Thursday, February 26, 2015

Isn’t This What I Chose for You?


These are the lyrics to a song I wrote many years ago, but it is appropriate to the season of Lent and the series I have been doing on Isaiah 58.

ISN'T THIS WHAT I CHOSE FOR YOU?

Here’s another Sunday morning
And you set aside the day.
But is there something you’ve forgotten on the way?
You offer me your worship
And you offer me your prayer
But the burden of my own heart do you bear?

Isn’t this what I chose for you?
Isn’t this the thing I planned?
Not some sentimental journey
Into the Promised Land.

Is there room for the wanderer
And provision for the poor?
Is there something for the hungry at your door?
For if you would be a blessing,
You would find that you’ve been blessed
And I would be your healing and your rest.

Isn’t this what I chose for you,
That you might learn to understand?
To remember they’re a part of you
And be my blessing in the land

Isn’t this what I chose for you?
Isn’t this the thing I planned?
Not some sentimental journey
Into the Promised Land.

© 1992 by Jeff Doles

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Fruit of the Fast God Desires

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.

You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:8-12)
Israel was in a scrape (Isaiah 58 probably addresses them during their time of exile and captivity in Babylon) and they wanted the Lord to come and deliver them. They thought they could manipulate God by the emptiness of fasts and rituals when their hearts were far away from him — and from each other. (Is This What You Call a Fast?)

But God desired a fast that was altogether different, one in which yokes were broken, the oppressed were set free, the hungry were fed, the naked clothed, the stranger welcomed and the poor give shelter. This is faith expressing itself through love. It is a fast God honors because it expresses the heart of God, who is love, and it is the nature of love to give and to serve. (The Fast God Desires)

In this next section, verses 8 through 12, God speaks about the change such a fast brings — and it is really a “night and day” difference, beginning with the light of morning:
  • Your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear. It will bring forth a new day for you and your healing will begin.
  • Your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. This righteous fast of faith working through love will prepare the way before you, and God will back you up all the way. It will be a revelation of his glory.
  • Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. God always responds to those who call on him in faith and whose hearts are turned toward him.
  • Your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The new day God promises will continue and increase, regardless of the darkness in the world. It will shine in the night and make it like noonday.
  • The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. God is always ready to take care of us completely and in every way, even in a drought time. When we are turned toward him and our hearts are aligned with his, we are ready to receive his guidance, provision and strength.
  • You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. This is a picture of prosperity and blessing, like the man in Psalm 1, who follows the instruction of the Lord and becomes like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in season, its leaves always fresh and green — and whatever he does prospers!
  • Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and raise up the age-old foundations. This is exactly what Israel was seeking by their empty ritual. God longed to do it for them, but only if they would keep his chosen fast of loving and caring for their neighbor as themselves. And then,
  • You will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. God is speaking not just to individuals but to a people and a generation. The more we live out the fast God desires, the more we will become repairers of the broken and restorers of the good and ancient paths that lead to righteousness and peace.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Fast God Desires

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
God has no problem with fasting. He is not against rituals and symbolic expressions of faith. What he hates, though, are empty symbols and hollow rituals that are not joined to the life and faith they are intended to express. What he is after is the heart. Earlier in Isaiah, God complained against his people, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their heart are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:13).

In the New Testament, Paul shows the way of the gospel in regard to ritual. In this case the ritual of circumcision, but it is applicable in all things: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Whether or not one performs the ritual does not really matter. The only thing that counts with God is faith expressing itself through love. That is the kind of “fast” he desires from us.

In the false fast God denounced in Isaiah 58:1-5 (see Is This What You Call a Fast?), the people had the ritual down cold, with all the right moves. But it was empty because it was not connected to how they were actually living their lives. They continued exploiting and oppressing their works. They continued quarreling and fighting and even coming to blows with each other. They were accusing and slandering each other (see vv. 9-10). They were abusing each other instead of taking care of one another.

What they were doing, God was looking for the exact opposite. The fast God desired from them was one in which they would act justly toward each other. Releasing each other instead of enslaving each other. Helping each other instead of exploiting each other.
  • The fast God desires is to treat people justly.
  • The fast God desires is to set people free from bondage
  • The fast God desires is to share our food with the hungry.
  • The fast God desires is to provide shelter for the wanderer.
  • The fast God desires is to clothe the naked.
  • The fast God desires does not turn away from those who are in need — for they are our flesh and blood.
In short, the fast God desires is nothing other than faith expressing itself through love. It is the fast God expects and the only one God honors. It is also the fast God enables — by Christ, who supremely revealed the love of God for us at the cross, and through the Holy Spirit, whose fruit in us is love. As we journey through this season of Lent, then, let us consider how the Lord Jesus desires to live out this fast through us.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Is This What You Call a Fast?

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? (Isaiah 58:5)
Is this the kind of fast that God intends, the kind that pleases God? That’s an important question as we approach the season of Lent. You might be surprised to hear that the answer is No, this is not the fast God is looking for from his people. To find out why, let’s drop back a few verses, to the beginning of the chapter.
Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins. (v. 1)
God has a bone to pick with his people. They were rebellious. They had perfected the practice of sin. They were unrepentant. But they sure knew how to put on a good religious show.
For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. (v. 2)
As if. They were acting as if they were eager to know God’s ways. As if they were a nation that did what was right. As if they were a people who had not forsaken the commands of God. As if they wanted just decisions from God. As if they really wanted God to come close to them. But it was all an act, a front, and not the reality of their hearts. God came near enough to see that.
“Why have we fasted,” they say, “and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?” (v. 3)
But now they were perplexed. They fasted. They “humbled” themselves, getting out the sackcloth, scattering themselves with ashes, putting on the mournful face and getting all hangdog. Yet, God had no regard for any of it. What’s up with that? Ah, but here’s the problem:
Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. (v. 4)
For all their fasting, all their supposed humility, there was this huge disconnect. It did not reflect what was going on inside. How they actually treated others gave the lie to their religious show before God, and it is about this falseness that God challenges them:
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? (v. 5)
There is a fast God does desire, and we will look at that next time. But for Ash Wednesday, we must first reckon with the old dead ways so that we may embrace the new and living way God has for us in Jesus the Messiah.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Between Transfiguration Sunday and Ash Wednesday

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus. (Mark 9:2-8)
Last Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday, a celebration of the Lord Jesus Christ in his unveiled glory. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a forty day journey with Jesus in the desert, where he was led by the Spirit, tested by the devil and ministered to by angels.

It is an interesting transition between these two days. On the “Mount of Transfiguration,” the glory of God was fully unveiled in Jesus the Messiah, and it shone brilliantly. “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them” (Mark 9:3). Suddenly, Peter, James and John saw him in a way they could not have done before. To use the words of John 1:18, they beheld his glory, “the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Jesus, in his humanity, was reflecting the glory of God, as we all were created to do. In Genesis 1, on the sixth day of creation, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground” (Genesis 1:26). We were created to represent God on the earth, to reflect his glory to the rest of creation.

Of course, we have done a miserable job of it. It is hard to reflect the glory of God when he are in rebellion against him. As Paul reminds us, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Like mud on a mirror, sin terribly obscures the divine glory we were created to reflect.

But now on the mount, here was Jesus manifesting the true role of humanity, revealing the dazzling brilliance of God. Moses and Elijah were with him, representing the Law and the Prophets. Peter wanted to make three tabernacles — one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. But he completely missed the point. Not knowing what to say, he blurted it out.

However, God had his own idea for a shelter and overshadowed Moses and Elijah with a cloud — they were not to be the focal point but were there to direct all the attention to Jesus. That was their role in the history of Israel and in the Old Testament, and that was their purpose here. Then the voice of the Father spoke concerning Jesus: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

We remember all that on Transfiguration Sunday. But then, just a couple of days later, we turn our attention to Ash Wednesday, when we remember our humanity, and the divine glory we have obscured by sin. We are the dust of the earth, for that is the stuff from which God formed us. But our rebellion against God and our failure to reflect his glory has reduced us to ashes.

So Ash Wednesday is a time for repentance. But it is also a time for embracing God’s forgiveness, symbolized by receiving the sign of the cross made upon our foreheads with ashes. And it is a time to consider again, as we enter into the journey of Lent, how God desires to reveal his dazzling glory to us and through us if we will but let him. For we are also the breath of heaven, for it was God himself who puffed into us the breath of life. Then at the end of this journey, suddenly we will look around and no longer see anyone but Jesus. And we will be glad.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Relief of Living by the Spirit

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:25)
In Romans 7:7-24, Paul describes the experience of a person trying to live apart from Christ and the Spirit. In verses 7-13, it is the man who is trying to live by the Law of Moses. In verses 14-24, it is the man trying to live by his conscience. Both sense condemnation, because they are trying to live by the “flesh,” that is, by their own resources. It ends with a cry of despair in verse 24: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”

But then the answer appears: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The Lord Jesus delivers us from the terrible experience of trying to live by the flesh, out of our own resources. Paul then goes on to make a startling declaration: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

In Romans 7, the man trying to live by the “flesh,” whether by Law or by conscience, knows despair. But in Romans 8, there is no condemnation and no despair for those who are in Christ. That is our new starting point, and Paul speaks about living by the Spirit rather than by the “flesh” (v. 4).

What a night and day difference! And Paul goes on to describe it — a whole new reality, made real by Christ through the Spirit of God — and there are several things to notice:
But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you” (Romans 8:10-11).
Even now, the Spirit of God is giving new life to us — he himself is living in us — and that changes us (how could it not?).
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans 8:15-16)
There is no fear of condemnation in this, for that would send us back into the bondage Paul described in Romans 7:7-24, from which Jesus has already rescued us. But the new reality is that the Spirit in us has made us sons and daughters of God, so that we call on God as our Abba, that is, our Father.
The divine Spirit “testifies with” our spirit. The Greek word is symmartureo and has to do with something happening together with something else: The Spirit of God in us testifies together with our spirit. What is the testimony it bears with us? That we are God’s children. Paul draws out the significance of this a bit further:
Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:17)
There are a few words here I especially want you to notice. One is “co-heirs.” The Greek word is synkleronomos, and it too has to do with something happening together with something else. As God’s children, we are heirs of God — heirs together with Christ. Next is the word that is translated, “share in his sufferings,” sympascho. It means to suffer together with Christ. The third word, translated as “share in his glory” is syndaxazo, and means to be glorified together with him. Paul adds, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v. 18).

There is a real theme of “togetherness” developing here, and we see it again in verse 22, where creation is waiting for the mature children of God to be revealed and it is at last liberated from its bondage to corruption and decay:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
The words to note here is the ones for “groaning” and “pains of childbirth,” which are systenazo and synodino. The first means to groan together and the second means to travail together, as in the pains of childbirth. This groaning and travailing together is about giving birth to something, waiting for it to be born.
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:23)
We are groaning together with creation, waiting for the full expression of what the Spirit of God has already begun in us. We have already received the firstfruits of it, the Spirit himself, who produces in us the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). He is already at work in us to bring them forth in our lives. The “baby” is growing within and we are groaning along with creation in labor pains.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. (Romans 8:26)
The word for “helps” here is synantilamanomai. It means that the Holy Spirit takes hold together with us. He does not take hold for us but with us — he is our partner in this all the way. However, the Spirit does intercede for us because, as Paul says, we do not know what we ought to pray. But notice that he does it through wordless groans. All creation groans together in labor pains, and we groan along with it — and the Spirit is groaning within us too. He is in the process of giving birth to something.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
The climax of all this togetherness is this: For those who love god, all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. The operative word there is synergeo, “work together.” What things is Paul talking about? All the things he has already mentioned:
  • The Spirit of God testifying together with our spirit.
  • Being heirs together with Christ.
  • The things we suffer together with Christ.
  • Being glorified together with Christ.
  • All creation groaning together in the pangs of childbirth.
  • The Spirit of God taking hold together with us.
All these things are always working together for our good, to conform us to the image of Christ (v. 29), which is the revelation of the mature children of God that all creation has been eagerly anticipating.

Paul began his response to the Romans 7 predicament with the deliverance we have in the Lord Jesus and the fact that there is now no condemnation for us in him. Now he comes around full circle in a most memorable passage:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died--more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)
The reality of this — and the answer to the desperate situation in Romans 7:7-24 — is found in living by the Spirit, in the love of the Father through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Friday, February 6, 2015

But Deliver Us from the Evil One

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13*)
Yesterday we saw that Jesus knows how to deal with temptation. Today we will see that he knows how to deliver us from the evil one. This is not about future promise but about present reality — a prayer that has been answered by the victory of the cross and the establishment of God’s kingdom in the world:

Jesus has bound the evil one and plundered his house. “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house” (Matthew 12:28-29; see also Mark 3:23-27 and Luke 11:20-22).

The evil one has been driven out of the world. Jesus said, “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out” (John 12:31). The devil can no longer reign from within the world — all authority in heaven and on earth has now been given to King Jesus (Matthew 28:18) — he can only work his deceits from without. God has “rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves” (Colossians 1:13).

Jesus has disarmed the “principalities and powers” of the evil one, the demonic influences behind evil rulers and ungodly cultural attitudes and practices. “Having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). Those evil powers cannot stand up to kingdom of God.

Jesus has broken the power of the evil one. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

Jesus has destroyed the works of the evil one. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8).

*All Scriptures in this post are taken from the New International Version.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Lead Us Not Into Temptation

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one. (Matthew 6:13*)
There are two halves to this petition in the Lord’s Prayer: “Lead us not into temptation,” and “deliver us from the evil one.” King Jesus has answered both.

Let’s understand this about temptation: Jesus knows how to deal with it. Immediately after he was baptized (Matthew 3), he was “led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be temped by the devil (Matthew 4). After forty days and nights of fasting, which was followed by three defining rounds with the devil, he emerged victoriously and began his ministry of preaching the good news that the kingdom of God had arrived.

Jesus dealt with temptation in his own life and prevailed, and he is well able to help you and me as well. The author of Hebrews says: “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted … For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15).

The promise we have in him is this: “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). That is a comforting assurance, but more wonderful still is what Second Peter tells us:
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3-4)
Everything we need for a godly life has already been given to us, that we may know the one who has called us by his glory and goodness. In Jesus the Messiah we participate in the divine nature. In him we have escaped the corruption in the world that is caused by evil desires. Paul put it this way:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
The life of Jesus the Messiah is now our life — he live in us! It is a life we live by his faithfulness. Let me say it again because it is very important that we understand this: We do not live this life by our own faithfulness but by his. In every trial and every temptation, his life and his faithfulness are always present and at work in us. “In all these things, we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). And the way we overcome  is through faith in him.

Tomorrow we will look at how Jesus delivers us from the evil one.

*All Scriptures in this post, except where noted, are taken from the New International Version.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Random Thoughts

Some thoughts culled from my random file. About faith, love, life and relationship with God. Some have come to me in moments of quiet reflection, some in interaction with others. Some are aphoristic and avuncular. Many have been tweets and updates. Offered for your edification, inspiration and/or motivation — or your money cheerfully refunded.
  • God is love and God is light. When we walk in love, we are walking in light, and darkness cannot prevail.
  • God is light. God is love. God is life. His way will always be about those things that shed light, manifest love and promote life.
  • The faith that overcomes the world is the faith that works through love.
  • Eternal life is not a commodity but a person — the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we know God the Father.
  • Many church people have been accustomed to a comfortable, cultural sort of Christianity and have often mistaken it for faith in Christ. They wring their hands when those easy forms are overshadowed by secular culture — they are not up to the challenge of following a Christ who is counter to the culture of the world. They have often been inoculated against a full-on case of the gospel, of which they are as much in need as anyone who has never even heard of Christ.
  • In his baptism, Jesus identified with me. In my baptism, I am identified with him.
  • Enunciate the promises of God and articulate his blessings in your life. Open up your mouth and speak them out. Your mind will stop to see what your mouth is saying. Your heart will take notice, too.
  • Start thanking God for something and see what a floodgate that opens up.
  • Building relationships and making community with people will, in the long run, be more effective than hit-and-run evangelism. Because the gospel is not a story about a bunch of disconnected individuals but about a community of faith King Jesus is creating.
  • God is not saving a collection of individuals but families and nations. He is creating one new body in Messiah, a community of faith.
  • The words that will have the most power in your life today are the ones you allow to lodge in your heart and come out of your mouth. Let them be words full of faith, hope and love.
  • Today you are continuing the story your father and mother began. Make it a good story.
  • A testimony is a powerful thing. It can not only bring something back to your mind but also back to your heart.
  • Who is the disciple Jesus loves. When you realize the answer, you will lean your head on Jesus’ breast.
  • Every good gift comes from the Father of Lights, who has light for whatever darkness you may find yourself in.
  • We often think that pleasing God is about doing this or not doing that. But the goodness of the gospel is about what God was pleased to do for us and the world.
More random thoughts …