Category Archives: Books of the Bible

The Counterintuitive Law of Productivity

Then I asked,

“How long, O Lord?”

And He replied,

“Until cities lie in ruins

without an inhabitant,

until the houses are left unoccupied,

and the land is desolate and ravaged,

until the LORD has driven men far away,

and the land is utterly forsaken.

And though a tenth remains in the land,

it will be burned again.

As the terebinth and oak leave stumps when felled,

so the holy seed will be a stump in the land.” (Is 6:11-13)

The thing that catches my attention about this prophesy is that it is focuses on the land, more than the people.  I put the word “land” in bold so you can see the emphasis.

Strange.  Why would God care about something inanimate?

But it’s not so strange if we look at Leviticus.  Check out the warning God gave the Israelites at the time of Moses:

But if in spite of all this you do not obey Me, . . . I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out a sword after you as your land becomes desolate . . . . As long as it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not receive during the Sabbaths when you lived in it.  (Lev. 26:27, 33, 35)

God actually wanted the land to have rest.

This is totally interesting.  It reminds us that God set down very specific laws regarding how his people were to treat the land they received.

Then the LORD said to Moses on Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say, ‘When you enter the land I am giving you, the land itself must observe a Sabbath to the LORD.  For six years you may sow your field and prune your vineyard and gather its crops. But in the seventh year there shall be a Sabbath of complete rest for the land—a Sabbath to the LORD. ” Leviticus 25:2-4

What’s so cool about this is that today we have tons of technology that shows us that soil does indeed need a rest.  Farmers often allow their fields to fallow over a season.  And our government pays over a billion dollars to farmers for letting portions of their land lie dormant.  The USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program website says that doing this improves water quality, reduces soil erosion, and increases habitat for endangered and threatened species.

God knows best.

But the Israelites couldn’t wrap their heads around this.  Evidently, they had to be busy.  They had to produce.  They had to be hands on, in control.  They couldn’t slow down.

Does this remind us of something?  Oh yes, we can be that way!

Isaiah 57 defines the problem well:  “Though you tired yourself out by running after idols, you refused to stop. Your desires were so strong that they kept you going.” Is 57:10

We’re frazzled and worn out, but we can’t get ourselves to stop.   We stay up too late.  We pack out our schedules.  We’re driven by our desires, not our faith.

And God wants us to rest, just like he wants the land to rest.

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”  Isa 30:15

It’s so counterintuitive to us.  Doesn’t God want us to work hard, be productive and fruitful, and do the most with what he has given us?

So what is this rest thing?  Busier is better!  Let’s get things accomplished!

We have to get it through our heads that God structured his creation to require both work and a time of replenishment.

We can’t keep depleting ourselves, like Israelites depleted the land.

If we continue to do so, God may take steps to put us in the proper order.

He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, and every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes to make it even more fruitful. . .  Just as no branch can bear fruit by itself unless it remains in the vine, neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.”

God wants us to find the source of true replenishment, which is him and Christ.  We have to learn to connect, and stay connected to him.

Rest in God alone, O my soul, for my hope comes from Him. Ps 62:5 

Again, we find this counterintuitive principle.  In pruning, a farmer limits productivity to create productivity.  God limits our productivity at times, so a productivity in him can be achieved.

God teaches us to be still, and drink from the spring that will truly quench our thirst.  (John 4:14)

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul .  . . Ps 23:2-3a

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.  Ex 14:14

Will we still our efforts, and find rest and replenishment in the Lord?

Will we still not only our constant striving, but our constant fretting?

I’m totally guilty of this.  My thoughts can be as busy as my schedule.  My mind whirls with fears and “shoulds.”   I micromanage.  I spin.  I edit.  I keep devising ways for everything to work out.

And the irony is that the only thing that’s going to work out is the thing I put in God’s hands. Because he is the source.

I’m so afraid of a lack of productivity.  I need to work and plan, so things will go right!

Yet I come back to this passage.  God made the land desolate. It seemed like the end.  But he left a “holy seed” that would be a  “stump in the land.”  This is how he achieved his purpose.

You know, growth is so crazy.  I have plants in my yard that look dead all winter, but with the spring, they are leafy and blooming again.  I have trees I’ve cut down, and you would think that would be the end of them.  But before long, shoots grow out of the cut wood.

And the last verse of Isaiah 6 foretells this kind of growth — a seed planted in a ravaged land, a hewn tree that still has life in it.

God specializes in the circle of life.  The season of inactivity leads to a season of abundance.  It isn’t the end.  It is, in fact, necessary.

God wants the land to rest, so it will be more productive.  God wants us to rest in him, so we will be more productive.

Will we listen to him, or will we be like the Israelites, endlessly toiling?

It’s counterintuitive.  Everything in us screams to stay in control, to make things happen.

But the efforts that are fruitful spring from the seed that sits quietly in the soil and connects to the nutrients.

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Filed under Isaiah, Strength in God, Surrender, Uncategorized

Do I Really Hear?

And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 

And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.’” (Is 6:8-10)

This passage seems crazy!  Why would our patient, long suffering God tell Isaiah to preach this message?  It’s a total downer.  It’s like God didn’t want his people to repent.

I think this only makes sense if we realize that God doesn’t have unlimited patience.  We so much get this idea in our heads that no matter how long someone ignores the Lord, they can repent in the end and it will be okay.

And one one hand, this is true.  Jesus told a parable (Matthew 20) about workers in a vineyard, and how some began working in the beginning of the day, some in the middle, and some at the very end.  They all got the same pay, no matter when they came.  And this means that everyone who repents and obeys the teachings of Jesus will go to heaven, no matter when in their life they repent.

But there’s another principle that is also true, and it’s that there comes a point when God has given people, especially a nation of people, chance after chance, and their time runs out.  I believe that’s the message Isaiah was given to preach.  Time was running out for the Jews.

Jesus told a different parable in which a land owner went away, and left tenant farmers in charge of his land.  The owner kept sending servants to get his share of the crops, and the tenant farmers kept killing the servants so they could keep it all for themselves.  Finally the owner sent his son, thinking they would respect him.  But the tenant farmers killed the son as well.  Jesus asked the religious leaders what they thought would happen to these tenants.  The leaders said the tenants would be put to death, and the land would be leased to others. Jesus told them the same would be true for them, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit.”  (Matthew 21:43)  God had sent prophets to his people and they didn’t listen.  He sent his son, and they still wouldn’t listen.  So God’s patience with them would come to an end.

I think this commentary by Matthew Poole sums up God’s thoughts in Isaiah 6 well, “Their time of conversion and healing is past; it is now too late, I will not convert, I will not heal them.”

Now it makes sense why Jesus quoted Isaiah 6 and said to his disciples, “You are permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I use parables to teach the others so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘When they look, they won’t really see. When they hear, they won’t understand.’”  (Luke 8:10)  

By speaking in parables instead of plain language, God, through Jesus, actually made it difficult for the Jews to understand the gospel.  It was like God was saying to the them, “You reap what you sow.  Because you wouldn’t listen for so long, now you won’t be able to hear.”

Man, that’s hard! It’s a side of God we need to try and understand.

And the lesson for us in this is that it’s vitally important to learn how to listen better.  In the same passage where Jesus taught about Isaiah 6, he used phrases like, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear, ” and, “Take care then how you hear.”  (Luke 8:8b, 18a) He told the parable of the soils and concluded, “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” (Luke 8:15)

Can we be good soil, better hearers than the Jewish nation of old?

This is exactly what I need to focus on at this point in my life.  You see, I’ve started life coaching, and I’ve been struggling to be effective at it.  And the feedback I’ve been getting is that I need to learn to stop worrying about saying the right thing to the client, because then I’m not listening to them.

And I’m seeing that can also play out in my day to day living.  I get so busy performing, and thinking about what I’m supposed to do, that I forget to listen to God.  It becomes about me, and not about HIM.

But I’m learning to listen better.  And I want to pass this on to you.  Here are some ways to be a good hearer.

  1. Look for what God is doing.  Have the attitude of Jesus, who said, “The son can do nothing by himself.  He can only do what he sees the Father doing.”  (John 5:19)
  2. Listen to God in prayer.  Have a time in your devotional when you stop speaking and open your ears to spiritual promptings.
  3. Be reactive, instead of proactive.  Don’t be so set on your agenda that you can’t go with what God puts on your plate.
  4. Be open, instead of closed. A closed person hides behind walls of self protection.  An open person is like Mary, who said, “I am the Lord’s servant.  Let it be to me as you have said.”  (Luke 1:38)
  5. Read the Bible with the intent of understanding God’s heart.
  6. Clean out the gunk in your heart that keeps you distracted, like worries, hurts, anger, bitterness, and loving the world.
  7. Touch base with the Spirit frequently.  Envision that each breath fills you with the Spirit.  Let every plan and action flow from that, like exhaling.

Today, just as in the days of Isaiah, God wants everyone to hear, despite the state of their hearts.  That’s why he commissions us in the same way he commissioned Isaiah.

Will we respond to this commission as Isaiah did, saying, “Here am I, send me!”

Will we go out and tell others, even when they’re not receptive?  That’s what Isaiah had to do.  That’s what it feels like I do when I share my faith.

But I I have to admit that when I persevere, I always find that one person who has a more open heart.

And that’s the last piece we can learn about God in this discussion.  Yes, he made it difficult for the Jews to hear and be healed.  But he knew that a few of his people would understand and respond to the gospel.   The whole nation of Israel would not be converted.  But a handful of invididuals would get it.

And this small group would be enough to impact the world for eternity.

So we have to take the same attitude.  We can go out and share our faith, and hundreds of people won’t get it.  But there IS that one heart out there who will.  There might even be others who will remember later, and respond.

And the few who do, will change the world.

That’s why we go, as Isaiah did.

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Luke 10:2

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Filed under Evangelism, Hearing, Isaiah

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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Filed under Fearing God, Isaiah, Sin

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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Filed under Holiness, Isaiah, Praise, Uncategorized

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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