Friday, November 27, 2009

The Bare Soul - Thanksgiving - November 29, 2009

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

Thanksgiving Through Hope - November 26, 2009

Psalm 116:12-13 - How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.

Most parents teach their children basic manners when they are juveniles. These include being gracious to others, respecting grown-ups, and saying thank you when someone gives them something. Teaching children graciousness enables them to enjoy life and garner the love and respect of others. Without a doubt, giving thanks is the touchstone that releases blessings in a person's life. As nearly all religions teach a form of reciprocity, there is no clearer message of "getting what you give" than the Apostle Paul's admonition about sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7-8). So, why is there so much grasping rather than giving in our world? What is the motivation for a person wanting to withhold rather than to be a generous giver of thanksgiving for what they possess? For truly, everything we claim to possess was given to us. One might argue, "I have worked hard for everything in my life, and no one has given me anything! I am a self-made man!" While this type of arrogant bravado may sound good to many, it is untrue. EVERYTHING a person has is given to them by parents, teachers, siblings, or anyone with any influence to speak into another's life. The ability for a person to tie their own shoes to that of making wealth are undoubtedly instruction that they received from somebody at sometime in their respective lives. Ultimately, all good gifts come from God (James 1:17) so to believe that someone has engineered their own prosperity is ludicrous and an affront to God's word.

Material things are important to recognize as coming not from ourselves, but from others and ultimately God. However, of even greater importance is our thanks to God for what He has given and continues to give in both the physical and spiritual realm. He has given us basic guidelines to follow to sustain the blessings that the Lord so freely gives. God's requirements of those He has called and chosen are relatively simple. Often they are not easy, but they are not complicated. When many of us accepted the Lord Jesus Christ into our lives as our Savior, we came to a finality regarding who we were and who He is. At that juncture between heaven and hell, we knew that the free gift of God could never be earned but it must be accepted as something freely bestowed from the Father above. So, with this "attitude of gratitude" we accepted the free gift and thanked God for His Son's sacrifice on our behalf. Hence, we may ask along with the Psalmist in our opening scripture the rhetorical question: What can I give back to the Lord for all He has given me? The answer, of course, is nothing but our thanks and praise. To "lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord", is nothing more than to lift up Jesus and praise the Heavenly Father for sending Him to die in our place. For many of us, this was our position for months and possibly years after we were saved through grace. When we thought on Calvary and the sacrifice of God, we were overcome with gratitude and thanksgiving. As time went on, however, we may have grown distant in our understanding and feelings toward God and what He has done on our behalf. The "cup of salvation" is no longer being lifted up in remembrance but has become neglected and empty where once it overflowed.

One reason people are not thankful for what God has given them is that they don't understand or they have forgotten the value of His gifts. So often we judge ourselves by our most recent failure rather than seeing ourselves as God views us. If we had eyes to see the indescribable riches that Christ has bestowed on mankind, then we would be continually thanking Him for the bounty He gives us daily. So, how does one who knows Christ regain their spiritual vision, to once again have "eyes to see" the glorious riches that He gives all who have put their trust in Him? I believe there are two ways that must converge to give wholeness to a thankful relationship with God. One is learning and knowing, once again, our positional standing with our Maker. We must be vigilant to always be asking that God would reveal Himself to our inner man through His wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17-19). If we truly understand that all things that are Christ's are ours also, then we will be once again struck by His awesome gift(s) and will be overcome with joy and thanksgiving (John 3:16; Romans 6:23; Ephesians 1:3; Ephesians 1:5-7; Ephesians 2:7-9). The other is constantly developing our conditional relationship with our Heavenly Father and the Lord Jesus Christ by thanking Him for what He has given. While praise and thanksgiving may be the natural outflow of a man or woman's life that understands their position in Christ, times will come when they don't "feel" like praising and giving thanks. According to Paul, it is always the will of God to give thanks, no matter what the circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18; Romans 1:21; Hebrews 13:15). If we balk at doing this simple daily exercise, we don't allow our hearts to be open to God's revelation of what He has done on our behalf. If we consistently give God praise no matter what, we are "filling the cup of salvation" once again and allowing it to overflow into all areas of our lives. By training ourselves not to grumble or complain, but to instead give thanks to God, we thereby break every chain of the enemy. By our praise, WE command the victory as we lift up the cup of salvation and call upon His glorious Name!

Beloved, God desires us to always be grateful and thankful, even when we don't feel grateful or thankful. The great truth is that He has already given us all things in the Beloved, Jesus Christ. It is our responsibility to acknowledge all that He has given and to continually give thanks and praise. In these times, our cup definitely overflows with the goodness and favor of God on our souls. But even in the times where we don't want to thank God, these are the most critical times to do so. The enemy would seek to keep our cup empty and dusty and hidden in a corner of our soul. However, once we start thanking Him, by a volition of the will, then once again our cup begins to fill and to overflow. Then, we can say with Paul, with true love and sincerity of heart: Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! (II Corinthians 9:15)

Heavenly Father, thank you for the wealth that you have given each and every one of us who know your Son as our Lord and Savior. Our cups certainly do overflow with praise and thanksgiving for all you have done. Let us never cease to praise You, Lord, even when we don't see as we should. Heal our spiritual vision as we continually lift You up in praise and adoration. In so doing, always keep our cups of salvation full and overflowing to bless others. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Bare Soul - "Lie With Me" - November 22, 2009

Genesis 39:7 - It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me."

Genesis 39 begins with Joseph's ordeal of being sold as a slave into the household of Potiphar where the young Hebrew quickly rises in stature and rank amongst his new lord's servants. As the meaning of Joseph's name means "God increases or adds to", so he rose to second only to Potiphar himself in this royal official's household. The scripture tells us (Genesis 39:1-6) that Joseph was both successful and prosperous in whatever he put his hand to do. This young man had risen, in a relatively short period of time, from being a slave sold in the Egyptian slave market to quite possibly the highest station a slave might hold in Egyptian culture. It appears that Joseph made the best of an imperfect situation by prospering both his master and himself in his once dire straits. However, this was not the end of God's design for Joseph's prosperity nor that of the Hebrew people in the land of Canaan. By a set of dastardly circumstances, Joseph must rise above his station and command all in Egypt in order to save his people. And the catalyst for this rise to power would come by the words and actions of Potiphar's own wife. The road to Joseph's destiny lie in a jail cell before it ended at the throne room. For Joseph, his success as Potiphar's slave would prepare him for his glorious future as the redeemer of the known world through his wisdom in staving off a catastrophic famine.

Our opening text tells us that Potiphar's wife looked with desire at Joseph. However, Genesis 39:7 is clear that this transpired "after these events". What were these events? As previously stated, the first six verses of Genesis 39 contain Joseph's rise to prominence in the house of Potiphar. Clearly, this handsome and strong young Hebrew that was successful in everything he touched became a desirous target to the possibly neglected wife of his master. As often happens, men of integrity and character are challenged morally by evil to determine if they truly are whom they might appear. (One only has to look at any number of moral failures in recent years of mega-church pastors and televangelists.) If Satan can use a temptress or a tempter to try to seduce a man or woman of God, then many times he might bring them down in their folly (Proverbs 6:26). However, if the Devil loses his bet, then the very one he seeks to pull down will often rise stronger in the end by persevering through the trial. We know from the remainder of Genesis 39 that Joseph held fast to his integrity and suffered the lying accusations of Potiphar's wife rather than lie with the woman and destroy all that he had thus achieved. Oftentimes, to stay true to oneself means to disregard any self-preservation, no matter what the cost.

Through the years, I have talked and counseled many that have been at this very crossroads where Joseph made a stand for his own character and integrity. As a practicing alcoholic, I knew what it meant to get a few months of sobriety and then to once again be wooed by the seductress alcohol. As a recovering alcoholic and a sinner saved by grace for many years now, I understand how the world can woo and tantalize those of undetermined wills. I have talked and prayed with many regarding any number of addictions or life style choices that once seemed controllable in their lives, but led them to a place of self-imprisonment that they could not free themselves. There are many such "couches of sin" where the wavering of faith might lie with their respective seductress or seducer. However, that is the time when moral character must be dredged up out of the inner man or woman to counter the attack. If we choose to lie horizontally on "beds of iniquity" and compromise ourselves, then our vertical, spiritual posture will be bowed down with the weight of guilt and shame. We cannot walk with straight backs and uplifted heads if we have given in to our besetting sin and it has once again mastered us. Just as Joseph undoubtedly learned character long before arriving in Egypt, we too must lay claim to small victories in our lives until once again we (as well as others) begin to regard us as people of character. Ah, but then comes the challenge and temptation! For when a man thinks he stands, let him take heed unless he falls (I Corinthians 10:12). Testing and trial will always be the examiner or the tutor, if you will, of the pupil of integrity. As success and prosperity overtake us in our respective journey's of sanctification, the adulteress or the adulterer will be there to try to destroy what we have accomplished by the grace of God. At this critical crossroad, we must stand firm, knowing that ... No temptation has overtaken [us] but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow [us] to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that [we] will be able to endure it (I Corinthians 10:13; I Peter 5:9).

God's promise is that He will never give us more than we can handle. As with Joseph, when things seemed the bleakest in his Egyptian prison, then the Lord broke forth and redeemed his chosen in a marvelous way. We, also, must hold on and never succumb through every trial and temptation, awaiting each subsequent victory. As certain as the Devil hates our successes and the goodness we are germinating within our own lives and those around us, even so he would like nothing better than to kill, steal, and/or destroy these seeds of hope. There may come a time when it seems that God has abandoned us to a proverbial "jail cell" in our own respective Egypt. We may once again sense a loss of hope when just recently we experienced such success and prosperity. And now here we are once again in this dark, dank period where there is no apparent deliverance. Take heart! Fear not! Your redemption is close at hand -- only He can bring us out of the dark. As we allow Him to do it in His time, then we will see in hindsight the wonderful creature that he has created in us through our trusting in Him.

Holy Father, forge our characters in the furnaces of heaven while keeping us from succumbing to the fires and the passions of this world. Allow us to succeed and prosper in all our endeavors knowing that even these must be tried with fire. Let us pass through the flames of these trials, refined in character as precious gold, useful to the our Master and His will for our lives and others. We pray this in Jesus' Name and for His glory, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Bare Soul - Looking for Jesus - November 15, 2009

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Looking for Jesus" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on November 12, 2009.

Looking for Jesus - November 12, 2009

Matthew 28:5 - The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you are looking for Jesus who has been crucified."

Many today claim they are seekers after truth. Of these, some will say they are looking for something to believe in. Others might say that they've looked in churches or synagogues and they just can't find God. For these and all hoping to encounter truth, finding God and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ may be as simple as not where they look but how. Has the heart been tenderized so that humility fuels the search? Or, is it an intellectual endeavor that seeks persuasion of the mind before a so-called rational decision can be made? Looking for Jesus will generally result in a jaded outcome if powered by the mind. However, an honest search for Him through the heart will always result in finding Him and His Father above (Jeremiah 29:13). Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus gave their love not just to a "good" man nor to a woman's son, but to their Lord and Savior. Through this awakening of His true identity, they would find Him to be so much more after his crucifixion than they could possibly understand before that fateful day.

Matthew 28:1-15 juxtaposes presumably two or more Roman guards and two Israeli women in mourning. The scene in the garden that morning might have been as simple as one guard coming to relieve another at first watch. The women coming to the tomb would have been of no particular significance to those who might have beheld them in the early dawn light. However, the extraordinary exchange after a sudden earthquake undoubtedly made the guards take notice, not only of the supernatural manifestation taking place, but also the honor the angel bestowed on these women. Matthew 28:4 tells us that the guards shook with fear when they beheld the angel. However, the heavenly being had not come to speak to them but to the lowly, mournful women. God's word through this angelic being is first one of calming to those grieving the loss of their Lord, and most poignantly to not be afraid. The scripture is very clear that the angel spoke to the women exclusively, and not to the soldiers. Fear was an appropriate response for the guards and one they should have embraced in a long term manner. They would have been much better off had they seized the moment for its true significance, as we shall see. However, the angel first comforted and then consoled by revealing to Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus that God knew why they were at the tomb. That even in their extreme loss and seeming desperation, they had still sought out the love of their lives though their longing seemed hopeless. They had quite literally thrown off any expectation other than spending time mourning their loss over the broken body of their crucified Lord. But then the miraculous transpired! The angel announced that indeed Christ had risen and that He would meet them in Galilee (Matthew 28:6-7). As stated in the following verse (Matthew 28:8), the women held on to their fear with obvious reverence over what was happening while also the scripture tells us that they had great joy! What a marvelous turn of events as they hurried off to report these things to the disciples!

However, what of the guards? What was their response to being witnesses of the greatest event ever to happen to humankind? While the scripture is not clear, other than they were fearful at the sight of the angel, we can surmise their state of mind and heart by their final decisions regarding their angelic visitation. While Matthew 28:4 is the only verse describing the soldier's reaction at the tomb, their report and responses to the Jewish hierarchy is most telling. Matthew 28:11 tells us that the guards merely reported "all that had happened" to the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council). The events that follow are not surprising in light of the denial of the Pharisee rulers of Jesus' divinity. Instead of seeking and looking for Jesus themselves since they had first-hand information that He had indeed risen, they chose instead to gloss over it and deny this momentous event. They rationalized with their minds the consequences of admitting their wrong in crucifying the Savior of the world, and decided that the best thing to do would be to act like it never happened. Sadly, we read that the guards also joined in the Jew's complicity by taking a bribe and agreeing to say that they had fallen asleep while His body was stolen away in the night (Matthew 28:13-15). Having witnessed an empty tomb and an angelic proclamation, they disavowed their own integrity and sought Him not. They could have just as easily forsaken their post and followed the women to Galilee, but it was not to be. They had reasoned with their minds and allowed their covetous hearts to remain hard rather than allowing God to tenderize their hearts in the moment.

We all know people like the Roman guards. Many of us were once like them. Some of us may yet be. God has more than once encountered such as these in a supernatural, spiritual manner and yet their hearts remain hard to God's patient wooing. Many have dutifully shown up at church, week after week, and have listened to countless sermons on the resurrected power of Jesus and have left unchanged. They, like the soldiers, have not been looking for Jesus with their hearts but have been casual observers while God is in their very midst. All around them, God is saving, healing, encouraging, loving others yet they overlook the divine and the supernatural God because they are so self-absorbed in their own rationalizations. Their minds have allowed them to disseminate and "report" on what they have seen in a carnal manner, telling themselves that God may be moving in others but He can't or won't in their lives. As their minds and intellect report to their own Pharisaical heart, this hardened corrupt beast full of the nature of sin will blaspheme and deny the resurrection power of Jesus Christ every time. The unyielded heart will always be at enmity toward God. It is no wonder the Pharisees and the Roman guards did what they did in Christ time, just as there is little doubt what those will do who don't look for Jesus with all their heart. They are doomed to be casual observers as the soldiers, selling their souls for an opportunity to appease those in power over their lives. Beloved, if you are one of these that only knows Jesus from a far -- if you are one that can "report" on what God has said about Him yet you have not pursued Him, there is still time to change. Don't be like those who sought the approval of men but rather look for Jesus until you find Him. Decide right here and now, that life lived without the fullness and joy that only Jesus Christ can give is a wasted life -- it's nothing more than a sold out life to sin and eternal damnation. For only as we look for Jesus shall we find Him, and only as we search with our whole heart will we encounter the greatest, deepest, fullest relationship known to humankind. Blessed be His Name forever!

Lord Jesus, we all must come to the tomb of despair to look for You as the risen Lord. Let us not come with the evil beast of intellect, but let us come with open, tender hearts. There we will encounter the blessed assurance of Your resurrection. Lord, give us eyes to see as we look toward You and Your mighty saving power. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Bare Soul - Holy Groaning - November 8, 2009

John 16:21 - Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world.

Pregnancy is such an awesome wonder to behold. As a man, I am bereft of any real understanding regarding what a woman goes through during her time of incubating another life within her womb. (Bear with me, ladies, as I state the obvious!) The nuances of two human lives developing a relationship from the moment of conception is an extraordinary thing to ponder. However, I do know what it is like as a father to wait with expectancy as the time of birth draws near. It is an assurance of not IF it will happen but WHEN! It is a mix of excitement and tension as the exact time of birth can be hard to pin down. While I have been told repeatedly that a pregnant woman does not want to be told she is "glowing", it is a true statement whether they like the acknowledgement or not. Women seem to accept this more in the beginning of their pregnancy, but toward the end of the third trimester they are just ready to have their child. They don't want to be told that they look beatific in their maternal way, as many feel tired and "ugly", if you will. Until they shed this "precious poundage" that has dominated their lives for the past several months, there is an inner groaning and an outward discomfort until the birth of their child is finally realized.

In a very real sense (and just as a woman's pregnancy), the church is beginning to witness the early signs of a spiritual pregnancy that will culminate with Christ's return and the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:23). The church is beginning to radiate a modest glow and an ever-so-slight witness, if you will, that would be demonstrative of a spiritual pregnancy. The expectant church has been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit in these latter days much in the same way as Mary the mother of Jesus was impregnated as she submitted to God's will. For this to be reality in the church collectively, it has first to be a reality in believers singularly. God has called out many saints in their respective church bodies first and foremost to become holy vessels through obedience and the fear of the Lord (II Corinthians 7:1). As set apart believers that are intent on His will, the Lord God is raising these up as intercessors who will continue to plead the Court of Heaven until the Eternal Judge sends forth both His mercy and justice upon a dying world. We are in the beginning days of God raising up a mighty team who would travail -- a veritable Garrison of Groaners that would not rest night or day until God's will is done on this earth (Isaiah 62:6-7). There is much at stake as men and women join with others to petition heaven. It is the very beginning of the end of days -- the great end-time ingathering of souls (Revelation 14:14-16).

While many believe that the Lord's return might occur at any time, I believe that this is incongruent with scripture. While there are several things that have indeed occurred that would point to Christ's return, there are just as many that have as yet to happen. (One of these, for example, is the need for the Jerusalem Temple to be reconstructed. [Acts 15:13-18; Revelation 11:1-2; Daniel 9:24-27]) The beauty of the Lord delaying His return allows His bride to ready herself, adorning her vestige with holiness which is befitting of a chaste virgin. Even as Mary told the angel Gabriel, may it be done to me according to your word (Luke 1:38), even so there are those who are submitting to the Lord for what might seem a long pregnancy. I can assure you, beloved, that this will be a gestation not of months but of years. It will require a continued birthing of prayer meetings, global prayer rooms, intercessory halls, and every other form of gathering for night and day prayer until God breaks forth upon this earth and reaps His greatest desire -- the hearts and lives of men, women, and children. However, we should not grow faint at heart in our waiting. As long as we prepare ourselves, even as the five prudent virgins in Jesus' parable (Matthew 25:1-13), then we will be full of the oil of His Spirit. The oil of gladness (Isaiah 61:3) will keep us expectant, longing with a fortitude that will not be denied no matter how long He delays.

We should all be asking ourselves particular questions if we truly believe we are in the last days. For if we are in the end time, it means our redemption is drawing near and we should be rapturous with expectation (Luke 21:28). Has God given you a joy of expectancy in your life? Have you the flush of being of pregnant with what the Spirit of God is doing in our generation? Is He brooding over you to bring forth an outpouring of His Spirit not seen since the days of Pentecost? In all honesty, beloved, I have witnessed very little of the brooding Spirit of the Holy God in our present time. Even in our respective prayer groups in the midst of the burgeoning global prayer movement, we see enthusiasm and fervor but the majority of it can often appear as repetitious rote. However, before you think I am coming down on the present day prayer movement, understand that I believe we are doing all that God is asking us to do. In the midst of our apparent deadness, there is a wonderful life that has begun to grow and to be nurtured in the very womb of His Body, the church. Its life and sustenance is the prayer room as men, women, and children groan for a birthing of Holy Ghost power the world has yet to see. The pregnancy is not noticeable on a wholesale manner, and especially to the world -- yet. However, the beginnings are already starting to reach out and arrest those God has called to become intercessors to help birth this great movement. It will take a collective body, a chaste virgin that first glows with anticipation and then groans for its completion. Shall we be counted worthy to be part of such a marvelous work? May God give us all the grace to be that man or woman to join hands with others in this joyous labor of love.

Once again and a million times over, Lord, we cry out with John the Revelator, The Spirit and the bride say come! (Revelation 22:17). May Your kingdom come as we join hands and hearts to birth the greatest awakening ever known to humankind. We humbly submit to this awesome endeavor. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick