When you are sitting at home for dinner do you ever take the wastebasket and dump it on the table and tell everyone: “well that’s going to make our supper better; isn’t that a wonderful centerpiece?” Not so much, you pretty much want to keep the garbage in the wastebasket until you can get it outside to that big trash container and then every week you put the trash out by the curb and are quietly happy when the garbage truck comes and carts off this unwanted waste.
Waste, wasted. Ever have it where you are looking not at a table but at a person and you think to yourself, “how can she be wasting her life doing what she’s doing, acting how she’s acting, going after the stuff she’s going after; why would anyone waste her life that way?” Ever have it where you are looking not at a table, but at a person and you think to yourself: “how can he waste his life in that career or working for that company?” Ever look at your own life and think to yourself: why am I wasting my life, my hours are like a bunch of garbage strewn across the top of a table.
Nicklas Kristof in his book A Path Appears points out that one of the deep desires of our hearts is not to waste our lives. He says that one of the basic truths about us is that we crave meaning and purpose in our lives, our lives are not made to be garbage strewn across the top of a table, we are not made to waste our lives.
So here’s where we are talking about “the cure”, cures for things in our lives—but as we talk about “the cure” what we are going to discover is that there is an unexpected cure for many things that ail us. You know about unexpected cures. Perhaps one of the greatest unexpected cures is coffee. Over the past couple of years all kinds of claims have been made for coffee and the cures that it brings, but one of the greatest cures that coffee brought came 100s of years ago during the middle ages. For a good portion of the middle ages the main drink was beer, it was considered safe, brought some calories in and so on. But it also left a lot of people drunk, including kids, it brought fetal alcohol syndrome, although they didn’t call it that, and it caused a host of other problems. But then coffee showed up on the scene in Europe, the pope even endorsed it and people began to drink coffee instead of beer—it changed life, it changed the culture..it was an unknown cure for a lot of things, an unknown cure that a lot of people didn’t even know they needed.
An unknown cure, an unexpected cure. So here’s the unexpected cure we are going to bringing into our lives, an unexpected cure that many of us don’t even know that we need. The cure: knowing who God is and living out of that reality. So let’s do a pause for a moment. Ask yourself: “Do I buy this idea that a cure for what ails me is knowing who God is and living out of that reality?” or pushing it just a bit further, “Do I believe that knowing who God is and living out of that reality is the cure for a wasted life?” ….
If you answered the question, “no” or “not sure”, that’s not a problem. But it does open up another question: “What do you think is the cure for a wasted life, to make sure that your life doesn’t end up like a bunch of garbage strewn across the table?” I’m asking that question in all seriousness, because if Kristof is right and we crave meaning and purpose in our lives where will that come from for you and can it sustain you as life shifts and changes? …
So as you have your answer in mind to those questions, whatever those answers may be, let me take a bit of time and go to this cure that is unknown and unexpected for a lot of us: the cure for what ails us, ails us when it comes to living a wasted life, is knowing who God is and living out of that.
So here’s our starting point as we seek to live a life that doesn’t end up like garbage strewn across a table. Check out what it says on the screen for Isaiah 6
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”” (Isaiah 6:1–8 NIV)
So let’s check out Isaiah’s life. We know that he is a rich guy, that his father is the brother of King Amaziah. So Isaiah is rich, he is part of the royal family, he has some power and influence as part of the ruling elite. So far, it’s looking pretty good for Isaiah—no wasted life going on here, just a great life, with wealth and power.
But let’s dip into Isaiah’s world and into Isaiah himself a bit more, he is after all, like us, a man of his times and so what’s going on with the rest of the rich and powerful is also going on with him. So what’s going on with the rich and powerful?
Well, to get there we have to go back to the five chapters before Isaiah encounters God in this vision. So if you have a Bible with you in whatever form, take it out. Moms and dads feel free to share a Bible with your kids, helping them through the passages. First passage Isaiah 1.
“Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.”(Isaiah 1:2–4 NIV)
- The people—and we will see this is especially the rich and powerful in Israel—are
rebelling against God
- They don’t know God—which means they don’t know what’s important to God, what he says a good life is about
- They have spurned the Holy One i.e they look down their nose at this Holy God who Isaiah will eventually encounter
Second Passage Isaiah 1.12-17
…I cannot bear your worthless assemblies. Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening. Your hands are full of blood! Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow (Isaiah 1:12–17 NIV)
Here’s what we find out next
- They worship a lot, but their worship is meaningless
- Their hands are full of blood
- They don’t seek justice and they don’t defend the oppressed
Third place Isaiah 3.16
“The LORD says, “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles.” (Isaiah 3:16 NIV)
Just one thing here
- People want more and more stuff and are willing to do whatever to get it
Fourth place Isaiah 5.16
“But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts.”(Isaiah 5:16 NIV11)
One thing here as well
- God shows the heart of his holiness by bringing justice— the people don’t understand this about him.
Last place: Isaiah 5.21-23
“Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.”(Isaiah 5:21–23 NIV)
This one is loaded, but lets get these things
- people think they are smarter than God
- people think heroes and great people are those who can put on a good party
- the poor don’t get their fair day in court
So we can see the kind of life that Isaiah is living before he encounters God, We know this is his lifestyle because in the passage Isaiah says not just others, but he himself is a man of unclean lips.
So here’s the question: Does Isaiah know that from God’s perspective he is living a wasted life, that in God’s eyes that Isaiah: rich and powerful man, related to the king, who has a ton of stuff, who buys his wife nice things, who thinks he’s pretty wise, who is ignoring justice for the widows and the orphan, who isn’t actively seeking justice for oppressed—does he even know that he is living a wasted life?
Nope, he doesn’t know it.
What he knows is that he is living a normal life. A normal life that is his world means the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. A normal life where the courts tilt in his favor and he has the resources to provide not just a home in Jerusalem for his family, but a home or two in other places as well. A normal life where he may pass the poor, the oppressed, the widow on the street but he never really sees them. He is just living a normal life or we might say a life that is comfortably numb.
Isaiah and his contemporaries have managed to become comfortably numb to the world around them. They see things but they are no longer impacted by them. They do their best to insulate themselves from the troubling realities of those who are not like them. They insulate themselves from the troubles of the world. And I have to wonder if they did what those who kept Apartheid alive did, they insisted that something was more important than relieving oppression, that seeking justice. Nick Woltersdorff writes about it in light of a conference he attended,
The response to the “blacks and “coloreds” by the Afrikaners at the conference who spoke in defense of apartheid took me completely aback. They did not contest the charge of injustice; but neither did the concede the charge and resolve to join the struggle to right injustice. Rather, they insisted that injustice was not the point or the most important thing. Order and disorder were the most important. Order had to be maintained for the good of all. …now, of course, they were satisfied with keeping order because they were calling the shots and living comfortably.
I wonder if Isaiah and his contemporaries would have identified with the apartheid folks. There was, after all, the importance of keeping order and keeping the nation protected in a day when Judah was being squeezed between the two super powers of that day. Such considerations wisely outweighed any call for courts that acted rightly, widows being looked out for, the oppressed being set free, and seeing God’s showing who he is by bringing justice.
Does Isaiah even know that he is living a wasted life, garbage on the table life as he head out day by day? Nope. He is comfortably numb. He is just doing life the way you do life as a royal court, rich person.
And then in the year that king Uzziah dies Isaiah has a vision of God and he comes undone. He comes undone as the Seraphim declare not just that God is holy, but that he is holy, holy, holy. Which is the Hebrew way of putting a bunch of exclamation points after a word. God is holy, holy, holy in other words, he is completely morally perfect, he does everything the way its supposed to be done and if God shows his holiness through his justice, if God shows his holiness through carrying out justice on behalf of the oppressed, the widow, those who are abused in court—and Isaiah has been on the other side of that holiness…
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”
or saying it another way,
“Then I cried out, ‘‘I’m doomed! Everything I say is sinful, and so are the words of everyone around me. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD of angel armies!”
Imagine, you’ve been ignoring the heart of what the Lord of angel armies wants you to be about; you’ve been living in ways that go against the holiness of the one who says that he is “holy, holy, holy” and then you encounter him, this Lord of angel armies who is using his power to fight the things you are doing and correct the things you are failing to do—do you get why Isaiah is undone? It is not just that he is living a wasted life, a garbage tossed across the table life, it is that his wasted life is in direct opposition to the the LORD of angel armies.
But here is the most amazing thing: when Isaiah cries out in horror at his wasted life that is opposition to the LORD of angel armies, God doesn’t beat him down, instead he offers forgiveness.
“One of the flaming creatures flew over to me with a burning coal that it had taken from the altar with a pair of metal tongs. It touched my lips with the hot coal and said, ‘‘This has touched your lips. Your sins are forgiven, and you are no longer guilty.”” (Isaiah 6:6–7 CEV)
Here is the very first move of moving out of a wasted life. Repentance and forgiveness. We repent of living a wasted life, we repent of the fact that we didn’t even know we were living a wasted life, we repent of living an isolated and insulated life that kept us from seeing the pain and brokenness of the world around us, we repent of the reality that we never imagined that when God told us that he is holy, holy, holy that it meant that he is God who carries out justice, who holds justice to be more important than order, than a good lifestyle, than living the way the folks around us to because that is just the normal way to live. Repenting of believing that we are smarter/wiser than God.
We repent and when we do there is this amazing thing that happens—God forgives our wasted lives, God forgives all the sin we have committed in our wasted lives. God forgives that sin because of Jesus Christ. Being both divine and human, Jesus who is the only mediator. He alone paid the debt of our sin; there is no other Savior. Jesus stands in our place suffering during his life on earth and especially on the cross. On the cross he caries God’s judgment on our sin—his sacrifice removes our sin. On the third day God raised him from the dead and he walked out of the grave as the one who conquered both sin and death. Through him we are set right with God and given a new life, a people called to walk with him.
We repent: we turn around and when we do God gives forgiveness through Jesus. So let’s take a moment here for all of us to ask:
“Have I been living comfortably numb?”
“Is this the day when I say, ‘I need forgiveness for living a wasted life, I need Jesus to give me that forgiveness.’…
So what are your answers to those questions? What will you do with those answers? Do you need to talk with someone or to your small group? Do you need to spend time prayer? Do you need to pick up STAR TREK and Trek Extras so you can continue figuring out what’s next?
We repent, we turn around and when we do we find God joyfully there offering us forgiveness through Jesus Christ. But that’s not the end. It is out of this forgiveness that we know step into a life that is no longer wasted. Notice that when Isaiah finds forgiveness his response is repentance and giving himself over to the call of the Lord of angel armies,
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”” (Isaiah 6:1–8 NIV)
This is not just for Isaiah, God has a full life planned for you. Not a garbage across the table life, but a life that works to take the garbage out of the world. For Isaiah it was the life of a prophet, for you it is…well it is the place where you hear the call of God to leave your isolation and insulation behind, where you hear the call of God to clean up the garbage of this world, where you hear the call of God to not live the ways of normal people of your class, your status, or whatever it may be, but to live the ways that reflect the God who is holy, holy, holy.
Last question: how will you take out the garbage of the world this week? If you need a bit of help in walking through that I encourage you to do the STAR Rhythms that you will find in our STAR Trek study…they can give you a pathway for taking out the garbage.
Two last big deal things: First, living as those who take out the garbage is not just moving us out of a wasted life, but it is something that is hugely necessary for this broken world. Thomas Kelly, American Quaker, missionary, teacher, encourager. He left the U.S. in 1938 to go to Germany to encourage and support his fellow Quakers in Hitler’s Germany. As that world crumbled he wrote,
The times are too tragic, God’s sorrow is too great, man’s night is too dark, the Cross is too glorious for us to live as we have lived, in anything short of holy obedience.
The second thing is this. When we live this life, no matter what happens, we will find that this was the life we were meant for. Borden. We know the name. We connect to dairy products, maybe even to Elsie the Borden cow. But there is a depth to at least part of the Borden family that may well surprise us. William Borden was heir to the vast Borden Dairy estate. By the time he finished high school he was already a millionaire. As a gift for his graduation he was given an trip around the world. As he traveled he felt a growing concern and grief for the hurting and lost of the world. He wrote home, “I’m going to give my life to prepare for the mission field.” After making this decision he wrote two words in the back of his Bible, “No Reserves.” After coming back from his travels, he went to Yale—with a purpose. During his first semester he began a campus wide student movement that met regularly to read Bible and pray. By the end of his first year 150 freshman were taking part, by the time he was a senior 1000 of Yale’s 1300 students were meeting in these groups. Beyond the campus Borden founded the Yale Hope Mission to reach out to those on the streets of New Haven Connecticut. After graduation he was offered numerous high paying, highly prestigious jobs, but he turned them all down to pursue the mission field. At this point he wrote in the back of his Bible, “No Retreats”. His next stop was Princeton Seminary where he was ordained to the ministry. After he finished his studies he headed for the place he had wanted to be for years—China. He first made a stop in Egypt to study Arabic. While there he contracted a disease and in less than a month he was dead. He was 26 years old. But before his death, knowing his life would take him no farther, he had written two more words his Bible. Beneath “No reserves” and “No retreats” he had written “no regrets”.
The unexpected cure to a wasted life:
“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”