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Isaiah 6:1-12, John 3:1-12

I hope you have read the Charley Brown cartoon strip, you know the one with Snoopy sitting on top of the dog house writing his novel. He always starts out with, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Sometimes, that’s what it feels like in my life, the sun can be shining and all can be going well. Then I get notice that someone has gone into the hospital, or someone has died and my world becomes dark and stormy. Perhaps you too have felt this way? No matter what is going on around you, deep inside, in your soul it is dark and stormy, you may be smiling and laughing but inside all is turmoil and it feels like a dark and stormy night.

Perhaps it was a dark and stormy night of grief and despair for Isaiah, we read that King Uzziah had died, and Isaiah had gone to the temple, he went to the place where God was said to be so he could lift the darkness of his heart and soul and perhaps find comfort and relief. In the midst of his worship of God, Isaiah has a vision, he is given a glimpse of the throne room of God. The ultimate worship experience, to be allowed that much intimate contact with the divine had to be an awesome, and frightening experience. Seraphim, singing out with voices that shake the very building, “Holy, Holy, Holy” singing the holiness of God, Isaiah, looking upon the glory of God. Beloved, what a sight, what a glorious sight. What would your reaction be to this?

Isaiah, realizing his own sinfulness, and the sinfulness of the people among whom he lives, reacts, “Woe is me” says Isaiah. He has seen the glory of God, and fully expects to be struck down, he is about to die because he is a sinner. SURPRISE – SURPRISE: God instead offers Isaiah mercy and grace. His lips are touched by God’s cleansing fire and the seraph tells him that his sinfulness has been cleansed. That hot coal, straight from God’s fire has touched his lips, no longer are they unclean. In this way Isaiah is shown that repentance and forgiveness have a price, that there is pain and sacrifice involved in this cleansing. He has been touched by God’s cleansing fire, his sins have been burned away.

How does worship affect you? Do you experience God in worship? Do you expect to encounter God in worship?

Isaiah was so overwhelmed with what God had done for him, that he asked God to send him out as God’s ambassador, as emissary for God, to proclaim the message of mercy and grace. He wanted others to experience what he had experienced. SURPRISE – SURPRISE: the word God gives him to speak is not sweetness and light. It is not the “God loves you, live as you want,” that many are preaching today, and as many were preaching then in his day. King Uzziah had died, and already the people had begun to return to the altars and the Asherah poles in the high places, they had begun to bring back the worship of idols and other acts of abomination, just as has happened and is happening today. People begin to think they are their own gods, or they worship gods fashioned in their own image so they can have control.

The message then, was that the people of Israel are not to be healed. In verse 11 Isaiah asks how long must he deliver this message. God answers him: “Until the cities are laid waste and without inhabitant. The houses are without a man.” How can you do that, how can you deliver a message of despair, how do you speak the word that God has for you to speak? Especially when it is a hard word, a word that calls for repentance, and even in that repentance, suffering and destruction.

We have to deal with these things today. When you find out your child has come home from school with a report card that has a bunch of “F’s” on it. How do you deal with that? What can you say to a neighbor who has built a building that has a part of it on your land. That has actually happened in the town of Spofford, a house was built that actually was on city property. The previous mayor had given permission, it was a hard thing, but the city closed the street. What can you say to the neighbor who was beaten last night by her husband. What do you tell your friend who drinks too much, and drives home. What do you say or do, when a friend comes to you and says, my spouse has just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer, will you pray for us? How do you do that? How do you speak a word, knowing that it may not be received?

Truth is, it is much easier to say, “God loves you, God wants you to be happy.” It is not easy to say that judgment is coming, it is not easy to say, “God’s will be done” when you want to shout, no! No more death and destruction. How about the opposite?

How do we speak of God’s goodness and mercy, when children are killing children, when people are walking into schools and churches, and gunning down innocent men and women and children, when churches and synagogues are being destroyed all over the world. When 1.5 million babies are being killed every year in our nation, and when our society also wants to kill those who are old. We may call it assisted suicide, but it is really murder. How can we speak God’s word of love and reconciliation in the midst of hatred and terrorism? How can we stand up and say, no this is wrong, how do we work to stop the killing and destruction of innocent life?

What can we do? First and foremost we must start with a personal relationship with our God. That was Isaiah’s starting point, he came from that personal experience and knowledge of God and of grace. He came to understand his task in the personal presence and power of God.

When Nicodemus came to Jesus as we read today in John’s gospel, Jesus instructed him that he had to be “born again.” Jesus told him, “that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit.” We can’t do the spiritual stuff in our own power. When we are born again into that personal relationship with God, we see God for who He is, just as Isaiah did. Unfortunately, we also see ourselves as we are, weak and sinful, just as Isaiah did. George Younce of the Cathedrals, a group that has been disbanded now, and George has gone to be with the saints, sang a song, the song has a line in it that says, “I’m just a sinner, saved by grace.” You and I are just sinners, we have been offered that which Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Peter, Paul, Mary and Martha, Luther, and Wesley and Jose and Harry, Mabel and Jane have all been offered. Mercy and grace, are what God offers us, it is through that mercy and that grace that we are empowered to speak the word that God has for us to speak. We realize that we are totally dependent upon His power and not our own.

Gary L. Carver tells this story: “Come and see Donald’s museum, they said. I will never forget the day I first saw it. The ‘museum’ was in a building out behind a very ordinary looking house in Vevay, Indiana. The museum itself was far from ordinary. It would easily take several days to go through it. We saw incredible antiques — fifty or more coffee mills from six inches to four or five feet high. I saw beautiful old music boxes that had been re-created in the hands of Donald King. I saw the lock taken from the prison door at The Bastille.

I saw an indescribable museum of artifacts and Indian arrowheads. Donald worked with wood. He carved a statue of Christ twelve inches high, for which he had refused $5,000. One could literally see light reflected through the wooden robe! He carved a wooden map of the United states that had been used as a pattern for a commercial board game. He had reconstructed a scale model frontier home to the most minute detail. He was an amazing individual because of the things he had made, but even more amazing was Donald King himself. Donald King was three feet tall. He was born with no legs. On one hand he had a nub of a thumb and a nub of a finger. On the other hand he had a complete thumb and two nubs for fingers. Yet this man had accomplished so much. He had composed over 150 poems, all of which he still kept in his head. Some were over 20 minutes in length. A secretary was in the process of transcription for a publication.

Donald King went to school one day in his life. On the first day of the first grade the other children laughed at him so much he never returned. But his education was boundless. He had lectured widely and could speak with clarity on almost any topic. I once asked Donald, “If an ordinary person had accomplished one half of the things you have, he would be considered a genius. How have you done it?” He paused in reflection and stated, ‘I guess that sometimes God likes to brag.’” (Out from the Ordinary, Gary L Carver, Copyright 1995, CSS Publishing).

It is in the power and grace of God that we accomplish the tasks that God has for us to accomplish. In order to be sent out, we must begin with a personal relationship with God, allowing His strength to be shown in our weakness. Then we must proceed from a cleansed heart. Just as Isaiah was cleansed in the fire from the altar, so too must we be cleansed in the blood of the cross. Our heart must be clean, our motives must be God’s motives so that we may speak His word.

Cleansing begins with confession. Isaiah cried, “I am a man of unclean lips.” There is a story told of the Emperor Frederick the Great. The emperor was on a visit to Potsdam prison. In speaking with the prisoners, he heard one after the other protest their innocence, victims of the system they said.
One prisoner however, sat quietly. The Emperor asked him, “And you, sir, who do you blame for your situation? No One,” he replied, “I am guilty and I deserve my punishment.” Surprised, the Emperor shouted for the warden, “Come and get this man out of here before he corrupts all these innocent people.” (James F. Colianni, The Book of Pulpit Humor (Ventnor, NJ, Voicings Publications 1992) p. 28.)

Cleansing begins with confession and proceeds with the awareness that forgiveness is not without cost. When I went to licensing school in 1990, I met a man there who had been a Russian Orthodox Priest. He had escaped from Soviet Union with almost nothing, he spoke of having been shot by the KGB, having awakened in the morgue and escaping from there. He said that he encountered Christ in a vision in which he saw his apartment burned to the ground, Christ appeared to him and lead him from the flames, and told him to send his family away to safety. He said that he was told that he would come through the refiners fire and be made a new creature if he would be willing to follow the word of the Spirit who would testify of himself. My friend said he woke and the apartment was burning, he was able to lead his family through the smoke and flames to safety the same way he had been led. He sent his wife and child to safety in America, with some United Methodist missionaries.

He began preaching what the Spirit of God gave him to preach. He was shot twice by KGB agents, his bishop told him to stop preaching because he would be killed if he did not do so and finally, the KGB came looking for him and he escaped to the American Embassy. He was helped by the same UM missionaries to leave the country, and so he decided to become a UM Pastor in the Texas Conference.

We draw our breath and speak the word that God has for us to speak, because we have a personal relationship with Him. We come to understand that Christ gave His life to give us Life. Our freedom has been bought with a price. We can therefore proceed through life with a grateful heart, a cleansed heart, a humble heart. As we go about our daily lives, we may faithfully speak of God and His word to us, for we have lived that mercy and grace. The word is our own word, it is our story.

Living our story is living our worship, worship becomes a way of life and the experience of God with us becomes our reality. Paul speaks to us of praying without ceasing, that is what he is speaking of. Knowing God is present all the time, in all the situations of our lives, so that we can be in worship with him in all those situations. That is unceasing prayer, that is our ongoing conversation with our God.

E. Carver McGriff tells of going to a worship service at Evanston, IL. He says that he had other things on his mind and was not very attentive to what was going on around him. It was Communion Sunday and he was even contemplating leaving early, hoping he would not be noticed. He came to understand that that was unlikely and so he was examining the walls and looked up to see some wonderful artwork over the altar area and his eyes came to rest on a carving of the face of Jesus. Suddenly, he felt as if the eyes of Jesus were boring deep inside his soul, for a brief moment those eyes held him transfixed. He blinked and everything returned to normal, however, something had happened in that brief moment and he was deeply moved. Holy Communion has become a special time for him, and he has become convinced that Jesus is present in worship, especially in the Communion service.

What is your experience of worship, what do you expect from worship? Is God present, has Christ made His presence felt to you? Have you been called to speak a word and been reluctant to actually speak? God is present beloved, today, here and in all the situations of your life no matter where that may be. Can you speak of your experience, have you experienced Him? Do you know that you too are called to be a witness to the work of God in your life, that you are called to introduce others to Jesus, so they too may experience life in the Spirit? When you go out of Church today, will you offer them Christ?


Romans 12:1-8      21 August 2011

Living Sacrifice

Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as
a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Paul here begins to speak of Transformation of beginning to live in Christ, beginning to understand that what was and what is to be are now over lapping and that those of us who call ourselves Christian, are to
realize that we live in the What is to be. We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, the transformed by resurrection people that we are. We live under the reign of God, even though we live in this world.

When Paul says that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice, he is speaking of worship. It used to be that sacrifices were offered to God as begging forgiveness for sin, or as offerings for peace with God. Now we offer not dead animals, but living souls and bodies as our offering to God, giving of ourselves. That makes worship into a VERB, an action word, something that has meaning of and by itself. We offer all we are to God for His use in this world.

When I was preaching on the coast, we had some friends in Victoria who went on a Mission trip to Africa. Their team was going to finish the work on a church there, so that people would be able to go to the building out of the elements and worship God. The folks there were excited that the church building would be completed, they had done much work on it themselves but needed help with some of the construction, and they had no more money to have the work done.

Mission teams had gone and helped at different stages, and this was the last stage. Putting on doors, finishing out the bell tower and a couple of other things that needed doing. Well the dedication service was scheduled for Sunday 2 weeks later so they could put the finishing touches on the building. The drums started to beat, then another set further out picked up the beat and the local drums went silent. You could hear the beat going out further and further, until finally you couldn’t hear it anymore. Well the Sunday of the dedication came, and there were literally 100’s of people there, they had walked all that way from their villages to be a part of the celebration. There wasn’t enough room for all of them inside, but there were no windows yet just a place for windows, so the people gathered around outside to
hear and participate in the worship.

About 30 minutes into the worship the Pastor asked for the offering, he said something to the effect of: “Come and present your gifts to God here at God’s altar. Whatever you have God will bless and use it for the kingdom.” Then the Pastor sat down, music began to play, and people came dancing down the center aisle and the side aisles and brought money, fruits and vegetables. Then one woman began to dance down the center aisle, and she had nothing to place in the offering, she reached the altar, took down the plate, and gave herself to God. She actually stood in the plate, that was her good and acceptable, spiritual worship of God.

We live in two different worlds, we are citizens physically in this nation because we were born here or because we moved here from somewhere else and became citizens. We also live in the Kingdom for it overlaps this world and we are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We need to understand that even though we live in the USA, are citizens of the USA, our allegiance belongs to God.

That is why Paul speaks of renewal of the mind, we are to be transformed into the image of Christ. We are to become more involved in the things of God, we are to be resistors against the temptations of the world in which we live. Somebody has said that if you don’t know who you are, the world will tell you. Do not allow the world around you to decide for you who you are, Once you became a Christian, you became a child of the King! Paul goes on to speak of humility in living.

Gifts of Grace

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly
than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.

We are the body of Christ in this world, we are his feet and hands, eyes and ears, we are the parts that carry out the gospel in this world around us. Helping others to find Christ, so they too might be transformed, by the power of the Holy Spirit acting within them. We are a unit, unified by the glue of humility to be the body of Christ, acting through the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our minds and
bodies so that others will see Jesus Christ in us.

Paul says we are to act according to our faith, the words are “ according to the measure of faith” assigned to you by God. Each of us has faith, and Jesus said that if you have the faith of a mustard seed, you can move mountains. Act therefore according to that measure of faith that you have. As you do so you will learn more about God and His will for your life, and your faith will increase as time goes on.

We are to live daily for Christ, that is, that we live our worship of God on a daily basis, we offer ourselves to Him for His glory daily. As Paul says that is our Spiritual or Reasonable worship. Worship is not only the time we spend together on Sunday, it is also the things we do during the week. As we work, play, shop what ever it is we do, it is to be done as an activity dedicated to God. So that we can offer acts of grace to others as we move through our daily living, thereby giving glory to God. As we live our worship daily we will also be living in faith, knowing that our God will present us with those activities that will
allow us to show His grace in our lives. Worship, is a verb, just as love is a verb, if you don’t use these gifts of God then you lose them over time. Any time you act in a manner that gives glory to God
you improve your worship and your love of God and neighbor shines ever brighter.

What can one person do? Paul says that we each have gifts given us from God. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. What is your gift? If it is the ability to speak well, or to teach then use that gift to bring knowledge of God to others.

If you are one who is able to exhort, then do so with zeal, if you are a leader, then do that well and with joy. Do you have the gift of giving, then do that with good cheer, as the lady who danced down the aisle and placed herself in the offering plate, giving all she was and had to God for His service. Do you have a word from God, deliver it happily for God has blessed you with the gift of prophecy. Do you have the ability to be an administrator, go for it, the church needs your gifts too.

Whatever it is that God has given you go for it, it is His gift to you for you to use in His service. There is only one thing that will stop you from practicing your gifts, from sharing your gifts to the glory of God. That is the doubt and fear that Satan puts in your path and that you accept.

Michael J. Brown, born and raised in Bedford County Virginia, became it’s sheriff in 1996. In 1998 he began to form a group called, Operation Blue Ridge Thunder. It went after Child predators, and as he worked with this group he realized that the internet had become the hunting ground for many of these people. He worked at and finally was able to start the Safe Surfin Foundation a 501c3 that works to educate children and parents about internet safety. Through his efforts this is now a nationwide organization. One person can make a difference, if you will use the gifts that God has given you. This organization now has people such as Erik Estrada as their national spokesperson, Shaquile O’Neil  known as Deputy Shaq and others going around the country, putting on educational events to help protect kids by teaching them about safe surfing on the internet. What can you do if you will work
for Christ. Don’t allow doubt and fear to get in your way, rather step out in that faith that God has given you. Amen.

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Pastor and Wife

John & Yvonne Quigley, John is a retired Pastor in the UMC. This blog is about the journey I am on with Christ.