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Written by Timothy Mark

Intentionally Following Jesus

Last month I asked a lot of questions regarding how we think about church. You can read the full blog here. I continue to process these questions. I’m seeking God’s guidance in all of it. Here’s where my thoughts are currently.

Right now I am praying daily for God to give me opportunities to share Jesus with people who do not know him. God is always at work drawing people to himself through the work of the Holy Spirit. I want to look intentionally for those whom God is drawing into a personal relationship with himself. I want God to use me to reach them. I am also praying daily for God to give me opportunities to disciple those who already know him. I am intentionally looking for those one-on-one opportunities to help others grow in their relationship with God.

The key word in both scenarios is “intentionally.” This idea is new to me, and it fills me with a sense of anticipation as I begin my day in this way. I am learning to slow down and readjust my schedule to take time for others.

My laptop is not working well. At times, the processor will grind to a halt. Sometimes it shuts down unexpectedly. It is frustrating. One day a particular program I was using was conflicting with my calendar program. I called the Customer Care line and learned they were aware of the conflict and were working on a fix. I was on the phone with the agent for over an hour while we tried to fix the issue. During a slow reboot, we had time to talk. I learned the agent had been a youth pastor. I asked him to tell me about his relationship with God. He shared with me the various ways he was serving in his home church. I listened for a few minutes.

Then I said to him, “So far you have told me what you are doing for God, but you still have not told me about your relationship with him.” There was a pause on the line. After a moment he replied, “That is very insightful.” As we continued to share, it occurred to me that this was a moment I had prayed for that morning. This moment was an opportunity to disciple someone, even though I did not personally know him. I shared with him about learning that ministry can become an idol. I shared my own story with him about learning to enjoy sitting on God’s lap and focusing on my relationship with him instead of the pressures of ministry.

Because that morning I had prayed for the opportunity, I was aware of the moment when God showed up. It occurred to me that when I pray this way, by default I give God full control of my calendar. If he wants to cause my laptop to fail so I will spend time with someone on a tech call, he has the right. Surprisingly, it gave purpose to what I would generally consider a delay. I had plenty of items on my to-do list for the day. God cleared all of them away so he could use me to minister to someone else. When we live with intention, it gives purpose to the mundane moments.

What would happen if daily we intentionally looked for opportunities to share Jesus with those who do not know him? What would happen if daily we intentionally looked for opportunities to disciple other followers of Jesus? Would our lives look different? Would it affect our schedules? What would happen if we made it our intentional daily goal to love God with abandon and selflessly love others? Would we give away our resources to meet the needs of others? Would we use our resources to minister to the poor in our communities? How would our world change?

I ask these questions because it seems like these are elements missing in many churches today. We seem comfortable to attend church, sit when it is time to sit, stand when it is time to stand, sing when it is time to sing, listen to someone teach, and then return home and live lives that are pretty much the same as the lives of anyone else in our neighborhood. There is an uneasy disconnect between what we do on Sunday and how we live Monday through Saturday. This disconnect is why I repeatedly call for an authentic relationship with God. If our relationship with God does not affect our lives and the lives of those around us, then maybe we should question if we are actually in a relationship with him.

In the end, I want to follow Jesus intentionally. I’m not content to hope it will happen by osmosis. I want to live a life of abandon, willing to give all to see others come into a personal relationship with God. I want to do whatever it takes to see others grow in that relationship. I want to share my faith intentionally. I want to disciple others intentionally. I want to grow in my relationship with God, intentionally loving him with abandon and selflessly loving others.

Will you join me? Will you live a life of intention? What would God do through you if daily you asked him to give you opportunities for sharing Jesus and discipling others? It just might change your life and your world.

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

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Invest in other ministries as well

There are many great Christian organizations in our region participating in this event. Here are a few of my favorites I personally supported during this 24 hour event. For me, it is all about investing God’s resources in a way that pleases him. I’ve had a blast investing in these organizations.

For more information on each ministry, click on their name to visit their website. To give to these organizations, visit givingpartnerchallenge.org and enter their ministry name in the search box.

Patch our Planet – Custom orphan care strategies for the local Church. I’m an active board member and supporter.

Agape Flights – Delivering cargo, mail and humanitarian aid to missionary partners serving Christ in the Caribbean. One of our board members serves in this ministry, and I have shared devotions with the staff on many occasions.

Pregnancy Solutions – Providing free, confidential, high-quality, and compassionate care for women. You do not need insurance to receive their free services.

Gator Wilderness Camp – Helping troubled young boys find healthy relationships with God and others. I love this ministry. They reach many families in crisis and give them hope.

Your donations to any of these organizations are doubled by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Have fun and see your investment doubled. Go for it!

The Giving Challenge is provided by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with giving strengthened by the Patterson Foundation.

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The Giving Challenge is On!

For the next 24 hours only, your giving between $25 and $100 is DOUBLED by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Will you be the one to make a difference? Here’s how to give.

Click on the link for the special giving page here:  givingpartnerchallenge.org

Search for “Timothy Mark” in the box labeled “Organization Name”:

Fill in the rest of the form and submit. Woohoo!

The foundation will double a maximum of $100 from each unique donor. If you want to give more than $100 and want to get the best donation possible for the ministry, then individual family members can each make a donation with different credit cards. For example, a husband and wife could split a gift of $200 and each gift of $100 would be doubled. But the foundation will only double a maximum of up to $100 of any unique donor’s gift.

The Giving Challenge is provided by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with giving strengthened by the Patterson Foundation.

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Tomorrow – Your Giving DOUBLED!

It’s almost here! The website is up, and the staff of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County is ready to double your gift up to $100 to the ministry beginning tomorrow, May 1, at noon and ending on May 2, at noon. While the event doesn’t start until noon tomorrow,  you can check out the page today. Here is the special giving site: www.givingpartnerchallenge.org/

Remember, the special link to give will not appear until tomorrow at noon and will disappear 24 hours later.

It will be an exciting 24-hour blitz. The last time the foundation matched giving was in 2016. I remember how overwhelmed I was when the event began, and folks like you started giving to support the ministry. I had no idea so many people cared and just wanted an opportunity to have a part in what God is doing through the ministry. It was an emotional roller coaster for 24 hours. Tomorrow I will follow the giving in real-time and will post updates on Facebook and Twitter as the event progresses. Together let us celebrate God’s kindness and faithfulness in meeting all of the ministry’s needs.

You can have a part even if you cannot give. Share this information on your social media pages, and share what God has done in your life and relationship with him. Go for it!

The Giving Challenge is provided by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with giving strengthened by the Patterson Foundation.

I always appreciate reading your comments. Please post any comments or questions below.

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What if…?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Jesus

I live aboard a thirty-foot Catalina sailboat on the Southwest coast of Florida. There is little room to store things. It is tiny-house living. There is no room for clutter. To make the move onto the boat, I eliminated all but the essential items from my life. I donated trunk-loads of goods to my local Salvation Army. I cleaned out my closets. I picked my nine favorite shirts, three pairs of shorts, one pair of jeans, two pairs of shoes, a pair of flip-flops and a jacket. I saved two pair of dress slacks and five long-sleeve shirts for ministry events. I got rid of the rest.

The tiny-house model of living focuses on the essentials and eliminates the rest of the clutter. I enjoy it immensely. It is freeing.

I think the Church in North America can learn a lot from the tiny-house movement. Lately I’ve thought a lot about discipleship. What if we eliminated the clutter and focused on the essentials?

In North America, the primary way we make disciples is through a church setting. It begins by inviting people to a meeting at a church building. At church we sit and listen to a paid staff member teach the Word. Usually the teaching time lasts about thirty minutes. Hopefully the individual gets enough information in those thirty minutes to help him or her grow in their relationship with God and to carry them Monday through Saturday. This, of course, depends on the quality and depth of the teaching.

