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Sunday, 3 December 2017

'WALKING IN THE WILDERNESS'

Rev. Brent Russett
By Rev. Brent Russett
Pastor of Sunnyside Wesleyan Church in Ottawa:
http://www.sunnysidechurchottawa.com/   

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PODCAST LINK to CFRA broadcast - Sunday, December 3rd, 2017:

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Broadcast Notes:
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Walking in the Wilderness
 
             Good morning and Welcome to good news in the morning. I am so glad that you have tuned into the program today. My name is Brent Russett. I am the Lead Pastor at Sunnyside Wesleyan Church here in Ottawa. I have been pastoring there for 27 years. One of the things I love to do is show how God’s word that was written a long time ago, connects with our world right now.

            For those of you who follow the church calendar, today is the first Sunday of Advent. I want to wish you a God filled season of Advent.

            I know that some of you who are listening have been followers of Jesus for a long time, and I know that others of you think of yourself as spiritual, but you are not really sure of this Christian thing, and I know others of you are just curious how people of faith think. I trust that wherever you are on yours spiritual journey, that you will find this program interesting and informative, and I believe that for those of you desire it, God can use a program like this to take you another step closer to Him.

            Last Sunday morning we looked at what it means to begin our spiritual journey with Christ. This morning I want to talk to those of you who have been walking with Jesus for a little while. You are moving into a different stage in your spiritual growth. You are not really infants in Christ, but neither are you yet spiritually mature.

            I think of this as stage two in spiritual development. There are probably about seven stages, although many Christians don’t make it past stage three. But I suspect that many of you who have been walking with Jesus for a while will relate to this stage. I call it moving into the wilderness. This is one of the more difficult and dangerous levels to the spiritual life.

            In Mathew chapter 13 Jesus tells this story
Matthew 13:3–8 (NIV)
3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

            This is the level or rocky soil, where the roots have not gone deep. Jesus tells us about this soil in verse
Matthew 13:20–21 (NIV)
20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.

            These people start out in level one, and they hear the good news with great joy – but if their rood doesn’t go down deep enough then they fall away.

            I don’t mean to say that everyone who hits level two will fall away, but there is a danger here. Because at this level, the spiritual life gets a lot harder, and some people experience that and say – “I’m out of here.”

             Let me tell you about this level. Last week we talked about how people come to Jesus and it often about what God can do to make them happy. But Jesus comes inside them, and there is joy, and they are learning to pray, and they are learning about God. They don’t know much, but they know that something has changed and God is there.

            Oh there are temptations, and there are challenges but these are more than offset by the new adventure of getting to know God. A person travels in that way for a while. It could be a couple of months or even a year or two. At some point though, they move into level two. And I have to tell you that this is one of the more difficult stages of the spiritual life.

            When you get here, you have come to the conclusion that God’s way is the right way. This giving our life to Jesus has become more than an experiment – we are convinced that it is the right way.

            But what seems to happen is that many people walk into a spiritual wilderness. Not many people talk about this wilderness, and it catches people off guard. In some ways the initial excitement of our new found faith has worn off.

            What happens is that we start to feel a little double minded in our faith. We know that God is at work in our lives, but at the same time we engaged in worldly living. The bible defines that in 1 John 2:16 as buying in the lust of the flesh, or sensuality, the lust of the eyes, materialism, and the pride of life, look at me look at who I am. At this stage we sense God working and yet the pull sensuality and materialism and pride is really strong.

            On one hand we are starting to have the Spirit of God enlighten they eyes of our heart, so we want what God wants and yet at the same time we see who we are. Those pictures don’t match. That becomes disconcerting to us.

            Not only that, but because you are making progress in your spiritual life, spiritual warfare is increased. You are becoming a threat to the work of Satan, and he starts to roar loud. Our souls become the battle ground.

            Not only that but prayer isn’t quite the comfort to us, it was at first. We know God is at work, but he seems to be a little more distant.  And worst of all transformation is slow.

            There are a lot of people who hit this level and the going gets hard, and they quit. They say, I have tried this Christian thing and it doesn’t work. But there are others whose roots go down deep enough that they survive the onslaught.

            To put this in biblical terms, this is the time when people learn to walk by Spirit,---- or they don’t.

Galatians 5:16–17 (NIV)
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

            The flesh, for those of you who are not familiar with that term, is not talking about our bodies, but a nature inside us, that wants to take our desires that are good,  and so warp them so that they turn into something bad. There is this draw within us to do what is wrong.

            Paul says
Galatians 5:19–21 (NIV)
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.

            Paul says if you walk by the Spirit you won’t do these things.          
Verse 16
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh

            It doesn’t say that you won’t want to do these things. If you walk by the Spirit you just won’t gratify those desires. The Spirit of God is also giving you desires and they are contrary to the desires of the flesh. So you have these two sets of desires. The Spirit of God is going to push you towards

Galatians 5:22–23 (NIV)
22 … is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Those things are going to war against those other desires.

            This second level is all about learning to walk in the Spirit. You get a sense of the war that is going on. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

            There is no place that you will feel this as keenly as in the second stage of growth. You have two sets of desires that are at war with one another. That battle will be with you for most of your life, but at this stage the battle is really loud and really strong, because you are just learning to walk in the Spirit.

            I don’t know if you have every watched a child, learning to walk. The one thing they do, is they fall a lot. It is the same thing learning to walk in the Spirit. We tend to fall a lot. Sometimes the wrong desires win.

            Have you seen a parent helping their kid to walk. They will take them by both hands and walk along with them. If they fall, they don’t say – you’re a bad kid for falling. No they say opps. And they continue to help them to walk. That is what God wants to do for you.

            But learning to walk is hard. At this point in the spiritual journey we need people to come along side us to help us to learn what it means to walk in the Spirit. They teach them the truth of

Romans 8:5–6 (NIV)
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

            Walking in the Spirit depends a lot on what you choose to set your mind on. Do you set it on ways to get what your sinful nature wants, or set it on what you are missing, or on how deprived you feel, or on how everyone is doing those things – if you set your mind on what the flesh desires, you are going to fall.

            If you set your mind on what the Spirit desires you are going to stand. One mindset brings death, the other brings life. We need people who will walk along side others and encourage them, and help them to refocus.

MUSIC – I will praise you in the Storm – Casting Crowns 4:58

            I want to take a few moments and talk to those of you who might be in this level.

            When you get to this level in your spiritual life, it can feel like you have gone backwards. The great feelings that you began with, aren’t always there. Spiritual warfare increases. It doesn’t feel good. And you is left wondering what did I do wrong.

            The reality is that you are moving forward even if it doesn’t feel like it. Satan wouldn’t be interested in attacking you, if he wasn’t scared of your progress.

            The battle that you feel is huge, but it is normal. The best thing that you can do is learn to turn to Jesus each step of the way: when you feel tempted turn to Jesus, when you feel spiritually dry turn to Jesus, when you have fallen turn to Jesus, when you celebrate a victory turn to Jesus.

            Let me tell you about Jesus. He is going to continue to woo you – to call to you. He wants you to have this deep friendship,, this deep love relationship with him. He is going to continue to call you towards himself.

            When you sense a desire to move towards him in prayer, or in worship, respond to that desire. That is the Spirit of God giving you his desires, and teaching you to walk in God’s ways.

            I also want you to know that the process of learning to walk in the Spirit is a slow process. Transformation is slow. Patience is one of the key characteristics for spiritual grown. Be patient with yourself and be patient with God.

            Now let me talk to you a little bit about prayer. Prayer is one of those key elements to learn to walk in the Spirit. Last week we talked about learning to bring all of your life to God in prayer. When your sad pray about it. When you are happy give thanks for it. When you are confused or when you doubt, talk to God about it.

            You are also going to learn that God wants his kids to ask him for things. If you have ever raised a kid, you will know that there is this stage, where they are used to getting things by pointing or by fussing. But when they learn to talk, a parent has to remind them to use their words. We learn to use our words in prayer and asked God for things.

             When you start to pray and ask God for things you are going to notice that your prayers get answered a lot. Well that isn’t quite true, what you will notice is that you will have a lot of coincidences happen in your life. You pray about something and you find that it happens, and you are left wondering was that a coincidence or was that answered prayer. You will be amazed at how many coincidences happen when you start to pray.

            In fact, you are going to see so many coincidences that you are going to start to see the hand of God in those things. That seems to be the only explanation for it. And it is true, God answers prayer – especially simply prayers, prayed in expectation.

            You may also notice a lot of things going wrong in your life as well. Some people reason, well if I give God the credit for those positive coincidences going on in my life – well then I should give God the credit for the things that go wrong in my life as well.

            Here is what I want you to know about God – God isn’t into negative reinforcement. He is trying to draw you with love. He isn’t looking for you to step out of line so he can bop you over the head with some celestial stick. That is not who God is.

             But you do have an enemy to your soul. We call him Satan or the devil. Now God is everywhere present at the same time. Satan is not. He spreads his work through demons, which are essentially fallen angels. They seek to hinder and destroy you. Their greatest weapon is deception. They will put thoughts in your mind, they will do stuff, and they will blame all the bad things that go on in your life on God, when it is in fact, it is them that are doing it.

            If you want to get an idea how they work, C.S. Lewis’ book “The Screwtape Letters” is pretty good. It is the story of a senior devil mentoring a junior devil on how to manipulate a Christian.

            I also want you to know that when it comes to demonic attack, God has not left you defenceless. But part of this stage of the journey is learning how to fight. You will find that God has given you armor to protect you. If you learn his word, you can also attack. One of the names of the word of God is the sword of the spirit. The primary weapon the enemy is deception and lies, your primary weapon is the truth of who God is and who you are in Christ.

            You will learn the power of worship. You will be tempted to think, when things go wrong, that God doesn’t really love me. But when you start to worship God for his love, you will find that it is a very effective way of chasing the enemy away. 

            Learning to call on Jesus, and learning the power in the name of Jesus as you face the attack of the evil one is all part of the battle.

            Learning to stand in the face of spiritual opposition is part of what it means to walk in the Spirit. I wish I had time to walk you through Ephesians chapter 6 – but it is all about learning to stand in the face of enemy.

            Now I have talked about the spiritual aspects of walking in the Spirit, but usually something else starts to happen right around this time. Jesus starts the process of discovering and healing the spiritual and emotional wounds from the past.

            We grew up in an fallen world and we live in a fallen world. Because of that, often there are bad things that happened to you while you were growing up, or there was good that was supposed to happen to you that you never experienced – and those things leave wounds.

            And when you start learning to walk in the spirit, and when you start to see your desires that are not from God, God will start to show you where they come from. This is also part of learning to walk in the Spirit. This process usually continues on past this stage depending on how much damage was done. .

            The most important trait during this part of your spiritual journey is perseverance. You fall, you get up. You get attacked and beaten up, you stand back up, and you look towards Jesus in prayer for strength and for healing.

            Continue to study the scripture, for they are true and they are words of life to you.

            During this stage you may need to makes some adjustments about who you hang out with – if there are some people who continue to tempt you towards a wrong path, then you probably need to avoid those people until you get stronger.

            Now people of god who are a little further down the way of in your spiritual journey, let me talk to you about your roll in helping people at this stage of their spiritual development.

            What a person in this stage needs is a spiritual friend. They need someone who they can trust to share their struggles with. I have got to say that women generally do this better than men, but men need spiritual friends just as much as women.

            A spiritual friend is someone you can hold a spiritual conversation with  and they can help you see what God is up to, and they may also be able to point out the attacks of the enemy. They are often able to recommend resources where you can learn what you need to learn.

            I will also say this to you, the last thing people at this stage need, is someone laying guilt trips on them. That is counter-productive. And yes they are going to fail a lot. When you are learning to walk, you tend to fall. And sometimes you fall in the mud and it gets really messy.

            What they need most is for you to show them God’s love and forgiveness and grace and truth. They also need you to pray for them and with them. The primary trait that they need at this part in their spiritual journey is perseverance. What they need from you is encouragement and assurance that God will come through.

            Tell them the truth about God. Tell them that they can trust him. Tell them to no doubt in the darkness what they have learned in the light. Tell them that they can get past this stage.

            And pray. Pray for them lift them up before God. Like I said, this can be one of the most dangerous stages in the Christian life. But it is also one of those stages where if you learn well, you develop an incredibly good foundation for the rest of your spiritual life. If you don’t learn it well, you will find yourself circling back here a way too often.

            Maybe as I have been speaking you just get this sense that this is where you are in your spiritual journey. Journeying through the wilderness can be hard. God will provide Oases along the way. God is close by even if you can’t see Him. His heart towards you is good.

            The faster that you can learn to trust that he wants what is best for you, and that his heart towards you is good, the easier it will be to navigate the wilderness. But be patient with yourself, and with Him, this is an important part of the journey.  
Galatians 5:16–17 (NIV)
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

Romans 8:5–6 (NIV)
5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

I wish you life and peace.

PRAYER:

Lord Jesus, for those who are at the stage in their life, I ask that you would give them the grace to be patient with themselves. Would you give them a spirit of perseverance to make it through?
Lord, help their roots to grow deep, that will protect them in this time.
Lord, I pray that you would bring along spiritual friends and mentors that would help them walk through this time.
Lord, we commit them into your hands, in Jesus’ name. AMEN.

            And Thank you for listening to Good News in the morning. 

            This program is on the air by the grace of God and donations of many faithful people..

            My name is Brent Russett, and it has been a privilege to bring you Good News in the morning.


By Rev. Brent Russett
Pastor of Sunnyside Wesleyan Church in Ottawa:
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PODCAST LINK to the CFRA broadcast:

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