Sunday, May 22, 2016

Forgive and Forget - May 22, 2016

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

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


That person was me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Possessing Our Inheritance - May 15, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Awakening - May 8, 2016

Psalm 139:18b - When I awake, I am still with You.

I vividly remember particular mornings after I recommitted my life to the Lord. Having struggled with alcohol for years, it was such a relief to sense the presence of the Lord when I awoke. Many days I defined the presence of God by merely the absence of craving alcohol when I opened my eyes from a night's sleep. Ask any recovering alcoholic or addict -- it is truly a miracle to not want to use or abuse substances. For truly, the most natural thing for an addict to do is otherwise than to stay sober. I remember in the early days, weeks, and months of my sobriety that I would sometimes be disconcerted about going to sleep, thinking that God's presence in my life was an illusion and that it might disappear as a vapor come morning. The glorious truth is that He has been there as my Comforter and Friend, every morning, for the past 16 years. He has never let me down in all that time.

Of course, God is with us all in some manner regardless whether we are committed to His Son, the Lord Jesus. He will always be there beckoning us no matter if we are walking with Him or away from Him. He will be there every morning whether we realize it or not. For many of us who have fought to avoid God, mornings are not always that pleasant. There can certainly be a feeling of impending despair when one awakens and they sense a loss of hope. Oftentimes, we can wake up with the same things swimming in our brains from the previous night's tossing and turning. It is quite certain that worry and despair over a situation has never changed the outcome of any such predicament, yet we too often yield to its negative power. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that when hopes are dashed or there seems no reason to continue on, then it can literally make the heart sick with sorrow. Conversely, however, the same verse tells us that when our desire is fulfilled it can be a tree of life. It is a wonderful thing to wake up with an optimistic understanding that the Lord has good intentions for those who trust in Him.

Has God put one of those dear souls in your life that seems to be one of the cheeriest folks on the planet, morning after morning without fail? They can roll out of bed and even without a jolt of caffeine they can greet the day with a smile and a joyous attitude. Before I knew the Lord, I thought these type of people were "put-ons", that no one could be that hopeful and cheery at 6 a.m. in the morning! However, the more I grew in the Lord and realized that He desired good for those who love Him, my attitude began changing. I began to understand that one can choose their attitude, especially if they are empowered by the Lord. Many years ago, I read a very simple quotation from a man that I respected greatly. His name is Moishe Rosen, founder and leader of Jews For Jesus. I was reading through one of his newsletters and these words jumped off the page: "Those who love life rise early". This concept astounded me; that if someone loved life and desired to do all they could for the Lord and His Kingdom, then their day should start with a heart full of hope that would propel them to welcome the morning. Before I go much further with this, I will confess that I am not always an early riser (especially on the weekends). However, the deeper meaning of this implies that those who love "Life" will ensure that they will meet their Savior when they do awaken and that they will do all for His glory throughout their respective day.

It takes a certain faith and assurance to be able to lie down at night and to know that all is well. David's Psalm 3 is all about divorcing oneself from the onslaught of the day's wickedness and lying down to rest with the assurance that the Lord is watching over. He states in verse 3: I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me. He goes on in the next verse to proclaim that it doesn't matter if tens of thousands are set against him, that the Lord is his shield and protector. Like David, we must first know that we are rightly related to Him. Then, we must learn to trust by giving Him our troubles every evening before we retire. Lastly, we must thank Him for watching over us though "the terrors would seek to stalk us by night". Every one that is a believer has the heritage to be able to awaken with a new hope and desire to serve the Lord. He is the one who gives us rest, and that rest is for a reason -- to unburden us from unnecessary worries and unreasonable demands that we place upon ourselves. For truly, Jeremiah summed it up in Lamentations 3:22-23: The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

Lord, we commit our lives to You afresh. We thank You for the rest that You desire to give each and every one of us, to awaken us every morning with a joy for life, a new resolve to love You and others, and a deep gratitude for where You are bringing each and every one of us who trust in Your Son. In Jesus name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,
Rick

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Nature of Things - May 1, 2016

II Peter 2:20-22 - For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."

Through the years I have had several pets, including dogs. Some of these dogs were extremely smart and others, well, what they lacked in smarts they made up for in loyalty. Back in the 1980s, we owned a small farm in east-central Kansas. One of our dogs was a Golden Labrador Retriever named Princess. She was a loyal, good friend to the family, but she wasn’t the smartest animal on the premises. I raised a couple of hogs during our two years on the farm, and without a doubt, these barnyard animals were the smartest four-footed creatures on the homestead. The first one was an escape artist and learned how to open the gate of the pen to get out to choice grazing in the vegetable garden. The other hog had a sense of his impending doom when it was time for butchering. When I went to lead him up the chute into the bed of the pick-up, he wanted nothing to do with “taking a ride” to the slaughterhouse. After much prodding and goading, I finally got him loaded, but not before he had turned around and bitten me a couple of times to show his displeasure with the situation.

I nodded in agreement when I read a 1976 article from the New York Times regarding the intellect of barnyard animals, in particular pigs. The following is a short extract from the article:

The pig's intellect is clear and strong. What has been mistakenly called his "obstinacy" is only his intense individuality. ... Before blaming the pig for refusing to be dragged in a given direction by a string tied to his hind leg, his critics should ask themselves whether in like circumstances they too would not protest with equal shrillness against so indecent an outrage.
Those of us who are dog owners, or have been dog owners, undoubtedly love our pets. Whether they are smart or just loyal, they capture a piece of our hearts. While few of us can say that we have loved pigs, we can certainly understand that they are a smart animal that is prized in many cultures throughout the world for both their intellect and their food factor. Yet, it is somewhat unnerving to watch both these animals revert to what seems to us as totally unintelligent behavior. A dog after regurgitating their food will often turn around and consume it again! A pig, which seems so smart in other areas, will find the most grotesque slop heap filled with decaying vegetation, animal life, and feces and will roll around in it without a care! While it is easy to be horrified at such behaviors, we see similar actions taken by so-called believers everyday. Many will “make a decision” for Jesus Christ and then return to the very things that were despicable and degrading in their lives as if they didn’t have a care in the world to do otherwise! However, it doesn’t surprise those of us who know that we are not dealing with a behavior problem, but with a nature problem.

No matter how smart our four-footed friends might be, it is in their nature to do disgusting things that don’t make good sense to us. In the same way, we should not be surprised when we see a sinner sinning. It is the most natural thing for them to do! As a practicing alcoholic, the most natural thing for me to do was drink. Today, after many years of sobriety it is still a miracle that I am not drinking because that was then a part of my nature. The miracle today is that my nature has been exchanged with the divine nature of Jesus Christ who gives me the will and the way not to drink. Often, many get lost at this point and don’t understand that it’s not just about changing their behavior. It’s not good enough to stop drinking, to stop stealing, to stop lying, or even to stop sinning. We don’t have a sinning problem but a sin problem. Our very nature is corrupt and we need a replacement.

Many years ago, when I was still in my teens, I knew that I was in terrible need of something to fix me. That’s why I experimented and became hooked on drugs and alcohol early in life. When I tried to dig myself out of that mess, I tried different religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, Tantric Yoga, Transcendental Meditation to name a few. The problem was that I was trying to fix myself not knowing that Someone had already put the "fix" in for me and I was too blind to see. I didn’t realize that I was trying to reach heaven and bring it down to my experience on earth. Little did I know that God had already done so by bringing heaven to earth through His Son.

Years went by, as I battled my alcoholism and drug addiction. Desperately I was still tying to get better from the outside/in and couldn’t understand that I needed salvation from myself. On one occasion, I was just released from jail. I was a mess from the night before and I was on foot. Walking from the court and police station in a busy downtown area of St. Louis, I encountered a little old lady of probably 80 years. She looked at me, pointed her finger and said “There goes the chosen of God who desires to live in the filth of sin”. I was totally taken aback and convicted to the heart by her words. She didn’t say anything about “sins” but she did say that I wanted to continue living in sin. However, like a pig that returns to its wallowing and a dog to its vomit, it would still be years before I truly knew that Jesus Christ had become sin on my behalf and that I didn’t need to live this way.

For several years after, I would continue to “try” to do better. I would “decide” that I would follow the Lord and attempt to live the way He wanted me to live. However, it’s not good enough to make a decision for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want our decisions, but He wants everything we are -- our dope possessed bodies, our alcohol polluted souls, our angry hateful minds. He wants it all in order to replace it with His nature. Making a decision to follow Jesus without turning one’s life over to Him is about the same as saying you’re going to fly to the moon in a Cessna -- it’s not going to happen! It’s aerodynamically impossible to do so because it would break all the laws of physics. In the same way, it is impossible to “decide” to follow Jesus without a new heart that has replaced a heart of sin.

Paul the Apostle made a glorious statement giving us all hope in this regard. In II Corinthians 5:21 he states through the Holy Spirit that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." According to this verse, I no longer have to “try” to be good because Jesus Christ says I don’t have to be good. He tells me that He became sin FOR US in order that we might trade in our sinful nature for God’s nature. Then, and only then, will we truly have the power to change. Then, we can truly be right with God and be empowered by His righteousness. Then, can we truly be children of God!

None of us are exempt from failure no matter how much we might believe we are in control of our lives. Romans 3:23 tells us that “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. That one verse qualifies us all for hell and an eternity of separation from God. If this was the last word, then we would all be doomed. But God loved us, even while we were sinners He sent His Son to die for us becoming sin on our behalf. Three chapters later in the book of Romans, Paul writes with a synopsis of our predicament but with the glorious hope of our salvation. In Romans 6:23 he states: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

God does not expect any of us to become “better”. If we don’t know His Son and have not exchanged our sinful nature with His glorious nature, He only expects us to continue to fail -- to return to the wallowing in sin that befits our nature. There is always hope for us as long as we are alive and able to turn to Him. Ecclesiastes 9:4 states: "For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion." Friends, I would rather be a live dog that has the ability to exchange natures with the Living God and live again, rather than a prideful, dead lion that is regal only in its death with no hope to ever be anything else. We all have the opportunity to exchange lives of sinful repetition with the divine life that will qualify each and every one of us for a glorious eternity with our Maker!

Lord Jesus, thank you for becoming sin for us that we might become the righteous of God by the new nature You have given us. We give You our sin-soaked natures and accept Your free gift of life. May God be glorified for His wonderful gift to us. In Your precious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 24, 2016

His Mercy - April 24, 2016

Luke 18:9-14 - And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus' desire is that we never forget where we came from, regarding our sin. Many of us can relate to the tax collector in Luke 18 and his feeling of utter shame and bankruptcy as he cried out to God for mercy. Conversely, we hear a different message from the Pharisee -- one of self-righteousness and judgment against his fellow man. The scripture tells us nothing of this particular Pharisee up until this point in time. Possibly he began as a true seeker after God, yet through time he became arrogant and conceited regarding his so-called relationship with God. As he became more and more consumed in his own self-interest of an outwardly righteous life, more and more he died within, divorcing himself from any relationship that he might have started with God in days gone by. Today, this Pharisee might be any one in the church that seeks to set themselves above their brother or sister in so-called spirituality. Not only has their self-righteousness driven them away from God but it has also isolated them from any understanding of loving their spiritual siblings. As stated in I John 4:20, it is impossible to love God and to hate your brother. In the instance of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the former had long ago lost any affection toward the latter thereby nullifying any relationship with the Father.

Jesus told parables for very clear reasons and purposes. His desire was for the hearers to relate themselves to the particular circumstances of the life lesson. In this case, He is beckoning for the hearer to either take one or two positions -- to understand that they are related to eeither the Pharisee or the tax-gatherer. God is telling us that it is good to be related to one or the other. It is actually a travesty if one can not relate themselves to either. (As Jesus stated in Revelations 3:16, He wished that the church at Laodicea were either hot or cold but because of their indifference that they were in peril of God's rejection.) If one identifies themselves as one that has been self-righteous and judgmental of others, then there is the grace and mercy of God that he extends to all that would but humble themselves. That is the first step toward understanding that we all truly are no better than a tax-gatherer.

However, for those who might not believe or understand that they are plagued by self-righteous destruction, here are a couple of clues that should work as a litmus test to determine whether one regards themselves as "righteous":
1) God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. -- The Pharisee (or the self-righteous church-goer) prays to God, masquerading their contempt for others with thanksgiving that he or she is not like "other" people. They can easily mask their inner disdain and hatred for others in "religious" contexts. Rather than "praying the Word" over others in secrecy, the hypocrite would choose to "pray their gossip" over others! They justify this sort of behavior by their "concern" for the church body and its need to "get right with God".

2) I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. -- Outward forms of so-called spirituality give carnal license for others to be hateful of those they judge. After all, fasting and giving tithes gives a so-called believer the "right" to talk about others since they are such a integral part of the church. In their reasoning, if "Aunt Betty" is cooking for every social that is on the church calendar, doesn't that give her the right to voice her opinion? With an attitude of concern about the "sinner", of course!
It's interesting to note that those who truly know they are wrong and needing God's mercy confer with no one nor judge anyone. They don't go to the self-righteous and make their case with them, seeking pardon. They don't even have the confidence to lift their eyes toward heaven, but they cry out to God saying, "Have mercy on me, O God, a sinner!". Without fail, this person will go up to their house justified as they pour out their hearts to God, where those who self-righteously attest to their own goodness have only deceived themselves. These await nothing but loneliness and eternal isolation, the very things they have created for themselves here on earth.

Jesus states that whoever shall humble themselves shall be exalted and whomever exalts themselves will be humbled. These are our choices, in the time that we have here with one another, which will decide how we will live or die throughout eternity.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Faith by Obedience - April 17, 2016

Luke 17:5-10 - The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done."

This particular passage can be confusing unless one knows what the Lord is driving at. The apostles initially asked the Lord Jesus: "Increase our faith!" Jesus explains to them that they don't lack faith but only the wisdom and the understanding to apply it. The Lord uses an extreme, unbelievable example of commanding a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. What He is really getting at is His desire to show us how to listen and obey what the Heavenly Father is speaking so that we will be able to discern the most simple commands as well as what might be the most seemingly outlandish commands which He would give us.

At first glance, it would appear that Jesus has launched into a whole new topic when he begins relating the analogy of the servant and his master. However, understand that the Lord is detailing a particular way to relate to His Father, in order for the disciples to "increase their faith". One might say that there is no mention of faith in this passage except in the apostles plea to Jesus. What IS mentioned is the relationship between a servant and his master and how they interact. Jesus points out that a servant does not look out for his own interests first, but those of his master. The master does not say to the servant, "Come immediately and sit down and eat". Instead, the servant is taught day in and out that his purpose on this earth is first to satisfy the needs and desires of his master. Jesus' example gives explicit directions from the master to first "Prepare something for me to eat, and then properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink". Finally, after the needs of the master are fulfilled, then the servant can satisfy his own needs. Day after day the servant hears his master's commands. He listens for his voice and learns more and more about his master as the months and years go by. The servant learns the small nuances in his meal preparation that please his master. He learns how to serve his master in just the way that his master would desire. Within time, there is an unspoken fellowship of love and respect between the servant and his master. This only comes through time -- by listening and then obeying. The master in turn does not need to thank his servant. However, the servant knows the joy of his master and merely comments, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we have ought to have done".

Jesus knew that His apostles didn't need more faith. What they needed was to continue to listen and to obey what Jesus was teaching them about His Father. They needed ears to hear and hearts to believe when Jesus gave them a command. Whether it was their unquestioning trudging along after Jesus as He went from city to city, or His direction when feeding the multitudes, or even simple commands such as how to prepare for the Passover, his disciples were learning how to HEAR and to OBEY. They didn't need more faith -- they were learning that faith is the offspring of its mother obedience. What they were lacking was the assurance that they were incubating rich veins of faith in the deep caverns of their hearts through their habitual walking and talking with their Lord through loving obedience.

The dilemma for many of us when we feel that we have no faith is that we have not been walking with our Lord in an attitude of obedient surrender. If we had been walking in obedience to His still, small voice than we would hear and obey when He spoke. The situation might call for a laying on of hands and prayer for the healing of a loved one, or to offer a word of encouragement and love to one that is at the end of their rope. Or, possibly to even to do something as outlandish as to tell a tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. The opportunity the Lord offers and the response to His voice will not matter because we have been following Him both explicitly and intimately. Only with this kind of relationship, will true faith be manifest through obedient love.

Father, give us hearts of obedience so that we might grow in faith. Help us to know that we can move mountains only if we have truly known the Mountain Mover of men's souls. Teach us to hear and obey, that Your faith would abound to those whom You desire to touch. In Jesus Christ's precious name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Mighty Weak - April 10, 2016

Deuteronomy 32:36 - For the LORD will vindicate His people, and will have compassion on His servants, when He sees that their strength is gone,

God's promises to His people always include stipulations that require a response and ultimately an action. In the instance of Deuteronomy 32:36, God promises to not only vindicate (or show Himself strong) on behalf of His people, but He also states that He will have compassion on His servants. The operative word in this verse determining God's timeline to bestow these marvelous gifts is when -- or rather "... when He sees that their strength is gone, ... ." While a simple acknowledgement of weakness is an important first step, God desires to SEE an abating of strength and a true resignation to rely on Him for all things.

Some of us may have heard the analogy of the drowning swimmer as he or she relates to the lost sinner. The following not only typifies the sinner as lost and dying but it also shows how the Lord Jesus through His Father desires to save us from ourselves:
Although there were dangerous rip tide signs posted, a lone swimmer was in peril of being swept out to sea. As he began to drown, he screamed for help. Onlookers watched as a life guard flew into action and swam out to the drowning man. The small crowd that had gathered on the beach were all dumbfounded as the life guard circled the man several times, watching as the man bobbed up and down in the waves. Finally, the life guard swooped him up from behind and began dragging the helpless man toward the beach. The life guard brought the man out of harms way, administered CPR, and turned him over to paramedics that took the recovering man to a local hospital for observation. Finally, someone in the small crowd asked the question they all wanted to know: "Why did you circle the man several times before rescuing him?" The life guard replied, "The man was much bigger than me. I needed him to exhaust himself of trying to save himself, otherwise he might have pulled both of us under". Only when he was spent, was I sure that we both could make it back safely".
To continue with this analogy, the majority of the world will continue to play it safe in the tranquil waters around the beach. Many will only venture in ankle or knee deep. They don't consider themselves "sinners" needing salvation. We see these folks around us everyday. Many of these folks go to church every Sunday, they pay tithes, and some may even sing in the choir. They judge themselves by others stating, "I'm a pretty good person that doesn't do a whole lot of wrong!". These are not the people that the Lord can easily help. They are self-sufficient and have relied on themselves for years and years. Then, there are others who, for whatever reason, venture out from the safe confines of the tranquil waters around the beach. Before long, they feel the currents of this world wooing them into deeper waters. Around them they see the playful waves of sin that entice them to continue out where there is more and more excitement. Soon, however, they find themselves overcome by the surf as it pounds down around them. The foam and the mist that was playfully enticing a few moments earlier has now become a force to be reckoned with as it covers their heads and draws on their bodies to carry them further and further out to sea.

Many of us can relate to this dire situation. When all seems lost, we are now at the place where God can truly save us. We are over our heads in sin and without the power to resolve our own rescue. Then, our Savior can truly have His way with us, for He SEES that we are spent and despairing of any salvation other than what He can afford us. Until we are in that most untenable situation, there is little He can do. For truly, God is calling to the weak, not to the strong. He desires a person, a church, and a people that have despaired of living by their own power and have relinquished all thoughts of their own salvation. The Lord Jesus Christ's greatest desire is to pull all of us on to that proverbial beach and resuscitate us, giving us life once again that we had lost hope of ever enjoying. He seeks to REVIVE His people, first as individuals and then as the Body of Christ to send us forth as witnesses of God's saving power from the Ocean of Despair. Have you been resuscitated and revived by the Lord Jesus Christ? Or are you one that has never seen your own need of rescue? May those of us who find ourselves in the throes of the Sea of Despair, may we cry out to Him who SEES when our strength is gone. For only then, can we truly be saved!

Lord Jesus, You are the hope of our salvation from the tempest of sin. For truly, when our strength is gone, we need Your salvation. Have mercy on us and bring us safely to Your Shore of Deliverance. For only when we are weak are we truly strengthened by the might of your loving arms to carry us safely home. In Your Precious Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick