Friday, May 25, 2012

Steadfastness of Mind - May 27, 2012

Isaiah 26:3 - The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You.

Recently, I was counseling and praying with an individual fraught with anxiety over a variety of things. Most of all, relationships within their respective family which they could not fix. I listened to this person for some time and then I asked, "Are you the oldest sibling in your family?" They replied, "Why yes ... how did you know?" I told them it doesn't take a "word of knowledge" to understand how the oldest child will often try to fix everyone in their family. It doesn't matter their age. They can carry this trait well into adulthood. Often, older generations, such as those who grew up pre- and post World War II came from larger families where the older children often did as much child rearing as the parents. Care giving life scripts such as these are often deeply ingrained in the mind and heart of oldest siblings. This can be a good thing if we know what to do with these concerns. However, these can be equally destructive if we do not know where to turn for help when relationships become uncontrollable.

From the Gospels, we know how Jesus taught we cannot control or fix anyone. These sort of things are well beyond our scope of power as mere mortals. However, Jesus does tell us to come to Him, giving Him our burdens and anxieties and He will give us rest. (Matthew 11:28) How hard it is to come to the Lord when we do not have our gaze fixed upon Him to do so! As long as we are fixed on fixing others without God's help, then we cannot be fixed on Jesus. Only as we look to the Lord is there hope -- first for ourselves and then for others. It only makes spiritual sense how we will be of most help to others when we ourselves are first transformed by Jesus Christ. As our lead verse states, steadfastness of mind is the guarantee of perfect peace. To the degree we can stay our minds upon the Lord, to that degree we will know peace. The mind, in this instance, is nothing less than our spiritual eyes and how we choose to align ourselves. If we seek to muddle through solutions in our mind's eye, then we will reinforce self to always seek a solution outside of God. However, if when we are presented with daily problems and we immediately say to ourselves, "Lord, I am not going to worry about this but surrender it to You," then we allow God to renew our minds and transform our hearts according to the "life script" He desires to write in our regard. (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24) To illustrate the difference regarding trying to solve problems on our own and surrendering them to God, we may say it is the difference between death and life. On one hand, we fail when we try to do things in our power. Failure is a type of death. However, when we look toward God, there is always success because God will always succeed. A good example of this is Jesus' reference in John chapter three when He compares His sacrifice to another symbolic act 1200 years earlier: "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life." (John 3:14-15) Let us compare the similarities between these two accounts.

The bronze serpent which Jesus referred to was an early typology of the saving power of the cross and the resurrection. The children of Israel, because of their murmuring and complaining, were beset with fiery serpents who were killing many of the Israelites due to their unbelief. God instructed Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and to affix it to a pole normally used to lift up a flag or a banner. In doing so, when bitten, the Hebrews could look toward this symbol of salvation and be cured of their venomous bite. We read the following in the book of Numbers: "And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived." (Numbers 21:9) In the third chapter of John's Gospel, Jesus was telling Nicodemus (in context with His message on being born again) that in order to be saved we must look to God. The human condition which is beset with sin will keep a steadfast mind on things of self, thereby creating angst, worry, anxiety and dread. These, beloved, draw us into a place of spiritual death. However, as God was typifying in the book of Numbers and Jesus was comparing Himself to in the book of John, when we look toward Him then we live and we acquire His peace.

Steadfastness of mind does not occur easily. We must continue to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (II Corinthians 10:5) However, when we learn not to reinforce our flesh by allowing it to keep our minds on ourselves and our problems, then surrender to Christ becomes a freeing experience that gives us great relief. Once we realize that coveting solutions born in our own minds is nothing less than idolatry, then we will more easily relinquish the power we once tried so desperately to use to give ourselves and others peace. True peace only comes through total surrender. It is not an abeyance to evil, but an alliance with the One who can vanquish the evil of self forever. May we all look to the Standard, Jesus Christ the Almighty. For only in Him is there salvation from self.

Father in heaven, thank You for the peace, the very shalom of God, which You desire for us all to live in everyday. May we keep our minds steadfastly on You, for there truly is salvation in no other. May we die to fixing ourselves and others, and continue to fix our gaze upon You and Your salvation. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Friday, May 18, 2012

Ears to Hear, Eyes to See - May 20, 2012

Matthew 11:15 - He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

Most of us listen better, at times, better than others. Wives might comment and say that men have selective hearing where they become attentive when it is only something that interests them. There is probably some truth in this. Conversely, spiritual hearing and godly sight seem to be gifts that we can choose to accept or reject. Several times in the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus use the ear as a metaphor for understanding the word of the Lord. For instance, our lead verse is Jesus' final word to the crowd after telling them the Parable of the Sower. I believe it is important to note how Jesus uses this phrase (and others which are similar) when He is teaching those who have come to hear Him preach. The multitudes are admonished to choose to "hear" what Jesus is telling them. It is not a command or necessarily a demanding statement, but more of a plea. Jesus knew, both then and now, how the vast majority will not have ears to hear. Many in Jesus' day did not seek to understand, in the same way as many today refuse to look for the Lord's wisdom (Proverbs 2:3-5).

According to the Scriptures, Jesus does not seem to require spiritual sight before spiritual hearing. He understood then as well as now how mankind must first be able to hear the word. For in so doing, faith will come by hearing (Romans 10:17). Often, people want spiritual sight without first hearing what God is saying to us His word. They abort the process of true understanding by not allowing the word of God to do what it must in a man's ears, then in his heart. As aforementioned, faith and true understanding can only come once the word of God is allowed to fall into the fertile soil of which Jesus spoke (Mark 4:8). As the parable suggests, the word of God is a seed (Mark 4:14). Jesus tells us unless a grain of wheat (or a seed) falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone. If, however, it dies it brings it brings forth much fruit (John 12:24). Within context of this passage in John, Jesus is speaking of His own death and His soon to come resurrection. However, He is also speaking for us today so we might understand that when we hear the word of God---and we can identify with Christ's death and resurrection within us---then we will also grow up in Christ to bear much fruit. At this stage begins the journey of spiritual sight.

Even as a plant is unseen while it is growing in the soil, it is nevertheless still a plant. However, when it breaks the ground's surface, then it becomes evident to all. It instinctively turns toward the sun to reap the benefit of its life giving power. In a real sense, it now has "eyes to see" which way to turn to most benefit from this solar energy. (It is quite remarkable to watch sunflowers do this during the course of the day as they follow the sun's course.) While a plant may not yet bring forth fruit, it is obvious to all when it buds and then blossoms, that fruit will one day appear. These are most demonstrable through sight (although smell might be involved regarding the blossom's fragrance). As already stated, the word of God can only come to life within us when we hear the word of God and then die to self and live to Jesus. It should be noted how Jesus only mentioned "eyes to see" in regard to those who were converted, such as the disciples. While the Scriptures show us how hearing the word of God is our choice, it is also our choice to have "eyes to see." Jesus reprimanded the disciples when He said, "Having eyes to see, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear?" The Lord is telling the disciples they have been saved through the hearing of the word and the understanding of spiritual eyesight. Now, they must walk in it.

As believers, we no longer have a critical need for "ears to hear" as we did when we came to the Lord. We have heard the word of God and he has implanted it within us which is able to save our souls (James 1:21). What we need, if we are truly saved, is spiritual sight. Paul prays in Ephesians 1:18 for the eyes of their hearts to be enlightened. He knows they have heard the word within their hearts. Now, they need to walk in it with faith and obedience. Jesus' words to those most in need of correction in Revelation 3 was to buy "eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see" (Revelation 3:18). Hearing the word of God is good. However, we must go beyond merely hearing and perfect our sight with eyes of faith. For if we see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and understand with our hearts and return to our God, then He will make us mature sons and daughters of the King (Matthew 13:15). However, if we merely hear the word of God and do not allow the Lord to open our spiritual eyes, then we will bring forth no fruit and be ineffective for Christ's kingdom. How shall we respond? Shall we desire to not only hear, but to see ourselves as God sees us? If we will, He will grow us into the image of His Son as we continue to turn toward His glory and grace!

Holy Father, thank you for sending Your word. Thank you for implanting the seed of hope within our hearts. Now, let us see how we must continue to grow in faith and obedience. Give us eyes to see the glorious heritage You have given all whom You have redeemed. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Friday, May 11, 2012

Walking on Water - May 13, 2012

Matthew 14:30 - But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Anyone who has been in a boat in stormy conditions knows the peril which can often ensue. Mariners will tell you that even if a vessel capsizes, the safest thing is to stay with the the boat until help arrives. I have been in many boats and even small ships when the weather was contrary. I can remember when I worked on offshore supply boats in my early 20s out in the Gulf of Mexico. These were really supply haulers (180 foot in length) which carried drilling supplies out to the drilling platforms in the Gulf. Often, we would tie up to these oil behemoths for three to four days as we off-loaded supplies. It was common to be tethered to a rig twenty miles out in the Gulf when a storm would roll in. A usually placid sea would suddenly be rocking the vessel with 10 to 20 foot waves crashing over the wide loading deck. As deckhands, we were advised to always have a safety line attached to our life preserver required to be worn during rough seas. Without this precaution, one rogue wave could sweep you over the side and you would vanish in a heartbeat.

Having worked stormy gales in the open sea, I can appreciate the significance of when Jesus came to the disciples walking on water that fateful night. We are told in Matthew 14:24 how the small fishing vessel was "battered by the waves; for the wind was contrary." This means they were probably heading into the wind and therefore they were zigzagging back and forth to gain the wind's advantage. However, in doing so, they would not be hitting the waves with their prow (or the front of their boat). Instead, the waves would be battering the sides of the small vessel and the disciples would have felt the full force of the waves as they rocked them to and fro. Fortunately, these men were seasoned sailors and knew how to keep the boat from being swamped with water. Undoubtedly, it was still a rough journey. We are told in Matthew 14:25 how the Lord came to them, walking on the water in the fourth watch, or sometime between three and six a.m. The disciples first reaction was that they were beholding a ghost. However, Jesus soon calmed them, saying: “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)

We should all be thankful of what transpires next. It is a mixture of success and failure. We would not know mere mortals were capable of walking on water if Peter would not have dared to do so. It is a bittersweet lesson that continues to teach us the meaning of obedience and faith. For without the former, the latter is impossible. We are told in Matthew 14:29 how Peter stepped out of the boat and "came toward Jesus." How did Peter know which way to go? His gaze was still intent on looking at the Master. However, as soon as he took his eyes off the Lord, then he began to sink. We are told in our opening verse that three things quickly transpired with immediate consequences. The first was Peter's loss of SIGHT. Peter did not see the wind, for as we know, wind is invisible. However, he saw the result of the wind and the tempestuous waves the gales created. He had taken his eyes off the Master and put his eyes on the circumstances at hand. The second was Peter's FRIGHT. The disciple who moments before was full of faith found himself now paralyzed with fear. The obedience which moments before had created faith allowing him to participate in this miracle had suddenly turned to disobedience and fear. Lastly, Peter lost the MIGHT or the power connected to faith. His lack of faith had now become visible to all, including the Lord who rescued the frightened disciple after he cried out, "Lord, save me!"

So what can we learn from Peter other than the obvious? Most of us have heard sermons about Peter's loss of faith because he took his eyes off the Lord. Gazing toward Jesus when the storms of life besiege us is of paramount importance. However, I believe there is something more to learn than merely keeping our gaze upon the Lord. What if Peter would have made it to Jesus and they would have walked hand in hand to the boat or to the other side of the Sea of Galilee together? Gazing toward Jesus will not only get us to Jesus, but it will also allow us the opportunity to go wherever He is taking us. It is not enough to be part of the miracle, but to be part of the miraculous journey. Like Peter, we should throw caution to the wind and forsake any "safety equipment" and head doggedly toward Him. And, beyond that, we should be ready and willing to continue our miraculous walk on water with Him, no matter how high the seas of life might assail our faith. Jesus allowed this story not only to teach us about limited success, but about unlimited possibilities if we will first obey, then trust in faith, and then move in his might and power. The journey will always be unpredictable and the destination unsure. However, the company we keep will be outstanding and forever faithful to see us to our final goal!

Lord Jesus, thank You for this wonderful example of faith by Your beloved Peter. Help us to know we can do greater things in these last days if we will but trust in You to complete us in our journey of faith. Allow us to first walk to You on the water and then to walk with You wherever You might will. It will be a wonderful journey indeed as long as You lead! In Your holy Name, Jesus Christ the Almighty, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Friday, May 4, 2012

Self-Prophecy - May 6, 2012

Psalm 43:5 - Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.

I became reacquainted with a famous quote at the finish of a marathon I recently ran. While its author is unknown, it has been stated in various ways, but here is the synopsis: One who lacks courage to start has already finished. How true this is! I would further state that not only beginnings require courage, but often various stages of our respective journeys take fortitude and gumption to see something to its end. Often, things might start off well and then sour later. Look at the initial defense of the British against Hitler's invading blitzkrieg (lightening war). The Allies believed they could resist Germany and the Maginot Line that defended France's border would quell the invaders. However, Hitler merely invaded France through Belgium and bi-passed the multi-million dollar defense the French had installed. The Nazis conquered France with lightening speed and backed the English forces into the small port city of Dunkirk in Northern France. It looked like there was no way out. However, Operation Dynamo (or the Evacuation of Dunkirk) was the miracle they needed as thousands of British and Ally soldiers were evacuated to the British Isles. This setback was not a result of not having the courage to start, but the wisdom and understanding to retreat, regroup, and eventually deal Hitler a crippling blow five years later.

If they would have given up at that point and not tried to escape, Great Britain would have probably fallen into Nazi hands. Through the words of great men such as Winston Churchill, Ally leaders spoke words of confident withdrawal to those in this bleak situation. While we may not always have some one coming along side us in our dire situations, we as Christians have been given all the tools of self-prophecy to either speak success or failure to our souls. God, through His Holy Spirit, allows us the privilege to speak to ourselves when things seem hopeless or insurmountable. There are many examples of great leaders who did such in the Bible, but maybe none so demonstrative of this principle as David when he was estranged from Saul. For sixteen months, David and his renegade band lived in the small town of Ziklag given to him by the Philistine king, Achish. (I Samuel 27:5-7) Toward the end of their sojourn in Ziklag, David and his men returned to their lodgings to find the city still smoldering from its incineration by the Amalekites. Not only had they burned it to the ground, but they had kidnapped their families and taken all their possessions. (Some have suggested that David was out of the will of God, living in compromise with the Philistines.) David's men were so saddened and angered by these turn of events that they threatened their leader's life. However, something extraordinary occurs.

The scripture tells us how David does not allow the grimness of the situation to overwhelm him. In I Samuel 30:6 we become privy to David's dilemma and its solution. The writer states: "Moreover David was greatly distressed because the people spoke of stoning him, for all the people were embittered, each one because of his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God." The King James Version uses the word "encourage" rather than "strengthen" but both are appropriate. They both come from the Hebrew word chazaq which means to strengthen or to harden one's resolve. What a glorious picture of David speaking to himself what God was declaring about their situation! Rather than being defeated, he allowed God to prophesy truth through this tough situation by taking God's words and encouraging himself. He allowed the Maker to harden his resolve in order to stir up the courage to take back what was rightfully his own. We are told that David does not defend himself to these men who sought his life, but instead he sought God and his counsel. (I Samuel 30:7-8)

How often do we behave likewise when presented with a situation that seems overwhelming? Or, do we act like David's men, ready to accuse and blame without having a solution of our own? We all have the power to self-prophesy. We can either speak defeat or victory, depending on whether we believe God or not in our respective "dire" circumstances. No one likes to think they talk to themselves, at least not audibly. However, we all converse with ourselves throughout the day, whether in a negative or positive manner. We may pride ourselves that we pray to God in a continual manner, but how many of us speak to our souls regarding what He has shown us? As the psalmist reveals to us in our opening verse, we can literally speak to our inner person and direct the outcome when presented with a challenge. Just as Revelation 19:10 tells us the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, we must continue to testify of Jesus' power to our inner struggles. God will often answer our prayers with the power we need to overcome. However, He wants us to use the power He has given to speak to our problems and prophesy victory over them by the testimony of Jesus. Are we prophesying to our souls, beloved, the words of God which He has spoken over our problems? If not, we might be speaking calamity to ourselves rather than victory. We must continue to align ourselves with His words and give no occasion for the enemy to ensnare us in the defeating words of negativity. May we speak only His words as we self-prophesy His victory over our lives and those lives in which we care.

Heavenly Father, help us to strengthen ourselves through the words You speak to us. Help us to prophesy them to our souls and to be built up in our most glorious faith which You have bestowed upon all who love You. May we not allow the defeatist attitude of our flesh or the devil to make us impotent, but may we speak life to our souls through Your life-giving word. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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