Days of Isaiah (Chapter 2)


In reading the first part of Isaiah, a few years ago, a reoccurring theme came up–trying, fruitlessly, to change the opinions of others.

I had long struggled with this. I turned myself inside out at times, to make those around me think highly of me.

For years, I was so busy trying to please, placate, or impress others, that I often forgot about serving God.

When I first came to Kentucky, in October of 2007, it was the result of a call I’d known about for about 7 months. I knew from the beginning that I would be going with no home or job waiting—a first for me. I dragged my feet, not wanting to do something so ‘crazy.’ Finally, God turned up the heat and I arrived, homeless and jobless in Wilmore.

In faith, I expected everyone around me to joyfully accept that my call was genuine, and celebrate that God still did such things.

Instead, I got a very mixed reaction. One person, a minister attached to the local seminary, went out of her way the first few weeks that I was there to make things difficult for me. Because she was a representative of that seminary, and one that I (at the time) had a good impression, I was devastated by her response.

Within a few days, I had a job, and a temporary place to stay, along with a permanent home lined up. To me, this seemed like confirmation. The seminary representative seemed disappointed that I planned to stay in the community and had not done as she told me, leave town and go to a homeless shelter.

She refused to listen to my testimony, or my reasons for arriving without provision. Instead, she treated me as if I were irresponsible and mentally ill.

After this reception, I felt the need to justify myself, to prove that I was truly called to the community. No matter how badly I was treated in the weeks and months that followed, I kept trying to show anyone who thought otherwise that I was a good, honest, moral and above all, Godly person.

During that time, I made some unhealthy choices, specifically with relationships I got involved in. These choices distracted me from serving God, and if anything, proved my naysayers ‘right’ about my instability and unsuitability to be a student at seminary or even an accepted member of the community.

Yet, God persevered with me, and slowly, my circumstances changed. Unhealthy alliances were shed. With the help of therapy and a 12 step group, I began making steady progress in every part of my life. I began to understand and even start to forgive those who treated me in a shallow or judgmental fashion when I first came to Wilmore.

Last year, after several positive encounters with the female seminary employee who had given me such grief on arrival, I decided to talk to her about again applying as a student. I went in, prayed up and full of confidence.

She had, in the positive encounters, somehow forgotten that first meeting, and had to be reminded who I was. Once reminded, the friendly, supportive woman vanished. The woman I remembered from the first meeting was totally evident.

She spent the entire meeting shredding my dreams, questioning my sanity, and encouraging me to leave town. I sensed that she was trying to bait me to get an angry or defensive response to prove her ideas about me. God kept me calm, and I left, puzzled, and somewhat hurt.

And, as it would turn out, it didn’t matter how much I had grown, what respected people said about me, or how much God had done with me. The few who had the power to approve my application at the school refused to see the work, and chose to see me only with the eyes of the past.

Had I immediately prospered once I arrived, maybe those feelings would have changed. However, because it took a good three years of huge struggles, some of which required outside intervention from others, I was seen only as a problem that needed to be solved, not a person who was, before their very eyes, being transformed by God’s healing and his grace.

As I worked through my feelings about this, one thing occurred to me. I was, once again, trusting more in people than I was in God. Letting the opinion of people who barely knew me mean more than that of the creator who had fashioned me, sustained me, and stood by me. I was letting human blindness mean more than what God said was true.

I learned something critical. If there is a choice between doing what you believe God has called you to do, and listening to mankind’s advice, don’t even pause in your step. Go with God.

These days, sometimes I still hurt that a small group of individuals still refuse to understand or celebrate the calling that led me here. That they refuse to celebrate the work of healing and growth God has done, while proclaiming that theirs is a community that is made for such things to occur.

Sometimes, I have to give it to the Lord over and over. On those days he reminds me that he too was judged, maligned, and misunderstood by the church authorities of his time.

For years, I spent far too much time trying to prove myself. At times, I spoke out of both sides of my mouth trying to impress people, trying to ‘make’ them see the change God had done (rather than letting it be obvious by living it).

People know when you’re trying to impress them, and I’ve learned that that is often the quickest way to lose respect. It’s only by being yourself, right or wrong, that you gain the respect of the people who deserve to know you. It’s only giving up the merry-go-round of trying to please others, that you become who God intended you to be.

Finally, I understood that if I spent my life trying to prove myself to human beings, I would spend my life living the same kind of frustration I had lived since I moved to Kentucky. Ultimately, it did not matter what human beings thought. They were temporary. Only God and his opinion of me was eternal.

I knew what God’s opinion was of me. He loves me. He is with me. He will give me a hope and a future. I’ve learned that seeking him with my whole heart and soul would never put me wrong. But, seeking the approval of man with heart and soul would put me wrong every time.

This was a hard lesson to learn. In some ways, I am still learning it. Each time a new opportunity arrives where I have to ask myself if a negative (or positive) opinion really matters that much, the lesson presents itself again.

In all things, I have to ask myself, before all else: whose opinion stands forever? Do I dance for the approval of man, who is here today and gone tomorrow, or do I dance within the grace of the Lord?

I hope the answer consistently is, that the opinion of the Lord matters more, infinitely more, than the fickle ideals of mankind.

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Spring


I gathered a bouquet
With your name on it
It was filled with good things
Just for you
The flowers picked with
Loving care
moistened by morning’s tender dew

I gathered some sunshine
(surely, it would not be missed)
And a rainbow and tender moonlight
To include in the gift

But when I looked for you,
My love, you were gone
Where is our Spring?
Where did we go wrong?

Days of Isaiah–Chapter 1


It has been my experience that when God gives me a hunger for a certain part of His word, there is always a reason behind it. So, when God convicted me to read and comment on my time reading Isaiah, I knew there was much to be learned from it.

My take-away from the first chapter is that God wants us to learn to do right, seek justice, encourage the oppressed, and defend the cause of the fatherless. Not just when it seems convenient does He want us to do these things, He (God) wants us to do them everyday!

One thing that really impressed me is how God states through Isaiah about doing right. He didn’t say ‘do right’ right now….he said to ‘learn’ to do it. If we are learning to do something, we have not quite got it entirely. It is a process.

When I was learning the computer systems at my job at Xerox, I was sometimes overwhelmed by everything there was to know. It took buckling down and seriously studying–something I hadn’t done in a few decades. However, as I put more effort into it, the computer systems became more clear. So also, I believe, is the process of learning to do right.

There is so much that keeps us from doing right. Perhaps it is ignorance of what ‘right’ actually is. There have been many times in my life when I was going along thinking I was doing pretty good, then suddenly, God laid heavy conviction on me. What about? Why, something I thought was just fine! The Lord would then lay bare my justifications, excuses and my basic blindness, and show me what was wrong with that thing that I thought was ‘just fine.’

Then, He would give me the tools to do better. He didn’t expect me to get it overnight. It was a process. In this human body, during this human life, the Lord wanted me to learn to be better than what I thought was ‘good enough.’

Another big take-away in this first chapter was God’s frustration with the children of Israel. God asks ‘why’ He should beat them anymore. It is clear to Him that heavy and harsh consequence had accomplished nothing. The Israelites repented briefly (if at all) out of fear, but soon they are back to doing whatever was easy for them; chasing idols, committing sins hateful in the eyes of God, and acting as if they didn’t need a creator at all. Here, in my view, is a place where the Lord uses Isaiah to hint that He has something else in mind for his wayward children.

Beating didn’t work. Devastation didn’t work. Logical consequence didn’t work. Maybe mercy would.

I think of the times I have held on stubbornly when I thought I was right about something. God would convict me over and over, and often, gritting my teeth, and stomping like a toddler, I would set off in the direction of whatever God wanted me to do. But sometimes, I would refuse. Over and over. What happened? Maybe God never stopped arguing the point. But with each refusal, my ability to hear the Lord grew less and less. And not just in the area of what I was being convicted about.

In chapter one, the Lord has Isaiah make it clear that the Lord is not interested in pageantry, beautiful churches, or (in our modern day lives) the well crafted sermon or musical. If we do nothing to address our wounded hearts or un-confessed sin, or the hearts of those whom we have wounded, then what good have we done? If we do not make the purpose of what we do all about Jesus, it is lifeless.

Some time ago, when I lived in Virginia, there was a musical special for our morning worship service. The pastor made a big point of introducing all the credentials of the young lady about to sing. Apparently, she had been taught by some of the best musical trainers to be found. I sat at the edge of my seat, eager to hear this performance.

What I saw, over about three or four minutes, reminded me more of an exercise workout than an act of worship. A veteran of choirs and music leaders, I recognized when the young woman did various things to get the maximum output of air where it needed to be. The notes were flawless, the volume just right, not a word was stumbled over.

Yet, it was lifeless.

We saw, that day what could be a textbook lesson on how to properly deliver a great musical performance. However, the missing heart and spirit behind it made this ‘perfect’ performance quite hollow.

Think of all the beautiful places of worship all over the world. Perhaps they have been around for centuries. Do they have life in them, or are they simply visually appealing?

Think of a sermon or a book or a movie that you have enjoyed. Did you go away raving about how perfect the lighting, music or film quality was, or did you instead talk about how the movie made you think and feel?

God needs us to be urgent about our need for him, and not to go through the motions. To pay intention to our inner life as much as our outer life…perhaps more.

Lastly, the words God had Isaiah say in the first chapter about pleasing God took on an interesting meaning to me. He said (NIV) “Wash” and “Clean” the sin. At first glance, one would think that both words are the same. However, a closer look would argue this.

One can wash oneself, and still walk away dirty. Think about a child who has been told to get a bath at the end of the day. They may get in the shower, cover themselves with water, and maybe the odd bit of soap. And get out of the bath in only slightly better shape than when they got in.

However, to clean oneself means to pay attention to every part of the external body. If I clean myself, I’m going to step out of my bath having been sure that nothing is offensive. I’ll have even cleaned behind my ears.

If I am to start the process of washing and cleaning myself from ingrained sin, it is not enough to just start by conversion and baptism. Its not enough to throw a little prayer at my problem and forget about it. Its not enough even to confess my sins to others. That’s just stepping in the shower and getting wet.

To really get clean, I have to go a whole lot deeper. Maybe that means therapy, or a support group, or a 12 step program. Maybe that means an accountability partner, journaling, or a small group. Each person, with the direction of the Holy Spirit must decide what further spiritual growth will entail.

The last part of this chapter is even more explicit about God’s expectation regarding the cleansing process. Isaiah says that God wants sin taken out of His sight. Another words: STOP!

There is a huge difference between having a struggle that we are wholeheartedly trying to conquer, and  in confessing occasionally but not really being serious. If God has highlighted a sin (or sins) in our life, its not enough to do some half hearted effort with a wink, he wants total effort.

However, the best part, is God doesn’t expect us to make that effort alone. He has sent us a Savior, who left behind the Holy Spirit to not only guide us into all truth, but to show us how to walk in that truth.

 

Amen.