Thursday, April 26, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-26 [Insights from Isaiah] BagPipe Heart

BagPipe Heart

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. 16 You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.' Therefore you will flee! You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.' Therefore your pursuers will be swift!      (Isaiah30:15-16)

Years ago I wrote a devotion as part of a series on Soul Care. A colleague and mentor, Calvin Cook, responded to it. Here's what I wrote in response...

Picking up on Henry Drummond's quote of the heart being an elastic chamber that expands with God in it or shrinks without Him, my friend Calvin suggested that we have the choice between being vuvuzelas or bagpipes. The key difference is not in the mono-tone of the one compared to the variety of the other, but in the bag, which, when filled, allows the piper to play a much longer note than the human lung can blow the vuvu!

Isaiah records God's Word to those who think they can keep going in their own strength. The bottom line? In the Rat Race the rats win.

In repentance, rest, quietness and trust is salvation and strength.

Soul-care means we fill the "sak" (bag) of the "doedel" (tune or ditty) with the breath of God. (Sorry, I just think the Afrikaans "doedelsak" for "bagpipe" is so onomatopoeic)

The old hymn says it best:

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Breathe on me, breath of God.
Fill me with life anew,
That I may love what Thou dost love,
And do what Thou wouldst do.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Until my heart is pure,
Until with Thee I will one will,
To do and to endure.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
Blend all my soul with Thine,
Until this earthly part of me
Glows with Thy fire divine.

Breathe on me, breath of God,
So shall I never die,
But live with Thee the perfect life
Of Thine eternity.
                                (Edwin Hatch 1878)

Have a "doedel" long weekend!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-25 [Insights from Isaiah] Leaning on the wrong supports.

Leaning on the wrong supports.

"Woe to the obstinate children," declares the LORD, "to those who carry out plans that are not mine, forming an alliance, but not by my Spirit, heaping sin upon sin.      (Isaiah30:1)

Isaiah is prophesying against the Israelites who, when threatened by the Babylonians, went off and tried to set up a military alliance with Egypt instead of relying on God. (He later described the Egyptians as a splintering reed - a walking stick that would collapse when they leaned on it.)

The still small voice of the Holy Spirit speaking to the people called them to repentance but they wouldn't listen. Later in the same chapter Isaiah admonishes them with the following words:

"In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, 'No, we will flee on horses.'
Therefore you will flee!
You said, 'We will ride off on swift horses.'
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!

We cannot ask for God's power until we stop relying on other sources of strength. We cannot ask for guidance if we plan to go our own way. We cannot expect that the Holy Spirit will always lead us along paths that seem obvious to us.

In ch.55 Isaiah says this:
8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,"
declares the LORD.
9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts."

God has an awesome plan for our lives. The Holy Spirit will guide us in the fulfilment of that plan. If we ignore His promptings, we will not only miss out on God's plan, but we sin and walk in the darkness.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-24 [Insights from Isaiah] Peace and Trust

Peace and Trust

You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in You.
There is general agreement that this passage was written in 716BC just after the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the miraculous narrow escape of the Southern Kingdom when the Assyrians who were encamped on Jerusalem's doorstep withdrew. It was a tumultuous time.

This verse is part of a hymn or song celebrating God's goodness and urging people to put their trust in Him. Peace is available to those who will steadfastly trust in Him. It is not about Bible knowledge, theology, good behaviour, church attendance, or church activities. It is about trust.

The common conception of peace is a concept of absence. We have peace when trouble is absent, when conflict is absent, and chaos is absent. God's peace is different. It is a concept of presence. In the midst of trouble, conflict and chaos God is with us - This is what His name, Emmanuel, means.

Our steadfastness in faith is like the sailor who lashes himself to the mast in a storm. The storm rages, but the sailor is secure. When we fasten ourselves to Emmanuel then we will experience peace in the midst of our storm. He is determined to be with us and carry us through. Peace is ours if we will look beyond the circumstances and trust that He wants to be with us and help us. Look not at your circumstances but to a God who will do what it takes to be with us.

If you ever doubt it - just look at the cross!

Friday, April 20, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-20 [Insights from Isaiah] Bringing heaven to earth

Bringing heaven to earth

Yesterday we looked at the beautiful promise-prophecy in Isaiah 11 where He speaks of the blessing and the sense of "Heaven on Earth" that the coming of God's "Anointed One" would bring:
The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
(Isaiah 11:6)

Although Jesus is the full realisation of this hope, we know that king Hezekiah, born a few years after this prophecy, was a partial fulfilment of this hope for "heaven on earth".
Here's one of the beautiful moments of Hezekiah's rule that must have felt like the "leopard lying down with the goat": (You can read about it in 2 Chron 30)

Hezekiah realised that it had been a long time since the Israelites had celebrated the Passover properly and so he wanted to reinstitute it. But there were some difficulties:

  • The official date for the Passover was very soon, too soon for all the practical arrangements and messages to go out.
  • The priests weren't properly consecrated and there weren't enough of them.
  • The people weren't properly consecrated and wouldn't be able to make the required sacrifices themselves.
  • Many of the people went ahead and celebrated the Passover without consecrating themselves.

Hezekiah handled these difficulties with incredible grace and compassion:
  • He moves the Passover Feast a month later - that's like sending out a letter to the nation in November and telling people that Christmas has been moved to 25 Jan! The invitation was sent out, and while some mocked and criticised, a large number of people responded in faith and with great devotion.
  • The Levites and Priests who had been holding back their support were convicted by the response of the people and jumped in and started serving. Hezekiah prayed that God would bless them even though they hadn't gone through all the processes of preparation
  • The priests and Levites helped the people make the sacrifices (sacrificing on their behalf)
  • Hezekiah prayed for the people who had come to celebrate but had not had time to consecrate themselves and God healed them.

In these acts of sheer grace (rather than strict law) the people experienced great joy and mercy and so we read the following:

The whole assembly then agreed to celebrate the festival seven more days; so for another seven days they celebrated joyfully. 24 Hezekiah king of Judah provided a thousand bulls and seven thousand sheep and goats for the assembly, and the officials provided them with a thousand bulls and ten thousand sheep and goats. A great number of priests consecrated themselves. 25 The entire assembly of Judah rejoiced, along with the priests and Levites and all who had assembled from Israel, including the aliens who had come from Israel and those who lived in Judah. 26 There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem.      (2Chronicles30:23-26)

This is just a small foretaste of the joy and grace that Jesus came to bring to us!

We, like Hezekiah, can be agents of this grace!

May you be blessed as you celebrate this great God in corporate worship on Sunday!

Thursday, April 19, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-19 [Insights from Isaiah] A beautiful hope and a great power

A beautiful hope and a great power

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.

7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.

9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.      (Isaiah11:6-9)
These verses are a lovely example of Hebrew Poetry:
  • Vivid imagery featuring polar opposites (wolf & lamb) (child & cobra)
  • Parallel structures: Two strophes with three lines about animals and one (or two) about a child
  • The two lines about children and snakes are a parallelism
  • It ends with strong inclusive imagery (mountain, earth and sea)

This vivid, imagination-igniting imagery was carefully and poetically crafted as a powerful expression of the hope that Isaiah has in the coming Messiah.

But you may ask:
"Isn't it all pie-in-the-sky?"
"What possible comfort can these verses offer when these images describe a reality that is just too good to be true?"
"Isn't Isaiah creating false hope? There is no point in Israel's history where any of this happened."

Three points need to be made about this:

Firstly, this poetic language that is being used to describe our ultimate destiny. It's talking about heaven and the peace and harmony that we will experience in the presence of the Lord. The poetry points to peace, harmony and healing. This is a strong hope.

Secondly, while this is poetry, it hints at the significant power of the Messiah to bring about restoration. He is more than able to heal and restore and renew. Can He heal my broken soul? Can He restore my broken relationships? Can He bring justice to a broken world? Well... He can bring the wolf and the lamb together, He can make the lion a vegetarian and He can make the world safe for a child. While we don't see it in its full reality yet, but we have experienced this incredible power when we were forgiven and when we forgive others...

Which brings us to the third point... While the full reality is yet to come, it is not just pie-in-the-sky. Every time we ask for God's forgiveness, every time a relationship is restored and every time a memory is healed, we are experiencing a taste of the hope and power we referred to in points one and two. Think about the peace that flooded your heart when you knew your sins were forgiven - was that not the leopard lying down with the goat? Think about the relief of a relationship restored - was that not the cow feeding with the bear?

When Jesus died on the cross, His sacrifice was powerful enough to heal the world. While the full healing is still coming, the magnitude of its goodness inspires us and gives us hope, and in the meantime we draw on the power of the Messiah to bring hope and healing to our corners of the world.

And so we regularly pray:
"Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.
On earth as it is in heaven."

(Tomorrow we'll take a look at a BEAUTIFUL example of heaven on earth from the life of Hezekiah)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-18 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #4

A shoot from the stump #4

and He will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.      (Isaiah11:3-5)
As Isaiah lists the qualities of an ideal "shoot from the stump", we recognise that these are high standards for any king.

Here's Isaiah's list:
- delights in the fear of the Lord
(loving, loyal obedience)
- is impartial
(not being deceived by "hearsay" and "eyesay")
- judging with righteousness and justice,
- and being fair to the poor and the needy
(when the powerful and rich can exert such pressure)
- carries strong authority in word and deed
- leads so that righteousness and faithfulness are seen as part of his uniform.

This is the standard for a good king.

Hezekiah had many of these qualities.
And we desperately hope for these qualities in our presidents and leaders.

But when we look at Jesus we see all of them!

  • Think of His loving, loyal obedience in the Garden of Gethsemane
  • Think about how he shielded the woman caught in adultery from injustice at the hands of the religious tyrants, but also confronted her sin
  • Think of how He overturned the money-changer's tables and confronted hypocrisy.
  • Think about how Pilate and the Roman Centurion instinctively recognised his righteousness and innocence.

Indeed Jesus was the ideal "shoot from the stump".

But we also recognise that Hezekiah embodied many of these qualities, albeit imperfectly, and we pray the same for our leaders.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-17 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #3

A shoot from the stump #3

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)

Isaiah worked during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah...
  • Uzziah was a good king, but he became ambitious and wanted to be priest as well as king. He was struck with leprosy and completed his reign from isolation, but left the legacy of a good son.
  • Jotham was a good king and brought blessing and prosperity to Judah and Jerusalem.
  • Unfortunately his son Ahaz was incredibly evil and his reign brought disaster and suffering on the land.
  • Hezekiah was a really good king who did a lot to bring the people back to the Lord. He restored the temple, re-established the celebration of the passover, and many other things.

This prophecy originated from the dark 16 years of Ahaz's reign.
It was temporarily fulfilled by Hezekiah who was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, acted with wisdom and understanding and walked in the fear of the Lord.

But Hezekiah also made mistakes and so Israel (and all of humankind) waited for the the prophecy to be ultimately and finally fulfilled.

The One who would fulfil this was conceived by the Spirit to be born into our world. He was filled with the Spirit as He was baptised and commenced His mission to be our sin-bearer. Then He was forsaken by the Spirit on the cross as He bore our sins and God's wrath. Ultimately He was raised from the dead by the Spirit and sends the Spirit into our hearts.

While David, Uzziah and Hezekiah and many others feared and respected the Lord, all of them came to a point where they placed their own desires ahead of God's glory. For David it was lust, for Uzziah it was power, for Hezekiah it was material comfort. Jesus steadfastly put God's will ahead of His own. His "fear" of the Lord was displayed in passionate love and costly obedience when He said "Not my will but Yours be done..."

What an amazing Messiah!!!

Friday, April 13, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-13 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #2

A shoot from the stump #2

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)
Today we're going to look at the work of the Holy Spirit in the Jesus, the Messiah, but also in us.

We've already seen that this is a double-prophecy, partially fulfilled by Hezekiah, but ultimately fulfilled by Christ. It is important that this prophecy applied also to Hezekiah, otherwise we will have to assume that these aspects of the Spirit's work are only available to Christ.

Isaiah believed that the gift of wisdom could be bestowed on people. He gives a full explanation of what it means to have the wisdom of the Spirit.

  • Understanding: The ability to have insight into circumstances, to penetrate the story behind the story. To understand the forces behind the surface issues.
  • Counsel: The ability to give good advice - to be strategic. Particularly to be able to listen, discern and direct.
  • Power: In this context, I would suggest that power has to do with self-mastery and self-control. People who are exceptionally wise are usually people who don't let their tempers or tongues get the better of them.
  • Knowledge: This may refer to supernatural knowledge (knowing things that we would not know by normal means) or an exceptional ability to assimilate knowledge. Elisha demonstrated supernatural knowledge when he knew in advance where one the enemy kings was going to launch surprise attacks. Solomon was renowned for his botanical knowledge (demonstrating the ability to assimilate knowledge)
  • The Fear of the Lord: This has to do with doing things God's way and interpreting life with the clear understanding that God is the Sovereign and Supreme ruler over all and that we are answerable to Him.

This Spirit-given Wisdom resided in Jesus, but He is the same Spirit who would work in us if we would allow Him to...

Thursday, April 12, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-12 [Insights from Isaiah] A shoot from the stump #1

A shoot from the stump #1

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him--
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD--
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.      (Isaiah11:1-3)
This is a beautiful prophecy of the coming of the Messiah.
We'll have to spend a few days on it...

In the preceding chapters (9-10) Isaiah has talked about how Assyria has arrogantly trampled over Israel and Judah, and they destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Samaria. They came close to destroying the Southern Kingdom of Judah, even camping their army outside Jerusalem but God promised deliverance. We know that God did indeed rescue Jerusalem (You can read about it in 2 Kings 18-20)

Hezekiah was the king at this time. We must remember that the Hezekiah was a descendent of David, who was from the tribe of Judah. David's father, Jesse, was a descendant of Judah - one of Jacob's 12 sons. Jesse was the "stump" back when Saul (from the tribe of Benjamin) was king and was shipwrecking the nation. When Jesse's young son David became king, he was a "shoot" that grew into a nation at its best.

So the Israelites hoped that just like David (from the stump of Jesse) restored Israel after Saul had reduced them to chaos, Hezekiah would restore the nation from the ashes of Assyrian domination.

Indeed, the early part rule of Hezekiah was a time of blessing for the Israelites, but eventually Hezekiah was consumed by materialism and ended up having a son who became one of the most evil kings ever to reign.

Israel would eventually be attacked and defeated by the Babylonians. Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed and the nation would go into exile, but out of that stump, Israel continued and the lineage of Judah, Jesse and David would lead through the domination of the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans to a certain Joseph and Mary, a young couple engaged to be married who would have a son and call Him Jesus.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

EmmDev 2018-04-10 [Insights from Isaiah] A Saviour with four titles

A Saviour with four titles

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.      (Isaiah9:2-6)
This is one of the most loved prophecies of Jesus' coming. We often hear it at Christmas time (though often with vs.3,4,5 left out). Lets look at each of the verses and how they relate to Jesus...

v.2. When He opened the eyes of the blind, Jesus identified Himself as the light of the world. John identified Jesus as the light that shines into the darkness and cannot be overcome.

v.3-5.The Midianites were defeated by Gideon's small army of 300 soldiers armed with lanterns, clay pots and trumpets. In the same unexpected way, the birth of a child would bring about the end of violence and war.

v.6. When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate, (Jn.18) Pilate asked Him if He was a king. Jesus answered by saying that His Kingdom was not of this world. It is not a socio-political kingdom, but one of the heart. It is a kingdom where people's hearts are transformed and set free. It is a kingdom that has seen lives and communities impacted for nearly 2000 years as people have lived lives of love and grace in the name of Christ and have died with the name of Christ on their lips.

While on earth Jesus was the WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR who made truth, hope, love and forgiveness come alive as He taught and forgave. When He ascended into heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to continue being our Counsellor.

He showed that He was more than just a good guru when He healed the sick and rose from the dead. He is the MIGHTY GOD who conquered brokeness, sin, death and Satan.

He revealed the EVERLASTING FATHER. In John 14 and 17 He made it clear that He and the Father are One and that He has revealed the Father perfectly. To a confused Philip He says: "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father."

He is the PRINCE OF PEACE. Paul puts it best: "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." Not world peace (which never lasts long) but peace with God - and when we all find peace with God we will find peace with one another and peace in the world.

This beautiful prophecy is not only fulfilled, but FILLED out by Jesus. Let's worship His majesty!