Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Real Zeal - January 27, 2013

Psalm 69:9 - For zeal for Your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.

What are we passionate about? One does not need to look further than weekend sporting events, where collegiate and professional sports fans are bedecked in their teams colors. (Often, this may be in the form of body paint rather than conventional clothing, despite freezing conditions!) There is a loyalty that seems unrivaled when you get someone talking about their team allegiance. For nearly a century, we have had a "border war," of sorts between Tigers and Jayhawks where I live. Even though this rivalry is no longer played out in conference play, the enmity still simmers waiting only for a way to express itself. While some might chide at this type of good-spirited competition, passionate allegiance is hard-wired into every individual to some degree. If it does not find its expression through sports, it will find another way.

God probably cares little if we are passionate about sports, per se. He understands we need recreation as human beings and undoubtedly allows this as a form of escape from the anxiety of daily living. However, He does not want this to fulfill His divine plan for passionate pursuit of Him. Along with this pursuit comes our attitude and desire for Him and the things of the His Spirit. In this regard, I have sometimes heard people say that a person can become so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good. Personally, I have yet to find such a person. The opposite is usually the rule rather than the exception. We become so passionately wrapped up in our own lives and the pursuit of our own creature comforts that we do not even think of heaven.

King David understood passionate pursuit of God. We have scores of psalms attributed to this ancient Israelite in this regard. Possibly some of his contemporaries believed David was a bit "over the top" in his pursuit of Yahweh. What often appears as religious fanaticism to the world, can be the zeal and passion of a believer for the God who lives within. Certainly this was manifest a thousand years later when Jesus fulfilled this prophetic psalm as he cleansed the temple of His Father (John 2:17). Purity of the actual Davidic (constructed by Solomon) and Herodian temples is the literal application of this verse in Psalm 69:19. However, we know from Paul's writings how the temple of the Lord in the New Covenant is our body -- the vessel of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 3:16).

It is a wonderful ambition to keep our bodies pure, both in what we consume and what we allow it to do. As already mentioned, our lead verse speaks to us about the temple of the Lord and how He lives within -- not only in our bodies but also in our souls and spirits. In this regard, may we all be challenged with the following question: Are we consumed with what God thinks about His living quarters within us? Or, are we ashamed when we participate in some conversation, or watch some movie, or when we go somewhere He would not approve? He is our guest yet so many of us treat Him like a hobo in a flophouse! The great nineteenth century preacher Charles Spurgeon aptly stated, "yet it is no disgrace to any generous spirit that is regenerate, to have the zeal of God's house to eat him up. It is a slander to call it folly."

Do we sit on our hands at church on Sunday mornings and then raucously shout and dance when our team makes the big score that afternoon? When we have a zeal for the God who dwells within, then we will become partakers of the reproach of the world. Is no one reproaching us for our zeal? Then possibly we have none. May we all live passionately and fervently for the One who dwells within.

Father, help us to be passionate about living, yet not forget the One who we live for. May our passion for the things we love pale in respect for the zeal we have for You. Grant us hearts of fire and mouths that speak Your praise. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick
 
 
 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Following on Purpose - January 20, 2013

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Following on Purpose" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on January 24, 2013.

Following on Purpose - January 24, 2013


Ruth 1:16 - But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God."

A pastor friend of mine from Zimbabwe endured great hardship as a child refugee during the civil war in the 1980s. Listening to him recount the brutality of the opposing forces and how it affected his young life were shocking. (He tells one story how he faked his own death by smearing blood on himself and hiding in a pile of corpses until the militia had left.) However, the murder of his father and the forceful separation from his godly mother did not keep him from trusting in God. When he was finally brought to a Christian school where his education was sponsored by a wealthy American couple, he flourished with grateful attention to both his studies and to growing as a Christ follower. Today, he is a respected seminary professor, pastor, and a beloved example of what a survivor of extreme oppression needs to do in order to rise from the ashes. His understanding of where he has come from and his gratitude to his benefactors are testaments of his godly character.

This brief synopsis of a rather lengthy story is one that ends with great hope for the future. Similarly, the story of Ruth is possibly the most beloved story in God's word regarding self-sacrifice and love toward her benefactors. In this small book of only four chapters, we find a woman bereft of her husband with no visible hope of familial redemption. Her mother-in-law Naomi cannot promise her a husband, only a life of poverty as one who gleans behind the reapers in her home town of Bethlehem. (In comparison, this would be like those who are on welfare in our society today.) However, Ruth took every opportunity to submit to Naomi and obeying her advice to seek mercy in the fields of a close relative, Boaz (Ruth 3:12). This ultimately led to her redemption by this kinsmen redeemer which brought her in to the place of joint-wealth with her new husband (Ruth 4:10). From this union, King David himself would become the great, great grandson of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:17).

Greatness often springs from lowly beginnings. We certainly see this typified from a manger, to the cross, to the empty tomb! Whether Jesus Christ Himself or Ruth or my pastor friend, obedience through humility was their key to rise from the proverbial ashes. Perfect, godly submission always results in extraordinary outcomes. These results will always be first for the benefit of God and others. My pastor's agenda in going to school was first to help his family out of poverty. Ruth's was to help her beloved mother-in-law with sustenance to live through her gleaning. Jesus' goal was to empty Himself of God and redeem mankind (Philippians 2:7). In all these instances, holiness (or setting ourselves apart for God) is never for our own edification. True holiness is never enthroned as a spectacle of grandeur, but it is lived out in mundane ways for others. The bi-product of sanctification truly is a life of peace and joy, but this was not God's main desire in making us holy. Like Ruth, our desire should be to cling to God at all cost. Then, He will reveal His grand plan as we follow.

Sanctification's ultimate result is to draw all our attention from ourselves to others. The only way that can happen is by first looking to Jesus who is passionate for mankind. In the beginning, we will find our focus to be firmly transfixed on the Savior, as Ruth was toward Naomi. In time, however, we find we begin to see the Savior in others as we minister (e.g. Boaz). Likewise with my pastor friend. His physical redemption from poverty and eventual death to self meant a way out, first for him, then his family and then for so many others which he has touched through Christ. Like Ruth, he said to the Lord, "your people shall be my people and your God my God." This attitude allowed him to follow on purpose with a clarity of mission and with deep gratitude. This afforded him as well as Ruth to see beyond what God could do for them and to recognize the image of God in others. Through this godly transformation of following the Savior, it created a godly heritage for many through selflessness. Hence, the world has become enlarged for God through their simple act of obedience by following on purpose.


Gracious God, may we all  understand that to follow You is to empty ourselves of our goals, agendas, plans, or expectations. Help us to give to You totally so that you can make us holy vessels to provide for others. Like Ruth and this pastor, may we live for You so that we might live for others. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



Sunday, January 13, 2013

Bearing Fruit - January 13, 2013

Matthew 21:19 - Seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He said to it, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." And at once the fig tree withered.

Like any type of cultivated plant, fruit trees require particular care in order to yield significant fruit. Fig trees, for instance, require regular mulching of organic or processed fertilizers around their trunks for the first three years after planting. Then, adequate pruning has to occur. After a few years, a fig tree can produce enough figs to feed a family of four. (This is all according to an arbor-centric website all about the care of fruit trees.) As with most living things, it only makes sense that if a plant such as a fig tree is cared for, it will produce fruit in its season and according to its care.

Fig trees are commonly referenced in biblical times as a source of sustenance for ancient Israelites. The earliest mention of any one particular type of tree in the Scriptures is the fig tree from which Adam and Eve sowed together leaves for makeshift coverings (Genesis 3:7). Figs were also some of the fruit brought back by the spies that Moses sent out (Numbers 13:23). Solomon mentions them in his garden (Song of Solomon 2:13), and Isaiah prescribes figs as a boil remedy for King Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:21). However, the fig's most common use was to complement the Middle Easterner's fruit diet, as our Lord depicts in the Gospels.

In our lead verse, did Jesus know this fig tree had no fruit? It seems obvious that He chose not to use His divinity to ascertain this particular instance. This, in a way, was added grace for this tree which was soon to be cursed and withered under His divine power. In the same respect, God gives us much grace until the time He comes looking for fruit on us. He allows us to grow wherever we are planted and appear to be "green" and useful for the kingdom. However, when He comes looking, we had best have produced more than spiritual leaves.

Are we a lone fig tree in our walk with God? We have far less chance of producing fruit if we are. The main benefit of fig tree groves rather than solitary fig trees is fertilization. A lone fig tree has far more likelihood to not be fertilized than a grove of trees. (A random insect or bird may cause fertilization to a lone tree, but don't count on it!) If we are indeed a lone fig tree, are we possibly only worthy of trying to produce a false covering like Adam and Eve tried to create? Our works will never save us, beloved. We must bear fruit, in season. There is no guarantee the Lord will continue to come looking once we have disappointed His initial desire to find fruit in us.

Are we all planted together for His glory? May we all look to the Lord and then to other believers for our strength. Then, may we produce fruit as we serve both for God's glory!


Heavenly Father, let none of us experience Your disappointment when you come looking for fruit on Your beloved. May we look to You and others to make us healthy spiritual trees that will bear fruit in season for Your glory.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



Sunday, January 6, 2013

Choosing Our Cross - January 6, 2013

Matthew 16:24-25 - Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

There are many "cross-bearers" in the world today. However, scripture tells us that many of these will be denied the heavenly prize and few instead will find it (Matthew 7:13-15). Some will bear their cross for a cause or a movement with no thought of God. These will reap what they sow, for God will not give a thought for them in the final outcome. While there are a plethora of noble "crosses" to bear in our sick world, the only one that truly matters is that of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we carry a cross to save the planet or to help dying AIDS children in Africa or to open an orphanage in Delhi and are not following Christ, it will mean nothing in regard to determining our eternal home. The best we can hope for are human accolades which are destined to perish one day along with this temporal earth.


The only cross we are to bear is the cross of Jesus Christ. The world will congratulate us if we carry another cross for a noble cause, and will diametrically hate us if we carry the cross of Jesus (John 15:18). The former smacks of humanistic endeavor and the ability of man to pull himself up by his proverbial bootstraps. The latter is a declaration of the total inability of mankind to save himself and our need of a Savior. Only when we come to Jesus are we able to come after Him as the scripture states. Denial of self will not then be a laborious chore, but instead an expression of love toward the One who gave us life. Denial of one thing without passion for another only results in disappointment. (Ask the addict who attempts to quit drugs with just determination.) If we first embrace Jesus by coming to Him, then coming after Him and bearing our own cross will seem the most natural thing. In reality, the expected will then become a supernatural empowering that will crucify our flesh daily as the aroma of Christ breaks forth in our souls.

Our only consideration when deciding who or what we will devote our lives to is what is to be gained or lost. Our decision should not be based on "wishing" as Jesus proclaimed, but instead it should be founded on the bedrock of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order for a man or woman to move beyond the pipe dream of wishing, they must understand reality. The cross that many bear is superfluous or meaningless in the light of their eternal destiny. However, when the aforementioned give their lives to Jesus Christ, then the dynamic of hope fills their souls. And hope does not disappoint because of the love which Christ pours out within the soul of those who trusts in Him (Romans 5:5).

In this coming year, it is imperative we decide who or what we serve. Some might say, "I will serve none but myself and my family. I don't want any of this religious stuff." Of course the reality is that everyone is involved in this "religious stuff." Everyone worships in their own way. They either serve the god of self and human accomplishment, or they surrender to Jesus and come after Him, carrying their cross in joyous servitude. The former means eternal loss ... the latter equates to life eternal. Who will we trust to save our souls? If we trust in Jesus, may we all first deny ourselves and then take up our crosses and follow Him. There is salvation in no other manner!

Heavenly Father, the choice is before us all. Help us to choose to follow Your Son. Help us to decide that anything less than total devotion to Him is folly. Grant us eyes to see and ears to hear in order to come to Him and then to come after Him, bearing our cross. In our surrender comes true freedom. Thank you Lord for Your great plan. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick