Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Bare Soul - God's Sanctuary - August 23, 2015

Exodus 25:8 - Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them.

God loves us. Most of us have heard that over and over until it loses it true meaning. The reality is that God REALLY loves us. Something that many of us can probably relate to more than God loving us is that God really LIKES us and desires to be with with His people. It has always been the desire of the Father to dwell amongst His people, as we read in Exodus 25:8. It is not something that God planned grudgingly or with reservation, but throughout time it has been his utmost desire to "hang out" (if you will indulge me with contemporary vernacular) with His beloved. God's desire and love and longing for us is infinite, although He patiently knows that we are but time-bound creatures made from dust that can't comprehend how much He yearns for our company. Yet, this God whose very nature is love desires a people that will love and like Him in return. He desires a holy people that will not run from Him but run toward Him at His beckon. Undoubtedly, the Lord God Almighty could have designed His people to love Him in a forced or compulsory manner. Much in the same way, the Father could have created the sanctuary for His presence outlined in the book of Exodus. However, God desired for His people to love Him and to want to dwell with Him so that they might be compelled from their own passion for the Most High to build Him a place on this earth for His abode. The Lord Jehovah could have supernaturally made the sanctuary of the Lord appear in the wilderness but that was not His desire. He wanted the children of Israel to painstakingly pay attention to every detail and to labor with love on this most holy construction. This showed God that they truly desired Him as much as imperfect man could desire to please a perfect God.

Fast forward approximately 1300 years to the time of Christ. For years, the Jewish nation had immersed themselves in a temporal mindset that God would continue to dwell in their midst if they would but maintain the temple and its practices. This presumption led many to miss the signs of Jesus Christ's first appearing and His spiritual destruction of the temple made with hands. It would be another 40 years after Christ's death when the temple in Jerusalem would be razed to the ground by the Romans. However, Jesus totally nullified the temple and it's sanctuary by sacrificing His own life on the cross. This allowed the true sanctuary of God -- that one not made by human hands, to become an eternal dwelling place in the hearts of men and women where God could reside. In II Corinthians 6:16, Paul states that this all loving, all powerful, all knowing and caring God desires not only to dwell in once sinful man, but to also walk with him in his daily life. Imagine the God of the universe wanting and "liking" to spend time with us in our seemingly mundane lives. Most of us would probably attest that our lives are often filled with ordinary routine that would many days not even warrant a journal entry in our respective diaries. Yet God is fascinated with our lives to the point that He desires to walk and talk with us every moment of the day. It is certainly true that we could never give back to God anything of substance since He is the owner of all (Psalm 50:10Psalm 89:11). The only thing that we can give Him is ourselves, or more poignantly, our time. The Lord gives every single human a pre-determined allotment of time upon this earth. It is our responsibility to use it wisely. True wisdom would dictate that the more time we lavish on the Lord, the more time is richly invested.

For those of us who know the Lord and understand that He is indeed dwelling within us, there are still things we must do in order to maintain the sanctuary of the Lord. Although God desires to spend time with us, He can often be relegated to an isolated place in the sanctuary within. While we are no longer in the construction business (for Jesus constructed a perfect tabernacle within us all for Him to dwell) it is still our responsibility to maintain it. God will never love or like us less than He does right now, yet He will be silenced oftentimes from expressing His love and joy within because of a sanctuary that is unsanctified. Paul stated to the Corinthians in his first letter (6:19), asking them: Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? In the previous verses he was admonishing this fledgling church that they must flee the sins of the flesh because these are what keep them from fellowship with God and with one another. The apostle knew that in order for God to live uninhibited in their lives that they must first of all renounce the lusts of this world that would seek to pollute the sanctuary within. If the devil cannot have your soul, there is nothing more that he would desire to have is your time -- time wasted on the unfruitful deeds of darkness that would pollute the dwelling place of the Most High God. However, ... if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (I John 1:7). Beloved, there is nothing that will enable us to maintain the health and holiness of our respective sanctuaries like the blood of Jesus. It will wash away all darkness and filth and will once again allow His light and fellowship to abound. Once our sanctuary is filled with light, we will once again "feel" and comprehend the love and friendship of our God as He rejoices over us with shouts of triumph (Zephaniah 3:17).

Beloved, we must no longer worry about creating anything of "good" for our God. We can never build Him a sanctuary that would please Him in exchange for the sanctuary that He has made possible within all of humankind to dwell. Tragically, for many, God will never occupy these places of His habitation because so many will never invite Him in. These are mysterious "God-shaped", glorious dwelling places in the heart of every man, woman, and child that have existed since Jesus Christ gave this wondrous gift to humankind nearly 2,000 years ago. For those who do know our Lord and have accepted Him to dwell within His sanctuary, it is merely a matter of living free from the entanglements of this world to enjoy His heavenly presence. God desires us -- God longs for us -- God loves us -- and He LIKES us. He desires to live and and move and have His being within ours. All we must do is accept Him, welcome Him, and appreciate Him by living according to His will. Then, we will know what it means to be living in the love of His eternal sanctuary, forever in His care!

Abba (Papa) Father, we thank you for your life within us. Illumine the eyes of our understanding that we might better understand your love for us. Show us your desire to walk and talk with us in the sanctuary created not with human hands, but in that one created by Your Son within all our hearts. May we better understand through our daily communion with You the joy and affection You have for all. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Bare Soul - Praying God's Word - August 16, 2015

So often I hear believers say something to the effect as that they don't know how to pray. What a travesty! God's Holy Word is filled with those who teach prayer not only from a direct lesson as Jesus taught His disciples (Matthew 6:9-13), but also those who teach from example. The apostle Paul gives us a wonderful treasury of prayers to pray back to the Father in His Son's name. Paul was not ashamed or timid when speaking to the churches that they should follow his example and imitate him in all his ways (Philippians 4:9). Whether he was instructing them in person or through one of his letters, Paul was a living example of not only how to live but how to live a life of unceasing prayer. He must have known through the Holy Spirit that by writing out his prayers that he was instructing his beloved churches regarding how to both supplicate and intercede with a Godly focus.

There are many such examples in the Pauline letters, but we will look at just a few. The depth of Paul's wisdom and understanding of God should not intimidate those who would desire to pray as Paul prayed. For example, Ephesians 1:17-19 (New International Version) states:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength,
The apostle's words may seem flowery and lofty, yet they can be easily broken down to better understand their intent. Here is one possible way that a believer might pray back Paul's prayer to the Father:
Holy Father, I am going to keep asking you over and over for the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. Lord, I don't fully understand what that means but I ask you to show me what wisdom and revelation mean in my heart and in those hearts that I am bringing before you today. Fill us today, Lord. Father, help me to visualize in my spirit how you are opening the eyes of my inner person to understand the important job you have called me and others to complete. With that calling, you have provided all the resources and power to accomplish these great things if only I will but believe. Help my faith, Lord, to believe that you are backing me up to complete this work by your incredible, unlimited power.
The preceding passage in Ephesians is only one of several specific prayers that Paul prayed for instruction to the early churches. Others include Ephesians 3:14-19Philippians 1:9-11Colossians 1:9-12I Thessalonians 5:23, and II Thessalonians 1:11, just to name a few. These prayers contain specific prayers for the churches as Paul laser-focuses his petitions for specific out workings of the Divine Spirit in their midst (e.g. love, wisdom, knowledge, power, and sanctification for the equipping of the saints).

Not only may we be aware of stated prayers such as in the Pauline letters, but we may also take numerous scriptures throughout the Bible and turn them back around as prayers of supplication, intercession, or thanksgiving. For instance, Paul states in I Thessalonians 5:18 to ... give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. One could just as easily turn that into a prayer and say, "Lord, help me to give thanks in all things because I know this is Your will for me!" As we begin to pray back God's word to Him, we find a greater ability to continue to breathe out prayers as we meditate on His word. We further understand that our lives can truly become a life of unceasing prayer as we memorize and repeat His word back to Him. Note also, that praying the word is not merely relegated to the New Testament. Many of the Psalms are wonderful, heartfelt expressions of prayer and thanksgiving for God's wonderful dealings with writers such as David and Asaph. These scriptures are "living and active" and as relevant to be prayed back to God as they were 3,000 years ago (Psalm 102:18). Isaiah is one of my personal favorites. This learned prophet wrote in an eloquent, poetic way with a heart of passion for Israel. I invite you to look especially at chapters 40 through 66 as you personalize Isaiah's prayers for our contemporary lives. They have just as much power today when we substitute in prayer the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem for the current Body of Christ -- His living church.

Beloved, my challenge is that we would all embrace the power of praying God's word. Through an earnest desire to know the depths of God's word through prayer, the Holy Father will reveal His Son in ways that we have never imagined. By asking Him to open up and reveal the depth of wisdom in the scripture in prayer, we too can experience an understanding equal to Paul's that may have once seemed distant and improbable. The apostle admonishes us in Romans 12:2 to not be conformed with the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. How much better for our minds and our hearts to be changed then by Him speaking to us His holy word? That is only half the exchange. He earnestly desires that we would take that word and speak it back to Him. God desires a holy conversation of humble prayer and supplication with His bride. He has given us the words to speak if we would but offer them back to Him with a desire to please Him in faith and love.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Bare Soul - God's Mountain Men - Part II - August 9, 2015

Genesis 22:2 - He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you."

As a boy, some of my favorite reading were biographies. In particular, I very much enjoyed stories of the western expansion in America. Tales of mountain men such as Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger would make me dream of running away to the mountains to live as a hermit amongst the savages, selling my fur pelts to the highest bidder. The proverbial call of the mountains can be just as strong as the call of the sea, setting in motion these "dreamers" of a bygone era with hopes to live independently and at the same time strike it rich with the wealth the streams and rivers would offer. Their goals were often to remain fiercely independent with no one telling them how to live their lives. This isolation more often ended up badly for the majority of mountain trappers as they were either killed by Indians, avalanches, rockslides, or an assortment of other tragedies that were symptomatic of their aloneness.

In comparison, we see another "mountain man" who millenniums before heard the voice of God and chose to give up his own agenda for that of the Lord's. Abraham's 600 mile trek from Mesopotamia along with his nephew Lot in chapter 12 of the book of Genesis came to a parting of ways for the two in chapter 13. Abraham saw the wisdom of them separating since their herds had become too large for them to dwell together. The scripture states: So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:11-12). The land of Canaan referred to is a rugged area full of hills and mountains far less habitable than the Jordan valley which his nephew had chosen. Water was not in abundance for the flocks and herds in the hills and the mountains, yet God's promise to Abraham was that He would bless him and make him a mighty nation (Genesis13:14-17). While Lot chose the "easier, softer way" of the valley, Abraham chose the more difficult life knowing that God would bless him regardless.

Abraham was unmoved by mountains because he lived amongst them by choice. Later, when God told Abraham to ascend Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac, there is no mention of the patriarch arguing with God but he set off with his son in obedience. As we know from this familiar story, God was merely testing Abraham's faith to see if he would truly obey Him in all things. Conversely, we read in Genesis 19:17 that Lot was moved to retreat and hide in the mountains as he fled for his life due to his compromising lifestyle: When they had brought them outside, one [of the angels] said, "Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away. God has juxtaposed two characters in this lesson from His word, showing us that those two different embraces -- one of obedience resulting in blessing, the other in compromise resulting in a flight of fear of God's judgment. The end of Lot's compromised state is a sad tale of loneliness and incest while hiding out in the depths of the mountains that he once shunned (Genesis 19:30-38).

As believers, we are continually bombarded with choices in our sensual, sin-soaked western culture. Many of those that would seek to follow the Lord might think that living in the proverbial mountains of faith is a hard life fraught with isolation from the glitz and the glamour of our 21st century living. That would be true. However, once we separate ourselves from the compromise and the allure of the world, then God takes us aside as He did Abraham and He promises His blessings upon our lives. While some might believe this is the life of loneliness, it is ironically the life filled with fellowship and the camaraderie of all those who have likewise chosen a mountain man lifestyle. The striking truth regarding those who seek to live in the comfort and compromise of this world find that they are the ones who will one day, like Lot, seek the shelter of the mountains that could have formed the character they so desperately needed. Unfortunately, for many it will be too late at this juncture. May we all, like Abraham, seek to live as God's mountain man -- not compromising with the world but joyously submitting to God in all instances and watching as His marvelous life blesses not only us and our families but all those whom we would encounter. The choice is ours today.

Heavenly Father, make us true children of Abraham, unwavering in our decision for you. Allow us to shun the pleasures of the rich valleys of this earth and let us learn character by living with You in the mountains of your choosing, producing character and obedience and finding favor in Your presence. For without faith and obedience it is impossible to please You. Allow us Your grace in this endeavor. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Bare Soul - God's Mountain Men - Part I - August 2, 2015


Matthew 17:1-2 - Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.

Mountains have a way of capturing our imagination. The Psalmist refers to mountains, comparing them to the righteousness of God -- stately in majesty (Psalm 36:6). Many of us that have climbed mountains, either with equipment or as "free-climbers" know the exhilaration of reaching the top. It is truly an awe-inspiring moment. I vividly remember the first of many summits that I ascended. It was November 1976 in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) outside of Estes Park Colorado. Four of us from a local bible college decided to take on Twin Sisters, an 11,428 foot peak. During the late 1970s, the Front Range of the Rockies was in the midst of a drought. Comparatively, little snow had fallen that fall season, so we decided to free-climb the switchbacks to the peak. Bob, our guide, had hiked up to the summit just weeks before with no problems. However, as we progressed we found the snow deepening in various sections shielded by the trees. As we sank knee deep in snow, our thoughts raced back and forth from wishing we had snow shoes and turning around and retreating for the trailhead and the warmth of the car. However Bob was determined to push onward and upward. Once above treeline, we found very little snow on the boulder fields that were swept free by the wind. From there it was a short climb to the top and to the breathtaking view. There was such a feeling of accomplishment that we all shouted with enthusiasm as our voices echoed in the valley below. Twenty-three years later, I would be back in RMNP ascending my first "fourteener" with my brother-in-law Tim as my guide. He had summitted Long's Peak (14,259 ft.) before and led me to the peak, guiding me through the boulder field, the Keyhole, around the Trough and the Narrows and finally to the top. In both my first and latter summits, I was grateful for determined, experienced guides that helped me find my way.

Mountain climbing is not for the faint-hearted. I would compare some of the peaks I have summitted with running some of my faster marathon times. Both demanded a great deal of stamina and fortitude to finish as I raced against either the clock or against the weather to ascend and then descend the mountain, respectively. Matthew tells us nothing of Jesus' motive when leading Peter, James, and John to the top of this high mountain, as described by the author in chapter 17. Six days earlier, they had been given a lesson regarding the cost of discipleship (Matthew 16:24-28). Jesus told them that if they wished to follow Him that they must obey Him implicitly or, as Christ stated, to deny one's self and take up the cross. Undoubtedly, the disciples were perplexed where the Lord might be taking them. Historically, the Mount of Transfiguration is considered to be Mount Tabor which is an 1,800 ft. summit. While this would not be considered a high mountain by many of our standards, it is the second tallest peak in Israel. The journey to the top was without a doubt arduous even as it is today for Christian pilgrims to ascend. Possibly the disciples were muttering on their way up, trying to figure out where their Lord might be leading? After all, there surely weren't any opportunities to minister on the peak of Mount Tabor? It just didn't make sense as it appeared that Jesus seemed to be isolating them from their calling as "holy evangelists". Or, maybe the Lord wanted to "pray" again. (That would mean some "snooze" time for the disciples!) However, once they arrived at the pinnacle they were in for quite a surprise! It was God's will that Jesus be transfigured in their midst that the disciples might see Jesus in His glory. Undoubtedly, all thoughts of a wasted climb to the top of Mt. Tabor vanished as they saw Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in glorious radiance along with hearing the awesome voice of God the Father. Their lives would be forever altered after ascending this famous mount.

As the disciples obeyed Jesus' leading, they were blessed with the wonder of His glory. However, this was merely a token of what God had in store for the apostles. As they would soon find out, it's one thing to climb mountains while following the Lord in obedience -- it's quite another thing to move them! Through their obedient pursuit of their Holy Master, Jesus was preparing them to be true "mountain men". The Lord had previously modeled to his followers the need for seclusion and prayer on the mountaintop (Matthew 14:23). Now, He had brought them to the top of Tabor to show them their respective callings. It was not an accident that three mortal beings ascended that mountain, yet three supernatural manifestations occurred in three persons.
  • James the brother of John, became instrumental as a leader of the early church in Jerusalem where he helped shepherd thousands of believers as they were added to the church through the work of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Moses was an Old Covenant archetype of the shepherd that led the flock of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land via Mount Sinai. Both men had hearts for God and His people. While Moses was the Law Giver that came down from the mountain, James helped shepherd with the Law of Liberty from Mount Jerusalem, the site of the early church.

  • John the brother of James, later to be known as "John the Revelator" became the greatest prophet of the new dispensation. The book of Revelation is still being played out even today as the end-time book of Acts. The Elijah of Mount Carmel similarly was a prophet embroiled in persecution much like John experienced under the Roman emperors. Elijah's zeal for the Lord God made him God's choice to both preserve and reveal the word of the Lord in ancient Israel against King Ahab and Queen Jezebel's idolatrous government (I Kings 17).

  • Peter, the great evangelist, would be instrumental in leading more souls to His Savior than Jesus did in the time of His short ministry. In the space of a few weeks after Pentecost, the church added over 8,000 souls through the preaching of Peter as endued by the Holy Spirit. Peter had certainly become the soul-winner that Jesus the Great Evangelist modeled for him during His three years with the apostle (Acts 2:41Acts 4:4).
Beloved, at some point in our Christian walk Jesus will desire to lead every one of us up our own Mount Tabor to manifest Himself in a miraculous way. If we are faithful and resolute to follow Him, no matter how hard the climb, we will be delighted upon reaching the apex. We may not see a transfiguration in the same way as the disciples, however we can be sure that He will show us His glory in the way He sees fit if we will but trust and follow. With the revelation He provides will come the responsibility to partner with Him until He completes His work in and through us (Philippians 1:6). Much in the same way that we behold the beauty of a mountaintop, those of us who are called by His Name must become mountain men and women for God and dare to move mountains once we have climbed them with our Lord. As the apostles later understood, the Transfiguration meant nothing until they too were transfigured to shake the earth for Jesus. Are you a mountain man or woman for Jesus? For only as we follow Him implicitly to the top of our respective Mount Tabor will we truly understand His calling for our lives.

Heavenly Father, make us all desire to be mountain men and women for You. Help us to follow Your Son up and over those pinnacles that may seem daunting and without common sense to traverse. Yet, through Jesus' wisdom may we see the final outcome and the transfiguration that You desire to complete in all your sons and daughters. In Jesus' Name, Amen.


Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Americanized Church - Cruising for a Bruising - July 26, 2015

For some time now, the Lord has been stirring my spirit with a prophetic message to our generation. It is a message of false comfort and reliance upon a paradigm of religion rather than seeking God’s face. For truly, there is a shift about to take place. For too long, the churches in America and westernized countries have sought his hand and provision without seeking His desire. We have built our programs and our institutions according to what our predecessors laid out. However, these are faulty towers of misplaced faith that will not withstand what is ahead.

Many churches today seek to cater to merely the needs of their congregates. But what about the desires of God? We have carefully laid out plans for our youth, young adults, divorced adults, singles, and a bevy of other groups. But where is God? In all of these endeavors, there are a few that are going on with God and even some being saved. But where is the true power of the Almighty? Have we as the church relied on perpetuating an old wine skin that cannot hold the new wine of what God wants to do?

God has shown me that the church in America is much like any number of luxury cruise liners departing from our coasts on a daily basis. In the summer of 2014, my family and I were expensed a trip on the then largest cruise ship in the world—the Oasis of the Seas. On every deck, there were activities of every sort. One could ice skate, zip line, wave surf, play basketball, take in a show, or just stroll the Promenade of shops or Central Park. These are just a few. Then there are the seemingly endless places to dine 24/7. There is never a shortage of food or entertainment because that is the intent. The senses and appetites of the guests must be continually satisfied. If not, then they will not return as a repeat customer but will end up with another cruise line that will better meet their expectations.

How much like our modern church is the cruise-line mentality!? It is all about me! Here are the expectations of most church goers today. If you don’t greet me at the door and tell me how great it is that I am in church today, then you don’t care about me. Unless my children have an awesome time in children’s church, then you don’t care about my kids. If teenage Johnny doesn’t connect with a group of his peers, then the kids at that church are cliquish. These are all superfluous to the real reason of being at church, and THAT IS TO ENCOUNTER THE ALMIGHTY GOD! This buffet mentality of the church has caused us to believe that if my needs are not met then there is something wrong with that church! This is the sin of idolatry and self-centeredness as much so as the children of Israel in their worship of a golden calf. The church in America does not have a golden calf. Instead, we worship the golden corral buffet that says I want to be comforted by excess rather than seeking God to see how I might comfort others through prayer and true acts of His love.

Historically, the S.S. America that is very much a metaphor for today’s church in the United States.  The America was built in 1939 and was a luxury cruise ship that was conscripted into the war effort during the early 1940s. At 24.9 knots per hour, she was a fast ship that ferried hundreds of thousands of troops back and forth from the shores of Europe. After World War II, she once again was put into service and faithfully cruised wealthy passengers between New York and Europe for the next 20 years. As the ship began to age, it went through a series of owners and restorations until finally it was shipwrecked off the African coast close to the Canary Islands. It is now a rusty wreck on the shores of the island Fuerenventura as the waves and salt spray continue to diminish the shipwreck. One day, there will be no trace of the once grand vestige of cruising as the hull will submerge below the waves.

Isn’t it true, much like the S.S. America, how the church pulls together during crisis? However, by then the enemy has usually come in and ravaged our land, our churches, and our culture. The America was a splendid vessel during wartime as it greatly helped the war effort by transporting nearly a million men and women to war torn Europe. My question to the church is the following: What are we transporting today in our local church bodies? It is quite remarkable to stand on a cruise ship dock and watch the hundreds if not thousands of pallets of food loaded for a single cruise. When will the church wake up and start transporting the souls of men and women rather than merely trying to fill the carnal lusts that will never fulfill? The only way this will happen is to take the time to hear what God is saying. It is time to fill our churches to pray rather than with programs to play. It is time to give ourselves to God’s desire rather than our own.

I am certain that one day the church in our great land will again wake up and serve humanity as it was designed. However, it will require judgment to make this happen. Isaiah revealed this grand plan of how God teaches us His ways through His Almighty hand: “At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; For when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” (Isaiah 26:9)

Beloved of God, it is time to close the “all you can eat buffet lines” and begin to seek God for our generation. It is time to weep between the porch and the altar (Joel 2:17) rather than being entertained by false comfort. It is time to start ferrying men and women’s souls through prayer and intercession rather than trying to fill their carnal bellies with things that will never last. Bible teaching is good, fellowship with believers is good, but if they are leading us away from God and not to Him, then there is an iceberg ahead ready to sink the ship we have put our trust in. The icebergs are coming … are we ready? Have we committed ourselves to be Watchmen and Watchwomen to warn the church of the coming calamities? We will learn about God’s righteousness and mercy through His righteousness. However, how many of us will recognize the hand of God when we see it and His mercy in the midst of His dealings? I fear that too many on the fence will fall to the wrong side and continue to be swept into delusion. God help the church to open their eyes in this fateful hour.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Profit and Loss - July 19, 2015

Isaiah 48:17 - Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go."

Many years ago my great-uncle pulled me aside and gave me some advice that I wouldn't fully understand until years later. I was a young man barely out of my teens when he told me: It's not how much you make in life that matters, it's what you save. This native Texan was a self-made man that grew up during the depression and later put himself through college at Texas A&M University. During the 1960s, he amassed a great deal of wealth in real estate. However, even today he is an unassuming man in his 90s that lives modestly and with a frugality characteristic of his years of want. At the time when he shared this tidbit of wisdom, my finances were in shambles and money went through my hands like a sieve. Years later, I would understand that creating a lifestyle of first giving back to God and secondly of providing for my family and others unselfishly would provide the bedrock where a foundation of "saving" might be laid. I am not talking merely about saving in respect to money. I am talking about a lifestyle conducive to both material and spiritual wealth. For Jesus said: Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? (Luke 16:11).

To those who know the Lord, saving does not necessarily imply laying aside wealth for future retirement. It implies a heart of wisdom that has been instructed for years by the Lord regarding His insights on how to make a profit and to make it continue to grow. The irony of making a profit in God's economy means little about earthly wealth. This is merely a tool to help us progress to the real treasure. In Isaiah 48:17, the prophet spoke one thing yet was most likely misunderstood in his day much like he has been misunderstood in this generation. During the "Name it and Claim it" phenomenon of the 1970s and 80s, many preachers were telling us that in order to be successful in this life a person just needed to believe. They would tell their listeners on radio or television that whatever they confessed, they could possess if they just had faith. Do you want a new house? Then believe God and He will bless you with a mansion! After all, aren't we all "King's Kids"? And how about a new Cadillac? Surely, God will not withhold any good thing from those who would believe in Him, will He? Oh, but there was that one little caveat. Unless a believer sows finances into the Kingdom then they wouldn't receive back ten- or a hundred-fold for their faithfulness, as told by these soothsayers. In other words, you had to give to get -- you had to sow richly so you could reap a harvest of material blessings. Most of this so-called biblical instruction instructing many to "sow into the Kingdom" was directed back to their ministries to provide for their lavish lifestyles. Beloved, I am convinced that God wept then and He still weeps when we try to take His word and make it formulaic to increase wealth in a selfish, carnal way.

In order to understand what God wants to teach us about true profit, we should first look to Jesus and His Sermon on the Mount. The Lord's teaching is diametrically opposed to any thought of gaining material wealth BEFORE attaining spiritual treasure. Too often, we have tried to measure our success by how much material "blessings" we have attained -- how large our portfolios might be, or how much real estate we own. While there is certainly nothing wrong with having treasure on this earth, there is a problem if it is not founded on God's instruction on how to make and keep wealth. It is very much like trying to make a sidewalk without any forms or rebar. The wet concrete will never set up right because it has no foundation, lacking the boards or metal forms to rest on. It will crack easily because there is no inner structure for the concrete to cling to if there is no rebar . Concrete forms are comparable to the wisdom that God gives us to create wealth and then use it wisely. There are established, certain ways to create sidewalks in the same way as there are to create wealth according to God's guidance. Many, however, have attempted to produce material security before creating spiritual security. Jesus' teaching to the common man on the mount stated that to live in pursuit of riches was a life of chasing folly. The true riches were to be laid up in heaven through a heart given to God and to His Kingdom (Matthew 5:16-19). Christ summed it up concisely in regard to how much or how little wealth one should make when comparing the "birds of the air" and the "lilies of the field" with our earthly pursuits for material happiness. How much more does God care to feed and clothe us than these? (Matthew 6:25-30). Anything that God desires to give above and beyond this is according to His wisdom and how He might deal with each of us. Jesus concludes His teaching on how to profit in God's economy with this simple statement: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

Years later, I have taken my uncle's advice and turned it in such a way as he might not have expected. I still believe there is great wisdom in what he said, regardless whether he meant it as merely saving every nickel and dime to attain material security. Today, I know that the Lord has great things in store for those who will but let Him instruct them on the meaning of making a true profit. Today, the concept of "saving" means to turn ALL my affections and intentions to profit over to Him, allowing God by His grace to instruct me on the meaning of true gain. With this type of savings plan, there truly is a heavenly salvation that does not lack a high rate of return. If we get the proverbial cart before the horse, then we will just be creating a profit-scheme that will eventually be bankrupt in loss because it was built on self-serving motives. However, if we surrender all our ambition and desire to the Lord Jesus to create His wealth through us (spiritual, then material), then we will be delighted to see not only spiritual blessings but also the material blessings that He has laid up for us on this earth. They may not be mansions and Cadillacs here in this world, but they will be EXACTLY what we need to fulfill our respective missions and to prepare us for our heavenly home filled with splendor.

Heavenly Father, teach us and guide us regarding what true profit means while we traverse through this life. Help us to turn the gains you produce in us into heavenly riches that ultimately builds your church on earth and produces treasure for eternity. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Beatitudes - Persecution - July 12, 2015

Matthew 5:10 - Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What does it mean to be persecuted for righteousness' sake? To define Christian persecution as people ridiculing you if you have a bible on your desk at work, or that you say a prayer in a restaurant over a meal narrowly addresses Jesus' intent when speaking to His audience on the Mount. An insulting word regarding one's faith, to be sure, is a minor form of persecution. However, when one understands the true biblical definition of persecution, it is evident that we as American believers have not experienced persecution like others in various parts of the world. Many Muslim nations in Asia and Africa forbid the preaching and proselytizing of the Christian faith. It is more than just civil disobedience resulting in a fine in areas hostile to the Gospel -- the price is often the loss of life. While America was founded by those fleeing from religious persecution, we have yet to experience those who would seek our lives for living and sharing our faith in a state-sponsored manner. However, as Christianity continues to be denigrated in the United States as a supposed "right-wing" intolerant faith, the days of physical persecution may not be far beyond the proverbial horizon. (In the near future, it may be a so-called "hate crime" and a civil liberties violation to even talk about the sin of homosexuality for what it is -- a perversion of God's ordained love between a man and a woman!) American believers may experience what their brethren in many parts of the world partake of on a daily basis in short order. We too, may be harangued and persecuted as our foreign counterparts. And why should we expect differently? For as Paul stated: Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (II Timothy 3:12).

In Matthew 5: 10, the root phrase in the Greek, "who have been persecuted" is dediōgmenoi which literally means "to put to flight or to pursue". This implies a pre-meditated, calculated attempt by those in power to impede or stop those who call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in whatever means are at their disposal. As in the other beatitudes, Jesus declares a blessing on those who would be harassed and hunted like a wild beast for His Name's sake. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, uses a derivation of this word to describe the actions of Saul of Tarsus (later to be known as Paul) as he sought out Christ's followers to have them imprisoned. When Jesus asked Saul in the vision on the road to Damascus, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?", Luke chooses a form of dediōgmenoi, using the present tense diōkeis which translates "is persecuting" (Acts 9:4). Little did Saul know that up until that moment of clarity on the Damascus Road, he had been a tool of the devil and yet a catalyst of blessing to those he sought to inflict harm. However, it was not in God's Master Plan for Saul to remain in his present state. He desired to transform the Pharisee Saul into the Apostle Paul. By Jesus' declaration of who Saul was in the eyes of God, this epiphany empowered the zealous young man to be converted for the Lord's work.

So, what kind of persecution should we expect in our western civilization if we desire to live godly lives? In our present societies, most of us will not be hunted down as did blindly-zealous Saul the first century Christians. However, we should expect verbal abuse at times that is hateful toward our lives as believers in Jesus Christ. The Lord made a distinction in the verses following Matthew 5:10 marking the difference between verbal abuse and physical persecution. In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus states: Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. In these verses, Christ mentions oral persecution twice with the implication of physical abuse just once. While verbal persecution in and of itself is not life threatening, it can quickly evolve into a physically abusive scenario. (Psychologists tell us that physical abuse nine times out of ten will be preceded with verbal abuse.) Jesus relates that to suffer insults, character defamation, lies, and evil dispersions are all cause for rejoicing. As He points out, the prophets were treated with contempt and abusive speech often years before they were martyred for His sake. And, why were they were treated as such? Because they spoke the truth and did not compromise God's message in a turbulent, idolatrous time! Do we see any of the same parallels today, beloved? Has the Christian faith become so watered-down in many churches that there is no longer any distinction whether the so-called flock is Christian or of some other eastern philosophy that panders to a belief that "all roads must lead to heaven, since all roads lead to Rome"? I tell you with sober conviction, that if we are not at the very least ruffling a few folks around us regarding our faith, I would question whether we truly have any real faith. If we are not incurring the occasional gossip behind our backs (or in our presence) or the overt insult to our face of our so-called intolerance toward others because of supposed "narrow-mindedness", then we should be crying out to God for a life of conviction that is once and for all led by His Spirit.

While we may not experience the depth of persecution that some of our global brethren may be experiencing, there is little doubt that we should be manifesting a certain joy in our present struggles in our encounters with a hateful, anti-Christ world we live in. Nobody that I know in America is currently being hunted down for their faith. However, I can assure us of this -- if one cannot endure the insults and the evil that others might say against us today, then we will not be ready to endure the persecution that may be on our very doorsteps. Do we feel blessed when others might insult us for our faith? Or, have we not garnered that type of response from others because we have not submitted ourselves to our Lord for this to happen? If we are living obedient lives full of His presence, He has promised us persecution to one degree or another. Blessed are we if we will embrace these occasions for they ensure our citizenship in that glorious kingdom above!

Father, we seek not persecution for persecution's sake, but we desire to be pleasing in Your sight. As we are insulted or abused for our faith in You, remind us that we are blessed in heaven and while on this earth for our testimony. Remind us that the kingdom of heaven is ours if we shrink not from the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. In Christ's Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick