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.

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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.

7. Loved

Studies in Isaiah 54: 7. Loved

Isa 54: 10  “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

 Grace Prevailing over Justice: In the previous study we saw how the Lord was using the analogy of Noah and the Flood to explain His faithfulness, we should say, in respect of Israel. Even as Noah had moved His heart and brought a promise of grace prevailing over justice, so that same grace would prevail today so that, although He had indeed cast them away for a moment because of their disobedience, now He would come to them and restore that previous relationship. We did go into verse 10 as we mentioned the covenant of peace, but there is something even more wonderful there that we must take hold of.

In a Shaken World: The first phrase of this present verse may be skimmed over by many (me included often) but it is highly significant: “Though the mountains be shaken and the hills removed.” In other words it doesn’t matter how disastrous the world seems, God’s love is going to be there. Now don’t take this casually because very often (along with Chicken Licken) we feel the sky is falling down as things around us seem to deteriorate. At the time I write, the political landscapes of the UK and USA have been transformed and in the UK in particular (although some in the USA say they feel the same) chaos seems to ensue. For many this has created a world-weariness, almost a mental and emotional exhaustion that is only helped by turning off and ignoring the news.

But it is more than just than the political landscape. Older generations feel lost in a world that has been utterly transformed in their lifetime. The world has been shaken for them by technology. Younger generations complain that because of the self-centred carelessness of older generations they have been put into a situation where financially they are disadvantaged; their world has been shaken.  But this ‘shaking’ can be much more personal; when illness strikes or downsizing comes to your workplace and the job you have held for thirty years is suddenly gone, it comes like an earth-shattering loss. In many ways it feels like the earth is being shaken and things we have taken for granted for so long (the hills) are removed from our lives, and it makes us feel very vulnerable.

Need of Security: It is at such times that we desperately feel we need security. When the ‘ground is shaking’ and when ‘the hills are being removed’ we suddenly start thinking about these things. While everything was going along fine, we just took life for granted.  There was food on the table, the sun shone and day followed day without a worry or care in sight. And then the ground shook. We felt it but it would pass quickly. But then it continued shaking and then ‘the hills were removed’ and suddenly everything was different. It happens all the time in the Fallen World, especially this modern world where change is the name of the game every day it seems. It can be highly disconcerting but such shaking can wake us up to the realities of our life – we have taken so much for granted, we had become complacent with our relationship with the Lord, almost superficial if we are honest. Then comes the shaking – usually a loss, of a job, of health or of a loved one – and we start praying, we start crying out, “Are you there?” Of course He is but we had become things-focused instead of God-focused and so lost that sense.

The Word Comes: Then comes the word of the Lord: my unfailing love for you will not be shaken.” The psalmist says the same thing: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (Psa 46:1,2) He doesn’t mention the word ‘love’ there but that is what it is all about and why he does not need to fear. The earth may be shaken but God’s love will not be shaken. David knew this same love: “save me because of your unfailing love.” (Psa 6:4) Whatever else might change, God’s love would not. All other resources might run out, but God’s love will never fail, will never be exhausted. Jeremiah was prophesying against the same thing when he declared, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” (Jer 2:13) Not only had the people turned away from God who was an everlasting source of life and love, but they had tried to manufacture their own forms of provision and security and those always failed! No, God’s love is unfailing, that is why He is so often referred to as ‘faithful’ because He is unchanging.

Beware Appearances: I often teach on the fact that Jesus is seated at the Father’s right hand ruling in the midst of his enemies, and will continue to reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet, and it is at such times that I sense that readers or listeners have the same query as Gideon had that we considered in the previous study. It is so common we need to repeat it here: if God is around, why are all these things happening? In another context recently I wrote the following:

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.

That is the ‘big picture’ that we need to remember. Jesus IS ruling but he doesn’t do it with a heavy hand; he uses us (yes, he does sometimes move sovereignly without us as well) and sometimes waits for us to catch on to that, but the Father’s love IS always there, it is unfailing and it does not change because we are slow to understand or slow to act. It is still there despite whatever we do. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) the apostle John declared. Hold that truth firmly, never let it go, despite the appearances of what is going on around you. He IS there for us at all times, every day. Hold that, rejoice in it and be at peace in whatever is going on.

4. Fear Not

Studies in Isaiah 54: 4. Fear Not!

Isa 54:4 “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”

It’s about Redemption:  History can be a curse. Guilt so often hangs over us. Shame follows us. We wonder if the past will mar the present and blight the future. In the following verse there is an amazing statement: “the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer.”  A year ago I found myself writing a series on ‘redemption’. Mostly we think of redemption as something the Lord does just when we come to Him but the truth is that every day of our lives, He is redeeming us. There are three things about redemption we should note.

1. An Ongoing Process: Very well, the first is that it is a process, an ongoing process. It started when we first turn to Christ and it will only be completed when we stand before him in heaven. It involved us being forgiven, our guilt being removed (i.e. us being justified), us being adopted into God’s family, and being empowered by His Holy Spirit to live new lives.

2. Change: But then next, second, it is a process whereby Christ is working to change us; it is a process with a purpose. This process seeks to deal with our past in such a way that as much as possible the past will not inhibit who Christ is seeking to make us become today. Yes, often the memory of past failure remains but Christ uses it in the transforming process as both a reminder of what not to do again, and as a deterrent to keep from that particular failure. However, once we see the whole picture that we are laying out here, although it should humble us, that failure will no longer act as a weight that limits us today.

The Goal of Perfection: Very often we see this process of change as about moral or ethical behaviour but it is very much greater than that. Jesus once declared, Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48) When something is perfect is cannot be improved upon, it lacks nothing. That is God and that is what He wants to work into our lives. There is nothing He thinks, says or does that can be improved upon. Is that true of you and me? Right!  That is why we need Him to work this process out in us.

My Lacks: Let’s consider how we fall short of perfection and so need to make it a goal to which we let Him draw us.  First, my lack of knowledge; there is so much I don’t know (about you, for example, and if I did know more it would mean I would have a better attitude towards you!) I need Him to teach me, inform me, bring me knowledge and understanding. Second, there is strength, mental, physical and spiritual.  I need constant replenishing and refreshing and rest.  Even when I am fully charged and refreshed, third, I need more grace, more wisdom, more insight, more everything else to cope with you, others, circumstances, difficulties, etc. etc. than I have got.

Therefore there are times, when running on my own resources, which may be good at times, that I still get it wrong and may react defensively, or with hostility. I may be unsure of myself and may therefore feel bad (guilty) about how I handle life, or maybe I allow myself to be hurt by your dealings with me. I need constant help to remind me of the truths of God’s love and provision. We could expand these things considerably but they provide some starting thoughts for the idea of our lives being a process of change.

3. The Cross: Now we are considering three things, we said, about redemption and the third thing is that redemption is all about the Cross. Through his work on the Cross, Christ paid the price for our sin. His death, for all the wrongdoings of my entire life, satisfies justice and so I am freed from the Judge’s sentence of death that such a life of sin deserves. He has bought my freedom by taking my punishment; the guilt has been dealt with. That is what redemption means – buying us back from the guilt and the sentence of death.

Now that act of redemption is applied to my life the moment I turn to Christ in surrender and repentance. From that second on, I am freed and as far as God is concerned from that second on I am His justified son. But the reality is that I still have free will – He never takes that from us – and so as I work my way through life, I make decisions and, even as we noted above, sometimes, because I am not yet perfect and am inadequate for the task of living blameless in this fallen world, I get it wrong.

The apostle John understood this: “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) The goal is that I don’t sin, but if there are occasions when I trip over my feet and blow it, the moment I acknowledge my failure and confess it, seeking His forgiveness, it is there for me – because of what Christ has done on the Cross.

Back to the start: Very well, let’s apply all this to our starting verse: “Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame. Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated. You will forget the shame of your youth and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.”  We said that the past can be a curse if we let it, and so for Israel, just as with us, there is the memory of the past lurking there, of their failures and standing before them, so to speak, is Almighty Holy God. They need serious reassurance.

Reassurance: Is God going to smack us for our past? No! Is He going to hold up our failure for display to the whole world? No!  Is He going to humiliate them for their failures? No! Instead He is going to so move that the blessing they will experience will completely over-shadow and obliterate all the past. That is what is so incredible about redemption: God never changes in His determination to do whatever needs to be done to draw us back onto the right course, to draw us back to Him, to heal up the past, bless us in the present, and present hope for the future.

That is as much true for us today as it was for them then. We could add various caveats about the time He sometimes takes to work these things through, but let’s just stick for the moment with the basics: God IS in the process of redeeming you and me and so we don’t need to worry about all the negative aspects of this verse – no fear, no shame, no disgrace, no humiliation – all we need do is rejoice in the wonder of what He is doing in us – working us towards the perfection that will be ours in heaven, a life of ongoing change that is getting better all the time. Yes? May it be so! Hallelujah!

2. Barren Women

Studies in Isaiah 54: 2. Barren Women

Isa 54:1 “Sing, barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.”

Ohhhhhh!: How easy it is to pass over words of Scripture and not let them impact you. The analogy here, of Israel (or perhaps Jerusalem), is one of a disheartened, broken woman. Few of us can understand the heartache of being childless, of the yearning to have that sense of fulfillment as a child-bearing woman but who has never yet conceived. But the Bible seems full of such women, key women in the plans and purposes of God, and so perhaps we need to note them to take in the awfulness of the picture that Isaiah now presents to us.

The Women of Anguish: The first of these is Sarai: “Now Sarai was childless because she was not able to conceive.” (Gen 11:30) When she seems unable to conceive, despite the number of times the Lord had promised a family that would grow into a multitude, she gave her servant girl to Abram, who promptly conceives; it is obvious the problem lies with her and not with Abram. (Gen 16:3,4) When God turned up and reiterated the promise that Sarah (as she now was) would conceive, she laughed, but it was laughter of unbelief, of derision, and the Lord pulled her up on it (Gen 18:10-15). When she does eventually conceive she laughs again but now it is of joy (Gen 21:6)

It almost seemed to run in the family. Isaac, Abraham’s promised son, marries Rebekah but she too remains childless for twenty years (Gen 25:21). We aren’t told what Rebekah felt but in the next generation the same thing happens to Jacob’s favourite wife, Rachel: “When Rachel saw that she was not bearing Jacob any children, she became jealous of her sister. So she said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”  (Gen 30:1) Perhaps this is seen most clearly in Hannah who became the mother of Samuel the judge-cum-first prophet: “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son.” (1 Sam 1:10,11)

Assessment: Children in the Hebrew culture (and in many others) were seen as a sign of God’s blessing: “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psa 127:3-5) Thus the absence of children would have acted as a question mark over the spirituality of the wife if not the couple. The declaration of this barrenness that hung prophetically over Israel, as now declared by Isaiah, says six things: First it proclaims that bearing offspring was considered what was natural, what the Lord intended. Second, the absence of offspring was something to anguish over. Third, there must have been a reason for it.  Fourth, transformation was seen as only possible by the blessing of God, and that comes again later in Isa 66:7-11. Fifth, there is given an interesting comparison with others who are not barren but not blessed, which we will see shortly and, sixth, the end of their barrenness is expanded to reveal a much wider blessing on them.

Hannah’s Blessing:  When Hannah conceived, prayed and sang, she declared, “She who was barren has borne seven children, but she who has had many sons pines away.” (1 Sam 2:5) Whether she waited until years later to pray and sing, or whether she was declaring her anticipation of what would come, is unclear, but what is clear is the extent of her blessing, seven children, joy, and a sense of being loved (implied by the way her adversary now pined away). The releasing from barrenness in the present passage is similarly indicated in the same way that Hannah had prayed: “because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the Lord.”  (Isa 54:1)

Now Get Ready to Expand: She, Israel, now has (or is about to have) more children than other nations (whose husbands were idols, we might suggest), and is thus told to get ready to expand. (v. 1-3) Expansion in abundance and enlargement is what is coming. Previously, “you were ruined and made desolate and your land laid waste,” (49:19a) but now the land, with the Lord’s blessing, “will be too small for your people, and those who devoured you will be far away.” (Isa 49:19)

Forgetting the Past: As He now says in the present prophecy, You will forget the shame of your youth.”  (54:4) The history of Israel, right from the start of the Exodus, was never glorious, filled with grumblings and disobedience and as the years unfolded in the Land, in the period of the Judges, it never improved.  But the good news is that although the Lord requires us to confront the present, He does not hold the failures of the past over us; He is more concerned that we repent (Ezek 18:23,32, 2 Pet 3:9). Now the past will be forgotten in the light of the present blessings and, as we saw yesterday, those blessings can come to us because of the work of Christ on the Cross.

New Application: Under the New Covenant the apostle Paul took this present passage and applied it to the present reality.  (See Gal 4:24-27) So, Sarah was the barren woman who, though technically was Abraham’s wife, never had been previously able to fulfil the full outworking of marriage – bear children – and was replaced by Hagar. Yet we know that the desolate woman, Sarah, was enabled by God to bear Isaac, the child of promise. Paul applies all this to the Law and to slavery because although Hagar (representing the Law) had children naturally with Abraham, she was still a slave.

As the message version puts those first verses: “The two births represent two ways of being in relationship with God. One is ….a slave life, producing slaves as offspring. This is the way of Hagar. In contrast to that, there is an invisible Jerusalem, a free Jerusalem, and she is our mother—this is the way of Sarah.”  Through new birth, from heaven, from the city of God in heaven, the ‘invisible Jerusalem’, which acts as our mother, we are children of promise born to be free. The ‘mother’ of the old covenant was the Law but all those who sought to follow it found themselves slaves to failure and guilt. Born from above, we are now free, children born by the Spirit, empowered by the Spirit, who will one day return to our home – heaven. Hallelujah!

Snapshots: Day 47

Snapshots: Day 47

The Snapshot: “I will harden his heart.” (Ex 4:22) Lord, I’m a bit confused by this. I’ve looked up and there seem at least ten times when it says you hardened him and at least three times that he hardened himself. Which is true? Both. It’s very easy; when someone has a hard heart and you challenge them, their heart just gets harder.  So you were purposely making it worse? I was purposely making it clear to you what was going on in him. Er …. why? As a warning; how would you describe him? Me Lord? Yes, you.  Er, stubborn and pretty stupid really, I suppose. Was he unique in the human race? Definitely not.  What lessons do you think come out here? Well …. not to allow yourself to be hard-hearted, not to argue with I AM?    Silence.

Further Consideration: The heart? Of course when the Bible speaks of ‘the heart’ it is not referring to that muscle that pumps blood around the body but that inner area where will and intellect interact to guide, motivate, inspire the life that is ‘me’.

But that’s where it takes on differences in me from other people, differences in me as to how I react to God, to people, to circumstances. The Bible shows the possibilities: stubborn-hearted (Isa 46:12), an undivided heart (Ezek 11:19), a heart of stone or of flesh (Ezek 36:26), a troubled heart (Gen 6:6), a hard heart (Ex 7:3), a lusting heart (Num 15:39), a fearful heart (Deut 1:28), a seeking heart (Deut 4:29), a proud heart (Deut 8:14),  a pure heart (Mt 5:8), a gentle and humble heart (Mt 11:29) etc. etc.

All these descriptions show us what we are like ‘at the heart of us’, at the core of our being, that is expressed outwardly in life activity. And so we come to a ‘hard heart’, a person whose inner being is set and determined, who resists any pressure from outside of their being to change and conform to outside wishes, outside forces – God!

In Pharaoh we see the awfulness, the folly, of a heart that resists the pressures put upon it. To use a completely different analogy, imagine a man driving a car across the country and he decides to keep himself awake by having half a dozen bottles of alcohol beside him which he will use from time to time. You try to explain to him that it won’t work, in him like that, that it will incapacitate him, but he has set his heart on this. He starts off and you ring him on his cell phone, his mobile in the car, and you plead with him not to drink from the bottles, but his heart is hard, he refuses to listen to you; you keep on warning him but he refuses to listen, even though his vision is becoming impaired. Eventually you hear over the phone the sounds of the crash. It was inevitable! Thus it is inevitable that pressed and pressed Pharaoh’s hard heart will get harder and bring about his demise. Learn.

Snapshots: Day 46

Snapshots: Day 46

The Snapshot: “I am who I am.” (Ex 3:14) Pardon?  Say “I am has sent me to you.”  Er… yes…. er, Lord, that’s not much clearer. You are ‘ I AM”?  That’s right. You are what? It doesn’t matter, that part, stop and think about it, I AM.  Yes, I know, you said that.  Yes, and I will keep on saying it.  Er… could I say that about me? No. Why not? Because I’ve only given you a set number of years and then you’ll be something different. Right, I see, but you’ll never be different. That’s right, I AM. And there is clearly no one else like you. That’s right. You are unique. That’s right. You just ARE. That’s right, you’re beginning to get it. You’re very different from us. That’s right. In fact, different from everything else I know. That’s right. Wow, I sense I ought to be on my knees. That’s right.

Further Consideration: I suspect that the majority of us take for granted the word LORD in capital letters throughout the Old Testament and yet each time we ought to be reading ‘I AM’ meaning the supreme eternal one who is outside of time. So, as a random example, “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psa 6:9) becomes, ““The I AM, the Eternal One, has heard my cry for mercy; the I AM, the Eternal One, accepts my prayer.”

It is only when we read it like this, that His utter difference from us becomes clear. The Eternal One, the one outside of time nevertheless hears me here in time-space history. The Eternal One, the One outside of time, nevertheless acts into our time-space dimension.  He is not limited by time; He sees everything from beginning to end (including every detail of what is between) and so knows everything. Moreover, in fact He can drop into our time at any moment – but the truth is that although He is outside of time, He is here in time, all the time. Wrap your mind around that!

From the few visions of heaven we find in the Bible and the responses of the prophets who ‘saw’ Him, (at least in the vision) this Being who is so utterly unlike anything else we know, creates terror in the beholders, simply because He is so different (holy – perfect, unlimited, pure). It is to overcome that fear that when He communicates it is usually in the Old Testament through angelic beings, or simply an audible voice, and in the New Testament through His Son, Jesus Christ, or His unseen presence, the Holy Spirit.

The analogy is often given: if you want to communicate with ants, become an ant. if you want to communicate with tropical fish, become a tropical fish. God is a communicating God and so made mankind in time-space history, and then became a man, purely so that He could communicate His love to mankind. Amazing!