“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. ” John 3:16-17, NLT
I think I love people deeply— until I read about the way God loves people. Chances are good I wouldn’t sacrifice my son or daughter for anyone. But God did— and He did it for all of us. He so loved you and me that He gave His Son to die for us.
Why did He do it? “So that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” You don’t have to clean up your life. You couldn’t if you tried. You just have to believe in Jesus Christ. That’s the Good News. He died for you on a cross. And if you believe in Him, you will have eternal life with God and a whole new beginning that starts from the inside out. Goodness knows we need help from the inside out.
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection.” Psalm 91:1-4, NLT
I don’t know if you have ever tried to trap birds, but it’s quite an experience. When I was a very little boy, my family lived in the city of Fort Worth for a few years. In our backyard there were many trees. One summer, my sister and brother and I learned the joy of trapping wild birds, caging them, and raising them. Ours was a makeshift method. We had a little apple crate that we put on a stick. We tied a string to the stick and put leaves and dirt on the string so the birds couldn’t see it. Then we hid over in the screened-in back porch with the string in someone’s hand. We had laid out bread that led right up to the trap. Then underneath the trap, we piled up about half a loaf of bread. When a little bird would hop along, we would snicker behind the porch screen. About the time that a bird would get near, one of us would sneeze, and the bird would take off. So we’d wait again. Eventually we learned that what appealed to a mockingbird didn’t appeal to a blue jay, and what appealed to a blue jay didn’t affect a cardinal. We learned through trial and error that you’ve got to know what kind of trap to set or you won’t catch the bird.
Satan knows just how to bait your trap. He’s seen your kind for centuries. I know that you are unique, but you have basic weaknesses, just like others who have lived before you and others before them. Satan’s been baiting traps since human beings came on the earth, and he is delighted to snatch you away in a snare.
We all have weak moments. We all have days in which we are weaker than at other times. You probably know what it’s like to be under attack. It is easy to be vulnerable both when we’re under attack and when we’re resting on the crest of enjoyment.
God gives a great promise to those who “live in the shelter of the Most High” (Ps. 91:1), those who trust in Him and rely on Him day by day: He is able to rescue and protect you from Satan’s traps. Like a great eagle who covers its young with its wings, God covers us, and under the wings of His protection we find comfort and refuge in the middle of the battle. God is a faithful protector. He protects us in the midst of attack, puts His shield around us, and guards us.
Because God is our protector, we can have strong inner confidence. We who trust in Him are redeemed children of God who have been declared righteous in His eyes and are protected, cared for, and loved. Now we can have confidence in dealing with the enemy. I’m not saying that we can play games with him. He is extremely strong and brilliant beyond our abilities but not beyond the ability of Christ. There is wonderful freedom and release from fear in realizing our position in Christ is secure. There is power in the blood of the Lord Jesus and in the application of the Word of God.
“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. 3For he will rescue you from every trap and protect you from deadly disease. 4He will cover you with his feathers. He will shelter you with his wings. His faithful promises are your armor and protection. 5Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night, nor the arrow that flies in the day. 6Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness, nor the disaster that strikes at midday. 7Though a thousand fall at your side, though ten thousand are dying around you, these evils will not touch you. 8Just open your eyes, and see how the wicked are punished. 9If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, 10no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. 11For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go. 12They will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone. 13You will trample upon lions and cobras; you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet! 14The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me. I will protect those who trust in my name. 15When they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will rescue and honor them. 16I will reward them with a long life and give them my salvation.”
The Lord has not chosen to remove us from evil. He has not isolated us from the presence of wrong. Instead, God walks with us in the midst of an evil world. When we walk in close relationship with Him, we enjoy a secret hiding place, “the shelter of the Most High.” There we can “find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”
The result of living in the shadow of the Almighty is that you lose your fear. Fear keeps us constantly uneasy, looking over our shoulders, and suspicious. When we are living in the shelter of the Most High and finding rest in the shadow of the Almighty, we do not need to be afraid, even when evil is all around us. Fearless courage comes from walking in close fellowship with God.
We have so much to be thankful for, but do we truly give thanks to God for his many blessings? Instead of giving glory to God for his provision, the children of Israel became arrogant and selfish. Read more from The Swindoll Study Bible on the importance of living a life of humble thankfulness:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: This is an illustration of what will happen to Jerusalem. I placed her at the center of the nations, but she has rebelled against my regulations and decrees and has been even more wicked than the surrounding nations. She has refused to obey the regulations and decrees I gave her to follow.” Ezekiel 5:5-6, NLT
God bestowed upon His people privilege, safety, and wealth. But instead of glorifying Him, the people became arrogant. God loathes self-exaltation. Therefore, we must be mindful of our need for humility in times of plenty and ease.
We must acknowledge the goodness of God during times of prosperity. Every good gift comes from Him (Jas. 1:17). In Him, we have everything; without Him, we could not exist. We cannot comprehend—cannot even begin to fathom—the depths of the mercy, forgiveness, sacrificial love, and safety wrapped up in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. God is lovely and cannot commune with ugliness. The intent and actions of humankind are soiled and heavy with self-importance. It’s wise to remember that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet. 5:5).
The Book of James
The Book of James is a short, but powerful book. Learn a bit more from TheSwindoll Study Bibleabout who wrote the book, the original audience, and why it’s important.
“So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.”
Who Wrote the Book? While he does not specifically identify himself as Jesus’ brother in the letter, the author of the book of James is widely thought to be the James who was the brother of our Lord. It appears that James was not a follower of Jesus during the Savior’s time on earth (Mark 3:21-35), but eventually he became an apostle after seeing the Lord post-Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:7; Gal. 1:19). Upon witnessing the Lord in His resurrected body, James came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and later became one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Peter singled him out among the other Christians there after Peter’s own miraculous release from prison (Acts 12:17). In addition, James made the deciding speech at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:13-21), and Paul called him one of the “pillars of the church” (Gal. 2:9).
Where Are We? As one of the chief leaders in the church at Jerusalem, James wrote from that city prior to the meeting of the Jerusalem Council, the account of which is recorded in Acts 15. At that council, James, along with Peter and Paul, affirmed the decision to take the gospel message to the Gentiles. This council met in ad 49, meaning that James likely wrote his letter between ad 45 and ad 49. Such a significant event as the Jerusalem Council would have warranted comment from James, especially because he was writing to a Jewish-Christian audience. But in the letter James makes no mention of Gentile Christians at all, so an early date for the letter seems most likely.
Why Is James So Important? The book of James looks a bit like the Old Testament book of Proverbs dressed up in New Testament clothes. Its consistent focus on practical action in the life of faith is reminiscent of the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament in the way that it encourages God’s people to act like God’s people. The pages of James are filled with direct commands, and he makes no excuses for those who do not walk their talk. In the mind of this early church leader, Christians evidence their faith by walking in certain ways and not others. According to James, faith must produce real life change (Jas. 2:17).
A Chat With Chuck Swindoll
Imagine studying the Bible with pastor Chuck Swindoll sitting beside you – sharing his warm personal insights, gleaning wisdom from his over 50 years of ministry and being inspired by his passion for God’s Word. That is why he created the Swindoll Study Bible. Since he can’t physically be in all of our living rooms, he still wanted a way to encourage each of us to walk closer with Jesus. Hear about it his own words:
Disappointments, frustrations, worries, the list goes on and
on. We live in an age where we can quickly become overwhelmed by all that is
happening around us and be lulled into a state of uncaring and complacency.
Read as Chuck Swindoll shares from the book of Mark about the importance of
staying awake and alert, especially in times of confusion and despair.
“Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. He said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.’ Then Jesus left them again and prayed the same prayer as before. When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. And they didn’t know what to say.” Mark 14:37-40, NLT
What do you do when someone strong in your life suddenly becomes weak? For as long as you can remember, you’ve been able to lean on that individual. You’ve found that person stable, strong, and reliable. But now all of that has changed.
Children face this when a parent suddenly becomes ill and then the illness doesn’t get better. They’ve always been able to rely on their mother or father, and now they can’t do that.
It happens in divorce. The children have always known Mom and Dad to work together and pull through, but then suddenly their home is fractured, and their parents may be at outright war. The children are left confused and lost.
Those who play sports rely on their coaches to be strong. The coach is always thinking about a plan for winning. As the season runs on, that intensity only grows greater. Even in a losing season, the team looks to the coach for encouragement and a boost. But when a coach throws in the towel and loses heart, the entire team loses its confidence.
Maybe you work for a company where you’ve always been able to rely on those at the top to be people of integrity. If you suddenly discovered that they aren’t, it’d be completely disheartening.
A church is dismayed if its pastor, who has always been true to the Word in the past, becomes soft in his convictions, or shows himself not to have financial accountability, or is discovered to lack moral purity. It starts a big scandal, pits people against one another, and can even destroy a congregation. Disillusionment, especially among new believers, often follows.
That state of disillusionment is exactly where the disciples found themselves in the garden of Gethsemane. For three and a half years, the disciples had trusted that Jesus would take care of everything. If they were caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, He could calm it. If there was a disease, He could heal it. If there was a physical abnormality, He could change it. If there were demons, He could face off against them and make them stand down. If there were critics, He could stand toe to toe with them and bring them to silence.
Suddenly, the One they counted on and relied upon was somewhere out there in the dark, crying His heart out, overwhelmed with tormenting anguish. Can you imagine how they must have felt? Jesus seemed to be falling apart, and they weren’t able to handle it. Perhaps that’s part of the reason they fell asleep, in addition to the lateness of the hour. They didn’t know what to do when they heard their Master wrestling in prayer.
Jesus came back to them and asked, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mark 14:37-38).
We would do well to consider His words. “Keep watch and pray.” Temptation is all around us. Temptation is within us. When people disappoint us or their strength seems to be lacking, ultimately our only hope is in our heavenly Father. But He needs us awake and paying attention—not getting lulled into the sleep of complacency. The world is a dangerous place. Our spirits may be willing, but our bodies are weak. When people disappoint us or their strength seems to be lacking, ultimately our only hope is in our heavenly Father.
“Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, by telling the truth. Make your confession and tell me what you have done. Don’t hide it from me.’ Achan replied, ‘It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. Among the plunder I saw a beautiful robe from Babylon, 200 silver coins, and a bar of gold weighing more than a pound. I wanted them so much that I took them. They are hidden in the ground beneath my tent, with the silver buried deeper than the rest.’” Joshua 7:19-21, NLT
After Joshua’s Victory at Jericho, the Israelites suffered defeat at Ai because a man named Achan had buried banned spoils of war under his tent (Josh. 7:1-26). Following this event, the valley of Achor (or the “Valley of Trouble”) served as a reminder of failure, setback, and defeat. The word Achor means “trouble,” so with a slight variation on Achan’s name, Joshua asked him, “Why have you brought trouble on us?” (Josh. 7:25). After Achan’s execution, the valley where he died took on the name “Valley of Trouble.” This valley may well be the Wadi Qelt just west of Jericho.
When the Jews returning from the Exile came across this story in the genealogical record, they would have remembered Achan as Achar, “disaster” But they also would have recalled that the prophets described the valley of Achor—a place once linked with sin, discipline, and death—as a place of promise. In Hosea, God declares that He will change the place from a site of trouble to a place of triumph. Most notably, the prophet Hosea spoke of the valley as a future “gateway of hope” (Hos. 2:15). Isaiah referred to the dry valley as the spot where herds will someday be pastured (Isa. 65:10).
The Valley of Trouble serves as a reminder that God can produce hope in spite of our worst situations. Even if the trouble we have experienced is a result of our own doing, God can heal us as we come to terms with and repent of our sin. As Christians, we have the promise that when we confess our buried, hidden sins, God will “cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 Jn. 1:9)— even from those sins buried so deep we don’t know to confess them. Forgiveness in Christ is not an emotion to feel. It is a promise to claim. God can change our trouble into triumph, but how and when He chooses to do so is up to Him. We simply must cling to the promise that He will.