Saturday, March 21, 2009

Posting

I have been insanely busy, juggling many balls at work, home, church, community, and personal. Here's an update and commentary.

1. I spent Friday night and all Saturday in training to be a disaster relief worker, specifically in mass feeding. It was enlightening in two ways: to see the extent of the work the Southern Baptist Convention does in disaster relief (it provides the food for the American Red Cross and Salvation Army), and what I learned about food preparation and storage. I hope I can actually be involved in a disaster relief effort sometime--my work schedule is prison-like, but on the other hand I hope not--it means there is a disaster, and that's the last thing we need. The SBC responds to hurricanes, floods, fires, tornadoes, and even to 9/11-type events. Statistically speaking, there will be another of these soon. Perhaps if there is something close by I can go.

2. My son and I went bowling. It is our "tradition" when he comes home. We bowled four games in an hour to get our money's work (it was ridiculously expensive). One of my scores was 156. Not too shabby.

3. I am supposed to teach a Sunday School lesson, not knowing if I'll even have an audience (I had three last week), and the lesson is on several chapters in Isaiah. I'm going in a different direction--worship.

4. It's time to start a garden!

5. I'm so behind in grading that tomorrow I will have to work, and I try very hard to observe Sabbath rest.

6. I have decided being a mentor is not one of my gifts. The mentoree assigned to me in a program at church ran the other way.

7. My son goes back to school tomorrow, but he has a summer job, will take classes at my college, and we will do his income taxes tonight. So we accomplished my goals.

8. A nationally known speaker is coming to our campus next Friday; I made the arrangements but my husband is having oral surgery, so I'm skipping some of it. I really don't want to go. It's about multiculturalism and diversity, and I think that stuff is largely bull patties.

9. I really hope my second novel gets published. The publisher is way behind on editing.

10. I'm tired, because of a full life. Too full.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Tidbits of Thankfulness

Today a friend, her daughter, and I traveled to Atlanta to see the King Tut exhibit. I thoroughly recommend it. It has everything but the mummy and golden sarcophagus--something of a disappointment, but the remainder was fascinating. How indebted we are to the scholars and archaeologists of the past 200 years who have brought these finds to us.

I am thankful for a bit of warm weather but tired of it now and would like to go back to winter. Way too warm here.

I am thankful for a week off, that my son will be home tomorrow night for his spring break, that he got home safe from his trip to Washington, D.C., and for a secure job. College teachers don't make much but we hold on to our jobs.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Isaiah 6

Who is God? What is He like? (the very pronoun says something—personal and revealed as father, male) How we answer these questions defines everything in our lives.

Isaiah’s key name for God is the “Holy One of Israel.” The central identity of God as defined in Isaiah and really in the whole Bible is holiness. Like the Israelites, we have lost this attribute to replace it with a tolerant, kind, loving, laissez faire God who, like that cloying song “was there all the time, waiting patiently in line.” The Israelites had lost sight of Him by thinking of Him as either a local deity, as a part of their ethnic identity that had to be placated but not really worshipped wholeheartedly and solely, or as a deity that wouldn’t bring the judgment for their syncretism. (I love that word.)

So we have to come to grips with the holiness of God, even if it makes us feel a little less warm and fuzzy for a while. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are not capable of contemplating God’s holiness continually or fully; our heads would explode. Our human response is to then indulge in books like The Shack that encourage us back to the sugar daddy view of God.

So what does holiness mean? Justice. Righteousness. Unique. Apart. Separate. Perfect. Glorious (word means weight). Like no other, especially us. Intolerant of sin. Capable of severest judgment. Capable and willing to vindicate the victims. Holiness protects us from injustice, something we don’t see. We see only the judgment in justice, not the setting right.

"What is the Lord set apart from? He is set apart from creation, in that the Lord God is not a creature, and He exists outside of all creation. If all creation were to dissolve, the Lord God would remain. He is set apart from humanity, in that His “nature” or “essence” is Divine, not human. God is not a super-man or the ultimate man. God is not merely smarter than any man, stronger than any man, older than any man, or better than any man. You can’t measure God on man’s chart at all. He is Divine, and we are human." (David Guzik’s website http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/2306.htm)

This past week, in order to salvage their midterm grades (we have to post them here, although I’m not sure why), I gave my students amnesty on their online quizzes. For 48 hours, they could go back and make up the quizzes they forgot to take before the deadlines. Some did. Some did not, and some wanted more time or a redo on the quizzes taken during the amnesty period, even though I didn’t have to give them amnesty in the first place. I am reminded of Ravi Zacharias’ argument about the uniqueness of Christ, that we complain that God only provides one way of salvation. We would complain if He gave a thousand ways and would want one more. This is the kind of God we want.

By my basic personality I lean toward justice more than love, which is a fault in my nature. But let’s not forget God has the perfect balance of all His attributes, not in compromise but in absoluteness. He’s not half loving, half holy, meeting in the middle. He is fully holy and fully just and fully loving and fully gracious and fully merciful and fully sinless.

All this is in introduction to a lesson on Isaiah 6, which I have pasted below. Some will seem bit random, but it follows the verses.

Verse 1 jumps right into a narrative, setting the time as 739 B.C., when King Uzziah died. The mention of his name has several metamessages, but the fact that Isaiah was related to the royal family and had watched Uzziah (Azariah) perform as a good king and then end poorly by defying temple sacrifice rules and ending up a leper, all that probably means Isaiah's frame of mind was not good. I would add that Isaiah is in the temple. That means he is worshipping or praying (he was of the tribe of Judah, so he wasn’t a priest.) Before he has this vision, he has put himself in a mindset and attitude that God can speak to him. I think God can get our attention in other ways, but it’s more likely if we’re open to it.

In the sense that he is worshipping, let’s talk about worship. I have over the years heard a lot of things about worship, what it is and what it isn’t. It’s not singing, it’s not arm raising, it’s not service, it’s not prayer—or it is. I think it’s putting yourself in a position to reflect on God, his attributes, and his gifts. It’s an attitude and activity that takes time, takes preparation of one’s mind and heart, that could be alone or corporate, that could use music or not (it helps, but doesn’t cause), that does involve the Word as the source of the reality in the worship. It’s not service, witnessing, or fellowship—all of which are important and necessary and commanded. Worship is the one thing I know we’ll be doing eternally, and it’s the hardest thing for me because I’m ADD and hyperactive and task-oriented.

We get details of Isaiah’s vision: the train of God’s robe filled the temple. That’s quite a sight. Apparently the angels, six-winged ones, were holding it up. Seraphim means “burning ones.” These six-winged creatures are referred to in the book of Revelation also. Why they are covering feet and face? Maybe as symbolic of lowliness in God’s presence. One of the angels was the one proclaiming God’s holiness (to the other, not to God) and that His Glory fills the whole earth. Holy is repeated three times perhaps because of the trinity; we can’t know for sure. It could be just for emphasis by repetition, a common Hebrew usage. It makes for a great song. I want us to sing it.

As to “his glory fills the whole earth,” we could camp there a while. Psalm 19:1 says that Creation declares the glory of God and the firmament (sky) shows his handiwork. We don’t see God’s glory in the whole earth. We might see it in the Rocky Mountains or Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon, but it doesn’t stop there. Are we blind to the glory of God around us?

Verse 4: Smoke fills the temple: pillar of cloud and smoke.

Verse 5 goes back to Isaiah’s reaction. It is understandable. He retains consciousness through this vision (really, experience—vision to us has the idea of a dream and this is real) but realizes his inconsequence and sin. Most of us can say the first part of verse 5 but not the second, a statement which puzzles me and seems to contradict other parts of the Bible. All Bible characters must be undone before God can do something with them. Brokenness matters, but brokenness isn’t just about having something bad happen to you—it’s what you do with it.

Why does he say he is a man of unclean lips, not unclean hands, feet, heart, mind? Perhaps because of the duplicity of Israel—claiming to be God’s people even by their name but not living up to it. Maybe because “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” so the lips are symbolic of the heart. I don’t know, otherwise. But he knows he’s part of the problem and part of his own people.

This passage is referred to as Isaiah’s call to prophesy. Prophets had it really rough—they had to serve their people with a hard message. But what I take from this is that Isaiah had to see himself as a sinner like those he would preach to. We can’t minister to people if we forget we are sinners. We are free from sin’s penalty and power but not its presence inside us and around us. When we forget we are sinners we step into all kinds of spiritual mayhem. But his sinfulness is in comparison to God’s perfection—not some sort of societal standard. He was probably OK by the societal standards, but not by an objective one.

v. 6-7 are strange. The angels use tongs to get the coal. These coals have meaning, though. There were two “fires” in the temple: the one for sacrifice, outside, before entering the holy place, and the fire for incense, in the holy place, before entering the Holy of Holies, which only the priest did once a year. I don’t know which one this came from, but either one has symbolic meaning. I suspect it’s the incense one because he’s inside the temple, but it could be the other, since v. 7 emphasizes the purification. Needless to say, this was memorable for Isaiah!

v. 8. Famous missionary verse. I have heard dozens of sermons on this verse, and it always reminds me of that dreadful song, “So send I you.” Why dreadful? Read the words; they are cheerless. It makes being a Muslim sound like fun. As for Isaiah, a real experience with God doesn’t make us feel warm and fuzzy all over so we just want to go home and bask in it. It is energizing. The “Us” may refer to the trinity or to the angels. God strangely asks for volunteers. Why does Isaiah take it up? Emotion? Duty? Spiritual transformation through grace?

v. 9-10 are not positive. Here we get into debates over the sovereignty of God—does God make us respond or not respond to his message, or does he just know we won’t or will? Isaiah is basically told, don’t expect much reaction to your message, but that’s not your fault.

His understandable response is “How long?” Now that could be “how long until your judgment?” or “How long am I supposed to do this without a response?” The second would be me.

The response from God is, of course, a prophesy about the desolation that will happen to the ten northern tribes who had never had a good king and had always lived in apostasy. But Isaiah lived and worked in the main southern kingdom/tribe, Judah, which would finally be desolate in 586. Verse 13 revives a theme in all prophesy in OT. No matter what happens to the people of God for their sin, there will be a remnant for two reasons: God is faithful to his covenant people and they will continue to exist (and do today, that’s why any view of Revelation must include the Jews), and they will be the family from which the Messiah comes, the Holy Seed out of the tree that was cut down to a stump.

As Christians living in NT times, we aren’t Israel, and the way I study the Bible makes me very slow to apply statements to Israel in the OT to the Christian experience. I look for truths about the nature and work of God, and this is one of the clearest passages about that.

What do we walk away with? For me, it’s worship, putting myself in a place where God can speak to me clearly about what He wants me to do with the rest of my life. For someone else, it might be a reminder of repentance. For another, putting God in his rightful place in your life—He’s in his rightful place, and he will be in the rightful place in your life eventually, but you have the choice right now.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Sigh

Any one who reads this blog knows I am a big fan of LOST. I have watched it faithfully this season. It continues to amaze and astound me--and confuse.

Good, Holy, Blessed Friday 2017

When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my riches gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride. F...