Archives

Written by Timothy Mark

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.

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

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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.

 

The Wilderness of Testing

This is a difficult season in my life and ministry. For the past few months, my schedule has exhausted me. In July I dealt with the accident with my sailboat and the subsequent repairs. The marina where the boat was stored was two hours and forty-five minutes from home, complicating matters. I worked full-time in construction, remodeling homes, to raise the funds for the rudder repair. I spent my evenings preparing my home for the tourist rental market as I made the move to living aboard the sailboat. I tried to maintain the ministry. I worked six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, for almost five months. In the middle of all this, I rode out Hurricane Irma at home, and dealt with issues related to the storm for days before and after the storm. The ministry feels like it is on autopilot. Physically, spiritually, and emotionally, I am spent.

I struggled to maintain my relationship with God. I spent time in the Word, but it felt dry and uninspired. I talked with God about it, but even those conversations felt empty.

During this time, I also experienced lustful thoughts far beyond normal temptations. I’m used to the usual thoughts we all have as guys, but this was different. I mentioned to several friends how shocking these thoughts were. In my whole life, I don’t think I’ve ever before entertained such thoughts. The temptation was so strong that for a moment I even considered walking away from the ministry to fulfill it. The next moment I had clarity and shuddered to think I would even consider such things. It frightened me that I could even think that way.

In all, the past months felt different from anything I’ve ever experienced in my relationship with God. Something was going on, but I was not sure what it was. I plodded on in my relationship with God, still spending time in the Word, still finding time to talk with him, but struggling throughout.

Last week, in the midst of all this, I heard the still small voice of God. “Tim,” he said, “you need to be very careful. This is not just a ‘Valley of Wait’ that you are in. I have led you to a Wilderness of Testing.” It was a quiet word to my spirit, but it felt as if it were shouted to me. This changed everything. For a moment, I saw the context of what has transpired over the past months. Oddly, I was greatly encouraged.

I looked in Scripture at others whom God led into the Wilderness of Testing. Jesus is the most obvious example. I started there. Matthew’s account resonated with me. This is what it says:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

 

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

 

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.’”

 

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.’”

 

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:1-11, ESV)

I find this passage intriguing. The first thing I noticed is how Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit to the Wilderness of Testing. This is important. It was not accidental that he was in this place. He followed the leading of the Holy Spirit into the wilderness. It was purposeful. This gives a sense of purpose to all I experienced over the past six months. There is a reason, even if I do not yet know what it is. It is not merely a season of waiting.

The next thought that stood out to me was how the enemy came at the moment when Jesus was physically spent. Jesus had fasted for forty days prior to this trial. Surely he was physically exhausted. In this place of need the enemy approached. He began by questioning Jesus’ identity. He said, “If you are the son of God….” This is often the core question Satan asks of you and me. He tries to question our identity. “Are you actually a follower of Christ?” he asks. “Are you actually a son of God? If you are, then why do you feel the way you do?”

But the enemy also struck where he suspected Jesus had the greatest need. “Go ahead. Turn these stones into bread. You’re hungry. You deserve it.” This may explain the lustful thoughts I experienced. It is the one area of my life I struggle with the most. On a regular day I want to experience the fulfillment of the normal physical desires God created within me. But when I am tired and “hungry,” the temptation is more difficult to resist. It is likely the enemy will strike in the area where our felt needs are greatest.

Gratefully, Jesus responded with clarity as an example for us to follow. He said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, ESV).

It is significant that he refuted the enemy with Scripture. Jesus quoted from a passage in Deuteronomy 8. Let’s take a moment to look at the passage. Moses addresses the nation of Israel as they look forward to the fulfillment of the promise of God to give them the land. Here is the full context:

And you shall remember the whole way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3, ESV)

Moses’ words give greater understanding to the purposes of the Wilderness of Testing. It is a place of humbling. It reveals what is in our hearts, and expands our understanding of our relationship with God.

This season certainly humbled me. There can be a subtle pride in saying I am full-time in ministry. It sounds successful. To work full-time outside of the ministry humbled me. I was confident God orchestrated the work for me as a way of providing for the repair of the boat, but it was humbling at the same time. This time also revealed what is in my heart. As a result, I have grown deeply in my understanding of my relationship with God. I mentioned in a previous blog the powerful truth that it is better to love God than to try to understand him. For me, this is a deepening of my faith in God and in his faithfulness and love to me.

It is also significant to realize the Israelites were looking forward to the Promised Land. They had not yet taken possession of it. The path to the Promised Land for the Israelites led through the wilderness. Often, in our lives, the path to a promise leads through a Wilderness of Testing. Perhaps you can relate. I continue to believe my best days of ministry are still to come. There is no logical reason to believe this. My ministry schedule is lighter than at any other time in thirty years of ministry. But I believe I have yet to see all God intends to do through my life and ministry. I look forward to the Promised Land. I focus on what is to come, not on what has passed.

There is much more to discuss. We have only tapped the first section of the wilderness experience of Jesus. I will expand on this in future blogs. For now, allow me to pause here and reiterate the lessons God is teaching me to this point.

  1. You are where you are by God’s design. As we follow Jesus, sometimes this means he will lead us by the Holy Spirit into a Wilderness of Testing. It is difficult, but it is by design. Take comfort in knowing you are where you are for a purpose, even if you do not yet know what that purpose is.
  2. The enemy will likely strike when you are exhausted emotionally, physically, or spiritually. Be extremely careful in those dangerous moments when you are spent.
  3. Guard your identity. You are a child of the most-high God. Never forget this. Commit to spending time in your relationship with God even when you don’t feel like it. Your relationship with God is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. It is not based on your emotions. How you feel has nothing to do with your identity. When you are spent, crawl onto God’s lap and let him hold you close.
  4. Embrace humility. The Wilderness of Testing is designed to humble you. Identify areas where pride has crept in. Confess it to God. Welcome humility.
  5. Look forward as you endure today. The path to a promise often leads through a Wilderness of Testing. Let hope reign as you wait for relief.

I am greatly encouraged as I continue to walk through this season. Recently there is a freshness to my relationship with God as I contemplate what it means to navigate a Wilderness of Testing. I have raised my guard. I am on high alert. I am also filled with hope. At this time, I have no construction projects on my schedule. I am slowly able to focus on ministry again. The sailboat is now repaired and safely in its new home here in Southwest Florida. I moved out of my home and onto the sailboat. The house is now in the rental market. And Hurricane season ended November 30! Hope reigns.

I wonder where you are in your relationship with God. Do you love him? Apart from my relationship with God, I do not know how I would have navigated these days. Are you in a Wilderness of Testing? Are you spent from the trials that have come into your life? God longs to meet you in the midst of your situation to remind you that you are his child. Let him pull you up unto his lap. His love for you is greater than any sin you have done. He offers forgiveness when we confess our failures to him. He rushes into our brokenness with healing and comfort. Find hope in him alone.

For me, it is a Wilderness of Testing. I look forward to sharing more from the Wilderness in the days to come.

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

The Presence of God in the Midst of the Storm

Terror gripped the men. The storm was upon them. Wave upon wave crested over the bulwarks of the boat. The men bailed as quickly as they could. But just when they thought they were gaining on the deluge, the bow pitched steeply into the sea, and another wave swept across the sides. Their backs ached. Their arms cramped in dissent. But there was no time to protest. The wind screeched and howled as it slammed upon the vessel. And with each lurch of the boat, the contents sloshed from one end to the other, thudding against the hull. The storm was gradually winning.

Oddly, one man lay asleep in the stern. The teacher. The Rabi. Oblivious in the midst of the gale. No one wanted to wake him, but the situation was dire. Finally one of the men shook him by the shoulder, and Jesus awoke to see all the men staring at him.

“Teacher,” the man pleaded, “do you not care that we are perishing? Save us, Lord!”

Jesus propped himself up on one arm. He looked up from his seat and surveyed the faces of the men. Anxious, terrified, frightened eyes stared back. Finally he spoke. “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?”

Slowly Jesus rose, his robe whipping in the wind. He turned his back to the men and faced the sea, the wind blowing directly into his face. “Peace! Be Still!” he shouted.

The wind died instantly. The waves took a moment to settle upon one another until at last the sea was glassy smooth. He smiled. Peace rested upon the water. The only sound was the trembling breath of the men as they stared at Jesus. A new fear gripped them. In the back of the group, one of the men whispered, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” The realization was complete. They hardly knew him.

(Adapted from Matthew 8:23-27 and Mark 4:35-41, ESV.)

Storms have a unique way of revealing truth about God, while at the same time revealing how little we know about him. They leave us shaken and exhausted and weary. We turn to him in our chaos. We cry out for him to intercede. His response comforts and confuses at the same time. He calms the storm. In the light of his glory, we get a brief glimpse of who he is. At the same time we close our eyes and turn away, for we are blinded by it. We are stunned by the realization of how little we know and trust him.

When we find ourselves in a storm, the primary question we have is the same as the disciple asked of Jesus: “Do you not care?”  It is the question at the heart of our concern. Does God care?

I appreciate that Jesus does not mock the disciple for questioning his love for them. God knows our humanity. He knows the times we question him. Instead of chiding, he calms the storm. God does care. In fact, the presence of the storm may show just how much he loves us. He longs to reveal more of himself to us and often uses a trial to bring us closer to himself. He is with us in the midst of the storm. His response to the storm is an example for all of us. He rests. He sleeps. He is not concerned. He is the God of the wind and the waves. Everything is in his control.

Once we understand God cares and is in control, we can join him in the stern of the boat. We can rest with him as the winds howl and the waves crash upon the hull.

The disciples were in shock when Jesus calmed the wind and the waves. They realized they knew little about Jesus. “Who then is this?” was their reply. In the midst of the storm we discover he is with us, and in the process we discover how little we know about him.

Last month, as Hurricane Irma was bearing down, I sent out a prayer request. As of 7:00 that morning, the projected path of the hurricane was directly over my home. At the time, it was a monster category 4 storm. My prayer was for a clear awareness of the presence of God with me, no matter what happened. I knew if I had a clear awareness of his presence, nothing else would matter.

After sending the request, there was nothing to do but wait for the storm to hit. I was unsettled at home alone, so I drove across town to have breakfast with friends. While we ate, one in the group received a text from a friend. It read, “Psalm 91.” I smiled when she shared it with the group because it is one of my favorite Psalms. Years ago I memorized it. It is loaded with promises. My favorite part of the Psalm is the ending. This is what it says:

“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Psalm 91:14-16, ESV).

When my friend read the text, God was reminding me of his protection and his presence. I was greatly encouraged.

I returned home as the winds continued to swell. Tropical storm force winds barreled down now-deserted streets. I checked email. Remember, I had sent out the prayer request a few hours earlier. Several folks had replied with words of encouragement. But oddly, the majority of the emails referenced a single passage of Scripture – Psalm 91! It was highly unusual for multiple people to reference the same passage. I love the way God orchestrates his word to us in such a way that we cannot miss what he is saying to us.

I sat at my laptop and smiled. I knew the presence of God was with me. If I were to lose everything in the storm, it would not matter because God was with me.

Twelve hours later, the eye of the storm passed to the east of my home and slowed to a category 2 storm by the time it churned past. There was still extensive damage in my area, but my home was not damaged. Trees fell. Some trees snapped in half. Power lines were torn from their poles. Some in my area were without power for more than a week. Debris littered the streets, but I was safe, and my home was not damaged.

I was exhausted. The storm had taken a toll on me, but God had carried me through. His response comforted me. At the same time, like our friends on the Sea of Galilee, it reminded me how little I understand him and trust him.

My friend, you may be in a storm as well. An unexpected trial has blown into your life. An infidelity is exposed. A porn addiction is revealed. A child runs away. A job is lost. An addiction is discovered. A relationship crumbles. There is no escape, only endurance fortified with hope.

Remember, God does care. Find him in the midst of the storm sleeping at the stern of the boat. Come to him. Rest in him. Recognize his presence with you. As he moves and calms the storm, press in to learn more about who he is. He longs to reveal more of himself to you. He cares for you. He is completely in control.

Find his presence with you in the midst of the storm, and find his presence is enough.

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

 

 

 

Sunday Update – Please Pray

We are currently experiencing the first outer bands of tropical storm force winds and rain. I have decided to shelter in place for the remainder of the storm. I consulted with several friends here who are also sheltering in place and made the decision this morning. We expect the main storm to arrive this afternoon. Once it arrives, we expect hurricane force winds for about eight hours. It may be a long night!

Unfortunately, it looks like the eye of the storm may pass directly over me. This can change. I will carefully watch the 11:00 update for any movement in the projected path.

Please pray for me today for a clear awareness of the presence of God with me. As long as I keep my focus on him, and not the wind and waves, all is well! I am reminded of Jesus sleeping in the bottom of the boat as the storm raged. He is in control. As a side note, would you pray for my parents as well? They are in Michigan. If you have children, you can imagine how it would feel to know your child is possibly in harm’s way. It would be a blessing to me if you would pray for them as well.

I have many friends in this area. I am praying for them. We are keeping in touch and taking care of one another.

I just sent an email to our email subscription list asking them to pray.

I will likely lose power. If that happens, I will probably not be able to send updates. I will send an update as I am able.

In all of this, remember – God is completely in control!

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

Saturday Update for Hurricane Irma

The forecast does not look good for Southwest Florida. The most recent prediction has the eye of the hurricane moving directly over my area. This can change. It is still too early to tell.

At this time, I am planning to ride out the storm. So far mandatory evacuations have not been issued for my zone. I am in zone C. I am ready to evacuate if the officials call for an evacuation of my zone. I have everything set out on the dining table and could be out the door in under five minutes with everything I need. There is a county storm shelter near where I live.

You will hear a lot on the news about storm surge. At this time, my area is expecting a storm surge around three to five feet. The further south you go, the higher the surge is expected to be. Areas south of Fort Myers may experience a fifteen foot storm surge! Even though my property is only one mile inland, it is on high ground for this area. Current surge prediction levels would not affect my property. This is important to remember. Again, if officials call for an evacuation of my zone, I will leave.

This morning I finished up the last few details of securing the house. I moved all the patio furniture and potted plants into the garage. The pool deck is completely bare. I reinforced the garage door with some leftover 2x6s. I took the screen doors off the pool cage. Usually they get wrenched off the frame by the high winds, so I figured I would remove them. If it looks like we are going to take a direct hit, I will cut out the screen panels to try and save the aluminum pool cage structure. Most likely I would lose the pool cage either way, but it can’t hurt to try!

The area is a ghost town. Everything is shut down as we wait for the arrival of Irma. The big box stores closed yesterday at noon.

We are expecting tropical storm force winds this afternoon and evening. It will slowly build through the day tomorrow. We expect the hurricane to hit sometime last Sunday afternoon. For now, we just wait to see if the track will change.

The beautiful thing in all of this is how my heart is peaceful. I am grateful for the lessons God has taught me through the years regarding stewardship vrs ownership. Being a steward, and letting God own the house, frees me from any concern. I’ve done all I can as a steward to prepare his property for the storm. The rest is up to him.

I stay in touch with friends from church who are also riding out the storm. These are dear friends of mine, and I am grateful I can be here to help if they need it. This is the perfect time for the body of Christ to band together and weather the storm.

I have a reputation of being an adrenaline junkie. This does not mean I take unnecessary risks. I hope these blogs have convinced you I am being extremely careful and taking great precautions. I continue to carefully monitor the track of this storm. I will try to update as possible. I appreciate your prayers and concern.

If you are interested in our local broadcast, check out http://www.nbc-2.com/.

I enjoy reading your comments. Feel free to write your thoughts below.