On Isaiah 43:1-4

Isaiah 43:1-4 (ESV) – But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
    and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
    Cush and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my eyes,
    and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
    peoples in exchange for your life.

When someone introduces you to another person, what do they say? Think about that for a second…

I get introduced to a lot of different people, and most of the time it goes something like this: “This is Pastor Zac, he is one of the pastors at my church.” In a public forum it’s similar: “Let me introduce, Rev. Zac McGowen, Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Lakeland to open us in prayer/deliver the invocation/lead us in a short devotional/etc.”

But there are other occasions when the introductions are different… “This is Zac, he’s Caleb’s/Hannah’s daddy…” or “This is Zac, he’s Julie’s husband…” When I was younger, I was “the preacher’s kid,” “cross-country runner,” or “editor of the newspaper.” I have worn many identifying labels, and that’s true of literally every single person on the planet. There are so many external realities that seek to define us, and to some extent they do. Those labels are how people know us, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that.

There is a danger though. What happens when one of those labels no longer applies? What happens if one of those labels is destructive?

I remember when my cross-country career came to an end in college. I had messed up my knee, and while I struggled to continue to compete, I knew it was over. I was pretty devastated, because it was as though a large part of my identity had been amputated. At other times, I remember being thought of as “the short kid.” It became such a part of how others knew me and how I thought about myself that it changed how I acted toward others – like I had something to prove… The “Napoleonic Complex” is real, people.

Perhaps you’ve been there, too. Divorce, the loss of a child, the loss of a career has left you feeling like you are somehow a non-person… like you don’t know who you are apart from those external realities. Or perhaps you’ve carried around an identity that was destructive. You feel like “the fat kid.” You feel like “the stupid kid.” You feel like “the loser” – all because of something someone said to you or something that happened to you  years ago. It’s those labels that have sought to define you… maybe you’ve let them.

In Isaiah 43, God gives the Israelites a much-needed hope. Their chief identity had been as God’s people since he rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He had been their defender and shield as they had taken the Promised Land. He had provided for them and fought for them, because they were his people. But it was an identity they had taken for granted. Rather than living into that identity, they looked at the peoples around them and consistently wanted to be like everyone else. They acted unfaithfully over and over and over again, and so God sent them into Exile in Babylon and Assyria. They had gone from a slave people, to a rescued people, to an exiled people, and there were some who doubted that God would ever renew them.

But the prophet puts those fears to rest… God would call them by name. God would once again rescue them and protect them. Why? Because he says, “you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you…” 

I think we fail to experience the love of God because we don’t believe those words are meant for us too. We somehow feel as though our failures and our shortcomings are the only defining factors that matter, but that is a lie. God speaks to each of us through these words and longs for us to define ourselves not by any other reality than by his great love for us… a love so deep and great that it meant Jesus dying on the cross.

Today, if you feel beat down and defeated, if you feel like a part of yourself is gone or like you do not even know who you are, I encourage you to repeat these words over and over again… God says, “I am precious in his eyes, and honored, and he loves me…

Reflections of Lent-15

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