Jeremiah 1-4; You Can’t Have It Both Ways

We know from history that the Babylonians took the nation of Israel into captivity. We know from the Bible God allowed that to happen because the Israelites sinned, and continued to sin even after God’s repeated warnings.

Don’t ever forget that God punishes sin. Every sin. Oh, maybe not the moment we commit the act. He might give us warnings, or a slap on the wrist first. He is patient. But just because you seem to have gotten away with it because God didn’t zap you the second you sinned, doesn’t mean He’s forgotten it. It doesn’t mean He’ll let it slide. Every sin comes with a death sentence.

As I was reading these chapters, I heard God’s agony over His disobedient children. I heard Him plead with them to come back to Him. I heard Him warn them about the awful consequences they were facing without Him. He reminded them about the times He had been faithful in the past when they called on Him. He begged them to call on Him again so He could rescue them yet again.

But it seems the people heard only half of what God was saying. They heard: “… I will frown on you no longer for I am merciful… I will not be angry forever… I will choose you… How gladly would I treat you like sons, and give you a desirable land…” (3:11-19)

God really did say all of that. Those promises came from His heart. But Israel was still in trouble, which lead to the unbelievable audacity Jeremiah had to call God a liar:

“… Ah, Sovereign Lord, how completely you have deceived this people and Jerusalem by saying, ‘You will have peace,’ when the sword is at our throats.” (4:10)

Wow.

People still question God today, still blame Him when things don’t go our way. And the message of God’s love and provision is still being preached today.

Without the “If.”

God sums things up in 4:18:

“YOUR OWN CONDUCT AND ACTIONS have brought this upon you. This is your punishment. How bitter it is! How it pierces to the heart!” (emphasis mine)

You can’t have it both ways. You can’t expect God to bless you while you are holding on to sin. You can’t expect God to hear you until you first call on Him, repent of sin, bow before Him, and obey Him. You can’t claim His love and protection, and ignore His holiness.

God’s history with the nation of Israel shows us that He not only demands obedience at the exclusion of everything else, He deserves our obedience. It shows us how He delights in blessing our obedience, and how serious He is about our disobedience.

Do you want His blessing? Then obey Him. Period. You just can’t have it both ways.

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Isaiah 65-66; A Beautiful Church

Isn’t it amazing to be part of the Church Isaiah describes in these chapters? The whole world is blessed because of us, and we who are faithful produce the fruit of eternal souls saved when God’s children allow Him to work through us to reveal Himself to those who need Him.

From the moment the Holy Spirit came upon His people with a mighty wind and tongues of fire, God Himself became available to anyone anywhere; Jews, Gentiles, men, women, young, old, rich, poor. He doesn’t live in a house made my human hands. He lives in all of us, His workmanship through the blood of His precious Son Jesus Christ.

Ministry is no longer confined to Levites, or priests. All believers have a ministry, we are all to go into all the world and make disciples.

Belief in Jesus makes everything new. The old passes away, the new comes, and we will live forever with our Creator God, our Savior.

These last chapters in the book of Isaiah remind me what a privilege it is to be a part of God’s family, His Church on this earth. And it convicts me to do my part to care for His Church, to help it grow, to show the world how beautiful it really is.

Isaiah 60-64; God Made Me Do It, Or Not

If you’ve ever been a school teacher, I imagine your grading system has come into question at least once. You’ve probably heard the accusation from a student or parent, (hopefully not from an administrator) “Why did you give so-and-so that grade?”

I started my career working with elementary students, but somewhere along the line I found myself in the Middle School. It was an adjustment, and I learned a lot from my fellow-teachers.

One man in particular, an 8th grade math teacher with the reputation of being a tough grader, said something in a mid-term parent/teacher conference that came to mind today as I read Isaiah 63. We were sitting in a circle getting ready to talk to the parents of a very intelligent boy, a straight A student from elementary school. But on this occasion, these parents were obviously angry.

We hadn’t even finished introducing ourselves when the dad pointed a finger at the math teacher and demanded, “Why did you give my son a C?” I’ll never forget the teacher’s reaction. He calmly opened his grade book and said, “I was feeling generous.”

The teacher then proceeded to show the parents their son’s missed assignments and low test scores. He also pulled out a piece of paper, a letter he had written to the parents two weeks earlier expressing his concern over their son’s lack of progress. There was a signature at the bottom of the letter. But the dad had to admit it was not his handwriting. (This was way before email, cellphones, and texting)

This example came to mind when I heard Isaiah say:

Why, O Lord, do you make us wander from your ways and harden our hearts so we do not revere you? (63:17) (emphasis mine)

I know some people can read this as an example to support their interpretation of God’s “sovereignty,” that He causes everything to happen. I’ve heard someone say that God planted a cancer cell inside them, or that God caused an accident on the highway to bring about His purpose. But is that what this verse supports?

If you read on you’ll hear Isaiah tell us he’s addressing a sin problem.

But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags, we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins. (Is 64:5b-7)

I read Isaiah’s question in 63:17 like the question the dad asked of the math teacher in that conference. And I hear God say: If you don’t do your assignments and do poorly on your exams, this is what happens.

I know that God’s will is that we enjoy a relationship with Him based on the blood of Jesus, that we walk in His ways, that our hearts are tender and sensitive to His ways. I know God’s will is that we allow Him to work in and through us to reach others for the Savior.

And I know that if we allow sin to exist in our lives, there are consequences to pay. It’s not that God presses some “harden that heart” button.” This is a warning that sin causes hardened hearts. Sin causes us to wander from God’s way. That’s how He made us. That’s what He wants us to know through the words He inspired Isaiah to write.

Another thing I know is that God does not make any of us sin. Going our own way is a sin. A hardened heart is a sin. And God wants us to know that unless we confess our sin, unless we repent, we will end up out of His will, and committing the sin of a hardened heart. He is very clear that He will not bless that, so don’t expect Him to.

But there is good news. God does bless His people. Listen to what else Isaiah penned:

Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides You, who acts on behalf of those who wait for Him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember Your ways. (Is 64:4-5a)

That’s God’s will. That’s what He wants to do in our lives. May we be people who wait for Him, who gladly do what is right, who remember His ways, and obey Him from tender, pliable hearts that seek only to please Him.

Then brace yourself as you see God act on your behalf, as He gives you the help you need, as He blesses you beyond your wildest imagination. He won’t make you love Him. He won’t make you obey Him. But He will bless You when you choose to. Count on it.

 

 

 

Isaiah 54-59; The Truth Hurts

Before we get into these chapters in Isaiah, I want to share a few other verses with you.

Hebrews 4:12 –  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thought and attitude of the heart.

2 Timothy 3:16 – All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

James 1:17 and I John 1:5 are only two of many verses in the Bible that tell us that God never changes. Yesterday, today, and forever He is the same.

With that being said, I believe there is something vital for us in 2018 in the living words this unchanging God inspired men to put to paper thousands of years ago. So, dear Christian, have a seat. God’s got something to say to us today through his servant Isaiah. And it might hurt.

Read chapter 57 and see if you don’t think life in the USA in 2018 sounds very much like Israel in Isaiah’s day. I hear God say, “How dare you! Who do you think you are to do what you want, think what you want, believe what you want, then expect Me to be your servant. Ain’t gonna happen.”

Isaiah 58:4b says:

You cannot fast as you do today, and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Dear one, He’s talking to His children. He’s talking to you and me.

I often hear Christians lamenting over the state of the world, but I hear God say we need to clean up our own individual acts, and let the state of the world up to Him. Sometimes, when people observe how bad things are they seem to sit back and say, “Oh well. God told us this was going to happen.”

He did tell us what will happen, but He didn’t say it had to happen in 2018!

58:9 is one of many verses in the Bible with messages like this:

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer, you will cry for help, and he will say; Here am I.

He goes on to tell us to get right with Him, then get out there and do what He’s told us to do, go and make disciples. He’ll guide us. He’ll give us what we need to get the job done. We’ll produce fruit which is what He planned for us to do all along.

Do not… I repeat: DO NOT throw your hands up in defeat because you think the world is too far gone. This same unchanging God is still not willing that any should perish. That includes your neighbor. YOUR neighbor. MY neighbor.

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save. (59:1)

Do you believe that? Then get off the couch and get out there. Greater is He in you than that liar who is in the world. Let’s examine ourselves, confess sin, stand for the truth of Scripture, and be the Church God needs us to be to keep this thing going. We can’t honor God if we give up.

Father, I am convicted. I can get pretty discouraged reading the paper, and hearing how the insanity of the world is becoming truth for way too many people. But I am reminded that my mission field is here on this island where I live. It’s the people on this street, in the grocery, or as I walk on the beach. You’ve asked me to be faithful, but sometimes I think what little impact I actually have. Forgive me if I convince myself it’s not worth it, or not important. You promise that when your people call on You, and ask for Your help to accomplish Your will, You are right there. God, I’m asking.

 

 

 

 

 

Isaiah 50-53; Read It Again

Isaiah 53 always stops me in my tracks. It is one of those passages in Scripture that I can’t just power through. In fact, it’s one of those I have to read, and reread so I don’t miss a word of it. I love it so much. It amazes me and blesses me every time.

If you ever doubted the supernatural power of God’s Word, read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days on this earth in bodily form, AFTER you read Isaiah 53. It is an amazingly accurate description of your Savior.

And it was written hundreds of years before Jesus’ humble birth, before He experienced the rejection of His people, before His trial when He stood absolutely guiltless and didn’t open His mouth to defend Himself, before He let them pierce Him without resisting, before He was crucified between two thieves, buried in a rich man’s tomb, and before He rose again. Everything Isaiah said would happen, happened. How can anyone deny the facts?

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6) (emphasis mine)

Jesus did that for you. He did that for me. I am so thankful that I have humbled myself and accepted God’s amazing grace, the forgiveness of my sin, paid for by the death of His Son Jesus. I love Him so much.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to read Isaiah 53 again and love on the One who loves me much more than I deserve.

Isaiah 44-49; A Matter of Life and Death

I don’t know what you think about God, or religion. I don’t know your world view, or your level of spirituality. But I challenge you to read these chapters with an open mind. Hear what God says about Himself. Pay attention to the proof He gives that what He says is true. It is a matter of life and death.

You’ll hear God repeat the statement that “I am God. There is no one like me.” You’ll hear Him point to evidence of His reality in creation, the proof in nature. He’ll ask you to use common sense. And He will tell the future of the Israelites in such detail that, if you study their history, you’ll find it will happen just like God said it did, down to the pagan king named Cyrus who is said to have a nose like an eagle’s beak.

But I don’t want you to stop there. Once you realize God is exactly who He says He is, I want you to go to the New Testament and hear what the One and Only God says about Jesus. Read the Gospels and hear what the angel said to Mary about the birth of her Son, to Joseph about his future step son.

Hear what the One and Only God said to anyone within earshot when Jesus was baptized. “This is my Son…” He’ll say it again in Matthew 17. Then hear God’s Son Jesus say in no uncertain terms that He is the Messiah. (John 4:25-26)

Then I challenge you to turn to John 14:6, and understand it means exactly what it says.

I don’t know what you think about God, or religion. But I know that unless you believe God is who He says He is, and that His Son Jesus in the only way to know Him, you are wrong.

Do you know Him? Have you received what Jesus died to give you, the forgiveness of sins, and eternal life? Like I said, it’s a matter of life and death.

I’m praying for you.

Isaiah 40-43; Hold On To Your Hats

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

Reading these chapters today has me praising God, not only for what He does for His children (which is nothing short of amazing), but in the reality of who He is. I hope you’ll read these chapters today for yourself. Be ready to have your socks knocked off!

It starts off with God wanting to comfort us, to assure us His Word will stand forever. It was true back then, it’s true today, and it will be true a thousand years from now. There is something very reassuring about that fact. I don’t have to wonder, or stress, or hope what I believe is right. If it’s in there… it’s true!

Isaiah tells us God is exactly who He says He is. He’s the God above all gods, the Creator, and the Savior. There is no one like Him. Lift up your eyes and look to the Creator who gives strength to us who hope in the Lord. He gives us everything we need to face our day, and in every situation. He upholds his children (me and you) in His right hand. Doesn’t that give you confidence and peace?

I love 41:17-20. We are thirsty, but God doesn’t just give us a drink. He turns our desert into pools of water, flowing rivers, and bubbling springs. And He doesn’t even stop there. He grows shade trees, fragrant trees, and food-producing trees to sustain us.

I think that’s what Paul meant when he honored God as the one “who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20) We ask for a sip of water, God opens the flood gates!

Isaiah points us to Jesus who opens blind eyes, and sets captives free. He is God! He loves us, redeems us, forgives our sins and promises to never remember them ever again, and He takes us by the hand to guide us.

Isaiah 43:2 is a treasure you can take to the bank.

Oh dear one, take time to read these words God inspired Isaiah to write. But hold on to your hat. You’re going to be blown away. Then join me in praising God, the One who deserves our praise.