Snapshots: Day 53

Snapshots: Day 53

The Snapshot: “the Egyptian magicians did the same things by their secret arts.” (Ex 7:22) Once upon a time the Lord’s wisdom came only through His church. Today that wisdom is seen on bookshop ‘self-help’ shelves. Once upon a time, healing came only through the church; now it comes as well through medicine, hospitals and doctors, all God’s provision. The Lord works to bless His world but there is one thing that the world cannot emulate – the real presence of God and a relationship with Him. We should have a greater wisdom, a greater power, a greater understanding, if we seek Him and that which the world has, as a copy, soon flounders, for without Him the Lord will not allow it to continue. Seek Him.

Further Consideration: We live in a world of immense knowledge and experience and I believe this fact undermines the confidence of many Christians who perhaps have never thought these things through. I addressed this when I wrote a series of meditation entitled, “Reaching into Redemption” in Part 7 “In Defense of the Faith” where I touched on the subjects of drowning in materialism, knowledge, unreality, and social media. The world is good at drowning us in these things.

I wonder what Moses felt like when he opened the way for God to perform the early judgments and the stupid magicians copied them and made the situation worse. God’s power was being challenged. So there is the challenge then and today, is God’s power big enough to out-power the enemy? Really even thinking like that suggests we have lost contact with the truth. Our God is the super designer-creator of everything we know. He knows about everything. His knowledge is unlimited and His power is unlimited.

I love the account found in Luke 5 of Peter’s boat being used by Jesus and then Peter being scared out of his wits as he realises that the one in his boat not only knows more about fishing that he does, but he also appears to have the power to conjure up a massive shoal of fish where there were none!

So yes, I believe God inspires inventions, technology and all the rest – and then leaves us the immense challenge to find the wisdom to use it properly! And in the meantime there is also the temptation to believe all our modern technology came by our own cleverness. Silly little human beings! Don’t be conned into thinking that because we have all this technology in our homes or cars or businesses, that it makes us clever. Jesus’ parable of the two house builders (Mt 7) still holds true. Ignoring him may mean we can get away with it for a while but watch for the storms of life that will challenge our foundations. Don’t be conned by the bright lights of imitation reality in today’s world.

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Snapshots: Day 51

Snapshots: Day 51

The Snapshot: “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering lips?” (Ex 6:12) So I shared with my friend and they rejected my words. Why would my neighbour, my boss, my teacher, listen to me? I suspect I have shared with people who are just not ready, but the Gospel is never wasted; they have heard. Perhaps if I pray and listen to the Lord to see who he puts on my heart or what he puts on my heart to say, it might be different. Moses had to speak to Pharaoh and be rebuffed at least ten times. Hmmmm!  Lord, make me a light – somehow! – and give me opportunities and grace to persevere to glorify you.

Further Consideration: As I talk and listen to friends, I am left feeling that most of us feel quite inadequate ‘witnessing’ to others. In the UK at least, we live in a land where ‘religion’ has been marginalized but that doesn’t mean that God is inactive in reaching out and drawing those He saw from the foundation of the world who would respond. Our culture appears hardened to the Gospel and yet the truths of the Gospel still provide the only answer for the problems and perils of mankind. Still the consequences of living contrary to God’s design are increasingly obvious and even the world itself is beginning to see these things, whether it is to do with lives of many sexual partners, cohabitation, infidelity, use of pornography, over-drinking, or excessive social media use, it is still the same: we need the Gospel, we need to call people’s attention to an alternative way, the way of God.

But then Peter comes to our aid: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Pet 3:15) Our starting point is seeking to be a blessing to the world around us so that just perhaps someone with a hungry heart is going to say, “Why are you like that? I want what you’ve got.” It is then, hopefully with grace and humility we share our testimony. It is a good practice to sit down and think out what you could say in such a situation, a testimony that you could share in say two or three minutes. If they want more, they will ask for it.

If you really want to step out of the boat and walk on water, watch for the times when people open up their hearts and share their worries. There are two levels of approach. First is to say, “Would you mind if I go away and pray about that for you?” and the second is, “Would you mind if I prayed for you right now?”  Very, very rarely is it that people will say no. People may not be open to church and religion, but they invariably are open to prayer.

Many of us have ‘faltering lips’ but we must remember that the Lord is with us, just like Moses. Watch this space!

Snapshots: Day 50

Snapshots: Day 50

The Snapshot: “I will bring you to the land…”  (Ex 6:8) When God says He will do things we so often jump to the conclusion that He means now, this minute, but His reiteration to Moses that He will take His people into the Promised Land first came to Abram, then Isaac and then Jacob. It first came over four hundred years back! He had warned Abram that it would take that time. Our problem is that we only read parts of scripture and rarely get the big picture which means we jump to wrong conclusions – God is not here, He’s changed His mind, He doesn’t love me anymore, He’s given up on me. All lies from the enemy. He is using the time to change you in the circumstances, so look again and rejoice.

Further Consideration: From the moment the Lord called Abram and the die was set for establishing a relationship with this family and then later with this nation, ‘the land’ was always a feature of His promises to the Patriarchs: “Go from your country….to the land I will show you,” (Gen 12:1) and then, “To your offspring I will give this land,.” (Gen 12:7) then, “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever…. walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I am giving it to you,” (Gen 13:15,17) and, “He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it,” (Gen 15:7) then, “your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there…. In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here,” (Gen 15:13,16) etc. until eventually, to Moses, “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites.” (Ex 3:8)

‘The land’ was to be the place, the environment, in which the Lord would have dealings with Israel, revealing Himself to the world through them until eventually it would be the ‘God-zone’, prepared over the centuries, into which His Son would come and be revealed and become the Redeemer of the world.

Did the enemy realise the significance of all this? Probably not, and yet the fact that God was declaring this was His will for the Hebrews made the enemy stir up against them through Pharaoh. The battle isn’t merely to deliver them out of Egypt, as wonderful as that was, but was to deliver them into the new land, the land He has decreed will be theirs forever. Yet, as He warned, it would be ‘future generations’ who would receive it – the present generation. The time has arrived. It’s time to get them out to get them in, and however much Pharaoh might object, it WILL happen! Two lands, one to be left, one to be taken.

Snapshots: Day 49

Snapshots: Day 49

The Snapshot: “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?” (Ex 5:22) Why, Moses, when God said it would be hard, do you complain? So often we complain because we fail to take hold of the truth that has been put before us. God is not hard, but the fallen world often is. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Mt 5:4) I don’t like mourning. I know but death does come. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.” (Mt 5:10) I like being liked.  Yes, but the unrighteous don’t like being shown up.  But I thought being a Christian would be easy?  I’m sorry you listened to a lie. But why, and how will I cope? It’s all right, I am with you (Heb 13:5) and I am working all things for your good, even the bad things! (Rom 8:28)

Further Consideration: I believe it is one of the most important things that Christians understand the big picture of being a Christian, for only in so doing will they manage to maintain a right attitude towards the things that happen to them.

Moses lost sight of the big picture; the Lord had warned him that this would be hard going that would necessitate Him coming again and again to deal with Pharaoh, yet Moses cries out to the Lord, “Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.” (|Ex 5:23) Moses wanted it to happen instantly, he wanted God to wave a magic wand over the situation and transform it straight away, but this situation involves people and changing people takes time.

Point One: we live in a Fallen World where, because of sin, things go wrong and people say and do nasty things because they have free will.

Point Two: God does not override our free will and so permits the world to proceed as it does with things going wrong and people acting badly BUT He does expect us, His children, to act as His representatives and to be salt and light in it.

Point Three: He a) expects us to change the circumstances and b) be changed by the circumstances. We are to be one of His means of bringing change in this world while being changed into Jesus’ likeness as we do it.

So, when bad circumstances come, turn to the Lord, look for His grace and His wisdom to deal with it. When we find it difficult to cope with people around us who are not being the epitome of a good person, look to Him for His grace to love them, pray for them, and bless them. Not the easiest of tasks but possible with His enabling. Let’s not moan and groan under the pressures of this Fallen World but use such times to demonstrate the goodness of God.

Snapshots: Day 48

Snapshots: Day 48

The Snapshot: “Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go?” (Ex 5:2) A hard heart is revealed by a “Why should I?” attitude. Why should I worship God? Why should I pray? Why should I read the Bible? Why should I go to church? Why should I do what I don’t want to do? Why should I obey him? Hard hearts refuse to listen to others. Hard hearts refuse to receive wise counsel. Hard hearts refuse to say sorry. Hard hearts continue to make excuses. A hard heart is simply any heart that has settled into a self-centred mode and refuses to change. Of course, all the refusals – pray, read, obey etc. – are irrelevant. It is the heart condition that is the critical issue. And it is critical because hardness turns into inactivity which becomes death.

Further Consideration: In the previous snapshot we sought to demonstrate how hard-heartedness, this resistance to outside pressure, can so easily mean we are operating against what can only be called common sense. It is that because any outsider looking in would see how foolish it was to pursue this course, a course that was doomed to failure and even likely to cause our demise.

But we see this same attitude in so many people around us who say, “Who is God, what is this religion, that should tell me what to do? Why should I obey the things your preachers say, who are you to say you are right and I am wrong?”

Increasingly I have to say, look at the way life, in the godless Western world, is working out. As they say, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’, i.e. ‘the final results are the only way to judge something’s quality or veracity’, to quote an internet definition. The Bible puts it more simply:A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

But the hardness of people’s hearts means they plough on through life living foolishly, suffering all the repercussions that are being seen to follow. Obesity is almost an epidemic because of lack of self-control in eating, alcoholism or a whole range of antisocial behaviour is seen following intemperate use of alcohol, failing relationships, growth of STDs, unwanted pregnancies, guilt-laden abortions, etc. etc. are the clearly visible fruit of hardhearted refusal to listen to God.

But why is it? The apostle Paul wrote, “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:4) How does he do that? Using what John called, “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (1 Jn 2:16) or, “the world’s ways… the world’s goods… squeezing out love for the Father.” (Msg) These are the things that fuel a hard heart.

10. Review

Studies in Isaiah 54: 10. Review

Isa 54:1,11  “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child …. “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted, I will rebuild you with stones of turquoise.

Outline: As we review this chapter we may suggest the following structure:

v.1-3   The Barren Woman

v.4-8   Comfort brought

v.9-10 The Comfort of Noah

v.11-14a The Lashed City rebuilt

v.14b-17 Assurances about the Future

The Present Anguishes: Isaiah presents us with two picture of Israel (or Jerusalem). The first is of a childness woman, who should have been a mother but never was. (v.1) The second is of a storm lashed city that has not been comforted (v.11a) Both pictures are of a people in desperate need of comfort and reassurance.

The Comfort Brought: Now when you look at the chapter, very little of it is spent in laying out these anguishes; the bulk of it is spent in bringing comfort to this barren woman, this beaten down city. The objective of this chapter is to comfort God’s people who are feeling they are barren, who feel they are beaten down.

Comfort by Transformation: The call to the barren woman is to, “burst into song, shout for joy.” Why? Because, “more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” (v.1) or, as the Message version puts it, “You’re ending up with far more children than all those childbearing women.” It’s a promise of what is yet to come, a flourishing family. Indeed, to cope with this enlarging family, make preparations it: “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes..” (v.2) Why? “For you will spread out to the right and to the left.” (v.3a) A picture of extensive growth, and yet it doesn’t stop there for it will be growth that rises up above others and vanquishes enemies: “your descendants will dispossess nations and settle in their desolate cities.” (v.3b)

Reassurance over the past: But, as if that is not enough, the Lord continues to reassure His people:  “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.” i.e. it’s all right, you don’t have to fear the future, indeed, “You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.” (v.4) It’s just ‘past history’ we might say.

Reassurance about God: It’s always important to remember who the Lord is. Four things in v.5! First, “For your Maker is your husband.” The one who brought you into existence is to be seen in a loving relationship context, not merely a distant all-powerful figure. Second, “the Lord Almighty is his name.” This One who speaks of relationship with you is God who is all-mighty and nothing is beyond His abilities. Third, “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.” He is the One who is at the heart of Israel’s life and we should always remember, He is a Redeemer, He constantly works to get us back on track. Moreover, fourth, “he is called the God of all the earth.” He’s not just God of Israel but of the whole earth, and yet He has chosen you to be a special people. The whole earth may be under His watchful eye, but His eyes are upon you in particular because He has chosen to enter into covenant with YOU. All this shouts, He’s YOUR God and you are HIS cherished possession.

Disciplined only for a while: The past may have brought judgment, but with God that is never the end: “The Lord will call you back,” (v.6a)  and so, “For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back,” (v.7) and so – and note this is a threefold assurance – “I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,” (v.8) The past involved judgment, the future is about restoration.

Noah as an example: Now a further encouragement and reassurance. The Flood had been a terrible judgment and yet Noah’s response afterwards, to worship God, had moved the Lord’s heart never to repeat such a judgment. Thus the Lord can now say that, although judgments may have come in the past, “yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” (v.10)

The Second Illustration: If a barren woman was the first illustration, he next uses a beaten down city as the next illustration:  “Afflicted city, lashed by storms and not comforted.” (v.11)  But this city will be rebuilt with beautiful stones (v.11,12). Nothing like it has ever been seen before, which makes us suggest that it is the city of God of Revelation 21. It will be a place where the future generations will enter into a new, close relationship with God, characterized by peace (v.13) and righteousness (v.14). Because of that, internal upsets they knew in the past, and fears of invaders, likewise known in the past,  will be just that, things of the past (v.14), and the Lord will ensure security for them (v.15). The truth is that God is the one who raises up agents of judgment (v.16) but that will never again, in this new city, be their experience. (v.17)

And So?  Thus the prophet brings us two negative pictures of Israel, revealing their experiences of the past, but with them (and they are only briefly mentioned) comes a chapter full of encouraging reassurances about the future. She (Israel) may have appeared as a barren woman in the past, but she will appear as a mother of a large family in the future. She may have appeared as a broken down and chastised city in the past, but her future destiny is of a rebuilt city unlike anything known beforehand. This all says, turn away from the past and look to a new and glorious future, for that is what the Lord intends for you. Of course this is all about ‘the people of God’, for that is what the ‘woman’ and the ‘city’ represented, seen as Israel in the past, but the whole Church (including believing Israel) in the future. Isaiah thus has a glimpse of a future that we only truly see with the help of John’s Revelation. It is a picture and story of redemption, as the Lord reminds us, He is the Redeemer of His people. That, of course, is who we are even today, the redeemed people of God with a glorious future in front of us. Hallelujah!

9. Security

Studies in Isaiah 54: 9. Security

Isa 54:14,15  Terror will be far removed; it will not come near you. If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you.

A Problem: There is  a problem that immediately confronts us as we look at these verses: when could this have applied, or be applied in the present or future?  For example, if we try applying this to Israel in Isaiah’s day and in subsequent years, we find that this was patently untrue. The time of the Exile shows this with great clarity. Terror came near, they were attacked and they were taken away and God clearly declared many times, through both Jeremiah and through Ezekiel, that this was the work of His hands. And Nebuchadnezzar certainly did not surrender to them.

New Jerusalem? The cynical skeptic will simply say, well Isaiah obviously got it wrong, but that is not the only solution. When we considered the ‘afflicted city’ being rebuilt in v.11 we suggested a strong likelihood that this referred to the New Jerusalem spoken of in Revelation.  The description that we find ourselves with here, therefore, neatly fits the description of that future Jerusalem, where it says of God, He “will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” (Rev 21:4) Yet there is still a problem: the picture of the New Jerusalem suggests total peace with no threats but this suggests a world where there are still threats although not coming against God’s people.

Other Possibilities? So, the possibilities so far: Isaiah got it wrong – not likely. It refers to a time in eternity – not likely. So what does that leave us with? Well, we have been struggling to fit it into physical time-space history, so how about ‘spiritual history’? i.e. within the kingdom of God? We’ll come to that in a moment, but there are other ‘physical solutions’. One might be that this yet applies to some yet future time in the economy of God when Israel stand strong and secure. Perhaps.  Yet there is a further solution that is more appealing and that is that this is God’s promise IF Israel are faithful and true – which, unfortunately, they never were. i.e. it is a possibility. I do believe that sometimes the Lord lays before us ‘possibilities’, a vision of what could be. It is not a guarantee of what will be but is the Lord’s heart of what He longs to come about, and yet which still relies on our obedient responses.

A Spiritual Conclusion: Various commentators have opted for this solution, that what is being said here applies to the realities of life ‘in Christ’, life in the New Covenant kingdom of God. It is certainly a valid possibility. In Christ terror will be far removed; it will not come near you.  In Christ we are told to “not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6,7) Again and again when the apostle Paul wrote he started off, “Grace and peace to you,” implying that God’s resources (grace) and God’s environment (peace)  are to be two prime elements of life ‘in Christ’.

But death? The worst the enemy can do is kill the body; our soul and spirit have a guaranteed future in eternity with Christ. Jesus taught, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Mt 10:28) I wonder how many of us have this perspective, whereby we hold life lightly because we have an absolute certainty of an eternal future?  Life in the early church was often uncertain in the face of persecution. Acts tells us that Stephen was stoned to death (Acts 7), James was beheaded (Acts 12) and although Peter was spared at that time, he and nine others of the original twelve, history tells us, died as martyrs (Judas having committed suicide, and John died of old age). So we may have many assurances in Christ but being saved from death under persecution is not one of them.

Three Assurances: There are three assurances that follow. The intent of these verses, even though we cannot ascertain just when they apply, or in what form they apply, must be to bring reassurance. Perhaps we need to recap a little and see the context: “All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace. In righteousness you will be established: Tyranny will be far from you; you will have nothing to fear,” (vb.13,14) to which we might add, “from within,”  for ‘tyranny’ comes from within. ‘Terror’ comes from outside. the context shows that Isaiah is portraying a future city that is secure from within and without. Can we imply, I wonder, that, “If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you,” refers to the internal workings of this ‘city’, this future habitation of God’s people, a place of peace and order, free from internal rumblings? This is the first assurance.

But then, second, there comes a further, almost strange assurance:  “See, it is I who created the blacksmith who fans the coals into flame  and forges a weapon fit for its work. And it is I who have created the destroyer to wreak havoc.” (v.16) There are times within the Old Testament history when it is clear that an invader bringing the judgmental discipline of the Lord, is coming at His bidding. Perhaps it is simply that He lifts off His hands of restraint and allows them access to Israel, sometimes perhaps he allows Satan to stir up Israel’s enemies against them (see Job 1 & 2), all for the purpose of disciplining Israel and drawing them back to Himself. It is almost as if He is saying here,  in this new city, no such things will ever be needed and so you will be able live securely and at peace in it, free from any fears of judgment. But it is a twofold security, against physical attack and against verbal attack: “no weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you.” (v.17a) Neither people nor words (which usually precede wars) will undermine you in this city.

But then come the closing words: “This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.” (v.17b) We might put it, this peace and security is the inheritance of all who serve me, and this decree  is what can set their minds at peace in the future. And there again we find this suggestion that all that is being spoken of here is yet future. Trying to rationalize it and work out the ‘when’ of all this might be confusing but the aim is quite clear – to bring assurance to the present inhabitants of the land and of Jerusalem: there is coming a future time of rebuilding, of creating a new city and when it comes it will herald a time of unparalleled peace and security. Perhaps to see that more clearly, we need just one more study in this chapter to create an overview of the entire chapter and catch something more of the wonder of it. Stay with me.