It was the deadliest and most devastating fire in California history. It was called the Camp Fire that burned its way through the town of Paradise. It destroyed 12,600 homes, over 4,000 other structures and displaced thousands who fled for their lives. The death toll reached 81 on Nov. 20 with officials still looking for more victims. The raging inferno caught people trying to escape and incinerated them in their vehicles. It is difficult to comprehend the unbelievable power of this fire. It killed, it injured, and it destroyed people’s lives.
Yet there is something even more powerful than the raging inferno that devastated parts of California. This power doesn’t take lives but can give life. This power doesn’t destroy homes but can restore them, it doesn’t bring injury but brings healing, and it doesn’t wreck people’s lives but rebuilds them. This positive fire is the blazing power of prayer. James 5:16 tells us: “…The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much”. Prayer has power to strengthen us no matter what kind of sufferings we may be going through. It can be a powerful force of healing to the sick. It can restore a sinful life from a dangerous pathway. Prayer can amaze a skeptical world and bring revival to a nation. Elijah was a man just like us and he prayed and God stopped and then restored the rain in the land in accordance with his prayer. E.M. Bounds said it well: “What the church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations, or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Spirit can use – men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Spirit does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men – men of prayer”.
The Camp Fire in California has been contained, and its devastating power has now ceased. But for the child of God and the church of Jesus Christ there is a fire, there is a flame that should never go out. The blazing power of prayer needs to be ignited all across our land. May we as His church light the match.
I am sure you have heard the old adage on the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. The optimist looks at the cup as half full. The pessimist of course looks at the cup as being half empty. These are two ways that people can look at life.
For the child of God however, we can greatly rejoice that we have an empty cup. What do I mean by that unusual statement you may ask? The Bible tells us that as sinners we deserve a full cup of the wrath of God. In our unredeemed sinful state we will inherit eternal punishment. Rev. 14:10 describes this wrath: “He himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb”. When Jesus died on the cross He took the punishment we deserved and drank the full cup of God’s wrath that was ours. Now we have been given that glorious empty cup. If we go through life and all we have is an empty cup we are wonderfully blessed beyond measure. Or if we experience a few drops of God’s blessings here and there we are getting much more than we deserve.
Even though God has given us that empty cup we are promised much more. We also have a full cup. Eph. 1:3 tells us: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ”. We have everything we need in the person of Jesus Christ. We can drink deeply of His fullness.
I must share that not only are we blessed with an empty cup and delighting in a full cup we can also enjoy an overflowing cup. In that wonderful 23rd Psalm we are told in verse 5 that “my cup runs over”. We have been given three cups. One empty of God’s wrath, one full of God’s Son, and one overflowing with God’s blessings.
One of the exciting plays on the football field is an interception. The quarterback throws his pass to the intended receiver hoping for a completion. But a defensive player steps in front of the receiver and intercepts the ball. He now has given his team the ball and they march down the field in the opposite direction.
A man named Saul was marching down the road to Damascus. He was on his way to arrest followers of Jesus. His pace was quick and his intentions were serious. He carried in his hand letters from the high priest that gave him power to hunt down Christians and bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. But something happened to him as he was on the road to Damascus. He was intercepted. God stopped him dead in his tracks. With a blinding light and a voice from heaven Jesus said to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" Then the Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 9:4-5). God intercepted Saul and changed the whole direction of his life. Instead of a being a persecutor, he became a preacher. Instead of trusting in his own righteousness, he now trusted in Christ’s righteousness. Instead of following his own ambitions, he now followed the Lord’s directions.
What an amazing change of direction we see in the apostle Paul. But our Lord is still in the interception business. He can turn us around just as he did Paul. He can intercept us as we are marching down the field to eternal destruction and give us a new destination of heaven. He can intercept us as we are determined to live a life of sin. He can intercept us as we run with a full head of steam doing things our own way. When God saves a person He makes a wonderful interception and the whole stadium of the angels in heaven rejoice. Listen to that voice from heaven and let God intercept you.
It seems to me that the world we live in is becoming darker. We feel that cold darkness when we hear of another shooting in a school or church, or another act of terrorism whether domestic or foreign. We feel that darkness when we see another murder, kidnapping, rape or other violent crime on the evening news. We also feel the darkness when we listen to the lack of civility in public discourse. What should we do? Sometimes we as God’s people just end up cursing the darkness and wishing for the olden days when the darkness wasn’t quite so deep.
I believe that God has placed His children here in this particular point in history to be a light. Jesus told us in Matt. 5:14,16: You are the light of the world…Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven”. Instead of just spending our time cursing the darkness we are called to pierce the darkness with the light. We can accomplish that by overcoming the darkness with the graciousness of our words. The world may blow up and cut people down. They may lie, gossip, blaspheme, call people names and throw mud. But we serve a different Master, and are indwelt by a different Spirit who calls us to have our words filled with grace. We can overcome the darkness also by doing good. Paul tells us: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21). Christians can shine the light by helping those who have been devastated by hurricanes, illnesses, death, and other tragedies. Oftentimes the light of our good will chase away the darkness. However the greatest way to overcome the darkness is with the gospel of Christ. Our world is swallowed up in the darkness of sin and hopelessness. The only thing that can save people, change people and give people hope is Jesus. We must shine the light of the gospel everywhere we go.
The darkness is deepening all around us. Instead of being swallowed up and defeated by it we are called to shine our light. The light of Christ within us is the only thing that can overcome the darkness in our world.
It was a strange subdivision. There were no houses just overgrown empty lots. Weeds were growing up through the cracks in the pavement. However the street signs seemed new. What happened? This promising housing development was put on hold when the recession hit. The housing boom was supposed to continue yet this planned community never happened.
Many times our own plans for the future have a similar outcome. Sometimes those carefully thought out dreams never happen. Our big plans may turn out to sprout a crop of weeds. In the Bible James warns us: “Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit"; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that." (James 4:13-15). Is it wrong for us to have dreams? Are we to live our lives without any plans for the future? I don’t believe it is wrong for us to have big plans. However James is warning us of two important considerations. The first one is to realize the brevity of life. We can make our plans for our future but must constantly hold onto those plans with a light grasp. This life and all that we accumulate and accomplish is like a vapor, here now but gone so quickly. We must make sure we lay our treasure up in heaven because those investments are the only ones that will last for eternity. The second consideration we must make is to submit all of our big plans to God in prayer. “If the Lord wills” should be written above all of our big plans.
We should keep dreaming and keep planning. But in the midst of our pursuit of our big plans we should realize that our loving Father may have even bigger plans for His dear children.
We love our heroes don’t we? These people may have accomplished much on the athletic field, or hold people spellbound with their singing voices, or gained a huge following for their acting ability. Followers of these heroes are called fans.
God gives us a list of a hall of fame in Hebrews 11 that we could call the heroes of our faith. These people did not get on the heroes list for throwing a football or because they are beautiful in appearance. They were listed because of their faith. The list of heroes include people whose faith in God allowed them to do amazing things. People like Noah, Moses, Daniel, Gideon, David, Rahab and Joseph are among those heroes. After listing those who were successful through their faith in God, the writer makes a transition with inserting the word “others”. Hebrews 11:35-36 tells us: “…And others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment”.
The Sovereign God of heaven answered prayers, delivered His people, and poured out His blessing on those people of faith. But what about “the others” who were also listed as people of faith? What about those who were tortured, mocked, whipped, imprisoned, stoned, sawn in two? What about those who were destitute, afflicted, and tormented? Did God drop the ball on the others? Perhaps you have wondered when you hear of God sparing one of His dear children from an accident or healing a believer from cancer if that is the way it always works? Perhaps you find yourself one of “the others” and have begun to wonder what happened?
That same Sovereign loving God that delivers His children from tragedy also allows some of His dear ones to experience tragedy. The same God who delivers from the fire, allows some to go through the fire. The same God who spares some from death also takes some of His children home sooner. We need to understand that whatever happens to us our God is always right there with us. We are loved, and we are treasured. He proclaims that the world is not worthy of His precious others.
Several years ago my wife and I attended a conference in Denver Colorado, the mile high city. A friend of ours from Iowa attended the same conference. As we sat at a restaurant he began to complain of nausea and dizziness. He continued to have those symptoms all week. My friend discovered he had a phenomenon called: altitude sickness. He was just too high for his own good.
