A Reasonable Response

In the opening of Isaiah, God says something that, to me, is astounding.  He calls the readers to do something that sounds, well, unreasonable.  He says, “Come now, let us reason together.”  Crazy, right?  No, think about it:  The sovereign Lord of all that is, who created by the power of His Word, who controls all that ever was, who speaks and no one can respond, who, with the power of a thought can build up or destroy, whose ways are higher and thoughts deeper than anything that could compare, calls us to reason with Him.

Be Reasonable

Here’s the backstory: The Father has just laid out a grievance against Judah, that they have come to Him with acts of worship, but filthy hands and hearts.  Rhetorically, He has asked them where they got such an idea.  Do you think I like this?  Has anyone told you to do this and act this way towards me?  Do you think I’m stupid?  Did I say that I like for you to make a mockery of worship? (Yeah, a little bit of paraphrasing there). He then tells them what He wants them to do (which we’ll get to in a minute) then calls for them to be reasonable in their response.  Look at how He lays this out (so easily a baby could just about reason through this):

1. Your sins are disgusting   —->  they’ll be cleansed like snow.

2. If you’re willing and obedient  —->  I’ll bless your socks off.

3. If you refuse and rebel  —->  you’ll lose your socks. (look how strongly the Lord states this:  “you shall be eaten by the sword.” Gives the idea of complete consumption/destruction, no?).

4. I said it. That’s it. No other options. (“…the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”)

Simple, right?  So, the reasonable response is……?  Of course, any reasonable person would do what God says.  OK, so…..do we?  Do you? 

What God Said

Isaiah 1: 6-7 tells us what we’re to do that, in doing so, will lead to the blessings of God:

1.  Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean. Remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil. 

2. Learn to do good. (personal experience – it is a process.)

3. Seek justice.

4. Correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

So this is what God said. Now, what did He mean?

In summary, He tells us to separate ourselves from sin (repent) and do works in keeping with repentance. These were the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:8

How does it work?  Simple.  In our context (A.D.), it is coming to terms with the blood sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, who, having made peace with the Father on our behalf (that is, since He was pure and had no need to have His own sins purified, He could, in perfection, stand in and trade His purity for our impurity by dying the death we deserved, bearing the penalty of sin for us, absorbing the wrath of God towards sin so we don’t have to eternally and then rising from the dead so that Death is defeated forever), and repenting. That’s the “Gospel” or Good News in a nutshell.  In my opinion, when you think of what’s at stake and what is gained, “good news” is an understatement!

The repenting part is the application of Christ’s pardon on our lives. If I don’t repent, I don’t get the benefit.  It’s like getting a coupon for a free meal at a restaurant:  Somebody is paying for that meal, though I get it for free. However, I actually need to redeem the coupon in order to receive the meal.  Repentance (that involves not only being sorrowful over sin, but actually turning away from that sin and believing what Christ has done) is that act of faith where I believe “the meal” has been paid for and is mine for the enjoying.

Now the rest is the outflow of what has flowed in.  Christ has given me salvation, called me to Himself, broken me over my sin, applied the ointment of healing through forgiveness as I repent, and sealed my soul for eternity with Him. Now, if that is real, I see the world differently:

  • I see injustice and I want to fix it.
  • I see people hurting and I want to help them.
  • I see people broken and I want to heal them.
  • I see people lonely and I want to comfort them.
  • I see people treated badly and I want to defend them.

Though I may have been blinded to these things before, being absorbed by my selfishness, empty religion, or short-sightedness, now Christ has given my His own eyes. I begin to see the world as He sees it and want to doing something about it. This is a natural process brought about by the indwelling Spirit of God (note: many people do these things who are not followers of Christ…keep reading).  

So, a couple of questions:

1.  What is your attitude towards sin?

2.  What is your relation to Jesus?

3.  What is the condition of your soul?

4.  How do you see the world?

5.  What are you doing about it?

Doing “justice” for the sake of justice may be noble (and many people are doing just that), but if not prompted as a natural result of what Christ has done in your life, it is ultimately meaningless.  You can make a hungry person full for a while but they’ll hunger again.  Empowered by the Holy Spirit of God, however, will change the world (and you) both now and for eternity.

If you’d like to explore this Good News further, shoot me a message.

When God Goes Missing

Do you ever feel as though there are things God doesn’t see?  If my actions are any indication, I must.  Sometimes I feel as though injustices happen and God just misses or seems to ignore it.  Those are the times I want to (and too often do) call “foul!” really loudly so someone will see how badly I’ve been treated and give me an emotional band-aid.  Other times, it seems like God lets good deeds go unnoticed, too.  Those are the times I want to toot my own horn so at least somebody might appreciate my greatness.

That’s all pride, by the way.  Couldn’t tell, could you?  So, what do I do about that?  Is it true?  Does God check out every so often?  Does he let injustice go unpunished?  Does he fail to reward when we’re faithful?  Well, though it might seem like it, it doesn’t happen if His Self-revelation in Scripture is to be believed.

When God led the Children of Israel out of Egypt, for example, they faced many trials of various kinds.  Not only were their own selfish ways a slow ticket through a relatively small wilderness, there were many outsiders who mistreated them, attacked them and blocked their way.  By the same token, there were those who treated them with kindness.  Is there mention of what God did to those groups?  Sometimes.  Other times it seems as though God let His people be defeated (usually with really good cause!) and did nothing to punish the nations that did the defeating.  Where was the justice for those who stood against God’s people?  Where were the “‘Atta boys” for those who were kind?  It seems like God failed to take notice…or did He?

Consider 1 Samuel 15: 1-7:

1 And Samuel said to Saul, The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord.2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt.3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.

4 So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah.5 And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley.6 Then Saul said to the Kenites, Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt. So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites.7 And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt.

How about that?  God instructed Saul, the first king of Israel, to defeat the Amalekites.  Why?  Because they had opposed the Israelites some 400 or so years earlier (depending on how you date the Exodus)!  Then the Kenites were warned to clear out because God had taken note of their good treatment towards the Israelite.  Atta boy!

God does take notice.  Rest in that.  When you are mistreated, God knows it.  When you do well, God knows it.  He will not let any good deed, done in His name and for His glory, go unrewarded or injustice go unpunished.  It’s His nature.  But we should also be warned: When we are the ones guilty of the injustice (even when nobody else knows it), God takes notice.  What a sobering thought!

So, when I feel the need to toot my own horn or defend my own interests or “good name”, I remember that the battle is the Lord’s.  When I try to get away with something, looking pious but acting deviously, I may get away with it with others, but I will never fool the only One who counts.

I am encouraged, then, to live with authenticity, patience, and peace.  God is the God who sees…and He is the God who acts in His own, good and perfect time.

Ridiculously Blessed

I am continuing a series at The Gathering on the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s been interesting to slow down and really look at what Jesus was telling us to do in that short prayer.  Yesterday, we looked at the phrase, “Give us this day our daily bread.”  We’ll take that in two parts with the topic yesterday focusing on both the source of our provision and what we are to do with it once we have it.

I find it so easy to miss God in all things (not that God IS all things, as in Pantheism, but both His presence and His creative stamp).  I fail to see how much He provides and, actually, how there is nothing good He does NOT provide (James 1:17).  So, we looked closely at that fact.

It doesn’t stop there, though.  God has provided so much to so many of us, what are we to do with these incredibly abundant blessings?  It seems that we who are Christ-followers, a part of the Church, are to hold those blessings with open hands, looking for opps to be the hands and feet of Jesus, and being the answer to that prayer for those who don’t have daily bread.

How quick and easy it is to lose sight of our mission and it seems the more we get the tighter our fists are clinched around it.  I had Adam Farris, a member and leader in our church, tell a story of how his tribe lived this out in college:

I was a part of [a group] in college [that] shared most of our possessions-if someone needed a car (which is the only way to travel in LA) one who was “blessed” with a vehicle could use it, if someone needed an interest-free loan for a need-that need was met.  Thinking back we were quite liberal with our possessions and that was one of the ways community was fostered all the while, needs were being met.  A specific story related to that-My junior year, my best friend won tickets to a movie premiere, we borrowed someone’s car from the fellowship and drove to Hollywood for the movie.  On the way back we were stopped at a light and a homeless looking man crossed the street in front of us.  Not anything out of the ordinary for that time of night and being in Hollywood.  When the light turned green my friend said to me, ‘I don’t think that guy was wearing shoes.”  I told him I didn’t notice so he circles the block to find the homeless man.  He parks the car on the side of the road and gets out to talk to the guy.  He starts talking to him and pointing at the man’s feet, then my friend bends down, unties his shoes and gives them to him.  He gets back in the car and tells me, “Yeah, he didn’t have any shoes, I’ve got a couple of pair back in the dorm room that I can wear.”  And he drove back to campus barefoot.  That story still humbles me.

It humbles me, too.  I realize how much I hold onto what I have, forgetting that blessings are not meant to terminate on me, but carry on into the lives of others.  The question I have to ask today and everyday is, “How can I use what God has given me to be a blessing to someone else today.”  I may or may not have the opportunity, but if I’m at not at least asking the question, I may totally miss the opportunity when it comes my way.

The Power of Worship

This morning, I talked with the guys at our men’s discipleship breakfast about the power of worship I experienced while Karen and I were on our cruise last week. It was amazing because everywhere I looked, I saw the magnificence of God’s creation: ocean in every direction, beautiful sunrises and sunsets, cloud formations planted right into the distant, watery horizon. It was breath-taking. At every moment, I found myself engulfed in worship, praising God for His majesty and the display of His nature right there before me to see.

I am reminded of Psalm 19 where David must have been in one of these type situations in nature as the worship of God burst forth from the depths of his soul:

19:1 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,
and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them,
and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

An interesting thing happened to me as a result of this spontaneous worship I experienced aboard ship: I was “sucked into” the very presence of God and put into a place where I was able to experience some things over the next few days I don’t think I would have been prepared for otherwise.

God took me on a journey for the next several days aboard ship and during our ports of call, where I was exposed to some of the most horrible injustices and poverty I’ve ever seen. My heart broke as I listened to stories of the ship’s staff of their families back home, the long months away from them so that they can escape the poverty that engulfs their homelands and provide a living for their families. I saw scum-filled areas in Jamaica where people are subjected to abject poverty. My stomach was turned as I watched rich vacation-goers (which included all of us!) eat as much as possible and then send the rest to the trash by servers who can only imagine having such luxuries, probably wishing their families back home could have the left-overs.  The contrasts were shocking.

Though I experienced a great time of refreshing and relaxation on vacation, it wasn’t an escape. Through the worship that I experienced, being sucked into the presence and reality of God, I was taken on a journey of discovery, where my eyes were opened and my life was changed. It is interesting to see how God can and will often take something intended for our own purposes and use it for His purpose and glory…and it most often comes through the power of worship.

M.I.A.: The Strong, Silent Type

I have been reflecting on Charles Spurgeon’s devotion for this morning which referenced Matthew 27:11-14. That’s the section that tells of Jesus before the governor, being asked as to whether or not He was the “King of the Jews.” Jesus only response was, “You have said so.” It then follows that Jesus would give no answer to the Jewish leaders.

Now, obviously, there are several ways to look at this. One of which is to simply say that Jesus gave no defense on His own behalf because He had no desire to be released. The endgame was the cross and, therefore, He would do nothing that would jeopardize the mission, such as arguing His way out of conviction (which He demonstrated numerous times that He could have easily done).

Though I think that is a right way of thinking, Spurgeon points out the important example that Jesus set on another level. Sometimes it is best to strictly keep our mouths shut. Jesus was accused of many things, yet He did not feel it important to make great defenses on His own behalf; He did not argue against them. In doing so, His accusers fell under their own accusations and became the targets of the wrath of God, though Jesus, Himself, stood guiltless.

I most certainly believe that there is a time and a place to give a defense of the Gospel. Unfortunately, I believe we Evangelical Christians spend too much time defending ourselves. There is a world of difference between presenting a clear portrayal of the message of Christ love in a way that will clear up misunderstanding of who Christ is and arguing for our own rights or defending our own stands on any number of issues. We are called not to stand up for our rights as Christians, but rather the simple Truth of the Gospel. That is the major issue I have with many politically focused evangelical leaders today who argue for morality, ethics and godliness in society at the expense of alienating the very ones that we are trying to reach. I am all for morality, ethics, and godliness…I just don’t believe they come through debate, legislation, or boycotts.

Spurgeon said, “The anvil breaks a host of hammers by silently bearing their blows.” I believe there is great wisdom in that. I believe that we would find our influence growing among those hostile to the Faith more quickly by bearing the blows that come our way with dignity and grace and a quiet faith that Christ will deliver us in His time than by going on the attack, singing our battle cry of Onward Christian Soldiers. Anyone can become a political special interest group and fight for their rights. Respect comes when we do that which is counter-cultural and actively love those who are waging the attacks. You want to talk about blowing minds.

That’s not a pacifist perspective I am advocating (as I am not a pacifist at heart). There are times when standing up and fighting for causes is important, such as justice for widows, orphans, the outcast, etc. However, I’ve never read that our own rights are among those things to be fought for.

Sometimes, the greatest weapon of offense is a strong resolution to keep our big mouths shut and take the blows to the glory of Christ.

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