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!
Faith is to our spirit as air is to our body. We can’t live without it! In Hebrews 11, the Word gives us examples of those who lived by faith. Moses is prominent in the list. Let’s see what Moses teaches us about “living by faith.” “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). Don’t be deceived…you can’t have it all. Moses could not carouse as a “playboy prince” and still walk with God. He could not live for the pleasures of sin and experience the joy of the Lord. Life is full of trade-offs. Moses understood that true faith requires saying “no” to what displeases God and “yes” to His will. Moses’ fellow Egyptians, no doubt, thought he was crazy to throw away the pleasure, power, and perks of being the adopted son of the Pharaoh himself. But Moses chose to view life through the lens of faith. He chose to love and serve the eternal God rather than indulge his carnal cravings. He paid a price for his faith, but the sacrifice was nothing compared to the reward! You get to “vote” on what you pursue as your reward. Faith says, “Look ahead. See through the eyes of faith.” The flesh says, “Who cares about God? Sell your soul for the passing moment.” How will you cast your vote? Faith requires the discipline of right choices and the focus of purpose. Though faith sometimes causes present difficulties, you will discover that the rewards of faith eternally exceed anything the world can offer! Keep the faith…it’s worth it all!
“If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:8).
For the past two months, Terry and I were privileged to care for our stepfather, Anthony Sorbo. We became commuters back and forth to Souderton, PA…about 30 miles outside Philadelphia. I will never forget the moment Terry and I were praying together before we made the commitment to go live with him. The Holy Spirit met us there in the kitchen, urging us to go. I brought the request to live in Souderton before the Deacon Board, and they graciously allowed us to follow the leading of the Spirit. We set up an office there and took turns traveling back and forth to Philadelphia…and watching over Anthony. As you know, the fall season is known for “Homecoming” events at colleges and universities. This past Monday, around 2:45 in the afternoon, Anthony experienced “Homegoing” as he exhaled his last earthly breath, and inhaled God’s eternal breath! While being around Anthony, I was reminded of the importance of Jesus’ ministry to individuals. The Lord is not just into crowds; He loves the individual and goes out of His way for the least. In the eyes of most people, Anthony had little to offer. He lacked what our culture idolizes: strength, beauty, and ability. However, the Lord’s values are not man’s values and, in the end, only His opinion matters! As a young man, Anthony dedicated himself to go wherever Jesus led him. For almost 40 years, he served God halfway around the world as a missionary to the people of Indonesia. On Monday afternoon when he died (“promoted” is a better word), we were playing a hymns CD beside his bed. Just before his last breath, these are the words Anthony heard: “So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.” My “big picture” philosophy of life is quite simple: Live for Jesus every day…die and go to heaven with Him. You can’t beat that! If you’re reading this, you’re still alive. Before your homegoing, make the most of every day by “living to the Lord” (Romans 14:8). While you’re at it, look for ways to honor and serve someone who is older.
My wife, Terry, and I felt the Holy Spirit leading us to help our stepfather, Anthony, by living part-time in his house in Souderton, PA. We also took our cat, Dusty, to live there. Last Wednesday night Dusty slipped out the garage door into the darkness. We did not discover his absence until Thursday morning (he’s never late for breakfast!). After looking through every spot in the house, I started searching outside…but with no success. As a house cat, Dusty would perish quickly in the wild. He wouldn’t know how to find food or water, and the cold nights would get to him. After looking for a while, I realized I needed help. So I passed out some papers to others in the development (describing our lost cat and putting my phone number on the bottom). During the day, I tried not to think too much about Dusty, but I felt this dull pain deep inside as I wondered how he was doing. I tried my best to trust God, but sometimes my mind struggled with the possibility that we would never see him again. During this time, the Lord spoke to my heart. He reminded me of how He feels about lost people. I was convicted. Here I am anxious about Dusty, but do I feel that way about lost people? Do I go out of my way to look for ways to help lost people find the love and salvation of Jesus. Dusty had it so well with plenty of food and surrounded by people who loved and cared for him. From the Bible, we get a glimpse of how God the Father feels for His lost children (read the parable of the lost son in Luke 15). Jesus also described His ministry in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” When I arrived home from Bible study on Thursday night, I immediately got a flashlight and started looking around the development. As I pointed the flashlight behind some shrubs on the side of the building, there he was! It didn’t take Dusty long to jump over the bush and follow me into the safety and warmth of the house…a happy ending indeed! May the Lord burden our heart to pray and search for those who are lost. The stakes are high! They need people—you and me—to show them the way home. Jesus loves the lost. Do we?
What comes to your mind first when you hear “missionary”? Many Christians think of missions as something for “elite” Christians…sort of like the Navy Seals. Having been around missionaries and traveled on many mission trips, I would like to unwrap some of the “mystique” about being a missionary. In John 9 we read the amazing account of Jesus healing a man blind from birth. Jesus said of this act of compassion and power, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Simply defined, the mission of Jesus was participation in the daily work planned and assigned by God. As the great missionary, Jesus allowed the Spirit to lead Him to do actions which brought glory to the Father and enhanced the kingdom of God. Where am I going with this? Every believer is called to do the work of God. A “missionary” is more than just someone who speaks at special services, travels a long distance and raises funds for the mission. God has no “unemployment office;” there is a mission for your life. If you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, you too can do the work of God. As you love one another, speak words of truth, do your work with excellence, and care for those in need, you are doing the same work as a missionary. You may not be called to move to another country, but you can participate in the work of God right where you are today. You are a “one-of-a-kind” missionary because only you can live your life. Do what God calls you to do today—no matter how simple or mundane it may seem. And, remember, the window of ministry doesn’t always stay open. Jesus reminds us, “Night is coming, when no one can work” (v. 4b). My prayer is that our emphasis on missions stirs you to do God’s mission for you!
Does morality matter? In the Bible we read about Judah, with its capital Jerusalem, becoming a great nation for many years. But, the people forgot the source of their greatness. The last chapter of 2 Chronicles (36) records the pitiful end of Judah as a nation. King Zedekiah and the people were warned again and again, but they refused to humble themselves. Of Zedekiah, the Bible says, “He became stiff-necked and hardened his heart and would not turn to the Lord, the God of Israel. Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations…” (vv. 13-14). The people slid backward with their leaders. “[T]hey mocked God’s messengers, despised his words and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against his people and there was no remedy” (v. 16). The Word of God is clear. God deals with nations according to their morality. Proverbs 14:34 declares, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin condemns any people.” Let’s make no mistake here. The United States is a blessed and prosperous country. Yet, we continue to free fall in our rebellion against God. The greatest danger is for His people, the church, just to sit by with no concern. If we really love our country and the people around us, let us cry out to God for forgiveness and restoration. There is still time! God provides an open door of repentance. Our Lord Jesus gave himself as the “once for all” remedy for sin and our hardened hearts. Will we humble ourselves and pray…or just slide into sin and compromise? Believe that your prayers affect the future! Let God give you a sensitive and broken heart over the evil in our hearts and our nation. Perhaps, our nation will be healed. Are you part of the problem or the solution?
So, we have this cat named Dusty. I sometimes wonder what’s going on in his “cat brain” as he lounges around most of the day. I doubt he thinks much about the past. He has no “regrets” of past behavior that rob him of his sleep. I also doubt he worries about the future. “What if my food dish is empty tomorrow?” probably never crosses his mind. Dusty lives in the moment. Humans are quite different than animals. We often dwell on the past. In a good sense, we can learn from past experiences; but, too often, our focus on the past creates painful memories and regret. We also project ahead and imagine the future. Here again, this can be good for us as we interject hope into our thoughts. However, the future can be a scary place, and our human nature tends to gravitate toward worry and anxiety. What can we do to overcome past regret or future worry? God’s Word teaches us the importance of “being present” in the right now. Paul told the Ephesians, “Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (5:16-18). The phrase “be filled with the Spirit” is a present imperative (in the passive) which basically means, “Let God keep on filling you now!” I have noticed in my walk with God how easily I can be distracted from the moment because of the past or future. However, when I simply walk with Jesus right now and depend on His Spirit this moment, life takes care of itself. Yes, the Lord wants us to learn from the past…and to anticipate the future, but He calls us to abide in Him in this present moment. Lift up your soul to Jesus right now, and you will discover He is the great I AM.
Prayer:“Lord, help me not to miss the opportunities right in front of me. Please fill me with your Spirit right now…in Jesus’ name!”
As a believer in Jesus I read the whole Bible. Most of the Bible is what we call the “Old Testament.” Throughout the centuries after Jesus came, Christians have struggled and debated questions such as: “Do I need to obey the Old Testament?” and “What do I apply to myself and what do I simply overlook in the Old Testament?” The answers to these questions are found in the teachings of the New Testament. Jesus declared that He came to fulfill the Law (the teachings given by God to Moses for the Israelites) and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, many of the Old Testament ceremonial and temple rituals are fulfilled in Christ. The laws given to Israel teach us good things about God, and they also reveal the wonderful ministry of Jesus the Messiah. For example, we don’t need to sacrifice bulls and sheep as the Israelites did because Jesus gave himself as the perfect and final sacrifice! In the Book of Galatians, Paul wrote to believers who, after receiving Christ, were trying to “add” to their salvation the practice of the Law. Paul called them on this. In strong, unmistakable terms Paul proclaimed that the believer in Jesus is free from having to live under the Law found in the Old Covenant. Being declared righteous before God, He taught, was not a matter of proclaiming ourselves “worthy” because of our efforts to keep a bunch of laws. Righteousness comes through faith in Jesus! This “freedom” from the Law, however, does not mean we abandon morals or godly behavior. Paul wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14). So, the way we live out our Christian life is by faith in Jesus and love for one another. This is not a “law of works,” but it is the “law of love.” Paul again wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Catch Paul’s vision here: Living for Christ is not a “burden” of having to perform duties and keep laws; it is, rather, a freedom to live above the sinful nature and to express our faith through loving God and others. You can’t beat that!
A while ago I was talking to a young man (let’s call him Sam) who experienced a great disappointment. As a believer, Sam loved Jesus, but his heart felt the heavy weight of discouragement. These questions kept surfacing in his mind: Why did I have to go through this? Why didn’t God answer my prayer? Spiritual confusion led to an abundance of self-pity. How can we help others who are disappointed with life…and with God? Well, let’s try to imagine a life without any problems or challenges. Would there be any need for faith? Would we see our need of God or have compassion for anyone else? The Bible helps us with these questions. The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to believers in Corinth who struggled with many issues. Life was going very well. Here is how Paul reconciled the reality of suffering with the will of God. He wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God is not aloof in our struggles. He doesn’t take pleasure in the disappointments we face. The clear truth here is: God wants to comfort us! For this to happen, we must step off the treadmill of self-pity and reach out to the Lord in faith. Jesus was acquainted with persecution at the hands of those who hated Him—as well as disappointments from those who loved Him. Yet, He committed himself to the One who is just, and who is able to keep what is committed to Him. We must admit that in our difficulties we grow more in our faith and learn more about God than we ever could if life were always smooth sailing. As we ask God for help, His Spirit does a deep work in us and renews our perspective on life. He reminds us that we live in a fallen rebellious world where most people are suppressing the truth instead of embracing it. As God comforts us, we “rediscover” our true source of hope and strength…the Lord himself! Also, our trials serve an amazing purpose…not just for us but also for others. As we receive God’s comfort, we are then given the ability to comfort others! Has God sent someone to you who “happens” to be going through what you just experienced? You would never know how to help someone else if your faith was never challenged. So, look at your disappointments not as the period at the end of a sentence, but, rather, as a comma that leads you into the unknown adventure of faith! Keep trusting, keep receiving comfort, and keep giving what God has given you!
A Christian was witnessing to a man and asked him if he ever read the Bible. He said, “No, the Bible is just about an angry God sending people to hell.” Is that so? Nothing could be further from the truth. I just finished reading the Book of Jeremiah. It’s true, the prophet had a lot to say about judgment and God’s wrath coming on many nations—including Israel. Babylon, a powerful nation to the north of Israel, would be God’s instrument, sharpened and ready to devastate the land. Does God delight in punishment? Is judgment what He desired for Israel? Absolutely not! Over and over, Jeremiah pleaded with the king and the people. God gave them much time and many opportunities to repent and turn from their sins. Judgment eventually came, not because “God is an angry God” but because the people chose evil over obedience. King Zedekiah, the leader during the final years of Judah, met several times with the prophet. Each time, Jeremiah tried to get Zedekiah to act in faith, to believe that God is merciful, and to believe that God is holy and just. But Zedekiah, and the people who followed his “misleadership,” showed no interest in what God said. Through their own hardness of heart, they marched themselves right over the cliff of judgment. While reading this sad account, I thought of how easily God could have simply annihilated Israel and started over. However, after some of the people were taken captive to Babylon, God showed His concern and love for them. Through a letter written by Jeremiah, the Lord said to them, “‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’” (Jeremiah 29:10-13). Does this sound like the “angry God” some people imagine? Our Lord loves us so much that He warns us ahead of disaster. And, even after the bitter consequences we bring upon ourselves, He offers us hope. We serve a good God!