Saturday, October 28, 2017

Isaiah 66:2b-3 (ESV)
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.
“He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man;
he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck;
he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood;
he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol.
These have chosen their own ways,
and their soul delights in their abominations;

Slaughtering an ox, sacrificing a lamb, presenting a grain offering, making a memorial offering of frankincense, these are all acceptable forms of worship according to Jewish Law, so why are they compared to such odious activities as murder, idolatry, and sacrificing dogs and pigs? The point of these verses is the very thing David understood after his sin with Bathsheba.

Psalms 51:16-17 (ESV)
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.

God is not pleased with external obedience if there is no inward brokenness first. Some might call this repentance, but repentance is the change of mind that transitions one from brokenness to faith. David acknowledges that God wants “a broken and contrite heart.” Isaiah says that God is looking for those who are “humble and contrite in spirit.” When James and John asked to be acknowledged as someone great, Jesus responded, “Even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). God is looking for humility and brokenness, not self-confidence and pride.

God’s harsh assessment of their worship is based on his assessment of their lives. “When I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight” (Is 66:4). We have a tendency to dissect our lives into disconnected segments. We worship on Sunday. We work Monday through Friday. We play on the weekends. We do family in the evenings. But, none of these things connect. How we work, play, or relate to family too often has nothing to do with our worship. There is a disconnect.

For God, all of life is connected. Worship should affect how we work, play, and relate to others. How we work, play, and interact with others clearly affects God’s perspective of our worship. Worship is not a disconnected activity we do. It is the expression of a heart connected to God, and intersecting with life. It cannot be dissected from the rest of life. All of life is worship, or none of it is. There is no in-between. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Isaiah 65:1-3 (ESV)

I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
to a nation that was not called by my name.
I spread out my hands all the day
to a rebellious people,
who walk in a way that is not good,
following their own devices;
a people who provoke me
to my face continually,
 sacrificing in gardens
and making offerings on bricks;

Isaiah 65 is divided into two sections. Verses 1-16 speak judgment and justice. Verses 17-25 speak grace and peace. The first words of the chapter give an amazing context. “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me” (Is 65:1). God is not hiding. He is not hard to find. Yet we prefer to create gods in our own image, and our own creation rather than seeking the God who desires to be sought after. We prefer worship by our design rather than asking after a God who is ready to be found. God has only hidden himself from those who do not care to find him. In Jeremiah 29:13 God says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” The problem is not that God is hidden, but that people do not care to find him.

There are consequences to such an attitude. “But you who forsake the LORD…I will destine you to the sword” (Is 65:11-12). By contrast, those who serve the Lord God will eat, and drink, and “sing for gladness of heart” (Is 65:14). In Deuteronomy 11:26-28 Moses reminded a new generation of Israelis of the covenant God had made with them,

See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.

Yet by the time we get to Isaiah they have done the very thing Moses warned them about. In fact, it didn’t take them that long. By the time we get to the book of the Judges they are already doing what Moses warned them against. While all mankind is not under that same covenant, there is a sense in which the same choice lies before each of us. God sets before us a blessing and a curse. The blessing is dependent on seeking a God who desires to be found. The curse is the consequence of choosing our own gods.

The good news is that there is coming a day when
he who blesses himself in the land
shall bless himself by the God of truth,
and he who takes an oath in the land
shall swear by the God of truth;
 because the former troubles are forgotten
and are hidden from my eyes (Is 65:16).
There is coming a day when God will “create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Is 65:17). There is coming a day when God will not need to be sought after or asked for. God will be near, and he promises that “before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Is 65:24). “‘They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,’ says the LORD” (Is 65:25). What a day that will be!

In the meantime, I do not want to be one who blames God for not being able to find him. I do not want to be one who looks around in a cursory manner and says, “Where are you God? I can’t find you,” and then goes on his/her way thinking that it is God’s fault. We argue that if he is real, he has made it too hard to find him. Such is not the case. He is always found by those who want to find him. Finding God is not a command. It is an invitation. If we seek him, we will find him, for he wishes to be found.

Remember the motel advertisement, “We’ll keep the light on for you”? He is the light and it is always on. Further, if we are believers, he has placed us in the world as lights pointing to a God who wishes to be found. I do not want to be one who makes excuses for not finding God. Neither do I want to be one who screens the light from those who are seeking. One never knows who is watching. So, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16).

Friday, October 13, 2017

Isaiah 64:9-12 (ESV)
            and remember not iniquity forever.
Behold, please look, we are all your people.
Your holy cities have become a wilderness;
Zion has become a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation.
Our holy and beautiful house,
where our fathers praised you,
has been burned by fire,
and all our pleasant places have become ruins.
Will you restrain yourself at these things, O LORD?
Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?

Isaiah 64 begins by calling for God to return. It reflects on the expressions and revelations of God that Israel experienced in the past. It focuses particularly on their experiences at Mt. Sinai where Moses received the Law. There is no god like God. The chapter then goes on to acknowledge the sin of God’s people. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Is 64:6).

Why would an unclean people want God to return? Wouldn’t they expect that he would return with judgment against them? The answer is found in their acknowledgement of their sin. Those trying to cover up sin would never want God to return. Those blinded to their sin might want God to return, but will be sorely surprised when he does. Those acknowledging their sin can expect him to return with mercy.

Verse 7 admits that they have not even been seeking God. Verse 8 changes everything. “But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Is 64:8). Verse 8 recognizes that God has the right to do whatever he desires. “We are the clay, and you are our potter.” In yielding to him they acknowledge that God has the right judge them, or to make them into a thing of beauty. They then cry out, “Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people” (Is 64:9). Their expression of confession, submission, and pleading for mercy will not go unheard.

Isn’t that the gospel? We are not accepted by God, because we have turned over a new leaf. We are not forgiven of our sin because we really didn’t mean to be so bad. We are not saved, and promised eternal life because we promise to be good. We are saved when we acknowledge our sin, admit that God has the right to do whatever he wishes with us (His judgment against us is well deserved), and cast ourselves on the mercy of God. Salvation, forgiveness, acceptance, and eternal life are received as a gift, not as something we deserve or earn.

Why would an unclean people want God to return? Primarily because they have admitted that they are an unclean people, and recognize that their only hope lies in God’s mercy and grace. We are an unclean people. Our church services must sometimes be a stench in God’s nostrils. Our good Christian living must sometimes make God weep. Yet we can plead for his return, not because the world is so evil and we righteous folk want to escape it, but because we sinners know that our only hope is the return of Righteous God who has the right to do with us as he will. We trust in his mercy and grace.

After all the warnings of Revelation, the Apostle John concludes with these words, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:20-21). After all the devastation the Israelites will face because of their disobedience, still they continue to sin. Yet Isaiah, admitting their sin, cries out, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down” (Is 64:1). John and Isaiah both understand that their hope is in the great God of mercy. Amen! Come Lord Jesus. Father, we do not deserve to see your face, but we believe that you will receive us because of Jesus. Come Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Isaiah 63:15-17 (ESV)

Look down from heaven and see,
from your holy and beautiful habitation.
Where are your zeal and your might?
The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion
are held back from me.
For you are our Father,
though Abraham does not know us,
and Israel does not acknowledge us;
you, O LORD, are our Father,
our Redeemer from of old is your name.
O LORD, why do you make us wander from your ways
and harden our heart, so that we fear you not?
Return for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your heritage.

The last part of Isaiah 63 is a cry for mercy. It is a call for help that goes on into the next chapter. It is a rather self-focused and na├»ve cry. “Where are your zeal and your might?” (Is 63:15). Where are they indeed? The first part of the chapter tells us the answer? The zeal and might of the LORD has been pouring out judgment against the world. “I trampled down the peoples in my anger; I made them drunk in my wrath, and I poured out their lifeblood on the earth” (Is 63:6). At the same time, the LORD has been protecting his people in mercy and covenantal love. “I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD…that he has granted them according to his compassion,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love” (Is 63:7). Yet despite his love and protection, “They rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit” (Is 6:10).

Where is God indeed? He felt every pain of their anguish. “In their affliction He was afflicted” (Is 63:9). He guarded them, protected them, provided for them, and judged their enemies. Yet they failed to recognize his steadfast love, walk in his ways, embrace his passion for holiness, or honor him as God. And when things got hard they had the audacity to cry out, “Where is God?”

Certainly, sometimes bad things happen simply because we live in a broken, fallen world. Sometimes bad things happen because we fail to honor God as God. Either way, where we fail first is that we do not recognize his steadfast, faithful love. We neglect to recognize the blessings he has surrounded us with. We take our freedoms, our wealth, our privilege, and our comfort for granted, and complain at the least little discomfort in life.

This reminds me of Hebrews 11:35-38
Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy— wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

“In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb 12:4). And still we complain. Perhaps we should take a day to focus on the blessings of God rather than the difficulties of life. What if, for just 24 hours, we made every breath a prayer of gratitude? How might that change our perspective? What if we looked for two blessings for every difficulty we encounter? How might that change our attitude? What if we became people of gratitude rather than chronic complainers? How might that change our walk with God. Why don’t you give it a try today?

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Isaiah 62:1-4 (ESV)
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her righteousness goes forth as brightness,
and her salvation as a burning torch.
The nations shall see your righteousness,
and all the kings your glory,
and you shall be called by a new name
that the mouth of the LORD will give.
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD,
and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.

Because of the sin of God’s people, they would be abandoned, forsaken, and desolate. During Isaiah’s time, Israel fell to Assyria. 140 years later, in 586 BC, Judah fell to Babylon. God allowed their fall because of their idolatry and disobedience. They would have been viewed as forsaken by God. Jerusalem was desolate. They would have felt abandoned. How does one go from being called Desolate to being called My Delight Is in Her? That is God’s promise to his people.

The truth is, they were desolate, but never forsaken. God did not abandon his people, he disciplined them. Jesus message to the church in Laodicea was, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Rev 3:19). Bad things happen to God’s people for three reasons. 1. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen to everyone. 2. We have an enemy who is trying to discredit the name of God, and stop the gospel. 3. God disciplines those he loves. No matter which is the cause of your current pain, darkness, or distress, God promised that he would never abandon his people. “He said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Heb 13:5-6).

Even when Jerusalem’s walls were rubble and the temple was destroyed, God’s people had this promise to cling to, “You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate, but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her” (Is 62:4). That promise gave Daniel hope. That promise gave Esther purpose. That promise motivated Ezra and Nehemiah to rebuild. They understood that devastation is not the same as rejection.

Too often we judge our relationship with God by our experience and our emotion. When we feel close to God we assume everything is as it should be. When we do not feel God’s presence, we feel abandoned or rejected. When bad things happen, we cry out, “God, where are you?” And he responds, “I am right here in the darkness with you.” The problem is, our experience often shouts so loudly that we fail to hear the still, small voice of God assuring us of his presence.

God has never abandoned us. If we are believers, then God’s Spirit dwells within us whether we feel him or not. God’s presence surrounds us, whether we sense him there or not. God’s faithfulness never abandons us, whether we feel abandoned or not. We are in Christ, and in Christ we are His Delight. Celebrate his presence today despite your circumstances. Rejoice in his promise, and hold firmly to his faithfulness. “You shall be called My Delight Is in Her” (Is 62:4).

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-3 (ESV)

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.

The first part of this passage is what Jesus quoted in the synagogue in Nazareth, his home town (see Luke 4). He stopped with the words, “To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor.” He then said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” He was proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. He was proclaiming a Jubilee of Jubilees when YHWH restores all things to their rightful order. He will bring justice to a broken world. He will release captives and comfort mourners. That prophecy will be fulfilled completely one day when the King returns to set up his kingdom, but there is a sense in which that prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus here and now.

To those who mourn he gives “a beautiful headdress instead of ashes…a garment of praise instead of mourning.” The King James Version of the Bible says that he will give “beauty for ashes,” but that misses the point. In times of grief mourners would wear sackcloth and put ashes on their heads. It was a symbol of brokenness. The word translated “beauty” in the KJV is translated as “beautiful headdress” in the ESV, and “garland” in the NAS. It is a word that refers to the turban that a bridegroom or an important individual would wear. God is saying that he will change the mourners’ sackcloth and ashes into turbans and garments of praise. They will go from sitting in ashes, like Job in Job 2:7, to being clothed like brides and grooms in wedding celebrations.

This is what the King of Kings does in the lives of those who follow him. Life is painful. It is messy. Sometimes, like Job, we just want to cry out, “Let the day perish on which I was born, and the night that said, ‘A man is conceived’” (Job 3:3). But in the darkest times we can hold on to the faithfulness of God. He has a way of turning darkness into light, mourning into celebration, and sackcloth and ashes into wedding gowns and tuxedos. We can’t always see it, but that doesn’t change the truth of it.

I’m sure that as Daniel and his friends were being carried off into captivity to Babylon, remembering the destruction of their loved city, Jerusalem, they couldn’t see any light or hope. They had nothing to celebrate, yet they determined in their hearts not to defile themselves. They understood the promise of God. He is the one who turns ashes on the heads of broken people into turbans of bridegrooms and men of significance. He turns sackcloth into wedding gowns. He has not forgotten nor forsaken us just because we can’t see through the darkness and the pain. He will one day set things right. We can trust him. He is a good God.

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...