Sunday, January 31, 2016

Love Your Enemies - January 31, 2016

Luke 6:26-28 - Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way. But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.

Jesus' statement to love our enemies precludes that all of us who are believers should HAVE enemies. If we don't, there is a problem. It most likely means that we have never stood up for the Gospel that we espouse to believe. In this age of "political correctness" we are often terrified to say or do the wrong thing in fear that we will upset someone. Far be it that we might voice our objection regarding someone's mores or life values that smack of ungodliness and wickedness. As we have discussed in previous weeks, it is often a way for folks with questionable behavior to get a "pass" by throwing up in our faces that we should "judge not" any lifestyle choice. In so doing, the mass majority of society will acquiesce to those who scream foul when someone points the finger of objection their way. These have politely turned the other cheek, pretending tolerance in order to "get along". Jesus stated a particular "woe" for these sorts -- for he said that these folks were those who spoke falsely into others lives for the sake of unilateral peace. In so doing, these that would surrender without a voice forfeit their would-be enemies that would rise up to eventually help perfect their faith.

Jesus qualifies in Luke 6 that we will indeed have enemies if we live the life of a true Christ-like believer. He then says something that is totally revolutionary and diametric to conventional thinking. He tells us to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us, to bless those who curse us and to pray for those who live to mistreat us. Loving those who disagree with us is not an easy undertaking. It is one thing to love those who disagree with us and an entirely different thing to love those who are actively trying to do us physical harm. In many parts of the world, believers are continually persecuted because they have stood up for their faith with a resoluteness that baffles their tormenters. Their persecutors can't understand how someone would give up their property, their liberty, or even their lives for the sake of the Gospel. Yet often these speak not a word in their defense, but they willingly offer their lives as a sacrifice to His glory to the outrage of those who would seek to destroy them. The irony is that when men and women are at their least defensible, then the power of God is there to fortify their weakness and to confound their oppressors.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a master at addressing the subject of loving your enemies, for he truly made it a life vocation. The following is an excerpt from a sermon that he delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 17 November 1957 on the subject of loving your enemies:
And this is what Jesus means, I think, in this very passage when he says, "Love your enemy." And it’s significant that he does not say, "Like your enemy." Like is a sentimental something, an affectionate something. There are a lot of people that I find it difficult to like. I don’t like what they do to me. I don’t like what they say about me and other people. I don’t like their attitudes. I don’t like some of the things they’re doing. I don’t like them. But Jesus says love them. And love is greater than like. Love is understanding, redemptive goodwill for all men, so that you love everybody, because God loves them. You refuse to do anything that will defeat an individual, because you have agape in your soul. And here you come to the point that you love the individual who does the evil deed, while hating the deed that the person does. This is what Jesus means when he says, "Love your enemy." This is the way to do it. When the opportunity presents itself when you can defeat your enemy, you must not do it.
Dr. King's admonition still rings true nearly 60 later. There will always be those who don't agree with us or dislike us or even hate us for what we believe. We must not cower or bow down to anyone's beliefs or their lack of moral fiber in the face of the Gospel. Yet, we must always counter their hostility with the love of Christ, or as Dr. King puts it, the "agape (God's love) in your soul". The only way to perfect this love in our dealing with others is to practice it. One does not get to a place of "judgmental love" toward someone unless it is flowing out of them from the Holy Spirit. For truly, judgments are a part of life and we make them all day long. What a lost world is looking for are men and women with Godly character to judge unrighteous behavior accordingly, yet with a Divine love that offers the other cheek with a joyful deliberateness. The political-correctness in our present world seeks to destroy Godly standards, thereby eliminating all our enemies that are essential to all of us who believe. Let none of us lack the opportunity to learn to love our enemies by having no enemies due to our own acquiescence. Let us all know that the enemies of the cross of Christ will always exist until His return. It is our responsibility to know them, to judge them righteously, and to love them with only the love that our Savior can bestow.

Lord Jesus, show us our enemies. Help us to know and to love our enemies, praying for these and telling them of the love of Jesus Christ. May they also become Friends of the Bridegroom by our words of truth bathed in love. In Your holy name we pray, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,


Sunday, January 24, 2016

Born of Water and the Spirit - January 24, 2016

John 3:1-5 - Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

The first four verses of John chapter three helps set up Jesus' answer to Nicodemus in verse five. The aged teacher is perplexed regarding how one can be born again when one is old. Nicodemus had come to Jesus in a conciliatory manner, first stating that he and his Pharisee peers knew that He was from God. The learned rabbi wanted to establish a rapport with Jesus right from the beginning. He literally wanted to take control of the conversation, acknowledging that they were both spiritual brothers, or on equal footing since they were both striving after the same things. Jesus' first comment to Nicodemus was not "Well, thank you Nicodemus that you recognize that I am sent from God and that we are laboring after the same goals." No, Jesus decided that the rabbi needed broad-sided with the truth, so He let him have it in verse three: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. This answer so be-fuddled Nicodemus that he found himself speaking out loud his utter confusion about what Jesus had just said, How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he? Although Nicodemus thought he understood that Jesus was merely just another teacher of the law and the prophets, he did not yet understand that Jesus was indeed their fulfillment. Jesus was provoked to answer the aged teacher with the most mind-blowing prophetic fulfillment yet to be heard: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

Nicodemus undoubtedly knew the scriptures. He assuredly studied exhaustively with his Sanhedrin brethren the Torah and the Law of Moses. Yet, when Jesus spoke of being "born of water and the Spirit" it totally escaped his comprehension. Jesus was not speaking of an outward or physical work, but plainly about an inner work within the heart and spirit of a man or woman as explained in the book of Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 36:24-27 - For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
What escaped Nicodemus, is that Jesus was indeed explaining salvation. However, He was more importantly stating that He was the cleansing power and Life-force behind the promised salvation of Israel and the world. So how does Jesus cleanse us from all filthiness and all of our "idols" that usurp his Lordship? He does so by the washing of the water of His word (Ephesians 5:26). When a man or a woman is truly open to God's words and invites Him in for a thorough "housecleaning", that is when the Holy Spirit can indeed begin to make our temple (our body, soul, spirit) a worthy place for His Spirit to abide. Once someone invites the Holy Spirit in for an "inspection", that person will never be the same. I am not saying that they have been born again once the Holy Spirit begins His work, but their minds and hearts are beginning a conversion to the thinking of God. They are beginning to realize that they indeed are filthy and without hope of salvation unless God decides to take up residence within and grant unto them the gift of rebirth.

It is not enough to be cleansed by the washing of the water of the word. There are many who have dipped their foot into the water of his cleansing only to withdraw it once again because the total immersion into the revelation of who He is frightens them. Just because someone knows the scripture and is titillated by its implications doesn't mean that one is born again, as was the case of Nicodemus. It would be as ludicrous as saying that if someone read and comprehended space flight that they were then an astronaut! In a very real sense, the demons of hell understand and comprehend the scripture yet they are doomed to their fate. To truly become born again, one must first be baptized or totally immersed into God's word and then be changed by it. Not that a person needs to know a volume of scriptures, but they must know the living and active word of the Lord being spoken to their wicked hearts -- that they are lost and doomed for eternity without knowing the Lord Jesus Christ and the work of Calvary. One must know the TRUE meaning of His blood shed for our sins by receiving the word implanted in the heart with humility which is able to save a man's soul (James 1:21). Once the word has cleansed the heart, making it contrite and humble, then the Holy Spirit can take up residence within the spirit. Then, and only then can a man be born of the Spirit of God!

Lord Jesus Christ, I confess to you my sin. My mind and heart have been converted to know that your word is true and there is salvation in no other. Come, live within me and cause me to be born again. In Your Holy Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Curing the Diseased Heart - January 17, 2016

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?

"Despite dramatic medical advances over the past 50 years, heart disease remains a leading cause of death globally and the Number 1 cause of death in the United States," so states No one should really marvel at this reality (especially in America) given our sedentary and often lethargic lifestyles toward diet and exercise. It is quite easy to take for granted the organ within us all that pumps blood and gives life to us moment by moment. We can ignore this amazing "pound of flesh" that the Lord God has put within each and every one of us, yet it continues to beat and pump the life-giving fluid throughout our bodies irrespective of our awareness to this fact. Oftentimes, it can be a case of "out of sight, out of mind" regarding the health of this marvelous muscle. Even as we unconsciously take breath after breath that supplies oxygen to our blood which then courses through veins and arteries, even so we seldom are cognizant of our beating heart. All to often, the only true exercise the heart gets is trying to recover from the lack of oxygen due to inactivity, or the over-indulgence of foods that make our hearts work in an inordinate manner. It's no wonder that America and much of the world suffers from diseased hearts more than any other malady, leading to eventual pre-mature death.

