The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. (Luke 4:9)
I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27)
The year 2018 is upon us at last. 2017 has gone with its troubles and disappointments and failures, but the vision and hope live on. We cherish our best moments in 2017, for God has been good to us. That, we cannot deny, despite all the suspense and setbacks. So, we will be ungrateful not to be thankful.
Every year comes with its own promises and opportunities, and this one is no exception. It is pregnant with new areas to explore and opportunities to seize. It’s heavy with ideas and concepts to think through, and laden with dew from heaven to refresh.There is divine strength, ability, and enablement to accomplish what God has for you. But, much depends on how you walk with the Lord Jesus. He has opened His treasury for your spiritual and physical enrichment, so go for it.
Despite all its promises and opportunities though, 2018 has challenges and snares to guard against. One little mistake, one careless move, and you could find yourself swimming in the pool of despondency and pain like Esau.
How then do we ensure a healthy walk with Jesus, and avoid the snares along the path? 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 provides some profitable hints, as Paul sets before us, three things for our consideration.
First, every difficult situation provides an opportunity to excel (v.24). The incentive for every athlete is the prize a race presents. Likewise, we must see this year as an event in the race of life. It promises many rewarding opportunities if we run the race with diligence.It presents us with the opportunity to enrich our lives. With disciplined minds, we can embrace every opportunity 2018 brings and make the most of it (Eph. 5:15-16)
Second, strict training is a prerequisite for the victor’s crown in every race. The athlete must tone the body and strengthen the muscles. They must establish a strict time regimen for training that must be strictly followed without lapses. Additionally, the athlete must keenly watch their diet and work to avoid packing excess weight. That is the attitude that wins the prize for every athlete (vv. 24b-25). These are disciplines that are necessary for the believer to run a healthy race of faith to obtain a crown.
Third, bringing the body under submission to the strict training regimen of the athlete is tremendously important for winning a prize. The body wants its way. It wants the glory, but hates the pain and inconveniences of the strict training. Paul knows this, so he beats his body and makes it a slave to give him the opportunity for the prize (vv. 26-27). That’s self-discipline, and it does not come easily.
May the Holy Spirit provide you with the ability to discipline yourself for the event of life this year to win the ultimate prize in glory; and may He enable you to reap the benefit of temporary gains here on earth, without letting them slow you down on the course to heaven.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! – Luke 1:42
The two women again, each needing affirmation. Elizabeth and Mary, both carrying babies under extraordinary circumstances, and not knowing who to tell! Who would believe that an old woman, well past child-bearing age; with one foot standing in the grave, could have the other firmly planted in the delivery room? Ridiculous! “Look at that old lady,” they may have gossiped. “She wants us to believe she is pregnant. How people can deceive themselves!” “Will somebody tell her to go get rid of that fibroid?” That’s what Elizabeth had become – a public ridicule! So, for five months of her pregnancy, she remained in seclusion (Lk. 1:24). What she needed most then was someone who could believe her; someone to throw her arms around her and whisper in an assuring tone, “I believe you”.
There comes a time when all we need is someone to believe – someone to affirm us. You may be going through such a painful time right now. You have been misquoted and misinterpreted. You have been neglected and shunned as ridiculous. You have become a laughing stock among your friends and family. You are losing it and thinking of the unthinkable. If only you are standing on the side of truth, don’t give up. The day is coming when you will laugh again. Divine help is on the way, and you will be encouraged. That day came for Elizabeth one gloomy day.
Mary, her relative from the town of Nazareth came to visit. It was no ordinary visit. She shared the same burden Elizabeth carried in her seclusion – public ridicule. The top buzz around town was, “Today’s young girls, they can’t keep themselves pure. How could she be pregnant when she is not married?” “Could that be Joseph’s doing? that sneaky old man”, someone said. “No, it can’t be him. I can bet you a hundred shekels that it’s one of those young men. Those little rascals”, said another. “She never liked that betrothal anyway”. With such talk, they may have chewed on her all-day long. Who would believe her story? How could a virgin be with child? Are they saying such things about you? Be sure that you are not alone. Someone else may be going through the same, or worse somewhere. The best part is that God is with you and will bring you in touch with a comforter soon. That’s what Mary’s visit to Elizabeth was all about – for the two to affirm and encourage each other.
You see, when you stand on the side of truth, heaven affirms you. Let everybody condemn you, God has someone who shares your story; one who has been through your crucible and knows how you feel. That’s what Jesus has become for us now – a Great High Priest who has suffered all we suffer and feels our pain (Heb. 4:15). Through Him, divine help is ordained, and your affirmation comes soon.
At Mary’s approach, the Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth. In a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? … Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her!” (Lk. 1:42-45)
Maybe you need someone to believe you, but maybe you too could say a kind word to somebody today. A simple, “I believe you”, may suffice. Perhaps, you’re God’s appointed minister to that person. And as you do that, may the Lord affirm you in His own way!
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? – Matthew 7:16
They were cousins – sons of two sisters. According to Akan tradition, either of them could be the Asantehene, king of the Ashantis of Ghana. The normal criterion for secession to the throne is age, and that was Kofi’s confidence for the kingship after their aging uncle. He was the local boy, and easily recognized as the Crown Prince. Kwaku, on the other hand, made his living abroad. Growing up, his mother always reminded him to live as a prince – always above the ordinary. To help him maintain that perspective, his mother sent him to live with a royal family in another region for a crash course in ‘Royal Protocols 101’. Kwaku took the course seriously, and that put him on a different trajectory in life. Even away from his people, decency and integrity marked his life, and people respectfully called him ‘Nana’, the traditional title for princes and kings. So, when the king died, the elders chose Kwaku as his successor. What went wrong for Kofi? He took things for granted as the Crown Prince and lived in ways unbecoming of a future king. His unroyal character cost him the stool. His desperate appeal to the President of the nation could not bend the customs and tradition of the Ashanti Kingdom to his favor.
The moral of this story is that, claiming to be a descendant of a royal family and heir apparent does not automatically guarantee kingdom benefits and blessings. Integrity of character is what lays claim to royal privileges.
In the Kingdom of God, membership is not reckoned through birth into a Christian family or church membership. Simply praying the sinner’s prayer does not automatically guarantee heaven to anyone. A person’s confession of Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord must always be validated by their transformed life that glorifies God (Jn. 1:12, 13; Rm.10:9, 10; 12:1-2).
John the Baptist warned the Jews to “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For … out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Luke 3:8). As Jesus said, “By their fruit, you will recognize them … A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:16, 18).
We thank God that He did not raise children unto Himself out of stones to fulfill His promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3), but has done it through His Own Son, Jesus Christ (Jn. 3:16; Gal. 3:14, 29). That is why we who have put our trust in Jesus are sons of God and consequently, “heirs of God, co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16, 17). As children of God, Paul, admonishes us to walk by the Spirit that we’ll not gratify the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:15). For, the only true claim to heaven is evidence of the presence of the Holy Spirit in a life, and the fruit He bears in that person, as revealed in their lifestyle (22-23).
So, does your lifestyle validate your claim to sonship of the Most High?
My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God? – Gen. 39:9
I have observed that, so many people are doing very good things for the wrong reasons. They may mean well and care much, but it is all done for the wrong reasons. When put to the test, their real motives will be exposed.. Even though their actions may benefit or bring relief to many, they have no eternal consequences. Motive is all, when it comes down to what pleases God. It is the foundation upon which integrity stands. For one can do all the right things and still miss the mark. There is a name for it. It is called hypocrisy, the lack of integrity.
Consider Charlie’s story. He had a problem with his children’s school fees and had defaulted on his rent for two months. Fortunately for him, Opanin Kwadwo Afram intervened before his eviction one Tuesday afternoon. Yet, that same week, Charlie sent money to his sister for his nephew’s school uniform, guaranteed a loan for his unemployed friend, and gave a handsome donation at a funeral in his hometown with much applause and handshakes. Why did Charlie do all that despite his dire financial condition?
They claim it is an obligation, a requirement, a ‘have to’, a tradition, love for a friend, and being a generous giver. It is all publicity-dependent behavior. Let everybody look away from him or dismiss the public recognition, and you will have a different ‘Charlie’.
Jesus had a stern warning for Charlie & Co. “Be careful not to do your righteousness before men, to be seen by them” (Matt. 6:1). He called such acts hypocrisy. He condemned them in our giving (v.2), praying (v.5), and fasting (v.16). It goes on in our churches, workplaces and even in our most sincere expressions of love for others. Our motives for doing what we do may be flawed.
Make no mistake about this. Our only act that has integrity, glorifies God, and brings eternal reward is that which is done out of love for Jesus. “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). A person who lives this way says and does the same thing whether people are watching or not. That is integrity.
Joseph confronted a determined adulteress in his workplace. His master’s wife proposed a secret sexual deal that any young man his age could decline (Gen. 39:7). How could he look away from the seductress and be a “man” in her eyes? But Joseph was of a different breed and spirit. He was motivated by righteousness and God’s honor, so he prevailed. His private behavior remained the same as his public profession. He suffered prison life for his choice, but that didn’t change him. “His bow remained steady, his strong arms stayed limber,” as his father commented of him (Gen. 49:24). His heart was after God, the Mighty One of his father Jacob, the Shepherd and Rock of Israel, whose hand sustained him. Now, that’s integrity to the core!
How do you measure?
Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering. You are to receive the offering for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give – Exodus 25:2
God instructed Moses on Mt. Sinai to collect an offering for the construction of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 25:1-7). The message was very simple;“Tell the Israelites to bring me an offering” (2). The message was intended for the entire Israelite community. Moses was to receive the offering on behalf of the Lord. God specified the items they were to bring (3-7). The purpose of the offering was very specific: The construction of the Tabernacle, its articles and furnishing. Nothing was left to speculation.
The interesting thing about this offering was that even though all the Israelites were to bring the offering, God made it optional. There was no compulsion. Rather, Moses was instructed to receive from only those “whose heart prompts them to give” (2c). In chapter 35, God added that “Everyone who is willing”, was to bring an offering of any of the items He had specified. From these two conditions, we get two firm principles for proper giving to the Lord.
First, God receives from only those whose hearts prompt them to give to Him. This principle is anchored on the fact that giving is an act of worship (Rm. 12:1). And, worship must come from a willing heart. God is always concerned about the motive behind everything we do or bring to Him. That’s why He doesn’t look at the outward appearance, but, at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
The second principle is that God receives from only those who are willing to give to Him. The fact is, your heart may prompt you to give, but you may not be willing and ready to do so. A lot of things compete for our time, money, and other resources and so even when our heart is prompting us to give, we find ourselves holding back. When we give anyway, we do so reluctantly, not that we don’t want to give, but because we would rather have spent the resource on something else this time. God would not have any of that. He looks for whole-hearted devotion to receive and bless (2 Chron. 16:9). The silver and the gold belong to Him anyway. So, God simply provides us with opportunity to be blessed (Phil. 4:17).
That is the test of our devotion and dedication to God. A grateful heart may prompt you to give, but until other considerations are submitted to His Lordship and Majesty, you will always struggle to give. All other principles of giving are consequent upon these two that were stated by God in the wilderness. If we get them right, God will be glorified as we give with joy and receive much more, so that “we can be generous on every occasion” (2 Cor. 9:11).
Do nothing out of selfish ambition … not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others Phil. 2:3-4
In this world of ‘me first’ mentality, it is refreshing to meet someone who is thoughtful and considerate – someone who is kind and selfless enough to pause and think, in the busyness of this world, about the welfare and interest of others. It is almost therapeutic to come into the presence of someone who loves enough to lay his self interests aside for the sake of another. That is what makes the story of Naomi and Ruth in the old testament book of Ruth so captivating and enthralling; a book worth studying and learning from.
Consider for a moment, the relationship of those two widows. Ruth had given up everything in her world for the sake of her mother-in-law, Naomi. She had come to Bethlehem with Naomi and into a new relationship with Naomi’s people and her God (Ruth 1:16-22). She had taken the initiative to find food for the home (2:1-23). God, in His mercy and grace, had led her to the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech, her dead father-in-law. A relationship had been established, and provision for the home had moved from critical to some normalcy. Naomi might have been very happy and content with the presence of Ruth. Why then would she think about getting a husband for Ruth, knowing the possibility of losing her services? But that was exactly what Naomi did (3:1-18). Instead of thinking about herself alone, she thought about Ruth’s future, a young woman and a widow in a foreign land, and so she sought a husband for her. More than that, Naomi had a better claim on Boaz as a kinsman redeemer, and was probably within the same age group as Boaz. Regardless, she suggested Boaz to Ruth and taught her how to make him notice her. (2-4). Naomi gave up everything to secure a husband and a future for Ruth. By her thoughtfulness and self-sacrifice, she gave Ruth a new life.
It is a perfect picture of the self-emptying of our Lord Jesus Christ for our sake. Out of love, Christ laid aside all His prerogatives as God and condescended to our level to save us (Phil. 2:5-8). He did this through His self-sacrifice and cruel death on the Cross, and His resurrection from the dead. That is why we, like Ruth, have received new life in Christ. Having done this for us, Jesus commands us to show the same love for one another as evidence that we are His disciples (Jn. 13:34, 35). But, do we sacrifice our self interests for the sake of others as He has done for us (Phil. 2:3, 4)?
This week, take a few minutes to consider your relationship with others and the Gospel. See how you are doing in your marriage when it comes to self-sacrifice; with the maid or relative serving in your home, in your Christian service, on your job, in your community and nation. Above all, see how well you are doing when it comes to giving up some comforts for the sake of the lost around the world? You may not be able to go personally, but you can deny yourself of some things, so that you can give generously towards evangelism and world outreach.