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March 31, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 12

Drawing deep. "Joyfully you'll pull up buckets of water from the wells of salvation." Isaiah 12:3a (MSG)

No matter the depth of sin to which you've fallen, the well of salvation is deeper still.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr& babomike

March 30, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 11

S7300939_800x600 Each morning he'll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land. Isaiah 11:5 (MSG)

This past winter we started a construction project that will continue through this coming summer. It's partially finished and the upstairs part looks beautiful. But, there's also a downstairs part that looks really ugly, bare and dirty. Someday it will be beautiful, but for now it's more than a bit unsightly and anyone who ventures down there will get dirt on them.

I remember when I was a young man I felt the expectation and need to be perfect through-and-though. I was really uncomfortable with some of the unsightly parts of my character and my flawed humanity. So, I dressed up the "upstairs" parts of me that looked finished to perfection and tried to hide the door to the basement where others could see the bare, ugly mess that was just as much a part of me as the finished parts.

I'm reminded this morning that Jesus, the Branch of Jesse, came to do a work in me until it's completed. I am still under construction as God builds righteousness, faith and Christ-like-ness in me. There's a lot to be done. A construction site is a messy, muddy, dusty, and chaotic place. You can't dress a construction site up with a nice area rug and pretend that it's a finished room.

Somwhere along the way I gave up trying to pretend I'm a finished project. I decided to let people see the messy part of me that's under construction. They'll just have to pardon the mess. To my amazement, loved ones were not only gracious, but more than willing to get thair hands dirty and help with the work.


March 29, 2010

Busy Weekend

Wendy and I are enjoying our roles in KOLD Radio, Whitefish Bay. The characters of Lars Knudsen and Martha Bjorklund are really fun. I'm channeling all my memories of spending two weeks of every summer fishing on the boundary waters with my family. Once you start getting that Minnesota accent goin', it's a bit hard to stop, dontcha know. Fer cryin' out loud, we're talkin' like it at home know, eh?

Rehearsals, however, have been pretty intense. Instead of the normal 6-8 week rehearsal period, we're putting this show up in five weeks (and one of those weeks was Spring Break, so most of our cast was gone). So, it's rehearsal every night and every weekend. Don't forget to come to Pella and see the show (April 15-18)!

On Saturday morning we attended the funeral of one of our friends from Union Street Players. Mike Atkins was our accompanist for The Christmas Post and his wife is on the USP board. It was an incredible funeral service that Mike planned himself as he fought a courageous battle with cancer. Mike, a music teacher and worship leader, filled the service with music. It was fun to sing a lot of the old hymns, and they brought back lots of memories.

It was awesome to have Taylor & Clayton join us for church and brunch yesterday. Taylor took a new job that allows her to go to church on Sunday mornings. Our pastor, Andrew, is leaving and it was an emotional service, as well. Much like Mike's funeral, it was a mixture of grief and hope. Insteady of old hymns, however. We rocked the joint. I was playing bass. It was awesome.

(btw, Taylor & Clayton have been accepted to study abroad in Paris next fall. Wow!)

Wendy and I finished the weekend with friends. Shay's birthday party was last night and the whole crew met in Des Moines for dinner. Wendy and I then spent a few hours with our friends Kev & Beck before heading home.

Now, the week begins.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 10

Schoolyard bully. And on that Day also, what's left of Israel, the ragtag survivors of Jacob, will no longer be fascinated by abusive, battering Assyria. They'll lean on God, The Holy—yes, truly. Isaiah 10:20 (MSG)

I still vividly remember my first experience with a bully. I was a 2nd grader at Woodlawn Elementary school. I had been excused from class to use the bathroom and he came in. He was in 3rd grade and a lot bigger than me. He started to threaten me for no other reason than to see the fear in my eyes and feel a sense of sadistic power. He started telling me he was going to find me after school and beat me up. I was so scared it was a good thing I was already in the bathroom.

I can still remember the terror. My heart pounded. I could think of nothing else the rest of the day. I was terrified of the final bell and my walk home. Even when I got home I was petrified. I worried about the next day at school. I worried about going into the bathroom and finding the bully there. I worried about walking to and from school. I had a hard time getting to sleep. I couldn't get the bully out of my mind, and how I could possibly elude him at every point of my day.

It's easy to get focused on problems and troubles. They seem so huge and overwhelming. If we're not careful, the people who plague us and our daily pains can take up a disproportionate part of our mind share. It's hard to keep things in perspective if our eyes are only zeroed in on that which we fear.

Jerusalem, under seige, were so taken with their enemy, the bully Assyria, that they were psychologically defeated. The prophet Isaiah's eye, however, was not looking at the Assyrian army surrounding the city. He was looking to God. Isaiah saw that God was about to provide an amazing, miraculous deliverance.

Where will I focus my thoughts today?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and trixer

March 26, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 9

Round and around and around. Appetites insatiable, stuffing and gorging themselves left and right with people and things. But still they starved. Not even their children were safe from their rapacious hunger. Isaiah 9:20 (MSG)

I have an appetite for food that, left to myself, finds me overweight and unhealthy. I have an appetite for sex which, left unchecked, leads me to all sorts of dark places and disastrous consequences. I have an appetite for leisure and, if I allow it to take over, it will lead to several areas of my life falling apart. I have an appetite for riches that, without proper boundaries, will leave me indebted and empty-handed. I have an appetite for pleasure that, if I'm not careful, will lead me into a never-ending cycle of looking for new highs for which I will sacrifice anything and everything.

I wish I'd thought more, and understood more, about the core issue of my appetites when I was younger. Increasingly, I begin to understand how much of the life-pain I experience comes from uncontrolled, unchecked, insatiable appetites which demand to be fed constantly and increasingly. Heedlessly feeding my appetites always leave me empty, craving more.

As I've learned to choose the path of contentment over the insane roundabout of my appetites, I've gained increasing clarity. God's message says that godliness with contentment is a means of great gain. I'm finding it true. I can't move forward if I'm running in circles trying to endlessly feed an insatiable hunger.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and mrjoro

March 25, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 8

Information overload. "If you're going to worry, worry about The Holy. Fear God-of-the-Angel-Armies." Isaiah 8:13 (MSG)

I used to be a news junkie.  I couldn't get enough of it. The 24 hour news stations were always on my television. The car radio was always tuned to news and talk radio. I scoured the newspaper daily and religiously. Somewhere along the line I changed. It's not that I don't want to be informed, I just stopped feeling the need to be inundated with it.

My mind is finite. My time and energy are limited. In the same way I have to make choices about what I eat and how much food I will put into my body, I also have to make choices about what I think about and how much information I will try to cram into my brain. We live in the information age. What used to be contained in a Library the size of a city block can now fit in a microchip inside of a cell phone in our pocket. Yet, all of the information on all of the media sources on every channel of my satellite television will never make me wise.

I still watch the news. I still read the paper. I do want to be knowledgeable, but more than anything I want to be wise. You can't find wisdom in the newspapers, run across it on a Google search, or hear it from talking heads on a news channel. God is the source of wisdom. Increasingly, I find myself drawn to that source. 

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and dylanroscover

March 24, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 7

Names. Then God told Isaiah, "Go and meet Ahaz. Take your son Shear-jashub (A-Remnant-Will-Return) with you." Isaiah 7:3 (MSG)

Names have meaning. There can be historical meaning in a name (Just ask any "Doubting Thomas"). There can be linguistic meaning in a name (Thomas is derived from an ancient word meaning "twin," which was always a head-scratcher for me because I'm not a twin, but my brothers are). Names have literary meanings (Little Tommy Tucker, for example). Names give way to nick names (Tommy, T, TV, Tompt, and Tommer Toes are a few I've had through the years).

Our names are metaphors. Something which represents something else without using "like" or "as." The word "Tom" represents me. It's not "like" me. "Tom" is me. For better or worse, names become intensely personal metaphors to which all sorts of meaning can and will be attached in many different layers.

I find it fascinating that Isaiah chose to name his son Shear-jashub which means "A Remnant-Will-Return". The name of Isaiah's son was part of his prophecy. Isaiah's life-long message is of judgement and redemption, of doom and hope. He tells of Jerusalem's imminent fall and devastation, but also of God's eventual redemption and salvation. Today's chapter is a microcosm of his message. Doom is coming (in the form of Assyria's seige of Jerusalem) but also salvation (a virgin-born Messiah).

Part of Isaiah's message is that after the people are taken into captivity, eventually a remnant would return to Jerusalem (the prophecy was fulfilled and the story told in the book of Nehemiah). So, Isaiah names his son Shear-jashub and his son becomes, metaphorically, a part of Isaiah's message. Shear-jashub represented the future, and his name represented God's prophetic message. Isaiah's child became a living, breathing, walking representation of his life-long sermon.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and pio1976

March 23, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 6

And then I heard the voice of the Master: "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?"
I spoke up, "I'll go. Send me!"
Isaiah 6:8 (MSG)

There are two major decisions a disciple is asked to make. The first is to follow. The second is to go.

March 22, 2010

Home Again

Sleet on the deck.

The beautiful, warm Missouri weather which found us on the new Playhouse deck last Friday gave way to nasty, cold sleet and snow on Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday morning the deck was covered with an inch of icy sleet. Nevertheless, we kept ourselves busy arranging, settling, and planning. Grandpa Dean was like a kid in a candy store. The lower level was an empty canvas and his tools were at the ready to begin building. We ordered some of the supplies we'd need to get started and he wired some lights and electric outlets so the work could begin. We also picked up some insulation and began insulating the floor joists of the upper level.

Wendy and I headed home late Sunday morning, leaving Grandpa and Grandma who will spend the week. Grandma will continue to wash away the dust and clean up the post-construction din. Grandpa will start to frame up the lower level.

Back to work. And, back to play rehearsal tonight. Wendy and I are expected to have our lines memorized for Act 1 tomorrow night. Yikes!

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 5

Daily at the crossroads. When I expected good grapes, why did I get bitter grapes? Isaiah 5:4b (MSG)

I don't presume to know why things turn out the way they do. My eyes have seen showers of blessing fall on the righteous and the unrighteous. I have witnessed both drink from the cup of bitterness. I have known blessing, and I have experienced bitterness. My eyes can't see all ends. My mind can't fathom all of God's designs or perceive the intricate interplay of good and evil in each event. I regularly find myself at a loss to explain. No matter how long I ponder, such things are beyond my reach.

What I do know is that daily I stand at a crossroads and choose my path, no matter what my momentary circumstances. One path is the way of bitterness, self-centeredness, and blame. The other is the way of gratitude, humility and perseverance. I know both roads well. I've spent considerable time on both. Depending on which day you cross my path you may have happened to see me on either.

More often now I choose the latter. The steps are more difficult and the path normally ascends at an uncomfortable rate (The former choice provides such an easy descent!).  Yet, the place I end up is always more wholesome for me and everyone around me.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and elzey