Wednesday, November 09, 2005

RELIGION VERSUS REASON: Isaiah 1

Tol-ah, the 'crimson worm' referenced in Isaiah 1:18
Who was Isaiah? His name (Yeshayahu in Hebrew) means "The Lord is Salvation." He is commonly thought to be a cousin of King Uzziah, the first in a series of kings who ruled in Judah (the southern of the two divided kingdoms of the Israelites) during Isaiah's lifetime. Thus being a part of the royal family mean he had some degree of prestige and prominent position.

Isaiah's book of prophecy jumps right into the meat of the subject and not much is said how Isaiah initially became a prophet. We can surmise that he was largely silent against his cousin, Uzziah, even though the latter (who was primarily a king of virtue in Judah) made some serious mistakes toward the end of his life, sins that in fact cost him his reign and ultimately his very life.

So, interestingly, it wasn't until after Uzziah died that Isaiah had the magnificent vision recorded in the sixth chapter, in which he "saw the Lord." One gets the impression that God almost had to get Uzziah out of the way, that he may have been an obstacle in Isaiah's life to the prophet really getting down to the business to which God was calling him. We'll talk more about this when we get to Isaiah 6.

Meanwhile, chapter 1 sets the tone immediately for the whole book, summarizing the message of Isaiah to Judah. (For, while Isaiah also prophesied about and to the nations around Judah, including Israel, it was primarily Judah herself, and Jerusalem, with which he was concerned.)

The introduction to chapter 1 says it is a "vision" given Isaiah by the Lord. But it really does not seem so much a vision (in the sense of seeing something extraordinary), as a message. It is wholly different than the vision in Isaiah 6, where the prophet tells what he sees in his vision (in addition to delivering the words given to him to deliver). It really is strictly a letter of warning, and Isaiah is the postman who delivers it.

Chapter 1 makes clear who Isaiah is talking to ... it is God's very children, the ones he set aside for a special relationship with himself, the children of Israel. Judgment always begins at home. Chapter 1 highlights the unfaithfulness and horrific rebellion of God's children.

Many parents know the special sting of children who rebel. You pour your heart and soul to bringing a new life into the world. That cuddly, sweet, lovable child at some point in time turns into a horrible monster and treats you worse than the meanest stranger. If this is you, then take some comfort from the fact that God knows exactly what you're going through! No one knows more acutely the pain of rebellion than the Creator God who gave us life and then gave us a choice to either love and obey him, or to walk away and die. We chose to walk away.

So, the choices for those who rebel are simple. It's a pretty commonsense proposition:
18 "Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.

19 If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;

20 but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword."
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

The people of Israel have been practicing "religion." They go through all the motions. But God points out that their religion has little to do with real life. What counts are ACTIONS. All the religious practice in the world won't help you if you are committing injustice. I guess you could say this is the triumph of behavior over theology.

There is one truly amazing thing in this chapter which it is easy to totally miss if you're not reading this in the original language (Hebrew). In verse 18, the word for "crimson" is "tol-ah". Tol-ah is quite literally a type of worm, the "crimson worm," coccus ilicis. This worm infests certain types evergreen Mediterranean oaks. The mother would fasten her body to the bark, manufacturing a hard protective casing overhead before giving birth to her young. This was her final act. The young would begin to grow and would burst the casing, which was a bright crimson color. The crimson stain would run down the side of the tree. After a time the body of the mother would turn to a waxy, white substance which would flake off and flutter to the ground like snow.

Hence the beautiful word picture invoked by the prophet, sins like crimson becoming white as snow!

People in the Middle East still do as has been done for thousands of years ... they scrape the destroyed bodies of the Tol-ah from the bark of these trees, crush them and produce a brilliant crimson dye, very useful for dying wool or other fabrics.

It is this process of crushing the tol-ah that reveals another very astonishing discovery from the pages of Scripture, this time in Psalm 22:6 ...

But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.

Psalm 22 is considered a messianic psalm, specifically foretelling the agonies of Jesus' crucifixion. It begins with the same words Jesus quoted as He hung on the cross: "My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?" It tells the story of how the body of Jesus was broken, his crimson blood staining the sides of a wooden cross, so that you and I might be forgiven of our sins, made white as snow.

The word used for worm, in Psalm 22:6 is "tol-ah."

If that doesn't send chills up and down your spine, I don't know what does. Psalm 22 gives highly specific details about the manner of the Messiah's death ("they have pierced my hands and my feet"), hundreds of years before crucifixion was even invented!

On the cross Jesus truly became "a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people." And the most amazing thing of all is that He did so willingly, driven purely by His love for you and me: He "did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matt. 20:28) He was the embodiment of Isaiah's name ... "the Lord is Salvation!"

Sunday, October 30, 2005

TWO BIRDS, ONE STONE


Okay, I confess: "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned; it's been more than a month since my last blog."

When I started this, I thought, "No problem, I can write something every day. That will be easy." Well, I'll take comfort in the fact that this is not the first time in my life I've been humbled. In fact, being humbled seems to be a predominant theme in my life. Something I should be getting used to by now!

Anyway, as I was thinking about how to keep myself blogging more frequently, this morning I thought, "How could I use this blog to kill two birds with one stone?" That thought is a prominent, recurring theme in my life -- killing two birds (or more) with one stone. It seems I have only a limited number of stones, and an apparently limitless supply of birds.

That's when the idea struck. One of the big birds in my life is the college/career group which my wife and I pastor at our church, Elim EV Free Church of Puyallup, Washington. While we love Elim dearly, I must confess it's not a huge church, like our last church (Community Baptist Church of Alta Loma) in California was -- it's only about 150 people. We have 15 people at a college group meeting, on a very good night. Often it's only 3 or 4.

Despite this we've grown together, laughed together, cried together -- you get the picture. And we've made it a priority to try and figure out what (if anything) God is trying to tell us. And as it turns out, it seems He has tried to tell us a lot.

Through the years we've studied John, Romans, Daniel, Ecclesiastes, Psalms, Thessalonians, and other books of the Bible. Recently, we decided to tackle one of the toughest -- the book of Isaiah.


Why Isaiah? Like Psalms, it is one of the most frequently quoted books by Christ and those who wrote of His life. Hundreds of years before He was born, the person and work of Christ is deeply imbedded in the pages of Isaiah. If you love Jesus, like we do, then it makes trying to get a handle on the book of Isaiah a worthwhile endeavor.

This morning the group is opening chapter 24. We haven't studied each and every chapter specifically, although we've at least overviewed each; and some chapters we have spent more than one session on. So, considering the fact that Isaiah has 66 chapters, we may be there for awhile yet.

There are lots of interesting facts about Isaiah that makes it worthy of study:
  • Isaiah was a friend of power, a cousin of one of Judah's kings. He was a prophet, poet, and politician, considered a giant in his day.
  • Despite the respect Isaiah received, his stature and popularity, he met his end (according to historians, and the Bible alludes to this as well) in a gruesome way ... by being sawn in half.
  • Isaiah didn't speak out, as he was called to speak out, until when, upon reaching a certain point of loss in his life (after his cousin, the king, died) he had a vision wherein he saw God -- and thought he was going to die as a result. In that moment of crisis, he suddenly discovered the power to fulfill his life's calling. It's really when his life got started in earnest.
  • Despite his stature, he humbled himself in amazing ways in order to get God's message across ... including going buck naked for three entire years!!!
  • The book of Isaiah is a microcosm of the entire Bible. Just as the Bible has 66 books, Isaiah has 66 chapters, and is structured very much like the whole Bible -- depicting the fall of humankind from grace (as a result of our sin); the coming of the Messiah as a suffering servant who gave his life to ransom us; and His triumphant return as a conquering king when God ultimately takes over the joint.
  • Isaiah was written during an intense time of national crisis and pressure. The Assyrians were threatening all of the Middle East. Isaiah spoke of the judgment to come, bursting the bubble of false hopes and focusing the attention of those beign judged on their only True Hope for life.
  • Isaiah is a challenging book because of the kaleidoscopic way in which it is written. Isaiah intermingles near-term judgments and prophecies with a long-term telescopic view of how history will be brought to a conclusion, many thousands of years thence. It is sometimes confusing and difficult to know which ... or rather, when ... he is talking about. Understanding the book requires both some bold leaps of faith, and a sense of great humility. As you study Isaiah you do feel a bit as if you are walking amidst a field in which both mines and hidden treasure is buried. You never know exactly which you are digging up.

I'll let that rather eclectic collection of bullet points serve as an introduction to the book of Isaiah, and what I'd like to do next with this blog ... to present some of the "hopefully treasures" which we have uncovered in its pages as we have (so far) navigated the first 23 chapters. It may take awhile to catch up (thus far, we have averaged about a chapter a week, perhaps a little more), and I will also reserve the right to interrupt the study with occasional random thoughts or urgent topics not necessarily related to Isaiah. (For instance, I am currently reading Dark Star Africa, a travel book by Paul Theroux, and I am eager to review it -- from the perspective of both a Christian and an aid worker, both of whom he appears to despise -- though since I'm not quite finished with the book yet, I'll hold off. I also have a couple of movies stored up. And a message I will entitle "What I would like my kids to know about me before I die!")

So, please tune in again (hopefully tomorrow! Lord willing!) when (unless the winds blow another direction) we'll jump into Isaiah in earnest.

Monday, September 12, 2005

ONE WILD WEEKEND

Last weekend Mandy and I were treated to one of the few remaining truly wild places in this country ... Glacier National Park in the north central portion of Montana.

Glacier is approximately 9 hours due east of our home south of Seattle. By and large it is a pleasant and scenic journey through the Washington cascades, eastern Washington desert, high scrub nearing the border with Idaho, and into the mountainous regions of Idaho and Montana. We departed in the early morning hours of Friday, September 2 and launched for home on Sunday evening, September 4, arriving early Monday morning September 5.

After meeting up with my friend and colleague from World Vision, Michael Javins, at Polson, Montana (on the southern shore of Flathead Lake), we proceeded north along the eastern shore of the Lake and up into the western entrance of the Park itself, along Lake MacDonald.

Glacier rises starkly from the flatness of central Montana like some enormous intruder. It looks as if you could walk right up to its soaring cliffs and touch them where they meet the valley floor.

We camped our first night in the Fish Creek campground on the north side of the southwestern edge of Lake MacDonald. I had brought my cyclocross bike so early the next morning I was able to enjoy a number of excellent biking trails that follow the southwestern edge of the lake. We were warned about the presence of bears and took great precautions at our campsite but no bears were observed.

On Saturday we followed the southern edge of Lake MacDonald, heading across the park toward the northeast on the breathtaking "Going to the Sun" highway, which hugs steep mountainous terrain and cuts across immense saddles carved by ancient glaciers. The route to the eastern edge of the park would take a scant 2 hours if it weren't for the many scenic stopping places, hikes along various rivers and waterfalls, and occasional busy crossings where the road had been narrowed to one lane due to construction.

At the eastern end of the Going to the Sun highway lies St. Mary's Lake, which in many ways seems a counterbalance to the Lake MacDonald on the west. We camped on Saturday evening at a marvelous site on the northern edge of this beautiful lake. Once again we were warned about bears but saw none. (Glacier has the U.S.' largest population of Grizzly bears, and many black bears as well.)

On Sunday we headed north along the eastern boundary of the park then cut in to the west in order to visit the "Many Glacier" area. This was a highlight of the trip. We hiked about 3 miles inland from the furthest point you can drive, in order to find a waterfall at the western edge of a beautiful little lake there. Once we arrived at the lake we could see several large brown creatures cavorting and splashing in its shallows on the western edge, although we couldn't quite make out what they were. Closer inspection revealed a moose cow and her calf, half her size but still about the size of a horse. We could actually draw within about 50 feet of these two as they grazed and played in the water. There was a large crowd of hikers there gawking and taking photos, and the pair seemed to pay no mind.

Some of the hikers with spotting scopes were staring up toward the hillside. About 2 miles up you could make out several large brown specs moving in a steep meadow. Bears! Whether grizzly or black bears, I was unsure. They seemed to be moving away from us and the two moose, which gave me some comfort.

This valley is lined with steep cliffs, thousands of feet high, and further inspection revealed a number of brilliant white specs clinging to the sides of these sheer rocky faces -- mountain goats. How on earth they got where they were (and how they kept from plunging to the valley floor below) is beyond me. I guess they have learned the most effective way to avoid predators is to live where no bear (or mountain lion) dare go.

Well, I mainly wanted to share my photos with you. Michael is a talented photographer and I'm sure his will be far better than what my amateur hand and my Treo 600 cellphone camera can produce, but these may give you a small sense of some of our travels.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

DISCOVERING THE HEDGEHOG WITHIN

I think all of us struggle with change. I used to think I liked change ... that change could do nothing but make things better ... but I changed my tune when the changes started coming too hot and heavy for me to be able to process them adequately.

I'm now involved in a career where change is such an integral part of the landscape that sometimes I think I've been running for 8 years trying to keep up with it, and just keep slipping further behind! Do you ever feel that way? Like you are out of breath but there is no place to stop and catch your breath for the next big hill?

So naturally, in the midst of this, I have another big change coming up. But I decided that this one would be strategic -- not a change that is happening to me but a change I am initiating in order to be more effective.

Here is a link to a cool article by Dr. Daniel R. Lockwood, president of Multnomah Bible College and Biblical Seminary, on "Jesus and the Hedgehog." (WARNING: Large PDF!) The article highlights what is called "The Hedgehog Principle," named in honor of an ancient fable about a cunning fox who tries every day new and different ways to outfox (pun intended) and eat a hedgehog. The hedgehog is not nearly as smart as the fox, but has a winning strategy that works every time: Each time it is threatened by the fox it curls up in a tight ball with spines pointed outward. No matter how hard the fox adapts, the hedgehog uses this same defense. The hedgehog is expert at one thing, being a prickly ball, and he uses this defense every time. He survives and thrives as a result.

Each of us, says Lockwood, needs to "discover our hedgehog." How do you do that? You ask three questions of yourself: 1) What is my passion? 2) What can I be the best at? and 3) What drives my engine (what is my greatest source of resources)? Draw these three circles like this:


List in each circle: your passions, things you are best at, and resources that drive your engine. Then isolate the things in each list which intersect within the three circles. It may just be one thing. That is your hedgehog!

I went through this process recently and it helped me tweak the nature of my job responsibility with World Vision. For several years I have been directing web operations, which is essentially managing the internet production process. I have enjoyed this a great deal but had the nagging feeling that it wasn't what I had originally trained to do nor was it my area of greatest passion. I trained as a writer and editor, it's what I'm best at. I'm passionate about that. I am passionate about the web and using it to help vulnerable people, in particular children, and I am equipped in terms of internet knowledge and skills. And finally, I feel called by God to use my unique skills and gifting on the web. There are spiritual resources which I believe drive my engine in this regard.

All this pointed to the web editor position, a position which has been vacant here for more than a year. In terms of status it is a small "step down" from my current director position, but I realized this cannot be my primary concern. I have to focus on what God is calling me and has equipped me to do, what I am passionate about.

So you can pray for me and for my division in the midst of this challenging transition ... it has been a few months in the making and we are on it in just a few short weeks, with September 13 being the actual transition date.

Thanks for your support. And I would appreciate hearing how you are applying "The Hedgehog Principle" to your own life and your life's work.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Okay, I promised in my last schlog that I would reveal how I got the title “Dark Lord of the Web.” To understand that, you have to endure a little of my life story.

I went to college back in the ‘70s, when there wasn’t really any such thing as the “Internet,” at least not to most of us who weren’t on LSD at the time. So when it came to choice of majors, you couldn’t get a degree in Internet or eCommerce or anything e, really. My best friend (John Veale, the creator of http://www.FunWithDad.com) got a degree in “computer science” but that meant he had to spend a heck of a lot of time in a cold dark room fully of large whirling tape thing-a-ma-jigs. That was a little scary for me; I wanted to be out sitting on the grass and reading books.

So I decided to be an English major, since I did pretty well in English in High School. Huge mistake. I thought I was hot stuff and took a senior-level English lit class during my first semester as a freshman. I did a report on “Dante’s Inferno” titled, “Is it hot in here or is it just me?” The prof gave me a D and that was I think because she pitied me. You get the picture.

Anyway, I changed my major to “Print Media Communication” (which was really mostly journalism but also some “creative” writing) because I enjoyed working on the school newspaper and it was one of the easier majors around … which was important to me since I was stinging so bad from that failed experiment with the lit class. I’ve never really been much good at studying, so I tried to avoid classes and majors where that was important.

But what I really enjoyed most about school, besides trying to fool professors into thinking I deserved better grades, was the student newspaper. At Biola that’s called “The Chimes” after some big bells now sitting in the middle of campus. But many people called us “Wind Chimes” since we were such windbags. (Some things never change, do they?)

And working at The Chimes was my first taste of “high tech.” And it was love at first byte. (Ouch, I know, if this is going to be full of bad puns I’m sure you’re not going to want to read it, right? Sorry!)

We had some really cool digital typesetting machines. When I first started working there they could only “remember” one line of type at a time. You would type it, correct any typos in the line, then hit “return” and it would print the line on photo paper. Sounds terrible now, but to us it was better than pouring letters from vats of hot lead. Later on, we got fancy typesetting machines with huge floppy disks (they held something like 128 kilobytes of data each! Less than most modern emails) which could remember an entire article or two. Very cool.

After graduation from college I began searching for some employer I could bless with my eminently employable Print Media Communication skills and experiences. After a fruitless six months of searching, I got an interview at a great Christian relief and development organization near Pasadena called “World Vision.” I asked if they had a position as editor of their magazine. They said,

“No, sorry, we don’t … what else can you do?”

“Well, I can type 120 words per minute.”

“No kidding? Accurately?”

“More or less. If you want accuracy it might go down to 100 or so.”

So they gave me a test to see whether or not I was lying. When they discovered I was telling the truth I got my first real post-baccalaureate job … working swing shift in a “word processing department.” They promised that if I was patient, some day an editing job might open up. Meanwhile I was the only guy on my shift (probably the only guy in the organization who could actually type more than 30 words per minute) … but I had a lot of fun.

That was the coolest job … and World Vision was a great organization to work for. It was a neat thing to know that the work you did helped starving kids and poor people all over the world. At that time (1983) the famine in Ethiopia, in which about a million people died, was just heating up. World Vision had been around for more than 30 years, but was still relatively small. In the next few years they would more than double in size.

But I didn’t stay to see it. I loved the technology we used, and so my brother and I got a loan and bought one of those fancy-schmancy high-end word processing systems and started our own “tech business.” We did digital typesetting for the print trade and also got a contract with the State of California University system to offer word processing services on campus at Cal Poly, Pomona. (If anyone reading this remembers “PolyType,” please let me know!) We employed a lot of students and did a booming business in resumes, term papers, theses, dissertations, etc. … until I saw the desktop computer revolution coming around the next bend and got out of the business while the getting was good.

I spent the next 10 years writing magazine articles and books, doing technical consulting and some other things, and then in 1994 wandered back over to World Vision for another interview … this time for a true writing and editing position.

World Vision moved to the Seattle area in 1996, and so I up and moved my family. That was a new experience. I’ll write about that sometime.

About the same time we moved, World Vision started to get interested in the Internet. I had been doing some of my own websites and things in my own business, so they asked me to write a paper for a committee that was looking at the potential of the Internet. I wrote glowingly (and apparently convincingly) of the potential of the Web channel to break all previous records as a medium for communication and even commerce. (By the way, even my most pie-in-the-sky predictions in that paper have long since proven themselves laughably understated.)

The committee members read my paper and said, “Wow, that’s great. We should do it! If only we knew someone who knew something about how to get on the internet.”

I said, “I do.”

They furrowed their collective committee brows for a moment and then hit me with the Big Idea that changed my life: “Hey, this famine in North Korea is heating up. We really need to tell people about it, and also to figure out a new way to raise funds so that we can help stop people from starving to death. If you could actually get us up and running on the Internet by May 1997” … at this point that was about three months away … “we’ll give you a budget and you could be our first webmaster!”

No kidding, it was that easy. Like a fool, I said, “Sure, why not?” I sentenced myself to three months of hard labor; I had to learn a lot fast, but I got some great help from some folks in Virginia (who now run the Crosswalk.com website) and in just one week short of three months we were up and running with World Vision’s first U.S. homepage at http://www.worldvision.org/. We were even collecting credit card donations for North Korea famine victims.

The early days of the Internet at World Vision were great. I didn’t really know much about the internet, but no one else did either, so to them it must have looked like I knew a lot. People were awestruck whenever someone actually succeeded in making a donation online. Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, called me “The Dark Lord of the Internet” in chapel one day. The name stuck.

Today, of course, our donors are using the internet constantly and the World Vision website is thriving. In fact, if something happens and our servers go down for five minutes in the middle of the night, everyone freaks out. The good news is that we have been joined by a great team of a lot of folks who really know what they are doing. They look at me and shake their heads. I’m sure they’re thinking, “How on earth did HE ever get to be the Dark Lord of the Web?” Nonetheless, fortunately for me it’s one of those things that’s relatively irrevocable. Sort of like Howard Dean -- once he screamed, that was it. No matter how calm he has acted since then, people still think of him as a nutcase.

So, that’s my story. Hopefully you can tell that I have been incredibly blessed. Some people would say lucky, but I don’t believe in luck. Next time I write, I’ll tell you why.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Welcome to SchlogNet. My name is Larry Short, aka Dark Lord of the Web, and this is my blog (Short + Blog = Schlog ... okay?).

My friends tell me I'm way too old to be blogging (48 and counting) but they also told me I was way too old to become the Dark Lord of the Web. So there.

So, what's this blog going to be about? Well, I've had a lot of really weird and interesting experiences in my life. (Interesting to me, anyway. And right now I'm the only one reading this blog.) And indications are this trend will continue. So I need a place to share those experiences with people who care. Or at least people who are really bored.

So we're going to give this a try. And I would also like to hear about how my experiences are like or unlike those which other human beings have had.

Need a for-instance? Okay ... for instance ... I have had several times in my life when I think God has spoken to me. Or when it seems like prayer has been answered miraculously. Was this just my imagination? What did God say? How did this happen? You'll have to keep reading! And judge for yourself.

You might also be interested to know how I got the title "Dark Lord of the Web." :D

OK, so that's all for now. I've given it a start. I'll try to write a little bit every day. If anyone comes along who reads this and would like to say hi, I'm sure I'll be floored. Until that happens ... cheerio!