When the apostle Paul was imprisoned for proclaiming the gospel, he was no doubt feeling a bit down and discouraged. Perhaps he was wondering if he would ever be released.
Then Jesus came to him with these words: “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).
Paul could take comfort in that there was a future for him because Jesus said, “You must also bear witness in Rome.”
They wouldn’t kill him. He was still to bear witness in Rome. He had a future.
One of my favorite Bible verses
One of my favorite verses about God’s future for each of us is in the book of Jeremiah:
“I know the thoughts that I think toward you says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV)
It is worth noting that these words were given to Israel when they were in captivity in Babylon. They had lost hope. They saw no future, and felt as if God had forgotten about them.
But the Lord was saying to them (and us too), “I have not forgotten you, and there is a future!”
Note that God does not say, “I know the thoughts that I have thought toward you.” Rather, He says, “I know the thoughts that I think toward you.”
God thinks about you all the time
Now it would be wonderful enough to know that God ever thought of me as an individual. But it is not something God has merely done in the past. It is something He is doing in the present and will continue to do in the future.
Know this: God is thinking about you right now! He is not thinking about you merely as a member of the human race. He is thinking about you as an individual.
Psalm 40:5 says, “Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works which You have done; and Your thoughts toward us cannot be counted to You in order. If I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (NKJV).
God’s thoughts toward you are continual, nonstop, and innumerable
Think about that! God Almighty, the One who holds the heavens in the span of His hand, the One who spoke and creation came into being, is thinking about you right now.
Jeremiah 29:11 speaks of a future. Now the word used here for future could be translated “an expected end.” Another translation describes it as “a ground of hope” or “things hoped for.”
There will be an outcome in your life, regardless of what you are going through at present. There will be completion. God will tie up the loose ends.
You are still a work in progress. God is still finishing you, so don’t be impatient. Don’t feel it’s over, just because you are not where you want to be yet.
We see only the beginning. God sees “the expected end” and it is good!
God still had a future for Paul, just as He does for you.
This weekend at Harvest
This Sunday at Harvest, I will be giving a message from Acts 26, titled”The Almost Christian.”
I suggest to you that there are a lot of “Almost Christians” in our country today. They are not outright non-believers, but they are not real believers either. They are what we might call “Almost Christians,” which is really not a Christian at all.
I will give the biblical definition of what a Christian is, and some might be surprised by it.
Come join us or check it out online.
The apostle Paul was in a Roman dungeon for his faithfulness to the gospel. But one night, Jesus Christ paid him a visit and offered these encouraging words:
“But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer (or courage), Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome’” (Acts 23:11 NKJV).
Jesus was revealing to the great apostle that he was more than aware of his situation. Just because he was in a prison didn’t mean that God had lost track of him.
There is a story of a minister who came to see John Bunyan, the minister who wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, in prison. He told Bunyan, “Friend, the Lord sent me to you, and I have been seeking for you in half the prisons in England.”
“No, that cannot be,” said Bunyan. “For if the Lord had sent you to me, you would have come here at once, for He knows I have been here for years.”
Jesus is there with us in our “prisons,” as well
For some people, it is a literal jail cell they are in because they have broken the law. Yet, as they have asked for God’s forgiveness, Jesus is with them there in that prison cell.
Maybe you are in a different kind of prison right now, the prison of a hospital bed. You would love to get up and just walk out, but you can’t.
Yet Jesus is there in that hospital room, convalescent home, or room in their home, saying, “Be courageous. You are not alone, and I am fully aware of your suffering.”
Or it might be a prison cell of mourning, because of the loss of a loved one through death. Whatever or wherever your prison is, Jesus is there with you now.
And Jesus also knows what lies ahead
That is why He came to Paul in this hour of need, because He knew he would need this special touch.
Paul was not really privy to what was going on all around him at this point. He did not know that 40 men had taken an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul!
Sometimes, ignorance can be bliss. Many times, it’s really a good thing that we don’t know all that is swirling around us in both the supernatural and natural realm.
God reveals to us as much as we need to know, when we need to know it. Not necessarily more and certainly not less, but what we need to know. Your troubles, though unexpected, did not come as a surprise to God.
The military has a term it uses for sensitive information. If it is necessary for you to know something, it’s on a “need-to-know basis.” In the same way, God gives us what we “need to know,” when we need it.
A final quote from C.H. Spurgeon
Let me close with a quote from Spurgeon that should bring hope to any Christian facing a trial:
“The Lord knows all about your troubles before they come to you; He anticipates them by His tender foresight. Before Satan can draw the bow, the preserver of men will put His beloved beyond the reach of the arrow. Before the weapon is forged in the furnace, and prepared on the anvil, He knows how to provide us with armor of proof which shall blunt the edge of the sword and break the point of the spear.”
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.
There are many things that could be said in response to that particular question, but here is one you may not have considered: God allows trials and hardship in your life so you can help others. As a result, whatever difficulty, challenge, or suffering you may be going through need not be wasted.
Paul writes, “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ. Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer” (2 Corinthians 1:4-7 NLT).
James MacDonald at Harvest
For the last few weeks, Pastor James MacDonald has been speaking at our church on the topic of turning your trials into gold.
What makes this series especially poignant is the fact that James is delivering these messages while undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.
Therefore, there is a power and authenticity to his messages that has powerfully resonated with all who have heard them. That is because he is giving them in “real time,” personally living the truths he is proclaiming.
But James has also found that there is no better time to minister to others then when you are hurting.
That doesn’t make sense!
It seems that when we are in need, when we are facing crisis, the world should just stop what it is doing and think about us. We think that we need to be cared for, encouraged, even catered to.
But the reality is that when you are hurting, if you will reach out to someone else, you yourself will be replenished and helped.
Jesus said, “If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving–large or small–it will be used to measure what is given back to you” (Luke 6:38 NLT).
There is always someone worse off than you
People have commended me and our family for continuing to minister, despite our pain over the death of our beloved son Christopher. While I appreciate those kind words, I must tell you that it actually helps me to help others.
My heart goes out to other people who are suffering like it never has before, especially if it is the death of a child. So it helps me to help them. Even writing these words help me, knowing that they may minister to someone, somewhere.
I’m sure you know of someone who is hurting right now. Perhaps they have cancer, or have recently lost a loved one, or their marriage has unraveled. Go to them and seek to be a friend and encourage them today.
Don’t waste your experiences
God is in control of your life, and allows trials to come our way in order to strengthen us spiritually and make us more like Jesus.
Whatever you are facing, know that someone else is facing it too. Perhaps you could share with them some of the things the Lord has shared with you, and “be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
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.
I have been on vacation this week, so I thought I would use some of that spare time (a rarity for me) to figure out how to use my page on Facebook. Our outstanding Web team set up the page for me, and they have done a great job of maintaining it.
When I first started visiting Facebook, I was a bit mystified by it all. But with some assistance from my son Jonathan, I started posting personal messages and going online around dinner time the last few nights just to say “hello.”
I was amazed at how many people responded! It was almost 100 in just a very short time. We’ve talked about everything, from what we were having for dinner to spiritual issues.
It’s an amazing thing really, this whole Facebook phenomenon. In fact, my profile has already been maxed out at Facebook’s 5,000-friend limit.
So if you want a little more “behind the scenes” chatter, some new photos, and more, check out my Facebook pages. I will try to drop in for dinner.
God bless you all.