Sunday, December 4, 2016

When Endurance is Not Enough! - December 4, 2016


Hebrews 12:1-2 - Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Long distance running is not something to be taken lightly. There should be a lot of preparation. Physically, there should (of course) be the training miles, but then there must be the mental preparation that gives a runner confidence to complete the distance. I have seen so many "bonk" before they get to the finish line mainly because they had not adequately prepared for the distance. For a runner, mental ability can be as important as physical training and ability. If you first lose the will to run in the mind, then you will lose the will to run where the shoe (or in my case the sole) hits the road.

So often I hear Hebrews 12:1-2 quoted in regard to running and endurance sports. It is a wonderful couple of verses that give us a mental image of a runner persevering with all intention of crossing the finish line. Of course, this is a metaphor for the race that Christians must run to compete for the heavenly prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus. As with runners that have prepared themselves only physically for the challenge of the long distance run, I see so many Christians who have not taken the time to complete the more important part of the verse that precedes "running with endurance".

Many "believers" line up at the proverbial start line of their Christian faith not understanding the course laid out before them. They don't understand that merely confessing Christ as their Savior and giving up this or that for Him is sufficient to "run" through life and be happy, joyous, and free. They may experience these feelings for a while, but when the race begins to be arduous they will falter in their faith. Jesus Christ does not expect us to run the race in our own strength or power, and He knows that we will never have the endurance to finish as we should without addressing EVERYTHING that is opposed to his Spirit and Life. "Encumbrances" as defined by Webster are things that are burdensome or a hindrance. Daily, we have opportunity to please the Lord with lives of obedience or by living selfishly ambitious for our own goals. The truly sanctified believer knows the momentary pain of "laying aside" something that they might love, yet is a hindrance to their walk with the Lord. I say momentary, because once a point of obedience is acknowledged and then "walked in", then the Christian is truly happier and more fulfilled by making that decision. Obedience, or the lack of, will be the one huge determiner whether or not we have the strength and power to run with endurance the race before us. Some may put on a show that they are running life's race in His power, but in time it will show differently when they lose the love and commitment for their Lord and others.

In marathoning, I like to carry a few gel packs with me for needed energy bursts. These are small collapsible aluminum packs of carbohydrate concoctions made with fruit or syrups. They give a runner that needed kick to keep going when the going gets tough. Christ provides us "spiritual gel packs" during our life race that are filled with the ingredients to keep on keeping on. Things such as hope, faith, and love that are jam-packed in His containers of wisdom that we know when to draw on at the most critical moments of our own race. However, I used the operative word "provide". He will only give us these needed stores through our obedience to His word and how he wants each and every one of us to walk our individual Christian lives. It is remarkable what may or may not work for a runner. Just because God has told me to do a certain thing in my walk with Him, does not mean that He will tell another the same thing. We are uniquely individual to our Lord, so therefore He deals with us as individuals for the more concentrated areas of obedience. This is the secret of individual sanctification. One will never reach their own by modeling after another's life.

The race is before all of us who believe. For those of you who are doubters and unbelievers, I encourage you to line up with us and start your own endurance race with the Lord. For those who would seek a shallow relationship with their God and then try to complete the race set before them, they will not be able to finish strong in the Lord because the Word says they will be encumbered and hindered along the course. Life will be full of compromises that would seek to distract us from the race set before us. No manner or amount of human endurance will allow us to finish the course as Jesus would desire. Endurance, in and of itself will always leave us coming up short of the finish line. We will by all means need to understand that Jesus is our Coach and He is the One that will provide the energy and fortitude along the way. May we all find His hope, His faith, His love along the way that will propel us to complete the wonderful course before us. Without Him as our Provider, we will truly fail, but with Him we can only win the race set before us.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Passionate Pursuit - November 27, 2016


Song of Solomon 1:4a - Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.

Running, just like anything else can become a chore. I feel like I have some advantage over many of my shod counterparts in that my barefoot running allows me to feel more like a kid and be literally "foot loose and fancy free". However, just like anything we do on a daily basis, even something I enjoy so much can become tedious if I allow it. Truly, I am and always will be the one that controls how I feel -- whether a run is mundane or whether it makes me feel enlivened by my attitude and willingness. When I feel that it is just me out there running, going through the motions then the run is usually just "okay". However, when I invite Jesus along the dynamics change exponentially. For one thing, I can't help but grin when He is consciously with me. There is an inner peace and a conversation that is usually going on. A good part of the time it is just me talking to Him in the spirit of my mind. But then there are those special moments when He interjects His loving words into my heart. Oftentimes, He teaches me in metaphor. Every week in The Bare Soul I try to share some of this "fresh manna" that He drops into my heart. They are splendid truths for me and I try to make them relevant life lessons as I share them with you.

Probably the greatest metaphor of Christ and His church in scripture is the Song of Solomon. While on the surface one might look at it only as a wedding song of Solomon to his bride, it is clearly much more. In the case of the bride speaking to the bridegroom in this wonderful passage, she seeks Him out and adjures Him to draw her after Him as they run in love and passion. The scripture is definite in that it mentions where they are running - to the king's chambers! This place of intimacy is where Jesus will always be seeking to bring us, as He pulls us along in love-clasped hands.

Many of us know and remember the passion of our heart-throb and how it did not matter what we were doing as long as we were together. Mine continues even to this day. My wife and I have "date night" every Saturday night that we are both in town. This entails, 99% of the time, dinner and a movie. Most of the time we enjoy both the dinner and the movie. Sometimes, one or the other is not quite what we expected, but it was still a great date night because we got to spend the evening together. I think about a story I heard about an older couple that spent the entire evening reading their respective books in the same small living room. At the end of the evening when it was time to turn in the wife turned to her husband and said, "Hasn't this been a wonderful evening together?" They had not said but few words to one another the entire time, but merely being with one another provided a feeling of love and wholeness for them both. This type of living and loving does not happen overnight. It started with the passion of pursuing one another until they knew that their respective passions were captured in their lover's heart, mind, and soul. They were secure in their love and the pursuit had turned into joyous, loving captivity!

Running is one of my life's passions. However, my foremost passion is Jesus and how I might please Him. It is wonderful, as I already stated, when I seek out Jesus to run with me. The question to myself and to all who read this is: Do I passionately pursue him to be involved in all areas of my life? Speaking of running, is He "running my life" or am I selfishly content to allow other passions and loves to be nestled around my own ambition devoid of any invitation to Him who saved my soul? Every time I invite Jesus to be intimately involved in my life, he accepts my invitation and draws me after Him into that place of deeper intimacy through my obedience. Often, it is He who first makes the offer and my acceptance is contingent on my place of obedience, or rather how ready I am to turn to Him with complete adoration and follow.

It doesn't take long to see those who have truly given themselves to Christ in this way. Our love-sickness will be evident as we show this world that there is a God of love that desires and yearns for them. As we allow ourselves to be drawn into passionate pursuit and ultimate capture by our Lord, this relationship will hopefully compel those around us to want to run in newness of life with the Risen Lord. There truly is an intimate life to be lived with the Living Lord. (It should be our passion to live it and give it to others.) We must merely put out our hand and invite Him to draw us into that intimate place of eternal love and happiness. It is as easy as reaching out and taking His blessed hand!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Real Zeal - November 20, 2016

Psalm 69:9 - For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

What are we passionate about? One does not need to look further than weekend sporting events, where collegiate and professional sports fans are bedecked in their teams colors. (Often, this may be in the form of body paint rather than conventional clothing, despite freezing conditions!) There is a loyalty that seems unrivaled when you get someone talking about their team allegiance. For nearly a century, we had a "border war," of sorts between Tigers and Jayhawks where I live. Even though this rivalry is no longer played out in conference play, the enmity still simmers waiting only for a way to express itself. While some might chide at this type of good-spirited competition, passionate allegiance is hard-wired into every individual to some degree. If it does not find its expression through sports, it will find another way.

God probably cares little if we are passionate about sports, per se. He understands we need recreation as human beings and undoubtedly allows this as a form of escape from the anxiety of daily living. However, He does not want this to fulfill His divine plan for passionate pursuit of Him. Along with this pursuit comes our attitude and desire for Him and the things of the His Spirit. In this regard, I have sometimes heard people say that a person can become so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good. Personally, I have yet to find such a person. The opposite is usually the rule rather than the exception. We become so passionately wrapped up in our own lives and the pursuit of our own creature comforts that we do not even think of heaven.

King David understood passionate pursuit of God. We have scores of psalms attributed to this ancient Israelite in this regard. Possibly some of his contemporaries believed David was a bit "over the top" in his pursuit of Yahweh. What often appears as religious fanaticism to the world, can be the zeal and passion of a believer for the God who lives within. Certainly this was manifest a thousand years later when Jesus fulfilled this prophetic psalm as he cleansed the temple of His Father (John 2:17). Purity of the actual Davidic (constructed by Solomon) and Herodian temples is the literal application of this verse in Psalm 69:19. However, we know from Paul's writings how the temple of the Lord in the New Covenant is our body -- the vessel of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16).

It is a wonderful ambition to keep our bodies pure, both in what we consume and what we allow it to do. As already mentioned, our lead verse speaks to us about the temple of the Lord and how He lives within -- not only in our bodies but also in our souls and spirits. In this regard, may we all be challenged with the following question: Are we consumed with what God thinks about His living quarters within us? Or, are we ashamed when we participate in some conversation, or watch some movie, or when we go somewhere He would not approve? He is our guest yet so many of us treat Him like a hobo in a flophouse! The great nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon aptly stated, "yet it is no disgrace to any generous spirit that is regenerate, to have the zeal of God's house to eat him up. It is a slander to call it folly."

Do we sit on our hands at church on Sunday mornings and then raucously shout and dance when our team makes the big score that afternoon? When we have a zeal for the God who dwells within, then we will become partakers of the reproach of the world. Is no one reproaching us for our zeal? Then possibly we have none. May we all live passionately and fervently for the One who dwells within.

Father, help us to be passionate about living, yet not forget the One who we live for. May our passion for the things we love pale in respect for the zeal we have for You. Grant us hearts of fire and mouths that speak Your praise. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 13, 2016

God's Renewable Energy - November 13, 2016


Lamentations 3:22-23 (KJV) - It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

People often ask me, "How do you keep running after all these years?" They are curious, I guess, how one keeps motivated to run in good and bad weather, through aches and pains, and just general laziness on my part. Believe me, I have plenty of other areas of my life that I struggle with consistency, but running doesn't seem to be one of them. Every day can throw up a variety of obstacles why I shouldn't run, but so far I have been able to effectively surmount them. To the most part, I attribute my tenaciousness to a love for running. I don't look at it like exercise or a healthy hobby, but I look at it first and foremost as my connectedness to spirit, soul, and body. It is truly the most "centering" thing that I do everyday that keeps me connected with the good things in my heart, especially God. The added benefits of health and general wellness are secondary, to me. I guess that is why it is somewhat easier for me to run than for others who are merely motivated for health reasons. Bodily health was never my main motivator to do anything in my life, so it only makes sense that I couldn't stay motivated long to run thousands upon thousands miles as I have without another motive.

Finding passions or "life hobbies" can take a while for some of us. I didn't find running until I was 36 years old. Others find their niche' much earlier in life and pursue it with passion. Others never find anything that really keeps them motivated and looking forward to a daily, passionate pursuit. Our earthly pursuits can be fun and a healthy diversion from the stress of every day living. There is of course our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ which is the most important "daily" pursuit that any of us will ever partake in. If we truly know the Lord, He will provide us, daily, with unlimited grace and mercy to meet all our daily needs. Jesus taught us to pray so eloquently in the Lord's Prayer "... Give us this day our daily bread". This implies all of our daily sustenance for body, soul, and spirit. This is reinforced so beautifully in the scripture selection for this week when Jeremiah states by the Holy Spirit that God's love and compassion are boundless and without fail. Even if we feel that we have exhausted God's supply of love and faithfulness in a single day, the promise remains that they will be renewed every morning. God allows us the wisdom of rest and sleep only to recharge our spiritual batteries for another day of passionate pursuit. It is His promise that He cannot deny us, nor would He want to. He is full of mercy and loving-kindness that must have an outlet and be graciously poured out on His people.

In our modern world, there is much talk about "renewable energies". Thank God that He was the originator of energy that is renewed every day. All we have to do is accept it. Passions and pursuits will ebb and change over time, but His faithfulness will never falter nor fade. There is an unlimited supply of His mercy and grace that will continue to fuel our lives if we will only rely and trust in Him.

Lord Jesus, thank you that your nature is love. Thank you that your nature is mercy and grace. As a limitless God, you have more than enough for each and every one of us to daily partake of our passionate pursuit of your Personage. You are an awesome, unfathomable Savior that longs and desires to share your abundance of riches with us. Lord, let us look to you daily, knowing that you are the originator of power and energy that can never be exhausted. We thank you for the richness of your love, mercy, and grace. In Jesus name. Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Orderly Living - November 6, 2016

Romans 1:20 - For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

In the locale that I work, we have many small residential and corporate lakes and ponds. In the Midwest, wherever you find groomed lawns around bodies of waters one will usually find Canadian Geese. Generally, without fail, I will encounter these birds on my daily lunchtime runs. I am one to observe their social aspects with one another and I have noticed that they have distinct seasonal behaviors. For instance, in the winter they are gaggled together and usually don't make much of a fuss if an outsider comes along. However, there is a time in late winter when those two years old and older start to pair up and retreat from the gaggle, some with new mates and for those who are older, with the same mate as they are monogamous. They start to get a little "tense" this time of the year and if you approach the pair too quickly the male will begin to honk as they slowly retreat.

Fast forward a couple of months and the females have begun to lay their eggs. At this time, the male becomes slightly more than tense, but actually aggressive if he thinks that someone is going to molest his mate or their eggs. Several times in the springtime, I have ran by a roosting female only to have the male fly up and down toward my head as it does its best impression of a P51 dive bomber. I have only been hit once by an aggressive male, but they get your attention quickly. Usually a little bit of arm waving will ward them off. Other times, the male will come waddling after me, hissing in a spiteful way for me to vacate the area. In either instance, they are serious about the business of incubating a family and have little patience with intruders or suspected enemies.

Then comes summer. The goslings are close by and they learn to run after mother and father away from apparent danger. They are teaching their young that it is much preferable to retreat rather than fight a larger "enemy". Finally, fall and winter come when they become a social gaggle again relying on the group and using the group's guidance for the best foraging spots, etc. When I see this protective, survivalist behavior of animals such as geese, it fills me with wonder. I don't struggle with the idea that God created and ordered existence and purpose within all of his creatures and creation. I don't ponder whether our world was created out of a random collision of matter. I see God's hand in everything around me and I wonder at the absurdity to think any other way. "Who else but God would have hard-wired their instincts in such a manner?", I would reflect. How else would they even know that survival is the preferred outcome if God had not written that in their instinct? For truly, if this is a random happen-stance then survival means nothing. Regarding humans, everything becomes relative and non-sensical to attempt to relate survival to our species, not to mention mores' and laws that govern our societies. It would all be meaningless if there was no God and His son the Lord Jesus Christ.

Aldous Huxley, one of the originators of today's humanist movement, saw things much differently. To be able to capsulate one's thoughts and beliefs to fit his desired lifestyle, he wrote the following:
I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves... For myself, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.-- Aldous Huxley in Ends and Means, 1937
Mr. Huxley's notions are symptomatic of many in our world today that desire to see and understand this world as they want to. It is too upsetting and life-style threatening to think that there are laws written into the universe -- not only laws of survival such as the earlier example of geese, but laws of love, mercy, retribution, and judgment that are non-negotiable. As the laws of this universe are upheld by a loving and righteous God, there will always be those who would seek to dismiss the divine order as a fluke and random experience. Ordered living has no appeal to most who would attempt to dismiss a God of laws and statutes. (However, let the humanist or the atheist's house be robbed and we'll see if they don't cry for justice against their malefactor.) Either one must accept that the material universe is created by a divine power, or one must believe the fairy tale of "Once upon a time -- poof! Things just kind of came together!" If one comes to grips with the former, then they must understand that this God is not merely a "higher power" but more importantly is a God that sent His Son to redeem a lost race. The decision is always ours to make, either from our own self-deception or His Divine Logic.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Eternal Growth - October 30, 2016


Psalm 89:2 - For I have said, "Loving-kindness will be built up forever; In the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness."

The longer I run barefoot, the more I learn about my form and ability. It would be foolish to believe that I will not continue to improve if I keep at it (as I do) on a daily basis. However, it only makes sense that if I don't practice, that I will eventually lose what has been given to me regarding this knowledge. As I relate this to other parts of my life, I know that the Lord Jesus wants me to continue to grow and mature in all areas of my Christian walk with Him. Furthermore, I believe that He wants me to continue to grow even after this temporal life.

The implications of the scripture selection for this week are astounding and incomprehensible to the human mind. To understand God in the finite way that we know Him is to understand (at least conceptually) that He is eternal and without limitations. Even as we grow in skills, abilities and more importantly love and affection upon this earth, why would it be such a stretch to believe that we will continue to grow in eternity? Even as God is eternal and unfathomable, the aforementioned verse implies that there will be a continual building of God's nature and character in all of us. God is Love, as I John 4:8 tells us. How wonderful to know that God's love and mercy is eternal and without limit! How exciting to know that we will be continually growing in His wonderful presence in the Lord's fruits as stated in Galatians 5:22-23 -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. The wonderful thing about the second part of the scripture implies that God will be faithful to establish this eternal happening in Glory.

I find it interesting in the Old Testament that God told Moses to identify the cherubim that covered the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. Respectively, they were named Mercy (or Loving-kindness) and Justice. The scripture reference in Psalm 89 states that there will not be a need for a continual building of justice in eternity. Once humankind is judged either at the Judgment Seat of Christ (for believers) or the Great White Throne judgment (for unbelievers) then justice will be complete. However, for God's elect there awaits a continual growth of His nature toward us who believe.

Mind you, it won't mean that we will not be perfect and without blemish when we enter His presence on that glorious day. However, it does mean that our affections toward Him and others will continue to grow, even in eternity. Let me use an onion as example. When one peels away the first layer, we understand that this is a part of the onion. The character or the nature of the onion will never change. It will always be an onion. It will never be anything less or more. However, consider that we are God's "eternal onions" with layer upon layer of perfection and beauty just waiting for proverbial "peeling back". Glory Hallelujah! The very thought of it should excite any believer, knowing that eternity will be a continual growing experience into more of the presence and character of the Lord.

Just as on this earth, we will continue to improve and grow in our respective natures -- whether they be good or evil. My friends, there will not be a "graduation" of sorts that we have finally arrived in heaven someday and that nothing will change for eternity. No, it won't be a time when we will be blissfully sitting on clouds strumming harps in a state of eternal perfection. It will be glorious opportunity to continue to grow in the Lord and to serve Him and others even as we do on earth. Remember the line in the Lord's Prayer? Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. The implication is the Lord wants dynamic change on earth to mirror what is happening in heaven. Life on earth, my friends, is merely a dress-rehearsal for the continued, eternal growth that our heavenly home will afford to those who believe.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Word Brings Life - October 23, 2016

1 Peter 1:23 - For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.

It's always refreshing to see someone "get it". This is definitely true with barefoot running as one begins to reap the benefits of learning ball/heel, or if you like mid-foot strike technique. The minimal impact incurred running barefoot versus running with shoes is remarkable in most new convert's minds as they begin their barefoot running journey. Or, for those of you who are not runners, when you understand why someone like myself or others would run barefoot in the first place. Of course, most readers know that in my case, necessity (bad knees) became the mother of invention. For the uninformed, it is quite easy for someone to shout from a car window "Hey, get some shoes on ..." not understanding the method behind the seeming madness.

We all have moments of clarity when the lights literally come on regarding life's situations. We think we understand, but when the epiphany comes we will never again look at the situation quite the same way. We may have possessed an intellectual understanding of something, but once we experience the truth and the reality it all becomes brilliantly clear. I can vividly remember the birth of my children, especially my first child and son, Benaiah. Even though it was nearly 23 years ago, the image and joy of that moment is still transfixed into my memory. When Benaiah's head popped out and he came into this world, I was overcome with joy and love for my newborn son. I wept uncontrollably, hearing his cry as he breathed air for the first time. One could never have related to me how I would feel at that precise moment in time. I witnessed the miracle of birth and it captivated my spirit, soul, and body to the point where I was overcome with emotion. (Note: Today is my second son, Samson's 21st birthday. Happy birthday son!)

The joyousness of the moment of birth in the heart of a father is shown over and over again in the scripture as the Father of Lights draws us to a place of accepting His Son as our Personal Savior -- to be literally changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. One of my favorite examples of this is when Jesus is talking to the crowds regarding the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7) and He declares that there is joy in heaven when someone repents and experiences the new birth. I believe that there is a joyous outburst of the Trinity along with all the saints and the angels in heaven when someone truly turns to God. However, I believe becoming a true son or daughter of God goes much deeper than merely uttering a few words as "every head is bowed and all eyes are closed". Even Paul understood this as he addressed King Agrippa in Acts 26:27-28. Agrippa told Paul that ... In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian. Agrippa's thought patterns had changed and he may well have been on his way to conversion, but conversion is not salvation. Converted thinking may lead to salvation, but is not salvation in and of itself. The knowledge and converted mind must take up residence 18 inches below the head in the heart. When the Word lives in the heart then someone like Agrippa can say as Isaiah said ... "Woe as me, I am a man of unclean lips" and later that "... our own righteousness is as filthy rags". To be born again is not merely hearing the Word of God and making a decision to follow Jesus Christ. It is much more than that. It is a deep understanding that the Risen Son died for us, and that He has invited us to be identified with His death that we might walk in His Life! (Romans 6:4). This does not come by just reading a scripture and making a decision. It comes by seeing that we are wretched sinners that have violated our existence on this earth by being creatures of sin that have transgressed against a Holy God!

True understanding is only limited by our experience. If we have never "walked in someone else's shoes" (or bare feet!) we can never say equivocally that we understand their experience. Others may look on with admiration at a Christian's life and think they live admirably and respectively in this world of ours. Yet, they may never understand that as Paul stated, "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me" unless they too become born again by the power of the Living Word. Those who have truly experienced the life changing power of God and know the reality of the Risen Lord wag their heads when folks commend them on their respectable lives. They know that the reality of their understanding only came through the Living Word which demonstrably changed their life from the inside-out. Only His Word can bring this type of life altering change. May heaven rejoice, this day, over many who would not only hear the word, but allow it to live through them.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick