Archive for June, 2011

THE WAY OF THE DESERT(Pt.4)

“By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time…By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible”(Hebrews 11:24-25,27 NIV).

Some of the most significant decisions are made out of our “desert” experiences. Rightly discerning the meaning of the challenges or crisis moments faced can open up new vistas of possibilities in God. Behind every crisis God waits to appear, to be seen and known. Isaiah the prophet put it this way, “The LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!”(Isaiah 30:18 NIV). If we are willing to wait on God He will increase our wonder.

DESERT MEANS SEPARATION

When God has a unique or special calling for someone, His first task is to separate them from lesser things of importance. Once separation occurs, He is able to show them the greater things they have been destined for. In the desert time, that time of separation from people (and things), we learn to turn our gaze toward God, Who is always present to us. Having our attention, He will separate our vision, from the earth to the heavens; from the temporal to the eternal. We gain His perspective, appreciating that true reality involves things which cannot be seen saving with the eye of faith.

Once our eyes of faith have been open we gaze upon “the riches that are in Christ” and we lose our appetite as it were for those things that are temporary and will soon pass away. We also discover that “the greater works” that are to be done for Christ come by way of the desert. Take Moses as an example.

BORN IN A CRISIS HOUR

Moses was born in a time of crisis. A Pharaoh who was threatened by the growth and expansion of the Israelites tried to exterminate a future generation. He legislated “infanticide” of all the newborn Hebrews’ baby boys. It was of the first recorded holocausts recorded in the scriptures (Exodus 1). Moses’ parents who would not submit to this evil edict, not fearing the Pharaoh’s order, hid the child Moses. God honored his mother’s faith. Having committed the child to God, she committed him to the Nile River, and placed him in an ark. What she committed to God, He kept safe for her. The child was miraculously preserved and returned to her safely, to be nursed with benefits! (Exodus 2)

HIS SOJOURN

As the story goes, Moses would be raised in the lap of luxury. He was raised right under the nose of Pharaoh, supposedly his daughter’s son. But when he had come of age he experienced an identity crisis. Seeing the cruel treatment of a Hebrew slave, he tried to deliver him (Albeit not appreciated). In the course of this episode he discovers that he is “one of them”. The charade is up. The palace life is left for the open skies of the desert, where he sojourns for the next forty years of his life. The desert was all a set up by God. On the backside of the desert, he has a divine encounter. A burning bush! But it was not just any ol’ burning bush, but one that burned and didn’t go out. This got his attention. And God got His man.

LESSONS LEARNED

What did Moses gain from this burning bush encounter? Several things come to mind worth our taking notice:

(1) His purpose in life. He was called not to “Pharaohship” but to leadership. He was chosen by God to lead over 2-3 million people from the house of bondage.

(2) True nature of his own heart. God had him place his hand inside his robe over his heart, and it came out “leprous, like snow”. Then he placed it back over his heart and “it was restored, like the rest of his flesh”(Exo.4:6-7). Moses needed to be in touch with the reality of his own heart condition if he was going to have compassion for his people.

(3) Meekness. Forty years on the backside of the desert, away from the glitter and glamour of the palace and power of Egypt, tested and tempered Moses.   Few want meekness…they think it is a sign of weakness. No. Meekness is power under control. Meekness is the nature and strength of the Lamb.

(4) His tools. In the desert Moses was given to understand his tools for the task ahead. Those tools were “words and signs”(Exo.4:15-17). Moses would speak God’s words and perform miraculous signs attesting to His authority from God. The staff of Moses became the rod of God. In essence Moses had learned, as someone said, “He rules best who has a shepherd’s heart”(Read Isaiah 40:11; 63:11).

Finally, He learned “Christ”. He was able to do what God called him to do having “Seen him who was invisible”(Heb. 11:27 NIV). This was more than stopping to see the “burning bush”. This was meeting the All-consuming fire in the flame! It was taking his shoes off. For what had been a common journey around the mountain had changed to an uncommon awareness that this was holy ground, because God had shown up there. Later, we encounter in the New Testament, Moses on the Mount of transfiguration, standing with Jesus and Elijah. A cloud envelops them; a voice from the cloud announces, “This is my beloved Son, hear Him”(Mark 9:7). Moses learned that he was but an echo through the Law given to him. But the real, true and enduring voice was that which gave the Law of Moses its fulfillment; it was Christ. “For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”(John 1:17 NIV). It took a little over 400 years to bring Israel their deliverance through Moses. It was nearly 400 years after the Old Covenant scriptures that Christ appeared to bring deliverance to us today. With this the scriptures give witness to Christ, “This is he who was manifest to take away our sins”(1 John 3:5).

Copyright © Walter Fletcher Jr., 2011. Permission is granted to reproduce this article free of charge, provided that it is not altered in its original form and content. Please direct all correspondence to walterfletcherjr@gmail.com

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THE WAY OF THE DESERT(Pt.3)

“A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the wilderness 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 mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken”(Isaiah 40:3-5).

As we have suggested from our previous articles, the way of the desert is a time and place of preparation for the promise land ahead. God was not angry with His people, Israel. They needed to embrace their new identity. They were no longer slaves of Egypt but children of God, children of Abraham. But it is one thing to be set free from bondage and quite another to live as free men and women. Our Lord Jesus called men and women to live out the truth they had heard from His lips as a daily reality. This is the real test of being His disciple. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free….I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed'”(John 8:31-32,34-36 NIV).

Freedom is more than an outward release from oppression and captivity. True freedom is an inner sense of release from all Mindsets that have hindered forward progress in God. Israel was free after 400 years from the land of Egypt but they still needed to be set free from slave mentality. Walls that have been built in the mind can be a greater prison than walls placed around you in the natural. For the children of Israel they were held back from entering into their promised land by what I call the “3-M” syndrome: Marah, Meribah & Massah. Each of these places that the LORD GOD brought them to in the desert proved to be testing ground for forward movement and progress or the place of stumbling and retreat back into the wilderness.

MARAH

Three days after Israel was freed from Egypt’s house of bondage they were brought to the waters of Marah. They were thirsty but could not drink because the waters were bitter. God brought them to this place first because these waters reflected their heart condition. They had experienced all the hardships and bitterness of Egypt and were not ready to move into their glorious future until God healed them of their past. What does the LORD do when they cry out to Moses? God shows Moses a tree, which he in turn throws into the bitter waters, and they become sweet. Thus the people were able to drink and live. It was there at Marah that they discover that the LORD God is not only their Deliverer, but He is their Healer (See Exodus 15:26). The tree that Moses was shown and that he threw into the bitter waters was a foreshadowing of the tree of Calvary which Jesus the Messiah would hang upon. Paul wrote, “Cursed is everyone that hangs upon a tree”(Gal. 3:13). Jesus hung on the Cross in our place, becoming a curse for us that we might receive God’s righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

MERIBAH

The LORD, through Moses leadership, brought Israel to another place of test where they strove with Moses, being angry with God’s leadership. The place became known as “Meribah”, because they did not like the WAY God was leading them. Historians tell us they could have been in the land of promise in no more than two weeks (On foot!). Why did it take them so long? Apart from unbelief, they presumed to know better than God what was best for them. They did not understand that what seemed to be delays on the journey were not denials in God. He was teaching them that He was faithful to care for their every need. He also was teaching them fighting skills which they would need as they faced the Giants and enemies in the Land. So the LORD decided that the “shortest way IN was the long way around”. He understood that there are some skill sets that can only be gained by experience and training. Phases of spiritual growth and development are often expressed in the Bible in phases: thirty, sixty, a hundred-fold; children, young men, fathers, and so forth. Maturity is a process. We are called to no longer be children, but to grow unto the full stature of Christ, all the fullness of God (Eph. 4:14-19).

MASSAH

Very few of the original generation of Israel were able to cross over into their Inheritance.  God continued to faithfully guide and provide, but they refused to learn the faith lessons, as someone stated: “Where He LEADS, He FEEDS; Where He GUIDES, He PROVIDES”. Time and again they refused to trust the Providential care of God. They grieved the Lord. “They limited the Holy One of Israel”(Ps. 78:41). God is not limited by our limitations. There is nothing too hard for the Lord.

We do well to heed the warning given us by the writer to the Hebrew believers, “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith”(Heb. 4:1-2 NIV). Faith is the Title-deed into our promise Land. “Without faith it is impossible to please God. For he that comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him”(Heb. 11:6). Faith prepares the roadway IN THE DESERT for the glory of the LORD to be seen in our land.

Copyright © Walter Fletcher Jr., 2011. Permission is granted to reproduce this article free of charge, provided that it is not altered in its original form and content. Please direct all correspondence to walterfletcherjr@gmail.com

THE WAY OF THE DESERT(Pt. 2)

The LORD spoke to Moses in the Desert of Sinai in the first month of the second year after they came out of Egypt. He said, Have the Israelites celebrate the Passover at the appointed time…So Moses told the Israelites to celebrate the Passover, and they did so in the Desert of Sinai at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. The Israelites did everything just as the LORD commanded Moses”(Numbers 9:1-2,4-5 NIV).

Israel is on a journey from Egypt to the Promise Land. They are moving from the place of their captivity and bondage to their inheritance and all it’s glorious possessions. On three distinct occasions they are commanded to observe the LORD’s Passover. For the children of Israel it was to be more than a history lesson to remember; it was an event highlighting their spiritual journey with God, by God and in God. And so, this is true for GOD’S people today.

DELIVERANCE FROM EGYPT

One phase of their pilgrimage was behind them, but was ever kept fresh in their memory by keeping the Passover “at the appointed time”. It was by way of the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb that the children of Israel were delivered from the House of Bondage in Egypt to freedom. Likewise for the believer today, we are to never forget that our freedom was purchased with the price of our Passover Lamb, Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, “Christ our Passover Lamb has been slain for us. Therefore, Let us keep the feast”(1 Co. 5:7). We are never to minimize the cost of our freedom. Peter reminds us that we have not been redeemed by corruptible things like silver or gold. But our freedom and salvation came at the price of the precious blood of Jesus, our Messiah.

FROM EGYPT INTO THE WILDERNESS

The Passover was also to be kept at the appointed time in Israel’s wilderness journey. Their deliverance from Egypt was not to be forgotten, nor was it to be trivialized in their desert journey. In other words the Passover experience must go with them as a conscious witness not only to the fact of God’s miracle power to deliver, but to keep His people. In the desert of Sinai there was no provision they could look to other than God. He wanted them to know that He was not only their Redeemer, but also their Provider. God our Father wants our confidence in His unconditional love and His faithfulness in the care of our every need. When God delivered them from Egypt and led them into the wilderness He took upon Himself the responsibility of their welfare. The scriptures remind us that for forty years He was faithful to care for their every concern, “Because of your great compassion you did not abandon them in the desert. By day the pillar of cloud did not cease to guide them on their path, nor the pillar of fire by night to shine on the way they were to take. You gave your good Spirit to instruct them. You did not withhold your manna from their mouths, and you gave them water for their thirst. For forty years you sustained them in the desert; they lacked nothing, their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet become swollen”(Neh. 9:19-21 NIV).

In this hour of great difficulties and economic uncertainties God’s people must learn to look up once again to God our Father and Jesus Christ who is the “Way”(Jn. 14:6) when there is no apparent roadway out of our desert experience. Let us remember that the Cloud of His Spirit both overshadowed and timed their journey through the desert. And the rock of their salvation followed them all the way. “The spiritual rock that accompanied them…was Christ”(1 Co. 10:4b NIV)

FROM THE WILDERNESS TO CANAAN

If the children of Israel were to enter fully into their inheritance they must follow the cloud. “On the day the tabernacle…was set up, the cloud covered it. From evening till morning the cloud above looked like fire. That is how it continued to be: the cloud covered it, and at night it looked like fire. Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped”(Numbers 9:15-17 NIV).

They in essence were to learn to be led of the Holy Spirit. The cloud by day and the comfort of the abiding fire by night was ultimately pointing to the reality of what John the Baptist’s ministry was all about, a preparation for something greater. “I baptize you in water but there is One coming who will baptize you with Holy Spirit fire”(Luke 3:16). This cloud of fire experience came on the Day of Pentecost. It rested in witness to the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the followers of Jesus like tongues of fire (Read Acts 2). If we will enter into our land of promise, we must be filled and guided daily by the Holy Spirit. He must have control of our life, ordering our steps and our stops. He knows the way into the promise land. Let us trust His lead. “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit”(Gal. 5:25 NIV).

Copyright © Walter Fletcher Jr., 2011. Permission is granted to reproduce this article free of charge, provided that it is not altered in its original form and content. Please direct all correspondence to walterfletcherjr@gmail.com

THE WAY OF THE DESERT(Pt. 1)

“The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom”(Isaiah 35:1)

According to the scriptures, there are some things that can only be gained by way of the desert. For example Israel’s deliverance from Egypt came as they passed through the desert. Actually, it began with God calling a man,Moses, from the backside of the desert.

MOSES IN THE DESERT

Moses found himself on the backside of the desert after he had fallen out of favor with Pharaoh. He had been raised in Pharaoh’s house, being trained and groomed for greatness. But when he had come to maturity he discovered his true identity. He in fact was the son of a Hebrew slave woman. Further, he realized that the people that the Egyptian government was oppressing and mistreating were in fact his people. He took it upon himself to deliver them, killing a cruel Egyptian seen mistreating one of his people. Having killed him, he then buried him in the sand.  This of course was a mistake(Sand dunes don’t hide dead bodies for long!). Word got back to Pharaoh of this and suddenly Moses’ own life was in jeopardy. Hence his flight to the desert where for the next forty years of his life he lived, tending his father in law’s sheep. This was quite a stoop down for Moses, leaving the  mighty prestigious courts of Pharaoh to be left in the desert, with only the troubling memories of what might have been.

But the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob did not forget Moses while he was so to speak “in dry dock”. The backside of the desert was where God would reveal Himself to Moses and give him his life mission. Out of a burning bush he heard the Angel of the LORD call him by name saying, “Deliver My people, the children of Israel from the house of bondage in Egypt…Bring them out to worship Me on this mountain”(See Exodus 3). Like Moses we must understand that the ultimate purpose of the wilderness experience was not to encounter the burning sands of a bleak desert existence. Rather it was to encounter the burning bush of revelation. Not to endure  the hot desert sun but to know the living flame of God’s love in our hearts. Like Moses we must learn through humility it only takes a spark of God’s love and power to get a fire going.  In the mystery of God’s ways we discover  that He can use any “shrub of a bush” that is available for His all consuming fire.

ISRAEL IN THE DESERT

God used Moses to lead His people out of Egypt through the Red Sea and into the wilderness. In this place they too, like Moses, were given further understanding as to their purpose. They were brought to the Mount of God and given a new identity as well as “marching orders” (Exodus 19:3-6 & 31,34).  From this mountain they received several things from LORD God.

(1) An understanding of their new identity. They were called by God to be a special people unto Him, a priestly nation; a blessing to the nations of the earth (Exo. 19:1-3). Peter will take up the language of this new identity in the New Covenant writing, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”(1 Pet. 2:9 NIV).

(2) They were given the Two Tablets of the Law (The Ten Commandments), enumerating God’s relation to them and their relationship to their fellowman. Again, Jesus confirms God’s original intent, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Your neighbor as thyself’ “(Luke 10:27 NIV).

(3) Moses  was also given a token of the LORD God’s manifest glory. This was a foreshadowing of the future, an abiding glory which would rest upon His people. Paul wrote,”We are not like Moses, who veiled his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it (God’s glory) while the radiance was fading away…We, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit”(2 Co. 3:13,18 NIV).

SHADOW OF GOOD THINGS TO COME

All that Israel went through in the desert was for our instruction(Ro. 15:4).  Their history must be understood as our event as well.  Israel’s journey through the desert was foreshadowing the birthday of a new community (Ekkesia),the Church (Jesus’ Bride) on the Day of Pentecost.(Read Acts 2; Acts 7:38). The wilderness was not to lead them into a place of wandering but into a place of trust and confident hope, ultimately into the Land of promise. 

The desert is not the end but the beginning of goods things to come. God has an end goal in mind for His people. As He said to Moses so He speaks to our hearts saying, “I brought you out of the house of bondage to bring you into the land of promise”(Exodus 3:8?). The way of the desert leads TO the land of your inheritance. Some things can only be gained by way of the desert. You can’t go around this experience you must go through it if you want to get to the other side.

Copyright © Walter Fletcher Jr., 2011. Permission is granted to reproduce this article free of charge, provided that it is not altered in its original form and content. Please direct all correspondence to walterfletcherjr@gmail.com