Friday, April 29, 2011

Pursuing Peace - May 1, 2011

Romans 12:18 - If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Pursuing Peace" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on May 4, 2011.

Pursuing Peace - May 4, 2011

It is a noble thing to wish for peace, it is quite another thing to obtain it. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated: Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. I understand this to mean that in order to achieve any type of peace from without, we must have a decided peace from within. In our lead verse, the Apostle Paul tells the church at Rome that they are capable of living in peace with most men under most circumstances. Undoubtedly, there will always be those exceptions. For example, we can certainly believe that Paul desired to be at peace with Demetrius the silversmith (Acts 19:23-41), or with Alexander the coppersmith (II Timothy 4:14), but that was not to be the case according to scripture. Certain situations or circumstances may warrant different responses. For instance, we certainly cannot compromise what God has revealed to us through His Holy Word. However, a peaceful resolution is generally possible and is what most reasonable parties seek. Often, it merely takes a little initiative on our part to create a bond of reconciliation. Those who might be antagonistic toward our offers of friendship might find themselves taken aback when we approach them with humility. As Paul concludes Romans chapter 12, he tells us that we may often shame those set against us by our acts of kindness. It quite literally embarrasses them into a surrendering of their pride which results in a peaceful resolve (Romans 12:20).

Within the context of this chapter, we see the apostle admonishing a church of predominately Gentile believers to love one another and to ultimately be at peace. "Predominately" is the keyword. For it was not always the case that the Gentiles were the majority. Most scholars believe that the church in Rome began as the direct result of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in approximately 30 AD. Italian Jews were thought to have been visiting Jerusalem at the time of this momentous event. Some of these were possibly saved, taking their new-found Christian faith back to Rome. It is believed that Jewish Christians were the majority in the fledgling church for several years until Claudius expelled all Jews from the Roman capital because of supposed Jewish and Christian uprisings. (We know from scripture that Priscilla and Aquila were two Jews who were indeed expelled at this time [Acts 18:2].) With the vacuum of Jewish-Christian believers, the Gentiles grew in number where they soon became the majority. So much so that the historian Tacitus recorded several years after Paul's writing to the Romans (during Nero's rule) that the Christians in Rome were an "immense multitude". Therefore, when Paul wrote this letter in approximately 57 AD, there was possibly some wrong attitudes between the once majority Jewish believers who had trickled back into the Roman church, and the super-majority of Gentile believers. Although this book contains some of the most important doctrine in the Christian faith, there is also the constant undercurrent of Paul's admonition to these two groups to come together and heal their differences.

While Romans chapter 12 focuses on a "coming together" of the saints in Rome, the remainder of Paul's letter continues to reinforce this idea of equality amongst all believers. In chapter 14, the apostle addresses a problem with one group judging another group regarding holy days (Romans 14:5) and dietary concerns (Romans 14:12-16). In Paul's wisdom, he sees these as matters of conscience which shouldn't be forced on another as a rule or a law. The Gentiles apparently felt that they should not be restricted to the Jewish dietary laws, and the Jews were apparently appalled that the Gentiles did not follow in their conviction. Paul defends what was truly important in the following: for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17) He concludes his stance by stating in verse 19 that we should "pursue the things which make for peace, and the building up of one another". Paul's main ambition in speaking to the Roman Christians in this way was to get their eyes off their petty differences, and to get them back on the things that truly mattered, like building the Kingdom of God here on earth. The two group's beliefs, which strongly asserted their own convictions regarding their "rightness", were to be overlooked in view of working together for the important things. No wonder Paul ends his letter stating that Satan would soon be crushed under their feet, if they would simply come together in unity (Romans 16:20). The enemy's distractions were numerous yet the time is short, to paraphrase Paul's possible intention when dictating that verse.

What can we take from this lesson to the Roman church? Do we have petty differences in our relationships, whether at church or work or home? Can't we simply approach the person or the situation with a spirit of humility and speak mercy rather than judgment into those respective lives? If we can, then we are following Paul's admonition to the church of Rome that was badly fractured due to things that didn't really matter that much in the final score. While we may not be able to make peace with all men, it is still our responsibility to pursue it with vigor. Especially in those situations where it doesn't really matter that much who appears to win the confrontation. True, we must not compromise on truth, as Paul tells us. Laws of doctrine in the Christian faith are indisputable. However, whether or not someone eats pork, or observes the Sabbath with complete rest, or drinks a case of diet soda a day is not our concern. We must allow the Holy Spirit to deal with individuals as He desires and not allow the enemy an occasion to fragment the church any further. Is perfect peace possible in this age? That isn't the point. Nonetheless, we must pursue peace with all men. The attainment we must leave in God's hands as He will faithfully bring forth His glorious reign of peace in His own way and in His timing. May we all remain faithful to the pursuit.

Heavenly Father, may we pursue peace with all men. May we have hearts of humility to reconcile people concerning those things that really don't matter that much in light of the work You desire for us to all accomplish. May we allow Your Holy Spirit to be the Great Judge to convince those who might need correction. As we allow You to do what You do so well, allow us to birth peaceful resolutions in people, places, and situations and to bring the Body of Christ together. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, April 22, 2011

Saving the Planet - April 24, 2011

Romans 8:19 - For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God.

For over 30 years, Earth Day has been a rite of passage as the earth morphs into its springtime luster. Each year, it seems to gain in popularity regarding its importance to environmental stewardship. While I believe earth's citizenry must be careful not to exploit the earth and its natural resources, I sometimes feel a bit incredulous toward many so-called saviors of "Mother Earth" who believe that human beings are these late-comers that have somehow upset the entire balance of nature. Many of these seem to feel like it is their responsibility to return the earth to its prior state (or as close as possible) by minimizing man's "footprint" from further so-called imbalances. Don't get me wrong! I believe in taking care of our environment, not polluting and recycling when possible. We do our share around my household, making regular trips to the newspaper and can recycling drop-off locations. Additionally, I drive a nearly 20 year old Toyota pickup truck that continues to rust away no matter what I seem to do. (Everything from the motor to the transmission has been replaced since I've owned it!) I am one to recycle and to reuse as much as possible, partly because I don't like waste and also because I am frugal. While I believe in being a good steward regarding what God has entrusted to me, I also believe that eventually things wear out and NEED replaced. The earth is not the exception.

I have traveled this globe enough to be awe-inspired by its beauty on numerous occasions. My desire is to continue to be struck by God's beauty of this planet, because He truly created a wondrous world in which we live. However, the scripture is clear that one day this earth will be replaced by a new world that is once again perfect in all respects. All of the beauty that we behold is merely a shadow of Paradise lost, and also of Paradise when it will be regained. Paul tells us in our lead verse that creation longs for Christ's return, when redeemed mankind will once again be restored to his rightful place as head over creation. Like Adam, we were created to rule and to reign over this earth. And, this terrestrial ball longs for that day, the scripture tells us. Paul continues with his explanation in verses 20 and 21 regarding the earth's subjection to Christ while it is at the same time subjugated to the result of man's sin:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. (Romans 8:20-22)

These scriptures imply that the earth patiently waits to be delivered from the curse of sin and all its effects. It is pregnant with the hope that someday, in the not too distant future, that it will be delivered into its once lost perfection. No matter what we try to do to "save the planet", the earth will continue to travail until God's creation is once again restored in to its perfect state. This promise is spoken numerous times in scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation (see Isaiah 66:22 and II Peter 3:13 for two instances). Indeed, John the Revelator spoke of that glorious day when both the heavens and the earth would become holy and perfect (Revelation 21:1). The hope that he relates is the very hope that both mankind and creation cling to in hope of our final redemption.

I find it a bit ironic that Earth Day falls on Good Friday this year. We have a juxtaposition of two radically different viewpoints regarding how this earth should be saved. While many who believe in restoring the earth through man-made efforts are furiously striving toward this end, others who believe in the Risen Savior understand that Jesus came to this earth to cause things to once again be perfect in all regards. The resurrection on that Resurrection Day long ago was only the beginning, the very catalyst that granted humankind salvation. Through mankind's redemption, the earth will once again experience a state of Paradise regained. Since the momentous event of Christ's death, burial, and resurrection nearly 2,000 years ago, the earth itself has been looking on with eager expectation toward the culmination of time. If indeed this globe on which we dwell could speak, it would undoubtedly tell us of its own desire for that final redemption -- when it will be changed into the incorruptible as it once experienced before the Fall of Man. Is there somehow residual guilt in the hearts of those who believe that salvation lies with mankind in order to somehow save the earth? Believe me, my friends, while the earth may appreciate the "band-aid" treatment we desire to give it through our humanistic efforts, it knows that its plight is incurable in its present state. It longs for that final redemption, along with all of the redeemed of humankind, when we will be changed and glorified into God's perfect creation once again.

As previously stated, it's not a bad thing to treat the earth with respect, guarding our natural resources and desiring to live on a clean planet. However, the earth itself knows that this not the end-all. Mankind betrayed it once, long ago, and it knows that redemption can only come through its Creator. May we all understand that the Risen Savior who gives life to all who would accept Him, know that the globe which we desire to save has long entrusted its salvation to the One who created it. On this Resurrection Day, may we understand that He alone can truly redeem this planet, both mankind and creation alike.

Heavenly Father, thank you for Your redemption. Thank you for this Resurrection Day when Your Son gave His life to redeem not only us, but all of creation. May we save the planet by praying for Your return when You present a glorified creation to Your spotless Bride. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, April 15, 2011

Living Revelation - April 17, 2011

Matthew 17:9 - As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead."

How often do we turn on the TV or hear a preacher on the radio talk about the latest dream or vision they've had in respect to their ministry. I don't doubt that many of these indeed may be receiving spiritual messages. (From which side of the supernatural spectrum, I am not here to judge.) However, it has always intrigued me to hear Christian leaders, as well as laypeople, relating a "message of God", for example, that they've received in a dream or a vision just the very night before. Now, don't get me wrong. I believe that the Lord God can and does reveal Himself through supernatural means such as dreams and visions. However, I'm always a bit hesitant to receive such revelations in folks where there is not much witness of the Lord Jesus ruling and reigning in their respective lives. Something seems awry when a person is talking about this sign from heaven or that particular thing the Lord has shown them, yet their lives suggest carnality that hasn't been brought under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It's quite easy to go around spouting off what God is showing a person -- it is quite another to live it. Sometimes, the most humbling thing we can do as believers is to take those pearls of wisdom that He gives us and tuck them away as we ruminate and meditate further on their implication to us as well as others. Oftentimes, this shows a maturity of restraint, rather than an impulsiveness of the unbridled flesh.

In our lead verse, the disciples on that mountain reached an apex of revelation from the time they started following Jesus until that very day. God the Almighty Father set a drama before them with a "who's who" of Old Testament personalities -- Elijah the Prophet and Moses the Lawgiver. Furthermore, Jesus Himself was transfigured in their midst, causing the brilliance of glory to shine all about them. After this momentous epiphany of divine splendor and things had returned to normal, the Lord Jesus gave them a commandment regarding what they had just seen. He told them to "... Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen". It is not clear why He stated this command. However, one can speculate that it would have been extremely confusing to others if the disciples had tried to relate it. Possibly, the Lord in His wisdom knew that it would engender jealousy in the other disciples. Also, that it might further enrage the Pharisees to a point of frenzy where they would seek to kill Him at a sooner then desired time. It might also be speculated that He was jealously watching out for those who witnessed the miracle -- Peter, James, and John. In Christ's wisdom, He knew the disciples did not yet possess the right to share it because the revelation had not yet become living within them. They didn't yet understand that to share something of such magnificence meant that the Spirit of God must live within and must share it in His time. Then, it would come forth in due season, with the utmost humility, and bring forth the fruit or the results it was intended to produce. What first needed to occur in their lives was the cross, and then the resurrection. Not only for their Lord, but within themselves. Only as they died to their impulsiveness so characteristic of the carnal flesh, then the risen Lord could direct their lives through His Spirit within.

We also may have the opportunity to share a wonderful experience the Lord has shown us. However, we will be less likely to blurt it out if we are indeed "risen with Christ". What once was a point of puffed up pride that God has shown us a great revelation, has now become a quiet river of faith toward the the Great Revealer. We might remember that occasion that God gave us that great epiphany with a warm recollection, but are somewhat removed to merely sharing it at whim. There may sometimes be those situations and times where the revelation will indeed be just the thing another needs to hear. Then, by sharing that great thing the Lord has revealed can indeed be a bond of fellowship between the sharer and the receiver. What might have been a moment of needlessly casting our "pearls" before those who can't or won't relate, now has become an exact opportunity for the life of God to be shared amongst believers. Wisdom that is cast upon the unfriendly winds of this world will often come back to us as something soiled and disregarded from its intended recipients. However, a carefully spoken word at the precise moment can bring healing and restoration where there once was hopelessness and despair.

Living revelation is not merely knowledge, but it is wisdom from on high that has found a place to dwell within the mature of spirit. It is to be guarded and shared when the Lord speaks it through us, and not before. We will only experience more revelation as we are faithful with what He gives us. If we jealously guard those choice words, whether they come from dreams, visions, or however He decides to reveal Himself, then He will entrust us with more and will then allow us to use them as arrows that will truly find their mark at that opportune time. May we all guard our hearts, from out of them flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23). May we not abort the thing that God desires to birth in all who call on His name through presumption or our own impetuousness to share "our new secret". There are many great things He desires to share if we will be but faithful stewards of revelation. In time, these will become living revelations for both ourselves and others.

Heavenly Father, grant us ears to hear, eyes to see, and mouths surrendered to Your Lordship. May we take those things You share with us and treasure them in our hearts until You release them through Your wisdom. Help us to make what You reveal to us living revelation that will become aged like divine wine to help and sustain others. We pray this in Your Son's Name, the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Working for the Lord - April 10, 2011

Colossians 3:23 - Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.

Last week, the United States Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate fell to a two-year low of 8.8%. This is certainly good news for a global economy that has been struggling for years to gain the upper hand on this world-wide recession. Hopefully, better times are ahead when folks can be a bit more choosey about where they work and what benefits they receive. While many Americans, as well as those around the world, are working in less than ideal circumstances regarding their pay and perks, we undoubtedly have it far better than at any time in the history of mankind. Those of us fortunate enough to live in the western world enjoy lifestyles incomparable to many in third-world countries. We are regarded by the majority of the world as rich in comparison. And, indeed, we are. Many of us just don't have the eyes to see this.

During the Christmas season, my wife and I usually watch Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". It is by far one of my favorite movies, probably because it is so redemptive at the end. Of particular interest to our study today is the life of Bob Cratchit, one of the main characters in this morality play. As most of us know, poor Bob was a clerk for Ebenezer Scrooge, a covetous miser of the worst degree. Scrooge paid Cratchit a mere 15 shillings a week, barely enough to provide for his family and certainly not enough to attend to anything else such as medicine for their crippled child, Tiny Tim. Yet, through all this disparity between Scrooge's great wealth and Bob Cratchit's poverty, there was never a happier, more jovial soul than the latter. Bob continually employed the attitude of charity and grace to all those around him. Never, in either the narrative of the book nor in the many screenplays, will you see an ungracious act or hear an unkindly word from this impoverished clerk. Certainly, this man was the epitome of Christian charity. Climaxing his gracious heart toward all, we see the Ghost of Christmas Present allowing Scrooge to witness Bob Cratchit's toast of Ebenezer Scrooge at the Christmas table. Bob raises his glass in honor of the one who provided the food on their table, his boss, Ebenezer Scrooge. Cratchit's wife and children protest that he should not give him an ounce of charity in lieu of the way he is treated. Even Scrooge, by this time beginning to see the error of his ways, agrees with the family to his ghostly guide that he is unworthy of such praise. However, Bob Cratchit does a remarkable thing. He disregards everyone's advice and holds true to his Christian love within in his own heart ... to love all, to bless those who despitefully use you, and to pray (or to praise, as in this case) for one's enemies (Matthew 5:44). As he insists to hold Scrooge in a high regard, the family acquiesces and joins him in the salute, albeit somewhat grudgingly.

How often we can set the attitude of others by our own insistence to do the next right thing? In this case, for Bob Cratchit, it was blessing a miserly, unreasonable boss. It would have been easy to take the "low road" and to curse Ebenezer Scrooge along with the rest of London. However, this fictitious character Mr. Cratchit lived by a different set of principles, as so shown by Mr. Dickens. Undoubtedly, this was a Christian family as they referenced the scripture and their love for the Lord in several instances. Bob Cratchit was merely a doer of the word and not a hearer only. If indeed this was a real person in Victorian London, it might be safe to say that he knew the Lord not in word only, but also in deed. Possibly if there ever was a person like Mr. Cratchit that Mr. Dickens created, then maybe he read the following verse from the book of Colossians: Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord (Colossians 3:22). While we don't have slaves, per se, in our westernized world today, many sometimes "feel" they are slaves because they live under the negativity of their own thoughts and actions towards their bosses. Attitudes such as this inevitably make them a prisoner to their own misgivings. They seek vainly by their own attempts to redeem themselves from their seemingly unjust situation, rather than looking at that person they work for in a different way. Paul tells us that we are to regard our work as being done for the Lord and not for man. We must rise above our petty feelings of injustice and become those who work with cheerfulness for the Lord. You say, "That's impossible! I could never work that way for my boss! You don't know what they've done, how they've been so unfair in so many instances!" You're right. It is impossible. It's impossible to live as a servant to the Lord rather as a slave to our employer unless we have that attitude that we see exemplified in Bob Cratchit. He had learned the secret of doing his work for a Heavenly Employer rather than a cruel taskmaster on earth. He surrendered his own misgivings for the giving of Christ's love which he thereby accepted into his heart.

Possibly, God will not redeem those of us who struggle with our jobs and our employers like Bob Cratchit. The miracle may only come for us and not for that supposed "Scrooge" in our lives. The miracle of whom we work for, either a Just Lord or an unjust taskmaster, can be our choice as we give them to God and believe He can give us a heart of love and respect as He did for Bob Cratchit. Whether or not our bosses' see the difference and a great epiphany happens to them is yet to be seen. However, the miracle and the change in us will be extraordinary and divine if we will give ourselves to it in a place of surrender to to the Lord. Shall we be Christ's servant or man's slave? The choice is ours, beloved.

Heavenly Father, help us to do our work for You, no matter what the job before us. Help us to regard those over us as those You've appointed. Give us hearts of gratitude for our employment as we seek to glorify You through our daily tasks. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, April 1, 2011

Marked by God - April 3, 2011

Ezekiel 9:4 - The LORD said to him, 'Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst.'

If you are more than a casual churchgoer, you have undoubtedly heard your minister or someone else speak about the need for revival in our respective countries. Some may have prayed a resounding prayer, asking God to come down and set our nation aright once again. A familiar prayer that many petition God for revival is the following from the book of Second Chronicles: and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land (II Chronicles 7:14). If many of us are praying this prayer, then why hasn't God answered? In small areas, God is definitely moving. However, why have we not witnessed a wholesale move of God upon our westernized countries such as America, Canada, and Western Europe? George Barna, noted church statistician came up with some results that might startle some and confirm others' suspicions. The following were taken from a 2008 survey in American churches:


  • ... Christians spend seven times as much time on entertainment as they do on spiritual activities.

  • Although 2/3 of all teenagers say they know all the basic teachings of the Christian faith, 2/3 reject the existence of Satan, 3/5 reject the existence of the Holy Spirit, and 1/2 believe that Jesus sinned....

  • Desiring to have a close, personal relationship with God ranks just sixth among the 21 life goals tested, trailing such desires as "living a comfortable lifestyle".

  • A minority of born again adults (44%) and an even smaller proportion of born again teenagers (9%) are certain of the existence of absolute moral truth.

  • In a representative nationwide survey among born again adults, none of the individuals interviewed said that the single, most important goal in their life is to be a committed follower of Jesus Christ.

  • Large proportions of the lay leaders in Christian churches hold a range of unbiblical religious views regarding the holiness of Christ, the reality of Satan, the existence of the Holy Spirit, the reality of the resurrection, and the means to salvation.
While these statistics may be alarming to some, many of us who have been praying for revival over the years understand and mourn over these realities everyday. Personally, it grieves my heart to talk with my peers in a work-setting and discover how much time they waste in front of the television. Some of these are supposedly "born again" Christians who spend their evening hours wallowing in sitcoms riddled with liberal propaganda. One such show is accordingly named "Modern Family" which portrays a homosexual "family" as a modern norm. Beloved, this is not the norm. Paul was clear in the scripture stating homosexuality is a sin as any other and needs to be repented thereof (I Corinthians 6:9; I Timothy 1:10). This is only one example, of many more, that is warranted of mention but restrained by the brevity of this devotional.

What we must decide as the church is whether we will continue to compromise or whether we will ask God to put us "in the gap" to help save as many as possible from the evil influences of this wicked and perverse land we live in (Ezekiel 22:30). In our lead verse, the Lord commanded the prophet to go about Jerusalem and to put a mark on the foreheads of all those who mourned over the horrors that were being committed within the city. In verse 8 of Ezekiel chapter 9 we are told that he was the only one crying out to God for the sin of his people (Ezekiel 9:8). How the heart of God must have broke, for he then, in turn, broke the heart of the prophet as Ezekiel cried to the Lord for mercy on His people. Where are the Ezekiels of today? Where are the Elijahs that are willing to stand up against their idolatrous, corrupt societies and call fire down from heaven? (See I Kings 18 for the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel). Apparently, there are none ... YET. God has promised in His word that He would hear from heaven and heal our lands if the people would humble themselves and seek Him without compromise. He is waiting, most patiently, for His remnant to do what he saved them to do, and that's to intercede before His throne until He would rain righteousness from above. Simply, that is EVERYONE'S call upon their life who call themselves a Christian. Anything less is sub-standard to His desire for each of our lives.

Most will read this and dismiss it. They will continue spending time in their own pursuits, whether it is plastered in front of their "hellevisions" or doing any number of other things while pursuing their own interests. However, my prayer is that it will stir the hearts of some to take action and to begin denying themselves and to begin seeking the Lord God Almighty for revival. My parting question is this: If God went through your city today, would He mark you as one who groans over the sin of your city? It is your heritage if you call yourself a Christian, beloved. May we all stand before that Judgment Seat of Christ someday WITHOUT the blood of our fellow man on our hands (II Corinthians 5:10; Ezekiel 3:20). Our gracious God is waiting and longing to pour forth His Spirit in a mighty way upon our lands if we will but ask, and keep asking. It is the calling that all of us must either ignore or heed.

Lord God Almighty, may all who read this be enlivened in their hearts to seek your face for our lands. May we join together to beseech you for revival that will overturn the idols that we have set up in our respective lives. Grant us compassion through your revelation of our true state of affairs. Give us hearts to pray. In Jesus' Name, Amen!Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

The Bare Soul Archives