Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sin's Separation - February 19, 2017

Isaiah 59:2 - But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear.

Many of us who have been around Christian circles for any length of time have heard our share of sermons on prayer. A favorite saying that many preachers will interject into their message is "... God ALWAYS answers prayers. It may not be on our time-table, but God always answers prayers!" I believe this emphatically. However, I also see how this can be a cop out. It is easy to say that God always answers prayers when nothing demonstrably happens once a so-called man or woman of God pray. How often have we seen a television evangelist pray over someone and then when the miracle doesn't materialize, they simply tell the person being prayed for to keep believing in the miracle and that it will come in due time. They loose themselves from all responsibility of the miraculous occurring by putting the fault back on the one being prayed for if it doesn't happen. After all, the "pray-ee" just didn't have faith to receive the miracle, right? Hogwash! My soul feels revulsion for the lack of power in prayer by so-called healers and workers of miracles, telling those being prayed for that they must provide all the faith for the miracle to manifest. In only two instances in the Gospels were Jesus' healings contingent on the faith of those receiving prayer (Matthew 13:58; Mark 9:23-24). Preachers and healers love to quote these scriptures when there are no demonstrable results from their petitions. However, the vast majority of the time Jesus is chronicled as healing people indiscriminately, whether they had faith or not. Without a doubt, it pleased the Lord when those He prayed for possessed faith. The scriptures show several examples including the Centurion's son (Matthew 8:5-14) or the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:23-28) but it was not the determining factor in most instances. The Gospels are clear that Jesus went into areas and did "wholesale" healing, if you will, laying hands on all and healing them with His immediate touch (Matthew 4:24; Matthew 8:16; Mark 1:34; Luke 4:40; Luke 5:15).

Jesus stated in the Gospel of John: Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father (John 14:12). His promise to His beloved are works or manifestations of His power greater than what He did as a sojourner on this earth. So what is the problem? Why do we not see more immediate answers to prayer as Christ demonstrated in His ministry? Personally, I believe the answer is much simpler than most would feel comfortable believing. The scripture tells us point blank why God does not hear our prayers ... we STILL have a sin problem! I'm not talking about our position in Christ because clearly all who know the Risen Lord and have trusted in Him for salvation have died to sin, POSITIONALLY that is. Too many, I fear, have not taken Paul's admonition to heart when he instructed us to die to sin CONDITIONALLY, once and for all (Romans 6:11). As our opening scripture states, God has hidden His face from us because of sin (Isaiah 59:2). Most have not allowed God to truly sanctify them, to live lives of 100% obedience which would first mean a time of deep introspection and confession of sin. James the brother of Jesus is very clear on the progression of steps to command fervent, effectual prayer. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much (James 5:16). Beloved, first we must confess our SINS to one another. I'm not talking about SIN which was what we confessed to Jesus Christ when we acknowledged that we were sinners in need of His grace. But James is stating that we need to "clean house" and sweep away every thing that is not of Jesus. It must be destroyed. According to this scripture and many others like it, we can only find healing as we confess our sins to another human being. This will allow the Holy Spirit to come in and fill our hearts and lives as never before. Then, our prayers will begin to take on a power that we never dreamed. It is not by happenstance that James goes on in the following verses to compare effective prayer with that of Elijah. This prophet prayed for the sky to be shut up for three and half years and it happened according to his word (James 5:17-18). The apostle is not merely making a comparison here in the attempt to give a flourish to his writing, but he genuinely believed that those who live clean and obedient lives can invoke heaven in much the same way as the Old Testament prophet.

A remarkable instance of God coming in an extraordinary way through confession happened on February 3, 1970 at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky. What was supposed to be a 50 minute chapel service on a Tuesday morning turned into a 185 hour manifestation of God's revival power -- a 24 hour prayer and praise meeting that would be the spark for the Jesus Movement of the early '70s. And, it all started from a deep sense of conviction (John 16:8) and then a confession of sin(s). Before long, students and faculty were lined up to come to the microphone, confessing their sins and testifying of the Lord's goodness through their repentance. (An account of the Asbury Revival is available on video here.) Asbury is just one example. Every revival or manifestation of God's power was predicated by a deep conviction of both SIN for the unsaved and SINS for those who knew the Savior. No matter if it was during the Great Awakening in John Wesley's day, or Charles Finney during the Second Great Awakening of pre-Civil War America, or the more recent Azusa Street Revival of Los Angeles in 1906, these all characteristically began with the Spirit of Conviction regarding sin resting on those God both moved on and through during these momentous manifestations.

Beloved, many of us who desire to see God move in our time as He has done so faithfully in the past can only concur with God's desire to move in like fashion. I say this with an assurance given to me by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit and by His holy scriptures that God will move once again on our darkened world when we cry out from hearts that are completely His. What we see in many parts of the world with the Global Prayer Movement is an awesome thing! Many of these prayer meetings have been going strong for years, covenanting with God on a 24/7 basis. God is going to move in a powerful way through prayer as it births world-wide revival. However, there must come a holy conviction first that we have yet to see in order for God's Spirit to be poured forth. Once God grants us the Spirit of Conviction that convinces of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:8), THEN we will begin to see and hear the fervent and effectual prayers of righteous men and women as they invoke the fire of God upon this dying world. No longer will He be hiding His face from His beloved, but He will be rapturous with expectation along with His Bride regarding the workings of His Spirit within our midst.

Come Lord ... come and bring to us conviction of sin both to the sinner and to the saint. We confess our sins to you, O Lord, and to one another. May You move with a power and an unction we have never imagined. In Jesus' Precious Holy Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Holy Groaning - February 12, 2017

John 16:21 - Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world.

Pregnancy is such an awesome wonder to behold. As a man, I am bereft of any real understanding regarding what a woman goes through during her time of incubating another life within her womb. (Bear with me, ladies, as I state the obvious!) The nuances of two human lives developing a relationship from the moment of conception is an extraordinary thing to ponder. However, I do know what it is like as a father to wait with expectancy as the time of birth draws near. It is an assurance of not IF it will happen but WHEN! It is a mix of excitement and tension as the exact time of birth can be hard to pin down. While I have been told repeatedly that a pregnant woman does not want to be told she is "glowing", it is a true statement whether they like the acknowledgement or not. Women seem to accept this more in the beginning of their pregnancy, but toward the end of the third trimester they are just ready to have their child. They don't want to be told that they look beatific in their maternal way, as many feel tired and "ugly", if you will. Until they shed this "precious poundage" that has dominated their lives for the past several months, there is an inner groaning and an outward discomfort until the birth of their child is finally realized.

In a very real sense (and just as a woman's pregnancy), the church is beginning to witness the early signs of a spiritual pregnancy that will culminate with Christ's return and the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). The church is beginning to radiate a modest glow and an ever-so-slight witness, if you will, that would be demonstrative of a spiritual pregnancy. The expectant church has been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in these latter days much in the same way as Mary the mother of Jesus was impregnated as she submitted to God's will. For this to be reality in the church collectively, it has first to be a reality in believers singularly. God has called out many saints in their respective church bodies first and foremost to become holy vessels through obedience and the fear of the Lord (II Corinthians 7:1). As set apart believers that are intent on His will, the Lord God is raising these up as intercessors who will continue to plead the Court of Heaven until the Eternal Judge sends forth both His mercy and justice upon a dying world. We are in the beginning days of God raising up a mighty team who would travail -- a veritable Garrison of Groaners that would not rest night or day until God's will is done on this earth (Isaiah 62:6-7). There is much at stake as men and women join with others to petition heaven. It is the very beginning of the end of days -- the great end-time ingathering of souls (Revelation 14:14-16).

While many believe that the Lord's return might occur at any time, I believe that this is incongruent with scripture. While there are several things that have indeed occurred that would point to Christ's return, there are just as many that have as yet to happen. (One of these, for example, is the need for the Jerusalem Temple to be reconstructed. [Acts 15:13-18; Revelation 11:1-2; Daniel 9:24-27]) The beauty of the Lord delaying His return allows His bride to ready herself, adorning her vestige with holiness which is befitting of a chaste virgin. Even as Mary told the angel Gabriel, may it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38), even so there are those who are submitting to the Lord for what might seem a long pregnancy. I can assure you, beloved, that this will be a gestation not of months but of years. It will require a continued birthing of prayer meetings, global prayer rooms, intercessory halls, and every other form of gathering for night and day prayer until God breaks forth upon this earth and reaps His greatest desire -- the hearts and lives of men, women, and children. However, we should not grow faint at heart in our waiting. As long as we prepare ourselves, even as the five prudent virgins in Jesus' parable (Matthew 25:1-13), then we will be full of the oil of His Spirit. The oil of gladness (Isaiah 61:3) will keep us expectant, longing with a fortitude that will not be denied no matter how long He delays.

We should all be asking ourselves particular questions if we truly believe we are in the last days. For if we are in the end time, it means our redemption is drawing near and we should be rapturous with expectation (Luke 21:28). Has God given you a joy of expectancy in your life? Have you the flush of being of pregnant with what the Spirit of God is doing in our generation? Is He brooding over you to bring forth an outpouring of His Spirit not seen since the days of Pentecost? In all honesty, beloved, I have witnessed very little of the brooding Spirit of the Holy God in our present time. Even in our respective prayer groups in the midst of the burgeoning global prayer movement, we see enthusiasm and fervor but the majority of it can often appear as repetitious rote. However, before you think I am coming down on the present day prayer movement, understand that I believe we are doing all that God is asking us to do. In the midst of our apparent deadness, there is a wonderful life that has begun to grow and to be nurtured in the very womb of His Body, the church. Its life and sustenance is the prayer room as men, women, and children groan for a birthing of Holy Ghost power the world has yet to see. The pregnancy is not noticeable on a wholesale manner, and especially to the world -- yet. However, the beginnings are already starting to reach out and arrest those God has called to become intercessors to help birth this great movement. It will take a collective body, a chaste virgin that first glows with anticipation and then groans for its completion. Shall we be counted worthy to be part of such a marvelous work? May God give us all the grace to be that man or woman to join hands with others in this joyous labor of love.

Once again and a million times over, Lord, we cry out with John the Revelator, The Spirit and the bride say come! (Revelation 22:17). May Your kingdom come as we join hands and hearts to birth the greatest awakening ever known to humankind. We humbly submit to this awesome endeavor. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Lie With Me - February 5, 2017

Genesis 39:7 - It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me."

Genesis 39 begins with Joseph's ordeal of being sold as a slave into the household of Potiphar where the young Hebrew quickly rises in stature and rank amongst his new lord's servants. As the meaning of Joseph's name means "God increases or adds to", so he rose to second only to Potiphar himself in this royal official's household. The scripture tells us (Genesis 39:1-6) that Joseph was both successful and prosperous in whatever he put his hand to do. This young man had risen, in a relatively short period of time, from being a slave sold in the Egyptian slave market to quite possibly the highest station a slave might hold in Egyptian culture. It appears that Joseph made the best of an imperfect situation by prospering both his master and himself in his once dire straits. However, this was not the end of God's design for Joseph's prosperity nor that of the Hebrew people in the land of Canaan. By a set of dastardly circumstances, Joseph must rise above his station and command all in Egypt in order to save his people. And the catalyst for this rise to power would come by the words and actions of Potiphar's own wife. The road to Joseph's destiny lie in a jail cell before it ended at the throne room. For Joseph, his success as Potiphar's slave would prepare him for his glorious future as the redeemer of the known world through his wisdom in staving off a catastrophic famine.

Our opening text tells us that Potiphar's wife looked with desire at Joseph. However, Genesis 39:7 is clear that this transpired "after these events". What were these events? As previously stated, the first six verses of Genesis 39 contain Joseph's rise to prominence in the house of Potiphar. Clearly, this handsome and strong young Hebrew that was successful in everything he touched became a desirous target to the possibly neglected wife of his master. As often happens, men of integrity and character are challenged morally by evil to determine if they truly are whom they might appear. (One only has to look at any number of moral failures in recent years of mega-church pastors and televangelists.) If Satan can use a temptress or a tempter to try to seduce a man or woman of God, then many times he might bring them down in their folly (Proverbs 6:26). However, if the Devil loses his bet, then the very one he seeks to pull down will often rise stronger in the end by persevering through the trial. We know from the remainder of Genesis 39 that Joseph held fast to his integrity and suffered the lying accusations of Potiphar's wife rather than lie with the woman and destroy all that he had thus achieved. Oftentimes, to stay true to oneself means to disregard any self-preservation, no matter what the cost.

Through the years, I have talked and counseled many that have been at this very crossroads where Joseph made a stand for his own character and integrity. As a practicing alcoholic, I knew what it meant to get a few months of sobriety and then to once again be wooed by the seductress alcohol. As a recovering alcoholic and a sinner saved by grace for many years now, I understand how the world can woo and tantalize those of undetermined wills. I have talked and prayed with many regarding any number of addictions or life style choices that once seemed controllable in their lives, but led them to a place of self-imprisonment that they could not free themselves. There are many such "couches of sin" where the wavering of faith might lie with their respective seductress or seducer. However, that is the time when moral character must be dredged up out of the inner man or woman to counter the attack. If we choose to lie horizontally on "beds of iniquity" and compromise ourselves, then our vertical, spiritual posture will be bowed down with the weight of guilt and shame. We cannot walk with straight backs and uplifted heads if we have given in to our besetting sin and it has once again mastered us. Just as Joseph undoubtedly learned character long before arriving in Egypt, we too must lay claim to small victories in our lives until once again we (as well as others) begin to regard us as people of character. Ah, but then comes the challenge and temptation! For when a man thinks he stands, let him take heed unless he falls (I Corinthians 10:12). Testing and trial will always be the examiner or the tutor, if you will, of the pupil of integrity. As success and prosperity overtake us in our respective journey's of sanctification, the adulteress or the adulterer will be there to try to destroy what we have accomplished by the grace of God. At this critical crossroad, we must stand firm, knowing that ... No temptation has overtaken [us] but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow [us] to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that [we] will be able to endure it (I Corinthians 10:13; I Peter 5:9).

God's promise is that He will never give us more than we can handle. As with Joseph, when things seemed the bleakest in his Egyptian prison, then the Lord broke forth and redeemed his chosen in a marvelous way. We, also, must hold on and never succumb through every trial and temptation, awaiting each subsequent victory. As certain as the Devil hates our successes and the goodness we are germinating within our own lives and those around us, even so he would like nothing better than to kill, steal, and/or destroy these seeds of hope. There may come a time when it seems that God has abandoned us to a proverbial "jail cell" in our own respective Egypt. We may once again sense a loss of hope when just recently we experienced such success and prosperity. And now here we are once again in this dark, dank period where there is no apparent deliverance. Take heart! Fear not! Your redemption is close at hand -- only He can bring us out of the dark. As we allow Him to do it in His time, then we will see in hindsight the wonderful creature that he has created in us through our trusting in Him.

Holy Father, forge our characters in the furnaces of heaven while keeping us from succumbing to the fires and the passions of this world. Allow us to succeed and prosper in all our endeavors knowing that even these must be tried with fire. Let us pass through the flames of these trials, refined in character as precious gold, useful to the our Master and His will for our lives and others. We pray this in Jesus' Name and for His glory, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick