This past week in my devotions I read through the Book of Daniel. This short book of 12 chapters is full of prophecy, visions, prayer, and amazing stories! While reading, I was inspired not only by the book itself but also by the man Daniel. As a young man he was captured by the Chaldeans (when they invaded Judah) and was brought to Babylon. Instead of fading into isolation and obscurity, Daniel continued to live for God and make the best of a difficult situation. Those around Daniel noticed his godly character. He, along with other promising Jewish candidates, were chosen for the “leadership fast track” in the king’s service. The Babylonians could not understand why Daniel was so trustworthy and wise. On different occasions, they explained Daniel in their own way as one “who has the spirit of the holy gods in him” (Daniel 5:9). Of course, they were simply trying to describe the beautiful presence of God’s Holy Spirit in Daniel. As followers of Jesus, we know Daniel’s true success did not come by self-help or pride in his own abilities. Over and over, we read of Daniel’s humility as he deflected honor and praise to the only One worthy…the Lord God Almighty! Even the angelic beings recognized Daniel and called him “highly esteemed” (10:11). Also, while reading this book, you discover a roller coaster of events. Sometimes Daniel is elevated to great heights of leadership and other times he is despised and persecuted (remember the lion’s den!). Through it all, Daniel remains steadfast and faithful. A few verses from chapter six summarize for me Daniel’s amazing character: “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom…. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt not negligent” (Daniel 6:3-4b). Daniel is described as “exceptional!” May we realize the truth that Daniel stood out because he consistently yielded himself totally to the Lord. Rather than living a life of carnality and compromise (“when in Babylon do as the Babylonians”), Daniel continued to walk with God. I hope you read the Book of Daniel! Yes, the prophesies and stories are outstanding, but let Daniel himself inspire you. Keep living for Jesus…and be exceptional!
I’m reading through the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is in the land of Babylon and prophesying about what will happen to the remnant still left in the land of Israel. It’s not a positive outlook. The people in Israel are determined to continue in their sins, totally disregarding God. I came across some verses that stopped me in my tracks. I thought to myself, These are among the scariest verses in the Bible. Here is what Ezekiel wrote: “Therefore, son of man, say to your people, ‘If someone who is righteous disobeys, that person’s former righteousness will count for nothing. And if someone who is wicked repents, that person’s former wickedness will not bring condemnation. The righteous person who sins will not be allowed to live even though they were formerly righteous.’ If I tell a righteous person that they will surely live, but then they trust in their righteousness and do evil, none of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered; they will die for the evil they have done” (Ezekiel 33:12-13). So, God is speaking to the Israelites of impending judgment due to prolonged and present wickedness. Some were trusting in their own previous righteousness. Maybe they had served God for many years and done many good deeds. However, the warning is clear. Just because you have served God in the past gives you no assurance if you abandon the Lord and give yourself to doing evil. For me personally, this gives me a healthy sense of the fear of God. Even though I have served the Lord since I was a teenager, I cannot trust in my past ministry or good deeds as a “license” to do my own thing. In other words, the challenge here is to live for the Lord in the present and to end well. I suppose some would say this kind of thinking leads to a lack of assurance of salvation. However, I absolutely believe in the assurance of salvation rooted in our trust in the Lord Jesus. But, to abandon this trust and to place our trust in ourselves and our “righteousness” puts us in a dangerous place. Let’s take God at His Word and continue to persevere in our faith in Christ…demonstrating this faith through trust and obedience!
“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:11). September has the feel of a “new year”—not just a new month. As the summer days fade, a new season of refreshing takes its place. I think it’s fitting for us to reflect on Labor Day as the official beginning of this new time and to consider the role of work in our lives. People I talk to often express extreme views about their work. They usually tell me they really like their work or…they hate it and can’t wait to leave. Have you noticed that, if you don’t like something, it’s hard to hide your feelings day by day? Those who work with a negative attitude influence others. What’s in the heart eventually comes out. Before you know it, a “toxic” work environment grows and stifles creativity and productivity. Now, let’s think about this in relation to serving the Lord. Are there times when serving the Lord sputters into mere “robotic activity.” We know the drill…just do enough to get by in our relationship with God. Sometimes our attitude sinks into I don’t like this, but I’m still on the job. Through my studies and preaching on “Summer Psalms,” my attitude has been challenged by David’s attitude toward serving the Lord. Over and over, he speaks about the joy of living in the presence of God. He rejoices in the great blessings and benefits of sins forgiven and a clear conscience. For David, following the Lord was not a “obligation grudgingly performed” but a delight to his soul. If your relationship with the Lord has slipped into more of a duty than delight, I encourage you to follow the footsteps of David. He focused on the Lord himself and worshiped in His presence. David took time to wait on the Lord, allowing Him to stir the embers of his heart until the flames grew hot. Let’s remember that living for Jesus is not a difficulty to endure but, rather, the greatest delight we can ever know! Allow the Lord to renew your joy in Him! David declared, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). Enjoy the Lord!
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). We just came through a truly amazing Sunday with our guests from Chicago Tabernacle. I was especially blessed and moved while listening to the message Sunday morning. When I listen to a sermon, I try to stay “open” for a special word from the Lord for my own heart. The word that came to me was, “Don’t doubt God’s faithfulness.” The Scripture above from Lamentations proclaims God’s faithfulness and steadfast love (written by Jeremiah) in the backdrop of sorrows and tragedies which had befallen Israel. God warned them over and over, but they ignored Him and instead chose to do evil—which led to great suffering. But God is reminding His people that He hasn’t given up on them! There is a future for the people of God—even if the present may look bleak. Pastor Al brought out a story from his own family that I will never forget…and which I have already shared with others. He mentioned how one of his children, many years ago, was wandering away from God. This caused great pain to both parents (Pastor Al and Chrissy). Chrissy especially was distraught about this and sought God diligently. In the midst of her prayers, God spoke a word to her heart! She took this word and immediately shared it with her husband. God said to her, “If you worry, then I’m not faithful.” Wow, this is powerful! God wasn’t saying to her that He quit being faithful. He was challenging her to keep trusting His faithfulness in spite of what she did not see. God does not fail! However, if we choose to embrace worry, in essence we are saying, “God, You’re not who You say You are. You’re not faithful!” I received this word and thought about the challenges I face in life. I am just like you; I am tempted to doubt and complain when things don’t go as I expect. But then I look back and recount God’s consistent faithfulness. Then I ask myself, “Why should I choose worry when I can give myself to the Lord and receive His strength to trust. I can believe Him in the present because He has always been faithful in the past. By His grace, let’s declare, “Great is thy faithfulness!”
“To hear or not to hear.” This, to me, is the message of Jeremiah to the nation of Israel. The leaders and people had abandoned the Lord and His word and expected the same prosperity and blessing to which they were accustomed. However, judgment came as the Babylonians swept down from the north and destroyed the cities and scattered the people. Even after all this, amazingly, the people interpreted these judgments only through the filter of their own imaginations. Instead of acknowledging the Lord and humbling themselves, they dug deeper into idolatry. Here’s their response to Jeremiah: “We will not listen to the message you have spoken to us in the name of the Lord! We will certainly do everything we said we would: We will burn incense to the Queen of Heaven and will pour out drink offerings to her just as we and our ancestors, our kings and our officials did in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. At that time we had plenty of food and were well off and suffered no harm. But ever since we stopped burning incense to the Queen of Heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have had nothing and have been perishing by sword and famine” (Jeremiah 44:16-18). So, the people left God completely out of their circumstances! They interpreted their extreme trials as coming from displeasing “the Queen of Heaven.” By not listening to the Word of the Lord, they totally missed His will for them. As I read this from Jeremiah, I wondered about the many ways our country turns a deaf ear to and misinterprets His voice speaking to us. We feel the discipline of COVID…. We experience the trials of hurricanes, fires, and floods, and we suffer massive social problems. Yet, we so easily blame other countries, climate change, politics, or racism for all our issues. Don’t get me wrong…. I am all for making steps to improve our world. But lets’ get it straight. We need to repent and get right with God. Nothing else we do will ultimately succeed if we ignore Him. If this Pastor’s Pen received a wide reading audience, I’m sure most Americans would mock and call my thoughts “simplistic generalities of a Bible-thumping fanatic.” It really doesn’t matter if people listen to me. My prayer is for the people of our nation to turn and hear the Word of the Lord. When we hear right, we rightly interpret the signs of the times!
The popular idiom, “Home is where the heart is,” was coined by Roman philosopher Gaius Plinius Secundus. One need not stretch his or her imagination in an effort to conclude the gist or meaning of this phrase; it’s pretty straightforward. The people and or environment you long to surround yourself with most are usually located at the place you reside—your home. Therefore, it would be safe to say that your heart cherishes and values all which comprises the home (family, etc.) so much so that, no matter where travels may take you, a yearning to be back home is always prevalent. Our God, who is infinite and omnipresent, does not require a space or structure to call home. However, the Lord Jesus desires and yearns to reside within our hearts. The Psalmist proclaims “Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells” (Psalm 26:8). In this verse David is referring to the Tabernacle—where the Ark of the Covenant was located. But, as we have come to learn and understand, the Spirit of the Lord not only dwells within structures, He also seeks to make our hearts His home. This is the reason why directly after we confess our sins and repent, we invite the Holy Spirit to enter our hearts and minds so that we may be transformed from a temple (vessel) void of God to one in which He now resides. Have you made your heart available as a place the Lord can call home? When we take inventory of ourselves, will we find hearts filled with contempt, bitterness, despair, and hate? Or will we find “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control”? (Galatians 5:22-23). So, if home is where the heart is, then our hearts should be where the Lord’s home is. Having our hearts as a dwelling place for God’s Spirit and Word facilitates the mighty and miraculous work the Holy Spirit conducts in our lives. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Psalm 119:11). I’m sure most of us, more than likely, would not want to go somewhere to which we were not invited. In this sense the Lord feels the same. As He desires to make our hearts His home, we must invite Him in with wide open, welcoming arms! Let us remind ourselves every day to ask God to make our hearts His home.
“Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). I love this statement concerning Enoch…he “walked with God”! In the Bible the word walk is associated with how we live. When you think about it, every day is more of a walk than a sprint or even a jog. We put one step in front of the other and proceed from one thing to another. Prayer is a special part of our walk with God. Sometimes people have asked me questions such as: “How much should I pray each day?” or “What if I don’t have time to sit quietly before God in prayer?” We need to be careful that we don’t approach God like a time clock. He’s not interested in us simply “doing our duty” and getting our prayers out of the way. The longer I live with the Lord, the more I understand prayer as living in relationship with God—not just a segment of time I spend in being still before Him. Please don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s vital to develop quiet time with God. In the morning I set aside time to seek Him in a quiet place. However, when I leave my quiet place, I don’t leave prayer behind. My daily devotionals teach me the importance of prayer being a mindset and fellowship with the Lord throughout the day. Walking with God is a life of companionship with Him, not just a “devotional time.” You can live in a spirit of prayer while doing the dishes, working on the house, or sitting in an office. The Bible is filled with promises for those who acknowledge God in a trusting relationship. Proverbs 3:6 says, “In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” God delights in leading His children into His paths. Our responsibility is simply to walk with Him in a state of constant “communion,” breathing out prayers and praises to Him as we walk around. Jesus told us the Father is looking for those who will worship in “spirit and truth” (John 4:23). God is searching for people who allow themselves to be real with Him. This Pastor’s Pen may seem quite elementary, but be careful that you don’t skip over the essentials and major in the small details of life. Love the Lord and walk with Him!
For decades I have observed the culture around me become increasingly saturated with a distorted emphasis on the “greatness of self.” The tune plays over and over again: “You’re great! You can do anything! Love yourself. Follow your own heart.” A deadly deception chokes our heart when the message becomes “It’s all about you.” Yes, the Bible teaches that we are made in God’s image and that we are capable of achieving great things. Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves. The Bible also teaches that our hearts are evil at the core and prone to sin. The truth is we need help. We need salvation. We need Jesus! While reading the Book of Isaiah, I see that the Lord calls His people away from sinful self-absorbed disobedience. He reminds them of who He is so they can get it straight. “This is what God the Lord says—he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it…” (Isaiah 42:5). This verse reminds me of the miracle of birth. When you and I were born, we had a sudden infusion of the breath of life. Where did that come from? Where does our spirit—the part of us that gives us a unique personality—come from? If life was just physical, we would be no different than a rock. But God made us, and He has the right to give us His Word with its’ commands and decrees. His motive is love; He wants us to live a good fruitful life, filled with the Spirit and living in right relationship with himself and one another. So, resist the voices in our culture that try to persuade you to glorify yourself as the “all in all.” Get things straight and allow God to be God. He goes on to declare through Isaiah, “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (42:8). May the day we stand before God be one of great joy, knowing that we glorified Him on this earth! Praise Him and not yourself.
You never know what a day may bring forth. This past Monday was my day off, and I had plans to do some outside work and other errands. Then, I woke up with vertigo! This “friend” shows up a few times a year and throws my “normal” life out the window. All day Monday I was propped up in a chair trying to move as little as possible due to the dizziness. I couldn’t eat or drink anything. Well, enough of that! Today is a new day, and I’m feeling better. In my devotions I read about the hope and blessing of the future for believers where there will be no more sickness or death. Isaiah the prophet spoke, “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations: he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 25:7-8). As I type these words, the school staff at SGA is on the way to New Jersey for the funeral service of Zorana (a former teacher) who passed away at the age of 34. While we are in this body of flesh and blood, we face battles with sickness and thoughts of our own mortality. However, these facts are covered by the grace of God given through our Lord Jesus. We know that Jesus manifested himself to the world to defeat the enemy…and the last enemy to be destroyed is death. Before we experience the final victory, we trust in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and pray for one another. The Lord has given us power over death so that our death is like His…followed by a resurrection into new and glorified bodies. In the meantime, we pray for one another to be healed and praise God for the strength and victory He gives. While we are in this life, facts and faith sometimes collide, but be assured that the Lord will always have the last word. He will “swallow up death forever,” and He “will wipe away the tears from all faces” (verses 7b and 8a). Trust Him and wait on Him!
A comedian once joked, “I can resist everything except temptation!” For the Christian, temptation is no laughing matter. I know a man from a long time ago who was tempted to steal from his employer…and gave in to the temptation. He was amazed at how easy it was to get away with. So, he continued to steal from his company for years. And, then he was exposed! His crime made the news, and he was immediately fired (and faced jail time). The judge allowed the man to avoid prison since this was his first offence, but he had to pay back everything…plus a hefty fine. Maybe money isn’t our issue, but we all know our personal temptations. Even Jesus was tempted. In Matthew 4:1-11 we read of the devil tempting Jesus in the wilderness. God allowed this time of testing because God knew that Jesus needed to prove privately faithful before He could be publicly fruitful. Jesus had to pass the test, and He did! He refused to perform foolish miracles like turning stones into bread or jumping from the temple pinnacle to have angels save Him. Finally, He refused the offer of the devil to shortcut God’s plan in receiving the kingdoms of the world. Jesus refused to worship Satan and turned away from each temptation. In Christ, we not only find a model but also discover His power and ability to overcome our temptations. His victory is our victory! Of course, we need to do our part in overcoming temptation. We need to humble ourselves and ask for His help. Also, the proverbs teach us that we need to avoid the pathways of temptation (see Proverbs 7:6-27 about adultery). Finally, we need to love the Lord and hold God’s Word dear to our hearts. What a great help to memorize encouraging verses like 1 Corinthians 10:13: “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Let’s remember that when Satan brings us to a wall of temptation, the Lord provides a door of escape!