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...)


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...


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


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


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.
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!