Stay Strong (Isaiah 36-39)

Book of Isaiah

In today’s reading we leave behind all of God’s messages to the nations of the world, and enter into a story. We find that Assyria has invaded Judah and is preparing to hold Jerusalem under siege. The king sends a messenger to speak with messengers from King Hezekiah. King Sennacherib, of Assyria, began to taunt the people of Jerusalem and offer them anything in order to survive this siege if they only let the Assyrian army into Jerusalem. Hezekiah and his people refuse, and the king sends for the prophet Isaiah. The king asks for Isaiah to intercede for the people with God, and he delivers a message, “This is what the Lord says: Do not be disturbed by this blasphemous speech against me from the Assyrian king’s messengers. Listen! I myself will move against him, and the king will receive a message that he is needed at home. So he will return to his land, where I will have him killed with a sword.” (37:6-7, NLT). After receiving more messages from Sennacherib, Hezekiah begins to pray to God for deliverance. That night God killed 185,000 members of the Assyrian army. When the surviving members awoke, they fled back to Assyria and the king went back to Nineveh. While the Sennacherib was worshiping his god, two of his son came and killed him. Then King Hezekiah became extremely ill, and was dying. Isaiah told the king that he would not survive this illness. Hezekiah then prayed to God, “Remember, O Lord, how I have always been faithful to you and have served you single-mindedly, always doing what pleases you.” (28:3, NLT).  After hearing his prayer, God decided to bring Hezekiah out of his illness and give him 15 more years to live. After the news of Hezekiah’s recovery, King Merodach-baladan of Babylon sent envoys to give his best wishes and a gift. Hezekiah became so delighted by the gesture that he showed the envoys everything that he owned. Isaiah came to the king and asked about the men he showed around. Isaiah then delivered a message from God, “The time is coming when everything in your palace — all the treasures stored up by your ancestors until now — will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left. Some of your very own sons will be taken away into exile. They will become eunuchs who will serve in the palace of Babylon’s king.” (39:6-7, NLT).

The thing I loved about this section was how it started. King Sennacherib threatens the people of Jerusalem by saying, “But perhaps you will say to me, ‘We are trusting in the Lord our God!’ But isn’t he the one who was insulted by Hezekiah? Didn’t Hezekiah tear down his shrines and altars and make everyone in Judah and Jerusalem worship only at the altar here in Jerusalem … Don’t let Hezekiah deceive you. He will never be able to rescue you. Don’t let him fool you into trusting in the Lord by saying ‘The Lord will surely rescue us. This city will never fall into the hands of the Assyrian kin! … Don’t let Hezekiah mislead you by saying, ‘The Lord will rescue us!’ Have the gods of any other nations ever saved their people from the king of Assyria? … What God of any nation has ever been able to save its people from my power? So what makes you think that the Lord can rescue Jerusalem from me?” (36:7, 14-15, 18, 20, NLT). Some of these comments seem very familiar to me, they just sound a little differently to us today.

As a Christian, my main filter in life is the Bible and my faith in Jesus Christ. This fact is the founding principle of my entire worldview. Because of this, I can seem to be an “idiot”, or “hypocrite”, or “bigot” (I’ve never personally been called this, but other Christians have). The problem is a world that doesn’t understand why I believe what I believe. The world wants to teach that there is no God, let alone salvation from our sins. It wants to teach that the only right way, is the way you decide is right and no one else. It wants to teach us that we cannot stand up for what is right when it stands in contrast of others. The problem is that with me there is a sense of wrong, but the world wants to teach us that there is no wrong.

I love this passage from Isaiah because it shows me that there will always be someone trying to convince us our beliefs are wrong. Sennacherib was trying to convince the people of Jerusalem that they were wrong to trust in God. Today people tell Christians they are wrong for trusting in God as well. I encourage you to stay faithful in your beliefs (so long as they are biblical). If you are facing difficulty, make sure to pray for the strength to get through these hard times. Stay in the Word, and spend some time in worship. God is powerful enough to help you overcome adversity. So what the world tells you you’re wrong? So long you stay true to the Word of God, and show love to everyone, that’s what matters most.

 

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Harmony Not Discord

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There are days that go by that I feel the Church likes to bicker about what is right and what is wrong. We should worship in this way. We shouldn’t be accepting of this or that. We cannot participate in certain activities. While I can agree that this conversation is important, I think far too often it becomes the focal point. In all things the Church has one major function, to glorify God here on earth. So how can we learn to put our differences aside in order to help people see God?

If we go back to Paul’s letter to the Roman’s we read these words, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:17-19, NLT). This is found in a section where Paul is talking specifically about food, but I think there is a deeper point to be made here. We all have a difference of opinion. We cannot help it. No two people can agree on anything, and Paul knew this. He is saying here that it is more important for us to be cooperative than counter-operative. We should recognize where we have disagreement and seek to make a compromise as quickly as possible. As long as we fight, we become less effective at reaching people for Jesus Christ.

In another letter, Paul speaks about prophesying in the Church. He says that it is important for each member to get a turn to speak and finishes by saying, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, NLT). Our God doesn’t like chaos, he wants us to be peaceful with each other.

I realize that theological disputes will always happen. But we cannot reach a point where unbelievers see us as a group of people that can’t agree on what we believe. Rather, they should be seeing God in us. God knows what is right, and what is true. If we keep our eyes focused on Him, the better we can be at showing him to others. When we keep our focus on what we think is right or best, we don’t focus on what God says is best. Trust in Him is the most important thing. I think many of the problems the Church faces today could be solved with a little more faith and trust in God.

Remaining Faithful (Judges 10)

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Sorry for running late today. It’s been very busy here in my neck of the woods!

In today’s chapter, first we meet Tola. He became a judge, and lived and died. The came Jair. He became judge, and lived and died.Then Israel did the same thing they always do; they began to worship other gods. This time the Ammonites became their oppressors. Eventually (I’m assuming after several years) the Israelites turned back to God. They asked for salvation. His response was unexpected, “Did I not rescue you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites, and the Maonites? When they oppressed you, you cried out to me for help, and I rescued you. Yet you have abondoned me and sever other gods. So I will not rescue you anymore. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen! Let them rescue you in your hour of distress!” (10:11-14, NLT). The Israelites still chose to plead with Him and seek after Him, but they had to meet their oppressors in battle.

It seems that the Israelites had finally found God’s breaking point. For around 250  years, His people were in a cycle of rebellion then submission. They would not keep His Commandments. The only reason they would stay loyal was because of the Judge that was living at the time. But as soon as the Judge died, the people turned away from Him to some false God.

Many people would say “Wait hold on a minute. God doesn’t leave His people or say that He won’t save them. What is going on here?” I would have to agree. We know that God will not “fail [us] or forsake [us]” (Deuteronomy 31:6, 8, NASB). But there is a verse that gives reason to what God is doing. “Understand, therefore, that the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps his covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him and obey his commands.” (Deuteronomy 7:9, NLT).

Did you catch that? It’s a part that I think we all seem to forget at times, “those who love him and obey his commands”. You see? This faith of ours is just saying a prayer or filling our commitment by going to church every week (or less). I feel like many of us act that way, then blame God when He hasn’t “held up His end of the bargain”. The truth is that God did all He had to do upon the Cross. Yet we all wonder why God isn’t blessing me? Or why does He seem to have abandoned me? There should be a different question that we ask when we feel this way. Have I been faithful? Do I love God? Have I been keeping His Commandments? If we don’t want God to forsake us, we must remain faithful to Him, just as He is faithful to us.

At the end of this story we see that the Israelites faith helps them. It says, “Then the Israelites put aside their foreign gods and served the Lord. And he was grieved by their misery.” (10:16, NLT). Despite God telling them that He would not save them, when they turned their hearts to Him, He had to act. The same goes for us. We are never to far gone to receive God’s love. All we have to do is turn our hearts to Him and remain faithful.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 59-60