Sunday, September 28, 2014

Divine Forgetfulness - September 28, 2014


Philippians 3:13 - Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.

Forgetfulness can be both a blessing and a curse. Many believers burden themselves excessively and unjustifiably with the weight of their past sin. Their memory betrays them regarding what they should forget and what they should recall. These would do well to remember that Christ paid their debt and has removed our transgressions as far as the east is from the west (Psalms 103:12). Unfortunately, the enemy of our souls desires us to look through the lens of guilt rather than to focus our gaze through Christ's filtered light. When we gaze at our past through Jesus and what He has done, then we view the past correctly. Satan is not the only one who desires us to view ourselves outside of God's grace, but often there are those from our respective pasts that will always see us as they perceive -- through eyes that haven't experienced the depth of forgiveness it takes to look beyond their own failings. These often project upon others their own feelings of inadequacies because they are trapped in looking through lenses that are demonically tainted.

Probably no one understood the need to appropriately remember and to forget better than the Apostle Paul. The third chapter of Philippians is a testimony of Paul's ability to look into his own past, yet not be excessively burdened by his former life before knowing the Savior. This man of God knew that it was no longer he that lived, but Christ lived in Him (Galatians 2:20). Therefore, he could look with a sort of detachment at his past, circumspectly seeing a person that held no further sway over his resurrected life. Paul notes his past resume' in Philippians 3:5-6, stating both his favorable accomplishments as well as his past crimes. In verse six he admits to being a persecutor of the church, which was the huge irony of Paul's life for those who knew him before and after his conversion. Our first glimpse into the life of Paul occurs when he attends to the cloaks of those stoning the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7:58). One might say that Paul didn't actually murder Stephen, but most assuredly he was an accessory to his murder. (Much in the same way that a driver or the "wheel man" of a bank robbery didn't hold up a bank, yet still he aided and abetted the holdup.) We are told in chapter nine that this singular act of hostility against the church was not enough to satisfy the young zealot. Acts 8:1-3 tells us how Paul obviously felt empowered to persecute the church in Jerusalem by having untold numbers thrown into prison. In Acts 9:1 we are told that Paul was "breathing out threats and murder toward the disciples of the Lord". He was undoubtedly much practiced and perfected in the persecution, so much so that he received the "nod" from the Sanhedrin to expand his "business" to Damascus. Scripture does not reveal how many (if any) were put to death through Paul's zeal against the church. However, if they were martyred, then Paul's list of heinous crimes became a point of revelation and sorrow on that fateful day on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:3-8). The horror Paul must have felt when Jesus revealed Himself to the soon to be apostle! He knew then that God had chosen the worst of the worst to represent Him and His message.

I have often wondered what the relatives of those who were imprisoned or martyred through the hands of Paul had to say to the man after his conversion. Especially, those who were not saved and didn't know the gift of forgiveness in their own lives. How would they have treated Paul? Probably with suspicion and contempt, to say the least. No matter what seemingly good things he might do, there would always be some who would see the "Old Paul". But of course this didn't keep Paul from KNOWING who he had become in Christ. While undoubtedly remaining patient with all men, regardless what they saw or didn't see in him, he continued to preach Christ crucified and newness of life to all who would believe. Therefore, he could speak confidently as he did to the Philippians regarding who he was and whom he had now become. Philippians 3:13 tells us that Paul was desirous to forget the past when it reared its ugly head and required justice for his crimes. Paul would simply point to the cross and declare, "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me". Paul had learned the secret of knowing his past and yet not being in debt to it. The Lord had given him divine forgetfulness regarding his past sins -- a forgetfulness of the guilt and shame, but a remembrance of the price that Christ paid to absolve him forever. This is how Paul can say that he forgets the past laden with regret. In his words, it is now time to reach forward to what lies ahead.

Many of us who have come out of sordid backgrounds will undoubtedly have a few folks that will never be persuaded by our new life in Christ. No matter the distance we put between our lives today and that old way of living, there may be some who will be suspect of our change. If Paul were here and speaking with us, I'm certain he would say it doesn't matter. What does matter is that we don't live under the guilt and shame of a life that has been crucified and buried through the Lord's sacrifice. What He did is sufficient for us all, no matter how awful our lives before Christ might have been. The devil, along with others that don't understand, will desire us to look through that lens of guilt to attempt to atone for our misgivings. It can never happen. Jesus already paid the price for us to view our past with divine lenses that forget the shame and remember only what He has done on our behalf. Are you forgiven in the Lord? Then rejoice that the shame is gone and let no demon or man place it on you again. For we, like Paul, possess Christ's reality about our position in Him -- one that looks not with dread at a purposeless past but one that looks to the future with eternal hope!

Lord Jesus, thank You for Paul's example. Thank You for taking the worst of the worst and making an example that we all can follow. For You took a man full of crimes against You, and turned him into an impassioned apostle of Your grace. Lord, we look to ourselves and know that if You can do this for someone like Paul, You can likewise help us to forget the past and reach forward to what lies ahead with great anticipation. Thank You for Your divine forgetfulness and Your holy remembrance of what You've done for Your beloved. In Your Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Our Rights in Jesus - September 21, 2014

Job 34:5-6 - For Job has said, ' I am righteous, but God has taken away my right ...'

Have we allowed God to take away our rights? This has nothing to do with being righteous through justification. To lose ones rights as a Christian is to lose the luxury of vindicating ourselves in any manner or fashion. It means that we have surrendered our lives to God in such a way that removes any doubt that we are totally Christ's when the world assails us. The Lord never yielded in any way to the opinions of man regarding His life or His ministry. Jesus lived overtly in all of life's expressions to do only the will of His Father. Therefore, He was continually offending those who put their faith in what they believed to be "right", according to the law. Right living to Jesus meant fulfilling the law but also going beyond those rules and regulations handed down through Moses. Throughout the Gospels, the Lord was quick to show us how the law was incomplete without the key ingredient -- LOVE. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells us that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Not only would he fulfill the letter of the law perfectly, but of higher importance the intent of the same.

Five times in Matthew the fifth chapter, Jesus reminds the crowd of what they had heard many times through the reading of the Talmud in their synagogues. Five times he uses the expression "you have heard". Christ was not denying that his audience had heard and understood the law as it was read. However, He now was interjecting a whole new dynamic into the commandments which they had likely never considered. In Matthew 5:21-22, the Lord states:
You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
Jesus had moved beyond the written commandment and added a new dimension to the ancient law. Not only were they now not to murder, but the very act of anger was a premeditated act of aggression equal to that of killing someone. The Lord had removed any rights the individual thought he might have to be angry and yet to sin not. Jesus Christ made it very clear that if the heart was allowed to function on anything less than love then it had become merely a heartless act of murder disguised as an outward act of obedience. The Lord was exposing hearts and motives which strip away any right to ourselves, no matter how much others might try to hide the intent. Jesus continues throughout the remaining chapter likewise dealing with adultery or lust (Matthew 5:27-32), fidelity toward God (Matthew 5:33-37), vengeance or retribution (Matthew 5:38-42), and finally love for one's fellow man (Matthew 5:42-48). With each of these commandments, Jesus declared that the external fulfillment of these laws fell far short of what God required. In fundamentally simple terms, Jesus was proclaiming that from now on, all individual rights had been abolished. No longer did someone have the "right" to look at a woman with lust, as long as he didn't touch her. No longer was a man to plot his own revenge against his enemy, but he was to love him with the same love that he loved his neighbor. The Lord was stating simply that in order to "be perfect as His Father in Heaven is perfect", that one must give themselves up totally and fulfill every commandment, both externally AND with the intent of the heart. (The startling realization of the impossibility of Christ's injunction must have staggered the crowds as they listened with bewilderment regarding what to do next!)

Of course, Christ knew that it was impossible to fulfill the law as only He could. No one could live perfectly as God, save only the Perfect Man, Christ Jesus. Through the revelation of Himself as the spotless Lamb that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:36), Jesus was able to first allow others to become the righteousness of God in Christ (II Corinthians 5:21). Through His righteousness, THEN we are allowed the privilege of laying down all rights to ourselves. At this juncture, we are allowed to grow up into His likeness as we lay down all bitterness toward others, all vindication, or the "right" to view inappropriate images whether in the flesh or on the internet or TV. Not only have we come to a point as David where he would put no worthless things in front of his eyes (Psalm 101:3), but we have made a covenant with our heart not to indulge in even its desire. We have come to a place of surrender where we lay everything at the feet of Jesus and say only He has the "right" to do with us as He wishes. We desire no other way of life but that of fulfilling the commandments of God, guided by the spirit of that Lovely Man, Jesus Christ, from within.

Giving up our rights has nothing to do with our standing before God in righteousness. However, Godly denial of self is impossible without His righteousness that empowers us from within. It is beyond human ability to forgive someone for despitefully using us if we don't have the love of the Father living within us. Imagine if someone slugs you in the face and dislodges two of your teeth! If your reaction is that you want to throw your arms around them and love them unconditionally (rather than strike back in any way), then know that God has taken away the right of retaliation and has done a work of love in you. In the same way, Christ was maligned and mistreated by those who wickedly beat and crucified Him. How much more should we react if the Son of God is living within? We should settle for nothing less, but insist that no longer is it we who live, but Christ who lives within (Galatians 2:20). Beloved, may we lay our lives down daily if we call ourselves Christians. We no longer have any right to ourselves. Our only remaining "right" is to completely surrender to Jesus Christ and to allow Him to fulfill His perfect law through us. Let it be so even today!

Heavenly Father, we can never fulfill your will left to ourselves. We thank You for the Man, Christ Jesus, who lives within to empower us to deny ourselves and to live "right" with You. Show us if we have any "rights" that we continue to hang on to stubbornly. Give us a spirit of surrender to Your will. We thank You, In Jesus Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Honoring God - September 14, 2014

Psalm 50:23 - He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.

It has been said, "to sacrifice your happiness for the happiness of the one you love, is by far, the truest type of love". While this is a noble aspiration, it nonetheless smacks of humanistic endeavor. Happiness is contingent upon outward circumstances rather than an inward sense of well-being. Jesus never promised happiness in this life, but He did promise joy as we would abide in His presence (Psalm 16:11). To live a joyful existence is to recognize that Jesus gave Himself as the greatest sacrifice known to mankind. He offered Himself up as the sacrificial lamb to honor the Father with the promise of many sons and daughters. While we can never equal His sacrifice (by living a perfect life and then laying it down for others) we can humbly honor the the Lord by continual thanksgiving for His most gracious gift of eternal life. As the Son honored the Father by giving His life, so we must honor Him with daily sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving for His mercy and grace. Giving Him praise is a selfless act that takes time away from ourselves and gives it back to God. To remove oneself from vain pursuits in order to invest time worshipping God, is the noblest endeavor of a child of God. However, everything that is at enmity with our Maker will seek to distract us from this undertaking.

We are all called as priests to serve before the Lord, continually offering up our sacrifice of worship and praise to the Lord (Exodus 19:6; Revelation 5:10). A few take this calling seriously and with earnest, while the vast majority of believers believe that their "priestly" duties, if any, are nominal and reserved for an hour on Sunday morning. What determines a true priest and a false priest to the Lord is our sacrifice of time, or if you will, our very lives in all that we do. The household of Eli in the second chapter of the first book of Samuel gives us a look at the apostasy in 1100 B.C. Israel as well as a parallel to the passion-less, religiosity of much of the westernized church today. Eli lived a compromised life as the chief priest at Shiloh, while he allowed his sons to live lives of robbery and debauchery. A man of God came and prophesied to Eli that surely his priesthood would not endure as the Lord had formerly promised because of the sins of Eli's sons. In Samuel 2:30, the prophet pronounced judgment on the House of Eli: Therefore the LORD God of Israel declares, "I did indeed say that your house and the house of your father should walk before Me forever"; but now the LORD declares, "Far be it from Me -- for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me will be lightly esteemed." This prophetic word declared that very soon the sons of Eli would end their robbing God of the praise and honor due His name, as God was raising up another (Samuel) who would do all that was in the heart of God. No longer would God be dishonored by a priestly order that was at best, compromised. Through the order of Samuel, God would accord Himself honor through a model life that spoke thanksgiving and praise from a heart that was totally the Lord's.

The prophet declared the word of the Lord to Eli with a promise. Samuel was to prove this promise and walk in it all of his life. When God states that He will honor those who honor Him, it is not an idle statement. The Lord raised up Samuel above all others in Israel and made him a judge over the land. There was no other more honored and respected then Samuel. However, this wasn't something that happened overnight. Samuel set this dynamic in motion early in life, allowing it to mature in his latter years. Through Samuel's faithfulness to offer up righteous sacrifices, rather than those taken by robbery by the House of Eli (I Samuel 2:29), he was able to command the people's respect and more importantly, God's. Through his integrity, he offered up sacrificial offerings that "cost something". After all, a sacrifice that is not sacrificial in nature is not a sacrifice, but merely an offering. Samuel knew what it meant to sacrifice daily for the people by living obediently, praising and worshipping the Lord with a heart to honor the Almighty. Thus, no man could dishonor him, for God had first and foremost honored His servant.

Truly, we are all called as priests to serve before the Lord. It is our choice whether we serve as priests of the House of Eli or those of the House of Samuel. Those who dishonor God, He will dishonor. Likewise, those whom honor God, He will also honor. As noted in our lead verse, a life that is sacrificial in giving thanks to the Lord is a life that honors Him. It is not only lip-service, but a life committed to stand in the gap between God and mankind -- a life that is freely given for His glory. This, beloved, costs everything we possess. Are we willing to be priests like Samuel? Or, are we content with compromise and living lives of excessive selfishness? Only as we sacrifice everything will we find true honor. May we all find this place of high distinction before our God as we lay down our lives as Jesus laid down His, both today and throughout the rest of our earthly lives.

Lord God Almighty, help us to honor You with a life of sacrifice. May our worship and thanksgiving be a continual testament of lives that are totally yielded to You. May we honor You always, not looking to be honored ourselves, but accepting it with humility and grace as from Your hand. We give You thanks and praise. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, September 7, 2014

The Excellency of Love - September 7, 2014

I Corinthians 13:13 - But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Throughout the millennia, mankind has written about love and all its redeeming attributes. Philosophers, poets, and songwriters have either lamented our collective lack of love, or they've extolled the great possibilities if we would but only "love one another". My question to those who say "all we need is love" ... what is the origin of this panacea that can make the world right? If love is the answer, then why haven't we harnessed its power to create a veritable utopia here on earth? What most fail to understand is that man is a fallen creature, excluded from the love of the Father by his treasonous act of sin. The love of God which many think should bind us together in some type of "brotherhood" is in reality just theoretical nonsense in light of the rebellion of the human race. The only way to achieve a loving world is by embracing a loving God. However, to know God means that we must first confess our sin along with our lack of love and then to cling to His life. This is the only way to know true love. Everything else is merely a shadow of the reality. Only when we share the life of Christ Jesus will we know the true substance of love. Any so-called "affection" that does not come from the Lord is a mere counterfeit that is destined to perish along with everything else of this earth.

Paul's first letter to the Corinthians contains arguably the greatest chapter on love in the entire New Testament. Furthermore, it is not a coincidence that this chapter is situated between two chapters dealing specifically with spiritual gifts. Chapters 12 and 14 of Paul's letter instruct believers regarding the attaining of the fullness of Christ through the proper use of the gifts. However, Paul is quick to point out that these gifts are not the "end all". They are merely the catalysts that propel us into that spiritual dimension of love that he writes about in chapter 13. The church at Corinth found themselves in the same dilemma that many Christians as well as unbelievers do today. For instance, the world runs after pleasures and comforts of this earth, thinking that is the "end-all" to their existence. They believe this is the expression of God's love when in actuality it is merely the kindness of God pointing them to repentance (Romans 2:4). Many Christians also have this worldly mindset that has its origin in their unregenerate past. While pursuing the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the power of their manifestations, they forget what is the goal of their spiritual equipping, which is love from a pure heart (I Timothy 1:5). Everything else is merely a shadow of the reality -- which is the perfection of love. That's why Paul instructs both the church at Corinth and all believers in what is the apex of our pursuit in I Corinthians chapter 13. In Ephesians 3:19, Paul tells us ... to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Beloved, to understand the fullness of God is to understand His love. The knowledge of God and of spiritual things pale in the light of knowing God's love. This, my friends, is the wisdom of God which supersedes any knowledge that is meant for this earth, but ascends to the very eternal wisdom of God.

When we arrive on eternity's shore, faith and hope will give way to total love. As our lead verse states, we need to cling to or to abide in faith, hope, and love while on this earth. However, there will come a day when faith and hope will melt away in the presence of pure love. No longer will we look for that which is unseen (Hebrews 11:1) nor hope for His appearing (Romans 8:24-25), but we will see Christ in eternity and will be perfected in His love. Many believers reason that by perfecting their gifts and moving in some dramatic ministry that this will perfect them in the heart of the Father and they will know His love in a new way. We will never earn God's love or affection by performing for Him or by fulfilling what we believe is our "spiritual destiny". Our greatest goal in this lifetime is not self-discovery and finding out "who we are" but it is discovering "who God is". By abiding in faith and hope while earthbound, the Apostle John states that we purify ourselves for His great appearing (I John 3:3). Our supreme goal in life will never cease to be less than what Jesus stated as the greatest commandment: And He said to him, " 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, beloved, is our destiny and our eternal heritage. Our aim should be to become so enraptured with the love of God on this earth that it will be a small change as we cross through the veil. After all, we will be drinking from His fountain of love for eternity. Why not learn to love the refreshing of His springs of eternal love while here on the earth?

The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. (Jeremiah 31:3) Can we begin to fathom coming face to face with Everlasting Love someday, beloved? How about a waterfall of liquid love washing over and through us until we drown in His Presence? While we cannot know exactly how it will be we can only imagine. Through our imagination, we can perfect love through faith and hope, knowing that our Loving Father is desiring the perfection of His child-bride for His Son. The world will continue to bemoan our lack of collective love as a species, yet it is still our responsibility as believers to perfect the Body of Christ through love's maturation. May we all forsake the desire to become "somebody" in Christ through the gifts He so abundantly gives and may we seek to be known only to Him as a lover of God in all that we do. In so doing, we will not fail to fulfill His desire for our lives. We will overflow with His presence to others as we submit to His perfect love, both now and forevermore!

Lord Jesus, I pray the prayer of Paul for us all: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. - Ephesians 3:14-19

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick