How do you feel about America? How do you feel about life in this country? Many are frustrated by the ungodly things that occur daily in our country. We do not like these changes taking place; we do not like the decisions that are handed down. We do not like the moral shifts. We do not like the rise of sexuality in our culture that is driven by the entertainment industry. What kind of country are we becoming? It seems to be beyond our control. It seems to be happening despite our personal efforts to stop it. It is becoming more difficult to shield our children from its negative influences. How do you feel about America?
Actually, a more important question should concern us: How does God feel about America? As God looked at Israel in the first five chapters of Isaiah, He reveals His pattern for judgment and what He looks for a nation to do. There are some amazing parallels between the social conditions in Israel that prompted God to respond in Isaiah's time and the social conditions of America today. If you read the first five chapters of Isaiah and picture in your mind that He is talking to America, it seems uncannily similar to our present situation. We must know that the same standards that God used to judge Israel, He will use to judge America. And if God did not withhold that judgment from Israel what makes us think He would withhold it from America, or any other nation? This is important to understand.
The political climate in Israel in that day is similar to America today. Social conditions and world politics were unstable and violent. Power was grasped by assassination and terrorism. Covert operations, as we call them today, were commonplace in that day as well: spies, bribes, and conspiracies. The world faced war after war after war and never really settled anything. They just had a different name on the throne. Nations sought to buy friendship and peace by exhorting tribute or by giving foreign aid. Social justice belonged to those who could afford it. Government officials were manipulated by bribes and kickbacks. Decision making ability was in the hands of the few who enjoyed plush luxury while the poor scrounged for their next meal. They promoted wars for their own economic growth while those who exploited and profited from it did not actually have to go and fight themselves. For us those similarities are intriguing. Listen to Isaiah 1:2: "Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! This is what the Lord says: 'The children I raised and cared for have turned against me. Even the animals--the donkey and the ox--know their owner and appreciate his care, but not my people Israel. No matter what I do for them, they still do not understand. Oh, what a sinful nation they are! They are loaded down with a burden of guilt. They are evil and corrupt children who have turned away from the Lord. They have despised the Holy One of Israel, cutting themselves off from his help. Why do they continue to invite punishment? Must you rebel forever? Your head is injured, and your heart is sick. You are sick from head to foot--covered with bruises, welts, and infected wounds-without any ointments or bandages.'" Historically, does that sound like American?
Those who came to this country were devoutly religious, our settlers came here to find religious freedom, not simply freedom to do as they pleased. They sought freedom to grow closer to God. Freedom, as freedom, was not the goal. God was the goal. Freedom was the vehicle to get to the goal. In America today freedom itself has become the mantra. Freedom to do as one pleases, even if it means killing a baby in the womb, passing our children off for someone else to raise, or destroying our marriages because we indulge sexual desire without restraint. God's ways are ignored as too restrictive, as being against personal freedom. Individual liberty, personal expression, is the highest value that occupies America's attention. We have lost our way, we cannot think clearly, our "head is injured," we cannot feel clearly, our "heart is sick." The social and political parallels are striking.
There are also religious parallels. Isaiah 1:11-15 describes Israel's religious condition. "'I am sick of your sacrifices,' says the Lord. 'Don't bring me any more burnt offerings! I don't want the fat from your rams or other animals. I don't want to see the blood from your offerings of rams and goats. Why do you keep parading through my courts with your worthless sacrifices? The incense you bring me is a stench in my nostrils! Your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath day, and your special days for fasting--even your most pious meetings--are all sinful and false. I want nothing more to do with them. I hate all your festivals and sacrifices. I cannot stand the sight of them! From now on, when you lift up your hands in prayer, I will refuse to look. Even though you offer many prayers, I will not listen. For your hands are covered with the blood of your innocent victims.'" They were celebrating what God had done in the past but they had forgotten about God Himself. How do you think God, our Lord, feels about Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving, and All Saint's Day? Sunday has become a play day, filled with football, golf, and auto races. The Babe in Swaddling Clothes has been replaced by Santa Claus, by commercialism. The Easter Cross is overshadowed by the Easter Bunny. All Saint's Day is devoured by ghosts and goblins on "Hallowed Eve." Thanksgiving is a celebration of gluttony and the starting gun for the annual shopping spree. It sounds like God was talking directly to America, 2,700 years ago.
There are also economic parallels. Israel was rich. Their land was full of silver and gold, horses, and livestock. They had chariots and weapons of war. They were smug in their military power. "Their land was full of idols. They bowed down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers had made" (Isaiah 2:8). Do you recognize the materialism in our country, how we seem to adjust our lives to serve our possessions, working overtime to buy what we do not have time to enjoy?
There are also moral parallels. God looked at Israel and told them that He saw moral parallels between them and Sodom and Gomorrah. "You act just like the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah" (1:10). That must have stung Israel's leaders. Sodom and Gomorrah has always been the moral example of a corrupt people, and now God says, "You are like them."
America is becoming alarmingly like Sodom and Gomorrah. Our entertainment industry is barraging us with sex and sensuality at every turn. Those who espouse deviate sexual lifestyles are elevated as heroes of free expression and liberty. There are few limits to what they will do or say to gain attention. Alcohol, drugs, and other mind-altering substances saturate our culture. They cloud thinking and lower inhibitions against doing evil. All of these parallels should alarm us.
The end result of Israel's social, political, spiritual, and moral rebellion was judgment. For them it was exile. If we do not turn from our self-indulgent, "wicked" ways, What judgment awaits us? If He did not spare Israel, His specially-chosen nation, What makes us think He will spare us?
But I do have some good news, great news! It is not too late. For our God is a God not only of justice, but also of love and mercy. In chapter 5, He says, "When I look for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?" When God looks at us does He see only bad? I believe that as God looks at America He still sees some good. There are good things happening. There are godly branches that still yield sweet grapes.
Do you remember the days of Noah and how God looked upon the world and "… every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time" (Genesis 6:5)? "Only, every, all," there was nothing else, so God said, it's time to start fresh.
Do you remember when God sent the angel of death to Sodom and Gomorrah and Abram chose to argue with God and said, "There's some good things there," and God said, "I've looked, I've checked, I know there is not." But Abram said, "I know there's got to be 50 righteous men there." God said, "Well, I will look again if you want, but I know there is not." America is deserving of God's judgment. But America also receives the mercy of God. So, as we think through how do we feel about America, I want you to know there is hope.
There are three things we are called to do before God. First, He calls us to bear good fruit. That we be pockets of sweet grapes, of strength, of help within this country. What is bearing good fruit? God tells us very clearly and very simply in two Old Testament passages that Israel should have known, and so should we! Micah 6:8 and Malachi 3:16-17 tell us what God wants from us. Is it great feats of ascetic self-sacrifice? Or, ultra rule keeping? These verses say it plainly. Micah 6:8: "No, O people, the Lord has already told you what is good, and this is what he requires: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." Malachi 3:16-17: "Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. 'They will be my people,' says the Lord Almighty. 'On the day when I act, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient and dutiful child.'"
The LORD makes it very simple--to live justly, to do the right thing, to love mercy when others around us do not do the right thing, and then to walk humbly with Him. Involve Him in your life. Let Him be your personal Saviour and Lord. Not simply doing well and being nice, but walking with your God. Have a living relationship with the Living God who made you. That is what He created us for.
When you look at the judgments of God outlined in the first five chapters of Isaiah, one of the foundational things that comes up is the oppression of the poor. We all hear people complaining about social security and welfare, and it is often frustrating. But God is thankful and I am thankful that someone is trying to do something to help the oppressed. Are there excesses and problems in this system? Absolutely! Should those things be exposed and corrected? Absolutely. But don't throw the system away. God is thankful that we are caring. If with all the foreign aid we send around the world, only one dollar out of every fifty goes to really help somebody, I am glad there is a dollar for somebody out there, to feed hungry children, to heal and help the helpless. And then there is all the missionary work Americans support. Much good is being done.
Secondly, He calls us to trust him. Our money declares: "In God we trust." I think those words may soon disappear too, but while we have it, we need to live up to it. Are we truly trusting in God? So often we are frustrated or upset at the way things are done. We complain and whine but that does not change things, they just get us in an emotional stew. We are called to recognize that God is bigger than our government and the system of things that we see.
The greatest men, the greatest activity, the greatest things that God has ever done have always been done in governments that are against Him. God raised up Daniel in the middle of Nebuchadnezzar's reign. He sent Jonah to Ninevah. Joseph was taken in chains to Egypt. Then God brought Moses out of Pharoah's land. And He sent Jesus to a Jewish culture oppressed by corrupt Roman dictators.
I am thankful that our government supports humanitarian efforts. I am thankful it still has a few religious underpinnings. But at the same time, I am a little frustrated by the way most people equate being American with being Christian just because there is some God-talk. And I'm convinced America might be better off if we actually did away with some of it. Then, Christians might actually standout from the rest of the world, from the culture in which we are absorbed.
I am not afraid of our government taking the religion out of our culture. In fact, I expect it to happen. But I know it is not going to change me. And I am sure my children and my grandchildren will get a huge dose of God, whether the schools teach it, condone it, or not. I am not personally afraid of a godless government. But I do fear what godless governments do. Throughout history godless governments have committed great atrocities. They reason they have nothing above them to restrain their actions. Great faith has been fostered during these harsh times. God still has a way of shining through the darkest hours of human history. But many died and suffered amid the darkness.
Do not be stirred up for no good purpose but find a good purpose. Personally bring God's truth, light, and love to your little part of America. If God puts you in the position like He put Esther, or Joseph, or Daniel, or Moses, or David, or Nehemiah, then get involved in government and bring good change there. Otherwise get on with something else that will spread goodness in the world. If you are frustrated because you cannot change the world, change your home, your school, your office, your neighborhood. In the midst of our increasingly godless society, God continually works in the lives of individuals.
Most of you reading this are Christians because God worked through somebody else to teach you about Jesus, to build some spiritual principles in your life, to explain God's Word, to tell you about who He was, and what He wants to do in your life. You can do the same for others, and that changes your world.
We need to pray for our nation and your influence in your neighborhood. Pray against its evils and pray for the good. We need to separate ourselves from the corruption and cleave to what is right and true. As God tells us in Isaiah 1, personal corruption separates us from God. It makes our prayers worthless and actually a stench in His sight. The prayer of a righteous man can avail much.
Even if the nation turns from God, you can remain true to Him! If you bear holy fruit, trust in Him and His ways, and pray for change, God will work. The fate of our nation is not beyond repair, but if we do not live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, judgment will come. May it be said of you and I, they "Feared God and loved to think about Him."
OUR HOLY GOD
Isaiah 6 begins with a problem. It says, "In the year that King Uzziah died ..." Uzziah had been the king of Judah for 52 years. That is quite a kingship. That is a lifetime. Uzziah was the only king that Isaiah knew and the land had been very secure and prosperous. The king was no longer on the throne. Isaiah felt insecure. The future was unsure. But God had something He wanted to teach Isaiah, and us as readers of His Word. "Uzziah may be dead, but I am still on the throne. I am the one who gave Judah the prosperity, security, protection, and strength during Uzziah's years. And I am still living! Fear me and you shall prosper."
To teach him these truths, God gave Isaiah a unique and powerful vision that forever changed his life. Isaiah 6:1-9 are powerful verses. Isaiah is having a vision that takes him on an emotional, intellectual, and spiritual rollercoaster. "In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord. He was sitting on a lofty throne, and the train of his robe filled the Temple. Hovering around him were mighty seraphim, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with the remaining two they flew. In a great chorus they sang, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty! The whole earth is filled with his glory!' The glorious singing shook the Temple to its foundations, and the entire sanctuary was filled with smoke. Then I said, 'My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!' Then one of the seraphim flew over to the altar, and he picked up a burning coal with a pair of tongs. He touched my lips with it and said, 'See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven.' Then I heard the Lord asking, 'Whom should I send as a messenger to my people? Who will go for us?' And I said, 'Lord, I'll go! Send me.'" This vision set Isaiah on course to have one of the most interesting and vital ministries of any Old Testament prophet.
The angels in Isaiah's vision are described as having six wings, with each set of two having an important purpose. Verse two tells us about the wings. "With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew." What is the meaning of the placement of the wings? It seems to be an important part of the vision. The placement of the wings speaks to us of the character of these mighty beings. Unlike the fallen Lucifer, Satan, who proudly walks on the earth seeking whom he may devour, disrespectful of God's authority, these angels stay around God's throne and sing of His glory, not their own.
The two wings covering their faces speak of their deep reverence and respect for God. The two covering their feet speak of their humility as they move about in God's presence. The two that fly speak about their obedience to do God's will. They restrain themselves to do what God wants them to do, and nothing else. If they were inclined they could fly faster with all six wings and impose their will on many because of their strength if they wanted to live independent of God. But out of humility and reverence for God they exist within His purposes for them. And they are not complaining. Satan bucks at God's authority. These angels sing His praises. They sing of what they know about Him. "In a great chorus they sang, 'Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty!'"
God's holiness is the expression of His immeasurable goodness and total lack of guile, deceit, or perversity of any kind. There is no one else like Him. He is absolutely unique. The angels sang "holy, holy, holy" three times. One of the ways Hebrew writing emphasized something is to repeat it. When the Hebrew repeats something it is for impact. It is like saying, "I saw a stone. I saw a big stone. I saw a big, big stone. I saw a big, big, big stone." If someone were to speak like this, you would understand that he or she was describing a gigantic boulder. A boulder beyond what anyone could lift, beyond what anyone could handle himself. When the angels say "holy, holy, holy," they are saying that God's holiness is beyond measure, beyond what they could bear. And so they covered their eyes while in God's presence.
Isaiah was a pretty good guy by human standards. For the most part, he did the right things. He was like most of us. But compared to God, he was not good enough. In fact, as he saw God's holy glory in his vision he cursed himself because of his sinfulness. Isaiah had no moral right to be where he was, before God's very throne. And he knew it. Isaiah confesses his sin in the presence of God and His angels. At Isaiah's confession, God has His angel touch Isaiah with a coal from the holy altar. This act symbolizes God's holy provision for human sinfulness. In light of Christ's holy sacrifice, Isaiah's guilt can be removed from him and forgiveness granted. It is the Lord's holy altar that makes the coal special, able to symbolize holy purity. First John 1:9 speaks to the importance of confession in God's plan for us: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." As we see with Isaiah, the need for confession and repentance has always existed. Confession is not a New Testament invention. God's heart is toward us, but our sin often separates us from Him. Confession and repentance, based on Christ's work at Calvary, restores the relationship between God and sinful men and women.
When I was a little boy, when I was 10 years old, I dreamed of my 10th Christmas. All my friends had new two-wheel bicycles and I wanted one. Christmas morning I could not wait to get up. At 6:00 am, I crawled out of bed, opened the door, and looked in the living room and saw a bunch of presents under the tree. None of them was big enough to hold a bicycle. I thought, "Well, maybe they just haven't put it together yet, maybe it's not time yet." Around 9:00 my parents got up. We opened the presents but there was no bicycle. I had new underwear, a little tool set, so I was somewhat happy, but there was no bike. Another year without a bike. All my friends would cruise down the road in their nice bikes and I had to ride my old clunker. My dad said, "David, time to clean up and take out all the packages." That was not what I wanted to do at that moment. I was wallowing in self-pity. But I did it. When I rounded the corner with my arms full of trash I walked into a big red bike with a red ribbon tied to it. Until that point, I was thinking that maybe I asked for too much.
My parents did not have a good crop on the farm that year. Maybe they could not afford it. Maybe it just was not going to happen for me this year, again. Maybe I did not deserve it. I even thought that they did not love me. After all, I was an afterthought, an accident. I was not planned. My next sibling is 17 years older than I am. But when I turned that corner and saw the bike, I knew I was wrong. I had manufactured all kinds of things in my mind that were false. I had plenty of evidence that my parents loved me, but I let my disappointment deceive me.
How many of you are disappointed with God? How many of you feel like I did, frustrated and lonely. Do you say things like these to yourself? "Maybe it is too much to expect. Maybe, I am not deserving. Maybe, I am not one of the chosen. Maybe, I am not really loved by God." All those are wrong. Psalm 22:3 says, "The Lord dwells in the praises of his people." You say, "Huh, that is a picture I cannot grasp." He lives, He dwells, He is enthroned, it says, in the praises of his people. When you praise God, God becomes real to you. He begins to dwell in your heart, you recognize who He is. It is like saying "Hello," rather than ignoring Him. And then God can respond to you.
The word "worship" comes from a Hebrew word that means, to bow down, to have affection for, to kiss. Worship and praise are two different things. Praise is extolling, lifting up, valuing who He is with our words. Worship comes from the inside, from our hearts. We sing worship songs, but the goal is not to sing worship songs, the goal is to worship. Let me be very clear about something. You do not have to sing to worship. Worship is what happens when we catch a glimpse of God's Being and then internally bow before Him out of reverence and love--reverence for who He is and love for what He has done.
The correct response to what God has done for us is a thankful willingness to let Him influence our lives. That is why Isaiah says, "Here am I, send me." Isaiah had a willing, responsive heart. Contrast this with Moses who was asked, "Will you do this for me?" but came up with all kinds of excuses why he could not. Isaiah overheard God saying, "Oh, I wish I could warn my people, to express my words and thoughts in a clear way they can understand. To paint the pictures that I see of what they are doing. I wish there was someone who could go." Isaiah went. Isaiah was willing to go and speak God's message to His people.
God has created each one of us to have a personal relationship with Him. The scene Isaiah describes in chapter 6 does not depict a close, personal, intimate relationship between God and His angelic messengers. They cannot even look at Him as He shines in His glory. A celestial hug does not seem possible.
Brothers and sisters, this very person who struck awe and fear in the angelic hosts took off His kingly robe, descended the heavenly throne, passed the angelic hosts, and wrapped Himself in swaddling clothes, thorns, sweat, blood, and heartache. John 12:41 tells us that the majesty Isaiah sees actually belongs to Christ Himself, the Son of God, before His incarnation. This majestic One who provoked the angels to hide their faces out of reverence and cover their feet out of humility, is the same Lord who united Himself with humanity to suffer, bleed, and die at Calvary's cross, an act that made it possible for Isaiah's, yours, and my sins to be forgiven.
The Bible tells us in two major passages who God is at His core. The two passages are Isaiah 6:1-4 and 1 John 4:7-8. We have already read Isaiah 6:1-4. Now listen to 1 John 4:7-8: "Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. But anyone who does not love does not know God--for God is love."
God is, at His core, holy-love. Holiness points to His goodness. Love points to His caring. God loves His own goodness and is willing to defend it from all who would try to pollute and overthrow it. God cares about His goodness because it results in blessings for His creatures. God's goodness cannot help but overflow into the lives of His creatures, it is His nature to care.
A definition of God's holiness offered by Thomas Traherne gives us a connection between holiness and love. God is not two qualities at His core but one viewed from different perspectives. Traherne said this about God's holiness: "The infinite love of his own goodness is the holiness of God…. Holiness is that virtue in God, by which he loves the most perfect things, and infinitely delighteth in them. For by virtue of this affection he shuns and hates all that is profane, pursuing and delighting in all that is holy" (Christian Ethicks, p. 87). Now, how does someone who is holy-love in His core solve the relationship problem? He gets involved! Personally!
Ironic, isn't it? The Lord sits on His throne and even the angels have to shield their eyes because of His holiness. At Calvary, in plain view, the Lord hangs on the cross, half-naked and beaten, and Jew and Gentile look and sneer. It is at Calvary where God exhibited His greatest glory for all who are willing to see. It is not the blinding light that grabs our hearts, it is the crown of thorns, the spital on the face, and the heartache of separation from the Father that draws us toward Him.
With this picture in your mind, will you allow God to touch your lips? Will you agree with Isaiah and give God's message to others around you? America is growing more corrupt much as Judah was in Isaiah's day. God commanded Isaiah to warn the people. Most did not listen. But some did!
THE ROCK OF OUR SALVATION
What condemns us in the sight of God? Is it our many sins, acts of doing wrong? As we look at the world around us, is it the lying, cheating, violence, or rampant sexuality that gets us in trouble? These behaviors, and behaviors like them (Galatians 5:19-21), do result in negative and destructive consequences, but are they the reason God condemns us? I want you to understand that our disposition toward sin involves more than the commission of individual sins.
Look at Satan. Before he became Satan, God's primary adversary, he was the greatest of God's created creatures. His name was Lucifer, which means bright and shining Morning Star. He had honor and glory beyond any other created being. But there was one thing he did not have. He did not have the glory that was reserved only for God. Instead of being satisfied with the righteous order of things, he attempted to set himself on equal ground with God Himself. "How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world. For you said to yourself, 'I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God's stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High'" (Isaiah 14:12-14). Satan is our example of what God hates about sin.
Satan opposed God's created order, God's will. God is Who He is! Unlike any other! He is the great "I Am." When Moses asked God for His name, the Lord said, "I Am, the One Who always is." Lucifer became Satan when he replaced the great "I Am" with himself. He became his own "I am." He usurped God's right to his heart. He became his own authority. We do the same thing. We are little "I-am's" who have made deliberate and emphatic declarations of independence from God. This involves more than committing individual sins; it involves siding with Satan against God's holy right to rule His universe, to rule our lives. That is what the sin nature is all about. We are born little, screaming "I am's." But God comes to us and says, "Put yourself in proper perspective. How can you, the puny "I am" that you are, think yourself to be above the great "I AM?" Come and sit under My umbrella of strength and mercy. I have paid the penalty for your rebellion. Come to Me and I will give you rest. Come to Me and I will restore our relationship."
Restoration involves three steps, or phases--reconciliation, regeneration, and realignment. Reconciliation means becoming friends again. Regeneration involves establishing a heartbeat in our relationship with Him. Realignment involves ordering our lives around Him as our personal cornerstone. Isaiah 8, 26, and 28 help us to understand these three phases of restoration.
Reconciliation involves a change of attitude toward God. An attitude change from independence and self-sufficiency, and even opposition, to an attachment based on affection and friendship. Jesus told His disciples in John 15 that they were His friends. "You are my friends if you obey me. I no longer call you servants, because a master doesn't confide in his servants. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me."
Imagine, the Son of God, who provoked the angels in Isaiah 6 to cover their eyes because of His glory calls His disciples "friends." A secular king does not share much information or time with his subjects. To walk into the presence of a king in Esther's day without an invitation could get one killed (Esther 4:11). And to call the common person "friend" was unthinkable. Yet, the King of Kings calls His disciples "friends."
Notice, Jesus said a criteria of friendship is a certain openness that is willing to share personal information with each other, information that centers on the intentions and behaviors closest to their hearts. A reading of Isaiah 8 finds verses 11-14, a passage about trusting God, surrounded by verses where God is revealing future events that those who have a heart toward Him might learn to trust Him despite the uncertainty. God cares about His people. He wants their hearts to be calm and peaceful so He gives them something to trust Him for, a place where their hearts and minds can rest. The Lord is a strong rock worthy of our trust! "Do not think like everyone else does. Do not be afraid that some plan conceived behind closed doors will be the end of you. Do not fear anything except the Lord Almighty. He alone is the Holy One. If you fear him, you need fear nothing else. He will keep you safe" (Isaiah 8:11-14a).
Regeneration is being made alive to God. Our spiritual heart starts beating again. Isaiah 26:8 describes a heart that is alive toward God: "Lord, we love to obey your laws; our heart's desire is to glorify your name." He is the eternal Rock (v. 4) worthy of our trust and affection. He will not let us down. The proud will be humbled but the righteous will have their paths made smooth and straight (v. 7). Those who are spiritually alive receive (vs. 12, 19) the kindness of God and turn it into peace, joy, and righteousness. The wicked trample it and multiple their unrighteousness. "Your kindness to the wicked does not make them do good. They keep doing wrong and take no notice of the Lord's majesty" (v. 10). The spiritually alive value God's mercy and kindness and do not habitually abuse it, as the wicked do.
Realignment involves aligning our hearts and lives around God. Merrill Unger helps us understand what a cornerstone is. "The stone at the corner of two walls and uniting them; specifically, the stone built into one corner of the foundation of an edifice as the actual or nominal starting point of a building." God is at the core of all that we are and do. He is our compass for living in this world and the next. God said in Isaiah 28:16: "Look! I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem. It is firm, a tested and precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never run away again."
Who or what is this cornerstone He is referring to? Peter tells us in 1 Peter 2:4-6. "Come to Christ, who is the living cornerstone of God's temple. He was rejected by the people, but he is precious to God who chose him. And now God is building you, as living stones, you are God's holy priests, who offer the spiritual sacrifices that please him because of Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures express it, 'I am placing a stone in Jerusalem, a chosen cornerstone, and anyone who believes in him will never be disappointed.'" Isaiah is speaking about Jesus Christ. Trust Him and you shall live. Reject Him and you will remain spiritually dead. It is Christ who we look toward to align our hearts and lives. As we look to Him our hearts and lives are straightened and crookedness is removed.
Our goal is not to live and die and get to heaven. Heaven is not a reward. Heaven is a place God has prepared for all who are restored to Him--those who love and honor Him. Our goal is to excel with Him in life. Each of us strives for personal, spiritual independence. We go through life trying to patch up our own dents, trying to add special fuel additives and think that our lives look healthy and fine. We add trinkets to the outside, flaming decals to cover up the mess that's on the inside. It is better to team up with the chief engineer and follow His plan for your life. To gain his expertise. Romans 9:30 says it clearly, "The Gentiles have obtained salvation, have obtained righteousness, by faith, but Israel who pursued the law of righteousness, has not attained it." Why? They did not pursue it by faith. They pursued heaven as if it were a reward.
The Pharisees were rebuked by Jesus because they sought to please God and enter heaven on their own merit. They sought to crash the gates of heaven with their righteousness deeds, which, ironically, were not righteous at all. Jesus tells them (John 8:42-47) what God thinks of their lifestyle. "If God were your Father, you would love me, because I have come to you from God. I am not here on my own, but he sent me. Why can't you understand what I am saying? It is because you are unable to do so! For you are the children of your father the Devil, and you love to do the evil things he does…. Anyone whose Father is God listens gladly to the words of God. Since you don't, it proves you aren't God's children." All who try to enter heaven on their own merit will hear those same words!
When you look at who Jesus had the best relationship with, it was those who were thrashed by life. It was these who readily came to Him for restoration. The prostitute, the tax collector, the ones who admitted they couldn't get it together on their own. The disposition of heart that says I put myself under your authority is what God is seeking from us. If you are not a prostitute, or something similar, it does not mean you cannot become close to God. Those who have sunk to the bottom of human depravity know that they cannot be righteous on their own. An open heart can know that without becoming a prostitute, drug dealer, or murderer. Honest self-examination and correct appraisal of God's character and power should drive us to our knees in repentance no matter who we are or what we have done.
One of the rules of automotive restoration is that if you're going to use it, it's going to get damaged. If it's going to be on the road, it's bound to get messed up. God wants us on the road. He did not build us to be trailer queens, hauled around from show to show to show off. He built us to run, to drive, to carry, to transport, to facilitate. Yes, you can be restored to God but negative stuff still creeps in. There are chips of metal that get into the oil that will destroy your engine if they are not removed. Timing occasionally needs to be reset. No Christian can remain righteous and true to God without spiritual maintenance. Sometimes you need to change some things to get back in line.
Paul's admonition to the Corinthians is instructive. "Examine yourselves to see if your faith is really genuine. Test yourselves. If you cannot tell that Jesus Christ is among you, it means you have failed the test. I hope you recognize that we have passed the test and are approved by God. We pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. We pray this, not to show that our ministry to you has been successful, but because we want you to do right even if we seem to have failed. Our responsibility is never to oppose the truth, but to stand for the truth at all times. We are glad to be weak, if you are really strong. What we pray for is your restoration to maturity" (2 Corinthians 13:5-9).
God is the Rock of our salvation and spiritual strength. But His strength can only help us if we rely on Him, if we trust Him. This same Rock who can strengthen the meek and humble will oppose and crush the proud. "Their large cities will be deserted as overgrown thickets. They will become like the cities of the Amorites abandoned when the Israelites came here so long ago. Why? Because you have turned from the God who can save you-the Rock who can hide you. You may plant the finest imported grapevines, and they may grow so well that they blossom on the very morning you plant them, but you will never pick any grapes from them. Your only harvest will be a load of grief and incurable pain…. This is the just reward of those who plunder and destroy the people of God" (Isaiah 17:9-14).
The choice is yours. The Rock can either be your solid and trustworthy foundation for living or it will be that which crushes you. If you try to storm the gates of heaven in your own righteousness you will be crushed under the infinite holiness of God Almighty! You will cover yourself before His holiness as the angels did in Isaiah 6. Your mouth will be stopped and you will have no case to present on your behalf (Romans 3:19). My prayer for you is that you experience God's strength on your behalf as a forgiven child of God. May you not be counted among those who are crushed under the mighty hand of God! Repent and be restored and you shall live!
STAND FIRM OR FALL
As I read Isaiah chapters 7-50, I almost feel like I am reading today's newspaper. Newspapers from 2,700 years ago would have been filled with all kinds of bad news. Names and places that are unfamiliar to us, events that were threats to daily comforts and routines. In Isaiah's day war and rumors of wars were common. Violence was all around them, closing in on their very lives. They were about as destructive as 9-11 was in this country, about as normal as a terrorist driving into an Army camp and blowing it up and killing hundreds of people. Israel had its problems; danger seemed to lurk around every corner.
Isaiah chapters 7-50 take a tour of the whole Middle East. Chapter 13 talks about Babylon, which is Iraq; 15 talks about Jordan; 17 talks about Syria; 18 about Ethiopia, 19 about Egypt, 20 about Iran; 23 talks about the Palestinians; and 44 talks about the Persians. And to each God promises His judgment because of their rebellion. Despite their armies and military power, all will fall.
Reading Isaiah 7's reference to Ahaz, Rezin, and Pekah, all rulers of nations, is like reading US News and World Report, the international section, but the names have been changed to Arafat, Bin Laden, and Saddam Hussein. Those were big names in Isaiah's day and most of us have never heard of them. In a few years Bush, Saddam Hussein, and Bin Laden, will fade from the world's political stage the same way Reagan, Gorbachev, and Ayatollah Khomeni have faded. We have lost interest in them. They mean little or nothing to us now. This is a significant point. God asks, "Why are you afraid of them? They are just men and I have My eternal plan and your destiny in My hands." God is forever, but men are temporal on this earthly stage!
Isaiah 7:5 says, "Aram, Ephraim, and the sons of Remaliah have plotted against you saying, Let us invade Judah and let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves?" Anybody in the Middle East want to do that today? Does that sound like it could be tomorrow's headlines of what they are plotting? "Let us divide Judah and tear it apart and divide it among ourselves," they say, but God said, "NO!, it will not. It will not happen." God continues in verse 8, "For the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Resin and he is just a man. Why are you afraid of him? Within sixty-five years Ephraim, too, will be shattered." They are just temporary flesh with temporary glory but God is forever!
Isaiah 7:1-9 follow a familiar pattern in Scripture. A lesson is taught, a truth is given, and an admonition calling for commitment follows. After the lesson of the first eight verses, verse nine is the commitment verse. "If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established." In other words, "If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all." Amid the flurry of temporal turmoil hold on to your eternal destiny! Amid all the things you read in the newspapers, the reports, the TV programs, 60 Minutes, let God secure your heart with His eternal plan. The chief lesson God wants to teach us in Isaiah 7 and 8 is this: "Don't worry about them, you need to worry about me. For I am the one who holds control of the earth and I am the one to whom you are going to be held accountable. Stand firm in faith or you will not stand at all."
What does it mean to stand firm in our faith? How do we accomplish it? First, we must rest in God's peace. If we are standing firm, we have the peace of God, we have the security that He is holding our lives in His hands. Remember the story of Moses and the Red Sea. Egypt's army is barreling down upon them and Moses stands before the people and says, "Do not be afraid, stand firm, and you will see the deliverance the Lord brings to you today. The Egyptians you see today, you will never see again. In fact, no one will ever see them again." They went down. If we are firm in our faith, we will have God's peace.
In America we have the best military in the world, we feel we can rely upon that and do not have to run away in fear. In fact, we are proud of that. In today's threatening times it is a blessing to have a strong military. But where does your security rest? Even with a strong military, do we still look to God for help and protection? Isaiah 31:1-5 says, "Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help and rely upon their horses or trust in chariots because they are many or horsemen because they are very strong but who do not look to the holy one of Israel nor seek the Lord." America must never forget God. When we do, all the military might in the world will not save us.
If you were king, and a ruthless army was coming to capture, kill, and enslave you, your wife, and your children, what would you do? Run away or try to build alliances. The problem with the king of Israel was not that he sought help, but that he had no trust in God. It is the same way with America. Whether it is horses or tanks or B-2 bombers or stealth fighters, our ultimate trust cannot be in these things. New dangers will arise. New weapons make old weapons obsolete every year. Anthrax and poison and 'dirty bombs' all promise to hurt and kill us. We must learn the lesson of Isaiah 7:9--stand firm in faith or you won't stand at all. "Thus says the Lord, as the lion or young lion growls over its prey, against which a band of shepherds is called out and he, being the lion, will not be terrified at their voice, the shepherd's voice, or disturbed at their noise, the shepherds have no effect upon these young lions. So will the Lord of hosts come down" (Isaiah 31:4). The human shepherds were useless, but God saved His people. He got involved to fulfill His plan. If it is not within His overall plan, it will not happen!
David expressed it beautifully in Psalm 23: "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures." He provides me what I need. He continues, "Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me." And the vivid, the literal picture that is given here is not simply someone who is dying, someone who is fearful of dying, but is one who is going through a valley of extreme darkness and terrors. Where predators are lurking, in the rocks and the valleys. Their eyes are aglow hiding in the bushes, in the middle of the night. They stare at the sheep and the sheep have no place to go because they are walled in. They cannot get away, they are bleeding, helpless, but they realize they have nothing to fear for the Lord is their shepherd and He will be able to take care of them.
David finishes in verse 6, "Surely goodness and loving kindness will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." I am going to stay in His sheepfold because that is the only place that is secure. I am going to stay in the center of where He wants me. It is not worth exploring other valleys. "Stand firm in your faith or you won't stand at all." Stand firm in your faith or you'll be running for the rest of you life.
Secondly, stand firm in the faith means we have God's perspective on life. In America we usually do not spend our time running from things. Usually we consume our time running after things. Israel had just experienced 50 years of security and prosperity that lulled them into a sense of invincibility and selfish materialism. But their land was full of idols. Their trust was in other things rather than God. Other things were at the center of their attention. "Their land is full of idols. They bow down to the work of their hands, to what their fingers have made" (Isaiah 2:8). Standing firm in faith means that you live according to God's perspective and values. You do not live to buy the next toy or work to pay for the toys that you have already lost interest in, but you get God's perspective of what is truly valuable.
Thirdly, standing in faith means that you have God's purpose in your life. As Psalms 33 says, "The plans of the Lord stand firm forever." First Corinthians tells us, "My dear brother, stand firm and let nothing move you. But always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain." Most of our work, folks, is in vain. Most of the things we strive after, most of the effort, the things we spend our time and days doing, end up being in vain. They end up accounting for very little. The raises we strive after are soon eaten up by inflation. The promotions we desire seem to just add stress to our life. The houses we dream of having end up just becoming a big, long list of chores and the cars we crave, they break down and rust away. Stand firm in your faith and do not let people or things distract you!
Does 'standing firm' describe you? Do you see yourself as firm in your faith or is there room to grow in your life? Not simply in your commitment to Christ, but in your commitment to walk with God through each and every day. How do we do it? How do we grow in our faith? How do we grow in our walk with God?
Standing firm, first of all, comes by exercising commitment. Second Thessalonians says, "Stand firm and hold to the teaching we have passed onto you, whether by word of mouth or written letter." Ephesians 6 says, "Stand firm with a belt of truth around your waist and a breastplate of righteousness in place, and the helmet of salvation on your head." We must determine to let God's truth direct our lives. Without commitment, without taking His Word seriously, you will be blown around this world like a feather in the winds of change. Without commitment, you're a feather in the breeze blowing wherever the world would like to take you. Be rooted, stand firm in Him, and grow as He nourishes you.
Next, let His promises move you to live courageously in this world. First Corinthians says, "Be on your guard, stand firm in faith and be men of courage. Be strong." God told Joshua numerous times, "Be strong and courageous for I am with you. Moses is dead, but I am with you. The strength was not in Moses, the strength was in me." To live courageously in this world means to do what is right no matter the circumstances, to follow God wherever He leads.
Nurture your commitment, your courage, your connection and then God's peace, God's perspective, and God's purpose will overshadow a frantic world. Let God's good news dissolve the bad news. And know in your heart that no matter what happens in this world, only what is done with His approval and partnership will last. Kings will come and kings will go, but the Lord stands forever! Let us stand with Isaiah when he said, "O, Lord, you are my God and I will exalt you and praise your name for in perfect faithfulness you have done marvelous things, things planned long ago."
HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THEIR FEET!
"How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring glad tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, your God reigns" (Isaiah 52:7).
In our day of information overload it's easy to think that for us to share our faith, we have to have all kinds of answers. But God has put us in our particular corner of the world to bring the simple message of Isaiah 52:7. The simple message of Isaiah 52:7 is that redemption and forgiveness are available through Jesus Christ who provides reconciliation and peace between a holy, sovereign God and sinful humans.
How do you feel when you grab hold of God's command to make disciples, to share your faith? Does it stir a little bit of anxiety in your heart? Does insecurity start to overwhelm you? Let me ask you, has God been good to you? Has God been good to you? Do you think God will be good to someone else who calls upon Him? That's the message people are looking for. You can try and convince some of creation or against evolution and all the intellectual discussion you want and I have done both. I have gone through Evidence that Demands a Verdict and similar apologetic textbooks and I have sat down and talked in coffee shops and debated on college campuses with students. And you know what? I do not think it made much difference. I have found that the decision for or against Christ is not a matter of intellectual understanding, but it is a matter of heart submission. Do you want to believe it? Do you have a heart that wants to humbly bow and receive what God has to offer? That is the core of saving faith.
God allows things to come into our world that distract us, that get our attention from the busyness of our lives so that we will see that we have a need, that we do not have all the answers in life. Christians are put in positions to bring those answers, to meet spiritual needs, to bring answers to felt needs. The kind of needs that people often do not think about until they get stopped in their tracks, matters of great significance and meaning in their lives. That is what God intends to do when He calls us to share our faith. To be genuine, to be relaxed, truly relate to people in ways that are real. To meet those real needs. Let me show you.
The commission in Isaiah 52:7 begins by expressing the importance of the message. "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news." God has made many beautiful things but I do not think any of us would include our feet in the top ten. But to God they are beautiful when they carry the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news of redemption and forgiveness to all who believe and accept Christ finished work at Calvary personally.
The Hebrew word, "nahad," does not mean "pretty" or "cute." It means: befitting, becoming, perfectly appropriate, used as designed--"perfectly fitting." It is what God had in mind for our feet. The same way grapes were designed to eat and flowers are meant to bring color and scent to our world, your feet are designed to go places. And when they go into the world of men and women with the message of good news and peace with God, God calls them beautiful.
Your feet may take you faster down the race track than anyone else or you may have shoes so big that other people cannot fill them or you may be able to kick the ball farther than anyone else, but that means nothing in the eternal frame. But if your feet take you to someone in need and with God's help you enable him or her to walk with God, then your feet are being used for a purpose that matters for all eternity. Those feet are beautiful.
Literally, "mountains" mean hill country. This verse does not say proclaim the message in the temples and in the sanctuaries, although these are not wrong or bad places to teach others about God, but it says that we are to go where people live. Not warehouse God's message in buildings, but we are to take it to the streets. Jesus declared the truth and reality of God in the temples and synagogues. But do you remember what happened when He did? It was met with rebellion and resistance. It did not lead to much change. But then He took it to the streets, along the hillsides, along the lakeshore and lives are transformed. He brought good news to real people in real struggles. And He did it because lost people mattered to Him. He wanted to go to those who wanted to find the answers. He went to where people lived.
One of the challenges I found in Guatemala when I was there was how hard it was to walk on those mountains, on those hillsides. The altitude, the slope, you find yourself after a few minutes panting for breath. I thought I was in shape. Let me ask you, at your workplace, in your daily travels, do you find yourself worn out and just struggling to survive? Is the daily grind grinding you so much that you have lost your focus and Christian testimony? Do you go to work simply to collect a paycheck, to get through another day so you can do the important things or the things that God called you to do? I tell you, God has called you to your work place. God has planted you there. You have a message and there are people by the water cooler, in the lunchroom, at the desk next to you that are hurting and need the message that you have. Work is not designed by God to be a simple distraction to your spiritual life, something to do Monday through Friday until you get back to Sunday. Work is designed by God as part of your spiritual life, as that place where you can actually live out Christ's love to others that you see daily.
If you can catch God's passion for people that you work with, your job will take on eternal significance. The message God commissions you to bring has three parts. They all build on one another and they are based on the real needs that people have and the real answers that God gives you to bring to those needs. First, bring good news. God said it twice in Isaiah 52:7, "I bring, I send you to bring good news." Good news must be relevant to the person hearing it.
I have found that when people think about religion they usually think about condemnation. They usually feel confronted by a list of do's and don'ts that is not received as good news. Remember the example of Jesus. In John 8:3-11, the hypocritical Pharisees brought a woman who was caught committing adultery (What happened to the man that was with her?) to Jesus in order to stir up controversy and distract the people from listening to the message of Jesus. Starting in verse 6: "They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, 'All right, stone her. But let those who have never sinned throw the first stones!' Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to her, 'Where are your accusers? Didn't even one of them condemn you?' 'No, Lord,' she said. And Jesus said, 'Neither do I. Go and sin no more.'"
Jesus talked to the woman caught in adultery in the same way He talked to Mary Magdalene, the woman at the well, Zaccheus, Matthew, Peter, and Paul. He did not give them a list of all the things they have done wrong. He simply said to her, "Woman, where are those that condemn you? Has no one condemned you?" She knew what she had done was wrong. Jesus did not have to belabor the point. He offered her forgiveness, but also required repentance from her. "Go and sin no more." Jesus was not overlooking her sin. He was not being over-enduring, over-tolerant of sin. But He was offering her reconciliation and peace with God.
Seldom do people think of religion in positive ways. Many times they perceive giving up Sunday fun--golf and lakes--for sitting around singing old, boring songs and listening to long lectures. Jesus' message, however, centered on getting equipped and energized to live daily life by God's truth and power. Jesus wants people to live each and every day with a God-consciousness that effects daily decisions and activities.
Rarely will you hear someone say, "I wish someone would tell me about Jesus." But you will hear people say, "I do not know what I am going to do." You will hear the lostness, you will see the lostness in their face. God says, "I have given you some answers. Will you share them with those in need?" They are hurting and they want relief. We are not simply to bring them relief, but the answer that will change their problems in their future. Give them Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and a new relationship with God the Father and their future will never be the same!
God has done the work of redemption and salvation. We can only admit that we want it. It is not a list of to do or not to do things. As Paul tells us, "For as many as receive, who believe in their hearts, the person and work of Jesus Christ shall be called sons of God." When you are talking with someone in the lunch room, and they say, "You know, I do not know what I am going to do." His wife may be getting ready to leave him, or her child is going the wrong direction and she just does not know how to deal with it. Have you found answers in your own life? Can you say with an honest heart, "Marriage and children are a challenge and I need God's help in order to deal with both in godly, righteous ways. I sure am thankful for the training my kids have gotten. It takes up my Sunday mornings, but it is worth every hour I spend because it is helping me raise a family that cares about God and other people."
If you have found answers, you can share them. So many times I see people in the hospital with this lost look in their eyes. And in others I meet someone who is dying but radiates a hope and peace that transcends their pain. The difference lies in how each views God and what their relationship with Him is like. One knows that when death occurs a bright future lies ahead. The other has no assurance of a bright future and may actually sense doom because of their unbelief. This person may be open to listen to someone who really cares about what happens to them, someone who brings the good news of God's forgiveness.
That gap that we have in our hearts only God can fill. We try to fill that endless void with every imaginable object, but nothing will ultimately succeed. When we are quiet and reflective we know that the gap exists. We were created to have fellowship with God. He wants to be involved with our daily events. He wants to share our excitement and our passions in life, to direct them, to help us avoid the pitfalls and stumbling blocks.
I was surprised when I did a word study recently. I was studying the word Zion. When I did the word study and found the meaning of Zion, I was surprised. We think of Zion as being that holy mountain, that holy place in Israel where we meet God. Literally, the word Zion means "parched place." When God tells Israelites to go to Zion, He is not just telling them to go where God dwells, He is telling them to go to that 'parched place' in need of God's life and nourishment. Jesus said, "I will bring living waters to your life. Whoever believes in me, a spring of living water will well up out of them unto eternal life."
God says, go to Zion, to that parched place and bring my life there. Let them know that God is real and that their God reigns. Let them know that life is available to all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Scripture tell us that Jesus came to bring living water to cause the desert of our hearts to blossom with freshness and beauty. That out of 'Zion' will flow streams of living water.
Isn't it beautiful that God has made it so simple. Let His message of peace, of restoration, of His personal walk and relationship with you, to meet the felt needs, the spiritual needs, and the personal needs of those around you. As God has blessed you, He calls you to grow beautiful feet and take it to where it will make a difference. That is what your life is about. All the other things are going to fade away. All the other achievements, all the accumulation, all the knowledge is of little consequence compared to sharing your faith, to bringing another one into the kingdom, of representing a gracious and loving God to those around you.
THE DESIGNER'S HANDBOOK
"And God said, 'Let us make people in our image, to be like ourselves. They will be masters over all life-the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the livestock, wild animals, and small animals.' So God created people in his own image; God patterned them after himself; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:26-27).
What does it mean to be created in God's image? Whatever it means specifically, it implies that humans have a certain general structure, an internal pattern that is distinctively human. Humans are not born as empty shells waiting to be molded by political and socials forces, only. Wherever you go you will see that humans, despite social and political differences, are basically the same. Contrary to the teachings of communism, humans are born with distinctive characteristics that cannot be altered.
Social surroundings are important. The Bible is filled with passages that teach us to build wholesome and decent environments. People thrive when the righteous are in positions of authority. And they wither and suffer when the wicked rule. Certain environments allow humanity to thrive, while others are deadening to the soul and discourage human creativity. This is true precisely because humans have a specific structure. God formed us a certain way, with wide variation within the specific form, and we have not changed. If we really believe that God created humankind then we must acknowledge that He knows all about us. And if He knows all about us, then He can be trusted when He guides and directs us.
In Isaiah 55:1-13, God speaks directly to this issue. His words are powerful and direct. After we read them together you will see that there is little doubt about what God is saying, about what He is claiming. "Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink-even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine and milk-it's all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen, and I will tell you where to get food that is good for your soul! Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, for the life of your soul is at stake. I am ready to make an everlasting covenant with you. I will give you all the mercies and unfailing love that I promised to David. He displayed my power by being my witness and a leader among the nations. You also will command the nations, and they will come running to obey, because I, the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, have made you glorious ....My thoughts are completely different from yours," says the Lord. "And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts. The rain and snow come down from the heavens and stay on the ground to water the earth. They cause the grain to grow, producing seed for the farmer and bread for the hungry. It is the same with my word. I send it out, and it always produces fruit. It will accomplish all I want it to, and it will prosper everywhere I send it. You will live in joy and peace. The mountains and hills will burst into song, and the trees of the field will clap their hands! Where once there were thorns, cypress trees will grow. Where briers grew, myrtles will sprout up. This miracle will bring great honor to the Lord's name; it will be an everlasting sign of his power and love."
How is your soul today? Is your soul battered and bruised by the things that are going around you every day? God wants to nurture your soul. Is your soul delighted with the abundance of what He has to offer? That's God's desire for you. But you have to cooperate, you have to do your part. He assures us if we will do our part, He will do His. The text uses two terms three different ways. The terms are "ways" and "thoughts." He shows the contrast between the world's ways and thoughts and His ways and thoughts.
Look at verse 7, it says, "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts." For many those are old-fashioned words. When thinking about the word "wicked" we often think of Cinderella and her stepsisters. The word "evil" leads us to think of the Wizard of Oz and the wicked witch, the evil witch. Synonyms will help us understand. In Proverbs 2:12, it says, "Wisdom will save you from the ways of the wicked man. From those whose words are perverse." Perverted, twisted, and distorted are synonyms for wicked. It means taking something that is good, something that God has designed, and twisting it, turning it, adding a nasty twist to it. As Paul described in Acts 13, "…you are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you ever stop perverting the right ways of God?" Perverting, twisting, trying to get the results that God wants you to have, but taking a shortcut. Living together without marriage is a perversion of God's plan. Pornography is a perversion of sexual satisfaction. Materialism is thinking that stuff will satisfy you. Instead of the heart possessing God, and being possessed by Him, we strive to possess things. The heart moves away from God and becomes twisted as it attaches itself to objects in the world that cannot ultimately satisfy.
Evil is also a general word with a relevant Scriptural synonym. Romans 1:28 talks about the depraved human mind that is filled with every kind of wickedness and evil. Depraved mind, like evil, means contaminated, corrupted, decaying. The use of the word "mind" here signifies that it is an attitude that schemes to do that which is against God's ways.
"Wicked" and "evil" characterize the ways and thoughts of those who give no consideration to God's guidance and ways. You can see it every day. Perversion is everywhere. It seeks to mold us, influence us. But we have been called to resist. We are to identify the perverse actions and depraved attitudes and replace them with godly attitudes and actions. Simply removing evil from our lives is not enough. We must attach ourselves to what is good or else we will be drawn, lured, back to old sins and dispositions.
Current trends will not satisfy. Everyday programs on TV, such as "Friends" and "Will and Grace," are preaching amorality from morning until night. They preach amoral ways camouflaged as cute comedy. Reality shows promote greed, outright lying, and sexual temptation. If you ask a child about spiritual warfare, they will probably tell you about "Buffy" or "Charmed." These shows pervert our view of true spiritual warfare. The heroes are cute little witches or sexy vampire slayers. They battle physically to save the world from ugly looking monsters. But true spiritual warfare is a battle for your personal character and eternal soul.
No wonder there is so much drug and alcohol use in our country. Perversion promises satisfaction but leads to pain. Great success, fame, and wealth will not ultimately satisfy our hearts. More toys, more lovers, even having a baby will not fill the void in life that only God can fill. That is why God gives us instructions. I am not trying to make you feel guilty about watching such programs. I am trying to warn you about believing the message that they carry. They are preaching values and modeling lifestyles that are becoming the accepted norm, and they will break your heart. They will devastate your child's spiritual life.
Look at Isaiah 55:8-9 for a contrast. God's ways and thoughts are different. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts higher than your thoughts." God's ways and thoughts are described both times as higher. Higher! What does that mean? It means beyond us, to a level that we do not quite grasp. It means that His ways are trustworthy, even if we do not completely understand them. We can walk by faith, knowing that if we follow God's instructions good fruit will grow. And verses 10-11: "As the rain and the snow come down from the earth and do not return without watering the earth, and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes from my mouth. It will not return empty but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I have sent it.
Our souls will thrive if we give them to God. "The mountains and hills will burst into song before you and the trees of the field will clap their hands" (v. 12). When you live life the way it is intended, God will do His part and bring harmony, peace, and joy to your life. That does not mean conflict free. But it does mean our souls will prosper and experience inner peace in the midst of turmoil and persecution. When I was in Guatemala, I saw so many people that had absolutely nothing but still had God's peace and joy. God has a way of doing that, even without microwaves, televisions, DVD players, or radios. In-and-of-themselves these things are not wrong. But they can distract us. Often these things push God out of our lives.
Does it sound reasonable that God would create the whole world for us and not give us guidance for living our lives? God's Word is that guidance and it is relevant for our lives. We are important and significant to God. He cares about us. Our lives make a difference to Him. He did not create us and then leave us alone to find our way.
How about your ways? What are you using, what are you influenced by, what is the dominating influence in your ways and thoughts? Are you longing for ways and thoughts that are godly, or are you consumed and frustrated by perversion, yours and those around you. Look back at verse 1. God says, "Come, all you who are thirsty." He expects you to look upon the world and say, "It is missing here. The things I am trying to find to satisfy my heart and soul in the world are missing." But too often we do not listen to our inner spirit's longing. Instead we say, "Maybe, if I get more I will be satisfied. Maybe, if I get somebody else I will be satisfied. Maybe, if I have something or go someplace else, I will be satisfied."
God expects you to be thirsty until you're in that personal, life-giving, continual relationship with Him. And when you are seeking Him, He says, "I will satisfy your soul." Verse 3, "Give ear and come to me and hear me that your soul may live." He asks in verse 2, "Why do you spend money on things that do not satisfy? Listen." Note that it says "listen" twice. When God says it twice, you better know He means it. "Eat what is good that your soul may delight in abundance." Does your soul delight in abundance? If not, check your spiritual diet. What are you feeding it? What you sow in your life, you will reap.
God directs you in verse 6, "Seek the Lord while He may be found and call on Him while He is near." And verse 7 warns, "Let the wicked forsake His way and the evil man his thoughts and let him turn to the Lord and He will have mercy on him for He will freely pardon." To "forsake" means to let loose of the world's opinions, to let loose of what is contrary to God's Word and ways. It is your choice. We can have victory in Christ. He has given us everything we need for life and holiness. But we have to choose. To forsake and to turn means to let go of world opinion and grab hold of God's instruction--God's instruction for marriage, children, business, success, significance, and satisfaction. Read and study God's directions for life. Life will never outgrow His handbook for life.
To forsake and seek is to repent. To confess, to call, to express your waywardness and express your thirst for His ways is to repent. First John 1:9 says it well, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all iniquity." Call, seek, open God's Word, and look to it and see what He has for you.
Philippians 2 gives us a New Testament parallel. Philippians 2:12: "Therefore my dear friends, as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but as much more in my absence, continue to work. Continue to work out your salvation in fear and trembling." Note it doesn't say, "Earn your salvation with fear and trembling," but to "work it out." To work out your salvation is to let it flow out of your life, to let your life be characterized by what God is pouring into your life. You cannot work out what you do not have! Are you an influence for God or are you showing how fruitless a Christian can be? How hypocritical a Christian can be? Are you letting Him saturate your life? Are you making a spiritual difference to anyone? "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God that works in you." God is at work in you, if you let Him.
Philippians 2:14 says, "Do everything without complaining and arguing." Now it gets hard. Can I tell you? I think you can complain to God, but don't complain to other people. When you feel like complaining, complain to Him and listen to His answer and He'll say, "I know the struggles, but I am with you." Converse with Him. Complain and argue with God and listen to His answers. He will carry you through it. You are going to go through it, either with Him or without Him. His instruction for our soul is this (vs. 14-15): "Do everything without complaining or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked, perverted, and depraved generation in which you will shine like the stars of the universe as you hold onto the word of life." He made us and He knows that strife, greed, and contention are bad for our souls.
The Bible tells you to seek after Him and trust Him, to lean not on your own understanding. It requires patience to walk by faith. God sees down the road and knows which path will be best. You will learn many things throughout your life. But if you will allow God's Word to be the central core of all that you think and do, then any knowledge you gain will help you to live a better life. But if something else becomes your core then you will suffer, you will cease to work properly. God designed us. His Word is His handbook for life. Follow His instructions and your soul will prosper!