Friday, October 18, 2019

Isaiah 27

Isaiah 27:2-4 (ESV)
In that day,
“A pleasant vineyard, sing of it!
I, the LORD, am its keeper;
every moment I water it.
Lest anyone punish it,
I keep it night and day;
I have no wrath.
Would that I had thorns and briers to battle!
I would march against them,
I would burn them up together.

Isaiah 24 speaks of a day when Israel’s enemies are destroyed, and she is called home from exile. “And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem” (Isa 27:13 ESV). There is coming a day of reconciliation and restoration.

This was originally written on Resurrection Sunday. The risen Savior is the guarantee of God’s victory. 1Thessalonians 1:9-10 speak of God’s deliverance for those who “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” The wrath of God and the love of God come together at the cross. Romans 5:9 encourages us, “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”

We could spend a lot of time answering the question of why God is angry. The answer to that question starts with God’s created order and our destructive choices. The solution is found in Jesus’ death and resurrection. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).

We see that same love of God in Isaiah 27:4-5. Isaiah writes, “Would that I had thorns and briers to battle! I would march against them, I would burn them up together.” But he doesn’t stop there. He goes on with an invitation to move from destruction to protection. “Or let them lay hold of my protection, let them make peace with me, let them make peace with me.” This is the invitation God holds out to a broken world. “Let them make peace with me.” How is that peace made? “We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).

Is God upset with what we have done to his creation? Absolutely! Will he judge the world, pouring out his wrath against it? Yes. Is that wrath inevitable? No, not on a personal level. That is the Good News. He holds out to a broken world the open invitation, “Let them make peace with me” (Is 27:5). The solution is in Jesus Christ who carried our sin to the cross, left it in the grave, and rose to give New Life. The wrath of God and the love of God come together at the cross. That is the Good News of Resurrection Sunday! He is risen! Trust him and celebrate!

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Isaiah 26

Isaiah 26:1-2 (ESV)
In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
“We have a strong city;
he sets up salvation
as walls and bulwarks.
Open the gates,
that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in.

This is a song of hope. It is a song of expectation and anticipation. It is a song of grace and mercy. It is a song of redemption and restoration. It is a song about “that day.” That day is coming when God’s people will experience his salvation. That day is coming when righteousness will be the norm instead of the exception. In that day, “your dead shall live; their bodies shall rise. You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy” (Isaiah 26:19)! In that day, “the LORD is coming out from his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity, and the earth will disclose the blood shed on it, and will no more cover its slain” (Isaiah 26:21). In that day all things will be set right.

How does one live in a broken and scary world until that day? Every day the paper records an assault, a school shooting, a bombing somewhere, or an attack against Christians in some part of the world. Every day the news records another threat to humanity, an act of injustice or violence, or a natural disaster that devastates lives. Every day someone is angry, someone is hurt, someone loses a loved one, or someone gives up hope. How does one live in a broken and scary world until that day?

Isaiah 26:3-4 (ESV)
You keep him in perfect peace
whose mind is stayed on you,
because he trusts in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Perhaps these verses hold the key. The truth is, our minds are stayed on us. Our eyes our fixed on our broken world. Our attention is given to the threats and dangers of our world. We are looking at the threat. The one experiencing peace is looking at the savior. We experience God’s shalom, his peace and wholeness, when our minds are stayed on him.

The word “stayed” means to lean, lay, or rest. Think of John at the Last Supper leaning back on Jesus, resting in him. He is our peace as we learn to rest in him. He is our wholeness as we learn to trust him in the darkest moments. He is our shalom as we turn from the danger, pain, and threats of life to be fully taken by him.

Think of a little child lost in a crowd of unfamiliar feet and legs. She is surrounded by people she doesn’t know. She doesn’t recognize the faces looming around her. Fear grips her soul, and then she sees Daddy. All the fear dissipates and the world is again safe. She is not alone. He is the one who wipes away all the tears. He is the one that makes the scary things retreat. He is the one she clings to. As long as she can see him she has peace.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you” (Is 26:3). Where are you looking today? Where are you resting? On what are you leaning as you face an uncertain day? “Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock” (Is 26:4). One day will be “that day” when all things are set right. Until then, trust him.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Isaiah 25

Isaiah 25:3, 4, 8 (ESV)
Therefore strong peoples will glorify you;
cities of ruthless nations will fear you.
For you have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm and a shade from the heat;
for the breath of the ruthless is like a storm against a wall,

He will swallow up death forever;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the LORD has spoken.

These verses are, of course, speaking about God. Several chapters in Isaiah have been dealing with judgment against the enemies of God’s people. Now the prophecy turns to God’s promises for his people. Her enemies will be brought down. She will be restored, and flourish. The world will be changed forever. “He will swallow up death forever…the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8).

People of faith understand and rest in the reality that now is not all there is. There is a future hope. No matter how bad things get here and now, we live in the anticipation of a better day coming. Whatever happens in this world… Whatever pain we live with… Whatever benefit sin seems to offer, it is short lived. To use King David’s words, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30:5), or to quote the prophet Jeremiah, “I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow” (Jer 31:13).

Hope has always been the unique privilege of the people of God. Circumstances seem unendurable but, God’s “grace is sufficient for you” because his “power is perfected in weakness.” (2Cor 12:9). In the midst of the pain, life sometimes feels like an eternity, yet Psalm 144:4 reminds us that, “Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.” There will come a day when looking back we will realize that what seemed like an eternity was in fact but a moment. We live in the hope of a better day coming. Esther Kerr Rusthoi wrote the following lyrics to express this great hope:

Sometimes the day seems long,
Our trials hard to bear.
We’re tempted to complain,
To murmur and despair.
But Christ will soon appear
To catch his bride away!
All tears forever over
In God’s eternal day.

It will be worth it all
When we see Jesus!
Life’s trials will seem so small
When we see Christ.
One glimpse of his dear face,
All sorrow will erase.
So, bravely run the race
Till we see Christ.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

1 Corinthians 6 (Pt 5)

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)
[19] Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
In our world where finding your self and following your passion is considered the ultimate good, the words of this chapter in 1 Corinthians stand out in sharp contrast. Our passions do not define us. Our relationship with Christ defines us. Our passions lead us to drag God into unrighteousness because he dwells within us. Our body no longer belongs to us. It is now the holy temple of the Holy Spirit. Our highest call is not to follow our passions, but to glorify God.

So much of what is driving the political agenda today, so much of what is driving the moral agenda of our day, so much of what we hear, read, and see today is based on the faulty premise that we must be ourselves and follow our passions. We even argue that God made us this way so it must be right. But that argument is destroyed by 1 Corinthians 6:13 where the Corinthians argue, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” But the text responds, “and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

In Psalms 11:3 the Psalmist asks, “If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?” It seems to me that Christians have been arguing for moral behavior while the Enemy has been chipping away at the foundation. We have been trying to secure the ramparts of the moral castle while the Enemy has been beating down the door. We are still arguing for moral behavior, but we have too often bought into the lie of pursuing our passions and “I’ve got to be me.” We now couch that in biblical terminology all the while missing the fact that it is not the behavior that is the problem. It is the philosophy of life underlying the behavior that is the problem.

It is time we understand that our passions, our desires, and our past does not define who we are. It is time we recognize that, as believers, we are not our own. We are bought with a price. We are the holy temple of the holy Spirit of God. It is time we confess that we have bought into the lies of the Enemy even while trying to defend biblical morality. It is time we realize who we are in Christ. It is time we realize that our highest call is not to follow our passions, but to glorify God.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

1 Corinthians 6 (Pt 4)

1 Corinthians 6:15 (ESV)
[15] Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!
Our identity in Christ should work in at least two ways to motivate us to holiness. Further, it empowers us to holiness. First, out identity in Christ motivates us to holiness because we understand that unholiness is no longer our identity. It is not who we are any longer. Apart from Christ we are identified by our passions and desires. We are gluttons. We are angry people. We are same-sex attracted. We are proud and selfish, even narcissistic. That is who we are apart from Christ, but in Christ we are holy. We may still struggle with those passions. We may still wrestle with those desires, but they no longer define us. We are Christ and Christ is us. Our identity is found in him, not in our passions or activities.

Second, our identity in Christ motivates us to holiness because whatever we do and wherever we go we take Christ. He is in us. If we sin, we are involving him in that sin. When we look at pornography, Christ is right there in us. Can we really involve the holy God to that? Whatever we do and wherever we go, Jesus is there in us. He doesn’t leave when we choose to act in an unholy manner. What a sacrilege.

Finally, our identity in Christ empowers us to holiness, not just by motivation, but by the indwelling, empowering Holy Spirit. Romans 6 challenges believers to consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God (see Rom 6:11). That is not just the power of positive thinking. That is our identity in Christ. We are dead to sin. We are alive in Christ. We are empowered by the Holy Spirit who dwells in every believer. “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Rom 8:2).

Our identity in Christ works to motivate and empower us to holiness. As believers in Jesus Christ we need to learn to rest in that truth. We need to learn to walk in that truth. We need to learn to believe that truth. In Christ we are holy. Let us live as holy ones.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

1 Corinthians 6 (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 6:7 (ESV)
[7] To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
Many read 1 Corinthians 6 and conclude that we just need to let people walk over us for the sake of our testimony. But verse 7 is not the only verse in the chapter. Yes, at some point we may need to just take the loss and write it off as covered by the cross. But the chapter also has these verses.
[3] Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! [4] So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? [5] I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, (1 Cor 6:3-5).
This is what taking a matter to the church is about. When there is a dispute we ought to be able to call together wise, godly people from within the church that can judge the matter. We are not just doomed to being taken advantage of. This, of course, necessitates three things. First, we need to have wise, godly people in the church. There usually are, but we may have to look for them. Second, we need to be willing to be held accountable to them. Too often we just walk away and look for another church. Third, we need to be willing to bring the matter to them in the first place. Too often we are either overly aggressive, attacking others, or we are overly passive, letting people walk over us. Neither honors God.

Biblical unity is not easy. It takes time and energy. It requires biblical and spiritual wisdom, and the courage to exercise it. It requires a willingness to confront in a firm but gracious manner. It requires that Christ be more important to us than our stuff because sometimes it requires us to be willing to take the loss, forgive, and go on. Unfortunately today it is easier to either go find another church with people I like, or grit my teeth and keep worshiping with people I don’t really like. Neither of those two options honor God. Neither of those two options are biblical unity. Neither of those two options are spiritually healthy choices. What God has in mind is for believers to live as brothers and sisters in unity, forgiveness, and love no matter what. That’s not easy, but if the world could ever see it, what a testimony it would be.

Monday, October 7, 2019

1 Corinthians 6 (Pt 2)

1 Corinthians 6:9 (ESV)
[9] Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,
This verse seems like an odd transition. What does it have to do with the previous paragraph talking about not taking anyone to court? Verses 7 and 8 lead naturally into verse 9
[7] To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? [8] But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!

The Apostle writes that in having lawsuits with one another they are defrauding each other. The text concludes, “you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers!” (1 Cor 6:8). Then he goes on in verse 9 to remind them that, “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9). They are acting in an unrighteous manner and the unrighteous to not inherit the kingdom. One would expect his conclusion to be, “If you continue acting like this you are in danger of missing the kingdom.” But that is not what he concludes.

The conclusion is, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor 6:11). Paul does not conclude that their unrighteous behavior threatens them with loss. Rather, he concludes with a reminder that they are no longer unrighteous. When they are acting in disunity, defrauding, taking advantage, and even taking one another to court, they are acting in a manner inconsistent with their identity.

The gospel is never about being good enough for God to accept us. It is about being washed clean by faith in Christ. Neither is the Christian life about being good enough to retain or maintain our relationship with God. Rather, our motivation to holiness is our identity with Christ.

When temptations come, when the flesh demands satisfaction, when we find ourselves drawn back to those old sins we need to remember who we are, not who we were. We are not defined by our passions. Neither are we identified by our past behavior. We need to learn our new identity in Christ and rest in that. We need to learn to say, “I am not longer unrighteous, I am not longer sexually immoral, I am no longer an idolater nor an adulterer, nor someone who practices homosexuality. I am not longer a thief, nor greedy, nor a drunkard, nor a reviler, nor a swindler. That is my past identity, but it is no longer who I am. Neither my past nor my passions define me. I am washed, I am sanctified, I am justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. That is who I am” (see 1 Cor 6:9-11).

Because my past no longer defines me, I no longer ought or need to live that way. Identity is the motivation to holiness in the life of the believer. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ then you are defined no longer by your past or your passions. You are defined by Christ himself. That is Good News.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

1 Corinthians 6 (Pt 1)

1 Corinthians 6:7 (ESV)
[7] To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?

This passage is not saying that Christians should never be in the legal system. The first two verses of 1 Corinthians 6 clearly refer to acts against one another that Paul calls “trivial” (1 Cor 6:2). He is not referring to illegal activity. Some circles of believers have acted as though Christians are not liable to the legal system. When illegal activity occurs in their midst they deal with it internally. That too is a bad testimony. It inevitably gets out and looks like the church is covering up sin. Legal issues need to be dealt with legally.

What Paul is talking about in this chapter is Christian unity. Do you have a grievance against a brother? Take it to the church rather than the court. That is why Christian organizations exist to provide arbitration and peacemaking between believers. Disunity destroys the picture of God’s body. Disunity undermines the church’s mission. Jesus said that the unity of the church is what would convince the world that God sent Jesus. Disunity destroys that message. Paul’s argument is that being wronged is better than a bad testimony.

That is not to say that we should just let people walk over us and take constant advantage of us. There ought to be people in the church who are capable of arbitration and good judgment. Differences and disagreements should be taken care of internally. We do no one any favors by overlooking sin. On the other hand, we destroy our very purpose when disagreements within the church are put on display for the world to see.

That leads me to wonder how often we fail on this point without ever going to court. We may not take a brother to court over which Sunday School curriculum to use, the color of the carpet, or who should be on the worship team, but do we talk about our grievances before the world? Do our unbelieving friends hear about our discontent? What does it say to the world when they overhear us griping about someone in the church? Mission is more important than having our way. “Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?” (1 Cor 6:7). When church becomes about us and about getting our way we have lost sight of why we are here.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Isaiah 24

Isaiah 24:1-3 (ESV)
Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate,
and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest;
as with the slave, so with his master;
as with the maid, so with her mistress;
as with the buyer, so with the seller;
as with the lender, so with the borrower;
as with the creditor, so with the debtor.
The earth shall be utterly empty and utterly plundered;
for the LORD has spoken this word.

This chapter is the description of worldwide devastation at the hand of God. Verse 4 tells us that in those days even “the highest people of the earth languish.” No one can hide from the hand of God. This is a sobering chapter, but it ends on a positive note. Isaiah 24:23 continues the description of devastation: “Then the moon will be confounded and the sun ashamed.” But the verse closes the chapter with these words: “For the LORD of hosts reigns on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and his glory will be before his elders.”

Creator God will not put up with a world that has attributed his glory to his creation. All creation reflects the glory of God, but it does not emanate, radiate, or originate glory. It only reflects his glory. The world has “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25 ESV). How can we expect anything less than exactly what Isaiah 24 describes?

Whatever happens in our world, however long it lasts, however good or bad it becomes, since we have exalted creation to the place of God, and made God someone to be controlled, manipulated, or ignored, we cannot expect him to remain silent. At some point the God who appears to be silent will be silent no longer. The world that rejected him will experience his wrath. This is not because he is a vindictive, arrogant, short-tempered, and self-centered god. He will judge because we who were put in charge of his creation worshiped creation instead of the Creator. In doing so, we destroyed the very thing we were designed to protect.

This is why, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV).

John 3:34-36 (ESV)
For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.  The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

We have Good News for a world facing destruction. Let’s not hide it.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Isaiah 23

Isaiah 23:8-9 (ESV)
Who has purposed this
against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes,
whose traders were the honored of the earth?
to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth.
Tyre was wealthy and secure. She had many powerful friends. She was not part of the People of God, yet her wealth, security, and powerful friends could not save her from the discipline of the LORD of hosts. God is not a territorial God. He is not the God of his People. He is the LORD of hosts, King of kings and Lord of lords. He is God over all the earth, and over all creation. Tyre’s wealth, security, and powerful friends could not save her from his hand.

There are multiple lessons here, but the central lesson is found in verse 9, “The LORD of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory, to dishonor all the honored of the earth.” Tyre’s hope was in her own resources. Her wealth, security, and powerful friends had become her source of security. She was taken with her own greatness. These things had become her god. God will not share his glory.

Whenever we look to anything other than God to provide for us what only God can provide, we reap death. When our security, our significance, and our satisfaction are rooted in circumstances, networks, bank accounts, or personal ability we risk losing it all. God will not share his glory. When our circumstances are favorable we need to recognize it as a gift from God. When we develop networks of people and organizations that come around us to support and encourage us, or just to give us a hand up, we need to acknowledge them as a gift from God. When our bank accounts are secure, or we are capable and gifted in certain areas of life, work, or ministry, we need to recognize that God is the source of these things. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas 1:17).

The blessings of life should move us to worship and gratitude, not self-sufficiency and pride. Proverbs 16:18 tells us, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” James references Proverbs 3:33 when he writes that God, “gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (Jas 4:6). This is exactly what happened with Tyre. She trusted in her wealth and powerful friends, and she fell just as God promised.

Where is your hope today? Is it in the government? It will fail. Is it in your retirement plans? They will never be enough. Is it in your creativity and giftedness? They will fade. Is it in your friends and family? They will not always be there for you despite their promises. Our only real hope is in God. Aaron Shust conveys this truth in this song written by Cushman April Camille, My Hope Is In You.

My hope is in You, Lord
All the day long, I won't be shaken by drought or storm
A peace that passes understanding is my song
And I sing my hope is in You, Lord

I wait for You and my soul finds rest
In my selfishness, You show me grace
I worship You and my heart cries "Glory
Hallelujah, Father, You're here!"

My hope is in You, Lord

Where is your hope today?

Isaiah 27

Isaiah 27:2-4 (ESV) In that day, “A pleasant vineyard, sing of it! I, the LORD, am its keeper; every moment I water it. Lest an...