For several years, we lived in beautiful Tampa, Florida. With the Tampa Bay stretching around us and the Gulf of Mexico just a few miles away, we were surrounded by water. Now my family lives in Roanoke, Virginia, at the southern end of the Shenandoah Valley, where we are surrounded by the rolling hills of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains. Both landscapes present an interesting navigational challenge. With a large body of water or a mountain in front of you, how are you going to get from here to there?
We take it for granted that the answer lies in our system of roads and bridges. I can get in my car and drive from here to there on a relatively well-maintained four-lane highway, giving little thought to the fact that somebody had to do the hard, laborious, and expensive work of building it. I rarely think about the engineering and construction marvel of a miles-long bridge that spans the Bay or a parkway that traverses a steep mountainside. I simply take it for granted that I should be able to travel where I want when I want no matter what obstacles would appear to be in my way.
It wasn't that way for the Israelites exiled in Babylon. Hundreds of miles from home, held captive in a foreign land, with an inhospitable and seemingly non-traversable desert between them and everything they held dear, how would they ever get from here to there? There seemed to be no answer to that question.
It was in that environment that the prophet Isaiah spoke of a time when God would make a highway through the desert. The mountains would be made low and the valleys would be filled in and the crooked path would be made straight all so the captives could have a clear path back home. And that is exactly what happened. After seventy years of exile, the Babylonians were defeated and the exiles went home. A way opened where previously there had been no way.
Hundreds of years later, John the Baptist picked up Isaiah's words to describe what the coming of the Christ would mean for God's people. Because of what Jesus would accomplish, the long exile would be over. Only this time, the exile had nothing to do with landscapes and geography. The exile that would end with Christ was of far greater significance. No longer would we be separated from God and from each other. With the reconciliation that Christ brought, God made a clear path that will continually lead us back to the heart of the Father.
We should never take that for granted.
Holy God, help me to travel the way of salvation you have opened for me.
By your Spirit, prod me to get up and leave the exile of my sin and isolation,
and show me the path that will lead me back to your unfailing love.
Through Christ, Amen.
Whenever I am in conversation with strangers, it is interesting to see their reaction when they learn that I am a minister. The responses range from nonchalant to shock and awe. One curious pattern I have noted is the impulse people have to share with me their own religious pedigree. If I am a minister, then surely I must find it important that your grandmother was a Presbyterian or that you had a distant relative who was a circuit preacher in the late nineteenth century! Does knowing that information cause me to look more favorably upon my new acquaintance?
For the record, I am not keeping score when it comes to my interactions with people, be they friends or strangers. I have no need to size people up and decide their spiritual fates while we are standing in line together at the grocery store. For that matter, I have no need to decide anyone's spiritual fate; that power lies solely with God. But I can say with certainty that God has little interest in our spiritual family trees. At the end of the day, we derive no personal spiritual merit from how our parents or grandparents responded to the call of God on their lives, for that is a decision each of us must make for ourselves.
When John the Baptist began his preaching ministry, he warned the Israelites who were coming out to hear him that they should not be content simply to claim their spiritual ancestry. God was not impressed by the fact that they were blood descendants of Abraham.
Rather, God was interested in a personal commitment to holiness and righteousness. Say your grandfather gave the money for the church's first organ fifty years ago. That's wonderful, and I am sure God loves organ music as much as I do, but the God who gives the birds their song has no shortage of musical instruments. What he really cares about is whether each of us is willing to yield to his sovereignty and to live our lives in keeping with his desires.
It has been said that God has no grandchildren. That's because God wants to make each of us his child. He wants a direct personal relationship. There is no other kind when it comes to God.
Holy God, give me today a desire to live according to your patterns
and your desires. Teach me to weigh each thought by your measure of holiness.
Through Christ, Amen.
Written by: Chris Cadenhead
Written by: Chris Cadenhead