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!
“And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1:19). God keeps His promises! To me, the Christmas season reminds me of God’s faithfulness to His Word. The first coming of Jesus to this world was not a spur of the moment reaction. From the beginning God knew what we would need for salvation. He not only planned, but He provided for us “rays of light” through the prophecies of the Old Testament writers. Did you know that the Old Testament contains over 300 references to the Messiah that would be fulfilled in Jesus? From these biblical references, we discover 61 specific details about this Messiah concerning His birth, life, death, and resurrection. After Jesus ascended back to heaven, those who knew Him could look back and say, “Now I see it!” What God promised…God fulfilled! Peter spoke of this in his second letter and called the prophetic word “a lamp shining in a dark place.” In those days, lamps were not as bright as our lights, but they served the purpose to provide enough light to get around safely. Today, we not only enjoy the light of the Old Testament prophecies but also have the light of the 27 books of the New Testament. We walk in the light of Christ’s first coming…and anticipate His second coming! Did you know that the same Bible that predicted the first coming of Jesus (in over 300 places) gives us twice as many prophecies concerning His second coming! We may not have all the specific details or know how they will come together exactly, but we have enough light to believe. God gives us prophecy, not to satisfy our all our curiosity, but to challenge us to live godly (see 2 Peter 3:11). Peter explains that the light we now have is like a lamp in the night, but soon we will see as in the light of the morning. Christmas reveals that the light of the world has come, although at this time many choose to walk in darkness. When Jesus returns, as He promised, His light will shine over the whole earth “as the waters cover the sea!” Be prepared. The day is dawning! Walk in the light, as He is in the light.
“Trust in the Lord and do good; Live in the land and cultivate faithfulness” (Psalm 37:3, NASB). A quote that has stuck with me through the years goes like this: “Many people have everything to live with and nothing to live for.” In our everyday conversations, I wonder why we have such a hard time talking about things that really matter. When was the last time someone opened up and started talking to you about what life means to them? The Bible presents us with something to live for. As I read God’s Word, I repeatedly come across verses which serve as sweeping panoramas. Right in front of my eyes I view the meaning of life in simple phrases like, “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Imagine if every person around you adopted this as their life verse! This profound verse challenges us to blend trust and action. I never want to move away from faith in the Lord. It seems that no matter how long I have walked with God, my faith is never perfect. I always go through times of testing. I think testing is God’s way of keeping us “in shape” spiritually. As a good “coach” the Lord doesn’t let us just sit around and get lazy. James explains to us, “…the testing of your faith develops perseverance” (James 1:3). So, everything about this life happens to grow our faith. Connected to this life philosophy of trust is doing good. True faith demonstrates itself in love and good deeds. When I happen to hear the words of the songs people listen to, I hear the cry of people looking for others to love them. As believers in Jesus, we already know we are greatly loved. So, instead of walking around in life “looking for love” we are “looking to love.” Because Jesus loves people, we love with His love. Our “doing good” servant attitude endeavors to help everyone we meet get closer to God and find their purpose and potential in Him! Psalm 37:3 ends with the beautiful words, “…cultivate faithfulness.” Another translation says, “…feed on God’s faithfulness.” A person who trusts God and does what is right enjoys the strength and joy that comes from the Lord himself. Jesus is not just our “philosophy” of life, but the Lord of life itself! You have something…or someone to live for!
Thoughts are important. Like seeds that fall into the earth, our thoughts produce attitudes which can grow into actions. As you know, multitudes of ideas and words flow in and out of our minds all day long. We decide which words to keep and which ones to kick out. In the Book of Deuteronomy, the Lord is about to bring His children, the Israelites, into the Promised Land. He wants them to have the right thoughts about this, so He gives them two warnings. The first has to do with how we think about the blessing of money and prosperity. As they enter the Promised Land, they will inherit houses, lands, and benefits they never knew during the previous years of desert wanderings. The Lord warned them, “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…” (Deuteronomy 8:17-18a). God is challenging them to think biblically (correctly) about their blessings. These verses speak to my heart, reminding me that even my ability to work and to provide for my family comes from the Lord’s hand. He is the source! The second warning from the Lord has to do with how we think about ourselves in light of victories we experience. The Lord warned, “…do not say to yourself, ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness’” (Deuteronomy 9:4b). We may not say such proud things (about how “good” we are) outwardly to others, but, if we’re honest, we sometimes let these thoughts lodge in our hearts. The truth is that God doesn’t bless us with victory because of how great or good we are. From Deuteronomy we discover that God blessed the Israelites in part because the inhabitants of the land were being disciplined for their wickedness. Israel was in line to receive the spoils. Thanksgiving is a great reminder for us to humble ourselves. Let us acknowledge we serve a good and kind God who gives us what we don’t deserve and does not give us what we really deserve! So, inside your heart…what are you talking about?
As I sit at the table, I am thinking and praying about what to say at an upcoming funeral. My mind drifts to the idea of “ownership.” Throughout my ministry I have observed thousands of people during times of grief and loss. Why is it that some can sail through times of loss (of even a close relative) and others seem to self-destruct into anger and bitterness? Our response to life hinges on faith in God and perspective concerning ownership. Let’s begin by asking the big questions. Who really owns it all? Did I create my body? Did I choose my relatives? Will I be taking what “I own” with me after I die? If I really don’t own anything, why should I become bitter if something is taken away? So, does not really owning anything now or the prospect of leaving this earth someday with nothing bring despair? Just the opposite. If I don’t own anything, then everything I am allowed to have or experience is an act of grace from God. What I “have” becomes a reason for overflowing thanksgiving! God has given me a biological family and a church family. That’s grace. God has given me people to love and serve. That’s grace. God has given me food and shelter. That’s grace. God has given me strength and a work to do. That’s grace. On and on flows the grace from our God who never stops giving. Rather than looking at people as “mine” or things I use as something I deserve, I can choose to live in gratitude and worship to our Lord for His endless kindness and goodness. No wonder that when we get to heaven, we will join the elders before the throne and proclaim, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being” (Revelation 5:11). Truly, it all belongs to Him! It was never “mine” or about me. Thank You, Jesus…it’s all Yours!