December 19, 2017- The Great Exchange- Isaiah 61:1-3, Hosea 2:23, Colossians 1:19-20

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The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

I will plant her for myself in the land; I will show my love to the one I called ‘Not my loved one.’ I will say to those called ‘Not my people,’ ‘You are my people’; and they will say, ‘You are my God.’” Hosea 2:23 (NIV)

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him, (Jesus) and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through His blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20 (NIV)

Beauty for ashes, joy for mourning, and praise for despair- this is the exchange that God promises His people. He comes to us, people who have separated ourselves from Him, and still claims us as His own.

The Book of Hosea tells us of Hosea’s unfaithful wife- and how her behavior paralleled that of Israel toward God. In spite of the unfaithful wife’s (Israel’s) behavior and fallen ways, God says: “You are my people.”  “You are my loved one.” “I have named you and claimed you as my own.”

Natural law – the way the world works, states that actions have consequences- and they do. All of us have made mistakes and fallen short of God’s good plans for us (it’s called sin.)  All of us have paid heavy prices in this life for our own mistakes and for the mistakes of others.  We are all “walking wounded,” partially from our own mistakes and sin, and partially just from the human condition and living in this fallen world. All of us carry the ashes of mourning and  despair over dreams that have died.

Yet this is where God steps in with grace and mercy (unmerited favor) and says to us: Give me your ashes. I will exchange them for beauty. Give me your mourning. I will trade it for joy.  Give me your despair. I will give you songs of praise. I will heal your broken heart.

God tenderly reaches out to us with His outstretched arms: Give me your weakness and your vulnerability, and I will wrap you in My strength.

As we wait and watch and long for fulfillment of God’s promises in this world of not-yet, we look to Jesus, Who came to earth as one of us. He was subject to all of the hurt and wounding and suffering of this world, yet He lived as one of us. He sacrificed Himself so that God could truly be with us- He exchanged Himself, perfect in every way, to cover our imperfections, and to exchange our sin and death for His beauty, joy, praise, strength and life.

Are we willing to give Him our ashes, our mourning, our despair? Jesus gave Himself so that we could have life in Him.

 

 

December 29, 2016-God Sees the Heart, and Beauty for Ashes- 1 Samuel 16:7, 10-13, Ezekiel 36:26, Isaiah 61:3

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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”   Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”   Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:7, 10-13 (NRSV)

I find encouragement in the story of David.  He wasn’t anyone who we would consider to be a “first pick.”  He had older and stronger and more “qualified” brothers.  He was consigned to the lowly and dirty job of caring for sheep. Even David’s own father considered him an afterthought.   Yet God knew his heart, and God chose David over his seemingly better equipped brothers.

God doesn’t always choose the beautiful people, or the strong people, or the smart people.  In fact, the theme throughout Scripture is that God equips those who He chooses. He has a real sense of humor in it too, as time and time again He chooses the underdog, the meek, the weak, the poor, and the flawed through which to do His greatest work.  We discover as we study the Bible that the only real hero in the Bible is God, and that He does amazing things with and through really messed up people.

Our potential lies in what God empowers us to do, not in what the world sees in us.  Even the condition of our hearts is not impossible for God to change.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NRSV)

When we are put in those wilderness places, when we fall short and we know full well we aren’t among the “beautiful people,” or we have been used by others and left hurting for a long time, it’s easy for our hearts to become hard.  Yet God has the power to take our hard hearts and give us new ones- hearts that are after His own heart, hearts that God can use for His good purpose.

Even better news is that God brings restoration and healing to the hurting.  Not only can we be put to God’s good purpose, in the process of doing His work He makes us whole.

…to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:3 (NIV)

Beauty for ashes.  Greatness from unlikely places and from even more unlikely people.  Such is the nature of God.