Friday, November 25, 2011

The Hope of Thanksgiving - November 27, 2011

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Hope of Thanksgiving" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on November 24, 2011.

Hope of Thanksgiving - November 24, 2011

Romans 5:5 - and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

What does Thanksgiving mean to us? Is it that once a year gathering together of friends and family when we refuse to count calories and we enjoy food, family and football? For many of us in America, that is the hope of this annual fourth Thursday in November. For others, it has a deeper meaning. The food and fellowship are still important. However, there is a deeper dynamic that occurs during this day we call Thanksgiving. For those with a faith in God, it becomes a time to ruminate upon our blessings and to give thanks for our bounty. Whatever our station in life, those possessing a relationship with Jesus Christ understand that gratitude of what has been given from the hand of God is not to be taken lightly. We must thank the Lord no matter our lot, even as those struggling Pilgrims did nearly 400 years ago at Plymouth Plantation. While we have so much more than they could ever dream, I sometimes wonder if they had more than we possess? There is a singular quality in these Puritans of old that stands out in stark remiss in many of today's celebrations of Thanksgiving. I submit that that the depth of one's thanksgiving is birthed in the womb of hope -- a hope that comes from above.

If the ordinary man or woman were asked the definition of hope, there would undoubtedly be many answers. However, I speculate that most would equate hope with wishing rather than believing. We might wish for something to happen and we may or may not have the outcome we desire. However, someone who knows the Savior can place their hope in the promises of God. This, beloved, is not wishful thinking. For not one of God's promises has ever failed, nor will one ever. There is always hope if we have put our trust in God. The decision for the Pilgrims to venture forth -- first from England and then from Netherlands to journey to the New World -- was not based on wishful thinking. Those who embarked on that perilous journey on the Mayflower possessed a profound hope and faith that God would not only lead and guide them but establish them in the new land. Their hopes were somewhat dashed as they clung to life that first winter. However, the Lord delivered them and gave them reason to rejoice in the early autumn of 1621 when they enjoyed their first Thanksgiving with their native neighbors. The near hopelessness of losing 45 of their original 102 person company in that first year was somehow less overwhelming as they looked to the future with hope. They had survived only by the grace of God and the faith and hope that their mission would truly be successful due to the aforementioned favor of the Lord.

As God-fearing, Bible believers, they must have taken great solace in the Word of God. I believe the Pilgrims would have often reflected on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, where he speaks of faith, hope and love (I Corinthians 13:13). Truly, they had left all they had known in the Old World in faith and hope of a new life in America. Their love for their Savior was apparent, as they only desired a place where they were free to worship as they discerned from God's Holy Word. While both their faith and their love were important, I believe hope's placement between faith and love in Paul's first Corinthian letter resonated with their most trying circumstances . Without hope, disappointment will be birthed in the womb of hopelessness. This would certainly be true if the Pilgrims had succumbed to their predicament and likewise for us also if we give up in the face of severe loss. In short order, this will lead to the loss of love and respect for God and finally to shipwrecked faith (I Timothy 1:19). However, if we know the love of God, and allow faith to nurture hope, we are told in the apostle's book to the Romans that disappointment cannot be spawned when hope is present (Romans 5:5). The love that has been shed abroad in our hearts by an indwelling Savior becomes the lifeline that allows faith and hope to anchor our souls (Hebrews 6:19). Out of this place of fluid faith, hope, and love can flow true thanksgiving that is born out of a truly grateful heart.

I suggest that it is impossible to know true gratitude and thanksgiving unless one is grounded in the love of God. What others might experience is a shadow of reality that has its roots in human sentimentality. For the love of God to prosper in our hearts and lives, it must be quickened by faith and be grounded in hope. In this regard, we expect far too much from those who don't know the Savior to understand the significance of Thanksgiving. It has deep, spiritual roots that drink deeply from the wells of everlasting hope. Those who trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior will never be disappointed if they surrender their lives to Him. For those who will but trust Him, Thanksgiving will never again be the same. It moves from a purely sensual experience to a spiritual one that is grounded in hope and love for the One who has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). Like the early Pilgrims, we can have the assurance of hope that does not disappoint with an outcome of love and thanksgiving.

Heavenly Father, thank You for your blessed hope. Thank You that Your love enables Your hope to anchor our souls with an assurance You will always be there for us, no matter what may come. Thank You for the gift of thanksgiving that comes from persevering through the hope of Your promises. For as we give thanks back to You, we receive a bounty that we cannot contain. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, November 18, 2011

Discipleship - November 20, 2011

Matthew 28:19 - Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations ...

What does it mean to be a disciple? We see rather ordinary characters identified as Christ's disciples by the Gospel writers. Throughout these Scriptures, we often get vivid accounts of the disciples acting in very human ways. Those who have read the first four books of the New Testament, even in a casual manner, understand the disciples were prone to constant correction and reproof by the Master. Yet, we recognize a resoluteness as they persevered through three years of seeming vagrancy with this itinerant preacher. During this time, their love was not yet fully consummated for their Lord as it would be after His resurrection. However, they loved Him enough to know they would follow this Man wherever He might lead. Probably not until after Christ rose from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost did they fully understand what it meant to be His disciples. Up until that time, in some regard, they only knew themselves as disciples by name. No matter how imperfectly they followed Jesus, they nonetheless fulfilled the definition of a disciple as those seeking to adhere to the Lord's teachings and commands.

The transliteration of the word disciple in the Greek is matheteuo. Referring to its context in our lead verse it means to "to follow his precepts and instructions." By following Christ's teachings and instructions during His life upon this earth, the disciples became acutely aware of their inability to emulate their Teacher. However, they persevered until they were endued with power on high to accomplish the impossible. No longer would they seek to be like Christ, but now He lived within them and they could function with the same power of the Godhead which they witnessed before their Lord's departure. From the scriptures, we see Jesus reminding His disciples time after time of their shortcomings while He was with them. The final disappointment to the disciples was the fulfillment of Christ's prophecy where they would all forsake Him. (Matthew 26:31-35) Yet, Jesus knew what was in man and patiently loved His disciples even in their failings. While all forsook Him, He promised He would never forsake His own. (Hebrews 13:5)

Jesus was not a stranger to discipleship. The Gospel of Luke has often been called the "Gospel of Our Praying Lord." Luke mentions Jesus in prayer more than any of the other Gospel writers. Jesus had God's ear and He obviously listened intently as the Father spoke to Him. Isaiah gives us a glimpse into Jesus' prayer life in the prophecy about Christ in the 50th chapter. The prophet states: The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. (Isaiah 50:4) We read in Mark's Gospel where Jesus rose early in the morning to retire to a place of prayer. (Mark 1:35) We can easily surmise from Isaiah's prophecy (and from the Gospels) that Jesus was listening, morning by morning, for the words of His Father. Jesus knew discipleship first-hand for He practiced it daily with His Heavenly Lord. Jesus knew His Father's "precepts," for He grew up to the stature of a man who never disobeyed even one command. However, Christ knew the importance of coming before His Father to hear His "instruction" for that particular day. Embodied in that instruction was a fullness of love and expectation concerning how that love would play out during that day of ministry. Of great significance is what the Lord Jesus tells His disciples concerning His Father's expectation of Himself, as His Father's disciple. He communicates two important truths in this regard from the Gospel of John.

First, we read in John 13:35 regarding the importance of the witness of love. Jesus plainly states the following: By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. Jesus proclaimed that love for one another would be the proof of their discipleship. I can't say this for sure, but I believe He was saying something to the effect as, "You can fake love to God for a season, but not to one another. It will quickly be apparent to all how you treat one another." This leads into Jesus' second admonition regarding discipleship in John the 15th chapter. He tells them the following: My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. (John 15:8) In these two verses, we have the crux of discipleship. First, Jesus reveals that we must love each other, for this is the way the world will see we are are truly His. Second, this manifestation of love can only come by our love for Jesus and the Father and our desire to bear much fruit for God. To love the Lord God with all one's heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourselves is the true hallmark of discipleship. It shows our ears are awake "to listen as a disciple."

Someone wisely stated "Christianity without discipleship is Christianity without Christ." Jesus Christ Himself gave us the the greatest example of discipleship. If we call ourselves Christians, it is our duty and responsibility to obediently give Him our ears and listen attentively to how we should order our lives. Anything less is going it alone, without the Savior. We must allow ourselves to sit before Him and to patiently wait for His leading in our respective lives. How much of our listening has become dull and lifeless? He promises to once again give us ears to hear, if we will but ask. Are you listening, beloved? He is speaking, even now.

Heavenly Father, give us ears to hear. Disciple us through Your Holy Spirit who lives within. Grant us not only ears to hear, but hearts to obey so we might prove to the world You live within us. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, November 11, 2011

Aroma Therapy - November 13, 2011

II Corinthians 2:14 - But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.

Years ago, when I was still in my sin, I remember showing up to work after an "all-nighter." Oftentimes, I would think a little Visine and some mouthwash would take care of any "tell-tale" remnants of the previous night's debauchery. My boss confronted me that particular morning, telling me I reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. He made it very clear this was unacceptable, especially the smell of alcohol. Even though I showered before heading in that morning, my pores still exuded what I copiously dumped into my body the night before. (Fortunately, I was near the end of my self at the time and would soon be turning toward Jesus!) While probably not to the same degree as trying to cover up the smell of stale alcohol, I think it's the same way when smokers believe all they need to do is to continue to chew mints to dispel the odor of smoke. It may work somewhat on their breath. However, the tar and nicotine clings to their clothes and hair causing them to continue to smell like an ashtray. I believe when people are unconcerned with spiritual matters, they tend to dismiss things of this nature in a rather cavalier way. However, for those of us who are either controlled by the Spirit of God, or for those of us who are under the conviction of the Spirit, we understand certain odors as distinguishing marks of the spiritually dead or those alive unto God.

Have you ever considered how we might smell, spiritually, to others? As stated in our lead verse, Paul remarked on spiritual smells and the sweet aroma of Christ in his second letter to the Corinthians. The context is interesting for he precedes his declaration of how we might spiritually smell with his quest to find Titus. We read what Paul has to say in the following passage:

Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia. But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things? - II Corinthians 2:12-16

It isn't clear how or by what means Paul found Titus in Macedonia. This is a rather large area of nearly 10,000 square miles. Undoubtedly, Paul had some inkling of where Titus might be residing. Notwithstanding, the text doesn't give us any definitive conclusion. However, from the context and Paul's implication, it is easy to surmise that the apostle actually "sniffed" his companion out. Was there a particular scent of the fragrance of Christ wafting from Titus which Paul instinctively followed? Or, were there conversions along the way that his friend had effected in his sojourn, similar to spiritual "bread crumbs", if you will, that led him to his beloved Titus? Consider for a moment Christ's declaration that He was indeed the Bread of Life (John 6:48). Are there any smells more delicious than freshly baked bread? Growing up, many of us can remember that sweet savor filling the house, and often the neighborhood if the windows were open. Imagine a sweet smelling Titus with the sweet aroma of Christ, wafting Jesus' fragrance to all in Macedonia! Surely, some would have accepted the free gift of salvation and would themselves become broken bread for others. In this wise, I believe it is very probable that all Paul needed to do was to follow the scent of newly broken bread of these new converts to the apostolic source of Titus. What a delightful way to find his most trusted friend!

Paul also tells us in these verses how the fragrance of Christ (which exudes from His beloved church) will likewise be an offense to others. While we are an "aroma from life to life" for those who would accept the Lord and His salvation, we are similarly an offense to those who would reject Jesus' message of redemption. Those who are dead in their transgressions and sins are whom Paul speaks of when he states, that to some, we are an "aroma from death to death." The god of this world has not only blinded the eyes of the unbelieving (II Corinthians 4:4), but has also distorted unbelievers' sense of smell. Those whom we repulse upon this earth as having a repugnant odor are the walking dead. These shall inherit the second death which lasts for eternity (Revelation 21:8). They have lost their sense of smell regarding what is the true Bread of Life.

Some will gladly accept our message of salvation and be attracted to the fragrance of Christ within us. Some may resist for a season, having become convinced that what they once thought was a putrid smell is in reality the most beautiful aroma they have ever breathed. Jesus is always there to offer hope to the living. However, we must ask ourselves: What kind of aroma are we emitting? Have we surrendered sufficiently to Christ where our brokenness is apparent to all and the fragrance of the Lord permeates our respective lives? Or, do we still smell of the world and make no lasting impression on anyone for Jesus? I believe having no odor either way is probably the worst situation. We could compare it to being "lukewarm", where the Lord promised to spew these out of His mouth for their lack of conviction (Revelation 3:16). Beloved, if we call ourselves Christians, then we should characterize Christ. There should be constant, sweet aromas that waft from our beings that either attract those ordained for eternal life, or repulse those destined for death. May we be those who smell like fresh baked bread, wafting our aroma to the world. There are many who are hungry for reality, and it is our obligation to feed them Life!

Heavenly Father, may the Bread of Life who lives in those who know and trust You, be as a sweet aroma to a world hungry for reality. May we be broken bread, even as our Lord gave Himself for lost humanity. Grant us this request for Your glory. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, November 4, 2011

Loving God's Laws - November 6, 2011

Psalm 119:159 - Consider how I love Your precepts; Revive me, O LORD, according to Your lovingkindness.

In our hectic world, it seems there are not enough hours in the day to get done what is needed. We might find ourselves rushing to and from work or appointments in a frantic rush to keep some kind of workable schedule. It's no wonder speed limits are rarely obeyed anymore. If, for instance, a traffic sign has a speed limit of 35 mph, most know they will not be ticketed unless they are going 10 miles per hour or more over the posted limit. Many find themselves setting their cruise control to eight or nine mph over the limit, knowing they are usually in a "safe zone" by doing so. However, what is most alarming in this regard is seeing folks with Jesus bumper stickers or an Ichthus fish decal on their tailgate compromising the law and driving over the speed limit. While some Christians would say this is benign and "what's the big deal?", it does have significance regarding the life professed by these making such objections.

The psalmist declares in our lead verse his love for God's precepts. A precept is defined as a general rule intended to regulate behavior or thought. Synonyms include rule, instruction, regulation, law, or lesson. Whether we care to admit it, our lives are filled with precepts and laws, some of which we embrace with no difficulty and others we might resist, such as speed limits (or "rolling stops" at stop signs). Laws that are not difficult for most of us to observe are things like overt lying, or killing someone, or possibly stealing -- things that generally hurt others. However, what about those laws that don't seem to hurt anyone? They don't directly affect others and often we might regard them as mere "suggestions" rather than mandates. The examples of traffic laws are good instances of how we might rationalize our importance over the laws of the land. Or, possibly bending the law on our tax returns? As previously stated, many believe these are negligible. Nonetheless, when we disobey ANY law, we are going against God's plan for humankind. Both Paul and Peter tell us to submit to governing authorities in all things, for all authority has been established by God (Romans 13:1; I Timothy 2:1-2; I Peter 2:13).

Let me be clear here. Keeping the laws of the land or God's laws in totality cannot save us. Only through Jesus Christ and through His shed blood can we obtain forgiveness for our sins. Our acceptance of His great gift is what redeems us and this will always be outside the law, because we never could fulfill it as He did to save us. However, laws are still in place because God has ordained them for His good pleasure and our overall good. God will always bear witness with laws since they are ultimately ordained by the Creator. And, if indeed Jesus lives within us through the Holy Spirit, then we will allow Him the opportunity to rejoice in these precepts established by His will. In other words, we don't have to keep the laws of the land, we WANT to keep them because God is bearing witness to them as He lives and moves within us. Our duty as a good citizen now transcends our civic and national responsibilities. If we are truly born again from above, our heavenly citizenship has affected our earthly citizenship by rejoicing in all of God's precepts and laws, no matter how inconsequential we may believe them to be. We no longer wish to try to get away with anything! We only desire to reconcile our actions upon this earth with those which the Lord God has instituted from heaven.

To respect and obey all authority goes beyond simple traffic laws or tax codes. If all authority has been established by God, then who are we to speak against a governmental official put in power over us? In our democratic society in America, we have the right to vote those out of office whom we see as less desirable. However, we do not have the right to speak against them while they are in power. David understood the importance of not putting forth his hand in any manner against King Saul. Even though he knew God had anointed him to be the next king, he knew Saul was established by God as the reigning power over the land and that God would depose him when the time was right. (See I Samuel 24 for one instance of how David spared Saul's life.) As in David's time and also in Paul and Peter's, God has not changed regarding His contempt toward the sin of disdaining those in power and authority. Today, it is our responsibility to vote for those we believe to be best aligned with God's purposes, and then pray for those whom we have elected. It is NEVER our right to speak against these, either in spoken, written, or electronic form (e.g. supposed "political humor").

If we consider it strange that someone as the psalmist, or anyone else for that matter, could love God's laws then it might behoove us to reconsider who is living within. If we don't rejoice in keeping the commandments of the Lord and submitting our lives to His precepts, then we should probably reassess whom we have believed. As previously mentioned, keeping the law will never save us. However, it will confirm Whom we love since all laws inevitably proceed from God. Will we still break the laws of the land from time to time, or speak against a standing president? It is possible, but not necessary. For the grace that He has given us so freely will work within us to confirm His intent if we will but submit to Christ. May we all love the law of God here on earth, preparing ourselves for heavenly citizenship to come.

Heavenly Father, forgive us for our lack of zeal regarding your law and precepts. Grant us the joy of Your salvation by concurring with the Holy Spirit within that Your law is good, honorable, and just. Help us to become lawful citizens on this earth that we would one day be holy citizens of the world to come. In Jesus' Name, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives