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The Desert

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

(6/7) Do you remember the TV show from the late 50ís, early 60ís called, Death Valley Days? BTW, it was the longest running and most successful TV western ever! Death Valley is a desert valley located in Eastern California. It is the lowest, driest, and hottest area in North America. No one wants to be stuck or lost in Death Valley. Yet there are times in which it seems that is exactly where we are. We are at a place in our lives where we never thought we would be. It seems like a desert. We feel tired, confused, lost, and thirsty. Ever been there? Maybe you feel like you are there now. I have.

As hard as it is to say it, I need to tell you that sometimes the desert is a necessary place to be. That doesnít seem to make sense but it is true. The desert can refine a person. Let me explain. I believe Moses came to understand that he was saved and God placed him in a position to save his people. He probably thought like a man, and that a revolt and uprising of the people could overwhelm the Egyptians. Didnít happen! Moses ended up in Midian, married a shepherd girl, daughter of a Midian priest, and became a keeper of sheep for 40 years. Not exactly the way he expected his life to turn out. 40 years with no purpose but to care for sheep. Perhaps he worshiped with Jethro but he had no vision and no idea that his past would become his mission. Why the desert? Most likely to learn how to lead people Godís way. He had to learn to hear Godís voice and to trust Him. He also was being prepared to care for people, though he didnít know it at the time. The entire nation of Israel needed the wilderness or desert to learn to trust God and live by faith in Godís word. A lesson that took 40 years.

Before Moses was Joseph. A young man loved by his dad but hated by his brothers. He seemed to love God and felt Godís presence in his life. But the next dozen years or so would seem otherwise. Sold as a slave by his brothers, lied about by his bossís wife, Joseph spent 11 years as a slave and 2 years in prison. Why? To hone his management skills to be a savior for his family and much of the known world.

David was a teenage shepherd boy youngest of eight and looked down on in every way by his brothers. But the shepherd boy became a national hero for facing the giant and killing him when the King and the whole Army including his brothers, cowered in fear. How was he rewarded? A Kingís gratitude turned into insane jealousy and he wanted David dead. First he thought he could get the enemy to do it and so he sent David on an impossible mission. David joined Gideon as a member of the Mission impossible hall of fame. So the king planned several assassination attempts, but David was able to escape. He spent the next 12 years in the caves of Engedi. But didnít Samuel anoint him to be the next king? Yes he did, but an 18 year old was not ready for the crown. He needed to learn to wait on God and hone his people skills. He had spent much of his time alone with sheep. In the caves, hundreds of misfits, outcasts, and outlaws came to David for protection, training, and guidance. David grew spiritually and mentally in his desert. Some of his Psalms were written when he was hiding in those caves.

Elijah was unafraid to face the wicked king Ahab and to his face tell him his sins and pronounce Godís judgment of a drought. He spent the next 3 1/2 years mostly alone by a small stream. His only companions seemed to be the ravens that raided the dumpster at McDonalds and brought him his supper. But the brook eventually dried up and Elijah spent some time in enemy territory caring for a widow and her son. But God was preparing him to face the nation display the power and glory of God. For 3 1/2 years he was a preacher without a pulpit.

Jesus said John the Baptist was the greatest prophet ever. At an early part of his life, John left home, maybe his aged parents had died, and he went to live in the desert. Wearing camel skin, (I itch thinking about it) and eating honey dipped locusts. But in the desert, God was preparing him for a very fast and short lived ministry of preparing the way for the Messiah. In the desert, John learned that fearing God and honoring Him was far more important than fearing and honoring people. John would die for that very reason, but he was prepared by the desert.

When the time came to leave the carpenterís shop, and fulfilling his mission, Jesus was baptized and led by the Holy Spirit to the desert. For what purpose? To be tested. To be a sympathetic, and merciful high priest, He had to know by experience what it is like to be a human and deal with temptation. To be able to say, "No," when every part of you wants to say, "Yes." By suffering he learned obedience as the author of Hebrews tells us. He needed to learn what it feels like to walk by faith and to trust in the very word that He gave to us.

Did anyone see the Tom Hanks movie, Castaway? Did not that Fed-Ex executive, Like Robinson Crusoe, become a changed person because of his desert experience? All of life took on a different meaning for the castaway. What was not important and what is important was clarified by the desert.

What does this have to do with A.D. The Bible continues or the life of Saul of Tarsus? Turn in your Bibles to Acts 9:19-23. "So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus.

20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, "Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?" 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. 23 Now after many days were past, the Jews plotted to kill him."

Something happened in between those verses that Luke doesnít tell us in the text. He just says, "after many days," About a thousand days are missing in Acts 9. Turn with me to Galatians 1:10-18. "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ. 11 But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. 14 And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.

15 But when it pleased God, who separated me from my motherís womb and called me through His grace, 16 to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see PeterÖ."

1000 days of completely unrecorded time in Paulís life. What he did, where he went, how he survived, we donít know and can only guess. Many think that he didnít go too far south and east of Damascus into the Arabian Desert. Maybe he hooked with a Bedouin group or perhaps he stayed in an Essene community. The Essenes were kind of like a Jewish Monastic group. They wanted to be holy and pure and preserve the integrity of the Bible. In was in an Essene community in the Qumran that the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

Paul needed that 1000 days as much as Joseph, Moses, David, Elijah, John and our Lord Jesus did.

Some of you may be in the desert now. They are not always hot, arid, dry, sandy places. But, they are places where you find yourself at the end of yourself and you need to refocus and hear from God.

There are a few that actually plan their own desert experiences. They will take a weekend, a week, a month or whatever and will go to a mountain, a monastery, a retreat center, or someplace where they are alone and without cell phones, computers, radios or TVís. Just a Bible, and notebook and pen.

Sometimes the desert comes to you unexpectedly. It may accompany an illness, an injury, a broken relationship, a death, a job or financial loss. When such things happen we just want to ask, "Why?"

While we donít know what Paul did or where he went, we can use our imagination from what we know about him to make a good guess and to learn from him. (Video Trailer)

Paulís Life Lessons from the Desert

1.) The desert was a time and place for Paul to rethink all that he ever learned about the Bible (OT) and to trace Jesus through the OT. Remember that Jesus once said, 38 But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. 39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life (John 5:38-40). The Bible isnít just about being good or loving people. It isnít just about history and prophecy, its about Jesus and how to know Him and have life eternal. Paul needed that time to learn that the law, the sacrifices and the temple all pointed to Jesus. He learned that God doesnít just want us to know about Him, He wants us to know Him personally. Though the Bible never uses the words, "A personal relationship with Jesus," that is what is implied in Jeremiah 9:23-24, Thus says the Lord: "Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, Let not the mighty man glory in his might, Nor let the rich man glory in his riches; 24 But let him who glories glory in this, That he understands and knows Me, That I am the Lord, exercising loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. For in these I delight," says the Lord, and John 17:3, And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.

2.) The desert was a place where Paul could determine who it was he wanted to please. In Gal. 1:10 he indicated that pleasing men was what he wanted to do. He wanted people to notice his zeal and intellect and his climb to the top. But after he met Jesus and had some to think, He refocused his desire. He said in 2 Cor. 5:9, that his life goal and purpose was to please Jesus.

Debbie and I had a chance to see and hear Mike Huckabee several years ago and we were impressed when he said that he finally got to the place where he knew that he couldnít please everyone so, he made it is goal to try and please just one person, the Lord God. In case you donít know it Mike Huckabee was a Baptist pastor.

Who is it that you want to please? Your employer, your parents, your peers, your public? I urge you to make it to be pleasing to your Lord. Do all that you do to the glory of God.

3.) The desert was/is a place to focus on what is really in life. (Phil. 3:1-14). For Paul it was no longer the trophies, the diplomas, or the ribbons, but the righteousness that comes from knowing Jesus Christ and being in Him. It was no longer bragging on himself but proclaiming the cross of Jesus (Gal. 2:20; 6:14)

4.) The desert was a place where Paul determined that he wanted to be like Jesus (Phil. 3:1-14; 2 Cor. 3:12-16; Rom. 8:28-30)

That was most likely what Paul discovered in his desert. Perhaps that is what your desert is about (review again the above). Or, maybe your desert is for a different purpose. In a few weeks we will begin a new series called My God, Why? And we will explore some of the things that make us ask, why. But for a few moments consider these from the Bible.

1.) To prepare you for your future. God may have a future for you that you could not have imagined. Thatís the purpose for the stories of Moses, Joseph, and Davidís desert experiences. Cp. 2 Cor. 1:3-4, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God."

2.) Deut. 8:1-10 Ė To Humble you. To remove the self-sufficiency, and the pride. To remind you that He is God and you are not (cp. Steven Curtis Chapman)

3.) To Test you. The word test is to try and to prove. That is the whole purpose of training and basic training in the military. First they teach you and then they test you to prove to you and the military that you are ready to serve your country.

With God it is to prove to you that if you trust Him, He will be faithful, and if you obey Him, you will be blessed. That kind of knowledge does not come from books but from experience. It took Israel 40 years to learn these lessons. Is God trying to teach and prove you?

4.) To Teach you that He is able to take care of you if you will trust Him (similar to 3 above; Cp. Matthew 6:24-34). If you will make His business your business, He will take care of your business. Thatís His promise. For 40 years He took care of the Israelites and their business. He just wanted their business to be His business as He provided for their needs.

There are more reasons. But the point is this, If God brings or allows you a desert experience, it is not because He doesnít love you or doesnít care. Jeremiah reminds us that he loves you with an everlasting love, and Paul reminds us that nothing in heaven or hell can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Jer. 31:3; Rom. 8:35-39). It is just the opposite, it is precisely because He cares and loves you that He will train you (Heb. 12:4-16). He has the best in mind for you and wants to teach and prepare you for your future. But you must be patient and willing to learn and know that He cares very much for you.

For those of you not in a desert place here is a promise, you will be. A death, a decision, an illness, an accident, a job loss, a broken relationship, or a disappointment will bring you to a desert experience. Donít get angry, and donít quit. God has a good plan for your life. Trust Him and learn all you can about yourself and about Him.

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman