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

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Wandering in the Wilderness

Text placeholderChristmastime can bring so much joy to our lives. It’s during this short period at the end of the year that we reconnect with family and friends and enjoy time spent resting from work and school. I think it’s so fitting to end our year reflecting on the importance of who Jesus is in our lives. As seen in the carols that Jill discussed last week, we spend the month of December reflecting on and resting in the truth of who Jesus is before moving into the new year with high hopes and resolutions.

Though it’s not a Christmas carol, I love the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” partly because of Andy Wiliams’ voice and partly because I agree that Christmas is the most wonderful time because it is the “hap-, happiest time of the year.” However, some Christmases don’t always bring this cheer. Sometimes, in the midst of the crowds of happy faces and the busyness of the year, we can feel lost in the drift of the season. Feeling this way can make us feel lonely, upset, or isolated from those that we love, and crucially, it can also make us feel isolated from the voice of God. I like to call these times in our lives our ‘wilderness wanderings.’ It’s the moments when it seems like God isn’t near you, has ‘turned his face from you,’ and that feeling affects every part of your life. Though this can happen in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when we’ve forgotten to focus on God, it can also happen throughout the year, in the low points and in the high points.

Too often, I think we choose to focus on the high points of our relationship with God or on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of our faith. Though our relationship with God can bring us blessings after blessings and should be the foundation of our faith and though a life that reflects a heart that loves God is incredibly important both for our relationship with God and the credibility of our witness to others, I think focusing on these moments of wilderness wanderings is crucial to fostering a life that honors God. Because, it can be hard to get back to those high points if we are crippled in the wilderness by doubt and sin. 1 Peter 5:8-9a says that “Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith.” If we lose ourselves in the wilderness and allow Satan to steal our joy, we can be destroyed in that wilderness.

So, this week, we’ll be looking through scripture to see what the purpose of the wilderness is and how to make it through. Words translated as wilderness “occur nearly 300 times in our Bible.”** By looking through some of these occurrences, we will gain the tools to understand the purpose of our own wildernesses. We’ll look at the wilderness experiences of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus to learn from their examples. And, at the heart of this, we’ll focus on the importance of joy, both at this time of the year and every other time. Don’t despair if you are going through a time in the wilderness. Have hope. And most importantly, have joy, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10b)

joy to the world

 

 

~ Cayce Fletcher

** View this link for more information on wilderness in the Bible: http://www.environmentandsociety.org/exhibitions/wilderness/midbar-arabah-and-eremos-biblical-wilderness

You Need a Person

They Need One Too.

Phil 2 3,4
I often found myself quiet and alone in class during grade school. I always wanted to talk to people and fit in but never quite knew how. I hoped that one day maybe someone would just start being my friend and start talking to me. Well, it happened in 7th grade. All because of one kid who sat next to me in my fourth-hour history class. His name was Joel and till this day we are best friends. I had always been shy and didn’t talk much before I started to hang out with him. He started to show me how to be more confident and assertive. He even showed me how to have fun in school. I would have never made it through school if he hadn’t been there.
Philippians 2:3-4 says that we should count others more significant than ourselves. And often times that can be difficult especially when we don’t feel very appreciated. But let me tell you there is someone out there that needs you to reach out to them just like my friend Joel did for me. They need a person in their life to show them who Christ is through action. Are you willing to be who they need?
Who is the person God is calling you to reach out to?
-Jesse Allen

Hold Firmly

Hebrews Chapter Four

Hebrews 4_14

There is a belief in the Christian world that some hold to called “once saved, always saved.”  Basically this means that if you come to a saving relationship with God and Christ, then you can never lose your ticket to eternal salvation.  This can be a dangerous perspective because it enables Christians to become complacent with where they are at if they believe they can never lose their salvation.  Worse yet, it can lead people to a life of sin and destruction if they do not take seriously the consequences of sin.  Verse six of Hebrews chapter four discusses this doctrine of once saved, always saved a bit by stating, “Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience.”  The author is stating that some who receive the good news/gospel fail to enter rest because of their disobedience.  They initially accepted the promises of the gospel, but they failed to enter because of their disobedience.  In other words, they were once considered saved when they accepted and received the gospel, but they lost it when they disobeyed.  This verse suggests that maybe the doctrine of once saved, always saved is not founded in the Bible.

This should provide a wakeup call for us!  We need to take the sin in our lives very seriously.  We are to be sanctified and set apart from this world, so let’s act like it!  Let’s not become complacent and degrade the consequences of sin.  God hates sin.  The hardening of our hearts can lead us to sin, and again the author warns us of hardening our hearts in verse seven.  We should take this warning seriously since the author has repeated it three times in chapters three and four.

The concept of rest is repeated a lot in this chapter.  What exactly is the author referring to when he is talking about rest?  Let’s take a look at what this rest is described as in chapters three and four:

  1. Israelites unable to enter God’s rest because of their disobedience and unbelief (3:18-19)
  2. The promises of entering God’s rest still stand (4:1)
  3. We who believe enter the rest (4:3)
  4. God swore that some will not enter his rest (4:3,5)
  5. God rested on the seventh day (4:4)
  6. Remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God (4:9)
  7. Whoever enters God’s rest also rests from his works (4:10)
  8. Strive to enter the rest (4:11)

Here’s what I get from all of this.  God offered the Israelites during the exodus a chance to rest, but they were not able to enter God’s rest because they were disobedient.  The author then compares the rest that was offered to the Israelites to the coming Kingdom.  I come to this conclusion because the promises of entering God’s rest still stand.  There is still a chance to enter God’s rest.  However, not everyone will attain that rest, only the people of God.  In fact God swore that not everyone will enter his rest.  If we are disobedient and unbelieving, then we will not enter God’s rest.  However, if we are a people after God’s own heart, then we surely will enter God’s beloved rest in the coming Kingdom.  Hallelujah! Praise God! Amen!  Therefore, continue to strive toward the Kingdom and bring as many people with you as possible because one day you will enter God’s rest in the Kingdom.

Chapter four ends with talk of Jesus being the great high priest.  We truly do have a great high priest in Jesus.  One of the awesome things about Jesus being our high priest is that he is able to sympathize with us.  Jesus was tempted just like we are, but fortunately he did not sin.  He knows what we go through when we are faced with trials and temptations.  He is no stranger to struggle and suffering.  We can seek refuge in our high priest when we face these temptations because he is able to sympathize with us and plead our case to our Heavenly Father, YHWH.  Jesus being tempted is also more great proof against the trinity.  James 1:13 states, “God cannot be tempted with evil.”  If Jesus were God as well, then James and the author of Hebrews would be contradicting one another.  It cannot be possible for the word of God to contradict itself.  Jesus can’t be tempted, and never have been tempted at the same time.  It doesn’t work that way.  It logically does not make sense.  Jesus was indeed tempted like us, and being our high priest, he is able to sympathize and help us.

To close out today’s devotion, I want to point out Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  I hope you have gotten benefit from reading these posts.  However, if you don’t get anything else, I want you to know and fully understand that the word of God is living and active.  We are beyond blessed to have the Bible today.  If it weren’t for God’s supervision, there would be no stinking way that we should have it because of the numerous attempts to rid the world of the Bible.  The Bible has only flourished though.  It is truly a divine miracle that we all have access to a Bible, God’s word.  I want to encourage you to keep up the awesome work in delving into God’s word through these devotions.  You are truly doing a great deed.  Keep up the awesome work, and truly believe in your heart that these words are living and active.

-Kyle McClain

To Encourage Your Faith

Introduction to Hebrews

Hebrews 1 5b

This next week I, Kyle McClain, will be accompanying  you in reading the first six chapters of Hebrews, and the beloved Sarah Blanchard will close out the book of Hebrews the following week.  I am currently attending the Atlanta Bible College, and I will be graduating with my bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministry this semester.  I hope you enjoy this week’s study of Hebrews, and I hope it positively impacts your life.

The book of Hebrews is found in the non-Pauline epistles section (Hebrews-Jude).  Many consider the book of Hebrews to be an epistle/letter.  However, it lacks all the normal marks of a New Testament letter.  If you look at the other letters/epistles from the New Testament, they identify the author and recipients, contain a formal greeting, and offer a prayer or thanksgiving.  However, Hebrews does not include any of these.  It could better be termed as an exhortation or sermon than a letter.  You can perceive Hebrews as one big sermon series; the chapters all flow together as one.  It is a stream of consciousness; it’s one flowing word of encouragement.

There are many discussions and debates as to who the author of Hebrews is.  There’s a plethora of different theories of who it could be: Paul, Apollos, Priscilla, a random follower of Paul, etc., and there’s a reason for that.  It’s because there is no clear indication in the book or church history as to who the author of Hebrews is.  It is ok not to know who wrote the book of Hebrews.  What’s important is that whatever was written was inspired by YHWH.  With that said, we do know that the author was Jewish, very well schooled in the Old Testament and Jewish philosophy, and knew Timothy.  There also seems to be a specific audience that the author wrote this for.  The audience is a group of wavering Jewish Christians.  These Jewish Christians were not confident in their faith and at times doubted the need for Christ.

Now let’s take a minute and step in the shoes of these Jewish Christians.  Ever since the time of Abraham, the Jews were looking forward for their Messiah.  For 2,000 years many came and professed to be the Messiah, but they all died and their followers soon died thereafter.  Then after 2,000 years of waiting another man by the name of “Jesus” claims to be the Messiah.  His story was different, as we all know, from the other false messiahs.  Hindsight, it is very clear to us that Jesus is the Messiah.  However, it was a very hotly debated topic back then as to if Jesus was the true Messiah.  It was not a popular belief among the Jewish population to believe Jesus was the true Messiah.  However, those Jews who did were scrutinized from their Jewish families, friends, and community.  All the people that these Jewish Christians knew, loved, and cared for despised and judged them.  Their lives were turned upside down.

It’s easy to point our fingers at these Jewish Christians and discredit them for their lack of faith in Jesus at times, but they were truly going through a lot.  The writer of Hebrews had a select group of Jewish Christians in mind who were wavering, and the author wrote Hebrews to encourage them and reassure them of the need for Jesus.  I hope that as we go along through the book of Hebrews that you too may be encouraged and reassured of the need for Jesus.

In Christian Love,

Kyle McClain

Are You Battle Ready?

“I may never march in the infantry

Ride into cavalry

Shoot the artillery

I may never fly o’er the enemy

But I’m in the Lord’s army!”

Growing up in Sunday School, this song was my favorite, and it is so applicable to our theme this past week. You, as a soldier in God’s army, are fighting in a different kind of war—a spiritual battle. It’s a battle of God and sin competing for your heart. It’s a battle of protecting your flag, the Gospel message that has been placed inside of you. It’s a battle of sharing the Gospel with a broken fallen world that needs to hear a message of hope.

Just as Gideon and his men shouted into battle, you, too, need a battle cry. A word to inspire you, unite your army, and intimidate your enemy. This week, I’ve proposed a few words for you to embrace throughout the year, but don’t stop there. Find words that resonate with you, hold them tight, and live by them each and every day.

Surrendered: In a society that strives for control, surrender isn’t easy, but knowing that who you are surrendering to is more powerful than any another force in this world should give you peace. Like Elijah, choose a place of vulnerability to let God blow your mind. If He can send fire to an altar drenched in water and rain to a scorched earth, just imagine what He can do in your life.

Broken: You can rejoice in your brokenness because you didn’t stay broken. Through Jesus, your wounds were healed and are now a sign of victory. You are a teacup that was shattered but has been pieced back together with gold; you are restored and you have value. God is eagerly waiting to use you in big and unimaginable ways, just like He used Rahab.

Committed: God wants His soldiers to be fully committed to battle. He is jealous for every ounce of you. When Jesus asked three men to follow him, they answered back with excuses and pre-arranged plans, leaving Jesus unsatisfied. When Jesus has a task for you, I challenge you to answer yes, leaving behind your comfort zone and things of this world.

Bold: Boldness rejects popularity for the truth, and comfort for the cross. Just as John and Peter stood up for Jesus, their Savior and friend, be unashamed of the hope that you have. You may receive opposition, but don’t fret because Jesus’ side is going to win the war in the end. Thus, go forth with confidence and boldness.

Connected: You can’t win this battle alone. Stand hand in hand with your brothers and sisters, just as the Early Church modeled for us. The depth of our connection to other believers is dependent on the depth of our connection to God. Abide in Him together with the Church, the Bride of Christ.

Inline image 1

 

~ Mackenzie McClain

Not As a Human Word

MONDAY

1 Thessalonians 2-13

Please read 1Thessalonians 2. My perspective in writing these devotions is that you are reading the scriptures. Nothing I write can be as important to you as what God can say to you as you read his word.

 

1Th. 2:1   You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

 

1Th. 2:9   You remember our labor and toil, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and God also, how pure, upright, and blameless our conduct was toward you believers. 11 As you know, we dealt with each one of you like a father with his children, 12 urging and encouraging you and pleading that you lead a life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.

 

1Th. 2:13   We also constantly give thanks to God for this, that when you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word, which is also at work in you believers. 14 For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, 15 who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and oppose everyone 16 by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God’s wrath has overtaken them at last.

 

1Th. 2:17   As for us, brothers and sisters, when, for a short time, we were made orphans by being separated from you—in person, not in heart—we longed with great eagerness to see you face to face. 18 For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, wanted to again and again—but Satan blocked our way. 19 For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? 20 Yes, you are our glory and joy!

 

I highlighted verse 13. We can ask ourselves, “how do I receive the word of God?” Do we see it from a human perspective, or is God speaking to us.

 

Let me add one thing right now. It’s likely that most of the people in Thessaloniki heard the word rather than read it. Only about 10 percent of the people could read. That means this letter was written to be read out loud. It also suggests that we might understand it better if we study it as a speech rather than a work of literature. For example, if we focus on the written word, we might spend a lot of time digging into the meaning of each word. If we take a rhetorical approach, meaning understanding it as a speech, we focus more on the impact of the words. Those who study rhetoric think that this letter sounds like a half-time speech given to a football team that is winning but needs to be encouraged to play hard in the second half. Paul doesn’t write as if the Thessaloniki Christians are messing up, but rather as if they need to be encouraged to keep doing the things that they have already been doing well.

 

Again we ask, “Do you hear this word as the word of the Lord?” What does it look like when someone hears the word of the Lord?

 

-Greg Demmitt