This model relies on addition for growth. Hopefully the church grows by adding new converts through the year. Individuals are encouraged to invite new people to church where the paid staff presents the way of salvation. As individuals respond to the gospel, they are discipled through the ongoing teaching during the service each week. Individuals are encouraged to give financially to support the facility and the paid staff. Staff is also hired to take this model to other countries. In this way, we fulfill the command of Jesus to go into all the world and make disciples.

This is a simplification of the basic church model, but I wonder if there is a better way. What if we thought smaller? Is there a way we can look at following Jesus where we focus on the essentials and eliminate the rest of the clutter? Is there a tiny-church model that produces disciples? What if we eliminated all but the essentials needed to follow Jesus? What would that look like?

My concern is that it seems like we have missed what Jesus instructed us to do. His command was to make disciples. We tend to focus on the big things – build a church building, hire staff, develop programs for children, youth, and adults. None of these things is bad, but are we actually making disciples? It doesn’t seem like it to me. Are we seeing the fulfillment of what Jesus called us to do? And at what cost? A church of five hundred seems successful until you look at the numbers. A church this size will have a budget around a million dollars a year and produce about thirty new followers of Christ a year. This means we invest about $33,000 per new follower of Christ. How can five hundred people follow Jesus and see only thirty new disciples birthed out of the congregation? Surely there is a better way.

I believe the time has come to think smaller.

What if groups of followers of Jesus met regularly together in homes or other public spaces? What if they lived in community with one another and encouraged one another in their relationship with God? What if every member of the group were expected to share their faith with others and taught to do so? What if every member of the group were expected to disciple someone else? What if the group were led by volunteers? What if the giving from the group supported needs within the group instead of supporting a facility and paid staff? What if the giving from the group ministered to the poor in their communities? What if every member of the group were expected to use their gifts for the sake of the group? What if the group intentionally planted and supported new groups of followers of Jesus and then mentored those groups to plant new groups? What if by doing these things the group multiplied its membership each year?

As a result of my asking these questions, I am exploring different models of making disciples. I believe God is leading me to participate in some way in some sort of multiplying small group discipleship model. At this time I am merely learning about what God is doing in this area, and I am intrigued by it. I continue to pray for wisdom and welcome your prayer as well.

I value your prayers. I believe my best days of ministry are still ahead. In our last board meeting, I shared with the ministry board of directors how I believe the first thirty years of ministry have been preparing me for what God has planned to do through my life and ministry in the days ahead. I am more confident of this than anything else in my life. I believe God is going to do great things. There is no logical reason to believe this. If you look at the schedule you might think I am nearing retirement. Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind setting my sails for the Caribbean and literally sailing off into the sunset! But I doubt God is done with me just yet. I believe God is going to do exciting things in the days ahead.

Perhaps you read this today and wonder how this applies to your life. My encouragement for you is to ask these types of questions yourself. All the questions I’ve shared flow out of my own relationship with God, so I encourage you to explore where you are personally in your relationship with him. This is why relationship matters. This is why loving God with abandon matters. It changes us. It changes the way we think and act.

Almost a year ago I posted this comment on social media: “It is one thing to say, ‘Why isn’t the church doing discipleship?’ It’s another thing to say, ‘Whom am I discipling?’”

I’ve asked a lot of questions in this blog. My final question for you today is this: Whom are you discipling?

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

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2018 Giving Challenge Update

I am excited to let you know that a local foundation will DOUBLE gifts to our ministry during a special one-day Giving Challenge. It’s the 2018 Giving Challenge! Click here to participate on the day of the event:

givingpartnerchallenge.org

  • May 1 & 2 noon to noon only!
  • On May 1, beginning at noon, follow the link to the Giving Challenge website. The link to the site is now available but the link to give is not visible until the Giving Challenge begins at noon. We will promote the link on Facebook and Twitter as well as our website as soon as it is available.
  • You can give anytime in the 24-hour period.
  • The Giving Challenge ends at noon on May 2.
  • If you give $25 to the ministry through the Giving Challenge portal, the foundations will match your gift 1:1. This doubles your gift which results in a $50 donation to the ministry. If you give $50, the ministry receives $100.
  • The foundation will double a maximum of $100 from each unique donor. If you want to give more than $100 and want to get the best donation possible for the ministry, then individual family members can each make a donation with different credit cards. For example, a husband and wife could split a gift of $200 and each gift of $100 would be doubled. But the foundation will only double a maximum of up to $100 of any unique donor’s gift.
  • Your gift is tax-deductible.
  • Only gifts made through the special link will qualify for matching funds.

Behind the scenes, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County helps us with training to develop the business side of the ministry. Their passion is to equip local non-profit organizations to effectively serve our communities. They created the Giving Challenge to encourage our donors to give and to help us to develop our donor relations. The Giving Challenge is provided by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County with giving strengthened by the Patterson Foundation.

As a ministry, we have the most generous supporters. Through the years, thousands of folks have sacrificially given to support the ministry. Because our friends give so generously, I am able to minister in churches across the United States and Canada without charging a church for travel expenses or even requiring an honorarium. It is remarkable how God has always provided all that we need. All of our needs are met by God’s kind hand as he moves the hearts of individuals to give. We have no debt. It is humbling to see God provide.

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at timothy@timothymark.com or call me at 941-445-3288. Thank you in advance for all you do!

Additional blog that may be of interest: Why we do not ask for support as a ministry.

#GivingChallenge18

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The Valley of Rest

“Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10, ESV).

Over the past few months we’ve explored the Wilderness of Testing. I trust you will be encouraged when you understand better how God uses these seasons in our lives. This month, I invite you to explore the Valley of Rest with me. I think you will find refreshment for your journey.

To review, often God leads us through a series of places in the journey of our relationship with him. One of those destinations is the Valley of Wait. In the Valley of Wait we learn lessons we cannot learn anywhere else. The lessons are treasures we discover in the valley. We learn more about who God is and how he relates to us. We relish these riches. Usually after learning these lessons, God leads us onward to the Wilderness of Testing. It is a place of testing to see what we have learned. Often the Wilderness of Testing is vast and long. This is frequently more difficult than the Valley of Wait, but it is an important destination in our journey. We discover how well we have payed attention during school. We see how God uses the lessons he taught us in the Valley of Wait, and we discover we may need to learn more in specific areas of our lives. Gratefully, after a time of testing, usually he leads us to a place of rest. Here he restores our souls. Our depleted resources are renewed. We find new strength. We are refreshed. Oh, how we would love to stay in the Valley of Rest, but in God’s divine plan he usually leads us to a different place to learn more of him. We start the process anew. It is a cycle repeated over and over as we journey toward home with him.

This month, let us explore the Valley of Rest. God leads us to this destination, and it is as important as the Valley of Wait and the Wilderness of Testing. It is as much a part of God’s plan for our lives as the other two experiences.

Rest. The word brings to mind images of a Caribbean beach shaded with coconut palms as crystal clear waters lick white sand, hushing in and out in an endless loop. You are stretched out on a lounge chair, sinking between the slats as the heaviness of slumber overcomes you. You smile as you drift off to sleep. This is what many of us think of as rest.

But mention “rest” to most people, and you will get different responses. One friend of mine went so far as to describe it as torture. Our lives are over-filled with activity. Rest implies stopping, and this is uncomfortable for many of us. We enjoy keeping busy. Our ideal day is one in which we are productive. But to rest? Not so much.

Yet rest is as much a part of God’s plan for our lives as is service. We don’t think of God’s wanting us to rest. We think of serving God, and seek out his will for our lives. Usually this means we seek what God would have us do for him. But what if God wants us to rest? For many of us, this makes us uncomfortable.

David describes the Valley of Rest in Psalm 23. This is what he wrote:

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23, ESV).

As a child, David was a shepherd. He spent his days with the sheep. He understood the role of the shepherd in the life of the sheep. In this case, he places himself in the role of the sheep in the care of the shepherd God. “God is my shepherd,” he says. “I lack nothing. He leads me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me to rest beside restful waters. He restores, refreshes, and repairs me from the damage I endured in the journey.” Ah, my friends, it is refreshing to experience the care of a loving Shepherd.

Notice also the idea of restoration is closely entwined in this idea of rest. It is more than lying on a beach. It is restoration of what is lost in the journey to this point. Remember the preceding blogs when I described my physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion? These are the areas God restores when he leads us to rest.

A gift of rest

Jesus described it this way:  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, ESV).

In this passage we see rest is something Jesus gives to us. “I will give you rest,” he says. But as with any gift, it is up to us to receive it. He offers us rest. We would gladly receive it but for the fact our hands are loaded down with things we want to accomplish. Unfortunately, until we can set our agendas aside, it is difficult to receive rest from God.

Strong’s Concordance describes the word Jesus uses for “rest” as “to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect his strength.” It is more than a lack of motion. It embraces the restoration offered by God.

Once we understand rest is as much a part of God’s plan as any other destination, we can let go and embrace the rest he offers.

Personally, I believe this is where I am at this point in my journey. The past year was rough. But now God has led me to a place to restore the depleted areas in my life. My passion is renewed. My love for him is refreshed. Because of the lessons learned, I adore him with a deeper humility. I embrace this season of rest knowing that down the road he will likely lead me to places of difficulty where I will learn more in my relationship with him. The journey will continue. I will continue to grow as he continues to lead me along the path.

A gift of grace

As I neared the end of the Wilderness of Testing, a refreshing breeze brought the scent of green grass and cool water through the air. A change was coming. The difficult days of the season of testing were drawing to an end. A time of refreshing was just over the horizon. I welcomed it.

But looking back over my shoulder, I was unsettled. Had I learned the lessons God wanted me to learn? Did I pass the test when it was upon me? This singular question haunted me. Had I passed the test? Throughout the Wilderness of Testing moments of failure were woven together with moments of success. It remained to be seen which one would color the fabric I now wore as a covering.

In the stillness, I spoke to God. “Was I good enough?”

After a pause, he quietly spoke to me. “Tim, you will never be good enough. You were never meant to be. But I will always be good enough for you. It is not your goodness that matters, it’s mine.”

Hesitantly, I looked at the fabric draped across my shoulders. To my astonishment, it was pure white. It had been washed in a river flowing from the throne of God. It had been washed in the blood of the lamb. It was washed clean. I had received the gift of grace in the Wilderness of Testing.

I crested the hill. Below and ahead lay a long green sweep of grass hugging a gurgling brook. Trees planted by the stream reached across the valley to shake hands with others, fashioning a canopy of shade. I pulled the garment close around my neck, and headed down the path to the Valley of Rest.

My friend, you are likely at one of the three stages I’ve encountered over the past few years. You may find yourself in the Valley of Wait, learning deep lessons in your relationship with God. Maybe you are in the Wilderness of Testing, and the trial is fast upon you. You wonder if you will survive. Take courage. A Valley of Rest is near. Some are in this place of rest. God is restoring you, strengthening you, preparing you for the next series of lessons he has prepared for you. In each season, take heart, knowing you are in the place God designed for you. Do not strive to go elsewhere. Take comfort, knowing his hand has guided you to where you are. He is with us in each place and season. He is fully in control. He is enough.

I always enjoy reading your comments.  Feel free to post your thoughts below.

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The Wilderness of Testing Part Three

For the past two months, we looked at the first two temptations Jesus faced in the wilderness and how his experience applies to our lives. Now we come to the third and final temptation of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s account. If you haven’t read the previous featured blogs, I encourage you to take a moment and review The Wilderness of Testing and the Wilderness of Testing Part Two. It will give you a better understanding of the progression in this passage. Of the three temptations, this one resonated with me the most. It seems the first temptation is in the area of our physical desires. The second temptation seems related to spiritual issues. This final temptation seems connected to our emotional lives – areas of ego and how we view ourselves in context with others. Here is our passage for this month:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  (Matthew 4:8-10, ESV)

Let’s look deeper into this passage.

Satan Attacks

In this final scene of the temptation of Jesus, Satan goes for broke. He takes Jesus to the top of a high mountain and in a sweeping gesture shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I’ll give you more than you can imagine,” he whispers. “All you have to do is to trust me. Worship me. You don’t need God. I’ll give you all this glory and more.”

When Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of this world, I do not think he was referring to political kingdoms and nations. I suspect he was referring to kingdoms of wealth, kingdoms of happiness, kingdoms of power, kingdoms of celebrity and fame, kingdoms of significance. These are the kingdoms of this earth. “Worship me,” he says, “and I will give you all this.” Note the passage says he offered Jesus “the kingdoms of this world and their glory.” He’s not just offering him kingdoms, he’s offering him their glory. This is key to understanding the basis of this temptation. It is the temptation to seek glory for ourselves. It is the temptation to take our eyes off God, and to worship anything but him. It is the temptation for self-worship. It is the temptation to seek our glory over God’s. It is the temptation to seek wealth, happiness, power, celebrity, fame and significance and the glory they represent.

The problem with this is that none of these things ever satisfy. All leave us longing for more. Satan is a fraud. He offers glory, but fails to mention it will never satisfy. We want more. More significance. More money. More toys to play with. More followers on social media. More likes. More retweets. But none of it satisfies. Sadly, we’ve been duped. We bought the lie. We bowed down. And it left us empty.

The rise in social media has fueled this temptation. In December 2017, former Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya shared how the site was intentionally developed to hook users by manipulating their emotional responses. “We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection, because we get rewarded in these short term signals: Hearts, likes, thumbs up,” he said. “We conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth, and instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity that’s short term and leaves you even more vacant and empty than before you did it.”

We rate our success based on the number of Twitter followers or friends on Facebook. I’ve done it. Lately I’ve questioned this. How much of my social media use is ultimately to promote myself? This is where we have to ask ourselves the hard questions.

The Search for Significance

Satan offers us significance. God offers us the opposite. Jesus said “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11, ESV), and “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4, ESV). Note he did not say the greatest among you will have the largest church. He did not say the greatest among you will influence the most people for the cause of Christ. He did not say the greatest among you will have the largest social media following. He did not say the greatest among you will have the nicest home, drive a newer model car, or live in the right neighborhood. He said the greatest would be your servant.

Even the disciples dealt with this issue. They argued over who was the greatest. Here’s Luke account:

“A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:24-26, ESV).

If the disciples grappled with this issue, is it possible we do as well? I know I do.

My desire for significance is an ungodly motivating factor in my life. I grew up in a difficult home environment where often I struggled. Most of my life I have felt insignificant, worth little, etc. I have a natural sinful desire to counter those feelings. It crouches in the background of my life. My whole life it has hidden behind the curtain on the stage, peeking out at me. I hear its whisper when I am preaching.

I pray for influence. But does my prayer for influence come from a heart to see God’s kingdom made great, or do I desire to see my kingdom made great? Even just a little? Is my desire for influence actually just a desire for significance? These are the difficult questions with which I wrestle in quiet moments alone with God.

I asked myself this question in regard to publishing the next book I’ve written. I spent time last year looking for a publisher and speaking with literary agents. Is my desire for a publisher just another example of pride? Do I want to say, “I am published by so-and-so.” Am I trying to find a publisher so I can feel significant? So many questions.

Jesus Responds

Satan does his best to tempt Jesus away from God. Jesus will have none of it. He counters with a stunning command to Satan. “Be gone, Satan! You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Here he quotes from Deuteronomy 6:13, where Moses instructs the Israelites, “It is the LORD your God you shall fear. Him you shall serve and by his name you shall swear.”

In the original language, the command “Be gone, Satan” is the same statement Jesus says to Peter. Jesus shared with the disciples he was about to go to Jerusalem to lay down his life. Peter responds, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, (be gone) Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man” (Matthew 16:22-23, ESV).

There it is. Did you catch it? “You are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” He is referring to the kingdoms of this world, the things of man. It is the core temptation with which we all deal. Gratefully, Jesus continues and explains how we are to live.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25, ESV).

Satan offers us the chance to be served. Jesus offers us servitude. Satan focuses on building wealth. Jesus focuses on the poor. Satan offers power. Jesus willingly set aside his power and submitted to death on a cross. Can you see the contrast?

God does not share his glory. The wise never try to capture it for themselves. It never ends well. His command to us is to love him with all our hearts, all our minds, all our strength. All, not most of our hearts. All. He alone is worthy of our worship. We bow to him alone.

There is hope!

While this may sound discouraging, what I found was greatly encouraging. It frees us to address each of these issues. It frees us to seek influence without significance. It frees us to seek ministry without titles. It frees us to serve without needing someone’s approval. Each area I addressed brought a brighter light of God’s glory into my heart. While difficult to process, it brought me to a new place in my relationship with God. For this, I am extremely grateful.

As I mentioned in the earlier blogs, at the end of this Wilderness of Testing I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Good news, my friends, a season of rest is coming! In God’s plan, the Valley of Wait usually leads to a Wilderness of Testing. But the Wilderness of Testing leads to a Valley of Rest. We’ll look at this in detail in the next featured blog. For now, let’s review what we discovered in this passage.

  1. Satan offers us the kingdoms of this world – kingdoms of significance, power, prestige, celebrity, fame, wealth and glory – if only we bow down to him instead of to God. Be careful to worship God alone. God does not share glory. Don’t try to take it for yourself. It will not end well.
  1. Ask the hard questions. What are the motivating factors in your life? What actually drives you? Let the Holy Spirit dig deeply in your heart. Find freedom when you yield to his touch to transform your life in these hidden places.
  1. Bow to God alone. Love God with all your heart. The challenge here is the word “all.” It is one thing to say we love God. It is a far different thing to say we love him with all our hearts. “All” leaves no room for second place.

The third test is this: Is God worth more to you than the kingdoms of this world and glory? May we do the hard work of addressing these issues in our lives.

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How to get a 48 foot mast under a 47 foot bridge

I thought you would enjoy this video, “How to get a boat with a 48 foot mast under a 47 foot bridge.”  Our cast of characters include Billy the Tipper, his assistant, and my friend Bob. Continue reading below.

 

Back in October 2017, I brought the sailboat home from Indiantown marina on the east side of Lake Okeechobee. Unfortunately, at the time the water level was extremely high in the lake. To release water from the lake, the Army Corp of Engineers had the Port Myaca lock wide open causing the water level of the canal to rise considerably. This meant the Port Myaca Railroad bridge was now too low to the water to cross beneath. The bridge opens vertically. When open, it normally clears forty nine feet from the water line. Now, with the extra water, it was at forty seven. My mast tops out forty eight feet from the waterline. One foot too tall. What to do? I called Indiantown marina and they immediately said, “Call Billy the Tipper.”

Billy the Tipper is a living legend in the area. Yes, you cannot make this stuff up. Billy the Tipper met us at the bridge at 9:00 AM. He tied his boat to our port side and placed empty plastic fifty five gallon drums on our port deck. We secured the barrels to the deck with ropes. Then Billy started a portable pump and filled each of the drums with water from the canal. The weight of the water filled barrels tipped the boat to its port side, lowering the level of the mast to the water.

Slowly we approached the bridge and confirmed we were low enough to pass. Once through, we reversed the process, emptying the water, and the boat returned to upright position. We settled up for his services and were on our way into Lake O.

That, my friends, is how you get a 48 foot mast under a 47 foot bridge.

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The Wilderness of Testing Part Two

Last month I shared some of the challenges I faced over the past year. If you missed that blog, you can read it here: The Wilderness of Testing. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I was greatly challenged. I received many comments about my transparency regarding the sexual temptation I endured. However, there may have been a misperception this was the primary way God tested me. This is not the case. I was tested in many areas; discouragement, physical and mental exhaustion, and financial stress were significant aspects throughout this season. The sexual temptation was a small part of a larger protracted trial. I call this season of trial, “The Wilderness of Testing.” It is a season specifically designed by God to test us, to see what we have learned.

In the previous blog, I shared the first interaction between Satan and Jesus when Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tested. As I look further into this passage, there is more to discover in regards to the challenges we face. So this month let’s look at the second temptation Satan presented to Jesus and see how it relates to you and me.

Here’s the passage for this month:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

 

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4:5-7, ESV)

The Enemy Attacks

Once again, the enemy begins his attack by questioning Jesus’ identity. He says, “If you are the Son of God….” He used this statement in the first temptation. It is significant that he uses this line again. Why? Our enemy wants to destroy our relationship with God. If our enemy can get us to question our identity as sons and daughters of God, then we are in grave danger. Carefully guard your identity.

From the pinnacle of the temple, he tells Jesus to throw himself down. After all, the Scriptures say God will rescue you. Why not make him prove it. You’re his son, right?

Also notice how Satan uses Scripture as part of his attack. He quotes Psalm 91:11-12. Satan loves to quote Scripture on the way to destroying you and I. It should alarm us that our enemy knows Scripture. Do we know it as well as he does?

Jesus Responds

Gratefully, once again Jesus responds with Scripture. “Again it is written ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Now if you are like me, I’ve read this passage before and glossed right over what Jesus just said. This time, as I looked into this, I wondered what it meant to put God to the test. What was Jesus saying?

To understand what Jesus says, we need to look at the passage he references. Jesus refers to a passage where Moses addresses the Israelite nation. In this passage Moses says, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16, ESV).

We’re getting closer. Now we need to find out what happened at Massah. The event is described in Exodus 17. Here is what it says:

All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.”

 

And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?”
But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

 

So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”

 

And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.”

 

And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7, ESV)

 

The Hebrew word for “tested” in this passage expresses the idea of putting God to the test, to make him prove himself. It is connected with the idea of doubting God. It is a test born out of doubt instead of faith.

The Israelites were thirsty by design. God led them to that place. In their discomfort, they complained to one another. They complained to Moses. It seems they speak to everyone but God. They tested the Lord by saying in effect, “Is the Lord among us or not? Then he should prove it.”

God tests us to see where we are in relationship with him, but it is not okay for you and me to test God to prove where he is in relationship with us. He never changes. His love is a constant burning flame. It is our love for him that flickers. The irony is we tend to test God when he is testing us! He allows trials in our lives to see what we have learned in our relationship with him, but instead of trusting him, we tend to test him. We doubt his love and care. Are you here? Do you love me? Are you loving or not?

Don’t do it. Do not test the Lord. Instead of testing him, trust him. Even when it does not make sense. Choose to love God rather than trying to understand him. This is perhaps the greatest lesson I learned over the past year. It is better to love God than to try and understand him. He is completely in control.

Next month we’ll look at the final temptation the enemy throws at Jesus. For now, let’s review the lessons from this section.

  1. Satan will question your identity as a son or daughter of God. It is the primary way he tries to defeat us. If he can get us to question our identity as God’s children, then we are in deep trouble.
  1. The enemy uses Scripture against us. It is interesting that our enemy knows Scripture. Unfortunately, he twists it to support his position. Some people do the same today. Do you know the Scriptures as well as your enemy? It is critical to view any Scripture in the broader context of the entire Bible.
  1. Don’t put God to the test. It is okay to question God, but it is not okay to doubt his love for you. Never doubt his love. He already proved his love for you when he gave his Son to die in your place. Choose to trust God rather than trying to understand him.

Is God actually trustworthy? Ultimately, this is the question at the heart of this temptation. May we pass the test! May we rise up and say, “I will trust God even when it does not make sense.”

I always enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to post your thoughts below.

 

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