As many of you know, we are preaching a series on Sundays about “Heroes of Faith.” Time does not permit us to honor all the great men and women in the Scriptures. Most of them were of little consequence to the world, but all of them were known and honored by God. As we approach Christmas, we need to consider Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. There’s not a lot mentioned about Joseph in the Bible. But what I appreciate most about him is his kindness and willingness to give God his reputation. As the story goes, Joseph, who was engaged to Mary when he found out she was pregnant, decided not to make a public spectacle of her. According to the law of the day, he could have pushed this “scandal” to the extreme…insisting on the death penalty by stoning! Instead, he chose kindness as his response to his pain and disappointment. Later God spoke to Joseph through an angel who told him, “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:20). Joseph obeyed the Lord. However, obedience doesn’t always make problems go away. People who knew about Mary’s pregnancy and that Joseph was not the father would have talked. By simply accepting the situation, Joseph invited disrespect and scorn from those who judged by their own understanding. However, Joseph willingly laid aside the opinions of others in order to follow the Lord. His faith in the face of not being able to fully comprehend is a powerful example to us! We’re not sure how long Joseph lived. Since he is not mentioned during Jesus’ ministry, we assume that he died young. But Joseph will always be remembered as an obedient follower of the Lord, who loved his wife and child greater than his reputation. Thank you, Joseph, for being a hero of faith!
I’ve been reading through the Book of Job and came across a gem! “Behold, I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him; on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him; he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:8-10). These words come from Job as the Holy Spirit spoke through him. It was the worst of times for Job. He had suffered the loss of his children, his possessions, and his place in the community. Add to this the condemnation of his closest friends, and we see Job riding out the “perfect storm” of tests. As I speak with people and consider the current “climate” in our country, I believe Job’s message echoes down through the ages to our ears right now. What we are going through with the COVID-19 issues cannot compare to the severity of Job’s tests. However, we find commonality in our human condition of struggle and trials. Living this life is a continuous challenge to believe in what you do not see…while your eyes observe the physical things in front of you. At times Job’s faith seemed to hang by a thread, but God was with him. Job believed even though he could not sense the presence of God or perceive His hand of blessing. Notice in the text above how Job tries to “see” God at work, but the fog of life is too thick. Finally, Job resigns his heart to a bedrock truth. Even though Job could not see God, he knew that God could see him! Job, in faith, declared, “But he knows the way that I take” (v. 10). Job’s genuine faith produced hope that his difficulties were working for good. Just as gold is purified by fire, Job believed in a God who could turn something evil into something good. Can we believe for this right now? We continue to struggle through the effects of COVID-19. Can we declare confidently that God knows our way and is leading us to something good? From the story of Job, we understand that the power of trusting God now, leads to ultimate victory then!
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). If you’re like me, you can have twenty things going right in your life and one thing going wrong…and you end up obsessing over that one issue! Our fleshly nature seems to feed on worry and anxiety, but we can push back! God has graciously given us His amazing Word. Trusting in what He said transforms our minds. Instead of complaining about our troubles (called light and momentary in the Word), we can choose to give thanks to Him…for His goodness endures forever! Thanksgiving Day is my second favorite holiday (right behind Resurrection Sunday). This special day reminds me of the power of gratitude and what is does in me and my relationship to God and others. When I choose to think about the good things God does for me and express my thanks, I find myself worrying less about my problems. Gratitude is God’s way of growing the fruit of peace in our sometimes over-cluttered minds. Also, by expressing our thanks, we crucify our pride and admit to the Lord and to others that we need them in our lives. After all, what do we have or what have we accomplished without the grace of God and help of others? So, it doesn’t matter what challenges we face during these unprecedented and unpredictable days of COVID-19. We can live in victory over fear and worry because we walk with the One who overcame death! Think about it…. What will we ever come up against that He hasn’t already conquered? I am truly thankful for Jesus! How about you?
It changed his life completely! God appeared to Moses from a bush in the wilderness and called him to go back to Egypt to set his people free! At first, this sounds an epic adventure! Moses knew better and quickly added up a list of reasons why God had chosen the wrong man. His response to the Lord was all about what Moses perceived as his deficiencies and the probable failure of the mission. We’re not much different than Moses. We are so prone to see only what we are not and all the limitations because of what we don’t have. This time of Covid-19 provides a good example. As we find ourselves in the midst of another “wave” of the virus, it’s easy to list all the reasons why we cannot serve God effectively or minister to others. All the personal and church-related restrictions seem only to fuel the negative. But just maybe we’re missing something. Instead of staring at our list of “why we can’t,” what if we looked to the Lord and asked, “What do you want me to do?” In the midst of Moses’ excuse giving, the Lord interrupted him with a question: “What is that in your hand?” Moses carried a simple shepherd’s staff. After throwing it on the ground (at God’s command), the staff turned into a snake! Moses had no idea of God’s ability to take what we think is little…and make it into something great. So, we should ask ourselves the question, “What has God given me?” Our resources may seem little, but, surrendered to the power of God, there is no limit to the possibilities. You may have many Covid-19 restrictions, but look to the Lord for what you can do. Cast before the great “I Am” what he has already given you! It may be that your “small” gesture of calling, emailing, sending a card, encouraging, giving, serving, praying, or simply reaching out will change someone’s life! As we approach Thanksgiving, let’s thank the Lord for His power to live in us and through us. Look at what you have…not just at what you don’t have! What’s in your hand?
