when these days are past

January 2015 (28)

Isaiah 2:1-4

1 What Isaiah son of Amoz saw and wrote concerning Judah and Jerusalem: 2 And it shall happen when these days are past, when the mountain of the house of Yahveh is established; it will be over the head of the mountains, and it will be raised out of hills. All the Gentiles will travel to him; 3 many peoples will come. And they will say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahveh, to the house of the God of Jacob, and may he teach us from his ways, and let us walk in his paths.” Because instruction will go out from Zion, and the word of Yahveh from Jerusalem. 4 He will judge between the nations and he will arbitrate for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plough blades and their spears into pruning hooks. A nation will not lift up a sword against another nation, and they will not learn war again.

when these days are past

Isaiah saw his nation stuck in a society filled with oppression, pride, violence and slavery. He encouraged them to envision future days when God will be put back in his proper place again. His mountain will be the highest, and his teachings will be on everyone’s minds. The oppression and pride of the rich and powerful will be brought down, the violence of warfare will be a thing of the past, and the slavery of fellow human beings a forgotten memory.

Do you dare look into your own future? If you do, you will see that some of the days of Isaiah are still with you. God encourages us to dream about future days, when all those evil things about us are gone, wiped away by his power.

LORD, teach us how to live in our future, when we have been stripped of the things which keep us from your heart.

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ashamed of oaks

January 2015 (27)

Isaiah 1:27-31

27 “Zion will be redeemed by justice, and those of her who repent, by righteousness. 28 But rebels and sinners will be destroyed together, and those who forsake Yahveh will perish. 29 Because they will be ashamed of oaks, which you were so pleased with, and you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen. 30 Because you will be like an oak shedding its leaves, and like a garden where there is no water for her. 31 And the strong one will become like kindling, and his work like a spark. And both of them shall burn together, and there is not one to put them out.”

ashamed of oaks

Because the majestic oak trees were prominent in the worship of pagan deities, the LORD through Isaiah predicted that Judah would become ashamed of those oak trees. In fact, they would become like the oaks, who shed their leaves during the Fall season. A season of shedding would come to Judah. The leaves would fall and be gathered to be burned up. The fire would not be put out until it destroyed all those destined for destruction.

The hell that is coming to this world is going to destroy many of the things that the world now glories in. All the sins and sinners that this world has flaunted will be gathered, and there will be no power in the universe which can put that fire out, until it does what it is meant to do. Isaiah encourages us to be ashamed of our sin. If we refuse to come clean with God now, he will come clean of us then.

LORD, we are ashamed of those things in which we have gloried. Forgive us, and cleanse us.

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I will purify your dross

January 2015 (26)

Isaiah 1:21-26

21 How did a faithful city become like a whore? She was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. 22 Your silver has become dross; Your wine diluted with water. 23 Your princes rebel and take up with thieves. Every one loves a bribe and runs after hand-outs. They do not defend an orphan and legally protecting a widow does not occur to them. 24 Therefore, here is the declaration of the Lord Yahveh of armies, the Mighty One of Israel: “Ah, I will be relieved of my enemies, and I will avenge myself on my foes. 25 And I will turn my hand against you; I will purify your dross like lye cleans, and I will remove all your tin. 26 And I will restore your judges, as at the first, and your counselors, as at the beginning. After this it will be called for you the city of righteousness, faithful city.”

I will purify your dross

The LORD asks “how did this happen?” The once faithful bride has now become an adulterous whore. It is not too hard to see the picture. The question then is, what is God going to do about it. He had already given his city a chance to repent and become clean of her bloody hands. Now, he promises that if she does not get clean that way, he will do it for her. He will purify her dross. The picture there is one of smelting ore, removing all its extraneous dross. That is done in a hot furnace. It is a picture of a painful procedure for the city. People will die, devastation and danger will occur. God is serious about restoration.

Ultimately, this is the reason for judgment and hell. God does not turn his back on sin. All the rebellious and sinful must be destroyed. God is going to get rid of the dross. Eternity will not consist of both the good and the evil. Evil will end.

LORD, clean us now by the blood of Christ. We know that hell will put an end to all who are not fit for eternity with you.

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hashing it out with God

January 2015 (25)

Isaiah 1:15b-20

15b Your hands are full of blood. 16 Wash up! Make yourselves clean! Remove the evil of your actions from before my eyes! Stop doing evil! 17 Learn to do good! Seek justice! Rescue an oppressed one! Defend an orphan! Plead for a widow! 18 “Come now, and let us hash this out,” says Yahveh. “Even though your sins are like scarlet, they can be white like snow; even though they are red like crimson, they can become like wool. 19 If you are willing and you are obedient, you can eat the good of the land. 20 But if you refuse and you rebel, you will be devoured by a sword. Because the mouth of Yahveh has spoken.”

hashing it out with God

We Christians like to quote verse 18 out of its context a lot. The context in which Isaiah said it is this: Judah had become responsible for the deaths of many people by their corruption and failure to protect the weak ones among them. The poor and widows and orphans were being exploited, and nobody cared. Isaiah told them to look at their bloody hands. God caught them red handed in sinful neglect of justice. They had considered themselves good people. God said, “let’s hash this out. I’ll show you how good you are.”

He wants to do the same thing for us as well. He wants to uncover the nakedness of our own neglect. He wants to show us our red hands. Then, he wants to help us clean up.

LORD, forgive us for neglecting our neglect. Wash us with your redemption, and make us people who love people, and bring the oppressed justice.

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trouble at church

January 2015 (24)

Isaiah 1:7-15a

7 Your country is deserted, your cities have been burned up with fire; your land: aliens are devouring it in your presence, and it is desolate, as if devastated by foreigners. 8 And the daughter of Zion is left like a hut in a vineyard, like a shelter in a cucumber field, like a city that is besieged. 9 If Yahveh of armies had not left us survivor, we would have been as few as Sodom, we would have become like Gomorrah. 10 Hear the word of Yahveh, rulers of Sodom! Listen, the teaching of our God, people of Gomorrah! 11 What is that heap of your sacrifices to me? says Yahveh. I have had enough burnt offerings of rams and fat, fattened animals and I do not enjoy blood of bulls and ram-lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who asked for this from your hand: you trampling my courts? 13 You must not keep bringing useless offerings, incense—which stinks to me; each new moon and Sabbath, each calling of a convocation– I cannot endure iniquity when you assemble. 14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become to me like a burden I am not able to bear. 15a And when you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many a prayer, I am not listening.

trouble at church

Church worship services can be a refreshing, healing blessing for the worshipper. But sometimes they do not feel that way. Sometimes controversy and conflict make it a chore to go regularly to worship. Isaiah gives God’s perspective. The LORD felt that way about the regular services at the Jerusalem temple. He hated going there. The pile of slaughtered animals was repulsive to him. The incense, which was designed to please him, stunk literally to high heaven. So, even though God is everywhere, he decided to remain passive at the temple. People could pray all they wanted to, he would not listen. They can worship all they want, he would not look.

This world is full of religion. People gather in temples, mosques and churches all over the globe. They think that it makes a difference. But if they are rebelling against God, it doesn’t. The religion of the rebellious is repulsive to him.

LORD, forgive us for substituting religion for a relationship with you. Restore us, oh LORD, so that our worship brings you pleasure.

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spiritual dementia

January 2015 (23)

Isaiah 1:1-6

1 A vision from Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw with reference to Judah and Jerusalem during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Listen, sky, and discern, land, for Yahveh has spoken: “I reared children and I brought them up, but they rebelled against me. 3An ox knows its owner and a donkey the trough of its master. Israel does not know; my people do not understand. 4 Wow, sinful nation, a people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly. They have forsaken Yahveh; they have despised the holy one of Israel. They are estranged and perverted. 5 Why do you want to be beaten again? You continue rebelling. All of your head is sick, and all of your heart is weak. 6 From the sole of the foot and up to your head there is nothing healthy; your bruise and sore and bleeding wound has not been cleansed, and they have not been bound up and not treated with healing oil.

spiritual dementia

Isaiah pictures Judah as having suffered a horrible debilitating disease. He describes the disease as a kind of spiritual dementia, because not only does it cause much physical suffering, it has also caused Judah to forget who she is, where she came from, who she belongs to. Consequentially, she is not aware of the relationship she has with Yahveh, a relationship which would offer her relief, treatment and recovery. The disease goes untreated, and is just getting worse.

Such is the case with the world today as well. We know there is something wrong, but we have forgotten that there is a Great Physician who is ready to treat us. We go from bad to worse, refusing to acknowledge that God is ready to undo the damage.

LORD, here we are, checking in to your hospital. Forgive us for forgetting that you are the answer to our debilitating disease.

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obstacles to maturity

January 2015 (22)

Romans 16:17-27

17 Now I encourage you, brothers, to watch out for those who are causing the divisions and putting up stumbling blocks contrary to the teaching that you learned. Turn away from them! 18 Because these are the kind who do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own stomach. By their smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of the immature. 19 Your obedience is known to all and for this reason I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise in what is good and untainted in what is evil. 20 The God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. 21 Timothy, my coworker, greets you; so do Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my relatives. 22 I, Tertius, who am transcribing this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus the city treasurer and our brother Quartus greet you. 24 [1] 25 Now to him who is able to strengthen you as I teach when I share the gospel and proclaim Jesus Christ, according to the revealed mystery that had been kept secret for long ages, 26 but now has appeared, and through the prophetic scriptures has been made known to all the nations, as the eternal God has commanded, to bring about obedient believers– 27 to the only wise God, on account of Jesus Christ, be praised forever! Amen.

obstacles to maturity

Paul’s final warning and statement of confidence is so relevant to the present day, but its relevance touches so close to home for most of us that we dare not pay too close attention.

  1. Paul’s goal is mature, obedient believers, who have taken in his gospel teachings and have been transformed by them.
  2. Satan has determined that he will not allow this, but God has determined that Satan will be crushed under the feet of his faithful ones.
  3. Some within the church will seem to have no purpose beyond the causing of divisions within the body. Paul warns believers not just to avoid the divisions, but to turn away from those pushing their chosen side.
  4. Some in the church will do or say things which actually prevent the maturity and obedience rather than foster it. Paul warns believers to turn away from them as well.
  5. Ironically, the process of trying to obey Paul’s instructions here often cause us to be divisive and put obstacles before those who want to be more mature.
  6. The good news is that God is at work, and if we stay true to him, he will strengthen and mature us in spite of failures and factions.

LORD, we want to be strong and mature in our faith. We want to be obedient believers. Show us how to avoid divisions and distractions.

[1] This verse is omitted from the most trustworthy manuscripts of Romans.

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miracle behind the myth

January 2015 (21)

Romans 16:1-16

1 I am commending to you now our sister Phoebe, who is a deacon of the church in Cenchrea, 2 so that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints and provide her with whatever support she may need from you, because she has served as a patron of many, including me. 3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my coworkers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their own necks for my soul. It is not just me, but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them. 5 Also greet the assembly who gathers in their house. Greet my beloved Epenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked very hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives and my fellow prisoners. They are well known among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our coworker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the household of Aristobulus. 11 Greet Herodion, my relative. Greet those in the household of Narcissus who are in the Lord. 12 Greet Tryphena and Tryphosa, laborers in the Lord. Greet my beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother who was also a mother to me. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers with them. 15 Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the believers who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

miracle behind the myth

The myth is that Paul singlehandedly tamed the Gentile wilderness by bringing the gospel to every lost soul in the Roman empire. The miracle is even greater than the myth. This final chapter in Romans reveals that Paul encountered a host of coworkers, friends, patrons and church leaders now in Rome who at some point in time either supported his team or were a part of it. Some of these men and women were apostles (missionaries) like Paul, who were also laboring to bring the gospel to the unreached. Some were church leaders – like Phoebe, who was a deacon — (It is the same exact word, so if your theology cannot handle that, change your theology). Some were Paul’s relatives — how close we do not know. Others were just church members who at some point in time came in contact with Paul because they were doing what he is now famous for.

The LORD is doing that miracle now as well. Scores of souls are being brought into the coming sky kingdom, most not by superstars like Paul, but by people like those he mentions here.

LORD, make us part of your miracle – the multitude of unknowns who are making Jesus Christ known to the lost.

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Pushy Paul

January 2015 (20)

Romans 15:22-33

22 This is why I was often kept from coming to you. 23 But now there is nothing more to keep me in these regions, and I have for many years desired to come to you 24 on my way to Spain. Because I hope to visit you when I pass through and that you will support me on my journey there, after I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 26 For the believers in Macedonia and Achaia are pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem. 27 Because they were pleased to do this, and indeed they are indebted to the Jerusalem saints. Because if the Gentiles have shared in their spiritual things, they are obligated also to minister to them in material things. 28 Consequently, after I have completed this and have safely delivered this gift to them, I will set out for Spain by way of you, 29 and I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of Christ’s blessing. 30 Now I urge you, brothers, through our Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to join fervently with me in prayer to God on my behalf. 31 Pray that I may be rescued from those who are disobedient in Judea and that my ministry in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 Now may the God of peace be with all of you. Amen.

Pushy Paul

One of the things about being a missionary is the constant asking for help from others. Paul does not seem to have problems with that at all. He makes it quite clear that he plans to spend some time in Rome on his way to plant churches in Spain. He also makes it quite clear that he expects to be “refreshed” in the company of the Roman Christians. He wants to come in the fullness of Christ’s blessing. He reminds them how generous the churches in Macedonia and Achaia have been. He seems to utilize every way he can think of for getting money out of the Romans.

And he is not stopping there. He dares to ask them to take time out from their busy lives to pray for him and his mission on a regular basis as well. He wants prayer both for his present mission to Judea and for his longer term ministry plans in Spain.

Why is Paul so pushy? He understands that all ministry is mutual ministry. Even though he wants to plant churches where no one else has laid a foundation, he realizes that he cannot do it without the prayer and monetary support of others.

LORD, show us how to share in each others’ ministry by prayer, encouragement, and financial support.

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not to build on a stranger’s foundation

January 2015 (19)

Romans 15:14-21

14 But I myself am fully persuaded about you, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, and able to instruct one another. 15 But I have written with more intensity to you on some points so as to remind you, because of the grace given to me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles. I serve the gospel of God like a priest, so that the Gentiles may become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 So I brag about Christ Jesus — about the things that pertain to God. 18 Because I will not dare to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in order to bring about the obedience of the Gentiles, by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem even as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. 20 And what I want to do is keep preaching where Christ has not been named, so as not to build on a stranger’s foundation, 21 but as scripture puts it: “Those who were not told about him will see, and those who have not heard will understand.”[1]

not to build on a stranger’s foundation

Paul had been teaching the Romans to foster unity among themselves by bearing with their differences and exalting Christ as a whole. Now, he tells them that this is what the LORD has done through him and his ministry. He has been able to bring unreached people to Christ, and establish churches throughout the Roman empire . What’s more, those churches are made up of a people from various backgrounds, just like the church at Rome is. This is how the Holy Spirit works.

When people conjecture about why there does not seem to be much growth happening among traditional churches today, they often miss one valuable fact. Paul’s churches were designed as examples of God’s desire to reach the whole community. They were multi-ethnic and multi-cultural. Perhaps the Holy Spirit wants to plant churches like that today as well.

LORD, we do not want to build on a stranger’s foundation. Show us how to plant churches that bring glory to you.

[1] Isaiah 52:15.

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