There’s a lie going around, and I’d like to put a stop to it. People have been saying, “I don’t need anybody in my life to be a Christian. I don’t need the church. I don’t need to be part of a small group. I don’t need close brothers and sisters to share my life with. I’m fine just the way I am.” A person who is a Christian is under the authority of the Word, right? Each of us will one day be judged by the Word of God. The Bible clearly teaches a “one another” Christianity. Jesus died and rose from the dead—not just for your individual salvation, but so that you could be a part of His body—the Church. If you are truly born again, you have been born into a family (Ephesians 3:15). The success and blessing of the Early Church was due to the Christians living out their lives as a loving community under the Lordship of Christ. The Spirit was poured out as “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). The Lord added to their number daily because, as part of their life, “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). The phrase “one another” is found over 76 times in the New Testament. In the Book of Ephesians, for example, we read: “bearing with one another in love” (4:2), “we are all members of one another in love” (4:25), “be kind and compassionate to one another” (4:32), and “submit to one another” (5:21). My favorite “one another” verse is “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). How can we possibly fulfill the law of Christ if we don’t even make an effort to be with each other? The reason for fellowship and togetherness is to learn how to love others and share the special gifts and ministry abilities God has given to each of us. “But, Pastor,” you may say, “you don’t understand. I’ve been hurt by other Christians.” Who hasn’t? What if the Apostle Paul had withdrawn into himself when he was hurt by the Corinthian believers? The beauty of being a Christian is being able to forgive and love others through Jesus—regardless of what they have done. We have a great responsibility…to love God and to love each other. If you don’t get involved in the lives of your spiritual family, you will never be able to fulfill God’s will for your life. Don’t wait for others to come to you. Go to them!
I couldn’t help overhearing a couple of young ladies walking ahead of me on the sidewalk. The one turned to the other and said, “I used to never hear anybody’s opinion except my own. But now I’m learning to listen to advice…and it’s helping.” As I heard this statement coming from this young woman, I wanted to jump into the conversation and congratulate her for her growth and progress (but I decided just to let them talk). As I look back, I can think of many times in my life when I could have avoided bad decisions had I intentionally sought out advice. The Bible (specifically the Book of Proverbs) is filled with challenges for us to humble ourselves and receive instruction. “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” (16:20). “He who heeds discipline shows the way to life, but whoever ignores correction leads others astray” (10:17). “He who scorns instruction will pay for it, but he who respects a command is rewarded” (13:13). Life confronts us with many complex situations which require us to make hard choices. The path of wisdom from Proverbs teaches us to seek the Lord and His Word and to surround ourselves with people of godly wisdom. As we do this, our choices are more likely to be profitable and fruitful. A wise teacher from my Bible college days encouraged us not to be afraid to ask questions. After all, how else would we learn what we don’t know? Seeking advice and knowledge beats fear and ignorance! One last proverb: “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed” (15:22). Who speaks into your life?
Every day the news brings us the latest international news. Often we read of great boasts and even threats from rulers and dictators who hate America. These nations (and probably others we don’t know about) are taking steps toward acquiring nuclear weapons. What is the future of our world? Where is God is all this chaos? He is right where He has always been…in charge. Lately, I have been reading the psalms and have noticed the many places God speaks of the nations. We must understand that even though God focuses a lot of attention on the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, He is not just the ruler of Israel but of the world. “The Lord is King forever and ever; the nations will perish from his land” (Psalm 10:16). “For dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations” (Psalm 22:28). Because of the increase of wickedness in the last days, the nations of the world will continue to go through great turmoil (described in the Bible as like the raging of the sea). In the end, however, God will have His way. In fact, even though wrath is coming on the nations that do evil and forget God, the future is one of hope. “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him” (Psalm 22:27). As an individual, I have come to the conclusion that I can’t control or change the power of nations, but this doesn’t mean I should give in to worry and despair. There are some things I can do. I can and must pray for our nation and the leaders and people of the world. I can tell others (from all the nations who live right here in Philadelphia) of the love of God and salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. In summarizing our hope, here is the message we need to hold onto as we have just celebrated our nation’s Day of Independence: “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne” (Psalm 47:8). Not to worry…the Lord is in control!
As a kid, sometimes my mouth would “shoot first, and look later.” After many self-inflicted wounds, I can still hear the voices of my parents saying, “Wise up!” Did you know that the Book of Proverbs in the Bible was written by a parent to his children? Solomon, the king, wanted to give his children everything he could to see them “wise up” and live productive, God-honoring lives. Of course, Solomon’s wisdom extends way beyond his own children…blessing every generation and countless numbers of God’s children wherever the Bible is read and spoken! Here are (in my opinion) the most well-known verses in Proverbs: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (3:5-6). These verses contain the ultimate “wise up” challenge! We don’t like to admit it, but our own ways of thinking are often messed up and lead to terrible choices. When we are challenged to humble ourselves before God, our natural inclination is to crawl back to our “self-understanding” cave…and brag about the wisdom of our own opinions. May we hear God’s call to come out of the cave! Receiving wisdom from God begins by admitting how foolish we are. Such humility is why many people never submit to God. It takes a lot of courage to admit “I am wrong and God is right.” But, by taking the plunge away from our limited understanding into the vast resources of God, we begin life’s great adventure of living under His blessing. Through admitting our need of God’s wisdom, we begin to understand true purpose and enjoy living in right relationship with Him. King Solomon continued his insights on wisdom (as seen in the next verse): “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil” (Proverbs 3:7). As the best parent ever, God offers us His way to find wisdom. Will we follow His way…or stay in our own way?
“I will sing of your love and justice; to you, O Lord, I will sing praise. I will be careful to lead a blameless life—when will you come to me? I will walk in my house with blameless heart. I will set before my eyes no vile thing…” (Psalm 101:1-3a). We notice in these verses that the Psalmist connects the joy of singing to the Lord with the quality of how we live. What caught my attention is the word “careful.” He made a commitment to be “careful to lead a blameless life.” If he means sinless perfection here, we are all in trouble! “Blameless,” in Scripture, means walking with God in truth and integrity…hiding nothing from Him and harboring no hidden practices of sin. Sad to say, the average Christian today is not careful concerning their walk with God. We settle for “mixture.” We want God and His blessings, but we also indulge our carnal nature. I find it interesting (and challenging) that the Psalmist emphasizes the importance of living a life of integrity first in the home. Then he gives the example of setting “no vile thing” before his eyes. This was written hundreds of years before the television and internet! It’s as if this admonition is a prophetic challenge to our generation—to those who are so careless about what they put before their eyes. So, we have to ask ourselves the question: Do I want God’s joy and peace in my life, or do I just want to sit and entertain myself with evil images and thoughts? Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating getting rid of TVs and the internet. However, I challenge you as I challenge myself: Decide what is really important in life and go after it! Be careful in your choice of entertainment! Enjoy the presence and peace of Jesus!
Sometimes it’s tough to decide. What do I get for my father for Father’s Day…a card, a gift certificate, or maybe a tie? God’s Word gives us insight into what fathers really want (and not just for one day). The last Old Testament prophet, Malachi, spoke on God’s behalf to the people of Israel, saying, “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me’ says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 1:6a). The Lord “called out” His people for ignoring and disrespecting Him, the Father of their hearts and nation. Let’s connect this to our human fathers. From this passage we see that God created men with a deep longing for respect. However, there’s a tendency to appoint ourselves judges when it comes to giving respect—especially to our fathers. We write the sins and flaws of our fathers in bold letters on the tablet of our heart, resulting in a bitter and resentful attitude. Rather than giving respect, we withhold it as a way of “getting back.” We can and must overcome our resentment and disrespect, not by convincing ourselves of the “perfection” of our father, but by desiring to obey and honor our heavenly Father. The Lord calls us to a “higher” response through the power and love of Jesus. A great example of this demonstration of love and respect is David. King Saul, David’s father-in-law, degenerated into a terrible king and father. Yet, David continued to respect Saul all his life. He refused to speak evil of his father-in-law or get revenge. David knew that he needed to respect Saul’s God-given position as a father and king—even if he did not respect Saul’s actions. God calls us to maturity in Christ. No one grew up with a perfect father. Through Jesus, let’s show grace and forgiveness…just as the Lord has shown to us. Honor your father!
Is that all it is? In America, we honor the past with special memorials. For example, on July 4th we commemorate Independence Day, the birth of our nation. Remembering and commemorating historical events such as this are important for our sense of heritage. However, when it comes to the things of God, there has to be more than looking at the past. Today is the Day of Pentecost—the day when God the Father and Jesus the Son fulfilled the promise of Scripture and sent the promised Holy Spirit! Is the coming of the Spirit simply for our reflection? The Bible teaches us to live in the power of the Spirit. In fact, we are hopeless and helpless to overcome sin without God’s Spirit. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:16-17). The presence of the Spirit empowers us to live now…not just to remember then and there. The battle for the supremacy of the heart rages in every soul, and only through the Spirit can we overcome our sin nature and please God. Not only does the Spirit enable us to win our inner battles, but the Spirit is the One who empowers us to share Jesus with others. Before the Day of Pentecost Jesus promised, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8a). Here we see the direct connection between the work of the Spirit and witness to the world. Pray each day for opportunities to share Jesus and believe that He empowers you. In summary, the Spirit of God given on the Day of Pentecost is not for us to “commemorate;” it is for us to experience. Life was meant to be lived in the Spirit!
In the first church I pastored in the late 80s, I remember a special prayer time with the Lord. I was feeling overwhelmed and somewhat discouraged. It was a Wednesday afternoon, and I decided to get away from the office for a time of prayer. The quietest place I knew to “walk and pray” was a nearby cemetery. As I was praying and crying out to God in my heart, my eyes fell on a small grave marker. Beside it sat a stone lamb with these words carved under it: “The Lord is My Shepherd.” This simple truth from Psalm 23 spoke powerfully to my heart as I realized the Shepherd of my soul was right there with me—“on duty”—watching over my heart. This week in my devotions, I again read Psalm 23, and verse four stood out to me: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Our Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, rose from the dead and is equipped with all authority. He has everything we need. His power is more than enough to take care of us in every situation. The shepherd’s staff reveals to us how the Lord gently guides and directs the sheep as needed. Having a curved end, the staff can “catch” the sheep when danger looms. The shepherd’s rod reveals the power of the shepherd to fight the enemy of the sheep—those wolves and bears that try to kill and destroy. As believers, we do not need to fear the rod because it exists for our protection and safety. However, if we as sheep harden our hearts in stubbornness and sin, our Shepherd may use the rod as a form of discipline for our good. If we are honest, we will admit that we need the Lord’s discipline at those times when we persist in going our own way. The Shepherd prefers the gentle use of the staff, but He will use the rod to protect us from reckless paths that lead to death. He is the Good Shepherd in every way, and He knows just what we need! Is He your Shepherd?
The Book of Job fascinates me. God himself declared Job as “blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Although deeply devout, Job suffered the greatest trials recorded in the Bible. When I read about and meditate on Job, I want to gain insights about how my own heart handles life’s sufferings. For example, we know that Job was a godly man, but he was not a perfect man. Gold that goes through fire becomes even more pure. Job was in the fire! As the chapters of Job’s suffering stretched on, Job caved in to feelings of anger and despair. His responses to his friends grew more combative and self-righteous. Finally, we read in 31:40, “The words of Job are ended.” After Job stopped his verbal barrage, God began to speak to him—first through a man named Elihu. Consider what Elihu said in response to Job’s arguments: “But you have said in my hearing—I heard the very words—I am pure and without sin; I am clean and free from guilt. Yet God has found fault with me; he considers me his enemy” (Job 33:8-10). Elihu recognized that Job struggled with sin—just like we all do. In times of great stress and struggle, we easily defend ourselves, and we tend to blame God. During times when nothing seems to go right, we are tempted to imagine God as our enemy…certainly not our friend. I’m so glad that I live in the time after our Lord Jesus came to earth. He showed us God’s great love, and that he is the Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep. Even though we are not spared from life’s problems, Jesus promised to be with us and carry us all the way home! So, instead of giving in to our sinful tendencies of self-justification and blame, may the Lord give us the grace to entrust our souls to Him. May we believe that God is for us and not against us. And remember: “Life is sometimes hard, but God is always good!”
I really like this statement: “We teach a little by what we say, more by what we do, and most by what we are.” Sometimes I wonder what the world will be like in the future, if the Lord doesn’t come soon. Then, I look at the youth and children and say to myself, “This is the future of our world…where they are pointed will determine the destination.” Is there any task greater than investing in the next generation? Is there any job more important than working with children, getting to mold their hearts and minds? The “right now need” is for authentic adults who are willing to teach by word, deed, and life! The Apostle Paul knew well the value of investing in those who follow. Although he probably never had any biological children, he considered himself a father figure to many. Consider his words in 1 Timothy 1:2, “To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” The other day Terry and I had the opportunity to visit the workplace where our daughter, Nicole, is employed. The office supervisor told us how Nicole’s character and work added so much to her personally and to the company. As parents, we are “proud” of Nicole, but we recognize that the power in Nicole’s life to live right comes from God’s grace and mercy. As parents, we can’t force our children to follow the ways of Jesus. But, we can lead in such a way that our children (spiritual as well) desire what we have. This morning we honor the staff and leaders of Spring Garden Academy and Next Generation Ministries. Their desire is to lead in such a way that those growing up will want to live honorably…experiencing peace from the Father and the Lord Jesus. Please pray for those who influence our children every day inside our two churches. And, if you want to change the future, do your part to influence a child and invest in a young person.