Monday, June 21, 2021

Chosen Witnesses

There is a commercial on now where Charles Barkley is taunting children because he is chosen 1st in a pick-up basketball game.  Charles has a knack for being funny and self-deprecating at the same time.  It is why he is loved by so many!  But did you know you were 'chosen'?  And ... chosen for a purpose!

We continue our series on God's purpose and finding our niche within that purpose.  Isaiah 43 is filled with the purpose of God as the prophet lays out God's plan for salvation and restoration of Israel.  And that plan is for us too!

Here's the kicker on what Isaiah is saying.  God's word tells us about the plan.  God's word shouts to the heavens about God's purpose.  So why are so many lost, wandering and (in the words of the prophet) "walking in darkness (Isaiah 9:2)?  Here is my theory!

The clothes dryer at the parsonage wouldn't shut off.  I could have called the repair person, but that would cost at least $250.  So, I did what I often do when I have something break down these days.  I went to YouTube.  Sure enough, someone else had this issue and there was a video that showed me just what to do.  In the time it would have taken to call, schedule, meet and wait for the repair person (not to mention the time it would take to get the part) I ordered the part, spent 15 minutes switching out the old part, and repaired the dryer.  I was able to do this because someone had taken the time and energy to describe the problem, offer a solution and tell me exactly what I needed to do.

Our world has a problem but also a solution.  God creates us.  God places us in a world where He is growing us from the image of God into the likeness of Christ.  God gives us His word and His Son to show us how we can become used, useful and usable by God.  God gives us a message of hope, healing and wholeness.  And God calls us to Himself.  In the words of what I said in the baptism of Mary Griggs yesterday, "all of this is God's gift, offered to us without cost (at least to us)."  All of these are tools God provides so that we will seek and find our place in God's plan.  Because God has created us to be His witnesses!  We have Good News and we (if we are to follow God's plan) must tell!

God says "you are my witnesses (Isaiah 43:10)!"  That means you and me.  We are the tellers of God's truth, sharers of God's saving way and doers of God's word.  This is how we witness!

God also says, "you are my servants (Isaiah 43:10)."  We weren't made to serve our possessions, our recreational desires, our political persuasions or our idols.  We were created to serve God, and God only.

And our message, though it gets garbled in denominational politics, secular interests and personal prejudices, is simple.  God gave it to Israel direct, in Deuteronomy 6:4.  "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is one (the only) God."  God gave it to Moses at a burning bush when He said, "I am the God that exists (Exodus 3:14)."  God showed it from the cross as a Roman soldier kneeled and said, "Surely this is the Son of God (Matthew 27:54)!"  And God gives it to you and me through word, presence, community, and His unfailing love.  You are blessed because you know this!  You are chosen witnesses, here to serve God.  You have everything you need for this task.  So, let's get to work!  Randy 

Monday, June 14, 2021

The Glory of The Lord

Isaiah's ministry begins with the theme of God's glory.  The prophet is in the temple and sees the Lord, the train of His robe filling the temple, and seraphim calling out "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty ... the whole earth is full of His glory (Isaiah 6:3)!"  Isaiah sees the glory of the Lord and he is 1) undone, 2) humbled, 3) called/drawn to following the Lord wherever God desires ... "Here I am Lord ... send me (Isaiah 6:8)."  The themes of God's power, provision, creative intention and glory continue throughout Isaiah.  Glory is used over 50 times in Isaiah's prophecy.

This week we will continue our study of purpose passages in Scripture.  What is God's purpose in the world?  Why does God think we (people) are placed in the world?  In Isaiah 43:5-7 we find a beautiful expression of God's purpose.  It clearly states that we were made for God's glory.  But what does "glory" mean here?

The Hebrew word means weight, power, splendor, brightness and many other hyperbolic expressions.  God's glory is associated with power in battle, radiance that is so powerful it cannot even be looked-at directly, beauty so magnificent it is merely reflected in the most beautiful scenes of nature, and salvation so unbelievable we cannot find words to express it.  In Isaiah it fills everything with God.

So in this powerful, magnificent and world-filling word, how can God say that you and I are created for His glory?  We can barely get along with each other.  We have trouble focusing on God enough to make worship even a minor priority.  We love seeing God's weightiness and majesty in a sunset, but this passage seems to call us to BE God's glory.  How does this happen?

I think this means something simple but powerful.  We become expressions of God's glory (why we were made) when we:

1. Become agents of God's salvation, becoming conduits for God to pour His love, life and Spirit into the people we meet.

2. Become doers that express our faith by doing what Jesus taught us.

3. Become lovers of 'the things above' like life, sacrifice, giving, serving, kindness, patience, joy, prayer.

4. Become lovers of the people (nations) that God said He 'so loved' that He gave Jesus for our forgiveness, pardon and eternal life.

I love that term "weight" as a description of God's glory, because I think our ability to be what Isaiah 43:7 says, "all who claim God as their God," adds weight to God's mission, plan and power in this world, so that we can all dwell with God in the world to come. Today, try being an expression of God's glory, so that His power, weight, majesty and magnificence is expressed in some small way by you (and me).  Randy 

Monday, June 7, 2021

To Praise

I love our verse this week!  Isaiah 43:19-21 is an expression of God's grace, provision, transformation and purpose.  Here is this VERY good word ... "See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up!  Do you perceive it?  I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland!  The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself, that they might proclaim my praise!"

What a verse filled with blessing and calling to each of us!  I have said, ad nauseam, that we often seek our purpose by seeking it in self, in our passions, and in our humanism.  Here, God tells us some things about ourselves, that direct us to find our purpose in the God that made us.  And, since "a little child will lead them (Isaiah 11:6)," what better way to seek the truth of this passage than to be in worship Sunday as our children lead us in song!  And as we enjoy the children, let's think of how these 2 passages dovetail with each other.

1. We are formed.  Created.  Part of God's good intent.  We are not stamped out as widgets, assembled as identical, rote, uninteresting things.  We are people, formed in God's image, reaching toward the likeness of Christ.  C. S. Lewis said we are not cattle to be herded toward a destination.  We are unique, special individuals, woven together in our mother's womb, fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139).

2. We are made FOR God!  Not for slavery, some other person, or the world.  We are made by God and for God.  So, when we seek purpose, do you think it would be appropriate for us to seek that in and from the maker?  I think so!

3. We are made to proclaim God's praise.  Nicey Eller spoke about Pentecost and said that the "fired-up" disciples emerged from the house and spoke in all appropriate languages about the mighty things God had done!  We are made for this praise, which is why we lose something in our Christian walk when we become convinced we can "do" church without fellowship and contact with other Christians.  We were not made to "do" church ... we were made to "BE Church."

Sunday (both services) our children will lead worship.  They will read Scripture, pray, sing and be in the context and spirit of praise.  It is one reason we are all stirred-up when we hear them sing and see their enthusiasm.  Carolyn Arends writes (in "What We Hope For") "we start out so innocent and wise, till we cut the world down to our size, we still have that wonder in our eyes!"  You were made by God, for God, "that you might proclaim His praise!"  So ... do it!  Randy

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Summer Foundations

We have been studying the Apostle's Creed at Wednesday night Bible Study.  It has been fun looking at the origin of this confession of the fundamental things we must believe.  This was important for a church that had so many heretical beliefs.  You know what I am talking about.  People expressing elitist theology that they have "special" knowledge about God.  To know that truth you must join them and be "awakened" (Gnostics).  Others worshipped legalistic beliefs that said if you complied with the rules, you could be part of their sect (Judaizers).  Still others tried to say that the Old Testament God (Jehovah) wasn't the same as the New Testament God (the Father who sent Jesus) and that Jesus wasn't born, real (they thought He was Spirit) and that there was no judgment (Marcionism).  If you really ponder these three factions you might also say, "Wait preacher ... I see those ideas in political and religious extremes today!"  You would be right!

A woman wrote a letter to a bishop of the denomination.  It was a letter about looking to Scripture for God's plan and truth, rather than looking to the world for that truth.  The woman was soundly chastised.  How dare she question the fallibility of a bishop!  How dare she question the decisions of one so learned and informed!  These are the people in high leadership in many of our denominations.  Elitist, gnostic, humanistic or just plain narcissistic, this bishop had become a modern-day purveyor of heretical ideas. And this is why we, as the local Church, must continue to teach and preach from God's Word, rather than man's opinion.

So ... I will spend the summer on several of the foundations of our beliefs.  I will call the series PURPOSE!  What is God's purpose in the world?  What does Scripture say about that purpose?  We will start with a purpose passage all of us should know ... John 3:16 (and associated verses) ...  "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life."  Simple, beautiful truth.  Life-giving truth.  Truth for everyone (in the south, 'all you'uns').

I think this will be fun, informative, foundational and, in the context of a turned-around world, centering.  Let's jump into this summer study of God's Purpose together!  Thanks!  Randy

Monday, May 24, 2021

Broccoli or Bear Claw

I've been on a little kick lately.  I have learned that I am either losing or gaining weight ... there is no stasis position.  So, what do you do?  You focus, you concentrate and you learn from your own and other people's experiences.  You grow!

After Pentecost, we gather and have a propensity to go back to that comfortable, cozy and contented state where we look for what tastes good, rather than to strive for what is good.  I am a master at this!

Every day, as I have made my way through stores and eating establishments, I have had choices.  I was in Panera Bread one day and saw that wonderful display of good stuff.  Pastries, breads and the dreaded bear claw.  I love them ... I admit it!  But while I am trying to get myself to a lower carbohydrate situation, I know which one is a good choice.  I got the strawberry/poppyseed salad and called it a day.

But more important things are out there than these choices.  Last week I said to BE the Church I must BE patient, BE filled, BE out there, BE connected, BE thick-skinned and BE in awe of God.  Now, comes the test.  It's easy to preach that stuff.  It's easy to read and learn about low-carb foods.  It is hard to apply those things we must BE as we follow God.  It is hard to BE disciplined, taught, led, changed and transformed by God from "of the world," to "in the world" and "of Christ" (Romans 12:2).  It is a daily choice.  Sometimes it is a minute-by-minute choice.

The world is a pastry case filled with lots of stuff that looks good.  Doughnuts, honey buns, bear claws, greed, arrogance, contentiousness ... things that feel right when we follow a feelings-based world.  But, if we want to stay in shape, be fit for service in God's plan, and be lean, ready, locked and loaded, we must make some choices.  So ... bear claw or broccoli?  Which will you choose?  Randy

Sunday, May 16, 2021

A God Like That! A Church Like That!

Often the mainline churches play down the day of Pentecost.  Maybe it is because we do not understand what the term means.  Pentecost means 50th, seven weeks and one day after the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  It is also called the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of First Fruits (lots of names for a holiday!).  While Christians celebrate this day about 50 days after Easter, one of the festival names strikes me as very appropriate.  It is the name ... Feast of First Fruits.

If you read the story of Pentecost from Acts Chapter 2, you will see a group of disciples that became bold.  You will see God assert His power upon the people of the new Church.  These folks became excited and they invested themselves into the life of the Church ... they placed their "first fruits" into action!  And we are told, in Malachi 3:10, that when we give to God what God deserves, God will open the very storehouses of heaven!  And this is exactly what God does!

   1. God opens the mouths of timid disciples, formerly unqualified for the task, and gives them the message and the boldness to proclaim it!  

   2. God opens the ears of the hearers so that this message is received in their own language!  

   3. God opens the people to the context of worship and lets them hear, consider and decide!  

   4. God (through the work of the Holy Spirit) opens and convicts the hearts of the hearers so that they can leave the past and enter the future of life abundant!  

The word says, God adds to the Church daily!  And God engenders a deep sense of awe among those who choose Him!  

We need a God like that and we need a Church like that!  For what happened in Acts is as true, as relevant and as powerful today as it ever was.  That power is entering the streets of a multitude of nations, and our nation needs a God like that!  So pray for it.  Live it out, for you are the missional Church here in America.  You are asked to offer your first fruits! You are those who can tell, show and proclaim (through your lives) the Good News that "we serve a risen Savior, who is in the world today ... we know that He is living, whatever men may say!"  God says if we do this He will open the very storehouses of heaven!  We need a God like that! Randy

Monday, May 10, 2021

Thresholds

At a conference several weeks ago, the main speaker (Carolyn Moore) spoke about thresholds.  You know ... that little strip of wood, metal or plastic that is part of moving from one room to another, at the bottom of the door frame.  Two other definitions are also applicable ... the end of a runway or the place or point of entering or beginning.  Grooms carry brides over thresholds as a symbol of a new beginning.  Planes lift off into the sky.  People go from one room to another.  Life is filled with thresholds.

When I heard Carolyn Moore talk about thresholds, I knew this was appropriate, applicable and informative as a theme for our message to our graduates today.  They are lifting off.  They are going from one room to another.  They are stepping through a door.

I love the story of Elisha and the chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:8-23).  Elisha's compound is oppressed, and seemingly surrounded by the enemy (Syrian forces).  Elisha's servant is asking, "What shall we do?"  Elisha says 2 things.  First, he tells his servant, "Don't be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them!"  Then, he prays, "Oh Lord, open his eyes so that he may see!"  The servant opens his eyes and the hills are filled with horses and chariots of fire!  It is a great story about faith, prayer and God's provision.

Three points about the story.  When you go across or through a threshold, you have some level of fear.  Our graduates have been in school most of their lives, and now they are entering a new place.  Maybe school, maybe learning a trade, definitely new expectations and responsibilities.  Whether you like it or not, life will change.  But don't be afraid ... those who are for you are more numerous that those who are against you.  This room is full of people who are for you.  If you choose your companions well (this is key!) those friends will be honest and supportive (they might even tell you when you are heading into a ditch).  

When you cross a threshold, you often find the lighting is different in the new room.  Things can look scary.  Maybe the light is too bright or maybe there are shadows and grey areas.  We collectively pray that you will open your eyes and see clearly.  Now lots of people will try to paint a picture that causes you to see what they want you to see.  News media are experts at this.  Social media, TV and other "informational" outlets are expert at this.  Google even filters what you see by the expected perspective of the area in which you live.  In more progressive areas you might get progressive results.  In more conservative areas you might get conservative results.  God, and Elisha accentuates this, wants you to see what is actually there.  So do we, for the truth will set you free!

Finally, see the rest of the story.  One would think that this scenario would end in a great battle in which God's forces decimate the enemy.  God's solution is different here.  He relocates the enemy to the capital of the Northern Kingdom, Samaria.  Then God opens the eyes of the enemy so that they can see the truth of their situation.  The King of the Northern Kingdom feeds the Syrians and sends them on their way.  The point here is that though we cannot always avoid the fight, we submit our solutions to a God who knows more than we do.  Good plan, I think!

When you cross thresholds, don't fear ... God and God's people are with you.  When you enter that new room, pray that God will open your eyes so that you can see the truth of your reality.  When you are opposed by the enemy, seek and trust God's solutions, even when those solutions go against conventional wisdom.  May God bless you and keep you and make His face shine upon you, and give you peace!  Amen!  Randy