September 14, 2018- Just Say the Word-Isaiah 55:6-11, Ephesians 2:10, Job 38

Job Whirlwind 77

“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;  let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. Isaiah 55:6-11 (ESV)

What beautiful comfort the prophet Isaiah brings us in these words.

God is in control.

We aren’t the ones who orchestrate the seasons. We aren’t the ones who set the universe in motion. God brought about all things ex nihilo (from nothing) simply by speaking the words. God is, was and will be in all places and times- and beyond space and time, forever.  We can’t fully comprehend Him because He is so far beyond us.

God reveals to Isaiah, and through his inspired writing reveals to us as well, that God’s word always accomplishes that which He speaks. We don’t understand the mechanisms.  We might not agree with the timing or in the results, but God has set plans, and His will is going to be accomplished.  Our opinions and inputs are not required. God does work His will through us, as the apostle Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:10 – For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (ESV)

Redemption and salvation have been accomplished by Jesus for us. We do nothing as we are brought to the font in baptism.  We add nothing to the gift.  We can do nothing but receive and respond.  We can marvel in God’s response in Job 38 when Job asked God why he had to suffer.  Where were we when God created the world and set its systems in motion?  What gives us the right to question God- even though we do?  How can we do anything but trust the Designer that He has goodness and redemption planned for the creation of His design?

Faith is the gift of having confidence that we are forgiven, set free, and made God’s own forever in Christ. Faith prays the prayer of the father of the demon possessed child in Mark 9:14-29“I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Jesus taught us that the name of God is holy. In His name, Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread, to look to God for our provision day by day.  Jesus taught us to pray that God’s will be done.  Jesus taught us to pray for God’s kingdom to come to earth as it is in heaven.  Jesus taught us to pray to be forgiven of our sins and to forgive those who have sinned against us. As we pray the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer we are directed to depend upon our sovereign God, God whose very word made all things come to be- for all things.

We can trust that God will meet our needs. He speaks and creation happens, the seasons, the growth, and the harvest are all under God’s control. We have become his redeemed and beloved children in Christ, and in Christ we will be safe in His care forever.

 

March 27, 2018- The Offspring of Eve, the Offspring of God- Genesis 3:14-15, 22-23, Isaiah 49:5-7

adam and eve

So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”- …And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. Genesis 3:14-15, 22-23 (NIV)

The entrance of original sin into the world followed creation very closely. It didn’t take long for the human desire to “be as God” to enter into the dynamic of creation. Fallen humanity shares the curse of sin and banishment from the Garden. All of creation groans under the weight of human failing and sin (Romans 8:18-25.) We are no longer perfect and sinless and free from suffering the way that God originally created Adam and Eve. Apart from the grace of God and the gift of Jesus, humanity is still hopeless and fallen. We can’t stop sinning and falling short of God’s expectations for us no matter how hard we try. We are still waiting for the final realization of God’s kingdom.

Even as fallen as we are, we are not without hope. We learn even from the beginning, God made a way for humanity to be saved from our sin and to be brought back to Him. We learn in Genesis 3 in the account of the Fall, that the serpent (or the tempter) will be defeated by an offspring of Eve, Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, an offspring of both God and of Eve. Jesus suffered death, but in doing so He conquered death and He defeated evil.  This week we reflect on Jesus, the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, as he takes the journey to the Cross, to endure the piercing that covers our transgressions, and to endure the punishment that brings us peace. (Isaiah 53:5)

Isaiah the prophet lived about 700 years before Jesus walked on earth as a man. Isaiah was given words of God regarding Jesus so that we would know Him when He appeared.

And now the Lord says— he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength— he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel- to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” Isaiah 49:5-7 (NIV)

Jesus came to earth in a flesh body as a man, to live like us, to suffer like us, to die for us, so we can be saved from sin. This is the Gospel in a nutshell, but what does that mean for us?

Jesus came to restore, to bring humanity back to God and back to the purpose God created us to fulfill. This restoration and redemption was not just for the people of Israel, but for all the people of the world, and for all creation.

As we contemplate Jesus’ journey to the Cross in the following days, and knowing that we are still living in the paradox of now, but not yet, may we remember that His sacrifice was made for us. Our sin and our human weakness and all of fallen creation hung with Him upon the Cross. He gave His very Body and His very Blood so that we could be part of His abundant, forever life. He endured the punishment that we deserve and that we have earned.  We don’t remember Jesus’ suffering because we need a guilt trip, but so we can live in gratitude and thanks for what only He could do for us.  We honor him by living in response to His gift to us, with open and generous hearts.

 

 

March 22, 2018- Rest for the Weary- Isaiah 50:4-9, Psalm 23:1-2

weary rest

The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens- wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries?  Let them confront me.

It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up. Isaiah 50:4-9 (NRSV)

In light of current events, much has been said about the role of bullying and violence in schools. Being spit on, having one’s hair (or beard) pulled out, and being beaten on are not pleasant experiences. In the storms of pain and humiliation it is human nature to want to lash out and retaliate rather than to simply endure. Endurance is harder than revenge, even when we know that our rage is pointless and will not make a difference in the amount or the duration of the pain we endure.

If there is one thing common to the human experience it is suffering, whether it comes from our own human failings or it is inflicted by the hands of others. Even if one is not literally being spit on or beaten, the storms of life wear us down. We all get weary.  We all long for rest and resolution.

Jesus knows what it is to share in our suffering. He did not fight back against His tormentors. Instead, He silently endured the punishments that we deserve.  He knows our pain and anguish when we are tormented and weary.  He is with us and He shares in our pain.

The One who vindicates us, who restores us, who brings us rest, has been where we are and worse. Jesus knows the humiliation and violation of being mocked, spit on, of being scourged, and ultimately of being nailed to a tree.

It’s not easy to stand in times of trial. Even so we can have the courage to say along with the Suffering Servant as He stands with us: Let us stand up together! Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me!

Jesus knows our weariness. He has fought our battles.  He walks with us through the valleys of shadow and leads us to refreshment and rest.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. Psalm 23:1-2 (NRSV)

December 22, 2017 – The Radiance of God’s Glory- Isaiah 7:14, Hebrews 1:1-3, Matthew 2:1-2

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Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 (NIV)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.  The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

The prophet Isaiah tells us much about Jesus over 700 years before Jesus lived as a man here on earth. Most importantly Isaiah tells us about Jesus as God-with-us, that He will be one of us (see also Isaiah 53:1-5.)  Don’t look for Jesus high atop an earthly throne or sitting in a board room looking down from an ivory tower. Look for Him among the regular people, getting involved, getting dirty- in the working class, in the poor.  Look for Jesus in the human story.

The writer of Hebrews acknowledges that the words of Isaiah and the other prophets are fulfilled in Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory.

Because of Jesus, the radiance of God’s glory is with us and reflected upon us. We wait for the Savior to arrive, knowing that He is already with us, and His glory is being reflected from us.  When people look at us, do they see Jesus’ image in us?

Can we look to the arrival of God-with-us with anticipation and joy? Do we seek Him, and seek to be like Him?

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” Matthew 2:1-2 (NIV)

 The saying, “wise men still seek Him” is true.

Are we still looking for His star, and are we still coming to worship Him?

November 21, 2017 – The Tree of Life – Genesis 2:9, Isaiah 11:1, Proverbs 11:30, Matthew 7:16-17, Revelation 22:1-5

tree of life

 

Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Genesis 2:9 (NRSV)

The Tree of Life is a metaphor which appears throughout Scripture. In creation God puts the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden as well as the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It is interesting that in the narrative of the Fall, God banishes Adam and Eve from the Garden, to where they no longer have access to the presence of either tree as a result of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

It has been said that pride is the mother of all sins, and in the story of the Fall, we learn that in our wanting to be God, we distance ourselves from Him.

The Tree of Life is a central image not only in the Creation and the Fall, but in the redemption of creation.

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. Isaiah 11:1 (NRSV)

The prophet Isaiah foretold the birth and life of Jesus 700 or so years before He was born here on earth. A descendent of King David (Jesse was King David’s father) would appear- as a new Tree of Life- but not in the way that his contemporaries expected.  The new Tree of Life is Jesus, and He came to give Himself to save us. He defeated death by pouring out His life out from the arms of a dead tree that was fashioned to bring about death.

jesus-on-the-cross

The redemption of creation is, as we are well aware, an ongoing work in progress. We as Jesus followers are invited- and were created to- bring about God’s kingdom here on earth.  We get to participate in God’s great work of redemption, restoration and renewal.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, but violence takes lives away. Proverbs 11:30 (NRSV)

(Jesus said): You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:16-17 (NRSV)

This world and this life is not the end, but a beginning, an introduction for us into Life as God intended for us and created us to live.

new jerusalem

 

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. Revelation 22:1-5 (NRSV)

Are we getting in on God’s plan for us to be trees of life that bring forth good fruit, and to be light-givers?

May 17, 2017-The King of Glory and the Suffering Servant- Luke 24:25-27, Isaiah 53:1-5

deus ex machina

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”  Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. Luke 24:25-27 (NRSV)

Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces, he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:1-5 (NIV)

The disciples were disappointed – and perhaps kept themselves from seeing Jesus because the real Jesus was so much different than their expectations of Jesus. They were looking for a warrior king, but they got someone who submitted to a humiliating death on a cross.

We want a deus ex machina kind of God.  We want God to show Himself to us as an example of that literary device that makes action movies so fun to watch.  We want Him to come to life in the form of someone swooping in from above in a blaze of glory- wielding a machine gun, magically solving all of our problems, and making the world safe for democracy.   The problem is that isn’t how Jesus works.   The King of Glory is really the suffering servant who enters into the messy reality of human life that Isaiah portrays so eloquently.

It would be so much easier if Jesus were that blaze of glory kind of savior. But He is the kind of savior who gets dirty with us, who walks with us, who carries our pain and suffering, and who knows what it is to be rejected and unloved.

anguish

One of the things that may keep us from seeing Jesus is that we don’t want to think that He is stuck in the mundane like we are. We don’t want to think of Jesus as being awkward, or ill, or poorly clothed, but He entered into the entirety of the human experience including suffering, humiliation and even death.

On the surface we might want to think of Jesus as a cosmic Dirty Harry, or as the ultimate deus ex machina, but He is so much more than that.  Rather than just being an external entity or a deliverer from afar, Jesus gets up close and personal. He enters into our experience.  Including the parts that we would rather skip.

How can we have a more realistic view of Jesus and how He manifests His glory in the world?

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.

 

 

December 7, 2016 – A Day That Will Live in Infamy?, My Soul Magnifies the Lord- Isaiah 59:6-8, Luke 1:46-55

pearl-harbor

Their webs cannot serve as clothing;
    they cannot cover themselves with what they make.
Their works are works of iniquity,
    and deeds of violence are in their hands.
Their feet run to evil,
    and they rush to shed innocent blood;
their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity,
    desolation and destruction are in their highways.
The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths.
Their roads they have made crooked;
    no one who walks in them knows peace. – Isaiah 59:6-8 (NRSV)

Not to confuse American history with Biblical prophecy, (and I am not in any way implying that Isaiah foretold the invasion of December 7th, 1941) but in this text Isaiah is also describing the enemy of a people who have been invaded and plundered.

75 years ago today Imperial Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It may be hard for us to understand the feelings of anger, helplessness, shock and disbelief that our grandparents or great-grandparents must have felt upon hearing the news.  Probably the closest that we can relate to the experience of Pearl Harbor today would be 9-11.  As a nation we felt violated, helpless and broken. We were angry, we were bewildered. We wondered if we would ever be whole again.  We wanted retribution and revenge.

Enemies like the ones Isaiah speaks of, as well as enemies like the Japanese Empire, and enemies like those who would perpetrate terror in the name of a false religion, are nothing new.  If there is anything constant in human history it is that humans like to engage in conflict, cause hurt to other humans, and to make war.  A lot.

The other constant in human history is that God is stubborn.   As much as we try to have our own way, and as devastated as we can be due to the actions of others, God is with us.  In and through the devastation God constantly finds ways to redeem His creation, to restore and bring life.

godwithus-st-augustine

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
      for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
      His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
      He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
      He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
      He has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
     He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
      according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”-  Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

The above verses are often referred to as the Magnificat, or Mary’s response to the news that she is to be Jesus’ earthly mother.  Her choice was to magnify the Lord rather than to magnify her obstacles or the challenges she would face.

Catastrophes will continue to happen as we live in this world of “not yet.”  Jesus Himself told us that there will be wars and rumors of wars (Matthew 24:6) which are part of life on this “not yet” earth.

But will we claim the promise that was offered to Mary?  Even in adversity and desolation, and in the days that live in infamy, God is with us.  Can we allow our souls to magnify the Lord?