Friday, July 27, 2012

The Fear Factor - July 29, 2012

Exodus 20:20 - Moses said to the people, "Do not be afraid; for God has come in order to test you, and in order that the fear of Him may remain with you, so that you may not sin.”

The unknown has always shaken mankind's sensibilities. So much is indefinite about our day to day living that humans create notions of fear around things that seem unpredictable. If it is logical, certain, and conventional then we generally have less fear regarding their outcomes. However, if we cannot predict something in our respective lives it creates fear and uncertainty. Our present economy should certainly give someone pause regarding how secure we are as a society. For many who do not God, this is undoubtedly a very troubling time as job and financial security are at 70 year lows. Currently, the U.S. Midwest is affected by the worst drought in more than 25 years. Unsettling times create unsettled minds that are prone to anxiety. However, while no one can predict the economy or the weather, there is a solution that does not necessarily end these problems, but puts them into proper perspective.

Many of us do not look forward to God coming into our lives in ways that appear like judgment. Many of us who have been praying that God would revive His church in westernized Christianity often have a selfish mentality concerning what this should look like. We might imagine how the Lord will come down and shower us with His presence and we will all be bathed in His joy and peace and we will have this perpetual smile on our face. This is purely sentimental and unrealistic regarding how God has moved in the past and how He will continue to move in our present and future state. Ideally, anxieties and fears are meant to do only one thing constructive in the lives of believers---drive us to the Lord. As our lead verse states, God will come, but it will often be in the manner of a test to see how we will react. Will we succumb to the onslaught of bills, or a wrecked marriage, or a weakened economy where our jobs are uncertain? Or, will we trust in God and reverence Him for all He is doing? Isaiah understood the significance concerning how we experience the darkness or the "night of the soul." In these times, he tells us how it is imperative we keep things in proper perspective, knowing what the Lord is doing in our midst. He writes regarding God's protection the following: "At night my soul longs for You, Indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; for when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness." (Isaiah 26:9) The prophet understood how judgments should often be viewed as the catalyst to bring about God's desired result upon the earth. Without a doubt, we should plead for God's mercy, but we must understand that often His grace and tender mercies come through chastisement. Are we ready for God to scourge us as sons and daughters in this way? This is the drawing of the Lord, beloved, to make us into His image.

Too often, we understand a portion of this truth, but are easily swayed once again by our own fear. We end up embracing our anxiety because it is familiar and desirous since it is somewhat "comfortable." However, as Moses stated in Exodus 20:20, there is a way to allow the fear of the Lord to remain with us, chasing away all earthly and manmade fears. We must understand how the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). And, if it is the beginning of wisdom it is also the end of wisdom as well as the acquiring of it. There is no greater thing that we might seek as Christians, beloved. Once we have a bit of the fear of the Lord to keep us from sin, then we must continue to pray for more of the fear of the Lord leading to more wisdom (Ephesians 1:17-19). We must give ourselves to asking God to replace the fear of man with His fear, for as the psalmist states, it is clean and endures forever (Psalm 19:9). Consequentially, the second half of this verse states how ... "the judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous all together." Clearly, the fear of the Lord is necessary to understand how the judgments of God are not to be feared but embraced, eventually resulting in His ultimate mercies.

The carnal or fleshly person might read our lead verse and see blatant contradiction regarding the fear factor. However, those who are spiritually discerning know the fear of man devours faith and continues to facilitate our separation from God. With God's help, we must understand that the fear of the Lord is possibly the greatest gift given to mankind outside of Christ's redemption. We are told throughout the book of Proverbs it is the beginning of wisdom and by Moses in this verse how it keeps us from sin. May we pray daily for the fear of the Lord, for from it flows the wisdom of God. Through this factored fear, we will be able to gain all of Jesus' redemption which cost Him so dearly.

Heavenly Father, may we grow in the fear of the Lord. It is clean, enduring forever which will chase away doubt, anxiety, and every fear generated from the soul of man. May we rest in the assurance that your judgments are the kindest thing you can give us as a wayward people. Revive us through your great love. Send your judgments bathed in Your great mercies. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Hammer of the Lord - July 22, 2012

Jeremiah 23:29 - “Is not My word like fire?” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer which shatters a rock?
During much of my elementary school years my father labored as a carpenter. He would come home from work with his tool belt usually dusted with sawdust from whatever they had framed out that day. While I never spent a day with him on the jobsite, he was always building something around the house. Long before pneumatic nail guns, I would marvel how he could take a framing nail and drive it through 2X4s with one or at the most two blows from his hammer. This practiced hand/eye coordination allowed my father's strength to become focused in a very small area. The framing hammer seldom missed its mark and provided the brute force needed to successfully join lumber together until whatever he was building took shape. Then, with equal skill, he would often complete his work with smaller nails and a lighter finishing hammer. The same accuracy applied as he attached paneling on our house or wood shingles on an enclosure for the dog. The application was often indicative of the tool need for the job, while the finesse of the craftsman would then determine the quality of the work. I was never disappointed in what I saw my father complete, for it showed his character of care and concern over the finished project.

Upon reflection of our lead verse, I have often wondered why we do not see God's word similarly as a hammer in the hands of His children? Jeremiah the prophet spoke to Israel regarding their sin in chapter 23 of his oracle. He was comparing the difference between those who falsely spoke concerning their dreams about Israel's future and when God spoke. As with much Scripture, there are similarities between what was going on then with today. Some would present a Gospel of prosperity and faith devoid of obedience. These would tell us all we must do is believe God's word and all of His promises are ours. However, the Bible is quick to point out how how true prosperity cannot come without obedience to the Lord. Otherwise, our faith becomes idolatrous as we seek to cultivate a belief in what created things we can obtain rather than clinging to the Creator. When our devotion is divided, we find that the "hammer" in our hands does not have near the effect as it did in Jeremiah's day. The word, when it is diluted by the world, becomes much less than a powerful hammer that is able to strike a rock with precision and pulverizing force. Instead, it becomes like a rubber mallet, capable of only stunning or reverberating the rock, but never shattering it. The mallet in the hands of many today wielding the word of God bears little resemblance to the hammer of which Jeremiah spoke. The mallets many of us possess, in regard to how we live and share the word of God, has been formed by both preachers we have sat under and the world which has wooed us with compromise. No longer is it strong with a precise strike, but it is flat and wide like a mallet with little power to either drive a spiritual nail into the heart of those needing conviction, nor is it able to destroy the stony heart by which so many hide from God.

Not surprisingly, the word mallet is not used anywhere in scripture. A wooden mallet may have been used in various instances, but the context of the use of the word in Jeremiah implies a hammer used in a forge. The transliteration of the Hebrew word is pattiysh meaning a hammer used in the fire of forging metal. This is most appropriate to the first part of Jeremiah 23:29 where the Lord states through the prophet how His word is first like fire, then like a hammer. God desires to heat up His people to the melting point with the intense glow of His word where we are malleable. Then, the precision work of His hammer can go to work, molding and shaping according to His desire. Could an instrument such as a wooden or rubber mallet accomplish anything in this regard with heated, glowing metal? Certainly not. That is why God's word will never return void, even if it is limited through His servants. It always goes forth and accomplishes that which it was sent to do (Isaiah 55:11). However, for it to succeed to the uttermost, we must be those who obediently weld the hammer of His truth with skill and accuracy. We must not shrink from those under conviction, but we must take the hammer which God has given us and disciple effectively. Remember, Christ has sent us into the world to teach all nations. He does not desire us to shrink from the heat He produces in the forge of holiness, but He desires we strike lives with precisely those things which will lead to sanctification---passionate love and obedience for the Savior!

A hammer does not excuse itself for what it is, nor does a mallet. They function largely in the manner they were created. It is our choice which one we choose to wield in our lives and with those whom we will disciple. They might be those in our families or others we encounter. However, we will only be able to stand the heat of God's forge if we have been there ourselves. That will allow us to know how to help form those God brings into our lives. We must not shrink from using the hammer of the Lord in a deliberate, yet loving way. It is our responsibility, beloved, to become master craftsmen, who know how to hit the mark in which God has entrusted to strike. By doing so, we ensure the word of God is a tool which can penetrate into the lives of those whom He has called us to love. If we pursue Christ in this way, the fires of sanctification will become "friendly fire" for both us and those we are helping to shape through His great love. May we all have wisdom to take up His word and use it with great effectiveness, for His glory.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for using Your word for our own pleasures. Allow us the wisdom to take up the hammer of the Lord and use it with Your great love and zeal. Start with us, Lord. Purify us and allow Your hammer to cleanse us from all disobedience. Then, show us how to strike the hearts of others with Your great hammer of love and change lives forever. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, July 13, 2012

Love With Faith - July 15, 2012

Ephesians 6:23 - Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is often extraordinary regarding all the talk of love for God and others in our Westernized Christianity. However, the evidence is just as often lacking. We might sing, "Oh, how I love Jesus!" on Sunday mornings, yet do our actions testify of what we say with our mouths? The longer I walk with Jesus, the more I understand the importance of my faith growing in direct proportion to my love for the Savior. I will state with complete confidence that it is impossible for one's love to deepen with Christ and not experience a growth in faith regarding what Jesus is able to do. If we don't recognize how God's love within us causes us to believe greater things are possible, then maybe the love we are experiencing is simply a sentimental head-knowledge of Christ's character within? For instance, if we are truly growing in love with Jesus, is our love deepening for those whom He loves? Are we going out of our way for others, working kindness in their lives for no other reason then we desire to do so because of Christ's love within? Or, are we spending time in prayer for those with health problems, or those who do not know Jesus, simply because we want to rather than feeling as we should out of obligation? Without faith growing in love, we should certainly reassess our relationship with our Savior and return to the place where our love can once again be renewed (Revelation 2:4-5).

The Apostle Paul understood the importance of love working with faith. In several instances he uses these two fruits of the Spirit in concert with one another (Galatians 5:22-23). However, Paul generally speaks of love as the root in which faith thrives (Ephesians 3:17). There is a good reason for this, as seen in Paul's letters and also from the Lord's words Himself. Throughout the Pauline epistles we see a theme of love for God and the brethren (the local churches) as one of the major focuses of instruction. Paul tells us the importance to allow faith, hope, and love to abide---but of greatest importance is love (I Corinthians 13:13). To his beloved Timothy the apostle writes: "But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith" (I Timothy 1:5). Paul understood how godly love from a pure heart could produce a good conscience and a sincere faith, but the impossibility of the opposite occurring. Purity and godly faith can only come through love for the Savior, otherwise faith will become self-inflated and defiled, seeking its own rather than building God's kingdom. Love will always safeguard the treasure within a man or woman of God because it will train its affection upon Christ's desires and not upon those of the flesh.

As mentioned, Jesus taught the principle of love before faith quite simply in His statement, "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" (Mark 12:30). From this relationship, we understand how faith and hope grow and mature. It would be superfluous for Jesus to say that in order to love more we must believe more. No, He said we must love more, then our faith would spring eternal from our passion for God. A wonderful example of how Jesus wants us to grow in love with faith is His lesson to His disciples when they asked the Lord, "Increase our Faith" (Luke 17:5). Jesus tells them in response how the size of faith is not important as long as it is pure. He tells them faith the size of a mustard seed will do just fine. However, how does one acquire this type of pure faith? He proceeds to tell them the importance of obedience in love in the following verses. In Luke 17:7-10 we see love perfected in obedience, which is the Lord's answer to His disciples regarding their desire for increased faith. True and pure faith devoid of selfishness is only possible through obedient love. And love of this sort only grows over time as we submit to the Lover of our souls. Through this great submission comes greater purification, causing our faith to begin to remove mountains where it once was only capable of removing spiritual debris from our lives.

Many men and women of God have been disqualified in large degrees regarding their ministries because they have sought faith without love for God. Unless obedient love is rooted and grounded in a believers life, seeking faith will only result in frustration. Those who move in great workings of faith may be somewhat successful for a season and may have the appearances of serving God. Yet, if they are not first submitted in love for the Savior, their kingdom will come crashing down. What shall we learn from these? It is imperative we know Christ and His love for us, and then faith will grow in a most supernatural way in our respective lives. We will possess the aroma of Christ (II Corinthians 2:14) rather than an aroma of ourselves. Many will stand before Christ on that day of reckoning and proclaim their love by their faith (Matthew 7:22). However, Christ will say He never knew them because they never allowed their faith to grow from a place of loving Him. However, those who first love Him and obey Him, these are the ones who will see their faith grow according to the will of God. May we all seek to know Christ in this way, obeying Him in love while our faith grows for His glory!

Heavenly Father, may we not seek great faith, but seek to greatly love You. With our desire to know You more intimately and passionately, cause our faith to grow proportionally to further Your Kingdom according to Your will and Your desire. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Godly Success - July 8, 2012

Genesis 39:2 - The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian.

Recently, a fellow was sharing with me how after coming to Christ, his entire view of success was altered. It is such a joy to witness someone, who only weeks earlier was living for themselves, now begin to understand the source of true life. No longer was he choosing to pursue monetary gain by driving the most expensive automobile or living in the most lavish house. God had taken this individual and stripped him down to a place of humility, revealing to him what success looked like to the Almighty. There was a gleam in his eyes and light where there was once darkness. This fellow had started down the road of life instead of winding his way down the path of destruction. He saw the importance of succeeding according to God's wisdom rather than that of man's. He had only glimpsed what the Lord had in store for him on his new journey. However, he was convinced now that true success did not depend upon his circumstances. He was beginning to see with new eyes regarding what it meant to be God's winner.

Winning at life will never mean having or planning for more, whatever that might be. We know from the story of Joseph how the Lord made this young man successful---not necessarily for what he did, but for whose he was. Scripture relates in several instances how Joseph was successful in all that he put his hand to. Does this mean his success was determinant on certain talents and gifts he possessed? Not at all. God may or may not use natural inclinations. However, if He does they will first be sanctified through His purifying fires. In other words, He will not tie success to a man or a woman's gifts without first sanctifying both for His glory. From our lead verse, we can authoritatively state that God did not grant success to Joseph because of his talents or gifts, but He gave him success because God was with him. This principle points out that success, in the case of Joseph and any other, is relationally-bound not circumstantially dependent. What mattered to God was that Joseph trusted in Him, so therefore God prospered Joseph in all he put his hand to (Genesis 39:21). However, over time and through a trusted relationship between the Lord and Joseph, God elevated Joseph's success from a private matter of relationship to the public arena of circumstantial greatness. God confirmed His relationship through this Hebrew slave who continued to submit himself to harsh, unjust treatment. Joseph knew it was not his place to create success. He only knew he must remain faithful to the Lord.

So many of us get this wrong when we first start walking with God. We believe if we are good at making money before knowing Christ, we should do the same for the Kingdom once we get saved. Many a person has set a snare for themselves with this logic. If a spirit of competition and lustful craving for success has been the thrust of a man or woman's life before Christ, how can this be used for God's purposes? This would be like the U.S. Government hiring the Mafia to head the Department of Justice. No matter how good the intent, there is no doubt justice would not be served in the manner it should. If nothing else, the appearances would be wrong. It is the same way with natural talents that may have given us success in the world which are not first surrendered to God for His bidding. Whether He desires to resurrect those gifts or inclinations will be according to His will. Possibly, if someone has made millions in secular pursuits, the Lord would require them to give it away and instead join the foreign mission field. One might say, "What a waste of talent!" That would be the one who does not understand the importance of success through relationship rather than situational success that is so common to us before we came to Christ.

The main thing we can desire in this lifetime is to be successful in God's eyes. Whether we are a prisoner as Joseph, yet at the same time successful in God's mind, will determine our perspective on what it means to win in life. If we are circumstantially inclined to success as Christians, then we will judge ourselves and others by what we have done for the Kingdom. However, if we are rightly related to Jesus, success will take on a whole new meaning. It will be full of expectation regarding not necessarily what God will do through us, but how we will be amazed at what happens to ourselves and others through our intimate relationship with Him. Through our surrendered relationship, God will engineer circumstances in our lives that others will equate as success. However, what is important for us is to see God's success in our hearts as we live for Him. To one day hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant," will be the greatest success that any of us will ever know in this lifetime or the one to come.

Heavenly Father, give us eyes to see today what You regard as success in each of our lives. Allow us to become so intimate with You that You prosper everything we touch as a product of our relationship with You. May we know that winning in life is finishing the course with You not for You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives