“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). James wrote these words as a warning to fellow believers who were boasting and bragging about “their plans,” where they would go, and what they would accomplish in the future. The truth is that life is short and unpredictable. Because we live in a fallen (and fragile) world, we are not even guaranteed that we will be here tomorrow. James compares our life to a mist or vapor. It is noticed for a short time, then it is gone. Many people choose to ignore the ultimate truths of life and death. But these facts are stubborn; they won’t go away just because we ignore them. So, what’s the best we can do in this brief journey called “life”? James already revealed the answer, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:6-8a). Life is given to us as a gift to draw near and walk with God! Jesus came and sacrificed himself for us, so that we might be reconciled to God, enabling us to live constantly in His presence. The best we can do in this brief life is to live in Christ for the glory of God. What an amazing joy to walk with Jesus, and then die (or meet Him at His coming) and go to heaven to be with Him forever! Be sure to tell others about the hope you have in Jesus.
This is my last Pastor’s Pen, and I want to say thank you for receiving these messages during the last almost 11 years. If you would like to keep in touch, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you.
Just before His death on the cross, Jesus proclaimed to His disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (John 14:18-20). Jesus had to rise from the dead. He promised to do this, and if He had failed, what could we believe about all His other promises? Only by His resurrection could He confirm to His disciples and the world that He alone had the power over life and death. The resurrection also confirms that sin does not have the final word! We need not fear being eternally separated from a holy God. Jesus makes the way of reconciliation possible for us through His death and resurrection. On top of all these amazing truths, there is something else that gives me the greatest comfort. The resurrection of Jesus is all about the presence of God with His people! Before His death, the anxiety of the disciples went sky high because Jesus told them He was leaving them. However, His reassurance was clear: “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (verse 18). Jesus could never have accomplished this if He were confined in a grave, becoming to us just a “memory” or a past good example. He promised presence! I love the Bible and appreciate so much the teachings and doctrine of Christ’s supremacy. However, my faith and confidence are not rooted just in words from the past but in a living and risen Savior! I need the Word of God for sure…but I also need the presence of the Lord Jesus, God’s living Word, living within me. I pray the Lord will spare us as believers from the “religion of the Pharisees.” They had plenty of the Word of God. They studied each day. They memorized and spoke the Word to the people, but they rejected the presence of God through Jesus. As a result, they lived their faith as the original zombies…looking alive on the outside but dead within. Jesus promised those who believe in Him, “Because I live, you also will live” (verse 19b). As we celebrate this Easter season, may we rejoice most of all in the Lord Jesus himself…loving Him, obeying Him, and enjoying His amazing life through His presence! He is alive!
We all know what it’s like to be tested by trials and hardships. But did you know that we are also tested by prosperity? King Hezekiah is a fascinating “case study.” For the most part, his life is one of faithfulness and godliness. As he ruled righteously and justly over Judah, the nation experienced a “lift” into great economic prosperity. Hezekiah was blessed with abundance. “And Hezekiah had very great riches and honor, and he made for himself treasuries for silver, for gold, for precious stones, for spices, for shields, and for all kinds of costly vessels; storehouses also for the yield of grain, wine, and oil; and stalls for all kinds of cattle, and sheepfolds. He likewise provided cities for himself, and flocks and herds in abundance, for God had given him very great possessions” (2 Chronicles 32:27-29). When we are blessed with good things, the question becomes, “Will I be thankful and humble…or give in to pride?” One day special envoys from the nation of Babylon came to visit Hezekiah after he recovered from a serious illness. He showed them around and pointed out all the special treasures he had accumulated. This episode was much more than simple “hospitality.” It was a test for Hezekiah. The Bible says, “God left him to himself, in order to test him and to know all that was in his heart” (2 Chronicles 32:31b). There’s no doubt about it, God tests our hearts. Of course, He already knows our hearts, but He wants to reveal to us our need of His grace and help. This event reminds me of a master craftsman who trains his apprentice in a certain skill and then steps back and watches him work. The Lord blesses us in so many ways. How do we respond to the Lord in times of prosperity? Failing the test is easy. Just follow the carnal, sinful nature. Become proud and think of yourself as deserving and entitled…better than others. However, passing the test requires a heart after God. Acknowledge Him as the giver of all good gifts. Pour out your gratitude and love to the Lord for all His goodness. And remember, the Lord always gives “open book” tests. The answers to every test are in the Bible! ‘’Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endure forever” (2 Chronicles 20:21b).
Why is it so hard for us to receive correction? When someone attempts to point out sin or error on our part, we quickly flare up, getting defensive and justifying ourselves. Because of our sinful nature, we have practiced since childhood acting as our own “defense attorney.” We skillfully play the part as we lay out arguments trying to convince others why we are always right. In fact, when someone corrects us, we usually try to “flip the script” and find something wrong with the other person! How often do we hear the words (or have said them), “Who are you to judge me?” While reading Matthew 23 today, I discovered the strong rebukes Jesus directed at the Pharisees. Seven times in this chapter Jesus says, “Woe to you!” He did not do this because He hated the Pharisees. Rather, He loved them enough to tell them the truth. For example, in verses 25-26 Jesus says, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.” From history we see the group called “Pharisees” did not start out wrong. They first organized into a faithful minority during the times of the Maccabees (around 167 BC). While others caved in to the Greek culture and gods, they took a stand to live holy. However, over time the Pharisees got mired in the externals of religion. To them, looking holy was more important than being holy. When Jesus put the spotlight on the dirtiness of their hearts, they became offended, adopting the attitude of who does He think He is! They did everything they could to oppose Jesus…all the way to the cross. Maybe someday we will meet a Pharisee who listened and repented at Jesus’ words. However, you can be sure that most never allowed the Lord to clean the inside of their cup. May the Lord help us to receive His warning and allow Him to clean us from the inside out. We need both the promises of the Lord… and the warnings!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the “kingdom of God.” When Jesus began His ministry, the Bible tells us, “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4:17). Later Jesus sent the disciples out to preach to the towns and cities. His instructions were, “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 10:7). In fact, if you were to summarize the whole teaching of Jesus, it would be captured in this phrase “kingdom of God” (the same as “kingdom of heaven”). Why is this so important to us? The word “kingdom” refers to a rule and realm belonging to a king. Let’s remember that the Bible is God’s story about himself and about life that He created. God has never stopped ruling and reigning in the world He created. However, the entrance of sin brought death and destruction as Satan tries his best to usurp the power of God. Jesus, the Son of God, came to destroy the works of the enemy and usher in the final chapter of human history. The Jews of Jesus’ day looked for the Messiah (the prince of the kingdom) who would bring the kingdom. Most of them failed to recognize Jesus as the Messiah because of their preconceived ideas of this Messiah as a military warrior. Jesus needed to come first as a humble servant in order to provide forgiveness for our sins. He gave His life for us as the sacrificial lamb of God. In His preaching, Jesus proclaimed the kingdom was “at hand” meaning that in himself the kingdom was present. The King had arrived as promised; the King would rule and reign as promised! The first coming of Jesus is the inauguration of the kingdom, and the second coming of Jesus will witness the culmination of the kingdom. As followers of Jesus, we live in the present rule and reign of Jesus through faith and obedience. This means we give ourselves to Him and allow Him to live in us and through us. Jesus is Lord! We also allow the hope of His return to impact us right now. Through Christ, we know who we are and where we’re going! The Apostle Peter describes our identity as kingdom people by declaring, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). What an honor to belong to the King and His kingdom!
In the last several weeks, one of the first things I do in the morning is to check the latest news on what’s happening in Ukraine. I am praying much for those who live with fear and suffering…and who find themselves forcibly separated from family and home. It makes me wonder again, Why do wars happen? As I read the Book of Kings in my devotions, almost every chapter describes a battle or war. The nations are fighting each other, and even the kingdoms within Israel take up arms to kill and destroy one another. What’s behind all this? From studying the Bible, I see two basic underlying reasons. First, there is a real being called Satan. From the beginning he rebelled and became “hell-bent” on warring again God and God’s people. The last book in the Bible (Revelation) describes the great and final battle of Satan against the Lord and His angels. Thank God there is no doubt about who wins! So, wars, along with all the killing and destruction that goes along with them, originates from the influence of the evil one. He is described as the one who comes to kill, steal, and destroy (John 10:10). The second reason for wars can be discovered right inside our own heart. The sinful nature is dark and likes to assert itself in pride and dominance over others. We may not have started “a war,” but we all know the powerfully negative “warlike” feelings when we have given ourselves to fighting others with our words and actions. James gives us clarity on these types of wars: “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask” (James 4:1-2). Ultimately, the larger wars start from the smaller wars within our heart. Instead of submitting to the Lord and receiving His peace, we let sinful desires drive us. We yield to ungodly passions such as anger, lust and rage. In such a broken world, so strongly influenced by the evil one and the sinful nature, the only real peace I find is in knowing the Lord Jesus. As the ultimate “warrior,” Jesus first conquers our heart by His love and sacrifice. The receiving of His salvation through faith in what He accomplished on the cross is the greatest weapon which destroys the power of all evil. Jesus conquers the hearts of all who come to Him and replaces the darkness with His light. And one day soon “the way, the truth, and the life” will conquer the world! His final victory over evil will end all wars. BE READY!
As I am reading through the Book of 1 Kings, I am amazed at how quickly Israel turned ungodly. Once the Israelites split into northern and southern kingdoms, both kingdoms backslid. However, the northern kingdom (called Israel) descended more rapidly. Instead of serving with humility in the fear of God, the kings of Israel patterned themselves after the world. They epitomized the slogan, “power corrupts.” Listen to God’s Word concerning King Abijam: “Now in the eighteenth year of King Jeroboam the son of Nebat, Abijam began to reign over Judah. He reigned for three years in Jerusalem…and he walked in all the sins that his father did before him, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father” (1 Kings 15:1-3). The Lord reminds us of important spiritual truths from the life of Abijam. I present just a few:
Life doesn’t work well without God. When you abandon the presence of God, you open up yourself to chaos. The kings who forsook God and His Word reaped confusion and disorder. Most also died at a young age. For us, living godly does not mean without challenges; it means our lives are ordered around the presence and peace of God. Our God is a God of order.
The influence of parents is powerful. For the most part, the princes followed the example of their fathers. Abijam followed the ways of his father, Jereboam, and paid an awful price. Never underestimate the power of your influence. Even if you are not a biological father (or mother), your life creates a path for others to follow.
God gives us a way out. All the kings of Israel knew about King David. He followed the Lord wholeheartedly, and God blessed his reign. The kings who chose evil had no excuse. In the same way, we look to our King Jesus. He not only came as an example, but He rose from the dead and sent back His Holy Spirit to live inside us! Through Him, we have the power to say NO to sin and YES to Him.
As I ponder the sad parade of ungodly kings, I keep asking myself, “What were they thinking?” However, I only have to look as far as my own fleshly nature to see how easy it is to self-destruct. May we take warnings from the kings and receive God’s grace to direct our hearts to the Lord and His ways.
As I sit down to write this, my mind is filled with details I need to accomplish to be completely ready for our “big” move with the truck. I am grateful for the help of God’s people…giving of their time and strength to help lighten our load. To me, such sacrifice is a prime example of “bearing one another’s burdens.” However, our move is not a burden but a bittersweet blessing. The hardest part about moving is not the boxes and the stuff but moving away from the people we have loved for over a decade. We thank God that we will still be pastoring Highway until the end of April, but now we are residing in Lancaster County and will be commuters to Philadelphia. Through the natural stress of getting everything together to make a smooth transition, the Lord has reminded me of a few truths. First, I am grateful for even having stuff to move. The various items we are putting in boxes or donating to Goodwill are testimonies to God’s amazing goodness and provision over the years. When I think of so many in this world who have so little, I choose not to complain over having to move boxes. Second, I marvel at the Lord’s timing. Being in the will of God doesn’t mean everything is easy, but there is a “flow” of circumstances and events that confirm the Lord is present. Just yesterday I visited with a leader of the Carpenter’s Union next door. I was amazed at how gracious he was to me—even encouraging me to use some of their moving equipment to make the work easier. The Lord is so faithful to move on the hearts of others to show favor! Also, yesterday in my devotions, I thought of Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” I know the stress of moving is temporary. God’s kingdom is eternal. While packing and planning, I desire to walk in the Spirit, keeping my eyes fixed on what is eternal. Lastly, I want to thank each and every one of you who prays for us. We could not do this without you! Thank the Lord…and thank you!
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!