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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pride goes Before Destruction

Pride Goes Before Destruction





The Bible passage reads: “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.” (Proverbs 16:18-19)



It was pride that caused the downfall of our first parents. Adam and Eve fell into sin because they were proud enough to think that their own way (eating the forbidden fruit) was better than God’s way (obeying His command not to eat from that one tree). We all need to do the opposite and be humble enough to take our instructions from God and not proudly think that our own ways are better that His.



As Christians we call Jesus our Lord and that means that we try to follow Him. And it takes a certain amount of humility to follow and not lead. It takes humility to trust and obey. It takes humility to believe in Jesus. So we each need to develop a humble spirit (if we don’t have one already!) Scripture says: “…He will beautify the humble with salvation.” (Psalm149:4b)



The Bible tells us that some people don’t believe in Jesus because they don’t want to change their ways of living. Jesus is the Light of the world and some folks don’t want to come to the Light since they would need to give up their darkness. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict, that Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:17-19)



I think it takes a certain amount of humility to be willing to let Jesus take away our darkness and change us. And since He won’t force us to change-to repent, we need to keep working on staying open and humble so that He can do His work in us. Scripture says: “He leads the humble in doing right, teaching them His ways. (Psalm 25:9)



Jesus told one of His famous parables about the problems of pride and the importance of a humble spirit. Let’s listen. “And He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men - extortionist, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week: I give tithes of all that I possess.’ And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you the truth, this man went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee, for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18;9-14)



In Jesus’ story, the Pharisee had obeyed all of the commandments. He wasn’t an adulterer or an extortionist like other men. He reminded God that he was certainly better than the tax collector praying nearby! He fasted and gave tithes. His religion was based on the merit system and he was proud of his high score. Shouldn’t God be impressed?



But Jesus corrects the mistaken idea that all God wants from us are our good deeds. God cares more about the attitude of our hearts Jesus is saying. The Pharisee was proud of himself for being so good. But our righteousness is a gift from God. Scripture says: “But those who think themselves great shall be disappointed and humbled;…” (Matthew 23:12)



And our poor tax collector! He won’t even raise his eyes to heaven. Bowing low and beating his breasts he begs God to be merciful to him, a sinner. But Jesus tells us that his prayer was answered and his sins were forgiven by God. Scripture tells us that God hears our prayers when we are humble. “Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” (James 4:10)



There is a Quaker hymn that goes something like this: “Tis a gift to be humble, tis a gift to be free. Tis a gift to come down where one ought to be.” There is a joy and a freedom in being humble and it is a good gift. The Holy Spirit will give us this gift of humility if we will take it. And we need to take it because we won’t please God without it.















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Monday, March 21, 2011

Pictures of Jesus 700 Years before His Birth - Lessons from Isaiah

Pictures of Jesus 700 Years before His Birth - Lessons from Isaiah







Let’s pretend that a camera had been invented that could not only take pictures of a person’s face and body but could also capture shots ahead of time of how the person would live his life and what was inside his soul and spirit. I don’t think God used such a camera, but God did give Isaiah many detailed pictures of Jesus and what He would do during His lifetime. And amazingly, these pictures were taken about 700 years before they even occurred. They captured scenes showing what would happen to Jesus and even how these future events would affect us. Through his “prophecy” camera Isaiah received the photos and left them in an album for all of us to see. Let’s turn to Isaiah 42:13-15 and Isaiah 53:1-12 and view each shot.



The first picture that Isaiah captured was of Jesus being praised and lifted up. Also He was called “My Servant”. “See, My Servant will act wisely, he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.” (Isaiah 52:13) We read in the New Testament, “Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name.” (Phil.2:9)



The second picture of Jesus was of a broken and beat-up man, astonishing those who saw Him. “Just as there were many who were appalled at Him, His appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and His form marred beyond human likeness” (Isaiah 52:14)



The third print is of Jesus cleansing many in the world of sin. The practice of sprinkling with blood or water to cleanse was performed by priests as part of the Old Testament law. “He will sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of Him. …” (Isaiah 52:15)



The fourth photo of Jesus is of an unimpressive, overlooked, ordinary looking person. Nothing special to draw us to Him. If He came today He wouldn’t drive the right car or have a degree from a better university. He wouldn’t even dress to make the right impression. “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by people, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not.” (Isaiah 53:1b-3)



In the fifth picture Jesus is on the cross dying for our sins. “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6) We read in the concordance that the Hebrew words for “infirmities” and “sorrows” in verse 4 here specifically means physical affliction. Isaiah 53:4 is quoted again in Matthew 8: 16-17. “When evening came, many who were demon possessed were brought to Him and He drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This is to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah: ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases.’” (Matt. 8:17) Does this teach that bodily healing is included in the atoning work of Christ?



The sixth photo will break your heart when you look at it. Here Jesus is seen as a lamb being carried off to be killed. And He went to his death voluntarily. “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away. And who can speak of His descendants? For He was cut off from the land of the living, for the transgression of my people he was stricken.” (Isaiah 53:7-8)



The seventh picture in Isaiah shows Jesus dying with the criminals and being given a grave with the rich. This picture also shows that Jesus had not done anything wrong. “He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9) We know that Jesus died on the cross between two criminals and that Joseph of Arimathea, a rich man, buried Jesus’ body in his own grave.



This photo shows that it was God’s will to allow Jesus to suffer and die. But I think we are in this picture too. Read along and see. “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer. And though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see his offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand.” (Isaiah 53:10) The offspring mentioned here are Jesus’ spiritual descendants, according to many scholars. And of course Jesus would rise from the dead and live forever.



And the last picture in Isaiah’s photo gallery shows Jesus as our Savior, victorious, and joyful that His perfect sacrifice has saved so many of us. He is satisfied that His death gave us life and He is praying (making intercession) for us. “After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life, and be satisfied by His knowledge my righteous Servant will justify many. And He will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sins of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” (Isaiah 53:11)



Jesus understood His mission and work as the fulfillment of these prophecies (pictures) in Isaiah. Some Bible scholars have called Isaiah 53 the chapter that describes Jesus as the “Suffering Servant”. Jesus was willing to pay the price for us and be our “suffering Servant”. The last verses of Isaiah 53 say that Jesus was pleased that all of His suffering has brought us eternal life. Let’s live our lives in such a way that He will continue to be pleased. Let’s not let Him down.





Monday, March 14, 2011

A Rejected and Upset God - Lessons from Isaiah

A Rejected and Upset God - Lessons in Isaiah





A favorite Bible verse, John 3:16 says that “God so loved the world (we humans) that He gave His only Son,---” We really matter to God. The way we live our lives can be a great pleasure to Him or a great sorrow. God is emotionally involved with us just as we are emotionally involved with our children. In the book of Isaiah, God cries and complains and fumes and argues about His lost relationship with Israel.



I have known several unfortunate parents whose grown children have broken off all relationships with them. These parents love their children and had been good caring parents. These mothers and fathers now feel betrayed and can’t understand why their beloved children have cut them off. If you listen very long to these rejected souls you will hear expressions of loss and love and anger and desperation all mixed together. And that is what you hear when you listen to God as He cries and rails about His lost relationship with Israel and with all of humanity. How did it come to this? It’s all written down in the book of Isaiah as well as the other prophetic books.



Listen as God cries out: “I have reared children and brought them up; but they have rebelled against Me. The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know Me, my people do not understand. Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption. They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on Him.” (Isaiah 1:2-4)



And again in the book of Isaiah a distraught God compares His wayward child, Israel, to a vineyard. “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. 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. …Now judge between me and my vineyard. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? Now I will tell you what I am going to do to my vineyard; I will take away its hedge, and it will be destroyed; I will break down its wall, and it will be trampled. I will make it a wasteland, neither pruned nor cultivated, and briers and thorns will grow there. I will command the clouds not to rain on it.. The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel and the people of Judah are the garden of His delight. And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed: for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.” (Isaiah 5:1a-7)



Throughout the book of Isaiah God lists the sins that bother Him so much – and begs Israel and the other nations to turn from them. He judges the political and religious leaders with this complaint. “The Lord enters into judgment against the elders and leaders of his people: ‘It is you who have ruined my vineyard: the plunder from the poor is in your houses. What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor?’” (Isaiah 3:14-15) All through Isaiah and throughout all of Scripture God holds up this standard for His people to live by. God’s people are to take care of the poor. The ancient Jewish people ignored this standard back then and many Christians are ignoring it today. We find God’s command to help the poor everywhere in Scripture. So how did they miss it? How can we miss it?



But there are many more complaints God makes against His children throughout the book of Isaiah. There was little justice in the corrupt judicial system of ancient Israel. Judges were taking bribes and violence was rampant throughout the land. Many of the Israelites had forgotten their covenant with God and were worshipping idols. God hated to see His people rejecting Him and worshipping idols. God took this personally and was jealous of their misplaced worship. He asks His people: “Aren’t you bowing down to a block of wood? Your idols don’t see or hear or think. Can’t you see that this image you carved yourself is a lie?” (This is a loose translation of Isaiah 44:19-20)



How many human parents are out there who have had their hearts broken because of their rebellious children? The child means everything to the parent. The parent lovingly raises the child with fond hopes and dreams that their child will grow up to become a good person as an adult? But then drugs or sexual perversion or greed comes along and carries the adult child away and the desperate parent is left with a broken heart and shattered dreams. They desperately want a relationship with their child but their child doesn’t want to be bothered. Where did they go wrong as parents, they ask themselves? These sad parents often go round and round blaming themselves for the messes their adult children are in, and wondering why their children have cut them off. But they almost never give up on their children.



When we read Isaiah we see God sadly circling round and round His lost children the way human parents often do! We read in Isaiah where Israel and the surrounding countries reject God and chose an evil lifestyle. The first forty chapters of Isaiah tell of the punishments God reluctantly sends on Israel and on the other nations. But all through these chapters a disillusioned God continues to cry out about how bad He feels and about how upset He is. He has planned only good things for His human children but they are more attracted to the immoral and the criminal. He desperately wants a relationship with His children but they don’t want to be bothered.



God remains a dutiful parent through it all. Along with the His cries of sorrow, He plans and plots to bring His children back. Earthly parents can’t always bring their children back from bad choices, but God can. He does it partly for His own peace of mind it seems. “I even I, am He who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” (Isaiah 43:25) “Oh Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you.” (Isaiah 44:21b-22) The nation of Israel was carried away by the Assyrians seven hundred years before Christ because of their rebellious ways, but God never gave up on them. “But you, O Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I have chosen you and have not rejected you. (Isaiah 41:8-9) They will be back.



And God hasn’t given up on us either. If we trust in Him He will be our righteousness. “But those who trust in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles: they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31) All through the book of Isaiah God keeps calling His children back to Him, showing them glimpses of heaven and promising to save them if they will believe Him. “Do not fear, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you, with the right hand of My righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)



Even though God has had to play the part of a rejected and brokenhearted parent in the past, in the end He will have faithful children. He has saved a remnant for Himself. “You heavens above, rain down righteousness: let the clouds shower it down. Let the earth open wide, let salvation spring up, let righteousness grow with it: I, the Lord, have created it.” (Isaiah 45:8) He has done it all for us. It doesn’t get any better than that.















Monday, March 7, 2011

Seeing Into the Future - Lessons from Isaiah

Seeing Into the Future - Lessons from Isaiah




Scripture tells us that God is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. (Revelation 1:8) God lives outside of time. A day is as a thousand years to Him. Since we humans live out our lives under the constraints of time, we often are confused when we read the prophetic books in the Bible. Isaiah along with other prophets would often tell their people that God was going to perform a certain action or judgment in the future. But sometimes the prophet wouldn’t tell exactly when the predicted event would happen. Would it happen tomorrow or in a thousand years or even at the end of the ages when Christ comes again?



God often starts by discussing a problem that is going on in the prophet’s day. But then almost in the same sentence a future generation is having the same problem and it is also being addressed hundreds of years in the future. And before we can wrap our minds around that, the same prophetic Scripture jumps again to the end of the age and give us a glimpse of the Day when finally every last one of our problems will be no more.



Isaiah is one of the major prophetic books in the Bible. The man Isaiah began his ministry about 740B.C. His name means “Yahweh Is Salvation” or “God is Salvation.” Isaiah was commissioned by God to be a prophet and he was given the gift of being able to hear God’s messages and pass them on to Israel and to us, through the book of Isaiah. Isaiah’s timeless message from God is for us today too.



Isaiah tells us how God called him to be a prophet. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and lifted up and His train filled the temple. Above Him were seraphs, each with six wings; with two wings they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.” (Isaiah 6:1-2) “‘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.’ Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’ 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!’ He said, ‘Go and tell this people:…’” (Isaiah 6:5-8)



Isaiah prophesied at a time when the nations of Israel and Judah had both given in to pagan worship. Even though some of the Jewish people still stayed with the outward forms of their faith, their hearts were far from God. The wealthy oppressed the poor and violence and injustice were rampant throughout the land. God sent Isaiah to tell the Jewish people how grieved He was that they had turned away from Him and to declare His judgment upon their sin. He also begged His people to come back to Him. But perhaps a larger purpose of the book of Isaiah was to give a promise of hope to the Jews that still remained faithful to God. (and to believers in every generation.) There would always be a few – a remnant –of people who hold onto their faith in God no matter what. And there was that remnant in Isaiah’s day. The book of Isaiah is full of promises of salvation and restoration and final victory for those who put their faith in God. Along with being a book of judgments for the disobedient, Isaiah is a book of promises and hope for the believer in God.



God showed Isaiah many judgments that would be meted out in the future. When a nation turned from God and did not take care of their poor, a judgment would inevitably follow. Scripture has so much to say about the importance of taking care of the poor and the disadvantaged. Isaiah foretold that Israel would be judged and taken away by Assyria and that Judah would be judged and led away into captivity by the Babylonians, and then later released. Isaiah goes on to prophesy the overthrow of Babylon by the Persians (Isaiah 13) and the demise later of the Assyrians. (Isaiah 13-14) The first thirty nine chapters of Isaiah are books describing judgments against nations and against sins. These judgments are interspersed with hope and promises for the remnant who keep their faith in God. And chapters forth to sixty-six are chapters of comfort and promise to the faithful.



Isaiah’s detailed prophesies concerning Israel and the surrounding nations all came true. The Babylonians indeed carried Judah away into captivity as Isaiah had prophesied and later they were returned as he had foretold. Israel was taken away by Assyria. The Babylonians and Assyrians were judged long after he was dead just as he had prophesied. Isaiah prophesied in detail about incidents that would occur hundreds and thousands of years in the future. Indeed he prophesied again and again about the end of the ages and we are still waiting for these prophesies to be fulfilled.



Seven hundred years before Christ, Isaiah foretold of His coming in detail. Chapters 42 through 53 in Isaiah describe Jesus Christ and His Servants ministry along with the salvation He brings. And scattered throughout the book of Isaiah the promise of salvation through Christ is held out again and again.



Here are just two of the many prophecies Isaiah made concerning the future birth of Jesus. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and will call him Immanuel. (God with us) (Isaiah 7:14b) and “For unto us a Child is born, unto 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. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)



When we read the book of Isaiah we get a different view of the world. We may be discouraged by our family or our money problems or our health and wonder if God cares about our plight. Evil seems to be winning out. But when we read Isaiah we read that God is just and good and there is no future in evil. Good will overcome evil in the end. We can look beyond the sad realities of our sinful world and wait and hope for the new world that God promises us. We can live in the light of the future when as Isaiah prophesied: “Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist. 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. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper’s nest. 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.” (Isaiah 11:5-9)