Friday, February 26, 2010

The Bare Soul - More Through Mercy - February 28, 2010

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "More Through Mercy" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 25, 2010.

More Through Mercy - February 25, 2010

Mark 10:48 - Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"

Blind Bartimaeus learned a life-changing lesson the day he cried out to Jesus for his sight. In the depth of his despair over his blindness he ironically found that it was essential to feign a loss of hearing toward Jesus' followers. He needed to disregard the sway of the crowd that kept telling him to mind his manners. Social decorum' or first century Jewish etiquette was the last thing on Bartimaeus' mind as he shouted to be heard over the crowd. He knew that if he let this opportunity pass there might never be another. He could not concern himself about what those following Jesus might think of his persistence to gain the attention of Jesus. The scripture tells us that Jesus stopped and told His followers to ... call him here (Mark 10:49). The blind beggar does something next that is quite extraordinary. Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak, probably his only worldly possession, and leaping up he comes to Jesus (Mark 10:50). In the next two verses we share in the beautiful exchange between the Lord and this blind man. Christ first secures Bartimaeus' desire from his own lips. This created faith in his own heart as he heard his own desire vocalized. Then, the Great Healer spoke wellness to the man's eyes which immediately open upon Christ's declaration of healing. This is a most glorious example of a man desirous of a touch from the Lord and the mercy of a loving God to do so.

Oh, for more Blind Bartimaeus' in the church today who would not be silenced! Of equal need are those who would not seek to quiet the oppressed, but would encourage their deliverance by allowing them to come to the Lord. You might ask, how has the church hindered those seeking Christ to find Him? Jesus made an important distinction regarding "how" Bartimaeus was to come to Him. He told the crowd to "call him here". Jesus could have just as easily called the blind man Himself, but He desired that the crowd would call him. This is an important lesson for today's church in western Christendom. We may state that Christ can deliver men and women of any sin that would beset humankind, but do we really believe that, or more importantly, is that what we want? Blind beggars were a nuisance in ancient Palestine. They were dirty, often offensive in their "panhandling", and they were generally looked down on as those who "had it coming". As we recall from the disciples conversation with the Lord in John chapter 9, the disciples tried to ascertain what was the root cause for this man to be born blind from birth -- his sin or that of his parents (John 9:1-3). The Lord states "neither", but that God's glory might be demonstrated. Just as people's views and perceptions were skewed in Jesus' day regarding cause and effect regarding blindness, so today many in the church are skewed in a pharisaical way regarding sins that are reprehensible and sordid in origin. In the past 20 years or so, the western church has grown demonstrably in its ability to embrace the alcoholic and the drug addict. During a good part of the 20th century, these were sins of the flesh that many could not confess because of social stigma. Even more so today, those in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous are finding that anonymity is not as essential as it was when the 12 Step Program began in the 1930s. Today, many notable figures in the public sphere are finding strength by confessing their weakness. However, what of the dark, demonic sins that often find fertile soil in these and other addictions? Are we as a church ready to embrace these and "call them" to our Savior?

For the western church to move in more of the grace that the Lord is so desirous to pour out, we must learn to love ALL as He loves them. This means all manner of "untouchables" that would seek freedom from their spiritual blindness. The church might find more forgiveness for those that would escape a life of homosexuality or pornography or prostitution. These are immoral sins that usually involve only "willing" participants that share in this sordid behavior. However, many would believe that those who would prey upon children, in both sexual and murdererous fashion, would have no forgiveness in God's plan of salvation because they have preyed upon the innocent. While accounts of these horrendous behaviors might sicken on a daily basis in our 24/7 news cycle, our judgment on these can often be premature to that of our Father's in Heaven. He desires that NONE would perish but that ALL would find salvation in Him (II Peter 3:9). Beloved, have we opened wide our hearts to love all as He commanded us? Or, are we like those following Jesus telling those who are reprehensible by our standard that Jesus wants nothing to do with them. I believe in my heart that once the Church, the true Body of Christ, comes to a place of willingness to love those who are the despised of this world, that we will see a revival of His love break forth that is unparalleled since the beginning of times. We will see those very much like Blind Bartimaeus in his day, throw off all protection or anything that they have hidden with a "cloak" -- feelings and apprehensions of shame and distrust. These will be cast to the wind IF the Church of Jesus Christ will lay aside the heart of what they believe a Christian should be and begin to embrace the love that God will show them. They only have to be willing to "call these" that are so desirous to come. They just need to know that a Savior came for them also, to break them free from any and all sins that would seek to master them.

You might say, "I can't love people like that! There is no way that I could accept an ex-stripper, or a delivered alcoholic, or an ex-producer of pornographic movies, let alone a "supposed" child molester who says he or she now knows Jesus! I just can't!" That is the first step, Beloved. When we tell God we can't, then it allows Him to begin to move upon our hearts to tell us "we can". Personally, my fleshly heart that seeks to defy Jesus' command to love all rebels at the thought! (Somehow, I might delude myself that as a recovering alcoholic my sin is not worse than some.) However, where sin abounds grace does abound all the more (Romans 5:20). Christ is not only ready to give grace to all who would but come to Him, but He is also ready to pour out MORE of His grace and mercy on a parched and dry church. In order to know the love of Christ, we must walk in the love of Christ. This means loving all, regardless of where they might be in our perceived judgments. Thank God for those who are reaching out to those who are the "untouchables" of this world -- to those calling to these to come to the Master to receive their proverbial "sight" and to no longer walk in darkness. However, we must give our whole collective heart for this type of transformation to occur, where God can fill up the church with more grace and mercy than we ever believed possible. Are we willing to say that we have never loved in this manner but we desire to? It will only happen if we first "see" and then ask for His heart, so that we can truly lead those to the Light who will not find it in any other way. Lord, make us MORE to those we would despise in our own flesh by giving us MORE of Your heart!

Father, give us Your heart to love the unlovable, to cherish those whom the world despises. Help us to see the great treasure in the sordid of this world whom Your Son bled and died for. Lord, we cannot do this without your love. Give us Your heart. Give us MORE mercy and grace that we might give it away. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Bare Soul - The Simple Gospel, Part II - February 21, 2010

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Simple Gospel" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 11, 2010.

The Simple Gospel - February 11, 2010

Titus 2:14 - Jesus Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

The simplest expression of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ gave Himself, as Paul describes to his son in the faith, Titus. Christ's "giving" had one ultimate purpose -- redemption of mankind on a grand scale that would forever set us free. Humankind was hopelessly locked up in bondage to sin without no possibility of escape, except through a sinless Man's sacrifice on our behalf. Both literally and figuratively, every man, woman, and child was held as a slave to sin with a cruel master that would ultimately torment us for eternity. Hopelessness was our legacy both in this life and the one to come. However, a Savior came to redeem us all from the "slave market of this world". He is a benevolent master that seeks a people for His own possession, that will love Him with the same love in which He loved them. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 6:14 that we have been bought with a price, therefore we should glorify God in our mortal bodies. The price, beloved, was more than we could ever muster. We could never hope to gain our own freedom, but only through His purchase we are set free to serve and to love Him. For a few, this will be a reality (Matthew 7:14). However, for the vast majority this will not be their experience either in this life of the one to come. They will subject themselves to the slave market of this world and the eternal prison of death eternal.

Horace Greeley, famed editor of the New York Tribune reported on a massive slave auction in Savannah Georgia in 1859. A staunch abolitionist, Greeley was appalled at the treatment of the 429 men, women, and children to be sold at this well-advertised "event". The break-up of two plantations was the cause of this wholesale bartering of human beings, and the majority of these families being sold were terrified of their future prospects. One man in particular that caught Mr. Greeley's attention was a slave named Elisha. This large black man had a wife and two small children. He sought to persuade a benevolent looking gentleman to purchase his family. He fawned over this prospective "Mas'r" with degrading humiliation, hoping that he might secure a glimmer of hope for his family in possibly a humane environment. The buyer passed over Elisha and his family and purchased other slaves, much to their dismay. Another situation that the editor pens is regarding "Molly". Whether this young lady actually had a lame foot, no one would ever know. Purportedly, she was examined by a doctor in Savannah and was given a clean bill of health. However, she dragged her foot most convincingly while on the auction block. She only fetched $695 (equal to over $15,000 in today's economy) whereas she might have been sold for upwards of $1600 if she didn't show herself to be a possible cripple. To a slave, a reduced price was to be rejoiced in. A pre-civil war slave could never hope to save up over a thousand dollars to purchase their freedom. However, if one could reduce their worth to $300 or $400 it was conceivable that they could one day purchase their liberty through the help of "friends" from the north. To a slave, freedom without health was to be prized more than health without freedom.

The parallels between this 1859 slave market and the slave market that Satan still successfully operates on this earth are striking. Although Jesus Christ came and paid the price for all, most insist on remaining with their old master because of their own fear and the lies of their oppressor. Post-Civil War found many ex-slaves in disbelief of their new found freedom. Many returned to their plantations after a short hiatus because they truly knew no other life than that of being subjected to a harsh master. Even today, there are many "Elishas" that might be seeking the best for themselves or their families, yet they don't believe that a benevolent Master has already set them free. God Almighty has redeemed them and bought them with a price to follow Him out of love and respect, not out of fear of retaliation. Yet, they continue to seek out another way -- possibly their belief in the pursuit of wealth and security as the kind master they seek. Or, in dark retrospect, they feel unworthy of any kindness and give themselves to wicked addictions such as lust, alcohol, drugs, pornography, or any number of other besetting sins -- all because they feel unworthy. Then, there are the "Mollys" that may seek to humble themselves through various "religions" in order to purchase their own salvation through their own set of works. If we go on seeking to free ourselves from the slave market of sin, we will invariably find that we are still mastered by sin's master. Jesus said: Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed (John 8:34-36). How ludicrous and illegal it would have been if the south continued with these open air markets of human trafficking after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War! Yet, it is equally appalling that Satan still manages to convince most that Jesus Christ NEVER came to purchase their freedom. Instead, they continue to seek out other avenues of salvation that ultimately only lead to despair and hopelessness.

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:1 that it was for freedom that Christ set us free, so therefore stand firm and don't be subject once again to a yoke of slavery. Those who have never understood that Christ came to redeem us for Himself, should seek God until their eyes are enlightened and they know beyond any doubt that Christ has rescued them from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13). Those of us who know Christ and have experienced His freedom should never again submit ourselves to the pains of our old master. Our "old self" WAS crucified with Christ Jesus on Calvary's tree, and our body of sin WAS done away so that we should no longer be slaves to sin (Romans 6:6). Therefore, we should walk daily in that reality and rebuke our old master to his face if he ever comes around with his lies of bondage. We are FREE, beloved! We are FREE to serve a benevolent Master who perfectly cares for our well-being. He desires that we all enter into His joy so that we might desire to share His love with others. There are thousands daily, going from the slave market of this world to a much graver, darker prison of torment -- more horrific than our imagination can even comprehend. It is our responsibility to work the works of Jesus (as His zealous slaves) for our loving Master, and pull some back into the freedom that Christ gave to all. May we all work to loosen the shackles of those who are crying out in desperation before time, as we know it, draws to a close.

Lord Jesus, thank you for dying for all of humankind that You might redeem us from the slave market of this world. We accept your benevolent love that you have so graciously offered. We receive our proclamation of emancipation from Your heavenly throne and we choose the life You've given to each and every one. We thank You and praise You! In Your Precious Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Bare Soul - The Simple Gospel, Part I - February 14, 2010

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Simple Gospel" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 11, 2010.

The Simple Gospel - February 11, 2010

Titus 2:14 - Jesus Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.

The gospel of Jesus Christ will never be about us. It has always been about Him and for Him. Christ's redemption was never meant to "bail us out" of our troubles. It was the expression of a Father's heart toward children in rebellion, that He might make us offspring in the exact likeness of His Son whom He sent to redeem the world. Hudson Taylor, missionary to China wrote poignantly about coming into a deeper understanding of what Christ had done in his own heart. He states: It was the exchanged life that had come to me -- the life that is indeed "No longer I"... It was a blessed reality "Christ liveth in me." And how great the difference! -- instead of bondage, liberty; instead of failure, quiet victories within; instead of fear and weakness, a restful sense of sufficiency in Another. Just as salvation or justification from sin was never for our ends but for "Another", so purification or sanctification is only for Him and for His glory. If we seek to keep salvation for ourselves and not share it, or to cloister ourselves away from life to keep from sinning, then we only strengthen our flesh and the selfish position of the "old man" that should now be crucified and done away with in Christ (Romans 6:6: Galatians 2:20). Paul lived and breathed a deep understanding of what he declared to his child in the faith, Titus, in our opening scripture. Paul understood that a profound knowledge of redemption plus God's sanctifying power equals a zealous desire to live for Him. This equation cannot be reversed or it simply will not work. One cannot say that through seemingly "good deeds" that one will purify one's self and then achieve redemption. This is humanly impossible and a fatal error if one attempts to change the order of salvation. An impenitent sinner will never embrace the idea that redemption can be afforded to them by anyone or anything other than by their own efforts. Conversely, a humbled man, woman, or child that knows they need redemption will never again look to their "works" to justify themselves. They understand they have committed high treason against the King of Heaven and without Jesus Christ as their Redeemer, they are lost.

An epiphany of the Lord's redemption is the catalyst that leads to the deeper life in Christ. Without a deep realization of what Christ did for humankind on Calvary's cross, there can be no deep cleansing or purging of body, soul, and spirit. The flesh will not submit otherwise. If someone has only a casual understanding that Christ died for their sin, then one might accept Him as one selling a bit of "fire" insurance. The fear of God has gripped them to the point where they are convicted of their sin as the penalty of eternal damnation. They choose to accept Christ for this assures them a place in eternity with Jesus and away from the tortuous flames. Beloved, if one stays in this frame of belief then they are truly playing by the precipice of decision and may or may not be saved by the "skin of their teeth". The fear of the Lord may be the thing that brings a man or woman to the Lord, but it has to be a love for Christ that keeps and perfects them (II Corinthians 7:1). While the fear of hell fire may be on a man's mind when he comes to Christ, the fire of purification best be in a man's heart to keep him in a position to grow in God. If we call ourselves Christians, and yet shrink from His purifying fire, we should question our position in Christ. For if we love Him, we will obey Him (I John 5:3), and to keep His commandments should not be a tiresome chore. If we see with eyes of gratitude, knowing that He has saved us not only from the fires of hell but also from the burdensome life we have created for ourselves outside of God's love, then we will embrace the flames of purification, leading to a sanctified life. Just as the gospel of redemption is not about us, neither is sanctification. It will never be so that we might proclaim our own "whiteness" and holiness to others. It is so we can have fellowship and walk in the light as He is in the light (I John 1:7). Only then will we begin to work the works of God (John 6:28-29) and lead others to the light even as the Lord Jesus demonstrated nearly two millennia ago.

The Simple Gospel of Jesus is further stated in John 5:19: Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner. Jesus knew who He was. He was and has always been the Son of God. He didn't need redemption, because He is redemption. He didn't need purification because He is purity. Jesus could and would not do anything that He did not first see His Father doing. There was a conscious understanding of what the Father would or would not do because their Natures were totally united. In the same way, Christ has become to us redemption -- He has become to us purification and sanctification, allowing for His people to move within the very Nature of God in the same way as He moved in that of His Father's. Although He was perfect, Christ lived a life of obedience by continually learning a life of subjection to the Father (Hebrews 5:8). He suffered in His sinless flesh the pangs of temptation yet with perfect obedience. His perfect Spirit taught his earthly flesh how to come under the dominion of His Father, which created a lighted path for all to follow. Just as Jesus was "zealous for good deeds" through His sanctified life to His Father, so we too must walk in total surrender to Jesus. We should do only those things which we "see the Son doing". Once we submit to His life within, we can be assured that the works will be of heavenly origin.

Jesus desires for us to rest in His work that He has already accomplished (Hebrews 4:1). He desires for us to cry out until we come into such a revelation of His redemption that we are lovesick in heart and would follow Him anywhere. He further desires that we would stand and not shrink from the fires of purification He would bring into our lives. For truly, we are set apart and sanctified for His use. Only as we are holy vessels, cleansed for the Master's use, can we then go forth even as the Son shined upon this earth many centuries ago. We will then be redeemed, purified servants, zealous to go anywhere or to do anything for Him. This is the Simple Gospel. This is the Exchanged Life. Do you hear His call? He beckons all to come and to live as He lived for His Father, always eager to do His will.

Heavenly Father, give us eyes to see and ears to hear the great redemption You purchased long ago through Your Son's death. Help us Lord to stand in the midst of Your purifying fire, trusting and loving Your every desire. And then let us go forth with zeal to do your will. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Bare Soul - God's Fragrances - February 7, 2010

Song of Solomon 4:16 - Awake, O north wind, and come, wind of the south; make my garden breathe out fragrance, let its spices be wafted abroad. May my beloved come into his garden and eat its choice fruits!

Smells can be intoxicating as well as repulsive. I remember going into bars and saloons back in my practicing alcoholic days. Entering the doors of such establishments on any given evening would flood the nose with both familiar and pleasant aromas. Cigarette smoke, beer, and liquor would produce a cacophony of smells that gave this addict a sense of peace that he was "home". However, to venture into the same bar the next morning before the proprietors had a chance to clean up would often blast the senses (including one's "smeller") with the foul stench of stale cigarettes, beer, and liquor. Depending on the saloon and the clientele, one might also smell the cocktail of various human excrements mixed in with the remnants of the previous night's debauchery. What was perceived the night before as a glorious fragrance became a horrendous odor less than a day later. Most recovering alcoholics and addicts that have any length of sobriety from alcohol, cigarettes, and/or drugs would testify that the smell is no longer intoxicating and desirable. It conjures up memories of a devastated former life full of sickness and misery. Those who abstain have re-trained their senses to appreciate the absence of these foul things in their lives. Even more so for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ. For as they once were the walking dead going from "death to death" now they are His righteousness being transformed from this life to the one to come (II Corinthians 2:14-16). God has set them on a course to train their senses (Hebrews 5:14), to appreciate the fragrance of Christ that we all will emit if we are given to His pleasure through obedience.

In our opening scripture, Solomon's bride speaks about a garden filled with an abundance of fragrances that she desires the King to find delight in upon his visit. She invokes the winds to blow upon her garden to omit its delectable odors. Just as God sends his rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45), so He also sends winds upon everyone's respective "garden", both sinners and saints alike. Whether we wish to acknowledge it or not, everyone is growing a spiritual crop that will either produce a garden of sumptuous fruit or a barren patch or thorns. Life's rain and winds will cause our gardens to either grow for God or to be forever cursed. Ultimately, the winds will come for everyone, whether sinner or saint. Sometimes, they will be gentle breezes but at other times they will be winds of adversity. The north and south winds mentioned by Solomon's bride are indicative of change, and yet she desires and invokes them by her plea. In ancient Israel, as well as today, the north wind was typically a rain or a snow event (in the higher elevations), dominated by a low pressure system. South winds generally brought heat and dry winds through a pronounced high pressure atmosphere. These were merely cyclic weather patterns to be expected.

Before knowing Christ, when steeped in my sin and addiction, the winds would often blow creating havoc in my life as well as those around me. The devastation of the tornadic winds of sin created despair and hopelessness in both my life and those of my family. However, the same winds would blow in other's lives that were walking with Christ in a surrendered manner yet without the same effect. Tempestuous winds will blow in everyone's lives regardless of their relationship to God as previously stated. However, this relationship or the lack therof depends on what will be wafted about in the "blowing" process. High and low pressure systems bring times of abundance and times of drought, yet Solomon's bride was desirous of their respective movements throughout her garden. She understood that times of abundant moisture would be a watershed or storehouse for times of drought. Similarly, the winds from the south, or the "high pressure" times would create a resilience and fortitude to her garden that constant moisture could not provide. As a metaphor for our lives, we need the winds of change. We rejoice in times of refreshing from the Lord (Acts 3:19) but we must equally embrace the times of drought when we don't sense His presence. We know if we but trust Him that our proverbial "garden" will once again spring to life and waft about His lovely fragrance as He dwells within us. For truly, we may be His gardeners but He will always be the true Husbandman. As we submit to Him through all circumstances, both good and bad, then we will understand what Paul spoke of when he said that we are "fragrance of Christ to God" (II Corinthians 2:15) -- for some an odor for death and for others a fragrance leading to life.

If we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we have the opportunity to produce a garden within our souls that is ripe with fruits for His glory (Galatians 5:22-23). However, if we choose to live for ourselves, believing that our lives are our own, then we will create nothing but a barren wasteland that is only suitable for fire. The winds will come upon all of our lives, creating "lows" and "highs" with their times of plenty and want. God's blessing will only abide on HIS garden as we have given it back to Him in an attitude of submission. If we seek to take and selfishly tend what God has entrusted to all, then a curse will remain upon the garden of our heart and it will remain barren for eternity. Has your "smeller" been transformed by the work of His Spirit? Is there an aroma of life or death wafting from your soul this day? Can we say along with the bride, "Awake", to the winds of adversity to create within us a deeper, richer, holier life with the Husbandman of our Hearts? He desires that we would all imitate Solomon's lovesick bride and yearn for Him to come into our hearts and find much fruit for His glory. May it happen for Him and for His Name's sake. Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Father, may we be perfected by the winds of adversity that would waft about your holy fragrances. Give us lovesick desire for Your Son to come into the garden of our heart and find the delicacies of holiness that He so desires. Help us to love only Him, for He is the one who gives true life through times of plenty and times of want. Sanctify us in Your Name. In Jesus Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick