Our Hope in the Wilderness

choose joy

This week, we’ve been taking some time to rest and reflect on what it means to wander through the wilderness. Through the complex stories of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus, we see both the types of wildernesses that we may face in this life as well as the ways that we can ultimately overcome the wilderness and make it out of those difficult seasons.

As we’ve discussed this past week, these are the four Wilderness Wandering Lessons that we learned from these stories:

  1. The faithful love of God is infinitely more secure than our fractured circumstances.
  2. Remembering past victories can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.
  3. When the desires of our heart lead us away from God, true repentance leads us back.
  4. God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

If you find yourself in a time of wilderness wandering, don’t despair. Many have been there before you and have made it out and used that time as a witness for God’s deliverance. Remember, one of Satan’s ultimate goals, as I mentioned earlier this week, is to steal your joy. One of the primary fruits of the Spirit is joy, and that joy should be evident in your life. The Israelites and Judeans knew what it was like to lose their joy when they were exiled from Israel at the end of 2 Kings. But, as we read in Jeremiah 31:2-3, 11-13, God promised that Joy to the Israelites and Judeans and he promises that Joy to you too.

“This is what the Lord says: They found favor in the wilderness – the people who survived the sword. When Israel went to find rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you… For the Lord has ransomed Jacob and redeemed him from the power of one stronger than he. They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will be radiant with joy because of the Lord’s goodness. I will turn their mourning into joy, give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief.”

By living our life in Christ, our joy is made complete (John 15:11). When you find the hurt, isolation, or pain of life weighing down on you, pause and remember that we can overcome through Christ. Trade your grief for happiness, your mourning for joy. We can celebrate. We can overcome. Because the joy of our Lord is our strength.

~ Cayce Fletcher

***Click on the following link to listen to one of my favorite songs by Rend Collective called the “Joy of the Lord is my strength.” Learning this song can be a reminder to you to choose joy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2B6Yw0zy70

Lessons from the Wilderness: Jesus

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #4: God’s word sustains us when we are depleted by the trials of the wilderness.

god's word does.

This week, as we’ve been thinking about our wilderness wanderings, we’ve primarily looked through the lessons from the Old Testament. Today though, we’re going to turn to the New Testament to see an example of a wilderness experience that can teach us a lot about how to make sure this experience makes us and doesn’t break us.

In Matthew 4, Jesus is tempted in the desert by the Devil for 40 days and 40 nights before he begins his ministry. This is a familiar story that shows the humanity of Jesus and how he can relate to us, but today, I want to focus on where Jesus was tempted. It says in verse 1 that “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the Devil.” In our time thinking about the wilderness, we’ve focused on the types of wilderness experiences we may have and how God’s faithful love can sustain us. As we look at Jesus’ experience, we can see how to survive and thrive in the wilderness.  

The first lesson we can glean from this passage is that sometimes, as is the case with the Israelites and Elijah, we are led into the wilderness by God. Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit where he fasted 40 days and 40 nights. At this point, Jesus had not begun his ministry, so this time could have been for testing and strengthening Jesus’ faith and dependence on God so that we could learn from it. By asking ourselves during each wilderness experience “What can I learn from this? How can I grow?”, we can better face the times in wilderness with palms held open instead of allowing bitterness to grow in us.

The second lesson we can learn from Jesus’ time in the wilderness is that God’s word is crucial for surviving in the wilderness. In the wilderness, Jesus had to face physical hunger, thirst, and exhaustion. He also was probably emotionally drained in this time as well. This may sound like a description of ourselves when we go through times in the wilderness. How often in these times where we are sad, lonely, depressed and drained – how often do we pause in these moments and stop the spiral of depression and wandering by saturating ourselves in God’s word? By looking at Jesus’ example, we can see how we can stop temptations in their tracks by responding with God’s word, more specifically by aligning our actions with God’s word.

The last lesson that I want us to focus on today is looking at when this wilderness experience took place. Though Jesus had not begun his ministry yet, in the previous chapter, he had just gotten baptized. All too often, we think that if we have committed our life to God that things will go well, that we’ll never have to experience trials or periods of suffering. But, we can look at Jesus’ life to see that this is simply not that case. Aside from Jesus’ experience on the cross, we can look at the beginning of his ministry as well to see that as these periods will happened to him, they will happen to us.

Jesus survived in the wilderness, and he thrived in the wilderness. I’m not sure what Jesus gained spiritually or emotionally in the wilderness, but I know what I can learn from his experience there. In the wilderness, Jesus was able to overcome temptation and suffering, including not only physical trials – but also spiritual trials – through God’s word. God’s word sustained Jesus and allowed this time to be a springboard into Jesus’ ministry instead of something that would have crippled his ministry. Now, we can look at this story and lessen the impact of what Jesus was able to do because Jesus was the son of God. But, Jesus was capable of growth and change, as seen in Luke 2:52. This is what makes him the perfect mediator for us. So, as we close this lesson today, I want to leave you with the words of Jesus as he readied his disciples for the trials they would face during the days leading up to the crucifixion: “I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world” (John 16:33). With Jesus, we can conquer the world, including all our days of wilderness wanderings.

~ Cayce Fletcher

spurgeon quote

Resurrection, Transformation & VICTORY!

1 corinthians 15 52

Today’s section is over I Corinthians 15.50-57. In these seven verses there are two themes; transformation (50-53) and victory (54-57). Paul begins by stating that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” and then the next phrase clarifies the previous. The perishable (flesh and blood) cannot inherit the imperishable (the kingdom of God). What this tells us is that we, in our current bodies and untransformed state cannot behold the nature to something such as the kingdom of God. In fact for us to be able to enter the kingdom, we need to undergo a transformation which happens at the resurrection and is only available “in Christ”. Paul says this in the next verse – that we will not all sleep (a euphemism for death in the Bible) but we will all be changed and then he specifies what change will occur in verse 52-53. He states that when the last trumpet sounds the dead will be raised “imperishable” and be changed. It it this act of being transformed that allows us to be in the presence of God and Jesus in the kingdom of God. Verse 53 restates and says that this mortal must put on immortality. In other words, at the resurrection the believer will receive the gift of immortality and will be granted entrance into the kingdom of God.

There are two things I would like to point out. First, you may be wondering, why would I have to change or go through a transformation to be with God? Well I think the answer is a practical one. For example, say I wanted to explore the sun. I want to get really close to it to explore and study it. The problem is I wouldn’t be able to get very close to it because of the intense heat and radiation. It would kill me if I got too close. However, if I somehow was made of the same elements of the sun I would be able to approach it because I would be like the sun. In a similar fashion, God is holy, bright, and other wordly. There is nothing in our experience to compare him to, he is incomprehensible. For you or I to be in the direct presence of God, we would have to be like him in some way or else we would die from his glory and majesty. The transformation we need in order to be in God’s presence happens and takes place at the resurrection. Philippians 3.21 says that we will be transformed into the image of Jesus’ glorious body. And where has Jesus been? He has been enthroned at God’s right hand.

A second point is notice what Paul says in verse 53 “…this mortal must put on immortality”. To be mortal means the capability to die. Immortality means the incapability of dying. Yet what does popular culture and church tradition tell us? When we die our souls or spirits go to heaven or hell. However this is only possible if there is a part of us that lives on after death, in other words, to go to heaven or hell would require us to be immortal. But Paul says that this “mortal” (this body that doesn’t have immortality), will put on, or be granted immortality. In short, we are not immortal now but those “in Christ” will receive it at the resurrection. Here are three verses to further this point:

I Timothy 6.16 – “who (God) alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”

II Timothy 1.10 – “…but now has been revealed by the appearing of our savior Jesus Christ, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

I Corinthians 15.52-53 – “…and the dead will be raised…and this mortal must put on immortality.”

In short, only God possesses immortality, it is available through Jesus and the gospel, and those “in Christ’ will receive it at the resurrection. Will we let this challenge our thinking about the traditional view of what happens after death? The hope that God has placed before Christians is the hope for the return of Jesus and the resurrection, not going to heaven. Paul finishes that once the resurrection event happens that death will finally be defeated and swallowed up. And the power of sin and death will be no more and God, Jesus, and those “in Christ” will be victorious! God has given us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ

-Jacob Rohrer

Broken

my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever-4

When suiting up for battle, the biggest lie the enemy tells you is that you’re too broken to be loved by God. The whispers in your head that you are damaged goods, scuffed and bruised, attempt to overpower the innate value that you have because you are God’s child. By trying to hide your brokenness, you fight for the wrong side. Brokenness isn’t meant to be hidden, but embraced.

