In my last post [Draw Out Thy Soul to the Hungry], I shared a scripture from Isaiah which I had never before read, but one which very much helped in my train of thought that day. It is the purpose of this post to discuss this scripture and what it means to me.
In this particular chapter of the Book of Isaiah [Chapter 58] we read of an experience Isaiah had with the people to whom he ministered. The opening verse lays out exactly the purpose for this chapter, as well as the purpose Isaiah is charged with – namely, to call the people to repentance. All true prophets call those to whom they minister to repentance and point the way to Christ and no other. This is exactly what Isaiah must do.
The first verse reads:
“Cry aloud, aspare not, lift up thy bvoice like a ctrumpet, and dshew my people their etransgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.”This is the charge. Show the people their transgressions, show them their sins. Since God is a God of love, we must understand why we must be shown our transgressions. They are not shown to us to instill fear, though oftentimes we interpret those calls to repentance as fear based, but rather they are shown to us out of love, a love that yearns for us to turn away from the falsities of life and return to Christ. To repent means nothing more than to turn around and return to God. To sin means little more than to “miss the mark,” to miss the purpose for which we’re here on the earth. We sin when we miss that mark, when we miss orienting our lives towards Christ.
According to several sources (though not all), there is no word in Hebrew for “sin.” Rather, the word used to describe “sin” is chet, which has reference “to an arrow which ‘missed the target.’ The archer is not ‘bad.’ Rather, he made a mistake – due to a lack of focus, concentration or skill.”
Returning to Isaiah 58, we find the opening verses (verse 3 through 5) decrying the worship of a shallow
3 aWherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your bfast ye find cpleasure, and dexact all your labours.The reality of the situation presented in these verses, and this chapter, is that the people weren’t fasting with the right heart. They were doing it out of mere ritual (sounds an awful lot like our Fast & Testimony meetings…a ritual fast which occurs 1x per month), and did it as an empty ritual. And yet, even when they went through with this ritual, even when they did fast, they continued with strife, debate, exploitation. There was no sincerity involved. No true devotion existed. They fasted to win arguments (“for debate”), to overcome people and obstacles in their path (“for strife”). They fasted to glorify themselves (“to make your voice to be heard on high”). All the forms and none of the Spirit. In reality…we’re all like that. We all have “forms” we participate in, false traditions passed down from our father’s which we continue without really thinking about them.
4 Behold, ye fast for astrife and bdebate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not cfast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
Only when we join with the Savior in His work will the world soon find the beauty behind what Isaiah states later on in this chapter. Here, though, the people were complaining of unanswered prayers (haven’t we all?), complaining of the lives they were leading disconnected from God.
False worship, of which I am most certainly guilty, is made up of (a) religion that is impersonal, formal and program centered; (2) comes by habit and tradition; (2) is self-serving; (3) elitist; (4) controlled, orchestrated, predictable; and, (5) includes mere passive involvement, ignoring the reality that God is a deeply personal Being. In short, false worship is a “religion which assumes a relationship with God while discounting relationships with [everyday] people.”
In truth, their fast was not approved of God (“Is it such a fast that I have chosen?). They hypocrisy of these fasts (and our monthly ritual fasting) is detestable. It’s not the kind of fasting God chooses. And, even though we go through all the motions – the “correct” motions (“bow down … as a bulrush, … spread sackcloth and ashes…”), it was an empty ritual. We’re empty today. We lack devotion, sincerity. Our egos are so full of themselves that we have a hard time seeing the forest for the trees, or the trees for the forest. Both are applicable. We’re blinded to our true condition because we believe – and are told – that we’re a “chosen” people (Anyone up for a Rameumptum party?). This chapter is but a precursor for the Lord’s instructions to the Pharisee who reminded the Lord that “I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers … I fast twice a week.” (See Luke 18:9-14.)
From this point on in the chapter, the message and tone both change. Isaiah goes from telling the people how messed up their fasting is, to instructing them on what God really wants from them. It’s not that fasting is bad, or to be discouraged, but rather that God loathes hypocrisy and the ease with which we go through the forms without the right spirit.
