Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Flint

Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame. (Isaiah 50.7)

Needed Life

Before digging into today’s topic, I want to thank all of you who kept me in your thoughts and prayers during my absence. This trip was the culmination of an especially demanding project six months in the making. From start to finish its success was far from assured—or would have seemed so had it not been for the confidence I received from so many prayers and the amazing dedication of the finest team imaginable. God was ever faithful and I’m thrilled to report the project unfolded flawlessly. Afterward, I was blessed to spend a long weekend with my parents, always a treat. In this case, however, the timing couldn’t have been better. Two days prior to my visit, my mother learned a lump detected in a recent mammogram tested positive for carcinoma. She will undergo surgery later this month and we’ll have a clearer idea of her prognosis then. Naturally, we’re concerned, yet not at all alarmed. We’ve consulted the Great Physician and released our fears of the worst in order to embrace our trust for God’s best. God’s will is perfect and hoping for anything else would find us settling for something less. I trust you’ll add her name, Littia Wolfe, to your prayers as we embark on this unpredictable journey.

Coming off a taxing professional endeavor only to enter an unforeseen personal test reaffirmed why active engagement with God’s Word is paramount to one’s wellbeing. The readings shored my emotions with invaluable strength and guided my thoughts with timeless truth. Every day, I couldn’t shake the conviction God is speaking to me. Of course, one need not be in the throes of uncertainty to hear God’s voice in Scripture. But discovering anew how God’s Spirit breathes needed life into the written word affords immeasurable comfort and faith in troubled times. I ached for sufficient time to explore the riches I found with all of you, my faith family. Alas, the opportunities weren’t there; now that I’m back at my desk, my heart is too full to summarize my thoughts cogently. That said, though, one verse—Isaiah 50.7, which surfaced in last Thursday’s texts—constantly drew me, as if it were an extraordinary magnetic force around which everything else orbits. “Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.”

Facing Trouble

Isaiah 50 reads like a court transcript. God speaks first (v1-3) in a stridently Self-defensive tone that suggests the people have accused God of abandoning them and God rebuts the charge by demanding proof of their allegations. “There’s no divorce certificate, no bill of sale,” God says. “You left Me! Your sins divided us. I came looking for you and you weren’t there. Haven’t I always got you out of trouble? Haven’t I always been faithful?” Instead of replying to God’s testimony—or perhaps in light of it—the prophet goes off on a tangent (v4-9), asserting these nonsensical charges have nothing to do with him. In fact, his steadfast trust in God subjected him to vicious abuse, which he willingly endured. “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting,” he says in verse 6. What compelled him to pay such a humiliating price for defying popular opinion? How was he able to do it? Verse 7 tells the whole story. His faith in God eliminated his fear of disgrace. The Sovereign LORD helps me. Facing trouble, his certainty in God’s absolute power and unfailing love fixed his face. I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.

Now there are dozens of credos that encourage fixing our faces to hide fear, doubt, and distress. Don’t blink. Keep a straight face. Smile though your heart is breaking. Never let ‘em see you sweat. Don’t let on. But Isaiah’s stony response doesn’t jibe with this logic. He’s not hiding anything. His flinty face reveals exactly what he feels and thinks. He’s not afraid. He has no doubts. Despite suffering, he’s not distressed. He’s not playing games, withholding his tormentors’ satisfaction at watching him panic. His impervious, rock-solid expression mirrors his impervious, rock-solid trust in God’s faithfulness and love. In his steely stare, furrow-free brow, and hardened features we discover a monument carved from unyielding, invulnerable, eternal security. Momentary duress cannot move him. Passing fads and human assumptions don’t shake him. While his oppressors pressure him to conform to their thinking—insisting the God he knows isn’t trustworthy—Isaiah recalls Moses’s farewell song in Deuteronomy 32: “I will proclaim the name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God! He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” (v3-4) Isaiah sets his face like a rock because God is his Rock, the only Truth sure to last. As he says in verse 9: “It is the Sovereign LORD who helps me. Who will condemn me? They will all wear out like a garment; the moths will eat them up.”

Façades Are Unnecessary

Our confidence in God gets challenged on so many levels it’s highly probable we don’t realize how frequently it happens. The big tests are self-evident, of course. When confronted by obvious threats to our safety—unanticipated diagnoses, harsh criticisms, concerted pressures to submit to unhealthy, faithless ideas, and so forth—we tend to set our faces like flint. We try not to reveal what’s bothering us. We don’t want to trouble others with our troubles. We do our best to look and act courageous. We put on a façade to hide our fears, doubts, and distress. That would be OK—it might even be admirable—if it were necessary. But it’s not. And it might be OK, possibly even expedient, to use the same tactic to answer lesser challenges to our faith—subtle jests, logical misgivings, social discomfort, etc.—if it were necessary. But it’s not.

We set our faces like flint because our trust in God the Rock is impervious and invulnerable to erosive elements like time, pressure, and human wisdom. It is the Sovereign Lord Who helps us. God’s authority is final. God’s faithfulness is sure. God’s works are perfect. God’s ways are just. God is upright and does no wrong. God is eternal. Façades are unnecessary for us. Strength we express is strength we possess. We don’t have to put on a show of courage and confidence. When facing troubles, our faces show they’re there, because God’s there.

The courage and confidence on our faces aren’t a façade. They express our courage and confidence in our God the Rock.

7 comments:

jake said...

Wow, Tim. This whole post has your heart beating through it palpably. I can read your praise to God for His being there through your project, and your confidence in His presence because of it. That confidence is evident throughout this post in the tone; I can feel you setting your own face like flint. You know Who your God is, and how capable He is.

I can feel the blessing of strength and faith in your words, guiding you into a season of physical uncertainty with your head held high. You have the certainty of Him girding you up.

I'm standing in faith with you that your mother is being cradled in the arms of her Savior and Friend. It is my fervent prayer that your whole family, but your mother especially, draws nearer to God and the comfort and confidence girds you all up as well.

Many hugs and prayers, dear soul!

Philomena Ewing said...

Dear Tim,
I am so sad to hear the news about your Mum, Littia.
Please know that I will be praying for her and all your family. and that you are very much in my thoughts and heart at this time.
Blessings

Tim said...

Jake and Phil, I can't thank you enough for your care and kindness. It's moments like this that remind me how limited the Web is in terms of conveying emotions. If by some miracle I could cross the miles to reach each of you, I'd give you both the longest, warmest embraces. We are so blessed--I am so blessed--to share the joys and comforts that come from living together in this amazing household of faith!

You words are living examples of God's presence. We are not alone. Never alone.

God bless you both richly.

With love,
Tim

Sherry Peyton said...

Such powerful words Tim. I shall add your mother to my prayer list alongside your uncle. I know God will protect her through this difficult time.

Tim said...

Thank you so much, Sherry. As I said above, I'm overwhelmed by God's goodness in blessing me with so many wonderful sisters and brothers in Christ. What would we do without one another's care and support?

With much love,
Tim

kkryno said...

Prayers for your Mom, Tim. She's a strong woman, and I know all will be well.

What would we do without one anothers' care and support? I just know that you've helped me many a time through the magic of the internet, and I am so thankful for that blessing.

As Jake said this post is so "you." Loving, full of Faith and strong.

I love how you bring us all together. :)

Tim said...

Vikki, how right you are. Without one another where would we be? I can only return your kind words about helping you by saying "ditto." So many times you've lifted my spirits and soothed my aches with your care and encouragement.

You--and everyone else here--mean more to me than I can convey. The God present in all of you is the Rock I lean on, our ever-present help in time of need.

How good God is to take this wild, wacky Internet of ours and create in it a safe haven where faith, hope, and love abide!

Blessings--with much love,
Tim