A sense of crisis in America is more acute this September, 2020, than it may have been for most of us in years. However, the issues that are tearing apart our country are not new. Racial tensions have simmered for decades. Economic disparity has been growing, with wealth flowing into the hands of fewer people, for 50 years. Morality and ethics lost their compelling edge a long time ago when we abandoned our spiritual foundations to become a society without a consensus of what is right and wrong, one in which freedom to do my own thing is now the cardinal rule.
Christians, particularly those in the evangelical churches of which I am part, like to point out certain sins of our culture while ignoring their own shallow spirituality, one so insipid it cannot compel change and will not lead us to grapple with materialism or our love of Self.
We (America) is reaping the harvest of the seeds of selfish absorption and rejection of the knowledge of the Holy One. There is much talk about ‘revival’ but too often that means “make the other guy conform to my rules,” rather than “restore my relationship with God to first place.”
Do you desire life that knows God’s favor and approval?
Have you become concerned about violence and suffering and pray for restored peace and prosperity?
My prayer, for weeks now, forms around a question, “Lord God, what can I do, what can your people do, to become part of the answer, to bring restoration?” Some suggest retreat into circles of those who think as we do, isolating the Church from the world in which we live. Others demand militant resistance in the streets- protests, signs, and confrontation. Some are ready to buy bigger weapons to aggressively advance their cause. Being an election season, many are insistent that voting for the right people will bring renewal to our land. God, the Holy Spirit, reveals the answer to my question in the eternal truth of inspired Scripture.
Isaiah, preached to Jerusalem, asking them to consider their ways. The Lord commissioned him to “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.” (Isaiah 58:1, NIV) His words are a clear call to us so many years after they were first written.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:5-12, NIV)
The Lord rebuked the empty rituals of religion that were the response of the religious elite. As troubles came to ancient Jerusalem, some were calling the nation to fasting, setting aside food and comfort, wearing plain clothing, practicing forms of self-denial, but their focus was misplaced. Just going through the motions of religion without seeking spiritual transformation accomplished nothing, nor did it please God. He wanted them to practice a different kind of self-denial, one that got practically involved with the needs of people. Deal with injustice. Make sure that people are not exploited. Share your abundance. God says that then, only then, will darkness turn into light.
Answered prayer comes when we are loving God in such a way that it compels us to love others; not just those who look and act like us, but those who are powerless, pushed to the forgotten edge of society. Our first concern will be to share the Good News of God’s love and salvation with them, inviting them to join us in God’s family. IF the Gospel we preach does not create a new community of faith, it is not a complete one. If we tell others that “Jesus saves from sin” but follow up with actions that tell them they are still not accepted, we have not fully realized Jesus’ message that is two-fold – “Love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength; AND love others like you love yourselves!”
God tells us to “do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, (to) spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.” It’s not hard to understand the words, but it is oh so difficult to truly put them into practice. What does He want us to do in the name of Jesus? God says I want you to “get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins, (be) generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out.” (The Message : The Bible in contemporary language, Isaiah 58:9-10)
Christian friend, we need to wrestle with the implications of God’s call. The truth will change us deeply, IF we get honest with ourselves before God. We will not find quick fixes or instant solutions but the Light will begin to shine, like the dawn gradually replacing the dark of night.
There is great promise attached to sharing the Gospel that frees people from their sins and caring for people in a way that refuse to discriminate, to blame, or reject. The Word says that we will find a whole new dimension to our relationship with God; guidance, satisfaction, and strength. And yes, we will become people known as Repairers and Restorers!
The word from the Word with which I close today also comes from Isaiah. These are the words that Jesus quoted in the synagogue of Capernaum when He declared His Messianic mission. We are to share that mission. Will we?
“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-6, NIV)
Now that’s restoration!
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
Like the wideness of the sea
There’s a kindness in His justice
Which is more than liberty
There is welcome for the sinner
And more graces for the good
There is mercy with the Saviour
There is healing in His blood
For the love of God is broader
Than the measure of our mind
And the heart of the Eternal
Is most wonderfully kind
If our love were but more simple
We should take Him at His word
And our lives would be all sunshine
In the sweetness of our Lord
Frederick William Faber © Words: Public Domain