Tag Archives: New Year

Promises of the Uncontainable

I am the Lord,
    the Maker of all things,
    who stretches out the heavens,
    who spreads out the earth by myself…

who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’
    of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt,’
    and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’
Isaiah 44:24b,26b (NIV)

I am reminded this morning of English class back in the day. Our teacher assigned us “compare and contrast” papers in which we were to compare two different things. We were to discuss their contrasts, their differences. Isaiah’s prophetic poetry in this morning’s chapter is a compare and contrast composition.

The first five verses are an introductory statement for Isaiah’s readers. They are a “now hear this” to draw the reader in.

Verses six through 20 are a treatise on the nature of the religious idols popular in society and culture of Isaiah’s day. Idolatry was common among the people of Israel and Judah at the time, and many would have Egyptian and Canaanite idols in their homes. People might worship both at the Jewish temple and one of the many idol shrines or temples in town.

Isaiah’s comparison poem focuses on the fact that these idols were images made by carpenters, smiths, and artisans. They were a product of a human’s hands. The carpenter might make a chair with part of a tree, and an idol with the other. The blacksmith might take a hunk of metal and make a hammer with part of it, and an idol with the rest. The idol is a human product, Isaiah repeatedly reminds his readers.

Isaiah then writes a second call to the reader in verses 21-23 in which he weaves all of creation. Clouds, morning, mist, sky, earth, mountains, and forests are all mentioned. Isaiah is already contrasting the small wood or metal god made by the carpenter or blacksmith with the expanse of all creation. The idol is a human creation, but humans are God’s creations. So, which is truly God? In verse 24 Isaiah makes his main comparative statement. God is the creator of all things, beyond the heavens, who cannot be contained in a hunk of wood or metal. God is beyond all that we see or know.

Having established God, the Creator’s, expansive, uncontainable person and power, Isaiah makes a prophetic promise. Those children of Judah living under political exile will return. A ruined Jerusalem will be rebuilt, along with the temple.

This morning I am reminded of the Creator who cannot be contained by human knowledge, reason, description, image or craft. God uses countless metaphors in communicating with us simply because metaphors are the very best we can do in our finite minds. Isaiah doesn’t even attempt to use a metaphor. God is simply the One who created all that we see and beyond it.

Isaiah reminds his readers that God is the power behind the promise of a rebuilt Jerusalem. As I stand on the cusp of a new year, not knowing what will happen, I am reminded that this same God is the power behind the simple promise given by Jesus (in a different compare/contrast statement) whose birth we just celebrated:

“If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

“Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

“If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met.

“Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.

The Recurring Theme of “Old and New”

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On this last weekday of 2016 it seems to me a bit of divine synchronicity that I should read these words from the ancient prophet, Isaiah:

“Forget the former things;
    do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!”
Isaiah 43:18-19a (NIV)

Old gives way to new. Growth. Metamorphosis. Transformation. As I have journeyed through God’s Message these many years I find this to be one of the basic, recurring themes in all of God’s Message to us. In fact, it’s a recurring theme in all that God has created. God is all about transformation:

“Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”
– Jesus (Matthew 9:17)

 “Therefore every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
– Jesus (Matthew 13:52)

“No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. Otherwise, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse.”
– Jesus (Mark 2:21)

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
Romans 7:6

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!
2 Corinthians 5:17

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
Revelation 21:1,4

Another year draws to a close. Once again I am prompted to reflect on where I’ve been, recognize where I am, and set course for where I’m going. I can’t do anything about yesterday. I am not guaranteed tomorrow. But I can choose what I think, say, and do today. I will set my trajectory. I can make a course correction. I can let go of that which has brought death. I can reach out and choose Life.

This morning, I find my spirit whispering (once again):

God,
Grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

chapter a day banner 2015

The Thunder of His Voice on the Horizon

source: andyrs via Flickr
source: andyrs via Flickr

“At this my heart pounds
    and leaps from its place.
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice,
    to the rumbling that comes from his mouth.
He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven
    and sends it to the ends of the earth.
After that comes the sound of his roar;
    he thunders with his majestic voice.
When his voice resounds,
    he holds nothing back.”
Job 37:1-4 (NIV)

While I was in college I had a friend whose family owned a cabin on the southeastern shores of Lake Michigan. One evening we were visiting their cabin and parked along some cliffs that afforded an expansive view of the western horizon, the Great Lake, and the Chicago skyline in the distance. It was a gorgeous, calm evening but behind the skyscrapers of Chicago we saw black clouds rising. Over the next couple of hours we watched a massive midwestern thunderstorm develop before our eyes. The dark clouds rose like mighty pillars and giant tentacles of lighting spread out like a breath-taking fireworks display across the evening sky. As the storm enveloped the city and began to cross the lake, the wind rose and giant white caps began to break against the shore beneath us. The thunder was deafening.

God says that His eternal nature is evident in creation, in what He has made. That night looking out over Lake Michigan I remember thinking that we were witnessing a tour de force of God’s might. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and as I read the opening lines of Elihu’s conclusion in this morning’s chapter, my mind took me right back to that night.

Elihu’s final words regarding the thunder of God’s voice foreshadows the final chapters of Job’s epic poem. After 37 chapters of silence in response to Job’s questions and the long debate with his friends, God is about to open His mouth to speak.

As I write this post it is the morning of New Year’s Eve day. I look back on a strange and somewhat difficult year in 2014. I stand on the precipice of 2015 with more questions than answers. It’s perhaps apropos that the year had ended with a journey through Job’s epic poem, with questions, and with struggle. It is equally appropriate that the current year ends waiting to hear from the Almighty, and that the new year will begin with God’s voice. Whether God’s voice arrives in the thunder of a  midwest storm or the whisper of a still, small voice, I’m anxious to hear what God has to say. I’m looking forward to what the new year will bring.

Honest Reflections

English: King David engraving from a front pag...
English: King David engraving from a front page of the French protestant psalm book of 1817 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 71

Though you have made me see troubles,  many and bitter,  you will restore  my life again;  from the depths of the earth  you will again bring me up.  Psalm 71:20 (NIV)

The Christmas season and the subsequent New Year is always a time of reflection. Where have I been this year? What kind of year has it been? Where am I going and what will next year bring? How has our family changed this year? In what ways are we always the same, the repetitive behavioral and relational patterns stuck like a record player in the same old groove?

Both Psalm 70 and Psalm 71 are songs of reflection. Both of them were penned in David’s old age. I like the above lyric. It comes from the wisdom of a long and active life. David was a boyhood hero, a son-in-law of the King, a best friend of the prince, a successful military leader, a King of his own tribe Judah and eventually a King of the nation of Israel. He was a warrior, a conqueror, a lover, a song writer, and a poet. Above all else, God called him “a man after my own heart.” Talk about a great story.

But, that’s not the whole story. David was also an outlaw, a rebel, a wanted man, a deceiver, a liar, an adulterer, a murderer, and a poor and distant father. He spent much of his early adulthood on the run from the law living in caves. His eventual reign as King was marked by political discord and scandal.

Life is what it is. Beneath the most whitewashed public lives you’ll find “troubles, many and bitter.” Despite our culture’s desire to see humanity as inherently good and progressive, God’s Message clearly teaches that humanity is tragically flawed. Despite our best efforts our penchant to look out for our own desires and needs instead of loving others more than ourselves keeps getting in the way with tragic results.

Like David, my reflections of the past are filled with both good times and difficulties, of both successes and bitter failures. Each year’s time of reflection always reaches the same conclusion:

God, have mercy on me. I always fall so short of the person I should be. I need a savior.

Fortunately, these annual reflections and this repetitive conclusion coincide with Christmas.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:10-11 (KJV)

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 5

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does,           examining every path he takes.
Proverbs 5:21 (NLT)

I can’t the number of times I’ve read through the book of Proverbs. I don’t ever remember, however, catching the contrast that King Sol was making in today’s chapter. He’s just spent a couple of chapters admonishing his son to listen to and follow Lady Wisdom with all of her virtues and rewards. Today he urges his son to avoid Lady Immorality will all of her disastrous consequences. He finishes his opening lesson by reminding his son that the choice is his, and the Lord will see which path he takes.

Once again I find myself mulling over this New Year’s season. It’s a time of reflection, of recalibration, and of renewed focus. I look out in front of me and I see so many choices. So many paths towards so many things. As Solomon points out some paths lead to good things and some paths lead to bad things. But even if I focus on the good things, there are so many good options for my time, attention and energies. That’s where I need Lady Wisdom’s help and discernment along with God’s guidance.

I keep hearing in my brain the old knight templar at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, as he says of the dead Nazi who chose the counterfeit grail “He chose poorly,” then as he says to Indy when Indy chooses the real grail “You chose wisely.”

Today, I’m asking God to help me choose my paths wisely.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 3

English: Hemingway posing for a dust jacket ph...
Image via Wikipedia

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
      do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
      and he will show you which path to take. Proverbs 3:5-6 (NLT)

I was inspired back in my college days when I read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, which tells of his days starting out as a writer in Paris. “All you have to do is write one true sentence,” he wrote. “Write the truest sentence you know.” When preparing a message of any kind, whether it’s a sermon or a corporate training session, I start by trying to define the one thing I want to say. If there’s one thing I want people to know and remember when they leave, what would it be in one short phrase or sentence.

As I wrote in my post yesterday, New Year’s Eve was a late night – well, early morning – for Wendy and me. Thus, I confess I didn’t make it to church on Sunday morning. My friend, Matthew, called on Sunday evening and I asked him what the message was about that morning. He was able to quickly sum it up in one sentence: “Approach 2012 with expectancy of what God’s going to do, but with no expectations of what that is.”

It must have been a great message. Matthew walked away with the one true thing planted firmly in his mind, and was able to communicate it clearly and concisely. In once sentence he gave me the message and it’s still rattling around in my brain three days later as I read this morning’s chapter.

The verses above are ones I memorized as a young man. I’ve never forgotten them and they’ve provided me with encouragement throughout the journey. Here at the beginning of a new year I read them again and immediately thought of the message Matthew gave me. Trust God with your whole heart, acknowledge Him in all things, but don’t try to pretend to know what He’s going to do. No worries. He’ll direct the path.

One true thing.

Chapter-a-Day Proverbs 2

English: map of Treasure Island, from the firs...
Image via Wikipedia

Search for them as you would for silver;
      seek them like hidden treasures. Proverbs 2:4 (NLT)

It is just after the New Year as I write this. The television news programs are running their annual stories about getting organized and setting goals. The commercials are all about weight loss. The newspapers (those that are left) are running articles once again about setting resolutions and how to keep them.

What are you going to do this year?
What positive changes are you going to make?
How are you going to achieve your goals?

I’ve never been big on new year’s resolutions, but as I read the chapter today I’m reminded that even God’s Message calls us to make choices, to look to the horizon and set the way-point of where we’re headed, and to determine what we will seek after. Jesus told us that whatever we seek after we will find.

So what am I seeking after? What is it I’m driving towards? Proverbs urges me this morning to seek after wisdom, insight, and understanding as if it was buried treasure. Is that what I’ve been searching out? Does that describe my heart’s desire?

Today is a good day to do a little soul searching. This is a good time to adjust the GPS and recalibrate my position. Set the waypoint for wisdom. Chart a course for understanding. Search for insight on the horizon. Hoist the sails.

We’re going on a treasure hunt.