Go West, Young Man, Go West!

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A few years ago, while hosting a tour of 33 people on a “Footsteps of Paul” journey, I found myself in ancient Philippi. In 50 A.D., the apostle Paul was preparing to go east into Asia with the Gospel, the “Good News” of Jesus Christ. But the Holy Spirit told him, “Go west young man! Go west!” So, trying his best to follow the leading of God, the mission-minded apostle traveled westward to Macedonia, where Philippi is located.

The chain of events that followed was quite remarkable. The wind, currents, and faithful couriers took the Gospel to Rome, the center of the Roman Empire, then to the rest of Europe, and eventually, the founding fathers brought it to America. Paul’s decision to be obedient to God’s instructions, proved to be monumental.

So often we, like Paul, have our plans set, yet God, through His wisdom and Spirit, leads us in another direction. It is my hope that God would direct you to a destination that has the potential to impact the entire world.

As I stood in Philippi giving a brief Bible message to 33 travel-weary pilgrims, my mind flashed back to when I lived in the Midwest. I was fresh out of Bible college, comfortable in knowing I was securely positioned to minister in the area of our nation known as the “Bible Belt.”

The Bible Belt is a little like the Milky Way. It’s this shadowy gray mass of shining stars that forms a large swath of light across an otherwise dark and dreary background. Oh there are indeed Christians all over the United States, but in the Bible Belt they are, pardon the expression, as “thick as thieves.” It seems as though there are churches on almost every corner, and it’s a very safe place to live and raise a family.

Having grown up in Kansas and educated in Missouri, as well as having pastored my first church in the good ol’ Midwest, I was set for a life of helping the Bible Belt acquire a bigger belt buckle.

And then, I heard the call! Oh no, not me Lord! Yes. He was talking to me, just as He spoke to the apostle Paul. Go west, young man. Go west! So, like Jed Clampett of The Beverly Hillbillies (minus the money from his black gold, Texas tea), I loaded up my family and headed to Cal-i-for-ni-a! It was a long way from the wheat fields of Kansas, but I was on a real live missionary journey, just like Paul—except that I’d have indoor plumbing. Thank You, God!

For about 20 years, I have been ministering in perhaps one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse and highly populated areas of our nation, the City of Angels. And like the big cities in which Paul ministered, Los Angeles features the materialism and focus on worldly values that bring unique challenges to the ministering of the Gospel: social tensions, outrageous housing costs, soaring car expenses, high crime rates, crowded freeways, and, of course, Hollywood—the entertainment capital of the world, pumping glamorized immorality into the entire world.

Even with all those minuses weighed against the plus of having year-round warm weather, California (the West) remains the burden of my heart.

People by the tens of thousands move to California each year seeking fame, fortune and sunny skies. Yet the glitter and gold of Tinsel Town, (which, by the way, is nothing more than a mirage) will ultimately never satisfy the longings of one’s heart. Jesus said, in Matthew 6:19-21, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Yet many of us grapple blindly for the wind—earthly things that are nothing more than smoke and mirrors, fleeting, failing, deceiving and disappointing.

It is so sad to see people get chewed up and spit out by this city and this world, time and time again. They are left hopeless, confused, discouraged, and depressed. But God says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” The truth is, the only thing that will ever satisfy your soul is a relationship with God, through His Son Jesus, and the realization of the amazing plan He has for your life—if only you would learn to trust Him rather than yourself, money, people, fame, pride, recognition, or any of the other deceiving things of this old, cold world.

What has God been trying to tell you? How has He been prompting your heart in order to change your course, you plans, or your path? What has that still soft voice been beckoning your to do? Trust Him? Forgive a certain family member or friend and let go of your pain? Come to church? Study the Bible? Find the Truth?

Friends, God is a gentleman. You say, “If God wanted to talk to me or show me His plan for my life, He would part the clouds and tell me something in a loud, earth-shaking voice, like in the movies.” Despite what you may have learned about God from Hollywood, listen to what the Bible says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”

(Revelation 3:20) This Scripture uses imagery of sitting down at a table to share a meal and an intimate conversation with a friend. And that’s exactly the kind of relationship that Christ desires to have with you!

Knowing that only God can truly speak to one’s heart, I pray that God Himself would speak to your heart as He has spoken to mine saying, “Go west, young man! Go west,” and forever changing my destiny. God is calling. God is knocking. How will you answer?



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