Made for Praise

Psalm 34:1-3

As human beings, we tend to be self-focused. For instance, seeking God’s purpose for our life is a good thing. But in acting to fulfill His plan, we could easily dwell on how good it makes us feel rather than on the glory it brings the Lord. This is a temptation in almost everything we do for God—and that includes praise.

Worshipping the Lord should be all about Him, not us. In fact, God’s people are made for praise. The apostle Peter says it like this: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

Our main responsibility, then, is to live a life of praise to our heavenly Father. Today’s psalm gives us some guidelines to follow.

When. At all times, whether in good or bad situations, our hearts and mouths should be full of praise for God (v. 1). Worship isn’t just a Sunday thing.

How. The goal of worship is to boast in and magnify the Lord (vv. 2-3). As we focus on His excellencies, He grows bigger in our hearts, minds, and spirits.

Where. Although praise should be a continual personal practice, the psalmist also proclaims, “Let us exalt His name together” (v. 3). Praise is magnified when our voices blend together in exaltation of our Lord.

Is praise a regular part of your life? When you give the Lord a larger place in your thoughts and heart, He is magnified, and praise becomes your sincere and natural response.



A Good Witness

And you will be my witnesses.          Acts 1:8

In order to learn how to discharge your duty as a witness for Christ, look at His example. He is always witnessing—by the well of Samaria or in the temple of Jerusalem; by the sea of Galilee or on the mountainside. He is witnessing day and night; His mighty prayers are as vocal to God as His daily services. He witnesses under all circumstances. Scribes and Pharisees cannot shut His mouth; even before Pilate He witnesses a good confession. He witnesses so clearly and distinctly that there is no mistake in understanding Him. Christian, make your life a clear testimony. Be like the stream in which you can see every stone at the bottom—not like a muddy creek where you can only see the surface, but clear and transparent, so that your heart’s love for God and man may be visible to all. You need not say, “I am true”; be true. Do not boast of integrity, but be upright. Then your testimony will be such that men cannot help seeing it. Never, on account of fear of feeble man, restrain your witness. Your lips have been warmed with a coal from off the altar; let them speak as heaven-touched lips should do. “In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand.”1

Do not watch the clouds or consult the wind; in season and out of season witness for the Savior, and if it transpires that for Christ’s sake and the Gospel’s you must endure suffering in any shape, do not shrink, but rejoice in the honor conferred upon you, that you are counted worthy to suffer with your Lord. And find joy also in this—that your sufferings, your losses, and persecutions shall make you a platform from which with more vigor and with greater power you will witness for Christ Jesus. Study your great example, and be filled with His Spirit. Remember that you need much teaching, much upholding, much grace, and much humility if your witnessing is to be to your Master’s glory.



Should We Wait Until The Sun Comes Out?

When a dangerous storm approaches our community, the warning sirens go off and all of us will run for cover and a safe shelter. To preserve our lives, we will carefully follow all the instructions from the authorities and stay indoors until the wind subsides, the rain stops and the sun comes out.

The Lord Jesus has given the Church the command to make disciples of all nations. We all agree that this is an important task and we should do all we can while the conditions are favorable.

But how should we react if the political or spiritual climate in a nation or people group changes and the lives of those who preach the Gospel are in danger? Would it not be wise to put personal safety first and retreat to a “storm shelter” and wait until “the sun comes out?”

The problem with such an approach is that we do not know how many years it may be until things change in our favor. In the meantime, we could lose an entire generation.

Our national missionaries in India have experienced a sharp rise in unprecedented waves of persecution over the past 10 years. The brothers and sisters in Nepal are serving in a nation that has serious internal struggles due to Maoist terrorist infiltration. In Sri Lanka, the civil war that claimed the lives of 64,000 people trapped our missionaries in the middle of a nearly 20-year conflict.

Our brothers and sisters in these nations do exercise wisdom in sharing the Gospel in their difficult circumstances. However, they decided that for the sake of millions of people who are perishing without Christ, they would not retreat and wait for better times. Instead, they are sharing the Good News even at the risk of their own lives.



Maintaining Church Unity

Philippians 2:1-2

Churches all around the world experience brokenness. Christians are divided over a whole range of things, such as whether the service should be contemporary or traditional. Paul points out that unity is crucial to achieving our purpose. So how is that possible when a disagreement arises?

It all depends on what the difference of opinion is about. The fundamental tenets of the faith (for example, that Jesus is the Son of God, who died for our sins and rose again) are not negotiable. However, if the dispute has to do with a nonessential issue—such as a hair-splitting interpretation of doctrine—some prayerful discussion in love is acceptable, but believers should not let it cause division. In cases like this, a consensus is likely to leave some people disappointed with the results. Yet both sides should be willing to accept differences without strife.

Years ago, I was at a rural Southern church whose congregation was divided into obvious sides. The factions were essentially separate churches. Instead of addressing lots of fringe issues, I simply began to preach the Word. Over time, people who hadn’t talked to one another in years began to unite. Why? The church is the body of Jesus Christ (Col. 1:24), so He can bring us together.

People selfishly believe their preferences are better than others’ opinions, and in human strength, there’s nothing we can do to mend our differences. But it pleases God when we sacrifice our desires for the greater good of a unified church. And obedience ultimately gives greater joy than getting our way.



A Root of Bitterness

Hebrews 12:12-15

If you’ve ever tried to get rid of weeds in your lawn or garden, you know what a big problem they can be. You pull them out, and everything looks really good for a while, but before long, the unwanted growth returns because the roots are still there.
An unforgiving spirit is like a root branching out in all directions, affecting every area of our life. Lopping off the leaves by repressing the pain and resentment isn’t a long-term solution, because like a weed, bitterness can continue to grow and reproduce as long as roots are in place.

When we’ve been deeply hurt, we sometimes resist offering forgiveness, thinking that a pardon excuses the wrongdoer and downplays the severity of the wrong done to us. But that’s not what forgiveness is—it’s letting go of both the offense and our right to demand payment, with the acknowledgment that vengeance is God’s responsibility, not ours (Rom. 12:17-21).

Stubbornly refusing to forgive may seem like a way to get even, but it’s actually a poison that harms us. It hampers our ability to enjoy life and, like any sin, erodes our fellowship with the Lord. Unforgiveness could even affect our health, resulting in physical illness, anxiety, or depression.

But roots of bitterness don’t stop with us; they reach into our relationships, causing trouble and defiling others (Heb. 12:15). An unforgiving spirit hinders our ability to love, poisoning the atmosphere in homes and workplaces.

Isn’t it time to deal with that root of bitterness? Lay down your grievances and refuse to rehearse your hurts. Then fill your mind with positive things instead—namely, truths about the Lord.



How To Handle Hurts

Ephesians 4:30-32

Are you carrying wounds around with you wherever you go? Maybe someone said or did something hurtful to you yesterday, and you can’t seem to get it out of your mind. Or perhaps the offense occurred many years ago, and it’s still affecting you today. Despite your attempts to bury the pain, it keeps rising to the surface.

God doesn’t want us to live under a cloud of emotional pain. In today’s passage, He provides the way out if we’re willing to take it.

Recognize our own sin (v. 30). Although the other person’s guilt seems much greater, we can’t hide behind the label of “victim.” Wrongdoers will be held answerable to God for their actions, but we are accountable for our response. That’s why we’re warned not to grieve the Holy Spirit.

Let go of sinful responses (v. 31). The only way to move forward is to drop all bitterness, anger, and malice toward our offender. Each time we rehearse the wrong, relive the pain, and feel resentment rise up within us, we’re responding in a sinful manner instead of walking in obedience to the Spirit. To be healed of our hurts, we must put away such things.

Forgive (v. 32). As people forgiven of every sin we’ve ever committed, we have no right to hang on to others’ offenses.

Each time we submit to the Spirit, He moves us forward in forgiveness. If the pain is deep, the progress may be slow. Nevertheless, continue obeying God in an attitude of forgiveness. You’ll discover that as you let go of the offense, the hurt you’ve been carrying will be lifted as well.



Folly of Doubt

And they were unaware until the flood came, and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

Matthew 24:39

The doom was universal. Neither rich nor poor escaped: the learned and the illiterate, the admired and the despised, the religious and the profane, the old and the young all sank in one common ruin. Some had doubtless ridiculed the preacher, but where were their merry jests now? Others had threatened Noah for his zeal, which they regarded as madness. What happened to their boastings and hard speeches? The critic who judged the old man’s work drowns in the same sea that covers his sneering companions. Those who spoke patronizingly of the good man’s faithfulness to his convictions, but did not share them, have sunk to rise no more, and the workers who for pay helped to build the wondrous ark are all lost also. The Flood swept them all away and made no single exception. Even so, outside of Christ, final destruction is sure to everyone; no rank, possession, or character will be enough to save a single soul who has not believed in the Lord Jesus. My soul, consider this widespread judgment and tremble at it.

How incredible was the general apathy! They were all eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the awful morning dawned. There was not one wise individual upon earth outside of the ark. Folly duped the whole race: folly as to self-preservation, the most fooling of all follies. Folly in doubting the most true God: the most malignant foolishness. Is it not strange, my soul? All men are negligent of their souls until grace gives them reason; then they leave their madness and act like rational beings, but not until then.

All, blessed be God, were safe in the ark; no ruin entered there. From the huge elephant down to the tiny mouse all were safe. The timid hare was equally secure with the courageous lion, the helpless lamb as safe as the laborious ox. All are safe in Jesus. My soul, are you in Him?



Keep Looking At What Jesus Is Doing

John the Baptist sat in Herod’s prison. Knowing that his life hung by a very thin thread, he sent two of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Luke 7:20). What had happened to the mighty, fearless preacher who called his whole nation to repentance and accused the Pharisees of being a brood of vipers?

John was born to elderly parents—an incredible miracle. Growing up, he must have heard them say countless times, “You are the one the prophet Isaiah wrote about, the one who will come in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way of the Lord.” John had absolutely no doubt about his identity, and he knew how to answer those who asked if he was the Messiah. “I am not the Christ,” he confessed. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness. . . . It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me” (John 1:20, 23, 27).

Shortly afterward, John publicly declared Jesus to be the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah, proclaiming, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). This declaration testifies of the deep knowledge, revelation, conviction and understanding John had about God’s purpose.

How did Jesus respond to John’s confusion?

In prison, however, he wondered whether or not he had made a fatal mistake. John the Baptist—of whom Jesus testified that he was the greatest man born on earth—went through the worst confusion and doubt anyone can entertain: He questioned whether he’d failed his mission and misled his nation by declaring the wrong person to be the Messiah.

The reason for his confusion was that he expected Jesus to use His power to rescue him and set up His kingdom.

Amazingly, Jesus didn’t condemn him. Neither did He say to John’s disciples, “You mean John sent you to ask Me these questions? It shows that he has lost it completely. I never thought he would fall by the wayside like anyone else.” Instead, Jesus responded with understanding and compassion. First, He healed many who were sick, blind and lame, and He delivered those afflicted with evil spirits.

Then He told John’s disciples, “Go and tell John the things you have seen and heard: that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Luke 7:22-23).

What Jesus was saying to John was this: “John, it’s all right. You are expecting Me to snap my fingers and get you out of prison and vindicate you. You are a righteous and wonderful individual, but that’s not what I am going to do.

“When you serve Me, you will go through times of deep struggles. But if you keep looking at what I, the Lord, am doing, you will see that you have a part in all of it.

“John, don’t forget that these blind people now see, the crippled walk and millions who were lost and bound for hell are turning to the Father. John, it’s worth it.”

How do we deal with others when they go through struggles?

When I was younger, I remember how aggressive, proud and absolutely certain I was about everything. I used to be so critical and judgmental toward other brothers and sisters who were going through difficult times full of doubt and confusion. Some of them wanted to quit the ministry. Instead of showing compassion for them, I would come up with Bible verses to preach at them.

Sometimes I did the same thing to my wife. One day, when I came home, her eyes were all red, and I asked her what was wrong. But before she could answer, I told her five Scripture references.

“Can you please stop preaching at me?” she asked. “I know all these Bible verses myself. The whole day I struggled with the kids and things at home. All I want is for you to understand what I am going through.”

Let us learn from Jesus!

The next time we see our brother or sister discouraged and confused, let us not say with our mouth, “I will pray for you,” while in our heart we are saying, “You creep, don’t you know better?”

Instead, let us encourage them to keep looking at what Jesus is doing and see the difference that their lives are making for the kingdom of God.

And one more thing: When Jesus talked to the crowds about John, He never mentioned John’s doubt and confusion. Instead, He made the most amazing statements about John’s life and ministry.

Can we do the same with our brothers and sisters? Let us be willing to forget their problems and times of discouragement and see only the amazing things God has done in and through their lives. And then let us believe that He will do even greater things through them in the future.



A Different Garden

O you who dwell in the gardens, with companions listening for your voice; let me hear it.

Song of Songs 8:13

My sweet Lord Jesus remembers well the garden of Gethsemane, and although He has left that garden, He now dwells in the garden of His church: There He discloses Himself to those who keep His blessed company. The voice of love with which He speaks to His beloved is more musical than the harps of heaven. There is a depth of melodious love within it that leaves all human music far behind. Tens of thousands on earth, and millions above, are consumed with its harmonious accents. Some whom I know well, and whom I greatly envy, are at this moment hearkening to the beloved voice.

O that I were a partaker of their joys! It is true some of these are poor, others bedridden, and some near the gates of death; but, my Lord, I would cheerfully starve with them, pine with them, or die with them if I might simply hear Your voice. Once I heard it often, but I have grieved Your Spirit. Return to me in compassion and once again say to me, “I am your salvation.”

No other voice can content me. I know Your voice and cannot be deceived by another; let me hear it, I pray You. I do not know what You will say, nor do I make any condition, my Beloved; simply let me hear You speak, and if it be a rebuke I will bless You for it. Perhaps the cleansing of my dull ear will require a painful surgery, but let it cost me what it will, I have only one consuming desire—to hear Your voice.

Pierce my ear with Your harshest notes, but do not allow me to remain deaf to Your calls. Tonight, Lord, grant Your unworthy servant his desire, for I am Yours, and You have bought me with Your blood. You have opened my eyes to see You, and the sight has saved me. Lord, open my ear. I have read Your heart; now let me hear from Your lips.



Not Even The 12 Disciples Knew

BIBLE MEDITATION:
But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but My Father only. Matthew 24:36

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT:
Anybody who sets a date for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ may be getting close to the line of blasphemy. The Bible teaches very plainly, and our Lord taught, that no one knows the time—no one.

Just before Jesus was taken up into glory, the disciples asked Him, “Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And He said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in His own power” (Acts 1:6-7).

Two things we can be sure of: (1) the certainty of His coming, (2) the uncertainty of the time: “For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2). No thief has ever told you “I’m coming to your house on such-and-such a day.”

So why hasn’t Jesus Christ come yet? Because “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering to us. Not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9).

The Lord is waiting on you to be saved. But one of these days, soon and very soon perhaps, Jesus will come. It is the mercy of God that holds back the second coming of Jesus. But the justice of God and the judgment of God says one day He will come.

No one knows when that day is, but what a glorious day that will be!

ACTION POINT:
Read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. What encouragement do you need to share with someone today?

Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

DEVOTIONAL THOUGHT:
How do you have faith? You look to Jesus, and faith is produced in your heart.

You don’t have to “work up” faith.

Suppose I needed to cross the Mississippi River and I wasn’t sure whether the bridge could hold me up or not. I could do one of two things:
• Stand on the bank and try to work up enough courage to believe in the structural integrity of that bridge, then timidly walk over it.
• Or look at the semi-trucks traveling across the mighty steel and concrete of that bridge, believe, and boldly walk across in faith!

In this case, faith is the by-product of seeing the strength of the bridge itself. In the same way, it’s not great faith in God that you need; it’s faith in a great God!

When you see who Jesus Christ is, when you become acquainted with Him, when you look unto Jesus, who is our chief example, He gives you strength for the race. Not only is He the Author of our faith, He’s also the Finisher of our faith.

“Finisher” means He is the one who completes and perfects our faith. He gives you the strength to run the race. He puts us in the race, then He gives us the strength for it.

ACTION POINT:
Pray: Father, I have been a lazy spiritual athlete. Help those of us who have not known discipline, determination, and direction, to learn them. And, Lord, help us always to be looking unto Jesus.