How was your year? Most of us have some fond memories from 2019—and some that we’d be happy to forget. Good or bad, the past is past, and it makes no sense for us to dwell on it. I’ve often said that our Christian walk is not about the past but about the present and the future—a sentiment that Paul expresses in Philippians 3:13-14: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” But, the longer I’ve walked with Christ, the more I’ve come to realize that forgetting the past isn’t always easy—nor is it always desirable. As painful as it is for me to remember some of my past errors, the memory of them helps me to keep on guard against falling into the same kind of traps in the future. And, in many cases, those memories motivate me to try harder in difficult times, so that I can make it through victoriously. This, too, is something Paul talks about, saying, in 1 Corinthians 15:9,10, “I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” We must strive to keep a balanced attitude about the past. We have to let go of any feelings of guilt and unworthiness over our past mistakes, but we must not forget past mistakes entirely. Instead, we need to take warning and motivation from them. Mike Tomlin, coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, said of his team, “Our windshield is bigger than our rear-view mirror.” His point was that our focus and motivation must remain on what’s ahead of us, but, at the same time, we must keep a cautious eye on what’s behind, in order to navigate safely. Happy New Year!
Jesus didn’t come so we could have a Christmas holiday. Jesus came to win a victory for us, and all His energy was aimed like a laser on achieving this “mission.” This acute awareness of His mission influenced how He spent His time—His every action and decision. In the Gospels we repeatedly see the Lord’s life motto: “I must do the will of him who sent me.” Jesus was born to give His life as a ransom for us…the innocent for the guilty, and we are so grateful He stayed the course! Now, as followers of Christ, our lives parallel the life of Jesus. We also are given a mission—God’s will to accomplish. For the believer, life is not just a random stroll until we get old and die. This morning I was reminded of the importance of life as a mission from Psalm 90:12. Moses, the writer of the Psalm, prayed to the Lord, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” So, in this verse we see Moses as a student, asking God to teach him. We don’t naturally see life as a mission. It’s so easy to live for our own pleasures and agenda rather than for God’s will. But, if we humbly seek the Lord as a student who needs help, we discover God is the best counselor and tutor. And notice, Moses doesn’t pray about finding wisdom in the years of his life; he asks for help in the every day. Since “our days our numbered” we do best to “number our days.” Jesus reminds us that we do not have an inexhaustible supply of days on this earth. God’s Word speaks to me to value each day as a special gift; and with this gift I have the opportunity to “gain a heart of wisdom.” I am not born with wisdom, but I can gain it through my relationship with the One “who has become for us wisdom from God” (I Corinthians 1:30)—the Lord Jesus Christ. So, let Christmas remind you of your mission…to bring glory to God by becoming like Jesus! Then, when you reach the last number of your days, you will look forward, with great joy, to meeting the One who saved you and taught you how to live.
God never asked us to try to figure Him out. If you convince yourself that you will never trust God until you understand Him, you never will know Him. God and His ways are “past finding out” in the sense that you won’t be able to say, “I always know exactly how God is working in my life.” So much of God’s leading in our lives requires each of us to confess, “I don’t understand these circumstances, but, God, I trust You.” In the Christmas story we are introduced to Zechariah, the husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist (the forerunner of Jesus). As a priest, Zechariah was chosen by lot to serve in the temple of the Lord during a special time of prayer. While in the temple, the angel Gabriel appeared to him and proclaimed that he and his wife would have a son (Zechariah and Elizabeth were barren for many years). All this was too much for Zechariah to process. Rather than just trusting God, he fell back on his logic and asked the angel, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years” (Luke 1:18). He couldn’t figure it out in his mind, so he allowed his doubts to overshadow his faith. As I read this story, I am grateful for the grace of God to overcome our doubts. Zechariah was disciplined because he did not believe Gabriel’s words. However, his doubt did not end the story. Elizabeth did conceive and give birth to John. Zechariah, who was mute for a season, was enabled to regain his speech right after the baby came. In spite of the lapse of faith on Zechariah’s part, God came through! Zechariah experienced the “joy and delight” of God’s gift of baby John (see Luke 1:14). What I receive from this account in Zechariah’s life is that God is greater than our ability to understand Him. We can learn to trust Him more than our own logic and thoughts. There will be times in life when our walk with God seems “illogical” …when our ability to discern His will is shrouded in fog. However, by God’s grace, we can still trust Him. And even if we falter, He is still able to bring about His will in our lives!
This morning a parent from the school lost her keys, and I joined with others in the search for them (no success yet). Keys are so important! Lately, I have been focusing on the Book of Psalms in my personal devotions. In Psalm 1, God graciously gives us the key that unlocks the rest of the book. The person who reaches out for this key and takes it is described as a blessed person—one who discovers joy, happiness, and success in life. Here it is: “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). God’s Word is the key to life! My practice is to read the Bible in the morning for about half an hour (in addition to my teaching and preaching preparation). Lately, the Lord has been helping me to think of Bible reading more as “feeding” than just “reading.” In reading I just need my mind to process information; in feeding I need the Holy Spirit to bring this information to life within me. Feeding on God’s Word means that I pray before I read, asking the Spirit to help me “assimilate” what I read. I want God’s Word to change both my thinking and my actions. Feeding on God’s Word is the process of getting God’s Word into my heart and mind, and then thinking about (meditating on) what He is saying to me. It’s like eating a meal. Once you eat, the food stays within you. Throughout the day, you gain strength from what you ate earlier. The blessed person “meditates day and night” on God’s Word. The word meditate means to “mutter, muse, and speak.” This refers to the conversation we carry on in our mind. Since we all talk to ourselves, why not replace our thoughts with God’s thoughts? Why not trade our carnal, negative, self-consuming thoughts with God’s life-giving thoughts? Be willing to change your mind about Bible reading. Instead of seeing it as an obligation, see “feeding” on God’s Word as a delight…like sitting down to a delicious meal prepared by the Lord himself! Start today. Take the key, enter in, and sit at the Lord’s table.
“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!
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.