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Same Song Second Verse

Every day I have a choice. I can humbly cooperate with the way life is or I can arrogantly try to define life the way I want it to be. In this regard, the nation of Israel is the ultimate example for the rest of us. Whenever they sought to humbly follow God’s lead, things went well for them. Their economy flourished, their enemies backed off, their personal well-being improved and they lived in peace. Whenever they proudly decided they had the right to devise their own way of living, a progressive set of steps were set in motion to get them to return to humility. God sent setbacks to motivate them, then prophets to warn them, and finally calamity to discipline them. Isaiah is one of those prophets who is attempting to get the attention of the nation. In chapter 5, verses 18-23, he presents a number of characteristics that help us recognize humility by describing what we ought to avoid:
• The humble accept what is true. “Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit,
and wickedness as with cart ropes.” (v. 18) What a graphic picture of a person who has a cart or trailer loaded with deceitful schemes who is defiantly looking for a way to put them into practice. Rather than dumping the load and replacing it with worthwhile goods, he is defiantly looking for a market for the products that will help no one.
• The humble are patient. “[Woe] to those who say, “Let God hurry; let him hasten his work
so we may see it.” (v; 19) Many people confuse God’s historic patience with inability. They think, since He isn’t doing it right now, He can’t do it. The humble realize it is never a question of power. It is simply a matter of timing.
• The humble call good things good. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.” This is the age-old argument between God’s ways and man’s ways. Ever since the fall of mankind, people have loved the darkness and have searched for ways to justify whatever they want to do. Humility says, “I didn’t create life so I must accept it the way it is. I don’t have the right to redefine life but I do have the privilege of enjoying the good things God has made.”
• The humble are willing to learn. “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” (v. 21)
• The humble love sobriety and self-control. “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks.” (v. 22)
It seems almost too simple to be a problem. If you were ask people, “Do you want to do what is true, be a patient person, love what is good, be willing to learn and possess self-control?” you would expect most people to say, “Yes.” In action, however, most people have done the opposite. I accept that I am no different. Today, I need to choose to be humble. Today I need to be determined to wait on God. Today I need to be willing to learn.
Dear God, give me your strength today to humbly accept life the way you created it.

Relentless

I spent this past weekend in New England. The weather, the schedule and the people were all relentless. Friday night brought torrential rain. The kind that blurs the lines on the road, turns paths into puddles and soaks your clothes in an instant. Saturday ushered in showers throughout the day that required rain gear to move anywhere outside.
The conference schedule didn’t alter at all because of the rain. We had to move boxes from the car to the building in the rain on Friday night. We had to dash our car after setup as buckets of water poured over us. The organizer of the event said to us before we left, “We never let weather dictate what we are going to do. We will open the doors earlier tomorrow than we planned so people can get out of the weather but we will stay on schedule!”
And the people showed up. They were eager to learn and full of questions. Every free moment was spent meeting with people, answering their inquiries and helping them make decisions about resources that would help them become stronger people.
Life is relentless because God is relentless. The relationship God had with the nation of Israel, as described in Isaiah 3, can only be characterized as unrelenting. When the nation veered off course concluding they could make it on their own, God persistently applied His discipline. “See now, the Lord, the LORD Almighty,
is about to take from Jerusalem and Judah both supply and support: all supplies of food and all supplies of water, the hero and the warrior, the judge and the prophet, the diviner and the elder . . . The look on their faces testifies against them.” (v. 1-9) He never wanted them to settle for self-sufficiency when they had His resources at their disposal. He never wanted them to settle for their limited human perspective when the all-knowing was willing to give His guidance. He never wanted them to rely on temporary assistance when the eternal God had committed Himself to their long-term well-being.
At the same time, His love constantly pursues the objects of His affection. “Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds.” (v. 10) In the midst of a tough pronouncement of judgment, the righteous are reminded of their reward. God takes a personal interest in making sure the people who respond to His love receive His favor and the resources they need to fulfill their God-given dream.
This was good for me to hear today. My life, like yours, is filled with daily chores, mundane tasks, and challenges that must be overcome even though they provide no intrinsic motivation. In addition, everyday is scattered with moral choices that impact the state of my heart. If I relentlessly pursue the best course of action, God’s love becomes obvious and effective. Just as faithfully, His discipline confronts the foolish choices that feed the desires of the flesh.
Lord, give me the longing today to experience your persistent love more often than your relentless discipline.

It’s Hard to Imagine

There are some things in life that are hard to imagine even though they are true. I recently came off an extended trip where I was in 6 cities in as many days. I met interesting people and did interesting work but it got a little confusing after a while. On one of the days, I forgot which hotel room I was in. I got on the elevator after working out and couldn’t remember what floor I was on or what the room number was. I, of course, went to the wrong floor and slid my electronic key in the wrong door. I finally had to go to the counter, answer enough personal questions about myself to convince the attendant I was who I said I was so I could be pointed in the right direction. I told a friend of mine about the experience only to hear him respond, “I have done that exact same thing but never when I was sober!” I laughed because it is hard to imagine I could lose track of where I was staying.
In a much more positive vein, there are events coming in the future that are equally hard to imagine, even though they are true. A day is coming when Jesus will begin His 1000 year reign on the earth which will change life as we know it. A few of the characteristics of this time are mentioned in Isaiah 2.
• Worshipping God will be the most normal of activities. “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.” (v. 2) The truth about God and the presence of God will be welcomed in public life rather than minimized and relegated to private conversations. Public officials and dedicated citizens will no longer be afraid of God’s opinion.
• People will be hungry to connect to God and the people of Israel. “Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD . . . He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.’” (v. 3) God will be recognized as the smartest, most loving, most compassionate, and wisest being that has ever lived. As such, He will be sought out and His ways will be pursued enthusiastically.
• Nations will no longer be at war with one another. “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (v. 4) The world will be such that higher goals than self-preservation and personal power will captivate us. The question of power (who should be the leader and who can gain the most influence) will be settled because Jesus is personally leading the world. Since He is all-knowing and all-powerful, there will be no need to jockey for control. Instead, the pursuit of productivity, peace, and the righteous passions of life will dominate our thinking.
It is hard to imagine a world like this but we have never seen a society with Jesus as its King. We are familiar with Jesus as a baby and as the Savior of the world. We have not yet experienced Him sitting on the throne ruling with authority. That day is coming as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow.
The next time you have one of those experiences that is hard to imagine, let it remind you that we have an unimaginably good future ahead of us.

Grace and Good Things

One of the themes that comes up over and over in the chat rooms I participate in at http://www.midlife.com is the importance of asking the question, “What kind of person do I want to be?” The context of the discussion usually involves a loved one who is making poor decisions. We see the danger and devastation these choices are causing (or will cause) and we react with all the best intentions. We point out the error of their ways, paint a picture of how they ought to change, and then react when we don’t see the desired results. We may pout or get angry or desperately pursue which are all actions born out of insecurity. As a result, they usually don’t succeed at restoring the relationship while they train us to be reactionary, manipulative, and short-sighted. To be sure, these situations are hurtful and personally challenging since they are often accompanied by irrational criticism and rejection.
It does, however, create a laboratory for learning one of life’s most valuable skills. We are all uniquely designed by and accountable to our Creator. We all have vast potential for growth and influence. We are also all imperfect and live in imperfect relationships. Some seasons of life lend themselves well to our personal development. Circumstances are conducive and the people in our lives are cooperative. It is easy during these times to ask, “Who do I want to be and what do I want to accomplish in my life?” Other seasons threaten to knock us off course. Conditions are unfavorable and the people we used to rely on become unstable or unruly. The temptation is to desperately focus on, “How can I fix this and end the misery?” which seldom works because life circumstances and the choices of others are out of our control. This is when the question, “Who do I want to be?” becomes a question of character that can withstand any and all situations in life.
I found some insight into this question as I read Isaiah 1. The prophet is writing to the nation of Israel who had been living in reaction to their disappointments. They had grown self-centered and self-sufficient which led to a series of poor choices. They are growing close to the day when God will discipline them by sending them into exile and the prophet is calling them to reevaluate their lives. A couple of the priorities he suggests are:
• Live by grace. “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (v. 18) We are all flawed and need to be redeemed. We have all performed well below our potential, harbored resentment and anger in our hearts, and made decisions based on selfishness rather than pure motives. Thankfully, there is a Savior who brought a solution. He settled the matter on the cross and offered us forgiveness and full pardon. To be sure, we need to be humble and repentant in order to enjoy the benefits of God’s forgiveness on a daily basis but God offered his forgiveness long before we got our acts together. Grace keeps this in mind at all times and extends the same opportunity to others.
• Learn to love the good things. “If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (v. 19-20) Life’s good things includes a willingness to grow regardless of circumstances, a willingness to look for God’s favor in all things, a willingness to do what God clearly points out even when we don’t understand how it works. Life’s good things includes a commitment to live according to truth even when it doesn’t produce the results we imagine it should, trusting that God will somehow honor us for doing what is right.
This is certainly a short list answer to one of life’s lingering questions but it is a good start for me. Today, I will remind myself of God’s grace and extend that same grace to everyone I encounter.

I Remember

Tomorrow we will commemorate the tenth anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. I suspect we will all be asking the question, “Do you remember what you were doing when you heard the news?” For my part, I want to report that I remember.
As I woke up on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, I was reminiscing about the sermon I had preached the Sunday before wondering if it had any impact on those who heard it. The sermon was entitled, “Prophet or Loss Statements.” One of the main points was, “The Gospel Provides a Secure Future,” with a reference to Isaiah 2:4, “Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Also included in that sermon was a story about the demolition of the Kingdome in Seattle on March 26, 2000. “A Maryland-based company, Controlled Demolition Incorporated, was hired to do the job of imploding the 25,000-ton structure that had marked Seattle’s skyline for two dozen years. Remarkable about the event was the extreme measures taken to ensure no one was hurt.” Both of these statements took on a shocking reality that morning. We obviously were not in the secure future the prophet Isaiah was talking about since a new kind of war had just been initiated. In contrast to the extreme measures taken by the demolition company in Seattle to protect life, extreme measures had been taken by a group of terrorists to destroy life.
I remember standing in stunned disbelief with a cup of coffee in my hand watching TV as the second plane crashed into the World Trade Center. It was hard to comprehend that it was actually happening. It seemed so surreal, so impossible, so unthinkable that anyone would actually perform such a horrendous act. Thoughts flooded my mind, the world will never be the same, the rules have changed, a whole lot of regular people just paid the price for the evil intentions of men.
I remember thinking, This event is taking place a long way from where I live. I wonder if anyone I know will be personally affected? It didn’t take long to realize we would all be personally affected. By 9 am PST, I received a phone call from a member of our church whose dad was in charge of a large number of employees in the WTC. The family had not heard from him and was understandably worried. As the day passed, they finally heard he was safe but a number of those who worked for him lost their lives. Another friend of mine was supposed to be in a meeting in the WTC. For some reason, his boss decided to do a conference call instead of a face to face to meeting from San Francisco with colleagues in New York. My friend was talking to his counterpart on his cell phone as he heard him pass away in the collapse. The sounds of that conversation will echo in his mind forever.
I remember the story shifting from tragedy to a focus on the heroes. It was awful watching the devastation and desperation of people but as the day progressed, my focus began to shift to the unnamed heroes who went into action. Policemen, firemen, EMT staff, medical professionals and volunteers selflessly jumped into action because it was the right thing to do. I will never forget a quote I read from an individual who was running down the stairs of one of the targeted buildings. “As we were running down, the firemen were running up. They were committed to save lives without regard to what it might cost them. I looked into the eyes of these real heroes and I was no longer afraid.”
To the heroes who serve us every day without ever demanding they be recognized I say, “Thank you.” To a faithful God who provides His presence, comfort and love through every circumstance of life I say, “Thank you.” To those who lead us and continue to provide a land where we can live free I say, “Thank you.” And to all who were tragically affected on September 11, 2001 I simply say, We Will Remember.