Category Archives: Books of the Bible

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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How Do We Know God?

Woe to those who rise early in the morning,
that they may run after strong drink,
who tarry late into the evening
as wine inflames them!
They have lyre and harp,
tambourine and flute and wine at their feasts,
but they do not regard the deeds of the LORD,
or see the work of his hands.

Therefore my people go into exile
for lack of knowledge;
their honored men go hungry,
and their multitude is parched with thirst. (Isa 5:11-13)

In the end, it was the lack of knowledge that caused the downfall of the Hebrews of Isaiah’s time.

And this is scary, because they identified themselves as God’s people. This was their heritage and their culture.

Yet they didn’t know God.

We’re in the same boat.  We think of ourselves as Christians.  But how much are we making sure we really know God?  Jesus gave us warnings similar to that of Isaiah 5.

  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”  (Matt 7:22-23)

So how can we know God better?  We can start by looking at what the Jews of Isaiah’s time did wrong.

First, they didn’t regard the deeds of the Lord.  They didn’t see how God had been abundantly active in their lives. They didn’t realize that everything they had — their land, wealth, possessions, health and wellbeing — was all due to the God.  They didn’t see the grace and mercy of their Lord, that he had provided these things in spite of their behavior.

Second, they didn’t see the work of God’s hands  in the natural world around them.  Every plant, creature and vista should have been evidence of the awesomeness of God.

Thus, to know God, we need to see him more.  We need to see how he has been abundantly active in our lives.  We need to see his miracles in creation all around us.  We need to see how his grace has been poured on us, time and time again.

And it should be easy to see these things.  God makes them plain.  “For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.”  (Romans 1:20)

But because people all through history have had such a hard time with it, God worked in amazing ways so we could have an even better vision of him.

  • No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (John 1:18) 
  • We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (I John 5:20)
  • But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. . . he will take what is mine and disclose it to you. (John 16:131. 15b)

We have Jesus.  We have the Spirit.  We have resources that can help us see right into the heart of God.

And, boy, does Satan not want this!  His prime objective is to blind us.

As I’ve been studying life coaching, I’ve been working on my own character.  One thing we assess is how much we “judge.”  I’ve been appalled to discover that I frequently look at a person or situation and jump to a conclusion.  I see someone on Facebook and I think, “They’re stuck up.”  Someone says something and I decide, “They don’t like me.” Something bad happens, and I say to myself, “It’s going to go from bad to worse.” I develop beliefs based on these assumptions.

Yet if I found out more information, I’d probably see that my assumptions and beliefs are not true. How convicting that I get sucked into this so often!

The same thing applies to how I regard God.  I go through a struggle, and my thoughts are, “God’s not going to work.  He cares about others and helps them, but he’s not going to help me.”

Of course, this plays right into Satan’s hands.  It’s exactly what he wants.  He wants me to believe lies.  He wants my pride, insecurities and emotional baggage to shape my beliefs.

Can you relate?  How often do you jump to conclusions, instead of investigating what the truth is?  As it says in James, we should be quick to listen and slow to speak.

Let’s engage in a daily battle to recognize the lies and discover the truth about God, so we can really KNOW him.

This is what the LORD says: ‘Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,’ declares the LORD.”  (Jer. 9:23)

The consequences for not knowing God are serious.  Isaiah prophesied that the Hebrews would go into exile, and they did. The book of Revelations depicts seven churches that did many good deeds, and at the same time were way off base.  These churches were given warnings of what would occur if they did not repent.  

Let’s not fall into the same trap.  Instead, may it be our prime objective to know him better by:

  1. Seeing him more in the world around us.
  2. Seeing how much he has done for us and had mercy on us.
  3. Studying the life of Jesus.
  4. Praying and listening for the voice of the Spirit.
  5. Refusing to jump to conclusions.
  6. Investigating what the truth really is.

Carefully determine what pleases the Lord.  (Eph 5:10)

Don’t be like the people of this world, but let God change the way you think. Then you will know how to do everything that is good and pleasing to him.  (Romans 12:2 CEV)

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God Makes Wine With Our “Fruit!”

I will sing for the one I love

a song about his vineyard:

My loved one had a vineyard

on a fertile hillside.

He dug it up and cleared it of stones

and planted it with the choicest vines.

He built a watchtower in it

and cut out a winepress as well.

Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,

but it yielded only bad fruit. (Is 5:1-2)

Here is what I am getting out of this passage.

First, I love that this is a love song to God.  Songs can express a story in such a moving way.  The fact that the prophet wrote a song means he wanted to convey an emotional connection.  He felt so deeply about the subject that he wanted to sing it, like a mournful ballad.

And that means that these are verses we should listen to with our heart.

Second, knowing that God is the loved one, and the vineyard is his people. we can see from the wording how much God takes deliberate and tender care of his people.

  • He locates the vineyard on a fertile hillside.  There is plenty of nourishment.  This is also true for us today.  “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (II Cor 9:8)
  • He clears out the rocks.  This is a theme we see all through the Bible, that God takes away the things that can make us stumble.  “For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life.” (Ps 56:13)
  • He builds a watchtower so the field is protected.  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”  (Ps 23:4)

Third, we can see that just as the vineyard was planted to yield fruit, God intends for his people to fulfill the purpose for which they were created. Like the vines, we were intended to grow and produce.

  • For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)
  • “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

Lastly, the passage tells us that the husbandman of the vineyard cut out a winepress.  He intended to do something with the fruit so that it would be useful.  Isn’t this how God works with us?  We do our good deeds, and he multiplies them!

  • Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 
  • “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” Matt 17:20
  • “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. . .  For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. Matt 25:23, 29
  • Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously . . . And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work  II Cor 9

So that brings us to the question of the day.  If we are designed for a purpose, to do good things, and if God can multiply, can we not have even the smallest bit of faith or make the smallest of efforts?  It is exciting to think what God will do if we step out!!

Today I went to a doctor appointment.  I prayed beforehand, knowing that God is amazing and we should expect him to work in amazing ways.  And then I knew I needed to act in order to give God something to work with.  So I was friendly with the nurse and doctor.  In the course of our conversation I got to share with the doctor that I go to church with one of her former interns.  She asked me what church I go to so I got to tell her.  And then I handed scripture cards to the nurse and her co-worker before I left and they really appreciated them.

It doesn’t feel like much.  I was struggling with feeling emotional and gloomy this morning.  But I got centered on the good things, remembering God’s love and joy, and that I am a child of the light.  (I Thes. 5:5)  And when I did that, I could smile at the nurse and reach out of the little ball I wanted to curl myself into.

It reminds me of the parable of the talents.  One person was given ten talents, another five, and another got just one.  God still expected the person with one talent to use what he had.  It would have been easy for that man to think, “I just have one talent.  It’s not going to make much of a difference.  I don’t need to do anything with it.”  Or he might have thought, “What if I try to invest it, and lose it?  I’ll feel like a failure.  The master will be mad.  Let me save myself the emotional pain and just do the safe thing and hide it in the ground.”

So that is our challenge.  Let’s practice faith, even if we only have a tiny bit to practice.  Let’s do something, even if it doesn’t feel like very much.  It’s our job to have faith and do good works.  It’s God’s job to make these into something of consequence.

Last night we had house church.  A family was there as a result of an invitation I gave out when I was voting.  Another woman was there because I had followed up on her after I met her at church.  There are so many times I’ve made efforts and nothing has seemed to happen.  But we keep on trying, because sometimes we can see how God is making wine out of our fruit!!

(The woman on the left is the one who came to house church when I invited her.  She is shown here with the amazing Kenonia!)

 

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Living Victoriously

taking-the-plunge

he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire.  Isa 4:4b

You know, by the time Isaiah came around, it was clear that the people of God had a problem. They kept messing up.  Over and over again, through the flood, the Exodus, and living under judges and kings, they fell into serious sin.

So that is why this little verse in Chapter 4 of Isaiah is significant.  Let me break it down, as best I can.

First, it talks about bloodstains.  What are they? I believe the bloodstains represent guilt.  The Israelites are guilty of hurting the needy, instead of helping them.  “Righteousness used to dwell in her—but now murderers  . . . They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. (Is 1:21b, 23b)  They are guilty of defying the Lord.  “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me.” (Isa 1:2)

Next, what is the spirit of judgment?  We certainly know that God exercised judgment all through the Old Testament.  He destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness.  He flooded the earth in the days of Noah because every inclination of man’s heart was evil. (Genesis 6:5) Joshua’s acquisition of Canaan was God’s judgment on those nations. (Genesis 15:16) And much more.

And then, what is the spirit of fire?  When we investigate the Old Testament, we see that God used fire to execute his judgment, most famously, in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah.  “Then the LORD rained down fire and burning sulfur from the sky on Sodom and Gomorrah.” (Genesis 19:24)

And God uses the imagery of fire in this passage in Deuteronomy to describe what will happen when people go against him: “The whole land will be a burning waste of salt and sulfur–nothing planted, nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboyim, which the LORD overthrew in fierce anger.  All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?”  And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their ancestors, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt.” (Deut 29:23-25)

So we see that God has a fiery wrath against those who show blatant disrespect to him.

And as we read Isaiah, we see that this fiery wrath was to be poured out on the Jewish people once more as a consequence for their guilt.  A complete reading of the Bible tells us how this was fulfilled as they were destroyed by foreign armies.

The application for us today is that we should be a part of this cycle.  We are also guilty of sin and, thus, the targets of the Lord’s wrath. “All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.”  Eph 2:3

And we don’t think of it this way, but Jesus actually came to bring this wrath. He said in Luke 12:49, “I have come to bring fire on the earth,” referring to was the time when he would return, and all mankind would be judged.  “You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”  “The servant who knows the master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what the master wants will be beaten with many blows.” (Luke 12:40, 47)

But, of course, Jesus also came to be our savior.  What’s so cool about Isaiah 4 is that it predicts the time that the cycle of wrath and punishment would be broken. God would “cleanse” the bloodstains.  And although on one level, this can be applied to the war that purged the land of the sinful Israelites, it also is a prophesy of Christ and his work of salvation.

This verse sums it all up:  “Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? . . .  Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (I Cor 6:9, 11)

We were set to go to hell, but Jesus made a way for our sins to be washed away.

And the most mind-blowing, encouraging thing is that the wrath is now directed to Satan.  “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31)  

And the consequence is that Satan loses his control of us.  Jesus told Paul, “I am sending you to (the Gentiles), to turn them from the power of Satan to God.

He loses control of the world. “Then the end will come, when (Jesus) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” ( Cor 15:24)

He is condemned. “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”  (Rev 20:10)

We are free!  Free of the cycle of sin and punishment.  Free of the bloodstains of guilt.  Free of the power of Satan over us.

And God wants the knowledge of this to give us incredible strength to persevere and serve him wholeheartedly.  I Corinthians has a monumentally heartening conclusion: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (I Cor 15:57-58)

To those under the old law, at times, it must have seemed like their efforts were in vain.

But our efforts are not in vain!

And when we get caught up in feelings of defeat, and wondering how the things that need fixing will ever improve, we need to remember that we can live victoriously!!  We have God on our side, and Christ still working on our behalf.

Good will prevail.

Let’s live all out for God today.

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On Cleaning, and Staying Centered

house-cleaning

Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. Isa 4:3

A week ago my company left.  It’s taken me days to get my house back in order.  I mopped the sun porch where the cat stayed, washed the sheets, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed up a ton of debris.  When I was done, it was like my head was clean, too.  Looking around at the spotless floor and furniture gave me a sense of clarity and peace.

There’s something about getting things in order that strikes a chord with me, and I think it dovetails nicely with today’s devotional.

Isiaiah 4:3 says that God’s people left in Jerusaelm would be called holy.  It was always the Lord’s intention for his people to be holy.  He said in Exodus 19:5-6, “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Of course, through history, Gods’s people were often anything but holy.  So God instituted a plan to shake his people up and refine them. That’s what Isaiah 4:3 is about.  Earlier, in Isaiah 3 we read about the destruction that would overtake the Hebrews.  “They parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Isa 3:9

But then in Isaiah 4, God promised a restoration.  A remnant would remain, and this remnant would be purified.  The cool thing is this action was only a part of God’s amazing master plan to enable everyone to be his holy people.  Look at these later verses of Isaiah:

  • And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it, only those who walk in that Way–and fools will not stray onto it. Isa 35:8
  • Behold, the LORD has proclaimed to the ends of the earth, “Say to Daughter Zion: See, your Savior comes! Look, His reward is with Him, and His recompense goes before Him.” And they will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of The LORD; and you will be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken. Isa 62:12

God intended to make his people holy through a divine removal of their unholiness. Isaiah 4 goes on to read, “The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem.”

Of course, we know this was untimately fulfilled with Jesus, and the incredible salvation we have through him!   “But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  I Cor 6:11

Wow.  Do we remember that we are holy? That’s how the early Christians saw themselves.  They were even called “saints,” which is the Greek word, “hagios,” that can also be translated, “holy.”

  • To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” (I Cor 1:2)  (You can find other instances of Christians being called saints in Acts 9:32, 9:41, 26:10, Romans 1:7, 8:27, 12:13, 15:25, and the list goes on.)

So back to my analogy about cleaning.  I’m not like a German house frau.  My home isn’t always spotless.  But when my house goes on the market, that’s a different story.  Then I am wiping things down and vacumming every day!  My goal is not as much to clean, but to maintain the cleanliness.

So the way this all ties in is that we repent, and God makes us clean and holy, like when we do a deep cleaning on our house.  But just like I maintain the domestic tidiness when my house is for sale, it’s also up to us to maintain the holiness of our heart.  (Okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, but work with me.)

And the verse that is powerful for me and I’ve been using lately is, “Remain in me, and I also will remain in you.” (John 15:4)  If I stay centered in God, it keeps me from cluttering up my heart with all kinds of other things.  It keeps me dealing with my sin.  It reminds me of what is important.

Here is a video I got from my life coaching studies that actually helps me with this.  It’s an exercise in staying focused.  When I do it, I think of being focused on God, not this guy’s face!  I think of myself choosing to think of God instead of the million other things that distract me. I picture myself settling into Jesus and staying in him.

Oh, how troubled and distracted we can be!  Our insides can feel like our house after a toddler play date!

God has made us holy, and when we center in him, we can maintain this holiness and feel clarity and peace.

Ahhh.  Do some belly breaths, and inhale God’s goodness.  It’s going to be okay.

 

 

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Filed under Holiness, Isaiah, Peace, Surrender, Uncategorized

A Heart That’s Prepared

The Lord says, “The women of Zion are haughty, walking along with outstretched necks, flirting with their eyes, strutting along with swaying hips, with ornaments jingling on their ankles. Therefore the Lord will bring sores on the heads of the women of Zion; the Lord will make their scalps bald.”

In that day the Lord will snatch away their finery: the bangles and headbands and crescent necklaces, the earrings and bracelets and veils, the headdresses and anklets and sashes, the perfume bottles and charms, the signet rings and nose rings. Your men will fall by the sword, your warriors in battle.  The gates of Zion will lament and mourn; destitute, she will sit on the ground.  Isa 3:-16 26

As I’ve been reading through Isaiah, this passage seems appropriate for today.  I’ve seen so many scenes of devastation from Hurricane Michael.

Hurricane

Hurricane2

This reminds me of these verses, because it shows how we can be walking around one day, feeling rich and all together, and the next day, find that everything is in ruins.

Now I am not at all saying that the hurricane was a part of God’s judgment, like the disaster forecast in this prophesy.  I’m saying that we need to be careful to not be complacent and full of ourselves, thinking we have it together and taking what we have for granted.

We need to be careful to not be haughty.  God doesn’t look very kindly on the haughty in this verse.  The Hebrew word means, “to raise up to a great height.”  It’s used of King Saul when he’s described as being taller than the other people.  It definitely conveys the idea that you think you are above everyone else.

And that is what the women that God condemed were acting. The passage even goes on to describe them in kind of a comical way, with necks that are stretching up.  I get this picture of society gals with thier noses in the air.

haughty woman

I would enjoy laughing at them, if I didn’t know that I can be that way too.  Oh sure, maybe it’s not so obvious.  But how easily do I get down to the level of a servant? I have to say, as I have served hurricane victims this past week, my heart has some work to do!

Here are some great verses that help my heart in this:

  • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Phil 2:3)
  • Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. (Phil 2:5-7)
  • But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.  (James 1:10)

It also helps my heart to remember that the things I take for granted could be gone at any time.  It could be my turn next.  Here are some verses to help me think more soberly:

  • So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! (I Cor 10:12)
  • Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.  (Prov. 16:18)
  • Then [the rich man] said, “This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. ” But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” Luke 12:20

Life can change at any moment. I’ve seen that first hand this week.  And at this point, I am thankful for the wake up call to my heart.

Let me do a better job of being prepared, and be better able to say, as Mary did, “I am the Lord’s servant.  May it happen to me according to your word.”  (Luke 1:38)

It’s easy to think it’s all about me, that I have it together.

God says that I need to stop stretching my neck, and instead, bow before him.

Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, . . . You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Luke 12:40)

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Filed under Humility, Isaiah

The Real and Firm Presence

Sunrise

Then the LORD will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy.

It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.  Isa 4:5-6

This is the coolest passage!  In my blogging about Isaiah, I’m skipping over the last part of Isaiah 3, and the first part of Isaiah 4, and focusing on these words, because they are just what I need to hear.

The verses talk about a time when God will establish his presence with his people as a very firm and real thing.  They harken back to the time when he led the Isrealites out of Egypt, and through the desert: “And the LORD went before them in a pillar of cloud to guide their way by day, and in a pillar of fire to give them light at night, so that they could travel by day or night.” (Exodus 13:21)

The imagry also references the tabernacle in the desert that Moses set up.  God’s presence would come down on the tabernacle in a cloud of glory.  When the cloud was over the tabernacle, the Isrealites knew they were to stay where they were.  When it lifted, this signified it was time to travel.  “So the cloud of the Lord was over the tabernacle by day, and fire was in the cloud by night, in the sight of all the Israelites during all their travels.” (Exodus 40:38)

So Isaiah 4:5-6 was prophesying about a time when God would establish his presence as the same thing that the Israelites had.  And Isaiah went on to describe this presence as a protection, refuge and hiding place.

There are all kinds of ways to look at this prophesy, but I think that one application of it has to be that today we are the Lord’s temple, and we have his presence with us in the form of the Holy Spirit.  “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?”  (I Cor 3:16)

Here’s what Jesus said in John 14:26 about the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

And in this 14th chapter of John, we see the giving of the Spirit as a part of a whole narrative.  Jesus starts out by telling the disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God.  Believe  also in me.”  He goes on to talk about heaven.  “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”  Then he assures them that he will not leave them as orphans, but will come to them.  He concludes with comfort, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you.”

Here are two lessons I got from comparing the presence of the Lord in the story of Moses with the presence of the Lord that we now have through the Holy Spirit:

  1. The pillars of cloud and fire, and the cloud of glory over the tabernacle, were guides.  The Spirit that is with us is meant to be a guide as well.    The clouds led the Israelites through the desert to the Promise Land.  The Spirit leads us through our life on earth to heaven.
  2.  The very visible presence of God was meant to comfort the Isrealites, so they would know they were not alone.  Jesus makes it clear that we are to be comforted.  He will not leave us alone.  He is sending us the Spirit, his peace.

May we see how much of a comfort the presence of the Lord can be!  This past week was very challenging for me.  I kept getting extremely upset.  My emotions took me hostage and carried me away.  My mind went around and around and I couldn’t stop it.

It was a true Godsend that I read Isaiah 4:5-6.  When I couldn’t sleep, I pictured God being there with me.  I thought of his goodness, love, faithfulness and mercy and how these are like unbreakable tent poles that go into the ground and form an absolutely solid and reliable foundation around me.  I imagined God’s presence like the tent on these poles — warm and safe.  I saw the things that troubled my heart were like fierce winds that could buffet the tent without affecting it in the least.*

Now this wasn’t specifically the Holy Spirit that I was picturing, but it was extremely helpful to remember that God is with me.  And we live in an age when God is with us as never before, when Jesus promised he is with us always! (Matt 28:20)

How amazed and grateful we can be that God is our safe place!  We are not at the mercy of chaos.

How peaceful we can be as we realize that God is guiding us!  He does not leave us alone, as orphans, to wander aimlessly.

He IS with us, the most real, solid, reliable thing ever.

(* I got this imagry from reading Max Lucado’s book, “anxious for nothing.“)

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Filed under God With Us, Isaiah