Saturday, February 28, 2009

Encouraging the Exhausted - Isaiah 35

"Encourage the exhausted and
strengthen the feeble.
Say to those with anxious heart,
'Take courage fear not.
Behold your God will come with vengeance;
the recompense of God will come,
but He will save you."
(vs 3-4)

Many in Israel had to be terrified during this time. God had declared frightening prophecies of judgment. Assyria would come and serve as the rod of God to discipline them. How would you feel - even if you were among the remnant that had not bowed the knee to Baal? Personally, I'd probably be scared to death!

In this passage we see that God takes notice of our frailties by the very fact that he is rousing those who by grace are standing strong to help others do the same.

"God's prophets and ministers are charged to comfort those who could not yet recover from the fright they had been put into by the Assyrian army with an assurance that God would now return in mercy to them. This is the design of the gospel - to strengthen those that are weak and to confirm them. Among true Christians there are many who have weak hands and feeble knees and it is our duty not only to bear with the weak but to do what we can to confirm them." (Matthew Henry)

The New Testament bears the same testimony and call. "Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength...." (Rom 15:1). "And we urge you brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men" (1 Th 5:14).

God knows our frame. He knows our weaknesses. He knows that we are but dust. He cares, He strengthens us and he often uses the body of Christ - His church - as the arms that lift us up and carry us through the storms of life.

God was about to deal with Israel in Fatherly discipline. After that He would recompense the nations who would be His rod. There had to be much fear in the camp. Yet they needed to "take courage and fear not. Behold, your God will come with vengeance; the recompense of God will come, but He will save you."

The same is true today. Take courage my friends, God will right all wrongs. In the meantime may we be about the business of encouraging the exhausted among us.

In His glorious grace,


Friday, February 27, 2009

Recompense for Zion's Cause - Isaiah 34

"For the LORD has a day of vegeance,
a year of recompense for the cause of Zion."
(vs 8)

There are times in life when the wicked just seem to get away with their wickedness! Over a decade ago I faced such a time when the schemes of evil ones sought to ruin me and actually did prevail momentarily where my college education was concerned. Throughout history we see the times when Christian's were fed to the lions in Rome and when the Scottish Covenanters were mercilessly martyred by those who should have been their brothers in the faith. Throughout our world even today Christians are being hunted down like wild animals in Pakistan and other places. Atheism, Islam, Paganism, etc. all seek to tear down the church and dethrone our God. Is God watching? Will He act? Will He right the wrongs?

Verses 8-17 of Isaiah 34 remind us that God is not asleep and He will act for His people at just the perfect moment. The problem for us is that we often don't trust that His moment is the right moment. We too often look at the persecution we are facing as though it were solely about us rather than about God's glory and gospel. How many multitudes came to faith in Christ during the times of ancient history because of the testimony of the martyrs in their martyrdom? How many in Pakistan and China are asking to know of the hope that lies within our brothers and sisters who are willingly dying for the cause of Christ? How often do we stop and realize that our very own "persecutions" are a blessed opportunity to be salt and light for our Savior? Life, the good times and the hard times, is not about us - it is about God. The sooner we come to grips with that, the sooner we will be able to wait patiently on His timing of recompense.

"For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion." God has His day set. It is ordered. It is decreed. It will happen exactly when it is to happen. Do we trust Him?

God has promised that He will deal with wicked men. We must remember that "the Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance" (2 Pe 3:9). God's "seeming" slowness is in reality an expression of His patience while the elect are being gathered in. If I am impatient then my eyes are selfishly on my circumstances rather than on the gospel opportunities that lie amid my circumstances. Matthew Henry reminds us this morning that "as there is a day of the LORD's patience, so there will be a day of His vengeance. For though He bear long, He will not bear always." God's patience led to my salvation. May I be patient with His all-wise timing that others may receive what I have freely been given.

"For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion." I love the last part of this verse. The day of vengeance and the year of recompense are for the "cause of Zion." God loves His church. She is His bride and He will always do that which is best for His bride. He sees our plight. He knows our needs. He understands our cause better than we do and He will justly plead our cause at exactly the right moment. Do we trust our heavenly Spouse?

The remainder of the chapter speaks of the recompense that will surely come. Verses 9-17 vividly portray the consequences upon the wicked for their stubborn refusal to flee to the arms of our patient God. They have scorned His compassion. They will now experience His vengeance. That vengeance is full and frightening. Isaiah tells of utter devastation and ruin. He speaks of chaos and calamity. Oh, what a mess sin makes of things. A fruitful land becomes barren and a bustling city is turned into a ghost town.

Matthew Henry's words on these remaining verses were dear to me this morning. Pay particular attention to his last sentence.

"Verses 9-17 describe the melancholy changes that are often made by the Divine Providence. Places that have flourished go to decay. We know not where to find the places where many great towns celebrated in history once stood. These verses describe the judgments which are the just punishment which God will inflict when the year of recompense for the cause of Zion has come. Those that aim to ruin the church can never do that, but will infallibly ruin themselves."

Hear those words again: "Those that aim to ruin the church can never do that, but will infallibly ruin themselves."

God love His church - He loves those of us that belong to it. He is wonderfully patient in order that more and more might be gathered into her midst - into our midst. May we live our days and face our trials with a patient and gathering perspective. "For the LORD has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion."



Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Church - Securely Staked Even in Dark Days - Isaiah 33 part 2

"Look upon Zion, the city of our appointed feasts;
your eyes shall see Jerusalem an undisturbed habitation,
a tent which shall not be folded,
its stakes shall never be pulled up
nor any of its cords be torn apart."
(vs 20)

Christ's church receives a lot of slack in our day and time. - both from within and from without. In all honesty, these are somewhat dark times in which we live and some of the slack is self-inflicted.

Many times there doesn't seem to be much difference between the church and the world. Sin reigns unchecked in many congregations. Gossip, promiscuity, family abuse, adultery, drunkenness, and unethical work practices are often ignored rather than being dealt with because "we might run someone off." Church discipline is rarely talked about and much less practiced.

At times churches hold forth the call of the gospel of Christ with a condescending arrogance rather than with a humble boldness - I've had the gospel literally screamed at me in my own town by those who say I'm not a real Christian because of the translation of the Scripture that I use. When seeking to engage them in conversation they have been unwilling and have written me off as an apostate. Pride and arrogance are antithetical to the gospel message. Christ came and spoke as One with all authority but He was not a jerk. Our message may be offensive but we as its messengers ought not to be.

Some churches seem willing to try anything - other than the simple means of grace - to grow, attract, and evangelize. Cloggers for Christ, Clowns for Christ, Cartwheels for Christ, Cool Cars for Christ, and Coffee for Christ. There are growth gimmics galore. (Admittedly many of these are done with the most genuine of motives.)

Sermons are often little topical talks rather than soul searching and heart piercing explanations and applications of the Word of God in an expositional context. Many have fled from the whole counsel of God to a cut and paste version of the Bible and the affects are noticeable. I have been in both types of churches and nothing has compared to the work of sanctification God has done in my heart through the church being committed to faithful preaching, fervent prayer, full fellowship, and loving discipline.

No doubt, there is much we could complain about, much that should break our hearts, and much that should drive us to prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. However, the church - with all of her blemishes and failures - is still the Bride of Christ and "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her."

This morning's section of Isaiah 33 reminded me of that and has burdened me, once again, to pray for the church in this world while I anxiously await the heavenly Jerusalem of the next. Here are the words of Isaiah 33:20 and Matthew Henry's thoughts on them:

"Look up Zion, the city of our appointed feasts; your eyes shall see Jerusalem as an undisturbed habitation, a tent which shall not be folded. Its stakes shall never be pulled up, nor any of its cords be torn apart."

"Jerusalem is indeed but a tabernacle in comparison with the new Jerusalem. God's church on earth is a tabernacle which though it may be shifted from one place to another, shall not be taken down while the world stands. The promises of the covenant are its stakes and the ordinances and institutions of the gospel are its cords, which shall never be broken."

How thankful I am for my particular church and how prayerful I must be for the universal church. God's covenant with her is everlasting and His Word and sacraments held forth through her shall never be torn apart. May He grant our churches and their leaders to stand boldly and yet with all humility on the foundation which He Himself has laid.

Praying for the Church,


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Character of the Holy, The Marks of the Godly, The Promise of the King - Isaiah 33

"Who among us can live with the consuming fire?
Who among us can live with continual burning?
He who walks righteously,
and speaks with sincerity,
he who rejects unjust gain,
and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe;
He who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed,
and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil;
He will dwell on the heights;
His refuge will be the impregnable rock;
His bread will be given him;
His water will be sure."
(vs 14-16)

This passage in chapter 33 thrills my soul this morning. What a majestic picture of our God. What a convicting picture of how I should walk. What a humbling promise of my King's care for me!

Verse 14 begins with a question. "Who among us can live with the consuming fire? Who among us can live with continual burning?" Just look back to chapter 6 when Isaiah the prophet finds himself in the presence of the thrice holy God. He is a man of unclean lips and he is ruined. So are we apart from the merciful touch of saving grace. The obvious answer is no one can live with this holy God who is a consuming fire!

"Our God is a consuming fire" (He 12:29). In Exodus 24 God is said to have appeared to the Israelites as a consuming fire on Mt. Sinai. What would happen to any of them who even dared to touch that mountain while God's presence was there? Utter ruin! Who among us can live with the consuming fire? If ever there was a rhetorical question, this is it!

Sin cannot dwell in the presence of this Holy God. That is why we who are by nature sinners must be changed by Him. That is why we are in such desperate need of the touch of sovereign grace - just as Isaiah needed the merciful touch of the burning coal from the hand of God's Seraphim. We must have Christ's righteousness imputed to our lives and His cleansing blood sprinkled upon us. His grace working in and through us is the only thing that can spare us from this all consuming fire and which can produce the type of walk that is next described in this passage.

"Who among us can live with the consuming fire?... He who walks righteously, and speaks with sincerity, he who rejects unjust gain and shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe; he who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed, and shuts his eyes from looking upon evil."

I'm personally feeling a bit undone by these words and my failure in these things is blantantly obvious to me this morning. Here are the marks of a godly one. These are the marks that the Spirit of God should be forming in each of us who are disciples of Christ. Look at these and see if, like me, you are moved to sackcloth and ashes this morning and are awakened to your desperate need for the sanctifying work of our God. I read these and recognize my need for the All Consuming Fire to burn much dross off of my life this day!

  • "He who walks righteously." Righteous walking! How am I walking the path that God has carved out for me? Am I acting in accord with the priniciples and commands of Scripture? Is His righteous word the road map for my way? Do I walk in the counsel of the wicked?
  • "He who speaks with sincerity." Sincere speaking! How is my tongue? Do I speak the truth? Do I use my words to manipulate and gain my desires? Am I forthright or do I decieve others just as much with what I don't say as with what I do? Am I a gossip and a tale bearer? Are my lips clean?

  • "He who rejects unjust gain." Am I willing to enrich myself by anything that is ungodly? Gambling? The lottery? Unreported income where the IRS is concerned? What about when the grocery clerk gives me back too much change? Am I above reproach in these areas? Do I reject them or do I embrace them?

  • "He who shakes his hands so that they hold no bribe." Can I be bought at a price? While I may never be in a specific situation like Governor Blagojevich how often am I in heart situations that are similar? Am I ever afraid to say or do the righteous thing in front of someone because of what it may cost me friendship wise? Do I ever not do or say the righteous thing out of fear of being laughed at, mocked, or scorned? Do I ever not do or say the righteous thing because it might cost me my job? If so, have I not been bribed by the things of this world and the opinions of men?

  • "He who stops his ears from hearing about bloodshed." An earlier mark dealt with what we say, this one deals with what we hear. What am I listening to? What fills my ears? Do I enjoy hearing gossip - which ultimately is tongue murder? Do I stop the tongue that tears down another or do I cozy up and savor it as it lingers on my ear drum?

  • "He who shuts his eyes from looking upon evil." What am I watching? Have I with Job made a covenant with my eyes to not look upon any lustful thing or do I savor those things which stir up the lust of the flesh? What do I look at in magazines? on TV? on my computer? What pictures am I flooding my mind with? Are they evil or righteous? Do I shut my eyes to these things or roll out the red carpet for them?

How we need Christ to intervene! These righteous marks are all true of Him - 100%. This is the life He lived perfectly in our place 2,000 years ago and His death was to pay the penalty for our failure in these areas. We need to flee to the cross of Calvary - we need to flee to the Christ of Calvary! How we need to fill ourselves with the means of grace He has provided for us that we might not be tempted to walk in unrighteousness, to speak in insincerity, to embrace unjust gain, to hold tightly to a bribe, to listen long at bloodshed, and to gaze intently at evil. Lord, have mercy on us a sinful people and help us repent of our failures!

As God progressively sanctifies those of us He has justified and enables us to walk in Christ's footsteps there is a glorious promise attached. My heart just leaps at the beauty of these things. The one who, by grace, these things are true of will:"dwell on the heights; his refuge will be the impregnable rock; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure."

Look at these glorious promises of comfort from our God to His righteous people. We will be safe in the refuge of the impregnable rock. The same God who is an all-consuming fire is a light shining in our darkness to guide and to guard our way. We will be well cared for. There is nothing needful that the child of God shall lack. Our necessary bread and water will be given us. Even if in this life I go hungry by His all-wise providence, nothing can take the Living Bread from me. Even if in this life I thirst according to the counsel of his perfectly ordained will for my life, nothing can take away the Living Water that flows within. I am safe, I am secure, I am well fed, I am His and He is mine!

O All Consuming Fire burn me with Your love that I might walk in Your ways and enjoy your blessings.

Convicted and well fed,


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Work of Righteousness & the Gift of Peace - Isaiah 32

"And the work of righteousness will be peace,
and the service of righteousness will be
quietness and security forever."
(vs 17)

Work and peace - hmmmm. I can't say that I often think of work and peace in the same sentence. Honestly, all too often my work seems to be laborious and tiresome - exhausting not peaceful. Often I find myself grumbling and complaining under its load. Work was around before the fall and it surely was done in peace then, but after the fall work seems to wear us out. "Cursed is the ground because of you, in toil shall you eat of it all the days of your life" (Ge 3:17). Genesis 3 goes on to talk about the "thorns and thistles" that hurt and the "sweat of the brow" that flows out of our labors. Post-fall work is hard!

Yet, in this text work is said to result in peace. But note that it is the work of "righteousness" that will be peace. It is not sinful labor nor self-righteous labor that brings about peace. No, it is the "work of righteousness."

So, what does my condition at the end of my work say about my heart? I'm thinking through my days as a wife, mom, friend, church secretary (by default), musician, housekeeper, chef - add the infinite number of hats that I wear to the mix. How often do I find myself going through my life's routine sinfully rather than righteously? I grumble and complain about the tasks that lie before me - maybe not outwardly but often inside. There is no peace! I do my works hoping that someone will notice and give me a great big pat on the back - they don't. There is no peace! I give counsel, lend a hand, write a song proudly thinking I have it all together - my counsel is wrong, my helping hand is rejected, my song stinks. There is no peace! Sinful self-righteous labor doesn't bring me peace - it wears me out!!

On the contrary, when - by nothing but the sheer amazing grace of God - my works are done in humble reliance on my God because I recognize I can't do them on my own, then there is peace! When my labors are done that I might thank God rather than He or someone else thank me- then there is peace! When I give and do expecting nothing in return beyond the glory of God - then there is peace!

Works of righteousness can only come from the God of righteousness. I cannot produce them on my own. Before I can even possibly do a righteous act I must first be in Christ for He alone is my righteousness (1 Co 1:30, Jer 23:6). Anything and everything that we do while not resting in Him by grace through faith is only and always sin (Ro 14:23). There are NO works of righteousness that will ever flow from our lives apart from the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. Righteousness is found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Co 5:21)
  • "...having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ..." (Ph 1:1)
  • "...and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith." (Ph 3:9)
  • "...and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed." (1 Pe 2:24)

The redeeming work of God must be step number one before we can do any righteous act and before we can have any lasting peace. Here in Isaiah we see that fleshing out within the context. Notice in verse 15 just prior to this promise of peace that Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of God being poured out on them. Again, the work of the Triune God is a prerequisite for works of righteousness.

How desperately I need the work of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to make my works righteous for I continually make them to be filthy rags (Is 64:6)! In "works of righteousness will be peace, and the service of righteousness, quietness and security forever." Peace, quietness, and security. I think I need to go to work now! By His sovereign mercy may I, with Solomon "commit [my] works to the LORD, that [my] plans will be established." (Pr 16:3)

Laboring on,


Monday, February 23, 2009

Growling Lions & Hovering Birds - Isaiah 31 part 2

"For thus says the LORD to me,
'As the lion growls over his prey,
against which a band of shepherds is called out,
will not be terrified at their voice,
nor disturbed at their noise,
so will the LORD of hosts come down
to wage war on Mount Zion.'
Like hovering birds so the LORD of hosts
will protect and deliver it;
He will pass over and rescue it.
Return to Him from whom
you have deeply defected,
O sons of Israel."
(vs 4-6)

I had to pause for a moment this morning to think on these two descriptions of our God. He is on the one hand described as a growling lion and on the other as a hovering bird. To those who rage and rail against His Kingship He is as a growling lion. To those who are His beloved children He is as a mother bird, hovering and protecting her young. Quite a contrast!

Notice the poor attempts of the "band of shepherds" to chase the lion away. They call out and yell at him. He is not bothered in the least by their clamouring! They rage and roar and take their stand but it is for naught! Throughout chapter 31 I've been drawn to Psalm 2 as a parallel passage. Hear its declaration:

"Why are the nations in an uproar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers of the earth take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Annointed... He who sits in the heavens laughs, the Lord scoffs at them. Then he will speak to them in His anger and terrify them in His fury." (Ps 2: 1-5)

Their noise will not terrify the Lion of Judah, yet His growl will soon be turned against them and he will wage war with them. They will "stumble" and "fall" at the very breath of His indignation.

Yet, notice the beautiful contrast as this growling Lion is called His people's hovering bird. The picture here is incredible to me. It is that of a mother bird tending with all diligence to the needs of her young brood. She hovers over her little chicks, defending and protecting them from the enemy.

A few months ago a friend of mine who has chickens shared a remarkable story with me. As she looked out her kitchen window she noticed a chicken hawk circling over their driveway. On the driveway she saw one of their hens who had just had some new biddies. The mother quickly gathered her babies underneath her wings and then began to fend off the attacks of the hawk. That enemy hawk desperately wanted to destroy those chicks but that mother was not about to give them up. My friend said it was quite a battle but the hawk eventually left and not one of those little ones was lost.

The Scripture holds forth this picture in several places:

  • "Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that hovers over its young, He spread His wings and caught them; He carried them on His pinions." (Dt 32:11)
  • "May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge." (Ruth 2:12)
  • "He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark." (Ps 91:4)

Isaiah points out that, like this hovering bird, the LORD will protect and deliver His people. He is not willing that any of them be lost. (Mt 18:14, Jn 18:9)

God is as a growling lion to His enemies and as the protective wings of a mother bird to His children. To one He is a terror to the other a comfort. Which is He to me?

Thankful for the shadow of His wings,


Sunday, February 22, 2009

Horses, Chariots, & the Holy One of Israel - Isaiah 31

"Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
and rely on horses, and trust in chariots
because they are many,
and in horsemen because they are very strong,
but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
nor seek the LORD!
Yet He also is wise and will bring disaster,
and does not retract His words,
but will arise against the house of evildoers,
and against the help of the workers of iniquity.
Now the Egyptians are men, and not God,
and their horses are flesh and not spirit;
so the LORD will stretch out His hand,
and he who helps will stumble,
and he who is helped will fall,
and all of them will come to an end together."
(vs 1-3)

Verses 1-3 pick up on the theme found at the beginning of chapter 30. Israel is trusting in the strength of Egypt rather than in the omnipotence of God. They are fleeing to the worshippers of false gods for assistance, all the while ignoring the One True and Living God who had made a covenant with them. Absolute foolishness!

Chapter 31 begins with a "woe" to them for this folly. They are relying on the horses and trusting in the chariots of this mighty pagan land "but they do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the LORD! Yet He is wise...." Matthew Henry asks, "Would not infinite wisdom engaged on their side stand them in more stead than all the policies of Egypt?" David expressed the answer to Henry's rhetorical question in Psalm 20 when he wrote: "Some boast in chariots, and some in horses; but we will boast in the name of the LORD our God."

They will not trust Him and if they will not place themselves under His all wise care then He will justly rise up against them. They have removed themselves from the place of covenant mercy and run headlong into the arms of "evildoers." By virtue of that action they have run headlong into the arms of God's divine wrath and covenant curses.

The strongest horses and mightiest chariots are not God and therefore there is no certain safety in them. God is the only immutable Rock. The best of men are not absolute sources of refuge. My husband and my dearest friends cannot be the ultimate horses and chariots of defense that I seek. Despite their love for me and earnest desire to help, they still are only finite creatures and will at times fail.

If the workers of righteousness cannot guarantee us security let it be known that the workers of iniquity can only guarantee us utter ruin. This is who Israel is running to, "the workers of iniquity", and the LORD is just about to stretch out His hand to bring about their well-deserved fall.

Oh that we with David would put our greatest trust in the name of the LORD our God. May He be our boast, our shield, our refuge, our strength. "How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!" (Ps 2:12)

In His glorious grace,


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Pleasant Words / Prophetic Illusions - Isaiah 30 part 2

"Now go, write it on a tablet before them and inscribe it on a scroll, that it may serve in the time to come as a witness forever. For this is a rebellious people, false sons, sons who refuse to listen to the instruction of the LORD; who say to the seers, 'You must not see visions'; and to the prophets, 'You must not prophesy to us what is right, speak to us pleasant words, prophesy illusions. Get out of the way, turn aside from the path, let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.'

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, 'Since you have rejected this word, and have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them, therefore this iniquity will be to you like a breach about to fall, a bulge in a high wall, whose collapse comes suddenly in an instant. And whose collapse is like the smashing of a potter's jar; so ruthlessly shattered that a sherd will not be found among its pieces to take fire from a hearth, or to scoop water from a cistern.'

For thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, 'In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.' But you were not willing." (vs 8-15)

Wow! What a full passage this morning. I am personally struck and convicted by mankind's desire to have their ears tickled rather than to have their hearts pierced with the truth. (Read between the lines - I am personally struck and convicted by my desire to have my ears tickled rather than to have my heart pierced with the truth!) The Proverbs tell us "faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy bring death." What do I most want to hear - faithful hard truth or carressing pleasant words? What do I most need to hear illusions or reality - is not the answer plain? In Isaiah 30 these 'rebellious people' want to hear what the want to hear - not what they need to hear and the results will be disastrous.

It is interesting that the passage begins with the command to "write these things on a tablet" and to "inscribe them on a scroll that it may serve in the time to come." While these stubborn folks refused to receive any benefit from Isaiah's words themselves, perhaps their future generations would. Our children will learn from our response to the Word of God - oh, that they would learn from our faithfulness and not from our rebellion!

Isaiah's audience refuses to listen to the instruction of the LORD; instead they ask the seers to change their message. They would like a sermon that is a bit more palatable and easier to digest rather than an honest explanation and application of the Word of God. Hear the foolish boldness of their request: "You must not prophesy what is right, speak to us pleasant words, prophesy illusions." They literally command their prophets to prophesy falsely, to tell them what is wrong rather than to speak the truth in love. Pleasant words are damning words if they are false words. Prophetic illusions cannot be trusted for they are merely the magic tricks of Satan's trade! How ignorant and self-destructive are those who prefer the lulling lies of the enemy over the stinging scalpal of truth. The surgeon's scalpal may not feel pleasant, but it's purpose is to cut out that which will kill. It is necessary for life.

"Speak to us pleasant words.... Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel" (vs 11). They want pleasant words and they want a pleasant god. They want a god on their own terms and of their own devising. They want a jovial jeannie in the sky who can be rubbed whenever they sense a need. Sinners do not want God to be holy. That attribute is the one they dread above all others for God's holiness will undo them just as it did Isaiah in chapter 6.

They may not want to hear of God's holiness, but Isaiah recognizes that it is the thing they most need to hear of. I had to chuckle this morning at the bantering conversation between them. Rebellious Judah declares: "Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel." Isaiah's very next words are: "Therefore, thus says the Holy One of Israel." They don't want to hear but they must be told!

Isaiah is a faithful friend. He will not tickle their ears. He loves them enough to wound them with the truth. He loves them enough to point out that the God they don't want is the very God they must deal with. He is holy and the truth of that attribute will either cause us to run to Him for mercy (which we will find in Christ) or to run from Him in our foolish pride (which will lead to our eternal judgment and destruction). The latter is not an ear tickling statement, but pleasant words and prophetic illusions will not save us from the just wages of our sin. Truth doesn't change just because I don't care for it.

They have rejected the words of Isaiah and have trusted in Egypt to save them. Isaiah says they have synonymously trusted in "oppression and guile." Their security is in reality unsecurity. The wall is breached, it bulges from their weight and it is about to collapse. Its collapse will be so great that not a big enough piece of their so-called security will remain for them to scoop up a flaming brand from the fire or a drop of water from the well. That which we lean on in the place of Christ will fail us fully!

Oh that they would have listened. Beautifully Isaiah points us to the gospel once again. "In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength" (vs 15). Do you see the beauty of the gospel promise there? We are to repent of our sins, to turn from them and to Christ. If we are liars we must turn from our lying, flee to the God of truth and begin to speak truth. If we are theives we must turn from our stealing and turn to the Giver of Life from Whom all blessings flow and begin to share what we have received with others. Repentance involves a change in thinking and doing.

We are to repent of our sins and we are to rest in Him alone to save us from them. I cannot save myself - only Christ, through His redeeming work on Calvary's cross in which my sins were cast upon Him and His righteousness cast upon me - can save me. It is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone that I can be saved.

We are to repent of our sins and to rest on Christ alone to save us from them and we must quietly rely on and trust in Him for the strength necessary to walk in the newness of life. That walking is the fruit of gospel conversion.

Repent, rest, rely! Here is the call of the gospel held forth - "but you were not willing to listen." How tragic for them that they did not listen. How tragic for us if we will not listen.

"The God that knew them and desired their welfare, gave them this prescription; and it is recommended to us all. Would we be saved from the evil of every calamity? It must be in repentance and rest, in returning to God and reposing in Him as our rest. Let us return from our evil ways and settle in the way of God and duty, and that is the way to be saved." (Matthew Henry)
They would not listen. They only wanted pleasant words and prophetic illusions and the security they sought in that medicine of malpractice would kill them. "Justly will those die of their disease that will not take God for their physician." (Henry)

Oh Great Physician, help me this day to be both willing to hear and willing to speak the truth in love.

Thankful for the faithful wounds of my friends and the faithful Word of my God,


Friday, February 20, 2009

Consulting with Chaff - Isaiah 30

"'Woe to the rebellious children,' declares the LORD,
'Who execute a plan, but not Mine,
and make an alliance but not of My Spirit,
in order to add sin to sin;
who proceed down to Egypt,
without consulting Me
to take refuge in the safety of Pharaoh,
and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!
Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame,
and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt,
your humiliation." (vs 1-3)

It seems the Jewish nation was always looking for refuge in their neighbors rather than in their God. (It seems I may be guilty as well!) This time they run to Egypt and the great problem is that they do so without consulting God. There are times when we need our neighbors (I've needed mine this week), but when we seek first their counsel and wisdom while not even considering what God might have to say then there is a problem!

Here the Israelites are running to find a solution for their difficult situation. They are all about doing something where their problems and fears are concerned. They are "executing a plan" but that plan is not God's plan. They are "making an alliance" but it is with a pagan land full of pagan gods rather than with the Spirit of the Living God. They are "taking refuge in the safety of Pharaoh" rather than in God who "is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble" (Ps 46:1). They are "seeking shelter in the shadow of Egypt" rather than "taking refuge in the shelter of Your wings" (Ps 61:4).

There is evil in these actions. They are "adding sin to sin" by their refusal to submit themselves to the wise counsel of their God. There is evil in my actions everytime I act without care for or consideration of the clear commands and principles of the law of God. I " add sin to sin" and practically act like the old atheist I once was when my desires and wisdom take precedence over His!

There are blessings in walking in the way of the LORD and in seeking His counsel. I can't help but think of the words of Psalm 1 this morning:

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. And he will be planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.

Righteousness and true blessing go hand in hand. However, Isaiah makes it clear that there is a "woe, to the rebellious children." Hear the words of Psalm 1 again as the theme changes from the blessing of delighting and meditating on the law of the LORD to the curses of "walking in the counsel of the wicked":

"The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous, for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."

"The wicked are not so!" Isaiah put it this way: "Therefore the safety of Pharaoh will be your shame, and the shelter of in the shadow of Egypt, your humiliation." There is no real safety or shelter in any thing, any place, or any counsel other than that of our God.

Matthew Henry well sums up this section of Isaiah when he says:"Those that put their confidence in any creature will sooner or later find it a reproach to them. The Creator is a Rock of Ages. The creature is a broken reed. We cannot expect too little from man nor too much from God."

May God grant His children a hatred for the rebellious path and a love for the righteous way!

In His glorious grace,


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Lip Labor - Isaiah 29

"Then the Lord said:
'... this people draw near with their words
and honor Me with their lip service,
but they remove their hearts far from Me,
and their reverence for Me consists of
tradition learned by rote."
(vs 13)

We love games! Far too often we play the part that we want others to believe about us. We vainly think that perception is reality. Reality is that which is known by God. What He knows to be true about us is that which is truly true. We may fool men but we will never fool God Who alone searches the heart and weighs the mind. "Nothing can be hidden from God" including my motives.

The people of Jerusalem are playing their little "God games" here in chapter 29. They draw near to him in lip labor, saying the right things and singing the right songs. In reality their religion is only from their tongues forward. It is merely wind that they blow not breath that they breathe! Here is a vivid description of hypocrisy. They honor God with their words "but they remove their hearts far from Me."

This morning the question before me is - how is my heart? Am I living my life for the praise and confirmation of men or for the glory of God? Do my lips and my heart align? Do I truly love the LORD my God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength? Am I loving my neighbor as myself in word AND in deed AND for the glory of God alone?

Truthfully, there is a root of "people pleasing" in all of us. We like the applause of men. We are naturally lip laborers. Look long enough and you will see some remnant of hypocrite in me - for I am a sinner. I am ever in need of grace. Perhaps the honest acknowledgement of that is what separates the ruined hypocrite from the redeemed hypocrite.

O LORD, please make my lips and life and mind and heart to match up and overflow with the reality of what You have done and are doing in me. Make me to live my chief end which is to "glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." Make my heart near to You my Lord and my God! May my lips and my life be in union with love for my Lord.

Thankful for sanctifying grace,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Farmer & His Field- Isaiah 28 part 4

"Give ear and hear my voice, Listen and hear my words.
Does the farmer plow continually to plant seed? Does he turn and harrow the ground? Does he not level its surface,and sow dill and scatter cummin, and plant wheat in rows, barley in its place, and rye within its area? For his God instructs and teaches him properly. For dill is not threshed with a threshing sledge, nor is the cartwheel driven over cummin; but dill is beaten out with a rod, and cummin with a club. Grain for bread is crushed, indeed, he does not continue to thresh it forever. Because the wheel of his cart and his horses eventually damage it, he does not thresh it longer. This also comes from the LORD of hosts, who has made His counsel wonderful and His wisdom great." (vs 23-29)

This final section of Isaiah 28 is a parable, much like Christ's many parables. It begins in much the same way as those of Christ often did - "If anyone has ears to hear let him hear." It's content and characters are also familiar - a farmer, soil, and seeds (see Mt 13, Mk 4, Lk 8 and 13).

The farmer of Isaiah 28 is going about his work. He is plowing the field, tilling the soil, and planting the seeds. Later he is threshing, beating, and grinding the harvest. He threshes it just enough and not too much for he wants to get the best out of the produce, not ruin it. This farmer takes great pains to reap the most out of his fields.

What a picture of God, the Divine Husbandman. This morning I will rely on Matthew Henry's thoughts and words rather than my own:

"God's church is His field (1 Cor 3:9) and He continually by His Word and ordinances is cultivating it. Does not God by His ministers break up the fallow ground? God sows His Word by the hand of His ministers (Mt 13:19). Whatever the soil of the heart is, there is some seed or other in the Word that is proper for it. And, as the Word of God, so the rod of God is thus wisely used. Afflictions are God's threshing instruments designed to loosen us from this world, to separate between us and our chaff, but He will proportion them to our strength. If the rod and the staff will answer the end, He will not make use of His cart-wheel and His horsemen."

"You are God's field" (1 Cor 3:19). O LORD of Hosts, do whatever is necessary in the soil of my heart and life to enable me to yield a harvest that will bring you the most glory. Give me ears to hear and make my mind, feelings, and actions to respond accordingly.

Awaiting the harvest,

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Costly Cornerstone - Isaiah 28 part 3

"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a tested stone, a costly cornerstone
for the foundation, firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
And I will make justice the measuring line,
and righteousness the level;
then hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters shall overflow the secret place."
(vs 16-17)


Yesterday we saw that pride, sin, and falsehood were the "short sheeted" security of Judah at this time in its history. That wicked wolf Sennacharib was coming to huff and to puff and to blow down the foundation of straw and sticks upon which their lives were built. God is proclaiming truth in opposition to their lies. God is offering mercy to those who will flee from the shaky shack of sin and flee to the costly cornerstone of Zion - the Lord Jesus Christ. "He who believe in it will not be disappointed." (vs 16)

We know that Christ is this precious and tested stone because of the words of 1 Peter 2:

"And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God.... For this is contained in Scripture: 'Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious cornerstone and he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed.' This precious value is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, 'The stone which the builders rejected, this became the very cornerstone,' and 'a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense'; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were appointed." (1 Pe 2:4-9)

God has "layed in Zion a choice stone." GOD has layed the stone! The coming of Christ was the plan of the Father. Christ the Son has been sent by God the Father to "save His people from their sins." Hear His Word on the matter:

  • "But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive adoption as sons." (Gal 4:4)

  • "He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the LORD." (Lk 4:18-19)

  • "For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin." (Ro 8:3)

  • "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life." (Jn 3:16)

  • "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him." (Jn 3:17)

God Himself has laid this tested, costly stone! Oh - all praise and honor and glory be unto Him who has orchestrated this salvific symphony!!

This sovereignly laid stone is "a tested stone." Multitudes have, by grace, placed their faith and their lives on this stone - and it has NEVER failed any who were truly resting on it. Christ is a tested stone. He is a sure stone. He does not falter. He does not fail. He will not let us down. Trusting in the stone that God has laid will not disappoint - "To You they cried out, and were delivered; in You they trusted, and were not disappointed." (Ps 22:5)

This sovereignly laid and tested stone is also a "costly cornerstone." Salvation is freely offered to us in the gospel but it was provided for us at the greatest of costs. It cost Christ! It cost God taking on flesh and becoming man. Christ who "although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in the appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Ph 2:6-8). This laid and tested cornerstone cost much more than we can ever imagine or comprehend. God became man to save us!

Note also that Christ is not just any stone, He is "the cornerstone"! Christ is the stone upon which our lives must be built if our foundation is to be strong and sure. There is no other rock, there is no other foundation, there is no other way. He alone is "the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father but through [Him]." (Jn 14:6)

Hear the glad tidings of mercy that Isaiah is holding forth here. God has laid a tested, and costly cornerstone for us in Christ. "He who believes in it will not be disturbed." What am I building on today? Is it the costly cornerstone of Christ or the straw shack of self and sin? What am I believing in today? Is it the sure and tested Rock that God has laid or is it the shortsheeted bed of falsehood that my sin has laid? Have I made a covenant with death and Sheol or have I entered into covenant with Christ? There is only one sure and tested way.

Firmly established,


Monday, February 16, 2009

Short Sheets & Small Blankets - Isaiah 28 part 2

"'We have made a covenant with death,
and with Sheol we have made a pact.
The overwhelming scourge will not reach us
when it passes by,
For we have made falsehood our refuge
and we have concealed ourselves with deception.'
Therefore thus says the Lord God,
'Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a tested stone,
a costly conrnerstone for the foundation,
firmly placed.
He who believes in it will not be disturbed.
and I will make justice the measuring line,
and righteousness the level;
then hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies,
and the waters shall overflow the secret place.
And your covenant with death shall be cancelled,
and your pact with Sheol will not stand;
When the overwhelming scourge passes through,
then you will become its trampling place"
(vs 15-18)

Judgment and mercy, mercy and judgment.... Yep, here it is again! I am amazed at the frequency of this theme. It is good that I am not God - everyone would have already been wiped out after the first offer!

In the continuing swing of this repetitive pendulum be reminded that "The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished...." (Ex 34:6-7). He is holy and therefore He will and He must deal with sin, but He is not capricious, He is not ruled by passions as we are. His judgement is always right on time and is always with the most righteous of motives. Yes, He is slow to anger - but He is also a God of holy anger.

Judah is warned here. Isaiah, in verse 14 warns them not to be scoffers. They have "made a covenant with death." They have made a pact with Sheol." In arrogant pride they have told themselves that they can have sin and safety all at the same time! "To think of making death our friend while by sin we are making God our enemy, is the greatest absurdity." (Matthew Henry)

Judah thinks itself invincible. They boast that "the overwhelming scourge will not reach us when it passes by." Hello - it is an overwhelming scourge and you will be overwhelmed by it! Wow, how pride and arrogance blind us. That is why pride 'goeth before a fall," for in our scoffing blindness we cannot see the pit though it is as big as the ocean.

They have "made falsehood their refuge and have concealed [themselves] with deception." How foolish to trust in falsehood! Their confidence is fragile and their trust is as in a spider's web in the middle of a hurricane (Job 8:14). Isaiah tells them as much a few verses later: "Then hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies" (vs 17). They have built on a fault line and the quake will come. They have built on the sand and the torrential downpour of God's wrath will wash them away. How often do I make falsehood my refuge? I do it everytime I trust in anything other than my God. I trust in falsehood when I look for security in my friends rather than in the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. I trust in falsehood everytime I walk in the counsel of the wicked rather than in the counsel of the Word. I trust in falsehood every time I choose to sin rather than to obey!

How foolish we are to trust in the lies of sin and think that we are safe. Isaiah's words are illustrative in verse 20: "The bed is too short on which to stretch out, and the blanket is too small to wrap oneself in." Attempts to find shelter in anything but Christ will be insufficient. He alone is a rock upon which our lives can be foundationally secure.

Judgment - here it is again. Here it is deserved again. The bed of pride is too short and the blanket of falsehood is too small - they are a house made of straw and sticks and they will not stand up against the huffing and puffing that is on the way. Yet, along with the proclamation of judgement comes the offer of mercy. "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a tested stone, a costly cornerstone for the foundation, firmly placed. He who believes in it will not be disturbed." (vs 16)

I think that tested, costly stone is worth a posting of it's own. At this rate I'm going to be in Isaiah for a year! :)

Thankful for a long bed,

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Is Anyone Listening? - Isaiah 28

"To whom would He teach knowledge?
And to whom would He interpret the message?...
For He says, 'Order on order, order on order,
Line on line, line on line,
a little here, a little there.'
Indeed, He will speak to this people
Through stammering lips
and a foreign tongue,
He who said to them,
'Here is rest, give rest to the weary,'
And, 'Here is repose,'
but they would not listen."

Judgment and Mercy.
Judgment and Mercy.
Here we go again. What a stiff-necked people they were. What a stiff-necked people we are! How beautiful is the promise of the vineyard and how frightful is the curse of the false grape! How foolish we are to choose anything other than to be firmly planted in Christ's vineyard.

In chapter 28 Ephraim is full of pride and drunkenness. They love their sin and they wear it as a crown - "Woe to the proud crown on the drunkards of Ephraim" (vs 1). Here is the truth of Isaiah 26:13 fleshing out before us - "O LORD our God, other masters besides You have ruled over us." The "lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life" is the trinity they worship, and their false god is about to ruin them. How often do I worship the same pseudo-trinitarian idol?

The LORD has a "strong and mighty agent" on the way. Sennacharib of Assyria will knock the crown of pride from their heads and will be used as the rod of God to deal justly with this wayward and stubborn lot. "The proud crown of the drunkards of Ephraim is trodden under foot" (vs 3). The wages their sins have earned are coming. So is it with us. Our day is coming as well. Those wages will be paid to us if we remain in our unrepentant pride. They have been paid to Christ on Calvary's cross if in faith and repentance we are resting in Him alone to save us. How thankful I personally am for the applied power of the gospel to my own sinful life. My sin, His righteousness - "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." (2 Co 5:21) I am humbled!

Realize that the Ephraimites have been taught the truths of the gospel since they were on their mother's breasts. The "gospel was preached before hand to Abraham" (Gal 3:8) and they had been commanded to "teach [it] diligently to [their] sons" (Dt 6:7). They were to talk of these things when they were sitting and walking and lying down and rising. The truths of God's law and of His grace were to be proclaimed always and everywhere in the life of Israel. The hope of covenant mercy was not a foreign thing to them -in their stubborn, selfish pride they just didn't want it!

"Order on order and line on line" the hope of the Messiah has been held forth to them. "Their prophets designed to teach them knowledge - the knowledge of God and of His will. This is God's way of dealing with men, to enlighten their minds first with a knowledge of His truth, and this to gain their affections, and bring their wills into a compliance with His laws." (Matthew Henry)

The prophets proclaimed the truths that would lead them into rest and repose. "Here is rest, give rest to the weary, and here is repose" (vs 12). God's word and God's way are the only sure way to rest and repose. Christ Himself says, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light." (Mt 11:28-30)

Line upon line the prophet held forth the promise of rest to those who would flee to the God of grace - "but they would not listen" (vs 12). They would not listen to the call. They would not heed the warning. They would not flee into the vineyard and soon the Assyrian army would storm into them and desolate their land. "Those that will not hear the comfortable voice of God's Word shall be made to hear the dreadful voice of His rod" (Matthew Henry). Line upon line mercy had been held forth. Act upon act they stored up judgment for themselves instead. Pride makes us stupid!

The prophets still speak. Each Lord's day I hear the voice of God, through the ordained ministers of God who are rightly proclaiming the Word of God. I am told to "come." In Christ I will find rest and repose. Each morning I read the Word of God in the pages of the Bible and the Holy Spirit speaks to me as He illumines that written Word. Am I listening?

Praying for an open ear,

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Well Watered Vineyard - Isaiah 27

"In that day,
'A vineyard of wine, sing of it!
I, the LORD, am its keeper;
I water it every moment,
Lest anyone damage it,
I guard it night and day.'"
(vs 2-3)

Judgment and Mercy.
Judgment and Mercy.
Judgment and Mercy. Over and over again in Isaiah this theme resounds. God judges sin. God has mercy on sinners. Why has He had mercy on me?!

This morning in Isaiah 27, the chapter begins with the judgment on the enemies of God's church. You can see that playing out in verse 1. "In that day the LORD will punish Leviathon the fleeing serpent, with His great and mighty sword." Christ's enemies, no matter how monstrous, proud and powerful they may seem to us, will be dealt with and laid low. All the more reason to seek the King's terms of peace and move into His beautiful city!

In verse 2 and 3 the church is pictured, not as the object of his judgment, but as the object of His affection. It is described as a vineyard. Back in chapter 5 Isaiah used this same analogy. In that chapter the "Well-Beloved" planted a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug all around it and removed the stones that would hinder it. He cared for the vineyard and expected it to produce "good grapes." Instead it only produces "worthless grapes."

Now, in chapter 27 we have a portrait of the reformed grapes. They have been changed! That which was worthless is now producing wine! I am personally very relieved that the Eternal Vine Dresser has not given up on me in my worthless grape condition but has continued tilling the soil of my life. He is working in me that which is necessary to make me fruitful for His Kingdom. Keep tilling Lord!

In these verses it is said the the LORD is the keeper of this vineyard. "I, the LORD, am its keeper." How good to know that we are kept by the LORD. Here is a beautiful picture of the preservation of the saints. God keeps His children! Take a quick survey through the New Testament and see its testimony of the eternal security of those who are truly in Christ:

  • No one can snatch them out of His hand. (Jn 10:28-29)
  • He has sealed them, through the Holy Spirit, for the day of redemption. (Ep 4:30)
  • He will complete and perfect that which He has begun in them. (Ph 1:6)
  • He will guard them until that day. (2 Ti 1:12)
  • They will not fully nor finally fall for they are founded on the Rock. (Mt 7:25)
  • He will not allow any of His little ones to perish. (Mt 18:14)
  • He will not lose any of those that have been given to Him. (Jn 6:39)
  • He has promised to glorify those whom He has justified. (Ro 8:29-30)
  • NOTHING and NO ONE can separate them from the covenant relationship He has established with them. (Ro 8:35-39)
  • The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Ro 11:29)
  • Those He has called He will confirm to the end because He is faithful. (1 Co 1:8-9)
  • He will deliver them from every evil deed and will bring them safely to His heavenly kingdom. (2 Ti 4:18)
  • He is able to save them forever and He is interceding on their behalf. (He 7:25)
    Their eternal inheritance is reserved in Heaven and protected by the power of God. (1 Pe 1:3-5)
  • He will keep them from stumbling and will make them to stand in the presence of His glory. (Jude 24)

As a chosen child of God the Vine Keeper I am safe! The only ones who leave the vineyard are those who were never really grapes. "They went out from us, but they were never really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us' (1 Jn 2:19). There are tares among the wheat. There are wild and worthless grapes masquerading as real and royal ones. We need to examine ourselves to see which of the two we are. If , by the grandeur of His grace we are among the real and royal then how we should rejoice at the Great Vine Keeper's preserving and prospering mercy towards us!

The LORD is the keeper of this vineyard, and He "waters it every moment." This picture really grabbed me this morning. I am NOT a good gardner. I am very bad gardner. I kill gardens. I forget about my garden and don't water it properly. I give it too little water and then try to make up for my failure by giving it too much water. This morning I noticed that the LORD waters His vineyard "every moment." Only God could do that and not drown it dead!

"I water it every moment." Think of that - God waters His church and His children "every moment" and yet He doesn't over water us. We can never get too much of the water of God! The dew of heaven doesn't drown but drives us to produce more fruit. We need to "do the dew!" We need to drink it in since He is pouring it out to us. We need to guzzle the means of grace and watch the Gardner grow us through them.

The LORD keeps his vineyard, He waters it every moment, and "lest anyone damage it, [He] guards it night and day."

  • God is omnipresent - He is always with His vineyard.
  • God is omniscient - He sees and hears and knows all the plans and powers that seek to trample it. Nothing can be hidden from God!
  • God is omnipotent - Nothing is too hard for Him, no enemy is too great for Him, and no one can remove Him from the guard station from which He eternally cares for us.

Writing of this section, Matthew Henry says : "God will keep it in the night of affliction and persecution. He will keep it in the day of peace and prosperity, the temptations of which are no less dangerous. This vineyard will be well fenced." Oh how priviledged we are to be guarded by Christ in all the affairs of life!

This morning my prayer is - Lord, thank You for keeping and caring for me. Thank you for guarding me day and night. I am safe no matter how strong the storm or how sneaky the sin. Lord - thank You for continually nourishing me. Make me to drink in that which you are always pouring out. Apply the dew of your Spirit through your means of grace to my life and make me fruitful for Your glory and for Your kingdom.

Longing to drink more fully,


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bandaging My Toes - Isaiah 26 Part 3

"LORD, You will establish peace for us,
Since You have also performed for us
all our works. O LORD, our God,
other masters besides You have ruled over us;
but now through You alone
we confess Your name." (vs 12-13)

I think the first thing that struck me this morning in this section of chapter 26 was that any good works we accomplish are actually accomplished through us by our God. He is the first cause of anything that is good and we are simply a channel of His grace.

Ephesians 2:8-10 mirrors this thought. After talking about how we are saved by grace through faith in Christ it informs us that "we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which GOD prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Eph 2:10) "Whatever good work is done by us, it is owing to a good work wrought by the grace of God in us" (Matthew Henry). In Ephesians 2:8 it is declared that even my faith is a gift of God to me. Surely I have nothing to boast in but my God and His grace to me!

The work of God that is the root of all the good works of Lori caught my attention first thing this morning, but where I found myself camping out and pitching my tent for the day was in what followed. You might want to prepare for a toe stomping - mine are currently being bandaged!

Are you ready? Here it comes: "O LORD our God, other masters besides You have ruled us." Let me repeat it one more time in case you missed it. "O LORD our God, other masters besides You have ruled us." Do you hear the loud and painful "ouch" coming from me!

I will let Matthew Henry smite us all:
"When the Israelites had been careless in the service of God, God had suffered their enemies to have dominion over them, that they might know the difference between His service and the service of the kingdoms of the countries.

The same may be our own penitent reflection. Other masters besides God have ruled over us. Every lust has been our Lord and we have thus wronged both God and ourselves."

"Every lust has been our Lord." Every time I am tempted to sin it is my lusts that are behind that temptation. Every time I give into that temptation I am bowing to my lusts as Lord! "Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lusts. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren." (Ja 1:14-16)

Every time I sin in thought, word, or deed I am practically having another God before Him. I am serving other masters. I am being ruled by other gods.

I am guilty and need the mercy of Christ. With Calvin, I recognize that my heart is an idol factory. It is "from within, out of the heart of men, [that] proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting, and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness" (Mk 7:21-22). My heart regularly needs the transplanting, reforming mercy of Christ.

This morning I simply pause to confess my sin in this area and to seek His forgiveness and mercy knowing that "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 Jn 1:9) O God, make me to have no other God's before You!

"Kind and merciful God,
we have sinned in your sight,
We have all wandered far from Your way;
We have followed desire, we have failed to aspire
to the virtue we ought to display.

Kind and merciful God,
we've neglected Your Word
and the truth that would guide us aright;
we have lived in the shade of the dark we have made,
when You willed us to walk in the light.

Kind and merciful God,
we have broken Your laws
and in conduct have veered from the norm;
we have dreamed of the good, but the good that we could
we have frequently failed to perform.

Kind and merciful God,
In Christ's death on the cross
You provided a cleansing from sin;
speak the words that forgive that henceforth we may live
by the might of Your Spirit within.

Kind and merciful God,
bid us lift up our heads
and command us to rise from our knees;
may our hearts now be changed and no longer estranged,
through the pow'r of Your pardon and peace.

(Bryan Jeffery Leach, 1973)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On a Smooth Path - Isaiah 26 part 2

"The way of the righteous is smooth;
O Upright One, make the path
of the righteous level.
Indeed, while following the way
of Your judgments, O LORD,
we have waited for You eagerly;
Your name, even Your memory,
is the desire of our souls.
At night my soul longs for You,
Indeed, my spirit within me seeks You diligently;
For when the earth experiences Your judgments
the inhabitants of the world
learn righteousness." (vs 7-11)

The final words of the song of Isaiah chapter 25 speak of God's humbling of the proud who would not enter into covenant with Him. "For He has brought low those who dwell on high, the unassailable city; He lays it low, He lays it low to the ground, He casts it to the dust." How many times already in Isaiah have the high and mighty been made the low and humiliated. The song ends with a reminder that there will be a righteous judgment of God. The only "unassailable city" is the city of Zion - God's city - the city where He has "set up walls and ramparts for security" (vs 1).

Having closed the gospel song with a reminder that God is the Judge of all the earth and that every road leading away from Him leads only and always to certain disaster, Isaiah shows the great contrast of the path of the wicked to the path of the righteous. These two paths could not be more antithetical.

"The way of the righteous is smooth; O Upright One, make the path of the righteous level."

Now, I must readily admit that the road of my life has had MANY bumps. For many years I was on a road running from God and His Kingly decrees. There was a way that seemed right to me but in the end it led to death (Pr 16:25). During that period nothing was truly smooth for "the way of the transgressor is hard" (Pr 13:15). The counsel of the wicked, the path of sinners, and the seat of scoffers (Ps 1) led me to a place where my life was as chaff driven by the wind. It was a worthless, meaningless path - despite the outward successes I may have seemed to be achieving.

I've been a Christian now for 21 years and the road of my life has still appeared to have quite a few bumps on it. (I'll spare you the many details but suffice it to say I've lived a lot of life in a little time!) To those on the outside looking in it may seem that my road, since Christ, has been anything but smooth. At first glance I might tend to agree. However, as I meditate on this passage this morning I must admit that "the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places" (Ps 16).

The Good Shepherd has made me lie down in green pastures. He has led me beside quiet waters. He has guided me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even when I have walked in the valley of the shadow of death, I have not needed to fear evil, for He has been with me. His rod and staff have comforted me! My ways, though not always easy, have truly been smooth for there has ALWAYS been grace sufficient to carry me through whatever stumbling blocks sin, Satan and self have cast in my path. "The way of the righteous is smooth."

By walking with Christ I have set my life upon the narrow path (Mt 7). I am "following the way of [His] judgments" and on those days when my heart and my flesh begin to fail (because of my sinful doubts) I will "wait eagerly" for my God because "those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength, they will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary" (Is 40:31). Walking in Christ's way and waiting on the Christ of the way certainly make the path smooth.

The smooth way begins by our being made "righteous" in Christ - there is no truly smooth path apart from Him. It continues as we follow the "judgments" (directions) He has given us. We find rest for our weary souls along its course as we "wait for [Him] eagerly." Finally, we find smooth sailing on this path when the desire of our hearts is not the smooth path itself but the God of the path.

If I look at the path I will lose heart. If I look at the God of the path who has planned this path long ago in perfect faithfulness (Is 25:1) I will be strengthed and my way will be smooth.

Isaiah says that God's name and memory should be the "desire of our souls" (vs 8). He declares that at night our souls should "long for" our God (vs 9). He says that our souls should "seek Him diligently" (vs 9). He reminds us that even when the earth is experiencing judgments that even those things are an opportunity for us to "learn righteousness" (vs 9).

Oh how little we understand as a nation, as the church, and as individuals of the truths of the last part of verse 9. We seem to not have a category for suffering and want to remove it whatever the cost. Please look at that verse again. "For when the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the earth learn righteousness."

Judgment, hardship, and suffering are a catalyst for "learning righteousness." David declares in Psalm 119 that "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes." James points out that we should "consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let the endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing" (Ja 1:2-4). I don't need a bail out - I need to "learn righteousness" through my afflictions. Sometimes the apparent rough road is ultimately the surest way to the smooth road!

How is my path this morning? Is it smooth? Not, is it without rocks and stumbling blocks, but is it smoothed by the gracious presence and promise of my King the Great Road Builder! Am I walking in His ways? Am I waiting on His time? Am I delighting in His name? Am I longing for His presence?

If I am then my way is smooth. By His grace, I have much to rejoice in regarding this wonderful way.

Sailing smoothly on the mercy of Christ,


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A Gospel Song of Security and Peace - Isaiah 26

"In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah:
'We have a strong city;
He sets up walls and ramparts for security.
Open the gates, that the righteous nation may enter,
The one that remains faithful.
The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace,
Because He trusts in You.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for in GOD the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock."
(vs 1-4)

It is only proper that chapter 26 begins with a song. Isaiah has given us a gospel hymn and it is a fitting one in light of all of the gospel grace that has just been proclaimed. Chapter 25 was full of grand promises to those who are in covenant with God. Be reminded of a few of them:

  • He is my God. (vs 1)
  • He has worked wonders.(vs 1)
  • His plans were formed long ago with perfect faithfulness.(vs1)
  • He is a defense for the helpless. (vs 4)
  • He is a defense for the needy in his distress. (vs 4)
  • He is a refuge from the storm.(vs 4)
  • He is a shade from the heat. (vs 4)
  • He prepares a lavish feast for all the people of His mountain. (vs 6)
  • He has swallowed up death for all time. (vs 8)
  • He will wipe tears away from all faces. (vs 8)
  • He will remove the reproach of His people. (vs 8)

It is definitely time for a song - and what a glorious song it is!

+ The first thing sung about is God's protection of His church. "We have a strong city; He sets up walls and ramparts for security" (vs 1).

Though the church often seems weak in these days, the reality is that she is strong, she is safe, and she is secure. Even the gates of hell shall not prevail against her. She is a strong city, not because of anything in her but, because HE is in and around her. It is God who has set up walls and ramparts. He is her security. We have nothing to boast in but our God. He alone is our strength and shield, and in Him we have our trust.

+ The second section of this song rings out the reality of the welcoming nature of the gospel. "Open the gates, that the righteous nation may enter" (vs 2). The gates are flung open that those who have been robed in the righteousness of Christ may enter into this safe place. The gospel call is universal. Whosover will may come. There is room, flee into the city while the gates are open.

+ The third stanza holds forth a song of peace and it is at this point that I am convicted this morning. "The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because he trusts in You" (vs 3).

Oh, what a sweet section of this song. There is much turmoil in life. There is much that tempts us to fret and fear. Our eyes are often taken off of our Savior. The waves regularly crash against our boat. The storms often pound upon our windows. We are rarely a people of peace. Here, in this song, Isaiah gives us the remedy. He gives us the sure answer for peace.

Notice who it is that is kept in perfect peace. It is "the steadfast of mind." It is he who "trusts in You."

Peace is a gospel grace that is given and grown in the same way that all others gospel graces are. Its not a magic pill that we swallow and voila!

First, it is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal 6). Peace is a work of God! We can't just conjure up peace all on our own - it cannot be done, not in the true meaning of the word. We must have His Spirit indwelling us. That Spirit is given to us when we have repented of our sins and have by faith begun to rest in Christ to save us from those sins. True repentance and faith are evidenced in our taking up our cross and following Him daily. Once we are saved by grace we begin to walk in grace. Being "in Christ" is the first step to real peace.

If we are in Christ, we have the Spirit dwelling within. Through Him all the gracious means are available to us that are necessary for peace. However, notice from this song that it is not simply some mystical remedy that falls on us from heaven. No, we are to apply the means of grace in our current situations!

I often hear my friends speaking of being filled by the Spirit in some abstract terms. Rarely do I hear a tangible definition of what that is. Yet, the Scripture gives us a tangible description in Ephesians when it tells us "do not be drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit." In the same way that I will NEVER get drunk simply by walking down the street and having a bottle of wine fall from the sky and land in my mouth, I will also NEVER be filled with the Spirit by simply sitting on my sofa waiting for Him to fall on me.

That is not the way it happens. The analogy of drunkenness in Ephesians is so practical. To get drunk with wine I must take the bottle. I must pick it up. I must put it to my lips. I must drink. The more I drink, the more I become controlled by the wine. In the exact same way, if I am to be filled with the Holy Spirit I must take the means of grace (Acts 2:42). I must pick up my Bible and read, go to church and sit under the preaching, get on my knees and pray, partake of the Lord's Supper and be baptized, and fellowship with the saints. I must pick up the means of grace and injest them into my life. The more I drink of them, the more I become controlled/filled by the Holy Spirit.

Yes, we must have the Holy Spirit to have peace and we must be constantly filling ourselves with the Holy Spirit to have peace. We will not have peace if we are running on fumes. Therefore, secondly, peace comes from being "steadfast of mind". We are "transformed by the renewing of our mind." (Rom 12:2)

Am I in turmoil? Then what is the condition of my mind? What things am I thinking on? Am I dwelling on my circumstances or on the God of those circumstances? Hear the words of Paul in Phillipians 4. They are a remarkable parallel to Isaiah 26:

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things; and the God of peace shall be with you."

Am I thinking on what is "true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and worthy of praise" (Ph 4)? Or am I thinking on the opposite of each of those? Is my mind "dwelling" on these things or am I simply tossing up the occaisional flare prayer for peace? Is my mind "steadfast"? Am I taking "every thought captive to the obedience of Christ" (2 Co 10:5)? Am I trusting in my God or am I, like Peter looking at the water I need to walk on more than at the Savior?

"The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace, because He trusts in You."

Oh my great God, I must confess I am not often "steadfast of mind" and my thoughts dwell much more on the "what ifs" than on You. You are my God and the gospel promises are mine by covenant mercy. Help me, this day and always to "Trust in the LORD, forever, for in God the LORD, we have an everlasting Rock." Grant me peace, help me sing. AMEN.

Humbled and needy,