Sunday, February 9, 2014

More than Plastic Praise

Sometimes in midst of deep struggles and dark moments, there are rays of light. Slivers of hope that break thru and stir the soul at its depths. It's not that things are better, or simpler, or easier to understand. Sometimes it's the promise, the faith that one day things wont be the way they are right now. I am really enjoying  the "golden egg" moments that are nestled throughout some really harsh circumstances in the book of Isaiah. Things are not good. People are struggling. Kingdoms are falling. Sin has created great suffering. But today does not define what tomorrow will be. God has a plan for the restoration of His people.
In that day you will say, "I will praise you O LORD. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD is my strength and my song, He has become my salvation... Give thanks to the LORD, call on His name; make known among the nations what He has done and proclaim that His name is exalted. Sing to the LORD for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you." Isaiah 12
To offer praise in the middle of pleasure can be easy. Life is good, things are good, praise Jesus, bla bla bla.
But do I chose to praise God when life gets hard and stays that way? Praise should not be circumstantial or environmental. Praise shouldn't be correlated to my mood or my feelings or the the weather. God is worthy of my worship and my praise. Period. Let's be clear. I am not talking fake praise; "it's -6 out, my heating bill was $300 and it's snowing again - praise Jesus". I'm not sure what that's about - but it's not about God. Praising God shouldn't be manufactured, plastic and insincere gratitude.

The more time I spend with God, the greater my understanding becomes of just how amazing He is and how unworthy I am. He has comforted me, there is peace in my soul that defies present circumstance.  He is my salvation, apart from Him I am eternally doomed. I will trust and not be afraid, I can depend fully and completely on Him without fear. The Lord is my strength, so I don't have to be smart enough or brave enough. He and I together will face what I could never face alone. And He is my song; the truth and joy that resonates within me is from Him. He has done glorious things...Great is the Holy One of Israel among you. God's plan for restoration was Jesus. The is a path for restored relationship with my Father. God as active and participating in my life - and that has made all the difference. Praise God!

Friday, February 7, 2014

A leg to stand on...

My morning started early. A cup of hot coffee, a nice little fire and a window to see the sun rise. Mornings always offer such promise. The day is full of possibilities. Before I start my day with Isaiah my heartfelt prayer is this: Soften my heart to you God, teach me Your truth, transform me.

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.  NIV 

If you do not believe, surely you will not be established.   NKJ

Unless your faith is firm, I cannot make you stand firm. NLT

If you will not believe, you surely will not last.   NASB

If you don't take a stand in faith, you wont have a leg to stand on.  The Message

Isaiah 7 is a tough read. Hard times are coming, but the struggle will serve a purpose - God's purpose, and God will not abandon His people. Isaiah 7:9 doesn't leave much wiggle room - in any translation. In this passage King Ahaz is in a tough place; evil men plot to overthrow the king and ravage the people of Judah. God sends Isaiah with a message than in it's simplest context says, 'listen, be calm and do not fear. There will be some rough times ahead, and it's going to take a a few decades a suffering, but My people will prevail. Trust in Me fully, or you will lose your throne.'  2 Kings and 2 Chronicles lead me to believe that Ahaz had at one time known God, but he was not a man who regularly walked in the presence of God. The King had a choice - trust his friends and his own abilities to get him out of a tight spot, or trust God. God was clear: stand firm with me, obey me, or perish.  God follows up in verse 11 when He instructs Ahaz to ask for a sign, an amazing act of God that only God could fulfill. Ahaz refuses. At first read, it almost sounds like Ahaz' refusal is offered out of faith. In truth, the refusal comes from a place of arrogance, self reliance and pride. Although he uses "bible talk", Ahaz is not seeking to deepen his relationship with God. He is not interested in sign that will ultimately require him to acknowledge the power and authority of God. Yet God does not relent, and the prophetic promise of the Messiah born of a virgin is given.

I don't face evil men that plot to destroy me. I don't lead a kingdom on the verge of complete collapse. But life isn't perfect - it's real. Sometimes there are hard things. Health issues, struggles with or in employment, conflict in my relationships, financial difficulties. Sometimes people let me down. I get discouraged. Worn out. Weary. What do I do in these hard times? Is it easier and safer for me to trust myself and the people around me than it is for me to trust God? Is there purposeful self examination in the midst of my struggle? Do I look with clear eyes at my attitudes, my motives, my behaviors and the status of sin in my life? Do I dress up my pride and self reliance with 'Bible Talk'? Do I remember the promises of God, and claim them as my truth? Do I look past this struggle with eternal perspective?

Do I have a leg to stand on? Yes, and I have a Savior who carries me when I have no strength to walk.
Thank you Lord, for promises fulfilled and for promises yet to come. You are ever faithful!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Riches for the Rats

Isaiah 2 - In a way that I can break it down into bite size pieces.

There will come a time in the future (in the last days) when the kingdom of God will be exalted above all other churches, kingdoms, nations and powers. God will reveal Himself. With true wisdom, He will have authority over all nations and He will bring peace. Hearts once filled with hatred and war will be transformed. Be wise and do not reject God's truth. But you (as an individual and a people) have aligned yourself with the unGodly. These men are greedy, they are hoarders, and they have created their own gods to worship. When God decides to deal with this, you are gonna want to hide - and make no mistake - God is going to deal swiftly with this sin. A day of reckoning is ahead. There will be no place you can hide; no place you will be safe; no destination that will put you beyond God's reach.  Man will be put in his proper place and the Lord will be exalted above all. What men value above God and have created as their own personal gods will be tossed aside into darkness with the scavengers (rats and bats, the dirty and disease filled creatures of darkness) on that day. Stop putting your faith in men; they live and then they die but they cannot compare to God.

For Isaiah's original crowd, that long awaited day of the kingdom of God was the arrival of the Messiah. Yet even now the church still waits for the second coming of our Lord, and the day of ultimate judgement. In Isaiah's time, God's people had aligned themselves with an unsavory group and it had a negative affect. That continues to remains a risk for both the modern day Christian and the modern day Church. Greed, hoarding, and idolatry are as prevalent today as they were 4000 years ago.
Think about it. When is there enough money in the bank account? Why do we buy into the lie that we need the nicer house, the newer car, the bigger ring or the better vacation. How about this, every hear these thoughts bouncing around in your brain?  Maybe I can't afford this right now, but I deserve it. Her kids always have on the cutest clothes. Did you see his new techno gadget; I need that too. Well of course we have five cell phones four computers, three televisions, Direct TV in every room, two state of the art gaming systems and one surround sound set up that will nearly make you deaf! Doesn't everybody? If I can just buy myself or my wife, or my man or my kid this special thing or that special thing, then IT will be better. Life will settle down soon and we can get back to the family thing and the church thing...I just need to... land that better job, get that promotion, get in a little bit better shape, finish up this sports season... Any of that sound familiar to you, or is it just me? Greed, hoarding, idolatry - remixed for the 21st century. Still as deadly as ever.

But it's the last verse today that returns again and again to my mind... Don’t put your trust in mere humans. They are as frail as breath. What good are they?

God help me today. You are my foundation. You never fail. You are faithful. I want you to be my focus. Yours is the only voice that matters Lord. Continue Lord to refine my vision and give me eternal eyes. Amen

Monday, January 27, 2014

Harshness mixed with hope

God's plan for purification. Isaiah 1:21-31 is a short 10 verse passage that clearly states the problem of God's people at this point in history. The verses also reveal in glimpses what God's going to do about it.

See how Jerusalem, once so faithful, has become a prostitute. Once the home of justice and righteousness, she is now filled with murderers. Once like pure silver, you have become like worthless slag. Once so pure, you are now like watered-down wine. Your leaders are rebels, the companions of thieves. All of them love bribes and demand payoffs, but they refuse to defend the cause of orphans or fight for the rights of widows. Well, it's pretty clear. God's people are committing spiritual adultery. They are cheating on God with their pagan idols. Righteous living has been replaced with wickedness, their value has been tarnished. God's chosen people have become stagnant and stale; their flavor has been compromised.  The leaders are not honest and have become greedy and unjust men. They no longer seek to promote right relationships between the people, but instead look to better their own personal and financial interests.

 Therefore, the Lord, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, the Mighty One of Israel, says, I will take revenge on my enemies and pay back my foes! I will raise my fist against you. I will melt you down and skim off your slag. I will remove all your impurities. Then I will give you good judges again and wise counselors like you used to have. Then Jerusalem will again be called the Home of Justice and the Faithful City.” Zion will be restored by justice; those who repent will be revived by righteousness. The people are living contrary to God, and are thus enemies of His kingdom. God's had enough, and He is going to take the time to do some cleaning up and some cleaning out.  This seems harsh at first glance; but in reality it is harshness mixed with hope! Here's the hope...God's not going to destroy, He is going to purify with fire. For those who turn from evil and turn to God, righteousness will be restored.

But rebels and sinners will be completely destroyed, and those who dessert the Lord with be consumed. You will be ashamed of your idol worship in groves of sacred oaks. You will blush because you worshiped in gardens dedicated to idols. You will be like a great tree with withered leaves, like a garden without water. The strongest among you will disappear like straw; their evil deeds will be the spark that sets it on fire. They and their evil works will burn up together, and no one will be able to put out the fire.  The unrepentant will be destroyed. Idols and pagan rituals have replaced worship and right relationship with God. Those who turned from God and stubbornly refuse to repent will be embarrassed by the revelation of their folly. The result will be isolation and complete destruction.

So these are my thoughts as I meditate on these scriptures this morning:
     - Does the Church of today run the risk of committing spiritual adultery? What about me personally?
     - Are there things in my personal life that I have let take priority over my relationship with God?
     - As a Christian leader, do I promote right relationships between people?
     - Are their impurities in my life that God needs to refine?
Refine me today God. Burn away all that tarnishes, diminishes and dishonors you. Purify me - that I may reflect you. Amen

Thursday, January 23, 2014


I'm starting off my new year with Isaiah - and it's not going to be a fast read. I need to make time for his words to soak deeply. I need to meditate on them, I will quiet my mind and my soul until all that I hear is my Fathers truth.  The back story to Isaiah is simple. Once again the house of Israel has turned their back on God. It was an individual turn and a corporate turn - disobedience on both a personal and a national scale. It didn't happen by accident, it happen by choice. And Isaiah is the man that will speak hard and unpopular truth.

In the first fifteen verses of chapter one, Isaiah spells it out; you are stubborn, you are ungrateful, you are saturated with sin. It's only because of God's mercy that all of you haven't been burned up and completely destroyed like the evil doers of Sodom and Gomorrah. Isaiah then goes on to say that sacrifices, prayers and religious rituals are worthless when they are offered up by a people who DO NOT approach God with hearts of repentance and obedience. In fact, those types of offerings aren't about God at all - those are people doing the church thing to look good to other people. It's going through the motions; it's being a pretender. God doesn't like it, in fact God finds that behavior repulsive. But then God delivers these words: "Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed, Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. 'Come now let us reason together' says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient you will eat the best from the land; BUT if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword."  Isaiah is a long book - almost 100 pages in my Bible, but God doesn't want to save hope for the end of the message; He includes it with the introduction! Make no mistake, God is going to swiftly deal with sin, but there is restoration possible for those who repent. Praise God!

Stop doing wrong  Stop sinning. Don't just feel bad, don't settle for guilt. Repent. Acknowledge the sin, don't deny it. Turn from the sin, don't just talk about not sinning any more. Sin no more.

Learn to do right  It's not enough to just stop sinning. Next I have to choose to learn what God requires of those who love, serve and follow Him.

Seek justice  Take the time to learn what is right and righteous and then then take action.

Encourage the oppressed  Life is hard enough. I should look for practical ways to ease (and not increase) the burdens of those around me. I may even have to make amends for some burdensthat I have placed on others.

Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow  I have a responsibility to the marginalized in my society. I need to speak up and stand up for those who have no strength or voice.

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.  God's desire is to purify and redeem - and that is awesome!

 If you are willing and obedient you will eat the best from the land  God doesn't require that I am perfect, He requires that I am willing and that I obey. It's about God - His purpose, His plan, His standard and His will. God blesses and honors obedience.

BUT if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword." If I stubbornly cling to my will, my way and my sin - it will ultimately lead to my destruction.

In these verses there are only two choices presented: I can be willing and obedient or I can resist and rebel. A journey of hope or a journey of hopelessness; A path to deliverance or a path to destruction.
It's my choice to make.
It's your choice too.