Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thankful for Small Things - November 25, 2012

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Thankful for Small Things" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on November 22, 2012.


Zechariah 4:10 - For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the Lord which range to and fro throughout the earth.

I once heard a story about a wealthy retired man who would often take his evening stroll, ever watchful for lost coins along his way. This fellow had no need for the money he would on occasion find. He was known to beam as his eye spotted a quarter, or dime, or even a penny on the sidewalk. He would gingerly pick it up, look toward the sky with a gesture of thanks, and be merrily on his way. Through the years, this behavior became noticeable to all those in the community. Finally, one day one of his neighbors became so curious about the old gentleman's behavior that she questioned him regarding his peculiarity. "Why is it," she asked, "do you get so excited when you find a coin on the streets? After all, everyone in town knows you are one of the wealthiest men in these parts. So, why do you care about a little piece of change?" The wise old gentleman looked at her with a watery eye and said, "Why, it is out of gratitude, of course!" She was a bit dumbfounded regarding what he meant as he could see by the quizzical look on her face. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a penny and asked, "What is the inscription on this penny?" She turned it this way and that and said, "United States of America, One Cent ... ." He interrupted her and said, "Now, turn it over and tell me what it says." She saw the bust of Lincoln and above him in the upper circumference she read "In God We Trust." She looked at the old man's face where a tear had begun to fall. "You see," he said, "These are just small gifts from God lying at my feet, waiting to be picked up. They are a loving reminder how God is always there for me to trust in Him for all my needs. They are small tokens with a reminder for the finder to cherish. However, only if they know what they have found." While this was a small and insignificant thing in the eyes of those who would watch the old man, there was something far greater at work than any of them realized. Things are often not as they seem. While some would discourage themselves to bend over and pick up a penny, others such as this retired gentleman saw the value in doing so.
 
Similarly, our lead verse relates a situation where perspective is imperative. The context is a prophet speaking a word of encouragement to a people who were losing hope. The monumental task of rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem seemed overwhelming. The governor and his workers had laid the foundation of the House of God yet there was so much to do. How could such a huge undertaking be accomplished when they had so far to go? They did not see the significance of their labors in relation to the hardships they were facing. The ridicule from their enemies in even attempting such a huge undertaking had begun to take its toll. Most importantly, they just did not know if it was worth putting their lives in jeopardy as there was always the threat of attack. At this crucial time, Zechariah the prophet tells them the very hands who had laid the foundation of this House would complete it (Zechariah 4:9). They did not need to worry, for to despise "the day of small things" is to bring God's honor in contempt. For what God had ordained, the Lord would finish as His eyes were on this work from beginning to end.

How often are we ungrateful for the small things in our lives which are meant to produce big things? The Israelites became discouraged in the great work God had given them. However, all they needed was a word of encouragement from prophets such as Zechariah and Haggai to complete what they had begun. Like the Israelites, we often want to discount things as too small to matter in our lives because we do not see their value in the big scheme of things. Much of this sort of attitude is often born out of ingratitude. We do not appreciate small things because we do not possess the wisdom to understand what God wants to construct from these small beginnings. Or, our apathy of not wanting to put forth the effort is sometimes a cause for halting the small things from becoming big things. In the same way that small things or insignificant beginnings can become large victories in our lives, they can also become large defeats or a pattern of hopelessness if we allow them to develop from a wrong perspective. It is at these times we must marshal our affections and focus on the larger picture rather than the momentary focus which may seem insignificant.

God will not trust us with the large things until we can be thankful for the small. Our gratitude is often in direct proportion with His graciousness upon our respective lives. As the old gentleman demonstrated, it takes a keen eye to understand the significance in a lost coin. In the same way, it takes a wise heart to thank God in the day of small things, for this will only lead us to greater things for our families, our churches, and all those with whom we are in daily contact. We must simply look for the goodness in all that comes our way and be grateful for all God gives. When we become thankful, it opens up a new perspective or perhaps one in which we had long forgotten. Gratitude and thankfulness are the key to unlocking the door of small things which will inevitably bring us into the largeness of Christ's bounty. We must merely start today by surrendering to Jesus and allowing Him to open our eyes to all He has most graciously given. Then, as the old gentleman, we will be one of the wealthiest people in town -- fabulously rich in understanding for all God has done for us!

Most High God, thank You that You require hearts of gratitude from those who call upon Your name. It is a small price to pay for all You have given so freely. May we understand that in You we live, and move, and have our being. Everything is from Your hand and is to be received with thanksgiving. When we begin to embrace the small things, allow us to appreciate the big things you will inevitably entrust us with. We pray this in Jesus' Name and for His sake, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


Sunday, November 18, 2012

An Offensive Defensive - November 18, 2012

II Timothy 1:14 - Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.

Some claim World Heavyweight Champion Jack Dempsey originally stated, "The best defense is a good offense." Others attribute this quote to NFL Coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers. Regardless who first said it first in these exact words, the idea has been around a long time. The suggestion is to be proactive and not wait for one's opponent to get the upper hand. Instead, one should look for all opportunities to set the tone of engagement by applying force where their foe cannot resist. Boxers know better then to allow a challenger to engage their own strategy. To do so causes the non-aggressor  to take a defensive posture. They can then only fend off their alpha counterpart by defending themselves as well as possible. The prize does not go to the one who defends best, but who offends effectively. The purse or the treasure lies in the wisdom and strength to overcome. Similarly, the prize on the gridiron is protecting the pigskin and carrying it to the end zone. One cannot get there merely defending one's end of the field. There must be a wise, strategic onslaught to score the points necessary to win the day.
 
Boxers guard their bodies and their faces when fighting in the prize ring. Football players guard the football as a team, yet aggressively seek to carry it into their opponents back field. Even in an offensive position there is a defensive dynamic at work. Wisdom to know when to take a loss on a play rather than give up possession is often crucial. Trainers in boxing and coaches in sports such as football are continually telling their champions how to execute. However, these are meant only to exhort and encourage. They cannot fight the fight nor play the game. They have entrusted others to faithfully fulfill their expectations. Likewise, God will not enter the ring for us nor will He take the field in our stead. However, the Holy Spirit will be there always to encourage and exhort us with His wisdom to offensively defend what has been commended to us.

Thank God that Paul tells us to guard "the treasure" within through the help of the Holy Spirit. Too often, Christians believe they must concentrate more on the promises, or determine to not sin in a certain area. While these are notable exercises, they are pointless if we have not first turned to God through His Holy Spirit to help us. The best we can hope to do in our own power is to defend ourselves by greater effort. However, in order to offend the enemy and make him shrink from his assault is to first surrender to Jesus Christ in all our affections. Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). This is not mind over matter but instead regarding what matters most to our God. When we seek to guard our minds and hearts, then we are merely making a positive thinking construct. In so doing, when we first seek the Lord and ask Him to help us rule our minds with His desires, then He fortifies our hearts with the security of the Holy Spirit. It all comes down to Whom or what we allow to guard our minds. For in so doing, this is the entity which will inevitably guard our hearts. If it is our intellect, we will succumb to the devil and our flesh. It it is humility of mind as found in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:2), then no power or demon from hell will ever be able to break in and spoil the treasure of God.

Treasure is only effectively guarded when there is both strength and wisdom involved. It is not merely enough to defend our position as aforementioned in these sports analogies. However, we must use the strength of our God through our surrender to His wisdom. It is superfluous to believe someone can compete in athletics without the proper instruction or coaching. Similarly, why do so many Christians believe they can guard what God has entrusted them without submitting to God's wisdom? It is a strategy doomed for failure. God will not guard the treasure without our involvement. That means stepping into the prize ring or taking the field to do His will. Once we are equipped with the strength of His might and the wisdom of His counsel, our defense will be an offense that will not be easily overcome by any man or devil. May we all understand how to offensively defend the great treasure given to all who know Christ.

Gracious Father, may You equip us and arm us accordingly to guard what You have entrusted to Your servants. May we reveal Your wisdom in this great offense as we defend Your great treasure within. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick

 

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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trust and Obey - November 11, 2012

Luke 5:8 - But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!'

We all have certain skills which we do better than others. Some of us can create beautiful art work, or others of us have the ability to take a bunch of dried flowers and make a stunning floral display. Others have extraordinary ability in their vocations. Whether it is motivating others in a management position or making a particular product, these often make it look easy. When we look at the disciples and their lives pre-Jesus, they were probably good at what they did. Matthew, for instance, was disliked by the Pharisees which most likely meant he did his job well, extorting taxes from the locals. Yet, when Jesus saw Matthew and told him to follow Him, the scripture tells us he immediately obeyed (Mark 2:14-15). Likewise, with those who fished for a living. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) we see the calling of Peter, Andrew, James, and John at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. However, in Luke we are given a bit more detail regarding Peter's call and his response. In the fifth chapter of Luke, the Lord boards Peter's vessel and asks him to row out a distance from the shore so He would not be pressed by the crowd when teaching. After his discourse, he tells Peter to to put out and let down the nets for a catch. Peter tells Jesus how they had fished all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless, he would do as he was told. The extraordinary miracle that resulted is recorded in verse six as Luke tells us "they enclosed a great quantity of fish." In our lead verse, we see the reaction of Simon Peter to this remarkable turn of events.

In this case, the old saying "seeing is believing" is appropriate. The scripture tells us when Peter saw the large catch of fish, that he was struck with a new understanding of this Man from Nazareth. Perhaps he initially scoffed to himself when Jesus told him to cast off and throw out the nets. After all, what did this man know that Peter and his brother Andrew did not? Had they not fished all night and caught nothing? Either out of respect for Jesus or just to prove him wrong, he obeyed the Lord. The outcome of his obedience would forever change this young fisherman's life. Peter fell at the Lord's feet and confessed he was an evil person, and that he could never be friends with someone as holy as this Man. He may have considered, in that split second, that if Christ knew where to fish then He surely knew everything there was to know about himself. This made Peter uncomfortable to the point of conviction where he confessed he was unworthy of the Lord's presence in his life. As Luke records, "when Simon Peter saw that," he was at a crossroads. However, the Lord in His extraordinary kindness told Peter how his past life did not matter. From now on he would enter in to his true vocation.
Does it bring us to our knees when we see "that" for which the Lord has done? Peter's "that" was the Lord's ability to perform the impossible when he and his comrades had toiled all night for nothing. Sometimes, God can reach us best when He shows us our inadequacies in the things in which we think we excel. Peter undoubtedly thought of himself as a "professional" fisherman. There may have been none like the fishing teams of Peter and Andrew or James and John. Yet, this itinerant preacher from Nazareth who grew up miles from Galilee shows up one day on its shores and tells them how to do their job! The first miracle is that Peter conceded to do what the Lord asked. When he surrendered his intellect to Jesus, then the next miracle occurred -- a boat load of fish! But then the greatest miracle of all happened. Peter saw his inadequacy and acknowledged the Lord's ability to do more than he ever thought or imagined.

What are we facing today that we think we can handle alone? We may consider we have gone through troubles before on our own. Why should we trouble the Lord? The reason is obvious from Peter's example. Surrender of our human reasoning allows God to perform great things if we will but obey. We must allow God to interrupt our lives and change the paradigm of our thinking. As we allow our minds to change, our hearts will follow. Our gaze on "that" will determine what we believe, beloved of God. May we all look to Him for He is able to do abundantly beyond anything we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

Heavenly Father, gracious Lord, cause us to surrender the mental beast on our shoulders to You. Grant us the revelation of Your will on our lives. Please allow us to see "that" miracle like Peter saw which firmly placed him forever on the road of discipleship. Grant us the understanding necessary to see that we are nothing yet You are everything within us. In Jesus Christ's Name we pray, Amen.
Your Barefoot Servant,
Rick


Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Necessity of God's Judgment - November 4, 2012

Isaiah 26:9 - At night my soul longs for You, indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently; For when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.

I often marvel when the godless become all inflamed when someone mentions the possibility that God still judges the earth through natural disasters. These do not know my God. For my God is a God of both judgment and mercy. This is the reason He is holy. There is no other way He could be otherwise without the juxtaposition of these two character traits within His Divine Nature. Somehow, those who mock the God of the Bible have instead this sickening, mealy-mouthed god who chooses to wink at sin. This "god," in their thinking, does nothing other than look the other way when nations continue to live like the devil. Then, these reprobates expect His grace "to be shed on thee" no matter how they have lived. They believe Jesus, if indeed He is the Son of God, was some type of a milk-toast savior who would not dare say anything bad against anyone. Those who believe this have never studied the Holy Bible. Or, if they have, they have allowed another spirit and not the Holy Spirit to guide them in their pursuit of truth.

The truth is this, beloved of God. The Lord God Almighty has put every nation on a probationary warning that He will no longer tolerate sin. He refuses to bend His character to adjust to ours. He will not excuse immorality, lasciviousness, licentiousness, or perversion. If the Lord Jesus turned away from these and did not judge them, He would have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah on that final day. No beloved, He will do no such thing. These that would shrink from understanding both a God of mercy and judgment fail to see those scriptures where Jesus condemns the sins and unbelief of those cities in ancient Palestine. Jesus pronounces the following woes from the Gospel of Matthew:
Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matthew 11:20-24)
I can guarantee, by the word of the Lord in the Holy Scriptures, judgment of this type looms large over our sensually-soaked world. One might say, what miracles have we seen in our present world that would qualify us for the type of judgment Jesus speaks? The miracles of His grace are all around us, every day. However, the godless are too interminably stupid through their continued refusal to believe in the God of the Bible that they have lost all their understanding regarding God's miracles. The miracle that God allows the heart of the unrepentant to continue to beat while they mock His holiness is the greatest miracle of grace and mercy outside of Christ's redemption. That God continues to allow godless, perverted humanity to draw breath is a miracle when they continue to live their selfish lives. Yet, when God does begin to speak through calamity, whether it is a natural disaster, a health epidemic, or a financial meltdown, the godless speak of the intolerance of those who would suggest such things. They vehemently speak with vitriolic anger asking how can we believe in fairy tales and angels and all this religious mumbo-jumbo? They curse God out of a position of total ignorance regarding who God is and what He desires to give them through His mercy. He is graciously offering them a wake-up call as Isaiah states in our lead verse. If they will but understand that God's judgments are merciful and full of patience. He is trying to teach the world about His righteous character and how He will not accept the world's selfish, sin-soaked lifestyles. He is the Judge of the earth and He is coming one day soon to hold court.

For all those who would consider my words hateful, then you do not understand my intent. My God and my Jesus are not "touchy-feely" Persons. They are part of the Holy Godhead who are full of love and mercy but at the same time unswerving from what will be the coming judgment. For God to behave any differently than as the Judge and the Lover of our souls would be to demean God and make Him less than He is. He has come in every instance of calamity the world has experienced. And, He will continue to appear in the midst of every judgment the earth is yet to endure. He uses these to show us we are out of control and lost without Him. If we do not surrender to Him and experience His mercy now, we will experience His judgment both now and in the life to come. Choose this day whom you will serve ... As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15).

Heavenly Father, forgive us, heal us, and save us from ourselves. Allow Your judgments upon this earth to drive us to an understanding of Your righteousness and Your kindness. May we see You as You truly are ... a wise and holy God that is in love with a rebellious race. May we come to You! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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