The "called out" ones: H.C. Lord's Day 21

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 21

Q 54. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A 54. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith.  And of this community I am and always will be a living member.

Q 55. What do you understand by “the communion of saints”?
A 55. First, that believers one and all, as members of this community, share in Christ and in all his treasures and gifts.

Second, that each member should consider it a duty to use these gifts readily and joyfully for the service and enrichment of the other members.

Q 56. What do you believe concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?
A 56. I believe that God, because of Christ’s satisfaction, will no longer remember any of my sins or my sinful nature which I need to struggle against all my life.

Rather, by grace God grants me the righteousness of Christ to free me forever from judgment.

Who’s in?  Who’s out?  It seems like that has often been the question the surrounds the question of God’s people.  This has become so true that it seems that church has taken on a rather “exclusivist” mindset when it comes to its members.  We see this is a number of different ways, not the least of which is the rampant denominationalism that plagues the church in North America.  Everyone, it seems, has their own idea of what exactly “true faith” looks like, to the exclusion of all others who, they think, clearly do not exhibit it.

This posture within the church has, sadly, become so pervasive that it has negatively impacted the witness of the church on many levels.  As the world looks at the Church, with all its churches, fighting and bickering with each other over petty, selfish issues, they don’t see the body of Christ reaching out to those around them and emulating the same love that Christ had for all people.  What they see is a broken institution that has become more about itself, citing faithfulness to Scripture as an expression of musical form, clothing choice, or even regularity of worship attendance.

All the while we seem to have forgotten a few things.  First and foremost, we aren’t making the rules here, God is.  We are not the ones that have somehow “saved ourselves” into God’s good graces.  Rather, we have been saved through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and adopted into God’s family by grace through faith.

Second, to be in God’s family is not a matter of membership, raising our own status and watching our for our own rights as some have made it out to be.  In fact, being “in Christ” doesn’t have much to do with our own selves at all (apart from the assurance of our salvation and eternal life) but has much, much more to do with taking on the heart of Christ…

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.  – Philippians 2:6-11

Two of Jesus’ disciples seemed to deal with this same sort of mistake, arguing about who among them was the greatest.  Jesus, responding to this question, pointed out that the greatest among them was the “servant of all.”  In other words, they were called to be outward focused, modeling His heart for the least, the last, and the lost.

Finally, I think it is important for us to remember what the true meaning of the word “church” is as it relates to the calling of the people of God.  “Church” comes from a Greek word which literally means “the called out ones.”  Certainly, to be “called out” implies some sort of a distinctive identity, somehow different than before.  In the Old Testament, this looked like those that belonged to the “people of God,” or Biblical Israel.  They were called, chosen by God to be His people through whom He would work to accomplish His will in the world.

The Church, Scripture says, is the “spiritual Israel,” God’s people with whom and through whom He is working to share the Good News of His love and grace.  This people is not one of bloodlines or family heritage, it is a people chosen by God, who have received His grace through faith.  There is no limit, no exclusion to who can be a part of this people.  There is no special thing that we can do to earn our way in… it is solely by God’s grace and love, which we receive through faith in Jesus Christ that we find ourselves adopted as God’s own children.

When we find ourselves here, we also find ourselves different than before.  We begin to take on the heart of Christ, turning our focus outward as Christ did, to share the great love and hope that we have found with all those around us and taking on the very nature of a servant, following Christ’s example set for us by His life, death, and resurrection.



Ezekiel 2:1-8 "A Strange Calling?"



Galatians 1 – God Alone

Read Galatians 1

How quick are we to change our minds about something or someone?  Commercials, political debates, even some Sunday morning sermons are designed to get us to change our mind about things, some for the better and others not so much.  In any case, we can be very fickle creatures can’t we?

We aren’t really sure how much time has passed since he had first visited and set up the churches throughout Galatia, but by the wording here, it had not been very long.  Already, he says, they are deserting their belief in Christ for a “different Gospel.”  It seems, though, that they were also quickly deserting him.  His authority as an Apostle was in question and, therefore, his calling by God as well.

The believers were dealing with a group known as the Judaizers, those Christians with a Jewish heritage that held to the legalistic practices of the Old Testament law.  These people believed that you couldn’t be in the Church if you weren’t circumcised amongst other things.  This group likely denied the Apostleship of Paul because he wasn’t a direct disciple of Jesus.

One God, One Gospel, One Word

Paul, however, counters both arguments with one simple fact: calling and salvation come from God alone.  There has never been a human practice or act that can bring about our own salvation.  Sadly, these Judaizers, like the Pharisees, completely missed the point of the Law as being a description of how God calls us to live out our love for Him.

In the same way, our calling from God is not something that comes from our own good life or works.  Rather, it comes by the grace of God alone.  Nothing we do can change this as Paul will later write in his letter to the church in Ephesus:

For it is by grace you have been saved,through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.



John 1 – Prologue

Read John 1

The opening words of John 1 give a beautiful introduction to the message of this Gospel.  It is a high point from which we can look down on the whole of the Gospel, a point to which we can always return as we being to move through this book.  This is the perspective that John invites us to take as we are introduced to Jesus the Messiah.

John’s whole purpose in writing is to paint a picture of Jesus as God, a theme that is picked up instantly in chapter 1, and is carried throughout the whole Gospel.  Jesus is revealed as “the Word,” coming from the Greek word “Logos,” referring not only to “words” but also to divine wisdom.  Jesus is the “Wisdom of God,” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians and was present with God the Father before the beginning began.

Contained within John’s Gospel is also a microcosm of the greater Biblical story, from beginning to end.  We get a sense as John talks about creation and the many people that came before “the light” who witnessed to it.  John the Baptist joins the ranks of so many who came before Jesus, testifying to the light of the world that is Jesus Christ.

One of the most beautiful things about this is how John, and really all of Scripture, draws us into the story and then shows us that it is our story and that we are a part of it.  When we meet Jesus, He says to us like the call of Nathanael, I saw you while you weren’t here, but you will see greater things than this!  We are called to be witnesses to the light as well, to testify to all that we have seen and heard, and to the grace that we have experienced.



Luke 5 – Calling

Read Luke 5

Each of the Gospels records different versions of Jesus calling some of His closest disciples.  Two of these accounts, the calling of Simon Peter, James and John, and the calling of Levi the tax collector.  These people couldn’t be any more different in who they were and what they did.

Fishermen were often poor, their income stream fully dependent on the amount of fish they caught the day before.  For some it was likely the difference between eating a meal for that day or not.  They would have been dirty, sweaty, and smelled of fish (amongst other things).

Tax collectors were quite the opposite, likely being well dressed and relatively wealthy.  Known for cheating people out of money through the artificial inflation of taxes to line their own pockets, Levi, and his counterpart Matthew, would have been rather unpopular with the people.

Yet they have something in common: a calling.  Jesus sees them, calls them from whatever they were doing, and they follow.  There is no waiting for them to get their lives back in order, to quit their jobs with the appropriate 2-4 weeks notice, or even to get their lives right with God, Jesus calls them on the spot and they follow.

Now, it goes without saying that the context and culture of that day are different than today.  Certainly people don’t go around telling others to “come follow me.”  We would be rather suspicious of anyone that did.

Yet does our suspicion and our busyness get in the way of listening to the voice that does call us?  The “still small voice” of God is always speaking through the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives.  He still desires that we take us our cross daily and follow Him.  Do we hear that voice?  Are we listening?



Mark 2 – Doctor! Doctor!

Read Mark 2

Have you ever looked at friends, neighbors, or family members and wondered what they were doing hanging out with that person or that group?  It has probably happened to all of us.  Or maybe it was you, hanging out with someone questionable or suspect.  You may have thought to yourself, “What will (insert name here) say when he/she sees me with these people?”

In Jesus’ day, the religious people were the  determiners of who was “in” and who was “out.”  The out people were considered sinners and were lumped in with the sick and the tax collectors, the lowest of the low.  No teacher or upstanding person would be seen with these people, much less eat with them.  Yet Jesus, as He calls yet another disciple, reclines with them at the table, the pinnacle of relation and familiarity; the religious leaders can’t stand it.

Jesus’ response is striking and convicting.  Why on earth would He hang out with those people that are already righteous?  You can probably sense a bit of irony here too.  Maybe the question would be, why would Jesus hang out with those who think they don’t need Him?  The analogy of His ministry and the work of a physician drives home the point.

I’ve often wondered if Jesus would have a similar response to the groups of people gathered in our churches today.  It is said that Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in America, and not just from a racial standpoint.  We gather to worship with groups of people just like us, but where are the sick, the outcast, those that Matthew reminds us we are called to minister to?  Are we welcoming the sick that they may find healing, or shutting them out for fear of the disease?



Day 218: Jeremiah 1-3; Intro to and Call of Jeremiah

Jeremiah is one of the more interesting and dynamic of the prophets, leading an emotionally tortured life but still holding to the message that the Lord gave him; a call to repentance and the coming judgment of Judah.  The book of Jeremiah takes place in the latter part of the 7th century and the early part of the 6th century, over the reign of the last 5 kings of Judah.  In relation to Isaiah, Jeremiah wrote and prophesied after his life, but probably takes place in between the writing of the first and second sections of Isaiah.  Towards the end of the book, and in to his second writing, the book of Lamentations, Jeremiah prophesies about the coming judgment and finally witnesses the fall of Jerusalem and the burning of the Temple of God.  He takes part in the exile of Judah, finishing his writings of lamentation as one of the exiles of Judah.

"Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Je...

“Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of Jerusalem” by Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The call of Jeremiah happens is similar fashion to that of Isaiah.   It is interesting that the call of these two prophets revolves largely around the touching of the mouth to represent the giving of speech to these two great voices.  Jeremiah’s calling also revolves around a promise and assurance from God that He knows and has known Jeremiah since before he was even formed, a testament to Jeremiah’s preordained purpose set out by God.

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”  But the Lord said to me,

“Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’;
for to all to whom I send you, you shall go,
and whatever I command you, you shall speak.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
declares the Lord.”

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said to me,

“Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.
See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to break down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.

Stories of calling like this should cause us to think about our own callings as well.  While we often struggle with the concept of free will in relationship to the fact that God has a plan for the universe, we should not become bogged down in the details.  It is difficult for us to understand how these things all work together, but the fact remains that God has a plan for each of us, a plan that He has and will set in place.  For some it may be to be a CEO, others a factory worker.  Some of us may be Doctors and other pastors.  However, whatever God has called us to, He has done so that we may honor Him in our work.  We too have been touched, filled with the Holy Spirit that through our words and deeds we may bring glory and honor to God.  As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.



Day 198: Isaiah 4-6; The Introduction to and Call of Isaiah

Overview of Isaiah Photo Credit: www.visualunit.me/tag/isaiah

Overview of Isaiah
Photo Credit: www.visualunit.me/tag/isaiah

The book of Isaiah is the first, and arguably the most well written book of the prophets.  Isaiah is a very eloquent writer, doing a superb job of weaving together prophecy and the call to redemption, but not leaving the people without the hope of the coming kingdom of God.  This is the longest book of the prophets as well, separated into two sections.  The first half of Isaiah talks very heavily about the coming judgments on Israel, Judah, and the nations around them as well.  He does this by pointing out the sins that they are caught in and calling them to repentance, warning that if they do not repent they will face the judgment and wrath of the Lord.  There is a is bridge between the two sections around chapters 36-39, which leads into the second section which in which Isaiah speaks God’s comfort to a nation that has been punished with exile.  In it, Isaiah talks of a coming restoration and a time in which all things would be made right.

Part of the comfort that Isaiah speaks of is that of a coming messiah, a servant of the Lord who will bring peace and restoration.  However, this isn’t the only purpose of the coming man of God, the messiah that is promised more in Isaiah than in any of the other prophetic books.  Much of what we look to when it comes to the time of Lent in the church calendar comes from Isaiah’s prophecies of Jesus’ coming.

Timeline of Isaiah Photo Credit: www.visualunit.me/tag/isaiah

Timeline of Isaiah
Photo Credit: www.visualunit.me/tag/isaiah

The actual writing of the book of Isaiah takes place over the course of many years in the history if Israel and Judah during the middle of the 8th century through the beginning of the 7th century B.C.  In fact, Isaiah’s call to be a prophet starts in the year that king Uzziah dies and his ministry takes place throughout the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in Judah and Pekah and Hoshea in the kingdom of Israel.  He wrote during a very turbulent time in both Israel and Judah, dealing with the rise of the Assyrian Empire to the north, the empire that would eventual decimate and deport the northern kingdom of Israel.  However, as Isaiah will say later, even Assyria was under the judgment of God and fell to the Babylonians.

Isaiah's Vision in Isaiah 6 Photo Credit: www.patheos.com

Isaiah’s Vision in Isaiah 6
Photo Credit: www.patheos.com

Today we pick up the beginning of the ministry of Isaiah.  The first five chapters could be considered the introduction to the whole book, and chapter 6 the actual event of Isaiah’s calling and commissioning as a prophet of God.  As I said yesterday, it is entirely possible that Isaiah was a priest, likely the high priest, working in the Temple of God when he saw this vision.  It is also entirely possible that this vision happened on the day of atonement, when the High Priest was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place and commune directly with God.  He starts his account of the vision as if he wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary, and then he sees this amazing vision of God.  The description that follows is one full of beautiful images of the throne room of God.  Many of the images are ones that we see repeated in other visions in the Bible, from the prophets to the vision of John in Revelation.  This is called “apocalyptic writing,” imagery that is very representative of things that would have been already well known by the Hebrew people.

The Angel Touches Isaiah with a burning coal Photo Credit: www.anthonyuu.wordpress.com

The Angel Touches Isaiah with a burning coal
Photo Credit: www.anthonyuu.wordpress.com

The part of the vision that strikes me the most, as a seminary student and preacher, is the vision of the angel touching the mouth of Isaiah with a burning coal.  This strikes me in several different ways.  Isaiah’s confession of being unclean has a very familiar ring to it in my life, and likely in yours as well.  As we all work through the calling of God on our lives, or even as we encounter God in worship and/or devotions, it is very easy to recognize our own weaknesses and defects.  We are indeed a people of unclean lips and we often succumb to the lie that we are not able or even worthy to do the things that God has called us to.  Isaiah recognizes this too, and something happens to him in his vision that has happened to us as well, he is touched by a burning coal from the alter of God.  This cleanses his lips and prepares him for the service which the Lord has called him to.  We too have been touched, cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ.  The gifts that we are given and the things that God has called us to do are made righteous, cleansed from any sin that may taint them as we truly offer them to God.  Like Isaiah, the words that we say come from God, the actions that we take are ordained by God.  On our own we are not worthy, but we are not on our own are we?  The Spirit walks with us each moment of each day, directing, counseling, and sanctifying us in Christ Jesus as we seek to live for him