Sunday, October 28, 2012

Religious Expertise - October 28, 2012


Mark 7:9 - He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition."

We all have certain proclivities toward various things. Some of us are excellent at sports. That has never been one of my strong suits although I have been known to do a little running. Others of us have the gift of gab and are well-suited for things such as sales or even politics (possibly redundant). Seldom do any of us desire to be experts of the unseemly. I know when I was a practicing alcoholic I would chide those who drank occasionally or would venture out for that once a year party on New Years. Amateurs, I thought. To have this type of arrogance concerning those who drank alcohol less than I is the epitome of ignorance. Often, ignorance and arrogance go hand in hand. We may think we possess an enlightened understanding regarding something and may find out later how woefully we were mistaken. The litmus test for ignorant arrogance is often when others continue to tell us how wrong we are while we insist on our progressively heightened awareness. This type of denial is often very hard to dismantle for we have invested so much in propping up our beliefs accordingly.

The Jews had faithfully (and sometimes unfaithfully) practiced a set of commandments handed down by Moses for over a millennium when Jesus appeared on the scene. The Torah or the Law of Moses was the foundation of their strict practices, while the Prophets and the Writings were the other parts comprising their canon. This is what we would refer to as the Old Testament. (Not until after Jesus' time would they add even more rules and laws through the inclusion of the six volume Mishnah and the Gemara, both comprising what is known today as the Talmud.) They prided themselves in their "expert" interpretation of the Law and how it fit into Jewish society. However, Jesus often exposed this pride when addressing His religious counterparts. He pointed out how they had sacrificed the commandment of God in order to keep to their tradition. In context, the Lord was speaking concerning the ceremonial washing of hands, which Moses says nothing in this regard in the Law or the Pentateuch. Instead, they interpreted something God never required of them by taking commandments of cleanliness and building doctrine on something that was not there. By so doing, Jesus stated they had become experts in something they should be ashamed of rather than proud and arrogant as they had become.

To point the finger at the Pharisees is often to have three pointed back at ourselves. While we may not have a written form of the Talmud that we use to dissect the Law of God, we invariably do this in other ways. Compromise comes through forcing our own way rather than God's. It can often come in the most subtle ways also. Have we desired something we should not have? Then, we can sometimes justify our position by doing a little more for God in another area. We add to the law by trying to love someone a bit more so we can act a bit more rude to another through our self-justification. Or, we might fall into the trap of doing for God rather than being for God. To clarify, how often do we do for God because we are afraid not to? We have become so accustomed to giving to a certain charity or helping out a person in a certain way, yet we have lost our love in the midst of it. If we will allow the love of God to be our great motivator in whatever we do, then we will never fall short of His expectation. Jesus Himself stated that if we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and our neighbor likewise, then we have fulfilled the Law (Luke 10:27). However, this takes sitting before the Lord and seeking His will everyday rather than assuming we know it from past experience.

Beloved, if we are faithful to love as Christ loved us, then we have fulfilled all the Law of God. However, this can only be accomplished through a surrendered life to Jesus Christ and His work of redemption. Do we pride ourselves in our arrogance to do something expertly? If so, we have undoubtedly missed the mark God desires us to hit. Whether they are unseemly things aforementioned or even notable things such as sports or works of charity, arrogance often shows our ignorance. However, when we seek to expertly love God and others from a place of humility, then we will soon recognize we are not an expert at anything. We will only demonstrate embarrassment when someone might suggest we are expertly showing the Savior to those around us. Love of this type is spontaneous and is not attained through rigorous study. It only comes through fierce obedience. The Law should indeed be our standard, but the Lord should always be our Guide on how to apply it. May we look to the former but trust the latter implicitly.

Heavenly Father, allow us to become experts at loving You and others. Guide us through Your Law, but help us never to think we have fulfilled it. Only Your Son has accomplished what we could never do. May we follow His guidance and become true sons and daughters through Your loving grace. In Jesus' Name,

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


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Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Crucified Life - October 21, 2012

Job 13:15 - Though He slay me, I will hope in Him. Nevertheless I will argue my ways before Him.

When I was in the throes of my alcoholism, I had frequent conversations with God. Most of them were of the sort as "what's a nice guy like me doing in this sort of predicament?" As most of us know, addiction is a self-perpetuated illness that has only one treatment -- abstinence. Whether it is truly a disease or not is for others to decide. I know in my case it meant coming to a place of both desire and the need for the power to change. While I often possessed the former, I came up short time and again with the latter. When Jesus finally delivered me from alcoholism, it was a final blow to my addiction which I have not returned to in more than 20 years at the time of this writing. There but for the grace of God go I again if I ever believe otherwise regarding Who empowered me to overcome this awful beast. My gratitude is reflected in my continued understanding that to indulge in the smallest measure of alcohol would be to "uncrucify" myself from what once enslaved me.

It is one thing to be wallowing in sin and complaining to God about one's woes. It is quite another to be as Job and to know you have done "the next right thing" repeatedly. Then, to witness your life come crashing down around you is beyond mortal comprehension. The patriarch knew his life was blameless according to the knowledge God had provided him and his friends. However, as Job's story continues and we hear from God in the final chapters of this book, we then understand how little we know. In the final judgment, neither myself or Job "deserved" anything other than the wisdom of how God decided to order our lives. What played out was for God to decide. Fortunately, the outcome in both cases was good from human standards. God restored Job's health and fortunes as well as giving me wholeness and prosperity once again. But God was not obliged to do either. It is sometimes impossible to know exactly when the Lord will deliver us. It is certainly not on our time-table. And in deliverance there is always a crucifixion of sorts allowing something within us to die and God's new life within us to begin. Where and when this will happen is often an enigma. God never changes and deals with people in the same manner throughout time. While Job's crucifixion and resurrection was markedly different than that of a disciple of our Lord's a few thousand years later, it nonetheless arrived at the same conclusion.

From our lead verse, we can see Job's willingness to get through his crucifixion of self and to resurrect into the true knowledge of the Lord in this trying situation. Likewise, Peter made a bold promise to Jesus that fateful Passover night nearly 2000 years ago. The difference between Job and Peter concerning their resolve to die for God were their respective crucifixions. While it has already been established how Job lived millennia before Christ's sacrifice, he understood how death to self and trust in God was the great difference. When Peter proclaimed his allegiance to Jesus and said boldly he was ready to die for His Lord, he was only part right. He would indeed die for Jesus, but he would only truly begin this journey of death after understanding crucifixion. From that point on, it became a selfless adventure toward his inevitable fate. For both the patriarch and the disciple, there needed to be a stepping through the veil of ignorance to a place of divine understanding.

Job had some understanding of crucifixion while he was going through his struggles. Once he was on the other side he truly understood its great significance. (Even our Lord felt the anguish of separation from His Father's counsel when He shouted from the cross His feeling that He had been forsaken [Matthew 27:46]). Are we like Peter before the cross, trying to choose the place of our death? Or are we like Job who no longer sees himself as his friends did in their misunderstanding of his intent. Once we bow to crucifixion and our old man of self-centeredness, then we will we say like Job ... it matters not where or when we die -- we are God's no matter the outcome.

Father, while we will never understand Your total counsel, we will trust in You when we when we go through our respective crucifixions. Help us not to attempt to choose the place of our death, but to embrace it when it comes. For in so doing, Your promise of resurrection is on the other side. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Estate Planning - October 14, 2012

II Corinthians 5:1 - For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

Many of us who are Baby Boomers are either retired or well on our way. Whether we are ready for the time when we will draw Social Security and pensions (if we are fortunate), it is an inevitable reality. Some of us have prepared better than others. Through various circumstances, many have not been in the position to plan properly. To increasing numbers of soon-to-be retirees, the prospect of leaving the workforce is somewhat unnerving. I speak mainly of those who have neither put their faith in God nor have any type of retirement savings. Because of this, we see a much older work force performing jobs that many youngsters used to do. Instead, oldsters are finding they cannot retire but must make ends meet by working through their 70s and sometimes into their 80s. Then, there are others such as Christians who believe a savings does not matter, that God will take care of them as long as they are doing the Lord's work. This is true in many cases, for Jesus told us if we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness that our needs would surely be met (Matthew 6:33). However, I am also of the opinion that many use this as an excuse for mismanagement of the individual wealth the Lord entrusts to each of us. Wisdom is the keyword regarding our family's nest egg. We can sometimes become bad stewards and believe God will bail us out in our old age. However, the bail out may not be the reality we had hoped for.

God has not called all of us to be missionaries to the ends of the earth, giving up our possessions for the sake of the Kingdom. For these, God has promised a wealth of riches even in their seeming poverty here upon earth (Matthew 19:29). However, for the majority of us, God has told us to stay and support ministries such as these with our finances and to be lights in our own communities. Whether we stay or go, we can be a great asset for the Kingdom of God if we are obedient in what Christ gives us. If he has told some to go, many of these will say it is quite easy giving up everything---in the beginning that is. The true test of discipleship will often show itself in the first few months as the romantic notion of missionary work wears thin. That is when it becomes evident who is truly called to lay down their lives where there is no running water or air conditioning. Some at this juncture pick up their old lives at the airport and beat a hasty retreat. However, those who have planned both their earthly and heavenly estates properly understand their position of wealth. Before setting out, they correctly heard from the Lord and planned according to God's wisdom. The joy of obedience rather than the sorrow of folly becomes their ultimate heritage (Luke 14:27-33).

For the majority of us He has called to stay, we must faithfully use what He gives us to help further His Kingdom. Many of us will not have millions of dollars to give for the Lord's work. However, just as the widow's mite, He will require us to give sacrificially so that we might receive what we need in this life and the one to come. However, at this juncture we must use wisdom. God may tell someone to give away their weekly paycheck and he will provide for that family. Nevertheless, for someone to take a scripture and test God's faithfulness without hearing directly from God is the worst sort of presumption. It is not only disobedience to give when God is saying not to, but it is also robbing the family of God's providence for that week. We must be careful not to tear down the "earthly tent" of which Paul speaks in our lead verse. While this scripture speaks of our earthly flesh, I believe it also refers to the earthly covering which we create for those who are trusting in our faithfulness to provide for them upon this earth. This means we have a moral and spiritual responsibility to seek the Lord for wisdom regarding our finances for our families, our church body, and inevitably the souls we will touch through these resources. Our earthly tent must be one that is pitched where God desires and where it is of paramount effectiveness for Him and others.

Our estate planning for both here and heaven is contingent on hearing the word of the Lord for our own lives. We must not shrink from providing for those who are trusting in exactly the way the Lord is requiring us to trust. As Paul states, our bodies are not our own and our earthly tents will one day be transformed into heavenly expressions. Until that day, we must continue to allow God to marshal everything within us and provide the covering He desires to bless others through our earthly estate. Earthly retirement will never mean retirement from God using us for His Kingdom. Instead, He will use those who have wisely built their earthly domain according to His will to further His Son's desire regarding lost humanity. May we all plan accordingly, for one day this earthly tent will be transformed to the heavenly one. May we not be sorrowful that we did not plan wisely, and may our heavenly abode be an expression of lives lived for Christ upon this earth.

Heavenly Father, may we look to You for wisdom as our earthly tent decays, yet our heavenly one increases. Give us understanding to know how to invest properly while upon this earth. If You tell us to go, we will go. If You tell us to stay, show us how to bring both the spiritual and material wealth You desire into Your Kingdom. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


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Friday, October 5, 2012

Arresting Developments - October 7, 2012

II Corinthians 10:5 - Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ. (KJV)

While going through emails, my four year-old grandson burst into my office and told me I was under arrest. Earlier this same morning he was commandeering a pirate ship that had just set sail. However, now he had moved to the other end of the law by telling me his name was now "officer." Imaginations of children are so endearing. They show us how they make sense out of their world by exploring how they fit in, putting on different roles much like we would change a shirt. While this type of behavior in an adolescent is sweet and tugs at our heart strings, how would we react to such behavior in a 34 year old? Where it is cute in a child, this would be embarrassing to behold in an adult if they truly believed their flights to fantasy like a child. If we use this analogy regarding our lead verse, it is quite easy to understand how the Lord wants us to mature to a point where we understand the mechanics of righteous imaginations.

Paul, in the context of chapter 10 of his second letter to the Corinthians was speaking to an immature church body. This young Gentile church had dealt with the problem of immorality in his first letter due much to Paul's rebuke and continued follow-up. However, there were some who still questioned his authority as an apostle. In chapter 10 through 12, he goes to great length to describe himself and his credentials and why he should be regarded as their spiritual father. In II Corinthians 10:5, he is describing the understanding of a mature saint of God and their ability to choose right from wrong and to war in the spirit accordingly. In a very real sense, Paul had become a spiritual enforcer for the kingdom of God upon this earth. The King James Version uses the word "imaginations" in this verse rather than the New American Standard's use of the word "speculations." Both words are appropriate. However, imaginations gives us a more vivid explanation of Paul's point of reference. Speaking to spiritually immature Christians, he was stating they should not be naive regarding the warfare that should be their spiritual heritage. Rather, that vain imaginations and speculations about what they believe is right and holy should be cast aside. Instead, they should grow up in Christ and allow His wisdom to lead and guide them, taking captive anything that would prevent them from being totally sold out to God.

Today, we are in great need of spiritual enforcers like Paul who would see the great need to war in the Spirit according to the wisdom of God. However, here is the main reason why this is not possible in so many church bodies in our contemporary western societies. We, like the Corinthians, have refused to reject our immorality, our passivity, and our subjectivity to sin. We have instead attempted to marry ourselves to both the world and to Christ. Paul tells us earlier in this second letter that light and darkness cannot mix---that they are incompatible (II Corinthians 6:14-18). Jesus Christ will not align Himself in our hearts and lives with the idols we have set up. Therefore, many of us do not know how to cast down our vain imaginations because we have instead embraced them. As James tells us this is an impossible arrangement that will only result in our growing enmity with God (James 4:4). Beloved, there is a place for godly vision which is diametric to worldly imagination. In order to obtain the former, we must let go of the latter.

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote some sobering words regarding the vanity of childish imaginations and the necessity of godly vision. In I Corinthians 13:11 he states: "When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things." In order to become spiritual enforcers for ourselves, our families, and our churches we must grow up and away from our compromise with this world. We must not fellowship with darkness but come into the light of Christ's wisdom. There is no other way to make hell tremble and heaven rejoice regarding the spiritual warfare which is the heritage of every child of God. Our gaze must be so transfixed on Christ as we take on His mind, taking every thought captive for the furthering of His kingdom. Our legacy is to enforce God's law and bring all offenses before the judge and let Him deal with them according to His will. However, to get to this place of maturity will take us choosing the light over the dark. We must forsake the compromised position, embracing the implacable stance of a stalwart soldier of the Lord. This is the great story that Christ desires to write in our lives, beloved. One not of worldly imagination but of godly wisdom born in the heart of the Almighty.

Heavenly Father, may we destroy vain imaginations by growing up in Your Son. May we acquire His wisdom as we forsake the things of this world and embrace His maturity in the beauty of His holiness. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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