Sermon Title for Feb 04, 2018: “Following Christ: Internal vs. External”
Based on Bible readings: Isaiah 40:20-31 and I Corinthians 9:16-23
Liturgical Season: 5th Sunday after Epiphany
The book of Isaiah has numerous promises recorded in it, but the foremost promise is that God will cleanse mankind and give us a new beginning. This book is also widely considered as the “Book of Hope” which provides a compelling case to trust in the power of God over any other source of help. The opening lines of today’s Bible reading starts with some rhetorical questions for the exiled Israelites which ring true even in modern day context. It leads and reminds us that we know God from the foundations of the earth and that He influences the nations of the earth and its rulers. The new testament reading reminds us of our mission to follow Christ and preach the gospel while knowing that God is in control of alignment of everything in our lives.
We cannot fix what we can’t see (or) visualize – this cardinal principle applies to most aspects of life, as well as innate things like troubleshooting computer software. We have to follow Christ both from an internal and external aspect in the way that He has taught us – not the “feel-good version” that we seem to follow in these modern days. That sets the stage for today’s sermon titled “Following Christ: Internal vs. External”. For the sake of clarity and brevity, I have arranged the headings to provide context, current situation and call to action.
During Isaiah’s time, the exiled Israelites were desperate and weary. They were silently wondering if the God “Yahweh” who brought them magnificently out of Egypt would really allow them to fall at the hands of the Babylonians and their god marduk. Things around them seemed bleak and they felt powerless. It is at this juncture the prophet Isaiah announces that the truth is impossible to deny. The questions “Has it not been told you from the beginning?”; “Have you not understood since the earth was founded?”; “Do you not know?”; “Have you not heard?” triggered their hearts into the wonderful thinking that God was and is in control. These questions also serve us as Christians of today since it brings us an internal reminder of who is in charge of creation, creating, being and doing the job of managing even the rulers of the nations.
Just like the Israelites of Isaiah’s time, we are currently in a world that is disillusioned, dismayed, desperate, discouraged and has forgotten the basic things that really matter in our walk with Christ. While we mostly do a great job in “doing” things for Christ, we have to stop and ask ourselves whether we are “being” in Christ so that the love of Christ in our heart resonates. Watching our lives, others should be eager to learn more about Christ and undergo the experience of salvation for themselves.
So let us examine some current day statistics that pertain to external and internal aspects of our Christian living.
In terms of the gospel being preached around the world after almost two centuries, here are some current stats:
· 2.6 billion people have never heard the gospel
· The Bible is not available in 4000 languages yet.
· The Bible is partially translated in 1000 languages.
· About 50% of the world is illiterate, 70% are oral literates and so they need an audio teaching of God’s word in their language of understanding. An example of such a device would be the “Proclaimer” (https://www.faithcomesbyhearing.com/news/blog-post/proclaiming-good-news)
· Recently I heard that there is insufficient manpower and funding for these Proclaimers to be given to people who need them including those in the military.
As for why we have to do our part to spread the gospel, let’s remind ourselves of the apostle Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians 9: 22 & 23 which states “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
In terms of how we interact and show Christ to the watching world, here are some thoughts of what’s happening currently. You are here today hearing or reading this sermon due to orchestrated divine ordinance. Each one of these questions below will have an individual answer. They are provided so that we (including myself) can reflect and ponder privately before God.
· We know a lot of people in the Middle East, Asia and else where in the world are being persecuted, sometimes tortured for knowing Christ and sometimes even murdered. Do we stand in prayer for them and their families? Do we ask God that their deaths may not be in vain and ask for salvation for their persecutors?
· In the name of language censorship, are we saying nothing when the name of Christ is taken in vain?
· Do we speak out when our liberties to follow Christ are threatened? (or) Are we more focussed on pleasing people than pleasing Christ?
· Are we trying to fix “process”, “structure”, “type of worship” instead of focusing on how Christ wants us to proceed in His work?
· Have we ever thought of how we can impact the world for Christ if we can’t influence even those closer and around us?
· Are we only wanting to do the “works” that are easy and makes us feel good, accomplished and important?
· Do we spend time with God out of love (or) out of hurry (or) out of rigor and practice that is meaningless when our minds are not in His presence?
· Are we constantly telling ourselves the excuse that we can’t follow Christ because we seemingly can’t understand the Holy Scriptures? Have we taken steps to remediate that?
While an honest appraisal of the current situation seems like we are at war with the darkness, principalities and powers of the world and we feel powerless like the Israelites of Isaiah’s time, let us remind ourselves of the absolute sovereignty and power of God since today’s Bible reading from Isaiah ends with a promise of hope: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” – What a magnificent promise it truly is for a revival of ourselves both internally and externally!! When we soar, people will watch the glory of God in action – so please let this verse sink in for a bit in our hearts.
Call to Action:
You see - nothing harms, distorts, disappoints and injures a person more than not being loved. The same applies to the heart of God. Just imagine what He would feel about the current day church, especially in the western world where there is dismal church growth and we are not doing things that matter to His heart.
The concept of “holiness” is about being made whole or one with Christ where we voluntarily and steadfastly trust in Him and love Him unconditionally, not just when things seem easy for us to say or do.
Life constantly reminds us of our brokenness while we try to be one with Christ. The reality remains that we put up a façade that we can bluff our way through life pretending that we can handle anything while we are deeply scared within. God is our adequacy whenever we feel inadequate – the sooner we realise that, the better off and less miserable we would be trying to make things work outside of His will and/or His purpose.
Closer to the end of December 2017 and start of the New Year 2018, the Holy Spirit placed a burden in my heart to fast and pray for things – especially now that we are closer to the second coming of Christ more than ever. The western world had been very instrumental in sharing the gospel before and now its time for us to leave an impact again. Let us repent for our past mistakes and pray that God’s will and desire be established on earth while He helps us prevail through harsh times.
Personally, I am praying for a great revival to sweep the nation of Canada where we see the power and magnificence of God in action like the 1st century church. I encourage you to join in faith and pray for the same. The ripple of change we create in our church and in our Diocese will spread organically while being inspired and catalysed by the love of Christ. May the Holy Spirit guide us to be the “light” of the world which radiates Christ both internally and externally to the world around us.