Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Isaiah 11:1-3 (ESV)
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,

These verses are a prophecy of Jesus. The chapter goes on to talk about his coming reign. There are three characteristics of Jesus’ reign that stand out. First, unbiased justice characterizes Jesus reign. “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth” (Is 11:3b-4a). Perhaps this is where the idea of Justice being blindfolded came from. Jesus judgment is a judgement of righteousness and equity. Wealth, beauty, or appearance does not influence it. It is not justice for the privileged. It is justice for all.

The justice found in Jesus’ kingdom will include swift judgment. “He shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked” (Is 11:4b). One of the difficulties in our own judicial system is that we give lip service to the right to a speedy trial, but the system is often bogged down in legalities that seem to drag on forever. In Jesus’ kingdom, there will be swift justice. Not just swift judgment, but swift judgment that is just.

Second, earthly peace characterizes his reign. The order of creation appears to be restored. “The wolf will dwell with the lamb” (Is 11:6). “The cow and the bear shall graze” (Is 11:7). “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Is 11:9). This full knowledge of the LORD seems to extend beyond people, to all creation. The world is restored to its proper order.

Third, the restoration of Israel characterized Jesus reign. “He will raise a signal for the nations and will assemble the banished of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Is 11:12). God has not forsaken, nor forgotten his people. They will one day be restored. We cannot excuse bad behavior on Israel’s part. Neither must we forget that God has chosen and blessed Israel as his special possession. He will draw them back to himself.

If these are three characteristics of Jesus’ coming kingdom, then shouldn’t they also be something that we, as his people with the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18), are working toward? What that means and how that looks will take some consideration, but certainly justice, creation care, and a concern for the Jews ought to characterize the life of the believer. There is much more in Isaiah 11, but perhaps this is enough for us to start with. Father, open my eyes to see where I need to be more proactive in these areas that will ultimately characterize your son’s kingdom. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Isaiah 10:5, 6a, 12 (ESV)
Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger;
the staff in their hands is my fury!
Against a godless nation I send him,
and against the people of my wrath I command him,

When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the speech of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria and the boastful look in his eyes.

Assyria thought they were accomplishing great things. They were conquering nations. Their gods appeared to be greater than the gods of Jerusalem and Samaria. What they failed to understand was that the God of Jerusalem had called them, and was enabling them to gain the victories they had. They were simply a pawn in his hands. God was using them to judge his people. Assyria gained no victory that the God of Jerusalem had not allowed them to have. When God was done, a remnant of Israel would be preserved, but Assyria would be destroyed.

How many arrogant politicians have believed that they achieved their position and power by their own might, right, or connections? They fail to understand that God may have put them there to help a country, or judge a country, but they are there by the hand of God. They will answer to him for how they lead. How many arrogant preachers and church leaders have made the same mistake? They assume that their church growth, effective leadership, or positive impact on lives is the result of their greatness as a leader, the quality of the leadership plan, or their excellent training that prepared them for effective ministry. In politics, power and connections certainly play a part. In ministry, training, gifting, and good planning are all valuable. But the leader must never forget that ultimately, they have been placed in leadership by the sovereign hand of God. They may be a tool of judgement or blessing in God’s hands, but they are a tool in God’s hands.

It is easy to bash leaders. What about the rest of us? We do the same thing. How often do we go through life failing to recognize that our blessings are from God, our opportunities are from God, and our accomplishments are from God? The believer walks in the humility of recognizing that all we have is a gift from our Heavenly Father. We can choose to respond in two ways. We can look to ourselves, or we can look to God. Do we have a joyful accomplishment? Are we proud of our self and our accomplishment, or grateful for God’s blessing? Do we have a failure or disaster in life? Do we sit in abject misery looking for someone to blame, or do we cast ourselves at the feet of Jesus and ask for counsel and comfort? Whether in good or in bad, blessing or disaster, God is God.

We can choose arrogant self-reliance. It is an illusion, but we can choose to believe it. We can elect to live in our own self-centered delusions of grandeur and greatness. We can live as though everything depended on us. Ultimately, we will answer to God for how we have lived, but like the Assyrians, we can choose to ignore that truth. Or, we can choose humble reliance. Whether God is discipling or blessing, we can recognize our dependence on him, and trust him. He is faithfully working his purpose in our lives. How will you respond? How will I respond?

Friday, February 17, 2017

Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.

This chapter ends with judgment, but it begins with promise. This chapter reminds me of Peter’s words, “It is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Pet 4:17a). But Peter adds three other thoughts to this idea. The verse goes on to say that the judgment of those who do not believe will be worse. He precedes this statement of judgement with a challenge, “Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name” (1 Pet 4:16). He concludes in verse 19, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.

This, I think, is the message God is trying to send to Judah through Isaiah. They have not been listening to God. He will necessarily judge his people because of their sin. Their response has been to try and fix things rather than learning from his judgment. Isn’t that just like us? We make bad decisions. Rather than acknowledge our sin to God we run around trying to cover and fix the consequences. What God wants us to do is let go of self and draw near to him. He has a higher purpose in our pain than we can ever imagine, but we cannot enter into his blessing until he brings us to the end of ourselves.

Both Peter and Isaiah talk about judgment and discipline. Both of them, however, speak of it in the context of hope. Peter wants his readers to remember “If [they] are insulted for the name of Christ, [they] are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon [them]” (1Pet 4:14). Isaiah wants his readers to understand that God has broken “the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor.” (Is 9:4).

God never abandons his children. There will be pain and sorrow. Sometimes it is the consequence of not listening to God. Sometimes it is the result of living in a broken world. Sometimes is simply because we are faithful to God and we have an Enemy. But, God never abandons his children. In the darkest times there is the promise that God sees, he knows, he is present with us in the darkness, and he has something better planned for us in the future. In the meantime, don’t fight his discipline, and don’t try to fix it with man-made solutions. Trust him to work his purpose in you, or as Peter wrote, “Entrust [your soul] to a faithful Creator while doing good” (1 Pet 4:19b). If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then hear his voice and follow closely after him because “The Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Pet 4:14). Now that’s Good News.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Isaiah 8:11 (ESV)
For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying:

What does it mean to “walk in the way of this people?” It means four things in this chapter. First the people are ignoring the truth that God will judge his people. There is an accountability involved in being the people of God. We answer to God for what we do and how we live. Romans reminds us that we do not judge each other because we will each eventually give account to God himself.

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”So then each of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:10-12).

Second, walking in the way of the people means forgetting that God will protect his people. We will certainly give account to God, but we are also under the protection of God. Sometimes it feels like God is hiding from us. Sometimes we experience his discipline in our lives. Yet he never abandons his people. We have an enemy who seeks to destroy us and our faith, but even in the depths and the darkness God is there. To our enemy we can say, “Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us” (Is 8:10).

The people of the world forget both these truths. We will all give account to God, but God is with us and will never abandon us. Third, the world lives in fear. To “walk in the way of this people” means fearing what the rest of the world fears. Too often the church has adapted a mentality of fear. We lost of hope and our faith. We have, instead, circled the wagons and hope to hold out until the cavalry comes to rescue us. In our case the means the rapture or the return of the King. But that is not what God has called us to do. He told Peter, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). I’m not sure we believe that. As the people of God, we have been called to infiltrate the territory of the enemy and spoil him. That is what the Great Commission is all about. As we are going into all the world, we are to be making disciples, and the Gates of Hell will not be able to stand against us.

We act as though we are the fortress and Hell is banging at the gates. We only hope that Jesus comes back before the gates give way. But that is exactly the opposite of Jesus words. Hell is not banging at the gates of the church. The church is banging at the gates of Hell and “Hell shall not prevail.” God has not called us to fear, but to “power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7). The world lives in fear. They are afraid of change. They are afraid of people that are different from them. They are afraid of foreigners. They are afraid of financial collapse. They are afraid of growing old. They are afraid of losing control of their lives. When the barbarians sacked Rome it would have appeared to be a time for appropriate fear. Yet the church used that opportunity to convert Europe. We can live in fear, or we can trust the hand of God.

Fourth, the World ignores the Word and the testimony of God’s people. Isaiah writes in Isaiah 8:16, “Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples.” Four verses later he cries out, “To the teaching and to the testimony.” It is the Word of God and the testimony of his people that help to keep us focused on Him. It is the Word of God and the testimony of his people that remind us that even in his discipline he never abandons his people. It is in the Word of God and the testimony of his people that we are reminded to trust him and not allow fear to take control. When we focus our eyes on the threats and difficulties of life we are filled with fear. When we listen to the world and recall the testimony of God’s people, faith grows.

Isaiah warns us not to walk in the way of the people. We must never forget that we will one day give account to God. We must never forget that even in the darkest times of life, he has never abandoned us. We must not buy in to the fear of the world. We must never ignore the Word and the testimony. That is how the world lives. God has called us to something higher. We are his. He is Immanuel, God with us. Let us keep our eyes on Him. To the Enemy we can ever say, “Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us” (Is 8:10).

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Isaiah 7:9b (ESV)
If you are not firm in faith,
you will not be firm at all.

Judah was being threatened by neighboring Syria and Israel. God’s message to Ahaz, King of Judah, and to the people of Judah was, “Trust me.” That’s hard to do when multiple enemies are threatening an attack. That’s hard to do when you can’t see any way out. The natural tendency is to either panic, or make preparations to protect yourself. Preparation is not wrong, but when not mixed with faith it becomes idolatry. When we act, and think as though our hope is in our ability to defend ourselves we are putting our trust in something other than God.

The Psalmist wrote, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God” (Ps 20:7). When Jeremiah prophesied that Judah would fall to Babylon, Judah was warned not to fight or try to avoid it. This was God’s judgment. It could not be avoided. When Isaiah promised Ahaz, years earlier, not to fear Syria and Israel, that was God’s promised protection. It would happen as promised. Sovereign God is ultimately in control of our world. The real question is whether we trust him.

The early church took great risks to serve others. When Rome threatened to kill anyone who was a Christian, Christians faithfully admitted their faith and died as a result. When Romans abandoned their babies because they were unwanted, it was Christians who rescued and raised those little ones. When plagues hit Rome, it was the Christians who stayed behind to nurse the sick. The pagans abandoned the sick and fled. Christians trusted God and God honored their faith. Christians died for their faith, but the church grew. Christians took a risk by rescuing babies, but God honored their choice. Christians nursed the sick back to health and God protected them. A smaller percentage of Christians died in the plagues than any other group in Rome. These things happened, not because the church chose to be safe, but because the church chose to do the right thing and trust God.

What are you facing today that brings you fear? Where has fear kept you from serving others? How has fear crippled your life, hindered your relationships, and robbed you of peace? God’s words to Ahaz still stand. “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (Is 7:9b). Trust Him.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Isaiah 6:5-7 (ESV)
[5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
[6] Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. [7] And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah 6 is a harsh denouncement of God’s people, but it flows out of a revelation of God’s holiness. God doesn’t judge sin because he is an angry God. He doesn’t judge sin because he is grouchy. He judges sin because he is holy and sin is contrary to his created purpose for us. He is angry with sin because it has defaced his highest and greatest creation. In reflecting on this chapter, three thoughts stand out to me. They have to do not with judgment, but with ministry. The word ministry means service.

First, Isaiah was overwhelmed by God’s holiness. This caused him to see his own sinfulness. An encounter with holy God exposes our own brokenness. Years ago, we had a grease fire on the kitchen stove. It left the white ceiling streaked with soot. When we began to clean the ceiling, we realized that the ceiling wasn’t as white as we thought it was. It was dirty and grease caked from years of cooking. It looked white until we swiped a clean cloth across it. Then we saw what white really was. Similarly, we tend to think of ourselves as pretty good people. We know we have our issues, but we’re not nearly as bad as a lot of people. It is only when we get a clearer view of God that we begin to realize how broken we really are.

Second, Isaiah realized not only sinful he was, but how God had cleansed him and prepared him for service. Cleansing had to precede ministry. That wasn’t something he had to do, it was something God did. That is the Good News! When we begin to recognize our own sin, our first response is either despair or self-confidence. We either give up, thinking we can never be good enough, or we think that we have to fix it. We make promises. We work harder. We look for solutions, programs, and fixes. The bad news is that we can’t fix ourselves. The good news is that God has already provided the fix in Jesus. When the Seraphim touch Isaiah’s lips to cleanse him, he doesn’t respond by saying, “Let me have those tongs. I don’t think you got it all.” He responds, “Here I am! Send me.” Understanding and believing God’s cleansing leads us to ministry.

Third, ministry does not usually look like what we expect. For Isaiah, it meant giving an unpopular message to people that didn’t want to hear it. Sometimes we develop unrealistic expectations of what ministry is. “Children’s ministry? Sure, I love children!” Do you love children when three of them are all screaming at the same time? Do you love children when one has pulled his dirty diaper off, a second is crying for her Mommy, and a third is eating the crayons? Do you love children when unholy parents are complaining about how little Sally didn’t get enough attention today, or little Johnny should not have been given a snack because now it will ruin his lunch? Do you love children’s ministry when you begin to suspect that abuse is going on in the home and you need to do something about it? Ministry is hard. Ministry is uncomfortable. Ministry is not all chocolates and roses.

So how do we do it? Ministry is done by going back to where this passage began. Ministry flows out of being overwhelmed by the presence of Holy God. Ministry flows out of an understanding that we have been washed clean by the blood of Christ. Ministry is not about seeking self-fulfillment. It is about falling down broken before a holy God and rising purified, grateful, willing, and equipped by his grace. We are all called to ministry. The real question is not so much whether we are willing, but whether we have encountered God. Willingness flows out of relationship.

Isaiah 6:8 (ESV)
And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.”

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Isaiah 5:2 (ESV)
He dug it and cleared it of stones,
and planted it with choice vines;
he built a watchtower in the midst of it,
and hewed out a wine vat in it;
and he looked for it to yield grapes,
but it yielded wild grapes.

Isaiah goes on in chapter 5 to explain that Israel is the vineyard. Because they have not been fruitful God will make them even less fruitful. Because they have been more interested in expanding their wealth and enjoying their prosperity than in serving others and working for justice, God will take away all that they have. In their loss, two truths are significant. First, God does not see their prosperity as a blessing. It is the very thing that has distracted them from what they should be doing. Their comfort has turned them into wine aficionados and mixed drink experts. What they should have been doing was using their wealth for the benefit of the less fortunate. It sounds a bit like our world. God’s church has been more interested in its own comfort than in the fate of the desperate and hurting masses around them. The ease of God’s people will be turned to dis-ease.

Isaiah 5:6 (ESV)
I will make it a waste;
it shall not be pruned or hoed,
and briers and thorns shall grow up;
 I will also command the clouds
that they rain no rain upon it.

God does not see their prosperity as a blessing. It is the very thing that has distracted them from what they should be doing. Second, God will get his work done without us.

Isaiah 5:15-17 (ESV)
Man is humbled, and each one is brought low,
and the eyes of the haughty are brought low.
But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice,
and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness.
Then shall the lambs graze as in their pasture,
and nomads shall eat among the ruins of the rich.

Man is humbled, but the LORD is exalted. Those to whom God’s people should have shown hospitality and compassion will now eat where the people of God used to eat. God will accomplish his purpose, but his people will suffer loss. God has given his church the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18). We have instead pursued our own comfort and safety. We have acted as though our purpose is to stay safe and hang in there until God comes to rescue us. That is not our purpose.

Israel was supposed to be a light and a blessing to the nations. Instead they turned inward and sought safety. God removed their safety. The church is supposed to be a light and a blessing to a broken world. Too often we have turned inward and sought safety instead. When you read the history of the early church and the martyrs who died simply because they were Christians, and then you look around at our 21st Century North American Church culture it is hard to believe that we are the same church. Will we embrace God’s mission, or will we continue to turn inward and choose safety? God will accomplish his purpose either way, but wouldn’t it be better to be a part of it?

This passage causes me to reexamine my own life and priorities. It causes me to wonder whether I too have chosen self-preservation over ministry. It reminds me that ultimately self-preservation leads to loss of self in God’s economy. It is in selfless service that we find real meaning, and God’s full provision.

Matthew 19:29-30 (ESV)
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.