What is true in the physical is generally a visual manifestation of a spiritual counterpart that is oftentimes unseen. The spiritual underbelly of the heart disease epidemic is a plague of "spiritual" heart disease unparalleled since the creation of humankind. Just as today we are plagued by the highest instances of heart disease in human history, likewise the wholesale spiritual condition of collective humankind has never been more dire. While violent crime is down in many U.S. cities, it is on the rise in many parts of the world. Human trafficking is at an all time high. According to a 2005 national study made available to the American Bar Association ... An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, and approximately 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls. Many of these young girls are forced into prostitution as young as five years old. This is just one example regarding the condition of the world's heart-at-large and its capability to think and do evil. It is merely symptomatic of a much deeper and sinister evil.

One might say, "That is awful. I could never condone this type of evil and I believe it to be abhorrent!" However, to be human is to share in the sin of all flesh. Jeremiah is not stating an opinion or an assumption regarding the heart of man in the opening verse. Rather, he has identified himself so intimately with his Lord as a "seer" of the Most High that he knows and understands the comparison between God's heart and that of his people. The prophet understood that the human heart is sick and diseased, being in a state of "living death" and without hope outside of redemption. Later, in Jeremiah 32:35 the prophet relates that God could not even imagine or had it even come into His mind that His children could do the sin and abomination that they invented. For truly as God is the God of creation, the god of this world and the sin that he works through in the heart of humans is a "creative destruction" that only he could conceive. Beloved, there is no hope for any of us outside of a Savior that desires and yearns to do the miraculous within each and every one of us. For every soul that is unredeemed possesses a heart that is corrupt and vile and capable of every evil intent that has been germinated in earth and under the earth since the beginning of time. (If you balk at the thought of owning the sin of all humankind as an unredeemed soul, mention that to those "respectable" women of Jerusalem when you get to eternity who resorted to eating their own children during the siege by the Babylonians [see Lamentations 4:10]).

Jeremiah ends his poignant verse regarding the heart of man with a question for us all to contemplate: Who can understand it? Throughout the millennia, humans have attempted to medicate the spiritual heart of man with a variety of cures. Philosophers, such as Diogenes have sought with failure to find a truly upright man to validate the goodness of humankind. Psychologists and psychiatrists have often tried to place the blame of evil outside of human responsibility thereby relieving a person's culpability. However, the Word of God is clear to point out that humans are the reason sin exists and that we OWN sin through the sin natures given to us from the original transgressors. Our Adamic natures, inherited from the Fall of humankind, is endemic of every sin committed and yet to be committed. Without redemption, our hearts are desperately ill and in need of a new life giving source. Only when Jesus Christ, the Great Surgeon gives us His heart by the miraculous transplant of His life into ours, only then can we truly begin to live anew. There is no true life outside of Him, for He is the Life-giver (Colossians 1:16). To accept His free gift of salvation is to accept His heart that is free from sin. Only then, can we truly be healed of a diseased heart while telling others of His marvelous cure!

Your Barefoot Servant,


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Run Toward the Roar - January 10, 2016

II Samuel 23:20-21 - Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done mighty deeds, killed the two sons of Ariel of Moab. He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day. He killed an Egyptian, an impressive man. Now the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but he went down to him with a club and snatched the spear from the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear.

Fear can both immobilize and paralyze in a place of indecision. To honestly look at fear, we see that at its bare root is the fear of loss. When we fear something and we react in a less than courageous way, we are generally thinking (either consciously or sub-consciously) that we might lose something -- anything from a position of power or maybe even the loss of our own life. While there is something to be said for not rushing ahead with impudent abandon, there also comes a time to act. Unfortunately, many a man or woman's potential is paralyzed by a deferred decision that would have ultimately given them the advantage in a given situation. Throughout scripture, we are given role models that personify those who dare not to defer but to act with conviction. While there are many bible characters that typify a strong sense of decisiveness there are only a few that stand out with an air of "chutzpah" like Benaiah the son Jehoiada. The scripture points out that this Israeli warrior was a mighty man of David's army. Indeed, he was one of David's "thirty" which consisted of a group of 30 specially trained commandos that were undoubtedly the equivalent of any of today's most elite special operations teams. Men such as Benaiah were trained to make split-second decisions that would ultimately mean life or death for either them or their foe. These were fearless men who had developed a keen sense of themselves, including their abilities and their limitations. However, to think that they had always possessed this type of warring aptitude and character would be a stretch. As in the case of ALL strengths, whether mental or physical, they must grow and be nurtured until they are keen and sharp. The bible is quick to point out someone like Benaiah's heroic exploits, however there is nothing stated on how he became the mighty warrior we read about in II Samuel.

As we see in the opening scripture, the passage highlights Benaiah's résumé with three extraordinary feats. While all three are remarkable, the second exploit is the subject of this discussion. What would motivate a man to jump down into a pit with a lion in order to slay it? After all, isn't the beast confined with no worries of its escape? So, why not just leave it be? Or, if Benaiah did want to kill it, why not heave stones or arrows down on it until it was dead? We need to look at the heart of this warrior to understand why he did what he did. Benaiah had undoubtedly learned how to face down his foes since he was a lad in training. He invariably knew that the expedient thing to do in any battle was to meet his enemy head on. He knew no other way from his early training. Regarding the captive lion, there was no doubt what he needed to do in that situation. He must meet this adversary head on and with fearlessness. II Samuel is careful to point out another important dynamic in this honor struggle; It was a snowy day! Once Benaiah had entered the pit with the lion, there would be no escape for either him or the lion. If the sides of the pit had provided any hand (or paw) holds before the snow, there was certainly nothing to grasp on the slick, moisture-laden clumps of earth that encircled their enclosure. There may have been a way to climb out of the pit before the snow, but not after! In addition, the bottom of the pit would be slick, offering little surety of footholds for either man or beast. In truth, these were not ideal conditions to battle this lion, yet Benaiah faced and defeated his enemy on his own terms.

Benaiah knew neither the paralysis of fear nor the over-analysis that often robs us of a victory. The only difference between us and Benaiah is the giving of our hearts to PRACTICE faith with a spirit of wisdom. As stated, Benaiah's exploits are wonderful and awe-inspiring. However, we don't hear about his learning and struggling, his falling and failings to become the man of faith that typifies him in the Word of God. This warrior undoubtedly heard the roar of the lion and ran toward the pit, leapt in, engaged his prey, thereby defeating it. This was a calculated "wisdom-decision" in the heart of Benaiah. He knew no fear in this regard so therefore he could not suffer loss. The only thing that he risked losing was the advantage of meeting and defeating this fearsome foe. For if he didn't defeat it now when he could do it on his terms, a future encounter might be even less to his advantage. The fear of the Lord and the love of what is right and expeditious can oftentimes be the impetus to keep us all from lapsing into that place of trepidation where we lose a sense of ourselves and what is right. Daily, we hear the "roar" of our troubles and predicaments in what we determine to be our "pits of despair". How can we face them? How can we deal with them in a demonstrative way like heroic Benaiah? The key is to summon up courage that is born out of wisdom. If we have never wielded the Sword of the Holy Spirit before in the face of our problems, it is unrealistic to think that we can be "lion-killers" without previous faith-building challenges. (Even David had killed the bear and the lion before he went after Goliath [I Samuel 17:34-36].) If we stand up to our smaller fears, not calculating the loss that might incur, then one day we will be ready to run toward the roar when we hear our adversary challenging us from the pit of our own circumstances.

Once we have been thoroughly trained to battle against all the schemes of him that ... prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8), then we will know when we hear his roar we must engage him. In everyone's life, including Benaiah's circumstance, there will be a time when the snow has melted and the ground has dried up and the lion within the pit is ravenous. Then, he will find a "paw up" the sides of that deep pit and once again be free. He will then come looking for his next victim. Benaiah knew this, and that's why he couldn't just let the beast live with the chance of escape. The learned warrior knew that it would be criminal against his honor and the honor of the Lord to do otherwise. In the same manner, beloved, we must equip ourselves NOW for the battles ahead. There will be a day when we too must meet our lion in a pit on a snowy day. Until that day, may we fortify ourselves with courage in the small victories that the Lord Jesus Christ is affording us through our varied circumstances. He only wants us to be wise in the power of His might to run toward the roar with a holy resolution. May God give us all the wisdom and the strength for that battle ahead!

Holy Father, equip us with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Give us the heart of a warrior with both courage and insight to meet and defeat our daily enemies. Prepare us for those momentous days ahead that will define us as we all run toward the roar of the opportunities you provide for us to be victors in You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,


Sunday, January 3, 2016

Crowd Control - January 3, 2015

Mark 3:9 - And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him;

We have all experienced the feeling of being jostled and driven through a crowd. It can be unnerving, as a feeling of losing control is every bit a "loss" or deficit in our ability to be our own master of any given situation. As with any type of loss, there can be a number of various emotions -- fear, anger, or mistrust in a variety of degrees. While Jesus never succumbed to any of these emotions in a sinful way, He obviously took steps to minimize or to mitigate the fallout that a pressing crowd might engender. In so doing, He not only took control of the situation at hand but He also instructed His disciples to do likewise for future crowd control. (The disciples with Jesus could not have foreseen nor fathomed that in the first few weeks after the day of Pentecost the adding of 8000 believers to the Jerusalem church [Acts 2:41Acts 4:4].)

Mark 3:9 tells of a scene by the seashore in preparation for the Lord's teachings. Jesus could have easily controlled the crowds by a wave of his hand as he stilled the raging sea (see Mark 4:37-39). Yet, He gave His disciples a simple command to avert the need for His interceding in a miraculous way. Jesus Christ was not a conjuror that manipulated the minds of his hearers. (If that was the case, He would have never been murdered as they cried out "Crucify Him".) The Son of God understood the need for order and tranquility on the shores of Galilee. He knew that an excited mob, friendly or not, would only seek to gain control away from Jesus and seize the moment. When the Lord gave the order to His disciples to "stand ready" this was merely Him stating that His time had not yet come and that his power and authority would continue to be evident throughout His short ministry.

While scripture points out that Jesus and His disciples knew how to control the crowds, it is evident that He had a different attitude toward selected individuals that might try to force their way into His presence. On several occasions, Jesus made it clear who were the privileged to "crowd Him". These were souls with an intense need and a determination that would not be turned aside merely because others frowned upon their insistence to reach Jesus. Two such examples are in the fifth chapter of Mark. Jairus, a synagogue official presses through the crowd and throws himself at the feet of our Savior, beseeching Him to come heal his daughter who is near death (Mark 5:21-23). While Jesus is on His way to heal the young girl (and ultimately raise her from the dead), a woman who has suffered from internal bleeding pushes through the crowd to "but touch the hem of His garment" in order to be healed (Mark 5:25-34). These and many others throughout the Gospels are instances where Jesus looked beyond the masses to touch the individual life and heart. What is true in first century Palestine is also true today. Many who seek are defined by the "spirit" in which they seek.

The difference between the masses crowding Him and those who ignored the crowds and sought His presence was simply motive. Jesus fed the five-thousand in John 6, yet afterward they sought Him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He responded to them thus: ..."Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled." (John 6:25-26). Of the five-thousand we can surmise that only a remnant pursued Jesus to the other side of Galilee. Whatever the size of these seemingly earnest followers, Jesus saw through their selfish motives and confronted them accordingly. It is not enough to put on a "show" -- to be part of a whole that seeks to "show" their support for the Lord Jesus Christ by following Him over land or water. It is quite another thing to be struck by the lack of godlessness in one's life rather than the lack of provision as was the case with those who sought Him.

Appropriately, we should all ask ourselves: Who am I in this great crowd of souls that is seeking and searching out the Lord? Am I content to merely hear His word, to be sustained for a season on His goodness and then to go my own way? Or, am I like those who might follow the Savior resolutely -- until one day when He confronts me that I have been pursuing Him merely to provision my own life with the good things He gives? Or, am I like those who have come to the end of themselves and have thrown their lives at His feet not caring what the crowd might whisper or voice openly in disdain over my "foolish" abandon to Him. Beloved, Jesus is looking, He's searching and scanning the crowds of those who would attempt to clamor to His throne. Even now, the eyes of our Lord are searching "to and fro" throughout the earth for those whom He might strongly support" (II Chronicles 16:9). To be lost in a sea of "crowd control" is not the heritage for those who seek to press in to Him. On the contrary, He has called us to press through the crowd, humble ourselves before Him and to follow Him wherever He might lead REGARDLESS of the what others might think or say.

Lord, give us hearts of desperate love toward you. Hearts that would defy the masses, that would ignore the crowds of those who look for you in a nominal way. Lord God, help us to press through and to live with humble abandon at Your feet. In Jesus Christ's Precious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,