Monthly Archives: January 2019

How to Look at Sin

Then I said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips dwelling among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of Hosts.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar.  And with it he touched my mouth and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your iniquity is removed and your sin is atoned for.” (Is 6:5-7)

This passage is perfect for me today!  I just studied sin with someone, and as I was preparing, I saw that I needed more clarity on what I want to communicate to others about sin.  I really want to be sure that I am speaking from a place that makes total sense to me and reflects my deepest convictions.

And this is the answer to what I was looking for.  In these verses, Isaiah communicates his reaction to seeing the Lord sitting on his throne (verse 1). He has an absolute realization of his sinfulness. He has a terrifying certainty that a sinful person cannot see the face of God without being doomed.

And that makes it clear to me what I want to stress to others about sin.  They have to see the stark reality that, without atonement, they are a people of unclean lips before the King, the Lord of Hosts.  There is a gulf between them and God.  And no matter WHAT they do, they will never be able to bridge that gulf.

They also have to see that the gulf is their fault.  They can’t blame it on others.  They can’t blame it on the way the world is, or the way their life has been.  They can’t say, “God knows my heart.”

They can’t be cavalier.  They can’t just take God for granted, and approach him in prayer with a sloppy attitude towards personal righteousness, like he’s their pal.

Because God is GOD.  His nature is so holy and fearsome that people who came into his presence were in danger of their lives.  He told Moses, “Go down and warn the people not to break through to see the LORD, lest many of them perish. Even the priests who approach the LORD must consecrate themselves, or the LORD will break out against them.” (Ex 19:21)

The Bible is filled with examples of people who didn’t fear the Lord, and died as a result — Nadab and Abihu (Nu 3:4), Uzzah (II Sam 6:6-7), the Israelites who complained in the desert (Nu 14), Ananais and Saphira (Acts 5:3).

So it is of prime importance that we study sin with people to remind them of what their state is before God without atonement.

And then the second part of Isaiah 6:6-7 becomes all the more powerful to us today.  We see how Isaiah is quaking with fear because he knows his sin is incompatible with the presence of the Lord.  And then we see the utter relief that must have been felt when his guilt was removed as the angel touched a glowing coal to his mouth.

We also must experience this utter relief when we receive atonement.  Hebrews expresses it so well, “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. . . let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.”  (Heb 10:14, 22)

Unless we truly see the fearful position our sin puts us in before the holiness of the Lord, we will not appreciate how astounding and welcome is the gift of salvation.  That provides a motivation for us to serve the Lord in totality all of our days. As Romans 6:13 reads, in part, “Give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life.”

Surely, just as the seraphim exclaimed, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” in the preceding verses, we can exclaim, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” as we continually appreciate our ability to come into the Lord’s presence and live.

 

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Praising Like Breathing

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him stood seraphim, each having six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they called out to one another:

Holy, holy, holy

is the LORD of Hosts;

His glory fills all the earth. 

The doorposts and thresholds shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.  (Isaiah 6:1-4)

Last week, Ken and I listened to a sermon by a dear friend, Jameson Sofge.

Jameson was one of the founding members of our church 11 years ago.  For over five years we were on the leadership team of the church together with him and his wife, Danielle.  We have some wonderful memories of being in the trenches together and of fighting battles for our beloved church, and celebrating victories.

Jameson started his sermon by talking about the Lord’s prayer.  He told us how it can be a model for our prayers, and that the first line, “Our Father in heaven, holy is your name,” teaches us that an important part of prayer is praising God.  Jameson said that he wonders sometimes why he should praise God, because when he does, he often says the same as the last time he prayed.  But then he realized that our God is so awesome that we can never praise him enough. 

It’s like a line from one of my favorite songs, “If we had 10,000 tongues.  We would praise you with every one.”  And that is the picture we get in Isaiah — constant praise of the Lord, over and over again, because he is holy in an epic way. There’s a similar picture in Revelations 4: “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev. 4:8)

So the fact that God is holy makes it even more amazing that God answers prayers. Jameson went on to read verses 5-13,  ending with, “So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”  He marveled that the glorious, all-powerful God actually cares, and responds to us when we petition him.  

But the reason God cares and responds is actually because of his holiness.  Love and faithfulness are a part of God’s holiness.  In Exodus 34, the Lord was with Moses in a the form of a cloud, and it says, “the LORD passed in front of Moses and called out: ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining loving devotion to a thousand generations.'”  (Ex 34:6, 7a)

God’s very character is to have our back.  Although we may not be able to trust in the love of our fellow-man, God’s love is completely trustworthy.  That’s why we have verses like Romans 8:38-9 which say that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

This staunch devotion is like a family tie.  And I have to point out that, as God’s “family,” we are expected to be holy as well.  God proclaimed to the Israelites, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.”  The parallel passage for us today  is, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9)

But getting back to the sermon, Jameson concluded by sharing three immensely moving stories of how God showed staunch devotion to him.  He told how, when he was in college, he and some friends prayed a very intentional prayer for great wives and their prayers were answered.  He shared with tears how he and his wife prayed fervently for a long time for a baby, and God gave them a their son, Mason.  He related the summer he and interns here at Auburn prayed like they had never prayed before, and the Lord blessed the church with new members as never before.  

And now, as I reflect on all of this, I see how much these stories are just the tip of the iceberg.  All of us have our tales of the ways God has answered our prayers. Some of these answers are massive, and some are small day-to-day matters,  But if we enumerate them, our hearts want to lift up and praise the Lord over and over again. 

And then, if we look around at the world God has made, praise bursts out even more.  And if we think of his character of compassion, righteousness, love and faithfulness, still more praises overflow from our lips. 

God pours his glorious essence into the world, and into our lives, and our praise of acknowledgement becomes like constant breathing, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord. His glory fills the whole earth.”  

And maybe breathing is an apt metaphor.  God gives to us.  We give to God.  He blesses us.  We bless his name.  He is holy.  So we are holy. 

Like respiration, it’s an ongoing cycle that sustains life.  

 

 

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The Woes of Isaiah 5

Isaiah 5 could be called the “Woe Chapter.” In six places in the chapter,  Isaiah pronounces woe on the Israelites.  It totally reminds me of Matthew 23 and the woes that Jesus declared towards the Pharisees.

And here’s something cool.  In both Isaiah and Matthew, the Hebrew and Greek word for woe actually sounds like an expression of sorrow.  Phonetically, the Hebrew word is “hohee” and the Greek is “00-ah-ee.”  Can’t you hear mourning in these words?  They’re like sighs or groans.

Literally, both words mean, “alas.” So in Isaiah, it’s like God is deeply lamenting all of the foibles of his people, and the consequences of their behavior.

Because here’s the thing.  God doesn’t bring consequences simply because he is angry at disobedience.  People bring natural consequences on themselves because their actions are destructive.  And all sin is destructive.

So it will help us to look at what God is lamenting here, and think about why it is lamentable.

1. They valued things, instead of valuing God.  “Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field until there is no room and you dwell alone in the land.”  On the surface, this doesn’t sound too bad.  We built crowded subdivisions all the time!  But what we are looking at here is materialism.  The focus on “adding” reminds me of the parable Jesus told about a man who built a bigger barn to store all the grain he’d been blessed with.  Because this man decided he had it made and could take it easy, God called him a fool and ended his life.  Jesus’s conclusion was, “This is how it will be for anyone who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich toward God.”  (Luke 12:21)

So we need to be careful not to love our stuff more than God.  But I’m going to go deeper here, and talk about another way we store up treasure for ourselves.  Jesus also said, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”  (Matt. 12:25)  I’ve been very convicted lately at how much I get angry at the slightest little thing someone does, or at the slightest little situation I don’t like.  I’ve realized that I’ve let the things that bother me become more significant in my heart than love and faith.  I’ve stored up evil, not good.

And it hit me that it’s like I’ve been drinking poison.  It doesn’t change the other person or the situation.  It just harms me.

So I’m refusing to drink the poison anymore.  I’m making God my treasure, and intentionally filling my heart with all the ways I love him, and all the good things about him.

2. They saw the physical, instead of seeing God.Woe to those who rise early in the morning in pursuit of strong drink, who linger into the evening, to be inflamed by wine. . .  They disregard the actions of the LORD, and fail to see the work of His hands.”  We just talked about this in the last blog.  The Israelites should have looked at the natural world around them and seen abundant evidence of their Creator.  They should have looked at their lives and seen all the ways he was taking care of them.  But they missed the whole spiritual dimension.  Their souls could have been giddy with God, but instead, they filled their emptiness with the giddiness of wine.  It’s like Paul said in Ephesians 5:18, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”

Last week, Ken and I watched an amazing video of an MRI of a child growing from conception to birth.  It was absolutely mind-boggling to see how cells multiply at a rate of a million a second, how the heart develops, or how a baby gets 60,000 miles of circulatory system.  How can we view things like this and not be in giddy with God?

Watching videos like this represents a shift for me.  I used to always find activities to do in my free time that zoned me out and put my troubled mind to sleep.  Now I’m finding activities that wake me up to the truths of God!  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for rest.  But if we always need to dull our senses (like the Israelites did with wine), maybe we’re missing something.

3. They believed lies, instead of believing in God.  “What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart!  They even mock God and say, ‘Hurry up and do something! We want to see what you can do.’”  The picture here is a man in a harness pulling a heavy cart.  The harness is composed of lies, and the cart is laden with sin.

It illustrates that lies are always connected to sin.  People sin because they don’t understand the truths of God.  And that is certainly the case here.  These Hebrews are like, “God, show us you’re real!”  They have patent unbelief. And with that comes wickedness.

Do we realize how our unbelief affects us?  My heart is heavy at the train wrecks I’ve seen people make of their lives lately.  I know someone who is imprisoned for a felony.  I know someone who had a short-lived affair, which led to divorce, and now she is a single mother with two small children and another one on the way.  I think in each of these cases, the individuals started believing lies about God.  They started thinking that God wouldn’t take care of them or relieve their suffering.  So they took matters into their own hands.

We can avoid our own trainwrecks by asking ourselves, “How am I doubting God?  What lies am I believing?”  We can remember that faith is, “the certainty of what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1). 

Let’s make a rock solid, teeth-gritting decision to believe that God is faithful and working, even when it isn’t easily apparent.  This will keep us from getting hitched to sin.

4. They created their own moral standards, instead of following God’s moral standards.What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.”  You know, I want to look back at the Isrealites and think, “Why in the world would you get into the idol worship of the people around you?  Isn’t it obvious those idols are nothing but wood or stone?”

But I forget how easy it is to assimilate the mindset of those around us.  Our black and white morals become grey.

Today, I see so many examples of blurry moral lines among Christians.  We want to have the freedom to drink, but everyone has a different idea of how far to go.  The same applies to what we wear, and what we watch or listen to.

I’ve got to say that living in a world where we are inundated confusing messages from the media and social media doesn’t help.  It also doesn’t help that there’s a strong sense that everyone has their own truth.  And there’s a mistrust of authority, so there’s even more a feeling of each person has to find their own moral barameter.

So we start assimilate the mindset of those around us, and we start making Bible passages fuzzy.  And, just like the Israelites, we end up in sorrow.  It’s not fun to wake up with a hangover and regrets. Or to crave the soft porn of today’s media. Or to find that your dabbling took you to a place you  never intended to go, and you became a person you never intended to be.

5. They relied on their own wisdom instead of the wisdom of God.  “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.”  From the beginning, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, people have been thinking that they know better than God.  It’s certainly my biggest stumbling block.  Over and over again, I get tripped up because I’m sure I know a better way that a situation should go.

But it’s kind of like how our government has handled foreign affairs.  You know how we have gone overseas and gotten involved in righting the abuses committed by a foreign power, and then ended up bringing someone else to power who’s evil in another way?  We find out it’s not that simple to fix.  All that stuff is totally complicated.

And that’s what I need to remember when I feel the need to fix something — I don’t understand all of the complexities behind the situation.  It’s not to say that I shouldn’t try to right wrongs.  But it does mean that I shouldn’t get all bent out of shape if I can’t fix it according to my thinking.  And more, that I shouldn’t get all bent out of shape if others don’t fix it according to my thinking.

Only God understands all of the complexities.  It’s a much better idea to rely on him, first and foremost, for wisdom and guidance.  And it saves us much grief.

6. They cared about themselves, instead of caring about others.  “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.”  The picture that’s painted here is a group of people who thought being an expert at something was the highest achievement.  Specifically, they thought they were hot stuff because they were awesome at mixing drinks.  I know,  I know.  That’s a little ludicrous.

But the underlying concept isn’t that far off from our thinking today.  We also think we’re a champion if we become super proficient at something.  And God does want us to use the talents he gave us.  But God’s idea of greatness is different than ours.

I’m preparing for an MLK service project, and I just listened to Martin Luther King Jr,’s last sermon.  It was on the “Drum Major Instinct.” King said, “We all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade.”

King talked about all the ways we try to be great, and contrasted this to how Jesus responded to James and John when they asked to sit at his right and left in the kingdom, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant.” Mark 10:43b

People are God’s priority, and, to him, the greatest one is the one who serves people.

Are people our priority?  This is the time of year when we make New Year’s resolutions. We’re trying to lose weight, get more organized, achieve goals, and so on.  Do we have a resolution to love and serve people better? Are there people on our to do list today?

So let’s not get tied up in our accomplishments to the point that we lose sight of others. The result will not only be that the needs of our “brothers” do not get met.  The result will be that we end up lonely, realizing that we didn’t do what was most meaningful.  So many people regret on their deathbed that they didn’t spend more time on others.

King recognized that.  Here is what he said he wanted to be shared at his funeral: “Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. . . I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to give his life serving others. . . . I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. . . that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. . .  that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. . . that I tried to love and serve humanity.”

I want that too!! At my funeral, I can think of nothing better than people saying that I made a difference in thier lives.  But the only way I’m going to make it until the end is to avoid these woes that Isaiah mentions here.   I hope there is mourning for the right reasons at my funeral, and not mourning for my foibles and the consequences of my behavior.

I especially hope that I don’t cause God to lament, but instead, to celebrate when it is time to face him.  I know he believes in me, and he’s cheering me on.  I know Jesus is at his side, being my advocate.

And that kind of sums up the book of Isaiah.  It contains a lot of woe about how people have messed up.  But there’s also a message of hope and redemption.   As Isaiah 9:1 reads, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those in distress.”  Or here is one of my favorite Isaiah verses, “So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again.” (Is 54:9b)

We need the warnings.  Yet what a God we serve, that he also gives us hope and redemption.

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We Are God’s Cookies!

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Ken and I have been watching baking shows.  One thing I notice is that the judges like flavor.  They want you to season what you’re making with spices and such so that it bursts in your mouth.  That’s what eating is all about to them.  It’s not just a way to satisfy hunger.  It’s to enjoy all of the wonderful tastes .

And watching this led me to another thought.  Each one of us is a creation of God, and he’s given each of us a delicious taste.  Now don’t think I’m crazy with this analogy.  But I think God put his spice into each one us.  Every person has these wonderful traits that make them delightful — compassionate, humor, creativity, and so on.

The thing is, that if you’re like me, you don’t let your flavors come out.  I’m often afraid that I will put my foot in my mouth, or that people won’t like the real me.  So I keep myself bland.  I just focus on following the Bible and being like it says.

Some of this is because I let my fears rule me.  When I was young, I never fit into the popular group.  It was like they somehow sensed I was different, and they wouldn’t really let me in.  So I got this idea in my head that my personality doesn’t have the “it” factor.  And then there were things along the way that seemed to confirm this.  One time a friend got angry with me and listed the times she’d seen me be awkward.  In my head I was like, “See? There’s something wrong with me.”  I became more self-conscious, and afraid to be myself.

But now I am getting more in touch with who I am, and I realize that I do have all of these delightful ingredients in me.  And yes, I might stick my foot in my mouth sometimes.  But I have to be me.  I cant just make myself bland.  I can’t give into fear.

There’s a reason Jesus told stories like the parable of the talents. (Matthew 25:14-30) The servant with one talent was called wicked because he was afraid of his master, so he hid the talent.  He didn’t take risks like the other servants did with their talents.  And that shows us that God wants us to use what we have.  He wants us to be spicy, as he created us.

It also reminds me of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said we are a light, and we can’t hide that light.   We are the salt, and we can’t lose our saltiness.  Sure, I think Jesus said this because he wants us to let our faith shine.  But I also think that we are his creation, and he wants ALL of us to shine – who we were made to be, and the faith we have.

So after watching baking shows, my husband was like, “Can we make one of these recipes?”  We were planning to celebrate my son in law’s birthday, and that seemed like a great occasion to do so.  So I found a ginger cookie ice cream sandwich recipe made with all kind of spices and fresh ginger, and baked it, along with the help of my grandson.  Those cookies were so yummy!! The seasonings made them burst with flavor!

Which brings me back to the original concept: God made us all like these cookies.  We have the bursting flavors of great qualities in us. Let those flavors stand out!  Let’s not hide them, as I am often tempted to do.  Let’s fully be ourselves, and celebrate who we are.  And if we stick our foot in our mouth, or if someone gives us negativity, it doesn’t have to shut us down.  Yes, we might need to work on our insensitivity, or selfishness or whatever.  But we still have characteristics in us that make us shine.

We are who we are.  And who we are is delightful to God.

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