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Stop Wandering in the Wilderness

Egypt represents bondage, and while most of the folks in this room have made the decision to be free and have accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord; there still are probably a few that are like the Hebrews in Egypt bound to their sinful selves.

Being free from Egypt is a step in the right direction but we need to understand that the Hebrews were released into the wilderness. Free from bondage but wandering in circles because they were afraid to take the next step of faith required to enter Canaan. 

Three reasons why entering into the promise land was a great struggle for the Hebrews:

1) Moses was the leader of the two million plus Hebrews that marched out of Egypt carrying with them the riches of the Egyptians. He was God’s man and the Hebrews had no connection to God apart from Moses. They had seen signs and wonders performed by Moses and even stood here at the precipice of the promised land but determined they couldn’t take what was God was giving to them. Moses died and Joshua would carry the mantle of leadership.

2) These people for the most part were shepherds not warriors. They could make a good brick, or work hard in the heat, but fighting was not among their gifts. The land they were entering was filled with fortified cities of men who were battle tested and ready to defend their property. This would be a daunting task even with Moses by their side and he’s gone.

3) The Hebrews never could grasp that God was with them. They had seen signs and wonders too much for our minds to comprehend and yet still had doubt. 

We too, can end up like the Hebrews in the wilderness on our spiritual journeys if we allow ourselves to get trapped in the routine rituals of our spiritual lives and not develop a personal relationship with Christ. 

If we find ourselves in a spiritual rut, sluggish in our commitment to Christ, complaining  and bickering in our hard circumstances, and failing to thank God for what He has brought us out of and for where He is taking us we will remain in the wilderness. Free from bondage but never enjoying the victory of the promise.

Visit Mind Your Mouth Mondays

Visit Mind Your Mouth Mondays

Mind Your Mouth Mondays was designed with the understanding that there is need to clean up our speaking.

Cursing has become the norm, it fills our music, our television shows, our social media posts, and almost every facet of communication. Some people have lost all ability to speak an entire sentence without cursing.

I have designated Mondays as a day to mind your mouth. It is my goal to place a special emphasis on Mondays as a day to remove any and all cursing from my speech, entertainment, and posts. I will replace those words with words that are encouraging and edifying to those that I contact.

If you join this page, I would ask that you make the same commitment to observe Mondays as curse free days and add words of encouragement and edification as you see fit.

Maybe we will affect our environments in a positive powerful way if we attempt to Mind Our Mouths Mondays???

Who will join with me in this cause to eradicate cursing on Mondays?
https://www.facebook.com/Mindyourmouthmondays

Learning to be Free

It was a lesson learned from nature that brought me to understand the need we have to learn how to be free. You would think because we are American and we live in the land of the free that we would understand freedom without the need of learning, but like me, you’d be sadly mistaken. I was about to be humbled into reality of what freedom really means.

It was Saturday morning. The third Saturday of the month, and the church calendar prompted us as normal to Prayer Breakfast and Church Clean-up. These were common duties of the third Saturday and so it would seem mundane, but God had other plans. These plans included teaching me the importance of learning to live free.

We ate a hearty breakfast at the local McDonald’s where it was our custom to conduct prayer breakfast. Now looking back I realize we were placing more emphasis on the breakfast than we were the praying (that’s another story for another day). After breakfast we made our way to the First Baptist Church where I was serving as Pastor. Several others had already showed up and began cleaning choosing rather to skip the breakfast and just get the hard work done.

It wasn’t long into the cleaning process when one of our Deacons came and notified me that we had a minor issue at the dumpster. He said he had gone to throw out the first load of trash when he opened the lid and found a small raccoon hissing and swinging at his intrusion. The Deacon made some crazy gestures like a shadow boxer preparing for a big fight. We determined the dumpster was too deep and the walls too slick for the trapped raccoon to escape, so we decided the best thing to do was offer it a hand by lowering a ladder into the dumpster. It was after I lowered in the ladder that I learned something about nature, and not just animal nature, but human nature as well. You see, the raccoon had grown comfortable in the trash and he wasn’t ready to leave. He walked under the ladder as I peered down from the balcony staircase waiting, fifteen minutes passed and still the raccoon lay beneath the ladder not even curious about where it might lead. It seemed the raccoon was content in the dumpster.

Naturally this got my wheels to turning and thinking how like the raccoon, we too are content to sit in the trash of our lives and how we ignore the opportunities of freedom that lay just outside our comfort zones. Why? Well the obvious reasons we would rather sit in our garbage than consider the freedom beyond is “comfort”. The raccoon found a comfortable place to curl up and take a nap, never mind it was in a dark cold dumpster, that could also be dangerous (especially if the trash truck came to empty the container). Comfort has a confining charm that holds us spellbound to the less important matters of life and disconnects us from opportunities to live in freedom. It is comfort that builds walls around the habits of our daily living. Our habits are the patterns of comfort that insulate us from discovering the unknown territories and pathways that lead us to what could be. When was that last time you did something that was completely out of your comfort zone? We like the slow burn, being placed in the pot of water so that it heats slowly enough that we are accustomed to the change before it is realized. Unfortunately, in the slow burn we miss out on the spontaneous victories that bring with them refreshing rushes of freedom. To learn to be free one must confront the comfort zones that have become nothing mote than outdated security blankets.

After discussing the raccoon problem with my son, we decided the best thing to do would be turn the dumpster over on its side, thus sufficiently rocking the world of the raccoon and forcing him out of his comfort zone. So we carefully lowered the heavy steel container on its side, where everything except the raccoon came out of the dumpster. The raccoon backed into a corner and stood on its hind legs and leaned against the bottom of the dumpster as if to say “I will not be moved”. Why? Well the comfort issue had been resolved but now we were dealing with a new issue, fear. Fear is the most common occurrence in the lives of those that live in bondage. We are afraid of almost anything that we are unfamiliar with, and that fear causes us to hold fast to that which we are most familiar. Fear manifests itself in many ways and is often hard to read. Fear will cause us to live indecisively, trapped between choices and desiring to let go of nothing.

I remember a minor accident I had at a stop light. I had a cup of coffee in one hand and a steering wheel in the other. I needed to downshift in order to slow the vehicle to the speed of the car in front of me but to do so would mean I would have to drop the coffee. My mind was working as it all seemed to be happening in slow motion, but somehow I thought in my mind I could juggle all the distractions and still maneuver the vehicle correctly. I didn’t want to let go of the coffee just so I could drive. The valley of indecision cost me more than a cup of coffee that day and many times since. We always think in our minds that we can juggle our obligations and still maintain control of a vehicle speeding down the highway. Nowadays we even have a name for it “multitasking”. We will never experience freedom until we can train ourselves to let go of what is less and grab onto what is most important. Is there anything in your life that you should release so that you can focus on what is more important? Has your prayer life or Bible study suffered because you have been too busy with things of less importance? The valley of indecision is a very costly place where freedom is forfeited and opportunity is squandered.

The raccoon scurried away once his fear had subsided and he recognized something nearby that offered him more security and less chance of harassment than the local Pastor. We set the trash container back upright and shut the lids to avoid any other unwanted visits. The powerful lessons on freedom resonated in my thoughts for a few days and caused me to consider what it meant to be free in Christ.

I was blessed to have had the privilege to lead a young man and his wife to Jesus at the close of one of our services. They had been invited to attend the church by one of our members and for all intensive purposes they were babes in the faith. Because of a medical condition that prevented the husband from being placed under water, I made the decision to spend some time counseling them on baptizm. During our session, I learned something about the way new believers think of Christianity that rocked my world. It seems that in the minds of these new believers, there were fixed rules that each denomination had adopted and the members of those denominations were required to follow those rules in order to be a member in good standing. This young man told me that he didn’t want to be baptized to become a Baptist, since the rules they followed were more rigorous than those of the Methodist. To be honest I never had encountered anything like this, they had come forward in a Baptist Church so why this dilemma? At the top of his concerns was that he would be a hypocrite if the rules imposed by the Baptist were too astringent for him to achieve. He knew that he wasn’t able to keep a set of rules but he also knew he needed Jesus.

I wanted to cry. I thought if this young man and his wife somehow believed Christianity to be a set of rules that had to be maintained then we have failed to give the good news as it was proclaimed by Jesus. I baptized the young man and two weeks later he died, but not before I set him straight on this thing called grace. Grace in its simplest of terms is unmerited favor. That means that we can do nothing but accept what Jesus has already done. The do of men’s desire is overshadowed by the done of Jesus.

Romans 5:6-9 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.

What is it about trying to earn God’s approval that holds us in a bondage? The rules of religion are nothing more than man’s attempt to reach up and say “I deserve heaven”, but such a proclamation shouts, “we do not accept your Son’s sacrifice on our behalf”, and our rules intended to please God, only insult God. First we must recognize that the earth and everything in it belong to God. He is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), and everywhere at one time (omnipresent). You have nothing God needs, nothing to bargain with, and nothing worthy of His purity. So why? Why did He send His Son to die for you while you were at your weakest? Not because you could do something, but because of Love. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. John 3:16

I’m reminded of movie scene the title of which I can’t recall. A man who has been imprisoned for many, many years has been released back into the world. He somehow manages to get hired at a job in a diner that could care less about his previous failures. But his history gives him away when he asks the boss if he can go to the bathroom. The boss says to him “you’re a grown man you don’t need to ask me if you can go to the bathroom”. His prison life required him to ask permission even to go to the bathroom, but as a free man he could go whenever he desired. He had to learn to be free.

Freedom must be learned.

The Right view of Jesus Changes Everything

55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.
56 And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
57 But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.
58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.
59 And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

When we have an accurate view of Jesus, everything else then is weighted correctly. Some of the things we once loved and longed for have become meaningless and some of the things that were meaningless and trivial become most important. Stephen knew this, and Acts 7 gives the historical account. Stephen was filled with the Spirit and saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. As men gathered stones to put him to death, Stephen calmly stood without fear, without anger, without retaliation, he was fortified by an accurate view of Jesus. He begged not that God would intervene and protect him, not that fire would fall and devour these men where they stood, but that these men who would stone him would be forgiven. Once you have an accurate view of Jesus, fear fades, hatred is halted, and death no longer permanent becomes sleep, to which we now know, we will once again be awakened from. My prayer today is that we will see Jesus most clearly as he truly is, The Lover of Our Souls. I wonder the conversations that took place in the homes of these stone throwers after they witnessed Stephen’s prayer? Did Stephen’s reflection of love impact even one? Maybe, just as Jesus’ death impacted the soldiers that witnessed his love at the cross and were transformed so these men also may have been moved by Stephens death. One thing I know for sure, Stephen’s message was not diluted, he did not compromise his stand, he didn’t do what was politically correct, even to the point of giving up his very life. When we have a accurate view of Jesus, we can trust whatever circumstance we are facing that He is in control.

Addict’s Hope

I have seen your pain, your trials and your struggles, your fears and concerns. I have known your hate for the extreme weaknesses to which you have given yourself time and again. I’ve seen your embarrassment at the wrong choices you have made, and the hurt you endured along the way. You have destroyed your own life, missing moments that cannot be regained. You have cheapened the lives of those about you, taking from them the joy they would have known. You have stole, borrowed, and begged to satisfy your inner longings, only to be fed on that which removes your pain temporarily. The pain is never gone long and that which once you controlled, now controls you. You are unable to let go, it beacons you like a lover and rules you like a master. You have in this process aligned yourself with unseen enemies that take you down pathways of hopelessness and emptiness. The mask you wear to hide from the world is showing signs of over use, and even it has taken on the wrinkles it was intended to cover. You have been abandoned, left of those who once stood beside you, but could not any longer. You have broken promises, failed attempts at recovery and each time it becomes harder. I know you have considered death as an alternative because you think you have tried everything and to your understanding you have, but now you’ve reached a breaking point. The cycle continues and you are weary…but what to do??? You are wondering how I know this? Because, I endured all your pain, I suffered all your failure, I felt every ounce of your addiction, I took on every one of your sins. I died so you could live. I paid your price. When will it end my child? When will it all stop? When will the pain cease and the joy return? When will you give up and allow Me the reigns of your life? Then you will find the peace you desire. I’m not telling you it will be instantaneous bliss, that it will all just melt away, that some of the consequences of you choices will not linger, but I will love you and accept you, and restore you, cleansing you from all your unrighteousness. Will you come to Me and allow My blood to work on your behalf? Come to Jesus.

Difficult Trust

       Trust is not something that is only experienced on the mountain tops but also in the valleys. Joshua, who had presumed that one with God was a majority, wanted to go into the promised land and take the possession; but unfortunately Moses had been convinced by the ten spies that came back worried about the size of those who lived in the promised land. Moses was Joshua’s authority and authority is established by God. Now here’s the thing, God was disappointed with their fear filled decision to not enter the promise land. They failed to trust the LORD’s ability to deliver the promise land into their hands. They must have forgotten how He had brought them out of bondage, they must have forgotten how the Egyptians were destroyed by the unseen power of God. “They” being everyone except Joshua and Caleb. So God commanded Moses and the all the Israelites to 40 years of wandering in the desert. If I were Joshua I would have wanted to scream out, “I wanted to go in, why is my opportunity going to be postponed 40 years just because everyone else lacked the faith to move ahead?” But Joshua never said a word, he never complained, he never argued, he never accused Moses or the other spies of causing him undue hardship, he just trusted God’s presence to be with him those 40 years in the desert  He learned from Moses all he could, he supported Moses, he learned from Moses’ mistakes, and he learned from Moses’ dealings with the Lord. He stood in the tabernacle even after Moses went home for the evening and there he learned that wandering in the desert was valuable. 

As I look at the United States and the next four years, I want to be like Joshua. Not prone to complaining and bickering about every bad decision our leaders make. But learning and growing in the presence of our God and trusting He is able to take me through these difficult times. I hope I can learn that my desert wanderings are valuable to my future faith in the God who is able. Let Him ever be praised and may we ever be thankful that no matter who leads it is He who is in control of everything. Amen.

Light In Darkness

In 600 BC Israel was captured by Babylon and while this was not the best of circumstances for the people they had to determine how they would proceed into this dilemma. Because the customs and mannerisms of the Babylonians were a stark contrast to the Israeli moral and spiritual culture they were left with a tough decision, what would God want them to do as captive people in a foreign nation? The Babylonians were persuading them to come and enjoy the benefits of the city hoping they would eventually lose their identity and spirituality as the people of Israel. False prophets were telling them not to venture into the city and to maintain their rich spirituality by avoiding the Babylonians as much as possible, this would be difficult and dangerous. It would make sense because the Babylonians would force on them laws and dictates they were not accustomed or allowed to obey. But God spoke through their prophet Jeremiah that He desired for them to both go into the city and enjoy its benefits while maintaining their moral and spiritual convictions. He explained that Babylon would eventually be judged but for now the people of Israel were to live life to the fullest – build houses – have children – take wives – plant gardens etc… Jeremiah 29:7 Tells the people they are to seek the welfare of the city where God had sent them into exile, and pray on its behalf, for its welfare because as the city does well so will you. 

We live in a time and place where often it seems it would be simpler if God would just give us some little island where only followers of Christ could live without interference from society that opposes such. A place where prayer in school and public forum would not be lambasted by atheist who desire only to dismantle our belief systems, a place where our faith could be spoken openly and freely and love would just flow continually amongst us, and place that was excluded from laws that allowed for beliefs we did not hold.
America is full of moral conflicts that constantly interfere with our “Christian” beliefs and walk. Hot topics like abortion, homosexuality, and public prayer are always in the mix of subjects that are influenced by our justice system and those in political power. Wouldn’t it be better if we could just defect to some unknown area of the world and colonize where there is less chance of spiritual compromise? But what if God intends for us to seek the welfare of the city where we are at? What if God wants us to both enjoy the benefits of these circumstances and pray specifically that this society we live in prospers even though we disagree wholeheartedly with how it functions, morally and spiritually? Even in bondage the people of Israel were to be the light in the darkness, and even in times where we feel our nation is full of darkness we need also bear light. It is a tightrope we walk, living in the world but not being of the world. It is my prayer that we as a nation of people will prosper, that we will not lose our spiritual or moral bearings in the process, and that being light in the darkness we may draw to Christ those who need be saved. Amen.