3 Bible characters had that same altitude sickness. Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the flat roof of his palace looking out over the great city of Babylon. In arrogance and pride he said: "Is not this great Babylon that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?" (Dan. 4:30). Because of Nebuchadnezzar’s altitude sickness of personal success he fell from his high and mighty position and was stricken with madness. David was on the roof of his palace when he should have been out in the battle. He saw a woman taking a bath, sent for the woman, committed adultery and when he found she was pregnant had her husband killed in battle. David’s altitude sickness was moral carelessness. Peter was on the rooftop of Simon the tanner’s house. He had a vision of all kinds of unclean beasts being lowered to him. God told him, arise Peter kill and eat. Peter said no Lord, I have never eaten anything unclean. God told him what I have cleansed don’t call it unclean. God was doing away with the dietary laws of the Old Testament as well as instructing Peter to give the gospel to the Gentiles. As Peter was on the roof he suffered from the altitude sickness of resistance to change.
There is some good news about all three of these men, they all recovered from their sickness. Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged God, David repented, and Peter took the gospel to the Gentiles. The Bible also warns us of being too high for our own good. We can get elevated and reach success and think it was all our own doing, we can get careless in our morals and we can resist the change that God is trying to bring in our lives. Always be careful of coming down with altitude sickness.
The book of Psalms is Israel’s hymnbook. We read an interesting verse in Ps. 149:6: “Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand”. The workers in Nehemiah’s day were employed in rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. They had a tool for building in one hand and a sword for battling in the other.
We who know Christ as our Savior have in our hands a great weapon for our warfare which is none other than the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. Hebrews 4:12 tells us: “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart”. We must use our sword to advance the gospel of Christ and to defend the biblical world view and make our churches places of life-giving biblical instruction. While we have a sword in one hand we must also be a people who have the high praises of God in our mouth. Christ followers should always have a heart that is passionate about our Lord and not ashamed to express it in joyful worship. We must be singing soldiers, battling builders, and involved in worship and warfare.
Some churches are known for emphasizing one without the other. Their music and worship are uplifting and carries the congregation to the heights of praise. Other churches are strong in the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. They are careful to expose error and thorough in their exposition of the life-giving Word of God. However our verse challenges us to employ both of these biblical privileges in our churches. To be a high-praises of God church without the sharp sword of biblical preaching could lead to shallowness and error. To be a sharp sword church without the high praises of God could lead us to be a cold church. May our Lord look down upon our assemblies and hear the music of worship and the ministry of the Word.
The little town of Britt, Iowa has a unique celebration. The town has been hosting the National Hobo Convention the second weekend of every August since 1900. It is the largest gathering of hobos, rail-riders, and tramps who gather to celebrate the traveling worker. Hobos were known to travel around living in outdoor camps looking for work. The first church I pastored happened to be in that town. I remember during one Hobo Day we had an unusual visitor in church that Sunday. He was obviously one of the hobos. His hair was long and stringy. His clothes were old and dirty and I remember him carrying a walking stick as he came into church and sat down in one of our pews. Our people didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet for him. They looked at him skeptically wondering if he was going to ask for a handout.
In the book of James we are warned to be careful with judging people based on their outward appearance. We are warned: “My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality. For if there should come into your assembly a man with gold rings, in fine apparel, and there should also come in a poor man in filthy clothes, and you pay attention to the one wearing the fine clothes and say to him, "You sit here in a good place," and say to the poor man, "You stand there," or, "Sit here at my footstool," have you not shown partiality among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4).
Who are the hobos who enter our assemblies today that we prejudge? Are we displaying the love to our neighbors that Christ commanded us? Perhaps someone with multiple tattoos or piercings comes into church how will we react? What about the handicapped, or the homeless? Do we welcome people of color or illegal immigrants? Do we welcome those who may be living a sinful lifestyle to be among us to hear the Word of God? The next time we are tempted to judge someone who walks into church remember he or she is a soul for whom Christ died.
Pastor Stultz has been writing this weekly devotional for many years. In 2009, he published a compilation of devotionals in book form, also called Moments of Meditation