Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Prophet Isaiah and the Real "Christmas"

As I preached out of Isaiah during December I found myself viewing Christmas differently than years past. A bit of a “mental revolution” (see Romans 12:2) has been happening inside me. But this really began, for me, last July at our Holy Spirit renewal Conference in Green Lake, Wisconsin. As missionary David Singh spoke about passion for outreach and mission my heart was spoken to by God. Some old things were reawakened and some new things were birthed. I was taken back to how years ago God called Linda and I to travel weekly throughout the Midwest writing songs, doing concerts, giving our testimonies, and seeing many come to be followers of Jesus as a result. I was also reminded of how God called Linda and I to be campus pastors at Michigan State University. Our goals were: to reach university students and professors for Jesus Christ, and to make disciples of them. For me it doesn’t get any better spiritually than seeing a person receive Christ, then follow Him into service in a local church or even beyond as a missionary. After hearing David preach I knew I must bring him to my church to ignite a greater passion for involvement in outreach.
So in September David came and preached about outreach and mission as worship. Then, our missionary to Mexico and beyond Chris Bajkiewicz spoke to us about having a heart for the poor. And then our Native American missionary Randy Woodley challenged us about ministering outside the walls of our church building. Plus, for me and Linda, our son Dan went to serve full-time as a missionary in Istanbul, Turkey, as one of the very few Christians there among a sea of Muslims. All of these things have worked inside me to say – I must do more in terms of reaching out to the unchurched.
Which brings me back to Isaiah and Christmas. Isaiah blasts his own self-centered people “who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land” (Isaiah 5:8). What happens when people turn their backs on God to attend to building their own little kingdoms? The results are the loss of justice for the poor and oppressed peoples of the earth (see Isaiah 1:21, 5:7, and 10:1-4). But the coming of the Christ (Isaiah 7:14; 10: 9:6) will mean precisely the return of justice and righteousness for the poor, the oppressed, and the marginalized. So what can we do? We can follow Isaiah’s instructions: “Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow” (Isaiah 1:16-17). Note that without this God tells us: “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:13-15). For Isaiah, the sign of God-abandonment is self-centeredness and the resulting lack of proactive caring for the poor and oppressed. This is so significant that Jesus Himself says He will evaluate us on the Day of Judgment in terms of how we fed the poor, clothed the poor, took in the stranger, and helped those under oppression. If you don’t think this is correct I invite you to re-read Matthew 25:31-46.
One effect of this for me is that I have formed a Mission Outreach Team at our church and am pleased to tell you that, so far, 15-20 persons have responded positively. Our next meeting is Saturday morning, January 15, 10-11:30 AM, at our church building. Our first outreach will be to Alcoholics Anonymous of Monroe County on Sunday, February 13.
A few weeks ago a prophetic words was submitted to me that said this: “As you reach out beyond the four walls of the church building to the poor and “the least of these” I (God) will do a new and great thing in your midst.” I have a sense of certainty that this is correct. I especially heard it through David Singh last summer.

And that, for me, lies at the center of "Christmas." It's hard to see in the America we live in. No wonder America is becoming increasingly secular the church is considered irrelevant and impotent.