At Bethel Church we are continuing a very important sermon series entitled “Living Above & Beyond.” The purpose of the whole series, and this season in which we find ourselves, is to equip followers of Jesus to live above and beyond material slavery, spiritual complancency, and small-minded eternal vision. We want God to meet us where he finds us today, and to transform us toward greater maturity and sensitivity to his Spirit.
Recent weeks have found us giving attention to Deuteronomy 26:5-11, from which we have been equipped to understand what it could look like for us to “make a response” to God (Deut. 26:5) that affirms God’s goodness and recognizes that everything that we have and all that we are is for him and his glory. It has been important to establish this, for any further discussion on how we as a church might live above and beyond where God finds us today must begin with this important truth. Of course, this has significant implications for the value we place on things like our talents and spiritual gifts, our relationships, our time, and our money. If we really believe that all of these things belong to God, then that revolutionizes how we live. Deuteronomy 26:10-11 empowers us to remember that God deserves not just a portion of who we are or what we have, but he deserves all that we have and are! And his goodness calls for a celebration of extravagant joy!
But to really grasp just how good he is, we have to know him based primarily upon what he says about himself, us, life, and so forth. And the way this is accomplished is by spending time in what he has written—the Bible. In order to know him and his story, then we have to pay attention to his story. This reality leads us to the Old Testament book of Isaiah, where we find out something about the life-changing power of God’s written word.
When we peer into the first chapter of Isaiah we discover that God’s people, the ancient people of Israel, are a total wreck. Consider the following description, from Isaiah 1:21-23:
How the faithful city
has become a whore,
she who was full of justice!
Righteousness lodged in her,
but now murderers.
Your silver has become dross,
your best wine mixed with water.
Your princes are rebels
and companions of thieves.
Everyone loves a bribe
and runs after gifts.
They do not bring justice to the fatherless,
and the widow’s cause does not come to them.
The situation for the people was utterly horrid. Like their forefathers they did whatever it was that they thought was right in their own eyes (cp. Judges 21:25). Yet they were the embodiment of the religious establishment. They had all the trappings of religious energy. And in so many ways the aforementioned passage from Isaiah characterizes the church of the twenty-first century. Even a cursory reading of the passage, as well as a casual glance around the church-culture of today, tells us that affirming impurity is totally acceptable (think, for instance, of the ordaination of active homosexuals), celebrating death is totally acceptable (think, for instance, of the issue of abortion), watering down what is valuable is totally acceptable, corruption rules the day, genuine justice is replaced with immoral social engineering, and the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) are forgotten and ignored. The fact that many mainline American churches proudly promote things like abortion and homosexuality while mocking the dignity of Jesus and the authority of the Scriptures validates this sad reality.
Ideally, there should be a place willing to provide better than whatever promotes self-destruction and injustice. The Prophet Isaiah points to such an ideal scenario. Right on the heels of describing the sad state of affairs for the people of Israel, Isaiah goes on to anticipate a day in the future when God’s truth will be proclaimed and received in ways that radically alter everything. Consider Isaiah 2:1-5:
The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
It shall come to pass in the latter days
that the mountain of the house of the LORD
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
and shall be lifted up above the hills;
and all the nations shall flow to it,
and many peoples shall come, and say:
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways
and that we may walk in his paths.”
For out of Zion shall go the law,
and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between the nations,
and shall decide disputes for many peoples;
and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war anymore.
O house of Jacob,
come, let us walk
in the light of the LORD.
Note that something is provided by which people from among all nations may “walk in his paths.” What is it? It is the proclamation of God’s story. There will be a place that compels the nations to embrace something from which they will never recover: God’s Word. Their deepest hungers will be addressed, which is evidenced by the fact that they will long to go to the place where the Lord may be found. An environment where they may meet with God will exist, providing safety and structure within which they may be a transforming community and in which God is welcomed as the ultimate teacher. As the ultimate teacher God will provide teaching that is substantive and not shallow (the Hebrew word in Isaiah 2:3 for “teach” reflects the idea of laying a substantial foundation on which to build someting), something meaty and meaningful for true transformation. God’s pathways will be learned and traveled, for such will provide purpose and joy and and soul-freedom. Justice will prevail, peace shall come, and unity shall arise. The implements of peace will transcend the implements of war. And a vision shall be given where in people will walk in Yahweh’s light.
The simple reality is that we do not have to wait for “the latter days” (Isaiah 2:2) for such things to be pursued. Bethel Church, and, in fact, any church, can and should strive to be that ideal even in the broken world in which we now live. Being a place that enthusiastically, joyfully, faithfully, and creatively proclaims God’s Story is possible. With the help of the Holy Spirit, churches must “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). Putting forward God’s Story can change lives. We must create the spaces where this begins. This is one of the reasons why we at Bethel Church desire to season our region with strategically-thoughful venues wherein worship and the proclamation of the Word can come together.
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Special Note: For those of you wanting to participate in Bethel Church’s capital campaign entitled, “Living Above & Beyond,” an effort through which we, by God’s grace, intend to eliminate the remaining 2.3 million dollars that we have on our facility, please note that pledge Sunday will be February 19, 2012. On that date we will receive from all interested parties whatever pledge commitments they would like to make to see the debt eliminated. Also, Sunday, March 4, 2012, will be our “first-fruits” Sunday, at which time pledge participants will offer their initial gifts for the effort. For more information click here.
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“Write This Down…” provides a restatement of selected points or observations from various teaching venues at which Pastor Matthew speaks. The preceding material is from Pastor Matthew’s message entitled, “Equipping Our Realm to Live Above & Beyond,” and part of the sermon series “Living Above & Beyond,” presented on the weekend of February 5, 2012, at Bethel Church.