Posted in Isaiah, Luke, Psalms

The Way Forward

“In repentance and rest you will be saved; in quietness and confidence is your strength.” Isaiah 30:15

 Sometimes the way forward is to go back.  Repentance is when we return to God and find our rest in His forgiveness and acceptance again.  The new beginning He gives requires an exchange of strength.  Instead of seeing our activity and energy as the way forward, we learn to quiet ourselves and to find our strength in God.

 “Cease striving and know that I am God…” (Psalm 46:10)  Quieting ourselves and encountering God will produce a new confidence to face life’s challenges that isn’t based on our ability to control, but on God’s ability to work all things for His glory and our good.  Here’s the end of Psalm 46:10, “Then I will be exalted in the nations; I will be exalted in all the earth.”

 In our text above, Israel was unwilling to repent.  They decided to go forward even faster than they had begun, and they became a sign to others of what not to do. (Isaiah 30:17)

What was God doing while they rejected His counsel? “Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, and He waits on high to have compassion on you…”  God is waiting for you and me to come to the end of ourselves and our own devices, so He can have compassion on us!  Sometimes the way forward is to recognize we’re eating pig’s food, come to our senses, and then return to our Father no matter what it looks like. (see Luke 15)

 It turns out that the One who owes us nothing, longs to give us everything, if we’ll just come home!

Posted in Isaiah, John

Kingdom Mode

“Of the increase of His government and peace (shalom) there will be no end… The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7

The Father has promised the Son that His kingdom (government) and His presence (peace) will continually increase. The Father’s own zeal will accomplish this – not man’s efforts or programs. Where will this increase happen? In and through you and me, His adopted children. We are carriers of the kingdom and the Presence of the King Himself!

When the world goes into crisis mode, we can go into kingdom mode. On September 11th, 2001, I received a phone call from the manager of the area wide Christian radio station. The church secretary had to find me because I was in the sanctuary praying and meditating on the morning’s One Year Bible reading from Isaiah 8:12-14: “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, He is the One you are to fear…and He will be a sanctuary (for you).”

The manager told me that one of the twin towers was hit by terrorists and that another plane was hijacked and he was asking pastors to pray over the air. There was such a presence of God on me because I knew that He had prepared me for this. Darkness was having its day, but God didn’t want us to focus on what the world was focusing on, or respond in the way the world would respond. We were to fix our eyes on Him and find sanctuary in Him, and that’s what I prayed for everyone who was in the midst of this horrible crisis.

The world goes into crisis mode when there is a crisis and many wrong decisions are made because they are based on the hurt, fear, anger, or frustration the situation has caused. This is when Jesus wants to increase His government and peace in us – we are to fix our eyes on Him and go into kingdom mode. Don’t focus on darkness or respond to it.  What is God saying? What does God want you to do? All you need to do to break darkness is bring a light into it. Light is always stronger than darkness.

“In Me you may have peace, in the world you will have trouble. Let your heart take courage for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) In every situation around us we are either a thermometer that simply reflects the environment, or a thermostat that sets it. God’s plan is that we would so host His presence, and have such confidence in Him that we would automatically go into kingdom mode when a crisis arises and be thermostats of His kingdom and peace.

Posted in Colossians, Isaiah, John, Philippians

Are You Willing?  

“If you are willing and obedient you will eat the best from the land.” Isaiah 1:19

A minister in the 1950’s was complaining to God saying, “God, you said if I was willing and obedient, I would eat the best of the land and I’ve been obedient.”

He had been a pastor when God told him to start traveling because he wasn’t really a pastor, he was a prophet and a teacher. Even though it was difficult to leave the security of a pastorate, he obeyed God. The problem was that he wasn’t making it. His shoes were worn out, his wife and kids were barely surviving, and there was constant financial pressure on his home. All this when he had only obeyed God and stepped out in faith.

The Lord answered this man with a whisper: “You’ve been obedient, but you haven’t been willing.” When he told this story, he said that he instantly became willing in response to God’s prompting, and it started to change everything in his life.

Did you know you can be obedient and not be willing? You can do the will of God and carry out your responsibilities as “have tos,” but that’s not good enough for God. He only releases His full blessing over us when we “want to.” It’s not enough for Him that we serve Him; He wants us to be happy about it.

The sweet Spirit of God was given so we would have both power to God’s will as well as the “want to.” Philippians 2:13 says, “It is God who works in you to will (the want to) and to act (the power to do) according to His good purpose.”

The way we change all of the “have tos,” in our lives into “want tos,” is by embracing the cross and doing them for God instead of for man. Jesus said that no one took His life from Him; “I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:18). You and I have the choice of resenting our “have tos,” or of making them “want tos,” by doing them for God.

How we do what we do changes everything and puts us in the place of God’s full blessing. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24).

Posted in Isaiah

Is God Awakening the Muslim World?

“I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me.” Isaiah 65:1

A few years ago we had Tom Doyle speak at our missions conference. Tom has spent eleven years as a full-time missionary to the Middle East and has authored the book Dreams and Visions: Is Jesus Awakening the Muslim World?  Below is one of the stories he relates in his book. My heart soars as I contemplate God’s love for people and the measures He is willing to take.

Hassan had a heart for Muslims and had studied for years to reach them for Christ but the results were disappointing. He had lived in the old part of Cairo, Egypt for two years and although he talked about Christ daily, he had not seen a single convert. Early one morning he was abducted and taken against his will across rooftops to a hatch door that he was commanded to open. Hassan was praying the prayer of a martyr, “Jesus, into your hands I commit my spirit,” but something extraordinary awaited him inside the foreboding room he entered.

The man who had kidnapped Hassan explained: “We are imams, and we all studied at Al-Azhar University. During our time there, each of us had a dream about Jesus, and each of us has privately become a follower of Christ. For a time, we didn’t dare tell anyone about this. It would, of course, have been our own death sentences. But finally, we could hide it no longer.

“We each prayed to Jesus for His help to learn what it means to be His follower. Over time, He brought us together, and you can imagine our amazement when the Holy Spirit revealed that there are other imams who have found Jesus as well. Now we meet here three times a week at night to pray for our families and for the people in our mosques to find Jesus too. We know you follow Christ. He has led us to you.

“I’m very sorry I had to frighten you with the mask and the gun, but I knew it was the only way to get you here. It was just too dangerous any other way. I apologize. But now our question is, will you teach us the Bible?”

Posted in 2Corinthians, Isaiah, Psalms

Is Your Calling Hard? 

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this to the people: be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving. Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn and be healed.’” Isaiah 6:8-11

Is it hard to do what you do day in and day out? Do you ever find yourself growing weary and falling into self pity? I sure have. In times like these it’s helpful to remember some of those who have gone before us.

Consider Isaiah’s calling in the text above. Basically God is telling Isaiah that if he does exactly what God wants, and says exactly what God says, people will get worse. God is in essence saying: “They don’t want the light so your ministry will actually make them harder but I want you to go to them anyway.” Really? And I thought my calling was hard.

Consider Paul’s calling. “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; I’ve been in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.” (2Corinthians 11:24-28)  Maybe my calling isn’t that hard?

Consider David’s calling. Psalm 54 was written by David when he was in the wilderness being chased by Saul and about to be betrayed by some of his own people, the Ziphites. This is the David who God had anointed king and had been called because his heart was after God’s heart. At this point he had not disobeyed in any way, yet he is not only not king but is living day by day with an army chasing him down.

How is your life compared to these? It’s amazing what a little perspective will do!

Posted in 2Chronicles, Ephesians, Isaiah, Proverbs

Standing Firm in Your Faith

“If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” Isaiah 7:9b

News that Ephraim and Aram had joined forces to attack Judah resulted in king Ahaz being gripped with fear. The Bible says his heart was “…shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2) He would either stand firm in his faith, or he would fall – those were the only two options. In easier more peaceful times you can get by without really believing, but when everything is shaking around you, you either believe God, for real, or you become a victim of fear.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5) When our situation is confusing and intimidating we must lean on God directly, not on our understanding of the circumstances, or even on our understanding of God. He is able to make us stand in the storm, and after we have passed His test, is equally able to speak “peace, be still,” to our situation. When He does the wind and waves of our circumstances will calm down, and we will see the deliverance of God. But it all starts with us standing in faith while everything still looks bad.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then…” (Ephesians 6:13-14a) If God tells you to do something, do it, but after doing it, only “stand firm.” Don’t worry, don’t strive, don’t doubt, don’t wrestle… just stand. Evil will take its swing at you and me, and God will allow it, but if we stand in our faith, it will come to nothing. Believe in God’s promises; trust in His character; and then “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” (2Chronicles 20:17)

Posted in 2Peter, Hebrews, Isaiah, Jude, Matthew, Revelation

Raising Hell – Part Three

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  Matthew 10:28

As I have explored the church’s traditional view of hell, I’ve learned a lot about the power of confirmation bias.  Once we believe something, it’s hard for us to consider something that contradicts it, no matter how much evidence there is.  It leads us away from “believing what we read,” into a place where we only, “read what we already believe.”  It’s hard to learn or grow in this place because we already think we know how things are.

At the foundation of the doctrine of eternal torment is a belief that our souls are eternal.  The early church didn’t explicitly comment on this topic, but two later church fathers did.  Tertullian and Augustine both referenced our eternal souls, but as proof they quoted Plato, not Scripture! (Tertullian; Resurrection of the Flesh; 3; The Fire that Consumes; 300).  The Old Testament described man as a transient being: “For all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-7)  Only Greek philosophy describes us as automatically having an eternal soul.

The New Testament gives many descriptions of what eventually happens to souls who reject Christ, if we will only listen:

  1. The body and soul will be destroyed. (Quoted above)
  2. The chaff will be burned up in eternal fire. (Matthew 3:12)
  3. The enemies of God will be consumed by fire. (Hebrews 10:27)
  4. The wicked will perish like beasts. (2Peter 2:6)
  5. The wicked will be burned to ashes like Sodom and Gomorrah by eternal fire. (2Peter 2:12; Jude 7)
  6. Those whose names are not in the book of life will experience the second death in the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)

This is what Scripture says, but if we believe the soul is eternal then destroy can’t mean destroy, consumed must not mean consumed, burned up doesn’t mean burned up, perish must mean something different then perish, and death can no longer mean death.

Posted in Genesis, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John, Revelation

The Age of the Earth – Part Three

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning…” John 8:44

Satan was already Satan at the beginning; not his beginning, but our beginning. Even though God called everything He made good, there was something evil left over from another time. The story of Satan’s fall is an untold story in Scripture even though we are repeatedly assured of the presence of an evil kingdom and given many instructions on how to stand against evil and how to exercise authority over demons.

So when did he fall? Genesis 1:2 says that after creation; “The earth was formless and void.” The greatest Hebrew scholars in the world say that the word “hayah” translated “was” in this text, can just as easily be translated, “became.” (See the footnote in the 1984 translation of the NIV Bible) In fact, the King James Bible translates “hayah” as “became” in 67 other places. Is it possible that God didn’t create the earth formless and void but that it became formless and void sometime after the creation?

The Hebrew words translated “formless and void” are “tohu va bohu.” The phrase “tohu va bohu” is only used in two other places in Scripture. One is in Jeremiah 4:23 where God is describing the result of His desolating judgment on Israel’s rebellion. Because they rebelled, God left Israel “tohu va bohu.” The other place this phrase is used is in Isaiah 34:11 where God is describing the result of His desolating judgment on Edom. Because Edom rebelled, God left the land “tohu va bohu.”

What if Genesis 1:2 is describing the result of God’s desolating judgment on the earth following Lucifer’s (Satan’s) rebellion? God created the early earth perfectly and it was inhabited by angels and animals but when Lucifer fell, God’s judgment followed. We don’t know when or how long until other angels followed him, we only know that a third did fall (Revelation 12:4, 7) and that judgment did come. The earth is covered with water and darkness in Genesis 1:2, not because God created it that way, but because it became that way after Satan’s rebellion.

Posted in Genesis, Isaiah, Romans

Reexamining Our Faith

“Did God really say?” Genesis 3:1

The first attack of the enemy was not to question the existence of God, but the word of God. So it is today. The Word of God is being questioned and challenged at every level. This is a sobering time for the church in this country which should cause all Christians to pause and reexamine their own faith. Here are three questions we should ask ourselves:

  1. Am I really a Christian? Do I believe the Word of God as it is or have I twisted it to say something it doesn’t say? The enemy followed up the question above with a promise: “You will surely not die.” (Genesis 3:4) If we don’t really believe the wages of sin is death, I don’t think we will see our need to receive the gift of eternal life. If we don’t really believe in sin, why would we need forgiveness?
  2. Do I fear God? We can live in the fear of God and change our thinking to embrace His ways, or we can rebel against His commands and make a new god in our own image. Paul says we are to “behold the kindness and severity of God.” (Romans 11:22) Have we done this, or have we tamed God and made Him something He isn’t?
  3. Am I willing to be persecuted for my faith? Am I willing to go against the grain? Am I willing to be mocked and laughed at or put in prison for my faith? The late missionary, Elizabeth Elliott, said this in her journal: “If something isn’t worth dying for, it isn’t worth living for.” Am I willing to die for my faith?

This is not a time for Christians to become afraid; it’s time for us to shine. It’s not a time for us to be angry because America isn’t Christian; it’s time to wake up ourselves and make sure we’re Christians. Isaiah 60:1-3 says: “Arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” This is to be the church’s greatest hour.

Posted in 1John, 2Corinthians, Hebrews, Isaiah, James, Matthew, Revelation

Drawing Near

“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” James 4:8

The remarkable thing about the New Covenant is that it gives us as much of God as we want. The Old Covenant featured a veil which stood between sinful humanity and a holy God. It served as a reminder that God needed to keep a safe distance from us, or we might easily be struck down by the consuming fire He is. (Hebrews 12:29)

Everything today has changed because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The veil, it turns out, was a picture of Christ’s body. (Hebrews 10:20) When Jesus was crucified as the sacrifice for our sins, the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51) We now have access to God 24/7 and are encouraged to “draw near with confidence having our hearts cleansed from a guilty conscience.” (Hebrews 10:22)

We don’t have to live far from God! Don’t let fear, confusion, regrets, discouragement, distractions, or even struggles with sin keep you away from nearness to God. No one cleans up before they take a shower – the purpose of the shower is to clean you up. Don’t clean up for God, draw near and God will clean up your life without you even focusing on it. Here’s how He cleans us up in His Presence:

  1. His perfect love casts out fear. (1John 4:18)
  2. The clouds of confusion are cleared by the lens of eternity. (2Corinthians 4:18)
  3. He gives us His beauty in place of the ashes of our regrets. (Isaiah 61:3)
  4. He releases joy which replaces discouragement. (Isaiah 61:3)
  5. His blood silences every accusation against us and gives us a new beginning without sin. (Revelation 12:10-11)

God likes us, and He has done everything to welcome us into His presence which is the ultimate answer to every one of our problems. To live far away from God is to miss the main purpose for living.