Sunday, November 30, 2014

Loyalty - November 30, 2014

Proverbs 21:21 - He who pursues righteousness and loyalty finds life, righteousness and honor.

Recently, I re-watched the first two movies in The Godfather series. I don't have a lot of extra time for movie-watching, but I was able to catch bits and pieces while doing other things in my office. What has always intrigued and fascinated me about these films is the character of Michael Corleone. His devotion toward "The Family" is notable in a ruthless fashion. Of course, once Michael became Godfather, everything had to be his way. It was understood, that for him to show weakness meant a breakdown in the strength of the family. If he made concessions, he knew that others would take advantage of his proposed kindness. In order for this not to happen, we see a stalwart leader that is (to the most part) unyielding in his loyalty to his business, his family, and to his criminal heritage. However, the adage is true in respect to the Corleones; those who live by the sword will ultimately die by the sword (or in this case, the gun). Their earthly kingdom of wealth and power garnered by nefarious behavior was destined to crumble. Their continued success was dependent on their continual sacrifice and loyalty to their cause, no matter how destructive the outcome to them and all whose lives they touched.

My take-away from movies usually involve themes. Probably my favorite movies are redemptive. Not so with The Godfather Saga. In these, I see a theme of perverse loyalty that only results in death and destruction. Michael said something very poignant in the first film; keep your friends close, but keep your enemies even closer. How true this must be also in Satan's kingdom! I can only imagine how the demonic realm functions outside of what scripture tells us, but I believe earthly manifestations of evil can also give us insight into the evil one's kingdom. Looking at Michael Corleone's statement, one can see an underlying mistrust for both enemies and friends. With a "business" built on wickedness, how difficult would it be to call any "friends" and believe they were totally trustworthy? We can only imagine that similar attitudes are prevalent in the demonic world. Paul tells us that principalities and powers rule the air (Ephesians 6:12). As we live and breathe, there are Satanic forces hovering above us in the second heavens, trying to affect men's lives for evil. The book of Daniel, amongst other places in the scriptures, tells us that there are devilish "princes" ruling over various parts of the earth (Daniel 10:13). We can easily surmise that under these princes exist legions of demonic minions that live in constant fear of disobeying the slightest command of their demonic superiors. We can speculate that every time they fail in their quests to move us toward wickedness, then they are severely punished. It appears that one of the most horrific punishments to a demon would be to send it back to hell. This is evident in the exorcism of the man from the land of the Gerasenes in Luke chapter eight. The demons named Legion pled with Jesus not to send them back into the abyss, asking instead to be allowed to enter a herd of swine (Luke 8:31-32). Possibly, to be allowed to roam the earth and perpetrate mayhem on mankind was a huge promotion compared to the demotion and punishment that awaited them if they failed in their earthly duties. It's no wonder that when Jesus addressed the Pharisee's accusation of casting out demons by Satan's authority, he posed a question of logic as a rebuttal. He answered them as follows: But He knew their thoughts and said to them, "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul." Jesus tells us straight up that there is no division in Satan's kingdom -- that he controls his realm with intimidation and fear -- much like what we might witness in a Hollywood movie about gangsters.

While Christians should not necessarily keep their enemies closer than their friends, we should certainly understand the schemes and the desires of our enemy to entrap us to do his bidding. Our understanding of who we are in Christ allows us to be loyal to a kind Master that does not threaten retribution if we should stumble. In the aforementioned story, Christ appears to show mercy when dealing with Legion. He could have easily denied their request, but instead he allowed them to enter and destroy a herd of swine. While it is unclear why He would allow a herd of pigs to be hurled over a cliff, it does speak to His sovereignty to show mercy and kindness to whomever He desires (Romans 9:15). While it may not fit in our theology to believe that Jesus would be kind to demons, He ultimately had a higher purpose than just that or He would not have done it. Our God is not sympathetic or over-emotional and is not swayed by unreasonable entreaties. On the surface, it looks like he succumbed to the demons desire. However, we can be assured that His loyalty to the Father did not waver in that situation whatsoever. For whatever reason, Jesus did what He did. He was still in control and did not have to use retribution. Possibly, he desired to remind these fallen creatures the difference between their leader and the One whom they rebelled against long ago? However, the point is that Jesus lived faithfully and with loyalty toward His Father and His desires. His kingdom is one built on love, kindness, mercy AND loyalty. The opposite is true of Satan's realm where hate, fear, and the promise of retribution are ever-looming realities.

Whether it's movie Mafioso or Satan's minions, we can be assured there is a price to pay for the lust of living for oneself. While both organizations undoubtedly promise rewards, they are empty ones that will only result in misery and death. Those who pursues sin and loyalty to depravity will ultimately find unrighteousness and dishonor. However, those who choose to follow the Son of God become part of a "Family" that never seeks retribution when we fail, but always offers mercy and kindness to the contrite of heart. As long as we stay loyal to the One who paid the price for our souls by His death on the cross, we have nothing to fear. Jesus' loyalty to the Father made room for us all in the most loving family ever created. May we all turn from the hate and fear that seeks to monger death to our earthly existence, and may we turn to the One who is faithful and loyal to see us fulfill our eternal destinies. Lord, we pledge our lives to You and the glorious future You've planned for us all!

Heavenly Father, help us to pursue Your righteousness. Let us pursue You with devoted loyalty, daily seeking your presence in our lives and those whom we love. In our seeking, You've promised life, holiness, and honor. Let it be so, Lord. Thank you that You've made us part of Your glorious family through the loyalty of Your Son. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,


Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Hope of Thanksgiving - November 23, 2014

Romans 5:5 - and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

What does Thanksgiving mean to us? Is it that once a year gathering together of friends and family when we refuse to count calories and we enjoy food, family and football? For many of us in America, that is the hope of this annual fourth Thursday in November. For others, it has a deeper meaning. The food and fellowship are still important. However, there is a deeper dynamic that occurs during this day we call Thanksgiving. For those with a faith in God, it becomes a time to ruminate upon our blessings and to give thanks for our bounty. Whatever our station in life, those possessing a relationship with Jesus Christ understand that gratitude of what has been given from the hand of God is not to be taken lightly. We must thank the Lord no matter our lot, even as those struggling Pilgrims did nearly 400 years ago at Plymouth Plantation. While we have so much more than they could ever dream, I sometimes wonder if they had more than we possess? There is a singular quality in these Puritans of old that stands out in stark remiss in many of today's celebrations of Thanksgiving. I submit that that the depth of one's thanksgiving is birthed in the womb of hope -- a hope that comes from above.

If the ordinary man or woman were asked the definition of hope, there would undoubtedly be many answers. However, I speculate that most would equate hope with wishing rather than believing. We might wish for something to happen and we may or may not have the outcome we desire. However, someone who knows the Savior can place their hope in the promises of God. This, beloved, is not wishful thinking. For not one of God's promises has ever failed, nor will one ever. There is always hope if we have put our trust in God. The decision for the Pilgrims to venture forth -- first from England and then from Netherlands to journey to the New World -- was not based on wishful thinking. Those who embarked on that perilous journey on the Mayflower possessed a profound hope and faith that God would not only lead and guide them but establish them in the new land. Their hopes were somewhat dashed as they clung to life that first winter. However, the Lord delivered them and gave them reason to rejoice in the early autumn of 1621 when they enjoyed their first Thanksgiving with their native neighbors. The near hopelessness of losing 45 of their original 102 person company in that first year was somehow less overwhelming as they looked to the future with hope. They had survived only by the grace of God and the faith and hope that their mission would truly be successful due to the aforementioned favor of the Lord.

As God-fearing, Bible believers, they must have taken great solace in the Word of God. I believe the Pilgrims would have often reflected on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where he speaks of faith, hope and love (I Corinthians 13:13). Truly, they had left all they had known in the Old World in faith and hope of a new life in America. Their love for their Savior was apparent, as they only desired a place where they were free to worship as they discerned from God's Holy Word. While both their faith and their love were important, I believe hope's placement between faith and love in Paul's first Corinthian letter resonated with their most trying circumstances . Without hope, disappointment will be birthed in the womb of hopelessness. This would certainly be true if the Pilgrims had succumbed to their predicament and likewise for us also if we give up in the face of severe loss. In short order, this will lead to the loss of love and respect for God and finally to shipwrecked faith (I Timothy 1:19). However, if we know the love of God, and allow faith to nurture hope, we are told in the apostle's book to the Romans that disappointment cannot be spawned when hope is present (Romans 5:5). The love that has been shed abroad in our hearts by an indwelling Savior becomes the lifeline that allows faith and hope to anchor our souls (Hebrews 6:19). Out of this place of fluid faith, hope, and love can flow true thanksgiving that is born out of a truly grateful heart.

I suggest that it is impossible to know true gratitude and thanksgiving unless one is grounded in the love of God. What others might experience is a shadow of reality that has its roots in human sentimentality. For the love of God to prosper in our hearts and lives, it must be quickened by faith and be grounded in hope. In this regard, we expect far too much from those who don't know the Savior to understand the significance of Thanksgiving. It has deep, spiritual roots that drink deeply from the wells of everlasting hope. Those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior will never be disappointed if they surrender their lives to Him. For those who will but trust Him, Thanksgiving will never again be the same. It moves from a purely sensual experience to a spiritual one that is grounded in hope and love for the One who has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Like the early Pilgrims, we can have the assurance of hope that does not disappoint with an outcome of love and thanksgiving.

Heavenly Father, thank You for your blessed hope. Thank You that Your love enables Your hope to anchor our souls with an assurance You will always be there for us, no matter what may come. Thank You for the gift of thanksgiving that comes from persevering through the hope of Your promises. For as we give thanks back to You, we receive a bounty that we cannot contain. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,


Sunday, November 16, 2014

For Conscience Sake - November 16, 2014

Acts 24:16 - In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.

Many of us can remember from early childhood the adage, "Let your conscience be your guide". Most children are taught from an early age what is the difference between right and wrong. Even those with little or no parental involvement inherently know when their behavior is acceptable or not. According to British researchers from a 2008 study, "children have an inbuilt sense of right and wrong". This is just one of many research groups that have found similar results during the past century. Scripture has long confirmed what to many of us is the obvious. The Apostle Paul explains that, like children, even those without someone to tell them what is right and wrong will invariably know the difference. He writes to the church at Rome, stating: Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them (Romans 2:14-15). Paul declared that no person is without excuse to obey the law. No matter if you are Jew or a Gentile, a religious person or pagan, no one can stand before God someday with a supposed alibi regarding their behavior. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And, if all are honest, they will admit to this truth on this side of eternity where there is ample time and opportunity for repentance.

During Paul's defense before the Roman governor Felix, the apostle was only too aware that both his Jewish accusers and his Roman imprisoners understood this law of conscience. Whether they wanted to admit it or not, he knew that every man's life either accuses or defends himself in his actions. Paul's rebuttal to those who sought his death in the twenty-fourth chapter of Acts was meant, first of all, to show the Jews he was bound by the commandments handed down by Moses. Secondly, and of greater importance, that he was restrained by a greater law -- the law of conscience that was dictated by love for God. In our lead verse, Paul states that he does his "best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men." Of interest to our study, however, is the phrase "In view of this" which precedes his statement of conscionability. We must therefore retrieve "that" of which he speaks of previously. In verse 15, Paul states "that": ... having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. The apostle cleverly appealed to his Jewish accusers sensibilities by stating all men must live with conscience before God on a daily basis, ensuring their right-standing with the Father. In addition, he also spoke a stinging word of rebuke to his Roman captors regarding their garbled view of eternity. Ancient Romans held to many belief systems regarding an afterlife. Some believed that there would be a judgment at the river Styx when they either had eternal coinage to give to the boatman, Charon, or they didn't. If they did (which was symbolic of living a good life) then the ferryman would transport them to the Underworld to live for eternity. If not, they were left to wander the shores. Other viewpoints, depending on which Greek belief system they might have inherited, lived rather nihilistically and believed that this world was the end of their respective journeys (e.g. the Cynics, where our contemporary word derives).

In a brilliant defense, Paul recognized that he could never win by going on a punitive tirade against his accusers. Instead, he merely stated the facts of man's relationship with God. He told his audience that someday, on that last day, there would surely be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. Notice that he didn't say "the good and the bad". Paul would have known those to be much too relative terms to give this mixed group of listeners. Instead, he defined them as those who had either accepted the forgiveness of Jesus through "having a hope in God" or those who had shunned the Savior and His salvation for their lives. Through the Holy Spirit, Paul set them up to ask themselves the same question that he invariably asked himself on a daily basis, "Have I lived today with a good conscience before God and men?". He knew that the only answer they could honestly provide in their defense was "no". That is the case of any of us. If we do not know the Savior, there is no cleansing of our conscience before our God. If we have not accepted the blood of Jesus as the redeeming work in our life, then our consciences are "wicked" and not "righteous". Only through Christ is there the hope of salvation -- that we will be resurrected into newness of life. That is the reason why we look to Jesus for His power to cleanse our consciences and to make us stand in His presence, not by our own works, but by His death on Calvary (Hebrews 9:14).

At some level, we all know when we transgress God's ways. Paul elevated Jesus in himself to his accusers, stating that the only way he could stand before them blameless and with a clear conscience was by the redeeming life of the Son of God living within. Today, many know the righteous way to live, yet they deny the power to do so. They have rationalized God to the point, like the Romans, that they have adopted a conscience that is fitting for their lifestyles. Through their self-deception, they have prevented both themselves and possibly others from finding the Truth as outlined in the scriptures. Their consciences, as Paul states to Timothy, have become seared in the fire of their own lust to live separate from God (I Timothy 4:2). However, there is healing and restoration for all who would but humble themselves and submit to the conviction of the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). Whether we have become religious "prudes" like the Pharisees, believing our own righteousness will save us, or we have dumbed down our consciences to the point of not believing anything, the Savior is there to resurrect any and all who would call upon His Name. Newness of life can begin, right now, when we receive Him into our life. May we all experience the resurrection from the dead through a blameless conscience, both now and on that final day.

Heavenly Lord, grant us the ability like your servant Paul to live blamelessly before You, everyday, with a conscience that is cleansed through the blood of Jesus Christ. Help us to live before You with hearts sprinkled clean by His redemption. And, help us, like Paul, to testify of Your goodness to others. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Our Victorious Heritage - November 9, 2014

Jeremiah 15:11- The LORD said, "Surely I will set you free for purposes of good; Surely I will cause the enemy to make supplication to you in a time of disaster and a time of distress."

Most humans desire a peaceful existence -- to live a life free from dread or uncertainty. Someone has candidly said, "Freedom isn't free". Oftentimes, the best way to keep and maintain our respective freedoms is by maintaining a forceful opposition to all that would desire to relinquish us of these precious liberties. Probably no one believed this more passionately than General George Patton. While it is questionable whether Patton had any credible spiritual beliefs, he did understand that the best defense is often a good offense. Through his life, he displayed a courage and a tenacity toward his beliefs regarding a victorious outcome, no matter the price! As a leader of men in Europe during some of the most critical battles of World War II, he understood his responsibility as a commander and he rose to the occasion. Patton characteristically spoke about being a leader and stepping up to the challenge at hand at various times. One of his quotes is as follows: A man must know his destiny ... if he does not recognize it, then he is lost. By this I mean, once, twice, or at the very most, three times, fate will reach out and tap a man on the shoulder… if he has the imagination, he will turn around and fate will point out to him what fork in the road he should take, if he has the guts, he will take it.
We are all responsible for our respective destinies. For those of us who know Christ, we all have a heritage given to us regarding how we should live in this present world. The Apostle Paul, in many regards, gives us insight in how to live like "Christ's Commanders" here on earth as we meet and defeat our enemy on a daily basis. Paul tells us in the book of Romans that we are "more than conquerors" as we live surrendered to Christ (Romans 8:37). He told his beloved Timothy that ... God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline (II Timothy 1:7). As our lead verse states, the Lord has set us free to complete and fulfill destinies of "good purpose". The spiritual dynamic of surrendering to God will inevitably set in motion the paradox of victory through Him against our enemies. Jesus, of course, is the supreme example of how a surrendered, obedient life caused hell's minions to shake and tremble in His presence. Jesus' understanding of who He was in the Godhead allowed Him to rule over the enemy with a powerful assurance. When Christ encountered the demoniacs in all three of the synoptic gospels (see Matthew 8:28-34; Mark 5:1-17; Luke 8:26-39), they were distraught to see the Son of God (to say the least). In Mark and Luke's gospel, we are told that the demon-possessed men came and knelt before the Savior, entreating Him not to torment them "before their time". Jesus did not have to state His authority to the enemy. Nonetheless, they recognized his total submission to the Father and therefore made supplication to Him. Jesus was totally assured of His destiny and who he was, and the demons knew likewise regarding both Christ's and their own futures. They knew that they were the defeated and He was the Victor, and there was no compromise in their fallen situation.

As Jeremiah points out in verse 11, there are times of disaster and times of distress for all men. However, these "times" should not be relevant for those who choose to walk as Jesus walked. We possess a stated heritage as victorious conquerors, if we will but submit to the One who first submitted Himself to His Father. While we may never encounter a demon-possessed person as our Lord did, there will be numerous times when we will be confronted by the "enemy" in our lives. Our foes can take on much different forms than just demonic manifestations. The majority of the time, the enemy moves in much subtler ways. People, places, and things will often work as detractors to get our eyes off our position in Christ as a victor. They often work as instruments of this world that attempt to vanquish our faith and to rob us of our birthright. However, our heritage is always intact, if we are children of God. It will always be the goal of our flesh, the world, and the devil to dissuade us from that certainty. Once we give in to the aforementioned, then we begin to "make supplication" and to bend the knee in obeisance to the enemies of our soul. However, if we will but keep our eyes on Jesus, then every circumstance, every ill-willed person, or any worldly situation must bow the knee in surrender to the Lord within us. This will be the case not only in good times, when our soul is full of God's presence, but in those previously mentioned times of darkness and distress that we all go through.

It takes "spiritual guts" to walk out the destiny that the Lord has prescribed for all who know Him. He has given us a heritage of goodness to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ to our respective world. While we may never experience a demon-possessed person bowing down to us and entreating us not to torment them, nonetheless there will be instances in our lives where we command our subtle enemies to be exorcised from our circumstances. And, if we are walking with Jesus, it will not be a struggle. As we abide in the Lord, our heritage is to watch the enemy destroy himself all around us. For truly, Christ has given us the victory if we will but accept that reality. His heritage as "more than a conqueror" has become ours as we rest in the Beloved. The battle is the Lord's and the victory is ours!

Lord God Almighty, thank You for Your victory. Thank You for our inheritance as sons of the Most High God. Thank You that enemy is defeated and that they must bow the knee to the Risen Lord who lives within us. You are mighty to save, O God! Help us to live in the revelation of this truth. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,


Sunday, November 2, 2014

The Law of Love - November 2, 2014

Matthew 24:12 - Because lawlessness is increased, most people's love will grow cold.

Have we lately considered that law and love are inextricably linked? One really can't exist without the other. In our respective societies, laws are enacted for the general welfare of the populace. While we may not always agree with each and every law, they are created to provide a sensible, safe living environment for all its inhabitants. For instance, we my not agree with a jaywalking law, especially if we are the one that decides to dash out in traffic to avoid walking to the protected corner crosswalk. However, we impinge on the rights of drivers who have to avoid hitting us, or worse case, the trauma and horror of actually running us over! Our insistence on our supposed "rights" has violated someone else's rights by our selfish, self-centered act. So, by abiding to simple laws, we commit ourselves to the common good. We allow just laws to draw us into a collective sense of community that is a form of love for all.

However, there are forces at work that disdain and actually despise any form of law. Anarchists say that we should have no laws that arbitrate or dictate against a human desire to fulfill themselves through self-expression. This is a most dangerous mind-set. The enemy of our souls can only wish that all mankind would arrive at this demonic conclusion for living. As far as the devil is concerned, we should all live by the law of relativity, which is really no law at all. Satan's desire is that there would be no absolutes other than that absolutely anything is permissible. After all, he might say, as long as we're not hurting anybody, right? For example, people inspired by this devilish thinking will often say, "If I want to take drugs, or drink myself silly, or use pornography, what business is that of anyone else? After all, don't I have the right to live and die for myself?" The short answer to this type of logic is ... no. We were created as individuals, however, we were not created to be singular in our mores and life values. While it is arguable whether drug use to the point of overdose would affect the health industry (e.g. if someone lived as a hermit in the woods and drank or drugged themselves to death), it is NOT arguable, according to scripture, that lawlessness against God's word does not become a detriment to society at large. To continue with the example of one drinking or drugging themselves comatose, the scripture states that drunkards will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Corinthians 6:10). Also, the Proverbs tell us that those who drink to the point of intoxication are not wise (Proverbs 20:1). Regarding drug use, the book of Revelation states that outside of the kingdom are the "dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons". In the Greek, the word for sorcery is pharmakeia where we derive our English word for pharmaceuticals or drugs. As previously stated, one's own behavior may not affect others in the physical sense, but it does go against God's laws which creates a spiritual paradigm that "stores up wrath" for the impending judgment of God (Romans 2:5). Literally, every sin committed that isn't covered through the redeeming power of Jesus Christ's sacrifice, becomes a foul stench in the nostrils of God. This, ultimately, affects us all.

Jesus' words in Matthew 24:12 is an indictment of our current end-time society. The Savior's implication is that love is "temperature-sensitive". Cold hearts are directly created by lack of love, or in other words, relativism against the absolute law of God. Relativism, while seemingly benign in many of its outward manifestations, has at its heart a hatred toward God and all that He stands for. However, wherever sin increases, grace does abound all the more (Romans 5:20). The Lord, by His infinite mercies, allows an escape for all who have icy hearts. He tells us in His word, when addressing the Laodicean church, that He would wish that they were either hot or cold for Him. Their lukewarmness or indifference becomes the catalyst of God's displeasure. This relativity, or lack of the law of love, creates a hostile relationship between man and God. Fortunately, for those needing His grace, coldness of heart is the most desirable place to be other than being hot or on fire for the Lord. At least with a cold, icy heart the Lord is able to reconcile himself to a sinner by showing him or her the lack of love by the presence of His great mercy. For example, if a man's heart has become so embittered against their family or friends or life at large, then the Lord can invade this man's conscience with His presence. By the very lack of love, the Spirit of conviction can show this man his extreme disparity of anything of God, thereby bringing him to a saving knowledge of Christ (John 16:8).

While humankind's hearts will continue to grow cold in these end-times, there is still hope for their redemption. As stated, God's laws and His love are inextricably linked. It is impossible to have one without the other. The hope for all mankind is that they would discover the law of liberty (James 2:12) which ultimately allows a man to truly live as an individual, accountable only to God. Only in Christ, is there true liberty. Only as we follow the Lawgiver can we know true freedom. Though hearts be cold and stony, God has promised that He can break into these ungodly lives. He only needs the fire of His love, that is bound to His laws of mercy and forgiveness, to come into a man's heart and to melt and mold him for His good pleasure. He waits, He longs, and He will not relinquish His quest to bring us the to His law of love. May we all yield to His irresistible, powerful presence that will truly set us free!

Lord God Almighty, thank You for Your laws because they draw us to Your infinite love. Help us to be on fire for You, always embracing your law of love. In Jesus Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,