Friday, February 23, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-23 [Lent2018] Lent and Repentence and Preparation

Lent and Repentence and Preparation

"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.' " ...
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.      (Matthew3:3-8)
John the Baptist is an interesting character:
  • He danced in the womb when pregnant Mary came to visit.
  • He was set apart from childhood to a hermit-like priestly order where he spent his time studying the law, fasting and leading a self-denying lifestyle.
  • He came from the desert wearing sackcloth and eating locusts as a protest against materialism
  • He came preaching repentance, justice and change
  • He denounced evil - especially among influential and powerful people
  • He announced the coming Messiah
  • He baptised Jesus (although he felt it should be the other way round).
  • But he was confused when he landed up in prison and Jesus' ministry wasn't that of a conquering Messiah

A quick glance at John could lead one to conclude that he represented to "old way" that required one to deny yourself, obey the law and live an austere lifestyle to please God. This "old way" or "old covenant" could also be interpreted as a "works based" salvation and one might argue that John was everything that Jesus was not.

But John isn't a contrast or foil for Jesus. He is Jesus' forerunner.
Jesus says this about John: "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist"(Mt.11:11)

How can this be? John seems to represent the old covenant.
So why does Jesus hold him in such high regard?

I think it was because John was Hungry. Hungry for God, Hungry for Holiness, Hungry for Righteousness, Hungry for Justice, Hungry for change, Hungry for Service, Hungry for God's Messiah.
When one is as hungry and passionate as John was, it points beyond the desire to pull oneself up by one's bootlaces. It points towards the Spirit's spark in our souls. This is the image of God in us. John had this in bucket-fulls! And Jesus loved him for it.

Lent thought for today:During Lent we deal with sin and pursue justice in our lives, not to save ourselves or prove ourselves, but because we are getting hungry. How hungry are you?

Thursday, February 22, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-22 [Lent2018] Magi: Obedient Adventurers

Magi: Obedient Adventurers

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2 and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
...10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.      (Matthew2:1-12)
Ironically, the "East" these star-following wise-men probably came from was the area of Babylon and Persia (which was (in)famous for its astrologers and where horoscoping comes from). It was to the Babylonians that the prophet Isaiah wrote:
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.

Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing. (Isa.40:26)

These Magi were attentive to the signs that were visible in nature and instead of exploiting nature's signposts for their own ends, they were simply obedient to what they heard and saw.

Imagine packing up and heading off on a long and dangerous journey just to follow a star! (If you haven't read TS Elliot's "Journey of the Magi" you should read it after this...) The Magi were not only obedient to God's prompting, but they were courageous enough to head off on an adventurous journey and gutsy enough to defy Herod's wishes.

What would the modern day Magi look like today? And how could we be like them?
Firstly I think one needs to be sensitive to the "signs of the times" - not astrology per se - but rather a being sensitive to what God might be doing in our world that many others aren't seeing. The writer of Chronicles talks about the men of men of Issachar, "who understood the times and knew what Israel should do..." (1Chron12:32)

Secondly we need to be sensitive and obedient to the promptings and responsive to the signs and needs that God is drawing to our attention. We need to be willing to go and willing to be prompted. The Magi followed the star's guidance, but also listened to the dream they had about Herod. But their greatest sensitivity is shown in the gifts they bring: Gold symbolising Jesus' kingship, Myrrh which anticipated Jesus sacrificial death and Frankincense which pointed to His role as our priest.

Thirdly, we need a courageous adventurousness that would take us into the unknown and uncharted, just because we believe that we will find what God is doing there and that we would do it with a sense of worshipful extravagance!
-----------------------------------------------
(This dev is a "reprint" from something I wrote a few years ago...)




Wednesday, February 21, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-21 [Lent2018] With us

With us

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" --which means, "God with us."      (Matthew1:22-23)
In the midst of his troubles and suffering Job utters the heartcry of all humanity: "If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!" (Job.23:3)

But Job's longing to go and find God in His dwelling could not be fulfilled. In Psalm 15 David explains why:
"LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?
He whose walk is blameless
and who does what is righteous..."
(Ps.15:1-2)

Job wasn't blameless and nor are we.

BUT when we could not go to God, God came to us!

John says it so well:
"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1John.4:9-10)

Your Lent challenge today is simple:
Spend the day delighted that You are so loved by God that He came for you!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-20 [Lent2018] Gentle

Gentle

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
      (Matthew1:18-19)

Mary and Joseph were called by God to be the earthly parents of Jesus. We do not believe they were chosen because they were worthy. They didn't "earn the right" to become the parents of the Son of God. They were sinners, just like us. And, after all, just what would one have to do to earn such an incredible privilege??

But God prepares the ones He calls and He uses the gifts and fruit of those He calls...

Mary and Joseph lived in a patriarchal culture. It centred around men and their rights and dignity. A classic example of this is the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8. The woman is dragged to Jesus - shamed and exposed - but where is the man? No-one except Jesus even seems to blink at this blatant injustice.

So when Mary falls pregnant and Joseph isn't the father, we expect him to conform to public norms and put her through a nasty, messy, public divorce. (Betrothal (being pledged) was considered as binding as marriage.) We expect him to make a big show of his bruised dignity and shame she has brought on him.

But Joseph behaves unexpectedly. He doesn't "power-up" - He "powers-down". He is gentle, considerate, gracious and even protective of her.

Think through the hot anger, bruised pride and the deep sense of betrayal and disappointment he would have had to work through. But he does it.

Joseph is called a righteous man - his righteousness came not from being right, but doing right.

Today's Lent challenge is to emulate this kind of gentleness - even when we may be right, even when we have the moral high ground or even when we may have earned the right to payback.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-15 [Lent2018] Ordinary

For the rest of Lent we'll be working our way through the gospel of Matthew, slowly making our way to the cross...

Ordinary

Eliud the father of Eleazar,
Eleazar the father of Matthan,
Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.      (Matthew1:15-16)

Matthew starts his gospel with a genealogy. His original audience was predominantly Jewish and he started with the genealogy to demonstrate that Jesus was, in fact, from the tribe of Judah and a descendant of David as the prophecies had foretold.

Many people look at the genealogy and pick out the significant names: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Hezekiah and so on. Some pick out the unusual names - Rahab, Tamar, Uriah's wife...
But today I want to pause on the last few names...

Why?

Because we know absolutely nothing about them!
They may have been boring normal folk, peasant carpenters like Joseph. Or one of them may have been a wild character... Maybe one of them was a lazy layabout, another could have been an elder and leader in the community.

Jesus' lineage is a mix of kings and commoners, honourable people and ragamuffins. He comes for all of us and He comes in the midst of grandads finishing their lives, dads raising their families, and sons dreaming about starting their families.

We tend to limit our focus on God for "Holy" moments: Church, Daily Devotions, saying Grace and so on. But God comes in the midst of all our lives.

Today's Lent challenge is to go through the ordinariness of the day and remind ourselves that Jesus came to be with us in that...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-14 [Lent2018] Scruffy Valentine

Scruffy Valentine

God asked Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman named Gomer. She was a prostitute, probably not by initial intent, but now trapped emotionally and spiritually in brokenness. She kept running back to her old life and Hosea would have to go and rescue her.

God asks Hosea to love her faithfully even when she didn't fully grasp his unconditional love and would return to her brokenness.

Hosea is a picture of God's love for us.

We are His "scruffy valentine."
We're broken:
- Damaged by the corruption, harshness and abuse of the world.
- Wounded by our own selfishness and greed.
- Scarred by our failures in the past.
- Intimidated by the bullies who push us into corners.

But God doesn't give up on us.

He pursues us and calls us to Himself.
Look at what he says:

I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
20 I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the LORD.      (Hosea2:19-20)

God betrothes you and me, the scruffy valentine, to Him in love.

That's what Ash Wednesday is about.
We are scruffy and broken.
But He loves us, forgives us and makes us whole.
-------------------------------------

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-13 [Lent2018] Shrove Tuesday - Thanksgiving


We're pausing our Isaiah series for Lent.
You can read all about Lent at www.emmanuel.org.za/events/lent-2018

Shrove Tuesday - Thanksgiving

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song.
3 For the LORD is the great God,
the great King above all gods.
4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the mountain peaks belong to him.
5 The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
6 Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the LORD our Maker;
7 for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.      (Psalms95:1-7)

Lent starts officially with "Ash Wednesday" but unofficially with Shrove Tuesday. "Shrove" is derived from the word "Shrive" which has to do with absolution. In the Early Church, the season of Lent was a season of fasting. They'd use Shrove Tuesday to use up the fat and luxury items in the house. It was the "feast before the fast" and pancakes were a good way to use up the leftovers which were used as fillings.

Shrove Tuesday became an opportunity to celebrate God's providence and His forgiveness.

Our Psalm does this too:

I love the verbs of worship:
Sing, Shout, Come Before, Extol, Bow and Kneel.

I love the description of God:
- He is the LORD ("I am who I am")
- He is the Rock of our salvation
- He is the great King above all other gods
- All of creation (depths to mountains, sea to land) are His.
- He is our Maker
- He is our Shepherd.

And who are we?
The flock of His pasture and under His care.
-----------------------------------------
Why not slow down this evening?
Enjoy a tasty meal with loved ones and let your hearts be filled with great gratitude to our wonderful God who gives us life and, as Lent teaches us, gave His us His Son.

Friday, February 9, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-09 [Insights from Isaiah] You can't ignore this truth...

You can't ignore this truth...

The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
he is the one you are to fear,
he is the one you are to dread,
14 and he will be a sanctuary;
but for both houses of Israel he will be
a stone that causes men to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
they will fall and be broken,
they will be snared and captured."      (Isaiah8:13-15)

Chapters 7 and 8 of Isaiah are all about the "hyenas" (aka Pekah and Rezin, aka Samaria and Aram), the panic-fear that King Ahaz has about them and the folly of trusting the Assyrians (the "bear"). Isaiah makes it clear - the hyenas will be sorted out by the bear, and the bear, in turn, will ravage the land, but God will rescue them and leave them as remnant.

Chapter 8 ends with Isaiah saying: "Here am I, and the children the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the LORD Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion". His sons' names mean "A remnant will return" and "Quick to plunder / Emmanuel - God with us". His two sons offer Ahaz a message: God will rescue, the bear will destroy but God is with you.

It is fitting that we round off the "Bear and Hyena" section with our verses for today, because they remind us that hyenas and bears will come and go, but God is the rock solid reality that we ignore at our peril.

Ahaz is scared of the hyenas, he's put his faith in the bear.
But he has ignored the truly powerful One.
Isaiah urges him:
"The Lord Almighty is the One who is holy"
"He is the One you should fear and dread"

Something amazing happens when we right-size God and down-size our enemies... When we right-size the fearful and dreadful God, He becomes our sanctuary.
But when we overlook God we will stumble and fall.

We recognize the idea of "a stone that causes men to stumble" from the New Testament. This prophecy is fulfilled by Jesus.

Isaiah's message is straight-forward and simple. We can spend lots of time and energy on the hyenas and bears or we can downsize them while we rightsize God. If we don't rightsize God and don't downsize bears and hyenas, we're going to stumble and fall. God's holiness, love and faithfulness is a truth embodied in Jesus is a truth too great to ignore.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-08 [Insights from Isaiah] Emmanuel

Emmanuel

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights."
12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test."
13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Emmanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.       (Isaiah7:10-16)
When God invites you to ask for a sign, you don't treat the gift lightly, but this is what Ahaz does. It is a clear indication that he has lost touch and connection with God. His relationship with God is distant, legalistic and fearful. And while he has quoted the same passage that Jesus quoted when Satan tempted Him to ask for a sign, the circumstances are completely different: When Jesus quoted it, Satan was asking for a sign, whereas it is God himself who invites Ahaz to ask for a sign.

And so God, through Isaiah, gives the sign and seal of his promise:
"The virgin will conceive and give birth to a child and will call him Emmanuel."

Now we read this promise at Advent and Christmas - seeing it as a prophecy pointing to the coming of Jesus, but that is its final fulfilment. It's initial fulfilment can be explained by the rest of this chapter and the one that follows:

What Isaiah is promising Ahaz is as follows:
Very soon a child will be born and before the child reaches "the age of responsibility" the Northern Kingdom of Pekah and the Aram of Rezah (the hyenas) will be destroyed by the Assyrians (the big bear) who will plunder the land.

In ch.8 Isaiah will take a young prophetess as his wife and they will have a child - "Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz" which means "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil" but they also invoke the name "Emmanuel" which means "God is with us".

The child will grow up eating honey and curds - living rough off the land instead of enjoying the fruit of a settled agriculture because the Assyrians have invaded and plundered the land. The Assyrians will destroy the hyenas.

For many this initial fulfilment is a far-cry from the final fulfilment. The Assyrians were the coming super-power, a blunt instrument to execute God's judgement on the hyenas, but the clear point that Isaiah is making is that they are God's agents and are fulfilling God's agenda and that God will be with Israel.

We will see this prophecy initially fulfilled before Isaiah's child is between 4-5 years of age: Pekah and Rezin will be defeated and a little later when Ahaz is gone and Hezekiah is on the throne and the Assyrians arrogantly come to attack Jerusalem, God delivers the city and pushes the Assyrians out of the land. (This interpretation is strengthened by the fact that Isaiah had had to bring his first son "Shear Jashub" ("A remnant shall return") as a sign to meet with Ahaz)

Emmanuel means "God is with us" - He is not far off - He is as near to humanity as the birth of a child. This is a great comfort.


Wednesday, February 7, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-07 [Insights from Isaiah] Stand #2

Stand #2

Now the house of David was told, "Aram has allied itself with Ephraim"; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. 4 Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smouldering stubs of firewood--because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:
"It will not take place,
it will not happen....
"      (Isaiah7:2-7)
Back in the 1600's when soldiers used muskets that required shoving some gunpowder and a metal ball-bullet into the the barrel of the musket, Oliver Cromwell was reported to have said to his troops: "Put your trust in God, my boys, and keep your powder dry!"

As we noted yesterday, Ahaz was between a rock and a hard place. Assyria (the "bear") on one side and Aram-Ephraim (the "hyenas") on the other. (Ephraim is another name for the Northern Kingdom).

Ahaz has heard the rumours: "Aram has allied with Ephraim." He heads out to inspect the aqueduct that supplied water for the city as this water would keep them alive during a siege. On one hand, this is good responsible leadership - he's keeping his powder dry.

But he has forgotten to trust God.

God sends Isaiah to talk to Ahaz. His instruction has an unusual addition. "Make sure you take your son, Shear-Jashub, with you."
Unfortunately we know very little about this son of Isaiah other than that his name means "A remnant shall return."

This is a constant promise in Isaiah - no matter how bad things are, there will always be a faithful remnant. There will always be a way out. There will always be deliverance. Just when it looks like there is no way out - God will make a way.

Isaiah stands before a worried king to put things into perspective: The hyenas are smouldering stubs - they will not last, they will not endure. They may have their plans - they've even named a successor for Ahaz - but God says: "It will not take place - It will not happen."

How often are we like Ahaz? We might even be good at keeping our powder dry, but are we forgetting to put our trust in the Lord?

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-06 [Insights from Isaiah] Stand

Stand

1 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.
...
9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah's son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.' "      (Isaiah7:1-9)
It was a time of political uncertainty. Assyria was the dominant world power that was swallowing up smaller countries in her conquests.
Smaller nations were desperately trying to make coalitions to stand against Assyria, but this often came with great moral and spiritual compromises.

Ahaz was the King of Judah (the Southern Kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem). Pekah was king of the Northern Kingdom (with its capital Samaria) and his kingdom was on its last legs - the Northern Kingdom will be defeated in about 5 years time and utterly destroyed some 10 or 15 years after these events.

But Pekah (son of Remaliah) has made an alliance with King Rezin of the Aramites and they approach Ahaz: "Join us or we attack you!"

Ahaz has three options:

  1. Join the alliance (with the spiritual & ethical compromises involved) and provoke the "big bear" (the Assyrians)
  2. Refuse to join the alliance and face their anger and vengeance. (thus having two enemies Aram-Samaria (the "hyenas")and the Assyrians ("big bear"). Have no ally but God.
  3. Make a deal with the Assyrians: "We'll stay out of it but leave us alone." Pacify the "big bear" and they'll protect you from the "hyenas". Again there are huge compromises involved.

In the midst of all this political wrangling Isaiah meets Ahaz to convince him to stay away from options 1 and 3.

We'll look at Isaiah's meeting in more detail tomorrow. For now, just two things stand out:

  1. In verse 9 Pekah isn't even referred to by name - he's just human, just the son of Remaliah. Isaiah is saying: "Don't be overwhelmed - they're just human. They're just people. Don't give them too much power.
  2. Sometimes we just have our faith to stand on. Isaiah is emphatic - there is no other place to stand, stand anywhere else and you will fall.

We are so easily intimidated and made miserable by people to whom we give way too much power. They're just people and they must one day answer for who they are and what they've done.

We're also so easily rattled and lose hope so easily when life shakes us - but we must trust...

More tomorrow...

Friday, February 2, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-02 [Insights from Isaiah] When God called Isaiah (#4)

When God called Isaiah (#4)

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!"      (Isaiah6:8-10)
We come now to the nature of Isaiah's CALLING. Isaiah has seen God. He has received forgiveness and now he hears God's calling.

And God asks "Who will go in my name, who will represent me?"

And Isaiah, with his mind full of God's grandeur and his heart full of forgiveness, sticks up his hand and says "Me! Send me!" (In the original he uses an interjection that is used to attract attention which is often translated "Behold!" or "Lo!") If he were one of our teens he'd say "Yoe! Me! Send me!".

Then come the marching orders - and they're scary and unexpected.
He said, "Go and tell this 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."

Articles and books have been written about this call. On the surface of it, it looks like the complete opposite of John 3:16 (God so loved the world that He gave His only Son). It looks like God wants to get rid of Israel instead of saving them.

But one needs to recognise the desperate irony of this calling. Isaiah isn't actually making the hearts of the people calloused, he's simply going to prove that their hearts are calloused. For the next 60 chapters Isaiah will call the people to repent, he'll warn them about their wicked ways. He'll plead with them to soften their hearts and he'll promise deliverance and a the coming of the Messiah. He'll offer them hope and forcefully argue that there is only one true God. He'll peel off their masks and show them their need for God. He'll challenge them to be still and know they Lord their God and still they will stubbornly refuse to soften their hard hearts, leaving God no option but to let their rebellion run its course and land them in exile. In essence God is saying "Preach grace over and over and over again until it is utterly rejected."

It seems Isaiah understands his mission perfectly - he has only one question:

Then I said, "For how long, O Lord?"
And he answered:
"Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant,
until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged,
until the LORD has sent everyone far away
and the land is utterly forsaken.
And though a tenth remains in the land,
it will again be laid waste.
But as the terebinth and oak
leave stumps when they are cut down,
so the holy seed will be the stump in the land.

And here we see God's heart: "Keep preaching Isaiah, even when they have wrecked themselves and brought my wrath upon them. Keep preaching even when they have broken themselves in rebellion and sin. Keep preaching even when they miss their second and third chances. Keep preaching when all around you is crumbling and all seems to have fallen apart. Keep preaching because you just never know when a dry old stump will produce a shoot and grow into something new."

This is our God's incredible love and sharing His love is our amazing calling.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

EmmDev 2018-02-01 [Insights from Isaiah] When God called Isaiah (#3)

When God called Isaiah (#3)

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."                  (Isaiah6:5-6)

What kind of person is Isaiah?

As he stands in the presence of a Holy God, Isaiah can think of only one word - and our English Translations struggle to render it. Some translations say "ruined" or "undone" or "lost". Eugene Peterson puts it "I'm as good as dead!". The original Hebrew says "I'm destroyed" - "I'm wiped out."

Isaiah knows that he cannot stand before the Holy Sovereign Creator of all and try to keep up pretences. He knows he is a sinner and it just takes the utterings of his lips to prove it.

But Isaiah is not only honest about himself, he is also honest about his people - they too have sinned and have nothing they can offer God.

This kind of honesty is not only refreshing, it is vital. Isaiah has conquered his greatest personal obstacle - the obstacle of pride. You see, the minute we think we have some scrap of righteousness to offer God, then God becomes our debtor. Isaiah has recognised that in the face of this righteous, majestic and magnificent God he has nothing to offer but his brokenness. And he offers his brokenness to God in confession and repentance.

I also love the fact that Isaiah doesn't distance himself from his people, he sees himself as part of them and when he confesses their sins he recognises his own complicity.

Who is Isaiah?

  1. Someone brave enough to see God so clearly that he knows without a shadow of a doubt that he (Isaiah) is not God and that he desperately needs the one true God - even if that means confessing his sin.
  2. Someone who has compassion enough to see the brokenness of his people and see himself as part of the problem. And it bothers him enough to bring it to God.
  3. Someone who is forgiven. This is not something that Isaiah achieves, but something that is done for him. He is the passive recipient. The coal comes from the altar of sacrifice and represents what Jesus would do for us. Isaiah simply receives beautiful magnificent forgiveness.

Are you like Isaiah?

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-31 [Insights from Isaiah] When God called Isaiah (#2)

When God called Isaiah (#2)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.                                        (Isaiah6:1-4)
Isaiah goes to the temple - Uzziah has died - the future is uncertain. Isaiah wants solid ground to stand on...
In the temple he has a vision of the Lord. The imagery in this vision offers us beautiful perspectives on the character of God.

The Lord is seated on the throne: Earthly kings may come and go, but God is on the throne. He governs the ebb and flow of history. Even when rulers use their free will to do mischief and evil God governs over them and accomplishes His purposes. He is high and lifted up, and, while we may not always understand His ways, they pure and blameless. The seraphs (serving angels) around his throne help us understand what He is like: The wings and their flying indicate their power (and yet they choose to serve). They cover their faces because His magnificence is incredible. They cover their feet (probably a euphemism for private parts) out of respect and reverence for God's greatness.

They sing a threefold "Holy". While we recognise a hint to the Trinity with our New Testament glasses, the Old Testament connotation around three is completeness - God is completely holy, righteous and pure. And His glory can be seen throughout the whole earth.

Isaiah doesn't describe God much beyond that He is seated on a throne. He seems only to have vocabulary for the angels (seraphs) and even their presence rocks Isaiah's world - doorposts and thresholds shake at the sound of their praise alone. How much bigger must God be if Isaiah is overwhelmed by the presence of the angelic servants?

The temple is filled with smoke (or maybe incense) - this again is a symbol of God's holy presence which penetrates everything and yet we cannot grasp or hold it.

What is God like?
He's incredibly majestic and yet the angels delight to serve and worship Him.
He's 3Xholy (perfect, righteous and good) and the whole earth reflects it.
His presence makes powerful angels bashful
His presence inspires powerful praise from these angels
His presence is obvious in the whole created world
His presence permeates our lives.

If we read on, we learn some more:
- This God forgives
- This God calls
- This God restores.

Take a moment to stand with Isaiah in the temple and contemplate the glory of the Lord.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-30 [Insights from Isaiah] When God called Isaiah (#1)

When God called Isaiah (#1)

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.      (Isaiah6:1)
This is one of the most beloved chapters of the Bible. The book doesn't start with the story of Isaiah's calling into ministry, but, as we saw, it starts with a summary of the message that Isaiah proclaimed: Israel was broken in her sin and corruption, but God was willing, able and eager to forgive.

In the first five chapters Isaiah has spelled out the heart of his message:

  • Israel's holy God sees their brokenness and wants to heal them.
  • Israel has a destiny as a light on a hill and a fruitful vineyard.
  • Their stubborn resistance and rebellion had and would result in consequences (their enemies would overcome them)
  • They would need to repent and return to the Lord)
  • God has a plan to restore His people.

Now that the basics have been laid down, Isaiah shares the story of how he came to be the preacher of this message.

As we explore this story of calling we are going to explore the questions raised by the title of our devotion:

  • WHEN did God call Isaiah
  • What is the GOD who called Isaiah like?
  • What kind of person was ISAIAH?
  • What did the CALLING entail?

Let's pick up on the "when" of Isaiah's calling...

Isaiah tells us that the calling came "in the year that King Uzziah died". Uzziah was one of Israel's few good kings, but he let his pride get the better of him and tried to act as the high priest and God struck him with leprosy and he completed his reign from quarantine. Uzziah would be followed by Jotham who was a good man but failed to lead the people back to God. Ahaz, a corrupt and evil king would follow him, and then Hezekiah would come and bring a short-lived revival, but he would be become obsessed with buildings and wealth and be followed by Manasseh who was probably one of Israel's most evil kings.

Along with the up's and down's of the kings, the geopolitical situation of the region was tempestuous. The Assyrians, coming from the North-East were about to defeat Samaria in the North and the power of Egypt in sthe South-West seemed like it could be a deterrent, but when the pressure mounted Egypt would collapse.

In the midst of all this uncertainty God calls Isaiah.
He still calls today.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-26 [Insights from Isaiah] Our purpose - Bearing Fruit

Our purpose - Bearing Fruit

I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit.      (Isaiah5:1-2)
Isaiah is writing a lament song about Israel - about God's People - about the Church. In the song, God is portrayed as the Gardener. This is an image Jesus picks up in John 15 and rest of the New Testament will pick it up too.

In Isaiah God's people are portrayed as a Vineyard for which the Gardener goes to a lot of trouble: He cultivates, equips and protects. He is expecting a harvest of good grapes which is not an unreasonable expectation considering the effort He has put in, but there is only bad fruit.

One senses the deep sadness of the Gardener and in the rest of the chapter Isaiah will explain how the Gardener has to allow the garden to be overrun and trampled by enemies in the hope, that when it is restored it will finally bear good fruit.

Bearing good fruit is our purpose:

  1. We've been created to bear good fruit. This is the logical expression of our being made in the image of God. If God's goodness is the "DNA" with which we were created, then good fruit can and should grow out of our lives.
  2. Good Fruit glorifies God. God doesn't need to be glorified - otherwise He would be narcissistic - but He is worthy of our praises. Good fruit reflects the goodness of God.
  3. Bearing good fruit is good for us. It's not that God needs our fruit - He is God - He is completely self-sustaining. Our bearing fruit brings Him glory and when He is glorified, we also find peace and fulfilment

Bearing Fruit is one of our key-purposes.
There is a scene in the movie - "A Walk in the Clouds" where a community gathers the beautiful grape harvest that is the culmination of a year of faithful vine-tending. It is a beautiful scene of happiness and joy. The vineyard owner, the strict Papa of the family, is smiling and surrounded by loving family and labourers and they are singing and rejoicing. The lead character, a travelling salesman who was only going to stay for a night is enthralled by what he sees and it changes his life.

May our fruit-bearing bring great joy to our Heavenly Father and those around us.

EmmDev 2018-01-25 [Insights from Isaiah] Destiny


(A few years ago, my friend and colleague, Jerry Pillay, wrote this devotion for the Month of Mission. It really says it well...)

Destiny

In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established
as chief among the mountains;
it will be raised above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
"Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the house of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths."
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.      (Isaiah2:2-3)

The Church, unlike Israel's failure, should be an attractive signpost to God
The above verses capture the prophet's vision of Israel as the place that will draw God's people together. Israel was chosen for God's purpose: to become a light and signpost to the world of God's presence and hope. God walked with her, brought her out of bondage and hopelessness. But Israel seems to have forgotten that so quickly. She wants to give in to her own desires and wants -- forsaking God rather than following God.

The church today has become like the people of Israel refusing to follow our Lord. We want to go our own way, seeking our own agenda and attempting to satisfy ourselves. We need to stop and ask: "What does the Lord want? How can we fulfil God's purpose?" The Christian church is called to proclaim God's grace and saving love in Jesus Christ to the world. When we fail to maintain our purpose then we lose the value of our message and existence.

We stand at the crossroads of a new world order, economic divides between the rich and the poor, immorality, poverty, HIV, a sexual revolution, secularization, religious pluralism, political corruption, abuse of women and children, gender discrimination and the list goes on. How does the church respond to all these? We need to be brought back to our real purpose as church. We need to proclaim the Risen Christ! We do that best when we are led back to the cross. Why? The cross and the resurrection speak of life, hope and victory in the midst of despair, defeat and death. More significantly the cross speaks of suffering love, grace, forgiveness and restoration. It reminds us that Jesus came not to condemn the world but to save it. So our task as church is to reach out to the suffering, sin-sick and lost world and to bring it into the love, grace and peace of Jesus Christ. We must follow the example of our Lord in suffering-love, humility and grace.

The Church as apostolic tells us that it is a 'called out and sent out community'. We are called by our Triune God, blessed by his presence and sent out to call and bless others in His name. We come so that we may 'go and make disciples'. The church does not exist just for believers; it actually exists for the world: A signpost to lead others to Jesus. The apostolic dimension reminds us that we are a missionary church, the people of God constantly on the march for God. In the words of John Calvin, the church is the 'theatre of God's glory'.
Well.... are we?

May the Church, unlike Israel, be a signpost to the Glory of God!
----------------------------------------------
Jerry Pillay teaches Church History and is the Dean of the Theology Faculty at the University of Pretoria and he is also served as the President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches. He is devoted to God, his family, church, students and research.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-24 [Insights from Isaiah] Reasoning the Reason...

Reasoning the Reason...

...18 "Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as pure as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.      (Isaiah1:12-18)
Both yesterday and today's readings are part of the prologue to Isaiah's message...

Yesterday we saw how the Lord diagnosed Israel's sin and brokenness. In the verses we looked at yesterday, there was an unmistakable tone of sadness and wistfulness. Isaiah portrays God as heart-broken and irate at what their brokenness had done to them.

But we ended with and today return to a beautiful promise.
Healing......... Restoration........... Forgiveness.

And I love the opening phrase:
"Come now, let us reason together..."
The Hebrew verb "let us reason" can mean argue, adjudicate, or debate.
But what's to debate?? What's to adjudicate???
Israel have sinned - the evidence is clear and incontrovertible.
They are guilty and broken.
Even their good deeds and religious behaviour are empty and false.
(Read through verses 12-17 which precede our verse for today, I have pasted them below...)

So there is no debate. Nothing to adjudicate. There is no argument.
Israel is guilty.

And then God offers forgiveness!
- scarlet and crimson sins (bloodguilt) washed away
- made pure like freshly fallen snow

What... incredible... grace!
We have nothing to bring to the table.
But Jesus comes to the table and offers blood-bought forgiveness for our blood-guilt.
He brings us to the table and the discussion although we have no right to either.

And what is the reason for this unexpected and one-side-initiated reasoning?
It can only be God's kindness, compassion and forgiveness.
In one word: LOVE.


----------------------------------------

ISA 1:12 When you come to appear before me,
who has asked this of you,
this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations--
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.
14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts
my soul hates.
They have become a burden to me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;
16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,17 learn to do right!
Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.
18 "Come now, let us reason together,"
says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as pure as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.



Tuesday, January 23, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-23 [Insights from Isaiah] Broken...

Broken...

Why should you be beaten anymore?
Why do you persist in rebellion?
Your whole head is injured,
your whole heart afflicted.
6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness--
only wounds and welts and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil.      (Isaiah1:5-6)
Having spent some time in the latter part of the book and the latter part of its historical reach, let's come back to where Isaiah's ministry to Israel started...

Here at the start of the book we are back in about 745BC. The Northern Kingdom is about to be destroyed and the Southern Kingdom will only escape the Assyrians by Divine Intervention.

Here in chapter one, Isaiah is describing the utter brokenness of society.

  • They're like a fighter going into a stick-fight without a stick and still they just keep going back into it. They're doing the wrong things, getting broken by them, but still going back to it. Einstein said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting the same result. We have clear evidence that drugs, alcohol and smoking are bad for us, but there has been an uptake in young people who partake in these dangerous habits.
  • It's a heart and head problem - our thinking is wrong and we've lost our hearts. Isaiah shows them how they bow down to statues their own hands have made instead of worshipping the God of heaven and earth who lovingly created them. We spend hours on social media and ignore the precious people right in front of us. Our whole heads and whole hearts are afflicted.
  • Their rebellion has affected and infected them from top to toe. And nobody is trying to heal it. Society is affected at every level when corruption and rebellion are the order of the day...

You might be saying: "Wow, what a depressing way to go into the rest of the week..."

But here's what I want to pick up on: These verses are just a part of a very accurate diagnosis of their predicament. God looks at them like a devoted doctor and a loving parent. He doesn't miss or overlook any of their brokenness.

And then, in verse 18 He says:
"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD.
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool."

He sees our brokenness - all of it - and still He wants to heal us.

Friday, January 19, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-19 [Insights from Isaiah] Redeemed

Redeemed

But now this is what the Lord says - He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name and you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; The flames will not set you ablaze For I am the Lord your God - the Holy One of Israel I will give Egypt for your ransom; Cush and Seba in your stead."      (Isaiah43:1-3)
Isaiah chapters 40-55 apply to the Exiles in Babylon. They had lost everything. Their land, their temple, and their identity. In the first chapter of Daniel we see that the Babylonians even gave them idol-honouring names instead of their Hebrew God-honouring names. They were surrounded by hardship and the future was bleak...

How would God speak to them?

  1. He affirmed their identity. Their circumstances did not define their identity. Nor did the names the Babylonians gave them. Their identity was wrapped up in the One who made them, claimed them, and called them. They had dignity and purpose because God claimed them as His own. Because He was passionate about them!
  2. He assured them of protection in hardship. He does not promise that there will not be waters, rivers, flames, or fire. He promises that we will not be destroyed. We don't know what purposes the hardships will serve and we don't always understand what we must learn in our struggles, but one truth is as clear as the lighthouse signal on a stormy night: - He is in ultimate control and with His help our problems will not overcome us.
  3. We are redeemed. He opens the passage with this thought and reinforces it at the end. To be redeemed is to be bought back from slavery. When the Persians defeated the Babylonians and set the Israelites free, they also conquered Cush, Seba, and Egypt. The picture is that God, working in the history of the nations bought Israel back through these conquered nations.

Taken further, this thought leads us to another redemption, where God gave much more than a nation in our stead. He gave His only Son. We are worth very much to Him and even though He allows us to go through hardships, our identity is wrapped up in the designer label that says "Made with loving care by God who created the Universe." And although troubles may surround us, He wants to redeem us - to buy us back from our brokenness. He is so committed to us that He sent Jesus to take the brunt of our pain so that it is He and not us who are broken and He turned His face from His Son so that we could be bought back from sin and never be alone!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-18 [Insights from Isaiah] Restoration

Restoration

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins.      (Isaiah40:1-2)

Isaiah 40 is a much beloved chapter.
Thematically
it marks the transition where the prophecy moves from rebuke for rebellion and idolatry to a pronouncement of hope and restoration. Historically it describes Israel's exile in Babylon (and why it happened) and moves to the promise of a return. Spiritually it describes the human predicament and exile in brokenness and offers us a God-given restoration!

This magnificent chapter provides hope, it describes God and invites us to a place of intimacy with God.

And so the chapter begins with assurance of Comfort.
Historically it addresses the consequence of their rebellion.
Israel had ceased to rely on God and this led to a moral and spiritual breakdown that allowed a another nation to defeat them.
But God has seen their brokenness. (They have received "double" for their sins - in Hebrew idiom this simply means "enough".)

God's love and consequences for sin are difficult concepts to hold in tension until we factor in the dynamic of free will. Free will allows for wrong choices and wrong choices have consequences (that's what makes them wrong choices!) And God, who gives free will, also allows the consequences of wrong choices.

But God sees our pain - He wants to comfort and heal us.
And so begins the journey of restoration - anticipated by Isaiah, inaugurated by Jesus and fulfilled at Calvary and the Empty Tomb.

Listen to the tenderness of a God who offers comfort to people who in no way deserve it... They had earned justice (the full consequence (double) for all her sins) but now they have mercy and comfort.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

EmmDev 2018-01-17 [Insights from Isaiah] When we feel inadequate...


When we feel inadequate...

Welcome to eDevotions for 2018!
I pray your year will be one of growth and love. May you know the presence of love of Christ in all you do!
-----------------------------------------
We're going to start our year with some insights from the book of Isaiah. Rather than a sequential journey through the songs, prophecies and accounts that make up this book that spans a time-frame of about 220 years, we're going to jump around and pick up some of the beautiful promises and challenges in it. I'll provide the historical context where it's needed...

Our first reading comes from the second major section of the book.

For I am the LORD, your God,
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
14 Do not be afraid, O worm Jacob,
O little Israel,
for I myself will help you," declares the LORD,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.      (Isaiah41:13-14)

After the twelve tribes of Israel split into two Kingdoms (ten in the North around Samaria and two in the South around Jerusalem) the Northern Kingdom was defeated by the Assyrians in 721BC. The Southern Kingdom and Jerusalem were miraculously spared from the Assyrians, but continued to sin in spite of repeated warnings from Isaiah.

Then, as Isaiah predicted, the Babylonians invaded the Southern Kingdom and eventually besieged and destroyed Jerusalem in 587BC dragging her people off into exile by "the rivers of Babylon." Isaiah predicted that the exile would last 70 years...

After 70 years the Persians invaded Babylon and freed the exiles. The exiles returned to Jerusalem, but their confidence was shattered and their hope was unsure.

After all they had been through, landing up in exile because of their disobedience and stubborn rebellion, the Israelites must have felt insignificant, incompetent, disqualified and disconnected.

Isaiah captures their "zeitgeist" (the "spirit of the age") when he calls them both Jacob and Israel. Jacob was the sneak, cheat, fixer and ankle-tapper. After wrestling with God he became Israel, the father of a nation. We too can often start out being Jacob and struggle to believe that we can become Israel.

God offers this promise to those who come out of the exile of fear and failure:
"I am Your God.
I hold your right hand.
Don't fear, no don't be afraid - I will help you!
I am the Holy one of Israel - your Redeemer"

When you feel like a worm - either because of your own failure or the brokenness that surrounds you - know this:
Your God, the Holy One,
the Redeemer (who rescues kidnapped and captured people)
Holds your right hand and says "*Do not be afraid!*"

May we go through the rest of this year knowing this great truth!