Category Archives: Sin

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.

 

 

 

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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 20-23; Polar Opposites

Scripture constantly reminds us that God’s ways are polar opposite of what the world thinks and does. There are so many examples in these chapters in Isaiah of this truth.

It seemed logical to the king to join forces with his neighbors against their mutual enemy. But those neighbors were idolators, unbelievers. The unequal yoking between God’s people and the ungodly neighbors resulted in more problems for Israel than just an invading army.

Shebna is an example of material wealth, political power, and pride that was lauded by the world. He had everything… except God. And his life of “self” ended badly for him. His riches and power, even those people who idolized him, could not stop God’s judgment on him.

Look at what Isaiah had to say about Tyre’s wealth, the intellect of its people, the glory of that city among nations. The city here is reduced to rubble because of their sin.

But Tyre gets a second chance. And so do we.

We’ve all sinned. None of us measure up to God’s standard. I love what Matthew Henry says:

“We must first give up ourselves to be the holiness to the Lord before what we do, or have, or get, can be so.” (p 859; Commentary in One Volume; Zondervan; 1961) (emphasis mine)

In other words, who we are before our Holy God is the catalyst for what we do, not the other way around. We must first give up our “selves,” recognize sin and accept the Savior Jesus as our own. Not a popular concept according to the world.

We can only become the holiness of God if we are wearing Jesus’ holiness, through the blood He shed on the cross. No amount of good works, sacrificial giving, compassion for the poor, even church-going can render us holy.

That’s not how the world looks at it. We hear them say (even from the pulpit of a royal wedding) that all we need is love. All we need is activism on behalf of the needy. All we need is ourselves, our determination to love one another. But is that God’s way?

Please don’t forget that Jesus went to the cross because of love. Jesus’ love dealt with your sin, not your love. The world would have us concentrate on love, and ignore sin because, of course we shouldn’t judge, right?

Dear one, your love is meaningless without the cross. Your love is a filthy rag in God’s sight unless you have first confessed your sin and accepted God’s grace.

Like I said, God’s ways are polar opposite of the ways of the world.

 

Isaiah 5-7; My Vineyard

Did you read these chapters and see what God has to say to you today about your walk with Him? I did. When I read chapters 5-7 I realized I am the vineyard Isaiah is talking about. As a Jesus follower, God established me on rich, fertile ground. He did all the work to clear that land when Jesus died on the cross.

What He offers me is pure, perfect, and prepared in advance for me to produce good fruit. (Ephesians 2:10) He gifted me with abilities to serve Him. He built a hedge of protection around me to guard my heart. He is the watchman who protects me from Satan’s arrows. He gave me everything I need to live a godly life. (2 Peter 1:3)

Then God turns over the vineyard to me, and waits for me to start producing good fruit. After all, He did all the hard work to get it ready for me so that I can go and make disciples, so that I can be a light to the world, so that I can share the Good News of Jesus with lost souls. The potential is endless!

But it didn’t take long for me to feel the sting of conviction today. Verse 2b: but it (me) yielded only bad fruit.

Then God asks, What more could I have done? The answer sadly is, Nothing.

Verses 4-7 are sobering when you consider yourself as the vineyard who isn’t producing fruit. God won’t stay where He’s not wanted.

I hope you read the “Woe to’s” in chapter 5 and let God speak to you about choices you make, attitudes you have, whether you tolerate sin in yourself and ignore it in others, whether or not you think you have all the answers apart from God.

When Isaiah came face to face with Jesus he cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips…”

Now I don’t know what kinds of problems Isaiah had with what came out of his mouth, but this is what spoke to me this morning. Look at 8:6-7. When Isaiah confessed his sin of speech, God sent an angel to touch Isaiah’s lips! God met Isaiah at the point of his need. Isaiah confessed a sin. God forgave that sin.

Another thing I see is, that cleansing hurt. Most of the time, it takes a broken heart to repent, turning from sin is not always easy. Sometimes it really does hurt to admit you’ve sinned, to humble yourself, to accept grace. And sometimes separating yourself from that sin means giving up some things and people you really like. Ouch.

I think God wants us to know that as we read His Word, asking Him to speak to us about our walk with Him, He’ll point out sin. He’ll reveal things to us about our hearts’ condition before Him. He’ll talk to us about our vineyard.

Don’t forget this: If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness! (I John 1:9)

Every. Time.

So, read God Word and allow Him to put a finger on the problem. Confess. Repent. Allow Him to cleanse you. Then go back to the vineyard and get to work. Turn that precious property into something beautiful, and useful in God’s kingdom.

Isn’t God’s Word amazingly personal and relevant? I love it!

Ecclesiastes 10-12; A Message For The Young

Solomon had the time and resources to test a lot of different philosophies concerning the meaning of life. His conclusion? Life is a gift from God with the possibility of great joy and fulfillment, or great sorrow and emptiness. The choice is ours.

I’d like to talk to you young people who read this blog. Solomon has quite a lot to say about youth, and I pray you will allow God to speak to you through the king’s words.

The imagery Solomon uses in chapter 12 to describe old age is kind of funny. Without saying the words, he draws a picture of, well… me. I’m not exactly there yet, really. But I see the signs!

Trembling arms and hands, stooped shoulders, false teeth, dimming vision, shaking voices, grey hair, and a fear of falling. Read the words Solomon uses and see if you can see these things there. And here’s what Solomon tells us: That’s exactly what every one of you can expect in the future. It’s life. We all start out young… and end up old if God gives us enough years. So, he says, remember your Creator before your youth is gone.

I spent a lot of time with young people in my 37 years as an educator, as a Junior High Sunday School teacher, a Bible quiz coach. And I’ve heard more than one child say that they planned to “live” while they were young; that they’d do the Christian thing when they were a bit older. What they were looking for was permission to sin.

But is that what Solomon advises? Warren Wiersbe, in his Bible study book on Ecclesiastes (Be Satisfied, SP Publications, 1990) says this on page 130:

“The best way to have a happy adult life and a contented old age is to get a good start early in life and avoid things that will bring trouble later on.”

Young people, dark days are coming. Solomon would advise you to start building a good foundation today, while you are still young, while you still have the energy and ability, so that when trouble comes you will be able to stand firm. You don’t build a foundation after the house is built.

You see, Scripture tells us to be holy as God is holy. It doesn’t say start being holy on your thirtieth birthday. It tells us to resist the devil, come out from among them and be separate. It doesn’t say run with the devil and blend in with the world until you get it out of your system. Obedience is demanded for all of God’s children.

That means you.

I don’t envy you. It was hard for me to be holy and resist the devil while I was growing up in the sixties and seventies. And I know it’s hard for you today because you are being bombarded with lies that people accept as truth. Do you even know what truth is any more? I pray you do.

I will tell you that I wasn’t always successful being holy as a youth. There were temptations I fell for. But I want you to know that decades later, I am still carrying some of the consequences of those sins. Memories haunt. Regrets are real.

There are people I know who are suffering from diseases that are results of choices they made in their youth, some who are battling addictions that began while they were in school, some who are in toxic relationships, some who were never able to realize their dreams because of those momentary “pleasures.”

God doesn’t want that for you. He wants to give you a life that has meaning, and joy, and fulfillment, free of the baggage that comes from a misspent youth. And trust me. Some of that baggage can be really heavy. So don’t pack it with garbage.

Solomon’s final conclusion, after all of his searching for meaning is this:

Fear God and keep His commandments for this is the whole duty of man.

Do you have a healthy fear of God, understanding that He is Holy, and demands holiness of you? Do you revere Him, honor Him, obey Him knowing He could crush you at any moment? Or do you think of Him as your buddy, your pal, your kindly grandpa whose bark is worse than His bite?

Fearing God causes us to obey Him, to take Him seriously when He says He hates sin and punishes every single sin with death. Not just the sins of old people. Your sin comes with a death sentence, too.

The crazy thing about that kind of fear is that it brings joy, peace, purpose. Wiersbe quotes Oswald Chambers on page 135 of Be Satisfied:

“The remarkable thing about fearing God is that, when you fear God, you fear nothing else; whereas, if you do not fear God, you fear everything else.”

Oh dear young person. Think ahead. As Solomon was concluding his book he tells us six times to enjoy life while we can. He never tells us to enjoy sin. There is a difference.

You are in the prime of life. You can do almost anything you set your mind to do, you have opportunities surrounding you that I couldn’t have imagined when I was your age. And God wants you to enjoy every minute, go through every door He opens for you.

Take Him with you. You might not be the most popular kid on the soccer team if you don’t join in on the trash talk, or risky behavior (sin). But then again, those kids aren’t building your foundation. You are. One choice at a time.

I’m praying for you.

Proverbs 21-24; Poverty-Stricken

It’s kind of hard to read these proverbs and not think about people other than myself. I mean, I don’t drink so you couldn’t say I’m a drunkard. I worked for 37 years, and am busy these days serving at my church so I wouldn’t be described as a sluggard. I’m honest most of the time. I’m not a jealous person, and my friends are upstanding, God-fearing people. So these proverbs must be talking to someone else, not me. Right?

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“So read it again, Connie,” God seems to be saying. “I’m talking to you.”

So I read these chapters a second time. And a third. I looked at what a couple of people had to say about these proverbs, but mostly I just let God do the teaching about my walk with my Savior.

Which leads me to share my thoughts on the end of chapter 24. At first glimpse it seems to be talking about farming, about making a living. And if that’s all you get out of it, it’s still a good lesson. But when Solomon says he applied his heart to what he observed, I did the same.

What does this passage have to do with me? How can this passage be profitable to me, to correct and instruct me in righteousness so that I can be better equipped to do the good work God has for me to do?

When I take a good look at my relationship with my Savior, I wonder if it is well manicured, or if there are thorns and weeds allowed to grow. Have I neglected to root out sin in my life, am I ignoring the signs? One thing I know about gardening, if you don’t take care of the weed problem the minute it raises its ugly head, the harder it is to get rid of. Once those roots have taken hold, once it spreads, it’s a nightmare, and can take over your whole landscaping.

The same can be said of sin. If I allow sin to exist in my life, even just one more day, it doesn’t stay stagnate. It digs its roots in, and can take over my life. I don’t want Solomon’s vineyard in these verses to be a picture of my relationship with God.

The walls around the vineyard Solomon describes are tumbling. And God would have me look at the wall I’ve built around my heart. Am I really guarding my heart against the enemy? Or have I allowed it to crumble one thought, one TV show, one sin at at time? Is my heart exposed to the enemy due to my lack of care?

I’ve looked today at the land God has given me, this thing called salvation, and considered my care of this precious gift that is mine through the blood of Jesus. God would have me consider the time I spend in His Word, not just reading the verses, but letting the verses speak to me, to meditate on it, memorize it, ingest it so it becomes a part of me and crowds out any of the weeds Satan would try to plant before they take root.

God would have me consider how important is guarding my heart, taking a look at the wall that would keep out my enemy. Is it strong and healthy because I’m praying, being intentional about my walk with the Lord?

Or, and this is what convicted me this morning, am I too lazy to make an effort to make this relationship with God something really beautiful and fruitful?

A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest – and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. (24:33-34)

The picture of a poverty-stricken soul makes me sad. If I’m thinking my walk with the Lord isn’t what it could be, if I feel a bit removed from Him, if I’ve allowed sin to grow like a weed, I need to get up and get to work.