Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving - November 24, 2013


Psalm 116:12-13 - How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.

Most parents teach their children basic manners when they are juveniles. These include being gracious to others, respecting grown-ups, and saying thank you when someone gives them something. Teaching children graciousness enables them to enjoy life and garner the love and respect of others. Without a doubt, giving thanks is the touchstone that releases blessings in a person's life. As nearly all religions teach a form of reciprocity, there is no clearer message of "getting what you give" than the Apostle Paul's admonition about sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7-8). So, why is there so much grasping rather than giving in our world? What is the motivation for a person wanting to withhold rather than to be a generous giver of thanksgiving for what they possess? For truly, everything we claim to possess was given to us. One might argue, "I have worked hard for everything in my life, and no one has given me anything! I am a self-made man!" While this type of arrogant bravado may sound good to many, it is untrue. EVERYTHING a person has is given to them by parents, teachers, siblings, or anyone with any influence to speak into another's life. The ability for a person to tie their own shoes to that of making wealth are undoubtedly instruction that they received from somebody at sometime in their respective lives. Ultimately, all good gifts come from God (James 1:17) so to believe that someone has engineered their own prosperity is ludicrous and an affront to God's word.

Material things are important to recognize as coming not from ourselves, but from others and ultimately God. However, of even greater importance is our thanks to God for what He has given and continues to give in both the physical and spiritual realm. He has given us basic guidelines to follow to sustain the blessings that the Lord so freely gives. God's requirements of those He has called and chosen are relatively simple. Often they are not easy, but they are not complicated. When many of us accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into our lives as our Savior, we came to a finality regarding who we were and who He is. At that juncture between heaven and hell, we knew that the free gift of God could never be earned but it must be accepted as something freely bestowed from the Father above. So, with this "attitude of gratitude" we accepted the free gift and thanked God for His Son's sacrifice on our behalf. Hence, we may ask along with the Psalmist in our opening scripture the rhetorical question: What can I give back to the Lord for all He has given me? The answer, of course, is nothing but our thanks and praise. To "lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord", is nothing more than to lift up Jesus and praise the Heavenly Father for sending Him to die in our place. For many of us, this was our position for months and possibly years after we were saved through grace. When we thought on Calvary and the sacrifice of God, we were overcome with gratitude and thanksgiving. As time went on, however, we may have grown distant in our understanding and feelings toward God and what He has done on our behalf. The "cup of salvation" is no longer being lifted up in remembrance but has become neglected and empty where once it overflowed.

One reason people are not thankful for what God has given them is that they don't understand or they have forgotten the value of His gifts. So often we judge ourselves by our most recent failure rather than seeing ourselves as God views us. If we had eyes to see the indescribable riches that Christ has bestowed on mankind, then we would be continually thanking Him for the bounty He gives us daily. So, how does one who knows Christ regain their spiritual vision, to once again have "eyes to see" the glorious riches that He gives all who have put their trust in Him? I believe there are two ways that must converge to give wholeness to a thankful relationship with God. One is learning and knowing, once again, our positional standing with our Maker. We must be vigilant to always be asking that God would reveal Himself to our inner man through His wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17-19). If we truly understand that all things that are Christ's are ours also, then we will be once again struck by His awesome gift(s) and will be overcome with joy and thanksgiving (John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 1:5-7; Ephesians 2:7-9). The other is constantly developing our conditional relationship with our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ by thanking Him for what He has given. While praise and thanksgiving may be the natural outflow of a man or woman's life that understands their position in Christ, times will come when they don't "feel" like praising and giving thanks. According to Paul, it is always the will of God to give thanks, no matter what the circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18; Romans 1:21; Hebrews 13:15). If we balk at doing this simple daily exercise, we don't allow our hearts to be open to God's revelation of what He has done on our behalf. If we consistently give God praise no matter what, we are "filling the cup of salvation" once again and allowing it to overflow into all areas of our lives. By training ourselves not to grumble or complain, but to instead give thanks to God, we thereby break every chain of the enemy. By our praise, WE command the victory as we lift up the cup of salvation and call upon His glorious Name!

Beloved, God desires us to always be grateful and thankful, even when we don't feel grateful or thankful. The great truth is that He has already given us all things in the Beloved, Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to acknowledge all that He has given and to continually give thanks and praise. In these times, our cup definitely overflows with the goodness and favor of God on our souls. But even in the times where we don't want to thank God, these are the most critical times to do so. The enemy would seek to keep our cup empty and dusty and hidden in a corner of our soul. However, once we start thanking Him, by a volition of the will, then once again our cup begins to fill and to overflow. Then, we can say with Paul, with true love and sincerity of heart: Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (II Corinthians 9:15)

Heavenly Father, thank you for the wealth that you have given each and every one of us who know your Son as our Lord and Savior. Our cups certainly do overflow with praise and thanksgiving for all you have done. Let us never cease to praise You, Lord, even when we don't see as we should. Heal our spiritual vision as we continually lift You up in praise and adoration. In so doing, always keep our cups of salvation full and overflowing to bless others. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Holy Fragrances - November 17, 2013

Song of Solomon 4:16 - Awake, O north wind, and come, wind of the south; make my garden breathe out fragrance, let its spices be wafted abroad. May my beloved come into his garden and eat its choice fruits!

Smells can be intoxicating as well as repulsive. I remember going into bars and saloons back in my practicing alcoholic days. Entering the doors of such establishments on any given evening would flood the nose with both familiar and pleasant aromas. Cigarette smoke, beer, and liquor would produce a cacophony of smells that gave this addict a sense of peace that he was "home". However, to venture into the same bar the next morning before the proprietors had a chance to clean up would often blast the senses (including one's "smeller") with the foul stench of stale cigarettes, beer, and liquor. Depending on the saloon and the clientele, one might also smell the cocktail of various human excrements mixed in with the remnants of the previous night's debauchery. What was perceived the night before as a glorious fragrance became a horrendous odor less than a day later. Most recovering alcoholics and addicts that have any length of sobriety from alcohol, cigarettes, and/or drugs would testify that the smell is no longer intoxicating and desirable. It conjures up memories of a devastated former life full of sickness and misery. Those who abstain have re-trained their senses to appreciate the absence of these foul things in their lives. Even more so for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. For as they once were the walking dead going from "death to death" now they are His righteousness being transformed from this life to the one to come (II Corinthians 2:14-16). God has set them on a course to train their senses (Hebrews 5:14), to appreciate the fragrance of Christ that we all will emit if we are given to His pleasure through obedience.

In our opening scripture, Solomon's bride speaks about a garden filled with an abundance of fragrances that she desires the King to find delight in upon his visit. She invokes the winds to blow upon her garden to omit its delectable odors. Just as God sends his rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), so He also sends winds upon everyone's respective "garden", both sinners and saints alike. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, everyone is growing a spiritual crop that will either produce a garden of sumptuous fruit or a barren patch or thorns. Life's rain and winds will cause our gardens to either grow for God or to be forever cursed. Ultimately, the winds will come for everyone, whether sinner or saint. Sometimes, they will be gentle breezes but at other times they will be winds of adversity. The north and south winds mentioned by Solomon's bride are indicative of change, and yet she desires and invokes them by her plea. In ancient Israel, as well as today, the north wind was typically a rain or a snow event (in the higher elevations), dominated by a low pressure system. South winds generally brought heat and dry winds through a pronounced high pressure atmosphere. These were merely cyclic weather patterns to be expected.

Before knowing Christ, when steeped in my sin and addiction, the winds would often blow creating havoc in my life as well as those around me. The devastation of the tornadic winds of sin created despair and hopelessness in both my life and those of my family. However, the same winds would blow in other's lives that were walking with Christ in a surrendered manner yet without the same effect. Tempestuous winds will blow in everyone's lives regardless of their relationship to God as previously stated. However, this relationship or the lack therof depends on what will be wafted about in the "blowing" process. High and low pressure systems bring times of abundance and times of drought, yet Solomon's bride was desirous of their respective movements throughout her garden. She understood that times of abundant moisture would be a watershed or storehouse for times of drought. Similarly, the winds from the south, or the "high pressure" times would create a resilience and fortitude to her garden that constant moisture could not provide. As a metaphor for our lives, we need the winds of change. We rejoice in times of refreshing from the Lord (Acts 3:19) but we must equally embrace the times of drought when we don't sense His presence. We know if we but trust Him that our proverbial "garden" will once again spring to life and waft about His lovely fragrance as He dwells within us. For truly, we may be His gardeners but He will always be the true Husbandman. As we submit to Him through all circumstances, both good and bad, then we will understand what Paul spoke of when he said that we are "fragrance of Christ to God" (II Corinthians 2:15) -- for some an odor for death and for others a fragrance leading to life.

If we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we have the opportunity to produce a garden within our souls that is ripe with fruits for His glory (Galatians 5:22-23). However, if we choose to live for ourselves, believing that our lives are our own, then we will create nothing but a barren wasteland that is only suitable for fire. The winds will come upon all of our lives, creating "lows" and "highs" with their times of plenty and want. God's blessing will only abide on HIS garden as we have given it back to Him in an attitude of submission. If we seek to take and selfishly tend what God has entrusted to all, then a curse will remain upon the garden of our heart and it will remain barren for eternity. Has your "smeller" been transformed by the work of His Spirit? Is there an aroma of life or death wafting from your soul this day? Can we say along with the bride, "Awake", to the winds of adversity to create within us a deeper, richer, holier life with the Husbandman of our Hearts? He desires that we would all imitate Solomon's lovesick bride and yearn for Him to come into our hearts and find much fruit for His glory. May it happen for Him and for His Name's sake. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Father, may we be perfected by the winds of adversity that would waft about your holy fragrances. Give us lovesick desire for Your Son to come into the garden of our heart and find the delicacies of holiness that He so desires. Help us to love only Him, for He is the one who gives true life through times of plenty and times of want. Sanctify us in Your Name. In Jesus Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 10, 2013

God's Discipline - November 10, 2013

Proverbs 12:1 - Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

The word discipline can often create negative connotations. Children might think of strict parents while a young cadet may visualize his or her drill sergeant barking out commands. The implication of personal discipline generally means that an outward force has the intent of bringing our inward being into subjection toward its will and ultimately to a place we'd rather not go. (However, in most cases, we know that is where we should end up for our own good!) Take exercise for example. We know that exercise is good and that it produces a sought after result of good health. However, look at how many of us balk at submitting ourselves to the daily discipline to achieve this desired goal. We may do well for a while, but then for whatever reason, we tend to compromise our resolve and fall back into our former state. Why is this? Is it because we are unmotivated and lazy and we don't desire to be in shape? I don't believe that is the case although it may appear that way in some instances. Many people forgo exercise because other things crowd out their time, such as work or family or any number of life's activities. That is not to say that exercise is more important than work or family. One could use the same example toward striving to be a more disciplined parent or a worker, and one might "relapse" by going to the gym to escape it all! No, what I'm talking about is a disciplined lifestyle that is able to embrace all responsibilities, including familial, social, and personal. Not only to embrace, but to love discipline as that which powers the engine of life.

Solomon points out a diametric attitude regarding discipline to many in our present world. The wisest man to ever walk the earth (besides Jesus Christ) states that a love of knowledge will mean that a person is in love with discipline. The word knowledge that the ancient king speaks of is derived from the Hebrew word yada which has a much fuller and deeper meaning than it's English counterpart. In western civilization, we may take the word knowledge as meaning an understanding of any given subject. The Hebrews, however, used this word to describe not only understanding but also perception, experience, and recognition. Perception was not limited to man's perspective but was intertwined with God's, just as man's experience was not complete unless we experience God within the midst of our respective lives. These all led to a total understanding and recognition that God Himself is the author of all knowledge -- the very creator of wisdom and enlightenment. Just as one cannot separate true wisdom and knowledge from the Person of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, one cannot divorce themselves from God's discipline otherwise they are none of His (Hebrews 12:6). It is something all should seek because from it flow His knowledge and His life.

One might ask, "How then does one love discipline? Is loving God simply enough, for if we love God will we not want to keep His commandments?" If we all, when we gave our hearts to Christ, came into a place of joyous enlightenment and saw Him in His full revelation, then we would most certainly embrace His discipline (or discipleship, if you will) with a passionate surrender. However, we see dimly in our present state and need Him to reveal His true character to us through degrees (I Corinthians 13:12). Therefore, embracing discipline as we would embrace Jesus, can be a test of character in the beginning of our journey. (If we don't have the desire as Christians, we should ask the Lord who will grant us grace to begin.) Some will fail to see that the Jesus Christ they accepted into their hearts was not only love but He was also the embodiment of discipline. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, it can be uncomfortable in its initial stages but will reveal the character of our Risen Lord like no other practice: All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). For example, many runners will tell you (this one included) ...that the only thing harder than running is not running! The knowledge and the understanding of what the run produces is not always enjoyed during the exercise but the thought of not doing it is unthinkable. When those who are disciplined by a daily routine, to break it means to somehow lose the "daily manna" that the discipline creates. The remorse of letting one's self down is more trying than the physical exertion of the run itself. It is the same way when one disciplines themselves to walk a balanced life with their Lord. To do anything more than the bare minimum, in the beginning, is hard and takes work. To do anything less, once a disciplined life is attained, is a betrayal of both one's self and the Lord.

We all seek balance in our hectic 21st century lifestyles. We would all like to claim that we live disciplined lives that are well-rounded. If we know the Lord Jesus Christ, then we stand a chance to find true balance. If we don't know Him, we may have some external things in order but the inner person of the heart will still be dead and unknowing. Solomon used the word yada to imply an all knowing and all understanding knowledge was possible through a love of discipline. However, this discipline cannot be divorced from a love for God and His dealings toward His beloved children. To love discipline is to love knowledge. To love knowledge is to love Christ. For only through a submission to His loving commandments will we find humble hearts and a joy to grow in His discipline as the Creator molds and shapes us for His will. May we all find that glorious place of loving His knowledge through the firmness of His counsel. May we all love God's discipline as it empowers us to be transformed into His image!

Heavenly Father, teach us to love your discipline. Though it may be uncomfortable and somewhat daunting in the beginning, give us the wisdom to embrace it as we pursue the knowledge and understanding of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Perfect us as children of the Most High and brothers of our Savior through the affirmation of disciplined love. We thank You and give You all the praise and glory! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Jesus Likes Me, This I Know ... - November 3, 2013

John 15:13 - Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

Jesus likes me, this I know,
He is with me where I go,
Everyday, thru thick and thin,
Our friendship will never end.

Yes, Jesus likes me,
Yes, Jesus likes me,
Yes, Jesus likes me,
He’s with me where I go


Most people who believe in God, when asked the question, "Do you believe God loves you?" will invariably answer in the affirmative. However, if you pose that same question in a bit different way asking, "Do you believe God likes you?" then the answers will vary. Some might say haltingly, "I hope so" or "I guess He does", but in most instances there isn't that same conviction in their answer as when asked whether God loved them. The truth is, it is easier to believe that an all-loving God loves us all then to believe that He actually likes us and desires to be with us. I mean, you get the chance to pick your friends, but you're stuck with your relatives, right? Honestly, we may be sons and daughters of God but does He really want to "hang out" with us as friends? Not only does He desire our company, but He is committed to a friendship that is so perfectly loyal that such fidelity is beyond our mortal comprehension. In addition to God loving us is the fact that He likes us. And the reason He likes and loves us is because He first loved and liked His Son.

In so-called love there is oftentimes a sense of obligation and duty -- in liking someone, there is no sense of “having to” but “wanting to”. Liking someone is often times easier to understand than loving someone because when we love a person it usually involves a plethora of emotions, primarily because humankind does it so imperfectly. A person may be hurt when a loved one lets them down. Another may feel wronged because their wife or husband did not love them with the same earnestness that they first showed toward their spouse. People will always disappoint us in the arena of love because we all hold our own ideals toward this most perfect notion in our respective minds. However, "liking" someone is different. Liking a person often is divorced of pre-conceptions of how we should behave toward that other person -- it is merely a show of affection that is most often demonstrated by a desire to spend time with their "friend". God the Father demonstrated this most poignantly when Jesus was water baptized and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. The Father stated first that Jesus was indeed His "beloved Son", but then He states His pleasure that His Son's relationship with Him invokes. The Oneness of the Father and the Son (John 10:30) pleased the heart of the former in ways that we can only speculate. When the Heavenly Father spoke the words, "You are my beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased" (Luke 3:22) it must have created a holy stir of rejoicing in heaven and a trembling of the demons on earth. This was a oneness of relationship that we all can hope to attain.

Beloved, God our Father in heaven has given us the same relationship to Himself through the blood of Jesus. Through His competed work on Calvary, we are not only loved by God (as much as He loves His Son Jesus) but we are also liked equally as much as sons and daughters of the Most High. If God loves and likes His Son, most assuredly He feels the same way about the "brothers of Christ". For Jesus said He was not ashamed to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:10-11) and God is overjoyed to call us His children, heirs with His Son (I John 3:1). Furthermore and in agreement with the Father, Jesus understood the importance of friendship. In the Old Testament, only those who were the "special" and set apart individuals could be "friends of God". Abraham had this distinction (Isaiah 41:8) as well as did Moses (Exodus 33:11). However, the new covenant by His blood allows ALL to draw near the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16), allowing us all access to our God-friend! Even Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, calls us friends as stated in our opening verse. Let me pose a question: Do you make friends with people you don't like? Of course you don't and neither does Jesus! He is thrilled to be our friends as we should to be His, as we obey and walk with Him. Just because we're "spiritual relatives" doesn't mean that God is somehow obligated to be nice to us. Some may have memories of their earthly fathers or mothers in this regard -- that their parents felt obliged to spend time with them as children because that was what was expected. However, when it came down to it, there was just too much insecurity and dislike in many parents toward themselves that they couldn't effectively love nor even like their own children. This has never been the case with the Heavenly Father. While there will always be things that we do that He may not like (e.g. selfishness), He will never associate the behavior with our person. He only sees our mutual friend Jesus within us, living ever to make intercession and to come speedily to our defense (Hebrews 7:25).

Once we truly understand that God not only loves us but that He likes us and desires our company, then we in turn will grow in our desire to spend time with Him. If we know that there is a Loving Father in heaven and a "Friend that sticks closer than a brother" who dwells within us (Proverbs 18:24), then we will continue to grow in that knowledge that He desires us, above all things, to be our closest friend. There is no one who will pursue us, will need and love us and who will even like us as perfectly as the Triune God. He desires our company like no other. Let us all come at His beckon for He cares for us with a love and also a liking that no other can begin to attain. He is our Friend and we are His companions, a band of brothers and sisters that is bound together for eternity! Amen.

Lord God Almighty, thank you that your love is so complete that you care for us as friends. You like us, Lord, and You desire to spend eternity with us. Thank You for this incredible love which You have given all who call upon Your Name. We give You the glory for You are worthy! In Jesus Name, Amen.

Jesus likes me, this I know,
He is with me where I go,
Everyday, thru thick and thin,
Our friendship will never end.

Yes, Jesus likes me,
Yes, Jesus likes me,
Yes, Jesus likes me,
He’s with me where I go


Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick