Anaheim SDA Church
Mid-week Pastor’s Update
November 10th, 2021
“Then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” Isaiah 58:14
What a promise this is! It invokes imaginings in me of riding a mighty horse full-speed over hilltops on a cool but clear, blue-sky day. The valleys below glisten with richness and abundance. And the second part, a feast: who doesn’t love the image of a luxurious banquet table (often the stereotypical image of Thanksgiving, which is up-coming, coincidentally).
God promises to “cause” this to happen. Note: it’s not primarily through our efforts, achievements, or rewards: God does it, and I believe he delights to do so (see Psalm 35:27, for example). And what does He ask in order to enable His doing this? Simply cooperating with His precepts: his wise and eternal counsels, laws, and principles.
There are brief moments in scripture when this was permitted to happen. The reign of Solomon in Israel was a unique time in which the country experienced abundance and peace from all enemies. There were also bright moments of hope in the reigns of kings Joash, Hezekiah, & Josiah further down in Israel’s history.
Sadly, however, the testimony of most of scripture (and, indeed, most of history since then) is more one of compromised dedication to God, and therefore, compromised blessings. Many generations of Israel’s & Judah’s kings said “I’m going to go forward in the way that seems best to me.” They essentially said “I’ll incorporate God’s ways where they don’t conflict with mine, but my will effectively comes first, God’s counsel second.”
It’s not only Biblical times too: the centuries of European “Christian” History, and recent centuries/decades of our own country tell the same story. I encourage you to read the book “The Great Controversy” if you haven’t done so recently: It gives a birds-eye view of (mostly) European history much like the books of Kings & Chronicles do for Israel’s history.
But I only need look around to see my own generation repeating this outlook on the personal level. Among my parents’ generation, my own schoolmates, and even now the students I have taught, I see a large percentage going their own way, and still hoping/claiming God will bless them, despite not putting His precepts first. This hurts my heart!
There’s one case in particular that’s saddened me so recently: at my previous church community, there was a teen girl who was really one foot in the world, one in the church. I hoped she would see the wisdom of God’s ways over the world’s. Then she colporteured for a summer with the conference “Youth Rush” ministry, and got super-zealous for the Lord! She would give her testimony in churches, and go to our schools to encourage the other kids to sign-up for summer colporteuring as well: she married a fellow strong Christian colporteur, and my heart rejoiced for her example. I thought “If only more youth could see how vibrant and full Christian life is!” I hoped more would catch her fire.
Then, some years ago, she got a job in the office of a politican in another state. I think she studied political science in college. Knowing that everybody needs to get a job somewhere, I hoped she would shine her light of Christianity there and be an inspiration for others. I feared, though, that that environment would instead diminish her zeal and commitment. (Side-note, the politician was Democrat, though I view that as incidental to this story).
But in the past year I’ve seen her online social media posts change. Far more about politics, and far less about God. I tried to still give her the benefit of the doubt, but worried. And in the last couple months she’s come out announcing several things: that she’s getting divorced, has a new definition of her sexuality, has a new partner, yet “still has a strong connection with God” despite not going to church any more due to the judgmentalism there.
I’ve been distressed about her, as I’m sure God has too. I’ve thought of commenting on her posts, but figure there’s no positive way to move the needle of her/her friends’ opinion when her comments section is full of messages like “You go, girl!” and “You rock!”. So, I just pray for her. Pray that she will find her way back to life as God intends it.
It’s just so easy to look back at the Biblical accounts and shake our heads, because it’s so objective what they need to do, and the solution seems so obvious. And then we see people in our own time and place, perhaps once zealous and committed, wandering too, and claiming connection with God, as those OT kings did.
And then I look and I see Jesus, arms outstretched, offering His “abundant life” (John 10:10). But He doesn’t offer it on our terms, He offers it on His. And His are the better/best ones anyway! And I just think: How many generations’ testimonies do we need, showing that God’s way is the way to happiness, to full and vibrant life, and that humans’ attempts to forge our own way (while perhaps claiming to still hold God’s hand) lead to muckiness and halfway happy lives.
That Isaiah 58 promise, quoted above, comes at the end of a chapter in which God outlines his expectations for Israel. Chiefly, that they would help the poor & honor His Sabbaths. Don’t even get me started on how I feel the poor in the world are regarded, nor how widely the Sabbath is ignored. I’m dedicated, in my personal life, to do my part, through efforts & influence to encourage both of these highly.
I just see God shaking his head from His throne, dropping His head in His hands, saying “I have so much for you! Why will you not take the wiser path?” But we say “Nope: we’re going to forge our own way. We’re going to make our own way here, and it’s gonna be great”. And God reluctantly says “Okay”, and lets us, for centuries at a time, build up the best society we can. And interpersonal relationships as often as not fall apart as they stay together.
I don’t know about you, but I long, daily, for God’s coming Kingdom. A city in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13), a place in which there is no more crying nor pain nor suffering nor suffering nor death, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4). I long for an end to this mucky cycle of generations knowing better, but in large part disregarding God’s counsel. I long to “ride on the heights of the land” and “feast on the inheritance of Jacob” as envisioned at the end of Isaiah 58.
“Come quickly, Lord Jesus” is the yearning cry in the last verse of the Bible. And to that I say “Amen, come quickly.” Praise the Lord, His promise is sure: He is coming for all who seek Him, long for Him, yearn for Him.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:6. May we ‘hang tight’ in our faith, despite our difficulties, until that promise comes to full reality.
May God bless you all the remainder of this week and beyond.
Pastor Mark Tatum