Sunday, July 19, 2015

There has to be More to Life

This morning, Joel and I decided that we would have our own worship service together. We both desired to worship God but for a comedy of reasons, we were not able to attend a worship service at a local church. Instead of just forgetting about it or lamenting our poor planning, we sat down in the living room and commenced to worshiping on our own. 

We didn't have a plan, and I strongly believe that when worshiping the Holy One a "plan" is not ever necessary. In fact, far too often, "the plan" turns into the very thing that limits us from even connecting to the One in the first place. Joel started to play his guitar. The movements of his fingers became a song which turned into typing on a keyboard to look up the lyrics, and soon we began to sing together. One song led into another song and then he cued me to open my Bible. I opened it to where it was marked. I marked it long ago and I cannot remember what lesson I was marking it for or what stage of life this passage was referring to, but I read the first words where my eyes fell. 

Isaiah 43: 18-21 

“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.
Wild animals will say ‘Thank you!’
    —the coyotes and the buzzards—
Because I provided water in the desert,
    rivers through the sun-baked earth,
Drinking water for the people I chose,
    the people I made especially for myself,
    a people custom-made to praise me."

I read this passage over and over again. It took some repetition because I wept so much by how exactly I needed to hear these words. The power of these words struck me. In the moment when I flipped open to this page, I was thinking about the past. I was thinking about how I long for something that I am not getting now. How I used to think of church, how I used to be able to worship and experience the Holy there. I had just rehearsed the narrative that I have been telling for months about how there has to be something more, something deeper, something Holy in this mystery I call being the church. I know I have been custom made to praise the Holy One. What am I missing?

The answer is clear and Isaiah isn't the only prophet who has been speaking this truth for thousands of years. The answer is the Holy One. The answer IS now. 

God commands, "Be alert. Be present." God is doing a new thing right now. God is at work right now in this moment and I am missing it in all my longing and remembering how it used to be. What is God doing now that I am not paying attention to? This is the question I should be asking because this is where fulfillment will be found. This is where thirst is quenched. 

Eugene Peterson (a prophet of our age) wrote the introduction to Isaiah in his translation of the Bible called "The Message". Peterson offers some insight that hit me right between the eyes today, and most certainly struck a chord in my longing heart. 

"The book of Isaiah is expansive, dealing with virtually everything that is involved in being a people of God on this planet Earth. The impressive art of Isaiah involves taking the stuff of our ordinary and often disappointing human experience and showing us how it is the very stuff that God uses to create and save and give hope. As this vast panorama opens up before us, it turns out that nothing is unusable by God. He uses everything and everybody as material for his work, which is the remaking of the mess we have made of our lives."

This week, I had the pleasure and honor of working alongside a talented young Youth Director who hired me to consult her as she planned out her year of youth ministry. After a few conversations about creativity and art, it wasn't long before she decided that she wanted her theme for the year of Youth Education to be, "Creative Mess". I actually have a sign in my kitchen that reads, "A creative mess is better than an ideal neatness". God uses everything and everyone as material for his work. His work is the remaking of the mess we have made of our lives...the re-creation of our lives. The recreation of our lives in Him. 

Peterson speaks to Isaiah's message about God's work in the world as a "Salvation Symphony". This symphony is a fusion of simplicity and complexity as human beings grapple with our need to connect to The Holy while still hoping to fill that void on our own. 

I believe that my life is a living expression of worship. That in all that I do and become, I am living in worship of God. When I am not actively engaged in living this way I feel disconnected, disjointed and off base. The longing that I have described above is to be connected to the Holy all the time. I ache for an experience, a knowing of holiness that is a revolution, that is powerful, that is entirely REAL! Peterson, again, says it better than I can:

"The more hours we spend pondering the words of Isaiah, the more the word “holy” changes in our understanding. If “holy” was ever a pious, pastel-tinted word in our vocabularies, the Isaiah-preaching quickly turns it into something blazing. Holiness is the most attractive quality, the most intense experience we ever get of sheer life—authentic, firsthand living, not life looked at and enjoyed from a distance. We find ourselves in on the operations of God himself, not talking about them or reading about them. Holiness is a furnace that transforms the men and women who enter it. “Holy, Holy, Holy” is not needlepoint. It is the banner of a revolution, the revolution."

I long to be living first-hand, authentically in the operations of God himself. I long for a sheer life of blazing holiness, a revolution of love and Oneness in the world. This morning, I heard myself saying to Joel, "I don't believe that God would allow this to be the desire of my heart if it is not possible or if there are not others who long for this with me." I know there is more to life than what we experience in the pews, in our surface readings of scripture, and in our good-person to-do list's. I want more. I long for more. Don't you?

How will we begin this journey with the Holy One together?

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