Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Gaze of the Soul - September 29, 2013

Exodus 19:21 - Then the LORD spoke to Moses, "Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish."

It's a remarkable thing when a man or woman begins to gaze intently on the Lord and all His goodness. Without exception, the old man within will perish as the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). Even as Moses warned the people before Mount Sinai regarding the holiness of the Lord, even so the Holy Spirit tells us that if we are indeed serious about approaching God, that we will certainly never be the same. Our mandate from God is to be like Him -- to change into His very image as we behold the Lord Jesus Christ within. The sentence of death to self is executed every time we are obedient to the wooing of the Holy Spirit to behold the Lover of our souls. The loving caress of our imagination energized by the supernatural working of Christ's Spirit need never lapse. He is always there to put the beauty of His Person ever before those who would but desire His beauty.

In our fast-paced society, we often can not fully appreciate the need for our souls to gaze upon their Redeemer. It is very much like a flower or a plant needing the sunshine for growth that we likewise need to sit and be given life-giving injections of His holy love. Without these times of refreshing, we too will wilt and droop without the proper stimulation from His magnificent Sonlight. We may pursue these times faithfully for a season, but then the cares of this world will often encroach and demand once again to the point where we languish. It is at this point that we must confess that we are dead to God, but alive to self and that we need a reversal. We need to once again "perish" as the old man dies under the gaze of the soul. This is a discipline that we will all be honing until we go to be with the Lord. A.W. Tozer in his book "The Pursuit of God" wrote regarding the discipline and regular exercise of training oneself to look intently with the gaze of the soul:

Believing, then, is directing the heart's attention to Jesus. It is lifting the mind to `behold the Lamb of God,' and never ceasing that beholding for the rest of our lives. At first this may be difficult, but it becomes easier as we look steadily at His wondrous Person, quietly and without strain. Distractions may hinder, but once the heart is committed to Him, after each brief excursion away from Him the attention will return again and rest upon Him like a wandering bird coming back to its window.

His loving hand will always bring us back to that place of abiding if we will but only submit our affections to do so. The devil will seek to dissuade by his lies, telling us that God no longer can be found because He has become impatient with our failings and many attempts to remain in God's presence. The enemy of our souls will desire our complete dissolution and to despair of attaining any future communion with God, thereby telling us to give up any further attempts. Of course, this could not be anymore further from the truth. Our Heavenly Father is full of patience and mercy toward our sometimes awkward approaches and there is such a rejoicing in His heart when we draw near! He will always reward us with an inward manifestation of His loving, approving countenance if we will but approach Him in faith.
It can be truthfully stated, that whatever we behold or gaze at with intent in this lifetime will kill us! If we stare and lust after sinful desires such as sordid gain, perversion, or any number of things that the world might seek to entice us, then these will certainly lead to a death of our inner spirit, soul, and eventually our own body. This spiritual and physical death devoid of identification with the Lord will most certainly lead to everlasting death. However, if we seek to die to carnal things and to perish from a life lived for self, then the ironic and supernatural begins to happen. Through our perishing to the things of this world we live to God and to the fullness of His life within (Romans 6:11). By gazing intently on the Lord and identifying with His death, we then allow the Lord's resurrection to empower us in every instance. The choice is ours on whom we desire to gaze, for we are hard-wired to gaze upon something. Our Heavenly Father desires that we bring every thought captive in our imaginations (II Corinthians 10:5) and gaze at the Restorer of our Souls, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will lovingly give us life, even as we perish to self in His Holy presence, if we will but only turn both our attention and our affections toward Him.

Heavenly Father, teach us to gaze with intent at your holiness. In so doing, we desire to put to death all that is not of You by taking our imaginations captive to Your beauty. Help us to continually turn toward You, knowing that You are longing to draw us near. Thank You Lord. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Bare Soul - Consecrated to God - September 22, 2013


James 4:8 - Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
It is quite easy to confuse our responsibility in working out our salvation regarding God's promises in our lives as believers if we are viewing things in a carnal manner. Sanctification, or God setting us apart for His will and desire and empowering us to live a holy life on this earth has never been our task. We could no more make ourselves holy (even by an infinitesimal amount) then if we were able to justify ourselves before God the Father outside of the blood of Jesus and the work on Calvary. The spiritual work of justification, sanctification, and one day glorification when we will one day be like Jesus in all respects (I John 3:2), will always be the work of the Holy Spirit. However, there is an important distinction to understand regarding how God draws us to Himself while we are in these mortal bodies. He will not draw us if we have not invited him to do so. This is the act of consecration, to literally set oneself apart thereby denouncing the sins that so easily beset us and asking God to use us even in our imperfect state. We can never clean ourselves up. That is God's desire and He does it very effectively through the work of His Spirit. We can only come before Him, confessing our faults and giving ourselves to Him and his will.

Even as we may find ourselves in a place of initial humility to God, asking Him to take our lives and use it for His glory, we may later find that we have mistaken a consecrated life for a life of sanctification. As previously stated, God is the one who changes us, sometimes in an instant and other times over the course of days, weeks, months, or even years. For instance, God may have put His finger on an area of our lives, such as sloth. A believer that God has challenged in this area may with exuberance begin to attack the problem by rising an hour earlier and by placing more diligence on their work. After a few weeks or months if they gain some success in this area, it is quite easy to not give God the glory for these apparent victories and to believe that now they've gotten a lot "better" in this area of sloth. When one takes this attitude, they have withdrawn the sacrifice of their consecration from the altar, telling God that their improvement is all that is needed. In this sad reality, this man or woman has not allowed God to finish the work but has settled for a fleshly, carnal substitute. We often do a quick inventory of our seeming weaknesses and then work with a flurry on the obvious, when we should be waiting on the Lord for Him to put His finger on the root cause. Obvious character defects are easy to work on and often show quick results, so we are drawn to seek to please God by getting a supposed handle on these. However, God wants us to submit to him in areas that we KNOW we can't commandeer as easily as rising early or adding a bit more pep to our jobs. He wants to get to the heart of the sin of sloth within our hearts. A life of consecration means a life that is daily presented on the altar of sacrifice so God can speak to the heart and thereby change the heart. It is so much like the flesh to gain the victory in a couple of areas and to self-congratulate oneself with the "seeming" victory. In reality, these are the very things that Jesus accused the Pharisees regarding, that they were beautiful on the outside but inside they were full of dead men's bones (Matthew 23:27).

James the brother or our Lord gives us a concise, step-by-step plan to first consecrate ourselves and then to live in the sanctifying power of the Lord Jesus Christ (James 4:8). We have already discussed the importance of drawing near to God in humility, thus He will draw near to us. In order to not grieve the Holy Spirit once He has drawn close to our present need, we must acknowledge TWO important realities:

Number One -- We are sinners
Number Two -- We are double-minded

The unspeakable joyous reality that Jesus Christ has dealt sin a final blow on Calvary is forever an accomplished fact in heaven and a looming reality in hell for those who do not receive His sacrifice. However, there are still those areas of sin that we live out in the carnal flesh that God wants to deal with as we serve Him on this earth. As we acknowledge that we are indeed sinners, daily, in need of His grace, then we are "cleansing our hands" as James states or we are consecrating ourselves to God and submitting to His sanctifying power. There is no stronger position as a believer to daily come before the Lord and to know that we are consecrating ourselves for God to have His way with us. This is only a strengthened position as we approach the Lord with "single-mindedness", intent on His sanctifying work and all that He can do. If we will but focus on Him and wait for his grace to isolate the root cause of our "sinning", then we will understand that the purifying of heart that James speaks of is merely the work of the Holy Spirit as we consider ourselves as God does. When we see our sin as God sees it, with no excuses or denial, then He will bring the purifying work of His Spirit into our hearts. Paul stated what James said in a different but similarly compelling manner in Romans 12:2. For if we are "transformed by the renewing of our minds", then certainly we shall be purified by the work of the Holy Spirit as He fills our hearts with what we have agreed to with God in our minds.

Beloved, God does not desire any of us to change outward behaviors as the "end all" for what He desires. Those things that we seek to change should be getting at the heart of the matter -- the very root cause of the sin that would so easily beset us. If the changes we affect are not driving toward this final goal, then we are no better off then the Pharisees of Jesus' day. If, however, we allow these changes that we seek to be springboards, showing us how we can never clean up our own hearts, then the Holy Spirit has accomplished His desire by shining the light of understanding into our hearts and minds. Once we truly agree with God through our consecration, then He can and will in His magnificent power, begin to transform us more and more into the image of His Son through sanctification. Glory be to to God!

Heavenly Father, as we draw near to you and consecrate our lives to you once again, allow us not to work merely on the "outward" manifestations, but show us the heart of the matter. Take our lives and point out the roots of selfishness, fear, anger, and any other that might be the cause of our "stalled out" sanctification. Give us single minds and clean hands in humility to Your Divine plan for each and everyone one of us. Thank you Lord. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ambitious Living - September 15, 2013

James 3:16 - For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

When I started barefoot running, my reasons were two-fold. One, I definitely wanted to run pain free. My knees had been giving me fits for months and barefoot running seemed to force proper technique which alleviated the lateral shock to my legs and knees. Two, I wanted to be noticed and applauded for doing something that very few were trying and most wouldn't do. To most sensible folks, the second reason smacks of arrogance and pride. I attempted to masquerade my selfish ambition of wanting accolades for what I was doing with the reasoning "... it was for my health". The truth? I was steeped in selfish ambition which the Lord out of His abundant mercy allowed. God knew, that like anything else of this world, that I would eventually grow tired of it, experiencing its emptiness. In His infinite wisdom, He had other things in mind for my barefoot running. He inevitably wooed me into a place of submission and humility to eventually turn the attention that I was receiving over to Him, in order that He might use it for His glory.

Today, I pray that my heart is more and more His. To assume that I am free from self-promotion would be ludicrous and self-deceiving. As I walk in the ways of the Lord and allow Him to shape His ministry around me, I see the importance -- no, the imperativeness of letting Him be Lord and allowing Him to strip me of all selfish ambition. This is actually going beyond mere submission to Jesus and all He is -- for even an enemy can bow down to his victor and give feigned obedience. Beyond submission, the Lord requires identification and substitution -- the fact of what Christ has done on the cross for mankind, how he gave His life so that I might live through His death, burial, and resurrection. If I am not living a substituted life, identifying with all He has done on my behalf, then I am living a life of self. For truly my only hope is Christ living in me. As Paul so eloquently and profoundly stated in Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

The horror of living selfishly ambitious is that I put the Lord up for open shame every time I choose to self-promote. As He lives within me and I am not living through His ambitions, He is subjected to this body of selfishness and sin. It is like I make a mockery of the Risen Lord who gave me the power over the body of flesh to walk in newness of life. According to James in the opening scripture, EVERY evil practice exists where envy and selfish ambition reside. One could easily say the so-called Seven Deadly Sins would be as eggs incubating in these nests of hell called envy and selfish ambition. I will go beyond that and state that any and all sin, EVERY evil practice as James states, are ovum gestating in the womb of selfish ambition. Can you imagine every evil practice? This suggests that every disgusting, revolting, sinful practice that you can even imagine is rooted in envy and selfish ambition. For truly, were these not the characteristics of Satan's sin against God? Did it not first start with envy of God's power and then inevitably to selfish ambition where he was cast from heaven? Even today, the Holy Spirit speaks through His scripture telling me that anyone who wishes or desires to be the Lord's must understand and live a life of submission. Otherwise, the opposite is a hellish devotion to self that reeks of spiritual death and self-sufficiency.

What is my desire today? Is it to only satisfy my own ambitions? If so, James through the Holy Spirit states that these desires will lead only to a more "practiced" life of evil. However, the Lord Jesus lays before me this day another choice -- Life -- His Life. It is there for the asking. It is there for the taking. This should be my main ambition in life!

Lord, take my life, my dreams, my goals,
And make my ambition, yours for souls!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives

"Ambitious Living" was first published on January 20, 2008

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Lie With Me" - September 8, 2013

Genesis 39:7 - It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me."

Genesis 39 begins with Joseph's ordeal of being sold as a slave into the household of Potiphar where the young Hebrew quickly rises in stature and rank amongst his new lord's servants. As the meaning of Joseph's name means "God increases or adds to", so he rose to second only to Potiphar himself in this royal official's household. The scripture tells us (Genesis 39:1-6) that Joseph was both successful and prosperous in whatever he put his hand to do. This young man had risen, in a relatively short period of time, from being a slave sold in the Egyptian slave market to quite possibly the highest station a slave might hold in Egyptian culture. It appears that Joseph made the best of an imperfect situation by prospering both his master and himself in his once dire straits. However, this was not the end of God's design for Joseph's prosperity nor that of the Hebrew people in the land of Canaan. By a set of dastardly circumstances, Joseph must rise above his station and command all in Egypt in order to save his people. And the catalyst for this rise to power would come by the words and actions of Potiphar's own wife. The road to Joseph's destiny lie in a jail cell before it ended at the throne room. For Joseph, his success as Potiphar's slave would prepare him for his glorious future as the redeemer of the known world through his wisdom in staving off a catastrophic famine.

Our opening text tells us that Potiphar's wife looked with desire at Joseph. However, Genesis 39:7 is clear that this transpired "after these events". What were these events? As previously stated, the first six verses of Genesis 39 contain Joseph's rise to prominence in the house of Potiphar. Clearly, this handsome and strong young Hebrew that was successful in everything he touched became a desirous target to the possibly neglected wife of his master. As often happens, men of integrity and character are challenged morally by evil to determine if they truly are whom they might appear. (One only has to look at any number of moral failures in recent years of mega-church pastors and televangelists.) If Satan can use a temptress or a tempter to try to seduce a man or woman of God, then many times he might bring them down in their folly (Proverbs 6:26). However, if the Devil loses his bet, then the very one he seeks to pull down will often rise stronger in the end by persevering through the trial. We know from the remainder of Genesis 39 that Joseph held fast to his integrity and suffered the lying accusations of Potiphar's wife rather than lie with the woman and destroy all that he had thus achieved. Oftentimes, to stay true to oneself means to disregard any self-preservation, no matter what the cost.

Through the years, I have talked and counseled many that have been at this very crossroads where Joseph made a stand for his own character and integrity. As a practicing alcoholic, I knew what it meant to get a few months of sobriety and then to once again be wooed by the seductress alcohol. As a recovering alcoholic and a sinner saved by grace for many years now, I understand how the world can woo and tantalize those of undetermined wills. I have talked and prayed with many regarding any number of addictions or life style choices that once seemed controllable in their lives, but led them to a place of self-imprisonment that they could not free themselves. There are many such "couches of sin" where the wavering of faith might lie with their respective seductress or seducer. However, that is the time when moral character must be dredged up out of the inner man or woman to counter the attack. If we choose to lie horizontally on "beds of iniquity" and compromise ourselves, then our vertical, spiritual posture will be bowed down with the weight of guilt and shame. We cannot walk with straight backs and uplifted heads if we have given in to our besetting sin and it has once again mastered us. Just as Joseph undoubtedly learned character long before arriving in Egypt, we too must lay claim to small victories in our lives until once again we (as well as others) begin to regard us as people of character. Ah, but then comes the challenge and temptation! For when a man thinks he stands, let him take heed unless he falls (I Corinthians 10:12). Testing and trial will always be the examiner or the tutor, if you will, of the pupil of integrity. As success and prosperity overtake us in our respective journey's of sanctification, the adulteress or the adulterer will be there to try to destroy what we have accomplished by the grace of God. At this critical crossroad, we must stand firm, knowing that ... No temptation has overtaken [us] but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow [us] to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that [we] will be able to endure it (I Corinthians 10:13; I Peter 5:9).

God's promise is that He will never give us more than we can handle. As with Joseph, when things seemed the bleakest in his Egyptian prison, then the Lord broke forth and redeemed his chosen in a marvelous way. We, also, must hold on and never succumb through every trial and temptation, awaiting each subsequent victory. As certain as the Devil hates our successes and the goodness we are germinating within our own lives and those around us, even so he would like nothing better than to kill, steal, and/or destroy these seeds of hope. There may come a time when it seems that God has abandoned us to a proverbial "jail cell" in our own respective Egypt. We may once again sense a loss of hope when just recently we experienced such success and prosperity. And now here we are once again in this dark, dank period where there is no apparent deliverance. Take heart! Fear not! Your redemption is close at hand -- only He can bring us out of the dark. As we allow Him to do it in His time, then we will see in hindsight the wonderful creature that he has created in us through our trusting in Him.

Holy Father, forge our characters in the furnaces of heaven while keeping us from succumbing to the fires and the passions of this world. Allow us to succeed and prosper in all our endeavors knowing that even these must be tried with fire. Let us pass through the flames of these trials, refined in character as precious gold, useful to the our Master and His will for our lives and others. We pray this in Jesus' Name and for His glory, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives


"Lie With Me" was originally published on November 22, 2009

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Seeing Jesus - September 1, 2013

John 12:20-21 - Now there were some Greeks among those who were going up to worship at the feast; these then came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida of Galilee, and began to ask him, saying, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

Seeing something whereas just hearing about it can totally change one's perspective. Most of us have undoubtedly heard the analogy of attempting to explain the Gospel to someone that doesn't have "ears to hear or eyes to see" -- that it is like trying to describe a sunset to a person that was born blind. Hearing about it is totally inadequate to the visual experience. While we can truly experience sensory delights through our hearing such as a loving voice of a mother or a melodic cantata performed by an accomplished ensemble, the visual experience coupled with the auditory enhances the experience ten-fold.

No other malady in the New Testament drew more derision as did blindness. In John 9:1-3, Jesus' disciples question Him regarding being born without sight. The disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him." Later in this chapter (John 9:34), we find the Pharisees mocking this man who received his sight from Jesus saying, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?" There was a clear understanding from these texts that those born blind were considered as outcasts from the grace of God and excluded from His love. Undoubtedly, that is why John the Apostle dedicated an entire chapter to this important life lesson regarding who was truly blind and who truly could see. Jesus told the Pharisees that were following Him, at the end of this chapter (John 9:41), that ... "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains." However, there is an important distinction to make regarding who truly sees and who doesn't.

In Isaiah 6:1, the prophet had a vision that would forever change his life. "In the year of King Uzziah's death, I [Isaiah] saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple." The first words out of the prophets mouth were not, "Wow, this is incredible, God! I need to go tell that corrupt and rebellious nation Israel what an awesome and glorious God you are because I have truly seen who You are. Maybe I should start a TV ministry or write a book?" No, the first thing that Isaiah dealt with was his own understanding of his utter sinfulness: "Then I said, Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5) A few verses later, we hear from the prophet again when he volunteers for the prophetic ministry that the Lord God has destined for Isaiah. A true vision of who God is will inevitably change the beholder, for God will never reveal Himself to someone who is not ready for the revelation and for the calling to follow. (Even Jonah, although he at first resisted, heeded the calling after the revelation of who God wanted him to fulfill to the city of Nineveh [see the Book of Jonah]).

Seeing God or Jesus is paramount in order to become truly His in this lifetime. Many will be in heaven who have never truly experienced seeing God as Isaiah did, or as those who walked with Jesus in His lifetime. However, even as the Greeks who desired to see Him (as stated in the opening scripture), we should all desire to see Jesus in this lifetime for that is the thing that will truly change us for the life to come. God is overjoyed when a sinner comes to salvation and embraces the justification that His Son bought for the entire world by His shed blood. Luke 15:7-10 states that there is joy in heaven over one sinner that turns to the Lord and accepts His free gift of salvation. Beloved, there is so much more than merely accepting His wonderful gift and hoping that this takes care of our "fire insurance" premiums! There is so much more than merely escaping hell and waiting for Glory in the "sweet by and by"! The writer of Hebrews tells us to ... "Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord." (Hebrews 12:14) Sanctification or "to be set apart for His purposes" is not implicit of just the life to come, but is available to us all here on earth. There is opportunity for us all, through obedience to His Spirit, to be set apart for His pleasure while we wait for His appearing (whether we die or see Him in the sky!). We should all desire to give ourselves totally to Him in this lifetime, not only to partake of His nature (see the fruits of the spirit, Galatians 5:22,23) but for no other reason than He is worthy of our love and adoration because He gave us everything -- that is, the death of His Son for our redemption. Our utmost desire should be that of those who sought Jesus in ancient Jerusalem, "Lord, we desire to see you!" Only as we truly see Him will our lives be changed and readied for Glory in the "sweet here and now"!

Lord Jesus, we want to see you ... to be changed by You in Your magnificent presence. Even as Isaiah was changed in a moment of revelation, give us the "spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of You". Enlighten the eyes of our hearts that we may truly behold your majesty. Then, send us forth to change the world for which you died. In your glorious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives


"Seeing Jesus" was originally published on November 16, 2008