Friday, April 24, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Fruit of the Spirit - Joy - April 26, 2009

Galatians 5:22-23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

True joy is unmistakable. I'm not talking about the emotion created from a joyous experience or a feeling of happiness created by any given situation. I am speaking of the source from which this state of well-being derives. When the source of a supposed joyous or happy state is convoluted or temporal, then the natural result will be a temporal emotion that will quickly disappear. Often, folks will buy something such as a new car and feel a sense of elation and happiness for a season. However, in a short time, this elation dissipates -- usually about as long as it takes the new car smell to disappear. Then, all folks are left with are the monthly payments. Conversely, when joy springs from the Eternal Source, then it is never ending and permanent. Just as love does not originate through expression but through identification with the God of Love, in the same way we find the remaining fruits of the Spirit are first to be received and drawn upon through His person, and then expressed through our own characters as He wills.

Psalm 16:11 in the New American Standard Bible describes the perfect plan to live in the totality of God's joy at all times. David spoke through the Holy Spirit in this passage stating: ... In Your presence, there is fullness of joy ... . One might rightly say, "How does one continue ALWAYS in the presence of God where this fullness dwells? In reality, few find that place. It is important to note, however, that David speaks regarding "fullness" with the implication that the joy of the Lord is to be enjoyed on a daily basis in one degree or another. Those who truly know the Lord should never languish long in their own doubts and despair, but should return to their Maker who gives an endless supply of joy. Many godly saints throughout the ages having found this place of pure joy in His presence refer to it as the secret place of the Most High. Consistently, these humble men and women of God state that their lives were caught up for years and years in the art of practicing putting themselves back into God's presence whenever they felt His absence. It is an act of will that is demonstrated by a loving desire to always be with Him. The Song of Solomon 3:1-4 is an exquisite example of how the bridegroom has departed and the bride’s frantic search for her beloved. By her continual searching, she finally finds him again and will not let him out of her grasp. This is the type of joy expressed once we find the true Lover of our souls. By practicing holy behavior before our holy Lord and refusing to be denied access into His presence, we can and will live in that place that is complete with ... joy inexpressible and full of glory (I Peter 1:8).

An extraordinary example of someone who lived in this fully surrendered state of joy was a French monk of the17th century, Brother Lawrence. A collection of his letters and conversations were published after his death which quickly became a testimony of one who continually dwelt in the presence of the Lord and experienced unfathomable joy. (This small booklet, entitled The Practice of the Presence of God is available as a free download.) There are few books that have touched my inner man as this one. Lawrence was an unassuming man that found the secret place of intimate prayer; whether it was during devotionals or during his menial duties in the monastery kitchen. However, there was a time in his early pilgrimage toward God when he struggled to even understand that he was truly saved. Brother Lawrence writes about his conversion below and his consequential joyous existence:
Finally he reasoned: I did not engage in a religious life but for the love of God. I have endeavored to act only for Him. Whatever becomes of me, whether I be lost or saved, I will always continue to act purely for the love of God. I shall have this good at least that until death I shall have done all that is in me to love Him. From that time on Brother Lawrence lived his life in perfect liberty and continual joy. He placed his sins between himself and God and told Him that he did not deserve His favors, yet God still continued to bestow them in abundance.
In Lawrence's fourth letter, we find a matured, loving, joyful monk. His joy, he states, would become so rapturous at times that he would have to conceal it unless others might not understand.
He is now so accustomed to that divine presence that he receives from God continual comfort and peace. For about thirty years his soul has been filled with joy and delight so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to find ways to hide their appearing outwardly to others who may not understand.
Brother Lawrence had learned the secret of dwelling in the shadow of the Most High and drawing upon the safety, security, and awesome strength of living always in the Lord's presence. Like Lawrence, the word of God gives us examples such as Nehemiah who understood that joy was not a place of weakness but it was empowering. It allows all those who choose to dwell in His shelter an unlimited source of power and strength to overcome any and all obstacles. The displaced cupbearer to the king, now wall-builder of Jerusalem, proclaimed to those Israelites returning from captivity in Babylon that they should not be grieved or stricken with any sadness or fear because ... the joy of the Lord is their strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Understanding the source of this strength did not give them a sense of arrogance or invulnerability, but it allowed them to understand Who was truly watching over and protecting them from their enemies. Paul was another who tells us in Ephesians 5:18 not to be drunk with wine (which gives a false sense of bravado and invulnerability), but to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we are filled up and overflowing with His presence in our lives, then His strength and power are truly perfected. With this new found strength, the direct bi-product created by the joy of His presence, one is brought to a new place of humility. One only has to look at the life of Moses, the most humble man who ever lived yet one who lived in the light of His presence for forty years in the wilderness [Numbers 12:3]). Biblical history, as well as more contemporary times are filled with examples of those who gave up all to live in His presence -- to be empowered with His strength to live a holy, exhilarating life continually in the presence of the Most High God. God is not a respecter of persons and desires for us all to come into His presence and to be bathed with his joyous strength. Only as we continue to practice His presence in our lives, will we then be joyous participants of His rapturous delights that He daily sets before us.

Lord, that we may live in your presence, not only one day in glory, but even now -- here upon this earth. For in your presence is fullness of joy and life inexpressible. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Fruit of the Spirit - Love - April 19, 2009

Galatians 5:22-23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

What is love? In our present world, there is not a lack of discussion regarding this topic. All around us, there seems to be a dogged pursuit of love but its actualization in people's lives appears to be subjective at best. Many talk about "being" in love, yet their faltering commitment to the relationship says otherwise. Youth often equates it to biological attraction, but those of us who have grown and matured know that the fleshly magnetism soon grows tepid if that is the entire basis of the relationship. Many of us have found that true love is born out of a commitment of faithfulness that can only be realized over time. (While some might have believed that "All you need is love", the Beatles' actions proved otherwise as their band dissolved just a short time after Lennon and McCartney penned these verses.) Acting in love with another, or even acts of love toward an ideal will never legitimize themselves over time if there is not firm bedrock of character that is driving the act or emotion. The source of love must be love itself; otherwise it is powered only by idealistic notion which will languish in time due to circumstance.

I John 4:8 tells us that "God is love". More specifically, John states in this passage that if there is an absence of an ongoing and increasing love toward humankind, then we do not know God because God's nature is eternal, ongoing, continual love. He cannot act in any other way otherwise He would betray His own nature. One might say, "Well, the judgments of God don't seem loving." Or, "Why does God send people to hell if He is a loving God?" The scriptures tell us in Isaiah 26:9 that ... when the earth experiences Your [God's] judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. Through various calamities, whether they are so-called "acts of God" or man-made circumstances such as wars or terrorism, God is able to draw people together. Many in these circumstances will seek strength from one another and ultimately humble themselves before their Maker. (One only has to study the awakenings and revivals in the United States and Britain in the last 400 years to correlate major societal upheavals with God's outpourings of grace and renewal.) Oftentimes, people need a "wake up" call before they will ever consider that they are not the center of the universe. This truly is the kindness of God that leads humankind to repentance, as stated in Romans 2:4. Regarding questioning a loving God sending people to hell for eternity, one must only look to scripture to see that God sends no one to hell. God has done everything to prevent the loss of even one soul to the fiery abyss. Jesus Christ was the perfect expression of love from the heart of a perfectly loving God, sent to this earth to live, die, and to live again for each and every soul. The price has been paid for us all, yet many will not validate their ticket for eternal life. They have sent themselves to hell by their own denial of His perfect gift of love.

Of that perfect gift, Jesus spoke most emphatically to His disciples the night before His crucifixion. While it is certainly true that Jesus spoke of love throughout the gospels, the Lord reveals the triune relationship between Himself, His Father, and His disciples in John chapters 13 through 17. The Lord Jesus stated in John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. He goes on to state that those who keep His commandments are His friends. The Lord's brother James states in chapter four, verse four of his letter ... that friendship with the world is hostility toward God ... Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Clearly, God is not a respecter of persons and welcomes all to become His friends. Yet, with that friendship there is the responsibility to love and to obey Him in all things. Only as we totally give ourselves to Him can we know the depths of His love for us. Only then can we share what He has given us for a dying world. Mother Teresa was an exceptional example of someone who had learned at an early age that to truly live as Christ lived, in abject poverty, was to live so others might be satisfied with the meager basics of life. Although this was her life's work, she encountered doubts and disillusion early on. In her first year of ministering on the streets of Calcutta she was forced to beg for her own sustenance along with those she was trying to help. One of her diary entries acknowledges her early struggles between staying the course and committing to the work, or returning to the comfort of the convent.

... Today I learned a good lesson. The poverty of the poor must be so hard for them. While looking for a home I walked and walked till my arms and legs ached. I thought how much they must ache in body and soul, looking for a home, food and health. Then the comfort of Loreto [her former order] came to tempt me. "You have only to say the word and all that will be yours again," the Tempter kept on saying ... Of free choice, my God, and out of love for you, I desire to remain and do whatever be your Holy will in my regard. I did not let a single tear come.
God's nature is to form His nature within humankind -- nothing less than that will ultimately satisfy Him or us. We were made in the likeness of God to love, to be loved, and to further His love to others simply because of who we are and not necessarily what we do. If we truly know Him, we will become more and more like Him every day. If we are not, then there may be a problem with our "nature". What we will find in this series, The Fruit of the Spirit, is that Satan will seek to offer us deceptive fruits just as he tempted and deceived Adam and Eve in the Garden. With every genuine facet of God, the enemy has devised a counterfeit that might appear commendable, yet it does not have its roots in God's nature. That is one reason why the devil is so successful at masquerading lust for love. It is merely an emotional, fleshly sensation that only seeks a selfish end. Love is diametrically opposite. It will never seek its own reward, but will always commit to serving another's need. Beloved, this is God's attitude toward all humankind. He is not the vengeful, unloving God as so many misunderstand Him. He is the God of love that could not deny His own loving nature by giving His Son to die for us on Calvary -- by giving humankind the greatest romantic, redemptive love story possible. And this Jesus, the exact representation of His Father and His awesome love, modeled for us during His short three year ministry the way to serve others by giving up one's life for the sake of another. To the degree that we live and move and have our being in this most wonderful fruit of God's nature, is to the degree that we will truly live eternally, not only in heaven but here on this earth as we live and die daily for those around us.

Lord God Almighty, thank you that you gave your Son so that we might live in love. Help us to live in Your nature and let the fruit of love abound in our lives. For if it is truly abounding, then we are certainly living for others and not ourselves. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Bare Soul - A Divine Home - April 12, 2009

Luke 9:58 - And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

Jesus never quibbled about his cutting of family ties and his seemingly "hobo" lifestyle. He was the first to admit His divine vagabond status to all who wished to follow him. The Lord had given up everything to become everything for those who desperately needed the salvation that only He could afford. He was on a timeline with destiny and knew He only had a short time to complete His mission on earth. Hence, the disciples found themselves with this "Jesus", who owned all yet possessed nothing, living like tramps as they followed Him for three years and ultimately to His crucifixion. Even after Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem at His last Passover, we might expect that some of the well-to-do disciples that met Jesus would offer the Lord and His twelve accommodations within the city walls. After all, He was like the HUGE guest speaker coming into town. Surely, they could put Him and the "boys" up in one of the finer inns of Jerusalem? Along with His lodging, shouldn't they take care of a "love offering" to provide for His needs while in town? The reality is diametrically opposed to what many today would expect a holy man of God to be offered.

The scripture tells us that Jesus and His disciples retreated nightly to Mount Olivet (or the Mount of Olives) which was close to the city (Luke 21:37). This limestone ridge runs about a mile in length, and in Jesus' day was probably well-forested with olive trees (hence its name). The Garden of Gethsemane was one area on the mount where Jesus and his disciples would regularly "lodge". (Compare it to spending a full day in New York City and then sleeping in Central Park, yet with not as much grassy undergrowth!) This area was a familiar "campground", if you will, for the poor, the hapless, and for many who had generally lost their way in life. Those who could not afford accommodations in the city would retreat to this area to bivouac under the stars. In this open-air hotel, there were no restrooms, no places to tidy up before lying down on the most comfortable place one could find in this uncomfortable setting. Places of this sort commonly experienced crime such as robbery and murder. On the night of Jesus' betrayal, it was just another night like so many others to the disciples. They knew that once again they would be huddled together for warmth under the boughs of an olive tree that would help keep the morning dew from covering them and chilling them to the bone. Yet, this night was different. There was a sadness that they had not known. Jesus said that He was going away, yet they did not understand. He told them not to let their hearts be troubled ... that he was going away to prepare a place for them and in this place were many mansions (John 14:1-2). Possibly, the disciples dreamed that night of sumptuous pillows and silken sheets rather than the sandy soil they were so accustomed as their nightly resting places. Even as they nodded off to sleep between their times of grief, their Lord was being betrayed into the hands of the ungodly. They would not sleep restfully for some time as they witnessed the One whom they had followed for three years being lead away bound by those with swords and torches to be crucified as a common criminal later that morning. Ironic to the crime of that area, they were the ones that were robbed of their friend and master that night in the garden and were at a loss when He was murdered by means of a mock trial.

Many in Jesus day could not understand the importance of Jesus giving up all to become everything for all humankind. They just didn't "get" that if someone was truly the Messiah and if they possessed all things, why it was necessary to become destitute in this life. Many today don't understand that about our Lord. They say it with their lips but it is far from their hearts. It is evident in the way a large majority of the religious class of our day shuns those who have nothing, and yet buddies up to the rich and affluent. The scripture is very clear that Jesus would not have spent much time or effort with these sort of folks. It's quite certain that Jesus' disciples would have enjoyed the home of a rich person versus sleeping on the hard Palestinian ground with a rock for a pillow! But Jesus knew that the things of this earth can never serve us the way we believe they inevitably will. They are an illusion and a vain piece of trickery set up by the evil one to cause us to waste our lives in these vain pursuits. Until one truly believes John 14 when Jesus said that he would go to prepare a place for us -- a place of exquisite beauty and richness like the world has not seen -- then we will all secretly crave the "good life" on this earth which is destined to burn with all the elements at his return (II Peter 3:10). We will pass up the most amazing "home makeover" ever to be devised as Jesus Christ promised He would accomplish on our behave in His Father's house.

St. Francis of Assisi was one of these that understood the importance of releasing and relinquishing all ties to his earthly home to gain an eternal one in the heavenlies. A final denunciation of his father's wealth as a cloth merchant led to a vow of poverty that the young man would never regret. Francis lived a life of abject humiliation toward all things temporal, taking great joy in ministering to the poorest of the poor which included society's castaways such as lepers, the blind, and the disabled. He understood that in order to attain to a true lodging that would never be swept away by fire, flood, or calamity that he must empty himself of all desire to become anything in this world and become everything to those around him. Hebrews 11:37-38 states that many others had likewise lived an example of homelessness upon this earth and were looking to an eternal abode: They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. Just as the world was not worthy of these, neither was it worthy of the One who gave up everything to live as the scum of the earth.

As in Christ's time and before, God is raising up many today that have no desire regarding how they might appear to their contemporaries. They have given up all things in order to look forward to that heavenly home that will out-dazzle anything here on earth. Does God want us to leave behind family and friends and live a life of abject poverty as our Lord? I truly believe that is the call for some. We see it every day as someone will commit their lives to serving as a missionary somewhere in the world. So what about the rest of us? Jesus Christ has called ALL of us to disenfranchise ourselves from the things of this earth, for in the end they hold no value. It matters not whether we have the nicest home on the block with the prettiest yard. What matters is what we have done for those around us by opening not only our homes to those less fortunate, but to open up our entire lives and to give unreservedly. God gives to us not to spend and consume on our own selfish ambitions, but to empty ourselves for the sake of others. Only as we truly understand that we are aliens and strangers on this earth as Jesus did, then and only then will we behave in compassion and humility to those all around us. It will truly give us a new perspective on those we might have looked down on, sleeping out in the open in a contemporary "hobo jungle" or under an overpass as those did, comparatively, in ancient Palestine. Our better judgment, born of true humility and understanding, would tell us that some of these might be like a band of twelve nearly two-thousand years ago who were looking for a more lasting home -- a divine home that their Savior has gone to prepare.

Father, thank you that your Son has gone to prepare a place for us. That by His death, burial, and resurrection on that glorious Resurrection Day so long ago He has been awaiting the day to welcome us to our heavenly home. Lord, we anxiously look forward to that day and are reminded that You have MANY mansions. Lord, help us to bring others to an understanding that this wonderful place of divine habitation awaits all who would believe in You. In Jesus' precious name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Bare Soul - Kings and Priests - April 5, 2009

II Samuel 6:14-16 - And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

King David was a complex character. It might be argued that there is no other person in the scriptures that we know so much about and yet his life is still enigmatic. Notably, 38 chapters in I and II Samuel are devoted to the life of David. Of greater importance is how these 38 chapters reveal the multi-dimensional character of this man who would bring together Israel and unite it as a kingdom state. We are first introduced to David in I Samuel 16 when the prophet Samuel is directed by God to go to the house of Jesse to anoint the next king of Israel in the place of disobedient Saul. In the following chapters, we see a young man that is obviously graced by God. David becomes an important part of King Saul's retinue (I Samuel 16:17-23) as he becomes the king's armor bearer and also his personal psalmist that would invariably drive away the spirits that vexed Saul. The scripture states that after David had skillfully played on the harp that the king would be "refreshed and be well".

In subsequent chapters in I Samuel and the beginning of II Samuel, we see a young warrior that establishes himself firmly in the hearts and minds of the Israelite nation. From his first victory of killing the giant Goliath (I Samuel 17:49-50), to the uniting of all the tribes under his commander Joab (II Samuel 5:1-5), David grew with a warrior mentality that would serve him well as he ruled the nation with a strong hand. David was both feared and respected by both his nation and those nations round about. Those who knew him both intimately and from afar had grown comfortable with his warrior-king motif. So, when David paraded himself through the streets of Jerusalem in a linen ephod (basically a thin robe-type garment worn by the priests), some may have been taken aback. In II Samuel 6 the scripture tells us nothing whether those who lined the streets were shocked regarding their king's behavior as the ark of the covenant was carried to its resting place. We only hear of his wife Michal's contempt and how she despised him in her heart. Some bible commentators say that she hated David because he had left her when Saul was pursuing David, and that she had therefore married another. David later reclaimed Michal as his wife with much misgivings by her counterfeit husband (II Samuel 3:16). However, this was the first reference in all of scripture that Michal had expressed anything other than love for her husband and king. No, I believe the reason she felt disdain and loathing toward David was that she had never seen the type of behavior he was displaying to all Jerusalem. In II Samuel 6:20 she states: But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, "How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants' maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!" Clearly, she speaks through her embarrassment as she never believed that a king would consider behaving as she saw David behave that day. Surely, she had never seen her father, King Saul, act in such a manner. And that, beloved, is where the great delineation between Saul and David is clearly revealed.

Saul was a king who ruled by proxy, sometimes by his own weak mind and sometimes by the prophet Samuel (when he would listen and obey). Saul did not have the connection with God that King David learned. David knew how to step from one character, a warrior-king, into the ephod of a priest and minister with love and joy to the Lord. Those who lined the streets dared not say anything regarding their king's behavior, but Michal who was close and intimate with her husband and king undoubtedly believed she had license to speak her mind. In conclusion of this royal tirade, Michal was spurned by the king and she remained barren the rest of her life.

There's a reason why King David's life is so vividly recorded for us in scripture. It goes far beyond just thinking what a great guy David was and how he united the nation of Israel. In truth, God desires His people to discover what it means to be both a warrior-king and a priest unto the Lord. To be able to war in the spirit with a vengeance -- to learn how to get a hold of the mind of Christ in intercessory prayer and pull down strongholds that He is wanting us to war against. There are evil forces that seek to destroy and splinter our families, our churches, and ultimately our nation. They are like a corrosive rust that seeks to eat away all that is good and upright from the inside out. By the time the damage is done, the damage is so demonstrative that it crumbles all around us. We see sensuality and perversion on a rise that is unparalleled. We need to pull down this wicked spiritual stronghold in the name of Jesus Christ. We see homosexuality becoming an accepted "alternative" lifestyle. We need to pull down this wicked spiritual stronghold in the name of Jesus Christ. We continue to see thousands of babies aborted in the U.S. every year, many in their last trimester. We need to pull down this wicked spiritual stronghold in the name of Jesus Christ. We see greed, hate, murder, and every sin against mankind on the rise. All of the humanistic, selfish, sinful acts of mankind need to be warred against, much like David did in his day against the pagan, idolatrous nations that surrounded Israel.

As with David, even in the midst of our warring in the spirit, we need to take up the linen ephod and minister to the Lord "with all our might". This means taking time to refresh ourselves in His presence, to sing and dance before Him with all our heart, mind, and soul. For truly the "joy of the Lord is our strength" and "in His presence is fullness of joy" (see Nehemiah 8:10; Psalm 16:11). No matter if some might think that this kind of behavior is wasteful. No matter if some might despise us because it seems "undignified" to be giving ourselves in abandon to our Lord. For those of us who are redeemed, we need to learn this behavior here in this lifetime, for the age to come has us reigning in this manner as "kings and priests". Revelation 5:10 states: And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth (King James Version). Beloved, this is our destiny -- this is our calling as true believers in the Lord. Not to be merely warrior-king intercessors, embodying the spirit of King David to pull down the forces of wickedness that would seek to dismantle our nation. This alone is a high, holy calling but it is only one piece of this dichotomy. As there will always be warfare for to be waged for our wicked world, we still need to know our way back to our respective "Jerusalem", having the wisdom to know how and when to minister to Him. Only as we know how to make war with the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) and at the same time minister as a priest to our Lord, will we experience the depth of character as a king and priest that so dynamically typified King David.
Psalm 149:6-9

Let the high praises of God be in their mouth,
And a two-edged sword in their hand,
To execute vengeance on the nations
And punishment on the peoples,
To bind their kings with chains
And their nobles with fetters of iron,
To execute on them the judgment written;
This is an honor for all His godly ones.Praise the LORD!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick