Guest Blog: New Year, New You?

A Recipe for Renewal

By Dr. Ken Baker

We're delighted that a number of our VOX contributors and new Irish writers have agreed to "guest blog" for VOX magazine.  Dr Ken Baker has become a regular in the pages of VOX magazine. With his wife Val, Ken directs a few missional communities across the Midlands of Ireland.  Previously he worked as an Irish church-planter with the Methodist Church, a London pastor with the Baptist Union and a lecturer in New Testament Theology for the University of Wales.   His books are available on Amazon and Lulu.com under Dr Ken Baker.   You can read Ken's blog at  www.tithebarn.wordpress.com

This guy said to me: “If brain washing is bad, does that mean that having a dirty mind is good?”

Before I tell you my reply, check out Isaiah’s (in Isaiah 1:16-17 ):

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

It’s like a kind of bucket list for dirty-minded people. Some things have to be sorted out before you die!

What is interesting is the amount of self-effort it seems to suggest is necessary. We are tempted to think that all that remains for us to do is to make a quick trip to the altar, or stick your hand in the air at a special meeting, or feel some kind of woozy sentiment for a little while, and God will take care of the rest.

Isaiah tackles that notion head-on.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean and in case you think some kind of sanitary ablution is called for, the two openers are explained in the third: Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes.

I guess it’s important to note that “you” is plural. This is not some sort of individual spiritual spa but a straight word to a crooked nation.

It’s a recipe for renewal.

And the cleansing process with which it begins is just that: the beginning. We sometimes assume that repentance is “feeling sorry for our sins” and so we earnestly dredge up suitably chastened feelings, nurse them for a while and then move on.  But it’s only the intro for what’s to come.

I used to have to have a weekly bath when I was little (whether I needed it or not!) and I used to take great delight in lingering in the hot water for as long as possible. But as my mum pointed out: “You’re not really washing, you’re only wallowing.”

Wallowing in your own dirt is somewhat different from applying the scrubbing brush and working at those stubborn stains…

Maybe our repentance is not too dissimilar from my old bath-time wallowing. Luxuriating in sin?

So what’s the remedy? Isaiah is specific.

  • Remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes;
  • Cease to do evil,
  • Learn to do good;
  • Seek justice,
  • Rescue the oppressed,
  • Defend the orphan,
  • Plead for the widow.

Do you see the sequence?  The purely negative removal of the “doing” of evil, is followed by its active prohibition, "Cease to do evil". You have to actually stop doing it!

And then the positive development of a new lifestyle. Learn to do good; It’s something that has to be learnt. Quite often we welcome newborn Christians into our churches and then just assume that by some weird process of ecclesiastical osmosis they will just know how to act and be. In fact, the learning process will be lifelong, as we all know full well.

But Isaiah concludes with a few concrete examples of what the process might look like. What does doing good look like? Seek justice, Rescue the oppressed, Defend the orphan, Plead for the widow.

Care for the vulnerable. Stand up for what is good. Keep your eyes and ears open to the call of the hurting.

And that’s your starter for ten.