Thursday, August 1, 2013

Do This and Please ME (God)

DURING A SERMON one Sunday a few years ago, I opened my Bible to the middle, hoping to find Psalms.  I knew from hours of “Sword Drill” practiced on Sunday evenings while growing up in a Southern Baptist Church that it would be in the middle, but when the pages fell open I had turned to Isaiah, chapter 58.  I was close, but before I could flip the pages my eyes fell on these words in verse eight . . .

…the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

     God has my back?  Really?  MY rear guard!  What a thought, the glory of the Lord shall be my rear guard.  But how?  What was God saying through Isaiah?  What was God saying to me?
     I’m sure I had read that chapter before.  After all, I had won a pin for reading the Bible through years earlier—but why didn’t this phrase sound familiar, why didn’t this promise register with me? 
     I read on.  The chapter recounts God calling the people to account for false fasting.  In this context, “fasting” referred to a type of offering the people thought (or pretended) to be offering through the piety of their words.  God scolded them in verses 1-5 for “saying one thing but doing another.”  For instance, in verses 3-4 He says . . .

In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers.  Indeed you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness.

     But then God lets them know what kind of fast/offering He does expect.  Lives of service to others, but not just “any others” – lives of service to what Jesus would later call “the least of these” – those who are oppressed, hungry, naked, forgotten.
     And He doesn’t stop there, He promises to honor that kind of life of service. In this paraphrase of these promises, listen for the joy of the Lord in those who serve the most vulnerable in society . . .

And when I AM pleased, MY smile of pleasure will warm your face. 
And when I AM pleased, MY joy will heal the broken places in your soul. 
And when I AM pleased, I AM will have your back in any alley, valley or cave. 
And when I AM pleased, I AM will answer your calls for help
     you will know that “I AM is near.”

     Like many, we learned about serving others from the lives of our parents.  We watched them “do unto others” with no expectation of return.  We watched them sacrifice time and money for the poor.  We watched them stand up for the oppressed during the civil rights movement in the turbulent 50’s and 60’s—not an easy thing to do in Central Florida for a white man and his wife, especially a prominent businessman and community and church leader.  But, they did it in spite of threats to our safety, the business, and their reputation. 
     So why did Isaiah 58 impact me so?  I think it “hit me” that this type of service wasn’t something that Christians did when they got around to it, or that we did on Sunday mornings when the missionary told a story of need and we made a love offering contribution.  No, what “hit me” was that serving others, especially “the least of these” was not “one of” the expectations God has for our lives, it is “the main thing” He wants His kingdom here on earth (me, you, us) to do.