Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Isaiah 60:21-22 (ESV)
Your people shall all be righteous;
they shall possess the land forever,
the branch of my planting, the work of my hands,
that I might be glorified.
The least one shall become a clan,
and the smallest one a mighty nation;
I am the LORD;
in its time I will hasten it.

Isaiah 60 describes the restoration of the Jerusalem. They will be a wealthy, sought after, honored people who live in peace and prosperity. The Lord will be in their midst. As God was a light to the Israelis in the Wilderness, leading them as a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, so now the presence of God in their midst will be their light. They will be a people living in righteousness, glory, and peace in the presence of YHWH.

Reading the description of God’s promise, one could get impatient waiting for its fulfillment. I can just imagine people’s thinking 700 years after Isaiah, at the time of Christ. The promise would either seem unreal, and people would long ago have stopped looking for it, or they would be impatient with God wondering when he will fulfill his promise. We are an impatient people.

We want God’s promises, and we want them now. But the chapter ends with these words, “I am the LORD; in its time I will hasten it.” Those three little words, “in its time,” call us to patience and faith. I recall years ago an elderly man of God asking about the spiritual state of a mutual acquaintance. I said that I thought perhaps his family had given up on him. He looked at me, pointed his finger at me, and said, “You never give up.” God accomplishes his purpose “in its time.”

We don’t know the timing of God. But he does. He never forgets his promises. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness” (2Pet 3:9). The verse goes on to say, “but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” God’s timing has to do with God’s patience and God’s purpose. We want answers now. We want results now. We are an impatient people. But God’s timing is perfect. Psalm 18:30 says of God, “His way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.” He can be trusted even when he does not work in our time. We don’t know the timing of God, but “His way is perfect.” Trust him and be patient.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Isaiah 59:11-13 (ESV)
We all growl like bears;
we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
transgressing, and denying the LORD,
and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.

The people of God are living like the world. They are growling and moaning over the consequences of their sin, yet God does not hear them. He does not hear them or respond with salvation, not because he cannot hear them, but because he will not hear them. He refuses to listen when they refuse to repent.

It reminds me of times when my children were small. The would demand a glass of water, or another helping from the dinner table. I would ignore them until they stopped demanding and began asking politely. Then suddenly I could (would) hear them and respond by giving them what they asked for. Once they gave up their sinful actions and began to respect and honor their Dad, they received what they were desiring. So it is with the People of God.

Along with God’s warning comes a promise.
Isaiah 59:19-21 (ESV)
So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west,
and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
which the wind of the LORD drives.
“And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the LORD.
“And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.”
When God’s people turn back to him he will hear them and deliver. Beyond that, God promises that there will be a day when he will pour out his Spirit not only upon them, but on their children, and their grandchildren.

We saw the fulfillment of this in the time of Jesus. The Pharisees failed to have their prayers for Messiah answered, not because Messiah did not come, but because they failed to recognize him when he came. On the other hand, those who repented and believed left behind generations of believers on whom the Spirit of God has been poured out. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Ultimately it will be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom of Christ. The promised is fulfilled, but it is not yet fulfilled.

In response, I need to ask myself: Am I the self-righteous one whom God cannot hear, or am I the broken, repentant one whom God will bless? Father, search my heart and do not let me get away with hypocrisy and spiritual blindness. Only God sees my heart as it truly is. Clara H. Scott penned these words in the late 1800s. They should be the prayer of our heart daily, for only he sees me as I truly am.
Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key
that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now I wait for thee,
ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine!

Friday, September 22, 2017

Isaiah 58:1-2 (ESV)
“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.

How can this be? God says that his people seek him daily, delight to know his ways, ask him for righteous judgments, and delight to draw near to him. Yet he says, “Declare to my people their transgression, to the house of Jacob their sins.” What sins is he talking about? How can a people who delight to seek him daily be a people who need to be confronted about their sins? If we were described as a people who delight to seek him daily we would expect that is what God desires. Yet God seems unhappy with these people.

The sins he addresses include injustice for the poor, mistreatment of workers, being quick to anger, and grumbling against God because their obedience hasn’t resulted in blessing. Their delight in God is limited to external submission to the rules of God without the heart change that impacts their attitudes and their relationships. Their delight is limited to external submission for the purpose of personal gain. It is all about getting something from God.

When our understanding of our faith is limited to external obedience, we fail to understand the heart of God. God is not interested in people keeping his rules simply because he made them. David understood that. He wrote, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Ps 51:16-17). David understood that God’s rules required burnt offerings, but that the offerings were not what God was really concerned about. The offerings were only symbols. What God desired was a broken heart over sin.

Too often we live as though God were only interested in whether we keep the rules. We read our Bibles every day. We go to church every week. We do our family devotions religiously because we were taught that pleases God. We pray every day. We are careful to give our tithes. But in the process, we fail to see our own hard heartedness. We fail to recognize our own selfishness. We fail to see the brokenness of humanity around us. We miss the fact that God has blessed us so that we can bless others. Rather, we assume that God has blessed us because we have been keeping the rules. In focusing on the rules, we miss the heart of God.

How can God accuse people of sin when they are daily delighting in him? Because in their passion to keep the law of God they missed the heart of God. Perhaps we should ask God to search our own hearts. Have we been more concerned about doing all the right things in order to keep God happy, or have we been pursuing the heart of God? Those are two very different things, as evidenced by God’s accusations against his people in Isaiah 58.

Lord, give me your heart.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Isaiah 57:15 (ESV)
For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite.”

God is, “Our Father who art in Heaven” (Mt 6:9). He is also the one who dwells “with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit” (Is 57:15). He is the God up there. He is also the God right here. He is the God before whom I fall in worship and fear. He is also the God who embraces me in my brokenness and with whom I dance in my times of joy. He is the God who dwells in “unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1Tim 6:16). He is also the God we approach with confidence and boldness “so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). He is the God who is both infinite and intimate.

As the God who is up there, I know that he sees all things. Nothing escapes his attention, and nothing is ever out of his control. Hurricanes don’t take him by surprise. Persecution doesn’t take him by surprise. Believers being beheaded doesn’t catch him unaware. He is “high and lifted up.” He “inhabits eternity” and his “name is Holy.” He is the God who sees the storms of life before the winds ever start to blow. He is sovereign Lord.

As the God who is right here, I know that he is able “to sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15). Tommy Walker wrote these lyrics which express the intimacy of God.
He knows my name
He knows my every thought
He sees each tear that falls
And hears me when I call
He is the God of intimate understanding and love.

We cannot divorce these ideas from one another. God is both infinite and intimate. If we ever forget one side of that equation, or overemphasize one aspect over the other, then we slide into error. We must never lose sight of the truth that God dwells “in the high and holy place,

and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” He is not just the God who can scale the heights of theological understanding. He is not just the God of the broken. He is always and forever both.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Isaiah 57:1-2 (ESV)

The righteous man perishes,
and no one lays it to heart;
devout men are taken away,
while no one understands.
For the righteous man is taken away from calamity;
he enters into peace;
they rest in their beds
who walk in their uprightness.

These verses remind me of the words of Daniel’s friends as they stood before Nebuchadnezzar. He warned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that they would be thrown into the fiery furnace if they refused to bow before his statue. They responded,
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (Dan 3:16-18).
They understood and fully believed that God could save them, but if he chose not to, they would still not submit to false worship. Isaiah reminds us that even when the righteous man perishes or is carried away into captivity, he “is taken away from calamity; he enters into peace.” His peace is not dependent on his circumstances.

Righteousness results in peaceful sleep. There is no guilty conscience to keep one awake. There is no fear to plague one’s mind and heart. By contrast, those who are guilty before God are constantly trying to work up positive thoughts. “You were wearied with the length of your way,
 but you did not say, ‘It is hopeless’; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint” (Is 57:10). But self-generated positivity only goes so far. “When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you! The wind will carry them all off, a breath will take them away” (Is 57:13a). Ultimately the peace of the righteous comes from God. “But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and shall inherit my holy mountain” (Is 57:13b). The wicked, despite all their efforts to make life comfortable, and think positively, stand guilty before God and have to answer to him. In the end, there is peace for the righteous, but “‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’”

We need to occasionally stop and ask ourselves the question: What characterizes my life? Am I constantly trying to work up peace and positivity, or an I resting in God’s sovereign grace and mercy? Am I living life my way, or am I living life God’s way? In 1876 Jean S. Pigott penned these words,

Jesus, I am resting, resting,
In the joy of what Thou art;
I am finding out the greatness
Of Thy loving heart.
May that be the truth of my life as well.

A friend asked recently about the difference between the peace of the world and the genuine peace of God. That is a great question. It is the question Isaiah seems to be addressing in this chapter. I think that Isaiah reveals that the peace of God is often experienced in the middle of the storm. The peace of man requires sunny days. The peace of God has nothing to do with external comfort. The peace of man is dependent on external comfort. God’s peace is not dependent on how things turn out. However things go, we trust that God in control, and he has our ultimate good in mind. “Jesus, I am resting, resting.” May that be the reality of your life today.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Isaiah 56:7-8 (ESV)
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
The Lord GOD,
 who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”

Isaiah 56 is a chapter of promise and warning. To those whom the people of God would call unacceptable, God says, “You are welcome and I will bless you.” His “house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” The unacceptable, the poor, the maimed, the undesirable, are all welcome. By contrast, he says of the spiritual and political leaders of God’s people, “But they are shepherds who have no understanding; they have all turned to their own way, each to his own gain, one and all” (Is 56:11 ESV).

This chapter raises so many questions that we need to put to ourselves regularly. Let me pose two. First, how do we treat the unacceptable people of our day? How do we view those of another color, another profession, another generation, another culture? How do we view those with different priorities than us? How do we view the drunks, the crooks, the angry, the hopeless, and the unemployed? Do we understand that God’s invitation is to them as much as to anyone? Do we understand that God does not expect people to become like us in order to be acceptable?

That brings me to the second question. What do we value? Over thirty years ago Francis Schaeffer warned that we would give up everything for the illusion of personal peace and affluence. Have we made personal peace and affluence the test of God’s blessing? If so, we have missed the point of what God is doing in this world. Nowhere did Jesus promise personal peace and affluence if we would follow him. He promised opposition. He promised persecution. He promised rejection. Yet Western believers have somehow concluded that personal peace and affluence are the test of God’s blessing.

What do you value? It is our own search for personal peace that causes us to reject the very people God is calling to his house of prayer? It is our own search for personal peace that causes us to be okay with injustice in our land? As long as it doesn’t touch me, or infringe on my rights I don’t say anything. But is that really what God has called us to? In Luke 9:23-25 Jesus challenged his disciples with these words:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
Just a few verses later, when someone said, “I will follow you!” Jesus warned him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58 ESV). Following Jesus is not about being comfortable and safe.

Jesus came for the unlovely. When we settle for personal peace and affluence over mission we are like the Jewish leaders in Isaiah, “‘Come,’ they say, ‘let me get wine; let us fill ourselves with strong drink; and tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.’” We might not be saying, “Let us fill ourselves with strong drink,” but we do say, “Let us enjoy the day, and “tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.” We are more interested in our own personal peace and affluence than in the work that God is about. What do you value today, unacceptable people, or your own personal peace, the mission of God or our own comfort and safety?

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Isaiah 55:1 (ESV)

“Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Here is the good news chapter! The people of God should celebrate. Here is the invitation to restoration. Here God promises his people that they will be restored. Nations will come to them. The wicked will forsake their ways. His people will flourish. Every word from God’s mouth will accomplish his purpose.

This reminds me of Psalm 137:4, “How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?” As Isaiah writes his prophecy the people of God are facing invasion and deportation. Psalm 137 is written from the perspective of a deported people. How can one sing and celebrate when facing potential ruin, or experiencing devastation? How can a people sing and celebrate when their homes have been flooded, flattened, or burned? How can one sing and celebrate when they are at the physical peak of life and their health deteriorates? How can one sing and celebrate when they can’t get a decent job, their car breaks down, and their shelves are empty? “How shall we sing the LORD’s song in a foreign land?”

We can sing because there is good news. We can sing because God’s invitation costs us nothing. This reminds me of the chorus to the hymn He Paid a Debt.

He paid a debt He did not owe,
I owed a debt I could not pay,
I needed someone to wash my sin away
And now I sing that brand new song: Amazing Grace
For Jesus paid the debt that I could never pay

This is the Good News that causes us to sing. The celebration of the believer is not based on current peace and prosperity. It is based on the promise of God. That is why Hebrews reminds us that all those people who believed God in Hebrews 11 “did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Heb 11:39-40), “For we walk by faith, not by sight” (2Cor 5:7).

How can we sing and celebrate when everything seems to be going wrong? We can celebrate because the good news is that our current pain is only temporary. God’s promises are eternal.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (ESV)
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We can be assured that God’s thoughts, God’s ways, and God’s words will come to pass. He will accomplish his purpose and we will see the goodness of God. So, let me suggest that today, whatever your circumstances, take some time to sing and celebrate the goodness of God and the free gift of life. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy” (Is 55:2)? Today, take some time to sing.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Isaiah 54:13-15 (ESV)
 All your children shall be taught by the LORD,
you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear;
and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
If anyone stirs up strife,
it is not from me;
whoever stirs up strife with you
shall fall because of you.

This is an interesting chapter because of the protection and blessing it promises to Israel. The writer of Hebrews quotes God’s words in Joshua, “I will never leave you” (Heb 13:5). Those five simple words reflect the message of Isaiah 54. God says to Israel, “For a brief moment I deserted you, but with great compassion I will gather you” (Is 54:7). The promise of God is that his people will never be abandoned. It is one thing to be abandoned. It is another thing to be loved. God goes on to say in the next verse, “‘In overflowing anger for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,’ says the LORD, your Redeemer” (Is 54:8). God says he will not only never abandon his people, but that he will overwhelmingly love them.

I’m not sure that the promises of this chapter have yet been completely fulfilled. Perhaps it is a promise to be fully experienced in the Millennium. At any rate, there are some aspects of it that we can certainly claim as believers. The Apostle Paul quotes from this chapter in Galatians 4 to make the point that as believers we are children of Abraham and Sarah. We are children of freedom, not children of slavery. In Genesis 12, Abraham was promised many descendants. God said that he would make Abraham a great nation and bless all the nations of the earth through him. That promise is being fulfilled through the gospel today.

I believe that these promises in Isaiah 54 will be experienced literally in the Jewish people in the millennium. I also believe that they are being experienced now in the church. He says, “All your children shall be taught by the Lord” (Is 54:13). Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26). Isaiah promised, “Great shall be the peace of your children” (Is 54:13). Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (Jn 14:27). Isaiah promised, “In righteousness you shall be established;
you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear” (Is 54:14). Jesus said in John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Twenty seven verses later he said it again, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (Jn 14:27). The promises of Isaiah 54 parallel the promises of John 14. It is the abiding presence of Jesus that guarantees peace and protection even in the face of opposition.

Israel was facing devastation and deportation. God promised peace and protection. As believers in Jesus Christ, whatever the world threatens us with, we can know the peace and protection of the abiding presence of Christ in our lives. We may feel abandoned. We may feel alone. We may feel rejected. But God is saying, “Don’t be afraid. Peace! You are my child and I am here in the darkness. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. Don’t be afraid.”

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Isaiah 53:12 (ESV)
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

Isaiah 53 is the gospel in the Old Testament. It is Jesus before Pilate. It is Jesus on the cross. It is Jesus in the grave. It is Jesus conquering sin and death. How can one “divide the spoil with the strong” if he has “poured out his soul to death?” The answer is the resurrection. Reading this chapter in light of the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus you cannot help but see that this chapter points straight to him.

As Christians we commonly agree that Jesus died for our sins. Yet I wonder whether, even in saying the words, we forget the incredibly unprecedented reality of these words, “He bore the sin of man and makes intercession for the transgressors.” It is actually for sinners that Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them.” It was for Roman executioners and Jewish hypocritical leaders that Jesus prayed those words as he hung on the cross, his life slipping away. It was for people who intentionally sent him to his death, knowing who he claimed to be and what amazing wonders he had performed. It was to protect their own place of privilege that they choose themselves over him, yet he prayed, “Forgive them.” It was for Romans who beat, mocked, and spit upon Jesus that he prayed that prayer.

Yet we, in our own hypocrisy, tend to divide the world into two groups. There are good sinners and bad sinners. It was for us good sinners that Jesus died. Bad sinners are to be avoided. Jesus was called a friend of sinners, and it was the bad sinners that he was accused of befriending. It was not only for us good sinners that Jesus died. He died for the druggies and alcoholics. He died for the drug dealers, for the human traffickers, for the people who murder their friends, write obscene words on the side of churches, throw urine in the faces of police officers, and detonate bombs in public spaces. Do we really believe that those are the kind of people Jesus died for? If we do, how should that change us? “He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for transgressors.” When was the last time you prayed for one of the bad sinners?

How might we live out the grace of God toward them? This is hard, but this is what Jesus death and resurrection is about. It is about transforming the lives of people like murdering Saul and transforming them into martyr Paul. Jesus didn’t die for good sinners. He died for sinners.

May the mind of Christ my savior
Live in me from day to day
By his power and love controlling
All I do and say.

Kate B. Wilkinson

Friday, September 1, 2017

Isaiah 52:13-15 (ESV)

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.

This servant that Isaiah speaks of is none other than Jesus. The Jewish people were facing deportation and exile in Babylon because of their failure to obey God’s Law. They started in slavery in Egypt. They were facing slavery in Babylon. But there is hope. Beyond Babylon, beyond the shame of deportation is the hope of redemption.

Isaiah 52:1 (ESV)
Awake, awake,
put on your strength, O Zion;
put on your beautiful garments,
O Jerusalem, the holy city;
for there shall no more come into you
the uncircumcised and the unclean.

 This verse is referenced in Revelation 21 where John describes the New Jerusalem. He writes, “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (“Rev 21:27). John and Isaiah have an eye on the future. They are looking to that time when all things will be made new. Isaiah is writing to a people facing judgment and deportation. John is writing to a young church facing growing persecution. They both point to the hope of eternity.

 When our hope is in this life and in this world, we have reason to fear. We live in a world wracked by anger, despair, injustice, violence, and all things unclean. But, there will be a day Jeremy Camp writes,
There will be a day with no more tears,
No more pain, and no more fears
There will be a day when the burdens of this place
Will be no more.
That is the day we look to with hope and expectation. That is the day when, as Isaiah writes, God’s people will not only hear the name of YHWH (the LORD), but experience the truth of God as the God who keeps his word. That is the day when, “The LORD has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God” (Is 52:10).

 This world holds grief, pain, disappointment, and opposition. But there will be a day… It is time we set our eyes on something higher than personal peace and prosperity in the here and now. It is time we look beyond the pleasures of this world and set our hopes on eternity. It is time that we lift our eyes above the flood waters of evil, pain, rejection, sorrow, and grief in this world and see the hope of our Savior.

“His appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind” (Is 52:14) so that he might wash us clean and make us acceptable in his sight. It is time that the world sees the hope of Christ in us. Too often the world sees the fear of the church rather than our hope. It is time to life our eyes above this world and set them on the world that is to come. Therein lies our hope. The present is just the present. Our hope lies in eternity.

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...