Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Isaiah 50


Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV)
The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.


This passage expresses four truths that are easy to agree to and hard to live. The first is that God gifts me so that I can serve others. “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Is 50:4). God’s gifts, provisions, strength, and help are never for us. They are always so that we may serve others. That is the beauty of the Body of Christ. When each part recognizes that they exist for the sake of all the other parts then the body works right. When any part acts as though the body is about self, the body becomes dysfunctional. God gifts me so that I can serve others.


Second, service often results in opposition and oppression. We are frequently willing to serve if there is just a little acknowledgement. A thank you goes a long way. But God calls us to serve when there is not only no acknowledgement, but when there is outright rejection and opposition. “The Lord GOD has opened my ear” (Is 50:5). In response to God’s work in his life Isaiah writes, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard” (Is 50:6). Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). Even though the world hated Jesus, he died for it. He calls us, as his followers, to do no less. We cannot serve with the expectation of appreciation and gratitude. We must serve in response to God’s grace no matter how people respond. After all, it’s not about us.


That leads us to the third lesson. There is no shame in being mistreated for the sake of Christ. Isaiah writes, “I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced” (Is 50:6-7). We think that being spit on is disgraceful and disgusting. Isaiah says that he didn’t hide from being spit on, yet he was not disgraced. There is no shame in suffering for Christ. If someone spits in my face because I am a jerk, that would be disgraceful and I should feel shamed. If someone spits in my face because of Jesus I should be honored. The Apostle Paul, who knew something about suffering for Christ, wrote, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Php 1:29). Paul considers suffering for Christ an honor. Again, it’s not about us. It is about Him.


God gifts me so that I can serve others. Service often results in opposition and oppression. It is an honor to suffer for Christ. Those are easy statements to write. Living them is another thing. How can I possibly do that? That question brings us to our fourth lesson: “My help comes from the Lord” (Ps 121:2). God hasn’t called us to do this alone. God, who is always faithful, has promised to be our help. God, who never leaves us or forsakes us, encourages and empowers us. The God who gifts us for service is the God who indwells us, enabling us to serve no matter what the consequences. The God who loves us deeply, consistently, and immeasurably, is the God who walks through the rejection with us, equipping us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (Rom 5:3). Why do we rejoice? “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).


Sometimes God calls us to hard things, but God never calls us to anything he does not equip us for. In the darkest shadows and deepest valleys, he is there. In the rejection and opposition, he is there. It is time we recognize that the gifts God has given are not for our own benefit. They are for the good of others. It doesn’t matter how those we serve respond. He is there with us, and he says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Php 4:13). Let’s serve without consideration for self, for he is able.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Isaiah 49


Isaiah 49:22-23 (ESV)
Thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations,
and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their arms,
and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
Kings shall be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the LORD;
those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.”


These verses were written to a people destined for exile. Their homes and their temple would be destroyed and they would be carried off to a foreign land. Yet God says that the nations will bring his people back home. The foreigners will protect, exalt, provide for, and honor the people of God. This is not because of their great faith, or even their deep repentance. It is because of the faithfulness of God. The people of God will know that God is the LORD, the faithful, covenant keeping God, when they see this prophecy fulfilled.


Our world is spiraling out of control. Crime and violence seem to be increasing. The danger of internal and external terror attacks is real. The possibility of North Korea dropping a nuke is frightening. Strange people are immigrating to our country and the culture is changing. New diseases seem to be constantly popping up. Promised cures seem unlikely. As we get older death seems to become a central part of our lives. Fear grips us. When fear rises in our hearts, our eyes move off God and onto the troubles around us.


God has not called his people to fear. He has called them to hope with expectation. In the face of immanent destruction, in Isaiah 49, God reminds his people that there is hope. The present does not define the future. God will work his purposes. The world will one day recognize him for who he really is. Philippians 2:10 and Romans 4:11 remind us that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow.” In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promises, “I will build my church.” The fears threats, and dangers of this world cannot keep God from accomplishing his purpose. Whatever he calls us to face, he has not called us to fear. We can trust him. “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2Tim 1:7).

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Isaiah 48


Isaiah 48:1, 18 (ESV)

Hear this, O house of Jacob,
who are called by the name of Israel,
and who came from the waters of Judah,
who swear by the name of the LORD
and confess the God of Israel,
but not in truth or right.

Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;


To become a Christian and to live as a Christian are two different things. The descendants of Jacob were God’s people, yet they failed to live like God’s people. God had not hidden himself from them. God reminds them, “From the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there” (Is 48:16) God spoke to Adam. God spoke to Abraham. God spoke to Moses. God spoke through the prophets. It was not that God was hidden from them, but that they had refused to listen. The People of God swore by the name of the LORD, and confessed the God of Israel, but they did not do so in truth or right. Their living did not match their words. The result was that they did not experience the peace of God.


The text laments, “Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river” (Is 48:18a). But, “There is no peace…for the wicked” (Is 48:22). It is one thing to call ourselves by the name of Christ. It is another thing to live out that which is true and right. Jesus said that “In the world you will have tribulation” (Jn 16:33b). But the warning about tribulation was sandwiched between these two statements: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace” (Jn 16:3a). “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33c). His promise was that even in the midst of tribulation from the world, his peace would reign in our hearts because he has overcome the world.


So why are we not experiencing his peace? Why is there so much turmoil in our lives? We call ourselves by the name of Christ, but we do not live according to the name of Christ in rightness or truth. When we buy into the World’s value systems, we rob ourselves of his peace. When we listen to the World’s lies about our security and significance, we rob ourselves of his peace. When we embrace what the World tells us is important, right or true, we rob ourselves of his peace. When we act without listening to the Word or the Spirit, we rob ourselves of his peace. God has not hidden himself. He has spoken clearly. We have too often been quick to call ourselves Christians but slow to trust him, rest in him, embrace his values, or walk by his Word. Calling oneself a Christian does not guarantee peace. Believing, thinking, speaking and living according to that which is true and right leads to peace even in the middle of tribulation.


Isaiah 48:18
Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Isaiah 47


Isaiah 47:10-11 (ESV)
You felt secure in your wickedness,
you said, “No one sees me”;
your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray,
and you said in your heart,
“I am, and there is no one besides me.”
which you will not know how to charm away;
disaster shall fall upon you,
for which you will not be able to atone;
and ruin shall come upon you suddenly,
of which you know nothing.

God said in earlier chapters of Isaiah that he would use Babylon to discipline his people. Because they will see Israel fall, the Babylonians will feel secure. They will assume that their gods are superior and that they are therefore safe. But all that will come crashing down around them. Their faith is misplaced and Israel is still under God’s watchful care.


How often we look at our immediate circumstances and make assumptions. Life feels out of control, so we conclude that it is out of control. Life feels good, so we conclude that there are no threats. Babylon fell in a night to Persia while they were partying because they felt secure. Fortunes have been lost overnight. Seemingly healthy people have dropped dead in their tracks. Misplaced faith is pointless.


Robert Burns poem To A Mouse has the following lines toward the end of the poem:
The best laid schemes o' Mice an' Men,
Gang aft agley, (go oft awry)
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy![1]
The poem reminds us that things do not always turn out the way we plan. Our plans promise joy, but often leave us with grief and pain.


Isaiah says that this is a lesson the Babylonians would soon learn. The gods of this world, for all their promise, will fail their followers. Our only hope is found in the Lord of Heaven and Earth. For the believer, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps 30:5). For the followers of other gods, “You feel secure in your wickedness…. But evil shall come upon you, which you will not know how to charm away” (Is 47:10-11).


That raises the question: What gods are you trusting today? Where is your hope? Ponder the chorus of the old hymn my Helen H. Lemmel.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.


[1]. http://www.robertburns.org.uk/Assets/Poems_Songs/toamouse.htm, accessed August 2, 2017.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Isaiah 46


Isaiah 46:9b-10
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose,’

The gods of this world are designed and created by people. People carry them. People sustain them. People protect them. Yet somehow, they trust them. They create safe gods that can be controlled and manipulated. It is hard for us to identify with this passage. In 21st Century America we do not carve gods and bow down to them. We do not worship gods of wood and stone. Yet, we do worship at the altar of manmade gods. The gods we serve are our philosophies, science, reason, passion, and emotion, just to name a few. These are all gods that we somehow think define us, protect us, or order our lives. Yet them are man-centered and man-made.

Our gods cannot sustain themselves. We sustain them. Our gods cannot protect themselves. We protect them. Our gods cannot predict or determine the future. They are creations of the created. Yet we allow them control and power in our lives. We laugh and ask why ancient people would bow down before a piece of wood or stone, and them we kneel at the altar of our own man-made gods.

The gods of our own design morph, change, or disappear at our whim. God is God. He never changes. He is always there. Whether we believe in him or not, whether we acknowledge him or not, whether we yield and submit to him or not, he is always there. He sustains himself. He protects us. He knows “the end from the beginning” (Is 46:10). He is God.

For the believer, this comforts in the midst of pain. It encourages where there is no outward sign of hope. It fosters peace in the face of danger and uncertainty. Knowing that God is God is what transformed Peter’s life from one controlled by his emotion to one who preached powerfully at Pentecost, and kept preaching even when James was put to death and he was imprisoned. Knowing that God is God is what prompted Daniel’s friends to remain firm in their faith when they were thrown into the fiery furnace. Knowing that God is God is what has sustained countless Christians in the face of opposition, persecution, and martyrdom over the past two-thousand years. It is what sustains us today.

Whether you are facing religious persecution, physical ailment, emotional pain, or spiritual opposition, remember that God is God. Isaiah records God’s words for us, “I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay (Is 46:13a). While the world carries its gods, our God promises deliverance. The God who made us, the God who holds all things together, the God who is self-sustaining, and who determines the end from the beginning promises deliverance. We are in his hands. There we find comfort, strength, rest, and peace. “I am God” he says, “and there is none like me” (Is 46:10).

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Isaiah 45


Isaiah 45:5-6 (ESV)
I am the LORD, and there is no other,
besides me there is no God;
I equip you, though you do not know me,
that people may know, from the rising of the sun
and from the west, that there is none besides me;
I am the LORD, and there is no other.


This chapter has so much in it, but there is one overarching truth that runs through the entire chapter. Isaiah 45:5 expresses it like this, “I am the LORD, and there is no other.” In this chapter Isaiah names Cyrus as the king that God will use to protect and bless his people. Cyrus is unknown in Isaiah’s time. He will not show up in history for another 150-200 years. Yet God is calling him by name. Only God knows the future from eternity past. Only God hears and answers his people. Only God can call out a pagan king 150 years before he is born and use him to protect his people even though he has no relationship with God. Only God works his purposes without fail.


How does one respond to a God like that? First, don’t question him. That is not to say that you never ask why. God is a God of mercy. He understands when we are confused. But there is a difference between asking why and challenging the authority of God.

Isaiah 45:9 (ESV)
“Woe to him who strives with him who formed him,
a pot among earthen pots!
Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’
or ‘Your work has no handles’?

Art never questions the artist. The pot never challenges the potter. Creation should not second-guess the creator. God knows what he is doing. He allows his creation a certain amount of freedom. As Romans observes, “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Rom 1:28). The result? “All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3:12). Creation should not second-guess the creator, and yet we have.


We should not question God. Second, we should trust him.

Isaiah 45:2 (ESV)
“I will go before you
and level the exalted places,
 I will break in pieces the doors of bronze
and cut through the bars of iron,

God will keep his promises to his people. We should trust him. Even when we cannot see, hear, or sense the presence of God, he is there. He never abandons his own. He always accomplishes his purposes, even if he has to use pagan kings to do so. He never promises to preserve our present way of life. He never promises to make life pain-free and easy. But he does promise to always be there. He does promise to work all things together for good. He does promise to set all things right in the end. He does promise to bring about justice and peace. We should trust him.


We should not question God. We should trust God. Third, we should turn to God.

Isaiah 45:22-23 (ESV)
“Turn to me and be saved,
 all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”

There is hope in no other god, philosophy, system, or power. At some point, “every knee shall bow” before God. We can choose to bow before him now in faith, or bow before him later in grief and regret, but “every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance” (Is 45:23). Stop questioning God. Turn to him. Trust him. He is God. He will keep his word. He is a good God. He is the only real God. He is “the LORD, and there is no other” (Is 45:5). Turn to him. Trust him. Rest in him.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Isaiah 44


Isaiah 44:6-8 (ESV)

Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel
and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
“I am the first and I am the last;
besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it.
since I appointed an ancient people.
Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid;
have I not told you from of old and declared it?
And you are my witnesses!
Is there a God besides me?
There is no Rock; I know not any.”


God is God. That seems fairly obvious, but it is not. The world is filled with gods, every one man-made. Isaiah describes the process of creating a god. A man cuts down a tree. Part of it is used for heat and cooking. Part of it is used to fashion an idol to which he bows down in worship. It is a god fashioned by his own hand, but he is blind to this reality. Every philosophy, theology, or belief system that does not recognize God as God is man-made. Just because we may use the same words to refer to God does not mean that we recognize God as God.


God is the God of the Bible. He is the God who created all things. He is the God who promises to protect his people even in the dark times. The real test of which God is true come in verse 7. “Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen” (Is 44:7). God is the God who not only brought all things into existence, but he is the God who knows the future from the past. Nothing catches God by surprise. It is not just that God has the power to accomplish his purposes. That it true, but it is more. He not only can and will carry out his plans, he knows what will happen before it occurs.


No block of wood can do that. No philosophy of man can do that. No god, force, power, or spirit can do that. Only the God who is God knows the future. He sees all. Fortune Tellers have tried to imitate him. Spirits have tried to emulate him. Philosophers have tried to outdo him, undo him, or explain him away, but God hasn’t gone anywhere. He “frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners. (He) turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish,” (Is 44:25). Further, “He confirms the word of his servant and fulfills the counsel of his messengers” (Is 44:25). As evidence that God is God, he names Cyrus and the rebuilding of the Temple well before Cyrus was born or the Temple destroyed. He is the God who knows the future from the past. Let’s see a block of wood do that.


God is God, and God’s people are under his care. We tend to fear what we do not understand. We fear the gods of the world. We fear the philosophies that deny God. We fear the governments that reject his power and authority. We live as though God is just another god. That raises the question of the day: Do we really believe that God is God? If we truly believe that, then we have nothing to fear. It is time to stop playing religion, and ask ourselves what we truly believe. We give lip service to a living God and act like he is just another block of wood. God is God.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Contextualization - 1 Corinthians 9:19-23


1 Corinthians 9:22-23 (ESV)
[22] To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. [23] I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

My generation is the “I gotta be me” generation. For the younger ones, that is a song from about 1968 by Sammy Davis Jr. But the concept at the center of that song has infected three generations. The current mentality is that we must be true to who we are. Not being true to who we are, we insist, leads to depression, despair, mental illness, and even suicide. We must be true to who we are. But is that true, and is it really any different from the conclusion of the book of Judges where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jdg 21:25)? That statement was not a commendation, but a condemnation. That is exactly what Moses had warned not to do.

Paul the Apostle, on the other hand, says that everything he did was driven not by “I gotta be me,” but by an entrusted stewardship of the gospel. His live was molded by the compelling need to share the Good News of Jesus to a broken world. To do that he didn’t stand on a street corner and yell the gospel at people. He didn’t go door to door with a survey intended to surreptitiously share the gospel. He didn’t market himself. He connected with people. For those under the Law, he lived as under the law. For those outside the Jewish Law he lived as one outside the Jewish Law. He qualifies that he did not live lawlessly, but lived under the Law of Christ. Defining the Law of Christ is a blog for another day, but suffice it to say that he did not live immorally. He connected with people and lived in such a way that people would say, “He is one of us.”

In the name of “I’ve gotta be me” we have failed to embrace the truth that we are entrusted with the stewardship of the gospel which supersedes culture and personality. There is something more important than being me. Pursuing “me” has only resulted in three generations of selfish, self-centered, angry, depressed, disillusioned, and disappointed individuals without hope and without purpose. It is when we get our eyes off of being me, and set them on connecting with people in order to share the Good News with them that we find wholeness, freedom, purpose, and joy. Maybe Paul knew what he was talking about.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Sacrifice- 1 Corinthians 9:15-18


1 Corinthians 9:15-16 (ESV)
[15] But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. [16] For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
A central part of following Jesus that we seem to have forgotten is the idea of sacrifice. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24). We like the verses that promise provision, blessing, and joy. The verses that promise difficulties, or challenge us to sacrifice often get forgotten or ignored.

We are quick to defend our rights. The United States of America was founded on the idea of “certain unalienable rights” (Declaration of Independence). Standing up for our rights, demanding our rights, and defending our rights is considered a virtue. But in the Kingdom of God we are called on to willingly give up our rights for the benefit of others. That is a hard pill for us to swallow.

In 1 Corinthians 9 1-14 the Apostle Paul effectively argues that he has a right to be supported financially in ministry. He should not have to be “working for a living” (1 Cor 9:6). Yet he willing gave up that right in order to not hinder the gospel. As believers we have no right to insist that our pastors and missionaries live like Paul did. But we do have a responsibility to take Paul’s example personally. That is why he gave it. He was trying to teach the Corinthian believers that following Christ means willingly giving up one’s rights for the sake of others. Willing sacrifice on behalf of others is a central part of following Christ. What would life look like if we actually practiced that?

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Isaiah 43


Isaiah 43:1-2 (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.
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.


Isaiah 43 starts with a promise that the God who formed Israel would protect her. It ends with a warning.

Isaiah 43:27-28 (ESV)
Your first father sinned,
and your mediators transgressed against me.
Therefore I will profane the princes of the sanctuary,
and deliver Jacob to utter destruction
and Israel to reviling.


The same God who promised to protect Israel also promised to “deliver Jacob to utter destruction and Israel to reviling” (Is 43:28). The people of God, who had been created and formed by God, could be assured of both his protection and his discipline. Why? Because he is faithful even as they failed to honor him as God. This is not petty selfishness. This is proper honor due one’s creator. The truth is, this is not just for Israel. It is for all mankind. We have all been created in the image of God, for the purpose of displaying his image through relational and representational care for his creation.


We have failed on all counts. We have failed to pursue relationship with our Creator. We have failed to represent him properly to the rest of creation. We have failed to care for his creation. There are consequences to our failure. Israel’s “first father (Abraham) sinned” (Is 43:27). Our first father (Adam) sinned. Like Israel, we have reviled the God of our creation.


Yet, there is that promise at the beginning of the chapter. It is an amazing promise. “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” (Is 43:2). It reminds me of Daniel’s friends when they were thrown into the fiery furnace but not a trace of smoke clung to their robes when they were released. It reminds me of Daniel in the Lion’s Den when God closed the mouths of the lions and delivered Daniel. I wonder if Daniel and his friends thought of Isaiah’s words as they faced their accusers. Note that there is no promise of not going through fire or flood. But, there is a promise of protection and deliverance.


What fire or flood are you facing today? It may be at the hand of God, in order to draw you back to himself. It may be at the hand of God’s enemies, in an attempt to destroy, distract, or dissuade you from following him. Whatever it is, the Enemy can do no more than the gracious hand of God allows. In the end, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, the fire will not burn you, the flood will not sweep you away, and the gracious hand of God will be with you.


You are the testimony to his faithfulness. It may not feel like it at the moment, but it is true. In the face of life’s gravest challenges, we are encouraged to fall on our faces before him and worship. For he is worthy, and he promises one more thing, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Is 43:25). Rest in the promise, and worship him.

Isaiah 50

Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV) The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him w...