Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Stations of the Cross - March 31, 2013

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "The Stations of the Cross" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on March 28, 2013.


PowerPoint Presentation
Luke 9:23 - And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me."
At first glance -- from the title of this piece -- one might think I am about to muse on the Stations of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem. This, of course, is the traditional route that Jesus took after his the Roman governor Pilate sentenced Jesus to be crucified. The various stations depict the scenes of his journey to Golgotha (the present day site of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher). Whether you are Roman Catholic or not, it is interesting to walk the Via Dolorosa and imagine the various stages of Christ's sufferings when visiting Jerusalem. However, as misleading as it may be, this exhortation is not about Christ and His cross bearing. Rather, it is about the cross Jesus told us we all must bear in order to be true followers of His.

The cross of Jesus Christ will forever be the symbol for Christ's great redemption which He wrought for all mankind. Therefore, we must never diminish it by saying we are bearing the cross of Jesus. He forever bore it for us and redeemed us through His death and resurrection. For us, the Gospel writers made it abundantly clear the cross we must bear if we are to be His disciples. As a matter of fact, all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) mention how we are told to bear our own cross. Interestingly, Luke gives us a bit more detail in his statement of Jesus' command regarding cross-bearing. He adds the word "daily" when he tells us we must pick up our cross and follow the Lord.
While Christendom has created tradition around the Stations of the Cross, I have taken the liberty in subsequent sections to discuss what I believe are the stations of the cross for those who truly desire to follow Christ. If we know Jesus Christ, we know His cross, for we have identified with His death, burial, and resurrection. Paul tells us plainly in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." The first part is true for every believer. However, the remainder of this verse is conditional regarding our response.
For those who wish to go on in Christ and truly become His followers, I would suggest the following directives taken from Luke 9:23, our lead verse:
  • Desire - "If anyone wishes to come after me" ... here we have Jesus preparing His listeners with something to follow. In this case, a requirement. That will be discussed soon enough, but what is important at this juncture is to understand how desire is paramount on our part to even meet the requirement to follow. Peter swore to Jesus he was ready to die with Jesus (Mark 14:31). We soon find out not only was he not ready to die with his Lord, he was not even ready to live for Him. Both desires would not come until after Pentecost and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Beloved, I dare say the only way we will have either the desire to live or die for Jesus is by the power of the Holy Spirit. Anything else is human sentimentality and pure wishful thinking. True desire is born in the heart of a man or woman by the Holy Spirit and His desire to take us where Jesus would have us.
  • Denial - If we do not first have true Holy Spirit desire, denial will be fleeting and sporadic. Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23 that we must deny ourselves. Did Jesus deny Himself when He allowed Himself to be crucified? He denied everything about His God-nature as he was "found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:8). To the depth of His denial conversely came the height of His exaltation as the risen Lord. If we as Christians would only understand that denial in itself means nothing. We can give up this or that and it means little. However, when God gets a hold of us and we start bearing our cross out of love and desire for the Lord, things marvelously begin to happen.
  • Decision - The actual decision to take up our cross must be one of commitment. Jesus said that anyone who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is not worthy of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62). This does not mean that he or she is not saved. It does mean, however, that they will not be walking as a follower of Christ in Kingdom Authority. As Paul states, if we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus, then we will live in this type of authority (Romans 6:11). A decision should never come before God's desire and our denial through surrender to God. Otherwise, it becomes merely a mental following and not a heart occupation to become the Lord's.
  • Dedication - Daily and Deliberate - Paul said that he dies daily (I Corinthians 15:31). What does this mean? Paul was telling the Corinthians that through his desire, denial, and decision he was making a dedicated and deliberate pledge to His Great Love, Jesus Christ, to allow His life to have preeminence over the old Paul. Dying daily was no longer a conscious struggle but a daily surrender of joy to the Lover of his soul.
The aforementioned is merely an outline for knowing there is more to grasp then the understanding that Jesus died on the cross for us. Too often we desire to cling to Christ's cross when we should be bearing our own. As already mentioned, Jesus never told us to bear His cross, for that is an impossibility since He bore it for us. Many Christians want to stop there and just identify with what Christ has done for them by saving their souls from eternal fire. But what of the fire that cleanses us here on earth to resemble our Lord? We say "I have been crucified with Christ," yet the way we live tells the world no such thing. Paul stated in the next part of this verse "and it is no longer I who live." He had become so identified with the death of Christ that the resurrection power of Jesus within Him was a reality all could see. Every day, Paul bore his cross which shouted to the world the various stations of his testimony -- desire, denial, decision, and daily deliberate dedication. Paul knew he was saved, but he wanted so much more. He wanted to know His Savior by first becoming conformed to His death and then to His resurrection power (Philippians 3:10-11). As he said to the Galatians, he knew it was not by his own power he was doing this but by the cross of Christ through which the world [had] been crucified to [him], and [him] to the world (Galatians 6:14).

Where are we, beloved of God, in the stations of the cross? If we have not the desire to even start on our pilgrimage of love, will we not ask the Lord who will surely give it to us? He jealously desires the Spirit to dwell within us (James 4:5). How much more does He long for us to desire more of Him? He will bring us to each station of the cross if we allow Him, allowing us to bear our crucifix in total surrender to Him. The result will be a glorious sanctification that will make us like the One we closely follow.
Heavenly Father, the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (I Corinthians 1:18). Help us to not only love the cross of Your Son, but to also love the cross we are all to bear, becoming more like Him as we encounter Him at every station in life. Grant us wisdom and strength to love the journey You have marked out for all those who are Your true followers. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Your Barefoot Servant,
Rick






Sunday, March 24, 2013

Acting on God's Promises - March 24, 2013

I Kings 3:12-13 - Behold, I have done according to your words. Behold, I have given you a wise and discerning heart, so that there has been no one like you before you, nor shall one like you arise after you. I have also given you what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that there will not be any among the kings like you all your days.

To the most part, I remember my parents being good for their word. When they promised something, they usually carried through. However, most parents learn not to promise unless they know they will be able to deliver. Phrases such as "we'll see" or "maybe" might often represent the wisdom of parents to know they may not be able to definitively to do as they say. While these may seem like "weasel words" to some, they can often keep us from speaking presumptuously and causing unnecessary disappointment. As a child, I remember one instance where my father promised me something and could not deliver due to circumstances beyond his control. When he made the promise, he very well thought he could keep it. I was hugely disappointed when he told me he could not keep his promise. At 12 years old I can still remember sobbing for an entire afternoon, blaming my father for telling me something and not being able to carry through.

Of course I forgave him. That is what we do as human beings as we look to ourselves and see how we can often make promises and likewise not follow through. However, as a child, I believe there is an innate longing and desire for promise keepers in our lives that will never let us down. When we find out our parents and others are as fallible as we are, it can often cause us to become cynical and jaded toward others when they continue to fail us. That is why it is paramount to understand the ideal of a Promise Keeper, and that is God Himself. As we see in our lead verse, God's conversation in Solomon's dream did not contain any "we'll see's" or "maybes." Instead, we see a God who states He had "given" the king a "wise and discerning heart" and also "riches and honor."

It would be superfluous to believe the moment Solomon woke up that he was the wisest man in the world, just as it would be foolish to believe that God had caused massive wealth and great honor to likewise manifest. This is the stuff of fairy tales where genies "poof" things into existence! Instead, God had surely given these things to Solomon as his inheritance. Now, it was time for the king to begin acting upon the truths of these promises and start obtaining them. Surely, those closest to him the day after his dream did not say, "Why Solomon, you seem so wise today! What happened to you?" Rather, God gives us a glimpse into Solomon acting upon the promise of God in his judgment between the two harlots and their quarrel over who was the rightful mother of a disputed child (see I Kings 3:16:28). Solomon's wisdom astounded all those who heard regarding how he settled the feud. The Scriptures explain it in the following: "When all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had handed down, they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice" (I Kings 3:28). Until Solomon acted upon God's promise for wisdom, no one probably could tell any difference in the king. Likewise, not until Solomon began gathering wealth and respect from other nations did he start to manifest God's promise of "riches and honor."

When God gives us a promise, it is always in the Definitive or Simple Past tense. He regards it as a completed action, just as we should also. However, degrees of manifestation are often characteristic of how we believe and ultimately act on these respective promises. If Solomon had thought to himself, "Well, that was an interesting dream," and then did nothing about it, we probably would not equate Solomon to the wisest and richest king of the Kingdom Age of Israel. However, just as he acted upon his dream, we must do likewise when God whispers to our souls. We may never have a dream like Solomon but we all have a vision (or visions) which God has entrusted to us regarding his gifts and callings for our lives. If He has spoken a word, it is without revocation (Romans 11:29). God has graciously given each and every one of us promises. It is now our responsibility to act on them and ensure they become a reality.

Heavenly Father, allow us to resurrect every promise You have ever spoken to us and to act upon them until they come to fruition. Grant us the wisdom to act upon Your spoken word to our hearts, knowing that You see these gifts and callings as ours already, even if they are not flowing through our lives today. We ask for Your grace and mercy to see as You see and then to move with faith to make Your dreams and Your vision a reality. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Simply Salvation - March 17, 2013

Psalm 116:6 - The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, there is a saying that goes something like this: "No one comes in here as a high roller!" The implication is that no one goes to AA because it seems like a fun and entertaining thing to do. It is usually a last resort in an attempt to arrest alcoholism. Some have said that going to an AA hall was like going to the "last house on the block." The implication being that this was their last choice and often their last chance at a sober life, by their thinking. Alcoholism had brought them low and now they needed the help of God and the group to find a way from this hopeless pit in which they were trapped.
 
In our lead scripture, the psalmist also mentions he "was brought low." Whether or not it was a result of his doing or not, it is clear that people, places, and/or things had brought him to a low place in life. Often the cause of our distress is not relevant when we are overwhelmed in its result. We just want to get out of the discomfort created by the grief. However, often our pride stands in the way of even acknowledging we are in a pit of despair. Instead, we keep saying everything is okay or it will improve if we "keep on keeping on." Another familiar truism used in AA is the definition of insanity, doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. Not only is this the apex of pride but it is also the pinnacle of ignorance. It denies both our need of a Savior and also our insistence that we are Him!
 
How low will we allow ourselves to go? How simple can we become? The mighty paradox of the Kingdom of God is the weak are made strong by His grace. As Paul states, not many of us who are wise by the world's standards have found the wisdom of God in salvation (I Corinthians 1:26-27). When we finally do understand how something bigger than ourselves is the one that has brought us low, then it only makes sense that something bigger than ourselves must intervene to bring us higher once again. If Jesus Christ and His salvation is not necessary and if we can lift ourselves from the proverbial mire by our own bootstraps, then His death and resurrection was a complete waste of time! Those who have been brought low by their flesh, sin, and the devil should know they cannot save themselves. There is only salvation in Jesus Christ --- Period! (John 14:6; John 8:24)

While God's redemption is utterly simple in that we must embrace the seeming foolishness of the cross, it is often not easy (I Corinthians 1:18). We all have this mental beast on our shoulders that wants to be king instead of allowing God His proper place in our lives. When we finally do experience the simplicity of the Gospel, then we can say with the psalmist: "Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you." (Psalm 116:7) As I and countless others have said, humility and surrender is not a place of perpetual weakness. They are the springboards to more strength than we can ever imagine. All we must do is believe, trust, and then surrender. The results will astound those simple enough to believe as He brings us to that higher place in Him.
 
O Lord our God, may we know we have been brought low by sin. May we know You are the only One who can bring us higher. Everything else is but an illusion. Grant us eyes to see and ears to hear. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
 
Your Barefoot Servant,
 
Rick
 
 
 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

How to Love God's Word - March 10, 2013

We have all known picky eaters. When I was a child, I was required to eat everything on my plate. With our children, my wife and I insisted they try something before saying they did not like it. Usually we made them eat two or three bites before opting out. I believe this is a reasonable and rational approach rather than forcing children to eat. However, I will say there is really nothing today that I do not like when it comes to food. Similarly, my grown children like most cuisines. They have learned from experience that all foods are at least worth trying. By allowing our palates to experience a variety of tastes, we train our "flavor buds" to appreciate and evaluate. This disallows the pre-judging of foods and denying them a proper chance.

In contemporary America and other westernized countries, we do not lack a variety of experience regarding food. Even smaller towns have Chinese and Mexican restaurants, whereas larger cities have any ethnic food we might desire. However, I would venture to say that many of us do not know there are similarly many different flavors and "tastes" in God's word. Proverbs 27:7 tells us "A sated man loathes honey, but to a famished man any bitter thing is sweet." When hunger is the driving force, it doesn't matter how something tastes. The only concern is to quell the hunger pains. However, once we have found out how to satisfy our hunger by continually coming to God's word, it is helpful to find out how to make it satisfying as well. Just because someone is no longer hungry does not mean they are satisfied in their fullness. Through the years, I believe I have learned a thing or two about not only satisfying my spiritual hunger from God's word, but also finding great satisfaction in the various flavors and tastes I encounter. I will explain this further through the following three steps that reveal how to find lasting fulfillment in dining continually and with great pleasure on God's word:

    1. Try it, you might like it! -- If you have never studied the word of God in a consistent manner, do not pre-judge that it is a boring endeavor. Oftentimes, God allows us to engage in the discipline of reading His word before He gives us a true love for it. As Jeremiah states in our lead verse, he "found" the words of the Lord. This means diligently spending time in the word everyday to begin finding what God is saying to us, individually. When we do, we begin to find the joy in discovery as God brings His word alive.

    2. Mix it up! -- Do not, and I repeat , do not start in Genesis and start reading through the entire Bible! (Most folks who do this stop when they hit the chapters in Leviticus about cleansing leprosy!) Instead, read  a chapter from the Old Testament each day and one from the New Testament. Or, read a Psalm or a chapter of Proverbs along with a chapter of the Gospels. Personally, my daily reading consists of a chapter from the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), a chapter from the history books (Joshua through Esther), a chapter in the poetry books (Job through Song of Solomon), a chapter in the prophets (Isaiah through Malachi), a chapter of the Gospels (Matthew through John), and a chapter of the New Testament (Acts through Revelation). By reading six chapters a day, I get through the Old Testament about once every eight months, the New Testament books every five months, and the Gospels about four times a year. I have been doing this for many years and it works well for me.

    3. Don't be doggedly dogmatic! -- Even though I have a set schedule of reading and study, I do not get bent out of shape if I miss a day or my schedule gets thrown off by the Holy Spirit leading another way. Our Bible reading should be regarded as a "love plan" not a contract that can be broken if we do not hold to it perfectly each day. However, we should try to maintain consistency when possible. If we do, the Lord will bless our time and begin to show us treasures we would not have believed as we remain faithful.

Are we famished for God's word? Some of us do not even have a mild appetite for what God has given mankind through the written word, let alone a ravenous desire for His writings. Are we daily in the Holy Bible, digging out its treasures? The only way to get hungry for God's word is by getting into it. As we do, we will long for it as we would miss a loved one,  rather than condemning ourselves as a judge when we miss a day. The Word of God is not a drudgery, beloved. It is "a joy and the delight" of our hearts if we will but discipline ourselves to seek God there daily.

Heavenly Father, I pray for those who desire a greater discipline in reading and meditating on Your word. Give them first the desire to spend time with You, daily, in Your written word. Then, bless their faithfulness by sharing nuggets of truth that will make their spirits soar. As they find the joy in Your word, increase their hunger for it, developing their taste and pleasure as they savor its wonder! In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,
 
Rick
 
 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Legs to Stand On - March 3, 2013

II Samuel 9:8 - Again he prostrated himself and said, “What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?”

Possibly no other scripture passage gives us a clearer picture of redemption than that of the story of David and Mephibosheth. To understand this story's significance, it is first essential to understand the importance of the covenant between David and the house of Saul. Not only was David bound in loyalty to King Saul, but the covenant and promise he entered into with his son Jonathan was a binding oath of fealty. Jonathan's stripping himself of his armor and giving it to David was an ancient practice of humility that symbolized complete trust and loyalty to the other. David understood the importance of his oath to Jonathan and therefore sought to honor his solemn promise after his friend's death. Therefore, after the kingdom was firmly established in David's hands, we find chapter nine of the second book of Samuel devoted to this covenant trust. David sought out the remaining posterity of Jonathan to bestow the same kindness he experienced from Saul's son as David fled imminent death. David's merciful attitude does not necessarily respect the strength of the man he inevitably helps. Instead, it reveals both the character of King David and also the King of Kings (II Samuel 9:1-7).

Those familiar with this story know that Mephibosheth's handicap further demonstrates King David's kindness. We are told a few chapters earlier how the lad's nurse had heard of Saul and Jonathan's death and was hurrying to retreat from the conquering Philistines. In her haste, she fell with the child and crippled him for life (II Samuel 4:4). Now in his teens or early twenties, Mephibosheth was granted a reprieve by the reigning king. He may have possibly heard stories from his father regarding his great friend, David. Yet, for years after his father's death, he may have heard nothing that would have given him any hope of kindness springing from the covenant between Jonathan and David. But then came that extraordinary day when the king called for him to appear before the royal court. Would he be killed? His thoughts were possibly running rampant as he drew near to Jerusalem. Once there, we read how the king's desire was to extend kindness to him for his father Jonathan's sake. The first thing he tells him is to not be afraid. David promises to restore all the fortunes of Saul's house to the young man (II Samuel 9:7). Mephibosheth's response is classic middle eastern as he prostrates himself before his benefactor: "What is your servant, that you should regard a dead dog like me?”

One might look at David's act of kindness as extraordinary, for truly it was. Conversely, the response of Mephibosheth was both complimentary of David's kindness and his understanding of the king's covenant obligation to Jonathan. Even though David knew his legal obligation to Jonathan's covenant, David's character was demonstrative of his love toward his old friend. The restoring of property and title are one thing. However, granting Mephibosheth a seat at the king's table placed the young man in a place of honor and respect not unlike any of the king's sons.

While the parallels and similarities between this redemption story and the one Jesus Christ wrought for us are obvious to most, they still bear mentioning over and over again. Have not all of us who have tasted of the kindness of God been crippled by sin? Has he not sought us out as David sought out Mephibosheth to restore to him his royal fortunes? Often, I have heard God's great gift of salvation referred to as "religion" and as a "crutch" for those too weak to stand on their own. Tragically, those who say such things are those who do not see they are dragging themselves through life, unable to stand as they imagine. When you know you are a cripple, a crutch is a wonderful thing! I shudder to consider our state if God had not sought us out in our lameness and restored to us a place of honor at his table. While we may feast on God's goodness here on earth, there will be a day when we will forever be at His great banquet table. There we will know that we were once crippled by sin and that our Great King redeemed us --- not on our own merits but through his love and kindness as our Creator.

Heavenly Father, our gracious God ... allow us to understand what You have done by seeking us out and inviting us to Your royal table. May we feast upon Your wisdom and Your love, knowing You have not withheld anything from us as sons and daughters of the Most High. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick