Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Isaiah 51:12-13 (ESV)
“I, I am he who comforts you;
of the son of man who is made like grass,
and have forgotten the LORD, your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth,
and you fear continually all the day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
when he sets himself to destroy?
And where is the wrath of the oppressor?

In this chapter God reminds his people of who they are and who he is. They are the descendants of Abraham, a man called and blessed by God for no other reason than that God chose him. He is the God who calls and blesses according to his own will (see verse 2). He is the God who “laid the foundations of the earth” (Is 51:13). He is the God who offers salvation that outlives creation itself (see verse 6). This is who God is and who they are. Why then do they fear?

“Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies” (Is 51:12). We live in a world engulfed in fear. We are afraid of those who are different than us. We are afraid of those who believe differently than we do. We are afraid of change. We are afraid there will be no change. We are afraid of our neighbors. We are afraid of what our friends will think. And so God says to us, “Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies” (Is 51:12).

Take a look at your practices, private thoughts, attitudes, and decisions. How many of them are based on fear? Experience has shown that most policies adapted by churches are policies driven by fear. When churches look for new leadership they almost always spend more time looking for someone who does not have the same weaknesses as previous pastors/leaders rather than watching and listening to the Spirit and looking to the future God has for them. They are victims of fear. We spend more time and effort trying to argue against past issues and avoiding past mistakes then in looking toward God’s intended purpose for us. As believers, we have been chosen in Christ, loved, forgiven, accepted, empowered, and given eternal life. Why then so much fear?

Rather than looking at the giant, David looked at the past faithfulness of God. God’s faithfulness gave him courage to face Goliath rather than giving in to the fear that paralyzed the rest of the army (see the story of David and Goliath in 1Samuel 17). That is exactly what God is calling his people to do in this chapter of Isaiah. God tells them to look to their past (vs 2), pay attention to who God is (vs 4), be reminded that this earth will perish but that God is eternal (vs 6), and listen to God rather than looking at sources of fear (vs 7). Why are you so afraid? 

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

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, August 6, 2017

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;

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

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. Apparently 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.

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...