What we see with our eyes is often not the whole picture. Yet, how quickly we judge based on first impressions. While reading the story of Hannah (1 Samuel chapter 1), I was reminded of the importance of giving people the benefit of the doubt. This story takes place in Israel during the high priesthood of Eli (before any kings reigned). Hannah and her husband Elkanah visited God’s temporary temple in Shiloh…along with Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah. This was not a happy family. Peninnah had children, Hannah had none, and Peninnah cruelly reminded Hannah of her barrenness. One day Hannah went to the temple and poured out her heart to God in prayer. The Bible tells us, “As she continued praying before the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli took her to be a drunken woman” (1 Samuel 1:12-13). Eli observed, assumed, and spoke harsh words of judgment over Hannah. He was dead wrong! I have often thought about Eli’s mistake and wondered how many times I have done the same thing. We don’t observe Eli praying to God, or asking questions of Hannah, but simply assuming he knew what was going on. I remember a time when a young man complained about the injustices of his parents. When I saw the parents later in the week, my first thought was, How could these parents be so mean? But, after talking to the parents, my eyes were opened. The young man was enmeshed in a life of lies, blaming his parents for all his mistakes. I should have remembered the truth that “there are two sides to every story.” After talking to Hannah, Eli realized that she was pouring out her soul before the Lord (verse 15). We could save ourselves a lot of embarrassment, as well as spare others the brunt of our ignorant words, if we would learn from Eli’s mistake. Through the love of Jesus, let’s give others the benefit of the doubt!
I’ll never forget that night. My brother (who was 18 at the time) stumbled into the road and was hit by a truck. He was drunk at the time after a wild night. From that time on, Steve did not have full motion of his left arm. I remember him telling me that he prayed several times, asking God to heal him. The healing never came. I sensed his bitterness and resentment toward God…almost blaming Him for what happened. Make no mistake. God is not obligated to answer all our prayers. Consider Moses. After a serious moral lapse where he dishonored God, he prayed several times that he might still go into the Promised Land. The answer was no (even though God allowed him to see it). Here is what God told Moses just before his death: “And die on the mountain which you go up, and be gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was gathered to his people, because you broke faith with me in the midst of the people of Israel at the waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did not treat me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel” (Deuteronomy 32:50-52). There’s something important we need to understand. God is a merciful and forgiving God, but He doesn’t always cancel all consequences. I often wonder if God leaves some consequences to remind us to be careful going forward in how we live. The issue with my brother’s arm was a constant reminder that sinful behavior needs to be avoided at all costs. He could have easily lost his life…not just some use in his arm! I remember another conversation I had with a man who loved the Lord and wanted to serve him in the church I pastored. Several years earlier he committed a sexual sin with an underaged girl. I tried to encourage him that God forgives us of all sins, but sometimes our choices to sin close certain doors for the future. He could still love God and be involved in certain areas, but his sex-offender status required us to be extremely careful of how we allowed him access to serve others. As the old expression says, “It is what it is.” God can forgive all sin, but not all sin is forgotten by people or the law. Let’s be careful how we live, always walking in the love and fear of God. There are consequences!
Coalesce—to come together to form one mass or whole,combining to form a whole
The word coalesce has been on my heart lately. I believe this word describes what we are witnessing with the ministries of Highway Tabernacle and Chicago Tabernacle. This past Sunday Pastor Joshua LeBlanc preached a message on the life of Elijah from the book of 1 Kings. While he was speaking, the Spirit of God continued to witness to my heart how God has faithfully led us in this momentous time in the life of our church. As the service ended, Pastor Joshua challenged us to be encouragers of one another by getting out of our seats and talking to others. How blessed I was to see God’s people going to each other and speaking words of encouragement and love! It was life giving! I thought of the word from Hebrews 10:24-25: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” The Day of the Lord is coming soon! As you know, our current events are challenging and often stress-filled. More than ever, we need hope and strength! God’s plan is for us to find this hope together. We thank God for Chicago Tabernacle and the willingness to invest in our church and city. The pastors from CT who have visited and spoken God’s Word to us have come with prayer and God’s anointing. As God’s people here in Philadelphia, let’s embrace the changes ahead and work together to “create” a place where people feel the love of Christ and His affirmation. Love and encouragement are essential “ingredients” through which God builds His church. God’s Word is clear: “Let us encourage one another!”
My barber is from Vietnam, and I asked him how things were going in his home country. He spoke about the effect of Covid on the nation—especially the poor. He told me that since major cities were in lockdown, the poor who lived outside the city could not enter to do their work. People are suffering. Today in our nation many are also suffering hardships. As I think about these things, I read God’s Word about the Israelites in the desert. Because of their grumbling and complaining, God allowed them to remain in the desert forty years. Yet, He did not forget them. He continued to provide for them—even during the time of discipline. God spoke to them through Moses saying, “The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years” (Deuteronomy 8:1-4). When times are tough, it’s important to call to remembrance God’s faithfulness. A couple close to our family is going through some big challenges. In some ways these difficulties are confusing and naturally bring up the “why” questions. However, I love their response. They both sat down and purposely recalled the many blessings of God through the past few years. In recounting God’s faithfulness, they received strength and encouragement for today. It takes effort to push aside the “why me” complaints and focus on the goodness of God. Yet, we must say to ourselves, “All I have experienced of God in the past gives me faith for all that I will go through in the future. I will not forget God!” And…be assured that God has not forgotten you. He cares for you and will provide for you.