Friday, October 28, 2011

The Bare Soul - Heavenly Hospitality - October 30, 2011

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Heavenly Hospitality" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on October 27, 2011.

Heavenly Hospitality - October 27, 2011

Hebrews 13:2 - Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it.

I read a story recently about a little girl who grew up in the deep south during the 1930s. This family, as most in the depression-era south, had little and eked out an existence rivaling many of those in third-world countries of our present time. One day, this little girl was playing outside her rural home when she heard the clank of steel across the road. It was a chain gang of workers finding a place to rest under a large oak tree across from the family's property. Her mother kindly allowed the men, one by one, to drink as much as they wanted from the water pump outside the house. She remembers her mother busily preparing tuna sandwiches in the kitchen, which was to be her family's supper that night. The little girl recalls carrying lemonade out to the men as her mother went to each man on the chain gang, serving them individually. They were all appreciative, but what one man said resonated with the little girl for decades to come. He said all his life he wondered if he'd ever see an angel, and now he was face to face with one! The mother and daughter went into the house with an empty tray and empty lemonade pitchers. The only explanation her mother gave her for her kindness was out of Hebrews 13:2: Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it. She concluded her story by saying she doesn't remember what they ended up having for supper that evening, but she would always remember what they didn't have, and that made all the difference in the world.

The Online Dictionary defines hospitality as "the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way." In scripture, the transliteration of the Greek word hospitality is philoxenos which means "love to strangers." Our present day word derives from the Latin word hospes, where we get our word "hospital." Those in the Middle Ages used this word to describe places where the infirmed and sick could find rest and solace while they healed. (A common name for a hospital in France during this time was the Hotel-Dieu, which literally mans "the hotel of God.") These "oases of love" later became institutionalized into our present day hospitals. However, the adjective of hospitality never lost its significance to the counterpart of the noun, hospital. One might imply a place of healing, where the other signifies the act of bringing healing to those infirmed in both body and soul. Understanding the meaning of both are important concerning how God desires us to operate in this regard. Our Western culture seems to have lost something with doctors secluding themselves in offices rather than making house calls as was the case several decades ago. Our society has allowed institutions, such as these offices or clinics or hospitals themselves, to take the place of taking medical hospitality to others. In like manner, the church at large seems to have lost this attitude of bringing philoxenes or hospes to others who are hurting, both within the Body of Christ and more importantly, to strangers. While many churches certainly concern themselves with hospice and outreach to those hurting within the body, how many go out of their way to seek out strangers who are hurting? It is one thing to bring flowers to a sanitized hospital or hospice environment as an act of kindness. It is quite another to seek out those on the highways and byways of life and to sit with someone hurting on a crumbling piece of sidewalk, listening to their cry for help (Luke 14:23).

While seeking out the "undesirables of society" is certainly something we can all do as committed believers of Jesus Christ, there are far simpler things which can also mean so much to others. When was the last time we smiled at a total stranger, expecting nothing in return? If we do it on a regular basis then my next question would be whether it was toward one of the "beautiful people." By this I mean, was it someone in which we relate to rather than someone we might berate in judgment regarding their looks or social strata? I understand that women need to be careful in this regard, however there are always safe opportunities if one seeks to find them. Jesus tells us the one who offers a cold drink of water to one of these "little ones" will surely never lose their reward (Matthew 10:42). I believe that a cold drink of water may come in many forms of refreshment to a haggard soul needing encouragement on life's journey. When we are hospitable to people, regardless of their demographics, then we are behaving as our Savior ministered while upon this earth. And who knows? Possibly we have interacted with God's angels in our everyday encounters. The writer of Hebrews would not have mentioned the probability if it were not a possibility. Nonetheless, whether it is angels or mere mortals we deal with on a daily basis, Jesus told us through His New Testament writers to show hospitality to all men (Romans 12:13; I Timothy 5:10; I Peter 4:9). In so doing, we do it as unto the Lord which is Whom we serve in the spirit of hospitality (Matthew 25:40).

The question should be asked: Why are we not hospitable when it is in our power to do so? In many cases it comes down to fear -- the fear we will lose something. Years later, the little girl who witnessed her mother's hospitality to a chain gang of men couldn't remember what they ate that night for dinner. The loss was not important. What was of greatest importance is how much she gained through her apparent loss of a few tuna fish sandwiches. Decades later her acquired insight into what it means to show godly love to strangers becomes apparent to all. When we seek to hang onto something out of fear of losing it, then it is often torn from our grasp by an irresistible force which we can't control. Conversely, when we allow ourselves to become servants of all, showing hospitality and brotherly love to others, we find we gain so much more. As we lay down our lives both for our Savior and others, may we all be living "hospitals", bringing hospitality to those most needful of a touch of God's grace!

O Gracious Father, thank you for the example of Your Son! He truly brought hospice to many as He healed some physically, and far more emotionally and spiritually. May we learn from His example, making many "house calls" as we bring the Gospel to those whom You direct. Allow us to give sacrificially until we realize we gained far more than we could ever lose. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Friday, October 21, 2011

An Expanding Universe - October 23, 2011

Job 9:8 - He alone stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.

On October 4, 2011 Saul Perlmutter, Brian Schmidt, and Adam Riess won the Nobel Prize in physics for a relatively new theory claiming the universe is expanding, rather than shrinking, as physicists once believed. For nearly a decade since their initial discovery, the idea of an expanding universe went against the status quo belief of a shrinking cosmos, suggesting gravity pulled everything back together whereby creating a reductive effect. These three men, with Perlmutter working independently from the other two, discovered instead how the universe continues to expand. They came to their conclusions by measuring how light travels from exploding stars. The so-called repulsive force of "dark matter" causes a reaction making the light expand beyond its source, according to these scientists. They conclude this is the dynamic which causes the universe to expand. Of course, scripture has stated their conclusion for millennia. As our lead verse states, Yahweh has been stretching out the heavens through time and eternity. Rather than a static universe (the position most scientists have historically taken), the suggestion from this recent secular discovery is of a dynamic force compelling the universe to enlarge. As already mentioned, they refer to this power as the dark matter of the universe. This unexplainable power tends to shape and enlarge our universe, yet these physicists can only speculate regarding what it is or its origin. Of course, those who know and believe God's word understand how He not only continues to shape our world, but also all the created elements in existence.

Similarly, many pre-Columbus scholars mocked the Bible and its clear statement regarding a circular earth (Job 26:10). In Isaiah 40:22, the phobia of a flat earth is dispelled and the revelation of an expanding universe is stated clearly. Isaiah writes:

It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.

The misconceptions of many early astronomers and scientists created an unfounded fear in those who might dare to sail beyond the known limits. With this example and the present shift from a static to a dynamic universe, the scientific world must once again do obeisance to God's holy word. However, for many of the academic and scientific world to give credit where it is due would mean an acknowledgement of a Creator that is continually granting life and growth to all His creation. By their admission regarding the dynamicity of the universe, they have inadvertently done what many of them vehemently oppose, which is to suggest there is a power greater than themselves. However, admitting to a changing universe is a far cry from them publicly stating an eternal being is the cause of this universal progression. However, what other explanation might suffice? To suggest an eternal universe is one thing, but to say that this universe is growing is another. This mysterious dark matter must have its source in something inconceivable to modern science. And, if the truth be known, it does.

I will present my own theory, based on scripture, what this force is which continues to enlarge our universe. The psalmist wrote in the eighty-ninth psalm that God's mercy will be built up forever. The New American Standard version makes it clearer to our understanding by stating the following: For I have said, “Lovingkindness will be built up forever; In the heavens You will establish Your faithfulness.” (Psalm 89:2) On the basis of this scripture (including many others stating God is eternal and without limits), I believe the power which is unexplainable to these astral-physicists and scientists is the very nature of God -- LOVE. This dark matter, as they call it, is possibly the temporal manifestation of an eternal power of love expanding the universe. As the Apostle John states, God is love (I John 4:8). Why then should we doubt the eternal God, who is immeasurable in His love for His creation, is not demonstrating this by allowing His lovingkindness to expand the heavens? The psalmist states quite clearly that "... lovingkindness will be built up forever." If we believe the Scriptures, then we must conclude that His love will continue to expand throughout eternity. It is an unstoppable, immeasurable eternal substance that continues to push both time and eternity beyond our mortal understanding. If Jesus is the one in which all things hold together (Colossians 1:17), surely the Triune God is also the One causing all things to grow and expand through His love.

Mortal man with his finite understanding will never comprehend why the universe grows through this suspected repulsion of dark matter. However, for those of us who believe God's word, the knowledge that God does so is enough for those who choose a life of faith. Jeremiah stated: He made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding (Jeremiah 51:15). It may not be ours to know in this lifetime, how or why God does what He does regarding His expansive love. However, there will come a day when more will be revealed. At that moment in our history, when time gives way to eternity, we will know more perfectly and stand in amazement of a God who continues to expand Himself through His love in all of His creation. The greatness of His power will only be eclipsed by the wonder of His love for those who accept Him by faith. May His love continue to expand in all our hearts as we accept Him as the Creator of all.

Heavenly Father, Great Almighty Yahweh, thank you for revealing Yourself through Your great power and expansive love. May we look to the heavens and realize how You created an eternal cosmos to reflect Your greatness. And, beyond this, how Your universe continues to grow through Your lovingkindness for all You've created. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, October 14, 2011

God's Name - October 16, 2011

Psalm 75:1 - We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks, for Your Name is near; Men declare Your wondrous works.

Years ago, a young lady who attended our church wore a button from time to time out in public which caused quite a stir. I guess you could say it was a campaign button of sorts. In large block letters it read: CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, GOD'S LAST NAME IS NOT DAMN! She was on a crusade to make people realize how flippant the vast majority of folks are with God's Name. Of all people, she understood the power of the Name. In the mid-1970s, her husband was within days of succumbing to cancer. All of his hair was gone from chemotherapy and radiation treatments and he was emaciated from the long struggle. Simply, he was a mere shell of a man after cancer had its way with him. A group of believers, led by a faith-filled preacher, stood around his bed and prayed for his healing. Miraculously, he was healed instantly. Within days, his strength had returned and his hair began to grow back. That is about the time I met this beautiful couple. We were all new Christians and were energized by this move of God upon this young man's life. (This healing was documented by The 700 Club and confirmed by his doctors in 1977.) Through this ordeal and subsequent healing, I believe the Lord gave his wife a revelation of the Name of Jesus. That blessed, wonderful Name healed her husband of the cancer that almost destroyed him. Her "campaign button" was merely her tongue-in-cheek way of telling others that God's Name means so much more than a glib expression uttered in anger or exclaim.

Today, OMG is touted by many as one of the most used abbreviations in text messaging. Every generation, including this one, seems to find new ways to marginalize God's Name. Using the Lord's Name in a curse word, or to glibly say " Oh My God!" or "Jesus Christ!" is definitely taking the Lord's Name in vain. However, these often just scratch the proverbial surface. There are much more serious instances of breaking the third commandment (Exodus 20:7). The Lord God Almighty gave Moses this instruction on Mount Sinai over 1400 years before the birth of Christ. But, even then, it was in the heart of the Father for His Son to present a similar commandment on a different mount early in His Son's ministry. When Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, he taught his disciples to pray in the sixth chapter of Matthew. The Lord began His instruction by first acknowledging the greatness of His Father's eminence by His location in the eternal heavens -- Our Father who is in heaven. Of great importance is His next statement: Hallowed (or holy) be Your Name! (Matthew 6:9). Jesus not only declared His Father's omnipotence by His preeminence, ruling over heaven and earth, but He also instructed humankind to regard the Name as holy. We might read or hear this and the significance might not really sink into our understanding. However, the holiness of the Name implies that it is set apart for everything beholden to the nature of the Most High.

The Name not only characterizes God, but it explains His attributes or His way He interacts with His creation. Even as Yeshua's (Jesus') Name means "Jehovah is Salvation", the Son of God understood the significance of both His Name and that of His Father's. Their Names were inextricably linked through their relationship of the Godhead, thus allowing the Name to have the same power on earth, as it did in heaven. So, if God the Father's nature meant love, salvation, mercy, healing, wisdom, and many more, than the Name would also be synonymous with His nature. That's why Jesus proclaimed the importance in John 16:23 of us asking in His Name, because then the Father would release the answers to our prayers. However, there is one provision. We must "hallow" His Name, regarding the Name as holy and not trivialized by vain requests. A religious mind-set devoid of any true relationship with God may often be guilty of taking the Lord's Name in vain in ways we may not have considered. If we don't regard Him truly as "Father" by faith, then we seek Him through our own works. When we approach God in this manner, we hold to a form of godliness, although we have denied its power (II Timothy 3:5).

Taking the Lord's Name in vain is a travesty. If we call ourselves Christians and we don't cringe when we hear someone damn something by the Beautiful Name, then we should question our faith and whom we've believed. If we don't consider Yahweh or His Son Yeshua's Name as holy, we won't hold it with reverence concerning how we invoke His Name in our supposed relationship with Him. As Psalm 75:1 states, when the Name of God (whether Jehovah, Yahweh, or Yeshua [Jesus]) is near to us, we will declare the goodness of that Name with all its "wondrous works". Our thanksgiving for God revealing His glorious Name to us will fill us with awe and reverence. Never more will we regard the Name to be used in a vain way, whether through flippant text-messaging or through a life that vainly seeks God in such a way denying the very power of the Name which wrought salvation for all. Much like my friend from years ago, we will recoil from those who would objectify the Name as a vanity upon the lips of mankind, where it means nothing but a curse. For those spiritually in tune with the Spirit of the Lord, we will further understand when we or others are living vain lives that purport God but which deny Him and the power of His Name. The rapturous beauty of the revealed Son within our lives will provoke relationship rather than a vain pursuit that leads to emptiness. May we all seek the Lord until He would reveal Himself to each of us, showing us the holy power that transforms us all through the revelation of the Name.

Heavenly Father, Great Jehovah, we humbly bow before Your throne of grace, asking You to reveal Your Name and the power thereof. We ask to understand, by Your great wisdom, all You desire for us to experience in this relationship with You and Your Son. May we never take Your Name in vain, either by word or by deed. Help us to hallow Your Name everyday, in everyway. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, October 7, 2011

Children of the Wind - October 9, 2011

John 3:8 - The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.

As a runner, I am possibly more in tune with my surroundings than a lot of people. Since I've never ran with "contraptions" in my ears, blaring out music or some other distraction, I like to believe I appreciate the sights and sounds around me. Whether its children laughing, people chatting, or just the sound of a bicycle passing me on a running path, I enjoy experiencing life in close proximity. Often, I can hear the wind as it blows steadily through large elms and cottonwoods, going where it wills. Runners or bicyclists can usually find their pace quicken when the wind is at our respective backs. It pushes us along, as we may not even consider it blowing us on our way. We're often thinking about other things. However, the wind may change directions on us rather suddenly, or we might be the ones to initiate the adjustment of course. If we are moving sideways to its direction, its usually not too bad. If, however, we find ourselves running directly against the wind, then a struggle often ensues. No longer are we thinking about this or that, but our minds are concentrated on the resistance we've suddenly encountered. Our energy is now directed to what assails us. Moments before we experienced a thoughtlessness of the wind, because it was seemingly helping us on our way. Now, it seems to defy us as we fight our way against its strength.

Many of us have probably heard the line in the old Irish blessing that states, "May the wind always be at your back." Of course, the implication of this figure of speech is to wish for someone to possess few struggles -- that the wind would push them through life, allowing them to accomplish all their goals. While some would say that's an impossible accomplishment, I am of the belief that it could be more of a reality if we listened a bit closer to God's leadings in our lives, obeying what He commands. In the book of John the third chapter, Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit in the eighth verse, comparing Him to the wind. Clearly, Jesus is speaking of the Spirit in this context, as John uses the Greek word pneuma when referring to the wind in the opening phrase. A synonymous usage of the word is also used at the end of the verse when Jesus states: "so is everyone who is born of the Spirit." Of equal importance is what Jesus states in the middle of this verse. He declares the mystery of the Spirit, by stating He is like the wind and no one knows His next move. Then, Jesus claims something extraordinary. He says those who are born of the Spirit are likened to this same behavior as their spiritual Father! Which leads to a thought provoking question for those of us who claim to be born of God's Spirit: Is our behavior like the Wind of God that created us? Do we move with freedom in the Spirit, allowing Him at our backs, propelling us on our way in the things of God? Or, do we resist the Holy Spirit and continue on in ways we know deep down are contrary to His leadings? In the past, many of us can attest to God leading us by His Spirit as He pushed us onward toward our goal of pleasing the Son and the Father. However, possibly we no longer feel that strength behind our backs, pushing us closer to Yahweh. Instead, we feel a resistance, like we are running against the Wind of God. This direction earlier in our Christian walk was very possibly the right way to go. However, some of us have undoubtedly ignored the direction of God's Wind and have insisted on going an old, familiar way. As children of the Wind, we will not know His peace in our lives until we can once again know He is literally behind us.

The Apostle Paul warned the early church there would be other "winds" that would seek to trick us into following their course. Winds often deceive seasoned sailors who understand a bit less than they sometimes profess. A good example is when those transporting Paul and his companions to Rome supposed they had attained their purpose of a "moderate south wind" suddenly found themselves in a hurricane of epic proportions. For over two weeks, they were buffeted about in the Mediterranean Sea until finally shipwrecked on the island of Malta (see Acts 27:9-44). Paul possessed the wisdom from the Wind Himself to know their journey would end just as it did. However, those who were supposedly "seasoned sailors" did not heed the wisdom of Paul or of the Spirit who led him. Very possibly, when Paul wrote to the Ephesians later from Rome while he awaited trial, he was reflecting on those tempestuous two weeks. He tells them to beware of false teaching that comes in the form of other winds that would seek to deceive. He states in Ephesians 4:14: As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming. Paul admonished the Ephesians to no longer be as children. It was time to grow up and to attune themselves with the doctrine of God, and to be led by the Holy Spirit. The winds of the doctrines of men and devils may push us along for a season, and we may believe we've "attained our purpose." However, they will always turn on us and ultimately cause our faith to shipwreck (I Timothy 1:19).

God is calling us all to grow up in the faith, and yet we will always be His children. As children of our Father, we will always know we are His if we are led by His Wind. Do you sense God at your back today, pushing you toward your goal of the upward call in Christ Jesus? Or, do You feel like you're running against the wind. Possibly worse, do you sense another wind at your back, yet there is not the joy and peace as you once possessed? Is it a dry wind that is sucking the life out of your Christian walk? If there is not a clear sense of the Wind of God in our lives, it is time to stop until we can once again discern which way He is blowing. Then, may we all start down that new direction He provides. In a short time, the joy will once again return, confirming we are children of the Wind, always strengthened by His power that empowers us.

Holy Father, blow upon us through the Wind of Your Spirit. Lead us, guide us as children of the Wind. May we always discern Your leading and joyously comply to wherever Your Spirit takes us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


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