Isaiah 58

 

Advertise this message with bold headlines, in all your communications, verbal, printed and electronic. Turn up your sound systems and employ your slickest desktop publishers. Broadcast to the whole church that they have turned their backs on the gospel and ignored their calling to practical discipleship and sacrifice, that 'My people who are called by my Name' have chosen to follow the world.

2 Every Sunday and even on Wednesday nights they congregate to enjoy their popular music and listen to my word being expounded. They give every appearance of sincerely desiring to please me, as though they were true followers who had not chosen their own "consumer-oriented, 'feel-good' gospel".1 They pray passionately for me to speak to them, to guide their decisions and bless their activities as though they really wanted me to come amongst them.

3 "Why do we bother", they say, "when nothing exciting ever happens here? We hear great stories of blessing and miracles in Toronto and Pensacola but You seem to ignore all our efforts. Why do we bother to leave our comfortable homes when You don't seem to pay attention to us? Haven't we fulfilled all the requirements?"

But you are simply going through the motions and your hearts are not in it. You faithfully complete your morning quiet times then continue in your unceasing pursuit of material wealth and you are never satisfied. You treat your employees and co-workers with contempt, as though they were not valuable to me. I gave them human rights along with you: to know God, to enjoy relationship and to share in the earth's resources.

4 You despise them and pay only the minimum the law requires. Even on Fridays when you are all mates together over a drink, your real attitudes are evident in your uncontrolled swearing and fighting. Do you think I do not see your behaviour in your offices and warehouses where you expect to be treated with respect because you label yourself 'Christian'?

5 Do you really imagine that such posturing is what is meant by "clean hands and a pure heart"? Putting on a religious demeanour in public and displaying a tasteful scripture on your office wall for all to see? My church has become a caricature, cultivating a sophisticated image and rejecting the traditions of sacrifice and servanthood. Do you really believe that appearances deceive even Me?

6 What I really intended involves a heart attitude of compassion and generosity toward all people, something that moves you to action when you see hurting people. I long to see you using your particular gifts and talents to stand alongside the dispossessed Maori, to join the sit-in at the tenant eviction site and give your precious time to the new refugee family as they struggle in an unfamiliar environment. How do you think I feel when you shut your eyes in the face of suffering and injustice and refuse to take any responsibility?

7 Poverty in New Zealand is growing and more people fall under its wheels every day but so few of my people seem to care. Why are your living standards yoked to your neighbours' on an ever-upward trend? Where is your benchmark of 'contentment'?

If everyone who calls themselves Christian were to share out of their everyday plenty instead of just their spare cash, there would be enough to go around. I want you not just to bring cans to the foodbank but to offer to be more involved. To make a meal for a needy family, to even take them into your home and for my sake welcome the discomfort that causes.

Does your fellowship celebrate the diversity of my peoples? Do you identify with the immigrants who come looking for a welcome? My heart grieves for the refugee who encounters fear and rejection in my house.

Do you throw only rags into the clothing bins but take anything still good enough to the second-time-around trendy clothing shops for extra cash?

And what about your own family? What is your attitude to them when the rubber hits the road? Have you been in contact since last Christmas?

I yearn for your hearts to beat along with mine.

8 When you lend your lawnmower to the new Asian family in the neighbourhood, when you invite the solo mother to your barbeque, that's when your neighbours will question and take notice. They will sense my presence and see that I, also, live in your space. Everyone you encounter will desire the vibrant wholeness they see and will hunger for that quality of life for themselves. Imagine that!

9 At last you will find God as never before. No more hollow voices bouncing off the ceiling. He will hear your heart cries, your pleas for assurance and power to do his work and He will speak to you and amaze you with his answers.

Who are the underdogs in your society? Champion them! Make a fuss when the Polynesians are discriminated against in employment and housing opportunities. Don't allow others to make jokes at their expense, to spread hateful prejudices around and poison the air they breathe. When their children fall through the cracks in the education system, protest loudly using every avenue available to you. Don't leave it to others. God's champions are overworked and thin on the ground.

10 Who are the hungry poor in your neighbourhood? Join those that feed them through the soup kitchens and food banks, but work to change the system too. Agitate for needy children to be fed at school and get involved yourselves. Do not judge the street kids. If their homes were havens of love and understanding, they would not be sniffing glue in the bus station.

Adopt a needy family and love them. Give them your substance, not just your leftovers. Don't insist that they beg and crawl. Allow them their dignity.

Who are the downtrodden in your community? Those who have no voice? Become supporters and advocates for the abused children, the lonely elderly, the mentally ill abandoned in boarding houses and those just released from prison. These little and helpless ones need my love and mercy. Comfort them!

Then you will begin to see your lives transformed. The kingdom of God will become a reality before your eyes.

11 You will know you are on the right path, because you'll see the evidence. Everywhere you go the shadows will be dispelled and you will see God at work. You will have everything you need to do every task I have set for you, heaps of energy and overflowing resources like you've never seen.

12 The Christian values of your society will be restored as you work together. All the virtues that have been rejected by this hedonistic age will again be nurtured and treasured: loyalty, faithfulness, persistence, honesty, humility, compassion and mercy. You will make international headlines and become a pilgrim-tourist destination. Your name will become a byword for a model community.

13 The Day of Rest was my idea. I commanded it for your benefit and well-being. Conformity may be a dirty word nowadays but if you genuinely love me, you will honour and keep my law. What are the ways you like to take time out, to relax and allow yourself to rest?

I no longer have rules for your Sunday activities because I want you to choose to honour me through your love of life and passion for holiness. So if you want to take your family Sunday-shopping for a treat, then take pleasure in it. Play your games together and celebrate the good gifts I have showered on you.

If you always have work that cannot be put off until Monday then something is wrong and your lifestyle needs attention. Respect my holy day for my sake and I will bless you. You will be freed from greed and despair and will become grounded in my hope. Reject the escapist and destructive amusements that society indulges in and choose for recreation activities that nurture your souls.

14 Only then will you discover my nearness and experience true joy. I will satisfy you and provide the salvation you desire. You will find limitless resources and security in my hand. You can rely on the unshakable promises of God.

 

NOTES

1 C Colson, The Body. Word, Dallas, 1992. Cover blurb.

 

Further Reading

The Community and Message of Isaiah 56-66, by Elizabeth Achtemeier. Augsburg Publishing House, Minneapolis, 1982.

The Body, by Charles Colson. Word, Dallas, 1992.

Beyond Renewal: The Kingdom of God, by Brian Hathaway, Word (UK), England, 1990.

Issues Facing Christians Today,by John Stott, Marshall Pickering, London, 1984.


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