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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah’

Photo by Steve Fraser

Photo by Steve Fraser

Throughout history, the Word has had the power to “light the way:” scripture, inspired by God in both the Old Testament and the New. Words handed down to us through story, heroes and villains, miracles and inheritance. The Word, then, a written and verbal account of the presence of God among humankind, given to enlighten our own actions and choices, to give examples and a path toward righteousness; a template for living and a warning in the face of evil. We acknowledge: Your word [God] is a lamp before my feet and a light for my journey. I have sworn, and I fully mean it: I will keep your righteous rules. [Psalm 119:105, CEB]

God gives and we must respond, or at the very least, I am compelled to answer. This psalm, the longest single chapter in the Bible, whose author is officially unknown but most assume that either David, Ezra, or Daniel wrote it. The overall message? The Word of God is all-sufficient.

Can I swear to that and mean  it? Can I keep the laws of God? Not all, for sure; and maybe not even the ten. But if I could just fasten my heart on to the two most compelling “Words” from God, two key laws, two commandments that hold within them, the entire Law of God:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  [Matthew 22:37-39]

These two would light my journey indeed, each and every day, if I allowed them to do so, if I surrendered to their Truth and embraced them wholeheartedly, they would shine the brightest.

But I cannot. I don’t. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man [woman] of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips . . . ” [Isaiah 6:5a, NIV]

And for this reason, I cry out to my Jesus, that One who always knew and knows that I cannot follow that path on my own, no matter how much I want to do so today, tomorrow I will go astray. This I know, this I have seen in myself. Only One can cover me, can make the path wide enough for my weaving heart. Oh Jesu, my Savior, the propitiation for my weak resolve.

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Photo by Irm Brown

Photo by Irm Brown

It’s more than likely that our use of “rise and shine” for waking someone up in the morning derived from this biblical reference. The history of the phrase found even more traction in the military and apparently, it’s use is around the world, although the British tend to add, “wakey-wakey” to it.

Arise [from the depression and prostration in which circumstances have kept you—rise to a new life]! Shine (be radiant with the glory of the Lord), for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you! [Isaiah 60:1, AMP]

Let us return to the biblical reference however for it is quite rich in meaning. I am particularly struck by the elaborated Amplified version which gives us more information about the original Hebrew; specifically, arise from depression and difficult circumstances to a new day, a new life, a new opportunity.

We choose to arise, whether it’s from our beds or from a dreary despondency (I’m not speaking of clinical depression here). Even those who are deep in the mire of chemical dependency are often told they will hit rock bottom before looking up. It’s a small moment, this turning with “I will.”

Along with that first instant comes the next: a promise to shine; not with our own power or light but with God’s power and light. When a person surrenders to the Presence, then light rises within and fills the “temple” (body/soul) [I Corinthians 6:9]. And with this light, we can truly “see.” Another word for this encounter is revelation (understanding).

Wakey-wakey!

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who will goThe scripture designated for this seventh day of Advent is the entire chapter of Isaiah 6. It is not for the faint-hearted. For my purposes, I have selected the most well known:

Then I heard the Lord’s voice saying, “Whom should I send, and who will go for us?”
I said, “I’m here; send me.” [Isaiah 6:8, CEB]

It all sounds so romantic. God calling out to the people and asking for a volunteer. In our minds’ eye, we imagine our hands shooting up in wonderful abandon. “Me, me, send me!” Or not.

I remember the first time I heard a missionary from Africa (I forget which country now, it was so long ago) telling his tales of serving in some remote villages. He told stories of wonder and miracles, even the raising of a dead man. I listened in awe. And then he asked the audience, who would like to return with me? Who will go? Some part of me wanted to go. Nothing was really in my way except for funds. I was single at the time and only just left New York and I was living back in Indianapolis. And yet, I sat and wept. He came to me after the service. We both knew I was to go, but he would not encourage me or discourage me. He simply asked why I cried. And I confessed, I could not face the fear of the unknown and the death of all the rest of my dreams, sketchy though they were. I still mourn that decision in many ways for I know that was a fork in my road.

All of this is not to say that I am sorry for the life I have lived. And I know, as we all know, that there have been many more turning points and many more forks in the path.

But let us not fool ourselves. Sending and going are serious business.

In Isaiah’s case, even moreso, because he knew from the outset that none would hear the words nor believe him. The language, in English, is confusing as it sounds like God is commanding the people not to hear. But that is not quite the sense of the meaning. It’s the outcome that is described: the people will not listen, they will not understand, they will not see the signs. And yet, Isaiah, knowing this from the beginning, went anyway.

For us, success in the things of God is not the outcome but the intent. Our faithfulness is to the mission, not the achievements. Another mystery in a culture of ambition and striving, accumulating the most toys, having the biggest house, or filling our closets with shoes and our garages with cars.

If Jesus had that ethos and taught his disciples differently, who would ever go?

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waterI am not really that good at breaking down knowledge into sequential bites. Teachers, for this reason, are truly amazing. They understand what a student has to learn first and then second and so on. It’s hard for me to analyze what I know and then back up to how I figured something out or how I learned a particular task or took advantage of an inborn talent.

But this much I know, in order to “come to the water,” a person must realize he/she is thirsty, in other words, in need. Meaningful change cannot happen without acknowledging the status quo as a) not working or b) not acceptable.

All of you who are thirsty, come to the water!
Whoever has no money, come, buy food and eat!
Without money, at no cost, buy wine and milk!
Why spend money for what isn’t food,
    and your earnings for what doesn’t satisfy? [Isaiah 55:1-2a; CEB]

Part Two: Once a person figures out that he/she is thirsty and starts looking around for something to quench that thirst, this is the point when circumstances and people play a vital role.

When I am thirsty, I don’t always pick the best thirst-quencher. Intellectually, I may know that water is probably best, but I am guilty of popping a beer or soda instead. Sometimes I choose badly because of convenience, sometimes I choose badly because I am offered something else from a person nearby.

And lastly, accept the paradox of God’s offer: water where there does not appear to be water; food where there is no money to buy food, etc. God, through Jesus, is continually offering and calling and drawing Human to the Godhead, to a life of Spirit, where thirst is perpetually quenched. We are so used to living a life of unmet needs and wants; we can barely comprehend an existence or space in which we would be completely satisfied. This is the life within, not the daily grind. If the Spirit is quenched, the 3-D life can be conquered, the journey can tolerated, the sorrows born, the disappointments made powerless.

Why spend money [time, energy, etc.] for what isn’t food? Believe in a better way.

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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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