A Chosen People

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Isaiah 40:20

Two women stood on the sidewalk in the middle of the night watching their church burn down. One said, “This is the first time I’ve seen you at church.”
Said the other, “Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen the church on fire.”

There was a fire one night at a convent and several retired nuns who lived on the fourth floor were trapped. They were praying for the Lord to show them a way out of the fire when one of the sisters screamed, “We need to take off our robes, tie them together and climb down to safety.” Later as they were recounting the event to reporters, they were asked if they were afraid of the crude rope breaking. “Oh, no,” they said. “You see, old habits are hard to break.”

Jesus said to the believers, You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit-fruit that will last. (John 15:16) Gee, who is Jesus choosing for His Church? A bunch of sinners. Adulterers, Murderers, Pride filled hearts, Liars, Thieves, and Idolaters. Someone said to me, “You’re a good man, Bill McConnell.” And my mind flashes back to all the wrongs I have done. To all the opportunities missed. Yet, I have been choosing by Christ. I came out of the General Assembly meeting several years ago to meet protesters with signs that read, “Fag Church,” simply because the Church wanted an open Table for all sinners. They know nothing of what is going on inside and how difficult this process is for the Church. To the protesters to even address the issue of homosexuality is accepting the sin. To the Church, finding room at the table for people different from ourselves is welcoming all sinners that have been called by Christ. I drive down Kellogg and I see protestors on both sides of the issue. Both sides equally convinced that they have been called by God to be Christians. A young man from a large church in town confronted me about abortion. I told him that I was opposed to abortion but that I was just as convinced that the decision had to be made by the family and not by the state. He questioned my values. I asked him about a 16 year old girl that was a member of his church. She doesn’t come to church anymore since the birth of her baby. My values tell me that it is wrong to tell a girl that she can’t have an abortion and then for me to ostracize her from the community because she has had a baby out of marriage. The past couple of weeks have been very painful for me personally. I discovered that my home church in New Castle, Kentucky, has made a series of poor decisions. People that loved me and nurtured me growing up are now making some of the worst choices I have ever seen. I wrote one of the strongest three page rebukes that I have ever written to my home church’s elders. And as I stand here I know their response will be, “This is what God wants us to do.”

Regular churchgoers live longer than nonchurchgoers, a new study shows.
Researchers studied 21,000 adults for nine years, examining their religious behaviors and other factors, and published the results in the latest issue of Demography Magazine, the Washington Times said: People who attend church regularly could live up to fourteen years longer than those who don’t, the study showed. “Those who never attend church exhibit fifty percent higher risks of mortality over the follow-up period than those who attend most frequently,” researcher Robert Hummer said. “Those who attend weekly or less than once a week display about a twenty percent higher risk of mortality than those who attend more than once a week.” The study, partially funded by the National Science Foundation, also showed ailments common among those who don’t attend church. “[They] are about four times as likely to die from respiratory disease, diabetes, or infectious disease,” Hummer said.

I look at that research and then I look in the mirror at all the gray hair that the Church has given me. Jesus said, And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (Matthew 16:18) I am convinced that it will not be an outside source that tears the Church apart. If the Church is to be brought down, it will come from within. Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them: “Any kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and a house divided against itself will fall. (Luke 11:17)

In the Old Testament kings believed that God gave them direction in dreams.
If they wanted to know what they were supposed to do in their administration, they would try to dream and receive a direct word from God. And if they weren’t getting any messages in their dreams while lying in their own beds, they would sleep in the Temple. They believed that it would work better there. There begins the origin of the time-honored tradition of sleeping in church.
A church on the move must confront reality and meet people where they are.
Separation is not isolation-it is contact without contamination. Jesus was the friend of tax collectors and sinners. Many church members don’t have any unsaved friends, or if they do, they keep them at a distance. Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem, where the crowd was so cosmopolitan that the inscription on his cross had to be written in three languages. Many churches today have abandoned the marketplace and spend their time reminding one another of the gospel.

Isaiah touches my soul. The 40th Chapter of Isaiah starts off with the prophet hearing God say, Comfort, comfort, my people…Does the prophet really have to comfort the believers? Yes, because every last one of them is a sinner melting into the Church as one body. Here we come, all of us, battered and bruised, into the body of Christ.

Here is our problem – we are the Church, the moral teacher of society. It is a problem to teach morality when we ourselves have problems being moral.
And we will always have that problem as long as we subdivide sins. The sin of murder is worse than lying. The sin of adultery is worse than a lack of hospitality. Jesus Himself shatters that thought when He told us that we could murder a person by our tongue. That we could commit sexual immorality just by our very thoughts. Sin is nothing more and nothing less than that which displeases God. Jonah runs away when God calls him to go to Nineveh. What is wrong with that, we ask? Ask someone who is running away from God’s call. It displeases God. The Disciples rub the grain of wheat in their hands on the Sabbath. The Law forbid it. But the Law was given to benefit humanity, not harm.

Isaiah writes, A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple.

Hear the beauty of this word! A man too poor. The carpenter chooses a sound piece of wood.’ He cuts down an ash, a tree which will not rot. Perhaps he chooses a tree which is incorruptible. He who is accustomed to examine, and to judge between the wood which is durable, and the wood that is not. The craftsman knows that there is something better than himself and seeks to find it and worship it. A wise artificer is the believer who will find God. A wood that will not rot nor topple. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. The challenge of the Gospel is that we get our eyes off of ourselves and on to God. The phrase, `shall not be moved,’ does not refer so much to being fixed in one place, as to durability and permanency. We don’t talk enough about the cost of Christ. Remember the old song, Power in the Blood? The same blood that redeemed all.

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