Friday, December 30, 2011

Hand to the Plow - January 1, 2012

Luke 9:62 - But Jesus said to him, “ No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Some people might say that a new year is inconsequential. Many folks make and break resolutions with impunity. Like many, I haven't always considered a new year as significant. However, the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see the importance for new beginnings. I like to think of a new year as an opportunity to turn over the soil of my heart and to prepare the ground for new seed. Often, this is a new area of my heart where God wants to do an expansive work. In other cases, this is possibly where He has produced a crop but now He wants to plant something different. And, sometimes there are areas that may have once yielded fruit, but have gone fallow due to indifference or disobedience. I have found the best thing to do is not argue with God, thinking I know what's best. Without fail, when He plants what He desires, it always bears forth the fruit He has ordained. That is, as long as I'm obedient and continue to till the land of my heart as He desires.

The use of the plow and fallow ground are simply metaphors for allowing God to use His word to instruct us. While some smaller plows may be pushed by manpower, God's plow can not be pushed by human strength. It is an impossibility to push a plow creating deep furrows in order to sow God's seed. For the sake of this analogy, God provides a mule or a team of oxen---servants to mankind in order to pull the plow through the unbroken earth. The strength of these animals are illustrated by the strength of God and how He empowers his word to accomplish what He sends it forth to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). However, without man's hand on the plow, God's word will often NOT be sent forth due to lack of faith to lead and guide it. By putting our hand to God's plow and obeying Him, we allow His word to go forth.

Once we put our hand to the plow, Jesus tells us we should never look back. We should understand that while our past has often shaped our present, we cannot allow it to dictate our future. Obedience that cuts a straight furrow through life would be terribly impeded if we were constantly looking back and worried about where he have been rather than where we are going. Paul, a confessed murderer and persecutor of the church tells us in Philippians 3:13 to forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead. We can do NOTHING about the past, but only make corrections for the future by the experiences acquired in our brief histories. While Jesus' admonition in Luke 17:22-37 refers to His second coming, it is still an important lesson for us to understand in regard to obedience. If we refuse to allow the anxieties of this life to pull us off course, then we will remain stalwart to keep looking ahead. In verse 32, Jesus says, "Remember Lot's wife," a sobering lesson on looking back once we have our put our hands to the proverbial plow (Genesis 19;26).

Time is significant, or God would not have created it. Therefore, it is important to regard new beginnings in time as God-ordained opportunities to start afresh. While man-made resolutions are to the most part useless, we can be assured that God patiently awaits for us to recommit to Him on our spiritual journey. Some of us have taken our hands off the plow and have allowed acres of "heartland" to become fallow. It is time to once again take hold of God's plow, the word of God, and walk steadily and determinably after Him. If we will follow the plow He has given us to guide, He will provide the strength to pull it along. Will we do this perfectly? None of us have, nor will any succeed except One. Jesus Christ will walk along side and coach us the entire length of God's field if we will but allow Him to do so. Before long, the soil of our hearts will be fertile once again to take the seed of God and bear fruit the way He desires. May we all put our hands to God's plow this year, never wavering as the Holy Spirit strengthens us and the Son of God guides our hands. May we all know the blessing of obeying Him in all things this coming year as we put our hands in His hands each and every day.

Heavenly Father, thank you for enabling us to obey You in all things. However, when we fail or take our hands off the plow You have ordained for each of us, may you patiently guide us once again to continue our journey, pressing on toward the goal of the upward call. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, December 23, 2011

Longing for Messiah - December 25, 2011

Matthew 2:10 - When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Christmas was always a special time for me as a child. In my elementary years, I remember planning for the yuletide season weeks and months before the big day. I had some understanding that this was indeed the birth of Christ. However, as most children, I was consumed with the rapturous longing for the expectancy of Christmas Eve and the wonder of the next morning. Years past as did the charm of Christmas. In my teens and up into my 20s, I found the season I once embraced with much affection becoming something I almost dreaded. My cynicism with the commercialism turned me off as it has likewise done with many others. It took finding the Savior to help me find the correct balance---to respect the tradition of this day where we celebrate Christ's birth, along with the made-up, pretend aspect of this joyful season. While I am well aware of the arguments for and against Christians celebrating a supposed pagan holiday in reference to Christ's birth, I suppose I look more at how the Lord sometimes uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise (I Corinthians 1:27). Therefore, I don't believe anyone does this holiday perfectly, the way God intends. However, as long as both non-believers and believers are drawn to consider Jesus Christ's first advent on this 25th day in December, I see far more good than harm as a result. God has undoubtedly used this season to bring many souls into His kingdom. In this I rejoice! However, to those whom much is given, much is required. For those of us who understand the significance of Christ's first advent, we should invariably be drawn into an expectancy of His return. It is incompatible to divorce the significance of one from the other, both historically and contemporarily.

At this time of year, I invariably think about those three Magi who traveled hundreds of miles from the area of Babylon to celebrate our Savior's birth. These men may have known Yahweh. However, they might just have easily not, especially since they probably studied astronomy and astrology under the pagan Medo-Persian religious order of Zoroaster. All we know is that Daniel prophesied the coming of a Great King, the Messiah, in Daniel 9 and they ascertained his birth to be in their lifetimes. The prophet states:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. - Daniel 9:24-25

The 69 weeks mentioned in these scriptures are symbolic of 69 years times the number of days in a week, seven. From history, we know that Artaxerxes, King of Persia issued a decree on March 14th, 445 BC. The aforementioned 69 years times seven years would equal 476 years plus 24 days (on the Jewish lunar calendar consisting of 29.5 days per month) thereby culminating on the very day Jesus would make His triumphal entry into Jesus as "Messiah the Prince" (April 6, 32 AD). This is important to know in regard to the Magi. With the precision of Daniel's prophecy regarding the advent of the Messiah, the Wise Men knew his approximate time of birth by calculating the age of someone proclaiming Himself as the Messiah. This Person would need to be at least 30 years of age to comply with Jewish laws of manhood. Therefore, the Magi were expectant and overjoyed at the appearing of the star, knowing this was surely the sign of the Prince's appearing. Their journey to ancient Palestine resulted in the familiar story we all know so well in Matthew 2:1-12. We are told how they returned to their own country after visiting the child and his parents, thereby ending their story according to scripture. However, it is easy to imagine how they presumably understood the saga of this Messiah Prince had only begun. Just as they were able to figure out mathematically the time of Christ's first appearing, they knew that a future event yet to be revealed would mean Christ's return. They probably didn't understand all of the implications of His second coming. However, we can certainly believe they knew the final week, or the 70th week in Daniel's prophecy, was to be fulfilled at a later date. Their faith undoubtedly became strong by participating in His first advent, while they looked futuristically to His imminent return.

Ironically, the entire world has the same information today that these Zoroastrian Magi possessed nearly 2000 years ago. Unlike many today, these Wise Men of ancient times were expectantly waiting for the revelation of the Messiah. While many today look forward to what we call Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ, I wonder how many who call themselves Christians long for the second appearing of Jesus? When He comes again, He will not come as a babe, but as the KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. While many can look forward to a holiday celebrating His birth, how many long for Him and the revelation of what His birth means to us all? And, of equal or greater importance, how many of us desire to know the Man grown up from that manger who was once covered in swaddling clothes? Beloved, I suggest it is hypocritical to suggest how one can love Christ's first advent celebrating His birth, but not be expectantly waiting for His second coming. The two are inextricably linked. My mention earlier that more good is done than harm by celebrating Christmas, I should now further qualify. We cannot be content to just celebrate the Savior's birth. If that is all we do, then we have stopped short of God's intent and aborted the Christ child, not allowing Him to grow to full stature in our hearts. He is coming again, and if we are expecting a sweet baby we will be horrifically disappointed. The Christmas Child is meant to grow and become first our Savior and Lord and then our friend. If we refuse to give up the silly notion that Jesus came once only to give us a reason to celebrate the birth of the Savior, then we come woefully short of the mark. If, however, we embrace not only the Christ-child and the expectancy of His future return, then we fulfill His desire for men and women who celebrate His ENTIRE life. He is coming after a holy bride that anticipates His coming, purifying herself as she waits (I John 3:2-3). May we all be "wise men", calculating the impact on our lives by both his first and second advent. Otherwise, we may reveal our foolishness at His great appearing by our falling short of His wonderful intention for our lives.

Heavenly Father, thank You for revealing from Your word the first great advent of Your Son. While no man knows the day nor the hour of His second coming, may we all ready ourselves by loving his first appearing and longing for His most certain return. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Scourging Sin - December 18, 2011

John 2:15 - And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables;

Picture a beautiful spring day in Jerusalem in approximately the year 30 A.D. If one would enter the large outer area of the temple, commonly referred to as the Court of the Gentiles, they would undoubtedly see a bustling "marketplace." In probably a smaller area, one would find an assortment of livestock---sheep, lamps, doves---all which were available to purchase for the various sacrifices mandated in the Pentateuch (or the Torah), the first five books of the Old Testament. (For instance, Mary and Joseph probably purchased two young pigeons or turtledoves when their Son Jesus was dedicated in the temple three decades earlier [Luke 2:22]). However, in order to purchase animals from the dealers, money would often need exchanging. Roman currency was no good within the temple walls, but only Hebrew currency such as the shekel or denarius. Animals for sacrifice could not be brought into the temple, but had to be purchased from the dealers. Not only were "temple animals" the only acceptable sacrifices, but as previously mentioned, only Hebrew money was acceptable for treasury tithes or for paying the temple tax. Then, the money collected would need to be turned back into Roman money to support the priests and the temple. Moneychangers would often charge exorbitant rates to exchange Roman to Hebrew currency (and vice versa)---sometimes as much as 300 percent! This covetous monopoly angered many of the Jews, including an itinerant rabbi who would visit the temple on that fateful Passover.

For those of us either raised on a farm or possibly others of us who have frequented county or state fairs, we understand the unintentional consequences of animals habitating in close proximity. The early springtime rains in Jerusalem undoubtedly made a swampy mess as the ill-attended animals awaited slaughter. A common animal bedding material used in ancient Palestine, as well as an absorbent for rain and feces, was the common papyrus rush brought in from the Jordan Valley and from areas in the south. There was probably a layer of papyrus rushes or reeds paving the normally dusty ground to absorb the aforementioned unpleasantries, plus additional surplus for the animals' bedding. When Jesus came into the outer court of the temple that day during the Passover, it was probably an overwhelming sight. Stepping through a sloppy, unsanitary mess where the smells were as bad as the sights, Jesus grieved demonstrably through his subsequent actions. We are told in our lead verse "that He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple ... ." Many scholars believe "cords" in this context consisted of a scourge or a "whip" of rushes twisted together, making an instrument that could ultimately herd both man and beast. With a little imagination, we can picture our Lord slogging through the sewage, overturning tables where the money became part of the filth underfoot. While it's not mentioned that Christ hit man or beast, we can only surmise that His zeal was enough to hurry both four- and two-legged creatures on their way. The very rushes that were intended to give comfort to both the animals and those traversing that area became the tool used to eradicate them from God's holy temple. With holy boldness, Jesus declared: “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “ZEAL FOR YOUR HOUSE WILL CONSUME ME.” (John 2:16)

How can we apply this story of Jesus' zeal to our lives today? If we think about the temple as a metaphor for our body, soul, and spirit, we can likewise apply the same understanding that Jesus tried to convey about His Father's house. In general, Herod's Temple consisted of an outer court which was for the Gentiles and women. The inner court, or the sanctuary, was the location where Jewish men worshipped. The innermost area was the Holy of Holies where the priest entered once a year on the Day of Atonement to offer the Passover lamb for the sins of the people. If we consider the outer court (or the temple porch) our body, the sanctuary (or the holy place) our soul, and the Holy of Holies our spirit, this will help us understand Jesus' passion to keep His Father's house free of defilement. Through these metaphors, I believe Jesus was showing us how to fervently protect the "temple of the Lord" within all who know Him. Jesus knew if the outer court (the body) was defiled with filth, then it corrupted all of the temple. Jesus understood in order to keep the heart clean, there must be an act of consecration to purify the entire being. This has everything to do with both salvation and sanctification, beloved. Just as Jesus' zeal was an act of love to protect His Father's house, there may be something lacking in our spiritual lives if there is not a similar repulsion to "the sin that would so easily beset us." (Hebrews 12:1) If we do not come to a place of holy anger over sin within, and if we are not scourging sin from our lives in a zealous way, then we may want to question if indeed we are of the Light.

It really comes down to the following question whether or not we are zealous for our Father's house within: Do we loathe the sin within or have we become complacent and comfortable with our transgressions? If Jesus were to come visit us today, would we be embarrassed to show Him around our "outer court?" Have we sold out to the moneychangers and the profiteers, or have we sold out to God? If we have given our bodies to this world, beloved, we have also given our sanctuary and our "Holy of Holies", our very spirit and soul, to the flesh and the devil. There is only one choice if we are to follow God---that is to burn with zeal for the house of God within us. If we are not scourging sin then we are savoring and salivating over our transgressions. It is time to rise up and overturn every table of sin and falseness in our lives and chase the filth from the temple within. If not, we may be surprised someday regarding whose house we were actually caring for. May we all scourge the sin with cords of zeal, consecrating a holy habitation for the Holy One to abide always.

Heavenly Father, may we drive sin from our lives as Your Son drove sin from Your temple. May we experience Your zeal and passion for holiness, denying worldly gain and embracing Your godliness that only You can give. We praise You for Your goodness and love. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, December 9, 2011

Warring with Wisdom - December 11, 2011

Psalm 140:7 - O GOD the Lord, the strength of my salvation, You have covered my head in the day of battle.

Many of us have undoubtedly watched movies about knights of old, where a squire would complete their lord's armor by placing their helmet upon the noble's head. These servants would often go into battle alongside their lord, albeit with lighter armor. They might attempt to pace their master on horseback, running interference for any seeking to ambush their lord unrepentantly. Squires, and sometimes vassals who owed allegiance to their lord knight, would often lay down their own lives to save the life of their master. The bone-crushing blow of a battle-axe, or the splintering effect of a 30 pound sword laid across the skull of the knight's protector would be all that was needed to make the knight vulnerable to death. While his own armor (including his helmet) protected him in close combat, his liability was increased exponentially once his protective squires and foot soldiers were decimated. However, as long as he could resist bone shattering blows from the enemy, he might find himself the victor and able to fight another day.

One would be a fool to go into battle without a helmet. Undoubtedly, this one piece of protection has saved countless lives throughout the history of warfare. This can be said from ancient times up to our modern era. Today, most combat troops know the necessity of protecting their head and do so accordingly with Kevlar helmets. Armies around the world will use the most advanced technology to protect their greatest resource---human lives. As Christians, many of us understand the significance of the helmet of salvation from Ephesians 6:17. Similar to the aforementioned illustration of medieval knights, this was the last piece of armor donned by the believer as Paul relates in this passage. (The only thing to take up after the helmet was the sword, going from defensive protection to an offensive weapon.) Paul's wisdom places a good defense as paramount before we ever think we can wage a successful offense. To believe we can fight the devil with just the word of God, rebuking the enemy in Jesus' name without understanding our position in Christ is naive. While it is of utmost consequence to protect our vitals by the breastplate of righteousness (Ephesians 6:14)---to understand that we are righteous before God by the blood of Jesus---it is of extreme importance that we take up the shield of faith. Resolute belief in who we are in Christ, along with an understanding of our mission, will do much regarding our fight. However, to not recognize the significance of God's helmet of salvation would result in a tragic outcome.

If men have been going to war with helmets for millennia, why would we consider to do anything less in our daily spiritual battles against the enemy of our souls? At this time, it is important to explain exactly what the metaphor of the the helmet of our salvation consists of in order to discover how to obtain it, practically, for our spiritual walk. A wise man once said, "The battle is lost or won in the mind, but the heart takes the spoils." How true is this! Paul tells us in Romans 12:2: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Whatever we continue to feed our minds, our hearts will eventually embrace. Whether it be good, acceptable, and perfect, or bad, rejected, and defiled, we will eventually become what we put into our minds. Paul points out in his first letter to the Corinthians that "... we have the mind of Christ" if indeed we call ourselves followers of Christ (I Corinthians 2:16). We are therefore obligated to "feed" the mind of Christ, which is our Master, with spiritual food rather than the things of this world. Paul prayed for the Ephesians, that God might give them "the spirit of wisdom and revelation." (Ephesians 1:17) Paul knew that if his beloved church at Ephesus would start filling their minds with God's wisdom, then their hearts would soon follow. Peter likewise saw the importance of fortifying the mind of Christ that lives within all who call Jesus Lord. He admonishes his readers with the following: Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:13). How much better to prepare the mind for action then by setting it on things above, not on things of the earth (Colossians 3:2), allowing God's wisdom and the revelation of His will to flood our souls?

We must invoke the mind of Christ if we desire to live victoriously. We must put on Christ, seeking His wisdom daily. Even as the servants of warriors have for centuries been the ones to fit the helmet on the shoulders of their lords, so also the Great Servant desires us to take on His wisdom and understanding through His helmet of salvation which He has purchased with His life. As David states so beautifully in our lead verse "... You have covered my head in the day of battle," so also will Christ cover our minds with His wisdom and understanding as we vanquish His foes from His Father's kingdom. May we understand how we desperately need God's protection in our minds, which inevitably protects our hearts. Only as we protect ourselves through the covering the Lord grants us, will we effectively wield the word of God, claiming the victory over and over again in the Name of Jesus.

Heavenly Father, may we continue to seek You for Your Son's mind and His helmet of salvation. Lord, not only will His wisdom and understanding save us from our foes, but it will also further Your kingdom, bringing great glory to Your Name. Allow us much spoil as we seek to do Your will through the mind of Your Son. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, December 2, 2011

Persistence in Prayer - December 4, 2011

Luke 18:1 - Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart,

How do we approach prayer? Is it something we mouth to Jesus out of a sense of obligation, or is it something we believe is vitally important to both God and humanity? More importantly, do we truly believe God will answer our prayers? Or, have we "lost heart" as Jesus warns us regarding our prayer life in our lead verse? Prayer is an enigma to those who don't truly believe God answers prayer. Nonetheless, it has become something of an expected ritual within many of our churches today. Oftentimes, someone will bring a praise of an answered prayer to a prayer meeting and there is an initial shock that the Lord moved in a miraculous way! However, we should understand that the Lord desires to move ALWAYS if we will but stay persistent in our pursuit of an answer to our petitions. The question remains: How far are we willing to go to secure the answer?

The parable of the unrighteous judge and the widow is a curious story. The Lord describes an unrighteous judge who neither fears God nor respects man (Luke 18:2). He next introduces us to a widow who is seeking legal protection from her opponents (Luke 18:3). We are not given any more detail but that she comes to this judge in a continuous manner. Enough so, where he decides to grant her request before she unduly taxes both his time and patience (Luke 18:4-5). Jesus next tells us to learn from the unrighteous judge in the following verses: And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? (Luke 18:6-7) Unlike other parables, such as the Good Samaritan or The Prodigal Son, this is not a morality tale. In reality, it is probably the antithesis of true redemption in that it is contrived justice on behalf of a self-centered judge. However, Jesus skillfully uses even the unrighteous to make His point. The implication is not to behave in an unrighteous manner, but to understand his lack of love and patience for the widow that hounded him day after day. In so doing, Jesus juxtaposes an unjust arbiter to a loving, gracious Judge in heaven who is ready to answer expeditiously if we will but ask. Actually, Christ says that His Father will bring justice "quickly" for those who would cry out to Him day and night (Luke 18:8), promising not to "delay long over them" as previously stated. So, our time-bound mentalities will naturally want to know, "How many days and nights will I need to labor in prayer for a 'quick' answer?" I believe the answer lies in Jesus' probing question at the end of Luke 18:8: However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

Beloved, faith is the key to unlock the storerooms of answered prayer. The problem is oftentimes we possess so little. From time to time, God will burden my heart for someone or some thing and there is an ease in prayer. It would seem as if I could "pray without ceasing" as faith stirs in my heart. On fewer occasions, I have experienced something I would characterize as the Spirit of Grace and Supplication from Zechariah 12:10. During these times, I would not dare to move from the place of prayer as the sweetness of God is so real and present. There is such a manifestation of God that faith naturally arises in my heart. These are special times where God finds faith on the earth---when we are able to draw close to Him as He draws close to us. It is a remarkable time that allows us direct access to the throne of grace and to His mercy seat as we beseech the Lord to answer our petitions. Unfortunately, in my case at least, these instances are far less frequent than otherwise. So often, it seems as if prayer is a battle against our opponents, much like the widows earthly oppressors. However, in our case and for our example, I believe those we battle are of a spiritual, demonic nature that will push back 24/7 until we either push through or we pass out in exhaustion. We will either persist until we have the victory, or perhaps we will expire from a lack of faith. God often encourages us with those energized, faith-filled, times of prayer when grace and supplication are pouring through us to keep us going to not give up or give in. That is what Paul speaks of when he talks about going from faith to faith, literally allowing these islands of spiritual power to grant us sustenance to continue to persist in prayer. In Romans 1:17 the apostle states: For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “ BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”

We should not feel discouraged if we have never experienced great times in prayer. We need not judge ourselves by anyone else, but merely obey what God says and leave the rest to Him. Will he find faith upon the earth regarding persistent prayer? He will if we don't give up. If the answer does not come "quickly", as we understand it, I believe He will encourage our faith along the way. In so doing, He will grant us the power to continue beseeching the Righteous Judge in Glory who will indeed answer us if we persevere. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, beloved (Romans 10:17). Continue to pour out your hearts to Him, but also allow Him to speak to your heart His word. I assure you, He will grant you protection from your spiritual foes that would seek to dissuade you from the victory. Only through our persistence, with faith-filled hearts, will we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loves us (Romans 8:37).

O Righteous Judge, grant us faith-filled hearts that would cry out to You night and day for justice. May You grant us protection from our oppressors as we seek to claim Your kingdom on earth, just as it is in heaven. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives