Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Year of Decision - December 30, 2012

Isaiah 6:1 - In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.

What will this new year bring for us? We made it through an another presidential election in the United States, and survived the Mayan apocalypse predicted for December 21. Many I talk to are cautiously optimistic about their future. Others are feeling that 2013 looks to offer no more hope then they experienced in the previous year. Things many have counted on in the past to offer them security have suddenly shifted in their present situations. Stock portfolios are not as robust as they once were and housing values struggle to maintain a semblance of their former value. Whether we wring our hands in despair, or lift them toward heaven in loving trust, God sees and knows all. No matter what goes on around us, we will only experience true hope and security through the Hope-giver. That means abandoning our expectations in anything except Christ and dying to ourselves and our ambitions. Retiring to any possibility less than this is futile in the light of eternity and prone for disappointment.

In his youth, Isaiah the prophet probably held similarly high hopes for his future as many do today. Born into a wealthy family, he was educated and trained in the priesthood. His imminent expectations undoubtedly looked good. However, Isaiah would have an encounter with God that would change his life forever. In this turning point of Isaiah's life we see a progression of "NO, WOE, and GO." Before this fateful day -- when the prophet saw the vision of the Lord "high and lifted up" -- he was what we today might consider a "good" Christian. However, in the year of King Uzziah's death, the paradigm of faith shifted in Isaiah's life forever. Uzziah's reign will always be symbolic of rebellion, pride, and arrogance as he tried to act like a priest and God smote him with leprosy (II Chronicles 26:18-20). This dreaded disease of ancient Israel is a metaphor in the word of God for sin and all its consequences. Isaiah deliberately tells us that he was diametrically changed in the year Uzziah died. Allegorically, it was the year of his death to what he thought a good follower of God should be.

Before the death of "king self" typified by Uzziah's death, he said, "NO, not me Lord!" He was probably happy with his life as a well-educated priest. But now something changed. He saw the Lord high and lifted up in the subsequent verses of this chapter and said, "WOE is me!" seeing himself in the light of God's knowledge. With godly understanding now guiding him, he accepted the role as prophet when God told him to "GO." His total disregard for his own life and total concern for God's mission became his prophetic legacy. Because of his obedience, we have his writings which have lasted more than 2700 years. God's influence on an obedient man will last well beyond his lifespan as was the case with Isaiah.

We are not told when this epiphany came to the prophet that redefined his life, but only that it came "in the year" of the king's death. Often, we will not know exactly the time or place of God's moving in our lives. We may only know it happened in a certain season, possibly over a period of time. Isaiah did not associate his vision with a particular day, because that was not important. What was critical was to know how he allowed the juxtaposition of his sin and rebellion (typified by the king) with the holiness of God and his mission as a prophet. The result was a deputation empowered by the zeal of the Lord. This was not to be just a casual prophetic word, but years of prophecy that would eventually result in Isaiah's physical death (Isaiah 6:8-13)(Hebrews 11:37).

How many of us need to come to the "year of King Uzziah's death" in our lives? How many of us need to quit being "good" Christians and see our flesh for what it is? Seeing our badness is step one. Then, it is imperative we then see His greatness which cleanses us. We must understand how the Lord has made us the righteousness of Christ in God. This, beloved, is what truly sets us free. Revelation of this sort can only result in a desire to go, say, and do whatever the Lord might lead. Is this the year of our death to any and all of our own ambitions? Is 2013 the year when we rid ourselves of the flesh and see the Lord "high and lifted up" in our lives? If we ask, He will reveal Himself. It is the great desire of His heart to reveal the truth of ourselves and of His awesome majesty!

Lord God, Holy Father, will You reveal Yourself to us in this upcoming year? Will You show Yourself to us in Your mercy, revealing our hearts while showing us Your great love? Grant us wisdom, Lord. Give us understanding according to Your Holy Spirit. Allow us to walk in great faith as we see You in Your majesty in 2013. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


The Bare Soul Archives

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Christ Child - December 23, 2012

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Christ Child" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on December 27, 2012.


Matthew 2:18 - A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; And she refused to be comforted, because they were no more.

When we read the story of Christ's birth, it is full of wonder and hope. Shepherds and wise men rejoice over the birth of the Savior. Yet, in the midst of this glorious event, tragedy taints the most important advent the world has ever known. Other families in Bethlehem and its environs had similarly celebrated the joyous coming of their babies in those days. However, they soon would see their children's lives ruthlessly taken from them. No one really knows for certain how many. The Martyrdom of Matthew states 3,000 babies were slaughtered by the command of Herod. The Byzantine liturgy claims more than 14,000 male children under the age of two were massacred, while Syrian tradition places the number at 64,000! Not to diminish the horror of this event, but the number was probably quite smaller. Biblical archaeologists believe from their findings that Bethlehem's population on May 14, 6 AD (the date claimed by Clement for Christ's birth) to be around 300 persons. If that is the case, then children under two years old would probably equal less than a dozen. However, no one really knows for sure. How far around Bethlehem did Herod's murderous edict extend? While it is doubtful 64,000 children lost their lives, it is equally as doubtful in my mind that just a handful of children were killed. Nevertheless, no matter the number, a life is precious and the heartache of those whose children were taken in such a cruel manner was no doubt heartbreaking beyond words.

As the Christ child escaped to Egypt with His parents, we read in Matthew's gospel how the innocents were slaughtered by a madman. Herod was one of a long line of megalomaniacal kings in Jewish history who sought to maintain his rule at any cost. Since he was crowned ruler of Judea by the Roman government more than 40 years earlier, he had killed scores of persons he considered a threat to his throne. The slaughter of the innocents was merely the crowning achievement of his murderous ways in the twilight of his reign. This man schemed and connived his entire life to ensure his rule and that of his posterity. When he gave the command to destroy the male babies in Bethlehem, this was nothing horrendous in his eyes whatsoever. This was merely the last of a long series of murders to ensure his kingdom rule.

We often look at this event as appalling, but it was the most natural reaction of evil for this malevolent king to perpetrate. While this unspeakable evil was done, the Son of God was safe far to the south. Some might say, "Why did not God intervene on behalf of the innocents while He protected the Son of God? Isn't this hypocritical on God's part to show favoritism to His own Son, yet allow the innocent to perish?" The same questions have been asked of God throughout the millennia. While many believe He sits safely in the heavenlies while continual injustice occurs here on earth, some would suggest this proves He is an unjust God. However, those who would question God in this way do not understand He is not only a God of mercy but one of justice. His character demands that He allow mankind to go the way we have chosen since that fateful day in the Garden. God told Adam and Eve that death would be the result of disobedience, yet they chose to go their own way. Even so, we have chosen to go our own way and the result is carnage and death on a worldwide scale. Why does God allow children to die? Why does He allow babies in Uganda to suffer and die by the hands of cruel men and evil regimes? Why does God allow entire communities with thousands of children to starve to death in the Sudan? Why does He allow terrorists in Belarus to destroy an entire orphanage of children? Because evil exists in the world and we as a species have embraced it! The result of this prevalent evil will result in the death and exploitation of the innocent. It always will. The problem is compounded when we as the human race believe we are not all capable of this type of evil.

Whether we are saved by the Prince of Peace, or are joint-murderers with the prince of darkness is our choice today as it was on that infamous day in Eden. We will either join ourselves with God and look toward the day when He will once again make everything whole. Or, we will continue to join ourselves with the devil and blame God for all the woes of our world. The innocents will continually be the tragic victims of our foolish decision as a race. What we need to do is put the blame where it belongs -- on ourselves, and submit to the Christ Child who can make it all right once again. Instead of saying, "Why" to God over the calamity of this world, we should be praying "When will you come and set things right?" When we look to Him for the solutions, we will understand so much more than those without God. The evil will still be unacceptable. But we will understand its origin and its final demise as we trust in God to one day rid the earth of those who would prey on the innocent, much as Satan preyed on the innocent in Eden's garden. Then, the blameless will be righteous before Him, never to be exploited by evil again.

Holy Father, may we understand that the innocents will always be subjected to the worst kinds of evil. The hearts of men are given to do evil because they are children of their father the devil. They have chosen their parentage by their choice to follow him. There is a day, Father, when You will wipe the earth of this plague. Then, the innocents will be continually in Your presence, never to suffer again. May You come quickly, Lord Jesus. In Christ's Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



Sunday, December 16, 2012

After These Things ... - December 16, 2012

Genesis 22:1 - Now it came about after these things, that God tested Abraham, and said to him, "Abraham!" And he said, "Here I am.”

Testing can be either a pleasant or unpleasant activity, depending on one's preparedness. As a student, I did not like the discomfort generated by not studying. So, I would usually give it my best shot to try to understand the exam material. Usually, I was satisfied with the outcome. However, there were those particular times when no amount of preparation seemed to help. After a setback such as a less than desirable grade, it was time to cut my losses and get ready for the next test, whatever that might be. It was usually not that important how I did with one grade, but rather the summation of the entire examination throughout the course material. The obvious bears worth mentioning, how one must continue to do the next right thing to accomplish the desired goal. Often, the next right thing is a series of tests that result in creating something much more important than any knowledge. That thing is often defined as character.
 
While the Patriarch Abraham is known for his great faith, one might not fully understand how he first obtained his godly trust. As with every effect, there is a cause (or a catalyst, if you will). Few take time to truly understand the causation or the context of Abraham's greatest test of faith. We look at Abraham's obedience to sacrifice Isaac and we shake our heads in wonder. However, a test of this colossal size only occurs "after these things." It is a decided moment in the heart of God and at a point in a man or woman's life when either heaven or hell is about to bend, respectively. However, this moment was also a series of faithful and not so faithful exercises throughout the life of the patriarch. Often, Abraham did as God desired and believed Him. At other times, we see him lying to save his own skin. Nonetheless, all of that was now moot in the light of the one great question; Could Abraham totally give away what he loved the most? The test in which Abraham became known for ultimately was the result of many previous tests of which no one will know of on this side of eternity other than he and God.

In the same way, how much was the Son of God tested upon this earth before His greatest test on Calvary's tree? We know of His temptation before His ministry in the Gospels, and His trial in the Garden of Gethsemane. But what about His other thirty-some odd years where we hear nothing in regard? Without question, He lived a continual life of testing, temptation, and trial that  culminated in the greatest triumph ever accomplished. He was examined in all areas throughout His life and, finally, on that fateful day was found perfect and complete. Jesus knew His life was predestined for that moment when---after all these things---He would lay down His life for all those before Him who had failed the test. Then, as our surrogate, He passed every exam the law could ever require from us. In a very real way, Jesus Christ "tested out" of every obligation the Father ever required of us and gained our entrance into God's eternal presence forever.
Both Abraham and Jesus knew all about "after these things." The former learned faith through obedience, while the Latter lived the perfect mortal life and showed us how to live, die, and then be raised into new life. While Jesus is our perfect reflection of the Father, Abraham is our imperfect model to show us how the journey is always preparing us for that moment when we can say, "Here I am!" We will not do everything perfectly, but we must continue on in faith. In time, we will come to that place in our journey which is "after these things." Then, may we like Abraham, be ready for anything the Lord would require of us.

Holy God, thank You for all the trials and tests you bring our way. Often, it is difficult to embrace what You are doing in the midst of the testing. But help us to see as You see regarding what You are doing. For we know it is a perfect result, and we desire to trust You for the outcome. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick
 

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Knowing Jesus - December 9, 2012

John 8:31-32 - So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

In my early youth, there was nothing I enjoyed more than spending time with my dad. Didn't matter what we were doing, I just liked being with him. I remember one summer when he had promised me a week with him on the road and how disappointed I was when he had to cancel. He was working a sales route up in South Dakota, and more than see a state I had never been to, I just wanted to be with my dad. He took me later that summer to Kansas which was still good, but I still remember the huge disappointment of the initial letdown. As I grew older and more cynical, I was less enamored about spending time with the "old man" as I would call him behind his back. During my rebellious teens, the more he would tell me what to do, the more I tried to do just the opposite. While it still bothered me to disobey him, I nonetheless wanted to do what I wanted to do. My troubled feelings were not enough to keep me from following my own selfish desires which eventually aided my addictions.

While my father was not a godly man, he nevertheless tried to live morally and understood the consequences of where my behavior was taking me. No amount of talking or cajoling to behave differently really mattered. It was not my final concern if it broke my parents hearts. Often, it would cause me great consternation that I was upsetting them, but I was still going to do what I wanted to do. Because of this rebellious attitude, it would take years to undo the mess of not listening to sound advice and living destructively. Occasionally, I would listen and make a pittance of change but it would never last. I was not ready to listen to wisdom on a daily basis which could change the course of my life.

Likewise, throughout the Gospels, we see continual instances of those who wanted to live according to their desire and yet reap the benefit of being called God's children. However, Jesus was always quick to point out they could not pick and choose how they were to follow God. It is understandable why Jesus told the Jews in our lead verse the importance to continue in His word. It does not matter if they took what seemed like a clever saying of a great teacher and sought to apply it in some abstract manner. The Lord wanted them to know the importance of not selectively reasoning His sound bites in their minds, but to take all of His words to their hearts. In Jesus' admonition, truth that ultimately sets people free is that which a person allows to become an active dialogue within. Passing from the brain to the heart, it becomes the Living Word within that changes thought and action. The result is the demonstrative expression of their desire to embrace not only the message, but the Messenger. This is the definition of a disciple, to bring oneself under the discipline of the Teacher.

The discipline of Jesus' statement to the Jews is profoundly rigorous. Undoubtedly, some desired to just take bits and pieces of Christ without accepting everything He required. Like these, we might be just as eager to accept the promises of God. However, it is often easy to take a promise out of context or without its conditions. Jesus' words here are a wonderful promise how the Son certainly sets us free through the knowledge of the truth. The quid pro quo of Christ's promise in this instance is the word "If" and then the condition of continuing in His word. What does that mean, to continue in His word?

In simplest form, it means obedience to what Jesus says. That does not mean picking and choosing what He says either. It means studying His love letters written to us in the Holy Bible everyday. It means understanding that Jesus was so full of love that He often spoke the truth with brutal honesty. It means loving the Jesus that weeps over the lost but equally as much the Jesus who whips sin out of His temple. Those who would just seek to "follow" Jesus' teachings will never come any closer to knowing this Man then if someone tried to follow the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi expecting to know him. Instead, we must out of love and respect give ourselves to know Christ intimately by giving ourselves to His word.

It often grieves me when I hear someone say they follow the teachings of Jesus. Most of the time this shows me they have never met the Savior. No, what they follow instead is an idea or a concept. This is not Christianity. To be a Christian is to fall in love with the Man, Christ Jesus and want to know everything there is to know about Him. It is to become like Him because we have surrendered to Him, not to an idea. In the same way that children should obey their parents out of love and respect, so should we embrace the active dialogue that God gives us in His word that is able to change our lives. Then, beloved, we will know truth and the truth will set us free!

Heavenly Father, help us to know the truth of Your word. Set us free by not understanding a concept but by knowing the Man, the Living Word of God, Christ Jesus. Give us wisdom and understanding to do so. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Necessity of Judgment With Mercy - December 2, 2012

Zephaniah 3:5 - The Lord is righteous within her; He will do no injustice. Every morning He brings His justice to light; He does not fail.

Throughout the years, I cannot count the number of sermons I have heard concerning the mercy of the Lord. A familiar text regarding God's lovingkindness is from Lamentations 3:22-23: "The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness." There is great hope in these words and the promise that God renews His love to us each day, regardless of our sins. Indeed, the Lord is unfailingly there to renew us each day according to His mercy! However, in order for us to understand the full implication of God's mercy we must first understand that in order for there to be mercy, there must be justice. For instance, how could cold be understood without hot? In the same way, mercy cannot be understood without a juxtaposition of its opposite.

Of paramount importance to understand is how God is not arbitrary in either His use of judgment or mercy. As the previously mentioned verse states, His mercies or lovingkindnesses are new every morning. Our lead verse tells us the same thing about mercy's opposite---that they likewise do not fail every morning. Daily, God's judgments are as predictable as His mercies. Some might look at these attributes of the Lord God Yahweh and describe Him as a dual-natured, somewhat confused entity that does not know what His left hand is doing from the right. However, in reality, it makes total sense once a person begins to understand God from His viewpoint. As aforementioned, mercy cannot exist without judgment nor can judgment without mercy. They are inextricably linked because of their dual attributes. Does this then make God dual-natured as previously suggested? It cannot, because both mercy and judgment complement one another and increase the other's certainty by the absence of its complement. Therefore they are inseparable as salt with water. To use this example further, one cannot necessarily see more or less salt in a gallon of water. If the solution is thoroughly mixed it will look like a gallon of fresh water. However, when tasting the two, there will be obvious differences. It is the same way with God and His mercy and judgment. Often times we cannot see how much mercy and judgment is mixed into together in any given situation. To those who have to "taste" or experience the situation, it will seem salty (or judgmental) to them. While it may look "clear" and without judgment to some, it will taste salty and bitter to others. However, God never allows the mixture to be wrong. Both His mercy and judgment come every morning for its particular end.

The "particular end" of mercy and judgment is always God's salvation for mankind. It is never random or arbitrary, but will always have a purpose. Many unbelievers and some Christians desire to believe God does not use calamities in our lives to shape us for redemption. With this in mind, let us look at God's word that states it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4). To understand that God is kind, all of the time, is to understand how both the judgments which God allows in our lives, along with the mercies, give us all the opportunity to turn to Him and to accept the gift of righteousness. For there will come a day when mercy will be spent. Then, when we have passed the veil into eternity we will either experience God's full measure of mercy and grace or His full demonstration of judgment. On that final day, when all eyes see Him, then we will understand His incredible patience toward all as He wooed mankind with both judgment and mercy.

Just as today and everyday, God knows the proper mixture of lovingkindness and judgment to put within our lives. Too much mercy, and we become apathetic and ungrateful. Too much judgment and we become hopeless and uncaring. The Father knows what we need today. Does He engineer destruction in our lives through seeming judgments? No, but He allows them and uses them for our good. Does He give us everything we desire so we will not need a thing? That is the ploy of the devil to make us full of ourselves and to forget God. No, beloved, but the Lord wants the constant tension of His judgments and His mercies to continue to instruct us until that final day. Only then will we understand and embrace all of His Nature as He brings sons and daughters to perfection.

Father, may You grant us both Your mercies and Your judgments every morning. Grant them to us for they are forming us into the image of Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, as we surrender to Him. In Jesus' Name Amen!

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick