Sunday, December 25, 2016

The Christmas Star - December 25, 2016

Matthew 2:2 - Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.

The heavens have long held a fascination for humankind. For millennia, man has looked to the skies for both direction and hope. King David wisely stated in Psalm 19:1-2: The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Arguably, the greatest manifestation the world has ever seen of the manifestation of the glory of God in the heavenlies is the Christmas star that appeared over the eastern skies at the time of Jesus' birth. By this glorious light, the Magi from modern day Iraq traveled to a non-descript city south of Jerusalem named Bethlehem. Through this beacon shining in the night, the wise men were able to ascertain the birth of a mighty king in Israel. Very possibly these holy men from the once mighty Persian Empire understood through the writings of Daniel more than 500 years earlier, that a future ruler who would ultimately save His people would be born at this very time in Judea (see Daniel 9:24-27). They understood the signs of the times and they took heed, traveling hundreds of miles to confirm that truly a ruler had been born in Israel that would be the Eternal King.

Throughout scripture, God uses stars as metaphors for his heavenly beings. Job refers to the morning stars singing together, and all the sons of God shouting for joy (Job 38:7). The psalmist tells us that God numbers and gives name to all the stars, implying that His angelic host is finite yet even so an assembly of myriads (Psalm 147:4). And Isaiah states that not all the "stars" in the heavenlies are good (Isaiah 14:13). As the prophet speaks about Satan's prideful rise and self-assertion toward God, John the Revelator tells us how a third of the wicked "stars" or rather the devil's mutinous collaborators fell to earth at the fateful time when the angels rebelled (Revelation 12:4). The greatest Star of them all is first prophesied (centuries before Daniel) to appear by a Mesopotamian prophet named Balaam. (This fellow is a good example of someone that started out right and ended up seriously wrong!) In the book of Numbers, Balaam is hired by the king of Moab to curse the nation of Israel, but instead he pronounces a blessing over the Hebrews. During his prophetic utterance, Balaam speaks about a Star that will arise in Israel and will reign forever: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth (Numbers 24:17). The prophet was declaring a dichotomous fulfillment to his prophecy. First of all, he stated that this part of his prophetic word was not for the present but was for a later date. Undoubtedly, this was the revealing of the star that would herald the Morning Star (II Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16) to be born in Bethlehem several millennia from his utterance. Secondly, it was a prophecy speaking of the return of Christ to be revealed at His second coming as He takes captive the nations of Moab (present day Jordan) and others that have raised their hand against His beloved Israel (see Jeremiah 25). Balaam's prophecy, as well as others, only confirm the inevitable in God's plan of redemption for both Israel and the Gentile nations.

Jesus tells us that in the same way as he departed the earth in the same way He will return (Acts 1:11). Even so, in the same way as he came the first time, so also will the heavens herald His return. Jesus both foretold and warned us of the great and terrible day of the Lord in the book of Matthew:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. - Matthew 24:29-30
This will truly be a day of great rejoicing for those who have believed, but a day of terrible reckoning for those who have despised His appearing. Just as the Son of Man appeared under the twinkling herald of a great light in the sky, so His coming will be in the twinkling of the eye and it will be a great light that will consume the darkness. The Morning Star will have arisen to create a new day where only He shall reign and no wickedness will stand before Him. For even as His coming was heralded two millennia past, so the sky will once again proclaim His glory as He sweeps the stars from the sky and He alone will remain to shine bright.

Throughout time, the heavens have been the place for man to turn his gaze to learn of God's glory. David knew this, Daniel also, and most assuredly the Magi. Now, it is our turn. Will we allow the Christmas Star to captivate our hearts until the Morning Star rises first within our spirits, and ultimately on a new earth in the age to come? It has always been and will continue to be our choice. Like the wise men, we must seek Him, traversing whatever distance is necessary to find Him. For only as we allow the Christmas Star to abide within, will we then know the Morning Star who desires to reveal His life to us all. Come, Lord Jesus, and reveal the very Star of David as we celebrate the birth of Christ in us all!

O Holy God, thank you for the Christmas Star that lives within all who call You Lord. Allow the bright and Morning Star to increase His brilliance in all of our lives until He returns in splendor. We thank You and praise You for Your wonderful gift to the world! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Vertical Direction - December 18, 2016


Philippians 3:14 - I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Many years ago when I started writing this blog, my barefoot logo took on a different appearance. Instead of the flat, capital T in BAREFOOTRUNNER.ORG, the T grew in vertical direction to be a t. (Actually, it had to become a lowercase t first which is really appropriate since it had to be a humble font before it could be exalted vertically!) This was an outward manifestation of what was going on with my barefoot running at the time. Previously, I believe that there was still so much of me in my barefoot running, that just like the horizontally-centric T in my logo, I was just reaching out to others yelling out at the top of my proverbial lungs, "Look at me! Aren't I cool?". This was a waste of both my time and theirs. I had failed in the most important aspect of connecting with people and that is not taking our encounters and making them spiritual relationships that have some eternal value. I had overlooked moving in a vertical direction to the Lord Jesus.

Before there can be an upward call, there has to be an awareness of a call and a sense of upward direction. Otherwise, we will be satisfied with our earthly relationships and not try to find a deeper significance in our dealings with humankind. Some folks find great satisfaction in just "loving on people". This is fantastic and true for as the lyricist wrote "What the world needs now, is love sweet love". However, if love toward my neighbor is devoid of love for God and thereby not channeled through Him, then it is meaningless in the grand scheme of life. When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment He said "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul". Jesus went on to state that the second greatest commandment was equally important -- "... And you must love your neighbor as yourself". Of the four billion plus persons in our world, millions upon millions are desiring to fulfill what I call the "Good Commission". The Great Commission, as many of us know is Jesus Christ's admonition to go into the whole world preaching the Gospel and making disciples. The "Good Commission" overlooks God totally. It is a humanistic endeavor that is atheistic in intent and just desires that we would all come together, love one another and just get along. Kind of like a gathering of humankind sitting around a global campfire singing "Kum-Bay-Ya" but totally dismissive of the words "My Lord" in the song. It is so easy to accept the "good" rather than the "great". Souls are pouring into hell every day because Satan has duped them into believing that just their "good" works will save them, rather than humbling themselves to the "great and perfect" blood of Jesus. Only He will transform us to reach out with HIS love to those around us.

Love is a wonderful thing. However, love that has not been fashioned first in a vertical fashion with our Lord Jesus Christ will ultimately fail as we reach out horizontally to our neighbor. As with the analogy of my "T", it is so easy to think that if we are reaching out to others that we are being a good person. Hell would love for us to continue to believe this. Even with my self-adulation in barefoot running, it wouldn't have mattered how much money or good I did for the homeless and those crippled if it was not the love of Jesus reaching down and through me to others. What matters first and foremost is to know that this life is so much more than just about ourselves. As long as we are pressing on toward that upward call, we will not shun the Father's love and how He wishes to reach back down through us to change the world around us. This is not grandiosity or "pie in the sky" thinking, but it is a knowing and believing that the very thing that Jesus Christ started in his church, He will fulfill it. Let's all be available and press on toward love that matters, so we can live for others.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Backed Into A Corner? - December 11, 2016


Psalm 31:7-8 - I will rejoice and be glad in Your loving-kindness, Because You have seen my affliction; You have known the troubles of my soul, And You have not given me over into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a large place.

It is good to have options, especially as a runner and knowing where to place your foot with each stride. Even more so is this fundamental with barefoot running. Tight running along narrow trails can be difficult and somewhat limiting to the next foot strike. However, it feels liberating when the path is wide, or even better yet when there is not even necessarily a path but just a broad expanse to run. On occasion, I will run through pasture land barefoot when the grass is just coming up in the springtime. The visibility is great and there is no need to feel constricted on where to run.

As I stated, it is good to have options. No one likes to feel that they are backed into a corner with no where to turn. When David wrote the aforementioned psalm, he was obviously thinking from a battle strategy point of view. How much better to be able to see all his options as the enemy closed in on him while standing his ground in the "large place"? Many an army commander can testify to the terror of being pinned down in a forested scenario where the enemy is dug in and picking off his soldiers one by one. There is really only two options in a situation such as this: Either wait and hope help comes or try to flank your enemy and draw them into open combat. David's writings imply that he had been in similar situations. He stated that God did not allow him to be hemmed in, but He set his feet in a large place. With more options to move about freely, David could and did rout his enemy as the Lord strengthened him.

Is this not true for our own lives? How often do we feel hemmed in by the struggles and strives of daily living? It it's not the bills then one of the kids is sick or there are lay-off fears at work or any number of things that would seek to back us into that proverbial corner. The Lord Jesus Christ stated "Take no thought for what you will eat or drink or for what you will wear, but seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be given to you". What a glorious promise! Without a doubt, there are going to be times when all of us feel out-flanked by the enemy of our souls and we will feel like there is no way out. As David believed, we must know that God will never abandon us if we keep trusting. Even when our faith is frail and non-existent He stated through Paul in the first book of Timothy that "If we are faithless, He remains faithful". The Lord Jesus knows we are but dust and that we will return to dust. Therefore, He is patient with our failings and our unbelief. The most important thing is to keep growing in faith and listening to His continual testimonies to our souls, how He continues to deliver us.

David wrote a vast majority in retrospect. Retrospect, or "our history" as I like to call it is the most valuable thing we have to build faith. In Psalm 103:1 David writes "Bless the Lord, O my soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name, And forget none of His benefits toward you". The word "remember" is used 167 times in the bible (New International Version). Sounds to me like the Lord wants us to be mindful of many things that are relevant to how we live and believe. These things, if taken to heart will not allow us to be hemmed in by the enemy, our unbelieving thoughts, or by the nay-sayers around us.

My prayer for all of us is a simple one: Remember the Lord. In all our ways acknowledge Him and He will make our paths straight. Better yet, He will set us in a large place where we will have room for mobility away from the negative, debilitating thinking of the World and Satan that would seek to paralyze us with fear. Move forth in faith! He has large, spacious places for us all to dwell in!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, December 4, 2016

When Endurance is Not Enough! - December 4, 2016


Hebrews 12:1-2 - Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Long distance running is not something to be taken lightly. There should be a lot of preparation. Physically, there should (of course) be the training miles, but then there must be the mental preparation that gives a runner confidence to complete the distance. I have seen so many "bonk" before they get to the finish line mainly because they had not adequately prepared for the distance. For a runner, mental ability can be as important as physical training and ability. If you first lose the will to run in the mind, then you will lose the will to run where the shoe (or in my case the sole) hits the road.

So often I hear Hebrews 12:1-2 quoted in regard to running and endurance sports. It is a wonderful couple of verses that give us a mental image of a runner persevering with all intention of crossing the finish line. Of course, this is a metaphor for the race that Christians must run to compete for the heavenly prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus. As with runners that have prepared themselves only physically for the challenge of the long distance run, I see so many Christians who have not taken the time to complete the more important part of the verse that precedes "running with endurance".

Many "believers" line up at the proverbial start line of their Christian faith not understanding the course laid out before them. They don't understand that merely confessing Christ as their Savior and giving up this or that for Him is sufficient to "run" through life and be happy, joyous, and free. They may experience these feelings for a while, but when the race begins to be arduous they will falter in their faith. Jesus Christ does not expect us to run the race in our own strength or power, and He knows that we will never have the endurance to finish as we should without addressing EVERYTHING that is opposed to his Spirit and Life. "Encumbrances" as defined by Webster are things that are burdensome or a hindrance. Daily, we have opportunity to please the Lord with lives of obedience or by living selfishly ambitious for our own goals. The truly sanctified believer knows the momentary pain of "laying aside" something that they might love, yet is a hindrance to their walk with the Lord. I say momentary, because once a point of obedience is acknowledged and then "walked in", then the Christian is truly happier and more fulfilled by making that decision. Obedience, or the lack of, will be the one huge determiner whether or not we have the strength and power to run with endurance the race before us. Some may put on a show that they are running life's race in His power, but in time it will show differently when they lose the love and commitment for their Lord and others.

In marathoning, I like to carry a few gel packs with me for needed energy bursts. These are small collapsible aluminum packs of carbohydrate concoctions made with fruit or syrups. They give a runner that needed kick to keep going when the going gets tough. Christ provides us "spiritual gel packs" during our life race that are filled with the ingredients to keep on keeping on. Things such as hope, faith, and love that are jam-packed in His containers of wisdom that we know when to draw on at the most critical moments of our own race. However, I used the operative word "provide". He will only give us these needed stores through our obedience to His word and how he wants each and every one of us to walk our individual Christian lives. It is remarkable what may or may not work for a runner. Just because God has told me to do a certain thing in my walk with Him, does not mean that He will tell another the same thing. We are uniquely individual to our Lord, so therefore He deals with us as individuals for the more concentrated areas of obedience. This is the secret of individual sanctification. One will never reach their own by modeling after another's life.

The race is before all of us who believe. For those of you who are doubters and unbelievers, I encourage you to line up with us and start your own endurance race with the Lord. For those who would seek a shallow relationship with their God and then try to complete the race set before them, they will not be able to finish strong in the Lord because the Word says they will be encumbered and hindered along the course. Life will be full of compromises that would seek to distract us from the race set before us. No manner or amount of human endurance will allow us to finish the course as Jesus would desire. Endurance, in and of itself will always leave us coming up short of the finish line. We will by all means need to understand that Jesus is our Coach and He is the One that will provide the energy and fortitude along the way. May we all find His hope, His faith, His love along the way that will propel us to complete the wonderful course before us. Without Him as our Provider, we will truly fail, but with Him we can only win the race set before us.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick