Sunday, November 27, 2016

Passionate Pursuit - November 27, 2016


Song of Solomon 1:4a - Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.

Running, just like anything else can become a chore. I feel like I have some advantage over many of my shod counterparts in that my barefoot running allows me to feel more like a kid and be literally "foot loose and fancy free". However, just like anything we do on a daily basis, even something I enjoy so much can become tedious if I allow it. Truly, I am and always will be the one that controls how I feel -- whether a run is mundane or whether it makes me feel enlivened by my attitude and willingness. When I feel that it is just me out there running, going through the motions then the run is usually just "okay". However, when I invite Jesus along the dynamics change exponentially. For one thing, I can't help but grin when He is consciously with me. There is an inner peace and a conversation that is usually going on. A good part of the time it is just me talking to Him in the spirit of my mind. But then there are those special moments when He interjects His loving words into my heart. Oftentimes, He teaches me in metaphor. Every week in The Bare Soul I try to share some of this "fresh manna" that He drops into my heart. They are splendid truths for me and I try to make them relevant life lessons as I share them with you.

Probably the greatest metaphor of Christ and His church in scripture is the Song of Solomon. While on the surface one might look at it only as a wedding song of Solomon to his bride, it is clearly much more. In the case of the bride speaking to the bridegroom in this wonderful passage, she seeks Him out and adjures Him to draw her after Him as they run in love and passion. The scripture is definite in that it mentions where they are running - to the king's chambers! This place of intimacy is where Jesus will always be seeking to bring us, as He pulls us along in love-clasped hands.

Many of us know and remember the passion of our heart-throb and how it did not matter what we were doing as long as we were together. Mine continues even to this day. My wife and I have "date night" every Saturday night that we are both in town. This entails, 99% of the time, dinner and a movie. Most of the time we enjoy both the dinner and the movie. Sometimes, one or the other is not quite what we expected, but it was still a great date night because we got to spend the evening together. I think about a story I heard about an older couple that spent the entire evening reading their respective books in the same small living room. At the end of the evening when it was time to turn in the wife turned to her husband and said, "Hasn't this been a wonderful evening together?" They had not said but few words to one another the entire time, but merely being with one another provided a feeling of love and wholeness for them both. This type of living and loving does not happen overnight. It started with the passion of pursuing one another until they knew that their respective passions were captured in their lover's heart, mind, and soul. They were secure in their love and the pursuit had turned into joyous, loving captivity!

Running is one of my life's passions. However, my foremost passion is Jesus and how I might please Him. It is wonderful, as I already stated, when I seek out Jesus to run with me. The question to myself and to all who read this is: Do I passionately pursue him to be involved in all areas of my life? Speaking of running, is He "running my life" or am I selfishly content to allow other passions and loves to be nestled around my own ambition devoid of any invitation to Him who saved my soul? Every time I invite Jesus to be intimately involved in my life, he accepts my invitation and draws me after Him into that place of deeper intimacy through my obedience. Often, it is He who first makes the offer and my acceptance is contingent on my place of obedience, or rather how ready I am to turn to Him with complete adoration and follow.

It doesn't take long to see those who have truly given themselves to Christ in this way. Our love-sickness will be evident as we show this world that there is a God of love that desires and yearns for them. As we allow ourselves to be drawn into passionate pursuit and ultimate capture by our Lord, this relationship will hopefully compel those around us to want to run in newness of life with the Risen Lord. There truly is an intimate life to be lived with the Living Lord. (It should be our passion to live it and give it to others.) We must merely put out our hand and invite Him to draw us into that intimate place of eternal love and happiness. It is as easy as reaching out and taking His blessed hand!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Real Zeal - November 20, 2016

Psalm 69:9 - For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

What are we passionate about? One does not need to look further than weekend sporting events, where collegiate and professional sports fans are bedecked in their teams colors. (Often, this may be in the form of body paint rather than conventional clothing, despite freezing conditions!) There is a loyalty that seems unrivaled when you get someone talking about their team allegiance. For nearly a century, we had a "border war," of sorts between Tigers and Jayhawks where I live. Even though this rivalry is no longer played out in conference play, the enmity still simmers waiting only for a way to express itself. While some might chide at this type of good-spirited competition, passionate allegiance is hard-wired into every individual to some degree. If it does not find its expression through sports, it will find another way.

God probably cares little if we are passionate about sports, per se. He understands we need recreation as human beings and undoubtedly allows this as a form of escape from the anxiety of daily living. However, He does not want this to fulfill His divine plan for passionate pursuit of Him. Along with this pursuit comes our attitude and desire for Him and the things of the His Spirit. In this regard, I have sometimes heard people say that a person can become so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good. Personally, I have yet to find such a person. The opposite is usually the rule rather than the exception. We become so passionately wrapped up in our own lives and the pursuit of our own creature comforts that we do not even think of heaven.

King David understood passionate pursuit of God. We have scores of psalms attributed to this ancient Israelite in this regard. Possibly some of his contemporaries believed David was a bit "over the top" in his pursuit of Yahweh. What often appears as religious fanaticism to the world, can be the zeal and passion of a believer for the God who lives within. Certainly this was manifest a thousand years later when Jesus fulfilled this prophetic psalm as he cleansed the temple of His Father (John 2:17). Purity of the actual Davidic (constructed by Solomon) and Herodian temples is the literal application of this verse in Psalm 69:19. However, we know from Paul's writings how the temple of the Lord in the New Covenant is our body -- the vessel of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16).

It is a wonderful ambition to keep our bodies pure, both in what we consume and what we allow it to do. As already mentioned, our lead verse speaks to us about the temple of the Lord and how He lives within -- not only in our bodies but also in our souls and spirits. In this regard, may we all be challenged with the following question: Are we consumed with what God thinks about His living quarters within us? Or, are we ashamed when we participate in some conversation, or watch some movie, or when we go somewhere He would not approve? He is our guest yet so many of us treat Him like a hobo in a flophouse! The great nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon aptly stated, "yet it is no disgrace to any generous spirit that is regenerate, to have the zeal of God's house to eat him up. It is a slander to call it folly."

Do we sit on our hands at church on Sunday mornings and then raucously shout and dance when our team makes the big score that afternoon? When we have a zeal for the God who dwells within, then we will become partakers of the reproach of the world. Is no one reproaching us for our zeal? Then possibly we have none. May we all live passionately and fervently for the One who dwells within.

Father, help us to be passionate about living, yet not forget the One who we live for. May our passion for the things we love pale in respect for the zeal we have for You. Grant us hearts of fire and mouths that speak Your praise. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 13, 2016

God's Renewable Energy - November 13, 2016


Lamentations 3:22-23 (KJV) - It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.

People often ask me, "How do you keep running after all these years?" They are curious, I guess, how one keeps motivated to run in good and bad weather, through aches and pains, and just general laziness on my part. Believe me, I have plenty of other areas of my life that I struggle with consistency, but running doesn't seem to be one of them. Every day can throw up a variety of obstacles why I shouldn't run, but so far I have been able to effectively surmount them. To the most part, I attribute my tenaciousness to a love for running. I don't look at it like exercise or a healthy hobby, but I look at it first and foremost as my connectedness to spirit, soul, and body. It is truly the most "centering" thing that I do everyday that keeps me connected with the good things in my heart, especially God. The added benefits of health and general wellness are secondary, to me. I guess that is why it is somewhat easier for me to run than for others who are merely motivated for health reasons. Bodily health was never my main motivator to do anything in my life, so it only makes sense that I couldn't stay motivated long to run thousands upon thousands miles as I have without another motive.

Finding passions or "life hobbies" can take a while for some of us. I didn't find running until I was 36 years old. Others find their niche' much earlier in life and pursue it with passion. Others never find anything that really keeps them motivated and looking forward to a daily, passionate pursuit. Our earthly pursuits can be fun and a healthy diversion from the stress of every day living. There is of course our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ which is the most important "daily" pursuit that any of us will ever partake in. If we truly know the Lord, He will provide us, daily, with unlimited grace and mercy to meet all our daily needs. Jesus taught us to pray so eloquently in the Lord's Prayer "... Give us this day our daily bread". This implies all of our daily sustenance for body, soul, and spirit. This is reinforced so beautifully in the scripture selection for this week when Jeremiah states by the Holy Spirit that God's love and compassion are boundless and without fail. Even if we feel that we have exhausted God's supply of love and faithfulness in a single day, the promise remains that they will be renewed every morning. God allows us the wisdom of rest and sleep only to recharge our spiritual batteries for another day of passionate pursuit. It is His promise that He cannot deny us, nor would He want to. He is full of mercy and loving-kindness that must have an outlet and be graciously poured out on His people.

In our modern world, there is much talk about "renewable energies". Thank God that He was the originator of energy that is renewed every day. All we have to do is accept it. Passions and pursuits will ebb and change over time, but His faithfulness will never falter nor fade. There is an unlimited supply of His mercy and grace that will continue to fuel our lives if we will only rely and trust in Him.

Lord Jesus, thank you that your nature is love. Thank you that your nature is mercy and grace. As a limitless God, you have more than enough for each and every one of us to daily partake of our passionate pursuit of your Personage. You are an awesome, unfathomable Savior that longs and desires to share your abundance of riches with us. Lord, let us look to you daily, knowing that you are the originator of power and energy that can never be exhausted. We thank you for the richness of your love, mercy, and grace. In Jesus name. Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Orderly Living - November 6, 2016

Romans 1:20 - For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

In the locale that I work, we have many small residential and corporate lakes and ponds. In the Midwest, wherever you find groomed lawns around bodies of waters one will usually find Canadian Geese. Generally, without fail, I will encounter these birds on my daily lunchtime runs. I am one to observe their social aspects with one another and I have noticed that they have distinct seasonal behaviors. For instance, in the winter they are gaggled together and usually don't make much of a fuss if an outsider comes along. However, there is a time in late winter when those two years old and older start to pair up and retreat from the gaggle, some with new mates and for those who are older, with the same mate as they are monogamous. They start to get a little "tense" this time of the year and if you approach the pair too quickly the male will begin to honk as they slowly retreat.

Fast forward a couple of months and the females have begun to lay their eggs. At this time, the male becomes slightly more than tense, but actually aggressive if he thinks that someone is going to molest his mate or their eggs. Several times in the springtime, I have ran by a roosting female only to have the male fly up and down toward my head as it does its best impression of a P51 dive bomber. I have only been hit once by an aggressive male, but they get your attention quickly. Usually a little bit of arm waving will ward them off. Other times, the male will come waddling after me, hissing in a spiteful way for me to vacate the area. In either instance, they are serious about the business of incubating a family and have little patience with intruders or suspected enemies.

Then comes summer. The goslings are close by and they learn to run after mother and father away from apparent danger. They are teaching their young that it is much preferable to retreat rather than fight a larger "enemy". Finally, fall and winter come when they become a social gaggle again relying on the group and using the group's guidance for the best foraging spots, etc. When I see this protective, survivalist behavior of animals such as geese, it fills me with wonder. I don't struggle with the idea that God created and ordered existence and purpose within all of his creatures and creation. I don't ponder whether our world was created out of a random collision of matter. I see God's hand in everything around me and I wonder at the absurdity to think any other way. "Who else but God would have hard-wired their instincts in such a manner?", I would reflect. How else would they even know that survival is the preferred outcome if God had not written that in their instinct? For truly, if this is a random happen-stance then survival means nothing. Regarding humans, everything becomes relative and non-sensical to attempt to relate survival to our species, not to mention mores' and laws that govern our societies. It would all be meaningless if there was no God and His son the Lord Jesus Christ.

Aldous Huxley, one of the originators of today's humanist movement, saw things much differently. To be able to capsulate one's thoughts and beliefs to fit his desired lifestyle, he wrote the following:
I had motives for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves... For myself, the philosophy of meaningless was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political.-- Aldous Huxley in Ends and Means, 1937
Mr. Huxley's notions are symptomatic of many in our world today that desire to see and understand this world as they want to. It is too upsetting and life-style threatening to think that there are laws written into the universe -- not only laws of survival such as the earlier example of geese, but laws of love, mercy, retribution, and judgment that are non-negotiable. As the laws of this universe are upheld by a loving and righteous God, there will always be those who would seek to dismiss the divine order as a fluke and random experience. Ordered living has no appeal to most who would attempt to dismiss a God of laws and statutes. (However, let the humanist or the atheist's house be robbed and we'll see if they don't cry for justice against their malefactor.) Either one must accept that the material universe is created by a divine power, or one must believe the fairy tale of "Once upon a time -- poof! Things just kind of came together!" If one comes to grips with the former, then they must understand that this God is not merely a "higher power" but more importantly is a God that sent His Son to redeem a lost race. The decision is always ours to make, either from our own self-deception or His Divine Logic.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick