Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Bare Soul - Faith By Obedience - October 26, 2008

Luke 17:5-10 - The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you. Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down to eat'? But will he not say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink'? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done."

This particular passage can be confusing unless one knows what the Lord is driving at. The apostles initially asked the Lord Jesus: "Increase our faith!" Jesus explains to them that they don't lack faith but only the wisdom and the understanding to apply it. The Lord uses an extreme, unbelievable example of commanding a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. What He is really getting at is His desire to show us how to listen and obey what the Heavenly Father is speaking so that we will be able to discern the most simple commands as well as what might be the most seemingly outlandish commands which He would give us.

At first glance, it would appear that Jesus has launched into a whole new topic when he begins relating the analogy of the servant and his master. However, understand that the Lord is detailing a particular way to relate to His Father, in order for the disciples to "increase their faith". One might say that there is no mention of faith in this passage except in the apostles plea to Jesus. What IS mentioned is the relationship between a servant and his master and how they interact. Jesus points out that a servant does not look out for his own interests first, but those of his master. The master does not say to the servant, "Come immediately and sit down and eat". Instead, the servant is taught day in and out that his purpose on this earth is first to satisfy the needs and desires of his master. Jesus' example gives explicit directions from the master to first "Prepare something for me to eat, and then properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink". Finally, after the needs of the master are fulfilled, then the servant can satisfy his own needs. Day after day the servant hears his master's commands. He listens for his voice and learns more and more about his master as the months and years go by. The servant learns the small nuances in his meal preparation that please his master. He learns how to serve his master in just the way that his master would desire. Within time, there is an unspoken fellowship of love and respect between the servant and his master. This only comes through time -- by listening and then obeying. The master in turn does not need to thank his servant. However, the servant knows the joy of his master and merely comments, "We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we have ought to have done".

Jesus knew that His apostles didn't need more faith. What they needed was to continue to listen and to obey what Jesus was teaching them about His Father. They needed ears to hear and hearts to believe when Jesus gave them a command. Whether it was their unquestioning trudging along after Jesus as He went from city to city, or His direction when feeding the multitudes, or even simple commands such as how to prepare for the Passover, his disciples were learning how to HEAR and to OBEY. They didn't need more faith -- they were learning that faith is the offspring of its mother obedience. What they were lacking was the assurance that they were incubating rich veins of faith in the deep caverns of their hearts through their habitual walking and talking with their Lord through loving obedience.

The dilemma for many of us when we feel that we have no faith is that we have not been walking with our Lord in an attitude of obedient surrender. If we had been walking in obedience to His still, small voice than we would hear and obey when He spoke. The situation might call for a laying on of hands and prayer for the healing of a loved one, or to offer a word of encouragement and love to one that is at the end of their rope. Or, possibly to even to do something as outlandish as to tell a tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea. The opportunity the Lord offers and the response to His voice will not matter because we have been following Him both explicitly and intimately. Only with this kind of relationship, will true faith be manifest through obedient love.

Father, give us hearts of obedience so that we might grow in faith. Help us to know that we can move mountains only if we have truly known the Mountain Mover of men's souls. Teach us to hear and obey, that Your faith would abound to those whom You desire to touch. In Jesus Christ's precious name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Bare Soul - His Mercy - October 19, 2008

Luke 18:9-14 - And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!' I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Jesus' desire is that we never forget where we came from, regarding our sin. Many of us can relate to the tax collector in Luke 18 and his feeling of utter shame and bankruptcy as he cried out to God for mercy. Conversely, we hear a different message from the Pharisee -- one of self-righteousness and judgment against his fellow man. The scripture tells us nothing of this particular Pharisee up until this point in time. Possibly he began as a true seeker after God, yet through time he became arrogant and conceited regarding his so-called relationship with God. As he became more and more consumed in his own self-interest of an outwardly righteous life, more and more he died within, divorcing himself from any relationship that he might have started with God in days gone by. Today, this Pharisee might be any one in the church that seeks to set themselves above their brother or sister in so-called spirituality. Not only has their self-righteousness driven them away from God but it has also isolated them from any understanding of loving their spiritual siblings. As stated in I John 4:20, it is impossible to love God and to hate your brother. In the instance of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, the former had long ago lost any affection toward the latter thereby nullifying any relationship with the Father.

Jesus told parables for very clear reasons and purposes. His desire was for the hearers to relate themselves to the particular circumstances of the life lesson. In this case, He is beckoning for the hearer to either take one or two positions -- to understand that they are related to eeither the Pharisee or the tax-gatherer. God is telling us that it is good to be related to one or the other. It is actually a travesty if one can not relate themselves to either. (As Jesus stated in Revelations 3:16, He wished that the church at Laodicea were either hot or cold but because of their indifference that they were in peril of God's rejection.) If one identifies themselves as one that has been self-righteous and judgmental of others, then there is the grace and mercy of God that he extends to all that would but humble themselves. That is the first step toward understanding that we all truly are no better than a tax-gatherer.

However, for those who might not believe or understand that they are plagued by self-righteous destruction, here are a couple of clues that should work as a litmus test to determine whether one regards themselves as "righteous":
1) God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. -- The Pharisee (or the self-righteous church-goer) prays to God, masquerading their contempt for others with thanksgiving that he or she is not like "other" people. They can easily mask their inner disdain and hatred for others in "religious" contexts. Rather than "praying the Word" over others in secrecy, the hypocrite would choose to "pray their gossip" over others! They justify this sort of behavior by their "concern" for the church body and its need to "get right with God".

2) I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. -- Outward forms of so-called spirituality give carnal license for others to be hateful of those they judge. After all, fasting and giving tithes gives a so-called believer the "right" to talk about others since they are such a integral part of the church. In their reasoning, if "Aunt Betty" is cooking for every social that is on the church calendar, doesn't that give her the right to voice her opinion? With an attitude of concern about the "sinner", of course!
It's interesting to note that those who truly know they are wrong and needing God's mercy confer with no one nor judge anyone. They don't go to the self-righteous and make their case with them, seeking pardon. They don't even have the confidence to lift their eyes toward heaven, but they cry out to God saying, "Have mercy on me, O God, a sinner!". Without fail, this person will go up to their house justified as they pour out their hearts to God, where those who self-righteously attest to their own goodness have only deceived themselves. These await nothing but loneliness and eternal isolation, the very things they have created for themselves here on earth.

Jesus states that whoever shall humble themselves shall be exalted and whomever exalts themselves will be humbled. These are our choices, in the time that we have here with one another, which will decide how we will live or die throughout eternity.

Your Barefoot Servant,


Rick

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Bare Soul - The Nature of Things - October 12, 2008

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Nature of Things ..." delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on October 9, 2008.
The Nature of Things ... - October 9, 2008

2 Peter 2:20-22 - For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."

Through the years I have had several pets, including dogs. Some of these dogs were extremely smart and others, well, what they lacked in smarts they made up for in loyalty. Back in the 1980s, we owned a small farm in east-central Kansas. One of our dogs was a Golden Labrador Retriever named Princess. She was a loyal, good friend to the family, but she wasn’t the smartest animal on the premises. I raised a couple of hogs during our two years on the farm, and without a doubt, these barnyard animals were the smartest four-footed creatures on the homestead. The first one was an escape artist and learned how to open the gate of the pen to get out to choice grazing in the vegetable garden. The other hog had a sense of his impending doom when it was time for butchering. When I went to lead him up the chute into the bed of the pick-up, he wanted nothing to do with “taking a ride” to the slaughterhouse. After much prodding and goading, I finally got him loaded, but not before he had turned around and bitten me a couple of times to show his displeasure with the situation.

I nodded in agreement when I read a 1976 article from the New York Times regarding the intellect of barnyard animals, in particular pigs. The following is a short extract from the article:
The pig's intellect is clear and strong. What has been mistakenly called his "obstinacy" is only his intense individuality. ... Before blaming the pig for refusing to be dragged in a given direction by a string tied to his hind leg, his critics should ask themselves whether in like circumstances they too would not protest with equal shrillness against so indecent an outrage.
Those of us who are dog owners, or have been dog owners, undoubtedly love our pets. Whether they are smart or just loyal, they capture a piece of our hearts. While few of us can say that we have loved pigs, we can certainly understand that they are a smart animal that is prized in many cultures throughout the world for both their intellect and their food factor. Yet, it is somewhat unnerving to watch both these animals revert to what seems to us as totally unintelligent behavior. A dog after regurgitating their food will often turn around and consume it again! A pig, which seems so smart in other areas, will find the most grotesque slop heap filled with decaying vegetation, animal life, and feces and will roll around in it without a care! While it is easy to be horrified at such behaviors, we see similar actions taken by so-called believers everyday. Many will “make a decision” for Jesus Christ and then return to the very things that were despicable and degrading in their lives as if they didn’t have a care in the world to do otherwise! However, it doesn’t surprise those of us who know that we are not dealing with a behavior problem, but with a nature problem.

No matter how smart our four-footed friends might be, it is in their nature to do disgusting things that don’t make good sense to us. In the same way, we should not be surprised when we see a sinner sinning. It is the most natural thing for them to do! As a practicing alcoholic, the most natural thing for me to do was drink. Today, after many years of sobriety it is still a miracle that I am not drinking because that was then a part of my nature. The miracle today is that my nature has been exchanged with the divine nature of Jesus Christ who gives me the will and the way not to drink. Often, many get lost at this point and don’t understand that it’s not just about changing their behavior. It’s not good enough to stop drinking, to stop stealing, to stop lying, or even to stop sinning. We don’t have a sinning problem but a sin problem. Our very nature is corrupt and we need a replacement.

Many years ago, when I was still in my teens, I knew that I was in terrible need of something to fix me. That’s why I experimented and became hooked on drugs and alcohol early in life. When I tried to dig myself out of that mess, I tried different religions -- Christianity, Hinduism, Tantric Yoga, Transcendental Meditation to name a few. The problem was that I was trying to fix myself not knowing that Someone had already put the "fix" in for me and I was too blind to see. I didn’t realize that I was trying to reach heaven and bring it down to my experience on earth. Little did I know that God had already done so by bringing heaven to earth through His Son.

Years went by, as I battled my alcoholism and drug addiction. Desperately I was still tying to get better from the outside/in and couldn’t understand that I needed salvation from myself. On one occasion, I was just released from jail. I was a mess from the night before and I was on foot. Walking from the court and police station in a busy downtown area of St. Louis, I encountered a little old lady of probably 80 years. She looked at me, pointed her finger and said “There goes the chosen of God who desires to live in the filth of sin”. I was totally taken aback and convicted to the heart by her words. She didn’t say anything about “sins” but she did say that I wanted to continue living in sin. However, like a pig that returns to its wallowing and a dog to its vomit, it would still be years before I truly knew that Jesus Christ had become sin on my behalf and that I didn’t need to live this way.

For several years after, I would continue to “try” to do better. I would “decide” that I would follow the Lord and attempt to live the way He wanted me to live. However, it’s not good enough to make a decision for Jesus. Jesus doesn’t want our decisions, but He wants everything we are -- our dope possessed bodies, our alcohol polluted souls, our angry hateful minds. He wants it all in order to replace it with His nature. Making a decision to follow Jesus without turning one’s life over to Him is about the same as saying you’re going to fly to the moon in a Cessna -- it’s not going to happen! It’s aerodynamically impossible to do so because it would break all the laws of physics. In the same way, it is impossible to “decide” to follow Jesus without a new heart that has replaced a heart of sin.

Paul the Apostle made a glorious statement giving us all hope in this regard. In II Corinthians 5:21 he states through the Holy Spirit that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." According to this verse, I no longer have to “try” to be good because Jesus Christ says I don’t have to be good. He tells me that He became sin FOR US in order that we might trade in our sinful nature for God’s nature. Then, and only then, will we truly have the power to change. Then, we can truly be right with God and be empowered by His righteousness. Then, can we truly be children of God!

None of us are exempt from failure no matter how much we might believe we are in control of our lives. Romans 3:23 tells us that “… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. That one verse qualifies us all for hell and an eternity of separation from God. If this was the last word, then we would all be doomed. But God loved us, even while we were sinners He sent His Son to die for us becoming sin on our behalf. Three chapters later in the book of Romans, Paul writes with a synopsis of our predicament but with the glorious hope of our salvation. In Romans 6:23 he states: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."

God does not expect any of us to become “better”. If we don’t know His Son and have not exchanged our sinful nature with His glorious nature, He only expects us to continue to fail -- to return to the wallowing in sin that befits our nature. There is always hope for us as long as we are alive and able to turn to Him. Ecclesiastes 9:4 states: "For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion." Friends, I would rather be a live dog that has the ability to exchange natures with the Living God and live again, rather than a prideful, dead lion that is regal only in its death with no hope to ever be anything else. We all have the opportunity to exchange lives of sinful repetition with the divine life that will qualify each and every one of us for a glorious eternity with our Maker!

Lord Jesus, thank you for becoming sin for us that we might become the righteous of God by the new nature You have given us. We give You our sin-soaked natures and accept Your free gift of life. May God be glorified for His wonderful gift to us. In Your precious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Bare Soul - Awakening - October 5, 2008

Psalm 139:18b - When I awake, I am still with You.

I vividly remember particular mornings after I recommitted my life to the Lord. Having struggled with alcohol for years, it was such a relief to sense the presence of the Lord when I awoke. Many days I defined the presence of God by merely the absence of craving alcohol when I opened my eyes from a night's sleep. Ask any recovering alcoholic or addict -- it is truly a miracle to not want to use or abuse substances. For truly, the most natural thing for an addict to do is otherwise than to stay sober. I remember in the early days, weeks, and months of my sobriety that I would sometimes be disconcerted about going to sleep, thinking that God's presence in my life was an illusion and that it might disappear as a vapor come morning. The glorious truth is that He has been there as my Comforter and Friend, every morning, for the past 16 years. He has never let me down in all that time.

Of course, God is with us all in some manner regardless whether we are committed to His Son, the Lord Jesus. He will always be there beckoning us no matter if we are walking with Him or away from Him. He will be there every morning whether we realize it or not. For many of us who have fought to avoid God, mornings are not always that pleasant. There can certainly be a feeling of impending despair when one awakens and they sense a loss of hope. Oftentimes, we can wake up with the same things swimming in our brains from the previous night's tossing and turning. It is quite certain that worry and despair over a situation has never changed the outcome of any such predicament, yet we too often yield to its negative power. Proverbs 13:12 tells us that when hopes are dashed or there seems no reason to continue on, then it can literally make the heart sick with sorrow. Conversely, however, the same verse tells us that when our desire is fulfilled it can be a tree of life. It is a wonderful thing to wake up with an optimistic understanding that the Lord has good intentions for those who trust in Him.

Has God put one of those dear souls in your life that seems to be one of the cheeriest folks on the planet, morning after morning without fail? They can roll out of bed and even without a jolt of caffeine they can greet the day with a smile and a joyous attitude. Before I knew the Lord, I thought these type of people were "put-ons", that no one could be that hopeful and cheery at 6 a.m. in the morning! However, the more I grew in the Lord and realized that He desired good for those who love Him, my attitude began changing. I began to understand that one can choose their attitude, especially if they are empowered by the Lord. Many years ago, I read a very simple quotation from a man that I respected greatly. His name is Moishe Rosen, founder and leader of Jews For Jesus. I was reading through one of his newsletters and these words jumped off the page: "Those who love life rise early". This concept astounded me; that if someone loved life and desired to do all they could for the Lord and His Kingdom, then their day should start with a heart full of hope that would propel them to welcome the morning. Before I go much further with this, I will confess that I am not always an early riser (especially on the weekends). However, the deeper meaning of this implies that those who love "Life" will ensure that they will meet their Savior when they do awaken and that they will do all for His glory throughout their respective day.

It takes a certain faith and assurance to be able to lie down at night and to know that all is well. David's Psalm 3 is all about divorcing oneself from the onslaught of the day's wickedness and lying down to rest with the assurance that the Lord is watching over. He states in verse 3: I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the LORD sustains me. He goes on in the next verse to proclaim that it doesn't matter if tens of thousands are set against him, that the Lord is his shield and protector. Like David, we must first know that we are rightly related to Him. Then, we must learn to trust by giving Him our troubles every evening before we retire. Lastly, we must thank Him for watching over us though "the terrors would seek to stalk us by night". Every one that is a believer has the heritage to be able to awaken with a new hope and desire to serve the Lord. He is the one who gives us rest, and that rest is for a reason -- to unburden us from unnecessary worries and unreasonable demands that we place upon ourselves. For truly, Jeremiah summed it up in Lamentations 3:22-23: The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.

Lord, we commit our lives to You afresh. We thank You for the rest that You desire to give each and every one of us, to awaken us every morning with a joy for life, a new resolve to love You and others, and a deep gratitude for where You are bringing each and every one of us who trust in Your Son. In Jesus name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,
Rick