Sunday, March 29, 2015

Whose Fool Are You? - March 29, 2015

I Corinthians 1:18 - For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Most of us in western civilization have either been the perpetrator or the victim of a joke or a gag on the first day of April. While no one is absolutely certain regarding how April Fools Day began, most relate it to the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar in the late 16th century. The Julian calendar which had been used since the days of the Romans began around the first day of April which was in accordance with the vernal equinox or the arrival of spring. So, when Pope Gregory XIII ordered a new calendar to begin on January 1, those who continued to insist that April 1 was the start of the new year were regarded as "fools." Supposedly, from this sprang the idea of making April 1 "All Fools Day" or April Fools as it is now most commonly referred. From this 500 year old edict to change the start of the new year, we now have a day in which jokes and foolishness reign supreme. All because of the supposed resistance of some to not submit to the obvious. They would forever remain symbols of man's foolishness to resist change.

A similar group resistant to change is the Flat Earth Society (FES). In a mostly tongue and cheek fashion, they challenge whether indeed the world is round since only a few have truly witnessed this phenomenon hanging in space as it does. Of course, with the vast amount of empirical data proving them wrong, they have removed themselves from a place of ludicrous ridicule from when they first began to a place of questioning the reality of anything that cannot first be experienced by anyone at any time. While "April Foolsters" of centuries past and contemporary FES members look foolish to us today, how much more foolish must we appear to God when we reject the overwhelming empirical data supporting Jesus Christ as the Savior of the World? Once the data was introduced for both a new calendar and a round orb, most of the naysayers were silenced out of respect for the conclusiveness of the facts. However, no matter how much proof the Christian community offers to the world regarding how Jesus is the only way to salvation, they refuse to believe. Of course, those of us who have come to a saving knowledge of our Lord understand that the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so they cannot come to a knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus (II Corinthians 4:4). However, for the sake of those who are appointed for eternal life, let us look at the facts.

While there are numerous specifics regarding the scientific and historical accuracy of Scriptures, I will present only only the mathematical proof due to the limited size of this writing. In his book Science Speaks, Dr. Peter Stoner applies the principle of probability to Jesus fulfilling just eight of the more than 300 prophecies in the Old Testament about Himself. (To see the particular prophecies Dr. Stoner uses, please access the following link: http://www.goodnewsdispatch.org/math.html) The odds are astronomical in scope! The mathematical probability of Christ fulfilling just eight prophecies is 10 to the 28th power. Or, for simplicity sake and to see the sheer size of the number, the possibility that Jesus could fulfill just eight prophecies as He did is a one in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 probability! If there is so much certainty regarding His legitimacy regarding prophetic and mathematical proof, we would be wise and not foolish to ascertain who Jesus said He is and to act accordingly. Since there is undeniable proof that Jesus is the Savior of the world according to fulfilled prophecy, is there another savior that others can worship and expect entry to Paradise? If we take scriptures such as John 14:6 which clearly state that "no man comes to the Father but through Me" then we must concede that Jesus is who He said He is and that He is the only way to salvation. Others such as John 8:24 and Acts 4:12 reinforce this fact. His credibility of proclaiming His own deity and His mission to this earth is undeniable by His fulfillment of Scripture. Therefore, we must believe all that He says about Himself, or we become those most to be pitied because of our foolish resistance.

While April Fools Day is a way in which our current society uses a little humor to lighten our daily loads, the origins of this annual day for pranksters has its roots in foolish resistance. While those original foolsters were probably tongue and cheek (much like the aforementioned flat-earthers), it makes no sense to defiantly resist the facts provided by the burden of proof. As Paul dealt with those in ancient Corinth who prided themselves in their great Greek learning, he referred to those who resisted the facts as foolish (I Corinthians 1:18; I Corinthians 1:27). Later, in I Corinthians 4:10, he tells the church in this great city how he has become a fool for Christ through the seeming foolishness of the gospel. We must ask ourselves: Whose fool are we? Will we continue to believe as we desire so we can live lives unimpeded by God? Or, will we finally submit to Christ and the preponderance of data which supports who He is? The simple fact is this: we will be someone's fool, whether Christ's or our own sensibilities. May we all submit to Jesus and the foolishness of the cross, for only in Him is our hope!

Heavenly Father, thank You for such a simple plan of salvation that all might accept Your Son. Thank You that all we must do is resist the foolishness of our own concepts of life and salvation and trust totally in You and Your wisdom. May all who read this come into an understanding of the wisdom behind what seems to many as such foolishness. Thank You for Your great gift to us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Cast Thy Burden - March 22, 2015

Psalm 55:22 - Cast thy burden upon the LORD and He shall sustain thee; He shall never suffer the righteous to be moved. (KJV)

Any of us who have witnessed track and field events have probably witnessed the shot put throw. I remember throwing or "putting" a diminished version of the standard 16 pound put used in men's competition. In junior high, it was probably an eight to ten pound shot put, and by high school we used a 12 pounder. I was never really good at it, but I always marveled when someone could put some distance on their put. Today, the world record is held by a fellow that shot put over 75 feet. That is remarkable when you think about heaving a 16 pound ball of metal over 25 yards -- a quarter of an American football field in length! While this is an outstanding effort, it once again is a testament regarding human limitations. We just don't have omnipotent power to achieve superhuman feats of strength. (This is probably why superheroes are larger than life and emulated by so many!) Our limitations remind us time and again that we are mere mortals and subject to the frailty of human flesh. For those of us who know the Lord, our weakness only reminds us of the One who lives within our earthly bodies. We are reminded that truly, greater is He who is within us, then any other we might encounter, either real or imagined. (I John 4:4)

The implication of our lead verse gives us a word picture that we might liken to one who would attempt the shot put. By the time many of us are willing to acknowledge our burden of sin, the revelation of its enormity and ungainliness might leave us in despair to know how to deal with it. Fortunately, Christ Jesus our Savior knows that we cannot begin to handle the load of sin that we all must carry outside of His saving grace. When we trust in Him, He removes the weight of sin if we will only cast our burden His way. It matters not how strong we are in this effort. In spiritual reality, it is better that we are crippled with weakness. If we will but move toward the Lord to throw our sin upon Him, He will meet us with all the strength of the God-head to accomplish salvation on our behalf. But what about after salvation? Once we have walked with the Lord for a while, we might find that those familiar pains of carrying around an unneeded weight have returned. Some might easily equate their newly-acquired burden as sin needing confession and repentance. That may be the case if the Lord reveals this to a man or a woman's heart. In this case, we should humbly ask our Savior to cleanse us by His blood, knowing that He will graciously grant us forgiveness (I John 1:9) However, there is also the very real possibility that Satan, through our flesh (sin nature), has heaped upon us guilt for previously forgiven transgressions. In this case, we must stand on the word of God, knowing that Christ has removed our sin as far as the east is from the west. (Psalm 103:12) If we have truly cast our burden of sin, the Lord has flung our sin into the sea of forgetfulness, never to resurface in His mind or heart again. (Micah 7:19)

As redeemed, born-again believers, we are not allowed to carry a burden of sin. The only "burdens" we are to carry are the ones the Lord gives us in prayer for others. (Galatians 6:1-2) To hear a Christ-follower (a saint, if you will), speak about the heavy burdens they are carrying belies the true meaning of our burden of sin before we knew Christ. So-called burdens are often dressed-up disguises of unbelief and sin. We might say that we believe God will supply all our needs according to Christ's riches as stated in Philippians 4:13. But then we might tell others about our mountain of bills, or our broken down car, or our failing health in a spirit of "burdened" unbelief. Instead, we should first be telling God our problems, ending with a post-script in our prayers that we know He can meet all our needs. Then, if he gives us permission, we can take these faith-filled requests to others, allowing them to join with us in prayer to see these needs come to fruition. When we merely moan and groan about our supposed "burdens", we call God a liar -- declaring that He is not able to meet our needs as He has stated. However, if we will continue to cast our cares (not our burden, for Christ dealt with that when we trusted in Him), then we will see the heavens opened and God meeting and exceeding our expectations.

To cast one's burden of sin upon the Lord is the defining moment of every new believer. We are not meant to bear its weight. Neither are we meant to be able to set some type of world's record in how far we can throw it from our own spiritual self. That is what the devil would desire for every man, woman, and child. If the enemy of our souls can keep lost souls trying to "shot put" their sins continually away from them, then he has won. Likewise, if he can keep believers like you and me to attempt to either carry our sins once again, or to cast our sins off our shoulders and out of our hearts by our own power, then he has made us ineffective as children of God. Our only hope is the Great Anchor of our Souls (Hebrews 6:19), for without Him both our sin and our sins will weigh us down to the depths of despair. May we first cast off our burden of sin to the One who will grant us freedom from its unbearable weight. Then, may we always cast all our concerns upon the Lord, for He desires to be our care-bearer in the same way. He alone is the One who is ultimately our strength, beloved.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the power of Your might that has resolved both sin and anxiety for all those who would but trust in You. Thank you for allowing us to cast our burden upon Your Son, as well as all our cares. Keep us in Your continual peace as we trust in You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Love Without Limits - March 15, 2015

James 2:8 - If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, “ YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing well.

All of us fall short of the mark when it comes to "loving our neighbor". For most of us, we find our love sometimes lacking when it comes to speaking rightly toward someone or possibly giving them a helping hand. Often, it is easier to criticize than it is to "Christ-ize" those with whom we are in daily contact. We might have certain individuals in our lives who are easy to love, because they love us. They give us what we need regarding overall acceptance. However, there may be others in our lives that are less than loving, often simply because they have a hard time loving themselves. People that are generally unloving toward themselves are more than likely unloving toward others. I state the obvious in order to understand both our current circumstances in the world in which we live, and the promise of a pure existence yet to come. To respond differently to those who may not like us, is to act in a way that is not consistent with this world's standards. There may be some who despise us because of a wrong they feel we've done to them once upon a time. (This may be true or understated.) However, their perception has led them to take up arms against not only us, but anyone else they feel has victimized them. Jesus tells us that our responsibility is to always respond in love, no matter our rightness or our "whiteness" in the matter. (Matthew 5:39) We may be totally innocent, but so was our Savior when they lifted Him up for our salvation. The Father's love which manifested itself within Christ's human body allowed Him to love those perfectly who brought about His death.

James, the half-brother of our Savior, quotes both Jesus and the Law of Moses in our lead verse. He tells us that we are to indeed love our neighbor with the same fervor that we love ourselves. Understanding exactly what James was saying is paramount to discerning his intent in this verse. Jesus spoke to those questioning Him about the greatest commandment, referring to the importance of loving one's neighbor as himself. (Mark 12:28-31) In this instance in the Gospel of Mark, the Lord is quoting from the Levitical law, using the Torah to affirm God's heart to those who questioned Him regarding the importance of the law. (Leviticus 19:18) Through this encounter, Jesus taught that the Greatest Commandment was inseparable from the second greatest charge. Without accomplishing a deep, passionate love for the Lord -- to love Him with all of one's heart, soul, and mind -- it would be impossible to love one's neighbor. Without God's love abiding within, love for one's self would be moot therefore aborting any true godly love for another. When I speak of love for one's self, I am not speaking of selfish, narcissistic adoration. I do refer to a love regarding who God has fashioned by the finished work at Calvary. To love one's self in a right way is to understand that the Holy Spirit dwells within and that we should be in love with God within our human bodies. He has come to dwell within the temple of our mortal frame, consecrating it for His purpose and ultimately for His glory. With that perspective, what is there not to love about God tabernacling with men? With a true understanding of His love for us, and "right-sized" thinking about the God who lives within us, it is little wonder that we don't love ourselves more. And, that is the key to love others more completely, beloved. Once we accept who we are in the Beloved, our Lord Jesus Christ, then we will experience the fulfillment of the "royal law" when we begin to lay down our lives for others, even as He did for us.

Surprisingly, few truly understand this. Otherwise, the church would be experiencing much more growth in the area of love. The barometer of wellness of a local body (and the Body of Christ at large) is how well we love. When we aren't loving, it tells the world that we're not loving what God has done and is doing in us, both past and present. To understand God's great love is to understand a deep, abiding sense of His presence which will ultimately be shed abroad in our hearts to others. (Romans 5:5) To comprehend His great love is a gift from above. We simply need to continue to ask for revelation of His love within until he fills us to such overflowing that our witness becomes one of continual charity toward both ourselves and others. (Philippians 1:9) For in reality, beloved, we are simply rehearsing for that day that when we will be enveloped forever in His love. That day when we step into eternity and experience the fullness of His love and of His presence will be the day that we love perfectly. No more will we feel disdain toward a mortal soul we once felt no empathy toward. In that Celestial City, we will feel nothing but unrequited love that will flow freely from the Source within us. No more will we experience anger or unforgiveness from those who once walked this earth. If we are truly Christ's, He will wipe away every tear from our eyes, knowing that we are indeed created from the dust, yet now to rule and reign with Him forever. Never again will there be an unresolved act of charity, for all will be resolved through Jesus. We will walk with Him, loving ourselves for what He has done in us and perfectly loving those that share that heavenly scene because He loved them likewise.

Self-love without God's love as the source is from this earth and demonic in nature. However, love that is given through revelation of what the Father has completed within us through the blood of Jesus is a wonderfully holy thing. We can rejoice in the knowledge of His love within us, for it will set us free to love others. If we don't accept ourselves, our love for others will fall woefully short. May we embrace God's view, as redeemed children of the King, with the understanding that His Holy Spirit dwells within all who know the Savior. Let us continue to draw close to Him, allowing Him to love us completely, giving us total permission to love ourselves and others. May His love abound within our hearts and may it find a place to dwell in all those whom we touch in our daily lives.

Heavenly Father, may we love You fully, may we love ourselves respectfully and humbly according to Your great revelation, and may we love others completely through Your divine understanding or who we are in Christ. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Good Shepherd - March 8, 2015

Psalm 23:4 - Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

Of all the story pictures in the Old Testament scriptures, possibly none evokes tranquility better than the six verses that make up Psalm 23. From the beginning of this Song of David to the end, we are painted a vivid portrait within our mind's-eye regarding this pastoral scene. Sheep led by tranquil waters and resting in lush grass create a peaceful motif for this most quoted scripture of both Testaments. However, some would imply that there is something less peaceful regarding the shepherd's intention in this psalm when discussing verse four. Throughout my church history, I recall various preachers sermonizing about this passage, using this metaphor of God's rod and staff in a less than comforting way. They meant well, I'm sure, when they conjectured a different meaning regarding the shepherd's intent. However, their interpretation comes across as wholly incompatible with the context. We should look carefully at the meaning of the shepherd's rod and staff to determine David's intent in this powerful psalm.

We've probably all seen pictures in books or bibles or religious displays depicting a shepherd with his flock. Common to us is the shepherd's crook, a long staff with a hook at the end. This enabled the shepherd to help guide his or her sheep, using the crook at times to gently "hook" the sheep by the neck and guide it back to the rest of the flock. Probably less known to us is the shepherd's rod. A rod in biblical times could be something as small as a foot-long club that shepherd's wore in their belt, to a four-foot in length weapon that might resemble a walking stick. Usually, one end was more club-like (as shown in the attached picture). While the staff was used specifically for herding the flock, the rod was a weapon or a tool, if you will, to provide safety for the flock. To understand the meaning and the use of the rod is to understand God's heart toward His flock. As mentioned, some preachers would lead us to believe that God would use His rod against His beloved sheep and lambs. Some have stated that shepherds in ancient Palestine would correct a lamb by breaking its leg and carrying it until the break had healed. Therefore, this would prevent the lamb, one day to become a sheep, from ever wandering away again. With full grown sheep, the implication is that the rod would be used to discipline the sheep with heavy blows to prevent it from wandering. In both cases, I believe this does not produce the result of "comfort" as the verse states. Animals are not stupid, neither are humans. Both know the difference of being treated with love that does not foster fear as a result. Can you imagine the trauma created to an animal's psyche by such a blatantly heinous act? There would be an indelible mistrust, no matter how much nurturing occurred after the fact. The same can be said regarding humans. If we knew that God was intentionally "beating us up and breaking our legs" we would always have the wrong sort of fear toward the Great Shepherd.

If, however, the rod was meant for something totally different, then it would cast a harmonious consistency with the rest of the psalm. Suppose that the rod symbolized protection from without, as the shepherd's staff meant protection from within? Imagine for a moment a good shepherd who wielded this one- to four-foot club, would he not meet any animal, robber, or stranger seeking to harm the flock with unbridled ferocity? Can we suppose that David, when bringing his resume' to King Saul regarding his ability to defeat the giant Goliath, didn't use one of these rods to club to death both the bear and the lion? (I Samuel 17:33-35) Artists throughout the millennia have shown this very thing as David clutched the beard of a lion and slew it with this club-like rod. So, how could one imagine that David could be referring to this war club in any other way as a defense for the flock? Just as the shepherd would keep the flock from straying with his staff, so he would keep the outer dangers at bay with his rod of defense. To use the rod for anything else would strike the wrong kind of fear in the hearts of his animals. Every time they saw it, there would be an uncertainty regarding when and where the shepherd would use it next. While the staff would comfort them, knowing that the shepherd would herd them lovingly by keeping them together, so they would also know that the other tool in their keeper's arsenal was to protect them from whatever might assail them.

The transliteration of the word "rod" in Hebrew is shebet, and is found dozens of times in the Old Testament. Critics to the reasoning I suggest might note that shebet is used in child-rearing scriptures such as Proverbs 23:13: Do not hold back discipline from the child. Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. However, corporal punishment for a rebellious child is one thing -- the intent of a "sheep" to maliciously assert its own predilection is quite another. One acts out of a state of volition, defiantly choosing to disobey. The other is wayward merely out of a sense of misguided instinct. One might choose to deal with a wayward child in one way, and a wayward grown child in quite another. We are told that the father of the Prodigal Son merely let his wayward grown son make his mistakes and then return when he saw the folly of his ways. (Luke 15:11-25) While I am not naive to believe that the shepherd would not be forcefully rough at times to convince a sheep to stay with the flock, I likewise believe that a good shepherd would not inflict unnecessary brutality to convince a sheep of his authority. This, as has already been stated, would be counterproductive and would make the sheep ultimately mistrust and flee from this type of shepherding. (John 10:5)

Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John, the tenth chapter that He is indeed the Good Shepherd. He protects His flock and will not allow any to be snatched from His hand. (John 10:28) David gives us this dynamic portrayal of good shepherding in Psalm 23 whereas Jesus Christ completes the image in John's Gospel. The Lord has shown us through David's typology and through His own testimony that He is to be trusted to keep us from straying and to defend us against those who would seek to devour us. Even if we did stray, He compares Himself with the man in the parable of the wayward sheep. He would seek us out and rejoice when He found us once again. (Luke 15:3-6) Jesus is clear throughout His teachings that punitive discipline is not the order of the day when a lost sheep is found. What is clear is His love for us all and how He rejoices over our return. May we never see God being desirous to punish us through corrective measures that are not in line with His word. Neither the shepherd David nor the Good Shepherd would be complicit to this type of discipline. Know and understand, beloved, that the rod of his love is to protect us from all that would seek to harm us. In Him, we can truly be comforted and rest in His abiding grace!

Great Shepherd of our souls, may we always trust that you will lead us and guide us, first with your staff of life that leads us always in your word. And also by your rod, that protects us from the world and the devil that would seek to devour us. May your word comfort and lead us while the power of Your Name protects us from all evil. In Jesus' Name, Amen.Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Salvation That Works - March 1, 2015

Philippians 2:12 - So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;

How should we define salvation? If we think of salvation as merely being redeemed by the blood of Jesus and secured a place in heaven, then we mock the greater intent. Salvation from sin is a continual, ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in our lives Who gives us the power to live free from our past lives and to embrace the newness of life as spoken by the Apostle Paul (II Corinthians 5:17). We must daily strive to enter into the fullness of what Christ has given us through His death, burial, and resurrection. It is not our heritage as sons and daughters of the Most High God to remain the same. Indeed, He has given us all things pertaining to life and godliness (II Peter 1:3). With that gift comes the responsibility to work out what He has worked in those who call themselves "redeemed." If we call ourselves Christians, it is our destiny to first embrace the salvation He has granted, and then to allow it to permeate every area of our lives. While this may be simple in concept, it is often not easy in application. True, it is relatively straightforward to love those who love us. But what of those who despitefully use or abuse us? On these occasions, we are confronted by our inability to love, and are more apt to behave quite the opposite from that of our Savior.

For someone to say that all we need to do is confess that we are Christ's children in order to love those who hate us, have missed an important lesson regarding working out our salvation toward sanctification. To simply say, "I love all people because Christ is in me" is naive and unrealistic in respect to the reality. I can repeat over and over again that I love someone who slanders me, yet if I don't possess that love toward them, then my confession is flawed. What is often needed is an "act of love" to reinforce the confession toward this unseemly person. To say that we love someone and then to do nothing to show otherwise is an empty gesture. Proverbs tells us that ... "a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." (Proverbs 15:1) This is a demonstration of how the confession of love becomes an act of love. The Apostle James calls this dynamic putting works with your faith. (James 2:20) If we believe that Christ has given us His love, then we should be acting it out. Too often, I believe that many Christians don't really believe that Jesus has given them "all things in the Beloved" for their actions deny their confession. If they truly believed that all things godly were theirs, doesn't it make sense that they would be living out their reality? Instead, many continue in their old way of thinking and acting, letting their unregenerate self rule their existence. They lack the understanding or the revelation that God lives within them. For many, they lethargically believe that their Christian life is "okay" and that there is no reason to attempt anything different. These don't see a need to cry to God for His Spirit of Wisdom and Revelation that would reveal who they truly are in Christ, and how they should be acting out the precious gift of salvation to others. (Ephesians 1:17-19)

In his writings, Paul's desire was for all to understand who they were in God's Son, even as Jesus knew who He was in His Father. Paul spoke the words for the Philippians to "work out their salvation with fear and trembling" only after giving them the model of how Christ Jesus accomplished this in the previous verses. In verse seven of Philippians chapter two, Paul tells us that Jesus Christ emptied Himself of His Deity, taking on the flesh of man. In so doing, He denied Himself the limitless power of God and chose instead to understand who He was, and how He was to act. Jesus understood, through divine revelation, who it was that lived within Him. However, He still needed to WORK OUT that relationship to the world at large. His life became that of the REVELATION of God within Him, the INSPIRATION of what God could do through Him, and finally the DIVINE COMMISSIONING to work out the Father's salvation to a lost and dying world. By perfectly drawing upon the grace that His Father provided to Him in earthly flesh, He perfectly moved in the exact representation of His Father's will while on earth. Therefore, God highly exalted Him once again to His place in the eternal Godhead.

While we will never achieve Christ's perfect submission to the Father, we are commissioned to look to Jesus as our role model regarding salvation. God has given us the Divine Nature, the very Spirit that dwelt in Christ Jesus, to reign in our mortal bodies. It is therefore our spiritual duty to "empty ourselves" of the old nature and to work out salvation in both our lives and those around us. It is not enough to know that Jesus has justified us according to His work on Calvary. We must keep coming to Him, seeking Him to fill us with His enduing power as we empty ourselves of our past, carnal life. Only as we give ourselves to Him in perfect submission, can we be equipped to work out the salvation He has so graciously given. Faith without works, beloved, are inseparable. We must understand that God has given us all power through the cross of Christ. It is our highest duty to act like Christians, and to allow His Spirit to work through us. Without Christ's demonstration of His Person in our lives, can we truly claim to be His? May God give us His wisdom in this and much more!

Heavenly Father, help us to work the works of Jesus by demonstrating His love through us. May the gifts of the Holy Spirit be manifested through lives that are emptied, intent on working out salvation both in our hearts and lives and those of others. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Holding Things Together - February 22, 2015

Colossians 1:17 - He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

We've all heard expressions such as "I'm holding on" or "I'm holding on by the skin of my teeth". Others might say they are doing all they can to "hold things together". In our fast-paced world it's easy to become overwhelmed by life and all its responsibilities. However, as frail human beings, we were not designed to hold everything together, either in our own lives or our families or our businesses. Jesus Christ gives us a model to understand that a greater power exists to sustain us in this life and the one to come. If we are trying to hold things together, then we are scripturally working against the Lord. As stated in our lead passage, Jesus is the One who holds all things together. Is this indicative or every instance of life, no matter to what granularity we apply it? We must believe if Jesus is interested in holding together the Universe by His power, then He is interested in all of its particulars -- even down to the very molecular structure of life as we know it.

Careful review of our lead scripture draws our attention to "... and in Christ all things hold together." To "hold together" derives its meaning from the Greek word sunistemi. This quite literally means to "stand together" or "to adhere to one another". From a scientific viewpoint we might apply this so-called "Colossae Theory" to the study of atoms and nuclear energy -- the building blocks of all physical matter. Physicists generally agree that atoms are held together by weak and strong forces. Simply stated, an atom's nucleus contains positively-charged and neutral particles. Electrical forces would ultimately drive the particles apart and cause a nuclear reaction if it were not for the "strong force" which holds the nucleus of the atom together. This unexplained force is positively identified in scripture as the power of the Lord Jesus as he "upholds all things by the word of His power". (Hebrews 1:3) Furthermore, we know that Jesus, according to John 1:1, is Himself that word. Therefore, all power to hold the cosmos together is encompassed in the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Whether one is a believer in God or agnostic or even an atheist, there will come a day when we all believe in the power of the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit, that He indeed is holding all things together. We will, on that fateful day, know with great certainty that He "has the whole world in His hands" as the old hymn states. That day will be manifested as a day when He no longer uses His "strong force" to hold all things in their proper place, as we have known them. That last moment in time will be manifested in His "letting go", thereby allowing a nuclear explosion unparalleled in the history of the earth, allowing everything to be enveloped by eternity. The Apostle Peter states it in this manner:


But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements (atoms) will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)
Everything, as we know it, will be consumed in a fiery atomic reaction that will disintegrate every physical particle that is seen. While this sounds horrendously frightening to some, it can at the same be time comforting to those who know the Lord. Those of us who have trusted in Jesus understand that He is the One that has not only been holding the Universe together by the power of His word, but He has been holding our lives together by the word of His grace. Believers in Jesus' redemption know that our bodies will someday be transformed by the power of His resurrection. We also know that He is loosening His grip on our mortal bodies and that one day we will succumb to death (unless He first appears to redeem us in "the twinkling of the eye" [I Corinthians 15:52]). However, His grip remains firm on our soul and spirit that is forever redeemed by His grace.


Often, we can limit an omnipotent God by denying that He is not concerned with every instance of creation. Even as believers, we can become agnostic or even atheistic in our beliefs if we limit our perception of His power. For God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to be so connected with every molecule and atom by holding them all together is a mind-boggling thought. However, we must understand that if He is so intimately involved with every iota of what He created, to dismiss that He isn't passionately concerned with His chief creation is sacrilegious toward His Deity. If God uses His limitless power to allow creation to continue, day after day, holding it together by His immeasurable strength, then why should we not believe that He is doing so for us? He suspends His judgment by "holding things together" to allow still others to accept His free gift of love and eternal life. What an awesome, all-powerful God we serve! May He continue to hold us and to love us until that day when we are consumed and wrapped in eternity, to be with Him always!

Heavenly Father, may we know that You uphold us by the strength of Your right hand. May we understand that the power of Your might holds us together on this physical plane until we go to join You in that eternal new earth that exists for Your good pleasure. Cause us to yearn for that day when we no longer look for You to hold us together in this life, but to be one with You in the world to come. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thriving in Adversity - February 15, 2015

Ecclesiastes 7:14 - In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider--God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.

In some churches today, it is quite common to hear a prosperity message that doesn't reflect the total doctrine within scripture. While God desires for all His children to prosper, it is sometimes misunderstood how that prosperity should be manifested. I have been around enough of this teaching to understand that there is an undercurrent of disapproval if a person seems to be struggling with finances or possibly personal or family issues. Some church- and lay-leaders will often try to comprehend the source of a person's "misfortune" by seeking to explain it through cause and effect. If someone is struggling financially, then there is possibly a tithing problem. Or, if the tithing is in order then maybe they just need to give more to "open the windows of heaven" upon their lives. If there are family problems or personal issues, then maybe there is a generational curse that needs to be broken "in the Name of Jesus". Believe me, friends, I am not discounting these as possibilities. However, I believe that some churches seek to explain too much through a formulaic approach. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. We would do well to remember the words of Jesus, that God "... causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous". (Matthew 5:45) The world in which we live is affected by both sin and righteousness, and seemingly it is beset by certain arbitrary outcomes. However, we know that as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, He causes all things to work together for God for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). We often just need a spiritual adjustment regarding our perspective to understand what is happening in regard to our lives and those whom we love.

Job is the classic biblical example of someone suffering under seemingly unjust circumstances. We are told throughout the Book of Job that the defendant, Job, is being treated unjustly and has been ruined without cause. The patriarch's friends defend the formulaic belief that supports the reciprocity theory -- if a person does good, they will receive good, if bad then bad things will come their way. It is not until the final few chapters do we learn that God is working behind the scenes in what would appear arbitrary ways. However, He was there all along, causing good things to spring forth through adversity that appeared to be misplaced upon Job. Calamity and adversity became the means by which God justified Job before men and angels. His testing became Job's testimony of how God would not only take away prosperity, but how he would then restore. As the Sovereign Lord, He had every right to deal with this saint of old in this manner, as he likewise has with anyone he desires. Too often, we seek to discern God's dealings with others, even as Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad tried with Job. However, we may too often revert to the "formula" that is not iron-clad, leveraging the spirit of suspicion rather than true discernment from God's Spirit.

There are those select few, like Job, who understand that God is sovereign and He does as He will, working everything for His glory. Then, there are countless others who look at the adversity that God may allow and they react much differently. The children of Israel were chronic complainers with a catalog of murmurings those 40 years while wandering in the wildernesses of Sinai and Kadesh-Barnea. We are told in the Book of Numbers that the Israelites "complained of adversity" in God's hearing which ignited God's anger toward His chosen people. Numbers 11:1 states: 

Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.
What was the difference between Job and the nation of Israel? Did they not both complain to God regarding their adversity? Scripture tells us that the difference was heart attitude. We know that Job believed God and trusted God, without seeing Him. The Israelites doubted God continually, but saw His goodness and miracles for 40 years. We are told that Job was righteous in God's eyes -- upright, fearing God, and turning from evil. (Job 1:8) Yet God still inflicted him with adversity as a righteous man. However, the Lord God threatened repeatedly to destroy the Israelites and to make a great nation from the man, Moses. (Exodus 32:10; Deuteronomy 9:14; Numbers 14:12) This was all because they refused to believe and trust in the One who continually provided for them in the wilderness. So, we can look at both examples and surmise, from human standards, that God's dealing with the wandering Israelites was just. However, without reading the final chapters of Job, we are led to believe that God deals unjustly on certain occasions with select individuals. We see from Job's restoration, that this was not the case at all.


It is easy to judge another when they are going through a personal, financial, or family problem. It's quite easy to make a religious judgment over someone who is entering bankruptcy. Some might say, "If only they would rebuke the devourer off their life, then God would be able to open the windows of heaven and all would be good!" As I stated previously, this can indeed be the case for some select individuals. However, to create an equation that says to do this and to do that and it will result in blessing is unscriptural in view of all of God's word. Adversity is sometimes meant to be embraced as well as the prosperity that God so graciously gives. We can thrive in one as well as the other. The Apostle Paul, we are told, learned the "secret" of living with much and living with very little. (Philippians 4:12) Should we think that we are above the likes of Job or even that of Paul? Or, do we feel a sense of entitlement as the children of Israel who perished because of their unbelief? We must all take what is our allotment, always seeking God's best no matter how that might manifest itself. While we should always prepare for God's blessings and the good things He desires to give, we must also not flinch when these blessings sometimes depart for no good reason. We should be able to echo Job's proclamation regarding God's sovereignty ... 

He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD."
 - Job 1:21
Lord God Almighty, No matter our lot, teach us to say, "It is well, with my soul". May we always cling to you through prosperity and adversity. Cause us to be those who thrive no matter how the circumstances might turn. Give us hearts so in love with You that we trust you implicitly. In Jesus' Name, Amen!


Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick