Church Planting

LIFE VERSES 8: Isaiah 49:1-6

320611225_640In this series — Life Verses — I’m sharing some of the scriptures that have most impacted my life and faith journey. Today I want to share one of the most memorable moments I’ve had during my morning devotions. I even know the exact date. It was July 20, 2010.

I was seeking God more desperately than ever because this was that strange, uncertain time between being approved to plant a church (April) and when we actually began (July/August). I was unemployed, delivering newspapers by night, and dreaming about the idea of MainStreet by day.

I will not try to improve upon what I wrote about that powerful encounter with God’s Word that very day. Enjoy!

July 20, 2010

The Lord still calls loyal servants to accomplish tasks far too great if He didn’t give us the power.  This morning I went down to the lakeside, perched myself on the rocks and opened my Bible for my morning devotions.  As I stared out at the islands and “distant shores” of Lake Minnetonka, I recalled Isaiah once declaring, “Hear this, you distant shores…” So, I turned to Isaiah 49 where the Lord gave me the following passage to remind me of my own special call.

In it’s original context, the one speaking in the Isaiah passage below is God’s chosen servant, Israel.  In hindsight, Christians look back and see that it was not Israel that would end up bringing light to the nations, but rather Jesus who is the true Israelite.  But we can go a step further. By virtue of being “in Christ”, all believers are now in a certain sense the renewed and redeemed chosen people — the servants of God.

This morning, as I think about my own call to be one of God’s chosen servants to reach the community of Mound with the good news, I have personalized this passage for my exciting yet daunting task ahead in Mound.  I have inserted and replaced the [words in brackets].

Here are my words clarifying my identity as a chosen servant of God and the Lord’s charge to me:

Isaiah 49:1-6

1 Listen to me, you islands;
hear this, you distant shores:
Before I was born the LORD called me;
from my birth he has made mention of my name.

2 He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.

3 He said to me, “You are my servant,
Jeremy, in whom I will display my splendor.”

4 But I said, “I have labored to no purpose;
I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.
Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand,
and my reward is with my God.”

5 And now the LORD says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring [God’s faithful in Mound] back to him
and gather [his people] to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength-

6 he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the [church in Mound]
and bring back [God’s faithful people] I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the unbelievers,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of [the town].”

A few things stand out. First, I am called and so are you.  God has called us all to live our lives in service to Him.  Your calling may be to the corporate world, the mission field, parenting, or the classroom.  But God knew you before you were born and has a purpose for your life. That’s an encouraging word!

Second, the Lord prepares us to do the work he has for us.  When we’re ready for the task, we become like arrows in God’s quiver, ready to hit the target He’s set out for us.  For pastors and prophets, this preparation always involves having God’s Word in our mouths and ready to proclaim the gospel to those who’ve never heard.  I don’t know how “sharp” my preaching and teaching skills are right now, but as they say, “God doesn’t call the equipped, but He equips the called.”

Third, I was struck deeply by the third paragraph about the fear of laboring for nothing. The Apostle Paul often worried that he might end up “laboring in vain.” You see, I labored long and hard in Mound back in 2003-2007, doing many jobs I didn’t enjoy and working hard to launch the Revolution ministry.  For various reasons, I had to walk away from it all.  It was like burying a child I had nurtured from infancy and who was just beginning to blossom. My words echoed the servant who feared, “I have labored to no purpose; I have spent my strength in vain and for nothing.” 

But God is faithful to those who faithfully follow Him.  I have had to trust that I will be rewarded for my faithfulness to God in His perfect way and his perfect timing. As this passage says, “Yet what is due me is in the LORD’s hand, and my reward is with my God.” Oh, how much misery we put ourselves through trying to seek the reward of other’s affirmation and applause!  Like Paul, I need to ask the basic question about my call to ministry: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Gal. 1:10).

Fourth, verses 5-6 are simply God’s high calling to all of us who claim to follow Christ.  These verses have been called the Great Commission of the Old Testament.  They are our marching orders, our highest aim, our lofty calling, our exciting privilege and magnificent mission.

My heart breaks for Mound because so many of God’s faithful have been scattered and have fled in all four directions seeking healthy, vibrant churches outside the community.  The vision the Lord has laid on my heart is to go out and gather some of these families back to Mound to plant a community that brings renewed spiritual vitality and missional fervor to the heart of this city.

Walking the streets of this town under the stars each night, I pray for guidance and direction. I have heard his voice saying to me,

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the [church in Mound]
and bring back [God’s scattered people] I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the unbelievers,
that you may bring my salvation to the ends of [the town].”

So help us God!

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