Isaiah

Tuesday Devotional: Isaiah 16

bible3Hide the fugitives,
    do not betray the refugees.
Let the Moabite fugitives stay with you;
    be their shelter from the destroyer.”

So I weep, as Jazer weeps,
    for the vines of Sibmah.
Heshbon and Elealeh,
    I drench you with tears!
The shouts of joy over your ripened fruit
    and over your harvests have been stilled.
Isaiah 16:3-4, 9

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 
James 1:17

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:8

God’s character does not evolve and change like ours.  God’s character does not learn and grow like ours.  The character of God was not underdeveloped in the Old Testament and fully developed in the New Testament.  God has never changed and never will.  This pertains to His grace and mercy as it does to every aspect of His character.  God has always sought to preserve life and to bless the children He created.  God has never sought the destruction and suffering of any people.  When we observe the punishment and discipline of people or nations in the Bible the question is not, “Why is God so angry?”  The more pertinent question is, “Why did the people ignore God’s commands and do that which they knew they should not?”

The Bible is filled with God’s mercy and God’s forgiveness even predating the human life of Jesus Christ.  Grace and mercy are God as much His power and sovereignty are.  Sadly, as God’s mercy predated the life of Jesus, so did the sinfulness of man.  If a child is told not to steal and then goes ahead and steals, would our first question be, “Why is the child receiving discipline?” or, “Why did the child commit the crime?”  For most of us it would be the latter.  We complain that God seems quick to judge, but we say this as we show ourselves to be even quicker to judge than He is.

In the same way that Jesus’ commands seek to free us from our slavery to sin, God has always sought to free us from the sin of Adam.  God is aware that a life dictated and controlled by sin not only separates us from Him but will harm, enslave, and ultimately kill us.  Why would we choose death over life?  When the alternative has been explained, the warning given and the way out of death into life provided, why do we choose death over life?  Before we criticize God for disciplining we should better criticize our stubbornness to the point of death.

If God declares His desire to save you, why not be saved?  If God declares that your life of suffering and pain grieves Him, why not believe that His desire is for your life rather than your ultimate demise?  We must come to faith in Jesus Christ to have life, but we must never deceive ourselves into believing that with Jesus Christ came the first sign of God’s desire for grace, mercy and life.  God has always loved and has always recognized our need for Him in order to live.  Allow yourself to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and allow Jesus to reunite you with the Father who has always sought your eternal salvation.

 

Spiritual Gifts: Healing

gifts

For the next four weeks, we will examine the role of spiritual gifts in our Christian walk. Just as the baptism of the Holy Spirit has been debated throughout church history, the nature of spiritual gifts has also been a topic of much debate. This reflection series will outline four of the most debated spiritual gifts that often follow a baptism by the Holy Spirit. There are other gifts, such as prayer; however, for the moment we will only discuss four. The four spiritual gifts are:

  • Teaching
  • Tongues
  • Prophecy and Vision
  • Healing

All four of these gifts have a core purpose in common but as we will see they are unique from each other in the way they are used. This week, we reflect on healing.

In the same way that Prophecy and Vision come with stereotypes and judgments on the part of those outside of the Church, the idea of “healing” has also gone quite misunderstood. The gift of healing, like Prophecy and Vision, was a major part of Jesus’ ministry and the Apostles’ teaching and was well represented in the early Church. For us to dismiss it as something done in the past but not available to our present Church is illogical.

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. -Matthew 10:7-8

The gift of healing is for us in the Church to possess now, not simply to reflect back to in nostalgia as something done by our forefathers. While some are gifted with the gift of healing in dramatically physical ways, most people go their entire lives without seeing an actual physical healing in person and assume the absence of frequent resurrections and blind-to-sight healings as proof that the gift of healing simply does not exist anymore.

To assume this is to completely misunderstand the purpose of healing taught by Jesus for His Church to exercise. The purpose of the gift of healing is to express the impact of God. This impact is a visible, public transformation from old to new. However, this transformation from old to new cannot be reduced to simply the transformation of the physical body. In fact, Jesus Christ was adamant that our physical body means very little. The purpose of the numerous physical healings that Jesus conducted in the Gospels was not to discourage or intimidate by comparison. Those healings were conducted for Christ’s ministry and the people of that time, to fulfill the prophecies that illustrated the nature of the Messiah’s return, which would be characterized by physical transformation:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
     and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor. -Isaiah 61:1-29

While physical healing and transformation is still present in the Church today and some are gifted in this area, the true healing available to all those professing faith in Jesus Christ is of a different nature.

Jesus Christ was clear that healing is impossible without his presence and his word. In his Word lies the power of God to transform and save the lost.

2When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”

 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.” -Mark 9:25-29

While most will never see a dead body raised physically, the sharing of God’s Word to someone outside of the presence of God is more powerful than physical resurrection. Anyone raised from the dead in this world still faces the challenge of sin. However, sharing the Word of God that results in a life born anew and a new creation in Jesus Christ represents the ultimate healing. There is joy in this world when a dead body is raised. However, according to Jesus, there is immeasurable rejoicing in Heaven at the resurrection of a life dead in sin, reborn and resurrected with Christ and transformed in his image.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. -Luke 15:1-7

Physical healing means absolutely nothing as long as the sin within the body is unaddressed. The priority of Jesus’ healing targeted sin, not the body. Finding God in the words of Jesus Christ and His gospel is the true pearl, the true prize, the true goal. In this way, the Church today has been blessed with the privilege of spiritually raising the dead to life through the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me. -Philippians 1:18-26 

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: the Power of the Mission

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read along with this series here. 

The Power of the Mission

One of the most haunting questions is ‘What do you want to do with your life?” Hopeless wandering is the case for many. They all dream dreams, but rarely follow through on them or find the means to do so. At a certain point of “maturity” we submit to the fact that the most reasonable, “responsible” thing to do is to fall in line, get a job and grow up. After dreams or visions of greater things, this life often is lived under silent protest and open resentment. Hardly the foundation for fulfillment and satisfaction.

The truth is, while there are some gifted with extraordinary physical and mental abilities at birth, for the rest of us, mediocrity becomes a stigmatizing label we bear for the rest of our lives. And while we might go through phases of extraordinary success or development, for most, these phases are short-lived. Therefore, when hearing the “hopeful” messages from the pulpit each and every Sunday that all things are possible, we may snicker silently as we evaluate all of our personal and worldly limitations.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit is not of this world, but the results of said baptism carry profound consequences in this world. Where our worldly life bombards us with reminders of our limitations, the baptism of the Holy Spirit releases a limitless God into the limited world we live in. The baptism of the Holy Spirit does not follow a path according to our known talents, skills or dreams. Upon being baptized with the Holy Spirit, one desire and one desire alone reigns: the desire for God. Our authority to dictate what we can do disappears; our ears are for the first time open to what God wants us to do. Our opinions on what we feel we can do disappear; we are for the first time open to what God believes we can do.

The life that follows the baptism of the Holy Spirit often bears a different appearance to the life lived prior to being baptized. The purpose is different, and thus the means to achieve the purpose is different as well. The baptism of the Holy Spirit ignites a desire to wholeheartedly serve God and share his Word. All else is secondary. God has always desired to release our true design and purpose, and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the means by which we experience God’s design. He gives us power by the Holy Spirit to overcome a world of perceived limitations. Through this new purpose and mission we daily grow in our understanding of how much God can achieve if only left unchallenged and unobstructed, by a heart previously consumed by sin.

This is what the LORD says— he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:16-19

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit: the Power of the Cross

The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read along with this series here. 

The Power of the Cross

The cross is and has always been the sign of Christianity. Today it is unmistakably synonymous with the Christian church. However, while the cross has always and must always be the sign of the faith, the overexposure of the cross without true understanding poses an important question. Do we really understand the cross?

We see crosses blanketing city skylines atop churches that fail at living out the gospel. We see people wearing the cross on necklaces and earrings who openly profess no desire to submit to God. We see athletes drop to their knees following some athletic feat, pointing to the sky and making the sign of the cross on their chest, who place more faith in their athletic equipment and contracts than the Holy Word of God. With so many misrepresentations surrounding us on a daily basis, it is easy to see how the message of the cross has gone misunderstood. In fact, for many Christians, the looming cross on the wall of a Church often evokes much more fear and obligation than peace and joy.

From this landscape of misunderstanding and misrepresentation concerning the cross, the understanding that emerges from  the baptism of the Holy Spirit appears distinctly different. Upon being baptized in the Holy Spirit, the cross is no longer a marketing symbol or burden. The cross suddenly is seen in the light in which it was originally meant to be seen.

This light illuminates more than just wood and metal. This light illuminates pain, the unbelievable pain Jesus endured hanging on the cross. This light illuminates sacrifice, the costly sacrifice Jesus paid for the sake of saving us from the pain and suffering that we rightly deserve and he had no obligation to undertake in our stead. The light also illuminates the sacrifice that God the Father experienced in seeing his own son endure the suffering we deserved, in feeling separation from a son that he had always had intimate fellowship with, a son who had never done anything wrong. Lastly, this light illuminates love, the love of God to see such beauty within us, despite the layers of sin, that to lose his own son was worth seeing us back in unity with him. The love to never give up or let us out of his reach. The love to know how deeply we need a Father to guide us.

This love is not just sacrificial, but is an invitation. The beginning of the end. The start of something new. The cross leads to the tomb and ultimately ends in resurrection and new life, a new life we are given as a result of the cross. The baptism of the Holy Spirit isn’t simply an outward manifestation of the supernatural. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the only thing that can open the eyes of our heart to see the reality of the cross, beyond what our physical eyes have always seen.

This is why I speak to them in parables:
‘Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.’
In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:
‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’
But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.

Matthew 13:13-17

The baptism of the Holy Spirit opens our spiritual eyes to see the cross in the power that it truly possesses.

Serving the King: Suffering

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Suffering (Isaiah 53)

In the first section, in 1 Samuel 15, we met Israel’s first king: Saul, a king with human tendencies and human abilities.  Saul demonstrates so well the potential of the human heart to fall victim to power, success, temptation and glory.  In this section we will read one of the most powerfully prophetic scriptures about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.  Isaiah 53 shows another sort of king, a “suffering servant” who is the complete opposite of Saul.  This individual, innocent of sin, is the most glorious and most praiseworthy figure in history, yet received nothing but suffering, disgrace and shame in his mission to save the world.

The Bible can be difficult to digest because it is an ancient text, but it also can be difficult because of what it demands of us.  The Bible and, more specifically, the teachings of Jesus Christ, establish a bar of behavior that is intimidating at best.  Christians are called into a life of service that no human being could ever live up to. Jesus Christ’s depiction of true Christian character seems superhuman and impossibly unrealistic.

Unfortunately, many Christians and non-Christians leave the expectations and frustrations there.  They see expectations and demands and never move beyond the daunting realities that those demands present.  But this mistake can be resolved if we understand Isaiah 53.  In the Gospels we don’t encounter a list of demands and orders from a distant and judgmental deity.  Rather, we meet Jesus.  The suffering servant came into our world and lived alongside us in order to model a way of life so that we could follow him and not simply the commands.  Jesus never preached orders.  On the contrary, Jesus preached repentance, change not to harm us but change that can free us.  Jesus announced “good news,” not “new rules.”

Jesus preached himself because only in him can we truly live the way he expects us to.  He is the savior of Isaiah 53 who did far more than we will ever be expected to do, simply so that we wouldn’t have to.  In Jesus we have a God that suffered, felt pain, and understands us completely.

Why did Jesus choose to come into the world? The question can be confusing.  If we view his life as a platform by which to give orders and make demands, then his sacrifice and the way he lived falls out of order and lacks purpose or rationality.  For thousands of years God spoke through the prophets, like Isaiah, to deliver important messages to his people.  Therefore, what necessity would there be to send someone as valuable as his son to do the same job?  However, if we think about the life of Jesus as he himself proclaimed, his purpose begins to fall into place.  The mission of Jesus Christ was not only to save his children, but to be with them and love them by living alongside them, and finally, by dying for all of them.

In our social lives, the people that we are closest to are typically people who share the most in common with us.  We are drawn to these people; we depend on and trust them.  Therefore, knowing our hearts, God knew that the only way to reach us was to be a “God with us.”  He came as a servant to show us that he was willing to serve in a way we could never serve.  Only through the reception of his life and service as a free gift, undeserving and unearned, will we find the ability to live the life that he desires for us.  Jesus Christ came into our world to serve us with only God’s approval in mind.  Through the life of Jesus we see that God understands us: our trials, our sorrows, our tribulations. Not only has he experienced them all himself, but he can truthfully say that he was tested beyond anything we can possibly compare with.  Lack of understanding and empathy does not emanate from a God who demands too much from us without knowing us.  The lack of understanding is ours, directed toward Jesus, who gave more for us than we could ever give him in return.  He suffered in ways we never will be required to.

Jesus was the teacher of all teachers for many reasons, but one of his most powerful qualities was his ability to lead by example.  He led us into salvation by his example.  All that is left for us is to do is be moved by his life and begin to follow in his footsteps one step at a time.

Born Again: People (Isaiah 20)

people

source

Welcome to Week 3 of our reflection series “Born Again.” The born again life is focused on Christ’s power and nothing else. Through this reflection series, we’re looking at the things that try to take center stage in our lives. This week, we’re studying what Isaiah 20 has to say about “People.”

Read Isaiah 20.

In the book of Isaiah, chapter 20, Israel was starting to realize that by this point in the story, their footing as a nation in the face of encroaching powers was less than stable. So, like most people facing trouble, their first instinct was to find something to hold onto.  In this case, Israel was looking to grab onto Egypt, although God, through a naked and barefoot Isaiah, was clearly advising against such loyalties.

The conclusion to this story was that by putting their security in an apparently strong and trustworthy ally rather than in God, Israel ultimately sealed their upcoming invasion by Babylon and Assyria.  But does this passage teach us not to trust people? No.

Trust in people is at the heart of our relationships.  Because we were created in the image of God, trust is at the heart of our relationship with him. Trusting people is not the issue. The issue is that, when we entirely locate our hopes and security in people, the countdown for disappointment and pain has already begun.

We put our hope in people because we believe, for some outlandish and irrational reason, that these particular individuals are not like us when it comes to trouble.  We believe that they are better.  We believe that they are different. Unlike us, they seem successful and strong. Unlike us, they always seem to have a plan B. Unlike us, they never seem troubled by anything. Their glass is not only half full, but will never be depleted.

Of course, the reality is that this is not the case. These “superhero” figures in our lives are far from superhuman. These are simply humans. Just like us. And just like us, they experience hardship and moments of uncertainty, and are capable of experiencing pain as well as inflicting it, just as we are.

People will be there for you, but then they won’t. People will love you, but then they won’t. People will understand you, and then they won’t. People have limitations. And when we put our hopes and security entirely in people, these limitations will be unveiled in disappointing and hurtful ways.

In this passage of scripture about Israel’s loyalties, God was trying to shock them to the understanding that only he was enough to rely on. No other relationship and no other fellowship can compare.  He was showing them the wall of destruction towards which they were speeding in the hopes that they would turn back.

We were created to form relationships, to trust those relationships, to make friends and ask for help. But the ultimate relationship, the only one that can and should be trusted to the fullest extent, is the relationship between God and his people. Out of dust he created us for the pure and simple reason of fellowship, so that the love shared within the Trinity could be expressed beyond the triune relationship. Regardless of our behavior toward him, his love and patience led him to ultimately send his Son so that none would be lost.

Regardless of differences of testimony, everyone who has been born again experiences similar spiritual changes. This is because, while all things human and earthly pass away, one thing stays the same.  He is the only ally who will never fail you. He is the only father who will continue to provide for you. He is the only one who whose love is so enduring and pure. He is the only person so close to us that, in him, we never have to feel alone or misunderstood. He has always known us, and he always understands.

Tuesday Devotional: Isaiah 1

Read Isaiah chapter 1

bibleFrom an early age we come to understand two “truths” about life that are reinforced into adulthood.  The first is that we are not totally responsible for the problems in our lives.  As children we are quick to point the finger elsewhere when something goes wrong, even if the facts point in our direction.  We are quick to defend ourselves, not only by explaining our actions but also by highlighting the faults of others.  Early on we understand the weight of responsibility and guilt, and we learn to avoid carrying it at all costs through dishonesty and denial.

The second is that, when the facts weigh heavily in the direction of our own guilt, we can bargain our way out of punishment or consequence.  While admitting guilt is far too painful to even consider, the next best thing is to shower the accuser or injured party with gifts, praise, or attention, in an attempt to redirect and distract them.  Our view of the guilt and forgiveness process is so shamefully simplified that we see the bargaining approach as not only a viable option, but often as the most logical response.  The absence of guilt after transgression displays a complete lack of respect toward the offended party, reducing them to objects, not actual people.

For many, God is simply an object.  God is an idea, a concept, or a creation.  Viewing God this way makes it far too easy to evade our own guilt by trying to “buy” him off with church attendance, tithes or prayers of confession.  If he is an object, we will never find any reason in our stubborn hearts to ever feel remorse for our transgressions, remorse that could lead us to the repentance necessary to be forgiven and free.  If, however, he is not an object to manipulate, we will finally confront our own hand in our problems, an acknowledgement that acts as a jumping off point for growth and change.  If he is not an object, we will realize that we can never buy our way out of our transgressions, and more importantly, we will begin to understand and finally value his forgiveness, as it should be understood.

 

ASK: Isaiah 56

This update is from this week’s meeting of ASK Daegu, with a reading from Isaiah 56. Each member contributed something to the message that follows. We pray that our group encourages you in the same way that it encouraged all of us. 

Chosen. Blessed. Favored. Children. Called. Saved. These words possess the potential of being a blessing or a curse to the world in the hands of sinful man. While a place in the presence of God is defined by such terms, claiming those terms without understanding their context or purpose makes them a weapon of condemnation both for the speaker and the listener. In the hands of religion and not the Gospel of Jesus, these terms establish boundaries and divisions, separating people between the “ins” and the “outs.” Or in other words, the “citizens of God” and the “foreigners to God,” implying that God’s presence is limited to only those who claim, in word alone, to know Him.

Are Christians chosen? Yes. However, that word chosen must find its way back to Genesis 1:26 when God “chose” to created mankind in His very image. Therefore, to reduce the meaning of “chosen” to Christians in your vicinity, church or part of the world is to completely deny the will and purpose of God to bring ALL people of ALL nations back into his presence.

Are Christians blessed? Yes. However, the nature of being blessed must never be confined to the material world. Blessings from God can certainly take on a material nature, however, the blessedness of a Christian is most powerfully found in the nature of being “chosen.” Being blessed as a Christian is not expressed merely in “Christian” terms. Our blessedness was forged in the dust of Genesis, where without God we had no life. However, our blessedness is made complete in the coming of Jesus Christ and his willingness to offer us life once again where we had none. More than any material gift or physical blessing, the blessed nature of life is the truest and most universal gift of God.

Are Christians favored? Yes. Following God undoubtedly produces an increase of his presence and therefore a “favored” existence. However, being favored has nothing to do with success, status, safety, security or honor in the eyes of the world. The favored nature of a Christian is simply the truth that God’s eye is on you, and is content in your reliance and love for him. Being favored is only true if it first arises from a nature of humility to know that we receive God’s favor and have not earned or deserved it.

Are Christians children? Yes. However, not privileged children. We are his children as much as our neighbor that professes no faith in Jesus. It is our responsibility to shun our sinful desires to offer that person anything but Jesus, who illuminates the fact that they are also loved, blessed, favored and a child of God that is being called back into their father’s presence to live and have life.

Are Christians called? Yes. Christians are most certainly called. However, we are called to follow Jesus. And following Jesus always means having an eye and a heart for those that have not yet understood the love of God. We are called not to control or to impose our will. We are called to sacrifice control of our own lives and release God’s will to heal and save those in this world.

Are Christians saved? Yes. Christians are saved, but only in our willingness to admit that were it not for Christ’s love, life and death, we would be without hope and without life as God designed us to have. Being saved is not that we put ourselves in a place where God could finish our work and ultimately save us. Being saved is knowing that in the moment of certain death, the hand of God intervened and offered life where there was none. Therefore, being saved is the grace given to a foreigner who knows that, in defiance of logic and beyond rational explanation, he is now admitted with complete access to a life and kingdom that he does not deserve and has not earned. Therefore, we must see that all Christians were foreigners at heart in order to understand the saving grace now offered to us through the gospel of Jesus Christ.