Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Year of Decision - December 27, 2015

Isaiah 6:1 - In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.

What will this new year bring for us? Many I talk to are cautiously optimistic about their future. Others are feeling that 2016 looks to offer no more hope then they experienced in the previous year. Things many have counted on in the past to offer them security  have suddenly shifted in their present situations. Stock portfolios are not as robust as they once were and housing values struggle to maintain a semblance of their former value. Whether we wring our hands in despair, or lift them toward heaven in loving trust, God sees and knows all. No matter what goes on around us, we will only experience true hope and security through the Hope-giver. That means abandoning our expectations in anything except Christ and dying to ourselves and our ambitions. Retiring to any possibility less than this is futile in the light of eternity and prone for disappointment.

In his youth, Isaiah the prophet probably held similarly high hopes for his future as many do today. Born into a wealthy family, he was educated and trained in the priesthood. His imminent expectations undoubtedly looked good. However, Isaiah would have an encounter with God that would change his life forever. In this turning point of Isaiah's life we see a progression of "NO, WOE, and GO." Before this fateful day -- when the prophet saw the vision of the Lord "high and lifted up" -- he was what we today might consider a "good" Christian. However, in the year of King Uzziah's death, the paradigm of faith shifted in Isaiah's life forever. Uzziah's reign will always be symbolic of rebellion, pride, and arrogance as he tried to act like a priest and God smote him with leprosy (II Chronicles 26:18-20). This dreaded disease of ancient Israel is a metaphor in the word of God for sin and all its consequences. Isaiah deliberately tells us that he was diametrically changed in the year Uzziah died. Allegorically, it was the year of his death to what he thought a good follower of God should be.

Before the death of "king self" typified by Uzziah's death, he said, "NO, not me Lord!" He was probably happy with his life as a well-educated priest. But now something changed. He saw the Lord high and lifted up in the subsequent verses of this chapter and said, "WOE is me!" seeing himself in the light of God's knowledge. With godly understanding now guiding him, he accepted the role as prophet when God told him to "GO." His total disregard for his own life and total concern for God's mission became his prophetic legacy. Because of his obedience, we have his writings which have lasted more than 2700 years. God's influence on an obedient man will last well beyond his lifespan as  was the case with Isaiah.

We are not told when this epiphany came to the prophet that redefined his life, but only that it came "in the year" of the king's death. Often, we will not know exactly the time or place of God's moving in our lives. We may only know it happened in a certain season, possibly over a period of time. Isaiah did not associate his vision with a particular day, because that was not important. What was critical was to know how he allowed the juxtaposition of his sin and rebellion (typified by the king) with the holiness of God and his mission as a prophet. The result was a deputation empowered by the zeal of the Lord. This was not to be just a casual prophetic word, but years of prophecy that would eventually result in Isaiah's physical death (Isaiah 6:8-13)(Hebrews 11:37). 

How many of us need to come to the "year of King Uzziah's death" in our lives? How many of us need to quit being "good" Christians and see our flesh for what it is? Seeing our badness is step one. Then, it is imperative we then see His greatness which cleanses us. We must understand how the Lord has made us the righteousness of Christ in God. This, beloved, is what truly sets us free. Revelation of this sort can only result in a desire to go, say, and do whatever the Lord might lead. Is this the year of our death to any and all of our own ambitions? Is 2016 the year when we rid ourselves of the flesh and see the Lord "high and lifted up" in our lives? If we ask, He will reveal Himself. It is the great desire of His heart to reveal the truth of ourselves and of His awesome majesty!

Lord God, Holy Father, will You reveal Yourself to us in this upcoming year? Will You show Yourself to us in Your mercy, revealing our hearts while showing us Your great love? Grant us wisdom, Lord. Give us understanding according to Your Holy Spirit. Allow us to walk in great faith as we see You in Your majesty in 2016. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Christ Child - December 20, 2015

Matthew 2:18 - A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.

When we read the story of Christ's birth, it is full of wonder and hope. Shepherds and wise men rejoice over the birth of the Savior. Yet, in the midst of this glorious event, tragedy taints the most important advent the world has ever known. Other families in Bethlehem and its environs had similarly celebrated the joyous coming of their babies in those days. However, they soon would see their children's lives ruthlessly taken from them. No one really knows for certain how many. The Martyrdom of Matthew states 3,000 babies were slaughtered by the command of Herod. The Byzantine liturgy claims more than 14,000 male children under the age of two were massacred, while Syrian tradition places the number at 64,000! Not to diminish the horror of this event, but the number was probably quite smaller. Biblical archaeologists believe from their findings that Bethlehem's population on May 14, 6 AD (the date claimed by Clement for Christ's birth) to be around 300 persons. If that is the case, then children under two years old would probably equal less than a dozen. However, no one really knows for sure. How far around Bethlehem did Herod's murderous edict extend? While it is doubtful 64,000 children lost their lives, it is equally as doubtful in my mind that just a handful of children were killed. Nevertheless, no matter the number, a life is precious and the heartache of those whose children were taken in such a cruel manner was no doubt heartbreaking beyond words.

As the Christ child escaped to Egypt with His parents, we read in Matthew's gospel how the innocents were slaughtered by a madman. Herod was one of a long line of megalomaniacal kings in Jewish history who sought to maintain his rule at any cost. Since he was crowned ruler of Judea by the Roman government more than 40 years earlier, he had killed scores of persons he considered a threat to his throne. The slaughter of the innocents was merely the crowning achievement of his murderous ways in the twilight of his reign. This man schemed and connived his entire life to ensure his rule and that of his posterity. When he gave the command to destroy the male babies in Bethlehem, this was nothing horrendous in his eyes whatsoever. This was merely the last of a long series of murders to ensure his kingdom rule.

We often look at this event as appalling, but it was the most natural reaction of evil for this malevolent king to perpetrate. While this unspeakable evil was done, the Son of God was safe far to the south. Some might say, "Why did not God intervene on behalf of the innocents while He protected the Son of God? Isn't this hypocritical on God's part to show favoritism to His own Son, yet allow the innocent to perish?" The same questions have been asked of God throughout the millennia. While many believe He sits safely in the heavenlies while continual injustice occurs here on earth, some would suggest this proves He is an unjust God. However, those who would question God in this way do not understand He is not only a God of mercy but one of justice. His character demands that He allow mankind to go the way we have chosen since that fateful day in the Garden. God told Adam and Eve that death would be the result of disobedience, yet they chose to go their own way. Even so, we have chosen to go our own way and the result is carnage and death on a worldwide scale. Why does God allow children to die? Why does He allow babies in Uganda to suffer and die by the hands of cruel men and evil regimes? Why does God allow entire communities with thousands of children to starve to death in the Sudan? Why does He allow terrorists in Belarus to destroy an entire orphanage of children? Because evil exists in the world and we as a species have embraced it! The result of this prevalent evil will result in the death and exploitation of the innocent. It always will. The problem is compounded when we as the human race believe we are not all capable of this type of evil.

Whether we are saved by the Prince of Peace, or are joint-murderers with the prince of darkness is our choice today as it was on that infamous day in Eden. We will either join ourselves with God and look toward the day when He will once again make everything whole. Or, we will continue to join ourselves with the devil and blame God for all the woes of our world. The innocents will continually be the tragic victims of our foolish decision as a race. What we need to do is put the blame where it belongs -- on ourselves, and submit to the Christ Child who can make it all right once again. Instead of saying, "Why" to God over the calamity of this world, we should be praying "When will you come and set things right?" When we look to Him for the solutions, we will understand so much more than those without God. The evil will still be unacceptable. But we will understand its origin and its final demise as we trust in God to one day rid the earth of those who would prey on the innocent, much as Satan preyed on the innocent in Eden's garden. Then, the blameless will be righteous before Him, never to be exploited by evil again.

Holy Father, may we understand that the innocents will always be subjected to the worst kinds of evil. The hearts of men are given to do evil because they are children of their father the devil. They have chosen their parentage by their choice to follow him. There is a day, Father, when You will wipe the earth of this plague. Then, the innocents will be continually in Your presence, never to suffer again. May You come quickly, Lord Jesus. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Running the Race - December 13, 2015

I Corinthians 9:24, 26a - Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. ... Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim;

In our day and time, there's a lot of discussion about race relations. In reality, when you "boil it all down" we are all more alike than different. Have you ever thought how appropriately we are named the "human race"? In our 21st century society, there is not a more fitting title for our species as we consume a great part of our day getting from point A to B and all points divergent. Some prefer to call it the "rat race" to better typify our seeming mindless behavior as we attempt to "one up" the Jones' next door. It seems as if many of us continue running and running throughout our respective days to finally collapse in the evening with a feeling of complete exhaustion. Furthermore, there is the haunting reality that nothing more than a series of similar days have been stacked one upon the other in our past and for our future. The "American Dream" has turned into the great American re-run as many seek solitude and a bit of reconciliation with themselves regarding why they continue to do what is not giving their lives a sense of fulfillment.

