Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New You!

The Word for today:
Isaiah 38, 39
mark this: Isaiah 38:1-2
Did Isaiah the prophet, speaking the Word of God, make a mistake? It might look that way:
In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him, and said to him, "Thus says the LORD: Set your house in order, for you shall die, you shall not recover." Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD. (Isaiah 38:1-2)
But the prophets' pronouncements of judgment were spoken with the understanding that God would love for us to turn the tables!
God has prophets preach judgment so that repentance results. Repentance then removes the necessity for judgment. It is always to be understood that if we repent, He'll relent! (See Jeremiah 18:7-8; Jonah 3:10.)
Hezekiah's tearful, pleading prayer resulted in fifteen years added to his life. God literally turned back the clock!--
"'And this is the sign that the LORD will give you to prove he will do as he promised: I will cause the sun's shadow to move ten steps backward on the sundial of Ahaz!'" So the shadow on the sundial moved backward ten steps. (Isaiah 38:7-8)
Wouldn't it be great if we could turn back the clock? If we could start anew and do it right this time?
You can! That's the central prophecy of scripture!
You can turn back to God, just as surely as Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the LORD.
Hezekiah's turning is a picture of what the Bible calls repentance. It's an acknowledgement that you are turning--turning from doing things your way; turning to God's way this time.
Q. What if I turn to God and screw up again tomorrow?
A. When you turn to God's way, that means you have turned to Jesus:
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
If you've never turned from your way to God's Way--Jesus Christ--you can do it today. Then all the judgments pronounced by the prophets have been borne by Jesus Christ, paid in full at the cross.
So God will hold no sin to your account any more--no, not one.
Better yet, He doesn't just take away sin and leave you a blank slate. He also credits you with Jesus' perfect life and sinlessness:
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
And best of all, He sends the Holy Spirit to empower you to live out the life of Christ:
I have been crucified with Christ. I myself no longer live, but Christ lives in me. So I live my life in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not one of those who treats the grace of God as meaningless. For if we could be saved by keeping the law, then there was no need for Christ to die. (Galatians 2:19-21)
God hopes with all His heart that you'll turn the tables on the judgments of the prophets. If you do, then you are born again. And He won't just dust you off and give you a new paint job. You'll be--through and through, from the inside out--a whole new you:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
This isn't just reformation of the old you, leaving you cleaned up but still powerless against sin and the centripetal forces of self-centeredness.
This isn't reformation at all. We all tried that, and it never worked.
This isn't reformation. This is revolution. This is re-creation. This is resurrection.
This isn't just Happy New Year. This is Happy New You!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

the real world, the real battle

The Word for today:
Isaiah 36, 37
mark this: Isaiah 37:14-15 --
Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD.
Scripture sometimes seems to lack a sense of the dramatic--or does it?
We read today of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers struck dead. Read carefully, or you will miss this mighty miracle altogether. Scripture gives exactly one verse to its description:
And the angel of the LORD went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. (Isaiah 37:36)
You'd think that something this remarkable deserves to be, well, more remarked upon!
And you'd be thinking correctly, because the real battle which defeated 185,000 soldiers is thoroughly described in verses 14-35 of chapter 37, where we hear the prayer of Hezekiah and the answer of the LORD through Isaiah, His prophet.
The real drama takes place in the real world. Hebrews 8:5 tells us that the physical world is just a copy and shadow of the spiritual world. The physical devastation of 185,000 soldiers is but an after-effect of the real battle which was waged through prayer. As an after-effect, it deserves but a verse.
E.M. Bounds, the great thinker and pray-er, wrote that "Only God can move mountains, but faith and prayer move God."
Join the battle. Don't worry too much about methods of prayer. Just get down in the trenches and fight. Prayer warriors are the infantry, the "grunts," of spiritual warfare. It's hard, dirty work, and nobody's getting rich or famous doing it.
But if you've tired of all the nonsense; if it's reality you're after; if you've had it with the pussyfooting and the preening and the posturing that passes for "spiritual," if you're through shadow-boxing, then pray.
Pray specifically for what you need. Pray for specific needs of specific people by their specific names. And don't get swept up in this current notion that prayer is all about praise and thanksgiving and meditation and confession. That pendulum has swung too far.
There's some of that and should be, but that's not the bulk of the warrior's prayer. When the warrior prays, he asks and keeps on asking until he gets an answer.
Fill your prayer with supplication and petition; ask away! Ask God to save souls and to save the day. Then keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. (Luke 11:9/AMP)
Let the blog writers write and the preachers preach and the singers sing. Let 'em all out-pretty one another.
But if you want to be worth 185,000 of the enemy in the service of the LORD Jesus Christ, pray.
The answer is up to God, but the asking is up to you.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

I'm the one Isaiah wrote about.

The Word for today:
Isaiah 33-35
mark this: Isaiah 35:5-6 --
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
John the Baptist knew his Bible.
But even John could get some of it mixed together and mixed up. So give yourself a break if images blend together as you read Isaiah.
The Stand in the Rain article which served as an introduction to Isaiah stated that "Isaiah can be challenging to read. Written in the most sublime Hebrew and bursting with shifting kaleidoscopic images, there can be nearly too much for the reader to take it all in."
Consider the challenges: How to present the eternal Word of God within the confines of time? within the limits of the Hebrew language? How to present the sacrificial Lamb of God -- who is the conquering Lion of Judah at the same time?
The mind races and reels and staggers at the linguistic calculus--impossible, but for the Spirit.
We are challenged as readers--and we are this side of the cross. Imagine being over there on that side.
John the Baptist was on the other side of the cross with Jesus. And the same spiritual, political, and religious forces which would crucify Jesus would decapitate John first.
He is representative of all of us as we try to understand all that Jesus was and is and is to be. How to ascertain the infinite through a finite mind, confined by language and time? Impossible, but for the Spirit.
So John did what you and I are going to do some day with many of the Bible questions we have. He sent his followers to ask the Teacher! --
"Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?" (Matthew 11:3)
John had introduced Christ as one who would bring fierce judgment, who would "burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:12)
He was confused by the turn of events: he was imprisoned, and Christ was carrying on a ministry of healing, not judgment--in Galilee; not in Jerusalem, the city of the King. John wondered if he had misunderstood Jesus' agenda.
The Teacher told the messengers to remind John of this passage from Isaiah:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
 (Isaiah 35:5-6)
Jesus employed the Word of God to assure John that, "I'm the one Isaiah wrote about."
That's all John wanted, and needed, to hear.

Monday, December 28, 2015

new year’s reVolutions

The Word for today:
Isaiah 30:18-32:20
mark this: Isaiah 28:10
& this: Isaiah 31:1
& this: Isaiah 30:18
New Year's is such a comedown after Christmas.
Christmas in many homes still shines the spotlight on the Savior of the world.
But New Year's Day shines it right back on ourselves. It becomes all about what I'm going to do:
Resolved, for 2016--
1. I'm going to quit smoking.
2. I'm going to lose weight.
3. I'm going to exercise four times a week.
4. I'm going to bed earlier.
5. I'm going to watch less TV.
6. I'm going to paint the porch.
My advice is to save that list. Then you won't have to write it all down again next year. You can just cross out '2015' and write '2016.' Because the list will likely remain the same.
Reading through these last few chapters in Isaiah as we've approached the end of this year, I've made a short list of resolutions that swing the spotlight back on Jesus:
I purpose in my heart (1) that during 2016--
1. I will Stand in the Rain. (Isaiah 28:10)
2. I will look to God first. (Isaiah 31:1)
3. I will wait for God. (Isaiah 30:18)
4. I'm going to paint the porch, pre-Rapture.
1. I will 'Stand in the Rain.'
The greatest sin of Christianity is not hypocrisy or faithlessness. It's ignorance of the Word of God. Most have not read it. Fewer have systematically studied it. 'Stand in the Rain' is designed so that in three short years you will have read your Bible and systematically studied it from front to finish, guided by experienced Bible teachers. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to talk less and listen to God more. Many of us want to take a seminar or some two-week course which will provide the answer to our problems. That course doesn't exist. There is only one way to grow as a Christian. We grow like a plant grows, by letting the "rain"--God's Word--fall down upon us every day. God promises that His Word will achieve growth. This was the intention of Stand in the Rain from the start:
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
 (Isaiah 55:10-11)
Isaiah teaches us that our growth is gradual--
"For it is precept upon precept, precept upon precept, line upon line, line upon line, here a little, there a little." (Isaiah 28:10) That's the biblical pace of growth. And it's exactly the pace we've set for "Stand in the Rain."
2. I will look to God first.
Where do you go for help? Do you look to your psychiatrist or the anti-depressant she gave you? Do you try to outwork your problems, or outrun them? Or do you type them into Google, 'cause Google knows all?
Scripture advises us to look to God first. That is not our natural inclination, but as the Spirit gains ascendancy over the old ways we used to rely on, we are to use the eyes of our hearts (2) to look to Him first:
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the LORD.
 (Isaiah 31:1)
3. I will wait for God.
Don't be in a hurry. Learn to wait upon the LORD. We are told that those who wait on the LORD will renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31). You cannot rush God. He is in no hurry. Maybe things aren't working out the way we think they should; perhaps we'd like to re-arrange them. But let God work them out. He orchestrates things so beautifully, bringing each note into the symphony just as it should be played, just when it should be played:
Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him. (Isaiah 30:18)
You could make your own list of biblically-inspired revolutions that is as good as this list. Just make sure that the spotlight stays on Jesus.
And for heaven's sake, paint that porch!
(1) Daniel 1:8; (2) Ephesians 1:18

Sunday, December 27, 2015


(by Pastor Joe)

Isaiah 30:9-11 (ESV) --
"They are a rebellious people, lying children, children unwilling to hear the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, "Do not see" and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions, leave the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel."

My son Aiden has really strong feelings about what he can do, independent of my wife or me. And for some strange reason, he thinks his accomplishments are more significant if we don't see the process. So often I will walk into a room where he is working, or playing, or drawing and he will shout out "don't come in here Dad!" Evidently he's in the midst of something really important ( e.g. putting on his shoes, arranging the letters on the fridge into words, or just sneaking around), and he wants that to go unnoticed. He often says "Don't SEE me, Dad!"

My daughter Catherine loves her daddy, but she can't stand his beard. And while some people are the shave everyday type, that is not me. I like to actually see the stubble I am shaving off. So I will go a day or two between shavings, which means I never get razor burn! But for Catherine, that drives her crazy. Every time I kiss her goodnight or goodbye, whether on the cheek or the forehead or even the top of her head, she always says the same thing: "Dad, your beard is TOO rough!" No matter how lightly I kiss her, her reaction is always the same. That's why I make it a point to let her feel my cheek right after I have shaved. For that half of the day, she will come up and rub it and say, "That's so smooth Dad." I might even get a kiss from her.

Here in Isaiah 30, I find the people of Judah saying the same kind of things that my children often say, only they are much more childish than Aiden or Catherine. They are basically telling God's messengers "Don't see us!" and "Tell us only smooth things." They are not at all interested in what God has to say, they want nothing to do with Him, and only to escape from the consequences of their disobedience. That is a sad example of not only what happened back then, but also of what is very popular today: A smooth, easy religion that is never too rough or unpleasant, where somehow an all seeing, omniscient God doesn't see the evil things we do or think or say.

You will hear this idea touted all around the world, whether broadcast on Oprah or printed in the editorial room of any major newspaper or magazine. You will find it in any church that has put aside, or softened the message of Jesus Christ, in order to make it more palatable for the masses. This religion teaches that God never punishes or rebukes or even cares about our wrongs and only exists to help us live more fulfilled lives. It tells us that all dogs, or at least people, go to Heaven, that there is no Hell, that every religion is the same, and that the 10 commandments were just suggestions. It preaches that Jesus was a good man, just like Buddha, Muhammad, and ourselves. There is certainly no room for the cross or even any kind of self-denial or sacrifice.

This tendency to worship what is smooth and easy may be the number one enemy of our souls in America. So often we really think this way. So often we are under the delusion that God somehow doesn't see our sin. But we are wrong.

The truth is that God "knows our deeds." (Rev. 3:15) Nothing is hidden from Him, not a single thought, motivation, attitude, word, or action. There is no place where we can hide from Him.

The truth is, God's true message will never be popular with the majority. Jesus Himself said "Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Mt. 7:13-14)

Do I really believe this? Am I okay with not being in the majority opinion? Am I okay that for most people in the world, and even sometimes for believers, God's word is "rough?" It often confronts us with the last thing we want to hear--the truth. May we never settle for anything less.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

you can't have one without the other

Crossing the Red Sea
Crossing the Red Sea
The Word for today:
Isaiah 28
mark this: Isaiah 28:21
Judgment is God’s "strange (unfamiliar, foreign) work:"
For the LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.  (Isaiah 28:21/KJV)
Lamentations 3:33 tells us that God does not afflict willingly. The Amplified Bible translates the verse more literally: God does not afflict from his heart.
In 2 Peter 3:9, we read that He is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
But judge He does, for judge He must--because judgment is a necessary component of salvation. Judgment is as necessary a part of salvation as forgiveness is.
Consider: if God had not judged Egypt and Pharaoh--drowning them in the Red Sea--then Israel could not have been saved. Their sins were forgiven at Passover. Their deliverance wasn't complete until the judgment of Egypt at the Red Sea.
Satan's #1 strategy is to convince the world that God loves too much to judge. This strategy worked against Eve in the Garden of Eden, so Satan has used it ever since:
Eve: "God said, 'You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, lest you die.'"
Serpent: "You will not surely die." (Genesis 3:3-4)
Satan has made great strides in convincing the world that God will capitulate to His loving, grace-filled heart. The child of God is to remember that Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44).
God will not capitulate, nor compromise his character, no matter the cost. So to the cross He went, because sin exacts a price that cannot go unpaid.
The reason Jesus is both Judge and Savior is because you can't have one without the other.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas with Emmanuel & Isaiah

The Word for today:
Isaiah 26, 27
O come, O come, Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14)
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free (Isaiah 11:1)
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer (Isaiah 9:2; Luke 1:78-79)
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, Thou Key of David, come, (Isaiah 22:22)
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
O come, O come, Thou Lord of might, (Isaiah 11:2)
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel--which means, "God with us."
(Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23)
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
(Isaiah 11:1)
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.
The dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

(Isaiah 9:2/Luke 1:78-79 KJV)
The key of the house of David I will lay on his shoulder; so he shall open, and no one shall shut; and he shall shut, and no one shall open.
(Isaiah 22:22)
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
(Isaiah 11:2)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

only with your eyes

The Word for today:
Isaiah 24, 25
mark this: Isaiah 24:1--
Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.
and this: Isaiah 25:9--
In that day the people will proclaim, "This is our God. We trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, in whom we trusted. Rejoice in the salvation he brings!"
and this: Psalm 91:7-8
A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look, And see the reward of the wicked.
As chapter 24 opens, Isaiah takes a definite turn.
We saw nations dealt with, one by one, in chapters 13 through 23:
Babylon in chapters 13-14;
Moab in 15-16;
Damascus in 17;
Ethiopia in 18;
Egypt in 19-20;
Babylon (again), Edom, and Arabia in 21;
the Valley of Vision in 22;
Tyre in 23.
But in chapter 24 the whole world (1) is in view and undergoes what Jesus described as "great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be (2).
During this period the whole world will be shaken and sifted to see if a kernel of faith remains; twisted and squeezed like a hand towel to see if there's a drop of faith left in the fabric:
Behold, the LORD will empty the earth and make it desolate, and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants. (3)
But those of you who have cast your lot with Jesus will never know that day:
You have obeyed my teaching about not giving up your faith. So I will keep you from the time of trouble that will come to the whole world to test those who live on earth (4).
On that day--the day of the LORD (5)--sin and death will be defeated, and the teardrop wiped away:
He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces (6).
The Great Tribulation will be the death throes of death. But it will not touch you whose salvation is Jesus, who will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." (7)
Because Jesus already went through the Great Tribulation for you,
A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you.
Only with your eyes shall you look, and see the reward of the wicked
. (8)
Because Jesus already went through the Great Tribulation for you,
It will be said on that day, "This is our God. We trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the LORD, in whom we trusted. Rejoice in the salvation he brings!" (9)
(1) Revelation 3:10; (2) Matthew 24:21; (3) Isaiah 24:1; (4) Revelation 3:10/NCV; (5) Isaiah 13:9; (6) Isaiah 25:8; (7) Psalm 91:2; (8) Psalm 91:7-8; (9) Isaiah 25:9

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

it was sad when the great ship went down

The Word for today:
Isaiah 22:15-23:18
mark this: Isaiah 23:8-11 --
Who has purposed this against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes, whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The LORD of hosts has purposed it, to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
to dishonor all the honored of the earth...
He has stretched out his hand over the sea; he has shaken the kingdoms;
the LORD has given command.
Long ago and far away?
Is that the way we're to read the prophets? Are these messages to people of the past?
They were then. But they're aimed squarely at us now.
Today, in Isaiah 23, we'll be reading about the fall of Tyre. So what's that got to do with the USA--with you and me, in the 21st century?
Let's apply some deductive reasoning as we review some Biblical principles:
The prophet speaks to the people from God.
Jesus is God.
Therefore, we must deduce that the voice declaring these judgments is none other than the voice of Jesus.
The LORD God is no respecter of persons. (1)
God judged Israel, the apple of His eye; and God judged Jesus, His one and only Son.
Therefore, we must deduce that God will judge us as we sin the same sins that took Israel into captivity and Jesus to the cross.
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (2)
He said what he meant and meant what He said--then.
Therefore, we must deduce that He's saying what he means and meaning what He says--now.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. (3)
The prophets speak a horrific, fear-inducing vision.
Therefore, we must deduce that God wants us to wise up!
You've heard the prophetic voice before. You've heard it excoriate the Pharisees. You've heard it command the natural realm, calming the sea. You've heard it command the spiritual realm; driving out demons, ordering Satan to get out of His sight.
Only time and space--history and geography--separate the United States from the commercial behemoth called Tyre which we read about in Isaiah 23. Essentially, we are they. They were merchants on many waters, the merchant of the nations. With unparallelled revenues, they were the stronghold of the sea.
When I was a kid, we sang a song at summer camp. It went like this:
Oh they built the ship Titanic
to sail the ocean blue.
And they thought they built a ship
that the water wouldn't go through.
But the good Lord raised his hand--
said, "This ship will never stand."
It was sad when the great ship went down.
Isaiah 23:11 shows the hand of the LORD, stretched out over the sea, commanding that the kingdoms be shaken.
It was sad when the great ship went down.
(1) Acts 10:34; (2) Hebrews 13:8; (3) Proverbs 9:10

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


The Word for today:
Isaiah 20:1 - 22:14
My favorite rock 'n' roll song is from the sixties.
The song's lyrics are by (gotta be!) Bob Dylan, rock's greatest lyricist.
The best version of this song is by (gotta be!) Jimi Hendrix, rock's greatest guitarist.
It figures that during rock's greatest era, rock's greatest writer and rock's greatest musician should be able to cook up a decent song. They did:
"All Along The Watchtower" --
"There must be some way out of here," said the joker to the thief,
"there's too much confusion, I can't get no relief.
Businessmen, they drink my wine, plowmen dig my earth,
none of them along the line know what any of it is worth."
"No reason to get excited," the thief, he kindly spoke,
"there are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.
But you and I, we've been through that, and this is not our fate,
so let us not talk falsely now, the hour is getting late."
All along the watchtower, princes kept the view
while all the women came and went, barefoot servants, too.
Outside in the distance a wildcat did growl,
two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.
When you read Isaiah 21 today, you'll be reading the words and images Dylan ripped off to "create" this song. I hope he tithed the royalties.
When you read Isaiah 21 today, you'll be encompassed by the vibe that Hendrix ripped off to "create" this song. Trust me, Hendrix did not tithe the royalties.
The song ends where Isaiah 21 begins, with a howling wind...
As whirlwinds in the south pass through; so it comes from the wilderness, from a terrible land. (21:1)
...while there's a party going on:
Prepare the table, watch in the watchtower, eat, drink. (21:5)
Amidst the celebration, a note of urgent alarm:
Arise, O princes, oil the shield! ( 21:5)
And a warning:
Go, set a watchman; let him announce what he sees. (21:6)
There's a sign:
When he sees riders, horsemen in pairs, let him listen diligently, very diligently. (21:7)
And its fulfillment:
Upon a watchtower I stand, O Lord, continually by day, and at my post I am stationed whole nights.
And behold, here come riders, horsemen in pairs! (21:8-9)
And its interpretation:
Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods he has shattered to the ground.  (21:9)
And even a growling lion:
A lion, my Lord! (21:8/NKJV)
You might not like rock 'n' roll. Maybe for you it's strictly classical or jazz or gospel. Whatever it is, it will have lasting merit only insofar as it echoes God's heart of hearts.
You might not like art. Maybe it's women where you find inspiring beauty. On your next girl-watching foray, consider that all -- all -- feminine beauty emanated from Eve.  OK, you should breathe now.
Perhaps women aren't your cup o' tea.  Pity.  Maybe you like empirical sciences.  Science, rightly understood, is but a truthful description of the inner workings of His creation.
You might not like science. Maybe it's theology you're into. Theology, rightly understood, is but a truthful description of the redemption -- the re-creation -- wrought at the cross and confirmed by His resurrection.
We emanate from his breath (1).   We, at best, are only re-breathing his genius.
There's nor a song, nor a painting, nor a poem; nor a discovery, nor a patent, nor an invention; nor a sermon, nor a blog that hasn't re-gifted a talent received from the hand of God.
Even love, love itself, is merely re-gifted:
We love Him because He first loved us. (2)
You might as well give it to somebody else. It wasn't yours to begin with.
(1) Genesis 2:7; John 20:22; (2) 1 John 4:19

Monday, December 21, 2015

in thy dark streets shineth

The Word for today:
Isaiah 17-19
(Note: This article was first published on this date in 2009.)
I used to be a student of literature. I read it all; the good, the bad, and everything in between.
Around and about my 40th year, I fell in love with Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
It was then that I forsook every other book. I didn't know it at the time, because it was never my intention to leave all else behind. But every other love grew pale by comparison. Yet even now, just a turn of the corner or a turn of the calendar page stirs up a line I thought I'd lost.
I pick up my sons after school and take them into the city, into Lockport, to run on these wintry afternoons. The houses block the wind in a city, making it far more hospitable for the runner. This morning Frankie reminded me to pick them up by 3:30, "Because today is the darkest day of the year, Dad. It's dark by 5:00." Then they were out the door and on the school bus.
Two of my favorite lines from all those forsaken books and poems came to mind as I watched them board their bus. In "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening," Robert Frost is drawn to the unfathomable:
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
In "The Great Gatsby," Daisy Buchanan notes an unrequited longing:
"Do you ever wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it? I always wait for the longest day of the year and then miss it!"
Israel's darkest days are noted by the prophets. We are in the midst of them in this portion of Isaiah.
But that's not how this ends. Beginning with chapter 40, the Light of the World will break forth upon these pages.
That pattern prevails across the pages of scripture, from the very beginning in Genesis 1:
Darkness was upon the face of the deep. And then God said, Let there be light.
Darkness is perpetually overtaken by the light:
And the evening and the morning were the first day; and the evening and the morning were the second day; and the third day; and the fourth; the fifth; sixth.
The night of sin--so pitilessly and relentlessly denounced by the prophets--is overtaken, on the last page of the last book of the prophets, when the Sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in his wings. (Malachi 4:2)
The establishment of this biblical pattern is but a foreshadow of the One in whom all things consist. (Colossians 1:17)
The prophecy of judgment and the promise of forgiveness conjoined as God took the punishment for sin out on Himself:
The chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
All things merged in Him. God's hatred of sin was visited upon Jesus as God forged His righteousness in us:
For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
The darkest day and the brightest day were met in Him, then.
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Him, tonight.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?

The Word for today:
Isaiah 14:24 - 16:14
What are the Dead Sea Scrolls?
The Dead Sea Scrolls sat untouched for approximately 2,000 years. In 1947, a Bedouin shepherd stumbled upon the most important archaeological find in history...
They were discovered in eleven caves along the northwest shore of the Dead Sea. This is an arid region 13 miles east of Jerusalem and 1,300 feet below sea level. The Dead Sea Scrolls are comprised of the remains of approximately 825 to 870 separate scrolls
Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important?
Fragments of every book of the Old Testament have been discovered (except for the book of Esther.) The virtually intact Isaiah Scroll, which contains some of the most dramatic Messianic prophecy, is 1,000 years older than any previously known copy of Isaiah.
Dramatic Evidence for the Reliability of Messianic Prophecy
The Dead Sea Scrolls provide absolute evidence that Messianic prophecies contained in today’s Old Testament are the same Messianic prophecies that existed prior to the time Jesus walked on this earth.
"The Great Isaiah Scroll"
The Great Isaiah Scroll contains the entire book of Isaiah that we read today -- all 66 chapters!
Isaiah 53
The Dead Sea Scrolls have provided phenomenal evidence for the credibility of biblical scripture. Scholars have discovered a handful of spelling and tense-oriented scribal errors, but nothing of significance. Following is an English translation, literally rendered, of Isaiah 53 from the Great Isaiah Scroll. Remember, this text was dated 100 to 335 years before the birth of Jesus Christ.
Who has believed our report and the arm of YHWH to whom has it been revealed And he shall come up like a suckling before him
6. and as a root from dry ground there is no form to him and no beauty [+to him+] and in his being seen and there is no appearance
7. that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and knowing grief
8. and as though hiding faces from him he was despised and we did not esteem him. Surely our griefs he
9. is bearing and our sorrows he carried them and we esteemed him beaten and struck by God
10. and afflicted. and he is wounded for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities, the correction
11. of our peace was upon him and by his wounds he has healed us. All of us like sheep have wandered each man to his own way
12. we have turned and YHWH has caused to light on him the iniquity of all of us He was oppressed and he was afflicted and he did not
13. open his mouth, as a lamb to the slaughter he is brought and as a ewe before her shearers is made dumb he did not open
14. his mouth. From prison and from judgment he was taken and his generation who shall discuss it because he was cut off from the land of
15. the living. Because from the transgressions of his people a wound was to him
16. And they gave wicked ones to be his grave and [a scribbled word probably the accusative sign "eth"] rich ones in his death
17. although he worked no violence neither deceit in his mouth And YHWH was pleased to crush him and He has caused him grief.
18. If you will appoint his soul a sin offering he will see his seed and he will lengthen his days and the pleasure of YHWH
19. in his hand will advance. Of the toil of his soul he shall see {+light+} and he shall be satisfied and by his knowledge shall he make righteous
20. even my righteous servant for many and their iniquities he will bear. Therefore I will apportion to him among the great ones
21. and with the mighty ones he shall divide the spoil because he laid bare to death his soul and with the transgressors
22. he was numbered, and he, the sins of many, he bore, and for their transgressions he entreated.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

a glimpse behind the curtain at the genesis of sin

The Word for today:
Isaiah 13:1 - 14:23
mark this: Isaiah 14:12-14 --
How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
How you are cut down to the ground,
You who weakened the nations!
For you have said in your heart:
'I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north;
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.'
Satan doesn't hold any particular fascination for me. He's another sinner, like I am--no more, no less.
What does interest me is where sin springs from, because if I know where it's coming from, I won't be blindsided by it.
The genesis of sin is more clearly seen in Isaiah 14 than anywhere else in scripture. Sin's basic formula is this: For you have said in your heart, "I will." Sin is setting one's will against the will of God.
I need not be on the lookout for Satan. Satan's will won't trip me up. Satan's sin is his own.
The wellspring of my sin lies at the door of my own heart:
Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it. (1)
Satan said, "I will."
But Jesus said, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (2)
Sin crouches at the door, like a lion seeking someone to devour (3). You open yourself up to sin when your heart says "I will."
Jesus stands at the door, hoping to be asked in for supper! (4) You open that door when you say in your heart, "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." (5)
(1) Genesis 4:7; (2) Luke 22:42; (3) 1 Peter 5:8; (4) Revelation 3:20; (5) Matthew 6:10

Friday, December 18, 2015

Fill 'er Up

(by Pastor Joe)
Isaiah 11 & 12
Life is full of filling and emptying. Every day, ever hour, every minute we are either filling something or emptying it (e.g. your lungs!). Bathtubs, coffee mugs, stomachs, dishwashers, gas tanks, laundry machines, bank accounts- the list goes on and on! And this pattern of fullness and emptiness is also central in the Word of God.
In the creation account (Genesis 1) God creates and separates space (days 1-3) and then fills in those spaces with His creation (days 4-6). He brings fullness out of emptiness.
God then passes this same mandate to mankind telling Adam to "fill the earth and subdue it (v. 28)."
Later, during the days of Noah, the earth becomes "full of violence" and causes God's heart to be "filled with pain," so God fills the earth with waters of His judgement (Gen. 6:7 & 13).
At very important moments in the history of Israel, God's glory comes and fills first the Tabernacle (Ex. 40:34) and later the Temple (1 Ki. 8:11).
Here in the book of Isaiah, we have already had our share of fullness and emptiness.
The people of Judah have been full, but full of all the wrong stuff: superstition, divination, unmerited wealth, and idolatry (2:6-8).
But then Isaiah has that amazing encounter with the Living God, and the Seraphim declare
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
Humanity as a whole has rejected God and therefore embraced emptiness, because it is impossible to have real fullness without Him. But that is not the end of the story, and here God makes an amazing promise, that is echoed later in Habakkuk:
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
 (Isaiah 11:9b)
For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD,
as the waters cover the sea.
 (Habakkuk 2:14)
That is the plan. God is working "to reconcile to Himself all things (Col. 1:20)."
These verses are not mere hopes or sentiments--they are the promises of God and therefore reality. And in order to see them through, God Himself did his part of emptying and filling.
In Philippians 2, we see the extent of which Jesus Christ emptied Himself of the privileges of deity and made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!
With His last words on the cross he said "It is finished! (John 19:30)." The same word would be put on a bill or receipt, meaning "Paid in full!"
Maybe your life is empty. You can try everything under the sun (see Solomon, King) but it will not ultimately satisfy. Maybe your life is too full. Full of activity, full of pride, full of yourself. In either case, the solution is the same-Jesus Christ. And your life will be a foreshadowing of that great verse--filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD.