• All Is Possible! All things are possible for one who believes. (Mark 9:23) Many professed Christians are always doubting and fearing, and they forlornly think that this is the inevitable state of believers. This is a mistake, for “all things are possible for one who believes”; and it is possible for us to arrive at a place where a doubt or a fear shall be like a migrant bird flitting across the soul but never lingering there. When you read of the high and sweet communions enjoyed by favored saints, you sigh and murmur in the chamber of your heart, “Sadly, these are not for me.” But, climber, if you exercise your faith, you will before long stand on the sunny pinnacle of the temple, for “all things are possible for one who believes.” You hear of exploits that holy men have done for Jesus—what they have enjoyed of Him, how much they have been like Him, how they have been able to endure great persecutions for His sake—and you say, “But as for me, I am useless. I can never reach these heights.” But there is nothing that one saint was that you may not be. There is no elevation of grace, no attainment of spirituality, no clearness of assurance, no place of duty, that is not open to you if you have but the power to believe. Lay aside your sackcloth and ashes, and rise to the dignity of your true position; you are impoverished not because you have to be but because you want to be. It is not right that you, a child of the King, should grovel in the dust. Rise! The golden throne of assurance is waiting for you! The crown of communion with Jesus is ready to adorn your brow. Wrap yourself in scarlet and fine linen, and eat lavishly every day; for if you believe, you can eat the royal portion, your land will flow with milk and honey, and your soul shall be satisfied in God. Gather golden sheaves of grace, for they await you in the fields of faith. “All things are possible for one who believes.” (Morning and Evening, written by C. H. Spurgeon)
    1. The Great Divide Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. (Luke 12:51) Did Jesus come to bring peace on earth, as the angels sang at the first Christmas (Luke 2:14)? Or did He come to bring division, as He Himself announces here? Yes. Let us first acknowledge the apparent contradiction. The way Jesus answers His own question here—“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No…”—seems mutually incompatible with both the angels’ declaration and with Jesus’ instruction to His followers to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9). Indeed, it seems that Jesus is refuting the emphasis of His whole earthly ministry by associating Himself with division and discord. How, then, are we to reconcile Jesus’ claims that He would bring both peace and division?  What Jesus meant when He spoke about bringing division is directly tied to the work that He accomplished in effecting peace. In other words, when we come to understand the good news—that “for our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21)—we can never be the same again. It is too magnificent a work to result in apathy. When we are renewed at our core, everything about us changes—our values, our focus, our purpose, our dreams. We are now at peace with our Creator, and we are able to live at peace with ourselves. But sooner or later, this transformation will prove divisive. In sharing, speaking about, and living out the miracle of our reconciliation with God, we will be met with disdain, hostility, and judgment, sometimes even from those within our own homes, as Jesus went on to warn (Luke 12:52-53). Jesus’ coming to bring peace laid bare the division and conflict between the Creator and His image-bearing creatures that had existed since Adam and Eve first rebelled. Your words and actions, directed as they are by the commands of heaven and not by the ways of this world, will lay bare that same division. For many of us, the division caused as a result of trusting in Christ is a trying and painful reality of life. Yet there is a great hope for all of us: Jesus’ ultimate objective is not division but harmony. The Bible is absolutely clear that the Prince of Peace will one day reign eternally. In the meantime, do not be under any illusions: following Jesus has a cost—a cost that you can, by the power of His Spirit, joyfully pay as you risk division in order to hold out the divine offer of peace.
      1. The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel -- which means, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23) Learn to enjoy life more. Relax, remembering that I am God with you. I crafted you with enormous capacity to know Me and enjoy My Presence. When my people wear sour faces and walk through their lives with resigned rigidity, I am displeased. When you walk through a day with childlike delight, savoring every blessing, you proclaim your trust in Me, your ever-present Shepherd. The more you focus on My Presence with you, the more fully you can enjoy life. Glorify Me through your pleasure in Me. Thus you proclaim My Presence to the watching world. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:10-11) (Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Enjoying Peace in His Presence)
        1. No Ideal Place I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go … But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.  (1 Corinthians 16:5-6,  1 Corinthians 16:8-9) There are many reasons to admire the apostle Paul, but here is one that is little mentioned: he was always planning ahead. He was static about nothing. He was like a general poring over a map in the battle headquarters, saying, “Now, where can we advance next? Where can we send the next group of troops? Where can we go find the enemy?” Because of his righteous ambition, he didn’t remain comfortable anywhere for very long. Here is what we can learn from Paul: there’s no ideal place in which to serve God, but we can always serve God where we are. He writes in his letters about ministering in such widely dispersed places as Ephesus, Macedonia, and Corinth—but irrespective of geography, he realized that all he was supposed to be doing was evangelizing unbelievers and encouraging Christians. When his service was complete in one location, he knew he was called to move onward. Paul was not concerned about comfort or convenience. He didn’t aspire to take up residence in a little cottage on the Adriatic Sea in a snug retirement. Even when he could say that “a wide door for effective work has opened to me,” still there were “many adversaries.” He accepted the challenges as they came and considered opposition a great privilege rather than a hindrance. So many of us are conditioned to believe that if we’re in communion with God and if we’re really in the place we should be, life will go smoothly. This may be a prevalent notion, but it’s also an unbiblical one. Do we really think we can stand against Satan and not face his fiery darts? Do we think we can invade enemy territory and not meet opposition? We are not called to be people who live complacently in cozy, comfortable Christian communities that know no resistance. It is possible to dampen our witness so much that we’re ineffective for Christ, but that doesn’t have to be the case, nor should it be. The same conditions that Paul faced surround us today: idolatry, sexual immorality, racism, religious bigotry, and a host of other evils. You have an opportunity in the midst of opposition, no matter where God plants you, to serve His kingdom. As my dear friend Eric Alexander once told me, “There is no ideal place to serve God—except where He has set you down!”
          1. Living in the Spirit’s Fullness Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart. (Ephesians 5:18-19) At certain times in life, such as the birth of a new child or a cross-country move, a lot seems to happen all at once. The beginning of a new life in Christ is perhaps the greatest example. When we believe in Jesus, a number of changes occur simultaneously: we are justified by faith, we are adopted into God’s family, we’re given a new status as His sons and daughters, and—as this verse highlights—we’re indwelt by the Holy Spirit. When someone believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit begins residing in them, providing them with the desire and the power to do what God desires. This fullness of the Spirit is fundamental to the reality of Christian experience. It is the birthright of all who have come to trust in Christ. And yet the truth is that even as believers we do not always live in the fullness of God’s Spirit. It remains possible to grieve the Spirit who lives in us by our disobedience (Ephesians 4:30). It remains possible for us to be more influenced by something other than Him—which is why, here, Paul underlines that we cannot be under the influence both of alcohol and of the Spirit. We must understand that if we are God’s children, we can never remove ourselves from the fatherhood of God; however, living in disobedience can remove us from the sense of His fatherly blessing, presence, and enjoyment of us. A child who flat-out disobeys his mom and dad may still sit at the breakfast table, knowing that they are still his parents and he is still their son, but the enjoyment of the relationship will be diminished. So it is with us: we cannot live in disobedience—we cannot allow some other consideration, priority, or substance to guide us—and simultaneously live in the fullness of the Spirit. This is not a problem we can remedy ourselves. We do not fill ourselves with the Holy Spirit. We not only receive the Spirit’s fullness from God; our very enjoyment of His fullness is because of God. We cannot fill ourselves, but we can and must open ourselves to being filled. The expectation for every Christian life is that this evidence of being filled—what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22)—will gradually become more and more apparent. The great need of your life, and of every gathered church, is to be filled with the Spirit—to be directed by Him rather than by anything else. That is what brings true transformation, and joy and peace and love. That is what overflows into songs which praise Christ in our hearts as well as with our lips when we gather together. So, pray for Him to fill you anew: Spirit of God, descend upon my heart; Wean it from earth; through all its pulses move; Stoop to my weakness, mighty as Thou art, And make me love Thee as I ought to love.[1] [1] George Croly, “Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart” (1854)
            1. Stepping Out in Faith By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. (Hebrews 11:8) If we seek to understand better what it means to put faith into action and to take God at His word, then we need look no further than the life of Abraham. He’s described in the book of Romans as the father of all who have faith (Romans 4:16). He was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (v 21), and this was the conviction that spurred him on to obedience and action. God’s call to Abraham was costly and radical: “The LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Genesis 12:1). Abraham was asked to leave his country, his friends, and his extended family—essentially, all that he knew and held dear. God did not stop at the command, though. He promised to bless Abraham in the new land, to make him “a great nation” and to make his name great (v 2). And Abraham obeyed and went. Why would anybody ever do that? Abraham had nothing to go on save the command of God and the accompanying promises. But that was enough for him! That is faith in action. That is faith in every day and in every generation: taking God at His word and stepping out in obedience. “The callings of God,” I remember once hearing the Scottish minister Graham Scroggie say, “seldom leave a man or a woman where the calling finds them. Indeed, if we fail to go forward when God says ‘Go,’ we cannot remain stationary.” Refusing to step out and act in faith results in backward movement even as we never take a step. Abraham, though, walked forward. He departed in obedience, “not knowing where he was going.” It was sufficient for him that God had told him to go, and so he did not need to be told where he would end up. And by stepping out in faith, Abraham stepped into the heart of God’s plan to save His people and bring blessing to His world. Abraham would discover that the only place to be is where God wants you, and the only purpose that you should ever seek to fulfill is that which God has made known to you. Has God been speaking to you through His word about stepping out in faith and obedience to His leading? Then “today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:15). God’s command may run absolutely contrary to everything you have been planning and thinking about, and it may require you to leave behind everything that represents security to you—but if He is calling, you must go.
              1. Embracing Interference As he was walking in the temple, the chief priests and the scribes and the elders came to him, and they said to him, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, or who gave you this authority to do them?’ (Mark 11:27-28) None of us like someone else interfering in our business. When someone insists on our attention or demands our obedience, we instinctively respond negatively. Generally speaking, we don’t want people telling us what to do, least of all in spiritual matters. It is always tempting to buy into the notion, particularly popular in our day, that our spirituality is no one else’s business—a personal matter to be known only to us. In reading the Gospels, then, we may become distinctly unsettled as it becomes clear that Jesus interferes in our lives. Yes, it’s for our good—but nevertheless, He interferes. Indeed, in his autobiography, C.S. Lewis refers to Jesus as the “transcendental Interferer.” From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, people recognized that He spoke with authority (see Mark 1:22, 27). He said things in such a way that they couldn’t be sidestepped or simply dismissed. But they could be resisted and rejected. His authoritative teaching became a thorn in the religious teachers’ side, and they began to oppose Jesus, soon plotting to kill Him so that they would not have to open up their spiritual lives to Him (3:6). Like the religious leaders, we often prefer a personal spirituality that is molded by our agenda and lifestyle: “This is what I believe. This is what I hold to. This is what we’ve always done. This is our tradition.” Jesus comes crashing into those notions, turning everything upside down, taking man-made values and upending them. In fact, at the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, He declared that all authority had been given to Him (Matthew 28:18-19). He doesn’t share that authority with anyone. Our spiritual lives are, in fact, His business. We bow down before His authority and embrace Him as Lord and Savior now, or one day we will bow before Him and meet Him solely as our Judge. Adding Jesus to a little corner of our existence is easy and nonintrusive; it’s another thing entirely to allow the “transcendental Interferer” to take over every aspect of our lives and command from us complete obedience. His perfect authority is an issue we must consider in every decision we make. So we are faced by the unsettling question: Am I living according to my natural desires and the rules I have fashioned? Or am I seeking to joyfully submit to my Savior on every day and in every way? It is only when we choose to bow down before Jesus’ authority, acknowledging His lordship over our time, our talents, our money—our everything—that we can truly begin to embrace Him as Lord and Savior and enjoy knowing Him as a friend and a guide. Are you keeping Him at arm’s length in any way? That is precisely the place where He calls you to let Him interfere; it’s the place where you have the opportunity truly to treat Him as the one who has all authority. He will certainly disrupt your life—but He alone has the right to, and He alone can set you free.
                1. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6) Understanding will never bring you peace. That's why I have instructed you to trust in me, not in your understanding. Human being have a voracious appetite for trying to figure things out, in order to gain a sense of mastery over their lives. But the world presents you with an endless series of problems. As soon as you master one set, another pops up to challenge you. The relief you had anticipated is short-lived. Soon your mind is gearing up gain: searching for understanding (mastery), instead of seeking Me (your Master). The wisest of all men, Solomon, could never think his way through to Peace. His vast understanding resulted in feelings of futility, rather than in fulfillment. Finally, he lost his way and succumbed to the will of his wives by worshiping idols. My Peace is not an elusive goal, hidden at the center of some complicated maze. Actually, you are always enveloped in Peace, which is inherent in My Presence. As you look to Me, you gain awareness of this precious Peace. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1) Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. (2 Thessalonians 3:16) Sarah Young, Jesus Calling, Enjoying Peace in His Presence
                  1. God-Centered Focus I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5) Amateur photographers often don’t know what they’re focusing on. They know what they think they’re focusing on—but then the pictures end up containing blurry faces and buildings askew. Then they may look at their work and respond, “This isn’t what I was pointing at!” But the fact of the matter is, the photos reveal exactly where and how the lens was positioned. In life’s highs and lows—and every moment in between—the way you and I react to circumstances reveals the angle of our camera lens, the focus of our hearts and minds. The challenge for believers, then, is to live with a focus that is centered on God. Jesus made it very clear that in order for us to embrace a God-centered focus, we must first understand who we are without Him. In fact, Jesus explained to His disciples that apart from Him they could do nothing; after all, “in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Our need for Jesus is not partial; it is total. None of us can even breathe without God’s enabling. How can we think of taking credit for any work that He’s done through us? We are absolutely impoverished without divine help. This principle runs throughout the entire Bible. Moses, chosen by God to lead the Israelite people out of bondage and slavery, was adamant that he couldn’t do the job unless God was with him—and he was right (Exodus 3:11-12). Amos was a keeper of fig trees and a shepherd; he had nothing to contribute to the ministry when God appointed him as a prophet (Amos 7:14-15). Daniel, likewise, with his amazing ability to interpret dreams, was quick to give every bit of credit to God (Daniel 2:26-28). Each of these men recognized his utter dependency on God. In fact, no one in Scripture who achieved great things for God did so without relying wholly on God. For their ability to do the work they were called to do, they looked up rather than looking in. As Christians called to live with a God-centered focus, we must not ascribe too much attention to ourselves or our abilities, for in doing so, we may very well obscure God’s grace and power in our lives. In Christ, we ought not to boast in our abilities or seek any opportunity to draw attention to ourselves. Instead, we should merely wish to be known as servants of the living God, to be useful in His service as He works in us according to His good purpose, and to point away from ourselves and to Him in all we do and say. Where will your focus be today? And when success or praise come your way, to whom will you point?
                    1. God Will Meet Our Needs We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. (2 Thessalonians 3:7-8) Depending on God does not conflict with working to earn our daily bread. Indeed, work and the ability to do it are part of God’s provision. If we doubt that, we should consider the fact that Jesus Himself worked. Even though He came from heaven and all things belong to Him, He labored as a carpenter for years, confirming the pattern that was laid out for humanity in Genesis (Genesis 2:15). Similarly, the apostles, living by faith and wholeheartedly pursuing the growth of the church, worked diligently “night and day.” They refused to be lazy or to eat anyone’s food without paying. As ministers of the gospel, they did have the right to ask for help with provisions (1 Timothy 5:17-18); however, they took responsibility for themselves and practiced the trades they knew, serving as “an example to imitate” (2 Thessalonians 3:9). In the midst of our own labors, we must recognize that we can abuse work in at least two ways: through either laziness or overactivity. The warning of Proverbs applies to us: “The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing” (Proverbs 20:4). Or, as Paul puts it, we must not be idle. But we must pay equally careful attention to the psalmist’s words when he says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2). Yes, we are to labor with our hands. If we aren’t working for God’s glory, though, we are left toiling at a feverish pace, yet in vain. Nowhere is this more apparent than when we ignore the Sabbath principle. Nothing so reveals our unwillingness to take God at His word and to trust Him for daily provision as when we abuse the command to work six days and rest for one (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). Why do we think we need to work all day, every day? The answer is, quite frankly, because we struggle to trust that God will meet our needs. We must find our security not in our work but in the God who provides both the work and the means to carry it out. In our materialistic culture, it is not easy to work faithfully while learning to be satisfied with our God-given lot. Take a moment to reflect on your own work, be it in the home, the field, the factory, or the office. In what ways are you tempted towards laziness? And in what ways towards overactivity? What will it look like for you to work hard and trust God? In a world ensnared by materialism, your contentment—in your work and in God’s provision—will be a compelling testimony to the divine love that alone provides true satisfaction.