Unbelievable Peace

Advent 2013…Peace: Isaiah 40.1-11

As I reflected on this passage, the season of peace is one of the most stressful times of the year for most of us. Gifts to be bought, family to entertain, parties to be attended, too much food to be eaten, painful memories to be relived… we, like the exiled Jews, feel beat down, abused, worn out. We proclaim a peace that we desperately long to experience for ourselves.

I shared a tweet this past week, “The peace the world offers is a peace of avoidance, a peace of denial, a temporary, fragile peace…don’t you long for something more?” It reminds me of what Hezekiah said when Isaiah revealed that the Babylonians would come and ransack Jerusalem… “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he a thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.”

The peace of Hezekiah is too often the only peace we know…fleeting, empty, selfish. We get so distracted by trying to maintain our own peace now.  If I can make it through the holidays, If I can make it to payday, I can retire when…, if I can get my kids through college,  if I can keep my spouse happy.  A peace like Hezekiah’s – “at least I’ll know peace”. The only problem is, maintaining peace is hard work.  If you find yourself always trying to keep the peace, know that you don’t have it.

But the peace that the coming Davidic King would bring is as everlasting/eternal as the word of the LORD, never fading, never failing. Isaiah paints a landscape where all war has ended.  Peace has been established.  And that is true, our peace has come.  Our peace is here – here and now, in this moment, today. And our peace is coming, advancing every moment, we are anticipating our bridegroom. And again, to be clear, Jesus is the Davidic King who came to bring that peace. It is the peace of the kingdom…peace with God and peace with our neighbor.

The relationship between peace with God and peace with men parallels the relationship between loving God and loving your neighbor. You can only love people when you are loving God. When you are loving God, you can’t help but love people. We saw that in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said that loving your neighbor as yourself is the law and the prophets. So also, you can only be at peace with people when you are at peace with God. When you are at peace with God, you can’t help but be at peace with people.

Where is our peace today?  As I read these verses, Isaiah seems to offer comfort to the Jewish refugees returning from Babylon by reminding them who they were, or maybe better, whose they were.  They were God’s – the Lords’ – The Lord God’s – Zion – Jerusalem.  When people under Babylonian captivity, in the distant future, would read these words, they would recall whose they were.  The present realities of suffering could not be ignored, but neither could the fact that they were God’s chosen people whom He loved, whom He had made a covenant with.  I think that is our comfort.  We are His.  He chose us, died for us, lives for us.  Paul prayed that his readers might know peace by understanding the depths of God’s love for them.

This story challenges us to pursue true peace…the peace of the kingdom. Knowing that we have peace with God frees us up to pursue peace with others. And as we learn to live more and more fully in God’s perfect peace, then we experience more and more fully peace with others.

My prayer for us this week is that we might more fully realize Unbelievable Peace because we have an Unbelievable Savior.

Until next time…stay salty.

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Wicked Nightmare

What a wickedly vivid nightmare! Four fantastical beasts, each one, in some ways, more terrifying than the one before. A lion with the wings of an eagle. A bear leaning to one side with three ribs in its mouth. A four-headed leopard with four wings. A horrific beast with iron teeth and bronze claws, having a number of horns, that bites and tears and devours. But then a radiant throne and the Ancient of Days sitting in judgment. And finally one like a Son of Man riding a cloud and coming up to the Ancient of Days to receive authority and a kingdom. Such was Daniel’s dream. And it deeply troubled him.

Daniel 7. When Daniel asked for the interpretation, he was told that the four beasts represented four successive kingdoms…much like Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2. Like the head of gold in Nebuchadnezzar’s statue, the lion with the wings of an eagle represented Babylon. That much Daniel could be sure of. But at the time of the dream, he was still living in the time of Babylon’s rule so the identity of the remaining kingdoms would have been a mystery. From world history, we know that the kingdoms that followed Babylon were Medo-Persia, Greece and Rome. But the curious thing is…Rome never actually fell to another world power. For sure the city was sacked by the Visigoths and the Vandals from the north in the fourth century AD, but the kingdom itself faded into the background and became the European states that we know today.

The interesting thing for us in this vision is the fact that the final kingdom falls to the “One like a Son of Man” by whom the little horn that speaks out blasphemies against the Most High is cast into burning fire. This hasn’t happened yet. The little horn is also predicted to make war with the saints and overpower them – probably what terrifies Daniel…evil winning and good guys loosing. This we may think we have seen, but not to this extent. And so we wait. While it looks like following God is losing, we wait. While persecution intensifies, we wait. While our physical lives are seemingly thrown away like so much garbage, we wait. We wait for the eternal kingdom. But we also seek to engage the cultural now. We fight back the darkness and make it harder to go to hell. The Judge is coming, and when He arrives it will be too late for those who are His enemies. So we wait and we work and we say, “Come Lord Jesus!”

Until next time…stay salty.

 

Surprising Plot Twist

I love a good mystery. Something about the twists and turns in the plot and the surprise of the final “who-dun-it” gets me every time. The great mystery stories are always unpredictable, much like life. And Genesis is like that. In the Genesis story, the focus has been on Joseph now for several chapters. In fact his episode accounts for more real estate than any of the other patriarchs, and more than both his father (Jacob) and grandfather’s (Isaac) narratives combined. Joseph was given dreams that indicated he would rule over his brothers and even his entire family. His experience in Egypt had borne this out, as he was promoted to the highest possible position, number 2 behind Pharaoh. As we’ve been looking for the Genesis 3:15 Seed of the Woman, Joseph seems like the most likely candidate to carry on the line that began with Adam and went through folks like Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…but then a sleeper candidate appeared on the scene.

In our first encounter with Judah, he appeared as the ring-leader of his siblings with a plan for making a quick shekel, while at the same time ridding both he and his other brothers of their none-too-loved younger brother, Joseph, by selling him into slavery.

Our next encounter found Judah marrying a Canaanite woman, and having three sons, two of whom are killed by the LORD for their wickedness…probably not a good decision on Judah’s part to intermarry (ala Genesis 6). The third son was seemingly spared the fate of his older brothers, but because of Judah’s unwillingness to fulfill the promise he had made to his daughter-in-law, she tricked him into fathering two more sons who ended up being both his sons and grandsons…talk about a twisted plot. But then we come to our next two encounters with Judah.

Genesis 43-44. In order to return to Egypt to buy more grain, Judah pledged before his father, Jacob, to be surety for his youngest brother, Benjamin. Surprising because Benjamin, like Joseph, was not only the son of Jacob’s favored wife, Rachel, he, along with Joseph, were clearly loved by their father more than any of their other siblings. Judah and company made the trip to Egypt, had a seemingly pleasant dinner with Joseph, and started back to Canaan. Then as Joseph’s final act of psychological terrorism reached its climax with Benjamin being falsely accused of stealing Joseph’s divining cup and facing a life sentence as a slave [Joseph creates a near perfect replica of the circumstances of his own demise at the hands of his brothers through deception, preferential treatment and false accusation. What would they do this time? Had they learned their lesson?] Judah reappears once again. This time instead of being the one to sell his brother into slavery, he begged permission to take his place, even though he might very well have believed that Benjamin was guilty. And so innocent (relatively) Judah was willing to take the place of guilty (apparently) Benjamin. Sound familiar? Genesis 3.15. So while Joseph would deliver his family (burgeoning nation of Israel) through the famine, Judah’s willingness to sacrifice his own life for the sake of another wins him the top spot. And so, as we will see later, the line of the Seed will pass through Judah (not Joseph).

The encouraging thing about this particular story is that Judah would never have been picked for his role if it were up to us…up to me. But I guess neither would Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. And if we fast forward to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1, we see a host of characters that would not have made the list…murderers, prostitutes, adulterers, idolaters, etc., etc., etc. That gives me hope that God can use me as well. He can use you, too. And that, my friends, is the most surprising plot twist of all.

Until next time…stay salty.

The More the Merrier?!?

Can you ever have too much of a good thing? My son Luke would answer with a resounding, “Yes!” Luke loves sweets, and on more than one occasion when we’ve let our guard down, he’s eaten himself sick. Afterwards, it’s with the same resolve that he says, “I’ll never do that again!” only to stuff himself with ooey goodness once more. Ah well. Another guy who can testify to the demerits of overindulgence is Jacob. However his “sweet tooth” has nothing to do with candy.

Genesis 29-30. After conspiring with his mother, Rebekah, to deceive his father, Isaac, into giving him the blessing, Jacob has to run for his life as a hot-tempered Esau plots to kill him. He spends a night in the field where the LORD appears to him in a dream. Jacob sees a ladder with its top reaching into heaven and angels ascending and descending – access between the physical and spiritual planes (Jesus will use the same imagery with Nicodemus in John 1 to describe Himself as the bridge between heaven and earth – the only way to the Father). God officially pronounces the Abrahamic blessing over Jacob, making him the undisputed heir of the Covenant. The next morning Jacob departs for Haran.

Upon arrival in Haran, Jacob meets Rachel and falls…hard. His love for her is the stuff of legend, a romance writer’s dream. Laban, Jacob’s uncle and Rachel’s father, offers Jacob Rachel’s hand in marriage for seven years of service, a very steep price for a bride (more than double what would have been customary), but Jacob doesn’t seem put off at all. In fact, Moses tells us that the seven years seemed but a few days to Jacob because of his love for Rachel. And just when we thought that they would live happily ever after…there’s a wicked twist in the plot.

Jacob soon learns that he and his mother are not the only ones in the family skilled in the art of deception. He meets his match in Laban. Not only is Laban able to extract twice the bride price for Rachel, he switches out her sister Leah at the wedding feast. Jacob, who deceived his dad by pretending to be his brother, is deceived by Leah pretending to be her sister at the direction of her father. And then before Jacob can protest too profusely, Laban again offers Rachel…for another seven years.

So Jacob finds himself with two wives and a vicious rivalry ensues between them. Leah, the more fertile of the two, jumps out of the gate with four sons. The sad thing is that the names of the first three (Reuben, Simeon and Levi) all indicate her unrequited love for Jacob. It’s not until Judah is born that she is able to put her focus on the LORD. Meanwhile, Rachel, realizing that she is barren (barren and beautiful just like Sarah and Rebekah), resorts to the same remedy that Sarah did – she gives her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob as a surrogate bride. And she has two sons. Not to be outdone, Leah also gives her maid to Jacob; and two more sons are born. Then Leah has two more sons and a daughter of her own. And finally Rachel has a son of her own and names him Joseph, saying “May God give me another son.”

The competition in this section would be comical if it wasn’t so heartbreaking. For in the midst of all the “good” – wives that seem to love him and many, many sons – Jacob’s family is a mess. Seeking to accomplish God’s purposes using their own wiles has resulted in an absolute mess. Although the consequences would make for a riotous reality TV show, the lesson is not unique for Jacob and clan. It’s been a repeated pattern in the lives of the patriarchs. Operating according to their own understanding results in pain and confusion and frustration for themselves and those around them, but operating according to God’s direction results in the uncomplicated realization of His promises (I find a similar truth at work in my life.). But God will bless them in spite of themselves, and through their line all the families of the earth will be blessed.  May God give us the grace to trust Him more and more with all our hearts and not to lean on our own understanding, in all our ways acknowledging Him so that He may direct our steps.

Until next time…stay salty.