Here Am I

What do you think God wants from you? Loyalty? Obedience? Worship? Adoration? Action?

The early Israelites struggled with this question. That struggle continued into New Testament times as Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Zealots, and others tried to form sects structured around their notion of what God wanted from them. They were hung up on things like fasting, class distinctions, sabbath regulations, piety, and a plethora of laws. Jesus brought absolute clarity to the question, but well before his arrival on the scene the prophet Isaiah beautifully articulated what God wants from his people.

The people had chosen to fast from inconsequential things. (You know, like when you give up donuts for Lent but you don’t really like donuts.) God had something entirely different in mind:

Isaiah 58 (New International Version)

“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?

For example, the modern church puts a lot of effort, resources, energy, and activity toward worship. But notice that worship doesn’t make the top of the list. Worship is always a life-giving necessity, but breaking the chains of injustice and setting the oppressed free seem to rank higher, according to Isaiah.

Maybe worship comes next on the list…

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 them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Nope, not yet. Sharing food with the hungry and providing shelter are listed. Clothing the naked is important, too. It seems that God is more interested in social justice issues than whether the altar candles should have wax, wicks, or oil…which is actually a dilemma that altar guilds have lost sleep over.

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.

We would do well to listen to Isaiah. Serving the needs around us is akin to light breaking through upon the people of God when they engage in acts of righteousness. People who serve God in this manner find wholeness and healing, and God himself comes alongside to assist.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

When we are following God’s call, there is never a time that he is not with us. Not. Ever. So if your only interaction with God is once a week for an hour on Sundays, think that through again. God is more interested in your treatment of his people throughout the week than your attention for an hour.

In other words, you are not called to just hear the word. You are called to go out and BE the word.

So go be the word today.

Be the Word by Karen Warlitner

Welcome?

How many of you are familiar with the British actor known as Mr. Bean? Played by Rowan Atkinson, Mr. Bean is a rubber-faced physical comedy master in the vein of Jim Carry or the Three Stooges. I stumbled upon a skit called Mr. Bean Goes to Church that I found to be both hilarious and distressingly true.

Mr. Bean visits a country church for the first time and struggles with how to do things “properly” because he is new. He can’t figure out the liturgy, sings off tempo, makes too much noise opening a cough drop, and eventually falls asleep during the sermon with his head bobbing on the shoulder and chest of the VERY visibly disgruntled church member sitting next to him.

Watching the reactions of the disapproving church member is where the story of hospitality in the church is told. He is very inconvenienced with this newbie next to him, is reluctant to share his pew and his hymnal, rolls his eyes when Mr. Bean sings at the wrong time, and does everything in his power to say “You’re not welcome here.” Mr. Bean doesn’t fit in.

Have you ever felt that way in a church? I have. My worst experience was in a church in New Orleans where we were spotted as “new” and made by the pastor to stand and not only introduce ourselves but tell “a little something about us.” We were just trying out all the Methodist churches in the area and simply wanted to worship. I am sure that pastor thought he had a very strong hospitality game by doing this. He was wrong. We never went back.

I have used this clip as an ice-breaker when training churches on how to be more welcoming. Hospitality in the church is the most vital part of our evangelism ministry yet we have no idea how we are perceived.

In Paul’s letter to the new church at Thessalonica, he praises them for their outreach efforts. Note that none of it has to do with brochures, a committee, calling out visitors in worship, or any of the things churches do in the name of “hospitality.”

1 Thessalonians (The Message)

7-10 Do you know that all over the provinces of both Macedonia and Achaia believers look up to you? The word has gotten around. Your lives are echoing the Master’s Word, not only in the provinces but all over the place. The news of your faith in God is out. We don’t even have to say anything anymore—you’re the message!

All of us are in the “Evangelism Ministry.” True outreach happens when we authentically walk the talk and live out the Good News of Jesus in front of people with the simple example of our lives. When a fellowship of people truly love the Lord and ALL of his people, the word gets out.

People come up and tell us how you received us with open arms, how you deserted the dead idols of your old life so you could embrace and serve God, the true God. They marvel at how expectantly you await the arrival of his Son, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescued us from certain doom.

This actually has nothing to do with church and everything to do with you. When you put away the dead idols of your preconceived notion of who is included in “God’s people,” it is only then that you can embrace and serve God, the true God.

So be the message. Receive strangers with open arms in the name of Jesus. Jesus rescued us from certain doom! Find a way today to tell this Good News to someone who hasn’t heard it yet. YOU are an evangelist when your life echoes the Master’s Word. Go and tell!

Need a laugh? Watch this.

Go and Tell by Michelle Robertson