Brand New: Strengthened

Brand New: Strengthened

A Message on Isaiah 40:28-31

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Jan. 19, 2020

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

Isaiah 40:28-31 (NRSV)

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;

    his understanding is unsearchable.

He gives power to the faint,

    and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

    and the young will fall exhausted;

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.

><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> ><> 

How many of you ever watched “The World’s Strongest Man” competition on TV? I can remember watching them when I was in junior high school and I was impressed. They would pull buses and pick up these huge rocks and throw things (they were beer kegs I found out later) and I was impressed. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be strong.

The trouble with that was that I was short and skinny. Now looking at my tall, pudgy figure now you may not believe it,but it was true. Very true. When I started high school I weighed 80 pounds. It’s hard to be a strong man when you weigh 80 pounds as a high school freshman.

I remember reading comic books (my generation’s version of an iPad) and seeing ads for the Charles Atlas fitness system. It showed a small, skinny guy getting sand kicked on him at the beach, but after he used the system he was all muscled up and buff and nobody messed with him. That’s how I wanted to be.

One day in junior high we went to the field house where the high school football boys worked out. They let us lowly junior high boys lift the weights and use the strength training equipment. As expected I didn’t do too well with the weights, which was very disappointing to me. I worked hauling hay in the summers and I had pretty good strength in my legs, but not my upper body. Everybody was lifting more than I could. Everybody. I was embarrassed.

During our rotations we came to one piece of equipment devised to increase grip strength. It had two handles, one on each side, and you squeezed one side and then the other. There was an adjustment in the middle which could be adjusted to increase or decrease the resistance.

I expected I would perform miserably at this machine as well. My time came and I started gripping, and then tightening the resistance, and then doing it again.

I ended up doing the top level of it, as high of a resistance as it could go. My classmates gathered around, not believing what they were seeing. I had trouble believing what I was seeing! Here’s this scrawny, small kid (who was still years away from needing to shave) who couldn’t bench press his own weight and he was squeezing this contraption at a setting the other boys (some of whom were shaving) couldn’t move.

It didn’t take me long to figure out why. See my dad believed in farm to table way before it was popular. We raised and processed our own beef. We had a big garden and canned vegetables. And we had a milk cow, named Brownie, and my job was to milk her by hand, twice a day, every day.

We drank raw, unpasteurized, unhomogenized milk. Dad believed that pasteurizing and homogenizing the milk took all the “good stuff” out of it, so we a milk cow and had fresh milk to drink.

That day in the weight room I realized that all those days of milking Brownie had done something to my body. It happened very slowly over a long period of time, but day by day, even though I wasn’t aware of it, it strengthened the muscles in my forearms and made my grip strong. Very strong.

Today, many years later, my grip strength is probably only normal or maybe a little below normal. My grip strength didn’t last once I stopped milking a cow. I do still have the strength, however, to hold a fishing pole, drumsticks, and chicken wings, so I’m good.

Today I want us to explore the topic of strength as we continue our sermon series on being “Brand New” in Jesus Christ.

Now the scripture I just read come to us from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. You may remember that Isaiah was a prophet somewhere around the 8th century BC. As most prophets did, he tried to convince the Jewish people to turn from their evil ways and follow the one true God. In the words of the modern-day sorta-prophet musical group Santana, “You got to change your evil ways, baby…”

The book of Isaiah is filled with political references as well, dealing with kingdoms and power and nations fighting each other. Through it the prophet tells the Jewish people that their true loyalty lies with God, not with human forms of government. (Hmmmm. Not a bad reminder for us today, either, if you ask me.)

Isaiah also gives prophecies about the Messiah that was to come. One such prophecy (actually a series of four poems), known as the “Suffering Servant” prophecy, talks about how the Messiah will suffer at the hands of men before ushering in God’s kingdom.

The 40th chapter of Isaiah starts off offering comfort to God’s people. It reads,

Comfort, O comfort my people,

    says your God.

  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

    and cry to her

that she has served her term,

    that her penalty is paid,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

    double for all her sins.

But towards the end of the chapter the prophet again chastises the people of Israel for thinking they can do things that they believe God doesn’t see.

Why do you say, O Jacob,

    and speak, O Israel,

“My way is hidden from the Lord,

    and my right is disregarded by my God”?

   Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

And then we come to the end of the 40th chapter and Isaiah offers encouragement and hope for a people that have gone through difficult times.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I often choose the scripture I read today to read to those that are in the hospital recovering from hip and knee surgeries. I choose it because I think it’s good for them to hear that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

I really like what Isaiah does here. He uses the image of physical strength and uses it as a metaphor for spiritual strength.

The people of Israel had been beat up pretty well in the time of Isaiah. In about 740 BC or so Israel is invaded by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and were oppressed under their rule. It was tough times for God’s people.

Looking at that metaphor of physical strength representing spiritual strength I think it’s important for us to hear today. The world we live in also shows that God’s people, Christians, are also going through tough times, perhaps not physically (although unfortunately in many parts of the world it is true), but spiritually.

Our society in the US is becoming more and more anti-Christian. On some college campuses Christian groups are labeled as “hate groups.” The media and entertainment industry portrays Christians as uneducated buffoons that believe in superstitions and who are hateful and judgemental. We get beat up pretty bad as Christians nowadays, maybe not physically, but emotionally and spiritually we take some pretty serious blows.

Our own denomination is causing angst and worries among those who call themselves United Methodists. The special called General Conference last year was supposed to decide the sexuality issue once and for all. It didn’t. Now the proposals coming forward for the upcoming General Conference in May all talk about separation, about splitting the church.

We live in troubling times, and our spiritual strength is taking a beating.

Often times when I visit congregation members in the hospital I will read to them the scripture we read from Isaiah. I like to point out that the scripture says, “…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.”

It’s hard to wait for the Lord, isn’t it? We live in an instant gratification society. We want what we want and we want it now! You can order almost anything from Amazon and have it on your doorstep in two days for less. Remember the days when you would order something off of tv and it always said something like (use announcer voice) “please allow 6-8 weeks for delivery”?

We want instant gratification in our spiritual lives as well. For example we pray something like, “Dear Lord, give me patience, and give it to me NOW!” And we find that instead of God giving us patience, he provides us with opportunities to practice patience.

And it is in using those spiritual muscles regularly over and over we find that over time we are strengthened, that we are able to practice patience easier than we used to.

“…those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength…”

On Wednesdays at 10:30 we have chapel time with our Readiness School. It’s one of the highlights of my week because I get to bring my guitar into this sanctuary and lead more than 100 kids from birth through 4-years-old in singing some songs.

Some of the kids think my name is Chapel. Yep. My first name is Chapel and my last name is Time. I will be walking by the playground while they are out playing and they will run up to the fence and yell to me, “Chapel Time! Chapel Time!”

Did you know that there are a lot of children’s songs that talk about strength. For example, Jesus Loves Me.

Jesus loves me this I know

For the Bible tells me so

Little ones to him belong

They are weak but he is strong

And you have to show your muscles like this when you sing “strong,” right? Here, show me your muscles!

And how about this one:

My God is so big, so strong and so mighty

There’s nothing my God cannot do (clap, clap)

See, we teach kids about the strength of God, a strength that is not necessarily physical, but a spiritual strength.

We we become Christians, when we make the choice to follow Jesus, one of the most powerful things we have to overcome is to come to terms with is how our weakness is made strong in Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul understood this. He writes about it in the 12th chapter of 2 Corinthians. He writes:

“Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”

 — 2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

For Christians finding strength in our human weaknesses is a part of the upside-down and backwards world of following Jesus.

When we go through tough things in our lives it exercises our spiritual muscles, sometimes even without us realizing it. Like when I was milking a cow, going through those tough time slowly, over time, builds up those spiritual muscles. We may not be aware of it, and just with physical exercise it takes time, but day by day we become spiritually stronger. It may not feel that way consciously, but it is happening.

And then when something happens in our lives we often find that we are stronger than we think we are. We discover that by patiently waiting on the Lord, by walking through the tough times with Jesus at our side, we have renewed our strength. We can start out walking and not faint, we can run and not grow weary, and before long we find ourselves soaring on wings like eagles.

One thing to remember about this is that it is important to remember the source of that strength. It doesn’t come from ourselves, but from God.

During the past five years here I have witnessed many of you going through some incredibly difficult things in your lives. Some of the things no human should ever have to go through. It breaks my heart to see good people going through such incredibly painful experiences.

I have attempted to minister to many of you going through those tough times, but often as I get in my car and head back to the office or home, I wonder just who ministered to whom. I leave feeling that I have just been in the presence of someone holy, someone who, even though they were distraught and in horrible emotional pain, kept going. They put one foot in front of the other, sometimes taking baby steps. And they got through it. Not over it, but through it, little by little, tiny step by tiny step.

Those people are my heroes. I feel that way because I have witnessed them living beyond the strength they themselves had. I am convinced they were able to get through it only by the strength of God. I have no other explanation other than the intervention of God’s strength.

These individuals are probably not aware of it at the time, but through their weaknesses, through their mourning, through their hurt and pain and sorrow, God has strengthened them. They have walked without fainting, run without growing weak, and will, at some point, soar on wings like eagles.

So my challenge to all of us this week is to look to God for our strength instead of trying to be strong by ourselves. God sent his son Jesus Christ to earth, and it is through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that we receive true strength that enables us to do things not humanly possible.

We may not be aware of the changes slowly taking place in us, but as new creations in Christ over time we become spiritually stronger. We strengthen our spiritual muscles through reading the scriptures, Bible study, prayer, fasting, regular worship attendance, acts of mercy, and by sacrificial giving of our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.” And in doing so, we strengthen our spiritual muscles and are prepared no matter what life throws at us.

Our God is so big, so strong and so mighty

There’s nothing my God cannot do (clap, clap)

Oh, and if you want to increase your grip strength, I highly recommend getting a milk cow. Plus you get some great milk!

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *