Friday, December 31, 2010

New Beginnings - January 2, 2011

Psalm 118:24 - This is the day which the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Many make new year's resolutions, while most hold little hope they will keep them. The problem with resolutions of this kind is they are inflicted with self-will which horribly handicap a favorable outcome. Oftentimes, they are things folks believe they SHOULD do ... like eating less, exercising, quitting smoking, and so on. However, these desires are more likely born out of a sense of guilt rather than from a genuine epiphany to change for the better. Change that is born out of perceived necessity often results in resentment. For instance, our doctor may tell us to lose a few pounds in order to live a better quality of life. While we may agree with our physician on this point, it is easier said than done. That late evening snack or that piece of pie after a meal seem to entice us as never before once we know what we SHOULD do. We may begin to resent those who don't need restraint in this area of their life and we might look with envy on their ability to take in calories indiscriminately. Unless we are stalwart in our resolve, it is easy to cave in to compromise and to justify why we are not as deserving as the next person to indulge in a "little" excess.

Dictionary.com defines resolve as "coming to a definite or earnest decision about a particular outcome". While this sounds good regarding a desired effect, the catalyst or the power behind this decision is critical concerning its conclusion. While one may set their mind in resolution to complete a task, the heart is what will more often carry it out (or not). For believers in Christ, this inner resolve comes most effectively through the working of the Holy Spirit. For it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). As our mind, emotion, and our will (e.g. our soul) gets in line with God, then our new found resolutions collide with our old habits. Our sin nature cannot tolerate these new resolves so it must either surrender to God or usurp God's authority. (This struggle is depicted by the Apostle Paul in Romans 7:14-25.) No matter how "definite" or "earnest" we might be regarding our desire to rule over our old habits, they simply will not die easily. However, if we will take the high ground and defend our position with the word of truth and a song of praise, then we will indeed win the day.

Our lead verse clearly establishes a premise for creating a new beginning daily that will enable us to stay strong in HIS resolve. First of all, the psalmist declares the sovereignty of God over time. He states that "this is the day which the Lord has made". If He made this day, He has surely made all previous days and any yet to come. This simple declaration of God's ownership of time means that God is in control of whatever happens in our lives today, if we will but allow Him that right. By acknowledging the Holy Spirit within, we are declaring the Almighty as the Lord of our lives and therefore the Lord over all my "old ways" as well as my present and future resolves. All must be placed in His care. We must simply surrender the outcome to Him. If we fail or win in our day to day battle with sin then we humbly place both our failures and our successes in His hands and rejoice in Him. If we have experienced the victory today, then we should rejoice! If we have struggled and fallen short, then we must still rejoice in the victory yet to come for He will not forsake us. If we continue to give ourselves to Him in humility, He will bring us to that "large place" where there is freedom and fellowship with our Lord (Psalm 118:5).

Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand (Psalm 149:6). Once we recognize that the day is the Lord's, our only obligation is to praise Him while we weld the sword of the Spirit (or the word of truth [Ephesians 6:17]). If we praise the Lord in the resolve that is born in His heart, and humbly use His word to contradict the guilt and lies of the evil one, then we will know the victory no matter how long it may seem to take. While some will give up after a few short weeks regarding their new year resolutions, God's people should never faint regarding the timeline of deliverance from the old life. If we are in Christ, we are new creatures ... period! (II Corinthians 5:17) It is our heritage as believers to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us in His manner. We are being changed into His likeness if we are humbly submitting ourselves daily to His loving hand. As we give ourselves to His resolve, then we needn't worry about the outcome. He is the One who owns the day, the year, and our lifetime ahead. We must simply trust Him to complete the work He has so illustriously begun in all who call Him Lord.

Heavenly Father, thank You that You own the day! Thank You that You are our Lord and that You live in us to will and to work for Your good pleasure. Allow us to live, and move, and have our being in Your resolve in this coming year. Give us the grace to experience Your love in both our failings and our victories. For with You, there will only be success if we faint not. Give us Your strength as we rejoice in You this day. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Christmas Star - December 26, 2010

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Christmas Star" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on December 23, 2010.

The Christmas Star - December 23, 2010

Matthew 2:2 - Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.

The heavens have long held a fascination for humankind. For millennia, man has looked to the skies for both direction and hope. King David wisely stated in Psalm 19:1-2: The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. Arguably, the greatest manifestation the world has ever seen of the manifestation of the glory of God in the heavenlies is the Christmas star that appeared over the eastern skies at the time of Jesus' birth. By this glorious light, the Magi from modern day Iraq traveled to a non-descript city south of Jerusalem named Bethlehem. Through this beacon shining in the night, the wise men were able to ascertain the birth of a mighty king in Israel. Very possibly these holy men from the once mighty Persian Empire understood through the writings of Daniel more than 500 years earlier, that a future ruler who would ultimately save His people would be born at this very time in Judea (see Daniel 9:24-27). They understood the signs of the times and they took heed, traveling hundreds of miles to confirm that truly a ruler had been born in Israel that would be the Eternal King.

Throughout scripture, God uses stars as metaphors for his heavenly beings. Job refers to the morning stars singing together, and all the sons of God shouting for joy (Job 38:7). The psalmist tells us that God numbers and gives name to all the stars, implying that His angelic host is finite yet even so an assembly of myriads (Psalm 147:4). And Isaiah states that not all the "stars" in the heavenlies are good (Isaiah 14:13). As the prophet speaks about Satan's prideful rise and self-assertion toward God, John the Revelator tells us how a third of the wicked "stars" or rather the devil's mutinous collaborators fell to earth at the fateful time when the angels rebelled (Revelation 12:4). The greatest Star of them all is first prophesied (centuries before Daniel) to appear by a Mesopotamian prophet named Balaam. (This fellow is a good example of someone that started out right and ended up seriously wrong!) In the book of Numbers, Balaam is hired by the king of Moab to curse the nation of Israel, but instead he pronounces a blessing over the Hebrews. During his prophetic utterance, Balaam speaks about a Star that will arise in Israel and will reign forever: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near; A star shall come forth from Jacob, A scepter shall rise from Israel, And shall crush through the forehead of Moab, And tear down all the sons of Sheth (Numbers 24:17). The prophet was declaring a dichotomous fulfillment to his prophecy. First of all, he stated that this part of his prophetic word was not for the present but was for a later date. Undoubtedly, this was the revealing of the star that would herald the Morning Star (II Peter 1:19; Revelation 22:16) to be born in Bethlehem several millennia from his utterance. Secondly, it was a prophecy speaking of the return of Christ to be revealed at His second coming as He takes captive the nations of Moab (present day Jordan) and others that have raised their hand against His beloved Israel (see Jeremiah 25). Balaam's prophecy, as well as others, only confirm the inevitable in God's plan of redemption for both Israel and the Gentile nations.

Jesus tells us that in the same way as he departed the earth in the same way He will return (Acts 1:11). Even so, in the same way as he came the first time, so also will the heavens herald His return. Jesus both foretold and warned us of the great and terrible day of the Lord in the book of Matthew:
But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. - Matthew 24:29-30
This will truly be a day of great rejoicing for those who have believed, but a day of terrible reckoning for those who have despised His appearing. Just as the Son of Man appeared under the twinkling herald of a great light in the sky, so His coming will be in the twinkling of the eye and it will be a great light that will consume the darkness. The Morning Star will have arisen to create a new day where only He shall reign and no wickedness will stand before Him. For even as His coming was heralded two millennia past, so the sky will once again proclaim His glory as He sweeps the stars from the sky and He alone will remain to shine bright.

Throughout time, the heavens have been the place for man to turn his gaze to learn of God's glory. David knew this, Daniel also, and most assuredly the Magi. Now, it is our turn. Will we allow the Christmas Star to captivate our hearts until the Morning Star rises first within our spirits, and ultimately on a new earth in the age to come? It has always been and will continue to be our choice. Like the wise men, we must seek Him, traversing whatever distance is necessary to find Him. For only as we allow the Christmas Star to abide within, will we then know the Morning Star who desires to reveal His life to us all. Come, Lord Jesus, and reveal the very Star of David as we celebrate the birth of Christ in us all!

O Holy God, thank you for the Christmas Star that lives within all who call You Lord. Allow the bright and Morning Star to increase His brilliance in all of our lives until He returns in splendor. We thank You and praise You for Your wonderful gift to the world! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Waiting Upon the Lord, Part II - December 19, 2010

Isaiah 40:31 - Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

What does it mean to wait upon the Lord? For many this might imply inactivity or even a pious solemnity typified by a cloistered monk. These assumptions are far from what Isaiah meant when he penned the words of our lead verse through the leading of the Holy Spirit. While this passage is one of the most quoted Old Testament scriptures, one must read it in context with the previous verses that lead up to this climactic end of the chapter. In so doing, one will understand the writer's intent. In the preceding verses, Isaiah attempts to reason with wayward Israel regarding the strength of Yahweh compared to that of feeble man. The prophet knows that God's people have lost their understanding regarding God's omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence. Throughout chapter 40, Isaiah attempts to teach Israel, once again, the great God who has called their nation His own.

In Isaiah 40:12, the prophet first declares: Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand, and marked off the heavens by the span, and calculated the dust of the earth by the measure, and weighed the mountains in a balance and the hills in a pair of scales? The seer has seen with God's eyes and knows that the Lord is everywhere and and that He is omnipresent in all of His creation. Isaiah, like his predecessor David, knew that there was no place one can flee from God's presence (Psalm 139:7-8). As in ancient Israel, many today believe that God is not concerned with the minutia of a solitary life -- that God has more important things to do than to concern Himself with an individual's thoughts, attitudes, or actions. Isaiah might tell us, as he might have told his congregation, that to think in this regard is to limit God and his omnipresence within His own creation. The limitlessness of God allows Him to be in earnest concerning every molecule of the universe. His eternality commends His ability to master everything in our time-bound space.

In the next two verses, Isaiah lays out in God's defense His eternal knowledge. In Isaiah 40:13-14 he states: Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as His counselor has informed Him? With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding? And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge and informed Him of the way of understanding? The Lord as speaking through the prophet tells us that there were none before Yahweh and there will be none after. His knowledge, wisdom, and understanding is inscrutable and without human definition. God has put within the heart of man to know that there is an eternity, yet man's feeble attempts to explain it with a finite mind creates an enigmatic dilemma of trying to discern something he has never experienced (Ecclesiastes 3:11). And, that is the wisdom of God. For as time-bound creatures we should be in awe of a Creator that holds everything together by His word (Colossians 1:17). As David wrote: Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is too high, I cannot attain to it (Psalm 139:6).

Finally, Isaiah speaks about God's awesome power or His omnipotence. In verse 14 he states: Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on the scales; Behold, He lifts up the islands like fine dust. The prophet might very well have said to his people as well as us today: "If God can lift the islands like fine dust, then why would he not lift the burdens that we carry day to day needlessly?" The Lord wants to shoulder our anxieties and trials because He is not only all-powerful but he is also all-seeing and all-knowing regarding every circumstance we are going through. Through these and subsequent verses leading up to verse 31, Isaiah has laid the groundwork to say that it is foolish to attempt to save oneself from life's calamities. The sin that would so easily beset us is something that Christ carried to the cross in His body to crucify forever. Through Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection we have become partakers of the divine nature and the power thereof. Isaiah has set us up for the glorious revelation, proclaiming: Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; they will mount up with wings like eagles. They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Beloved, God has laid out His defense in Isaiah the 40th chapter, proclaiming to us His rest if we will but wait for Him and His strength. He has proved to us by His words that he is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent in all His ways. Does it not seem ridiculous to trust in our own self and our own powers to deliver when He is ever-present to intercede on our behalf? He has promised us that if we would but wait on His deliverance, that He would imbue us with strength and power to soar above our problems on eagle wings. He has vowed that if we trust in Him, that He will give us legs to run the race before us without faltering. And, he has covenanted with His people to always walk with them with a promise of reaching our eternal destination. This is the God whom we serve -- The Almighty who will give us His divine strength if we will but only wait on Him.

Lord God Almighty, we thank you that You are the One who holds the universe in Your hand. So why should we not allow You to hold our lives in Your hand also? We yield to You and wait for You to work in our hearts the way that You will. We thank You and bless You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, December 10, 2010

Waiting Upon the Lord, Part I - December 12, 2010

Psalm 27:14 - Wait for the LORD; Be strong and let your heart take courage; Yes, wait for the LORD.

Waiting is not easy for most folks. As time-bound creatures, human beings understand that our waking (and sleeping) hours are not limitless. There is only so much that we can pack into any particular 24-hour period. So when someone or some thing "intrudes" into our already hectic schedule, it becomes easy to get impatient with the interruption. Many of us grit our teeth and more or less tolerate the inconvenience rather than accepting it as possibly a lesson in patience. The very act of impatience often testifies that we are fearful of losing something that we can never hang on to in the first place. In the case of lost time, it is more likely the crux of the problem referring to it as such. It is only lost if we believe it is. If, however, we have entrusted our time to the Lord, then nothing is ever lost or misplaced. As Paul states, we have made the most of our time by surrendering it all to the Lord (Ephesians 5:16).

Once we possess the attitude that all our time belongs to Him, then waiting for traffic or in the check-out line becomes a moot point. It doesn't matter what we are doing if we are centered in Christ. However, this attitude that spills over into our everyday life has its origin in the inner man. It starts by cultivating a view of eternity that swallows up time, because time no longer is a guiding factor. When one learns the "secret" of waiting upon the Lord, then all that we do takes on a peaceful, confident dynamic. Many scriptures allow us a glimpse into the life that tarries after God. Some teach us actually how to become an eternal watchman, waiting upon God as a servant with His Master. King David reveals both instruction and encouragement in our lead verse. This is what I like to call a "sandwich scripture" because the bread or the long-term sustenance is on the top and the bottom and the meat or the substance is in the middle. Whenever God says something, we are of course to pay attention. When the Lord reveals His word to us TWICE in the space of a single verse, then the matter is of utmost importance and should be heeded with diligent obedience. In Psalm 27:14, David through the unction of the Holy Spirit tells us to "wait for the Lord" at the beginning of this verse, but then he repeats Himself stating, "Yes, wait for the Lord". Why does He repeat Himself? The importance of waiting upon God is revealed in two commands that are sandwiched between His double admonition to tarry.

Without a mindset to wait upon God, it is impossible to "Be strong" and to "let your heart take courage". Surrendering rights to react in a defensive way or to vindicate ourselves in any matter is the only way to gain this point of power. Imagine for a moment a man who was falsely accused of something he said that others regarded as malicious and slanderous. For this man to react and to defend himself would send a direct message to God that he did not need the Sovereign's deliverance, but that he instead trusted in his own justification. In a very real way, this man had tied God's hands from supporting him, thereby making God impotent rather than omnipotent in his regard. Instead, this man must learn that in order to live with power from on high he must die to the power down below -- namely of the flesh and more precisely, self-assertion. However, once a man, woman, or child learns to die to the impulse to control the situation but rather to turn it over into God's hands, then a new and powerful dynamic unfolds. By the act of waiting on the Lord, he finds the lust to deliver oneself has abated. Rather, the heart is strengthened to look not toward the problem but toward the Solution for this and subsequent testings which it will certainly encounter. Through this strength, the heart is then allowed to take courage. The fortitude of the heart through its initial strengthening and then through victory after victory allows the heart to grasp onto or to "take" courage, building upon a foundation of strength.

Waiting upon the Lord is profoundly simple to those with childlike trust, but is equally difficult for those practiced in their own salvation. For those who have surrendered to Him, these know that there is salvation in no other except for the Lord (Psalm 37:39). Waiting is a form of death -- it is succumbing to another force that we have allowed to control our lives until some sort of deliverance is achieved on our behalf. Whether it be in traffic, or at the grocery store, or wherever or for whatever we wait, we are still surrendering ourselves to someone or something that we believe will inevitably change our circumstances on our behalf. If we as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ would practice waiting for Him and Him ONLY to deliver us, then we would experience a new freedom from anxiety and strife. Imagine if we waited on God with an expectancy that our time, our reputation, or any and everything about us belonged to Him? Beloved, we would be caught up in eternity with Him and the things of this earth would pale in view of His management of our surrendered state. Oh, for lives that would wait only upon the Lord! Yielded lives such as these, my friends, would be lives full of His presence and absent of the impatience that this world so generously throws our way each day. May we all learn the secret of waiting only for God. For as we wait upon Him, only then will we find both strength for today and courage for tomorrow.

Father, help us to wait upon You and You only. For only as we surrender do we find true victory. Only as we wait for Your salvation can we experience true freedom. We ask for Your grace and Your mercy to bow our hearts in humility to You. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Friday, December 3, 2010

Our Rights in Jesus - December 5, 2010

Job 34:5-6 - For Job has said, ' I am righteous, but God has taken away my right ...'

Have we allowed God to take away our rights? This has nothing to do with being righteous through justification. To lose ones rights as a Christian is to lose the luxury of vindicating ourselves in any manner or fashion. It means that we have surrendered our lives to God in such a way that removes any doubt that we are totally Christ's when the world assails us. The Lord never yielded in any way to the opinions of man regarding His life or His ministry. Jesus lived overtly in all of life's expressions to do only the will of His Father. Therefore, He was continually offending those who put their faith in what they believed to be "right", according to the law. Right living to Jesus meant fulfilling the law but also going beyond those rules and regulations handed down through Moses. Throughout the Gospels, the Lord was quick to show us how the law was incomplete without the key ingredient -- LOVE. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ tells us that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17). Not only would he fulfill the letter of the law perfectly, but of higher importance the intent of the same.

Five times in Matthew the fifth chapter, Jesus reminds the crowd of what they had heard many times through the reading of the Talmud in their synagogues. Five times he uses the expression "you have heard". Christ was not denying that his audience had heard and understood the law as it was read. However, He now was interjecting a whole new dynamic into the commandments which they had likely never considered. In Matthew 5:21-22, the Lord states:
You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
Jesus had moved beyond the written commandment and added a new dimension to the ancient law. Not only were they now not to murder, but the very act of anger was a premeditated act of aggression equal to that of killing someone. The Lord had removed any rights the individual thought he might have to be angry and yet to sin not. Jesus Christ made it very clear that if the heart was allowed to function on anything less than love then it had become merely a heartless act of murder disguised as an outward act of obedience. The Lord was exposing hearts and motives which strip away any right to ourselves, no matter how much others might try to hide the intent. Jesus continues throughout the remaining chapter likewise dealing with adultery or lust (Matthew 5:27-32), fidelity toward God (Matthew 5:33-37), vengeance or retribution (Matthew 5:38-42), and finally love for one's fellow man (Matthew 5:42-48). With each of these commandments, Jesus declared that the external fulfillment of these laws fell far short of what God required. In fundamentally simple terms, Jesus was proclaiming that from now on, all individual rights had been abolished. No longer did someone have the "right" to look at a woman with lust, as long as he didn't touch her. No longer was a man to plot his own revenge against his enemy, but he was to love him with the same love that he loved his neighbor. The Lord was stating simply that in order to "be perfect as His Father in Heaven is perfect", that one must give themselves up totally and fulfill every commandment, both externally AND with the intent of the heart. (The startling realization of the impossibility of Christ's injunction must have staggered the crowds as they listened with bewilderment regarding what to do next!)

Of course, Christ knew that it was impossible to fulfill the law as only He could. No one could live perfectly as God, save only the Perfect Man, Christ Jesus. Through the revelation of Himself as the spotless Lamb that takes away the sin of the world (John 1:36), Jesus was able to first allow others to become the righteousness of God in Christ (II Corinthians 5:21). Through His righteousness, THEN we are allowed the privilege of laying down all rights to ourselves. At this juncture, we are allowed to grow up into His likeness as we lay down all bitterness toward others, all vindication, or the "right" to view inappropriate images whether in the flesh or on the internet or TV. Not only have we come to a point as David where he would put no worthless things in front of his eyes (Psalm 101:3), but we have made a covenant with our heart not to indulge in even its desire. We have come to a place of surrender where we lay everything at the feet of Jesus and say only He has the "right" to do with us as He wishes. We desire no other way of life but that of fulfilling the commandments of God, guided by the spirit of that Lovely Man, Jesus Christ, from within.

Giving up our rights has nothing to do with our standing before God in righteousness. However, Godly denial of self is impossible without His righteousness that empowers us from within. It is beyond human ability to forgive someone for despitefully using us if we don't have the love of the Father living within us. Imagine if someone slugs you in the face and dislodges two of your teeth! If your reaction is that you want to throw your arms around them and love them unconditionally (rather than strike back in any way), then know that God has taken away the right of retaliation and has done a work of love in you. In the same way, Christ was maligned and mistreated by those who wickedly beat and crucified Him. How much more should we react if the Son of God is living within? We should settle for nothing less, but insist that no longer is it we who live, but Christ who lives within (Galatians 2:20). Beloved, may we lay our lives down daily if we call ourselves Christians. We no longer have any right to ourselves. Our only remaining "right" is to completely surrender to Jesus Christ and to allow Him to fulfill His perfect law through us. Let it be so even today!

Heavenly Father, we can never fulfill your will left to ourselves. We thank You for the Man, Christ Jesus, who lives within to empower us to deny ourselves and to live "right" with You. Show us if we have any "rights" that we continue to hang on to stubbornly. Give us a spirit of surrender to Your will. We thank You, In Jesus Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives