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He walked the streets surrounded by wicked people. It seemed evil thoughts dominated everything in the community all the time. Corruption was everywhere, yet he chose to remain faithful to God. He pursued righteousness in a world of unrighteous behavior.

This is the world of Noah before God revealed his plans for the ark and the flood. Noah had been tested in a thoroughly corrupt world yet he remained devoted to pursuing God. This is why Noah found favor in God’s eyes (Genesis 6:8); why God entrusted him with the building of the ark (Gen. 6:14-21); why “Noah did everything just as God commanded him (Gen. 6:22). Noah’s obedience to God was built on a life of faithfulness to God even when surrounded by a world saturated with evil.

This helps me understand Noah’s determination to finish building the ark. His desire to do everything God instructed was built within him before God revealed his plans to destroy the world with a flood. Scripture tells us about the world Noah lived in, but it does not reveal what must have been a daily struggle for him to remain faithful to God while surrounded by evil people. Noah was tested and proven faithful to complete the overwhelming task of constructing the ark.

When I read about Noah, I try to put myself in his place. Would I continue to live a righteous life in the midst of a world obsessed with evil? Would I become discouraged being surrounded by wicked people all the time? Would I find favor with God as Noah did? Would I willingly accept God’s command to build the ark?

Some day God will again destroy the earth and all its evil, replacing it with a new earth (Rev. 21:1-4). Like Noah, God is looking for his faithful in an evil world, the faithful who will answer the call to obedience. He is seeking true followers of Jesus Christ determined to accomplish seemingly insurmountable tasks for the Kingdom of God. He wants us, like Noah, to be prepared to do everything that God commands us to do.

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There’s a phrase “putting down roots” that describes someone settling down in a place. I have heard this phrase used to describe people I know who have finally settled in one place after jumping from job to job and one town to another. But do we think of this phrase in the spiritual sense as settling down with God?

To settle down with God is to focus on building a relationship with him. It means putting down roots deep into his scripture; spending focused time in prayer with God; drawing deeply from solid relationships with other believers. The challenge is to not get distracted by customs and beliefs in this world that can uproot our faith in Jesus. This is what happened repeatedly to the Israelites in the Old Testament. Psalm 106:34-35 tells us how the Israelites repeatedly disobeyed God by mingling with other nations and adopting their customs.

When we put down roots with God we secure ourselves to his eternal grace and love. The deeper our faith in him, the more we can draw on God’s strength and not our own; the better prepared we’ll be for the storms of life. Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit (NIV).”

What would you have done that day if you were standing in the crowd when Pilate offered to release either Jesus or Barabbas (Matt. 27)? Would you have shouted “Barabbas” like the rest of the crowd or would you have shouted “Jesus”? Would you have been persuaded to choose a rebel and murderer, instead of the Son of God, the Messiah?

Mark 15:7 tells us that Barabbas was “in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising.” While Jesus chose the will of God, Barabbas chose to join others who decided to take matters into their own hands with a violent uprising. Pilate asked the crowd that day, “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews (Mark 15:9)?” The crowd was swayed to choose the insurrectionist Barabbas over Jesus. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross (Phil. 2:8)!”

What’s amazing about that day is that even though the people in the crowd chose to reject Jesus, God still offered redemption to them with the death and resurrection of his Son. Like Barabbas, we are rebels condemned to die for our sinful, selfish desires. Yet in God’s infinite mercy and love, he offers us freedom and eternal life through his son Jesus Christ who paid the price for our rebellion so that we could forever live in the Kingdom of God.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9

There are times in my life when I want to hide in a deep dark cave; times when discouragement causes me to retreat from the front lines of God’s work; times when the attacks from my enemies cause me to respond in fear instead of faith. It seems one moment I am fearless for the Lord and the next minute I am fearful of those who attempt to thwart God’s plans. It is in that moment of fear, that moment of vulnerability, that the evil one sows seeds of doubt that suddenly take root. It reminds me of Elijah.

In 1 Kings 18 Elijah has a show down with the prophets of Baal. In verse 37, Elijah calls on God to “answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.” Instantly, the fire of the Lord consumed the burnt offering, wood, stones, dust and water in the trench. Then Elijah slayed the prophets of Baal and a few verses later he outruns Ahab to Jezreel. Elijah has declared his allegiance to God and it appeared he was unstoppable until he realized he was a major target of the evil one.

Fear, doubt, loss of confidence, these are all tools that Satan uses to attempt to stop us from doing our work for the Lord. Elijah was unstoppable until Jezebel stated her intent to kill him in 1 Kings 19:2. The next verse tells us, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.” He had a target on his back because he took a public stand for God. The seeds of doubt sprouted into fear in Elijah’s life which thwarted his work for God. By verse 4 he is discouraged and cries to God, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.”

Yet God does not give up on Elijah. He pursued him, nourishing him and encouraging him ( 1 Kings 19:6-7). Yet he still hides in a cave, with the seeds of doubt now fully grown to the point that Elijah is paralyzed with fear (verse 9). What I find interesting in the next verses is that the Lord isn’t in the powerful wind, earthquake or fire, but in the gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:11-13). This is what draws Elijah out of the cave to get him back on track. In this moment of solitude, in the gentle whisper, God said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah (verse 13)?” God tells Elijah he is not alone and instructs him to go back the way he came. He reassures him that there are thousands who remain loyal to God.

How God treats Elijah’s fear is so comforting to me. It is like a loving father bending down to encourage a scared child hiding in a dark corner. He doesn’t yell at our disobedience, but encourages us with a whisper. His gentle voice tells us, “There’s nothing to fear. I am with you as are thousands of other believers.” He whispers truth that is not always evident to us. It reminds me to stop in the midst of my fear, to pause and listen for the whisper of God in the midst of the storm.

The silence is overwhelming, it pierces my ears

I hear a light wind rustle through the evergreen trees

The snow gently swirls downward in the cold air

In this temple of God’s creation, I feel his gentle hand upon me

I feel his gentle grace, his love surrounding me

It is a moment of solitude away from a turbulent world

A world where a storm rages within humanity

A world where people deny your existence, yet secretly hope you truly exist

Outside the noise and confusion of that worldly place

I find this escape into your creation

It fills me with your spirit of hope, love and truth

Against the cold chill of this world

I see your light piercing the darkness; it warms my soul

Your light gently touches my face, it tells me to trust you and your way

The trampled snow ahead seems the way to go

But God you tell me this is not so

“The path I’ve put you on is full of troubles and struggles.”

He points toward the deep snow, pure white

I do not know where this unmarked path goes

But I do know its ultimate destination

There we will bask in the presence of God’s glory

But for now I must press on, clinging to his hope, trusting him

Letting my faith in God guide me along this uncharted path

“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals his thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth — the Lord God Almighty is his name.”

— Amos 4:13

In Ephesians 6:10-18, Paul provided a vivid picture of being prepared to do battle with “spiritual forces of evil” (verse 12). When we read these verses, it’s easy to picture ourselves putting on the “full armor of God” in preparation for battle; arming ourselves with the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit. But how many of us read these verses and remember that Paul is writing to the church in Ephesus — that Paul is talking about equipping an army of believers with the full armor of God?

When we view this passage in this context, it is not just about the individual believer being equipped for battle, but it is also about the church being equipped for battle. If you take that a step further, it prompts questions about whether your church is properly equipped to do battle “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world” (verse 12).

Take a look at your church and ask yourself if it is equipped to act as one body, ready to wield the sword of the spirit as a unified force for the Kingdom of God. Do the believers in your church have confidence in their faith, salvation and righteousness? Are they prepared to use God’s truth to deflect the false truths and flaming arrows of the evil one? Are they ready to lay aside differences so that they can stand together as believers in Jesus Christ?

I once had a professor who commented on this passage and its context of equipping an army of believers. He asked the class to picture themselves surviving a horrific battle against the evil one. “As the dense smoke begins to clear you wonder if you are alone,” he said. “Now imagine the smoke clears and you see your fellow believers standing with you, locked arm and arm ready to defend the Kingdom of God.” This powerful imagery reminded me that the church must act as a unified army, suited up with the armor of God and joined together to defend God’s truth.

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:12

There are times when we can feel overwhelmed by the demands of life. We seek solutions but they seem impossible to achieve based on what little resources we have available to us. This can lead us to overlook how God can take seemingly insufficient things and multiply them to meet needs in ways we never expected.

We see this in John 6:1-15, a well-known passage where Jesus feeds the 5,000. In verse five and six, Jesus tests his disciple Phillip by asking, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” These verses tell us Jesus already knows what he is going to do, but he wants to see how his disciples respond to the situation. The question is very revealing. Phillip answers like we do so many times to problems we face. We’re standing there surrounded by hungry people and all we can say is, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” 

Phillip can only comprehend the cost to barely provide an appetizer for all those people. Andrew chimes in with a different answer. He seeks help from the crowd and brings a boy to Jesus with five small barley loaves and two small fish. Then he asks Jesus, “How far will they go among so many?” Phillip and Andrew can only see what’s in front of them as answers to the hungry crowd.

Jesus encourages us to look beyond our own abilities and resources and seek Him. Too often we respond like Phillip where we can only see the cost or like Andrew where we can only see what is in front of us. We shouldn’t just reluctantly turn to Christ pleading, “What can you possibly do with this small amount? How can we possibly get this much money to meet all these needs?”

Jesus wants us to bring what little we have, our doubts and all, and lay them before his feet. Through Him lives can be transformed, hunger can be satisfied and thirst can be quenched with living water. It is an opportunity to experience the life Jesus offers when we choose to trust Him. It is Jesus who does the multiplying through us with what he has given us.

Jesus is all about multiplying what little we have whether now or across generations. We need to come to Him with the faith of a mustard seed, planting it and nourishing it with the expectation that ultimately God will do great things. Note in verse 11 that Jesus takes the little that the apostles brought to him, gives thanks to God and then has it distributed to the people. It is after everyone has their fill that they see God’s provision. 

We should do the same. Give thanks for what God has given us and work with what we have. Then let God do the multiplying so everyone can have their fill instead of just an appetizer.

I have always been intrigued by the encounter between Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-39. Here we have two people seeking Christ. One is seeking to serve Christ, the other is seeking to find Christ. It’s an instructive, God-ordained encounter that should encourage us to follow the prompting of the Spirit. It also shows us how God is preparing the hearts of those who don’t know Christ for such an encounter.

The passage opens with an angel of the Lord directing Phillip to go down the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. He doesn’t know why, but he obediently starts down the road. He encounters an Ethiopian eunuch which verse 27 tells us was “an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (NIV).” The chariot must have been an intimidating site, but at the Spirit’s prompting Phillip walked along side the chariot and discovers the eunuch is reading Isaiah 53:7-8. 

The next verses show us how God had worked on this man’s heart, preparing him for the encounter with Phillip. The eunuch had been worshiping in Jerusalem and was now reading the prophet Isaiah. He was searching for Christ and Phillip was able to tell him “the good news about Jesus (verse 35).” Upon hearing about Jesus the eunuch stopped the chariot by a pool of water and remarked, “What can stand in the way of my being baptized (verse 36)?” Truly this man was ready to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

This passage is a good reminder to followers of Christ Jesus to be ready to follow the prompting of the Spirit as we go through our day. We may feel God nudging us toward an intimidating encounter, as Phillip and the official in the chariot, but we should remember that God has likely already been working on the person’s heart. Our job may be to sow more gospel seeds or to bring a person to Christ. Either way obedience to Christ can enrich our lives as well as the lives of those ready to hear the gospel.

A friend of mine has been in ministry for more than 40 years. Recently we were together and I relished hearing him tell about how several people he impacted with his ministry over the decades were now coming together to create a new ministry that he would lead. It reminded me of the parable of the mustard seed in Mark 4. Here were small seeds, sown years ago, about to mature into a mighty plant with strong branches bearing much fruit. This is the longview of the Kingdom of God.

What’s intriguing to me about the parable of the mustard seed is the parable that precedes it. In Mark 4:26-29 Jesus talked about a farmer scattering seed on the ground. Verse 25 tells us, “Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grow.” The next verse tells us that the seed matures and bears fruit even though the farmer “does not know how.” He then proceeds to harvest the crop. 

Couple this parable with its companion parable in verses 30-32 and you get a powerful image of how God can turn small things into a large, fruitful thing for the Kingdom of God. In this parable, Jesus talked about how a small mustard seed, when planted, “grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants.” So big in fact that “the birds can perch in its shade.”

The common thread weaving through both of these parables is the action of planting. In both instances, the seed must be planted in order for it to grow, but it is God that actually grows the seed to enable it to be fruitful and useful. Too often we focus on trying to create the big thing first without waiting on God to grow and mature it from first sowing the small seeds.

In these parables Jesus reminded us that often the work of the Kingdom of God is found in the small things. We should not ignore the work of sowing the seed of the gospel into the lives of people we encounter each day. Even the smallest of seeds can eventually mature into something powerful for God. When we see the fruit it bears years later we are amazed that God could grow something that large from something so small. 

Jesus reminded us in these parables that it is God who transforms the seed of the gospel into mature and fruitful believers in Jesus. We are to be obedient in responding to God’s leading to sow the gospel into the hearts and minds of people in our lives, no matter how small and insignificant the encounter might seem. As my friend found out decades later, many of the small seeds he had sown over the years now were maturing to bear fruit and provide for people in ways he never dreamed possible.

In Mark 13:11 Jesus tells us not to worry about what to say when we are brought to trial, instead we should let the Spirit of God guide our words. In a world full of scripted remarks and prepared statements, it is hard to think about going into a trial without proper preparation. Yet I don’t think Jesus is saying that we should go into these situations totally unprepared.

Jesus’ whole discourse in Mark 13 is a warning to his disciples to be prepared for what is to come. He is warning them of coming persecution. To that end he tells them to be ready and to let their faith in God guide them, not their own strength, cleverness, or words. “So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time,” Jesus said in Mark 13:23.

For us that means we need to prepare ourselves for trials in life by immersing ourselves daily in the Word of God; to prayerfully seek God and his will each day. We need to learn to endure struggles without compromising our faith in Christ. We need to continually strengthen our resolve to follow Christ so that we will endure to the end. Jesus reminds us in Mark 13:13, “Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

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