Friday, September 25, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Beatitudes - Mercy - September 27, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Beatitudes - Mercy" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on September 24, 2009.

Matthew 5:7 - Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

Through this devotional glimpse of the Beatitudes over the past few weeks, we have seen Jesus define the very Nature of God. If Christ were a politician, one might say that the Beatitudes we have discussed and the ones remaining are his political platform, of sorts. Quite literally, these define the Man and where He stands on the Nature of God versus the fallen nature of man. Using another political metaphor, one might say that the Beatitudes are Christ's "Declaration of Independence" from the world and His utter dependence on the Father. In the remainder of chapter five and the entirety of chapters six and seven, Jesus explains the particulars or the out-workings of this "declaration" in the Sermon on the Mount. If the Beatitudes are Christ's Declaration of Independence from the world, then His Sermon on the Mount is truly the Constitution and the "Bill of [no] Rights" toward the believer. Christ tells us in this manifesto of Divine living that we really have no rights to our own way if we choose to follow Him, bearing our respective crosses through this life. (Ironically, though we may be dying daily (I Corinthians 15:31) and living as aliens on this earth, we are heirs of the eternal kingdom where we will one day live and reign.)

In our previous look at the Beatitudes, we have seen the opposite or a juxtaposition of the affects produced by the respective effects of blessedness in a believer's life. For instance, to be "poor in spirit" or to possess a spirit of poverty toward the lusts of this world produces a richness in heaven. Or, by mourning over sin and for the blessed appearing of our Savior, one will therefore be comforted. Unlike its predecessors, this particular character attribute of the Divine Nature is valued both by those on earth and in heaven, by both the unregenerate and the redeemed. By its value, mercy's blessing is different than those of other beatitudes. As a person sows mercy, that is what they will also reap. In other words, rather than an opposite creating an opposite as in previous instances, Jesus is describing a facet of Godly nature that creates more of the same. Jesus tells us that the act of showing mercy will beget more mercy for the giver. More than that, He tells us that if we nurture the character of mercy where we become known as merciful human beings, than our lives will continue to reap mercy as a constant inflow and outflow of our lives. This is very much in tune with the law of reciprocity in all areas of giving. If one sows sparingly, then one will reap sparingly. If one sows abundantly, one will reap an abundance. If we show acts of mercy on occasion with randomness, then the mercy we are able to receive from God and man will be occasional and random. However, if we live lives of mercy toward others and are by nature merciful people, mercy from both God and man will flow into our lives like a torrent. So, how does one initially come to a true understanding along with a true desire to live as a merciful person toward all? Mercy, as we shall see, has a critical counterpart that fuels its proverbial engine.

Christian philosopher and writer C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying: Mercy, detached from justice, grows unmerciful. In order for there to be a manifestation of God's mercy in the spirit of a man or woman, there must first be a recognition of God's righteousness and the justice due as the penalty of sin. The ark of the covenant in the Holy of Holies of the Hebraic tabernacle gives us a word picture of the requirements to receive God's mercy. First of all, one must recognize God's righteousness and the penitent's lack thereof as typified by one of two cherubs overarching the Mercy Seat as it reached out toward its counterpart. This cherub is named Righteousness. Secondly, one must understand that a holy, righteous God cannot excuse sin but He must judge it. For Him to do otherwise would nullify His holy and just Nature. Hence, the name of the other cherub -- Justice. The great undoing of this dilemma for humankind is that in which the cherubim overshadow -- that glorious Mercy Seat -- a foreshadowing of the heavenly article where Christ offered up His blood to the Father once and for all as the propitiation for all sin for all time. In ancient Israel, God "passed over" the sins of His people once a year by the sprinkling of the blood of the Passover lamb during the Feast of Passover. Jesus Christ became the Eternal Lamb that once and for all gave His blood to obtain eternal mercy for humanity on that heavenly Seat of Mercy in the tabernacle not made with hands (Hebrews 9:11-12). By the death of Christ, mercy became something that did not need renewing year after year. It became a transferable, definable characteristic of God the Father through His son, the Lord Jesus Christ. It was now part of the very nature of God given to every born again believer -- the ability to live a merciful life with power toward others.

Through the typology of the ark of the covenant, God has graciously given us the secret or an equation, if you will, to first receive and then to be people of mercy. In John 16:8, Jesus said that when the Holy Spirit comes that He would "... convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment". Beloved, if we have known the Spirit's convicting power in our hearts regarding our sin ... if we have seen His righteousness and how our "filthy rag" righteousness (Isaiah 64:6) cannot compare with that of a holy God ... and if we TRULY understand that we all deserve judgment, then those elements will produce a cry for mercy that only a merciful God can give.

Jesus said that "... those who have been forgiven much, love much" (Luke 7:47). According to the scripture, one might rightly judge those who claim to be Christians yet lack love and forgiveness toward others. Have they truly met the Risen Lord if they lack mercy toward their fellow man? As the heart of a man, woman, or child is convicted or convinced by the Holy Spirit of its need for salvation, and one accepts God into their lives, the Nature of the Divine One ultimately acts and reacts with the same mercy toward others as it did toward this penitent soul. If the Divine mercy is not at work in a so-called believer, perhaps they did not believe at all. Mercy will beget mercy, just as love will produce love. We can only give mercy away when we have first TRULY received it. Once we begin this purposeful adventure, the Lord will continue to enlarge our hearts until we see and further embrace the workings of His will toward His greatest desire -- broken lives that are transformed into glorious sons and daughters of His kingdom!

Heavenly Father, thank you for your mercy. Thank you that Jesus, Your Son, presented His blood once and for all that we might obtain eternal mercy. Help us to give and to keep giving Your mercy to others for it can never be exhausted. For as we give, we receive. We praise You. In Jesus Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Beatitudes - Righteousness - September 20, 2009

Matthew 5:6 - Blessed are those hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Some have suggested, with a good deal of tongue in cheek, that the only things certain in life are death and taxes. While this of course is subtle sarcasm cloaked in irony, there are many immutable laws written into nature's DNA that are irrefutable and irreversible. One of these is the physiology of all living organisms needing and requiring sustenance. To our own personal concern and of even more immediate certainty would be if a person was denied daily sustenance and drink for a protracted period of time. The human body is quick to tell us when we have not provided for its essential needs. The fuel in our proverbial tanks needs constant filling and refilling. Most certainly, God made us this way for a reason. Just as the body cannot survive efficiently without life-giving nourishment, neither can the spirit and the soul of a man or woman without spiritual food. Jesus compares this natural, daily occurrence in the life of every human being with that of a spiritual phenomenon that should be working in parallel. Oftentimes, when there is a physical manifestation of a natural law there is more importantly a spiritual dynamic that will dwarf the importance of the former.

In first century Palestine, poverty for many lower- to middle-class families was a daily reality. Taxation was growing at an alarming rate as the trickle-down effect from their Roman "protectorates" meant that there were more hands in the pockets of the working poor. Jewish tax-collectors called upon to do Rome's dirty work were despised as thieves and robbers of their fellow countrymen. Not only would they take the governor's share but they would line their own pockets with a "surcharge" above and beyond their wage. The people of Israel not only felt the daily burden of trying to raise a family in the midst of some of the most egregious extortion by their fellow Jews, but they were treated as mere slaves being taxed with no representation or possible recourse for their servitude. The deepening of their economic depression meant dwindling resources for the most basic needs. Undoubtedly, many families suffered during this time as many felt the pangs of hunger as they tried to eek out a living while their children cried for lack of bread. In this societal and political climate, Jesus Christ chose to give one of the most important sermons of his short ministry. Many were hoping that Jesus would be the one to turn their poverty into prosperity -- that out of their present depression would come such a profound deliverance from their current misery as only could be wrought by the very Son of David, the Messiah. Certainly, it was a huge disappointment to some who failed to have "ears to hear" what the Lord was trying to tell them that day. Jesus knew that many of His countrymen were acutely aware of hunger due to the current economic duress. Furthermore, He understood the arid, inhospitable surroundings of Galilee and the necessity of water. This gave Him the ideal metaphor to help His audience understand the same intense longing and yearning for righteousness. He did not promise to fill their bellies with the morsels of this earth or the water that will refresh only for a moment. Instead, He promised a righteousness that would surpass that of the Pharisees and ensure them a filling and an overflowing of their innermost being that they had never imagined.

The prospect of being "filled" and not wanting must have appealed strongly to many of Jesus' contemporaries. The perplexity to many who intently listened was undoubtedly how one arrived at this state of blessedness. The beauty of the Lord's words in the Beatitudes is that they are pronouncements of an accomplished spiritual character. Literally, an attitude that has been perfected in the heart and mind of God in a human being until God makes a declaration that this person is "blessed". Fortunately, Jesus does not orphan his audience with merely telling them how they ought to be, but then goes on in the Sermon on the Mount and tells them HOW to arrive at this place of blessedness. The Lord is quick to point out that earthly pursuits will never fill us. They may give us temporary relief from the discomforts of this world, but they will never truly satisfy. The spiritual axiom that Jesus always taught is that in order to be filled, one must empty oneself. There is no other way. No where in Jesus' sermon was that more characteristic as in Matthew 6:25-34:

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?' For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

To the dismay of many who were looking for an end to their temporal discomforts, this statement probably made little or no sense. For others, it may have angered them as seeming insensitive to their current plight. However, to those who believed Jesus' words, a life of fullness awaited those who would but empty themselves of their own self-righteousness. In turn, a new and living way full of the goodness and righteousness of God would fill their existence. By this trust, Jesus promised not only to meet their spiritual needs but also to meet those of a material nature if they would but set their priorities accordingly. God emphasizes by His word that first-century Israelites, as well as humankind today in our 21st-century societies, should never super-impose their wants over their needs. This becomes idolatrous and self-serving and displaces Him as Lord of our respective lives. Even today as centuries ago, many are challenged financially as they wonder how to make ends meet. Jesus Christ's promise is just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. If we will but seek God's righteousness with the same yearning that we do for our daily sustenance, then we shall not only be filled, but all our needs WILL be met. God has never broken His promise and will continue to meet our needs if we will but trust in Him, beloved. We must ask ourselves: Have I separated myself from my wants and my desires and allowed God to clarify my needs? Only as we empty ourselves and give ourselves to hunger of a spiritual nature, only then can He fill us to overflowing in ALL areas of our lives!

Lord Jesus, thank you for your Beatitudes. They truly are a reflection of You and Your Father and the beauty of Your character. Help us to empty ourselves of self and wait and long for You to fill us with Your righteousness. For only then will we truly be satisfied. In Your Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Beatitudes - Meekness - September 13, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Beatitudes - Meekness" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on September 10, 2009.


Matthew 5:5 - Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Throughout the millennia, many have sought to conquer and control the kingdoms of this earth. It is said that when Alexander the Great saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer. Whether this is true or not regarding this ancient Greek, it is an important lesson regarding where true strength and power originate and ultimately flow. Alexander, like every other megalomaniac before and after him, misunderstood that the kingdoms of this world were not theirs to hold sway over. Certainly, one might establish a kingdom or government with a dynastic influence of a few generations, but what happens after that? Solomon understood the folly of men that entertained the thought that their kingdoms would be perpetual. In Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, the king was obviously vexed by this revelation as he stated: Thus I hated all the fruit of my labor for which I had labored under the sun, for I must leave it to the man who will come after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the fruit of my labor for which I have labored by acting wisely under the sun. This too is vanity. Solomon acquiesced to the notion that there was no true hope or guarantee for a posterity that would fulfill the vision of their predecessor. The apex of arrogance is to believe that a person in this lifetime can truly influence generations to come in a self-perpetuating kingdom mind-set. Through his vain madness, Adolf Hitler was one who believed in such a thing -- that a 1,000 year Reich would be created on this earth (through his twisted Nordic/Aryan vision) where a purified race would exist to rule over all others. In his demonic mind, he was diametric in thinking to One who lived nearly 2,000 years earlier who stated that a true, lasting inheritance is not based on humanistic strength, but on gentleness and meekness born not of this earth. Jesus Christ proclaimed that in order to inherit the earth, one must be born into a new family that possesses particular character which compliments those who would be counted worthy as title holders of the kingdoms of this world.

By human standards, meekness and gentleness would certainly not seem to be the criteria to control and conquer. None of us will probably ever be in a place to wield influence over peoples or nations as many past or current heads of state. However, we all have the power to influence our own respective cosmos where we live and work everyday. Our influence will always be in direct proportion with our ability to wield that power with the character of Jesus. I have always been struck by the story of a recent law school graduate who was seeking employment with a prestigious firm in downtown Manhattan. Entering the brass and glass revolving doors, the young man is met by a surly security guard who checks over his invitation and rudely motions him toward the elevator. "Nineteenth floor!", he bellows after the applicant as he hurriedly catches the next car heading up. The indignant looks of other riders as they pass floor after floor makes him realize that he has not dressed for success as many of them in their $1,000 suits. Finally, he reaches the 19th floor where he is met in the foyer by a receptionist who smugly passes him off to the senior partner's private secretary. She leads him down a hallway without a word, and tells him to wait outside a mahogany set of double doors until the senior partner can see him. By this time, the young man is nervous as beads of perspiration appear on his forehead, not knowing what to expect next. But suddenly, the doors fling open and a jovial, good-natured fellow comes out and vigorously shakes his hand. He invites the young man in his office and they have a pleasurable visit while the private secretary is now eagerly and with smiling enthusiasm providing the two with beverages of their choice. Within an hour, the young lawyer is now part of the firm and the attitude of everyone he had encountered up to that point had changed remarkably. What had happened? First of all, the man with the power had shown that strength was not typified in surliness or trying to "lord it over" another. On the contrary, he was secure in who he was and was free to allow others (such as his new junior associate) the grace that he gave so characteristic to his nature. Understanding that meekness and a gentle spirit are not weaknesses and that true strength comes from a place of security is to understand the dynamic that Jesus desires for us all to comprehend. For when we know our true position and our meek and humble authority that are demonstrative of our relationship with Him, then we can truly understand our "quietness of strength" (Isaiah 30:15) in addition to the assurance of our inheritance as His heir.

Jesus teaches us in this beatitude to first of all comprehend another facet of the character of His Father. Contrary to those who had sought to rule by force, Jesus told His disciples that this was indeed a "rule by farce" -- a proverbial "house of cards" that would never endure. Jesus knew and understood that man's kingdoms would come and go, yet He spoke of an eternal kingdom that would one day come "... on earth as it is in heaven". The Lord sent forth His invitation that day by forever excluding all those who would seek power and influence by compelling obedience through contrived force. Conversely, the Psalmist speaks of how God desires to overshadow humankind with divine strength through man's humility, stating: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty (Psalm 91:1). When one lives under God's shadow there is no need to be anything but gentle and meek, for God has already vanquished His foes. Rather, it becomes a continual reminder to rest in the finished work of the cross. Jesus told His disciples that if they had seen Him, they had seen the Father, that their respective natures were one in the same (John 14:9). Even as Jesus taught His disciples that His Father's character was meek and gentle, even so He tells them the same about Himself in Matthew 11:29. By taking upon themselves the yoke of Christ on a daily basis, they too would discover the meekness and mildness of their Savior, and would ultimately find rest for their souls. For is not rest what all men seek, even through their struggles?

God does not want any of us to settle in this lifetime with our own "kingdom building". He has sent His Son, the exact representation of Himself, to make us heirs of the inheritance that He won back from the wicked one by His death, burial, and resurrection. Anything other than becoming part of God's Grand Design for Humankind is an illusion -- a dream of so-called self-actualization that will eventually turn into a nightmare of remorse. Whether you are an "Alexander the Great" or a "Linda the Homemaker" or a "Bobby the Mechanic", the influence we build on this earth that is separate from Jesus' plan for us regarding His Kingdom is "vanity of vanities". In reality, nothing remains to be conquered because Jesus is already victorious in our families, our jobs, and in every instance of our lives. Jesus Christ desires for all who know Him to live like heirs of this earth, for all who know Him will reign upon this earth. Not as those with lust for power, but as those who have laid down their lives for their Savior and have taken up His yoke. As heirs, we all have the duty and responsibility to begin reigning in this life as wise stewards of what the Lord has entrusted to us. May we all be meek and gentle as our Lord, waiting and longing for His coming when He takes full ownership of a redeemed earth.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the meek and gentle Lamb of God that You sent to this earth to die for us all. May we live as He ... taking up His yoke, bearing His cross, until that final day when we all inherit the fullness of Your love that You've ordained for all those who love Your appearing. Thank you Father for Your wisdom through this wonderful plan of redemption. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Bare Soul - The Beatitudes - Mourning - September 6, 2009

Matthew 5:4 - Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

Profound loss often produces profound mourning. Many of us have lost someone or something (such as a beloved pet) that has created a vacuum in our lives -- an absence so remarkable that it causes the very breath within us to be labored due to despair. When my father passed several years ago due to cancer, it left a hole in my life for some time. We had become much closer in my grown-up years after a turbulent relationship in my teens and young adult life. The familiarity we shared in those final years was something rekindled from my love for him as a child. We would look forward to our long distance calls, and the times when we could be together in person. Likewise, some of us may have experienced a trusting, loving relationship with their Heavenly Father earlier in life, only to have been seduced by the things of this earth. The wooing of fleshly carnality day after day became a sordid seductress that took more and more of our hearts. Finally, Christ was relegated to a proverbial "tool shed out back" on His once-owned expansive property of our heart. As the prior Lord of our lives, Jesus had become a silenced voice of wisdom. Now, all that could be heard was the soft weeping for His lost child.

Some have interpreted this scripture in Matthew to imply that we should mourn over our sin. While this is true in one respect, it is not if we are mourning the passing of sin as the loss of something that one holds dear to their heart. This would be unscriptural because John tells us in his first letter to love not the world nor the things in it (I John 2:15). For us to mourn over sin as merely the loss of a "dear friend", whom we once gave our heart to in love, would be a direct affront to Jesus as our betrothed. Naturally speaking, no man or woman should put up with an engaged partner longing for a past girlfriend or boyfriend. In the same wise, we should have our eyes fixed on the Lover of our souls, knowing how we have grieved Him who pursued us with a passionate longing. We should certainly mourn our past sinful lives, but even more so we should mourn the absence of of our awaited Husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. When questioned why His disciples did not fast, Jesus answered thus: And Jesus said to them, "The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." (Matthew 9:15). Beloved, Jesus knew that the days would come when He would no longer be there to comfort them with His words. He knew that the Holy Spirit, the Blessed Comforter, would soon after His departure take up residence in the hearts of men, women, and children that would simply trust in Christ for their salvation. While we live a "fasted life" upon this earth, seeking to separate ourselves from carnal earthly pleasures, the Holy Spirit comforts us within. He confirms to us through our denial of self and hatred of sin that our marriage to Christ is an inevitable fact that will consummate at the end of the age. We must merely ready ourselves as the bride, adorning ourselves with holiness ... and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

While those who truly know the Lord are grieved at His absence as King of King and Lord or Lords upon this earth, we take heart in the loving consolation of the Holy Spirit in this time of absence. The book of John, chapters 14 through 16, are Christ's candid attempts to explain to His disciples that it is imperative that He must leave this earth for a season. Until His return, He promises a down payment of our riches in glory through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In John 16:7 Christ states: Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you (King James Version). A few verses later, Jesus tells them in John 16:20: Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Clearly, Jesus was speaking of his resurrection in this scripture, telling His disciples that they will mourn desperately for the seeming hopelessness of His death. However, most gloriously, their mourning would be turned into joy once they realized that He had risen. They truly comprehended after conquering the grave that their Risen Savior would indeed return a second time to redeem those who waited for Him with an expectancy of a longing bride. No longer was there mourning attached to hopelessness, but there was a faith and assurance that Jesus would return as He promised. Every soul that has mourned and longed for His return -- from his first century disciples to present day believers -- have joined themselves to the Holy Spirit and the Bride of Christ by declaring: The Spirit and the bride say, "Come." ... He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Revelations 22:17a; 22:20).

While it's a given that sin should be mourned over in our lives, this should only be demonstrative when a sinner comes to Christ and repents. Under no circumstances should sin be mourned as something we "miss" in our respective lives. If this is the case, beloved, there is something desperately wrong with our supposed relationship to Jesus Christ. If He is not the One we long to be with and know more personally every day, then there will be something else we desire in His place. Mourning for Jesus is a blessed state, according to the scripture. For only as we long and mourn for His appearing, will we know the comfort of the Holy Spirit. Are you longing for Him today? Have you set your affections on His appearing and not the re-appearing of a former lover? His longing is that we would long for Him with a holy passion borne from His Spirit that desires to dwell richly in us all. Only then will be waiting in chaste expectancy, comforted by the Spirit who is able to perfect us until that final day. Praise be to His Name!

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the blessing that Your Son bestowed on all those who would but mourn and long for His appearing. We thank you that You sent Your Spirit to comfort and perfect us until that final day. Help us by Your grace to make us chaste and pure, a holy bride for your beloved Son. The Spirit and the bride say, "Come". In Jesus Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick