Isaiah, Accountability, and Hope

Today marks the last reading from the Book of Isaiah. God restores the promise after sharing with Isaiah the many ways that the people of Israel chipped away at the covenant until the commitment made between them snapped. God’s wrath poured down over the nation, and in a moment of righteous anger, the Divine arms of safety no longer protected the Hebrews. In their vulnerability, foreign invaders entered the exposed land and took the “chosen” people hostage.

We hear the cries of the Israelites as they were forced out of the promised land and onto distant soil. “What have we done God? Take us back home. This is too much! We promise that we will be faithful, so please don’t abandon us. Have mercy on your people.”

In the end. God reestablished the covenant, but He took the time to repair the fractured relationship.  The Divine would not play the role of the enabler. The Deuteronomic theme (people stop worshipping, God stopped protecting the nation, people lost battles, they cry out to God, He restores the relationship, repeat) would not last. The Divine wanted a relationship built on honesty and trust.

Isaiah is not an easy book to read as God lays out the many ways hope led to betrayal.  It did not happen as a result of one event, but occurred over a series of time: Promises unkept one-by-one, until trust gave way to unfaithfulness. This became a pattern that broke the covenant between humanity and the Creator. The first step in reparation was to admit the times that they failed to be an obedient church.

Isaiah ends with a reminder from God that the covenant was repaired and will never be declared broken by the Holy One. The new establishment of the relationship between the Divine and the Holy One suggests a change in God’s protection to include personal and communal salvation.

May our Isaiah stories hold us accountable for the sins that we commit against one another and God. May the confession of our sins lead us to full restoration. Praise be to God for the chance to remain in the unwavering love of God. Let us continue forward in faith with a renewed sense of identity as children of our amazing God.

Two Questions Answered

Last week we finished the Book of Ecclesiastes. After reading, I think that the author stressed important ideas regarding humanity and its relationship to the Divine. The first is the idea that “To everything, there is a season and I time and purpose for everything under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1). Life is full of twists and turns, and there is no way to avoid change as it makes its way into our lives.
Many times, a tornado rushes in, and we wonder how we may overcome the wreckage in our lives. We cry out, “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this?” The answer is we did not deserve hate, anger, or shame. Awful situations happen. Perhaps the best question may be, “Since this happened, how have I sought recovery? Who may I turn to in my darkest moments?” True faith is measured not in our blame, but our actions. Can we rise above our circumstances?  Do we hold fast to our belief that God will carry us through times of darkness?
Sometimes change can be positive. Perhaps there is something that wakes out of a spiritual coma, and we dive into uncharted land. Maybe the Holy Spirit furthers us along with a gentle breath so that we may live wholly and fully. There are times that I need a nudge to remind me that I am not to remain comfortable. God spoke to Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy by saying to the great Hebrew leader, “You have circled this mountain long enough, head North” (Deut. ).
The other issue that the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes addresses is God’s creation (I mean everything, good and bad) begins and ends at the same source. The rain that falls on evil people also falls on the righteous. Our indignities directed towards God reflect our lack of appreciation as God caring for all humanity. “We should punish our enemies,” we cry. And so begins our discord into the world of resentment and overwhelming anger. Hear the good news; the Most-High God loves us.
Punishment is not our responsibility. We are designed to find blessings in life and to share the incredible love that God has for all creation. Yes, I wrote the word all. I realize that there are things that happen in life that brings us heartache, but God does not want us to be overwhelmed by such catastrophes. Our work is to walk through the fire to get to the other side. Only then, with holy help, we step out of the shadows and into the warmth of the light.
Praise be to God that we are designed for rich sacred work so that we may live into the graciousness of the Holy One. Through the week stop and look at your life. How might you stop circling the mountain, and head North? Take one step in the direction where your heart leads you, and you will be changed. Trust the Spirit to move in you by taking your mind off of the things that hold you back from engaging in holy worship.

Wisdom Was in the Beginning

We are currently in the Book of Proverbs, and immediately, there is a power I find when reading complete chapters.  My experience with Proverbs remained limited to cherry picking a verse here, or a verse there.  Experiencing the power and meaning of the written word in context provides richer meaning to my favorite passages.  One understands why and what circumstances pressed the author to write in a certain way with particular words and phrases.

Proverbs says that wisdom itself was the first of God’s creation. “ADONAI made me as the beginning of his way, the first of his ancient works.  I was appointed before the world, before the start, before the earth’s beginnings” (Pr. 8:22-23 CJSB).  The importance of a process that was not built on randomness, but at its very core, began with a grand design full of thought and purpose.  The creation of the world started with wisdom a central helper in the construction of the world.

The Book of Proverbs reminds me that nothing established by God is accidental, but at the very center of its being or purpose, is well-intentioned creation, giving light to the world.  As another wisdom writing states, “For everything there is a season, a right time for every intention under heaven” (Eccl. 3:1 CJSB).  Randomness remains in chaos, while order births meaning.  Our journey, while not always predictable, always has a purpose that enfolds out of our experiences.

Praise be to our God, who restores us to our right path.  Our Great Creator, who designed wisdom to be placed in our very DNA.  I hope that we may embrace the gift given to us.  We may listen to the spirit, and with discerning hearts, follow the path set before us by our amazing Savior.

Our Songs of Ascent

Psalms 120-134 are known as the Psalms of Ascent. The title possibly refers to physically climbing the outer stairs of the temple to reach the center square. Songs reflected melodies that started low and gradually got higher with each idea sung. The primary focus reflected God’s elevation and our constant desire to reach up for His guidance.

Our world teaches us to keep our head to the grindstone and get the job done.  While it is important to be productive, the Creator of the Universe wants us to look up and remember to give thanks for our deliverance.  Just as God calls us from the pit of despair, “ADONAI, I call to you from the depths; hear my cry, Adonai!  Let your ears pay attention to the sound of my pleading” (Ps. 130:1-2 CJSB), we are to acknowledge the hope and assurance found in those who are faithful.  The Psalmist expresses a strong dependence and commitment to God’s protection when he proclaims “Those who trust in ADONAI are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but remains forever” (Ps. 125:1 CJSB).

This week I invite you to join me in taking moments to reflect on God’s deliverance in your own lives.  What ways do you stop and raise your head to offer the Holy One your joys and concerns?  Please feel free to share your moments of divine revelation with me by posting a response.  Allow the blessings of God to overwhelm you as you recount all that the Lord has (and continues) to do for you.

From Song to Song

Today’s reading passed the 100 mark (we actually finished Psalm 101). In many ways, I feel like I am doing a disservice to the power of the mighty songs of God. Reading three to four Psalms per day is like taking a hymnal and simply reading the words of three to four songs each day. There is no melody to emphasize the beauty of the phrase, nor are there people with whom to raise my voice. Silence does not capture one ounce of the beautiful music of God.

 I know there is power in proclaiming the Word. As a doctoral student (boy that sounds nice) my emphasis was proclamation and worship. I learned techniques and ways to best express the meaning of content and honor the beauty of the language of God. Psalms is the ancients Jew’s hymnal. We experience songs of praise, songs of protection, and songs of absolute sadness. Our complete DNA exists within all 150 songs. Each one pleads for God’s presence in all times; happy and sad. Sing to God, who can handle anything. Praise be to God!

Maybe next year, I can reflect on the Psalms by slowing down and taking each hymn much slower than I can right now. My hope is to sing each one, and feel the presence of the Spirit as expressed in the Psalmists’ eternal devotion to their God. May we take a moment to Lift up our eyes to the hills. From where does our help come? It comes from the Lord (Ps. 121:1-2 ESV). Let us take time to raise our voices in song, united in the goodness of our God.

A Psalm of Thanksgiving

A Psalm of Joy for “MacDonald the Older” – Happy Birthday

I praise you, oh God, for out of the chaos of my life, You step over the darkness of my soul and create. Where once I believed there would be no new life, now there is an everlasting presence of a new creation. My son came into the world, and since the very moment of His birth, I have never stopped giving thanks for your gift.

I stand in wonder at your deeds, oh God. This young man, who shares my DNA most amazingly. His expression of music is quite amazing. I knew that he had the gift when he came from his mother’s womb. I gathered him in my arms as he screamed and cried. Softly, I began to sing a song, and he stopped and listened to my voice. I knew we had an instant connection.

How vast are the depths of emotions, oh God, how great is the love of a father lavished upon the son? Thank you for the joy of finding purpose in a world where nothing else makes sense. This little one, wrapped in a blanket of holy love between his mother and father. Bonds that fashioned a home together with a precious glue that holds us together in the most difficult of circumstances.

I thank you, oh God. All that I have, all that I am, is because of You. We are called to be present at Your table and continue to be grateful for all that You give to us. May we continue to walk in Your path forever. Amen!

Comfort Me, Oh God!

“You who have shown me great distresses and troubles will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You will increase my greatness and You will encircle and comfort me (Ps. 71:20-21 CEB).

The psalmist calls to God, claiming that He is the source from which all things originate. Adonai shows great distress and revives the heart and soul of those who suffer. How can this be? Doesn’t Almighty God want us to be our best selves? Why show us horrible things?

The reality is that free will is part of our gift. We respond (either positively or negatively), and others must live with our choices. When a pebble drops onto clear water, the reaction of the event produces waves to extend far away from the point of impact. Everything in the path of the waves experiences a disruption of peace.

We, as humans, know what it is like to suffer the actions of a pebble. Someone makes a choice and effects many lives. Sometimes it feels like a small rock, while other times it feels like a massive boulder caused a large title wave. Whatever the size of the stone, our actions carry consequences.

With the concept of a free will in mind, the psalmist (David) declares that his allegiance to God does not shield him from events generated from the people around him. The Holy One may show him great distress through the actions of others, but rest assure the God of our understanding will bring restoration to our souls. Others may lead us to harm, but the Creator will deliver us and provide us safety.

To those who are affected by other people’s poor choices, hear the good news, God will deliver us. We find our shelter by holding on to God’s protection. In the shadow of Divine wings, we rise out of any catastrophe that holds us hostage. We face the things that hold us down and break free to experience revitalization. Praise be to God; that we can trust in Him, especially in the harshest of circumstances.

When God is Silent

“Wake up! Get up, my God, my Lord! Defend me and my cause! Give judgment for me, ADONAI, my God, as your righteousness demands” (Ps. 35:23-24 CJSB).

We know that we are children of the Most-High God. As His kids, there is a certain expectation that our Father will protect us from all of our enemies. He will cut them down to size. After all, don’t we provide that kind of security for our own sons and daughters? Someone oversteps their boundaries and we put them back in line. Don’t mess with my children!

If we read several of the Psalmist’s works, it appears that God is silent when David needs His help. Why is the Creator so quiet? He should strike out and punish those who rail against the faithful, who profess allegiance to the one true God. But, it seems as if we cry out in need, only to have our petitions go unanswered. Where is this amazing Deity, when we are at our lowest place? “Stand up! Help me in my defense against the ones who want to take me down. Show them all your power, Lord.”

There is an old saying that “Evil thrives when good men do nothing.” In silence, we allow those with the loudest voices to take center stage, often finding ways to strike us down. In stillness, the light darkens until there is very little sign that hope is still present. The flame of God’s love no longer feels close to us. In despair, we feel utterly alone as we beg once more, “God, please do something.”

In the darkest of moments, we find a glimmer of light; a touch of a hand, writing that evokes a memory, kind words in the most unusual of circumstances. Whatever we see, we remember that we are not alone. Emanuel, God, is with us! The promise of the Creator reiterates a call to remember that we are never abandoned. Praise be to God for the promise of complete protection, even the worst of all possible places.

Psalm 15 – Living in God’s Presence

“ADONAI, who can rest in your tent? Who can live on your holy mountain? Those who live a blameless life, who behave uprightly, who speak truth from their hearts” (Ps. 15:1-2 CJSB).

Practicing hospitality and kindness does not offer me the luxury to sit back and serve as judge over those who aren’t worshiping as they should. Radical love transforms me to be a living witness to the care of my fellow men and women. In other words, my actions dictate my place before God and not my condemnation of my neighbors. According to King David, our hearts must remain open and affirming to all.

I don’t believe that humanity possesses the capability to follow the path without making mistakes. Praise be to God that perfection is not the requirement. We do the best we know with Divine guidance. The most important part of the journey is our willingness to follow God. Our heart’s language reflects our action. If we say we love the Creator, our actions reflect our commitment to live according to His statutes. We stumble from time to time, but if we are faithful, we rediscover the path.

On this day, let us rejoice and seek to love one another as Christ loves us. Some people are easier to live with than others, but we must commit to the highest ideas of ethical responsibility. “This is my command: that you keep on loving each other as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:12 CJSB). Rise above anger and resentment and chose to be a living witness to the one who delivered you. Praise be to God for another day to live in peace with each other.

From Job to Doctors to Psalms

Distinguished Doctors

This week shaped up to be a hectic and beautiful time in my life.  While still maintaining all of my Biblical readings, I graduated with a Doctorate of Ministry degree from The Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  The adventure into doctor land proved terrific.  While in the process, I discovered some incredible people who shared the path with me.  They are forever friends who continue to bless me and serve as a source of inspiration.  The picture above captures a little of the joy that we share as an incredible team of friends.  Don’t let some of the faces fool you.  There is a lot of wisdom in the souls of the people in the photograph.  We love each other fiercely and support one another through the darkest of times.  They are my tribe, my people.

And now to the end of Job and the beginning of Psalms… Job is a prime example of maintaining faith through the darkest of times.  His friends raised horrible arguments against him while he needed support.  His wife could only respond, “Just curse God and die!” (Job 2:9 NIV).  With friends like this sorry lot of characters, who needs enemies.  Job did not listen but responded out of his absolute allegiance to the Creator.  Everything may come and go in the world, but the God of our salvation remains steadfast, even in the darkest of circumstances.

What we learn from Job is that suffering is not always fair, and when we experience moments of unexpected chaos, we must hold fast to the One, who delivers us and raises our bodies out of the deep waters.  God is our lifeline.  May we never cease to realize the source of our strength.  Praise be to Him who loved us before we were ever born.

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