The wilderness is a place of utter helplessness. It is where a person can be drawn close to God. It’s where we learn to trust and depend on God instead of trusting and depending upon our own abilities or the abilities of others. I have found that we can go through many wilderness periods in our life as God prepares us for what is ahead of us as we follow Christ and continue His point of need ministry. The key for us is to recognize that we are in the wilderness and utilize our time there to draw closer to God. We should not be focused on getting out of the wilderness or the time that we are allocated to stay there. Instead, our focus should be on drawing closer to God and trusting Him more.
A true Christ follower allows God to direct their steps and can recognize God’s hand upon them as they journey from earth to glory. Along the way, they learn that it is good for them to release more of their self dependence and become more God reliant. As they submit to the will of God, they receive all the strength and endurance that they need for the journey that is not void of wilderness periods.
Beloved, submit to God and His plans for your life letting him direct your every step. Follow Christ. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Him. And be assured that you are baptized into the body of Christ by the Spirit that dwells within you.
Beloved, we are indwelt by the same Spirit that indwelt Christ. Christ walked this earth as the Son of Man, full of the Holy Spirit, heading to the cross as the Son of God to die for our sins so that we can have fullness of life in Him now and for all eternity. It is the Spirit that births us into the Kingdom of God. The church does not birth us into the Kingdom, nor does church membership. Walking an aisle and repeating a prayer does not birth us into the Kingdom. Being religious does not birth us into the Kingdom. The Spirit and the Spirit only births us into the Kingdom of God. And as we deny self, take up our cross and follow Jesus, the same Spirit that indwelt Christ indwells us.
We are to follow Christ in water baptism. In the early church, people were baptized as soon as they denied self, took up their cross and started to follow Jesus. In the modern church, baptism is often put off for weeks, months and even years. I’ve pastored some people through the years that came to church every Sunday, but were never baptized. They didn’t see the need for it. Maybe, they just didn’t want to get their hair wet. I don’t know the reasons why people put it off, but I have found out that while it may be possible to be a Christian without experiencing water baptism, it is impossible to be a Christ follower without following Christ in water baptism. And if one can not follow Christ in water baptism, what can they follow Him in? Well, I choose not to be a Christian only. I choose to be a Christ follower. There is a big difference. Follow Christ today Friend. Follow Christ.
We are to submit to God and His plans for our life. As we do, we will experience the Father’s pleasure as Jesus did.
I have found out in life that our plans are not always God’s plans. We will make our plans for our life and we have a choice to either follow those plans or allow God to direct our steps. If we allow God to direct our steps, we will find that the way He takes us is not the way that we would have gone.
We have the tendency to take the easy and the comfortable way that will cause us less pain. God’s way takes us into and through difficulty. As we allow Him to direct our steps, we will learn to trust Him totally with our life and everything that we have. Our rewards on this earth may not be much, but we will have rewards waiting for us in heaven.
Beloved, always remember that rewards on earth are temporary. Rewards in heaven are eternal.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11 ESV)
As John was baptizing all of the people who were repenting of their sins, Jesus appears on the scene. This is the most unlikely time for the Son of God to show up. Jesus had no need to repent of sins because He was sinless. But yet, He allowed John to baptize Him. His baptism was not for sins, but was to identify with people in their sin showing His willingness to submit to God’s judgment of their sin.
Jesus’ submission to the Father’s will, which meant certain death on a cross, was pleasing to the Father and demonstrated by the Father’s words and the Spirit’s descent upon Jesus. Notice that all three persons of the Trinity was present – the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
It is hard for us to comprehend what is taking place. Jesus came into our world to die for our sin. He was sinless and had no need to die for Himself. It was all about us. The Father loves us and wants to spend eternity with us so much that He sent Jesus. The Father wants us to experience life in Him and not death. And Jesus submitted to the will of the Father and He came. He left the glory of heaven and the splendor of the Father’s presence to come into our world to live and to die. He came as the son of man and He came as the son of God. He was 100% human and 100% God. As the son of man, he lived his life as an example for us to follow. As the son of God, He died for our sin taking God’s judgment for it upon Himself. And here at His baptism He, as a man, is indwelt by the Spirit just as all those who are born into God’s Kingdom would be.
Jesus lived a life on this earth that pleased the Father. It is our hearts desire to please the Father through living in Jesus. We can glean and learn much in the example that Christ gave us as He walked this earth as the Son of Man full of the Spirit while heading to the cross to die for our sins as the Son of God.
Our relationship with Christ is what transforms us into servants that can be used of God. This relationship will mold and shape us to reach our full potential in the Kingdom of God. It is not about religion, tradition or a code of conduct. It’s about a relationship with Jesus that transforms our mind, our heart, our life and our actions. This relationship includes trusting Jesus, confessing Him as Lord, following His example, following His teaching and being transformed by it. It also includes being prepared to face the same kind of suffering that Jesus faced for the sake of others.
Beloved, it’s all about Jesus Christ. He came to save us from our sin and he broke the power of sin that held us captive. He came into our world. He lived. He died. He rose from the dead. He ascended back to the right hand of God. And He baptizes with the Holy Spirit all who decide to follow Him and make Him their Lord and Savior. The Holy Spirit dwells within the Christ follower. Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. (Mark 1:1-8)
Those who follow Christ making Him their Lord and Savior are baptized with the Holy Spirit by Jesus.
Paul explains this baptism best:
“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:5-11 ESV)”
Mark jumps right into truth as he begins the Gospel of Mark. In the first eight verses we are introduced to John the Baptist and Jesus Christ is exalted.
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'" John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:1-8 ESV)
The very first verse of Mark is short, but it speaks volumes – “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. (Mark 1:1 ESV)” Throughout the entire Gospel of Mark, we are told about Jesus. It is good news to all who learn of Him, but this good news did have its beginning with Mark’s Gospel. Jesus was proclaimed throughout the Old Testament and the Prophets and Mark is implying to this with a reference to Isaiah.
Mark declares that Jesus is the Son of God and the Christ. The name “Jesus” means “Yahweh is salvation”. Matthew brings particular attention to this meaning – “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21 ESV)”
Christ is a title and means “the anointed one”, or “the Messiah”. So here at the start of the Gospel of Mark we have the declaration that Jesus is the son of God and the Messiah who saves us from our sin and delivers us out of its captivity and bondage.
I thank God that He sent Jesus into our world!
Jesus came into our world. He lived. He died. He rose again. He ascended into heaven. He has given His followers a mission to continue His ministry on earth until He comes again. And He has not left His followers powerless. He has given us the Holy Spirit that dwells within the Christ follower who has made Jesus their Lord and Savior.
Putting faith into action is the right thing to do. Putting faith into action costs us something. Putting faith into action will advance God’s kingdom.
As we follow Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to use us in continuing the point of need ministry of Jesus, we will put our faith in action advancing God’s kingdom beyond any ethnic, racial and gender boundaries and extend it to ALL people in our sphere of influence and beyond. It will cost us something, but Christ followers counted the cost when they denied their self, took up their cross and followed Jesus.
This is what we all pray for in our fellowship experience … that our actions speak for themselves as the body of Christ. But it is evident that these words of praise from Paul, for the church in Thessalonica, were not the result of being magically transported into that place of stature in Christ, but as a result of hard work and right & faithful practices.
I have singled out some key passages so they can be more directly addressed. They are:
1.) your work of faith, labor of love, and endurance of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ
These are intentional practices, and also are “workplace” terms. Paul was a working preacher and supported the notion of being self-sustaining. Work, labor and endurance are all very familiar terms to us. They are intentional and require effort.
2.) you became imitators of us and of the Lord when, in spite of severe persecution
They followed their leadership and became faithful imitators even under persecution. It could not have been easy serving God in a strong pagan culture.
3.) you became an example to all the believers
By doing the right things, most importantly living out their faith and honoring God in Jesus, the Thessalonians became examples of strength to those who observed them.
4.) you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God
They turned from false gods to serve Yahweh, the Great I AM, our living God.
This is the message we must send to those in our communities as we serve God and prepare for Jesus’ return. It is hard work, but fulfilling, in ways that provide true peace and strength. These qualities speak volumes to the seekers and the unbelievers who are watching us.
If you have been a quitter and returned to where you started it doesn’t mean that God is through with you. He desires to use you and will take your failures and use them to mold and shape you into what He has for you to accomplish. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t take to heart the criticism and rejection of others because of what you have done. Pick yourself up and become a different person. Allow your failure to propel you forward into the destiny that God has already prepared for you to walk in by His grace. The best is yet to come in your life!
Don’t be discouraged at the advancement of others even if you feel you are being bypassed. Promotion comes from the Lord. Keep yourself from complaining and becoming bitter through praying and knowing that Jesus is forming you and shaping you. Rest assured that in His due time, He will place you in the position He has for you and others will see His hand of work in your life. Learn and be patient. Allow others to mentor you. Prove yourself faithful. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Make yourself available for service while continuing the point of need ministry of Jesus and allow Him to do the rest.
The world is full of both leaders and quitters. Leaders recognize that promotion comes from the Lord even if there are those promoted past them. They willingly accept the role that God has for them as they follow Jesus and continue His point of need ministry no matter what vocation they are in. Quitters return to where they started, but they do not have to stay there. The ones who get up and allow their failures to propel them to their God prepared destiny will walk in it and one day become a respected leader deemed very useful.
Religionists hang on to the status quo, lie, spread fear, grow angry and even kill, but not Christ followers. Christ teaches His followers how to live and how to die, not how to kill. He teaches His followers how to stand for faith and justice. He teaches His followers how to pray, even for those who mistreat and abuse them due to their Christ exalting stand.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and allow Him to perfect your faith on your journey from earth to glory (Hebrews 12:2). It is an exciting and rewarding journey.
In the paragraph of Scripture as given to us in Acts 7:54-60, the religionists break the Roman law which prohibits them from executing a death sentence. As a mob, they react to Stephen’s stand for faith and justice. They kill the messenger and God’s instrument of grace. Instead of making the right choice, repenting of their religious ways and following Christ, they make the wrong choice and choose religion over Christ. Their actions show how religion is full of anger and leads to death and not life.
As I read this paragraph of Scripture, it is Stephen’s reaction that catches my eye and speaks volumes into my life. Notice with me:
Stephen the Christ follower, even in death, kept his eyes fixed on Jesus who is the author and perfecter of faith (Acts 7:55).
Stephen the Christ follower left this world praying to Jesus and releasing himself to Jesus’ care (Acts 7:59).
Stephen the Christ follower prayed for his enemies as they violently attacked and killed him (Acts 7:60).
All through Acts chapter 7, Stephen is giving a defense in response to the religionist of His day trying desperately to hang on to the status quo. They feel threatened that Jesus and His followers were going to bring change to their religious structures including the Temple and the Law. Instead of embracing the change that Christ brings, they resort to lies and the spreading of fear in order to hang on to what they are accustomed. Stephen takes a stand for faith and justice. He lives and dies for Christ and Christ alone.
The gospel is powerful! Jesus came into our world and lived an example for us to follow. He died for our sins. He defeated death, hell and the grave. He ascended back to the right hand of the Father, but has sent us the Holy Spirit to empower us to continue His point of need ministry until He returns. Run from evil and keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Be quick to obey the leading of the Holy Spirit. It will not be an easy life to live, but it will be rewarding and the Kingdom of God will grow as the result. You will prevail through all opposition as you follow Jesus Christ.
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