Monday, September 29, 2014

Who is Thirsty?

Good morning!

Yesterday was a great day at church.  During the invitation (the time at the end of the service when the pastor asks people who want to make a decision for Jesus Christ to come forward and tell him about it), a couple of people came forward, as is often the case at our church.  I was singing with the worship team during this time and as such am busy singing and praying.  After the invitation song is over, those who came forward are introduced to the church by a deacon, (or a lady exhorter, depending on if the person coming forward is male or female).  I am a Baptist, hallelujah!  ;)

So, yesterday morning, one of our deacons is announcing a big, burly man, and suddenly he (the deacon) gets choked up.  The deacon is the young man who, along with his wife, ministers with my Hubster and me in the college ministry. The man he is introducing as having made the decision to accept Jesus Christ and follow Him as Savior is his father.  This young man has led his Dad to Jesus.  The whole church just clapped and cheered (and so did the angels in Heaven, the Scriptures say... Luke 15:7).  What a time of celebration!

In Isaiah 44:1-5 God is speaking about His people, how He will pour out His Spirit on them.  He is speaking directly to the Hebrew people.  But, indirectly, this message is for all people in that He longs to rescue, save and restore anyone who is thirsty.

"God who made you has something to say to you;
the God who formed you in the womb wants to help you.
Don't be afraid, dear servant Jacob, Jeshurun, the one I chose.
For I will pour water on the thirsty ground 
and send streams coursing through the parched earth.
I will pour my Spirit into your descendants and my blessing on your children.
They shall spout like grass on the prairie, like willows alongside creeks.
This one will say, 'I am God's,' and another will go by the name Jacob.
That one will write on his hand 'God's property' - - - and be proud to be called Israel."
{The Message}

Who is thirsty for God?  You?  Someone you dearly love?  He knew each of us before we were born, from the moment we were conceived in our mother's wombs.  How tremendous is that?!  He knows the thirsty; He knows who will choose Him and become His.

As a parent of wayward children, I especially love these verses.  To His Own Beloved, He says - - - 
"I will pour my Spirit into your descendants and my blessing on your children."
You may know a Thirsty One and see no hope of their ever coming to Jesus, The Source of Living Water.  You may bemoan your mistakes and perceived failures, beating yourself up over their going astray.  I'm right there with you, in my own grief.

But, God is in control.  Read that again.  God is in control, not us.  

It is HE who draws the thirsty to Himself, and He does it in His way.  It is our responsibility to pray and "walk resplendent", to pray earnestly for our loved ones and love on them in that dark place where they currently reside.  It is our responsibility to pray the promises of God, like the one above, over our parched ones, because they ARE thirsty, whether they appear so or not.  They are attempting to quench their thirst with other, lesser things.

Are you distraught because God is not pouring out His Spirit on your timetable, the way You would like?  Look at my friend and be encouraged!  He led his father to Jesus.  You may not live to see God's promises fulfilled in the life of your thirsty ones.  If He chooses to use someone else to bring them Living Water, so what?  He is God, and we are not.  

"Come, everyone who is thirsty, come to the waters; 
and you without money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost!"
Isaiah 55:1

"Jesus answered her, 'If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you,
Give me a drink,
you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.'
The woman said to him, 'Sir, you have nothing to draw water with and the well is deep.
Where do you get that living water?'
Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again.
The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water,
welling up to eternal life!' "
John 4:10-11, 14

Who is thirsty?  Come to the fountain and drink deeply, big gulps of eternal life!

Oh Lord!  On my hand is written, "God's property".  I love You and long for others to know You as well.  Please pour out your Spirit on my loved ones and all who are parched, dying of thirst, yet don't know it.  Draw to You those You know will choose You, and help Your Beloved to be patient as You do Your own mighty work.  Thank you for the precious promise that You will pour out Your Spirit on the descendants of the righteous, that You will do a "new thing"!  Thank you for refreshing me each morning with the delicious water of Your Word.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Give Us This Day...

Good morning!

I suddenly remembered last night that I had signed up to bring a "baked good" for the youths' bake sale at church today.  Fortunately I had the ingredients on hand to make a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread, in the bread machine.  It takes that appliance about 3 hours to make the loaf, however.  So, I was up late.

Then, the alarm was about to go off this morning at the usual time, and out of consideration for the Hubster, I turned it off about 3 minutes before.  You guessed it - - - 45 minutes later...

So, I am not given the luxury of time this morning to go on a "digging deep" mission into the Scriptures.  When I did wake up, though, I had the phrase from The Lord's Prayer running through my head:  "Give us this day our daily bread".  Wonder why!

That loaf of cinnamon bread smells so good, and it is beautiful.  I am so excited about contributing to my community of faith in this small way.  It is a wondrous and beautiful thing when I (frequently) observe the senior adults and the youth, working together.

The other day, I saw some pictures of our senior men constructing a carpet-covered game thingie for the youth to use in outreach.  It is used to play some kind of lawn game, I think.  The point is that the men generously gave of their time and expertise to help the younger believers.  What a joy!

These are things that grow and nurture the Body of Christ, the fellowship of believers.

"Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it."
2 Cor. 12:27

Jesus Himself is our daily bread.  This is why I routinely eat from His Word and break bread with you in this blog.  His words are Spirit and they are Life!  In Matthew 4:4, Jesus said,

"Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every Word that proceeds from the mouth of God."

Do we feed our bodies and not our Spirits?  Or, rather, do we feed our Spirits "junk food"?

I've got to stop now and get ready to go to church.  What a privilege to be among my brothers and sisters, the people of God!  In Sunday School and worship service, I know that I will be "fed".  My pastor and SS teacher are men of God who diligently study and then "feed the flock".  The members, likewise, feed each other.  The bread I'll carry today is testimony to that, both physically and spiritually.  I am excited to lead in worship today, to help those there to worship Jesus do just that!

I hope that, if you do not have a place to receive your spiritual bread and give it, you will look around and find such a place, where the Word of God is preached and taught with accuracy and power.

Good morning, Lord!  You know it is another one of those crazy, hectic Sunday mornings, getting ready for church.  I thank you for my Daily Bread, my Savior, whose Name is above every Name.  I am eager to worship at Your feet today, with my brothers and sisters in Christ.  I pray for the services this morning, the first of which has just begun.  May every person ministering to others this morning, whether they be teachers, singers, players, preacher, greeters, parking crew, nursery workers, maintenance staff - - - please bless each of these with a huge infilling of Your Holy Spirit to do the tasks we are privileged to do.  In all things, I pray that my Lord Jesus will have the preeminence, the glory, the PRAISE!  In His glorious name, amen.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

For the Small and Insignificant

Good morning!

Isaiah 42 is today's text.

In this chapter we see themes previously woven into the book of Isaiah.  The first 4 verses are messianic prophecies.  Remember that I told you in an earlier post that no other Old Testament book contains more prophecies about Jesus' first coming than Isaiah.  This passage makes it clear that there are two classifications of messianic prophecies in the O.T.  One type of these prophecies pertain to His earthly ministry of approximately 2000 years ago.  The second type of messianic prophecies refer to His 2nd earthly ministry, still to come.  His physical work on earth had/has two very different purposes/emphases.

In this passage, God is proclaiming through Isaiah about Jesus Christ's first advent.  Here is the passage (verses 1-4 The Message):

"Take a good look at my servant.  I'm backing him to the hilt.
He's the one I chose, and I couldn't be more pleased with Him.
I've bathed him with my Spirit, my life.  He'll set everything right among the nations.
He won't call attention to what he does with loud speeches or gaudy parades.
He won't brush aside the bruised and the hurt and
He won't disregard the small and insignificant, but he'll steadily and firmly set things right.
He won't tire out and quit.  He won't be stopped until he's finished his work - - - 
to set things right on earth.
Far-flung ocean islands wait expectantly for his teaching."

It is so amazing to me that God the Father was willing to pour Himself into the human body of Jesus and live here among us for 33 years.  It must have felt so LIMITING to Him!  I can't even imagine. In order to put on humanity, the great God who is the Creator of all things had to subject Himself to the limitations of flesh.  And, He willingly did that.  It's just stupefying, really.

God says that Jesus will "set things right".  By His life, death, burial and resurrection, He certainly did do just that.  He made the only way for even the "far-flung ocean islands" to know God.  In His first advent, Jesus did not do flashy things (verse 2); many times during His ministry, He asked that people NOT tell others what He had done for them.

Don't you love this?  Over and over again, we see Jesus focusing, not on nations or nation-building, but on the individual person.  The stories in the New Testament are most often about how He interacted with and healed, restored, SAVED individuals.  His touch was for the bruised and the hurt, the "small and insignificant".   He brought to us His spiritual kingdom, of which we who call Him Lord are princes/princesses/priests (Rev. 1:6, 5:10).  No one is "small" or "insignificant" to King Jesus.

I'm so beyond grateful that He did not stop until He had finished His work.  Can we humans fully realize what it cost Him to go to the cross for us?

In the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:39-46), Jesus spent many hours in prayer, so that He could face the tremendous agony of the Cross.  It was plain that, in His humanity, He did not want to endure it.  He fully realized what it would cost.  One of my favorite, though heartbreaking, movies is "The Passion of the Christ".  Although it portrays Jesus' tremendous physical suffering, this was not the key aspect that Jesus dreaded.  Did you know this?

No.  Sinless Jesus, who all His earthly life had enjoyed perfect communion with Father, knew that in going to the cross, He would be bearing the sins of all of us.  And, He knew that when those sins were laid on Him, He would be for the first time, separated from God the Father. This was the agony that caused Him to sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane that night. This was what caused Him to shout from the cross, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"
The reason God had to turn away as His only Son, the only God-man, bore the weight of all mankind's sin is that God is purely holy and cannot have any fellowship with sin whatsoever.

It was in this way that Jesus redeemed us, bought us back, paid our penalty, "bore our sins in his body, on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness"   (1 Peter 2:24).  Then, when He had finished His work, as prophesied in Isaiah 42, He spoke these words, " 'It is finished!'  With that he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."(John 19:30)  Did you catch that?  He gave up His spirit.  No one took Jesus' life; He laid it down for us.  His words in (John 10:18) - - "I have the authority to give my life, and I have the authority to take my life back again.  This is what my Father ordered me to do."

Praise Him with me, Sisters and Brothers!  His love is matchless!  Tomorrow, we are going to continue with this theme and look at Isaiah 53.  I can hardly wait.

Good morning Lord, thank you that not a single one of us is small or insignificant, that every one of us was worth dying for and that You, Three-in-One, knew this from the moment You decided to create man.  I really cannot comprehend Your love.  Thank you for the privilege of living righteously for You, walking resplendent with You.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Divine Friendship

Good morning!

In Isaiah 41, God is commanding all the far-flung nations of the world ("coastlands") to step into His courtroom.  The nations-of-the-false-gods are told to enter in silence, but they are then given the opportunity to defend their idolatry before Him (vs. 21-24).  Chapter 40 ended with God's promise that those who wait upon (hope in) the Lord God will have fresh strength.  The godless nations, however, are another story. They are told to gather up their strength, because they are going to need it.  They have no true God on which to depend in this sobering situation.  They are without hope.

There follows a Job-like proclamation of the everlasting nature of God and His mighty acts to direct the affairs of men.  In Isaiah 40:28, He proclaims Himself to be "the everlasting God".  In 41:3, He repeats this by referring to Himself as having been there at the establishment of the first (nation) and will be there with the last.  In one of His claims as Messiah, Jesus referred to Himself as the Alpha (first letter of the Greek alphabet) and the Omega (last letter).  In English, He would have said, "I am the A and the Z." By saying this He was claiming to be equal with God the Father; and, his listeners - - -  faithful, learned Jews - - - knew it.

Throughout this chapter, God is recounting His mighty acts on behalf of His chosen people, Israel.  He refers back to the covenant that He made with Abraham, to make of him a mighty nation (Genesis 12:1-3).  He steadfastly affirms in Isaiah 41 His faithfulness to Israel.

In 41:8, Abraham is called "God's friend".  That shorts out my circuits.  It is analogous to my considering an amoeba my friend.  While that microscopic organism is a living thing, and while I can study it through a microscope...I am, as a human, so vastly different from it (superior in that we are created in God's image) that I cannot even relate.   This is an imperfect analogy, because God desires our fellowship, limited and imperfect though we are.  But, I any of you reading this see yourself as a friend of God?  There's a contemporary worship song called, "I Am a Friend of God", which I've sung vigorously.  But, all the while, I have wondered.....what in the world does that really mean?  Is it ... presumptuous?!

To a certain extent, I "get it".  Being a Christian is all about our relationship with God.  You can't be a Christian if you don't have a relationship with Him.  How does that start?  It starts when each person deals with his/her "sin problem".  All humans are born with sin hard-wired into our circuit boards. The world does not like this truth and rejects it, claiming to the contrary that "Man is born good". Wrong.  God's Word tells us that we inherited our sin nature from Adam (1 Cor. 15:22) and that God cannot tolerate sin, in any form, even the least little bit.  Sin is totally incompatible with His perfect Holiness.

"Your eyes are too pure to approve evil
and You cannot look on wickedness with favor."
Habakkuk 1:13

So, what to do?  Well, there was nothing that we could do....until God did what needed to be done. The Old Testament believers offered imperfect, animal sacrifices to God, in atonement for their sins.  "When I see the blood, I will pass over you."  They exercised their faith that God would accept their sacrifices, honor His word to them.  He did. But, way back in the Garden of Eden, God promised a Deliverer - - - "the last Adam", as He is called in 1 Corinthians 15:45.  God's promise was that Messiah would come and conquer the sin problem once and for all.

This was the heart of Jesus' first earthly ministry, to redeem fallen, sinful buy us back with His perfect blood, to make a way for us to have all our sins forgiven, past, present, future, so that we can fellowship unhindered with God the Father.  That is the essence of "divine friendship".

It was Abraham's faith in God and His word that formed the basis of his friendship with God. (Genesis 15:6)  Likewise, it is our step of faith in accepting Jesus' finished work that initiates our relationship with God, and our walk of faith that deepens that divine friendship.  (In the first Resplendent blog posts, I shared in more detail about how someone begins his or her relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. I invite you to read those entries if this is where you are in your spiritual journey.)

And then, we walk with Him, talk with Him, learn from Him ... are loved by Him, love on Him, obey Him, praise Him, worship Him as we are transformed into His image.  Oh hallelujah!  "Christ in me, the hope of glory!" (Colossians 1:27)  With this Colossians passage, the apostle Paul affirms that Gentiles too can inherit the promises to Abraham's descendants, through faith in Jesus Christ.

In 2 Corinthians 3:16-18, the apostle Paul describes the divine friendship like this.
He says that before we come to Jesus, it is as if we have a veil over our faces so that we cannot see God clearly. The Message version: (underlines are mine)

"Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, 
God removes the veil and there they are - - face to face!  
They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone.  And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete.  We're free of it!  All of us!
Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of His face.
And so, we are transfigured, much like the Messiah, 
our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful
as God enters our lives and we become like Him!

Look back at Isaiah 41:9-10 now.

"I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, 'You are my servant.'  I have chosen you and not rejected you.
So, do not fear, for I am with you.
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, yes, I will help you.
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand."

I love the precious promises of God to those who are His friends. 

Dear Savior Jesus, thank you for making a way for us to have friendship with Our Father God.  I earnestly pray that if there is anyone reading this blog who does not yet have that relationship with You, that he/she would seek You and accept Your finished work, done on their behalf.  "What can wash away my sin?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!  What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus!"  For those of us who already know You, may our faces shine today with the brightness of the Father's face!  Resplendent with His glory!  Amen.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Be Comforted, My People

Good morning!  We are in beautiful Isaiah 40 this morning.

Do you remember that song from several years ago - - -"Don't worry...'bout a thing!   'Cause every little thing...gonna be alright!"

It's hard not to worry, isn't it?

James, Jesus' half brother, said that our lives are like a mist, a vapor (James 4:14).  God says, in Isaiah 40:7 that we are as grass. King Solomon said, "All things are wearisome, more than one can say." (Eccles. 1:8).  Some days we feel so heavy with care and worry and troubles that we are at the point of paralysis.

Yesterday at dusk the Jewish New Year began - - - Rosh Hashanah.  This year is what is called a Shmita year, or year of release.  A Shmita occurs every 7 years in the Jewish calendar.  There have been all sorts of dire prognostications by American eschatologists (prophecy hounds) as this year has approached.  You see, 2001 (9/11) and 2008 (stock market crash) were also Shmita years.  To further up the ante, we enter this week into a tetrad of "blood moons".  This particular alignment of blood-red moons with the Jewish feasts only occurs very rarely; accordingly, many believe it could portend significant changes in our world.  I do not know; no man does.  But, I am watchful.

We are living in a time when God's comfort and peace seem especially needed.

When I was young, I thought I could "beat the system".  I thought that, because I knew the Truth, all my paths would be smoothed out as I walked through this life.  Somehow along the way, I had latched on to some false teaching, because this is a lie from Satan.  God does promise that all the paths will be smoothed out, but not until Christ returns to set up His earthly kingdom.  Isaiah 40:3-5

There is nothing in Scripture that promises the Christ-follower a trouble-free life.  What God does promise is to use our troubles to draw us closer to Him and to bless others.  And, that His joy can be our companion on the path.
Paul expresses this in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ---
 "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
The Psalmist, David, expresses it in Psalm 16:11 ---
"You will make known to me the path of life.  In Your presence is fullness of joy!"

Whenever I read Isaiah 40, I hear Handel's melodies from his masterwork, "The Messiah", playing through my head.  Such incredible beauty!  But, what is going on here in this chapter?

God is telling Isaiah to express His comfort to His people, to speak to them softly and tenderly. Isaiah re-emphasizes this theme in other places - - - Isaiah 49:13, 51:3, 51:12, 52:9, 66:13... This is a stark contrast to much of Isaiah's messages which have warned of impending judgment.  So, this message from God is like salve on a painful wound.  God's message of comfort was intended not only for the Jews of Isaiah's day, but also for us.

In what shall we take comfort, then?  (Chapter 40)

1.  That our God is the Almighty Creator of all good things and holds them all together, keeps the universe expanding.  (vs. 12, 26, 28)
2.  That our God is Sovereign over all. (vs. 10, 13-17)
3.  That He tenderly cares for us (vs.11) as a shepherd cares for his flock of sheep. (Psalm 23)
4.  That He is incomparable.  (vs. 18-26)
5.  That He will come and reveal His glory. (vs. 3-5)  Jesus' glory was revealed in His first coming, and will be revealed in a different way when He returns.  At His return, all people will see His glory.
6.  That God's Word lasts, endures, forever. (vs. 8)
7.  That He strengthens us with His fresh strength if we will look to Him, put our hope and trust in Him...."wait upon Him".  (vs. 31)

Here are some more verses related to God's comfort expressed to us:

Psalm 27:13-14
 "I remain confident of this:  I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord."

John 16:33  
"I have told you these things so that in me {Jesus} you may have peace.
 In this world you will have trouble, but take heart!  I have overcome the world."

Romans 8:37-39  
"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.
 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present  nor future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, 
nor anything else in all creation 
 will EVER be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!"

Hebrews 13:15  
"I will never leave you nor forsake you."

What precious promises!  Claim them today, in light of what may be troubling you.  There is no circumstance of this life that is bigger than our God!  He longs for you to draw near to Him in prayer and submission, so that He can do a marvelous work in your life, so that He can express His glory. Hang on, dear one!  Receive His comfort and hang on tight to Him.  Breathe in and breathe out His comfort today.

Dear Father of all Compassion and all Comfort - - - you are the Source of all good things.  We come before you today, laying down all our brokenness, our sorrow, our disappointment, our disenchantment, our emptiness, our loneliness, our failures, our sins.  We lay them at Your feet while confessing our inadequacies and Your matchlessness; and, we enter into Your presence.  There we receive Your comfort and Your fullness of joy!  In Jesus' name, amen.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Showing Off and Embracing a Snake

Good morning!

Sometimes, we just get too comfortable with ourselves.  The apostle Paul warned us about this tendency.  On the one hand, he stated, "I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am." (Philippians 4:11 NASB)  On the other hand, he said, "...reaching out for the things that are ahead, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God, in Christ Jesus". (Philippians 3:14) Both principles are crucial to the vibrant, resplendent Christian life.  Neither connotes complacency.

Yet, in Isaiah 39, we find an interesting clue as to how the mighty Babylonian Empire took note of the little land of Judah.

In chapter 39 King Hezekiah is not only content; he is complacent.  Here he sits, all fat and sassy with wealth, peace and ease.  Along comes a "diplomatic corps" (pronounced "core", not "corpse", by the way) from the king of Babylon.  They bring him gifts and stroke his ego.  In return, Hezekiah throws open the doors of the palace and showed them all the wealth of his kingdom.  He embraces the snake.

It is one thing to rest secure in the promises of God; it is quite another to tempt the Devil.

Isaiah sees these foreigners and asks Hezekiah "what the what"?  When the king replies that he had "shown them the works", Isaiah delivers a prophetic warning.  Verses 5-7 from The Message version:

Then  Isaiah said to Hezekiah, "Now listen to this Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies:  I have to warn you - - - the time is coming when everything in this palace, along with everything your ancestors accumulated before you, will be hauled off to Babylon.  GOD says that there will be nothing left.  Nothing.  And not only your things but your sons.  Some of your sons will be taken into exile, ending up as eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon."

Now, if I had received a message like that, I'd have fallen on my face before God and cried out to Him to change His mind, right?  (At least, in my carnal pride I think I would have done that....)

Look at Hezekiah's reaction in verse 8:

"Hezekiah replied to Isaiah, "Good.  If GOD says so, it's good."  Within himself he was thinking, 'But surely nothing bad will happen in my lifetime.  I'll enjoy peace and stability as long as I live."

Hezekiah was badly mistaken.  This prophecy came true about 150 years later.  Hezekiah's "sons", his descendants, were carried away to Babylon and according to Daniel 1:3, pressed into service in the king's household.

This hit me right between the eyes this morning, Y'all.  As I think back on my life, and even right now, I am guilty of this attitude.  It goes beyond trust in God to a complacent lack of vigilance.
We are commanded to ever be watchful of Satan's snares in our path, as we walk this walk. (2 Cor. 2:11)

Do you think that your children are "safe" from the Destroyer?  Your health?  Your possessions? Your country?  Do you rest secure in the fact that you've taken your family to church - - - they'll be allright!  Do you excuse your poor health habits thinking, "It'll be allright...."  Don't be deceived!

Let's claim the promises of God, but simultaneously walk in a watchful, warrior-like attitude toward evil.  God forbid that we open our arms and welcome it into our lives as Hezekiah did.

I know that I speak of war here a lot, probably more than you like.  But, it is something that the Church of Jesus Christ in America must grab hold of.  We are in a spiritual war.  To do nothing (or fling wide our arms to the serpent) is to give away valuable ground to the Enemy.  Please search your heart and pray with me today that God will show us all where He wants us to engage in the battle.

Ah Father, forgive me for my complacence.  It is so rotten and stinking before You.  Under the guise of piety, ran a deep, deep current of spiritual arrogance, fortified by prayerlessness.  And, I see the rewards of this in my life today; I am living with the consequences.  Thank you for your bountiful forgiveness!  As for the consequences of my lackadaisicalness....please fill me with your Holy Spirit and guide me as I re-engage in the fight today.  Please restore the ground the Enemy has taken! Please repair the breaches, return the captives.  Please show Yourself mighty and bring all the glory to Your holy Name!  In the triumphant name of Jesus I pray, amen.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

God Turns Back Time. Go "Fig"ure!

Good Afternoon!

Yes, my poor time management conquered me this morning; so, I am having "afternoon devotions".

Isaiah is such a complicated book.  It is full of stories, warnings, poetry...
Sometimes I wonder why certain stories are in the Bible or why God does the things He does.  I wondered both of those when reading Isaiah 38:1-8.

In those days Hezekiah became ill and was at the point of death. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to him and said, “This is what the Lord says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.”
2Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord3“Remember, Lord, how I have walked before you faithfully and with wholehearted devotion and have done what is good in your eyes.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.
4Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah: 5“Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of your father David, says: I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will add fifteen years to your life. 6And I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city.
7“ ‘This is the Lord’s sign to you that the Lord will do what he has promised: 8I will make the shadow cast by the sun go back the ten steps it has gone down on the stairway of Ahaz.’ ” So the sunlight went back the ten steps it had gone down.

The first part of this chapter tells of an illness befalling King Hezekiah.
Apparently, he had one heck of a boil; the infection from it had spread extensively throughout his body.  (Some postulate that this pustule was from a pestilence similar to the Bubonic Plague of the middle ages.)  Regardless, he was so ill that he was told by Isaiah he was going to die soon from the malady.
Should we assume that Isaiah received this word from God?  Isaiah plainly stated, "God says..." in verse 1.
Yet, after Hezekiah refuses to "take this lying down" (awful pun) and goes to God in prayer, God grants him 15 more years.
Did God "change His mind"?  How can He do that if He knows everything from beginning to end? (Isaiah 46:10)
Is it possible that Isaiah misunderstood God the first time?

This story is also recorded in 2 Kings 20:1-11.  Look at it for the sake of comparison.

In those days was Hezekiah sick to death. Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, “Thus says Yahweh, ‘Set your house in order; for you shall die, and not live.’” 2 Then he turned his face to the wall, and prayed to Yahweh, saying, 3 “Remember now, Yahweh, I beg you, how I have walked before you in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in your sight.” Hezekiah wept bitterly.4 It happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle part of the city, that the word of Yahweh came to him, saying, 5 “Turn back, and tell Hezekiah the prince of my people, ‘Thus says Yahweh, the God of David your father, “I have heard your prayer. I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day, you shall go up to the house of Yahweh. 6 I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria. I will defend this city for my own sake, and for my servant David’s sake.’” 7 Isaiah said, “Take a cake of figs.”
They took and laid it on the boil, and he recovered. 8 Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that Yahweh will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of Yahweh the third day?” 9 Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from Yahweh, that Yahweh will do the thing that he has spoken: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” 10 Hezekiah answered, “It is a light thing for the shadow to go forward ten steps. Nay, but let the shadow return backward ten steps.” 11 Isaiah the prophet cried to Yahweh; and he brought the shadow ten steps backward, by which it had gone down on the dial of Ahaz.

When you read that parallel passage in 2 Kings, more clarity appears.  It becomes evident that God intended the first message to test Hezekiah because, as Isaiah was leaving (and Hezekiah was weeping and praying), God directed Isaiah to turn around and give Hezekiah the "reprieve" message (that he'd live another 15 years).

What this says to me is that, when I get that "final diagnosis", so to speak, I'm going to God for "a second opinion"!  Notice, though, that Hezekiah does not pray to be delivered from death.  He prays that God will remember him.  While it is natural to shed tears and dread the separation of the spirit from the body, Hezekiah merely prayed that God would remember how faithfully he had served Him.

Then, something even more curious happens:  God felt compelled to give Hezekiah a sign of confirmation that day, to demonstrate for sure that Hezekiah had "heard Him right".  God did not just "make time stand still"; He reversed time for a portion of that day!

Wrapped up in God's promise to heal Hezekiah was His promise to deliver Jerusalem from the Assyrians who were poised to invade their land, in about 11 years.  The Assyrian army was destroyed in Isaiah 37, which puts Isaiah 38 out of chronological order.  This type of thing is not uncommon in the Old Testament, which makes it even more challenging to decipher.  (I will add, however, that some commentators disagree about this story taking place before the Assyrian invasion.)

Do you like figs?  They are not a favorite of mine, but my mother loves them.  Of all the healing poultices to treat a deadly infection....a poultice of figs, or a fig cake?  Go "fig"ure!  Okay, okay,....
But, I couldn't help noticing Hezekiah's own play on words in verse 10 in the 2 Kings passage:  "It is a light thing for the shadow to go forward ten steps...."

In both of these O.T. passages, King Hezekiah asks how soon he will be able to return to worshipping in the Lord's house.  The reason for this is that the Hebrew people were commanded by Mosaic Law to be isolated from their fellow man when they had an infectious disease.  They had strict laws about how long they had to remain in quarantine, until they were ceremonially "clean" again.  The question demonstrates how much Hezekiah loved worshipping in God's house.  Do we?  Or do we look for any excuse we can find, to justify staying away?

"Certainly spending just one day in your temple courts is better than spending a thousand elsewhere."
Psalm 84:10

O Lord, you do use the foolish things of the world to stupefy the wise!  (1 Cor. 1:27)  You use figs to cure a severe boil, and you roll back time.  Mighty are your works, O Lord!  "I will ponder all your work and meditate on your mighty deeds."  (Psalm 77:12)  In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, September 22, 2014

When the Odds are Against You

Good morning!

Today's study text is Isaiah 36-37, such a fascinating story!

The crux of it is that the mighty empire of Assyria was getting ready to conquer the land of Judah, as they had much of the rest of that area of the world, including the northern tribes of Israel (Samaria).

To that end, the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, had sent his most mighty general along with a contingent of soldiers, to deliver a message to King Hezekiah of Judah.  The general, Rabshekah, stopped the advancing army outside the city gates, near one of the aqueducts.  Hezekiah had sent out to meet him three of his trusted advisors.  Rabshekah makes to the people of Jerusalem an offer of peaceful overthrow.  In other words, a conquering without bloodshed.  He proposed that the Assyrians would take command of the city, and make the land of Judah vassals of Assyria.

As Rabshekah is speaking, he is using the common language of the day, the Hebrew language.  In 36:11, the royal ambassadors of Judah ask him to speak in Aramaic, the more formal language that fewer of the common people understood.  But, he refused, saying that the common people would be most affected by Hezekiah's decision and so it was fitting that they hear the Assyrian offer, untampered with.

But, if you read closely, and I was reading in The Message version this morning, you can see that making an offer was not all Rabshekah was doing.  He was also mocking God, Judah's God.  In 36:16, he said - -

"Don't listen to Hezekiah.  Listen to the king of Assyriah's offer:  'Make peace with me.  Come and join me.  Everyone will end up with a good life, with plenty of land and water, and eventually something far better."

Friends, this "offer" is a lie.  It is the same lie that Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden and that he still tells people today - - - "Don't listen to God or His representatives!  The anti-God way, man's way, the way of rebellion and disobedience is SO much better."  King Solomon, writer of the Proverbs,  calls out this lie in Proverbs 14:12 - - - (ESV)

"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the ways of death. "

The three advisors had been told by the king to make no answer to the envoy, but to return to him with their message.  This they did, tearing their clothes in despair along the way.  They believed that all was lost.

In chapter 37, King Hezekiah tore his clothes too.  But, he didn't stop there and wallow in despair. In his penitent clothing, he sent his envoys (also in their sackcloth/gunnysacks ) to the prophet Isaiah, and then he went into the sanctuary of God.

I want you to notice here that Hezekiah had other choices.  He could have sent messages/envoys to surrounding countries, such as Egypt, for help.  He did not "put his trust in princes".  He obeyed the precepts of Psalm 146 - - - (King James version)

Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.
While I live will I praise the Lord: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.
Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God:
Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:
Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The Lord looseth the prisoners:
The Lord openeth the eyes of the blind: the Lord raiseth them that are bowed down: the Lord loveth the righteous:
The Lord preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.
10 The Lord shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the Lord.

Isaiah had received a message from God about the situation, and he shared it with Hezekiah's envoy.
37:5-7 - - - (Message version)

"Don't be upset by what you've heard, all those words the servants of the Assyrian king have used to mock me.  I personally will take care of him.  I'll arrange it so that he'll get a rumor of bad news back home and rush home to take care of it.  And, he'll die there.  Killed - - - a violent death."

We see in 37:8-9 that this did occur - - - the general went home to find that Sennacherib had left to go fight the king of Libnah, with a threat having been received from Ethiopia as well.  But, in the midst of all that, Sennacherib sent another threat to Hezekiah, sort of a follow-up warning.  Again, he boasted of his many triumphs and conquerings, making light of Judah's God.

Let's look closely at Hezekiah's response, because the way he responded to this situation is how we should respond to similar battles in the spiritual wars we find ourselves engaged in.  37:14-20 - - - 

Hezekiah took the letter from the hands of the messengers and read it. Then he went into the sanctuary of God and spread the letter out before God.
15-20 Then Hezekiah prayed to God: “God-of-the-Angel-Armies, enthroned over the cherubim-angels, you are God, the only God there is, God of all kingdoms on earth. You made heaven and earth. Listen, O God, and hear. Look, O God, and see. Mark all these words of Sennacherib that he sent to mock the living God. It’s quite true, O God, that the kings of Assyria have devastated all the nations and their lands. They’ve thrown their gods into the trash and burned them—no great achievement since they were no-gods anyway, gods made in workshops, carved from wood and chiseled from rock. An end to the no-gods! But now step in, O God, our God. Save us from him. Let all the kingdoms of earth know that you and you alone are God.”

Oh hallelujah!  I just can't add more to that, Y'all.  The beauty of the child of the King of Kings, pouring his heart out in prayer, adoration first, and then supplication over the situation.  He asked that God glorify His name through this situation where the odds were against Hezekiah.  We can read in 37:36-38 what God did - - - 

"Then the Angel of God arrived and struck the Assyrian camp - - - 185,000 Assyrians died.  By the time the sun came up, they were all dead, an army of corpses.  Sennacherib, king of Assyria, got out of there fast, back home to Nineveh.  As he was worshiping in the sanctuary of his god Nisroch, he was murdered by his sons..."

Notice that King Sennacherib's violent death, prophesied by Isaiah in 37:7 did, in fact, happen just as God said.

What odds are against you today?  No odds are too great for God.  Take your problems into your place of prayer, wherever you can get alone with God, and pour your heart out to Him in adoration. Then, ask Him to glorify Himself through your "impossible" situation.  The God that delivered His people of Judah is mighty to save.  He will hear, and He will glorify Himself through your situation, if you ask.  Will you get the glory?  Will He let you have "your way"?  No, that is not His promise. There will be times that you will not be able to see His answer or to see how He is going to glorify His name.  Sometimes the way He chooses to glorify His name is not the way we envisioned "our answer to prayer."  But, He is faithful. His love for His children is never-ending.  We can trust in that.

Instead of my closing prayer, today, let's pray Psalm 143, a prayer of David, when he was asking the Lord to deliver him out of troubles and guide him in how to walk....resplendent!

Hear my prayer, O Lord,
(A)Give ear to my supplications!
Answer me in Your (B)faithfulness, in Your (C)righteousness!
And (D)do not enter into judgment with Your servant,
For in Your sight (E)no man living is righteous.
For the enemy has persecuted my soul;
He has crushed my life (F)to the ground;
He (G)has made me dwell in dark places, like those who have long been dead.
Therefore (H)my spirit [a]is overwhelmed within me;
My heart is appalled within me.
(J)remember the days of old;
(K)meditate on all Your doings;
(L)muse on the work of Your hands.
(M)stretch out my hands to You;
My (N)soul longs for You, as a [c]parched land. [d]Selah.
(O)Answer me quickly, O Lord, my (P)spirit fails;
(Q)Do not hide Your face from me,
Or I will become like (R)those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear Your (S)lovingkindness (T)in the morning;
For I trust (U)in You;
Teach me the (V)way in which I should walk;
For to You I (W)lift up my soul.
(X)Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies;
[e]I take refuge in You.
(Y)Teach me to do Your will,
For You are my God;
Let (Z)Your good Spirit (AA)lead me on level [f]ground.
(AB)For the sake of Your name, O Lord, (AC)revive me.
(AD)In Your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble.
And in Your lovingkindness, [g](AE)cut off my enemies
And (AF)destroy all those who afflict my soul,
For I am Your servant.