Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Generous Justice

I think I'm on my fifth time through the Bible, and I'm up to Isaiah. Now I know that Isaiah has some great verses in there like Isaiah 40:31: but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. And 43:1 Do not fear, for I am with you. It also has some of the most well-known prophecies about Jesus. But for me reading through Isaiah always seems like a long slog. 

Maybe it's because much of the book are Isaiah's prophecies from God about the destruction of Israel, as well as all of its enemies, so it seems like a long angry rant. I'd rather read through the interminable rules in Leviticus than the constant anger in Isaiah. 

The amazing thing about the Bible is that it is never the same book twice. Every time I read, I find verses that so perfectly capture my heart I wonder how on earth I managed to miss them the first time through! I try to use a different highlighter or method of noting verses with each read so that I can see how what touches me changes each time. I never expected to find that kind of connection with God in Isaiah. Maybe it's what I'm facing in my life right now, I don't know what it is, but I am suddenly filling up pages in my journal with copied down verses, and purple highlighter is showing up on many of Isaiah's pages. Last night I came across these verses from chapter 35:

Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return.
      They will enter Jerusalem singing,
      crowned with everlasting joy.
   Sorrow and mourning will disappear,
      and they will be filled with joy and gladness

Now every night, I also read a Psalm. Last night's was 95. These are the final verses of Psalm 95:

They are a people whose hearts turn away from me.
      They refuse to do what I tell them.’
 11 So in my anger I took an oath:
      ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

I was moved to read these two connected promises in two different books in one night. The first is the promise to believers who have allowed God to take away their sins. Here's a list of their rewards: return home, crowned with everlasting joy (just stop for a moment and imagine what everlasting joy is. I cannot even begin to imagine it, but the idea fills my heart to overflowing), their sorrow and mourning will disappear and be replaced by joy and gladness. Those are powerful promises, and just the words fill me with joy. 

The second set of verses are a warning for those who refuse God, and He promises that they will never enter His place of rest: Heaven. Which for them means: no returning home, no crown of joy, their gladness and joy will be replaced with sorrow and mourning, and they will never, ever find rest.

God is not a god who vague promises of the future. No, we can't know what will happen tomorrow, but we can know with absolute certainty that if we follow him, there is joy. If we don't, there is no rest. It's a choice we all face, and even not acting choosing is a choice. Christmas is coming, with all the joy of our coming Savior. Let Him reach out to you today, and maybe He'll find you in a place you would never expect, like the book of Isaiah!

Generous Justice by Timothy Keller is an intelligent and reasoned discussion on how Christians should be serving within the world today. Keller, who is a pastor of a large church in New York City, throws aside the differences between fundamentalists, who focus on teaching about God, and the progressive church, which is focused on social justice. Keller says they both have it wrong by focusing on one side and ignoring the other. By using several biblical examples, as well as contemporary anecdotes, he explains how the church is called care for the poor in radical and unexpected ways. The first century church pooled their resources and had no poor among them, Keller recognizes that today's church isn't so simple, but that doesn't allow the church to simply ignore the problems in their communities. He encourages churches to move into communities in need of  help and then recruit leaders from the neighborhood to make them a part of permanent change. There are other books on this subject out there, but Keller's is the first I've read that gives real suggestions that any reader can follow. Chapter seven is a fascinating discussion on just what the word "justice" means, with three philosophical definitions and how all of them miss the mark as well. Keller's focus is that true justice for everyone can only be found in the Bible and by studying the Word of God. His writing is very cerebral and inspiring.

Thank you to Dutton for providing me with a copy of this book for review!

Today's pic is of Doogie and Mia, both wearing their fedoras, to my mom's for Thanksgiving. They don't really look a thing alike, but notice the same smirky smile on their faces.