6 Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the abands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go bfree, and that ye break every yoke?In order to truly benefit from anything we do, we have to get right with our fellow men, we have to stop oppressing others, to reach out and help others. We have to stop being so self-centered, self-congratulating, self-aggrandizing. “To loose the bands of wickedness,” we have to stop acting wickedly towards others (“undo the heavy burdens,” “let the oppressed go free,” “break every yoke”). The only way we can truly be right with God is to remove the beams from our own eyes. Living a self-centered life will never, ever bring about Zion, bring about the Spirit, or bring about peace. Ever.
7 Is it not to deal thy bread to the ahungry, and that thou bring the bpoor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from cthine own flesh?
In the New Testament, the 4th chapter of the Book of James describes the very fruits of a self-centered life. Those fruits are wars, fightings and lustings. Our self-centered lives are the very source of the madness that pervades or lives, homes and world. False religion and false worship do not work because God simply cannot be present when we’re being false with ourselves, with others or with Him.
From this point, we start sharing our bread with the hungry, bringing in the poor into our houses, feeding them, relieving their burdens, covering the naked and, most poignantly, stop hiding ourselves from our brothers and sisters. Instead of crossing the street to avoid the beggar, instead of turning our eyes away from those dressed poorly, instead of avoiding the dirty and downtrodden, God is telling us stop hiding ourselves. We can’t really hide anyway. It’s not like God can’t see our hearts and what we’re doing. Take off those fig leaves (who gave them to us anyway?) and get right with God and start treating humanity with respect.
8 ¶ Then shall thy alight break forth as the morning, and thine bhealth shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy crereward.Now, we turn to the blessings God promises those who throw away their hypocrisy and start acting like a “true” worshiper. True worship results in “light break[ing] forth as the morning.” True worship results in the “glory of the Lord [being our] rereward.” True worship includes the promises of the Lord answering our calls.
9 Then shalt thou acall, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the bputting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
10 And if thou draw out thy soul to the ahungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light brise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
11 And the Lord shall aguide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in bdrought, and cmake fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a dspring of water, whose waters fail not.
12 And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, The repairer of the breach, The restorer of paths to dwell in.
Verse 9 includes four things which we must stop doing: (1) treating others like animals worthy of our yokes, (2) oppressing others, (3) pointing the finger at others, and (4) boasting in our vanity. This list is indicative of things we do. We commit these things. They are acts of commission. This isn’t a list of things we overlook, things we just happen to do. If we want to walk with God, as did Enoch and all his people, we have to stop feeding our egos and start feeding the hungry.
Verse 10 continues with another list. This time, however, it’s a list of things God wants us to do. (1) Minister more to the hungry and afflicted and (2) draw out our souls towards them. Failing to do these things, in contrast to the list given in verse 9, are largely acts of omission. We forget to satisfy and help the hungry and afflicted soul because we’re too caught up in ourselves, too caught up in the distractions of life. The blessing that comes with doing this is that our light will rise in obscurity (again, not in vanity, but in obscurity) and our darkness and vanity will be as the noonday. Instead of being darkness at noonday, we will be living in light at noonday. Christ’s very presence will be with us, to light our minds, our hearts and our lives.
In a day where many of us yearn to be led more constantly by Christ, verse 11 states that we will be guided continually. Our souls will be satisfied from their drought, our bones will become fat with life-giving marrow.
We will be like a flowering garden, like a spring of water, whose waters “fail not.” Ascending beyond the rituals of life, ascending above the shallowness of our egos, we’re promised the Lord’s very presence.
