Where do we go from here?

Eleven years ago, on a Tuesday very much like this one, I got up around this time to go to class. I was a freshman in college 1,000 miles away from home. Even back then I had a daily routine that I couldn’t deviate from much, just out of concern that I would forget. I’d get up around 6:00 a.m., work on my morning devotion (except that I was reading them back then instead of writing them), and then I’d spend about half an hour on the phone with my mom. Afterward, I’d get dressed and head out in time for my early morning class.

Other students on campus were still in class when we got the news about the attack on the Twin Towers. I happened to be moving during the time the announcement went out by word around the small college I was at, so I didn’t hear about it until I got back to my room. I had a voice mail from my mom. That’s how I found out. Everyone on my floor flocked to the one television in the common area (it was a scarily conservative Christian college, but that’s another story). And I can remember like it was yesterday watching the first tower fall. And then the second.

I wasn’t scared, but I did feel raw inside, and I hurt for the people who had died. I hurt for the families who had lost loved ones. And I hurt for the people who didn’t know.

That same day, we had a moment of silence across campus. At noon, wherever you were, you were to stop and pray as the clock tower chimed. I remember standing on the brick plaza in front of the Varsity Commons, one of the cafeterias, and praying specifically for the families but also for our country as whole. That we would turn to God. That we would recognize that our world is evil and that people left to themselves and their own devices are wicked. And I think for a brief moment, maybe America thought about it.

But it didn’t last. And now, we’re worse than we were.

I blogged on a verse out of Isaiah 65 yesterday, but before I posted, I read the whole chapter. It made me cry. And it made me uneasy because it sounds awfully familiar. It was originally written for Israel, and if you know anything about the history of Israel, you’ll know it came true. And more and more, America seems to be following the same path, so why wouldn’t it be relevant to us too?

But I’m not going to offer an opinion on what it says. I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

But no matter what you think about where America stands and what direction we’ve gone in the last eleven years, please don’t let people forget. It’s not being overly sentimental. It’s not living in the past. It’s remembering a very dark moment in our history when innocent people died for no reason, when average people became heroes, and when our country was united for the first time in a long time. And if we can remember that, we can remember what matters.

Isaiah 65 (The Message)

“I’ve made myself available
    to those who haven’t bothered to ask.
I’m here, ready to be found
    by those who haven’t bothered to look.
I kept saying ‘I’m here, I’m right here’
    to a nation that ignored me.
I reached out day after day
    to a people who turned their backs on me,
People who make wrong turns,
    who insist on doing things their own way.
They get on my nerves,
    are rude to my face day after day,
Make up their own kitchen religion,
    a potluck religious stew.
They spend the night in tombs
    to get messages from the dead,
Eat forbidden foods
    and drink a witch’s brew of potions and charms.
They say, ‘Keep your distance.
    Don’t touch me. I’m holier than thou.’
These people gag me.
    I can’t stand their stench.
Look at this! Their sins are all written out—
    I have the list before me.
I’m not putting up with this any longer.
    I’ll pay them the wages
They have coming for their sins.
    And for the sins of their parents lumped in,
    a bonus.” God says so.
“Because they’ve practiced their blasphemous worship,
    mocking me at their hillside shrines,
I’ll let loose the consequences
    and pay them in full for their actions.”

God’s Message:

“But just as one bad apple doesn’t ruin the whole bushel,
    there are still plenty of good apples left.
So I’ll preserve those in Israel who obey me.
    I won’t destroy the whole nation.
I’ll bring out my true children from Jacob
    and the heirs of my mountains from Judah.
My chosen will inherit the land,
    my servants will move in.
The lush valley of Sharon in the west
    will be a pasture for flocks,
And in the east, the valley of Achor,
    a place for herds to graze.
These will be for the people
    who bothered to reach out to me, who wanted me in their lives,
    who actually bothered to look for me.

“But you who abandon me, your God,
    who forget the holy mountains,
Who hold dinners for Lady Luck
    and throw cocktail parties for Sir Fate,
Well, you asked for it. Fate it will be:
    your destiny, Death.
For when I invited you, you ignored me;
    when I spoke to you, you brushed me off.
You did the very things I exposed as evil;
    you chose what I hate.”

Therefore, this is the Message from the Master, God:

“My servants will eat,
    and you’ll go hungry;
My servants will drink,
    and you’ll go thirsty;
My servants will rejoice,
    and you’ll hang your heads.
My servants will laugh from full hearts,
    and you’ll cry out heartbroken,
    yes, wail from crushed spirits.
Your legacy to my chosen
    will be your name reduced to a cussword.
I, God, will put you to death
    and give a new name to my servants.
Then whoever prays a blessing in the land
    will use my faithful name for the blessing,
And whoever takes an oath in the land
    will use my faithful name for the oath,
Because the earlier troubles are gone and forgotten,
    banished far from my sight.

“Pay close attention now:
    I’m creating new heavens and a new earth.
All the earlier troubles, chaos, and pain
    are things of the past, to be forgotten.
Look ahead with joy.
    Anticipate what I’m creating:
I’ll create Jerusalem as sheer joy,
    create my people as pure delight.
I’ll take joy in Jerusalem,
    take delight in my people:
No more sounds of weeping in the city,
    no cries of anguish;
No more babies dying in the cradle,
    or old people who don’t enjoy a full lifetime;
One-hundredth birthdays will be considered normal—
    anything less will seem like a cheat.
They’ll build houses
    and move in.
They’ll plant fields
    and eat what they grow.
No more building a house
    that some outsider takes over,
No more planting fields
    that some enemy confiscates,
For my people will be as long-lived as trees,
    my chosen ones will have satisfaction in their work.
They won’t work and have nothing come of it,
    they won’t have children snatched out from under them.
For they themselves are plantings blessed by God,
    with their children and grandchildren likewise God-blessed.
Before they call out, I’ll answer.
    Before they’ve finished speaking, I’ll have heard.
Wolf and lamb will graze the same meadow,
    lion and ox eat straw from the same trough,
    but snakes—they’ll get a diet of dirt!
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    anywhere on my Holy Mountain,” says God.

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Peter and Paul

Do you ever read verses in the Scripture when you feel like it’s beating a dead horse? It’s funny to me how whoever chooses the Bible Verse of the Day at Biblegateway.com kind of seems to choose a topic and then finds verses to support it. But it’s also funny to me that the topics the Verse of the Day often repeats and repeats and repeats are the same topics people have a hard time remembering. So maybe that horse isn’t dead yet after all . . .

Today’s passage is Philippians 2:1-2.

1 Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? 2 Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose.

Unity. Be of one mind. Work with one purpose. Agree wholeheartedly with each other. Love each other. Sound familiar? A lot like yesterday’s post. But different. Because it was written by a different person.

Yesterday’s verse (1 Peter 3:8) was written by Peter.

Today’s verse (Philippians 2:1-2) was written by Paul.

Yet they wrote the same thing, almost word for word.

And let’s just say this, folks, if Peter and Paul could find a way to be of one mind a purpose, anyone can. 

Peter was a fisherman, loud mouthed, abrasive, impulsive and uneducated.

Paul was a scholar, a high-ranking Jewish leader with more education than he probably knew what to do with.

Peter was flamboyant, an intense, emotional person.

From what I can tell, Paul was more reserved, more of a thinker.

Peter was one of the original twelve disciples Jesus chose, who lived with Him for three years.

Paul was chosen after Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension (still chosen by Christ, but Paul didn’t follow Him while He was alive on Earth).

Peter was older.

Paul was younger.

And let’s not forget the most obvious disparity in their relationship. Peter led many to the Lord following Jesus’ ascension. . . . . And, at first, Paul killed them.

That was Paul’s job. Persecuting Christians. I believe He was present at the stoning of Stephen, another Christ follower mentioned in Scripture. It’s likely he held the coats of the men who threw the rocks.

Of course, when God got a hold of Paul, his life changed (and so did his name, as previously he was named Saul). But even if God forgets our sins, it’s hard for the people around us to do the same. Imagine the Disciples’ shock when Paul, who had murdered scores of their freinds and colleagues, walked into their midst claiming to be a follower of God. I can imagine the look on Peter’s face, as the impulsive one of the group. And I’m sure a great number of disagreements broke out. And I’m sure Peter and Paul may not have been the best of friends, but they were willing to put their differences aside and work together because they could agree on what mattered.

Is there a Christian you know who’s solid theologically but that you have a hard time getting along with?

Compare your relationship with that person to the relationship of Peter and Paul. And if you don’t know what to do with that person follow their example. Put aside the things that you don’t like and put aside the picky little details you can’t agree on and focus on the big picture.

Do you have to be best friends? No. When it comes to close friendships, you need to be with someone who encourages you or enriches you, and even though other Christians may mean well, they don’t always speak your language.

But you do need to agree. And you do need to support each other. And you do need to be of one mind and one purpose.

And if God could help two people as different from each other as Peter and Paul work together for the same goal, He can do the same for us. We just have to let Him.