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Disciples and Words that Always Work
Scripture: Isaiah 55:1-13
Track 4 of 11 in the Life-Changing Words series
Running time: 24 minutes, 51 seconds.

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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

Sermon for Sunday, May 1, 2005
5th sermon in an 11 part series
"Disciples and words that always work"
"Life-Changing Words"
(Isaiah 55:1-13)
Copyright 2005 G. Charles Sackett

They tell me that "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades". Apparently that's not always true. I did some looking around this last week and discovered that the leading free throw shooter in the history of basketball was Jeff Hornacek. He averaged 95% of his free throws. Not bad! Out of a 100, he always made 95. Meaning he missed 5. I looked around a little further and discovered that the leading batter in the history of baseball was Ty Cobb with a lifetime average of 366. Which means out of every 1000 times he showed up at the plate he got a hit 366 of those times. If you're a pessimist I suppose and the bottle is half full, that means 634 times he didn't.

In recent years Barry Bonds has been the base leader and he's on-base 60% of the time, which means 40% of the time he's not. And I suppose that's okay in most arenas. I just found myself wondering, however, if this were something other than a major league sport, if you would accept close being good enough.

Like, say 75% of the time your pilot is able to land his plane successfully. How about ah, you know 83% of the time your surgeon enables you to survive? Sometimes it just seems like close isn't quite good enough, is it?

Certainly true for the prophets. If you were a prophet of God in the Old Testament you were expected to bat a thousand. You were expected to be right a 100% of the time. In fact, if you were wrong in one of your prophetic utterances. The punishment was to take you outside the city and to stone you to death. So you either got it right or you didn't get it at all. In fact Isaiah is very clear about the way that the prophetic utterances work. God, in fact, describes himself as the one who says, "I'm telling you in advance how things are going to turn out so that you'll know that I'm God when you see 'em turn out." And of course they always did because the prophets were always right.

We had a chapel speaker a number of years ago who came in and he made this comment. This was the fundamental statement of his sermon. "God says what He means and He means what He says." I pondered that for the last several years. "He says what He means and He means what He says." In other words, if God says it, you can trust Him to do it. That he is, in fact, reliable. His words will come true.

I toyed with that over a couple of Old Testament stories this last week. Just thinking about some times when it must have been extremely difficult to accept that kind of basic premise that God actually knows what he's talking about.

Maybe you remember the story of Gideon. If not, later today go back to your Bibles. It's in the book of Judges. Ah, you'll find it there in Judges 6. Judges is the seventh book in from the beginning, if you have trouble locating it. Israel has been having a difficult time following the ways of the Lord. One of the most common statements in Judges is that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord. Midian, this enemy nation, has basically taken over and is ruling harshly over Israel. God speaks to Gideon and says, I want you to lead my people against Midian. Gideon doesn't want to. He's frightened. God says, "trust me!" "I will be with you." Now the story gets a little complicated for a minute and we'll just bypass that. But here's basically what happens. He calls him to go up against Midian. He says, call forth the army. So 32,000 people show up to go to war. And God says, you have too many.

Now if I'm Gideon and I'm already just a little bit on the weak end of this and I'm not sure that God knows what he's talking about. Awe well, you remember, right? Gideon is such a (well, I don't know if I want to use the word coward) he's just enough lacking confidence that he puts God to the test twice. God you make the ground dry and the fleece wet and I'll know it's really you and so he wakes up the next morning and the ground is dry and he's able to squeeze a cup of water out of this fleece and that's not good enough so he says, let's reverse it. Tomorrow morning you make the ground wet and the fleece dry and that's how it turns out. He shows up with 32,000 men and God says you have too many. Tell the people who are afraid, to just go ahead and go home now and so 22,000 of them leave. So here he is up against the armies of Midian and he's got 10,000 men and God says, Oh, by the way, you still have too many men. So take them down to the river and let them drink. And anybody that gets down on his hands and knees and laps like a dog, send 'em home. If they get down on one knee and they drink out of their hands so that they can still pay attention to what's going on, you can keep those. Those are good soldiers. He ends up with 300. Now that sounds like a pretty good size army. God says, take them and give them a pitcher, a trumpet and a torch. Are you noticing something that's missing here? Like a sword, or a sphere, or any kind of weapon? Surround the city at the appropriate time. Break the pitcher so that the torch is light. Sound the trumpet and I'll take care of it. And you know what happens? Midian flees and Israel is freed. Now it sounds humanly impossible, but God says, you trust me and I'll do this. I think about that statement the preacher made. "God says what He means and He means what He says."

Well, you come into Israel's history just prior to the Judges. You've got the book of Joshua. Joshua comes on the ends of Israel's travels through the forty years through the wilderness. They crossed over the Jordan River. They're ready to take the first major hurdle which is the city of Jericho and here are these profound military instructions. Take your people, walk around the city walls once each day for the next six days. When you get done on the seventh day, walk around the city seven times. Everybody shout and the walls will fall down. And they do!

It sounds humanly impossible and God says, trust me, I will show you how this works. I remember the preacher's statement, "God says what He means and He means what He says."

And I found myself this week asking, what are the things that God comes along and asks of us that strike us as supremely difficult to trust? What are the things that are hard. Well, this is my list. I don't know whether it will even come close to your list. One of the things that I find extremely hard is when God comes along and says to me, things like, you let me be responsible for taking revenge. You allow me to work justice in the situation. You don't try to take care of this yourself. You simply let me do what it is that needs to be done. Instead, what I'd like you to do is to practice mercy and forgiveness and extend grace to people.

In fact, I was reminded again of that passage in Luke 6 where Jesus is talking about the fact that if we extend mercy to others, He will extend mercy to us. It's that passage that says if you will give, it will be given back to you, pressed down, shaken together, running over. It will be given to you. By the way, that's not a finance passage. That's a mercy passage. If you want to receive mercy, you give mercy.

I remember how difficult that was in the first church where I preached. I had a (I will use this term advisedly), a friend who decided he was going to correct me every Sunday after we got done with the Sunday morning service. And at least monthly there would be about an hour or an hour and a half meeting whereby he would take me out behind the proverbial woodshed and let me know everything I had been doing wrong as their preacher. And I remember how offended I was getting and how hard it was getting to be his preacher.

Hah! I will always remember the day that my wife said "You're going to his house and you're going to straighten this out and you're not coming back until you do." Leave it to a wife. If God can't get it done, she probably will.

I remember it taking about fifteen or twenty minutes to drive the six miles to his house and I remember the eighteen mile walk it was up his hundred foot sidewalk. But I do always remember that prayer time in the back room where he and I engaged each other in conversation and forgiveness and grace and are friends to this day. But it wasn't because it was my choice, it was because it was what God had designed in relationship.

What's hard about the thing that God is asking you to do? Is it possible that it's hard for you, for example, to show tolerance to a neighbor or a co-worker who just doesn't seem to be on the same page as you are? Makes it hard for you to live in your place of business or your work or your family?? I think of Romans 12 where we're reminded not to return evil for evil but to return good for evil. To let God take care of that other stuff and you just be gracious in response to all the stuff that goes on around you.

I was talking to one of my students this week. She preaches down on the other side of Decatur. A little tiny church out in the middle of "nowhere". The local mayor. . . .now we're talking a town of like a hundred people. But the local mayor is apparently a real pain in the neck. And he was over in the neighbor's yard one day taking pictures of something that he thought was apparently in violation of one of the local codes when the lady of the house came out and just absolutely ripped him apart, verbally just tore him up and down. Only to discover, a few minutes later, as Mary is telling me this story that, that's one of the members of her church. Not the mayor, but the lady.

Sunday morning, last week, Mary got up and preached about reconciliation and about grace and Sunday afternoon the lady from the church went to the mayor's house and sought his forgiveness for the way she berated him in the backyard and his response was. "No one has ever done that in my entire life."

What is it that's hard about what God is saying, "You trust me, I'll take care of this. You do these things and I'll see you through to the other side." You gotta challenge to your faith to just simply be faithful in your faith? To simply hang in there day after day, week after week, trying to do the thing that you believe is right. Trying to be as consistent as you know how in your Christian walk?

I got an email here a week or so ago from Lisa. I have mentioned Lisa to you before. Lisa is from Keokuk, IA. Lisa was a student who came to school here several years ago whose family basically had thrown her out because she had become a Christian, although there wasn't must family there. She went home one Thanksgiving in order to have Thanksgiving time with her family. She could hear the family inside the house but they wouldn't let her in so she came back and lived in the dorm during Thanksgiving vacation. She tried it again at Christmas. Again, she could hear the people in the house, but they wouldn't let her in. So she came and spent Christmas vacation at our home. In fact, she spent most of her vacations at our house the rest of her college career. But she stayed faithful in the midst of all of that and since then, her mother has given her life to Christ.

What's God asking you to do that's hard that just stretches you beyond your ability to believe that it's possible? I think about those times when I sense in my spirit that God is calling and I need to be a more generous person. I don't have a great deal of difficulty. I must confess to you it's not hard for me to sit down and write a check out to the church but generosity comes more difficult for me in other arenas.

Yesterday was the Dogwood parade. We were standing down at 16th and Maine Street and I had, well, I'd been over harassing the neighbors, but that's another matter. I was walking back to get with the people I started out with and there were kids selling candy bars on the side of the road and I think it was a fund raiser for something. And as I'm walking by they said, "Do you want to buy a candy bar?" Well, I need a candy bar like I need a hole in the head. I'd already had a donut out of the box but don't tell my wife that, okay? I said, "No thank you." I walked on by and she said "Well, would you just give us a dollar?" So I said, "Sure!" and I turned around and I handed her a dollar and she looked at me like, what are you doing??? I wanted to say, you asked for a dollar!!

Do you ever find it hard in the midst of your life when you sense that God is saying I want you to be a more generous person?. That you're just struggling a lot with what that means. Huh!

I can't help but think of 2 Corinthians 8 where Paul says that in the midst of their poverty these Christians gave abundantly beyond their means.

I come back to what the preacher said that day in chapel, "God says what He means and He means what He says." And I come to the text for the day which is Isaiah 55 and I find myself wrestling with this particular text because it has so much to say about our relationship with God and how sometimes it's hard to really believe that God means what He says when it comes to issues of salvation.

Isaiah 55:1 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that you soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor."

Here is Israel in, frankly, almost total disarray facing some of its worst days ahead and God says, Come to me, come to me and I will not charge you anything. Come to me and out of the abundance of what I have to offer, I will give you things that you cannot imagine. Come, even without resources. You don't have the money to buy it, come anyway. Just listen to me, he says. Come to me.

He says in Isaiah 55:6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Do you hear the invitation? Come! Come and trust me to give you pardon. Come and trust me. Seek me and you'll live. Come to me and I'll pour out my grace and my mercy on you. Come, just come. Listen and come. And down inside me somewhere, there is this haunting question that says, does he really mean that? Is it that easy? Could it possibly be that simple, that all I have to do is trust him enough to come to Him?

Isaiah 55:8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Do you hear it? He understands the human psyche . He knows that inherent in us is this hesitance to trust what he says. It sounds like it's too good to be true. And so he says, your thoughts are not like mine. Your ways are not like my ways. If we're talking about human beings, of course I don't think you can trust other peoples words to always be true. But remember, I'm God! And you can trust me. When I send out my rain, it waters the ground. When I send out my word, it does what I say it will do and it never returns to me empty.

If you were here a couple of weeks ago I read to you that email from my friend up in New Hampshire, John, about the young man that he had met at work at Best Buy who had been coming to church for just a little while and had decided to kind of open himself up and ask if Jesus, could in fact, really be true. That he would at least listen and see if God began to work in his life??? I got an email from John again this week. Guess what? That young man has given his heart to Christ.

Do you hear it? God says, if you will trust me, if you will listen to me, my word will come to you and it will not return to me empty. It will accomplish that for which I sent it.

He says at the end of this chapter, Isaiah 55:12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.

Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord's renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed."

He says look at what you're going to receive. I will give you peace and joy and purpose and fruit in your life if you will just trust me. And I hear those words from the preacher so many years ago. "God says what He means and He means what He says."

I just want to know about myself. Do I really trust Him? Do I believe it when He says what He says and am I willing to put my whole life on the line for that very reason? I wonder that about you. Do you really trust Him? I mean, when it comes right down to the hardest things in life, do you really trust Him? His thoughts and your thoughts may not be the same, most likely they're not since He's God and we're not. But he says, I send forth my word. It will not return to me empty. If you will trust me I will do what I promised. Come to me, he says and live. Seek me and live. Trust me. I do what I promise. I am 100% he says. My word never fails.

And so we ask, have you trusted Him? Have you put yourself in a position where you have allowed yourself to simply trust His word - even when His word doesn't make a lot of sense.

Those of you who still haven't decided whether or not you want to give your life to Him - ya know there is really no way that we can tell you anything other than what we've already told you and that is, if you will trust Him, He will make it right. He'll do it, but until you've experienced it, there's no way to know that it's true.

I know sometimes it doesn't make any sense but he comes to you and he says, if you really want to have life, you've got to die to yourself. If you really want to live, you've got to turn your back on an old way of life and walk in a new way. I know this doesn't make any sense to a rational American audience. If you want new life in Christ, you need to submit yourself to a watery death and be baptized. It's a messy experience. It's not even pleasant. You came to church all dressed up like you were gonna go someplace important and what we want to do is stick you in a dunk tank and make you look like a drowned rat.

It doesn't make any sense in the human heart. God says, do you trust me? Because if you'll come to me, if you'll listen to me, I will forever change your life. So we invite you to trust Him. Whatever it is that he's calling for, we invite you to trust Him(end of side one). . . . . . . . . . . . .(side two) true.

We're going to stand and sing together.