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Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah’

Waiting… and waiting

I am in a time of waiting. I suppose that is appropriate given that it is also Advent, a season in the church life in which we wait and prepare for the Christ child. But I have been waiting longer than advent.

At first, the waiting was a welcomed time in my life. 2016 has been an intense year for me with many challenges, many hard learnings and, thankfully, some beauty to keep me going. I wrote a major paper this summer culminating practical learning, Biblical studies and research. I am proud of that paper and proud of the mark and comments from my professor. At the end of the summer, I felt that I needed to take some time to rest, reflect and rejuvenate. I also felt that I needed a break from school and that I would like to find work to stabilize and improve finances.

For a couple of months, I enjoyed reading, hanging out with my cat and rabbits, connecting with people, swimming most days. And I’ve been applying to everything I am qualified for, open to where God might lead me.

I was offered a job. I was a bit surprised at this given the questions that they asked and what would match the particular setting and what my answers and beliefs are. After prayer and talking with my mentors, I felt that I needed to turn it down. I felt like God was saying to me, “Wait – I have something perfect for you.”

I’ve never had the privilege of being able to turn down a job before and I have to say I was not at rest after I turned it down, even though in my heart I knew that it was the right thing to do. And then the confirmations came that I had done the right thing. The biggest confirmation was attending another church that I applied to and walking through the area realizing that the setting was far more along the lines of what makes my heart excited. I think I was enticed by the monthly paycheque and a common theme these days in my life is that I need to rely on God alone.

I believed that the church that I visited was where God wanted me to be. They accepted applications until the end of November and I haven’t heard from them. Either they have been exploring other candidates or they are caught up in advent and Christmas stuff – both are good possibilities. I am still hopeful.

But this season of waiting… is now hard. I’ve been making the most of this time. But I long for more. I long to be contributing in some way. I want to serve in ministry again. I am so darn ready for that “something else” that I felt God promising me. I don’t want to wait anymore!

The meditation for the 17th day of the month in the second celtic daily prayer book spoke to me today:

What God may hereafter require of you,
you must not give yourself the least trouble about.

Everything He gives you to do,
you must do as well as ever you can.

That is the best possible preparation
for what He may want you to do next.

If people would but do what they have to do,
they would always find themselves ready for what came next.

George MacDonald

God has directed me during this time of waiting. It’s not exactly what I would have chosen for these past four months.

But – I am involved in ministry. I have been devoting time to pray. Not because I’m some holy person or anything. But out of recognition that I cannot do anything to change lives, situations or fix things. And that ultimately it is God at work. I’m inspired by the Alpha program where people commit to pray in a separate room throughout the whole teaching and discussion time. There are ministries working with people who do not know God and I know that the evil one has his ways of trying to prevent this from happening. My ministry right now is to pray.

And I’ve been studying the book of Isaiah. Again, not because I want to be super holy or anything. But this book has intimidated me with its 66 chapters and different genres and some of it’s really harsh passages. Any time I’ve had the opportunity to write on Isaiah – I choose anything not Isaiah. But it’s such a foundational book that needs too be studied if I am going to shepherd and pastor any community.

George MacDonald’s words encourage me that I am not only in a season of waiting, but in a season of preparation for what is to come. And while I wish to be a part of something more, I do believe these tasks are God-directed and I must do them well. They will prepare me for what comes next. But also must be continued as the fuel for whatever comes next and now is the time to establish patterns and commitment while I am waiting.

Waiting is hard.

But waiting need not be passive. It is a time of preparation.

And so I wait.

 

Even youths grow weary

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Even youths grow weary.

Today I handed in my paper – 6500 words articulating how the cross provides hope for the “sinned-against”. Basically, this was a working out of my questions and thoughts over the past 8 years, trying to understand justice, healing, peace, mercy, and where God fits into all of this. I’m not going to post it on here because it’s 20 pages long and I doubt anyone will take the time to read it on here. Also, I wasn’t able to find another author who articulated the argument in a similar manner so maybe when all is said and done, I’ll tidy it up a bit and submit it somewhere. Maybe. My professor might tear it to shreds and say its crap and then I might think otherwise.

For the same class, we had a communal exam which sounds scary than what it actually was. Over red wine, chocolate, cheese and Malaysian pork dish, we had a “Celebration of Learning” in which we each had five minutes to answer a particular question that our professor directed our way. If ever I were to teach a course, I would organize a similar practice as the amount of learning from each other and the act of summing up a little of what I have learned is definitely a way to make this course impact me not just this term, but beyond.

But now, I am weary. I’m tired. I’ve been sick with a bad flu/cold for two weeks now and with sleep deprivation it’s not really letting up.

I am reminded of the verse in Isaiah that I am currently too lazy to look up that even youths grow weary.

But I am also reminded of the rest of the verse – that those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.

You know, I pray these days…. a lot. Often it is “Lord, have mercy” or “God help me” as I don’t know what else to pray. I don’t feel any stronger. I don’t feel any less tired. My nose is still running a marathon.

But – amazingly, and by God’s grace – things are falling into place despite my weariness. I’ve been granted an extension for a major research paper (Which seems quite small considering the other one!!!) and a doctor’s note that I can use for my other courses if need be.

I am weary. But it doesn’t seem to matter – God’s grace is stronger. I have to trust that somehow he is in all of this and that he is here with me. The proof is all around me. He works while I sleep, and when I am too sleepy to work.

Even youths grow weary

But God does not.

I am thankful for this.

Surrender

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The past few weeks I have been brought to my knees over and over.

I remember going on a retreat with the youth when I worked for another church. I described my horrible camping experience a little in another post. This was a weekend I dreaded. Because I had to somehow be strong during a weekend that I knew would be full of triggers. I found myself over and over questioning God, questioning his role in my life and my suffering and why the heck I’ve been through what I have and lost all that I have.

I sat on the rocks and looked out at the lake. The lake was huge. I could not see past the horizon.

I felt God quietly saying to me, “Elizabeth, you cannot see beyond the horizon of this one lake… how can you see my plans for your future?”

I’ve been reminded of that moment a lot lately. And reminded of another passage in Isaiah:

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but I will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’

Over and over I am seeing how God has had is hand all over my life. He has been intimately involved even in moments that i thought he had left me alone. God orchestrates my life and redeems the difficult things and even my bad choices to turn it into a beautiful song that brings honour and praise to him.

I’m in a strange place of discernment right now. I’ve never enjoyed periods of discernment. I like clear answers and clear roads. Yesterday, I was fretting and worrying about my future. Today, all that fretting and worrying seems futile, even funny – for all God asks of me is to follow him. And over and over he has shown me that he really does know me inside and out, and that he really does go before me and with me. I have a course load this term that is not representative of a science student at all – I cannot get into any science courses. Only theology and church history courses. It’s not what I expected would be on my plate – but I need to trust that God has this too in the palms of his hands.

I am learning to surrender. It’s not easy for someone like me who wants to be independent and who is known for her stubbornness. But one by one, the stubborn parts of me are being broken down and I find myself letting go of me – of my will, my hopes, and my dreams and saying be it unto me.

Today I heard a song that I haven’t heard in ages by David Crowder. It is my prayer today. and tomorrow. I imagine I will have to keep saying these words over and over because it is so easy to forget to surrender and God knows how much I kick and scream when I do not understand his ways. But today, I offer them earnestly.

Take my heart, I lay it down/ At the feet of you who’s crowned/ Take my life, I’m letting go/ Lifted up to you who’s throned.

And I will worship you Lord, only you Lord. And I will bow down for you, only you Lord.

Take my fret, take my fear/ All I have, I’m leaving here/ Be all my hopes, be all my dreams/ You are my delight, my everything.

The good news

December 31, 2012 1 comment

This Christmas season, I have been reading and thinking and reflecting on passages and stories behind the traditions and our way of life both as it pertains to Christmas celebrations but also to life generally. I am discovering more and more that Christianity today is so frequently watered down and, frankly, meaningless. The ‘good news’ of Christmas demands far more than a declaration that one will follow Christ and has implications far beyond a mere ticket to heaven.

Today a song that spoke to me deeply several years ago came to mind as I sat in church today. It is a song that made me feel heard – like somebody got not only the pain I have felt as I deal with my woundedness but also my dissatisfaction with the answers I was being given.

In order to understand this song’s significance for me personally, I need to share a part of my story.

As a preteen, I was given a subscription to Focus on the Family’s magazine for girls called Brio (a name that i love – “with flair” – how beautiful!). Anyways, inside an issue was a story of a girl who gave her mother a gift for her own birthday as a way to say thank you for giving birth and raising her. I loved that story. So I went to the dollar store and found two candles and wrote a letter to my mom. I packed them with my belongings, eager to give the small package to my mother. We were going camping for my thirteenth birthday – which just so happened to fall on friday the thirteenth. It was going to be a momentous weekend. Little did I know how much.

One of my siblings had a nightmare that night. We shared a tent together. My Dad came in to settle her. But he didn’t leave that night. Instead he used me for his own purposes. That wasn’t new. But the degree of intrusiveness was. I remember feeling afraid and confused.

I woke the next morning feeling sick and confused. But one thing was clear to me  – my mom could never find out what had happened the night before. I remember presenting my gift to my mom – but not with the innocent child like joy and anticipation. Rather, I had a forced smile that was trying so very hard to not show that I had been spoiled.

I do not remember much else about that weekend. Except that I went into the tent later that day to find the sleeping bag that I had zipped up open and ready for two people to sleep. I knew the fate I was facing. And sadly, I was right.

That was my thirteenth birthday. It was definitely a freaky friday and a nightmarish weekend. It was not the first time I was abused. But it was significant enough that I associate it with the day I became an adult and the day I was spoiled.

Violence demands an answer. if there is to be good news in Christ’s coming down as a babe in a manager in the lowly town of Bethlehem, it must provide an answer to violence. Not an answer of well meaning platitudes that “God works all things together for the good of those who love him”. That is a true statement, but the way it is frequently offered, it is no more than watered down mush.

I’m going to piece together the various stories I’ve heard as the background for the song that has been on my mind. While I’ve written the composer to find the exact details, all that I have heard is indirect and so I apologize in advance if the details are slightly wrong. I think the message holds even if I’ve missed or misrepresented certain aspects. The lyrics are at the bottom of this post and I encourage you to go to groove shark or to steve bell’s website and have a listen.

My understanding is that the composer had a foster daughter who was taken advantage of in her young years. I’ve heard Steve speak of his daughter and I’ve seen his tears as aspects of her story break his heart. I’ve met Steve a few times and know some of his relatives but I’ve never really had a conversation with him about this. But as he speaks from the pain of knowing what she has gone through, I have felt known and loved. For those who know that I love his music, this is why…. he is not afraid to tackle some of the hardest questions of life and to speak beauty into them. Anyways, I know he was quite angry to find out about what had happened to his daughter. The story I’ve been told is he had a series of three dreams.

The first dream, he was standing in front of  the perpetrator, with a gun in hand and ready to shoot. The second dream, he again was standing in front of the perpetrator, with a gun in hand and ready to shoot, though this time, Christ stood in between them. The third dream, he stood in front of the perpetrator, with a gun in hand, and Christ said, “Shoot me instead”.

I grew up with understanding that the wages of sin is death – that my sin required my death and Christ, through his work on the cross, paid my penalty. I think that is true. But I wonder if Christ did more than that.

Violence demands an answer.

I have often been accused by family members and defense lawyers that I have acted in revenge in going to the police. Let me set the record straight – there is absolutely no amount of suffering that my Dad can endure to make up for what he has done to me. My thirteenth birthday was ruined and he spoiled me. Nothing can erase that weekend from my memory. He has been sentenced to four years, which in Canada is considered quite a long sentence despite the fact that he was convicted of 8 years of abuse with the judge admitting that it most likely happened longer as I had claimed. I have been separated from my siblings for 7 1/2 years. There is one I have not met and another who was only 6 months when I left home. Four years doesn’t do it justice. But then neither would a lifetime sentence. I disagree with capital punishment for a whole host of reasons – but in this case, I’m sorry, but capital punishment is an escape, an easy way out.

If I want an answer to the violence I have endured, I cannot look to my dad. He doesn’t have enough to lose. He simply cannot pay the price for the pain he has caused me.

But Christ left His seat on a throne to become a helpless babe who had to learn to speak and crawl. From the moment he entered this world, he was involved in the messiness of humanity. He was born into a family of generations of dysfunction, most notably David who – although considered a man after God’s own heart – committed adultery and then put the poor husband at the front of the battle so that he would be killed. Christ slept in the smelly trough of a stable born to an unwed young woman – the ultimate disgrace. His life was sought and the holy family took refuge in Egypt. This morning we read of the story of when he was in the temple that his own parents did not understand him. His own people were fickle – they loved him when he was in their midst healing and feeding them, but then were quick to yell as a mob “Crucify him”. The prophet Isaiah’s words are poignant and deeply meaningful to me and point to a God who intimately knew suffering:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hid their faces; he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. – Isaiah 53: 2-5

This is not a meek and mild Jesus. This is a Jesus who gave up everything to take on my punishment for the sin that separates me from God. But more than that – this is a Christ who died to satisfy the rage of the losses I’ve sustained by age thirteen. This is a Christ who cares enough about me along with the other orphans, widows and lepers of society to avenge their cause. This is a Christ who answers the cries of the violated.

This is a Christ who chose to pay the price, on a tree, silently and still, just long enough to kill. It is a Christ who sees my pain and anger and says “I can take it, give it to me”. It is a Christ who allows himself to be wounded beyond what my mind can comprehend so that not only can I be saved, but that I can be healed by his wounds and be given peace.

This is not some watered down message.

THIS is the good news.

Somebody’s Gotta Pay – by Steve Bell

Somebody told me about it and burns me up at night

What kind of man would choose to spoil a child?

Who do we call to make it right?

Not gentle Jesus, meek and mild, that’s for sure

Because he won’t fight

 

So I don’t feel guilty about it imagining that I

Could be the reaper grim enough to make it right

Problem is, there’s no one with enough to lose to pay for this

Somebody’s gotta pay for this

Nobody gets away unless somebody dies

And it’s confirmed that there’s been pain

Enough to satisfy the rage

from the losses she’s sustained since age thirteen

Only then can the rest go free

 

I’m still obsessing about it,

Cause it doesn’t end up nice:

Another man, another choice, another child

And who’s gonna pay for all these crimes?

Some dream about avenging mine,

I suppose, but nothing will suffice

 

unless you stumble upon it,

like a dream I had one night

about a man

who chose to pay the price

on a tree, silently and still

just long enough for me to kill

The sole purpose of guns

So I recognize that the mass shooting is a complex breakdown at many levels of society and that blaming a single factor is simplistic. But I am tired of seeing justifications for the right to firearms and for support based on the argument that anything can be used as a weapon if in the wrong hands.

Guns have one purpose: to kill.

The weapon industry is a booming and lucrative industry. Throughout history, nations have supplied opposing nations with weapons and then wonder why there are so many dead victims.

Guns have no other purpose but to kill.

Isaiah 2:4 – They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

Micah 4:3 – They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

THIS is the day I look forward to

Perfect Faithfulness

I have been reading through Isaiah lately and am really enjoying it. Though I admit to being completely baffled by some of the curses and judgements found in so many of the chapters! I persisted through many of these chapters to come to a hopeful section. I am glad I persisted 🙂

Lord, you are my God; I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago […] You have been a refuge for the poor, a refuge for the needy in their distress, a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat […] The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The Lord has spoken. – Isaiah 25:1,4,8

The phrase “perfect faithfulness” really stood out to me. A book I was reading today on the subway was summarizing the book of Hosea in showing how God woos his people back into relationship by bringing them through the valleys so that they can be rid of their independence and sinful ways. As the people turn their back on the Lord, the Lord continues to woo, to reach out to them, to love them. I think we see that in Isaiah here. Just a couple of chapters back, we hear “The Lord Almighty planned it, to bring down her pride in all her splendor, and to humble all who are renowned on the earth” (Isaiah 23:9). But God’s faithfulness remains. Perfect faithfulness. In the midst of judgement and the humbling of the proud, he loves his people through this time. Reminds me of a Steve Bell song:

Judge for yourself how great is the one/ Who lives in God – whose God is love/ Like an iron when left in embers bright/ Everything if fire – everything is light […] Burning ember/ I remember Love’s first light in me/ I was cold then/ Like a stone when I saw your flickering/ Oh what beauty as You drew near me/ I could scarcely speak/ Somehow I knew/ I would be new in your glowing. – Burning Ember

Everything if fire – everything is light. In the midst of judgement and fire, there is light, a reminder of God’s presence in the burning ember. A reminder that he will make me new in His glowing.

Last night I wrote about reaching a place of tears and pain again in my life, where my tears fill, as Bruce Cockburn says, the whole night sky. And today’s reading of Scripture promises a day when God will not only see my tears but wipe them away. Oh what beauty as God draws near me.

Reliance on God

Finally I am getting round to writing a real post. It was a more daunting task than I had expected – what in my life is worthy of being known as the first post? Also threads of the story I started on blogger are still weaving their way into my life and it’s hard to just sort of write a new post that delves into that stuff without having to write a lot of background. But tonight, I had the itch to write and a passage that spoke to me – a promising combination for a blog post.

I’ve been reading Isaiah through lately. Not a detail study, but a surface read and thinking through some of the issues through an untrained eye. Isaiah is one of those books of the Bible that I know the passages that everyone knows but have never truly read through the whole book. I remember taking Old Testament in my undergraduate studies, and the final paper options were passages in Isaiah or one passage in Micah. I chose the Micah passage because Isaiah just was too intimidating.

So I’ve never really read through all the gloom and doom passages before and I’m surprised and don’t quite know what to do with them. We are also reading them as part of our community’s corporate daily prayer. I am struck though that following each pronouncement of judgement, there is a passage that talks about God sparing a remnant, becoming a shelter for them, and relieving their burdens.

Tonight I was reading chapter 10, definitely a gloom and doom passage until you get to verse 20: “In that day the remnant of Israel, the survivors of the house of Jacob, will no longer rely on him who struck them down, but will truly rely on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel.”

I’ve been thinking about God’s pruning of us and how he allows certain things to happen so that we are shaped into the kind of people God is calling us to be. I’m not a big fan of suffering, but as Steve Bell says, “It’s a hard job making us holy.” Maybe through striping us of our idols in the world, we will come to rely on the Lord. Not just a little bit or on a superficial level, but truly rely on the Holy One of Israel.

That gives me hope in the midst of hard times and pruning.