Sunday, July 31, 2016

God's Opportunities - July 31, 2016

Colossians 4:5 - Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.

While out on a run the other day, I noticed a hawk intently soaring above but clearly following a tractor as it brush-hogged a grassy field. Surely, the bird of prey was waiting for that perfect moment when a frightened rabbit or mouse would come tearing out of its hiding place and into plain view of the raptor. It made me think also how the robins and starlings can't wait for me to finish mowing my backyard, as they are quick to take over. Opportunistic by nature, they take advantage of the mown grass and the ability to see creepy crawling things that are absolutely delicious to them.

All it takes is a little uncovering or exposure and the right set of eyes, and often the possibilities present themselves quite extraordinarily. Even as God has given birds the uncanny ability to see at great distances, there is often still the high grass and weeds that will give cover and hide their prey. However, once the cover has been destroyed, the keen eyes of those on the wing quickly move with determined force upon their booty. Too often, we can go along in our daily lives unaware of those around us even as a hawk or a falcon might not be aware of a rabbit or a mouse cowering under high grasses. We soar above the world and don't realize that there are others that are in need of our help. Our minds and our hearts can be covered by the "brush and the weeds" of this world, choking out any usefulness that we might have toward our fellow man. Truly, all of us who are in Christ Jesus have the eyes of our Lord if we would but use them. Often, it takes God to once again step in, clearing away the brush and brambles that we might see with clarity what He would have us to do.

When seeing hawks and falcons, I often think about my brother who is a licensed falconer. Through his 40+ years of "hawking", I have been a participant many times as he will take one of the birds out on a hunt. By planned purpose, he will take the bird to an area where he knows will be game, usually ducks. It's fascinating to watch as he "un-hoods" the bird and allows it to see its surroundings. The falcon will set itself up as the hunter and position itself accordingly in the sky above or on a nearby tree, because the falconer has brought it to a place of opportunity. There will come that moment of decision as the falcon sizes up its prey and takes the best opportunity to attack. The results are usually very good for the falcon and equally decisive for its prey.

In the former and latter analogy, God will similarly bring us to situations where we can be of most use to Him. Whether it is the proverbial mown field, or an area where He leads and guides us, He will make the opportunities if we will but heed. Surrendering our will is paramount in this endeavor as it is for a falcon with its falconer master. If a hawk or a falcon does not perform well for my brother, then he will "shelf" the bird and hunt one of his others. He wants the bird to be as interested in hunting as he is. Conversely, if we do not act on the opportunities then God will "shelf" us and use another. (Beware of not hearing His voice if He calls today. He will most assuredly call again, but "when" is always uncertain.) We must all be "hungry" for the work of the Lord and not be content with the pittance that we all give by our presence and our giving once a week in church. We must step out and be opportunistic, knowing that the field of humankind's souls are ripe and the harvesters are few. God will strip away every hiding place, encumbrance, and excuse for not seeing the world as He sees it, if we will but allow Him to move on our lives. He will then give us glorious opportunities to seize His work with passion and purpose, making the most of our time for assuredly the days are evil and there is much to be done.

Lord, make us all willing participants of your harvest. Opportunities abound as the fields are ripe, and the laborers are few. Allow us to put in the sickle of your love and bring those who are hurting into that hiding place under the shadow of Your wings. In Jesus' name. Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Patience - July 24, 2016

I Corinthians 13:4a - Love is patient, ...

One can not be impatient when learning to run barefoot. It takes months, even years to perfect in order to run long distances injury-free. I can sometimes detect the feeling of impatience when others write or talk to me when learning. I can tell they are trying to pick my brain to see if there is not an "easier" way to accomplish what I have done. They usually want to know if it gets easier, if they will quit blistering, if they will be able to one day run as fast as they could with shoes. These are all relative questions for each individual to find out for themselves. People progress through various stages of learning to run barefoot in very different ways. Most, I have found, do not have the diligence and patience to reach the "holy grail" of barefoot running which I regard as marathon distance or beyond. There is just too much to give up to a previous shod runner such as their acquired speed and ease of running in trainers. They usually don't have the patience to re-learn how to run at a slower more deliberate pace. Many start this journey, but few finish.

When someone wants to become a long distance barefoot runner, It is difficult to explain to them what is required. One really does not know until starting and progressing for some time on the journey. Here in the Midwest, barefoot running is complicated by the changing seasons. It takes a robust soul to persevere through hot, humid summers and wet, cold winters. I always tell the aspiring barefooter, it will get easier and better if you just hang in there and have patience. In other words (as the scripture implies at the beginning of this devotional) one must understand that without a love and a passion for what they are doing they will never have the patience to continue. It is not something to be worked up -- it is either there or it's not. A lack of patience in this regard equates to a lack of love.

I John 4:8 states that God is love. This is the defining nature of God, it is not simply a characteristic. By God's very nature, His very being cannot do anything that is not love-based. One of those love-based characteristics is patience. It is not a feeling or a decision, but it is a characteristic of the very nature of God. One could just as easily state that "patience is love" just as "love is patient" for they are synonymous outflows of the divine nature. It is quite easy to say "Well, I love that person and they are the desire of my affection, but sometimes they wear on my patience". For instance, if a parent states that they love their children and yet are continually losing patience with them and becoming unduly angry, then I would question their love. Of course, no one will be 100% patient of the time with those we love, yet if we truly love the object of our affection, to the most part we will be generous with our patience and long-suffering toward that individual.

True patience is not a learned characteristic of God, but it is one of His "fruits" (Galatians 5:22-23). It is the natural outflow of a life that is connected to His love and is remonstrated by the spontaneous appearance of His attributes in situations that would baffle the world. Speaking of parents once again, I have seen mothers and fathers that have truly been gifted with the ability to patiently nurture their children with no other goal than to selflessly give themselves in order that their child will be all that they can be. Conversely, I have seen parents that have been so caught up in themselves that they have lost all vision of what God desires to rear their offspring. Consequentially, these parents display their detachment by obtuse impatience and growing anger toward their children as the little ones seem to further inconvenience the parent's selfish lives.

No matter if it is barefoot running, parenting, or any number of "passions" in our lives, the Lord desires to perfect His patience through His love in our lives. The marvelous thing about understanding whether we are truly in love with our personal ambitions is how much patience we have that is characterized in our daily dealings toward our pursuits. Only He can give us the passion to begin and the patience to finish.

Lord, As we give to You our life's pursuits, please take them and perfect your love and ultimately your patience in all our endeavors. Make us shining examples to the world how one can be passionate to pursue those things which you desire and the patience to perfect their completion. In Jesus Christ' precious name. Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, July 17, 2016

He Knocks - July 17, 2016


Revelation 3:20 - 'Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.'

What does it really mean to have Jesus knocking at the door of one's heart? We are all familiar with the picture in this week's devotional of Jesus standing outside the door, looking patient and loving as he waits for the door to swing open. The context of this verse is far different than the hallowed painting of the meek and mild Jesus. The Laodicean church took the strongest rebuke of any of the seven churches in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation. If we go back to verse 17, the Lord rebukes them with the following words: 'Because you say, "I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, ... Jesus goes on to tell them that they should buy for themselves gold as refined by fire (His Holiness), white garments that they might clothe themselves (His Righteousness), and eye salve that they might see (His Wisdom). In the context of these verses, how do you now see the Lord as pictured in verse 20 ... angry, sad, mournful? Possibly all of these. However, I am quite certain that the Lord is in a forgiving frame of heart and mind. He states that He has the greatest intention of coming into the hearts of these believers and dining with them and they with Him. This is a grand picture of communion and fellowship of the greatest degree. All has been forgiven at this point as the Lord dines with the forgiven.

We can certainly personalize this picture in our own lives. There was that point where those of us who believe invited Jesus in and the fellowship and the communion was grand! Then, one day we excused ourselves and pushed Jesus out the door because we had more "pressing" matters. Once we desired His fellowship again, we might have opened the door to no avail, because the Lord was not standing there waiting, but He was grieved and had departed. There came a time, once again, when we heard the familiar knock and we opened to Him once again. Did we treat Him the same way? Did we tire of His company and excuse ourselves for more "important duties". This time, we told Him that we were busy doing the Lord's work and that He should excuse us because we had so much to do "in His name". What we didn't realize is that He wanted to be involved in His work along side of us. He didn't want us to sacrifice His fellowship and communion while serving Him -- He wanted us to live and love while walking in His sweet light.

Just as Jesus stands at the doors of our hearts and knocks, He is setting an example for us to follow. The Lord told his disciples in Luke 11:9-10 to ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, and knock and it will be opened for you. The implication in the original Greek text is to keep on asking, keep on seeking, and to keep on knocking. Even as we have allowed the Lord to stand outside the doors of our hearts and to "keep on knocking", so He desires us to do likewise when knocking on the "door of heaven" in prayer. We must be as persistent and as resolute to bring down heaven on our situations as Jesus is when awakening our hearts to His love. Are we ready and willing to allow the Lord to come and dine with us? Are we equally as ready to join with the Lord in prayer to bring down the blessings of the Lord on our circumstances, our friends, our family, our world? Let Him in, dine with Him, fellowship with Him and then join Him in His work. It will be a mighty union that will make the gates of hell shake!

Lord, here we are and we open the door once again and invite you in to fellowship with us and to build us up on your most holy love. Join with us as we beseech the Father for blessings to pour out on those here on earth -- changing minds and hearts forever. For His kingdom's sake and for Jesus' glory. Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Spiritual Cathedrals - July 10, 2016

Ezekiel 10:4 - Then the glory of the LORD went up from the cherub to the threshold of the temple, and the temple was filled with the cloud and the court was filled with the brightness of the glory of the LORD.

Traveling abroad, one of our favorite places to visit are old cathedrals. The grandeur of these centuries-old places of worship are certainly awe-inspiring. Once a person steps through the doors, the majestic columns, high vaulted ceilings, and gorgeous stained-glass are breathtaking expressions of the architect's intent to bring the beholder closer to his or her Maker! It is quite easy to understand how the common people would find inspiration when attending worship. The ordinary person in the middle ages lived in squalid conditions to say the least. It was probably a breath of fresh air to enter these places of devotion and to be immersed in such beauty, both in sight and sound. The soaring vocals of the choirs must have sounded like bands of angels to both kings and peasants.

During a trip to Europe in 2008, we had the privilege to attend three Evensongs at three different cathedrals. The music and the vocals were captivating as we allowed our hearts to be taken up in the Spirit to the Most High! While it is not necessary to be in a place of extraordinary beauty and phenomenal acoustics to experience God's presence, things of this nature can definitely help us draw near to the Lord. Sitting in the services, I would reflect how undoubtedly countless others had sat where I sat centuries before and were encouraged and transformed by the worship. One might be critical today and say, "Why were such grand, opulent, and apparent wasteful spending undertaken for these majestic structures when the poor were dying in the streets?" However, one must also consider the living in those times, and what hope these structures obviously brought to so many.

I have experienced the joy of European cathedrals and the majestic sense of God within. I have equally experienced "mountain cathedrals" where I was on top of a Colorado mountain and the vaulted roof was the blue sky above and my song of praise echoed to the valley below. God's beauty is truly to be experienced wherever we worship. Both the rapturous beauty of a man-made cathedral and one manifested in God's nature are not the end, but merely the means by which we may come to God's purpose in worship. Spiritual cathedrals don't necessarily have to have outward beauty. We have the power to transform our surroundings into a place of worship. Paul experienced his own "spiritual cathedral" in the depths of a Philippian prison with his cohort Silas as they sang and gave glory to God in their praise and worship (Acts 16:25). It didn't matter that they were in the deepest, darkest pit of human depravity. They had found a "spiritual cathedral" within their own souls -- the very temple of the Most High that is part of every believer's heritage. For truly, as Paul and Silas knew, this was the most extraordinary, beautiful place to dwell -- in the very presence of God!

Jesus said to the woman at the well that there was a day coming when those who would worship God would not worship him in Jerusalem or in Samaria, but that they would worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:21-24). For truly when a man or a woman is a true worshipper of God, then their spiritual tabernacle or cathedral is always with them and their situation is not determinate on their surroundings, but on their heart's disposition toward their Lord. However, the Lord will sometimes give us eyes to see and ears to hear, and to be captivated by the beauty around us. A person with such a disposition of continual worship is keenly sensitive when they enter into this special place of beauty that highlights their worship to an even higher degree. May we all find our way to the "spiritual cathedrals" that will both edify and lift our spirits to the Father of Life!

Lord, we are restless until we rest in you. May we find our own "spiritual cathedral" that will be a place of unending worship and praise to you. In Jesus' holy name, Amen.


"I've sung in mountain cathedrals

With steeples rising high
And altars made of evergreen -
Windows made of sky
And windows made of sky"

From the song "Mountain Cathedrals" by Bob Bennett


Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Our Sanctification - July 3, 2016

1 Thessalonians 4:3a - For this is the will of God, your sanctification; ...

Ever struggled with understanding God's will for your life? This week's verse states in just two words what His will is for us -- our sanctification! Without sanctification, it is impossible to live the Christian life as Christ intended. How is it that a man or a woman could truly "love the Lord your God with all their heart, soul, and mind" without the sanctification of the Lord? In simplest terms, sanctification means "to be set apart" -- to live a life of love-obedience to the One who gave His life for us all. To truly understand what sanctification is and to be moving downward and upward in both humility and growth, respectively, is the essence of the sanctified life. To know Christ and to understand that He has done so much for those who can return so little, and to respond in humility and obedience is to accept the life of sanctification.

What puts us on the path (and keeps us there) to sanctification? Obedience! True Godly obedience can only come by an understanding of what Christ has done for us on Calvary's tree. God is not so much concerned about what we think are the end goals of obedience, rather He is concerned how we get there through obeying Him. We can never expect to grow as Christians if we continually deliberate with God on what we know He is telling us to do. The accomplishment of the "doing" is not what God is looking for as an end-product, but He is looking for the continual "turning" toward Him or the process of obedience. For only when we learn to turn toward Him in all things, then we are truly learning what it is to live a sanctified life.

Undoubtedly, sanctified living is keeping the external law, such as the Ten Commandments. However, it is so much more! As a believer allows Him entry, God will perfect obedience to the Law of Liberty that He puts within the heart of every man and woman. For instance, God may speak to a person to give up something in their lives. Let's use caffeine as an example. Is there anything inherently evil or bad about caffeine? Certainly not! However, if someone had acquired an unhealthy dependence on this stimulant, then the Lord might want to test their desire to follow the Lord absolutely. This would not be a command for anyone else but to whom the Lord had GIVEN the command. (Unfortunately, that's how sects and cults are created, when those "enlightened" by the own personal direction impose these "revelations" on others.) What may seem like a restrictive command in the beginning, turns into a liberating aspect to the one who would follow the Lord's individual direction. This "law" becomes "liberty", not so much because the person quits this or that, or started doing this or that according to the voice of the Lord. However, it becomes "life" within the believer because he or she has obeyed and continues to obey. Therefore, the end result is not really what God is after, but the obedience along the way that will perfect the saint into Jesus' likeness. For Jesus said, "I am come to do the will of the Father". This does not necessarily mean to win so-and-so many souls to the Father or to create a church here or there. Obedience is the natural outflow of the believer's life -- the very asphalt that paves the road of sanctification and true usefulness to the Lord.

Many believers may feel their proverbial roads of sanctification have "crumbled", that their ways are strewn with "potholes" of sin and disobedience keeping them from their focus on loving the Lord and obeying him. Souls that have become trapped and snared in ways they know are not pleasing to Him need to cry out to God, confessing their tolerance of disobedience in their lives, asking that He would grant them the spirit of repentance to move onward and upward from their pit of despair. Then, they must accept the Grace of the Lord regardless whether they "feel" they have received it or not, but they must start obeying what they know the Lord is speaking. In time, they will once again experience the smooth way of the Lord. Will there still be difficulties in life? Certainly, but they will grow fainter and less consequential. Of utmost importance, there will be in the soul of that believer a growing peace and resolution to not offend their Lord with the slightest deviation of what they know to be the law of liberty in their own lives. This truly is the will of the Lord to be delighted in -- sanctification's journey that will only be complete as we pass from this life to the next!

Lord, we thank you for your voice in all of our lives. We thank you that you are directing us daily to walk closer with you by your life-giving commandments. Help us not to shrink from or ignore your direction, but to embrace your laws of liberty that will ultimately set us free to do Your will. Sanctify us in your holy name, Lord Jesus. Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick