Friday, August 28, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Beatitudes - Poor in Spirit - August 30, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Beatitudes - Poor in Spirit" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on August 27, 2009.

Matthew 5:3 - Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus was a master orator, regardless whether He meant to use a "grabber" (as He did) in His opening remarks on the Sermon on the Mount. With a just few short words, He was about to turn all the Pharisaical teaching of the last 400 years on its ear by blowing the minds of His audience. Christ did not say "Blessed are those with impressive knowledge of the Law of Moses, because they are the ones who will be heralded into Paradise". No, He spoke diametrically to everything the common people had heard up to this point regarding what it meant to be right with God. Jesus stated in a matter of fact way that one must be poor or poverty-stricken in spirit. And, if this was the case, then they would be ensured entrance into the heavenly realms. This was a mind-boggling proposition to the masses that crowded about to hear the teachings of this itinerant preacher from Galilee! Jesus was saying that the arrogance and pride of the religious order of the day not only hindered them entry to heaven but that it would ultimately disqualify them. Jesus' saying must have spoken to many of their hearts with the razor sharpness of a surgeon's scalpel. Those with ears to hear understood that those who were crushed under the realization of their own sin and their inability to justify themselves before a holy and just God -- this is the very thing that provided an open door to the heavenly realm. However, not everyone was willing to embrace Christ's teaching of humility of soul. To many, this was a subservient attitude that many sought to relinquish in their oppressed lives.

Poverty in spirit in Jesus' day had a bad connotation with many in first-century Palestine. The land of Israel had known its share of oppressors throughout its history -- from the slavery of Pharaoh and the Egyptians to their present occupier, Rome. To some gathered that day listening to Jesus on the Mount, the implication that one must be "poor in spirit" must have smacked of anti-Semitism and downright betrayal of everything it meant to be a Jew. However, Jesus was not interested in tickling the ears of the radical zealots and Zionists of his day by telling them to be resistant against the oppressors, past and present. The Lord was concerned with redeeming a people for His own possession that were not suited for the kingdoms of this earth, but for the heavenly realms. Jesus taught that to be totally emptied of the spiritual pride that was so symptomatic of the religious ruling class of His day was the admission price for Glory. Not only did Jesus preach this radical message, but He also lived it out with perfect humility. Christ, by word and deed, established the impossible standard for mortal humans to live up to in order to be accepted by the Father. Paul stated in Philippians 2:5-11 (please read these scriptures for context) the metamorphosis that Jesus underwent in order to redeem humankind and to empower us to live as He lived while on this earth. The apostle tells us to "Have this attitude in ourselves which was also in Christ ...", which was a poverty of spirit bereft of anything except the Father's will. Paul's command to us would be nothing short of insanity if we did not have the power to complete it. The inability for humankind to live as Jesus Christ lived was resolved by the cross. The Lord's death, burial, and resurrection resulted in closing the huge chasm of separation caused by sin. By the Lord's sacrifice, we all could finally live as poverty-stricken creatures regarding the things of this earth. Ironically, this ALWAYS produces a joy of living that is lived out in this life, preparing us for the one to come.

Pure joy is the benchmark of this emptied life as typified by Christ. David wrote in Psalm 16:11: You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever. Beloved, God the Father and the Lord Jesus' desire for us is to yield to the Holy Spirit as He empties our lives of all pride, selfishness, and all sin which ultimately keeps us from living a life of overcoming victory. God through His Holy Spirit is a joyful Being that desires to express Himself through us in this remarkable way. Do you seek to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might? Allow yourself to be emptied of the world, and He will be your strength (Nehemiah 8:10)! Or, to be so filled with His presence that His joy becomes something so wonderful that words can't describe it (I Peter 1:8)? To the degree that we relinquish our own desires and wants and walk in His Spirit daily confessing -- Your will be done -- to that degree will we live in a place of eternal joy both now and for eternity.

As in Jesus' day, there are many who would say that the Lord requires too much of us in this beatitude. To empty our lives before Him, becoming destitute of who we are is a frightening prospect to many. Just as those in ancient Palestine had the breath knocked out of them by Jesus' sayings, so it is true in our present world. There are those today who are so mired in the selfishness of their own lives, whether it be wealth or prestige or merely thinking of themselves as the god of their own destiny. However, Jesus Christ's promise to all is to fill us to overflowing with His "streams of rejoicing" if we will but yield to Him (Psalm 36:8). This is not a ruse that He has concocted to try to get us to live some burdensome life filled with perpetual moans of "woe is me"! On the contrary, this is the life set free from worry, doubt, fear, and depression because Christ has first of all fill granted the willing heart the love and desire to obey Him, and secondly His fullness of joy as we live continually in His presence. To be a pauper in God's economy means that we are far richer than any that might seek to put their faith in their own "richness of spirit". The latter will never know true wealth, either in this lifetime or the one to come. Only as we become poor in spirit will we be filled to overflowing with the riches from above!

Heavenly Father, thank you for Jesus and how He gave His life for us so that we too might walk as paupers in the eyes of this world. Through His wonderful gift, we can truly live as heirs of Your kingdom, far richer than anything we could ask or think. We rejoice in our poverty of spirit because by this we experience the indwelling of You through Your Spirit. Thank you O Holy God. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Bare Soul - Profit and Loss - August 23, 2009

Isaiah 48:17 - Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, "I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, Who leads you in the way you should go."

Many years ago my great-uncle pulled me aside and gave me some advice that I wouldn't fully understand until years later. I was a young man barely out of my teens when he told me: It's not how much you make in life that matters, it's what you save. This native Texan was a self-made man that grew up during the depression and later put himself through college at Texas A&M University. During the 1960s, he amassed a great deal of wealth in real estate. However, even today he is an unassuming man in his 90s that lives modestly and with a frugality characteristic of his years of want. At the time when he shared this tidbit of wisdom, my finances were in shambles and money went through my hands like a sieve. Years later, I would understand that creating a lifestyle of first giving back to God and secondly of providing for my family and others unselfishly would provide the bedrock where a foundation of "saving" might be laid. I am not talking merely about saving in respect to money. I am talking about a lifestyle conducive to both material and spiritual wealth. For Jesus said: Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? (Luke 16:11).

To those who know the Lord, saving does not necessarily imply laying aside wealth for future retirement. It implies a heart of wisdom that has been instructed for years by the Lord regarding His insights on how to make a profit and to make it continue to grow. The irony of making a profit in God's economy means little about earthly wealth. This is merely a tool to help us progress to the real treasure. In Isaiah 48:17, the prophet spoke one thing yet was most likely misunderstood in his day much like he has been misunderstood in this generation. During the "Name it and Claim it" phenomenon of the 1970s and 80s, many preachers were telling us that in order to be successful in this life a person just needed to believe. They would tell their listeners on radio or television that whatever they confessed, they could possess if they just had faith. Do you want a new house? Then believe God and He will bless you with a mansion! After all, aren't we all "King's Kids"? And how about a new Cadillac? Surely, God will not withhold any good thing from those who would believe in Him, will He? Oh, but there was that one little caveat. Unless a believer sows finances into the Kingdom then they wouldn't receive back ten- or a hundred-fold for their faithfulness, as told by these soothsayers. In other words, you had to give to get -- you had to sow richly so you could reap a harvest of material blessings. Most of this so-called biblical instruction instructing many to "sow into the Kingdom" was directed back to their ministries to provide for their lavish lifestyles. Beloved, I am convinced that God wept then and He still weeps when we try to take His word and make it formulaic to increase wealth in a selfish, carnal way.

In order to understand what God wants to teach us about true profit, we should first look to Jesus and His Sermon on the Mount. The Lord's teaching is diametrically opposed to any thought of gaining material wealth BEFORE attaining spiritual treasure. Too often, we have tried to measure our success by how much material "blessings" we have attained -- how large our portfolios might be, or how much real estate we own. While there is certainly nothing wrong with having treasure on this earth, there is a problem if it is not founded on God's instruction on how to make and keep wealth. It is very much like trying to make a sidewalk without any forms or rebar. The wet concrete will never set up right because it has no foundation, lacking the boards or metal forms to rest on. It will crack easily because there is no inner structure for the concrete to cling to if there is no rebar . Concrete forms are comparable to the wisdom that God gives us to create wealth and then use it wisely. There are established, certain ways to create sidewalks in the same way as there are to create wealth according to God's guidance. Many, however, have attempted to produce material security before creating spiritual security. Jesus' teaching to the common man on the mount stated that to live in pursuit of riches was a life of chasing folly. The true riches were to be laid up in heaven through a heart given to God and to His Kingdom (Matthew 5:16-19). Christ summed it up concisely in regard to how much or how little wealth one should make when comparing the "birds of the air" and the "lilies of the field" with our earthly pursuits for material happiness. How much more does God care to feed and clothe us than these? (Matthew 6:25-30). Anything that God desires to give above and beyond this is according to His wisdom and how He might deal with each of us. Jesus concludes His teaching on how to profit in God's economy with this simple statement: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you (Matthew 6:33).

Years later, I have taken my uncle's advice and turned it in such a way as he might not have expected. I still believe there is great wisdom in what he said, regardless whether he meant it as merely saving every nickel and dime to attain material security. Today, I know that the Lord has great things in store for those who will but let Him instruct them on the meaning of making a true profit. Today, the concept of "saving" means to turn ALL my affections and intentions to profit over to Him, allowing God by His grace to instruct me on the meaning of true gain. With this type of savings plan, there truly is a heavenly salvation that does not lack a high rate of return. If we get the proverbial cart before the horse, then we will just be creating a profit-scheme that will eventually be bankrupt in loss because it was built on self-serving motives. However, if we surrender all our ambition and desire to the Lord Jesus to create His wealth through us (spiritual, then material), then we will be delighted to see not only spiritual blessings but also the material blessings that He has laid up for us on this earth. They may not be mansions and Cadillacs here in this world, but they will be EXACTLY what we need to fulfill our respective missions and to prepare us for our heavenly home filled with splendor.

Heavenly Father, teach us and guide us regarding what true profit means while we traverse through this life. Help us to turn the gains you produce in us into heavenly riches that ultimately builds your church on earth and produces treasure for eternity. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Bare Soul - God's Mountain Men - Part II - August 16, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "God's Mountain Men" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on August 13, 2009.

God's Mountain Men - August 13, 2009

Genesis 22:2 - He said, "Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you."

As a boy, some of my favorite reading were biographies. In particular, I very much enjoyed stories of the western expansion in America. Tales of mountain men such as Jedediah Smith and Jim Bridger would make me dream of running away to the mountains to live as a hermit amongst the savages, selling my fur pelts to the highest bidder. The proverbial call of the mountains can be just as strong as the call of the sea, setting in motion these "dreamers" of a bygone era with hopes to live independently and at the same time strike it rich with the wealth the streams and rivers would offer. Their goals were often to remain fiercely independent with no one telling them how to live their lives. This isolation more often ended up badly for the majority of mountain trappers as they were either killed by Indians, avalanches, rockslides, or an assortment of other tragedies that were symptomatic of their aloneness.

In comparison, we see another "mountain man" who millenniums before heard the voice of God and chose to give up his own agenda for that of the Lord's. Abraham's 600 mile trek from Mesopotamia along with his nephew Lot in chapter 12 of the book of Genesis came to a parting of ways for the two in chapter 13. Abraham saw the wisdom of them separating since their herds had become too large for them to dwell together. The scripture states: So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan, and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus they separated from each other. Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom (Genesis 13:11-12). The land of Canaan referred to is a rugged area full of hills and mountains far less habitable than the Jordan valley which his nephew had chosen. Water was not in abundance for the flocks and herds in the hills and the mountains, yet God's promise to Abraham was that He would bless him and make him a mighty nation (Genesis13:14-17). While Lot chose the "easier, softer way" of the valley, Abraham chose the more difficult life knowing that God would bless him regardless.

Abraham was unmoved by mountains because he lived amongst them by choice. Later, when God told Abraham to ascend Mount Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac, there is no mention of the patriarch arguing with God but he set off with his son in obedience. As we know from this familiar story, God was merely testing Abraham's faith to see if he would truly obey Him in all things. Conversely, we read in Genesis 19:17 that Lot was moved to retreat and hide in the mountains as he fled for his life due to his compromising lifestyle: When they had brought them outside, one [of the angels] said, "Escape for your life! Do not look behind you, and do not stay anywhere in the valley; escape to the mountains, or you will be swept away. God has juxtaposed two characters in this lesson from His word, showing us that those two different embraces -- one of obedience resulting in blessing, the other in compromise resulting in a flight of fear of God's judgment. The end of Lot's compromised state is a sad tale of loneliness and incest while hiding out in the depths of the mountains that he once shunned (Genesis 19:30-38).

As believers, we are continually bombarded with choices in our sensual, sin-soaked western culture. Many of those that would seek to follow the Lord might think that living in the proverbial mountains of faith is a hard life fraught with isolation from the glitz and the glamour of our 21st century living. That would be true. However, once we separate ourselves from the compromise and the allure of the world, then God takes us aside as He did Abraham and He promises His blessings upon our lives. While some might believe this is the life of loneliness, it is ironically the life filled with fellowship and the camaraderie of all those who have likewise chosen a mountain man lifestyle. The striking truth regarding those who seek to live in the comfort and compromise of this world find that they are the ones who will one day, like Lot, seek the shelter of the mountains that could have formed the character they so desperately needed. Unfortunately, for many it will be too late at this juncture. May we all, like Abraham, seek to live as God's mountain man -- not compromising with the world but joyously submitting to God in all instances and watching as His marvelous life blesses not only us and our families but all those whom we would encounter. The choice is ours today.

Heavenly Father, make us true children of Abraham, unwavering in our decision for you. Allow us to shun the pleasures of the rich valleys of this earth and let us learn character by living with You in the mountains of your choosing, producing character and obedience and finding favor in Your presence. For without faith and obedience it is impossible to please You. Allow us Your grace in this endeavor. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Bare Soul - God's Mountain Men - Part I - August 9, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "God's Power" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on August 13, 2009.

God's Mountain Men - August 13, 2009

Matthew 17:1-2 - Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light.

Mountains have a way of capturing our imagination. The Psalmist refers to mountains, comparing them to the righteousness of God -- stately in majesty (Psalm 36:6). Many of us that have climbed mountains, either with equipment or as "free-climbers" know the exhilaration of reaching the top. It is truly an awe-inspiring moment. I vividly remember the first of many summits that I ascended. It was November 1976 in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) outside of Estes Park Colorado. Four of us from a local bible college decided to take on Twin Sisters, an 11,428 foot peak. During the late 1970s, the Front Range of the Rockies was in the midst of a drought. Comparatively, little snow had fallen that fall season, so we decided to free-climb the switchbacks to the peak. Bob, our guide, had hiked up to the summit just weeks before with no problems. However, as we progressed we found the snow deepening in various sections shielded by the trees. As we sank knee deep in snow, our thoughts raced back and forth from wishing we had snow shoes and turning around and retreating for the trailhead and the warmth of the car. However Bob was determined to push onward and upward. Once above treeline, we found very little snow on the boulder fields that were swept free by the wind. From there it was a short climb to the top and to the breathtaking view. There was such a feeling of accomplishment that we all shouted with enthusiasm as our voices echoed in the valley below. Twenty-three years later, I would be back in RMNP ascending my first "fourteener" with my brother-in-law Tim as my guide. He had summitted Long's Peak (14,259 ft.) before and led me to the peak, guiding me through the boulder field, the Keyhole, around the Trough and the Narrows and finally to the top. In both my first and latter summits, I was grateful for determined, experienced guides that helped me find my way.

Mountain climbing is not for the faint-hearted. I would compare some of the peaks I have summitted with running some of my faster marathon times. Both demanded a great deal of stamina and fortitude to finish as I raced against either the clock or against the weather to ascend and then descend the mountain, respectively. Matthew tells us nothing of Jesus' motive when leading Peter, James, and John to the top of this high mountain, as described by the author in chapter 17. Six days earlier, they had been given a lesson regarding the cost of discipleship (Matthew 16:24-28). Jesus told them that if they wished to follow Him that they must obey Him implicitly or, as Christ stated, to deny one's self and take up the cross. Undoubtedly, the disciples were perplexed where the Lord might be taking them. Historically, the Mount of Transfiguration is considered to be Mount Tabor which is an 1,800 ft. summit. While this would not be considered a high mountain by many of our standards, it is the second tallest peak in Israel. The journey to the top was without a doubt arduous even as it is today for Christian pilgrims to ascend. Possibly the disciples were muttering on their way up, trying to figure out where their Lord might be leading? After all, there surely weren't any opportunities to minister on the peak of Mount Tabor? It just didn't make sense as it appeared that Jesus seemed to be isolating them from their calling as "holy evangelists". Or, maybe the Lord wanted to "pray" again. (That would mean some "snooze" time for the disciples!) However, once they arrived at the pinnacle they were in for quite a surprise! It was God's will that Jesus be transfigured in their midst that the disciples might see Jesus in His glory. Undoubtedly, all thoughts of a wasted climb to the top of Mt. Tabor vanished as they saw Jesus, Moses, and Elijah in glorious radiance along with hearing the awesome voice of God the Father. Their lives would be forever altered after ascending this famous mount.

As the disciples obeyed Jesus' leading, they were blessed with the wonder of His glory. However, this was merely a token of what God had in store for the apostles. As they would soon find out, it's one thing to climb mountains while following the Lord in obedience -- it's quite another thing to move them! Through their obedient pursuit of their Holy Master, Jesus was preparing them to be true "mountain men". The Lord had previously modeled to his followers the need for seclusion and prayer on the mountaintop (Matthew 14:23). Now, He had brought them to the top of Tabor to show them their respective callings. It was not an accident that three mortal beings ascended that mountain, yet three supernatural manifestations occurred in three persons.
  • James the brother of John, became instrumental as a leader of the early church in Jerusalem where he helped shepherd thousands of believers as they were added to the church through the work of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, Moses was an Old Covenant archetype of the shepherd that led the flock of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land via Mount Sinai. Both men had hearts for God and His people. While Moses was the Law Giver that came down from the mountain, James helped shepherd with the Law of Liberty from Mount Jerusalem, the site of the early church.

  • John the brother of James, later to be known as "John the Revelator" became the greatest prophet of the new dispensation. The book of Revelation is still being played out even today as the end-time book of Acts. The Elijah of Mount Carmel similarly was a prophet embroiled in persecution much like John experienced under the Roman emperors. Elijah's zeal for the Lord God made him God's choice to both preserve and reveal the word of the Lord in ancient Israel against King Ahab and Queen Jezebel's idolatrous government (I Kings 17).

  • Peter, the great evangelist, would be instrumental in leading more souls to His Savior than Jesus did in the time of His short ministry. In the space of a few weeks after Pentecost, the church added over 8,000 souls through the preaching of Peter as endued by the Holy Spirit. Peter had certainly become the soul-winner that Jesus the Great Evangelist modeled for him during His three years with the apostle (Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4).
Beloved, at some point in our Christian walk Jesus will desire to lead every one of us up our own Mount Tabor to manifest Himself in a miraculous way. If we are faithful and resolute to follow Him, no matter how hard the climb, we will be delighted upon reaching the apex. We may not see a transfiguration in the same way as the disciples, however we can be sure that He will show us His glory in the way He sees fit if we will but trust and follow. With the revelation He provides will come the responsibility to partner with Him until He completes His work in and through us (Philippians 1:6). Much in the same way that we behold the beauty of a mountaintop, those of us who are called by His Name must become mountain men and women for God and dare to move mountains once we have climbed them with our Lord. As the apostles later understood, the Transfiguration meant nothing until they too were transfigured to shake the earth for Jesus. Are you a mountain man or woman for Jesus? For only as we follow Him implicitly to the top of our respective Mount Tabor will we truly understand His calling for our lives.

Heavenly Father, make us all desire to be mountain men and women for You. Help us to follow Your Son up and over those pinnacles that may seem daunting and without common sense to traverse. Yet, through Jesus' wisdom may we see the final outcome and the transfiguration that You desire to complete in all your sons and daughters. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

God's Mountain Men - July 13, 2009

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick