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Category: Isaiah (page 1 of 2)

Refined in the Furnace of Affliction

Reading in Isaiah 48 this morning and I can imagine that to the Israelites, it may not have seemed like a very encouraging message. But the reality is that I see God being very gracious to them.

He’s gracious in that He assures them that all of the suffering and persecution they had endured was not a surprise to Him and that He in fact is sovereign over all things. He’s gracious in that He explains that all these things were useful in refining their obstinate hearts and cleansing them from their idolatry. And He’s gracious in that He frames it all in the context of His primary motivation – His glory. It was for His glory that God allowed them to experience affliction and it was for His glory that He did not leave nor forsake His people.

Over the last few years my understanding of, and response to, affliction has matured or at least changed in some ways. In particular, I have become much more zealous for God receiving all the glory due His name. I have experienced first-hand how the believer’s response to affliction can provide a powerful testimony to just how great is our God.

Additionally, I have also seen how affliction is useful in refining, informing and enhancing  the faith of the believer. Peter sums this up well when he says,

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:6-7

I have personally experienced this in my own walk with the Lord. In fact, I have shared some of my perspectives on affliction and suffering many times here on this blog. It’s actually a pretty common theme for me. Following are just a few examples:

Being Fruitful in Affliction

A better servant of Christ – His strength revealed through our weakness

What Pollyanna taught me about being sick

A Testimony of Suffering

Suffering for our benefit and His glory

Miscarriage: A Testimony of God’s Grace

As I end my time in God’s word this morning I’m encouraged to remember that God is Sovereign, God is good, and God will not give His glory to another.

An invitation

Everyone who is poor and needy is hereby invited to come to the source of that which offers you full and complete satisfaction. Come to the place where you will no longer hunger or thirst and will have an abundance of all that you truly need. The place where your soul is content. The place where your deepest longings will be genuinely satisfied at no cost to you.

And yet, despite this invitation, you continue to work hard to purchase and earn things that do not satisfy and that you can’t afford.

It’s time to stop and listen. It’s time to stop trying to nourish yourself on fast-food and processed junk that might fill you but will never fulfill you. Respond to this invitation to savor and enjoy a gourmet meal of only the finest of foods. It has already been prepared. All you have to do is show up and be served.

The above three paragraphs are my paraphrase of what I read in Isaiah 55:1-2 this morning. Of course, Isaiah wasn’t talking about an invitation to some fancy dinner party. This chapter is really about an invitation to enjoy the compassion of the Lord. It is an invitation to enter in and rest in that which the Lord has accomplished and freely offered to His people.

Of course, this “free” offer is only free to those who receive. It cost the Lord dearly. Ultimately, it cost Jesus His life. A price that He willingly paid because of His compassion and steadfast love and mercy.

In addition to an invitation, it is also  a reminder and renewal of an everlasting covenant that that the Lord had previously made with David. It’s an affirmation that the Lord will accomplish His purposes and His word will continue to bring life and renewal.

Here’s how the chapter finishes out:

Incline your ear, and come to me;
hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

“Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way,
and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

“For you shall go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall break forth into singing,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall make a name for the Lord,
an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

If you have yet to RSVP to this invitation, I encourage you to consider it. If you at one time accepted this invitation but have been busying yourself with trying to earn your way or justify your attendance by helping clear the tables or do the dishes, stop. You have been invited to freely come by a gracious Host. Rest in knowing that He invited you because He wants you. He invited you because He loves you.

Speaking the truth and declaring what is right

In my Bible the heading for Isaiah 45 is Cyrus, God’s Instrument. This is a chapter where God’s sovereignty is on display as He reveals that despite the fact that Cyrus does not know Him, God has called Cyrus by name, anointed him and equipped him so that the people will know the LORD and that there is none other besides Him.

The part that especially jumps out at me this morning is the last part of verse 19 which reads, 

“I the Lord speak the truth; 
I declare what is right.”

The more I read and study God’s word the more I am encouraged to read and study God’s word. And every so often I run into a verse where it’s almost as though God is offering an explicit advertisement for why we should study and know His word. To me, this is one of those verses. God speaks the truth and He declares what is right. If we are interested in truth and in knowing what is right, we would be wise to spend time listening to the One who speaks such things. 

The LORD is a non-stop talker – whether through His written word (the Bible), the living Word (Jesus) or through His creation. And regardless of the specifics of how He speaks or what He is saying it is all true and it is all right. I encourage you to spend time on a regular basis listening to what He has to say, submiting to what He says and allowing it to transform your heart and mind.

The Word of our God will stand forever

The church in which I began my growth as a Christian used to have Isaiah 40:8 quoted on the cover of our bulletin that was handed out each Sunday. Although I never asked about it I’m sure the decision to include it was simply a statement and reminder of the importance, significance, power and permanence of God’s word because as a church we wanted to keep it at the center of everything we did. This morning I was once again confronted with that verse during my time reading God’s word.

The grass withers, the flower fades
when the breath of the LORD blows on it;
surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
but the word of our God will stand forever.
Isaiah 40:7–8

Grass withers and flowers fade but God’s word stands forever. Created things are fragile and temporal but the Word who creates is powerful and eternal. In the beginning the grass and flowers sprouted and bloomed in obedience to a spoken command; the living Word.

The Word stands forever, issuing commands to be obeyed, prophecies to be fulfilled and promises that bring hope. And what greater hope than that which is considered this time of year; that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

I’m thankful that the Word is true, flawless, infallible and eternal. I’m thankful that the Word is living and active, bringing creation, governing and maintaining the created order, and instructing and equipping the saints.

The Word of our God will stand forever. Amen to that!

Let not the rich man boast in his riches

My reading in Isaiah 39 this morning told the story of Hezekiah entertaining some visitors from Babylon who were bearing gifts in response to the news that ol’ king Hezekiah had been healed and was going to live a few more years. Hezekiah was a gracious host and responded by showing them his treasury room and all that the palace had to offer. While some may not think twice about Hezekiah’s actions, it made me uncomfortable from the start. After all, this guy is a self-proclaimed whole-hearted follower after God and instead of sharing with them the story of how God was merciful to him in hearing his prayer and healing him from his sickness, he shows off how rich he is. This would be like you coming to visit me in my home and I walk you around my home pointing out all of my possessions and telling you how much they cost only to follow that up with a presentation of my financial portfolio and review of my bank account balances. All for the purpose of letting you know how well off I am.

The problem with Hezekiah doing this is that there is no reference to him ever giving glory to God. There is no reference to him acknowledging that it is his God who has provided him with the blessings. He’s taking pride in all that he has without acknowledging the One who has blessed him with all that he has.

Now, there is a lot to be discussed in this chapter of Isaiah but the one thing that jumped out at me this morning is this idea that one of the primary purposes of material blessings is to remind us of the blesser; the One who has freely given the blessings. It is not for us to boast in. Why would we boast in the blessing (which can be taken away as freely as it was given – ask Job if you don’t believe me) rather than the One who has determined to bless us in the first place? The blessing is here today but tomorrow may be burned in the fire, or be destroyed by rust or be stolen by thieves. But the One doing the blessing remains the same yesterday, today and forever. He always was and always will be. If we want to boast about anything, let it be in the Lord our God; the One who is worthy.

Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” – Jeremiah 9:23-24

How to know what is true

I the LORD speak the truth;
I declare what is right.
Isaiah 45:19

This verse in Isaiah is in the context of explaining and defending God’s sovereign plan to use the Persian king Cyrus to fulfill His purposes. But for my purposes right now I’d like to take this verse out of context and look at it in isolation because there is an important truth being conveyed here.

Our world is full of noise and everyone around us is very liberal with sharing their opinions. In fact with all of the social media platforms and tools available, people are shouting sharing their opinions more than ever. There is also no shortage of people seeking to deceive and mock. And of course, the very enemy of our souls is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking to kill and destroy. One way he does that is through his lies. Sometimes, despite our best effort and intentions, it is difficult to tune out all the noise and it becomes challenging to discern which voice to which we should be listening.

How important it is to discern, hear, and listen to the voice of my Shepherd. His is the voice of truth. He speaks what is true and declares what is right. I don’t have to weigh His words or wonder about their wisdom or validity because the Giver of the words is faithful, just and true. He is all-knowing. I just need to recognize His voice and to obey and rest in His words.

But how do I recognize His voice? By spending time with Him through prayer and the study of His word. By inviting the Holy Spirit to lead me and guide me into all truth. How can I know that His words are right and true? Because He is the truth. He is faithful. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear and walk by faith (a gift from God).

I so appreciate that I never have to wonder or consider what is true or what is right. I only need to look to the Lord.

For His Own Sake

“I, I am he
who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,
and I will not remember your sins.”
Isaiah 43:25

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church, preached a message at the Code Orange Revival held at Elevation Church in North Carolina over a year ago that has become one of my favorites. The message was titled, “God is for God“. In his introduction, Chandler walked through Psalm 23 and in particular, emphasized the following portion of verse three:

“…for his name’s sake.”

My reading in the book of Isaiah this morning reminded me of Chandler’s “God is for God” message. Here again in Isaiah, we see the rationale and motive behind God’s actions – in particular, the grace that He extends toward His people – is for His own sake.

In this context in Isaiah, the Israelites have not worshiped God “correctly” and they have not offered to Him appropriate sacrifices. But God, in His grace and mercy, chose to forgive them and to remember their sins no more. Not because they deserved it, earned it, or warranted it by their actions, but simply because He chose to forgive them. Although the external actions of the Israelites may have fallen short, perhaps it was enough to reveal the motives of their heart – to acknowledge and worship the one true God.

I am so thankful to know, love and serve a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

If you have not yet watched Chandler’s message, I encourage you to do so. I trust you will be greatly blessed.

 

Charlie Brown, me, and the true meaning of Christmas

Much to my chagrin, my kids wanted to hold a banner that says, “Ho, Ho, Ho” for our Christmas card picture this year. I guess it’s not that bad. After all, when someone reads or hears “Ho, Ho, Ho” they immediately associate it with Christmas. Of course, it’s the American commercialized version of Christmas that it’s associated with – Santa Claus, snowfall, jingle bells, evergreen trees, wrapped presents, eggnog, etc. You know, the most wonderful time of the year. But then again, is there any other version of Christmas alive and well in this day and age?

When I think back to the fond memories that I have of celebrating Christmas as a young boy before I was a Christian, I realize that there is not much different from how I celebrate it now. Of course, I’m mindful of the true “reason for the season” and I do spend time meditating on the reality of Immanuel, God with us. But other than the motivation of my heart, my outward acts and traditions in which I participate do not really set me apart from the rest of the secular crowd.

Why is it that there will be more people at the mall shopping for last minute Christmas gifts tomorrow night than there will be sitting in the pews of our churches offering songs of praise, worship, and adoration in remembrance of Jesus’ birth and going away in wonder just like the shepherds of long ago, telling everyone about what they had seen and heard? How many people are going to rush off to their Christmas celebrations this weekend and leave Jesus stranded at church, waiting to be picked up? How many families will exchange gifts and never once consider the gift of Jesus, born to be both a Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sins of the world.

And even if people do abandon the mall and take a seat at church this weekend, what will they find? In A Charlie Brown Christmas, Charlie Brown was looking for anyone who knew the true meaning of Christmas. At one point, he witnesses his dog Snoopy putting great effort into decorating his dog house in response to a flyer that read, “Find the true meaning of Christmas. Win MONEY, MONEY, MONEY. Enter the Neighborhood Christmas lights and display contest!” Charlie’s response is, “OH NO, my own dog has gone commercial”. Even in our churches today, there is a great risk of “going commercial”. There is a risk of conforming a little too much to the patterns of this world in a response to meet expectations and scratch the particular Christmas itch that most of us have developed over the years.

What then? How are we to worship and honor the Lord Jesus during this time of year? How are we to remember and celebrate His birth? Although I intended those to be rhetorical questions that I could use to close this post, I will attempt to provide a personal perspective and personal call-to-action in response.

  • Don’t be too busy to see Jesus and worship Him – as a father to three young children and two extended families to accommodate, one of the biggest joy stealers in my life is simply being too busy. I need to take a cue from the Shepherds who in faith left their flocks and went in search of the newborn Messiah, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. They left the busyness of their work and received the message by faith and responded in obedience. I need to make time to worship the newborn King.
  • Share the good news with others – although the shepherds did indeed return to their jobs and resumed their “old” lives, but they also glorified and praised God and bore witness about what they had seen. Christmas provides a unique opportunity to be able to share the good news of Jesus’ birth.
  • Don’t respond to the calendar – why should things magically change on December 26th? A great brother in the Lord reminded me this morning that God taking on flesh was not just about Christmas day. The joy of Christmas day is ours to be enjoyed daily, 24x7x365.

 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Isaiah 9:2-7

Sovereign over the “good” and the “bad”

As I’ve been reading through Job, Isaiah, and Revelation lately there is one common theme that has been continually reinforced throughout the three books. That is, God is sovereign. Over all things, at all times. Whether they are things that we perceive to be “good” or whether they are things that we perceive to be “bad”. They are all useful to accomplish God’s purposes for His glory. Whether it is the trials that Job was allowed (and given the strength) to experience, or the Israelites being taken captive into Babylon, or the beast being allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months – all of those things were allowed by God.

Everything happens because God allows it to happen and He is able to work all things together for good despite the fact that I so often do not understand. His ways are surely more perfect than my ways and His thoughts higher than my thoughts.

God told His children who were taken captive into Babylon,

For a brief moment I deserted you,
but with great compassion I will gather you.
In overflowing anger for a moment
I hid my face from you,
but with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the LORD, your Redeemer.
(Isaiah 54:7-8 ESV)

And again He said,

For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
(Isaiah 54:10 ESV)

When we find ourselves in one of those “desert places” where everything seems to be going wrong, the world is against us, and God seems far away, time seems to stand still and there appears to be no end to our misery. But, we must remember that relative to the surpassing greatness of God’s everlasting love, it is really just a brief moment. And hopefully, it causes us to desire Him even more than we already do.

Gloriously unfair

I had an interesting reaction while reading through the following scriptire this morning in the book of Isaiah. As I read about how the Lord laid the iniquity of us all on the innocent servant, the first thought that popped in my mind was; “unfair”. And then of course, I realized that had the Lord not done that and instead, I had to bear my own iniquity – well I couldn’t even bear the thought. It’s unfair alright. But it’s gloriously unfair.

I’m so thankful and humbled to celebrate the birth of the One who left His Heavenly home to stand in my place of judgment that I might live. And I’m so glad that my Heavenly Father is more interested in demonstrating His mercy and grace rather than His fairness.

Isaiah 52:13-53:12:

Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
he shall be high and lifted up,
and shall be exalted.
As many were astonished at you—
his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
so shall he sprinkle many nations;
kings shall shut their mouths because of him;
for that which has not been told them they see,
and that which they have not heard they understand.
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

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