Sunday, June 26, 2016

The Miracle of the Mundane - June 26, 2016

Matthew 13:58 - And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief.

Reading the Gospels, it is relatively easy to chide the disciples when they seem to have a lapse of faith that Jesus Christ could deliver on His miracles. It always baffled me to read Mark chapter 6 and the feeding of the five-thousand, and then later to read of the disciples lack of faith in Mark chapter 8 in feeding the four-thousand. I mean, after all, hadn't they learned anything by the feeding of the five-thousand? Or, was something otherwise happening that we have overlooked? The same can be said for Lazurus' resurrection from the dead in John the 11th chapter. Martha and Mary seemed unbelieving that Jesus could be speaking of bringing back their brother from the dead. Surely they had heard of Jairus' daughter whom He had raised from the dead, or the widow's son from Nain when he touched the coffin and the boy was given back to his mother alive. Did they have a lapse of memory? Or had they simply become too familiar with the Lord as their friend the healer and had forgotten that he was also the raiser of the dead? As we shall see, what is not said within the scriptures can often times be as powerful as what is.

To read the Gospels, one would think that it was a non-stop road show of signs and wonders -- that the disciples were constantly being brought into an awareness of Jesus' mighty power as He performed miracle after miracle. If that was the case, I believe we would have much different reactions from the disciples rather than disbelief such as Jesus' ability to feed the hungry or raise the dead. Just as important as the days of miracles were the days of the mundane. As I stated, I believe it is just as important what the Gospel writers don't tell us as to what they do. The scripture never mentions the lives of Peter, Andrew, James, and John when they toiled away in their mundane lives as fisherman. Even after they were called by the Lord, there is no mention of the days when it was just hour after hour of walking from city to city. And then, how about the times when the power for Jesus to heal was not readily present? You might say, "Well, Jesus would always heal if there were someone in need!" Don't be so sure. The scripture in Luke 5:17 states that the "the power of the Lord was present for Him to perform healing." This statement validates what is also not said which is that there were obviously times when the power of the Lord was NOT present to perform healing. My hunch is that it was more often than we are sometimes led to believe by the rapid pace of the Gospel's narratives.

While we may look with disbelief at the disciples unbelief, it is important to realize the juxtaposition of His miracles with the days of the mundane. The days are not mentioned when the disciples told Jesus to send the crowds away to buy food for themselves in the local environs. How else would they have had the the "chutzpah" (guts) to tell Jesus in Mark 6:36 to send the crowds away to buy themselves food? Obviously they had seen the scenario play out time after time where Jesus did not feed them. These were the days of the mundane -- hearing the parables and the teachings of Jesus and then just going their own way. Of utmost importance is that Jesus will not be put into that proverbial box of expected action. He is not a genie or a Santa Claus that can be expected to move and react to the masses whims. He is God Almighty and He operates both out of love and compassion but also out of faith of those around Him as He sees best in His infinite wisdom to move.

It is quite easy and presumptuous of us to believe that God will act on our behalf with miraculous rapidity if we will but only ask. Those of us who have been "sensualized" by the world look for the instant gratification of "non-stop" miraculous Christianity. Many of us who have been delivered from drugs or alcohol had been so conditioned by the instant relief and euphoria they offered. Once free, we had to learn how to go through life without needing the daily intoxication of what these substances could give us. In the same way, God does not want us to take His Son for granted, but to walk with Him whether our love for Him feels mundane or exhilarating. In the midst of Martha and Mary's friendship with Jesus, they forgot that not only was He their friend and healer but that He was also the One who raised the dead. Are we limiting God by not seeing Him as He truly is in the mundane days? Has He become merely a friend that is somewhat boring and "everyday" and we have been surprised when the miracle happens? The Lord wants us all to wait expectantly for Him. For only as we rejoice in the miracle of the mundane, then truly we will not be surprised when the signs and wonders in our respective lives appear.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fathering On Purpose - June 19, 2016

Colossians 3:21 - Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart.

Anyone who has been to Israel to see the holy places has certainly visited Jerusalem. On our trip to the Holy Land in 2011, my wife and I spent a week in in an apartment in Jerusalem, very close to the King David Hotel. Down King David Street where it intersects with Hebron Road was a prayer room named Succat Hallel (Hebrew for Tabernacle of Praise). Since then, it has moved to Ein Rogel Street, but it is still a 24/7 prayer ministry dedicated to raising up prayer intercessors for the restoration of Jerusalem and the salvation of Israel. During my morning run, I would stop and sit in the prayer room as the musicians ministered to the Lord. Through the east-facing windows the walls of Jerusalem would be drenched in the early morning sun. However, the valley between the prayer room and the enormous walls would also be awash in the morning light. This is the valley of Ben-hinnom, or Hinnom as mentioned in the Old Testament---the sight of unspeakable atrocities to children. For whenever Israel backslid into their apostasies, the worship of idols such as Baal, Ashtoreth, and Moloch came to the forefront in Israel's culture. They rejected Yahweh, the Lord God Almighty and made their children "pass through the fire" in the valley of Hinnom. While this began in the days of Solomon, it grew more in acceptability during the time of one Solomon's descendants, King Manasseh.

In II Chronicles chapter 33, we are introduced to Manasseh, son of good King Hezekiah. As good as Hezekiah's reign, his son sought to be diametrically wicked. Among Manasseh's most detestable sins was his worship of Moloch. We read the following where he sacrificed his offspring in the fires of Hinnom, with no apparent pity toward his own: "He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger." (II Chronicles 33:6) Through all his wickedness, he never sought the Lord. At least not until he was taken by hooks into captivity by the king of Assyria. (In the Jewish Talmud, one can read a story how the king placed Manasseh in a copper barrel and began roasting him!) We know from scripture that Manasseh cried out to the Lord and was delivered. In II Chronicles 33:12-13 we read: "When he was in distress, he entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God." The verses following these tell about Manasseh's "revival" and how he sought to do right the remaining years of his life.

Both in the prayer room those days we stayed in Jerusalem and on subsequent trips to Israel, I have meditated on Manasseh and others like him in scripture who sacrificed their children in the fires of Hinnom. It seems inconceivable to us in our modern world to do such things to our own prodigy. However, how many of us who are fathers or who father children have sacrificed our children in more subtle ways? In sundry fashion, I failed my children when they were growing up, being often more concerned about my sobriety and staying sober rather than getting them to church and raising them among other believers. Today, they are products of this subtle abuse. If they do know the Lord, they are far from Him as they walk in a way which seems best to them. My neglect of keeping them centered on the things of God has led to their present-day apostasy. However, like Manasseh, we who have failed our children in the past can only look toward the future. While many of us have inadvertently offered our children up to Moloch by our lack of care and concern in their regard, we can now only look to the future concerning their redemption. The Lord spoke to Jeremiah the prophet an important lesson for all of us as fathers to consider: "The LORD said, 'Surely I will set you free for purposes of good ...'" (Jeremiah 15:11). While Jeremiah was set free from a literal prison, how many of us were set free from a spiritual prison? In both instances, the Lord tells us we can no longer serve ourselves, but we must serve "purposes of good." For those of us who are fathers, this means giving ourselves to prayer for our beloved children. And, when possible, devoting the necessary time to them in order to show them they are important. Just as God desires our time, so do our loved ones. It is the one thing, if done consistently, which will show them our love.

I will never forget the emotions I felt the first time I looked over the valley of Ben-hinnom in Jerusalem. I still carry that emotion as I pray for my children, desiring their full redemption to God. However long it takes, it matters not. I am devoted to "pray them through" until they come into a full understanding of God's incredible love for them. Sacrifices to Moloch have not occurred outside of Jerusalem for millennia. However, unless we as fathers commit to the redemption and restoration of our children, we continue to sacrifice their spirits to this evil demon. May we cry out, day and night, for our children's redemption. Only then, will we be fathering on purpose and seeking good for those whom we love most.

Heavenly Father, teach us as fathers to love as You do. Cause us to father on purpose and commit to seeing our children on fire for You and not on fire for another god through our neglect. May You give us wisdom how to pray and act in this regard. Thank You for Your love for both us and our offspring. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Deliverance - June 12, 2016

Matthew 8:29 - And they cried out, saying, " What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?"

Back in 2008 our family was on "holiday" to London, One day, Rebecca and I were returning to our apartment via the "Tube" (the London Underground Subway). She found a seat and I sat diagonally across from her as we carried on a conversation. Seated diagonally to my left and facing me, there was a young man that I didn't give much notice to -- at first. As my wife and I continued chatting, the bizarre behavior of the young man became more and more apparent. I turned to look at him at one point and he started cursing at me, telling me "Yank, go home!!" I cut off my conversation with Rebecca and turned back in my seat to try to find out what was troubling this soul. I started out by telling him that Jesus Christ could and would help him, if he would but trust in Him. He swore at me some more and started kicking the empty seat next to me, the one he was facing. He was obviously very agitated at the name of Jesus and my promise that I would pray for him. He kept kicking the seat saying, "You have a devil" and "You're a devil". This went on for a bit longer as I continued to tell him that Jesus loved him. He finally ended up getting off at a stop as we continued on to our destination.

In today's world, it is not a popular notion to believe in demons and the Devil. People with anti-social behavior in our modern world are generally diagnosed as sociopaths, to a lower or higher degree of sickness. Those with more apparent madness or insanity are generally diagnosed as schizophrenic or even psychopathic. I do not profess to be a doctor, however I do know behavior that I have witnessed at various times fitting in one or two categories -- mental illness or spiritual sickness. With the former, there are the aforementioned labels. With spiritual sickness, there is the implication that a deeper, more sinister force is at work -- a force that will affect some people's lives in moderate ways while with other it seems as if they are truly "possessed" by another dark personality. For some, it is truly unnerving to believe that there are random spirits of devilish design that seek to control and ultimately destroy their apparent victims. It is much more comfortable in our educated society to believe that such wild, erratic and dark behavior is merely a physiological or psychological malfunction that can be treated by medication, therapy, and rehabilitation. The stark fact is, however, that we know very little about mental illness even with our broad medical knowledge. Yet, Jesus knew exactly the cause and the remedy when He encountered these sort of persons. Probably the most famous scripture regarding Jesus' dealing with the demon-possessed is in Luke 8:26-39. The man was possessed with "Legion", a name spoken by the demons because they were many. Interestingly, they begged Jesus not to send them back to the abyss (or Hades as some translations infer), but to send them into the nearby herd of swine. Jesus does what they ask and the pigs perish, but the man is totally delivered -- a true demonstration of the power of God!

The church has struggled through apparent times of powerlessness the past two-thousand years. Throughout the centuries, Holy Ghost power has ebbed and flowed as societies have either needed it and cried out for it or they have discounted it, turning to the world for its answers. Today, God has moved in powerful ways to set the oppressed free on the Asian, African, and South American continents. He has moved powerfully because there is no equivocation or argument that people are "demonically possessed" and are in need of deliverance. These cultures believe it, and are thereby seeing more people set free from their afflictions than so-called western societies. Are these mislead and superstitious? Should they be relying on western medicines and therapies or practicing what God has said in Mark 16:17?: These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, ... . Remember, Jesus is either who He said He was or He is a liar. Either we believe all that He says to us through His scripture or we discount it all. There is no picking and choosing.

Personally, I believe I came up short in my London encounter. I would have desired to be able to look that young man in the eye and to rebuke the demons out of his life in the name of Jesus, for I truly believe that the man was demon oppressed. Sadly, I am a believer that lacks belief on many days of my Christian walk. My future hope for myself and others is that God would begin to raise up those who would not equivocate with evil when confronted by it, but to stand against it with the power of Jesus Christ. It is good and fine to tell a demoniac about the love of Jesus Christ. It is a far better thing to be able to GIVE them the love of Jesus by breaking the bonds over their heart and life. My friends, are you as struck by your lack of power in the face of evil as I was on that day? Have you poured out your heart to your Savior and asked Him not to leave you any longer as an orphan that's bereft of His life-changing unction toward others? Until we do, it will be status quo. We can rationalize the demonically oppressed as those merely needing mental health and therapy. Jesus was clear and unapologetic about those needing liberation from their devilish oppressors. When we open our eyes and believe that there truly is evil that seeks to bind every human life and separate them from the love of God, then we can draw upon the Grace of the Lord in prayer to become the men and women of God that He desires.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Temple Building, Part II - June 5, 2016

I Chronicles 29:1 - Then King David said to the entire assembly, "My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is still young and inexperienced and the work is great; for the temple is not for man, but for the LORD God."


David knew through years of acquired wisdom that building the temple would not be an easy task. Not only would it be a monumental job, but it would take a resoluteness and determination of vision that could only come by divine impartation. Most of all, he recognized the liability of youthfulness and inexperience in his son. David realized that failure was a possibility if Solomon did not have a heart of wisdom to finish the work at hand for the Lord's sake! David knew that it would be much easier to compromise the building of the temple and make it according to man's designs. However, the old king also knew that it was in the heart of God to build the temple according to the Lord Jehovah's desire. None of his father's speech and desires were lost on Solomon, for we find that he indeed sought the Lord in humility for the spirit of wisdom to lead him during his early reign (see Solomon's prayer in II Chronicles 1:8-13).

Those of us who know the Lord have a similar task at hand. We have all embarked on a similar mission of temple-building and yet, if we are honest, we are not quite certain what this temple of the Holy Ghost should look like. Many of us have been conditioned by years of teaching that a "holy" person will resemble something like this -- someone who reads their bible daily, someone that prays, someone that tithes, or someone who does lots of service work. These all can truly be aspects of someone that has allowed the Holy Spirit a place of residence in their heart, but it begs the question: Has the Holy Spirit been the "general contractor" of His dwelling place within, or have sub-contractors compromised the construction by pride and ineptitude? I hear so much chatter these days about being "spirit-filled" or "spirit-led" yet I see believer's lives devoid of the beauty of the Lord from within. There is a lack of the resplendent grandeur of the Lord's temple that shines forth in the soul of a sanctified believer that makes all their works truly faith-inspired. Instead, way too often, there is the soul-weary expression on a pilgrim's face that tells me they are "trudging along for Jesus", yet they are very much doing so in their own power. There is nothing captivating or beautiful in these type of "religious" expressions. They rather smack of self-indulgence and self-knowledge which are ultimately works of the flesh.

The apostle Paul knew and understood David's sentiments when he spoke to the Corinthians. In I Corinthians 6:19, Paul asks the church of Corinth a simplistic question that they should have realized if they were truly Christ's: ... do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? To understand that we are not our own, as Paul knew, comes from a deep sense of who we were and who we now ARE in Christ. Even as Solomon understood that he was just a mere child trying to lead the people of Israel, he knew that without God's understanding and wisdom that he would be a failure. Not only would he fail at building the temple according to the will of God, but he would fail in his commission to the kingdom of Israel. His humility and sense of his "human-ness" gave Solomon the needed understanding to fulfill all that the Lord desired. Even so with us. We must get out of the way and let Him have His way in our lives, or we will be plagued by constant disappointment and general dissatisfaction regarding what He is doing in our respective "building projects". We must understand that only as He is given full reign to do and to build as He desires, only then will we have true peace and success in this lifetime. We are not our own -- how much less everything we attempt to do for the Lord unless it is first rooted and grounded in Him? There will be no true sanctification until this happens -- only a shadow or a passing vapor of the real thing. In reality, there will be no true substance in the heart of the believer until He is given full building rights within our hearts.

I have personally visited many beautiful religious edifices in this country and also in western and eastern Europe. The cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues all have one thing in common -- they are grand expressions of man's desire to create a connecting point of beauty between earth and heaven. They desire to reconcile man's heart with the heart of God in a spacious environment allowing a close encounter of the divine kind. Often, man has sought to substitute these grand meeting places with the meeting place of the heart where God truly desires to dwell. This is not to say that one cannot experience God in one of these grand structures, but it is a pity if that is the basis of meeting Him. He desires a relationship to meet us long before we come together to meet him in a grand setting. Only as we truly give ourselves to Him, will he take ownership of the temple within and will then build to suit His desires. Only then will the true temple of the Lord be a place where He lives, He works, and He manifests Himself in all His glory through the beauty of His temple. Only when we know we are not our own and that He is the true owner, can an eternal building rise up within us. May God be glorified as the Master Builder within us all!

Lord, you are the owner of the land of our hearts. You own the building materials and all that goes in to building Your temple within. We give you full access to build as You see fit. We give you the keys to our temple and hereby give you total rights to come and go forth through us as You will. Use these temples, Lord. Sanctify them for Your glory. In Jesus Name.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Temple Building, Part I - May 29, 2016


I Chronicles 22:19 - "Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God; arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God into the house that is to be built for the name of the LORD."

David's admonition to the people to help his son build the temple of the Lord did not come without a price. In the previous verses, King David reminds his son Solomon that he was a man of bloodshed and that the task of temple-building would be entrusted to David's offspring, namely Solomon. David would become known as a "blood warrior" that gave Israel the ability to become a land of peace during his son's reign. Oftentimes, the best defense is a strong offense which in this case ultimately allowed Solomon and the people of Israel times of security in order to build the temple of the Lord.

This scripture is a magnificent metaphor of the work of the Holy Spirit and how He sanctifies the life of those who surrender all to Him. In this passage as well as in much of scripture, David is symbolic of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this instance, David typifies Jesus Christ as having vanquished all his foes by the blood of their sacrifices and the blood of the Lamb of God, respectively. They have both defeated their enemies and have held them up for public display (I Chronicles 18; Colossians 2:15). Solomon is suggestive of the Holy Spirit as he eventually leads the people in the work of temple-building. It is a glorious union of what David (Jesus Christ) has commissioned Solomon (the Holy Spirit) to do through his people. Looking closer at this verse, we see some particular action verbs that are command-oriented yet sequential in their intended results. As in the days of David and Solomon, temple-building is still the order of the day and the Lord tells us exactly how to do it.

"Now set your heart and your soul ... -- How does one "set" their heart and their soul aright? Romans 12:1 tells us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we change our minds, in time our hearts will follow if we are set upon Jesus as the Author and Finisher of our faith. A man or a woman is always converted in their minds and in their thinking before a transformation takes place in their inner being. The tragedy is too often when some don't allow the transformation to happen, but they hold a form or concept in their intellect without humbly asking the Lord to make it real in their life. Head-knowledge alone will ultimately kill while heart-knowledge will inevitably heal and meld the two into one.

... to seek the LORD your God ... -- The phrase "to seek" has an open-ended and interminable meaning. It is of the same sense as in the Gospels when Jesus told his disciples in Luke 11:9 to ask, seek, and knock. The implication in the Hebrew in the I Chronicles' text and later in the Greek in the Luke passage is to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. We shall never truly find all of what God has in store for us but it is a perpetual quest of the highest order.

... ;arise, therefore -- To "arise" implies a change in position, a readiness to DO! Nothing will be done if we don't enter into partnership with the Holy Spirit to perform His will. It is time to take action!

... and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, -- It is now time to put into practice all that the Lord has shown a believer. Of paramount importance, is to heed all that the Holy Spirit prompts regarding obedience and holy living. The Lord will not tolerate "shoddy" construction where He will dwell. To put oneself in order for the Holy One to dwell within means a life committed to listening and heeding His voice. Maybe He is telling me I need to get a relationship right, or to make amends to one I have wronged. Maybe I am a glutton or a waster of time in front of the TV or my computer. Maybe I am a gossip and I have murdered someone with my words. Whatever God shines the light on, make it right in that moment and your light will break forth like the new day!

... so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God into the house that is to be built for the name of the LORD." -- Not anyone could handle the ark of the covenant. Uzzah found out the hard way (see II Samuel 6:6-11). Only those of the tribe of Levi, the priesthood of God, were allowed to transport the ark of the covenant. For within the ark dwelt the Holy One in His most magnificent splendor. Peter declares that we are a royal priesthood in I Peter 2:9 -- that we only need to accept and sanctify within our hearts the Great Priest, Jesus Christ who gives us license to minister as priests before His Father. It is our responsibility and our privilege as sanctified believers to open the doors of our hearts and to bring in the holiness of God to dwell within our spirits.

Temple-building was not an easy task in Solomon's day nor is it today. It took a lifetime to build the temple in ancient Israel, and it is not any different today. Sanctification is an ongoing, never-ending process of giving body, soul, and spirit to the Lord for his choosing. It is a perpetual "setting, seeking, arising, building, and bringing" as a child of God and ultimately as a part of His most holy priesthood in these latter days. He is seeking true temple-builders even today. Do you hear His voice? Have you heeded His commands? Don't delay for there is much to be done and a lifetime of construction ahead!

Heavenly Father, we hear the call. We desire to be Your temple-builders. For those of us who have heeded your voice, we ask you for a clarity and new vision to serve as your priests, building and sanctifying Your temple within. For those who don't know you Lord, call them and convince them of this noble task at hand -- to allow a dwelling place for the Most High God in all His splendor. Empower us all to build with Your wisdom and to Your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Forgive and Forget - May 22, 2016

Philippians 3:13 - Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,

When I finally put the “plug in the jug” in 1992, I knew that I needed to make amends to all those whom I had used throughout the years. While many of them were unreachable, I did the best I could and made amends, accordingly. Most people are forgiving and understanding when you tell them what you’re trying to do. Most offer a hand of reconciliation and are glad to help patch up the past. When I say most, I am thinking of one individual who would continue to be elusive and unable to pin down regarding offering and receiving his forgiveness.


That person was me.

Often, we are our own worst critic and we can be far more critical of our past than any of our peers. We can beat ourselves unmercifully for a lifetime of missed opportunities and lost chances. We can bemoan all the “could’ve, would’ve, and should’ves that haunt our memory. It took me several years of being sober and “giving back” before I actually felt whole again from the inside out. It took making restitution by giving of myself to others until I could finally feel healed and set free from the condemnation of the past.

When I drank, I didn’t care about you or anyone else. Most of all, I really didn’t care about me. I didn’t care enough to get up and go to work, so therefore I would lose my job. Money would run out since I wasn’t working, so I would steal from you to satisfy my addiction. After waking up from a black-out of the night before I would feel terrible remorse; but more terrible was the need to get drunk again to forget about the remorse. So, I would do what I needed to get some money to get drunk again – steal, sell plasma, collect aluminum cans, or whatever I could do to turn a dollar or two so I could get drunk and ease the pain. Alcohol had crippled me as a human being. However, alcohol was merely the tool Satan used to fan the flames of sin in my life. Alcohol had become the “rapacious creditor”, as it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “that bleeds us of all self-sufficiency”. I was wasted of SELF, and needed to find someone bigger than myself to set me free from this body of death. (That Person, the only One that can set any of us truly free, is Jesus Christ the Almighty.)

For some of us, alcohol is the symptom of the greater malady -- sin within that seeks to kill us. Maybe your symptom is drug addiction. Maybe it is sexual lust. Maybe it is greed. Maybe it is pride. All of these and many more can be the tools that Satan uses to get us mired in sin so we would sink over our heads and be lost forever. I’d like to tell you a story about a man who nearly lost his life to pride. His name was Saul of Tarsus. Later he would be known as Paul the Apostle. Saul’s addiction or “tool” of sin was his extreme self-righteousness. If there was an up-and-comer Pharisee, Paul was certainly the most likely to succeed. In the book of Philippians, Paul gives a bit of his resume by stating how devout he was in his zeal for the Law. In Philippians 3:4-7 he states:

although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

This was his testimony years after his conversion. He understood where he had been as a sinner and where he stood with Christ. Paul stood in a much different place several years before when he witnessed the stoning of the disciple Stephen. The Pharisees were driven to insane anger by the preaching of Stephen. As they drove him off to stone him, they laid their coats at the feet of another zealous Pharisee as stated in Acts 7:58:

When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Finally, in Acts 9:1-5 we find Paul in full pursuit of what he thought was God’s calling on his life – persecuting and killing as many Christians as he could. However, the Lord Jesus had other plans for the young zealot:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,
Many years later he writes to the church in Philippi and tells them “yes”, this is what I was but I am no longer this man. God had taken hold of Saul of Tarsus and had killed the selfish person within him, resurrecting him as Paul the Apostle. Paul would spend the rest of his life making restitution for his life of sin by pulling as many souls from the clutches of hell as the Lord would enable him through His power. Paul continues his testimony in the 8th verse of the third chapter of Philippians:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Did Paul regret his past life? Undoubtedly he did. However, he also knew it was the key to his future. For only those who are forgiven much, can love much. Only those who have known how deep and dark and depraved their hearts were possessed by sin, only then can they know the width, and the breadth, and the depth of God’s love. The secret of Paul’s Christian life was that he never forgot where he came from but in the same token he knew he was forgiven and that it was forgotten by the One who saved his soul. That is why Paul states that he, too, can reach forward for what lies ahead, forgetting the ugliness of the past -- for truly the Father has taken his sin and thrown it in the “sea of forgetfulness”, never to be remembered or brought up again. Allow me to challenge you with this question: How is your “forgetter” today? Does it hold on to ugly images of your past life of sin or does it look forward to a life of freedom and happiness in the Lord? Is there a grateful reminiscence when you think about where God has brought you from, or is there a cloud of condemnation and despair when you consider your past?

There have been countless stories of countless men and women since the life of Paul that have experienced the life changing forgiveness of Christ. I can attest to being one of those. Another is a man named John Newton:

John Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. In July of 1732, thirteen days before his seventh birthday, death took his saintly mother who had since his third birthday been his teacher and friend. He took the death of his mother hard. In fact, it became evident that he was bitter at God over his circumstance because he began as one author puts it, "a decline into rebellion and degradation that lasted until his 24th year." At 11 years of age he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him before the elder Newton retired. In 1744 John was forced into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich. The conditions on board were intolerable to him, so he deserted but was soon recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman.

Finally, at his own request, Newton was exchanged into service on a slave ship, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He then became the servant of a slave trader and was brutally abused. Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had known John's father. John Newton ultimately became captain of his own slave ship. And what kind of captain was he? Lindsay Terry writes, "It is reported that at times he was so wretched that even his crew regarded him as little more than an animal. Once he fell overboard and his ship's crew refused to drop a boat to him. Instead they threw a harpoon at him, with which they dragged him back into the ship." But God intervened in Newton's life and got his attention through a violent storm. The gale was so severe that all the livestock were washed overboard and the crew tied themselves to the ship to keep from being swept overboard. As he was attempting to steer the ship through the violent storm, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his "great deliverance." He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy upon us." Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, a day of humiliation in which he subjected his will to a God.

Several years later after John Newton was ordained a minister, he wrote the song Amazing Grace. In his own words, he describes the type of man he was and now is by the grace of God. Truly, John Newton was a man that forgot the clouded, sinful past and reached forward to the greater calling of his life. Yet, ironically, his past is what shaped him to be of most use for the Lord. Late in life, he joined William Wilberforce in the campaign for abolition of slavery. In 1787 he wrote a tract supporting the campaign, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade. Among his greatest contributions to history was encouraging William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament for Hull, to stay in Parliament and "serve God where he was", rather than enter the ministry. Wilberforce heeded the ex-slaveship captain's advice, and spent the next twenty years successfully working for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.

It doesn’t matter who or what you’ve done or been – whether you have been an addict, alcoholic, a murderer as Saul of Tarsus, or slave-trader like John Newton. God has chosen to forgive us all. And, if He has chosen to forgive us of all our past, shouldn’t we? Are we not saying that we are greater than God Almighty if we choose to do differently? May we all, with Paul the Apostle forget what lies behind and choose rather to reach forward to what lies ahead. There is much to do for the Lord. Truly, his Amazing Grace is there to help us! Glory to the Lord!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Possessing Our Inheritance - May 15, 2016

Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews the eleventh chapter is one of those scripture references that shines with optimism. I question whether there is another portion of scripture containing forty verses of such uplifting hope that is modeled for the believer. As stated in verse six and throughout this section, the defining characteristic of a believer pleasing the heart of God is faith. Faith is unseen in its origin as Hebrews 11:1 shows us, otherwise it is not faith. It is evidenced by its outcomes. We are once again reminded of the "characters" of faith throughout this chapter. God can use imperfect humans that once were drunkards like Noah, murderers like Moses, and prostitutes like Rahab. Praise God that we can truly approach the Throne of Grace just as we are and receive His mercy and forgiveness!

While Hebrews 11 is a wonderful resume regarding the incredible exploits of the faithful, there is an obvious "faith gap" between verses 29 and 30. The nation of Israel's wilderness wanderings in the Sinai were obviously omitted purposely:
v29 - By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.

v30 - By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been
encircled for seven days.
The silence of this "unspoken" 40 years of wanderings is deafening. Once again, we see what is NOT written in scripture can often be as powerful as what is written. An entire generation of this young Jewish nation was deliberately not spoken of in the context of faith but at the same time, their unbelief was proclaimed loud and clear by omission. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are full of examples regarding what not to do in order to enter the promised land that God so earnestly wanted them to possess. The scripture tells us earlier in the book of Hebrews that they could not enter the land that had been promised due to their hardness of heart and lack of faith -- that God would do as He foretold. The mercy and compassion of the Lord was demonstrated time and time again through many miraculous acts following their rescue from Pharaoh. Their thirst was quenched by water from the rock, they were fed by manna from heaven, their clothes and their sandals did not wear out during this time. Not to mention the Shekinah Glory of the Lord that led them through the wilderness -- a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night. Yet, the scripture tells us that their hearts were hardened and the Lord swore in His wrath, "They shall not enter My rest!".

We all have lapses of faith. We see that in the characterizations of every one of those listed in the Hebrews "Hall of Faith". However, there need not be these times when the "silence" of unbelief is deafening. My wilderness experience lasted 14 years where I struggled in and out of homelessness, alcoholism, and addiction. Even so, during all this time, the Lord was faithful as He watched over me to finally bring me across my respective "Jordon River" to the promised land of abundance. Those of us who have crossed over through sanctification understand that the land lies before us, ready to be possessed. God is telling us that it is our inheritance and that we shouldn't fear but believe that He has given it to us all who would but believe. Why does the writer of Hebrews emphasize the walls of Jericho falling down after the nation of Israel crossed into the promised land? Because it was a further demonstration of how the Lord God Jehovah is the One who defeats our enemies if we will but believe. This is the only reference in the book of Joshua of how the Lord destroyed a city that the sons of Israel would possess in this manner. The Lord showed Joshua and the Jewish people that it was "... not by might, and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord". The hallmark of this victory was strict obedience to the word of the Lord. In like manner, we can only please the Lord God by faith and obedience to what He is telling us to do. The power can only come through acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us on Calvary's tree.

He has given us the same boldness through the forgiveness of sins to enter into the Throne Room of Grace and to take possession of our inheritance as sons and daughters of Light. We simply must believe, confess, and possess what He has freely given for us all to claim by our birthright as sons of God. Some might say that their wilderness wanderings have become too comfortable and that they no longer know the way. He is there when we are ready to be led into the promised pastures of His delight. We just need to ask.

Heavenly Father, You are the One that has defeated all our enemies before we have even asked. You are the One wooing us to enter and possess the "eternal land" of Your promise. It's not by what we have done, but what You did on Calvary. The inheritance is ours to claim by rights of the blood of Jesus. Lord, we accept your faith and lay our lives before You as a living sacrifice that we may live to obey You. In Jesus Christ's holy name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick