Friday, September 28, 2012

Hope in the House of Mourning - September 30, 2012

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Hope in the House of Mourning" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on September 27, 2012.

Hope in the House of Mourning - September 27, 2012

Ecclesiastes 7:2 - It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.

How does one stay optimistic in the face of despair? What causes the ember of hope to keep burning when every circumstance seeks to extinguish it? Mankind has mourned the loss of loved ones for millennia, and yet we have not "evolved" beyond its necessity. Grief is a God-given emotion that is crucial to our well-being. While it may be uncomfortable, the pain often works as a catalyst to drive us toward a solution. The end of sorrow will result in either a positive or negative outcome. This is often dependent on whether we know Him who allows both pain and sorrow, or conversely laughter and joy. When we allow God to show us His divine plan in the pain, then we gain invaluable insight into His own heart and how He cares for us. Through these lessons of love, we can grow spiritually to help others. However, for those who choose to disregard God and turn from Him as our Sustainer in times of trouble, we might attempt to seek out other "spirits" to provide a balm of solace. While they may offer promise of instantaneous relief, they only compound the problems without allowing pain to have its perfect result.

Throughout the years of my biblical studies, I have reflected on our lead verse and its meaning in regard to hope. In this regard I continue to see the wisdom of Solomon's admonition and the importance of understanding our mortality. This truth rang true with me on a personal level recently. The loss of a loved one often creates a vacuum in our lives. Some have described it as literally sucking the air out of us while we struggle to make sense of human loss. However, as aforementioned, pain has its place in our time of mourning. Many do not want to consider we are but mortal flesh, just passing through life as a vapor (James 4:14). The uncomfortable idea of death is not desirous for consideration. To embrace such a notion warrants either action or apathy. Many, the Lord Jesus tells us, will cling to the latter (Matthew 7:14). However, for the former, there is hope -- a hope that life is more than our day to day struggle here upon earth. The Preacher in this text of Ecclesiastes tells us there is hope if we choose the house of mourning rather than the apathy of the house of feasting. Unfortunately, apathy is often the result of fear and not wanting to act upon sound wisdom. Many are those who are stuck in this valley of decision! (Joel 3:14) They have yet to find the courage to face life on God's terms. Conversely, those who have allowed themselves the luxury of pain understand how it brings us through this hopeless valley and on to a place of strength.

Too many in this valley of despair mourning for loved ones turn to a false balm to ease their pain. They might use medications, illegal drugs, or alcohol to hide from their feelings. As human beings made in the image of God, we are not designed to hide from anything and especially not God. The Lord has dealt with man's betrayal to hide from Him ever since that fateful day in the Garden (Genesis 3:9). When we continue to turn from God, believing we know best regarding how to deal with the pain of suffering, then we lose spirit. However, our turning to God, as Solomon states causes the "living" to take the divine substance of life to his or her heart. In other words, to be alive means to confront life according to the will of God and to face it with courage. The dying, or those without the understanding of God, continue to lose their soul little by little in their denial of God's place in their lives. The former enlarges our hearts, the latter continues to diminish it.

Solomon gives us two choices where to "go" in Ecclesiastes 7:2. We may choose certain pain, where we courageously face our inability to cope with our emotional state on our own. This is a place of vulnerability and discomfort. However, it is honest, truthful, and without guile. That is why others are often there to comfort one another in a time of loss in order to draw upon each other's strengths in a time of crisis. Whether it is the loss of a loved one, or our own inner loss of relationship with a God that seeks our fellowship, we must not hide from God. We must allow His sorrow to do its work within us. Without it, we cannot come to the other side where there is once again peace and joy in living. As the Psalmist states: "For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5) May we who seek to hide from God and the pain of mourning find ourselves hidden in Him and drawing upon the strength of the Almighty to bring us through to the other side.

Father of all mercies, may You draw those who are fearful to face the prospect of their own mortality. May You grant these the opportunity to come to You and experience Your grace and love in the house of mourning. May those who find themselves empty at the loss of a loved one recognize their own loss if they were to go into eternity without You. Grant these repentance through Your free gift of salvation. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Friday, September 21, 2012

The Inner Room of Prayer - September 23, 2012

Matthew 6:6 - But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

For many years and at various times, I have been nominally to very involved in what is regarded the present day prayer movement. There is something commendable to be said for believers in Christ who are dedicated to 24-hour a day prayer, 365 days a year. Time spent in a prayer room with other believers, seeking God for our spiritually impoverished world, is wonderful. However, it cannot take the place of hidden prayer. Solomon tells us in the book of Ecclesiastes: "It is good that you grasp one thing and also not let go of the other; for the one who fears God comes forth with both of them." (Ecclesiastes 7:18) If we use this scripture as a measuring rod, there is a balanced approach to prayer. However, while private prayer is possible without public prayer, I believe the Scriptures unequivocally state that effective public prayer is somewhat superfluous without an inner room prayer life.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave both his past and present disciples an extremely important admonition on prayer. In ancient Judaism, the prayer life was regarded as sacred, yet it was mainly a public demonstration of faith. Jewish men would gather in the Inner Court of the temple, Jewish women would gather in the Court of Women, and all other peoples were only allowed in the Court of the Gentiles. In all of these places there was the public display of prayers offered up to God. (Today, there is no better example than those offered at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.) However, Jesus turned the paradigm upside-down when he told His disciples to hide oneself in their inner room rather than allow others to see them voicing their prayers to God. According to Jesus, public prayer was not the pinnacle of devotion, but hidden prayer instead. Prayer should be a personal expression of our relationship with the Father. In the example He uses in Matthew, no one is to know how much we pray or do not pray. "Rewards" are not necessarily contingent on our earnestness or the length of time we spend in the inner room, but our obedience according to the Father's bidding.

If we took this one scripture in Matthew and built a theology on prayer, it would seem to condemn all public expressions. As with all Jesus' writings, it is important to see what He states in all instances regarding prayer and form a consensus of thought. He was not against public prayer, as we read in the Gospel of Mark. In the context of chapter eleven, Jesus had entered Jerusalem for His final week before His death. The previous day, the Lord and His disciples had cast out the moneychangers from the Temple. So, when He spoke about standing and praying in verse 25, it is evident He was referring to public prayer. Mark records Jesus' words in the following: "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions." (Mark 11:25) While Christ has often been accused of rabbinic hyperbole in certain instances (e.g., plucking one's eye out if it offends), we have enough written on prayer by the Gospel writers to know Jesus did not condemn public demonstrations of this sort. To apply Solomon's wisdom once again, we must marry public prayer with personal devotion. Without a private life of prayer in the proverbial inner room, there is not much sense "standing" in prayer in any public setting. True, God hears all prayers. However, if we can only please God through faith (Hebrews 11:6), then how much of this substance will truly be part of our public petition if we have not developed it in the secret place of devotion?

Do we hide our prayer habits so that others cannot see them? Or, do we make sure we are seen by others? Public prayer rooms are wonderful and have their place. However, there should be a reluctance for others to see us there and somehow equate we are "spiritual." Conversely, if we are seeking to conceal ourselves from men's approval then we can be hidden in God for His purposes and for His pleasure. We must covertly offer up prayers continually in our private devotion so we will have something to give in a public prayer forum. As a result, others should not necessarily witness our standing and spouting right-sounding prayers, but they should rather breathe prayer's fragrance exuding from our lives. If we are interceding continually to God then it will be moot whether anyone sees us. Nonetheless, it will be evident by the aroma of Christ upon our lives. Beloved, may we all seek to stealthily hide our prayer life from men. For in so doing, God will make it evident to all both in this life and the one to come.

Father God, may you draw each of us to that secret place within the inner room of prayer. Through this surrender, would you then equip us to be holy, humble servants of yours who are ready to take our place with others to stand in the gap and shore up the wall of intercession for our world. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Friday, September 14, 2012

Judging Righteously - September 16, 2012

I Corinthians 5:12 - For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?

Most of us are familiar with Jesus' words from the Sermon on the Mount when He said "Judge not so that you may not be judged." (Matthew 7:1) We may have used this verse to instruct the "intolerant," or possibly someone reminded us of this scripture when we voiced a negative comment regarding a person, place, or thing. Those who study Scripture and know the heart of God might tire of hearing those who know little of Scripture and God's heart misquote Jesus' admonition. The context of this verse spoke to those who lived under a Pharisaical culture which continually attempted to bring others under the burden of religious compliance. However, Jesus changed the complexion of what it means to judge righteously by telling the crowd to first remove all pretense of self-righteousness. (Once the log of contempt toward others is removed from my eye, I will be able to see clearly to remove the speck from my brother's eye [Matthew 7:3-5].) By doing so, we have the opportunity to demonstrate love within the bounds of humility which God has given to us regarding our fellow man.

If we are truly honest, we all make judgments dozens of times throughout our day. We judge whether we are color-coordinated when we get dressed in the morning. We judge whether a certain food is good or not so good for us, and especially our waistline! However, when we move from making judgments that speak into other lives, that is what often causes the rancor. What we must ask ourselves in these cases is: What is our motive? Is our desire to condemn or to construct? To meddle or to mend? To hate or to heal? Why we judge will often be the great determiner on how it is received. We know from the Scriptures that Jesus spoke much about judging and it was not always telling us not to do it. In context of Jesus' discussion with the Pharisees concerning healing on the Sabbath in John chapter seven, He tells them not to be so bound by their laws that they miss the intent. In John 7:23-24 He states, "If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath? Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment." [emphasis added] Jesus is saying to both those of His day and also to us how we are missing the point if we do not judge appropriately and according to the law of love. We must see that judgment must begin with us and our motives, and then we will be adequately prepared to judge with Christ's heart of love (I Peter 4:17).

The Apostle Paul understood this principle when he likewise dealt with religious passivity at the church in Corinth. Immorality, covetousness, slander, envy, and a number of other fleshly indulgences were in full operation in this young, burgeoning body of believers. However, he rightly pointed out how "outsiders," or those who did not know Christ, were not to be judged in a condemning manner. Paul preached the Gospel and allowed the seed to fall where it may, bringing some but not all to repentance. Like Paul, we can only speak the word of God and let unbelievers either continue in their wicked ways or come to Jesus and His salvation. However, for those who do come to Jesus and yet still continue in the ways of the world, it is our duty to judge them in love. Of course, we must be careful in how we present the truth. It must be done in compassion and through relationship. As an example, it is impossible to drive a 2-ton truck over a 1-ton bridge and not expect bridge damage. In the same way, if we have not bridged the relationship in those lives where we speak judgment, then we will very possibly damage the "bridge" and cause irreparable harm. Love is the key, beloved, to any type of successful judgment.

The aforementioned scripture in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians reads as follows, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves." (I Corinthians 5:12-13) Was Paul angry? I believe that is certainly the case. However, what precluded Paul's anger was his love. When writing this epistle, I can only imagine the tears streaming down his face as he sorrowfully said, "Remove the wicked man from among yourselves." Paul had built that bridge of relationship and had poured his life into theirs. Therefore, he bore the right to judge with righteous judgment those for whom he had travailed in much work and prayer. We must likewise be careful who we judge and on what occasion. It is often easy to judge the behavior of someone else without first loving that individual. As stated, I believe Jesus' words "judge not that you not be judged" are often used to further the ends of people who want to remain tolerant of the worst behavior. Conversely, I believe it is also important that when we do judge righteously we do it with a heart of love that seeks to correct through the lens of Scripture. As Christians, we must not balk from our responsibility to judge righteously. Yet, we must do it always looking to ourselves, knowing we are only as strong and loving as we are humble before a loving God.

Heavenly Father, may we first judge ourselves correctly that we may be able to judge others with love and to help them on this journey of life. May we never condemn, but always lift up the standard of Jesus, allowing Your Holy Spirit to draw both us and others to Your saving grace. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Friday, September 7, 2012

The Wings of Wealth - September 9, 2012

Proverbs 23:4 - Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it.

Francis Bacon is quoted as saying, "Be not penny-wise. Riches have wings. Sometimes they fly away of themselves, and sometimes they must be set flying to bring in more." Most have experienced either or both points of this English philosopher's admonition regarding money. When we have set our hope on wealth, it has often disappointed us. Playing the stock market can often be a risky undertaking and many can attest to Lord Bacon's observation because of bad investments. While the first part of his quote is understandable for many of us, the mention of us providing the proverbial wings to wealth is quite another. To possess a sense of control over our finances is one thing -- it is quite another to allow the income we have so deliberately built up over the years to suddenly take flight without a thorough understanding where it is heading. For Christians, this is often the case when we do not understand why the Lord is requiring us to give a certain amount to this person or to that organization. However, this is when our faith becomes apparent to others, and especially to ourselves.

We have often heard others speak about the futility of pursuing wealth. The wisest man who ever lived (besides Jesus) reflected upon the pursuit of material wealth and categorized it with similar futilities of life (Ecclesiastes 2:1-9). Throughout this diatribe, I feel quite certain Solomon was not speaking of merely material wealth. I believe it is also reflective of his admonition in our lead verse. Because of the wisdom of Solomon, I believe he understood that secure, material wealth was merely a result of solid spiritual riches. Until one has surrendered both to the Lord and for His bidding, then wealth may easily depart us as we desperately try to hang onto it and control it. However, a most incredible dynamic begins to occur once we acknowledge that wealth is not just material. We see the value of our entire lives given to God for His service. (The truly rich in life will understand.)

Jesus' disciples were astounded when their Lord told them how hard it was for a rich man to enter the kingdom (Luke 18:18-30). I believe He had much more in mind regarding earthly riches, as the example of Solomon shows us. I can visualize Jesus mourning the lack of spiritual wealth in the rich young ruler as He spoke to the disciples regarding the rich young rulers "net worth." Jesus knew the requirement for a true disciple of His was a life laid down of both material and spiritual riches for the sake of others. Otherwise, wealth would "fly away" of itself. Conversely, the Lord requires any disciple of His to set riches flying on their own through His prudent counsel. Then, these very wings that have borne away our "supposed" wealth, both spiritually and materially, will bring it back a hundred fold to further invest in Christ's kingdom.

Dictionaries misjudge the definition of wealth by limiting it to what a person can garner, materially. Wealth is actually anything which allows a person to prosper in life -- physically, mentally, or spiritually. Jesus tells us not to seek it in any form, but to seek first the kingdom of God and what we need will be given to us. Wealth will then come, as we need it, to supply first other's needs and then our own. Seeking the wealth of wisdom and that of money are equally wrong if we merely desire to waste them upon ourselves. God lavished upon us the wealth of salvation and He desires our hearts to be taken up with the same task for all mankind. Wealth will certainly take wings in every one of our lives. It is meant to fly. It is our responsibility to not let it do so without the Lordship of Jesus Christ. As Francis Bacon stated, we must set wealth flying to bring in more. This is the irony of the Gospel. We spend ourselves utterly on Jesus Christ and His will, only to become the wealthiest individuals on earth.

Lord Jesus, allow us to see with Your wisdom the riches within each of us who call You Lord. May we draw upon these to produce wealth of all kinds for everyone except ourselves. Then, may we marvel at how you have made us indescribably rich in the process. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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