Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Bare Soul - Running the Race - March 1, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Running the Race" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 26, 2009.

I Corinthians 9:24, 26a - Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. ... Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim;

In our day and time, there's a lot of discussion about race relations. In reality, when you "boil it all down" we are all more alike than different. Have you ever thought how appropriately we are named the "human race"? In our 21st century society, there is not a more fitting title for our species as we consume a great part of our day getting from point A to B and all points divergent. Some prefer to call it the "rat race" to better typify our seeming mindless behavior as we attempt to "one up" the Jones' next door. It seems as if many of us continue running and running throughout our respective days to finally collapse in the evening with a feeling of complete exhaustion. Furthermore, there is the haunting reality that nothing more than a series of similar days have been stacked one upon the other in our past and for our future. The "American Dream" has turned into the great American re-run as many seek solitude and a bit of reconciliation with themselves regarding why they continue to do what is not giving their lives a sense of fulfillment.

Jesus knew the hearts and lives of those in ancient Palestine just as He knows ours today. He did not mean for life to be a continual burden or a chore but that we "... may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10). Paul recognized this as he described to the Corinthian church that life is within our grasp -- it is right here for the taking. However, it must be prized and sought after, even as a runner runs after the glory of victory. Paul was careful to point out that it was not merely skill and prowess that allowed the Grecian Olympian runner to win, but that it was strategy. Twice, within the space of two verses, Paul uses the phrase "run in such a way". When the Holy Spirit repeats Himself through Paul in the same metaphor about running, it would behoove us all to understand the wisdom behind this admonition. As a learning vehicle for this lesson, I believe the Holy Spirit has given us the acronym RACE to provide understanding of what He requires for us all to be successful on the journey as believers in Christ.

Resolve - Probably nothing is lacking in a greater degree in the Body of Christ today than the on-going resolve to follow Christ no matter what the cost. Olympic athletes, once they set their minds and hearts on the goal of their training never look back. They have become resolute in their goal and unflinching in their resolve to conquer their sport. For a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ, there is no greater goal than to hear Jesus say on that glorious day when we stand before Him, "Well done good and faithful servant ... enter into the joy of your Master!" (Matthew 25:23). Paul proclaimed to the Church at Philippi that there was nothing more for him to do than to "press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14). This is the resolve and drive that God requires of us all -- to be so passionately desirous of Christ and His calling in our lives that we balk at nothing that might stand in the way.

Aim - Paul gives us one of the ways to run "in such a way" stating that we should run "not without aim". To run a race without running straight toward the goal is foolish, as we would all agree. What runner would run the course, zigzagging as he or she goes? What a waste of energy and direction to not head directly toward the finish line! Often times, we hear about believers who seek to run the race as a solo runner without any proverbial "coaching". These are those who think they always know better and are of no need of pastoring or shepherding. They think they have it all figured out. Unfortunately, they often "burn out" and become exhausted because they have not relied on the wisdom of others that know the course for them to follow.

Character - It is a common occurrence to hear of modern athletes using growth hormones, steroids, and any number of doping agents that would give one the perceived advantage to be the best. One can be resolute and be aiming toward the finish line of life, yet if their character is not sound then it will not bring them in a winning way to the end of the course. Paul warned the church at Corinth that they might be driven for the things of God, yet they lacked holiness of character which would ultimately allow them to be winners. In I Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul is desirous that his brethren not be mislead to think they can live one way on this earth, expecting entrance to the Kingdom of Light: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. It is one thing to say you are a Christian and a follower after Christ -- it is another to live it out daily with integrity and honesty.

Endurance - Once a runner has done all that they can do to prepare body, soul, and spirit for the race at hand, they must then draw upon their inner reserves to complete the race ahead. Very little of our "daily racing" is sprinting, where we get the satisfaction of enjoying the fruit of our labors day to day. On the contrary, most of our daily (metaphoric) racing is part of a marathon where the daily achievements are more often just keeping pace with what God has in store for us on any given day. Personally, I see this metaphor played out constantly between the young and the old. Youth is impetuous and will burn up a track, running 400 and 800 meters with speed, joy, and abandon. However, I would bank on an older runner with the wisdom to "hold back" in a longer race, rather than a youngster who has not learned the strategy to pace oneself through the contest. Likewise, endurance will only come through experience -- doing the next right thing day after day and not expecting immediate dividends. Endurance is ultimately the fuel in the tank of the engine of Resolve that drives us to the finishing tape.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to not be entangled by the cares of this world or the sin which would so easily "trip us up" on life's race course, but to run with endurance the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). As we set our affections upon the Author and Perfecter of our faith through our resoluteness, aim, character and endurance, we find that the race set before us is not a burdensome chore. We further find that life is not meaningless but the course is laid out for each and every one of us in the way of wisdom by our Creator. Once we understand the race before us, then we can take up Paul's admonition to run in "such a way" as to not only win, but to be more than conquerors through Him who set us on this glorious course of life. It is not a rat race -- it is our human race and it is simply an amazing one which He has given us all the grace and ability to win!

Holy Father, thank you for your words to us that we are all in a spiritual race. You would not have called us to this endeavor without the ability and grace to finish. And, to not only finish but to win. Thank you for making us victors in you, Lord, as we all pace ourselves toward the finish line in such a way as to bring you glory. In Jesus Christ's Precious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Bare Soul - Crowd Control - February 22, 2009

Mark 3:9 - And He told His disciples that a boat should stand ready for Him because of the crowd, so that they would not crowd Him;

We have all experienced the feeling of being jostled and driven through a crowd. It can be unnerving, as a feeling of losing control is every bit a "loss" or deficit in our ability to be our own master of any given situation. As with any type of loss, there can be a number of various emotions -- fear, anger, or mistrust in a variety of degrees. While Jesus never succumbed to any of these emotions in a sinful way, He obviously took steps to minimize or to mitigate the fallout that a pressing crowd might engender. In so doing, He not only took control of the situation at hand but He also instructed His disciples to do likewise for future crowd control. (The disciples with Jesus could not have foreseen nor fathomed that in the first few weeks after the day of Pentecost the adding of 8000 believers to the Jerusalem church [Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4].)

Mark 3:9 tells of a scene by the seashore in preparation for the Lord's teachings. Jesus could have easily controlled the crowds by a wave of his hand as he stilled the raging sea (see Mark 4:37-39). Yet, He gave His disciples a simple command to avert the need for His interceding in a miraculous way. Jesus Christ was not a conjuror that manipulated the minds of his hearers. (If that was the case, He would have never been murdered as they cried out "Crucify Him".) The Son of God understood the need for order and tranquility on the shores of Galilee. He knew that an excited mob, friendly or not, would only seek to gain control away from Jesus and seize the moment. When the Lord gave the order to His disciples to "stand ready" this was merely Him stating that His time had not yet come and that his power and authority would continue to be evident throughout His short ministry.

While scripture points out that Jesus and His disciples knew how to control the crowds, it is evident that He had a different attitude toward selected individuals that might try to force their way into His presence. On several occasions, Jesus made it clear who were the privileged to "crowd Him". These were souls with an intense need and a determination that would not be turned aside merely because others frowned upon their insistence to reach Jesus. Two such examples are in the fifth chapter of Mark. Jairus, a synagogue official presses through the crowd and throws himself at the feet of our Savior, beseeching Him to come heal his daughter who is near death (Mark 5:21-23). While Jesus is on His way to heal the young girl (and ultimately raise her from the dead), a woman who has suffered from internal bleeding pushes through the crowd to "but touch the hem of His garment" in order to be healed (Mark 5:25-34). These and many others throughout the Gospels are instances where Jesus looked beyond the masses to touch the individual life and heart. What is true in first century Palestine is also true today. Many who seek are defined by the "spirit" in which they seek.

The difference between the masses crowding Him and those who ignored the crowds and sought His presence was simply motive. Jesus fed the five-thousand in John 6, yet afterward they sought Him on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He responded to them thus: ..."Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled." (John 6:25-26). Of the five-thousand we can surmise that only a remnant pursued Jesus to the other side of Galilee. Whatever the size of these seemingly earnest followers, Jesus saw through their selfish motives and confronted them accordingly. It is not enough to put on a "show" -- to be part of a whole that seeks to "show" their support for the Lord Jesus Christ by following Him over land or water. It is quite another thing to be struck by the lack of godlessness in one's life rather than the lack of provision as was the case with those who sought Him.

Appropriately, we should all ask ourselves: Who am I in this great crowd of souls that is seeking and searching out the Lord? Am I content to merely hear His word, to be sustained for a season on His goodness and then to go my own way? Or, am I like those who might follow the Savior resolutely -- until one day when He confronts me that I have been pursuing Him merely to provision my own life with the good things He gives? Or, am I like those who have come to the end of themselves and have thrown their lives at His feet not caring what the crowd might whisper or voice openly in disdain over my "foolish" abandon to Him. Beloved, Jesus is looking, He's searching and scanning the crowds of those who would attempt to clamor to His throne. Even now, the eyes of our Lord are searching "to and fro" throughout the earth for those whom He might strongly support" (II Chronicles 16:9). To be lost in a sea of "crowd control" is not the heritage for those who seek to press in to Him. On the contrary, He has called us to press through the crowd, humble ourselves before Him and to follow Him wherever He might lead REGARDLESS of the what others might think or say.

Lord, give us hearts of desperate love toward you. Hearts that would defy the masses, that would ignore the crowds of those who look for you in a nominal way. Lord God, help us to press through and to live with humble abandon at Your feet. In Jesus Christ's Precious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Bare Soul - Run Toward the Roar - February 15, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Run Toward the Roar" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 12, 2009.

Run Toward the Roar - February 12, 2009

II Samuel 23:20-21 - Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done mighty deeds, killed the two sons of Ariel of Moab. He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day. He killed an Egyptian, an impressive man. Now the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but he went down to him with a club and snatched the spear from the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear.

Fear can both immobilize and paralyze in a place of indecision. To honestly look at fear, we see that at its bare root is the fear of loss. When we fear something and we react in a less than courageous way, we are generally thinking (either consciously or sub-consciously) that we might lose something -- anything from a position of power or maybe even the loss of our own life. While there is something to be said for not rushing ahead with impudent abandon, there also comes a time to act. Unfortunately, many a man or woman's potential is paralyzed by a deferred decision that would have ultimately given them the advantage in a given situation. Throughout scripture, we are given role models that personify those who dare not to defer but to act with conviction. While there are many bible characters that typify a strong sense of decisiveness there are only a few that stand out with an air of "chutzpah" like Benaiah the son Jehoiada. The scripture points out that this Israeli warrior was a mighty man of David's army. Indeed, he was one of David's "thirty" which consisted of a group of 30 specially trained commandos that were undoubtedly the equivalent of any of today's most elite special operations teams. Men such as Benaiah were trained to make split-second decisions that would ultimately mean life or death for either them or their foe. These were fearless men who had developed a keen sense of themselves, including their abilities and their limitations. However, to think that they had always possessed this type of warring aptitude and character would be a stretch. As in the case of ALL strengths, whether mental or physical, they must grow and be nurtured until they are keen and sharp. The bible is quick to point out someone like Benaiah's heroic exploits, however there is nothing stated on how he became the mighty warrior we read about in II Samuel.

As we see in the opening scripture, the passage highlights Benaiah's résumé with three extraordinary feats. While all three are remarkable, the second exploit is the subject of this discussion. What would motivate a man to jump down into a pit with a lion in order to slay it? After all, isn't the beast confined with no worries of its escape? So, why not just leave it be? Or, if Benaiah did want to kill it, why not heave stones or arrows down on it until it was dead? We need to look at the heart of this warrior to understand why he did what he did. Benaiah had undoubtedly learned how to face down his foes since he was a lad in training. He invariably knew that the expedient thing to do in any battle was to meet his enemy head on. He knew no other way from his early training. Regarding the captive lion, there was no doubt what he needed to do in that situation. He must meet this adversary head on and with fearlessness. II Samuel is careful to point out another important dynamic in this honor struggle; It was a snowy day! Once Benaiah had entered the pit with the lion, there would be no escape for either him or the lion. If the sides of the pit had provided any hand (or paw) holds before the snow, there was certainly nothing to grasp on the slick, moisture-laden clumps of earth that encircled their enclosure. There may have been a way to climb out of the pit before the snow, but not after! In addition, the bottom of the pit would be slick, offering little surety of footholds for either man or beast. In truth, these were not ideal conditions to battle this lion, yet Benaiah faced and defeated his enemy on his own terms.

Benaiah knew neither the paralysis of fear nor the over-analysis that often robs us of a victory. The only difference between us and Benaiah is the giving of our hearts to PRACTICE faith with a spirit of wisdom. As stated, Benaiah's exploits are wonderful and awe-inspiring. However, we don't hear about his learning and struggling, his falling and failings to become the man of faith that typifies him in the Word of God. This warrior undoubtedly heard the roar of the lion and ran toward the pit, leapt in, engaged his prey, thereby defeating it. This was a calculated "wisdom-decision" in the heart of Benaiah. He knew no fear in this regard so therefore he could not suffer loss. The only thing that he risked losing was the advantage of meeting and defeating this fearsome foe. For if he didn't defeat it now when he could do it on his terms, a future encounter might be even less to his advantage. The fear of the Lord and the love of what is right and expeditious can oftentimes be the impetus to keep us all from lapsing into that place of trepidation where we lose a sense of ourselves and what is right. Daily, we hear the "roar" of our troubles and predicaments in what we determine to be our "pits of despair". How can we face them? How can we deal with them in a demonstrative way like heroic Benaiah? The key is to summon up courage that is born out of wisdom. If we have never wielded the Sword of the Holy Spirit before in the face of our problems, it is unrealistic to think that we can be "lion-killers" without previous faith-building challenges. (Even David had killed the bear and the lion before he went after Goliath [I Samuel 17:34-36].) If we stand up to our smaller fears, not calculating the loss that might incur, then one day we will be ready to run toward the roar when we hear our adversary challenging us from the pit of our own circumstances.

Once we have been thoroughly trained to battle against all the schemes of him that ... prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (I Peter 5:8), then we will know when we hear his roar we must engage him. In everyone's life, including Benaiah's circumstance, there will be a time when the snow has melted and the ground has dried up and the lion within the pit is ravenous. Then, he will find a "paw up" the sides of that deep pit and once again be free. He will then come looking for his next victim. Benaiah knew this, and that's why he couldn't just let the beast live with the chance of escape. The learned warrior knew that it would be criminal against his honor and the honor of the Lord to do otherwise. In the same manner, beloved, we must equip ourselves NOW for the battles ahead. There will be a day when we too must meet our lion in a pit on a snowy day. Until that day, may we fortify ourselves with courage in the small victories that the Lord Jesus Christ is affording us through our varied circumstances. He only wants us to be wise in the power of His might to run toward the roar with a holy resolution. May God give us all the wisdom and the strength for that battle ahead!

Holy Father, equip us with the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Give us the heart of a warrior with both courage and insight to meet and defeat our daily enemies. Prepare us for those momentous days ahead that will define us as we all run toward the roar of the opportunities you provide for us to be victors in You. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The following is the audio recording of a sermon titled "Run Toward the Roar" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 12, 2009.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

The Bare Soul - Curing the Diseased Heart - February 8, 2009

Jeremiah 17:9 - The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?

"Despite dramatic medical advances over the past 50 years, heart disease remains a leading cause of death globally and the Number 1 cause of death in the United States," so states America.gov. No one should really marvel at this reality (especially in America) given our sedentary and often lethargic lifestyles toward diet and exercise. It is quite easy to take for granted the organ within us all that pumps blood and gives life to us moment by moment. We can ignore this amazing "pound of flesh" that the Lord God has put within each and every one of us, yet it continues to beat and pump the life-giving fluid throughout our bodies irrespective of our awareness to this fact. Oftentimes, it can be a case of "out of sight, out of mind" regarding the health of this marvelous muscle. Even as we unconsciously take breath after breath that supplies oxygen to our blood which then courses through veins and arteries, even so we seldom are cognizant of our beating heart. All to often, the only true exercise the heart gets is trying to recover from the lack of oxygen due to inactivity, or the over-indulgence of foods that make our hearts work in an inordinate manner. It's no wonder that America and much of the world suffers from diseased hearts more than any other malady, leading to eventual pre-mature death.

As we've discussed before, what is true in the physical is generally a visual manifestation of a spiritual counterpart that is oftentimes unseen. The spiritual underbelly of the heart disease epidemic is a plague of "spiritual" heart disease unparalleled since the creation of humankind. Just as today we are plagued by the highest instances of heart disease in human history, likewise the wholesale spiritual condition of collective humankind has never been more dire. While violent crime is down in many U.S. cities, it is on the rise in many parts of the world. Human trafficking is at an all time high. According to a 2005 national study made available to the American Bar Association ... An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, and approximately 80% of trafficking victims are women and girls. Many of these young girls are forced into prostitution as young as five years old. This is just one example regarding the condition of the world's heart-at-large and its capability to think and do evil. It is merely symptomatic of a much deeper and sinister evil.

One might say, "That is awful. I could never condone this type of evil and I believe it to be abhorrent!" However, to be human is to share in the sin of all flesh. Jeremiah is not stating an opinion or an assumption regarding the heart of man in the opening verse. Rather, he has identified himself so intimately with his Lord as a "seer" of the Most High that he knows and understands the comparison between God's heart and that of his people. The prophet understood that the human heart is sick and diseased, being in a state of "living death" and without hope outside of redemption. Later, in Jeremiah 32:35 the prophet relates that God could not even imagine or had it even come into His mind that His children could do the sin and abomination that they invented. For truly as God is the God of creation, the god of this world and the sin that he works through in the heart of humans is a "creative destruction" that only he could conceive. Beloved, there is no hope for any of us outside of a Savior that desires and yearns to do the miraculous within each and every one of us. For every soul that is unredeemed possesses a heart that is corrupt and vile and capable of every evil intent that has been germinated in earth and under the earth since the beginning of time. (If you balk at the thought of owning the sin of all humankind as an unredeemed soul, mention that to those "respectable" women of Jerusalem when you get to eternity who resorted to eating their own children during the siege by the Babylonians [see Lamentations 4:10]).

Jeremiah ends his poignant verse regarding the heart of man with a question for us all to contemplate: Who can understand it? Throughout the millennia, humans have attempted to medicate the spiritual heart of man with a variety of cures. Philosophers, such as Diogenes have sought with failure to find a truly upright man to validate the goodness of humankind. Psychologists and psychiatrists have often tried to place the blame of evil outside of human responsibility thereby relieving a person's culpability. However, the Word of God is clear to point out that humans are the reason sin exists and that we OWN sin through the sin natures given to us from the original transgressors. Our Adamic natures, inherited from the Fall of humankind, is endemic of every sin committed and yet to be committed. Without redemption, our hearts are desperately ill and in need of a new life giving source. Only when Jesus Christ, the Great Surgeon gives us His heart by the miraculous transplant of His life into ours, only then can we truly begin to live anew. There is no true life outside of Him, for He is the Life-giver (Colossians 1:16). To accept His free gift of salvation is to accept His heart that is free from sin. Only then, can we truly be healed of a diseased heart while telling others of His marvelous cure!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick