Sunday, April 26, 2015

Holy Groaning - April 26, 2015

John 16:21 - Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world.

Pregnancy is such an awesome wonder to behold. As a man, I am bereft of any real understanding regarding what a woman goes through during her time of incubating another life within her womb. (Bear with me, ladies, as I state the obvious!) The nuances of two human lives developing a relationship from the moment of conception is an extraordinary thing to ponder. However, I do know what it is like as a father to wait with expectancy as the time of birth draws near. It is an assurance of not IF it will happen but WHEN! It is a mix of excitement and tension as the exact time of birth can be hard to pin down. While I have been told repeatedly that a pregnant woman does not want to be told she is "glowing", it is a true statement whether they like the acknowledgement or not. Women seem to accept this more in the beginning of their pregnancy, but toward the end of the third trimester they are just ready to have their child. They don't want to be told that they look beatific in their maternal way, as many feel tired and "ugly", if you will. Until they shed this "precious poundage" that has dominated their lives for the past several months, there is an inner groaning and an outward discomfort until the birth of their child is finally realized.

In a very real sense (and just as a woman's pregnancy), the church is beginning to witness the early signs of a spiritual pregnancy that will culminate with Christ's return and the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). The church is beginning to radiate a modest glow and an ever-so-slight witness, if you will, that would be demonstrative of a spiritual pregnancy. The expectant church has been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in these latter days much in the same way as Mary the mother of Jesus was impregnated as she submitted to God's will. For this to be reality in the church collectively, it has first to be a reality in believers singularly. God has called out many saints in their respective church bodies first and foremost to become holy vessels through obedience and the fear of the Lord (II Corinthians 7:1). As set apart believers that are intent on His will, the Lord God is raising these up as intercessors who will continue to plead the Court of Heaven until the Eternal Judge sends forth both His mercy and justice upon a dying world. We are in the beginning days of God raising up a mighty team who would travail -- a veritable Garrison of Groaners that would not rest night or day until God's will is done on this earth (Isaiah 62:6-7). There is much at stake as men and women join with others to petition heaven. It is the very beginning of the end of days -- the great end-time ingathering of souls (Revelation 14:14-16).

While many believe that the Lord's return might occur at any time, I believe that this is incongruent with scripture. While there are several things that have indeed occurred that would point to Christ's return, there are just as many that have as yet to happen. (One of these, for example, is the need for the Jerusalem Temple to be reconstructed. [Acts 15:13-18; Revelation 11:1-2; Daniel 9:24-27]) The beauty of the Lord delaying His return allows His bride to ready herself, adorning her vestige with holiness which is befitting of a chaste virgin. Even as Mary told the angel Gabriel, may it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38), even so there are those who are submitting to the Lord for what might seem a long pregnancy. I can assure you, beloved, that this will be a gestation not of months but of years. It will require a continued birthing of prayer meetings, global prayer rooms, intercessory halls, and every other form of gathering for night and day prayer until God breaks forth upon this earth and reaps His greatest desire -- the hearts and lives of men, women, and children. However, we should not grow faint at heart in our waiting. As long as we prepare ourselves, even as the five prudent virgins in Jesus' parable (Matthew 25:1-13), then we will be full of the oil of His Spirit. The oil of gladness (Isaiah 61:3) will keep us expectant, longing with a fortitude that will not be denied no matter how long He delays.

We should all be asking ourselves particular questions if we truly believe we are in the last days. For if we are in the end time, it means our redemption is drawing near and we should be rapturous with expectation (Luke 21:28). Has God given you a joy of expectancy in your life? Have you the flush of being of pregnant with what the Spirit of God is doing in our generation? Is He brooding over you to bring forth an outpouring of His Spirit not seen since the days of Pentecost? In all honesty, beloved, I have witnessed very little of the brooding Spirit of the Holy God in our present time. Even in our respective prayer groups in the midst of the burgeoning global prayer movement, we see enthusiasm and fervor but the majority of it can often appear as repetitious rote. However, before you think I am coming down on the present day prayer movement, understand that I believe we are doing all that God is asking us to do. In the midst of our apparent deadness, there is a wonderful life that has begun to grow and to be nurtured in the very womb of His Body, the church. Its life and sustenance is the prayer room as men, women, and children groan for a birthing of Holy Ghost power the world has yet to see. The pregnancy is not noticeable on a wholesale manner, and especially to the world -- yet. However, the beginnings are already starting to reach out and arrest those God has called to become intercessors to help birth this great movement. It will take a collective body, a chaste virgin that first glows with anticipation and then groans for its completion. Shall we be counted worthy to be part of such a marvelous work? May God give us all the grace to be that man or woman to join hands with others in this joyous labor of love.

Once again and a million times over, Lord, we cry out with John the Revelator, The Spirit and the bride say come! (Revelation 22:17). May Your kingdom come as we join hands and hearts to birth the greatest awakening ever known to humankind. We humbly submit to this awesome endeavor. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Prisoner Exchange - April 19, 2015

James 4:8 - Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Many of us have probably seen movies where one prisoner has been exchanged for another. I can remember a couple of East/West German exchanges in some old black and white movies from the 50s or 60s. The respective powers were swapping one high-profile prisoner on one side for another on the opposing side. On a trip to the German capitol several years ago, I saw this first-hand in photographs and video clips at the Check Point Charlie Museum in what was previously communist-controlled East Berlin. Somber, focused individuals that were extremely business-like made the handoffs with calculated coolness. The tension mounted as the prisoners walked toward their respective borders until finally reaching the safety of their comrades. Finally, there was noticeable relief on both sides as the prisoner swaps were completed. Both sides felt they now had their prize in hand. Bottom line, the stakeholder countries possessed something the other side wanted. Therefore, there were terms drawn up long before they ever "toed the line" on the actual day of the exchange.

Similarly, there is a type of prisoner exchange that occurs when we decide that we are done playing games with God and when we finally wish to get on with dying to self and living for the Almighty. The terms for this spiritual "prisoner swap" were determined millennia before the current conflicts we may have seen in museums or in film. Jesus Christ, Son of the Almighty God, determined to give Himself ages ago for the sin of humankind. Our treasonous betrayal of God was the catalyst that set Him on a course of sacrifice for the human race. So, when James, the brother of our Lord tells us to ... draw near to God and He will draw near to you ... this is describing a legal, spiritual-political contract that has been secured against the powers of darkness by the resurrection power of Jehovah on behalf of His beloved Son. When this agreement was being worked out in the heavenlies nearly 2,000 years ago, the enemy of our soul undoubtedly misunderstood the terms of the contract. Otherwise, those hell-bent on destroying the Savior would have thought otherwise. (I Corinthians 2:8) That is why Satan works tirelessly to cause the redeemed to forget their legal position in Christ Jesus. His strategy has always been to first keep human beings from drawing close to God in humility, accepting their Creator's forgiveness. Of paramount importance to the devil regarding those whom have already come to the Lord and accepted His salvation is to cause a proverbial wall to exist between God and man. This comes through the lies and deception of the enemy, telling us that we are unworthy of Christ's salvation and that we need to earn His favor somehow to be accepted in the Beloved. That spiritual separation that once existed before we knew the Lord is Satan's plan to keep us away from the Father's love. A contemporary example would be if Germans decided to once again erect a wall separating East and West Berlin. To do this, there would have to be some ludicrous understanding that communism is still in effect, and that German solidarity is some type of a myth. When we consider this, it seems silly to those of us with rational thinking. However, many make the decision to re-erect the wall separating themselves from the love of God. Then, we have to be reminded, once again, of the prisoner exchange provided on our behalf -- how Jesus loved the human race with an eternal love and walked that lonely distance to exchange His life for ours.

Whether it concerns our initial salvation, when we come to the Lord to accept His gift of redemption, or once we relinquish the deception that might keep us from His presence, then we are in the position to change our condition. Drawing close to our Lord is our responsibility -- God's promise of His closeness is then His promise to those who would do such. Only when we have given ourselves to Him in humble submission can He regenerate us according to His Son's image. THEN, we begin to see the promise of salvation manifested in our respective lives. Once we draw close to our Maker and He draws close to us, this catalyst causes the other elements of this verse to begin to emerge. We are then given the grace to set ourselves apart for God's purposes. The action verbs in this scripture are largely dependent upon the other. A chain of events begin to occur once we accept that we are no longer prisoners of an evil regime. We begin LEARNING to sanitize (or consecrate) our actions by TURNING our minds toward the things of God, while we inevitably YEARN for Him from our hearts. This exchanged life therefore allows us not BURN in our affections for the things of this world but for the things of the Lord.

This, beloved, is simply the normal Christian life -- a life that is sanctified and set apart for the Lord. And, it all starts by believing that He has provided this new life if we will but only accept it. We can continue to live behind the walls of doubt or selfishness. If we do, we will never experience the closeness that He desires for His children. The exchanged life is a fact, a reality that will not be changed regardless what lies the enemy tries to throw our way. Christ Jesus walked that lonely path to provide us His life in place of our sinful existence. None of us could have taken that walk between the Kingdom of Light and the Kingdom of Darkness. Only One, the Perfect Man, Christ Jesus, was able to die for a race of people that He valued more than His own earthly existence. He has given us the power to become the sons and daughters of God by His magnificent gift. (John 1:12) It is therefore our responsibility to reconcile this fact and draw near to our Savior without doubt. While Satan would have us believe that we need to continue to try to exchange ourselves for our own salvation, Christ has forever smashed that lie by the truth of the Gospel. May we all seek only to walk together with our Lord and to never try to walk out our salvation through our own efforts.

Gracious Father, thank You for sending Your Son as the greatest example of a prisoner exchange ever known to mankind. We accept Your gracious substitution that will forever secure us a place of reconciliation to You. May we never doubt that the Man, Christ Jesus, gave His own life that we might be set free from the prison that held us in its eternal grip. We praise You! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Everlasting Arms - April 12, 2015


Hebrews 10:31 - It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

What do we think of when we consider the Lord's "Everlasting Arms"? Many of us hearken to the chorus of that old hymn of the same name:

Leaning, leaning, 
safe and secure from all alarms
Leaning, leaning, 
leaning on the everlasting arms!

The first line of the first stanza declares, What a fellowship, What a joy divine ... which sets the tone of God's loving joy and security as we rest in the Father's arms. For truly, in his presence there is fullness of joy. (Psalm 16:11) If we know the Lord, it is our heritage as born-again, blood-bought believers to lean ever-so securely against the chest of our "Papa", knowing that He will cradle us in His love. In so doing, we know that He will protect us from all evil. Probably no scripture depicts this better than in the thirty-third chapter of Deuteronomy: The eternal God is a dwelling place, And underneath are the everlasting arms; And He drove out the enemy from before you, And said, "Destroy!" (Deuteronomy 33:27) The Lord is certainly our hiding place when the enemy of our soul besieges us.

While this is a wondrous word picture for the redeemed, we see the strength of those same loving arms manifested through His divine hands less approachable concerning those who reject Christ's salvation. The omnipotent strength of those mighty arms become formidable and terrifying instruments of justice to those who would spurn His great love. The figure of speech "to fall into someone's hands", in Middle Eastern culture, meant to succumb as the vanquished to one's conqueror. For the victor to place their foot on the neck of their captive was the most humiliating position for a defeated foe. (Joshua 10:24) At this point, they were totally helpless and subject to any sort of torture or death at the hands of their new masters. The Lord prophesied through His servant Moses regarding the future state of Israel after centuries of apostasy and idolatry. He stated that the day would come when Israel would be delivered into their enemies' hands much in the same way as He would deliver the Canaanites into Joshua's hands after Moses' death. (Leviticus 26:25) Then, God's chosen people would understand the terror first-hand they had centuries before inflicted when they conquered the land. His hands would become those horrific implements of their own destruction because they had forsaken God their Savior.

The children of Israel were not unique to apostasy. Countless others since the time of Israel's idolatry have followed in similar ways. During the early 18th century in New England America, there was a similar falling away from the faith and a subsequent correction. As more New Englanders moved from a rural to urban lifestyles, communities were often bereft of devout church-goers instituted by the Puritan way of life. People, in general, often became more interested in making money than observing the Sabbath and attending church. Because people were living in more concentrated areas, diseases such as Diphtheria were allowed to spread with rapid fluency. As thousands died from such outbreaks, many were driven back to the churches in a sort of desperation. Surely, the enemy had placed his foot on their necks and they were mercilessly held captive in the hands of sin and disease. During this time, revivalists such as Jonathan Edwards rose up with prophetic unction to minister God's pronouncement of their current situation in a two-fold manner. Number one ... that they were rebels of God and had acted with high treason against the Son of God and His eternal gift of salvation. Furthermore, they were nothing but insects before God that dangled over the flames of hell and were only kept from the eternal torment by the mercy of God. And number two ... that only through God's mercy and grace could they ever hope to be delivered from the deserved fate. In Edward's sermon, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, he describes his congregation's present horror in the Almighty's hands, and their only salvation in His everlasting arms:
... The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours.

... And now you have an extraordinary opportunity, a day wherein Christ has thrown the door of mercy wide open, and stands in calling and crying with a loud voice to poor sinners; a day wherein many are flocking to him, and pressing into the kingdom of God. Many are daily coming from the east, west, north and south; many that were very lately in the same miserable condition that you are in, are now in a happy state, with their hearts filled with love to him who has loved them, and washed them from their sins in his own blood, and rejoicing in hope of the glory of God.
Today, many are in the same lackadaisical mindset of those in ancient Israel, and, more recently, the Congregationalists of Edward's day. Salvation and eternal condemnation has never been nearer for any of us as it is at this very moment. Some may believe that their "fire insurance policy" is paid up and that they will never have to worry about the eternal flames lapping upon their eternal flesh. While salvation is a done deal for those who are truly saved, it is an uncertainty for those who choose to rest in the arms of this world instead of the everlasting arms. The scripture is clear that those who don't remain passionately in the arms of their Savior were possibly never truly saved. (I John 2:19) Beloved, we all have the choice to either lean upon the arms and the breast of God, or to embrace this adulteress world. The latter promises us to be thrown into hands that will terrify us when we step into eternity. We all have the chance to choose mercy and His perfect love in this life, so we will not have to partake in the judgment to come. May we all rest in His arms of love so we don't have to experience His hands of judgment in this life and the one to come.

