Sunday, December 28, 2014

Hand to the Plow - December 28, 2014

Luke 9:62 - But Jesus said to him, “ No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Some people might say that a new year is inconsequential. Many folks make and break resolutions with impunity. Like many, I haven't always considered a new year as significant. However, the longer I walk with the Lord, the more I see the importance for new beginnings. I like to think of a new year as an opportunity to turn over the soil of my heart and to prepare the ground for new seed. Often, this is a new area of my heart where God wants to do an expansive work. In other cases, this is possibly where He has produced a crop but now He wants to plant something different. And, sometimes there are areas that may have once yielded fruit, but have gone fallow due to indifference or disobedience. I have found the best thing to do is not argue with God, thinking I know what's best. Without fail, when He plants what He desires, it always bears forth the fruit He has ordained. That is, as long as I'm obedient and continue to till the land of my heart as He desires.

The use of the plow and fallow ground are simply metaphors for allowing God to use His word to instruct us. While some smaller plows may be pushed by manpower, God's plow can not be pushed by human strength. It is an impossibility to push a plow creating deep furrows in order to sow God's seed. For the sake of this analogy, God provides a mule or a team of oxen---servants to mankind in order to pull the plow through the unbroken earth. The strength of these animals are illustrated by the strength of God and how He empowers his word to accomplish what He sends it forth to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11). However, without man's hand on the plow, God's word will often NOT be sent forth due to lack of faith to lead and guide it. By putting our hand to God's plow and obeying Him, we allow His word to go forth.

Once we put our hand to the plow, Jesus tells us we should never look back. We should understand that while our past has often shaped our present, we cannot allow it to dictate our future. Obedience that cuts a straight furrow through life would be terribly impeded if we were constantly looking back and worried about where he have been rather than where we are going. Paul, a confessed murderer and persecutor of the church tells us in Philippians 3:13 to forget what lies behind and reach forward to what lies ahead. We can do NOTHING about the past, but only make corrections for the future by the experiences acquired in our brief histories. While Jesus' admonition in Luke 17:22-37 refers to His second coming, it is still an important lesson for us to understand in regard to obedience. If we refuse to allow the anxieties of this life to pull us off course, then we will remain stalwart to keep looking ahead. In verse 32, Jesus says, "Remember Lot's wife," a sobering lesson on looking back once we have our put our hands to the proverbial plow (Genesis 19;26).

Time is significant, or God would not have created it. Therefore, it is important to regard new beginnings in time as God-ordained opportunities to start afresh. While man-made resolutions are to the most part useless, we can be assured that God patiently awaits for us to recommit to Him on our spiritual journey. Some of us have taken our hands off the plow and have allowed acres of "heartland" to become fallow. It is time to once again take hold of God's plow, the word of God, and walk steadily and determinably after Him. If we will follow the plow He has given us to guide, He will provide the strength to pull it along. Will we do this perfectly? None of us have, nor will any succeed except One. Jesus Christ will walk along side and coach us the entire length of God's field if we will but allow Him to do so. Before long, the soil of our hearts will be fertile once again to take the seed of God and bear fruit the way He desires. May we all put our hands to God's plow this year, never wavering as the Holy Spirit strengthens us and the Son of God guides our hands. May we all know the blessing of obeying Him in all things this coming year as we put our hands in His hands each and every day.

Heavenly Father, thank you for enabling us to obey You in all things. However, when we fail or take our hands off the plow You have ordained for each of us, may you patiently guide us once again to continue our journey, pressing on toward the goal of the upward call. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Longing for Messiah - December 21, 2014

Matthew 2:10 - When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Christmas was always a special time for me as a child. In my elementary years, I remember planning for the yuletide season weeks and months before the big day. I had some understanding that this was indeed the birth of Christ. However, as most children, I was consumed with the rapturous longing for the expectancy of Christmas Eve and the wonder of the next morning. Years past as did the charm of Christmas. In my teens and up into my 20s, I found the season I once embraced with much affection becoming something I almost dreaded. My cynicism with the commercialism turned me off as it has likewise done with many others. It took finding the Savior to help me find the correct balance---to respect the tradition of this day where we celebrate Christ's birth, along with the made-up, pretend aspect of this joyful season. While I am well aware of the arguments for and against Christians celebrating a supposed pagan holiday in reference to Christ's birth, I suppose I look more at how the Lord sometimes uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise (I Corinthians 1:27). Therefore, I don't believe anyone does this holiday perfectly, the way God intends. However, as long as both non-believers and believers are drawn to consider Jesus Christ's first advent on this 25th day in December, I see far more good than harm as a result. God has undoubtedly used this season to bring many souls into His kingdom. In this I rejoice! However, to those whom much is given, much is required. For those of us who understand the significance of Christ's first advent, we should invariably be drawn into an expectancy of His return. It is incompatible to divorce the significance of one from the other, both historically and contemporarily.

At this time of year, I invariably think about those three Magi who traveled hundreds of miles from the area of Babylon to celebrate our Savior's birth. These men may have known Yahweh. However, they might just have easily not, especially since they probably studied astronomy and astrology under the pagan Medo-Persian religious order of Zoroaster. All we know is that Daniel prophesied the coming of a Great King, the Messiah, in Daniel 9 and they ascertained his birth to be in their lifetimes. The prophet states:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place. So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. - Daniel 9:24-25

The 69 weeks mentioned in these scriptures are symbolic of 69 years times the number of days in a week, seven. From history, we know that Artaxerxes, King of Persia issued a decree on March 14th, 445 BC. The aforementioned 69 years times seven years would equal 476 years plus 24 days (on the Jewish lunar calendar consisting of 29.5 days per month) thereby culminating on the very day Jesus would make His triumphal entry into Jesus as "Messiah the Prince" (April 6, 32 AD). This is important to know in regard to the Magi. With the precision of Daniel's prophecy regarding the advent of the Messiah, the Wise Men knew his approximate time of birth by calculating the age of someone proclaiming Himself as the Messiah. This Person would need to be at least 30 years of age to comply with Jewish laws of manhood. Therefore, the Magi were expectant and overjoyed at the appearing of the star, knowing this was surely the sign of the Prince's appearing. Their journey to ancient Palestine resulted in the familiar story we all know so well in Matthew 2:1-12. We are told how they returned to their own country after visiting the child and his parents, thereby ending their story according to scripture. However, it is easy to imagine how they presumably understood the saga of this Messiah Prince had only begun. Just as they were able to figure out mathematically the time of Christ's first appearing, they knew that a future event yet to be revealed would mean Christ's return. They probably didn't understand all of the implications of His second coming. However, we can certainly believe they knew the final week, or the 70th week in Daniel's prophecy, was to be fulfilled at a later date. Their faith undoubtedly became strong by participating in His first advent, while they looked futuristically to His imminent return.

Ironically, the entire world has the same information today that these Zoroastrian Magi possessed nearly 2000 years ago. Unlike many today, these Wise Men of ancient times were expectantly waiting for the revelation of the Messiah. While many today look forward to what we call Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ, I wonder how many who call themselves Christians long for the second appearing of Jesus? When He comes again, He will not come as a babe, but as the KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. While many can look forward to a holiday celebrating His birth, how many long for Him and the revelation of what His birth means to us all? And, of equal or greater importance, how many of us desire to know the Man grown up from that manger who was once covered in swaddling clothes? Beloved, I suggest it is hypocritical to suggest how one can love Christ's first advent celebrating His birth, but not be expectantly waiting for His second coming. The two are inextricably linked. My mention earlier that more good is done than harm by celebrating Christmas, I should now further qualify. We cannot be content to just celebrate the Savior's birth. If that is all we do, then we have stopped short of God's intent and aborted the Christ child, not allowing Him to grow to full stature in our hearts. He is coming again, and if we are expecting a sweet baby we will be horrifically disappointed. The Christmas Child is meant to grow and become first our Savior and Lord and then our friend. If we refuse to give up the silly notion that Jesus came once only to give us a reason to celebrate the birth of the Savior, then we come woefully short of the mark. If, however, we embrace not only the Christ-child and the expectancy of His future return, then we fulfill His desire for men and women who celebrate His ENTIRE life. He is coming after a holy bride that anticipates His coming, purifying herself as she waits (I John 3:2-3). May we all be "wise men", calculating the impact on our lives by both his first and second advent. Otherwise, we may reveal our foolishness at His great appearing by our falling short of His wonderful intention for our lives.

Heavenly Father, thank You for revealing from Your word the first great advent of Your Son. While no man knows the day nor the hour of His second coming, may we all ready ourselves by loving his first appearing and longing for His most certain return. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Fathers' Hands - December 14, 2014

Jeremiah 47:3 - ... The fathers have not turned back for their children, because of the limpness of their hands.

As a grandfather, there is nothing quite like my grandson reaching up to grab hold of my hand as we walk. It is a special connection that speaks of a child's trust toward someone that loves him deeply. I remember holding my children's hands when they were small, and that same childlike trust. Their adoring eyes would meet mine as I would pick often them up and hold them tight. Ideally, attachment to our children is not supposed to turn into emotional and spiritual detachment. Children will continue to love and trust through pubescence and into adulthood if they are not disappointed to do otherwise. What will frequently initiate a severing of paternal ties with our offspring is a lack of care and concern for them, and an overriding preoccupation with ourselves. Oftentimes, parents can become so detached from their children that their self-absorption is evident to all, especially to our children. While our offspring often look to mothers for comfort, they look to their fathers for protection. A child will rightly feel grossly violated when a father fails to keep them from harm and without a sense of security.

Paternal trust by our children is as old as mankind itself. In the book of Jeremiah, we see a breach of this trust nearly 2600 years ago amongst Israel's ancient rival. As our lead verse implies, a horrific theme of forsaking had occurred which continues throughout the chapter. The prophet is speaking a prophetic word against the Philistine nation regarding their devastation by the hand of Pharaoh. Jeremiah's inference in this futuristic foretelling is that the Philistine fathers would abandon their children, being terrorized while running away from the onslaught. Upon the fulfillment of this prophecy, some had undoubtedly escaped Gaza (a chief city of Philistia) without concern for the welfare of their offspring. He spoke judgment to these weak fathers for their self-centered preservation, who would sacrifice their own children to their ruthless conqueror. The prophet characterizes their lack of strength as both a man and as fathers by the "limpness of their hands".

A day of forsaking such as portrayed by Jeremiah did not happen because of this solitary event. In order for fathers to forsake their children in a time of distress, they undoubtedly had forsaken them days, weeks, months, or years before in their hearts. Their lives had become so busy with their own pursuits that their children became pushed down the priority list. We see other examples in scripture of fathers forsaking their children in much more demonstrative and horrific ways. The Old Testament mentions the Ammonite god Molech eight times and it is always in conjunction with child sacrifice. Twice in the book of Leviticus, the Lord warns the children of Israel of this detestable practice of the nations they are soon to dispossess from Canaan (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5). Sadly, in the book of Kings, we see its establishment by none other than King Solomon (I Kings 11:7). Whether Solomon himself sacrificed any of his own children to Molech is not revealed in scripture. However, we can surmise that this was an invitation to all who desired to do so to complete this ghastly form of idolatry. We are told that two later kings of Judah, Ahaz and Manasseh, did indeed "make their sons pass through the fire" (II Kings 16:3; II Kings 21:6). One might ask, "How could someone do such a thing? It would never even enter into my mind to do a crime such as this against children!" Before we cast judgment on these ancient idolaters, let us first establish the fact that idolatry of ANY kind is an abomination before God. The Lord stated in His first commandment, "You shall have no other gods besides Me" (Exodus 20:3). While child sacrifice is horrific, it is merely a progression of idolatrous behavior that had become socially acceptable. To give a more contemporary example, we might say that we would never have participated in the holocaust against the Jewish nation in World War II Germany. However, once something becomes acceptable, there is no telling what atrocities will be awakened in the human psyche.

While this is a horrific thing for us to contemplate -- fathers abandoning their children to idolatry -- it is indeed a reality happening around us every day. Fathers with "limp hands" are giving in to their own desires rather than sacrificing themselves for their children. (Indeed, there will be a sacrifice, whether it is the father or the child!) We see it happen as children are allowed to grow up much too fast, exposed to the overt sensuality of this world. Through paternal blindness, their innocence is sacrificed in the name of social acceptability. "After all," both fathers and children might reason, "Everyone else is doing it so I guess it's okay, huh?" What they fail to recognize is that it's not okay. These fathers with no moral compass have allowed their children to "pass through the fire" and to be sacrificed to the god of this world, all in the name of compliance to social norms. What they fail to recognize is that they have run away from the enemy much like the Philistines before Pharaoh, sacrificing their children rather than protecting them. By not sacrificing themselves, they have created an insufferable breach in relationship that can only be healed by the Lord God Almighty. For those of us who have sacrificed our children to our respective "Molechs" by our neglect and selfishness toward them, there is always opportunity for healing. If we confess our sin of idolatry to the Lord, He will begin the restoration. We must be willing to tear down the altars of selfishness and do whatever it takes to bring reconciliation. May God give us all strong hands and tender hearts to bring the children back to a father's heart of love and sacrifice.

Heavenly Father, teach us to be remarkable fathers. Allow us first to surrender our lives to Your Fatherhood. Then, give us tender hearts and strong hands for those You've called us to father. We ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Greatness - December 7, 2014

Jeremiah 45:5 - "But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I am going to bring disaster on all flesh," declares the LORD, "but I will give your life to you as booty in all the places where you may go."

Nineteenth-century humanist writer William Hazlitt once said, "No really great man ever thought himself so." Even an atheist such as Hazlitt understood the simplicity of what makes someone great. The greatest Man who ever lived was someone who definitely knew who He was upon this earth. However, He also knew who He wasn't. Jesus Christ, even though God in all respects, chose not to regard Himself equal to God while He lived His life on earth. Instead, He chose to empty Himself and take on the life of a servant for all mankind (Philippians 2:5-7). Greatness, as understood in a man, will always be measured by the degree of humility one possesses. Without the sacrifice of self, there can be no true greatness. Ironically, anyone who seeks great things for themselves will never grasp what they seek. Only as one chooses to give themselves for others will the aforementioned find their respective place of greatness. Unfortunately, many judge greatness by outward recognition from others. They gauge their so-called success by the accolades they might garner. Once again, the benchmark is Jesus and how he emptied Himself and lived for others. He looked only to the Father and for His approval, rather than the empty praises of men.

What many don't realize is that in order to find God's greatness for their lives, one must seek little for themselves and much for God. Many abort God's goodness and His desires when they contradict His will and claim to know what will make them great in His kingdom. They argue they are working to build God's kingdom, but they are more correctly building their own little fiefdoms irrespective of the Lord. These attempt to leverage the power of God in their lives for their own ends, remaining shallow without much depth to show for their selfish efforts. They have refused to allow the Holy Spirit to dig a deep foundation in their lives by submitting to Him in humility (Matthew 7:24-27). As Jesus states in the parable of the two foundations, the criteria to live as a great man or woman of God is both hearing and acting upon God's word. As we die to self, God is then allowed to go a little deeper and to dig out the self-absorption that plagues us all. The stability of a man or woman who allows God to dig out self is sometimes not so apparent on the surface. However, there is a strength that prevents them from being moved by what anyone might say or do, both negative and positive. Their concept of greatness has been divorced from themselves and instead has been transfixed on the greatness of what God has done in their lives.

To seek greatness invites disaster, according to our lead verse. Those who build foundations upon the sands of pride and self-assertion are destined for destruction. Jesus' disciples allow us to understand through the Gospels how it is possible to be close to the Lord, hearing His words daily, but not acting upon them. In one particular instance, they manifested their shallowness and their relative "smallness" by seeking greatness for themselves. James and John were part of the Lord's inner circle, yet they had not received the word implanted which was able to save their souls (James 1:21). When the sons of Zebedee came before the Lord and sought preferred seating in Christ's kingdom, they revealed their hearts and their own "kingdom building" rather than seeking Christ's will (Mark 10:35-37). The disciples scorned James and John for their self-seeking. Jesus' response was a gentle reproof, stating ... whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant (Mark 10:43). This paradoxical statement must have flabbergasted the disciples! However, Jesus continued to model the attitude of a servant right up until the night before His death when He abased Himself by washing the disciples feet. A rabbi in ancient Palestine would never think to do such a thing. Yet, here was the most complete Man who ever lived doing just that! Jesus not only gave His disciples a lesson in greatness through servitude, but everyone who would read His example of humility in John 13. By seeking God's glory, Christ tells us that our flesh will die each time we submit to the Father's will regarding His greatness for our lives. If we will but "have this attitude in ourselves that was also in Christ Jesus", then God's disaster will not find us on that day when He judges all flesh. Beloved, it is hard to judge a dead man! And, if we are living dead to ourselves and to our sinful flesh, then we have already pronounced disaster to our own flesh (Jeremiah 45:5). As Jeremiah the prophet further states in our lead verse, we will then find our lives as "booty" because we have lost our sinful lives for Christ's sake (Matthew 16:25).

The door to greatness is not one that many feel comfortable entering. And, it shouldn't feel comfortable. If it does, then we have entered through a door of pride and our self-serving greatness will undoubtedly make us smaller than we would ever desire. However, if we seek God's greatness and to increase His glory upon this earth, a peculiar thing begins to occur. God will have begun His excavation within our souls to rid us of the last vestiges of our old sinful nature. He will then begin to backfill within us the peace and serenity of His presence that ensures us we have begun to partake of Him in a whole new way. Once a man or a woman is totally surrendered to God as a servant for all, there is no telling where their greatness will end. And most ironically, they will be shocked and dismayed that anyone would ever think of them in such a manner. They have entered into that sublime place of greatness through their smallness of stature, by not ingratiating themselves to their flesh and its desire to be a "somebody". However, before God, they will powerfully tower before their Maker as a servant for His good pleasure. May we all find this place of greatness, in humility before the Great King.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Jesus' example. Help us to get small so we can live in greatness before You. No matter what the world says, we don't care. We desire to spend our lives on You and to live as spiritual giants through humble service to You. Help us to be like Your Son. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick