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What the Wilderness Does For Me

Sunset in the Golan Heights, near the Israeli-Syrian border. This was a site of the Six Day War in 1967.
– Photograph by Michael Anderson.

Last week, I wrote about going through a spiritual wilderness. The wilderness experience was described there, and I encourage you to go back and take a read. But now it’s time to understand the purpose of the wilderness. When we gain an understanding of the experience, we can more fully appreciate its value and usefulness is building our maturity, humility, self-discovery, purification and refining, strength, revelation, and the fulfillment of God’s promises to us. Whew! That’s a lot to take it, so let me briefly break it down.

The wilderness causes us to mature as believers. “So then, since Christ suffered physical pain, you must arm yourselves with the same attitude He had, and be ready to suffer too. For if you have suffered physically for Christ, you have finished with sin.”–1 Peter 4:1 NLT. Think back to when Jesus, having just been baptized in the Jordan River, was led to the wilderness. For 40 days he went without food and water, suffering anguish there, and was repeatedly tempted by Satan himself. Further, “Even though Jesus was God’s Son, He learned obedience from the things He suffered.”–Hebrews 5:8 NLT. You see, the suffering that the very Son of God endured built obedience. How much spiritual growth can we experience when we simply obey God in the wilderness (suffering).

The wilderness builds humility in our lives. Scripture tells us that God gives grace to the humble, and that grace is POWER to do what we cannot do in our own ability. Deuteronomy 8 states, “remember how the Lord your God led you through the wilderness these forty years, humbling you and testing you to prove your character, and to find out whether or not you would obey His commands.” You see, as John Bevere says, ” Humility is a grace magnet.” When we are humbled, we place ourselves at the feet of our Savior, who rewards us with His grace. Isaiah 57:15 puts it this way, “For this is what the high and exalted One says–He who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the heart of the contrite.'” God rewards our humility with a revived heart.

The wilderness is a season of self-discovery. That phrase evokes thoughts of self-awareness, and other new age ideas. However, we learn what is really in our hearts through the adversities of the wilderness. Remember that passage in Deuteronomy 8? The reason for the wilderness was for God to show what was really in the Israelites’ hearts. Sin hardens the heart, but God exposes that and reveals the hardness or stubbornness of our heart that He might revive our hearts through His grace.

The wilderness brings purification and refining. Once our heart is seen for what it really is. God uses the time to refine our hearts just as gold is refined—through the fire. The impurities rise to the top and they can be taken away. What remains is pure gold–and for us, a pure heart. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8). What a treasure is the pure heart…the ability to see God. When are hearts are pure we understand (see) how God is working around us and in us, and we see the purpose He has for our lives. We enjoy the sweet satisfaction of an intimate relationship with Him.

The wilderness builds strength in our life. John the Baptist, the one who would announce the coming of Messiah and who would preach the message of repentance was a man of the wilderness. Luke states of John, “and the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the wilderness until he appeared publicly to Israel.” Luke 1:80. I can’t help but think of all the time Moses spent in the wilderness gaining strength…inner strength that would ultimately prepare him for the purpose God had for his life. Were he to assumed the purpose early in his life, Moses would have never been ready or successful, for his character and strength were inadequate for the God-sized role of his life.

The wilderness brings revelation. There’s a phrase that scares the casual observer. But for the one who walks in relationship with Jesus, the revelation that God gives us is glorious, beautiful, and powerful. Once the impurities of our life are melted away, our heart — our eyes are able to see God and to hear Him speak. Isaiah 40:3-5 tell us, “A voice of one calling in the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” God speaks through His Word and through His servants. When our hearts are fully prepared, cleansed, humble, and mature, God’s voice is heard and His glory is revealed. I have personally experienced many times where God has spoken His desire, His plan, His instruction, His comfort, His peace into my life. There is no denying and no mistaking the voice of God. There is nothing more beautiful either.

You see, when you realize all that God is doing in our wilderness experiences, you begin to understand that He is preparing us for the realization of the promises He has made to us. Sometimes we think that God shows us something and it should take place immediately. But God, in His great wisdom and care for us, prepares us for the promises so that we will be successful and fulfilled. So declare with me these truths from God’s Word.

I AM PROGRESSING THROUGH THE PROGRESS: “Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that He has promised.” (Hebrews 10:36)

GOD IS MAKING ME STRONG: “And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10)

I AM NOT JUST GOING THROUGH THE WILDERNESS, I AM GROWING THROUGH THE WILDERNESS: “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops the strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment.” (Romans 5:3-4)

The Born Supremacy

born sumpremacy_wide_t_nv

Recently, I had the privilege of preaching in the absence of our pastor. My thoughts were to preach what I know…Jesus. As a result, below is the video of that sermon. I hope you’ll take 30 minutes to just stop everything you’re doing and hear of the only Supreme One. It might just change your life direction. After you’ve watched, please leave a reply below with your comments or questions. I would love to hear from you.

If you receive a blessing from this, please consider sharing this post on your social media pages or through emails to your friends. Be blessed!

Americans’ Idol

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America seems obsessed with idols. For 15 years we have watched a show that would pick our next musical stars for us, and worse, would teach aspiring singers what to sound like. We have now produced an entire generation of singers who sound the same.

For years now, we have followed the technology of the culture to make sure we have the latest/greatest phone/tablet/tv/streaming service/apps at our disposal.

We watch the stock market, the news channels, the websites; that will tell us how we should spend/invest our money.

We have followed the cultural trends toward how we relate to each other: living together, same sex marriage, which gender we “decide” to be, etc.

We do all of these things (plus so many more), in order to be like everybody else. We want to be hip…popular…trendy…noticed.

Followers of Christ are given some amazing instructions about this type of existence. Paul addressed it in 1 Corinthians. Paul lays out four specific areas of life that we each should address–that we MUST address in our own lives.

He begins with a description of the Israelites. They began following God, but it wasn’t long before they took up idols. He said of them, “with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness.”

I’ve thought a lot about that very phrase. Two distinct realities that I never want said about me. First, God was not well-pleased. I want to live a life that brings God great joy and pleasure. Second, I never want to be laid low in the wilderness–although I have been before. To know that God is not pleased with me and sets me aside from His great service is the worst possible thing. So how do we stay free from this pronouncement?

Paul lays out four areas of life to examine:

  1. Don’t follow idols (1 Cornithians 10:7). What is an idol? Webster defines it this way: “a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly :  a false god“. Simply put, anything that takes our attention off of God is an idol. Whether it’s a gold statue or a gold investment; whether an apple on a tree or an Apple iPad; whether it’s a woman bathing on a rooftop or woman at the office; any of these and more can be our idols.
  2. Don’t act immorally (1 Corinthians 10:8). The Word continues and says, “…as some of them did, and 23,000 fell in one day.” That’s a pretty clear picture of how God feels about immorality, isn’t it. What starts as a casual glance, can end up with the destruction of a marriage and all the families involved. When we exchange what God has designed for what we design, destruction is always the result.
  3. Don’t try God (1 Corinthians 10:9). Who would consciously put God to the test of the limits of His patience. Yet, we do that every day just by choosing not to listen to Him and do what He says.
  4. Don’t grumble (1 Corinthians 10:10). Ouch, this one hurts too! Who doesn’t sit around grumbling about situations that don’t go our way; about people who don’t treat us the way we expect? The problem with that is that we are turning to our own wishes (making ourselves/our interests the idol) instead of what God knows to be best for us.

You’re probably thinking about now, “this is impossible! Do you know the temptations that I face every day?!”

Well, that’s where God shows His way! He doesn’t just issue to us a list of things to not do, but He gives us the way and the power! 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a very powerful reminder for us: “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.”

Christ, who was tempted in every way, never gave in to the temptations. He can relate to you! He knows what you face and will NOT let you be overtaken. He will provide a way of escape, BUT you must take the way!

“Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” (1 Corinthians 10:14). Paul tells us that in light of these four things to avoid, God will give a way of escape EVERY TIME, so you…FLEE!

As believers in Christ, let’s live differently, and in so doing, let’s show the world the hope that is found in Christ. Let’s live a life that well pleasing to GOD, and let’s not be laid low in the wilderness!

Bring Hope to Life

Hope to LifeHope. Everybody talks about it. Everybody wants to have it. So, what is hope?

To the world, hope is nothing more than wishful thinking. “I hope we win this game,” “I hope everything will turn out ok,” “I hope the weather holds out for us,” “I hope you’re better soon…”

We have heard politicians talk about hope forever. Hope and change…a thousand points of light…making America great again…

To the Christian, hope is so much more than wishful thinking. In fact, the little greek word for hope in the New Testament actually refers to a confident expectation. In the Old Testament, hope was in God for His Messiah to come. In the New Testament, hope is in Jesus Christ, the Messiah, for the things to come.

I want to share with you 10 Results of Hope for a Believer in Christ. Of course, there are many more than ten, but let’s start with them. Because of limitations of space, I’ll share Bible references with each. You go and look them up and find hope in Jesus too.

  1. Hope reassures believers. (Ephesians 1:18-19; Hebrews 10:23)
  2. Hope encourages believers. (Isaiah 40:31; Romans 5:3-5)
  3. Hope causes believers to rejoice. (Romans 12:10-13; Romans 5:1-2)
  4. Hope encourages believers to be bold. (2 Corinthians 3:12)
  5. Hope encourages believers to witness. (1 Peter 3:15)
  6. Hope leads to Godly living. (Hebrews 6:10-12)
  7. Hope equips believers for spiritual warfare. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)
  8. Hope enables believers to face suffering with confidence. (Romans 5:3-5; Philippians 1:20)
  9. Hope assures believers of eternal life. (Romans 8:23-25)
  10. Hope assures believers of their heavenly inheritance. (Ephesians 1:18)

How about it? Are you looking for real hope? You will only find it in Jesus. I pray that you will follow Him and rely on Him! Here’s Hope!

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame
But wholly trust in Jesus name

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Saviour’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all 

Edward Mote | Eric Liljero | Jonas Myrin | Reuben Morgan | William Batchelder Bradbury © 2011 Hillsong Music Publishing (Admin. by Capitol CMG Publishing)

Words

words“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”–Donald Trump

“If you like the plan you have, you can keep it.  If you like the doctor you have, you can keep your doctor, too.  The only change you’ll see are falling costs as our reforms take hold.”–Barack Obama

“We came out of the White House not only dead-broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there and we struggled to piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea’s education. It was not easy.”–Hillary Clinton

Words. We hear alot this season of life in our country. An election year always brings an onslaught of promises made that will never be kept. Empty words. Words with no meaning.

There is the alternative. The One who merely speaks and things happen. The One who spoke, and the world was created. Think about that. Without even lifting a finger, God created the heavens and the earth. Without lifting a finger, the land and sea were defined. Without lifting a finger; the sun, moon, and stars came into being. Without lifting a finger, Man was created.

Words. That is all God needed to make all that He made. No struggle. No construction. No starting with one thing to evolve into another. Just words. He said it–it happened.

But that’s not all. When He told Moses to drop his rod it became a serpent. When he told him to raise his hands, the waters parted.

Further in the Word, when Jesus said to the sea, “Be still,” it was. When Jesus said to Lazrus, “Come forth.” He rose from death to life.

This is far from an exhaustive list of God’s speaking and things happen, but it gives a clear and accurate description of the power of God’s voice.

God still speaks. God gave His Holy Spirit to speak to us. Henry Blackaby, in Experiencing God states, “God speaks by the Holy spirit through the Bible, prayer, circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.”

So, the choice is yours. You can listen to the empty, feckless words of the world around and hope it changes, OR you can listen to the voice of God, which causes everything to change.

It’s what I do. I turn every day to hear God speak through His Word. I pray and listen for Him. I watch the circumstances to see what God is doing. And I always hear him. You can too.

Doing Rounds

Morning-rounds-on-the-cardiac-intensive-care-unitThis morning,  I visited a member of our church in CICU unit of the hospital. As I spoke with her husband, we discussed her condition, what the doctors seemed to want to do for her treatment, and how he was dealing with all that he had seen his wife go through.

We all joined hands to pray together, while a nurse was working nearby. At the conclusion of the prayer, the CICU doctor stepped in and stated, “We are about to conduct morning rounds. Would you like to join us?”

I looked around to see who he was talking to and realized he was speaking to me. “He must think I’m a doctor,” I thought to myself. But I was not about to miss this rare opportunity. “Sure, ” I replied.

I stepped outside the room and into the hallway into a regiment of 12 doctors and nurses. The doctor asked me to introduce myself, and I did. With that they began their report on my friend. I listened intently, not missing a single word they were speaking.

Each person on the team shared their area of information, from medicines being administered to what the medicine’s purpose was; test results, chart info, etc. Determinations were made as to the progress of the treatment and what should be done next.

I was caught up in the professionalism, passion, and intensity of pronouncing every detail of the patient’s condition. It was fascinating. All 12 medical professionals seemed to know every detail of this person.

When completing the analysis, the CICU doctor asked me if I had any questions of them. Acting like I knew everything of which they spoke and with the same level of understanding as they, I resolutely said, “No, I’m good.”

Walking away from this unusual experience, I thought about what the church would be like if all the team (the members) were this way. If the entire church were caught up into knowing every detail of Jesus and His Word, what a difference we would make in this world.

I thought too, of Acts 2:42, “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer.

You see, the early church was singularly focused. Everything they spoke of, everything they did was in order to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.

Imagine small groups that are as intense in their focus of Jesus and His Word as these doctors were in the focus of their patient. Imagine gathering together and learning all we can from each other and the Bible, in order to go live it out in the world. Imagine a world impacted by the great spread of the Good News of Jesus.

I’m ready! Would you like to join me for morning rounds?

What’s Your Story?

What’s Your Story?

Over the past two weeks, Senior Pastor Stephen Byrd and I have done what I’ve never heard of any other pastor/staff doing. We have been meeting with each of our church family members, in 30 minute segments, to hear their stories. You know, where were you born? how did you all meet? how did you come to know Christ? how can we pray for you?

To date, we have met with around 150 people. Daunting task? You bet! But it has been so worth the time and energy. What we thought would be a great time to minister to our church family boomeranged on us. I have been so blessed to hear the stories of God’s faithfulness in each person’s life. Through amazingly difficult struggles and setbacks to victory and joy through Jesus Christ, the stories have been consistent! Jesus Christ is sufficient for our needs.

At times (because we have spent approximately 13 hours per day plus Saturdays doing this) a tiring challenge, this has been a beautiful walk with the Lord. So, how about you? What is your story? So often we cross paths with our friends and family members, but we never stop to talk about all that God has done in, through, and for us. Acts 4:20 says, “for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Isn’t that the way it should be. The family of God should be sharing with each other and with our unsaved friends the greatness of God constantly! Can you imagine how many church fights and how much gossip would dissipate if our churches spent more time with each other rather than against each other?

In God’s Word, Paul told Timothy, “Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Timothy 1:8). Never be ashamed of your testimony! It is exclusive to you, because it is the reflection of what God has done for you! In fact, you are the only one who can tell (testify) to God’s activity in your life.

Although we’re not yet quite halfway through our meetings with the family, I look forward to hearing the other stories from our church family. In fact, I can’t think of any better way for a Pastor and pastoral staff to minister to their church and show love and care than to do this. What an investment! Small group Bible studies, families, discipling groups, should all listen to each other and make the concerted effort to really know each other. For it is in this way that we can know how to pray, and we can encourage and edify the Body of Christ!

From a worship standpoint, I will never again do worship planning without remembering some of these stories and knowing fresh how God may use the songs we sing to minister to His people and to give each of us a fresh expression of praise for God through His attributes displayed.

What’s your story? Why not take a minute right now and write a few sentences in the comments section below and testify to God’s goodness in your life. You will be a blessing to countless others around the world!

Blessings!