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DESERT ROADS

Today in Missouri it’s about 90 degrees F. Not too bad. If I were going to travel anywhere today, I would probably just as soon take a car, as the nearest town is 4 miles away. And I sure do like air conditioning when it’s this warm out. Adjustable seats are a plus (I like to be able to reach the pedals). And I do like to know where I’m going before I start driving.

Sometimes when you are reading a story in the Bible, it’s helpful, even necessary, to imagine what those events would have looked like in the everyday…in their everyday. Real people in a real world, in cultures with customs very different than ours. In the book of Acts, chapter 8, there is a story that takes place after Stephen, a devoted Christ-follower, was stoned by the religious leaders. The ensuing persecution of the early church scattered Christians across the known world. In this story one of the disciples, Philip, was in Samaria preaching about the Messiah.

The people of Samaria were looked down on by most Jews…they had compromised God’s laws too much, gone too far in the eyes of the Jews. But Philip had learned a thing or two about God’s grace from his teacher, his rabbi, Jesus. Philip had learned that grace changes everything…and that Jesus is an equal-opportunity Savior. His death on the cross made God’s grace available to everyone… He doesn’t withhold it from anyone who will receive it. Yeah, that’s worth telling people about.

And the people there needed it and wanted it, and God’s grace was flowing like a river through this city. People were being delivered and healed, and there was great joy in the city. This goes on for some time, and one day, “an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’”

Wonder what went on in Philip’s head when he heard that? Unquestioning obedience? Perhaps. Or maybe, “But God, the desert? Really? This is where things are happening. They need me here!” (Maybe I wonder about that because I wonder what I would think if God told me to go to the desert.)

But he went. And on the way he came across an Ethiopian official traveling in a chariot. They have a conversation, the Ethiopian believes, and is baptized while they are still traveling. The Ethiopian goes on his way (rejoicing, it says), and the Holy Spirit sends Philip somewhere else.

End of story? Nope! The big picture is this: what may have seemed like a blip in time for Philip impacted eternity. Many scholars believe that this official went back to Ethiopia and evangelized his whole nation!

Here’s the take-away…for me, at least.

  1. Sometimes you have to say, “Okay, God. I don’t know why you want me to go to the desert, but I’ll go.” His thoughts, His ways, His perspective are all much grander than ours. Trust that He has a plan, a good one, even if you can’t figure it out.
  2. God told Philip to take the desert road…something that goes from Point A to Point B. Part of the journey. When you are following Christ, that road will always lead to something good, somewhere, somehow, even if it seems impossibly dry and barren at the moment. Keep following Christ.
  3. Did Philip know that pointing one person to Christ was going to change a whole nation? Probably not. Neither do we. I heard something pretty profound a few years ago: Someone is waiting on the other side of your obedience. Just be obedient.
  4. Maybe God is going to send a Philip to you to speak words of life into you. Receive it.
  5. Maybe the person who is coming to speak words of life to you is doing so from the desert. Be compassionate.
  6. Maybe you are someone’s Philip. Be willing to go.

 

 

The 100th Sheep

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As far as sheep go, I was a mess. Separated from the flock…I was always hungry, bleating and alone, stumbling into pits, my wool all matted with briars. Every now and then, in the distance, I would see the shepherd, and sometimes I could even hear him calling, but I was always too busy trying to get myself out of some urgent mess to think about him much.

One day I was desperately trying to slog my way through a never-ending lake of tar. Don’t ask me how I got even got there…I was just living life, minding my own business trying to find a clump of grass in the hard, arid soil, and all at once I found myself slipping down a slope right into that sticky, smelly darkness. I couldn’t even breathe through the oily stench, and there was nothing for my feet to stand on so I could scramble out. It was about to suck me in entirely.

Suddenly, there was that Shepherd, right in front of me! I didn’t even stop to wonder why He wasn’t getting sucked in. I just knew there was no way I could get out of this mess on my own.   I looked up at Him and bleated, “Help,” and he understood my language and reached down and pulled me out. He put me around his shoulders and carried me to safety. He fed me the best grass, gave me the purest water, carefully and gently pulled all the briars out of my wool, and somehow got all that sticky tar off me. He has cared for me and loved me all these years, along with the rest of the flock, and still He goes out searching for that one more, one more, one more lost sheep. Thank God.

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost?” – Matthew 18:12.

 

The Everyday Business of Dirty Feet

The Israelites were journeying through the wilderness. Things weren’t happening the way they thought they should, or as fast as they wanted. Instead of looking toward their destination, they looked around at their circumstances and became impatient, depressed and discouraged. They began to complain against God and Moses.

Their complaining had immediate consequences. “The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people; and they bit the people, and many Israelites died.”  The Lord sent them an antivenom, though. He had Moses put a bronze serpent up on a pole, “…and if a serpent had bitten any man, when he looked to the serpent of bronze, he lived.”

Now, it wasn’t just a casual glance that saved and healed them…it was when they looked “attentively, expectantly, with a steady and absorbing gaze” that they recovered.     – From Numbers 21, The Amplified Bible.

In John, chapter 3, Jesus explains to Nicodemus that this is a clear reference to himself. He also would be lifted up (on a cross), and those who look to him, believe in him, cleave to him, trust in and rely on him, will not perish, but have eternal life.

Sometimes we put our eyes on our circumstances, on the daily stuff around us. Dwelling and focusing on our trials, troubles and symptoms brings confusion, destruction and death. We have to cast our vision higher, cast our gaze further than our immediate situation.

Let’s say you share a house with five (or fifty) other people. One day you look at one of them and notice that his feet are dirty. “Ewwww…” you think, “I hate dirty feet!” Then after awhile you notice that someone else has dirty feet. “Aaaggghhh! More dirty feet!” It seems like all you see now are dirty feet!

Soon you are focusing all your energy on all those dirty feet and how much you hate dirty feet. Now, dirty feet are not a good thing. If your feet are filthy and you get a cut, chances are it will get some raging infection. It might make you sick. If you don’t take care of it, it might even get serious enough to kill you.

But when your feet are clean and you get a cut, it might hurt, but it will probably not get infected. You will probably not get sick or die. Being clean just makes you feel better. It even makes you sleep better, doesn’t it? Here’s the thing…everybody gets dirty feet sometimes. You can’t make someone else wash their feet. But you do know how to keep your own feet clean.

The spiritual application here is that we can’t focus on the dirty feet around us. Don’t focus on the negative. Keep your heart pure. Look beyond what you see right this minute and allow God to give you higher vision, a deeper perspective, and walk in faith and the knowledge that God’s plan for you is far grander than what you may be experiencing now.

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      Love Never Fails

She was probably somewhere between 40 and 50 years old.  Very thin and wiry-looking, and extremely tanned, with long, beautiful hair.  She was a pretty lady, really, even without teeth. She didn’t carry anything with her that wouldn’t fit in her Walmart bag.  But she did have a story. Every person in the park at that outreach that day had a story. Every homeless person, every just-this-side-of-homeless person, and every volunteer there had a story.   I suppose we could have made a whole book that day of the stories of peoples’ lives.

As we sat next to each other on the grass eating lunch… I didn’t know her, and she didn’t know me…I tried to engage her in conversation.  It didn’t take much. I smiled at her and asked her name, and she immediately teared up and said, “He tried to kill me last night. He hit me in the head and he tried to strangle me with a cord and he assaulted the young girl across the street who tried to make him stop, and the police arrested him, and my whole face feels like it’s shattered.”

All I could do was just stare at her for a few seconds.  I was immediately assailed with thoughts of, “Dear Lord, this is way over my head.”  Which was a good thought to have, because it reminded me that when I get out of the way, that’s when God shows Himself to be strong and true.  We talked for awhile. She shared a bit about herself…I offered words of love and hope. I gave her a small Bible (one that would fit in a Walmart bag), and trust that she will pick it up sometime and God will talk to her.  What she does with that divine conversation is her choice.

Was she drinking that day?  Yeah. Had she made bad decisions?  Yeah. Was she in her right mind? Probably not…she probably lost that several beatings ago, several drunken/drug induced stupors ago.  Does Jesus love her? Yeah.

You know why I feel called to this kind of ministry?  Because I can think of two different seasons of my life before Christ when I was just one poor choice away from being her.  And God didn’t give up on me. He never gave up on me. Do I keep that to myself? I absolutely cannot. I am compelled to offer the life and hope that I have found in Christ.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”  -2 Corinthians 5:18-19.