“When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” (Acts 8:29-40).
Some of us will walk it through. Some of us will be delivered from it en route. But all of us, every last one of us, will come to the end of our desert road.
We have come to ours…at least as far as our focused time on the life of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is concerned. It is time. It has been a hard write for me, but it has been worth my pause. I hope that you can say the same. As I’m writing, I realize that the “ending” of my words in the matter, doesn’t necessarily mean the ending of our deserts. In many ways, desert dwelling will be our portion until we see our Jesus face to face.
How you finish this thing—this one life that you have been given—will walk its own unique and highly individualized cadence. Your conclusion may not punctuate like mine. Your timing may sequence different than mine. Your difficult may temperature hotter than mine. That is the way of a desert walk. Each uncertain sand that we pilgrim is allowed us by God for an intent that sometimes exceeds our appreciation.
How he chooses to flesh out his intention is exactly that—his choosing. There is mystery divinely woven into a desert’s allowance. We will not always understand God’s sovereignty in the matter. And what is not always understood often becomes the breeding ground for…
Indeed, if our focus remains mired in our misunderstandings, we fall prey to spiritual blindness. To eyes that cloud with the current rather than vision toward the horizon. But when our focus shifts to the providence of God’s leading in the desert, our eyes and our hearts birth something far greater than confusion. Consecrated focus yields seeds of…
Philip and the Ethiopian kept their focus in the desert, and at the end of the day, each man received a portion of God’s consecrated provision and promise for his life. They received Jesus, both in the giving and in the receiving of Truth. They couldn’t have known on the front end of a desert’s embrace how the ending would paint. They simply took to the road with God as the objective.
And when you and I pilgrim a desert road for the same reason, we can rest in the assurance that, like Philip and the eunuch, our Father holds the brush on our behalf. He is after a masterpiece in each one of us—a portrait worthy of the throne room of heaven. He never rushes the process. He times it for his advantage, and ultimately for ours. Our hand in that process?
Relinquishing the brush and the canvas and the palette of colors to the One who always paints with holy consecration in mind.
The portrait that God painted in Acts, chapter eight, is completed with the brushstrokes of two men rejoicing and moving on. One returned, most likely, to his Ethiopian homeland with fresh perspective. One was literally snatched from the scene by the Spirit of God and painted onto the landscape of a Caesarean community where he would continue in the ministry of the Gospel (see Acts 21:8). Their paths would never cross again on this side of eternity, but I believe that both men would tell us that their desert detour was worth the gain.
This, my friends, is the way of a desert road when Jesus is sought. When he becomes the focus of our pursuit—no matter the climate, the terrain, the hot and the hard—he is found. He is the Gain. The great Reward on the front end, at the close, and with every pause in between.
Jesus is the joy of the desert. Regardless of your current condition…regardless of how tedious your now…there is holy consecration to be found in all seasons of living. This is the sure promise we take with us as we move on from here.
Let us walk it like we mean it. Let us live it like God means for us to live it. On purpose. With purpose. For his holy and consecrated purpose, now and forever. And by all means, let us do it together. And so I pray…
Burn your purpose into my life, Lord. Let it breathe the witness of your presence, no matter my road. Whether in heat or in mild…in sands or in solid…keep my eyes fixed to the horizon. Bolster my “want to” and shepherd my “follow through” until I see your consecrated purpose birthed within me. Keep my heart in tune with yours, and never let me forsake the needs of the brethren because my needs breathe too needy. Thank you for the desert, Lord. Thank you for its heated embrace that has brought me refinement. Thank you for the road that leads me home to you. Amen.
Copyright © July 2008 – Elaine Olsen. All rights reserved.
Today we finish this series on “Living Our Consecrated Deserts.” Thank you for coming alongside and studying this portion of Scripture with me. I welcome your thoughts and comments in the matter. I will be stepping away from the computer for a few days to spend some time with my young ones while the other members of my family are in Bolivia. I will be checking in from time to time, but strongly feel I need a pause. God bless you each one. I look forward to hearing from you in the days ahead. Shalom!
If you are joining us for the first time in our desert series, please take time to read our scripture focus, Acts 8:26-40.
“As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.’” (Acts 8:36-38).
The Great Commission. The going and making and baptizing and teaching of people, all in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).
How is it living in your life today?
It lived as holy consecration in the life of Philip as he traveled the uncertainty of a desert road in obedience to the certainty of his calling. He went. He made. He taught, and in one final act of servant discipleship, he baptized. He stepped down into the water with his new brother to give him a drink of holy cleansing.
It is what he came to the desert to do. To bring water to the thirsty. To bring understanding to the confused. To bring life to the dying. To bring consecration to a journey—both to his and to the eunuch’s.
One came to the desert because of his thirst. He sought the Truth. The other came to the desert because of his obedience. He hoped to offer someone the Truth. Both men walked the heat, and both men allowed God his way in the matter. This is how a life lives as consecrated in the desert.
Yielded. Simply yielded to God and to his intended purposes for our every day.
Philip yielded, never stopping short of the finish. He followed through, and follow through is a mark of a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
Being in the desert is not enough. In fact, often just being there is more than we can handle. But our Truth calls for a stronger witness. No matter our reasons for our heated current, God charges us with the task of moving past self-interest to embrace his best interest. And his best interest is always people.
I don’t know about you, but I am a girl who wants that label. I want to be about my Father’s business. So often I fail in the matter. Most days, I’m good with my going and with my teaching. But my follow through? Seeing my brothers and sisters all the way down into the water? Well, obedience doesn’t always breathe genuine through these hands. Perhaps in the heart of my “want to”, but not always in the hands of my actual.
I find it easier to serve God’s purpose when the heat is not my portion. The Great Commission finds its voice more readily through me when I can pick and choose my deserts. But when God picks one for me that requires my welcome, my grit for the follow through hosts a singular focus.
Rarely do I choose a greater grace that allows the companioning of others alongside. Instead, I am careful to crawl as prickly and to horde as selfishly, without realizing that that God’s fountain flows to everlasting and is intended to harbor the entirety of humanity’s thirst.
It is time for my focus to change. To grow up and to embrace the sacred perspective of desert dwelling rather than abandoning it at the first sign of a heated hard. I want to pilgrim through the desert with God’s purpose in mind. I want to move forward in faith, without needing all the particulars of God’s plan up front. I want to live as Philip did.
He began his day without seeing its end, but when the ending arrived, he closed his eyes knowing that his faith had served the kingdom of God in its fullness.
That is follow through. That is consecrated living. That is the Great Commission fleshed out and served up as God intended for it to breathe.
A few days from now, my husband and son, along with eleven others, will be traveling to a desert of sorts. Bolivia. They have tended to the Voice within who issued them the call to go and to make and to teach and to serve. I have no doubt that, should they be called to the water’s edge, they will follow through. You see, I married a Philip, and I birthed one. They are true servants of Jesus Christ, and they go with my blessing.
And while they serve there, I will serve here within the sands of a North Carolina heat. The people on my road won’t look the same as the ones they meet in Bolivia, but there is a thread that unifies and ties as common. All people, every last one of us, share the best interest of God. We are the heart of his matter.
He willingly entered into our deserts. To bring water to our thirst. To bring understanding to our confusion. To bring life to our dying. To bring consecration to a journey—both to his and to ours. He didn’t stop short of the water’s edge. Instead, he took to his baptism so that we could know the bathing of a lavish and most sacred grace.
I have been to those waters, my friends, and it is a cleansing beyond the portion I am due. What I am due is hell. What I have been given is everlasting life. It is the one gift that should not be horded, and so I pray…
Pour it out of me, Lord…this gift of your Truth. Your requirement of me is nothing less than the absolute and total embrace of the Great Commission. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, I can go and make and baptize and teach. I can do all things through your power, Father. Forgive me when I settle for less and for the times when the desert seems too much, and I find my retreat within its sands. I long to be a better pilgrim. Today, I ask you for the courage and tenacity of a sacred “follow through” and for the faith of Philip. Amen.
Thank you for joining me today in the desert. Take time to read our scripture focus, Acts 8:26-35.
“Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked. ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.” (Acts 8:30-31).
There is risk in all writing endeavors.
Not all readers will fully engage with the text as the author intends. It happens. I think, perhaps, it has happened with my thoughts on desert dwelling. I make no apologies for my thoughts, but I want to clarify something before beginning today.
When Adam and Eve walked those final steps of Eden’s embrace to enter into a land void of perfection, they began a desert journey that continues to this day through the likes of you and me. It’s not a popular topic. We rather prefer words of Promise. Indeed, we should, for we are a people of Promise, intended for abundant living. But there is a danger in thinking that all of life, even as Christians, will live as lush and green and ripe.
It doesn’t. Life is filled with hard. God stands with us through these times. He brings his lush and green into the matter for our filling and our refreshment, but for as long as our flesh remains, we continue in a wanton state. We are a people in need of perfection, and more often than not, God uses the desert as his classroom toward that end.
This is the truth that I know. I have lived it. And while I have witnessed many cherished mountaintop moments with God, he never allows me to make them my permanent. Instead, he asks me to carry these moments back down into the valley of my daily. Back into the world that desperately needs to know that this desert is not our home. It is our temporary, and what awaits us beyond the dirt and dust far exceeds our current reality. We have an eternal portion now, but the fullness of that portion is yet to be.
Regardless if you are a Philip or an Ethiopian or a wanderer without knowledge, every last one of us are desert dwellers. We can spin the Israelites’ Promised Land as a truth that breathes with a final and absolute abundance. We can, but it wouldn’t be the truth. They wandered for forty years because of their sin and disobedience, but almost as soon as they set up shop in Promise, they set up their idols and self-reliance alongside. The desert followed them into Canaan, and lest we think that their future was scripted with a permanent lush and green and ripe, let us remember the words of the prophets.
Let us remember the four hundred years of silence that existed between the Old and New Testaments. Let us not forget the consecrated famine that God sent into his children’s souls because they refused the voice of God. That is a desert my friends. And even after Truth presented himself in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there are still those…
who refuse to listen.
who listen but don’t understand.
who listen and understand but still find the resurrected life a difficult cloaking.
That is how I define desert living. Plain and simple. So what is one to do with the desert? What are we to do with such truth?
We find our consecration within, even as two men did so long ago on a desert’s pilgrimage outside of Jerusalem.
The Ethiopian didn’t understand what he was reading. He was on the right track. He had the scriptures in part—the Old Testament part. He sought the truth, and it was his earnest seeking that led him to come to Jerusalem via a desert road. Listen to words of the prophet Isaiah that accompanied this seeker’s steps.
“‘He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before the shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.'” (Acts 8:32-33; Isaiah 53:7-8).
Philip understood the meaning behind the prophet’s words. When asked, he came alongside this seeker and put voice to one Truth that would bring clarity to this eunuch’s question:
“‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’” (Acts 8:34-35).
(Who is this lamb that died a death of humiliation and injustice? Who is this one who was taken from this earth without an offspring to his name? Is it Isaiah or is it someone else?)
And beginning with that very passage of Scripture, Philip told the eunuch the good news.
News of Jesus Christ. News of his new identity because of Jesus Christ.
I wonder about Philip’s words. I wonder if he encouraged this eunuch to read a few verses further into Isaiah’s prophetic renderings—words that breathed a new identity for this one who was so rarely embraced.
“Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’ For this is what the LORD says: ‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant—to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.’” (Isaiah 56:3-5).
Can you even begin to imagine the pulse of that moment—the grace that fell upon the seeking heart and opened up the truth of his identity in Jesus Christ? I can, and it nearly sends me to my sandals and to the nearest desert road.
Hear me, if you will, for this is the beating in my heart today.
There is Godly consecration within our deserts.
No matter how we get there, we are ordained to be there and to walk our steps with holy purpose and divine intention. We are meant to come alongside our brothers and our sisters and our strangers and to be the voice that penetrates the enemy’s dark deception with the light and truth of Jesus Christ.
We can refuse our voice in the desert but in doing so we silence God’s consecrated purpose for our lives. We can muddle through the heat, licking our wounds and our wants as we go, or we can extend our focus to include the wounds and wants of others.
Either way, we walk it. And I, for one, am tired of walking it as meaningless.
We are given this one life—these few years as earthly, yet eternal pilgrims in search of a better country. As Christians, we walk them in faith and in the sure hope of things not yet seen. Indeed, things felt. Things cherished. Things believed and things tasted. But the perspective that we need about these “things” must root in the reality that what is seen is temporary. And what is temporary rarely yields a lasting lush and green and ripe.
That which is eternal?
Well, it is everything edenic and worthy of our devoted and abiding affection. Therefore, I fix my eyes unto the hills…to my home beyond this desert, and I run these heated sands because I know that at the end of this road is a memorial inscripted with my everlasting name. It stands in God’s garden as a defining witness to the consecrated pilgrimage I now embrace. And so I pray…
Get me there, Lord. Bring me to an everlasting place of peace within your lush and your green. I do not hurry, Father, because I know that there is meaning in my now. You have given me a journey to walk that includes the lives of others who need to hear the good news of their perfected end. You are that End, Lord, even as you are our Beginning. Punctuate my now with the consecrated purpose of your will for my life. Amen.
Copyright © July 2008 – Elaine Olsen. All rights reserved.
Please feel free to leave your comments, even if you are new to my blog. You can leave a comment by clicking on the word “comment”, write your thoughts in the box, and then sign on as an anonymous contributor if you want. You don’t have to have a blogger account to comment. Feel free to use the questions below as a point of reflection or to offer your own words of contemplation on today’s reading.
A further pause…
*I love the Ethiopian’s question. It is one I’ve often asked in the desert. What is it about this question that resonates with desert language?
“‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’”
*Describe a time when someone stepped up into your chariot to bring you God’s truth.
*When have you been called toward a similar stepping?
*Why is it sometimes so hard to “reason” the truth in the desert?
For Judith…I stand alongside you today!
Please take time to read today’s scripture focus, Acts 8:26-29.
“The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’” (Acts 8:29).
One of the gifts of walking in barren seasons is the pleasure of God’s voice. I so often miss it in my chaos and my crowded. But when I am alone and feeling the confinement of my anonymity, my heart is tender and ripe for the hearing. I think this is why I am sometimes led to walk a desert’s heat. God is ever speaking, and my penchant for the same often precludes my listening to him. Thus, a desert sometimes becomes my consecrated necessary.
God shapes our lives in the desert. Oswald Chambers speaks to such a shaping:
“If we are going to live as disciples of Jesus, we have to remember that all noble things are difficult. The Christian life is gloriously difficult, but the difficulty of it does not make us faint and cave in, it rouses us up to overcome. Do we so appreciate the marvelous salvation of Jesus Christ that we are our utmost for His highest? … Thank God He does give us difficult things to do! His salvation is a glad thing, but it is also a heroic, holy thing. It tests us for all we are worth.”[i]
Noble. Heroic and holy. An utmost kind of living that requires our refinement through the gloriously difficult. Sounds like Mr. Chambers knew something of a desert dwelling and finding its sacred consecration within. I want an “utmost” life lived to the uttermost, and if a desert’s necessary becomes God’s way of accomplishing his ultimate for me, then I am prepared for its embrace.
I am at a place of contentment in my life right now, not feeling the particulars of a desert’s scorch; still and yet, I am reminded that many of you are walking its heat. I have heard from some of you. I have seen you in my community and in the church pews. I have watched you pilgrim through your daily and your constant, and I am moved by your faithfulness to keep a forward focus even though a backward glance is all so tempting.
Through you, God has issued me an invitation to walk a desert road. He has clearly communicated the need, and compelled by his love, I willingly come. Not to instruct or to correct or to whisk you away from your heated necessary, but simply to come alongside and to walk the road with you. There is refinement for the both of us in the process.
Philip came alongside. He took to the road with very little knowledge about its consecrated purpose. He simply listened to the words of God’s angel and to the promptings of God’s Spirit.
Go to the desert road.
Go to that chariot and stay near it.
Herein lies one of the glorious truths of the desert.
Deserts are full of fellow travelers.
Our self-indulgence allows us to reason that we go it alone…that there is no one else who shares the sandals of our hard. But the reality of our pilgrim identities paints a truer picture. The desert is replete with a parched people. Unfortunately, the laboring and tearing of our own thirst rarely permits us the privilege of noticing another’s.
But occasionally there comes a friend, perhaps even a stranger who is able to look past self-interest in order to preserve the sacred interest of God.
Philip was one of those people. A stranger in a strange land living out what, some would say, was a strange and mysterious calling. From table service to chariot chasing, indeed, Philip was no ordinary servant. He was extraordinary in his service to God and to mankind.
At the Spirit’s prompting, he took the time to embrace a man that was rarely embraced.
An Ethiopian—a man of ethnic difference.
A lesser man some would say because of his eunuch’s status.
An unclean and fully blemished man.
A wealthy man.
A stranger to the truth, and yet…
A seeker of the Truth…of the one God who captured his worship and who sent him on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in search of that Truth.
I don’t know what he found while in Jerusalem, but I do know what he found while in the desert.
He found a friend named Philip. And better still…
He found a Savior named Jesus.
He found the Truth, simply because of one man’s obedience to walk a desert’s heat and to maintain an outward focus so that God’s consecrated purpose could be birthed within sinner and saint, alike. Not a bad trade for a desert’s pilgrimage. In fact, a very good exchange worth every blistered tear and parched longing.
Purpose in the desert. Yours and mine and theirs. We all walk its heat for different reasons. Our thirsts are uniquely crafted by God’s consecrated will for humanity. A noble, heroic, holy, and perfect will that leads to a perfect end—an utmost kind of end where eunuchs and Gentiles, foreigners and strangers, family and friends, will gather to worship the one God who authors us all.
Home is where we are headed. It is not far, friends. It is just on the other side of this desert. On the other side of a sometimes, hard obedience. On the other side of steps that are gloriously difficult but that are willing, nonetheless, to keep an outward focus.
We are moving through these sands to get to God’s unshakable mountain. Better to get there with a few fellow pilgrims by our sides, and so I pray…
Carry me through the desert, Lord, so that I may reach the shores of an unshakeable faith. Direct my steps and lead me to those who will best pilgrim the journey with me…both for my sake and for theirs. Yoke us as one to your yoke so that, together, we can find our consecrated purpose for the journey. I thank you for the fellow sojourners whom you have placed on my road. Give me the ears to hear your voice, the courage to obey your voice, and the faith to walk toward your voice even when I cannot see through these uncertain sands. Bring me to my noble and utmost end. Amen.
Copyright © July 2008 – Elaine Olsen. All rights reserved.
As a way of closing today, I want to share with you a song by Sara Groves that speaks the story of a desert road. For those of you who are walking one right now, I echo her heart when I say…
“Your pain has changed me. Your dream inspires. Your face a memory. Your hope a fire. Your courage asks me what I’m afraid of. Your courage asks me what I am made of and what I know of love.”[i]