Friday, April 28, 2017

Isaiah 30:1-3 (ESV)
“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the LORD,
“who carry out a plan, but not mine,
and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,
that they may add sin to sin;
who set out to go down to Egypt,
without asking for my direction,
to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!
Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame,
and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.

God promises, near the end of this chapter, to restore his people if they will just cry out to him. In the meantime, they are trying to protect themselves from the threat of Babylon by running to Egypt for help. They do not realize that Babylon is God’s hand of discipline. It cannot be escaped. Egypt is not God’s source of protection. It cannot help.

What do we look to for our security and safety? Our careers? They will fail us. Our credit rating? That becomes meaningless in a crisis. Our friends? God says his people will be like a lone flagpole on top of a mountain. Friends cannot replace God. When God’s judgment falls, people flee in fear from the smallest threat. “A thousand shall flee at the threat of one; at the threat of five you shall flee, till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain” (Isaiah 30:17) There is no security apart from a gracious God.

If God is so gracious, why does he judge? It is for the same reason that truly caring parents discipline their children. Because they love them. God’s people are chasing after false gods. Is God a petty, envious god? That is hardly the point. The gods of the world that they are chasing after are gods of immorality, violence, and even child sacrifice. This is not how God created his people. His discipline is not vengeful punishment. It is loving discipline. There is a difference. It is for their own good.

So, we come back to the question of what we are trusting for our security. If we receive discipline and turn to God, we will find that we are secure in him. If we resent the discipline and try to resist it, we will find that the very thing we turn to for safety becomes the thing that harms us. A credit card might get you through a rocky financial moment, but it leaves you enslaved to the credit card company until you have paid it all back with interest. The very thing we look to for help becomes our enemy.

God will not share his glory. He knows that in a broken world, everything we look to for security will fail us. He wants us to know the security of trusting him even in the darkest moments of life. He is there. When we look to quick fixes, people, or things as the primary source of our security we are like the one described in Amos 5:19, “A man fled from a lion, and a bear met him, or went into the house and leaned his hand against the wall, and a serpent bit him.” There is no safety apart from God. There is no threat too dangerous when we are trusting God. Where is your security today?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Isaiah 29:8-10 (ESV)
As when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating
and awakes with his hunger not satisfied,
or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking
and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched,
so shall the multitude of all the nations be
that fight against Mount Zion.
Astonish yourselves and be astonished;
blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
stagger, but not with strong drink!
a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes (the prophets),
and covered your heads (the seers).

Israel, for all their sense of safety, is not safe. She will “stagger, but not with strong drink!” She will awake from her sense of safety to discover “the multitude of all the nations…that fight against Mount Zion.” It makes me wonder how often we, as believers, have lulled ourselves into a false sense of security? How often have we believed that because we are not like the world, bad things won’t happen to us. It makes me wonder whether our faith is truly in God, or in the systems we have put in place to protect us from the uncleanness of a broken world. All the while, we totally miss what God is doing in the world and we revel in our own self-righteousness.

Perhaps the bigger question is why they were so blind. “For the LORD has poured out upon you a spirit of deep sleep, and has closed your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers).” Why? Why would God blind his own people to the truth? Why would God close the eyes of the prophets? Why would God pour out on his people “a spirit of deep sleep?” Doesn’t God want his people to see? Doesn’t he want them to hear, repent, and submit? Why would he do this?

The answer comes three verses later. And the Lord said: “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13). Therein lies the problem. Their hearts are not centered on God. Their fear of God is simply “a commandment taught by men.” Their religious activity is just that, religious activity. They are not worshiping God, they are going through the motions of worship. They are not approaching God in awe. They are simply doing religion.

God will not put up with that forever. There comes a time when he says, “Enough is enough! If you will not hear me, then you might as well be deaf. If you will not see me, then you might as well be blind.” But his discipline is not the angry outburst of a petty god who has his feelings hurt. His discipline is for the purpose of restoration. Discipline leads to brokenness and humility. The ruthless and the scoffer have nothing, but justice comes to the meek and the poor.

We “turn things upside down” (Is 29:16). The Creator turns things right side up. “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see” (Isaiah 29:18). Why does God blind his people? Because they refuse to see. The good news is that he will one day restore their sight. It reminds me of the day Saul (Paul), who thought he saw clearly, ended up blind on the road to Damascus. The result was that he saw clearly for the first time. God blinded him to open his eyes to the truth. Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” God is our friend.

He loves us enough to discipline us when we are not listening. His discipline is prompted by his love. Let’s listen to him today.

Father, give me ears to hear
and eyes to see.
If it takes blindness to bring sight,
then blind me.

Let me be one who listens well to Thee.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Isaiah 28:9-11 (ESV)
“To whom will he teach knowledge,
and to whom will he explain the message?
Those who are weaned from the milk,
those taken from the breast?
For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept,
line upon line, line upon line,
here a little, there a little.”
For by people of strange lips
and with a foreign tongue
the LORD will speak to this people,

This is a fascinating chapter. The people of God were more interested in self-satisfaction, partying, and play than they were in hearing God, yet God will be heard. To whom will he speak? To children and foreigners. He will communicate his truth patiently, persistently, and progressively to those whom the people of God would never expect. People don’t listen to children and foreigners, yet those are the ones God will use.

It is interesting that Jesus did not choose disciples from the spiritual elite. He chose them from the uneducated blue-collar workers of his day. He chose fishermen. He chose them from the dangerous political extremists of his day. He chose Simon the Zealot. He chose them from among the unethical social traitors of his day. He chose Matthew, the tax collector. Why did he chose these men rather than those well trained in theology and practice? There are probably several reasons, but a key reason is that they were teachable. The Scribes and Pharisees were comfortable in their own self-righteousness. They were not willing to learn from Jesus. They were more interested in making sure he fit neatly into their own religious boxes.

It is no different today. We are comfortable with our religion. We are comfortable with our self-righteous legalism. We are comfortable with our neat, clearly delineated boxes that define who is in and who is out, who is righteous and holy, and who is not, who we can listen to and who to avoid. In the process, we become more and more fascinated by minutiae of religious or textual detail, but fail to meet God in the text or the ceremony.

Our faith has become about us. And so, God chooses to use people we would never expect in order to accomplish his mission. He uses a recovering addict who presents the gospel all wrong. He uses a child who has no understanding of orthodox theology. He uses a socially awkward individual to express God’s love and truth. And we don’t get why he is not using us.

What if we listened like we really cared what God has to say, rather than simply justifying our own self-righteousness? What if we were more interested in being conformed to the image of God’s Son (see Rom 8:29), than in enjoying our wealth? What if we were more interested in glorifying God than in experiencing peace and prosperity? What difference might that make? Hmm, maybe we should try it. God will speak, but will he speak through us?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

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.

As I write this, it is 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. 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!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

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. When 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.

Monday, April 10, 2017

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).

As a people of God, 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.

Friday, April 7, 2017

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.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

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 his song, 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?

Monday, April 3, 2017

Isaiah 22:12-13 (ESV)
In that day the Lord GOD of hosts
called for weeping and mourning,
for baldness and wearing sackcloth;
and behold, joy and gladness,
killing oxen and slaughtering sheep,
eating flesh and drinking wine.
“Let us eat and drink,
for tomorrow we die.”

What is the point of God’s discipline? When God disciplines his people it is not just to punish them because he is angry. It is to turn them back to the right way. It is to redirect them. Discipline if for correction. Yet in Isaiah 22 the people of God see his discipline and fail to repent. Rather than brokenness over their sin, they choose fatalism. “We’re going to die,” they say, “so we might as well go out with a big party! Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” How that must grieve the heart of God.

How do we react and respond to bad things happening in our lives? Does it draw us closer to God in introspection, confession, and dependence, or do we rebel against his hand of discipline? Sometimes discipline comes from God because we are not listening to him. Sometimes it comes because, like a good coach in athletics, he needs to push us harder in order to develop in us the character that he desires. Either way, we have a choice. We can trust him, or we can choose self-centered conceit. When we choose self, we may party or we may despair. What we do not do is hope.

Whether in response to sin in our lives, or out of a desire to grow us deeper in our faith, God’s discipline is always for our good. With the Apostle Paul, we can say,

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Cor 12:9-10).

We will never know that truth without the hardships. It may not feel like it today, but somethings are worth the pain. Trust him, and live in hope.                            

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...