Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Return from the Wilderness

“And the redeemed of the Lord will return and come to Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy.  Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sadness will flee.” (Isaiah 35:19)

            God revealed a prophetic vision to Isaiah beyond Jerusalem’s destruction and beyond they the exile.  He showed him a wilderness, a dry land, a desert that would be restored.  This wilderness would bloom with joy by the glory of the Lord when the Lord would redeem His people.  The Lord promised healing and restoration, and a road, a way to get there, a highway that would be safe to travel.  Only those redeemed would have access to this road, and they would return to Zion with singing, gladness, and unending joy. 
            No doubt those who first heard these prophetic words discounted them.  They found the message incredulous.  Consider why.  Jerusalem was not under siege.  There was no threat to fortress Jerusalem.  So Isaiah’s message would not have resonated with them at all.  Their spiritual myopia would be their undoing, but the day would come when these prophetic words would become more of an encouraging message of hope. 
            This side of history we know of Jerusalem’s destruction, the Babylonian exile, the suffering, but also the joyful return to Jerusalem as God redeemed His people as promised.  But we cannot stop there.  We must go deeper into this prophecy, because it is a messianic prophecy.
            Isaiah’s description of an arid wasteland speaks of the spiritual condition of those who do not walk with God, who have turned to follow their own path.  God would provide a way whereby people might turn to Him and “return” to enter into an eternal joy.  This joyous return describes what takes place spiritually when we turn from sin, enter faith, and walk with the Lord on the basis of the way Jesus provided on the cross, thus bringing this prophecy to its full completion.

Lord, How we thank You for the power of Your redemption! Amen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


 “For You have made me rejoice, Lord, by what You have done.” (Psalm 92:4)

            So, what has the Lord done that makes us rejoice?
            He created all things.
            He put a plan in place that took millennia to bring to completion.
            At the right time He sent His Son, born miraculously of a virgin.
            His Son lived a perfect, sinless life.
            His Son took the penalty of our sins upon Himself by giving His life on the cross.
            His Son was raised from the dead and ascended into heaven forty days later.
            His Son promised to return.
            He sent His Spirit to fill His disciples so they could proclaim the good news with power.
            Through faithful witnesses over 2,000 years He sent someone to lead me to faith.
            He put His Spirit in us, just as He did with His disciples.
            He speaks to us through His word.
            He has multiplied manifold blessings in our lives and through our lives.
            He blesses us daily.
            What is there NOT to rejoice about?
            This is what He has done for us.  Rejoice we must.  Joy is like a fire in our bones, like an explosion that demands release.

We rejoice, Lord, because of what You have done.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


 “Isn’t the fast I chose: To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:4-7)

            Fasting is ancient.  It is not limited to Christian faith practices but has long been used in various cultures, sometimes for religious ritual, and sometimes as a body-cleansing technique.  It can be used as a weight loss technique.  And, as we see in the bible, fasting has been intended as a means of drawing closer to God, to deepen our spirituality and our faith.  Christians may fast when they carry a heavy burden, seeking resolution from the Lord.  In Isaiah’s day, people practiced a self-denying type of fasting, the “sackcloth and ashes” sort.  Their practice devolved into mere ritual, however, and its effect, says Isaiah, was that people just ended up angry and irritable.  Somehow, they lost the vision of what it was supposed to accomplish.
            So, God challenged the Israelis on their fasting practices in the verse quoted above and in the verses that followed.  He said that the fast He chose for them had two fundamental intentions: 1) breaking the bondage people have to wickedness, and 2) providing for those in dire need.  In other words, this was to be a fast in which people were to deny themselves their self-centeredness rather than food.  And that gives totally new definition to the concept of fasting.
            Maybe the kind of fasting that most honors God is the kind where we deny ourselves from engaging in self-centeredness, and by focusing instead on the needs of others.  Come to think of it, maybe this kind of fasting should be a daily practice.

Lord, Help us to turn away from self-centeredness and turn instead toward You and the life You have called us to.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Trust Is Learned

“For we don’t want you to be unaware, brothers, of our affliction that took place in Asia:  we were completely overwhelmed – beyond our strength – so that we even despaired of life.” (2 Corinthians 1:8)

            Whatever the event Paul was describing above, it was not recorded in the Book of Acts.  The riot in Ephesus could possibly be the event, but Paul’s behavior and attitude in that event was not consistent with someone who despaired of life itself.  This event, whatever it was, totally overwhelmed him and his team.  They thought they were going to die.  This felt like a death sentence.
            Paul explained what he felt was God’s purpose in allowing this to happen to them:  “so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.” (verse 9)
            How many times have you wondered why God allows us to experience events that are uncomfortable, hurtful, distressing, or even life-threatening?  While we may not have a good grip on understanding this, we can at least come to the same conclusion Paul reached:  God wants us to learn to trust in Him and in His purposes, and not in ourselves.
            Our abilities have built-in limitations.  Our ingenuities also have limits.  Our resources as well.  We prefer to think of ourselves as having no real limitations.  We even teach our children:  “You can do anything, if you just put your mind to it.” We are taught to think that we can be anything and do anything, and we like that thinking until those overwhelming events rise up and show us our limitations.  Maybe that is the point where we are then teachable.  That is when we learn that God and His power is the only real resource we have when the floods sweep over us.

Lord, Help us today to recognize that You are the One true Source of strength and power for enduring those events in life that are beyond our capabilities.  Amen.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Real Strength

“For the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘You will be delivered by returning and resting: your strength will lie in quiet confidence.’ But you were not willing.” (Isaiah 30:15)

Picture a man staggering in a desert, days without water, his clothes ripped and ragged. He is sweaty and gritty with sand. He sits down by a lush oasis, but he does not drink the water because he thinks he can find something better. So, he moves on. How messed up is that? It borders on insanity.

Essentially, that is what Judah did. In the Lord, they had access to all the power they needed to stand up to the Assyrians and others, but they decided that an alliance with Egypt would be more effective. That was a lame decision. Thus, the Lord sent Isaiah to voice His displeasure and to call them to return. The message was clear: “You will be delivered by returning and resting.” Interesting. Returning is the same is repentance. Resting essentially means trusting. Then Isaiah completed the message: “Your strength will lie in quiet confidence.”

Real strength does not have to be brash or boisterous to be genuine. Our human mindset tends to see those who are strong as being like that. The appearance of strength through bravado and posturing is little more than “smoke and mirrors.” The person who can be faced with overwhelming life circumstances and yet approach them in quietness and confidence in the Lord is someone who is truly strong. This quietness and confidence is found when we turn to the Lord and rest in Him. This is both a constant attitude we should have as well as a daily action. Resting in the Lord is a continual decision. The extent of our turning to the Lord and resting in Him determines the degree of our quietness and confidence in the Lord in the face of overwhelming circumstances. Today, turn to Him and rest in Him, and let His quietness and confidence bless you.

Thank You, Lord, for Your abiding presence. We turn to You, and we rest in You. Amen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Perfect Peace

“You will keep the mind that is dependent on You in perfect peace, for it is trusting in You.” (Isaiah 26:3 HCSB)  “Thou wilt keep Him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee, for he trusteth in Thee.” (KJV)

            Perfect peace.  Who wouldn’t want that as a characteristic of his or her life?  It sounds wonderful.  To be a “Rock of Gibraltar” in a world of turbulence has genuine appeal.  But is it attainable in a real world?  Perfect peace is an absolute concept, and absolutes are not all that common.
            Peter had a moment of perfect peace.  He climbed out of a boat onto a rolling sea and walked on the water toward Jesus, but that moment left quickly when he took his eyes off of Jesus and saw the wind and the waves.  It was more than just a sinking feeling.
            Isaiah says that perfect peace is a mind dependent on the Lord, one that is stayed or fixed unwaveringly on the Lord.  A mind that depends on the Lord is one that trusts continually in Him.  Perfect peace is thus a product of perfect trust.  Such trust is not hot and cold, or hit and miss.  It is constant and consistent.
            But is it attainable?  Well, it wasn’t for Peter, other than for a moment, and it may not be 100% attainable for us, but it is approachable.  Like many of our goals, we work toward them.  With some goals the best we can do is to get close to achieving them.  Maybe perfect peace through trust should be our goal, and the strength of our trust in God will thus determine how close we will get to it.

Father, You are the Author of peace, and with You it is a perfect peace.  Help us today to find the strength for trust fully in You. Guide us as we move toward this goal daily.  Amen

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

A Psalm

Lord, You are worthy of all praise!

Hope jumps onto the wind
            and soars into the heights
            at the mention of Your name.

My heart is filled with gratitude
            that You would call me Your child,
            that You would place Your Spirit in me.

I am overwhelmed by Your love and faithfulness.
            They lead me to the place of peace and serenity.

The universe is Your dominion,
            and it cannot contain You.
            It is too small,
            and it creates small thinking.

Heaven is Your domain,
            and yet, neither can heaven itself limit You.
            Nothing in existence can limit You,
            or contain You,
            or define You.

Yet, we can know You.
            And you care for us
            who are the dust of the earth?

Lord, You are worthy of all praise!

I am overwhelmed by Your love and faithfulness.
            They lead me to the place of peace and serenity.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

When Impatience Rules

“’I’m going fishing,’ Simon Peter said to them.”… “’Men,’ Jesus called to them, ‘you don’t have any fish, do you?’ ‘No,’ they answered.” (John 21:3,5)

            For reasons unexplained by Luke, some or all of the disciples left Jerusalem and returned to Galilee.  Luke does not include this event, but we may find a clue to the reason in Matthew’s gospel.  The angel at the tomb told the women to go tell His disciples that the resurrected Jesus was “going ahead of you to Galilee; you will see Him there.” (Matthew 28:7)  Apparently, after the Jerusalem appearances, they returned to Galilee briefly before then returning to Jerusalem.
            Jesus did not appear and remain with them the whole time they were in Galilee.  His appearances were occasional. Peter’s volatility and impatience got the better of him once again when he said, “I’m going fishing.”  Peter was an action kind of guy.  He wanted to see things get done.  All that sitting around and waiting for something to happen tasked him.  Remember: the Holy Spirit had not yet come.  So, Peter reverted to what he knew best.  He went fishing.  The others joined him.  They fished all night but caught nothing.  In fact, we might conclude that God made sure they caught nothing, because an important lesson was needed.
            Early next morning Jesus stood on the shore and called to them.  They were about a football field’s length away.  He told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat.  They did and caught 153 large fish.  John then knew it was the Lord.  When he said that, Peter couldn’t wait to row to shore, so he jumped into the water and swam there.  Jesus made breakfast with some of the fish.
            We can trust that the lesson of patience was not lost on the disciples since they lived it, but for ourselves we need to see that impatience can rule over us if we let it.  Sometimes our desire to see things happen, to see good things come about can cause us to launch out ahead of God and His timing.  Faithful patience in following the Lord’s instructions and the Holy Spirit’s guidance will yield the results that glorify God.  Our God is a God of timing, and taking action in His timing is what glorifies Him.

Lord, Something in us doesn’t especially like having to be patient, but help us today to see the wisdom in it.  Amen.