I remember my first visit to a courtroom years ago as a young pastor (a man had asked if I would go with him for moral support). The whole “aura” of the court is meant to intimidate. I was humbled by the barriers of separation, separate door entrances, high ceilings with dark wood, guards, and a somber quietness. Then the judge entered the room with long robes and the voice of the bailiff rang out, “Everyone stand.” For those guilty of crimes, this is where “reckoning” begins. In the Book of Hosea, the prophet speaks on God’s behalf from the courtroom: “Hear the word of the Lord, you Israelites, because the Lord has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed” (Hosea 4:1-2). As I read Hosea’s indictment, I couldn’t help thinking of the condition of our country and the city of Philadelphia. In my 60 plus years of life, I have never witnessed such corruption and evil as we see happening now…and considered as just “normal.” So many live as if they will never have to “show up in court” and answer to a holy God. But, make no mistake, God sees everything, and every person will give an account of what was done in life. The best we can do in this short time is to entrust our lives to God and avoid evil like the world’s worst deadly virus. And remember, our judge made a way for us to be forgiven! Our trust in Jesus’ death on the cross assures us that our crimes will not be held against us! Because of what Christ has done, the Judge is my Father, and the Lord Jesus is my defense attorney! I don’t need to be terrified of the courtroom, because the One who loves me provided everything for my salvation and eternal welfare!
Authority is a big issue in the Bible. Of course, God is our ultimate authority and always deserves our first and greatest allegiance. However, it also matters what we say and how we relate to earthly authority. That goes for our political leaders. As I write this article, it still remains unclear who will be seated as our next president. But whoever he is, we need to show the world our loyalty to our Lord Jesus by watching what we say about our elected president. The current toxic political atmosphere tempts us to throw caution to the wind and jump into the fray. But as we slander and tear down, we need to ask ourselves, are we any different than the world? Do we speak evil about our leaders? In the Book of Acts, the Apostle Paul was on trial before the Jewish leaders and the high priest Ananias. As you may remember, this is the same Ananias (along with Caiaphas) who condemned our Lord Jesus to be handed over for crucifixion by Pilate. He was not a good leader by any measure! Paul made an opening statement before them, and “at this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth” (Acts 23:2). Paul apparently did not recognize him as the high priest (poor eyesight maybe?) and reacted, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!” Those standing near Paul exclaimed, “You dare to insult God’s high priest?” (v. 4). Instead of defending himself or pointing out the bad character of the high priest, Paul replied, “Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people” (v. 5). When Paul said this, he was quoting Exodus 22:28 which says, “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.” I find it interesting here in Exodus how the Word places blaspheming God right next to the command not to curse the earthly leader. In my life I have never witnessed more cursing of our elected leaders than in the last four years. What if we made a commitment to show the world our Christian testimony by refraining from speaking evil about our leaders and instead praying for them? One more thought…at the time this event took place, the emperor of the Roman Empire was Nero. A brief review of history will show you his rule was marked by the worst kind of evil brutality. Yet, I see nowhere in the New Testament where God’s people slander or attack the character of the Caesar. May the Lord help us to follow His Word and the example of Paul and the first- century believers!
The last verse of Psalm 119 is piercing in its desperation: “I have strayed like a lost sheep. Seek your servant, for I have not forgotten your commands.” The lost person in this verse is not someone who has rejected or openly rebelled against God; rather, like a sheep, he simply strayed from the fold. Perhaps the sheep was tempted by greener pastures or distracted by something interesting, like a butterfly floating around him or an unfamiliar sound. The sheep, lost and alone, possibly cold and certainly afraid, helplessly bleats out into the dark night, hoping to be rescued by the shepherd. The situation is not hopeless! The story, while it begins in the Old Testament, finds its conclusion in the New Testament. Jesus once told a crowd of people that a shepherd who has a hundred sheep will “go after the [one] lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:1-7). Jesus later confirmed that He is that shepherd: He came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). No matter how far the lost soul from Psalm 119 had strayed from God, we can be certain that God heard his cry and pursued him until He found him. Perhaps you find that you’ve drifted away from where you once were in your relationship with God. Rest assured that God loves you and that He desires to bring you back into the safety of the fold. Or, perhaps, you’re praying for a friend or a family member who has wandered away from the path of righteousness. Keep on praying! The Good Shepherd will never give up!
I’m looking forward to the election on November 3rd. Maybe you’re like me and are experiencing “political fatigue.” Having gone through many presidential elections, I can’t remember any more divisive and caustic as this one. As a Christian, I pray and think about how I should respond in such a political climate. Here are a few thoughts. Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” There are many issues debated that are not “moral” in the sense that one side is sinful and the other is righteous (for example: raising taxes on gas). I may not like it, but taxes are a part of life and are needed to keep things going. However, there are issues that are addressed in the Bible (directly or in principle) which affect the life and well-being of people. Some examples of this include how an elected official would vote on protecting the life of a baby in the womb or how they would treat those who are poor or elderly. The Bible has a lot to say about the responsibility of the strong to defend the weak. I consider the lives and past records of candidates and vote for the person I believe will most closely represent biblical values. The question I ask is, “Will this leader move our country closer to God and what is right…or further away?” The candidate may not be a Christian in the way that we know, but does he promote decisions that exalt what is right…or does he promote sin? Morals matter! Another thought I leave with you is this: people are more important than their political affiliation. The Early Church stunned the world through the power of unity in our Lord Jesus Christ—not because of their political opinions. It’s not our responsibility to argue with others in order to get them to vote as we do. I wonder, is it possible that we as believers in Jesus can lead the way in this time of deep division? Make no mistake, millions of people are going to be angry and upset after the election. Pastor Andy Stanley wrote, “Your favorite candidate will win or lose based on how our country votes in November. However, the church will win or lose based on our behavior between now and then.” May we speak and live in the Holy Spirit! Perhaps in our divided nation many will be won to Jesus as they witness the love we have for one another…regardless of politics. Our nation needs your prayers!
As we approach election day, I am filled with deep emotions for the future of our country. On the one hand, I am believing God for a great awakening. As in former days, we discover that God’s Spirit can do a great work in a short time. People who are hopeless can find forgiveness and a future. Those enslaved by sin can be set free. Those lost can discover the presence of God and find the power and guidance of the Scriptures. God truly changes lives! On the other hand, when I look with just my natural vision, I see a country running headlong after sin and its deceptive pleasures. I see the majority of Americans ignoring the Lord and His church. I see the leaders of our political parties boasting about how we can solve our own problems. God is hardly mentioned, and, when some politicians are bold enough to speak His name, they are often ridiculed and told to leave God out of their decision making. It’s easy to feel marginalized and isolated. As I read the Book of Jeremiah, I realize the prophet faced far greater struggles than Christians face in America right now. Jeremiah truly was alone most of the time. While reading chapter fifteen today, I was reminded of what kept him going. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. I did not sit in the company of revelers, nor did I rejoice; I sat alone, because your hand was upon me for you had filled me with indignation” (Jeremiah 15:16-17). The hand of God was on Jeremiah. Rather than trying to find joy in the pleasures others pursued, he found delight in God’s Word. May the Lord raise up more Jeremiahs today! Dare to be different. Value God’s Word and His presence. Your life can make a great impact!
The other day I was sitting on the couch worshiping the Lord. I was thinking about the Lord’s wonderful salvation in my life and the multitude of blessings He gives me each day. My praise rose to the Lord with deep gratitude. Then, all of a sudden, my mind turned to the people all around me. How many of them never once share the joy of walking with Jesus? How many of them struggle with life’s issues without the power of prayer? How many of them have no hope as they face the future…and a Christless eternity? This week at Highway, we begin what we call our “Missions Convention.” During these next couple of weeks, we will hear from those called to minister in places far away and close to home. However, the whole idea of a missions convention is a waste of time if we just think of missions as done in special places by a few special people. The Bible reveals that we are in the days of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all who believe (see Acts 2:17 and Joel 2:28). As followers of Jesus, we are called to be people of the Spirit who look at each day as a mission. How would our lives be different if we looked at our time on earth as an opportunity to do the will of God each hour of each day? What if we got up in the morning and prayed, “Lord, lead me to someone today with whom I can share the hope of Jesus”? What if our lives were “mission controlled” instead of being controlled by our agendas? The commission of Jesus was given to all God’s people when he said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20). May we enjoy the presence and great salvation of our Lord, and, at the same time, pray compassionately for our relatives, friends, co-workers, and neighbors to find life in Christ. My prayer is that every one of us would take the mission of Jesus to heart as our personal mission…not as something “out there” but as something “right here”—in my life and yours. Lord, may Your mission control me!