God's Perspective on our Troubles

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James 1:2-4

Today’s passage seems to make an impossible demand: how on earth can we “consider it all joy” when we face terrible hardships? Doesn’t this admonition belittle our honest troubles and concerns?

Scripture never instructs us to ignore situations that cause us heartaches, doubt, fear, or worry. In fact, the Bible is quite honest about what we as Christians can expect from a life devoted to Christ. Jesus proclaimed, “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 niv). Because we seek to live by biblical values, the world does not understand our motivation and will therefore often stand against us.

How, then, can we rejoice when we face trouble? It is through our hardships that Christ often makes Himself known in our lives. If we lived trouble-free lives, what need would we have for a Savior? Rather, it is because we live fragile lives that we can see Jesus clearly.

When we face a problem head-on with the certainty that God will provide a solution and the strength to endure, we gain spiritual stamina. It is similar to training our physical bodies. Only through the resistance of an opposing force, such as a barbell, do our muscles grow. Likewise, our faith develops as a result of dealing with spiritual resistance.

Through the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can find the faith to rejoice in our pain. This is possible because we not only have the assurance that God will provide, but we also can trust that when we walk with Him, we will be better prepared to face the next obstacle.


Overcoming Life's Ups and Downs

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Have you ever heard a testimony from someone who has been through a horrible tragedy? We tend to pay very close attention to such accounts because the person involved has witnessed firsthand God’s faithfulness and power to restore a broken life.

Of all the witnesses to God’s grace in times of trouble, none is more compelling than the apostle Paul. He was certainly no stranger to hardship. Throughout his ministry, he was chased, beaten, stoned, arrested, shipwrecked, and accused of heresy by both the Jewish leaders and the Roman government. This was certainly a stark contrast to his early life, in which he enjoyed the luxuries and opportunities that his Roman citizenship and Jewish education provided.

There were amazing ups and downs in Paul’s life. As a result, he earned the right to make the proclamation found in Philippians 4:12: “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity.”
And what was the lesson the apostle came away with as a result of these experiences? He tells us in verse 12: “In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”

Paul’s “secret” is really not a secret al all, for he reveals the source of his strength in the following verse: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Faith in Jesus Christ and an increasing reliance on Him will make this limitless power source a reality in your life.


God's Loving Desire

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Taken in Ober-Ottikon, Canton of Zurich
Throughout the New Testament, we see God’s universal call to salvation repeated a number of times (John 1:12; 3:16; 6:40; 2 Peter 3:9). But each of us must make a personal decision about answering Him.

God wants mankind saved for several reasons. First, He loves us (Eph. 2:4). Divine love isn’t based on any worthiness in us; rather, care for His creation is part of God’s nature. Second, the Lord’s grace is made evident through His followers (v. 7). Believers were once rebellious beings, whom God transformed into obedient servants—that’s a change He wants to celebrate for eternity. What’s more, our good works glorify the Lord (Matt. 5:16). Everything we do in His name increases other people’s awareness of Him.

Salvation is possible only through Christ, who reconciles sinful people to holy God. Isaiah 53:6 teaches that every one of us is a sinner, and Romans 6:23 adds, “The wages of sin is death.” Without a divine solution, we’d be indebted and hopeless. But the Savior’s death on the cross paid the penalty for all humanity so anyone who wants a relationship with the Father can have one. Believing Jesus died for our sins and submitting to the Lord’s will are all that’s necessary for us to enter into eternal fellowship with Him.

Our heavenly father loves us and wants to be with us forever. The only thing that can separate us from Him is a decision to reject His invitation. Once we receive His Son as Savior, we are God’s, and no human action or character flaw can sever our eternal relationship with Him.


To Forgive or to Blame

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Showing the weight of blame
"It's not my fault" is a prevalent attitude in our culture. To avoid responsibility for their own actions, people blame others: "I wouldn't yell at my kids so much if my own mother had loved me more" or "I wouldn't speak unkindly about my boss if he showed me some respect." Resentment wells up until the victim is blind to everything except how his life is impacted by someone else's hurtful deeds. Then casting blame is easy. But God has a challenge for believers: Forgive those who wound you.
The Lord’s Prayer mentions several of God’s duties but lists only one for believers: to forgive debtors (Matt. 6:12). The metaphor of debt describes sin well. A wronged person often feels that the responsible party owes something, such as an apology or compensation. But by showing mercy to one who has sinned, you stamp his or her obligation to you “paid in full.” Reparations and retribution are no longer required.
Sometimes our wounds are so deep that forgiveness does not come easily. Remember that Jesus bears the scars of others’ sins, too, and His Holy Spirit enables believers to carry out this difficult task. While your debtor may have done nothing to deserve grace, choose to give it anyway, just as Jesus did for you.
When God forgives, He remembers wrongs no more (Jer. 31:34). This doesn’t mean that transgressions magically ceases to have happened. Instead, the Lord refuses to use past wrongs as a reason to punish His people. He set the pattern of debt cancellation, and we are to follow His example (Matt 6:15).


Praying in Jesus' Name

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showing access by the key.
Shortly before the crucifixion, Jesus told His followers to pray in His name—in other words, to make requests according to His will. He pointed out that power is attached to prayer offered this way: “The Father will give you whatever you ask in My name” (John 15:16 niv). Supplication in Christ’s name means we’re declaring our . . .

• Association with the Savior. What makes it possible for us to approach God through prayer is our relationship with Jesus. At salvation, we went from being foreigners and aliens to being children of God. (Eph. 2:19) Our Creator has become our heavenly Father. He hears our requests because we have been made family through the redemptive work of His Son. The presence of Christ’s Spirit within us proves we are one of His own.

• Access to the Father. Jesus’ death opened the way for us to have immediate, unhindered admittance to the Father’s presence. When Jesus finished His work in making the final priestly sacrifice (Heb. 7:28), the veil in the temple, which closed off the Holy of Holies from man, was torn in two. (Mark 15:38) This symbolized the spiritual truth that access to God was now open to all who believe. Through the Holy Spirit, we have the right to talk to God directly without a human intermediary (Eph. 2:18).

Jesus Christ fully paid the penalty for our sins by dying on the cross. Accepting His atoning death on our behalf means we are in a new family relationship and we have unhindered access to the Father. Let’s stop right now and give thanks to God for the incredible privilege of prayer!


The High Cost of Resisting God

When Jonah ran away from the Lord, he probably thought he'd escaped an undesirable assignment. But rebellion never makes life better--or easier. Before long, he found himself in an even less pleasant situation: taking a wild ride inside a fish. Two things stand out in this story.

Jonah's determination to get away.The reluctant prophet boarded a ship going in the opposite direction. Perhaps you've had the same problem he had: God's plans don't match yours. We can coast along with the Lord in sweet fellowship until the day He asks us to do something we don't like. That's the point at which our devotion to Him is tested. If you resist, He will allow a storm to rage in your soul until you submit to His authority.

God's persistence in going after Him. As a prophet, Jonah was to speak for the Lord. That's a commitment God takes seriously. When you read through today's passage, you'll notice certain actions the Lord took to help Jonah fulfill his obligation--though they're not the kind we want to experience. He "hurled a great wind on the sea"(v. 4) and "appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah" (v. 17). When we resist God, He will put pressure on us to get our attention and bring us back to Himself. That's how important we are to Him.

Rebellion carries a high price tag. We lose not only peace and joy but also future opportunities to serve God. Consequences can even reach into eternity. You wouldn't want to stand before Christ, knowing that disobedience led to loss of eternal rewards. Begin now to obey quickly and fully.


Bringing Others to Jesus

Andrew is the disciple known for bringing people to Jesus. Immediately after meeting the Lord, he introduced his brother Simon to the Messiah. Another time, when a great multitude was hungry, he found a boy with five loaves and two fishes and brought him to Jesus (John 6:8-9). When some Greeks wanted to meet Christ, Andrew and Philip made the introductions (12:20-22). This disciple never lost his enthusiasm for the Savior.
Andrew's own conversion experience motivated him to let others know about the One who'd changed his life (1:36-37). How about you--have you lost the joy of your salvation? If your Christian life has become stale and musty, it's time to remember what Christ has done for you and to ask that He restore your excitement.
In addition, Andrew longed to know the Savior and spend time with Him (vv. 38-39). The disciple's example is a good reminder that sweet fellowship with the Lord isn't supposed to end with devotional times. It should also stimulate a desire to share with others the joy we find in our relationship with Christ.
Finally, Andrew was motivated by his conviction that Jesus was the Messiah (v. 41). He'd found the answer for a lost and hurting world and wanted others to know.
When Andrew answered the call to discipleship, Jesus told him he'd be "catching men" instead of fish (Luke 5:10). Since we, too, are followers of Christ, we have this same assignment. Our styles and opportunities vary, but we're each responsible to develop a lifelong habit of bringing others to Jesus.


The Power of the Gospel

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packaging the Gospel.
Lightning storms captivate me; they are a visual display of God’s amazing strength. Even more powerful, however, is something He has entrusted to us—the gospel.

This term comes from euangĂ©lion, the Greek for “good news,” which was translated as godspel in Old English. Salvation in Christ truly is good news, for though sinfulness reigns in men’s hearts, God can overcome the darkness and redeem our souls.

This is the message of the entire Bible, from creation to eternity. In Genesis, we see the love of God for man, but we are also shown how His heart broke when sin entered the human race through Adam and Eve. Mankind was lost until Jesus took our sins upon Himself. As our substitute on the cross, He endured the penalty we all deserved, and then defeated death with His resurrection. This is triumph, indeed.

Think about the strength of the gospel. God’s Word isn’t simply ink on a page; it is living, active, and sharper than a sword (Heb. 4:12), with power to change anyone—even the vilest of sinners. Even us.
Think about what divine truth is able to do: it can break the chains of sin, heal brokenness, and change hearts. It also guides us into wisdom and choices that bring life. Friend, we have access to the most powerful message in existence.

What’s your response to the gospel? Are you grateful for being entrusted with God’s life-giving Word? The Lord tells us to meditate on Scripture daily and to obey eagerly, as it is the life-source for our souls. He also instructs us to share the wonderful news of salvation with a hurting, hopeless world.


A Passion to Know Christ

Most believers know the essential facts about their Savior’s life, but few know Him well relationally. They’re so busy with activities and pursuits that they rarely think of Jesus until a desperate situation arises.

Yet those who know the Lord intimately have a continually deepening relationship with Him. He’s their top priority, and every possession, accomplishment, or pursuit is worthless compared to knowing Him. Consider the results of making Christ the passion of your life (Phil. 3:8-10):

Increasing hunger: “that I may gain Christ.” Even though Paul had an amazing relationship with Jesus, his passion was so great that he wanted to know Him more.

Changed life: “the righteousness which comes from God.” The more we know Christ, the more we’ll mature spiritually and display His righteousness.

Increased capability: “the power of His resurrection.” The Spirit’s power flows through those intimately related to Jesus.

New perspective: “the fellowship of His sufferings.” When we understand Christ, we recognize the benefits He works in us through our suffering.

Victorious living: “being conformed to His death.” Christians who know Jesus intimately count themselves dead to the sins that once dominated their lives.
Is your life characterized by a deep, abiding passion for Christ, or is your relationship with Him shallow and mechanical? Believers must not let the pleasures, opportunities, and responsibilities of this world rob them of the treasure of knowing Jesus. It’s time to count it all as loss and pursue Christ.


David's Devotion

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of God's creation.
Do you want to know who God is and what He cares about most in your life? You may have stored up lots of intellectual information about the Bible; that is important, but it’s not the main issue. You may serve the Lord, which is also necessary. And you may give generously to the church—another significant aspect of Christian life. But what matters most is the depth of your personal relationship with the Lord. Knowledge, service, and tithes can never replace intimacy with God.

The psalmist-king understood this truth, and it strengthened him in times of trouble. When his son Absalom tried to take over the throne, David fled to the desert, where he wrote these words: “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1-2). He knew that even in raging adversity, he could count on the Lord’s unfailing love being poured down on him (v. 8).

Throughout his psalms, we repeatedly see David’s hunger and thirst for the Lord. It was that passion—not his brute strength, savvy charisma, or remarkable ability to command an army—that made him a great man. And even though he made several significant mistakes, the Bible describes him as a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14).

It’s not enough to read the Bible, volunteer your services, and give money to kingdom work. God wants to know you personally. While physical expressions of our devotion are important, they should be the result of a mature relationship with God. When we seek to know Him first, the rest will follow.


Entrusted with the Gospel

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Imagine standing by a pool, watching your children get ready to swim. The youngest asks you to hold something—a dirty plastic pail. The oldest makes a similar request, and then hands you an heirloom opal necklace that had been her grandmother’s. Most likely, you wouldn’t worry too much about protecting the toy, but you’d probably guard the jewelry with great care. The way we handle a possession reveals the value we attach to it.
We see this principle in Jesus’ parable about the master who, before going away, entrusted his workers with various sums of money. The two who invested theirs were later commended for wise use of the funds. Their efforts showed that they valued both the treasure and their master. A third worker, however, simply buried his portion in the ground, and all he “earned” was a harsh rebuke and loss of what little treasure he had.
Like these men, we are responsible for something of great worth—far greater, in fact, than money. God has placed in our keeping the most powerful and precious message in existence, the gospel of Jesus. And we are accountable for what we do with it. Our “investment” involves both how we apply its truth to our own life and whether we share it with others.
Do you feed on God’s Word daily, and are you obeying all that He says? He has commanded us to share His life-saving message with a hurting and needy world—and to make disciples in every part of the globe. Whether we listen and obey reveals how much we value the gospel.
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