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

Advertisements

The Suffering Servant (Isaiah 52-53)

Book of Isaiah

After His call for Israel to put their trust in God, He moves to promise their salvation. The Israelite nation has been taken into exile, and now is held in “enemy” territory. God recounts the days that Israel was in slavery to Egypt. “Long ago my people chose to live in Egypt. Now they are oppressed by Assyria. What is this? Why are my people enslaved again?” (52:4-5, NLT). In the land they were being kept, God’s name was constantly being blasphemed and ridiculed. It would have been enough to cause the Israelites to question if their God was even real. But He responds to them, “But I will reveal my name to my people and they will come to know its power. Than at last they will recognize that I am the one who speaks to them.” (52:6, NLT). God offers them a vision of a restored Jerusalem, where there is much celebration at the people’s return. They will be allowed to leave their places of captivity and travel back to their land. Bu they will not do this alone. God promises to go with them, “For the Lord will go before you, and they God of Israel will be your rear guard.” (52:12, NASB). God then switches focus away from the people of Israel towards God’s servant, better known to us as Messiah. God begins to talk of an exalted servant, who has been “marred” (52:14, NASB) or “disfigured” (NLT). This servant will bring untold knowledge even to the kings of other nations.

Isaiah opens up to a vision that we know today as the Passion story found in all 4 of the gospels. He describes all the events that Jesus was put through at the end of his life (keep in mind this was written 500-600 years before he was born). “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening of our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed … He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; … His grave was assigned with wicked me, Yet he was with a rich man in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth.” (53:5, 7, 9, NASB). Yet through all of his suffering, God was pleased. He wasn’t pleased that the servant had to suffer. God was pleased because of the end result. “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.” (53:11, NASB).

Where does this leave us today? I find myself thinking about Jesus’ crucifixion. I am so thankful for what God has done for me. I know that I am a sinful person. Even after coming to Jesus, there are still sins that I fight with everyday! If it weren’t for the suffering of Jesus, I would have no hope of salvation today. I know that when it comes time for me to be judged, my sins have been paid for by Jesus’ blood. My only hope is that I live a life where I know Jesus, and he knows me. Jesus told his disciples, “Many will say to Me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And they I will declare to them ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.'” (Matthew 7:22-23, NASB). We can all be sure that we live lives that line up with God. The process is simple, but it is a difficult life. We must spend time in prayer, reading Scripture, and discerning what God’s will is for our lives. It’s hard, and there are many who say they do these things, but few who do. I pray that we can all be better at coming to Christ. Not just when we need him, but for every single day. Leaning on him in distress, thanking him for blessings. We need him for everything!

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 111

 

Also in this Series

The Call to Come Back (Isaiah 1-4)

Book of Isaiah

I had a request for a Bible study to do in May, but I think I will go ahead and start it today. We will be starting the book of Isaiah. However, this will be a little different from the ones we have done in the past. Since Isaiah is 66 chapters long, we cannot take it one chapter at a time. We will be doing at least 2-3 chapters per post, in hopes we can get it done in May. So let’s pray that God opens our hearts to hear the words He has for us through this book.

 

Isaiah’s ministry lasted through four different kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He spent his time teaching Judah the need to repent and turn back to God. He spoke about their faithlessness, and the coming judgment upon Judah. However, he also taught about a coming Messiah to save God’s people. So his messages of pain and destruction were also coupled with hope and salvation.

Isaiah opens his book by describing the rebellious nature of the people of Judah and Jerusalem. God says to these people, “Even an ox knows its owner, and a donkey recognizes its master’s care — but Israel doesn’t know its master. My people don’t recognize my care for them.” (1:3, NLT) He is letting the people know how far they have turned. They have even gone so far that their worship has become a ritual by rote, rather than a meaningful expression to God. But God still offers the people of Judah hope, “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool. If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat.” (1:18-19, NLT). Isaiah then begins to bring on the terror to come on the day of judgment, to those who do not come back to God. Isaiah writes “When the Lord rises to shake the earth, his enemies will crawl into holes in the ground. They will hide in caves in the rocks from the terror of the Lord and the glory of his majesty. On that day of judgment they will abandon the gold and silver idols they made for themselves to worship. They will leave their gods to the rodents and bats,” (2:19-20, NLT). The Lord than promises to make the people humble and realize their need for Him by saying, “[I] will take away from Jerusalem and Judah everything they depend on: every bit of bread and every drop of water,” (3:1-2, NLT). But God does promise a restoration for the people who survive. He promises to bring Israel back as a great people, with Him as their comfort and shelter (Isaiah 4).

I think if we all set and think about it, the warnings found in these opening chapters not only apply to the world we live in now, but to some degree every society since Creation. We have all felt that the world is “going to hell in a hand basket” at one point or another. I say this because I don’t want anyone thinking, “Oh no! Our time sounds exactly like this!!!!!” While the promise and threat are very real, we live in a time where God has already given us our salvation. We simply need to accept it as our own. There will always be unbelievers driving the world in a direction contrary to the way Christ teaches us to be. They are even some believers that get it wrong (including me, I definitely am not the fore-most expert on the Will of God). But so long as we are not reading Scripture and praying, we are not following either. We know a few lines, and we think that is all we need. Honestly, that’s how we have some really bad teaching out there.

To turn this and make it more personal, have you had a time when you have not sought God’s will for your life. Let’s be honest, I don’t think many of us are in that practice. I think most people (who are in the practice of prayer) are more of the mind “I’ll make the decision then ask God to bless it later.” The truth is that it works the opposite way of that. If we want to do our best, and make sure our life is in line with God’s will, we consult Him first then make the decision. Often times, I’ve found, He takes forever to get back with me. But I think it is to help us realize what we are about to do. In these open chapters of Isaiah, the people of Judah stopped consulting God. They did whatever they pleased. That can become us when we have the “do now, bless later” approach to running our lives. God promises us, “For I know the plans I have for you. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NLT). I’d much rather choose a path that I can trust, and leads to good, than to forge my own path and lead myself into destruction.

So we lift up our eyes to Heaven and says these words that the psalmist wrote, “I lift up my eyes to the hills — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2, NIV).

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 97-98

We Need God to Succeed (Judges 3)

success

In today’s chapter we meet 3 of Israel’s judges. The first was Othniel who brought Israel out from the oppression by King Cushan-rishathaim of Aram-naharaim (talk about a hard name!). Othniel brought up an army and fought off the king, and brough Israel peace for 40 years. The next judge was Ehud, who fought against King Eglon of Moab. Eglon also had help from the Amalekites and Ammonites. Ehud fashioned a dagger and hid it on his body to assassinate Eglon. After he succeeded, he raised an army of his fellow Benjamites and fought off their enemies while they were still confused from losing their king. Ehud brought peace to Israel for 80 years. The third judge mentioned is Shamgar. Not much is said about him, other than he killed lots of Philistines (600!).

God chose to test His people for two things; He wanted them to know how to fight (3:1) and to see if they would keep His commands (3:4). The first one is the one that surprised me. Why does God want His people to know how to fight? To find this answer I turned to one of my commentaries. The author made the point that God wanted His people to know how to wage war successfully like Joshua. This means that the point was for them to recognize that they needed God in order to succeed. The reason why the conquest of the Promised Land was successful was because Joshua trusted in God to go ahead of them and win the battle. This new generation of people in the Book of Judges has never known this. I’m sure there were many of them that thought the army under Joshua was simply very skilled. The truth is they weren’t. The conquest was the first time this group of people saw battle. But they knew to trust in God for success.

This is still something that we struggle with today. We hear and learn that success is made by how much work we put into something. While this is still true, ultimately it is God that gives us our success. I have seen this play out in the worship ministry that I lead. I can practice as much as I want. I can put together a great set of songs. I can do all the work, but if I am not relying on God all of it can easily fall apart. God is the one we should be counting on. We should be going to Him before we make a decision, not pray to Him afterwards for blessing. He is our guide through life, not simply the giver of blessings. He knows what is right for us, and is there for us as our support. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (Romans 8:31b, NLT). God will succeed. We have to trust that He will make the things within His Will successful.

Give your plans to God. Any difficulty you have making a decision for your life or house, should ultimately be God’s to make. Only He knows what He wants for us. We have to be willing to submit to Him. Without Him we will fail. We need God to succeed.

Also in this series

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 42-43

Living the Christian Life (1 Thessalonians 5)

faith-prayer-sunset

I was not feeling well yesterday, so I decided to put off my post for 1 Thessalonians 5. I try not to blog on Saturdays so that way I can spend time with my family. However, since my family is all in bed and I am wide awake, I thought I would write!

As we finish up 1 Thessalonians, I find myself drawn to a few verses in the middle of this chapter.

“Brothers and sisters, we urge you to warn those who are lazy. Encourage those who are timid. Take tender care of those who are weak. Be patient with everyone. See that no one pays back evil for evil, but always try to do good to each other and to all people. Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (5:14-18, NLT).

This is a great call and reminder for how we are supposed to live our lives, but it is also a great reminder of how not to live. Paul’s first point is to not be lazy or timid. Being lazy keeps us from doing God’s work. Paul just reminded the church, “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,” (1 Thessalonians 4:11, NASB). Laziness is the exact opposite to what Paul believes we should be. We should be constantly working for the Will of God.

But being timid is a hindrance to God’s work as well. Even if we aren’t lazy, timidity can cause us to not do as we are supposed to. Paul writes to Timothy, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7, NLT). If God has given us power, than what must timidity be? I believe that if it does not come from God, it must be from Satan. Therefore, if we are timid, that is the work of the Enemy attempting to stop the Will of God. As God’s children, it is our duty to always be after the same things as God, and so we must not be timid.

Caring for those who are weaker and being patient with everyone is probably the hardest thing for me to do on this list. This is necessary because we cannot bring up strong believers if we do not care for the weaker ones and be patient with them. Everyone is weak when we first come to faith. Think of any well known believer and think of the faith they have. When they first came to faith, they knew nothing except for the love of God. Someone spoke into their lives and brought them up to where they are now. It is important for stronger Christians to come along side weaker Christians and help time rise to a place even greater than their mentor.

I’m going to skip over the next point for a moment and move on praying. Prayer is an important part of the Christian lifestyle. It is our time to speak to God, and hear back from Him. I’ve been hearing a quote a lot here lately that I think needs to be shared. “Prayer is not monologue, but dialogue. God’s voice in response to mine is the most essential part.” (Andrew Murray). I think too many Christians view prayer as our time to give God our list of demands, what we think He should be doing in the world or for us. While it is important to tell God what is on your heart in prayer, it is even more important to have a conversation with Him and let Him guide you.

The last point is that we should alway be joyously doing good, and be thankful no matter the situation. I can admit, sometimes I don’t want to do what is good, sometimes it’s just to hard. And sometimes I’m not happy about doing the right thing, but I should be. The right thing is always good and pleasing to God. When we recognize this, our hearts can sing because we are pleasing God and making Him smile! Unfortunately, the world doesn’t like what makes God happy. It seeks to remove God from here and most assuredly doesn’t want His Will to be done. For this reason, doing God’s Will can place us in unfortunate circumstances. We are reminded by Paul to be grateful, despite the circumstances, because if we are doing what we are supposed to, God is still happy even if we find ourselves in jail.

The message we get from 1 Thessalonians is that God is not simply pleased by us “following the rules”. He wants us to completely follow Him, no matter what it takes. The Thessalonians were a church that never allowed itself to simply “do Church”, rather they excelled in doing the work God had for them and thus, “being Church”. What is God speaking to you? Have you not been completely His? I encourage you to spend time in prayer and seek out what He has for you. Being a Christian is a hard path, but our main goal is for Jesus to say “Well done”. We want Jesus to be proud of the work we have done, not simply tolerating. So get ready and be prepared for what God has in store for you, it will probably be hard, but I promise it is well worth it!

Being Holy (1 Thessalonians 4)

photo (4)

In today’s ready we get a few glances into what is the matter with the church in Thessalonica. Until this point, Paul seems to be giving the church praise after praise, without addressing any issues within the church. In chapter 4 he speaks to them about living lives that are pleasing to God, and what is going to happen with believer who have died.

The first point is what really grabbed my attention today. Paul defines this by saying, “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin.” (4:3, NLT). I’m sure that the problem Paul is addressing is someone saying, “Since we’re saved from our sins, does it really matter if we keep on sinning?” This is a continuous problem in the early Church, since Paul addresses it frequently; most notably in Romans, “What sall we say then? Are we to continue to sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2, NASB). Paul goes on (in Thessalonians) to mention not harming or cheating against others (4:6), and finishes this little section by saying, “Therefore, anyone who refused to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” (4:8, NLT).

God’s desire is for us to be holy, but what does that mean? It sounds like a lot of rules that we must follow, but really it is more that that. The word that is being used here (hagiasmos) to describe holy means dedication to God, both in faithfulness to Him and in active service. It is a process, not an achievement. John Wesley describes grace in three parts: previenient, justifying, and sanctifying. That sanctifying grace comes to us after we have accepted Christ, and is what works within us to be holy.

This understanding shows me that it is obvious that we cannot simply accept Christ and do nothing about it. There are obvious exceptions to this, one being the thief that accepted Christ while on the cross with him. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NASB). But for those of us that accept Christ long before we are on our deathbed, we are called to become holy, to be set apart for God and for God alone. This means we cannot sit idly by and do whatever we’d like. There’s are reason that “sinful nature” is also called “ways of the flesh”. Our natural status is for us to rebel against God. Paul tells us that if we work to become holy, we “will control [our] own body” (4:4, NLT). So to become holy is a path that we must forge, it is not something that just happens to us.

Spend some time in prayer today. Figure out where that next move is on this trip to holiness.

Was It Really Worth the Trouble? (Jonah 3)

jonahpreachingatnineveh

Today’s chapter starts with Jonah on, what I’m sure is, a beach. He’s probably lying down on the hot sand with the sun shining down on him, thinking about the last few days’ events. Just a quick recap: he was told to go to Nineveh, ran away, got almost shipwrecked, got tossed from the ship, swallowed by a whale, spent three days inside the whale, then was spat out by the whale onto this beach. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty worn out from thinking about these things. I can’t imagine the way Jonah must feel. But God comes to him again, and commands him to go to Nineveh.

Jonah, having learned his lesson, gets up and travels to Nineveh. At this time, not only is Nineveh as sinful as I mentioned before, but it is also the capitol of the Assyrian Empire. This empire was the biggest in world, and was one of the biggest enemies of the Israelite nation! But Jonah went. On his first day in the city, he proclaimed to them “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (3:4 NIV). This was the moment; the moment that Jonah feared. He proclaimed the message of God to the Ninevites. At any moment the army should be coming to either arrest him, or kill him. But that didn’t happen. I’m sure their reaction astounded Jonah; he never would have thought they would have reacted the way they did. “The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least put on sackcloth.” (3:5 NIV). The king even reacted in this way (3:7-9). And because the people repented, God spared them from their punishment (3:10).

So what does that mean for us today? I see two big points in this chapter. The first is that God has a plan and knows what is best. Jonah did not trust in God that He had a good plan in place. When he was told the first time to go to Nineveh, he ran away because all he saw was trouble. He knew that going to a place that had long been against God, he would surely die. But what Jonah didn’t know is that, according to historical records, there was a recent eclipse and the Assyrians would have taken it to be a bad omen. So the people of Nineveh were receptive to a message of their destruction, because it was already on their minds! So God sent Jonah, in order to bring these people back to Him.

The second point that I see is that God want’s for us to repent of our sins and come back to Him. God planned to destroy the city of Nineveh, but He decided to offer them a choice. So He sent them the prophet Jonah to speak His message. When the Ninevites repented of their sins and turned towards God, He chose to spare them from destruction. God wants the same for you and me. We are sinful creatures, but God offers us salvation through the Cross of Jesus Christ. We simply have to repent and seek to follow Him. It’s not an easy path, but it is certainly a better one than the one that ends in punishment.

Jonah was given a task to do from God, and thought that it would take his life. While that is a possibility in the life of a prophet, the Ninevites were much more receptive to his message that he had thought. Has God given you something to do? Are you spending time saying “No” rather than doing as God has asked? If this is the case, take a lesson from Jonah. God’s task maybe easier than you think it is. I’m not here to say that it is always easy, but on the off chance that it is. Is it really worth it to add so many problems to your life?

From the Belly of the Whale (Jonah 2)

05.Rue.JonahintheWhaleW[1]

 

In today’s chapter we find Jonah in the belly of a whale (or a giant fish if you prefer). It’s his third day there! I don’t know about you, but I certainly would not want to spend any time in a whale’s stomach, let alone three days. He’s reaches a point of desperation. I’m sure he doesn’t believe that he is going to get out of this fish anytime soon, or even alive. Yet, on this third day, he offers up a prayer to God. That prayer is what we find in chapter 2.

The verses that grabbed a hold of me were verses 8 and 9. To me they are a perfect foreshadow to the message that Jesus Christ will bring in a few centuries. They read like this:

“Those who cling to worthless idols
forfeit the grace that could be theirs.
But I, with a song of thanksgiving,
will sacrifice to you.
What I have vowed I will make good.
Salvation come from the Lord.”
— Jonah 2:8-9, NIV

In his thinking in the whale, Jonah came to realize that he had made in own life into an idol for him. He prized it above anything God would ask of him. That’s why, when God asked him to go to Nineveh, Jonah fled the opposite direction. Jonah knew that if he did as he was told, he would likely lose his life. But Jonah came to realize that God offers grace and salvation. If he had simply trusted in God from the beginning, God might not have saved his life, but Jonah certainly would not have had to go through all this hardship of running away. But Jonah did learn his lesson from inside the whale and sent up this prayer. That’s why the chapter ends, “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” (Jonah 2:10 NIV).

What does this mean for us today? Look at all the thing Jonah went through; he traveled a long way from home, got shipwrecked, tossed from his ship, and swallowed by a giant fish! While we may not get eaten by a whale, God has a simple message for us. Fleeing from God is a lot harder than if we just listen and follow His commands. That’s not to say that life will be easy even when we listen to God. Life is hard and God asks us to do hard things. But think about this, Jonah went through all that hardship just to have to go to Nineveh anyway. So he actually made things worse than he had anticipated.

So are you doing what God has called for you? Are you doing the things that are within His will? Spend some time reading the Bible and in prayer. This is the way that we can keep our lives focused on where they need to be. So carve out some time today and ask God if you are on the right path for your day. And if you aren’t, the great news is that God offers you salvation and grace through His son, Jesus Christ.