Sunday, February 22, 2015

Holding Things Together - February 22, 2015

Colossians 1:17 - He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.

We've all heard expressions such as "I'm holding on" or "I'm holding on by the skin of my teeth". Others might say they are doing all they can to "hold things together". In our fast-paced world it's easy to become overwhelmed by life and all its responsibilities. However, as frail human beings, we were not designed to hold everything together, either in our own lives or our families or our businesses. Jesus Christ gives us a model to understand that a greater power exists to sustain us in this life and the one to come. If we are trying to hold things together, then we are scripturally working against the Lord. As stated in our lead passage, Jesus is the One who holds all things together. Is this indicative or every instance of life, no matter to what granularity we apply it? We must believe if Jesus is interested in holding together the Universe by His power, then He is interested in all of its particulars -- even down to the very molecular structure of life as we know it.

Careful review of our lead scripture draws our attention to "... and in Christ all things hold together." To "hold together" derives its meaning from the Greek word sunistemi. This quite literally means to "stand together" or "to adhere to one another". From a scientific viewpoint we might apply this so-called "Colossae Theory" to the study of atoms and nuclear energy -- the building blocks of all physical matter. Physicists generally agree that atoms are held together by weak and strong forces. Simply stated, an atom's nucleus contains positively-charged and neutral particles. Electrical forces would ultimately drive the particles apart and cause a nuclear reaction if it were not for the "strong force" which holds the nucleus of the atom together. This unexplained force is positively identified in scripture as the power of the Lord Jesus as he "upholds all things by the word of His power". (Hebrews 1:3) Furthermore, we know that Jesus, according to John 1:1, is Himself that word. Therefore, all power to hold the cosmos together is encompassed in the Living Word, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Whether one is a believer in God or agnostic or even an atheist, there will come a day when we all believe in the power of the Lord Jesus through the Holy Spirit, that He indeed is holding all things together. We will, on that fateful day, know with great certainty that He "has the whole world in His hands" as the old hymn states. That day will be manifested as a day when He no longer uses His "strong force" to hold all things in their proper place, as we have known them. That last moment in time will be manifested in His "letting go", thereby allowing a nuclear explosion unparalleled in the history of the earth, allowing everything to be enveloped by eternity. The Apostle Peter states it in this manner:


But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements (atoms) will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (II Peter 3:10)
Everything, as we know it, will be consumed in a fiery atomic reaction that will disintegrate every physical particle that is seen. While this sounds horrendously frightening to some, it can at the same be time comforting to those who know the Lord. Those of us who have trusted in Jesus understand that He is the One that has not only been holding the Universe together by the power of His word, but He has been holding our lives together by the word of His grace. Believers in Jesus' redemption know that our bodies will someday be transformed by the power of His resurrection. We also know that He is loosening His grip on our mortal bodies and that one day we will succumb to death (unless He first appears to redeem us in "the twinkling of the eye" [I Corinthians 15:52]). However, His grip remains firm on our soul and spirit that is forever redeemed by His grace.


Often, we can limit an omnipotent God by denying that He is not concerned with every instance of creation. Even as believers, we can become agnostic or even atheistic in our beliefs if we limit our perception of His power. For God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, to be so connected with every molecule and atom by holding them all together is a mind-boggling thought. However, we must understand that if He is so intimately involved with every iota of what He created, to dismiss that He isn't passionately concerned with His chief creation is sacrilegious toward His Deity. If God uses His limitless power to allow creation to continue, day after day, holding it together by His immeasurable strength, then why should we not believe that He is doing so for us? He suspends His judgment by "holding things together" to allow still others to accept His free gift of love and eternal life. What an awesome, all-powerful God we serve! May He continue to hold us and to love us until that day when we are consumed and wrapped in eternity, to be with Him always!

Heavenly Father, may we know that You uphold us by the strength of Your right hand. May we understand that the power of Your might holds us together on this physical plane until we go to join You in that eternal new earth that exists for Your good pleasure. Cause us to yearn for that day when we no longer look for You to hold us together in this life, but to be one with You in the world to come. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thriving in Adversity - February 15, 2015

Ecclesiastes 7:14 - In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider--God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him.

In some churches today, it is quite common to hear a prosperity message that doesn't reflect the total doctrine within scripture. While God desires for all His children to prosper, it is sometimes misunderstood how that prosperity should be manifested. I have been around enough of this teaching to understand that there is an undercurrent of disapproval if a person seems to be struggling with finances or possibly personal or family issues. Some church- and lay-leaders will often try to comprehend the source of a person's "misfortune" by seeking to explain it through cause and effect. If someone is struggling financially, then there is possibly a tithing problem. Or, if the tithing is in order then maybe they just need to give more to "open the windows of heaven" upon their lives. If there are family problems or personal issues, then maybe there is a generational curse that needs to be broken "in the Name of Jesus". Believe me, friends, I am not discounting these as possibilities. However, I believe that some churches seek to explain too much through a formulaic approach. Sometimes, bad things happen to good people, and vice versa. We would do well to remember the words of Jesus, that God "... causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous". (Matthew 5:45) The world in which we live is affected by both sin and righteousness, and seemingly it is beset by certain arbitrary outcomes. However, we know that as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, He causes all things to work together for God for those who love Him (Romans 8:28). We often just need a spiritual adjustment regarding our perspective to understand what is happening in regard to our lives and those whom we love.

Job is the classic biblical example of someone suffering under seemingly unjust circumstances. We are told throughout the Book of Job that the defendant, Job, is being treated unjustly and has been ruined without cause. The patriarch's friends defend the formulaic belief that supports the reciprocity theory -- if a person does good, they will receive good, if bad then bad things will come their way. It is not until the final few chapters do we learn that God is working behind the scenes in what would appear arbitrary ways. However, He was there all along, causing good things to spring forth through adversity that appeared to be misplaced upon Job. Calamity and adversity became the means by which God justified Job before men and angels. His testing became Job's testimony of how God would not only take away prosperity, but how he would then restore. As the Sovereign Lord, He had every right to deal with this saint of old in this manner, as he likewise has with anyone he desires. Too often, we seek to discern God's dealings with others, even as Eliphaz, Zophar, and Bildad tried with Job. However, we may too often revert to the "formula" that is not iron-clad, leveraging the spirit of suspicion rather than true discernment from God's Spirit.

There are those select few, like Job, who understand that God is sovereign and He does as He will, working everything for His glory. Then, there are countless others who look at the adversity that God may allow and they react much differently. The children of Israel were chronic complainers with a catalog of murmurings those 40 years while wandering in the wildernesses of Sinai and Kadesh-Barnea. We are told in the Book of Numbers that the Israelites "complained of adversity" in God's hearing which ignited God's anger toward His chosen people. Numbers 11:1 states: 

Now the people became like those who complain of adversity in the hearing of the LORD; and when the LORD heard it, His anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some of the outskirts of the camp.
What was the difference between Job and the nation of Israel? Did they not both complain to God regarding their adversity? Scripture tells us that the difference was heart attitude. We know that Job believed God and trusted God, without seeing Him. The Israelites doubted God continually, but saw His goodness and miracles for 40 years. We are told that Job was righteous in God's eyes -- upright, fearing God, and turning from evil. (Job 1:8) Yet God still inflicted him with adversity as a righteous man. However, the Lord God threatened repeatedly to destroy the Israelites and to make a great nation from the man, Moses. (Exodus 32:10; Deuteronomy 9:14; Numbers 14:12) This was all because they refused to believe and trust in the One who continually provided for them in the wilderness. So, we can look at both examples and surmise, from human standards, that God's dealing with the wandering Israelites was just. However, without reading the final chapters of Job, we are led to believe that God deals unjustly on certain occasions with select individuals. We see from Job's restoration, that this was not the case at all.


It is easy to judge another when they are going through a personal, financial, or family problem. It's quite easy to make a religious judgment over someone who is entering bankruptcy. Some might say, "If only they would rebuke the devourer off their life, then God would be able to open the windows of heaven and all would be good!" As I stated previously, this can indeed be the case for some select individuals. However, to create an equation that says to do this and to do that and it will result in blessing is unscriptural in view of all of God's word. Adversity is sometimes meant to be embraced as well as the prosperity that God so graciously gives. We can thrive in one as well as the other. The Apostle Paul, we are told, learned the "secret" of living with much and living with very little. (Philippians 4:12) Should we think that we are above the likes of Job or even that of Paul? Or, do we feel a sense of entitlement as the children of Israel who perished because of their unbelief? We must all take what is our allotment, always seeking God's best no matter how that might manifest itself. While we should always prepare for God's blessings and the good things He desires to give, we must also not flinch when these blessings sometimes depart for no good reason. We should be able to echo Job's proclamation regarding God's sovereignty ... 

He said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb,
And naked I shall return there
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away.
Blessed be the name of the LORD."
 - Job 1:21
Lord God Almighty, No matter our lot, teach us to say, "It is well, with my soul". May we always cling to you through prosperity and adversity. Cause us to be those who thrive no matter how the circumstances might turn. Give us hearts so in love with You that we trust you implicitly. In Jesus' Name, Amen!


Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Wealth Management - February 8, 2015

Proverbs 18:11 - A rich man's wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination.

According to a recent news report, a certain gentleman had it all, or so he thought. A few years previous to this news story, he found out that he was the lottery winner from a more than 300 million dollar Powerball ticket. Years later, he says he wishes he would have torn up the ticket because it left a curse on his life. He had dreams of helping people with that large sum, which he did for the first few years. However, the greed of those who knew of his "fortune" soon became overwhelming. Countless pleas for money poured in over the years. Some were as outlandish as someone wanting new carpet, to another needing a new entertainment center for their home. He ended up giving millions away to help others, as well as to build churches. However, lawsuits became frequent during this time against his construction company. Many considered him to have "deep pockets" and they apparently felt no qualms about trying to put their hands therein. He was led to despair, turning to alcohol and illegal drugs. Someone very close to him was also the victim of a heinous murder. He believed this was a direct result of him having won the lottery. This once normal businessman and family man, in his opinion, was driven to desperate straits, all because of having won this inordinate amount of money.

While this man's account is certainly not everyone's story who might win the lottery, it does suggest an important lesson taught to us in scripture. As Proverbs 18:11 tells us, worldly wealth is an illusion. It is something that the rich, and those who undoubtedly desire to be so, imagine giving them security in this life. As the wisest man that ever lived (besides Jesus), Solomon was also one of the richest. He had a thing or two to say about the deceptiveness of riches bringing security, and he did not shy from stating the truth regarding this matter. The wise king suggests that just when we think we have an understanding of how to manage our wealth, it will inevitably disappoint us. As soon as we set our eyes upon it and determine in our hearts that our future is secure, it "makes itself wings like an eagle that flies toward the heavens". (Proverbs 23:5) Not allowing this to happen seems to be the key to not giving abnormal place to wealth in our hearts. It is to understand that riches earned respectively and honestly are to be viewed as a tool and not as an idol that displaces the One who helped us create the wealth. For truly, whatever we set our affections toward will eventually own us. That is why the Lord desires that we would build wealth according to His desire. Often, that wealth has nothing to do with earthly riches but has everything to do with using what God has given us to further His kingdom on earth.

When I read this news story, it made me think of another Proverb that promises a curse when money is gained in an unnatural manner. Proverbs 20:21 states: An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning will not be blessed in the end. How true this is for the man in our aforementioned story. However, are there others among us that have done similarly, possibly not with the lottery but with our desire for wealth and comfort? I have known men that have sacrificed their friends, family, and all that they hold dear for their careers and the opportunity to attain "success". They have side-stepped God, telling Him they will give their heart to Him once they have made their mark upon the world. In their minds, it may be making that first million and creating a retirement portfolio that promises a life of relative leisure by the time they are 50 years old. Jesus told a story about a man that planned much like many today for a retirement where they lacked nothing. However, the Lord called this man a "fool" because his life was taken from him before he had a chance to enjoy all that he had schemed for throughout his earthly life. (Luke 12:16-21) Jesus told the crowd to be on guard against every form of greed, because it will often take the most benign forms and deceive us.
Those who have won the lottery or have gained wealth through other objectionable ways have created a situation that is rife for exploitation. Not only by greedy individuals or other human agencies, for these are just the physical manifestation. Of even worse consequences is the spiritual dynamics of greed and lust that is loosed in the unseen realm. Beloved, we can be assured that if people are clamoring jealously over ill-gotten gains, there are spiritual forces at work behind the scenes creating destructive scenarios to trap humans in their covetous dealings. Jesus told us in simple terms how we should manage our wealth upon this earth in order to be free from these snares. The best advice is from the Lord Himself when He told the crowds during the Sermon on the Mount:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. - Matthew 6:19-21
For those of us who call ourselves Christians, it is questionable whether we should ever put ourselves in the position of acquiring wealth through something such as a game of chance. Many say, "Oh, but I could do so much good helping others with the money!" However, is it really blessed money or is it cursed? Has it been created on the desperate hopelessness of millions of others trying to strike it rich? Jesus told us to avoid "every form of greed", no matter how altruistic we might think we would be with the payout. He told us to not trust in earthly riches, but to set our minds on building the kingdom with what he entrusts to us. The earth is the Lord's and all it contains. Surely, He is able to give us what we need, and not what we want. He desires to give us all His riches, yet they will often not be in the form of earthly treasures. May we yearn for ONLY the riches that He desires to give, and when He decides to give them.

Heavenly Father, may we store up heavenly treasure, always looking to You to make us good stewards of the wealth You have entrusted to us. May we give our hearts toward Your wisdom for our lives, and shun the temptation of managing our own "wealth". Free us from all forms of lust and greed. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Worldly Warmth - February 1, 2015

Mark 14:54 - Peter had followed Him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the officers and warming himself at the fire.

Many of us probably have some pleasant memories of our times around a campfire. Whether we participated in Scouting as children, or camped with our respective families, most of us have some type of memory of feeling the warmth and glow of a fire at the end of a day of hiking or simply at a campsite. Fire is a critical tool when bivouacking in the outdoors. Not only does it provide needed warmth and a means to cook food, but it also offers a sense of security as it chases away the specters in the night, either real or imagined. Through the millennia, the campfire has been a place to collectively share a meal, enjoy some familial or communal togetherness, and to also gather in numbers to create security and a sense of camaraderie amongst those so inclined. The warmth of a fire can often be analogous to those sharing in its flame. This was probably the case in biblical times when Peter stumbled into the courtyard of the High Priest that momentous night nearly 2,000 years ago. We are told in the Gospels that the temple guards and the servants had built a fire in the courtyard, possibly believing it would be a long night. They may have desired a place to retreat to from the inquest occurring just off of the courtyard in possibly an open-air room where Jesus was being questioned. We are told that Peter found this more desirable, to be at a safe distance away from his Lord's harsh interrogation. So, he retreated to a place that would soon reveal his heart toward the One he had hours before made loud attestation regarding his fidelity.

Our lead verse reveals Peter's attitude of self-preservation as he "followed Him at a distance". No longer was he the brash, out-spoken disciple of the previous evening, filled with bravado and contempt regarding anything less than stalwart allegiance to the Savior. Mark's portrayal of the soon-to-be leader of the new Christian movement was less than complimentary. Of all biblical characterizations of Simon Peter, this was Peter depicted at his worst. Since the company around the fire consisted of both servants (or slaves) and officers (probably temple guards), Peter would be able to blend in unrecognized by those sharing the fire's warmth (John 18:18). Or would he? Peter was counting on the fact that he could easily dismiss his affiliation with the Lord Jesus and to once again mingle with those of the world like he had three years earlier before meeting Jesus. However, he hadn't counted on being noticeably different from those who sought camaraderie around the glow of the fire's embers. This well-known story regarding Peter the protagonist is made known only by the servant girl as the antagonist that betrays Peter's true intentions to those sharing the fire as well as to the Lord Himself (Luke 22:55-61). With Peter's thrice denial of the Lord, he more than likely understood at a deeper level that he had no business sharing the warmth of this fire with those who were at best indifferent to his Lord, and more than likely sympathetic to the high priest's position. With the realization that truly Satan had "sifted him like wheat" as Jesus had prophesied earlier that night (Luke 22:31), Peter was truly at rock bottom and could do nothing but weep in despair over his betrayal (Luke 22:62).

The scripture does not tell us where Peter went after his betrayal of the Lord. From the Gospels, we know that only John was present at the crucifixion (John 19:26-27). We can only speculate that Peter regrouped with the other disciples and remained with them until the Lord's resurrection (Luke 24:9; John 20:19). If that is the case, then this would make sense with his abrupt departure from the high priest's courtyard. Peter had come to realize that he no longer could "fellowship" with the world. Even those of the world, such as the servant girl, recognized Peter to have been with Jesus. Even though Peter tried to blend in, he could not because too much of Jesus had affected his life both outwardly and inwardly. Peter talked like a Galilean which was what clinched the servant girl's opinion that Simon was one of Jesus' disciples (Mark 14:70). We understand this as being a visual recognition of Peter and his association with Jesus. Was it just a physical recollection in the servant girl's mind, or was there something strikingly like Jesus that she saw in Peter's demeanor? After all, he had been with his Lord for three years. Had not Peter reflected his Lord's character enough to have given just a glimpse to these who were at best indifferent to what happened to Jesus and His disciple Peter? We can only assume that the recognition was on the physical level, but also conjecture that there was something she also saw of Christ in the beleaguered Simon Peter.

As Christ's present day disciples, we must also ask ourselves: Do we follow Christ from a distance when it comes to identifying with our own cross to carry? Jesus will never insist that we follow Him, take up our cross, and endure its death -- day in and day out. He will merely glance back as he did with Peter to see if we are warming ourselves by the fires of this world, thus denying His life within us. To love the world is to declare hostility toward God, beloved. We can not fellowship and have camaraderie with the world one day and then go and back-slap Jesus the next day in church like He is our best friend. The warmth of the fires of this world are indifferent if not hostile to our God. So, why would we seek to betray our Lord by seeking out associations that will never fulfill? The Lord Jesus Christ has promised a fire that will not be quenched, full of His holy love that will dwell in the heart of every believer that would but trust in Him. May we not turn toward the warmth that the world offers that will only promote mockery toward our God. May we seek Jesus and the Eternal Fire that He desires to grow in all those He calls His own.

Heavenly Father, may the fire You have lit within all those who know you not be quenched, but may it grow into an inferno of love for You and others. May we shun the warmth of the fires of this world that would only seek to draw us into indifference, apathy, and even hostility toward Your Son. Continue to fan the flame of holiness and love within our souls. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick