Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Priests at Jesus' Birth

When the Magi showed up at Herod’s door asking about the new King who had been born he had no idea what they were talking about. Matthew 2:3 says that “he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.” He called together the chief priests and scribes of the people to gain some insight into what was going on. They knew the biblical answers, but their response is fascinating. Think about this with me.

They had to know what prompted Herod’s inquiry into where Messiah was to be born. All the city was troubled. Everybody was talking about these foreign visitors. It was no coincidence that just after they show up Herod wants to know about the Christ. Not only was everybody talking about these strange visitors, but we need to remember that the shepherds had already given testimony to what they had seen on the hills near Bethlehem and what they witnessed when they went to find the new born baby. Luke 2:18 says that “all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” The rumor mill was running full bore. Not only were the crowds buzzing about the magi and the testimony of the shepherds, but Simeon and Anna had testified in the temple of Jerusalem. These things were not done in secret. For up to two years the rumors have been circulating about this King. Now someone from a distant land has shown up looking for him. This inquiry didn’t take the Jewish scholars by surprise.

But, what is more significant is that they knew the scriptures. When Herod asks them about where the Christ was to be born they knew the answer. They quoted the scriptures from Micah 5:2

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
from ancient days.

They knew the truth, and yet, as the Wycliffe Bible Commentary records, “Matthew ... shows the contrast in attitudes between the non-Jewish wise men who journeyed far to see Jesus and the Jewish authorities who would not go five miles.”

The response of the Jewish leaders was not one of opposition, at least not to begin with. It was perhaps worse. They just ignored him. There was an expectation of the Messiah. They were looking for the one who would deliver them from the rule of the Herods and the authority of Rome. They desired the throne of David to be re-established, yet when the Christ came they ignored him. Later they would move from apathy to contempt, from ignoring him to outwardly opposing him, but for now they just went home. Intellectual pride and spiritual apathy is, perhaps, one of the most dangerous combinations. Jesus warned the church of Laodicea of that very condition in Revelation 3. But that raises the question: Do we do the same thing?

Friday, November 29, 2019

Advent and Worship

The magi had come to pay their respects to the newborn King of the Jews. Herod immediately seeks information on the birthplace of the Christ (messiah). He evidently knows that only the birth of the messiah could produce such a great interest and respect. Does he really believe that he can thwart the prophecies of the coming king? He possibly considers them to be fables, choosing to believe that this is a setup, another attempt to take his throne. Perhaps he believes that someone is attempting to fake the birth of the messiah. Whether he believes that he can thwart the plans of God by killing the newborn messiah, or whether he believes that it is all a sham perpetuated to topple his own throne, it results 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 is no attempt on their part to follow up on the news and seek the child. Theirs appears to be 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 is the response of the magi, “We have come to worship.”

What is our response? Have we sided with Herod, choosing our own comfort zone 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.” Have we come, with the magi, to worship the Christ?

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. Which response is yours?

As we think about worship, will you think through those three parties and their responses to the news that there was a King born?

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Thanksgiving is for Giving Thanks

In Leviticus, the Thank Offering was also called a peace offering or fellowship offering. It was a voluntary sacrifice presented for the purpose of establishing or deepening friendship with God. It was a means of expressing gratitude to God for all he had done and all he had provided.

The peace offering included leavened and unleavened bread. It was to be mixed, smeared, and cooked with oil. Oil is often a picture of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit produces in us his fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. True fellowship flows out of a Spirit filled life overflowing into holiness and loving obedience. Peace Offerings were offerings of thanksgiving reflecting friendship and fellowship with God. They also expressed the truth that true fellowship with God flows out of a Spirit filled life overflowing into holiness and loving obedience.

The entire offering was to be eaten that day. The meal was to be enjoyed. To never take pleasure in what God has provided is to be ungrateful. God takes pleasure in seeing us dance for joy over the gifts he has lavished upon us.

Our Thanksgiving Day traces back to the foundation of this country. May a part of your Thanksgiving Day be a time of giving thanks to God from whom all the blessings flow. May you thoroughly enjoy the blessings God has provided. But not everyone will have a great day. Friends and loved ones are missed with deep grief. Each of us has experienced, or knows someone who has experienced pain. But sometimes, even in the pain, we need to take time to say, “Thank you!.”

Thanksgiving takes time to enjoy the blessings God gives, reflects on friendship with God, and expresses itself in a fellowship with our Lord that flows out of a Spirit filled life overflowing into holiness and loving obedience. This year let us take time to give thanks!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Isaiah 58

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.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Isaiah 57

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.


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.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Isaiah 56

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 ours? 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).

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Isaiah 55

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.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Isaiah 54

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.”

Friday, November 22, 2019

Isaiah 53

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 taking 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

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Isaiah 52

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.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Isaiah 51

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Isaiah 50

Isaiah 50:4-7 (ESV)
The Lord GOD has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
The Lord GOD has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
But the Lord GOD helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.

This passage expresses four truths that are easy to agree to and hard to live. The first is that God gifts me so that I can serve others. “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Is 50:4). God’s gifts, provisions, strength, and help are never for us. They are always so that we may serve others. That is the beauty of the Body of Christ. When each part recognizes that they exist for the sake of all the other parts then the body works right. When any part acts as though the body is about self, the body becomes dysfunctional. God gifts me so that I can serve others.

Second, service often results in opposition and oppression. We are frequently willing to serve if there is just a little acknowledgement. A thank you goes a long way. But God calls us to serve when there is not only no acknowledgement, but when there is outright rejection and opposition. “The Lord GOD has opened my ear” (Is 50:5). In response to God’s work in his life Isaiah writes, “I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard” (Is 50:6). Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18). Even though the world hated Jesus, he died for it. He calls us, as his followers, to do no less. We cannot serve with the expectation of appreciation and gratitude. We must serve in response to God’s grace no matter how people respond. After all, it’s not about us.

That leads us to the third lesson. There is no shame in being mistreated for the sake of Christ. Isaiah writes, “I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting. But the Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced” (Is 50:6-7). We think that being spit on is disgraceful and disgusting. Isaiah says that he didn’t hide from being spit on, yet he was not disgraced. There is no shame in suffering for Christ. If someone spits in my face because I am a jerk, that would be disgraceful and I should feel shamed. If someone spits in my face because of Jesus I should be honored. The Apostle Paul, who knew something about suffering for Christ, wrote, “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake” (Php 1:29). Paul considers suffering for Christ an honor. Again, it’s not about us. It is about Him.

God gifts me so that I can serve others. Service often results in opposition and oppression. It is an honor to suffer for Christ. Those are easy statements to write. Living them is another thing. How can I possibly do that? That question brings us to our fourth lesson: “My help comes from the Lord” (Ps 121:2). God hasn’t called us to do this alone. God, who is always faithful, has promised to be our help. God, who never leaves us or forsakes us, encourages and empowers us. The God who gifts us for service is the God who indwells us, enabling us to serve no matter what the consequences. The God who loves us deeply, consistently, and immeasurably, is the God who walks through the rejection with us, equipping us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (Rom 5:3). Why do we rejoice? “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5:5).

Sometimes God calls us to hard things, but God never calls us to anything he does not equip us for. In the darkest shadows and deepest valleys, he is there. In the rejection and opposition, he is there. It is time we recognize that the gifts God has given are not for our own benefit. They are for the good of others. It doesn’t matter how those we serve respond. He is there with us, and he says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Php 4:13). Let’s serve without consideration for self, for he is able.

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...