Sunday, November 29, 2015

Leaving It All Behind - November 29, 2015

Luke 5:11, 28 - When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. ... And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.

Luke gives us a glimpse into the compelling nature of Jesus Christ and His ability to influence others to give up everything on His behalf. First, we see Simon, his brother Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee (James and John) casting aside their previous lives to follow this man from Galilee. Within the space of 17 verses we see the calling of Matthew with identical deliberateness. With the same verbiage, Luke describes the disciple-elect throwing off his former way of life in order to adopt a new way of living that was at the best, unclear. In both instances, the disciples are remarked upon leaving "everything behind". These are quite extraordinary statements regarding these first-century Israelites. Undoubtedly, Peter and Andrew as well as the Zebedee brothers caused great consternation and probably outright anger within their own families. Sons were raised to carry on the family business. If the family did not work, then it did not eat. Can you imagine the shame these families faced from the community? "What is this," the towns people might say, "that your sons are traipsing after this shiftless character that has left his own home and carpenter profession to pursue lunatic presumptions that he is a preacher and healer of sorts?" Surely, there was much head-wagging over the disciples' decision to leave everything behind and follow this Jesus of Nazareth.

Then there was Matthew. This tax-gatherer already had an unsavory reputation, so any move he would make regarding a vocation change would be viewed as an improvement. However, unlike the severing of familial and social ties that the fisherman encountered, Matthew must make the decision to break with his great love -- wealth. Tax-gatherers in ancient Palestine were notorious for not only exacting exorbitant taxes for the occupying Romans, but they would inevitably tack on additional "taxes" that were nothing less than extortion to be pocketed by themselves. In Luke 5:27-28, Luke tells us in the space of two verses how Jesus saw Matthew, called Matthew, and how he inevitably followed the Lord. As in the previous case with his fisherman brethren, the scripture states that he "left everything" and followed Christ.

Today, one might say that it was "easier" for them to leave behind their lives to follow the Lord. After all, He WAS and IS Jesus! In reality, however, it was still a huge risk for the disciples to leave everything behind and to follow this man they really knew little about. Their hindsight (as well as us as historical readers) confirmed to them that in time they made the right decision. However, in that initial instant and in the beginning when they had to decide whether or not to follow -- that was a huge leap of faith. In our present day, Jesus Christ is still looking for the same sort of abandon to Him as the early disciples showed by dropping everything and following Him. We might think we are much different today than those of early Christendom. We might think that our lives are much too enmeshed with our daily lives, families, businesses, activities, etc. to be able to dedicate such an abandoned commitment to the Lord Jesus. However, God's eyes are searching throughout the earth to find those whose hearts can be totally given to follow His Son in the way of these early disciples. In most cases, I believe that God is NOT calling us to become a St. Francis and give away all that we possess and to go follow Him. However, the Lord Jesus is desirous that we "leave everything" of the world behind in comparison to the devotion that we have for Him. To the degree that we can do this without covetous misgivings and follow Him, is the degree that He will share His life with us as he disciples us daily.

Few will know the calling of truly leaving behind everything and following the Lord in this lifetime. However, I will challenge us all with this statement: To the degree that we leave everything behind that is not of Him, is the degree that we won't be left behind in how God desires to use each and every one of us! As with God's universal law of giving and receiving, in just such a way will we receive back from the Lord blessings that we would never encounter unless we had "left behind" the life that was not in agreement with His divine will. Many concern themselves these days with the Rapture of the saints, or the great taking away of believers in the end-time (I Corinthians 15:52I Thessalonians 4:16-17) . While this is certainly something to prepare for, it is nothing to be overly concerned. For as deliberately as we leave behind the things of this life, giving our hearts and lives to Christ, in the same measure we should have assurance that we will not be left behind. If one is frightened or is dreading the day of the Lord Jesus' return, then they probably have good reason since they have obviously not left behind everything to follow Him. However, for those of us who desire and yearn for His coming with unashamed, uplifted faces this will be a day of glorious deliverance. Those who have forsaken their old lives, leaving behind the encumbrances and the godless living of the past, these can be assured a lifetime of peace and happiness upon this earth and the promise of eternal glory in the life ahead.

Almighty Father, help us to leave everything behind all that is not of Your desire and to follow your Son, even as these early disciples. Sanctify our unsanctified lives that we often hold so dear, that ultimately keep us from full devotion to You. As we leave behind the things of this world, we glorify and rejoice in You that we will not be left behind in Your glorious plans for our life in this age and in the age to come. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanks-living! - November 22, 2015


Psalm 116:12-13 - How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.

The more I give, the more I am blessed. No matter if it is just a smile or a wave as I am out on one of my daily runs, or whether it is interacting with my family or friends. Sometimes, home life can be the most telling regarding how much and how graciously we actually give. Familiarity can often breed contempt if we allow it. Sometimes, those we love the most we can take for granted if we choose.

I am so grateful today for my wife. We just celebrated an anniversary and it is with joy I say that our love grows daily because we nurture it. Not to say that all has been harmonious the past 18 years. Attempting to "blend" families with three of mine and two of hers that were entering teenage years when we married was a series of attempts and mostly failures. It is a tough undertaking to raise children these days, let alone trying to create a solid family unit when three households are involved.

Nonetheless, I am grateful today for all that the Lord has brought us through. As with most of us, this time of year brings reflection regarding our families, especially when we come together on Thanksgiving Day and share a meal. We may have certain expectations of the day that are sometimes not the reality once the day of thanks has passed. Often, resentments and longings for a more "functional" family can set in. We hope for a Norman Rockwell gathering but prepare for Clark Griswold pandemonium. The reality, for most of us, is somewhere in the middle.

As stated, expectations can be totally unrealistic. There will always be those dysfunctional folks in any family (present company included!) that will beg for patience and perseverance, if not audibly then by their unseemly actions. These, my friends, are "opportunities" to allow the Lord to increase our patience and long-suffering by practiced giving which in turn blesses all.

Giving brings fullness of life. It is a universal fact called the Law of Reciprocity. God has written into the very fiber of existence that whatever a person sows, they will also reap. If I am a giver of criticism, anger, and malice then I will receive the fruits of those actions and be pretty miserable. If I sow love, joy, mercy, and hope then I will reap good things in my life. The GIVING is so important for the LIVING.

During this time of thanksgiving, let us remember who gave the most on our behalf -- the Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest Giver to ever grace our planet gave everything -- not holding back even His own life. The Psalmist recognized the greatness of God and His all encompassing goodness to humanity, knowing that NOTHING could we give back to God but our gratitude and our love [obedience]. It is our privilege to worship God daily by reminding ourselves and thanking our Heavenly Father for sending His Son to earth to live, die, and rise again. In this season of thanksgiving, may we all consider our Divine Giver who gave us everything that we might have life and have it more abundantly. The wonderful irony of all we have been given as believers is this -- that the more we give, the more we truly receive. Thank God this day for the reminder of Thanksgiving for truly then we can rejoice in Thanks-living!!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Gravity - November 15, 2015

Genesis 5:24 - Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Infants are a joy to entertain. They often enjoy the simplest pleasures with glee while they give joy to those whom participate and observe. When my children were small, they loved for me to throw them skyward and catch them in my arms. They trusted me that I would always catch them, and then they would immediately say, "Do it again, Daddy!" They always wanted to go higher and stay up longer as they seemed to enjoy going up more than coming down. We spent hot summer afternoons in swimming pools as I would launch them into the air and they would try to make the biggest splash possible as they hit the water. I never had to teach them the concept that whatever goes up will come down. They instinctively knew it and anticipated the freefall. In pre-teen and teen years, a couple of my children still loved the sensation of freefall as they would always seek out those type rides at amusement parks. Their stomachs would drop as the sensation of gravity taking over would once again thrill their senses.

Gravity is something we all take for granted. But to someone from another planet who had never experienced it, gravity and its affects might seem "magical" or intoxicating as it did to my children in their innocence. This invisible law of physics is something that no one with any intellect would dispute, but it is indeed a scientific fact. A simple definition for gravity (or gravitation, if you like) is a naturally occurring phenomenon by which objects with mass attract one another. As we understand our earth's gravity, it is merely the downward force of gravitational energy against the earth itself, creating a constant pressure on all mass. Everything in the physical realm is bound to the constant force of the law of gravity. But what about the spiritual realm? What, if anything, is dominated by this physical law or how does the spiritual trump this law of perpetual downward force that none can seem to escape?

It is such a delight to read in scriptures when those in the past as well as those in the future defy the law of gravity by an even greater force. In our physical world, the only force that is stronger than gravity is magnetism. Just as the north and south poles are continually attracting magnetically, there is a constant magnetic charge coming from the poles seeking to capture and to pull toward their axis any and all iron-based particles. Theoretically, if one could build a large enough magnet and hang it in orbit to capture a large iron-oxide asteroid that was hurtling to earth to destroy our planet, one could offset gravity by preventing it from its downward gravitational pull. Consider for a moment that God is that "Almighty Magnet" that has the power and the force to not only to save us from destruction but to also sweep us away into His heavenly realm, both in the metaphoric and the literal sense. The bible is very clear about Enoch in Genesis 5:24, that God raptured him in his physical body to heaven to be with the Lord. The reason why is even clearer in Hebrews 11:5: By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; And he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. This man of God found out the "secret" of overcoming gravity on this earth, the kind of "spiritual gravity" that holds one to this world and the things of this world. Like the patriarch Enoch, we should all seek how NOT to be bound to this world in both a spiritual and physical sense. John tells us in I John 2:15 "... to love not the world nor the things of the world". This is played out daily in the mind of our spiritual being (what we think about and desire) and also in our bodies (what we choose to see, touch, taste, feel, etc.). Enoch found a way to walk before God that was so extremely pleasing and gratifying to the Most High that the magnetic force of attraction was much more powerful than Enoch's pull toward this earth. Elijah the Tishbite, God's fiery prophet was taken to heaven likewise in bodily form (II Kings 2:11). We aren't told why, however, it is easy to assume the template of Enoch's pleasing God as reason enough. Like Enoch, Elijah had cast off the things of this earth that would hold him down and that would try to keep him under its spiritual law. As his earlier counterpart, he was ready and willing when God called him to His Celestial City through the power of His Almighty attraction.

So what of us? Today, we all have the decision to either live our lives by the law of "spiritual gravity" that would seek to tie us to this carnal world and the lusts thereof. Or, we can use Enoch and Elijah as our models to aspire to -- models that show that one does not have to be bound to this earth but that we can truly fly away as our Father attracts us to Himself. No longer do we need to live our lives bound to this earth and its carnal laws, but if we know Jesus Christ we are truly seated with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:16) and we have all the rights and privileges to walk as citizens of heaven on this earth today. We should always know that He is pulling us toward our True Center, not as the earth would pull a stone when dropped toward its core, but toward Himself. For He is our center and the place of most attraction for a believer that truly knows Him. Just as children love the sensation of flying upward from the arms of their father, so we too yearn to be drawn upward into our Heavenly Father's waiting embrace. We should anticipate this as our hearts soar toward Him, daily giving our lives anew to His love and walking with Him another day in newness of life. For one day, it will more than a spiritual soaring of our hearts and minds toward our Savior, but we will see Him in the sky and we will be changed, in the twinkling of an eye (I Corinthians 15:52), and we will fulfill the mighty attraction that He began in us when we were first saved by His blood. On that day, no power on earth, in the earth, or under the earth will be able to keep us from His awesome magnetic pull. There will be no disappointment of ever being drawn back to earth. We will all defy both physical and spiritual gravity for the last and final time, and soar to be with our Lord forever and ever.

Holy Father, we desire to defy the "spiritual gravity" of this world and the lusts thereof. We soar to you in our thoughts and prayers in an attitude of separation from this life that would seek to encumber us. For in your presence, that is where our true home lies. Continue to draw us by your loving attraction until we finally rest in your Eternal Arms. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


(photo courtesy of www.thegravityposter.com)

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Bare Soul - A Divine Home - November 8, 2015

Luke 9:58 - And Jesus said to him, "The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

Jesus never quibbled about his cutting of family ties and his seemingly "hobo" lifestyle. He was the first to admit His divine vagabond status to all who wished to follow him. The Lord had given up everything to become everything for those who desperately needed the salvation that only He could afford. He was on a timeline with destiny and knew He only had a short time to complete His mission on earth. Hence, the disciples found themselves with this "Jesus", who owned all yet possessed nothing, living like tramps as they followed Him for three years and ultimately to His crucifixion. Even after Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem at His last Passover, we might expect that some of the well-to-do disciples that met Jesus would offer the Lord and His twelve accommodations within the city walls. After all, He was like the HUGE guest speaker coming into town. Surely, they could put Him and the "boys" up in one of the finer inns of Jerusalem? Along with His lodging, shouldn't they take care of a "love offering" to provide for His needs while in town? The reality is diametrically opposed to what many today would expect a holy man of God to be offered.

The scripture tells us that Jesus and His disciples retreated nightly to Mount Olivet (or the Mount of Olives) which was close to the city (Luke 21:37). This limestone ridge runs about a mile in length, and in Jesus' day was probably well-forested with olive trees (hence its name). The Garden of Gethsemane was one area on the mount where Jesus and his disciples would regularly "lodge". (Compare it to spending a full day in New York City and then sleeping in Central Park, yet with not as much grassy undergrowth!) This area was a familiar "campground", if you will, for the poor, the hapless, and for many who had generally lost their way in life. Those who could not afford accommodations in the city would retreat to this area to bivouac under the stars. In this open-air hotel, there were no restrooms, no places to tidy up before lying down on the most comfortable place one could find in this uncomfortable setting. Places of this sort commonly experienced crime such as robbery and murder. On the night of Jesus' betrayal, it was just another night like so many others to the disciples. They knew that once again they would be huddled together for warmth under the boughs of an olive tree that would help keep the morning dew from covering them and chilling them to the bone. Yet, this night was different. There was a sadness that they had not known. Jesus said that He was going away, yet they did not understand. He told them not to let their hearts be troubled ... that he was going away to prepare a place for them and in this place were many mansions (John 14:1-2). Possibly, the disciples dreamed that night of sumptuous pillows and silken sheets rather than the sandy soil they were so accustomed as their nightly resting places. Even as they nodded off to sleep between their times of grief, their Lord was being betrayed into the hands of the ungodly. They would not sleep restfully for some time as they witnessed the One whom they had followed for three years being lead away bound by those with swords and torches to be crucified as a common criminal later that morning. Ironic to the crime of that area, they were the ones that were robbed of their friend and master that night in the garden and were at a loss when He was murdered by means of a mock trial.

Many in Jesus day could not understand the importance of Jesus giving up all to become everything for all humankind. They just didn't "get" that if someone was truly the Messiah and if they possessed all things, why it was necessary to become destitute in this life. Many today don't understand that about our Lord. They say it with their lips but it is far from their hearts. It is evident in the way a large majority of the religious class of our day shuns those who have nothing, and yet buddies up to the rich and affluent. The scripture is very clear that Jesus would not have spent much time or effort with these sort of folks. It's quite certain that Jesus' disciples would have enjoyed the home of a rich person versus sleeping on the hard Palestinian ground with a rock for a pillow! But Jesus knew that the things of this earth can never serve us the way we believe they inevitably will. They are an illusion and a vain piece of trickery set up by the evil one to cause us to waste our lives in these vain pursuits. Until one truly believes John 14 when Jesus said that he would go to prepare a place for us -- a place of exquisite beauty and richness like the world has not seen -- then we will all secretly crave the "good life" on this earth which is destined to burn with all the elements at his return (II Peter 3:10). We will pass up the most amazing "home makeover" ever to be devised as Jesus Christ promised He would accomplish on our behave in His Father's house.

St. Francis of Assisi was one of these that understood the importance of releasing and relinquishing all ties to his earthly home to gain an eternal one in the heavenlies. A final denunciation of his father's wealth as a cloth merchant led to a vow of poverty that the young man would never regret. Francis lived a life of abject humiliation toward all things temporal, taking great joy in ministering to the poorest of the poor which included society's castaways such as lepers, the blind, and the disabled. He understood that in order to attain to a true lodging that would never be swept away by fire, flood, or calamity that he must empty himself of all desire to become anything in this world and become everything to those around him. Hebrews 11:37-38 states that many others had likewise lived an example of homelessness upon this earth and were looking to an eternal abode: They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. Just as the world was not worthy of these, neither was it worthy of the One who gave up everything to live as the scum of the earth.

As in Christ's time and before, God is raising up many today that have no desire regarding how they might appear to their contemporaries. They have given up all things in order to look forward to that heavenly home that will out-dazzle anything here on earth. Does God want us to leave behind family and friends and live a life of abject poverty as our Lord? I truly believe that is the call for some. We see it every day as someone will commit their lives to serving as a missionary somewhere in the world. So what about the rest of us? Jesus Christ has called ALL of us to disenfranchise ourselves from the things of this earth, for in the end they hold no value. It matters not whether we have the nicest home on the block with the prettiest yard. What matters is what we have done for those around us by opening not only our homes to those less fortunate, but to open up our entire lives and to give unreservedly. God gives to us not to spend and consume on our own selfish ambitions, but to empty ourselves for the sake of others. Only as we truly understand that we are aliens and strangers on this earth as Jesus did, then and only then will we behave in compassion and humility to those all around us. It will truly give us a new perspective on those we might have looked down on, sleeping out in the open in a contemporary "hobo jungle" or under an overpass as those did, comparatively, in ancient Palestine. Our better judgment, born of true humility and understanding, would tell us that some of these might be like a band of twelve nearly two-thousand years ago who were looking for a more lasting home -- a divine home that their Savior has gone to prepare.

Father, thank you that your Son has gone to prepare a place for us. That by His death, burial, and resurrection on that glorious Resurrection Day so long ago He has been awaiting the day to welcome us to our heavenly home. Lord, we anxiously look forward to that day and are reminded that You have MANY mansions. Lord, help us to bring others to an understanding that this wonderful place of divine habitation awaits all who would believe in You. In Jesus' precious name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fools Rush In - November 1, 2015

John 18:10 - Simon Peter then, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's slave, and cut off his right ear; and the slave's name was Malchus.

English poet Alexander Pope once stated: For fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Quite possibly the 17th century poet was referring to a juxtaposition between fear and faith. For with the spiritual eye of an angelic or supernatural being comes an eternal perspective, while a mortal fool can only grit his teeth, close his eyes and charge ahead not knowing the outcome. Impulsive behavior is not characteristically thought of as faith-driven, as demonstrated by Peter when he went into defense-mode for the Lord Jesus. While Peter's sudden burst of zeal to protect his Lord might look courageous and full of faith in the moment, we soon find that his supposed show of strength was nothing more than his own fear of accepting the stark reality of this dark hour in time. Jesus' admonitions to His disciples about His betrayal and death had become more emphatic and pronounced the weeks leading up to this fateful night. However, the true horror of the moment had not gripped any of Jesus' companions until that evening in the garden when they came for the Savior with torches and weapons. As the co-leader of this band of followers, Peter somehow must have felt a responsibility to "act", for certainly to do nothing would be a denial of the Lord Himself. Or would it? Oftentimes, the very act of impulsiveness or the need to "work for the Lord" can betray the very faith that we might claim in knowing Him. Actions often times speak louder than words, but not in this case. Peter's faith was aborted that night not by merely an impulsive act, but more poignantly by denying his Lord three times.

