Sing a New Song of a Child Born

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
Isaiah 9:2

Isaiah 9 begins by addressing darkness. You and I don’t have to look around very far to see darkness in the world. A quick glance at the headlines reminds us of the darkness that exists in this world. Attacks on crowds, school shootings, family murders, and other atrocities make this darkness apparent. And it doesn’t take dramatic headlines to reveal the darkness. We experience darkness in our own lives as we face difficulties and in our own hearts as we hide things inside ourselves that we can’t even share with those closest to us.

In the midst of this darkness, Isaiah tells us there will be no more gloom. He tells us there will be a light. Darkness and light are one of several contrasts seen in Isaiah 9. Whether or not you are familiar with this chapter, you may recognize the words that bring the hopeful side of the contrasts:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah 9:6

The Contrast of Light and Dark

There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. Isaiah 9:1

In John 8:12 Jesus is described as “light of the world.” In our culture today, in many ways, we get used to the dark. Depressing news stories tend to have less impact as we get used to hearing a variation of the same story over and over. Isaiah offers incredible hope that the day is coming when the way things are, is not the way things will be. All the darkness in the world – the disease, sickness, death, betrayal – will not be the way they are today. Light is coming.

We tend to look at Isaiah 9:6 in isolation, but Isaiah 9:1 – 10:4 is actually addressing something about God’s anger. There is a repeated stanza throughout this passage in Isaiah, “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” In his commentary Isaiah: The NIV Application Commentary, John Oswald indicates we make three mistakes about God’s anger. We assume it’s an Old Testament concept not worthy of the New Testament God, but the New Testament God is quite capable of anger. We also assume that if God is angry with us, then we will suffer, so we falsely assume that all our suffering is tied to anger. It’s also a mistake to assume God’s anger is a metaphor for cause and effect. The anger of God is a righteous anger. God sees His people being compromised through their bad choices and it brings on His anger. The challenge for us is to walk in the light. We can be part of the light right here and now and not have to wait for ‘someday.’

The Contrast of Wisdom and Confusion: Wonderful Counselor

But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty…. But the people have not returned to him who struck them, nor have they sought the Lord Almighty. Isaiah 9:13, 16

On one hand you have a Wonderful Counselor, but n the other you have people who won’t seek the Lord. There are those that allow the Wonderful Counselor to be their guide, and there are those who don’t need it and do what they want. The result of God’s anger is confusion as we wander about doing whatever we feel is good for us. James 1:5 advises, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” The way we know the wisdom of God is through knowing the Word of God. The precepts if the Bible should be more familiar to you than the lyrics of your favorite music or the reporting of news stories. If not, you are setting yourself on the side of confusion and darkness. Your real source of inspiration is what you consume day after day. You get your wisdom from anywhere instead of receiving wisdom from the Wonderful Counselor.

In her most recent book, author Rosaria Butterfield, a former professor of English at Syracuse University, discusses her journey to faith. As someone who previously found her primary identity in her sexuality, describes sin as a baby tiger that looks cute and is invited into the home, not realizing that one day it will grow to devour you. The wisdom of God seen through the Word of God will help you to walk in the light.

The Contrast of Power and Arrogance: Mighty God

All the people will know it… who say with pride and arrogance of heart, “The bricks have fallen down, but we will rebuild with dressed stone; the fig trees have been felled, but we will replace them with cedars.” Isaiah 9:9-10

God was angry because the people were lifting themselves up as not needing anything. But the picture of “Mighty God” is one who is valiant or victorious. He will rule and use His power. The picture of Jesus is often meek and mild, but Jesus is presented as one who will conquer and set things right. Our own arrogance exists when we hold to our own plans and ways and hold God off at a distance. We take matters into our own hands. It’s actually more dangerous when we are successful, because we start to think we have no need. We will either become people who appreciate the power of God or we will end up being arrogant in our own self.

Isaiah 9:7 assures us, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,” In His rule, there will be a universal thriving of the ways things should be. This child will be the rightful ruler of the world and will establish it with justice and righteousness. God will make things the way that they ought to be. Those with power will share resources with those who don’t have them. Those who control opportunities won’t hoard then for themselves

The Contrast of Acceptance and Want: Everlasting Father

On the right they will devour, but still be hungry; on the left they will eat, but not be satisfied. Each will feed on the flesh of their own offspring: Manasseh will feed on Ephraim, and Ephraim on Manasseh; together they will turn against Judah.
Isaiah 9:20-21

Bestowing the title “Everlasting Father” to Jesus reflects the care of God. denotes the care of From time past, time future, and time without end, He will be a Father. He will continue to accept and love you as you are, but we are always seeking validation that we already have. The everlasting Father will always welcome us and always be strong enough. This poem by Jason Lehman sums up our constant longing:

It was spring, But it was summer I wanted,
The warm days, And the great outdoors.
It was summer, But it was fall I wanted,
The colorful leaves, And the cool, dry air.
It was fall, But it was winter I wanted,
The beautiful snow, And the joy of the holiday season.
It was winter, But it was spring I wanted,
The warmth, And the blossoming of nature.
I was a child, But it was adulthood I wanted,
The freedom, And the respect.
I was 20, But it was 30 I wanted,
To be mature, And sophisticated.
I was middle-aged, But it was 20 I wanted,
The youth, And the free spirit.
I was retired, But it was middle age I wanted,
The presence of mind, Without limitations.
My life was over.
But I never got what I wanted.

So many of us go from one thing to the next, always assuming that if we reach it, we will be satisfied to the depth of our soul, instead of being satisfied by the Everlasting Father. It’s the search for getting through school, landing a job, finding a spouse, having a child, buying a second house, selling the company, retiring work, or fill in your own blank. We think these things will satisfy. But we’re looking for satisfaction that doesn’t exist. You will never be satisfied by being, richer, thinner, prettier, or lovelier to the people of this earth if you are not lovely in the eyes of the Everlasting Father because you have failed to receive His acceptance.

The Contrast of Peace and Injustice: Prince of Peace

Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people… Isaiah 10:1-2

Jesus will one day make everything right. But we live in darkness when we make everything about us and using our personal resources for only our own ends. Jesus brings justice and peace. The people who walk in the light will not be disinterested in the plight of the less fortunate. Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke defines righteousness in the Old Testament means someone who is willing to disadvantage themselves for the sake of the community; the unrighteous is someone who’s willing to disadvantage the community for the sake of themselves. If we are going to walk in the light, we will be sure not to advantage ourselves at the cost if others.

What Can We Do with These Contrasts

There is an already and a not yet aspect to what God has done. We see this in Isaiah before the child is born. He describes that way it will one day be. We currently live in a place where there is something in place that is not yet fully realized. God has shoe a light into the world through Jesus. He has been revealed in part as The Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. There will be a day when He will be seen in entirety.

We become children of the light and walk in the light when we see the darkness in ourselves and receive Jesus as Savior. Then practically, we take steps to choose wisdom over confusion, God’s power over our arrogance, peace over injustice, and the acceptance of a loving Father over perpetual want. We will choose light over dark. This doesn’t mean that your life will be free from darkness. But as you walk in the light, you will help that light to shine in the world in which we live. The biggest change in this world comes not through programs, but through heart change. That’s what Jesus does by helping people to move form darkness to light.

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Sing a New Song of Immanuel

Everyone faces times of change in life that leave us feeling unclear about the future. It may be a health issue. You may lack confidence when you bring your first child home from the hospital. The breakdown of a marriage may be weighing on your heart. You might have decisions looming about your career.

Chapters seven and eight of Isaiah give us a picture of a man who was living in fear of the uncertainty of the future. King Ahaz was threatened by a super power. Out of fear and against God’s direction, He made an alliance with another nation for protection. King Ahaz knew what God had promised but because he couldn’t see how things could work out, he decided to take matters into his own hands. He was afraid and his fears drove his actions.

The Existence of Fear

There are different types of fears, both healthy fears and unhealthy. A healthy fear gives you caution. An unhealthy fear keeps you from doing things that may be good for you. A healthy fear gives you causes you to move quickly and carefully when crossing a busy road. An unhealthy fear would keep you from ever crossing any road.

Coupled with fear is our level of confidence. On one extreme is anxiety and the other is a sense of bravado. There is an impact on the way we couple our type of fear and our type of confidence. A healthy fear and strong bravado can lead to a false confidence which can lead to foolish choices. A healthy fear balanced with anxiety can lead to a safe decision. When you exercise bravado with an unhealthy fear, it can result in courage and a willingness to take things on. Anxiety with an unhealthy fear will cause us to miss out. The bottom line is that all fear isn’t necessarily bad and all confidence in the face of fear is not always good.

King Ahaz had a healthy fear because there was a super power seeking to overtake Judah. But it was also an unhealthy fear because he didn’t factor God into the equation. Instead he took matters into his own hands, made an alliance that wasn’t necessary, and missed out on seeing God. He wasn’t able to trust God.

Fear is the result of lacking trust in God. Instead of trusting, we do things our own way, with our own strength, and in our own time. We don’t wait on God because we’re afraid he won’t come through. When we talk about fear, it’s more than the emotion of fear. It’s about our conviction and our ability to act on something that is good, right, and true. Convictions can usually be placed into one of three categories: public, private, and core. Public convictions are those things we present to others. They can often be different than our private convictions, which aren’t as obvious to everyone. But our core convictions are revealed when we are stressed and under pressure.

Core convictions emerge when we feel betrayed, lonely, hurt, or financially strapped. Fear is often the place where our core convictions tell us we can no longer trust God or allow Him to lead. When we have experiences and the evidences shows us that things seem to be against us, that’s when fear thrives. Even our experiences in prayer may drive our reactions. There are times when we pray and God doesn’t give the answer we hoped for. Suddenly we find ourselves wondering if God is listening or if He cares. Author Madeleine L ‘Engle describes it like this:

Those who believe they believe in God without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even, at times, without despair, believe only in the idea of God – not in God Himself.

King Ahaz had all the evidence against him. But he was shaking against people instead of shaking before God. He feared Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son, even though God warned him that they were not a real threat. Over and over God assured Ahaz, but still he tried to work things out on his own. There was something significant that King Ahaz was missing.

The Existence of Faith

Faith and fear are not necessarily opposites. We often think that if we have faith, we will not face fear. But faith often shows up in the midst of our greatest fear. According to theologian Martin Luther: “Faith is a free surrender and joyous wager on the unseen, unknown, untested goodness of God.” Faith is not only trusting God for a positive result. Faith is following God even if you don’t like the result. For King Ahaz, that meant trusting God even though everything around him seemed bleak. In this moment of bleakness, Isaiah gives a great prophecy in Chapter seven, verse 10:

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and[e] will call him Immanuel.

Those were cryptic words in the day if Ahaz. When Isaiah looks to the future, there was an Immanuel born in the lifetime of Isaiah. This was a small fulfillment of this prophecy. But as with most Old Testament prophecy, there is a a relatively immediate fulfillment, but there is also a longer term ultimate fulfillment. In Matthew 1:22-23 we read, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).” Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is with us. Immanuel says many things to us today:

  • There is a God: When the world feels out of control, it’s natural to feel alone. Jesus coming to earth reminds people everywhere that there is a God who holds the world in His hands. He is knowable. He is powerful. He is with His people. He is present, available, and ready to work in our lives.
  • God is with us: This is not an exclusive “us.” This is an invitational us. Whoever comes and acknowledges Jesus as Lord and Savior can know that God is with them.

This Immanuel truth about God can overcome fear. Whether you have anxiety or bravado, healthy or unhealthy fear, you can be assured that God knows what is going on in your life. He came as a child and lived on this earth with no advantage. Yet, He has all the power in His hand. If you will acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior, this is the God who is with you wherever you are and in whatever you’re facing. God does not always give you what you want, but God will always call you to what is best. Real faith is following even when you don’t love or like the result.

The song of Immanuel is meaningful when things are bleak and fear is reigning. A gentle God through a child in a manger assures us that we are not forgotten. We only need to trust and God will work in a way that you can’t understand. If you are alone, you don’t have to compromise your standards. If you’re in a broken marriage, you can trust God instead of your circumstances. If you struggle to forgive another, God will give you the ability to forgive. So often fear encourages you to take care of it on your own. Jesus is the ultimate reminder that God is trustworthy. You can trust Him with eternity and you can trust Him with every day of your life. You can leave the results in God’s hand. Theologian Henri Nouwen describes trust in this way:

To be grateful for the good things that happen in our lives is easy. But to be grateful for all of our lives – the good as well as the bad, the moments of joy as well as the moments of sorrow, the successes as well as the failures, the rewards as well as the rejection – that requires hard spiritual work.

Until you can thank God for all things in our lives, you are using God as a means to an end. Real faith doesn’t just trust God for a good result. Real faith honors and trusts God no matter what the result. God is with you. You can choose to honor God even when it isn’t the obvious choice.

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Sing a New Song of Mission

Have you ever paused and to assess the state of the world and felt threatened? Have you looked around and thought things could be or should be better? The prophet Isaiah lived in a time when the nation of Israel felt threatened and wrote these words:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
Isaiah 6:1-3

The timing of these words is significant because Uzziah’s death was a threat to the nation of Israel. The security of what can be and what should be was in peril. In Isaiah’s day, people were self-absorbed and wanted to live life to the hilt. During these uncertain times, Isaiah was able to see a calling from God. In today’s world, it’s possible to experience that same sense of calling if we see clearly.

We Need to See the Lord

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” Isaiah 6:3

When Isaiah’s stability was threatened and questioned who would reign, he saw the Lord and understood who is on the ultimate throne. His vision was a holy, holy, holy God. In the Hebrew language, there weren’t many adjectives, so to emphasize something as significant, the same word would be used three times. This description of God is asserting that He is beyond anything that we can describe.

Beyond the description of God’s holiness, we are told that the whole earth is filled with His glory. This word ‘”glory” means weight – someone with a bearing on us. In today’s world, we don’t tend to think of God’s glory as something that has bearing on us. We think of glory as an ethereal concept. We don’t see Him as one who brings any weight or breaks anything in our lives. Instead, we look at ourselves as the one with weight and control. This can be proved whenever we reject something we read in the Bible or refuse to follow God’s Word.

Instead, we enjoy God as a concept and pick and choose what we will accept from what He has to say. We look at God with the approach of a cost/benefit analysis. We tend to follow if it helps or benefits us the way we see fit. As long as we remain the arbiter of what is and isn’t good, then we really haven’t encountered God; we’ve encountered a concept that is lighter than God. Ultimately, if we don’t adjust ourselves or our way of thinking of God, then it probably isn’t God that we are worshiping. Instead we’re creating a version of God that is palatable to us.

We embrace the holiness and weight of God when we are willing to say, “When God says it, that settles it.” If we encounter God, we will come across things that are counter to our preference. We would see God differently if we understood His holiness and weight. When we encounter the God who actually is, we no longer serve Him for what we will get. Instead we are simply taken with the presence of who God really is. We have a reverence for God. Pastor A.W. Tozer describes it like this:

What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us. We tend, by a secret law of the soul, to move toward our mental image of God. This is true, not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the church. The most revealing thing about the church is her idea of God. And the church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping people. This she has done, not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge. And her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.

Without even realizing it, the church has a low view of God. Just as detrimental is emphasizing one characteristic of God over another. We embrace the qualities we like, excluding the ones we don’t. It’s embracing the God of love, without embracing the God of justice. It’s approaching God as a buddy instead of embracing His holiness and transcendence. We emphasize one part of God while excluding the other instead of being moved by embracing the whole God

We Need to See Ourselves

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah 6:5-7

When Isaiah saw God’s glory and holiness, he was able to see and accept his on uncleanness. When we really encounter God, we stop comparing ourselves with others and making judgments against them. We see God and see ourselves in comparison with Him. Our uncleanness is often seen by the Words that come out of our mouths. It reveals the ugliness of our heart. When we treat holiness as a concept instead of an encounter with God, we perceive that it is other people that God finds unworthy.We become self-righteous by constantly looking at our people’s faults. Instead we need to see ourselves as people with not only unclean lips, but an unclean heart unworthy to stand before God.

When you experience God, it reveals your need for God, but He doesn’t end there. It is God who atones for your sin and restores you. He offers you cleansing through what Jesus has done. When you embrace the message of the cross of Jesus Christ, you are pardoned and your sins are wiped away completely. It’s like running up a frivolous debt and having someone come along and repay it totally for you. God gives you something you can never earn.

Our self-righteousness can often get in the way. We either think that we don’t owe or we think that we can pay it on our own. When you see God with reverence, you can see yourself with repentance. You will know that you owe a debt that you cannot pay. 17th century theologian Richard Baxter said it like this, “Fear your own hardness of heart more than anything else.” It’s our hardness of heart that makes us think we don’t need God and feel more righteous than others.

We Need to See Our Mission

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’” Isaiah 6:7-8

Isaiah followed God’s calling and the message was unpopular. In today’s world, the message of Jesus is often not well-received. The message of the Gospel is easily marginalized in today’s culture. Jesus gives us a job that isn’t easy. We are called to be His representative in a society that is self-indulgent and self-absorbed, and in a nation that does not honor God. Just as Isaiah was called, people of faith are called today to be people who will follow even when it is not pleasant and not easy.

God gave a hint about this difficulty in Isaiah 6:13, “’as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.’” God was leaving a remnant that he could raise in the nation. There will be life again. He was telling Isaiah that he was being sent to a difficult place, but Isaiah would be God’s representative – His remnant.

Where has God placed you that isn’t easy? Are you able to say “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8b). You may be the spouse who stays at home in what seems to be a thankless job. Maybe you are out in the workforce feeling unappreciated and unable to get ahead. Maybe you’re in a marriage without a biblical reason to divorce, but the relationship is strained and tenuous. Maybe you’re unable to have children. Maybe those around you don’t honor or recognize God and you alone bring the voice of God. In these times, can you say here I am; I will give the best I have to the calling you have given me.

If you understand the vision of who God is and a vision of yourself, then you will understand that wherever He has placed is the calling He has given you today. Be His ambassador. Love the neighbors who are hard to love. Serve the people in your industry. Maintain integrity when others cut corners. As you see yourself as you really are, sinful yet loved, you will be compelled to share that message with others. The deeper God is in us, the wider He will be in the world. The more we’re moved by who God is and what He has done to cleanse us, the more we’ll be compelled to say, “Here am I. Send me!”

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Sing a New Song of Peace

In the film Grand Canyon a man diverts from a traffic jam and ends up on a dangerous street where his car breaks down. He was taunted and threatened by a group of teenagers. Upon arriving, the tow-truck driver tried to school the leader of the gang with these words: “The world ain’t supposed to be like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without asking you if I can. And that dude is supposed to be able to wait for his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than what it is here.”

Looking around the country, particularly in the week following the 2016 Presidential Election, no matter how you voted, many look around and say, “this isn’t how it should be.” Isaiah chapters two through five capture a picture of the nation of Israel, not only describing what is, but capturing what should or could be:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many people will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:2-3

Isaiah gives us a picture of nations streaming to the Lord’s temple. There is often discussion over whether the church should be attractional or missional. Should the church attract people to it or should the church go out to the people? In the Bible, the image cuts both ways. But in these verses in Isaiah, we see great attractional imagery. The people of God are in the temple and they are so winsome that nations stream to the temple. There will come a time when the Word of God will be so central that people will want to come and know it. It is a picture of a community so marked by devotion and allegiance to God that it attracts the world.

We also see a commitment to peace in Isaiah 2:4-5: “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” To settle disputes means to arbitrate to a thoughtful conclusion. Not only will the Word of God be exalted but God will settle disputes and put right all that is wrong. Weapons of war will be made like garden tools. In his book Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be, Cornelius Plantiga pictures it this way:

As the great writing prophets of the Bible knew, sin has a thousand faces. The prophets knew how many ways human life can go wrong because they knew how many ways human life can go right. These prophets kept dreaming of a time when God would put things right again. They dreamed of a new age when human crookedness would be straightened out. When rough places would be made plain. The foolish would be made wise and the wise humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower and mountains would run with wine. Weeping would cease and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People could work in peace and work for fruitful affect. All nature would be fruitful, benign and filled with wonder upon wonder. All humans would be knit together. Shalom means human flourishing, delight, and wholeness. It’s really just the way things should be.

It’s a God-given longing that things should be better. Not only did it manifest in Israel as they faced an Assyrian invasion, but it manifests today. You find it in music from country to pop to hip-hop. In this longing, we search in the same way the Israelites searched for fulfillment as seen in Isaiah 2:6-9. We search for it in authority outside of God. We look for it in wealth. We rely on military might. We worship idols that have no substance. But God answers this searching with a warning in Isaiah 2:11-18:

The eyes of the arrogant will be humbled and human pride brought low; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day. The Lord Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled)…The arrogance of man will be brought low and human pride humbled; the Lord alone will be exalted in that day, and the idols will totally disappear.

The world is consumed with power, wealth, and authority with human arrogance. Isaiah 2:22, warns us to “Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” A day is coming when the world will prioritize the Word of God. A day is coming when the world will prioritize the peace of God. Continue reading in Isaiah chapters three through five and there are several observations and warnings to the people:

  • God will take everything that you rely on (Isaiah 3:3:1-2).
  • Frivolous qualities were being accepted as adequate for leadership (Isaiah 3:6). In his commentary The Prophecy of Isaiah, Alec Moyter, “Isaiah, in reality, is describing a breakdown in national character and seriousness – the spirit which treats national welfare, politics, and leadership as a joke.”
  • God desired righteousness, justice, and people who cared about the least, but instead he got bloodshed. He desired right-living, but instead the words of the disenfranchised were heard. (Isaiah 5:7)
  • A self-interested leadership was elevated (Isaiah 3:13-14).
    Injustice was tolerated (Isaiah 3:15).
  • The nation was celebrating self-indulgence (Isaiah 3:16-24).

Isaiah 2 begins with the overall picture of what should be – a time of peace and a time of celebrating God’s Word. It then moves to what is – the people of God living in self-indulgence, elevated interest in their leadership, and disregarding God. Then Isaiah 4:2 brings us back to what should be – a time of cleansing and holiness looking ahead to the time of Jesus Christ. God describes what should be, brings us to the reality of what is, and then extends His grace by cleansing and making holy so we can experience what should be. John Oswalt describes it like this:

God doesn’t intend judgment to be His last word. If it’s true that there are certain inevitable consequences that follow sinful choices, it’s also true that God can take us through those sinful choices and bring us out the other side without annihilating us. Judgment is not intended to destroy, but to cleanse. The only issue is whether we will be the ones who will allow judgment to do its cleansing work.

The things that God allows is a way of God allowing us to be cleansed so we can experience what will be and what should be. John Oswalt also describes it like this: “Relocate your happiness in the future, in a world that doesn’t exist yet except in the promises of God. If you do that, you won’t be devastated when the idols of human pride are trashed, as they will be. In God, you possess both the present and the future.” Author C.S. Lewis also put it in this perspective: “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

We see an invitation in Isaiah 2:5, “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” The cleansing work is providing light. Even though you live in a corrupt society, you are called to be the people who prioritize and reflect the Word of God and the peace of God. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, 6 describes it like this:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God…. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

As a follower of Jesus Christ, you are called to be a light in the midst of the division seen in our nation. You will prioritize the Word of God. You will live out its implications. You will be a light. You will be radically committed to what it means to bring human flourishing and peace in this world.

Some answer this call by voting for one party or another. Jesus was never afraid to challenge all political groups. In His day, it was the liberal Sadducees and the conservative Pharisees. Jesus loved both groups but at times was at odds with both groups. Jesus was willing to challenge both sides of the spectrum. No matter where you land, don’t be afraid to challenge what is objectional to the Word of God in the peace of God even within your own political side of the spectrum. Don’t be afraid to listen to what the other spectrum thinks or feels.

NBA on TNT host Ernie Johnson had some poignant comments about the 2016 Presidential Election after choosing to resort to a write-in vote. He had this conclusion: “I never know from one election to the next who will be in the Oval Office, but I always know who will be on the throne… Scripture tells us to pray for our leaders.. I’m going to pray for Donald Trump. I’m going to pray for all those people right now who feel like they are on the outside looking in and are afraid at this point… In short, I’m praying for America.”

Ernie Johnson expressed Christian hope and a commitment to the process in this world. It matters who’s in the White House, but ultimately God is on the throne. It’s important to live out biblical principles here and now by loving your neighbor, making this world a better place, and praying for leadership. It takes people to be committed to living out the peace and justice of God in this world. We should be a mirror of what should be, not what is.

In this world, the what should be/could be are just glimpses. One day you can share in the what should be in it’s entirety if you acknowledge Jesus Christ as your Savior and acknowledge that, at times, you contribute to the world as it should not be. Jesus came and lived a perfect live, died on the cross, and did for you what you could never do for yourself. His grace and gift gives us the opportunity to live simultaneously in this world and for another world.

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Sing a New Song of Purity

Sometimes a song gets stuck in your head. It might be out of pure repetition, or it might remind you of a person or experience. Sometimes it’s just fun and catchy. Sometimes a song captures something emotional within us.

Isaiah 42:10 calls us to make a new song to the Lord: “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them.” The book of Isaiah is a long prophecy of God. As you experience God through the book of Isaiah, you can have a new emotive response to who God is. This what happened to George Frideric Handel. In 1741, Handel took 24 days to study the book of Isaiah. It’s been said that he had such a vision of who God was, that he could do nothing other than to create a new song to God’s glory. We know it as Handel’s Messiah.

In the first 35 chapters of Isaiah, there’s the looming threat of Assyria, a super power who threatened the the tribes in the northern Kingdom of Israel. The two southern tribes of Israel had survived. In chapters 36-39, King Hezekiah deals with the threat of Assyria as well as the threat of Babylon. In chapters 40-66, the nation is in exile and the words of Isaiah are filled with words of hope and comfort.

The book of Isaiah gives a vision of God. It encompasses both His majesty and His mercy. In today’s culture, we tend to reduce God to something tangible for our comprehension. But there is a picture of God that is so much greater than what we typically have. And there’s also a picture of God that is incredibly gracious and merciful despite our consistent failings. The first chapter of Isaiah provides an introduction of God and His people under three headings.

Rebellion

Hear me, you heavens! Listen, earth! For the Lord has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. Isaiah 1:2

God is like a parent who has raised children who rebel. The nation, built by the God of Israel, had rebelled. They were no longer interested in God’s standards or rules. They wanted to do things their own way. We see in Isaiah 1:3 that even animals know who takes care of them by obeying their owner, “The ox knows its master, the donkey its owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” The issue is found in verse 4: “Woe to the sinful nation… children given to corruption!” The issue is sin through willful rebellion that turns further into corruption. Sin is just a missing of the mark, but rebellion is a willful choice to ignore the standard. Corruption takes it even further by twisting the truth. As a group of people, the nation of Israel was sinful, rebellious, and corrupt.

The first 10 verses speak to the relativists in today’s society – someone who considers themselves to be spiritual but not religious. They want the comfort and consolation of a God who loves me, but don’t want anyone to have authority over me. They want to do, what they want, when they want, with no constraints placed by anyone. Isaiah identifies this as the essence of sin – desiring God without being fully devoted.

The rebellion is a serious thing. As you read through Isaiah, you see that God takes sin much more seriously than we often take sin. Israel as a nation was getting further and further away from God’s ideals. This happened not only in Isaiah’s day, but it’s also happening in ours. Ray Ortlund, author of Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, writes about it this way:

To forsake the Lord is to treat Him as the last resort, rather than the fountainhead. To despise God is to dis-relish Him. It’s to discount Him while valuing other things.

Religion

“The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?” says the Lord.… Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. Isaiah 1:11,13

In the passage from Isaiah 1:10-15, God compare Israel to the people of Sodom and Gomorrah – cities destroyed because of their rebellion to God. He describes their outward religious actions as meaningless because in their inward heart they were uncaring to their own. They thought their rituals made them acceptable just like the ritualists in today’s society. There’s a sense that we can do whatever we want all week as long as we show up to worship on the weekend or do something to give a nod to God. It may just be based on baptism or confirmation or some based service. In Isaiah 1:15, we see that religion is not helpful: “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I hide my eyes from you; even when you offer many prayers, I am not listening.”

In today’s culture, people tend to see God in one of two ways. They see God as all law and feel that if they meet His standard, they will be okay. For others, there is a God of all acceptance and there is no sense of a need to follow a standard. Isaiah immediately tackles both of these. We have a God who is majestic with standards and He is simultaneously full of grace and mercy.

Our worship isn’t just coming and singing to God. Worship is our entire presentation of ourselves. To come and sing without dealing with our own sinfulness, hypocrisy, and injustice is ultimately offensive to God. Ray Ortlund captures it this way: “It might not occur to us that the soul of what God hates is burdened and wearied by the worship we offer Him if it is not in repentance. The worship that He is regarding as His own authorized levitical worship, is not some ludicrous human invention.” You might be worshiping in the right ways, but not worshiping with the right heart. The majestic God takes our worship more seriously that we do.

Righteousness 

“Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” Isaiah 1:18-20

We read nine command in Isaiah 1:16-20. The first three are related to our hearts to God, the next three related to our own hearts, and the last three related to society. This section concludes with a picture of the merciful God. Even though you have rebelled against me and I take your sin more seriously than you do, I will make you white as snow. Even though you have religious activities that are full of ritual and I take your worship more seriously than you do I will make you white as snow.

This is not a pass to ignore God’s precepts. God is acknowledging that He knows you will fail. The motivation do things that are pleasing to God is in understanding that despite our failure, He is merciful and will make us white as snow. It’s a future reference to a greater day in court to a greater sacrifice –the blood of the lamb, Jesus Christ, will be given on behalf of the people. When red is seen through red, it is no longer seen. The red of your sin is seen through the red of the blood of the lamb, which is completely pure, completely white, without blemish.

God even sees righteousness more seriously than we do. He does not call us to try harder or to do more. Instead, he is the one who makes you clean. When you understand this, it produces a new song. It brings gratitude that Jesus has done this on your behalf. If you turn, you can experience the good of the land. “But if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” Isaiah 1:20. It is by God chastening us that He actually restores us. Sometimes hardship is grace because He is preparing you to be restored. But it takes coming to a point of acknowledging that you are not innocent, you have rebelled, and you have brought inappropriate worship to God

I wrote this prayer years ago:

Father—the truth about me is that often I choose sin:
Sometimes I choose hatred.
Sometimes I choose slander.
Sometimes I choose envy.
Sometimes I choose greed.
Sometimes I choose pettiness.
Sometimes I choose lust.
Sometimes I choose gossip.
Sometimes I choose pride.
Sometimes I choose self-reliance.
Sometimes I choose self-righteousness.
Sometimes I choose self-aggrandizement.
Sometimes I choose dishonesty.
Sometimes I choose unkind words.
Sometimes I choose to ignore the obvious needs around me.
Sometimes I choose to hoard my resources.
Sometimes I choose to neglect Your command to share the gospel.

The list of things I wrongly choose could go on and on. And sometimes I act on these things in ways that are darker than I even care to state. Each time I make such a choice, I choose death (Romans 6:23). Today, I ask that You would breathe life into my soul afresh And enable me to choose life—to choose You and Your ways.

When you take what you have done and bring it to the cross, God will make you innocent. He will make you pure. He will make it as though it never happened. You will always be running from God instead of running to God as long as you are trying to make your own rebellion okay and make your own rituals enough. God is a God of majesty who deserves all your allegiance. But He is a God of mercy who makes right what you can’t.

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Guarding Your Future: Your Net Worth

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”       Matthew 6:19-24

Imagine you were driving on a two lane road and got stuck in traffic for 30 minutes or more and your GPS gave no hope of the traffic dissipating soon. If you knew other friends or family members were headed the same direction, you would most likely call and warn them to turn around and go another direction.

In this excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives a warning to those who are listening – a warning to turn and go a different direction, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…“ We may not like this warning, but this is Jesus’ way of telling us that He knows reality, understands what’s ahead, and knows what is true. You can store things here, but they can be destroyed. You can lock things up to protect them, but thieves can still steal them away. But treasures stored in heaven can never be taken away.

There is a consistent theme in the Bible. You were created for more than just this world, but for another world as well. It’s not that this world doesn’t matter or you shouldn’t have nice things, but when you think about this life, if you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you recognize that this life isn’t everything. This is the great hope of the Christian faith. No matter what incredible difficulties you face, you know the brokenness of this world isn’t everything. You have a treasure beyond this life.

We don’t like to talk about money, but money matters to everybody. Jesus tells us to store our treasure in heaven, where it will last. It’s significant that Jesus tells us, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) We often think of that phrase in reverse. We think that where we put our treasure shows where our heart is. In actuality, wherever we put our treasure, our heart will follow. What you value with your money, your heart will start to value even more.

Jesus takes it further to define the difference between being healthy and unhealthy in reference to our generosity. If you are generous, then you’re healthy, but being stingy is unhealthy. You may think you can serve both God and money, but it’s not really possible to serve two masters. One you will serve and one you will despise.

Most of us think that we need more in our pile to navigate life and take care of every need. Randy Alcorn gives an example of how fleeting treasures in this world can be in his book, The Treasure Principle. If you had amassed large sums of confederate money during the Civil War, at the end of the war, it would be best to divest quickly, because soon it would be worthless. This is a good analogy for the words of Jesus. As life on this earth comes to an end, all we have amassed in our pile will be of no value in the life to come.

That’s often a hard concept to grasp in the here and now because we are bombarded with the message that we need a bigger pile to have security, status, and satisfaction. But Jesus warns us to use it for something greater because one day it will be gone. Theologian Martin Luther said it succinctly, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all. But whatever I have placed in God’s hand, I still possess.” When we are wise with our resources, we invest them in eternity, not just the here and now.

Alfred Nobel was a Swedish chemist known for inventing dynamite. In 1888, his brother Ludwig died. He was saddened by his brother’s death, but shocked when a newspaper confused the two brothers. The headline read, The Merchant of Death is Dead. He was dismayed that his life was characterized by death and destruction. He made a decision that day that his life would count for something more – for something positive. He decided to give away all the money he had earned to fund research and to give prizes to people who were doing things to contribute to the good of society. Today Alfred Nobel is know longer known as the Merchant of Death and more widely known as the founder of the Nobel Peace Prize. Alfred Nobel looked ahead and wanted to do something more important with his life.

The Nobel Peace Prize, as good as it is, is not as good as placing your treasure in something that goes beyond this world. If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ, your ultimate treasure is not in this world. Your ultimate treasure is found in something greater. It’s not about the biggest pile. It’s about putting it forward to something that makes an eternal difference.

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Guarding Your Future: Your Choices

The future comes with incredible regularity. A day gives way to another day, a week gives way to another week, a month gives way to another month, and a year gives way to another year. What we do in the past impacts our choices in the future. If we don’t live a healthy lifestyle, it can impact how we live in the future. If we don’t invest in key relationships, at some point we may experience a relational break down. If we don’t keep things in line financially, it can limit our choices when we look ahead.

The good financial choices we make today give us options for the future. Proverbs 31:10-21 is often used as a reference to a woman with good character. But looking at the text overall you will see that a woman of character is wise with money and “has no fear for her household” because she has been financially wise:

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar. She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family and portions for her female servants. She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night. In her hand she holds the distaff and grasps the spindle with her fingers. She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy. When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
Proverbs 31:10-21

Money is not a popular subject for most, but money is one of the most addressed topics in the Bible. If you have ever worried about having enough for your future, overspent your budget, had a hard time giving, been unable to meet the need of another, or worried about the economy, then you are not alone. There are many principles to consider when it comes to finances, but I have found five specific values within Proverbs that are worth considering.

Earn It Honestly

Better a little with righteousness than much gain with injustice. Proverbs 16:8

The simple teaching here is to earn your money honestly. There are even more verses about earning money with integrity and honesty:

  • Proverbs 11:1 The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.
  • Proverbs 13:11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but whoever gathers money little by little makes it grow.
  • Proverbs 28:6 Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse.

Basically, it is better to be poor and doing things right than to be wealthy and doing things dishonestly. Have you ever received incorrect change in your favor and hesitated to make it right? Proverbs warns that if you are willing to be dishonest in small things, it shows your honesty is more about how you are seen in this world. We have choices all the time with being honest about money. Dishonesty comes through more than blatant theft. It can be seen by taking things home from the office, being fraudulent with our taxes, conducting dishonest deals, lacking disclosure, or shorting an employer in hours or effort.

Spend It Wisely

Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house. Proverbs 24:27

This Proverb advises us to spend money on an asset first, before spending it on something that doesn’t offer a return to you. We are bombarded with messages to spend in order to be happy. This often leads to spending beyond our means. Proverbs cautions us to take care of the essentials before spending on something that’s just nice to have. In our consumeristic society, we spend for different reasons – as a compulsion, out of emotion, when we’re bored, or to establish status. John Maxwell describes it this way: “A budget is people telling their money where to go, rather than wondering where it went.”

Save It Consistently

…the wise stir up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down. Proverbs 21:20

Wise people are savers. Some studies show that 70% of Americans live pay check to pay check. Pastor John Ortberg talks about two kinds of people when it comes to money – nerds and hippies. Nerds are those who always make sure they have everything in line and everything balances. Hippies are those who only want to spend. And nerds usually marry hippies. In reality, it’s necessary to find a balance between the extremes. If you only worry about saving, you won’t live in the present and you won’t enjoy the life that you have today. But if you live so fully in the present that you don’t save, you won’t be prepared for what you face in the future.

Borrow It Sparingly

The rich rule over the poor and the borrower is slave to the lender. Proverbs 22:7

There are two kinds of debt – good debt and bad debt. Good debt is something that you borrow for something that appreciates in value. Borrowing for something like an education, an asset, a business opportunity, or a house is good debt. Bad debt is something that you borrow for something that depreciates in value. Borrowing for vacation, clothes, food, or an automobile is bad debt. The challenge of debt subjects us to pressure in life. Debt results in earning pressure in order to earn more money to service our debt. This leaves us without joy. Debt erodes our buying power. Debt can lead to the temptation to cut corners or become manipulative. Bad debt is driven by a desire for more and an unwillingness to be content with what we have. Laurence Shames put it like this in his book The Hunger for More: “The things that we have, however wonderful, tend to pale in comparison to those things we might still get.”

Give It Generously

Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops… Proverbs 3:9

A farmer in that day would give the first 10% of his crops to the Temple in order to honor God before keeping anything for himself. In our world today, that equates to giving the first portions, not the leftovers to honor God. God can do more with the 90% that we have left when we give him the first 10%. Proverbs 11:24 describes it like this: “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” When we give, God works and resupplies back to us. When we give generously, we experience joy and it often comes back to us. Giving addresses our consumeristic desire for more in the face because we give before considering what we get.

Proverbs 19:17 echoes that principle: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.” When you take resources and help others who don’t have as much, God says that it’s like lending to God and He will satisfy that debt. It’s not giving to get. It’s God describing Himself as the ultimate creditor. You can’t out give God.

Proverbs 11:4 gives us even more than these five principles: “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.” There is coming a day that the pile of what you have accumulated won’t matter at all. It will have no value on the day that you stand before God in judgment. Righteousness is something that no one has. The only righteousness you have is through what Christ has done on your behalf. All of your money is ultimately going away, so make sure you handle your future in this world. But make sure you also handle your future beyond this world. One day your money won’t buy you anything.

Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” Money is just a tool in this life. All that you gain will not help you when you stand before God. Your only right-standing will come with what you have done with Jesus Christ.

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