of is here. I am shocked to see how people who describe themselves as evangelicals can be so ignorant of what the Bible clearly teaches.
For a vivid example, check this out.
That is what I have committed my life to.
People who believe in Jesus wouldn’t say such outlandish things if they studied their Bibles. That is why we need preaching and teaching from the Scripture.
Right before that verse are these words: “Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with Good teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 NLT).
That is what we are committed to each day at Harvest Ministries. This is what I have committed my very life to, preaching the gospel and teaching the Word.
James MacDonald at Harvest
It has been our privilege to have Pastor James McDonald at Harvest while he is in town getting treatment for cancer. The treatments are going well, and James has been giving an amazing series of teachings on the topic of Turning Your Trials Into Gold.
His series continues this Sunday morning at Harvest, with the remaining messages coming at our Wednesday midweek studies.
Back at Harvest
I will be back in the pulpit at Harvest next Sunday, January 25. I have been on vacation with my family, and we have had a restful time. I will be wrapping up my series in the Book of Acts called Upside-Down Living.
Well, we are well into 2009 now. I trust the Lord is blessing each one of you as you draw closer to Him.
One of the best things we can do at the beginning of a year is to start over again. I hope that you have committed yourself to daily Bible study for 2009.
Harvest Ministries wants to help you with that. Don’t forget our daily devotions, which include a link to Bible reading each day. You can read them at our homepage, or you can subscribe and they will be sent to your e-mail inbox. You can find it all by clicking here.
There is no better way to walk with God and stay pure than to pray and study His Word each day! Why? Because the Bible says, ” How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9 NIV).
We have been looking at the apostle Paul’s different descriptions of the Christian life in Acts 20. We have seen the Christian compared to a runner in a race,a steward, a witness, and a herald.
Let’s look at one final picture: the watchman.
To the leaders in the church of Ephesus, Paul says, “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26 NKJV).
What is a watchman?
What does it mean when Paul says he is “innocent of the blood of all men?”
In the book of Ezekiel, the Lord impresses on His servant the importance of his role: “Son of man, I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from me, pass it on to the people immediately. If I warn the wicked, saying, ‘You are under the penalty of death,’ but you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins.
And I will hold you responsible, demanding your blood for theirs” (Ezekiel 3:17-18 NLT).
In ancient times, cities would have large walls around them to offer much-needed protection. On those walls would be towers that would be even higher. There, the watchmen would position himself to keep an eye on any potential dangers. For instance, if an enemy army was approaching, the watchmen would have the trumpet sounded to warn the people.
What a serious calling it was to have this role. The watchman had to stay awake and alert, paying careful attention. He had to be faithful, not fearful, because the aafety of many people rested with him.
This is the most sobering of the terms Paul uses here in Acts 20, showing that the sharing of the gospel is not something we are to do in a casual manner, or when we are “in the mood.” This is something of extreme importance.
We are to be watchmen too
My name, Gregory, means “Watchman,” so I am doubly reminded of this.
We are all called to lovingly warn our friends if we see them in any spiritual danger. This would not only be those who do not yet know the Lord, but also Christian friends who might be misled or overtaken by a sin.
The apostle Paul wrote to the believers in the church of Galatia and said, “Dear friends, if a Christian is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1 NLT).
So that’s the end of this little miniseries that we started this year off with. If you want to hear the full message it was based on, you can find it on our homepage by clicking on the banner “A Well-Lived Life.”
Let’s all seek to be faithful runners, servants, witnesses, heralds, and watchmen in our world today.
As we walk with the Lord in this new year, the words of the apostle Paul help us focus on what really matters. It is so easy, if one does not apply effort to do what God desires, to find themselves in the empty pursuit of nothingness.
In Acts 20, Paul gives a final message to his friends in the church of Ephesus. He had faithfully preached the gospel and taught the Word there. Now it’s time to say goodbye, so he gives a summation of what a Christian ought to be.
He compares the Christian to a runner in a race, a servant, and a witness. Now, in Acts 20:25, he likens the believer to a herald: “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more.”
Give the King’s message
The word preaching means, “To declare a message as the herald of the king.” The witness tells what has happened to him, but the herald tells what the King tells him to declare. He is a man commissioned and sent with a message, and he must not change that message in any way.
The unchanging gospel message
I think we tend to way overcomplicate the message of the gospel. There is a profound power in its utter simplicity.
I have had people express surprise at the response we will have to the invitation to receive Christ at our Harvest Crusades events. They’ll say, “But the message was so simple!”
Exactly. That was my very objective. Not be to be simplistic but simple.
The gospel is so deep that the greatest philosophers pore over its meaning. Yet it is so simple, that even a child can understand it.
Billy Graham was once interviewed by David Frost, the interview who is famous now for the movie Frost/Nixon. In the interview, Billy told Frost that in his presentation of the gospel, he “studied to be simple.”
Generally, we think we ought to study to be complex. Not at all. The gospel is an understandable message, and when that fails to happen, it’s not the fault of the message, but the messenger.
On the cutting room floor
Sometimes, we may be reluctant to share the gospel with others. Or we may feel we need to “edit out” certain parts that might offend people. We often hear of some of the best parts of a film being edited out and left “on the cutting room floor.”
But the job of the herald is to proclaim what the King tells him to proclaim. In the same way, the job of the Christian is to preach the gospel.
So today, look for opportunities to “herald” the gospel message. In such a dark world, it really is still “good news!”
We have been looking at Paul’s final words to the leaders of the church in Ephesus.
Here, the great apostle is summing up the essence of the Christian life. He is laying out what we as believers ought to be doing,so we might have a “well-lived life.”
Paul says, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my lifea dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
We have seen that we as believers are like runners in a race,and servants. Now, Paul uses a different picture where he compared himself to a witness, “testifying of the gospel of the grace of God.”
“Can you describe it for us?”
When there is an accident, police seek to locate witnesses to the incident. They ask, “What did you see and hear? Can you describe it for us?”
A witness cannot make something up or make it more or less dramatic. They are not there to entertain the audience or do anything other than to just testify to what they saw. And that is what we are to do: give testimony to what we know is true.
As John said, “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you. . . .” As you walk in fellowship with God, He will be working in your life. He will be showing you things from His Word, and life in general.
You will have seen and heard a lot, so when the opportunity comes to speak, you can and should. Your witness will just “overflow” from you, like water from a full sponge.
Let’s get serious!
But there is a seriousness to this too. The word testifying means “to solemnly give witness.” This reminds us of the seriousness of the message and of the ministry. As we share the gospel with others, it is a matter of life or death.
For instance, in the case of a witness, to give false or incorrect testimony could have dire consequences, like the wrong person being convicted of a crime, for instance.
So we must take this very seriously. Let’s look for opportunities this weekend to do this.
This weekend at Harvest
I am on vacation, taking a little bit of time off. In my absence, James McDonald is speaking. James is the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in the Chicago area.
James is in Southern California for all of January and part of February, as he is receiving daily treatments for prostate cancer at Loma Linda University.
He asked me if he could do a series on the topic of trials while he is “landlocked” here, so he could tape the messages and send them back to Chicago on video for his congregation to view. And of course, I agreed!
Who better to talk about such a subject than a man going through what James is? He is facing this like a real Christian and I know the Lord is pleased with him.
Please remember him and his family in prayer and pray that these treatments will be 100% successful and that James might have a full recovery.
You ought to come hear James or turn in to the webcast.
This and that
In his final words to the leaders of the church of Ephesus, Paul likened the follower of Jesus to five different pursuits: a runner in a race, a steward, a witness, a herald, and a watchman.
We already looked at what it is to be a runner in the race of life. The second category is that of a servant.
We are to be servants to the leaders
Paul said, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NKJV).
The word that Paul uses here for “received” is like that of a steward or servant, or even a slave.
The steward owns little or nothing. In the same way, everything I have is on loan from God. That includes my career, my ministry, my children, even my very life.
