Sunday, May 26, 2013

Living With Hope - May 26, 2013

The following is the message text and audio recording of a sermon titled "Live Dogs and Dead Lions" delivered to the homeless at the Kansas City Rescue Mission Chapel on May 23, 2013.

Live Dogs and Dead Lions - May 23, 2013

Ecclesiastes 9:4 – For whoever is joined with all the living, there is hope; surely a live dog is better than a dead lion.

It is very apparent when one visits their local zoo and views the African cats, how they certainly characterize their gene pool. Often, I see no difference between their activity compared to that of our house cat. They are are generally creatures lazing about as all their needs are provided. Why should they behave differently? They are merely doing what cats do best -- rest, relax, and sleep. This can often be a disappointment to youngsters (and oldsters) who would like to see a bit of action. However, cats have a mind of their own and will play or fight when they wish and not at the whim of human gawkers.

Possibly in Solomon's day, he kept some lions in captivity for entertainment purposes. We are told in the scriptures of a menagerie of other animals such as apes and peacocks that Solomon collected (I Kings 10:22). Lions that inhabited Israel during the reign of Solomon were of the Asiatic type. These were slightly smaller than the African variety, but no less dangerous in the wild. Therefore, Solomon understood the significance and power of these while alive, and also the powerlessness of one dead. What could tear a man limb from limb while living and healthy, could not harm one hair of a child after its death. The significance of the king's analogy juxtaposes something that is truly dead, yet something else that may be less desirable but is nonetheless alive.

It is interesting to note that if you go to Jerusalem today, you will see an abundance of stray cats. They are everywhere. However, you will not see many stray dogs. In Israel during Solomon's time, there were dogs everywhere. They generally were on their own and strays by nature. Thus, we read about the ravenous appetites of these when they devoured Queen Jezebel (all except for "the skull and the feet and the palms of her hands.") (II Kings 9:35-37) They were looked down on as sordid, opportunistic creatures that skulked and shadowed the possibility of a meal, no matter what it might be. That is why Solomon makes this comparison between seeming powerfulness and despised weakness. His desire is to challenge a widely accepted belief of his day and to reshape this paradigm. What is important in this scripture, in the mind of the king, is not perception but reality. And, the reality is that hope sustains life rather than what others think. Therefore, one of the most despised creatures of his day is elevated to a place of distinction merely because it possessed something the lion lost. This, of course, is life. Furthermore, there can be no sustainable life without hope.

For many of us, the catalyst that propels us toward the saving knowledge of Christ Jesus is this hope. We have finally come to recognize that our perception of ourselves is flawed and we are really nothing more than a stray dog. However, this is where we finally find hope. Paul tells us in the book of Romans that hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been shed abroad in our hearts (Romans 5:5). Take away any trace of hope from a man or a woman and there is insurmountable despair that can only result in suicide, both spiritually and physically. However, give the same a glimmer of understanding that as long as they are alive, then there is hope. As a result, there is a spiritual dynamic which begins to occur.

Are we a dead lion or a live dog today? Have we so much pride in our deadness that we refuse to come to Christ and surrender to Him? While a mangy, unkempt dog may seem undesirable to some, it is beautiful in God's eyes. Have we denied our deadness in our pride and refused to see ourselves as a mere dog? When we really see ourselves for who we are without Christ, then we can begin to see ourselves as God sees us. He will always show us our potential rather than our past failings. Remember, the things that are most despised by this world are those things most prized by God (I Corinthians 1:28). May we come honestly to Him in our present state so He can make us who He sees us to be for all eternity.

Holy One, we come to You as we are and ask that You take us and shape us according to Your will. We confess that we are nothing without You. Grant us eyes to see that we are merely stray dogs without You. However, once we submit to You and Your love, You make us creatures worthy of Your purity and holiness. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick




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Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Wisdom of Pain - May 19, 2013

Ecclesiastes 1:18 - Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.

As I have learned throughout my running career, pushing through pain can be a tutor allowing a runner to press on to the next level. However, it can also be an important indicator that one has pushed too hard. To manage pain, some athletes take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs for short. One of the most common is ibuprofen. Earlier in my running disciplines, I would quite often take ibuprofen to ignore a nagging pain. I wanted to train longer and harder and the NSAID allowed me to do this. However, there is often a price to pay for overtraining and neglecting the wisdom of pain. God has engineered the human body beautifully with various bells and whistles that tell us when we are operating outside its safety zone.  Years later, I am experiencing the affects of not heeding these warnings. Though I can still run, I do not run as fast or as long as I used to because of nagging knee injuries. If I would have heeded the pain and the warning signs my body was trying to tell me, then I might be running more comfortably today. Pain is there for a reason and it is up to us to discern its purpose.

While Solomon was not a runner (that we know of), he certainly experienced pain in the race that he eventually ran. This certainly was not the course that God had intended. We know from the word of God that his early life was filled with splendor, riches, and wisdom beyond any human that had previously lived. Unfortunately, when Solomon turned from God to a reprobate lifestyle his wisdom did not likewise depart. The peace he had enjoyed in his early life was now fleeting as he felt much unrest, experiencing the futility of life without the Lord. The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Therefore, Solomon suffered great despair because of his knowledge and the hopelessness of living without the Giver of Life.

Many years ago, as a backslidden Christian who could not get free from his alcoholism, I understood Solomon's dilemma. As we used to say in Alcoholics Anonymous, "A head full of the Big Book and a belly full of booze is a bad mix." In other words, when we know the right way to go, and don't do it because of powerlessness, this causes a deep, dark hopelessness. Often, this is characteristic of possessing knowledge of the right way and not having the wherewithal to do anything about it.

When I fell away from God, I thought it would be a simple matter of correcting my course and finding my way back to the Lord. I thought I could slip back into God's good graces in a rather cavalier manner. However, even though God's gifts are "irrevocable," they often will not be coupled with the grace of God to live in a victorious manner when we desire. Often, the sad truth is that we will have to reap what we have sown. This may mean living in the squalor that we have created for a season until we finally come to our senses (Luke 15:17).

Solomon found the gift of repentance once again, as I once again found the gift of sobriety and new life in Jesus Christ. However, there are many who will continue to struggle as their "increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.” Attempting to anesthetize the pain will often give us a false sense of hope and will not allow us to genuinely know when we have veered off course. However, when we finally do realize we have strayed, there is hope. Take heart, beloved, and continue to cry out to God. He is the only One who can make peace between our knowledge and His wisdom to surrender.

Father, though pain is uncomfortable it is often necessary. Keep us on Your straight and narrow path by goading us with pain when necessary, allowing us to stay humble. Grant us the wisdom of knowing how the pain we experience is meant to help and guide us to the things You have meant to give us life. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick


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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Soul Whispering - May 12, 2013

Proverbs 26:22 - The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.

Whispering is provocative. There is an element of mystery and exclusiveness when we witness a couple of folks talking in low tones so as not to be heard by the larger group. For some, there is a tendency to want to move closer and eavesdrop in order to pickup on what might be a tidbit of gossip. Human nature is drawn to this type of behavior. In our contemporary societies, there exists a billion dollar industry dedicated to the exchange of the latest gossip and scandal. One has only to look as far as their neighborhood grocery store where the tabloids line the check-out lanes. Like sirens of old, they are poised in their attempt to entice us to listen to the latest "whispering."

As with most human traits, whispering is not a bad thing in and of itself. Whispering can serve a very important function as it protects secrets and creates a decorum of civility rather than open brashness toward others. Solomon tells us how whisperings "are like dainty morsels." What does this mean? The implication of the wise king suggests these are words with sheltered meaning that should not be taken lightly. They are rich with flavor and sustenance to the soul and should be protected by all means. However, as previously suggested, there are many "whisperers" out there that would seek to whisper to our souls and captivate "the innermost parts of the body." In a very real sense, what we eat is what we become. Similarly, what we listen to and take into the deep parts of our soul is what will eventually control our lives.

Secrets are sometimes necessary. They provide alliances between people, groups, and nations that provide stability. In this regard, it is not necessary for any of us to know the detailed affairs of everyone we know. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to become a person of integrity, listening to and keeping whispered secrets in an appropriate manner. Solomon likewise stated in Proverbs 20:19 that "He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets, therefore do not associate with a gossip." So, what is the difference between gossip and sharing a secret? Much depends upon intent.

When we listen to a report on someone else, and our listening does not add to the solution, then we have become a liability rather than an asset. It is often human nature to take what another says about an individual and say, "Oh my, isn't that terrible about so and so!" How much different would it be if we stopped someone after sharing with us some "dainty morsel" to instead say, "Let's you and I pray for that person right now!" Instead of allowing our minds to be filled with a benign piece of information, we have then allowed the Holy Spirit to to whisper a prayer through us that becomes a part of His solution.

God will always be the Great Whisperer to our souls. So, it only makes sense to learn from Him. The Holy Spirit continually whispers to our inner man the things of the Son and the Father. If we are intently listening, we will begin to think as He does. In so doing, we will begin to speak as He does, allowing our words to become "caviar to our soul" and the souls of others. We will find that we no longer have to shout out our opinions. Instead we will be lead and guided by the Holy Spirit who will make our speech, as it were, quiet and respectful and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Our conversations will be characteristic of whispering the things of God, because this is the nature of how God speaks to us.

Beloved, Jesus desires for us all to become soul whisperers. Just as gossip is desirable to the unregenerate, the Lord will empower us with words that are delicacies to the soul to feed a famished world.

Father, grant us words that are delicacies to those who are desperately seeking spiritual sustenance. Grant us wisdom to whisper wisdom to those who are called according to Your great pleasure. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick




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Sunday, May 5, 2013

Changing the Paradigm of Prayer, Part II - May 5, 2013

I Thessalonians 5:17 - Pray without ceasing.

There is an old proverb that goes something like this: "If you don't feed something, it will eventually go away." This can certainly be true with stray dogs, cats, or any number of animals. However, this is also true for the flesh --- that old sinful man that does not want to die in each and every one of us. When we start to turn the conversation back to God instead of conversing with our old, worn out past, a glorious thing starts to happen. For one thing, the flesh and the devil are in agreement that when we pray, it is bad for their influence in our lives. When we start to get into the habit of turning the conversation to God, they both back off and run for cover. What is even more interesting is the more we form this habit in our lives, the less the past is thrown up in our face. It is like the devil understands if he allows this thing that haunts us to resurface, then it will just drive us to prayer. That is the very thing both the flesh and the devil do not desire. Therefore, when the paradigm of prayer becomes a constant reality, their silence and the death of the flesh becomes a living reality.

Paul tells us in his letter to the Roman church, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). I can think of no better way to do this than using prayer to overcome guilt, fear, and mental laziness. While the old adage, "Idleness is the devil's workshop" is not in the Bible (verbatim), it certainly is in regard to Paul's teachings of mental surrender. If we are not giving ourselves in worshipping the Lord in prayer and praise, then we will be setting ourselves up to be seduced into complacency. Remember, an idling car goes no where. It simply waits for the gears and the accelerator to be engaged. Energy will be expended either way. However, the driver will ultimately decide where the vehicle will take him. There is no difference with what we use our minds for regarding merely thinking or praying. We can either expend energy to no avail, or we can use our mental power to drive the will and ultimately the heart. For where the mind goes, the heart will surely follow.

Jesus tells us to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all the things we need will be amply given to us (Matthew 6:33). When we decide we are done living in our past and being ruled by it, then we can seek His kingdom effectively. And what is His kingdom? It is not about things, but it is about people! God doesn't want us consumed with wrongs we have done in our past, or lawns or cars or jobs or anything else in our present. He wants us to change the conversation in our minds and start talking with Him, unceasingly. When we do, we will find we will begin to understand how the paradigm of prayer in our lives has totally changed. Prayer will no longer be a duty that fluctuates in our devotion, but instead will be a growing conversation that seems not to cease between us and our Maker.

Those with whom I counsel generally understand that I was plagued for years with guilt and remorse over my past sinful life. They know that when I tell them they need to change the conversation that I am speaking from experience. I was trapped in that struggle with the flesh and the devil, continually beating me down about my past. However, when I finally began to "Stop thinking and start praying," then my life was rocketed into a different dimension in my Christian journey. The paradigm of prayer became an ongoing conversation with Someone who could empower me to live victoriously as I sought to build his kingdom through prayer. Prayer without ceasing then becomes something we try to cling to rather than avoid.

Heavenly Father, help us to stop thinking and start praying. Allow us to surrender our minds to You, for You have promised if we will, that You will allow our hearts to follow. Show us the wisdom in turning every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. Grant us the gift of a paradigm shift in prayer for Your kingdom's sake. In Jesus' Name, Amen.

Your Barefoot Servant,

Rick



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