Walking In Your Wilderness

wilderness

Deuteronomy 32:10 says “He found him in a desert, and in a howling waste of a wilderness, He encircled him, He cared for him as the apple of His eye”. What a powerful picture is painted here of God’s concern and care for those who a wandering in a wilderness of life. It matters not if they chose it for themselves, it happened unexpectedly or God Himself actually took them there. The point is, they were in it alone, and in His own time God came to them and cared for them, whether they deserved it or not.

I say the above because there is a time in everyone’s life when they find ourselves totally alone. This is not so much a physical thing, but it’s more of an emotional and spiritual season of isolation. When it finds us, we cannot avoid the impact it has on everything we hold dear. This wandering might last a few weeks, a few months or even longer, but once it arrives, it does not depart until it’s work is done. This isolated plateau of the soul is identified in the Bible as a place called “the wilderness”. We arrive in this place by ourselves, distracted and in an unrefined condition, but rest assured, we will not leave it the same way.

In this empty season no one is there to carry us, guide us or give us the companionship we think we need. Not one person is there at our side, providing step by step instructions to bring us into the new place we need to be. The fact is, every man or woman of God who is destined to fulfill their life calling, has to make this journey. Even those who do not know God, but are hungry to do better, will be taken to this place. The truth is, I believe this trip into the wasteland of our soul, is a necessary part of healthy personal and spiritual growth. As a result, it is my conviction that these times of barrenness should not be avoided, but they should be looked at with clarity, embraced with sincerity and fully walked out.

It is only during our wilderness experience that we are fundamentally changed. Our metal is tested, our character is developed and our flaws are painfully exposed. It can be a powerful time of personal evaluation and transformation. The excess baggage and wrong thinking we have picked up in life are finally thrown off. What is really important and genuinely necessary comes into clear focus, perhaps for the first time. For some, this brings a shocking revelation of how shallow and self-absorbed they really are. For others, it is a grand adventure as they rediscover who they are, and begin to build upon that good foundation to become even better. These are powerful times we enter into alone and unsettled, but emerge focused and quite comfortable in our own skin.

I was just in such a season not long ago. I got back from a powerful ministry trip to the Philippines. Myself and an Apostle did two conferences and ministered at numerous church meetings. When I returned home, my wife then flew off to California to be with our daughter, who was having our 10th grandchild. I was alone in our house, after all that personal attention and activity, surrounded by the “stuff” of our lives. I was totally alone for two weeks, and the impact this had on me was quite deep. It became a time of introspection, where I was able to seek God, ponder my life and consider how I got “here”. I reflected on the family I grew up in, the wilderness seasons I had been through, and the lessons I learned that made me the man I am.

I pondered how my father was a strong presence of security in our home. He made us feel wanted, valued and safe. He was an intelligent, slender, quiet, thoughtful man who spoke very few words, but meant every word he said. He was kind and gentle, filled with internal strength yet tender. He had a will of iron and a backbone that could support it. He was an outdoors-men to the bone and loved the woods, but could still carry his own with any city dweller. His word was his bond. He had a peaceful stability about him that filled our lives, and had the power to make everything alright, even when it wasn’t. On his death bed, his bright blue eyes looked at me with a calm resolve and they were able to reassured me that even this would be fine.

His example, both the good and the bad, served to shape me in ways I am just now discovering. Among other things, he taught me the wholesome value of a strong cup of hot, black tea and a slow cooked venison stew. He taught me the blessing of honest work and the need for personal sacrifice when it came to family. He showed me that failing to plan for retirement meant you could never retire. He showed me how to love the wife God gave me, and how to care for my family, no matter what the personal cost might be. He demonstrated the value of living debt free, and within our financial means. He also showed me why it was important to pay cash for the things we needed or wanted. The truth is, my father taught me how to be a real man.

Because of that, I became the kind of man my children could look up to. I showed them it’s OK to not always be right, but it is good to always be willing to make things right. They learned how to be a leader in their own homes, and the voice of reason to their children, when it is needed. They were shown how to love their wives and children in ways that are meaningful to them, and to do what must be done to provide for their families. Most of all, I taught them not to see the government as their source of income. Welfare is NOT a lifestyle, it is an emergency crutch until someone who needs it can get back on your feet. They were taught to seek God, plan with care and work hard. They learned from me that these things are more than enough to bring them all the provision they will ever need.

How did I learn these things, you might ask? These truth’s became life lessons during my wilderness wanderings. They became real when there was no one to prop me up or carry me, but Jesus. It was the time I found myself needing a teaching job. I prayed and sought God, and the perfect job opened up where there had been none the week before. It was the time I quit my teaching job, at age 35, and my a wife and three boys followed me back to college. We needed a place to live in Plattsburgh NY, and out of nowhere an apartment opened up near the college that we could afford. It was the time our cupboards were totally empty and I gave my sons the last of the powdered milk and instant mashed potatoes for breakfast. I went to class hungry that morning, but when I returned home that evening, food filled our shelves, our hallway and every counter top in our kitchen. I told no one but God about our need, and He showed me His faithfulness.

Without those wilderness journey’s my knowledge of God, and experiences with Him, would be sorely lacking. Unless I had been willing to walk through those barren wastelands, I would have never seen God’s ability to bring such abundant provision in my desperate lack. My faith was built up, my trust was properly anchored and my life story was enriched, all because of a desert trip. How grateful I am that many times God has led me into a waste-howling wilderness, to be tempted, tried and tested. At times I failed, but even in my failure I still learned valuable lessons that changed my life forever. The truth is, I would not trade those experiences for any amount of money or fame, because they made me, and my family, what we are today.

Right now, are you looking at a dry, sandy landscape, where there is no water and everything looks dead? Are you feeling alone in a barren landscape, with no clear answers, and you wonder where God is in all of it? If so, let me suggest to you that your current condition is actually designed by God to change you in ways you don’t yet understand. He is simply doing with you the very same thing He did with Jesus. What a privilege that is!

You need to walk it out, one step at a time, and pray with an honest and pure heart. You need to get real about your weaknesses until you find the place of rest in God. Once you are open to change and ready embrace your own weakness, you can then exchange your whole, weak mess for the strength God offers. Until then, you will find yourself a desert dweller. Perhaps this is your time to finally change and fully embrace the truth about who you really are. Once that’s been done, you can move on. Never forget that today’s wilderness is the perfect foundation for the God-ordained life you will walk in tomorrow !

Unicorn Religion

blog unicorn

Since the late 1800’s, the scientific community has been aware of the mysterious “Siberian unicorn” (Elasmotherium sibiricum) pictured above. This enormous beast freely roamed Eurasia, and new fossil evidence reveals that it was apparently alive when early Europeans roamed those same fertile hills many thousands of years ago. Andrei Shpansky and others from Russia’s Tomsk State University just published these results in the American Journal of Applied Sciences after studying a newly unearthed “Siberian unicorn” skull found in Kazakhstan.

What the skull did not reveal is the question that has long been on researchers’ minds: Just how big was the horn in the middle of it’s forehead? Given the creature’s huge size, at 15 feet long, six and a half feet tall at the shoulder, 4.5 tons of strong musculature, and the fact that the base of it’s horn had a circumference of three feet, researchers are confident that the horn was highly visible form of protection and quite enormous. Fortunately for those early people, it’s teeth indicate that the animal was one of many large herbivores that did not eat meat.

After many years, researchers finally came to the conclusion that the animal co-existed with humans. Scientific studies and numerous ancient documents all seem to allude to the idea that the creature lived alongside the human population. In fact, scientists now feel very strongly that there is a good case to be made for something that has eluded people since the dawn of verbal and written records. They now believe the “Siberian unicorn” is actually the true source that is behind the mythical unicorn that is written about to this very day. Imagine that! This is very likely the historical animal behind the myth that has been spoken of by humans in Europe for thousands and thousands of years.

This idea is astounding when you think about it. The stuff of myths can actually be traced back to an actual truth. The truth may be long gone while it’s reality is still remembered and passed long in a different form over two or three hundred generations. The fact is still there but it is quite hidden and all but lost over time, through the impact of human imagination and lack of actual first-hand experience. The reality of a massive, truck-sized, shaggy beast with a huge single horn rumbling over the meadows and terrifying local inhabitants is eventually replaced by a slender white horse with a slender horn that lightly gallops into the mist. In other words, what people talk about but don’t experience for themselves is going to change into something it never was.

As I considered this amazing discovery, how truth not experienced is converted into myth, I also realized that this is exactly why so many people today are confused when it comes to religion. Ask a dozen people on the street what they believe about God, and specifically Jesus Christ, and they will give you a dozen different answers. Their ignorance and imagination is absolutely astounding. What you will find is that they simply make things up as they go along and soon a “unicorn” religion emerges out of the spiritual fog. What they believe is not based on facts, reality or spiritual truth. They use half-truths and misinformation they’ve been told to create a religion and belief system all their own. What they don’t realize is how deadly and dangerous this is for their spiritual and emotional life.

As the high priest of their own religion, their beliefs or lack thereof, become the center piece of an empty life. They do not know truth, they have no knowledge of life after death and no real meaning for living  in the here and now. All of this self-made religion is based on a shadow of some distant truth they may have heard about or talked about with friends. However, like the unicorn, their beliefs are now more the stuff of myth and mystery than absolute, stabilizing faith. Like those who speak about unicorns, the self-made religious crowd does not realize that the truth is hidden from them by their lack of first-hand experience. Only an encounter, an experience with the truth, the true and living God, can change self-made religious myth into a life-changing reality.

Perhaps you, like so many others, are the creator of your own mystery, “unicorn” religion. My guess is that you also have never given any thought to why or how it happened. Why is God such a mystery to you? Why does He seem so distant and shrouded in impenetrable fog? The answer is quite simple. You have never experienced the love of God or the evidence He left behind. However, once you encounter Him, His love for you and His handiwork, all that will change. Myth will become mercy, fairy tales will become faith and religion will become relationship with the One who loves you more than you can possibly imagine. Everything moves from death to life, from what you made up about God, to what He made for you and freely gives to you.

If you are tired of being the high priest of your own dead religion, then it is time to give life and  truth a chance. Simply put, Jesus is the truth and life you are looking for. He died for you so that you can live with Him. When you recognize your need for a savior He will be there to pick you up and give you the vision and meaning you were intended to have. It’s an amazing exchange. You repent and give Him your sins and He gives you God’s righteousness and transforming love. Your “Unicorn” religion is laid aside and real relationship with God beings. Millions do it daily and you can join them in the ultimate victory where “death is swallowed up in life…”. Why not ask Him to come into your life today? Got questions about all this? Send me an email and we can set things straight:  wemmons@gmail.com.

Life As It Should Be Is One Good Decision Away

In 2010, Princeton University geomicrobiologist, Tullis Onstott, made an amazing discovery that turned the scientific community on it’s head. He was doing research one mile below the earth’s surface in a South African gold mine. There he discovered pockets of water in absolute blackness that were under millions of tons of rock. They were at temperatures of 118ºF  and had been there for up to 12,000 years, according to isotope measurements.

To his shock, in this scalding, ancient water he found small worms, specifically, “nematodes”. They were living and thriving under those conditions, and they had been there thousands and thousands of years. Tullis immediatrly called Gaetan Borgonie, a Belgian nematode specialist, to confirm his findings. In 2011 they published their observations in a paper after naming the worm “Mephisto”, from a Greek word that means “he who loves not the light”. What did they nick name it? The devil worm!

The devil worm lives by eating layers of organic goo,  called bio film, through a star shaped mouth. This only grows in that specific environment and provides the organism with exactly what it needs to grow and multiply. Strangest of all, the worm requires only minute traces of oxygen to survive and it’s metabolic waste is virtually non existant. Thus, it had found the perfect balance, and was the only organism of its kind on earth that could live in that specific environment. No one believed life could be found in such a hostile place, yet there it was, confounding the most brilliant scientific minds. An enigma that defied the imagination and living in conditions that escaped any explination.

My point? Like this worm, anyone can learn to adapt and live in situations that are unthinkable. Anyone can give in to the negative things in life. It is much easier to just let a difficult, unexpected situation rule the decisions we make. When this happens, we choose to emotionally navigate through things, and this becomes the driving force that rules our life. In other words, the “facts”, “faith” and “focus” we have get lost in the “feelings”. When these four “F’s” go out of balance, we are trapped in the darkness, like those nematodes. We learn to live in the hostile environment created by our own bad, emotionally based decisions, and this changes everything.

I have also met people, like my wife Esther, who grew up in the most deadly environments imaginable. Unthinkable acts of brutality, anger, abuse, divorce and neglect have been part of life, yet somehow, they not only survived, they thrived and rose above it. She, and those like her, are the champions I have loved to come up along side. They are the unsung heroes of life that make my heart rejoice, and transform the way I think. That’s because they refused to adapt and survive, but they chose to rise and live the life God intended them to have.

What about you? Are you letting feelings direct the decisions you make, or are you allowing your faith and focus to view the facts from God’s eternal perspective?  The life you have is like a gift that is built upon the choices you make every day. The greatest gift you can give yourselve is the gift of a good life that comes by making one good decision at a time. If you feel like a nematode trappped in the darkness of an emotionally driven life, there is hope.  The life you want begins with one good decision, and then another, and another.

So let me ask one simple question in closing this blog; what are you waiting for? Life as it should be is only one good decision away! Perhaps today is the day to start the life you really want .. Just make that first good decision and you are on your way!

Critical Mass

In physics there is a term call “critical mass”. This is the amount of material needed for a specific atomic reaction to occur. Until that point is reached the reaction will not begin or be self-sustained. In the business world this same concept is called the “tipping point”. Once you hit it, things just start to happen on their own. The name actually comes from the idea of pouring water out of a bucket. Once the mass of the water overbalances the mass of the bucket it tips over from that point all on its own.

When you think about it everything, and that especially includes people, has it’s own tipping point. People are unique in this area simply because theirs is more emotional than physical. That is, they put up with things for only so long and then, “snap”, something happens and they are over the edge. When I was in 7th grade I hit my tipping point one day and it had a profound impact on me.

I was a skinny little 7th grader in a Catholic school, among other skinny little 7th graders, and into our class came Jimmy Goodman. He was a foot taller than the rest of us, he had muscles, a girlfriend and actually had to shave! In some ways we were in awe of his male prowess, but in other ways we knew he was trouble. He quickly took the “alpha male” position of the pack and the rest of us were left to pick up the scraps he left behind.

I was never a scrap eater, and even at the age of 12 it was in me to buck the system and go my own way. I did this either by stealth or by simply using my brain to analyze people and manipulate them into following my lead. Jimmy, however was too ignorant for stealth and to brutish to be manipulated. His idea of leadership was to pulverize any threat and openly challenge anyone who dared go with what he did not agree. Thus I ended up in his cross hairs more than once but quickly learned how to blend into the background and avoid trouble.

However one fine spring day I had reached my tipping point. Jimmy entered our classroom well before the nun who was teaching, and proceeded to walk down each row.  He gave every boy a sold fist in the back just to announce the fact that he was there. As he approached my seat, I could feel his eyes bearing down on me and I knew his sledge-hammer of a fist was raised and about to connect with my backbone. At the last moment I jumped to my feet and glared him right in the face. The room fell silent, and to the shock of everyone, so was Jimmy.

I heard myself saying “go ahead Goodman, show everyone just how powerful you are.. Wow you are such a big man, you can punch people. Go ahead, be a big man and punch me”. There was a momentary pause as Jimmy took a step back from this encounter with open resistance. My words had actually penetrated the thick bones of his skull and for a moment a question and a look of disbelief flickered across is eyes. Then it was gone and his fist slammed into my unsuspecting stomach. .

Every bit of  life-giving breath was driven out of my lungs. I hit the ground like a sack of potatoes and was gasping for air like a fish out of water. However, to my amazement, that act of violence had finally turned the tables. Four of the other boys in the class jumped from their seats and knocked that Neanderthal to the ground. They were on top of him, giving him a dose of his own medicine when in walked our teacher, Sister Thadeus. We were all frozen in place and fully expecting the wrath of God to fall from heaven.  To our surprise she simply gave a smile, went and sat behind her desk and after a few moments said “well….. get in your seats”.

From that day forward Jimmy Goodman’s reign of terror was over. His iron fist never hit another person. Best of all he had been outsmarted, but was unable to figure out why. That fact alone was a sweet, satisfying victory I greatly enjoyed every time I saw him.  Why did it happen? It had happened just because I finally hit my tipping point, my place of critical mass.

How about you? In your life situation when will you finally have enough and begin to do what must be done? One thing I know for sure, as long as the “Jimmy” in your life goes unchallenged,  it will continue to rule. If it’s to find a job, then go out and begin to look with fresh eyes. Reinvent yourself and look in places you have never considered before. If it’s to have favor on the job then step up to the plate and do more than what is required. No matter what it is, face your giant, step out and take a risk. You might be shocked at how good things will turn out. Yes, you may get punched, but it’s well worth the rewards that come to those who dare to try!

Your Best Investment

What would you consider to be your best investment? For some it is a portfolio of blue-chip stocks or solid bonds that have a good rate of return. These will undergo long-term, financial growth and provide a comfortable retirement. For others it is a home they purchased at pennies on a dollar. This will be “flipped” after doing some quick and relatively inexpensive upgrades. The increase in property value will net a hefty profit for the sellers in a very short time.

There is no doubt that these are both time-tested ways to invest your time and money in order to secure the future for yourself. That being said, the question I have for you is a relatively simple one, and few ever ask it. When all is said and done, and you are nearing your last days, will you be filled with a sense of deep, rich satisfaction from all your investments? For many, the answer is no!

Several years ago I began to consider this very thing. I asked myself a question and the answer I had to face was quite disturbing. What am I investing in and is it really bringing me satisfaction? The conclusion I came up with told me in no uncertain terms that it was time for a change. I felt a great void within as I began to examine how my investment choices were impacting me, and those around me. In other words, I got the shock of my life when I realized my best investment was not in a promising stock or a 401-k. My best investment was never into my own life. It was and always had been into the lives of others!

This weekend I received the amazing dividends that come from this kind of “other-centered” investment. My wife and I are frequently asked to do outside ministry. We are called upon by other pastors and leave our own church to minister in theirs. This past Saturday and Sunday is one such example. We were gone from our home church and went to Ticonderoga, in upstate NY. For two meetings several churches gathered in hopes of developing their vision and fuel their hunger to go deeper into a more Spirit-lead kind of worship. For two other meetings my wife and I preached and did prophetic ministry over many who came.

In order to do the above, two other things had to happen first. To begin with, we had to have someone minister in our own church on Sunday. Secondly, I asked the worship team from our church join us on Saturday, so we could demonstrate the things I would be teaching. These were possible for one reason only. My wife and I had taken the time to invest our lives and hearts in our spiritual sons and daughters. I can tell you with an absolute certainty that we were not disappointed.

The reports that we received from both places were wonderful. Those who came with us learned how to connect with other churches and how to help other worship teams go deeper. Those who did the Sunday morning service at our home church also did a fantastic job in our absence. Talk about a proud moment for dad and mom! Our investment had paid off in a big way and it will continue to do so for generations to come. In other words we have made a difference and we are feeling very satisfied.

If you are going through personal re-evaluation and you are wondering about your investments, this might be one place to start. What kind of return are you getting, and is it the kind you really want? If you don’t like your answer, then take heart in the realization that it’s never too late to start a new investment strategy. Begin to pour into the lives of those around you who are teachable. Encourage and water those who are growing under your care. Mentor and support those who are following in your foot steps. If you do, you will see what we have. You will behold the future unfolding before your eyes and that vision brings a satisfaction no money can buy, and no stock market crash can take. For us, this will always be the best investment!

Truths I Have Learned

Not long ago saw a fascinating list with the following title: “Great Truths That Second Graders Have Learned.” Let me share part of it with you.

1. Cat’s don’t’ like baths.

2. When your mom is mad at your dad, don’t let her brush your hair.

3. Never ask your 3-year-old brother to hold a tomato or a raw egg.

4. Don’t sneeze when somebody is cutting your hair.

5. You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.

Don’t you just love the clarity of the above? It strips all of life down to a place of such purity and simplicity that you have to smile and nod in agreement. Even after teaching school for over 30 years I never tired of hearing the voices of those little ones echoing down the hall. I taught high school but I frequently walked into the elementary wing just to hear what was going on. I never knew what words of wisdom would flow out of those little hearts and that is what kept things exciting. Every day was a new adventure in the undiscovered territory of a child’s mind.

As some people age they seem to forget what every child instinctively can do. The responsibilities of life, and the brutality of others have a way of robbing us of our ability to enjoy the moment. We become so focused on doing the next thing that HAS to get done for the future, that we forget how to be caught up in the wonder of what IS being done in the here and now. This amazing ability to live in the moment is what every child possesses. That gift allows them to enjoy life in a way that we adults just continually miss on a daily basis.

I have had the great privilege of knowing a few adults who never lost this ability. My 97 year old mother is one such person. Even though her memory is not what it once was, and she forgets a few things, she is still happy, active and enjoying life. She wakes up every day looking for ways to make life better for others. My wife Esther is another such person. Even though she is clear-minded and can see through the thickest smoke screen, she is not a cynic. There is a child-like innocence about her that can melt the hardest of hearts, or be captivated in the moment by seeing the vibrant beauty of a single blue flower.

How about you? What list might you draw up if asked about the great truths you have learned? My guess is that it would be filled with personal conquests, self improvements, your leadership of others and the glory of your new 5 year plan. If so, you will have listed the very things that brought your real revelations in life to an early demise. My hope is that you will begin to rethink things from a child’s perspective and gain back the lost freedom that was once the real you.

Here is my list of things I have learned that really matter in life. Hope you enjoy it.

  1. When fishing, one foot always gets wet. Jump in and get both feet wet the moment you near any stream. This way you can enjoy the rest of the day.
  2. You always forget to pack something you need when traveling.
  3. Keep an extra house key and truck key in your wallet because you’ll need them.
  4. “E” doesn’t really mean empty on any gas gauge.
  5. When a man asks a woman “what’s wrong”, and she says “nothing”, it’s not so!

Now smile and have a great day, and remember what the old farmer said when asked by the city reporter why he was so happy. “Any day I wake up and I’m above ground is a good day!”  🙂

Stop Whining And Live Your Life!

Billy Graham’s wife, Ruth, told the following story several years ago and I could never forget it. She and Billy were building a new house in the mountains at that time and daily they traveled up the newly paved road with their family to see how the construction was progressing. On the trip one day, they noticed a small bump in the freshly paved road and wondered what had caused it.

As the days passed by the bump continued to grow. The family could not imagine what had the strength or the tenacity to push its way up through 6 inches of hard packed road binding and 4 more inches of hard rolled asphalt. Soon the bump turned into an eruption of asphalt and finally a pile of road binding and dirt slowly was pushed up and out of the hole.

Speculation ran wild as to what was doing all the damage. Some thought it was an animal digging its way out after being trapped beneath the paved road. Others said it was a mighty oak tree that was sprouting or perhaps a sturdy walnut tree. To the amazement of the Graham family, what forced its way up from under 10 inches of hard-packed road surface was a lowly mushroom.  Its delicate white cap emerged from the hole one afternoon. It was frail as hand-made lace yet totally unscathed by the process it has just gone through.

Isn’t this a perfect picture of the untapped potential and unyielding strength God placed within each of us? Some have chosen to tap into that boundless reserve and changed while others with lesser problems just caved in and give up on life. As an observer of human nature, I had to know what makes the difference. Why is it that some people can rise up, push through immense difficulties and thrive when they have been “paved over” by life, while others simply embrace their situation and make-due with what life has dished out?

I have watched in amazement as some who were handed impossible life conditions sprang back to become world changers. One young man I saw the other day is a primary example. He was an amazing motivational speaker. He had a room filled with high school students laughing one moment and crying the next. He was filled with hope and looking ahead to an adventure-filled future. He was even challenging them to look ahead and become all they could. Oh..and did I mention that he was born without arms and legs? Stack that up against the worst thing you have ever been through and things come into a very new perspective!

What words of wisdom do I have to offer today? Look around you and begin to be thankful for all that you have. Do you have arms and legs, hands and feet? You are blessed! Is your house warm and your closet full of clothes? You are blessed! Do you have income and food on the table? You are blessed! Are you safe and able to go out into the street without being killed? You are blessed! Do you have clean water and the ability to pray and freely worship without being arrested? You are abundantly blessed! My God stop whining! It’s time to man up and start living!

We are all like that lowly mushroom. Even the frailest of us have a God-given ability to grow. By choosing to grow in your situation rather than wallow in it, you are eventually given the gift of “break-through”. The most difficult things in life must give way to the one who refuses to give up. Begin to look at every place of resistance as the very place you were meant to thrive.  If you do, who knows, you might be surprised at just how good your life really is!