“Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were
serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone
for whatever good he does, whether he is slave or free” (Ephesians 6:7-8).
We often get it wrong. We think if we can accumulate enough money and get more things and have more time to ourselves, we will experience “happiness.” But, we forget that God created us with a need to serve. In the Bible we discover that true fulfillment is found by those who do the will of God from the heart…as if they were serving Jesus himself. While at the Thanksgiving dinner at Resurrection Life Church, I spoke to several of the servers from River of Life Church in Doylestown. They spent many hours shopping, preparing, cooking and then traveling over an hour to bring the food to RLC. When I thanked one of them, she said to me, “This is my favorite part of Thanksgiving. I enjoy serving here even more than during my own family Thanksgiving.” I get it. When we love others and serve joyfully, we experience a peace and “sweetness” in our soul. The city we live in has many needs. We can’t do everything, but we can do something. Our churches have many needs. We can’t do everything…well, you get it. A statement I read on Becky Robbin’s Facebook made me stop and think. The summary was, “To help someone else is easy; you only have to be willing to sacrifice your own comfort.” How true! Our culture today urges us to stay by ourselves—to lose ourselves in a world of movies, TV, and the internet. We feel more “comfortable” watching the world, but the Lord has called us to change the world! This can happen only as we push past our comfort zones and learn to serve. During this Thanksgiving season, let’s enjoy the company of others and good food. But let’s also look past what is comfortable and make ourselves available to help someone else. Jesus found joy in serving. Serve the Lord with your whole heart, and have a great time doing it!
Allow me to share with you some of my “takeaways” from the 125th Anniversary celebration. From the time I started pastoring here in 2011, I believe this event was the most organized and joyful celebration we have experienced. It took a spirit of sacrifice, cooperation, and hard work to make this happen! Most importantly, the Lord blessed our gatherings with His presence. I could sense His Spirit encouraging the people of Highway and Resurrection Life Church to continue to forge ahead in living for Jesus. The timely message from Dr. JoAnn challenged us to be “kingdom minded.” She reminded us that as much as we agree about honoring the past, we must take up the present responsibility to bring Jesus to the people around us. From the beginning in 1894, our church’s DNA has been evangelism and witnessing. If we cease to do this, we have lost our purpose. Our joyful 125th celebration was important to stir us up to keep obeying the Lord and saying “yes” every day to what He has called us to do. Monday night I met at police headquarters with the new police commissioner and about 150 chaplains. During her remarks, the commissioner said that there are two major concerns that keep her awake at night: the growing violence in Philadelphia and the drug epidemic. Keep in mind that as you and I go about our daily business, we will encounter hurting, lonely people. They may look fine on the outside, but, if we could hear their hearts, we would understand their fears. The Psalmist David described the condition of his soul at a time when he felt no one else cared: “Look to my right and see; no one is concerned for me. I have no refuge; no one cares for my life” (Psalm 142:4). Are we concerned for the victims of violence? Do we pray and reach out to those enslaved by addictions? May our 125th Anniversary bring encouragement and joy so that we may share the source of our hope—the Lord Jesus Himself. May no one we know have to say, “No one cares for my life.”
Honor the Past. Celebrate the Present. Anticipate the Future.
When our Deacon Board first started talking about the idea of a special service for the 125th anniversary of Highway Tabernacle, my first question was “Why should we do this?” Then I mentally flipped through the pages of the Old Testament. I recalled God’s relationship with the Israelites and how, on numerous occasions, He reminded His people of the special blessings He had bestowed on them. He never expected “repayment,” but His message to them was “Do not forget.” For example, after the Passover (when God delivered His people from Egyptian slavery), God established the feast of Passover as a yearly remembrance of His kindness and miraculous power. The many feasts and festivals of Israel show us that God delights in our gratitude and our deliberate calling to remembrance His faithfulness. As a parent, I know how special I feel when my daughter takes the time to express her heart in a card on my birthday. Such expressions keep our relationship close. In the same way, the Lord appreciates when we remember how good He is to us. Here at Highway Tabernacle, the good hand of the Lord has been with us since our inception 125 years ago. On Thanksgiving Day in 1894, He brought a small group of people together who committed themselves to follow Jesus, to love others, and to share the hope of the gospel. By His grace, we choose today to stay faithful to the original mission. So, today we honor the past and do not forget God’s grace over this church. We celebrate the present by our heart-felt worship and thanksgiving. We anticipate the future knowing that our God is faithful to keep us true to His Word and to impact our city by His Spirit. Our special 125th anniversary service and luncheon are sacred acts of praising the Lord Jesus Christ who said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
As we approach the 125th Anniversary of Highway Tabernacle, my mind reflects back to what I read about the early members of Highway. I discovered that the first pastor of the church, Pastor Reel, worked for the railway full-time, and pastored the church full-time! The people also worked hard at getting the gospel of Jesus to the city. They would travel around in a wagon, singing and witnessing to those who would listen. God blessed their steps of faith! From my observation of how life works, I see that sacrifice, discipline, and focus are interwoven with the power and blessing of God. Sadly, many believers today adopt an attitude that says, “It’s all up to God.” It’s as if they take themselves out of the equation and do little or nothing to pursue God. When reading 2 Peter today, verses 5 and 6 jumped out at me, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge self-control….” Peter is telling us here that the saving faith of Christ is not divorced from action and involvement. In fact, the evidence of true faith is the pursuit of godliness. To obey and seek the Lord is not just for “spiritual giants” but is “normal” Christianity. Speaking about this spiritual growth, Peter says, “make every effort.” I get nervous about those who call themselves Christians and yet hardly make any effort to grow in faith. They rarely read the Bible, seldom pray (except when they want something), and look at gathering together at church as “take it or leave it.” Singer Keith Green said, “Jesus rose from the dead…and you can’t get out of bed!” As a pastor, I grieve over lame excuses and uncommitted attitudes. I picture believers standing before the Lord Jesus on that day when they give account of every action and word, and, after hearing yet another excuse for carnal living, I ask myself, “Will they use that excuse before Jesus on that day?” Don’t get me wrong. I’m not whining about others. I know that as a pastor I will be examined by the Lord and judged more strictly (see James 3:1). My point is this: growth in our faith and growth in the church is not just mindless or magical. God’s Word declares us to be “workers together with God” (1 Corinthians 3:9). So, “make every effort”—not to try to earn your salvation, but because you are saved and want to grow in your relationship with Jesus!