Friday, November 26, 2010

Depth of Gratitude - November 28, 2010

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Depth of Gratitude" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on Thanksgiving evening, November 25 2010.

Depth of Gratitude - November 25, 2010

Luke 7:47 - For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.

During the holidays and especially Thanksgiving, Americans generally talk about all the things they are thankful for. They will often thank God for their family, their health, and their prosperity. However, I'm not so sure that these are the things that bring us the greatest gratitude. Oftentimes, we take our seemingly greatest treasures for granted. The longer I am a Christ-follower, the more I believe that true thankfulness is more often born out of lack or a sense of loss rather than an abundance of prosperity. The Pilgrims (or more accurately the Puritans) who settled in Plymouth knew this all too well. William Bradford, one of the two main leaders of the newly formed Mayflower Compact government, referred to the first four months after landing at Plymouth in November of 1620 as "The Starving Time". Many were lost to disease brought on by malnourishment and exposure during this harsh winter. Only when the local Indians helped the Pilgrims several months after their landing did they begin to prosper. Without their help (through God), many more if not all would have surely perished.

There are many instances in the Gospels where Jesus shows us how desperate people sought Him out to meet their most desperate needs. in so doing, their expressions of gratitude were striking. Two such examples are in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus was invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee to dine with him in Luke the seventh chapter. A local harlot heard that the Lord would be there so she mustered up courage and brought undoubtedly her most prized possession to lavish on Jesus -- an alabaster vial of costly perfume. The scripture tells us that she humbly positioned herself behind the Lord, anointing His feet and wiping them with her hair (Luke 7:37-38). Because of Simon judging Jesus' knowledge of who was touching Him, the Lord spoke a short but profound parable lesson regarding depth of gratitude (Luke 7:40-43). By using, for example, the two amounts forgiven by the moneylender, one large and one small, Jesus was able to help Simon understand that the size of the burden of sin will often translate to the degree of thankfulness (Luke 7:47). However, burdens of sin are more consequential in the eyes of man than in the eyes of a just God. Man judges by appearance so therefore the more glaring sins strike disdain and disgust in the hyper-religious. In God's eyes, sin is sin regardless the length of someone's resume' of disobedience to the commands of God. Clearly, Jesus was stating that because of the woman's glaring sin, this gave her the perspective that Simon was not afforded. And with revelation of who she was, the wayward woman was able to experience remorse, and then repentance, and ultimately restoration as she rejoiced in her salvation. Her eyes were opened by the wisdom of God and the spirit of understanding that allowed her to first see spiritually and then respond with a heart of thanksgiving.

Probably a more demonstrative example of the depth of gratitude in those whom the Lord ministered to is shown to us through the story of the ten lepers that sought out Jesus for healing. We are told in Luke 17:12 that the ten stood at a distance, crying out for mercy from the Lord. The distance they put between themselves and Jesus was the result of two different laws. According to the Jewish Talmud, lepers were not allowed to be less than 30 feet away from healthy folk, and as Samaritans they were not permitted to speak or to interact with Judeans (Christ, of course, was from the lineage of David of Bethlehem, a prominent Judean city). Jesus told them to "go" and show themselves to the priest, and as they were en route to do so they were all miraculously healed (Luke 17:14). We are told that one of them was so overwhelmed that he came back and threw himself at Jesus' feet with deep gratitude (Luke 17:16). Were the other nine ungrateful by not returning? That was the Lord's question in verses 17 and 18: Then Jesus answered and said, "Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine--where are they? "Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?" In the case of the grateful leper who was cleansed, he was obviously guided by the revelation of what had transpired and was likewise overwhelmed with a heart of thanksgiving. We can easily surmise that this man had been an outcast for years, very much like the living dead. He understood the depth of his separation and also understood the significance of his healing. His lack or loss of health lead to his near death. His restoration overflowed with extreme thanksgiving for that which he thought was gone forever. Similarly today, we can only imagine those who are miraculously healed of HIV/AIDS as they cry out to God. Too often, we only think about our American or western cultures when we think of these suffering. However, God is moving in a mighty way in Africa and healing many as He healed these lepers. We can only imagine the rejoicing and the gratitude as families are restored once again. Where there was no hope, now hope springs to new heights for the afflicted.

The depth of gratitude and thanksgiving will always be born out of a depth of revelation of what is lacking in our lives, or more poignantly what we have lost. The Pilgrims learned the meaning of thanksgiving once they were delivered from the harsh winter of 1620-21. Their trust in God, and later that of the Indians, allowed them to survive a harrowing time of colonization of present day New England. When the Mayflower returned to England in April 1621, not one of the surviving colonists returned. Through the trials of that painful winter they had become grateful for their new home, embracing their new lives with hope and thanksgiving. Biblically, we are shown in Luke that the "letting go" of how others might view us is paramount as shown in Jesus' examples. We must not let our past lives exclude us from God's grace. For some of us, our painful histories can be mighty catalysts that can open our eyes to His love and ultimately fill our hearts with deep gratitude. Some, like Simon, may face the liability of being blinded by their so-called "goodness". However, God will reveal Himself to all who would but call upon His name. Are you going through a "starving time" in your life? Rejoice, for the miracle is in sight. For as we recognize our need, He will fill it and make us overflow with gratitude for His abounding grace!

Lord Jesus, we are so grateful for Your grace upon our lives. We ask You for more revelation of the depth of Your deliverance from our sin and more understanding of Your deep love for us to make us white as snow. Thank You Lord for Your great sacrifice on our behalf. We give You all the praise and all the glory. In Your Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Excellency of Love - November 21, 2010

I Corinthians 13:13 - But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Throughout the millennia, mankind has written about love and all its redeeming attributes. Philosophers, poets, and songwriters have either lamented our collective lack of love, or they've extolled the great possibilities if we would but only "love one another". My question to those who say "all we need is love" ... what is the origin of this panacea that can make the world right? If love is the answer, then why haven't we harnessed its power to create a veritable utopia here on earth? What most fail to understand is that man is a fallen creature, excluded from the love of the Father by his treasonous act of sin. The love of God which many think should bind us together in some type of "brotherhood" is in reality just theoretical nonsense in light of the rebellion of the human race. The only way to achieve a loving world is by embracing a loving God. However, to know God means that we must first confess our sin along with our lack of love and then to cling to His life. This is the only way to know true love. Everything else is merely a shadow of the reality. Only when we share the life of Christ Jesus will we know the true substance of love. Any so-called "affection" that does not come from the Lord is a mere counterfeit that is destined to perish along with everything else of this earth.

Paul's first letter to the Corinthians contains arguably the greatest chapter on love in the entire New Testament. Furthermore, it is not a coincidence that this chapter is situated between two chapters dealing specifically with spiritual gifts. Chapters 12 and 14 of Paul's letter instruct believers regarding the attaining of the fullness of Christ through the proper use of the gifts. However, Paul is quick to point out that these gifts are not the "end all". They are merely the catalysts that propel us into that spiritual dimension of love that he writes about in chapter 13. The church at Corinth found themselves in the same dilemma that many Christians as well as unbelievers do today. For instance, the world runs after pleasures and comforts of this earth, thinking that is the "end-all" to their existence. They believe this is the expression of God's love when in actuality it is merely the kindness of God pointing them to repentance (Romans 2:4). Many Christians also have this worldly mindset that has its origin in their unregenerate past. While pursuing the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the power of their manifestations, they forget what is the goal of their spiritual equipping, which is love from a pure heart (I Timothy 1:5). Everything else is merely a shadow of the reality -- which is the perfection of love. That's why Paul instructs both the church at Corinth and all believers in what is the apex of our pursuit in I Corinthians chapter 13. In Ephesians 3:19, Paul tells us ... to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. Beloved, to understand the fullness of God is to understand His love. The knowledge of God and of spiritual things pale in the light of knowing God's love. This, my friends, is the wisdom of God which supersedes any knowledge that is meant for this earth, but ascends to the very eternal wisdom of God.

When we arrive on eternity's shore, faith and hope will give way to total love. As our lead verse states, we need to cling to or to abide in faith, hope, and love while on this earth. However, there will come a day when faith and hope will melt away in the presence of pure love. No longer will we look for that which is unseen (Hebrews 11:1) nor hope for His appearing (Romans 8:24-25), but we will see Christ in eternity and will be perfected in His love. Many believers reason that by perfecting their gifts and moving in some dramatic ministry that this will perfect them in the heart of the Father and they will know His love in a new way. We will never earn God's love or affection by performing for Him or by fulfilling what we believe is our "spiritual destiny". Our greatest goal in this lifetime is not self-discovery and finding out "who we are" but it is discovering "who God is". By abiding in faith and hope while earthbound, the Apostle John states that we purify ourselves for His great appearing (I John 3:3). Our supreme goal in life will never cease to be less than what Jesus stated as the greatest commandment: And He said to him, " YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND". (Matthew 22:37) This, beloved, is our destiny and our eternal heritage. Our aim should be to become so enraptured with the love of God on this earth that it will be a small change as we cross through the veil. After all, we will be drinking from His fountain of love for eternity. Why not learn to love the refreshing of His springs of eternal love while here on the earth?

The LORD appeared to him from afar, saying, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. (Jeremiah 31:3) Can we begin to fathom coming face to face with Everlasting Love someday, beloved? How about a waterfall of liquid love washing over and through us until we drown in His Presence? While we cannot know exactly how it will be we can only imagine. Through our imagination, we can perfect love through faith and hope, knowing that our Loving Father is desiring the perfection of His child-bride for His Son. The world will continue to bemoan our lack of collective love as a species, yet it is still our responsibility as believers to perfect the Body of Christ through love's maturation. May we all forsake the desire to become "somebody" in Christ through the gifts He so abundantly gives and may we seek to be known only to Him as a lover of God in all that we do. In so doing, we will not fail to fulfill His desire for our lives. We will overflow with His presence to others as we submit to His perfect love, both now and forevermore!

Lord Jesus, I pray the prayer of Paul for us all: For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. - Ephesians 3:14-19

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, November 12, 2010

Seeing is Believing - November 14, 2010

II Corinthians 4:17-18 - For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

What do we choose to see and believe? Interview ten individuals who witness an automobile crash and you might get ten different accounts. While some might give a detailed report of what happened from their point of view, others who were on the opposite side of the street might have a totally different story. They might notice something that the others had not, merely because of their proximity and perspective. It would behoove those making an accident report to draw from all the information at hand rather than merely accepting just a couple witness testimonies. Similarly, as we grow in God we gain the benefit of perspective that allows us to assess a situation, or to appraise it with spiritual understanding as Paul states in I Corinthians 2:14-15. This is a multi-dimensional outlook regarding the world that is seen, and of equal or more importance, that one which is not.

When we were new born babes in Christ, our lives were relatively simple. We sensed the presence of Christ in our lives, joy was the hallmark of our day to day existence, and life was full of the peace of God. We believed that nothing could ever disrupt us from the sweet fellowship that we enjoyed with our Savior. However, as we matured in the Lord, we found Him strangely distant at times and we groped and searched for Him during times of desperate darkness. We may have thought that His hand would never hold us in that dear place we once enjoyed. In a very real sense, that is true. However, what became of that was instead a deeper and more lasting friendship then what could have ever been the case in our spiritual infancy. By searching for Him in the darkness, something had happened to our spiritual vision -- we had grown sensitive to the absence of His light and had learned to know that He was in the midst of the seeming darkness. Not only had we learned the joy of His light but now we were beginning to understand the joy of His seeming absence. The bride speaks about this lesson of maturity in the "night of the soul". In Song of Solomon 3:1-2 we read how the bride searches desperately for her bridegroom and quickly finds him. However, in Song of Solomon 5:6-7 we read about a similar separation but this time there is no quick reunion. In addition, we are told in verse 7 that the watchmen (metaphor for the Holy Spirit) wounded the bride in her distress. Now, why would God harm is beloved in this way? Simply as a reminder that the Lord chastens those whom He loves. He disciplines us as sons and daughters to cause us to see always from His perspective (Hebrews 12:6). He wants us to see Him with eyes of faith even when He does not seem to be present. From this relationship of trust, a river of love begins to grow wider and deeper in the believer's heart towards their Lord.

Once we begin to mature and to see as Jesus desires us to see, then we are allowed the privilege of leading and training others in like manner. Jesus told us to not to save souls or to win the heathen for the Lord, but to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). It is ALWAYS the job of the Holy Spirit to save souls through His conviction. He has been doing this most effectively for the past 2000 years. However, God will use us to preach the Gospel and souls will be saved, and then what? We are told to "disciple" which plainly means to bring the same "discipline" into these new babes in Christ which God has been working in and through us. We must afford them their time to walk joyously with God and then also to learn in maturity that God withdraws His presence to teach them to trust in Him. This "discipline" does not end with merely discerning God's presence in our lives and those whom we disciple. It is of upmost importance when we learn that we must be holy in all our behavior, to keep ourselves unstained from the filth of this world. (I Peter 1:15-16; James 1:27) This , beloved, is what will keep our spiritual eyesight clear and penetrating, able to discern between all good and evil. Just as Jesus told the church in Laodicea to purchase for themselves eye salve in order for them to see (Revelation 3:18), so must we also continually apply this godly balm to the eyes of our hearts through the discipline of holy living. For without holiness and the sanctification that comes through lives given to Him, we will be short-sighted and without God's perspective to live a life totally surrendered to Him. (Hebrews 12:14)

Without spiritual sight, how can we ever hope to believe that our perspective on anything is true and honest? If we cannot discern with our spiritual eyes, how can we believe that what we judge with our physical eyes is furthering God's kingdom here on earth? Paul stated in our lead verse that the things "... not seen are eternal". These are the things that we should all be earnestly desiring to see, beloved. And, we can see them in this lifetime. Jesus teaches us to see Him even when He is not easily seen. How much more does He want us to see by faith everything that He has given us in the spiritual realm? (Ephesians 1:3) As we train the eyes of our hearts to see Him who is not seen, and the eternal as though it was present, then we will be overwhelmingly conquerors in the temporal world which we do see with our physical eyes. Jesus poignantly stated in Matthew 6:22: The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. The eye will not betray what is within and what more importantly shines through the eyes of our heart. We must seek Him, believe He has given us everything unreservedly, and then walk His life out in faith. This will give us the truest perspective on life and wisdom to lead others to find the same.

Heavenly Father, we pray to see those things unseen, those things which are eternal. Most of all, we desire to see Jesus because in so doing we know that our sight will be perfectly adapted for not only this life but the one to come. We pray this in Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Friday, November 5, 2010

Worthy is the Lamb - November 7, 2010

Revelation 5:11-12 - Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne and the living creatures and the elders; and the number of them was myriads of myriads, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing."

To understand the worth of something is often to comprehend who is deserving of its value. My parents instructed me as a child to appreciate what I received from both their hand and that of others. They taught me the value of working for something that I wanted, and saving until the time I could afford to pay for it with cash. This was an invaluable lesson that I believe is lacking with many today. The endemic idea in our present society to "buy now and pay later" has trained generations in how not to understand the value of costly investments. Rather than purchase a vehicle that is within their budget, many would rather sign a contract for the "easy payment plan". This sort of instant gratification has dumbed-down any idea of the value of their so-called possession. Truly, they own nothing in this regard but have become the lender's slave (Proverbs 22:7).

In the redemptive sense, Jesus Christ paid every installment for our salvation. We can all experience His forgiveness if we will but accept His finished work on Calvary. However, not everyone sees the gift of salvation in the same way. This is easy to understand as we see how people treat their salvation. If it is something they only pull out on Sundays to make a good showing to their fellow parishioners, then it is probably something they don't value much. Many believe a certain way because their parents believed a certain creed. Some might only believe because they hope for a "get out of hell free" card that they can show to the Savior on that last day. (Many who are counting on this "fire insurance" may be disappointed when that final day comes.) As the hymn states, Jesus paid it all ... but how many of us really believe ... all to Him we owe? Do we really understand the worth of His sacrifice? Scripture tells us that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:11). "Every" implies both saved and unsaved will bow the knee in abject adoration to Jesus Christ's Lordship. However, there will also be a group as our lead verse states where a multitude will be around the throne extolling Christ as King. The scripture in Revelation 5:12 tells us that their proclamation is not one done in a whisper, but that it is full of a "loud voice". Praise be to God that heaven will be full of loud rejoicing concerning the Lamb and His Father! Paul tells us in II Timothy 1:7 that God has not given us a spirit of timidity but of power. However, this confidence and power comes at a price that only we can pay. True, Christ paid for our eternal security through His blood, but there is still something He requires from us.

We will only truly understand the worth of Christ's sacrifice through revelation. First of all, to the depth of understanding of what He saved us from will equal our degree of appreciation regarding His priceless gift. Jesus told a simple parable to Simon the Pharisee regarding to what degree redemption will be embraced in Luke 7:30-40. The harlot who understood the depth of Jesus' love for her and others was overcome with expressive sorrow as she bathed His feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair. Jesus very poignantly told Simon that those who are forgiven much will love much. Of course, the reality is that we have all been forgiven much. However, some of our sins are more blatant and glaring than others. The woman understood through a point of revelation that there was no way she could redeem herself -- that only the Lord through His mercy could touch her and eliminate her guilt and sin. The key to her transformation most simply stated was revelation of herself and equally that of Jesus the Redeemer. She had come to a point of realization and unfortunately Simon had not regarding his own sin. Though unstated, Jesus' message to Simon was to gain revelation of his own sinfulness so that he could also receive forgiveness. This is what we all must possess to approach Jesus and His salvation -- a heart of wisdom and understanding that only comes through a revelation of who we are and who He is. Solomon states: For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the LORD and discover the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:3-5)

We will never have perfect vision on this side of eternity regarding what Christ has done for us by shedding His blood. As those loudly proclaim Jesus' worthiness around the throne of God, someday we too will have "heavenly vision" regarding what He did for humankind. However, we must still continue to pray and to seek His understanding on this side of Glory to begin to comprehend His indescribable gift. Some will not care, and will continue to live lives that are self-gratifying throughout the week hoping that their presence in church on Sunday gets them a free pass to heaven. However, heaven may be somewhat boring and "loud" for these that have avoided Jesus here on earth. For those that choose instead to seek His face in this lifetime, these will continue to be amazed at what He reveals. Jesus surely paid all the installments on our salvation, but He also wants us to continue to seek Him and worship Him for the price He paid. Instant gratification is something the Lord never promised us. What He did say is that if we continue to long after and pursue Him in our temporal home that He would reveal Himself in all His glory in that eternal home to come. All He desires is that we would accept Him for who He is and to look to ourselves for what He desires to do within us. He WILL reveal Himself to us if we will but ask. Only then will we start to see that He truly is worthy to be praised both now and forevermore.

Lord Jesus, we long for the day to stand with myriads of the faithful and to sing Your praises with a loud voice proclaiming, "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing". But allow us to join that heavenly throng even now. Give us revelation of who we are and what You have done. Help us to see Your glorious gift in all its splendor. For we pray this in Your name and for Your glory, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,