Friday, June 26, 2009

The Bare Soul - God's Sanctuary - June 28, 2009

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 50:10; Psalm 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

Friday, June 19, 2009

The Bare Soul - Growth in Darkness - June 21, 2009

Zephaniah 2:6 - So the seacoast will be pastures, with caves for shepherds and folds for flocks.

Recently, my wife and I visited the largest cave in the western hemisphere, Carlsbad Caverns. Although I had last visited the cave 15 years ago, this was my wife's first time to this subterranean national park. It's quite remarkable as you enter the natural entrance which is a huge gaping hole in the southeastern New Mexico landscape. One might feel as though the mountain side had actually opened its mouth as one wound down, down, down into the belly of this cavernous behemoth. After just a short descent, all natural light from the entrance fades as lights along the pathway illumine one's way. The journey continues as spelunkers descends a total of 750 feet and 1.25 miles to arrive at the "Big Room", a large expanse where several football fields could comfortably reside. In this eerie underworld illumined only by man-made light, one can see the wonder of a "living cave" and how it continues to grow, albeit ever so slow. Stalactites hanging from the lofty cave ceilings contribute their slow but steady drip which in turn create stalagmites that grow toward their source until finally creating columns as they join together. For millennia, the forming and reforming of these calcite deposits took place in utter darkness -- a darkness so dark and complete that it can be felt! Yet, only in the past 100+ years has light come to these depths to reveal what God has wrought within the earth.

Caves or caverns have always intrigued humankind, but at the same time they create a sense of foreboding and dread when one thinks about the dark, nether world that lies within their respective locations. While often in scripture caves are places of refuge or escape, it is interesting to note that those who emerge from these caves are often stronger and more resolute in their purpose than before they entered. Possibly, after experiencing the depths of darkness their emergence into the light is one of new revelation and fulfilled purpose. Elijah fled to a cave after King Ahab sought his life, yet he encountered the Lord God in its depths (I Kings 19:9). He went forth in a new power and a fresh calling of the Lord as he confronted idolatrous Israel. David hid in the caves of Judea as King Saul relentlessly pursued him to put him to death (I Samuel 24:3). Within a few short years, David ruled over all Israel. And, of course, there was that most infamous cavern where our Savior was laid before rising to new life on the third day. Jesus Christ became the ultimate example of new life springing from the darkness of the tomb in which he was laid. Through the greatest death in history was created the most incredible redemption for all humankind. In all three examples, life was "happening" even in their darkest moments where no light or life seemed present or even possible. Yet, life began manifesting even when no one (including themselves) were witnesses.

Life is clearly manifested all around us for those who dwell on the earth. We see how the climates help create and sustain plants and animals in a variety of ways. While it is evident that life goes on above ground, we can also see that the earth is "living" even below our feet. The earth is always changing and re-creating itself as the Lord wills. Similarly, in our Christian lives, growth continues regardless whether we are exposed to His light or not. Of course, we all desire to "walk in the light as He is in the light" (I John 1:7). But what happens when God drives us to our respective caves where we languish for the light and hear not His voice? If we will but wait, He will reveal Himself once again to us and show us His way. Even as "living changes" in the underground realms are often times infinitesimal to the human eye in geological standards, we likewise don't realize any growth in our "spiritual caves" until God shines His light and reveals the beauty that these caverns have created in our souls. As time and purpose meet in the joining of calcite, so also does body, soul, and spirit become strong over time as they become a spiritual column in God's Holy Body, which is His church. However, this can only happen by great patience and long-suffering as the Lord forms us. We must not be impatient to remove ourselves from the constant "drip" of His life changing power. Though God's dealings might seem to take an eon, He will perfect us if we will but stand directly in His will to allow His life changing force to have its way with our lives.

Caves and dark holes in the ground will always play upon our fears. However, God has driven many of us (and is driving others as I speak) to these places which continue to shape and mold us despite our trepidations. How many of us would willingly enter a cave or a cavern where we knew there was no light? Not many of us, I am sure. Yet, God is calling many of us to venture out in faith as Elijah, as David, and as our Lord Jesus Christ into the uncertainty of these black, dark abysses. There will be no lights to guide us on the paths that He may ask us to tread upon. In so doing, once we are totally given to the Lord, He will illumine that area of our life where He has caused the growth and will send us back into the light to serve Him as we never thought possible. That, beloved, is the miracle of growth in darkness!

Lord God Almighty, while the caves and the dark caverns that you often lead us to and guide us through make our hearts beat fast with fear, remind us that You are there with us always. Help us all to step out in faith, into the darkness as You will. Then, lead us out into Your light in Your perfect time and in Your perfect way. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Fruit of the Spirit - Self-control - June 14, 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.

Many would agree that our society is plagued by a lack of self-control. One only has to tune into the local news to hear about the latest shooting, stabbing, or abuse victim. Often, once the perpetrator has been brought to justice we hear how they somehow had "just lost control". Situations like these are often exacerbated by the use of drugs or alcohol which unlock the chains that are keeping a person's demons from taking over and reeking havoc. However, lack of self-control is as old as sin itself and was even Solomon's partner in his undoing as a godly king (Ecclesiastes 2:1). There's a particular reason that self-control is the last fruit of the Spirit listed by Paul the Apostle in the fifth chapter of Galatians. Without self-control the other fruit are constrained, so to speak, especially if the deeds of the flesh are allowed to usurp the Divine Nature. We should think of self-control as the "watchman" that ensures the old selfish sin nature stays dead (Romans 6:6; 6:11) and buried so that the Holy Spirit has free reign in our hearts to cultivate the other eight fruits, uninhibited. Self-control exists always in this lifetime to arbitrate between the life that we once lived as a sinner and that which the Lord desires we grow in as a believer.

Of all the fruit of the Spirit, self-control is the determining fruit that actually allows us to see the Lord in this life and the life to come. For without sanctification, or the manifestation of His fruits of the Spirit "no man will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). In the book of Acts, Paul spoke to Felix regarding the Roman governor's eternal security. Acts 24:25 states: But as he was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you." In this scripture, self-control is sandwiched between righteousness and judgment and for good reason. It is one thing to know the righteousness of God in Christ and it is another to live it out daily through constant acts of self-control. Paul stated in I Corinthians 15:31 ... I die daily. The apostle knew the importance of buffeting his outward man so that the inner man might be manifest. By living a self-controlled life, Paul knew that he was allowing the righteousness of the Lord to reign supreme thereby preparing himself for judgment not only in this life but in the one to come. Living the crucified life with the Lord Jesus means judging oneself in this lifetime and not waiting for the awful and terrible day of the Lord's judgments on the last day. By allowing the resurrected Lord to take the reins of our hearts, is to allow Him the rightful control and to focus us on finishing our respective races.

It is no secret that Paul must have been a lover of sports. In several passages he uses sports metaphor to convey a particular message. In I Corinthians 9:25 the apostle by the Holy Spirit states: Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. In the previous verse, Paul uses the example of a runner while making the point as to "run in such a way as to win". It is one thing to say that we desire to live a crucified life to our passions and desires and it's another to live out this discipline day after day. Ancient Grecian as well as today's athletes must lay aside their former lives of selfishness and wanton living and buffet their bodies with a new set of habits that will allow them to reach their goal. There is no substitution for a daily, rigorous routine that is marked by training meant to establish regular habits in accordance with their goal. In the same way, God requires of each of us who call Him Lord to daily turn over our will and life to Him -- that we would allow Him to coach and mentor us to that place of victory. Roger Bannister, the British running sensation of the 1950s was the first to break the four-minute mile. In Helsinki at the 1952 Olympic games, Bannister finished a disappointing fourth in the1500m. After the devastation of his failure, Bannister spent two months deciding whether to give up running. He finally decided on his new goal: To be the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. The following is a brief excerpt from a June 2002 interview with Bannister regarding how he developed consistent habits tempered through self-control which inevitably allowed him to reach his goal:

In those days, I didn't train very much. We didn't really know how to train in modern terms. There was this thing called "burning yourself out." I didn't want to burn myself out at 18, and I had a notion that if I looked after myself, trained carefully, I would go on improving, not by training two to three hours a day, but by training three quarters of an hour a day. It seemed to me logical that you could go on improving, and you didn't have to spend all day running.
This young athlete intuitively knew that overtraining could be as counterproductive as undertraining. So, he controlled his impulse to do neither but instead to discipline himself for a tempered approach. It took Bannister two years and several failures, but he finally hit pay dirt on May 6, 1954 at Oxford University. The audience waited with bated breath as Norris McWhirter finally announced Bannister's time of 3:59:4. The crowd erupted in joy!

There is a certain elation that we all experience as we develop new habits and we finally reach a point in our lives where these new character traits testify of the fruit of self-control as the Holy Spirit intended. In the beginning, it is hard and laborious. We may struggle but if we are patient we will reap the peaceful fruit of righteousness by allowing the fruit of self-control to be manifested. Just because self-control is the last of the nine fruits, it does not diminish its importance. Instead, it is the fruit that will ultimately allow righteousness to manifest through the other eight fruits. While the our planet continues to teeter on the brink of insanity, and as humans struggle to keep "under control" in an increasingly uncontrollable world it is comforting to know that our God has given us all the ability to live controlled by His Spirit. We only have to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and the fruits of His Life as freely given through a self-controlled man or woman given wholly to God.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Fruit of the Spirit - Gentleness - June 7, 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.

When reading scripture about the life of David, it's not difficult to view the mightiest king of Israel as a "man's man". David became an aggressive warrior through years of warring -- from his early days of slaying Goliath, to engaging and conquering multiple enemies under his commander Joab. When David wanted to build the Lord a house for His Presence, the Lord stated that his son Solomon would build the house of the Lord, for David had too much blood on his hands (I Chronicles 22:6-10). While many kings and commanders in ancient Israel did truly great things, there were none as great as David. As no other ruler in Israel, we are allowed to see King David's life through the eyes of his own soul. Through the many psalms written by David, we can see how this warrior king was propelled to greatness. In Psalm 18 we read of David who was finally at peace with all his enemies round about about him, including Saul. The relentless pursuit of the former king and the consolidation of the kingdom of Israel was a daunting feat, fraught with much bloodshed along the way. However, David makes a startling statement in verse 18: You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, and Your right hand upholds me; and Your gentleness makes me great. Consider this, beloved; that in order for the newly crowned king to have achieved the near impossible, that is rising from a lowly shepherd to become the ruler of Israel, that there had to be a steadying influence over David's heart. Otherwise, his own blood-guiltiness would have caused him to implode. That calming and patient influence was the gentleness of God. For as David experienced the Lord leading and guiding him through the mayhem of war, in the same way he was able to be gentle and loving while pouring his heart out to God through the Psalms. This in turn, caused him to be loved by his people as he united the nation. His greatness was rooted in the fact that he had learned gentleness from his Heavenly Father. David was merely giving back what he had so abundantly received.

David's gentle spirit coupled with his warring, kingly outcome can be validated through Jesus' own words. In Matthew 5:5 our Savior stated: Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. For King David, the only sure way to bring peace was through war. A good offense is oftentimes the best defense as is customarily the case, especially in Middle Eastern cultures. Yet, we know that David possessed a dual nature that seemed brutal on the one hand but gentle on the other. Jesus confirms that David inherited his portion of the earth by juxtaposing his war-like mentality with the gentleness of God which made him great. Gentleness HAS to be demonstrated from a place of strength otherwise it is weakness devoid of any real power. A more recent example of strength through gentleness is Dr. Martin Luther King. While King never used violence, he was still strong in his position and therefore could afford to show gentleness in his dealings with all men, regardless whether they agreed with his stance or not. Therefore, gentleness through strength is not necessarily the use of military power or force, but it is using the wisdom that God gives to reinforce one's position. The apostle James stated: Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom (James 3:13). Ironically, King Solomon alluded to this place of strength through wisdom. He states in Ecclesiastes 3:8 that there is a time for war and a time for peace. As his father found greatness coupled with gentleness through much warring, Solomon found the same gentle strength through peace and the "gentleness of wisdom".

Jesus will always be the quintessential example of someone possessing greatness while demonstrating sublime gentleness. Of course, since he was the gentlest man to ever live, He did indeed inherit the earth as previously stated. The example is there for us all to follow. A few chapters later in the book of Matthew, Jesus is imploring those who would seek to follow His example. In Matthew 11:29 the Lord promises us that if we will indeed take up His yoke that we would have the opportunity to learn from Him. He said that in so doing, we would find that he is "gentle and humble of heart". Jesus never had an agenda other than doing the will of His Father, which ultimately was to redeem humankind. Through this selfless life, we see the greatest man who ever lived with a strength unparalleled. Through His wisdom, He conquered all His enemies in the greatness of His humility and gentleness. The same can be said for our other examples, yet there are differences. Two of the aforementioned characters epitomize strength though gentleness. Both Solomon and our more contemporary Dr. King lived lives of peace, demonstrating the greatness of their wisdom by the gentle strength they exuded. Yet, there is an incompleteness to their destinies even through their peaceful legacies. It is not happenstance that Jesus is referred to numerous times in scripture as the "Son of David". While Jesus lived "gentleness in strength" better than anyone, there is a day when the Lord of Lords will come back to set things straight on this earth. Even as David not only conquered his foes and vanquished them to a place of subservient obedience, so Jesus Christ is coming back to vanquish those whom He conquered on the cross at Calvary at His second appearing. The greatness of His strength will be manifest as he ruthlessly deals out retribution to His enemies, yet gives comfort and compassion to those who have waited on Him day and night for His returning.

While the Lord tarries, how should we live in the fruit of the Spirit known as gentleness? We should look to our examples, who learned that wisdom in strength is not self-serving. David laid down his life for the nation of Israel and became their greatest king through his tender heart toward God and his people; Solomon prayed to the Most High not for riches and glory but wisdom to lead the nation of Israel; Dr. King laid down his life in peaceful protest; and finally, our Lord gave everything that He might redeem a people through the strength of wisdom demonstrated in gentleness. Beloved, that is our heritage. To not live as a self-serving church, but to lay down our lives before those who might hate and revile us. Our commission is to love these with a love borne from wisdom -- a life that is "yoked" with the Lord's and with his gentle, humble heart.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the strength in wisdom that You give us from a gentle, humble heart. Thank you for Your gentleness and the examples that you have shown us both in Your Word and through others that have gone before. Help us to be a loving people in the gentleness of wisdom. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick