Posts Tagged ‘Isaiah’
[03APRIL2012] Lent | Holy Week 2012: Day 42—Reflection and Meditation
♦ Mark 12:10-11, 29-31
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.
The glorious, divine exchange; what an incredible mystery this is. This event, the murderous crucifixion…the death of God Almighty, is the medicine that heals my soul…converting my mortal and separated-from-God self to reunited-with-God and transforming me to immortality forever to live with my gracious and eternal King Jesus. I have been healed! It is for this reason that I find what I offer back to my God is no less than all my love…with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength.
[05MAR2012] Lent 2012: Day 13—Reflection and Meditation
♦ Gospel - Mark 9:2-10
“Lord God, for forty days Jesus prayed before preaching the word that gives life. Accept our fast and prayers, and listen as we say: Lord, save your people.”
I consider two very stark and very different views of Jesus today. The first view comes to me from Isaiah 53:1-9 and depicts a view of Jesus that is very lowly—
2 There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.
The second view of Jesus comes from Mark’s Gospel (Mark 9:2-10) and reads very differently than Isaiah’s portrayal of the Messiah—
2 As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
I like Mark’s portrayal of Jesus far more than I do Isaiah’s. I think most people do. I believe that many people, myself included, often imagine Jesus as a handsome, fit, charismatic, and wildly popular fellow… maybe we add super-intelligent, all-powerful, omniscient, and other godly attributes to the mix too. After all, Jesus was/is God too. I don’t think I’m the only one who wrestles with the paradox presented to us in the person of Jesus, who is God and man. I think my problem is that I subconsciously will more often think of Jesus as God than I do of him being man. This is where I think the problem of my characterization of Jesus becomes detrimental. If I think of him with more God-like qualities focusing on his perfection and divinity, I push him outside of the possibility of becoming a real-world role model for me. I will invariably think, “I can’t follow Jesus fully; he’s God…and I certainly cannot be like God.” The end result is me setting my standard for following Jesus lower than what God has intended for me.
I think I should spend more time focusing on Isaiah’s portrait of the Christ. Here I will not only come face-to-face with the humanity of Jesus, but I will have a more accurate understanding of who he was as he walked the earth opposing my contemporary idealization of Jesus. Isaiah’s characterization also reveals a more accurate view of who I am in relation to Christ. Considering what I know about myself, it is likely I would have been one who despised and rejected Jesus too. As much as I hate to admit that about myself, reading the account from Isaiah keeps me grounded with an examination of my own heart.
Both views are important for me regardless of my preference. I need to remember the human side—the common and even unattractive side of Jesus. I also need to be reminded of his “divine” side. Most of all about his divine nature is the understanding that while on earth, it was fueled by the Holy Spirit and the prayerful relationship Jesus had with God the Father…both of which are available to me and why my personal bar is always to have Jesus as my model as I learn to walk as he walked.
God be in my head and in my understanding. God be in mine eyes and in my looking. God be in my mouth and in my speaking. God be in my heart and in my thinking. God be in my end and in my departing. -Sarum Primer, 1527
O LORD, I give my life to you. I trust in you my God! Show me the right path, O LORD; point out the road for me to follow. Lead me by your truth and teach me, for you are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in you. -Psalm 25:1-5
[28DEC2011] He Knows How Weak We Are
♦ Gospel -Matthew 2:13-23
Today was a day to remember the first martyrs of the Church, the holy innocents that were killed on the command of Herod who hoped to destroy the Messiah King Jesus. While reading this passage my mind began to wander thinking about the flight of Joseph and Mary to Egypt as they were ordered by the angel of the Lord who appeared to Joseph in a dream. I thought about the early years of Jesus and how he grew up from infant to toddler, toddler to little boy, adolescence, puberty, young manhood… and man.
My first thoughts about Jesus almost always consider his deity. It’s hard for me to naturally think of Jesus in the terms of “average joe.” The Bible gives me reason to believe that Jesus grew up similarly as would any other young man his age and in his culture. Philippians 2:5-9 reads that Jesus specifically “gave up his divine privileges, took the humble position of a slave and was born a human being…appearing in human form.” Isaiah writes: “he (Jesus) grew up in the LORD’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief” (Isaiah 53:2-4).
It’s hard for me to imagine Jesus falling down as he took his first steps. It’s hard for me to imagine that he was scolded and needed discipline by his parents, but I suppose he must have… how else might he have learned not to touch fire or other things like not to stand behind a donkey or put dirty things into his mouth like little kids might do. I like to think Jesus was this perfect specimen of a man, but that’s not how Isaiah portrays him. Isaiah describes him average at best, maybe even a little unpleasant to look upon considering “he was despised and rejected.” I wonder if his brothers and sisters knew of the scandal surrounding his birth; I wonder if they might have held him in contempt. The Gospel according to Mark recounts a scene where Jesus’ brothers and sisters proclaim him “out of his mind” (Mark 3:21). It is hard for me to reconcile man-Jesus with God-Jesus. I’m sure I’m not the only one. I can’t imagine Jesus going through puberty, the awkwardness and physiological changes the body goes through during that life transition. I think about the normal weirdness of life that I’ve experienced and just can’t seem to imagine God experiencing these things, but the lessons and teaching about Christ Jesus, the Incarnation, seem to teach us that Jesus did experience the normalcy of growing up as an “average Joe” or average son of Joe as it were.
So, I was still thinking about these things…still wrestling with some way to organize them neatly in my head when I began to pray my way through Psalm 103.
1 Let all that I am praise the Lord; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
8 The Lord is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
9 He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
10 He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
12 He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
13 The Lord is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
14 For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
15 Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
16 The wind blows, and we are gone—as though we had never been here.
17 But the love of the Lord remains forever with those who fear him.
His salvation extends to the children’s children 18 of those who are faithful to his covenant,
of those who obey his commandments!
I’m very familiar with this Psalm and love to worship with words and heart filled with adoration as I linger over each line and verse. I am thankful and forever grateful as the mercies of my LORD are revealed in the promises and truth of this Psalm… I never get tired or bored singing these words and claiming them through faith as my own… But remember; I was still considering “average joe Jesus” when I entered into this Psalm of praise and worship.
The significance of sharing this reminder comes in realizing something new about verses eight through fourteen. All of the sudden as I was reading these, I was thinking about the Eternal characteristics of God and realizing that average joe Jesus was also the King of Eternal Creation, the Alpha and Omega, and although he set aside his divine nature for a season, he still was Sovereign and All-Knowing on both sides of that “dash” into linear time. Here’s what I’m saying… As awesome and glorious it is to read these verses, when I read “For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust…” my eyes got hot and burning as tears welled up in them. I realized the reason he remembers we are dust is not just because he formed us from dust, but because he took on our “dust nature.” The compassion he exudes comes from experiencing the devastating nature of sin wrought upon his children. This is why he is “slow to anger” and why “he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.” Sure He is God and this is part of his nature, but the other “part” is that He is average joe Jesus; he was not the most handsome chap on the block…and might have been the last one picked for sides when the local kids were playing Hebrews & Philistines. He knows we are only dust, because he was dust too. He knows how fragile we are, because he was beaten, bruised, and died too. As incomprehensible and shrouded in mystery as this truth is, my faith and my adoring worship for my God and Savior Jesus soar to new heights with the tiny glimmer of understanding I received today in this reflection. I’ll hold on to it and I’ll savor it…and I’ll let the Holy Spirit take it and cement it to the walls of my heart. Amen.
[04DEC2011] 2nd Sunday Advent: Prepare with repentance, forgiveness, and “straight” living while you wait
[04DEC2011] 2nd Sunday Advent: Prepare with repentance, forgiveness, and “straight” living while you wait
(Readings from the Lectionary—Year B; The Book of Common Prayer)
♦ Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
O God, enthroned above the cherubim, display your radiant glory… Show us your mighty power. Come to rescue us! Turn us again to yourself, O God of Heaven’s Armies. Make your face shine down upon us. Only then will we be saved. Psalm 80:1-2, 7
I pray you, merciful Jesus, that as you graciously granted me to drink down sweetly from the Word that tells of you, so will you kindly grant that I may come at length to you, the fount of all wisdom, and stand before your face forever. Prayer of Bede
Listen! It’s the voice of someone shouting, clear the way through the wilderness for the LORD! Make a straight highway through the wasteland for our God! Fill in the valleys, and level the mountains and hills. Straighten the curves, and smooth out the rough places. Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The LORD has spoken! O Zion, messenger of good news, shout from the mountaintops! Shout it louder, shout and do not be afraid. Tell all the towns, “Your God is coming!” -Isaiah 40:3-5, 9
“Clear the way through the wilderness; make a straight way; fill valleys and level mountains; straighten curves and smooth rough places!” These are strong imperatives hurled toward the “waiters.” I am a waiter. I am a watcher. The test of my faithfulness and the proof of my repentance are shown in how I wait and how I watch. The words of the voice who proclaims His coming tells me with no uncertainty how my waiting hours are to be filled…my time watching is not consumed with idle peering from behind drawn shades; no, my time is spent with brusque and sweaty activity. I’m shouting from the mountaintops as I flatten them, my voice echoes through valleys as I bring them to sea level…twists and turns are yanked straight at the sound of “Prepare the Way! Your God is Coming!” Honest examination: Does the testimony of my life reveal this lifestyle of urgency and singleness of mind and work?
So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong. Hebrews 12:12-13
It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written: “Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, and he will prepare your way. He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!’” This messenger was John the Baptist… He preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. John announced: “Someone is coming who is greater than I am—I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with fire and the Holy Spirit.” -Mark 1:1-4, 7-8
I don’t think John the Baptist was a “stealth” waiter. I don’t think anyone mistook him for a wannabee prophet of God. I think from the way the Bible depicts him, he stood out like a sore thumb. He went against the grain of society about as much as one could go against the grain. In this style of living, people took notice of him. Apparently he had a legitimate following. People were coming from all over to be baptized and to hear his words… it reads as though many people took his preaching and his message very seriously. John never minced words (Matthew 3:7-10) and was never intimidated by the status or title of any person (Matthew 14:1-5); I wonder how often we allow the circumstances of society or the thought of what someone else may think of us shape the way we live and determine the choices we make. In the case of John’s life and the message of his words, it is clear that our focus should be laser-like in preparing for the coming of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. One wonders; if it were absolute that the return of Christ would be one week from today and his first stop would be to see me… how would I spend the next seven days preparing for that visitation. I think if I am not living with this level of urgency now, there may be a problem. A faith that is real is a faith that is active. The way I live today reveals the measure of my belief in the message of God for my life.
We are looking forward to the new heavens and new earth He has promised, a world filled with God’s righteousness… And so, while you wait for these things to happen, make every effort to be found living peaceful lives that are pure and blameless in His sight. -2 Peter 3:13-14
Peter continues to reinforce what I have already received from the previous readings. The way we conduct ourselves as repentant, God-focused, on-the-way Jesus followers is distinct. Isaiah and John the Baptist both exhort the expectant waiters of the Messiah Savior to be busy about preparing the way for His coming and imminent return.
Peter tells us; “while we wait… live peaceful lives.” The words of Isaiah and John the Baptist indicate an active wait that is anything but peaceful. Is there a contradiction at hand? I think not. I believe Peter’s words from his previous letter and elsewhere in his second affirm an active wait in agreement with the other prophets. Additionally, I believe the context of Peter’s “peaceful lives” is not entirely construed as “quiet, mellow, and non-aggressive,” but more toward the confident assurance that Jesus promises in his words to us found in John 14:27 and John 16:33.
The way of the Lord must be prepared within the heart; for great and spacious is the heart of man, as if it were a whole world. But see its greatness, not in bodily quantity but in the power of the mind that enables it to encompass so great a knowledge of the truth. Prepare, therefore, in your hearts the way of the Lord, by a worthy manner of life. Keep straight the path of your life, so that the words of the Lord may enter in without hindrance. -Origen
It is likely that some of these words might be ignored as irrelevant, but Jesus makes a statement that cause goosebumps to rise on my arms and the hairs on my neck to rise when he says:
“For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him…” -Jesus (Matthew 21:32 NLT)
I don’t think your faith can be something kept personal (as in to ourselves) or held in check so that it doesn’t impact the world around us. Conversely, I don’t believe we are to be obnoxious…but there is some “sweet spot” between the two where “mountain-wrecking, valley-filling, top-of-the-lung shouting” Kingdom living is our normal. That’s where I want to be found and how I wish to be found…waiting.
“Follow me.” This is the invitation Jesus extends to his disciples. There is nothing easy about it, but it is as uncomplicated and simple as choosing to accept the invitation and…follow. Jesus. The amazing thing about this invitation, especially to the followers post Pentecost and the anointing gift of the Holy Spirit, is the ability to really follow Jesus and to walk in his shoes. We can live the united life of Triune fellowship with the Father, the Holy Son, and the Holy Spirit.
“The student who is fully trained will become like the teacher.” –Jesus (Luke 6:40 NLT)
I’m so encouraged as I endeavor to follow after Jesus; even after my shortcomings and my weaknesses, God has made a way and set a course for my (for our) success. As I was reading today from the Letter to the Colossians, these words were especially inspiring to me…
- Col. 1:19 —In him (Jesus) all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.
- Col. 2:9 —For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body.
- Col. 2:10 —So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is head over every ruler & authority.
- Col. 2:11 —Your sinful nature was cut away.
- Col. 2:12 —You were raised to new life because you trusted the power of God.
- Col. 2:15 —Christ disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.
This is some crazy good stuff here. First, we’re reminded by the apostle Paul that in Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. I am reminded that Jesus spoke these words to Philip; “Do you truly believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The things I have told you don’t come from me. The Father lives in me, and he is doing his own work” (John 14:8-11). Now this is great news in itself; however, when coupled with the information that Paul goes on to explain, it turns into magnificent news. Paul reiterates that in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. He also goes on to say, this truth of God in Christ ensures our completeness (Col. 2:9-10) through our union with Christ. And, in addition to this, he relates the practical reality of this unifying news; “Christ is head over every ruler and authority and he ‘cut’ your sinful nature away, releasing you to a new life.” This has happened because we believe and trust in the power of God. We are no longer bound to the spiritual rulers and authorities that endeavor to oppress us (Col. 2:11-15).
For though your hearts were once full of darkness, now you are full of light from the Lord, and your behavior should show it (Ephesians 5:8).
God has made us a way to follow Him. He has not left us wanting. Weak we may be, but our completeness can be and is found in Him. When I feel weak, I remember. He knows me. He formed me. He loves me. He has planned for my success.
“Remember these things: I formed you; I shall not forget you.” (Isaiah 44:21)
Our God approaches and he is not silent. Fire devours everything in his way. And a great storm rages around him. Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. God says to the wicked: “Why bother reciting my decrees and pretending to obey my covenant? You refuse my discipline and treat my words like trash. But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honors me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:3, 14, 16-17, 23).
Trust the LORD! He is your helper and your shield. All who fear the LORD, trust the LORD! He is your helper and your shield. The LORD remembers us and will bless us. He will bless those who fear the LORD, both great and lowly. (Psalm 115:9, 11-13).
Almighty and merciful God, in your goodness keep me, I pray, from all things that may hurt me, that I, being ready both in mind and body, may accomplish with a free heart those things which belong to your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Sunday Prayer and Scripture Meds [06FEB2011]
Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins and give us, we beseech thee, the liberty of that abundant life which thou has manifested to us in they Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
4 Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. 7 They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the LORD to take care of them. 9 They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor. Psalm 112
O LORD, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen…
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee: let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.
Reading from Isaiah 58 this morning brings heaviness to my heart. I am particularly moved by the opening cry of the Prophet as he moved by the Spirit of God to “shout aloud” to the people of God…
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.” (Isaiah 58:1-2)
“They seem eager to know my ways…” God says. “They seem eager for God to come near them…” God says. My heart breaks with this commentary because it implies insincerity. It reveals God’s doubt that his people really want to know his ways or want to draw near to him. The burden of my own heart is that the state of the American Church is not too far removed from the house of Jacob addressed by Isaiah. The remainder of the chapter (58) reveals more “cleaned outside of the cup, but dirty inside the cup” issues (Matthew 23:23-28). The prophet goes on to list a series of if/then statements from God detailing the way to right the path for his fallen people. My thoughts: We should take heed. Why?
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. (Isaiah 58:4)
My reading continued into the Gospels with Matthew 5:13-20. With my ears still stinging and ringing from Isaiah’s words and tears still filling my heart over the state of Christ’s Bride today, I hear the following from Jesus:
“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world… You are a city on a hill… Let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that every one will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5:13-16)
As I consider what most people think about Christians in the modern day (arrogant, intolerant, pushy, holier-than-thou, selfish, prideful, etc.), I am troubled because I think we are failing in the areas that God has called us so we might be instruments of glory bringing praise to His Name. I close my meditation this morning with these closing words, again, from Jesus:
But I warn you—unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
“If my soul chooses to see without the Spirit, it becomes a danger to itself.” ~~St. John Chrysostom
Oh LORD, pour out your Spirit upon me that I might see with Your Light and Wisdom that I not be a danger to others or myself, but a guide pointing to Your now and eternal Kingdom. Amen.
I love conversing with my God through His Word. Not only does His Word know my words, frame of mind, and heart condition, but God’s response to me through His Word is always perfect…perfectly timed, perfectly articulated, and perfectly delivered. Perfect.
For the past couple years now, I have been using the Revised Common Lectionary as my guide for reading through the Bible. I also enlist the support of a couple devotionals and prayer books that supplement my reading, but my primary tool has been the Lectionary. Today’s reading was particularly well-timed for a few reasons.
I am closing in on four months of being unemployed without benefits. This has been difficult, but rewarding at the same time. The difficulty comes in the form of pride issues, self worth, penny pinching, and a few other less demanding challenges. The reward has been the gift of time for deep reflection and prayerful discourse with God. I feel that through this time, both the difficult and the reward, the Lord is helping to clarify how we (Laurie and I) might serve Him as we approach the “empty nest” season of our lives. The waiting and the uncertainty during the interim can create quite a tension at times. My faith is firm, but my emotions tend to ebb and flow at times. I am thankful for God’s Word; I am thankful for the prayers and songs of the Psalms, and I am thankful that the Holy Spirit speaks to me prophetically from the Prophetic Books of the Bible.
I began my early morning with slow, quiet, reading and prayer from Psalm 119:49-72.
Zayin— 52 I meditate on your age-old regulations; O LORD, they comfort me. 55 I reflect at night on who you are, O LORD; therefore, I obey your instructions. 56 This is how I spend my life: obeying your commandments.
Heth— 57 I promise to obey your words! 59 I pondered the direction of my life, and I turned to follow your laws. 60 I will hurry without delay, to obey your commands. 64 …teach me your decrees.
Teth— 66 I believe in your commands; now teach me good judgment and knowledge. 67 I used to wander off until you disciplined me; but now I closely follow your word. 68 You are good and do only good; teach me your decrees. 72 Your instructions are more valuable to me than millions in gold and silver.
After reading and praying these words from Psalm 119, I am reminded in the midst of my “ebbs” and height of my “flows” that my God is a constant I can depend upon; in seasons of high or seasons of low. His Word is my compass and His Spirit my Guide. I am reminded when I have wandered, I have failed. I am reminded that His decrees are good and He only wishes to teach me good things. Praise Him.
I think my heart and my mind were in a place to receive an encouragement from my Father at this point and as I opened the selected reading from the prophet Isaiah, this is the Word He gave to me…
1 The LORD called me before my birth; from within the womb he called me by name. 3 He said to me, “You are my servant and you will bring me glory.” 4 I replied, “But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the LORD’s hand…” 5 And now the LORD speaks—The LORD has honored me, and my God has given me strength. –Isaiah 49:1, 3-5
How fitting that one of my final readings from today’s Lectionary schedule be from the Epistle to the Galatians. One of the verses that were revelatory and life transforming to me come from the Galatians letter. In fact, this blog has been named for this verse Galatians 2:20.
“My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 NLT
God’s Word is food for the soul.
“Soul of Christ, Sanctify me…”
What a great prayer. Oh how I long for completion and unity with Christ. It is a marvelous thing to be in relationship and conversation with the Living God. Thank you, O LORD, for your Spirit who indwells and works in your people; drawing them ever closer to You, the One who saves.
Search for the LORD and his strength; continually seek his face—Psalm 105:4 Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me. You speak in my heart and say ‘Seek my face.’ Your face, LORD, will I seek. Hide not your face from me, nor turn away your servant in displeasure.—Psalm 27:10-12
I love the confidence and assurance that God gives to his people, those who decide to push aside anything that would hinder their walk with him. While it seems that much is uncertain, God assures that He is the certainty we can trust…
You have been chosen to know me, believe in me, and understand that I alone am God. There is no other God—There never has been, and there never will be. I, yes, I am the LORD, and there is no other Savior. From eternity to eternity I am God. No one can snatch anyone out of my hand. No one can undo what I have done. (Isaiah 43:10-13)
I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is good for you and leads you along paths you should follow… Even now, be free from your captivity! The LORD redeemed his servants, the people of Israel. They were not thirsty when He led them through the desert. (Isaiah 48:12-21)
As I journey through life, I see literally thousands of opportunities to tear my gaze from God’s leadership and guidance in my daily living. With so much that seems scary, fragile, uncertain, risky, and unknown it is a much safer bet to take few risks…to take control and make things happen under my own power or through my own ability. Truthfully, my power and my actions are the greater risks. While I don’t know the plans for my life, God does know them (Jeremiah 29:11). I don’t know the potential pitfalls that lie before me…but He does. God desires that I trust Him implicitly. I love knowing that I can trust Him to teach me what is good. I love the confidence of knowing that His paths are the ones I should follow. And, I love that even though He may lead me through the desert, I will never be thirsty for as long as He leads. Sanctify me, O LORD, Sanctify me.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Separated from Thee let me never be
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints
Forever and ever
A quick thought on being “used by God”
What is it like to be used by God. Grand? Glorious? Gratifying? Who gets used by God? Good people? Great people?
I’m more and more inclined to think that everyone is used by God. We are all used by Him and for His purposes, affecting His will and His glory. Sometimes we are used in wondrously glorious ways and other times we are used as bitter tools. Our attitudes, wills, values, and citizenship (one who abides in the kingdom of God under the rule of Jesus Christ), in large part determine what our use and role will be in the hands of God.
Our arrogance and our ignorance can be most destructive in the deception of our self. Ultimately, and in the eternal scheme of things, when it comes to being used by God it doesn’t matter which side of the path of God we are on. When I say this, I don’t mean there aren’t eternal implications for our decisions and the choices we make…there are; for us and for others. What I mean is that Eternity and God’s sovereign providential plans will not be altered by our choices, but we are and our eternal destinies are… as are the destinies and earthly qualities of life for others. In the end and in the middle…and in the now, God is and will be glorified through our lives. It might not be pretty for us though. Take for instance this story from Isaiah 10:5-19.
What sorrow awaits Assyria… I use it as a club to express my anger… I am sending Assyria against a godless nation; against a people I am angry with… The king of Assyria will not understand that he is my tool; his mind does not work that way… After the LORD has used the king of Assyria, he will turn against the king and punish him…
It is interesting that we will not often consider this alternative possibility of being used by God. I think most often we will equate being used by God in a positive light (especially those people found inside the Christian circle). However Isaiah describes God’s “using” the king of Assyria in a different light. The arrogant king… a real tool, and not the kind I want to be.
I think if there is a spectrum of how I am going to be used in the advancement of the kingdom of God, I want to be on the right side of it. Even if the spectrum is still rather broad (from chalice to chamber pot) for people on the “kingdom side of things,” this is still glorious work as (I believe) Paul describes in his letter to Timothy.
In a wealthy home some utensils are made of gold and silver, and some are made of wood and clay. The expensive utensils are used for special occasions, and the cheap ones are for everyday use. If you keep yourself pure, you will be a special utensil for honorable use. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work. (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
I suppose what I’m saying here is this, even the tools used for cheap and everyday purposes seem to be “good” tools. The way the king of Assyria was used as a tool; however, was not good at all. At the end of his use, God destroyed him… and Assyria. And he was oblivious to being used. I wonder how many people go through life arrogant and oblivious to being used by God…and ultimately end up being destroyed because of their arrogance and oblivion. What a tragedy. Even more tragic to me, is my fear that many of the people who call themselves Christian may be in this very place… oblivious, but in the midst of being used ingloriously for God’s glory.
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears (Isaiah 11:1-3)
The last couple of days have been somewhat difficult for me. I am sometimes stricken with doubt and second-guessing myself. I can go days, weeks, even months it seems and never be swayed from or persuaded to veer from my confidence in the course I am following for Jesus. Then one day it seems I look up from the path I’ve been so earnest and diligent to follow and I am all alone… nobody there with me… and it’s quiet, and it’s scary, and I wonder if I should turn back and run or try another path. I think I’m not the only one who experiences this.
In the midst of my doubt and in the midst of my feeling alone, something else also occurs within my soul and I wonder how many other believers share the experience. This “something else” is faith; enormous faith and huge confidence. My feelings of desolation may go on for days (sometimes weeks), but my faith is renewed and I am capable through a strength beyond my own to persevere and continue on in the direction I believe I was called. I may not “see” or “sense” Jesus with the same degree of intensity and clarity as I was in previous moments, but I know He is near and I know He upholds me…and because of this knowledge and confidence of heart I press on with renewed fervor.
I don’t know if this experience is being shared by the rest of my Christian brothers and sisters. I see so many people blown about by the winds of circumstance and enticed by the scintillating distractions that are the faith-wrecking siren songs played at max volume each day of our lives in the media-frenzied world in which we live. It takes a special resolve, and faith that has been nurtured, in order to stand in the midst of desolation and trial, and ultimately…emerge strengthened, refined, and even refreshed.
What does it take to nurture a strong faith? Trust and discipline are the first things that come to my mind, at least in the context of my personal experience. In the circles I have traveled I have often heard the phrase uttered, “Our congregations are a mile wide and an inch deep.” Translation: the Christians we know are shallow or immature. This sounds somewhat arrogant, condescending, judgmental, harsh, and just plain not nice. The truth of the matter is that it is true and it’s not a phenomenon relegated to this particular era or restricted to Westerners (specifically North Americans). In fact, the writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews said as much almost two thousand years ago; see the following:
There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen. You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
The path of the Jesus follower does not flow from belief + conversion = maturity. There are also the integers of practice and process, neither of which bring with them overnight success. Jesus talks about his followers being the branches to him as the Vine (John 15:4-5). Thinking about this a few days ago in conversation with my family during morning devotions, and I began thinking about trees and their root systems.
There are a lot of trees that look healthy on the outside, but it’s hard to tell how hearty they are by what they look like on the outside. I think there is a high percentage of Christians that are like trees. Jesus also describes a similar scenario in the Parable of the Sower. I’m not a farmer and I don’t know a lot about trees, but I’ve seen what happens when storms and dangerous winds hit big, pretty trees with shallow roots. They get uprooted, they get toppled, and they die; sometimes they do significant collateral damage to the objects and/or people they “fall” upon. In either event, the outcome is never pretty. Some of the things I read about shallow (flat) root trees are that some varieties are quick growing because the root systems, although shallow, are quick to grow and spread. They cover a lot of ground and feed the early stage growth of the tree to the point that it is capable of producing early fruit. I think some Christians are like this too, getting a lot of pertinent and necessary information capable of producing some fruit, but maybe not enough to produce a lasting harvest (of thirty, sixty, or one hundred fold). Sadly, because a deep root has not been formed, these early blooming shallow root “trees” often tragically fail the testing of their faith (1 Peter 1:6-7).
It takes discipline and determination to push into the hard soil of life and develop the deep tap root needed to persevere and endure the storms that will rail against our faith. When the soil of our life is dry, when the soil is hard, and when the nutrients needed for our survival do not seem like they are there…we must resist the temptation to look elsewhere or satisfy our need with something altogether different. True enough, it may satisfy for a season… but our roots continue to grow flat and remain shallow when we opt for this alternative. Instead, God’s Word draws us to burrow “deep” press down into the source of eternal water from the springs that never dry. It is here we find the life-giving nutrients for a tap root of our soul and our faith is anchored strongly. We produce seasons upon seasons of harvests. We produce shade for those in need of rest. We provide haven for creatures to take up safety and residence in our care. We become a tree of Life because we are grafted in to the deep tap root of Jesse, the Lord, our Messiah Jesus.
3-4 Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart.
5-6 Commit your way to the LORD; and He will do this—
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noon day sun.
7-8 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for Him.
—Do not fret…
—Do not fret…
18-19 The days of the blameless are known to the LORD,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
They will not be disgraced in hard times; even in famine they will have more than enough.
23-24 If the LORD delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm; though he stumble,
he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with His hand.
34 Wait for the LORD and keep His way;
put your hope in the LORD and travel steadily along His path. (Psalm 37)