Deserted in a Desert?

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day,
He (Jesus) went out and departed to a desert place,
and there prayed.”
Mark 1:35 KJV

 desertSometimes I experience what I call dry times. These are times when I feel like the Lord has deserted me and I am in a desert. In reality, I know God never leaves me or forsakes me (Deuteronomy 31:6), but when I am struggling, it seems like I am alone. As I read Mark 1:25, I find it interesting that the author used the words “a desert place” to describe where Jesus prayed. Although I know Mark was referring to a location, I think it could also have described Jesus’ emotional state. Prayer was a priority for Jesus. I suspect Jesus had the habit of beginning His day by talking with His Heavenly Father in a place separated from people and activities. I also believe Jesus sought out His Heavenly Father when His heart was heavy regarding an imminent situation. An example of this is found in John 17 when Jesus prays for Himself, His disciples and all believers prior to His arrest and crucifixion. No one has ever felt more deserted than Jesus on the cross when He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew 27:46)

 Regarding the scripture found in Mark 1:35, most translations use the words “solitary place” rather than “desert place” but the meaning is similar. Jesus went to a quiet place where He would not be distracted when He felt the need to speak personally with His Father. I think that there are times when God allows me to experience difficulties which cause me to feel deserted so that I will seek Him more diligently. Through these verses, Mark allows Jesus to set an example for me. Jesus has shown me what to do when I feel like I am in a dry desert regarding my spiritual life. Jesus has shown me how to seek God through prayer in a solitary place or desert place. There are times I need to separate myself from other people and their opinions. There are times when only the Lord can truly understand what I feel and need. There are times when I must rely upon God and God alone.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God
Isaiah 40:3 NIV

desertA s I search the scriptures for other references to a desert, I am reminded of Isaiah 40:3. In this passage, God informed Isaiah of how to relate to the Israelites who were in exile. When God told Isaiah to make “a straight highway in the desert,” He was referring to the task of removing obstacles that prevented the people from recognizing the Lord’s presence in their lives. The desert is a symbol or picture of the troubles and sufferings of the Israelites. However, this scripture also has prophetic meaning. When Matthew and Mark wrote their gospels, they both quoted Isaiah when referring to John the Baptist.(Matthew 3:3 and Mark 1:3) John the Baptist came from a desert region and preached the need for forgiveness of sin (making the paths of their lives straight).

From Isaiah, Matthew and Mark, I see the word desert applying to emotional feelings of suffering as well as to a physical location. When I feel like I am in an emotional desert because of challenging situations, I must remember to seek Jesus in a deserted place and follow His guidance along “the highway to heaven” that He has planned for me.

 At once the Spirit sent him out into the desert,
and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan.
He was with the wild animals, and angels attended to him.
Mark 1:12-13 NIV

desert Here is another scripture that talks about a desert place. Once again, I discover the desert to be a place where Jesus is deserted or separated from His disciples and friends After John the Baptist baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, Jesus was led into the desert where He was tempted by Satan for forty days. When Jesus went into the desert, not only was He in a dry and arid environment but He was also separated from the crowd of people who surrounded Him at the time of His baptism. Again, the desert is a deserted place regarding the absence of people. Jesus had to battle satan alone without anyone’s support. His source of strength was God’s Word which He quoted each time satan tempted Him. With every temptation, Jesus was strengthened and satan was weakened. This is something I need to remember. A desert time in my life is not bad if I do not yield to temptation. God can use these deserted times to strengthen my faith if I seek Him and apply His Word while in the desert.

In conclusion, deserts can be both physical and spiritual places. I realize the three scriptures I have quoted are all found in the first chapter of the gospel of Mark. If I arrange these verses according to placement within the chapter, I begin by looking back to the Old Testament. I guess deserts and desert experiences are nothing new – just ask the Israelites! Then I proceed to Jesus being in a desert with satan. Finally, I read about Jesus using a desert place as a location where He could withdraw from other people. The primary thing I learn from all these passages is that the Lord is always present whether He be with the Israelites, Jesus or me. Although I may feel deserted, this is not the reality of the situation. The Lord may even cause me to spend time in an emotional or spiritual desert in order to reveal to me that I am not deserted. And, He may need to take me to a physical desert to get my undivided attention. Praise the Lord for His presence, even in the desert!

Joyfully,
Cheryl
gold apple new

Challenge for the week: Read Exodus 3 to find out how God revealed Himself to Moses through a burning bush when he most likely felt deserted in the Sinai Desert while tending the sheep of his father-in-law. Take time this week to look for a burning bush if you feel like you are in a desert situation. You might prefer to reflect upon a former burning bush if you are not currently in a dry place. I like burning bushes!

 

 

 

 

 

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Sip a Spiritual Float

root beer float - rose

root beer float - roseRecently, I had a Grammy-Granddaughter Day with Grace and we wanted a special treat in the middle of the afternoon. We decided to have root beer floats. She got two glasses, one for each of us, while I got the vanilla ice cream. I scooped the ice cream into each glass and then we carried our glasses along with a can of root beer to the table on the deck. When Grace first added root beer to her ice cream, her glass overflowed because she poured too much too fast. We learned to be more careful and enjoyed our time together as well as our floats. We even talked about some spiritual symbolism relating to our glasses filled with ice cream and root beer. We concluded that the glass represents a person’s life while the ice cream symbolizes the sweetness of Christ. Finally, the effervescence of the root beer exemplifies the power of the Holy Spirit.

root beer float - roseEach of us starts life with empty spaces to be filled according to choices we make. When a person asks Jesus into his or her heart, it is like putting ice cream into an empty glass. When my granddaughter and I started to make our floats, we did not put the ice cream into dirty glasses. Same thing applies spiritually. A person needs to confess one’s sins in order to be clean on the inside and out so Jesus can abide in one’s heart. I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

root beer float - rose Ice cream in a glass is good but there is room for something else. The Lord also has more for us in addition to giving Jesus a place in our lives. Ephesians 5:18 says, “be filled with the Spirit.” So, that is the next addition. A person can be filled with the Holy Spirit just like a glass can be filled with root beer. It is interesting to note that the meaning of “being filled with the Spirit” in Ephesians refers to a continual infilling. Just like Grace and I added more root beer to our floats little by little, the Holy Spirit continues to fill us with His presence and power. It is not a one time infilling. Romans 5:5 states, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” I like the image of love being poured into our hearts in comparison to pouring root beer into the glass. Another scripture that I like is Acts 13:52 that says, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.” When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we experience pleasure just like my granddaughter and I enjoyed our floats. Well, there is a difference between spiritual joy and physical joy, but we did see a similarity. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we experience love and joy and power. I like the comparison of the root beer to the Spirit because the effervescence of the soda reminds me of the power imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. Not only are we fully filled but we are filled to overflowing just like what happened when Grace first poured the root beer into her glass of ice cream too quickly.

root beer float - rose When my granddaughter and I finished our floats, we were full.  This reminds me of Psalm 16:1 which says, “In your (the Lord’s) presence is fullness of joy.”  Just like our glasses being full of ice cream and root beer, so are our lives full of joy when we fill our lives with the presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Psalm 126:3 declares, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” The Lord does great things for us by providing us with His strength and power to fulfill or fill full our lives according to His plans and purposes. My granddaughter and I thought our floats were great while we drank them, but that pleasure was miniscule compared to the joy the Lord imparts to us because of His love for us. For myself, I prefer being filled with the joy of the Lord rather than just being filled with a root beer float. I am hungry for the presence of the Lord. I want to drink in the goodness of the Lord and be mindful of all the great things He does for me daily. I desire to be in His presence where I can experience the fullness of joy.

root beer float - rose My Reader, have I instilled within you a hunger and thirst for a root beer float? I hope I have also instilled in you a thirst for Jesus and the Holy Spirit within your life. Why not make yourself a float to enjoy while you take time to be filled with the love and joy and power that the Spirit desires to share with you? Remember, your life is the glass, Jesus is the ice cream and the Holy Spirit is the root beer. Be filled with the presence of the Lord and float in His joy!

 Joyfully,
Cheryl
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Oikos: Household or Pigs or Yogurt?

I learned a new word at church a few months ago. The word was “oikos.” When I first heard the word, it reminded me of the sound made by a bunch of pigs. “Oink! Oink!” However, this is the Greek word for house or household. The meaning of the word can be broader than I had perceived.

house-clkerOikos is defined as a house, the material building.

 Jesus says in Matthew 9:2, 6-7, “’Son, be of good cheer; your sins are forgiven you…. Arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.’ And he arose and departed to his house.” This is the account of Jesus healing a paralytic through forgiveness, but what I notice is that Jesus told the healed man to return to his house or oikos. Jesus was giving him directions to a structural destination. However, I can only imagine the impact this man had upon those who lived in his house when he arrived home! His oikos was not only the building where he lived but also a place where he found a group of people who were willing to listen to his testimony. This leads me to a more inclusive definition of oikos.

area-of-influence4-clkerOikos is defined as a family or lineage.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Acts 16:31 is the most familiar scripture to me that uses the word household or oikos. I think of it as referring to one’s immediate family. For example, if either the husband or wife in a marriage comes to personally know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, this is a promise for him or her to claim for his or her spouse who has not yet made this personal commitment. This verse can also be claimed by parents for children who have chosen to go their own way. I notice the second word in the definition I quoted at the beginning of this section is lineage. This reminds me of the genealogy or lineage of Jesus as found in Matthew 1. This is a big household – and an important one! Reflecting upon the Christian heritage I have been blessed to be a part of through multiple generations, I remember another scripture. Paul writes in II Timothy 1:5, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.” I am privileged to identify with the family heritage of Timothy. However, my understanding of oikos continues to expand.

area-of-influence3-clkerOikos is defined as your surrounding area of influence.

 This is the concept Alex presented to us at church. This definition includes not only my home and family members, but also expands to a much broader area. My understanding of oikos now includes neighbors, friends, and anyone with whom I come into regular contact. When my husband and I make food deliveries for our local food cupboard to people within our community, I can pray for these people and think of them as being part of my oikos. When I stand in line to check out my groceries at Wegmans, I can be a witness to those around me and consider them part of my oikos. When I read about a difficult situation of a Facebook friend, I can send them a note of encouragement and remember they are a part of my oikos. This brings to my mind an Old Testament scripture. Ezekiel 22:28-30 says, This is what the Sovereign Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken. The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the foreigner, denying them justice. ‘I looked for someone among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found no one.’” Through these verses I gain an understanding of the far reaching effect I can have when I pray for our nation that is within my oikos or my area of influence. As my perception of the size of my oikos expands, so does my responsibility for my oikos increase. Intercessory prayer creates a huge oikos for me!

tree-clkerOikos includes all previous definitions.  

The definitions for the Greek word oikos include my house or the building in which I live along with my household comprised of family members. Also my oikos enlarges to include anyone in my area of influence. WOW!   Now I consider the Bible story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector, found in Matthew 19:1-9. This account includes the three definitions for oikos. Since Zacchaeus was very short in stature, he climbed a tree in order to see Jesus when he was passing through Jericho. Jesus saw him and said (v.5), “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” Zacchaeus was in the oikos (surrounding area of influence) of Jesus and then both men went to the oikos (material building) of Zacchaeus. Jesus helped the tax collector to see his sinful nature. Zacchaeus not only repented of his sins but also wanted to correct his mistakes of fraudulent tax collection. He told Jesus (v.8), “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Zaccaheus was reaching out to his oikos (surrounding area of influence). Jesus then responded by saying to him (v.9), “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.”Jesus proclaimed the availability of salvation not only for Zaccaheus as an individual but also for his oikos (family or lineage). When Jesus approached Zaccaheus in a tree, the encounter created quite a family tree both physically and spiritually! 

Since writing this blog, I have become more aware of the word “oikos.” While in the dairy department of the grocery store the other day, I noticed Dannon had Oikos Greek yogurt for sale. Although this was not a use of the word from a spiritual aspect, I did find it interesting! Maybe all of these definitions will give me something to chew on for a while. My Reader, can you digest the importance of your oikos while gaining an understanding of this Greek word?

Joyfully,
Cheryl
gold apple new 

 

Three Boat Stories

fishing-2-mfMy Reader, do you enjoy boating and other water activities during the summer? With whom do you like to share these adventures? Although my husband and I do not spend much time on the water, I do enjoy a boat ride if given the opportunity. Today boat stories are floating around in my mind. More specifically, I am pondering upon Bible stories referring to boats involving Jesus and His disciples.

I discover that often the disciples are in a boat and Jesus is in the lives of the disciples.  This sounds like John 15:4 that says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you.”  Today I want to look at three Bible stories  and consider the disciples as an example of believers who have invited Jesus into their hearts and lives. The disciples personally knew Jesus and daily lived with Him. Since I have a personal relationship with Jesus as my Savior and Lord, I want to learn from them how I can best live my daily life. Just as the disciples were in a boat, Jesus now lives in me. (see John 14:20) As I read about how the disciples related to Jesus when they encountered Him in their boat, I want to learn how I can embody Jesus in my life.

 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.
John 6:16-21

The first thing I notice is that the disciples are encountering a storm at the time of this story. It also stands out to me that Jesus did not plan to get into their boat until He was invited. The disciples had been rowing with their own strength and the water was still turbulent. The were afraid when they saw Jesus walking on the storm’s waves because they did not know who was coming towards them. Only when Jesus spoke to the men did they recognize Him. I can identify! There are times in my life when I encounter stormy seasons and no matter how hard I try, I do not seem to get anywhere. Jesus is there to help me but until I truly hear Him speak, I tend to ignore His presence. Isaiah 41:10 assures me, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Like the disciples, my first step toward a vital relationship with Jesus is asking Him into my boat of life.

Then he (Jesus) got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!”
He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.
The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!”
Matthew 8:23-27

In this account, Jesus was asleep in the boat and then was awakened by His disciples when the sea became stormy. Jesus could sleep through anything! I guess His peace certainly passed all understanding. Paul writes in Philippians 4:7, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Jesus desires to share with me the peace He experienced in the boat amidst the storm. Since Jesus was sleeping, the disciples wondered if He was aware of the weather changes. I will give the disciples credit for turning to Jesus for help during the rough time. However, Jesus challenged the depth of their faith. I need to remember that the Lord challenges me to grow in my faith by allowing difficult situations to touch my life that will cause me to trust Him in deeper ways. The water may have been deep and the waves may have been high but Jesus still wanted His disciples to not be fearful. In order to meet their needs, Jesus calmly rebuked the waves of the sea and the sea became still. I can learn from this experience of the disciples. I must remember that Jesus is with me in my times upon turbulent seas. He is teaching me the depth and height of His love. (see Ephesians 3:18) Matthew ends this account by stating that the disciples wondered who Jesus really was. As a believer, I may know who Jesus is but He is constantly revealing more of His character and nature to me. I must not only know about Jesus in my head but allow Him to live and move and have His being in my heart. (see Acts 17:28)

 

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
John 21:1-13

 Every time I reread this account of Jesus with his disciples, I discover something new. This account begins with several of Jesus’ followers going back to their former occupation of fishing after the resurrection of Jesus. They got into a boat but they were not productive in their fishing expedition. Could this have been because they did not have Jesus with them? From this, I become aware of the fact that even though I have a personal relationship with Jesus, I am still capable of reverting to former thoughts and actions. I take notice that these men were not successful when Jesus was not in their boat. Consequently, I understand that I must seek God before I embark on any new venture and be sure that He is in my boat, or in agreement with me.

After fishing all night, morning finally came. Then, the men heard Jesus calling to them from the shore. Hmmm. How long does it take me to realize I have left Jesus out of my life’s boat and that He is still calling me? Just because I do not “see” Jesus in my life, it does not mean that He is not aware of what I am doing. I would definitely be more successful in my endeavors, if I constantly relied upon the Lord.

I find it interesting that when Peter realized it was Jesus who was on the shore, he jumped out of the boat and splashed through the water going directly to Jesus. The other fishermen listened to Jesus’ instructions and did what He told them to do. When they followed Jesus’ suggestion, they caught so many fish they could barely pull the nets to shore. There are times I need to be like Peter and go directly to Jesus but there at other times I should follow the example of the other men who continued their work and brought 153 fish to Jesus. These men completed their task and then presented their catch to Jesus. I think of the analogy of how I am to be a fisherman to bring other people to Jesus. I must be diligent to complete the task at hand and bring to Jesus all those God has entrusted to my care. I must finish the fishing expedition with the Lord’s help.

In verse 12, Jesus invited His disciples to have breakfast with Him. The opportunity to share a meal with Jesus must have been especially meaningful to the disciples because just a few days earlier Jesus had told them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you that I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” in Luke 22:15-16. Now I am reminded that Jesus still personally calls me to come and eat with Him.  In Revelation 3:29 Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”  Whether it be Jesus inviting me to breakfast from the shore or Jesus knocking at the door of life, I do not want to refuse such an invitation! In fact, this also reminds me of how I can meet Jesus at the communion table to share bread as His body and wine (or grape juice) as His blood. (See Luke 22:17-22 and I Corinthians 11:23-26)

This scripture passage concludes by saying that the disciples did not need to ask who Jesus was because they already knew. By this time, I believe the disciples recognized Jesus because they had come to personally know Him through their experiences with Him during the past three years. Some of these experiences involved the boats that I have referred to in this blog. I think back to my original premise that Jesus in the boat with the disciples can be representative of Jesus’ place in the heart and life of a believer. I sincerely want Jesus in my boat of life whether I am encountering calm seas or turbulent waves. My Reader, how about you? Do you know who Jesus is? Is He in your life’s boat? It will be easier to stay afloat if you and Jesus are in the same boat.

Joyfully,

Cheryl

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America the Beautiful – Pictorial Portrayal

 It has often been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. I want to fulfill that statement in my blog this week by using more pictures than words. My Reader, on Friday we will be celebrating the 4th of July, so join me in focusing upon the true meaning of this holiday through pictures.

July 4, 1776
The Birth of the Nation known as the United States of America
Independence Day

 

memorial-dayJuly 4, 2014
Celebrating the Independence of the United States of America
Independence Day

fireworks (MF)

As I see pictures with my eyes, I hear music with my ears. I believe the words of America the Beautiful, written by Katherine Bates, articulate and describe our nation in an excellent way. According to Wikipedia, Bates originally wrote the words as a poem entitled Pike’s Peak that was first published in the edition of the church periodical The Congregationalist in 1895. At that time, the poem was titled America. Later, the music was composed by Samuel A. Ward. This hymn is one of my favorite American patriotic songs. My Reader, join me in viewing a pictorial portrayal of the words for the first verse of this song. These words are those of the 1904 version of this poem or song.

America the Beautiful
by Katharine Bates

clouds-1O beautiful for spacious skies,

wheatFor amber waves of grain.

mountainsFor purple mountain majesties

plainsAbove the fruited plain!
america-flag  America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,

 

brotherhoodAnd crown thy good with brotherhood

sea From sea to shining sea!

Celebrate!

My Reader, celebrate the independence of our nation today! Take time to reflect upon the beauty of our nation on both physical and spiritual levels. As you watch a display of fireworks, remember that they represent the fireworks of battle released in 1776. Be sure to display our American flag as a symbol of freedom and fruitfulness for the United States of America.

 

Joyfully
Cheryl
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