Heavenly Father, we know You don't desire to terrify anyone. You desire that we all respond to Your great gift of salvation that You've most graciously given through the death of Jesus. May we rest in those everlasting arms in this life and the one to come. May you draw all who pray this prayer into that eternal relationship with You. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, April 5, 2015

You Must Be Born Again! - April 5, 2015

John 3:7 - Do not be amazed that I said to you, "You must be born again."

From the dialogues of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, we are introduced to the mythological ruler of Corinth, King Sisyphus. Because of a series of dastardly events which the king cleverly engineered throughout his lifetime, he was assigned a fitting punishment in the land of the dead. Sisyphus was to roll a huge boulder up a steep hill with the belief that he would be free from his punishment once he was able to reach the summit. However, as he neared the top, the boulder would invariably roll back on the king and back to the bottom of the hill. Throughout eternity, Sisyphus must continue to work the large stone up the hill only to see all his efforts frustrated. This judgment of useless efforts and unending frustration would never have an end. While this is a mythological morality tale regarding how no one can redeem themselves once under the judgment of the demon gods, it is nonetheless a good analogy to point us to Christ and the significance of Him taking away our judgment through His gift of the new birth.

Before knowing Christ, we may have found ourselves not only amazed at much of the Lord's words, but also a bit irritated that much of His teaching seemed so unattainable. Or, possibly we considered Jesus' teaching superfluous, not really understanding His intent. Like Sisyphus, we believed we could roll this massive boulder (symbolizing our life) up this ponderous hill (depicting our redemption). As the mythological character, we often thought we were gaining while trudging up this steep incline. However, circumstances would too often dash all hope of conquest. Many continue through this life and never find hope to help them in their summit. Then again, a few do find liberty they so earnestly desire. Relief often comes in unexpected ways and through divine encounters. Like Sisyphus, Nicodemus thought he was doing an admirable job of conquering the hill. He undoubtedly felt the strength of the Law of Moses on his side, commending to him how he had lived a righteous life. But then comes Jesus, the fulfillment of the Law to show him otherwise.

Possibly Nicodemus was feeling a bit self-righteous when he came to the Lord that fateful night. Perhaps he was acting on a sense of conciliation as he mentioned to Jesus in the first two verses of John chapter three how his colleagues considered Jesus a great teacher and a man of God (John 3:1-2). However, Jesus' reply was like a blow to the stomach which knocked the religious wind right out of the Pharisee. When Christ told Nicodemus, "... unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God,” this invariably shook this master of the Law, challenging the very paradigm he had built his life upon (John 3:3). The rattled Pharisee then began questioning the Lord, not believing his ears. It was as if this Sisyphean had just realized he was never going to accomplish his task of redeeming himself through his own efforts. He suddenly came to the conclusion that this mighty boulder he had been pushing through life was large and mighty because of the weight of his sin. We know Nicodemus is dumbfounded and amazed, for the Lord tells him not to remain so, as our lead verse points out. Throughout the remainder of this glorious chapter, we see the Lord laying out to Nicodemus the way of salvation---that he no longer had to push his cumbersome rock up the hill. Jesus was telling him, through simple scriptures such as John 3:16, that He was the Rock and He would make that climb up Calvary's hill in his stead. All he had to do was to believe.

Like Nicodemus' amazement, we can also react similarly to a supernatural requirement that seems beyond our abilities. Once we understand we cannot save ourselves, self-redemption becomes a hopeless endeavor which only produces more hopelessness. The great desire of the flesh will always be to save itself through "good works" and possibly seeking the good of mankind. While this is noble, it is high treason to God without first becoming born of God's Spirit. Only then are we empowered to perform His goodness, not ours. We cannot continue pushing this enormous rock symbolizing a life weighed down by our shortcomings and sins, but we must believe He has already pushed it to the summit and has obliterated it with His resurrection. Beloved, to be born again has nothing to do with doing more for God, but BEING more in God. Without the being, there can be no doing that will have lasting value. May we all understand that He is the Rock who has redeemed us by removing the large stone from that tomb entrance nearly two thousand years ago. He is risen, friends, and He desires us not to live in a Sisyphean way but one of surrender through which we might always push through this life with victory!

Father in heaven, May we all understand how we cannot rely upon our own efforts to redeem us. There is salvation in only One, for He is the Rock who overcame the hill of Golgotha and rose from the dead to give us the power to live. Allow us all to be amazed at our inability to save ourselves, and our wonder at the love of Christ for doing so. May we all be born from above so that our lives will emulate our Father both now and forever! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick