Friday, March 27, 2009

The Bare Soul - Gravity - March 29, 2009

Genesis 5:24 - Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him.

Infants are a joy to entertain. They often enjoy the simplest pleasures with glee while they give joy to those whom participate and observe. When my children were small, they loved for me to throw them skyward and catch them in my arms. They trusted me that I would always catch them, and then they would immediately say, "Do it again, Daddy!" They always wanted to go higher and stay up longer as they seemed to enjoy going up more than coming down. We spent hot summer afternoons in swimming pools as I would launch them into the air and they would try to make the biggest splash possible as they hit the water. I never had to teach them the concept that whatever goes up will come down. They instinctively knew it and anticipated the freefall. In pre-teen and teen years, a couple of my children still loved the sensation of freefall as they would always seek out those type rides at amusement parks. Their stomachs would drop as the sensation of gravity taking over would once again thrill their senses.

Gravity is something we all take for granted. But to someone from another planet who had never experienced it, gravity and its affects might seem "magical" or intoxicating as it did to my children in their innocence. This invisible law of physics is something that no one with any intellect would dispute, but it is indeed a scientific fact. A simple definition for gravity (or gravitation, if you like) is a naturally occurring phenomenon by which objects with mass attract one another. As we understand our earth's gravity, it is merely the downward force of gravitational energy against the earth itself, creating a constant pressure on all mass. Everything in the physical realm is bound to the constant force of the law of gravity. But what about the spiritual realm? What, if anything, is dominated by this physical law or how does the spiritual trump this law of perpetual downward force that none can seem to escape?

It is such a delight to read in scriptures when those in the past as well as those in the future defy the law of gravity by an even greater force. In our physical world, the only force that is stronger than gravity is magnetism. Just as the north and south poles are continually attracting magnetically, there is a constant magnetic charge coming from the poles seeking to capture and to pull toward their axis any and all iron-based particles. Theoretically, if one could build a large enough magnet and hang it in orbit to capture a large iron-oxide asteroid that was hurtling to earth to destroy our planet, one could offset gravity by preventing it from its downward gravitational pull. Consider for a moment that God is that "Almighty Magnet" that has the power and the force to not only to save us from destruction but to also sweep us away into His heavenly realm, both in the metaphoric and the literal sense. The bible is very clear about Enoch in Genesis 5:24, that God raptured him in his physical body to heaven to be with the Lord. The reason why is even clearer in Hebrews 11:5: By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; And he was not found because God took him up; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. This man of God found out the "secret" of overcoming gravity on this earth, the kind of "spiritual gravity" that holds one to this world and the things of this world. Like the patriarch Enoch, we should all seek how NOT to be bound to this world in both a spiritual and physical sense. John tells us in I John 2:15 "... to love not the world nor the things of the world". This is played out daily in the mind of our spiritual being (what we think about and desire) and also in our bodies (what we choose to see, touch, taste, feel, etc.). Enoch found a way to walk before God that was so extremely pleasing and gratifying to the Most High that the magnetic force of attraction was much more powerful than Enoch's pull toward this earth. Elijah the Tishbite, God's fiery prophet was taken to heaven likewise in bodily form (II Kings 2:11). We aren't told why, however, it is easy to assume the template of Enoch's pleasing God as reason enough. Like Enoch, Elijah had cast off the things of this earth that would hold him down and that would try to keep him under its spiritual law. As his earlier counterpart, he was ready and willing when God called him to His Celestial City through the power of His Almighty attraction.

So what of us? Today, we all have the decision to either live our lives by the law of "spiritual gravity" that would seek to tie us to this carnal world and the lusts thereof. Or, we can use Enoch and Elijah as our models to aspire to -- models that show that one does not have to be bound to this earth but that we can truly fly away as our Father attracts us to Himself. No longer do we need to live our lives bound to this earth and its carnal laws, but if we know Jesus Christ we are truly seated with Him in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:16) and we have all the rights and privileges to walk as citizens of heaven on this earth today. We should always know that He is pulling us toward our True Center, not as the earth would pull a stone when dropped toward its core, but toward Himself. For He is our center and the place of most attraction for a believer that truly knows Him. Just as children love the sensation of flying upward from the arms of their father, so we too yearn to be drawn upward into our Heavenly Father's waiting embrace. We should anticipate this as our hearts soar toward Him, daily giving our lives anew to His love and walking with Him another day in newness of life. For one day, it will more than a spiritual soaring of our hearts and minds toward our Savior, but we will see Him in the sky and we will be changed, in the twinkling of an eye (I Corinthians 15:52), and we will fulfill the mighty attraction that He began in us when we were first saved by His blood. On that day, no power on earth, in the earth, or under the earth will be able to keep us from His awesome magnetic pull. There will be no disappointment of ever being drawn back to earth. We will all defy both physical and spiritual gravity for the last and final time, and soar to be with our Lord forever and ever.

Holy Father, we desire to defy the "spiritual gravity" of this world and the lusts thereof. We soar to you in our thoughts and prayers in an attitude of separation from this life that would seek to encumber us. For in your presence, that is where our true home lies. Continue to draw us by your loving attraction until we finally rest in your Eternal Arms. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


(photo courtesy of www.thegravityposter.com)

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Bare Soul - A Seat at God's Banquet - March 22, 2009

Luke 14:13-14 - "But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."

The context of Jesus' admonition in this passage is in direct response to how he observed the dinner guests choosing their seat at the meal they had all been invited to share in the house of a Pharisee. Just as they selfishly chose their seats in context of their own self-importance (Luke 14:7-11), Jesus also reprimanded them on who they would potentially invite others to break bread in the verses following. While sharing a meal is an important aspect of our societal life today, of even greater importance was it in first century Palestine. Not only WHAT you ate defined who you were (deemed "clean" foods according to the Torah), but of truly greater importance was WHO you ate with, as Jesus alluded. Proverbs 17:1 states: Better is a dry morsel in quietness than a house full of feasting with strife. As Solomon points out, it is far better to have very little to eat with a small gathering in quietness rather than indulging oneself in the midst of contention. In this passage in Luke, Jesus emphatically points out that the Pharisees likewise have things backwards in their understanding. Not only should they humbly accept a lower station when invited as a guest into someone else's home, but when giving a banquet of their own, to not reciprocate by inviting those who had already done so in like manner. Instead, Jesus makes the distinction to invite those who cannot repay for in so doing the benevolent host would be rewarded in the life to come.

Probably one of the most beautiful descriptions of a banquet in all of scripture is one short verse in the Song of Solomon. In chapter two, verse four the bride of Solomon states: "He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love." What a glorious description of the bridegroom's love for his bride as he seals their marriage bonds by this magnificent love feast! While the sustenance of the feast is not discussed in this verse, the emphasis on Solomon's banner or tribute of love is heralded over his bride. Just as Jesus implied in Luke, the main importance was not in the food but in how one treated the guests they had invited. While Solomon's banquet is an extreme example of the type of love and camaraderie to be shown to those invited to a banquet, in God's eyes it should not be an understatement of intention to invite those whom you truly love and want to bless to share in a meal. Jude the brother of the Lord Jesus stated in Jude 12 that certainly feasting should be done with great care and affection for one another as he used the term "love feasts" to describe how the church came together to fellowship and to share a meal. (And how, in addition, others had used these opportunities to work mischief in the midst of the church.)

For most of us in today's world, the best that we can hope for regarding "love feasts" are an occasional "pot bless" (or "pot luck" if you prefer) at our respective churches or social gatherings. While many of us don't set banquets before the poor and unfortunate in our respective communities, there are other ways to give of our time, our money, and ultimately ourselves by providing "banquets of love" to those who cannot repay. In so doing, as Jesus stated, we are storing up dividends for ourselves on that glorious day of resurrection for the righteous. In Luke14:13, Jesus mentions those who are immobile twice -- the crippled and the lame. Jesus made numerous mentions regarding those who could not walk in the four Gospels. Many believe that the Lord has a special place in His heart for those who are immobile, because it is such a powerful metaphor for all of us before we accept the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. We were all crippled by sin and immobile to do anything to save ourselves from the impending destruction that we all deserve. Yet, by the saving Grace of His Love, we are all made to walk again in newness of life by the life He gave to us. While much of the Body of Christ in today's world lacks the power to say "Rise up and walk", we still have the wonderful opportunity to help organizations that are representing the love of God upon this earth. While the Free Wheelchair Mission is a Christ-centered organization, countless recipients of wheelchairs are not Christian. Containers full of wheelchairs arrive regularly in areas of China or Tibet or the Middle East where the name of Jesus Christ is forbidden to be spoken. Yet, the caring hearts of those who work and/or volunteer for FWCM are fulfilling Christ's admonition by giving these a seat at this "banquet of love" of God's grace -- all for those who have no way to repay. I have talked to some who regularly give to FWCM. They give for this very reason -- that there is no way that those who receive a wheelchair will ever know the person who made their mobility possible. Those that give just know that Jesus commanded us all to provide seats of honor at God's "love feasts" for those who will never know anything other than someone far away loved them with the love of God.

Please consider donating to the Free Wheelchair Mission and fulfilling Jesus' commission to love those who are the weak and despised, those who are dirty and unlovable, yet those that He loves and desires to bring close to Him through the love and generosity of someone like yourself. May the Lord Jesus bless you as you extend life and dignity to another in a far away place!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Bare Soul - Leaving It All Behind - March 15, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Leaving It All Behind" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on March 12, 2009.

Leaving It All Behind - March 12, 2009

Luke 5:11, 28 - When they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed Him. ... And he left everything behind, and got up and began to follow Him.

Luke gives us a glimpse into the compelling nature of Jesus Christ and His ability to influence others to give up everything on His behalf. First, we see Simon, his brother Andrew, and the sons of Zebedee (James and John) casting aside their previous lives to follow this man from Galilee. Within the space of 17 verses we see the calling of Matthew with identical deliberateness. With the same verbiage, Luke describes the disciple-elect throwing off his former way of life in order to adopt a new way of living that was at the best, unclear. In both instances, the disciples are remarked upon leaving "everything behind". These are quite extraordinary statements regarding these first-century Israelites. Undoubtedly, Peter and Andrew as well as the Zebedee brothers caused great consternation and probably outright anger within their own families. Sons were raised to carry on the family business. If the family did not work, then it did not eat. Can you imagine the shame these families faced from the community? "What is this," the towns people might say, "that your sons are traipsing after this shiftless character that has left his own home and carpenter profession to pursue lunatic presumptions that he is a preacher and healer of sorts?" Surely, there was much head-wagging over the disciples' decision to leave everything behind and follow this Jesus of Nazareth.

Then there was Matthew. This tax-gatherer already had an unsavory reputation, so any move he would make regarding a vocation change would be viewed as an improvement. However, unlike the severing of familial and social ties that the fisherman encountered, Matthew must make the decision to break with his great love -- wealth. Tax-gatherers in ancient Palestine were notorious for not only exacting exorbitant taxes for the occupying Romans, but they would inevitably tack on additional "taxes" that were nothing less than extortion to be pocketed by themselves. In Luke 5:27-28, Luke tells us in the space of two verses how Jesus saw Matthew, called Matthew, and how he inevitably followed the Lord. As in the previous case with his fisherman brethren, the scripture states that he "left everything" and followed Christ.

Today, one might say that it was "easier" for them to leave behind their lives to follow the Lord. After all, He WAS and IS Jesus! In reality, however, it was still a huge risk for the disciples to leave everything behind and to follow this man they really knew little about. Their hindsight (as well as us as historical readers) confirmed to them that in time they made the right decision. However, in that initial instant and in the beginning when they had to decide whether or not to follow -- that was a huge leap of faith. In our present day, Jesus Christ is still looking for the same sort of abandon to Him as the early disciples showed by dropping everything and following Him. We might think we are much different today than those of early Christendom. We might think that our lives are much too enmeshed with our daily lives, families, businesses, activities, etc. to be able to dedicate such an abandoned commitment to the Lord Jesus. However, God's eyes are searching throughout the earth to find those whose hearts can be totally given to follow His Son in the way of these early disciples. In most cases, I believe that God is NOT calling us to become a St. Francis and give away all that we possess and to go follow Him. However, the Lord Jesus is desirous that we "leave everything" of the world behind in comparison to the devotion that we have for Him. To the degree that we can do this without covetous misgivings and follow Him, is the degree that He will share His life with us as he disciples us daily.

Few will know the calling of truly leaving behind everything and following the Lord in this lifetime. However, I will challenge us all with this statement: To the degree that we leave everything behind that is not of Him, is the degree that we won't be left behind in how God desires to use each and every one of us! As with God's universal law of giving and receiving, in just such a way will we receive back from the Lord blessings that we would never encounter unless we had "left behind" the life that was not in agreement with His divine will. Many concern themselves these days with the Rapture of the saints, or the great taking away of believers in the end-time (I Corinthians 15:52; I Thessalonians 4:16-17) . While this is certainly something to prepare for, it is nothing to be overly concerned. For as deliberately as we leave behind the things of this life, giving our hearts and lives to Christ, in the same measure we should have assurance that we will not be left behind. If one is frightened or is dreading the day of the Lord Jesus' return, then they probably have good reason since they have obviously not left behind everything to follow Him. However, for those of us who desire and yearn for His coming with unashamed, uplifted faces this will be a day of glorious deliverance. Those who have forsaken their old lives, leaving behind the encumbrances and the godless living of the past, these can be assured a lifetime of peace and happiness upon this earth and the promise of eternal glory in the life ahead.

Almighty Father, help us to leave everything behind all that is not of Your desire and to follow your Son, even as these early disciples. Sanctify our unsanctified lives that we often hold so dear, that ultimately keep us from full devotion to You. As we leave behind the things of this world, we glorify and rejoice in You that we will not be left behind in Your glorious plans for our life in this age and in the age to come. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The Bare Soul - God's Volunteers - March 8, 2009

Psalm 110:3a - Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;

Lots of folks volunteer for any number of things. There are a myriad of opportunities to give of your time to a charity, a cause, a needy organization -- the list goes on and on. Some will volunteer with an organization or for an upcoming event on a short term basis, while others such as Mother Teresa make it their life vocation. There are all types of people that help out for one reason or the other. But what does it really mean to volunteer for God? What does it mean to become so passionate about what God is doing that the first instinct is to run toward the opportunity that He offers? I will venture to say that when God gets a hold of someone, by His power, then they will never be the same. What had once been a "nice idea" to help someone or something has now become the driving force of their life.

The lead scripture tells us that the "people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power". This can be interpreted to mean that when God pours out His Spirit on all flesh in the end time move of God, that surely many will respond with a volunteer attitude. They will witness first hand the power of God with signs and wonders and the manifestation of His Spirit with mighty works of grace. Truly, there will be a great ingathering at that time merely because of the demonstration of His power. I believe wholeheartedly that this verse has a collective interpretation for the Body of Christ, but it also has an individual implication for the life of every believer. We only must understand "the call" that the Lord has placed on us as the saints of God and then comprehend how to walk in its revelation. The power to volunteer freely is available to every believer once they understand some basic fundamentals regarding who they are in Christ. More importantly, the grace that embodies that power is the fuel which will keep us passionate about our respective missions.

Isaiah is the classic example of a man who saw, understood, and was then launched into his life as a "volunteer" for God. In Isaiah chapter 6 we see the prophet's acceptance of what God desires for him to do as a prophet to the nation of Judah. Many call this chapter "Isaiah's calling", however I prefer to call it "Isaiah's Enlistment". Isaiah was not drafted into service as many of the Old Testament prophets. In Isaiah 6:8, God very clearly asks, "Whom shall I send?" and Isaiah spoke up with deliberateness saying, "Here I am, send me!" There are three clear reasons from this scripture why someone would so readily volunteer for the thankless, dangerous job that Isaiah signed on to do. They are as follows:

Visualization -- In Isaiah 6:1, the prophet-elect sees "... the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple." The glory of God is all about Isaiah as he sees the heavenly scene play out before his eyes as the powerful angels minister to the Most High. In the midst of this heavenly, holy revelation he sees his own filthiness in comparison with God's utter holiness. He cries out in Isaiah 6:5 that he is ruined because he is a man of unclean lips living amongst an unclean people. At this juxtaposition, between understanding God's holiness and his own unworthiness, he took the first step toward his candidacy as God's volunteer to the rebellious house of Judah.

Realization -- Once Isaiah understood the nature of God and his own nature as a fallen man in need of God's mercy and grace, then he could look beyond the "who" and start to understand the "what" that the Holy One desired. God Almighty was looking for someone to send to the rebellious house of Judah to reprimand them for their apostasies toward His holy name. Once Isaiah understood the need, he was then able to respond to God's query: "Whom shall we send" with an emphatic "Send Me!". This type of commitment can only come first out of an awareness of who He is, who we are, and then the realization that we are a prime candidate for His bidding.

Mobilization -- Once Isaiah knew God's heart and His will, it was time to partner with the Almighty. This is when Isaiah's enlistment or volunteering is actually confirmed by God with marching orders. The Lord tells Isaiah in verses 9 and 10 to go and to keep speaking to this stubborn people regardless whether they listen or not. Isaiah confirms his commission by asking in verse 11, "How long should I do this?". God answers him to continue his preaching until there is no longer any need to preach -- until the house of Israel and Judah have been taken into captivity. In other words, Isaiah was being told beforehand that he would not be successful in the eyes of man but that he would be a failure. (Beware of judging success in any way other than through God's eyes!) Isaiah was given a broad, generic plan from God yet the prophet accepted the mantle that Lord had given him and waited on Him to fill in the details.

Isaiah has laid out for us the road map to be a successful, passionate, unwavering volunteer for the Lord Jesus Christ. First, we must understand who He is and what He has done for us on the cross of Calvary. We must then accept his holiness in exchange for our wretchedness. This is a true understanding of both our character and His. Next, we need to realize that he has called us all to both LIVE and PREACH the gospel with our day to day living. That may be verbally, but often it will be by our witness and how we live in the midst of those who don't know the Lord. And finally, we must know that this is our life's vocation -- that it is not simply something we will do occasionally or when the mood strikes us, but it is a life to be lived with passion and desire to share the life of Christ no matter if ANY respond. If there is a clear vision of the Lord, a concise realization of what we are here on earth to do, and a stalwart mobilization of our affections and passions to that end, then there will truly be grace and power in our lives as we give our lives as one of God's volunteers. Then, we will be joyous as we cry out with Isaiah, "Send me, Lord," for it will not matter the height, or the depth, or the width or the breadth of service -- we will be His life-long volunteers through His grace and mighty power!

Lord God Almighty, reveal Yourself to us. Show us our own inability to affect anything that is lasting outside of Your strength. Through these revelations, grant us your own grace and power that we might enlist into your service with a lifetime of love and passion. In Jesus name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick