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.

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Christmas 2016

It is the 28th of December and Christmas is not officially over for us. Madison will fly back to Iowa from her balmy South Carolina home (she told us on FaceTime Christmas morning that it was 70 degrees and she was contemplating a trip to the beach). The four of us will celebrate Christmas together on or around New Year’s Day, so there are stuffed stockings and gifts yet under the tree.

Wendy and I were happy to have family visit us here in Pella this Christmas. Taylor arrived the afternoon of Christmas Eve day and the three of us attended the 6:00 Christmas Eve service at Third Church.

Christmas Eve services at Third Church.
Christmas Eve services at Third Church.

We returned home and watched a couple of Christmas movies. We got through all of While You Were Sleeping and most of the way through It’s a Wonderful Life before deciding it was time to settle down for a long winter’s nap.

Christmas Day was really gloomy. Unseasonably warm (50s F) but very, very rainy.
Christmas Day was really gloomy. Unseasonably warm (50s F) but very, very rainy.

Christmas morning dawned and Wendy made what has become our traditional Christmas breakfast. We stoke up the dining room fireplace (actually, we simply hit the button on the remote, but “stoking” the fire sounds so much more cozy) and settle in around the table. Homemade cinnamon rolls are the special Christmas treat along with our favorite breakfast fare.

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Christmas breakfast.
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Mmmmm.

The rest of the morning was spent relaxing, hanging out, and waiting for the family to begin arriving. Taylor and I had fun on the couch playing with Snapchat and making silly pictures and videos.

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Both the Hall and Vander Well clans joined us on Christmas Day. Mom and Dad Vander Well were the first to arrive around mid-day. Jody, Emma, Sam and Lydia arrived soon afterwards (Scott was home sick) along with Tim (who also left Kumi sick back in Des Moines). Mom Hall arrived with Suzanna and Grandma Vander Hart. Dad Hall met Court, Becky and Lydia at the airport and drove them down in the early afternoon.

Plenty of food. Dish up!
Plenty of food. Dish up!

We had mixed up a crock pot full of French Dip, and the kitchen island was filled with snacks and treats that family brought with them. There was, of course, Wendy’s cheesecake and Uncle Tim’s figure 8 cookies. We enjoyed a meal together and the family spent the afternoon chatting and enjoying one another’s company.

We opened gifts in the late afternoon. By early evening most everyone had decided to head home. Court, Becky, and Lydia stayed with us until Tuesday. Luke and Brooke drove down from Ames on Monday and we had a chance to hang out with them. The afternoon was spent lounging around together. It was also Court’s birthday, so late in the afternoon Luke and I took him to the Cellar Peanut Pub in town for a birthday pint before retrieving George’s Pizza for dinner.

The Court, Becky and Lydia headed to Ankeny yesterday. Wendy and I did a little clean up and then got back to work. Looking forward to our anniversary, New Year’s celebrations, and time with Madison this weekend.

 

 

Reaching the Islands

Sing to the Lord a new song,
    his praise from the ends of the earth,
you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it,
    you islands, and all who live in them.
Isaiah 42:10 (NIV)

 

As I read this morning’s chapter I couldn’t help but notice the word “islands” popping up.

…he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.

Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them.

Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim his praise in the islands.

Today’s chapter, penned by the ancient seer Isaiah, continues his prophesies concerning the coming Messiah. The imagery of the islands speaks the great lengths to which Jesus will reach with His love and Message. Those living in remote isolation will discover hope that Messiah brings. Praises will ring out, not just from the cities and population centers, but also from the remote and distant islands.

I can’t help but think about Paul Simon’s I am a Rock lyrics this morning as I mull over this island metaphor:

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark
December,
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me,
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain,
And an island never cries.

How apt on this deep, dark December morning to be reminded that many of us dwell on an island amidst a sea of people. This week as we surround ourselves with family and friends, many of us feel more isolated and island-like than ever. Islands can be a place of deep, remote isolation.

That’s exactly why Paul reminded the followers of Jesus living in the bustling capitol of the Roman Empire that there was no distance, or power, that could separate us from the love God that is in Christ Jesus. Isaiah’s prophecy fulfilled. Jesus love reaches us no matter how far out or in we have isolated ourselves, or have been isolated.

We simply must have ears to hear Him knocking, and open the door.

Memorized Lines

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

When I became a follower of Jesus as a teenager, I soon found myself being spiritually mentored by a gentleman who was my boss in an after school job. Every Tuesday morning at 6:00 a.m. we would meet in his office. Very quickly he began to instill in me the discipline of memorizing verses and passages from God’s Message. The verse I’ve pasted at the to of this post was among the first that I committed to memory.

This morning as I woke and began to think about starting my day meditating on today’s chapter, I immediately associated Isaiah 41 with the verse I had memorized some 35 years ago. My soul smiled as I looked forward to journeying through the entire chapter once again.

As an amateur actor, I am used to memorizing words. I have memorized lines for many parts in many shows. In just the past few months, I had to refresh myself in memorizing that same lines for the same part I played 10 years ago. It’s amazing how few of them I actually remembered. I’m not sure having memorized them ten years ago was much of a help.

I find it fascinating that words from God’s Message memorized 35 years ago come so quickly to mind, while words memorized for a part 10 years ago were completely lost to me. I think there are reasons for this on a number of different levels, but I believe one of the key differences lies in fact that the lines of Eliot Herzog in The Christmas Post were committed to my brain for a finite period of time. I had to get through the handful of performances and then the lines had little value to me. Isaiah 41:10, however, was committed to both my mind and my heart. It became spiritually useful and beneficial to me whenever I traversed a particularly rough stretch of life’s journey.

This morning I am thinking of words that live inside my spirit, and words that I have buried in my mind. I am thankful for my old mentor and the discipline he instilled in me during those spiritually formative years. I am grateful for these words of Isaiah that have bubbled up to the surface once again as 2016 wanes and 2017 is about to begin. I am, once again, reminded not to be afraid of what the future holds, as I know Who holds me in the palm of His hand.

A Change Is Gonna Come

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
    the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
    a highway for our God.
Isaiah 40:3 (NIV)

Scholars have long debated whether Isaiah was written by two different authors. The first 39 chapters we’ve been journeying through since late September are a whole lot of doom and gloom. Judgement against the nations surrounding Judah. Warnings of coming wrath. Assyrian siege. It’s not exactly the stuff of Pinterest-worthy inspiration.

Suddenly, you hit chapter 40 and it’s like a refreshing breeze blowing the storm clouds away. The mood changes. The message changes. Judgement gives way to comfort. Apocalypse moves aside and encouragement rushes in. The prophetic call of doom changes to a prophetic call of Messiah’s deliverance.

No wonder there’s so much debate about two Isaiahs. It feels like different messages from different writers.

Personally, I fall on the side of just one Isaiah who, somewhere along his journey, experienced change. I mean, that’s the whole point of the journey, isn’t it? Where did Jesus begin with His closest followers? “Leave your nets. Follow me. I’m shifting your paradigm. On this journey I’m going to teach you a whole new way to fish for a different kind of catch.”

Just yesterday at lunch I listened as a young friend shared with me the changes he’d experienced in the past year. “I once was that, but now I’m this.” The journey is about letting go, leaving things behind, learning, growing, transforming, moving forward, climbing further up and further in.

I consider it a bit of synchronicity that we shift on this chapter-a-day journey from the old Isaiah to the new on this last weekday before Christmas. In the quiet of my home office I can feel Holy Spirit smiling. Isaiah’s prophetic change is all about Christmas. It’s about a massive change that’s coming when God is going to send His Son to be one of us; To be one with us. Parallel dimensions overlapping. Spirit becoming flesh. God becoming human. Tectonic plates of the cosmos universally shifting.

Get ready,” Isaiah says.

Indeed.

Merry Christmas.

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Message: “Love Hopes All Things”

I mentioned the attached message in Monday’s post Hope and Disappointment. The message, in which I share about Wendy’s and my journey through infertility, talks about three important waypoints we went through in coping with the disappointment, when our strongest hopes remained unrealized.

I’ve included the message here in both audio and video formats. These are posted with the permission of Third Church in Pella, IA who holds all rights.

Casing the Joint

Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord Almighty: The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon.Nothing will be left, says the Lord.
Isaiah 39:5-6 (NIV)

Over the past handful of years, I’ve twice had the experience of being robbed. Thieves broke into our house at the lake and took a lot of things with them. Then my hotel room was robbed while on a business trip and the thieves got away with a lot of my electronic gear.

I learned in being robbed that some things are easily replaced. Televisions, computers, and electronic gear can be quickly acquired, set up and functioning as normal. The things that I still think about are personal items with sentimental value; The things that can’t be quantified for your insurance company.

As I read in today’s chapter about Hezekiah showing the Babylonian envoys all the treasures of his kingdom, I just knew in my gut that this was not going to end well. Perhaps being victimized has made me a tad more cynical, but I didn’t need Isaiah’s prophetic word to know the dudes were essentially casing the joint.

I’m reminded this morning of Jesus words:

“Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

This morning I’m thinking about the difference between possessions and treasures. The further I get in my journey the greater desire I feel to rid myself of the former and be more discerning in my definition of the latter. I’m thinking it might be time for me to case my own joint, with an eye towards emptying what is unnecessary, unimportant, and not useful. One of the quotes that has stuck with me through adulthood comes from the artist and designer William Morris: “Do not have anything in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

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