Sunday, April 27, 2014

He is Risen! Now What? - April 27, 2014

When I was a boy, some of my fondest memories were of my father and I “casting a line” together. Fishing has probably brought more fathers and sons together than most any activity. For us, it was no different. My earliest memory was as a four-year old and sitting with my father on a cement embankment along the Arkansas River in Wichita Kansas. He would be patiently fishing for catfish while I dangled a line with a chicken neck as I caught crawdads. This was great fun, especially since it involved spending time with my dad.

Guys are like that, I guess. Most of us aren’t much for sitting and chatting across the table as the fairer gender can do with much grace. However, give us some fishing poles and let us be busy with something like fishing and we can generally have some pretty good conversations. The more I understand this dynamic with men, the more I understand what happened with Peter and six of the disciples after the Lord’s resurrection. Sometimes, there is comfort in doing something familiar when there are more questions than answers.

It is important to understand how the disciples came to this place after Jesus’ resurrection that day by the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee). How the seven disciples got to Galilee and why the other four were not there is not revealed in scripture. In many regards, the circumstances and setting of the 40 days that Christ interacted with His disciples is not much clearer, either. Matthew tells us in his gospel that the journey to Galilee was a command of Jesus directly after the resurrection,

And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him. Then Jesus *said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and take word to My brethren to leave for Galilee, and there they will see Me.” (Matthew 28:8-10)

Mark and Luke do not mention a trip to Galilee. Apparently, they did not believe this was important to the story they were trying to tell. Mark, as we know, dealt with a quick summation of the gospel events purely by the sixteen chapter length of his narrative—the shortest of all the Gospels. Possibly he felt that this diversion to Galilee was not important to tell to his Gentile audience. Luke also wrote his gospel to a non-Jewish readership. Possibly he did not feel that the trip to Galilee was something he needed to relate. However, Matthew wrote to a largely Jewish audience and John wrote to both Greeks and Diaspora Jews (Jews dispersed throughout the Roman Empire). These apparently believed this to be an important detail of their stories.

Very possibly they hesitated in going to Galilee and that is why Jesus appeared to them in Jerusalem. Then, after Jesus tells them to remain in Jerusalem they decide to go to Galilee where Jesus gives them the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Rather than returning to Jerusalem immediately, seven of the disciples may have very well tarried in Galilee rather than returning to Jerusalem and to wait in the city as they were told until they were clothed with power from on high. We know from Acts 1:3 that Jesus appeared to His disciples for 40 days. After this, the disciples waited for 10 days for the promise of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room. (Acts 2:1)

It is important to understand that the Gospels show a disjointed set of events for a reason. It is clear there were some definite commands from Jesus yet there was questionable obedience. By the time Peter and the disciples had decided to go fishing in John 21, one can surmise they should have probably been back in Jerusalem, in obedience to the Lord’s word. Luke tells us in his gospel that the disciples had an appointment with destiny in the holy city. He writes,

"And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:49)

Instead, we hear by John’s account, how he along with his brother James and the other five disciples were instead fishing. Why were they fishing, of all things, when they had just been part of the greatest miracle of all time and eternity? One might easily assume that they fell back into what they were comfortable doing. The sons of Zebedee -- John and James -- along with Peter are those we know from scripture who were present that day who were by trade fishermen. John’s account is as follows,

After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They *said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. (John 21:1-3)

We know from the subsequent verses of this uneventful night of fishing that the Lord appears to them on the seashore the next morning. He then instructs them on where to cast their nets and fill their boats with a large catch. After they were all on shore and having eaten breakfast, the Lord Jesus asks Peter a series of poignant questions regarding his love toward Him. The implication of Jesus’ three questions is compelling and remonstrative of Peter’s denying His Savior three times. One can imagine after this meeting on the shores of Galilee how Peter and the others reset their faces toward Jerusalem to join their brethren and to obey Christ’s command to wait in Jerusalem until they were filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.

Some skeptics will take the seemingly disjointed chain of events in Matthew, Luke, and John and seek to show contradictions in the scriptures. However, as I have alluded, these work in concert with one another if one understands how the world of the disciples was turned upside down after the resurrection. Did the disciples go immediately to Galilee after the resurrection as put forth in Matthew’s gospel? One can only assume they did not go immediately to Galilee since Jesus appeared to the disciples the same evening that those who encountered Him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. That very night and in the same chapter of Luke, Jesus tells them to remain in Jerusalem until they are clothed with power from on high. Scripture makes it clear from the other gospels that they do not “remain” in Jerusalem as they are commanded. Thomas we are told was not at this first appearing in the gospel of John. However, in John 20:26 we read that eight days later the Lord appears to all 11 disciples including Thomas. Were they still in Jerusalem, or had they ventured back to Galilee when the Lord revealed Himself? The answer is not clear in scripture.

One thing is clear; the disciples were leaderless. They very possibly may have understood from the instructions they received from the angels that they were to return to Galilee at some point (Matthew 28:7), yet the Lord had told them to remain in Jerusalem. The point is that the disciples were lost without Jesus and His guidance. They had yet to receive the true power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to give them the guidance they sorely needed. So, when they did resort to fishing, this was the most logical thing they could do in their own minds at the time. It took a divine appointment of Jesus redirecting Peter on that day by the sea for them to once again get their spiritual bearings.

I often think the same things about many who give their lives to the Lord, and experience the wonder of His saving power in their lives. They see and understand what God has done by saving them, yet they lack the wherewithal to live it out. They have yet to come into the power of the Holy Spirit through obedient living. Therefore, they are running on emotions or what this preacher says or some other well-meaning Christian might suggest. Some might be saying to go and meet Jesus in their respective “Galilee,” when all Jesus is really saying is to wait in their personal “Jerusalem” until they are endued with the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Christian life is so much simpler when we are being led by the Spirit. The forty days of Christ’s appearing to the disciples after His resurrection may have been more confusing than comforting in many respects. Finally, when the Comforter came in the Person of the Holy Spirit, then the disciples truly understood their “Great Commission” and how Christ desired them to help build His church first in Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria, and finally to the entire world. But are we not the same way? Until the Holy Spirit truly has His way with us, are we not confused about our destiny as Christians? Do we not go hither and thither when all He requires of us is to wait on Him and heed His direction? Even as the Gospels have apparent contradictions, we also will have striking contradictions in our lives until we allow the Holy Spirit to rule and reign through us for Christ’s sake. Then, we like the disciples, will fulfill all that He desires for His good pleasure. We will no longer be “fishing” for a feeling of security in our uneasiness, but we will be fulfilling His desire to make us fishers of those around us who He has called for His own.

Heavenly Father, take the confusion that we may sometimes experience and replace it with Your wisdom. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit and let Him lead and guide us. No longer do we want to be going "hither and thither" unless You are the One telling us to go. And, if You are telling us to wait and to be still until Your power comes, give us the insight to understand. We pray this in Your Son Jesus' Name and for His sake, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Cross, Part II - April 20, 2014


I Peter 2:24 - and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.

Peter's humanity is a gift to the reader of the gospels, and even later in the apostle's letters to the various churches in Asia. Through these pages, we are allowed the opportunity to see a man affected by the extraordinary events that changed the world. We are first introduced to Peter as a rough-cut individual that was undoubtedly a raucous, working man of his day that did not darken the door of the local synagogue except for the occasional wedding, dedication, or other familial-social event. After three years of being Christ's right-hand man, we see a passionate man undone over his denial of Jesus (Matthew 26:75). The gospels don't record that Peter actually witnessed the crucifixion, however, one can conjecture that he was lurking at the back of the crowd and saw with horror the suffering his Lord went through on that Black Friday. Not only did Jesus suffer the physical torments of His scourging and crucifixion, but He also bore the sin of the world in His broken body. (His pain undoubtedly climaxed when His Father withdrew His presence for the first time in eternity.) Peter knew that he loved His Master as he saw Him hanging and dying on that cross. While he may not have understood all that was happening that day, in time the Lord opened his understanding to appreciate all that He had suffered. One can only imagine that tears of love and gratitude flowed from the aged apostle's eyes as he penned the words: He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross. For Peter fully understood the implications of why His Lord suffered more than any man -- that He might rescue us all from the penalty of sin and give us life evermore.

The Greek word hamartia that Peter uses twice in our lead verse literally means "offenses" or "sins". However, it goes much deeper than that. The implication by the apostle is that Jesus not only bore all of our sins in his body on Calvary, but that he destroyed the "factory" which creates the sin in the first place, our sin nature which we all inherited from our father, Adam. Jesus Christ took on Himself not only all the sins ever committed or would be thereafter, but He also took upon Himself the very sin nature of every human in past, present, and future history. For as through one man sin entered into the world, even so through one Man, the Last Adam, sin and the power thereof was forever vanquished (Romans 5:12; I Corinthians 15:45). The translators of the New American Standard Bible got it right when they interpreted the second instance of hamartia as inclusive of both "sins" and "sin". For truly Peter understood that it was not good enough for Jesus Christ to take upon Himself all of our "sins" but that He MUST destroy the source or the "production plant". Only then, could we die to SIN. For now, no longer was the factory operational once we believed Jesus Christ for His salvation. As believers, we were now free from both our "sins" and our "sin".

Many have quoted the last part of I Peter 2:24 as referring to physical healing. While that is certainly true, it is a huge misconception to make the leap from the atonement of Christ in the beginning of this scripture and settle for just physical healing at the end. No, Peter's conclusion was that through Christ's death on the cross we are justified (just-as-if-I-had-never-sinned) before the courtroom of heaven, sanctified (set apart to live holy for the Lord) because the power of sin has been dealt with, and finally glorified (transfigured by His power) in both this life and the life to come. Many teach that glorification is just for the other side of the veil, when we all get to heaven and receive new bodies. Some will argue that justification from our sins and sanctification from our sin is our birthright on this earth as children of God. Beloved, God desires that we live glorified lives even in our present state as He so wills. Romans 3:23 sets the standards for the normal Christian life -- that we would not fall short of the "glory" of God. No matter how God desires to glorify Himself in our mortal bodies, it is His business as we walk this earth. He is the One who said through Paul the Apostle that if the Spirit of God lives in us that he would give LIFE to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11). In context, Paul is talking about sin and its lack of dominion over a believer that is yielded to the Lord. In the following verses of Romans, he writes that when surrendered to God we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh and allowing God to give life to our mortal bodies. This is the healing that Peter speaks of when stating that we are healed by Christ's wounds. The brutality of Christ's suffering through both His scourging and then through His death on Golgotha allowed the full power of the atonement to make us alive to the uttermost, both in this life and the one to come. Eternal life began when a believer first gave his life to Jesus. Life will continue to grow and to build momentum in the child of God as we surrender daily to His life-giving righteousness (Proverbs 4:18).

Both Peter and Paul would most certainly attest that ALL was accomplished on the cross, and was fully testified by the resurrection. The cross is the very power which made Christ's risen life a reality. Without the cross, there would be no power for any of us to live a resurrected life. Life everlasting for His chosen can only be realized by believing the Son of God died for both our "sins" and our "sin". There is no other way to salvation than by accepting and identifying ourselves with first His broken body and then His life raised in victory. Like Peter, we can then understand that His life spent on Calvary's cross meant total justification, sanctification, and glorification over sin, death, and sickness. We can lift our faces heavenward with tears of gratitude and joyous hearts knowing that His love and desire to redeem us was made possible by that glorious crucifixion. May we all embrace the cross for its true significance, thereby living in the life that the Son of God has given us all!

Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus ... the Perfect Man who became the Perfect Lamb that spared not His life for us all. May as many as who are ordained for eternal life believe in Him, that You would have many sons and daughters in glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Cross, Part I - April 13, 2014

Galatians 2:20 - I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

What is the meaning of the cross? While most of the world will never truly know its profound significance, it is generally agreed upon as the most universally recognized symbol. For devout followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, it has much more meaning than merely a "symbol". For in the cross, there is the true identification for every believer with the Lord's death. And, if identified in His death, than also partakers in His resurrection. As declared in our opening scripture, Paul as well as all humankind died with Christ in that most momentous event nearly 2,000 years ago . However, the scripture states that only few in comparison with the totality of mankind will ever accept the Savior and know the power of the cross through His resurrected life. Christ shedding His blood for the forgiveness of our sins was truly the way into the Most Holy Place where His blood made that "new and living way" possible (Hebrews 10:19-21). Through His forgiveness of sins, we can go beyond that simple understanding into the realization that we have been crucified with our Savior -- that He has dealt a death blow to our old nature through the work of the cross. Like Paul, we can acknowledge our union with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. Only when we know this fact by the revelation of the Holy Spirit may we live the life that Christ bought for us all with His spent, mortal life.

While the cross is the most universally recognized symbol throughout the world, it is also the most despised. While the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) uses our court systems to remove symbols such as the cross from all public and government institutions, many Muslim nations threaten and impose imprisonment on their own countrymen and women for wearing a crucifix. The cross is a direct affront to secular, atheistic organizations such as the ACLU and likewise to Satanically-inspired religions such as radical Islam. Most Muslims will tell you that Jesus was one prophet of many that the Qur'an embraces. Then why do radical Muslims persecute Christians? I believe it is because they are filled with the spirit of hate and divisiveness -- they are sons and daughters of their father the devil! And, as sons and daughters of darkness, they hate the cross of Christ as much as their father! They may not consciously understand why they hate Christians as they do, yet they do just the same. The same can be said for radical Secular Humanists. Their hate comes across as mocking the so-called uneducated "rubes" that continue to believe in a resurrected Lord. They act in a more "civilized" approach, seeking to convince others of the sheer implausibility and lunacy of Christian belief. While Muslims and Secular Humanists seem worlds apart, both of these example groups are working toward one end and that is to exterminate the cross and its influence over all spheres of public AND private life. However, it is impossible to eradicate the cross's power by removing its symbolism, whether it is worn around a believer's neck or it is sculpted into a courthouse facade. In either case, if the devil can't get rid of the power of the cross, he will just as determinably attempt to remove any reminder thereof. For truly, if the prince of darkness had known ... the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (I Corinthians 2:8). Just as the devil is incapable of destroying the power of the cross, he will seek every opportunity to weaken its influence.

Paul spoke to both the hyper-religious and to the Secular Humanists of his day when he wrote to the Corinthians. In some ways, the Jews of Paul's day were as rabid and zealous as today's radical Muslims concerning their religion, that it ultimately filled them with hate for all others. Likewise, there was an arrogance and intolerance by the Greek stoics of Paul's day that resonates with today's Secular Humanist believers. Paul states in I Corinthians 1:22-24: For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. First century Jews sought continually to stone Paul because of their demonic hate toward his devotion towards Christ. Likewise, the Greeks scoffed at Paul (as on Mars Hill during his visit Athens [Acts 17:18]) much the same way as many secular liberals do today toward the Christian faith. Regardless, both groups possessed the underlying hate of the finished work of the cross. The devil continues to rage and will so until he is thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). Until that time, he will do his best to incite murderous "riot" in some of his followers toward those who cling to the cross and to its power. In others, he will continue to wage a "civilized" war, hammering away at the very foundation of Christianity through mockery and a dismissive attitude by trivializing the Christian faith. Either way, Satan is determined to make the cross impotent because he hates that it is the symbol of his defeat.

Whether we choose to believe that the cross of Calvary defeated Satan and the power of sin is irrelevant to its reality. Christ died for everyone who has ever been born or will ever be born into this world. As Paul states in Galatians 2:20 and also in Romans 6:6, all of humankind was crucified with Christ. Therefore, it is our choice as individuals whether to identify ourselves with this historical fact and to believe that we have been crucified and resurrected with our Lord, or to deny the power of his appearing to render sin of no effect (Romans 6:11). The explosive power that was able to defeat all darkness is the reason the world hates the cross! Whether it is the religion of Secular Humanism or Satanic radical Islam, the enemy of Calvary will either seek to discredit the cross through absorption into the world's intellectual compromises, or to destroy it though a false religion in the "name of God'. While the cross may be marginalized by the enemy of our souls in his end time push to enslave as many souls as possible, for many its revelation will continue to usher new believers into God's kingdom. While some may refer to us as "infidels" and others may view us as "uneducated fools", the power of the cross continues to empower true believers in the Risen Lord to live resurrected lives. May we all know the power of the cross as we triumph in Christ's victory, once and for all, over sin!

Heavenly Father, thank you for sending your Son to be nailed to a cross -- to bleed and die for our sins and to remove the power of sin from our lives. No longer must we walk in the power of the enemy for we have been raised into newness of life with Your Son. Thank you, Lord, for the cross. Thank You that You have defeated our foes -- sin and Satan! No power on earth can overwhelm us for we are more than conquerors through Your Son. We praise You! In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 6, 2014

God's Workmanship - April 6, 2014


Ephesians 2:10 - For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

When God rested from his creation labors after the sixth day, He meant it. He saw that all which He had created was GOOD, especially humankind. Truly, the wondrous detail of His creation is seen in no greater splendor as that of man. Nature gives us a myriad of examples of His loving nature and how He reveals Himself through that which He has made. However, humans are the zenith of His handiwork. The bible tells us that the hairs of our heads are all numbered (Matthew 10:30). Extraordinarily, the average head has over 100, 000 hair follicles. That is nothing compared to the other complexities of the human being. It is estimated that the skin contains approximately 640,000 sense receptors, scattered unevenly over the body's surface. There are about 9,000 taste buds on the surface of the tongue, in the throat, and on the roof of the mouth. Also, the body carries approximately 25 trillion red blood cells, creating life giving oxygen to our vital organs. In total, the human body contains over 100 trillion cells. These are just a few examples of the magnificent work of the Almighty when He created you and me. The list goes on and on. If God numbers the hairs of our head, He is well aware of every atom that makes up our existence. The eternal God knows EVERYTHING about our seeming limitless structures.

It is understandable that God desires for us to be perfect, even as He is perfect and holy (Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 10:14). After all, He created perfect human beings and gave them a garden to tend in Eden. But something sinister happened -- the Fall of Mankind. What was once perfect became "soulish" and devoid of God's Spirit. When man and woman sinned, God had to depart this perfect union with humankind's spirit, for a holy perfect God cannot live in a compromised position with man. The redemption of Jesus Christ made it possible once again for mankind to be "perfect" in the sight of God through the shedding of Christ's blood and His death, burial, and resurrection. He became the One to restore us to that state of perfect reconciliation with the Father. When Jesus stated emphatically on the cross, "It is finished", He was entering into a state of reclamation, taking back what His Father had done and finished on the sixth day of creation. That is why it is so important to know the significance of the SEVENTH day of creation, for God rested from all His works on this glorious day (Genesis 2:2). That is why Christians claim the seventh day of the week as Sunday, because this was the day that Jesus rose from the dead to rest from all His works. There was no more that He could do for you or me after that glorious day. He defeated hell, taking back the deed to this world and all its contains from the devil. In so doing, he gave us everything pertaining to life and godliness through His victory (II Peter 1:3; Ephesians 4:8).

It is ludicrous for us to believe that since God the Father and God the Son have rested from their works, that we can do anything for God by our own works. Our lead scripture in Ephesians states that ... we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. God made us all perfect in the beginning of time through our father Adam, and then recreated us through His Son (I Corinthians 15:45). The "good works" that we are privileged to live out are those that come from our relationship with God and our understanding of who we are in Christ. Jesus Christ has come to indwell all who would but trust in Him, giving us the power to turn away from the "soulish" existence that our father and mother Adam and Eve possessed after the Fall. As we embrace Christ, more and more, through the understanding that he truly dwells within (Ephesians 1:17-19), then we will love the Restorer of our souls as we grow in truly living under His gentle prodding. We delight to follow the inner inclinations that He tells us to do. This, beloved, is working the works of God (John 6:28-29). To be obedient to God in all things is the greatest calling that any of us will ever have as believers. Once we understand His deep love for us in how He created us and then redeemed us, we will follow Him and trust Him to take us to the ends of the earth.

People often get confused regarding whether they are doing God's works or their own. It is really very simple to know the difference. Has the realization of who you are, how you were created, and then redeemed captured your imagination? Have you come into such a place of gratitude toward the Most High that you are love struck with heart palpitations whenever the name "Jesus" is mentioned? Beloved, I guarantee if this is your disposition and you are ever seeking to do His will in every aspect of your life, then you are doing the works of God. The vocation of the Lord can never be divorced from His relationship. Once that happens, dryness and religiosity sets in. We must all find that place of understanding -- that we are His workmanship both through creation and redemption -- and then walk in a devotion that is ever longing for more of Him. If this is your present situation, rejoice! If not, I pray that you would look to Him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2) and beseech the Lord for a heart that would be melded to His. He has finished His work. He only desires that we would enter into relationship with Him to become co-laborers in His rest until that day when He calls us home.

Holy Father, what more can you give? You've given us everything in a perfect creation and a holy redemption. May we enter into your rest by understanding that your works are finished and that we must simply trust in You. Anything that we might do for You in obedience is an act of restful trust. What a glorious relationship, Lord, as we yoke together with You in passionate love! In Jesus Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick