I kept three of my grandboys Labor Day weekend while their parents were out of town. We had constipation, leg cramps, a hard kick in an intimate place, a couple of seismic meltdowns, and at bedtime, “just one more drink” issues to boot.
To top it off, first one and then another came down with the throw up bug. Rafe, age 3, asked what the throw up bug looked like. “Like throw up,” I said through clenched teeth.
But something came along that took the edge off. In fact, once it was out there, I completely relaxed.
What was it?
“I am so sorry. What a nightmare. The hits just keep on coming, don’t they?” said Kate, their mama, when I reported later.
“Oh, it’s not been that big a deal,” I said and meant it. With just a little empathy, handling these little crises seemed like no big deal. And cleaning up walls and beds and floors instead of sleeping felt just fine, too.
A little kindness in the journey goes a long way.
Isaiah’s book starts right away with the message that God’s fed up with fake worship, those religious activities that keep everybody too busy to pay attention to what he actually says, Is 1:11-15.
What God wants is real worship, a worship that produces holiness in his people and social justice in the community. He tells them to “go home and wash up. Clean up your act.” And to “work for justice. Help the down and out,” Is 1:16-17, MSG.
He’s adamant about their need to repent, and he says he’ll even help them do it. And when they do, he’ll wash them up, but if they won’t, they’ll “die like dogs.” God doesn’t pull any punches, and he certainly doesn’t “make nice,” (Southern slang for being polite, even when you don’t feel like it), Is 1:18-26, 24-31, MSG.
Instead, he tells it like it is, using words to describe them such as whore and counterfeit, cutthroats and turncoats, oppressors and enemies, Is 1:21-31, MSG.
You’d expect God and Isaiah, his messenger, to walk off at this point, fed up with the same ole’, same ole’ rebellion and idolatry from these folks, but they don’t. Out of the blue, what comes next is Isaiah’s description of a vision of world peace, and it’s right here, just when you’d least expect it.
Isaiah says there will be a day when “the mountain of God’s house” will tower over all other mountains, and people of all nations will stream to it. Folks will say, “Come, let’s climb God’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works, so we can live the way we’re made.” And God will make peace between all nations, Is 2:2-5, MSG.
Isaiah speaks in metaphor, but his meaning seems clear: there’s a day when people will encourage each other to seek God. And when they do, he’ll teach them who he is and how he wants them to live. They’ll be made right with one another, and peace will reign between them, even nation-to-nation. A glorious day.
But this can’t be describing our future in heaven, as I’ve thought, because in that day, complete peace will have already come. The Prince of Peace will reign and every knee will bow. There won’t be disputes or wars to wrap up. This passage mentions “settling things fairly between nations” and “making things right between many people,” which won’t be necessary in heaven, as far as I can tell, Is 2:4, MSG.
So it must be describing what’s possible now.
I realize we don’t have world peace yet. There are still plenty of places on earth where this description of turning “swords into shovels” and “spears into hoes” doesn’t fit. There’s strife and tension everywhere, from our homes to our workplaces to our governments.
But there is one place where I see this vision coming true, at least in my community, and I’m guessing it’s happening in others, too. I experience encouragement from others to seek God at his house. I experience being taught by God from his word–who he is, how to live. I experience having disputes with others settled when God softens hearts. And I’m at least wanting to give up “playing war” and focus on loving instead.
The last verse of this passage tells where this is happening, and it connects with my experience, which is in my own church family, “Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God,” 2:5. It’s in the community I have with other believers that Isaiah’s vision is being realized.
And in the context of the first chapter, which is God’s revulsion with man-made religion, it makes the most sense. The Israelites have been doing church their way and only pretending to worship. So God gives Isaiah a vision of what church is meant to be.
It’s a piece of mercy from God for his people, right here in the middle of this sordid description of what their turning away from him looks like. You’d think he’d have plenty to say about how they’re going to have to pay for all this, but nope, he gives them a beautiful vision instead. (God’s surprising, isn’t he?)
And though it’s certainly not perfect, I’ve seen such things as extraordinary healings, marriages mending, grudges yielding, addictions ending, forgiveness receiving, truth believing in the church. This turning against the prevailing tide of doom-and-gloom is happening everywhere, and it sure is heartening. God intends the church to be a place where his kingdom of love and peace literally comes to earth.
Of course, there’s more clean up that needs to happen in the church in general and in the hearts of God’s people in particular. The church is not all that it should be.
But there’s just too much good happening in the world for me to dismiss what I see as being merely coincidental or self-helped. People, like things, tend to fall apart, not improve. God Almighty is on the move, and the place he’s designed to move through is his church, his body, his people on earth.
How can we join in the vision?
The work we’re called to do is to participate, “Come…climb God’s Mountain…” To be engaged with others along the way, “Come, let’s climb…” To seek God, who will teach us, “He’ll show us the way…” To live life as he’s intended for us, “…so we can live the way we’re made.” Is 2:3
We’re also called to rest in him to change us and bring peace, “He’ll settle things fairly…he’ll make things right…” To lay down our weapons and rights and cultivate something good together, not fight, “They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes…they won’t play war anymore.” To gather together and live as family, the way God’s intended all along, “Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.” Is 2:4-5, MSG.
It’s a beautiful vision of a beautiful reality: the church as God’s Mountain, solid and towering over all other mountains–those other ideologies that promise peace but can’t deliver it without the Prince, who died and lives to make it happen.
What’s remarkable about the church is that the invitation to follow the God of the Bible is open to all people of all nations–not just to Jews or Christians–from Muslims to Native Americans, from the farthest islands to the poles.
And people of all nations are accepting it, “All nations will river toward it, people from all over set out for it.” It’s an astonishing peace that Jesus brings between natural enemies and unnatural friends, when they become members of the same body–his church on this earth, Is 2:2, MSG.
All of this instructs me and gets me thinking, but I want more from God’s word. I want to feel a connection with him.
While God’s House, his Mountain, is a metaphor for his church, could it be a metaphor for him, too? Maybe this climb we’re invited to is a climb into God himself, the journey of every person’s lifetime. Maybe God is calling us to come experience him.
Because we know he’s there–he’s made it obvious. He’s given us this magnificent creation. He’s given us his inexhaustible words. He’s given us our interconnected lives. Could he be daring us to scale and plummet them, to seek and find his treasures, to learn who he is and how he’s designed us to live, so we can live our best life on the only life sustaining planet there is?
The reward is beyond imagining: intimately knowing and being known by the God of the Universe. What’s greater than this?
And here’s what warms me as I write–while he’s my goal, he’s also the friend beside me as I climb, enjoying the view, listening and whispering, helping out. It’s his friendship on the climb that keeps me climbing. And he becomes more and more dear, the farther we go. So while God is my destination, he’s also the journey and the map and the prize and the companion.
That’s a mystery I can’t figure out.
2 Corinthians 10
Paul writes to counter the critique some have made of him in Corinth. He’s defensive because he’s been accused. I like how he doesn’t attack back, but instead tells the truth, “Every bit of my commitment is for the purpose of building you up,…not tearing you down,” 2 Co 10:8, MSG.
It would take a love outside of Paul to enable him to respond like that. After all, “they’ve so quickly cut [him] out.” It would be understandable if he cut back. But he doesn’t. Paul seeks to build up; he seeks to love, 2 Co 10:7, MSG.
How does he do it? He evidently really believes what he writes, “I am quite sure of my standing with Christ…it’s what God says about [me] that makes the difference.” Paul gets his attaboys from Jesus, and because of that, he’s solid, 2 Co 10:7, 18, MSG.
Paul’s journey with God, his climb if you will, includes hard times and ungrateful people. It includes rejection and disagreement. It’s hard to stay in relationship with critical people, particularly ones you’re trying to love.
But Paul keeps his love on. And he let’s their critique push him closer to God, where his strength comes from.
There’s nobody and nothing who can separate us.
David’s been wronged by Doeg, the Edomite, who’s ratted him out to King Saul and killed all of God’s priests plus everyone and everything in the village where they live, 1 Sa 22:6-23.
But David doesn’t plot revenge. He stays put in God’s house, trusting him, “I’m an olive tree, growing green in God’s house. I trusted in the generous mercy of God, then and now,” Ps 52:8, MSG.
He lets God do the dirty work, which is tearing his enemy limb-from-limb, sweeping him up, and throwing him out, Ps 52:1-5, MSG.
Clearly, a person’s plotting and scheming don’t give them the good life. It didn’t work for Doeg. The good life comes in trusting God’s mercy. It’s doing what David did: staying close to God and “in company with [his] faithful friends,” Ps 52:9, MSG.
Life with God includes God’s people. We don’t go it alone. We go in community with other folks who trust in his mercy, too. And we get to laugh with them when God takes the Big Shot out, “Good people will watch and worship. They’ll laugh in relief: ‘Big Man bet on the wrong horse…,'” Ps 52:6, MSG.
Some of the folks we deal with on our climb will require Paul’s finesse. Some we’ll get to laugh and celebrate with. Both are vital for us–one for prodding us to the Father, the other for fellowship as we go.
But it’s the attaboys and attagirls from Jesus that keep us going.
Isaiah 1-2, 2 Corinthians 10, and Psalm 52 are selected for today in The One Year Bible.