Sunday, May 25, 2014

Kingdom Integrity - May 25, 2014

Ezekiel 22:27 - Her princes within her are like wolves tearing the prey, by shedding blood and destroying lives in order to get dishonest gain.

If you interviewed a dozen or so random folks on whether they trust church leadership, you would get a variety of answers. Many in the Catholic faith have experienced an inquisition of sorts in recent decades regarding parishioners accusing their clergy of heinous sexual crimes. In evangelical circles, marital infidelity is too often a common occurrence. We hear of men and women in ministry leaving marriages that once seemed joined together in love and harmony, but now are made irreconcilable by the contempt they have toward one another. Opposite sex and more increasingly same sex attraction are the cause for many to leave their families and abandon their ministries. Then, there are those who have heaped up the riches of this world while they beg for more in order to add another television station to their worldwide outreach. I once heard a fellow make a wise statement, "Beware of preachers who plead for missions with hands cluttered with gold rings". Many use such examples to lump all church leaders into the same proverbial basket while they judge them accordingly. They do so, often to condemn the guilty but then also to justify their own integrity or circumspectly their lack thereof. (Paul stated that if we judge others, we often do those same things [Romans 2:1]). Those who have placed themselves in the seat of judgment might say that they have never cheated on their spouse and that they have lived free of corruption. Likewise, they expect those in spiritual leadership to do the same. However, disillusionment with those who minister the gospel is a trap that the enemy of our souls hopes we will fall into. It is the final blow in a one-two punch that the devil has set up to scatter and confuse the church as a whole. It is an ancient ploy which he most notably demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane on that fateful night when our Lord was unlawfully taken into custody. If Satan can strike the shepherd, then his hopes are that the sheep will also scatter (Matthew 26:31).

At the time of the prophet Ezekiel, the nation of Judah was a displaced nation with a large deported population and a small remnant left in Jerusalem. Judeans from their own nation whom the Babylonians had put in control were dealing irrespective of the common good of the Jews. They were only interested in what was in it for them and whatever sordid gain they could milk out of their own countrymen. The situation might be compared to tax-gatherers appointed by the Roman government in Jesus' day. Extortion and dishonest gain were the assumed standard for these who were paid off by their respective occupiers. The Jews of Ezekiel's day hated their turn-coat rulers as much as those on the Roman dole in first century Palestine. The indictment does not stop at her "princes" as noted in our lead verse, but the prophet also exercised condemnation on the priests and the false prophets of the day who did not keep the law and who prophesy false visions. They continued to operate much in the same manner as their forefathers did before them, resulting in their captivity. For when blind men and women seek to lead others who are blind, the result is inevitable (Luke 6:39).

What is to be done with those who would seek authority over our lives yet their own lives are full of self-driven, destructive agendas? In many regards, we are giving over many of our individual liberties both nationally and spiritually in the United States. We have allowed many "princes" to tear out the heart of this great nation by their greed for personal power rather than national servitude. We too often turn a blind eye while politicians continue to exercise their rights rather than the rights of the people. We have the power to stand up as individual citizens and demand representation that is marked by integrity. We can and should exercise our right to vote and demand such people to rule over us. Regarding ministers and church leadership that have sought their own will rather than that of their flock, they have the right and the freedom in this great land to make those choices. However, the Body of Christ should not become an accomplice of their self-centeredness and thereby turn away from the truth. We must not be complicit in the deceit that Satan hopes to generate by awarding him the prize of his deception. Each man, woman, and child will have to stand before God on their own merits -- first of all by accepting or rejecting the Lord Jesus as their Savior. But second of all and of paramount importance is how they choose to live out the life that God has entrusted to them. We cannot function individually as the Body. It is ludicrous for someone to say that they will worship God in their own way, divorced from God's church. We must rise up, together, and follow men and women of integrity. The only way we will begin to know whom we are following is by knowing what standard we place on those whom we follow. Jesus said, My sheep know my voice (John 10:27). How much more should we know the voice of integrity in those whom we seek to follow?

Beloved, days are quickly approaching when men and women will need to know whom they have believed and whom they will follow. Perilous days ahead will mean that the Body of Christ will need to come together and to rely on the kingdom integrity that He has given us all to live out. Only as we are living it, will we see it in those whom He has appointed to lead us. Both political and spiritual leader will continue to disappoint us in these end-times as we careen toward the end of the age. However, we do not need to submit ourselves or our loved ones to those who would live lives anything less than with the kingdom integrity that God has bestowed for us all to live in as we hasten the Lord's return. I pray that none would be deceived by the evil one to dismiss the hope that lies ahead for all who would but believe; that God would gives us all hearts to reject anything that smacks of self service and dishonest gain and would grant us hearts of integrity that would cry, Thy Kingdom Come!

Lord, give us hearts of integrity to follow you no matter the circumstance. Give our leaders both in the church house and the White House the integrity to lead with a clear vision of Your will. Have mercy on these who simply will not follow you, raising up others who will carry Your banner into the war that wages for our souls in these last days. Lead us and guide us with Your wisdom. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Idolatry - May 18, 2014


Ezekiel 14:7a - For anyone of the house of Israel or of the immigrants who stay in Israel who separates himself from Me, sets up his idols in his heart, ...

Many today might consider a casual understanding of God suitable for their lifestyle. Some of these will go to church on a regular (or irregular) basis and believe that their relationship with God meets their need. Others that wouldn't darken the door of a church building believe they have "spirituality" and that organized religion has nothing to offer them. Then, there are those who will not or cannot believe in God. Agnostics say prove there is a God and atheists say there is nothing to prove -- that God simply does not exist. Anyone of these various groups of "believers" have established their faith on the basis of their own experience, rather than what the scripture states. While most of the world believes emphatically in themselves, giving God only a small corner of their heart, the scripture is just as dogmatic regarding the place God should have in their lives. When asked what was the foremost commandment, Jesus answered: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind (Matthew 22:37). This leaves no room for hearts to be separated for their own desires. The God of the universe is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5) and He will have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3). To the Almighty, the very act of separating oneself from divine pursuits is an act of treason and idolatry. Nonetheless, the majority of humankind does just that on a daily basis while His mercy and love continues to bless their lives with good things everyday.

Not many today would be comfortable with the notion that they worshipped idols. Many would be offended, thinking that this was an archaic practice attributed to weak-minded, superstitious tribal people. However, to truly understand the meaning of idolatry, one has to look no further than our lead verse. Any act of separation from God is a form of idolatry. The prophet Ezekiel was quick to point out the many instances of Israel and Judah's failings as they worshipped the Baals, the Ashtoreths, the Queen of Heaven, or the fire god, Moloch. However, of more importance than outward devotion, the seer saw that his nation had lost their inner devotion to their Creator and had drawn themselves away by their selfish desires. Just as the word sanctification means to set oneself apart for God, in the same way they had defiled themselves by setting themselves apart for their own evil desires. A previous instance in Israel's history is when Samuel the prophet rebuked King Saul for disobeying the Lord's command to utterly destroy Amalek. Instead they kept back some of the choice spoil, the prime livestock, and spared Agag, king of the Amalekites. Samuel testified against Saul by stating that ... rebellion is as the sin of divination, and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry (I Samuel 15:23). By setting his own agenda and separating himself from God's desires, he had given himself over to a spirit of witchcraft and idolatry that he would never recover from throughout his reign. His idol became the god of pride and self, the very sin that banished Lucifer from the presence of God (Isaiah 14:13-15).

As in both Ezekiel and Saul's eras, there are countless individuals even today that make similar attestations to God of their idolatrous intent. Some may make these declarations with overt verbosity much like our example of the devil's pride. Others do it in more subtle ways through a simple but destructive act called compromise. Whenever we mindfully seek to marginalize the word of God, both in scripture and His spoken word to our hearts, then we have enthroned an idol of justification that has NOTHING to do with Christ's redemption. Christ certainly justified us by his blood that He shed on the cross. However, when we compromise His word in our lives then we have justified ourselves and have thereby made the cross of no effect. We have separated ourselves from God by our willful thinking, installing the idol of self-sufficiency on the throne of our heart. There is no longer room for God, and the Spirit within is grieved as He retreats in sorrow over the loss of fellowship with His beloved. Only one thing can restore this communion and that is a broken and a contrite spirit that confesses the sin of idolatry. Only then, as we draw near to God in honesty and humility will He then be able to draw near to us (James 4:8). God's desire is that we would never be separate from His fellowship. It was a horrific ordeal for the Son to be separated from the Father as He bore our sins on the cross of Calvary (Mark 15:34). However, that is the ONLY way that we can experience apartness from the the Lord, if we allow our sin to come between us. If we allow our idolatrous hearts to compromise with this world, then that will certainly be our experience. However, once the idol is smashed, then we will once again know His presence. He will never share our heart with another.

Beloved, we must never forget that a heart divided is a heart that is separated not unto God but for our own desires. God will either have all of us or He will have none of us. It is not enough to say that I worship God in my own way, or that I attend a church service here or there. No, God is looking for that man or that woman who's heart would be completely His (II Chronicles 16:9). Many will say in that day, Lord did we not do this and that for You but He will say, depart from Me for I never knew you (Luke 13:27). To know God is to allow Him to have ALL of our heart. There can be no idols that we would allow to separate us from His love. He is coming with the clouds (Revelation 1:7) and He is coming for those who have set themselves apart and have longed for His appearing. May we not shrink away and separate ourselves from His loving ways in this present life in order to stand with boldness before Him in the life to come. May His name be praised forevermore!

Heavenly Father, help us to separate ourselves unto You and not to separate ourselves for our own desires. We long for Your life and Your goodness. We know not what's best for us so we trust that You will continue to draw us closer. Help us when we fail, and allow us to come to You in humility, drawing us close by Your grace. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Endurance - May 11, 2014


Hebrews 10:36 - For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

In our present age, few are heralded with celebrity status more than sports figures. The days when most professional athletes need to hold "another" job to support themselves are long gone. Today, the multi-million dollar contracts that many athletes receive would make a Ty Cobb or a Jim Thorpe blush with embarrassment regarding their yearly salaries. However, many look to present day "all stars" with an idolization characteristic of Hollywood super-stardom. Unfortunately, some grab the spotlight for their less than moral behavior which is often a huge disappointment to those who desire to emulate their status (I speak of adoring youth). Some athletes that have broken trust with their marital partner, or have succumbed to abusing drugs or alcohol, have only revealed their lack of moral character. They have somehow lost themselves in an ocean of gratuitous forgetfulness. Through this mental surrendering, they have given away their drive to be the role model that so many look to them to emulate. Their endurance both on and off the field has been exchanged for passion or lust of the wrong kind. Ultimately, they have sold out.

Most of us will never be of super-stardom, either in sports or in life in general. However, there is a selling one's self short when we lose the desire to persevere in our faith. Simply put, desire to endure comes from a personal relationship with God. Many will say, "I have a faith in God and Jesus Christ, but it just seems like I am going through the motions many days". If a person feels this way, it is probably true. Many Christians today are living OUTSIDE of the will of God and that is why they have no drive to endure. Our lead scripture states that we have a need for endurance. How does that come? The writer of Hebrews tells us when he states: ... when you have done the will of God. God is not desirous that we persevere for perseverance's sake, or to endure for endurance sake. Many have put themselves into a rut -- believing that the Lord wants them doing this or that, yet He has not called them to do any of those things they deem so important. If we are lacking the pleasure of His presence on a consistent basis, meaning the joy of the Lord (Psalm 16:11), then we should look to ourselves and ask, "Am I running out of spiritual gas because I am not drawing upon the Source?

Jesus believed that endurance was so important, that He mentioned it in reference to eternal salvation. In Luke 21:19 He states: By your endurance you will gain your lives. In context, the Lord is talking about the end times and the perseverance and endurance that will be needed in the last days. However, eternal life does not begin when we all get to Glory, but it begins when we trust in the Savior and begin to draw from His springs of life. From these wells of refreshment we find the fuel of endurance needed to see our journeys to their end. Jesus knew that our faith would be tested, but if we continue in faith and trust in His will, then we will find that our endurance will never languish as James the brother of our Lord states (James 1:3). He goes on to say that not only will endurance get us to the finish line, but it will achieve a righteous outcome: And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:4). According to this verse and others, sanctification is directly tied to our ability to endure. And, the only way to endure is by living in the will of God. There is no other way to make it, beloved. God promises victory if we listen to Him, obeying His voice day by day, and allowing His endurance to push us toward the goal. Just as certain, if we are living self-absorbed lives, quenching the wooing of His Spirit, then it is questionable whether we will truly finish the race that He has marked out for us all to run (Hebrews 12:1).

Endurance is not something just for the super-spiritual man or woman. Just as professional athletes are in need of endurance in their vocations, so too it is vital in their day to day existence in order to live moral, upstanding lives. How much more so as believers must we ask for God's spiritual fuel that will certainly help us rise above the worries and cares of this life? Jesus said that without it, we stand to lose. With it, however, we will be made perfect men and women of God, both in this life and the one to come. Do we have what it takes to finish? If we are in His will, listening and obeying the Father's voice, then we will have the strength to complete the course. May we all find the endurance we need to make us holy and righteous, both now and for eternity.

Lord, give us hearts of faith, creating a well of endurance to draw upon for the race before us. Help us, guide us into Your will. For in that place is the joy and strength to finish in Your pleasure. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Fearlessness - May 4, 2014

Psalm 118:6 - The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me?

Fears and phobias seem to plague our modern day society as at no other time in history. A random sampling of what people are frightened of might catalog a variety of answers. One example, for instance, is that approximately 5.3 million American adults ages 18 to 54 ( about 3.7 percent), have what is called social phobia. Social phobia is defined as a persistent and irrational fear of situations that may involve scrutiny or judgment by others, such as parties and other social events. Many who believe that we are in the last days see this as symptomatic to the words of Jesus in the book of Luke: men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken (Luke 21:26). Fear is epidemic and our 24-hour news cycle seems to feed the anxiety. We watch the stock market crumble, and then are momentarily encouraged by an act of bravery on the same news outlet. While some may equate fearlessness with courage, they do so wrongly. Courage is not devoid of fear, but it has merely overcome the present terror temporarily in order to seize the moment and rise triumphant in a dire situation. Make Twain stated this in a more eloquent manner: Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear--- not absence of fear. Some would argue that fear is a God-given emotion and that it must be accepted for what it is. Others, including myself, would say that fear or reverential respect born out of relationship with God will dispel every other fear known to mankind. It is first understanding this awe-inspired revelation of the Most High and then allowing this power to destroy all ungodly fear created by the flesh and the devil.

In an obvious place of godly strength, the psalmist in our opening verse asks the rhetorical question: what can man do to me? To come to this position of fearlessness it is important to realize the pre-conditions in this short line of scripture that supports this place of spiritual prowess. The outcome of position all depends on one foundational truth -- God's promise! The writer of this Psalm first declares: The LORD is for me. This is not wishful thinking but a rock-solid conviction conceived in distress and born by the spirit of wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17-19). This is a Godward vision! We find in the previous verse that the psalmist is at a critical point of "distress", where his convictions reveal his true character. Verse 5 states: From my distress I called upon the LORD; The LORD answered me and set me in a large place. From this point of helplessness, the Almighty is able to reveal Himself to this contrite penitent, allowing him to UNDERSTAND the promise of God which is simply ... God is on his side! To stand on a promise that is not born in humility and suffering is certainly more difficult for it lacks the power that only contriteness can deliver. However, when one has been lifted from the pit of despair by God's loving kindness, one knows that the Lord rejoices over His beloved (Zephaniah 3:17). Likewise, Jesus promised us in various scriptures that He would always be there for us, no matter the circumstances if we would but trust in Him (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:15).

While understanding God's intentions and desires in our lives is a great beginning, we will fall well short of His will unless we take the promises He gives and STAND on them. The psalmist knew by revelation that God was on his side, but now there was something he needed to do and that was stand resolutely against any fear or imagination that would attempt to rise up against the truth of God's promise (II Corinthians 10:5). By making the declaration, I will not fear, he was drawing a line in the sand. This is inward vision! How hard it is to merely name a promise in God's name and claim it if we don't believe He has truly done so for us. That is why it is paramount that the word of God -- the living, breathing word as spoken to our hearts (rhema in Greek) -- becomes real and alive within. Let me use two campsites for example where the weather is cold and blustery. At one, there are several people huddled around a circle of stones and confessing to one another (as they are shivering from the frigid temperatures) that the fire they are visualizing is keeping them warm, yet they have done nothing to change their present reality. Then, there is the other group who are warm, experiencing the heat of a roaring fire because they surrendered themselves to the work of gathering firewood that provided them their comfort. Oftentimes, many believers will try to set around their own dead campsites and see the glow of others at a distance and attempt to live vicariously through their experience. However, until they are obedient to the due diligence needed for their own "fire" in their walk with the Lord, they will continue to delude themselves.

Only as one has this inward understanding of who God is and His promises can one say with confidence: What can man do to me? This is outward vision as it relates to everything pertaining to life and godliness (II Peter 1:3). With an outward vision that is born from both a Godward and inward position, one can truly concur with the psalmist and say that nothing can shake them from their unflinching faith. Like Paul, one might say: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? (Romans 8:35). Just like the psalmist, Paul's use of rhetorical questioning leads to only one true answer ... that we are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 8:37). All fear has been abolished through the understanding of who we are in the fear in the Lord. Through the purity of God's fear comes a life filled with love and contentment, a life not growing with inner fears and introspection, but a life that is lost in loving Him and others.

The solution to the fear epidemic in our world is really quite simple, but also difficult for most to comprehend. Only in losing one's life in humility will one find it. Only by telling God that we are truly terrified of life can He then give us the courage to walk hand in hand with Him. For most of us, it is a frightening idea to turn our lives over to another. However, if truly honest, we will declare that they we failed miserably at living a peaceful, joyous existence free of fear. God's remedy will always be surrender. Without it, there can be no godly understanding. And, without understanding there can be no true freedom. May God give us all hearts of courage that would fearlessly abandon ourselves to Him. Oh, the glory that awaits those who would but fear Him in reverential awe, laying all at His feet. May we all find the courage to do so!

Heavenly Father, help us to trust you as a loving Father, knowing that you will never desert us in our time of need. Give us fearlessness to surrender to you, enduing us with courage to live out Your life from within. Give us confidence to walk out this life in the fear of the Lord, never succumbing to the fears born of this world. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick