Bob's Sermon for Sunday, January 15, 2017

 

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“Has God called many people before they were born?”

 

Isaiah 49:1-7

 

     (Isaiah 49:1-7 NIV) Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has He made mention of my name. (2) He made my mouth like a sharpened sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver. (3) He said to me, "You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor."

 

     (4) But I said, "I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing. Yet what is due me is in the LORD'S hand, and my reward is with my God." (5) And now the LORD says-he who formed me in the womb to be his servant bring Jacob back to him and to gather Israel to himself, for I am honored  in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength. (6)He says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept.

 

     (7) This is what the Lord says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

 

     Our text makes little sense to most people. That is a shame, because Isaiah deals with issues that worry us. Most of us want our life to have meaning. To have purpose. In verse one, our text says, “Before I was born the LORD called me.” In verse seven, that same person speaks of being chosen by God. Do you feel that God has called and chosen you? Many people feel that they are special. Their mother loved them unconditionally. Their mothers and, sometimes their fathers, kept telling them how exceptional they were. Why shouldn’t everyone else adore them?

 

     That assumption by them creates an ever- widening chasm in the world. To what gap do I refer? Kids do things their parents consider cute and brilliant; other folks often think they are simply spoiled brats. That same antagonism also often exists between pet owners and their friends. Were you called and chosen by God? You have likely discovered this ugly truth about calling and choosing. Many who think they are God’s chosen are downright arrogant. They seem to think they can do no wrong or ever lose their salvation. They sneer at “lesser” Christians.

 

     What does it mean to be one of God’s elect, to be called and chosen?

 

     Many folks who speak about being chosen seem unfamiliar with Isaiah chapter 42. In the event you haven’t heard or maybe forgot, Isaiah 42 makes this truth clear: leaders the Lord selects rarely fit the leadership image shared by most people. The leaders the Lord chooses and sends are not the type people usually follow.[1] We tend to pick leaders who look impressive, make good speeches, and promise to make things easy for us. They are usually tall, articulate, persuasive leaders. But in Isaiah 42, the Lord chose an unimpressive servant, not a towering, silver-tongued, glib orator.

 

     On what basis does the Lord choose? Do you recall when we gave the congregation the option of choosing the hymns for the next Sunday’s worship?” One desperate lady misunderstood what we meant by “hymn,” stood up, pointed at three handsome men and said, “I’ll take him, him, and him!” The subject of calling, choosing, and election is almost as badly misunderstood.  

               

     Christians often quote Ephesians 1:4: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” That resembles Isaiah’s statement: “Before I was born, the Lord called me.” God’s call is merely a first step, of course, and is not the same as being chosen. Jesus taught that many are called but few are chosen.[2] The fact that God chose us makes us special, but how?

 

     The Word chose(n) has many implications. For some chosen symbolizes rejection. Choose up sides for a picnic softball game. If you are among the first chosen, it’s OK. If you are among the last, you feel rotten and unwanted. Chose(n) can be an emotionally charged word.

 

     The Word chose is vital for another reason. It relates to the subject, “Is life going anywhere?” Is life a cosmic coincidence that ends miserably? Is it only a random accident where the fittest survive, but just a little longer? Is our only hope and joy to scornfully laugh, cry, and ridicule as sitcom characters do? Is life just, “One damn thing after another,” as Elbert Hubbard said? Or is there a purpose, a reason for existence? Even some sincere church people have a rather hopeless assessment of what’s happening.

 

     It is as if God committed a blunder when he created our first ancestors. They think God planned for Adam and Eve to be perfect. After Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, God needed to come up with plan B. I once heard a radio preacher say: “God has tried everything he can to help us.” He made it sound as if God was at the end of his rope like some parents sometime fell when dealing with unruly kids.

 

     People like that radio minister seem to forget what Ephesians says: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” God did not come up with the plan of sending Jesus after the Garden of Eden debacle. God planned to send Jesus before he created the universe: plan “A” has been in effect all the time: “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world.” But why would God create us knowing that we might fail—knowing that many of us would not choose to serve him? That many would rebel and disobey?

 

     It is presumptuous to try to speak for God or to think we know His intentions. I can say only that my eight decades of life increasingly convince me that God loves us, his creatures. Think also of colors, shapes, and forms, in the plant and animal kingdoms, and the beautiful natural wonders. Add the daily experience of watching living things grow and become what they were meant to be. Think, too, of what is like when those you love respond with gratitude. Watching children grow gracefully and mature gratefully is a magnificent experience. 

 

     Creation is not a mistake by God. He did not blunder in a trial and error experiment as did Dr. Frankenstein. Our loving God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world. 

 

      1)      Life is no random accident.

It is an amazingly intricate multiplicity of shape, form, beauty, and order. In Christ we can go somewhere within it. We follow Christ in serving God and one another. Honoring God in Christ brings benefits unimaginable until you walk in His way. Only if we exalt God and humbly serve Him can we attain our full potential.[3] 

 

     One reason we stumble darkly through life is we rarely deal with all the guilt of our mistakes. It’s as if we carry a big grimy sack loaded with the memory of miscues and missteps. We feel terrible guilt and we cannot figure out how to get rid of it.

·         Doctors give us pills.

·         Friends urge us to party and get drunk.

·         Psychiatrists tell us to forget it and not worry about it.

So like checking your coat at the dance, you escape it a short time. But when the party is over and you retrieve that sack, it’s even heavier burden than before. Jesus tells us to confess to him what we have in our guilt sack and then give it to him. On the cross, Jesus’ blood paid for every mistake you and I have made. Jesus washes us clean of our grime; he takes that sack and destroys all the contents.

 

     Before Saul of Tarsus became a Christian, he thought he was a good guy. He was a really proud, rude, vengeful dude.[4] When Jesus confronted Saul, he was carrying a heavily leaded sack. Do you recall what Ananias, the Damascus preacher, told Saul in Acts 22:16? Saul saw Jesus and he spent three days praying, but Saul still had that hefty sack. Here’s what Ananias told Saul (Paul): “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” Saul had met Jesus and was fervently imploring God. Yet he was still lugging his guilt sack because he had not been baptized for forgiveness. 

    

     We confess and renounce our wrongs, join Christ in a watery grave. We come up from the water clean, innocent as newborn babes, united with Christ—and the guilt sack is gone.[5] In the same way Jesus arose from death, we arise from baptism’s water and have eternal life. Our future is Resurrection with Jesus. That gives us reassuring purpose, doesn’t it? If we are not in Christ, we are off course, and we have no hope. Life has no future apart from Christ. Life is not a random accident.  God chose us in Christ.

 

      2)      But we must understand how we are chosen.

Many think that God chose some for salvation and others for damnation. It is that predestination thing. Ephesians 1:4 does not tell us that. The Bible does not say it in other places, either. As the following Scriptures clearly state, God calls everyone.

·         2 Peter 3:9 reads, that God “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone come to repentance.”

·         Revelation 22:17: “Whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.”

 

     D.L. Moody –“Whosoever wills are the elect (chosen) and the whosoever won’ts are the non-elect. You settle it yourself.”  

 

     An old Southern preacher once said: “Well it’s this way. The Lord done voted for my salvation, and the devil voted for my damnation. I done voted with the Lord, and we got in the majority.” God does not choose us because we deserve it.

 

     Charles Spurgeon – “God must have chosen me before I came into the world or he never would have done so afterward.”

 

     God did not choose us because we merit it or because we belong to a certain group. Listen closely as we read further in Ephesians 1:4 because this is the part that too many people miss: God “chose that we should be holy and blameless.” God did not predetermine who would be saved. What God predestined was how saved people behave: holy and blameless.

 

     Recall the old song, “The girl that I marry”? One line goes, “Her eyes will be shiny and in her hair, she’ll wear a gardenia.” The lyrics do not specify whom he will marry. Only the qualifications of the girl he plans to wed. God does not choose who; he identifies the actions of those who profess to be saved: “holy and blameless in his sight.” What does it mean to be holy? Being holy is not acting sanctimoniously and piously like many preachers do and Aunt Hilda, the religious fanatic. “Holy” means that we set ourselves apart for serving God.

 

     We give God our allegiance, and we serve him happily; that’s our life purpose. Nothing brings more purpose and gives us a boost as humble service to God does. In a moment, I’ll come back to that point. We should, however, spend less time worrying about predestination and more time considering the word blameless (faultless). In his letter to the Philippian church, (2:14, 15) Paul used the word blameless (faultless): “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you   may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation . . .”

 

     If we spend time complaining, blaming others, and arguing, we are not blameless. We are acting just like the people in this depraved, decaying world have always acted. God has called you and chosen you for a special assignment. God has in mind a delightful, productive you. Regardless of your age, you are a unique being with great potential.

 

     How do I know what it is—what I should become?

 

     Four easy-to-understand steps all relate to being in Christ: 

·         One, we must stop doing wrong.

·         Two, we put God first in every life-department and join Christ in baptism.

·         Three, regularly feed on God’s word (Scripture).

·         How does the amount of time you spend checking the icons on your iPhone compare with the occasions you consult the Creator each day?  

·         Four, openly, publicly praise God in Christ. 

 

     God will soon make it evident what he wants you to do. In the same way we sow seeds expecting well-formed plants, God puts his word in us expecting an attractive person come to form and shape in us. We do what God designed us to do. God’s word in us makes us thrive—exquisitely productive. There’s a big difference between us and plants. Plants cannot change their location. We can and must locate in soil and sunlight that make us thrive. That’s why God equipped us with legs and brains.

 

     God knows the beautiful person you can become. But you can become that only in Christ, keeping his word in your, heart and staying in an environment conducive to eternal life. In Christ alone can you achieve what you were meant to be and grow to the extent fully possible. God bless you as you read, study, and practice God’s will, encourage others, and become the superb person God designed you to be.

 

     In the following, the Apostle Peter eloquently described what I have feebly attempted to say:  2 Peter 1: 3-11 I have underlined the statements that indicate how we are responsible for retaining our salvation. “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (4) Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (5) For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; (6) and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; (7) and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.

 

     (8) For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (9) But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that he (or she) has been cleansed from past sins.

 

     (10) Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, (11) and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[6]

 


[1] Jesus pointed to this reality in Matthew 11:18, 19 NIV: “John (the Baptist) came neither eating nor drinking and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man (Jesus) came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’”

[2] Matthew 22:17

[3] For this we can only be thankful, never proud.

[4] See Ephesians 2:1-10

[5] Acts 2;38, 39 & Romans 6:1-6

[6] NIV, with grammatical changes by Bob. In newer editions of the NIV, publishers attempt to be politically correct. In doing so, they gravely violate rules of English grammar making the language imprecise and at times puerile.  

 

 

Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014

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