Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Ephesians 1:7-8 - Why Should He Love Me So?

Ephesians 1:7-8 (ESV)
[7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

“He lavished (grace) upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (Eph 1:8). Lavished is a good word. The original Greek word means to super-abound. The prefix adds an additional emphasis meaning extra or full. God extra-super-abounded grace upon us. We forget that sometimes I think. The gospel becomes just words. “Jesus died in my place to give me the gift of forgiveness and life.” Yep, okay, so let’s move on. What else is there? I want to get to the really deep truths.

That is the really deep truth. The old song goes, “Why should he love me so?”[1] That is the part we forget. God’s grace becomes mundane because we lose sight of our own sin, brokenness, and failure. We somehow begin to think that maybe we deserved God’s grace. Forgiving us was the only right thing for God to do. We have lost perspective. We are like the children living in the slum that has never seen anything else. Our corner of the slum looks pretty good so why wouldn’t he love me? Why wouldn’t he save me? The problem is that we are in the slum because we chose to turn God’s paradise into a slum. We chose to turn his perfect world upside down. We chose to worship and serve the creature rather than the creator (Rom 1:21-25). When the depth of our sin, brokenness, and rebellion are truly understood they we truly wonder at why he should love us. And yet he did.

God, who created a masterpiece, chose to love the very ones he put in charge of his masterpiece despite the fact that they willingly chose to destroy it. That is the foundation of the gospel. That is the reason God’s extra-super-abounding grace is overwhelmingly, inconceivably incredible. Don’t let it become humdrum. Don’t let the Good News become common. This New Year let me challenge you to be overwhelmed again with God’s extra-super-abounding grace which he poured out upon us. Is there any better news?

[1] Robert Harkness, Why Should He Love Me So?, © 1925, Renewal 1952 by Broadman Press.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Ephesians 1:14 - To the Praise of His Glory

Ephesians 1:14 (ESV)
[14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Twice in the first fourteen verses of this letter the phrase “to the praise of his glory” is used (Eph 1:12, 14). Once the phrase “to the praise of his glorious grace” is used (Eph 1:6). The World has called God narcissistic, creating us only so that we will tell him how great he is. But that misses the point entirely. We praise his glorious grace because, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Eph 1: 4-5). His glory is praised because he made it possible for us to obtain an inheritance as sons of God and is working that out by sealing us with his Holy Spirit. His grace and his glory are praised not because he needs our worship, but because he loves us despite our rebellion.

“To the praise of his glory” could mean that the praise of his glory is his goal, or it could mean that the praise of his glory is the result of his redeeming, adopting, and sealing us. His glory is revealed in his grace. His grace is praised because he has poured it out upon us when we did not deserve it. Yes, life is all about Him, but it is in Him that we find our greatest good. It is in Him that we find wholeness, healing, empowerment, and life. Worship of God is not slavery. Worship of God is not the goal of a narcissistic god. Worship is the natural result of God loving us deeply and unconditionally. As the new year approaches, may we understand more and more deeply how much God loves us and to what lengths he has gone to express that love. Yes, it is all “to the praise of his glorious grace” (Eph 1:6).

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Ephesians 1:11-12

Ephesians 1:11-12 (ESV)
In him we have obtained an inheritance. . . . so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

“We have obtained an inheritance . . . . so that we . . . might be to the praise of his glory. It does not say, “so that we might be happy.” It does not say, “so that we will have all our dreams fulfilled.” It does not say, “so that we might be self-actualized.” It says that our inheritance in Christ is “to the praise of his glory.” Wholeness is found in Christ. Happiness is found in being who God created us to be and entering into a right relationship with him. Hopes and dreams are a part of being created in the image of God. None of those things are bad. But when we make them our primary pursuit we lose them all.

When joy is our primary pursuit our focus is on us, but joy surprises us when we are not concerned with finding joy. Wholeness is found when we are not concerned about us, but about others. Healing if experienced when we get our eyes off of ourselves. Those things are not bad. They are a part of being restored in Christ, but they ought never to become our primary goal. Our goal is the praise of his glory, and in that we find wholeness. Life and salvation are not about me. When I figure that out I find the greatest joy.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Eph 1:1-14

As we reflect on the past year and anticipate a new year, it would do us well to remember who we are as believers in Jesus Christ. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians begins by doing just that. He reminds them that in Christ they are blessed with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3) and chosen to be holy and blameless (Eph 1:4). He recalls for them God’s love which predestined them for adoption through Christ (Eph 1:5). He tells them again how they have been blessed with grace through their identity in Christ who is the Beloved of God (Eph 1:6). He highlights the truth that in Christ they have redemption through Jesus’ blood according to the riches of his grace. That grace, he explains, has been lavished upon them in wisdom and insight, revealing the very mystery of God’s will in Christ (Eph 1:7-9). He then reminds them that they have obtained an inheritance in Christ (Eph 1:11) and been sealed with the Holy Spirit whom God had promised in the Old Testament (Eph 1:13).

Just reflecting on that which believers have in Christ is pretty amazing. We have received blessing, adoption, abundant lavished grace, redemption, revelation, and security. All of that is the result of the believer’s identity in Christ. Eight times in fourteen verses our identity in Christ is referenced. So how does one become identified with Christ? How do we get to be “in Christ” (Eph 1:3)? What is our part? It is really pretty simple. Verse 13 spells it out. We heard the word of truth (the gospel) and we believed in him (Eph 1:13). That’s it. We heard and we believed.

As we look to a new year let me challenge you to consider two question:
1.     Have you believed? The gospel is simple. We have nothing to offer God except brokenness. God freely offers forgiveness, life, and wholeness through the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. It is a gift received by faith. Have you believed?

2.     Have you forgotten who you are? If you are a believer then you are in Christ. The Apostle Peter writes that if we are not growing in holiness it is not because we are not committed enough. It is not because we are not strong enough. It is not because we are not dedicated enough. It is because we have forgotten that we have been cleansed from our sin (2 Pet 1:9). Have you forgotten?

Consider the two questions above. As you begin a new year I encourage you to put your faith in Christ if you have never done so. Then, reflect on all you are in Christ. The Christian life is not about becoming something. It is about being someone in Christ. Our identity is no longer found in what we have done, but in who we are in Christ. Think on these things.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Eph 1:9-10

Ephesians 1:9-10 (ESV)
[9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

God has made known to us the mystery of his will. That phrase “his will” occurs three times in the first eleven verses of this chapter. What is the mystery of his will? It is the plan that God has “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and on earth” in his time (Eph 1:10). In the minds of the ancient Romans that’s crazy. Heaven is the goal. Earth is of lesser stuff. In the minds of the Jews that’s crazy. Heaven is the place of God and angels. Earth is where man dwells. They were looking for an earthly kingdom. But God’s plan all along was to unite heaven and earth, God and man, heavenly stuff and material stuff. It all comes together in Jesus, God who became man.

All of this is according to “the purpose of his will”(Eph 1:5). His plan was to send his son. His plan was to redeem mankind. His plan was to accomplish his purpose in his time in a way that would amaze all who inhabit heaven and earth. This was “the mystery of his will” (Eph 1:9) which would be accomplished through “the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). Mankind’s rebellion and unbelief did not take God by surprise. He did not have to come up with a new plan after Adam ate the fruit in the garden. This was his plan all along. It was an ingenious plan that only the mind of God could develop. It was a plan to lavish us with grace, redeem us by his grace, bless us through his Son, adopt us as sons, and unite all things in heaven and earth.

At Christmastime we sing about heaven intersecting with earth. Angels sang. Shepherd’s saw and wondered. Magi traveled far to worship. Earth became the birthplace of the Most High. Heaven intersected earth, but that was not the goal. That was the means by which heaven will not visit earth, nor will earth visit heaven as Paul did in a vision (2Cor 12:2). Rather, the birth of the Savior was the first step in the plan to unite heaven and earth. This is the mystery of his will according to the purpose of his will by the counsel of his will “to the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).

That is the true magic of the season. That is the foundation of our hope as we enter a new year. That is the incredible mystery that he has revealed to us who believe. The truth is, it doesn’t end here. We are part of a far greater story that we will one day see with greater clarity and wonder at the wisdom and goodness of God. It is all about him, for his glory and for our good. His is working out the mystery of his will according to the counsel of his will to accomplish the purpose of his will. Trust him as you enter a new year and a new decade.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Ephesians 1:11

Ephesians 1:11 (ESV)
[11] In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will,

Notice that this verse does not say that “he causes all things according to the counsel of his will,” but that he “works all things according to the counsel of his will.” That is a significant difference. We do not live in a predetermined world where a malevolent and malicious God loves to play with our emotions and watch us squirm, but where a good God takes even the pain in our lives and works it for good.

Bad things happen to people because we live in a broken world. Holidays seem to remind us not only of the joy of the season, but of the hurt, pain, and despair hidden behind the festivities. While we celebrate we are also very aware that there are families that have nothing to celebrate. There are families that are broken, homeless, abusive, without hope. There are individuals alone with the grief of losing a loved one. There are people facing crises of health, joblessness, poverty, disabilities, rejection, or unexpected loss and pain. Where is God in all that?

Some would blame God. “How could he do this to me?” Others would reject God. “If there was a God he wouldn’t have allowed this to happen.” Some draw nearer to God. “His is my only hope and strength as I face that which I cannot handle on my own.” There are many responses to brokenness, but the verse quoted above does not say that God directly causes all these bad things. What it promises is that he works all of this pain and brokenness for a higher good. We can trust him in the darkness and pain. Through it he will work all things for his purposes, and his purposes are always good. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). As we celebrate the birth of our Lord, and anticipate a new year ahead, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (Ex 24:1).

Monday, December 23, 2019

Eph 1:1-10

Ephesians 1:7-10 (ESV)
[7] In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, [8] which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight [9] making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ [10] as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

“In him . . .” Paul’s letter to the Ephesians starts with an incredible description of the blessings we have in Christ. But that is the point. It is all about him. When we make church about us we complain about the music, we complain about the preaching, we complain about where the thermostat is set. When life is about us we look for someone to blame when things don’t go our way, we lash out at others, we blame God, we get discouraged or depressed. When work is about us we get disillusioned when it doesn’t make us feel energized or fulfilled. When worship is about us we can’t figure out why we don’t feel like we did the first time we heard that song, or the first time we read the Bible and it made sense to us, or the first time we felt the presence of God.

Self-focus leads to frustration, bitterness, blame, accusation, discouragement, and depression. When we make finding the job that will make us flourish, we will always be disappointed. When we make finding the spouse or partner that will make us feel loved, important, or safe, we will always be disappointed. Blessing is not found by finding the niche that best fulfills us. Blessing is found when we understand that life is not about us. It is about Christ, and in him we have redemption, riches of grace, wisdom and insight, and purpose. In him we have assurance that we are part of something that is bigger than we are. In him we are and have far more than we can imagine.

Life is not about us, life is found in him. As we go into a new year, it is time we set our eyes about us and look to Christ, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). As we celebrate the birth of Jesus and then look to a new year, may you fix your eyes on Jesus.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Heart -vs- Ceremony - Matthew 3

There are five individuals or groups specifically identified in this chapter. First there is John the baptizer. He arrives on the scene as the last of the Old Testament prophets preaching repentance and intimidated by no one.

Matthew 3:4 NASB
Now John himself had a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
Then comes the Pharisees and Sadducees. My first thought is, why are they coming? It appears that may be John's thought as well.

Matthew 3:7 NASB
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
For these groups, ritual cleansing was extremely important. They would later challenge Jesus on this very issue: "Why don't your disciples wash before they eat?" This isn't a health concern. They viewed it as a major spiritual faux pas to neglect ceremonial washing before eating. They would have viewed John's baptism as just another ceremonial washing. John saw it as a symbol of repentance.
Then comes Jesus. There is no indication that he's dressed like a prophet, i.e. like John. John clearly understands that Jesus has nothing to repent of. Yet Jesus responds, "Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (Mt 3:15)

There are two more characters in the story. The Holy Spirit descends and lands on Jesus in the form of a dove. The Father speaks from heaven, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." (Mt 3:17)

The stage is set for the story to come. These characters will play out a drama of eternal proportions over the next three years. The contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees is striking. They don't look any different. They don't talk differently. But, their hearts are miles apart. Jesus, though he has nothing of which to repent, identifies with sinners in his baptism. The Pharisees, though they don't have a clue about repentance, come for a ceremony.

Father, forgive me for the times I have been satisfied with external ceremony and missed what you were really about. May I serve you from the heart even if that means being misunderstood and rejected.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Freedom and Sovereignty - Matthew 2

The second chapter of Matthew begins with these words, "Now after Jesus was born..." The rest of the chapter could easily be summed up this way, biblical prophecy was fulfilled and God protected his Son. Micah 5:2 was fulfilled by Jesus when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. Hosea 11:1 was fulfilled when an angel warned Joseph to take his family to Egypt. Jeremiah 31:15 was fulfilled when Herod killed the baby boys. Finally, verse 23 makes reference to a prophecy regarding Messiah being called a Nazarene. We're not sure which passage or prophecy this is referring to, but it is fulfilled when Joseph takes his family to the out of the way place of Nazareth.

Not only was scripture fulfilled, but God protected his Son. He protected him by warning the Magi not to return to Herod. He protected him by warning Joseph to take his family to Egypt.

There is a mystery between man's freedom to make choices and God's sovereignty in accomplishing his purposes. Trying to understand that mystery has led to all sorts of theology that tends to emphasize one side of the equation and explain away the other. It has also led to some hard feelings and division within the Body. That is unfortunate because, both are true. Did God protect his Son, fulfill prophecy, and accomplish his purposes in this chapter? Yes. Did God cause Herod to kill those children, or force Joseph to obediently flee to Egypt? No. That is the mystery and we need to leave it at that.

Father, I am blown away by the fact that you give me the freedom to make my own choices even in the most critical parts of my life. I am comforted and assured by the truth that you are sovereign and will accomplish your purposes in this world. Give me wisdom and discernment, and thank you for the freedom. I rest in your sovereign grace.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Black Sheep of the Family - Mt 1

Matthew 1:18 NASB
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
In reading the genealogy of Jesus found in Matthew, I am always fascinated by the women recorded in the story. Tamar deceived her father-in-law to have a child by him because of his dishonesty with her. Ruth was a Moabite, a foreigner whose first Jewish husband died in Moab. Bathsheba became pregnant by David while she was married to Uriah. David then made sure Uriah died in battle. Then of course, there is Mary, a young woman found to be pregnant out of wedlock.

Our tendency is to either brag about the "black sheep" in our family, or more often, to hide them and not talk about them. Jesus genealogy is rife with "black sheep." God could have picked or designed a better heritage for his Son. The fact that he used this family and this lineage is what fascinates me. But then, Jesus did say that he came for sinners, not the righteous. He did identify with our sinfulness in his baptism. He was known as a friend of sinners. And, he did become sin for us so that we might become his righteousness. Maybe this was an appropriate lineage after all.

Father, thank you that Jesus was willing to come and identify with sinners in order to save us. Forgive me for the times I have been more concerned about what people thought of me than of what you thought. May I emulate Jesus love for sinners even if that messes with my reputation.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Isaiah 66 Pt 2

Isaiah 66:18-21 (ESV)
“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.

God’s promise to Abraham was that through him God would bless all the nations of the earth. Being a people of God was never about being Jewish. It was always about faith and humility. As Judah faces deportation because of their sin and disobedience, God, through Isaiah, promises restoration. His restoration is not a restoration of Jewishness, but a restoration of all people to God.

Isaiah 66:21 is telling. “And some of them (the nations) also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.” How can God take people from the nations and make them priests and Levites? Isn’t that about birthright? Clearly the answer is “No!” God is not as interested in birthright, and ancestry as he is interested in humility and faith. God will call people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).

This has significant implications for the church. Pentecost (Acts 2) brought together people from a variety of languages and backgrounds. The Church has always brought together as one people those of diverse backgrounds, colors, ethnicities, languages, and cultures. Unfortunately, the local church has not always been as accepting. We are often fearful of those who are different, and accepting of those like us. We often feel comfortable only with those of our color, background, interests, and political persuasion.

Within the local church, we feel not only uncomfortable, but too often downright hostile toward those who are unlike us. God forgive us! When we ought to be extending open arms, we are more often welcoming with reservation, accepting with fear and uncertainty, or outright rejecting those who are different. The very Lord we profess would likely have felt very unwelcome in many of our congregations. I fear that we are often more like the Pharisees whom we love to castigate, then like the Lord who we claim to worship.

One day we will see the Church through the eyes of God. One day we will see God use the most unlikely people as priests and Levites. One day we will fall on our faces before God along with those we feared. One day we will embrace and worship with those we held at arm’s length in distrust. Maybe we should start practicing today.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Isaiah 66 Pt 1

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, December 11, 2019

The King and the Kingdom

Matthew 12:6-7 (ESV)
[6] I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. [7] And if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.
Jesus had just been accused of allowing his disciples to work on the Sabbath because they had stripped some grain into their hands to eat while they were walking. His response is to say that that something greater than the temple is here and that he is Lord of the Sabbath. Later he will say that something greater than Jonah is here and something greater than Solomon is here. Why doesn’t he say someone instead of something? What does he choose the temple, Jonah, and Solomon? What is this chapter about? The answer is found in verse 28 when Jesus says, “the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Mt 12:28). When he says that something greater than the Sabbath, Jonah, and Solomon is here he is not referring simply to himself, but to the fact that where the king is there is the kingdom. He is Messiah and therefore the kingdom has come upon them. The irony is that the very ones looking for the kingdom reject their king.

The temple symbolizes all that the law stands for, but the temple is the shadow. The kingdom is the real thing. Jonah was a prophet who spent three days in the belly of a great fish. The king will spend three days in the earth (Mt 12:40) after his death, but like Jonah, he will come back. Solomon symbolizes Israel’s golden age, the height of their glory. That is what they hope Messiah will restore. Jesus has something greater in mind. The kingdom is greater than Solomon’s kingdom. Where the king is, there is the kingdom, but the very ones looking for the kingdom missed it and rejected their king.

Much of our own disappointment and discouragement is because God does not do things the way we expect. Like the Pharisees (Mt 12:14), I wonder how often we miss the king because of our preconceptions of what the kingdom will look like. How often do we miss the peace of God because we feel like the world is out of control? How often do we miss the joy of God because we can’t see his hand at work around us? How often do we neglect to do the work of God because we are so focused on ourselves and our needs and expectations? Like the Pharisees, I fear that in looking for the kingdom we often miss the king. May our prayer today be, “Father, help me to see where you are at work around me, and give me the courage to step into it by your grace.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Isaiah 65

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. 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 willcreate 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).

Monday, December 9, 2019

Isaiah 64

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!

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Worship & Christmas

The magi had come to pay their respects to the newborn King of the Jews. Herod immediately sought information on the birthplace of the Christ (messiah). He evidently knew that only the birth of the messiah could produce such a great interest and respect. Did he really believe that he could thwart the prophecies of the coming king? He possibly considered them to be fables, choosing to believe that this was a setup, another attempt to take his throne. Perhaps he believed that someone was attempting to fake the birth of the messiah. Whether he believed that he could thwart the plans of God by killing the newborn messiah, or whether he believed that it is all a sham perpetuated to topple his own throne, it resulted not in worship, but in a failed assassination attempt. There seem to be three responses to the news of the newborn king. First is that of Herod, “Go and make careful search ... that I too may come and worship him.” But Herod’s motive was less than pure. He actually intended to kill the child. Second, there was the response of the religious elite, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it has been written by the prophet.” There was no attempt on their part to follow up on the news and seek the child. Theirs appears to have been a response of intellectual interest only. They knew the scriptures and they were content with that. God was a tame God who had spoken in the past and that was that. They were happy in their elitist theology. Finally, there was the response of the magi, “We have come to worship.”

Worship begins when we acknowledge the authority of the one we worship. If Herod acknowledged the authority of Christ it would threaten his throne, therefore he attacked. If the religious elite acknowledged the authority of Christ it would threaten their comfortable spiritual pride, therefore they ignored him. The magi, in acknowledging the authority of Christ traveled difficult and dangerous miles over several months for the privilege of bowing before him and presenting their gifts.

What is our response? Have we sided with Herod, choosing our own comfort over the rule of the true king? Perhaps we have fallen into the error of the elite. We know the scriptures. We understand our theology. “Now don’t shake up my comfortable religiosity with talk about a king. That could result in spiritual awakening, revival and real, heart worship. It might get uncomfortable; it might make demands on my life. Just leave me to my theology and I’m happy.” Or, have we come, with the magi, to worship the Christ?

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Isaiah 63

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?

Friday, December 6, 2019

Isaiah 62

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).

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Isaiah 61

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.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Isaiah 60

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.

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...