Friday, February 24, 2012

Love Lost - February 26, 2012

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Love Lost" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on February 23, 2012.

Love Lost - February 23, 2012

Revelation 2:4 - But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.

In his poem, In Memoriam, Alfred Lord Tennyson stated, "'Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all." Queen Victoria took great solace in this work of Tennyson's, so much so that she stated next to the Bible this poem was her great comfort after the loss of her beloved husband, Prince Albert. Unquestionably, this poem has been a source of consolation to many who have lost a loved one before their time. I especially think about children and their untimely deaths, how it must grieve the hearts of their parents and their loved ones. How tragic lost love of this sort must be for those who are left behind to bear this sorrow! I have often considered how our Lord feels when we grieve. Since sorrow is a God-given emotion, we must understand that He does grief in a perfect manner. We can only imagine the amount of colossal mourning God the Father allows Himself to be subjected to on a daily basis. However, His hope as well as ours is a coming day when He will wipe every tear from our eyes and we will experience eternal joy in His presence (Revelation 21:4).

Until that glorious day, we are still subjected to the results of sin and mankind's fall from grace. We are products of Adam's great calamity which usurped God's ultimate plan for the human race. Ah, but then that glorious event of the cross and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ occurred which allowed us once again to be restored to the Father through His shed blood! I hope many of us reading this have accepted this wonderful restoration through Christ's sacrifice. If we have, we know and understand how Jesus' love fills our hearts like nothing the world has ever known. However, the tragedy, not unlike losing a loved one to sudden death, is when we leave our first love as our lead verse depicts in Jesus' words to the Laodicean church. How it must grieve the heart of God when we allow other things to captivate our hearts rather than His love! We may still do things in the same way as before, such as go to church and sing in the choir or even help out the poor. Yet, something is different. Our lives pull us in one direction toward these outward acts of religious business. However, we see a different dynamic happening throughout our day that does not coincide with our religious activities. Instead, we find ourselves fascinated by that new TV program and we cannot take our eyes off of it all evening. We justify it and say, "I deserve a little relaxation. After all, I work hard all day and I just need to unwind in the evenings." This may be true, to some extent. But have we considered how we used to "unwind" in the presence of God in prayer? Or, how we enjoyed worshipping God in the car on the way home from work and now we listen to secular radio stations instead? Beloved, time is the only thing we can give back to God. It is part of our worship, offering up a sacrifice of praise. There is no other way to please the heart of God then to give Him ourselves through the 24 hours He has given us every day.

Jesus Christ is a patient, wise God and will not demand time from us. He will only point out when we have lost our intimacy with Him. It is our responsibility to return to Him, humbling ourselves and admitting that we do not desire Him like we used to. He already knows it anyway. Once we admit that we have lost our passion for Him, He can then once again grant us the grace to want Him by changing our will to do so. There will always be a struggle in the will (or our "wanter") to humbly submit itself to Christ and His grace and power, or to rely foolishly upon our own power to "do" religious things for Him. Our sin nature will always seek the easier, softer way of resisting humility because it is foreign and distasteful to surrender to anyone or anything. The joy comes when we die to self and once again live to Christ as He then takes our intentions and empowers them with His life. As previously stated, this takes ... time! We must commit ourselves to keep coming, keep seeking, and keep knocking until He once again restores that lost love that He is so desirous to restore (Matthew 7:7). Remember, many of us who have left our first love did not do it in an immediate fashion. God may restore our love with Him immediately and then He may require us to seek Him out through a period of time. Either way, His promise is He will restore us to that place of intimacy if we will but give him our time to do so.

So, what are some of the red flags we have lost our first love? We might ask ourselves, "Do I feel a sense of loss that my Savior is not as dear to me as in previous months or years?" No matter how much we are "doing" for God, it doesn't matter if we are not "being" with God. As Tennyson implied through his poem, it is better to have loved because then we understand the significance of the loss involved. Otherwise, we would not have anything to gauge what we might gain by reacquiring this tragic misplacement of affection. God desires each of us to be passionately in love with His Son. Until we give Him our hearts to reaffirm what was once lost, He will never be content nor will we. May we all find and cherish the love of Christ within, once again, and hold passionately to it until He calls us home.

Heavenly Father, thank you for the love of Your Son for His beloved church. May we reaffirm our love for Him this day, promising never to stray. But if we do, may He bring us back to Him through His word to our hearts, understanding that we are simple sheep who need the loving wooing of the Great Shepherd. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, February 17, 2012

God's Pulse - February 19, 2012

Song of Solomon 4:9 - You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride; You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes, with a single strand of your necklace.

Romance can be a wonderful thing. I am not talking about dating and much of the romantic involvement so prevalent in our modern culture. I am speaking about a romantic interlude between knowing someone and marrying that individual---namely courting. This term, while archaic to many, is God's manner and method to bring a man and a woman together in holy matrimony. We have lost much of the innocence around engagements because too little of the courting element is part of our societal expectations. However, I do know of a few couples today that when they say their wedding vows to one another on that glorious day will kiss for the first time. (This was never my experience. However, in hindsight, I wish it was part of my wife's and mine experience.) God wants romance to be a holy thing, unsullied by the world and their norms. The purer we can keep love between a man and a woman before they share their vows, the more their intimacy will mean after the ceremony.

God does not require something of us that He does not expect of Himself. God's perfect plan demands chastity and purity before our earthly nuptials. In the same way, the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, longs for His wedding day and the consummation of His love for the bride He purchased through His blood. The Song of Solomon is a wonderful metaphor of Christ's love for His beloved bride, the church. The first three chapters of this love poem declare the bride and bridegroom's love for one another on their wedding day. Their confessions of love have made many believers uneasy throughout the centuries, as many of the passages are noticeably erotic and sensual. However, let us take these in context. This holy matrimony is nothing more than God's perfect plan of fidelity before marriage. We are presented with statements such as the desire of the bride to be kissed by the king on their wedding day (Song of Solomon 1:2). The chastity of the bride is further remonstrated by the her declaration that her "perfume gave forth its fragrance" while she was at the wedding supper (Song of Solomon 1:12). What a glorious picture of Christ and His spotless bride that emits the fragrance of Christ to all! This is merely the setting that draws us as a private audience to understand the bride and especially the bridegroom's love for one another.

In chapter four, we see Solomon's love truly expressed in words for his bride. Our lead verse tells us how his heart rate is elevated by just a "single glance" of the bride's eyes. Can we then relate this to God's feeling about His bride the church? Some might question if Christ's pulse rate would change whatsoever looking upon the current state of His bride. However, we would be remiss if we did not understand how He looks well beyond our present state to the eternal perfection of His lovely bride. We have lost a true understanding of the heart of God if we believe He only views us in our present state. While the church of Jesus Christ, His future bride, is far from perfect, she is readying herself for that wedding day which inevitably will come. Even now, Christ's church is beginning to exude the aroma or the fragrance of Christ to a lost and dying world. However, we are far from what He desires in our present state. God through His Holy Spirit will continue to purge and cleanse His bride through the act of "holy courting." This wonderful process which the Lord is taking His church through is no where close to the intimacy He will one day bestow upon His beloved. Through every act of obedience and surrender to Him, we are making the church, His bride, ready for that day when He will reveal all of His love to us.

Does Jesus' heart beat faster for us as Solomon's pulse raced excitedly for his bride? I believe it does. Jesus Christ sees us as we are, yet He also sees us how we shall be through His omniscient foreknowledge. As His bride, we cannot rest on our proverbial laurels and not make ourselves ready for His appearing. Remember, five virgins were ready, yet five were not and their entry was denied by the Bridegroom (Matthew 25:1-13). We must continue to set our affections on things above, waiting for the Bridegroom's glorious appearing (Colossians 3:1-3). Is His heart beating faster when we gaze upward and inward toward Him? Not as profoundly as when He will one day return for a spotless bride, purified by our obedience and love. The "courting" continues until that day when He will intimately take us in His arms and never let us go! May we all long for that day, perfecting ourselves in holiness by humility and surrender to the Lover of our Souls!

Lord Jesus, we long for that glorious day when our hearts will beat faster and emphatically for You and You alone. Allow us to surrender more to You today, that our hearts would even now be Yours. Prepare us for that wonderful day when we shall be overwhelmed in joy and love by our Savior. In Your Name, the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, February 10, 2012

Servant Evangelism - February 12, 2012

Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Have we ever stopped and considered how much we expect of others in our daily lives? At times, we often require others to be more benevolent and giving then we are willing to be on their behalf. If we are honest, there are many days we do not desire to live the Golden Rule. If we are at an intersection, it is often not our first impulse to give the right-away to the person who is anxious to go. Another place of noticeable impatience is at the check-out line at a grocery or department store. How much more important do we often regard our time than everyone else who is checking out in front of us! However, as with both examples, God is wanting to get to the heart of the matter. When He reveals our impatience, He reveals our lack of love. It is not a mistake that Paul through the Holy Spirit declares in I Corinthians 13:4 that "love is patient." The lack of the latter equals the absence of the former. So, when we elevate ourselves above those we encounter through choices favoring self, we have often chosen to usurp the dynamic of love operating through forbearance. A good exercise to do in this regard is to always defer to those we come across, whether in traffic or stores or wherever. If someone is behind us in line, always give preference to them and say something like, "I'm in no hurry. Please, go ahead!" Some of the time, people will merely turn down your kind offer. (It is often noticeable how they will often display much more patience while they are waiting after a gesture such as this because it disarms them!) Other times, some folks will take you up on your offer and do so either thankfully or not. Then, there are sometimes those who say, "Why are you doing this?" These are the people who genuinely want to know if we have some sort of an "angle." In these cases, we can tell them we do. This is the perfect opportunity to state how Jesus Christ leads and guides our lives and we believe this is exactly what He would do in this situation. From this brief exchange, we might be surprised concerning the ensuing conversation that may occur. Some may just leave it at that. However, others might have a question or two about our faith. If we are feeling led by God's Spirit, we might be bold and ask them, "Who do you think Jesus Christ was or is?" This can often lead to a divine appointment where this person we have served with kindness gets the opportunity to hear and receive the Good News.

Jesus Christ was the greatest evangelist to ever live because He was the greatest servant to ever walk this earth. Evangelism is not about who can memorize and quote the right verses, or how many people someone has brought to a point of "decision" for the Lord. Instead, it is about how many souls we have served by pouring our lives out for them. The instance of servant evangelism I previously mentioned is only one of innumerable examples regarding how we can die to ourselves and live for others as we show forth the love of God. It will never be possible to live the way Christ lived upon this earth. He came in mortal flesh, not to be served as the Lord and King of the universe. Rather, having emptied Himself of His great power, he chose rather to serve and to lay down His life for others (Philippians 2:5-8). Unfortunately, there will always be those who believe this is unnecessary and a "bit over the top." They might think that just because the Lord Jesus lived this sort of life that it somehow excuses them from a life of self-sacrifice for others. Peter had this attitude when the Lord came to wash his feet in the upper room the night before Christ's death. He recoiled from the idea of Jesus serving him in a way that seemed beneath His Lord's station. Yet, is that not like so many of us? We either reject the idea of serving someone out of place of timidity or false humility, or we feel uncomfortable when someone else wants to serve us in a selfless way. Both positions are born from fear and insecurity of losing something we never possessed in the first place. What we think we will lose is our feeling of self-sufficiency that desires to neither be an imposition on another nor impose on those we should be helping. Either way, when we refuse to serve others or to be served ourselves, we deny the very nature of Christ to manifest Himself. He is only made perfect in our weakness when we allow ourselves to die to what we consider best for ourselves.

We may never lead someone to the Lord by what we say. More than likely, if we do lead someone to Jesus it will be through His incarnation manifesting through us. The most powerful evangelizing tool we have available, symbolically speaking, is the towel and wash basin which Christ used in that upper room two millennia ago. To serve others will not necessarily mean leading someone to eternal life. However, it will allow them to glimpse the One who gives us the gift of everlasting redemption. Through serving people---these souls which Christ bled and died for---we are given the opportunity to not hinder these precious ones from entering God's kingdom due to neglect. If we are truly God's possession, then we should desire to demonstrate His love to others through the Holy Spirit who lives within. The Great Commission, to go forth and make disciples of all nations, will no longer be a daunting command that we shrink from in fear (Matthew 28:18-20). Instead, everyday will become a joyous drama which unfolds before our eyes. We will always be looking, expectantly seizing opportunities granted to us to show kindness to others while serving them. Remember, the more unexplainable our actions to the lost, the better. Let me further explain.

The next time you are in line at Starbucks or at a convenience store, buy the person in line behind you their coffee or soft drink. It will boggle their mind why you did it! They might be offended, like Peter, that you would try to serve them. Then again, they might be interested enough in why you did it to listen to you tell them about your love for the Savior. Either way, you have fulfilled Christ's desire that we love as He did, deferring to others instead of to our own desires and wishes. If we would live in this manner as Christ's expression of the church, we would turn the world upside down for Jesus as servant evangelists. May we all be obedient to live for Him and through Him in this manner!

Heavenly Father, thank You for the example of Your Son, how He lived and died as the Perfect Servant Evangelist. His message which He lived long ago still resonates in our hearts. Make us servants who take Your message of love to a hurt and lost world. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Bare Soul - Intercessory Evangelism - February 5, 2012

Matthew 9:38 - Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.

Many of us who have grown up on farms or in agrarian cultures understand the importance of the harvest. A harvest can be compared to when a woman gives birth---neither are waiting for a more convenient time. When it is time, it is time. I remember hearing stories of my father's family in pre-World War II Texas working in the fields along with the hired pickers. When the window of opportunity was open to pick the cotton, it was best to take full advantage. If the seedlings survived the cutworms in the spring, and the summer drought and boll weevils, then the cotton would require picking when it was finally mature in order to get it to the gin in a timely manner. Tillers of the earth in our culture as well as those in ancient Palestine certainly understood Jesus' parables and similes regarding farming. His audience undoubtedly knew the significance of his parable of the sower in Matthew 13, but were remiss in tying its importance to spiritual matters. Therefore, when Jesus was instructing the disciples on evangelism in regard to the woman at the well, He poignantly made the following observation,

Do you not say, "There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest"? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. (John 4:35)

We can understand from this and other statements of Christ that the harvest was plenteous if the disciples would only see with spiritual eyes. The harvest was ripe for the proverbial picking. Yet, who or what prepared this spiritual crop for its eventual reaping or tragic disregard?
Jesus clearly modeled intercessory prayer in the Gospels (Matthew 14:23; Matthew 26:36; Mark 6:46; Luke 5:16; John 17). In most of these instances, we don't specifically know what prayers he prayed. We can be sure He was praying for people---not only for the salvation of those contemporary with His first advent, but also for the salvation of those in the following millennia. Jesus reveals His grand plan of intercessory evangelism from His High Priestly prayer,

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:20-21)

How many have believed in the Lord Jesus as a result of the words of the apostles? Not only in Paul and Peter's day were tens of thousands added to the church "through their word," but millions have since been added through their witness in the Scriptures. I suggest souls are coming to the Lord, even today, as a result of Jesus' prayers nearly 2,000 years ago. And, not only Christ's prayers, but also the apostles who modeled prayers throughout their letters on behalf of the church and the unsaved. (See Ephesians 1:17-19; Ephesians 3:16-19; Philippians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:9-12 just for a few examples from Paul's writings.) These prayers, along with countless others throughout the ages, have been fueling the engines of evangelism and bringing Christ the reward for His suffering. In the Book of Revelation, we get a glimpse of the heavenly drama which is played out before the throne of grace regarding prayer. John writes the following,

When He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. (Revelation 5:8)

It is not clear from just this scripture, but it is safe to say the prayers of the saints are continually before God's throne in the heavenly sanctuary. Another scripture in Revelation testifies to this fact,

Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. (Revelation 8:3)

Through these verses, we have a picture of the eternal throne room and the business of heaven transpiring. Amidst the continual glorification of the Almighty is the work of the saints---the custodian of the prayers of all believers. Even Jesus, we are told, continues to make intercession on our behalf to the Father (Hebrews 7:25). And, not only for our behalf, but also for all those ordained to become His sons and daughters who have yet to experience eternal life. We can surmise from all the past and present prayer being offered up on heaven's altar, that souls are being reaped into the kingdom this very moment because of these aforementioned petitions. Some have watered with tears of sorrow for the lost, while others have reaped because of these intercessions. As Jesus told us, we must lift up our eyes for the fields are ready for a great harvest. The end-time revival we will see in these last days will pale with any in history. This, beloved, will be the culmination of prayers throughout the centuries for this final ingathering. We must not shrink from continuing to pray for the lost as we join in prayer with our Lord and entrust our petitions to those who have gone before us. The field is white, but the laborers are few. The window of opportunity is open for a only a short time longer. We must intercede both in prayer and in action, beseeching heaven and prevailing upon mortal men for the hope of reconciliation of their souls to our gracious God.

Heavenly Father, May faith grow in our hearts knowing lives are ripe for harvest! May we sway men's hearts as we reap the prayers of the saints for heaven's sake! May the Lamb who suffered much be honored through our obedience! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



The Bare Soul Archives