New - Week Two: "New Things"
Today we are continuing the sermon series that we started last Sunday--a sermon series that will take us all the way through the month of January.
The title of this series is "New" and it is centered on how we can begin the new year with a new focus, a new outlook and a new way of seeing ourselves and others.
Transformation is in our DNA--we were created to grow and to change, but the best kind of change leaves a mark. And this is where our imagery of tattoos comes in...
Tattooing requires trust---otherwise things can turn out poorly. I mean, you need to be willing to trust the right person, however. You shouldn't get a tattoo from someone who just bought the equipment and wants to try it out.
But let's say you are getting a tattoo, wouldn't you agree that trust is something you need to have.
Tell the story of the tattoo on my arm. Then show the tattoo.
You have to be willing to submit to the artist as well--to trust that the artist has a vision and will be able to work out whatever they created in such a way that fits you perfectly.
But one of the most difficult things to do is trust that God knows what God is doing. Especially when things are not going as we planned.
You see, most of us want to control the outcomes so much that we will be willing to do whatever it takes to be in charge. We'll even sabotage the good things in our life in order to take back what we believe to be control.
But when things are not going well for us, when our plans aren't working out, when it feels like everything is falling apart around us---that's when it's nearly impossible for us to simply trust that there is purpose and to let God do what God does.
I've said this before and it bears repeating now. God doesn't cause all things, but God is present in all things. No matter what is happening, God desires to work in it for our good, according God's purposes...
And I would also add that God has a purpose for you and for me in the midst of all of this as well. Nothing is wasted.
Here's what I want us to hold on to today:
We are made new when we learn to trust God's purposes.
Our conversation partner for this month are the prophetic works known as Isaiah from the Hebrew Scriptures. The "book" of Isaiah is actually three different books all written from different eras surrounding the Babylonian exile of the people of Israel.
Speak to this a bit.
This particular passage is part of what is known as Second Isaiah which was composed during the exilic period when the Hebrew people were hopelessly exiled with little hope of returning to their homeland.
1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”
One of the most interesting things about this passage is the fact that the rescuer in the first part of the prophecy doesn't look like the kings of the day--far from it. The kings of day within which this prophecy was delivered were cruel despots.
And here's something else...
It's hard not to see the Christ in this passage, am I right? This is the Christ that we see revealed in Luke chapter 4 when Jesus stands up in the synagogue in Nazareth and proclaims the following from none other than the prophet Isaiah:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
This is also interesting, there's no talk in this passage of revenge against the Babylonians or anyone who has taken part in the oppression of God's people. There's no looking back. There's only living into a future hope.
What is it that God wants God's people to know here?
God has a purpose for us even in the middle of tragedy, loss, trials, and tribulations. Nothing is wasted.
God is essentially saying to God's people: "All of the things that others intended for evil, I will turn upside down and restore it to goodness. All of the sorrow you experienced will simply exist for a moment in your memory to remind you of how much joy is ahead of you.
I will not allow a single thing that you've experienced--no matter what it was--to go to waste. Do you trust me on this?
So how do we get to place of trust where we believe--even when we are suffering and struggling--that God has a purpose, that God won't let it go to waste... that God will restore, renew and even resurrect if need be?
I see three ways that this goes down for us...
And I have three "P's" which makes it easy.
First, you need to Prepare.
This is key. You can't prepare yourself for everything that happens to you in life, but you can be prepared when it comes to how you react to it.
It takes your heart, mind and your spirit to be prepared. You have to train them. You have to spend time developing all of these aspects of yourself. If your heart is bent toward God, your mind will follow, and if your heart and mind are both on board, it becomes all the easier for your spirit to get there, too.
My process for this is an act of remembrance and hope. I allow myself to think deeply about all of the moments in my life where God intervened, showed up, did God's thing to rescue, restore and resurrect me.
These are the historical markers in your life. They teach you everything you need to know to be able to finally let go of your self, and to learn to trust that God isn't up to no good when it comes to you.
Second, you need to Pray.
When I was a kid I remember preachers preaching on this verse from 1 Thessalonians that reads, "pray without ceasing." Say something about how weird that was, and what it really means.
The conduit needs to be open somehow. Keeping time with God, journalling, doesn't have to be kneeling by your bed.
Third, you need to Practice.
Every single time you feel the need to be in control... every time you want to take matters into your own hands... stop. Learn to rest in your unease and discomfort. Let yourself be in the hands of God for a while.
Sometimes we make the road by walking.
Jesus taught Peter what it meant to let go of control with the whole fishing thing.
The difference between belief and trust. Trust has to do with action, relationship, connection, intimacy. The closer you are to God, the more you learn to trust.
We are made new when we learn to trust God's purposes.