Yes, weep and grieve until the Spirit is poured down on us from above…. Isaiah 32:15a (MSG)
There are no shortcuts through grief. There are only side roads which, deceptively, exit and escape grief's path for a time but which never take you where you need to go.
Grief's road must be fully traversed before the Spirit is poured down from above and a new leg of the journey can begin.
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Repent, return, dear Israel, to the One you so cruelly abandoned. On the day you return, you'll throw away—at every last one of you—the no-gods your sinful hands made from metal and wood. Isaiah 31:6-7 (MSG)
Growing up, there was an annual traveling carnival that came to town and set itself up in the parking lot of one of the shopping centers we passed on the weekly pilgrimage across town to grandma and grandpa's house. There were bright lights, thrill rides, tents with all sorts of games, and stands with cotton candy and snow cones. Driving to our destination, the carnival would always catch my eye and I would instantly beg my parents to pull off and take me to the carnival (which, they never did).
I reflect back on my journey and the many times I've abandoned the path and diverted from my destination to chase after bright lights, thrill rides, and to gamble on prizes which are worthless in the end.
Reading today's chapter, I'm reminded that following God requires repentance and repentance requires leaving behind that for which we diverted our journey. We don't get to pack up the carnival and bring it with us. "Hang on a minute, God. I want to load the tilt-a-whirl on a flatbed and bring it with us." We must throw away the worthless trinkets and abandon the cheap thrills which stirred the lust of our eyes and the lust of our flesh and led us away from the path.
Following Jesus is a journey of faith. Faith requires leaving things behind.
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God, the Master, The Holy of Israel, has this solemn counsel: "Your salvation requires you to turn back to me and stop your silly efforts to save yourselves. Your strength will come from settling down in complete dependence on me—The very thing you've been unwilling to do. Isaiah 30:15 (MSG)
Reading today's chapter I was reminded of this song. I've always loved this song because it makes me laugh and I think it so honestly captures what I believe to be the most common lie that we deeply believe: That on the great balance scales of life, we're basically good people. I'm an alright guy. And, if I put forth a little effort to keep the "good" outweighing the "bad" then God will give me the thumb's up and reward my effort.
The more I read God's message, the more I realize that in the economy of God's kindgom there is no amount of good works that can earn me the thumb's up. God doesn't grade on a curve. It's a pass fail test and only one red check mark guarantees my failure (you should see my list of red check marks – oy!).
I know. It doesn't seem fair. If that' true then no one can pass that test. We've all done something wrong.
Exactly. That's the point.
That's why God sent His son to pass the test for us and, while He was at it, to take the punishment for our failure. We can stop our silly efforts to save ourselves. No more trying to do enough to keep my "alright guy" status. It has nothing to do with what I do. It has everything to do with what Jesus did for me. The reality is that Jesus was the one and only "alright guy" and my dependence on Him is my one and only hope.
The Master said: "These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their hearts aren't in it. Because they act like they're worshiping me but don't mean it…. Isaiah 29:13 (MSG)
Sometimes, I step back and try to see a bigger picture. I look at my life and everyone in it like a Where's Waldo book in which everyone I know is walking around on one big opened, panoramic page. I look and see believers who say all the right things and are sure to be seen in the right evangelical circles and settings, but then I listen as they make contemptuous observations about others and pass judgment as if their butts were big enough to occupy the Judgement Seat of Christ. I see the blissfully ignorant. I see hard-hearted standing in their own form of judgmental obstinance. I see the runaway. I see the rebellious. I see the broken, and I see genuine hearted searching.
Looking at the broad mental picture of these different individuals and groups, I remind myself that it was the religious establishment - the good, and upright followers of God that received the lion's share of Jesus' angry rebuke. While it was the sinful, the broken, and the hard hearted who received a generous portion of Jesus' time, attention, love and grace.
Where am I in this big picture? If you look for me, where will you find Tom? Am I with the judgmental religious establishment? Am I found in the picture where I'm most comfortable? Am I found where Jesus would be (and is)?
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That's the way I'd describe the past few weeks. The play consumed every available hour for a couple of weeks, then the day after the show closed, it was off to Texas on business for three days. I arrived home Wednesday night at 11:00 p.m., then hit the road at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday for Minneapolis. I made a whirlwind up & back trip, returning Thursday evening just in time (I believe Wendy would argue that I was late) for dinner with Madison. Then it was off to worship team rehearsal. At 9:00 p.m. I arrived home and had to pack the pick-up for an early morning departure for the lake. Bed at midnight, and up at 5:00 the following morning for another 5:30 a.m. departure. Wendy and I spent a cold, rainy two days working on the Playhouse, then returned in an intense storm on Saturday night, arriving once again in the late hours. I played in worship yesterday morning.
Then we got to rest.
And at the harvest, the delicate herbs and spices, the dill and cumin, are treated delicately. On t he other hand, wheat is threshed and milled, but still not endlessly. The farmer knows how to treat each kind of grain. Isaiah 28:27-28 (MSG)
In the past few years I've had to adjust to the idea of my children leaving the nest. Now that the reality is here, I'm finding it an interesting and challenging new leg in life's journey. Stepping out on their own, you see them stumble, only you're not right there to reach out and catch them. You'd be happy to point out the pot-hole that's right in front of them (which you've twisted your own ankle on many times before), but they must learn the walk the road themselves.
Parenting fledgling adults is more difficult than I imagined. These emerging individuals are infinitely more complex than when they were little, and parenting is no longer a black-and-white world of authority & submission. When they are children you simply tell them to take your hand and you lead them. Now, they are traversing life's obstacle course blindfolded and you occasionally get to whisper hints and directions in their ear (though, of course, there's no guarantee they will listen). When do you speak? When do you stay silent? When do you prod? When do you sit on your hands? And, then there's the added intricacies of dealing with differences between children.
I'm gaining greater respect for God who knows how to approach each of His children, the way He knows how to treat each kind of grain. I'm in awe of God, the Father.
"At that same time, a fine vineyard will appear. There's something to sing about! I, God, tend it. I keep it well-watered. I keep careful watch over it so that no one can damage it. I'm not angry. I care. Even if it gives me thistles and thornbushes, I'll just pull them out and burn them up. Let that vine cling to me for safety, let it find a good and whole life with me, let it hold on for a good and whole life." Isaiah 27:2-5 (MSG)
Jesus said he is the vine. I am this vine. I am Isaiah's vine. I soak up God's tender care, his life-giving water, and his faithful watchfulness. In return I've given Him thistles and thorns. So often I have rewarded his loving care with sour grapes. Nevertheless, He keeps loving, keeps tending, keeps watering, keeps pruning.
Still, I'm clinging to Him for safety. And, I'm finding goodness and wholeness. Seasons pass. Old things pass away. New things come. Each year is a new vintage.
God, let my life be a vineyard that produces the choicest of wines that, in turn, reflects your skill as the Master Gardener.
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