Sunday, February 28, 2016

An Enlarged Heart - February 28, 2016

Psalm 119:32 - I shall run the way of Your commandments, For You will enlarge my heart.

When we are saved from sin, many of us can ever imagine having the capacity to follow the first commandment in its fullness: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. Though we are in love with Jesus and His wonderful gift of salvation, doubts appear when our fleshly natures start to rear their ugly head. Our lives seem desperately selfish and focused on our own interests once the spotlight of the Holy Spirit illumines our true nature. However, as we grow in the Lord, and are obedient to His leadings we also find our capacity to love increases and broadens. There really is no correlation to the broadening of our capacity to love with how we "feel" about our sin or how we react and languish about it. Rather it is a direct result of how our faith is released by obedience (to a greater degree), thereby helping us recognize the glorious gift of salvation that the Lord Jesus has bestowed on us. It is just something that we accept with gratitude. As our faith grows, our love grows also -- not just for the Lord but for his creation -- namely His greatest creation, humankind.

The Psalmist spoke deliberately in the opening verse regarding his desire to please the Lord in obedience. In many instances throughout the Word of God, the metaphor of "walking" is used to signify the way of one's spiritual traversing. Either the humble and upright will follow the path of righteousness, or conversely, the naive and simple will stumble down the road to destruction. However, running is a different matter as outlined in several scriptures throughout the Word, both in a positive and negative light. In Isaiah 59:7 it states that Their feet run to evil, and they hasten to shed innocent blood; while Solomon declared in Proverbs 18:10 ... The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe. As these scriptures suggest, there is a certain expediency in regards to running. It implies that there is an urgency to get to a desired location or end, as if there is a constraint that would be pushing the runner on to finish his or her course within an acceptable time. Solomon understood running toward the Lord as well as running away from Him. He is the quintessential example of someone spiritually "running" in extreme, diametric directions. In his younger life, he gave himself to the Lord and "ran" the way of His commandments to the point that his soul was "hyper-enlarged" with a heart of wisdom unparalleled in the annals of humankind. In later years, he allowed his heart and mind to become vacant of God's wisdom as he gave himself to "running" after the excesses of depravity. Throughout the book of Ecclesiastes, we find a man that had filled up an enormously large vacuum with the pleasures of this world. His conclusion, after he had turned back to God, was that "all is vanity" and that the wisest choice is: ... fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

In reality, we will all pursue our passions at one pace or another. Some of us prefer to walk, while others of us are compelled to run. I have always been a "runner", but not in the literal sense. My running began years before I ever ran my first mile in 1990. Years before, I too was like Solomon and "sprinted" after carnality and the lust of my own flesh. I ran with such riotous ruin, honing and practicing disobedience with such vigor that if there were a priesthood for the damned I was certainly a tenured minister. My heart had become superfluously enlarged with every evil known to man. I was doomed, until I met Jesus. When the Lord gave me a new heart, he made it right-sized again. But then an amazing thing began to occur. With every victory, He increased both my faith and love for Him as he began His glorious work as the Author and Perfecter of my faith in Him. As time passed, He continued to bless me with more faith, more hope, and the crown jewel, His Love. In time, my heart once again started enlarging, but not with the excesses of disobedience. This time it was with His grace and the very fruit of His Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

Let us ask ourselves: What is my pursuit in life today? Am I walking after the "god of this world" and the lust of my flesh, or am I walking with the Lord God Almighty who is able to give me love, hope, and joy? I am convinced that if we are merely walking after the flesh and the devil or after the Lord and His righteousness, that we should be "running" in one direction or the other. For if a man or woman is running from God, they are more likely to fall as they run in darkness. THEN, there is hope that they will turn to the Most High. Conversely, if one is running with the Lord and with His commandments, there can only be one outcome -- a life and a heart that will be so enlarged with the goodness of God that they won't be able to contain it.

Lord Jesus, our Redeemer, help us to run the way of your commandments ... this day. Help us to surrender to you that you may do the work of the Master Surgeon and enlarge our hearts to give more, to live more, and to love more. In Christ Jesus' Holy Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 21, 2016

His Servants - February 21, 2016

Psalm 119:91 - They [heaven and earth] stand this day according to Your ordinances, For all things are Your servants.

After his conversion to Christianity in the late 1970s, Bob Dylan recorded his 19th studio album titled Slow Train Coming. After the album's release in 1979, many long time fans were horrified. What happened to their free-thinking, political and social activist? Had he really lost his mind by giving his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ? Believers (including myself) praised God that He had delivered yet another from the narcissistic "me" generation of the 1960s and 70s Side one of this controversial recording featured a song named "Gotta Serve Somebody". It won Dylan the Grammy for the best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. Probably the most striking and gut-honest words in this song are in the refrain. Clearly, these lyrics speak about how none of our lives are our own:
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes, indeed
Serve somebody

It might be the devil or it might be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
In response to "Gotta Serve Somebody", John Lennon wrote the song "Serve Yourself" shortly before his untimely death in December of 1980. This irreverent composition was Lennon's statement against all organized religion, especially Christianity. These two songs were testaments to whom and what controlled the destiny of these two men. Ironically, both were so-called seekers after truth, yet only one attained to a true understanding of what life is really all about. Only one of these two singer/songwriters found out the truth, and that is ... IT'S NOT ABOUT US!

We have been placed on this earth not to fulfill our own self-centered destinies, but to bring glory to the One that created us in His image. Psalm 119:91 places the center of the universe and all of creation back on the Creator. Additionally, it deemphasizes the creation as existing to be subservient to its Maker. It is a glorious revelation of who God is -- and who He is not. If you're not the Creator (which none of us are, of course!) than we are the created and we have a role in that creation, which is to serve the One who created us. This twists and turns and upsets the minds and hearts of those who cannot wrap their minds around the idea that God is who He said He is. These are folks that are unregenerate, lost and without hope of salvation unless they turn and repent of their lawless lives. Of all His creation, we are the only created things with free will that can lay our dark, depraved hearts before Calvary's Cross and accept His free gift of redemption. Likewise, we can spit in God's eye and continue on in our rebellious state to the gates of hell. All things in creation know their place -- except humankind. The irony of finding our place of servitude before Him on this earth equates to ultimately reigning with Him forever in the age to come. Even if others (such as Lennon) do not seemingly find that place of servitude toward God on this earth, they will still serve God's purposes in other tragic ways.

God's Holy Word tells us that certain scriptures were written as an admonition, or as a warning to us that we might not sin (Hebrews 3:12-19). The Word is full of examples of disobedience that God uses to instruct others in the fear of the Lord, not to do similarly and likewise perish. Just as the prophets and the holy men and women of the Old and New Testament are examples of servants of righteousness, in like manner those who have disobeyed and served themselves and their own sinful passions have become servants of destruction. These continue to instruct and serve us through their past wickedness, how not to behave. They may be servants of Satan and the flesh, but in the grand scheme of things they are serving God's ultimate purposes of showing His longsuffering and patience toward these vessels of wrath (Romans 9:22). We can never truly know His grace unless we know the power of sin. There are multitudes of the servants of darkness filling up the bowl of God's wrath. In reality, they are actually the catalysts for Him to release to us more of His grace. The fifth and sixth chapters of Romans tell us that "... where sin abounds, graces does abound all the more". God is not willing for any to perish but that all would come to repentance. Unfortunately, we know that many will not make that decision for God. (However, those who know His saving grace should continue to pray and seek the Lord for His mercy for others.)

As Dylan so simply stated, we WILL serve the devil or we WILL serve the Lord. It's all about OUR choice, at least in the beginning. In the end -- when all has been said and done -- we will see how God was just and loving to call all to repentance yet not all heeded the call. Those "without ears to hear" the loving invitation of the Father will continue to think they are serving themselves, living so-called lives of self-sufficiency. They are horribly deceived. The devil believes that these who live for themselves are truly his and he has robbed God of His precious possession. To some degree this is true, but only for the time being. On that last day, we shall all witness how even the self-serving really served no other purpose but to justify the righteous actions of the Lord Most High as He condemns them to their lifelong desire of isolation with "self". There will be no defiance on that day when He passes judgment, for all will know that His judgment is true. For we know from the scripture (Philippians 2:10-11) "... that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." To bend not the knee to Him in this life will only mean bent knees and a lost soul in the life to come. Oh, to be a gloriously redeemed servant in this life rather than a tragic, hopeless slave in the life to come! Should we not be living lives as His Servants now and serving Him and others in righteousness? For all will serve Him, one way or the other throughout eternity.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Precious Possessions - February 14, 2016

Psalm 116:15 - Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His godly ones.

When reading this verse, one must be careful to remove all morbidity from what God is seeking to reveal. David's theme throughout this psalm is thanksgiving for deliverance from death. On one hand, he is grateful to the Lord that his life has been spared. Yet, on the other, he also knows that God welcomes the godly man or woman into the heavenly realms with arms outstretched in love. Physical death is not be sought in this life as a Christian, but it is to welcomed when we know our life has been spent for Him. There is a deep sense of knowing in the heart of the redeemed that God the Father looks upon His children that pass from one life to the next as His most precious possession. The scriptures tell us in Luke 15:10 that ... "there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents". The love, joy, and expectation is just beginning when a sinner turns from sin and believes. The climactic eternal conclusion will be when the Father says, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:23)

While it is unfitting and morbid to actually long for physical death, God puts a yearning within the heart of every true believer to experience another type of death even as he or she lives upon this earth. When one dies to carnality and the deeds of the flesh, then the rebirth of the Holy Spirit within our spirits can truly manifest. To be truly free from sin is nothing less than having dealt a death blow to all that controlled our lives before accepting Christ as our Savior. Even as His godly one's physical deaths are precious in His sight, so also does He delight when those who are called by His name renounce the things of this world and seek His face and His glory. This "living-death" while on this earth that brings true joy to the soul (and also to the Father's) is only a prelude to what we will experience in the life to come. For only to the degree of sanctification or "setting ourselves apart for the Lord", will we truly experience the depths of His love and joy.

Paul experienced such a depth of sanctification and oneness with Christ on this earth that He longed for the ultimate experience of oneness with Christ by giving up his life on earth to be with Him. Paul stated in Philippians 1:22-23 that he was hard-pressed from two different directions -- one, to stay and help build up the church, and two, that he might depart to be with the Lord. Paul was one of those unique believers that had experienced so much death to self on this earth that his spirit and soul longed with an intense fervor to be with His Lord. The apostle had become so much "one" with Jesus Christ that it seemed totally unnatural to be partakers of the earthly body any longer. Everything within him cried out for his own mortality to take on immortality and to be with the Love of his soul. For truly, that which we love will have all of our thought and desire. As our passions for things on this earth endure, we become more and more identified with our longings. The longer I am married to Rebecca, the more I love her and wish to please her. In retrospect, the more someone is "married" to lust or greed or pride or any any number of other things, the more they become like their object of affection. (One may look no further than J.R.R. Tolkien's example in the "Lord of the Rings" series as a fitting example. Gollum was consumed in body, soul, and spirit for his love of the ring of power which he named "his precious"!).

God's will for each and everyone of us is quite simple. As stated in I Thessalonians 4:3, Paul writes that "... This is the will of God; your sanctification ...". Only by death to ourselves and our old nature can we truly experience the Lord's will for our lives. As long as we continue to play around the periphery of sinful behavior, we will never experience the depth's of love and joy in this lifetime that He desires for us. Why would we want to wait for physical death and immortality with the Father to experience this wonderful life that He has for all who would but humble themselves in this lifetime? The pursuit of sin will continue to leave that "God-shaped" vacuum in all that would consider their rebellion against God as their privilege and right. There is only One that can give true life in this age and the age to come. He gave His life nearly 2,000 years ago that we might have life and have it more abundantly. All we need to is accept and identify with His death, burial, and resurrection, for Paul stated in Galatians 5:24 that "... we who belong to Christ have crucified the the flesh with its passions and desires". Once we accept Him and His marvelous gift, our death to sin becomes a wonderful expression of His life through us. It is only a foreshadowing of when we step beyond the veil of this earthly life into the presence of His glory. The "precious possession" that we have cared for in this life will only bring delight and joy as our Father welcomes us into His heavenly realm.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Your Kingdom Come - February 7, 2016

Matthew 6:10 - Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.

If there is one Christian prayer that most folks know, it is The Lord's Prayer. Many churches and denominations pray this prayer every week in their Sunday morning services. As with anything that is done repetitiously, this powerful prayer can lose all of its unction and meaning, becoming a rote monologue said without even thinking about the words spoken. However, once we establish whom we are addressing and His eminence as the Holy One of the universe, the pray-er can then seek to align themselves with the intent of their Maker. The next three lines of this prayer are probably the most powerful words that we can pray as the Body of Christ, yet they are truly symptomatic of prayer-words losing their impetus and meaning.

Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.

What does it REALLY mean to pray "Your kingdom come"? For some Christians, it would be a most upsetting and alarming situation if God truly did what we asked Him. Some undoubtedly have a faulty vision in their mind of what God's kingdom on earth will look like. Certainly, the kingdom of Jesus Christ and His rule on earth will be a blessed, joyous life full of His righteousness and justice. The key word here is ... justice. For in order for there to be a reign of God's love and joy and blessings, there will assuredly be a hostile takeover of the power and authorities currently occupying the earth and His prospective kingdom. In order for His kingdom to come, there will be a need to establish righteous rule as He judges the thoughts and intents of every soul on earth. Jesus Christ is coming again, and He is coming with the fire of His judgments that will purge the earth of anything that does not give glory to His name and to His Father's.

If we truly examine the words that the Lord Jesus taught us to pray, we will see that He desires an exact replication of what is in heaven to be on the earth. Does God tolerate sin in heaven? Does He "wink" at his angels or at the redeemed in glory that might want to experience a little vicarious pleasure by possibly gossiping about this one or that one? Does He allow watching movies or television that mocks the love that He put between a married man and woman with licentious abandon and lascivious aberrations between unmarried or same sex couples? Beloved, angels have fallen from the heavenly realms for the unholy act of pride and rebellion which are nothing less than what many of us do in contradiction to what God requires of us here on earth. If Jesus Christ came this very day in answer to our prayer to establish His kingdom on earth, would we meet Him with an uplifted, unashamed face? Or would we hide and cower because truly we were only mouthing our pretense that He should establish His holy residence upon the earth?

Without a doubt, Jesus Christ is coming once again to establish peace and righteousness upon the earth. The precursor to this tranquil realm is the bloody coup spoken of in numerous scriptures (see Isaiah 35:4, Isaiah 59:17-18, Isaiah 61:2-3). For those who can accept it, those who are called by His name have been given the awesome and heroic responsibility of preparing the way for His final vengeance before he will one day (soon) establish His peace. Psalm 149 is a testimony of spiritual warfare that is the heritage of every believer. Not only should the "high praises of God be on our lips and a two-edged sword in our hands" but we should know what to do with this spiritual sword of the Holy Spirit. Verses 7-9 state that we should take vengeance on the nations and upon spiritual principalities by welding our spiritual swords against wickedness and evil. Verse 9 concludes by stating that it is our "honor" to serve God in this wise. Beloved, are we truly pulling down wicked strongholds in our lives and the lives of those around us? Are we doing the work as a forerunner of Christ by evoking His vengeance on wickedness that would seek to usurp the holiness of the Most High God? The words of The Lord's Prayer are not glib, meaningless scripture meant for an offertory prayer on Sunday mornings. No, my brothers and sisters, they are powerful words meant to usher in the kingdom or our Lord and to establish His righteous reign on this earth as well as in heaven. Are we truly ready for His kingdom to come?

Lord Jesus, we pray ... "Your kingdom come" and all the implications that those words prescribe. Bring judgment upon this earth starting with us. Purge us of self and wickedness. Then, use us to lift up your standard of righteousness and love to a world that is dying all around us. In Jesus Christ's holy name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick