Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Americanized Church - Cruising for a Bruising - July 26, 2015

For some time now, the Lord has been stirring my spirit with a prophetic message to our generation. It is a message of false comfort and reliance upon a paradigm of religion rather than seeking God’s face. For truly, there is a shift about to take place. For too long, the churches in America and westernized countries have sought his hand and provision without seeking His desire. We have built our programs and our institutions according to what our predecessors laid out. However, these are faulty towers of misplaced faith that will not withstand what is ahead.

Many churches today seek to cater to merely the needs of their congregates. But what about the desires of God? We have carefully laid out plans for our youth, young adults, divorced adults, singles, and a bevy of other groups. But where is God? In all of these endeavors, there are a few that are going on with God and even some being saved. But where is the true power of the Almighty? Have we as the church relied on perpetuating an old wine skin that cannot hold the new wine of what God wants to do?

God has shown me that the church in America is much like any number of luxury cruise liners departing from our coasts on a daily basis. In the summer of 2014, my family and I were expensed a trip on the then largest cruise ship in the world—the Oasis of the Seas. On every deck, there were activities of every sort. One could ice skate, zip line, wave surf, play basketball, take in a show, or just stroll the Promenade of shops or Central Park. These are just a few. Then there are the seemingly endless places to dine 24/7. There is never a shortage of food or entertainment because that is the intent. The senses and appetites of the guests must be continually satisfied. If not, then they will not return as a repeat customer but will end up with another cruise line that will better meet their expectations.

How much like our modern church is the cruise-line mentality!? It is all about me! Here are the expectations of most church goers today. If you don’t greet me at the door and tell me how great it is that I am in church today, then you don’t care about me. Unless my children have an awesome time in children’s church, then you don’t care about my kids. If teenage Johnny doesn’t connect with a group of his peers, then the kids at that church are cliquish. These are all superfluous to the real reason of being at church, and THAT IS TO ENCOUNTER THE ALMIGHTY GOD! This buffet mentality of the church has caused us to believe that if my needs are not met then there is something wrong with that church! This is the sin of idolatry and self-centeredness as much so as the children of Israel in their worship of a golden calf. The church in America does not have a golden calf. Instead, we worship the golden corral buffet that says I want to be comforted by excess rather than seeking God to see how I might comfort others through prayer and true acts of His love.

Historically, the S.S. America that is very much a metaphor for today’s church in the United States.  The America was built in 1939 and was a luxury cruise ship that was conscripted into the war effort during the early 1940s. At 24.9 knots per hour, she was a fast ship that ferried hundreds of thousands of troops back and forth from the shores of Europe. After World War II, she once again was put into service and faithfully cruised wealthy passengers between New York and Europe for the next 20 years. As the ship began to age, it went through a series of owners and restorations until finally it was shipwrecked off the African coast close to the Canary Islands. It is now a rusty wreck on the shores of the island Fuerenventura as the waves and salt spray continue to diminish the shipwreck. One day, there will be no trace of the once grand vestige of cruising as the hull will submerge below the waves.

Isn’t it true, much like the S.S. America, how the church pulls together during crisis? However, by then the enemy has usually come in and ravaged our land, our churches, and our culture. The America was a splendid vessel during wartime as it greatly helped the war effort by transporting nearly a million men and women to war torn Europe. My question to the church is the following: What are we transporting today in our local church bodies? It is quite remarkable to stand on a cruise ship dock and watch the hundreds if not thousands of pallets of food loaded for a single cruise. When will the church wake up and start transporting the souls of men and women rather than merely trying to fill the carnal lusts that will never fulfill? The only way this will happen is to take the time to hear what God is saying. It is time to fill our churches to pray rather than with programs to play. It is time to give ourselves to God’s desire rather than our own.

I am certain that one day the church in our great land will again wake up and serve humanity as it was designed. However, it will require judgment to make this happen. Isaiah revealed this grand plan of how God teaches us His ways through His Almighty hand: “At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; For when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” (Isaiah 26:9)

Beloved of God, it is time to close the “all you can eat buffet lines” and begin to seek God for our generation. It is time to weep between the porch and the altar (Joel 2:17) rather than being entertained by false comfort. It is time to start ferrying men and women’s souls through prayer and intercession rather than trying to fill their carnal bellies with things that will never last. Bible teaching is good, fellowship with believers is good, but if they are leading us away from God and not to Him, then there is an iceberg ahead ready to sink the ship we have put our trust in. The icebergs are coming … are we ready? Have we committed ourselves to be Watchmen and Watchwomen to warn the church of the coming calamities? We will learn about God’s righteousness and mercy through His righteousness. However, how many of us will recognize the hand of God when we see it and His mercy in the midst of His dealings? I fear that too many on the fence will fall to the wrong side and continue to be swept into delusion. God help the church to open their eyes in this fateful hour.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Profit and Loss - July 19, 2015

Isaiah 48:17 - Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go."

Many years ago my great-uncle pulled me aside and gave me some advice that I wouldn't fully understand until years later. I was a young man barely out of my teens when he told me: It's not how much you make in life that matters, it's what you save. This native Texan was a self-made man that grew up during the depression and later put himself through college at Texas A&M University. During the 1960s, he amassed a great deal of wealth in real estate. However, even today he is an unassuming man in his 90s that lives modestly and with a frugality characteristic of his years of want. At the time when he shared this tidbit of wisdom, my finances were in shambles and money went through my hands like a sieve. Years later, I would understand that creating a lifestyle of first giving back to God and secondly of providing for my family and others unselfishly would provide the bedrock where a foundation of "saving" might be laid. I am not talking merely about saving in respect to money. I am talking about a lifestyle conducive to both material and spiritual wealth. For Jesus said: Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? (Luke 16:11).

To those who know the Lord, saving does not necessarily imply laying aside wealth for future retirement. It implies a heart of wisdom that has been instructed for years by the Lord regarding His insights on how to make a profit and to make it continue to grow. The irony of making a profit in God's economy means little about earthly wealth. This is merely a tool to help us progress to the real treasure. In Isaiah 48:17, the prophet spoke one thing yet was most likely misunderstood in his day much like he has been misunderstood in this generation. During the "Name it and Claim it" phenomenon of the 1970s and 80s, many preachers were telling us that in order to be successful in this life a person just needed to believe. They would tell their listeners on radio or television that whatever they confessed, they could possess if they just had faith. Do you want a new house? Then believe God and He will bless you with a mansion! After all, aren't we all "King's Kids"? And how about a new Cadillac? Surely, God will not withhold any good thing from those who would believe in Him, will He? Oh, but there was that one little caveat. Unless a believer sows finances into the Kingdom then they wouldn't receive back ten- or a hundred-fold for their faithfulness, as told by these soothsayers. In other words, you had to give to get -- you had to sow richly so you could reap a harvest of material blessings. Most of this so-called biblical instruction instructing many to "sow into the Kingdom" was directed back to their ministries to provide for their lavish lifestyles. Beloved, I am convinced that God wept then and He still weeps when we try to take His word and make it formulaic to increase wealth in a selfish, carnal way.

In order to understand what God wants to teach us about true profit, we should first look to Jesus and His Sermon on the Mount. The Lord's teaching is diametrically opposed to any thought of gaining material wealth BEFORE attaining spiritual treasure. Too often, we have tried to measure our success by how much material "blessings" we have attained -- how large our portfolios might be, or how much real estate we own. While there is certainly nothing wrong with having treasure on this earth, there is a problem if it is not founded on God's instruction on how to make and keep wealth. It is very much like trying to make a sidewalk without any forms or rebar. The wet concrete will never set up right because it has no foundation, lacking the boards or metal forms to rest on. It will crack easily because there is no inner structure for the concrete to cling to if there is no rebar . Concrete forms are comparable to the wisdom that God gives us to create wealth and then use it wisely. There are established, certain ways to create sidewalks in the same way as there are to create wealth according to God's guidance. Many, however, have attempted to produce material security before creating spiritual security. Jesus' teaching to the common man on the mount stated that to live in pursuit of riches was a life of chasing folly. The true riches were to be laid up in heaven through a heart given to God and to His Kingdom (Matthew 5:16-19). Christ summed it up concisely in regard to how much or how little wealth one should make when comparing the "birds of the air" and the "lilies of the field" with our earthly pursuits for material happiness. How much more does God care to feed and clothe us than these? (Matthew 6:25-30). Anything that God desires to give above and beyond this is according to His wisdom and how He might deal with each of us. Jesus concludes His teaching on how to profit in God's economy with this simple statement: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

Years later, I have taken my uncle's advice and turned it in such a way as he might not have expected. I still believe there is great wisdom in what he said, regardless whether he meant it as merely saving every nickel and dime to attain material security. Today, I know that the Lord has great things in store for those who will but let Him instruct them on the meaning of making a true profit. Today, the concept of "saving" means to turn ALL my affections and intentions to profit over to Him, allowing God by His grace to instruct me on the meaning of true gain. With this type of savings plan, there truly is a heavenly salvation that does not lack a high rate of return. If we get the proverbial cart before the horse, then we will just be creating a profit-scheme that will eventually be bankrupt in loss because it was built on self-serving motives. However, if we surrender all our ambition and desire to the Lord Jesus to create His wealth through us (spiritual, then material), then we will be delighted to see not only spiritual blessings but also the material blessings that He has laid up for us on this earth. They may not be mansions and Cadillacs here in this world, but they will be EXACTLY what we need to fulfill our respective missions and to prepare us for our heavenly home filled with splendor.

Heavenly Father, teach us and guide us regarding what true profit means while we traverse through this life. Help us to turn the gains you produce in us into heavenly riches that ultimately builds your church on earth and produces treasure for eternity. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Beatitudes - Persecution - July 12, 2015

Matthew 5:10 - Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What does it mean to be persecuted for righteousness' sake? To define Christian persecution as people ridiculing you if you have a bible on your desk at work, or that you say a prayer in a restaurant over a meal narrowly addresses Jesus' intent when speaking to His audience on the Mount. An insulting word regarding one's faith, to be sure, is a minor form of persecution. However, when one understands the true biblical definition of persecution, it is evident that we as American believers have not experienced persecution like others in various parts of the world. Many Muslim nations in Asia and Africa forbid the preaching and proselytizing of the Christian faith. It is more than just civil disobedience resulting in a fine in areas hostile to the Gospel -- the price is often the loss of life. While America was founded by those fleeing from religious persecution, we have yet to experience those who would seek our lives for living and sharing our faith in a state-sponsored manner. However, as Christianity continues to be denigrated in the United States as a supposed "right-wing" intolerant faith, the days of physical persecution may not be far beyond the proverbial horizon. (In the near future, it may be a so-called "hate crime" and a civil liberties violation to even talk about the sin of homosexuality for what it is -- a perversion of God's ordained love between a man and a woman!) American believers may experience what their brethren in many parts of the world partake of on a daily basis in short order. We too, may be harangued and persecuted as our foreign counterparts. And why should we expect differently? For as Paul stated: Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (II Timothy 3:12).

In Matthew 5: 10, the root phrase in the Greek, "who have been persecuted" is dediōgmenoi which literally means "to put to flight or to pursue". This implies a pre-meditated, calculated attempt by those in power to impede or stop those who call upon the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ in whatever means are at their disposal. As in the other beatitudes, Jesus declares a blessing on those who would be harassed and hunted like a wild beast for His Name's sake. Luke, the author of the book of Acts, uses a derivation of this word to describe the actions of Saul of Tarsus (later to be known as Paul) as he sought out Christ's followers to have them imprisoned. When Jesus asked Saul in the vision on the road to Damascus, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?", Luke chooses a form of dediōgmenoi, using the present tense diōkeis which translates "is persecuting" (Acts 9:4). Little did Saul know that up until that moment of clarity on the Damascus Road, he had been a tool of the devil and yet a catalyst of blessing to those he sought to inflict harm. However, it was not in God's Master Plan for Saul to remain in his present state. He desired to transform the Pharisee Saul into the Apostle Paul. By Jesus' declaration of who Saul was in the eyes of God, this epiphany empowered the zealous young man to be converted for the Lord's work.

So, what kind of persecution should we expect in our western civilization if we desire to live godly lives? In our present societies, most of us will not be hunted down as did blindly-zealous Saul the first century Christians. However, we should expect verbal abuse at times that is hateful toward our lives as believers in Jesus Christ. The Lord made a distinction in the verses following Matthew 5:10 marking the difference between verbal abuse and physical persecution. In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus states: Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. In these verses, Christ mentions oral persecution twice with the implication of physical abuse just once. While verbal persecution in and of itself is not life threatening, it can quickly evolve into a physically abusive scenario. (Psychologists tell us that physical abuse nine times out of ten will be preceded with verbal abuse.) Jesus relates that to suffer insults, character defamation, lies, and evil dispersions are all cause for rejoicing. As He points out, the prophets were treated with contempt and abusive speech often years before they were martyred for His sake. And, why were they were treated as such? Because they spoke the truth and did not compromise God's message in a turbulent, idolatrous time! Do we see any of the same parallels today, beloved? Has the Christian faith become so watered-down in many churches that there is no longer any distinction whether the so-called flock is Christian or of some other eastern philosophy that panders to a belief that "all roads must lead to heaven, since all roads lead to Rome"? I tell you with sober conviction, that if we are not at the very least ruffling a few folks around us regarding our faith, I would question whether we truly have any real faith. If we are not incurring the occasional gossip behind our backs (or in our presence) or the overt insult to our face of our so-called intolerance toward others because of supposed "narrow-mindedness", then we should be crying out to God for a life of conviction that is once and for all led by His Spirit.

While we may not experience the depth of persecution that some of our global brethren may be experiencing, there is little doubt that we should be manifesting a certain joy in our present struggles in our encounters with a hateful, anti-Christ world we live in. Nobody that I know in America is currently being hunted down for their faith. However, I can assure us of this -- if one cannot endure the insults and the evil that others might say against us today, then we will not be ready to endure the persecution that may be on our very doorsteps. Do we feel blessed when others might insult us for our faith? Or, have we not garnered that type of response from others because we have not submitted ourselves to our Lord for this to happen? If we are living obedient lives full of His presence, He has promised us persecution to one degree or another. Blessed are we if we will embrace these occasions for they ensure our citizenship in that glorious kingdom above!

Father, we seek not persecution for persecution's sake, but we desire to be pleasing in Your sight. As we are insulted or abused for our faith in You, remind us that we are blessed in heaven and while on this earth for our testimony. Remind us that the kingdom of heaven is ours if we shrink not from the good news of Jesus Christ and Him crucified and resurrected. In Christ's Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Beatitudes - Peacemakers - July 5, 2015

Matthew 5:9 - Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Much has been written and stated about the peacemakers of our time. Many notables have attempted to bring about lasting peace regarding their respective spheres of influence. While all never attained to their highest ideals, some failed more demonstrably than others. British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain sought a peaceful solution to the rise of Nazism in the late 1930s in Europe, yet his naive appeasement only led to millions dead in the wake of World War II. Others such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. saw passive resistance as the way to join the hands of those who hate. Unfortunately, both were assassinated for their cause. Others such as President Bill Clinton who helped engineer the so-called Mideast Peace Accord of the 1990s saw the unraveling of peace nearly as soon as the pen met the paper. Throughout our present history, United Nations ambassadors have often been lost in an "ocean of dialogue" in the halls of diplomacy while lasting peace has languished amidst bloody chaos back in their own countries. While some would say that peace is a noble, humanistic endeavor that needs to be striven after and that will one day be obtained, the scripture tells us otherwise. While we may know "seasons" of truce between warring factions, there is always the slow simmer of hatred and unrest under the cloak of detente'. Millennia-old tensions and resentments await just the right catalyst to once again stoke the fires of hostility. Not only is this true with governments and cultures dating back to the dawn of time, but it is also true in an individual's life. While this is the sober state of unregenerate humanity, it does not have to be that way. There is One who is not only the Creator of peace, but who rules a kingdom where its very charter is empowered by the spirit of reconciliation.

True and lasting peace is not an ideal that carnal man can attain to in a humanistic endeavor, but it is realized in a Person (Ephesians 2:14-15). It is the embodiment of the Lord Jesus Christ and how He lived His life on this earth. Once again, we see in this beatitude (as in all previous) Jesus revealing a particular facet of Himself and of His Father in heaven. The implied definition of a "peacemaker" is someone who possesses or owns the power of reconciliation and is amply supplied within their respective character to give it to others. As the embodiment of peace, Jesus spoke with authority into people's lives (John 14:27) as well as into the creation itself (Mark 4:39). This was diametrically different than the authority others had wielded over the nation of Israel in Jesus' time. While many spoke of peace with the Romans and those who threatened their homeland, they were impotent to render a peaceful outcome. However, the Lord spoke of a heavenly kingdom and a kingdom yet to come on this earth where His peacemakers would act with the same divine authority that He possessed from the Father. Christ tells us that if we know Him and have accepted His life into ours, then we too will epitomize His vocation as peacemaker. As such, we will be unable to avoid this divine calling since we are inextricably joined with His life. And, as so, we become not only sons of God but brethren to our Lord (Hebrews 2:11). And, as sons of God we join in His labor for the Father's longing -- a harvest of souls through the ministry of reconciliation.

The Apostle Paul understood the true character of a peacemaker. Commending the ministry the Lord had entrusted to him and others, Paul instructs the Corinthian church on first comprehending being rightly related to God through new birth, and then the responsibility of every believer to bring others in relationship with the Father. In II Corinthians 5:17, Paul states a familiar passage to most believers: Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. By Paul's declaration, anyone who has identified themselves with Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection has now become a "super-naturalized" citizen of another kingdom (Colossians 1:13). Through this new birthright into another realm, Paul is telling us that we all have been given divine appointments as ministers of reconciliation. Therefore, just as Christ drew us to Himself and saved us from our sin, so also should we be drawing others from the grasp of hell into the kingdom of light by the authority and power of His Holy Spirit (II Corinthians 5:18-19). As holy ambassadors of heaven and a future redeemed earth, we are given the same power to bring lost souls into the Father's arms (II Corinthians 5:20).

Not a lot has changed in the Mideast in 2,000 years. Peace is not attained through weakness but through a confident show of strength and authority. Many say that this is the only thing Semitic and non-Semitic Middle Eastern cultures understand. As Jesus spoke and acted with authority, he garnered the common people's respect and the established religious-political authorities' ire. Similarly today, if we speak out in the name of Jesus as ambassadors of His peace and His salvation, then we will encounter resistance from some but also respect and gratitude from others. As Christians, we must stand up for truth because, at the end of the proverbial day, we will know that we are laboring with God as peacemakers. By our testimony of His love and salvation, we are seeking to restore the broken relationship between a lost man, woman, or child with a loving, forgiving God. While the work of Chamberlain, or Gandhi, or King may have been noble for this lifetime, we must seek a higher calling of closing the chasm between humankind and God the Father. As peacemaking is commendable between nations, cities, communities, and individuals, the loss is much more incalculable if peace is not brokered between a man and His God. It is only by trusting in our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, that we may first have peace for ourselves (Romans 5:1) and then are equipped to give it to others.

Father, we thank you that Your Son gave us all the ministry of reconciliation through the gift of salvation -- that we ALL can be peacemakers of a righteous kingdom that will one day fill the earth, even as it does heaven. Help those of us who know You to draw from Your Spirit as we bring others to you through your spiritual diplomacy. Allow us to participate as holy ambassadors for the great work of peacemaking between heaven and earth. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick