Testament records the story of how God delivered Israel from Egypt “with a mighty hand and outstretched arm”
and “great and awesome deeds” (Deuteronomy
4:34). Throughout their 40-year journey through the wilderness on the way to
the Promised Land, He established reminders for them to ensure that they didn’t
forget His power and the miracles that He had performed. God told them to
collect stones from the riverbed, after He led them through the Jordan River on
dry ground; to wear tassels on their clothes and let the hair grow on the side
of their heads; to observe memorial feasts and sacrifices. He gave them these
reminders not only to build up their faith, but also so that there would be
something that their children would ask about…to perpetuate that faith into the
next generation. Sadly, in spite of all of these reminders, the Israelites were
quick to forget God’s deliverance when they were in distress—when they came
under attack, when they were hungry, or when they grew weary of traveling
through the desert for 40 years. As Christians, it’s important for us to have a
healthy sense of history. Without that sense, it becomes too easy for us to panic
and lose faith when we face difficult times. The God who delivered and
established those who came before us is still alive and active today! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today,
and forever!” (Hebrews 13:8).
Tabernacle has had a tremendous history, going back to Thanksgiving Day in 1894,
when seven individuals came together hungry for a greater move of God in
Philadelphia. In the 125 years since, God has shown His faithfulness by raising
up pastors, missionaries, and ministries. The church has endured two world
wars, the Great Depression, a devastating fire, urban flight, and urban
renewal. And the light of the gospel still shines brightly through our church! You
can find a brief recap of the church’s history at http://youtube.com/HighwayTabernacle.
If you aren’t familiar with Highway’s history, I encourage you to check out the
video and thank God for His faithfulness. It’s certain to give your faith a
This year, Highway Tabernacle celebrates 125 years of ministry to the city of Philadelphia. The theme for our celebration is: “Honoring the Past, Celebrating the Present, and Anticipating the Future.”
I want to thank the deacons and family of
Highway Tabernacle for the prayers and support for my mission trip to Africa,
India, and Sri Lanka. In the Book of Acts, we read about Paul and others who
went on trips, being sent by God’s people. On this trip, only two of us will be
traveling…Dr. Neil Chadwick, founder of International Christian Partnership
(ICP), and me. However, for sure, Highway Tabernacle will be there! Your love
and willingness to let me go is an extension of Highway Mission
Tabernacle. I will be teaching and encouraging pastors in areas of the world
where few have opportunities for seminars and Christian education. Please pray
for my responsibilities: teaching the seminars in seven different locations to
over 750 pastors and leaders, preaching the Word on Sundays, and counseling and
encouraging the believers individually. Also, please pray for our health and
safety over the long journey.
Here is some more information about ICP: “The International Christian Partnership, founded and directed by Dr. Neil Chadwick, has adopted a very clear and simple mission. In America, pastors have a tremendous number of resources available to help them, in addition to years of formal training received by most. Meanwhile, our brethren who labor in other vineyards have little or no such resources or opportunities. International Christian Partnership is doing its part to bring about some balance by sharing with dedicated pastors and evangelists in other parts of the world. This is done with great confidence that the benefit to the Church will be exponential. We faithfully remember that Jesus prayed for Peter who in turn was charged with the task of strengthening his brethren (Luke 22:32). We have been strengthened; now we will do our part to strengthen our brethren. To date, ICP has conducted pastors’ seminars in 13 countries, providing encouragement, support and continuing education for more than 7,000 local church planting pastors. The theme for the ICP 2019 Seminars in Rwanda, India and Sri Lanka is Encouraging and Strengthening the Brethren (Acts 15:32).”
“If you don’t see it right, you won’t get it right.” Most people live in moral confusion, adrift on life’s sea, not knowing why they are here and where they are going. God gave us His Word as a light to show us the way and to answer the questions of life. In the Book of Deuteronomy, God spoke messages through Moses to the Israelites as they were poised and ready to enter the Promised Land. This new land was occupied by people who had given themselves over to evil—even sacrificing their children to be burned alive to their demon gods. The Lord clearly warned His people not to “accept” the beliefs and practices of the inhabitants of Canaan. He told them, “This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire” (Deuteronomy 7:5). Why does God demand separation? He answers this question in the next verse: “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” (7:6). God is holy, pure, and just. He called his children “out of” the world in order that they may witness to the world…showing them what God is like and how God’s people live in harmony with Him and one another. When you read the Old Testament, you see that, for the most part, Israel failed. Instead of seeing themselves as belonging to God (as His treasured possession), they grew cold toward God and eventually embraced the same evil practices as the nations they dispossessed. What are we to learn from this? By the power of God’s Holy Spirit in us, we can succeed where Israel failed. Jesus clearly taught us that, though we live in the world, we are not of the world. Believers in Christ have overcome the world “through our faith” (1 John 5:4). However, vigilance and watchfulness are needed! Being alert and aware of the tendencies of the “sinful nature,” we turn to the Lord with all our heart. Through Jesus, we see ourselves as God’s children…His treasure! May we please our Father by our choices to destroy any wickedness in our lives and live for Him alone.
Here’s the story…. The nation of Israel is in the desert after leaving Egypt and before entering the Promised Land. They are a large and powerful group wandering around lands east of the Jordan River. The existing nations there are terrified of Israel and desperately want to drive them away. So, King Balak of Moab decides to try to “run them off the land” by use of sorcery and curses. He hires Balaam, the so-called “prophet,” to come to Moab in order to speak curses over the Israelites. But, it all backfires. Instead of calling down curses on Israel, Balaam listens to God and pronounces blessings on them! King Balak figures this is some kind of mistake, so he takes Balaam to another place where he can overlook the Israelites…and try this all again. What was the king thinking? Wouldn’t common logic say, “If blessings came from God the first time, He’s certainly not going to change His mind.” Exactly! However, the king did not know the true character of God Almighty. He just worshiped puny man-made gods who were easily manipulated and coerced. But, the true and living God remains the same. Here is what Balaam said in his second oracle: “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot change it” (Numbers 23:19-20). Here’s our takeaway from this event: We serve a God who is faithful and consistent and who does not lie. There are many promises in the Word to His children in Christ. Although we may not see them all or experience them all at one time, we can know and believe that God’s promises are “yes, and amen” in Jesus our Lord (see 2 Corinthians 1:20). Even though we are often disappointed by the broken promises of people, we must keep our eyes on Jesus. The One who died for us and shed His blood so that we may be cleansed is the One who promised to be with us in this world…and to share a home with us forever. You can trust His promises because He doesn’t change!
It’s a habit, and I think it’s a good one. I read the Bible through each year from Genesis to Revelation. However, I must admit, there are some books I read more quickly than others. One of those “faster-paced reads” is the Book of Leviticus. While reading, in the back of my mind, I sometimes ask, “How does this relate to me…and to God’s people today?” First, we must remember that all of God’s Word is inspired by Him and is profitable for all believers. In Leviticus (part of “The Law”), God gave instructions to the spiritual leaders (priests) of Israel—primarily regarding worship at the temple and sacrifices. God graciously gave the Israelites the Law after He delivered them from Egypt. They needed to know how to live and what to do in order to live in relationship with Him. As believers in Jesus Christ, we understand the Law of God was fulfilled in Jesus. So, we don’t read Leviticus with the intention of participation in the sacrifices and rituals. However, the believer today gains much by reading and studying the Law. The Apostle Paul said the purpose of the Law is “to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24). Because of what Jesus accomplished for us by His death and resurrection, we don’t need to follow the details of the Law. However, we can gain insight into the heart of God if we are perceptive. While reading Leviticus this past week, I read these words: “I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations…. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (Leviticus 20:24b, 26). These words from God are divine principles not just for Israel back then but also for those who follow Jesus now. Just as Israel, as a nation, was called to be different from the nations of the world, so we have been called from a life of sin to belong to Christ. Peter tell us, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We have been called from to be called to! The Lord calls us out of the world (the way of life that does not acknowledge Him), in order to be His treasure and inheritance. All of God’s Word speaks to us…even the Book of Leviticus!
Do you think your life is stressful? Think about Moses trying to lead about 2 to 3 million former slaves through the desert! When the people faced difficulties—such as lack of water or food—they whined and complained and spoke of going back into slavery! On top of that, they traveled together as a large group with only tents separating themselves from all their neighbors (imagine refugee camps as seen on TV). How could Moses cope with all this pressure? We read about his “secret” from Exodus 33:7: “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting’.” To keep his sanity, Moses needed to get away from the crowds and seek the presence of God. This was his time of refreshing, giving him power and hope to face the day. The practice of prayer not only blessed Moses, but also inspired those he led. “And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent…. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent” (Exodus 33:8-10). Prayer not only filled Moses with God’s presence and peace, but also had a powerful effect on God’s people. So, my question to you is, “Where is your ‘tent of meeting’?” When and where do you spend daily time in God’s presence, gaining strength to face the day with hope and victory? But, you say, “I just don’t have the time.” Be creative. You can certainly carve out some alone time with God during the 24 hours He gives you today. Don’t be overcome by the stress of life and simply accept defeat and despair as normal. God’s presence is greater than any challenges you and I will ever face. Go to your “tent” and meet with God! You will be glad you did…and so will those around you.
So, God provides an amazing deliverance for the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt. The Promised Land is not far away…it’s less than two weeks of walking to get to Israel from Egypt. But God leads them another “roundabout” way. Why not just go directly by the shortest route? We are told the reason in Exodus 13:17-18: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea….” The Lord knew the hearts of the people…and the road ahead. He graciously steered them away from hard conflict because they were not ready. Their faith was weaker than their fear! I wonder how many times we could have experienced swift and powerful victory, but we were too immature and too fearful to walk it out. Fear is a big deal which often “freezes” our faith and makes us go the long way or, even worse, makes us stay right where we are indefinitely. Looking at the Israelites and their journey, we discover characteristics of fear…and how to overcome it. First, we must understand that fear is a mindset which “imagines the worst.” The Israelites, when facing hardships, spoke fear to themselves, saying things such as, “God has abandoned us! We’re all going to die! It would have been better to stay in slavery!” And, just then, we can allow ourselves to dwell on the “worst that could happen.” This mindset leads to a bitter spirit of complaining about our hardships and blaming God. The second crippling effect of fear is how we “shrink” God and make Him less powerful than our problems. Fear says, “God can’t help you…this problem is too big.” So, we magnify our problems and minimize our God. The answer to fear is faith in God! Trusting God, we take steps forward, knowing that He goes before us and has our best in mind. Though we must face spiritual battles on our way to the Promised Land, it beats the “long way” by 40 years!
You would think we would get it right by now. However, the more you know about the world, the more you realize the mess we’re in. I believe it’s important to involve ourselves in making this life a better experience for all. But, let’s face it, we need more than man’s abilities to correct all the problems. The Bible clearly reveals the mission of Jesus as two-fold: (1) to come to earth as a humble servant and die for the sins of the world, and (2) to come back to rule and reign over His creation. As a young believer, I often heard messages about the second coming of Christ. Books and movies about His soon return were also plentiful. But, interestingly, now few people seem to be talking about the return of Jesus—in spite of the fact that so many of His predictions are coming true right in our day. In Matthew 24 Jesus clearly taught us about His return. He did not give dates, but He wants us to focus on being ready for His return by our attitudes and lifestyle. He said, “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). Jesus then goes on to describe the one who is ready as a “faithful and wise servant” (v. 45). This servant occupies her time by investing in helping others. On the other hand, Jesus warns us about a deadly attitude. “But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time, and begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards’” (v. 48). This servant will be judged severely and filled with extreme regret. So, Jesus presents us with two ways to live in light of His coming. We can choose to be faithful and responsible, knowing that we will give an account to Him, the owner of all. Or, we can throw our faith to the wind and live for our own selfish desires, not caring about who we hurt or the consequences. The one will receive honor and promotion, and the other will receive shame and regret. Choose well…Jesus is coming back!
Twelve years is a long time…especially when you’re sick and waiting to get well. In Matthew 9 we read of a woman who “had been subject to bleeding for twelve years” (v. 20). It’s easy to give up when year after year you struggle with the same issue. But then she heard that Jesus was nearby! Faith was born in her heart. What she imagined through faith overcame her depression and inaction. “If I only touch his cloak, I will be healed” (v. 21). Without attracting attention to herself, she quietly approached Jesus, reached out and touched His garment. And then it happened! Power went out from the Lord and healed her. Jesus stopped, turned to her and spoke life into her spirit and body. He said, “Take heart, daughter… your faith has healed you” (v. 22). The first need Jesus addressed was inside her heart. In that day an issue of bleeding labeled this woman as “unclean” and kept her isolated from the fellowship of others. When Jesus called her “daughter,” He broke through her despair of loneliness and revealed her true identity with God…as a member of the family! Then, He proclaimed the answer to her prayer and attributed her bodily healing to her faith. This is what we need to remember: Faith is God’s gift to us. Through faith, we can imagine a future different from the present circumstances. Such faith then reaches out to the Lord and receives what He graciously gives. Be careful about some preachers today who teach faith as a type of “grocery list” we give to God (just name your desire and God is somehow obligated to come through). However, true faith, as revealed in the Bible, is based on the Lord helping us to persevere in the vision He has deposited in our heart. His grace enables us to believe that He is able to accomplish His will over our lives. Never stop trusting God! Continue to reach out to Him for the miracle you need—even if you have been waiting for a long time. He is faithful…take heart!
In order to live well in the present, we must learn how to deal with the past. While visiting our daughter and son-in-law (Nicole and Tirus) a few weeks ago, Terry and I heard a wonderful sermon about “Stones of Remembrance” from Joshua 4. I credit Pastor Joel for key thoughts for this article. In Joshua 4 we find the children of Israel crossing the Jordan River after wandering 40 long years in the wilderness. This crossing was no ordinary fording of a river! God miraculously dried the Jordan, allowing the people to pass over to the Promised Land, even during the rainy season when the river was at its peak. During the crossing, God instructed Joshua to have some men gather 12 stones from the middle of the river and bring them to shore (see Joshua 4:3). These stones were to serve as “a sign among you” (v. 4) and “a memorial to the people of Israel forever” (v. 7b). The wonders of God must not be forgotten…especially for the next generation! God proclaimed, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (vv. 6-7a). So, what does God want us to remember? What has He done in the past year (and years) that we must call to mind and share with others? He is the faithful God who saves us and keeps us! He proves His love and kindness by providing for us and answering our prayers. May we not forget Him by whining and complaining when we experience trials. Do something tangible to remember the Lord. It may not be stones that you set up, but at least write down answers to prayer and blessings that have come your way in 2018. In the sermon next week, during our vision-casting Sunday, I will be sharing some of these “stones of remembrance” so we can remember and rejoice in the Lord and His grace toward us.