So, I pulled up Bible Gateway this morning, and I see the verse of the day listed as Isaiah 43:16, 18-19 which reads, “This is what the Lord says – he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, ‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland’” (New International Version). This sounds like an appropriate and motivational message to focus on for the New Year, right?
Part of the problem we have in western society is that we have developed an incredibly short attention span, and don’t read things in context. We want bite-sized nuggets of wisdom that make us feel good for short periods of time. We don’t bother to memorize anything or seek real wisdom because we can simply “Google it” when we forget. Personally, I cringe every time I see those commercials where a dad is reading a bedtime story to his little girl and she asks him question after question about something in the book, but he doesn’t know, so he has to ask Siri. If I were that kid, all that would teach me is that my dad doesn’t know anything and I should ask a robot instead. But I digress…
If you read Isaiah 43 in its entirety, the Lord is indeed telling them to leave the past behind and look forward, but there are some critical details missing if you only extract the above segment. First of all, God is speaking to Israel, America does not exist at this point in history. Secondly, what was in the past that they need to forget? The previous chapter explains that Israel has been blind and deaf and embroiled in war, but “did not understand…they did not take it to heart” (Is. 42:25). Chapter 43 is not so much about trying to comfort Israel after-the-fact, but it is about reminding them of who God is – “I have redeemed you…I have summoned you by name…I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior…I am with you…apart from me there is no savior…from the ancient days I am he. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” As a parent, I’ve have a few conversations where I’ve reminded my children that I am in charge of the schedule, resources, and provisions. And it is often a poignant reminder to me of where I’ve fallen short in my relationship with the Lord! For example: Say that Kid D wants to get together with friends and tells them that she’ll be there on Saturday at 11am, but didn’t ask ahead of time, and I had somewhere else she needed to be that she’d forgotten about. While she’s busy considering plans she wants to make, she’s not stopping to consider the bigger plan. How often do I do the same thing to God? I make plans and organize schedules for the four kids that we home-school, get people to and from soccer, tennis, gymnastics, taekwondo and teach a few classes a week all while working on my 2nd master’s degree. Insane much?! Yep! When carrying a lot of little things, they start to pile up to your eyeballs and then you can’t figure out which one to put down first without dropping the whole pile of stuff. Just like my kids not putting the family schedule and my relationship with them first, I can get so wrapped up in my own business that I don’t stop to ask God about His plan! People are self-consumed creatures that have to be reminded of their relationships and responsibilities to authority figures.
By taking this verse out of context, there is a third element missing: What is it that He is making new? God explains that He has not placed harsh requirements or demands upon Israel, that He has protected and provided for them over and over. Verses 14 through 28 illustrate God’s faithfulness, even though Israel has not been faithful in return to follow simple instructions. Even though they have been dishonoring Him, they still burden Him with their sins and offenses. Again, He demonstrates mercy and gives them another chance. What is “new” is the understanding that Israel, and indeed the whole world, will gain at the coming redemption through Jesus. All of Chapter 42 is a description of how to recognize the Deliverer when He comes! Based upon the many foretellings of Jesus, He should have been easy enough to recognize. “Do you not perceive it?” But we are blind and deaf even today! The wilderness and wasteland may be literal in some cases, but here it is also a metaphor for the human heart. God is not telling us to forget the lessons learned in 2016’s modern-day America, and look forward to health, wealth and prosperity in 2017! He is telling us that whatever you owed for your past sins has been paid in full by Jesus, and that our “new” future is focused on Him as the tangible image of God! You can move forward, and not dwell on the past, if you will focus your eyes upon Him. You are not in charge of the schedule. You are not capable of removing your own soul-blemishes. You do not have the authority to pardon yourself. Jesus does all of that. The focus for 2017 is not about you “making a way in the wilderness,” but about learning the path that Jesus has already laid out. And for some of us it also means putting our bundles down so that we can see that path clearly, hear His voice, and follow without turning back.
I have often told my children, “Don’t expect people who don’t know the Lord to act as if they do.” People that know the Lord have a hard enough time acting appropriately as His ambassadors. It makes it far easier to be loving toward others when we’re not focused on their actions as being prerequisite to our willingness to extend grace. After all, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). While it’s been relatively easy for me to teach this lesson to my children, and to live it out generally myself, God has found someone to test me in this. There is a member of my family that knows all the right things to say regarding faith and was brought up in church, yet has no understanding or interest in what it means to follow Jesus as Lord. I have never encountered an individual that is more self-centered, inconsiderate, and all-around toxic than this particular person. At Bible study, the question was asked, “What distinguishes a “good person’ from a Christian in the eyes of unbelievers? Is there any difference?” The difference is Jesus, but what does that look like? First of all, Christians are not perfect – let’s just address that myth right now. We are hypocrites, broken, disturbed, incomplete people in need of spiritual guidance, and love – the same as everyone else. The difference is that we follow Jesus because He knows how to take care of all those ailments. Not all hurts will disappear this side of heaven just because we begin following Him either – we still live with the consequences of sin, our own and others. But He shows us how to live and grow and love in the middle of the struggles. And today, He’s working on me.
I was self-centered, but He loved me selflessly.
I was concerned with personal gain, but He gave to me without restraint.
I was consumed with my busy schedule, but He pencils me in without appointment.
I made mess after mess, and He cleaned them up for me.
I was ignorant of His presence, but He knew right where I was.
I tried to ignore Him, to run, but He stayed right by my side.
I was harsh and irritable, but He is patient and gentle.
I asked Him why He’s so willing to deal with fools (temporarily forgetting my place), and
He reminded me, “I get the last word.”
“Lord, help me to love this unlovable person the same way that you’ve loved me. Help me to extend grace in the face of indignant arrogance. Teach me to give with no thought of return. Help me to forgive foolishness the same way you’ve forgiven mine. You willingly went to the cross, were beaten and bruised to carry a punishment that I deserved. Then you looked down from that cross as I sat there in judgment, and said, ‘Forgive her, Father. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.’ You paid a debt that was too mountainous for me to bear or repay. You stood before the Great Judge as my Advocate and offered to pay my bail. Help me to love like that. Help me to serve like that. Help me to extend mercy where it is anything but deserved, because You did that for me. I need Your strength, Lord – Your compassion.”
I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for good teachers. Having seven kids of our own, each as different as Nashville from Hong Kong, I have often praised teachers for spending hours each day caring for over twenty kids in addition to any of their own at home. I’m certain it is incredibly rewarding and exhausting! In my youth, it seemed every other year I had a fabulous one or two teachers, and the alternating years I was saddled with teachers who were more anxious for the closing bell than any of the students. Teachers can make or break a student’s spirit, igniting a flame or smothering it. Going into this coming school year, my respect and admiration to the sacrificially-dedicated, student-loving educator has jumped to a whole new level as I am preparing to home-school four of my children. The fifteen-year-old boy has home-schooled for the past two years, and this year we’re adding all three of his younger sisters. With each of them at a different grade level, and taking into consideration their different learning styles, strengths, and the speed at which they function best (which is different for each of these four), I’ve spent the last several weeks combing over lesson plans, reading lists, possible field trips, and the calendar is my constant companion…Okay, so my calendar was my constant companion before this whole venture, but now there are planners for each of the kids and my master copy so that I know which one I have rotating where and when. Whew!
Our family did not part easily from public education, nor did we have a poor experience. On the contrary, all of our kids were blessed to attend one of the most amazing public schools in the country! Our decision was made as one is transitioning into middle school and will need more specialized attention with regard to testing (mostly related to formatting) than her teachers will be able to provide, a second wants to pursue acting and the crazy audition schedule that can result, and the third likes a challenge and is wanting to advance her studies beyond her grade level. As for me? The Lord has allowed me an incredible learning opportunity as I work on developing and organizing curriculum for these kiddos, and hopefully for other home-schooled kids and university level students in the future!
Whether we’ve ever put together a lesson plan or not, all of us are teachers. The younger generations (and even our own peers) look to us for inspiration – It’s why Pinterest exists! – So what kind of teacher are you going to be? Will your example raise others spirits and encourage them, or will you zap the energy and enthusiasm of those around you? I would charge each of you to think of a teacher, mentor, friend or family member that has taught you something positive and significant, and take the time to say “thank you.” If you already have recently, great! Think of another educator and say a positive word to them. It’s contagious and will, hopefully, resonate with the youth they are serving as well. So, no matter what your position or profession, endeavor to make it better and have a great school year!
“Time is Fleeting.”
“Time is Infinite.”
“Time is of the Essence.”
“Time is Money.”
Our understanding of time colors our perception of the world around us. There are essentially two modes of time: kronos and kairos. Kronos is chronological time. It involves punching a clock, scheduling, and prioritizing. Efficiency and productivity are its goals. Kairos is more elastic. It measures time in terms of relationships and events. Let me give you an example…If I asked you what you were doing at precisely 3:17pm on May 14th, 2014, you probably would have a difficult time recalling, and even if you could remember, the answer provided would be clinical, like reading it out of an appointment book. However, if I ask you to think back to your last birthday or the last time you went to your favorite restaurant with that special someone…Now the memories and related emotional responses begin to surface and flow. You can smell the food, remember the ambiance and tone of the lighting and perhaps hear background voices, even recalling whole conversations from that event – a look, a touch of the hand – it all becomes almost tangible again…
Our memory resides in kairos time, though western society functions in kronos. Most of the world still functions entirely in kairos time – punctuality is not as highly prized, getting straight to the point is considered rude and breeds distrust, and face-to-face communication is highly valued. Western-style-kronos-club members are convenience-driven. If a phone call or a text will suffice, business is done. Emails and conference calls may well close the deal – but keep them brief and succinct so the audience doesn’t fall asleep or tune you out.
When and why did we change? The key point in history came with the Industrial Revolution. Productivity became more important, with everything now being tied to earning potential. Money becomes king. As a follower of Jesus Christ, how do I reconcile that? Hmmm…
We have the concept of “free time,” meaning time not previously committed to some other endeavor, namely one that generate income. Perpetually busy, we fantasize about what we might do with our “free time.” How much money can we throw at it? And then, returning to work, the cycle begins again…
Our time, all of it, is actually free. It is a gift that God freely gives us because He is exceedingly patient…and yet it was not without a magnificent cost…
Every year, Americans celebrate Independence Day where we enjoy the freedom to participate in parades and fireworks shows, to grill hamburgers and hotdogs, go swimming or take in a baseball game – but the freedom we prize so highly came, and continues to come, at an incredible cost. Our military budget dwarfs all other nations, though we can’t seem to budget to care for our veterans when they return home – if they return. The lives lost or crippled may be quantifiable, but their value is incalculable…This is why we say that “Freedom isn’t free.” Likewise, True Freedom, that which no government or earthly authority can dictate or take away, was bought with the blood of one perfect individual – fully God and fully man – and we did nothing, nor can we accomplish anything to deserve His sacrifice. So…if Jesus bought our eternal freedom with His own blood and our time is a measure of His grace and mercy, then how should we use that gift to say, “thank you?” We are not merely stewards of the money, resources, and relationships entrusted to us, but also of the time we’ve been afforded – in whatever amount that is. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20a reads, in part, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” Luke 16:10-13 says, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you’ve not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?…No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
When Jesus said, “Come follow me…” to Andrew and Simon Peter, they walked away from their money-making livelihood and obeyed…imagine if they’d said “What about my job?” or “Can I pencil you in tomorrow?” But they knew the value of the One who called them. He may not be calling you to walk away from your job – Simon and Andrew were fishers, therefore Jesus said, “I will make you fishers of men.” If you are not a fisherman, then this is not likely what God has in store for you…Are you an architect? It may be more likely that He is grooming you to build others up. Are you a teacher? Oh, wow, does He have a tall order for you! Are you an accountant, or a bus driver, or a journalist…Jesus didn’t call all of His disciples to be “fishers of men.” He called them as He had already equipped them.
If “time is fleeting,” then we shouldn’t let it go to waste. If “time is infinite,” then we should approach everything with an eternal perspective. If “time is of the essence,” then we should walk with His Spirit, seeking His wisdom and guidance, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on you own understanding. Acknowledge Him in all your ways, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own estimation; fear the Lord and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3:5-7). If “time is money,” perhaps we would be better served by serving God with our time, talents, finances, prayers and relationships, and let Him handle the rest.