Don’t let life steal your song! As COVID-19 continues to stretch on, many people struggle with discouraging and stressful thoughts. As believers we possess a power within us which is greater than the darkness in the world. In my experience, the time I struggle the most with thoughts is at night when I am in bed. Sometimes the enemy attacks me with a barrage of negative thoughts which I wrestle with until I receive the victory from Jesus. King David in the Bible recorded in many of his Psalms the times he battled in his heart and mind. Yet, he never gave up, and always came back to praising the Lord with his mouth and in song. David ministered to the Lord by songs in the night! “The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy” (Psalm 65:8). “I remembered my songs in the night” (Psalm 77:6). Recently I have asked the Lord, “Would You help me to honor You with songs of joy and faith in the night, and would You help me to wake up with a song in my heart?” What peace I have when I wake up with a song to Jesus on my mind! Often, it’s a song we have sung during a worship service. One that has blessed my life goes as follows: “Jesus at the center of it all…. From beginning to the end, it will always be, it’s always been You, Jesus, Jesus. And nothing else matters; nothing in this world will do. Jesus you’re the center. Everything revolves around you” (words and music by Israel Houghton, Michah Massey, and Adam Ranney). Our battles are fought on the field of faith. The Lord will help us to sing and worship Him even though we may be struggling and wrestling with our thoughts. And remember: the battle belongs to the Lord! It all comes down to Jesus…loving Him, following Him, and singing our song of victory to Him. He is the center of it all! We have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, and He is worthy to receive our songs in the night!
I am reading through the Bible and find myself in the Book of Leviticus. This is not my favorite book in the Bible, but I try to read Leviticus with an open heart, asking God for applications I can make in my life today. Here is something I believe speaks to us right now. Throughout Leviticus we see various offerings presented to the Lord by the Israelites. One of these is called the “burnt offering.” This offering was a voluntary act of worship, with the emphasis being on fellowship and devotion to God. In other words, the people could come to the altar and present an animal which would be killed and offered as a “burnt offering” on the altar. They could do this simply because they loved God and wanted to draw near to Him. Although this was a good thing to do, the people needed to be warned about giving God their best and not something inferior. In Leviticus 22:18b-20 we read, “If any of you—whether an Israelite or a foreigner residing in Israel—presents a gift for a burnt offering to the Lord, either to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering, you must present a male without defect from the cattle, sheep or goats in order that it may be accepted on your behalf. Do not bring anything with a defect, because it will not be accepted on your behalf.” The message here is that God will accept our acts of worship, but we must aim to give Him our best. The other day I was very busy and distracted. When it came time for a prayer time in the evening, it was late, and I was tired. I started to pray and then “woke up” about an hour later. I was disappointed in myself but didn’t “beat myself up.” Instead, I determined that I needed to offer God something better than my “leftovers.” Also, I think about someone I knew who offered God a dollar or two each week in the offering plate. This same person spent a lot more money every week on scratch tickets and other forms of gambling. What do you think God thinks of this? Let’s look at what we’re doing and present God the best. He deserves it!
What if Christians embraced the warnings of God as enthusiastically as the promises of God? As I was reading 1 Corinthians 10 this morning, I noticed how all God’s people who came up from Egypt were given the same blessings and opportunities…but only a few made it to the Promised Land. “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness” (verses 3-5). Instead of entering into the land of promise and conquest, they endured defeat and humiliation in the desert. Now, I don’t believe we are reading here that all of the people lost out on eternity with God. Only God knows how many were true believers and how many were imposters. But what we are reading is a serious warning to reverence the Lord in the way we live. In the wilderness, God called His people into a holy covenant relationship with himself and gave them the supreme honor of entering into the land prepared for them. However, most of them carelessly tossed it aside. What was their problem? Verses 7-10 reveal the reasons why God denied them entrance into the victory He provided. These warnings are as relevant today as in the days of Moses: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were…. We should not commit sexual immorality…. We should not test Christ…. And do not grumble….” God loves us and gives us amazing promises for both now and eternity. God also hates sin and expects us to battle and overcome the fleshly nature within us. He provides us with the power, by His grace, to defeat every temptation we face (see verse 13). Serving the Lord is a process of choosing every day what is godly over our desires. By God’s grace we can grow and become like Jesus! However, we must be willing to take the warnings of the Word seriously. There is a promised land to enter and a wilderness to avoid. God’s ways are worth the battle!
“In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7). The Apostle Peter, as an older man, wrote two letters to believers in Jesus (1 and 2 Peter). He wanted the followers of Christ to know God’s loving concern for their welfare. He opened his first letter by saying, “Grace and peace be yours in abundance” (1 Peter 1:2b). If you study the history and context of when Peter wrote these letters to the disciples, you understand the great challenges they faced daily. Rome, with its power-crazed Caesars, ruled the nations. Taxes were high, wages were low, and slavery abounded. Christians were suspect of undermining the government because of their refusal to worship Caesar or the Roman and Greek gods. Life was not easy. In the midst of all this uncertainty, Peter spoke a clear and comforting word, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (5:7). As we look at our own lives and circumstances, we realize that sometimes we will be anxious and stressed. After all, this world is full of trials and tribulation. However, if we humbly exercise our faith, we can cast all our cares on the Lord. He is the expert at handling anxiety! He is more than able to handle our special circumstances, and, by His grace, to bring us to the place of peace. We sometimes ask, “Does anybody really care about me?” The answer is: “he cares for you” (5:7b). The One who suffered and died for you will surely help you in the time of trouble. He loves you as His own child…and anything He takes you to He will take you through!
When you walk in prayer, the Lord guides your footsteps! I feel sorry for those who think of prayer as just some formal words you hear at church or a quick “thanks” before a meal. If we only realized the excitement of living “in company with God!” I love reading the stories in Genesis. In chapter 24, we read of Abraham’s servant (probably Eliezer) tasked with the responsibility of going back to “the old country” to find a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. Apparently, Abraham had a good influence on Eliezer. The Scriptures show Eliezer as a man who honored God and knew how to pray. On the journey, as he approached Abraham’s homeland, he prayed specifically that a young lady (Isaac’s future wife) would come to the well where he had stopped. He prayed that this woman would offer him a drink of water…and volunteer to water the camels. The Bible says, “Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder” (Genesis 24:15a). After Eliezer asked her for some water, she gave him some…and immediately offered to take care of the camels as well! The prayer was answered just like that! I love Eliezer’s response after going back to the house, “Then the man bowed down and worshiped the Lord, saying, ‘Praise be to the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who has not abandoned his kindness and faithfulness to my master. As for me, the Lord has led me on the journey to the house of my master’s relatives’” (vv. 26-27). Since this was obviously the Lord’s leading, everyone was in agreement that Rebekah should go back with the servant to become Isaac’s wife. Eliezer received the great privilege of being an instrument of the Lord in finding a wife for Isaac. This story, which has blessed countless millions through the centuries, occurred in his life because he prayed and kept company with God. Let’s remember that life is not just random experiences of meaningless events. As the old hymn declares, “God leads His dear children along.” May we discover the leading of the Lord as we pray and believe!
To live each day and make choices means we create priorities. Your priorities shape your life into a journey toward a destination. A lack of priorities results in your life becoming like a leaf blowing in the wind of passing desires. The word priority comes from the word prior which means “coming before in time, order, or importance.” In his letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul expressed his greatest priority: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). For Paul, the priority of life was the gospel of Jesus Christ! The gospel proclaims the greatest story ever told because it reveals the greatest person who ever lived accomplishing the greatest good ever done! No wonder gospel means good news! We live in a hectic world constantly trying to fill our sight and imagination with distractions. These smaller things of life tend to blind us to the greatest thing…the Lord Jesus himself. His death, burial and resurrection create a pathway back to God! Through faith in our Lord Jesus, we are given the key which opens the door to fellowship with God. His presence in us, through the Holy Spirit, gives our life purpose and hope. May we never be ashamed of the gospel; may we be willing to share the hope that we have with others who need Him. Be careful to keep the gospel of Jesus first place in your life! Paul stated it this way: “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).
“By the blessing of the upright, the city is exalted” (Proverbs 11:11).
God has you here for a reason. Maybe you were born in Philadelphia. Maybe you relocated here. Maybe you’re a lifelong Philadelphian. Maybe you’re just here for the short haul. For however long as you’re here, God wants you to bless Philadelphia. When we accept God’s salvation, He clothes us in His righteousness. That makes us “the upright.” So, how do we bless the city? The life of Jacob shows us two ways. When Jacob was on his deathbed (Genesis 49), he pronounced blessings on his children. Just as he lifted up his children before God, so we are called to lift up our city. We have a stake in what happens in our city. God, speaking to Jewish exiles, instructed them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city…. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 49:6). We should be praying for the leaders, the schools, the businesses, and the people on a regular basis. Jacob blessed others not only by his prayers but also by his presence. When he prepared to move back to his homeland, to start a family of his own, his father-in-law asked him to stay by saying, “…the Lord has blessed me because of you” (Genesis 30:27). When we dedicate our lives to God, He showers us with blessings, and those blessings overflow to those around us. We may not have much of the things that the world chases—such as money or power, but we have an abundance of what the world truly needs—love, hope, peace and joy. We bless the city just by living our everyday lives, faithful to God’s call. As we head into a new year, let us concentrate not on ourselves, our needs and our wants, but on God’s call. May our daily prayer be, “Lord, whom can I bless today?”
Give as ’twas given to you in your need, Love as the Master loved you; Be to the helpless a helper indeed, Unto your mission be true. (Ira Bishop Wilson, “Make Me a Blessing”)
“What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!” (The Grinch by Dr. Seuss). This quote was sent to me by my stepbrother-in-law, missionary Keith Sorbo. As I considered this quote, I thought of the people of Jesus’ day. So many missed the significance of God’s Son coming into the world! Only the immediate family and a few shepherds experienced the awe and wonder of God’s indescribable gift. Sadly, for most, the birth of Jesus was just another night after just another hard day of work…nothing special. What will this Christmas be for most people in our nation? What will Christmas be for you? After a year dominated by COVID-19, it’s hard for most people to rejoice. Maybe you lost a loved one. Maybe your job has disappeared. Maybe your future is drastically different. If our hope is for this life only (as Paul said), we are most miserable. Will it help if we simply go to a store and buy things for those close to us? Or is there more? Jesus challenged us to seek in order to find. What if we sincerely seek the Lord in prayer…asking Him to reveal the reason for His coming? What if we discover that His coming dominates the reason for our living? Christmas reminds all of us that, no matter how dark the circumstances, Jesus breaks through as the Light of the World! His life inside of us, through the Holy Spirit, renews our hope day after day. For the believer, the birth of Jesus the Christ is a sacred event…a time to celebrate and give thanks for the new birth He made available to us. Christmas is a lot more than what we can buy. It’s an opportunity to worship God for what He has purchased for us…our salvation through the birth, death and resurrection of His One and only Son. No matter what you’re going through, God has been good to you. He continues to provide for your needs and gives true joy and peace. Enjoy Christmas by loving Christ!
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!