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June 17, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 63

Sonnet 43 I'll make a list of God's gracious dealings,
   all the things God has done that need praising,
All the generous bounties of God
.... Isaiah 63:7 (MSG)

As a morning person, I'm usually reading each day's chapter as my brain is still transitioning between dream and reality. There is a creative connection between our dreams and our waking life. Often, the first minutes of our morning when our brain's subconscious has, for hours, been engaged in thoughts unfiltered by our conscious can lead to some interesting thoughts (but that's a post for another day).

So it was that I read the verse above and my brain immediately referenced Elizabeth Barret Browning's famous sonnet...

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."

However, in my yet sleep fogged mind, the famous opening line was scrambled into...

"How does God love me? Let me count the ways..."

It's not quite what Browning was writing about, but it gave me a laugh and a good exercise for my day. How many ways can I count off God's love for me? Here's the top ten that come to mind this morning....

The beautiful sunrise over the back of the bay.
Hot coffee.
The cool breeze off the lake.
My wife, her love so life-giving, lying warm and at peace in bed.
My children...I see their smiles, I feel their hugs, I know their love even across the miles.
Answered prayers.
Faithful presence.
Kind forgiveness.
Sacrificial love.
Amazing grace.

How does God love you? What's on your list this morning?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and nlscotland

June 16, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 62

...Cubs win. hoist high a flag, a signal to all peoples! Isaiah 62:11d (MSG)

Perhaps the fact that it was Flag Day earlier this week caused this sentence to jump out of today's chapter. But, it got me meditating on the idea of flags and banners. We don't give a ton of thought to flags these days, but they still hold a quiet a place in communication within our world.

When I'm driving down the street and I see an American flag at half-mast I know that someone died. While boating at the lake I see the flags flying on various docks and quickly determine who supports Kansas (Jay-hawk or K-State flags) or Iowa (Hawkeye Flag).

As Chicago Cubs fans, Wendy and I purchased a large "W" flag to fly when the Cubs win. It hasn't flown much this year. Nevertheless, when we stick it in the flagpole and it flies outside the house, we proclaim that we're Cubs fans. We proclaim (a rare) victory. Everyone in the neighborhood knows that Tom and Wendy are Cubs fans and the Cubs won the night before.

When God tells us to raise our banners high, he's asking us to publicly proclaim him. God wants us to be willing, through our words and actions, to "fly the flag" proclaiming we are God's fans and proclaiming His victory.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and cjrphoto

June 15, 2010

Working at the Playhouse and Working on the Playhouse

Wendy and I have spent the last week and a half at the Playhouse. It's been a working trip in multiple ways. Blessed with working from a home office, Wendy and I can pick up and take our office with us. Thus, we've spent our weekdays on the couch (or deck, or dock), laptops open and working away. But, our evenings and weekends have been full of working on the Playhouse.

Wendy has been painting away. By the end of the week almost the entire upstairs will be painted with two coats. It's been so much fun to watch the stark white walls become a full palette of color. Along with the normal maintenance tasks, I've continued working on finishing the basement. Hanging drywall is the big task that has to be finished by the end of the coming weekend. It goes much slower when you're working alone. We've got a crew coming down this weekend to help and I'm looking forward to making much faster progress.

Unfortunately, this has left little time for playing. We've been out on the boat once, out on the waverunner once, and out to eat once. C'est la vie. There will be more time for playing when the works all done.

There's a life lesson there somewhere :-)

Playhouse dining room
Playhouse master bath
Playhouse back bedroom

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 61

The journey continues. The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor, heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives, pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace— a celebration of God's destruction of our enemies— and to comfort all who mourn
.... Isaiah 61:1-2 (MSG)

My friend, Kevin, and I have been reading a chapter a day together for several years. If my memory serves me correctly, it's been since the summer of 2003 or 2004. I've been blogging this chapter-a-day journey for over four years now, ever since April 4, 2006 when I posted about Mark 8. Along with the day-to-day thoughts about each chapter, I've also picked up some overarching thoughts and observations. For example, I have to confess that books like Isaiah sometimes feel like they take for ever to wade through. The incessant doom, gloom, and judgment gets a little depressing about twenty chapters in. Then you realize you have forty some chapters to go. Ugh. If you've been following along this whole time, I applaud you. Seriously, if it weren't for my commitment and desire to walk through every chapter of God's Message, I would likely have long since abandoned it for some easier reading in the New Testament.

That leads me to another observation, however. If I had abandoned Isaiah a third of the way in, I would have missed out on some of the most amazing passages of God's Message I've ever read. A journey through the entire Bible is, I must imagine, a lot like running a marathon. Friends who are runners will tell me about stretches of the race in which you "hit the wall" and feel like you can't go on. If you press on through these you find a "runner's high" in which you feel renewed and energized. I think reading's God's message is a lot like that. There are always oasis treasures to be found in midst of the dryest parts.

I also find that the chapter-a-day marathon has given me a renewed appreciation for the incredible story that the whole of God's Message tells. I read this morning's chapter and immediately think of Luke 4, when Jesus uses this very text for his semon in the hometown synagogue. Isaiah is full of amazing prophecies about Jesus. You don't appreciate the prophecy unless you've read the Books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You don't have a full appreciation for the story of Jesus until you've read the prophecies of Isaiah. They all fit together.

A special thank you to Kevin and to those who've followed along on all or parts of this journey like Wendy, Cindy, Laurie, Jen, Mom and Dad, and Matthew. That's another lesson I've learned, and the final one I'll share this morning. It's great to have companions along the way. It makes the trip far more worthwhile.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and Jamelah

June 14, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 60

Time. "I am God. At the right time I'll make it happen." Isaiah 60:22 (MSG)

Time rules our lives. We wake to it, eat to it, work to it, play to it, and sleep to it. We rarely stop to ponder how time affects every area of our daily life and perceptions. This is especially true in an era when we place increasing demands on time, and in turn feel the effects of time's increasing demands on us. Faster. Quicker. Efficient. Productive. More in less. Overnight.

This pressure of time, I believe, makes it increasingly difficult to follow the command to "wait on the Lord." That patience is a fruit of God's Spirit in us is quickly lost on us.

God exists eternally beyond time. He has the ability to see each individual circumstance in context of the whole. God sees purpose in our painful moments. He walks each leg of the journey with us even as he stands with us at the finish line.

Chill. At the right time, He makes things happen.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and DaDaAce

June 11, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 59

Tom & Girls 2010 05 "As for me," God says, "this is my covenant with them: My Spirit that I've placed upon you and the words that I've given you to speak, they're not going to leave your mouths nor the mouths of your children nor the mouths of your grandchildren. You will keep repeating these words and won't ever stop." God's orders. Isaiah 59:21 (MSG)

In the bay window of our dining room is a Dutch family Bible. It belonged my paternal Great-grandparents. I also have the Bible my maternal grandfather's uncle, James Hendrickson, used in the pulpit as a Methodist pastor in Iowa and Illinois. Another treasured posession that's passed on to me is my maternal great-grandmother's Bible. Great Grandma Daisy was the matriarch of my mother's family, and her children and grandchildren tell stories of how her faith held the family together.

It's been a time of transition in the past year. One daughter is married and off on her own. The other is graduated, moved out to take a job as a nanny, and heads to college in the fall. The nest is empty, and I have to be honest that I've been grieving a bit of late. I told a friend this, and he asked if I was surprised by my grief. I guess that I am.

I've always known that my job was to raise my children to release them. It's part of the faith journey and life cycle Isaiah alludes to. It's part of the faith covenant that carries on through time like Bibles passed on to bear witness to the faith of previous generations. I'm so blessed to watch my daughters stepping out to be the next generation. It's good. It's right. It's as it should be.

There's just a little sadness in the transition.

June 10, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 58

It's a puzzle. This is the kind of fast day I'm after:
   to break the chains of injustice,
   get rid of exploitation in the workplace,
   free the oppressed,
   cancel debts.
What I'm interested in seeing you do is:
   sharing your food with the hungry,
   inviting the homeless poor into your homes,
   putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad,
   being available to your own families
. Isaiah 58:6-7 (MSG)

A friend and counselor once asked me to give a name to my pain. He asked me to define and to tag that deep, nagging ache in my spirit that never seems to go away and tends to motivate poor behaviors and choices. The name I gave to my soul pain is "Not Enough."

Not big enough.
Not old enough.
Not athletic enough.
Not good enough.
Not pure enough.
Not attractive enough.
Not strong enough.
Not man enough.

I read today's chapter.

Not giving enough.
Not  gracious enough.
Not loving enough.
Not available enough.

My soul aches this morning.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and dimitridf

June 09, 2010

Four Graduations

Hall Graduates Party 027

Last week was a big week for Wendy's family. Four of her brothers celebrated graduation. One from high school, one from college, and two from the University of Iowa's dental school. Wendy and headed to Iowa City last Friday to watch Jesse and Josh become Dentists. It was great to see their years of hard work, study and sacrifice pay off. Way to go.

On Saturday Wendy, Taylor and Clayton, and Madison all headed to Boone for a family reception for all four of the graduating brothers. The family gathered for a meal together at noon and then had an open house through the afternoon.

It was a blast to watch Wendy and her six siblings together. Having everyone in one place is a rare occurrence and will likely become more so as everyone spreads out to other states and continents.

Jesse & Josh Graduation 058
Hall Graduates Party 009 Hall Graduates Party 029

Hall Graduates Party 041

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 57

A Message from the high and towering God, who lives in Eternity, whose name is Holy:
"I live in the high and holy places, but also with the low-spirited, the spirit-crushed, And what I do is put new spirit in them, get them up and on their feet again."
Isaiah 57:15-16 (MSG)

Incarnation is the word we use to describe the God of the universe inhabiting human form in the person of Jesus. It's a powerful truth. God becomes man. God lives as a man. God suffers as a man. God dies as a man. God descends into hell.

Much of the time I picture God and worship God as "high and towering." I worship the God of the universe who is greater than the universe and, therefore, a bit too big for my mind to fathom. God of the universe is awesome, but easily seems distant in light of my petty, miniscule problems. With the incarnation, God chooses to draw near to me. Jesus experienced life on Earth. Jesus experienced family. Jesus experience hunger. Jesus experienced powerful human emotions. Jesus experienced grief. Jesus experienced weariness. Jesus experienced betrayal. Jesus experienced rejection. Jesus experienced spirit crushing events.

God not only lives in the high and holy places, but chose to come near to lowly, low-spirited, spirit crushing human existence. Just like me. When I come to the God of the universe with my everyday struggles, he says "Dude, I've been there. I know."

June 08, 2010

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 56

Good night, sleep tight. "God's Message: "Guard my common good: Do what's right and do it in the right way...." Isaiah 56:1 (MSG)

Along the journey, I've faced certain crossroads at which I had to make a difficult decision. Often, the decisions were difficult because the consequences of the choices I made would be relational and or financial and the impact of the decision would follow me one way or another.

Part of the decision making process for me has been to ask "What's the right thing to do?" With it, I tend to ask myself "What decision will allow me to sleep better at night?" There is something to be said for a clear conscience. To sleep peacefully at night knowing you've done things right and in the right way.

Looking back, I know that I haven't always made the best choices. But, as I progress in life's journey I like to think that my batting average has improved. I've learned that the choice which immediately satisfies my pride and hubris is usually the one that haunts me in the wee hours of the night. The choice that forces me to humbly submit, follow Jesus, and take the narrow, more difficult terrain (a.k.a. the high road) is ultimately the path which afffords me the best night's sleep.

Sleep tight.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and prisspetite