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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah’

cross with notesYesterday at our Ash Wednesday services, the people were invited to write on a post-it note and stick it to the cross on their way up to communion and ashes. They could put whatever they wanted, but in general, the idea was to write something that might be hindering the way to the cross: a sin, a habit, an attitude.

At the end of the evening, we hadn’t really discussed how to handle the slips, but I felt they were important and so I gathered them up as gently as I could and carried them home. I wanted to pray over them, yes, but I confess, my analytical self was curious. What had people written to Christ. What had they asked about. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be drawing from these confessions for many mirrored my own: there is nothing new under the sun.

yokeIs not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke? [Isaiah 58:6]

We are all hoping to be set free from the yokes that bind us, the repetitive scripts in our heads, the damaging attitudes that habitually frame our responses.

Naturally, there were notes that rendered their sins of the flesh as getting in the way of their journey to the cross and there were individuals named specifically or by relationship: mother, father, mother-in-law, son, daughter, and so forth. But most of the words that were placed on that cross, that symbolic torture chamber, came from within.

Anger was repeated over and over and over again. Unforgiveness came next.

I can almost hear the cry of the heart saying, how do I find you Jesus when my mind and heart are filled with such rage, when I can only playback the injustice or the betrayal or the damage done to me.

anger-blocks-a-miracleLast week, I was in a workshop in which the facilitator reminded us that there are four primary emotions: Fear, Joy, Sadness and, of course, Anger. And really, I’m guessing that unforgiveness is rooted in anger.

The good news is that no anger is greater than God’s love. That sounds cliche and yet it’s true. People seem to think that their emotions are stronger than anything anyone else can handle. I remember being in a counseling session and telling the therapist that felt as though I would explode, literally. Of course, I didn’t and couldn’t. How often has a person said, “If I start crying, I’ll never stop.” Again, not true. And so it is with anger. It will not win. Love wins.

Lent begins in earnest today. Was I angry today? I was. Did I harbor a grudge or two or pull up an old exasperation about some behavior or another by this or that family member? I did. I see that. Now what?

Confess, accept, move on. Wash me Jesus in the water of grace.

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There’s a word that conjures an immediate response I’m sure. From billboards, “Virgin : Teach Your Kid it’s Not a Dirty Word,” to Virgin America Airlines to put-down, “You’re still a virgin?” What does this hot word mean in your world? Or mine?

Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pristine Cartera-Turkus

Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give youa sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, andwill call him Immanuel. [Isaiah 7:13-14, NIV]

Of course,  theologians have since uncovered a less than miraculous explanation of Isaiah’s prophecy since Jewish culture assumed that all young women were virgins. They had a good reason for this assertion since sex outside of wedlock was punishable by death. The Hebrew word for virgin as it is used in Isaiah is Alma, or young woman. When the these verses were translated into the Greek, the word Parthenos was selected which had only one meaning, virgin. (By the way, small piece of trivia, the Parthenon’s name came from this same word and one of the reasons was that this temple was filled with temple prostitutes that were virgins – and apparently disposable after a single use.)

The point in the nativity story, I suppose, is not that Mary was a virgin, since that was the norm, the point was that she was impregnated supernaturally. In fact, scripture articulates that Joseph, her fiancee did not have sex with her until after the birth of Jesus [Matthew 1:25]. And for many people, this miracle stops them in their tracks. And some denominations take Mary’s virginity to the next level, saying she was made sinless as well, creating an immaculate conception. [For more on this topic, see Let Us Reason Ministries online.]

We’re living in a time of science and reason and miracles of any kind are always suspect. In my mind, the entire concept of God providing a propitiation or atonement for the choices that created a state of human separation from God is a gigantic miracle in and of itself. The methodology would have to be out of our ken in order to make it work.

Ancient humans seemed to naturally understand the idea of atonement, sacrificing all kinds of animals and daughters to appease the gods, the sun, the weather, or whatever else they could not understand. They seemed quite clear about the basic idea of sowing and reaping. Even Karma, an Eastern idea of cycles, supports the supposition that there are repercussions to our choices (both good and bad).

The virgin birth is actually somewhat inconsequential to me. The idea that God became fully human is much more intriguing. The idea that fully human God (as Jesus), came as an atonement is even more absorbing.

I just want to think about that today.

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Painting: Age of Wisdom by Alphonse Mucha, 1938.

Painting: Age of Wisdom by Alphonse Mucha, 1938.

At one point, several years ago, I actually started a small home group and bible study called “Wisdom Seekers;” that’s how serious I have been over the years in my quest for wisdom. And yet, the truth has been here a along, in a single phrase : ask, but without doubt.

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt . . .  [James 1:5-6a]

It’s not that God would discourage doubt since it can mean a person is truly seeking for truth, particularly when that doubt surrounds a destructive lifestyle, an act of violence, or downward spiraling behaviors. That kind of doubt, the questions that give a person pause before repeating oneself. That doubt is healthy and could be life-changing.

But there are other kinds of doubt; and those of the believer who questions God’s sovereignty. These doubts are usually an inability to integrate one’s circumstances with faith or a tendency toward wanting to “run the show.”

Integration, in my mind, is a form of acceptance that God is God, no matter what is happening in our day to day lives, God is in the midst of it, there is purpose in it, and our journey has been so directed. This is a lot easier to talk about than live, particularly when it involves illness or unexpected trauma. I understand, for myself, this is somewhat theoretical. However, I do have experience in deep disappointment and that point of view is also lack of integration (lack of surrender to the moment). It could come out of the sorrows of a failed marriage, children making dangerous or troubling choices, etc.

The second, a controlling personality or sensibility, is equally dangerous (and I am guilty here as well), when we “disagree” with God’s plan and try to move things along. Old Sara (Abraham’s wife) is a prime example, when she gave her maidservant, Hagar, to her husband to have a male child [Genesis 16], in an attempt to fulfill God’s promise for children as numerous as the stars in heaven. This “let me help God” syndrome is not wise. Besides scripture warning us that God’s way is usually not the human way [see Isaiah 55:8-9], the entire New Testament confirms that the new covenant is a paradox at best. It’s usually the opposite of what we think it should be (e.g. turn the other cheek, love your enemies, give the second cloak, an so on).

James (that is, the human brother to Jesus), writes that wisdom is available for the asking, given generously and without disapproval – in other words, don’t feel bad about asking for it. If you need help applying what you know about faith, about God, about love, about hope, about anything that God has spoken to you through scripture, through prayer, or teachings, then by golly, ASK!

And so, this is what I am doing today. I am asking God in public, “give me wisdom” for this day and every day, to speak well and with love, to stop judging others, to embrace truth, to pray for others, to give generously, to trust God in all things. Open the wisdom gates dear God, dear Christ., dear Holy Spirit. Pour it upon me that I might serve you well.

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grieving angel“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.” [Isaiah 55:8-9]

Here’s the difference. When you and I “think,” it’s just an opinion or point of view or perhaps a bit of problem solving. When God thinks, things come into being or mountains move. The answer to the question, “what is God thinking” is incomprehensible to humans. Maybe, “what are You making?” would be better. I get some solace from my faith in a blueprint. Some.

We’ve gotten too casual with God. Perhaps it’s part of the new informal culture where jeans are always acceptable and language has become various letters of the alphabet. YKWIM? We want the “thumbs up” Jesus. We don’t want to be afraid of God so we make God cozy and grandfatherly.

And although a relationship with God can be warm and intimate and full of mercy, there is a point when God basically says, “because I said so.” And this moment needs to be accepted with the same surrender as “cootchy, cootchy, coo.” A creator has the ability and the right to destroy or alter or remake the object. “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”[Romans 9:20]

Lately, some terribly difficult circumstances have dropped into the lives of my colleagues and friends: several people have been diagnosed with cancer or had serious surgeries, a couple of people have been on dialysis for over a year, and now a 3 1/2 year old child died just three days after being diagnosed with T-Cell leukemia.The child’s death has been the most difficult of all.

It’s hard to avoid the gripe, “what is God thinking?” Is there a satisfactory answer in my world? Not really.

I understand intellectually. Each journey is different. And although I have come to a peace about my friend Mary dying from pancreatic cancer and how I admire her as she embraces this new path in her life odyssey, the bottom drops out of my confidence, when it’s a child. The grief is heavy, the weight of a family’s loss is palpable.

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed the agony. Some years ago, I went to a viewing of a baby who had died of SIDS. The mother was so distraught that she pulled the lifeless, embalmed child from the coffin and carried her around the room of the funeral chapel. She was inconsolable. And there was nothing to say.

Every step of faith in the face of pain and trauma and sorrow, is an excursion into the mind of Christ, a dance with the Holy Spirit, a siege at the entrance of the “holy of holies.” But the answer is always the same, “God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, God’s ways are not my ways.”

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waterCome, 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. [Isaiah 55:1]

It’s really rare that I experience true thirst, perhaps on those rare occasions when I work out or I am outside on a very hot day, but really, water is usually at arm’s length. I live in a society where water is so plentiful (for now), that I can choose other things to quench my thirst, like tea or soda or beer. It’s not like I have to have water.

But if I lived in a parched land, in a desert, I would have a different attitude toward water, I’m sure of it. If I really experienced a drought in my body that only water could refill, I would not be so cavalier about this drink, this fluid that is actually the bulk of my physical being (90%).

That is the kind of desire that would change my faith walk with God. That kind of need and craving for the things of God, for the Presence of the Holy Spirit, for the quenching power that only God can give. If I wanted God the way a truly thirsty person wants water, then I would have fullness. I would recognize God more clearly; I would hear God’s voice; I would “feel” God.

Truly, I believe it.

Instead, I continue in this rather off-hand existence with God. It’s simply not intentional in my surrender.

Don’t misunderstand me. I get thirsty for God. And I drink and I am, for that time, aware of God’s Presence and amazed by the wonder. But then, I grow complacent and dilute the drink. Funny, right? The idea of diluting “water” with other things? But it is so.

Lord, I want to drink of you this day.

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Pay Attention

desert-streamSee, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. [Isaiah 43:19]
First, while visiting my friend, Mary, who has pancreatic cancer, she introduced me to a wonderful song called, “Pay Attention” by the Miserable Offenders (funny name for a group). Then last week, I went to a Chamber luncheon, I ran into our Chief of Police and her parting words to me were the same, “Pay attention.” For the Chief, the message was about danger in our midst, for my friend the message was awareness and sensitivity to the wonder of life (because life is fleeting).
Now, in this scripture passage, I hear the same message again, “do you not perceive it?” Pay attention!
You see, God is doing that “new thing” every day. All around me, there is something to see, to hear, to feel, to touch, to taste. Each day is a wonder. Each moment is a gift. Oh, I worry and kvetch without really looking, without understanding.
To trust God with my life, to surrender my will completely, then I must respond with a “yes” to every experience, both difficult and easy. Naturally, I’m speaking of circumstances that are outside of my control (that includes other people). Our children come to us in a variety of versions, some are smart and quick, others are quirky, while still others are broken. But each child is still a gift and part of my journey, part of whole. The weather, the illness, the accident, the villain, or the animal, whatever, I cannot know ahead of time their impacts on my life, but when those moments happen, can I embrace the pain and the sorrow, knowing them as part of the paradoxes of life?
And even when I do choose, when I do “control” the times and then, perhaps, suffer regret, isn’t it time to let go of those disappointments? After all, it’s done. The minutes are still passing. And the “new thing” or the “new way” is still to come, maybe like a flash flood in the desert.
It’s the fractured dreams that are often the hardest to release. Those dreams of childhood or even our early twenties, when we imagined our success and notoriety, our personal paparazzi, our brilliance. I know I focused more on the results and the fruit that could have been instead of the process, the gifts I had to give. And so I kept plowing the old field, not realizing and not noticing the field beyond, the path beside, the hanging vines.
But all that being said, I am paying attention now. Right now. In this moment, this day. I see.

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another-way“This is what the Lord says—he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick . . . “ [Isaiah 43:16-17.

Whether you believe or not that God actually divided the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to walk through unharmed while destroying the Egyptian army that followed after them [Exodus 14], there is a message here for all of us.

It is God who makes the way in the midst of trials or darkness. It may not be the path we want to take; it may not be the most obvious path; it may feel dangerous. But God’s way is still the best way.

Of course, we can always argue with God if we disagree with the direction. But then, there are repercussions, a chain reaction if you will, when we choose another way. And, for a season, circumstances may seem dire. It’s important to see the situation for what it is. Change cannot happen without truth.

I wish I could figure these things out while they are happening instead of in hindsight. I look back, and say, “Oh, you meant for me to go that way!” Like Homer Simpson: “Doh!”

You see, because I am so friggin’ capable, I am quick to analyze the paths ahead and I often take the one that seems best to me (not necessarily best FOR me). And as I’m going along, I suddenly get this feeling,  this overwhelming sense that I have blown it, again. It is in this moment of recognition that I must stay for a season. In order to see clearly, I must live in it (not deny it). And then, God shows up. More than likely, I will never find my way back to the original way God intended, but another way is revealed. God is full of back doors. And I am grateful.

So, I just want to encourage others: even when we blow it, God doesn’t give up on us. There is no mistake or sin that God cannot rectify or redeem. I believe this wholeheartedly. I have to. Otherwise, life would indeed overwhelm me.

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