Verse 12, then, is quite pertinent. In a day of degeneracy and apostasy from Christ, a day when the foundations have become cracked because of the teaching of the commandments of men, we’re promised a couple of things: (1) waste places will be rebuilt, (2) a new foundation will be built for “many generations,” (3) we’re repair the breaches and (4) restore the paths wherein we can safely dwell here in mortality and beyond. This verse will become the prelude to my next post. Imagine the beauty of these promises. In a day where many decry the general apathy and apostasy existing among all religions, the Lord is promising us that the foundations will be rebuilt for “many generations.” Sounds reminiscent of the beauty the Nephites experienced after Christ ministered to them.
“We live in a broken world. In every direction there are breaches which are wide and deep. There are broken hearts and broken homes, and that which once was sacred is but a waste place … The wall of protection is in ruins, and life has lost all its meaning.” (Redpath)From the same source as the above quote, this passage of scripture provides us a glimpse of a life which is right in the sight of God:
It is an enlightened life: Your light shall shine in the darkness.This chapter continues on with two more verses about the Sabbath day, the blessings of keeping the Sabbath day holy, which I have discussed elsewhere. We, in our limited minds, tend to view the Sabbath as merely a day of the week. In the closing verses of this chapter, it appears as though Isaiah is stating that the Sabbath is more an attitude of the heart reflecting true devotion. Paul, in Hebrews 3 and 4, describes entering God’s rest:
It is a guided life: The Lord will guide you continually.
It is a satisfied life: The Lord will satisfy your soul in drought.
It is a fragrant life: Your life will be like a watered garden.
It is a freshly sustained life: Your life will be like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
It is a productive, healing life: You shall build up the old waste places, [repair the breaches and rebuild the foundations which have been eroded over time].
“He who has entered God’s (sabbath) rest has ceased from his own efforts as God did from His.” (Hebrews 4:10, emphasis added.)That is to say, all too often our focus on the Sabbath relates to resting from our day’s labors. Kicking our feet up and laying around all day. Another, deeper meaning of this is can be read this way: “the Sabbath Day of the Old Testament points to an invisible reality – to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Our Lord calls His people to stop serving Him in the energy of the flesh and to allow Him to live His endless life through them (see Galatians 2:20-21).”
The focus of this post should be on true worship and living the spirit-filled life that Isaiah so eloquently described in the closing verses of Isaiah 58. Worship that is lacking sincerity, honesty and truthfulness with God will never bring about Zion. Only when we replace our forms with the Spirit, when we cease to participate in “vain oblations,” will Zion come about. It is time to start worshipping the Savior in both mind and spirit and time to do away with our “multitude of sacrifices.”
10 ¶ Hear the word of the Lord, ye rulers of aSodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah.
11 To what purpose is the multitude of your asacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I bdelight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.
12 When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?
13 Bring no more avain boblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and csabbaths, the calling of dassemblies, I cannot eaway with; it is finiquity, even the gsolemn meeting.
14 Your new amoons and your appointed bfeasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am cweary to bear them.
15 And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many aprayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of bblood.
Isaiah 58 is nothing more than a practical application of a life led in Christ. It is nothing more, nothing less, than advice on how to escape the dead forms and practices of a church and born out of rituals, and how to get away from the ego. Service to God is the only answer. How you choose to serve God is up to you. That is not the point of this post. Service is individual. Service for the public eye has its reward. Service in private also has its reward. I might even suggest service for service sakes. Don’t do anything merely for a reward. You choose how you want to serve God, if at all. As always, the application is intensely individual.
***A special thanks goes out to the following websites for aiding me in understanding this chapter: (1) http://www.enduringword.com/commentaries/2358.htm; and (2) http://ldolphin.org/isaiah58.html.***
Awakening from Our Cocoon – Part II
This is the 2nd portion of the Awakening from Our Cocoon article I wrote a little while back. In that article I discussed some possible interpretations that I’d give Isaiah, chapter 58. Mostly, I felt that Isaiah 58 was talking about our emerging from a cocoon of shallow worship, self-serving thoughts, actions and an otherwise hollow existence.
Much could be written about our individual and collective shallowness as a church and as church members, given to platitudes and clichés about how special, chosen and peculiar we are, when all we are really trying to be is “mainstream.” Much could be written about how ritualized our worship has become, how meaningless our fasts, prayers and service truly are. We do things for the praise of men, highlighting how much we give (both at an individual and collective level) to the fast offering fund, to humanitarian assistance worldwide (both at an individual and collective level), how “our” church is the first on the ground when disaster strikes, and how “we will always strive to be the first on the scene of disasters.” In other words, “All Is Well.” The Deseret News even opened their Sunday paper, following this past Saturday’s general conference, with an all-too-humble headline that read and described the previous day’s talks as a mere “Tapestry of Wisdom: LDS officials offer Mormon Faithful Instruction and Encouragement.” Really? Apparently the addictions to sweetness are, and will always be, very, very tasty.
This article is neither to discuss this shallowness or our half-hearted attempts at self-salvation, as we misread and misunderstand Nephi’s words on grace. Either you see the shallowness for what it is, or you see it for what it isn’t. It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day if you can or cannot see it. It is, after all, a very individual journey.
With that in mind, as the title of this series of articles suggest, there is something I’d like to discuss in regards to cocoons. My interest in cocoons is likely ephemeral, fleeting at best. It began a couple of weeks back as I read a couple of interesting articles on Monarch butterflies and their migration patterns. Many of these articles noted, and are still noting, some of the changes currently affecting the Monarch butterflies. Extreme winter conditions are wreaking havoc on their migration to/from Mexico to other parts in North America (all the way up to Canada). It is not my attempt to discuss the devastation they are currently experiencing, as apparently suffering is no respecter of creatures either, and mostly because I have no information I can offer towards that end. If you have the patience, and can stomach my ineptness at synthesizing information, I think there is something we can learn from these butterflies.
In starting this discussion, I found enlightenment in reading a discussion on two central, and simple, questions: (1) how long does a monarch live?, and (2) Why do monarchs migrate? The answer to the first is much shorter than I thought. The Monarchs typically live anywhere from 2 weeks to 6 weeks.
The total lifecycle is between 6 to 8 weeks (from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly). The details of the second question are much more interesting, at least to me. Below we find a brief pattern we can relate to our spiritual predicament, in relation to the lifecycle of Monarch butterflies:
(1) February/March: hibernating Monarchs (in Mexico and southern California) reawaken, become active, find a mate, and begin their flight northward and lay their eggs. Eventually they die. These monarchs are what I call the “seeding” or “foundational” generation. They have lived, in totality, 4 to 5 months through the long winter. They awaken from the long winter and are the catalysts for a “new” society of Monarchs. They give their all for the new generation.
(2) March/April: the 1st generation, the eggs of the “foundational” Monarchs, are born and continue the migration northward, away from the home of the “foundational” generation. They migrate as far as they can, lay eggs, then die.
(3) May/June: the 2nd generation is born. They continue the journey northward, getting as far as they can until they, too, lay eggs and die. They continue the migration further northward.
(4) July/August: the 3rd generation is born. They continue the journey northward, getting as far as they can until they, too, lay eggs and die. Further still away from where the “foundational” generation started, and all other generations.
(5) September/October: the 4th generation is born. Here is where the difference occurs. This generation does not die in the same way the previous generations have – along the way of their migration northward. They turn the migration pattern around and head south, for reasons wholly related to the changing seasons. They live, in totality, for 6 to 8 months, migrating southward and returning to the place where the “foundational” generation commenced the journey, or near thereto. They then hibernate through the winter and begin awakening and mating in March/April of the next spring, where they then lay their eggs. Withered and tattered from their migration and hibernation, they finally die. Theirs was the work of a restoration, only to have the migration pattern return the following spring. 
How does this apply to us, today? Well, the application is likely going to be individual to everyone. I will choose one such application, as I see it apply to us, in this the 4th generation. How, you may ask, are we the 4th generation? One article on Ancestry.com suggests generations can be measured in approximately 33 years for males, and 29 years for females. This doesn’t really work for my 4th generational model, but let’s run with it. J Using a slightly different model, if we run with strict generational lines (i.e. me, my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather) then you may see what I’m working towards
Me: born in 1968
My father: born in 1949
My grandfather: born in 1917
My great-grandfather: born in 1893
My great-great-grandfather: born in 1864
Me: born in 1968
My father: born in 1949
My grandfather: born in 1909
My great-grandfather: born in 1873
My great-great-grandfather: born in 1849
I struggle with the definition of a “generation,” but it would seem that this generational line method yields some favorable results. What I mostly see, though, is that I, personally, am slightly removed from the fourth generation. If we go all the way back to the restoration, in 1830, then I’m likely the 5th generation by the above lines. If we go back to 1844, then I’m a lot closer to this integral 4th generation. Not that I think there’s anything special in that, other than to note the wording the scriptures use to describe the 3rd and 4th generations – a lynchpin of sorts is how I would look at it.
The term “fourth generation” in the scriptures is often used in a negative sense, as in the fourth generation being when apostasy is running full speed ahead with no hope of turning it around absent divine intervention (and a new restoration). The term “fourth generation” is mentioned twenty-one times throughout the scriptures. Without exception, it is used either in connection with a warning or a blessing and is usually phrased in terms as follows: “if thou wilt spare him, thou shalt be rewarded for thy arighteousness; and also thy children and thy children’s children unto the third and fourth generation.” After the third and fourth generations’ pass, either the blessings or cursings end, but most definitely the cup is full of something.
These scriptures, coupled with the lessons of the Monarch butterfly, have led me to come up with a different view of the 4th Generation. Most often, at least it has been my experience, the 4th generation is typically linked linguistically with negative connotations. This view is largely supported by various scriptural examples, such as 4th Nephi’s account of a time and people where a peace and a Zion-like society reigned into the 4th generation. The 4th generation was the turning point…some held on to the good, while some sought for an upper hand and re-introduced wickedness into the world.
Turning back to the scriptures, twenty one verses speak of the “third” and “fourth” generations. Of these twenty one verses, seven speak positively of the fourth generation (i.e., blessings flowing to the 4th generation because of a righteous foundation) whereas fourteen verses speak negatively (i.e., cursings carrying forth through the fourth generation). Even with these examples, very little of what is spoken of has to do with the 4th generation itself, but rather the 4th generation being the product of something. The 4th generation, it would seem, is stuck knee deep in a position where change is either difficult, or nearly impossible – picture turning around a cruise ship with a row boat. Those wanting to change the course they see the cruise ship on are merely kicking against unnecessary pricks.
Though the course may indeed need divine intervention in order to save it from imminent disaster, I wonder what of the row boats sitting in the sea? Are they destined for the same imminent disaster?
Or, like the 4th generation of butterflies – the “remnant” generation – are they destined for a restoration of sorts?
What we have before us, then, is a real-life example of one a 4th generation taking the positive road, seeking to inject goodness back into the decay that highlights its past. Looking back on 3+ generations of degenerate behavior, the 4th generation seeks to go back to its roots, to sacrifice everything it can to restore the foundational teachings of the foundational generation. The question remains, are we, as a people, ready to do that? Are we going to be the 4th generation which restores lost truths, or are we going to be the 4th generation which propels the degenerate behavior we witness in looking back over our brief history?
True, we may indeed be mere pilots of individual lifeboats in an ocean full of cruise ships heading for the same waterfall, but with lifeboats comes a small remnant which can change the course of history. Even with all that being said, the very lifeboats seeking out a different destination, far away from the waterfall, even they are in need of divine intervention. For, without divine intervention, are we not all cruise ships destined for a waterfall?
Will we, as Isaiah implores, rid ourselves of shallow worship, shallow service, shallow self-serving attitudes, or will we end the daily, ritual hypocrisy which currently defines us? Will we “draw [out] our souls to the hungry,” those who need the light of a restorative generation? Or, will we draw inward and continue the degenerate behavior?
As always…the application is individual. Make it consciously.