“Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth. Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the fowlers … Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:6-8).
Fowlers were professional bird-catchers in the days before firearms. They captured birds by spreading a net on the ground and attaching it to a trap or snare. They would sprinkle corn on the ground near the trap and then, when the birds ate the corn, the trap would spring and the net would fly over them and capture them. Fowlers sold the captured birds for various purposes — as pets, as sacrifices, as food.
Throughout the Bible we see our souls likened to birds: “My heritage is to Me like a speckled [bird of prey]” (Jeremiah 12:9). So if we are “birds,” who then is the fowler? According to the Bible, the fowler is the devil himself. Satan is absolutely determined to overthrow every believer who walks in holiness and complete devotion to Jesus Christ.
Since the devil is not omnipresent and cannot be everywhere at once, he commands multitudes of demonic beings, principalities and powers of darkness. These demonic powers are at work laying traps for Christians. In fact, Satan also uses wicked people to lay demonic traps: “The wicked have laid a snare for me” (Psalm 119:110).
The psalmist writes: “Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; preserve me from violent men, who have purposed to make my steps stumble. The proud have hidden a snare for me … they have spread a net by the wayside; they have set traps for me” (Psalm 140:4-5).
While it is true that Satan has an army of some of the most crafty, skilled fowlers on earth, the good news is that none of his attacks will succeed against the devoted child of God. No matter what your failure, your hardship or your trap, rest assured that God is on your side. Even when you’re weak, you can cry out to him and he will come and tear away the net. Just stand still and see his salvation!
As the shepherds gazed on the Babe in the manger, they saw a Savior who would redeem all of humankind. When the wise men beheld him, they saw a King who would conquer death. And when the prophets looked ahead, they saw an Emancipator who would open prison doors, unlock chains, and set captives free. They all had their vision of who Jesus was and why he came.
Christ was born into a world of unbelief, when God’s people lived under the terrifying grip of the Roman Empire. Israel’s religious leaders did not offer much hope. The Pharisees believed salvation was achievable through works, thereby convoluting God’s laws into a rigid system of impossible performance. And the Sadducees didn’t even believe in resurrection. In fact, very few people had any vision of an eternal existence. This was the darkness Jesus entered.
As we look into the manger, we see Christ as the bridge between earth and heaven, crossing over the abyss of death that separates temporal life and the eternal. One day we are going to cross that bridge and it will take place in the twinkling of an eye: “We shall all be changed — in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52).
We could ponder such mysteries, but the truth is, our imaginations simply cannot fathom the glory and power of God. Our brains are too finite. But we can be sure of this one thing: because Jesus came to earth, there is a new world coming. A world without sin, poverty or disease. Our Savior was born to bring life — everlasting life — so this Christmas season, let us keep a resurrection frame of mind. A mind and heart filled with hope of the life that is available to us because of the Christ-child born in a manger.
“I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Daniel 3:25).
We are all familiar with this story. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had summoned every leader from his far-flung empire for one purpose only and that was to bow down before a huge, golden image and honor the gods of his choice. And if anyone in the land refused to bow, it meant certain death! It was common practice in those days to punish violators of any sort by casting them into a burning oven. When three young men took a stand for righteousness and refused to obey the king’s decree, Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage. He ordered his soldiers to stoke the furnace seven times hotter than usual and prepare to roast the dissenters (read this account in Daniel 3:1-19).
These three Hebrew men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were bound and thrown into a furnace so hot that the soldiers assigned to throw them into the fire began to fall over dead. However, when the king looked in at the three, he was amazed at what he saw. “Didn’t we throw three men into the fire? I see four men walking about and one of them has the appearance of the Son of God!” (see Daniel 3:25).
Now, how could a heathen king recognize the Son of God? It was because Christ’s glory cannot be hidden! Whenever angels appear in Scripture, they are dressed in white and shine with a heavenly brightness. Yet this bright One was no seraphim, this was Jesus himself — and he was brighter than the flame from that seven-times-hot fire.
Beloved, this testimony of Christ’s presence came from heathen lips. And talk about a life-and-death situation. This was the crisis of a lifetime — but Christ walked right into the furnace with these men and delivered them.
What brings Christ into your crisis? It is having full confidence that He is able to rescue and deliver you no matter what you are facing. A confidence that no matter what happens, you are in his hands. Are you facing a crisis — spiritual, financial, mental, physical? In your marriage? Your job? Your business? When only a miracle can get you out of your hopeless situation, Jesus will come and walk through it with you. The Son of the Living God can solve your problem and rescue you out of your furnace of affliction.
“The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’” (Luke 1:26-28).
The angel then made an incredible announcement: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High” (1:30-32).
Mary was a simple girl from an obscure village. Living in a male-dominated culture, she had few expectations in life beyond becoming a good wife and mother. So imagine how strange this encounter must have been for her. The angel told her that she had found favor with God but very little in her life reflected favor of any kind. That, however, was all about to change!
Many of us are like Mary. We would like to see our circumstances transformed — a troubled child finding purpose in Christ, a tense marriage restored to its former joy. We would also like to see a different spiritual reality in the world around us. When Mary began to understand the magnitude of God’s promise to her, she sang a song of gratitude and praise: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed” (1:46:48).
The visitation from the angel was not some emotional, one-time event for Mary. No, it was a binding reality and her life was changed forever. Likewise, when you find God’s favor, it does not result in just an emotional turnaround. God births something new in your life, completely changes your course, and stirs a new song within your soul.
Today, you may think God is nowhere to be found, but his favor is on you! He is conceiving something new, transforming your trial into his glory. He has his hand over you, so trust him with your heart, your family, your situation — and you will see his glory.
“We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith … if it is encouraging, let him encourage” (Romans 12:6, 8).
Of all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the ministry of encouraging is probably the least appreciated. We constantly hear about the need for solid teaching and proper leadership in a church, but when was the last time the “gift of encouraging” received its proper due? Our need for it is so acute that the Spirit has granted special grace for some of us to specialize in building people’s faith. Just as not all of us are gifted to teach or preach, not everyone has this special anointing to encourage others.
“That you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Romans 1:12). Being strong in the Lord enables us to minister to others who are weak. This is particularly true for encouraging and strengthening someone else’s faith. Our own robust faith spills over to lift up those who are struggling. Faith-filled words and actions act as antidotes to the hopelessness people feel when they have lost their grip on God.
Most often encouragement is conveyed through the words we speak. Consider what Paul says to the Thessalonians: “Therefore encourage each other with these words” (1 Thessalonians 4:18). Like Paul, we can encourage others by sharing the teaching of the Scripture and speaking about salvation in Jesus. Remember, “Faith comes from hearing the message” (Romans 10:17). As we speak God’s Word, faith can be born in those who hear it.
When Paul was separated from the believers he cherished, he revealed another avenue for edifying their faith: “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Ephesians 3:16-17). When Paul could not speak encouragement to the church, he prayed that the Holy Spirit would carry on the same work within the believers.
In the same way, if we cannot personally encourage our fellow believers, we can lift them in prayer. What a privilege!
Jim Cymbala began the Brooklyn Tabernacle with less than twenty members in a small, rundown building in a difficult part of the city. A native of Brooklyn, he is a longtime friend of both David and Gary Wilkerson.