Friday, September 26, 2008

The Bare Soul - Recognizing Jesus - September 28, 2008

Acts 4:13 - Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus.

Luke's writing in Acts 4 says volumes about the past life of the disciples as well as their present relationship with the Lord. Conclusions had been drawn by the Pharisees that are really simple observations that a school child could have made (and probably did). Yet, these learned and so-called wise leaders of their religious order surmised with their earthly faculties that Peter and John had been with Jesus. Their sense of sight and understanding were certainly not impaired, but their spiritual discernment and judgment certainly was lacking. For if they truly knew who stood before them in the power of the Holy Spirit, they may have behaved differently. What they witnessed defied their Judaist upbringing and was diametric from anything they had known regarding true spirituality. They had seen it a few weeks earlier in a man they had sentenced to death, yet they were amazed at this Man's confidence and biblical understanding. However, that was not enough to change their heart toward Jesus, neither was it enough to turn their hearts by His disciples.

Have you ever recognized someone as having been with Jesus? They aren't difficult to spot. As the Pharisees witnessed, the hallmark of these folks is their immovable confidence in what they believe. How does confidence of this type manifest itself? Well, it starts in secret and spills out publicly. It oozes out of believers that truly believe their Lord and desire to spend time with Him. It comes by searching out His Word, and then living it to the best of their ability. It comes by living out the Great Commission and spreading the love of Jesus Christ to their communities, counties, states, countries, and finally to the world. Godly confidence is something that cannot be self-created but is a by-product of living and breathing the Lord Jesus Christ on a daily basis.

Education means little when one is truly imbued with the Lord's presence to change their respective world. One might say that a seminary degree will help open doors that might not be opened otherwise. My opinion, in this regard, is that possibly these doors are better off left shut if that is the case. Countless men and women since the time of these "uneducated men" of the book of Acts have turned the world upside down for Jesus Christ. All it really takes is a desire to be with Jesus and He will do the rest. As Leonard Ravenhill stated in his book "Why Revival Tarries?", 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. I dare say that in this regard, it is not the preacher or the youth minister or any other church officer that have license to set our respective communities on fire for God. Irrespective of title, the Lord Jesus is looking for individuals that have such a hunger to be with Him that they will set their families, their communities, their churches on fire with Holy Ghost power! It doesn't take a degree to fulfill God's Great Commission, but it does take a heart and a desire to spend time with Him as He opens His word in the heart of the desirous. Then, it takes the will to take it to the streets and give away what He has so graciously given.

Do you want to provoke amazement as the Pharisees experienced? They merely acknowledged the confidence of Peter and John, that they were uneducated but yet they recognized the Lord Jesus in them. Confidence in one's standing with the Lord only comes by getting into that secret place with Him -- to pour out one's heart and to pour over His word. Then, when we come out into the public light, there will be little to mistake any of us from having been with our Risen Lord. The dilemma for most of us is this -- we either don't believe that the Lord will give us this type relationship with Him or we are spiritually lazy to come to His Light, having been distracted by the light of our TVs (or any other distraction that you would care to mention). Do you want to start living a remarkable life? Then, start doing remarkable things ... TODAY ... that will eventually equate to a remarkable life. As previously stated it is really very simple, yet the Pharisees could not understand. We become what we spend our time with. As with those of the Sanhedrin that killed the Lord of Life and accused His disciples, they spent time with their own egos, priding themselves on their puffed up educations. Yet, they truly were empty, insecure followers of a dead Law. When they recognized their very opposites in Peter and John, they were taken aback. Are we sending those that we encounter throughout our respective lives into a state of amazement, or are we allowing them to continue to slumber in their sin? It is all our responsibility -- all of us who call ourselves Christians -- to be provoking amazement and wonder in those who would recognize the Risen Savior within our own lives.

Holy Father, recommit our hearts and lives to "spending time" with our Risen Lord. In time, may all who witness our behavior and testimony be amazed as they recognize our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ as He lives and moves and has His being within us. Give us a true spiritual education that we can then take to the world. In Jesus Christ's precious name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Bare Soul - Possessing Our Inheritance - September 21, 2008

Hebrews 11:6 - And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews the eleventh chapter is one of those scripture references that shines with optimism. I question whether there is another portion of scripture containing forty verses of such uplifting hope that is modeled for the believer. As stated in verse six and throughout this section, the defining characteristic of a believer pleasing the heart of God is faith. Faith is unseen in its origin as Hebrews 11:1 shows us, otherwise it is not faith. It is evidenced by its outcomes. We are once again reminded of the "characters" of faith throughout this chapter. God can use imperfect humans that once were drunkards like Noah, murderers like Moses, and prostitutes like Rahab. Praise God that we can truly approach the Throne of Grace just as we are and receive His mercy and forgiveness!

While Hebrews 11 is a wonderful resume regarding the incredible exploits of the faithful, there is an obvious "faith gap" between verses 29 and 30. The nation of Israel's wilderness wanderings in the Sinai were obviously omitted purposely:

v29 - By faith they passed through the Red Sea as though they were passing through dry land; and the Egyptians, when they attempted it, were drowned.

v30 - By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been
encircled for seven days.

The silence of this "unspoken" 40 years of wanderings is deafening. Once again, we see what is NOT written in scripture can often be as powerful as what is written. An entire generation of this young Jewish nation was deliberately not spoken of in the context of faith but at the same time, their unbelief was proclaimed loud and clear by omission. The books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are full of examples regarding what not to do in order to enter the promised land that God so earnestly wanted them to possess. The scripture tells us earlier in the book of Hebrews that they could not enter the land that had been promised due to their hardness of heart and lack of faith -- that God would do as He foretold. The mercy and compassion of the Lord was demonstrated time and time again through many miraculous acts following their rescue from Pharaoh. Their thirst was quenched by water from the rock, they were fed by manna from heaven, their clothes and their sandals did not wear out during this time. Not to mention the Shekinah Glory of the Lord that led them through the wilderness -- a cloud during the day and a pillar of fire during the night. Yet, the scripture tells us that their hearts were hardened and the Lord swore in His wrath, "They shall not enter My rest!".

We all have lapses of faith. We see that in the characterizations of every one of those listed in the Hebrews "Hall of Faith". However, there need not be these times when the "silence" of unbelief is deafening. My wilderness experience lasted 14 years where I struggled in and out of homelessness, alcoholism, and addiction. Even so, during all this time, the Lord was faithful as He watched over me to finally bring me across my respective "Jordon River" to the promised land of abundance. Those of us who have crossed over through sanctification understand that the land lies before us, ready to be possessed. God is telling us that it is our inheritance and that we shouldn't fear but believe that He has given it to us all who would but believe. Why does the writer of Hebrews emphasize the walls of Jericho falling down after the nation of Israel crossed into the promised land? Because it was a further demonstration of how the Lord God Jehovah is the One who defeats our enemies if we will but believe. This is the only reference in the book of Joshua of how the Lord destroyed a city that the sons of Israel would possess in this manner. The Lord showed Joshua and the Jewish people that it was "... not by might, and not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord". The hallmark of this victory was strict obedience to the word of the Lord. In like manner, we can only please the Lord God by faith and obedience to what He is telling us to do. The power can only come through acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us on Calvary's tree.

He has given us the same boldness through the forgiveness of sins to enter into the Throne Room of Grace and to take possession of our inheritance as sons and daughters of Light. We simply must believe, confess, and possess what He has freely given for us all to claim by our birthright as sons of God. Some might say that their wilderness wanderings have become too comfortable and that they no longer know the way. He is there when we are ready to be led into the promised pastures of His delight. We just need to ask.

Heavenly Father, You are the One that has defeated all our enemies before we have even asked. You are the One wooing us to enter and possess the "eternal land" of Your promise. It's not by what we have done, but what You did on Calvary. The inheritance is ours to claim by rights of the blood of Jesus. Lord, we accept your faith and lay our lives before You as a living sacrifice that we may live to obey You. In Jesus Christ's holy name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Bare Soul - Forgive and Forget - September 14, 2008

Philippians 3:13 - Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,

The following is the sermon text for a message delivered at the Kansas City Rescue Mission on September 11, 2008.

When I finally put the “plug in the jug” in 1992, I knew that I needed to make amends to all those whom I had used throughout the years. While many of them were unreachable, I did the best I could and made amends, accordingly. Most people are forgiving and understanding when you tell them what you’re trying to do. Most offer a hand of reconciliation and are glad to help patch up the past. When I say most, I am thinking of one individual who would continue to be elusive and unable to pin down regarding offering and receiving his forgiveness.

That person was me.

Often, we are our own worst critic and we can be far more critical of our past than any of our peers. We can beat ourselves unmercifully for a lifetime of missed opportunities and lost chances. We can bemoan all the “could’ve, would’ve, and should’ves that haunt our memory. It took me several years of being sober and “giving back” before I actually felt whole again from the inside out. It took making restitution by giving of myself to others until I could finally feel healed and set free from the condemnation of the past.

When I drank, I didn’t care about you or anyone else. Most of all, I really didn’t care about me. I didn’t care enough to get up and go to work, so therefore I would lose my job. Money would run out since I wasn’t working, so I would steal from you to satisfy my addiction. After waking up from a black-out of the night before I would feel terrible remorse; but more terrible was the need to get drunk again to forget about the remorse. So, I would do what I needed to get some money to get drunk again – steal, sell plasma, collect aluminum cans, or whatever I could do to turn a dollar or two so I could get drunk and ease the pain. Alcohol had crippled me as a human being. However, alcohol was merely the tool Satan used to fan the flames of sin in my life. Alcohol had become the “rapacious creditor”, as it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “that bleeds us of all self-sufficiency”. I was wasted of SELF, and needed to find someone bigger than myself to set me free from this body of death. (That Person, the only One that can set any of us truly free, is Jesus Christ the Almighty.)

For some of us, alcohol is the symptom of the greater malady -- sin within that seeks to kill us. Maybe your symptom is drug addiction. Maybe it is sexual lust. Maybe it is greed. Maybe it is pride. All of these and many more can be the tools that Satan uses to get us mired in sin so we would sink over our heads and be lost forever. I’d like to tell you a story about a man who nearly lost his life to pride. His name was Saul of Tarsus. Later he would be known as Paul the Apostle. Saul’s addiction or “tool” of sin was his extreme self-righteousness. If there was an up-and-comer Pharisee, Paul was certainly the most likely to succeed. In the book of Philippians, Paul gives a bit of his resume by stating how devout he was in his zeal for the Law. In Philippians 3:4-7 he states:

although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.

This was his testimony years after his conversion. He understood where he had been as a sinner and where he stood with Christ. Paul stood in a much different place several years before when he witnessed the stoning of the disciple Stephen. The Pharisees were driven to insane anger by the preaching of Stephen. As they drove him off to stone him, they laid their coats at the feet of another zealous Pharisee as stated in Acts 7:58:

When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul.
Finally, in Acts 9:1-5 we find Paul in full pursuit of what he thought was God’s calling on his life – persecuting and killing as many Christians as he could. However, the Lord Jesus had other plans for the young zealot:

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,
Many years later he writes to the church in Philippi and tells them “yes”, this is what I was but I am no longer this man. God had taken hold of Saul of Tarsus and had killed the selfish person within him, resurrecting him as Paul the Apostle. Paul would spend the rest of his life making restitution for his life of sin by pulling as many souls from the clutches of hell as the Lord would enable him through His power. Paul continues his testimony in the 8th verse of the third chapter of Philippians:
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Did Paul regret his past life? Undoubtedly he did. However, he also knew it was the key to his future. For only those who are forgiven much, can love much. Only those who have known how deep and dark and depraved their hearts were possessed by sin, only then can they know the width, and the breadth, and the depth of God’s love. The secret of Paul’s Christian life was that he never forgot where he came from but in the same token he knew he was forgiven and that it was forgotten by the One who saved his soul. That is why Paul states that he, too, can reach forward for what lies ahead, forgetting the ugliness of the past -- for truly the Father has taken his sin and thrown it in the “sea of forgetfulness”, never to be remembered or brought up again. Allow me to challenge you with this question: How is your “forgetter” today? Does it hold on to ugly images of your past life of sin or does it look forward to a life of freedom and happiness in the Lord? Is there a grateful reminiscence when you think about where God has brought you from, or is there a cloud of condemnation and despair when you consider your past?

There have been countless stories of countless men and women since the life of Paul that have experienced the life changing forgiveness of Christ. I can attest to being one of those. Another is a man named John Newton:

John Newton was born in London July 24, 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. In July of 1732, thirteen days before his seventh birthday, death took his saintly mother who had since his third birthday been his teacher and friend. He took the death of his mother hard. In fact, it became evident that he was bitter at God over his circumstance because he began as one author puts it, "a decline into rebellion and degradation that lasted until his 24th year." At 11 years of age he went to sea with his father and made six voyages with him before the elder Newton retired. In 1744 John was forced into service on a man-of-war, the H. M. S. Harwich. The conditions on board were intolerable to him, so he deserted but was soon recaptured and publicly flogged and demoted from midshipman to common seaman.

Finally, at his own request, Newton was exchanged into service on a slave ship, which took him to the coast of Sierra Leone. He then became the servant of a slave trader and was brutally abused. Early in 1748 he was rescued by a sea captain who had known John's father. John Newton ultimately became captain of his own slave ship. And what kind of captain was he? Lindsay Terry writes, "It is reported that at times he was so wretched that even his crew regarded him as little more than an animal. Once he fell overboard and his ship's crew refused to drop a boat to him. Instead they threw a harpoon at him, with which they dragged him back into the ship." But God intervened in Newton's life and got his attention through a violent storm. The gale was so severe that all the livestock were washed overboard and the crew tied themselves to the ship to keep from being swept overboard. As he was attempting to steer the ship through the violent storm, he experienced what he was to refer to later as his "great deliverance." He recorded in his journal that when all seemed lost and the ship would surely sink, he exclaimed, "Lord, have mercy upon us." Later in his cabin he reflected on what he had said and began to believe that God had addressed him through the storm and that grace had begun to work for him. For the rest of his life he observed the anniversary of May 10, 1748 as the day of his conversion, a day of humiliation in which he subjected his will to a God.
Several years later after John Newton was ordained a minister, he wrote the song Amazing Grace. In his own words, he describes the type of man he was and now is by the grace of God. Truly, John Newton was a man that forgot the clouded, sinful past and reached forward to the greater calling of his life. Yet, ironically, his past is what shaped him to be of most use for the Lord. Late in life, he joined William Wilberforce in the campaign for abolition of slavery. In 1787 he wrote a tract supporting the campaign, Thoughts Upon the African Slave Trade. Among his greatest contributions to history was encouraging William Wilberforce, a Member of Parliament for Hull, to stay in Parliament and "serve God where he was", rather than enter the ministry. Wilberforce heeded the ex-slaveship captain's advice, and spent the next twenty years successfully working for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire.

It doesn’t matter who or what you’ve done or been – whether you have been an addict, alcoholic, a murderer as Saul of Tarsus, or slave-trader like John Newton. God has chosen to forgive us all. And, if He has chosen to forgive us of all our past, shouldn’t we? Are we not saying that we are greater than God Almighty if we choose to do differently? May we all, with Paul the Apostle forget what lies behind and choose rather to reach forward to what lies ahead. There is much to do for the Lord. Truly, his Amazing Grace is there to help us! Glory to the Lord!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The following is a message titled "Forgive and Forget" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on September11, 2008.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Bare Soul - Temple-building, Part II - September 7, 2008

I Chronicles 29:1 - Then King David said to the entire assembly, "My son Solomon, whom alone God has chosen, is still young and inexperienced and the work is great; for the temple is not for man, but for the LORD God."

David knew through years of acquired wisdom that building the temple would not be an easy task. Not only would it be a monumental job, but it would take a resoluteness and determination of vision that could only come by divine impartation. Most of all, he recognized the liability of youthfulness and inexperience in his son. David realized that failure was a possibility if Solomon did not have a heart of wisdom to finish the work at hand for the Lord's sake! David knew that it would be much easier to compromise the building of the temple and make it according to man's designs. However, the old king also knew that it was in the heart of God to build the temple according to the Lord Jehovah's desire. None of his father's speech and desires were lost on Solomon, for we find that he indeed sought the Lord in humility for the spirit of wisdom to lead him during his early reign (see Solomon's prayer in II Chronicles 1:8-13).

Those of us who know the Lord have a similar task at hand. We have all embarked on a similar mission of temple-building and yet, if we are honest, we are not quite certain what this temple of the Holy Ghost should look like. Many of us have been conditioned by years of teaching that a "holy" person will resemble something like this -- someone who reads their bible daily, someone that prays, someone that tithes, or someone who does lots of service work. These all can truly be aspects of someone that has allowed the Holy Spirit a place of residence in their heart, but it begs the question: Has the Holy Spirit been the "general contractor" of His dwelling place within, or have sub-contractors compromised the construction by pride and ineptitude? I hear so much chatter these days about being "spirit-filled" or "spirit-led" yet I see believer's lives devoid of the beauty of the Lord from within. There is a lack of the resplendent grandeur of the Lord's temple that shines forth in the soul of a sanctified believer that makes all their works truly faith-inspired. Instead, way too often, there is the soul-weary expression on a pilgrim's face that tells me they are "trudging along for Jesus", yet they are very much doing so in their own power. There is nothing captivating or beautiful in these type of "religious" expressions. They rather smack of self-indulgence and self-knowledge which are ultimately works of the flesh.

The apostle Paul knew and understood David's sentiments when he spoke to the Corinthians. In I Corinthians 6:19, Paul asks the church of Corinth a simplistic question that they should have realized if they were truly Christ's: ... do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? To understand that we are not our own, as Paul knew, comes from a deep sense of who we were and who we now ARE in Christ. Even as Solomon understood that he was just a mere child trying to lead the people of Israel, he knew that without God's understanding and wisdom that he would be a failure. Not only would he fail at building the temple according to the will of God, but he would fail in his commission to the kingdom of Israel. His humility and sense of his "human-ness" gave Solomon the needed understanding to fulfill all that the Lord desired. Even so with us. We must get out of the way and let Him have His way in our lives, or we will be plagued by constant disappointment and general dissatisfaction regarding what He is doing in our respective "building projects". We must understand that only as He is given full reign to do and to build as He desires, only then will we have true peace and success in this lifetime. We are not our own -- how much less everything we attempt to do for the Lord unless it is first rooted and grounded in Him? There will be no true sanctification until this happens -- only a shadow or a passing vapor of the real thing. In reality, there will be no true substance in the heart of the believer until He is given full building rights within our hearts.

I have personally visited many beautiful religious edifices in this country and also in western and eastern Europe. The cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues all have one thing in common -- they are grand expressions of man's desire to create a connecting point of beauty between earth and heaven. They desire to reconcile man's heart with the heart of God in a spacious environment allowing a close encounter of the divine kind. Often, man has sought to substitute these grand meeting places with the meeting place of the heart where God truly desires to dwell. This is not to say that one cannot experience God in one of these grand structures, but it is a pity if that is the basis of meeting Him. He desires a relationship to meet us long before we come together to meet him in a grand setting. Only as we truly give ourselves to Him, will he take ownership of the temple within and will then build to suit His desires. Only then will the true temple of the Lord be a place where He lives, He works, and He manifests Himself in all His glory through the beauty of His temple. Only when we know we are not our own and that He is the true owner, can an eternal building rise up within us. May God be glorified as the Master Builder within us all!

Lord, you are the owner of the land of our hearts. You own the building materials and all that goes in to building Your temple within. We give you full access to build as You see fit. We give you the keys to our temple and hereby give you total rights to come and go forth through us as You will. Use these temples, Lord. Sanctify them for Your glory. In Jesus Name.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick