A friend of mine recently went to a seminar that encouraged parents to be engaged with their kids’ use of social media. The ill impact of mindless hours of scrolling through “news” feeds on one’s Facebook is a complex reality (not just for kids). My friend brought back a reflective statistic that basically acknowledged that on average people will have spent 11 years of their life on Facebook and 1 full year of taking selfies! This is a powerful thing when one thinks how one spends their short life. Sleeping, working, and eating take most of our lives and along the way we try to make and maintain meaningful relationships.
Another year gone. New outcomes at the end of this one. New plans and resolutions to make it happen and unwire bad habits. I often think about (sorry if it seems morbid) about how short life is and how close death is for each of us (even if it seems like we have a lot of time ahead). Not very hopeful sounding am I?
I do, however, have a lot of hope and I attribute that hope to my Christian Faith. This past year I performed the funeral for four different people that died. I have been a bi-vocational pastor for a few years and I am on the backup list of who to call when one of our local funeral homes need a pastor (for multiple reasons including that the deceased individual didn’t have a church affiliation or that other Xian pastors refused to perform the service).
Funerals are a major part of a full-time pastor’s role in Christian service to the church and community. For me, most of my time is not spent in Christian church buildings or settings. My experience is a lot like most of the lay people in Christian congregations, and it is a very interesting feeling when I step into those moments to be and perform the high task of servicing the dead and their families. The key point I am trying to make with all this part is that dealing with and thinking about death is something we as Americans try our best to avoid. We want to feel alive. We want the moments that we get to last. Most all of us are shocked when death happens. Some people have been blessed to live long lives and many often realize how fast life had gone. Death definitively feels like a blow. It sucks. The biblical story, however, is never shy regarding the grit of life and death (as so many people have assumed). Words and concepts like “peace”, “save”, “hope”, “resurrection” etc. carry the revelation that God’s plan is not death of creation but the restoration of it. Death’s sting is even questioned by the Apostle Paul.
So… what does this have to do with a year of your life spent on selfies? One thing is that there is a reminder that life is precious and short. Maybe that we would spend that time and those selfies a bit more serious this year. This morning was the first morning of 2019 and I took a picture of my kids and I eating breakfast together at our family dinner table (Andrea was at the gym working out and practicing her stuff for her class). When I snapped the picture, I had thoughts that dealt with how special the moment we were sharing was. This was a moment I wanted to hold onto while realizing someday this picture would be far in the past.
Simultaneously I had a flashback memory that brought emotion to the forefront of my mind. In college and when Andrea and I were first married, I worked at Chipotle. Within the first few months of working there one of my managers died. A couple of months later another manager shot himself at his home (I still think about him when I see our Betty Crocker Cookbook, he gave us for our wedding gift). Both guys were in their early forties. I was age 22.
The first manager I mentioned was named John, and he died of a heart attack. The second manager (Cory) of despair and self-infliction. John’s family had a funeral for him at a local church and we went to pay our respects. I never heard again from Corey’s family. I was as close to John as most people are to their co-worker/managers in that kind of work. I was not that close to him as others might have been, but I do remember him being a good guy as far as I had been able to know him. At his funeral we stood in the back of the room and outside of a couple people from work we didn’t know anybody else there. They started a common video containing pictures of his life. Life with his friends and family.
I remember a rush of emotions coming over me while I was watching the video and his kids watching the pictures go by. Almost twelve years have gone by since that seemingly forgettable moment, but I remember the universal human experience of what loss of life feels like. I think that this was the first time I had reflected on death in that kind of way. Someday will be each of our turn for death. I know that those can be for some very intense thoughts going into 2019. Let’s make the moments of each breath and day we are given. For those of us who know what faith in Christ means, let us share that with one another and share that hope through our love this coming year. Death is not the end.
One of my favorite bands released a song from their upcoming album. Demon Hunter’s song “On My Side” explores the ideas of 1 Cor. 15:55 and Romans 8:31. Ryan from the band explained that because of Christ, death is not a period. Hope in Christ gives hope for the now and the eternal. Lyrics below:
“On My Side”
I’ve been waiting, give me a sign
There’s nothing left to face, only the time
I see shadows, devils, decline
I’ve lost my faith in us, found my design
Where is the enemy
I can feel no bite
Where is the enemy
When death is on my side
Something building, raging inside
This hope gave me release, gave me a why
Can’t shake this ground beneath, I came to fight
The trumpets calling out to me by name
No looming debt for me
No, death will find his aim to be in vain
-Ryan Clark (Demon Hunter)
Link to YouTube Song below:
Demon Hunter “On My Side”
Listened to Tony Robbins this morning on goals. I paraphrase below: He mentioned how having a compelling vision (the why) of our goals PULLS us toward them. If we simply rely on PUSHING ourselves toward a goal that requires will power (which takes more and is not usually sustainable at intense levels). We need push (will power) and pulls (compelling vision) but pulls will help us more for the endurance toward the goals.
What new visions of the future do I need to evaluate and create?
What old visions of the future do I need to find compelling again?
The passage for study this week highlights the irony regarding God’s ways of working in the world that seem contrary to expectation. The servant that is mentioned is further under scrutiny for the actions that this person makes. Sinful humanity gets a surprise healing from the pain inflicted upon the servant. This poem continues to challenge the assumptions regarding Israel’s saving God. God supposedly is going to send remedy through an unlikely source.
It was typical in the ancient understanding to think that when something bad was happening to an individual it was a result of their wickedness (386, 389). It would seem surely that this absurd character that was appearing weak and sick was getting what they deserved providentially. What the reader discovers, however, is that the sickness, shame, and punishment upon the servant is due to humanity’s sin. This is not the servant’s fault, but the servant bears the entire barrage of insults and are in place of the sinner’s sickness (397).
A large portion of the poem is painting the picture that there is a contrast between humanity and the servant. This is true even despite the reality that the servant is just like humanity and comes from among humanity. This is interesting since this servant is described as innocent, perfect, and undeserving of any harm. The theology of substitution is highlighted by Oswalt on numerous points and as he highlights is connected to the sacrificial system known by Israel (385). Sinful humans, as Israel would have known and argued, needed a mediator between them and God’s righteousness. The sacrificing of unblemished animals to atone for their sins was at the heart of their holiness understanding. It is further striking how Isaiah’s picture combines this language of humanity and a perfect sacrifice to mediate between God and humanity.
The use of the image of a sheep in the poem suggests humanity’s dilemma and the servant’s destiny. It symbolizes humanity’s flaws with sin and missing the point of creation when they have no awareness regarding consequences for actions (389). Humanity needs a God as much as sheep need the guidance and love of a good shepherd. A good shepherd will rescue their sheep at great cost. Oswalt points out the contrast between the people who have gone astray being like a flock of sheep and the servant being a submissive lamb on the way to death. This comparison is a powerful picture of how the servant is like the lamb in a different way than the lost unaware sheep (389-391).
The absurdity of the poem is further complicated when one thinks that God is the one who supposedly does this to the servant (Isaiah 53:6b). This tension should stand when we think about God’s radical dealing with the life destroying force of sin. God is really dealing with God in a profound way. Oswalt notes the many connections here between Jesus and this servant (385, 391, 392). Jesus is described in the New Testament by John the Baptist as the lamb that takes away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:9). Jesus also is the one making the decision to follow through with the mission of embracing death to satisfy God’s mission of salvation (Luke 9:51).
This servant/messiah being described by Isaiah is one that is truly unique. The one who never committed sins or violence is embracing sin and violence within themselves. Oswalt sees that Isaiah is writing about an individual the world had never seen. He rightly notes that there has never been such a person known to have been fully innocent and always have spoken truth (396-397). The entire pericope tells of a contrast between humanity and the servant. It ultimately speaks about God’s character and how God works with the problem of sin. For Israel, it should have prompted them to see things in a different light and be on the lookout for one who would be innocently led like a lamb to the slaughter and in whose mouth, there was found no deceit. Isaiah pointed to the kind of servant that would save people from their sins (Matthew 1:21).
Isaiah 35 is like a breath of fresh air. The preceding chapters developed a picture of God’s people constantly “riding the fence” in regards to their trust and faithfulness to God. Isaiah 35 sets a distinct contrast to chapter 34 (620). The picture in Isaiah 34 (like elsewhere Isaiah) speaks of judgement regarding the nations and contains many descriptions void of hope. Images of God’s anger and death seems to reign throughout Isaiah 34. Chapter 35 changes the picture toward life, beauty, and God’s redemption plan.
It is interesting that in both chapters the creation plays a vital role in how the proposed future will be experienced by humanity. We see that God’s engagement against sin can and will bring destruction. God’s full engagement intention, however, will bring about holistic healing for the creation.
Oswalt notes how poetic language is difficult to try and always pin down into literal meanings (621). Even though poetic language is being used, the text is talking about two very important and distinct possible realities. There is a reality that relies on sinful humanity judged by God, and there is a reality where humanity surrenders to God and is redeemed. I believe that the second picture is God’s favorite one and intrinsic to God’s nature (Isaiah 35). The original intention of creation gets put back into place because God acts in creation.
Isaiah 35 immediately violates the mind by putting forth a paradox. The picture of a desert is basically synonymous with death in most minds. This baron wasteland however, gets a resurrection. This was not the case in the language of Isaiah 34. This seems to be a major turning point in the book itself. Chapter 35 in many ways serves as a hinge from the theme of judgment to the hope of God’s redemption (626).
The striking turning point for the reader of Isaiah is that what has been broken will not remain. God comes for the broken and hopeless (vs. 4b). God’s control over the nations and all reality is a very good thing for those who cry out to God. Oswalt writes, “God has been coming to us across the millennia: through the process of revelation, in the acts of his providence, in the first coming of Christ” (623). This hinge chapter is hanging on the message of hope in a good God. The result is life which is represented by the pictures of healed bodies, thirsts quenched, and places of violence made safe.
I think it is worth noting how Chapter 33 contains a prayer to God for the people’s salvation and strength (33:2). This has been what God has wanted from the start (592). It is when the other perceived powers and gods have failed that God can be seen as the only true remedy for hope. No longer will God’s people depend on human powers to feel safe from fear. This God will come to the rescue when the people remember, repent, and return to God.
The last part of Isaiah 35 deals with those who participate in the abundant new life that God wants to provide. When the image bearers respond to God’s saving activity then the world will change into the type of place where deserts become lush gardens. This happens because God is different than the other idols and humanity finds its true identity and restoration from sin and death. The most vivid observation is that humanity starts to live in a new way as a result to trusting a Holy God. The ultimate end is joy found in relationship to this God.
Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.