Sometimes it’s tough to decide. What do I get for my father for Father’s Day…a card, a gift certificate, or maybe a tie? God’s Word gives us insight into what fathers really want (and not just for one day). The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, spoke on God’s behalf to the people of Israel, saying, “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 1:6a). The Lord “called out” His people for ignoring and disrespecting Him, the Father of their hearts and nation. Let’s connect this to our human fathers. From this passage we see that God created men with a deep longing for respect. However, there’s a tendency to appoint ourselves judges when it comes to giving respect—especially to our fathers. We write the sins and flaws of our fathers in bold letters on the tablet of our heart, resulting in a bitter and resentful attitude. Rather than giving respect, we withhold it as a way of “getting back.” We can and must overcome our resentment and disrespect, not by convincing ourselves of the “perfection” of our father, but by desiring to obey and honor our heavenly Father. The Lord calls us to a “higher” response through the power and love of Jesus. A great example of this demonstration of love and respect is David. King Saul, David’s father-in-law, degenerated into a terrible king and father. Yet, David continued to respect Saul all his life. He refused to speak evil of his father-in-law or get revenge. David knew that he needed to respect Saul’s God-given position as a father and king—even if he did not respect Saul’s actions. God calls us to maturity in Christ. No one grew up with a perfect father. Through Jesus, let’s show grace and forgiveness…just as the Lord has shown to us. Honor your father!
Is that all it is? In America, we honor the past with special memorials. For example, on July 4th we commemorate Independence Day, the birth of our nation. Remembering and commemorating historical events such as this are important for our sense of heritage. However, when it comes to the things of God, there has to be more than looking at the past. Today is the Day of Pentecost—the day when God the Father and Jesus the Son fulfilled the promise of Scripture and sent the promised Holy Spirit! Is the coming of the Spirit simply for our reflection? The Bible teaches us to live in the power of the Spirit. In fact, we are hopeless and helpless to overcome sin without God’s Spirit. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17). The presence of the Spirit empowers us to live now…not just to remember then and there. The battle for the supremacy of the heart rages in every soul, and only through the Spirit can we overcome our sin nature and please God. Not only does the Spirit enable us to win our inner battles, but the Spirit is the One who empowers us to share Jesus with others. Before the Day of Pentecost Jesus promised, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8a). Here we see the direct connection between the work of the Spirit and witness to the world. Pray each day for opportunities to share Jesus and believe that He empowers you. In summary, the Spirit of God given on the Day of Pentecost is not for us to “commemorate;” it is for us to experience. Life was meant to be lived in the Spirit!
In the first church I pastored in the late 80s, I remember a special prayer time with the Lord. I was feeling overwhelmed and somewhat discouraged. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I decided to get away from the office for a time of prayer. The quietest place I knew to “walk and pray” was a nearby cemetery. As I was praying and crying out to God in my heart, my eyes fell on a small grave marker. Beside it sat a stone lamb with these words carved under it: “The Lord is My Shepherd.” This simple truth from Psalm 23 spoke powerfully to my heart as I realized the Shepherd of my soul was right there with me—“on duty”—watching over my heart. This week in my devotions, I again read Psalm 23, and verse four stood out to me: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Our Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, rose from the dead and is equipped with all authority. He has everything we need. His power is more than enough to take care of us in every situation. The shepherd’s staff reveals to us how the Lord gently guides and directs the sheep as needed. Having a curved end, the staff can “catch” the sheep when danger looms. The shepherd’s rod reveals the power of the shepherd to fight the enemy of the sheep—those wolves and bears that try to kill and destroy. As believers, we do not need to fear the rod because it exists for our protection and safety. However, if we as sheep harden our hearts in stubbornness and sin, our Shepherd may use the rod as a form of discipline for our good. If we are honest, we will admit that we need the Lord’s discipline at those times when we persist in going our own way. The Shepherd prefers the gentle use of the staff, but He will use the rod to protect us from reckless paths that lead to death. He is the Good Shepherd in every way, and He knows just what we need! Is He your Shepherd?
The Book of Job fascinates me. God himself declared Job as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Although deeply devout, Job suffered the greatest trials recorded in the Bible. When I read about and meditate on Job, I want to gain insights about how my own heart handles life’s sufferings. For example, we know that Job was a godly man, but he was not a perfect man. Gold that goes through fire becomes even more pure. Job was in the fire! As the chapters of Job’s suffering stretched on, Job caved in to feelings of anger and despair. His responses to his friends grew more combative and self-righteous. Finally, we read in 31:40, “The words of Job are ended.” After Job stopped his verbal barrage, God began to speak to him—first through a man named Elihu. Consider what Elihu said in response to Job’s arguments: “But you have said in my hearing—I heard the very words—I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy” (Job 33:8-10). Elihu recognized that Job struggled with sin—just like we all do. In times of great stress and struggle, we easily defend ourselves, and we tend to blame God. During times when nothing seems to go right, we are tempted to imagine God as our enemy…certainly not our friend. I’m so glad that I live in the time after our Lord Jesus came to earth. He showed us God’s great love, and that he is the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Even though we are not spared from life’s problems, Jesus promised to be with us and carry us all the way home! So, instead of giving in to our sinful tendencies of self-justification and blame, may the Lord give us the grace to entrust our souls to Him. May we believe that God is for us and not against us. And remember: “Life is sometimes hard, but God is always good!”
I really like this statement: “We teach a little by what we say, more by what we do, and most by what we are.” Sometimes I wonder what the world will be like in the future, if the Lord doesn’t come soon. Then, I look at the youth and children and say to myself, “This is the future of our world…where they are pointed will determine the destination.” Is there any task greater than investing in the next generation? Is there any job more important than working with children, getting to mold their hearts and minds? The “right now need” is for authentic adults who are willing to teach by word, deed, and life! The Apostle Paul knew well the value of investing in those who follow. Although he probably never had any biological children, he considered himself a father figure to many. Consider his words in 1 Timothy 1:2, “To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” The other day Terry and I had the opportunity to visit the workplace where our daughter, Nicole, is employed. The office supervisor told us how Nicole’s character and work added so much to her personally and to the company. As parents, we are “proud” of Nicole, but we recognize that the power in Nicole’s life to live right comes from God’s grace and mercy. As parents, we can’t force our children to follow the ways of Jesus. But, we can lead in such a way that our children (spiritual as well) desire what we have. This morning we honor the staff and leaders of Spring Garden Academy and Next Generation Ministries. Their desire is to lead in such a way that those growing up will want to live honorably…experiencing peace from the Father and the Lord Jesus. Please pray for those who influence our children every day inside our two churches. And, if you want to change the future, do your part to influence a child and invest in a young person.
Saving faith in Jesus can never be passed down like some family possession. However, we must never underestimate the power of parental influence. When Paul wrote to Timothy, he reminded him of his special heritage. He told Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). Because Dad is left out, he may have died or perhaps was an unbeliever. What matters most is that Timothy had godly people around him as he grew up. His mother (and grandmother) made a huge difference in Timothy’s life and the path he chose. On this Mother’s Day, I pray for all you moms who desire to live and model godliness. As I look back, it was my mother who first introduced me to Jesus. Her faithfulness (through many challenging tests) is a major reason I am saved and in the ministry. I thank God for her! So Moms, keep on loving and giving and going after God. Although you may not see results right now, be assured you will reap a reward!
The other day I was chatting with someone about God. He seemed to have a sincere desire to follow God, yet he was trapped in some crippling addictions. He said to me, “I don’t understand why God allows this to happen. Why doesn’t He just take these habits away?” As he spoke, I could tell he was clearly blaming God for his failures. With gentleness, I tried to explain to him the “dual relationship” between God’s sovereignty and our choices. There are things in our lives that only God can do, but there are also things in our lives that God expects us to do. For example, we can’t expect God to take away a sexual addiction if we choose to stay up at night watching porn movies. Also, how will we overcome an alcohol addiction while hanging out with the same drinking buddies at the bar? As I observe the spiritual landscape of America, I see a lot of people interested in God and spiritual life. However, I notice a huge gap. We want the blessings and benefits of God, but we don’t want to discipline ourselves or lead our soul to seek Him. We conveniently put all the responsibility on God. While reading about the kings of Judah in the Book of 2 Chronicles, I discovered something powerful. Those kings who set their hearts on seeking God enjoyed victory and blessing. The kings who were careful to get God’s Word in their hearts and sought to practice His precepts experienced blessings. For example, 2 Chronicles 26:4 declares of Uzziah king of Judah, “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord…he sought God during the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success.” Life is a battle. Victory is not easy or automatic. The Lord is willing to give us the power to win. BUT, WE MUST SHOW UP! Faith is the pathway, and every pathway requires walking forward. Do your part!
There’s a phrase in the Bible which says, “God is no respecter of persons” (Acts 10:34, KJV). This means that God does not show favoritism based on a person’s appearance or apparent success. In the Old Testament we read that David experienced many trials in his life and was finally exalted to the position of king over Israel. In his heart he wanted to build a temple for the Lord, but this was not the Lord’s plan for him. After David proclaimed his desire to build, God spoke through the prophet Nathan to him saying, “I took you from the pasture and from following the flock, to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone…” (1 Chronicles 17:7-8a). While David was enjoying the peak of his splendor and prosperity, God reminded him, “I took you from the pasture.” Let this speak to your heart about always remembering God’s grace and goodness. He is the One who takes us from our “going nowhere” past. He is the One who spares us from the empty and vain life we could have pursued. And, no matter how blessed we are, we need to be reminded of the source of all these blessings…and not trust in them but in the Lord himself. In our self-centered tendencies, we sometimes fantasize that we are the reason for our success and blessings. But then, God reminds us of the pastures! In Israel, being a shepherd was the most humble and lowest of occupations. When I was in Africa, we stopped at a large field where goatherds were watching their goats. They were young people from 10 to 14 years old. Apparently, no one thought this job worthy of an adult’s attention. David’s days of humble beginnings were replaced by favor and blessings beyond his wildest imagination. God, who is no respecter of persons, gently warned His son to remember where he came from. May we never forget the grace of the Lord Jesus who saved us from an empty life of ultimate destruction. Along with the Apostle Paul, may we say, “By the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
It was another Friday morning, but nothing was “typical” about it. I was at a hotel in India a couple of weeks ago (on the coast of the Indian Ocean) waiting for our ride to the morning seminar. As I looked around, I noticed a man walking up to a Hindu shrine in the center of the property. He bowed before it several times with his hands folded close to his chest. No doubt, he was asking for blessings and success in his life for that day. My heart went out to him, and, even though I could not speak his language, God could hear my prayers for him. As I watched him pray, questions came to my mind: “Do people think of Christianity as just another religion?” and “What was the reason Jesus came?” As I read the Bible, I discover that Jesus did not come just to offer people another religion to choose. God’s Word declares Jesus is the Good News, and He came to this world because God loves sinful, lost people. Jesus came to reconcile us to God that we might be a “dwelling place” for His very presence! Religions may need shrines and statues —along with many “works”—in order to appease their gods, but Jesus came to give us life in Him. Just before He died on the cross, Jesus prepared the disciples by praying with them and giving them promises about what really matters in life. In John 17:24, He prayed, “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” The mission of Jesus is not to create a “religion.” He creates a “new humanity”—a people that belong to God through faith in the life and merits of Jesus. Jesus prays that we might be with Him where He is. Our true home is not found in this world; it is discovered in the presence and person of Christ. Someone once said, “Home is where the heart is.” My heart is not trusting in some religion but in the One who loves me and gave himself for me. Happy Resurrection Day!
Last Thursday I returned from an amazing journey of ministry to Africa, India, and Sri Lanka. Dr. Neil Chadwick and I traveled thousands of miles by plane, train, bus, and taxi to minister to over 620 pastors. This was definitely the most difficult and arduous journey I have ever attempted! India was especially challenging as the temperature rose to 104 with high humidity (we ministered all day without a/c). There were days when the trips were so long that we just barely arrived in time to begin the evening sessions. Along with the teachings, I preached twice (once in Rwanda, Africa and then in Hyderabad, India). Throughout these two and half weeks I kept thinking about the wonderful people of Highway and the many prayers offered up to the Father for me. I could feel the power of these prayers, especially when I got a severe cold and struggled with it for four days. As I reached out to the pastors, I saw myself as a hand extended and God’s people as the arm holding the hand. Thank you again for your love and support! Over and over, the Lord brought this verse to my remembrance as I was about to teach or preach: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). No matter what the Lord calls us to do, He wants us to see our need for the Holy Spirit. Our prayers and steps of obedience open the doors of heaven for us to receive the enabling power of the Spirit…in order for us to accomplish what we could never do in our own limited strength. May the same Holy Spirit guide and empower us into a future of fruitfulness and effectiveness here in our churches in Philadelphia!