Friday, September 21, 2012

I'm afraid of hard days

My son, and the sons and daughters of many more, are at Basic Training. Some have just entered and some are graduating this week. The journey for all is just beginning.

I think about our children who are working towards their dream. They all have their own path, their own ends, but it all starts out this way. It’s not an easy eight weeks. The first three are the hardest. As parents and loved ones we work hard to send support and encouragement so that even in the hardest moment they remember they are loved. As much as we miss them, love them, and want the best for them we wouldn’t let them quit because it’s hard. Instead we encourage them to persevere knowing they will be better on the other side of it.

I have waffled a lot around here when I have talked about God’s complete control verses our free choice. I have whined that God is love so He wouldn’t bring about hardship. However, I have learned that some hard times come to strengthen us, and some come out of discipline. I still don’t have all the answers, but Isaiah 41 makes me face the fact, however it all works out, God is in control. He knew there would be exiles who would need to be redeemed, encouraged, and helped. He sent word years before they would need it. For whatever reason, God allowed or caused the Israelites to become exiles in a distant land.

My mind rebelled and was repelled by this idea in the past. Then my son went to Basic Training. I do not love him any less. I know the first few weeks of Basic were incredibly difficult, and even as he grows through it he still has hard moments. This time is growing all the Trainees to be stronger and better. Everything good we see in them is coming to the surface more and more. Their potential is becoming their reality.

So, maybe our hard times are the same. God is growing us. And you know what; He writes us letters of love, support, and encouragement just like we write our Trainees. Just check out Isaiah 41 again.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The fear God doesn't know

Isaiah 41:14
“Do not be afraid,
O worm of Jacob, O little Israel,
For I myself will help you,”
declares the Lord, your Redeemer,
The Holy One of Israel.
The prophecy of Isaiah was something which worried me as I began getting into the “Do Not Be Afraid’s” in this part of the Word. I don’t know enough about this aspect of the Bible, and so I decided to stay clear of any prophecy. The problem is so much of what he shared from God was for the future. Take this section, for example. Isaiah wrote this a few decades, at least, before there were Exiles. It boggles my mind, but then it is such an example for us to hold close. God knew what was to come, and He wanted his people to have comfort even in the midst of hardship. He warned them and comforted them. No other can do that. This is what the 41st chapter is about. When I read the entire chapter I knew I couldn’t pull out just verse 14. The entire thing was so beautiful and powerful.

Verse 14 has God calling Israel a worm and describing the nation as little. I found this almost humorous. To be honest, when I read the verse out of context I thought it was a sarcastic remark, or a slam of some sort. But when you pull back it’s so much more. There are so many times when we feel inconsequential and small. That is what this is talking about. Times when you are forgotten, things are going wrong, you feel confused, or someone has been downright mean to you. These are the times when our hearts cry out for we feel we are being overlooked. No one can see us. Who will help? The answer is right here. God tells us He will help us himself.

I recently had a discussion with some friends about remembering God is with us at all times. When I was younger I had the slant that God was there, but only to keep track of how good or bad I did. He was the tally keeper, and I know I failed often. I couldn’t get out of the trap I had set myself in. I had turned the one who wanted to be my comforter into a persecutor. Here we see God in a different light. He’s not here keeping track of our actions, but He’s here to comfort and protect us.

Question 1: How do you think of God? Is he your tally keeper or your comforter? What kind of a difference would there be if you remembered He is there to help you?

Question 2: When you find yourself in the midst of something that doesn’t seem to end where do you find comfort? Can you trust God knew it was coming and is there for you right now? It doesn’t always mean the hard times will end more quickly, but when we allow God to help us through them we find the path easier.
Dear Father,
Thank you for patience
As we work to understand as best we can
You wait and prepare for what you see
Thank you for the comfort you prepared
Long before we knew we would need it.


Monday, September 17, 2012

The Exiles' Fear

Chapters 40-55 have already been called the “Book of the Consolation of Israel.” Chapter 41 is no different. Usually I take the verse and fictionalize the account, but this entire chapter speaks of not being afraid. I struggled with what to do, and I ended up deciding to let it rest on your shoulders. Imagine you are an exile. Alone. You are separated from your country and your countrymen. Now... you hear Isaiah passing God's Word on to you.

"Quiet down, far-flung ocean islands. Listen! Sit down and rest, everyone. Recover your strength. Gather around me. Say what's on your heart. Together let's decide what's right.

"Who got things rolling here, got this champion from the east on the move? Who recruited him for this job, then rounded up and corralled the nations so he could run roughshod over kings? He's off and running, pulverizing nations into dust, leaving only stubble and chaff in his wale. He chases them and comes through unscathed, his feet scarcely touching the path.

"Who did this? Who made it happen? Who always gets things started? I did. God. I'm first on the scene. I'm also the last to leave.

"Far-flung ocean islands see it and panic. The ends of the earth are shaken. Fearfully they huddle together. They try to help each other out, making up stories in the dark. The godmakers in the workshops go into overtime production, crafting new models of no-gods, urging one another on -- 'Good job!' 'Great design!' -- pounding in nails at the base so that the things wont tip over.

"But you, Israel, are my servant. You're Jacob, my first choice, descendants of my good friend Abraham. I pulled you in from all over the world, called you in from every dark corner of the earth, telling you, 'You're my servant, serving on my side. I've picked you. I haven't dropped you.' Don't panic. I'm with you. There's no need to fear for I'm your God. I'll give you strength. I'll help you. I'll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you.

"Count on it: Everyone who had it in for you will end up out in the cold -- real losers. Those who worked against you will end up empty-handed -- nothing to show for their lives. When you go out looking for your old adversaries you won't find them -- not a trace of your old enemies, not even a memory. That's right. Because I, your God, have a firm grip on you and I'm not letting go. I'm telling you, 'Don't panic. I'm right here to help you.'

"Do you feel like a lowly worm, Jacob? Don't be afraid. Feel like a fragile insect, Israel? I'll help you. I, God, want to reassure you. The God who buys you back, the Holy of Israel. I'm transforming you from worm to harrow, from insect to iron. As a sharp-toothed harrow you'll smooth out the mountains, turn those tough old hills into loamy soil. You'll open the rough ground to the weather, to the blasts of sun and wind and rain. But you'll be confident and exuberant, expansive in The Holy of Israel!

"The poor and homeless are desperate for water, their tongues parched and no water to be found. But I'm there to be found, I'm there for them, and I, God of Israel, will not leave them thirsty. I'll open up rivers for them on the barren hills, spout fountains in the valleys. I'll turn the baked-clay badlands into a cool pond, the waterless waste into splashing creeks. I'll plant the red cedar in that treeless wasteland, also acacia, myrtle, and olive. I'll place the cypress in the desert, with plenty of oaks and pines. Everyone will see this. No one can miss it -- unavoidable, indisputable evidence that I, God, personally did this. It's created and signed by The Holy of Israel.

"Set out your case for your gods," says God. "Bring your evidence," says the King of Jacob. "Take the stand on behalf of your idols, offer arguments, assemble reasons. Spread out the facts before us so that we can assess them ourselves. Ask them, 'If you are gods, explain what the past means -- or, failing that, tell us what will happen in the future. Can't do that? How about doing something -- anything! Good or bad -- whatever. Can you hurt us or help us? Do we need to be afraid? They say nothing, because they are nothing -- sham gods, no-gods, fool-making gods.

"I, God, started someone out from the north and he's come. He was called out of the east by name. He'll stomp the rulers into the mud the way a potter works the clay. Let me ask you, Did anyone guess that this might happen? Did anyone tell us earlier so we might confirm it with 'Yes, he's right!'? No one mentioned it, no one announced it, no one heard a peep out of you. But I told Zion all about this beforehand. I gave Jerusalem a preacher of good news. But around here there's no one -- no one who knows what's going on. I ask, but no one can tell me the score. Nothing here. It's all smoke and hot air -- sham gods, hollow gods, no-gods."

(The Message)

Isaiah 41:14

"Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob, O little Israel, for I myself will help you, "declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel. (NIV)
"Do you feel like a lowly worm, Jacob? Don't be afraid. Feel like a fragile insect, Israel? I'll hel you. I, God, want to reassure you. The God who buys you back, The Holy of Israel. (The Message)

Matthew Henry's Commentary
The scope of these verses is to silence the fears, and encourage the faith, of the servants of God in their distresses. [God] assures them 1 - they may depend upon his presence with them as their God 2 - God will take care of their enemies 3 - they will become a terror to those who are a terror to them.
The grace of God will silence fears even when there seems to be the greatest cause for them.
When we are freed from that which hindered our joy, and are blessed with that which is the matter of it, we ought to remember that God is our exceeding joy and in him all our joys must terminate.

Ashbury Bible Commentary
The frequent occurrence of "Do Not Be Afriad" and "Do Not Fear" indicates that fear, rather than fiat, was the predominate posture for the exiles. Isareal's threefold argument 1- a deliverer will come 2- Israel is still God's chosen people 3- the nations and their gods are as empty wind.