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.
“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). For many years my practice has been to read the Bible through every year. I start in January with Genesis. I love all of God’s Word, but I must admit I have a few “least favorite” books. Leviticus is one of them. Sometimes I “speed read” the sections having to do with the various laws and regulations about mold, leprosy, and priestly sacrifices. However, this year I prayed about my attitude and asked the Lord to help me read Leviticus with more reverence and appreciation. What a difference! I am going more slowly through Leviticus and finding many things I can apply to my life. Just from the one verse above (Leviticus 11:45), I receive several important insights. First, the Lord wants us to understand who He is. “I am the Lord” is repeated often in Leviticus and reminds us that everything He says is based on His character. He has the right to command us because He is the creator and Lord of the universe. We must never forget that He is Lord, and we are His people. We also discover that the Lord doesn’t want us to think of Him as some type of cruel tyrant but as our Savior. He is the One who delivered Israel from slavery. In my travels, I have seen churches that have “deliverance” as part of their name. I can understand why. We don’t just use “will power” and choose to break away from sin. We must be delivered! It takes the power of God to break the chains that bind us. The Lord continually reminded the Israelites of His grace and power in setting them free to follow Him. God’s people back then and God’s people now rejoice in the Lord who loves us and sets us free from sin and its deadly consequences. Finally, I understand from Leviticus 11:45 that my deliverance from sin is just the beginning. It makes no sense to be freed from sin—only to go back into bondage. God challenges us by declaring, “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Holiness enables us to discover the joyful life of responding to God’s character. Because He is holy, my heart wants to be like Him. The holiness I enjoy is not something I have achieved but what I have received in our Lord Jesus Christ. I trust in Him, and He makes me clean and able to enjoy right standing in His presence. From this place of right standing in Christ, I get to walk each day shunning evil and pursuing what is holy and right. So, when it comes to Leviticus, I encourage you to slow down as you read this amazing book! Many gems are waiting for you to discover!
How could this have happened? God provided for them. They saw miracles. They witnessed answers to prayer. But, in a day, they ditched everything and tried to replace God with an idol! As I read the story about the Israelites from Exodus 32, I kept asking myself, “How could they have abandoned the Lord so quickly?” After the parting of the Red Sea, they danced and praised God. At Mount Horeb they heard the thunder of God’s voice and trembled in awe before Him. And yet, Moses is gone a little longer than anticipated, and they fall apart. They want a god they can touch and see, so they go to Aaron (Moses’ brother) and ask him to satisfy their feelings. “And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’ And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play” (Exodus 32:4, 6). After reading this distressing event, I became more aware of the deceptive power of the sinful nature. How easily we tend to serve God based on our emotions…rather than on our devotion. I’ve seen it too many times. People I know who at one time fervently sought the Lord but now have forgotten Him. It seems the world won their hearts because it offered more thrills and feelings. If we’re not careful, emotions can rule us. We can end up trading intimacy with God for intensity with the world. Please don’t get me wrong. Emotions are not evil. As Christians, our goal is not to stoically try to eradicate our emotions. We are to love God with our emotions as well. However, emotions make dangerous drivers when we put them behind the wheel! It’s devotion to God that steers us through the journey. When you study the life of Moses, you see someone who sought the presence of God. He humbled himself and continually devoted himself to the Lord and His Word. At times his emotions screamed to give up, but Moses sought the Lord and received strength to overcome his negative feelings. He stayed faithful to the end because his love for God was grounded in devotion. A growing Christian is one who makes decisions based on lifetime devotion—not fleeting feelings. May we be like the early Christians who understood the importance of devotion. Acts 2:42 declares, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayer.” Mature love for the Lord always deepens into devotional love…not just emotional love.
Have you noticed in your life that God sometimes leads you to do something that seems impossible? You may find yourself faced with a challenge that brings you to the end of all imaginable resources. But then, God reminds you of who He is! This is exactly what happened to Moses at the burning bush. The Lord came to Moses with a special task. At this time in Moses’ life, he had been living in the far-off land of Midian for forty years as a shepherd. His relatives, the Hebrews, were slaves in Egypt. For Moses, Egypt seemed like a lifetime away. His current work of watching sheep in Midian was routine and predictable…until the call came: “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10). The first words out of Moses’ lips were, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (verse 11). Moses was right, but he was also wrong. For sure Moses was powerless in himself to do anything to help his people in Egypt. He was just one person. He had no army and no resources. But God proclaimed to Moses, “I will be with you…” (verse 12). As the dialogue continues, God tries to get Moses to trust and look to Him as his source. Moses, however, is stuck. All he sees is his own lack and continues to excuse himself by confessing, “I can’t do this!” Finally, God graciously provides Aaron (the brother of Moses) to come alongside Moses. Faith and hope arise in Moses, and he begins the journey. When you read the rest of the story, you discover that Moses’ obedience brought both adventure and trials. But, in the end, God provided supernatural victory. The Hebrews left the slavery of Egypt and headed for the Promised Land! We learn something important here from Moses. God has a way of “upsetting” our predictable routines. At times He brings us face to face with challenges that we can’t accomplish on our own. In these times, we must push beyond our excuses of “why I can’t do this.” Our faith is not in ourselves but in the One who called us and who promised, “I will be with you.” May the eyes of our heart be fixed on the Lord Jesus, knowing that we can do all things through Him who strengthens us. Enjoy the journey!
I will never forget my encounter with a man in Center City. As I presented the gospel to him, he shared with me how alcohol had destroyed his life for the past 20 years. The more he shared, the more he became angry….at God! He viewed his alcoholism as a disease he “caught,” and that God was unwilling to heal him. Not once did he take personal responsibility! In his eyes, his present misery was everyone else’s fault—except his own. As I read the Bible, I understand the deceptive power of human nature. As the first sin against God unfolds in Genesis 3, God seeks out the guilty pair. Although He knows what happened, the Lord approaches Adam with questions, hoping to draw out his confession and repentance. Instead of taking personal responsibility, Adam immediately deflects guilt to Eve. “The man said, ‘The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it’” (Genesis 3:12). God then addresses Eve, who immediately blames the serpent. The story is sad but almost funny when you realize there are only two adults in the world, and neither of them claim to be at fault! As I consider this, I think of the condition of our world right now. How easy it is to blame all our problems on society or political leaders. During this challenging time of Covid, I have heard accounts of believers who have drifted away from God and try to blame “the church.” The Bible is clear. If I am to walk with God and make progress in spiritual growth, I must start by making it personal. My spiritual health (or lack of it) is not someone else’s fault. As 2022 unfolds, may we courageously take responsibility for our choices. The Lord is willing to give us the grace we need to choose wisely. As people of truth, we need to admit the great freedom God has given us to choose…and take personal responsibility to lead ourselves to Him.
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you”(Romans 8:11). Jesus’ disciples must have been shocked when they arrived in Judea and found that Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days. Jesus had told them that Lazarus’ sickness would not end in death. Lazarus’ sister, Martha, was similarly disappointed. She was certain that, if Jesus had come sooner, her brother would not have died. We cannot blame the disciples and Martha for thinking that Lazarus’ death was the end of the story. In all of their experience, that was the way the world worked. God, however, had something greater planned. Yes, Lazarus died, but that was not the end! The story ended with a resurrection! This was the reason that Jesus had deliberately remained where He was for two days after He heard the news that Lazarus was sick: “…for God’s glory, so that God’s Son may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). There were many ways in which Lazarus could have been healed, but his resurrection could only have been accomplished by God’s sovereign power. Lazarus’ resurrection was a testimony, to everyone who knew him, of the glory of the Son of God. When we pray, we can tend to view a delayed response from God as an indication that He does not care or is not going to intervene. Then, if the dream that we are praying about dies, we can view its death as an indication that God has said no. However, we must never forget that prayer is a conversation, and, when we pray, we must pray with the expectation of hearing from God. Once God has spoken, we need to hold on to what He tells us, not letting go even when the story appears to end differently than the way He promised it would. All around us, there are individuals, families, churches and communities that need to experience the resurrecting power of the Spirit of God. Their stories must not end in death! Let’s keep persevering until the final chapter! Let’s make 2022 a year of resurrection! (You can read the complete account of Lazarus’ resurrection in John 11:1–44).
Sometimes I need to “get away” to a quiet place and pray. Over the years I have discovered the ideal place…cemeteries! There’s very little traffic, and people are real quiet there. I cherish a vivid memory from pastoring in New Jersey during the 80s. It was a difficult time for me, and I decided to fast and pray. While walking down a cemetery road, I was praying for direction and the ability to hear from God. My eyes fell on a stone statue of a little lamb with these engraved words underneath: “The Lord is my Shepherd.” This was the right word at just the right time for me! In that moment my mind flooded with memories of how the Lord had so faithfully guided me in the past. I recalled major crossroads where the Lord faithfully went before me and helped me make the best decisions. The Scriptures are full of passages encouraging His people to trust Him as the Great Shepherd. In Genesis 48 we read of Jacob (Israel) blessing Joseph and his two sons. “Then he blessed Joseph and said, May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day…” (verse 15). Think about it…. God says He has been your shepherd all your life! The picture of us as the sheep of His pasture is a common metaphor. Lately, I have noticed how the word “sheep” is used in our culture in a negative way. The world mocks people who act like sheep and simply follow without question. Of course, I agree with the danger of following other people without question. However, when it comes to obeying the Lord, I willingly consider myself a sheep. I know that without His leading, I easily stray into sin and the snares of the enemy. Those who scoff at the idea of following the Lord don’t understand the power of the sinful human nature and our tendency to self-destruct. We need the Shepherd! As we worship this last Sunday of 2021, we look back at the faithfulness of our God. In these confusing times, our country faces many challenges which affect every one of us. However, the Lord’s wisdom and insight give us confidence to face the many uncertainties ahead. Our Shepherd goes before us! As David declared, “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). Above all, Jesus himself proclaimed, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
The last prophet preached. The last chapter was written. “See, I send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come, says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:1). This prophecy was proclaimed about 450 years before the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, and John the Baptist (the messenger). Faithful Jews knew the promise but had to wait for generations. No other prophets stood up during these years to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord!” Teachers of the Bible frequently refer to the years before the coming of Jesus as “the silent years.” However, God did not abandon His Word or His people. He was at work—even when outward signs seemed absent. Then one day the sun arose! “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman…” (Galatians 4:4). Finally, God’s promises, like the waves of the sea, swept over humanity. The message of Christmas is loud and clear…God keeps His promises! Our part is to learn to trust Him and to wait for Him. As we look around us, it doesn’t take the gift of discernment to see that we are in difficult days. Sin abounds. God is mocked. Many have lost hope. But let’s learn patience from the Word. James tells us, “Be patient, then brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near” (James 5:7-8). Our waiting and trusting in God is not in vain or wasted time. All farmers know that what is patiently sown today reaps blessings later. We work and wait for Jesus to return. Before He comes again, He is also at work drawing people to himself and giving us of His Spirit to live like Jesus. The joy of the Lord awaits us. We will also proclaim one day, “Then…it happened!” In the words of the prophet Malachi, “…suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come….” Let the truth of Christmas fill you with gratitude for His past faithfulness. But also, be filled with hope as you patiently await His soon return!