It is much easier to die for Christ than to live for Him, day after day. Death brings about a sense of the heroic sentimentality where our sympathies are drawn out toward those who would give their lives in the spirit of a martyr. Yet, giving one's life is final and complete whereas living daily for Christ requires a fortitude of courage and will that is uncharacteristic of the drama of this type of death. Jesus Christ did not dramatize His impending demise to His disciples, but merely stated its certainty. However, Peter conceived in his own mind that Christ's death could not be divorced from an earthly struggle, hence he took impetuous action against those who had come to arrest Jesus, in particular Malchus. (It's ironic that Peter lacked the "ears to hear" the Master's plan regarding His betrayal and death, and this is what the apostle took from the high priest's slave in his zeal.) Peter could only imagine dying for the Lord and not living without Him beyond that night. However, Jesus had planned that Peter would come to the end of himself that evening and to be stripped of his fear of abandonment by His Friend and Lord.

Impulsive actions and reactions often have their roots in fear. In personalities such as Peter, they manifest with a sense of bravado yet they are very much selfish in their origin. Often times, the desire is to "fix" something that might be broke or as in this case to reconcile a situation that has gone askew. Insecurity and fear of losing something becomes the touch point of this inward struggle that manifests in impetuous ways. As leaders in our homes, many men often feel powerless in the face of what seem to be overwhelming situations. We grow accustomed to making decisions and acting abruptly because we often feel that is what the situation warrants. However, there are other times when we need to step back and reassess. What if one of our teenage children becomes involved in something illegal and gets arrested, whether it be for underage drinking or drug use or any number of other things? Or, what if our unmarried daughter comes to us and announces that she is pregnant? How do we react, or better yet, act in such a situation. Oftentimes, as parents, we know it is best not to react or pass judgment in the moment. As a father raising teenage children, I came to a point where I would often defer "decisions" until the next day or possibly later. This was against my nature because I am not a procrastinator but I like to keep my proverbial plate clean at all times regarding life's decisions. By deferring action, the Lord was teaching me important lessons regarding self-control while I was not rashly saying or doing something that I would later regret. Death of self was coming in daily doses when I had to deal with such situations. It would have been much easier for me to rush in and appear that I had the whole affair under control, but this would have been merely a ruse and a dramatic flourish. Like Peter, I needed to learn that the drama of Gethsemane was not to be played out with weapons to inflict harm, but that the garden scene needed to be waited out until the perspective of the morning.

Beloved, we all have our areas of influence whether they be over our homes, our businesses or merely over our own souls. We must train ourselves through the Holy Spirit to not move impulsively but to wait on the Lord and His guidance. For some of us, that will be easier said than done. We must control the temptation of "fixing" something that very possibly might have a different perspective the following day. A night's rest has a remarkable ability to restore perspective as well as give us the grace to proceed in a spiritual way (Lamentations 3:22-23). While Peter's grief of acting rashly and denying the Lord was profound and life-changing in the end for the disciple, we can learn from his misplaced loyalty to his own self-centered agenda. We, as followers of Christ, must stop and reassess the situation when the "darkness of Gethsemane" surrounds us. For truly, the light of dawn will come which will give us new eyes to see what He desires. Then, and only then can we move forth with stalwart wisdom rather than the impulsiveness that is the hallmark of the foolish.

Lord Jesus, thank You for your wisdom and that we don't need to foolishly rush into life's problems that come our way. Help us to step back, take a breath, and come at the problem with Your faith and grace. If we must defer to the wisdom of the following day, Lord, give us the patience to do so. For only in your will shall we be successful and full of victory in any given situation. We thank you and glorify You. In Jesus' name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick