October 21, 2007
We’re always talking about there. Do you notice that? “I want to get there…” Or sometimes people say, “Don’t go there.” There. We have this there mentality, this desire for the there. Where is your there?
You might be thinking, “Well, Ed, my there is to make a certain amount of money, to drive a certain car, to live in a certain house.”
“My there,” you might say, “is to get married. My there is to have a child.” Where is your there?
We’re into the “there” these days. We want that place, that destination. We want to live on that level that’ll bring this fulfillment to our lives. Where is your there?
I truly believe that God has put the there in our lives. God has deposited this desire in who we are. God has a there for every single person’s life. And our there will never be where it should be until our there becomes His there.
Where is there? What’s the there for you? Think about it. Do you have it?
You know, it’s cool to have those things that I just described; but the true there is doing what God wants you to do. If you have your Bibles, turn to Romans 8:29. Normally, we concentrate on Romans 8:28. Oh, that’s a verse we put on our refrigerators. That’s a verse that people have on tee-shirts. That’s a verse that we love to memorize.
Yet, we don’t really talk about verse 29, because Verse 29 describes to us the there. Did you hear that? Verse 29 describes to us where there is in all of our lives. So God cuts through the confusion.
Romans 8:29: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.”
That’s the there: to be conformed to the likeness of his Son. What’s the there? The there is to be like Jesus. Say it with me: “To be like Jesus.”
There’s this mentality floating around these days that we can use God, that God’s a Genie, that God’s our messenger boy and we can use God to get healthy and wealthy and wise. We don’t use God; God uses us. Think about it. Right now, God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you. Whatever you’re going through, you’re going through it and God is getting you ready for what he has ready for you.
And many times we don’t realize that, we don’t understand that, we don’t own that fact. And we spend all of our time chasing the there’s—money and cars, clothes and this and that. And that’s fine and dandy; yet, we miss the real there. We miss being conformed into the image of Jesus. That is what the there is all about.
In 1 Corinthians 10, the writer talks about the children of Israel. And basically he says that the children of Israel’s plight is analogous to our lives.
Let me read it to you. 1 Corinthians 10:1-5: “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink … ”
Say the word “drink” with me: “drink”. That’s a big, big word. Remember that, because I’m going to come back to that a little bit later.
“… for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”
And now, look at 1 Corinthians 10:6. “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did.”
So let this settle in for a second. Marinate on this for a little while. God is using circumstances and situations and interchanges in all of our lives to prepare us for what he has prepared for us. God is using all of this to make us like Jesus.
Where is your there? Or, as my mother-in-law would say from South Carolina, “Wheah is your theah?”
The children of Israel, the Israelites, had been in slavery for 400 years. The whip and chains of slavery totally dominated and incarcerated in this zone, this slavery zone. Yet, through a miraculous turn of events, God delivered them. Then God placed within their hearts the there.
What am I talking about, “the there”? I’m talking about the Promised Land, Canaan—a land flowing with milk and honey. That was the there for God’s people.
Think about your life for a second if you’re a believer, if you’re a follower of Christ. If you’re not, just listen in. But if you’re a follower of Christ, the moment you became a Christian, what happened? You were released; you were freed up from the bondage and the chain and the whip of sin. Delivered. Now, you’ve taken the step out of slavery and you’re in this journey, you’re on this process. Because, as I’ve said about a squillion times here, the Christian life is a step followed by a process. It’s a journey. We’re being conformed in the image of Jesus, and we’re getting there. What is there? It’s being like Jesus.
T.S. Well, what happens in this journey? How does God bring us to the there? How does God develop that Christ character in all of our lives?
Let’s look at the children of Israel because, again, their plight is analogous to where we are. Notice something that’s weird about the children of Israel. Right after they were released from Egyptian slavery, God does something totally weird and illogical in their lives. Now, I found that to be true. So often, God’s leadings are illogical. God takes his people — you might want to write this down — on the longest route.
Many times in my life, God has taken me, and he’ll also take you on the longest route. He’s taken us on detours. And we’re like, “Why the detour, Lord?” Well, let’s see what plays out here.
Exodus 13:17-18: “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.”
Now, that’s odd. From Point A to Point B, I mean, it doesn’t take a Harvard MBA to realize, “Let’s take the shortest route. Even though we have to mess around and do battle with the Philistines, it’s the shortest way. That’s the way we should go. I mean, that’s just logical.”
[the verse continues] “…God did not lead them through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, ‘If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.’”
God knew they weren’t ready for the battle. And I’m so excited to tell you that God has led me around battles, around conflicts that I was just not ready for. Because God, in his sovereignty, knew if I had to face certain battles with my Philistines; if you, for example, would have to face those battles with your Philistines, we would crater, we would cave in, we would mail it in and say, “You know what? I want to go back to Egypt.”
I’m thankful that our God takes us on detours, on back roads, on the longest route. And that’s what he did right here. And if you could read this verse in the original Hebrew, the longest route or the long way, and when it says the word “around”, it means literally God led them in circles. Isn’t that hilarious? God led his people—I’m talking about the anointed and appointed—in circles.
Do you remember Billy Preston?
Man, how young are you?! [Ed sings] “Will it go round in circles? Bum, bum-bum-bum, bana-na-duh. Will it go fly like a bird up in the sky, yeah,” bum-bum-bum, bum-bum-bum-bum-da-dum.”
Thank you very much. You guys don’t know who Billy Preston is? Google him. I mean, the Beatles loved him; the Rolling Stones loved him. Billy Preston could jam.
We’re released from the slavery of sin, and God begins to take us in circles. “Will it go round in circles? Bum-bum-bum, duh-duh-dum. Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky, yeah!” It doesn’t seem right.
The children of Israel were headed towards the Red Sea. Don’t you know they were going, “Moses, I mean, you can’t even read a GPS? What’s wrong with you, my brother?”
Look Exodus 13:21-22: “By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.”
Then it says in Verse 22 that the pillar was always in front of the people. Except, we find out, when the Egyptians began to chase them, to crawl up their tailpipe. Then the presence of God left them and turned in back of them. And the presence of God was always between them and their enemies.
That gives me confidence. I mean, God is always between me and my enemies. If I’m following him; if I’m following his leadings, even though it seems like a long way, I know God is doing something awesome.
You might be right now saying, “You know, I’m going in circles. I have these little kids pulling at me, and I’m just going in circles.” Or, “I’m just going in circles. I’m just passing out worship guides at Fellowship Church. I’m just going in circles.”
God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you. You see, there are places where our talent can take us, but our character can’t keep us. There are levels that we can go just on our abilities right now, but our character can’t keep us there.
God has all of us, if you’re a Christ follower, in the U of F … the University of Faith. See, you were thinking the Gators. No, no, no. The University of Faith. And in the University of Faith, there are always these repeat exams. God is testing us, because a faith can’t be trusted until a faith can be tested.
I remember years ago I found myself teaching these junior-high kids the Bible. And I was thinking to myself, “Why am I here? I want to pastor my own church. Why am I doing this?”
Year after year after year, I find myself doing things, teaching a Bible study with like 23 people. Lisa and I would talk. We’d go, “We want to pastor a church. Why are we here? Why are we here?”
God was taking us in circles. “Will it go round in circles? Bum, bum-bum-bum, bana-da-dunt. Will it fly high like a bird up in the sky, yeah!”
That’s what God was doing. I had no idea what He was preparing us for. I had no idea what would unfold at Fellowship Church.
I told all my friends, “I will never go. Lisa and I will never move up to Dallas/Fort Worth. Are you kidding me? Not there. I like the place, but I’m not going there.”
“Will it go round in circles?”
We show up here, help kick this church off with 30 families in rented facilities for years and years and years; in a little office complex and a fine-arts theatre and a high school. Many times, Lisa and I would go, “Why are we here? What is God doing? I mean, yeah, we’re following him. It seems illogical. In Irving, Texas? In Dallas/Fort Worth, the belt buckle of the Bible Belt, all these steeples everywhere? Why does God have us here?”
God was preparing us for what he has prepared for us. And he’s doing the same thing right now. And as I look back and see what God has done at Fellowship Church, the influence that he’s graced us with, the style and the opportunity to do what he’s led us to do, I’m the most surprised one in the house! I didn’t plan this stuff! I didn’t think this stuff up!
God is preparing you in different ways right now. He’s preparing you in that detour for something that’s off the charts.
Follow him. Stay in his presence. Walk in sync with the Savior, because he’s making you like Jesus.
But in our instantaneous, automatic, systematic world, all the 20-somethings and 30-somethings are like, “Oh, man, I want marital bliss now. I want financial security now. I want this now. I’m entitled to the corner office now. I need to live like my parents do now.”
God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you. Your talent can take you to a level your character can’t keep you. You’re at the University of Faith. God’s building stuff. And then in his timing, he’s going to take you to that level. That’s what he’s doing. That’s God. So often, he takes us on the longest route.
And then on top of that, go back to Exodus, you know what he did? He then took his people—I’m talking about the anointed and appointed, God’s chosen people—he then took them to a place where there was no way out. He took them over the longest route, this detour; now, he takes them into a dead end. Whuck!
You don’t think that people were grumbling, do you? You don’t think the children of Israel were going, “Man, what’s up, Moses?” Because the Red Sea was in front of them, mountains on either side of them, and the Egyptians were crawling up their tailpipe. They could hear them coming.
“We’re going to get you, Moses. We’re going to take you out, tear you up from limb to limb! Let’s get ready to rumble!”
And the Israelites began to go, “Oh! Oh, Moses, I wish we could go back to Egypt. It was better back in Egypt under the whip and chain. It was better back in Egypt when I was incarcerated. I wished we’d have gone back to Egypt, man. Moses, we followed you; we’ve been following the cloud and the presence of God. We should go back.”
How many of you right now are saying the same thing? You’re at a dead end. You’re at this place where there’s no way out. And now you’re thinking, “You know what? Getting high back in Egypt, I might just go back. All those people I used to run with and all the clubs and all the junk and the funk, I might just go back to all that toxicity. I might just go back to that sin. I might just go back to being incarcerated and dominated and led by the whip and the chain of rebellion. I might just go back.”
Don’t. God has you right where he wants you. And so readily and so systematically and so often, God will bring us to a place of desperation. I’m talking about totally desperate!
And some of you are like, “You know what, Ed? I’m desperate right now. I mean, I’m down on one knee financially. I’m cratered. Relationally, it seems like it’s over; my career, my emotions.” Many of you right now, you’re down on one knee. You’re desperate.
Put the other knee down, because when you put the other knee down, you’re going to become dependent. And when you’re dependent and when Jesus is all you have, when He’s your source of joy, you raise your palms heavenward and guess what’ll happen? He will deliver you.
And that’s what happened to God’s people! God used his people to set a trap for the Egyptians, because God’s getting ready to play [drums the song wipeout] wipeout! Surely you recognize that song.
What’s the song? Yeah, thank you very much. You didn’t know Billy Preston, but you know The Safaris. The Safaris did “Wipeout”, did you know that?
Okay. Okay, here’s another one. What’s on the other side of “Wipeout”, on the other side of the record? “Surfer Joe! ”A little music trivia. Have you ever heard “Surfer Joe”? Just a little trivia. I try to drop in trivia all the time, information that’s vital and important to our spiritual maturity. [audience laughs]
Let’s go back to the text. Let me read Exodus 14:1-4, because again God’s getting ready to do something awesome. The Red Sea is in front, and you know what’s going to happen. Maybe you haven’t read the book, but you’ve seen the movie, right? The Red Sea is going to part. That’s what’s going to happen. You knew that.
Okay, let me read this. This is very important. Exodus 14:1-4: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near” … hard word No. 1 … [audience laughs] “between…” hard word No. 2 …[audience laughs] “…and the sea. They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite of…” hard word No. 3. [audience laughs] “Pharaoh will think, ‘The Israelites are wandering around the land in confusion, hemmed in by the desert.’ And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and He will pursue them. But I will gain glory for Myself.”
So when we’re at that dead end; when we’re seeing like there’s no way out, we’re in the glory zone. The glory zone. God’s getting ready to get glory.
So, again, God takes us to a place of desperation. We’re surrounded! We look ahead of us, to the right, to the left, behind us. We better look up, right? We’re surrounded. We’re desperate. We need to be dependent on God, to put both knees down. Then God will deliver us and he will play “Wipeout” on our past. And there are going to be many, many instances in our lives where God has to bring us to desperation to erase and to take care of the past that’s just like biting at our heels, if you feel me.
Exodus 14:4, “I will gain glory for Myself through Pharaoh and all of his army, and the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord.’ So the Israelites did this.”
And what happened? The sea parted, the Israelites walked on dry land, and when the Egyptians got in the middle of the dry land, the Red Sea, whoosh! “Wipeout!” And we’re still talking about that deliverance today! We’re still talking about that miracle today.
Look at Exodus 14. Right before they crossed the Red Sea, Moses was giving them a pep talk. And he’s like, “Okay. Don’t be afraid.”
Maybe you’re right before the miracle. Maybe you’re right before the deliverance. Maybe you’re in this dependence thing and this desperation thing. You’re right there, both knees are down, and you’re waiting. Moses says, “Don’t be afraid.”
What is fear? It’s false evidence appearing real. What is fear? The Bible says 365 times, “Fear not,” or the equivalent thereof. That’s a “Fear not” for every day of the year. Fear not!
And then the Bible says, “Stand firm.”
Moses says, “Stand firm. Just stand firm.”
“Moses, what are we supposed to do?”
We go, “God, what am I supposed to do? Oh, God, I’m online; I’ve got my cell phone; and I’m going to do this or that, and I’m going to talk with this person, and get this kind of counseling. Okay.”
“Whoa! Ed, stand firm! Bill, stand firm! Saundra, stand firm. Stand firm.”
Just stand there in the presence of God. Stand firm, and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you. How cool is that? Just stand there. Aah!
And then it gets better. The Lord will fight for you. Again, the presence of God was in the front. But when the Egyptians started chasing them, he moved from the front to the back. And you need only to? Be still.
That’s one of the Psalms that said, “Be still. Be still.” We’ve forgotten how to be still. Just stand firm and be still. Say, “God, I’m going to move out; I’m going to walk; I’m going to move on only when you tell me.”
And then God gave them the order. And, boom, the seas parted; and then he said, “Move out,” and they moved out.
But don’t move until God tells you. Stand firm. Be still. You’re desperate. God has you right where he wants you. Put the other knee down. You’re dependent. And then wait for the deliverance. God is preparing you for what he has prepared for you.
Well, this next thing you won’t believe. You think, “Okay, surely it’s over. I mean, the poor Israelites. They have been on this long detour, the longest route. Then they come to a place where there’s no way out, but God performed this miracle. Isn’t that awesome for them?”
Now, God leads them into the desert. And for three days, no water. And finally they find some water, and the water is bitter.
Well, the plot clots. Let me read Exodus 15:23-25, because they hit a devastating drought. And they began to seriously doubt during the drought. They had a bout with a drought and doubt.
Exodus 15:23-25: “When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, ‘What are we to drink?’”
You might want to circle this word “grumble”. Do you know when you see the word “grumble” in the Bible it’s usually grouped with idolatry and fornication.
We always talk about how bad idolatry is: “Oh, idolatry, it’s a sin! Fornication is a sin; it’s a sin! But grumbling? Nah, that’s just what we do. We just grumble against leaders, against teachers and principals and coaches and pastors and law-enforcement leaders and political leaders and our President. And that’s just what we do, grumble.”
But, see, God doesn’t just skim over grumbling. Grumbling is committing cosmic treason, too, just like idolatry and just like fornication. I thought that was interesting.
Verse 25: “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood.”
What? Here are all these people, two million people, who hadn’t had water in three days in the desert, sun burnt, their tongues thick and their mouths dry crying, “Water, water, water.” They finally find water, but the water is bitter. And now Moses is like looking at a piece of wood! The Lord showed him a piece of wood!
[the verse continues] “He threw it into the water, and the water became sweet. There the Lord made a decree and a law for them, and there he tested them.”
The water was bitter; God showed Moses a piece of wood; he threw the wood in the water; and the water became sweet!
Do you remember back to 1 Corinthians 10? Do you remember that? Spiritual drink; the rock is Jesus.
Well, our lives are bitter with sin and rebellion. But God took a piece of wood—the cross of Christ—and he chunked it into the water and made the water sweet with his forgiveness, with His power, with his grace, with his righteousness.
And we have an opportunity, if we’re desperate, if we’re dependent on him; we have an opportunity to drink the sweet water and to be delivered. Because what God is preparing you to do right now is something that is totally off the charts. He’s getting you ready for what he has ready for you.
Take a lesson from God’s people. Allow God to make you and to conform you like Jesus.
Where is your there? Your there, my there, is Him. Because at the end of the day and at the end of our lives, that’s all that there is.