Nehemiah was the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes of Babylon, which meant that he was in close proximity to the king at all times. A cupbearer would drink what the king was about to drink. If it was poisonous, then that was the end of his job — and his life, for that matter. But the cupbearer was more than someone who simply tasted what the king drank. He often would become an adviser to the king, someone who influenced him. It was a very prestigious position in the palace. A cupbearer would have lived in affluence and influence.
Years ago, when I was in military school, we were given five cents each week to spend at the canteen (that is where they had the candy). I tried to stretch that five cents as far as I could, but I really wanted to buy more. We also were given a dime to put in the offering every Sunday at chapel. But one Sunday when the offering came, I started thinking about how much candy a dime would buy. So I kept the dime. Then I bought a bunch of candy. I also got a stomachache, and I felt guilty all week long. Even as a small child, I understood that dime belonged to the Lord and that I had taken something that was God's.
Any time a pastor raises the topic of finances, some people get a little uncomfortable. But the Bible certainly has a lot to say about money. It is the main subject of nearly half the parables Jesus told. In addition, one out of every seven verses in the New Testament deals with this topic. Scripture offers five hundred verses on prayer, fewer than five hundred on faith, and more than two thousand verses dealing with the subject of money.
In Mark's gospel, Jesus made a fascinating statement that some have misunderstood. Speaking of believers, He said, "They will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover" (Mark 16:18). Some, of course, have misunderstood this and have held snake-handling services. But that is not trusting the Lord; it is testing the Lord.
Some years ago I went to the Rose Parade. One of the most memorable sights of this impressive parade is when I saw a man riding down Colorado Boulevard on the back of a buffalo. I had never seen anything quite like it. I have seen buffaloes in the wild, but I had never seen anyone actually ride one. With nothing more than a bit and a bridle, the rider came galloping down the street on this beast. It was unbelievable. It just shows you what a little bit can do.
When I was a kid, I was walking down the street one day with some little cap guns that looked like six shooters, complete with holsters. I was feeling pretty good as I made my way down the street, firing these things off. But then I encountered some kids on the corner who grabbed my guns, pushed me, and told me to go away.
Years ago, I was at the beach with my young son Jonathan, and we decided to go swimming. We weren't very far from the shore. Suddenly there was one of those drops in the sand, and for a few moments, my feet didn't really touch the ground. As I was holding on to Jonathan, a little riptide began to pull us over to the right, just enough to move us along. We were originally lined up with a lifeguard stand, but I noticed that it had moved quite a distance. We were being pulled along, and I couldn't stop the drift. I kept reaching for the ground with my feet, but I couldn't get my footing.
One of the first things that we ask when the bottom drops out, when trials come our way (and there can be so many ways they manifest themselves) is, "Why, Lord? Why are You allowing this to happen? What have I done to deserve such a fate?"
I once read a strange story in the news about a plumber who was called in to unclog a drain. He had one of those snakelike devices that runs down into a drain and keeps running until the drain is cleaned out. But this time, the "snake" did a strange thing. It went outside of the house through an open vent and into the house next door. Then it went down through a vent, came out, and grabbed a ten-year-old girl who was playing in her bac
Sometimes we walk into trials of our own making because they are a direct result of our own selfishness or pride or greed or lust. Then when this happens and we reap the results of our sin, we get angry at God.
Some people really like mirrors. They are always looking in them. When they are driving along, they have their rearview mirror pointed at themselves instead of the road behind them. If they are in a restaurant that has a mirror on the wall, they want to be seated across from it so they can look at themselves. They never miss an opportunity to catch a quick glance at themselves if a mirror is nearby. On the other hand, some of us don't like mirrors that much. In fact, we have come to dislike mirrors, especially first thing in the morning.
After I became a Christian, I wasn't really sure of what to do next. I was seventeen years old and in high school. No one told me that I needed to read the Bible, pray, or go to church. No one gave me any materials to read, much less a Bible.
Everyone who has run a race knows that you can break your stride by looking over your shoulder to check out how your opponents are doing. Many races have been lost when the leader looked back. When you see that finish line, that's the time to give it everything you've got . . . because sometimes it's mere inches that separate one runner from another. You must stay focused.
How often have you felt that your prayers were hitting a glass ceiling — as though the Lord were saying no? Maybe it is because you were praying outside of His will. Maybe it's because you were praying for something that God didn't want you to have.
Sometimes God will glorify Himself by the way you and I lean on Him and trust Him through our suffering and hardships. At other times, He will glorify Himself by simply removing those things.
One of the first things I remember taking place when I committed my life to Jesus Christ was the erosion of bitterness and anger and the growth of a love I had not known before. Years of bitterness and anger that had been building up just began to dissolve.
That is what happens in the subtle process of the world influencing our lives. It's not necessarily dramatic, nor does it usually happen overnight. It is gradual, causing erosion in our lives as we begin to lower our standards.
Right after I became a Christian, other believers warned me, "Greg, watch out. There is a Devil who will tempt you."
We cry out to God. He answers our prayers. Then we say, "It's okay, God! Everything seemed to work out." But do we ever stop and think that God might have worked through certain circumstances to come to our rescue?
We all know what it's like to be tempted. But where does temptation come from? It does not come from God. James 1:13-14 says, "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed." We play a key role in our own temptation.
I think that many people, after they have decided to follow Christ, are surprised to find that the Christian life can be so difficult, so intense sometimes. It isn't a life of ease, but one of conflict, warfare, and opposition.
When God tells us to do something we like, we say, "Yes, Lord!" But when He tells us to stop doing something, we say, "God, I think you're cutting out on me. There's too much static. I'm not hearing you clearly."
Have you ever said to the Lord, "Here is the way I think You ought to work. But not my will, but Yours, be done"? Some might say, "I'm not saying that to God! If I say that, He will make me do something I don't want to."
As Christians, we should want to stay as close to our Heavenly Father as possible. The Devil is a powerful adversary, and we are no match for him in our own strength.
According to the Bible, the purpose of life is not enjoyment and personal fulfillment. The Bible teaches that we are put on this earth to bring glory to God. We need to mark that well in our minds and hearts.