The Christian life is not about how God will bless my dreams, ambitions, and goals. This is about finding His will, and walking in it.
A servant’s purpose is to serve his master and please him. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says, “Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful” (NKJV).
This is a huge thing for us to get as Christians. Perhaps you have seen those bumper stickers on people’s cars with the statement “God is my co-pilot.” I hate to break this to you, but God does not want to be the pilot and us the co-pilot. In fact, He does not even want us in the cockpit!
God wants to be in charge
Here is what I need to know about God:
- He is the Master, I am the Servant.
- He is the Shepherd, I am the Sheep.
- He is the Potter, I am the Clay.
That means that the day I believed in Jesus, I became His personal property, to do with as He chooses. I know that sounds radical to some, but it is biblical.
As Christians, we are now the “purchased property” of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:20 reminds us, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (NKJV).
But I must also know that this Master who owns me is also a friend who loves me. The Potter who molds me is also a Father who adores me.
That makes it all the easier to be His servant.
Being a bondslave
Paul often opened his epistles with the words, “Paul, a bondslave of Jesus Christ.” But what did that mean?
This was speaking of the ancient custom in which a freed slave could declare that he did not want to leave his master. The slave who had been set free, but wanted to stay on and serve his master voluntarily was known as a “bondslave.”
This goes back to Paul’s statement to the Lord on the Damascus road, “Lord, what will you have me to do?” There was no quibbling or negotiating in this area.
We are just doing our duty
Jesus told a parable about a master commanding his servants. He compares that to our relationship with Him and says, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants. We have done what was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10 NKJV).
The true follower of Jesus wants to do His will, and as soon as he knows what it is, he gladly jumps in and does it! And if you don’t want to do His will, I wonder if you know what He has done for you.
The steward or servant must one day give an account of his ministry, and Paul was ready for that day.
So how are you doing in this area? I know I have a lot to learn. How about you?
Yesterday, I brought up the topic of running the spiritual race.
The moment you believed in Jesus Christ, this race began for you. Some of you are just beginning, and others have been running for quite a while.
My son Christopher has already finished his race, and his old dad is still running. And as I get older, I think about finishing this race more than ever.
In his final words to the leaders of the church of Ephesus, the apostle Paul wrote, “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NKJV).
Not everyone is finishing well
I know of some who have not finished their race with joy. People who seemed strong in the faith when I first believed, but who have “crashed and burned” in the race of life. They have gotten off track or in some cases even self-destructed.
We see this in the Bible as well.
The charismatic leader
King Saul comes to mind. He would have been a good politician: tall, handsome, charismatic, and I might add, anointed by God to be the king. Prophesying with the prophets, he had incredible potential.
Everything was going Saul’s way, and if he had just obeyed God, it would have been great. But he disobeyed God repeatedly and allowed pride, and eventually paranoia and jealousy, to consume him. This led to a series of sins, causing God to reject him.
The once-great King Saul met a tragic end at the battlefield having, in his own words, “played the fool and erring exceedingly” (1 Samuel 26:21 NKJV).
In the end, he really had no one to blame but himself. He started his race well, but his finish was a disaster.
The “He-Man” with the “She-Weakness”
Or we think of the mighty Samson, supernaturally blessed with super-human strength, and able to vanquish his enemies with relative ease.
But like all people, Samson had his vulnerabilities. He was a “He-Man” with a “She-Weakness.” A series of compromises took place in his life, starting with marrying a non-believer and ending up with a prostitute that took him down “Hooker, line, and sinker.” It culminated in a one-way trip to Delilah’s Barber Shop.
He too did not finish his race well.
I could go on with the stories of men who did not finish the race of life well. But Paul wanted to be of the company of those who “finished their race with joy,” joining the ranks of those who finished in God’s “Winners’ Circle.”
Men like Caleb, whose incredible story is found in Joshua 14. Or Daniel, who wouldn’t compromise, even in in his 80s.
Let’s commit ourselves to finish what we have begun, remembering this: the race of life is not a quick sprint, but a long distance run.
So run well!