Sunday, January 29, 2017

Consumed in the Fires of God - January 29, 2017


Hebrews 12:28-29 - Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

You never have to advertise a fire. Everyone comes running when there’s a fire. Likewise, if your church is on fire, you will not have to advertise it. The community will already know it. - Leonard Ravenhill "Why Revival Tarries", Bethany Publishing

Between barefoot running, the Lord's barefoot running ministry, work, and home life, there is not much time left for anything else. I like it that way. I enjoy being consumed with the things I love. Although my running schedule is time-consuming, I love the opportunity it affords me to have one-on-one time with the Lord. And, though the webpage and my writings take time, I thoroughly enjoy these also. We all make time for the things we really love. God, as we know by definition in the book of I John, is love in the most perfect sense. He is also a consuming fire as stated in the aforementioned scripture. So, which is He? He is both, and much more! As love personifies His nature, so fire is both literal and metaphoric for the passionate consummation He projects through His character toward the object of his intense focus -- humankind!

As we were made in the image of God, we were also made in the likeness of His character. The Lord said, "Be holy, as I am holy". "Be imitators of God". "... For God is love and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God". God does not merely want us to be casual observers of his character but partakers. He desires for each and every one of us to acknowledge our utter barrenness of ANYTHING good within ourselves and trust in His nature to kill the "old self" of sin within our respective bodies of death (see Romans chapter 6). Do we know that our self has been crucified with Christ, that we are dead to sin and alive to Christ? Our passions will testify to the reality of our position before God and man. If we love the things of this world, we will be drawn to the "fires" of this world as a moth to a flame. In the same respect, if we are truly born of God, we will desire the things of God and His will for us. Obedience to the things of God will merely be a joyous exercise of love if we truly belong to Him.

I quoted a favorite author of mine in the beginning of this devotional, Leonard Ravenhill. I had the privilege of hearing this great evangelist and revivalist in the late 1980s. Even at 80 years of age, his heart still burned with holy fervor for the Lord. Talking briefly with him one immediately recognized a heart and a voice of earnestness for the things of God. He had no time to talk about trifles. He was busy with the Lord's business. A.W. Tozer wrote about Leonard Ravenhill in the preface of Ravenhill's book "Why Revival Tarries?" stating that ...

Those who know Leonard Ravenhill will recognize in him the religious specialist, the man sent from God not to carry on the conventional work of the church, but to beard the priests of Baal on their own mountaintop, to shame the careless priest at the altar, to face the false prophet and warn the people who are being led astray by him.

Tozer could have just as easily been writing about any number of great spiritual, biblical leaders such as Moses, Peter, or Paul. Likewise, he might have referred to more recent godly men such as George WhitefieldJohn WesleyCharles FinneyD.L. Moody or Billy Graham. The fact is that God and His truths are timeless. No matter what generation, men and women that are truly called of God will turn aside just as Moses did to see the wonder of a bush that is not consumed. Then, and only then, can God put within these a desire for the "burn of holiness" that will transport an individual to lead others into the promised land of God's true rest. Oh, that those of us who know the Lord would burn with that desire! We do a huge disservice to those who do not know the Risen Lord. May they one day not have to stand before the Giver of Life and accuse us of denying them the truth of His Presence. I pray that we who are believers would truly begin to burn with a desire and a passion for souls that all those that we would touch in our daily lives would come to know the all Perfect One who consumes with a Perfect Love.

Dr. W.E. Sangster knew the consuming fire of His Lord as he sought to revive the Methodist Church in post-WWII Britain. "In 1949, Sangster was elected president of the Methodist Conference of Great Britain. The denomination's leader now, he announced the twofold agenda he would drive relentlessly: evangelism and spiritual deepening." The following describes his earnestness regarding the Lord's work:

How shall I feel at the judgment, if multitudes of missed opportunities pass before me in full review, and all my excuses prove to be disguises of my cowardice and pride?
Until his death in 1960, Dr. Sangster continued to be consumed with the fire of God's heart. "He longed to see lukewarm pew-sitters aflame with that oceanic love which bleaches sin's allure and breaks sin's grip and therefore scorches and saves in the same instant."


Truly, what ever consumes us is inevitably what we love. And, what we love is generally what we adore. And, what we adore is ultimately what we worship. If you are not consumed by God (or desiring to be so), then you are consumed with self. There is no middle ground. Jesus said the most important commandment was to "Love the Lord God with all your heart, soul, and mind". What is consuming you? Friends, if we are not consumed with and moving toward this "Burning Bush of Love" then we deceive ourselves. "God is a consuming fire" and will have nothing less than all we are.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Moral Living Versus Living in Christ - January 22, 2017


We all know good people. These are folks who would never lift a finger to hurt anyone. To the best of their ability they have always tried to live the Ten Commandments. You would also think about the "Golden Rule" if you considered how they would certainly "do unto others as they would do for themselves." Yet, as "good" as these folks are, if they have not placed their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, it is all for naught. It means nothing in the light of eternity. The very sad truth is that there will be myriads of "good" folks in hell. I didn't say this but it was said long before I came along. The scripture is clear when Jesus states in John 14:6 ... "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." Even with the clarity of this and many other scripture references pronouncing a definite way to salvation, I would never tell someone they are or aren't saved. That is between them and God. All things will be revealed in time.

However, how does one distinguish between good, moral living and living in Christ? Folks can certainly put on a good exterior and look like they are pious by displaying certain attributes that are applauded within our society. If one does not lie, does not cheat, does not swear, does not drink, does charity work, is kind, etc. then it is fairly well accepted that this person must be a godly character. However, as they say looks can be deceiving. While someone may smile on the outside they may be full of despair. While one may be giving ten percent to their church, they may have a covetous heart and a grasping attitude in their business that totally nullifies their supposed generosity. The scripture states in Luke 18:9-14 that the Pharisee was feeling very good about himself as he considered himself "moral" -- that he was not a swindler, unjust, an adulterer, or like that tax-gatherer! The tax-gatherer could not even raise his eyes to heaven but said "Have mercy on me O God, a sinner!" Jesus said that the tax-gatherer went up to his house justified while the Pharisee stood condemned. The tax-gatherer obviously had a change of "heart" whereas the Pharisee was not in the least concerned about examining his heart but was merely relying on his actions to justify him before God. This seeming "morality" of the Pharisee did nothing to commend him to the Eternal God, but rather it condemned him.

Morality in and of itself when it does not spring from a heart given to God leads us in the wrong direction, only strengthening self and leading us AWAY from salvation. Ask yourself: Why should ANYONE care about a moral compass when its compass points will always point straight to hell? Morality will never save me, but Jesus will. And, He is the one that will give me the power and the joy to live the normal Christian life. What is a normal Christian life, some may ask? JESUS LIVED IT! That is the normal and credible testimony of how a Christian should live. Paul said in I Corinthians 4:16 "Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me." WHOA! We either just read the most arrogant statement made in first century Christianity or we have happened on someone who is confident that their life has been crucified with Christ and that they no longer live but Christ lives in them. Thank God, it is the latter! What a glorious living testimony was Paul to the power of a Christ-resurrected man. Who needs to live up to the Law when there is One who has fulfilled the Law and now lives it through any who would but accept Him for who He is.

Recently, I had someone tell me "Keep being the good man you are!" I shuddered inside, because if they only knew. This person is not a believer (by their own admission), but a good person and so therefore was congratulating me from their own point of reference. There are a couple of things wrong with their statement. For one thing, I am not good but for the grace of God. Some of you who knew me in my pre-Christ years can attest to that. It is only by His grace that I am anything today. Secondly, if he mistook "morality" in me rather than "Christ-likeness" than I have done him a huge disservice and have not offered him anything that can stop their eventual slide into hell. Friends, the world is not looking for good people. There are lots of "good" people doing lots of noteworthy and wonderful things. Humankind is looking for LIFE -- an eternal personage that is full of the fruit of the Spirit -- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Humankind is yearning for men and women who have been transfigured by the person of Jesus Christ. They are thirsting after the Living Water that only He can give. There are rivers of intellect, and moral turpitude, and high human ideals that are flowing temporal and wide, just waiting for the masses to jump in so that they can be swept into hell with the rest of "good" humanity. However, there are some who will refuse to be jettisoned down this metaphoric river of Egypt into the abyss -- those of us who will but choose to be identified with Christ and drink from the river of Living Water that is eternal, never to thirst again.

Commandments, Golden Rules, and compasses are what they are -- merely tools to define direction and position. They can not save because they are inherently "tools" to point us to the One who can save. That One IS the Law fulfilled, the Just and Righteous Ruler, and the One who points us to the cross, and ultimately to our own resurrection and that of others. Hallelujah!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Ambitious Living - January 15, 2017

James 3:16 - For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

When I started barefoot running, my reasons were two-fold. One, I definitely wanted to run pain free. My knees had been giving me fits for months and barefoot running seemed to force proper technique which alleviated the lateral shock to my legs and knees. Two, I wanted to be noticed and applauded for doing something that very few were trying and most wouldn't do. To most sensible folks, the second reason smacks of arrogance and pride. I attempted to masquerade my selfish ambition of wanting accolades for what I was doing with the reasoning "... it was for my health". The truth? I was steeped in selfish ambition which the Lord out of His abundant mercy allowed. God knew, that like anything else of this world, that I would eventually grow tired of it, experiencing its emptiness. In His infinite wisdom, He had other things in mind for my barefoot running. He inevitably wooed me into a place of submission and humility to eventually turn the attention that I was receiving over to Him, in order that He might use it for His glory.

Today, I pray that my heart is more and more His. To assume that I am free from self-promotion would be ludicrous and self-deceiving. As I walk in the ways of the Lord and allow Him to shape His ministry around me, I see the importance -- no, the imperativeness of letting Him be Lord and allowing Him to strip me of all selfish ambition. This is actually going beyond mere submission to Jesus and all He is -- for even an enemy can bow down to his victor and give feigned obedience. Beyond submission, the Lord requires identification and substitution -- the fact of what Christ has done on the cross for mankind, how he gave His life so that I might live through His death, burial, and resurrection. If I am not living a substituted life, identifying with all He has done on my behalf, then I am living a life of self. For truly my only hope is Christ living in me. As Paul so eloquently and profoundly stated in Galatians 2:20, "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

The horror of living selfishly ambitious is that I put the Lord up for open shame every time I choose to self-promote. As He lives within me and I am not living through His ambitions, He is subjected to this body of selfishness and sin. It is like I make a mockery of the Risen Lord who gave me the power over the body of flesh to walk in newness of life. According to James in the opening scripture, EVERY evil practice exists where envy and selfish ambition reside. One could easily say the so-called Seven Deadly Sins would be as eggs incubating in these nests of hell called envy and selfish ambition. I will go beyond that and state that any and all sin, EVERY evil practice as James states, are ovum gestating in the womb of selfish ambition. Can you imagine every evil practice? This suggests that every disgusting, revolting, sinful practice that you can even imagine is rooted in envy and selfish ambition. For truly, were these not the characteristics of Satan's sin against God? Did it not first start with envy of God's power and then inevitably to selfish ambition where he was cast from heaven? Even today, the Holy Spirit speaks through His scripture telling me that anyone who wishes or desires to be the Lord's must understand and live a life of submission. Otherwise, the opposite is a hellish devotion to self that reeks of spiritual death and self-sufficiency.

What is my desire today? Is it to only satisfy my own ambitions? If so, James through the Holy Spirit states that these desires will lead only to a more "practiced" life of evil. However, the Lord Jesus lays before me this day another choice -- Life -- His Life. It is there for the asking. It is there for the taking. This should be my main ambition in life!

Lord, take my life, my dreams, my goals,
And make my ambition, yours for souls!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Personal Revival - Psalm 119 - January 8, 2017


I love reading the Psalms. They are truly eloquent, heartfelt demonstrations of souls crying out to God. Part of my daily bible reading is the Psalms. I have always thought that Psalm 119 was one of the most beautiful and poignant examples of a heart crying out to the Lord. I have read this Psalm probably hundreds of times, but verses 33-40 jumped off the page to me on this occasion. I occurred to me that I was reading a wonderful blueprint for personal revival. And of course, personal revival once achieved can become collective revival as more and more souls cry out for the same things for their own churches and communities. Here are some of my thoughts about this passage and how a proper understanding can lead a soul to a revived relationship with the Lord Jesus:

Psalm 119:33-40

Teach me, O LORD, the way of Your statutes, And I shall observe it to the end.
This passage doesn't say "teach me Your statutes" but teach me the "way of Your statutes". It is a much different thing to be tutored to understand every dot and tittle of God's law, but it is quite another to be instructed in the way of His statutes. Once a person understands the "way" of God's thinking, then the law does not need to come down one by one, but there is a deep understanding of His nature and how He would respond to every situation through the law written on a person's heart. Jesus proclaimed in John 5:19 that He could only do those things which He saw His Father in heaven doing. Once we are led in the "way" of His statutes then we will better understand the nature of the One leading us.

Give me understanding, that I may observe Your lawAnd keep it with all my heart.
Understanding comes in levels. As a child, I understood that I must stop and look both ways when I crossed the street because my mother told me to and I respected her enough to obey her command. As I got older, it became clear that in order to preserve life and limb, that this was a good practice. I may not totally understand God's laws and why I must obey, but it will become clearer and clearer the more I grow in Him and learn to trust that His laws are good.

Make me walk in the path of Your commandments,For I delight in it.
Psalm 36:9 states "... In Your light, we see light". Any trail runner can tell you that a good headlamp or handheld flashlight is essential when night running. As those of us who are believers head down life's dark paths, it is good and comforting to know that our Father lights our path so that we turn not to the right or to the left. I don't need the entire area illuminated, for when there is too much around me to "see" (the lust of the eyes) then it is easy to get my sight off the path in front of me. Thank you Lord Jesus for illumining just where I need to go in the next few steps and that I don't need to know where I am going days and weeks down the proverbial path. You make me walk (or run!) in the path of your commandments by illumining my way!

Incline my heart to Your testimonies, And not to dishonest gain.
Webster defines "incline" as "meaning to influence one to have or take an attitude toward something". It is quite easy in our world to give way to relativity and compromise allowing our "gains" to be something other than honest. I believe this verse is talking much more about character than money, although money and how we deal with it is a fruit of our character. What I believe the Lord is saying here through the psalmist is that first I must have a strong inclination toward the testimonies of God. The testimonies of God are all around us. Psalm 19:1 states that "The heavens are telling of the glory of God". This is a testimony of God that he controls nature, the seasons, the stars, the planets, and so on. Testimonies of God regarding marital faithfulness say that it is wrong to commit adultery. Even primitive cultures understand this truth because it has been written on their hearts. So, my desire should be that God would strongly influence my heart toward His testimonies so that I would not gain dishonestly. Dishonest gain is the catalyst for the deeds of the flesh -- anything that comes from selfish ambition (James 3:16) rather than Godly direction. This is will only strengthen the "portfolio of the flesh" and not the Heavenly Kingdom.

Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,And revive me in Your ways.
David stated in Psalm 101:3 that he "... will set no unworthy thing before his eyes". That is a tall order, no doubt. Especially, in this sin-soaked world we live in today. Turning my eyes from vanity is a constant endeavor and something I will never conquer to the point of "graduation". There are things at every turn that would seek us to behold, and through the beholding, to become defiled to the point where we have sacrificed our fellowship with the Lord. The more often that I turn my eyes from the things of this world that would seek to pollute my inner man, the more opportunity the Lord Jesus has to come and to revive His wonderful presence within me. Paul stated in Philippians 4:8 "... whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." The most amazing thing happens when we overcome evil with good. Jesus rejoices with us and revives us!

Establish Your word to Your servant, As that which produces reverence for You.
It is easy to speed read the bible which allows about as much retention as the effort to understand what's been read. When I look at this scripture, I think about concrete workers and how they make sidewalks and driveways. All the prep work has to be done first -- digging the footings, laying the rebar, and setting the forms. Once the concrete is poured, can the forms be readily taken up and discarded? Not until the concrete has set and cured! That is the way I look at the Word of God and how He wishes to establish it in our hearts. Too often we want God to pour in the blessings of His word without US doing the needed prep work, laboriously preparing for his "spiritual concrete". Once we have laid the ground work, then the Lord God can pour His Word into us. This is the type of revelation that will set firm and sure and cause Godly reverence for our Lord.

Turn away my reproach which I dread, For Your ordinances are good.
Through all the above prayers and actions, our reproach and the sin our old nature is evident and glaring. We have come to understand the law of the Lord, have walked in His commandments, inclined our hearts toward Godly ambition and through all this revelation have become uncomfortably aware of our bodies of sin that God so zealously wants to bury once and for all. At this point, we can truly cry out as Paul did in Romans 7:24: "Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from this body of death?" And in the next verse he gives the glorious answer to his rhetoric question: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" The turning away of reproach that the psalmist prays for is so much more doable once we have realized that we need a Savior who can truly turn our reproach over with a proverbial shovel and bury it totally, completely!

Behold, I long for Your precepts; Revive me through Your righteousness.
If we have been thorough regarding the previous prayers and actions, and God has broken through and accomplished a true change of mind and heart then we will be in LOVE with his precepts or commandments. We will know at this point that He only wants good for us and to establish us as sons and daughters of the Most High. Then, the miraculous happens! God takes us and sanctifies us for HIS pleasure and HIS work. For truly when one is revived in God's righteousness, one has been identified with the Righteous Servant who came to lay down His life for the entire world. We will truly be revived to do similar works of love as we lay down our lives for those around us.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Beginnings - January 1, 2017

Psalm 118:24 - This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Many make new year's resolutions, while most hold little hope they will keep them. The problem with resolutions of this kind is they are inflicted with self-will which horribly handicap a favorable outcome. Oftentimes, they are things folks believe they SHOULD do ... like eating less, exercising, quitting smoking, and so on. However, these desires are more likely born out of a sense of guilt rather than from a genuine epiphany to change for the better. Change that is born out of perceived necessity often results in resentment. For instance, our doctor may tell us to lose a few pounds in order to live a better quality of life. While we may agree with our physician on this point, it is easier said than done. That late evening snack or that piece of pie after a meal seem to entice us as never before once we know what we SHOULD do. We may begin to resent those who don't need restraint in this area of their life and we might look with envy on their ability to take in calories indiscriminately. Unless we are stalwart in our resolve, it is easy to cave in to compromise and to justify why we are not as deserving as the next person to indulge in a "little" excess.

Dictionary.com defines resolve as "coming to a definite or earnest decision about a particular outcome". While this sounds good regarding a desired effect, the catalyst or the power behind this decision is critical concerning its conclusion. While one may set their mind in resolution to complete a task, the heart is what will more often carry it out (or not). For believers in Christ, this inner resolve comes most effectively through the working of the Holy Spirit. For it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). As our mind, emotion, and our will (e.g. our soul) gets in line with God, then our new found resolutions collide with our old habits. Our sin nature cannot tolerate these new resolves so it must either surrender to God or usurp God's authority. (This struggle is depicted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25.) No matter how "definite" or "earnest" we might be regarding our desire to rule over our old habits, they simply will not die easily. However, if we will take the high ground and defend our position with the word of truth and a song of praise, then we will indeed win the day.

Our lead verse clearly establishes a premise for creating a new beginning daily that will enable us to stay strong in HIS resolve. First of all, the psalmist declares the sovereignty of God over time. He states that "this is the day which the Lord has made". If He made this day, He has surely made all previous days and any yet to come. This simple declaration of God's ownership of time means that God is in control of whatever happens in our lives today, if we will but allow Him that right. By acknowledging the Holy Spirit within, we are declaring the Almighty as the Lord of our lives and therefore the Lord over all my "old ways" as well as my present and future resolves. All must be placed in His care. We must simply surrender the outcome to Him. If we fail or win in our day to day battle with sin then we humbly place both our failures and our successes in His hands and rejoice in Him. If we have experienced the victory today, then we should rejoice! If we have struggled and fallen short, then we must still rejoice in the victory yet to come for He will not forsake us. If we continue to give ourselves to Him in humility, He will bring us to that "large place" where there is freedom and fellowship with our Lord (Psalm 118:5).

Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand (Psalm 149:6). Once we recognize that the day is the Lord's, our only obligation is to praise Him while we weld the sword of the Spirit (or the word of truth [Ephesians 6:17]). If we praise the Lord in the resolve that is born in His heart, and humbly use His word to contradict the guilt and lies of the evil one, then we will know the victory no matter how long it may seem to take. While some will give up after a few short weeks regarding their new year resolutions, God's people should never faint regarding the timeline of deliverance from the old life. If we are in Christ, we are new creatures ... period! (II Corinthians 5:17) It is our heritage as believers to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us in His manner. We are being changed into His likeness if we are humbly submitting ourselves daily to His loving hand. As we give ourselves to His resolve, then we needn't worry about the outcome. He is the One who owns the day, the year, and our lifetime ahead. We must simply trust Him to complete the work He has so illustriously begun in all who call Him Lord.

Heavenly Father, thank You that You own the day! Thank You that You are our Lord and that You live in us to will and to work for Your good pleasure. Allow us to live, and move, and have our being in Your resolve in this coming year. Give us the grace to experience Your love in both our failings and our victories. For with You, there will only be success if we faint not. Give us Your strength as we rejoice in You this day. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick