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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wealth Management - February 8, 2015

Proverbs 18:11 - A rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination.

According to a recent news report, a certain gentleman had it all, or so he thought. A few years previous to this news story, he found out that he was the lottery winner from a more than 300 million dollar Powerball ticket. Years later, he says he wishes he would have torn up the ticket because it left a curse on his life. He had dreams of helping people with that large sum, which he did for the first few years. However, the greed of those who knew of his "fortune" soon became overwhelming. Countless pleas for money poured in over the years. Some were as outlandish as someone wanting new carpet, to another needing a new entertainment center for their home. He ended up giving millions away to help others, as well as to build churches. However, lawsuits became frequent during this time against his construction company. Many considered him to have "deep pockets" and they apparently felt no qualms about trying to put their hands therein. He was led to despair, turning to alcohol and illegal drugs. Someone very close to him was also the victim of a heinous murder. He believed this was a direct result of him having won the lottery. This once normal businessman and family man, in his opinion, was driven to desperate straits, all because of having won this inordinate amount of money.

While this man's account is certainly not everyone's story who might win the lottery, it does suggest an important lesson taught to us in scripture. As Proverbs 18:11 tells us, worldly wealth is an illusion. It is something that the rich, and those who undoubtedly desire to be so, imagine giving them security in this life. As the wisest man that ever lived (besides Jesus), Solomon was also one of the richest. He had a thing or two to say about the deceptiveness of riches bringing security, and he did not shy from stating the truth regarding this matter. The wise king suggests that just when we think we have an understanding of how to manage our wealth, it will inevitably disappoint us. As soon as we set our eyes upon it and determine in our hearts that our future is secure, it "makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens". (Proverbs 23:5) Not allowing this to happen seems to be the key to not giving abnormal place to wealth in our hearts. It is to understand that riches earned respectively and honestly are to be viewed as a tool and not as an idol that displaces the One who helped us create the wealth. For truly, whatever we set our affections toward will eventually own us. That is why the Lord desires that we would build wealth according to His desire. Often, that wealth has nothing to do with earthly riches but has everything to do with using what God has given us to further His kingdom on earth.

When I read this news story, it made me think of another Proverb that promises a curse when money is gained in an unnatural manner. Proverbs 20:21 states: An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end. How true this is for the man in our aforementioned story. However, are there others among us that have done similarly, possibly not with the lottery but with our desire for wealth and comfort? I have known men that have sacrificed their friends, family, and all that they hold dear for their careers and the opportunity to attain "success". They have side-stepped God, telling Him they will give their heart to Him once they have made their mark upon the world. In their minds, it may be making that first million and creating a retirement portfolio that promises a life of relative leisure by the time they are 50 years old. Jesus told a story about a man that planned much like many today for a retirement where they lacked nothing. However, the Lord called this man a "fool" because his life was taken from him before he had a chance to enjoy all that he had schemed for throughout his earthly life. (Luke 12:16-21) Jesus told the crowd to be on guard against every form of greed, because it will often take the most benign forms and deceive us.
Those who have won the lottery or have gained wealth through other objectionable ways have created a situation that is rife for exploitation. Not only by greedy individuals or other human agencies, for these are just the physical manifestation. Of even worse consequences is the spiritual dynamics of greed and lust that is loosed in the unseen realm. Beloved, we can be assured that if people are clamoring jealously over ill-gotten gains, there are spiritual forces at work behind the scenes creating destructive scenarios to trap humans in their covetous dealings. Jesus told us in simple terms how we should manage our wealth upon this earth in order to be free from these snares. The best advice is from the Lord Himself when He told the crowds during the Sermon on the Mount:

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 treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Matthew 6:19-21
For those of us who call ourselves Christians, it is questionable whether we should ever put ourselves in the position of acquiring wealth through something such as a game of chance. Many say, "Oh, but I could do so much good helping others with the money!" However, is it really blessed money or is it cursed? Has it been created on the desperate hopelessness of millions of others trying to strike it rich? Jesus told us to avoid "every form of greed", no matter how altruistic we might think we would be with the payout. He told us to not trust in earthly riches, but to set our minds on building the kingdom with what he entrusts to us. The earth is the Lord's and all it contains. Surely, He is able to give us what we need, and not what we want. He desires to give us all His riches, yet they will often not be in the form of earthly treasures. May we yearn for ONLY the riches that He desires to give, and when He decides to give them.

Heavenly Father, may we store up heavenly treasure, always looking to You to make us good stewards of the wealth You have entrusted to us. May we give our hearts toward Your wisdom for our lives, and shun the temptation of managing our own "wealth". Free us from all forms of lust and greed. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Worldly Warmth - February 1, 2015

Mark 14:54 - Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire.

Many of us probably have some pleasant memories of our times around a campfire. Whether we participated in Scouting as children, or camped with our respective families, most of us have some type of memory of feeling the warmth and glow of a fire at the end of a day of hiking or simply at a campsite. Fire is a critical tool when bivouacking in the outdoors. Not only does it provide needed warmth and a means to cook food, but it also offers a sense of security as it chases away the specters in the night, either real or imagined. Through the millennia, the campfire has been a place to collectively share a meal, enjoy some familial or communal togetherness, and to also gather in numbers to create security and a sense of camaraderie amongst those so inclined. The warmth of a fire can often be analogous to those sharing in its flame. This was probably the case in biblical times when Peter stumbled into the courtyard of the High Priest that momentous night nearly 2,000 years ago. We are told in the Gospels that the temple guards and the servants had built a fire in the courtyard, possibly believing it would be a long night. They may have desired a place to retreat to from the inquest occurring just off of the courtyard in possibly an open-air room where Jesus was being questioned. We are told that Peter found this more desirable, to be at a safe distance away from his Lord's harsh interrogation. So, he retreated to a place that would soon reveal his heart toward the One he had hours before made loud attestation regarding his fidelity.

Our lead verse reveals Peter's attitude of self-preservation as he "followed Him at a distance". No longer was he the brash, out-spoken disciple of the previous evening, filled with bravado and contempt regarding anything less than stalwart allegiance to the Savior. Mark's portrayal of the soon-to-be leader of the new Christian movement was less than complimentary. Of all biblical characterizations of Simon Peter, this was Peter depicted at his worst. Since the company around the fire consisted of both servants (or slaves) and officers (probably temple guards), Peter would be able to blend in unrecognized by those sharing the fire's warmth (John 18:18). Or would he? Peter was counting on the fact that he could easily dismiss his affiliation with the Lord Jesus and to once again mingle with those of the world like he had three years earlier before meeting Jesus. However, he hadn't counted on being noticeably different from those who sought camaraderie around the glow of the fire's embers. This well-known story regarding Peter the protagonist is made known only by the servant girl as the antagonist that betrays Peter's true intentions to those sharing the fire as well as to the Lord Himself (Luke 22:55-61). With Peter's thrice denial of the Lord, he more than likely understood at a deeper level that he had no business sharing the warmth of this fire with those who were at best indifferent to his Lord, and more than likely sympathetic to the high priest's position. With the realization that truly Satan had "sifted him like wheat" as Jesus had prophesied earlier that night (Luke 22:31), Peter was truly at rock bottom and could do nothing but weep in despair over his betrayal (Luke 22:62).

The scripture does not tell us where Peter went after his betrayal of the Lord. From the Gospels, we know that only John was present at the crucifixion (John 19:26-27). We can only speculate that Peter regrouped with the other disciples and remained with them until the Lord's resurrection (Luke 24:9; John 20:19). If that is the case, then this would make sense with his abrupt departure from the high priest's courtyard. Peter had come to realize that he no longer could "fellowship" with the world. Even those of the world, such as the servant girl, recognized Peter to have been with Jesus. Even though Peter tried to blend in, he could not because too much of Jesus had affected his life both outwardly and inwardly. Peter talked like a Galilean which was what clinched the servant girl's opinion that Simon was one of Jesus' disciples (Mark 14:70). We understand this as being a visual recognition of Peter and his association with Jesus. Was it just a physical recollection in the servant girl's mind, or was there something strikingly like Jesus that she saw in Peter's demeanor? After all, he had been with his Lord for three years. Had not Peter reflected his Lord's character enough to have given just a glimpse to these who were at best indifferent to what happened to Jesus and His disciple Peter? We can only assume that the recognition was on the physical level, but also conjecture that there was something she also saw of Christ in the beleaguered Simon Peter.

As Christ's present day disciples, we must also ask ourselves: Do we follow Christ from a distance when it comes to identifying with our own cross to carry? Jesus will never insist that we follow Him, take up our cross, and endure its death -- day in and day out. He will merely glance back as he did with Peter to see if we are warming ourselves by the fires of this world, thus denying His life within us. To love the world is to declare hostility toward God, beloved. We can not fellowship and have camaraderie with the world one day and then go and back-slap Jesus the next day in church like He is our best friend. The warmth of the fires of this world are indifferent if not hostile to our God. So, why would we seek to betray our Lord by seeking out associations that will never fulfill? The Lord Jesus Christ has promised a fire that will not be quenched, full of His holy love that will dwell in the heart of every believer that would but trust in Him. May we not turn toward the warmth that the world offers that will only promote mockery toward our God. May we seek Jesus and the Eternal Fire that He desires to grow in all those He calls His own.

Heavenly Father, may the fire You have lit within all those who know you not be quenched, but may it grow into an inferno of love for You and others. May we shun the warmth of the fires of this world that would only seek to draw us into indifference, apathy, and even hostility toward Your Son. Continue to fan the flame of holiness and love within our souls. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rest in Peace - January 25, 2015

Proverbs 19:23 - The fear of the LORD leads to life, so that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil.

A good night's sleep seems to be a thing of the past for many Americans. According to the National Sleep Foundation, Americans slept on average two hours more a night 40 years ago. Dr. Jose Loredo at the University of California San Diego Sleep Medicine Center says that adults need about 8.5 hours of sleep per night. According to experts, "lack of sleep has been tied to increased heart attacks, hypertension, obesity, and decreased productivity". They further state that once folks finally do go to bed, around 20% of these don't fall asleep within the first few minutes on account of worry about finances and personal relationships. Instead of sleeping, most will resort to watching TV, which often stimulates the mind rather than allowing it to "wind down", making it more receptive to allow the body to rest. As a result, 19% of those surveyed said that "... they missed at least one family, leisure, or work event a month due to sleepiness or a sleeping problem". While lack of sleep can certainly be caused by problems such as anxiety or stress, many often dismiss a spiritual causation as possibly being the main culprit. Rather than fighting restlessness with our own feeble efforts, maybe it's time to look at the underlying reason for our lack of true rest.

Our lead verse is both a promise and an equation, of sorts, that can be leveraged in regard to the lack of rest in many of our lives. This scripture unequivocally suggests that true rest comes out of a relationship with God. First of all, it's important to understand that the premise to any true restfulness in this lifetime is to understand the fear of the Lord. I have written about the fear of the Lord in some detail in the past (see The Fear of the Lord, Part 1Part 2, and Part 3). However, as a quick review, let us qualify that the fear of the Lord is simply loving God so fully and completely that we would not consider disobeying Him in any regard. That, my friends, is the perfect ideal. Unfortunately, many of us have never quite attained to this total surrender. Nonetheless, those of us who desire to walk with God as His children continue to walk toward this goal day by day, even though we might stumble on the way. So, to possess the fear of the Lord, in whatever measure respective of our walk with the Lord, is the first addend in our equation. It is the baseline in which the sum of the other parts is dependent. From it, we are told in Proverbs 19:23 that our fear or reverence of God will lead to "life". This leads us to ask "What is life?" For believers in God, it can simply be stated that life is the opposite of the affects of death and destruction. (In truth, real life only exists in Jesus Christ.) Paul tells us that though our outer man or our physical life is decaying, our inner man is being renewed daily (II Corinthians 4:16). The tragedy for those who do not know Christ is that both their outward and inward persons are held in bondage by death and its consequences. They have no inner peace that allows them any control over their mind and body. Therefore, they are plagued by unrest, resulting in anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness. A New Testament example of someone who knew the fear of the Lord was the Apostle Peter. It is demonstrated in his ability to sleep between two guards in Herod's prison (Acts 12:5-6). Though he may have well-considered that his fate would be similar to the martyrdom of the Apostle James by the sword (Acts 12:1-2), Peter nonetheless had no trouble believing that his fate was in the hands of God. We are told in this account that an angel appeared with a "great light" in the cell where Peter slept. However, this wasn't enough to rouse the disciple. The heavenly messenger literally had to strike Peter on the side to wake him up (Acts 12:7). This, my friends, is an example of a man so controlled by God in his inner man that his body was at peace and at rest. Years later, the Apostle John undoubtedly understood the connection between the natural and the spiritual man when he addressed Gaius: Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers (III John 3). If a man is at peace within, he will obviously be at peace and at rest no matter the circumstances.

Unlike Peter, my incarcerations were much less noble. I remember stints in county or city jails where sleep was fleeting. The constant noises and stirrings were amplified by the concrete and heavy steel construction. The clanging of a door in a cell block two corridors away would echo throughout the entire building. A person could try to stuff toilet paper in their ears, but it would do little good. The magnification of sound was just too intense. What I would have given for a set of good earplugs to silence the din. Of course, even if I could have quieted what was going on around me, I would still have to silence the "committee" within my head. Many voices would tell me, "You've really messed up again! Look at you! In jail again! You said the last time this happened would truly be the last time!" The chatter of guilt and condemnation became almost unbearable. When periods of sleep did come, it seemed like the dreams and nightmares competed constantly with consciousness. I would lie there, half asleep and half awake, drifting in and out of a state of unsettled rest. While most will not experience loss of sleep to this extreme, the degree of restlessness can be equated to the lack of the fear of the Lord. Today, I know that I had no love or understanding of God when I foolishly got locked away. Now I know that in order to achieve any true rest in my life, that I must "lean on the Everlasting Arms". The consequences of not resting in God in His blessed fear, is to experience being touched by evil continually. That's why Solomon knew when he wrote this proverb that the fear of the Lord not only allowed us to rest peacefully, but it also afforded us unmolested sleep by the enemy.

Evil will often seek us out when we are most vulnerable. If we call ourselves Christian believers, yet walk in anxiety and fear throughout our day and not in the fear of the Lord, why should it surprise us if our sleep is also infested with the flesh and the devil? If we are not subjecting ourselves to the Lord, why wouldn't we believe we have left ourselves defenseless? The enemy of our soul desires that we have no rest, but that we would be constantly in turmoil and living in great angst whether awake or asleep. However, if we are walking in the Spirit throughout the day, it makes God-sense that we would be sleeping in the Spirit at night. After all, the Lord has promised that He would give to His beloved (that's me and you) even in our sleep (Psalm 127:2). As Spirit-led believers, we can also claim the promise from Psalm 4:8: In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety. If we call ourselves His beloved, do we lie down and rest in peace? Or, are we part of the restless statistics that characterize sleepless Americans? The antidote to the present-day plague of restlessness and sleeplessness is evident. If we will but give ourselves to God, surrendering our life during the day, we will know His sweet rest at night. It is part of our heritage as blood-bought believers. May we give ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, without reserve, that we may quiet both our hearts and minds and find our rest in Him. May we all rest well tonight in the arms of our Beloved!

Lord God Almighty, You are the One who gives us true rest. The flesh and the devil seek to kill, to steal, and to destroy. We resist the enemy, not allowing him to steal or destroy our rest in You, O Lord. We lean on Your blessed arms, knowing that You will give us rest if we will but "come". Thank you for the promise of rest while we sojourn upon earth, and thank you for the hope of rest eternal in You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Almost Obedient - January 18, 2015

Genesis 33:18 - Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city.

Noted author and Christian Missionary Alliance pastor A.W. Tozer once said: The true follower of Christ will not ask, "If I embrace this truth, what will it cost me?" Rather he will say, "This is truth. God help me to walk in it, let come what may!" How many believers do we know who have this sort of attitude toward the Lord? For these rare individuals, they do not hold the position that God needs to align Himself with the direction they would choose, but rather the one that God Almighty has laid out before them. They have come to a place of death to self, and come what may, they deliberately set their faces like flint to obey the Lord in all respects. While this is the "normal Christian life", many of us fall dismally short of this ideal. While it may be our desire to give our lives unreservedly to the Lord, there are too often those "hindrances" that would cause us to compromise our resolution. However, before we berate ourselves for not living a totally surrendered life, there are many biblical examples that would give us hope that almost obedient hearts can be changed to a steely resolve, not wavering in our belief. Jacob the patriarch was one of these "waverers". For years, he perfected deception, withholding complete truthfulness and honesty in his dealings with both God and man. However, things would begin to change for Jacob one day when he wrestled with God.

From the scripture, we know that Jacob's name literally means "deceiver". Jacob (with the help of his mother Rebekah) validates his namesake by deceiving his father Isaac into giving him the blessing rather than his brother, Esau (Genesis 27:12; Genesis 27). Having previously obtained his brother's birthright, and now his blessing, Jacob incurred the wrath of his older brother. So much so, that he felt it wise to relocate several hundred miles to the east to the land of his mother's relatives. However, one thing he didn't count on was finding the same less than honest dealings in his Uncle Laban as those within himself. (Laban is likewise translated "deceiver" in the Aramaic language.) For a total of 20 years, Jacob dealt with this unscrupulous fellow who tricked him regarding his marriage to Leah and Rachel, and then dealt deceptively regarding his payment to his son-in-law concerning his herds (Genesis 31:41). However, throughout these two decades that Jacob sojourned in the land of the east, this son of Isaac seemed to have learned little regarding complete honesty. We see this in his behavior as he multiplied his flocks through deception (Genesis 30:31-43). Furthermore, he obviously was not modeling stalwart behavior as his wife Rachel stole her father's idols before their hasty escape (Genesis 31:19). The stage had been set for a showdown between Laban and Jacob. Fortunately, for both sides, it did not result in hostilities. While Laban knew that Jacob had not been totally honest, and vice versa, they could not prove their cases. They simply concluded their relationship with a stalemate and parted ways (Genesis 31:43-55).

However, Jacob's perception of what would occur when he met his brother Esau was another story. Through years of deception and not totally trusting in God, Jacob's trust in his own trickery was now faltering. When he met and wrestled with the Angel of the Lord, he finally came to an understanding that he could no longer be a deceiver and prosper before God. Even though Jacob's name was changed from "deceiver" (Jacob) to "one who has striven with God and man and has prevailed" (Israel), he still had some of that old, deceptive nature to relinquish. His trust was not yet firmly grounded in the Lord. We are shown this by Jacob sending gifts ahead to appease his brother Esau rather than trusting that God indeed had sent him back to the land of his birth. Even after meeting with his brother Esau the next day, he lied to his brother, telling him he would join him in a few days. Rather than heading south into Seir, Jacob headed west to settle near the city of Shechem. Ironic to the Angel's proclamation regarding Jacob's new name, he did exactly the opposite. He broke faith with both his brother and God by his retreat to Shechem. First of all, he should have never told his brother that he would follow him to Seir since the Lord had commanded him to return to the land of his birth (Genesis 31:13). Jacob knew that this was a deception, even as he knew stopping in Shechem was a compromise to returning south to Mamre, the land of his father. Although technically in the land of Canaan, Jacob had not followed through and returned to the land of his birth and to his father, Isaac. This disobedience would cost his family dearly as his daughter Dinah was defiled and his sons are led into murder by deception (Genesis 34). Even when they finally do settle in the land of their fathers, the sons once again act shamefully by betraying their brother Joseph and deceiving their father about his supposed death. Indeed, deception had become a generational curse upon this family (Genesis 37).

Jacob truly became Israel in his latter years. No more was he the deceiver, yet his deceptive ways were still passed on to his sons which caused much trouble. Even so, God caused all these things to work for good. Even in the midst of deception and "almost obedience", we see a compassionate God always steering and leading these biblical examples into the way He desired. What would their lives have been like if Jacob, his wives and their sons had shown total obedience? Certainly, there would not have been much of the heartache created by their compromise and deception. However, God's hand was there to make good come out of their evil. While this does not justify compromise, it explains how God can use deceivers like Jacob and turn them into His vessel of honor. Through the heartache that compromise creates, God was able to lead a man like Jacob into the promised land and to create the man, Israel. It is the same for us, beloved. God will take our concessions to sin and turn them around for His glory. The key is to never give up and to not give in, much like Jacob refused to yield to the Angel of the Lord. We must continue to strive for complete obedience to the Lord, for with it is peace and security. The alternative, an "almost obedience", will only result in hearts that continue to be broken due to the situations our willfulness creates. May we look to the Lord and obey him unconditionally with no fear, trusting that He indeed will bring us to our respective promised land that is filled with God's abundance.

Heavenly Father, may we lay down our "almost obedience" and surrender our will to You for Your good pleasure. You will only lead us to a place of security in You if we will but obey. Take away our deception and our mistrust and fill us with Your love and faith. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick