Relationships and Getting Prepared (Ephesians 6)

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As we all know, marriage is not the only relationship that we have in this life (aside from our relationship with God). We are also sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and slaves and masters. These relationships must also display the same sacrificial love that I spoke about yesterday. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (6:1, NASB). No matter what we are to listen to our parents. It is even one of the big 10 rules God gave us, the Ten Commandments. When we obey and respect our parents, we show our understanding of God’s authority over us. Just like our parents did when we were little, God sometimes asks us to do thing that we don’t quite understand. We must obey what our Heavenly Father is asking of us, in order to show him honor and glory.

Paul then turns his eyes on parents. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (6:4, NASB). I know it says “fathers”, but honestly it can be applied to mothers as well. As parents, we should not intentionally do things to harm our children. In speaking about prayer, Jesus asks these questions to the crowd at the Mount, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?” (Matthew 7:9-10, NASB). Jesus is talking about God taking care of us, and having our best interests at heart. This same relationship, should be the one that we have in relation to our own children. Care for them and have their best interests at heart.

Some of you may have given your screen a second look when I said “slaves and masters”. I assure you that this relationship still exists in its most basic form, only today we call it employer and employee (or government and citizen). As slaves, it is our duty to obey the authority placed over us. We get this from another of Paul’s writings, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13;1, NASB), or in Jesus’ own words “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11, NASB). We should treat all authority over us as if it where actually God giving these commands (so long as it aligns with God’s Word). As masters, we are to realize that everyone under our authority is a loved creation of God. We cannot abuse these people and exploit them so that our lives can become a little easier. No matter what, we are not the true masters. Everything has been given to us on loan from the real master in Heaven.

Finally we come to the armor of God. I know that I have heard dozens of sermons and read tons of teachings on the subject of the armor. All I will say is that this armor represents our need to be secure in God, and be prepared for the battles that face us everyday. At some point, we will be questioned for our faith. Someone will ask questions that can shake you if you are not prepared. Knowing who we are in Christ, and knowing what God’s Word has to say to us, is the best thing we can do to prepare for that day. It’s coming, are you ready?

Paul teaches us how to live out our day to day lives in this chapter. No matter what, you have one of these relationships facing you today and the need for preparation for battle. Spend time in the Word everyday. That is my best suggestion I could ever make. Don’t just read your Bible, that doesn’t count. Simply reading your Bible is an intellectual exercise that will barely scratch the surface of what Scripture can do for you. Pray through the Bible. Ask God to show you what you need for the day. Ask Him to enter into your time with Him. This allows us to be prepared for the battles, and helps us to be more like Him in our relationships. It’s hard to be imitators of someone we do not spend much time with. So spend time. I provided some Psalms to pray today if you need some help getting started. But give this practice a chance. It will help you polish your armor and get you ready for the day.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 4-6

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You Before Me (Ephesians 5)

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Paul is calling us to act like God. If we really look at what it means to be a Christian, this makes total sense for our theology. Jesus Christ is God, and we are his followers, so naturally we are trying to imitate God in our daily lives. Paul writes, “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” (5:1-2, NASB). Paul goes on to describe what this lifestyle looks like; putting away immorality, impurity, greed, filthiest, “silly talk”, foul language, and inappropriate joking and taking up a life of thankfulness. Paul recognizes this to be the way of the world. Christ calls us to be humble and thankful.

I think of a story within Jesus’ life. In Jesus’ time, it was customary for slaves to come and wash the feet of dinner guests, especially for a special dinners. Before the start of Christ’s final meal, he took up a towel and a water basin and proceeded to wash the disciples feet. He humbled himself before them. Being God, he was obviously deserving of all the disciples washing his feet, but he showed them that as his followers they were to take a lowly position so that others may be taken care of. (John 13:5-20)

Paul goes on and shows that our relationships with each other mirror Christ’s relationship to the Church. Paul first shows this through the marital relationship. Just like the wives are to be submissive and obedient to their husbands, so must the Church be to Christ. However, husbands get a much lengthy call from Paul in this letter. Husband are to be sacrificial for their wives. Husbands must give up everything, even their own lives, so that their wives are taken care of. In this same way, Christ died for the Church for her own good.

Can we live this sort of life today?  Let’s sit there for a second. Can we really live out this life of sacrificial love for one another that Christ has modeled for and called us into?

 

Too many times we hear about selfishness and greed ruling the world. Phrases like “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer” and “we just grew apart” show me that this lifestyle is rarely known in our world. We have been called to stand out in our world. Paul writes in another letter, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2, NASB). This world tells us to look out for #1, while Christ shows us to look out for everyone else. Christ died for you and me when he did not have to. God could have chosen to let us all suffer the consequences of the Fall, and many of us do. But thanks to Jesus, we no longer have to suffer that punishment. We should be sacrificial in all of our relationships. Always giving up what we want, so that others may get what they need. I’m not saying that Christians should be in poverty so the rest of the world can prosper, but we tend to get too caught up in our own wants and desires we rarely stop to think about anyone else. Christ modeled a life of sacrifice for us to follow. I suggest that if we want to call ourselves Christians, we stop worrying about ourselves and start worrying about others.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 1-3

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Being Unified (Ephesians 4)

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Today’s chapter is all about us being unified together. This isn’t some misplaced version of solidarity where we have to bicker until one person’s views are accepted above another’s. This unity that Paul speaks of is the Church moving together with one goal. What is that goal you may ask? This goal is Jesus Christ. Above all other things, Jesus must be seen as the loftiest goal for the Church to reach. Paul wrote in Philippians, “Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14, NASB).

So how do we, knowing all the different theological stances, move forward in this way? Paul writes, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:2, NASB). We cannot do it combating each other for who is right. Instead we have to let each other believe what we believe so long as Christ is the main focus. If Christ is not the main focus than we have replaced God with a false idol. Anything less than the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cannot be in the highest attainable spot in our lives. Theology can take us down many roads, that’s where all these denominations come from. But the Bible teaches that there can only be one pursuit, and that is God through Jesus Christ.

Let me give you an example of how a church looks when Christ is not at the center. Imagine a church that can take a passage of Scripture like Leviticus 18:22, and turn it into a message of hate. This message is so powerful that it becomes the focal point of this church and it is what they are most know for. A message so powerful that it causes them to create signs that read “God Hates F**s”. This becomes what the church is known for. It is associated with hate, and that’s all they are. I’m sure they started out trying spread the gospel, but at some point it became more important to hate people and make outcasts, than to spread the love that can be found in Jesus Christ.

Jesus wants us to be unified together, not fighting among each other over who is right. Fighting causes us to get mad, which leads to uncontrolled anger (which we all know is a sin). Paul writes, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; don not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil and opportunity.” (4:26-27, NASB). It is true that someone is right, and someone is wrong. That’s just the way of Creation. But is it more important for you to be right, or for you to be seeking Christ?

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 143-146

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The Love of God (Ephesians 3)

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Paul spends most of this chapter reaching out to the Gentiles. His mission that was given to him, by both God and the apostles in Jerusalem, was to minister to the Gentiles. Before Christ, the Gentiles were widely regarded as outsiders by the Jews. Their belief was set around their status as the “chosen people”. This led them to believing that the Gentiles would not be a part of whatever salvation the Messiah would bring. However, Jesus and Paul thought differently. The basis of salvation is not by who you were born to, but is rather based on faith. Paul writes, “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6, NASB). This is Paul telling the Gentile and Jewish Christians, that the Gentiles are just as much a part of God’s Kingdom as the Jews.

It would seem that the Ephesians church is having a problem that was very common during Paul’s ministry. This problem was that Jewish Christians would come in and tell the Gentile Christian that they were somehow  of less significance or would have to conform to a Jewish lifestyle before they could be saved. We know this is wrong today, but it was something that many people believed then. Paul’s answer to this is the knowledge of God’s love. He tells them that he is praying for them; specifically he is praying that they learn about God’s love, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (3:17-19, NASB). The love of Christ is so all-consuming, that there would be no way for the Church to focus on things like Jews over Gentiles. Instead their focus would be to love each other, and spread the love to everyone else.

This is a message that I believe still rings true for us today. We can get all caught up in living in a way that honors God that we forget why we do it. Yes, we should live a life that reflects Scripture. We should stand up for our faith, and oppose the things that God opposes. But I feel that there are people, especially some in the media and politics, that portray our faith as a list of rules that if we don’t make everyone follow they will all go to hell. Well I have news for those people; if they don’t believe in Christ, they’re going to hell anyway. No amount of forcing anything is going to help their salvation. As a matter of fact, it will more than likely push them away. Is that really the life that Christ showed us to live? Is that really living a Christian life?

Christ said to the people, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28, NASB). People can become weary when they are being told they are wrong all the time, or that their life should actually look like “this”. Jesus wants those people, and so should we. We should not be the cause of their stress. We should take them in and show them the love of Christ. We should take in the teenage mother, and tell her that Jesus loves her. We should hug the homosexual and tell them that God’s loves them. We should spend time with the felon, and share the love that God has given us. The point, I guess, is that God has given us so much love, we cannot contain it; we have to spread it.

Love does not come from following rules, following rules comes from love. If we love God, we will follow the rules. But we cannot force people to follow the rules and say that it is love. Love comes from personal experience. We cannot lead people to that experience if we are constantly pushing them away. So, my brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s give “Bible-thumping” a rest. It isn’t helping our cause any. God is love, and we should be wanting to share that with everyone. Only God can “fix” people, so let’s trust Him to do that. We can just share Him with every single person we come into contact with.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 139-142

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Life in Christ (Ephesians 2)

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For a long time, I had a belief that I feel most people have; my sin makes me a bad person. Why wouldn’t I believe that? I had people all over Christiandom telling me that. When I came to Christ, I still felt the same way. If sin was something that is bad, how can my sin not make me a bad person. Over the last year or two, I have heard a new take on what sin does. The crazy thing is that it falls more inline with Scripture than the previous belief, sin makes you dead. Paul writes at the beginning of this chapter, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,” (2:1, NASB). He’s saying that because of our sins we are actually dead. This has no moral standing like good or bad, it is simply your state. However we do not want to be dead, so we must seek out how to fix it. This is what the rest of the chapter is about. We can be made alive in Christ!

This belief is not meant strictly for the Church. We as believers are not the only ones that have the ability to be made alive in Christ, just the only ones who have accepted it. In truth, Christ died for all. That’s every single person, EVER. You know that bum that lives down the street? He is included. You know that couple you see holding hands at the park that look a little different than you? They are included. You know the politician on TV that you just can’t seem to understand? He/She is included right along with the rest of us. Christ died in order to bring everyone closer to himself. “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (2:13, NASB). Since Christ brings us close, we cannot push people away because they do not conform.

The truth is that sin is everywhere and does not look the same on everyone. As the people of God, who have been made alive, it is our duty to help bring others to life as well. Think about it. When someone is lying unresponsive, who’s going to help them, a living person or a corpse? Our life in Christ gives us the power to make a real difference in the world. We cannot sit high and mighty and dictate how everyone is doing wrong. Jesus did not do that. Instead we should be speaking in love and guiding people to a right relationship with God. Sometimes that does lead to a confrontation, but it should not be how it starts. Let God work on their heart. He can fix their problems, you cannot.

To those who might just now be starting along this path, I want to offer some encouragement. God has rules and they seem pretty intimidating. We all live with sin in our lives, but through Christ we are working to get over that sin. It will never totally be gone, but it gets better. So you maybe sitting there thinking, “It’s too hard, I can’t do it. I can’t get that close to God. I’m unworthy…” I’m here to tell you that there was a day that I felt that same way. There are days now that I feel that way. But God offers us hope and peace in His Word. “And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household,” (2:17-19, NASB).

 

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The Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1)

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I know that we just came off of a super long Bible Study, which is mostly due to my lack of blogging. But it’s pretty much my policy that if God doesn’t give me something personal to share, than I turn the the Word. So we’ve selected a new passage of Scripture to start.

Paul starts writing this letter from within a prison cell. He has been imprisoned because of his beliefs and for professing them. Yet Paul does not begin his letter by stating “Woe is me. I have been held captive. I cannot believe they arrested me.” Instead He starts his letter the opposite way a lot of people would when they have been arrested for their beliefs, he praises God. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,” (Ephesians 1:3, NASB). This alone should be proof enough that we should be praising God no matter are circumstances, but Paul does it all over Scripture (Acts 16:25-30, Galatians 1:4-5, Philippians 1:11, Colossians 1:3-8, etc.)

But I found myself drawn to certain portion of this chapter, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation — having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.” (Ephesians 1:12-14, NASB). What I really noticed was the comment “you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit”.

I feel like most people tend to forget about the Holy Spirit. Everyone speaks about the Father and the Son, but usually never mentions the third part of the Trinity. I have to admit, the Holy Spirit is a really complicated character. With the Father, we know that He is the one who created us and sits enthroned on high over all of Creation. The Son is also a pretty easy thing to grasp, He was the one that came to earth and sacrificed Himself so that you and me can have our salvation. But what about the Holy Spirit?

Paul is saying in this section that the Holy Spirit is the God that marks us for salvation. Now He also does many other things (ie. spiritual gifts, power to the apostles, etc), but in this section Paul teaches us that God marks us with Himself by the Holy Spirit. The only way that we can receive that “mark” is by receiving God’s gift to us, the blood of Jesus. Paul says that the Holy Spirit is God’s pledge to keep the promises He made for salvation.

We cannot count out the Holy Spirit. More people need to talk about Him as well. Without Him, there would be no salvation, no way to show honor to God, and there would certainly be no Church today. The Spirit is just as important as the rest of the Godhead. It is the work of the enemy to make you believe that any one part of God is less important then the others. The Holy Spirit was present in the beginning, along with Father and Son. We cannot separate the Holy Spirit for the rest of God. To do so, would be to allow the enemy to win a part of our hearts.

How can we maintain the Spirit’s standing as a part of the Godhead? I would suggest, by way of Francis Chan, that we no longer call Him “it”. “It” implies that He is something different and unknown. But God has chosen to reveal Himself as triune and with the male gender. So from now on when we refer to the Holy Spirit, no longer is He “it”. He shall always be “He”.

Then we must learn to understand Him better. Ask your pastor, ask a Biblical scholar you trust, and (most importantly) ask God. Pray and ask God to show Him where His Spirit is present in your life and how to better understand Him. When we forget about a part of God, we choose not to glorify God in the way that He has revealed Himself. Instead, we form our own idols of who think God is. Remember, God is Father, Son, and Spirit.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 133-136

The Promise of a New Creation (Isaiah 63-66)

Book of Isaiah

Sorry it’s been so long and unpredictable when I’m going to blog. I’ve been going through a pretty rough time in my life. Today I finally feel renewed and feel that it’s time for me to get back into this blog. So hold on tight. We are going to finish the Book of Isaiah today! Who knows what tomorrow will bring, but if we’re all here there will be another post!

As we finish the book of Isaiah, we start with a depiction of God coming in wrath among the nations of the world. He is covered in a red garment. He is asked why, and God explains that it is the blood of those who do not follow Him. Calling forward to the future crucifixion, God is pictured in blood, suffering in order to save His people, and dying for people of all nations. “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; In His love and in His mercy He redeemed them, …” (63:9, NASB). In verse 16 we see a glimpse at the future struggle of Gentile Christians. “For You are our Father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not recognize us. You, O Lord, are our Father, Our Redeemer from of old is Your name.” (63:16, NASB).

God’s people, Jews and Gentiles, offer up a prayer of mercy and help. They recognize that God is angry because of their sin. They have all chosen to go against God. Now, they have realized the error in their ways, and are asking Him to give them mercy. “You meet him who rejoices in doing righteousness, who remembers You in Your ways. Behold, You were angry, for we sinned, we continued in them a log time; and shall we be saved? (64:5, NASB). They now submit themselves for God to make them as He thinks is right “we are the clay, and You our potter;” (64:8, NASB). They recognize that they need His mercy in order to become the people that He wants them to be. Their heart’s cry is to simply be made new. For God to destroy their old selves, and make them new.

The nation of Israel had long been a people who knew about God. God calls the a rebellious people. They constantly turn away from Him, and do the things He has asked them not to. So God tells His people that He has chosen a new people that will obey Him. He says, “I permitted Myself to be sought by those who did not ask for Me; I permitted Myself to be found by those who did not seek Me. I said ‘Here am I, here am I,’ to a nation which did not call on My name. I will bring forth offspring from Jacob, and an heir of My mountains from Judah; even My chosen ones shall inherit it, and my servants will dwell there.” (65:1 & 9, NASB). “Behold, My servants will eat, but you will be hungry. Behold, My servants will drink, but you will be thirsty…” (65:13, NSAB). God is telling the people of Israel that because they are unfaithful, He will take care of those who obey Him before them. They will find themselves in need, and God won’t help them until they seek Him. Then God promises a new creation. He will remake Jerusalem, and the earth, into a place that knows and follows God through the people who obey Him today.

God does make one final warning to His people before the new Creation. It is not simply good enough to say and do the correct things. They have to actually do them and follow God, because they know it is right in their hearts. Hypocrisy has no place in God’s new Creation. God’s new Creation will see an end to all evil, and people who actively work against Him. “Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind” (66:24, NASB).

We live in some crazy times. We hear people all the time denouncing God. There are Muslim extremist groups who’s sole purpose is to destroy either the US or Israel. This something easy for us to remember as our nation remembers the events of 13 years ago today. We see and hear about despicable acts towards women and children, simply because its a lucrative business and makes someone lots of money. We live in a world full of evil, but there is hope. We have hope because of Christ. We find our salvation in him, so our souls are good. But what about this world that we all must live in until it is time for us to go home?

God promises a new creation for the people who follow Him. All evil will be eradicated from this world, and God will set a new world with Himself and Christ at the center.  If you’d like to read more about that I’d suggest reading the event in the Book of Revelation.

For us today though, as we live our day in/day out lives, God’s promise is still there for us. God will never leave or forsake you, so long as you believe in His Son. Jesus is the way that we can have hope in a world full of evil. Christ came, and died for our sins so that we can have God’s promises. We just have to make a stand and follow Christ, no matter what the world tells us.

I’ll end here with a verse that has been my prayer today, and I hope it becomes yours.

“Establish my footsteps in Your word, and do not let any iniquity have dominion over me.” –Psalm 119:133, NASB

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 119

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God’s Blessings Restored (Isaiah 60-62)

Book of Isaiah

With the desolation of Jerusalem, the city was now longer a symbol of glory for the people of Israel. However, God wants to see it restored. He shares a vision with Isaiah showing that not only is Jerusalem restored, but people from all nations come to worship God. First the people of Israel will be brought back to their home land, after the Exile. With their help, “Foreigners will come to rebuild your towns, and their kings will serve you.” (60:10, NLT). All nations are bound to serve the people of Israel; they will be glorified above all others because of God and they will praise God. “salvation will surround you like city walls, and praise will be on the lips of all who enter.” (60:18, NLT).

God isn’t done with His people. He knows them, and remembers His promises made to them. Blessing will come upon them because of their oppression . “Instead of shame and dishonor, you will enjoy a double share of honor. You will possess a double portion of prosperity in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.” (61:7, NLT). The people have had to suffer because of their sin. But now that the punishment is over, they will enjoy great blessing from God.

When Jerusalem is restored, the people of Israel shall be restored as well. They will become something desirable, a shining light to all the nations. Where they were once thought of as a nation of undesirables, all people will come to see there glory and God’s glory. “They will be called ‘the Holy People’ and ‘The People Redeemed by the Lord’. And Jerusalem will be known as ‘The Desirable Place’ and ‘The City No Longer Forsaken’.” (62:12, NLT).

In this reading I realized something about myself, I take my salvation for granted. The truth is that salvation does for us the same thing God is describing in these passages from Isaiah. We were all once disgraceful because of our sin. There was no need for anyone (even God) to give me a second thought. Yet still, he did think about me. He thought about me while hanging on a cross. And because of that, I now have glory in God.

I had always known what happened, and just took for “I’m a Christian and that what God does for me.” The honest truth is that God does this for everyone. Not just me and other Christians, but even people who don’t believe in a Him. But the thing that really gets me (God has been working on this in me recently), is that he does this for his enemies and people who actively work against Him. The people who fight against God can still be saved by His redeeming grace if they simply put their faith in Him.

God is calling us back to a place of glory. He wants to bestow great blessings upon us and make us a shining light for all people. But he can’t do this until we choose to come back to Him. The people of Israel were taken away from their homes for 40 years in order to teach them this lesson. God teaches us this same lesson today. When we fall away from Him, life gets much more difficult and dark. But when we come back, He pours out the blessings!

So if this is you today, I pray that you recognize what is going on and make the changes you need in order to come back to Him. He desires to be close to you. So come back to Him.

 

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Love Came Down (Isaiah 57-59)

Book of Isaiah

Sorry about my infrequency of blogging. I have had a pretty stressful last few weeks that ended with my worship ministry being shut down. It has been a hard process to go through, but it has made me realize my need to lean on God. If I had not had Him, things would be much worse for me today. My hope is to finally finish up this study we started in April!

Adultery is a strong word. I’m sure there are some that are shock that adultery was the (real) first word in this post. But God uses this word to describe what the people of Israel have done. They committed to being His people, and He would be there God. However, time-and-time again, these people follow there own wants and desires and often leave behind God altogether. God says to His people, “You have put pagan symbols on you doorposts and behind your doors. You have left me and climbed into bed with these detestable gods. You have committed yourselves to them. You love to look at their naked bodies.” (57:8, NLT). He goes on to push them to realize that their new idols are worthless in comparison of Him. Yet still God offers one thing that can save His people for His wrath. If they are truly repentant, He will spare them from such pain. “I will comfort those who mourn, bringing words of praise to their lips. May they have abundant peace, both near and far” (57:18-19, NLT).

When we follow our own paths, one thing will always remain in our relationship with God: false worship. False worship could possibly be one of the worst things we can get into as worshipers, because mostly likely we don’t recognize that it has happened. God tells them, “You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do You really think this will please the Lord?” (58:5, NLT). The reason we are doing anything matters more than the act of worship we are participating in. If you do it, so you can get something out of it, it’s not true worship. You give everything to God expecting nothing in return. That’s how you please God the most. He goes on to say, “this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do no hide from relatives who need your help.” (58:6-7, NLT). God calls the Israelites to come back to Him, and cease their false worship. This comes with the promise that they will be able to come back to Him, and receive the inheritance they were promised.

Sin is very problematic. There is no way to truly convey what it is that sin does to us. I’ve become quite fond of a phrase I’ve heard, “sin doesn’t make you bad, it makes you dead”. God have a very honest message for His people during this section of reading. “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore. Your hand are the hands of murderers and your fingers are filthy with sin. Your lips are full of lies, and your mouth spews corruption.” (59:2-3, NLT).  That’s what sin has done, and the Israelites were feeling exactly that through the Exile. They were cut off from God geographically, and spiritually because of the choices they made. But all the people that were repentant still haven’t seen much salvation, but God promises to come to earth and rescue all that are repentant. “The Lord looked and was displeased to find there was no justice. He was amazed to see that no one intervened to help the oppressed. So he himself stepped in to save them with his strong arm, and his justice sustained him.” (59:15-16, NLT).

Friends, we have all had problems following God, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). Sin causes us to do some crazy things. We could leave behind a God who has done far more than we deserve, when all He asks is that we seek Him. We can suddenly decide to hate Him, or His people. We could chose to leave Him altogether and change religions, or decide there is no God at all. We could decide that our faith in Him is based on a certain act, like saving a loved one from a sickness. We say things like, “God, if you could bring my wife out of this, I promise I will go to church every week and spend time in the Word everyday.” We could decide that we know better what makes a sin, so I will decide what is right. But is this really glorifying to God?

Time after time God offers salvation to the repentant, the truly repentant. All we have to do is recognize our sin, and that we cannot overcome it. God is the only one that can save us from the path we have set for ourselves, all we have to do is ask. I have heard countless people make the claim that they are too forgone for God to do anything with them. “Listen! The Lord’s arm is not too weak to save you, nor is his ear too deaf to hear you call.” (59:1, NLT). This means you could have run as far away as you can. You can be as dirty as you can get. But God will still come to you, if you are truly repentant. Sin doesn’t have to keep you dead, you can come to life through Jesus Christ.

 

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 115-118

 

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Is Anyone Thirsty? (Isaiah 54-56)

Book of Isaiah

 

In their sin and disobedience, Jerusalem became shameful because it was not bearing fruit for God. They openly rejected His ways and teachings. So God, in His righteous anger, decided to punish His people for disobeying. However, in today’s reading, God promises that when they return to Him, He will gladly take them back. He will bless them with abundance they have never known. They will no longer have to suffer through the shame and disgrace brought on by their disobedience. “Fear not; you will no longer live in shame. Don’t be afraid; there is no more disgrace for you. You will no longer remember the shame of your youth and the sorrows of widowhood.” (54:4, NLT). He makes a promise to them that will last forever, just like He made with Noah. “Just as I swore in the time of Noah that I would never again let a flood cover the earth, so now I  swear that I will never again be angry and punish you. For the mountains may move and the hills disappear, but even then my faithful love for you will remain. My covenant of blessing will never be broken.” (54:9-10, NLT). No enemy will ever overcome them, so long as they remain faithful to God’s way of life.

“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink — even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or mink — it’s all free!”  (55:1, NLT). God offered the Israelites a gift that they would not have to pay for, they simply needed obedience. He tells them to feed off of Him. Physical food would only feed their bodies, but they need more that simply eating bread and meat. They need God’s word to live off of as well. He knows that unless they seek after Him, just like they will seek after food everyday, the Israelites will have problems keeping their end of the covenant God wishes to renew with them. He tells them that His word produces fruit, and it will prosper where ever He sends it. He wishes to give it to the Israelites so they can become fruitful again. He reminds them that they cannot understand His mind. “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” (55:9, NLT). Men cannot understand all that God knows and thinks. Our minds are small and feeble in comparison to His. There are times where God calls His people to do things they don’t understand. He reminds them that the  proper way to behave is in obedience to Him.

God shows His people how obedience to Him gives greater glory and blessing than following the will of man ever will. God picks two classes of people in Israel to speak directly about, eunuchs and Gentiles. He says that so long as they obey God, He will give them blessings beyond anything they could receive by man. “Don’t let the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord say, ‘The Lord will never let me be part of his people.’ And don’t let the eunuchs say, ‘I’m a dried-up tree with no children and no future.'” (56:3, NLT). God is not going to allow people who truly seek after Him live with the shame that these people groups have to live with. “I will bless those eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy and who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me.” (56:4, NLT), “I will also bless the foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord, who serve him and love his name, who worship him and do not desecrate the Sabbath day of rest, and who hold fast to my covenant.” (56:6, NLT).  “For the Sovereign Lord, who brings back the outcasts of Israel, says: I will bring others, too, besides my people of Israel (56:8, NLT).

Just like in the days of Isaiah’s writing, God cares for His people today. He wants to bless us, and see us prosper. He doesn’t want to see us harmed, or have to suffer. Yet we constantly choose to disobey Him and have to live with the consequences of that decision. In order for us to have better in our lives, we have to seek God first. Whether that means for you, the first thing you do in the morning is study the Bible, or you have to go find one of those WWJD bracelets for a constant reminder. The point is that God has to be our first priority. While Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness after his baptism, he became hungry. The devil tried to convince him to turn a rock into bread so that way he could eat and be filled. But Jesus knew better. He turned and quoted Deuteronomy to the devil, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3, NASB). We have to realize that we need God more and more. It is not enough to make sure our physical needs get met, and only give God whatever prayer we say before dinner time. We live because God allows it. His word sustains us. We can only grow and hunt whatever food we eat, because God allows that to live. We should seek after Him first. This is the way we align ourselves in a right manner. We cannot be distracted by other directions, because God is our primary objective. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33, NASB). We won’t have anything to worry about or anything else to need, if the very first thing we look for in our lives is God.

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 112-114

 

Also in this Series