Jesus knew the hearts and lives of those in ancient Palestine just as He knows ours today. He did not mean for life to be a continual burden or a chore but that we "... may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10). Paul recognized this as he described to the Corinthian church that life is within our grasp -- it is right here for the taking. However, it must be prized and sought after, even as a runner runs after the glory of victory. Paul was careful to point out that it was not merely skill and prowess that allowed the Grecian Olympian runner to win, but that it was strategy. Twice, within the space of two verses, Paul uses the phrase "run in such a way". When the Holy Spirit repeats Himself through Paul in the same metaphor about running, it would behoove us all to understand the wisdom behind this admonition. As a learning vehicle for this lesson, I believe the Holy Spirit has given us the acronym RACE to provide understanding of what He requires for us all to be successful on the journey as believers in Christ.

Resolve - Probably nothing is lacking in a greater degree in the Body of Christ today than the on-going resolve to follow Christ no matter what the cost. Olympic athletes, once they set their minds and hearts on the goal of their training never look back. They have become resolute in their goal and unflinching in their resolve to conquer their sport. For a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ, there is no greater goal than to hear Jesus say on that glorious day when we stand before Him, "Well done good and faithful servant ... enter into the joy of your Master!" (Matthew 25:23). Paul proclaimed to the Church at Philippi that there was nothing more for him to do than to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). This is the resolve and drive that God requires of us all -- to be so passionately desirous of Christ and His calling in our lives that we balk at nothing that might stand in the way.

Aim - Paul gives us one of the ways to run "in such a way" stating that we should run "not without aim". To run a race without running straight toward the goal is foolish, as we would all agree. What runner would run the course, zigzagging as he or she goes? What a waste of energy and direction to not head directly toward the finish line! Often times, we hear about believers who seek to run the race as a solo runner without any proverbial "coaching". These are those who think they always know better and are of no need of pastoring or shepherding. They think they have it all figured out. Unfortunately, they often "burn out" and become exhausted because they have not relied on the wisdom of others that know the course for them to follow.

Character - It is a common occurrence to hear of modern athletes using growth hormones, steroids, and any number of doping agents that would give one the perceived advantage to be the best. One can be resolute and be aiming toward the finish line of life, yet if their character is not sound then it will not bring them in a winning way to the end of the course. Paul warned the church at Corinth that they might be driven for the things of God, yet they lacked holiness of character which would ultimately allow them to be winners. In I Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul is desirous that his brethren not be mislead to think they can live one way on this earth, expecting entrance to the Kingdom of Light: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. It is one thing to say you are a Christian and a follower after Christ -- it is another to live it out daily with integrity and honesty.

Endurance - Once a runner has done all that they can do to prepare body, soul, and spirit for the race at hand, they must then draw upon their inner reserves to complete the race ahead. Very little of our "daily racing" is sprinting, where we get the satisfaction of enjoying the fruit of our labors day to day. On the contrary, most of our daily (metaphoric) racing is part of a marathon where the daily achievements are more often just keeping pace with what God has in store for us on any given day. Personally, I see this metaphor played out constantly between the young and the old. Youth is impetuous and will burn up a track, running 400 and 800 meters with speed, joy, and abandon. However, I would bank on an older runner with the wisdom to "hold back" in a longer race, rather than a youngster who has not learned the strategy to pace oneself through the contest. Likewise, endurance will only come through experience -- doing the next right thing day after day and not expecting immediate dividends. Endurance is ultimately the fuel in the tank of the engine of Resolve that drives us to the finishing tape.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to not be entangled by the cares of this world or the sin which would so easily "trip us up" on life's race course, but to run with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). As we set our affections upon the Author and Perfecter of our faith through our resoluteness, aim, character and endurance, we find that the race set before us is not a burdensome chore. We further find that life is not meaningless but the course is laid out for each and every one of us in the way of wisdom by our Creator. Once we understand the race before us, then we can take up Paul's admonition to run in "such a way" as to not only win, but to be more than conquerors through Him who set us on this glorious course of life. It is not a rat race -- it is our human race and it is simply an amazing one which He has given us all the grace and ability to win!

Holy Father, thank you for your words to us that we are all in a spiritual race. You would not have called us to this endeavor without the ability and grace to finish. And, to not only finish but to win. Thank you for making us victors in you, Lord, as we all pace ourselves toward the finish line in such a way as to bring you glory. In Jesus Christ's Precious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 6, 2015

God's Volunteers - December 6, 1015

Psalm 110:3a - Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;

Lots of folks volunteer for any number of things. There are a myriad of opportunities to give of your time to a charity, a cause, a needy organization -- the list goes on and on. Some will volunteer with an organization or for an upcoming event on a short term basis, while others such as Mother Teresa make it their life vocation. There are all types of people that help out for one reason or the other. But what does it really mean to volunteer for God? What does it mean to become so passionate about what God is doing that the first instinct is to run toward the opportunity that He offers? I will venture to say that when God gets a hold of someone, by His power, then they will never be the same. What had once been a "nice idea" to help someone or something has now become the driving force of their life.

The lead scripture tells us that the "people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power". This can be interpreted to mean that when God pours out His Spirit on all flesh in the end time move of God, that surely many will respond with a volunteer attitude. They will witness first hand the power of God with signs and wonders and the manifestation of His Spirit with mighty works of grace. Truly, there will be a great ingathering at that time merely because of the demonstration of His power. I believe wholeheartedly that this verse has a collective interpretation for the Body of Christ, but it also has an individual implication for the life of every believer. We only must understand "the call" that the Lord has placed on us as the saints of God and then comprehend how to walk in its revelation. The power to volunteer freely is available to every believer once they understand some basic fundamentals regarding who they are in Christ. More importantly, the grace that embodies that power is the fuel which will keep us passionate about our respective missions.

Isaiah is the classic example of a man who saw, understood, and was then launched into his life as a "volunteer" for God. In Isaiah chapter 6 we see the prophet's acceptance of what God desires for him to do as a prophet to the nation of Judah. Many call this chapter "Isaiah's calling", however I prefer to call it "Isaiah's Enlistment". Isaiah was not drafted into service as many of the Old Testament prophets. In Isaiah 6:8, God very clearly asks, "Whom shall I send?" and Isaiah spoke up with deliberateness saying, "Here I am, send me!" There are three clear reasons from this scripture why someone would so readily volunteer for the thankless, dangerous job that Isaiah signed on to do. They are as follows:

Visualization -- In Isaiah 6:1, the prophet-elect sees "... the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple." The glory of God is all about Isaiah as he sees the heavenly scene play out before his eyes as the powerful angels minister to the Most High. In the midst of this heavenly, holy revelation he sees his own filthiness in comparison with God's utter holiness. He cries out in Isaiah 6:5 that he is ruined because he is a man of unclean lips living amongst an unclean people. At this juxtaposition, between understanding God's holiness and his own unworthiness, he took the first step toward his candidacy as God's volunteer to the rebellious house of Judah.

Realization -- Once Isaiah understood the nature of God and his own nature as a fallen man in need of God's mercy and grace, then he could look beyond the "who" and start to understand the "what" that the Holy One desired. God Almighty was looking for someone to send to the rebellious house of Judah to reprimand them for their apostasies toward His holy name. Once Isaiah understood the need, he was then able to respond to God's query: "Whom shall we send" with an emphatic "Send Me!". This type of commitment can only come first out of an awareness of who He is, who we are, and then the realization that we are a prime candidate for His bidding.

Mobilization -- Once Isaiah knew God's heart and His will, it was time to partner with the Almighty. This is when Isaiah's enlistment or volunteering is actually confirmed by God with marching orders. The Lord tells Isaiah in verses 9 and 10 to go and to keep speaking to this stubborn people regardless whether they listen or not. Isaiah confirms his commission by asking in verse 11, "How long should I do this?". God answers him to continue his preaching until there is no longer any need to preach -- until the house of Israel and Judah have been taken into captivity. In other words, Isaiah was being told beforehand that he would not be successful in the eyes of man but that he would be a failure. (Beware of judging success in any way other than through God's eyes!) Isaiah was given a broad, generic plan from God yet the prophet accepted the mantle that Lord had given him and waited on Him to fill in the details.

Isaiah has laid out for us the road map to be a successful, passionate, unwavering volunteer for the Lord Jesus Christ. First, we must understand who He is and what He has done for us on the cross of Calvary. We must then accept his holiness in exchange for our wretchedness. This is a true understanding of both our character and His. Next, we need to realize that he has called us all to both LIVE and PREACH the gospel with our day to day living. That may be verbally, but often it will be by our witness and how we live in the midst of those who don't know the Lord. And finally, we must know that this is our life's vocation -- that it is not simply something we will do occasionally or when the mood strikes us, but it is a life to be lived with passion and desire to share the life of Christ no matter if ANY respond. If there is a clear vision of the Lord, a concise realization of what we are here on earth to do, and a stalwart mobilization of our affections and passions to that end, then there will truly be grace and power in our lives as we give our lives as one of God's volunteers. Then, we will be joyous as we cry out with Isaiah, "Send me, Lord," for it will not matter the height, or the depth, or the width or the breadth of service -- we will be His life-long volunteers through His grace and mighty power!

Lord God Almighty, reveal Yourself to us. Show us our own inability to affect anything that is lasting outside of Your strength. Through these revelations, grant us your own grace and power that we might enlist into your service with a lifetime of love and passion. In Jesus name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick