Sunday, May 29, 2016

Temple Building, Part I - May 29, 2016


I Chronicles 22:19 - "Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God; arise, therefore, and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God into the house that is to be built for the name of the LORD."

David's admonition to the people to help his son build the temple of the Lord did not come without a price. In the previous verses, King David reminds his son Solomon that he was a man of bloodshed and that the task of temple-building would be entrusted to David's offspring, namely Solomon. David would become known as a "blood warrior" that gave Israel the ability to become a land of peace during his son's reign. Oftentimes, the best defense is a strong offense which in this case ultimately allowed Solomon and the people of Israel times of security in order to build the temple of the Lord.

This scripture is a magnificent metaphor of the work of the Holy Spirit and how He sanctifies the life of those who surrender all to Him. In this passage as well as in much of scripture, David is symbolic of the Lord Jesus Christ. In this instance, David typifies Jesus Christ as having vanquished all his foes by the blood of their sacrifices and the blood of the Lamb of God, respectively. They have both defeated their enemies and have held them up for public display (I Chronicles 18; Colossians 2:15). Solomon is suggestive of the Holy Spirit as he eventually leads the people in the work of temple-building. It is a glorious union of what David (Jesus Christ) has commissioned Solomon (the Holy Spirit) to do through his people. Looking closer at this verse, we see some particular action verbs that are command-oriented yet sequential in their intended results. As in the days of David and Solomon, temple-building is still the order of the day and the Lord tells us exactly how to do it.

"Now set your heart and your soul ... -- How does one "set" their heart and their soul aright? Romans 12:1 tells us not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. If we change our minds, in time our hearts will follow if we are set upon Jesus as the Author and Finisher of our faith. A man or a woman is always converted in their minds and in their thinking before a transformation takes place in their inner being. The tragedy is too often when some don't allow the transformation to happen, but they hold a form or concept in their intellect without humbly asking the Lord to make it real in their life. Head-knowledge alone will ultimately kill while heart-knowledge will inevitably heal and meld the two into one.

... to seek the LORD your God ... -- The phrase "to seek" has an open-ended and interminable meaning. It is of the same sense as in the Gospels when Jesus told his disciples in Luke 11:9 to ask, seek, and knock. The implication in the Hebrew in the I Chronicles' text and later in the Greek in the Luke passage is to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking. We shall never truly find all of what God has in store for us but it is a perpetual quest of the highest order.

... ;arise, therefore -- To "arise" implies a change in position, a readiness to DO! Nothing will be done if we don't enter into partnership with the Holy Spirit to perform His will. It is time to take action!

... and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, -- It is now time to put into practice all that the Lord has shown a believer. Of paramount importance, is to heed all that the Holy Spirit prompts regarding obedience and holy living. The Lord will not tolerate "shoddy" construction where He will dwell. To put oneself in order for the Holy One to dwell within means a life committed to listening and heeding His voice. Maybe He is telling me I need to get a relationship right, or to make amends to one I have wronged. Maybe I am a glutton or a waster of time in front of the TV or my computer. Maybe I am a gossip and I have murdered someone with my words. Whatever God shines the light on, make it right in that moment and your light will break forth like the new day!

... so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God into the house that is to be built for the name of the LORD." -- Not anyone could handle the ark of the covenant. Uzzah found out the hard way (see II Samuel 6:6-11). Only those of the tribe of Levi, the priesthood of God, were allowed to transport the ark of the covenant. For within the ark dwelt the Holy One in His most magnificent splendor. Peter declares that we are a royal priesthood in I Peter 2:9 -- that we only need to accept and sanctify within our hearts the Great Priest, Jesus Christ who gives us license to minister as priests before His Father. It is our responsibility and our privilege as sanctified believers to open the doors of our hearts and to bring in the holiness of God to dwell within our spirits.

Temple-building was not an easy task in Solomon's day nor is it today. It took a lifetime to build the temple in ancient Israel, and it is not any different today. Sanctification is an ongoing, never-ending process of giving body, soul, and spirit to the Lord for his choosing. It is a perpetual "setting, seeking, arising, building, and bringing" as a child of God and ultimately as a part of His most holy priesthood in these latter days. He is seeking true temple-builders even today. Do you hear His voice? Have you heeded His commands? Don't delay for there is much to be done and a lifetime of construction ahead!

Heavenly Father, we hear the call. We desire to be Your temple-builders. For those of us who have heeded your voice, we ask you for a clarity and new vision to serve as your priests, building and sanctifying Your temple within. For those who don't know you Lord, call them and convince them of this noble task at hand -- to allow a dwelling place for the Most High God in all His splendor. Empower us all to build with Your wisdom and to Your glory. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Forgive and Forget - May 22, 2016

Philippians 3:13 - Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,

When I finally put the “plug in the jug” in 1992, I knew that I needed to make amends to all those whom I had used throughout the years. While many of them were unreachable, I did the best I could and made amends, accordingly. Most people are forgiving and understanding when you tell them what you’re trying to do. Most offer a hand of reconciliation and are glad to help patch up the past. When I say most, I am thinking of one individual who would continue to be elusive and unable to pin down regarding offering and receiving his forgiveness.


That person was me.

Often, we are our own worst critic and we can be far more critical of our past than any of our peers. We can beat ourselves unmercifully for a lifetime of missed opportunities and lost chances. We can bemoan all the “could’ve, would’ve, and should’ves that haunt our memory. It took me several years of being sober and “giving back” before I actually felt whole again from the inside out. It took making restitution by giving of myself to others until I could finally feel healed and set free from the condemnation of the past.

When I drank, I didn’t care about you or anyone else. Most of all, I really didn’t care about me. I didn’t care enough to get up and go to work, so therefore I would lose my job. Money would run out since I wasn’t working, so I would steal from you to satisfy my addiction. After waking up from a black-out of the night before I would feel terrible remorse; but more terrible was the need to get drunk again to forget about the remorse. So, I would do what I needed to get some money to get drunk again – steal, sell plasma, collect aluminum cans, or whatever I could do to turn a dollar or two so I could get drunk and ease the pain. Alcohol had crippled me as a human being. However, alcohol was merely the tool Satan used to fan the flames of sin in my life. Alcohol had become the “rapacious creditor”, as it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “that bleeds us of all self-sufficiency”. I was wasted of SELF, and needed to find someone bigger than myself to set me free from this body of death. (That Person, the only One that can set any of us truly free, is Jesus Christ the Almighty.)

For some of us, alcohol is the symptom of the greater malady -- sin within that seeks to kill us. Maybe your symptom is drug addiction. Maybe it is sexual lust. Maybe it is greed. Maybe it is pride. All of these and many more can be the tools that Satan uses to get us mired in sin so we would sink over our heads and be lost forever. I’d like to tell you a story about a man who nearly lost his life to pride. His name was Saul of Tarsus. Later he would be known as Paul the Apostle. Saul’s addiction or “tool” of sin was his extreme self-righteousness. If there was an up-and-comer Pharisee, Paul was certainly the most likely to succeed. In the book of Philippians, Paul gives a bit of his resume by stating how devout he was in his zeal for the Law. In Philippians 3:4-7 he states:

although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

This was his testimony years after his conversion. He understood where he had been as a sinner and where he stood with Christ. Paul stood in a much different place several years before when he witnessed the stoning of the disciple Stephen. The Pharisees were driven to insane anger by the preaching of Stephen. As they drove him off to stone him, they laid their coats at the feet of another zealous Pharisee as stated in Acts 7:58:

When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Finally, in Acts 9:1-5 we find Paul in full pursuit of what he thought was God’s calling on his life – persecuting and killing as many Christians as he could. However, the Lord Jesus had other plans for the young zealot:
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,
Many years later he writes to the church in Philippi and tells them “yes”, this is what I was but I am no longer this man. God had taken hold of Saul of Tarsus and had killed the selfish person within him, resurrecting him as Paul the Apostle. Paul would spend the rest of his life making restitution for his life of sin by pulling as many souls from the clutches of hell as the Lord would enable him through His power. Paul continues his testimony in the 8th verse of the third chapter of Philippians:

More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Did Paul regret his past life? Undoubtedly he did. However, he also knew it was the key to his future. For only those who are forgiven much, can love much. Only those who have known how deep and dark and depraved their hearts were possessed by sin, only then can they know the width, and the breadth, and the depth of God’s love. The secret of Paul’s Christian life was that he never forgot where he came from but in the same token he knew he was forgiven and that it was forgotten by the One who saved his soul. That is why Paul states that he, too, can reach forward for what lies ahead, forgetting the ugliness of the past -- for truly the Father has taken his sin and thrown it in the “sea of forgetfulness”, never to be remembered or brought up again. Allow me to challenge you with this question: How is your “forgetter” today? Does it hold on to ugly images of your past life of sin or does it look forward to a life of freedom and happiness in the Lord? Is there a grateful reminiscence when you think about where God has brought you from, or is there a cloud of condemnation and despair when you consider your past?

There have been countless stories of countless men and women since the life of Paul that have experienced the life changing forgiveness of Christ. I can attest to being one of those. Another is a man named John Newton:

John Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. In July of 1732, thirteen days before his seventh birthday, death took his saintly mother who had since his third birthday been his teacher and friend. He took the death of his mother hard. In fact, it became evident that he was bitter at God over his circumstance because he began as one author puts it, "a decline into rebellion and degradation that lasted until his 24th year." At 11 years of age he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him before the elder Newton retired. In 1744 John was forced into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich. The conditions on board were intolerable to him, so he deserted but was soon recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman.

Finally, at his own request, Newton was exchanged into service on a slave ship, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He then became the servant of a slave trader and was brutally abused. Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had known John's father. John Newton ultimately became captain of his own slave ship. And what kind of captain was he? Lindsay Terry writes, "It is reported that at times he was so wretched that even his crew regarded him as little more than an animal. Once he fell overboard and his ship's crew refused to drop a boat to him. Instead they threw a harpoon at him, with which they dragged him back into the ship." But God intervened in Newton's life and got his attention through a violent storm. The gale was so severe that all the livestock were washed overboard and the crew tied themselves to the ship to keep from being swept overboard. As he was attempting to steer the ship through the violent storm, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his "great deliverance." He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy upon us." Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, a day of humiliation in which he subjected his will to a God.

Several years later after John Newton was ordained a minister, he wrote the song Amazing Grace. In his own words, he describes the type of man he was and now is by the grace of God. Truly, John Newton was a man that forgot the clouded, sinful past and reached forward to the greater calling of his life. Yet, ironically, his past is what shaped him to be of most use for the Lord. Late in life, he joined William Wilberforce in the campaign for abolition of slavery. In 1787 he wrote a tract supporting the campaign, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade. Among his greatest contributions to history was encouraging William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament for Hull, to stay in Parliament and "serve God where he was", rather than enter the ministry. Wilberforce heeded the ex-slaveship captain's advice, and spent the next twenty years successfully working for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.

It doesn’t matter who or what you’ve done or been – whether you have been an addict, alcoholic, a murderer as Saul of Tarsus, or slave-trader like John Newton. God has chosen to forgive us all. And, if He has chosen to forgive us of all our past, shouldn’t we? Are we not saying that we are greater than God Almighty if we choose to do differently? May we all, with Paul the Apostle forget what lies behind and choose rather to reach forward to what lies ahead. There is much to do for the Lord. Truly, his Amazing Grace is there to help us! Glory to the Lord!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Possessing Our Inheritance - May 15, 2016

Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews the eleventh chapter is one of those scripture references that shines with optimism. I question whether there is another portion of scripture containing forty verses of such uplifting hope that is modeled for the believer. As stated in verse six and throughout this section, the defining characteristic of a believer pleasing the heart of God is faith. Faith is unseen in its origin as Hebrews 11:1 shows us, otherwise it is not faith. It is evidenced by its outcomes. We are once again reminded of the "characters" of faith throughout this chapter. God can use imperfect humans that once were drunkards like Noah, murderers like Moses, and prostitutes like Rahab. Praise God that we can truly approach the Throne of Grace just as we are and receive His mercy and forgiveness!

While Hebrews 11 is a wonderful resume regarding the incredible exploits of the faithful, there is an obvious "faith gap" between verses 29 and 30. The nation of Israel's wilderness wanderings in the Sinai were obviously omitted purposely:
v29 - By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.

v30 - By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been
encircled for seven days.
The silence of this "unspoken" 40 years of wanderings is deafening. Once again, we see what is NOT written in scripture can often be as powerful as what is written. An entire generation of this young Jewish nation was deliberately not spoken of in the context of faith but at the same time, their unbelief was proclaimed loud and clear by omission. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are full of examples regarding what not to do in order to enter the promised land that God so earnestly wanted them to possess. The scripture tells us earlier in the book of Hebrews that they could not enter the land that had been promised due to their hardness of heart and lack of faith -- that God would do as He foretold. The mercy and compassion of the Lord was demonstrated time and time again through many miraculous acts following their rescue from Pharaoh. Their thirst was quenched by water from the rock, they were fed by manna from heaven, their clothes and their sandals did not wear out during this time. Not to mention the Shekinah Glory of the Lord that led them through the wilderness -- a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night. Yet, the scripture tells us that their hearts were hardened and the Lord swore in His wrath, "They shall not enter My rest!".

We all have lapses of faith. We see that in the characterizations of every one of those listed in the Hebrews "Hall of Faith". However, there need not be these times when the "silence" of unbelief is deafening. My wilderness experience lasted 14 years where I struggled in and out of homelessness, alcoholism, and addiction. Even so, during all this time, the Lord was faithful as He watched over me to finally bring me across my respective "Jordon River" to the promised land of abundance. Those of us who have crossed over through sanctification understand that the land lies before us, ready to be possessed. God is telling us that it is our inheritance and that we shouldn't fear but believe that He has given it to us all who would but believe. Why does the writer of Hebrews emphasize the walls of Jericho falling down after the nation of Israel crossed into the promised land? Because it was a further demonstration of how the Lord God Jehovah is the One who defeats our enemies if we will but believe. This is the only reference in the book of Joshua of how the Lord destroyed a city that the sons of Israel would possess in this manner. The Lord showed Joshua and the Jewish people that it was "... not by might, and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord". The hallmark of this victory was strict obedience to the word of the Lord. In like manner, we can only please the Lord God by faith and obedience to what He is telling us to do. The power can only come through acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us on Calvary's tree.

He has given us the same boldness through the forgiveness of sins to enter into the Throne Room of Grace and to take possession of our inheritance as sons and daughters of Light. We simply must believe, confess, and possess what He has freely given for us all to claim by our birthright as sons of God. Some might say that their wilderness wanderings have become too comfortable and that they no longer know the way. He is there when we are ready to be led into the promised pastures of His delight. We just need to ask.

Heavenly Father, You are the One that has defeated all our enemies before we have even asked. You are the One wooing us to enter and possess the "eternal land" of Your promise. It's not by what we have done, but what You did on Calvary. The inheritance is ours to claim by rights of the blood of Jesus. Lord, we accept your faith and lay our lives before You as a living sacrifice that we may live to obey You. In Jesus Christ's holy name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Awakening - May 8, 2016

Psalm 139:18b - When I awake, I am still with You.

I vividly remember particular mornings after I recommitted my life to the Lord. Having struggled with alcohol for years, it was such a relief to sense the presence of the Lord when I awoke. Many days I defined the presence of God by merely the absence of craving alcohol when I opened my eyes from a night's sleep. Ask any recovering alcoholic or addict -- it is truly a miracle to not want to use or abuse substances. For truly, the most natural thing for an addict to do is otherwise than to stay sober. I remember in the early days, weeks, and months of my sobriety that I would sometimes be disconcerted about going to sleep, thinking that God's presence in my life was an illusion and that it might disappear as a vapor come morning. The glorious truth is that He has been there as my Comforter and Friend, every morning, for the past 16 years. He has never let me down in all that time.

Of course, God is with us all in some manner regardless whether we are committed to His Son, the Lord Jesus. He will always be there beckoning us no matter if we are walking with Him or away from Him. He will be there every morning whether we realize it or not. For many of us who have fought to avoid God, mornings are not always that pleasant. There can certainly be a feeling of impending despair when one awakens and they sense a loss of hope. Oftentimes, we can wake up with the same things swimming in our brains from the previous night's tossing and turning. It is quite certain that worry and despair over a situation has never changed the outcome of any such predicament, yet we too often yield to its negative power. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that when hopes are dashed or there seems no reason to continue on, then it can literally make the heart sick with sorrow. Conversely, however, the same verse tells us that when our desire is fulfilled it can be a tree of life. It is a wonderful thing to wake up with an optimistic understanding that the Lord has good intentions for those who trust in Him.

Has God put one of those dear souls in your life that seems to be one of the cheeriest folks on the planet, morning after morning without fail? They can roll out of bed and even without a jolt of caffeine they can greet the day with a smile and a joyous attitude. Before I knew the Lord, I thought these type of people were "put-ons", that no one could be that hopeful and cheery at 6 a.m. in the morning! However, the more I grew in the Lord and realized that He desired good for those who love Him, my attitude began changing. I began to understand that one can choose their attitude, especially if they are empowered by the Lord. Many years ago, I read a very simple quotation from a man that I respected greatly. His name is Moishe Rosen, founder and leader of Jews For Jesus. I was reading through one of his newsletters and these words jumped off the page: "Those who love life rise early". This concept astounded me; that if someone loved life and desired to do all they could for the Lord and His Kingdom, then their day should start with a heart full of hope that would propel them to welcome the morning. Before I go much further with this, I will confess that I am not always an early riser (especially on the weekends). However, the deeper meaning of this implies that those who love "Life" will ensure that they will meet their Savior when they do awaken and that they will do all for His glory throughout their respective day.

It takes a certain faith and assurance to be able to lie down at night and to know that all is well. David's Psalm 3 is all about divorcing oneself from the onslaught of the day's wickedness and lying down to rest with the assurance that the Lord is watching over. He states in verse 3: I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me. He goes on in the next verse to proclaim that it doesn't matter if tens of thousands are set against him, that the Lord is his shield and protector. Like David, we must first know that we are rightly related to Him. Then, we must learn to trust by giving Him our troubles every evening before we retire. Lastly, we must thank Him for watching over us though "the terrors would seek to stalk us by night". Every one that is a believer has the heritage to be able to awaken with a new hope and desire to serve the Lord. He is the one who gives us rest, and that rest is for a reason -- to unburden us from unnecessary worries and unreasonable demands that we place upon ourselves. For truly, Jeremiah summed it up in Lamentations 3:22-23: The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

Lord, we commit our lives to You afresh. We thank You for the rest that You desire to give each and every one of us, to awaken us every morning with a joy for life, a new resolve to love You and others, and a deep gratitude for where You are bringing each and every one of us who trust in Your Son. In Jesus name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,
Rick

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Nature of Things - May 1, 2016

II Peter 2:20-22 - For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."

Through the years I have had several pets, including dogs. Some of these dogs were extremely smart and others, well, what they lacked in smarts they made up for in loyalty. Back in the 1980s, we owned a small farm in east-central Kansas. One of our dogs was a Golden Labrador Retriever named Princess. She was a loyal, good friend to the family, but she wasn’t the smartest animal on the premises. I raised a couple of hogs during our two years on the farm, and without a doubt, these barnyard animals were the smartest four-footed creatures on the homestead. The first one was an escape artist and learned how to open the gate of the pen to get out to choice grazing in the vegetable garden. The other hog had a sense of his impending doom when it was time for butchering. When I went to lead him up the chute into the bed of the pick-up, he wanted nothing to do with “taking a ride” to the slaughterhouse. After much prodding and goading, I finally got him loaded, but not before he had turned around and bitten me a couple of times to show his displeasure with the situation.

I nodded in agreement when I read a 1976 article from the New York Times regarding the intellect of barnyard animals, in particular pigs. The following is a short extract from the article:

The pig's intellect is clear and strong. What has been mistakenly called his "obstinacy" is only his intense individuality. ... Before blaming the pig for refusing to be dragged in a given direction by a string tied to his hind leg, his critics should ask themselves whether in like circumstances they too would not protest with equal shrillness against so indecent an outrage.
Those of us who are dog owners, or have been dog owners, undoubtedly love our pets. Whether they are smart or just loyal, they capture a piece of our hearts. While few of us can say that we have loved pigs, we can certainly understand that they are a smart animal that is prized in many cultures throughout the world for both their intellect and their food factor. Yet, it is somewhat unnerving to watch both these animals revert to what seems to us as totally unintelligent behavior. A dog after regurgitating their food will often turn around and consume it again! A pig, which seems so smart in other areas, will find the most grotesque slop heap filled with decaying vegetation, animal life, and feces and will roll around in it without a care! While it is easy to be horrified at such behaviors, we see similar actions taken by so-called believers everyday. Many will “make a decision” for Jesus Christ and then return to the very things that were despicable and degrading in their lives as if they didn’t have a care in the world to do otherwise! However, it doesn’t surprise those of us who know that we are not dealing with a behavior problem, but with a nature problem.

No matter how smart our four-footed friends might be, it is in their nature to do disgusting things that don’t make good sense to us. In the same way, we should not be surprised when we see a sinner sinning. It is the most natural thing for them to do! As a practicing alcoholic, the most natural thing for me to do was drink. Today, after many years of sobriety it is still a miracle that I am not drinking because that was then a part of my nature. The miracle today is that my nature has been exchanged with the divine nature of Jesus Christ who gives me the will and the way not to drink. Often, many get lost at this point and don’t understand that it’s not just about changing their behavior. It’s not good enough to stop drinking, to stop stealing, to stop lying, or even to stop sinning. We don’t have a sinning problem but a sin problem. Our very nature is corrupt and we need a replacement.

Many years ago, when I was still in my teens, I knew that I was in terrible need of something to fix me. That’s why I experimented and became hooked on drugs and alcohol early in life. When I tried to dig myself out of that mess, I tried different religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, Tantric Yoga, Transcendental Meditation to name a few. The problem was that I was trying to fix myself not knowing that Someone had already put the "fix" in for me and I was too blind to see. I didn’t realize that I was trying to reach heaven and bring it down to my experience on earth. Little did I know that God had already done so by bringing heaven to earth through His Son.

Years went by, as I battled my alcoholism and drug addiction. Desperately I was still tying to get better from the outside/in and couldn’t understand that I needed salvation from myself. On one occasion, I was just released from jail. I was a mess from the night before and I was on foot. Walking from the court and police station in a busy downtown area of St. Louis, I encountered a little old lady of probably 80 years. She looked at me, pointed her finger and said “There goes the chosen of God who desires to live in the filth of sin”. I was totally taken aback and convicted to the heart by her words. She didn’t say anything about “sins” but she did say that I wanted to continue living in sin. However, like a pig that returns to its wallowing and a dog to its vomit, it would still be years before I truly knew that Jesus Christ had become sin on my behalf and that I didn’t need to live this way.

For several years after, I would continue to “try” to do better. I would “decide” that I would follow the Lord and attempt to live the way He wanted me to live. However, it’s not good enough to make a decision for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want our decisions, but He wants everything we are -- our dope possessed bodies, our alcohol polluted souls, our angry hateful minds. He wants it all in order to replace it with His nature. Making a decision to follow Jesus without turning one’s life over to Him is about the same as saying you’re going to fly to the moon in a Cessna -- it’s not going to happen! It’s aerodynamically impossible to do so because it would break all the laws of physics. In the same way, it is impossible to “decide” to follow Jesus without a new heart that has replaced a heart of sin.

Paul the Apostle made a glorious statement giving us all hope in this regard. In II Corinthians 5:21 he states through the Holy Spirit that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." According to this verse, I no longer have to “try” to be good because Jesus Christ says I don’t have to be good. He tells me that He became sin FOR US in order that we might trade in our sinful nature for God’s nature. Then, and only then, will we truly have the power to change. Then, we can truly be right with God and be empowered by His righteousness. Then, can we truly be children of God!

None of us are exempt from failure no matter how much we might believe we are in control of our lives. Romans 3:23 tells us that “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. That one verse qualifies us all for hell and an eternity of separation from God. If this was the last word, then we would all be doomed. But God loved us, even while we were sinners He sent His Son to die for us becoming sin on our behalf. Three chapters later in the book of Romans, Paul writes with a synopsis of our predicament but with the glorious hope of our salvation. In Romans 6:23 he states: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

God does not expect any of us to become “better”. If we don’t know His Son and have not exchanged our sinful nature with His glorious nature, He only expects us to continue to fail -- to return to the wallowing in sin that befits our nature. There is always hope for us as long as we are alive and able to turn to Him. Ecclesiastes 9:4 states: "For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion." Friends, I would rather be a live dog that has the ability to exchange natures with the Living God and live again, rather than a prideful, dead lion that is regal only in its death with no hope to ever be anything else. We all have the opportunity to exchange lives of sinful repetition with the divine life that will qualify each and every one of us for a glorious eternity with our Maker!

Lord Jesus, thank you for becoming sin for us that we might become the righteous of God by the new nature You have given us. We give You our sin-soaked natures and accept Your free gift of life. May God be glorified for His wonderful gift to us. In Your precious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick