Thursday, March 30, 2017

Isaiah 21:1 (ESV)
The oracle concerning the wilderness of the sea.
As whirlwinds in the Negeb sweep on,
it comes from the wilderness,
from a terrible land.

Isaiah uses a powerful and destructive desert storm to illustrate the judgment coming against a people who are enemies of God’s people. How should God’s people respond when that judgment is sent? Several years ago I was watching a TV series with some of my grandchildren. There was an evil man in the series that was constantly hunting down the hero of the show. In one of the final episodes the bad guy was killed. I had not realized how much my grandchildren had gotten into the story until that moment. The bad guy was killed and my four grandchildren instantly erupted in cheers. That got me thinking. Is cheering the appropriate response to God’s judgement?

How should we respond to refugees, when they are refugees fleeing God’s judgment? They deserve what they are getting. Shouldn’t we cheer? The end of Isaiah 21 describes refugees fleeing the destruction of God’s judgment.

Isaiah 21:14-15 (ESV)
To the thirsty bring water;
meet the fugitive with bread,
O inhabitants of the land of Tema.
For they have fled from the swords,
from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow,
and from the press of battle.

The enemies of God’s people will be devastated and destroyed. For a people experiencing God’s judgment, that has a ring of hope. Yet the appropriate response is not celebration, but mercy. I ran across these lyrics this morning by Nathaniel E. and Christy L. Nockels. They express the heart of God and the grace and mercy we receive in Christ.

Behold what manner of love
That we can be called Your children
Behold what manner of grace
That we can see Your face

Unmerited favor resting on me
Unspeakable joy setting me free
Unbelievable circumstance
You gave a second chance to me

This is the grace we have received from God, yet we are so slow to give it to others. Tema is not a part of the People of God, yet they are known for their hospitality. In this passage they reach out to those fleeing judgment and destruction with mercy and provisions. Too often we cheer at the pain of our enemies. Too often and ungodly world is more merciful than the people of God. Should we not weep with the heart of God? Hear Jesus words on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). He spoke those words even as the guards were casting lots over his clothes. Father, give us the heart and mind of Christ, that we might see a lost and broken world through your eyes.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Isaiah 20:4-6 (ESV)
So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptian captives and the Cushite exiles, both the young and the old, naked and barefoot, with buttocks uncovered, the nakedness of Egypt. Then they shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Cush their hope and of Egypt their boast. And the inhabitants of this coastland will say in that day, ‘Behold, this is what has happened to those in whom we hoped and to whom we fled for help to be delivered from the king of Assyria! And we, how shall we escape?’”

Verse 6 says, “This is what has happened to those in whom we hoped.” God has a way of knocking out all the props in our lives. When we look to someone or something other than God to provide what only God can provide, we have established idols in our lives. Rather than looking to God, Israel had been looking to Egypt and Cush for her security. Heathen nations had become her gods. God will bring about her gods’ demise. The very thing Israel trusted would fall to the enemy Israel feared.

It is worth asking what we are trusting. Is our hope in our weapons, our government, our constitutional rights, our business expertise, our strong work ethic, our family, our friends, or our good credit rating? All of those will fail. Multiple times in our lives we have faced uncertainty about where we would live, or how we would survive. God has provided every time. He has never used the same source twice, and he has always surprised us with the answer. Whether in little or in much, God has always provided.

We must confess that as American believers we have lived less like believers and more like products of our culture. We have put more faith in our guns and our constitutional rights than in God. We have put more emphasis on our families than on the one who said that families would be divided over him (Lk 12:51-53). Two chapters later Jesus warned that one cannot be his disciple unless he “hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life” (Lk 14:26). We have put more hope in a strong economy than in the God who said in Matthew 6:28-30,

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, …But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

When we look to people or things to provide the security, significance, and satisfaction that only God can provide, those people or things become our idols. God will not share his glory. With Israel, we need to ask: In what or in whom are we trusting? Anything less than God will eventually fail.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Isaiah 19:23-24 (ESV)
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth,

Most of chapter 19 talks about the judgment God is sending against Egypt. Their rivers will be dried up. Their crops will die. Their gods will not answer. Their fishermen will have no catch. Their leaders and wise counselors will fail them. That is the description of most of the chapter. “The LORD has mingled within her a spirit of confusion, and they will make Egypt stagger in all its deeds, as a drunken man staggers in his vomit. And there will be nothing for Egypt” (Isaiah 19:14-15a). But…

With God there is often a “But…” But, “In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD at its border” (Isaiah 19:19). From Assyria to Egypt people will fear the LORD. God will take the enemies of Israel and turn them into allies who honor their God. God has a way of bringing people to the end of themselves. All our hopes, all our dreams, all our plans and expectations come to nothing when our hope is in someone or something other than God. He will not share his glory.

The glory of the nations will crumble. Borders will change. Alliances and allegiances will be altered. Nations will rise and fall. But God is always God. His word is unchanging. Everything the Egyptians put their hope in will fail them. Their natural resources, their great civilization, their wisdom, and their religion will all fail them. But God has higher plans. They will ultimately honor and glorify the very God they opposed and ignored.

This should cause me to consider the question: What I have put my hope in? Am I hoping in the government? Am I trusting in a religious system? Am I relying on friends and family? Is my hope in my business savvy, or my ability to work hard? All of that can disappear in a heartbeat. God will not share his glory. None of those things are bad. Governments rise and fall at the will and sovereign direction of God. Religion, if grounded in Christ, is a good thing. Good business practices, a willingness to work hard, and a circle of trusted friends are all gifts from God. But when we make that slight shift from gratitude to God for them, to trusting in them, we are on dangerous ground.

I am reminded of the old hymn written by Edward Mote back in the early 1800s.

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand;
all other ground is sinking sand.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Isaiah 18:1-2 (ESV)
Ah, land of whirring wings
that is beyond the rivers of Cush,
which sends ambassadors by the sea,
in vessels of papyrus on the waters!
Go, you swift messengers,
to a nation tall and smooth,
to a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
whose land the rivers divide.

God’s judgment is coming against the enemies of his people. They are warned to flee for help. Yet even those to whom they flee will one day pay tribute to the LORD.

Isaiah 18:7 (ESV)
At that time tribute will be brought to the LORD of hosts
from a people tall and smooth,
from a people feared near and far,
a nation mighty and conquering,
whose land the rivers divide,
to Mount Zion, the place of the name of the LORD of hosts.

We fear those of other religions, especially Islam. It is a violent religion opposed to all that we believe. Yet our fear often has more to do with fearing change and losing personal peace and comfort than anything else. When God is at work personal peace and comfort are almost always sacrificed for the greater good. Paul was called to move from the comfort of being a respected Jewish leader to being an Apostle to the Gentiles. Abraham was called to move from the comfort of his home and family to a land that God would show him. Noah was called to move from the comfort of normal life to build the Ark. If we fear the loss of our personal peace and comfort, then our values and priorities are wrong to start with.

The world is driven by its own values and priorities. God’s advice is that if they are not going to follow him, then they need to chase after their own security because his judgment is coming. His warning, however, is that they will not succeed. Ultimately every means of security, significance, and satisfaction the world chases after will fail them. The Lord says that in the end, “Every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom 14:11). The wealthy and powerful, the violent and zealous, the devious and deceptive will all one day bow before God. Every god the world chases after will ultimately kneel before him. Deuteronomy 10:17 reminds us that, “the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God.” There is none beside him.

As believers, we have a choice. We can choose to let our fear, our comfort, and our convenience drive us, or we can choose to live by faith. Either way God will accomplish his purpose, but what will we say when we stand before him and have to admit that we really didn’t trust him? What will we say when the very ones we feared are kneeling beside us giving honor to the God we weren’t quite sure could take care of us? Where is our faith? “The LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God” (Dt 10:17) before whom every knee shall bow … and every tongue shall confess.” (Rom 14:11). He is God. Trust him.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Isaiah 17:7-8, 13-14 (ESV)
In that day man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will look on the Holy One of Israel. He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands, and he will not look on what his own fingers have made, either the Asherim or the altars of incense.

The nations roar like the roaring of many waters,
 but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
and whirling dust before the storm.
At evening time, behold, terror!
Before morning, they are no more!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
and the lot of those who plunder us.

Two ideas stand out to me in this chapter. The first is found in verses 7-8. God’s discipline and judgment if for the purpose of turning people from false gods to see, trust, and worship the true God. In Romans 14:11 The Lord tells us that there will be a day of judgment when “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” Philippians 2:9-10 tell us that the Father has exalted the name of Jesus “above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” It doesn’t matter what gods the World worships and serves, there will be a day when the world is set right and they will acknowledge God as God.

Here is the reality though: It is not just the World that will recognize their false gods someday. God’s discipline in the lives of his people reveals the false gods we are trusting. We give lip service to God, but too often our faith is placed somewhere else. Our security is in a job, or a bright future. Our significance is in a promotion, peer affirmation, or our spouse. Our satisfaction in life is rooted in external conditions that change like a flickering candle. We rely on these false gods, and when they let us down we blame God. The truth is that God often kicks those false props out from under us so that we will recognize our false gods and turn to him. He judged Damascus for their false worship. He disciplined Israel and Judah for their false worship. His desire is that believers and the World see truth. He is working to expose the deception of our false hopes. God’s discipline and judgment if for the purpose of turning people from false gods to see, trust, and worship the true God.

Second, those who oppose the people of God will one day answer to him. We don’t need justice now. We don’t need to have the truth come out now. We don’t need hypocrites, sinners, and those opposing Christ to be exposed now. That will all come out one day. There will be some who will say, “‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will (God) declare to them, ‘I never knew you’” (Mt 7:22-23). Isaiah 17:13-14 tells us,

The nations roar like the roaring of many waters,
 but he will rebuke them, and they will flee far away,
chased like chaff on the mountains before the wind
and whirling dust before the storm.
At evening time, behold, terror!
Before morning, they are no more!
This is the portion of those who loot us,
and the lot of those who plunder us.

As believers, we are too focused on the here and now. We want justice now. We want the truth to come out now. We want everyone to know what they are like now. But even this reveals that our trust is in other gods. We have linked out security, significance, and satisfaction to what other people think, or how other people treat us. Because of our false gods, we cannot see past the moment. God’s sovereign hand is working behind the scenes for our good and his glory. Our eyes get blinded when we place our hope in temporal and temporary gods.

God is faithful. He will faithfully strip away our false gods. He will faithfully and justly judge those who oppose him and his people. It will not be according to our timing, but he can be trusted. One day it will all come to light and we will realize the truth of Paul’s words that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18). In the meantime, we can trust him.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Isaiah 16:11-14 (ESV)
Therefore my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab,
and my inmost self for Kir-hareseth.
And when Moab presents himself, when he wearies himself on the high place, when he comes to his sanctuary to pray, he will not prevail. This is the word that the LORD spoke concerning Moab in the past. But now the LORD has spoken, saying, “In three years, like the years of a hired worker, the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all his great multitude, and those who remain will be very few and feeble.”

This chapter begins with a warning to Moab to pay tribute to Judah. “Send the lamb to the ruler of the land” (Is 16:1a). This probably a reference to what 2 Kings 3:4 describes, “Now Mesha king of Moab was a sheep breeder, and he had to deliver to the king of Israel 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams.” He was paying tribute to Israel. Now, in light of Israel’s fall, Isaiah warns Moab to pay tribute to Judah.

The chapter goes on to describe the pride, false worship, and coming demise of Moab. The Moabites are not nice people. As with the previous chapter, though, there are two verses that express grief over Moab’s fall. Verse 11 says, “my inner parts moan like a lyre for Moab.” Isaiah 16:9 goes into even more detail. “Therefore I weep with the weeping of Jazer for the vine of Sibmah; I drench you with my tears, O Heshbon and Elealeh; for over your summer fruit and your harvest the shout has ceased.” The heart of God is to weep for sinners even as he judges them. Does our heart break for the lost? How might our lives be different if we loved sinners as much as God does? How can we begin to see them through the eyes of Christ?

Perhaps we begin with this prayer:
Father your Word says that you loved the world so much, that you gave your only Son, “that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Father, today give me eyes to see the lost, the broken, and the spiritually helpless through your eyes of love; the very love that moved you to send your son to die. Even if they are arrogant and self-centered like the Moabites, may I have your heart of compassion today.

This is the heart of Jesus. Amen! Let it be so.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Isaiah 15:5 (ESV)
My heart cries out for Moab;
her fugitives flee to Zoar,
to Eglath-shelishiyah.
For at the ascent of Luhith
they go up weeping;
on the road to Horonaim
they raise a cry of destruction;

Even as God says that he will judge Moab, his heart cries out for her. Even as God hates her sin, he loves her. Even in his judgment he has compassion. In Isaiah 16:4 he says, “Let the outcasts of Moab sojourn among you; be a shelter to them from the destroyer.” Jesus instructed his disciples to love their enemies. This is the pattern that God himself practiced. “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). “While we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Rom 5:10).

As a father there were times when I had to punish my children for their behavior. I had clearly laid out the boundaries for them. They knew what was expected and they crossed the line. I often did not want to punish them. My preference would have been to look the other way. I hated to see them experience the pain of a spanking, or losing a freedom, or giving up some activity that they had been looking forward to. Until I became a father I never understood why my parents said, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.?

When we think about God’s judgment we often think of his hatred for sin. Unfortunately, we often neglect to consider his love for the sinner. We cannot even begin to imagine the grief God must have felt when he sent the flood. Could it be that when Genesis 6 says that it grieved God to his heart that he had made man, God was grieving the punishment he must send as much as the sin they are committing?

Genesis 6:5-7
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. 7So the Lord said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.”

In the ethical and cultural debates churning through our country it is common for Christians to say that we must hate the sin and love the sinner. That statement is understood by those on the other side of the moral question to mean, “Hate me, but say that you love me in order to feel better about yourself.” Of course, we have trained a generation to believe that if we disagree with them then we hate them. We are reaping our own fruit here. Unfortunately, too often they are correct. We do say that more to make us feel good about ourselves then to generate actual love. It is often couched in terms like, “Love means speaking the truth no matter how harsh it seems!” But that is not what God is doing in Genesis or in Isaiah. The real question is: How can we truly love those who are coming under God’s judgment?

Lot’s daughters got him drunk in a cave, and slept with him in order to have children. The Moabites are the descendants of that incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters. Moab was the country that tried to curse Israel while they were still in the wilderness. The Moabites are the unclean people that we so often try to avoid in our self-righteous pursuit of holiness. But God said that his heart cried out for them.

Perhaps it is time for us to stop worrying so much about being clean and safe, and start reaching out to truly love others. Real ministry is messy. May we see AIDS patients, human trafficking victims, those addicted to drugs and alcohol, those devastated by the immoral choices they have made in life, and those fleeing desperate living conditions through the heart of God. Let us set aside our own comfort and safety in order to truly love those whom God loves passionately. “God so loved the world” (Jn 3:16)! May our hearts cry out for them as passionately as God does.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Isaiah 14:22, 32 (ESV)
“I will rise up against them,” declares the LORD of hosts, “and will cut off from Babylon name and remnant, descendants and posterity,” declares the LORD.

What will one answer the messengers of the nation?
“The LORD has founded Zion,
and in her the afflicted of his people find refuge.”

This chapter contains two contrasting elements: the fate of God’s enemies, and the fate of God’s people. God’s enemies will be destroyed. God’s people will be a refuge to others. That is an interesting contrast because one would expect the fate of God’s enemies to be destruction. One then expects the fate of God’s people to be preservation. But he does not say that he preserves his people, he says that his people preserve others.

In the middle of this chapter it becomes difficult to know whether God is talking about Babylon or about Satan. I think that is intentional. You will find the Enemy in the shadows behind every nation, every movement, every people bent on destroying others or uniting against God’s truth. With the wickedness of our world it is easy to believe that he is more powerful than he really is.

Satan’s primary tool is deception. Jesus said that Satan “is a liar and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). He would convince us that he has more power than he does. He will seek to convince the world that he is truly God. He will seek to demonstrate that he is God’s equal. He will fail.

Isaiah 14:12-15 (ESV)
“How you are fallen from heaven,
O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground,
you who laid the nations low!
You said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God
I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly
in the far reaches of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol,
to the far reaches of the pit.

Those who stand against God may appear to be winning, but they will fail. Remember the Flood! The world was bent on violence and evil. It appeared that evil had taken over the earth and was winning. It appeared that way until the rain began to fall. Then God’s greatness was revealed.

Only one man found favor with God in that story, and yet eight people were saved in the Ark. Similarly, in Isaiah 14 God’s people will be a refuge to others. As the people of God, we do not exist for the purpose of huddling in safety until the winds of wickedness blow over. Rather, we are called to be a refuge to the world. When Judah was facing deportation to Babylon God told them to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare” (Jeremiah 29:7). Judah would not find their safety by huddling together or by fleeing Babylon’s advance. They would find their security in seeking and praying for their enemy. God’s people would be a refuge for the very people that were seeking to oppress them.

What does that look like in our world? I am not sure that I know. It may look different for each of us. What I do know is that it does not look like circling the theological wagons and huddling in the safety of our church buildings. It means seeking and praying for the welfare of our city, our country, and our world. Let us begin to pray in that direction and ask God for wisdom to know what it truly means to seek the welfare of our world. Only God knows the power and influence of a prayer like that. Perhaps God will use us for his glory in ways we cannot even imagine. Certainly, God will accomplish his purposes, and the Enemy will not win. God is greater.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...