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Monday, January 25, 2010

Two Fasts - One that Pleases God and One that Doesn't--Isaiah 58

Two Fasts – the One that Pleases God and the One that Doesn’t---Isaiah 58






The 58th chapter of Isaiah begins almost immediately by describing some of God’s people. “—they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, As a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God. They ask of Me the ordinances of justice: They take delight in approaching God” -Isaiah 58:2. You would be happy if God’s Word described you in this way wouldn’t you? From reading this brief description of God’s people you would think that He was pleased with them, right? No you are wrong!!



Isaiah continues to prophesy God’s Word concerning His people – about their worship and their fasting. “In the day of your fast you find pleasure and exploit all of your laborers. Indeed you fast for strife and debate. And to strike with the fist of wickedness. You will not fast as you do this day, to make your voice heard on high.” – Isaiah 58:3b-4.



God’s prophecy continues against His people: “If you take away the yoke from your midst, the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, if you extend your soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness,---“ -Isaiah 58:9b-10.



The 58th chapter of Isaiah shows us a picture of the religious Jews and their lives at around 760 B.C. During this period both the northern and southern kingdoms had experienced nearly 50 years of increasing prosperity and power. And perhaps that increasing power had gone to their heads. The rich got rich and the poor got poorer. And the religious community seemed to side with the powerful and the wealthy at the expense of the poor.



In Isaiah 58 verse 3 the religious community is asking God why He doesn’t reward them when they do all of their fasting. Hasn’t God seen all of their good deeds, all of their worship observances, their liturgies? They have worked hard and stayed away from the bars. They have gone to church and saved their money. They drive big cars and they have family values. God’s people point their fingers at all of the losers around them. All those lazy folks that mess up their lives. Look at how much better they are than their neighbors! Why they fast every week and let everyone around them know how righteous they are when they fast. Isn’t God impressed with them? Why isn’t He rewarding them more?



After God comes and tells His children why He isn’t pleased with their defective worship, and their “look at me” fasts, He lovingly describes the kind of fast that will please Him! “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed go free. And that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out: when you see the naked, that you cover him. And not hide yourself from your own flesh?” Isaiah 58:6-7.



So there it is! God wants our whole life – not just lip service and outward appearance. We find so many places in Scripture where He tells us to reach out to the poor. And here it is again. The fast and the life that please Him is the one that tries to level the playing field for the less fortunate. In Isaiah 58:12 He calls the person who lives and fasts this way the “Repairer of the Breach,” and “the one who raises up the foundations of many generations.”



This amazing 58th chapter goes on to call God’s people to follow His loving Ways and not their own. He urges them to join Him in having compassion for the needy. He asks them to be His hands in “building up the old waste places.” And then He tells them what will happen if they change from their old pattern of fasting, the one that makes them feel so superior: and practice His new unselfish fast.



Verses 8-11 promise, “Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you. The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer, you shall cry and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ ----The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones: you shall be like a watered garden and like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.”



God’s words for His people so long ago can speak to us today too. We may have some of the same temptations that the religious community had back then. It is still easy for God’s people to stay busy going to church and doing religious things. Still easy to vote to disregard the poor and the sick. Our grandchildren may have to pay if we extend aid – and our pride and freedom are more important than trying to have compassion on the desperate. If we put the Ten Commandments up in a public place and put Bible verses on our guns then folks will be impressed with our virtue.



There are still two fasts today. The fast where God’s people are critical and proud and lust after power while using God’s Name. And the fast that pleases God. The fast where God’s people are humble and generous and caring. A fast where God’s people reach out to the poor and the sick. A fast where those who follow in it can be called the “Repairer of the Breach.” God is still calling. He still cares about which fast we observe. Which fast will you choose?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Draw Near to God and He Will Draw Near to You

Draw Near to God and He will Draw Near to You




James 4:8 reads, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Nothing complicated about that. God draws closer to those who try to be closer to Him. And aren’t we the same way in our relationships? Scripture tells us that God not only wants a close relationship with us but He wants us to put Him first. Exodus 20:3, the first of the Ten Commandments says, “Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” Let’s look at several people in the Bible who seemed to fight for God and His rule to be in their lives and let’s see how their desires for God changed things for them.



Genesis 32:22-32 tells a story of Jacob wrestling with God, or with an angel of God. This is one of the Bible’s mysterious narratives. The importance of the narrative is that of Jacob’s willingness to contend with God. He knows that God has willed to bless him and he will settle for nothing less than his full inheritance.



Scripture tells us that God’s “Man” touched Jacob’s hip and hurt the hip socket so that it was out of joint. After wrestling all night, this mysterious “Man” said to Jacob,” Let me go, for the day breaks.” And Jacob replied, “I will not let You go unless You bless me.” “What is your name?” the Man asks . And Jacob replied, “Jacob”. Then the Man said,” Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then God blessed Jacob. The name “Jacob” means “Surplanter” but the new name “Israel” means “Prince with God”.



Jacob wanted God and His will in his life. He even fought for more of God’s blessing. . And for the rest of his life he limped because his hip was out of joint from this wrestling. Perhaps this symbolizes that there is a cost incurred when we leave everything behind to follow God. There is a price to pay when we want more of God in our lives. There are things we have to give up when we want all that God has for us.



Ruth is another person we read about in the Bible who seemed to make a special effort to want to worship the God of the Jews. Ruth was a Moabite, a foreigner. No descendent of a Moabite were ever allowed to enter the assembly of Israel. (Deuteronomy 23:3.) When Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi was leaving Moab to return to Israel, Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah followed after her. Naomi turned to her daughter-in-laws and insisted that they go back to their homes and their families. Naomi made the point that these young women wouldn’t have any future in Israel and that they would probably not find husbands there.



Orpah agreed with Naomi’s reasoning, kissed her and turned back to her home in Moab. But Ruth insisted that she wanted to be there for Naomi and help her, and she insisted that she wanted to leave her home and her country and follow the God of Israel. In part of her answer to Naomi she said: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God.-----(Ruth 1:16).



Both Jacob and Ruth seemed willing to forget their own personal comforts and concerns in their personal quest to follow after God and His will. And God met them and blessed them both with more than either of them could have ever imagined. Even though the Law and Scripture stated that a Moabite could never enter the assembly of Israel, God seemed to change His law when it came to Ruth. Could it be that God honored her because she wanted the God of Israel to be her God? Ruth became the Gentile participant in Israel’s kingly line. She became the great-grandmother of David and she is one of the ancestors of Jesus Christ.



And it seems that God may have changed some things around for Jacob too. Jacob wasn’t in line to become the direct ancestor of Jesus Christ or to pass on God’s blessings to Israel. His twin brother, Esau, was the heir of this special spiritual blessing and was in line to become the ancestor of Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us that Esau didn’t value God’s blessing but Jacob did. God was displeased with Esau because he didn’t care about the things of God. But God was pleased with Jacob because he followed after God and God allowed him to take Esau’s place in passing on His blessing.



God wants us to follow after Him and not count the cost. He has many blessings waiting for us too, but we need to have the faith for them. We need to love God with all our hearts. And keep that love in our hearts aflame as He isn’t pleased with a lukewarm love. We should be willing to leave our comfort zones and follow Him into unfamiliar places or wrestle in prayer all night for answers. We need to draw near to God and He will draw near to us.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Self Improvement Follies

Self-Improvement Follies




The other day, I made a visit to our local mall-based, chain bookstore. During my search for the book I wanted, I encountered the voluminous self-help section, with its almost overwhelming variety of titles that were guaranteed to provide folks with the tools they needed to become successful and rich.



Because I had some time to kill, I perused some of the books. Actually, during a time when I was having problems at my work, I had read several such books. They had provided me with neither succor nor tools to alleviate my troubles – indeed, as I recall, they merely increased the level of guilt I felt for having problems.



The genre is remarkably similar: you – not external factors – are responsible for your life and circumstances; and you have the power to change your situation. If you think positively about your situation and project your positive imagery to the people around you will be successful. Additionally, if you work at visualizing what you really desire, it will come to you. The most annoying element of this invidious, ludicrous genre is the so-called “Christian” versions of this pap.



If we look at the self-help movement Biblically, two things stand out. First, the Bible clearly indicates that a lot of people’s problems are not their own fault. Consider the case of Job. He was a righteous man who had calamity fall upon him, just so God could prove that Job was righteous. Job’s situation was ultimately ameliorated by God, not by positive, visualization on the part of Job. The self-help idea is especially pernicious because it causes some folks to believe that those who are suffering actually brought it upon themselves. The Bible tells us that we are to “rejoice with those that rejoice and weep with those that weep” (Romans 12:15).



The second problem in all this is that it puts a tremendous emphasis – and burden – upon the individual. American culture has always emphasized and aggrandized the individual. In recent times this cultural tendency has become much more pronounced. Protestant worship forms have tended to exaggerate this, putting major emphasis on the individual Christian and much less emphasis on the church community. Accordingly, we frequently fail to recognize communal sins and fail to attempt to ameliorate these. Rather, the blame for sinning (usually certain contemporarily relevant sins) falls only on the individual.



Both the old and new testament is careful about individualism. In the Old Testament, there is restricted use of the personal pronoun: reference it is frequently to a character, which is in relation to the Nation Israel. Likewise in the New Testament the reference is to “the body of Christ.” That is one of the reasons for the Eucharist, where we acknowledge our commitment and attachment to The Lord and to the people of His Church. Jesus speaks to this frequently, as for instance in his teaching on ‘who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-37).



We truly are “our brother’s keeper” and we should be providing emotional, spiritual and material help to those who are suffering. Let us work to make Christ’s Body be a valid substitute for the world’s pathetic efforts to “improve” us.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Out With the Old and On With the New

Out with the Old and On with the New




“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation: old things have passed away: behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.



We just rang in a new year, 2010, and we are greeting this new year with hope. This is the year that we will lose weight, learn something new, or do something differently.. We’re making new years’ resolutions. The year 2009 is gone and our new efforts will make 2010 better, we hope.



In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we are told that if we are in Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new. Because Christ has taken away our sin – our old way of life, now a new existence as a new creation is possible. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But wait, there is an “if” in this scripture,- “ if we are in Christ.” : “In Christ” is one of the ways Paul describes what it means to be a Christian.



Christ has died for us and taken away the old ways- the sin. He has done His part. But what is our part? This verse says that we are a new creation “if” we are in Christ. What do we need to do to make sure that we are “in Christ”. We believe in Christ as our Savior. And we’ve tried to repent of our sins. Is there any thing more that we can do?



Matthew 28:20 repeats Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. “---and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Here He is assuring us of His constant presence. Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit will be with us everywhere we go. He promised to teach us what we need to know and to be a help in every trouble. John 16:13 tells us: “—when he, the Spirit of Truth is come, he will guide you into all truth,--“ He will draw us into the Truth and help us pray. This Holy Spirit will lead us where we should go and give us the ability or power to do the good works that we are meant to do. How can we lose since we have been given such a wonderful Gift?



Amazingly we can mess up even after we become Christians and have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit! Scripture tells us that we can “resist” the Holy Spirit and we can “quench” the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants to enter into our life, but we have to give Him our permission. The Holy Spirit has much to say to us, but we need to be willing to listen. The Holy Spirit will lead us into ministry and give us abilities and gifts but we have to be willing to go. We can be anointed with Holy Spirit power but we have to seek God for that anointing. He doesn’t force it on us.



In other words it’s not automatic! God doesn’t override your will. It’s still up to you! If you don’t make a space for the Holy Spirit, He may not settle on your life. If you don’t take time to listen for a Word from the Holy Spirit, you may not ever hear what He wants to tell you. Psalms 46:10 says: “Be still and know that I am God.” Can we be still and take time and listen for the Lord to speak to us? Can we turn off the electronic devices, the cell phones, the radios, the television programs, etc. long enough to make a space in our lives to commune with the Lord?



Let’s make a new year’s resolution to try to listen this year for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit showing us what to do. Let’s make space in our lives for the Lord and read His Word. Let’s be still and take time and wait for the anointing of the Holy Spirit in our life. Let’s not crowd Him out with all the other stuff! If we take time to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, everything will become new!

















Out with the Old and On with the New




“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he/she is a new creation: old things have passed away: behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17.



We just rang in a new year, 2010, and we are greeting this new year with hope. This is the year that we will lose weight, learn something new, or do something differently.. We’re making new years’ resolutions. The year 2009 is gone and our new efforts will make 2010 better, we hope.



In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we are told that if we are in Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new. Because Christ has taken away our sin – our old way of life, now a new existence as a new creation is possible. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But wait, there is an “if” in this scripture,- “ if we are in Christ.” : “In Christ” is one of the ways Paul describes what it means to be a Christian.



Christ has died for us and taken away the old ways- the sin. He has done His part. But what is our part? This verse says that we are a new creation “if” we are in Christ. What do we need to do to make sure that we are “in Christ”. We believe in Christ as our Savior. And we’ve tried to repent of our sins. Is there any thing more that we can do?



Matthew 28:20 repeats Jesus’ last words to his disciples before he ascended into heaven. “---and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Here He is assuring us of His constant presence. Jesus promised us that the Holy Spirit will be with us everywhere we go. He promised to teach us what we need to know and to be a help in every trouble. John 16:13 tells us: “—when he, the Spirit of Truth is come, he will guide you into all truth,--“ He will draw us into the Truth and help us pray. This Holy Spirit will lead us where we should go and give us the ability or power to do the good works that we are meant to do. How can we lose since we have been given such a wonderful Gift?



Amazingly we can mess up even after we become Christians and have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit! Scripture tells us that we can “resist” the Holy Spirit and we can “quench” the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit wants to enter into our life, but we have to give Him our permission. The Holy Spirit has much to say to us, but we need to be willing to listen. The Holy Spirit will lead us into ministry and give us abilities and gifts but we have to be willing to go. We can be anointed with Holy Spirit power but we have to seek God for that anointing. He doesn’t force it on us.



In other words it’s not automatic! God doesn’t override your will. It’s still up to you! If you don’t make a space for the Holy Spirit, He may not settle on your life. If you don’t take time to listen for a Word from the Holy Spirit, you may not ever hear what He wants to tell you. Psalms 46:10 says: “Be still and know that I am God.” Can we be still and take time and listen for the Lord to speak to us? Can we turn off the electronic devices, the cell phones, the radios, the television programs, etc. long enough to make a space in our lives to commune with the Lord?



Let’s make a new year’s resolution to try to listen this year for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit showing us what to do. Let’s make space in our lives for the Lord and read His Word. Let’s be still and take time and wait for the anointing of the Holy Spirit in our life. Let’s not crowd Him out with all the other stuff! If we take time to follow the leadings of the Holy Spirit in our lives, everything will become new!