Scars become stories. Think of the physical scars you have—all those little gashes and scratches tell of what you have been healed from. Scars no longer hurt; instead, they are signs of victory. Just like your body repairs your physical wounds, God has healed you from your brokenness and sin. He has picked up your shattered pieces, brushed off the dust, and glued you back together. Your brokenness is a sign of victory. Jesus conquered death, and in doing so conquered your sin. When you weep and wallow in your brokenness, you send Jesus right back to the grave.

Kintsugi is the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold. When a piece of pottery is dropped, it isn’t thrown out. Instead, it is restored and made even more valuable. This, in essence, is the gospel. You were crushed under the weight of your sin, but God, through the sacrifice of His son, pieced you back together. Where you see your life shattered to pieces on the ground, He sees restoration. If the Creator of the entire universe embraces your brokenness, you should, too.

Moses killed a man. David had an affair. Jonah ran away. Rahab was a prostitute. Noah got drunk. Paul murdered Christians. God could have left these details out, but He didn’t; He transforms broken people and puts them on pedestals to bring glory and honor to His name.

Let’s take a closer look at the story of Rahab, which is found in the second chapter of Joshua. Rahab had lived a promiscuous life as a prostitute, yet God redeems her. Joshua, the leader of the Israelites searching for the Promised Land, sent two spies to the city of Jericho, hoping to conquer the land of Canaan. When the officials of Jericho tried to hunt down the spies, they found safety in the home of Rahab. When the officials come knocking at Rahab’s door, she hides the spies on her rooftop under stalks of flax. This same woman who used to live a life of sin and shame helped save God’s chosen people. This same woman who used to live a life of sin and shame is an ancestor of Jesus, God’s own precious son (Matthew 1:5).

When the enemy stares into your eyes and tells you that you are broken, embrace it, knowing that your brokenness doesn’t define you; your Savior does.

~Mackenzie McClain

Hupernikao!

Friday –

Romans 8-37

Confession time.  I hate running more than almost anything in the world. (Excel spreadsheets are also on that list)  That didn’t stop me, however, from trying to do a ‘couch to 5k’ running program a few years ago.  To motivate myself, I’d listen to inspiring music.

One afternoon, as I was trudging along, Mandisa’s song “Overcomer” came on.

As she sang to me, “You’re an overcomer!” I’d argue back, “No, Mandisa, I’m not.  I’m a quitter. A big quitting quitter.”

So I get feeling like giving up!  But here’s the thing, God doesn’t accept our lame excuses.  He keeps reminding us that we are indeed overcomers.

We read Romans 8:28 yesterday that said,

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

That verse comes in the middle of a passage about hardships and weakness and yet somehow strength and victory.  In all of the crap that we struggle with, there’s an amazing truth to take hold of today, found in verse 37.  Let’s look at a couple of different translations.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (NIV)

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. (NASB)

No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us.  (HCB)

There is a word in Greek that means “to win, to be victorious”.  That word is “nikao”. That is NOT the word that Paul chose to use in this passage.

The word he chose to use is “hupernikao”.  Hupernikao means “to vanquish beyond recognition, to conquer exceedingly, a decisive victory.”

Do you want to stand up and cheer a little at that definition?  Just me?

With God, you are able to vanquish beyond recognition anything that stands in your way!

You are able to claim a decisive victory over sin in your life (not a just-squeaked-by victory).  A decisive victory.

What would that kind of overcoming look like in your life today?  I’m praying for you to agree with God on a little hupernikao in your life.  No quitters here.

Sneak Peek at tomorrow’s devotion:  As we start to see who we are in God’s eyes, it enables us to live boldly.

-Susan Landry

 

Say Yes

Revelation 20-22Revelation_22-12

Saturday, July 22

The Bible begins in the book of Genesis with God and his children named Adam and Eve living in a perfect garden where his children have immediate access to the presence of God and can interact with God face to face.  The act of rebellion against God caused them to be separated from God.  They initiated this process by hiding from God and by their failed attempts to cover over their guilt and shame.  The consequence of their rebellion against God was that they were cut off from immediate fellowship with God, they were cut off from the garden which, along with all of the earth and the inhabitants of the earth including animals and humans fell under the curse of death.

Within God’s ruling of the consequences of sin and the resulting curse came a kernel of good news in Genesis 3:15.  One would come who was a “seed of the woman” meaning a child, a human child, who would ultimately defeat the serpent, which represents evil.  In the process of destroying the evil serpent, that human would also suffer a wound (a bruised heel).

The rest of the Bible is the story of how God’s plan to rescue the earth from the curse and restore  and redeem humanity that was cut off from God is fulfilled ultimately by Jesus Christ, the human being, he was a seed of the woman, who was also the perfect and sinless son of God.  In going to the cross and dying for the sins of all humanity, and being raised up by God to everlasting life, Jesus defeated the serpent.

Revelation 20-22 provides a vision of the ultimate victory of how this is ultimately realized.  The serpent/dragon/devil/satan(adversary) is permitted to influence the world only so long, and then it will finally meet it’s end.   Evil will be defeated by Jesus Christ.  Christ will return, the dead will be raised, there will be a final judgment based upon what we have done.  Some will be resurrected to everlasting life with God on a renewed earth in the city of New Jerusalem.  Some will be judged and condemned by God and cast into the lake of fire, which the Bible calls the second death.  (Note that it does not teach that they will be tortured for eternity, but that they will die a second and final time in a type of mass cremation).  Death has to be destroyed.  Those who reject God’s love and gracious gift of salvation will not have it forced upon.  God allows us the freedom to accept his love and the offer of salvation, but he also gives us the freedom to reject it.  Just as a bride must consent to marrying the groom in order for a marriage to be valid, we, God’s people must consent to God’s love before our covenant relationship will be valid.

For those who reject God’s love, they will finally and mercifully be brought to everlasting destruction.  Those who accept God’s love through Christ, will be granted everlasting life.  The Bible ends with the reversals of Genesis 2-3.  God will again make his presence here upon the earth.  The image John gives in Revelation is of a New Jerusalem coming down from God to take up occupancy on the earth.  This new Jerusalem, interesting, is built on the same scale as the Temple in Jerusalem was… only so much larger.  The new temple occupies a territory that rivals the ancient Roman empire.

For Christians living in the first century suffering under Roman oppression, this must have given them hope.  Rome/ or Babylon or whatever earthly power that was anti-God would be brought to an end, and God’s Kingdom, God’s government would cover all the earth, with Jerusalem acting as a giant temple where God and his people would dwell for all eternity.  Within the temple, emanating from the throne of God is a river of life surrounded by the tree of life.  The tree of life was the very reason why Adam and Eve were banished from Eden, so that they would not partake of the tree of life/immortality in their sinful and broken condition.  Sin had to be defeated once and for all before immortality could be enjoyed.  But now, in Revelation, we are free to partake of the tree of life, we are free to embrace immortality, and we will live forever with God in His Kingdom on this renewed earth.  We have, in a sense, come full circle, we are back home with God’s presence in the new Eden, and we are forever blessed.  Even those who have suffered martyrdom for their faith, will enjoy the benefits and blessings of the New Jerusalem the New Eden and the New Earth.

If you’ve never said yes to God’s love, I don’t want you to miss out on this greatest of all blessings.  Say yes to God, you can do it right now.  And then solidify that “Yes” by entering into a covenant relationship with God through Baptism.  And then live as a child of God and share this good news with as many as you can, until the day all is fulfilled and Christ returns, or the day that you draw your last breath.

-Jeff Fletcher

(https://www.kingjamesbibleonline.org/Revelation-22-12_Inspirational_Image/)

 

Strive for Excellence (I Samuel 14-15)

Wednesday, October 12th

galatians-6-9-pic

by:Terrence Raper

Jonathan and his armor-bearer are riding a pretty incredible high in Chapter 14. God has clearly given them victory over 20 men, and He continues to allow them to prosper. Jonathan knows all of this prosperity is coming from God. Evidently he didn’t know the entire promise that his dad had made to make the victory possible, at least that is his story.

I find it hard to believe (even by Old Testament standards) that Jonathan didn’t know of the covenant Saul had made. In my opinion, Jonathan knew the details of the promise his dad had made with God. Jonathan was just acting like most of us would have acted after such a hugely successful day. I feel like we have all fallen victim to this in some way. We have a good run, or a big win and it changes the way we act. Sometimes humble people become conceited. Some hard working people decide to ease up and take a little break from the hard work. Sometimes we begin to overestimate ourselves and make lazy choices. Anyone who has ever taken a long break from exercising understands this let down. The moment you step back onto a treadmill for the first time in months, and you see how much you have regressed.

Life is long. We will have extreme highs –  and lows. Sometimes the lows will immediately follow the highs, and conversely. I think what Paul was trying to teach us in Galatians 6:9 is to calibrate our effort. Galatians 6:9 doesn’t assume that someone could live an entirely obedient life. I think it teaches us to continue to strive for excellence at all times. Even when we feel worthless, or when we feel like we are on top of the world. We must not grow tired of trying to do what is best in all situations.

Jonathan grew complacent. Saul grew complacent. God had to continue to remind them of the favor he had shown them. Being mindful of our blessing is not for God’s benefit. Continuing to know how well the divine has treated us, and of the gift of Jesus, should give us fuel for doing good.

Jericho! (Joshua 5-7)

Saturday, September 24

joshua-lego

By Jill McClain

God told Joshua that the Israelites were going to use a very unusual strategy to conquer the walled city of Jericho. The Israelites marched around the city once every day, for six days.  Then on the seventh day they marched around the city seven times.  On the seventh time around the city they played their trumpets and shouted, and then miraculously the walls surrounding the city came crashing down, so the Israelite army could enter the city and destroy every living thing in the city, except for Rahab and her family. Rahab was spared because she had faithfully assisted the spies that Joshua had earlier sent to the city. God had his people conquer the city of Jericho in such a unique way, so that there would be no doubt that God had been in control and caused the victory.  Do you have a something in your life that seems too large or difficult to overcome?  Do you need to turn your issue over to the Lord and let him help you win the battle?  Listen carefully for signs from God about how you should proceed with your problem.  We read earlier in Joshua that God wants you to remain strong and courageous in your battles against the world and that he will never leave your side.  However, just like the Lord’s army had to obediently march around the city for seven days, there may be actions that the Lord requires of you before you can be victorious in your own battles.

Following the successful battle at Jericho, Joshua sent a portion of the army on to the region of Ai.  There were only a few people living in Ai, so Joshua assumed that it should be an easy victory for his army. However, the Israelites lost 36 of their soldiers in the battle and were quickly defeated and chased out of Ai. At first, Joshua was devastated by their loss and could not understand why God would allow his chosen people to face defeat. Then God revealed to Joshua that one of the Israelites, Achan, had stolen plunder from Jericho for himself, despite God’s specific commands to destroy everything in Jericho. God allowed the Israelites to be defeated at Ai because Achan had been deliberately disobedient.   Are there sins in your own life that you need to seek repentance for?  Are there areas in your life that you need to turn over to God so that you can experience all of his blessings?

 

 

(Note from GROW16BibleReading – feel like some Saturday morning cartoons – here’s a 60 second story of The Battle of Jericho from Taylormation – Enjoy!

If you were making the cartoon, what would you have included?  AND – how can you use each and every one of your talents to please God and spread His Word? )

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94ltRveQVJY

 

 

 

Be Part of the Solution (Deuteronomy 20-23)

Sunday, September 18 

jill-sun

By Jill McClain

Deuteronomy continues with more instructions about how God’s people should live.  In chapter 20 regulations are given about how the Israelites were to prepare for and go to war.  Deuteronomy 20:3-4 says, “…Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies.  Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them.  For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.”  How encouraging for us today, to know that the same God that delivered the Israelites from their enemies in battle will also be with us as we fight evil.  What battles are you facing?  Are you trying to stand up for what is right?  Are you fighting for righteousness at a worldly school campus?  Or are you struggling to lead someone to Christ?  Do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will fight with you.  Be brave and courageous for you are fighting on the side that will ultimately be victorious!

Chapters 21-23 give additional guidelines about how society should function in a variety of different situations.   Deuteronomy 22:1-4 clearly instructs us to be concerned with and get involved in the problems of those around us.  It is so easy in our day and age, to look the other way and not get involved in the lives of those around us.  However, these verses repeatedly tell us to help others and not ignore our brother’s problems. “If you see your brother’s ox or sheep straying, do not ignore it but be sure to take it back to him.” (Deuteronomy 22:1) The following verses go on to state that if the owner of the livestock lives too far away, or you do not know who the owner is, you are to take care of the animals until the owner can be reunited with the animals.  Then two more times the people are instructed to not ignore such problems, but to be part of the solution for those facing such troubles.  Your neighbor may not be losing any livestock today; but what other hardships are you aware of?  Fight the urge to live only for yourself, and look instead for others that could benefit from your assistance.  Is there someone you can help today?