Tag Archives: Call

God’s People, part 83: Isaiah

Read Isaiah 6

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So Isaiah the prophet asked the Lord to do this, and he caused the shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!” (2 Kings‬ ‭20:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

 Part 83: Isaiah. Isaiah is a name well-known in Christianity because of the prophetic book named after, and traditionally considered to be written by, the prophet. While Christians may not know much about the prophet himself, they know some of his famous prophecies such as, the virgin birth (Isaiah 7:14), pastoral images of heaven such as the lion laying down with the lamb (Isaiah 11:6), and other such prophecies in which Christians see fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

Isaiah was a prophet who was actively prophesying for 64 years. He played an adviosry role with a number of kings. His early ministry started in the last few years of King Uzziah and he died under the reign of King Hezekiah, whom he was influential in advising. With that said, not all of Isaiah’s ministry was smooth and easy. A number of years were spent standing up to the wickedness of King Ahaz. In fact, Isaiah 7 was written as a message to be sent to that wicked king.

In that chapter of the prophet’s book that God challenges Ahaz to demand a “sign”. The king refused the challenge and answered in a “religiously correct” way. He said, “I will not ask for a sign. I refuse to put the LORD to the test.” Yet, the king was insincere and Isaiah called him out on it. He may not have asked God for a test; however, he was TESTING God’s patience with all of the injustice and unrighteousness Ahaz and his courts were engaging in. God had enough and sent Isaiah to call him out on it.

It is to Ahaz that Isaiah declared that God would, indeed, provide a sign anyway. The sign would be a “virgin” or a “young woman” giving birth to a child. This child would one day grow up to be righteous, to reject what is wrong, and before fully maturing destruction would come upon the wicked king. This prophecy, in the moment, was announcing the end of Ahaz’ reign. Of course, as with all reigns, Ahaz’ did come to an end and his son, Hezekiah, was a righteous king.

With that said, it is wrong to only read the prophecy as having to do with Ahaz. God was announcing the end of the wicked world order. While Hezekiah may have been righteous, he was still sinful in some areas, and most of the kings who succeeded him fell short of even his standard, let alone Gods. This prophecy, through the eyes of those who knew him and came to believe in him, pointed right to Jesus Christ who would reject wrong and live a perfectly righteous life. It is the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ that sets God’s plan of redemption and the upheaval of the wicked world order in place.

Powerful words for Isaiah to deliver to a king who, know doubt, might have had Isaiah thrown in prison or executed. Yet, the bold prophet was not always so bold. At the outset of his call, according to his own words in Isaiah 6, the Isaiah had a vision of God. The vision was so intense that he feared he might die from having looked upon God’s holy presence as a sinful man. As is a common human experience, Isaiah could not believe that God was choosing him. Clearly he was wrong and, when God affirmed his call in the vision, Isaiah’s response was “Here I am, Lord send me.”

From that point on, everything changed for Isaiah, who went down as one of the most influential prophets in the history of Israel. The same is true for you. As you read this, you are probably thinking, “Who? Me? I am not called! Not me!” That, my friend, is the response most of us have when we feel God’s call. Let me put it this way, God is calling you! God is calling us all. You may be called in the same way as me, or you may be called differently than me, but you are called. The question is, what will your response be? If you answer yes to the call, I can promise you this, nothing will ever be the same again! Everything will change for you and for the world around you. May it be so.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

Denial is a common human response, but it seldom exacts any change.

PRAYER

Lord, here I am. Show me what you are calling me to do and send me to do it. Amen.

Jonah Was a Prophet

Read Jonah 1

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!” (Matthew 12:39 NRSV)

JonahVeggieTalesHave you ever read the book of Jonah? It is one of the most interesting books in the Old Testament. Let me sum it up for you. There was this well-known prophet in Israel by the name of Jonah. The Lord called upon this prophet and told him to go to Nineveh and give them the warning that God’s wrath was about to fall upon them. Nineveh was an Assyrian city and it’s inhabitants were enemies of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. As a result of their ongoing and wicked brutality toward the the northern Israelites, God told Jonah to go there and proclaim God’s judgment against them.

Presumably, but not necessarily, out of fear, Jonah disobeyed God and tried to run away from God and the call God was placing upon him. He fled to Jaffa and from there sailed to Tarshish, trying to go as far in the opposite direction from Ninevah as he could go. On his way to Tarshish, however, a great storm came over the ship he was on and, after determining that it was Jonah who brought the storm upon their ship, the sailors aboard through him overboard. It was then that he was swallowed up by a gigantic fish (note, the Bible does not say it was a whale).

For three days and three nights, Jonah was in the belly of that fish. He prayed to God during that time, begging God to spare him. In an answered prayer, Jonah is spit out of the fish and saved. God again tells him to go to Nineveh and this time he listens. He goes to that city and fiercely proclaims the judgment of God upon them, but something unforeseen happens: they repent and God forgives them. That’s right! God forgives them. Jonah is enraged! How dare God forgive them! How dare God not follow through on God’s word. How dare God make Jonah out to be a false prophet! How dare God! Jonah was so enraged that God could not comfort him. He sat out in the middle of the desert hoping to die from heat exhaustion and dehydration! That’s how angry Jonah was!

So often, this story is told from the angle of Jonah getting swallowed up by the fish. Usually the focal point is that Jonah tried to run away from God and tried to hide from God’s call. The moral, as it is typically conveyed, is that you cannot run and hide from God, that God’s will comes to pass one way or the other. Yet, if we read the story properly, we will see that this is missing the point. God’s will did not have to come to pass at all. Jonah ran, got thrown overboard, and God saved Jonah by having a big fish swallow him and spit him up on shore. God then told Jonah to go to Nineveh, a demand Jonah could have once again rejected.

The moral of the story has little to do with how Jonah get’s to Nineveh, but has everything to do with Jonah’s attitude the whole way through the story. He did run from his call, for whatever reason, but his attitude was no better when finally did decide to go to Nineveh and deliver God’s message. In fact, one could say he begrudgingly went and was defiant in his answering God’s call. What’s more, when God decided to renege on his promise to bring judgment upon Nineveh, Jonah became downright indignant and refused to have a relationship with God even if that meant denying the protection God was trying to provide in order to save him from dying in the desert.

The lesson here is this: God is calling each and every one of us to serve in ministry. Some of us are called to be prophets, others healers, others still are called to speak in different languages. Whatever you are called to, whatever your gifts are, God is calling you. But God’s call does not come with a guaranteed ending. God’s call does not come with certainty. We have a choice to answer God’s call willing, to turn and run from it, or to obstinantly and defiantly answer it for all of the wrong reasons. Only one of those paths leads to the Kingdom of God. The other two lead to the depths of sea and the scorching hot desert. The choice is ours: God’s way or our way. Let Jonah’s story be a reminder of what our way leads to.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your purpose.” – Aristotle

PRAYER
Lord, soften my heart to answer your call  and to use my gifts willingly for the transformation of the world. Amen.

SON OF GOD: Holy Monday

Read Mark 11:12-14, 20-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’” (Matthew 13:31-32 NRSV)

fig_tree2Have you ever been in an apple orchard, or in a strawberry field, or in a garden and really desire to eat the food you come upon? One of my favorite things to do is to eat the fruit fresh from the tree. I get hungry walking through the orchards and the fields and, for whatever reason, the fruit tastes so much more fresh and desirable when freshly picked. There is nothing like it.

I can only imagine that Jesus, heading in to Jerusalem on that Monday morning nearly 2,000 years ago would have felt the same way as he passed that fig tree. The only difference is that, as he was passing, the fig tree was not in season to grow fruit. It only had leaves on it. Jesus surely knew this and understood it, yet when he arrived at the tree he cursed it upon the sight of it not having fruit. Odd, right? His disciples must have thought so.

Then this Jesus headed into Jerusalem, and went straight to the Temple. It is there that he began teaching against the religious establishment of his time period. You see, Jesus felt that they had become more focused on upholding their power and status, rather than being servants of the people. Rather than leading the people closer to God, Jesus felt the establishment was crushing the very people it was meant to serve. Jesus did not parse words as he levied the indictment of those who stood to gain from the establishment. On the way out of Jerusalem on the morning after that long and tense day, the disciples had noticed that the tree had withered and they remembered the curse Jesus had pronounced against the tree.

The tree is a symbol, a metaphor, and it represents the religious establishment and all of those who would claim to be God’s. When God comes, when God shows looking for fruit, we had better be bearing some. There are no excuses that will fly. We cannot claim to be out of season, or unaware of the coming of the Lord. Rather, we are called to ALWAYS be bearing fruit and we are not only called to bear fruit for some…but for ALL!

The question for us, as it was for those in Jesus’ day, is this: are we bearing fruit, or are we just a tall trunk with leaves? Are our branches far reaching, do they reach out to all who are in need of the fruit they bear, or are short and sparce? Are we like the great tree that grew from the mustard seed that shelters all of the birds of the air in its shade? Or are we a tree that shelters only the few and privileged? The Son of God wants us to bear fruit. The Son of God is calling us to recognize that all are children of God and all are chosen to receive the fruit of God’s love…the fruit of God’s hope, healing and wholeness. All we need to do is to root ourselves in God’s unfailing love and grow.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” – Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 7:18-19 NRSV)

PRAYER
Lord, produce in me a clean heart. Prune away the dead branches and nurture me into a strong tree that produces much fruit for your Kingdom of hope, healing, wholeness, love, peace, justice, compassion, mercy, and humility. Amen.

Down by the Shoreline

Read Luke 5:1-11

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“[Jesus] said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.” (Matthew 14:29 NRSV)

son-of-god-peter-and-jesus-boatOkay, now we are getting close to Holy Week. As always, I have pulled out movies from my “Jesus movie” collection, and I have begun to watch them. This Sunday evening, I sat down to watch “Son of God”, which is up there on my list of awesome Jesus movies. While, it doesn’t quite stack up when it comes to the temple scene, which is often how I gauge the quality of Jesus movie, it stacks up just about everywhere else…making it one of my more favorite films on the subject matter. It is a theologically responsible, open-minded, historically aware, and spiritually grounded film and I commend the film makers, Mark Burnett and Roma Downey, for making it.

As I was watching the scene of Jesus walking on the water and Peter jumping out of the boat to walk with him, it occurred to me that there is a very theologically profound connection to an earlier story of Jesus and Peter. In the beginning of the film, Jesus came to the Sea of Galilee and began to call his disciples. When he got to Peter, he found him returning from an “epic fail” of a fishing trip. Jesus called to Peter, but Peter practically couldn’t be bothered, he was too agitated over not catching any fish. So, Jesus came to him. That’s right, he walked chest high into the water and stood beside Peter’s boat.

“You’re not just going to come up into my boat!” Peter exclaimed. “That’s right,” Jesus answered, “I could use a helping hand.” Jesus reached out and Peter reluctantly, and somewhat confused, grabbed his hand and pulled him up into the boat. To make a long story short, Jesus told Peter to go back out and cast his nets. Peter protested that, but in the end he gave in, went back out to deeper waters, and casted his net. Jesus then touched the water, and before Peter could believe his own eyes, fish were filling the nets literally by the boatful. At first, Peter wanted nothing to do with Jesus, so Jesus came to him and invited him anyway.

Jesus’ taking the time to be invitational to Peter led Peter to a place of solid and bold faith. The same Peter, who was once an agitated and disinterested fisherman, was now doing the reverse of what had happened on that day at the beginning of the film. Now, instead of Jesus coming into the boat, Peter was jumping out of the boat to be where Jesus was! This, to me, brought on a profound revelation, one that instantly hit me as I was watching the film. So often, we are looking for people to come to us…and we get discouraged when the don’t; however, which one of us is willing to go to them, like Jesus did with Peter? Which one of us is willing to pursue people, to be where they are, in order to invite them to build their faith enough to join us where Christ is?

At some point we, too, were the ones being invited. Some of us may have accepted readily, while others may have taken more time to accept the invitation. Still, regardless of the time it took, we are all members of the universal body of Christ as a result of it. Christ is calling you to be invitational to others. Christ is calling you to invite people to be in your life, to join you for worship at your churches, and to join you in ministry to your neighbors around you. It is in the invitation, and in the pursuit of such an invitation, that we find the secret to becoming “fisher of people.” Fishing takes time, it takes patience, it takes faith, and it takes pursuit. I hope to see you down by the shoreline.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Many [people] go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” – Henry David Thoreau

PRAYER
Lord, climb into my boat and inspire in me a bold faith, so that I may become one of your fishers of people. Amen.