Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Burden of the Lord - February 23, 2014

Matthew 11:30 - For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Often in our 21st century living, we may tend to believe that our society is more harried and stressful than at any any other time in history. I'm not so sure about that. The human condition divorced of God's life will always seek to strive and struggle for peaceful preeminence no matter what generation or century one might live. The truth is that humans can often feel overwhelmed and see life's burdens as too heavy to bear. That is why so many in this generation as well as others preceding have turned to alcohol, drugs, or any other diversion of sin to help them escape what they feel is the tortuous weight of life itself. How often have some said, "If only I had his or her life, then everything would be okay. Look how they sail through their days without a care!". No man knows what load a man bears except that man alone. However, we can know one thing for certain -- we need not bear our loads in a solitary manner. There is One who came before us to bear the weight of sin and who also seeks to help us with our daily burdens. He desires that our burdens become His burdens as we yoke together with Him.

Yoking animals is not an arbitrary exercise. Neither is it with our Lord. As with yoked oxen, one is the lead and is usually the stronger animal and the weaker will submit and follow as the other leads. It is no different with the Lord and the believer. He requires that we be yoked to Him but He is not unreasonable and demanding. He knows that we cannot carry the load of sin that has weighed us down all our lives, so He lovingly takes it when we accept Him as our Savior. And, it is the same regarding our daily cares, concerns, and yes -- sins! He patiently takes all that is not of Him and not borne from His Spirit (e.g. the fruit of the Spirit [Galatians 5:22-23]), and takes it upon His shoulders never to give it back. Unless, however we desire it back! This is often the dilemma. For we gladly accept that Christ died for our sin and we begin to move toward Him in sanctification, surrendering our old nature with gratitude that He wishes to carry it. However, oftentimes when we begin to feel good about ourselves (in a self-righteous way) we are apt to want to take back our "old man" and grieve the Spirit of Jesus within. If only we would allow Him to carry not only our sin but also our cares and anxieties each and every day. What freedom we would possess!

Many confess a child-like "lightness" after giving their burden of sin to God and walking in that new found freedom of giving up their sins daily to the Almighty. Some have expressed that they feel like an adolescent again without a care in the world! That is what Jesus desires us all to experience when we first come to Him. He wants us never to be burdened again with the weight of sin. However, he does still desire us to bear a load, albeit a light one! As aforementioned, Jesus has taken on not only the burden of sin but also the burden of the Father's heart for a dying world. We as frail humans can never know the heartache that the Lord of Heaven experiences as he aches for the souls of humankind. However, He does desire to share a portion -- a small measure of His heart with any believer that would take up the yoke of Jesus. Any burden that God desires to impart to us is miniscule in comparison to what He bore on Calvary. Furthermore, his burden of prayer is slight that He wishes us to bear in comparison to his unceasing intercession for His beloved (Hebrews 7:25). It is incomprehensible that our loving Father has sent His Son to be yoked with us in any other way. Even as a spiritual yoke determines suitable partners in achieving the righteousness of God upon this earth, so Jesus Christ's burdens should generate awe and humility in us as we submit to him as the Suffering Servant that overcame darkness and overwhelmingly conquerors as we submit to His awesome power (Romans 8:37).

The yoke of the Lord can never be borne alone, nor was it ever intended to be so. Only as we partner with the Lord and understand the enormous burden that He carried and still carries for us, can we then understand the brevity that we are meant to endure our relatively light loads upon this earth. We should count it a privilege and honor to be counted worthy to endure life's day to day troubles. Jesus said that if we are in the world that we will have heartaches and tribulations, but that He had overcome all that is not of God (John 16:33). Beloved, let us not struggle with the yoke the Lord has given to all who call on His name. We may believe that we are carrying our burden alone. However, if we will but look closely next to us we will see that our Lord Jesus has never abandoned us to carry His yoke by ourselves. We must not struggle but submit to the power of His will and allow Him to take the burden He is so willing to carry. For the load He gives us is not too heavy. It will never drag us down to despair, but it will always be light enough to remind us that He will continue to lead us through this life until we come to our final rest. For only as He leads, can we truly follow as we are bound to Him in love.

Lord Jesus, I submit to You and to Your yoke of love. Bind Your light burden upon my shoulders with Your loving care and ever remind me that You are the All Powerful One, bearing burdens much too heavy for me to bear. Lead and guide me to glory, Lord Jesus. In Your Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Beauty of Holiness - February 16, 2014

Song of Solomon 2:13 - The fig tree has ripened its figs, and the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!

Springtime is a wonderful expression of God's renewal. In the Midwestern United States, we are blessed to have beautiful Red Bud, Dogwood, and Lilac that titillate the senses as they burst forth in bloom. Recently, I was watching a television program regarding how nature will put on this grand pageant as a means of survival. Plants and trees that bloom yearly rely on winged creatures such as bees and wasps to be attracted to their lushness. In so doing, they travel from plant to plant, pollinating flora and fauna's respective counterparts and ensuring another lifecycle of their species. The competition can be fierce to woo these airborne couriers to select their nectar thereby ensuring cross-pollination. Bright, vivid colors along with strong scents are the main attracters. Through these sensory stimuli, one is struck by God's plan as He created less hearty plants with a fragrance and nectar that is irresistible to nature's pollinators. But isn't that just like God? He often takes those who would be less strong than others and ensures their survival by equipping them to be more desirable in their weakness.

In nature, it is is not fair to judge a plant's strength by its apparent beauty, especially if it is not able to reproduce itself. If, however, it is able to ensure generation upon generation by its ability to make itself desirable, then it has accomplished God's purpose. For example, a number of different birds and mammals eat a variety of different fruit from vines and trees. These seeds they ingest become deposited in a multitude of locations as they pass through their systems. The number of seed deposits by animals defecating them back into the landscape ensures that this lottery will once again produce the next generation of fruit bearers. The diversity of our Creator ensures that all plant life are ensured a chance of propagating their prodigies no matter how the transferences might take place. The will of the Father is there, and He has certainly made a way for all to "be fruitful and multiply".

If we look closely at any of God's creation, we see that it is perfect in its design and utility. Likewise, humankind is perfect in form and function when we are abiding in that One whom we were created to reflect. Just as in the plant or animal creation, beauty has to have purpose within man's sphere of influence. If beauty and fragrance is only of this world, then it will only produce a momentary pleasure of the eye or for the nose. However captivating it may be, it is fleeting and will only satisfy the beholder for the moment (Proverbs 31:30). True beauty is when a person is emanating the character of their Maker, which is the beauty of holiness. This is a righteous behavior that is free from malice or guile and is full of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). When one is living and moving in this way, their outer appearance is of little importance. A vine may look like any other when it is in dormant in the dead of winter or later when it puts on its leaves. Many wild vines will continue this way throughout summer without ever producing fruit. However, when a vine has been tended by the vinedresser and when it distinguishes itself by bearing glorious, succulent grapes then it is desirous to many. In much the same way, if we are bearing fruit for our God then many will wish to "taste" of our lives. The consequences of a seemingly inconsequential life before bearing fruit will change dramatically once fruit is bore and shared. While the fragrance of our "blooms" may be the thing that first attracts our attracters, what will keep them coming back is when we bear fruit and continue to bear it. They will take and share it indiscriminately, being carriers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ as they deposit a little bit of us throughout this world. Is this not what we desire, to become so One with the Father that we share the beauty of His holiness with others? Our state of abiding in that Great Vine whose name is Jesus Christ becomes such a natural state that we allow our fruit to be freely shared without a thought otherwise.

The beauty of nature reproducing itself is really no different then how God desires to reproduce Himself through the beauty of holiness. In both cases, He takes a willing participant in His creation and He allows the respective flowers, fragrances, and fruits to manifest in such a way as to beckon those who would supplant His reproductive wishes. God loves His creation, but above all He loves humankind and desires a spiritual reproduction that is multiplied time and time again much in the same way as His original procreation command (Genesis 1:28). However, to do this He needs spiritual beings that are alive to righteousness through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. As we submit to His Lordship, then we too can live in the beauty of His holiness, producing life upon life as His fruit is manifested in us and through us to a dying world.

Lord Jesus, we thank you that You are the Vine and we are merely the branches. But, O what branches! We have the honor and the privilege of producing much fruit for You as we are found beautiful in Your holiness. Allow us this great opportunity through our realization of Your great love for us all. In Your name Jesus and for Your Father's glory we pray, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Father's Will - February 9, 2014

Matthew 6:10 - Your kingdom come Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Many of us have been present at the reading of a last will and testament. It is generally a time of sadness but also expectancy regarding what the deceased will bequeath to family or friends. Generally, there are no surprises because more times than not, a father or a mother will leave the inheritance to the children. While a will is usually a legal document that is binding in civil court, there is another type of will that is binding in the Court of Heaven. The intent of the Author of this will gave us the legal implications of this contract in His Holy Bible, as inspired by those who penned its pages. For throughout this glorious compilation of books, we find a very simple reoccurring theme of the Father's will which is to live selfless, dependent lives on Him. We are allowed a glimpse into this God-designed utopia of constant fellowship with the Almighty as shown in Genesis the second chapter. God's intent was that humankind would never function outside of God's will. The will of man and woman would always be fused with the the will of the Father so there would never be a break in sweet communion between man and his Maker. However, we know that Adam and Eve chose to disobey and to allow their will to grow to monstrous size (rather than "God-sized") by partaking in the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Even as the first man and woman's soul became "enlightened", so they broke communion with God forever. Thereafter, redemption of Adam and all his offspring became the thrust of God's will. And, without God's desire to redeem, souls of humankind could never become wiling participants in God's eternal plan.

Redemption has always been in the heart of God toward all mankind. It has forever been the will of the Father that none should perish but that all would be saved (II Peter 3:9). Even though He knew that Adam and Eve would transgress, His great plan of reconciliation was continually in the forefront of His desire. His ultimate desire is that His will would be once again supreme upon the earth. That even as when man and woman first walked this orb in complete submission to God, there would once again be a people that would walk totally after His heart. When Jesus taught His disciples to pray in the sixth chapter of Matthew, He knew the overarching desire of His Father -- to have a "kingdom come" with multitudes given to do only the will of the Father. In reality, God's kingdom that will indeed fill the earth once again cannot and will not be divorced of the will of God. It is impossible to suggest that willful, selfish individuals given to fortifying their own souls will be part of this glorious priesthood (Exodus 19:6; Revelation 1:6; Revelation 5:10). So, why do so many Christians believe that they can live for themselves and yet still call Him "Lord"? If it will be impossible for sin and self-centeredness to dwell in His presence in His "kingdom come" to this earth or likewise in heaven, then why do many think they can live the way they wish and still consider themselves saved? It is a travesty and a mockery of God to believe that someone can live according to their will yet name the Name of Jesus as their Savior.

As already stated, it has never been the intention of the Father for any to perish but for all to accept the Lord Jesus as their Savior. It is equally as true that all who do not follow the will of the Father to make Jesus Lord of their lives are in danger of willful rejection of the greatest gift of all time. Why do so many judge that acceptance of Christ is the only requirement for eternal life? Frankly, it is because so many in the church have not driven home the point that either Jesus is "Lord of all or He's not Lord at all". This is not a popular position in many churches that smack of the Laodicean spirit that seeks to putrefy the Gospel of Christ (Revelation 3:14-17). No, it's much more fashionable in the western church to just accept all who have made a "decision" for Christ. Beloved, if no one has told you the truth in your Christian walk here it is -- if we are not dying to self for Christ's sake, we are not living for Him! If we have not turned over our wills and our lives to Him to allow God to live through us then we are deceived if we believe that we and the Father are of one will. If we have only hoped for Christ by showing up to church and acting "good", then we truly are to be pitied more than any (I Corinthians 15:19). God does not want cleaned-up religious folk, but He desires crucified men and women that have said to their Lord ... it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20). THAT is a return to the Garden and to a place of oneness of wills. No longer are we innocent as Adam by our sin, but we are made righteous by the crucified and resurrected life of Jesus Christ. Just as He lived and died to do the will of His Father (Matthew 26:42), so we too should seek to live dead to ourselves but alive to His will in us (Romans 6:11).

The Lordship of Jesus Christ and the will of the Father have always embodied the true Gospel. Anything less than giving of ourselves to Him totally in submission of our wills is sub-standard and heretical. Jesus paid the highest price by sacrificing Himself so that we could once again walk in that unbroken fellowship with His Father. I fear for many who do not recognize this as the normal Christian experience. To court the world and to rely upon one's own will in this life is dangerous if one believes they are one of Christ's. It is ludicrous to believe that the will of the Father will one day be ours if we live our whole lives in willful disobedience to His wooing. Just as a natural family member might be taken out of an earthly will, it may surprise some to find out that they were never part of the Heavenly Family in the first place. What they had counted on through years of sinful disobedience to the Lord of Glory, never did belong to them. May none reading this be those who say, "Lord, Lord" on that day when in their horror He states that He never knew them (Matthew 7:21-23). But let us be those who have lived to do His will, not loving our own lives even to death. For truly, our lives are worthless unless they are found worthy -- living lives of willful surrender to the one who is able to restore this earth even as He wills in heaven. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in You. Help us to surrender all our will, all our soul and spirit to You. Take and make us according to the image You desired long ago in Your first creation. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 2, 2014

God's Piercing - February 2, 2014

Acts 2:37 - Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?"

The conviction of God in a wholesale manner is a rare thing in western Christendom today. While we read instances of God's moving of His Spirit in the the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries, respectively, most of us today have not witnessed a supernatural moving of God's Spirit over a large group of souls. John Wesley and George Whitefield would testify of wave after wave of conviction capturing the hearts of their hearers in the first Great Awakening of 18th century Britain. Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in the midst of pre-revolutionary war New England, which caused men and women to cling to the pillars of the church in Enfield Connecticut that hot summer day in 1741. Such was the conviction of the Spirit in this Sunday service that groans and cries were heard from the congregation as many imagined themselves sliding into the hot abyss without hope. David Brainerd, betrothed to Edward's daughter up until his early death of tuberculosis in 1747, would preach to the Indians in his missionary quest for their lost souls with such a conviction that there would be continual wailing from the listeners until a sweet peace would fall over those granted repentance. Charles Finney, great revivalist of the 2nd Great Awakening of the mid-19th century, would speak with similar results at his tent and camp meetings throughout the eastern United States. In the forward to Power from God by Charles Finney the editor writes:
His words seemed to fasten like arrows in the souls of men. They cut like a sword. Like the power of a hammer, they broke down strongholds. Multitudes experienced this power. Often, just a look or a single sentence would bring conviction and result in an almost immediate conversion to Christ.
All of these preceding examples have their biblical roots from that day nearly two thousand years ago when the Holy Spirit added 3,000 souls on the day of Pentecost and the church of Jesus Christ was birthed. A true move of God cannot be divorced from the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8-11). It doesn't matter how many healings or so-called manifestations of the Spirit are occurring -- if people are not being saved and changed to live godly lives then the purported move is suspect at best.

When the Holy Spirit moved the day the church began in Jerusalem, Luke records this moment by describing hearts being "pierced" by the conviction of God. The Greek word for pierce in this scripture is katenug─ôsan meaning to prick violently. God made Himself abundantly present in the hearts of these soon to be converts that He was not playing games. He didn't merely want them to "make a decision for Jesus", but he wanted to stab them violently with the realization that they were guilty of the Son of God's death and that without Him they would be lost forever. Even as the prophet Malachi stated that the Lord would come suddenly into His temple (Malachi 3:1), even so the Lord broke in on the bodily temples of these respective 3,000 souls and made the declaration that He was going to inhabit them for eternity! Oh, that God would raise up those that would preach like Peter and be pierced without pity! The reason we see so little of God moving in this manner in western Christendom is because we would rather be pleaded with to make a "decision" than to be pierced by the arrows of God. We would much rather remain stupefied under the watered-down gospel of the "me theology" than to be stabbed by the sword of the Spirit that can give life. God weeps for souls while we wonder what's on TV tonight! Beloved, the reason there is not more piercing is because there is not more praying. God give us Your heart to know that nothing else matters but to satisfy Your longing for redeemed souls!

If one looks at the instances of the Pharisee's reactions to the apostolic movement of the birth of Christ's church, you will see a much different "slicing and dicing" occurring. After Peter and John, by the power of God, gave the lame man legs to walk in Acts the fifth chapter we see an irate and hostile back lash from the religious order of the day. Peter took the opportunity to testify of the Lord Jesus and His healing power regarding why this lame man stood before them totally restored. The apostle also accused them of murdering the Son of God which drew hostile intentions from the Pharisees: But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. (Acts 5:33). Later, we find when Stephen at his defense accuses them of their hypocrisy and murder, that they react in a much similar way: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him (Acts 7:54). The etymology or origin of "cutting to the quick" means to literally cut someone so deep in their emotions that a harsh reaction is nearly always warranted. In this case, it was a murderous conspiracy because of the pride and arrogance of these religious hypocrites. While "cutting to the quick" deals with a severe blow to the emotions or to the very psyche of a person, this does not precipitate a spirit of redemption when dealing only with the soul of a man. As shown in Acts 2 as well as in other examples previously stated regarding the Great Awakenings, the spirit of a man, woman, or child must be "pierced" not merely emotionally "sliced". There must be the work of the Holy Spirit that finds a humble heart, allowing Him to pierce, stab, and ultimately heal a heart that is ready for His work. That is why the work of the Holy Spirit is so critical in salvation and is impossible without Him. Even as the scripture in Hebrews states: For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). This, Beloved, is how God saves -- by the very separation of soul (emotions) and the spirit of a man. For only then can God redeem a lost human being in the humility that is so necessary for redemption.

While we hear many talking and seemingly desirous for a move of God in the western church, we must decide what we truly desire ... for God will give us what we seek. Are we wanting to witness once again the moving of God's Spirit where souls are ushered into the kingdom "suddenly"? Or, do we just desire to see an "educational" variety of Christendom where changed lives are not the norm, only changed vocabularies at best. It is one thing to talk like a Christian, it is quite another to walk like one. We desperately need a move of conviction that will once again shake the foundations of hell and cause heaven to resound with rejoicing not heard from the church in America and western Europe for some time. It is time to move God's heart -- to usher in that power from on high that will once again be the norm to "pierce" the hearts of men. Are we willing to pray, fast, and seek Him until the sword of the Spirit can do it's work? I pray that we would all be willing vessels to beseech the throne of grace until a redeemed, sanctified body of believers becomes the heritage of the church in the west. May He receive all the glory as we give ourselves for His most noble work!

Heavenly Father, we pray and boldly ask for the work of your Spirit to pierce hearts as we have read about and now desire to see. Use the Sword of the Spirit, the Arrows of the Lord to bring conviction and lead many to Jesus in our Laodicean western church. Cause your Holy Spirit to once again pierce asunder between soul and spirit and to have His way in men's hearts. We pray all this in Jesus' name and for His glory. Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick